Category MDJ

RSS feed changes

Among the many, many, many upgrades we’ve suffered through in the past few weeks (including the production machine, production software, hard drives, machine repairs, even light fixtures and internet access hardware) have been server changes. While we’re shuffling some things around, we figured it was time to make the changes announced last year permanent.

So, effective as of now, the original https://secure.macjournals.com/ RSS feeds for MDJ and MWJ subscribers now get HTTP redirects to the newer feeds introduced last July, and those feeds are no longer “beta.” (Ironically, we may need to rewrite the software that makes those feeds, since it turns out the database behind them is really quite stupendously horribly designed [our fault]), but the URLs will remain the same.)

Your newsreader should easily and permanently replace your old URLs with the new ones the next time you refresh. If it doesn’t, we heartily recommend the now-free NetNewsWire 3.1, which handles this with aplomb and is, as mentioned, now free. Hence the adjective.


We had no idea how much stuff needed maintenance until we started fixing a few of the more broken things. It was kind of like fixing a broken drawer and discovering that the entire cabinet was riddled with termites, and then that the carpet needed repair, and on and on. We had about a 10-day stretch in February where something new, but minor, broke every single day. They were all manageable and fixed in a few hours, but when they come 10-15 per week for 2-3 weeks in a row, it makes you want to do something self-destructive, like enter politics or speculate about iPhone carrier agreements.

Almost everything is upgraded and fixed, including a few things MDJ and MWJ readers have wanted for nearly two years, with testing to resume this week (cross your fingers). Almost every single thing between the editors and the internet that we use to produce MDJ and MWJ has been upgraded or replaced since the last issue, and that almost included the very Ethernet cables connecting the machines. It still may—LAN transfers are slower than they ought to be in some cases but not others—but it’s been quite the makeover. We’re just glad it’s done. Hauling G5/Mac Pro cases around and copying 300GB hard drives over and over is something we’re happy to leave for special occasions. We’ll have more upgrading to do in the second half of 2008, but we’re just about done for now.

An Expo-timed update

It was about a week ago that we noted that our production machine had stopped working.

At the time, we did not know that the local Apple Store’s “diagnosis in 24-48 hours” would take five days—and end with “we can’t find anything else wrong so it must be the logic board; please mortgage all your property to buy a new one.”

We’re investigating other options, including last week’s new machines. (Even if we’d purchased AppleCare on the sytem, it would have expired six months ago.) We started limping along on a secondary machine by Thursday morning, and as of Sunday night, we’re fully up and running on it, although as usual we have to re-enter a bunch of serial numbers, fix some aliases, and so forth.

Since we purchased our production Power Mac G5 in late 2004, we’ve had no need to replace it, so the temporary machine we’ll be using marks the first time that MDJ and MWJ shall be produced on Intel machines. It also marks the first production under Leopard, and the first production using Microsoft Word 2008. We haven’t seen much of Word yet, since our first and primary task was to convert the handful of Visual Basic macros we use in production to AppleScripts, and some very subtle changes made that more complicated than we’d thought. We’ll talk more about that, either here or in MDJ and MWJ, later in the week.

We’d prefer to tear through a ton of material and publish around 8:00 AM CST, but unfortunately, the publisher is bugging out because he has an important doctor’s appointment at noon today that was scheduled months ago (and has been drafted to run other important errands as long as he’s out). We did take the first week of the year off, instead of Christmas week, because that’s just how it worked out for us. We were busy at work a week ago, until the machine died. Now we’re back on a smaller machine, an Intel iMac. It seems to work fine, but with some Rosetta programs still in our production flow, we wish it had a bit more RAM.

We had been working on some philosophical articles about issues that have been raised online in the past few weeks as if each was some kind of crisis, but in fact, none of them were any kind of crisis. Ironically, one of those was about obtaining repairs, so we’re a bit more up-to-date on that one now.

Those are not time-critical, so we’ll likely put them on hold and go straight into all the news from the Expo, and provide our pre-keynote gloss on some of the more prevalent rumors. If there’s not much news on Monday (hey, it could happen, right after President Gore cuts all funding to the EPA), we’ll finish up the stuff in the pipeline.

Either way, the plan is to publish that Tuesday morning, and take that plus the previous “Think Secret” coverage and put it in MWJ for Tuesday morning, then head straight into whatever happens at Moscone Center on Tuesday afternoon (our time). If the doctors find something wrong or there’s nuclear war or something, the schedule may get pushed out again, in which case we’ll likely go straight to keynote coverage to get that out Wednesday morning.

We had also planned to spend time last week on Apple’s Q4 FY2006 financial results, which happened before the publisher got his strength back. We’ll now postpone that until the coming weekend or early next week, to try to get all the financial news contained in a couple of issues for those of you who prefer to skip it (and to keep it isolated for those of you who pore over it in great detail).

That’s the current set of plans, since a few of you asked how the machine is doing. The machine is not doing well at all, but we’re now managing with a substitute while eagerly awaiting something bigger to run all our tools at once. It’s really quite astonishing how much RAM and disk space all these things take. Why, we remember when code segments couldn’t be larger than 32KB, and the whole system and applications loaded in 512KB, and…

OK, we’ll stop now. We’re old.

Grr!

All the versions of MDJ 2007.12.20 that were just released are signed properly. (Tables like “Table 1″ still take way too much time; it delayed yesterday’s issue by several hours.)

Unfortunately, they’re all digitally signed with a masthead that says “Previous issue: 2007.12.02″. It was MDJ 2007.12.03, of course. Lots of things that used to be more automated currently are not, but we’re working on it.

MDJ 2007.12.03 setext issue not signed properly

Oops – it’s hard to get back in the saddle, and we simply forgot to digitally sign the setext version of MDJ 2007.12.03 that was sent in E-mail this morning.

The version in the MDJ RSS feed is indeed properly digitally signed, if you want it for your collection.

MDJ on Ringtones: reprinted at Macworld.com

Coverage from MDJ 2007.09.15 on copyright and ringtones has just gone live at Macworld.com, if you’d like to refer your friends to it. All MDJ and MWJ paid subscribers already have access to this, though—it was in MDJ 2007.09.15, and was made available immediately in the MWJ RSS feeds for MWJ subscribers due to the current publication delays. If you’re a paid subscriber and haven’t read it, grab a copy from the RSS feed; the ringtone analysis is only about half of the full issue. Another one is on the drafting board, too.

MDJ 2007.08.14 re-issued

One of the delays we’ve seen has been that in the process of retooling for the new world, we keep managing to break things. Our slightly revised PDF production process uses Acrobat Professional 8 tools to slim down the PDF files, but we found out the hard way today that “Discard external cross-references” apparently, to Acrobat, means “throw away some, but not all, URL destinations in the document.”

This left MDJ 2007.08.14 in an interesting state for readers—although all of the URLs were properly styled in blue text indicating clickable links, half or more of them actually were not clickable hyperlinks.

Once we figured this out, it was easy enough to fix. We can’t re-mail the PDF issue to subscribers (and many of you wouldn’t want us to, anyway), but we’ve re-generated and re-signed “Version 2″ of MDJ 2007.08.14 and placed both the uncompressed and Zip-compressed PDF files in the RSS feeds. (The old RSS feed has only the Zip-compressed version, of course, but the new feed has both. The link above is to the uncompressed PDF version for those who want to read it on the iPhone, and requires an MDJ user ID and password to access.)

For reference, the older (incorrect, version 1) PDF file was 221,470 bytes long, and its ZIP archive was 208,152 bytes. The newer, correct version 2 PDF file is 225,351 bytes, and the ZIP archive is 211,404 bytes. (This is listed in the new RSS feed, but it never hurts to document it.)

We apologize for any inconvenience.

New RSS feed testing!

If you’re slightly adventurous and would like to test the new and improved MDJ and MWJ RSS feeds, here they are:

We’ve implemented a bunch of changes to try to make issues more accessible to subscribers (and, in enlightened self-interest, reduce the amount of time we have to spend getting them to you if E-mail fails):

  • The feeds are regular unsecured http feeds, which should solve the problems with numerous non-NetNewsWire newsreaders either refusing to read the feeds or not updating them properly. There’s absolutely no reason the old way shouldn’t work, but the fact is that in a lot of readers, it doesn’t.

  • The issues themselves, however, are still for subscribers only. The links go to the https secure site and require your user ID and password, but every reader we’ve tested can handle that (handing off to your browser if necessary). You can even read PDF issues on the iPhone!

  • Each issue’s entry includes links to the issue in both PDF and setext format, and the PDF is available both uncompressed and as a ZIP archive. This lets you retrieve any version at any time, even read the PDF version on the iPhone. The enclosure element still refers to the ZIP file – each item can have only one enclosure, and for compatibility, we’ve kept that as the ZIP-compressed PDF version. If you set your newsreader not to download enclosures automatically, you can choose which format you want on an issue-by-issue basis.

This is the first time we’ve made uncompressed PDF and setext versions available other than by E-mail, and we know a lot of you have asked for it over the years, so we’re pleased to roll it out. If you have any problems with the new feeds, please let us know through the normal channels.

The previous RSS feeds are still there, and will be maintained at least until the PDF-in-E-mail changes noted earlier are implemented. Once everything is debugged, we’ll adjust the old feeds to permanently redirect to the new ones, so those who don’t keep up won’t have to do anything – your newsreader will automagically pick up the new feed at the new place from then on.

(Or should, at least. We’ve learned that what newsreaders do and what they’re supposed to do are often two different things. But we remain optimistic.)

MDJ on iPhone is really cool

Well, we think so, at least. We can’t really take sharp pictures of it, but try mailing yourself a PDF issue of MDJ or MWJ, making sure you don’t compress it with Zip or StuffIt or anything else. Then read the message on iPhone – at the bottom of the page, you’ll see an attachments button that lets you open and read the PDF right there on the phone, with the proper font rendering and everything.

Frankly, this surprises us, but we’re not complaining. OK, we’re complaining about two things:

  1. iPhone’s PDF reader does not recognize hyperlinks within a PDF document. You can see that something is a link from the blue text, but tapping it does nothing.

  2. Even though MDJ is presented in two columns, iPhone’s double-tap-zoom metaphor does nothing but zoom the full page to fit the iPhone’s screen. We even tried testing an older issue of MDJ that had PDF articles defined for the text, allowing Acrobat and Acrobat Reader to follow stories across columns and pages automaticcally. No dice – iPhone’s PDF viewer knows nothing about them, so they don’t provide any advantages.

    (Ironically, we stopped including the “article” features in MDJ and MWJ in 2002 with the new design because Adobe InDesign has no way to generate them from columns and text frames on the page. InDesign has its own PDF export that does a good job in many areas, but this has been a glaring omission since version 1.0.)

We’ve always compressed MDJ and MWJ issues for delivery for a few reasons:

  • The #1 error we used to get in delivery was “mailbox full,” so naturally we want the issues to be as small as possible.

  • In the days of Mac OS 9, compression was necessary to include HFS metadata, like the file type 'PDF ' and the creator type 'CARO', necessary to allow double-clicking the file to open Acrobat.

  • When we started this 11 years ago, most people didn’t have broadband services, and those outside the US were slower than those here. Downloading big files could take a long time.

We’ve long considered ditching the compression and sending the file as MIME type "application/pdf" because Mac OS X’s “Mail” application can display uncompressed PDFs inline, but that would have left people who want compressed files without options, on top of rewriting our software to do the new thing.</P.

But now, since mail is so spammily broken to begin with, we have ZIP-compressed RSS feeds for people who want compressed files, and Apple continues to improve the experience for people using its products if we mail uncompressed PDF files. The RSS feeds are irrelevant to the iPhone – it redirects display of any RSS URL to Apple’s “reader.mac.com” Web application, but reader.mac.com cannot access or display secure RSS feeds like ours, so at present, you can’t view MDJ or MWJ RSS on the iPhone.

Therefore, starting around 1 August (2007.08.01), we’re going to change our delivery system to mail PDF versions of MDJ and MWJ without compression, as MIME type "application/pdf", encoded with Base-64. We’ll also add a new “no E-mail” type of subscription for people who prefer compressed files in RSS – when a new issue is published, we won’t send you E-mail at all, just let you find it in the RSS feed. (After all, if you want compressed files, it makes no sense to mail you an uncompressed PDF or setext version that you don’t want. If you still want those, they’re still available, on top of the RSS feeds available to all subscribers.)

We’ll announce this in MDJ and MWJ also, but since the “StuffIt file in a Binhex wrapper” format of MDJ and MWJ PDF delivery hasn’t really changed in over a decade (except to move to the “newer” StuffIt 5 archives in the late 1990s), we thought we’d give some of you a heads-up in case you have mail filters, automatic processing, or anything similar. Most of you won’t notice any difference except that PDF issues won’t need to be decompressed before viewing. In most modern mail applications, you’ll see an enclosure icon that opens the issue with a single click – and in iPhone, you can tap the enclosure to read it. The coolness factor there isn’t going to wear off for a while around here.

Tens of thousands? What tens of thousands?

Given the previous post, it’s at least amusing to notice that Business 2.0’s “Apple 2.0″ blog has now posted about first-weekend iPhone sales, and yet the author somehow manages not to mention his own post from Saturday on the same subject, the one that has numbers he invented out of whole cloth.

Commenter “Rezzz” was not so forgetful:

“What happened to ‘tens of thousands’?”

They did sell tens of thousands. Looks like somewhere between 100 – 150 tens of thousands.

Meanwhile, DeWitt brought in a couple of millions hits to this website with that headline. Enjoy your bonus, dude.

It was perhaps unfair for us to refer to Apple 2.0 blogger Philip Elmer-DeWitt as “Elmer Bulwer-Lytton,” but MDJ had spent time on this blog in May and was not impressed. From coverage in MDJ 2007.05.02, available to MWJ readers in the secure RSS feed, discussing the stock options backdating brouhaha of the time, just after noting that the SEC conducted a large investigation and determined that Jobs was not to blame for backdating:

Misinformation 2.0

Don’t expect any of this to stop those who take great pleasure in seeing Jobs suffer. The “Apple 2.0″ blog, an effort of Business 2.0 magazine, recently noted that nearly six years ago, Fortune called Steve Jobs’s compensation “highway robbery,” prompting protests from Jobs who noted that all of his options were underwater, and therefore not worth US$872 million. Jobs wrote, “They are worth zero.”

The blog brings this up because the author of that piece from June 2001, Joe Nocera, dredged it up for last Saturday’s New York Times, and you could cut the schadenfreude with a knife. Nocera wrote, “What a delicious surprise to discover that Mr. Jobs, who had ostentatiously taken only US$1 in salary since returning to Apple in 1997, had a stock option package bigger than any ever bestowed on such well-known greed heads as Sanford I. Weill of Citigroup or Michael D. Eisner of Disney.”

According to Nocera, Jobs had options worth US$872 million at the time of the story, which made his public acceptance of a US$1 salary hypocritical, and its exposé “delicious.” Nocera wrote that Jobs “railed” about the unfair cover story, offering to sell his options to Fortune for half of their supposed US$872 million value. Jobs pointed out that since the options were underwater, “They were worth zero.” Nocera smugly adds, “That is not how options are valued, but never mind.”

Actually, you should mind, because the article in Fortune was a complete hack job, one covered in MDJ 2001.06.15. The cover said Jobs’s options were worth US$872 million, but the story inside said Fortune valued Jobs’s options at US$381 million: “We have valued his monstrous options grant at one-third the exercise price of the shares options. And, of course, we’ve included the US$90 million Gulfstream the Apple board gave him.”

Not only did Fortune publish two estimates of Jobs’s option worth on the same page that differed by half a billion dollars, Jobs was right. As MDJ has noted since at least 2001, Jobs’s options were not standard options. They could not be sold or traded, so they had no value to anyone but him. A block of options that big on the open market might reasonably be valued as worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but since they couldn’t be sold on the open market, they were worth a total of US$0 until Apple’s stock price rose above the option price.

It matters not how venomous or sarcastic Nocera gets in his smug condemnation, for the value that Fortune set was wrong in 2001 and it’s wrong now. Nocera doesn’t seem to care, though, as long as he can keep selling the same article to the mass media. As Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

Oh, here are some other details that the “Apple 2.0″ blog didn’t tell you in flogging this story. First, blogger Philip Elmer-DeWitt is actually the executive editor of Business 2.0 magazine, which, like Fortune is published by Time, Inc. Before joining Business 2.0, Elmer-DeWitt worked for Time for 27 years, where his work included a not-so-flattering 1998 mini-profile of Steve Jobs, and where he was science editor when sister publication Fortune ran the originally incorrect story.

Elmer-DeWitt sees his blog as a counterpoint to “fan blogs,” because he says he is “someone who loves MACs and can bring a journalist’s skepticism.” (Yes, that’s his spelling of “Macs.”) It’s too bad that Elmer-DeWitt didn’t let readers invoke their own skepticism by alerting them to the fact that he was praising a former colleague’s attempt to rehabilitate a discredited story for his own company’s publication.

Perhaps that’s because Elmer-DeWitt just got a check from Business 2.0 “in the area of US$2000 to US$2500″ for writing the number-two Business 2.0 blog in the first calendar quarter of 2007. That’s a lot of incentive to get readers, especially for a blog that spends much of its time repeating rumors and mocking fan sites that don’t share Elmer-DeWitt’s “journalist’s skepticism.” So, just to recap – claiming that underwater options that can’t be sold at all are worth hundreds of millions of dollars for six years despite plain facts is applying journalistic skepticism, but earning US$8000 to US$10,000 per year to repost items from Wired, AppleInsider, and MacDailyNews is blogging “outside the reality distortion field.” You make the call.

It’s unclear how well the whole “we’re experts” thing is working out for Business 2.0 – just before that issue of MDJ went to press, we learned that Business 2.0 lost every production file for its June 2007 issue on 23 April when its editorial system crashed, and only then did the magazine learn that its backup server hadn’t been backing anything up for at least days. They lost everything – the only way they were able to get the magazine out was that it was a monthly (not a weekly), and they had a week to reconstruct all of the art and layouts. The text of all the articles was only saved because they’d sent it to the lawyers for approval.

As the article notes, this is the magazine that annually publishes “The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.” Perhaps some of this explain why the News Corp-owned New York Post reported last week that the magazine “is a long way from seeing any of the investments pay off,” and may wind up being folded into Fortune magazine – the same one whose completely incorrect stories about Steve Jobs got stroked by Elmer-DeWitt recently.

Maybe they’d save some money if they paid the bloggers for quality instead of traffic, as Rezzz implied.

The installer *probably* doesn’t overwrite newer files with older ones

If the business news and security news and press watch is not your style, check out this MacFixIt page. The site has often recommended re-installing “Combo” updates to repair mysterious Mac OS X problems, but MDJ and MWJ have responded by pointing out that this could undo later updates – for example, replacing files from a recent Security Update with older, insecure ones.

On Friday, MacFixIt insisted without sourcing that this was not the case. MDJ‘s publisher asked for sources, so the site’s Ben Wilson tested it and found it to be true.

That led to another technical diversion through a document that explains the situation, but for some reason is marked as “legacy” even though it seems to be perfectly true. We’ll expand on it and clean it up for a future issue of MDJ, but if you want a little technical interlude and the answer to a long-standing question, check it out. There are a couple of other situations not mentioned there where the installer might replace a newer file with an older one, but the good news it that it probably works the way you want it to work.