Interested in the future of content in a digital world? Join us in an experiment into the direct valuation of information. Adam also offers techniques for circumventing areas in which iPhoto’s simplicity makes it clumsy. Then we look at the new Power Mac G4s and minor eMac changes, plus an update to Retrospect Client. Finally, we have an update on last week’s article on the fate of the digital hub concept in the wake of Hollywood protectionism.
eMac Gets New Drives; iMac Gets Cheaper — Apple last week announced small changes to its consumer desktop line of Macs. The eMac, which initially offered only a CD-RW drive, now features either a Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) for $1,100, or Apple’s SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW) for $1,500 (the two configurations differ in other ways too – the SuperDrive-equipped model has a faster CPU, more RAM, and a larger hard disk). If you want the stylish iMac with its flat-panel display instead, Apple just sweetened the deal by dropping the prices on the CD-RW and Combo drive models by $100, to $1,300 and $1,500 respectively. (Both repriced models come with the 15-inch LCD screen; the 15-inch model with a SuperDrive remains priced at $1,800 and the 17-inch model comes only with a SuperDrive and costs $2,000.) Although these changes are minor, they help make the iMac and eMac even more attractive to students just before the start of the school year. [ACE]
New Retrospect Client, Xserve, Jaguar Compatibility — Dantz Development last week released a new version of the Retrospect Client for Mac OS X along with additional information about compatibility between their Retrospect backup application and Apple’s new Xserve server and the forthcoming Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar. The new Retrospect Client, version 5.0.536, offers Jaguar compatibility, corrects a bug that could cause it to turn itself off after approximately 17 minutes, and makes it so the Defer button in the Backup Server alert window works in Mac OS X 10.1.x (though it’s still non-functional in Jaguar). Retrospect Client 5.0.536 is a free 2.4 MB download for Retrospect owners.
Dantz also announced that Retrospect is compatible with the Xserve under Mac OS X Server 10.1.5 (but not yet Mac OS X Server 10.2). Retrospect supports the Xserve’s optional ATTO UL3S-66 SCSI card and uses the highest priority active Ethernet port, switching as necessary if that port is turned off (Retrospect Client, in contrast, can only switch network ports if you turn it off by Command-clicking its Off button, and then turning it back on). Finally, although the just-released Retrospect Client lets you back up a machine running Jaguar from a computer running Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X 10.1.x (or Retrospect 6.0 for Windows), Dantz also promised a future free update to Retrospect to support Jaguar fully; right now, Retrospect cannot auto-launch under Jaguar and many SCSI cards will need new drivers. [ACE]
In a move many people expected to happen at last month’s Macworld Expo, Apple has unveiled new Power Mac G4s that offer significant enhancements to Apple’s professional desktop line while changing only the front panel of the elegant Power Mac industrial design. In fact, the front panel change points to the Power Mac’s differentiating name – Apple identifies the new models as with the clunky moniker "Power Mac G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors)."
The new Power Macs all feature dual PowerPC G4 processors running at 867 MHz, 1 GHz, or 1.25 GHz; the first two have 1 MB of backside L3 cache, and the 1.25 GHz model offers 2 MB of backside L3 cache. Three video cards, all of which offer ADC and DVI connectors and support dual monitors, are available: the Nvidia GeForce4 MX with 32 MB of DDR-SDRAM, the ATI Radeon 9000 Pro with 64 MB of DDR-SD-RAM, or the Nvidia GeForce4 Ti with a 128 MB frame buffer of DDR-SDRAM for the ultimate in graphics power. The main system memory is also DDR-SDRAM, which provides twice the throughput of conventional single data rate RAM. Storage comes in the form of a 60 GB, 80 GB, or 120 GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive running at 7200 rpm, plus either a Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) or a SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW). If you want more storage, there are three additional 3.5-inch internal hard drive expansion bays and one more external expansion drive bay. Additional system expansion is possible with the four 64-bit 33 MHz PCI slots and one 4x AGP slot. After that, the specs return to the familiar, with two FireWire ports, four USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, an AirPort card slot, keyboard, mouse, and so on.
The new Power Macs do require (and boot into by default) Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar; they also include Mac OS 9.2.2. Other bundled software includes Lemke Software’s Graphic Converter, Omni Group’s OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, Caffeine Software’s PixelNhance, and Ambrosia’s Snapz Pro X, plus Apple’s full iApp suite.
The dual 867 MHz Power Mac G4 starts at $1,700, with the dual 1 GHz model starting at $2,500 and the dual 1.25 GHz model at $3,300. The dual 867 MHz and dual 1 GHz models are available immediately; the 1.25 GHz model is slated to ship in the second half of September.
Cory Doctorow’s article last week on whether Apple’s digital hub concept can survive the political machinations of Hollywood garnered unprecedented attention, thanks to a mention on the geek news site Slashdot. Like others who have been "Slashdotted," we were unprepared for the tidal wave of traffic. After a few hours we managed to move the cached article from our database server (behind a 128K ISDN line) to our main server at digital.forest (where they have a huge OC-12 Internet connection); that helped, but even our main server maxed out serving 100 simultaneous connections with no respite until the load started to wane in the afternoon. Although I still don’t think it’s necessary to design a system just to handle an isolated spike in traffic like this, a move to Mac OS X on a faster Mac will probably ease future concerns.
Also, Cory sent a clarification surrounding his statement that the FCC had announced it "would open proceedings to mandate the BPDG proposal, turning this ‘standard’ into the law of the land." He writes:
"In the FCC rulemaking proceeding, the FCC commissioners and spokespeople clarified this, saying that the FCC proceeding was looking for comments on what sort of Broadcast Flag mandate, if any, would be appropriate; further, they said that the BPDG proposal would not receive any special consideration. For information on how you can submit your own comments to the FCC rulemaking, visit the link below and sign up for regular updates."
Finally, as always, I encourage you to check out the ongoing discussion on TidBITS Talk surrounding this topic. Although the outlook may seem bleak regarding legislation in the U.S. seriously hampering the kind of digital lifestyle that Apple has been promoting, the efforts of individuals can make a difference, both by convincing companies we support to stand up and by sounding off directly to our elected representatives.
It’s time to rethink how we value information, and I have a proposal about how we can do it.
Some information changes hands at sky-high rates – think about rewards leading to the conviction of certain criminals. More commonly, we have consultants, who may charge $100 or more per hour to convey information to their clients, and niche newsletters with subscription fees in the hundreds or thousands of dollars per year. But how radically does information from consultants or boutique newsletters really differ from the sort of content that appears in TidBITS, Macworld, or even many Web sites?
In many cases, there’s little or no difference. We’ve been conditioned to value the message by the medium. In part, we pay consultants high hourly rates because they filter information and present it to us in customized ways. Niche newsletters promise a similar benefit, often presenting a single person’s view on a very specific field. A paperback book costs less than a hardcover, but the content is the same; we pay more to read the book sooner (plus a little more for the higher materials cost). We pay to subscribe to print magazines, but many of us expect to find the same content online for free, even if we aren’t subscribers. We buy CDs of music, but millions of people download music for free from file sharing services.
I’m all for different business models, but none of the traditional approaches let readers place their own value on content. Instead, value is assigned arbitrarily based on a variety of attributes entirely separate from the information itself. Despite the famous admonishment, we are valuing books by their covers. It’s time we looked past external factors and put a value on the content inside.
A Fragmented Business Model — Over the last few hundred years, information has been delivered in collections – the newspaper, the magazine, the record album, the cable television package. That’s been necessary in part because the inherent costs in distribution offer economies of scale to collections. It isn’t significantly cheaper to distribute a single article on paper than it is an entire newspaper. Couple that with the concept of mass production for a mass market – multiple identical copies of the same item for sale to many people – and you can see why we’ve ended up with the now-familiar business models for information: per-copy sales, advertising, and subscriptions. When the number of sales are large, the price per copy can be low, which makes it possible to buy a magazine for a few dollars or subscribe to one for a low annual amount. If the audience is sufficiently large or appropriate, advertising sales can make it possible to give the content away for free.
It wasn’t always this way, and in some cases it still isn’t. The patronage system was responsible for much of the art and music of the Renaissance, and even now, analyst reports can cost thousands of dollars. The patrons of old and the people who buy expensive reports today share one thing – they place a high value on content.
I think we need a compromise – a financial model that values content irrespective of the distribution method or the physical medium while keeping that content both freely available and affordable. Many people have said they’d like to be able to pay musicians directly for downloaded music; we’re now making a similar approach possible with authors of TidBITS articles. We’re calling our foray into this space PayBITS, and in short, it will make it possible for a reader to compensate an author directly for the received value of a given TidBITS article.
The PayBITS Proposal — TidBITS is free for anyone to read, but we have a history of experimenting with business models. In 1992, when it became clear that we couldn’t continue without earning some income from TidBITS, we created our corporate sponsorship program, based on the public broadcasting model (Masterpiece Theater is brought to you by…). As far as we’ve been able to find, it was the first advertising program on the Internet – a scary move back in the days when the National Science Foundation Acceptable Use Policies were still in place. Then, in 1999, at the instigation of our loyal readers on TidBITS Talk, we started our voluntary contribution program, resulting in over 850 readers contributing directly to the financial survival of TidBITS, with more than 200 people being continuing supporters.
The sponsorship program keeps the business going, although we subsidize TidBITS heavily with our time – we could all earn much more at other jobs. And the contribution program, though it can’t replace the sponsorships, has also provided some extremely welcome income. Although the downturn in Internet advertising has certainly hurt us as well, we’ve managed to stay afloat.
What we’ve never been able to do is figure out how to pay our authors. Our staff already earns much less than comparable positions at traditional publications – there’s just no money left over to compensate authors with anything but whatever benefit they can derive from being published. Some authors have parlayed writing for TidBITS – sometimes with our help – into magazine articles and even book projects, but that’s always an unanticipated bonus.
Here’s where PayBITS comes in. At the end of appropriate articles in TidBITS, we’ll be placing a few lines of text and a link to an Internet payment service that will make it possible for readers to compensate the authors directly. Apart from a one-line explanation of PayBITS for readers who have missed this article, the specific text, suggested amount (if any), and payment service (likely PayPal or Kagi) will be up to authors.
If you find an article valuable or particularly interesting, especially if it saved you time or money, click the author’s PayBITS link to compensate them directly and support the concept that information has real value. The author may provide a suggested amount, but you can pay as much or as little as you feel is commensurate with the value of the information.
I expect that only a very small percentage of the full TidBITS readership will find any given article sufficiently valuable or interesting to be willing to pay the author for it. That’s fine, since in theory, we have enough subscribers for that very small percentage to still be a fair number of people. And of course, since authors aren’t earning anything for articles as it stands now, any amount will be welcome. We’ll ask authors to let us know how many payments they receive and the total amount to help us evaluate which authors and articles readers find the most useful or interesting.
Concerns and Confusions — I ran this idea past TidBITS Talk, and the feedback was fabulous (including the name, thanks to Maarten Festen). Most people were highly positive about the idea, but a few expressed concerns.
A few authors said they weren’t interested in being paid for their writing, which is fine. We certainly won’t make authors participate in PayBITS, though they’re also welcome to redirect any payments to other entities as appropriate. For instance, it would have been easy to see payments from Cory Doctorow’s article about Hollywood’s power play directed to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Some people went nuts with the idea and proposed complex systems by which we’d serve PayBITS pages to readers, sending the final click out to an appropriate payment service. Others suggested we solve the entire micropayment problem. Although I appreciate the potential elegance and utility of such systems, I want to keep this initial phase of PayBITS as simple as possible since we’re already overworked. Any infrastructure changes must be designed, coded, maintained, and migrated to any new systems we create. That’s just too much right now but definitely something we’d consider for the future.
I saw some slight concern that PayBITS could affect our editorial mix, but I’m not worried about that, since we’ve always published what we’ve felt was important. Plus, even if PayBITS resulted in us publishing more articles that people find useful or particularly interesting, I fail to see the harm in that.
Others felt that although they liked the idea, they were worried that it might cannibalize the general contributions to TidBITS. I’m not concerned about that either, since I’m thinking that our contribution program will move under the PayBITS umbrella. For articles about what we’re doing with TidBITS (like this one) or those written by multiple people (like our Macworld Superlatives articles), we’ll point the PayBITS link at our existing contribution program.
More common was the sentiment that readers didn’t want to think about the value of a given article and would instead prefer to pay TidBITS some annual amount and have us distribute it to authors. My response there is that thinking about the value of information is what the PayBITS experiment is all about – one person may find a given article incredibly timely and helpful, whereas it may not help another person at all. If people pay us and we pay authors, we’re doing nothing new or interesting, and it would mean more bookkeeping and accounting work than we can afford.
A few people seemed uncomfortable with the concept in general, suggesting either that we should switch to a subscription model, or that readers might go to other sources for their content. Again, subscription models are old hat, and although they’re working a little better of late (a recent New York Times article looked at this trend), they haven’t been widely successful on the Internet. I have no interest in switching to a subscription model at this point, since if trends bear out, we’d be lucky to retain 10 percent of our readership. It goes against my grain to keep TidBITS away from potential readers – our goal has always been to make TidBITS as accessible as possible. And as far as people turning to other resources, the entire point of PayBITS is to provide a channel for people to acknowledge the value of information they’ve already received, not to keep it away from them until they pay. If someone doesn’t want to pay, we’re not going to make them.
The Experiment Begins — All that’s left is for us to set aside our preconceptions of the value of content and try PayBITS. I’ll report on how it has fared after it’s been in place for a while, and of course, if you have any thoughts about it, feel free to send them to TidBITS Talk.
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Apple’s iPhoto is simple and easy to use for importing, organizing, editing, and sharing photos, right? Not so fast. iPhoto is extremely simple, but that very simplicity sometimes makes it harder to use. During and since writing my latest book, iPhoto 1.1 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, I’ve come up with a few techniques for working around iPhoto’s limitations. If you’ve found iPhoto clumsy, these techniques will simplify working with your images.
Keeping Photos Outside iPhoto — Many people have expressed concern about the safety of the way iPhoto takes over organization of your photos, storing them in a chronological hierarchy inside your Pictures folder. In the worst possible case, where iPhoto stops working entirely, you could find and extract all your original photos for use in a different application, but it would be tedious. Luckily, there are several ways to maintain a separate photo archive; remember that doing so doubles the amount of disk space your photos occupy.
After you’ve imported pictures into iPhoto, click the Last Import album and drag all the pictures to a folder in the Finder to make identical copies. Alternatively, after clicking the Last Import album, click the Share button, and click Export. Leave the Format pop-up menu set to Original, and make sure the Size options are set to Full-size images. Then click Export and choose the export location.
In your Applications folder is a utility called Image Capture that was the primary way to download photos from your camera to your Mac before iPhoto. However, you can import photos into iPhoto normally and use Image Capture to save them to a separate location on your hard disk (launch Image Capture, connect your camera, select an appropriate destination using the Download To menu, and click the Download All button). Be sure not to delete images from the camera until you’ve performed both actions.
Instead of connecting your camera to your Mac via USB, use a memory card reader and copy the pictures to another location manually before importing into iPhoto.
Once you have all your originals outside of iPhoto, consider copying them to CD-R to save space on your hard disk. Obviously, if you’re ever forced to revert to these copies due to iPhoto problems, you’ll lose any changes you made within iPhoto, but that’s preferable to losing the photos themselves or extracting the originals from iPhoto’s folder hierarchy.
First Pass Culling and Editing — One of the wonders of digital photography is that there’s little downside to taking a lot of pictures. In fact, the main downside, aside from using up memory card space and battery power while shooting, is the extra effort needed to cull the lousy shots from the gems. iPhoto doesn’t make this process easy on the surface, but I’ve come up with a technique that works well.
Before you get started, open iPhoto’s Preferences window and set the "Double-clicking photos opens them in" setting to Edit View.
Import your pictures as you normally would, and then, making sure you’re in the Photo Library and not in an album, double-click the first picture so you see the image at full size in edit mode. There are only two actions you’ll likely want to perform on this first pass through your new pictures – deleting and rotating. You could perform additional editing at the same time, but I find it’s best to skim through all your photos quickly first, deleting the terrible ones and rotating those that need it. Other edits can wait for later.
Decide if you want to keep the first photo. Let’s assume it’s a terrible picture. Press the Delete key (something you probably didn’t realize you could do in edit mode). iPhoto prompts to make sure you want to delete the picture permanently; press Return to agree.
iPhoto automatically displays the next photo. Let’s assume it’s good, but needs rotating. Click the Rotate button under the Info pane or use the appropriate keyboard shortcut to rotate it. (In iPhoto’s Preferences you can set the default rotation direction to apply when you click the Rotate button or type Command-R; Option-clicking the Rotate button or typing Command-Shift-R rotates in the opposite direction.)
Since you want to keep this picture, after rotating it, either click the Next button or press the right arrow key. If you want to go back to compare two pictures, click the Previous button or press the left arrow key. (To compare two images side-by-side in their own windows, Option-double-click anywhere on the image to open the first one, move its window out of the day, navigate to the other one, and Option-double-click it as well.)
Now go through the rest of your photos, deleting the bad ones and rotating those that need it. Be careful once you get going – it’s easy to hit Delete and Return quickly without thinking.
Two points. First, although it seems like you could do this in organize mode with large thumbnails, it doesn’t work as well because iPhoto loses the selection after you delete a picture, forcing you to click the next displayed picture to be able to delete or rotate it. Second, if you want a nice shortcut for switching from edit mode back to organize mode, just double-click anywhere on the image.
Working with Keyword Search Results — Many people have been confused about the utility of iPhoto’s checkmark keyword (which you can’t modify). I’ve found it’s good for temporary marking of photos. For instance, when I was showing my grandparents a recent set of photos, I simply marked the ones they wanted as prints with the checkmark keyword. That made it easy to find them later when I had time to do the necessary cropping and uploading.
Once I was done, though, I was faced with a niggling problem. How could I remove the checkmark keywords from those pictures? I could of course scroll through the entire set and manually remove the keyword, but that would have taken quite some time, since the photos were scattered among numerous film rolls. And although I could search for all the photos with the checkmark keyword, as soon I switched the Assign/Search toggle back to Assign, iPhoto displayed my entire Photo Library again. If you run into a similar situation, try this technique.
First, in iPhoto’s Preferences, make sure the "Assign/Search uses" setting is set to Keywords. Then click the Organize button to switch to organize mode, turn off the Film Rolls checkbox and turn on Keywords. Move the Assign/Search toggle to Search, and click the checkmark keyword to display just the checked photos. Now select all with Command-A and drag them to the album pane to create a new album. (If you had left Film Rolls showing, Command-A would have selected all the photos in each film roll, rather than just the checkmarked photos – that’s a bug.) If you don’t have any blank space left in the album pane, create an album manually and drag the checked photos into it.
Now, click the new album to switch to it. Since it contains only the checked photos, there’s no problem switching the Assign/Search toggle back to Assign, selecting all the photos, and clicking the checkmark keyword box to remove it from all the photos. Obviously, the album isn’t useful any more, so delete it by selecting it and pressing the Delete key.
This technique works well any time you want to add or remove keywords from a set of photos that you’ve found by searching for keywords. The trick is that you can create and delete albums easily while working with photos – don’t assume they’re permanent.
Using Photos in Multiple Ways — Using albums as temporary holding spots for photos works well in another situation where iPhoto falls down. Assume you want to use a set of images in multiple ways, ordering prints, creating a book, and uploading to the Web. The problem arises with aspect ratios – Apple’s book layouts assume a 4×3 aspect ratio (the native aspect ratio of almost all digital cameras), whereas you’ll want to crop the photos for prints, since standard print sizes are never 4×3.
The half-baked solution is to crop your photos for the sizes of prints you want to order. Those aspect ratios (4×6, 5×7, 8×10, and so on) won’t work perfectly with Apple’s book themes, but if you use the Story Book theme, it won’t be a major problem. And of course, aspect ratio isn’t important on the Web. But if you do want to do things "right," follow these steps.
First, in iPhoto’s Preferences, make sure the "Assign/Search uses" setting is set to Comments, and perform any edits like red-eye reduction that you want to apply universally. Select your desired images and add them to a new album. Switch to that album, select all the photos with Command-A, and then duplicate them with Command-D. Now you have two copies of each image in your album, and the only difference between the copies is that one has the word "copy" appended to its title. Unfortunately, iPhoto doesn’t arrange the copies regularly, so the easiest way to select just the copies is to switch the Assign/Search toggle to Search and type "copy" in the big Comments field. That displays just the copies; select all, add them to another new album, and then return to the previous album and delete the copies.
You now have two albums containing separate copies of the same pictures. I’d recommend naming the albums appropriately – "Vacation 2002 Prints" and "Vacation 2002 Book" – so you can keep them straight while you’re editing. Then go through the album from which you want to order prints and crop each image as desired. If you’re ordering multiple sizes, drag the photos around so all the 4×6 images are together, all the 5×7 images are together, and so on to make it easier to remember the sizes for each image in the Order Prints window.
When you’re done with the prints, you can turn your attention to the other album, where you’ve stored versions of the photos for use in a book. Those you’ll want to crop using the 4×3 aspect ratio.
This technique works equally well for creating multiple copies of the same photos for printing at different sizes or for making one set black-and-white. One tip, though, if you want to delete these albums after you’ve ordered your prints or books, you might want to note in each photo’s title or comments the aspect ratio you’ve used. That way, if you want to use that photo again in the future, you’ll know exactly how it was cropped.
Other Techniques — I’m sure people have bumped up against other limitations in iPhoto, and if you either have a technique to share or would like one for working around your particular irritations with iPhoto, send a note to the TidBITS Talk thread I’ve started, and I’ll see what I can think up. Hopefully the iPhoto engineers at Apple have been using the program heavily and will be building in features to work around some of these problems in iPhoto 2.0.
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