I’m back!

Just a quick status update: after an embarrassingly long time, I’m finally able to resume work on the LaTeXTools plugin! I’ve already committed a few changes, as those running Package Control will have noticed. If not, head over to github and take a look.

Here is a list of things I’d like to work on next:

  • Continue fixing the log parser (as in: handle more and more special cases…). This is a never-ending quest, I’m afraid, and not fun at all. Still, I’ll try. Keep sending me those log parsing error reports.
  • Improve the cite completion panel. I have a great contribution from a user, which adds much needed flexibility. However, I need some quality time to merge it and make sure that nothing breaks on the side. But, it’s coming.
  • In the same vein, I do plan to add support for biblatex cite commands.
  • Power users have asked me to make it easier to customize the latex build process (e.g., choose a different engine). I have a couple of ideas in this regard (one radical, one less so), and will implement them in due course.
  • Finally, I would like to prepare for the migration to Sublime Text 3. I’d like to have a solid code base for ST2 before I make the leap, but we’ll see.

Thanks, as always, for your support!


LaTeXTools: New Keybindings!

Heads-up: the keybindings for the LaTeXTools plugin have changed. Make sure to read the README file for details: go to https://github.com/SublimeText/LaTeXTools and scroll down (or click the “Read More” link near the project description).

Why change things? When I started working on this plugin, my objective was to emulate the functionality of the LaTeX bundle for TextMate. In particular, I tried to use the same keyboard shortcuts. However, this slowly led to an accumulation of problems. One was that, as I added features to the plugin, it became harder and harder to assign them to shortcuts that were not already used by Sublime Text 2 itself. The other problem is actually due to ST2’s greatest feature: it’s a cross-platform editor, and the plugin must also work equally well on Windows and Mac, with full Linux support also coming soon (yes!). However, different OS’s have slightly different conventions and expectations about what certain keys do. Bottom line: things were getting unmanageable.

Enter the new keyboard shortcut scheme. It’s actually very simple:

  1. The build command is still bound to ctrl-b on Windows and Linux, and cmd-b on OS X. For the time being, the Goto Anything functionality is also still bound to ctrl-r / cmd-r.
  2. All other plugin commands use ctrl-l or cmd-l followed by another key or key combination. That’s “ell” for LaTeX.

Example: to do a forward search (i.e. jump to the point int he PDF file corresponding to the current cursor position) on Windows, enter Ctrl-l followed by j. This is abbreviated as ctrl-l,j (the same convention used by Sublime Text). On OS X, this is cmd-l,j. In fact, from now on, I shall write C-l to mean either ctrl-l or cmd-l, depending on the platform.

I have tried to use mostly C-l plus a single keystroke, with reasonable mnemonics. For instance: “j” for jump to PDF, “c” for LaTeX command based on the current word, etc. Wrapping commands use the C- key twice: so, wrap in bold is C-l,C-b, etc. Reference and cite completion uses C-l,Ctrl-space (yes, even on OS X, that’s Command-ell, Control-space), but you can also use C-l,x (for cross-reference). Finally, to toggle the focus from/to the PDF upon compilation, there is a three-key sequence: C-l,t,f. I’ll try to reserve these for toggles and other less frequently used stuff.

Now, on ST2, the C-l shortcut is bound to “Extend selection to line”. That’s reassigned to C-l,C-l. The nice thing is that no other standard ST2 keyboard shortcut is affected.

As an additional benefit, these bindings are consistent with the “nice” (or “compact”) on-screen keyboard in Windows 8, which only has a Ctrl key (no Windows key, no Alt key).


How to recover deleted photos and other files for free

If you have never accidentally deleted a file, or accidentally formatted your camera’s memory card, don’t read this post 🙂 Otherwise, here’s something I just found out, trying to help a friend whose SD card had mysteriously formatted itself (don’t ask), thereby nuking about 400 photos.

There are, of course, several commercial file recovery utilities for both Windows and Mac. I’m sure they can generally do a good job. In this case, I experimented with a few trial versions, which typically show you what’s recoverable but do not actually retrieve the files. Unfortunately, I had only very limited success with commercial offerings: very few pictures appeared to be recoverable, no matter which software I tried. That was what I expected, actually; for this reason, when I asked my friend to leave her supposedly dead or dying SD card with me, I made it clear that, short of miracles, her pictures were probably gone for good.

Well, I found a miracle-worker, and its name is PhotoRec. Actually, PhotoRec is part of a package called TestDisk, which does tons more than just recover deleted files, but requires more user intervention. If all you need to do is recover photos, PhotoRec is what you want.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is Free Software at its finest. Yes, it’s free-as-in-beer, as well as free-as-in-libre. Most of all, it’s quality software that does what it’s supposed to, and does it well. Once you point PhotoRec to the drive (hopefully still) containing your photos, and you give it some additional information (see below), you just need to wait while it works its magic. In my case, it was able to recover not just all the recent photos my friend was worried about, but also a lot of pictures that had been deleted up to two years ago. (Friendly advice: don’t rely on your camera’s “Erase All” function to get rid of embarassing pictures!) Last but not least, it’s multiplatform: it runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even other platforms. Win!

The downside of PhotoRec is that, well, it is Free Software at its finest 🙂 Let’s just say that user friendliness was not a key design requirement. PhotoRec is distributed as a zip file that you simply extract wherever you want (even your desktop, if you are lazy). Then, on Windows, you run the photorec_win.exe executable (I haven’t tried it on the Mac). However, if you are expecting a nice friendly Windows dialog, you will be disappointed: PhotoRec runs in the Windows console, and uses an 80s style menu interface. You use the arrow keys to highlight different options, and (generally speaking) Enter to select one of them and advance to the next screen, where new options are presented, until PhotoRec is ready to go to work.

But this makes the process sound harder than it really is. Here’s a very quick summary (refer to the instruction on the PhotoRec site). First of all, you must create a directory on your PC’s hard disk where you will store the recovered pictures. You need to do this before running PhotoRec. Second, once you run the PhotoRec executable, you will see the Windows UAC prompt, because PhotoRec must run as Administrator in order to perform low-level access to your drive. Third, PhotoRec needs to know the following (listed in the order the screens appear in the app):

  1. Which drive contains (or used to contain…) your pictures. PhotoRec lists your drives, calling them something like /dev/sda (which most likely is your PC’s hard disk), /dev/sdb, etc. However, it also indicates the size and provides a device description. For instance, right now I have a 32GB MicroSDHC card in my Samsung 7 Slate, which appears as a “31 GB / 29 GiB – Generic STORAGE DEVICE”. That’s the kind of entry you should be looking for. In any case, don’t worry: drives are mounted read-only, so you can’t mess up your files!
  2. Which partition on that drive should be used. This is usually easy to guess. On an SD card, either there is a single partition, or there is a small one containing “helpful” software from your friendly manufacturer, and a large one for your data. Pick the large one.
  3. Which format the selected partition uses. PhotoRec will try to guess, but if you are recovering files from an SD card, it’s almost certainly going to be FAT or maybe NTFS.
  4. Whether PhotoRec should look for pictures only in the space marked “free”, or on the “whole” disk. I chose “whole.”
  5. Finally, where to save your recovered pictures. Here you have to navigate to a directory (folder) on your PC’s hard disk. Again, you must create this folder before running PhotoRec. Navigate to it, then hit “C” (don’t ask) to select.

At any time in the previous steps, you can hit Ctrl-C to quit—no questions asked, no mess. But, if you make it all the way to the end, just leave PhotoRec alone and it will do its job. Warning: this may take some time, so make sure your PC is plugged in, so it doesn’t go to sleep.

Finally, a disclaimer or two. Your mileage may vary, and indeed I’d be interested to hear your experience. Also, the safest form of data recovery is backing up! That said, PhotoRec performed admirably. This time, I earned my friend’s gratitude. Next time, it could actually save my own skin!

WordPress: Posting by email from Thunderbird

I have been experimenting with WordPress’s post by email feature. It’s pretty neat: on WordPress.com, you generate a special email address, and then just email your post to that address. You can add shortcodes to set tags, as well as mark the status as ‘draft’ or ‘private’ if you are not ready to share it with the world at large. If you use an HTML-capable mail client, you can format your post; this is convenient, because it means that you basically gain access to a free, reasonably high-quality visual HTML editor! There are some limitations regarding pictures: basically, either you have a single picture in your post, or, if you have more than one, they will appear as a gallery. I can live with that.

One issue I had to deal with is the way Thunderbird handles plain-text and HTML mail messages (I use Apple Mail on my Macbook Pro, and Thunderbird on my iMac and Samsung 7 Slate). I can’t seem to be able to tell Thunderbird that the special WordPress email address can receive HTML mail (yes, I know about the option in Address Book: setting it doesn’t solve the problem). As a result, Thunderbird by default sends messages in both formats (I think). Then, WordPress sees the text part of the messages, and uses that for the post. So, boldface becomes *boldface*, etc. Not good.

My low-tech solution was to go to Tools | Options (Mac: Thunderbird | Preferences), and in the Composition tab, select “Send Options” and then “Ask me what to do” in the pull-down menu under “Text format”. Now, when I try to send HTML email and the receipient is not seen by Thunderbird as being able to receive HTML, I get three options: send plain-text only, send both (the default), and send HTML only. I select HTML only, and all is well: WordPress now correctly sees my HTML message and posts it with the correct formatting.

One last thing: I actually prefer plain-text email, and indeed I have set up Thunderbird to send plain text by default. However, if I need to send a single HTML message, there’s an easy (if hidden) way to do so: press the Shift key while clicking on the Write button. I get the HTML editor, and am good to go.

My first Google Play Movies experience

Last night we decided to watch Hugo with the kids. Our 10-year old daughter read Brian Selznick’s delightful book and loved it; I read it twice, first by myself and then with our 7-year old son. He, too, is now a fan. So, we were all curious to see how well the story translated from the printed page to the screen.

What better opportunity to try out Google’s Play Movies service? The movie was available to rent for $3.99; you could also watch a stunning, 1080p preview, apparently straight from YouTube. What’s not to like? I clicked on the Rent button, connected my Samsung 7 Slate to our HDTV, gathered the family, hit Play… and groaned in disappointment.

You see, while the preview was available in 1080p resolution, the actual movie was only available in grainy, blocky, washed-out 480p format. My brother once explained to me that resolution is only one of the factors contributing to the perceived quality of a video; other factors, such as the bitrate and codec used, are very important, too. Well, Google Play’s version of Hugo must have been recorded at a really low bitrate. I don’t know if this is true for other movies in Google Play’s catalog; all I can say is that Hugo was really bad.

Before resigning myself to a VHS viewing experience, I checked Amazon Instant Video. Hugo was available there, too, for $1.99, in standard definition. Just for kicks, I rented it on Amazon, too. Lo and behold, the quality was significantly better. Higher bitrate or better codec, I guess. We ended up watching the Amazon version, and none of us really had reason to complain.

Moreover, just this evening I found out that our not-so-hi-tech HDTV is actually compatible with Amazon’s TV streaming video service. This means I no longer have to hook up a computer to the TV. More importantly, I can rent HD versions of several movies—including Hugo, it turns out. I’ll definitely be using this solution in the future.

Bottom line: for the time being, Google Play Movies is not quite as good as Amazon’s service. Indeed, I got even more sour on Google Play Movies tonight. Just for kicks, I downloaded the Play Movies app on my Captivate. Surprise: if you are rooted, you can’t play rented movies! This makes no sense: you obviously can get Administrator access on your Mac or PC, and still you are able to rent movies on them. But, if you root your phone, no dice. Frankly, I don’t see the rationale for this restriction.

From Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich

Alas, my love affair with the belated Gingerbread update for my Captivate was brief. While the browser and Google+ app were indeed much faster on Gingerbread than they ever were on Froyo after a reboot, I quickly found out that using the phone for two or three days without rebooting slowed things down considerably. More precisely, the apps themselves, including the browser, were still fast: however, going back to the home screen was s-l-o-w. I could often see the Launcher redraw the home screen from scratch. Buttons were non-responsive. Rebooting the phone would fix things, but I don’t think rebooting every couple of days is acceptable in this day and age. I never have to reboot my ’08-vintage Macbook Pro and iMac, except for system updates (sometimes). Even my Windows 7 Samsung Slate does just fine without rebooting in normal day-to-day use—except that a large percentage of Windows software still requires restarting on installation.

In the end, I decided it was time for me to enter the mysterious world of custom ROMs. In fact, while I was at it, I might as well try Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS), the latest version of the Android OS. This was especially attractive, as Samsung has stated in no uncertain terms that there will be no official version of ICS for the Captivate (or, more generally, for Galaxy S phones). I opted for the Team ICSSGS port, which builds upon Google’s AOSP (Android Open Source Project) release and is thus untainted by Samsung or AT&T “enhancements.”

Your key to the world of custom ROMs is a wonderful piece of software called ClockWorkMod Recovery, or CWM. This is a utility that runs before the full Android OS boots, and allows you to perform a number of low-level maintenance functions, including “flashing” (i.e. installing) custom ROMs. The beauty of it is that, once you have CWM on your phone, you just download a ROM (usually a zip file) to your internal SD card (you can even do this from your phone!), reboot into CWM, and select one of its menu option to flash the newly downloaded ROM. The only difficulty is actually installing CWM. For this, you will need a computer (PC, Linux or Mac) and another wonderful software called Heimdall (long story).

I followed the instructions here. Two caveats: first, you must have already updated to Gingerbread as per the Samsung/AT&T instructions. Second, the link I just gave you takes you to the Cyanogenmod wiki and provides you step-by-step instructions to install the Cyanogenmod ROM onto your Captivate. However, you do not need to follow all the instructions: just the ones in the section titled “Installing the ClockworkMod Recovery”. Do not follow the instructions under “Flashing CyanogenMod”. You want to flash ICS, not CyanogenMod… for now at least! (Long story short: CyanogenMod is an enhanced ROM; its stable version is based on Gingerbread, not ICS, though they also have an ICS version at the alpha stage.)

Once you have CWM Recovery on your phone, follows the instructions in the aforelinked Team ICSSGS post. A clarification: step 1 in the ICSSS instructions says to “Boot into Clockwork Mod Recovery mode using volume buttons”. This means: power down your phone; now press the Power, Volume Up, and Volume Down buttons simultaneously; hold them for 1-2 seconds, then release the Power button but hold down the two Volume buttons until CWM comes up (If I recall correctly, the CWM menu comes up after the AT&T boot animation).

Another caveat: your Captivate will “boot loop” the first time you flash ICSSGS. That is, you will see the AT&T boot animation, then the Google logo, then a bunch of gibberish, after which the phone will go back to the AT&T boot animation, etc. Don’t panic: this is normal, and explained here (look at the very first “Common Issue”). Just pull the battery and enter CWM Recovery using the three-button combination above. Reflash and reboot: this time there will be no boot loop.

My experience so far: ICS is the most significant upgrade to Android yet. The UI and interaction with the device are much more refined: there are many subtle effects and animations that contribute to a significantly improved experience, reminiscent of iOS and Windows Phone 7 (if you have seen the demos of the latter—devices “in the wild” are, er, hard to spot…). This particular ROM is not super-fast, though once again individual apps are fast. But I am so pleased with the overall “feel” of the OS that I’m willing to give up on apps instantly popping up as soon as I click on icons (some actually do, but some don’t).

Most importantly, so far and after rebooting a couple times after installation, I haven’t had the phone slow down like molasses in just two days of continued use, the way Gingerbread did. I have been running ICS for a week now, and if anything the OS feels faster than when I first rebooted after installing it.

Two final notes. First, the ICSSGS ROM is pre-rooted and also comes with CWM, so further flashing will be a breeze. Second, installing a new ROM requires wiping your phone clean, so back up any data you need to retain and be ready to reinstall apps.


Gingerbread on my Captivate after a Factory Reset

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged about my Captivate in a while. The reason, quite frankly, is that I had (notice: had) grown quite a bit dissatisfied with it. The phone was getting noticeably slower, and I was seeing force close messages on an annoyingly regular basis. Finally, AT&T still hadn’t released an OS update: I was still running Froyo (so 2010!), as I didn’t have the guts to root my phone and install a custom ROM.

Well, the Gingerbread update finally became available, and I promptly installed it, hoping it would sort out all of my issues. Long story short: it didn’t. In fact, if anything, I kept getting an annoying message to the effect that the Tethering Manager (which I don’t use) was force-closing every time WiFi was turned off and then back on (for instance, every time the phone comes out of sleep mode, which happens, oh, maybe 20 times a day minimum?)

I decided to take matters into my own hands. With some trepidation, I went into the Settings menu, then Privacy, then Factory Data Reset… poof! All my apps, messages, data, etc. were gone. The phone was back in a pristine state—or, more precisely, in the pristine state of a Captivate running Gingerbread, as I did the reset after installing the OS update. After a very lengthy and frankly distressing wait, I had to reenter my Google credentials…

and I was in phone heaven!!! True, I had to reinstall all my apps, but, since I use Google Contacts and Calendar, all my, well, contacts and appointments came back automagically. I really had no additional important data on my phone that was not backed up elsewhere. In particular, I didn’t care about SMS (text) messages, which do get wiped out. The huge payoff is that the phone is now fast. As in, it has never been this fast before! It almost feels like a new phone altogether. The browser just flies (this is probably also courtesy of Gingerbread of course), and Google+ displays the Stream almost instantly; I have yet to see a force close. Bottom line: the phone now officially has teh snappy. I can barely recognize my Cappy!

A few things I noticed:

  • Android Market keeps track of the paid apps you have purchased, but forgets the free apps you have downloaded. Not a big deal, but you may have to remember what you installed if you didn’t pay for it
  • When I did the factory reset, I didn’t actually wipe the internal storage as well. However, Google Music lost track of the songs I had synced on my phone. I had to do a bit of cleaning up afterwards, but again nothing was lost.
  • If you use Google’s Two-step authentication (hint: you should), you need to reenter your application-specific password on your phone; if you didn’t save it, you must generate a new one (and delete the old one). Also, you need to redownload and reregister the Google Authenticator app.

Finally, one word of warning: if you do have important data on your Cappy, do back up!