We roll into November with a mix of topics. After playing with Photo Booth on a new iMac G5, Adam points to two utilities that beat Photo Booth at its own game. Travis Butler offers a few more details on AC adapters, and Jeff Carlson notes the release of The Missing Sync 5.0. Glenn Fleishman outdoes himself by writing about external modems (now that the iMac no longer includes one), specifics of driving multiple 30-inch Cinema Displays on the new Power Mac G5, and how Sprint Nextel’s new cellular data service can help mobile Mac users.
Grokster Shuts Down
Grokster Shuts Down — After June’s Supreme Court decision declaring that Grokster (along with StreamCast Networks and Sharman Networks) were responsible for copyright infringements that occurred as a result of using the companies’ peer-to-peer file sharing software, Grokster’s network has shut down. (See "P2P Takes a Licking but Keeps on Ticking" in TidBITS-786 for a look at the underlying issues.) The Grokster Web site now provides a brief (and quite funny) statement about the situation, noting in part, "There are legal services for downloading music and movies. This service is not one of them." The site also promises that Grokster will return as a legal service – we’re not holding our breath, not that it was ever relevant to Mac users anyway. [ACE]
More on AC Adapters
After last week’s article on PowerBook AC adapters was published (see "Comparing Three AC Adapters" in TidBITS-803), I’ve received several messages from people about the MadsonLine MicroAdapter and the MacAlly adapter – specifically, about the amount of power they provide.
I wrote that the MicroAdapter wasn’t recommended for use with newer PowerBooks (the 1 GHz PowerBook G4 Titanium, and all of the 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBooks) because it provides only 45 watts of power, compared with the 65 watts provided by the adapter Apple ships. Several people wrote in to say they were, in fact, using the MicroAdapter with those machines, and that it appeared to work fine – though some reported the adapter getting "pretty warm." One person suggested the overheating was the main reason MadsonLine had to disclaim using it; another that the higher wattage requirement on newer PowerBooks was only under peak usage, and that when performing less-intensive tasks a lower-power adapter works fine.
The comment that struck me the most, though, was the report of burning out two MicroAdapters one after the other. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to test for myself; my MicroAdapter died an honorable death when the tip was crushed in an accident.
I can claim personal experience with the MacAlly adapter, though; I’m using it as I type this now, in fact. As more than one person pointed out, the power specs for the MacAlly are similar to the MicroAdapter; only 48 watts provided, less than what’s officially needed to run the newer PowerBooks. I hadn’t ever looked at the specs myself, since the reseller I bought it from sold it for all PowerBooks, and it had always worked fine with my 15-inch PowerBook G4. Because of this, I can credit the reports of people running a MicroAdapter on the newer PowerBooks without trouble; however, I’d still be cautious about doing so, because of the report of burnout.
Null Modem: Dial-Up for Macs?
The latest iMac G5 doesn’t include a built-in modem for use over telephone lines. Apple has offered a built-in modem on the iMac since the first model was released.
Perhaps the logic is that if you can afford a PowerPC G5-based computer, you probably also have broadband. Apple saves only a few dollars in hard costs, which can multiply into $20 to $40 at the retail price. This cut allows Apple to either keep more profit or shift the dollars to other features on the computer without affecting profit.
For those who need dial-up Internet access or fax services, Apple offers the Apple USB Modem as a $50 accessory, but it appears that you can only order this modem as a build-to-order option. The Apple USB Modem is barely mentioned on Apple’s Web site, and you have to go to the Apple Store, select a G5 iMac, and then choose the optional modem to even reach the full specifications.
Those specs say it’s a V.92 modem with support for several nifty modern modem features, including caller ID (while online), telephone answering, and modem on hold. These latter two features allow you – with certain extra telephone line features turned on – to have your dial-up modem cake and eat it, too, by answering incoming calls while pausing but not breaking the connection with your ISP. The ISP must have similarly capable devices on their end. The speed of a V.92 modem is a maximum of 56 Kbps downstream and 48 Kbps upstream. It’s a tiny, one-piece device that looks more like a USB flash drive than the modems of yesteryear.
I poked around to see what options are available for buying an external modem, as I can’t even recall my last such purchase – maybe 1996 or 1997. Small Dog Electronics carries a Mac-compatible Best Data 56K with V.92 support that uses USB and handles Mac OS 8 and later. A quick look at other sites doesn’t find better deals.
Reader Robert Pyle wrote to say that he had purchased the Best Data 56K modem and had to tweak a modem script because it did not come with any modem files compatible with Mac OS X. He later wrote back that he found an easier solution: the modem chip in the Best Data comes from Conexant, which also powers the $100 USB modem from Zoom that’s Mac-compatible. Download the Zoom Universal CCL scripts, install them, and the Best Data modem will work at its highest rates with a Zoom Universal (115K) modem script selected. The Zoom 2986 comes with genuine technical support, which might make it worth the $50 premium. It’s also more readily available from online retailers.
Missing Sync for Palm OS 5.0 Modernizes Palm Interaction
Although Palm, Inc. seems to have lost interest in the Macintosh (see "PalmSource to Drop Mac Support in Palm OS Cobalt" in TidBITS-717), stalwart Mac developer Mark/Space continues to offer Mac synchronization support for owners of Palm OS handhelds. The Missing Sync for Palm OS 5.0, released last week, brings handheld syncing into the present.
Sync Services — One of the under-the-hood changes in Mac OS X 10.4 was the addition of Sync Services, a set of technologies that Apple uses to synchronize data between .Mac and the built-in Address Book and iCal. However, Sync Services also enables outside developers to hook into the system, which Missing Sync now does. Bypassing Apple’s iSync conduit settings, Missing Sync directly syncs Tiger’s Address Book and iCal databases.
This approach offers a few advantages: you can maintain category designations between the computer and the handheld, take advantage of more contact fields (in recent Palm handhelds), and presumably enjoy better compatibility with Tiger going forward. (Existing third-party conduits are still supported.) A helpful synchronization assistant makes it easier to set up all the conduit sync options.
More Media Sync — Earlier versions of Missing Sync offered the capability to copy digital music files and photos to a handheld’s memory card. Version 5.0 takes the next logical step and provides synchronization of iTunes playlists and iPhoto albums of your choosing. Of course, you can’t play back protected AAC songs purchased from the iTunes Music store on a Palm device, but that’s due to Apple’s choice to not license their FairPlay digital rights management. To avoid a lot of unnecessary copying, I recommend creating a Smart Playlist in iTunes that excludes those types of files, which can be marked as the playlist that Missing Sync uses.
Missing Sync’s iPhoto synchronization offers the capability to choose not only which albums to sync, but also to resize the photos to cut down on how much storage they use; a separate setting can ensure that a given amount of memory (such as 5 MB) remains free on the storage card. In my testing, the resizing capability was useful not for minding the storage space on my Tungsten’s memory card, but for cutting down the time it takes to copy the files; I sync using Bluetooth, which is fine for basic calendar and contact information, but it can really bog down when working with multi-megabyte files.
Another new feature, folder synchronization, enables you to copy the contents of a folder from your Mac to the handheld as if it were a removable drive. Several recent Palm devices offer the capability to mount on the desktop as USB drives, but this feature automates the copying for you. If you use software such as DataViz’s Documents To Go, you can edit Microsoft Word or Excel files on the Palm device, then transfer the new version back to your Mac’s desktop without requiring the Documents To Go conduits.
More Flexibility — One of the features I liked the most about the previous major release of the Missing Sync was the capability to use custom sync profiles (see "Missing Sync 4.0 Fills Palm Gaps" in TidBITS-743). I don’t always want to back up everything on my Palm, so I can run a minimal set of conduits that just synchronizes the calendar and contacts. Missing Sync 5.0 adds connection-aware profiles, so I can perform a quick sync via Bluetooth and a more thorough backup when I dig out my USB cable.
Another feature introduced in version 4.0 was a new Mark/Space MemoPad application that provided a way to view your memos on the Mac (something Apple’s iSync conduit ignored). In the new version of Missing Sync, that application gains Spotlight searching and memo sorting.
The Missing Sync 5.0 costs $40 for an electronic version (a 16.3 MB download), or $50 for retail-packaged CDs. Upgrades from version 4.0 are free to those who bought it after 01-Oct-05; for everyone else (including owners of any previous Missing Sync product), upgrades cost $25.
Maxing Out Displays on the New Power Mac G5s
When Apple released the new dual-core Power Mac G5 models, the company noted that a single Power Mac G5 can support eight displays. That can’t be true, can it? After being blown away a few months ago when Apple sent Jeff Carlson two 30-inch Apple Cinema Displays for review (see photos at the two Flickr links below), we pictured a bright and no doubt high-temperature wall of the huge screens.
If you upgrade the included GeForce 6600 to the $2,500 list price Quadro FX 4500 512 MB PCI Express card (a $1,600 upgrade at the Apple Store), you get two dual-link DVI adapters, which allows two 30-inch displays. The Power Mac G5 offers four PCI Express slots. Put a total of four Quadro FX’s in and you can add… eight 30-inch displays. To get there, you’d need three more Quadro FX cards at $2,500 each, plus the single Quadro FX from the Apple Store (which limits you to one). Purchasing the cards, a Power Mac G5 Quad, and eight 30-inch displays would set you back a cool $32,500.
Can the Power Mac G5 really handle this? Unfortunately, no. Apple points out in a footnote, "Eight 20-inch or 23-inch Apple Cinema Displays can be connected to the Power Mac G5 using four NVIDIA GeForce 6600 graphics cards."
The issue is that the new PCI Express system has a specification known as "lanes," which is a measure of how much data the slot can carry. Each lane is about 250 megabytes per second (MBps). The Power Mac G5s have one 16-lane slot for graphics (4 GBps), one eight-lane slot (2 GBps) and two four-lane slots (1 GBps).
The GeForce 6600 can work with only four lanes, and so a Power Mac G5 can support four of those cards each with two smallish monitors (20- or 23-inch LCDs). The Quadro FX requires the full 16 lanes and two card slots.
How about 50? So I can’t create an overwhelming video system in my office, but that doesn’t mean others haven’t tried… and succeeded. TidBITS stalwarts Joe Kissell and Dan Frakes both pointed me to HIPerWall, a project at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Technology. The HIPerWall (Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Wall) comprises 50 LCD panels for a total display surface of 23 by 9 feet (7.01 by 2.75 meters) and 200 million pixels. It’s designed for earth sciences visualization, but will have biomedical and engineering applications, too. Twenty-five dual-2.7 GHz Power Mac G5s with 2 GB of RAM power two monitors each. They also have access to an aggregate of 10 TB of storage.
Based on the specs quoted for the HIPerWall system, I would guess that a second generation HIPerWall could use 13 Power Mac G5 Quads – each with 4 GB of RAM and powering four displays – to reduce the back-end footprint and lower costs slightly.
iCamShare & ImageTricks Top Photo Booth
One of the highlights of the just-released iMac G5 models is Photo Booth, a fun little application that works with the built-in iSight camera in the iMac. With it, you can see through the lens of the built-in iSight, apply one of a number of image effects in real time, and with a click, take the picture, complete with the screen flashing white to help illuminate the subject (likely you, but hey, I suppose you could get all sorts of things into the view). Once you’ve taken the photo, you can import it into iPhoto, save it as your iChat buddy picture, or email it to your friends. Cool, eh?
But what if you don’t have a new iMac? Apple has said nothing about making Photo Booth more widely available, although it’s possible that it could be included in a future iSight update. Luckily, if you’ve been lusting after Photo Booth but don’t have (or want) a new iMac G5 right now, you have an alternative, and one that in some ways outshines Photo Booth – iCamShare.
iCamShare — Developed by Arbor Bits, a small software development firm staffed by some well-known Mac developers, iCamShare is an elegantly easy application that enables you to take either still photos or video (with sound) using an iSight or other webcam; you can then share the results via email, by publishing to your .Mac account, or by saving the file to your hard disk.
Using iCamShare is dead simple, thanks to an assistant-like interface that walks you through each step, providing concise instructions directly within the interface. To create a photo of yourself, you select the Picture radio button on the first screen, and on the second screen, arrange your face into an appropriate grimace before clicking the Snap Picture button (you can also use digital zoom to make your face more fully fill the frame). If you dislike the result, click Try Again and, well, try again. Once you have the picture you want, the third screen offers buttons you can click to send your photo in email (supporting Apple Mail, Eudora, Entourage, and Mailsmith), copy your photo to the Pictures folder on your iDisk (from which you can easily add it to a HomePage album), or save the photo as a JPEG file on your hard disk. iCamShare also reminds you that you can drag the photo from iCamShare to any other application that accepts dragged images. (iPhoto is not among those applications; it accepts only dragged files, so you must save your photo as a JPEG file first, then drag it into iPhoto. However, given that iSight photos are only 640 by 480 pixels, you probably won’t want to save too many.)
Recording video works similarly, with the addition of two more screens in the middle. After you record a video clip that you think you like, the third screen lets you replay the video and trim bits from the beginning and end, which is helpful, since it can be difficult to get the video started and stopped cleanly. On the fourth screen, you choose a type of compression, compress your video, and preview the compressed result. A set of controls let you choose the type of Internet connection your recipient has, estimating download time at the compressed size. If either the download time is too long, or the quality of the compressed video isn’t acceptable, you can move a slider to various positions between Receive Quicker and Better Image and then re-compress the video. The fifth and final screen again enables you to send your movie via email, upload it to your iDisk’s Movies folder and publish it as a movie, or save it to your hard disk. You can drag it out of iCamShare to another application too.
iCamShare costs $15 and is a mere 759K download. Although $15 isn’t much, you can still try it before buying. It requires either Mac OS X 10.2.8 or Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later; it works fine with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in my testing.
ImageTricks — So iCamShare outdoes Photo Booth by being able to capture both still photos and video, and by making it easy to upload to .Mac as well as email. But where iCamShare doesn’t compete – on its own, anyway – with Photo Booth is in terms of the image effects that Photo Booth can apply. To beat Photo Booth at that game, you’ll need to add another program to the mix – BeLight Software’s free ImageTricks, which can apply the Core Image effects and filters built into Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger to any image you throw at it.
ImageTricks provides a large pane that contains the picture on which you’re working, a scrolling list of effects you can apply to that image, a few sliders for modifying some of the effects, and a few buttons for opening and saving pictures, copying and pasting them, opening iPhoto, and rotating left and right. Another slider lets you zoom the picture in the main pane, and an Apply button lets you fix your changes in stone. You can apply only a single effect at a time, so you must apply your changes after one effect to be able to add another. A drawer contains a large collection of masks that show and hide different parts of the picture.
Integrating iCamShare and ImageTricks is easy, but not complete. You can drag a picture from iCamShare into ImageTricks and manipulate it to your heart’s content – well beyond what’s possible in Photo Booth – but there’s no way to send the manipulated image back to iCamShare. Depending on your email program, it might be possible to have iCamShare create an email message with the attached photo and then edit the image attachment before sending. ImageTricks didn’t want to accept a dragged JPEG attachment from within Eudora, but using Eudora’s super-secret Control-Option-double-click-an-attachment-icon trick to reveal the original file, I was able to find the actual JPEG attachment and drag that onto the ImageTricks icon in the Dock to open it, edit it, and save changes.
ImageTricks is surprisingly addictive; each time I dropped a new photo into it, I had to tear myself away from trying all the different effects. Its collection of effects doesn’t match Photo Booth’s entirely. ImageTricks provides 43 effects (it’s a long list; just let it wash over you): Crop, Color Controls, Exposure Adjust, Gamma Adjust, Hue Adjust, White Point Adjust, Color Monochrome, Color Posterize, Color Invert, Unsharp Mask, Gaussian Blur, Motion Blur, Sharpen Luminance, Zoom Blur, Bump Distortion, Circular Splash, Circular Wrap, Hole Distortion, Pinch Distortion, Twirl Distortion, Vortex Distortion, Glass Distortion, Bloom, Gloom, Crystallize, Pointillize, Pixelate, Edge Work, Edges, Checkerboard, Random Generator, Circular Screen, Dot Screen, Hatched Screen, Line Screen, Kaleidoscope, Op Tile, Parallelogram Tile, Triangle Tile, Lenticular Halo, Starshine Generator, and Sunbeams.
Photo Booth includes 16 effects: Sepia, Black & White, Glow, Comic Book, Colored Pencil, Thermal Camera, X-Ray, Pop Art, Bulge, Dent, Twirl, Squeeze, Mirror, Light Tunnel, Fisheye, and Stretch. It’s hard to say which program provides the better set, since although ImageTricks has many more effects, some of them are relatively silly. Of course, so are a number of the effects in Photo Booth too, so I’d give the nod to ImageTricks.
BeLight Software gives ImageTricks away for free; it’s a 1.5 MB download and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later.
All Together Now — Sure, Photo Booth is clever, and I’m sure lots of people who buy an iSight-equipped iMac G5 will enjoy using it. But for the rest of us, iCamShare and ImageTricks go well beyond what Photo Booth does, both in terms of offering video support and by providing many more special effects. The only place they fall down is in the integration, so perhaps future versions of the two can work together more tightly to provide an even better user experience than they do separately now.
Sprint Nextel Data Service Could Help Traveling Mac Users
Sprint Nextel announced its third-generation (3G) cellular data network last week, with dozens of cities already live and more coverage planned by the end of the year. Verizon Wireless has offered a similar network for more than a year with no official Mac support; Sprint Nextel appears likely to take a different path. This is good news for Mac users who need wireless Internet access, but who don’t want to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot such as a coffeeshop or hotel lobby.
The Sprint and Verizon networks use EVDO (Evolution Data Only), a standard developed by Qualcomm that offers real-world speeds of several hundred kilobits per second throughout a coverage area, which can span entire metropolitan regions. The two companies have also installed service in most major airports and along certain commuter routes.
Both companies offer a stand-alone subscription to the service that tops out with an $80 per month rate for unlimited use via a PC Card. This drops to $60 per month if you’re a voice customer and agree to a two-year commitment (with early cancellation penalties if you decide to drop the data service).
Verizon’s PC Card options don’t include official Mac OS X support. Good news, though: a site called EVDOinfo provides details on its own workarounds and on Apple’s somewhat hidden support. Sprint Nextel has chosen a Novatel card that lacks Mac drivers, but, again, EVDOinfo says they have the scoop. (They also sell the cards and service plans.)
Here’s the better news, however – the PC Card isn’t necessary. Verizon and Sprint both offer phones that handle EVDO and more widely available slower networks for voice and data. These phones typically support both USB and Bluetooth for connecting to a computer and synchronizing data.
Verizon doesn’t offer a tethered subscription for EVDO where you use the phone as your EVDO modem. This would seem an obvious way to bypass the PC Card limitation. Sprint, however, will add unlimited data for $25 per month on top of even the most limited voice subscription with an EVDO phone. That’s the cheapest and most natural way for a Mac user to go.
It also means you could use the service with any Mac that supports Bluetooth, not just PowerBooks with a PC Card. And you can use the phone with a variety of computers more easily than a PC Card that requires drivers or special configuration.
Cingular is also entering the fray with its own high-speed service running a flavor of W-CDMA known as HSDPA (High-Speed Download Packet Access) that will meet or exceed EVDO speeds. Pricing and platform support isn’t yet clear; the service will roll out this month nationally in about 15 to 20 cities.
A 3G cellular data connection isn’t necessarily a substitute for Wi-Fi service, by the way, but it’s increasingly available and a good option because you can roam nationally – including airport access – with a single fixed plan from one carrier.
Wi-Fi’s advantage is little or no configuration for hotspot usage, built-in hardware on most computers, pay-as-you-go options that are quite reasonable, and potential higher bandwidth across a local network and to the Internet. (Some hotspots might have just a 512 Kbps DSL line, but most for-fee hotspots have 1.5 Mbps downstream; large locations offer multiples of that.)
For business travelers, Wi-Fi’s natural advantages are outweighed by the array of fees and many operators involved in North American airport Wi-Fi. No one company aggregates all of the major airports with Wi-Fi, and not all big airports in the United States have Wi-Fi – but they all have EVDO. Travelers might trade a few hundred Kbps in bandwidth for Sprint Nextel’s broad coverage and only slightly higher monthly cost.
Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/07-Nov-05
The first link for each thread description points to the traditional TidBITS Talk interface; the second link points to the same discussion on our Web Crossing server, which provides a different look and which may be faster.
Faxing problems from Tiger — Mac OS X 10.4 slightly changed the way you send outbound faxes. (2 messages)
Comments about 10.4.3 — A technical note in the most recent Tiger update prompts a discussion of whether "high ASCII" actually exists. Plus, readers note other changes, including a tip on getting a printer to work again after updating. (14 messages)
Permissions problem with 10.4.3 — After upgrading to Mac OS X 10.4.3, a reader discovers that Disk Utility reports using special permissions for files that did not get the same treatment in 10.4.2. (3 messages)
10.4.3 breaks Mail Server — The latest Tiger Server update isn’t so kind to Mail Server. (3 messages)
Comparing AC Adapters — Last week’s review of three AC adapters encourages readers to submit their own impressions, including some helpful travel tips. (9 messages)
PowerBook Adapters — More readers share their experiences with third-party AC adapters. (2 messages)