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Macworld Expo 2006 Superlatives

It's time once again for our annual look at the best, the worst, and the weirdest products from Macworld Expo. With over 361 booths, it's entirely possible we've missed some cool things, so please feel free to send your suggestions in to TidBITS Talk as well.

Put Your Photos in the Loop -- With the help (and financial support) of long-time Macintosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki, FilmLoop enthusiastically showed off a new Internet-based "photocasting" product, which looks like a handy way to share easily updated streams of photos within a group such as a family, sports team, or club. The photos are stored on FilmLoop's servers, but each group member can view and add to the collection - called a loop - using FilmLoop Player, a free client program whose viewer window looks like a horizontal strip of analog film with photos cycling through it. FilmLoop Player currently runs on several versions of Windows and in a pre-beta version on the Mac under Tiger (Panther support is coming). The beauty of FilmLoop is that if 50 people attend a wedding and each contributes 5 photos to a loop, each person would see a loop containing 250 photos, with about 7 or 8 photos showing at any one time. Double-clicking a photo reveals a larger image, comments, tags, and a link to find more info on the Web. Loops can also be set up as one-way publications, as would be useful for catalogs and TV show or celebrity promo pieces. You can check out a number of loops on the FilmLoop Web site, including the TidBITS Macworld Expo SF 2006 loop and a loop created by Macintosh author Robin Williams of her recent vacation in Egypt. FilmLoop has great potential, but as we created the TidBITS loop, we came to wish they'd add a few more features, such as a search field on the FilmLoop site and a slideshow option. [TJE]

<http://invite.filmloop.com/x? miMfZMIRJygrn2jx9Zzr-r-2Vx9x/ljY&2>
<http://invite.filmloop.com/x? AJILRbnt3zlviORKURnh6pxr8s9NLIvF&2>

Get Lost in Google Earth -- Technology has finally caught up with the movies. In plenty of suspense films, powerful government agencies spy on villains (or vice-versa) using satellite imaging technology that zooms in on any location on Earth. Now, so can you - mostly. Google Earth is a new application for the Mac that accesses satellite photos and mapping capabilities to show you nearly anything on the planet. Type a city, address, company name, whatever, and if it's in Google's database, Google Earth provides an speedy animated trip to that location. Once found, you can explore the surrounding area by dragging the mouse for a top-down view; better yet, you can tilt the view for a 3D representation, complete with topography (check out Mount St. Helens or the Grand Canyon) or, in some cities, buildings. Google Earth for Mac is a 12.5 MB download. [JLC]


Best (Wedding) Party -- Of course, every party works on a different level. The Party for the People was an enjoyable evening and was open to everyone, and the 21st annual Netters Dinner differed from previous years only by some familiar faces that weren't present. But the ultimate party this year had to be Shawn King's Your Mac Life party, sponsored by Griffin Technology and a slew of other companies and held at the elegant Great American Music Hall. What set the Your Mac Life party apart from the norm was the fact that it doubled as the wedding reception for Shawn King and Lesa Snider, chief evangelist at iStockPhoto.com and assistant to David Pogue. Shawn and Lesa met at Macworld three years ago, Shawn proposed last year at Macworld, and they were married - by Andy Ihnatko - in a civil ceremony just before the Your Mac Life party. Music came from the Silicon Valley House Rockers, fronted by Paul Kent, who was also just named Vice President of Macworld Expo. Having just found out that our breakfast meeting the next day had been cancelled, Tonya and I ended up dancing until the band quit, garnering quite a few comments on our enthusiasm and my lack of coordination. [ACE]

<http://wiredblogs.tripod.com/cultofmac/ comment.blog?a=render&entry_ id=1386748>
<http://www.yourmaclife.com/layout/YML/images/ YML_Expo2006/YML_Expo2006_Thursday/YML_ Expo2006_Thursday.html>

Video for Any iPod -- I must have walked by the ATO booth half a dozen times before stopping for a demo, because from their signs, the iSee 360i appeared to be an adapter that triples the size and weight of your iPod in order to provide video playback, at nearly the cost of a video-capable iPod - I didn't quite get it. When I finally played with the device, though, I had to admit it was intriguing. Slide in any 4th- or 5th- generation iPod (it even supports the nano and mini, using extra-cost adapters, though not the Shuffle), flip it over, and you've got a large 3.6-inch (9.1 cm) screen that plays video stored on your iPod. To get the video onto the iPod in the first place, you can either use conventional methods (such as downloading from the iTunes Music Store) or plug your iSee into an analog video source (such as a TiVo or VCR) and use it as a recorder. I can't think of a better way to catch up on a week's worth of The Colbert Report during a cross-country flight. The iSee will retail for $250 when it ships later this quarter. [JK]


Find Out What's Being Said about You -- Representatives from a new Web service called Podzinger met with journalists at the Expo to spread the word about a podcast search Web site created by the Delta Division of BBN, a company with a deep history of work relating to the Internet. BBN has developed technology for analyzing sound in audio and video files stored on the Internet, and they're putting it to use in converting podcasts to text and making that text searchable. So far, they have crawled for and converted over 40,000 podcasts and estimate that about 150,000 podcasts are currently online. They hope to catch up by the end of the second quarter this year, though at their current rate of a few thousand per week, it could be tough for them to catch up without throwing more iron at the problem. (You can register with them and submit your podcast to move it closer to the top of the queue.) The technology, accessible for free via the Podzinger Web site lets you search podcasts, create a saved search that continually updates into a podcast of its own (drag the orange RSS badge at the top of your search results to your iTunes window to store it in iTunes), create a saved search behind a URL that you can put on your Web site, and put a Podzinger badge on your Web site so that readers can search your podcasts. The business model behind Podzinger is currently based on displaying Google AdWords, but you have to figure they're looking to be acquired by Google. [TJE]


Projects Under New Management -- Project management software may not be the most exciting product category, but when you have to keep track of complex projects involving numerous participants and dozens or hundreds of individual tasks, a simple to-do list just won't cut it. You need Gantt charts, dependencies, milestones, resource and expense tracking, and all the other features that have made Microsoft Project the standard tool on Windows. Two project management programs for Mac OS X caught my attention at the show: Merlin 1.3.8 from ProjectWizards and Project X from Marware.


Merlin and Project X share a great deal in common. In addition to the usual task-manipulation capabilities, both integrate with Address Book, iCal, and Mail; both have built-in Web servers for publishing project information; and both make use of Spotlight for searching. Beyond these basics, Merlin offers detailed risk-management features, integrated version control for attached documents, and flexible time and cost calculations. Project X features a flowchart-like Network View that provides an uncluttered view of dependencies. It also enables each project participant to update his or her own status on individual tasks over the Web, relieving the project manager of some tedious data entry. Merlin is currently shipping for $185; a 20 percent discount is available through 22-Jan-06 (use coupon code "Macworld2006"). Project X is scheduled to ship by the end of the first quarter for $200. [JK]

Best Use of AirPort Express -- Playing music wirelessly through an AirPort Express Base Station is neat, but wouldn't it be even cooler if you could play through multiple AirPort Express base stations simultaneously, with the music properly synchronized? For a brief moment, Rogue Amoeba's just-released Airfoil 2 was the only way to do that... and then Apple released iTunes 6.0.2, which adds the same capability. Nevertheless, the $25 Airfoil 2 is still the only way to play music from applications other than iTunes over multiple AirPort Express base stations, which you might want to do if you were using the browser-based Pandora music suggestion service Tonya wrote about in "Pandora Beats iTunes for Holiday Music" in TidBITS-807. Airfoil 2 also enables you to enhance your music on the fly with built-in effects and supports new audio sources, including the RadioShark, Dashboard widgets, audio devices like microphones, and system audio. So if you've been wishing you could play music throughout more of your house or office, Airfoil 2 is a welcome addition to the AirPort Express Base Station. [ACE]


Best Analog Cookies -- Circus Ponies Software, makers of NoteBook, attracted Expo attendees to their booth not only with a demo of NoteBook 2.0 but also with the smell of freshly baked cookies that wafted across the aisles. Who knew that along with booth space at Moscone, vendors can also rent an oven accompanied by a cookie elf? [TJE]


Best Data Recovery Device -- Those of us who work with Macs professionally generally have external hard drives around, in part because they make recovering from troublesome disk problems far easier. You just boot from the external hard disk, which you've prepared in advance with disk recovery and backup software, and work from that point. But what if you don't bring your external disk while traveling, or if you don't have one at all? In the past, you've been limited to dodgy boot CDs that are usually out of date, and you can't copy data to them. Micromat's TechTool Protege is a 1 GB FireWire flash drive with TechTool Pro and DiskStudio (a partitioning tool) pre-installed. Since it uses FireWire instead of USB, you can use it to boot any recent Mac (assuming you've installed Mac OS X on it, of course) and it provides some space for copying important files before you attempt recovery. Although TechTool Pro 4 ranked only in the middle of the pack in David Shayer's excellent disk repair utility shootout, there's no reason you couldn't add other tools to the mix. The TechTool Protege costs $230, which is quite reasonable particularly if you want TechTool Pro 4 and DiskStudio as well, since they'd run about $150 on their own. [ACE]

<http://www.micromat.com/protege/protege_ intro.html>

Best Celebrity Sighting -- Who better symbolizes the perseverance, insanity, and humor of Apple followers and Macintosh owners than Adam Savage, one of the co-hosts of Discovery Channel's MythBusters program? At Macworld Expo, we had multiple Savage spottings, who appears much the happy-go-lucky and animated fellow in person as he does when he is shot in the buns by a penny-gun or burns his arm hair off on the show. [GF]

<http://dsc.discovery.com/fansites/mythbusters/ mythbusters.html>

Podcast or Videoblog with Videocue -- One problem with many podcasts and videoblogs is the "uhhh" factor: unless you're well-practiced, it's difficult to come up with content on the spot while recording without introducing speech fillers like "uh" and "um." Vara Software's Videocue 2 and Videocue Pro 2 helps by providing a large-text scrolling pane where you can type a script and read it like a Teleprompter. With an iSight or other video camera connected to your Mac, you can record video or audio as you read and then easily incorporate other videos, transitions, and even an impressive chroma key masking feature for superimposing video over other clips. Videocue 2 costs $40; Videocue Pro 2 costs $90. Both are available for download as demo versions, which limit recorded content to 15 seconds until unlocked with a license code. [JLC]


Best Use of Space -- The Anthro eNook has a retro-90s name and a hilariously high price, but perhaps its efficiency makes up for both. For $450, you get the Murphy bed equivalent of a computer center. [If Anthro wanted to make an actual bed for tiny bachelor pads, they could call it the eNookie. Sorry, couldn't resist! -Adam] The eNook is designed to attach to studs in a wall and hold a computer and other peripherals. When in its expanded position, it's a desk; when folded up, it's just a 7.25-inch (18.4 cm) piece of maple, cherry, or "white" (a solid surface material) on the wall. Perhaps Anthro should add a digital picture frame as an optional accessory for the outside? [GF]

<http://www.anthro.com/PromotionDetails.asp? PromotionID=328>

Most Secure Drive -- You have data, a lot of data, that simply must remain secure, even if the hard drives upon which the data is stored are lost or stolen (not that _that_ ever happens in top-secret government labs!). For an entirely hardware-based solution to the problem, Rocstor's RocBit hard drives offer controller-based encryption and an electronic key that must be inserted into a jack in the back of the drive at startup to enable decryption until the next power cycle. Since the bits on the drive are always encrypted, the data is vulnerable only when the drive is in use or if the key were stolen along with the drive. Good backups of encrypted drives would be essential, since data recovery from a damaged disk would likely be extremely difficult or impossible. That said, a RocBit hard drive might also make a good backup drive if you wanted more security for backups than is provided by the encryption in backup software. RocBit drives come in 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch sizes, and with a variety of different ports for prices starting at $170. PGP Desktop's Virtual Disk feature provides a roughly similar level of security for a disk image, though it's entirely software-based, making it as secure as the passphrase used to unlock it. [ACE]


Best Cable Cutting with Wireless Vaporware -- Belkin hopes to be the first company to market with a wireless USB hub using ultrawideband (UWB) technology. UWB uses extremely short bursts of extremely low power signals across a vast swath of spectrum to send (in Belkin's version) 110 Mbps across short distances, according to a company spokesperson. Future versions will hit 480 Mbps. The Belkin USB 2.0 adapter pairs a dongle that plugs into a USB 2.0 port and a four-port AC-powered hub. The dongle requires no drivers, but simulates a hard-wired USB cable connection to the hub. Belkin had a non-working box to show at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Macworld Expo.

<http://www.belkin.com/pressroom/releases/ uploads/01_03_06CableFreeUSB.html>

While Gefen proposes to offer a similar device using the same technology also licensed from Freescale - the same firm spun out of Motorola that makes the PowerPC chips - Gefen's founder was a little flustered when we asked him for a demo, and they had failed even to bring a prototype. With luck, these products might ship in a few months; pricing hasn't been set, but might be frightening. One article written in early January 2006, when Belkin and Gefen's intent was announced, suggested that Gefen's USB extender could cost $400 to $500. [GF]

Most Unexpected iPod Accessory -- iPod cases and speaker systems permeated Macworld Expo this year, but the most unexpected one of all was Atech Flash Technology's bathroom iPod dock. I can't tell if it's just an attention-grabbing proof-of-concept or a real product (it doesn't appear on their Web site), but this iPod dock and speaker system mounts in your bathroom and includes a convenient mount for a roll of toilet paper. On one hand, I like the notion of using ordinary objects in new ways, especially in small dwellings where space is at a premium. But on the other hand, do you really need thousands of songs' worth of music in the bathroom? [JLC]

<http://tuaw.com/2006/01/11/atechs-toilet-paper- dispenser-ipod-dock/>

Best "Do As I Say, Not As I Do" -- Walking to the Macworld Expo show floor one morning, we spotted two gentleman maneuvering their way into Moscone Convention Center with huge boxes teetering on luggage carts. The older of the two fellows was stooped and straining. Glenn stopped to hold a door open for them and noticed that the products they were awkwardly porting in - don't tell the unions - were the ergonomically correct Nada Chairs. [Which, for the record, Tonya and I have tried and found wildly clumsy whenever you want to stand up. -Adam] [GF]


MemoryMiner Gives Context to Your Photos -- Our Macs can store thousands of digital photos, but it's still difficult to organize and find them. Looking at a photo brings up mental information about it that pales in comparison to simple titles and keywords. To tackle this problem, GroupSmarts, LLC introduced MemoryMiner, a photo application that goes beyond basic metadata - way beyond. By applying a variety of information to photos (if only it could do so automatically!), you can navigate your collection by time, location, and people. MemoryMiner is especially good for working with old photos you've digitized. Want to find a picture of your father and grandmother in France in 1956? A couple of selectors will bring up the pictures that match. A 15-day trial version of MemoryMiner is available as a 10 MB download; a license costs $45. [JLC]


Most Deranged Callout -- Steve Jobs caused much brow furrowing in his keynote when he mentioned, with his usual excitement, that Quark's QuarkXPress page-layout product would be available in a universal binary for its version 7 release. The tepid response was undoubtedly due, in part, to Quark taking years to migrate its classic Mac OS code over to Mac OS X, during which time many designers switched to Adobe InDesign. So now Quark has apparently gone from outcast to poster child, possibly due to the engineering work done in that belated transition. Quark expects to have a public beta out later this month and a release sometime this year. [GF]


Best Way to Avoid the P.O. -- We don't have to mail all that many packages other than during the holiday season, but if I had to spend more than an hour a month at the post office, I'd be signing up for Endicia Internet Postage. It's a service that costs $16 per month and enables you to print postage from your Mac. You must pay for the postage as well, but the Endicia software is free and it works with any laser or inkjet printer, along with high-speed label printers. Endicia supports electronic postal scales, provides a shipping log, integrates with Apple's Address Book, and calculates both domestic and international shipping rates, even printing the customs forms for packages with overseas destinations. If you're an eBay maven and find yourself constantly packing up items to ship, give Endicia a look, since it could save you oodles of time in line. [ACE]


Instant RAID -- I've long recommended external FireWire drives for backup (not to mention extra capacity for applications such as audio, photo, and video editing). Maxtor's OneTouch drives are a good choice for many because they include a free copy of Retrospect Express, which can be launched by touching a button on the front of the drive. The latest iteration of the design, the OneTouch III line, features a quiet yet impressive cooling system (even under the heaviest loads, the drive cases never feel warm) and internal shock mounts to protect the drive when it's moved. The most interesting member of the OneTouch III family is the OneTouch III Turbo Edition, an enclosure that holds two 300 GB or 500 GB drives configured either as RAID 0 (striped, for extra speed) or RAID 1 (mirrored, for extra safety). If either of the drives fails during the 1-year warranty period, Maxtor will send you a new drive so you can copy over your data before returning the faulty drive. Using SoftRAID or Disk Utility, you could even create a super-RAID of which a OneTouch III is one element, giving you (for example) both striping and mirroring at the same time. The OneTouch III Turbo Edition has USB 2.0, FireWire 400, and FireWire 800 interfaces. The 300/600 GB model retails for $550, while the 500 GB/1 TB model is $900. [JK]



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