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Got a long commute? Kirk McElhearn looks at audio books from Audible.com, which can be played on your Mac or iPod without losing your position. Keith Cooper looks at why you might want to consider color management for your digital photos. Also this week, using Broadcom-based 802.11g PC Cards with AirPort 3.1, the demise of Adobe Premiere on the Mac, and upcoming events at Macworld Expo.
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AirPort 3.1 Supports Third Party 802.11g PC Cards -- Owners of pre-AirPort Extreme PowerBooks with PC Card slots can now connect to higher-speed AirPort Extreme networks using third-party 802.11g cards. It turns out that Apple's recent AirPort 3.1 update also provides support for PC Cards that use the same Broadcom chip set that Apple uses for internal AirPort Extreme cards. So, if you've been lamenting the poor signal strength of your Titanium PowerBook G4, you can improve signal strength and jump up to 802.11g's faster throughput with a third party card. Both Asante and Buffalo Technologies claim their 802.11g cards work with Mac OS X and the AirPort 3.1 update; other manufacturers using Broadcom's chip set are likely compatible as well. Buffalo Technology's card costs about $60 and is available now; the Asante card costs $100 and should be available this month. [ACE]
Adobe Premiere to Fade to Black on Mac -- Adobe Systems has announced that Adobe Premiere Pro, the latest version of its 12-year-old video editing application, should be shipping this August both as a standalone application and as part of the Standard and Professional editions of the just-announced Adobe Video Collection application suite. However, Adobe will not be shipping Premiere Pro for Macintosh, instead focusing all its video applications on the Windows XP platform. Presumably, Adobe has decided it's no longer worth their time and effort to compete with Apple's extensive line of digital video applications (primarily the recently revamped Final Cut Pro, but also Final Cut Express, iMovie, iDVD, and iDVD Studio Pro) on a platform also controlled by Apple. Current Premiere users may wish to migrate to the Windows platform, but it wouldn't be surprising if Apple were to offer a competitive upgrade to Final Cut Pro. [GD]
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The official name appears to be "Macworld CreativePro Conference and Expo," so despite the waffling that was no doubt a result of heavy duty negotiations between Apple and IDG World Expo, we'll stick with calling the upcoming show "Macworld Expo" (but if we're feeling cranky we might revert to "the Conference Formerly Known as Macworld Expo"). Whatever the name or future location of the conference, for this year, it's show time in New York City in less than two weeks, from 16-Jul-03 through 18-Jul-03.
TidBITS Events -- I'll be attending the show and giving my usual complement of talks and other events. Please come by and say hello; meeting people is one of the best parts of trade shows.
For those in town early, you can find me at the Apple Store Soho in Manhattan at 6:30 PM Tuesday, July 15th. I'll be sharing iPhoto 2 tips and signing copies of my latest book, iPhoto 2 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide. If you are planning to come and have some time afterwards, check out TidBITS Talk for another special event.
On Wednesday, July 16th, at 10:45 AM, I'll be giving a Level 1 session entitled "Getting Started with iPhoto" in room 1E20 that will provide an overview of iPhoto 2 along with a variety of useful tips and tricks. Since I always run out of time to answer everyone's questions, I'll be continuing the iPhoto discussions and signing books at Peachpit's booth (#536) at 1:00 PM after a break for lunch.
On Thursday, July 17th, at 10 AM, I'll be back at the Peachpit booth (#536) to answer any and all questions you may have about wireless networking and to sign copies of The Wireless Networking Starter Kit.
On Friday, July 18th, at 11 AM, come to the User Group Lounge in room 3D04 for a one hour discussion of TidBITS, the most interesting products of the show, and the Macintosh industry in general.
Netter's Dinner -- Despite this show's new focus on the creative professional, Al Tucker is forging ahead with the 6th Annual East Coast Macworld Netter's Dinner, to be held Wednesday, July 16th. People will start gathering at 6:00 PM near the statue in the lobby before walking over to the restaurant at 6:30. Preregistration via Kagi is required, so be sure to visit the Web page below for the link. See you there!
by Keith Cooper <email@example.com>
Have you ever printed a colour image and wondered why it didn't look quite right? That deep blue sky with distant hills and forests looked so good on the monitor... is what you see never what you get?
You've just come across one of the problems of colour management on the Mac. Without colour management, reproducing an image from a digital camera on an inkjet printer can require a lot of trial and error, and a fair bit of wasted ink and paper.
The basic difficulty is that colours on your monitor are produced by the addition of red, green, and blue light, while your printer mixes coloured inks (typically cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) If all the colours on every monitor were the same, and all printers used the same ink and paper, it would be easier to match things up. Unfortunately even identical printers are subtly different, and monitors change their characteristics as they age.
Unexpected changes in colour can lead to costly mistakes and delays in projects. In commercial printing, a great deal of effort goes into colour management - a whole industry is devoted to getting things right. Although that's fine for business, what about the casual user or photographer who just wants to improve their photos?
The Mac Does It Again -- The good news is that in owning a Mac, you have a system with all the best in colour management technology built right into the operating system. As one of the founders of the International Color Consortium (ICC) in 1993, Apple helped to create open standards and neutral file formats, which resulted in ColorSync. And in Mac OS X, there are some powerful new tools for handling colour (older Mac systems have ColorSync, but not the range of tools).
The essence of managing colour depends on profiles for each device. A profile contains a wealth of data describing the characteristics of a piece of hardware, whether it's a camera, scanner, monitor, or printer. For example, a profile includes the range of colours that a device can represent (known as the gamut). Using the profiles, ColorSync translates data between the capabilities of different devices ensuring a consistent handling of colour information.
The best bit is that for most users, the built-in colour management is invisible. When you plug in your digital camera and transfer images to iPhoto, all the necessary conversions are carried out for you. The appropriate colour information is assigned to the image file during import. Then, as you look at the image, ColorSync matches the image to your monitor for display and to your printer when you print it. And again, ColorSync takes care of this behind the scenes without any input from you. But that's not to imply that you don't have some control.
The ColorSync Utility (located in the Utilities folder in your Mac OS X Applications folder) enables you to see which profiles the system has allocated to devices, and helps you repair broken profiles. With it you can examine the contents of profiles and even view the gamut of the profile (represented as a solid 3D volume you can rotate). The volume view indicates the number of colours that a device can represent. Try looking at some of the standard profiles on your system and you can quickly see the variation between devices.
Each of your devices has a registered profile for ColorSync. Some may have several profiles available and allow you to choose new ones. The ColorSync preferences pane in System Preferences enables default profiles for files that do not have colour information associated with them.
So if it's all done for you, why do the results sometimes fail to impress? It all comes down to the accuracy of the profiles. Most devices come with generic profiles that provide only an average fit.
Start with the Monitor -- If your monitor is not displaying the right colours, any attempt at getting your prints right becomes much more difficult. The Displays preferences pane in System Preferences contains the usual settings for display resolution, but it also has a Color tab for selecting ColorSync profiles. If your hardware supports it, the panel can access information directly from your monitor.
You can choose from a collection of monitor profiles for your display. It's best to pick one that matches the monitor, such as Apple Studio Display if that's the monitor you own. You can also customise and improve the accuracy of the profile by clicking the Calibrate button, which fires up the Display Calibrator application and walks you through steps that determine how color should be displayed. Keep in mind, though, that calibrating using this method is somewhat dependent on the vagaries of your vision. There are other utilities that do a similar job, such as Adobe Gamma, which used to come with Photoshop. SuperCal (for Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X) does the same thing in a bit more detail. These approaches are certainly better than no calibration at all, and I'd recommend that you run Display Calibrator if you're planning to work with any kind of images on your Mac.
For the ultimate in color accuracy, hardware assistance is required. You can buy a colorimeter that determines accurate colour profiles by precisely measuring the colour output of your monitor. A few colorimeters to look into include Gretag Macbeth's $250 Eye-One Display, ColorVision's $230 Spyder, or Monaco Systems' $300 MonacoOptix.
Why Your Colour Prints Can Look Wrong -- Setting your monitor to display accurate colour takes you only halfway to achieving better photo prints. Your printer must also output colour correctly, which adds another layer of complexity. Printer drivers have their own internal profiles that combine with paper settings and any driver adjustments to produce a "best guess" of how the image should be printed. The printer manufacturers provide settings to cover all the options, so their drivers are not optimised for any one particular setup.
Some printer drivers install additional profiles for specific papers that you can select in the ColorSync utility. If you are using the printer manufacturer's inks and paper, then it's worth experimenting with their ColorSync profiles. Inks and papers from other manufacturers will never work quite the same. There are some excellent third party inks and papers that, despite what some printer manufacturers might have you believe, will not ruin your printer. For example, I use a specialized Small Gamut ink set from Lyson for printing black-and-white photographs.
If you print from an application such as Photoshop Elements you have the option of using the additional profiles provided with some printers. That's not necessary, of course - you can always just accept the defaults - but if you choose to adjust the colour management for a particular image, you must decide where the colour management will apply in the printing process. There are three options. First, if your application does its own color management, you can use it, but you must also make sure to disable colour management (the No Colour Adjustment radio button) in the printer driver. Second, you can choose to let ColorSync do your colour management. Third and finally, you can leave the colour management task to the printer driver itself, which uses whatever default settings the printer manufacturer built in. With the first option, it's important to apply only one profile or your results will be terrible. As an analogy, imagine translating from English to Spanish directly as opposed to going from English to Japanese to Spanish. The fewer intermediate steps, the better.
As you can see, we've moved some way from simply selecting Print in your application, and the need to consider exactly where the colour management takes place adds complexity. Given what ColorSync and the driver's built in profiles can do for you, why not just leave it at that?
The benefits come with having a profile that is customised for a particular ink/paper/printer combination. Some third-party ink and paper suppliers (such as Lyson) provide profiles for some of their products - many do not. For the best quality prints you need custom profiles. In the next installment of this article, I'll show you how I was able to get a more accurate profile of my inkjet printer using ColorVision's PrintFIX custom profiling device and software.
[Keith Cooper is a photographer and long time Mac consultant. He also teaches photography and digital imaging to adult classes. More photography and Mac information can be found at his Web site.]
by Kirk McElhearn <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I may belong to the last generation for which radio was once not just a source of music, news and sports, but also a primary source of verbal entertainment. Born in 1959, I grew up as television did, and many of my childhood references come from the screen. But I also listened to the radio in my youth, and learned then to appreciate how the spoken word can have a spellbinding, even mesmerizing power.
In my early teenage years I listened almost religiously to the great comic storyteller Jean Shepherd, as he wove his tales of his youth in Indiana. I recall turning on WOR radio in New York, at 10:15 PM, and listening to him alternate stories with wacky songs. I later discovered the work of Garrison Keillor, whose poignant stories of small-town characters are literary creations brought to life on his Prairie Home Companion radio show.
I am also an avid reader, of both fiction and non-fiction, and I read several books a week. I am fortunate to be able to read quickly enough to feed my eclectic range of interests. But in spite of my appreciation for the spoken word and my love of reading, I have never succumbed to the idea of listening to books on tape. Although radio shows were written for or adapted to that medium, audio books are merely books read and recorded. They were somehow different, and not as compelling for me as either radio shows or traditional books. Nonetheless, I kept hearing about how people with long commutes enjoyed them, and how others found them an excellent way to pass the time (and stay alert) on tedious car trips.
So when Apple added to iTunes the capability of listening to audio books sold by Audible.com, I thought it would be interesting to check into how audio books might fit into my life. Here was a user-friendly way to approach spoken-word texts, built into a program that I use often. (Audible.com works only with iTunes 3 or later, running in Mac OS X.)
Hear This! Audible.com is, quite simply, an online bookstore for downloadable audio books and other recorded works, including radio shows, magazines, and newspapers, and it works like any other ecommerce site. You browse their pages or search their catalog, add items to your shopping cart, and pay with a credit card. After making a purchase, Audible.com puts your books into a Library, which lists all the books you have bought. You can download your audio books immediately, in a choice of different formats, and you can also defer the download of all or part of these books if your bandwidth is insufficient to do so right away. Unlike the iTunes Music Store, interestingly enough, Audible.com always lets you go back and download your purchases again if ever you lose the files or erase them accidentally.
After signing up, I first bought a copy of John Grisham's latest novel, The King of Torts, which clocks in at just under 12 hours long. The audio file comes in two parts, and the various formats I could play offered file sizes of 22 MB, 42 MB or 84 MB. These different formats correspond to different types of audio compression. Audible.com's help pages explain these formats as offering similar quality to AM radio, FM radio and MP3. Having a broadband DSL connection, I chose the maximum quality, but modem users would likely choose the lowest quality, otherwise the download would take hours. Although the sound is less rich, this is only spoken word, and even AM radio quality is acceptable for many listeners. However, some older books were recorded at such poor quality that the samples sound no better than a voice over a telephone.
After you download the audio files, just double-click them and iTunes opens and imports them into your music library. The first time you do this a dialog asks you to enter your Audible.com username and password, after which iTunes connects to the Audible.com Web site to activate your account (this account checking prevents copying of Audible.com files). You can then start listening to your audio books using iTunes, transfer them to your iPod, or burn them to audio CDs (in standard audio format only; you cannot burn MP3 CDs of them, although you could of course just convert an audio CD back into MP3 format, just as with tracks from the iTunes Music Store).
The listening process is simple, and iTunes is a fine tool for playback. When you stop listening to an audio book file, and quit iTunes, it remembers where you are so you don't need to browse through the file to find where you left off. However, at least in the books I downloaded, there is no way to find specific locations in a file, such as the beginnings of chapters. Apparently, some Audible.com books do have chapter markers, which are supported by both iTunes and the iPod. Although this may not be a problem with novels, it can be annoying with non-fiction books, where you may want to skip some chapters. I was also disappointed by the lack of any table of contents or track listing. I wanted to know the names of chapters, along with their length. Each time I started listening to a chapter I wondered how much time it would take. With the Grisham novel this was a moot point, since all the chapters are relatively brief (15 to 20 minutes). But with other books it would be useful to know when you start listening to a chapter whether you'll have time to finish it.
Those who want to listen to audio books from Audible.com away from their Macs (listening in the car is particularly common, as is listening on the subway or on transcontinental flights) can use a variety of MP3 players that are compatible with Audible.com's file format, which use some sort of copy-prevention technology, much like tracks from the iTunes Music Store. Most Mac users will probably use an iPod, of course, and the iPod software works well with Audible.com content to remember your position, just as when you listen with iTunes. Ironically, the oldest technology used for audio books - standard cassette tapes - works swimmingly for remembering your position each time you stop them. There have been reports of the iPod losing track of where you are in an Audible.com book, but short of the iPod's battery being drained or a hard reset, Apple claims the iPod should always remember your position even if you switch tracks. Location within an Audible.com track is even maintained when you sync to iTunes. In the worst case, you could just "scrub" to the right position in the track using the scroll wheel. Note that if you acquire audio books in straight MP3 format from other sources, iTunes and the iPod will not be able to save your location.
Grating on the Ears -- There are probably two types of people in the world: those who like audio books and those who don't. I'm not sure which group I belong to. Listening to the first chapters of The King of Torts, I was quickly enthralled by the story, even though I felt it was read a bit too slowly. But since I read fast, this is a necessary adjustment. (And one way or another, for a fast reader, listening to a book will likely take many hours more than reading it.) As the novel went on, though, I lost interest. The narrator was certainly capable, but his stereotyped use of different accents to differentiate between blacks and whites, and between the moneyed southern white characters and the protagonist of the story, was grating at first and wore thin after a few minutes. Even worse was his use of a slight falsetto when reading female dialogue.
You can listen to RealAudio samples of each book before choosing, so the experienced listener will certainly want to opt for the types of voices they appreciate. Some of the voices are so stodgy and stilted that I couldn't imagine listening to them for 10 hours or more. It would be something like that high school geography teacher who ranked high in soporifics and low in interest. But it all depends on how you listen to these books, and what your expectations are. I can understand that people who listen to them on commutes may not have the same criteria as I do. Sitting on my terrace in the French Alps, an excellent pair of headphones on my ears, my iBook on the table beside me, I probably expect more than if I were riding the F train going to work in Manhattan.
I'll admit it: while I do read mysteries, I'm more of a literary elitist, and the second book I chose was Jonathan Franzen's essay collection How to be Alone. This was a much more successful listen, with the first essay, one about his father's Alzheimer's disease, read by the author. The narrator of the rest of this book was much more in touch with the tone of the words than the Grisham reader, but it could be that non-fiction works better than fiction for me.
The Sound of Money -- These books are no bargains, compared to the price of the real print books, with prices generally comparable to hardcover editions. Most people won't buy individual items, though, since Audible.com offers subscriptions where each month you can download one ($15) or two ($20) books, along with one audio magazine, newspaper, or radio program, at a fixed price. That may seem a bit high, but it's actually pretty good compared to the price of audio books on cassettes or CDs, especially when you consider that there is no shipping to be paid, and you can feed your habit at any time of the day or night. Listeners with iPods will find Audible.com's service especially useful, since they don't have to convert tapes or discs they purchase to MP3 files to listen to them. Also remember that because it takes a lot longer for many people to listen to an audio book than it does to read a print book (often 10 hours or more), two books per month may be all you can find time for.
In the end, your appreciation of these audio books depends on the way you approach books and what you expect from the narrators. For people who are already listeners of audio books, Audible.com is an excellent service and integrates seamlessly with iTunes and an iPod. If you've never tried audio books but have blocks of commuting time that they might fill well, it may be worth giving Audible.com a try if you already have an iPod; if not, try borrowing some books on tape from your local public library before you spend the money on an iPod and an Audible.com account. As for me, if I had a regular commute and an iPod, I would probably have stuck with Audible.com, but as it was, I couldn't get over my irritation with some of the narrators to make the cost and the time spent listening worthwhile.
[Kirk McElhearn is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. He is currently working on a book entitled Unix for Mac OS X: Learning the Command Line, to be published by Addison-Wesley in late 2003.]
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by TidBITS Staff <email@example.com>
iPod 2.01 and Audible.com support -- Apple claims Audible.com support in the iPod 2.0.1 software update, confusing people who have been using it all along. The conversation then shifted to ways of converting text to speech for listening to on the iPod. (6 messages)
NoteBook vs. NoteTaker -- Users of these programs, which share a common ancestor, continue to debate the merits of each. (8 messages)
10.3 Panther upgrade -- Discussions of Apple's pricing strategy with Mac OS X, and talk about some of the specific features promised for Panther. (4 messages)
Defragmenting and optimizing -- So is optimizing your hard disk really a waste of time? Some on TidBITS Talk say no, whereas others agree with David Shayer. (10 messages)
The future of Casady & Greene products -- A quest to find the author of Glider Pro, along with a Mac OS X version of the program, now that Casady & Greene has shut down. (4 messages)
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