#124 Lingon, Mac Google Desktop, Bento, QT vulnerability, Auto Gain Control in Skype

Allison gets a Vista laptop at work, Allison co-hosts The MacCore Podcast, PubSubAgent resolved for now, Lingon from lingon.sourceforge.net for messing with your daemons, RemoteBuddy from iospirit.com is too hard to use. Why Google Docs are lame, why Google cool with Picasa Web Album uploader from picasa.google.com finally works with iPhoto ’08 and Google Desktop for Mac from desktop.google.com/mac. Bento (apple.com) review from Ron. Chit Chat Across the Pond with Bart Busschots covers a vulnerability in Quicktime, go to Bart’s Blog to download the preference pane to fix it. Turn off Auto Gain Control in Skype with the hack at jkontherun.blogs.com.

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[tags]Macintosh, Google Dekstop, Vulnerability, security, Skype[/tags]Today is Sunday, December 2nd, 2007 and this is show #124.

my new windows laptopWell, something horrible has happened to me at work. For the first time in my 29.5 years of employment, the company has bought me a WINDOWS PC. yes, this could be the end of an era. Expect a LOT of whining over the next six months or longer, like explain to me why, after the machine has gone to sleep and into the screen lock, do you have to hit control-alt-delete to get to the login screen? What ELSE would you need to do other than log in? sheesh. It’s going to be a long six months I figure, for you and me both! the good news is I was able to hand pick the model which turned into an interesting story. I chose the Compaq 6720s, which is an Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GHz with an 800Mhz front side bus, and 2MB of L2 cache. Got it with 4 GB so I could run Linux under VMWare, so even though it’s a PC, I’ll be going really fast up until each time I have to hit an OK button for no reason. It’s even got a LightScribe DVD writer – don’t know if you’ve seen that, but it’s an HP technology that lets you actually scribe the logo or whatever you want into the surface of the DVD instead of using a label. Takes forever, probably won’t ever use it, but it’s boasting rights at least.

Ok, here’s the funny part. It came with Vista on it, but our standard is still XP of course, so a sys admin was dispatched to load up our XP image. Unfortunately whatever he did, he couldn’t get the network card to function. He spent two hours on the phone with HP, and finally they told him that the network card would ONLY work under Vista! Can you believe that??? he reloaded up Vista, and sure enough, it works fine. Well, as fine as Vista can be expected to be.

Bottom line is I’ll be able to do some valid comparisons of Vista vs. Leopard, and you’ll get to hear how much I love my new PC.

The MacCore
This week I had the great pleasure of being on Katie’s The MacCore Podcast. You’ll get an extra bonus show this week, because I’ll be stuffing this episode of her podcast into my feed some time later this week. Hope it doesn’t scare you when it flies in there spontaneously!

PubSubAgent redux
Remember last week I was ranting about this REALLY annoying message that kept popping up whenever I was at work – “pubsubagent has quit unexpectedly, report?” I broke down and called Apple Care, and after an hour and 24 minutes on hold and actually working my way up 3 levels of support, they thought they had the solution, but it didn’t fix the problem. One of the things the top level support woman suggested was that it had something to do with RSS feeds in the Safari toolbar or in Apple Mail. i can’t run Mail at work, but I do have Safari RSS feeds. I tested her theory by adding my own feed to the Safari toolbar, and all 122 entries popped right in just fine.

David wrote in and made this suggestion for my problem:

Listened to the rest of your podcast on my way to the airport today (headed for Toronto). I’ve seen the pubsubagent problem before. I think it may be related to RSS Feeds in Safari which require a password — Remember the Milk seemed to be my culprit. You might try disabling “Check for Updates” in the RSS tab of Safari preferences to see if that solves the problem.”

I never thought about them actually needing a password. I am on one list that I think requires one, and I have the feed for it up in Safari’s toolbar, so I did an experiment with that. Before I tell you the results, let me tell you what I did before I got David’s email:

First I did a search for pubsubagent in the Activity Monitor, and figured out that it’s parent process topubsub agent was launchd. I asked Bart about it and he suggested i download an app that would allow me to check out my daemons. Woah, that’s cool. I downloaded the open source tool Lingon from lingon.sourceforge.net which lets you CREATE launchd configuration files. yikes! Oh, and get this – the developer’s name is Peter Borg, so I guess he had no choice but to name it something that rhymes with Klingon.

big scary warning from LingonBefore you can even start wrecking things, Lingon gives you this in your face warning that you’d better not even think about doing whatever it is you thought you were going to do!

pubsub agent highlighted in LingonWith a steady hand, (and Bart standing by to help) I was able to find com.apple.PubSub.Agent in the System Agents. This cool tool then showed me what command was being run, the name of it, and then I could toggle on and off some options, along with how often it ran. I thought it was around every half hour-ish, sure enough it was set to exactly 30 minutes. It also had a big “Enabled” checkbox, which I unchecked, then logged out and back in. Sure enough, PubSubAgent stopped quitting on me, because it wasn’t running at all.

Bart suggested I just write an automator action so I could toggle this thing on and off every day with a script when I went to work and when I went home, but I found this big “Enabled” checkbox and sure enough, DISabling it made the problem go away at work! This was wonderful, but I really wanted to know what was causing this.

At this point I considered David’s suggestion that this was associated with RSS feeds that have passwords associated with them. I had two RSS feeds in my Safari toolbar, and so I deleted both of them, launched my trusty Lingon and re-enabled PubSubAgent, and logged out and in again. Guess what? that was it! David’s my hero!

Of course Apple should FIX THIS STUPID THING instead, but at least figuring it out was fun, and I learned a new tool while I was at it. I have the email address of the 3rd tier tech support person, but I don’t think I’m going to tell her because she didn’t respond to my email like she said she would. I may send her a message and tell her she has to listen to the podcast to find out the answer!

RemoteBuddy comes to iPhone
Don McCallister of screencastsonline.com tipped me off to a cool application – it’s a way to remote control your Mac with your iPhone! According to the website at iospirit.com, you can control music, videos and photos with Front Row, browse the web or your file system, navigate the globe in Google Earth, play games – even control a presentation! this sounded cool, so I thought we’d give it a try, it’s called RemoteBuddy.

should I install this kernel extension?Installed, but it asked permission to install a kernel extension. this is kind of dicey – that’s really messing with the OS, but I’ll step out on that ledge! then it told me there was an update to my install – I HATE it when you do a brand new download from a website, and then they tell you there’s an update!

My next frustration was after the kernel extension was installed, nothing happened. RemoteBuddy was running, but there was nothing but menus along the top. I tried looking at help to see if there was a tutorial I could pretend to watch, but nuthin’. then I found a setup wizard in one of the menus. When I ran it I was asked if I wanted to install the kernel extension. what the heck?

menus on ajax remote that I don't understandI stumbled around in preferences, and found a LOT of stuff that looked interesting, but nothing that helped me understand how to actually start. I did find a button where I could enable “AJAX Remote” which I clicked cuz it had a picture of an iPhone on it. Whole bunch of stuff about ports to open, url’s to access the AJAX remote…maybe that’s how I actually START? I typed the url into my iPhone, and suddenly RemoteBuddy was running on my iPhone! this was pretty sweet.

I fooled around in the menus quite a bit, but they weren’t very intuitive at all. For example, the Launch screen has 4 colored buttons and four grey ones. The color buttons are for Remote, trackpad, keyboard, and menu. I’ll skip remote for a minute, trackpad sounds like fun, maybe I can control the cursor on my Mac? This takes me to a screen that says “tap on the camera symbol to view your desktop”. Get this – suddenly my desktop shows up on the iPhone! it’s really small, so I turn the iPhone sideways but it’s formatted to be vertical, so I can’t see it any bigger, which is a drag. Speaking of dragging, I try to drag my cursor around, but the desktop doesn’t respond to anything I do. I do have 4 different-looking cursor arrows on my iPhone, so I started clicking those. the right one makes my computer do a right click, but I can’t do anything from there. the left one doesn’t appear to do a darn thing, the middle double one doesn’t do anything either. there’s one in a white circle, and it highlights my cursor on the screen, which is cool, but since I can’t move it around, what good is that?

Likewise I could launch a text window, but it would only enter the text on screen if I reached over to the computer and put the cursor somewhere useful for text. Remote did do a few interesting things – if I pushed enough buttons, I was able to figure out how to get it to switch to different applications on my Mac, and actually play around with them a bit. it worked pretty well with Front Row once I got the hang of it.

RemoteBuddy is 20 Euros, or at today’s ludicrous exchange rate, $30 US. Maybe you’ve got hours to experiment and figure out how this thing is supposed to work, but I lost interest after a while because so many things didn’t appear to do anything at all, and it didn’t seem to solve a real problem for me. Having a web interface from my iPhone to my Mac was cool in an experimental kind of way, but not worth $30 for me.

Wall Street Journal
You never know what’s going to tickle your interest when you open the Wall Street Journal every morning. This week my favorite article was about how fifteen miles off the Scottish Coast, a company has figured out how to put wind turbines in water that’s fifty feet deep! This solves so many problems, including getting far enough out into the sea where the really wild winds are along with eliminating the need to put hardware in the middle of our view of the coastline. I know, geeks think wind turbines look cool, but there are those who would rather see seagulls and the coastline itself – go figure! the company, Venture, is converting itself from an oil drilling company to a renewable energy company – they have all the experience with off shore building of platforms, and it turns out there’s terrific winds right where they used to find oil. If you’d like to learn about all kinds of technical and non-technical things with the feel of an actual newspaper, then click the link in my sidebar to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal yourself!

Why Google Docs are lame
So everybody’s all gaga over Google Docs these days – that’s the relatively new capability that lets you collaborate on a word processing or spreadsheet document over the internet, hosting your files on Google. I don’t get it. The idea is cool, but the implementation is AWFUL! I tried to put up a spreadsheet on Google Docs and it wouldn’t do even the most simple of tasks. I tried to insert a column or row, and it would only react maybe 50% of the time. I couldn’t drag sections of cells around to move them. Cut and paste worked half the time too. I’m not in the least bit impressed. I thought maybe I would try the word processing thing, and that was even worse if possible. I wanted something in a table form, so I inserted a table into the document. this worked ok, but I made the mistake early on of saying I wanted it to set the cell sizes to fill the full width – meaning if I had 4 columns, they’d each be 1/4th the width. Later on I decided I wanted some of the widths smaller, but I was never able to figure out how to do that. Worse yet, one cell sort of “escaped” the table, it slid out to the right of it, leaving sort of a hole in the spreadsheet. Never could figure out how to get it back in, or how to put a cell back in the hole in the table.

Maybe if you were just going to type pure text it would be good, but for anything more complicated than making something bold or italics, I think it’s a dismal failure!

More Google Apps
Picasa updater application showing optional appsEnough Google slamming – found two good things out this week. Google now uses a Google Updater application that’s really sweet. If you choose to download a Google application to your Mac, it starts the Updater application, which shows you the applications you already have, and offers you other new ones you don’t have. It’s very pretty, and it reminded me that I haven’t reinstalled Google Earth yet.

What I’d gone looking for in the first place was the Picasa Web Album uploader plug-in for iPhoto ’08, hoping it had finally been updated, and to my delight I found out that it HAS been updated (picasa.google.com). Listener Melissa has been waiting forever for this one, so I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear that. You may remember she did a great review of Picasa Web Albums a while back, and she was way bummed when the uploader broke in iLife ’08. They also have a standalone uploader which is great too – since I don’t use iPhoto most of the time, this will actually be even more useful for me.

And when did Google sneak in Google Desktop for the Mac? (desktop.google.com/mac) the Google Updater app had it sitting right there, what could I do but click it? I now have three ways to search my Mac – control-space launches Quicksilver, command-space launches Spotlight, and now a double tap on command brings up Google Desktop. I’ll be able to find EVERYTHING!

Bento Review from Ron
Remember last week I asked if anyone could do a Bento review? that’s the new database program coming out from Apple in conjunction with Filemaker. Ron wrote in with a great review, and so did Tim! I got Ron’s first, so I’m going to put it in here this week, and I’ll give you Tim’s next week. We’ll get the perspective of two different people which should be interesting.
Software type: Application
Vendor: Filemaker, Inc.
Version: 1.0 (Preview)
Platform: MacBook 2 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM
OS: 10.5.1

Bento is a personal database application that allows you to create databases from a variety of types of information. Created by FileMaker, Inc., it will be available for a price of $49 soon. A preview version can be downloaded from the Apple site at: apple.com

The folks at FileMaker have created a database application designed to be a true companion to Apple’s iLife software suite. In fact, they have captured the Apple interface so perfectly, it could easily be bundled with the likes of iWeb, iPhoto, and iMovie and it would be difficult to distinguish it from native Apple products. The look and feel perfectly mimics that of the iLife apps. In addition, Bento has been designed for Leopard, with direct links to iCal and the Address Book.

So what exactly does Bento do? It allows you to manage and organize a wide variety of data in a fairly simple manner. If you have never used a database product before, it may take a bit of time to come up to speed. Databases tend to be less intuitive to the average user. Often you have lists of information that have several key attributes. The simplest would be the Address Book itself. Each name is a record. Attached to each name are various other pieces of information, located in fields: phone number, e-mail address, street address, etc. The Address Book as a whole can be considered a database. You can search the Address Book by entering key words and it will select a list of records that match those keywords. However, you can’t do advanced searches (yet). Database programs let you be more precise in your searches, letting you search by one or more fields. For example, you could search on name and state to find only people named “Smith” who live in “Nevada”.

In addition to the built-in links to Address Book and iCal, Bento allows users to import their own databases from existing files. The data must be in the comma separated value (CSV) text format, but this does allow import from Excel, for example, which is often a source of data. When you import, you can specify the names of each data field and then Bento takes care of the rest. You can also add fields after importing.

The creation of record forms is very easy, using drag and drop from a list of available fields on the right side of the window. New fields can be added and named, then dragged to the desired position on the page. Field types include text, number, and also media, meaning you can also store images within records as separate fields. And links to other files on your hard drive can also be referenced in a field. So if you have certain files that relate to the name of the person, you can link in a list of them. Clicking on the file name opens the folder with the file, or the file itself.

A database can be viewed in two ways in Bento: either the form view (individual records, one to a page), or a list of the records in a table view. Search results are only presented in a table view, which is somewhat limited compared to other database programs which often allow you to produce custom report formats. But you can select which fields are displayed in the tabular view. An additional plus is that fields can be edited in the tabular view as well as the record view. The search process itself uses the advanced find features that are used in Spotlight, so searching is very similar. This allows very powerful searches. I did not test Bento with a very large database; it was snappy with just a few records. But often these applications have problems with large databases (many records) so you may want to test Bento before purchasing if you intend to use large data sets.

Bento also comes pre-installed with a number of standard record templates. For example, one template is set up for an eBay seller (“Items Sold”). Fields provided include room for a picture of the item, tracking number, name of buyer, date of sale, etc. About 24 of these pre-fab templates are included at the moment (perhaps more by the time the real version goes on sale), and each can be customized if you like. The customization menu looks very similar to that found in Apple apps like iWeb, including the use of built-in Themes for the overall look and feel (about 20 of these, too). Interestingly, the themes include font selection, and it appears that the font styles cannot be independently changed.

Overall:

Pluses:
– Excellent Apple-like interface
– Generally easy to use, but a bit of a learning curve
– Good integration with Leopard, iCal, Address Book
– Fast response
– Nice variety of built-in themes, formats, and customization features
– Ability to import some existing database information
– Built-in backup and revert features

Minuses:

– Some items, like Themes, cannot be edited
– Only supports CSV formatted files, which may limit data import
– No provision for custom report formats
– Limited preference control (could be a feature!)
– Some folks might want to be able to secure their databases with a password, not a feature here

If you have need to manage simple databases, Bento seems like a very good deal for $49. While other freeware probably exists, it’s hard to imagine a similar product with this level of ease-of-use, attractive Apple-like interface, and feature set at this price. An excellent companion to iLife.

Thanks Ron, that was great! Here’s some screenshots Ron sent along too:
database with nosillcast showing
database with the fictional podcast squidcast showing
database with a lot of data from ham radio showing

HDA Bob
You probably wonder why I advertise for Honda Bob, what the heck does a Honda mechanic have to do with geekdom? Here’s a perfect example. Friday night, we’re ringing in the holidcay season with the traditional Christmas movie Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation. Nothing says Christmas like Cousin Eddie and his dog Snots, you know? So anyway, we’re settled in with a nice fire, stockings hung by the fire watching the movie when the phone rings. It’s Honda Bob! We put him on the speakerphone so we can all holler hi to him, and he says “do you read Popular Mechanics?” Um, no? And he says “you need to get the December 2007 issue – there’s an iPhone hack in it!” I don’t need to explain more, do I?

Not only do you get a geek if you meet Honda Bob, but he also drives to your house to fix your cars! He’s honest (how many people say THAT about a mechanic?), he’s prompt, he’s skilled, he charges a fair price, and he even cleans up after himself. And, you get bad puns for free. If you’d like this tender loving care for your Honda or Acura cars, and you live in the LA or Orange County areas, give him a call at (562)531-2321 or email him at hdabob@aol.com. HDA Bob’s Mobile Service is not affiliated with Honda, Acura or Honda Worldwide.

Chit Chat Across the Pond
Before I play this week’s episode of Chit Chat Across the Pond, I wanted to tell you about some interesting things Bart and I learned about audio and Skype and FINALLY fixed a problem I’ve been having when I do Skype calls. for some reason, the other person is ALWAYS way louder than I am. I’ve never had trouble being loud enough in my LIFE so you can imagine how irritating that was! Reminds me of a story when I was in High School. I got the crazy idea to story out for the school musical, which was Oklahoma! Turns out you have to be able to sing and dance to be in a musical. Well, I tripped going on stage, so I guess I lost out on the dancing part. But the real ego boost came when i finished singing Ado Annie’s song, “I’m Just a Girl who Cain’t Say No”. I finished my energetic rendition, and the choral director only said one thing…”My, you project well.”

So needless to say, not being heard isn’t something I’ll tolerate! so Bart and I started to record, and sure enough, he’s too loud. He turned himself down, and down, and down, and still he came through loud and clear. I was setting mine to 95% and he had his down to about 16%, and still he’s loud and I’m quiet. Finally he noticed that even though he was turning his sound input down in System Preferences, it would start going back up while he was looking at it! I started watching mine too, and the same thing was happening to me, except it was turning itself down!

We both checked Skype’s preferences to see if maybe it was overriding the sound preference pane, but we found no controls. Off to do some Googling, and we found the answer. In the older versions of Skype, there was a check box to enable or disable Automatic Gain Control. In the lastest versions, it still does the Auto Gain control, but you can’t disable it! At least in the GUI you can’t. Some enterprising folks over at jkontherun.blogs.com figured out that there’s a little xml file buried in the Application Support library where they put in one simple command to turn that stoopid auto gain control off! They also show how to turn off Echo Cancellation, but I decided to leave that on. I’m SO thrilled to finally get this fixed!

Now for the bad news – at the beginning of the recording, i was so excited to finally have volume, I had it cranked up too high and I peaked out quite a bit for the first couple of minutes. The good news is that I figured it out pretty quick and got in more control! I did apply some cool filters and ran Sound Soap on the recording, so I think it came out pretty well in the end. the best part is I learned a TON doing this recording, so it’s all good! Without further ado, here’s Bart and my discussion for this week.

========INSERT Chit Chat Across the Pond===============

I promised Bart I’d install the preference pane he suggested, and sure enough, it’s just as easy and quick to disable rtsp urls with this nice little pane, so I’m safe for now until Apple gets off its’ collective booty and gets this fixed! I also put the promised link to Bart’s Blog so you can follow his instructions and get the download.

That’s going to wrap it up for this week, hope you enjoyed the show. I love all the great emails I get every week, please keep them coming by sending them to me at allison@podfeet.com. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.

13 thoughts on “#124 Lingon, Mac Google Desktop, Bento, QT vulnerability, Auto Gain Control in Skype

  1. Phil - December 3, 2007

    Hi Al- Another great show. The wind turbines is a big political issue here in Mass (google “cape wind” for more info). I’ve been using Vista at work for a year now, in case you have any windows related issues that need to be tweaked.
    Phil

  2. Mike Schilder - December 3, 2007

    On the subject of remote buddy, have you looked at Sofa control?
    http://caseapps.com/sofacontrol.html

    I tried remote buddy, and I also didn’t like it. Sofa control by contrast is super easy, and super useful. I’m not affiliated with the company, I just think it’s remote control enabling done right.

  3. Lynn - December 3, 2007

    It is a sad day indeed – windoze at work
    Must be why the clouds were crying Friday….

  4. podfeet - December 4, 2007

    Hey Phil – the article actually talked about the cape wind issue, and that the area advocates are now pointing at this effort in Scotland and saying “see, you don’t have to botch up the coastline!”

    I’m definitely counting on you to help me do Windows – in all seriousness it should be fun. Lest anyone misunderstand, I do still have my Mac, I just have both now!

  5. Congolia Breckenridge - December 4, 2007

    Regarding Bart’s comments about exploits in QuickTime: In his blog he writes, ‘There is now proof-of-concept code out there which uses this exploit to remotely compromise computers running both Windows and Mac OS X…’

    As a Mac only user, do I need to be concerned with disabling rtsp urls?

  6. podfeet - December 4, 2007

    Congolia – absolutely you do need to be concerned. this Quicktime exploit goes after Windows and Mac alike, no protection this time.

  7. Congolia Breckenridge - December 4, 2007

    When I read ‘computers running both Windows & Mac’ I assumed you had to have both on one computer. I have disabled and will keep an eye out for a QuickTime update. Thanks.

  8. Anthony Hess - December 6, 2007

    Yawn .. until there is actually some exploit that actually does something on a Mac I’m not going to pay attention to it. Mac user smug arrogance? Yea maybe …

    The worst security issue I’ve seen since OS X came out … the nastiest system damage and all that … was when Sophos (I think Norton did it too) decided that half the files on a Mac were viruses and started wiping them out. Wrecked a lot of Adobe and Office installs, IIRC. I thumbed my nose at all the other admins who thought I was a nut for not installing and activating AV on the Mac machines I supported.

    I refuse to give into theoretical security and paranoia. Thats not just for computers either! I know my risk evaluator is a little skewed toward “kinda likes risk” but still!

    My name is connected to this so Im not making any comment about work and them making you get a winbox šŸ™‚ You should have gotten a thinkpad! (will they let you?)

    Bento looks pretty interesting … I think I’ll get around to playing with it at some point.

    BTW Im sold on Honda Bob … now if only Honda sold any cars I wanted! Wait .. they do .. does Honda Bob do Honda S2000s? I suppose it would cost me something to ship it to him to work on .. but hey a good mechanic is hard to find. šŸ™‚

  9. podfeet - December 6, 2007

    You know I’m not a nervous Nelly at all, but this one sounded a bit nasty and there was a trivially easy way to shut off access to my Mac, so it seemed a prudent thing to do. I also don’t run anti-virus – I keep wondering what would be in the definition files if there are no known viruses?

    Honda Bob definitely works on S2000s! Here’s what you do – just drive out and visit me whenever you need some maintenance on your car, we’ll have Honda Bob meet us here, I’ll wax your car and you’ll sit in a lawn chair and entertain us! I KNOW how much a clean car means to you…

  10. podfeet - December 22, 2007

    Mike – I forgot to respond to you weeks ago and just remembered! thanks for the tip on Sofa Buddy, I just sent them an email asking them for a review copy of their software. Thanks for the tip and sorry for ignoring you for so long!

  11. Quentin - January 17, 2008

    Thank you so much for the PubSubAgent hint. It was driving me nuts and I’d searched high and low for something that would stop my Mac from grinding to a halt every few hours when it ran out of memory.

    I found a feed or two in my Safari RSS feeds which seemed to have lost their knowledge of the necessary password, and having fixed them, I think things are happy again!

    Greatly appreciated.

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  13. Rockwell Sander - April 19, 2011

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