Everyone around here is telling me I am in “one foot out the door” mode for pre-vacation. It seems like I am working harder than ever but I guess they see that faraway look in my eyes at the prospect of lounging around in bare feet and swimming trunks while they shovel snow and bundle up. I recorded our next Dog Food for Thought Pawcast this week with an interview with Rick Estes from QuickerTek and a debate with Ed about whether the new Mac mini is truly a “media center.” We are continuing that debate on Barkings <www.blog.smalldog.com> and in this issue of Kibbles & Bytes in our Point/Counterpoint with Morgan and I going head to head!
The contractors chose about the coldest day in the year to start replacing the roof on the store. It has been one year since we contracted them to do the job. At least we won’t have leaks in the store this spring when the snow melts. There is still not much in the way of snow here in Vermont, but we are heading into spring and I hope that while I am gone it snows so much that even Artie cries uncle.
There were some announcements from Apple this week including the new Mac minis featuring Intel processors, the iPod Hi-Fi, and some leather iPod cases. We will talk about each of these in Kibbles & Bytes but I think that the most important announcements were not just these new products but the fact that in two months Apple has transitioned 50% of their product line to Intel processors, months ahead of schedule. The other big news is that Front Row now features support for Bonjour. What this means is if you are running Front Row on your Mac (now supported in MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac mini), you will be able to access music, photos, or movies from any Mac connected to your network. If you are using Front Row on that new Mac mini that is connected to your stereo system, you can play music from any Mac on the network or show photos if that mini is connected to your TV.
POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Is the Mac mini a true multimedia center?
Point: Apple introduces the first Mac media center Morgan Aldridge supporting this view
Counterpoint: It’s just a Mac mini with an Intel chip Don Mayer defending this view
Morgan, you ignorant goat!
There are several reasons that the new Mac mini falls short of being a true media center. The new Mac mini is just the old Mac mini with a new processor. It is faster but even though the new Front Row software is a great upgrade for the hub of Apple’s media strategy, it fails to make the grade as a true media center.
The most telling reason for this shortfall is the lack of a TV tuner and DVR capabilities. Television is one of the most important media features and the Mac mini simply does not have support for viewing, recording, or playing TV. In most homes, the television dominates the media center and while you can hook up your Mac mini to the TV to watch photo slide shows and your own movies, the quality of the “made for iPod” movies that you download from the Apple iTunes Music Store is similar to that of a VCR tape recorded in extended play mode. Apple’s Phil Schiller even said that Apple wasn’t planning DVR for the Mac mini, calling it too complicated. Of course, Phil’s denials are a bit like a general manager saying that he’s not going to trade a dissatisfied star player – right before he’s traded.
The other big use in many households for a media center is gaming. While Apple has paid some attention to gaming on the Mac, the sad truth is that there are few games for the Mac and as a gaming machine the Mac mini falls far short. It needs improved graphics to be really considered a gaming machine and hence a media center. Apple needs to include gaming in their strategy for a home media center. With graphics improvement and compatibility with one of the major game vendors, the Mac mini could be a great gaming machine.
Apple chose to leave off the iPod charging dock on the Mac mini. This feature would allow you to dock your iPod directly to the Mac mini, update your playlists, and charge your iPod, too.
Can you use your TV as a display for your Mac? Yes, you can, but switching between that and watching a movie or watching TV from your cable or satellite connection is cumbersome at best and completely non-Apple-like. Your TV is not integrated into the system, it is an afterthought. You will require additional cabling to even use the DVI port to connect to most TVs. A true media center would have a variety of ways to connect to the TV and you would be able to seamlessly switch from surfing to watching your photos to watching TV to watching recorded programming.
Apple also needs to make sharing music, photos, and video between household computers easier. Many Mac households have more than one Mac. Grace has two Macs at home and I have one. We have separate music and photo libraries and it is a pain to make sure that we have each others music and photos so we do not buy the same music at the Apple iTunes Music store (and we HAVE done that!). The ability to sync libraries between household Macs would not compromise digital copyrights, as the songs and videos are protected. It would just make life easier and make the Mac mini a true media center.
Lastly, a 60GB or 80GB hard drive is way too weeny for a media center! My TIVO has a 400GB drive and while I know I can buy a third- party add-on for this and for DVR capabilities, the Mac mini does not qualify as a media center without those items!
What’s my being a Capricorn got to do with this? Oh, _ignorant_.
Maybe my ignorance has been caused by lack of television for the last few years, but I do get to re-experience television as the staple of the modern family every time I visit relatives.
I don’t think that television (in terms of service) is the only feature that defines a “media center” PC. When Front Row was introduced on the G5 iMacs, it was the the culmination of Steve’s “digital hub” hoopla. It was what was needed to bring it all together.
When the Mac mini was first introduced people started drooling over it due to its potential to be connected to their home theater system. Unfortunately, the software wasn’t there. When Front Row came out, people immediately started hacking it to work on their Mac minis, but the Mac mini just needed a little more oomph and the remote and you’d be all set.
Sure, it doesn’t have all the A/V ports of your Tivo nor the gaming capabilities of the Xbox 360, but it’s also less than half the size of either of these devices and still a more versatile device.
Want 400GB of storage? Yes, you’ll need to add an external FireWire or USB drive, but it’ll match your Mac mini and the whole setup will still be smaller and sleeker than the Tivo.
Do you really need television and gaming? Get an El Gato EyeTV EZ. It’ll give you DVR capabilities in a tiny box with El Gato’s excellent EyeTV software, and you can plug in any console (whether it’s an Xbox 360, a classic NES, or a retro Atari).
Now, we’re definitely going to have to agree to disagree about the iPod dock built into the Mac mini. It’d probably detract from the design, be awkward, and remain unused except for a small portion of Mac mini owners, and… well… lame. Yeah, that’s right. Lame!
Is it more expensive to add a $20 video adapter to plug it into your TV? Or DVR capability? Yes. Have you ever tried to browse the web, edit a movie, record a song, or edit your photos on your media center PC? That’s because you can’t. I don’t know of any media centers that let you synchronize your libraries between computers either, but Front Row can at least find your family’s media with no effort and let you play it.
Pair a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with the Mac mini and you’ve got a media center and a family computer all in one that anyone can use from the coffee table or across the room (with the remote).
Should Apple have built in the DVR functionality? Yes. Should the iTunes Music Store allow you to purchase 640×480 (NTSC) resolution television shows instead of those half-size examples formatted for iPod? Yes. Does Apple now have a product that fits in in the living room? I say definitely.
What Morgan and I do agree upon is that the Mac mini is a screaming little computer that will be a hot seller!
Laptop Ergonomics By Holly Buttura (Holly @ smalldog.com)
Over the last couple of months I’ve had increasing discomfort in my neck and upper back, to the point that I made an appointment with a chiropractor. I know there are different schools of thought about using a chiropractor, but I have always felt a TON better after a manipulation. I’m happy to use this “alternative approach” especially since exercise, stretching, and Ibuprofen haven’t been providing any relief. However, this time I decided to embark on a more complete chiropractic treatment rather than the one-time appointments I’ve done in the past.
My chiropractor and I discussed what I do for work. For the most part, my workstation at the office is ergonomically correct (the monitor could be a little higher). However, the doctor is currently seeing an influx of patients who are laptop users. As wonderful as they are, laptops have some innate design aspects which make them potential ergonomic dangers. With a desktop computer you would normally position the top of your monitor around eye level, and place your keyboard at about the same level as your elbows. With laptops, the keyboard and the monitor are attached so you can’t adjust their positions independently (and they’re very close together). The result? You have to compromise on comfort. If you place the laptop low (in your lap or on a desk) for a comfortable arm position, that means you have to tilt your neck forward to view the screen. On the flip side, raising the screen to an acceptable level means that your hands are now reaching too high.
How can you avoid these potential aches and pains? For starters, take more frequent breaks. When using the laptop, you’re usually more cramped than you would be at your desk so taking short breaks and changing your posture is particularly important. If the laptop’s on your lap, consider switching its position occasionally; leave it on your lap for 30 minutes to promote ideal wrist posture, then switch it to a table to improve your neck’s position. While the laptop’s on your lap, consider using a footrest to support your feet and help raise the screen height (or raise the laptop off your lap with a pillow or cushion). And pay attention to where you sit – stools and couches may not make the best chairs!
In addition to the above suggestions, there are laptop accessories you can purchase to help make your laptop experience more comfortable.
MacAlly iceStation Laptop Stand will raise your iBook or PowerBook to comfortable eye level just like a regular desktop computer. Plug in a keyboard and a mouse and now you have a perfect, space-saving desktop computer.
The Griffin iCurve Laptop Stand is designed specifically for the PowerBook and iBook. Its main purpose is to better position the iBook or PowerBook in your permanent desktop environment.
Rain Design iLap is ergonomically designed to suit both lap and desk positions, so you stay cool even during prolonged use. It raises your laptop screen higher to reduce strain on your neck and shoulders.
Rain Design iLevel Adjustable Laptop Stand. Because you don’t sit at your desk in a fixed position, Rain Design designed the iLevel stand to be dynamic. Drag iLevel’s slider to adjust the screen height to your new eye level whenever you shift position.
Level 12″+ for: PowerBook 12″, iBook 12″, other 12″ and 13″ laptops (3 lbs. and heavier*)
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/product/39679
iLevel 14″+ for: MacBook Pro 15″, PowerBook 15″, PowerBook 17″, iBook 14″, other 14″ and 15″ laptops (5 lbs. and heavier*)
To order:: http://www.smalldog.com/product/39681
* Laptops lighter than specified weight will stay at 7″ height only
My back feels great already but I’m still experiencing neck pain. The chiropractor explained it’s likely the pain I currently feel isn’t related to the initial incident, but the strain/stress of my joints and muscles compensating for years of misalignment. I may not be the best at explaining what he said to me, but it did make sense to me, and I hope now that I’m a lot more conscious of my posture and working with a chiropractor, the neck pain will subside.
VHS to DVD Ed @ smalldog.com
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about converting tapes and records to CD. Today I am going to write about converting VHS tapes to DVD and other digital formats. Many people have a trove of VHS tapes going back 10 or 15 years. VCRs are becoming more rare. Many households only have DVD players. Also, VHS tapes are quickly deteriorating to the point where soon they might not play back. This is the time to digitize your VHS collection.
Ideally you should do this on a Mac with a built-in DVD-burning SuperDrive, using iMovie and iDVD 05 or 06. The earlier versions work but are not as stable and flexible for this project. If you have a Mac with FireWire but no SuperDrive, you can use an external DVD burner. These range in price from $96 to $185. iDVD 05 and iDVD 06 will work with external DVD drives, while earlier versions will not. iDVD 05 requires that you make a disk image of the file before burning it to DVD, while iDVD 06 will recognize most external DVD drives. See the DVD drives we sell here:
Besides the computer, here is the other required equipment:
* A VCR – preferably a model with S-video, although this is not necessary.
* Either an analog-to-digital converter or a MiniDV camcorder with a video-pass though feature. An analog-to-digital converter is a small box that connects to the VCR and the computer via a FireWire cable. These boxes work well, but can be expensive. They’re great if you have dozens of tapes to digitize or if you don’t have a miniDV camera and never intend to get a miniDV camcorder. See models we sell here:
Canopus ADVC-55 Analog-to-DV converter – $215
Canopus ADVC-110 Analog-to-Digital Video Converter -$245
Miglia Director’s Cut Take 2 – $289
For most people, it makes more sense to pass the analog video though a miniDV camcorder. If you don’t have a miniDV camcorder, good models start at $449. Once you have a miniDV camcorder, everything you record will be digital and ready to export to the computer for editing or burning to DVD. Image quality and editing flexibility will be excellent. See our camcorders here:
If you use a miniDV camcorder, it will connect to the computer with a FireWire cable. You’ll have to make sure the camera is set up to pass through the video signal; you’ll typically find this in your camcorder’s menu, under “AV > DV OUT” or “Play Out via Firewire.” This can take some trial and error.
You will connect the VCR to the analog-to-digital box or camcorder. For the best quality, use the S-video cable, if this is an option. See an S-video cable here:
Belkin 12ft Gold S-Video Cable – $16
You’ll need a separate cable for the audio. This would typically be an RCA to 3.5mm headphone cable for connecting the VCR to the camcorder, or a dual RCA/RCA cable for connecting the VCR to an analog-to-digital converter. Note that many miniDV camcorders come with the appropriate cables. See the audio cables here:
Belkin 12ft Mini Stereo Y Adapter to 3.5mm Stereo – $12
Belkin 12ft Audio Dual RCA/RCA cable – $15
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
The VCR will connect to the miniDV camcorder or analog-to-digital converter with the cables listed above. The miniDV camcorder or analog-to-digital converter will connect to the computer with a FireWire cable. Turn everything on, rewind the VCR, and push play. The video is typically imported into iMovie, but can be imported into Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, or other video editors.
iMovie makes it easy. Simply move the camera/clip toggle on the lower left side of the iMovie pane to “camera,” and then select “Import.” If this does not work, make sure everything is turned on, the camera settings are correct, and the VCR is playing, and then restart iMovie. You can edit the footage once it has been imported into the computer – this includes cutting out static or irrelevant sections, correcting color, remixing the audio, and generally sweetening the tape up.
You have several options for the next step. First, you can simply export the footage to iDVD. The footage will be converted to the DVD format, MPEG 2. You can then watch the DVD on your DVD player or send it to friends and relatives. However, once the footage is converted to MPEG 2, you will not easily be able to get it off the DVD for future editing. Also, the conversion to MPEG2 and back to an editable format will result in a loss of quality.
Another option is to export the full-quality QuickTime file. The QuickTime file can be watched on the computer and can be reimported into iMovie or other video editors in the future. However, you won’t be able to watch the video on a television unless the computer is connected to it. Also, full-res QuickTime files tend to be large, taking up valuable hard drive space. You can burn these QuickTime files to DVD, but it may take a couple of DVDs to back up an entire movie.
Finally, if you have a miniDV camera, you could export the footage to a miniDV tape. Once it’s on the miniDV tape, you can reimport it for later editing or burning to DVD.
I recommend importing the analog footage, editing it as needed in iMovie, burning the project to DVD, and then exporting the project from iMovie for archive on a miniDV tape. This is the best of both worlds, and provides an emergency backup.
When the footage is imported and edited, you can add chapter markers in iMovie before exporting to iDVD. Then select “Share > iDVD.” For an excellent iDVD 05 tutorial (most of which also applies to iDVD 06), check out Kenstone.net:
It’s a great feeling the first time you see your old videotapes transfered to DVD, nicely edited and with slick iDVD menus. Have fun transferring all your footage!
Nifty Little Software Add-ons Dawn @ Smalldog.com
The Mac comes with a fair amount of software: Mail, Safari, iChat, to name a few. But at times these applications may lack features that third-party products offer. I’ve done some looking to find my favorite add-ons for Apple applications. Most of the apps are shareware, though some are free.
Chax Chax adds features to iChat which solve some usability issues, such as not always being alerted to a new chat. Chax adds animated user icons, nickname display, disable picture-in-picture when video chatting (so you don’t have to look at yourself), better control of status, and lots more. But the single best feature that I’m enjoying is the “Hide all iChat windows” when iChat is inactive. As soon as I click on anything else, iChat instantly hides so I don’t have to go through the trouble of hiding it!
Saft Saft is a Safari plug-in to add features like draggable tabs, full- screen browsing, searchable bookmarks and history, URL shortcuts, kiosk mode, and more – much more! (The feature list is over 40 entries long.)
(For a complete list of Web browser add-ons, visit this site: <http:// www.pure-mac.com/neten.html>.)
There are over 120 plug-ins for Apple’s Mail, iCal, and Address Book applications, with a complete list at the link below. There are two that I use constantly (MailTags and Mail ActOn) and several more that I’ll probably install.
Belkin Tunebase FM transmitter/charger for iPods Black – $70 The versatile TuneBase FM plays your iPod tunes through your car stereo-as it powers and charges your device. By seamlessly integrating an FM transmitter with the versatility of a car power adapter, the TuneBase FM for iPod offers the outstanding convenience of an all-in-one solution on the road. Its built-in FM transmitter wirelessly connects to your car stereo and operates on multiple FM channels from 88.1MHz-107.9MHz. The holder secures your iPod and features an innovative, flexible-steel neck for easy repositioning. This package includes tray adapters to fit various iPod models. Compatible with iPod 5G, 4G, Photo, nano and mini
Belkin Tunebase FM transmitter/charger for iPod nano Black – $70
Logitech Cordless Mini Optical Mouse USB – $28 The Logitech Cordless Mini Optical Mouse is small enough to fit in your bag and is designed for your comfort — at home or on the road. The plug-and-play mini-receiver snaps right into the mouse for easy transport, and shuts your mouse off to save power. A battery indicator light tells you when it’s time for a change. And the tilt wheel provides side-to-side scrolling, plus zoom for easy viewing of large photos or web pages.
Logitech LX7 Cordless Mouse Blue USB – $38 Featuring a wireless mini-receiver that installs effortlessly, eliminates clutter, and works with notebook or desktop PCs. Smart power management extends battery life up to 8 months — or more if you use the On/Off button — and an indicator light gives you plenty of advance notice when it’s time to change batteries. The soft-touch rubber grip and contoured shape provide natural comfort. Tilt Wheel Plus Zoom is perfect for viewing digital photos and spreadsheets. Instantly zoom in or out, and scroll horizontally and vertically without moving your mouse. Forward/Back buttons speed browsing web sites and documents.
Belkin USB 2.0 4port Hub – $23 Our newest Hub provides four downstream USB ports that are compatible with both Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and USB 1.1 (low- and full-speed) devices. The top loading port gives you easy access for quick, temporary connections of USB thumb drives, media readers, small accessories such as USB lights and fans, the Apple iPod shuffle, and more.
HP 802.11G wireless Card for Deskjet 460 – $69 Want simple mobile printing with your HP Deskjet 460 series printer? The tiny HP 802.11g Wireless Printer Card slides into the CompactFlash card slot and you’re ready to roll.
Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 500gb SATA 3gb/sec Internal drive – $399 The Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 hard disk drive extends the company’s long- standing tradition of performance and reliability leadership. Hitachi’s standardized features in desktop solutions enable fast transfer rates, low power utilization and quiet acoustics. These features combine to make the Deskstar ideal not only for standard PC systems but also for ATA entry-servers, personal video recorders and other non-PC computing requirements.
Highpoint Tech RocketRaid 2320 SATA II PCI Express Card – $275 The HighPoint RocketRAID 2320 PCI Express to SATA II RAID Controller is the next generation for high performance computing solutions utilizing the latest interconnect technology PCI-Express. The HighPoint RocketRAID 2320 Controller offers 8 internal ports that combine high-performance storage connectivity of Serial ATA with HighPoing, Online Capacity
Here are the specials for this week, valid through March 9th or while on-hand supplies last. Be sure to use the wag URL to get this special pricing.
LaCie 250gb 7200RPM Porsche FireWire Hard Drive – $149
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16483/mymac
Laughingbird Bundle of The Flash Ad Creator and The Logo Creator – $59
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16490/mymac
Purchase the Xerox Phaser 6300N at its regular price of $1259 and get up to $300 back by mail.
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16393/mymac
iPod photo 30gb (2005) with matching black Cyber Acoustics iPod Speaker System – $399
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag50041/mymac
Power Mac G5/2.5GHzDP 512/160/SD/Rad9600XT with an extra 2GB RAM – $2099
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16484/mymac
$80 off Burton Shield iPod Jacket!
To order Small: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16495/mymac To order Medium: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16496/mymac To order Large: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16497/atXX/ To order Extra Large: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16498/mymac
(sizing is men’s sizes)
Apple refurbished PowerBook 17-inch G4/1.67GHz 512/120/SuperDrive/AP/ BT – Only $1949!
To order: http://www.smalldog.com/wag16499/mymac
One of the announcements by Apple recently was their $99 embossed Italian leather iPod case. We haven’t seen it yet. It might be worth $99, except for the fact that you have to take your iPod out of the case to use it. This convinced us that we got it right when we had our Small Dog ClickCase made. These let you view your iPod, get at all the controls and ports, and protect the iPod with its unique click-flap closure. All for under $30 (under $20 if you are using the iPod nano). You can find out more about the ClickCase below and be sure to treat yourself with the $70 you saved!
I’m off to the Sandwich Islands, but I’ll be sending in reports from time to time to my friends back in the snow. In the meantime, you’ll be in great hands with Dawn, Holly, and Ed. I’ll be posting some pictures on my .Mac web site and I will give you the link once they are up. I know I’ll have my new MacBook Pro by the time I get back, but I am traveling with my trusty 15-inch PowerBook, AirPort Express, digital cameras, TomTom GPS, and an assortment of iPods and Small Dog iPod accessories!
Thank you for reading Kibbles & Bytes. Have a great weekend!
Your Kibbles & Bytes Team,
Don, Dawn, Holly, Ed, and Morgan