OK, That’s Moderately Useless (Photocasting and Non-Safari RSS Readers)

So here’s the letdown part of the Apple Product Cycle. One of the coolest features the Steve introduced on Tuesday was “Photocasting,” or basically RSS feed creation for photos using RSS 2 enclosures, integrated deeply into iPhoto using .Mac.

The concept is simple: you get a collection of photos, say “Photocast these”, and it uploads them to a server and gives you a URL you can pass around to your friends. If they have iPhoto 6 or Safari 2.0, they can get a feed of your photos that they can view, with links to the full-size originals. Since it’s a standard, then if they don’t have those apps, they can choose any RSS reader that supports enclosures, including the ever-popular Firefox 1.5 to view your stream. So the slickest creation and consumption is on a Mac, but you can share with people who haven’t yet seen the light.

Or Can You?

Turns out every other reader I’ve tested it in, or that any Windows or Linux user I know has tested it in, has gotten a page that looks like this:


Clearly, Apple is sniffing the User Agent string that all browsers and RSS readers create and rejecting any that don’t say “WebKit” (their core HTML reading technology that all Apple apps use). Even other Mac-based ones I’ve tested, like the open source FireAnt, don’t work. [Update: Turns out FireAnt only supports video playback, not photos, so this wouldn’t have worked anyway. But it did give an error claiming the feed was invalid with the original URL.]

I really hope this is an oversight on Apple’s part, but it’s kind of embarrassing, trying to say how cool this stuff is and how nice it is when somebody plays by the rules, when they sabotage those very words in an effort to prevent people with an old RSS reader from using the service.

Lame, guys, hella lame.

Update: I’ve now found a workaround, with some caveats. As long as you’re not using Firefox to read RSS feeds, you can view my Dominica photos at http://web.mac.com/sandysmith/iPhoto/dominicaselect/index.rss.

Read on if you are having this problem with iPhoto or use Firefox and want an explanation why the defaults haven’t worked for you:

Continue reading

And So It Begins

We’re at the Golden Section of the Apple Product Cycle. This is the fun part, the Christmas that comes with every Keynote or announcement from Apple that features a performance by Steve Jobs.

Really, it is a performance. A three-ring circus designed to amplify the Reality Distortion Field and to build anticipation in a way that rock concerts normally do. It’s particularly telling when Steve (we all call him Steve, even though none of us know him even in the slightest) invites some other CEO to come on the stage and speak. To extend the rock concert simile, these are like the painfully dull 15 minute drum solos of yesteryear. They really highlight how good a showman Steve is, and how few other consumer product CEOs “get it” about generating excitement.

Reverting to the Christmas metaphor, there is also a letdown when it’s over. Invariably there are a couple of rumors that didn’t match reality (and, frequently, even the laws of physics) and no new iBrainImplant is announced by Steve. People wail and gnash their teeth, lament how far behind Apple is, and then begin to be distracted by the new shiny things and go out and acquire them.

While I’m far from immune to this draw (even the letdown), I’m probably not Steve’s favorite customer, and not just because I once wrote him a nasty note when he killed the Mac clones. I tend to obsessively read details about the new products, but rarely do I buy them. I don’t own an iPod. My desktop Mac is three or four years old. My Powerbook is over six years old. I still have a Mac clone that I really should just throw out, because I doubt anybody even wants it (plus I’d need to boot it and wipe the hard drive securely). That Mac clone is going on ten years old.

If that sounds like a lot of stuff, it’s nothing compared to what a lot of people do. In the PC world, a new computer every two years is pretty standard, and a lot of Apple fanboys match that just so they can have bragging rights. Instead, I get my jollies by being the go-to-guy when someone else wants a computer, especially a Mac. (Seriously, Windows people, why the hell do you ask me about what Windows machine to get? Do none of your fellow drones know anything about computers?)

But even if I don’t partake personally (I’m in my mind waiting until the second revision of Intel-based Macs to pick up an iMac or something low-power to replace my PowerMac, unless I get into some serious audio production between now and then), I enjoy the spectacle. I wish I could generate that kind of passion in people with what I do, but so far the people who blog about that seem to say “hey, make people love your stuff,” which is technically accurate but utterly unhelpful advice.

So, after the keynote is over, there’s usually a video available on Apple’s site. Go and watch it this evening to see a master at work, and maybe you’ll learn something concrete about making people love your stuff.

Dominica Panorama on the Way to Boiling Lake

Click on it to get a bigger version. Looks like I missed a bit in the middle, plus people were moving around and I hand-stitched this in Photoshop without bothering to correct for lens distortion, how much I moved, etc. The free stitching tool I found looked easy enough but didn’t produce anything, and I didn’t feel like shelling out for the pro tools for something that’s probably not quality enough anyway. So you can totally see the edges, but the effect is OK.

This shot is from our first big rest on the way to boiling lake. This is the highest point of the hike, and you can see the steam of the Valley of Desolation and Boiling Lake on one side and the Caribbean on the other. The people pictured are Sam, an amateur botanist who could frighten professionals, my brother Dave, a third of Reid, a retired orthodontist who nonetheless shamed me severely on the hike, our guide Rennick, who had just pulled off a 1550 on his SATs and will soon be going to school here in the States, and John, a badass birder who, despite our schedule, was up every morning before dawn to walk around Springfield Plantation to find birds.

Take It From a Web Guy — Cookies Don’t Make the NSA Scary, Wiretapping Does

Listen, people: Stop panicking about X once it takes place online, as if it’s new or different or scarier. X can be anything, because it has the magic power to make people freak out like it’s 1978 and they’ve lost their Sean Cassidy tickets if you can say that X takes place online.

Case in point: The NSA is in more trouble currently for putting cookies that don’t expire when you leave their site on your computer than they are for violating not only the constitution but US law by eavesdropping on American citizens. Let me put this in perspective.

First off, cookies are just little text files that contain information put there by the site you visit. They could as easily be stored on the site you visit–and in fact, we Web types do just that on a regular basis. The single and only difference is that cookies are stored on your computer, not theirs. They have no special powers, contain no information not available to the site you’re visiting anyway, and just sit there on your computer. And since it’s your computer, you can delete them any time you like. You can’t do that on their computer. In fact, deleting a file on the NSA’s computer is a federal offense that will land you in jail for a very long time. So 99% of the concerns about cookies are either ill-founded, untrue, or irrelevant.

The 1% that is true is that it is a more reliable way to tell who you are when you come back to their site later–though as someone who has clients continually demanding more and more information about the habits of you, the gentle website reader, I can tell you it is so far from foolproof as to make it virtually useless–and it’s completely useless if it’s the only measure you use to track repeat visits. What can someone do with that information? Not bloody much. They might be able to tell that you–or someone else who uses the same computer as you–visit their site every Thursday. I’m scared, are you? Oh, wait. I’m not scared.

They can’t tell anything more about who you are, where you live, or anything else you might be worried about the NSA knowing by using cookies. Not. One. Thing. But listening to your conversations on the phone? They have a record of your voice, what number you called, the voice that answered, what you said, and maybe background noises. They know what number you called from, and where that is in the world much more precisely than they know where your computer is when you visit their site. And unlike cookies, you can’t delete the recording of your call–doing so, were you able to do it, would put you away longer than deleting a record on their webserver.

So if you take one thing away from this, don’t worry about cookies, unless they store your password in plain text. If you are really concerned about cookies, start using Firefox. Go to the preferences, click on the Privacy button, and click on the Cookies tab. Uncheck the box labeled “Allow sites to set cookies.” There, you’re completely safe. Of course, a lot of sites won’t work, but that’s your own fault for being a paranoiac about things that just don’t matter while ignoring the erosion of the Constitution that you used to have.