Thursday, October 26, 2006

iCal ate my Calendars

Actually, it's not quite as bad as it sounds. "Calendars" are what any sane program would call "categories", or something similar—essentially just labels to group events (and tasks). And iCal didn't destroy them, it just stopped showing them to me in the "calendars" list pane. This is how it happened this afternoon:
  • I opened iCal. The list of calendars was blank. There were no events in my week-view. In other words, my calendar looked pretty much blank, and I was concerned. I sync my Palm TX pretty regularly, so there were no tears yet.
  • Progressing to the next level of problem solving (pressing every available button), I swapped to the month view. My events were now visible. I switched back to the week view, and they were visible there too. It looked like the data was intact (good), but the GUI was misbehaving (bad). There were still no calendars in the list.
My most recent iCal backup was about a month old, and I made another one. And then I hit Google.

The Apple forums were semi-helpful: at least they confirmed there were a handful of others seeing a similar problem, and all recently as far as I could tell. Sadly, there were no useful answers. (Not everyone has a spare Mac, or a .Mac account, so I had to skip over those pseudo-solutions, none of which adequately explained the problem anyway.) I tried the usual Mac contortions like deleting (well, moving elsewhere) the iCal preference files, and, yes Dale, even emptying the Trash. Nothing worked.

A helpful guy (could have been a girl I suppose, "Angry Ant") on the #macosx channel on IRC helped me with what he thought might be a workaround. I moved the entire ~/Library/Application Support/iCal folder to the Desktop (that is, effectively deleting it, but keeping it in case I needed to restore it), and then started iCal. It fired up in pretty much the default state: no events, and just the "Home" and "Work" default calendars. Then something really weird happened: without doing anything, about 10 seconds later, all my events and calendars just reappeared. Magic. (I suspect it was reloaded from Sync Services, but I don't know enough about how all that works to be sure.) There were three problems:
  1. My colour scheme for the calendars was gone. Small deal.
  2. My calendar groups (think "parent categories") were gone. Medium deal—I wanted to reorganise anyway.
  3. The size on disk of the contents of the folder I moved out was 2.4M ("du -h ." in the top-level directory for Unix nerds following along), the size of the folder regenerated in its place was 1.8M. Potentially fairly large deal. Where was the rest of the data?
Anyway, I eyeballed a few months worth of events, and couldn't see any holes. It seemed to be intact. I re-organised my calendars, synced with the Palm a couple of times, and as far as I can tell I am back where I started, and better organised. Still, it's about two hours of my life I'll never get back. Thanks iCal.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Goodbye Audible.com

I'm finished with Audible.com—it's been great, but it's just all too hard, and the content is available directly from iTunes Store anyway. First, here is the combination of factors that has lead to this:
  • Audible's website is just plain slow. It's hideously slow, and I'm on a 24Mbit connection.
  • There is no obvious way to initiate multiple downloads from Audible's hideously slow website. That is, you can't just hit a button and download your entire purchased library—if you've got 70 titles, you're going to be clicking 70 buttons.
  • Audible's DRM is obtrusive. Sure, they've got to have it, but I've never felt beaten about the head by the iTunes DRM like I do by Audible's. Every time I went near an Audible audiobook (after the fiasco I'll describe below), it blathered on about authorising or deauthorising my machine or my iPod or my desktop player or whatever. This just in, Audible: your DRM needs to be smarter.
  • Audible's desktop applications are woeful. There's just no excuse these days for re-writing an operating system's standard look and feel. (Having said that, of course, iTunes does it. But Apple can get away with it.)
  • By default, Audible stores your downloaded audiobooks under the "Program Files" top-level directory rather than somewhere in "My Documents". For Mac OS-only readers, that would be like storing your downloads under "Applications" rather than "Documents".
Here's what happened earlier tonight. I had just run JDiskReport to see if I couldn't free up some space. While removing some unused applications, I figured I could get rid of the Audible applications I never use anymore. Now, here's the bit where I screwed up: reflex-clicking "Yes" on a couple of dialog boxes meant that:
  • I deleted all my downloaded audiobooks along with the applications, because they're stored in the same place.
  • I "de-authorised" my Windows XP machine.
I figured I could just log into Audible.com and re-download my library. Good in theory, but I was bitten by several of the observations above. I downloaded the smaller of the two Audible desktop applications which lets you download your audiobooks into your iTunes library, and I started downloading 70 titles one-click-at-a-time. After the first few had come down, I told iTunes where to find one of them, as up until that point it had been flagged as missing. iTunes asked me to authorise my machine. I typed the exact same username and password I had just used to log into the website, and it was rejected. I did this about three times, always the optimist. Next I figured I would download the other Audible bloatware application and use it to authorise myself—same result. So I stop downloading, and tell the website to email me my password. Instead it emails me a change-your-password page, so I use that to set it to what I'm pretty sure it already was. Freshly authorised, I continue downloading. After 70 titles, I import them into iTunes, and pretty much all of them are now listed in duplicate. I run down the list—again, manually—attempting to start every single file (now 140) so that I can flag the non-existent titles, which I then delete.

I am pretty sure I am back to where I was about an hour or two ago. Thanks, Audible, it's been great. But I'll be buying my audiobooks from iTunes Store from now on.