There’s a simpler solution

When people get ham radios, what is the main thing they do with them? Talk about ham radio equipment.

When people buy tools, what is the main thing they do with them? Build cabinets to store the tools.

“Must have” home improvement products

I receive a variety of Home Improvement catalogs filled with silly inventions that solve non-problems around the home. There’s an outdoor faucet extension that eliminates scraped knuckles, a special tool for “cleaning the grass-caked underside of your lawnmower”, and an $86 solution to “wipe away dirt, dust, and grime from underneath your gutters”.

Given my contempt, it’s scary to see how I pore over the catalogs and purchase all sorts of products. Some of them I end up loving, and some turn out to be duds. For instance, from Sporty’s Tool Shop:

  • (+) Backsaver Tote This is my favorite item. I had a previous tote to haul logs into the house — I would load it up, grab the handles and lift it as high as possible, and then awkwardly trudge along, resting it on my hip. The Backsaver Tote holds twice as much effortlessly — it’s well designed and ruggedly built. I expected that it would be awkward to hold the handle, but it rests comfortably against the wood with little effort. And it’s also easy to open the house door, since only one hand is needed for the Tote.
  • Magnetic Vent Covers We have an unused bedroom, and I imagine that I am saving on heating costs by covering the vents in that room. The Covers are magnetized just barely enough to stay in place, and the ceiling vent in the bathroom is particularly precarious.
  • (+) Remote Control Outlet with Wireless Remote Perfect for Christmas Tree lights on the roof.
  • GutterPump I have two downspouts that can barely be reached with an extension ladder and are frequently clogged.  It has been great for two years.
  • (+) 10 Gallon Collapsible Lawn Container Lightweight and convenient for collecting debris while gardening.
  • Brick Clips Work quite well for hanging pictures on our brick wall, without requiring any drilling.
  • Motion Activated Outdoor Light Provides barely enough light by the garbage cans.
  • (-) Deer Repellent Scented packets that are useless.
  • (+) Garden Kneeler/Seat Fantastic when we got it for $12.
  • 1 lb. Propane Refill Adapter Seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m afraid to use it — I can imagine the explosion from a spark.
  • (+) Parking Mat It’s embarrassing how much I like this. When you drive over the bump, you know you’re in the right spot.
  • (-) Oil Changing System Useless piece of crap. I returned it. Supposedly changes your oil through the dipstick tube. Is capable of drawing out several drops of oil per hour.
  • (-) Large Coil Keeper For hanging extension cords. Stupidly designed — the weight of the coil pulls the velcro apart.
  • (+) 3-Pc. Socket Driver Set Love it. Use your electric drill with your socket wrench set.
  • (+) 3-Prong Space-Saving Outlet Perfect for an outlet located next to our bookshelf.
  • (+) Easy-Movers Put them under our home entertainment center, and they work great when I need to slide it out.
  • (-) Dryer Vent Brush Can’t believe I bought it. Doesn’t work well on thin aluminum vents, and no, I don’t believe there’s a fire hazard.

What’s wrong with Mac OS X Lion

  • Most importantly, many apps no longer work.
  • iCal: A team of software engineers from Microsoft sneaked onto the Apple campus to create this app. The cowboy-themed skin is the ugliest ever developed by Apple, and the user experience makes the most common tasks difficult:
    • In “Month” view, clicking on a day doesn’t select it. Double-clicking creates an all-day event, which you rarely want to do. When you edit the all-day event to create a normal event, it defaults to being an 8-hour event, which you never want to do.
    • There’s a prominent “+” button to create multiple overlaid calendars, which you rarely want to do. I’ve seen a couple of users try to create a new calendar entry with this button.
  • Apparently Apple wants to move to a single OS for both laptops and tablets.  Along the way, laptop users are going to get reduced and awkward interactions:
    • Spelling auto-correct on the iPhone uses the bold and appropriate default of replacing your typing with the correction. It’s appropriate for an interface where entering text is difficult and error-prone.  It’s not appropriate for keyboard input. But now it’s the default in Lion.
    • The tap-tap-hold trackpad gesture used to let you Drag in Snow Leopard. It still works for me because my preference was carried over, but this Preference has been removed from System Preferences:Trackpad:Point & Click.
    • The excellent interface for searching across Mail messages has been discarded. A new impoverished pulldown offers few options, and if they haven’t guessed what you want to do, you’re out of luck. For instance, you can’t search the From field.
    • Previously, double-clicking the bar between column headers in the Finder would expand the column to show the longest entry.  No more.

Apple abuses its Mac users with Lion

As much as I like Apple in general, I have found Apple’s attitude about upgrading to Lion to be inexcusable. says nothing to warn me about the problems that result. Lion is not backwards compatible; many of my applications no longer work, and for some, there is no way to fix the problem.

If you purchased software for a PowerPC Mac, that software will not run on Lion. Snow Leopard included a feature called Rosetta that enabled all PowerPC apps to run on the newer Intel-based Macs.  With Lion, Apple decided to discontinue Rosetta, so none of your PowerPC apps will run,  Apple Says Nothing on their website to warn you, and as a Mac user, there is nothing you can do about it. For some applications, there are newer versions that you can purchase, but for many applications, there is no version that will run on Lion, and there never will be.

  • Quicken will not run on Lion. Visiting Intuit’s website explains that there is a fix as long as you convert your Quicken file before upgrading to Lion. After you have upgraded, there is no way to access your Quicken data. [Update: Intuit has now released an updated version of Quicken 2007 for Mac that runs on Lion]
  • iPhoto doesn’t run.  You have to buy the new version.
  • my Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint don’t run. I have to purchase a new Microsoft Office.
  • Eudora doesn’t run. Eudora is an old mail program which is no longer maintained.  I have been using Apple’s Mail program for several years, but I have 10 years of email in Eudora that I need to consult on occasion. It is impossible to view that mail now in Lion.

The only way to run PowerPC applications is to install a separate version of Snow Leopard in a separate disk partition. I have spent three weeks and three visits to the Apple Store to try to accomplish this.

  • Ideally, I would use vmware’s $75 Fusion app to run Snow Leopard within Lion.  However, Apple has declared it illegal to run Snow Leopard as a vm, so Fusion has been forced to disable this capability.
  • I would prefer to install Snow Leopard on an external drive. But external drives are not Apple hardware, so Apple does not support this and will not assist you.
  • I tried to install Snow Leopard myself on an external drive. But the Snow Leopard dvd that I purchased from the Apple Store just hangs and will not install, since I have already installed a newer version (Lion) on my Mac.

The only alternative is to repartition the hard drive in my Mac. But you can’t repartition without deleting all of the information on the drive. I have done so, repartitioned the drive, and re-installed Lion from a Time Machine backup.  I am still working on getting my Mac to function properly again. For instance, after an hour with Tech Support from Adobe, downloading a “license fix” app, and typing the appropriate “sudo” command into a Terminal window, I can now use Photoshop again.

Two perfect tools for replacing Christmas lights

Wire cutters and a 1/4″ socket:


The wire cutters (aka diagonal cutters) make it easy to pop out the old light, and the 1/4″ socket fits nicely over the new light, making it easy to press it into place.

Convert movies on a Mac for iPhone

My digital camera takes nice movies as well as photos. The movies play just fine in QuickTime, but they aren’t in the right format for the iPhone. Fortunately, Apple’s Automator has the necessary commands to automate converting movies and importing them into iTunes. You can drop multiple movies or a folder of movies onto the app and they will all be converted and imported.

Here’s a screenshot of the Automator app:

To create the script, you drag and drop the two commands from the left side of Automator. If you’ve never used Automator, there’s a nice one-page tutorial at Mac 101: Automator

I use the 720p Setting to encode the movies, since that works well on the iPhone 4S. For older iPhones, you may want to use 480p.  I have the movies added to an iTunes playlist I named iPhone movies. (You create a playlist in iTunes by clicking the “+” in the lower left corner of iTunes. Then with your iPhone plugged in to your Mac, select your iPhone under Devices on the left side of iTunes, click the Movies button along the top of the iTunes window, and click the checkbox for your playlist in the Include Movies from Playlists area.)

Reading documents in Preview

In the Preview app on the Mac — which is great for reading pdf’s — there are a couple of good ways to read documents when a full page does not fit comfortably on the screen.
One way is to use View>PDF Display>Single Page Continuous
Here’s the other way, which I prefer. It uses a nice feature in Preview that lets you Crop a page to get rid of all of the extra white space surrounding the page. This just changes the view, and doesn’t modify the actual page.

  • Click on a page in the sidebar, then Select All (cmd-A).
  • Choose ‘Select’ in the toolbar.  Drag out just the text region of the current page, without the extraneous white space. Click Inspector (cmd-I) (You can also put it in the toolbar). In the next-to-last tab of the Inspector, click Crop.
  • View>Hide Toolbar (this menu item is not available if the Inspector window is frontmost)
  • View>PDF Display>Crop Box
  • View>PDF Display>Single Page
  • Hide the Finder’s Dock, and Drag the window so it’s as tall as possible and very wide (so as not to constrain the next step)
  • View>Zoom to Fit.  If there isn’t plenty of extra gray space remaining on the sides, you didn’t start with the window wide enough. You can now make the window narrower.

The downArrow key will now go to the next page.
Assuming the font is still too small to read comfortably, Zoom In (cmd-+) once or twice. Drag the window so it is wide enough for this zoomed view.
Now, as you read, use (fn-upArrow and fn-downArrow) to jump to the top and bottom of the current page. And if you are currently at the bottom of a page, fn-downArrow will take you to the top of the next page, which is ideal. (I think the PageUp and PageDown keys do the same thing)

How to publish a Word document to MediaWiki

  • In Word, File>Save as Web Page…
  • In Firefox, Open the Web Page and View>Page Source. (In FFox 5, the menu is now Tools>Web Developer>Page Source)
  • Copy everything inside the <body> tags
  • Paste into a new plain text file (e.g. using TextEdit on a Mac)
  • Use the Find command to Replace All <o:p></o:p>  with nothing
  • Use the Find command to Replace All <![if !supportEmptyParas]>&nbsp;<![endif]>   with nothing
  • Go to and paste the edited text into the “Raw HTML” textbox
  • Set Wiki dialect to MediaWiki
  • click the Convert button

My 5-Star Netflix DVDs

Here are the DVDs that I rated 5-Stars in Netflix:

  1. 12 Angry Men
  2. 16 Blocks
  3. 21 Grams
  4. 25th Hour
  5. After the Wedding
  6. Amores Perros
  7. Animal Kingdom
  8. Annie Hall
  9. Another Year
  10. Babel
  11. Before Night Falls
  12. Blow
  13. Body of Lies
  14. Boyz N the Hood
  15. Bread and Roses
  16. Breaking and Entering
  17. Brooklyn’s Finest
  18. Brothers
  19. Brothers
  20. City of God
  21. Closer
  22. Dead Man Walking
  23. Die Hard
  24. Eastern Promises
  25. Factory Girl
  26. Fair Game
  27. Fargo
  28. Five Minutes of Heaven
  29. Four Brothers
  30. Fragments
  31. Fresh
  32. Friends with Money
  33. Great Pas de Deux
  34. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  35. In Bruges
  36. Inception
  37. Inside the Actors Studio: Robin Williams
  38. Kids
  39. La Haine
  40. Man on Fire
  41. Million Dollar Baby
  42. Monster’s Ball
  43. Mother and Child
  44. Mystic River
  45. Onegin
  46. Please Give
  47. Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire
  48. Pride and Glory
  49. Redemption
  50. Requiem for a Dream
  51. Running Scared
  52. sex, lies, and videotape
  53. Shooter
  54. Spun
  55. Street Kings
  56. Sylvia
  57. Taxi Driver
  58. Tender Mercies
  59. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  60. The Battle of Algiers
  61. The Beat That My Heart Skipped
  62. The Bourne Identity
  63. The Bourne Supremacy
  64. The Bourne Ultimatum
  65. The Celebration
  66. The Crime of Padre Amaro
  67. The Departed
  68. The Fighter
  69. The Good Shepherd
  70. The Hours
  71. The Hunt for Red October
  72. The Hurt Locker
  73. The Kids Are All Right
  74. The Kingdom
  75. The Lives of Others
  76. The Lover
  77. The Matrix
  78. The Pledge
  79. The Remains of the Day
  80. There Will Be Blood
  81. The Score
  82. The Shawshank Redemption
  83. The Transporter
  84. Things We Lost in the Fire
  85. Thirteen Days
  86. Three Kings
  87. Traffic
  88. Training Day
  89. Up in the Air

Copying the songs in an iTunes playlist

iTunes has a command “File>Library>Export Playlist…” which only exports a text listing of the songs — it doesn’t copy the actual song files.

I just spent a good bit of time searching for a way to export the actual song files, and found a very nice solution. There is a free app called “iTunes Export” available at . Click the black bar labeled “INSTALL NOW”. Installation is a rather involved process, since it uses Adobe AIR, but it works.

  • Use the iTunes command “File>Library>Export Playlist…” and select Format: XML before clicking Save.
  • Start the “iTunes Export” application
  • Browse to the XML file you just saved, then click Next. (Keep using the Next buttons, not the Finish button.)
  • On the “Select Playlists to Export” screen, click the “Select All” button, otherwise the Next button will be grayed out. Click Next.
  • On the “Select Export Options” screen, make sure to choose “Copy Per Playlist” as the “Copy Files” option. Click Next.
  • I found that “iTunes Export” then froze my mouse so I couldn’t do anything until it had finished, but it worked perfectly.
  • Yes, I made a donation. It’s strange — you have to click “Update Total” in the PayPal window.