Adam continues his exploration of voice-navigation GPS devices with a review of the Magellan RoadMate 760 this week. Also, Steve Sande contributes a light-hearted set of suggestions for non-musical uses of the iPod to accompany the update to his "Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music." In the news, we cover the releases of SpamSieve 2.4, a much-awaited firmware update for Power Mac G5 1.8 GHz models, and "Take Control of Switching to the Mac." No issue next week, but send in your suggestions for our holiday gift issue!
Next Issue 05-Dec-05 — It’s been a tough month here, with Jeff Carlson recovering from a broken collarbone and decamping for a four-week trip to South Africa, Geoff’s knee losing a brawl with his bass amp, Tonya having numerous inconclusive tests and doctor appointments as we attempt to figure out why she’s having trouble breathing, and a slew of Take Control books queued up for release. So we’re eagerly anticipating a brief break for a Thanksgiving celebration with friends and family before we head into the action-packed holiday season. Look for our next issue 05-Dec-05! [ACE]
Submit Your Holiday 2005 Gift Ideas — Although the Christmas decorations appeared in some stores here even before Halloween, the time has finally come to start planning for our annual gift issue, overflowing as it does every year with suggestions from our readers. It’s scheduled for publication in the second week in December, so please tell us what gifts you’ve put on your holiday wish list, along with those items you’re planning to present to your loved ones this year. As always, we’re collecting ideas in TidBITS Talk, so send your suggestions to <[email protected]> or submit them in the TidBITS Talk Web forum, and please use plain text format, not HTML. We’ve already started threads for specific categories. Please suggest only one product or idea per message, give the reason why you’re recommending it, make sure to include a URL or other necessary contact information, and please recommend only others’ products. If possible, try to suggest products that haven’t appeared in previous gift issues; we may drop repetitive suggestions from the issue itself. To refresh your memory on what readers have suggested previously, check out the last three gift issues before writing in. Thanks in advance! [ACE]
SpamSieve 2.4 Released — Michael Tsai has updated his popular and powerful spam detection utility SpamSieve to version 2.4 (see "Tools We Use: SpamSieve" in TidBITS-667 for a full review). The update features tweaks to the Bayesian email analysis engine for improved accuracy, phishing detection, filing of spam into different mailboxes in Apple Mail based on spam scores, support for new Habeas headers, and a variety of other minor changes. New copies of SpamSieve 2.4 cost $25 (save $5 with the coupon in "Take Control of What’s New in Entourage 2004" or the soon-to-be-updated "Take Control of Spam with Apple Mail"), but the update is free to registered users. It’s a 3.1 MB download. [ACE]
Firmware Update Solves Power Mac G5 1.8 GHz Freezes — Last week, a reader wrote in asking if we knew anything more about the freezing problems he was having with his single processor Power Mac G5 1.8 GHz. Almost simultaneously, Apple released a firmware update for that machine that promises to address a number of freezes, enabling us to write back and tell him that we’d looked into the problem, contacted Apple, and that they had dropped everything to release a firmware update for us. Every now and then you just have to take credit for utter coincidences! There are separate updates for Mac OS X 10.3.9 and 10.4.3; they’re about 1 MB in size. [ACE]
DealBITS Drawing: Sunatori.com Pen Winners — Congratulations to Gloria White of rockingham.k12.va.us and Stefan Keydel of mac.com, whose entries were chosen randomly from 694 valid entries in last week’s DealBITS drawing and who each will be receiving a Sunatori.com Pen from HyperInfo Canada, worth $20. If you weren’t among our winners, you can still save 50 percent on a Sunatori.com Pen through 25-Dec-05 by using the first link below. This offer is open to all TidBITS readers. Keep an eye out for future DealBITS drawings! [ACE]
Hi, my name is Steve S. and I have an iPod problem.
Therapy Group: "Hi, Steve!"
Therapist: "Steve, now that you’ve admitted that you have a problem, you’ve taken the first step to helping yourself. Could you tell the rest of the group members a little about your problem?"
Well, I know I shouldn’t carry my iPod with me everywhere, but it’s just so handy that I find myself using it for everything! For instance, last night my wife and I were sitting at an outside table at a restaurant and it was wobbling, so I used my iPod nano as a shim under the table leg to keep it from rocking. Yeah, I know David Pogue already did that, but it was one more way to use my iPod.
Therapist: "But Steve, isn’t the iPod just an MP3 player? Why are you talking about using it to do other things? Isn’t playing music enough?"
You see, that’s exactly the problem – it isn’t just an MP3 player, although it excels at that task. Why, with a little thought and effort, you can use it to do just about anything! Who needs a Palm or Pocket PC? You can use an iPod for your calendar and your address book, you can use it to read books or email….
Therapist: "Okay, calm down, Steve. Just tell the group about how your ‘problem’ with iPods began… Breathe slowly, inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale… that’s better."
It started in 2002. This was during a short time in my life where I didn’t have a Mac and was forced against my will to use a PC. But that’s another story. Anyway, the second-generation iPods had just come out on the market and they worked with Windows. I love music, so I thought it would be a good idea to buy one so I didn’t have to carry CDs with me on trips. As soon as I got it out of the box and charged up, I noticed that there was something in the instructions about moving my Outlook contacts to my iPod. I did it. And I liked it.
Therapist: "That seems rather innocuous. I mean, just storing a few addresses on your iPod isn’t too out of the ordinary. What happened next?"
As time went by I found myself using the calendar function on the iPod as well, and then I decided that I really wanted a Mac again so I bought a PowerBook, and I reformatted the iPod to work with it. That’s when I noticed the option called "Enable disk use." I found that I could actually store a lot of my files from the PowerBook on my iPod to back them up! At that point I was relying on a single Mac, so I knew I’d be in trouble if I couldn’t boot it up some day. I even installed Panther on my iPod so I could boot from it if the system on my PowerBook was corrupted.
Therapist: "This still doesn’t seem too bad. Go on."
Finding out that I could move files easily to the iPod started me down the path to my er, problem, with iPods. First it was just backing up files and using my iPod as a startup disk. Next, I started grabbing text ebooks from Project Gutenberg and reading them on the iPod. When the iPod photo came on the market I knew it was the answer to my wishes – I could store all of my photos on it and view slideshows! I could even leave my PowerBook at home on business trips and deliver my presentations from the iPod photo.
Therapist: "But didn’t you want to have your laptop with to do things like find directions or play games?"
Nope. I looked up a bunch of locations before I went on my business trips and found directions from my hotel to those places. Then I moved all that info to my iPod so I could look it up! And my iPod comes with games. Not many, but when I installed iPodLinux on it I was able to install and play more games – Minesweeper, Othello, TuxChess, even Doom!
Therapist: "You loaded Linux on your iPod? Why?"
Because I could? No, it was a way for me to do even more with my iPod. In fact, I’m hoping that I can use it as a Web server soon.
Therapist: "Hmm. I’m beginning to think that this is a deep-rooted problem. I’d better contact my colleague in Vienna…."
According to the World Clock on my iPod nano, it’s about 1:30 AM there right now, so I don’t think he’d appreciate an unexpected wakeup call. After all, he probably used the sleep timer on his iPod to put him to sleep. Of course, if you do want to call him I’ll use the iPod nano’s stopwatch and time your call so you don’t end up paying some ridiculous amount to your long-distance company. It would probably be a better idea just to wait until his iPod wakes him up tomorrow morning, Vienna time, and then call him.
Therapist: "Steve, your iPod problem is getting out of hand. I certainly hope you’ve followed my advice and are keeping a journal so you can see how this problem is affecting you."
Not only am I keeping a journal, but my friends at TidBITS have published my thoughts in an ebook called "Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music." It tells people all about how to do the same things I like to do with my iPod. The initial release had 128 pages of detailed info and screenshots for only $10, and I’ve just released the 1.1 update with 22 more pages to cover the video-capable iPods and more.
Therapist: "This has gone entirely too far! Now you’re acting as an enabler, teaching other people how to emulate your insidious iPod addiction. I want to hear what the group has to say about this! Group? Hello? Anyone???"
I don’t think they can hear you, Doc! I taught them how to convert my ebook into audiobook, so they’re all listening to it right now. See those little white cables? Doc? Are you all right? Doc?
In my last article about GPS devices with voice-navigation, I mentioned that Magellan was coming out with the RoadMate 760, an upgrade to the RoadMate 700 I was then reviewing that offered two additional features: SayWhere, a text-to-speech capability that enables the device to read the name of the street on which you were next to turn, and SmartDetour, which automatically reroutes you around traffic jams and other obstructions. I’ve now had a chance to use the RoadMate 760 in some real-world navigation, and I can say with some assurance that SayWhere is a worthwhile technology, though one that feels a bit tacked on at the moment. Though I’ll describe SmartDetour below, it’s so automatic that I couldn’t force it to work in any relevant way.
Speak Up For Yourself — The primary attraction of the voice-navigation capabilities of these GPS devices is that they enable you to keep your eyes where they should be – on the road – while still receiving appropriate directions. The first voice-navigation device we tried, the Motorola i58sr cell phone with Nextel service, excelled at this, which was a good thing, given its tiny grayscale screen. Though they have much better screens, the Garmin c330 and Magellan RoadMate 700 didn’t match up audibly because they limit their spoken instructions to turns and distances: "Turn right in two miles." With the RoadMate 760, Magellan still hasn’t quite caught up to how I remember the Motorola phone working, but they’re at least heading in the right direction.
The SayWhere technology really is text-to-speech, and although it does quite well, it can’t avoid the pronunciation limitations of all the text-to-speech implementations I’ve ever heard. So, one road near our house is called "Genung," with the vocal stress on the second "nung" syllable, as "ge-NUNG." SayWhere renders it with the stress on the first syllable, as in "GE-nung." Just as when visitors mispronounce local names (in both upstate New York and in western Washington, where we’ve lived, there are numerous tongue-flustering place names derived from Native American words), it’s discomfiting whenever SayWhere gets a name wrong, and I found myself biting back a correction. Similarly, it’s overly enthusiastic about reading out all the possible names for a particular road. So, Ellis Hollow Road may also be County Route 110, but no one here ever says that, and I sincerely doubt that more than a handful of even the people who live on the road know that fact. So when the RoadMate 760 announces that I’m to turn on "Ellis Hollow Road, County Route 110," I almost found myself arguing with it. But these are nits, since, other than for testing purposes, I would never use a GPS when driving on familiar roads, and if the roads are not familiar, I’d have no idea whether the pronunciation or name was correct.
Overall, SayWhere does a good job of pronouncing street names, and I was never confused about where to turn. Oddly, although you can choose between high quality pre-recorded male and female voices for all the directions, SayWhere uses a female voice with a somewhat nasal tone that made me think of the speech patterns of some area around New York City, though I couldn’t place the specific accent. I had preferred the female voice with the RoadMate 700, but I switched to the male voice with the 760 to avoid two slightly different female voices – it was a bit like the problem with two shades of the same color clashing horribly. Besides, having very different voices made it seem as if I had a tiny news reporting team inside the RoadMate 760: the male anchor who told me where to go and the female color commentator added the street name after most of his instructions.
Nevertheless, I’d like a future version of the RoadMate to use a single voice for both directions and street names, and to integrate them naturally into a sentence. The current "Turn right in point two miles" in one voice, followed by "Mitchell Street" in another voice isn’t as elegant as "Turn right on Mitchell Street in point two miles" would be.
There is one situation in which SayWhere simply fell down. Whenever I headed off route for any reason, the pre-recorded voice would say, "Calculating route," and would then give me the next direction: "Turn left in point four miles." But whereas in every other situation, the female SayWhere voice would chime in with the name of the street on which I was supposed to turn, SayWhere always remained silent on the name of the next turn after recalculating the route. I suspect it’s less a bug than a design trade-off; perhaps the CPU power necessary to recalculate the route prevents the RoadMate 760 from being able to generate the spoken name of the next street. It’s too bad, since the initial recalculation of a route is a time during which you particularly would like to know the next street name.
SmartDetour — I received the review unit of the RoadMate 760 immediately before a big trip, so I didn’t have time to read its documentation. That was no problem with SayWhere; I simply found the appropriate setting in the options, turned it on, and heard the street names read to me. But with SmartDetour, the default options seemed reasonable, but I couldn’t figure out how to invoke it. A bit of subsequent research in the documentation reveals that SmartDetour kicks in automatically to suggest a new route after a user-defined number of minutes driving at less than 15 miles per hour. It also lets the user set how lengthy the detour can be, which is helpful for ensuring the detour isn’t worse than the delay. I didn’t run into any traffic jams on any of the trips I’ve taken with the RoadMate 760, and it’s extremely unusual in Ithaca to run into slow traffic other than at "rush minute," which I avoid as a matter of principle, so I’ve never seen SmartDetour kick in automatically. Interestingly, the RoadMate 760 Web page claims that you can invoke SmartDetour manually by pressing the Enter key while driving, though this fact isn’t mentioned in the manual or in any of the device’s built-in tutorials. If I were driving in a congested metropolitan area, I suspect I’d appreciate SmartDetour a great deal.
Mac Unfriendly — When reviewing the RoadMate 700, I forgot to mention that, like the Garmin c330, maps can be updated only from a PC; Mac users are simply out of luck. On the one hand, I think that’s a shame, since in this day and age of Java, it’s simply not that hard to write a cross-platform application that can update the maps via a USB connection, and both Magellan and Garmin are needlessly limiting their market and annoying their Mac-using customers. In contrast, the third big GPS player, TomTom, does provide Macintosh software for communicating with their TomTom Go series of devices, although I haven’t seen it yet, since they’ve been incapable of sending me a review unit of the TomTom Go 300.
One area that might particularly bother some Mac users is that the RoadMate 760 can accept uploaded points of interest via the Windows-only POI Manager software. It turns out that there are point-of-interest databases available on the Internet, such as the Pocket GPS World Safety Camera Database (for the United Kingdom) that list locations of speed-detection cameras. I didn’t test this capability, but it seems to be common on all the high-end GPS models from Magellan, Garmin, and TomTom.
All that said, I’m not as bothered by Magellan’s and Garmin’s boorishness as I would be with a device that has more to gain from integration with the Mac. I see these voice-navigation GPS units – particularly the ones I’ve been reviewing that come pre-loaded with maps – as essentially stand-alone devices, and although updating the internal map database will require a PC, it’s also something that should be necessary (or at least desirable) only every 18 months or so. The lower-end GPS models that require the user to load and unload maps on a regular basis would likely be far more annoying for the Mac user, though I’ve seen reports that the software from both Magellan and Garmin can be made to work in Virtual PC and that the SD memory card used in the Magellan RoadMate 500 mounts properly and can have maps copied to it via a USB media reader connected to a Mac.
You Have Arrived (Well, Not Quite Yet) — Is the Magellan RoadMate 760 the ultimate voice-navigation GPS? No, although the addition of the SayWhere technology brings it closer to my ideal device. Pretty much everything I said about the RoadMate 700 before applies to the RoadMate 760, including my gripes about the form factor, duplicated controls, lack of a battery, slow satellite lock, and occasional mis-directions (from which it helped me recover gracefully, at least). It costs between $800 and $900, depending on where you buy.
The real reason the RoadMate 760 doesn’t qualify as my ideal GPS navigator is that both Magellan and Garmin continue to release new models at an astonishing clip. Magellan now sells the slightly smaller RoadMate 800, which can play MP3 files and display photos (as many as you can store in 4.5 GB). It also includes an integrated rechargeable battery (so you can view photos or play music somewhere other than your car), features a 3D map view, and costs about $1,000.
Garmin has a number of new models as well. Along with acting as a voice-navigation GPS device, the tiny Nuvi plays MP3s and audio books from Audible.com, displays JPEG photos, and offers utilities like a world clock, currency converter, measurement converter, and calculator. At $1,000, it appears to be price- and feature-comparable to the Magellan RoadMate 800. The StreetPilot i5 is roughly the same size as the Nuvi, but costs only about $500, thanks to money-saving features like AA batteries, a smaller and lower-quality screen, and no fancy extras like MP3 support. On the high end (about $1,300), the StreetPilot 2730 will soon offer a full set of voice-navigation features, including text-to-speech capabilities for reading street and point-of-interest names, along with XM radio support that enables it to receive XM NavTraffic reports, XM WX Weather reports, and normal XM radio – all of which can be routed to the car’s speakers via an integrated FM transmitter or with a 3.5 mm stereo headphone/line out plug.
Clearly, I have more work to do. I wonder what trips might be coming up soon?
"Take Control of Switching to the Mac" Released — There’s little more frustrating than watching a friend or relative struggle with Windows when you know they’d be happier with a Mac. But as much as Apple produces great hardware and Mac OS X is easy to use, making the jump to the Mac is still a daunting proposition, what with finding comparable applications, moving data between machines, and learning the differences in the user interface. That’s why we’re particularly pleased to announce Scott Knaster’s "Take Control of Switching to the Mac" – it’s a great resource to give anyone considering a switch to the Mac or for learning more about how to help others make the switch. (And yes, if you were wondering, it’s all right with us if you buy it and give the PDF file to a friend, just as you would with a paper book if it could be sent via email or copied to a CD-R.)
Scott guides switchers through the process of making the decision to switch, choosing the right Mac model, setting up the Mac, choosing the appropriate Macintosh applications to replace common Windows programs, and moving data – documents, email, address books, and Web bookmarks – over to the Mac. Scott then teaches readers the basics of using a Mac from the perspective of someone who knows only Windows, starting with an explanation of user interface differences and moving on to lessons on how to use the Finder effectively, search with Spotlight, manage applications and windows, connect to network resources, download software updates, and more. A collection of five key Macintosh features and five useful tips help readers move beyond the basics and become more capable with their new Macs, and the ebook offers extra help for those who must still share documents with Windows users or run the occasional Windows application. In keeping with the practical nature of all Take Control titles, Scott includes essential troubleshooting advice in case problems appear, along with a glossary to help Windows users learn Macintosh terminology.
We were especially happy to have Scott write this book, since he has impeccable Macintosh credentials, including having written one of the first books about programming the Mac, five years of working at Apple, and a variety of recent books about Mac OS X, iTunes, and the iPod. Adding to the pedigree is his editor, Caroline Rose, who was the lead writer and editor on Inside Macintosh at Apple, then editor in chief at NeXT, and later editor in chief of Apple’s developer technical journal, develop. But what really qualifies Scott and Caroline for this ebook is that they’ve both spent time in the Windows world as well, Caroline from being a freelance editor for the last eight years and Scott from spending five years working at Microsoft. Put simply, Scott is one of those rare birds who can write well about the Mac while still understanding what it’s like to be a Windows user.
You can read more about Scott’s ebook, download a free 21-page sample, and place an order at:
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.
Driven to Distraction by DRM — Adam’s annoyance with Apple’s FairPlay DRM in last week’s issue prompts discussion about DRM and how it can prevent legal activities. (5 messages)
Maximum drive sizes — Some older Macs can accept hard drives only up to certain sizes – why is that? (6 messages)
Digital television changing fast — After our release of "Take Control of Digital TV," a reader points to yet another promising new display technology. (1 message)
Apple USB Modem for older Macs? Can the new Apple USB Modem work with older Macs? (3 messages)
Airlines with power outlets — There’s nothing worse than running out of power on a long plane flight. But which airlines provide power outlets? (1 message)