There’s a reason Apple no longer calls its portable computers "laptops": they’re too hot for laps! Adam’s "private i" alter ego investigates the problem of toasty MacBook Pros. Meanwhile, Adam also examines Microsoft’s purchase of iView Multimedia and Jeff Carlson looks at video timecode calculators. We also roll into July with a bunch of updates: Apple releases Mac OS X 10.4.7, iTunes 6.0.5, iPod Software Update 2006-06-28, and QuickTime 7.1.2, while Ergonis Software’s PopChar X 3.0 makes its debut.
Apple Releases Mac OS X 10.4.7 Update — Apple last week released Mac OS X 10.4.7, a free update to Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, with a variety of improvements and bug fixes. Separate installers are available via Software Update or the Apple Software Downloads Web site for the desktop version of Mac OS X on PowerPC- and Intel-based Macs, and for Mac OS X Server, which so far is available only for PowerPC-based Macs. Along with a wide variety of small fixes, some of which address security holes, the 10.4.7 update includes several enhancements to Mail, such as improved reliability retrieving IMAP messages with attachments using an unreliable Internet connection and connecting to mail servers through a SOCKS proxy; improvements for video conferencing and transferring files in iChat; and better iSync support for Motorola cell phones using Bluetooth and .Mac accounts.
Apple says the update also resolves an issue on PowerPC-based Macs in which some applications may "silently fail to open," and manually removing fonts is no longer likely to cause the Finder to quit unexpectedly. We also understand that the update makes Apple’s spiffy, new two-finger right-click feature (announced last month for the MacBook and updated MacBook Pro models) work on the trackpad of early MacBook Pro models. Stand-alone download versions are available in sizes ranging from 64 MB (for the PowerPC 10.4.6 to 10.4.7 delta version) to 215 MB (for the Intel 10.4 to 10.4.7 Combo version). If you downloaded the delta version for Intel-based Macs before Friday of last week, you should download again, since Apple re-released that installer to include some OpenGL files that were missing in the initial release. Software Update will find the right version for your Mac. [MHA]
PopChar X 3.0 Improves Usability — Ergonis Software has released PopChar X 3.0, a notable upgrade to the company’s long-standing utility for discovering and inserting the thousands of characters available in modern Unicode fonts. Since PopChar X’s basic functionality hasn’t needed changing, most of the improvements focus on usability and performance. To that end, PopChar X features a Search field that speeds finding characters, showing either characters that contain the letter entered (so typing an "e" shows all the accented variants of "e") or the characters whose Unicode name matches the string entered (so entering "greek" while looking at the Unicode characters in Lucida Grande shows all the Greek characters). The PopChar character table can now optionally be a movable window that remembers its position, rather than a huge menu, and other preferences cause it to disappear as soon as you insert a character or click outside it. In an attempt to bring order the hundreds of fonts many people have installed, the PopChar font menu now shows only recently used fonts; a new drawer provides a large scrolling list of all available fonts. And lastly, if you find yourself entering the same characters repeatedly, PopChar provides a view showing only the recently used characters. For a full list of current and new features, see Ergonis’s Web site.
PopChar X 3.0 is now a universal binary for improved performance on Intel-based Macs; it requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later and no longer supports Classic applications. It’s a 1.6 MB download. Ergonis employs an unusual upgrade system that requires attention; in essence, all upgrades are free within two years of purchase ($30) or renewal ($15), but to use any upgrade after that two year mark, you must renew again. To avoid surprises, look in PopChar’s registration dialog to see if you’re eligible for a free upgrade before you download and install a new version. [ACE]
iTunes, iPod Firmware, and QuickTime Updated — Delivering on a promise made in late May, Apple has updated iTunes and iPod software to work with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, a gadget that links an iPod nano with Nike+ shoes to track a runner’s performance (see "Grab your iPod and Run"). iTunes 6.0.5 enables synchronization of data to nikeplus.com. The 19.8 MB update, also available via Software Update, additionally patches a security hole that could be exploited by a malicious AAC file.
iPod Updater 2006-06-28 updates the software for the iPod, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle to fix bugs, add Nike+iPod support for the iPod nano, and add a maximum volume limit for the iPod shuffle. Because Apple rolls all iPod updates into one installer, this one weighs in at 49 MB and is available as a stand-alone download or via Software Update.
Lastly, Apple also released QuickTime 7.1.2, a 49.1 MB download that fixes an issue with previewing iDVD projects. [JLC]
PDFpen 2.4 Adds Comment Support — SmileOnMyMac has updated PDFpen (and its form-creating big brother PDFpen Pro) to version 2.4, adding support for PDF comments so users can add editable comments to PDF files. Also new is a drawer that lists all comments, notes, and imprints, making it easy to see what has been added and changed in a file. The comments are true PDF annotations, so they appear properly and are editable in Acrobat; similarly, comments made in Acrobat appear and are editable in PDFpen as well. However, although Apple’s Preview can display existing PDF comments, its "Text Annotation" tool does not create true PDF comments, but merely yellow-boxed text objects, and worse, saving a PDF file containing comments from within Preview destroys those comments. Although PDF comments are overly awkward for group collaboration with straight text documents, they work extremely well for creating and sharing comments on heavily designed documents containing both text and graphics. Until now, however, creating and editing comments on the Mac required owning the more-expensive Adobe Acrobat Standard or Professional. Version 2.4 of either PDFpen or PDFpen Pro is a free upgrade for registered users and is a 5.9 MB download. New copies of PDFpen cost $50; PDFpen Pro is $95. [ACE]
Now here’s an unexpected bit of news. Microsoft has bought iView Multimedia, makers of the iView MediaPro and iView Media digital asset management applications. iView MediaPro in particular is well-regarded as a photo cataloging tool, since it can catalog files in over 120 formats, leaving the originals in place and providing browsing of the catalog even when the originals are offline (stored on DVD, for instance). iView MediaPro even has some image editing capabilities, though I always found them rather confusing and difficult to use, at least in comparison to Apple’s iPhoto.
iView Multimedia’s acquisition FAQ and letter from founder Yan Calotychos are typically vague, talking about how the acquisition will give iView Multimedia the capability to "enhance our industry-leading product, whilst strengthening our customer service and support." According to the FAQ, "Microsoft has many exciting plans for iView’s technologies and product line. Details on future product plans and availability will be announced at a future date."
With no hints as to future directions, we can do little but speculate as to what’s going on here. Microsoft has long lacked a graphics application for Microsoft Office on the Mac, even though Word has some image manipulation capabilities and PowerPoint has some graphics tools. It’s possible that Microsoft views iView MediaPro as an intermediary for graphics between the different Office applications, much as Entourage is intended in part as the project management glue for the different Office applications.
Where I’d like to see Microsoft concentrate significant effort in the next version of Office for the Mac is on collaboration. As I’ve written more than once, Word has decent change tracking and commenting features, but those are only a baby step in the right direction. Office documents of all types are routinely shared among members of a workgroup as Word files are commented on and edited, Excel spreadsheets are added to, and PowerPoint decks are massaged for clarity. But Office provides no help at all for sharing those files across a variety of network types, showing the status of who’s working on what, and maintaining versions of changed files over time. What I’m describing isn’t some niche feature, it’s something that, if implemented properly, would become essential to the workflow of every Office-using organization, large or small.
A few years ago, I considered trying to find a programmer who could write an essential little video editing utility: a timecode calculator. Timecode is the way video is measured, and takes the format of hours:minutes:seconds.frames. So, for example, a timecode value of 00:32:17.15 translates to zero hours, 32 minutes, 17 seconds, and 15 frames.
Each second of digital video is comprised of 30 frames for the NTSC format or 25 frames in PAL format, which is what makes calculating timecode slightly tricky. A calculator would let you quickly determine, for example, the total length of your movie if you added a clip that had a duration of 00:02:00.17 to NTSC video with a frame rate of 30 frames per second (FPS).
Unfortunately, I got distracted by other projects and the idea faded away. But apparently, I wasn’t the only one with that notion. While working on my latest book, "iMovie HD 6 & iDVD 6 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide" (which has just been released), I noted a few timecode calculators you can download that do exactly what I was looking for and more.
Hollywood Calculator — Hollywood Calculator comes in two versions, a stand-alone application and a Dashboard widget. In either one, plug in a timecode value and choose the frame rate from a pop-up menu. In addition to NTSC and PAL, you can choose frame rates of 29.97 (which is actually the true frame rate of NTSC; applications such as iMovie round up in editing) or 24 (which is the rate for feature films). Then enter the second value you’re calculating and choose to add or subtract that from the first value.
The stand-alone version includes two additional features. Clicking the Film tab enables you to choose a film type (such as 35mm or 16mm) and a frame rate. Enter the number of feet you’re working with and hit Return to see how many frames that translates to and a timecode value of the duration. It will even tell you how many 1,000-foot rolls of film the result would occupy, and how much those rolls would weigh.
Lastly, Hollywood Calculator’s Record Time tab can tell you how much video can be stored on your connected hard drives. So, if you know you need to import 50 minutes of video, you can tell right away if it will fit on one of your drives. Choose from a wide range of video types, from consumer-grade DV NTSC to uncompressed 10-bit 1920 by 1080 60i high-definition footage.
Hollywood Calculator is a free utility for Mac OS X 10.2 or later, and it’s a 214K download. The Hollywood Calculator Widget is a 27K download and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later.
Video Disk Space Calculator — If you’re just looking for a sense of how much disk space will be eaten by your video footage, turn to Video Disk Space Calculator, from Rabid Jackalope. Choose a video format from a pop-up menu, enter the length of your footage in minutes, and click the Calculate button. The result can be viewed in megabytes or gigabytes. The utility also includes a handy printable chart that lists data rates for each format.
Video Disk Space Calculator is free and requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later; it’s a 49K download.
Pomfort Frame Calculator — If you want more sophistication and are comfortable working with mathematical expressions, you’ll feel at home using Pomfort Frame Calculator, which can add, subtract, multiply, and divide timecode values.
More helpful is the capability to mix and match frame rates. For example, let’s say you want to combine a clip of NTSC footage that’s 2 minutes long with a clip of PAL footage that’s 4 minutes long; plus, you also want to split the combined result into 5 separate clips. You’d write the following:
(00:02:00.00|30 + 00:04:00.00|25) / 5
Every calculation gives two results: one that preserves the total time (in the example above, that would be 00:01:12.00, or 1 minute, 12 seconds), and one that preserves the total number of frames (00:01:04.00, or 1 minute, 4 seconds if the end result is in NTSC format; you can choose other formats from a pop-up menu).
Results can also be converted to approximate disk space required and an estimate of how long it would take to transfer that file to another computer based on your network connection. Another display mode reveals the length of film the result would occupy.
Pomfort Frame Calculator costs 20 euros, requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later, and is a 991K download; a separate version for Mac OS X 10.3.9 is also available.
[The film noir music rises as the scene fades in again on a 1950’s-style office, the glow of twin LCDs illuminating the back of a man staring out the window. His voice is low and harsh.]
People don’t come to me for comfort, they come to have their problems fixed. Quietly, if possible. Loudly, if not. Usually I can oblige, but sometimes a case is too big even for me. That’s what happened last week when I returned to my office after a stakeout to find not one, but two guys sitting in my waiting room.
It was hot, the air conditioning has been on the fritz since 1987, and both were wearing shorts and, judging from the bags at their feet, both were packing heat. One had a bandage on his leg. They looked uncomfortable and clearly didn’t know each other.
I pointed at the guy closer to the door, and motioned him to come into my office. Once we were seated on opposite sides of my battered desk, he launched into his tale of woe. He was Arlo Rose, a programmer, working on Konfabulator. I’d heard of his work – Konfabulator displayed tiny programs called widgets on the Mac, and he’d been the first on the block to do it. A nice living – all legal like – but then Apple took over his turf and told him to take a powder. He did, and ran right to another of the big bosses in town – Yahoo.
But he was here on personal business. He had fallen asleep coding Konfabulator, and woken up to burned thighs. He leaned over to pull something out of his bag to show me, but I wasn’t taking any chances. When he came up with his heat, he was staring into mine – a Colt pistol I keep in the top drawer for such situations. His heat wasn’t a firearm, but a MacBook Pro, so I lowered my piece. He hadn’t been expecting the pistol, and it rattled him.
It turned out his MacBook Pro was running hot. Really hot. Hot enough to burn both his thighs and an expensive coffee table. He wanted to know why, and if he was being set up by Apple because of some harsh words that had gone down during the Konfabulator deal. It was a good question, and one I didn’t know the answer to, so I told him to leave the MacBook Pro and come back the next day.
After seeing him out, I showed the second guy in. I figured it would be the usual – help ironing out a misunderstanding with a bookie, whatever. He introduced himself as Christian Heurich: a photographer, and a good one, to judge from the images I found while doing a background check.
But unlike most photographers who come into my office, his problem had nothing to do with dames. He too had fallen asleep while working on his MacBook Pro – when he leaned over to get it to show me, I merely kept my finger on the trigger inside my desk drawer. And whereas Arlo had suffered only a mild burn, Christian had some nerve damage in his left leg as a result of tackling liposarcoma 18 years ago, so he hadn’t noticed the heat until he’d suffered a second degree burn.
Now I was intrigued. It’s not often I get two cases in one day, much less two identical problems. I told Christian to come back in a day too, and then sat down to think.
Laptops have gotten hotter over the years, as the manufacturers pack more and more power into their CPUs. A call to a doctor friend turned up the painful tale of a 50-year-old scientist who had managed to burn his privates with only an hour usage, fully dressed (or so he claimed). I winced at the thought and took a swig from the bottle in my desk. Forewarned is forearmed.
Arlo had said something about CPU usage being out of control, so I started to poke around. Indeed, his MacBook Pro was using 50 to 60 percent of its dual CPUs while idling. Why? I racked my brain, staring out my window at the darkening night, and as the streetlight across the street winked on, it came to me. Spotlight. A good technology in theory, though it’s never found anything for me that I couldn’t find myself faster. Perhaps I just know where to look. But Spotlight works by sneaking around in the background, reading everything it can find, and that can chew CPU for no apparent reason.
Unfortunately, checking Activity Monitor for Spotlight’s prints – the mds and mdimport processes – revealed little. It might have been there, but it wasn’t the cause right now. I turned back to the window and stared down at the drunks on the sidewalk. My office isn’t in the best part of town. OK, it’s not even in a decent part of town. But sometimes you have to be near the lowlifes to find out what’s going on.
I stepped out for a bit of air that wasn’t necessarily fresh, particularly as I passed a guy who’d been a whiz kid before he got strung out on World of Warcraft. Now he bummed money until he had enough to get a few hours in a dive Internet cafe. Swore he’d find some treasure and then be able to sell it on the eBay black market to set himself up again. I passed him a few bucks and asked what the word on the street was. He looked up at me, looked back down, and in a low voice fingered Windows File Sharing.
I should have known. Windows File Sharing is how Apple made Macs play nice with Windows-based networks, and you have to know how those Apple guys must have hated being forced to write code to work with Windows. Perhaps it was spite, but more likely they were just doing the minimum. Back at the office, I turned off Windows File Sharing on Arlo’s MacBook Pro, the CPU usage dropped, and after a bit, it was noticeably cooler, though still hotter than the Roxy on a Saturday night.
That night I went trolling for info. Sources confirmed that lots of MacBook Pro owners were having similar problems, though few had the burns that Arlo and Christian experienced. When pressed for details, a number of people said they’d returned their MacBook Pros to Apple for repair. Sometimes they came back with little change, other times they ran a bit cooler, though still uncomfortably warm. Thermal grease was blamed in some cases, motherboards were replaced, serial numbers were reset. An SMC firmware update helped some users.
I began to smell a rat. The natives were restless, and Apple was backpedaling on using the MacBook Pro or other notebook computer on your lap. Indeed, the only instance of "laptop" in the Apple Knowledgebase referred to Windows laptops. Was Apple pretending that laptops couldn’t be used safely on laps? Some problems were just stupid, like the MacBook (not Pro) overheating because a piece of plastic had been left in at the factory.
Despite the talk, people were making do. I learned about a couple of utilities called CoreDuoTemp and Temperature Monitor that would report on the internal temperatures of the MacBook Pro. Others recommended the CoolPad from Road Tools to get the MacBook Pro off the lap.
The next day, I returned Arlo’s MacBook Pro, now running a bit cooler, and recommended that both he and Christian keep their MacBook Pros off their laps. I told them everything I’d learned, but I didn’t have the answers they wanted. Apple clearly knew about the problem, and was working on fixing it, but true to form was keeping quiet. They couldn’t pay me enough to try to pry information out of Apple. People have disappeared doing that.
In the end, I gave them the name of a reporter I knew at the local paper. Maybe it would make a story, and maybe Apple would take notice. But more likely Apple would never admit to the problem and it would eventually disappear, buried in the desert along with the news of exploding batteries, Power Macs that sounded like wind tunnels, and other missteps. It’s an ugly business sometimes, and sometimes good people get hurt. Arlo and Christian got hurt, but they’ll heal.
And me, I’ve seen it all, so nothing hurts me any more.
Special 30 Percent Off Coupon for PopChar Purchasers — For those font fans thinking about picking up copies of Sharon Zardetto Aker’s "Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X" and "Take Control of Font Problems in Mac OS X", you’ll receive a coupon worth 30 percent off your next Take Control order when you purchase a new copy ($30) or upgrade renewal ($15) of Ergonis Software’s just-released PopChar X 3.0. For those who haven’t used PopChar over its long history, it’s an ever-present utility that helps you quickly find special characters and enter them into your current document. That was useful enough in the old days for working with dingbat fonts, but it’s even more helpful with today’s character-rich Unicode fonts whose characters you might want to use, for instance, as HTML entities in a Web page.
<http://www.takecontrolbooks.com/fonts- macosx.html?14@@!pt=TRK-0036-TB836- TCNEWS>
<http://www.takecontrolbooks.com/font-problems- macosx.html?14@@!pt=TRK-0037-TB836- TCNEWS>
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.
Files in databases — What are the advantages and disadvantages of storing files within databases, especially in terms of a database-driven filesystem? (5 messages)
Working with Amazon S3 — The latest version of Interarchy supports Amazon’s S3 network storage service, leading to a discussion of similar utilities and services and how well they perform. (4 messages)
Sparseimages Replacing FileVault — Derek Miller’s article on using encrypted disk images to store sensitive data prompts a response from a reader who used the information to locate a problem he experienced with his own solution. (1 message)