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It's time to start planning for next week's Macworld Expo in New York! In this issue, Adam spotlights sources of party and event information, and then uses XNS to update his contact information. Also, Mark Anbinder reviews the RTMac package for speeding Final Cut Pro video editing, Jeff Carlson examines more Visor Springboard modules, and we note Apple's recall of PowerBook G3 AC adapters and the demise of both the G4 Cube and Internet grocer Webvan.
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Apple Recalls AC Power Adapters for PowerBook G3s -- Apple has announced a partial recall of AC power adapters which shipped with PowerBook G3 computers between May 1998 and March 2000. According to Apple, six of these adapters have overheated, creating a potential fire hazard. The affected adapters have two-prong electrical connectors, and are labelled "Macintosh PowerBook 45W Adapter" and "Model Number: M4402." Three-prong power adapters for use in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East which shipped with PowerBook G3s are not affected by this recall, nor are power adapters for any iBook or the PowerBook G4 Titanium. To get a new adapter, enter your shipping information and PowerBook G3 serial number on Apple's Web page for the adapter exchange program. Apple urges all affected PowerBook users to order a new adapter, and not to leave the current adapter plugged in unattended.
Although recalls like this can be alarming, Apple still has a better track record than other computer manufacturers when it comes to hardware recalls. For instance, last October, both Compaq and Dell had to recall tens of thousands of laptop batteries due to issues with overheating and short circuits which could catch fire, and in May 2001 Dell had to recall nearly 300,000 laptop batteries due to a problem which caused at least one Dell laptop to go up in flames. [GD]
Apple Discontinues G4 Cube -- Looks like the square computer does fit in the round file: Apple Computer has announced it is discontinuing the Power Mac G4 Cube, which it introduced a year ago at Macworld Expo in New York. The tiny, silent, 8-inch square computer won lots of points for nifty design, but sales never took off (even after Apple upgraded and steeply discounted the machines), and the machines lacked expandability, leading the mid-range professional users for whom the machines were intended to choose Power Mac G4 minitowers instead. The Cubes also suffered flurries of bad publicity concerning perceived case cracks and problems with the unique power switches (which operate using static capacitance rather than a physical switch). Apple says there's a small chance they will re-introduce an upgraded version of the Cube in the future, but it seems unlikely; instead, we hope some of the Cube's engineering expertise is applied to future iMacs and professional Macintosh systems. [GD]
Webvan Announces Shutdown and Chapter 11 -- Internet grocer Webvan announced today that it has ceased operations and is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has laid off its 2,000 employees and expects to delist its stock on NASDAQ. Though we're sad to see Webvan fail, the event comes as little surprise, since Webvan has encountered numerous financial problems and never matched the quality of Seattle's HomeGrocer.com, which Webvan acquired a year ago (see our article series on Internet grocery shopping for details). [JLC]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
It's time once again for Macworld Expo in New York on July 18th through July 20th, and I'm dying to see if this show marks the pivotal point for Mac OS X that Apple has been predicting. For that to be true, we'd need to see a Mac OS X 10.1 with improved performance and many of the obvious interface holes plugged, and frankly, we'd need to see it running by default on a sexy new Mac that makes people want the total hardware and software package. Even more important will be strong support from the Macintosh developer community in the form of carbonized applications and, hopefully, software that offers functionality unique to Mac OS X. Steve Jobs's keynote on Wednesday morning will undoubtedly attempt to set the tone for the show, but the rest of the exhibitors will determine whether Mac OS X has arrived or if it remains useful only within a reality distortion field.
TidBITS Events -- I'll be walking the show floor at the Jacob Javits Convention Center along with Contributing Editor Mark Anbinder, and we hope to see plenty of TidBITS readers and hear what you think of the show. As always, I also have a few public events that I encourage you to attend - it's always great to meet people in person and put faces with the email addresses (though I wish the Macworld Expo badges had email addresses as well as names - I often recognize them more readily).
On Wednesday, July 18th at 2:15 PM, I'll be giving a 90 minute conference session on "Backup, Archiving and File Transfers for Mac OS X" (Room 1E10/1E11) with Craig Isaacs of Dantz Development and Leonard Rosenthol of Appligent. Backup in Mac OS X is problematic, so if you're wondering about the best ways to protect your data and recover from hard disk crashes, I encourage you to attend this session to learn about the pitfalls and the best ways around them.
On Friday, July 20th at 11:00 AM, I'll be at the Peachpit Press booth (#855) answering any questions you have about Eudora and Internet email and passing on little-known tips about using Eudora, not to mention signing copies of my Eudora Visual QuickStart Guide. Do come by with questions during this time - the act of signing one's name in a book isn't particularly interesting on its own, and I prefer answering challenging email questions.
Macworld NY Netter's Dinner -- Al Tucker is once again organizing a Macworld Netter's Dinner on Wednesday, July 18th, with everyone meeting at 6:00 PM by the doors leading out of the Javits Convention Center. Details of the location and food weren't available as of this writing, but Al's been finding better locations and food each year. Pre-registration via Kagi is required, so make sure to visit the Netter's Dinner Web page for the details. See you there!
Macworld Expo Pocket Show Guide -- Along with the New York edition of Vindigo's Palm OS restaurant guide, it's always worth grabbing a copy of Palmtop Publishing's Macworld Expo Pocket Show Guide. It's a small Palm OS application that provides a searchable database of exhibitors, booths, workshops, and session topics. The paper-based show guide isn't nearly as convenient or easy to use when you need to find a booth number quickly, not to mention the fact that it's a lot larger than Palm OS-based handhelds. According Palmtop Publishing, you should be able to download the Macworld Expo Show Guide later this week at the URL below, and there will also be several "hot spots" at Expo itself (such as the MUG Lounge in room 3D04) where you can have the show guide beamed to you.
Macworld NY '01 Events List Online -- Some things never change, and the indefatigable Ilene Hoffman has once again been gathering events for the Robert Hess Memorial Macworld Expo Events List. If you'd like to see what there is to do at Macworld Expo in New York this year, check the list for public events and parties. If you're hosting an event of any sort at Macworld Expo, make sure to submit it for the free publicity. As always, we encourage anyone planning parties to read our "Macworld Geek Party Guide" from TidBITS-415 for tips on throwing successful trade show parties.
Have a great time at Macworld and in New York City, and we hope to see you there!
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
About nine months ago, I wrote about a new technology platform called XNS (eXtensible Name Service) and the non-profit organization I and several others had formed to manage the technology. Our plans have moved more slowly than we wanted for a number of reasons, not the least of which were the bursting of the dot-com bubble and reactions to the changing face of the Internet, but the basic promise of XNS as a privacy-protected means of sharing permanently synchronized information remains intact.
The main feature of XNS that's been available since the beginning was synchronized electronic business cards (currently called "e-cards" in OneName's interface, but we're working to change that to something more sensible). The idea is that you can create an electronic business card in your XNS agent containing just the subset of contact information you want to give out, and then you can share it with others in the XNS system. When you make changes to your information, the copy of your electronic business card stored in their XNS agent automatically updates.
In the initial release of XNS, the reality of electronic business cards wasn't nearly as attractive as the theory. In the current version of the XNS public agency software, the XNS developers eliminated some of the earlier annoyances. For instance, you can now send electronic business cards from the front page of your XNS agent. When you receive an electronic business card, you can now reply with your own, just as in the real world, where you generally give someone a card when they offer you theirs. Since it was annoying to have to log into your agent to see if you'd received any electronic business cards, you can now have your agent send you email notification when someone sends you an electronic business card (click the Setup tab, and then click the Set Your Agent Preferences link to find the email notification preference).
At the URL below, you can log in to your existing agent (if you don't remember your password, you can use the answer to your secret question to get a temporary one mailed to you), or sign up for a new XNS agent for free via a new and far more streamlined procedure.
Where does the dog food come in? First, for those of you unfamiliar with the industry term, it refers to using the software you write. I may not be programming XNS, but as the chairman of the XNSORG board of directors, I should be using XNS for what it can do. Now, as you probably know, I'm in the process of moving from Seattle back to Ithaca, NY, and my snail mail address and telephone number are changing. I'm faced with having to inform potentially thousands of people of my new address and phone number, but it feels weird to broadcast them in TidBITS, where they'll be available and too easily searchable forever. Instead, I intend to put XNS to one of the uses it was designed for - sharing and synchronizing information with other people who are members of the XNS community and have agreed not to misuse said information. And more to the point, I want to share my contact information with those who are share theirs with me.
So here's the deal. If you'd like my new contact information, log in to your XNS agent (or sign up for one, if you didn't do so back when I first announced XNS), create an electronic business card with the contact information you'd like to share with me, and send it to me, using my XNS name, =Adam Engst. When I receive it, I'll return my current electronic business card, but you'll notice that I haven't yet updated it with my Ithaca information, in part because I haven't finalized everything yet. By 13-Jul-01, when I have the final addresses and phone numbers, I'll update the information in my XNS agent, which will cause the information in your copy of my electronic business card to update. You'll have to log in to your XNS agent to see the update, so I'd recommend bookmarking the login page so you can go back easily.
I realize this isn't a truly innovative or unique feature, but it is real and it is useful, and I want to show that XNS can be used in useful ways now, even before we've accomplished many of our more ambitious goals. I hope to be able to pass on other small uses of XNS soon, and if all goes well, I'll have more interesting news about the future of the XNS technology later.
by Mark H. Anbinder <email@example.com>
On the plane to California for the Macworld Expo in January 2001, I ended up sitting with a nice couple from Hollywood who were considering a new computer that would let them do casual video editing alongside the typical Internet and word processing tasks that their outdated Windows system was doing. They'd been planning on a Sony system, but ten minutes watching me play with iMovie on my PowerBook G3 convinced them they needed to take a closer look at the Macintosh.
Desktop Movies -- Macs are certainly the way to go for casual video editing, especially now that iDVD makes it easy for amateurs to burn their own video discs that anyone can view in a home DVD player. On the high end, Macs also still reign supreme, and have for a decade. Avid Technology made a name for itself bundling excellent software and custom NuBus and then PCI cards with high-end Quadras and then Power Macs, offering complete, turn-key video editing workstations with the performance of dedicated hardware costing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Today, for professional video editing, Apple's popular and powerful Final Cut Pro software competes with Avid's solutions and costs a mere $1,000. Anyone with a Power Mac G4 (or, for that matter, a recent iMac, PowerBook, or even iBook) can now do professional video editing with Final Cut Pro.
Editing Real-Time -- What sets Final Cut Pro apart from other professional video editing solutions is its price: $1,000 may seem expensive for software, but compared to hardware costing as much as $25,000, it's nothing. However, because Final Cut Pro works entirely in software, it's performance can't compete with hardware-based solutions. Or rather, it couldn't compete on performance until now, with the addition of real-time editing capabilities thanks to Matrox's $1,000 RTMac PCI card. This card stopped me dead in my tracks at Macworld, just a couple of days after I'd told my new friends on the plane all about video editing. It shipped in March and should be considered absolutely mandatory for anyone serious about video editing.
At first, I worried that this review would be all too brief: "If you use Final Cut Pro, you need the RTMac PCI card. If you have it, you can edit in real-time. If you don't have it, you'll have to wait for Final Cut Pro to render every little change while you watch the progress bar inch across the window."
The overall package provides quite a bit of functionality. Along with adding real-time editing capability within Final Cut Pro, the RTMac card provides a VGA-style video connector that lets you connect a secondary display.
Matrox also includes an elegant breakout box with S-Video and composite (NTSC or PAL) video in and out, plus stereo audio in and out. The breakout box is a sleek clear-and-grey unit that connects to the card via a nice, long six-foot custom cable, enabling you to put these connectors someplace convenient (like on your desk) rather than behind your computer. You'll want to connect a digital video camera to the Mac via FireWire, but for working with analog video, the breakout box offers everything you need.
The RTMac card also includes OrganicFX Lite, a generous sampling of excellent transition effect plug-ins from Pixelan. (The full OrganicFX package costs $200, but RTMac owners can upgrade for $130 before 15-Jul-01.)
What's Real-Time? Basically, for the Final Cut Pro functions supported by the RTMac card, you no longer need to wait while the software renders your work. Typical functions that require long rendering waits include fades, wipes, and other transitions; combining video with graphics; and adding titles or other text. Editing with Final Cut Pro in software alone is often a matter of adding an effect, waiting while it renders to see if it looks the way you want it to, then changing it slightly and waiting while it renders again. Simple effects may take only seconds to render, but hundreds of waits of several seconds each over the course of the day adds up to a lot of wasted time.
RTMac lets you work in real-time with two video layers and one graphics layer, or two graphics layers and one video layer. More complex sequences in your video will still require some rendering, or "proxy real-time" display that approximates the final effect. Reasonably enough, if you use too many real-time effects simultaneously, Final Cut Pro will need to render those portions of your video project. The RTMac manual lists several scenarios that will require you to render your effects rather than see them in real-time, such as simultaneously using a motion effect and an iris transition, or more than one video transition and one motion effect.
Without the RTMac installed, the demo movie file Matrox provided takes just over nine minutes for Final Cut Pro to render on a 450 MHz Power Mac G4. The movie is perfect to show off the RTMac: just under two minutes of footage replete with wipes, fades, text effects, and enough silliness to remind us of the early days of desktop publishing when amateurs used every font and style available. Without the card installed, minor changes require re-rendering, taking anywhere from seconds to minutes depending on what changed. With the card installed, Final Cut Pro simply shows the video in real-time, generating the effects as it goes.
Caveats -- Knowing that many reviewers won't flex Final Cut Pro's muscles quite enough to get beyond the real-time capability of the RTMac, Matrox noted the situations where the RTMac can't keep up in real-time. Good examples are sequences involving three or more video layers, or two video layers and two graphics layers, at the same time. In fact, most serious Final Cut Pro users will run into these situations, but I feel the product is still a clear win, since it will eliminate the need to wait for so much of the otherwise time-consuming rendering.
I was more concerned to note that the RTMac card, which I knew doesn't work with Mac OS X, can't even be present in a computer running Mac OS X. Users who switch back and forth between Mac OS 9.1 and Mac OS X won't be able to leave the card in place; simply having the RTMac card installed while Mac OS X is running makes the system extremely unstable. I'd expect the card to sit quietly inside the computer, unused, without making the machine crash. This limitation probably won't affect heavy Final Cut Pro users, who most likely spend all day running Final Cut Pro in Mac OS 9.1 (since Final Cut Pro itself isn't yet compatible with Mac OS X). Matrox has a firmware patch in the works to fix this problem but doesn't yet know when it will be released. Of course, the product will also eventually support Mac OS X directly, after Final Cut Pro does.
Gotta Get Me Some of That -- The RTMac is readily available from the usual retailers for $1,000, and the Apple Store is bundling it along with a Final Cut Pro 2.0 Upgrade, and the clever Contour Design ShuttlePRO controller for providing familiar analog video editing controls, for $1,350.
It turns out that my original short review still applies: If you use Final Cut Pro, you need the RTMac PCI card. If you have it, you can generally edit in real-time. If you don't have it, you'll have to wait for Final Cut Pro to render every little change while you watch the red progress bar inch across the window.
by Jeff Carlson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Handspring Visor family of handheld organizers boasts one major difference from its Palm counterparts: the Springboard expansion port. In last week's issue, I talked about six modules that offered features such as wireless communication, MP3 music playback, and even a way to run PowerPoint slide shows from the Visor (see "Diving into Visor Springboard Modules" in TidBITS-586). This week I want to complete my roundup of notable modules that I used while writing my book Handspring Visor: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, $20, available at Macworld Expo New York, then in wider release at the end of July).
Parafone -- In my previous article, I discussed Handspring's VisorPhone, a module that turns your Visor into a cellular telephone. A similarly intriguing Springboard module was the Parafone, by Arkon Networks. It uses the same software as the VisorPhone to turn the Visor into a standard cordless phone, not a cellular one. Like the VisorPhone, the big draw with a device like this is having a useful interface to a phone. You can dial all of the phone numbers in your Address Book at the touch of a button, and the software keeps an extensive calling log.
The Parafone includes a charging station which plugs into your standard phone line and can also be used to HotSync your Visor. The $120 Parafone will be available in early August.
HandyGPS -- At Macworld Expo 2001 in San Francisco, I saw several options for using the Global Positioning System (GPS, a collection of satellites above the Earth whose signals can be triangulated to pinpoint one's location; see "Feeling Lost? An Overview of Global Positioning Systems" in TidBITS-388 for more) with Palm and Visor handhelds (see "Palms Up at Macworld Expo" in TidBITS-565). Feeling the need to find myself, I used Nexian's HandyGPS device with my Visor. The module is short and stocky, and makes the Visor look a little like the raised forehead of Frankenstein's monster. It initially takes about six to ten minutes to lock onto the GPS satellites overhead, even on a clear day with no trees or other obstructions. But once a lock was established, I was able to continuously pinpoint my location using maps downloaded from Nexian's Web site. Sometimes the module could re-establish locks fairly quickly, but it seemed that the longer you hadn't used the module, the longer it took to re-acquire its location.
The HandyGPS software could use improvement. Icons at the top of the screen don't clearly indicate if they just display information or if they're buttons (there's a mix of both), and to view a rough schematic of how many satellites are overhead, you must select Satellites from the Preferences menu, even though that information isn't a preference. Tapping the application's title bar, which should bring up the menu bar on Visors running Palm OS 3.5, instead pops up a dialog box asking if you want to cold start the module.
What the HandyGPS does have going for it is price: at $150, it's notably cheaper than its competitors. The other leading GPS module is GeoDiscovery's $290 Geode, which includes two MultiMedia Card slots for storing maps and other data. Since I never received a promised evaluation unit from GeoDiscovery, I can't speak to the Geode's quality.
Franklin Electronic Reference Titles -- Not all the Springboard modules I received were gadgets that transmogrified the Visor into something completely different. Franklin Electronic Publishers sent me a handful of modules containing electronic texts of reference books. At first, I thought it a bit odd to distribute electronic books as Springboard modules instead of as downloadable files, but then I got a better look at a few of the titles: the King James Version of the Bible, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and the 2001 PDR (Physician's Desk Reference). Not only does it take more memory than you may have in your Visor or wish to devote to one book to store all that information, these reference works are actually searchable databases. Doctors can quickly look up drug interaction guides, or you could search the Bible for specific quotations. You can bookmark items and add your own notes. The svelte modules themselves sit flush in the Springboard slot, so there's no extra bulk.
InnoGear InnoPak/2V and Handspring Backup Module -- The $30 InnoGear InnoPak/2V is a small module that adds 2 MB of memory for storing more files or programs. It also has a small motor that gives the Visor a vibrating alert in place of the handheld's standard audio alarms, a welcome feature if you rely on your Visor to alert you to appointments in cacophonous environments like trade shows or if you simply don't like to broadcast your reminder alerts to others in the room.
One of the most useful Springboard modules is Handspring's appropriately named Backup Module. At the tap of a very large, obvious button in the provided software, the contents of the Visor's memory are transferred to the module. If you lose your data (from a bad battery swap, for example), simply insert the Backup Module and restore your data. For $40, it's worth it, especially if you often use your Visor far from the safety of the backup stored on your Mac.
eyemodule2 -- I should take this opportunity to apologize to my friends who had to put up with me showing off new Springboard modules continually. After a few demonstrations, they tended to glaze over and became inured to the charms of the latest toy - except for the eyemodule2, a module that turns your Visor into a digital camera.
A fixed lens sits atop the module, which adds only a little height to the Visor. To take pictures, you simply point the lens at your subject and use the Visor's screen as viewfinder. A button on the module snaps the photo, though I preferred to push the Visor's scroll up button instead: the placement of the eyemodule2's button made it easier to nudge the Visor as the shot was taken, blurring the photo. You can take pictures at 160 by 120 pixels (the viewable area of the software on Visor's screen), or at a larger size of 640 by 480 pixels. The full size images are captured in color, even if you own a grayscale Visor. The smaller Palm sized images are stored in grayscale if you're using a grayscale Visor, but if you're using a color Visor Prism the Palm-sized images are stored in color, taking up more memory. The software also includes some rudimentary exposure controls for dealing with low-light or overly bright situations. In addition to still photos, you can capture Palm-sized movies from between 20 and 85 seconds in duration. Again, the different depends on which Visor you own: grayscale Visors capture grayscale movies, while the color Visor Prism captures color movies which require more memory.
The images (or movies) are stored in your Visor's built-in memory. The eyemodule2 site claims that a Visor Prism with 6 MB of free memory can store 50 full size or 150 Palm size color images; a grayscale device with the same free memory can store 50 full size or 660 Palm size images. When you're finished pretending to be Ansel Adams, you can easily transfer the images to your Mac as JPEG files or QuickTime movies (for the movies) during HotSync operations.
I was surprised at the quality of the images: you probably wouldn't want to rely on the eyemodule2 to record your family vacation, but for everyday snapshots or even Web images the quality is acceptable. I was able to test only with a Visor Platinum, so the movies I shot were grayscale and rather grainy - perfect if you want to make a moody 60-second film noir masterpiece. (You can see samples I've posted on my Web site at the URL below.)
In addition to the image capture software, you can use the eyemodule2 to add images to other applications. For example, eyecontact is an Address Book replacement that can store photos of people with their contact information; BugMe Messenger lets you annotate your images and send them to other handhelds by beaming or by mailing them (using a separate module like the VisorPhone or OmniSky modem). The eyemodule2 costs $299, and even comes with a protective metal tin for storing the device.
Ever Expanding -- Who would have guessed when the first PalmPilots came out that you could do so much from such a tiny device? There will undoubtedly be more Springboard modules in the future, since Handspring has become a dominant player in the handheld industry. But they're not alone: the newest handhelds from Palm feature a different type of expansion port that accommodates Secure Digital and MultiMedia Card modules, and have the potential for incorporating devices similar to what we're seeing with the Visor. No doubt, I'll be filling my laptop bag with those too in time.
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