The Computer Blog

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Flip4Mac Universal is Out!

FINALLY!

Flip4Mac’s WMV player application has been finally released in Universal Binary format. I installed it tonight and immediately deselected the “Open Using Rosetta” setting for Safari (housed under Get Info). When I launched Safari and went to the CNN website to check it out, Safari almost immediately crashed! I went back to the CNN site several times to watch Safari crash several times and then visited several other sites and found Safari acted normally. Suspecting the Flip4Mac installation, I ran the uninstaller for the program; quit and launched Safari; and navigated back to the CNN site. Safari acted nominally. I then re-ran the Flip4 Mac WMV installer and tried it all again. This time Safari launched without incident and I could access the videos on the CNN site without a problem. Even better, I found that Flip4Mac had installed itself into Firefox as well, giving me full Windows Media file access from either browser. SWEET!

Thanks to the folks at Flip4Mac for making it available.

Live Trace on an Intel iMac - Useless!

I was working up a resume and wanted to include a photo as a black and white graphic. I pulled it into Photoshop and played around with various filters and effects but couldn’t quite get the look I was after. So, I opened Illustrator CS2 and tried to use Live Trace to give me something I could try to recolor; but as soon as I told “Live Trace” to “Make”, Illustrator gave me an “out of memory” error message!

My Intel powered iMac is already running 1.5 GB of RAM, so I couldn’t expand it but 512KB more even if I wanted to. I’m not sure why iMacs and MacBooks are limited to 2 GB of RAM; hopefully, there’s a technical reason and it was not done at the request of the marketing department. That said, rather than spend money on the machine or spend all night tweaking Illustrator’s memory settings to get it to run under Rosetta, I moved the file over to my dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac. I did the work there with ease.

I’m really quite happy I decided to keep a G5 around. I’m getting tired of waiting for Adobe to get their Intel versions on the streets. The only thing making the wait tolerable is the knowledge I can transfer my work to my G5 and do it in a timely way. If I couldn’t, I’m sure I’d be looking at other ways to accomplish the work I need to do on my Intel iMac without using Adobe.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nike Plus iPod Nano Equals High Tech Running

My wife bought the Nike Plus kit from Apple this weekend and a pair of the Nike Plus running shoes. She seems to be really enjoying listening to music while she runs, and I’ve been enjoying seeing how the system works. I’ve actually been a bit impressed with it.

The Nike kit consists of a wireless sensor that fits inside specially manufactured Nike running shoes and relays foot impacts to a receiver that fits into the docking port of an iPod Nano. The receiver interacts with software also included in the $29.99 Nike Plus kit (available at the online or local Apple store) to calculate the distance run (or walked), calories expended, and pace (minutes and seconds per mile). At the end of your workout, you upload the data into the Nike Plus website so you can track your progress. It’s a pretty neat scheme, and a very pricey one.

The linchpin to making it all work are the Nike Plus shoes you have to buy, and you can count on paying in the vicinity of $100 or more for them. If you don’t have an iPod Nano, then you’re going to have to spend at least $150 more for one of those and $30 for the Nike plus electronics. Note this doesn’t include an armband of some sort to hold the Nano, and they generally run about another $30. So, to put the system together from scratch would cost $310. You can do the same thing with a pedometer and a spreadsheet for a lot less money, though I won’t argue that it would be as much fun.

I have to admit that, despite the expense, I think the system is pretty neat. Certainly, it’s really kicked my wife’s motivation to exercise into high gear; so, I consider it all a worthwhile investment at many times the cost. Of course, it helped greatly that she already had an iPod and an armband she could make work. All she had to buy were the kit and the shoes.

I have two questions about the whole thing. First, how long can one reasonably expect Nike to maintain the website? Once this marketing scheme is past, I would expect them to drop maintaining it or charge folks for admission. I can foresee users at some time in the future having to manually input the data into a spreadsheet if the website leaves. Secondly, I wonder if I bought the Nike plus kit and shoes, would they work with the 30GB 5G iPod I own? I’m thinking about whether I want to risk both my iPod and wearing my wife’s shoes (assuming I can even get them on) to find out.

What is Dell Thinking?

I have to admit I’m rather enjoying Michael Dell’s continuing dissing of Apple. He reminds me of Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns.

If you missed it, during a press conference to discuss Dell’s missing of their quarterly financial targets, Michael Dell was asked what he thought of Apple. His response was that Apple was not really a competitor; and, as proof, stated that Apple was not even in the top five PC makers. Apparently, he was out of touch with the tech news that day. If not, he would have known that Apple has moved into the number four computer maker slot. Third quarter financial results for Apple posted a 16% growth (driven primarily by notebook sales on the computer side) while Dell recently posted a 6% growth rate.

Remember Dell’s comments back in 1997 when he suggested that Apple sell the company and give the money back to its shareholders? I doubt if he’s saying that now; and if he is, it’s all bravado.

Apple isn’t likely to give Dell a run for the money in pure numbers of units anytime soon, but Apple is likely to continue its growth into sectors of the PC market that Dell and others have occupied. As I’ve said before in this blog, I believe that the heydays of Microsoft and Windows are over. If that’s true, Dell has nowhere to go but down since they’re unlikely to convince Apple anytime in the near future to license OS X to them.

The race between Apple and PC vendors is more even than ever. To run Windows Vista, most people are going to have to go out and buy new PC’s. Once a consumer hits that stage, Apple’s positive press and OS X’s reputation for both security and ease of use are going to cause more and more people to take a stronger look at Apple. I predict that many of them will pay a little extra for a better experience. With Macs now able to run Windows and OS X, consumers now have little to lose by switching to Mac hardware.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Talking iPod – A Rumor Reported as News

My wife and I like Channel 13 TV News here in Houston, and I can usually count on them for accuracy in their reporting. So, I was a bit surprised this morning when they reported a rumor about a talking iPod as news. They also made a statement that “Apple was feeling the heat” from its iPod competitors. Where did that come from?

Well, there is no talking iPod, and Apple has denied rumors of its upcoming release. That doesn’t mean there won’t be one; Apple routinely denies product reports before product releases even if the reports are accurate. The existence of Marklar, the OS X version that could run on x86 processors and is now on the street (and I’m using at home), is a prime example. But too often in today’s news, articles generated by other publications or agencies are reported as news without any independent verification of the accuracy of the stories. That’s what happened this morning when Channel 13 ran “the iPod news” based on an article originally published in “The Scotsman” and written by Richard Gray, “Science Correspondent”. Mr. Gray based his article on Apple patents filed in May to protect a computerized voice system. He speculated this system would be applied to the iPod in its next incantation, linking it to the iPod’s menu system as a means of providing voice feedback on which tune or playlist was being selected, the motivation being to prevent accidents. This is fine speculation, but that's all it is.

Further, Mr. Gray stated that Apple iPod sales were taking a hit because of the recent controversy surrounding working conditions at the Chinese factories where iPod’s are made. No other news source is reporting such a claim (other than those based on his article) nor have I seen any financial analyst reports stating that is the case. Further, I have seen no evidence that Apple is “feeling the heat” from its competitors, as much as it is feeling the heat of its own success. The market indications I’ve seen reported are indicating that the iPod market is leveling off. Reports also continue to indicate that no one has been able to make much of a dent in what is clearly an Apple dominated market.

It’s hard to say just how much of this goes on, but my bet is that it’s an especially prevalent practice in stories involving technology where most reporters are dependent either on the makers of the devices or those few reporters who really understand them. It’s also true that both TV and the Internet encourages the practice of running with a story before its time. News is now reported in almost real-time, pushing reporters and editors to forego checking the accuracy or the sources of stories before getting them to press or on the air.

A knowledgable Mac user at Channel 13 might have caught the subtleties and have warned them off. I guess that's the price you pay when reporting about Apple but you run an all PC shop. At least, that's what I speculate caused all this.

May they will write me back and tell me whether that was a good guess.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Universals Catching Up

I’ve been getting a bit tired of the lagging performance of my G5 applications running under Rosetta. Oh, they all run “well enough”, but I can tell they’re slow not only because I still own a dual G5 PowerMac but I see how snappy my Intel native applications are. Thankfully, developers have been slowly catching up with the Intel transition.

One of the applications I use I really like is MT-NewsWatcher, a simple but steady little app I use to get into Usenet groups. It’s been working fine under Rosetta, but the developer (Simon Frasier) has released a Universal Binary version I loaded last night. It is indeed snappier than the G5 version, and I’m very happy to have it running now. When I made the switch to an Intel powered Mac, I wasn’t sure if this application was going to follow along. It has, and it’s free. You can find it here. A donation to Simon via Paypal is always appreciated.

I had just installed Flip4Mac on all my Macs when I switched, and I’ve been working around its refusal to run inside Safari in Native mode by running Safari in Rosetta. I’ve been taking a speed hit there because of that, though not a huge one. Still, I was heartened last night to learn that Universal Binary versions of the application will be arriving soon. I’ll be checking their website over the next few weeks to pick up the UB version as soon as it emerges.

Of course, the big laggards are Microsoft Office and my Adobe applications. All that stuff down work “well enough” but I still am getting tired of waiting for those companies to release Universal Binary versions. In the meantime, I am doing some of my work on my PowerMac when it’s not busy cranking out videos. And I’ve been looking around at word processors and office applications from smaller, third party developers to see if there was something I’d be happy with until Microsoft released a UB version of Office. I haven’t found anything, but that doesn’t mean I won’t. The longer Adobe and Microsoft delay putting out updates, the more likely it is I won’t need them at all.