Fix Lightroom's odd Vista incompatibility

If you’re using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 on Vista, it’s likely that you’ve been frustrated by its inability to import anything. (The error message is a not-very-helpful “Could not copy/move a file to the requested location”, along with a list of every file you tried to import.)

Assuming you’re Lightroom’s import defaults, the workaround is to choose By Date: Year-Month-Day instead of By Date: Year/Month-Day in the Import Photos dialog.

It’s a odd issue, given that importing is among the most basic abilities of the app, that decent Vista releases had been available for several months before Lightroom’s release, and that Vista went final before Lightroom did.

Thankfully there don’t appear to be other problems as brain-dead this one, and I’ve now moved to Lightroom full-time for photo management and digital developing.

Drobo now $200 cheaper, just as gooder

As more and more of my media goes digital, hard drive management becomes more and more of a hassle. At this point I have a couple terabytes worth of storage, but it’s spread across multiple PCs and external drives, and that makes it difficult to manage and protect.

One of the NAS-like devices I’ve been tracking is the recently-announced Drobo. Drobo is basically a NAS (network-attached storage device), but without the two most important things that typically define a NAS — network and RAID support. Seems like it misses the point, right? And yet the “it’s not a NAS, it’s a data robot” Drobo is likely to be the most interesting things to happen in storage this year.

I was very glad to see that the NAS-less chaps over at Data Robotics just lowered the price of the Drobo (their not-yet-released flagship storage product) by almost 30%. Formerly an reasonably-good value at $699, Drobo is now only $499, plopping it squarely into great value territory. (That assumes it works as advertised, which we should all know by the end of June.)

Like any NAS worthy of the name, Drobo can contain multiple drives (up to four). Unlike almost all NASs, you don’t need to install your drives (SATA I and II) into special carrier trays before you click them into the unit. No trays means fewer pieces to keep around and no tools to lose, and a smaller profile as well.

Like any normal NAS configuration, Drobo makes multiple drives look like one BAHD (Big-Ass Hard Drive), automatically distributing data across multiple disks to protect against drive failure and data corruption.

Instead of using RAID 1 (drive mirroring, for two drives) or RAID 5 (striped with distributed parity, for 3+ drives), Drobo does it’s own thing. This lets it do neat tricks, like making new storage available almost instantly — you don’t shut Drobo down, or go through a format process.

To me, positioning the Drobo as a “data robot” makes about as much sense as calling an iPod a “music robot”. But if anthropomorphizing their product is what gets them through the night, that’s alright.

Burned by Vista

A few weeks ago some neighbors got married at home, surrounded by family and friends. I took a few photos.

Today I thought I’d burn a CD for them. My CD/DVD burner can burn CD-Rs at 48X, and I’m using good-quality 52X-rated media, so I figured it would take about five minutes.

At this moment, Vista is about 1/10 of the way through burning 60 files (about 275 MB) to CD. At its current place, Vista estimate that it will take a total of about 4 hours to complete the job.

That’s right. About four hours to burn less than half a CDs-worth of data.

Honestly…what is wrong with Microsoft?

[Around 2 hours into it, the novelty of seeing how long Vista would actually take wore off. I started over with Nero, which completed the same job in 2 minutes, 16 seconds.]

Make iTunes (mostly) work for multiple users on Windows

Been waiting for most of the decade for iTunes to become multi-user savvy? Yeah, me too. Since iTunes’ Windows support is (and will probably continue to be) a bit weak at the edges, here’s how to fool iTunes into playing nice with multi-user Windows installations.

To do this, we’ll need to do two things:

  • Move iTunes’ library and preferences to a common location
  • Fool iTunes into using the new library/preferences locations

You might think you’d do this using Windows Shortcuts. Unfortunately, Shortcuts are too “lame” (sorry to get so technical) to support this.

The solution is to use NFTS junction points, which are more analogous to Mac aliases and Linux symbolic links, and which you can easily find more about if you’re really interested. Otherwise, just download and install NTFS Link, a Windows shell extension that allows us to easily create NTFS junction points.

(Note: These instructions assume you’re using Vista. Since all of my readers are far-above-average when it comes to looks and intelligence, I’m confident that anyone using XP will be able to adjust system folder names and locations accordingly.)

First, open the Public Music folder, which you’ll find in your Public folder. You’ll want to keep this window around, since you’ll be dragging stuff in and out of it until you’re done.

Next, move the iTunes library folder. Open a new window to your personal Music folder, and move the iTunes folder to your already-open Public Music folder. Rename the moved folder iTunes Library.

Then, move the iTunes preferences folder. Open a new window to Username | AppData | Local | Apple Computer, and move the iTunes folder to your already-open Public Music folder. Rename the moved folder iTunes Preferences. (If you can’t see the AppData folders, open the Folder Options control panel, go to the View tab, and make sure Show hidden files and folders is selected.)

Finally, create NTFS junction points. Right-click the iTunes Library folder in Public Music, drag it to your personal Music folder, and choose Create Junction Here. Rename the junction point you just created iTunes. Now right-click the iTunes Preferences folder in Public Music, drag it to Username | AppData | Local | Apple Computer, and choose Create Junction Here. Rename the junction point you just created iTunes.

You’re done! Launch iTunes to verify that it works normally, then just create NTFS junction points for other users as necessary. Since iTunes isn’t multi-user aware it’s best not to run multiple instances of iTunes on different user sessions simultaneously, but you should find that iPod syncing, etc. will great.

What the heck is happening at ATI?

As a long-time ATI customer, it was ominous to see ati.com get redirected to a sub-domain of amd.com — a huge marketing/branding mistake, on the order of moving the Jaguar site to a tab under ford.com. (Ford owns Jaguar, for those who may not track that kind of thing.)

Since being absorbed by AMD, ATI has been stumbling from a quality perspective. It’s not clear if there’s a cause/effect relationship there, or if ATI would be having so many problems even if they were still independent.

Example: After upgrading to ATI’s Catalyst 7.2 drivers, my Media Center could no longer play high-definition video. I’d updated recently enough that I was able to connect the dots pretty quickly — the solution was either downgrade to Catalyst 7.1, or to trash Catalyst altogether (using Vista’s built-in driver instead).

Example: ATI’s latest Catalyst 7.3 drivers are causing boot-crash-boot-crash infinite loops for enough people (myself included) that it’s easy to find lots of ticked-off users. I spent many painful hours trying to figure out how I was going to recover from this one, so hopefully this tip saves other folks some time and pain:

  • Launch msconfig
  • Go to the Services tab
  • Disable Ati External Event Utility

(What’s really silly is that Ati External Event Utility is apparently pointless except under some rare and ill-defined scenarios, and that almost no customers would miss it.)

Example: ATI announced at CES that they would be shipping their ATI TV Wonder Digital Cable Tuner on January 30. And they apparently did, for a few days, but they had to halt shipments shortly thereafter because of bugs. Nearly three months later, the product is still awaiting approval from CableLabs.

So, what the heck is going on? Are the quality control problems really issues that normal, reasonably-thorough testing couldn’t have caught, unrelated to the AMD acquisition? Has the currently product line grown beyond what the QA team can handle? Is there an internal fight-to-the-death between now-redundant departments, regardless of the reputation cost to one or both brands?

It’d be fascinating to know, and I wonder whether I’ve bought my last ATI product. I do know that if ATI continues to fail me, AMD loses me as a customer, too.

Devil's in-box

Demonstrating that not all religions take themselves too seriously, today is known by Catholics as “Good Friday”. (“Worst…Friday…Ever” lost out as being too much of a downer since by the time we named it we already knew that it turns out pretty well, and “Ohhh, Great Friday” was ruled out as being a bit too snarkastic.)

As someone who went to Catholic school in his formative years, I say “Good for Catholicism!” I only regret that it took me so long to understand the church’s sense of humor. It explains a lot.

Even as a recovering Catholic, it still seemed like a bad omen to open Outlook and see this:

Devil's in-box

Outlook is a tool of the devil and it hasn’t stopped me before, but I think I’ll just close it and deal with my email tomorrow. Better safe than sorry.

Gmail + POP + mailing lists = broken

My hosting provider (DreamHost, which is generally great) has a webmail interface that can only graciously be called “classic”. They use SquirrelMail, whose user interface was pretty cool in the early 90s but hasn’t evolved since then.

One path to better webmail is Google Apps for Your Domain‘s Gmail, which is the very model of a modern major webmail app. Google Apps is a great service, mostly. Google Apps lets you use Gmail with your own domain, which is theoretically very sweet.

However, for a couple months I’ve been wrestling with a serious email delivery problem since I switched to Google Apps. After hour-upon-frustrating-hour of research and testing, here’s what I’ve learned:

Gmail (including Gmail for Google Apps) blocks your POP email client from receiving posts you make to mailing lists. It apparently blocks any email it thinks you’ve sent to yourself, even if it didn’t come directly from you.

I emailed the support address for Google Apps on January 8, but haven’t heard back. After two weeks, it’s unlikely that I ever will. I tried to ping Keith Coleman, Google’s Gmail product manager, but he’s done a great job of keeping his email address out of his employer’s index. (My hope is that everyone suffering from the same problem will at least find this post and take a little comfort that It’s Not Just Them.)

Let’s categorize this email block as a Google Is Smarter Than You problem, or GISTY. GISTY is the magical unicorn that lives in (feeds on?) the hearts and minds of all Google employees. The really annoying thing about magical unicorns like GISTY is that she knows — knows! — what you would want if you just knew better.

GISTY’s magical thinking is, Hey, since you’ve already seen this email, I’ll just block your email client from getting it. And I’m not going to file it in spam where you could whitelist it, or give you any other way to get it. That’s okay, right? But she doesn’t actually tell you this. And then she stabs you in the ass with her alicorn, making you wonder what the hell that was all about.

Stupid unicorns.

This GISTY problem makes it difficult to use mailing lists, since it means no local archiving, no local search, and no way to confirm whether and when your email was posted to a list, at least not without performing serious email acrobatics.

“Ahhh!”, you say. “Just create another nickname for the user in Google Apps, and then subscribe to the email list with both nicknames, and then post email with one nickname and receive it with the other!” Tried it, doesn’t work…again, GISTY knows better.

I’m afraid that we’ll see more and more of GISTY as Google calcifies, which it gradually seems to be doing.

It’d be nice if this post got the attention of someone at Google, because I know from trolling forums that lots of people are having problems, and that nobody from Google is even acknowledging the issue. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to find a product manager that cares, and I’ll report back if anything changes.

Steve's Macworld keynote: What you need to know about the iPhone and more

2006 was a first — Microsoft was way more interesting than Apple. Microsoft had Xbox 360, Windows Vista and Zune. All Apple had were slightly better Macs, slightly better iPods, and slightly better iTunes. (There was something about an Intel transition, but that was a been-there, done-that for long-time Apple fans and uninteresting to everyone else.)

2007 is a different story, and Apple’s put on its dancing shoes. Yeah, baby! Here’s what you need to know from Steve’s Macworld keynote:

The iPods are doing great, and iTunes is doing great. Apple’s sold over 2 billion songs, and is selling over 5 million songs a day. Apple’s is now the 5th-largest music retailer, ahead of Amazon and trailing Target. Steve noted that the Zune is sucking pretty hard.

Steve announced AppleTV, which was the thing he called iTV when he previewed it last year. In short, it’s a combination iPod/AirPort Express for your TV. It does 720p video, has a 40 GB hard drive, does 802.11 b/g/n, and has all the ins and outs you’d expect. It’s priced at $299 and ships in February.

And finally, iPhone. You can now officially forget about “iTunes” running on crappy cell phones — Apple has reinvented the mobile phone. My prediction is that the iPhone platform will eclipse Apple’s desktops and laptops as its primary consumer platform by the end of the decade.

Apple iPhone

Hardware-wise, the iPhone is a mobile device that connected as hell, with quad-band GSM/EDGE, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), and Bluetooth (2.0 with EDR). It’s got a large-ish (3.5″), high-resolution (320×480 @ 160 ppi), widescreen, touchscreen display, making it Apple’s first device since the Newton to have one. :-) The iPhone is the first device I know of to support multi-touch, allowing more sophisticated UI gestures. Finally, it’s also got a 2.0 megapixel camera.

Software-wise, the iPhone runs a flavor of Mac OS X. It uses an enhanced-for-mobile version of Safari for browsing, using that same engine to support rich HTML email. It supports widgets, and includes an excellent implementation of Google Maps. Apple has partnered with Yahoo! to provide free IMAP email.

The iPhone will set you back $599 (there’s one with half the memory at $499, but that seems pointless) with a 2-year contract with Cingular (which will be Apple’s exclusive partner for the iPhone in the U.S.) and ships in June. It’ll be available in Q4’07 in Europe, and in 2008 in Asia.

It's not just you: Vista can't reliably unzip files (0x800704C8)

If you’re one of the few, the…well, maybe not proud…running Vista, this should look familiar:

Vista error 0x800704C8

If you’re not running Vista, this is what happens — multiple times — when you extract files from a .zip archive. (To unzip this particular archive, I had to click Try Again to get past this error more than 30 times.)

The “Do this for all current items” is a nice gesture, but unfortunately it does nothing.

Vista may be great by 2008. But in 2007, it’s far from heaven.

Maybe Büyükkökten.com wasn't available

Hey! Valleywag finally posted something that warranted having it in my feed reader.

Orkut Büyükkökten, creator of the Google social network that bears his name, dashes into CEO Eric Schmidt’s office and says, “We have a million Brazilian users!”

Eric says, “Keep up the good work.”

After Orkut leaves, Eric calls VP Marissa Mayer and asks, “How many is a brazillion again?”

To me, Valleywag has always been that crappy-looking site (I know…pot, kettle, black) with a perpetual identity crisis. I’m thinking jokes are its true calling.

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