Wednesday, March 29, 2006

iPod Update allows Volume Limit

Apple just released a new iPod update (1.1.1) that installs a new feature into 5G iPods and iPod nanos that allows a 'Volume Limit' to be set. Basically what this does is allow users to customise the maximum volume on their iPods. You can get the update using your Mac's Software Updater in the System Preferences, or from Apple's iPod Downloads Page.

I've just installed this update into my nano, and have played around with it for a while. It's very intuitive and easy to use (just like the rest of the iPod). All you have to do is go to Settings->Volume Limit, and there's a little blue arrow that you can move along the volume bar and set your own maximum point. If you're playing music whilst setting this limit, the volume of what you're listening to changes as you're moving the blue arrow, meaning that you can preview the limit that you're setting - I found it very intuitive to use. And if you want, you can set a combination code to lock your maximum volume and prevent it from being easily altered.

Apple of course got into a little bit of trouble when a class-action lawsuit was filed against them, claiming at the iPod causes hearing damage. I wrote this article on why I found that lawsuit to be a little bit frivolous (to put it lightly). But nevertheless, Apple seems to have heeded public concerns, and has been applauded for this release. I see it as a nice gesture of goodwill on Apple's part, good on them.

I don't know if this addition is purely a response to the aforementioned lawsuit and to appease the public though. I actually think this feature could be incredibly useful, and improves the iPod as a player in general. Why? Well, one issue I've had with all MP3 players I've owned (including the iPod) is that I've had to turn it on and check the volume first, before putting the headphones on. I do this because if I'm not aware that the volume is set too high, I don't want to find out the hard way by being deafened when turning the device on whilst wearing headphones. Whilst this might be a prudent practice that owners of music players ought to engage in, not all do. And on top of that, I get annoyed by it. I want to put my headphones on before turning my iPod on, not the other way round. This volume limit lets me do that; finally, I can turn my iPod on whilst wearing headphones and not have to worry that the volume will be set so high that it'll hurt my ears. Great! This might not seem like a huge thing, but I find that when leaving my room, what I want to do is put my headphones on, and pick what I want to listen to as I'm walking out. Before, I had to hold the headphones in one hand, iPod in the other, check the volume, put them on, and then pick my song. It also stops you from accidentally brushing the click wheel and turning the volume way up. This addition should make using the iPod an even more enjoyable experience than it already is, it's a pity that it doesn't work for older models .

So the Volume Limit isn't a huge addition; it's not an earth-shattering new feature, but it's definitely one that I whole-heartedly welcome. And not just because it might stop Apple from being sued for dumb reasons again.

By the way, I forgot to mention this when it first came out: BusinessWeek recently announced the BusinessWeek 50; the top 50 performers of the year. At the very top, that's right, at number 1, sits Apple Computer Inc. Nice.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Happy Birthday, OS X!

Mac OS X celebrates its 5th birthday today. This naturally calls for a little tribute to the greatest operating system I've ever had the pleasure of using.

Let's take a moment to reflect on how the birth of this operating system has changed the face of the Macintosh, signalled a revival of Apple Computer Inc., and revolutionised the way that many of us use our computers. What is (in my humble opinion) by far the best overall commercial operating system available is also surely the biggest reason why the Mac is such a wonderful system. OS X is what makes a Mac a Mac; the hardware might change - our chips might be being built by Intel now - but as long as it runs OS X, it's still a Mac. And the Mac experience is still more enriching than, and unlike any other computing experience out there.

In the last 5 years, Apple has released 5 major commercial versions of OS X; from their purchase of Jobs' NeXT in 1996, and the development of Darwin, Mac OS X Server and the first OS X Public Beta, we've since seen the release of Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, and of course, Tiger. Leopard is due before the end of the year. In contrast, during the same period of time, Microsoft released...Windows XP. Vista's release has been delayed from November to January.



So lift your wine glasses to a toast - to Mac OS X! Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Podcast #4

In today's show:

Follow up to last podcast.
  • Built-in dictionary

  • Windows XP on Mac
  • Check out my recent article on it
  • OnMac, where it all happened.
  • Video of XP booting on a Mac

  • Garageband
  • Some fun I had playing around with it

  • iTunes
    Rating Songs
  • Why?
  • Uses with Smart Playlists
  • Correction: iLounge doesn't use a 5 star rating system, they use a grading system. But the point that very few reviews receive top ratings still stands.
    Movie downloads
  • Discussed in my previous post.
  • My thoughts

  • French iTunes law controversy
  • Why Apple is unhappy with it
  • My thoughts

  • Quicksilver
  • One of my favourite applications of all time
  • Get it here.

  • Listen to today's show here.

    Subscribe to my podcast! Go to iTunes, open the 'Advanced' menu, select 'Subscribe to Podcast', and paste the following URL into the box: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ithinkthereforeipod

    Monday, March 20, 2006

    New Macworld/Playlist case!

    Before I start, I need to apologise for this post in advance; it's going to be one of those childish, 'YAY!' type posts. Why? Well, a couple weeks back I was having an email conversation with Cyrus Farivar of Macworld, and he was kind enough to send me an iSkin case for my 3G iPod. It's one of those sweet glow in the dark ones too, and it has the logo of the MacWorld iPod blog, Playlist, emblazoned on it. So...here are some photos! And again, I apologise in advance; iPod photos are never great quality, and the room's lighting doesn't help.

    The envelope that the case arrived in:

    My iPod in the case; note the nice red Playlist logo:

    Same thing, but with the iPod's backlight on:

    The left hand side of the case, with the Playlist logo:

    The case in the dark:

    Pretty sweet eh =)? Huge thanks again to Cyrus Farivar.

    This iSkin case, the eVo Ghost is actually the one case that I've ALWAYS wanted for my 3G iPod. It stays true to the lovely white colour of the iPod, the screen protector fits perfectly, and the glow-in-the-dark is just a sweet addition. I'll always love these old-school iPods, and it's great to get something like this to remind me of how cool they are. They occasionally get forgotten in a world swarming with nanos and iPods with video.

    What else can I say? Yay!

    Saturday, March 18, 2006

    Windows XP boots on Mac

    It's official, Windows XP boots on Intel Macs. This site is where it all happened. A contest and almost $14,000 later, users Blanka and Narf concocted a legal way of booting XP on the new Intel Macs. It doesn't work perfectly, because not all of the hardware drivers have been sorted out yet, but the contest website's forums are constantly being updated. Nevertheless, it looks like it runs more or less properly; the guys at MacBreak demonstrated it working on a Mac Mini in their latest podcast. This story came out a few days ago, but I didn't want to report on it until I was more or less certain that it was true. Apple and Microsoft have both stated that they have no objections to legally booting Windows on a Macintosh.

    Now, I went on little bit of a rant regarding this topic a while back, which you can read here. But in hindsight, perhaps I was being a bit unfair on the people trying to do this, given my (obvious) Mac-bias. Yes, the cash incentive helped a lot, and I'd probably have raised more eyebrows had this been done without the $14k prize, but I do see legitimate reasons for wanting to dual-boot Windows and OS X on a Mac. The Mac operating system, I still maintain, is far superior, but there are a lot of people who, for some reason or another, have to use a handful of Windows applications from time to time. For these people, a dual-booting Mac actually eliminates the need to purchase a PC at all. And I must admit, if you watch the MacBreak video of the dual-boot screen in action, it looks pretty slick.

    There are of course a huge number of questions raised over the implications of being to boot Windows on a Mac. The most notable one being John C. Dvorak's infamous article arguing that Apple would ditch its OS for Windows. There's been a lot of debate over this, which I don't really want to get into, but in a nutshell my response to Dvorak would be, "uhh...no." Why? Because yes, whilst Apple might primarily be a hardware manufacturer (at least it was when it was founded), it's really the (superior) operating system and the software that makes the Mac experience so special. On top of that, I just don't see Steve Jobs ever allowing Dvorak's theory to happen. Predictions of Apple's demise are always floating around, and needless to say, I'd be heartbroken if any of them came true, but considering the fact that Apple's value has multiplied astonishingly in the last couple of years, I'd like to think that they're doing pretty well.

    But then there's the question of reciprocity. Is somebody going to try and boot OS X on a PC? First of all, whilst Apple and Microsoft have nothing against booting Windows on a Mac (bearing in mind that Microsoft, unlike Apple, doesn't produce both the computers and the operating system they run), it would not be legal to run Apple's operating system on a non-Apple machine. If somebody were to do this, it'd have to stay out of the public's sight, or Apple would sue them into oblivion. On top of that though, pirating OS X and booting it on a PC just seems to cheapen the overall experience. One of the reasons I love Macs is the overall experience that they give you; it's the ultimate symbiosis of hardware and software. When you buy a Mac, you're not just getting a computer; you're getting a machine whose overall user experience is a beauty to behold. Trying to run OS X on a PC would be to shackle the spirit of the Macintosh and to lock its soul in chains. 'Welcome to Macintosh' would become 'Loading...'

    All in all, I still don't like the idea of booting Windows on a Mac. I'd be really happy if Virtual PC got sorted out and could actually work properly (hey, maybe I'd be able to play FIFA on my iBook!), or if Windows applications could just run on OS X, be it natively or under emulation. But for me at least, it just wouldn't feel right to be using Windows on a Mac.

    And who wants to deal with viruses and spyware anyway?

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    iTunes Full-Length Movies?

    Hmm, it appears that the iTunes Music Store is taking its first steps towards offering full length movie downloads. I found the link to this MacRumours.com story on digg. The link in the story takes you to a page on the iTunes Music Store offering a standard $1.99 download of 'High School Musical', which is 1 hour 39 minutes long. You can't find the video listed on the Music Store, nor does it show up in searches, but the link seems to be legitimate.

    Is this a preliminary test by Apple? It would make sense; they did recently purchase a huge data centre, which could probably be used for hosting such a service. Given the success of TV and video downloads, this would be a natural next step. On top of that, 'High School Musical' is a Disney Channel movie. And as Steve Jobs said, he knows those guys!

    Anybody else think that Apple might unveil this at their 30th birthday celebration? Makes me want an iPod with video. An intriguing story nonetheless!

    On an unrelated note, what is Microsoft's beef with Safari? Their live.com beta search engine (remember, Google is still technically beta too) just does not work properly on Safari, just like their Vista and UMPC sites. Either this is deliberate, in which case they're immature w***ers, or it's not deliberate, in which case...well, I guess they need to do more thorough testing.

    Update:
    Well, the movie got pulled from the ITMS, but then put back up, only this time at $9.99...well done to those who bought it at $1.99. Will people really pay ten bucks for an iTunes quality video? Let's see how this continues to develop.

    Mac gaming...or not

    Many people I know who've spent some time using a Mac (or who have sat through one of my Apple demos/rants) have been impressed enough to switch over to the platform, or to at least express the desire to 'Get a Mac'. Those who don't usually fall into two categories: a) those who aren't willing to spend the money, or b) hardcore gamers.

    The first category is pretty self-explanatory, but the second is something that bugs me constantly. Now I'm not a huge gamer, but I'm enough of one to have a PC at home almost solely dedicated to running FIFA and Quake. So what's up with the lack of Mac games?

    First of all, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with the Mac platform that makes it inappropriate for gaming. In fact, most games that do make it over end up running better on Macs, because, well...because Macs are better! The problem is, Windows has such a huge percentage of market share that it just isn't profitable enough to make games for Mac users. As a friend of mine (a big PC user) once said, 'PC users who don't want Macs are either ignorant, broke or gamers' (Needless to say, he doesn't fall into that first category =P). This irks me, because if all the games that were available for PCs were to be made available for Macs, a Mac would be the PERFECT computer.

    The problem is, there'ss a bit of a vicious circle at work here between game designers and gamers. Game designers want their games to sell. Who buys the most games? Why, the people who own the most computers of course; PC users. People who want to game prefer PCs, and most don't even consider getting a Mac. Why? Because all the games are written for Windows! It just isn't worth it for either gamers or game designers to even glance at a Mac.

    When games do become Mac-compatible though, they are almost always ported from PC games. Without any disrespect to the likes of Pangea (developers of Nanosaur, Otto-Matic), Mac-only game developers rarely develop any epic games. All the best games are developed for Windows, and then Mac versions are sometimes released, either subsequently, or more rarely, simultaneously. Now I have nothing against this, but it does mean that there are very few good games developed only for Macs. And until that happens, we're just going to have to hope that the best games keep getting ported.

    One good thing is that this seems to be happening more and more often. With the likes of Doom 3, Call of Duty 2, Sim City, Stubbs the Zombie etc., the repertoire of games that Mac users can boast of having access to is becoming more and more impressive. But there's still the problem of versions. For example, a couple of buddies of mine were getting a game of Baldur's Gate 2 running, and yes, there's a Mac version of it. Unfortunately, nobody actually owned the Mac version, so whilst they played the night away, I sat around and played Chess (or something like that).

    One company that's really bucking this trend is Blizzard, and I really must take my hat off to them. They develop and release their games with cross-compatibility. This means that the CDs of Starcraft, Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft and Diablo 2 can be read by both Windows and Mac OS users. Brilliant! If more companies follow this trend, then the term 'Mac gaming' might one day no longer seem like an oxymoron.

    My final pet peeve on this topic though, is the COMPLETE lack of good sports games available for the Macintosh, especially football games (or soccer, for y'all North Americans). There are plenty of quality games available in almost every other genre, including first-person shooters (Doom 3, UT 2004), RPGs (Diablo 2, Baldur's Gate), and strategy games (Warcraft 3). But there is absolutely nothing like Winning Eleven or FIFA '06, or any other epic sports game for that matter, available to us Mac users, apart from those of the 'management-style' genre. Please...somebody, anybody, make a good football game that I can play on my Mac. Pretty please? I'll be your friend :).

    I dream that one day, this will no longer happen.

    Saturday, March 11, 2006

    Podcast #3

    In today's show:

    My trip to the Apple store:
  • Review: iPod Hi-Fi.
  • Briefly: MacBook Pro, Aperture and Final Cut Studio on the PowerMac G5.

  • Browsers:
    Which is the best OS X browser?
  • Safari
  • Camino
  • Firefox
  • Worth a mention:
    - Opera
    - Internet Explorer
    - Netscape

    Optimization and maintenance:
  • Is maintenance necessary?
  • What I do to optimize and maintain my system.
  • OnyX

    Listen to today's show here.

    Subscribe to my podcast! Go to iTunes, open the 'Advanced' menu, select 'Subscribe to Podcast', and paste the following URL into the box: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ithinkthereforeipod

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    Origami, Interfaces

    Well, for a couple of weeks now Microsoft has been keeping people on their toes with their 'secret' project, dubbed the 'Origami Project', and they set up this teaser website for it. From the very beginning, it was obvious that this was going to be some kind of tablet PC, and indeed, that's what it is. Check it out:


    Produced by Samsung, Asus and others, these things have been dubbed 'Ultra-Mobile PCs' (and, in typical PC fashion, they continue a long trend of terrible sounding names). A few of the UMPC's features are: it runs Windows XP (a great start...), is smaller than a laptop, but by no means tiny (think perhaps...the size of a chunky book), and doesn't have a keyboard or mouse type input devices, touch-screen is used instead, so keyboards are virtual, and show up on the screen.

    Now, I don't actually want to talk about the UMPC itself too much, instead, it's gotten me thinking about interfaces. Whilst keyboards and mice with the GUI are wonderful, fast input methods that we've grown so fond of (largely thanks to Apple, mind you), perhaps there will be a next generation of interfaces on their way that will completely change the way we interact with our computing devices. I doubt there'll be a text input method quicker than a keyboard anytime soon, mainly because we've all grown accustomed to them, but that doesn't mean there can't be better interfaces out there just waiting to be invented. After all, keyboards and mice cause repetitive strain injury, and aren't immediately natural and intuitive; unlike say, the iPod perhaps.

    So is touch interaction the next step? We've all used it before; public terminals and many bank machines are equipped with touch screens. No doubt you're aware of all the rumours of a touch screen iPod. But I'm skeptical about touch-screen and media devices - won't touching a screen leave hundreds of fingerprints? Indeed, Adam from the MacCast mentions that on videos showing the Origami PCs in action, one can clearly see fingerprints on the screen.

    So a touch-screen iPod like device would have to overcome this massive issue (not to mention scratches), which makes me raise my eyebrows over such an idea. But what about PCs? After all, I don't mind it that much when my iBook's screen has some smudges or fingerprints on it. Perhaps the computer is the place to start when it comes to experimenting with new interfaces. Indeed, according to this Apple Insider article, Apple employees have filed for a number of patents relating to touch interfaces. And individual touch-buttons may not be the way to do it. At the O'Reilly Emerging Technology 2006 conference, Jeff Han of NYU demonstrated a new, multi-touch interface that apparently stunned audiences. There's even this AMAZING video of it in action. This really blew me away (and apparently it struck a chord with Cyrus Farivar of MacWorld too). It's intuitive, fast, and just downright incredible to watch. I really, really recommend that you take a look at this video.

    Where does the future of human-computer interaction lie? I don't know, but perhaps we're taking the first steps towards a completely new computing interface. Exciting stuff.

    Oh yes, on a different note; you may have noticed that there's no podcast accompanying this post. That's because I've decided to separate posts and podcasts, giving each podcast its own post. I think this is the best way to it, and it has two huge advantages; first of all, it helps ensure that the content in posts and podcasts won't overlap - I don't want to compromise the quality of either my posts or my podcasts (after all, who wants to read a post and listen to a podcast that says the same thing?); and secondly, it stops the entire post from getting copied over to the podcast's description in iTunes, which is a little bit annoying. Hopefully this will all become clear when my next podcast gets posted.

    Anyway, to finish off, I'll be going to the Apple Store (hooray!) tomorrow to give the new iPod Hi-Fi a spin. Hopefully they'll have one or two in stock. I want to see how good this baby sounds in person.

    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    Podcast 101, More security issues

    So I finally got my podcast up and running; it's not listed on iTunes yet, but hopefully will be soon. To subscribe, go to iTunes, and in the Advanced menu, select 'Subscribe to Podcast', and paste my feed URL into the box, which is: feed://feeds.feedburner.com/ithinkthereforeipod

    How did I do it?
    - Firstly, I created an RSS feed for this site, which I did via Feedburner; a fantastic service that creates feeds for sites, and has specific instructions for blogger! If you haven't used them before, RSS feeds are really sweet. They are feeds that automatically update whenever a site is updated. They're a great way to keep up with news, Safari fully supports them, and a lot of sites now have such RSS feeds.
    - I then had to record the podcast via Garageband, not the hardest thing to do. Export to iTunes, convert to MP3 and voila! We've got our podcast! Apple's advice on podcasting provides some great tips.
    - The next step was to upload the audio onto a server; I used an application called CCPublisher, which lets you upload stuff onto an online archive, complete with Creative Commons licensing and copyrights You can find that application here, or if you have your own FTP server, you can use that too.
    - In your Feedburner settings, make sure that in the 'Optimize' tab, your 'SmartCast' settings are fully enabled to create podcast enclosures, and ensure that your blogger settings fully enable a site feed as well. Once that's done, just make a link to the audio file that's been uploaded in the blog, and voila!

    I'm going to add some artwork to be the cover of my podcast, but if anybody wants to make any submissions to help me out, please do so. You can email me at ithinkthereforeipodcast@gmail.com

    Anyhoo, let's talk about security. Some guy on ZDNet Australia claimed to have hacked Mac OSX in under 30 minutes. But turns out our friend there failed to mention that he has SSH (Secure Shell) access to the computer, which I discuss briefly in the podcast. But basically, consumer level systems like ours don't have to worry about this. So in response, the University of Wisconsin posted this challenge to demonstrate the security of Mac OS X when SSH isn't enabled. The task is to breach a Mac Mini.

    Honestly, we've had 3 security issues now in the last couple of weeks, and PC users have started wagging their fingers at us and saying 'I told you so'. But Leap-A was a bit of a joke, you had to be a real moron to get infected by that: you don't give admin passwords out frivolously! And certainly not to .jpg files! The Safari vulnerability was patched by Apple and easy to prevent anyway, and I've already shown you how this last security issue conveniently omitted the SSH point.

    Sure we should be vigilant, but there's still very little to worry about when it comes to OS X and security! If every PC virus or security issue got blown up like these Mac issues, can you imagine how much crap would be on the news sites? I mean, 3 low-risk issues compared to...the millions of security problems Windows users face. Sometimes it just feels like they need something to whine about when it comes to Macs. Face it, Macs are just, to put it simply, better.

    One last thing I'd like to mention, on an unrelated note, is that the band Nine Inch Nails released their song 'The Hand That Feeds' as a Garageband file. I LOVE this idea, and really wish more bands would do it - but if you have some spare time, visit their website, go to 'Downloads' and click on the file. It's really great fun to edit it and see what you can do with it, but it also provides some wonderful insight into how the professional recording industry prepares its tracks.

    Listen to today's show here!

    Sunday, March 05, 2006

    Macs and photography, Podcast test

    It seems to me that a lot of Mac users (myself included) seem to be particularly drawn towards photography, and I've been wondering as to why this might be the case.

    Now, the answer seemed obvious at first; Apple produces superior software (and hardware, for that matter) for handling digital photos. And I think that to an extent, this might be the primary reason behind the affinity that exists between Apple and photographers. After all, every Mac comes with iPhoto, and there really isn't an easier consumer level product for importing, organising, tweaking and sharing photos. The ability to easily organise and manipulate one's photos would naturally encourage one to take more! As Apple says in its 'Switch' campaign, "Taking pictures is the fun part. Getting them onto your PC? Not so much. But with a Mac, organizing your photos makes for almost as much fun as snapping them." There's a genuine point to be made here; with Macs, users can let the photography do the talking, and not waste time being frustrated by their computer (sounds a bit like using a Mac in general compared to PCs, doesn't it?). On top of that, Macs seem to be the preferred platforms for working with any kind of media; images, video, audio, you name it. With software like Aperture for professional photographers, and Final Cut Studio for other forms of media, Apple gets singled out as a superior provider of media-oriented software. But on top of that, third party developers seem to favour the Mac platform too; is it really surprising that Adobe's Lightroom Beta was initially released for PowerPC Macs only?

    So, in a nutshell, software and the Mac system probably have a lot to do with photography's place amongst the higher echelons of Apple-related activities.

    iPhoto: in a few clicks one can turn this...

    into this:

    But on top of that, there seem to be other factors that come into play. There seems to be a culture of photography amongst Apple fans, and a culture of Mac use amongst photographers. Professionals and amateurs alike can get more out of their digital imaging by using Macs, and it's almost become an industry standard platform. Furtheremore, major magazines and websites on Macs also cover photography: Macworld, the most obvious example, frequently has in-depth reviews and articles on digital photography; Apple stores often host events related to photography, for example, in Toronto, there was an exhibition held by 'Toronto Area Photobloggers' at the Apple store. Perhaps this increased exposure to photography (excuse the pun) is what draws Mac users to it too.

    Whatever it is, Macs and photography seem to be a match made in heaven, and it doesn't look like anything's going to ever tear them apart.

    Podcast!
    On a separate note, I've ventured into the world of podcasting! Here's my first attempt at a podcast, it's just a test so there isn't much substantial content in it. I'm hoping to get this on iTunes sometime soon, but that involves a) getting an account, b) figuring out how all of this stuff works!

    If you want, you can listen to it here.

    EDIT: Apparently you can subscribe to my podcast on iTunes, I'm just not listed because I don't have an account yet. To subscribe, open iTunes, go to the 'Advanced' menu, click on 'Subscribe to Podcast' and paste this URL into the box: http://feeds.feedburner.com/ithinkthereforeipod

    On a slightly relevant note, here's something that amused me greatly: the Pope has an iPod nano! Apparently cardinals in the Vatican gave him one as a gift, complete with engraving and Vatican content. Isn't that sweet :).