Defeat the ‘Oops. An unknown error occurred’ Message When Importing Contacts to Gmail

Lately I’ve been working on consolidating all my Contacts into Gmail. During this process I ran into this maddening error message:

Oops. An unknown error occurred while importing your contacts.

Grrr! It’s enough to make a pacifist like myself want to pummel baby penguins! Just kidding, PETA.

All I want to do is import a CSV full of contact information, and that error message drove me crazy until I figured out a workaround. Here are two possible ways that I’ve found to work around this problem:

1. Try Google Chrome

After my first dozen, error-prone attempts to import the CSV from Firefox, I decided to simply try another browser. What better browser to communicate with Gmail than Google’s own browser – Chrome!

I have no conclusive evidence to prove that this method works, other than it worked for me. Simply switching from Firefox to Chrome to import the CSV into Gmail worked the first time. It may be a bug with Gmail (or Firefox), or it may be the alignment of the stars in the heavens, but it worked for me.

If it works for anyone else, let me know in the comments.

2. Switch to the Older Gmail

If method one does not work, try this: click the Older version link at the top of your Gmail window.

Now go back to Contacts and try to import your CSV file again.

The older version of the importer worked for me without that @*%^ error message. Hopefully it will work for you, too!

10 Great OS X Applications for the Web Developer

One of the things I think of every single working day is how great a platform OS X is for software development. Now, take that with a grain of salt… I do development in a LAMP dev shop running Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP, but we’re running some enormous sites (LowFares.com, IdentityTheft.com, and Low.com). All of those technologies are open-source, and (in my opinion) very well suited for serious commercial sites. Java is fine if you need to send a man to the moon, but it you just need to say “Hello World!”, you’re still might be dealing with a rocket launch…

Peanut Gallery Java Pot-Shots

.NET isn’t any better… every .NET shop I’ve dealt with has had horrible down-times and massive release delays… but I digress…

Why is OS X Awesome for Software Development?

  1. Exposé — this feature saves me 30 to 45 minutes per day (yes, I’ve timed it). It’s unbelievable how much time you can save if you can quickly get between documents and apps.
  2. The BSD Subsystem — if you’re working with Linux/PHP/Perl/MySQL, it saves so much time to have OS X’s Terminal right there with a Unix variant under its hood. No need to emulate with Cygwin or go remote with Putty. You can test your Apache config or database queries without ever having to connect to the network.
  3. My Mac Runs Windows! — I can test my web pages in all major browsers by flipping between OS X and Parallels Desktop running Windows, or by using VirtualBox.
  4. It’s Not Windows — ha ha… I had to slip that one in. Sorry if you’re suffering through XP. I mean Vista. I mean the NT kernel.

Top 10 Applications for Software Developers on OS X

Ok, on to the main event. Here are ten great applications for a software developer working in OS X. These are the applications that have found an integral place in my workflow. Not all of them are free, but I have tried to list a free alternative when appropriate. I’m not recommending you get ALL of these, but depending on what exactly you’re doing, you might want to try out a handful of them.

iTerm: A Better Terminal

1. iTerm (Free)

Link – iTerm

This is to the command line what Firefox is to browsers: if the Terminal is IE, iTerm is like Firefox. It is simply a better Terminal. It allows tabs and bookmarks for those of you who log into multiple servers.

TextMate: a powerful interface and editor2. TextMate ($57)

Link –TextMate

I do like Smultron a lot (it’s free), but TextMate’s interface is preferable to me. It’s similar to a full-featured IDE such as Eclipse (which is also free) because it gives you a full folder-structure view in its document drawer (something that Smultron or TextWranger do not).

One thing – unlike Eclipse, TextMate is lightweight and fast without ump-teen Preference pages. If you need an IDE, give NetBeans (free) a try.

Transmit: a Powerful FTP/SFTP client with a great interface3. Transmit ($30)

Link –Transmit

Although there are free FTP clients out there, Transmit has one of the best interfaces because it incorporates Mac OS X’s column view. To be fair, I have had some problems connecting to certain servers when using Transmit, but I don’t know enough of the firewall internals to know why one client performed better than another.

If you prefer a free alternative, my recommendation is Cyberduck (free).

Sequel Pro is the sequel to CocoaMySQL4. Sequel Pro (Free)

Link –Sequel Pro (Free)

There are only a couple of choices when it comes to GUI MySQL interfaces for OS X, the other big one being Navicat (they have a lite version that’s free). The other popular choice for a long time was CocoaMySQL, which is still available for 10.4 users, but development on it has been abandoned and the project has moved over to Sequel Pro (the sequel… get it?) Sequel Pro offers an improved interface for 10.5 users (I prefer it to Navicat).

OmniGraffle: graphing, flowcharts, and designs5. Omnigraffle (Bundled with OS X, or $100, or $200 – Pro)

Link – OmniGraffle

Imagine Microsoft Visio, but clean and not bloated and well… not Microsoft. If you have to diagram databases or put together product requirements for documentation, this is a beautiful little product that may have come bundled with your Mac. The Standard version can almost get you through the medium and large projects. I haven’t seen anything on the Mac that comes close to what this application offers, and even though I get the feeling that the high price tag is getting validated by riding Visio’s bandwagon, I still think this is a good bit of software.

6. PhotoDrop (Free)

Link – PhotoDrop

This is a very simple app that lets you create droplets for bulk image processing. Each droplet can do things like convert images between formats, perform scaling and cropping, even watermarking. If you are doing web development, this is just a simple (and much cheaper) alternative to running Photoshop’s Save for Web feature over and over and over again. Very, very handy.

unArchiver: never type a weird command-line un-tar statement again.7. The Unarchiver (Free)

Link – The Unarchiver

This is handy if you’re frequently dealing with Zip, Tar, GZip, BZip2, Rar, 7-zip, LhA, and StuffIt files. Yes, you can handle many of these on the command line, but if you’d rather deal with a GUI, this tool is handy.

8. Nvu (Free)

Link – Nvu

This is a complete Web Authoring System for Linux, Windows and OS X. It’s like a free version of Dreamweaver (which maybe you’ve already outgrown?).

It has good support for style sheets and a Javascript console, but one irk is that the tabs that show multiple open documents seem to disappear if you are viewing the HTML source for the document (instead of the “Normal” WYSIWYG view). If you’re beyond the integrated WYSIWYG type of thing, have a good look at Eclipse (Free)… it’s a big framework that does a lot of things, but a number of web developers I know use it for its convenient browsing and previewing capabilities. Eclipse also integrates with versioning software (like SVN), but because it’s heavy-hitting, I only recommend it for more mature users. NetBeans looks to be a lighter alternative to Eclipse, but I haven’t tried it myself.

9. Seashore (Free)

Link – Seashore

This is a lightweight photo-editing application. It’s got all the things in Photoshop that I use frequently (layers, brushes, and exporting for web). It’s got some handy keyboard short-cuts, but it’s missing others.

SuperDuper: Elegant and Powerful Backups10. SuperDuper! (Shareware, $28)

Link – SuperDuper!

This is a popular backup utility. If you’re serious about doing development work, you know there is a lot of effort put into maintaining your valuable code and prior versions of it. You can use SuperDuper to create bootable clones of a drive, too. Hot stuff.

You can use SuperDuper! for free (forever), but the advanced features are available for a $28 fee.


Honorable Mention: Fluid (Free)

I mention this little app because I’ve found it extremely handy over the past couple days. If you compile a site into its own app, you can take advantage of the built-in Apple-tab shortcut to get to it. Another really helpful thing about working within the application-switching workflow is that you can assign the application(s) its own icon. That’s REALLY helpful when you’re working with a dev and a production version of a site… honestly, those simple little things can prevent disaster.

But the real reason I was compelled to mention Fluid is its inspector. It breaks a page down into the html tags, images, and style sheets ridiculously well. In my opinion, the layout of this program is sickly good… IMHO it’s better than the revered debugging plugin Firebug for Firefox. Wow. Yes, really. I’ve never had an easier time tracking down problematic HTML or a goofed up CSS declaration. However, the Fluid-compiled web site seems to have some weird behavior with its caching… you know the drill: make your edits, clear the cache, refresh the page. But sometimes the Fluid version doesn’t refresh correctly. I don’t know if this is something I can configure or if its an artifact of compilation, but I really hope it’s the former. The DOM inspector is just too slick to overlook. For more information, check out Brian’s post about Fluid.

Summary

I hope you’ve benefited from my sharing of this short list. I don’t recommend that you rush out to get all of these programs: some of them may be more relevant than others. If you think one looks interesting or practical, give it a try and see if you like it. Feel free to post your own suggestions about helpful OS X applications for software and web development.

Feature image credit: Guillermo Esteves

Weekend Fun – Kill All Productivity with Free Tower Defense Games

If you had any thoughts of entertaining productivity this weekend, kick them to the curb with these two amazingly addictive, flash-based Tower Defense games.

Bloons Tower Defense 3

You’re a monkey. No, wait, you just control a bunch of monkeys. No, wait, you control a bunch of monkeys, cannons, spike shooters, frost towers, and an assortment of other wacky tools in a desperate attempt to pop balloons (or bloons). Lots of them. MILLIONS of them.

There are eight different tracks and three difficulty levels. Can you survive to round 50? If you do, you can continue on in free-play mode until you run out of lives.

I made it to round 61 in this screenshot, but got it handed to me soon after that.

One word of warning – beware the MOAB (Massive Ornery Air Blimp).

Play Bloons Tower Defense 3. Crave more? Try your hand at the previous version 1 and 2.

Desktop Tower Defense

DTD is without a doubt one of the most addicting free games ever created. You’ve probably heard of it by now. Perhaps you’ve even played it once, twice, or 500 times. Play it again. Just one more time….

All you have to do is build a maze to prevent the creeps from making it to the other side. Much easier said than done, I assure you, especially in Hard Mode.

Have fun killing your productivity this weekend!

Play Desktop Tower Defense

An Introduction to Podcasting with Blogger and iTunes

Podcasting is the practice of distributing media files online for subscribers to view. Since it is Internet-based, it is similar to simply posting on a website. Many podcasts are distributed as episodic content – such as weekly radio or television shows.

This brief tutorial is focused toward people who have never created an audio podcast before. I put it together for an electronic music class that I teach, and thought it could be of use here on TipsFor.us.

Required Tools

Software

  • Digital Audio Workstation Software

If you’re only recording speech with little or no music, you likely won’t need software like this. Something like Audacity will suffice. For more complicated editing and mixing, you’re going to need digital audio workstation (DAW) software.

The big-boy software titles include Cubase, Sonar, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Logic, and Samplitude. They also come with a big-boy price. For more modest uses, consider Tracktion or even FREE offerings such as MU.LAB. Use Linux? Try Ardour.

  • Audio Compression Software

You’re going to need to compress that audio file for the Web, and free tools such as Audacity, iTunes, and BonkEnc will do the job with aplomb.

  • FTP Client

Use a free FTP client such as Filezilla or Cyberduck to store your files online on a file/web host of choice (more on that below).

  • Podcast Catcher

To take a look/listen at your newly created podcast, subscribe to it with a tool such as iTunes or Google Reader.

Web

  • Online Web Space

You need a place to store your files on the Web that allows for direct linking. If you already own web space, fantastic. If you do not, don’t worry. There are free workarounds.

  • A Publisher

Though not absolutely required, a free publishing account with a service such as Blogger or WordPress is highly recommended. Podcasts require an RSS Feed (allows podcast catchers to subscribe), and services such as Blogger generate the feed for you automatically. The other option is to write the XML file yourself… tedious.

Create Your Audio File

When you have finished composing and mixing your masterpiece, you need to prepare it for the web. The issue here is to make the file small enough without sacrificing too much quality. You will need to to compress your hi-res audio mix (*.aif) into a lossy format. Most podcasts use either MP3 or AAC. See our digital audio primer.

I suggest using Audacity to compress your audio. No matter what software you use, set the bitrate to at least 128/k (up to about 192/k). Make sure the resulting file has all lowercase letters and no spaces or special characters. Also, make sure your file has an extension (*.mp3).

The compressed audio file is what your subscribers will hear, naturally.

Storing Your File on the Web

The next step is to upload your file to a storage host. The aforementioned free services such as Blogger and WordPress do not currently allow for storage of audio files (legal/piracy reasons). Instead, I suggest using some web space to store your files.

If you do not pay for any webspace, don’t fret. Take a look at our article on overcoming Blogger’s upload limitations. Though the article mentions Blogger specifically, the solutions can apply to any other service.

Publish your Podcast

Now it’s time to publish your podcast so that the world can listen. This section of the tutorial is specific to the Google Blogger service. If you use a different service, please consult their Help section for podcast-specific tips.

The site that my class used is: http://ku-electronic.blogspot.com

To set up a Blogger account for podcasting, do the following:

In your Blogger dashboard, go to Settings → Formatting. Enable the Link Field to enclose audio in your posts.

Now, when you create a New Post, you will see a field for Enclosures.

Add the full link to your hosted audio file (including the http://).

Voila! When you publish your post, it will instantly become a podcast. All RSS Feed requirements are handled automatically.

Subscribe to the Podcast

If you want to subscribe to the newly created podcast, just enter the full URL to your Blogger site in your podcast-catching software.

Example (Google Reader):

Subscribe with iTunes

iTunes is slightly different. To subscribe to a Blogger feed in iTunes, go to the Advanced menu, then click Subscribe to Podcast.

Add the full URL to your site, plus /feeds/posts/default

Click OK, and your podcast subscription will show up like this:

Anytime you write a new post on the site, it will show up in the feed reader.

This concludes the tutorial. Happy podcasting!

Fed Up with Blogger’s Upload Limitations?

Update: There’s now a third, very simple method available – who.hasfiles.com – see more info.

Google Blogger is a great and easy way to create your own blog, but one nagging problem is the limitations on uploads. Sure you can upload images and video, but not other common file types such as MP3, DOC, ZIP, and PDF.

There are a number of ways around this limitation. I’m going to show you two of them today.

I had three requirements in mind when finding a solution:

  1. None of the methods should cost a single penny!
  2. The method should allow for direct linking to files, not going through a middle-man.
  3. The process should be as simple as possible.

Method One – Google Sites

The simplest solution that I have found is to use another Google service – Sites. To enable Sites, just log in with your Google account and create a name for your site. Make sure to make your site Public.

Sites offers 100 MB of extra storage space where you can link directly to MP3s, PDFs, or any other type of file you wish.

Now let’s make a page where you can add some files. In Sites, click Create a New Page at the top.

Choose File Cabinet as your page type. Once you’re done, all you have to do is add a file on the page you created.

Once your file uploads, the last step is to simply right-click your file and Copy Link Location (Firefox – other browsers may say something like Copy Shortcut).

Paste that link into Blogger, and voila! You now have a direct link to your file! If you find that you cannot link directly to your file, make sure your Site is listed as Public.

This is the easiest method I’ve found, and I like that it’s tied directly to your Google account. If you run out of your 100 MB, you can create another Google Site, or consider method two below.

Method Two – DriveHQ

This solution is slightly more complicated, but offers much more storage space. DriveHQ has been around for many years, and they offer 1 GB of free space accessible by FTP. You can link directly to files provided that you create a True account – still free, essentially just requires verification of what they call a trustable, non-mainstream e-mail address. Accounts like Hotmail, Yahoo, and Gmail do not count. I just used my university e-mail.

Though there are other free FTP hosts, I recommend DriveHQ because they have been around for many years, and because your files never expire due to inactivity. I created an account with them four years ago, and I went for over two years without logging in. My files were still just as I left them.

DriveHQ Web Share

Once you create a free account with DriveHQ and upgrade to True status (free), you will have access to a website root folder (wwwhome). Anything you place in your wwwhome folder is accessible online (YOUR-USERNAME.drivehq.com).

Feel free to create folders, but for simplicity’s sake I strongly suggest sticking to all lowercase letters and omitting special characters in your folders and file-names.

Example 1 – If you put a file called sample-file.mp3 in your wwwhome folder, the web path is:

  • http://YOUR-USERNAME.drivehq.com/sample-file.mp3

Example 2 – If you create a folder in wwwhome called music and put your sample-file.mp3 in there, the path is:

  • http://YOUR-USERNAME.drivehq.com/music/sample-file.mp3

Adjust your links accordingly and paste into Blogger. Voila! You have direct links.

FTP Access

Once you’ve registered, you can use FTP to upload files if you do not feel like bothering with their web interface. Just connect to ftp.drivehq.com with your favorite FTP client (such as Filezilla or Cyberduck).

DriveHQ offers 1 GB of storage space, but one catch here is that free accounts only have 1 GB of download bandwidth per month. For most people, this is likely sufficient, but if you know your files will get tons of hits, this is not the best option. Or, you could use a combination of these two methods – use Google Sites for files that will see big traffic and save DriveHQ for seldom-accessed files.

Other Thoughts

Of course, the two methods I present here are not the only possible ways to host files for inclusion with Blogger. There are literally hundreds of free web hosts and file storage services out there. Finding a place to store your files is easy. Finding a good and reliable place to store your files is amazingly difficult.

The vast majority of online storage services either:

  1. Do not allow for direct linking, or…
  2. Expire and delete your files after a certain amount of time or inactivity, or…
  3. Have not been around long enough to be considered tried and true, or…
  4. Try to spam you to death with ads and optional services.

Concerning free web hosts, yes, many of them offer free FTP access. While I applaud this, you need to be careful. The vast majority of free web hosts have a clause in their Terms of Service stating that they are not to be used as file storage. Any accounts found breaching this clause will have their files mercilessly deleted without warning. These companies make the bulk of their money by putting ads on your free site, and file storage/direct linking is simply not profitable for them. You don’t want your files disappearing, do you?

That’s why I chose Google Sites and DriveHQ for this article. If you know of any other solutions that are free, reliable, simple to use, and allow for direct file linking, please let us know in the comments.

I Hate ID3 tags (Part 2)

I think I finally found a good solution to my dilemma.  The best part is, it’s open source and available for windows, linux, and mac.

Songbird

I had tried it in its early beta, and decided to try it again.  It can easily do everything iTunes does (except for all the stuff you don’t want iTunes to do).  Any feature it’s missing is typically available as a plugin.  It has some flaws, but they are already set for later releases (such as CD burning, but heck why not just use infra recorder for everything).  Just take a look at the features and “coming soon” section of the page.

Here is the important part:

The Single Most Amazing Plugin Ever. You can set multiple folders for it display in the folder tree, and it is simple to add content to.

When combined with Songbird, it solves all the problems the ID3-tag-hater has.  I also managed to install and uninstall enough plugins that it feels like it was made just for me.

Oh, did I mention it has a web browser built in and is fully skinnable?  I might do a full review in the future, but for now, I’m going to go listen to well organized music that I didn’t have to import into a sloppy music library.

Quick Tip – Stop Firefox from Remembering Downloads

This one is by no means difficult, but I often forget about it. I see no reason why Firefox should remember what I download, and it bugs me to see a huge list of previously downloaded files whenever I open the Firefox Download window.

Disabling this feature is simple. Just go to Tools → Options, and switch to the Privacy tab.

Un-check the box next to Remember what I’ve downloaded. Problem solved.

While we’re on the subject, you can also suppress the Downloads window from showing at all when you start a new download. Just switch back to the Main tab and un-check the box next to Show the Downloads window when downloading a file.