Category: Thoughts

This was a busy week for technology enthusiasts. With CES going in Las Vegas and Macworld Expo going in San Fransisco, there’s a lot of new ways to spend cash.

While my CES coverage has consisted mainly of reading Engadget, I’ve been following Macworld a little closer. You may remember that earlier I mentioned that this is Apple’s last participation in the Expo and that Phil Schiller gave the Keynote presentation instead of Steve Jobs (check out this article for more on his health).

Keynote results

I’ve gotta say: I wasn’t too blown away by Apple’s keynote announcements. Sure there was a new iLife and iWork, but there was nothing quite like the iPhone, Mac mini and PowerBooks (going back a few years). I was hoping for something that I would really consider saving up for.

Instead, this is what we got.

The 17″ MacBook Pro now joins the rest of the MacBook and MacBook Pro line with a unibody aluminum enclosure, glass trackpad and LED backlit screen. It separates itself from the other models by including a new 8 hour battery, which I can only hope will make its way to the other models soon. Interestingly, this model has an optional $50 anti-glare cover, which should satisfy the many users who complained about the glossy screen on the other models. I don’t think I would ever consider purchasing a machine like this. Not just for the price tag (starting at $2,999 CAN) but also because I could get an even large screen, using a smaller MacBook for less money. Maybe a 15″ MacBook Pro, but even that would require careful consideration.

The previously mentioned iLife and iWork updates include some interesting new features that I would like to see in person. As soon as I saw iMovie ’08 I refused to upgrade, so this package needs to have more benefits for me to even consider it.

Perhaps the biggest news from the keynote is that the iTunes store will be transitioning to completely DRM free tracks. Music will now be offered in a 3 tier system: $0.69, $0.99 and $1.29 per track. That should make a lot of people happy.

Overall, I think both trade shows could be considered successes, and even with Apple’s decision to pull out of next year’s expo, I still want to go.

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Back in April of 2008 I put a 20GB iPod on eBay and learned a few things about PayPal scams and phishing (attempting to get personal information by making a page look legitimate when it is not). Someone tried getting me to ship iPod before I had payment, and I refused.

Fast forward to November and Macworld published an article about avoiding these phishing scams by using OpenDNS to double check websites you visit. I liked what the article had to say, and wanted to get my name in the magazine, so I wrote a letter suggesting that users check that emails use your actual name rather than a public screen name. In the February 2009 issue, which I just opened today, I read through the letters and there I was!

The letter is shown at the right, and reprinted below.

Using OpenDNS to avoid phishing scams is a great start, and the commonsense practices you listed certainly help. Here’s another trick: all email correspondence with sites like eBay and Paypal includes your real name in the body of the message. If you see a message purporting to be from one of these sites that instead uses your user name on the site, chances are the sender just wants your personal information.

Wow, I compared that with what I had written originally and either I didn’t say exactly what they wanted or me don’t speak good Engrish.

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Now that Christmas is over, a Mac nerd’s thoughts turn to January. More specifically, January 5 – 9. That is the time of the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Traditionally, this is when Apple releases their big products that have been in development for some time (in 2007 they released this little think called the iPhone). Sadly, those days are all but over, as Apple has announced 2009 will be their last. No more Stevenotes, no more Bingo, no more Boom!, and no more one more thing…. Ah, the memories.

What was the reason for this?

The prevailing theory is that Stevie J’s health has degraded to the point where making the keynotes he is famous for is now simply too draining. That is acceptable, because health should always be your primary concern.

The other opinion — and one that I tend to agree with — is that Apple has decided to release products on their own terms. With the prevalence of rumor sites like Macrumors, AppleInsider and even AppleTell, Apple has lost much of the surprise that comes along with releasing new products. If you trace Apple’s stock price back to the time before and after keynote presentations, often it falls as a result of people seeing products they were completely expecting. No surprises means no blown-away investors. Instead, Apple appears to be going to more toned-down events on their own campus, at a time of their choosing. Rather than have a huge affair in San Francisco, they instead invite select media people to view their latest product. This way they can retain some element of surprise and release the product when they feel the time is exactly right.

What does this mean for Macworld Expo? It means that exhibitors that once suffered by competing with whatever Apple released at the conference can now show their products with the full attention of the present media. I’m slightly disappointed, because I was always hoping that someday I could make it out to San Francisco to see one of the legendary presentations.

I guess instead I’ll be saving my money for whatever gets released instead.

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It has come to my attention recently that I am an advanced computer user. I think it was when I had Parallels, Quicktime, Mail, Safari, Adium, Transmission, iSquint and Keynote all open and working and my MacBook had slowed to a crawl. Maybe it was when I realized I didn’t have enough storage space in my house and to buy a new hard drive.

In any case, I’ve become more aware of ways in which my MacBook can’t keep up with the increased demands I’ve put on it.

I want a new MacBook

Ever since YouTube went widescreen, I’ve noticed how every website with even a small amount of Flash content causes the fans to ramp up to 6200 RPM. I can’t be certain, but I think I saw the computer rise just a little under the thrust produced. The reason for the increased air flow is because my current Core 2 Duo MacBook uses the integrated Intel GMA950 graphics chip. For casual work and operating system usage you’ll rarely notice it, but as soon as you get into anything slightly sophisticated, the graphics system steals resources and the rest of your computer experience slows down noticeably. In the new MacBooks, however, nVIDIA came through with an integrated chip that provides 5 – 6 times more graphics power than the old Intel unit.

The new machines look pretty sweet, too. I’ve always hoped that a MacBook would come in an aluminum enclosure, and now it is. Carrying my computer every day to school, it is also handy that the new laptop comes in half a pound lighter. There has been quite an uproar over the glossy screens available on the new MacBook, mostly because they almost turn into mirrors under less than ideal lighting conditions. While I have yet to try one of these things at an Apple store, the screen on my current MacBook doesn’t bother me in the least, leading me to believe the new one won’t either, assuming it’s similar to the new iMacs that I have seen.

Along with new graphics, most of the other components of the system got a serious upgrade, as well. A faster system bus, memory system, and even easier hard drive upgrades ensure that a computer like this will work properly with much of the latest technology that will inevitably come out in the next few years.

Finally, the top-of-the-line MacBook has a feature that I’ve always wanted: a backlit keyboard. I don’t really use my computer in pitch-black conditions often, but something like this really separates high quality machines from others. Of course, since it is only available on the high-end configuration, it means I’ll have to save just a little more.

…I think I’ll wait a little longer

As a semi-regular video enthusiast, I was a little disappointed when I heard there was no FireWire 400 port. The MiniDV camcorder I use has this port, and it works great. It has been pointed out on various websites that many of the latest cameras now use internal hard drives, which is likely the way of the future. I find that tapes offer an easier way to store footage, and don’t take up excessive disk space. It is also much easier to slip in a new tape when the old one is full than it is to run to a computer and transfer the footage.

In addition to the connection with video cameras, FireWire offered a time-tested method of transferring data between two computers. Target Disk Mode enables a computer to turn into a large external hard drive when connected to another system. Not only does it help when you want to set up a new computer from an old one, it can often save you when one computer goes kaput and you need your data. It was a troubleshooter’s best friend.

What does all this mean? It likely means that by the time I can afford a new computer, Apple will have come out with something lighter, faster and cooler. So until then, I’ll be sticking with my trusty MacBook, and hopefully the fans don’t break down by then.

[tags]computer, laptop, MacBook, upgrade[/tags]

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Most of the time I’m quite happy with the products that come out of Cupertino. If I wasn’t, I’d probably not start a blog with so many Mac tips.

But recently I’ve noticed 2 video-related things that have stymied my plans of multimedia bliss.

I use my MacBook to do a lot of video presentations inside Keynote and PowerPoint. These vary in complexity but mostly involve photos and text. Recently I wanted to up the ante with a video background with text over top, but Keynote didn’t want to play nice. Instead it offered the helpful warning you see here and told me to either lower the resolution or lower the number of colors. I tried both: I lowered the resolution of the projector to 800×600 and changed the colors to thousands, but nothing happened. I even used the external monitor as the single display but that didn’t change anything.

All this because Apple decided to use an integrated graphics chip and only give it 64 MB of video memory. Why not make the amount of memory given to the graphics related to the amount of memory in the system? I have 2 GB in my MacBook, so I can easily offer up an additional 100 MB of memory to the graphics processor. Or, why not just solve all the problems with a dedicated graphics system.

My second beef has to do with the way Apple’s video applications deal with second monitors. Using Front Row, iTunes visualizer or an iPhoto slideshow with an extended desktop will always result in the video being played on the primary display. There is a specific preference inside Quicktime that tells the application which screen to use when playing fullscreen. Why not have the other programs honor this? It would be so handy to be able to have a visualizer playing on one screen, while still being able to select the tunes on the internal display. I was able to come up with a solution with Front Row but that is far from the most effective.

These may be small issues that only affect a small number of users, but with these fairly simple changes, Apple could make their products even more enjoyable to use, and effective when running a professional presentation.

[tags]Apple, OS X, MacBook, iPhoto, Front Row, graphics[/tags]

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