Feng Shui

I've been on a simplification kick lately. Less clutter, less stuff, less to worry about. Moving my main machine to a Mac mini (crap, that's a lot of m's) has helped me simplify my computer room. I'm finally happy with the room. The cables are under control, the deskspace is adequate, and I just enjoy being in the room. Here are a couple of pictures of the desk and the electronics cluster in the corner.


Personal Content Production

In my efforts to give Apple as much of my money as possible, I've recently been experimenting with creating books in iPhoto and ordering up large prints of some photos. For the most part, I've been quite satisfied. I like iPhoto a lot, even if it is a bit slow on my admittedly low end Mac mini. I have had iPhoto crash on me a couple of times and when it crashed, it took some of my work with it. That's no good, and now I don't trust it completely. Every half hour or so, I'll do a Quit and Restart of iPhoto, just to gurantee my changes aren't lost. Man I hate doing that.

Anyway, while looking through my nicely bound and printed iPhoto books, I got to thinking..."Why doesn't Apple do this for all sorts of content production?". Apple likes to make a big deal of their Made on a Mac slogan. It even says so right in the back of the iPhoto books. They are also looking to pull more people to their platform and they've always been known to have the full solution. For instance, with iPhoto you can import and organize your own photos and then you can order prints and books. You can make your own songs in Garage Band. How come you can't order your own CDs with your own art on them? You can make your own DVDs in iDVD. How come you can't order your own DVDs with disc art and cover art? Sure you can burn these things and write on them with a sharpie. You can even print decent looking art on your home printer, but you can print decent looking photos too, but I'd still rather pay a few bucks to get the size I want, the quality I want, and get it right the first time.

I first thought this might be a copyright thing. Apple probably doesn't want to get in the middle of producing small runs of bootlegs, but this issue exists with photos too. There are even cases of some places refusing to print photos because they look too professional and therefore are probably covered by someone else's copyright. So maybe they lack an ordering system. No, wait, they already built that for their online store and the iPhoto books. So, they have content producing users. They have content producing apps that they own and can update easily. They have an ordering and distribution system. What's the hold up? Can any of you think of a reason they aren't doing this (other than cost of running the business)?

Maybe this will get solved when the iTMS lets the little guy upload and sell their stuff. I'm still waiting for that one :)


Ring It Up

The landline is gone, sort of. We recently switched from a local phone company to Vonage. In all, I'm quite pleased.

Our main reason for switching was cost. We were paying $40-45 a month with McLeod. We now only pay $17 a month with Vonage. After getting the Vonage adapter for free after rebate, the savings is adding up quickly. It's also nice that they just charge it to your credit card. That's one less bill to write a check for.

Audio quality is fine. There is a slightly elevated background noise level on our end, but I can't hear it on the remote end and no one else seems to either.

We've activated 911 on the line, and I'm not all that concerned about needing to dial 911 when the broadband is out.

We used Line Number Portability, so we kept our old number. That switch was the most painful. Vonage didn't seem to like our first two attempts to fax in the LNP document. After they accepted it on the 3rd try, the switchover was fairly quick. McLeod were idiots about it though. They sent us a letter that pretty much read "sorry you are leaving, but we really don't care" and they also told us we had to call all of these people to finish the switch. Yeah, we didn't have to do that. Vonage had already done the switch before McLeod told us to jump through some hoops.

Vonage also has a great "dashboard" that updates in near real-time with how many minutes you've used. We won't even get close to using all of our minutes each month. We really don't talk on the phone that much. It's also fun to get voicemails as .wav files on your computer if you'd like. They need a Tiger Dashboard widget to allow easy access to these.

In all, I'd recommend Vonage.


Two Turntables and an iMic at Home

So I was anxiously awaiting my iMic. The Mac mini didn't come with an audio input and I've really missed mixing and listening to my vinyl. You see, all of my DJ gear is attached to my computer and my speakers are attached to the computer. No computer, no sound, simple as that. I picked up the iMic for a decent price off of Amazon, but I've spent all night fighting it, and the vodka isn't helping.

I've managed to get it to output sound, but only if I record a new live instrument in Garage Band. Audacity isn't doing trick, even though I used it a lot under Windows. So far, I've only been able to get it to work in Mono mode with Audacity. Grrrrrrrrrr.

Yes, this is a grumpy post.


Pinpoint Accurate Photos

We recently took a vacation to Alaska. One of the greatest things about it was that 5 of us on the trip had digital cameras, and we used them. In all we gathered nearly 2000 still images that do a fantastic job of capturing the beauty of the terrain and the fun we had. The problem lies in making sense of all of those photos.

Writing code for a living, I'm well aware of "garbage in - garbage out". Unfortunately, this concept applies to far more than computer software. Of those 5 cameras firing off images for over a week, only 2 of them had proper dates set in them, and none of them were adjusted to the local time zone. So what? Well, now that I have the power of iPhoto's Smart Albums, I want to be able to sort the pictures by location, and without useful geocoding of those images (we'll talk more about that later), I'd like to rely on the timestamp and my own knowledge of where we were on that day to sort out the pictures. Since I now have a few hundred pictures that think they were captured in 2047, I'm going to have to figure out the power of Automator to fix that metadata. So my first wish for more accurate picture taking is cameras that can auto-set their own date and time.

Next up, location, location, location. By no means is this an original idea, but I want GPS enabled cameras! Built in is great. Bluetooth enabled cameras so that I can use an external Bluetooth GPS is fantastic too. I'd even be happy with a manual setting on the camera where I could pull up a map and point to where I was. That location would then be assigned to the photos. The software could have a setting of "Expire location after 1 day" to prevent false location data for pictures you'd take later.

We're starting to see products that do this. Ricoh has a GPS ready camera, and Mappr! is the start of just what I'm wanting.

My second wish for more accurate picture taking is location based Smart Albums in iPhoto. These would be both assignable, and searchable in iPhoto. To assign, you could select a group of photos and choose "Assign Location". Hopefully that would bring up a selection of methods for assigning location including an Atlas, Google Maps, whatever. You'd also be able to browse based on the location. Certainly Apple could create some slick panning map that would zoom photos up as you passed over the location. They could also make Spotlight smart enough to translate location names in to geocoded locations. That way, I can search for "Chicago" and get pictures of a Cubs game without having to tag the photos manually.

I don't know about the rest of you, but iLife was one of the major draws to get me away from Windows. If Apple continues to step it up and deliver features like these, I see even more switchers.



Moving contacts from Oulook under Windows to Address Book under OS X can be a pain until you figure out the easy way to do it.

I tried exporting to a .pst and importing that in Address Book. It didn't like that. I tried exporting to tab delimited and comma seperated. Outlook complained it needed to install a translator and then wanted the CDs. Forget that. I'm not digging those out. Finally, I found the way. Forward as vCard. Why Outlook doesn't offer vCard as an export type, I have no idea.

Anyway, just open your contacts in Outlook. Select all and then click Actions->Forward as vCard. Send that email to something you can retrieve on your Mac. Get the email on the Mac. Save the attachments out and then drag them from the Finder in to the Address Book. Bang, done, and you even have your contacts as vCards that can be easily backed up.


Hike and Float

Ben has been on me to post some pictures from my trip to Alaska. Well, here you go...

This is a picture of the Chilkoot Trail. We only went a few miles on it, but I'd love to go back and hike the whole thing. The Chilkoot Trail has quite the history behind it. This was the trail the gold seekers had to travel and Canada required 2000 pounds of food and gear per person that they could survive on. As 100 pounds is a lot to carry, most of the rushers had to hike the trail both ways, carrying near 100 pounds, at least 20 times. Ouch.

We took the hike and float tour with Skagway Float Tours. These guys were fantastic. I highly recommend them. The guides knew their stuff and were a lot of fun to talk with.

So who wants to go back and hike this with me? If you're driving, I call shotgun.

New Evil Nine on iTMS

I just got an email from Apple letting me know that two new Evil Nine tracks are now up on iTMS. Downloading now. That is all.