The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


A simple URL tester for WordPress

One of the issues with blogs is that, over time, links embedded in posts can break. Sometimes they break in graceful ways (redirecting to an acquiring company’s site), sometimes in not so graceful ways (“Site not found!”), and sometimes in downright horrid ways (a porn spammer takes over a URL).

I wanted a way to test any URL in entries I’ve posted here, so a buddy wrote the basics of a tool to query the database and extract URLs from the posts. I took his core, then did some digging on the web, and mangled together a simple PHP app that will scan all your blog posts for URLs, and test to make sure each one still connects.

The results are displayed in an ugly-but-usable table form:

The first column is the URL being tested, and the second column displays the post numbers where that URL can be found. Any highlighted rows reflect dead links; no highlighting means that the URL opened as expected. Read on for the code and a basic how-to…


A physical media guy in a digital media world

By today’s standards, I’m a throwback, a relic, a technological luddite. Why? Because I enjoy owning movies. No, not “owning” the right to watch a downloaded movie—as you might “buy” from iTunes or Amazon—but owning the actual physical disc that stores the movie’s encoded bits. But why, you might ask?

First off, I like everything about the physical product itself, from the case’s design to the cover art to the inserts in the case. Many are boring and bland, of course, but some are truly wonderful.

Consider The Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy; the image at right doesn’t do the case justice, as it’s stunning in person. And when you open it up, you’re treated to a wealth of extra content, as seen in these customer photos on Amazon.

Sure, you can get the same thing on iTunes, for the same $49.99…but you can’t experience the product’s physical extras, nor easily share them with someone else. All you can do is share the onscreen experience with others. Try using the Lord of the Rings maps while watching the movie, for instance. It works, but only if you’re using a computer while watching the movie on a TV or another computer.

Or consider the three-disc Blu-ray edition of Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone that comes in a very nice case, with printed inserts. (Again, the customer photos show more than does the stock Amazon photography.) You won’t get this experience with the digital-only alternative.

I guess I’m just hooked on the tactile feel, appearance, and “solidity” of the physical media. But that’s not all.

I also like that many movies offer multiple versions; so for movies that appeal to adults and kids (i.e. Pixar), we keep the DVD version with the kids’ stuff, and the Blu-ray version in the “parents only” collection. I also like taking discs to friends’ homes for movie parties, or just loaning them out. None of this is easily possible with a digital-only movie.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Just another luddite, afraid to make the digital jump,” right?

Actually, that’s not it at all: I love the digital versions, too, because of their flexibility. I can “take” them almost anywhere, and watch them almost anywhere. But I want those versions in addition to the physical versions, not in lieu of the physical versions. That way, if something happens to the authorizing agency down the line, my movies won’t all vanish in a puff of digital smoke. If I can’t buy a movie with a usable digital version, I just make my own (but that’s a story for another day).

I do make exceptions at times, of course. When Apple sold a bunch of movie collections on the cheap, I took advantage. And recently, I discovered that I can get an HD version of the not on Blu-ray Real Genius, but only via the iTunes Store. So I’ll be purchasing that, as it’s not likely we’ll see a Blu-ray version any time soon.

But outside of those exceptions, I will always (until there’s no way to do so) prefer to purchase the physical version of a movie over the digital-only version. Call me a throwback, a dinosaur, a stuck-in-the-00s guy if you must, but I love my physical media plus digital versions; I really find it’s the best of both worlds.

The Apple tax Apple laws Apple are Apple the Apple problem

Sorry for the bizarre headline, but I wanted to make sure I got the proper clickbait, er, SEO, er clickwhoring, er, credit for the following insightful observation. Which is this:

The author, one Lisa Sanders, states that she’s now boycotting Apple due to their tax avoidance strategy:

Apple, it’s over. I’m breaking up with you. Because of your tax-ducking ways, I won’t buy another phone or computer or tablet or even song from you.

I hope Lisa is just as willing to give up products from Microsoft—I guess she’s going to Linux?—which sheltered over $60 billion dollars in 2012, more than Apple’s $54 billion that year. And she better not buy that Linux box from Dell, which sheltered $16 billion in 2012. And she better not use MySQL on that machine, because Oracle sheltered $21 billion. Also, no Western Digital hard drives ($5 billion). Oh, and those shoes? Better lose the Nikes, as they sheltered $6 billion. Credit cards? Citigroup ($36 billion), Bank of America ($19 billion), and JPMorgan Chase ($22 billion) are out; I guess Lisa is going cash-only.

All of the above data was found within 30 seconds of starting to search the web; the source for the numbers is Which Fortune 500 Companies Are Sheltering Income in Overseas Tax Havens? by the Citizens for Tax Justice.

Yes, Apple shelters taxes. Yes, it’s very good at it. Yes, it sucks that they aren’t paying their fair share. But the reality is that nobody in the Fortune 500 is paying their fair share. Why? Because they owe it to their shareholders not to do so. Lisa almost got that with her mention of Rand Paul:

At last year’s Senate hearings, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that it would be malpractice for Apple to pay a penny more than the minimum its accountants say it owes.

That’s exactly it, but not just for Apple, but for any publicly-held company. Just when I’m thinking she’s going to get it, she…goes 100% the wrong direction:

Perhaps Paul feels that the company’s fiduciary obligation outweighs its obligation to help support the nation that made and continues to make its profitable activity possible.

That’s how he feels because he’s correct: The company’s fiduciary obligation comes first, at least when compared to “voluntarily paying more tax than required.” Companies like Apple already benefit the country to a tremendous degree. How? By employing people and paying them good wages. Those wages are taxed. The things people buy with those wages are taxed. Add up all those impacts, and Apple (and the others) are definitely helping the economy.

Any public Fortune 500 company is tasked with returning maximum value to its shareholders; that’s why the list of abusers is so long and deep. Any company not taking advantage of legal tax reduction strategies isn’t maximizing wealth for shareholders.

The problem isn’t the companies, it’s the tax law.

If we want to fix the problem, we need to fix the law that’s allowing the behaviors. Period. Boycotting Apple because they’re very good at taking advantage of legal loopholes isn’t going to make them pay more in taxes. Change the law, though, and Apple (and everyone else) will do so, because none of these companies are willing to break the law to lower their tax bills.

A look at the first eight years of

I was cleaning out some old images from the site, and found over 150 apparently unused images. Whoops, that’s what nine years of bad housekeeping will get you.

One of the leftovers, though, was kind of interesting. At some point in time, I graphed the number of hints published each day on, from launch through 2008—a total of 12,051 hints.

Even if unlabeled, it’d be pretty easy to figure out where the major OS X releases occurred (except for 10.1, not sure what’s up with that?). And you can see a general downward trend in hints per day, as the OS became more established (and more locked down) over time.

In any event, I thought it was an interesting chart, and figured I’d toss it into a quick post instead of just sending it to the dustbin.

Control is the key to avoiding needless dialog boxes

Over the weekend, I wrote myself a little AppleScript program that makes it much easier to create license files for our customers. (Given my lack of knowledge on AppleScript, I’m quite happy with the result.)

To make it easy to use on all my Macs, I stored the finished result in Dropbox. I tested it using my MacBook Pro, assigning it a global keyboard shortcut using Butler. It worked great; as soon as I typed the shortcut, I’d see my “Which program?” onscreen dialog, and all was good.

When I got back to my iMac, I used Butler to point to the same script on Drobpox, and tested it. I was very surprised to see that, instead of launching my app, OS X presented this dialog box:

Confused, I pulled out the MacBook Pro, and tested again…and again, it worked fine, launching without any confirmation dialog.

After many minutes of hair pulling, I figured out the problem: On the MacBook Pro, I had assigned the shortcut as Shift-Option-M; on the iMac, I decided that it’d be easier to type Shift-Control-M, so that’s what I used (intending to change the MacBook Pro to the same shortcut). As soon as I removed the Control key from the shortcut, my application loaded without the confirmation dialog.

I’ve been unable to figure out why this happens, but if you’re launching AppleScript apps via global shortcuts, avoid using the Control key in those shortcuts (unless you like needless confirmation dialogs, that is).

Watch It: Real Genius

Real Genius [DVD]I cannot recall the first time I saw Real Genius (1985), but it wasn’t in the theater.

Whenever it was, the movie made enough of an impression that it became one of my fave comedies—something that’s still true today. I owned it on VHS, I own it on DVD, and if it comes out on Blu-ray, I’ll probably buy that, too. (I noticed while writing this that the iTunes version is listed as HD, so I may have to invest in that one.)

The cast is a bunch of names you’ve never heard of, except for a very young Val Kilmer. The plot centers on two geniuses at a college, working together on a laser project that just happens to have military applications.

There are any number of hilarious mini sub-plots running through the movie, and Val Kilmer is very funny as the older genius at the college. Toss in a guy living in the basement below the closet, a lottery fix, a sexy woman on a mission, ice skating in a dorm hallway, and a slew of one-liners, and you’ve got a recipe for a very entertaining 108 minutes of movie fun. Thought provoking? No. Well-developed plot? Not so much. But fun? Yea, it’s got that to spare.

iTunes Store Amazon Details Reviews

Do Dropbox droppers do due diligence?

Apparently Dropping Drobpox is a thing now, because Condoleeza Rice has been named to the board of directors. I’m aware of at least two prominent people (Chris Breen and Mark Frauenfelder) who have publicly discussed their Dropbox departures, and I assume there are many more.

First, I admire these folks’ convictions and follow-through on those convictions. For me, Dropbox is too ingrained in what I do to make such a switch. Additionally, I don’t believe someone sitting on the Board of Directors of a company is reason enough to change my practices relative to that company’s products.

However, for those who feel strongly about Ms. Rice, I assume they’d want to avoid any companies that have directors with similar backgrounds, right? In order to make such decisions, they need to do due diligence on any company whose products they might like to use.

To ease that task, I put together a brief list, based strictly on companies having board members involved in the military-industrial complex, and who may have been active in the same timeframe as Condoleeza Rice.

The first entry in the list may be somewhat surprising…


iCloudy with a 100% chance of stupidity

I use a lot of cloud services for file storage, primarily Dropbox, but also Box and (begrudgingly, for certain shared projects) Google Drive.

I also use iCloud, but not in any way that would be considered a true cloud file storage service. I use it strictly as a sync service for contacts, calendars, reminders, notes, Safari; I also use Back to My Mac.

But that’s it; I don’t use iCloud for cloud-based file management at all. Why not? Because iCloud in its current implementation is chock full of the stupid, at least for those of us who still use and rely on OS X.

Stupid #1: Not enough free space, and too costly for more

A quick comparison chart shows just how far out of line iCloud is with other cloud-based services:

Provider Free Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
GB GB $/Yr $/GB/yr GB $/Yr $/GB/yr GB $/Yr $/GB/yr
Box 10 100 $60 $0.600 1000 $180 $0.180
Dropbox 2 100 $100 $1.000 200 $199 $0.995 500 $499 $0.998
Google Drive 15 100 $24 $0.240 1,000 $120 $0.120 10,000 $1,200 $0.120
iCloud 5 15 $20 $1.333 25 $40 $1.600 55 $100 $1.818
Pricing sources: Box • Dropbox • Google DriveiCloud
Note that you can get additional free space on Dropbox through referrals and uploading images; Box occasionally offers a promo with 50GB of free space.

Kirk McElhearn covers this price and space issue in more detail in his blog post, Why Does Apple Only Offer 5 GB Storage with iCloud?.

I agree with him; if iCloud wants to attract more users, it needs more free space, and more competitively priced upgrade plans.

Read on for more of the stupid…


Who will win the Masters this year?

If you’re a golf fan, these are the greatest four days of the year; it’s time for the 2014 Masters. With Tiger Woods out this year, who will win? I honestly have no idea, but here’s some interesting history.

Tiger Woods has missed only four majors in his professional career (pretty amazing, given his injuries and personal issues, I’d guessed way more than that). Here’s the full list, along with those events’ winners:

  • 2008 British Open: Padraig Harrington
  • 2008 PGA Championship: Padraig Harrington
  • 2011 US Open: Rory McIlroy
  • 2011 British Open: Darren Clarke

See a trend there? Padraig Harrington is from Ireland; Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy are both from Northern Ireland. So if you’re the betting type, put your money this week on Rory, Darren, or Graeme McDowell, the only three golfers from those countries in this year’s event.

If you want to extend things a bit, you could add David Lynn, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Garrick Porteous, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, or Lee Westwood (all from England). Or maybe Stephen Gallacher (Scotland) or Jamie Donaldson (Wales).

If you’re into the long shots, but want to stay with the odds when Tiger’s out, go with Ian Woosnam (Wales) or Sandy Lyle (Scotland).

Regardless of who wins, I’m certain we’re going to see four days of the best players on the greatest course in the world. Related: You can keep the leaderboard onscreen if you’d like to keep one eye on the action (and you have the excess screen real estate).

Got tables? Use

Whether writing here or on Macworld, I often find myself relying on tables to convey lots of data points in an easy-to-read manner. As examples, check out the tables in my Nintendo add-ons pricing rant, or in my analysis on the cost of LED lighting. (Or even in my mother-of-all-tables post on OS X release dates.)

Tables play a key role in all of those articles…but creating tables in HTML (or even Markdown) is, quite simply, a pain in the butt. The syntax is simple enough, but structuring complex tables with some entries spanning multiple rows and/or columns can be time consuming.

Often, too, my work starts in Excel, and it seems like a lot of redundant effort to take Excel’s table-based layout and recreate it in an HTML-based table layout. (Excel has an export to HTML function, but the HTML it builds is heavily styled and needs a lot of editing.)

Enter TablesGenerator, an amazing tool for creating tables. Not just HTML tables, but pure text tables, LaTeX tables, and even MediaWiki tables (whatever those might be).


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