Saturday, December 24, 2005

A modest iPod (case) mod

Whilst in Cleveland recently, I picked up a new case for my iPod, made by Init. It's a very stylish leather case with some padding and didn't cost an arm and a leg. One problem: no belt clip. Instead, the back sports a small D-ring where you can attatch a wrist strap. I have no need for the wrist strap and was just carrying it around in my jacket pocket when my (very bright) wife suggested I hook a carabiner to the D-ring and attach that to my belt loop.

The mod works even better than a belt clip because I can lift the case up easily and fiddle with the iPod without taking it off my belt. And it doesn't swing around on my hip as much as I thought it would (the carabiner I'm using has a very tight bend at one end, which prevents the D-ring from moving too much). I'm really pleased so far, but I haven't tried it out in the real world yet, so I'll reserve any final judgment.

I may be out of the loop for a week since I'm flying to Calgary for Christmas to be with family. So in the meantime, I wish my reader(s) a very Happy Holidays and a 2006 filled with love, friendship and peace.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The field narrows

My search for a digicam is starting to home in on a few candidates. But before I get to that, I want to thank the people who made suggestions and comments on my last post.

Jovifan mentioned the Fuji 4.1 MP camera her boyfriend bestowed upon her (lucky girl). And while it looks like a nice basic camera, I really am looking for a camera with better resolution than that.

Next up, D'arcy Norman, another Fuji user, mentioned his Fujifilm FinePix E510. To go by the photos on his blog, this quite a good camera. Among other things, you can manually control the aperture size and shutter speeed, which is a big plus IMO. However, the video resolution isn't great, and D'arcy did mention that the flash takes forever to recharge.

Finally, Peter Collins, who is quite a fine photographer himself and runs his own little online retouching business thinks I should just bite the bullet and go the DSLR route right away. Pete, you're not helping matters one bit! I've agonized over this for months, finally (for the time being) coming down on the side of portablility. I don't need you to rub salt in the wound. But joking aside, portability really is a deciding facture right now, and while a camera like the Rebel XT is quite small (some say too small in fact), it's still too bulky to be lugging around Europe for three weeks, especially if you don't have a car.

Indeed, the size factor is haunting me more and more. I've been looking very seriously at Canon's lineup. As far as I can tell, they have the best reputation of all the digital camera manufacturers, and their cameras have some very nice features for very competetive prices. I've been looking at two model types, each of which has a high- and a low-end model: the SD450/550 and the A610/620. To give you an idea, here is a link to a page on the Digital Photography Review website comparing the A620 and the SD550 side by side. The two are very similar in most respects. Both have 7.1 megapixels, both have very nice video functions. But the main differences illustrate, in a nutshell, the features I'm wrestling with. The SD550 is nice and compact with a big 2.5" LCD screen, while the A620 has manual aperture and shutter options, along with a sweet 4X optical zoom, but is somewhat bulkier and has a smaller, 2" LCD screen. The low-end models mirror these differences and don't make the choice any easier.

I guess it comes down to wanting my cake and eating it too. Decisions decisions. Anyway, as of this moment, I'm leaning toward the A610, which seems like a very nice quality/price ratio. But catch me in an hour and I might be dreaming about how nice the SD550 would feel in my breast pocket...

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Digital camera woes

I'm in the market for my first digital camera, and my head is spinning. The possible permutations of features seem infinite--a situation not helped by the fact that I'm not really sure what I want.

My heart was initially set on a digital SLR, but realistically, the cost and size of these cameras have more or less eliminated them (though I have a feeling that some sort of Nikon DSLR is somewhere in my future). Right now, I'm looking for a good point-and-shoot compact camera. I've narrowed my desired specs down a little, but I have no experience with DP, so I'm at sea here: something around 5-6 megapixels in the 400-Canadian-dollar range, with decent video resolution (i.e., 640x480) and unlimited clip length. Some incarnation of a 35-105 mm equivalent optical zoom would be nice. I don't think any of these point-and-shoot cameras have great lenses anyway, even if they are Leica or Zeiss or what have you, so I don't think it's much of a factor (but feel free to abuse and/or disabuse me on this point). I don'’t care much about a viewfinder, but a nice big LCD screen would be a bonus. And of course, it should play nice with my Macs.

I was looking at some Pentax Optios, but they don't seem to be officially supported by iPhoto and apparently add some funky metadata to the Library.iphoto file, so I'm close to crossing Pentax off my list altogether. Too bad because they offer a nice 6mp Optio that's reportedly waterproof.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Apple Store good and bad

So, as crossover readers of FFTMC know, I was on a gig in Cleveland last week: eight long days of rehearsals, recordings and concerts, with a good dose of snow mixed in for good measure. Amid the frenzy of sackbuts and cornetti, I managed to find a few hours to hit the Apple Store in Cleveland (actually, it's in Cleveland Heights, in the ritzy Legacy Village shopping centre). It was my first ever visit to an Apple store and I was suitably impressed. Every possible combination of Apple gear was on display, including several of the incredible 30-inch Cinema Displays. Until last week, I was pretty happy with my 20-incher; now I'm lusting after that monster, even though I know it's a pipe dream for at least three years. But the best part was that the guy at the genius bar fixed my Ethernet port.

I've had this iBook for over four years now and I had never previously been successful in connecting to the Internet via the Ethernet port. The first 2-and-a-half years I was on dial-up (!) so it didn't matter. In fact, I didn't even realize there was a problem until I finally gave in and got a DSL hookup last year. When I tried to plug into my modem, I got nada. Luckily, Airport and a wireless router solved the problem, but I always wondered about the Ethernet port and had always suspected that I had some obscure setting wrong. So I was gratified and relieved when the Apple Store genius showed me that two of the pins in the port were depressed and so not connecting. He took it in the back and worked some magic and voila, I have my Ethernet port back. Not that I use it, but was nice to finally know what the problem was. I left the store with a Nano for my wife and an iSight camera for my mother's future iBook.

My second trip of the week to the Cleveland Apple Store came toward the end of my stay. I wanted to get a new case for my own iPod and had some per diem money left over. So I go in and start trying out cases. Shortly thereafter, an employee approaches me and informs me in a haughty voice that their policy is that the packaging is not to be opened (I should say that none of the cases I was looking at were shrink wrapped or in sealed boxes; I was not destroying any packaging). So I politely asked if they had some demos I could try out, to which he replied with a sniff that they couldn't POSSIBLY have demos for ALL the iPod cases. I again politely stated that I didn't want to buy an iPod case without taking a look at it first and trying it out. His reply (his politeness was pretty forced by now) was that he quite understood, but that their policy (which, incidentally, was posted nowhere in the store) was that the packaging was not to be opened, because then no one would want to buy the merchandise. To which I replied that I certainly wouldn't be buying it if I couldn't open it, and walked out of the store in search of a Best Buy--where they were quite happy to let me try out as many cases as I liked.

Maybe I was just tired from being on the road and looking for something to bitch about, but my second impression was not a good one. The store had every product Apple makes on display, just screaming out to be touched and handled and explored. Why make an exception for iPod cases? They don't want the cheap third-party stuff to get wrecked? Very bizarre, to say the least.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Life before OS X

Do you remember what life was like with OS 9? I had forgotten but got a rude reminder on Wednesday.

This week, I decided to bite the bullet do something I'd been putting off for months: wipe my iBook's hard drive and do a clean install of Tiger. Reinstalling an OS is not something we Mac users are used to doing, but this poor system had taken so much abuse over the last year I decided a clean slate would be the best thing. With my relatively recent acquisitions of a Mini and an iPod, I had no use for the many gigabytes of mp3s and photos taking up space on that machine, not to mention all the duplicates of my old work files. The 30Gb drive was getting close to full, which was slowing down the machine.

Another thing I wanted to do was get OS 9 back up and running on the iBook because my wife has been bugging me to install a program that only runs on the old system (don't get me started about "Mac compatible--OS 8.1-9.2 only--applications"). All in all, given this was my first wipe and reinstall ever, it went pretty smoothly. I managed to back everything up, get Tiger and OS 9 installed, and pretty much everything restored over the course of an evening.

The real fun started the next morning when it came time to install the typing software S. wanted to use. The thing would install but when I tried to launch it, it would crash immediately. After much cursing and flailing about, I finally realized the problem was that this software was so ancient it used an older version of Quicktime. I had naively upgraded to 6.03 when OS 9 informed me that things would run much more smoothly if I did. So it was a question of trying to figure out how to uninstall the newer version (turns out you have to choose custom install from the INSTALLER then choose uninstall... very intuitive Apple! Bravo) and then install Quicktime 5, which was included on the typing program CD. Thing is, this version of Quicktime 5 was in French. Shouldn't make a difference, you say? I agree. One little problem though: the French Quicktime installer installed the extension "Gestionnaire Audio," the French equivalent of Sound Manager. I can't tell you how many times I had to restart OS 9 with various combinations of extensions disabled before I finally figured out that the French and English sound managers were yelling at each other. Once the referendum ballots were counted and all parties agreed that the French sound manager should go its separate way* (read: disabled), OS 9 booted fine and the program worked perfectly. (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I could have just as easily disabled the English version and had similar results.)

How did we ever work like this? Granted, extension conflicts weren't an everyday occurence in the last millennium, but still, troubleshooting could be a real PITA in pre-X versions of Apple OS. Save extension set, reboot holding shift, rinse, repeat. Ugh! OS X has its problems too, as do all OS's, but at least its pretty. OS 9's grey screen and pixellated icons make me want to puke. I hope I don't have to go there again for a good long time.

*Canadian joke.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More on Quicksilver

Matt Corkum commented on my last post that Apple should buy the company and incorporate it into OS X. And that got me to thinking...

We've been down this road before with Apple, most recently with the company's inclusion of Dashboard in Tiger. Some Apple pundits were annoyed that they didn't "do the right thing" and buy Konfabulator rather than develop their own (inferior, IMO) version. Alas, it was up to Yahoo to make this move. So now I'm running Konfab for free and Dashboard is pretty much bloatware as far as I'm concerned. But cool as free Konfabulator is, it's no Quicksilver--though, as my Windows friends will be sure to point out, at least it's not Mac only.

So will Quicksilver make it into Leopard (or whatever they're going to call X.5)? Some might counter that it already is in Tiger, albeit in a much more limited fashion. I'm refering to Spotlight.

Spotlight, the excellent search function of OS X, does some of what Quicksilver does in terms of launching apps, but Spotlight is much more powerful as a search utility because it indexes what's inside files and anything attached to them as well (i.e., metadata), whereas QS only indexes file names; if you're looking for something obscure in the dusty corners of your hard drive, Spotlight's hard to beat.

What Spotlight doesn't do, however, is allow you to manipulate the files that a search turns up, and this is where Quicksilver wins hands down. On the other hand, Automator, another OS X utility, does allow you to do some of the same things that Quicksliver does. In my view, however, Quicksilver wins here too because it's, well, quick. I'm no expert with Automator actions, but in my limited experience, they take time to run, whereas Quicksilver is pretty much instantaneous. Plus--again in my limited experience--Automator is not all that intuitive; neither is QS, but it's better than Automator I feel.

So what Apple needs to do, if they don't buy out Quicksilver (which in a way would be a bit of a pity since there's no telling where it will go if left to evolve on its own) is to merge Spotlight and Automator into a single, awesome utility that would let users manipulate their files as easily and as elegantly as Quicksilver does now. Given Apple's track record, it's not an unthinkable task.

Now, if someone could just tell me how to use Quicksilver to save an Excel file as a PDF document and attach it to a Mail message to the addressee of my choice, I'd be on cloud 42.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Quicksilver miracle

As a prelude to my magnum opus on open source (No! Wait! Don't run! I was only joking. It will be a regular blogpost!), today I will expound upon the miracle that is Quicksilver. This application is a perfect example of what open-source can do. To be honest, I'm not sure it's truly open-source, since I don't see where you can download the source code on their website; this would make it proprietary software. But it is freeware, and it's for Mac only (although I and my Windows-using friends would be happy to hear about any Windows equivalents).

Most people I know who use Quicksilver can't imagine computing without it, and I'm sure that a significant number of users would consider it the single most useful applcation on their computer. What does it do? Well, you can read a detailed description here but basically it's an application launcher on super-steroids. If, like me, you're a keyboard-shortcut kind of guy (as opposed to a slug who doesn't feel at home unless it's drooling all over the mouse), then Quicksilver allows you to launch applications with a few keystrokes. If only for this, it does a fantastic job. But you can also use it to, for instance, select a document and attach it to a mail message addressed to a specific person. No more browsing through your file hierarchy to find the file, dragging it to a new message (that you previously created) and typing in the address. Quicksliver offers an infinitely more elegant and faster solution. It does many other things, and I'm discovering new ways to use it all the time.

Did I mention that it's free? How can something this useful be free? It defies logic. And yet there it is. The developers at Blacktree have apparently decided altruistically that their mission is to make the (computing) world a better place. I'm not sure how they're sustaining the project, but I, for one, am truly grateful. Until a practical voice-based interface comes along (don't get me started about OS X's laughable speakable items function), Quicksilver is one of the best ways to improve your productivity on your Mac.

Monday, November 21, 2005

In my Apple wanderings today, I came across the blog of D'Arcy Norman. I haven't delved into the archives much, but he posted two articles just today that I found well worth reading. The first was a description of a do-it-yourself iPod battery replacement, which was very encouraging, since I figure a year or two down the road, I'll be in a similar situation. The second was a blurb about "market- vs. community-based economy" that piqued my interest.

Norman was talking about a whole economy based on a "bottom-up open-source" model. Now even to a not-so-old socialist such as myself, that sounds a lot like Communism (which is a great idea if you leave out human nature), but it was more grist for the mill of my own musings about the Internet's so-called open-source revolution. I've been threatening a post about this since I started this blog no so long ago, but my thoughts have not quite come to a head, so I'll put that off for another day. (Do I hear sighs of relief, or is it my imagination?)

In the meantime, I've put Norman's blog in my RSS feeds. He has an iPod and lives in my old home town of Calgary, so he must be a pretty good dude.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I don't know what to do...

Oh damn the Mac rumour sites. Damn them! They just made my life a lot harder. OK... not really. I have pretty great life. Any complaints I have are pretty minor compared to what most of this planet's people have to deal with. But a decision I have to make did just get a tad more complicated. Oh woe is me! Consider:

1) My mother retired a few months back and is in the market for a computer. She had one at work but has never had one at home. I managed to convince her to get a Mac by telling her that they're less trouble and that I could provide tech support (I don't do Windows). I think she should get one of the snazzy new iMacs but she's hell-bent on a laptop, so an iBook it is going to be. Since I'm heading home for Christmas, that's when the deed is to be done. We'll head down to an Apple reseller, pick up the iBook and various other goodies, and I'll set it up for her. So far so good, right?

2) Enter the latest rumour by Think Secret that Apple will release new Intelized iBooks in January. Contrary to my belief that the Mac Mini will be the first to recieve an Intel chip, they seem pretty sure it's going to be the iBook, and six months sooner than scheduled. Now frankly, my mother doesn't give a rat's ass what chip is in her computer, as long as it does what it's supposed to do. No, what's got my panties in a knot is that IF this is true, then the price of the PPC iBooks is going to to be quite a bit less after any January announcement of Intel iBooks than it is now, especially if, as the rumour states, Apple also lowers the iBook's price. So, does she get one at Christmas, or does she wait till after Christmas? I wouldn't advise her to buy one of the Intel iBooks because they'll be new technology and god knows I don't want HER to be a guinea pig. If my own iBook were more recent, I'd give it to her and buy a new one myself, but that's not going to work here.

So, what to do? On top of all this, I can't really talk to her about it because, well, she just wants me to take care of it (I think you're starting to get the picture). If anyone is actually reading this blog, what do you think I should do? Is potentially saving a couple of hundred bucks worth the hassle to all parties involved of delaying the purchase? Did I just answer my own question? So... confused...

Monday, November 14, 2005


Poets know all about synergy; it's how many poems get born. You start with the seed of a poem, which you might walk around with for a few days, and it becomes infused with other events and experiences in your life. This helps to germinate the seed and add layers of meaning to the original idea, as well as give ideas for imagery. Such synergy is why the Internet is such a great place for poetry. But the Internet is also, itself, a kind of synergy--bringing people and ideas together that perhaps wouldn't always have otherwise found each other.

The synergy I found today was born in yesterday's post about the future for Apple. One of the other things that people have been predicting Apple will come out with is a mobile phone. They have already teamed up with Motorola with the ROKR phone, which supports iTunes and has 512 Mb of memory (to hold 100 songs). By pretty much all accounts, however, the ROKR is a weak effort. I never thought Apple would move into the mobile phone market in the first place. There's already so much competition and Apple would have to spend a ton of money to gain any kind of market share.

But then two things I read/heard today got me thinking that maybe I'm wrong. First was the speculation by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster that Apple would release an "iPhone" within the next 12-24 months. And then there was a really intriguing interview on NerdTV of Anina the "Queen of WAP". In it, she talks about the fact that "nobody [i.e., mobile phone companies] understands anything about how this story [i.e., the various high-end needs of moblie users] needs to work."

And it's true. I don't even own a mobile phone and even I can see that while the technology to do amazing things is there, many times it is far too difficult to implement for the average user. As with computers, people want things to "just work." Imagine being able to travel anywhere in the world and access the Internet, post to and update your blog, create a podcast etc. from your mobile phone, and do it easily, i.e., the Apple way. Granted, you can do much if not all of this now, but, if Anina's interview is anything to go by, things can get complicated and expensive. So maybe there is a market for Apple in the mobile phone industry after all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

What will 2006 bring for Apple?

Over at Macworld, they recently asked what readers thought 2006 would bring for Apple. Well, that got me to thinking.

Anyone who follows Apple news is well aware that THE development for 2006 will be the beginnings of the transition to Intel chips. Apple has stated that the first models with the new chip will be out by mid-2006, but many Apple rumour sites are saying that they will be out by January. What the rumour sites can't seem to figure out is which models will be the first to be Intelized. Some, such as the Apple Insider, are saying that the iMac and PowerBook will be first. Others are saying it will be the Mini and the iBook. I think the Mini is a prime candiate. It's the switcher's model par excellence. We'll see how clear my crystal ball is come January (or June).

So much for the known quantities. But Apple is all about innovation. So what new goodies will they come up with next year?

With the recent release of the new iPod with video capabilities and the availability of videos (albeit small format) for download from the iTunes Music Store, I see the logical next step as some sort of wireless hub with video streaming capablities, akin to the AirTunes capabilities of Apple's Airport Express. Coupled with an online video store where users could purchase a movie on-line and download it to their computer, this would allow people to stream a movie from computer to TV. The only real limitations here are file sizes and broadband download speeds, but I think these can be overcome. Of course, the content has to be there too, and this means Apple making distribution deals with all the big Hollywood studios--not a done deal for sure. But this is a market just waiting to be exploited. Would you be willing to wait, say, a half-hour for a 400-Mb file to download instead of driving over the the video store and waiting in line? I sure would.

On the software side of things, I think Apple will add a spreadsheet application to iWork to go with Pages and Keynote. People have been predicting this ever since iWork first came out, so I'm not going out on a very thin limb here, and the smart money has it called Numbers. I would really welcome an Apple-ized spreadsheet program. If ever an application needed simplification, it's the spreadsheet (Photoshop being a close second, and Apple just entered that realm with Aperture). What would be neat, however, is if Apple simply bundled this completed office suite with new Macs rather than selling it separately. Admittedly, iWork is a pretty good deal now at C$99, but it would be a pretty sweet accompaniment to the iLife apps and make a new Intelized Mac even more irresistable.

One of Apple's great strengths, however, is its ability to agreeably surprise. A prime example of this is the iPod Nano, which nobody predicted. This time last year, the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle did not exist. Only Steve Jobs really knows what 2006 will bring. I, for one, can't wait to find out.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I love IM

Many of my poet friends (some of whom visit that other site) know that I'm a big fan of IM. I have accounts for Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN Messenger, and I log onto all three all the time. The reason for all this IM goodness is that I have different friends on different networks and the burning desire to be in touch with them at all times. How do I manage all these different clients, you ask? With the great multi-client chat program called Adium. It allows me to keep all my IM contacts in one small, functional package. It even allows me to combine contacts who are connected to more than one client, so I only have one name in my buddy list for these people. And it supports tabbed chats, so I can chat with several people with only one window open on my desktop. (For you Windows-afflicted folks, I hear the equivalent is a program called Trillian .)

Apple has a wonderful chat client too, called (predictably) iChat. The great thing about iChat is that it makes video conferencing effortless. The only problem: you more or less have to be chatting with another Mac user. Apparently, cross-platform video chats can happen if the other party has the latest version of Windows XP, however. iChat even allows multi-way video conferencing with up to three other people. Great as it is, though, iChat could use some improvements. Over at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, they've started a poll to see what improvements people would like to see in iChat. Mostly, I think it needs to do what it already does, plus what Adium does. A cherry on the sundae would be if it could also integrate with Skype; I doubt that will happen, but a guy can dream...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The worst kind of PC bias

On my other blog, I was talking about a cool free font I ran across today that imitates Jane Austen's handwriting. It's by Pia Frauss, who has created quite a number of fonts. And while I'm grateful to her for providing us with great fonts free of charge (stay tuned for a post on the Open Source revolution), I have to wonder why, oh why, does she have to spread lies and disinformation?!

A quote from her site: "All of these fonts have been created with Highlogic's FontCreator Program. They are available for PC only." Huh? Sorry Pia. The fonts you have created are TrueType fonts, and last time I checked, TTF works just fine on Macs. Indeed, TrueType was developed by Apple. There's a great article by Lawrence Penney that briefly explains the history of True Type, along with links to other articles.

I have no idea why Frauss would think they don't work on Macs, but it's pretty typical of the average PC user to think that Macs aren't compatible with anything, even software Apple developed. Sheesh!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Not Another Apple Blog

I've been thinking about setting this up for a while. Over the last year or two, I've gradually transformed into a specific flavour of computer geek called a Mac nut. I'm not quite sure how I fell into Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, but I think it started when I began doing research into my new computer. I started to frequent Mac fora and visit various Mac-related rumour sites, and before I knew it, I was hooked. But I think the reality of what I had become really sank in when I realized that I had Robert Cringely's weekly column among my RSS feeds and was watching NerdTV on a regular basis. I mean, I don't understand 80 percent of what these guys are saying, but I'm eating it up! How pathetic is that?

Anyway, I find that increasingly, I am thinking about computer related issues. You know, things like: When will Apple will start selling old TV shows on the iTunes Music store? How much longer can the iPod reign as the world's best and best-selling music player? World-shakingly important stuff.

So, this is a start. Let's see where it goes.