Eye-Fi mobi

As a hopeful amateur photographer enthusiast, and technology enthusiast, I've been frustrated in the past that when I've been out with my camera there hasn't been a convenient way to do anything with my photos. Instead, those big RAW images have sat on my camera until I got home to my computer to process them in Aperture (or occasionally back to my laptop when I've been travelling). Even with the iPad I've never done much on-the-go processing of my photos. I bought the camera connection kit, but discovered after buying it the RAW files my camera produces are too big for it to process, and the idea of shooting in RAW+JPEG appeals not at all—who needs the headache of managing two copies of every photo!

Well, I've just picked up a new gadget that looks like it may solve this problem for me, the Eye-Fi mobi SD card:

eyefimobi16.jpg

The Eye-Fi mobi is a Class 10 SD card that comes in 8 and 16GB capacities, that also manages to miraculously contain a wi-fi base station and enough smarts to transmit your photos. When paired with the companion smartphone app, the card will magically transmit photos to the phone, or an iPad, for editing, publishing or whatever else you may want to do with them.

Eye-Fi cards have been around for a while now, but I've never previously had much of a look. My understanding of previous cards was that you needed to be within range of a wireless access point for them to function, and then they were designed to upload photos to the cloud. The mobi however lets the phone and the card talk directly, without the user needing to go near any wi-fi settings.

The limitation that it only uploads JPEGs, for me, is also a feature. As I noted above, the RAW images from my camera are too big to edit on my iPhone/iPad. And I'll ultimately want to process these on my computer, where all my masters are stored. Instead, the photos I want to have on my phone will be specific selections that I may want to share immediately. To achieve this I use a feature of my Canon 60D that lets me process selected RAW images to JPEG in the camera. So, if I want to transfer a particular photo to my phone, I process it to JPEG in the camera and then just that image transfers to my phone, leaving the RAW intact on the camera, and not requiring me to shoot RAW+JPEG to access the images at all, which would also clutter my phone up with a copy of every JPEG.

In the brief testing I've done at home the connection process was simple and trouble free. This setup feels like it's absolutely perfect for my workflow, and will allow me to capture and share quality images when I'm out, instead of forcing me to rely on my smartphone, which may not be a great camera in a particular circumstance.

The test I suppose will be how much I use it in practice.

Getting in to Markdown

The concept of John Gruber’s Markdown has long intrigued me, but I haven’t previously had a role that I thought it could solve. Recently though I’ve been doing a bit of writing for the web, both here and for my intranet at work[1], which I’ve used as an excuse to learn and tryout Markdown.

Markdown is a lightweight syntax for marking up text files for later conversion to HTML. It is intended to let writers write in plain text with markup elements that don’t distract from the writing. The finished material can then be converted to HTML—which is also marked up text, but markup that is not lightweight nor simple to read.

Although there are plenty of free guides to Markdown on the web, including Gruber’s, I ended up buying David Spark’s Markdown ebook in iBooks, which is more of an e-learning package than a book, containing numerous video screencasts demonstrating Markdown’s use.

Having got my head around the basics of the syntax, I’ve been doing my writing in Byword. It’s clean and nice to use, and suits my workflow with Mac, iPad and iPhone versions, which can sync via DropBox or iCloud (I’m using iCloud, which has worked flawlessly). In addition the iPad and iPhone versions support TextExpander, and also provide for email composition, allowing much easier rich text email writing than the Mail app does—although I’ve used this feature less than I thought I would. I’ve also found myself using Byword as a general note taking app due to its multi-device availability and sync.

So in all, my Markdown experiment has been something of a success, and I’m enjoying the wide range of software that offers Markdown support. If you write, and particularly if you write for the web, Markdown and tools like Byword are well worth checking out. I can also highly recommend David Spark’s Markdown book as something to get you started if you want deeper coverage than what you’ll get from the free web guides.


  1. There we’re currently using MODX as our main content management system, but vicious rumours suggest we may be moving to Sharepoint.  ↩

Recovering Corrupted iWork Documents from iCloud

With Mountain Lion on my Macs—now including the machine I use at work—I’ve started to make more use of iCloud document syncing so that I can access my documents at home, work, on my laptop and on my iPad (and occasionally iPhone). But I’ve now been stung twice by corrupted iWork documents.

The first time was a couple of months back with a Numbers document I use to track some personal finances. I don’t know what the corruption was, or what caused it, but it prevented me opening the corrupted file, or copying or moving it, to try and open it elsewhere. Luckily however, I was able to restore to a recent backup from Time Machine[1].

But today I was struck with the issue again with a Keynote presentation that I had created at work. On this occasion there was no Time Machine backup, as I don’t have Time Machine set up on my work computer[2], and I hadn’t had my home Mac on since creating the file for a Time Machine backup to be created there.

So, after some consideration I experimented with a solution that worked for me on this occasion (your mileage may vary).

As I couldn’t copy, move or export the file from Keynote’s iCloud window, the iWork for iCloud beta, or from the ~/Library/Mobile Documents/com~apple~Keynote/Documents/ folder (where iCloud stores Keynote documents locally), I thought (correctly) that I may be able to copy it from the Terminal.

After firing up the Terminal app and navigating to the ~/Library/Mobile Documents/com~apple~Keynote/Documents/ folder I used the cp command to copy the file contents to a new folder on my desktop (using the -r flag on the cp command, as the Keynote file is really a disguised folder/directory)[3].

With the Keynote file contents now in a folder on my desktop, I used the Finder to rename the folder with a .key extension, turning the folder into a Keynote file, which opened without issue. I was then able to copy that working Keynote file back into iCloud, where it seems to have been working fine since.

I’m disappointed, and a little unsettled, by these corruption issues, but relieved I’ve been able to recover files on both instances. When it works, iCloud is fantastic, and the best way to work across Macs and iOS devices on documents. But I’ll be carrful about using it for anything too critical given the issues I’ve experienced, and maybe stick with DropBox for them instead.

Update: A newer post on fixing this problem can be found here.


  1. If I recall correctly, I had to do this in the Finder, after accessing the ~/Library/Mobile Documents/ folder (where iCloud stores its documents locally), and even then I don’t think I was able to move/copy the file back into iCloud, but had to create a new file, copying the contents from the recovered file saved locally.  ↩

  2. The work machine does used server-based network accounts, that in theory would be backed up, but I was after a quicker solution than contacting IT in the hope they could recover the file from a tape somewhere.  ↩

  3. i.e. cp -r <keynotefilename> ~/Desktop/<foldername>/  ↩

Mac e-tax App Successfully Used

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the belated arrival of the ATO's e-tax app for Mac OS X—15 years after the Windows version was released! Well, I've just put it through its paces, and it all seemed to have worked (although unfortunately this year I have a tax bill thanks to the interest earned as a consequence of our house sale proceeds sitting in the bank while we wait for construction on our new place to finish).

The application signing error I mentioned in my previous post was resolved by the time I downloaded the app today, but there were still a few other rough edges. For some reason the print button in some sections of the app didn't seem to work, like in the screen where I was presented with my identity confirmation password (I was intending to save to PDF rather than actually print). And the the app doesn't appear to be a native Cocoa application, with the Mac's usual right-click contextual menus not being available (I use the speech function regularly to check the entry of long numbers and codes).

It also seems to have the exact same look-and-feel of the Windows app I've used for the past several years, which is not particularly attractive nor user friendly (the app just presents way too much text and doesn't seem to have the smarts to just present what is relevant to the user). But, better to have an ugly, unfriendly app than to have no Mac app at all.

If your experiences differed, I'd be interested to hear.

Tile

Discovered Tile today (via Daring Fireball). It's a small location-broadcasting fob that you attach to things you might misplace. An iOS app directs you to items within range, and includes an option to have the tile emit a chime to help you find it. When out of range of your iOS device, the system is designed to cloud-source the location from other tile users who may be nearby your missing item.

To truly appreciate the concept you need to watch the video (below) or visit the Tile website. It looks super-cool, and I've pre-ordered a few to give it a go.

The Distant Promise that is In-flight Wi-Fi

A few days ago GigaOM had a story about in-flight wi-fi that highlighted just how far off ubiquitous, reliable and affordable in-flight wi-fi is. The introduction to the article started:

In-flight Wi-Fi has been annoying Americans and Canadians with expensive prices and bad service for a few years. Soon Europeans will get to experience the luxury of a connection at 30,000 feet.

Although complaining about in-flight wi-fi immediately makes me think of this send up[1] by Louis CK, it is one of those promises that has never really materialised. I probably fly 4–6 times a year, but am yet to experience even the expensive and bad service mentioned in the GigaOM article. Not one Australian carriers offers it.

Despite how amazing air travel is as a transport technology, it’s just not a whole lot of fun. Although probably financially required, airlines have been steadily reducing service and comfort for years—which is particularly obvious when you’re 6’4" and always fly on the cheapest economy ticket you can get. But for me, and probably anyone else who grew up in the Internet generation, decent in-flight wi-fi would be a significant distraction to the truth of our surroundings. So much so, I’d likely pay for a more expensive flight if it were an option.

Sadly the GigaOM article concludes by saying a spokesman for British Airways said the airline was just investigating in-flight wi-fi, with no firm decisions about implementation, despite the article itself suggesting a trial and future implementation were imminent. Which just reinforces how far off in-flight wi-fi is for those of us fantasising about a future in which it exists.


  1. Skip to the 2:00 mark if you want to skip the introduction and get right to it.  ↩

We'll Just Tell You About the Problem

A few days ago I wrote about European reforms to address excessive mobile roaming charges. Well, the Australian response is detailed in the below infographic—we'll just tell you it's a problem.

IMR Infographic.png

From 27 September 2013 the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) will be phasing in international mobile roaming consumer protections to combat bill shock, including:

> A notification via SMS to be sent to all consumers on arrival overseas, warning them that significantly higher charges for using roaming services may apply.

> Enabling customers to stop international roaming, at low cost, at any time—including from an overseas location.

> A notification to be sent via SMS to customers of service providers giving them pricing information for using a range of roaming services. These services include any that would normally be free in the domestic market, such as receiving a call on a mobile device.

> Spend management tools, including notifications in A$100 increments for data usage and notifications at 50, 85 and 100 per cent of included value, if a customer has purchased an included value travel package from their IMR service provider.

I think I prefer the European response where they are actually doing something about the cost, although warning consumers they're being extorted is at least something.

A link from the announcement does go on to say the Australian and New Zealand governments have recognised "telecommunications companies are stinging consumers on trans-Tasman mobile roaming charges" and are considering steps to "put downward pressure" on the costs. But unfortunately it's only consideration and not action (although this acknowledgement was from August 2012, so hopefully something may have progressed from it).

With the current excessive charges associated with international roaming usage, it seems pretty clear market forces alone can't fix this problem. As a consequence, I for one hope that Governments do take action to regulate in this area. Whether we need to be as attached to our mobile devices as we are, they are a part of our daily lives, and even more useful/valuable when we are travelling.

Positive Trends in Mobile Roaming Cost

It amazes me what mobile phone carriers get away with charging for international data roaming. It’s not just that it is expensive, it’s astronomically expensive, and surely can’t have anything to do with the business costs associated in providing the service.

For casual data roaming my carrier charges 20¢ per 10 kilobytes[1]. When I compare this to the email currently sitting in my inbox, the smallest message would have cost me 30¢ to receive, and the largest, with several PowerPoint attachments, $172!

So stories like this one by Michael Grothaus about cheaper roaming within the European Union are undeniably positive:

As of today, roaming fees are dropping significantly and will drop even further a year from now.

And:

[T]he new rate charges, which are in full legal effect as of midnight last night, are now reduced by 12 percent per minute for incoming calls. Text messages are 11 percent cheaper than they were yesterday, and roaming data charges are down a whopping 36 percent. At €0.45 per MB, roaming data charges are now 91 percent cheaper than they were in 2007.

To take advantage of these reduced roaming rates it appears travelers need a SIM card from a carrier in a European Union country. Although not a major drama for non-European travellers, who just need to source a SIM on their arrival in Europe, I’m looking forward to when international roaming charges between all countries are charged at a much more sensible level.

(Under the EU data roaming rates to come into effect from 1 July 2014 that $172 email would cost me a much more reasonable €1.72—although that still leaves plenty of room for improvement.)


  1. Although I should note that they offer substantially cheaper unlimited data roaming packs with a limited number of countries, for short periods of time.  ↩

ATO's e-tax App Finally Available for Mac OS X

It’s been so long I can’t even recall how long we’ve been waiting for Mac version of the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO’s) e-tax application[1], but it’s finally here[2].

Having to use Windows to submit my tax return is about the only reason I’ve kept a copy of Windows XP around in a VM. It would get fired up once a year just so I could do my tax, and then go back into a 12-month hibernation.

I only heard the news of this development today, but a quick Google search revealed an article by Ben Grubb in the Sydney Morning Herald from May, stating the ATO spent $5.2 million to develop the Mac app:

Government tender documents reveal the tax office paid Melbourne IT company DWS $5,220,668.82 to get e-tax working on Macs. Of that, about $4.9 million was spent on “software maintenance and support” and $279,320.46 on a feasibility study.

God knows how it cost this much, but I won’t feel too bad about it given the apparent costs of the Windows application:

Similar tender documents reveal that the Tax Office has spent a total of $32.3 million on developing and supporting the Windows version to date.

But it doesn’t look like it’s all smooth sailing. Despite the assurance on the ATO website that the Mac app “is signed with a registered Apple Developer certificate”, a tweet by Russell Ivanovic highlighted this:

e-tax app unsigned.png

You’d think for almost $6M they’d be able to get this right!

I haven’t installed the app yet, but I’m looking forward to this year being the first year I won’t have to fire up Windows to lodge my tax return—although given my experience with the Windows app, I still can’t say I’m looking forward to using the e-tax application itself!


  1. e-tax is an application that lets Australians electronically submit their income tax returns.  ↩

  2. This isn’t a sarcastic finally. I’m not sure when the Windows version of e-tax was released, but I just found a newspaper article suggesting it was 15 years ago.  ↩

ICANN Mandating Verified ID for Domain Registration

Electronista reporting on new ICANN domain registration rules, apparently implemented at the behest of law enforcement and governments:

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Board of Directors today approved a new Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA). The new instruction change will hold domain name registrars more accountable for "whois" data, and mandates verification of phone numbers, email, and some personal information before a domain may be registered.