Tomorrow is Apple’s 30th birthday and what a long, strange trip it’s been. I just had to throw that in to add fire to the Apple vs. Apple battle raging in the courts. I might face some hate mail when I say this, but I just don’t know why Apple Records feels the need to continue the battle. Are they just after the money? IMHO, Apple Records should go “quietly into the good night” and hand the torch to Apple Computer. Will Gwyneth Paltrow be next on the list for litigation?
OK, I digress. Apple’s birthday is getting a lot of press. The San Francisco Chronicle has podcast interviews with some of the better known Apple-rati. There’s also the iPod from space which you can find using Google Earth. Wired is running a piece profiling Apple’s heroes and villains throughout the company’s 30 year history and CNN Money takes a nice look at Apple’s turn around from the days when we all sat around talking about what to sell next.
These are my favorite moments in Apple’s history. Mac Plus SE/30 Mac IIci LaserWriter II The original Bondi blue iMac iMovie The Cube iPod but but more so the iPod mini
And of these memories, the most clear to me is the Bondi blue iMac. The first one to arrive at Small Dog, we put on a table in the middle of the office as if it were in a shrine. We stared at it for quite some time (we weren’t as busy back then) as if we knew that this was the moment our company and Apple were going to change.
And things did change.
Hard Drives By Holly Buttura (Holly @ smalldog.com)
The hard drive in your computer is the data center of the computer. It’s where all of your programs and data are stored between the occasions that you use the computer. It’s the most important of the various types of storage used in computers (storage media such as CD- ROMs, tapes, removable drives, etc.) The hard drive differs from the others primarily in two ways: size (usually larger), and speed (usually faster). Your hard drive plays a significant role in the following important aspects of your computer system:
Performance: The hard disk plays a very important role in overall system performance, probably more than most people recognize (though that’s now changing as hard drives get more attention). The speed at which the computer boots up and programs load is directly related to hard drive speed. The hard drive’s performance is also critical when multitasking is being used or when processing large amounts of data such as graphics work, editing sound and video, or working with databases.
Storage Capacity: This is kind of obvious, but a bigger hard disk lets you store more programs and data.
Software Support: Newer software needs more space and faster hard drives to load it efficiently. It’s easy to remember when 1 GB was a lot of disk space; heck, some might even say it’s easy to remember when 100 MB was a lot of disk space!
Reliability: One way to assess the importance of an item of hardware is to consider how much grief is caused if it fails. By this standard, the hard drive is the most important component by a long shot. Hardware can be replaced, but data cannot. A good quality hard drive, combined with smart maintenance and backup habits, can help ensure that the nightmare of data loss doesn’t become part of your life.
Hard drives are amazing in terms of the technology they use and how much progress they have made in terms of capacity, speed, and price in the last 20 years. The first hard drives had a capacity of 10 megabytes and a cost of over $100 per MB. Modern hard drives have capacities well over 100 gigabytes and a cost of less than 1 cent per MB! The speed of the hard drive and its interfaces have increased dramatically as well.
When considering real world daily use of hard drives, and contemplating a hard drive purchase, computer users typically ask these three questions: Is this hard drive fast? Is this hard drive well manufactured? Is this hard drive going to last? Hard drive performance is important because hard drives are one of the slowest internal computer components, and therefore often limits the performance of the system as a whole. Quality and reliability are critical with hard drives, because they are where your data resides! No other computer component can lead so readily to disaster if it fails.
It’s useful to see benchmark scores on hardware before you plan a purchase. But you should keep them in perspective. The biggest mistake people make is to over-value the numbers they read about various hardware benchmarks. Use them as a rough guideline. A month or two down the road you probably won’t even remember what “your benchmark scores” were, and they certainly won’t matter much to you. Lots of people try to get the very fastest hard disk but don’t consider other equally important issues: quality, reliability, warranty, and data backup. People agonize over which hard disk is a teeny bit faster than another — and then never defragment their file system, or fill the hard disk up with junk so it runs less efficiently. Be sure to keep the big picture in view. Bear in mind that whatever is on the top of the hill in the hard drive world doesn’t stay there for long. Sure, it’s a good feeling to think you are getting the fastest drive around. But every few months, a new model comes out that’s faster than anything that preceded it. If you really want to always have the best hard drive, you have to keep buying more hardware, which is an expensive proposition that few opt for.
Many people take their hard drives for granted, and don’t think about their reliability much (other than worrying about their drive crashing some day). While the technology that hard drives use is very advanced, and reliability today is much better than it has ever been before, the nature of hard drives is that every one will, some day, fail. It is important to understand how drives fail and why, and how to interpret what manufacturers claims about reliability really mean.
The most common specification related to drive reliability is mean time between failures or MTBF. This value, usually measured in hours, is meant to represent the average amount of time that will pass between random failures on a drive of a given type. It is usually in the range of 300,000 to 1,200,000 hours for modern drives today (with the range increasing every few years) and is specified for almost every drive.
This number is very often misinterpreted and misused. To be interpreted properly, the MTBF figure is intended to be used in conjunction with the useful service life of the drive, the typical amount of time before the drive enters the period where failures due to component wear-out increase. MTBF only applies to the aggregate analysis of large numbers of drives; it says nothing about a particular unit. If the MTBF of a model is 500,000 hours and the service life is five years, this means that a drive of that type is supposed to last for five years, and that of a large group of drives operating within this timeframe, on average they will accumulate 500,000 of total run time (amongst all the drives) before the first failure of any drive.
The service life of a modern hard disk is usually about three to five years. Interestingly, the claimed service life is often longer than the warranty period for the drive. For example, the service life might be five years but the warranty period only three years. Think about what this means. Basically, it says that the manufacturer thinks the drive should last five years, but they aren’t going to bet on it lasting more than three!
In actual operation, however, the reliability of a hard drive depends as much on how the storage subsystem is implemented as it does on the characteristics of the drive itself. No implementation factors can make the drive more reliable than it is specified to be, but mistakes in the way the drive is used can sometimes make it less reliable.
The simple fact of the matter is that most major hard drive manufacturers make very high quality products, and most hard drives provide their owners with years of very reliable service. However, all manufacturers make the occasional bad drive, and sometimes, manufacturers will have a problem with a particular product. If you happen to buy one of these, you will experience a failure, and in all likelihood you will hate that company and avoid their products from then on, perhaps with good reason. The problem is that many people will generalize this very small sample size into “Brand X sucks”, when this very well may not be the case. They just may have been unlucky with what might in actuality be one of the best drives on the market. There are occasions where manufacturers will go into “slumps” and have time where their products fall in quality compare to those of other companies. And of course, if there is a known issue with a specific model, you should avoid it. The key when doing your research is to look for trends.
Here are some selected drives on sale:
LaCie 250gb Extreme Triple Interface Firewire 800/400/USB – $209
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16548/mymac +—————-+
EZQuest Pro Audio Hard Drive 160 GB - $189
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16541/mymac
LaCie Big Disk Extreme 800GB Firewire 800/400/USB – $666 To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16537/mymac
Glyph Technologies GT050 400gb FireWire Drive – $439
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16549/mymac
How We Produce our Podcast Ed @ smalldog.com
In the past week, several people have enquired how we produce our bimonthly “Dogfood For Thought” Podcast. So, here it is: I’ll cover how we produce our Podcast, and then list some alternative podcast production techniques.
Our Podcasts feature two hosts, usually Don Mayer and Dawn D’Angelillo, along with one or two special guests. We needed two mics connected to one computer. We decided to use M-Audio’s Classroom Studio Bundle, after much trial and error, and some poorly-recorded segments (which you can hear for yourself by downloading our early shows). See the Studio Bundle here:
M-Audio Classroom Studio Bundle – $299.00 http://www.smalldog.com/product/33014/mymac
The Studio Bundle was recommended to us by Tony Amenta, who’s been recording audio since 1993. The M-Audio Studio Bundle features a MobilePre USB audio interface, which we plug into a 12″ G4 Powerbook, and two Nova condenser microphones. The Nova mics are excellent for our use – we’ve been very pleased with them. At first we placed the mics horizontally on two milk crates, on a desk, at about mouth- level. However, the Nova condenser mics are designed to be mounted vertically, with sound passing across and through the mic diaphragm. After we purchased two $5.00 mic stands and mounted the mics vertically, the quality of the recorded audio was dramatically improved.
We record the Podcast in Garageband. I create two new “Real Instrument” tracks, with no effects, and name each track ”Don” or “Dawn,” depending on the mic they are sitting in front of. It’s useful to name the tracks, as they’ll be exported for editing in Soundtrack Pro. Note that the input on each track has to be set to “Channel 1 (mono),” or “Channel 2 (mono)” for each mic to get it’s own discreet track.
While we’re recording the Podcast, I listen in on headphones and adjust the input levels up or down as needed. I try to keep them at about 1/2 – 3/4. It’s necessary to keep an eye on the input levels, so they don’t go too high or low. Don Mayer has a tendency to move around in front of the mic, and can also become rather loud when he’s talking about new Apple products, motorcycle gear, or his dogs.
When the Podcast is completely recorded, I export the tracks to Soundtrack Pro to be edited. I could edit in Garageband, but it’s much faster and easier to edit with Soundtrack – it’s like editing in Final Cut Pro versus editing in iMovie. For single-person Podcasts, Garageband is perfect – but our two-person format is a bit cumbersome to edit in that program.
When the editing is finished, music dropped in, and the audio is sweetened, I export the file as an AIFF file. It’s compressed as a “Spoken Podcast” AAC file in Garageband, and then posted on our website inside an RSS feed. In theory, iTunes picks this up, and so do all other subscribed listeners. We’ve still had a few issues with this – but we’re working on it!
It’s possible to produce a podcast with little more than your computer’s built-in microphone (most Macs have these), free audio recording software such as Audacity, and an Internet connection to post the program on a free podcast host such as www.ourmedia.org. This will work well for individuals who produce solo Podcasts. The production quality may suffer from using the computer’s built in mic; it’s best to use a dedicated mic with a decent audio input device. See the models we sell here:
M-Audio Podcast Factory – $149.00 http://www.smalldog.com/product/38960/mymac
M-Audio Classroom Studio Bundle – $299.00 http://www.smalldog.com/product/33014/mymac
If you already have a mic, you can use this:
M-Audio Fast Track USB Interface – $99.00 http://www.smalldog.com/product/33016/mymac
M-Audio Fast Track Pro – $199.00 http://www.smalldog.com/product/39010/mymac
You can download and subscribe to our Podcast from the Small Dog’s blog, at blog.smalldog.com. The links for this on are posted on the left side of the blog:
More on creating favicons
In a few issues ago, I wrote an article about creating favicons (those little icons that show up in a web URL) and one faithful reader, Eric Brown wrote to let me know all the things that I didn’t have time to mention but should have. True, when I’m writing, I’m often on a deadline so I tend to condense things down especially as we get closer to 5pm on Friday. I wrote back to Eric asking if he would be nice enough to organize his thoughts and write a guest article on the topic of favicons.
I told Eric that I would write an introduction for his article and asked if he could send me some information about himself. He sent along some great blurbs that I found very intriguing. It made me wonder if I had to come up with interesting little blurbs about who I am, what would I write. Eric has multiple degrees in math, physics, and AI, AND get this software that he has worked on has been to the top of Everest and used on the Space Shuttle. How cool is that. So we can all probably agree, he knows his stuff. Here’s Eric’s additional information on creating favicons!
Two issues ago there was an introduction to favicons. If you found it informative, read on, as there’s lots more to favicons (and more generically page icons) than was covered in that first article. In particular there are three things that should be additionally mentioned: favicons have another important capability, they have one key limitation, and they have a more standard alternative.
To really understand favicons at a deeper level it’s necessary to consider very briefly their origins. It’s clear that Microsoft hadn’t really thought through either the favicon implementation or its consequences when they first introduced favicon support in Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) 5.0. There were a few obvious issues:
1. The .ICO format was very much an MS-Windows specific format. Even today it’s not too well supported on non-MS-Windows systems, and it didn’t yet have an official registered MIME type (further slowing its adoption elsewhere). Even MSIE itself didn’t support .ICO files in its Solaris, HP-UX, and Mac OS incarnations.
2. The versions of MSIE that did support favicons did something contrary to the nature of the Web itself by automatically assuming that a particular file would exist in a particular location on every server in the world. They automatically tried to download “/ favicon.ico” whenever a user tried to set a bookmark. This sort of behavior is strictly taboo and it got lots of webmasters really upset with Microsoft.
3. Because the favicon resource would be downloaded only when users tried to set bookmarks, privacy advocates also got a little upset with Microsoft as it became theoretically possible for webmasters to track individual users who bookmarked their sites.
4. The recommended favicon <link> tag of:
<link rel=”shortcut icon” type=”image/x-icon” href=”/favicon.ico” />
is logically invalid HTML because the “rel” attribute officially contains space-delimited items, so “shortcut icon” should be treated as two separate relations rather than one. It’s also already been mentioned that the MIME type listed in the “type” attribute was unregistered. Of course, this line could be omitted as MSIE would try to download /favicon.ico regardless; it was only necessary if an alternative location for the icon were specified.
5. When Microsoft finally registered an official MIME type for the .ICO format (“image/vnd.microsoft.com”) they didn’t go out of their way to support it and encourage webmasters to stop using the unofficial “image/x-icon” type. In fact, even today, if you’re going to be using favicons, you’re advised to use the improper form for compatibility reasons.
By now you may be thinking “what does all this have to do with additional capabilities, limitations, and alternatives?” The answer is that (as you might guess from #1 above) there are some tricks and issues that arise from the .ICO format’s MS-Windows origins, and (as you might guess from all the points above) there was some motivation to try and clean up a messy situation by introducing alternatives.
First I’ll touch on the additional capability of traditional favicons. Basically it’s the fact that the .ICO format isn’t really an icon as it may appear at first blush; it’s more of a bundle of icons. A single .ICO file can contain one or more icons of different sizes, and MS-Windows can make use of more than just the common 16×16 size. In fact, MS-Windows will happily gobble down 16×16, 32×32, and 48×48 icons and use each appropriately (16×16 for various places including the URL box and the others for various places including the desktop). In fact, if a favicon lacks larger versions, MS-Windows will take the 16×16 version and attempt to scale it up with sometimes hilarious (at least on other people’s favicons — with your own favicons it tends to be more depressing) results. I’ve also heard, but never personally verified, that certain versions of MS-Windows in certain circumstances will use both 24×24 and 64×64 favicons if available. The obvious drawback with providing more sizes is that it leads to a larger .ICO file and thus slower download times. Certainly though if you’re planning to create a favicon for your site, it’s worth making at least the 16×16, 32×32, and 48×48 versions, and Microsoft themselves recommend including at least this many.
Other browsers and other platforms have had to add some favicon support. Nowadays the 16×16 icon is supported by pretty much every graphical browser on every platform, but the support for other sizes remains weak. Of particular interest though is that Mac OS X natively supports 128×128 icons, and Vista natively supports 256×256 icons. Really forward-thinking webmasters will realize that these sizes probably also ought to be embedded into favicons sooner rather than later as they’re pretty much guaranteed to find a use, but again consider file sizes.
Next it’s important to mention the big limitation with traditional favicons: color. To make a favicon that’s guaranteed to display the same everywhere, it’s necessary to stick to the limited 4-bit, 16- color “Windows Default Palette”. This palette basically consists of white, red, yellow, blue, green, magenta, cyan, dark gray, and darker versions of the same (with “dark white” being light gray, and “dark dark gray” being black). This palette does not usually lend itself to the creation of beautiful favicons. There are two work-arounds. The first is to accept that some viewers will see your favicon as a psychedelic mess and use a larger palette; if you stick to the regular 216-color “Web Safe Palette” the vast majority of users will have no trouble. The second is to include multiple icons of different palettes within the favicon. This latter approach quickly leads to large file sizes (a favicon with both 8-bit and 24-bit color versions will not be just twice the size of the favicon with only an 8-bit version, it’ll be roughly four times the size), and it’s still not guaranteed that every system will be smart enough to pick the best color depth it can properly display.
Actually making a multi-icon favicon is a topic for another article. I’ll provide a quick tip though for advanced readers who aren’t afraid to use the Terminal.app: check out the free NetPBM utilities. The included program “ppmtowinicon” can create multi-icon favicons.
Now it’s finally time to get to the standard alternative. Basically all one does is to use:
<link rel=”icon” type=”image/png” href=”/icon.png” />
in lieu of the common “shortcut icon” version mentioned above. Note that this changes three things:
1. The “shortcut icon” changes to “icon” fixing the HTML logic issues with the original.
2. The type changes to “image/png”, a standard, platform-neutral image format with a proper MIME type. You’re also free to use GIFs rather than PNGs. Either way, they are more size-efficient than .ICO files. While it’s still prudent to stick to the Web Safe Palette in most cases (and the need for even this is reducing each day), one never has to worry about a 16-color Windows Default Palette. PNGs and GIFs are also far easier to work with, and advanced features like transparency and animation are already somewhat supported.
3. The “href” attribute should be set to point to an image of the appropriate type. There’s no longer a default. In fact, there’s not even a requirement that the icon be hosted on the same domain.
You can freely use both a favicon and a standard icon without worrying about making your site slower. Browsers are generally smart enough to automatically pick between the two as needed without having to download both. Usually you’d want the two versions to look fairly similar to one another, but that’s not a requirement.
The last topic I’ll mention (because its name and purpose are similar enough to cause confusion) is the somewhat related notion of domain picons. A picon is a personal icon, and a domain picon is a special icon you create that represents your entire domain. The details of how to make and use picons are clearly outside of the scope of this article, but the most important facts are that:
1. Picons don’t generally get used within your site — they get used in other places that refer to your domain in some way. For example, many forums, e-mail & news clients, mailing lists, and similar entities display domain picons with each message appropriate to the originating domain.
2. There’s a global master repository of picons maintained at the Indiana University called the “Picons Archive”. Forums and other similar sites that make use of picons typically synchronize their local picon databases with this master copy periodically. Everyone is allowed to submit new picons for their own sites to this repository.
3. Picons are 48×48 images provided in both monochrome (in XBM format) and indexed color versions (in at least XPM format but also usually GIF).
4. As a consequence of #1, you can (and probably should) make a picon in addition to your other icon(s) in order to preserve your own site branding, and it normally makes sense to make your picon look like your other icon(s).
5. As another consequence of #1, providing a picon doesn’t make your site any slower to download.
That’s enough to get you started. If there’s enough interest I’ll perhaps write a little in the future on creating multi-icon favicons and/or creating picons.
New Products: TomTom Accessories (TomToms are portable car navigation systems)
TomTom AC Wall Mount Power Adapter – $19.95 http://www.smalldog.com/product/39743/mymac
TomTom Cigarette Lighter Power Adapter – $19.95 For in-vehicle charging, insert the 5V plug of the cigarette lighter adapter into the 5V jack on the rear side of the receiver.
TomTom Go 300 Covers (pack of 3) – $19.95 Make it personal. Now you can personalize your TomTom GO. It comes in a classic brushed metal silver finish, but you can customize yours to match the car interior or your mood with 3 different colors included in the package.
TomTom Go 300/700 Additional Mount Kit – $49.95 The TomTom GO 300/700 Additional Mount Kit makes it easier to use your TomTom GO in more then one car. Extra holder for TomTom GO. For easy installation of your TomTom GO in a second vehicle.
TomTom Go 300/700 Alternative Gooseneck Mounting Kit – $34.95 If you want to mount your GO in a different way – no problem! With the Alternative Mount Kit you can position your GO wherever it feels most comfortable.
TomTom Go 300/700 External Antenna Kit – $79.95 Some athermic heat-reflecting windscreens and built-in windscreen heaters block GPS signal reception inside the car. Boost your signal with this specially designed antenna. The waterproof antenna can be placed inside your car. It also attaches magnetically to the outside of the car. Connect your TomTom GO to the External Antenna docking shoe and you’re ready to GO!
TomTom Go 700 External Microphone – $29.95 If you make a lot of calls in your car, why not use this microphone to optimize the quality of your voice when you use your TomTom GO 700 for hands-free calling?
TomTom Go 700 Remote Control – $49.94 Maximize your convenience and comfort with the ergonomically designed, easy-to-use TomTom GO remote control. It uses radio waves so you don’t need to point it at your GO, and you can use it from anywhere in the car.
TomTom Rider Additional BlueTooth Headset – $79.95 Make sure TomTom RIDER’s spoken instructions always come through loud and clear in your helmet, with this spare Bluetooth headset.
TomTom Go300/700 Permanent Docking Kit – $169.95 Get perfect sound via your car’s speakers! Do you want to install TomTom GO using your car power and car speakers? Now you can with the permanent docking kit for TomTom GO.
Here are the specials for this week, valid through April 6th, or while on hand supplies last. Be sure to use the wag URL to get this special pricing.
iPod mini 4gb Silver (2005) with Mobile Juice ScreenShield and free shipping!
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag50053/mymac
Apple Refurbished PowerBook 15in G4/1.67GHz 512/80/Super/AP/BT with extra 512MB RAM, a copy of DiskWarrior and iWork 06 – $1749
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16545/mymac
Apple Refurbished iMac 17in G5/1.9GHz 512/160/Superdrive/AP/BT with AppleCare protection and additional 512MB RAM – $1249
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16546/mymac
Apple iPod 20gb Click wheel with FREE Small Dog Hippod iPod Speaker/ Case Combo – $229
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag50054/mymac
LaCie 4gb Carte Orange USB Key drive – $92
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16547/mymac
Purchase any Burton Jacket and receive a $100 iTunes Gift Certificate. You heard me right – $100!
Enter coupon code Burton100
Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 for Mac – $79
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16543/mymac
Don should be back to Small Dog next week so I’m sure he’ll have tales, pictures and videos to share of the turtles and rays that he saw while diving. Don’s coming back just in time for some beautiful spring weather. The sun is pouring in the window so the south end of the building is a bit warm. We South-enders as we call ourselves all look a little wilted right now as the solar gain increases. We’ve thrown the windows open and earlier today a bird flew in! After taking a quick tour of the office, it flew back out. We all gasped and ducked as it didn’t quite register what it was. It felt as large as a small, erratic plane! Our excitement for the day.
Don’t forget if you are in the US and are in an area that uses Daylight Saving Time, it’s time spring ahead one hour. The DST Wiki has some great reading about the origins and difficulties in the DST plan. “At one point a bus driver making the 35 mile trip from Moundsville, West Virginia, and Steubenville, Ohio had to reset their watches seven times over 35 miles.”
Hawaii and Arizona do not observe DST and Indiana has always been a mixed state that is until Sunday. At that point several counties will actually change time zones and realign to be on DST. It’s so confusing, that they created a web site, “What time is it in Indiana”.
Whether you jump ahead or not, enjoy the weekend!
Dawn, Ed and Holly