Google Calendar Sync the culprit?

Another chapter in the search for calendar synchronization that works. Having switched off all my calendar connectors and having cleared up all the duplicates, I enabled Google’s own Calendar Sync utility and let it do it’s thing. Suddenly I had about three years worth of calendar events duplicated all over my Outlook 2007 calendar! Just out of interest I deleted one of the duplicated entries and asked Google Calandar Sync to run again. This time it warned me that I was about to delete 17 entries out of my Google calendar, which I let it do.

Then without adding, deleting or changing any events in any calendar, I ran Google Calendar Sync again. This time it warned me it was going to delete 18 entries from Google. Where on earth has it got these 18 new deletions from?! The version of Google Calendar Sync that I’m using (that I have always used in fact) is the one that’s supposed to have this issue fixed. By ‘issue’ I mean the problem of it causing duplicates when you are using other connectors to sync Google calendar with other calendars, like CompanionLink and Calgoo Connect for example.

I am almost at the point of giving up on this whole calendar synchonization game. My next task is to try and remove all the duplicates from Outlook. I’m hoping I can find a utility somewhere as the thought of spending hours manually clearing up three years worth of entries is somewhat daunting. The problem I then face is how this duplicate removal will then propagate from Outlook into Google and then into Notes and iCal/Entourage.

I don’t eny me!

Which? Magazine on video editing software

Final Cut ExpressI’ve been a long time subscriber to the Consumer Association’s Which? magazine. For advice on a wide range of things they save you the trouble (and costly mistakes) when it comes to buying a range of products and services. Every so often they test computer related items and I’ve learned that they sometimes miss the ball a bit in this field, and lack the depth of many computer publications.

I was therefore interested to see that in the July 2008 issue they reviewed video editing software along with digital camcorders. I flicked through to page 56 thinking it’s a foregone conclusion, I already know which program will win. I was wrong! The top four packages were:

  1. Adobe Premiere Elements 4 (Windows)
  2. Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8 (Windows)
  3. Corel Ulead Video Studio 11.5 Plus (Windows)
  4. Magix Movie Edt Pro 14 Plus (Windows)

There was also mention of Windows Movie Maker Vista Version and Windows Movie Maker (PC) or iMovie 08 (Mac) as good free alternatives. Well at least the Mac got a look in with iLife 08, but that was it. Final Cut Express 4.0 didn’t even get a mention, in fact they didn’t even include it in the review, wheras they reviewed a variety of Windows packages I’ve never even heard of.

I find it hard to take a review of Video Editing software seriously when it includes just one Mac offering. It seems to show a lack of awareness of the computer market, Apple’s rapidly expanding market share, and the Mac’s acknowledged role as a great platform for all manner of media applications, not just video editing. This just serves to reinforce my belief that if you want reviews of computer software then listen to computer experts.

PC World and a large pinch of salt

I have to wonder when I see PC World advertising on the TV. You’d think they were giving stuff away by the amount of claims they make about being the cheapest UK retailer going. However, it’s not difficult to look through their catalogue of products and find many of them at significantly cheaper prices elsewhere. For example, within 5 minutes I was able to find the following:

  • PC World Belkin 2m Snagless Ethernet Cable £14.98 – Overclockers Belkin 3m Snagless Ethernet Cable £2.34. SAVING £12.64 off the PC World price.
  • PC World BFG nVidia 8800GT 512Mb PCIe Card £169.99 – Overclockers BFG nVidia 8800GT 512Mb PCIe Card £123.36. SAVING £46.63.
  • PC World Hitachi 1Tb Deskstar OEM Hard DIsk £199.99 – Overclockers Hitachi 1Tb Deskstar OEM Hard Disk £144.51. SAVING £55.48.

That’s well over £100 ($200) extra you would pay by buying three common items from PC World, and if I had the inclination I could probably list many many more examples.

Surely PC World must know this? They must know that while they might be cheaper on some big headline items like printers, laptops, and the like, they are raking it in on the hundreds of smaller items. Items that unsuspecting shoppers might happily add to their orders when in store, thereby negating any savings on the headline items they’ve just bought.

All I can say is – don’t be taken in by the slick adverts and do your homework. Much of what you buy in relation to computers and electronics can be installed and used without too much difficulty. Don’t be afraid to do your research, find cheaper online retailers and enjoy the savings. What’s more, pretty much most of what you can buy has been bought before and written about by someone else, so it’s easy to find hints and tips when you need them.

The new improved Entourage 2008…

…same as the old improved Entourage 2008?

MicrosoftIt’s always interesting to see what’s new when Microsoft releases an update for their Office products, and Office 2008 is no different. So if you can’t contain your excitement any longer, have a look here to see how much better Entourage 2008 is going to be as a result of the latest 12.1.1 update released June 24th.

Scroll down the list, past the many improvements for Word, Excel and PowerPoint and you’ll finally arrive at… tada…!! ONE solitary change to Entourage to fix a problem when exiting sleep mode. Unfortunately, no fix for the calendar time display problem then? Ok, how about doing something with the database daemon to make it easier to get reliable backups of your Entourage data? How about a fix for the ‘new calendar entry display bug’? (That’s when new calendar entries won’t appear in month view until you scroll ahead of your current view and then back again).

Seriously though, I’m not expecting anything significant to change in Entourage 2008 until the next major release of Office for the Mac in 2012 perhaps. Talking of which, I hoping that the Mac team at Microsoft will listen to their customers and start adding the features Entourage so obviously lacks to make it the killer Mac email client. Surely it can’t be beyond them to spend a while looking at what’s in Outlook 2007 and adding it to Entourage 2012? Well how about gathering feedback from business and home Entourage users as to what they’d like to see? It’s all achievable, just don’t ask me to bet money on it happening.

Logitech – Old camera, new clothes?

Mac VersionLogitech have just announced a new webcam made specifically for the Mac, with the tongue-twisting name QuickCam Vision Pro webcam for Mac. When I heard the news I almost fell over myself to go and check out the press-release, but when I saw a picture of it I had to feel a little let down.

You see, back in March I purchased a Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 – a splendid little zooming, auto-focusing, face detecting little unit for Windows users, but merely a high quality static camera for the Mac with a microphone that refuses to work with MacSpeech. Well blow me if this latest addition to their webcam line up looks very similar to my QuickCam Pro 9000. Ok, apart from the colour it looks IDENTICAL. So what about the specs?

  • USB 2.0 connection – check.
  • 2 megapixel sensor – check.
  • Autofocus – check.
  • Carl Zeiss® lens- check.
  • Up to 30 frames per second- check.
  • 960 x 720 pixels – check.
  • Built-in microphone – check.

So what we’re looking at here seems to be the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 with a silver bezel on the front, a proper Mac driver and perhaps some upgraded firmware. So does this mean that users like me will be able to use that driver to regain theWindows Version extra features currently lost under OS X? I suspect not, well not unless you can upgrade the firmware in the Pro 9000 to match it’s Mac stablemate. I say that because news is that the new Mac version of the camera will NOT work with Windows, suggesting that the firmware is indeed different. (If it was simply a fancy-coloured Pro 9000 then it would work under Windows with the right driver).

Sadly I suspect that Mac owners of the current QuickCam Pro 9000 like me, will be stuck with their feature-locked cameras and the only option will be to sell them and buy the new Mac model if they want those features back. Life’s like that when it comes to computers.

Seeing double… triple… quadruple…

DuplicatesThey’re back!! I’m gone for just a few days and when I get back my Google Calendar and Outlook 2007 are full to bursting with duplicate entries. While I was away only CompanionLink and Google’s own Calendar Sync programs were running, leaving Calgoo Connect and ActiveSync free from blame. Nevertheless, I’m still puzzled as to why the connectors should suddenly start reproducing entries. Sure I can see ‘how’ it happens – it’s because something isn’t recognizing the details of an event properly, and when comparing one calendar to another it decides it needs to create another entry.

You would think that every calendar connector would at the very least look at the date, time and description on an event and if they match, would flag it as a possible duplicate and not add it again. Obviouly this isn’t happening, or the date/timestamp on entries are being misinterpreted. The long and short of it is that without editing my calendars in any way, duplicates are still appearing therefore key information about events is getting lost or scrambled. Fortunately Calgoo Connect contains a de-duplicating feature which you can tune to various criteria (date, time, description, etc.), and I was quickly able to use this to strip over 1,500 duplicate entries out of Google and thus Outlook 2007 and iCal as well.

Ideally I would like to make changes to just ONE calendar and to push those changes out to the others. Alas it would have to be Lotus Notes as that’s where I receive meeting invites, etc. for work, and for anyone who has used Notes will know – it’s cumbersome and a bit quirky when it comes to calendar features. So for now I’m still stuck with this mixtures of calendars for when I’m at work, at home or out and about. Perhaps what I need is a secretary, but in the meantime I shall continue to look for calendar nirvana and if I find it I’ll let you know.

Encryption between Windows and OS X

It’s one of those things that you think to yourself… “I’ll get round to it one day” and then when that day finally arrives it’s too late. I’m talking about encryption software – another weapon in your arsenal against the hoardes of unscrupulous thieves who will stop at nothing to get their hands on your private data and then bankrupt you by running up credit card bills amounting to millions of dollars! Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s still something worth considering and when you realize just how easy it is you’ll kick yourself over why you didn’t do it sooner.

As a ‘switcher’ I had already settled on two program for my Windows machine that fitted the bill nicely – free and easy to use. And before you wail at me that if encryption software is free then it can’t be any good, let me assure you that nothing is further from the truth.

TrueCryptFirst up is TrueCrypt, a program that lets you create encrypted ‘containers’ which you can mount and then use just like any other drive. Any files read from or saved to the drive are then encrypted/decrypted on the fly with no noticeable performance loss. TrueCrypt goes further and lets you encrypt whole partitions if you’re that way inclined, and can even provide you with a ‘plausible deniability’ option (cue X-Files theme) whereby an encrypted container can be hidden inside another. Setting up TrueCrypt is really straightforward thanks to an easy to follow wizard, so you’ll be hiding those begging letters to your bank manager in no time. The real bonus with TrueCrypt (ok, besides being free) is that there’s a native version for the Mac (there’s also a Linux version). The bad news is that they don’t seem be interoperable. For example if you create a container in the Windows version, use AES/RIPEMD-160 encryption and format it as FAT, the Mac version cannot read it, even when gicen the correct password. This is a shame because it would be an ideal way to securely share data on a NAS for example.

The second utility I started using in Windows was EncryptOnClick, a free program from 2BrightSparks, the EncryptOnClickguys who wrote SyncBackSE amongst other things. The premise is simple, you point it at a file or folder, supply a password and it will encrypt the target using 256-bit AES encryption. The original file/folder is then replaced with one of the same name but with a filename extension of .EOC . Give it an encrypted file/folder and the correct password and it’ll reverse the process – simple as that.

Unfortunately EncryptOnClick is a Windows only program so I hunted for something similar for OS X. The one I’ve been trying is GoSecure 1.2. While it’s not free like EncryptOnClick, it’s a very reasonable £10 ($20). Again, it’s beauty is in how easy it is to use – you just drop a file or folder onto it’s application ‘pad’, GoSecuresupply a password and that’s it the target is encrypted or decrypted as appropriate. What could be easier? You can set preferences as to where file handling takes place by default and whether the target file should be deleted or not, so it allows a bit of customisation over how you use it. You also have a choice of 128-bit or 256-bit AES enryption, however encrypted files created in GoSecure can’t be decrypted in EncryptOnClick and vice versa, so switchers will need to think about TrueCrypt if that’s a must have feature.

I’ve only scratched the surface here and there are other products out there, OpenPGP for example provides a standard for multi-platform offerings. The thing is that the programs I mentioned above make it all very easy, so now you know – what’s stopping you? You’d be gutted if your other half found that letter on the computer to the holiday company, booking a surprise romantic break for the two of you. Even worse if the surprise break was for you and somebody else!  😉

A little Linux diversion (Synergy on OpenSUSE 11.0)

My work laptop is a dual-boot Windows XP/OpenSUSE 10.3 affair, and although the company is trialing the use of Macs, I am so far down the pecking order that the only place I can enjoy relatively stress-free computing is on my Mac Pro at home. However, every so often I start tinkering and the latest project was to convert my trusty (but frustrating) Windows XP home PC to an XP/OpenSUSE dual-boot affair as well.

I have three computers and a laptop. No I’m not rich, the two PCs were built from parts acquired over many Two screensyears, the laptop was provided by the company and the Mac Pro… well, I’m still paying for that! Anyway, this plethora of hardware is fed through a pair of handsome Samsung monitors, a SyncMaster 226BW and an equally impressive 2493HM, but the challenge is in how to hook up all machines to use a single keyboard & mouse. I have tried my fair share of KVM switches in the past and aside from the cost, I’ve never really found them a satisfactory solution. Then about a year ago I discovered Synergy. Put simply it’s a free opensource utility that lets you use a single keyboard & mouse to control multiple computers (each with it’s own monitor). It does other clever thing like sharing the clipboard between multiple computers and synchronizing screensavers, but I’ll just concentrate on the keyboard/mouse sharing here. Incidentally, the keyboard is Logitech’s DiNovo Edge, while the mouse is a Logitech MX Revolution, (both wireless).

SynergyThe beauty of Synergy is that it’s cross-platform, supporting Windows, Mac OS X and Linux in its multitude of flavours. It’s main requirement is that the machines you want to control are all networked (using IP). I was already using it between the two Windows PCs and my laptop, and when I got my Mac Pro I got it running on that too. The basic setup is that one of your PCs acts as the ‘server’ sharing its keyboard and mouse with any machine running the Synergy ‘client’, just so happens that my oldest Windows machine became the Synergy server – well, it’s the most reliable of my Windows machines and it’s always switched on.

Synergy on the Mac (OS X 10.5.3)

Apple Mac OS XInstalling Synergy on the Mac was as easy as downloading and unpacking it to a suitable folder, in my case I ended up creating a ‘Synergy’ folder inside my Applications folder. Running the Synergy client is then just a matter of opening a terminal window, navigating to the right folder and running synergyc with the right parameters, like this:

synergyc -n macpro 192.168.1.3

The -n specifies the name the client is to be known by, here it is ‘macpro’ and the last parameter is the address of the Synergy server (you can use either the IP address or the DNS name, your choice). Having tested that it all worked ok, my next task was to get Synergy to start automatically when I logged on to the Mac. Another freeware application called Lingon came to the rescue here. I installed it, then created a User Agent for Synergy with /Applications/Synergy/synergyc -n macpro 192.168.1.3 in Lingon’s ‘What’ box (note you need to give Lingon the full path to the command). I ticked the box ‘Keep it running all the time no matter what happens’ and it’s worked flawlessly ever since.

Synergy on OpenSuse 11.0

opensuse To cut a long story short, the install of OpenSUSE 11.0 was a breeze, unlike the hair-tearing efforts I went through to get Ubuntu 8.04 on to the same machine. I expect by now the web is awash with blogs detailing every aspect of the new OpenSUSE 11.0 offering, but what follows is my little success story with installing Synergy the easy way.

Getting Synergy installed was more of a challenge as Linux expects you to know your way around the system a little if you decide to stray off the standard application path so to speak. I downloaded the rpm version of Synergy for Linux and put it in its own folder. Navigating to that folder as the root user, I was greeted with a dependency failure when I attempted to install it … something about libstdc++-libc6.2-2.so.3 is needed by synergy-1.3.1-1.i386 !  When my friendly Linux ‘guru’ called I mentioned this and he started reeling off what I needed to do to find dependencies, get rpm’s and, well… it all sounded just too complicated. I gave up for the evening and decided to sleep on it.

The next day I started up the Linux machine and started to Google for a solution. There wasn’t anything that didn’t involve arcane commands and compiling things, but as I was browsing through YaST the penny dropped! Tell YaST that my Synergy download folder is a software repository (well it does contain an rpm file) and let YaST worry about the dependencies. So, what follows are the steps to install Synergy under OpenSUSE the ‘easy’ way:

  • Start YaST and enter the root password when prompted.
  • In the righthand pane of the YaST window, choose Software Repositories.
  • Click on the Add button, bottom left.
  • Choose Local Directory and click Next
  • Give your new repository a name and then use the Browse button to navigate to the folder where you downloaded the Synergy rpm file to and click Next.
  • YaST will add your Synergy download folder to its list of Configured Software Repositories.
  • Once that’s done, return to the YaST Control Centre window and choose Software Management.
  • In the Search box type ‘synergy’ (without the quotes).
  • On the right you will see details of the package YaST has found inside your rpm.
  • Put a tick next to the synergy entry and make sure that the Autocheck box at the bottom of the screen is checked.
  • Click on the Accept button and YaST will obligingly install Synergy for you and will also resolve any dependencies it has, downloading extra files if needed.
  • The final step is to open a terminal and test it out. You can use the same command line as you use for the Mac version.

Provided you have already configured the Synergy ‘server’ with the name your client machine is going to use, and which edges of the screen will switch to other computers, all should be well. My last task is going to be to set the Synergy client to automatically load as Linux starts up, but for now I’m just happy that my desk is back down to just ONE keyboard and mouse!

When I was a kid, my mum always told me to say “Thankyou”, so…

Thanks to Chris Schoeneman for creating Synergy and ultimately saving me a bundle of money on trying out ever more expensive hardware solutions. It’s a shame Synergy isn’t being actively developed any more, but I’m sure Chris has better things to do these days and besides – it works! Thanks also to Peter Borg the creator of Lingon. I shall be hitting that Donate button! Finally, if you miss having the GUI that the Windows version of Synergy gives you, then check out QuickSynergy. I haven’t used it myself, but it looks pretty useful if you want to use a Mac or a Linux machine as your Synergy server.

Links

You might want to check out Christy Tucker’s blog for an interesting article about Synergy. Christy, WordPress popped up a link to your blog as soon as I published this article so I thought I’d give you a mention ;-).

Reading Christy’s blog also reminded me of an Engadget article about using Synergy, although their notes assume you know a lot more about resolving Linux dependencies and compiling modules than I do! My Linux friend might shriek in horror when I tell him how I’ve managed to install Synergy, and the next kernel update might well hose everything. We shall see…

MacScan Uninstall

My gripe for the day is software where the authors provide no information on how to uninstall it. Sure, some Mac users subscribe to the theory that all you need to is drag the application ‘icon’ to the Trash Bin and that’s it, but I’m not one of them. I soon discovered that Mac applications not only have an install folder but tend to create ‘plist’ entries as well, and some go further than that.

MacScanHaving read a recent article at MacWorld about a new Mac-specific trojan, I thought, what harm can it do just to download MacScan and give it a go? I duly did and I proceeded with the demo, and sure enough it didn’t find any spyware or other nasties on my Mac Pro. So was I over-reacting to this trojan scare? Probably, and that’s why I decided I’d uninstall MacScan but help in knowing exactly how to remove it seemed hard to come by.

Firstly, there’s nothing in the documentation that comes with the application. There’s a ReadMe file and a short manual, but neither make mention of how to uninstall it. So I headed off to the MacScan website and tried the Support link. Searching for ‘uninstall’ and variations of it, revealed nothing. So I then read though each of the MacScan Support Knowledgebase topics, but found nothing that would help a user remove the product. In frustration I turned to my trusty AppZapper to see what it would make of MacScan. It suggested that the following should be deleted:

  • (app) /Applications/MacScan 2/MacScan.app
  • (pref) ~/Library/Preferences/com.securemac.plist
  • (pref) ~/Library/Preferences/MacScan Statistics.plist
  • (receipt) /Library/Receipts/MacScan Installer.pkg
  • (installer) ~/Downloads/MacScan Trial
  • (folder) /Applications/MacScan 2

The list looked reasonable, so I let AppZapper do its thing and just hope that it’s cleared out everything and that I haven’t got bits of MacScan left behind anywhere. Fortunately I hadn’t set up the MacScan scheduler otherwise I suspect there may have been more to remove.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that MacScan is a bad product – it’s just that I didn’t really think I had a use for it and couldn’t justify the $29.99 price tag. What would be nice though would be if products like this included clear instructions for how to uninstall it, because for anyone who doesn’t have something like AppZapper installed, finding all the various bits to remove may not be so easy.

Ironic in a way that a piece of software that helps you uninstall other undesireable programs, doesn’t actually help you uninstall itself.

MacBitz Calender 2.0

I’ll get there one day – a seamless instantly updated calendar on whatever platform I’m using, and with no duplicates!

Calendar v1.0Right now I’m doing a reasonably good job at keeping four calendars in step by using Google Calendar as a central hub and then running various bits of synchronization software to get it talking to the various platforms I use. It’s good but it’s not without its problems. CompanionLink for Google works beautifully, it sits there and just works which is what you want software to do (it’s a shame the same can’t be said for Lotus Notes 8.0 that it connects to, but that’s another story). Likewise, Google Calendar Sync lets Outlook 2007 chat to Google every two hours and it all works.

The fly in the ointment at the moment is iCal. For some strange reason it chooses to duplicate certain ‘All Day’ events when replicating with Google Calendar using Calgoo Connect. Calgoo itself seems to be working fine because those duplicate events don’t appear in either Google or in Entourage 2008 which syncs automatically in the background via its preferences. When I get a bit more time I’ll dig deeper and try to see why iCal is being difficult.

However, things are going to change as I am thinking about a new plan for my unified calendar and it’s based around the newly announced MobileMe service and the 3G iPhone.

As an existing .Mac user, I’ll be getting the free upgrade to MobileMe some time in July this year. I’ve watched the Guided Tour and have to say that it looks promising, particularly if the synchronization between MobileMe and Outlook 2007 works like they say it will. The other thing is Apple has finally seen the light and is allowing mobile operators to offer the iPhone at a much more realistic price. Whereas before the old iPhone was an eye-watering £259 with an 18 month contract starting at £35 from O2 (meaning the iPhone would cost you a minimum of £889), you’ll now be able to get it for just £99 plus £30 over 18 months. That’s still £639 over 18 months, but for what the iPhone can do that seems like a more reasonable price.

In my favour is the fact that I don’t change my mobile that often so maybe 18 months won’t seem too long. Calendar v2.0My trusty Orange SPV C500 is around 3 years old and is showing it’s age, with keys that work when they feel like it and a heavily scarred case. I had thought about staying with Orange UK and perhaps getting an HTC Touch Dual or maybe the Diamond or Touch Pro if Orange take them up, but as various commentators have pointed out – the touch screen while pretty good, is still an afterthought for the current Windows Mobile platform, plus the iPhone is largely navigable with just your finger while the Touch quickly has you using a stylus… something small and pointy that’s just begging to be lost!

The final link in my new calendar system is CompanionLink who have kindly pointed out that they are planning a version that will allow you to sync Lotus Notes with your iPhone. I can’t wait for this, and if it’s as easy and reliable as their current Notes to Google offering, then I’ll be, well… truly organized for a change.

What remains to be seen is whether switching to the MobileMe service lets iCal play nice with Entourage 2008, rather than duplicating birthdays and the like. The only other dealbreaker would be if I can’t get an O2 signal at home, in which case I’ll have to stick with MacBitz Calendar v1.0 for longer than I’d hoped.