Our look into GPS continues with a review of the Garmin Forerunner 201 from the aptly named runner Paul Lightfoot. Dawn D’Angelillo then joins us to talk about the serious problems surrounding obsolete electronics and the need for better recycling facilities and programs. Glenn Fleishman covers the release of the Mac Desktop Controller for the Sonos wireless speaker system, and we look at Yahoo’s purchase of Konfabulator and the releases of OmniWeb 5.1.1 and DoorStop X 1.0, along with the official story of .Mac bandwidth limits.
OmniWeb 5.1.1 Released
OmniWeb 5.1.1 Released — The Omni Group has released OmniWeb 5.1.1 to fix a variety of minor bugs and improve compatibility with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. You can read the full change list on the OmniWeb Release Notes page linked below; suffice to say that if you use OmniWeb, particularly with Tiger, you’ll want to download the 6 MB update to eliminate some annoying page drawing problems on certain sites and crashes in specific situations. Despite Safari’s new features in Tiger, I still find myself relying on OmniWeb for most of my Web browsing thanks to features like reopening pages on relaunch, workspaces, separate window editing of textarea fields, find/replace in textarea fields, and more. [ACE]
Apple Discloses, Limits .Mac Bandwidth Transfers
Apple Discloses, Limits .Mac Bandwidth Transfers — Apple’s .Mac service has played it coy for years about how much bandwidth transfer (bytes to and from your Web pages and other parts of your account) are included with your annual $100 fee. I’ve asked Apple directly about it before and some folks have tested it, and it appears to be… well, it varies based on velocity of downloads, kind of material, etc.
No more. Now the bandwidth limits are officially 3 GB per month with a regular subscription and 9 GB a month if you pay the extra $50 per year for a full 1 GB of online storage. [GF]
<http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/mc /20050720/tc_mc/ macaddshigherbandwidthoption>
DoorStop X 1.0 Enhances Mac OS X’s Firewall
DoorStop X 1.0 Enhances Mac OS X’s Firewall — Back in 1998, Open Door Networks shipped DoorStop, the first firewall for the Mac. The program was subsequently licensed to Symantec for Norton Personal Firewall, and now Open Door has released DoorStop X, a new version for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther and 10.4 Tiger. Although Mac OS X has had a built-in firewall since Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and the version in Tiger finally offers rudimentary logging of denied access attempts, DoorStop X provides far better logging (particularly in concert with Open Door’s Who’s There? Firewall Advisor utility) of both allowed and denied access attempts. DoorStop also features a more graphical interface that makes it easier to understand your configuration at a glance, and most important, the program enables you to open up a particular port to a specific IP address or range of IP addresses, thus eliminating the all-or-nothing approach of Mac OS X’s built-in firewall. Through 15-Aug-05, DoorStop X costs $40, or $60 when bundled with Who’s There. Educational discounts are available for multiple license packs. A fully functional trial version (2.2. MB download) works for 30 days; Who’s There has a fully functional, 10-day trial version (also 2.2. MB). [ACE]
Yahoo Gets With a New Konfab
Yahoo Gets With a New Konfab — Yahoo announced today that it has purchased Konfabulator, an application (for both Mac OS X and Windows) which enables users to run small custom applications – called Widgets – right on their desktop. (In case you’re wondering, Konfabulator came substantially earlier than Apple’s Dashboard and its widgets: see Adam’s review back in TidBITS-717.) Konfabulator has inspired an enthusiastic developer community that created widgets to report on everything from traffic and mosquito conditions to metronomes and add-ons for Apple’s iChat and iTunes. But not only is Yahoo buying Konfabulator, it’s giving the program away for free! Anyone who purchased Konfabulator in the last two months will receive a refund.
Yahoo sees Konfabulator as a core technology behind the Yahoo Developer Network: Konfabulator – likely to be renamed Yahoo Widgets – will be a means by which Yahoo promotes its new XML-based content distribution schemes. By making Konfabulator free, Yahoo hopes developers will create Widgets for Mac and Windows that do all sorts of cool and useful things, many of which will be tied directly to Yahoo’s online content offerings. Developers will appreciate not having to "scrape" Web sites to extract data for their Widgets; users will appreciate cool, new cross-platform tools; and Yahoo will see their content (and associated advertising efforts) reach new people in new ways. Konfabulator is now available as a free 5.2 MB download, and requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later. [GD]
Adam Talks about Macworld Expo on Tech Night Owl
Adam Talks about Macworld Expo on Tech Night Owl — Time for another radio interview, this time with Gene Steinberg of the Tech Night Owl Live. Gene and I talked for a while about Macworld Expo Boston, what it was like, and why it has shrunk so much over the last few years. On the page below, you can either listen to the MP3 directly, or find the link to access the podcast of the show.
iMix Playlist Representing Apple History
iMix Playlist Representing Apple History — Want to have some fun? The final "stunt" in the MacBrainiac Challenge at last week’s Macworld Expo in Boston was to create a playlist from tracks in the iTunes Music Store with about 10 songs whose titles best represented Apple’s corporate history. It was tough, both because of slow Internet connectivity to the iTunes Music Store and because of the limited time we had on stage. Honestly, I can’t remember the specific songs my team picked, but I do remember that the opposing Smart Folders team did a better job and was justly rewarded with more audience applause.
But hey, you can participate in this too. Go to the iTunes Music Store and make up an iMix playlist with tracks whose titles (not artist or album names) elicit parts of Apple’s history, in chronological order, of course. You can use as many songs as you like, and it would be especially cool if other aspects of the song contributed additional levels of meaning to what you’re trying to represent – having a blues song whose title represents Apple’s 1998 death spiral, for instance, would be great. Then write up a description of your iMix, explaining what each song is supposed to elicit, and send it, along with a link to the iMix, to TidBITS Talk at <[email protected]> so the rest of us can see what you’ve done. [ACE]
Sonos Adds Mac Desktop Controller
Testing a Sonos Digital Music System was like staying at a four-star hotel on somebody else’s dime. The system lets you stream music around a house using Ethernet or mesh wireless as the connection medium. I had a loaner system a few months ago for a review in Personal Tech Pipeline, and have been waiting for additional Macintosh support, which Sonos just provided.
The heart of the Sonos system is the ZonePlayer, a hub that powers a set of high-wattage speakers or pumps input and output through stereo and RCA component jacks. You can have up to 32 ZonePlayers scattered throughout your house (or castle, if you own that many) linked via Ethernet or wireless networking. For example, you can bring input from one Sonos ZonePlayer – say, an iPod playing through its stereo output into a Sonos input – to that ZonePlayer or one or more others.
A handheld controller or similar desktop software lets you create ZonePlayer groups, create queues for each group, and control other settings. The software is now available for the Mac; it was Windows only when Sonos first shipped the system.
The software controller is really a critical part of the system. You can install the software on every machine on the network and use any machine to then control any ZonePlayer or set of ZonePlayers. With the software controller, you could also choose not to purchase the separately sold $400 hardware controller (which is effectively $200 when purchased as part of an introductory bundle).
Music that can be played through the Sonos system may be stored on any number of computers; collections can be broken up and still be made available across the entire system through aggregation that Sonos performs. Sonos uses Samba file sharing to gain access to stored music; using Mac OS X’s Samba support worked fine in my testing.
Sonos also now supports Windows Media Audio (WMA) Internet radio stations, which is a nice addition, and lets iTunes users access their iTunes library within Sonos’s system. It still can’t play Apple’s AAC-FairPlay digital rights managed songs from the iTunes Music Store, however, since Apple has refused to license FairPlay to anyone.
The system is pricey, but wonderful. It works precisely as advertised. ZonePlayers are $500 each; controllers cost $400 each. A bundle of two ZonePlayers and one hardware controller is $1,200, or $200 off separate purchase.
Old Macs Don’t Just Fade Away
As electronics enthusiasts, it’s easy for us to get excited about new iPods, faster processors, sleek iBooks, and flat-screen monitors. But most of us have given little thought to what becomes of the equipment we replace.
An estimated 130 million computers will be manufactured and sold this year, as well as untold numbers of cell phones, televisions, and other electronic devices. The outdated electronics we replace, such as computers, televisions, printers and related peripherals, become electronic waste (e-waste). It’s estimated that in 2005, one computer will become obsolete for every new computer put on the market. Cell phones have the shortest lifespan among consumer electronics: 1.5 years.
What’s Inside — E-waste is both an environmental problem and a health hazard. Many people don’t realize that electronics contain hazardous toxins such as lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, and brominated flame retardants, all shown to have adverse health effects in humans and wildlife. Particularly hazardous is older equipment which had large amounts of banned substances used in their production, such as polybrominated biphenyl (PBBs) and diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These chemicals degrade slowly into the environment and build up in living organisms, much as the more well-known PCBs do. Accumulations of PBBs and PBDEs are known to affect behavior as well as thyroid hormone production as levels increase. While the adverse health effects of exposure to lead and mercury are well documented, most people are less aware that hexavalent chromium (Cr VI) is more soluble in water than its natural cousin, chromium (Cr III). Cr VI targets the respiratory system and in 1975 was declared an occupational carcinogen by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Want specifics? Different devices and components include a wide variety of toxic substances.
Monitors and televisions contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which use lead to shield users from radiation. CRTs also contain barium.
Printed circuit boards can contain chromium, lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, nickel, and zinc. Lead solder is used to hold components to circuit boards, and brominated flame retardants are used in circuit boards, cables, and plastic casing.
Batteries contained in printed circuit boards have numerous hazardous metals including mercury, nickel, cadmium and lead.
Laptop computers have a small fluorescent lamp containing mercury in the screen, in addition to the materials in monitors and CPUs.
Peripherals such as printers utilize circuit boards, batteries, and toner cartridges. Copiers have selenium or chromium drums.
Collateral Damage — When electronics are not properly disposed of or recycled, they end up in our landfills, where the toxins they contain can make their way into the ground water and into the air we breathe. Some discarded electronics are shipped to developing countries to be harvested for any usable components by children and other workers paid pennies a day. This work is often done without gloves, masks, or goggles, resulting in exposure to the harmful chemicals, glass, and other sharp objects.
All this happens in part because no national regulations govern the handling or disposal of e-waste in the United States. California and Maine have passed their own e-waste laws, which place responsibility on the consumer. Other states have passed legislation classifying electronics as hazardous waste. This patchwork of different laws from coast to coast makes it difficult and expensive for consumers to understand what to do, and for retailers and manufacturers to adhere to the laws.
Make a Difference — So what can we do about it? As consumers, we need take personal responsibility for recycling our electronics properly. Every electronics reseller should offer options to customers and provide information about hazards of improper recycling. Manufacturers are also responsible: Apple, Dell, Sony, and the rest of the gang need to step up and offer incentives to make sure their temporarily cool items are recycled when they are no longer wanted. Apple has done some work here with the iPod recycling program and other environmental programs, although the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has called on the company to go further.
Most solid waste districts can provide you with more information on resources in your area. You may want to ask a few questions when you go to drop off your electronics to be sure they’re being disposed of properly. Some questions to ask include:
Do you provide a data scrubbing service to remove information from the machines?
What company handles the electronics after they leave here?
Are the electronics repaired and resold or dismantled for working parts? If so, what protections do the workers have against the toxic materials?
Where are the electronics sent? What is the final destination of the electronics?
Are non-working electronics sent to developing countries?
If you’re not sure where to go to recycle your dead electronics, the Electronics Recycling Initiative and the Electronics Initiative Alliance have a list of links to pertinent recycling information for electronics. You can also find additional background information about the electronics waste problem on the Small Dog Electronics Web site.
Small Dog Electronics supports shared responsibility and shared cost among consumers, manufacturers, and retailers. In other words, we’re not just leaving it to our customers to pay for recycling. Currently, we offer free recycling when you purchase a replacement hard drive or iPod battery. We are also a local drop-off point for all electronics recycling. Recycling is available for 25 cents per pound, which covers the costs that we are charged by the recyclers.
We’re also working with government leaders and industry organizations to develop a model for handling end-of-life electronics where financial and physical responsibilities are shared. This is proving to be a slow process, especially since our senator will be retiring this year. So far, no laws have been passed that have come directly from our efforts, but we will continue to keep this issue forefront in Vermont politics. We can all put pressure on our state and local governments to cooperate by writing to our elected representatives. Our biggest gains to date have been working with our local recyclers and solid waste managers to get them to assist in telling the story of e-waste.
Businesses, the technology and recycling industry, and our federal, state, and local governments should work together to make sure that our e-waste does not go to landfills or incinerators or to developing countries, but that our country has a system for responsibly handling and disposing of e-waste.
Even if Small Dog Electronics can’t be the biggest contributor to this movement, maybe we can help by being the smallest and the noisiest, doing the share of the work that is ours to do, and spreading the word to other people. This isn’t hard. It’s like taking a pooper scooper with you when you go for a walk with your dog. If each person cleans up his or her own mess, the whole mess starts to get cleaned up.
[Dawn D’Angelillo wears many hats at Small Dog Electronics, including Customer Service, Marketing Director, newsletter publisher, and listmaster. Small Dog Electronics is an authorized Apple reseller of computers and peripherals based in Waitsfield, Vermont. The social mission of the company has remained focused on multiple bottom lines. Small Dog Electronics believes that its effect on the community, environment, customers, and employees is just as important as maintaining its profitability.]
Running with a Garmin Forerunner GPS
I have been running regularly for many years. Although I gave up competing 20 years ago, I still like to jog around the lanes and footpaths in Cornwall, England for an hour or so each morning. Until recently the limit of my record keeping and analysis was to file the number of minutes for each run, to make sure I maintained a reasonable average month-by-month. These days I am more interested in the views than in how fast I might be going.
All that changed three months ago, when on an uncharacteristic impulse I bought a Garmin Forerunner. It is a little device that you wear on your wrist like a bloated watch. It uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to measure how far you travel as well as the time you take, and thus allows you to record far more information about each run than you could manage with a normal stopwatch.
What Is the GPS? Although previous TidBITS articles have explained GPS in more detail (see the series "Find Yourself with GPS"), a brief refresher might be welcome. (For a full explanation of the system, see Karen Nakamura’s "Feeling Lost? An Overview of Global Positioning Systems" in TidBITS-388; it was written before the accuracy of the GPS system was "improved" for civilian use, but is otherwise helpful.) The GPS relies on signals from a network of 24 satellites that orbit the earth at altitudes of between 6,000 and 12,000 miles (roughly 10,000 to 19,000 km). A GPS device like my Forerunner needs signals from at least three satellites to fix its position in two dimensions, and from four to estimate its elevation above sea level. It updates its position more or less constantly and can therefore track the distance, direction, and speed of movement.
In the early years of the GPS, the U.S. Department of Defense imposed "Selective Availability" (SA) to degrade the accuracy of the system for non-U.S. military purposes, so civilian devices were accurate to about 100 meters. However in May 2000 SA was turned off, and since then the system is typically accurate to within 15 meters, according to Garmin.
Real world accuracy varies around this figure. The more satellites the device can detect, and the more widely spaced they are, the more accurate is the reading. In the U.S. the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) can improve accuracy to less than three meters for WAAS-enabled devices like Garmin’s StreetPilots (but not the Forerunner series). However, tall buildings, dense foliage, changes of direction, and other nuisances can interrupt signals or restrict the number of satellites the device can detect, as we will see, so 15 meters is only a guide to the accuracy you can expect.
What the Forerunner Can Do — The Forerunner enables you to divide your run into as many "laps" as you want, and record the time, distance, average pace and numbers of calories burnt for each lap. You can define the laps either automatically according to a set distance, say one mile or one kilometer. Or you can press the Lap button as you pass turnings or other landmarks along the way. Regardless of the numbers of laps, the Forerunner keeps track of the total distance covered, total elapsed time, overall average pace and the best pace you achieved during the run. You can also have it record the amount of "rest" you take, which is defined as moving slower than a certain pace that you specify.
You can set up targets for your run by setting a pace for your "virtual training partner" and having the Forerunner keep track of how far ahead or behind you are. Or you can define a set of intervals where you alternately run fast, jog for a while to recover and then speed up again, one of the most effective (and exhausting) ways for competitive athletes to improve their performance.
The Forerunner has three main 64 by 100 pixel data screens, and each screen can show three pieces of information. The first, Timer, screen shows the elapsed time, current pace (minutes per mile or kilometer) and total distance for the run. The second screen shows the same information for the current lap, and the third you can customize, so you might choose, say, time of day, best pace achieved so far, and elevation.
The history mode records all the above information for your last run and summarized by day and by week. Garmin says the Forerunner can store information from 5,000 laps.
The Forerunner can map your track and show it as a dotted line on its screen, either for the whole run or for each lap, punctuated with any location points that you choose to define. It is not capable of receiving and displaying uploaded map information, so you cannot follow your progress along roads in the way you can with a car navigation system like a StreetPilot. But it does have a TracBack mode to help you find your way back to the start or some other known point in case you get lost.
How It Actually Performs — The Forerunner weighs just 2.75 ounces (78 grams) which is nearly unnoticeable on your wrist; it is easy to set up and use; the data screens are easy to read while running; it does all you would expect and that the manual claims; and it certainly adds something to your running experience. It is good to know how fast you are going, however unforgiving the minutes may often be. But the Forerunner has a few quirks that have made me curious about exactly what is going on inside and how accurate it is.
I have compared different measures of distance between the same physical points, taking care to follow the same track each time. The same run, repeated exactly on two days, showed up as 6.73 and 6.90 miles, a difference of about 2.5 percent. For six measures of a roughly 1.5 mile circuit, the range from highest to lowest result was 0.05 miles (264 feet), or about 3 percent of the average of the six measures. This level of accuracy seems typical where I have a relatively open view of the sky most of the time and no more than a fifth of the route is narrow with overhanging branches.
I occasionally hear the plaintive beep that the Forerunner lets out when the GPS signal is weak, and that is where the distance readings become the least consistent. For four measures of a section of about 0.7 miles where the lanes are lined with high, solid hedges and often overhung by trees, the range was a whopping 22 percent.
For what I thought would be a definitive accuracy test I took my Forerunner to a local 400 meter track, located on a piece of land that is flat and open by local standards, with no tall buildings and few trees near enough to affect the readings. To my surprise, the level of accuracy was less good than in my earlier tests, ranging from 383 to 425 meters over four laps, which was between 4 and 6 percent off.
When I asked Garmin about this result they said a good satellite "fix" at the start is critical for such tests, especially when running a circuit where the device must update its position from different satellites as you change direction, and in this case I might not have given the Forerunner enough time to get a good initial view of several satellites. In their own tests they used a wheel to measure a local running track at 398 meters, and for 14 laps the Forerunner recorded from 393 to 402 meters, with an average error of 0.56 percent.
The current pace on the main screen is one of the readings I like to look at. It is usually plausible but occasionally changes dramatically within a short distance for no obvious reason, not necessarily where the sky is most obscured. And I am curious about the distance over which the Forerunner calculates the best pace of the run, which sometimes seems a bit too good to be true. Garmin was coy about the frequency of calculation and other details of these numbers.
When I stand in front of my house looking south at almost 180 degrees of open sky and sea, the elevation reading changes by a foot or so every second, over a vertical range of anything up to 30 feet. Even though the Forerunner knows about elevation, Garmin acknowledges that it is more difficult to pin down than location, and the Forerunner does not include elevation in its calculations unless the readings are stable enough to be reliable. On one run it showed I had burned 40 calories on a lap that I marked while struggling painfully up the steep hill from my house, but 75 calories when running the same lap more quickly but far more easily on the way down at the end.
Alternatives — Garmin makes three Forerunner models. The 101 (about $100 street price) runs off two AAA batteries and does not allow you to transfer your data to a PC. My 201 (about $140) runs off a rechargeable battery that holds a charge for 15 hours of use and allows transfers, using Training Center software that Garmin makes available on its Web site; Training Center enables a PC (but not your Mac, sadly) to track your runs on street maps and carry out more sophisticated analyses of your past runs. The main feature of the newest member of the Forerunner family, the 301 ($250), is that it uses a chest strap-mounted sensor to record your pulse rate in addition to time and distance. It also comes with a CD that contains a more sophisticated version of Training Center that enables you to plot your pulse rate at any point along the way, and plan future training sessions based on an assessment of your performance so far.
Overview — I am pleased with my Garmin Forerunner mainly because it adds a new level of interest to my runs. Call it a new level of challenge if you are that way inclined. Even at my sedate pace it has probably made me run a little faster, and I can vary my pace more systematically, so perhaps I am in slightly better shape than I was three months ago. I can live with the level of accuracy that the Forerunner can manage in my testing environment of Cornwall. I certainly prefer it to other distance-measuring devices that depend on maintaining a constant stride length, which aside from being difficult goes against the principles of fitness training that I learned in the dim and distant past.
As a Mac user I would like Garmin to put out versions of its software that I could actually use, although Garmin says they have no plans to do so, and in practice I am not sure I would use it much because the Forerunner already displays enough information for my needs. It does not take much effort to type one or two key figures into a spreadsheet each morning. If you are keen enough you can get software from other sources, such as Hiketech (for the Mac) and Motionbased (for Windows, with Mac support promised), which enables you to upload and map your runs.
For me, the Forerunner’s main weakness is its inability to incorporate elevation into its calculations and analyses. Slogging up my Cornish hills can be hard work and I feel a bit cheated by not getting credit for all that effort.
[Paul Lightfoot is a freelance writer and consultant on international development projects. Now based in Cornwall, England, he has spent much of his adult life running around Asia.]
Take Control News/25-Jul-05
More GarageBand Content and Summer Sale — Jeff Tolbert, the author of our two Take Control ebooks about GarageBand, is seemingly inexhaustible when it comes to telling people about his favorite music-making program from Apple. After he finished updating his ebooks to cover GarageBand 2, he went on to write additional articles about GarageBand for various Web sites based on his experience writing the ebooks. He does a great job with the right-brain/left-brain work of explaining how to work creatively in a digital environment, so those of you who want to keep your creativity fresh while making tunes in GarageBand should be sure to check out his other pieces. And if you haven’t yet purchased Jeff’s ebooks, we’re having a 30 percent-off sale through the end of July: purchase both "Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand" and "Take Control of Recording with GarageBand" and save 30 percent on those and any other ebooks in the same order! Use the Buy Both button on one of the ebook pages to take advantage of the sale.
For Synthtopia, Jeff penned an article called "Advanced Audio Effects in GarageBand" that covers how to pump drums, set up a ping-pong delay, and make a comb filter.
MacIdol published an excerpt from "Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand" that walks you through the song-planning process with a look at how to sketch the overall feeling of a song, plus thoughts on harmony, texture, dynamics, and timbre.
The final article, this one for MacJams.com, rounds up a number of Jeff’s favorite GarageBand recording tips, including his Most Important Audio Tip Ever, how to get started with a beat, locking tracks, and more.
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/25-Jul-05
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be faster.
Low-end monitors — A reader looks for feedback on refurbished and inexpensive monitors. (1 message)
Trade show attendance — Adam’s reflections about Macworld Expo 2005 in Boston prompt a discussion about attendance at other Mac events. (2 messages)
Regional Macworld Shows — Readers weigh in on the concept of putting on several smaller, regional Macworld-type shows instead of focusing on the San Francisco and Boston shows. (2 messages)
PC Card Ethernet Support — A reader needs a second Ethernet connection in his PowerBook, but Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger killed support for his existing setup. As with many major software updates, it’s not an isolated problem. (3 messages)