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As the hubbub of Macworld Expo recedes, we turn to more reflective topics, with Glenn Fleishman's book review of Revolution in the Valley, Andy Hertzfeld's collection of stories from the early days of Apple and the Macintosh. Matt Neuburg also contributes a look at why Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro is even more useful than it might initially seem. News is slow this week, with coverage of Pepsi trying once again to give away tracks in the iTunes Music Store, and an update to Entourage 2004's junk mail filter.
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Pepsi Tries Again with the iTunes Music Store -- After last year's botched promotion in which Pepsi put codes for free songs from the iTunes Music Store under the caps of 100 million bottles of soda, only 5 million of which were redeemed by consumers, Apple and Pepsi are trying again. From 31-Jan-05 through 23-May-05, Pepsi will attempt to put 200 million codes for free songs in specially marked bottles of colored sugar water; the odds of winning are estimated to be 1 in 3, though Pepsi carefully notes that the actual odds are based on how many game pieces are actually produced. Interestingly, the official rules state that Apple is not a sponsor of the promotion.
In related iTunes Music Store trivia, Apple just announced that the iTunes Music Store has now sold over 250 million songs, and is selling a million tracks per day. [ACE]
Microsoft Updates Entourage Spam Filter -- Microsoft has released Junk E-mail Filter Update 1 for Microsoft Entourage 2004 via the package's Microsoft AutoUpdate utility (if you've set it not to check automatically, choose Help > Check for Updates from any Office 2004 application to launch AutoUpdate). The 2.9 MB update includes more current definitions of which email messages should be considered junk; since Entourage 2004 relies on spam definitions developed and constantly adjusted by Microsoft, updates are essential to keep the spam filter working. For more information on using Entourage 2004's junk mail filter, see Tom Negrino's "Take Control of What's New in Entourage 2004" ebook; it includes a coupon for $5 off Michael Tsai's excellent SpamSieve utility if you would prefer to use a Bayesian-based approach to filtering spam that learns from the mail you actually receive. [ACE]
by Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Andy Hertzfeld has stories to tell. Dozens of them. And if you ever owned a 128K Macintosh, aspired to own one, or admired the work behind that extraordinary box, Hertzfeld's new book Revolution in the Valley is a charming and picaresque trip through his personal experience in helping give birth to the Mac.
The book is an outgrowth of Hertzfeld's Folklore.org Web site, which he started in July 2003 to relate the pieces of the past that have never been told, or at least not told at length. The site itself is a demonstration of software he's developing to let people tell stories collectively through recounting and annotation. Because Folklore.org continues to operate on the same basis, if you find errors in the book or take issue with Hertzfeld's interpretation, you can visit the site and comment on the particular anecdote.
Hertzfeld has had an interesting career since leaving Apple after the first Mac shipped in 1984; he also has just a handful of scores to settle. Most of the time, he comes to praise, not to bury. The book revolves around the nitty gritty of producing a computer that had to pull off many dozens of unique tricks in hardware and software to work at all. Apple previously and even simultaneously suffered notable failures in putting too much innovation in one box - the Apple III, the Lisa - and being able to deliver at a reasonable price and performance.
(Don't flame me, Lisa fans: Steve Jobs raided Lisa team members and innovation to squeeze into the Mac, helping to doom the earlier machine. As Hertzfeld recounts, Lisa architect Rich Page screamed during an early Mac/Lisa cross-team briefing, "You guys don't know what you're doing! ... The Macintosh is going to destroy the Lisa! The Macintosh is going to ruin Apple!" And for you Apple III fans... what am I saying? There are no Apple III fans. Although I did spend some time entering data into an Apple III around 1980, however, it didn't give me any profound insight into the machine.)
Hertzfeld didn't compile a straightforward narrative for the book, and it shows its roots as anecdotes and short stories on a Web site in two ways: first, it meanders quite pleasantly around amusing stories, doubling back into a past that's already told to extract another nugget. Second, Hertzfeld used some of the comments left on his Folklore.org site to annotate his book, including those that contradict or critique his memory. The book would have benefited from more of this back-and-forth, actually, as a number of comments on the Web site are quite pointed, poignant, or just credulous about the accuracy of certain stories.
The Hacker Hero -- The book does have a hero and a villain, and a few lesser good and evil figures. The hero is Burrell Smith, the hilariously weird hardware genius who came up with many of the strangest and most successful ideas of squeezing more performance out of the Macintosh motherboard. He also should earn Mac owners undying love for trying, unsuccessfully, to insert an expansion port and upgradable RAM into the first Mac.
Jobs and the Mac's conceptual father Jef Raskin agreed that the Mac shouldn't have a slot because it would add cost and complexity. Smith was told by Jobs that "there was no way the Mac would even have a single slot." But Hertzfeld notes that "Burrell was not easily thwarted... After talking it over with Brian [Howard], they decided to call it the 'diagnostic port' instead of a slot, arguing that it would save money during manufacturing if testing devices could access the processor bus to diagnose manufacturing errors." But the engineering manager Rod Holt spotted the subterfuge. "That thing's really a slot, right? You're trying to sneak in a slot! ...Well that's not going to happen!"
Ah, well; we had to wait until the Macintosh II for a full-fledged slot. And, surprise, a company founded by none other than Burrell Smith - a little firm named Radius - took incredible of advantage of that slot to offer advanced graphics cards that helped establish the Mac's early preeminence in desktop publishing and illustration. (When I worked at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging in the early 1990s, we had at least a few hundred thousand dollars in Radius cards and monitors.) Hertzfeld notes on his site in response to a comment that Smith is now quite private and has been retired from commercial work since leaving Radius many years ago.
Other members of the team have also left the technology realm. Bill Atkinson, for instance, became a full-time photographer after many years of intense work. I met Bill in 1991 at the Center for Creative Imaging where he was attending a special design invitational along with John Sculley and a host of designers, photographers, and illustrators. (That's where I overheard a Kodak employee, while demoing a terrible piece of software to John Sculley, explain how keyboard commands were better than mouse commands. "No," Sculley said quietly, "they're not.") Hertzfeld's picture of Atkinson shows him as rather prickly and sensitive, although that's partly because Atkinson's role in the Lisa was largely ignored, and he didn't want to be pushed to the sidelines again.
Other minor heroes include Bud Tribble, who at the time was pursuing a medical degree while writing memory management software. (Tribble left Apple, later joined Hertzfeld at Eazel, and eventually returned to Apple a couple of years ago.)
The Manager Villain -- You're expecting me to say Steve Jobs, right? Wrong.
The villain of the story is Bob Belleville, the Mac's engineering manager for Hertzfeld's last couple of years at Apple. Hertzfeld seems least fair in presenting a pretty one-sided and nasty picture of Belleville. He may have been a poor manager or out of his depth - I don't know whether that's accurate - but he's the least fleshed-out person in the book. Everyone else emerges as quirky and interesting, even when they're screaming at Hertzfeld. Belleville is his bete noire, and a nasty cipher.
Also interesting is that Jef Raskin appears quite positively in the book. Raskin has spent a lot of time since leaving Apple well before the Mac shipped trying to prevent Apple and others from erasing his name from the history books as the conceptual originator of the Macintosh's core concepts. Raskin deserves to be placed front and center as the person who pulled together ideas that he had been writing about and lecturing about since the 1960s into a single project with funding. The fact that Jobs stripped him of control and his role, and that the ultimate Macintosh has significant differences from what his general vision and specific hardware choices were, shouldn't lessen the appreciation of his role.
Hertzfeld's recollection of Raskin is as a fun and creative manager with an imperious and professorial manner who helped bond a team together around a common and unique vision. Without Raskin, as Hertzfeld relates it, the Lisa would have been Apple's flagship with incremental improvements, rather than revolutionary ones. Jobs's spearheading of the Mac led it to success because he was constantly overriding and micromanaging the project for good or bad - but the project received staff, resources, and his laser-beam attention.
Steve Jobs ultimately drove Hertzfeld to distraction, and also appears as a paper-thin caricature. But that may be the only Steve Jobs that anyone who works with him gets to know. Jobs pushes his staff to work crazy hours, makes last-minute changes, and pursues insane technical decisions. When Smith shows a blowup of the blueprint of the latest motherboard layout, Jobs says, "That part's really pretty... but look at the memory chips. That's ugly. The lines are too close together." When an engineer points out that no one will see the board, Jobs replies, "I'm gonna see it! I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it's inside the box. A great carpenter isn't going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody's going to see it." (It's clear Jobs was never a carpenter.) He makes the team design a pretty board, and when it doesn't work, they revert back to the functional design.
More typically, Jobs pursues dead ends, such as an Alps-designed 3.5 inch floppy disk drive; fortunately cooler heads at Apple maintained a back channel to Sony (who provided the final 3.5 inch drives), which involved sometimes hiding a Japanese engineer in a closet in an Apple building when Jobs unexpectedly popped by.
On the other hand, Jobs does make a number of key decisions along the development process that make the Mac what it was, from case design to aspects of its performance. The man couldn't stop poking, but he did bring out the best in his engineers, a trait that he has apparently retained to this day.
Hertzfeld describes how he and a few other key Apple people had dinner with Jobs after Sculley organized the board coup that removed virtually all of Jobs's control of the company, despite being the titular chairman of the board. It's the most human picture of Jobs in the book. And it's clear from the story that Jobs was never going to be in a position to be fired by anyone ever again.
Bill Gates also comes across as a villain, appearing frequently in the guise of Coyote, twisting words and using his magic bag of tricks to seize patents and ideas.
Hertzfeld's Journey -- It was exciting to read Hertzfeld's first-person accounts of developing the software for Thunderscan, a scanner-head replacement for the ImageWriter's print head built by a company that needed his help in making it fast and slick; and Switcher, the original context-changing tool for running multiple programs at once on the Mac.
I remember the excitement of owning my first Macintosh Plus, and remember buying an upgrade toolkit with more RAM (static strip, long Allen screwdriver, and case cracker) - and then seeing the glory of the signatures on the inside of the case as I put in a whopping four megabytes of RAM.
I can't say that Hertzfeld doesn't have an ego, but most of the stories he tells are about other people. He doesn't put himself front and center except in some of the most painful incidents, which typically involve Steve Jobs either demanding something of him or putting him in a position where other people are asking him not to listen to Jobs, his nominal uber-boss.
Hertzfeld ends the story before joining Radius, helping to found General Magic, and then being back with many original Apple developers at Eazel. We don't quite know how the last 20 years treated him because the universal interest in Apple doesn't necessary extend to those other firms. And perhaps the statute of limitations on telling the blunt truth (as he sees it) extends back 20 years.
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack Pro is a great program, but it seems to me that the developer's own Web pages fail to explain exactly why. The conceptual difficulty is that Audio Hijack Pro occupies two niches at once - it does two quite different things. So, in reading about it, if you don't particularly want it for the first thing it does, the second thing it does might not even register upon your consciousness. Yet this second thing is extremely cool and, as far as I can tell, quite unique.
First Things First -- The first thing Audio Hijack Pro does is simple to describe: it records to a sound file any sound that your computer is generating. To see why this is useful, think about sounds your computer generates from time to time that you might like to record to a file. For example, you might be listening to an audio stream via the Internet using RealPlayer - a live radio station webcast, perhaps, or a replay of some earlier show. With RealPlayer, there is no sound file: you download a tiny file to start with, but that's essentially just a URL. The actual sound exists only as it streams. But that sound is coming out of your computer, so with Audio Hijack Pro, you can record it. Similarly you can record the soundtrack from a DVD that you watch with DVD Player. And so forth - if any application on your computer is generating sound, you can record it.
The recording that Audio Hijack Pro generates can be a sound file in any of several standard compressed or uncompressed formats: 16-bit AIFF, 24-bit AIFF, MP3, AAC, or Apple's new lossless (ALAC) format. Also, what's generating the sound doesn't have to an application; it can be a port. So, if sound appears at your built-in microphone, your Line In port, or at your USB port through a "breakout box" such as the Griffin iMic or RadioSHARK, or any of a large number of other more-sophisticated devices, you can record it. For example, if I want to make a quick audio note to myself, I can set Audio Hijack Pro to record from the internal microphone to a highly compressed 32 Kbps MP3 file and just speak directly at my computer. At the other end of the scale of sound quality and file size, I can digitize a cassette tape or vinyl LP of classical music by recording in 24-bit AIFF format from my Tascam USB box, to which my stereo system is hooked up.
Even if this is does interest you, though, you still might not feel that it's worth paying $32 for Audio Hijack Pro. Granted, $32 is not a lot of money; but there are alternatives that are cheaper still. There's Audio Hijack's non-Pro little brother, Audio Hijack, which is only $16, and does the same thing. The main difference is that Audio Hijack records only to 16-bit AIFF files; you can set the sample rate, but that's your only choice. Still, AIFF is the best format for editing your sound files, and you can always use iTunes or any other QuickTime-savvy program to convert from AIFF to one of those other formats afterwards; so you might reasonably feel that the capability to record directly to a compressed format on the fly is no great advantage. Plus, even Audio Hijack has competitors: Ambrosia Software's new WireTap Pro (which replaces their earlier free WireTap) is just $19 and can record to various formats. There is also the free Jack OS X, though this requires a separate application to generate the final sound file, and is more work to set up. And if all you want to do is record the sound coming into your computer, you might be happier with a program such as the $30 Amadeus II, which records the sound, lets you edit it (including click and pop removal and application of many other effects and filters), and can save to more file formats - and costs less - than Audio Hijack Pro.
Plug It In, Plug It In -- This brings us to the second thing Audio Hijack Pro does: it can process the sound digitally as it records it. It does this by means of plug-ins, some of which are included with Audio Hijack Pro, and some of which are already present on your computer (you're free to install others as well). Indeed, one of the best-kept secrets of Mac OS X is that it includes a number of astoundingly powerful digital signal processing plug-ins, including a 31-band graphic equalizer, a compressor, a limiter, and high-pass and low-pass filters. If you've used GarageBand you may have noticed these effects, but they are also available to any AudioUnits-savvy sound application - and that includes Audio Hijack Pro. And AudioUnits are not the only flavor of plug-in that Audio Hijack Pro can handle. It has its own plug-in format, called 4FX, and comes with nearly two dozen functions, good mostly for adjusting gain and balance. Plus it recognizes LADSPA plug-ins, a format originating on Linux; many free LADSPA plug-ins are available, and a handful come with the program. Finally, Audio Hijack Pro accepts VST plug-ins, many of which are both commercial and free.
The great part is that you can apply multiple effects at once. It works like a simple patch board: you can apply effects in series, in parallel, or both. The interface is brilliantly efficient: it's just a grid, which operates as a sequence of columns - all effects in column 1 are applied in parallel before proceeding in series to column 2, and so forth. The sound coming from your computer passes through the effects before your hear it and before it goes to a file; thus you can monitor what you're doing to the sound as you record it. As you're listening, you can turn any effect off and on just by clicking a button, to distinguish what it's doing to your sound; and you can experiment with whatever adjustments in gain or parameters each effect permits.
Bear in mind, furthermore, that you are under no obligation to apply your effects when you originally record the sound. You can just as easily record the sound without effects to start with, then play that recording to make a new recording to which you apply effects. Indeed, you can apply effects to a recording that you didn't create yourself in the first place. This means that Audio Hijack Pro can function as an amazingly inexpensive remastering laboratory. Let's say, for example, that I've obtained an MP3 of one of the old radio Goon Shows. It's good, but I'd like to sweeten up the sound a bit, and I'd like to remove some high-frequency artifacts. So I play the MP3 through iTunes, which I have "hijacked" with Audio Hijack Pro, applying the Excitifier and LowPass effects. As I listen, I tweak the effects parameters until I like the results; then I go back to the beginning of the MP3, set Audio Hijack Pro to record to an MP3 of the same quality as the original, and play through the entire thing. When I'm done, I've got a new MP3 that sounds a little nicer. (Transforming an MP3 to another MP3 usually involves some drop in quality, because MP3 is lossy, but in this case the overall effect is positive because there was no particular fidelity to maintain in the first place.) Again, at the high end of sound quality, I could start with a 24-bit AIFF recorded from a vinyl LP and play that through iTunes, applying a little equalization and compression and ending with a dither effect, and recording to a 16-bit AIFF; presto, I've just used Audio Hijack Pro to master an audio CD. (And to top it all off, I can even burn that audio CD directly from Audio Hijack Pro.)
Now there are, of course, other ways to apply effects, and other ways to master. In a program like Amadeus II, you simply select a stretch of audio and apply the effect directly: the calculations are made, and the audio is rewritten. The disadvantage of Audio Hijack Pro's approach is that the effect is applied live: the only way to pass a sound through an effect is by playing the entire sound, so the time required to apply the effect is the sound's duration. But the advantage of Audio Hijack Pro's approach is the very same thing - the effect is applied live. This means that you can monitor the effect as it is applied, and can even make adjustments in real time (for example, you might wish to turn up the compression for one part of a recording a bit more than for another part). Furthermore, I don't know of any other application at anything like this low price that lets you apply multiple effects in parallel and series so simply as Audio Hijack Pro.
More Than Meets the Ear -- Audio Hijack Pro is full of extra features and capabilities at which I haven't even hinted so far. You can record the sound output of more than one application at once (each being routed separately to its own file), or record one application while listening through your speakers to another. You can set a recording to stop automatically after a certain amount of time - good for preventing a sound file from becoming huge while you're distracted by the phone. You can set up Audio Hijack Pro to record from a certain application at a certain date and time - good for recording the upcoming broadcast of Car Talk via Internet radio while you're out for a run. You can have recordings automatically be split into multiple files as they are created, either at timed intervals or during long silences (so as to separate them into tracks, for instance). You can have Audio Hijack Pro tell the sound application what file to open (or what AppleScript program to run) before it begins recording - thus you might set RealPlayer to switch automatically to the desired Internet radio station, for instance. You can also have it run an AppleScript script after recording is finished, to post-process the recording file (adding it, perhaps, to a particular iTunes playlist).
Seen in the full light of what it can do, Audio Hijack Pro seems a bargain at $32. The program is constantly being improved. The manual could be more complete, but support is excellent, and there are user forums moderated patiently and helpfully by the developers. A clever demo system allows you to try before you buy: the program works normally, but adds some static to any recording longer than about 10 minutes until it is registered. The download is less than 3 MB. Audio Hijack Pro requires Mac OS X 10.2.7 or later.
by TidBITS Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
New WireTap vs Audio Hijack Pro Thread -- Readers compare two popular programs used to record streaming Internet radio and other audio on the Mac. (6 messages)
Long term maintenance of domain names -- Currently, maintaining domain names is a job for the technically inclined, but some partial solutions are available for people who may not be versed in the Internet's plumbing. (11 messages)
Mac and TV convergence -- What does it mean to watch TV on your computer? And does it even make sense at all? (7 messages)
Mac mini -- The discussion of Apple's new Mac mini continues unabated. (93 messages)
Apple's Cash Hoard -- Spurred on by Apple's last record financial quarter, people wonder if Apple could drop the price of the Mac mini even further, taking a loss in order to boost market share. (18 messages)
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