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December 2011
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February 2012

My encounter with a St Augustine Monster

On November 27, 2011 at approximately 12:40 in the afternoon I encountered an unknown water creature in St Augustine, Florida. My wife and I had just finished walking our dog, after visiting one of the outlet malls, and suddenly she spotted a large Nessie-like animal in the nearby pond.

It was dark black in color, moving quickly, and although we only saw about 2 feet of it at a time (due the way it was arching its back out of the water), it was clearly quite long. If it hadn't been moving and clearly alive, it would be easy to assume it was a tractor truck tire sticking out of the water. (Just to give you an idea of the size.)

True to form for these type of events, the photos I hurriedly snapped are inconclusive and don't show what we witnessed. The thing was moving fast, and mostly all I managed to capture was the wake it left behind. Although in the first photograph, you can barely see its body slipping below the water's surface.

Was this the spawn of the St Augustine Monster? I don't know. As America's oldest port and home of The Fountain of Youth, clearly there's more to the city than meets the eye. I don't know when or if we will return, but if you're in the area, remain calm and be aware.




Cure for a DevonThink database that won't open

I'm a big fan of DevonThink Pro and its role in my home office. But recently a change in working style necessitated that I needed access to my DevonThink databases from two different computers. While the app does have a built-in web-based sharing mode, I needed full access, complete with the ability to import and OCR documents, so using that wasn't an option.

I installed DevonThink on both of my computers (a desktop and a notebook) and moved my databases to a USB drive shared using a Time Capsule. At first, this seemed to work great. The databases were only open by one computer or the other (never both, simultaneously) and I was back in business.

But after the first day, I suddenly started getting errors when opening any of my DevonThink databases. The app would show an error message stating it believed the database was already in use on another computer. It would happen on the desktop, but not the notebook. Then, later, it would happen on the notebook, but the desktop was fine. Then, disaster struck, and both computers reported the same problem. I could no longer access my DevonThink files!

Now, once again, I was absolutely certain that I had never tried to simultaneously access these databases from both computers. The DevonThink app was never open on both systems at the same time, either. I quickly turned to the forums and tech support at Devon Technologies. And, of course, Google. I found lots of information about how to rebuild a database that opened and reported as being corrupt, but that is a whole different problem. I couldn't get DevonThink to open my files at all.

In a panic, I filled out the tech support form at Devon Technologies. It said to expect a response within 2 days. Yikes! Well, I guess with the time zone difference (they're in Germany) that might be reasonable. After 3 days of waiting, I had an idea. I unplugged the USB drive from my Time Capsule and connected it directly to my notebook. Success! The DevonThink databases opened just fine. Then, I moved the drive to my desktop. Again, no problem at all.

So, dear reader, if you have a DevonThink database that is "in use" even when it's not, be aware that DevonThink apparently has problems with databases that are stored on the network.

As for Devon Technologies tech support, they never responded.

How to change the location data of an Evernote note

One of my favorite Evernote features is that each note automatically includes the geo-location of where you were when the note was created. (Or, at least it does on iPhone, I'm not sure what happens on other devices.)

But I don't always create a note that's relevant to a location while I'm at that location. It took a little bit of research, and here's how to change the location of a note.

1. Go to the Evernote website and open the note that you want to edit. (You can't edit locations using the iOS app, at least as far as I can tell.)

2. In the Note pane, click Edit.

Evernote Web

3. Click the note's location. It's not obvious that it's clickable, but it is.

Evernote Web 1

4. In the location dialog that appears, enter new coordinates.

Evernote Web 2

5. Click OK to save the new coordinates, and notice that the location has changed. It will show the place name after you click Done to save your edits.

Evernote Web 3

That's it, you're finished.

But, wait, where do you get the correct coordinates to use in Step 4? That turned out to be the trickiest problem for me. Here's how to use Google Maps to obtain the latitude and longitude for any location.

1. Go to Google Maps and search for the location using its address or name.

2. Right-click the place marker on the Google map, then choose "What's here?".

Coalinga ca  Google Maps

3. Notice that the Maps search field has changed to the location's coordinates. Use those values when you edit the note's location in Evernote.

36 14647 120 359344  Google Maps

How to remember your reusable grocery bags

San José, like many other cities (especially those in California), has banned the use of plastic shopping bags. That means that when you go shopping, you need supply your own bag(s) to carry your purchases. At the grocery store, a bag is essential, especially when you're shopping for more than a few items.

But remembering to bring the bags into the store with you is a pain. There you are in line at the cash register, and you suddenly realize your bags are still in the trunk of your car. (sigh)

If you have an iPhone, you can use location-based Reminders to help prevent this from happening to you. Next time you're at the grocery store, just add an item that reminds you to bring your bags along when you arrive at the store. To do this, open Reminder, click + (plus), then enter the reminder. Tap Done, then tap the reminder you just added and change it "when I arrive" at "current location." The results will look like mine, below.

Siri reminder

The next time you get near the store, iPhone will remind you about the bags. To keep the reminder active, so it continues to work for future visits too, don't mark it as completed. Eventually, after you've developed the habit of bringing your bags, you can check it off and rely on your own memory instead.

Tinderbox: Converting to internal templates

This year will mark the 10th anniversary of my blog for technical writers, Usable Help. Since day one, I've written, built, and managed the site using Tinderbox. It's rather remarkable that I'm still using the same tool a decade later, and almost astonishing that I'm using the same Tinderbox file (document), considering that I started with Tinderbox 1.0 on Mac OS 9. Tinderbox has continued to grow and evolve, and Mac OS has been radically transformed, but here I am with the same file I created so long ago.

Oh, sure, there have been tweaks and changes over the years. But one thing I've never changed is the way the HTML templates work. (I've updated their design a couple of times, of course.) Because my file was built on very early technology, it had some vestigial requirements, such as a reliance on absolute filesystem paths. I've been meaning to fix this, but frankly since it has "just worked" for so long, it was just a minor annoyance and never became a showstopper. But this year, I'm working a little bit differently and relying more on "the cloud." When I moved my ancient Tinderbox file, exporting broke, and this time I decided to fix it.

It's possible that I'm the last of the dedicated Tinderbox users to adopt the new way of storing templates. (Internal to the document, instead of externally in the filesystem.) Thanks to Eastgate's detailed release notes I was aware that internal templates were supported, but I had no idea how to convert over to using them. I scoured the Tinderbox forum and eventually put together the info I needed. Here's a brief summary of the process.

1. Copy the contents of each HTML template file into the body of a new Tinderbox note. I created a new container to hold all of the templates.

Outline Usable Help Blog

2. When you create each note, be sure to check the Template box so that Tinderbox will let you choose it later. For clarity, I decided to name each note with the filename of the external template it was replacing. This comes in handy for the next step.

Create note

3. With all of template notes created, the next step is to assign them for use during export. This is the trickiest and most time consuming part of the conversion. For each note that is exported, you'll need to change its HTMLExportTemplate setting. The easiest way to do this is to select the note, choose View > New HTML View. Then, use the Template popup menu to select the internal template note.

HTML main page

Unfortunately, if you've already moved your Tinderbox document to its new location (and thus broken all of the template links), the Template popup menu doesn't give you a hint about which template the note was previously using. To find out, choose Note > Get Info. In the info window, choose HTML from the section pop-up, then look at the value of the HTMLExportTemplate key. Notice in the screenshot that it's pointing to an absolute filepath.

Info main page

When you've successfully set the new internal template, the key will look like: /html templates/UHpagtemplate.html

(That's your note container, and the name of the template note.)

4. Now, if you're like me, you just realized that changing every note in your file could take hours, if not days. Take heart, just use an Agent or Stamp to reset groups of notes quickly. Seriously, it won't take long at all if you use this method.

5. In the last step, you converted all of your existing notes. Now you need to reset the template for new notes. To do that, make sure all of your prototypes are set to use the new templates too.

That's it, your file is converted. Just be sure to look at every exported file to see if it's using the template you expect. You might have missed a nested template or two. No problem, just go back and create template notes for them, too.

I hope this speeds your conversion process along. Don't be intimidated, it's a bit of work, but well worth it. Here's to the next 10 years of Tinderbox!

A Skype-based home webcam

I know that many of you are interested in homecam solutions, and it's certainly something that brings a lot of enjoyment to my automated home. A new camera system from Lorex has really caught my eye. The camera itself is wireless, but it has the unique (and brilliant) feature of using Skype for outside communication. That is, instead of having to mess around with firewalls, DNS registration, or third-party monitoring sites, you simply "call" the camera using a computer or smartphone. If it works as well as it seems, it's a great leap forward in home webcam configuration. See TUAW for a hands-on review.