• Newsletter Issue #357

    October 2nd, 2006


    Let me start with a story about a high-pitched sound. Now maybe I’m just too old for such things, but I got a small number of complaints from listeners to The Tech Night Owl LIVE about excessive and irritating noises on some of the phone interviews I did for the September 21st and September 28th episodes.

    After listening carefully to the two shows once again and not hearing anything amiss, I nevertheless went ahead and tried a little post-production magic. It sounded better to me, but a listener who volunteered his services as a guinea pig couldn’t detect any change. What to do?

    I stumbled upon on possibility, which is that this high-pitched noise, a hiss of some sort, only appeared after I increased the bit rate of our live broadcast stream. I made a minor change, from 24K to 28K, to improve audio quality, but the effort seemed to have the opposite effect.

    In any case, saving the original QuickTime files at 24K and re-encoding the MP3 versions, resolved the problem.

    As to the September 28th episode, we featured comments about the latest developments from both Apple and Microsoft with noted industry analyst Ross Rubin of NPD Group. Adam Engst, publisher of TidBITS, talked about some extremely irritating Mac-related problems he’s encountered in recent weeks, particularly with a Power Mac G5. We also presented Glenda Adams, Development Manager for Aspyr Media, who delivered a very positive outlook for the growth of the Universal versions of its recent games.

    For October 5th, we’re featuring an interview with a representative from Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit, with updates on its newest instant messaging software and plans for the next version of Office.

    This week’s episode of The Paracast featured UFO Magazine publisher Bill Birnes, who talked about the late Long John Nebel, recognized as the creator of paranormal radio, the strange case of Candy Jones and government conspiracies in general. David and I also talked to Brian Haughton, creator and webmaster of Mysterious People, a site devoted to people with strange powers and experiences.

    On October 8th, we’ll present Award-winning TV newscaster and UFO investigator George Knapp and cryptozoologist Loren Coleman. Cryptozoologist? That’s a person who investigates strange creatures, such as the legendary Mothman.


    Well, maybe it’s not a new feature, but most of you haven’t seen it before. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, I do not believe it’s the last Tiger update, as there’s plenty of time between now and the expected release of Leopard to allow for another fixer-upper or two.

    If you are using 10.4.7 on your PowerPC or Intel-based Mac, you’ll have the pleasure of downloading the Delta version. Otherwise you need a humongous Combo update, which is 149MB for PowerPC Macs and 294MB for MacIntels.

    As usual there are different versions of what has been fixed. At it’s most basic, the Mac OS 10.4.8 updater addresses the following issues:

    • connecting to wireless networks using the EAP-FAST protocol
    • Apple USB modem reliability
    • using OpenType fonts in Microsoft Word
    • compatibility with 3rd party USB hubs
    • scanner performance
    • RAW camera support
    • printing documents with Asian language names
    • performance of the Translation widget
    • broadband network performance
    • security updates

    And, as usual, there’s still another, more comprehensive list of changes, which you can find at Apple’s support site. That may seem to be quite enough to chew over, but the list doesn’t end there.

    If you are concerned about the security of Mac OS X, be assured that Apple made a grand total of twelve security fixes that might impact various elements of your Mac experience. At the same time, they haven’t actually been exploited by anyone, except, perhaps, security researchers who are looking for vulnerabilities.

    But that’s not all, although Apple isn’t doing much, if anything, to document the a feature, and I can’t say that all Macs now have it. You see, there’s now a Zoom option in the Keyboard & Mouse preference panel. By default, if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel — and you can get one of these input devices real cheap — when you hold down the Control key, and roll the wheel forward, the contents of your display increases in size. Roll it backward, and it returns to the normal size.

    You can change the key that triggers this special effect, or click on the Options button in the preference panel to access other options, if that’s what you want. On a Mac note-book of recent vintage, the Zoom feature appears if you access the two-finger scrolling option.

    It’s sort of neat, although I prefer the method Microsoft is using for some of its Mac-compatible keyboards (with the latest driver software installed), which is to harness an application’s built-in zoom feature, which provides much greater text clarity. Alas, only a few programs support this form of zooming, so you’re left with the 10.4.8 variation, where content gets blurrier as it gets larger.

    My experience with 10.4.8 has been otherwise as seamless as previous Tiger updates. However, there are some oddities you might want to consider. One is the appearance of a mysterious rectangle that surrounds the cursor. Maybe it’s an artifact of that new mouse-driven Zoom feature, but some of you are reporting that the corresponding option in the Universal Access preference panel has been activated. The solution to this dilemma is to just turn it off.

    I’ve also read about a few AirPort oddities, where some loose connectivity, or have to jump through hoops to hook up to a network. Again, it’s not consistent enough to find a trend, or a ready solution.

    Since 10.4.8 is still brand new, however, you may just want to withstand the temptation of letting Software Update do its thing. Give yourself a little breathing room for a few days, and see how the dust settles as more and more early adopters have their say. You’ll want to be particularly cautious if you’ve added some third-party system enhancements.

    You’ll also want to take the usual precautions before updating to 10.4.8. First is to check your hard drive with Disk Utility to make sure there are no problems that require a fix. If problems appear, you’ll have to boot from another drive or your Tiger installation DVD to repair the damage, or use a third party disk repair utility, such as Alsoft’s DiskWarrior, Micromat’s TechTool Pro or Prosoft’s Drive Genius.

    Some go further, suggesting you disconnect all peripheral devices, such as external drives, printers and scanners, before installing the 10.4.8 updater. Perhaps, though I haven’t taken such extreme cautions. And, after the update runs, there’s no harm in running the Repair Disk Permissions feature of Disk Utility.

    I suppose I’m a moderate on such matters. So far, I’ve been lucky, as things continue to work pretty well. I can’t say performance is altogether different, but there will be differing opinions on that too.


    Up till now, I’ve been reluctant to connect my iPod with video to see how it fares on a large-screen TV. VHS is barely watchable, and Apple wasn’t delivering anything better with its initial offerings.

    But with the promise of near-DVD quality images of 640×480 in its latest iTunes enhancement, I thought it was worth giving it a try just to see whether I might consider retiring my DVD player. Or at least, when Apple really builds an extensive movie library. Let’s just say, charitably of course, that there are some visible differences and this is not a move I’m apt to consider for quite some time.

    In order to give it a proper test, I needed an interface to connect my iPod to the superb VIZIO 50-inch plasma TV that’s in its final review stages. So I got in touch with Mike Ridenhour, CEO of Keyspan, who sent along their AV Dock for iPod, which also includes a long-range RF remote.

    I did run into one significant issue, but not because of any issue with the Keyspan interface. For some reason, the VIZIO has a problem handling an S-video connection that uses the iPod as its source. The S-video output from an S-VHS deck works just fine, but whenever the iPod is brought into the equation, even if fed via the video deck, the picture flickers between color and black and white, and briefly vanishes before repeating this annoying cycle.

    As a test, I set up the same configuration on an old Sony 27-inch CRT-based TV, and it worked fine. A friend’s AV dock, from a different maker, delivered the same contradictory results. So there you go. I have contacted VIZIO to see if its tolerances for S-video, which provides better color rendition than the lesser composite cable hookup, are tighter and, for some reason, less tolerant of iPod video.

    Absent the slightly inferior color quality, the iPod and Apple’s higher-resolution video encoding scheme are certainly superior to a video deck, but rather removed from DVD. The test flick was “Groose Pointe Blank,” a 1997 comedy/adventure movie featuring John Cusack, Minnie Driver and Dan Aykroyd.

    The viewing experience was decent, mind you. Only the somewhat dull and shimmering colors detracted from the overall image quality, and the improvements brought by S-video tend to be subtle, so I don’t expect things to get much better even if that compatibility issue is resolved. Sharpness was acceptable, however, and you probably wouldn’t notice the fewer pixels all that much.

    Today’s iTunes movie format is, of course, a compromise, to keep the download times from becoming excessive. With a five megabit broadband Internet hookup, for example, Apple estimates it’ll take about a half hour to retrieve a movie of average length. It can increase the resolution, but it probably won’t make a lot of sense until broadband speeds in the U.S. begin to approach what you can get in some parts of Asia.

    Or you don’t mind waiting all night to get high definition movies, but that’s pushing it, at least for now.

    In the end, the iPod as a video input device isn’t all that bad, but I’m not ditching my DVD player anytime soon.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis

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    11 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #357”

    1. Norman Brooks says:

      After reading your tip about using the scroll wheel to zoom in, I tried it. It worked, which seemed great, but then when I used the mouse in the regular way to move the cursor around on the screen, the whole window in which the mouse is being moved moves in the opposite direction from the mouse. It’s pretty disconcerting, but using the scroll wheel to return to the original unzoomed size eliminates that odd behavior. I think I’ll just continue using command-plus or command-minus to control text size. That doesn’t result in causing the window to move when the cursor moves.

    2. John Francini says:

      I wonder if what you’re seeing is something like Macrovision copy-protection being applied to the image? That would explain why it works when connected directly to a TV, but doesn’t when connected to something that is probably (by fiat or MPAA requirement) sensitive to Macrovision-style copy protection?

    3. I wonder if what you’re seeing is something like Macrovision copy-protection being applied to the image? That would explain why it works when connected directly to a TV, but doesn’t when connected to something that is probably (by fiat or MPAA requirement) sensitive to Macrovision-style copy protection?

      It would seem a possibility, though it worked fine on an older TV. On the other hand, Apple’s documentation for its movie download service claims that it should indeed play properly via a dock’s S-video port. The first tier of Vizio’s support was clueless, suggesting it must be a problem with the iPod, and I should call Apple. He couldn’t explain why it worked on another TV. I am awaiting a supervisor’s callback.


    4. Paul Webber says:

      Forget about repairing permissions. Get Macaroni. Automatically repair OS X permissions and perform periodic UNIX maintenance: http://www.atomicbird.com/cafe/

    5. Dave says:

      Look a little further in prefs under Mouse/Trackpad and next to the zooming check box there is a block called Options. Click on that and see if you can get your mouse pointer to do what you want.

    6. PaulG says:

      Right after I updated my dual 2.7 G5 with the OS X 10.4.8 update I was setting up a video conference iChat and as soon as I tried to connect I got a Video Card Error prompt saying “Your video card does not have enough memory to support a video conference!” I was hooking up an external Firewire DV camera as I always do and it’s worked fine in the past. So now I’m wondering if 10.4.8 broke something in iChat.

      Also what’s with the “Circle with a slash” on screen graphic (along with G5 fans roaring) that sometimes happens on start up? I understand it’s because the system can’t find a certain boot file? I usually have to shut it down and start over and then it takes. I also have tried flushing the PRam to no improvement here or the iChat problem. Anybody have a solution I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

    7. ex2bot says:

      Wouldn’t you obtain the best video by hooking your Mac directly to your HDTV through DVI? Does it have a DVI input, I guess?

      I have my Mac hooked to a projector through the VGA port. The movies look great! That’s how my wife and I go on dates, since we have a five-year-old. Sad, huh?


    8. Wouldn’t you obtain the best video by hooking your Mac directly to your HDTV through DVI? Does it have a DVI input, I guess?

      I have my Mac hooked to a projector through the VGA port. The movies look great! That’s how my wife and I go on dates, since we have a five-year-old. Sad, huh?

      I am using the iPod and an AV dock. Yes, I can connect my 17-inch MacBook Pro to the HDTV from its DVI port; it would require a DVI to HDMI adapter on the other end, which I also have. That would indeed provide optimum quality, better than anything the iPod could deliver, since it’s direct digital. But that wasn’t the point. I shouldn’t have to attempt to stick my laptop in the tiny corner available behind the TV stand. But it is something worth trying to see just how good Apple’s movies are when the iPod is not a part of the picture.


    9. […] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. Share The Night Owl and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

    10. terry says:

      sir norri from coast to coast hosts an awesome show too

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