An Epic Introduction to PyObjC and Cocoa

Irrational Exuberance has An Epic Introduction to PyObjC and Cocoa. Skimming over it, it really does seem to start at the ground level — and that’s what I need. I have high hopes it will help me figure out PyObjC.

[Via PyObjC Development mailing list.]

List changed files in a Mercurial repository with a custom output style

While trying to troubleshoot what I’d done to mess up the Mercurial repositories managing my Drupal installations last weekend, I really would have liked a way to see what files had changes in specific revisions. Each revision to a Mercurial repository affects some files, of course, but it seems awfully hard to figure what files changed in that check-in.

I have since found a way to do that by customizing the output of Mercurial. To customize output, you can create templates on the command line (with --template) or for more powerful reformatting, create an output style file.

I struggled for a while to figure out how to use style files, and eventually came up with something that works for me so far.

Since I’ve installed Mercurial from Lee Cantey’s standard binary package for Mac OS X Leopard, I created the file “map-cmdline.changedfiles” at the “/Library/Python/2.5/site-packages/mercurial/templates” path. (Where you put the file may vary depending on where Mercurial is installed, and I’m sorry but I don’t know where it gets installed on other systems.) The contents of “map-cmdline.changedfiles” are below, along with my possibly inept description of what each line is doing:

# Get all of the files in the selected revision

and stringify them, whatever that means

but do not 'tabindent' or wrap them to 68/76 columns

Without first setting changeset to the list of files

you won't get output from subsequent lines

changeset = '{files|stringify}'

List modified files, one per line

preceded by M to mimic hg status

file = 'M {file}\n'
last_file = 'M {file}\n'

List added files, one per line

preceded by A to mimic hg status

file_add = 'A {file_add}\n'
last_file_add = 'A {file_add}\n'

List deleted files, one per line

preceded by ! to mimic hg status

file_del = '! {file_del}\n'
last_file_del = '! {file_del}\n'

I don’t know why the “map-cmdline.” portion of the filename is there, but as long as I have it, I can call the style file from the command line with what follows the period. So, I can call the style with “--style changedfiles” — and that tiny bit of voodoo seems reasonable enough to me. (The other styles in the directory above, many of which end in “.tmpl” extensions, seem related to the Mercurial Web server, hgweb. I tried, but I couldn’t use their names at the command line, with or without their extensions. Plus, their contents looked HTML-ish.)

With the “map-cmdline.changedfiles” style file saved in that location, I can call Mercurial’s “log” command:

$ hg log --style changedfiles -r tip

… which gives me a list of the files changed in the “tip” (or latest revision) of the repository. I could substitute in any revision identifier for “tip.”

I haven’t actually seen the “file_add” and “file_del” keywords in action; every time I’ve used this style file in the manner described, I’ve only seen files marked as “M” — even if I’m looking at a revision where new files were first checked into the repo. I’m confused by that, but I’m not going to let it sour my day at this point.

There might have been an easier way to do this but I didn’t find one last weekend. It took me some time to figure even this bit out, and I hope writing this post saves someone new to Mercurial from future frustration.

Launch Services database manipulation with lsregister

While you could clear the various LaunchServices databases by deleting files, I prefer to use a more targeted command line tool when possible. My assumption is that the command line tool is canonical and will therefore produce more reliable results.

In Mac OS X Tiger, you could clear the LaunchServices database using the following “lsregister” command:

$ /System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.framework/
Versions/Current/Support/lsregister -kill -r -domain system -domain local -domain user

But, in Leopard, the LaunchServices framework’s path has moved; it is now in the CoreServices framework bundle. You can find it with the “find” command:

$ find /System -name lsregister -type f -print 2>/dev/null

Once you find it, you can get the usage statement for the “lsregister” command in Leopard, which will at least tell you what options it has:

$ /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.framework/

lsregister: [OPTIONS] [ ... ]
[ -apps [,domain]... ]
[ -libs [,domain]... ]
[ -all [,domain]... ]
Paths are searched for applications to register with the Launch Service database.
Valid domains are "system", "local", "network" and "user". Domains can also
be specified using only the first letter.
-kill Reset the Launch Services database before doing anything else
-seed If database isn't seeded, scan default locations for applications and libraries to register
-lint Print information about plist errors while registering bundles
-convert Register apps found in older LS database files
-lazy n Sleep for n seconds before registering/scanning
-r Recursive directory scan, do not recurse into packages or invisible directories
-R Recursive directory scan, descending into packages and invisible directories
-f force-update registration even if mod date is unchanged
-u unregister instead of register
-v Display progress information
-dump Display full database contents after registration
-h Display this help

Note that if you’re having Launch Services-related problems in one user account but not another, you’ll likely want to start with the “user” domain. (It pays to understand the domain structure of Mac OS X, so that you only make changes where you need to.)

Untar archive contents directly into a target folder

In my Mercurial-based workflow for updating Drupal sites, there is a sequence of commands I need whenever a new version of Drupal comes out. I have a hard time remembering the options for “tar” in this sequence — and my original source for the instructions differs from what I need to do on my Web host — so I need to help my memory. The tar command, as constructed below, places its output into the specified destination directory.

Here it is, with tar’s “--strip-path=1” and “-C” options:

$ cd path/to/repository/parent/directory
$ curl -O
$ tar --strip-path=1 -C drupal_source -zxv -f drupal-5.12.tar.gz

Find Info.plist files for applications on Mac OS X

There is some important information in the Info.plist files contained in Mac OS X applications. But, some of that information isn’t really standardized — I’m looking at all of you, you crazy version number and vendor attributes (just the ones I'm interested in!). So, given that, how do you find them all to make comparisons between Apple and third-party apps?

Answer: You can use the “find” command to find all of the Info.plist files for applications in your /Applications directory.

$ find /Applications -name Info.plist -ipath /Applications/*.app/Contents/Info.plist -depth 3 -print 2>/dev/null

Since that intentionally limits the depth traversal, you could modify it slightly to support finding Info.plists in your /Applications/Utilities directory, as well. However, I would say it’s less likely you’ll be dropping third-party applications in the Utilities directory, so you might not care.

Addressless Kerberos tickets in Mac OS X

I was concerned when reading Kerberos: The Definitive Guide that Mac OS X clients bound to an Active Directory didn’t have an easy way to specify that their Kerberos tickets should work behind NAT. The option to obtain addressless tickets is defined in the krb5.conf file (or, for Mac OS X, the file) with:

noaddresses = true

… And it is not an option you can choose either in the Directory Utility GUI or the dsconfigad command line tool. This is important because addressless tickets don’t have IP addresses associated with them, and thus work in situations such as those where a client is behind NAT.

Before I submitted a feature request, though, I looked up the option in the krb5.conf man page on a Leopard system. I’m glad I did, because it says:

Setting this flag causes the initial Kerberos ticket to be addressless. The default for the flag is true.

Presumably, this documented default is applying on Leopard with Active Directory Kerberos. When I examined a TGT issued by a domain, I did not see any IP addresses associated with it, so the default does appear to be the case for me.

Use an unorthodox recurrence pattern to link two related events in Microsoft Entourage

I am happy about a solution I just came up with to the problem of not being able to define an arbitrary set of dates as the recurrence pattern for an event in Microsoft Entourage 2008.

I wanted to enter an event that was split across two days, and wouldn’t have obviously fit any type of “every Wednesday” or “every second Thursday” pattern. The ideal way to handle this, I think, was available in the Steltor CorporateTime calendar I used to use: create an event and add arbitrary dates to it, so that each recurrence appeared as part of the series. You can’t do that in Entourage — or I’ve never found any trickery to allow it.

Luckily, however, the event’s start time and duration was the same on each of the two days, so I realized I didn’t need to make two different events for it. And, I only had two recurrences to deal with — if there’d been more, it’s unlikely they would have been evenly spaced.

I used my “Compare dates” AppleScript to determine how many days apart the two instances of this particular event were. I came up with 20. I entered that as the number of days between recurrences. I set the recurrence to end on the date after the last event.


The result? I got two events (and two events only), both on the days I intended, and they were linked as part of a recurrence pattern. Sweet. It’s the little victories, you know?

The Life Balance upgrade question

“Life Balance 3.x customers with Macintosh licenses can upgrade to version 4 for just $59.95,” claims Llamagraphics, the purveyor of the fine time management application, Life Balance.

This sounds like a great deal! Until I remember that the only reason I want to upgrade from version 3 to 5 (not 4) is for compatibility with the new iPhone version of Life Balance! So to get them both, I’d be spending:

Upgrade cost
Life Balance Mac upgrade $59.95
Life+Balance+for+iPhone $19.99
Subtotal $79.94

Compare that to my current cost for Life Balance — which I’m not currently using because my Treo repeatedly made me want to throw it forcefully into the ground (loved the Palm, hated the defective phone!) and the desktop software looks like crap — which I’ve summarized below:

Original cost
Life Balance Mac and Palm bundle $39.95
Life Balance Mac and Palm upgrade $50.00
Subtotal $89.95
Total $169.89

That’s right, folks. After an investment to date of $89.95 in this software, I’d have to shell out another $79.94 to stay current and get the application on the mobile device I currently use. I’d be paying more for the Mac upgrade than I’ve ever paid for any single purchase or upgrade from Llamagraphics in the past!

I’m surprised I’m even thinking about this. However, Life Balance has always made the most sense of any task management application, and has always done the best job of helping me prioritize. (Of other current applications, OmniFocus doesn’t make sense to me, and Things was great for entry but felt horrid at showing me what I needed to do next.) At the cost of Life Balance, despite how it worked for me, maybe it’s simply time to try something else.

The least expensive overall, and perhaps most interesting because it supports task sharing, is to go with Remember The Milk. I’m not sure I want to use a Web or “cloud” service for this, and there’s no desktop application per se, but I’m at the point in my life where sharing to-do’s with others (and outside the work environment) is compelling. The new+Remember+The+Milk+iPhone+application may tip me in that direction.

Microsoft and the Forgotten Realms

A while back, Microsoft announced their Silverlight software. I didn’t think much of it, but now that they have announced the Azure platform, I realized that they have developed a Forgotten Realms theme in their products.

Let’s look at this, while we’re in the beginning of the trend, to see how this relates to the the SSI “gold box” Forgotten Realms games:

Product platform How it relates To this SSI FR game
Microsoft Silverlight … silver light is the color of light that gleams off silver blades Secret of the Silver Blades
Microsoft Azure … azure is the color of the bonds tattooed on the adventurers' arms … Curse of the Azure Bonds

Based on this flimsy evidence, I suspect the next major product platform from Microsoft to be related, somehow, to “radiance.” (As in Pool of Radiance, of course.)

We might also expect a future initiative centered around “darkness,” but I consider that less likely — or, it may already have happened, given the reverse chronology that seems to be at work. (See Pools of Darkness.)

Update your address book from Apple Address Book

I am continually coming across useful features in my account that I have previously overlooked. For example, I now know that I can import contacts into the account’s address book. As with many mail systems, this provides several benefits:

  • You can use your contacts to address messages (duh).
  • Your contacts’ e-mail addresses serve as a whitelist for junk mail filtering.

Since I enabled “aggressive” filtering on my Fastmail account, having that whitelist functionality is of interest to me.

The Fastmail developers have helpfully provided a way to upload multiple kinds of contact data, so I chose vCards. They were easy for me to obtain from Apple Address Book. Here’s the basic process I followed:

  1. Export existing contact cards to vCard format from Apple Address Book. You can save the vCards somewhere and delete them later; one trick I use is to save temporary data like this to /tmp so it’ll be deleted by the next time I reboot. Address Book will export multiple selected contacts to one vCard file, and Fastmail accepts this.
  2. Go to Options > Upload Addresses on the Options/Settings page in your account. (Half the fun with Fastmail is wading through their exceedingly busy user interface.)
  3. Click on the “Choose file” button next to the “Address book file” label.
  4. Select your exported vCard file in the open dialog and click “OK” to upload it.

Fastmail has done a reasonable job of matching imported vCards to existing contacts, as long as they were previously imported from a vCard. I had some duplicates for those people who I'd added manually through the Fastmail interface before importing their vCards. Fastmail does state they try to match up contacts to reduce duplicates during the import process, but I still needed to do a little cleanup — and, unfortunately, there is no “merge contact” feature I came across.

For what it’s worth, the import process is fast, but I probably brought in under 100 contacts total, so I wasn’t necessarily taxing it.

Not all of the vCard data seems to come through and be displayed in the Fastmail address book. That's okay for me; I have it elsewhere. In particular, I didn't see Web addresses beyond the first one show up. Other contact information, like e-mail addresses and phone numbers, seemed to display fine. (I haven’t done an export from FM to vCards to see about roundtrip fidelity yet.)

Once you have cards in your address book, you can update them later. If you’re going to bother importing them in the first place, you’re probably concerned about keeping them up to date. Since the Fastmail software does a decent job of avoiding duplicates (in my brief experience), this shouldn’t be hard to do.

The most difficult part is sorting out which cards have been changed over time. You could re-import all of your cards, certainly. Or, you could use Apple Address Book to help find the recent changes to your contacts — whether those changes were done in Address Book or synchronized via Sync Services (perhaps from Microsoft Entourage).

Here’s how:

  1. Create a Smart Group in Apple Address Book to show cards that have been updated in the last seven days. Pick a period of time that works for you; seven days works for me for the moment.
  2. Select the Smart Group.
  3. Select all of the cards which appear in the Smart Group.
  4. Export the selected cards to a vCard file.
  5. Import that vCard into Fastmail using the steps above. Your changes are now in your online address book.

While this is far more manual effort than I’d like, it’s not terrible. It’s something that I can envision doing every few months. I do most of my e-mail in a desktop application rather than on Fastmail’s Web site, so if my online address book there is a little out of date, it’s not a huge concern.

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