Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What to do if sync'ing your iPhone takes forever

My iPhone was starting to take a really long time to synchronize. Seemingly forever... More than half an hour, and I only had less than 50 songs, less than 50 contacts, and no big calendar. iTunes spent most of its time "Syncing calendars with iPhone" and "Syncing contacts with iPhone". Well, this seems to be a known bug experienced by many others. The workaround is simple. Open iSync, go into preferences and click the button "Reset Sync History...". When you do this make sure your iPhone is not in the middle of a sync. This should also free some 2G occupied by the file Library/Application Support/SyncServices/Local/data.syncdb (under your home directory).

As usual: "no warranty, worked for me, hope this helps".

Monday, March 24, 2008

Some more TODO items for Apple's iPhone dev team.

Following up on my previous post, here are some other things that I think Apple's iPhone development team should seriously fix. Note that all these critics do not mean that I don't like the iPhone, it just means that I hope that Apple will address the issues of this new immature product line.

  • Generic landscape mode. Already mentioned in my previous post. This is a serious mis-design issue. Go fix your code.

  • Total lack of select/copy/cut/paste. I know the iPhone UI doesn't lend itself very easily to these features, but they are critical. You must find a clever way of implementing them, just like you used the clever magnifying glass so we can move the cursor throughout the text easily.

  • Absolutely zero control on the underlying FS. I know you try to keep control over it, but come on! We need to use the iPhone as a storage device! We want to store documents on them! Right now if I browse the web and find what seems to be an interesting PDF, I can't even save it on my iPhone to transfer it to my MacBook later!

  • On a related note: I can't save attachments from Mail to my iPhone. Even if you decide you don't want to fix the previous item, you can still make it possible to import pictures attached to mails into the iPhone's photo library, maybe in a different roll though.

  • Fix your cache use! If I look at the stock or weather, go back to SpringBoard, and look at it again 2min later, it will refresh the data that's only 2min old! For stock refreshing the data after 2min barely makes sense, but if you really want to force an auto-refresh, don't refresh if you know that markets are closed, because this is utterly useless. And you know when markets are closed, because it's mentioned right under the stocks history. Too many apps tend to refresh their data too often due to poor caching policies. You should work to improve all apps on this aspect.

  • Make it possible to import ICS from the web to Calendar.app, FFS! Or at least sync up with the Google Calendar team to make it possible to use them read/write on the iPhone!

  • Add a video recorder! How on earth could you leave this out?

  • Do not resize pictures sent by email when connected on a WiFi network. I guess you resize them to save bandwidth and because EDGE is already slow enough when sending downscaled pictures, but on a WiFi connection there's no reason why you shouldn't send the full resolution one.

  • Rotate the fucking pictures! Currently the iPhone always stores the JPG data in landscape mode and only mentions the orientation of the picture in EXIF metadata, but if you upload the picture on the web for instance, then the browsers won't render it properly, because many apps still don't use EXIF metadata. Moreover there's no "easy" way to rotate the pictures on OSX, which is a real pain for the average user, I guess. Personally I used jpegtran to rotate the JPEG DCT losslessly but I won't expect normal users to do this.

  • No chat application. No port of iChat or whatever... For a phone with an always on Internet connection, that's ... weird, to say the least.

  • No Streetview in Google Maps.

  • It's not possible to plan a trip on Google Maps with multiple destinations.

(I reckon that the least two items about Google Maps are also Google's fault, I hope we'll try to do something about it despite the fact that a lot of effort is also being invested in Android.)

That's about it for now, I'll add more TODO items as they come to my mind. Please Apple, make the iPhone perfect! Currently it's only great. It ought to be perfect.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Getting synergy to work with a non-rectangular multiple screen setup.

So I like to work with multiple screens. I really do. These days, my setup at work looks like this one:

Short story: This CANNOT work properly with synergy's current code. Below you'll find a patch (for synergys) and a config file with which everything works as expected. THE PATCH IS NOT GENERIC AND MUST BE ADJUSTED IF YOUR SETUP ISN'T EXACTLY IDENTICAL.

Long story:
I really like to use my Mac, I don't want to bother with another keyboard/mouse to use my Linux workstation. And yes, I'm happy with the track pad of the Mac and don't need an external mouse or anything else other than my Mac (exception being when playing Q3, then I really need a mouse). Of course, synergy is the tool I need. Now it's not that simple. First, let's just have a quick look at part of my xorg.conf:
Section "ServerLayout"
Identifier "Default Layout"
Screen "Main Screen" Absolute 0 150
Screen "Secondary Screen" Absolute 1920 0
InputDevice "Generic Keyboard"
InputDevice "Configured Mouse"
Option "Xinerama" "on"

Notice that Xinerama is on so I can have one huge desktop instead of two different window managers that can barely talk together. Notice also that the top-edges of both screens are not aligned.

Now let's try to setup synergys (s stands for "server") on my MacBook Pro and connect the client on the Linux workstation (with the synergyc command). I wrote the following naive configuration file:
section: screens
section: links
down = macbook
up = workstation

Which led me to the following setup:

This setup is uber-b0rken because of the way synergy seems to work. When I leave the screen of the MacBook from the upper edge, most of the time I will end up in the orange zone, where the mouse is actually considered to be on the workstation but isn't actually anywhere. It's just moving in a zone that can't be seen. So I have to move the mouse even further up to eventually see it appear on the 1st screen of the workstation. This is due to the non-rectangular nature of the setup, and due to the fact that synergy doesn't seem to be coded to handle that.

Another problem is that leaving the screen of the MacBook from the right-half-ish of the upper-edge makes the mouse enter the bottom of the 2nd screen of the workstation. This doesn't feel natural at all. Hopefully, in this case, we can adjust the behavior by telling synergy that when I leave the MacBook through the upper-edge, it should only enter the 1st screen. So, since synergy does not even seem to realize that the workstation has two screens, you tell it this by telling it that it should only enter the first 61% of the width of the bottom edge of the workstation "screen" (as seen by synergy, that is, in this case, a 3120x1920 virtual screen).

In a similar fashion, exiting through the bottom edge of the 2nd screen of the workstation isn't natural, so we can setup synergy with a similar behavior. So now the configuration file looks like this one:
section: screens
xtestIsXineramaUnaware = false
section: links
down(0,60) = macbook
up = workstation(1,61)

Notice that I don't start at 0% when leving the upper edge of the MacBook screen because I activated the top-left hot-corner of my Mac to enable the screen saver and I find it more convenient to just stuff the mouse pointer in there without worrying that pushing it too hard could let it slip through to the other screen. I also noticed that setting xtestIsXineramaUnaware to false helped a little bit (ref: synergy config guide).

It's getting better but it's still unusable. First off, there's this part of the screen where the pointer is just invisible. Admittedly, it's not that bad but it gets really annoying to have to move it around to eventually see where it was hidden. Personally, I can't live with that. The other major problem is that the 2nd screen of the work station has a huge band of 1200x150 unreachable pixels. You CAN'T move the mouse in there.

So, I really searched hard, I've read everything I could find on setting up synergy, but honestly, this setup just can't work with synergy's code. But I really want to use it this way. So I had a look at the code and tried to hack it to suit my needs. I eventually got it to work, and thought it could be useful to others. My patch, however, is NOT generic. It circumvents synergy's misbehavior only for my very specific setup with hard coded constants. I just don't have time to fix synergy properly. But. It could still be useful for others to modify my patch and achieve similar dirty-workarounds.

The patch is here. It also contains an additional workaround to simulate a border. This way, when trying to leave the 2nd screen from the left edge, you can't enter the invisible region. I find this handy.

Rebuild synergy with this patch, and use the binary cmd/synergys/synergys instead of you're distro's. The client (synergyc, on the workstation) does not need any change.

Hope synergy fixes their code. This isn't a trivial fix, it needs to completely change the way synergy parses its config file and handles remote screens. My suggestion for synergy developers (if this cool tool is still being developed) would be to change the config file format so that the user declares the size of the overall bounding box (in my case it's 3120x2250, 1200 + 900 + 150 = 2250) and then position each screen individually in within this huge bounding box and specify which range of pixels (no percentages please!) is mapped to which other edge of which screen on which range of pixels. And even though Xinerama might not help, please do consider each physical screen separately!

Hope this will be useful to others.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Recovering crashed iPhone

So I was bored with the few apps that come with the iPhone and talked with some people who used ZiPhone to jailbreak it. As expected, it was really easy. ZiPhone will also installs Installer.app, the package manager that will enable you to install lots of third party software.

One of these is OpenSSH (client & server). Obviously, the first thing to do when opening port 22 on this kind of device is to change the default (factory) password (which is alpine on newer iPhones, including firmware 1.1.4). Which is what I did (with passwd).

The problem is that it seems that changing the root password breaks SpringBoard. It will enter an endless loop and will keep crashing forever and showing a message box "edit home screen".

The solution to this problem is simple, you must restore the iPhone with iTunes. The problem for me was that the iPhone didn't show up in iTunes. The solution is to put your iPhone in DFU mode (Device Firmware Upgrade) as follows:

And then let iTunes do the magic for you and you're done! (Done on a 1.1.4, no warranty, hope this helps, happy jailbreaking!)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My first impressions on the iPhone

So I couldn't resist any longer and eventually bought an iPhone. 16G model of course. I waited for a long time, hoping that Apple would release a new version (with GPR and 3G) but it looks like it's not on their (public) roadmap for anytime soon.

I won't go over the details that everyone already knows (such as how lovely it is, and that "it's been designed and engineered by angles" as I've read on some blog somewhere). It's obviously a great product, like most (if not all) of the Apple products.

But. There are some limitations. So here is what annoys me (in no particular order):

  • Top issue: AT&T sux balls. Whoever is responsible for locking the iPhone on AT&T deserves to burn in hell forever.

  • Very limited tab support in Safari. This is a huge overlook from Apple. It greatly diminishes the comfort of browsing the Web from your iPhone.

  • SMS application does not display the number of characters while you're typing. Generally speaking, the SMS application of the iPhone encourages you to send many SMSes, because SMSes are presented like a chat, so this might be an intentional misfeature (probably requested by the same asshole who chose to lock the iPhone on these crooks called AT&T).

  • Poor calendar support. Honestly, even the Calendar application builtin Windows Mobile 5 is better. Of course the UI and look'n'feel is better in the iPhone, but feature-wise, it's very limited. You can't have more than one calendar in it (iTunes will squash them all in a single calendar when you import multiple calendars in your iPhone). You can't set any option about your calendar (such as setting a default alert 15 minutes before every event you add). The calendar application can only be sync'ed through iTunes (that's also a limitation in Windows Mobile -- not with iTunes of course -- but given the level of connectivity of the iPhone, I'd expect it to be able to read ICS files from an URL).

  • No week view in the Calendar application. That really sucks. Why didn't they just make a lightweight port of iCal?!

  • Geo-positioning on Google maps is too imprecise. This isn't a problem in the iPhone itself, but a shortcoming of the underlying technology (EDGE triangulation). Too bad that the iPhone doesn't have 3G heh :P. Also it's too bad that you can't import your "My Maps" from Google Maps and use them straight in the Maps application of the iPhone.

  • The Weather application should tell the current time and date of the city you're looking at.

  • The Calculator should have a more advanced mode with more maths functions.

  • The style of the Notes are weird and don't stick with the general look'n'feel of the iPhone.

  • There's no "My TODOs" application. You can write Notes, but if you don't keep consulting them, you forget. I'd love to have a "TODO" application where I can just quickly add stuff and always have them reminded to me. Hopefully this kind of app will be quickly available as a 3rd party app thanks to the SDK release.

  • From what I've understood, there's a $100 fee to be able to release iPhone apps with the SDK. This is going to severely limit the number of free apps on the iPhone, which is a real shame. (Note: a friend of mine mentioned that this is a one time fee to be able to sign your apps, so it's not that bad, but still...)

  • Lack of applications. Within the first day, you've seen more or less everything in the iPhone. Once again, let's hope new 3rd party apps will enhance this little gem that the iPhone is.

  • General lack of configurability. The Settings menus are really basic, there could be much more settings to adapt the iPhone to your personal preferences. I'd love to customize the welcome screen (to get rid of the useless iTunes icon for instance).

  • Non-generic landscape mode. Only some apps switch to landscape mode (e.g Safari. The iPod mode uses "cover flow" when in landscape mode, etc.). That sucks, there are many other situations where apps would be more convenient in landscape mode. For instance, a week view in the Calendar application would be hard to fit in straight mode, whereas it would surely be usable in landscape mode. I find this utterly ridiculous that app writers have to handle landscape mode specifically. This should be generic for all iPhone apps (and handled specially on a per-need basis).

  • Sync'ing the iPhone takes waaaaaaay too much time. When I only add a couple of contacts and calendar events, it takes minutes to sync!

  • Edit: no video recording program! OMG how could I not notice that in the first place?! OMFG how could Apple not include that in the Picture app?!

So yeah, that's about it. Admittedly, some concerns are more important than others (AT&T being the top one -- I hate you AT&T! Even more than I hate Comcast!). Overall, I'm rather satisfied with the iPhone. These concerns are all software-related, so there's hope that Apple addresses them one day or another. I was only (very) disappointed by the various shortcomings of the standard apps. This is probably due to the fact that Apple has set the level high and my expectations were also high. Also, I'm probably a power user, so I might want more out of the iPhone than the average customer (I need an SSH client on it FFS! Edit: got one with ZiPhone, see next post). But yeah, for some reason I was expecting Apple to perform better than that.