Dear Apple: iPad Mail gripes.

Over the years, I haven't had much luck communicating with Apple (or, in fact, most large companies) about their products through official channels, but as it happens, enough technical people read this blog that sometimes just griping here about it reaches the people who matter.

So, with that in mind:

Dear Apple, here are some things about the iPad mail reader that I really wish you'd fix.

Currently my "real" computer is in the shop, so I've been using my iPad and iPhone exclusively for work and blogging for two weeks (and probably another two weeks to go.) Mostly this works fine, but there are a few things about the mail reader that are real usability problems. Worst first:

  1. Replies do not respect the email address to which the message being replied to was sent.

    I have a single IMAP server to which half a dozen different (role-based) email addresses are delivered. In the desktop, if I reply to a message that was sent to "", the From field is set to "" by default; likewise if that message was to "", the From field is set to "" (because both of those are configured as my comma-separated return addresses.)

    On the iPad and iPhone, the From field is always set to the first address in the list ("") and every time I reply, I have to click on "Show From/CC"; "From"; scroll; and select the proper address from the list. This is a huge waste of time that I have to do for every single reply, that I don't have to do on the desktop

  2. There is only one "signature" field, making canned replies very difficult.

    A big part of what I do all day long is reply to email with stock responses. On the desktop, I do this by having dozens of signatures. I hit reply; select the appropriate signature from the menu in the compose window; and send. This is perhaps not what signatures are designed for, but it's the closest thing to a "stationary" system that has, and it works pretty well.

    There's no reasonable way to accomplish these kinds of canned responses at all on the iPhone or iPad.

    The best you could come up with would be to store your canned responses in the "Notes" app. The process would be to start a reply; switch to Notes; copy; switch back; paste. That's a hell of a lot more clicking, and takes way too long. (There are also some 3rd-party apps that do this sort of thing, but since the iPad mail reader has no plugin architecture, this still means app-switching so it's really no better than using Notes.)

  3. Does not synchronize all my mailboxes automatically.

    I use "Sieve" on the server-side to pre-filter my incoming mail into several different inboxes. On the desktop, when mail shows up in any of these folders, the "unread" badge is updated automatically. On the iPhone or iPad, I have to manually select each folder before it will check the server for new messages in that folder. It only automatically checks the single mailbox called "INBOX", which I don't even use.

    This is with the same IMAP account and login on both desktop and iPad, and it works on desktop, so it's not a server issue.

  4. No way to turn off quotation in replies.

    I don't want to quote the entirety of every message I'm replying to. There's no preference to disable this. "Select All / Delete" works -- if you do it every single time you reply -- but only if you don't have a signature. Otherwise, it's a more complicated and time-consuming set of drag gestures to delete the quotery but leave the sig intact.

  5. There is no "load images" button.

    I have image loading off by default in Mail to speed things up, but every now and then there's a message where I want to see the images. No way to do that without going all the way out to the Preferences app.

  6. Mobile Safari does not implement "form upload".

    When someone sends me a flyer image for one of our events, I have to post that image to our web site. If I'm on a real computer, I can drag it to the desktop, and then either scp it, or upload it through a web form... if I'm on an iPad, well, there's just no way to do it at all. I can save the image into the "Photos" app, but the <input type=file> form element is ignored on Mobile Safari. One would expect it to at least let me select items from my photo gallery. I'd be thrilled if I could select from my mail attachments (e.g., PDFs or other documents that can't be stored into the Photos app first.)

    I solved this by implementing a magic, secret email address on my server -- when I forward a message to that address, it extracts all the MIME attachments and saves each of them in a tmp directory, where I can get at them after ssh'ing in. But this is dumb, and I shouldn't have been forced to resort to such an indignity. It's also not an option for most other people.

Like I said, I find the iPad mail reader to be really good for most things. These are just the remaining things that really get in my way, usually multiple times a day.

So... if any of you reading this who are Apple insiders could pass this along to the people who might be able to actually effect change here, that would be awesome!

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AT-AT For America

One Man's Plan To Build A Full-Scale, Functional Imperial Walker

AT-AT for America is a crowdsourced project that aims to build, no fooling, a fully fuctional, full-scale model of an AT-AT Imperial Walker from The Empire Strikes Back. They've gotten preliminary approval from Kickstarter to make it happen, so it sounds like they just need some funding plus a bunch of engineers from Kuat Drive Yards, or failing that, an alliance of Earthlings with a level of mechanical expertise equaled only by their hardcore sci-fi geekiness.

In case you were wondering, an AT-AT stands nearly 75 feet tall and has a maximum speed of just under 40 mph. It can carry 1 ton of cargo, or up to 40 Imperial Storm Troopers.

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Atmospheric cutaway of the airship `Italia' in a blizzard during its flight to the North Pole in 1928.

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"Whisperer in Darkness" wax cylinder!

The Wilmarth Recording:

  • Wax cylinder with a mysterious & chilling recording (2 minutes, 5 seconds).
  • A 30 page copy of Albert Wilmarth's manuscript describing the events in Vermont.
  • Two large contemporary photographs taken by Henry Akeley.
  • A guide on how to handle your cylinder recording.


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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Revised


DNA Lounge: Wherein we rearrange the office, and you all panic about Big Brother.

This is where the magic happens, people:

Today Devon and I spent hours rearranging the back office to make more room to store t-shirts and stuff. This involved throwing away a lot of obsolete gear. I had like 5 CRT monitors in here! I guess I thought "I might need them some day."

There was a time when there were, I think, eight PCs in here to run both webcasts, the online store, the kiosks, and various other things. Now we've got just the one Mac Mini, one PC in too-large a case acting as a router (which could probably be replaced with a solid-state appliance if I took the time to learn how to replicate my PF rules on such a thing) and a Cisco for the T1. Those eight computers took up pretty much an entire 7' metro-rack shelf, and now it's all in one pile on the edge of the desk.

The three big racks at the bottom of the pictures are battery backup. They are the noisiest part of this whole operation.

I don't see to have any photos of the old mess, but you can see a little bit of what it used to look like back in 2004 here.

Meanwhile, I've been getting mail all week from people freaking out about this proposal that the Entertainment Commission is hearing on Tuesday, where SFPD is hoping to make it a legal requirement that all nightclubs scan your driver's license, record video constantly, and make records of all of this available to the PD upon request. And scan every patron at every event with a metal detector, and a host of other idiocy. You can read it here.

Pretty crazy, right? Seems like the sort of thing that I'd be more than a little outraged over, and yet I haven't been screaming about it.

Well, that's because there's pretty much zero chance of this passing.

What happened was this: last year, in an attempt to appear like he was actually doing something and not just being an absentee landlord who was busy campaigning for his next job, Mayor Newsom asked SFPD to come up with a list of "best practices" for nightclubs to follow. They got together with noted anti-nightlife shitbag David Chiu (who is running for Mayor, incidentally) and turned this request for a list of "best practices" into a recommendation for legal requirements. The wheels turn slowly, so it's only just now coming up for its first hearing.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has this to say:

EFF to San Francisco Entertainment Commission: Don't Turn SF into a Police State

Events with strong cultural, ideological, and political components are frequently held at venues that would be affected by these rules. Scanning the IDs of all attendees at an anti-war rally, a gay night club, or a fundraiser for a civil liberties organization would have a deeply chilling effect on speech. Participants might hesitate to attend such events if their attendance were noted, stored, and made available on request to government authorities. This would transform the politically and culturally tolerant environment for which San Francisco is famous into a police state.

We are deeply disappointed in the San Francisco Entertainment Commission for considering such troubling, authoritarian, and poorly thought-out rules. The Commission should reject this attack on our most basic civil liberties. San Francisco cannot hope to remain a hub of cultural and political activity if we are stripped of our civil liberties the moment we walk through the door of a venue.

The Bay Guardian says:

Proposed SFPD crackdown on clubs gets a hearing

But critics of the legislation call it a gross overreaction to a handful of incidents that have happened around nightclubs and they say the SFPD has shown unreasonable bias against one of the city's biggest industries. Sup. Scott Wiener recently asked city staff to prepare a study of the economic impact of nightlife in order to defend clubs against crackdowns like this.

The proposal would also require clubs to have one security guard for every 50 patrons, which club owners say would be an economic hardship for an industry operating on thin margins of profitability.

Anyway, once the City Attorney weighs in on this it's dead, on the basis not only of blatant unconstitutionality, but also, how much money it will cost the city to defend against the inevitable lawsuits (and yes, you can be assured that one of those lawsuits would have been from me.)

But, now that the various political weasels have hitched their wagons to this star, they are reluctant to just walk away from it. So, it's still on the calendar, and when the ink dries with most of this proposal crossed out so that all that remains is "your sidewalk has to be well-lit", they will get to declare victory and crow about how their proposal passed, and they've done so much to personally and single-handedly improve safety by dealing with that "nightclub problem."

Sadly, the "1 guard per 50 customers" thing is one of the parts that might actually pass, and that is just a ridiculous level of over-staffing. But hey, I'm sure David Chiu knows better than I do what staffing is reasonable for my business. He's the expert.

So, to summarize:

  1. There's very likely nothing to worry about, and

  2. Fuck these people.

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