There are lots and lots of fascinating issues in this tiny world of ours — the Mac universe — so I decided it was a good time to assemble another special episode so that a variety of viewpoints and back and forth conversation would allow us to shed some sorely needed light on a few intriguing issues.
So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, The Night Owl presented The Ultimate Mac Roundtable, two full hours of Apple news and views from our specially-selected expert panel.
Guests include our own Special Correspondent, David Biedny, TidBITS Editor/Publisher Adam Engst, Rob Griffiths of Macworldand macosxhints.com, ace Mac troubleshooter and best-selling author Ted Landau and author/columnist Kirk McElhearn.
A lot of ground was covered in the two-hour session, and I won’t presume to even begin to summarize it here. Suffice it to say that we dealt with such issues as the supposed lack of “killer” applications, the shortcomings of today’s email programs and, in fact, the lack of substantive information about all those Apple software updates. I mean, what can you learn when the description contains little more than a sentence or two about fixing a few bugs and addressing some security issues?
Even the more detailed information at Apple’s site doesn’t always address all the questions, as some programmers who have looked over what was actually updated will tell you.
Coming April 13: UFO researcher Philip J. Imbrogno, an expert on UFO and psychic phenomena in New York’s Hudson Valley. Also don’t miss a special appearance from my old friend Jim Moseley, editor ofthe wildly controversial “Saucer Smear.”
Let me tell you a true story. On a Monday earlier this year, I went to the local AT&T factory store and bought an 8GB iPhone. Well, the very next day Apple introduced a 16GB version for $100 more.
For a very brief moment, I wondered if I had made a silly mistake. Usually I have managed to time my purchases of Apple products fairly accurately, buying new gear shortly after a new model came out. However, I mistakenly assumed that the next iPhone wouldn’t come out till June, and it would be the version with support for the speedier 3G network.
Yes, I was blindsided by one of Apple’s famous Tuesday morning surprises, but I decided to keep the iPhone anyway. For one thing, I only filled roughly 25% of the unit’s storage capacity after the initial setup. You see, though I have a fairly decent music collection, I haven’t really bothered to rip many of my CDs to iTunes, and I only did that as necessary. My purchases at iTunes have been irregular, so it would be quite some time before I’d come close to filling my iPhone’s capacity.
So I decided to take the fiercely logical approach, and keep the 8GB iPhone. What did I do with the $100 I saved? I invested $69 for AppleCare, which extends the warranty for two full years, and used the balance to take my son out to lunch.
Buy the way, he has the 160GB iPod classic, and, because of its limited capacity, would never even consider getting an iPhone. But why does he always want to use mine for a short period whenever he visits?
In any case, I know that if you always want the latest and greatest, you’ll definitely never find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, since there will always be a faster model, and sometimes it might even be cheaper, so get over it.
Now because of the sort of work I do, and the fact that I am not giving up my 30-inch Dell display anytime soon — despite their current business problems — a Mac minitower will always be positioned below my work desk. It’s been that way since I retired my Mac IIci and replaced it with a Quadra 800 back in late 1992. All right, so I’m set in my ways.
But you see, my plan has always been to try to replace my Macs every two years, in order to be reasonably current with the technology and to be able to handle the demands of running 10 apps at a time, including sound and image editing software, while also streaming two radio shows a week.
But your priorities might be different from mine. Maybe you want to keep your Macs five years or more, so you want to buy something that is not apt to be outdated any time soon. You’d like to be able to upgrade to the latest Mac OS and the newest, spiffiest versions of your favorite productivity applications. In other words, you want to be as free of planned obsolescence as you can be, while still keeping your costs reasonably low.
Perhaps the most sensible purchase decision was made by a friend, a semi-retired insurance agent in his early 80s. He’s active, extremely intelligent, and his only apparent age-related ailment is a severe hearing loss, which requires use of a hearing aid in his right ear.
He has a practical mind-set, and thus, upon retiring a five-year-old PowerMac G4, opted for a well-equipped 24-inch iMac a few months back.
He implied that this would probably be his last computer purchase, but I wasn’t so fatalistic. In any case, he made the purchase several weeks after the aluminum-clad iMac configuration was introduced, which augers well for its longevity.
But the most important time to buy a new personal computer is really when you need it. Then you would go through a list of your needs, and acquire the model that most closely matches your needs. Forget for the moment that I think Apple might better fill the product line with a mid-priced desktop without the built-in display. That’s an argument I’ve already made recently.
However, would you be disheartened if you discovered a Tuesday, Macworld or WWDC surprise shortly after you placed your order?
If that’s the case, it’s best to buy the Mac of your choice within the first few months after its introduction. That way you can be reasonably assured that it won’t be replaced anytime soon.
Of course, if the last refresh was more than six months ago, maybe you should look at the most recent Intel processor introductions, particularly the styles that Apple seems to favor. That way you can probably anticipate when a new model is due, at least within a few weeks.
Then again, I think most any Mac these days is more than powerful enough for near any job you can present it with. Indeed, wasn’t the G4 supposed to deliver the supercomputer on your desktop? Well, Apple’s Intel-based Macs are far more powerful, and getting faster every few months. So speed shouldn’t be a factor.
Then again, after waiting 20 seconds for Microsoft Office 2008 applications to open on the speediest Macs on the planet, maybe no computer will ever be fast enough for a Microsoft product.
Aside from that particular shortcoming however, there are those Macs with Intel integrated graphics, which don’t do so much for 3D games. Otherwise, just about any model in Apple’s product line these days will handle nicely almost any task you toss at it. Only high-end 3D rendering will require moving to the very top of the product lineup.
I don’t want this article to seem self-serving, a place where I can boast about the great Macs I have. I’m quite sure, in fact, that some of you have far more powerful systems, with banks of large displays, multi-terabyte RAID drives and maxed out memory.
Instead, I’m just going to focus on the products I use to make a living, in the hope that some of you can use it to inspire you as to which direction to take.
Since I produce two online radio shows every week, audio hardware is of paramount importance. I’m concentrating strictly on my particular setup, so I won’t go into the hardware that David Biedny, the co-host of The Paracast, uses. I’ll leave them for him to explain.
So we start with the mic. Sure, my MacBook Pro has a built-on mic, but it’s definitely not suitable for professional broadcasting. Instead, I have a pair of Shure SM58s, which are specialty mics tailored for both speech and vocal use. Since they are dynamic models, they are rugged and designed for heavy-duty use. Instead, I just keep them on small stands, with a large windscreen to keep “p” popping to a minimum.
The main audio mixer is a Yamaha MG12/4FX. It provides up to 12 channels, plus a few studio effects. It’s also extremely quiet, and the slider switches make for smooth operation. When we actually stream a show, the output from the Yamaha goes to Behringer Model MDX2600 audio processor, which cleans up sound from sometimes inferior sources, such as a mobile phone, and delivers maximum talk power. Commercial radio stations often have a bank of such processors to handle these chores, but one is sufficient for our purposes.
I also have a JK Audio digital hybrid processor to handle phone calls, but these days, I can do as well or better with Skype.
For remote recording, I use a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 USB mixer, plus a Blue Snow mic.
On to the software side, original audio is captured by Ambrosia Software’s WireTap Studio 1.0.6 (the version you’ll be getting any moment now). Although it has its own waveform editor, I actually prefer Bias Peak Pro 6.0, the newly released version that adds Podcast support. Peak Pro is popular in the music industry for CD mastering. Oh yes, there’s one more audio application in my arsenal, and that’s Amadeus Pro, because of its multichannel features, which the first two lack.
The Web sites are created using text editors and Adobe Dreamweaver CS3, except for this one, which is built in WordPress, the world’s most popular blogging tool.
For pure writing, I’m still impressed with Microsoft Word 2008. I began using Word way back in the late 1980s, and I’ve only strayed occasionally to other options. Despite its bloat and occasional glitches, I am able to create and edit all my manuscripts with reasonable efficiency and speed. I’d move to something better in a second, but I’m still on the fence about Apple Pages, which seems to take forever to save long documents.
For the rest of my work, I still prefer Mail and Safari, though I use Firefox when Safari has problems with a particular site. I also access Windows Vista courtesy of the Parallels Desktop virtual machine, where I check compatibility of my sites with the ever-irritating Internet Explorer.
When it comes to actually streaming the radio shows, I use Apple’s QuickTime Broadcaster to send the audio over my cable modem. At the server end at our Web hosts in Texas and Virginia, there’s Darwin Streaming Server, the open source version of QuickTime Streaming Server, which works beautifully with many Linux derivations and provides easy installation and setup.
Onto the rest of the hardware, there’s not a lot to say. The display is a 30-inch Dell 3007-WFPHC, which delivers brilliant color, excellent sharpness, and works fine on any Mac. Why not Apple’s? Just take a look at the list price and you’ll see why. When it comes to displays, Apple is just not competitive, and I really don’t know why sorely needed updates to the line are still on the waiting list. Well, maybe another Tuesday surprise from Apple will remedy that, but I’m sticking with my Dell for now.
The latest arsenal in my toolbox is an “early 2008” Mac Pro, with the standard pair of 2.8GHz Quad-Core Xeon processors, and 14GB of RAM. Internally, it also sports a pair of 500GB hard drives (the second used for daily clone backups with Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper!). The graphics card is the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT. The Time Capsule I reviewed last week provides a network-based backup station for Time Machine, and the wireless router.
On the note-book side of the fence, I use a 17-inch MacBook Pro, a first generation model, and, of course, the 8GB iPhone. The latter is getting more use at the expense of the note-book, since it works great for email and most Web surfing, except where I need Flash support of course. Also, some secure shopping sites seem to have a little difficulty with the iPhone, but maybe that’ll be addressed in the version 2.0 firmware update, promised for June.
Please understand, gentle reader, that this list is always subject to change as I discover a better tool to work with. Your suggestions and experiences are always welcomed.
THE FINAL WORD
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