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Apple's special music event last week revealed the new iPod nano, iTunes 5, and release of the Motorola ROKR, an iTunes-enabled cellular phone. We have details and insight about the new devices. In non-music news, Jeff Carlson looks at ShowMacster, a utility for adding photos and movies to iChat video chats, Adam revisits how he uses email to get things done, and we note the release of Nisus Express 2.5.
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by Jeff Carlson <email@example.com>
Remember when the iPod was a marvel of compact engineering? At a press event in San Francisco last week, Apple introduced the iPod nano, an ever-more diminutive music player that replaces the now-discontinued iPod mini and more closely resembles the original iPod design than the mini. (The new design was spoofed hilariously by Crazy Apple Rumors, which "reported" that new iPods would now include a coolness expiration date laser-etched to the metal backside.) Although not as small as the iPod shuffle, the iPod nano makes the iPod mini seem almost colossal: the iPod nano is 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) tall, 1.6 inches (4.1 cm) wide, and just 0.27 inches (0.68 cm) deep. It weighs 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams), and is available in white or black finishes. Apple offers two capacities of the iPod nano's solid-state memory: 2 GB (approximately 500 songs) or 4 GB (approximately 1,000 songs).
Like the regular iPod, the iPod nano includes a backlit color screen (with a diagonal measurement of 1.5 inches, or 3.8 cm), Apple's Click Wheel navigator, and the same dock connector that supports USB 1.1 and 2.0, but, surprisingly, not FireWire. Although the dock connector is the same size as in previous iPod models, if you try to connect its dock via FireWire, the iPod nano displays a message that FireWire song transfer is not supported, although the battery can be charged via FireWire. In another change from other models, the headphone jack is mounted on the bottom. Apple claims battery life of up to 14 hours with music playback, or 4 hours of slideshows with music.
Yes, slideshows. Just as with the current iPod model (and the iPod photo before it), you can load images onto the iPod nano. When the first iPod photo came out I scoffed at the small screen, but now I often see people sharing their photos on cellular phones, so clearly size isn't an issue. In fact, after playing with an iPod nano for a few days, I must belatedly admit that having photos at such convenient display is a lot of fun (owners of current color iPods are probably saying, "Duh!").
The photos are limited to the iPod nano's screen, however. Although you can buy an Apple iPod AV Cable or iPod Dock for the regular iPod that enables you to display photos on a television or projector, the iPod nano lacks that capability. Similarly, the Apple iPod Camera Connector - which makes it possible to transfer digital photos directly to the iPod's memory - is also not supported by the iPod nano.
The iPod nano includes a few features new to the iPod line. World Clock displays multiple time zones (with clock faces appearing white for daytime hours and black nighttime hours). A Screen Lock capability enables you to assign a security code to unlock the iPod nano's controls (turning the Click Wheel into a little combination lock), while Stopwatch is useful for keeping track of your time when exercising. It's unclear whether these features will make their way to other iPods.
This may be hard to believe, but Apple is also offering several accessories for the iPod nano, such as an armband ($30, in five colors), dock ($30), and iPod nano Tubes ($30 for a set of five colored snug plastic cases). I'm more interested in the $40 lanyard, however, which plugs into the dock connector and incorporates earbuds (available in October).
If there are any drawbacks to the iPod nano, they're related to the small size. I have fairly large hands, so it's not as easy for me to operate the Click Wheel with my right thumb as it is on a larger iPod because the iPod nano's wheel has a smaller diameter. But the more obvious potential trouble is that I'm sure a few iPod nanos will end up going through the laundry if people accidentally leave them in a shirt or pants pocket.
The iPod nano is available now for $200 (for the 2 GB model) and $250 (for the 4 GB model). And just for the record, TidBITS came up with the "nano" name in April, though our "sources" at the time attributed it to the consumer Mac line instead of the iPod.
by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Apple Computer last week took the wraps off iTunes 5.0, the latest version of its free jukebox software for Mac OS X and Windows.
iTunes 5.0 adds the following new features:
After many years of user lamentation, playlists can now be organized into hierarchical folders. For instance, you could have an upper-level playlist for a particular artist, and playlists within that for individual albums by that artist.
Parental controls can be used to restrict purchase of music flagged as having explicit lyrics in the iTunes Music Store. It can also disable the Music Store altogether, as well as podcasts and shared music.
A new Search bar improves starting and refining a search.
Smart Shuffle enables the user to "adjust" iTunes shuffle mode by controlling how likely they are to hear songs by the same artist or from the same album. Apparently this is in response to customer complaints that the random shuffle mode didn't seem sufficiently random: perhaps by making it less random, users will feel it will be more random?
The iTunes window features a new "streamlined" look with no brushed metal, less 3-D bevelling, and a more-square window. John Gruber has hysterically satirized the visual change (with some strong language) at Daring Fireball.
Windows users can synchronize calendar and contact info to Outlook or Outlook Express
iTunes 5 is available for free; it requires Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later or Windows 2000 or XP. For Macintosh, the standalone installer is 13.8 MB.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs also outlined the current market position of Apple's iTunes Music Store, claiming the service is currently selling more than 1.8 million songs per day and accounts for an 82 percent market share in the United States, and almost 85 percent of the global digital music market. The store now offers over 2 million downloadable tracks - which makes its library the largest of the digital music download services. Perhaps more importantly, the store now boasts over 10 million account holders worldwide which, as Jobs noted, "come with credit cards."
Jobs also announced that the iTunes Music Store now carries all six Harry Potter titles as audio books, and unveiled a new iPod with an engraved Hogwarts emblem. (Hogwarts is the school young wizard Harry Potter attends in the popular books.) The Harry Potter Collectors iPod costs $300; the digital boxed set of the six audio books costs $250 (they're also sold separately).
The store is now providing access to more than 15,000 podcasts via its podcast directory, a number Jobs said is "exploding" by growing by more than 1,000 a week.
by Mark H. Anbinder <email@example.com>
As part of last week's press event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs shared the stage with Cingular Wireless COO Ralph de la Vega to announce the availability of the long-rumored iTunes cell phone, the new Motorola ROKR E1. The first cell phone with iTunes support, the ROKR (pronounced "rocker") is immediately available in the U.S. exclusively from Cingular Wireless for $250 with a two-year service commitment.
The new phone comes with iTunes software built in, and includes stereo headphones and a USB cable. iTunes software for the owner's Mac or Windows computer will be available, as always, as a free download from Apple's Web site, but will not be included in the box with the phone. It doesn't appear that you can purchase songs from the iTunes Music Store directly through the phone, which isn't surprising given the difficulty of navigating the 2-million-song iTunes Music Store from a cell phone interface.
The phone sports a color display, but is otherwise comparable in features to the iPod shuffle, supporting up to 100 songs with shuffle playback and random autofill features. According to an early review in the New York Times, the 100-song limit is firm, even though you could probably store more music on the phone's 512 MB memory card.
In addition, the phone, sporting a "brick" rather than "flip" (folding clamshell) design, includes stereo speakers and a built-in camera. It automatically pauses the music if a call comes in, and the user can switch between phone and music with the touch of a button that bears the familiar iTunes musical notes icon. Motorola says the phone is "Bluetooth capable for voice calls," which we hope will allow wireless synching of contact info, if not music.
The ROKR is now starting to become available in Canada and the United Kingdom; it will appear in France, Italy, and Hong Kong in late September; in Australia, Singapore, and the Philippines by early October; and in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and other markets later in the year.
by Jeff Carlson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Chatting via video in iChat is cool, but I didn't realize I was missing something until recently when a client introduced me to ShowMacster, a utility that enables me to display more than just my ugly mug during a video chat.
The notion behind ShowMacster is simple: why limit your outgoing video signal to what's in front of your webcam, when you can also interject other digital imagery such as photos or movies? Say you're video chatting with your mother and want to show her your latest digital photos. What then?
Using iChat by itself, only a few options are available. You can open a new text chat window and drag the photos, one at a time, to the text field; it takes a minute or so (depending on the speed of your connection) for the image to appear on the other person's computer. Or, you could use iChat's Send File command (in the Buddies menu) to transfer the image files, which requires Mom to open them in a separate application such as iPhoto or Preview. You could also take a more traditional, roundabout route and send the image files via email or upload them to a .Mac HomePage. In each case, it ends up being a fair bit of work and, at least in my experience, sometimes the files won't successfully go through.
With ShowMacster installed, by contrast, you drag the image files (either singly or in a group) to a drawer attached to the video chat window. The images occupy a new slot that contains a small preview and a Play/Pause button. When you click the button, the images appear instead of your camera's video; you see the images in iChat's small reference window and the other person views them in their full iChat window until you click the Play/Pause button again, at which point the video from your camera takes over.
When you drop a group of photos onto an optional Quickdrop field, they play back as a slideshow. While ShowMacster's feed is enabled, your audio is still activated, so you can continue to talk while showing off your pictures.
Similarly, you can share movies (QuickTime, AVI, MPEG-4, 3GP, and 3G2 format) by dropping them onto the ShowMacster drawer and using the controls to play them. I can imagine this feature being valuable to video editors and graphic designers who want to review footage with clients over the Internet. Better yet, some rudimentary video controls are available, such as jog and shuttle control for navigating quickly to specific points in a clip, as well as a timecode display.
Another collaborative visual editing tool is the sketchboard, a separate window with basic drawing tools that acts as an iChat whiteboard. Dragging a photo to the sketchboard makes it possible to mark up the image as if you were huddled around a conference table.
Audio files are supported, too, enabling you to play music for someone without sending an audio file, but I wasn't able to get this feature to work.
ShowMacster is also a useful training tool, enabling you to send live captures of your screen to the other person. Want to show an inexperienced Mac user where to find a program's preferences file that's buried in the Library folder? Instead of narrating the steps, jump into screen capture mode and have them follow your movements. You can specify an area of the screen to send, enabling you to zoom in on that section; a preference dictates whether the active capture area follows the mouse or not.
Media files that you place into the drawer stay there for use in the future and can be grouped into categories for faster access. If you want to send an original file to your iChat buddy (for example, Mom wants digital copies of a few of the photos), simply drag them from the ShowMacster drawer onto the buddy's icon in the Buddy List.
Since ShowMacster is simply inserting audio and video into the existing data stream, the program works in multi-person chats under Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. Also, ShowMacster operates one-way; your recipients don't need to own a copy of the software for it to work.
A trial version of ShowMacster, which stops working after 15 minutes until the next time you launch iChat, is a 1.4 MB download. A license costs $20, which covers one iChat identity. It works with iChat under Mac OS X 10.3 Panther or Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger (a separate installer is available for each), and requires a native FireWire webcam (such as an iSight or attached digital camcorder).
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Back in December of last year, I passed along a new technique I developed for handling email in Eudora. It relied on Eudora's long-standing capability to create "saved searches," which are essentially the same idea as the new "smart mailboxes" in the version of Apple Mail included with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. In either case, you define a set of criteria, and all messages that meet your criteria - no matter where they may be filed - appear in the search mailbox. The key to the technique I outlined back in that article is that I pay the most attention to unread mail (which isn't necessarily ideal, but it's the way my brain works), so I created a saved search that pulled unread mail from 33 different mailboxes, each of which held filtered messages from individuals (mailing lists are handled separately). When I couldn't or didn't feel like dealing with a new message right away, I'd mark it with a label, and my saved search also displayed messages with that label.
It was a good start, and it worked well for a while, but eventually, I ended up with so many labeled messages that they started to disappear off the top of my Unread Mail saved search window. As it's an unfortunate fact about me that I tend to ignore messages that are out of sight, the end result was that I once again started to fall behind in replying to messages, usually the important ones that didn't have easy responses for one reason or another.
The First Refinement -- About this time, Tonya and I started reading David Allen's excellent book "Getting Things Done," in which he suggests making four buckets for incoming information, whether email or not. (See "A Shiny New NoteBook" in TidBITS-777 for how I implement other aspects of the Getting Things Done model in Circus Ponies Software's NoteBook.) First is the bucket of items you haven't yet seen - Unread. Next is an Act On bucket, which contains those items you cannot deal with in just a few minutes. Then there's a Waiting For bucket for items that you need to keep active until someone else gets back to you about the topic in question. Last, you need a Read & Review bucket for items that have little time pressure, but which you need to read at some point.
I was on a similar track, since my Unread Mail saved search displayed everything new, and in theory, I was creating an Act On bucket by labeling messages I couldn't deal with right away. But since I had too many labeled messages, they were being lost in the crush of the hundreds of unread messages that arrive daily.
So the first refinement I made to my system was to create a second saved search, called Act On, that contained just messages in the 33 relevant mailboxes with the Act On label. I did the same for the Waiting For and Read & Review buckets, making labels that I could assign to appropriate messages and then collecting those messages with saved searches.
This refinement worked well at first, since it enabled me to clear out my Unread Mail saved search regularly - there are never too many messages to work through in any given mail check. To assign labels quickly, I created toolbar buttons in Eudora (Command-click an empty spot in the toolbar and choose the desired menu item or press a key combination) for each label, and I used Script Software's iKey to cause Command-1 through 3 to open the Unread Mail, Act On, and Waiting For saved searches.
Unfortunately, as with nearly ever other tracking system that I create, I fell behind. The problem (and it's not clear that the Getting Things Done model has an answer to this) is that I simply have too much to do in the time available, and a number of the things I have to do occupy many hours at a stretch such that they block getting to other items that might not take as long. So my Act On mailbox grew ever larger, despite occasional attempts to beat it down, and the larger it got, the more psychologically difficult it became to open. Similarly, Waiting For became a never-never land that I seldom, if ever, opened, making for an awkward situation a few weeks ago when I completely forgot about a message that I'd marked as Waiting For, even after I received the necessary reply. And Read & Review has become a total graveyard; I don't think I've opened it more than once since setting it up.
A key aspect of the Getting Things Done model is the Weekly Review, a task you're supposed to perform early every Friday afternoon. During the Weekly Review, you're supposed to check through all your Waiting For items, and generally review all your current projects. Then, you can push various to-do items off to other people before the weekend, enabling you to take some time off from work without constantly thinking about all your open projects. It's a great idea, and it has worked well when I've been able to accomplish it, but all too often life intervenes (in the form of unexpected visitors or phone calls, or a server crisis), or the Weekly Review falls prey to more important work, such as finishing an article for TidBITS or working on a Take Control ebook. And once I missed a couple of Weekly Reviews, I forgot all about it even during weeks when I had the time.
Refining the Refinement -- By now I'm sure it's clear that I don't have all the answers yet; I'm still trying to find the best combination of methods that will fit with my working style and schedule. It's a constant effort, or, more accurately, it's an effort that undergoes fits and spurts of activity as I realize a new problem and attempt to resolve it. Here are my latest attempts.
Most important, I need a way to prevent the Act On and Waiting For saved searches from becoming black holes that inhale important messages, never to be seen again. Since I've learned that pure mental fortitude isn't sufficient - I'll always find some subconscious method of ignoring these saved searches - I'm planning to enlist iKey as my conscience. Twice per day, once in the morning before I get up, and once toward the end of the day, I've set iKey to open those saved searches automatically. My hope is that if I'm presented with them on a regular basis, I'll be able to muster the courage to deal with some of the stickier messages that I've had trouble handling in the past.
Read & Review is a different problem. I have an essentially infinite amount of real work that I need to accomplish, so I don't have quantities of time to spend reading long articles or email messages, no matter how interesting or relevant. There's always something more pressing clamoring for my attention. However, I find that I sometimes use my PowerBook at night to do Web browsing or other Internet tasks that aren't work-related, which pointed me toward a strategy that's been working well in the short while I've used it.
My main email account is a POP account, since I like to have local access to all of the gigabytes of email I've received and saved. But since Web Crossing, our integrated server software, supports IMAP just fine, I created a new IMAP email account (which no one but me will ever use directly). Then I copied every message marked Read & Review into a folder in that IMAP account, and created a Eudora toolbar button to make it easy to copy new things to that account. Now, whenever I have something that I know will take some time to read, I can easily pop it into my IMAP Read & Review folder, and read it later on my PowerBook using any IMAP client I like (at the moment, I'm trying Apple Mail, though my years of Eudora usage make Mail's interface seem awkward).
Once I set up my private IMAP account, I had another revelation, which is that it can sometimes be too easy to become caught up in interesting discussions on mailing lists that aren't work-related, and like everyone else, I get plenty of joke mail, or forwarded political screeds. Rather than spend valuable work time during the day reading and responding to such mail, I modified the filters that move mailing list messages into particular folders to place a copy of each list message on my IMAP account. Another toolbar button simplified the process of copying other random joke or personal messages to my IMAP account for evening reading on the PowerBook as well.
As I said, I haven't been doing this for all that long, but it has been a relief to regain some of the time I spent reading email during the day, and it's nice to sit on the couch with Tonya (for whom we set up the same system) and our laptops, reading mail from friends and family, or talking about some discussion that's come up in a mailing list.
I do want to note two subtleties to what I've done. First, I initially thought to redirect messages from mailing lists to the IMAP account, but that turned out to be a bad idea, even after I twiddled x-eudora-setting:273 to turn off Eudora's built-in protection against redirecting list messages (in order to prevent mail loops). Redirecting eliminated some of the original headers in incoming messages, making them harder to filter in the IMAP account, added (by way of...) to every message, put a copy of every message in my Out box, and most important, in some cases changed the order of messages in a thread. All those problems disappeared by making my Eudora filters copy the mailing list messages to the IMAP account using a copy action rather than a redirect action. Second, because I like to keep all my mail in once place, I'm intentionally copying, rather than moving, each message. That way I can delete anything from the IMAP account after reading without worrying about my main archive.
I'll report more on how these refinements work for me after I've had more time to live with them - my gut feeling is that some will prove highly effective and will survive, whereas others won't and will require replacement with new ideas.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
"Take Control of Customizing Microsoft Office" Updated to Version 1.0.1 -- Version 1.0.1 of Kirk McElhearn's "Take Control of Customizing Microsoft Office" is now available. This new version clarifies and corrects a few details from the previous version, and now offers better advice for modifying toolbars, customizing Word's Normal template, and disabling the keyboard shortcuts that can accidentally trigger Word 5 Menus. Those who own version 1.0 of the ebook can download the update for free by clicking the Check for Updates button on the ebook's cover. And if you've been waiting for that first bug-fix release, now's your chance to pick up a copy. Remember, we and Kirk are donating 10 percent of all proceeds from September sales to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund (we've sent $500 so far, rather than wait for the end of the month), so sales this month are particularly appreciated!
by TidBITS Staff <email@example.com>
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.
FreeConference.com comments -- Adam's article about FreeConference.com prompts feature suggestions and a few questions. (3 messages)
Mounting MP3 players in Mac OS X -- A reader having trouble getting a non-Apple music player to mount under Mac OS X gets advice. (4 messages)
iTunes 5 -- Readers discuss the new version of iTunes, including thoughts on the application's new appearance. (9 messages)
Popup Dock and Dock Enhancers -- A reader extols the virtues of Popup Dock, an application for improving on the Dock's functionality, and that post generates another recommendation for DragThing. (2 messages)
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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