Brief Thoughts on the Third-Generation iPod Shuffle

If you’re the type of person who uses non-Apple headphones, this is not the iPod for you.

If you are the person who uses non-Apple headphones, but will want to use something in this form factor, sound quality is important enough to you that you’ll buy the damn third-party adapter.

It’s just that simple. Apple is aiming for a market segment, and that is people who want a small, lightweight, cool iPod. Do you have compromises with the design? Yes, but again … it’s not the iPod for you, more than likely.

Not every product that a company makes has to appeal to you. 🙂

How I’m Using Aperture and PowerMates

So I’ve had the two PowerMates for a while, and I’m now putting them to good use. I won’t let the focus of this entry be how I’m using the PMs system-wide [another day, if you’re interested], but suffice it to say that I’m using the PMs for awesome in Aperture.

Now, I’m biased by Fraser Speirs’s photo workflow; before I was ever serious about the concept, I had read what he was doing. I don’t do stack sorting—in fact, I just closed the tab so I won’t spend thirty minutes delving into same and stop writing this entry—but I do use the PowerMates to power through the weaning process. My ratings are much like Fraser’s—if it’s okay, going to get rated up to one start; if it’s crap, I reject it. Here’s where the PowerMates come in:

Left PowerMate: clockwise rates up, counterclockwise rates down.
Right PowerMate: clockwise advances in the set, counterclockwise goes back.

A wee twist of the wrist is all I need to rate something up or down, or to move back and forth. I think that adding in stacks will make this even more powerful for me, especially when I’m off of my current kick of sports photography and back into concert stuff, when taking eight or twelve exposures at a swath is about catching an expression or some light, not a pass or a shot or a hit. But it’s really quite quick for me: fire up Full Screen mode, position my hands, and make the snap decision.

I do my editing in passes, typically. I do the reject/promote run the first time through, culling the crap. The second pass, I’m looking for stuff that is two-star level: something about the frame catches my eye, and it’s either good as is or needs some cropping, tweaking, or other. And so-on until I get to at least three stars, sometimes four. Depends on the shoot and how much I’m looking to push out to Flickr—sometimes three stars is my bar, and sometimes it’s four. But with just a bare minimum of movement, I can fly through the editing.

What do I use other than the PowerMates? Well, besides Full Screen, I use the C shortcut to fire up the cropping tool and the ` to bring up the loupe. Between those two, plus using all of my 24″ of iMac real estate, I can power through stuff faster than I ever have—and I’m just getting started at doing this.

The beauty of the PowerMates is that you can program them to do lots of things—volume controls, keyboard shortcuts, scrolling. You’ve got global settings and program-specific ones. I’m just scratching the surface.


Audio Hijack Pro + Fission = Awesome

Lately, I have become a fan of Rogue Amoeba‘s products. This should surprise exactly no one: they write software focused around audio for OS X, and I’m an audio nerd who loves OS X. When I saw that NPR was streaming M. Ward’s Hold Time, I decided to put Audio Hijack Pro and Fission through their paces.

Audio Hijack Pro

I’m just scratching the surface of what AHP can do, I know. I’m using Quick Record to do this because, well, I’m lame. But in my case, AHP is taking the audio output of Firefox and recording it as an Internet stream, 128kbps stereo AAC. It does everything in one big chunk, which I then feed to …

Fission

… Fission, which claims to be “Fast, Lossless Audio Editing”. And for what I used it for, it’s quite, quite true. Now, as a note, I’m okay with the lossiness here because 1) this is a transport medium and 2) I’ve already pre-ordered the CD. I am also that person who, when coming in contact with, shall we say, illicitly-gained audio, listens and makes a quick buy/trash decision. If I don’t like it, I trash it. Very simple. Again, I’m gonna want [and buy, and cherish, and let you pry from my cold, dead fingers] the lossless version, so what’s happening here is a net win. [Looking at you, RIAA.]

Suffice it to say that I’m a happy dude.

How I Backup My Macs: January 2009

This entry has three parts: how I got to where I am now, software, and hardware. This might seem inverted, but I’m putting the important stuff up top for people who’ve read about how I’ve backed things up in the past. I will then close with some suggestions and a vision of the future I want.

How I Transitioned to My Current Setup

Recently I bought a Drobo and 4TB of HDDs; I originally thought this would go to my home file server, but my newer Mac mini is still acting up. [Grrr.] Once I brought the Drobo online on my iMac, I created three 1TB volumes: geoFstop media, iTunes, and Residual. I think they’re named appropriately and don’t need discussion. I made use of Apple’s instructions on moving one’s iTunes folder and this Flickr discussion on how to move Aperture libraries. I still need to migrate the vault and my residual iPhoto library, but this has me up and running. Simply put, I went from only 90GB free on my iMac’s HDD to 338GB at the time of this posting. Yeah, I had a lot of data to move. Why? Well, my concert recording and photography is chewing up data like nobody’s business [but my own, heh]. I got serious about jumping my HDD capacity up when I saw myself eating 10-20GB a month on the iMac, between shooting RAW and recording in CD quality.

Software I Use

I’ve posted about backups before, and as I did then, I love SuperDuper! It really is what its name implies. Having a bootable clone of my iMac drive protects me against that drive dying in one important way: if my iMac’s drive dies, I don’t have to wait for a GeniusBar appointment and a replacement HDD to be put in to keep using my machine. This minimizes any downtime to get a working drive back in the iMac. I’ve even thought about swapping to the external drive for my main drive, hoping that the drive that would fail would be the one that gets more regular use. After all, external hard drives can be replaced in the time it takes to swap cables out.

On my Leopard-running Macs [which is everything save the iBook I’m about to find a new home and my older mini, which I will upgrade from Tiger soon], I also implement Time Machine, which is native to the OS. I wouldn’t use Time Machine as my sole backup system because of the time involved in restoring from a backup, but it works very well and can save your hide when your hard drive dies. Apple deserves kudos for baking a solid backup solution into its operating system, and I think this is a major, major selling point of using Apple kit. If you’re running Leopard and not backing up, you need to punch yourself in the face … repeatedly.

Hardware I Use

In short, I am using:

  • My iMac’s base HDD, 500GB
  • A Newer Tech miniStack v3, sized 500GB, to clone the iMac HDD to prevent downtime from that drive’s data loss.
  • A Newer Tech miniStack v3, sized 750GB, to serve as a Time Machine backup for the iMac HDD in a belt-and-suspenders approach. This might seem like overkill until you realized that you deleted a file three days ago, which means your nightly-cloned 500GB HDD backup is going to be useless in saving your bacon. Time Machine has bailed my ass out several times, and it also made migrating to the iMac from my newer mini a very nice experience.
  • The aforementioned Drobo, which is a FW800-capable 2nd-generation box. This is primary storage, as noted above, and I get about 2.7TB out of the four 1TB Western Digital Green HDDs I have in there.

For those really curious, the FW800 chain is: iMac > Drobo > 500GB miniStack > 750GB miniStack. I also have a Lexar FW800-capable CompactFlash card reader chained off of the end of all that. I’m thankful that the 24″ iMac blocks the sun and my view of most of the cabling.

Suggestions

Remember the joke about punching yourself in the face, repeatedly? My friend Bryan is doing that right now. This entry is written in part for him and for other friends of ours who’ve been a part of discussing Bryan’s misfortune today.

Obviously, what I’m doing with backups is expensive: the Drobo setup ran me about $900 [$500 for the Drobo and $400 for the drives], and the miniStacks ran me about $350 when I bought them. Throw in the $27.95 for SuperDuper! and this ain’t cheap, but I bet that, right now, Bryan would pay $500 to not be facing full data loss, maybe more.

If you’re running Leopard and are on a budget, I strongly recommend getting an external HDD [obviously, I love the miniStack, as I own five of them] and use Time Machine. Buy what you can afford, but I feel that your Time Machine backup solution should have 150-200% of the space your primary drive has. So if you have a base MacBook with a 160GB drive, get at least 320GB of backup space. At this point, the major price breaks in drives start happening past 750GB, as 1.0TB and 1.5TB are the top line of the marketplace right now. As of this posting, the 250GB miniStack v3 is $135.99, where the 500GB version is $154.99. $15 is not too much to spend on backup—and if it is, well, you’re probably also the person who uses the cheapest car insurance that you can and spend your time hoping to not ever be in a wreck.

If you have a bit more of a budget, I recommend a belt-and-suspenders approach, utilizing SuperDuper! to create nightly backups and Time Machine to create the incremental backups. This requires at least two drives, as SuperDuper! makes a complete clone of your main drive and can’t be used for anything else. If you have this, use a drive close to the size of your main drive and a second that is at least twice the size of the first. I was thinking about going to a 1TB miniStack for my iMac until I realized that I needed far more space than that. Now that I’m down to only 125GB of data on my iMac’s internal drive, I’m good for quite some time with 750GB of Time Machine goodness.

If you’re a semi-professional or a professional, you need to be RAID-ing or using a Drobo, but you don’t need me to tell you this. And if you’re one of those, you’re probably thinking of something like what I want in the future …

Vision of the Future

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want: encrypted, incremental, offsite backups. Ideally, I want small boxes [Linux or minis, I don’t care] that I take and put in my friends’ houses. I want to have an encrypted baseline backup when I place those machines in the field, and then I want to send encrypted incremental backups over the Internet to them. In return, I’m willing to host similar boxes for them. Here’s why:

  • Offsite: if a natural disaster befells my house, I want my data backed up somewhere else.
  • Incremental: I can back up offsite now [taking drives to a safe-deposit box, for example], but doing it incrementally means I’m never more than 24 hours out of date. Most of the time, I’m not generating large quantities of data—except, of course, when I go to a show and record. But you know, that’s the risk I take.
  • Encrypted: because someone who breaks into my house, or Jeff or Stephen‘s, doesn’t need to get my data and their data. Also, while I obviously trust these guys with my data, I don’t want to give them, oh, bank statements, passwords, etc. They don’t want to give that to me, either, and I wholly understand.

But this is still probably a few years away, yet, from reality. Yes, there’s Tarsnap, but he’s a single point of failure. Plus, I would rather host with people I know and trust than those I don’t.

Questions or comments? Love to hear from you on this.

Genius!

I do believe that iTunes 8 has completely changed how I listen to music at work. Now I just come to work, think of a really great song in my catalog, and then hit the Genius button. Let it select 100 songs, and BOOM! Playlist for the entire day. No twiddling needed.

BRILLIANT!

Apple Store FTW

Here’s the difference between an Apple Store and an Authorized Mac Reseller:

Authorized Mac Reseller: Has had this unit in its hands three times, has never fixed the underlying problems, never returns my calls, and takes 7-10 days to fix the unit.

Apple Store: I visited the Genius Bar yesterday, we looked together at the issue, they agreed that the unit was kaput, said it’d be 4-5 days … then went and looked to see if they had the part in the back. They did. Tonight? I get a phone call just before closing, telling me that the unit’s fixed, and they’ve run unit tests, and everything seems to be okay. On a holiday weekend, and they called me.

Yeah, they’re getting my return business.

Three Weeks Without Music at Home Has Sucked

I am so thankful for hard drives that work. :mrgreen:

Three weeks ago tonight, my 500GB miniStack V3 started screeching something awful—clearly beginning its death throes. I ran a quick Time Machine backup, said a prayer, and hoped it would hold together until the backup finished. It did, and as soon as it was done, I pulled the drive out of service and filed an RMA request with Other World Computing, the vendor I’d bought the drive from. I got them the drive off via UPS that Saturday [it was a crazy, crazy week], and I had the replacement drive last Monday.

Except, 111GB into a 305GB file transfer, the replacement drive woke me out of a dead sleep [it had been an even longer week prior, running almost 70 hours in seven days’ time]. The new drive was, too, dead. I returned it the next day, and the drive got there on Friday. Monday, my replacement shipped. It arrived today.

Anyhow, I saw that it was at the house a little before three this afternoon, so I took my “lunch” break [one of those days; I was up at 0400, so I’m fading fast now], came home, and put it into service. I was a bit surprised when the drive mounted … already labeled like I wanted, with my data on the drive. “THOSE BASTARDS!” was my first mental thought, but then I read the packing slip. Bad fan in the casing. Ahh. Makes sense, especially for a new-out-of-the-box drive, y’know?

Anyhow, seven hours later, with 305GB moved, I’ve now got tunes again. Wilco’s “Impossible Germany” has never sounded so sweet.

Predictably, this HDD failure came less than ten days after I finished getting all the music off of my old machine. The only backup I had was the Time Machine backup. I’d never really tried TM before this event, and I must say … I’m reasonably impressed. The UI is still a little non-intuitive for me, but that might be because I spend half my day on a PC and sometimes think like a PC guy even on a Mac. Either way, it works. That said, you can imagine that I’m going to get another 500GB HDD ASAP and use SuperDuper! on it. Not having my tunes has been like lopping an arm off, especially with all that’s happened in the last three weeks.

More Diagnosis

The source of my mini’s reboot problems? Nothing the folks at Mac Resource can find. They think it’s a peripheral. I am inclined to agree; I had one of my two miniStacks up earlier, attached to the mini, and … reboot. Since powering both off, no problems.

I will have to pull everything off the miniStacks and add peripheral by peripheral to figure out the problem.

Yeah, this is gonna suck.

Rogue Amoeba’s Attacks on the iPhone SDK and Apple’s Business Logic

As I’m not a customer of Rogue Amoeba, I’m not a reader of Under the Microscope, RA’s blog on their software and Apple software development in general. [Notice I say “Apple” and not “Mac” because now you can develop for the iPhone/iPod Touch.] So when TUAW stopped being a wordy version of VersionTracker and posted about Rogue Amoeba’s take on Apple and code signing, I took an interest in it. [You see, I have this problem, and it’s that I spend lots of money with this company in Cupertino that makes electronics. Ahem.] There are three pieces of interest here, I think.

First, UtM took on code signing in general:

Like most technologies, code signing itself is neutral, or ought to be. It can be used for good or evil. Code signing is basically a way to cryptographically prove the origin of a particular piece of code, nothing more.

Yeah, it’s just like any other tool. They go forward and talk about code signing in the main branch of OS X, where Apple seems to slowly be requiring code signing for all applications, which I think is generally a good long-term goal. RA objects to the path going forward, which is somewhat understandable:

Ultimately I think the trend is bad. Code signing itself is a neutral technology, but it gives incredible power to the system vendor, and that power is just waiting to be exercised and abused. I believe that the iPhone is serving as a testbed to see how users and developers will react to an environment with ubiquitous code signing and control. If it goes well I think we can expect to see our desktop Macs gradually move in this direction as well. Judging by how badly Apple’s developer servers were flattened during the SDK release it seems like there’s no way it won’t go well.

I’m sure it will be a gradual process. If 10.6 ships and suddenly nothing will run without Apple approval there will be a huge revolt among users and developers. In 10.5 it’s pretty much innocent. In 10.6, given what Apple has revealed, I would expect to start seeing some restrictions in place. Perhaps initially there will be some APIs which are only available to signed applications. At some point Apple will decide that there are some areas of the system which are too dangerous to let anyone in, even when signed. Perhaps you will begin to need Apple approval for kernel extensions, or for code injection, or other such things. Then one day Apple may decide that unvetted code is too dangerous. Maybe advanced users could still be allowed to use it, but a setting may show up, “Allow unapproved applications”. It will, of course, be off by default.

I think it’s reasonable to expect the arguments in the second paragraph to come true, save for Apple requiring approval on the apps. I don’t think that Apple is using the iPhone code-signing process to gradually close their ecosystem; I have this feeling that Apple is doing two things: 1) gradually opening the iPhone ecosystem and 2) placing themselves in the iPhone app revenue stream. The second point is obvious—Apple will take home 30% of the app’s sale price in return for hosting the download, processing the payment, etc.—but the first is probably not. Yeah, you can jailbreak your iPhone and do all sorts of geeky things with it,but most users aren’t going to—I certainly haven’t. Allowing apps into the ecosystem, even under Apple control, is an opening, not a closing, of the ecosystem. Maybe Apple never opens it any more than this, but in providing a won’t-break-your-warranty path and a fairly trustable path for users, this will be a net win for the user.

[And if you don’t like it, well, there’s gonna be this Android system that Google is doing that will be open, etc. And that’ll be good, in its own ways. If someone builds a killer handset with it, it oughta grab some market share. Me, I welcome my Cupertino overlords.]

The second UtM post, a bit more iPhone focused, is on the limitations of the iPhone SDK, especially the no-background-apps bit:

I don’t mean to suggest that an application like Switcher should come from a third party on the iPhone, merely that such feats of magic are possible on open platforms. As it stands today, as a developer who much wants to take the iPhone to the next level, I must constantly watch to avoid running afoul of Section 3.3 of the SDK license. I must ask “does this go too far?”, and worry about pushing legal limits instead of mental ones. When Andy implemented Switcher, such thoughts never crossed his mind once, and he was able to create something spectacular as a result. We hope that Apple will see the potential of their great little device, and allow developers to push it to its utmost as well.

I think the issue here is that the assumption is that this is where the iPhone app line will be held. The post references Apple not allowing the first Macs to multi-task and how Andy Hertzfeld wrote Switcher to make it happen. And … well, I think that’s apt, but not in the way that RA wants—they seem to want it all, and want it now. I, as a user, well, I just don’t. The iPhone is a nascent platform—really quite revolutionary in terms of what can be done on a device that does everything it does and still have enough battery life to get you through the day. [Okay, enough derisive snorts.] I think that a 3rd gen iPhone might allow 3rd party, background-task apps. I really do. But to do so now is to do too much, too fast.

If I’d actually read The J Curve, I’d make some argument about how this argument applies here, too, and that Apple has to be a bit restrictive now, slowly opening things up over time. Or I could make an argument that Adam might appreciate, and note that, when leading, it’s always easier to start off the hard-ass and ease up than it is to get more restrictive after being Mr. Nice Guy. Both responses work on the same point: restrictions provide initial stability that allows for maturity, whether it’s in the classroom, the office, or the software world.

Maybe I just think too well of Apple.

And lastly, well, it seems that RA is taking the Mark Pilgrim approach and filing bugs about things that they don’t like with the iPhone SDK. I guess that, when all you have is a hammer …

Just my thoughts for now. I reserve the right to change my mind in the face of stronger counter-arguments.