Finally, serious Lightroom photo syncing on the iPad – no iPhoto required

Old workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from my camera to my iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad and export to a folder on my hard drive. Drag said folder into iPhoto. Make newly imported photos into a new iPhoto album. Hook up iPad for sync via iTunes. Place check mark on new album in iTunes iPad photo syncing tab. Wait.

New workflow for getting cool pictures I’ve taken from camera to iPad:

Import photos into Adobe Lightroom. Throw out junk, make fixes, sort and rate. Choose photos I want on my iPad, drag to Photosmith publishing service, hit sync.

What a great program, though it does cost $20. What I’ve just described, using the app to send pictures or albums right from Lightroom onto your iPad, is worth more than $20 to me. You also have to install a free Lightroom plugin on your computer to make to all work.

But the other side of the app is for doing field work on photos using just your iPad, which I have not done much in the past but may get more into. Using Apple’s Camera Connection Kit, you can import photos right off your camera into the Photosmith app, rate them, tag them, flag them for deletion etc. You can also directly upload them to a couple of services such as Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. Then just get near your Mac, open up Lightroom and sync back to your computer. Sweet.

photosmith app screen shot

Annoying limits I’ve encountered so far?

You can’t sync iPad screenshots back to Lightroom. That’s because the iPad makes them in the PNG format which Lightroom doesn’t support. But a fix is coming.

It seems like you can’t use the iPad app to re-arrange photos imported from Lightroom among your collections or make them into a new collection and have the changes sync back to Lightroom. Only new photos imported directly from a camera to the iPad (or taken with the iPad, god have mercy on your soul) sync back to Lightroom.


Using an iPhone 4S without iTunes – ever!

For reasons that shall be dealt with later, I’m the owner of a new iPhone 4S. Having had more than my fill of iTunes annoyances, delays and freezes, I’m trying to go without ever syncing my new iPhone to my Mac. In the first few days, it’s mostly gone smoothly.


I’m using both Apple’s iCloud (converted from MobileMe) and Google’s various web services right now. Since I’ve been on an Android phone for almost a year, my Apple contacts and calendar are a bit dated around the edges compared to my Google stuff. It’s sort of a bake-off and if the phone works well with Google services, I’ll probably phase out the iCloud.

Adding iCloud was easy and everything appeared quickly. To get the best of all possible experiences with Google, I’m following the advice from some support boards to use the iPhone’s default Google settings for Gmail and Google calendar and an Exchange account pointing to Google servers for contacts. Directions for the Exchange bit are here. That also seems to have worked without a hitch.

Inside my contacts app, I can choose any of the groups set up in my iCloud contacts lists (which mostly originate from the Address Book program on my main Mac) or my Google contacts. I cannot access different groups I’ve set up in my Google contacts, but I can’t do that on my Android phone either. On the iPhone’s phone favorites screen, I can select any number or email from any of those many lists. Very handy and smooth so far.

Previously purchased music and apps

As soon as I activated my new phone and signed in with my iTunes identity, the iTunes store app had a tab for previously purchased music and TV shows. I could download any of the thousands of tracks or shows I’d bought from Apple over the years. Very spiffy. Of course, music purchased elsewhere was nowhere to be found and there’s no Amazon Music Player app for the iPhone that I could find. If I agree to pony up another $25/year, Apple will shortly solve this problem with “iTunes Match.”

Apps were a bit trickier. There was no tab in the App Store app and for a few minutes I was stumped. It’s not intuitive but previously purchased apps appeared under the Updates tab. They seem to be listed in the order in which you first downloaded them — the most recently purchased app is at the top, the oldest stuff is at the bottom — with no sorting choices. Annoyingly, selecting any app for installing on the phone took me off the purchased apps screen, out of the App Store app and out to the iPhone’s home screen where the app was being installed. I had to double-click the home button and hit the App Store icon to jump back.

I haven’t previously backed up app data to iCloud from any iOS device so the apps all arrived in a virginal state. It took a good couple of hours to sign in and set up all the apps. Thank god for 1Password (which, not coincidentally, was among the freshly downloaded apps that needed to be reset).

Files and documents

It’s actually pretty easy to get access to any document I need on my phone using Dropbox. Some day this may be doable with iCloud. But so far iCloud is only syncing documents from one iOS device’s versions of Apple’s office suite apps, Pages, Keynote and Numbers to another iOS device’s versions. That’s the iOS versions — not the desktop versions.

Another key app for on-the-go documents is Evernote, my reliable digital shoe box that stores copies of notes, web pages and other kinds of files and makes them auto-magically available on all manner of devices and computers.


Well, I may be screwed. Apple’s previously purchased download policy doesn’t apply to movies. I can watch some flicks streamed via a Netflix or HBO app, but that’s not an optimal solution. And it leaves the movies we’ve previously purchased in iTunes out. The iPhone has wifi syncing with iTunes but that’s still iTunes syncing, not to mention it requires an initial USB sync. Yuck.

So, overall, it’s been a pretty smooth experience being PC free with a new iPhone 4S. So many apps and services are built for the cloud and do their own syncing that I may not need iTunes at all.

Best way to sync Mac and Google contacts? There isn’t one

Photo on 2009-11-15 at 00.58 #2It’s kind of a disaster when your two most critical IT vendors won’t play nice. And it’s happening right now to me with Apple and Google feuding over iPhone apps. Google had an iPhone app for managing its fabulous Google Voice service but Apple nixed it (or didn’t approve it, or whatever). Now I have to maintain two completely separate and parallel sets of contact phone numbers and email addresses and I’m not happy about it.

Here’s how I got in this mess. One, I started relying on Google Voice for its amazing portable, follow-me phone number trick plus insanely great transcribed and emailed voicemails. And two, I started using an iPhone for its heady mix of iPodness, mobile telephony and Internet access on the go.

So what’s the big deal? I have a huge set of contacts (including phone numbers and email addresses) on my Mac in Apple’s Address Book program. It’s great because I can keep the listings in total sync between and betwixt  a couple of Macs (using MobileMe) and my iPhone (using iTunes). Changes made in any of those places replicate to all the other places. Sweet.

But, when I’m placing and receiving calls using Google Voice (typically at my desk  using a Mac) I have no simple way to access those phone numbers and email addresses in Apple’s Address Book program. Google Voice only works directly with Google’s online-only contacts listing (which seems to be an offshoot of Gmail). And Google Voice obviously can’t access my Address Book listings when a call comes in and it’s trying to ID the caller for me.

Then when I’m out on my iPhone, I’m not even sure where or how to find my Google contact phone numbers at all. There’s no contacts bit in the otherwise great Google Mobile app and the contacts list I can reach from within the Mail app’s Gmail section only includes email addresses, not phone numbers.

Worst of all, I now have to track changes in two places and hope I remember to keep changing contact numbers or emails updated on both platforms — a recipe for disaster.

In theory, there’s supposedly a way to sync Address Book contacts with Google’s contact list. The problem is it it stinks. When you plug an iPhone or iPod into your computer and iTunes comes up to start syncing, check out the Info tab. Under the Contacts section, you’ll see a check box letting you also sync contacts with Google. I’ve circled it in red below:


But the feature so simplistic that I’m having trouble understanding exactly how it works, which may be another of way of saying it doesn’t really work at all. It seems like if you put a check in this box, the only thing you can do is have all of your Address Book contacts synced with all of your Google Contacts (or at least all of the contacts Google lists in its “My Contacts” area). The sync doesn’t respect or even carry across any sub-groupings you’ve assigned to some contacts, even though both Address Book and Google Contacts support assigning contacts to subgroups.

And the bigger disaster comes after that first sync because Google parses some of my Mac contacts in weird ways. For example, in some Address Book contacts, I have two people listed together (say for people I want to send a holiday card). Under first name I put “Bobby & Sally” and under the last name I put “Smith.” But when these contacts got to Google the first time, Google started listing them as First name “Bobby” Middle name “& Sally” and last name “Smith.” After that, when syncing, Google always wanted to add them back into the Mac’s address book as all new (but actually duplicative) contacts. And because Address Book doesn’t support a middle name field, there’s seemingly no way out of this syncing hell.

[UPDATE: You can add custom fields to Address Book listings including middle name — it doesn’t seem to have stopped the duplication, however.].

Apple and Google need to get together and fix this mess pronto. A Google Voice App that let me access all my Google contacts’ phone numbers on my iPhone would be a big help. Dramatically improved syncing capabilities between Mac and Google contacts would be an even bigger help. How about it?

The messy, the missing and the mistakes: Adventures in iTunes Plus upgrading

Well, it’s been almost two months since Apple announced the huge expansion of higher-quality and DRM-free music in its iTunes Store “Plus” offerings and I think it’s fair to say that the upgrade process is an unmitigated disaster. Despite personally paying 30 cents per track to upgrade hundreds of tracks, Apple has erased my metadata, forced me to spend many hours deleting duplicates and refused to even make available upgrades to some of my favorite albums, long after the “plus” versions showed up in the store at full price. And getting the upgraded files from my laptop, where I downloaded them, onto my desktop iMac has been another nine layers of hell. Shame on you, Apple. I’m calling it “The Messy, the missing and the mistakes.”


A little background: Having previously spent a ton of dough in the iTunes store over the past five years buying music tracks that came encoded at only 128 kilobytes per second and locked up with Apple’s Fairplay DRM, I was willing, fortunately able and even a little excited to spend even more to get everything upgraded and unlocked. Apple’s “Plus” tracks, after all, come encoded at double the bit rate, noticeably improving sound quality, and without any DRM, freeing you to play the tracks over an assortment of cool gear like the Sonos or Logitech Squeezebox streaming systems or your Amazon Kindle, for example.

I started by making a smart playlist of all the songs in my library on my Macbook Pro. The smart playlist includes all songs encoded at a bitrate of 128 kbps and with the description “Protected AAC audio file.” Before buying any upgrades, the list included 868 files (some songs purchased over the past five years I’d subsequently deleted or replaced with higher-quality versions burned from CDs).

Just a few minutes after Apple announced the upgrade program, iTunes showed I could upgrade 294 songs. When I clicked to make the purchase, iTunes asked me if it could throw away the old files and I checked yes. A few days later, another 132 songs were available for upgrade. This time I did not get a check box asking me about whether to delete old files. So at this point, I had paid to upgrade some 426 tracks. But my smart playlist showed I still had 594 locked up songs — a drop of only 274 songs.

As I started to investigate that mystery, I realized that in hundreds of instances, iTunes had not automatically copied metadata like star ratings and play counts from my old tracks to my upgraded tracks and it had not gotten rid of the old tracks. My library was now littered with duplicates and many of my shiny new “Plus” files had no ratings, play counts or other data attached. Blech.

I emailed the iTunes store support several times and got a series of utterly useless responses which amounted to little more than “oops, sorry.”

The only fix — admittedly very labor intensive — is to start by doing a search for duplicate files in iTunes. Then, for each duplicate resulting from the messy Plus upgrades, delete the song LISTING for the new DRM-free file (it’s described as a “Purchased AAC Audio file”) and delete the UNDERLYING ACTUAL FILE of the older, DRM-locked file (it ends with a three-letter extension of m4p). Then go back into iTunes and click on the remaining prior listing for the song, the one with all your metadata. iTunes will say it can’t find the file and lets you choose to link it to a new file. Navigate through to the new DRM-free file and select it. Yes, Virginia, you have to do this one by one for every messed up file. UUUGGGGHHHHH!

Another partial fix, which you have to do every time BEFORE you plan to purchase upgrades for a bunch of songs, is to go into your iTunes store account info. Near the bottom of the account info screen is a line that says “Reset all warnings for buying and downloading music.” Click on the button that says “Reset Warnings.” After you do this, on your next upgrade, iTunes will re-ask if you want to delete old files when you do a Plus upgrade and that seems to avoid much of the mess.


Once you’ve dealt with the messy and the mistakes, you’re left with the bizarre-o world problem that Apple and the record companies seem to be leaving out upgrades on many albums that are already for sale in Plus versions at full price.


For example, I purchased from the iTunes store a couple of albums by the White Stripes. Both albums are shown as currently available for sale in Plus versions but I’ve never been offered an upgrade. Again, an email to iTunes store support came back with nothing. Apple – I want to pay you money and you won’t take it! Not smart.


The final disastrous blunder is the mess resulting from my keeping a copy of my music library on my iMac as well as on my Macbook Pro. As you’ll remember from the original days of the iTunes Store, you can authorize up to five computers to play your purchased, DRM-locked music tracks. So I have a near-duplicate copy of my library on my iMac. But I upgraded all my music to “Plus” versions on my laptop. Apple has offered no way to sync the libraries and my workaround is so hellish I almost can’t bear to mention it.

I printed out the smart playlist of old, DRM-locked files on each computer. One list was about 10 pages, the other six pages. Then I laboriously compared — line by line — every file that was off the laptop list (because it had been upgraded) but was still on the desktop list. For all of those files, I deleted the LIBRARY LISTING AND THE UNDERLYING ACTUAL FILE from my desktop’s hard drive. Then I used the program Syncopation to sync the two libraries. It copied over the new unlocked “Plus” files with their correct library listings from the laptop. Phew!

None of this is user-friendly or customer-friendly or even very nice. Apple needs to overhaul the “Plus” upgrade program and quick. And the company really should be more responsive to complaints about the currently broken system.

UPDATE: I see over at jkOnTheRun (via the always handy Macsurfer site), that the 30 cents per track fee is also infuriating some customers.

Foxmarks browser sync adds great password syncing feature

Don’t you love it when software designers listen to their customers? Gives me a warm feeling all over. So kudos to the authors of the incredibly useful Firefox bookmark synchronization add-on Foxmarks. After the demise of Google’s great browser synching tool back in June, I turned to Foxmarks to keep everything in tune on my various Macs. But unlike Google, Foxmarks only synced bookmarks, not passwords, cookies or browsing history. Of the three missing features, syncing passwords was easily the most useful. So I’m happy to report that Foxmarks new version 2.5 adds a solid password syncing capability.

The implementation is straightforward and easy to use. Password syncing is off by default so you must first go to Foxmarks’ preferences and activate it. The first sync requires that you create a password for password syncing and obviously you should create a long, twisty, turny one. The first sync was pretty darn quick. Then on other computers, you simply activate the feature and input the password.

I’m not a computer security expert but it does appear that Foxmarks has taken good care with the new feature. Transfers between browsers and the Foxmarks server are encrypted. And if you don’t trust Foxmarks, you can name your own server. If you ever want to erase all the passwords, there’s a handy button in Foxmarks’ preferences called “Delete Passwords From Server.” Furthermore, I would never trust Firefox to save passwords for critical web sites like my bank in the first place, so Foxmarks’ security is less than a critical need for me.

I do have one problem or issue with the new password sync feature. If Foxmark encounters a conflict — you have different passwords for the same web address — it presents a conflict resolution dialogue box. It shows both passwords blotted out. But just hit the giant, how-did-I-miss-it-earlier button labeled “Show Passwords” to see exactly what’s been saved on each. But the two conflicting passwords are both blanked out with dots so how are you supposed to know which one is correct? And there’s no option to simply type in the current password for that web site. Needs improvement here.

Overall, I highly recommend Foxmarks for keeping browsers on all your computers every-more-completely in sync. And, frankly, there’s not a lot of competition. Firefox’s own Weave project is still stuck at the 0.1 beta point and I haven’t seen any action with Google’s now abandoned but open sourced offering.

Semi-related aside: when Firefox notified me that there was an upgrade available for Foxmarks, it also decided to offer me the chance to install a few other popular add-ons. I decided to see if ColorfulTabs might help me sort through bunches of open pages. The add-on colorizes each tab you have open in Firefox with a different color (see picture below). After about 10 seconds, I decided that the various colors were more distracting than useful. It’s easier to simply read the black text in each tab to see what page it’s on. The clashing colors distracted my brain as I tried to read across the tabs. No thanks.

Firefox browser with colorfultabs add-on installed


Google browser sync: I’m not dead yet (July 9, 2008)

Google browser sync is dead. Now what? (June 14, 2008)

Gold star for Syncopation developer and bug crusher Pearson

A gold starA couple of weeks ago, I installed the free-trial version of a program called Syncopation to keep the iTunes music libraries on my laptop and desktop Macs in sync. It worked pretty well, as I noted in my July 3 review, but I did notice that one of the promised features — one I especially liked — wasn’t working as advertised.

Syncopation was supposed to keep not just the music files in sync on my two computers but also the key attributes iTunes tracks, like star ratings and number of times played. After the initial sync, however, I was getting no glory on metadata syncing. So I dropped an email to the support site of the publisher, Sonzea, and got a pretty quick response from developer Alan Pearson. After a quick back and forth, he got to work and within days posted an updated version of Syncopation  (2.1.1) that quashed the bug. And, Pearson sent me a personal email notifying me of the fix. That is great customer service. Needless to say, I just paid $25 for a full license.

Google browser sync: I’m not dead yet

About a month ago, I noted the bad news that Google was ending development of one of the most useful Firefox add-ons ever, the Google browser sync extension. This nifty piece of code not only kept your bookmarks synced between different computers (across different operating systems, too) but also coordinated browsing history, cookies and passwords. Foxmarks, which I switched over to, only supports syncing bookmarks, so far. And the Mozilla’s Weave project is still in an early beta stage. So it’s nice to hear on the official Google open source blog today (via Jeremy Zawodny’s link blog) that the company is throwing open the doors to programmers everywhere and anywhere to keep Google browser sync alive:

“Open Sourcing the Google Browser Sync client was something we’d always planned to do, and we’re pleased to say that the code for it is now yours for the taking. Given our recent decision to discontinue support for Browser Sync, we wanted to make sure that the code for it was available for the developer community to use and improve. While we’re no longer doing active development, we’ve released the code in the hopes that those folks who asked for it will use it to develop something cool. For example, it would be great to see the server ported to Google App Engine, or support for Firefox 3 implemented.”

Now we have some competition, I suppose, between privately-coded Foxmarks and open-sourced Weave and Google browser sync. That should lead to good progress in a hurry — I hope.

p.s. Exciting to make an allusion to the great flick “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” “Life of Bryan” in my headline. Here’s the clip:

Syncopation is a good option for syncing iTunes libraries

Syncopation program for syncing itunes libraries(Updated on 7/10) I have too many digital media files and they’re getting disorganized. I want to be able to add stuff to my iPod on the road, so my MacBook Pro is therefore my “main” iTunes library. I typically buy new digital music or TV shows on that laptop and rip CDs or DVDs on it. So, in theory at least, it’s the master library.

But when I’m in my office, I’m typically using my iMac’s music library, so it needs the music files. And because my laptop has much more limited hard drive space any Tv and movie files I’m not interested in watching currently (sorry, Battlestar Galactica season 1) get off-loaded to the iMac. Which means my “master” library isn’t so master anymore.

What I need is a software synchronization solution that’s iTunes-aware. You could just crank up Chronosync (or your own standard, hometown file-syncing program) and have it push missing files back and forth. That solution has at least two problems. First, it would be hellish to get Chronosync to exclude just the movie and TV files I don’t want on my laptop. Also, it knows nothing about my metadata — star ratings, play counts, last played date and so on — that iTunes is tracking separately on each computer.

So I’m testing out a free 30-day trial of a program called Syncopation (version 2.1) which claims to sync iTunes libraries exactly the way you want while keeping all the metadata honest. It’s a tiny download and then you install a copy on each of the computers you want to keep in sync. The free trial supports two computers while the paid version ($25) can do its tricks on five computers. Once the program is running on each computer, it syncs just as you require over a wired or wireless network, either in the background or on-demand.

Syncopation also offers lots of useful options. First off, you can choose whether all libraries are equal (“peer to peer” syncing) or one is a master. You can choose on each computer whether to include or exclude syncing TV shows, movies and/or podcasts. I’ve set it top sync TV shows from my Macbook Pro to my iMac but not the reverse, for example. You can also limit it to specific playlists and decide whether or not it should have the power to delete files. Finally, you can select any or all of six pieces of metadata for syncing (genre, rating, play count, last play date, skip count, last skipped date). If you’re setting up a central iTunes library on a network server somewhere, Syncopation can also add tracks to another computer’s library without actually importing the data files. All in all, a very savvy and slick app.

UPDATE: It appears that metadata syncing happens only once, not continuously. That is, if you buy some songs on one computer, listen to them and rate them, then hit Syncopation for a sync, the songs will transfer over to your other computers with the ratings and last play dates from the purchasing computer. But no metadata appears to be synced after that or for any songs with new metadata but which are already on both computers.

UPDATE2: I’ll do a new post on this, but the problem of metadata not syncing was a bug and one that developer Alan Pearson jumped on with an update 2.1.1 within days after I told him about it. That’s a great software developer in action! Now fixed.

Google browser sync is dead. Now what?

As a guy with far too many computers, well, at least four that I use on a regular basis, keeping things in sync is kind of hopeless. Instead, some computer gets assigned a certain task and all the related files. I use my Macbook Pro for email, for example, and digital photography lives mainly on my iMac, oh he with the big screen.

But some tasks can’t be penned in so easily, particularly browsing the Internet. I’m just as likely to read web sites or my Bloglines feeds on any computer in he house. So it was a great day around these parts when Google introduced their browser sync extension for Firefox, which “continuously synchronizes your browser settings – including bookmarks, history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords – across your computers.” The add-on also kept track of which sites you had open when you last closed a browser and offered to open them when you next opened a browser.

Unfortunately, the browser sync program has become the latest victim of Google’s shifting priorities. There won’t be a version for the new Firefox 3.0 browser and the existing extension for the prior version of Firefox wil bite the dust soon (news I first read on Lifehacker). So it’s time to move on and find an alternative.

Logo of Foxmarks Firefox extensionMany people are talking about an extension called Foxmarks, so I’m giving it a go. One limitation versus the old Google sync is that Foxmarks only keeps track of bookmarks, not cookies, history or saved passwords. You sign up on the Foxmarks site, which serves as the main repository for all your bookmarks and gives you access to them from any computer, which is an added little bonus. The first sync was incredibly fast. But Foxmarks doesn’t work continuously. It seems to just sync when you quite or request a manual sync. So either remember to sync manually after you’ve added a few new bookmarks or don’t let Firefox crash. I’ll report back after using it for a bit.

logo of mozilla weave projectEven with Foxmarks, I’m still lacking a more comprehensive browser sync solution. Some people are touting Weave, an entire browser syncing platform that Mozilla introduced back in December. But it’s a 0.1 release, not something I’m going to trust with all my important data.

UPDATE: Techmeme is collecting various responses, including:

– The semi-official word from Google, via the Google Operating System blog.

– Cybernotes points to a round up it did last September of various sync options.