Quick! Learn Cocoa in three weeks!

WWDC begins three weeks from yesterday. So I think it’s time to learn Cocoa. For real.

I’ve attended the last two WWDC’s. It’s not like I’m totally ignorant on Cocoa/Objective-C. I know the Mac’s innards rather well and can read ObjC/Cocoa code fine. I’ve messed around with all the intro examples known to mankind. I’ve done the Headstarts. I’ve gone through at least one book in moderate detail. I’ve written a few mini-programs on my own. But it’s all been to give me a broad knowledge, and I’ve long since achieved that goal.

I’m at the point where I think I can program in Cocoa, but when I open XCode I get the “uh ok what now?” look on my face. I can modify existing code but can’t quite remember where to start, simply because I only launch XCode once every three months. There’s a big difference between reading a language, and speaking that language.

It’s time for some “real” programming. To put pressure on myself, I’ll attempt to blog the next three weeks. I don’t expect many readers but someday, perhaps, I’ll look back on this and laugh at my early mistakes.

I bought the new Hillegass book, Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X, 3rd edition. I’ve gone through the first three chapters quickly. I plan to re-read Chapter 3, on Objective-C, before continuing. Lots to take in, plus I committed the sin of reading while not actually doing the exercises.

I scanned the book’s TOC and index. I was a bit surprised to see no mentions of QuickTime (seriously, it’s not in the index!). But that’s ok I suppose – fundamentals first.

Let’s go!

Psystar, shmystar!

MacRumors says… Psystar Demos ‘Open Computer’ on Video
What I want to know is, why does anyone care?

Since the moment Apple shipped Intel-based Mac, folks have figured out how to run OS X on homebrew PC’s. The only difference here is some folks are now selling those homebrew PC’s. Big freakin’ deal.

My prediction: They’ll sell a bunch of them opening day, then whisk into nonexistence with all due expedience. These barely specific PC clones will surely cause support and legal nightmares for the company, leaving their customers in a ditch. In a way it’s a nice business plan; they might make a few bucks before signing a settlement with Apple to close up shop.

News and rumors sites should stop covering this baloney, and simply wait to tell the inevitable footnote.

Technorati Tags:

The questionable pairing of iPhoto and iPhone

So here’s something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest. Why on Earth do I have to load iPhoto to import pictures from my iPhone?

Bear with me a minute. To sync my iPhone, I need to launch a large application, iTunes. There’s no need for that. In my Palm days (which are happily behind me) syncing was a near-background activity. Missing Sync launched quickly, did its thing, and went away. That’s how it should be. iTunes does a lot more than syncing – one shouldn’t need to launch a media manager to sync a phone. It doesn’t make sense.

But I’ll accept that as what it is, and move on.

iTunes happily syncs everything from my phone – contacts (iTunes isn’t a contact manager), calendar (iTunes isn’t a calendar app), etc. It will sync out photos. But it won’t copy them from the iPhone. Why the heck not? I have to launch another app, iPhoto, to do that. My iPhoto is loaded with photos, so it’s anything but fast to launch when all I want to do is import a few low-res images. Too many clicks, too much time, and thus too high a risk of losing photos because I don’t bother with the process as often as I should.

Iphoto-Autoimport-1Now a few years back I was troubleshooting iPhoto, and figured out how it handled importing. I’ve long forgotten the details, but it copied everything first to a temporary folder within the iPhoto Library folder. Then it moved everything around. I learned this because something got stuck in that temporary folder, and iPhoto wouldn’t launch until I cleared it out. Probably a corrupted jpeg that wouldn’t import.

Since my first iPhone sync I’ve wondered why iTunes couldn’t just copy photos to some magical auto-import folder within the iPhoto library. Then, at iPhoto’s next launch, the photos would magically appear – even if the iPhone in question was long disconnected. iTunes could easily track which photos have previously been copied to prevent large-scale re-imports.

I thought about this today after scanning old photos for my wife. She wanted them in iPhoto on her Mac. I thought “Gee, wouldn’t it be swell if I just dropped them into some magical folder on her Mac, over the network, and they’d appear in her iPhoto at next launch.” So I took a peek at iPhoto ’08′s library structure. It’s now a package (overall a good move I think). Sure enough, there’s an “Auto Import” folder! There it is! There it is!

I even gave it a try. On my Mac, I copied a few jpeg’s into Auto Import. I launched iPhoto, and quite predictably the photos imported. Zowie!

So, I ask you dear reader, why can’t iTunes do this for me, with my iPhone? Apple, are you listening?

Oh, and a sad end to my tale… Alysa has an older version of iPhoto on her Mac, which lacks the “Auto Import” folder. I didn’t remember the name of the temp folder to create, so I couldn’t use this trick today.

Technorati Tags: ,

ScreenFlow – a screen recording and editing application

I’ve been on the hunt for a good screen recording utility, to produce occasional screencasts. Not so much for the blog (although one never knows) – more for client instructions on specific topics. I picked up Snapz Pro through the recent MacHeist bundle – it’s just awful for screen recording. I’ve played with iShowU, which is ok. Today I ran across two new products – Screenium and ScreenFlow. Screenium is a really nice screen recorder, but ScreenFlow goes beyond simple recording and is a very impressive application.

Most screen recorders do just that – record the screen, either the whole thing or some segment thereof. Screenium does the best job of those I’ve tried – it’s $20, which is a fair price.

ScreenFlow, though, takes recording as just the first step. They market it as a “Professional Screencasting Studio.” I don’t know about the word studio but it’s clearly aimed at getting excellent results. Think of it like iMovie for screencasting. Once you’ve recorded your screen, you then use ScreenFlow’s simple (but quite effective) timeline-esque editor to create the final movie.

But some of the tricks really do come from the recording. It obviously records in layers. In the editing process you can call out (highlight and/or zoom) the foreground window, the area around the mouse, and play many other tricks. This is what separates it from the concept of using a simple screen recorder and editing elsewhere. It’s reasonably simple to get it to do some very nifty tricks. It makes plentiful use of Core Animation, thus requires Leopard.

I won’t go through all the features, but I’ve put together a quick demo movie that’s worth a look (20MB Quicktime movie, 720x450px, 3m43s @ 30fps). I used nothing but ScreenFlow to make this movie, and I exported using the “Web – High Quality” preset.

ScreenFlowPhoto

This is akin to something I’ll likely produce for a client in the near future (instructions on converting a Video DVD to the Leightronix Nexus format using MPEG Streamclip). I haven’t bought ScreenFlow (at least not yet) so their demo watermark appears across the movie. That’s ok with me – there are otherwise no limitations on the downloaded demo.

At $99 it’s aimed at a higher-end crowd than the common $20 screen recorder. If you’re making videos for fun, this isn’t for you. If you’re making money in the process though – either by producing a commercial screencast or by charging for your time, it may be worthwhile. Instinctively I’d put its value at $79, but that’s just me.

I had one problem with ScreenFlow. There’s a feature where it will display the keys pressed while making the recording. It just didn’t work for me. A gray area appeared where I expected to see the keys, but no text at all. So I didn’t use that feature in my demo movie.

I can think of four features that would make this a better product:

  • Normalize audio on export. I used my MacBook Pro’s built-in microphone (which admittedly isn’t so great). I boosted the volume as high as ScreenFlow would let me, but it’s still too low. Unless you process your audio separately you’ll likely run into this problem now and then. A great way to handle this would be a “normalize audio” checkbox in the Export window.
  • The default exports have no (decent) iPhone-compatible preset. I suspect the Web/Low-Quality would work, but at 300K it wouldn’t look great. For some situations, it would be nice to have something compatible with the iPhone/iPod – 640×480 without frame reordering. Screencasts wouldn’t always be viewed on an iPod/iPhone, but it would be great to have one version usable in all circumstances.
  • A simple title generator would be very handy. ScreenFlow can import images with ease, so I could generate a title in almost any graphic app. But titles are key to any video production. Just a simple centered title option would be great.
  • The export dialog box isn’t Mac-standard – selecting a Save folder requires another window popup. A strange omission for an otherwise very intuitive Macintosh product.

I made my recording without much planning, intentional so I could really see what ScreenFlow could do. I ended up with a few Finder windows open in the background, which made things look less than ideal. If I make more of these, I’ll likely create a second account on my Mac just for this purpose, and keep it really clean. And (before anyone says so in comments) I recommend using a good microphone for anything. I’m not the first person to say bad audio is worse than bad video.

Technorati Tags:

What happens with the Fifth Ave. store during online updates?

At this very moment Apple is down for updates, rumored for laptop upgrades. They do this purely for the hype; not like an online store really needs to go offline for product changes. Everyone gets all excited when the store goes down. (Yes, Apple fanatics are happy when they can’t buy anything. Such is the Power of Steve.)

This made me wonder… the Fifth Ave. store in NYC is open 24-hours… How do they generate this kind of excitement there? I did some digging and found out:

Apple-Cube-Post-It-Test2

Now that’s amazing! :-)

Technorati Tags:

Cheapie ExpressCard SD drive?

This is a stream-of-research-and-consciousness posting, so beware…

I’m a full-time laptop user, always looking for a bit more disk space. I’ve got a 200GB drive in my 15″ MBP which is never enough. 320GB drives are now under $200. Tempting, but two issues. One, larger drives are always around the corner, and two, if I buy a new laptop (possible this Spring) I’d end up tossing aside one drive or another.

With the niftyneatokeen new MacBook Air, solid state (SSD) drives are coming to reality. In five years or so, I think they’ll become the standard in laptops. Not yet – the prices are too high, and capacities too low. But flash memory prices drop like crazy. A few years ago a 1GB CompactFlash card was in the hundreds of dollars. In March 2006 I bought one (SanDisk Extreme III) for $75 from B&H Photo. I just checked – the same card today is $30. But $60 will buy me a 4GB CF card. $80 will buy me a 8GB SDHC card, with a $20 USB reader to as a freebie. All of those are of the same Extreme III variety, from the same vendor. So for argument’s sake, the same money will buy me four times as much storage about two years later.

If we follow the above silly math, we’re looking at name-brand premium 32GB cards for $75 in two years. But I think it’ll be a faster move than that. I think we’ll have 64GB in the $100 range in 18-24 months. Just a gut feeling. We’re then getting close to “real” storage.

So anyway, I got to thinking – how about putting an ExpressCard SDHC adapter into my MBP, and using it as a drive? Delkin has an adapter for $45. A quick look online finds a no-name (A-Data) 16GB SDHC card for $65. So for $110 I could have a 16GB SSD drive, removable and expandable to boot. Spacewise that’s not all that much, but getting there.

How would this be speedwise? Delkin claims 15MB/s for their adapter. I found a user who tested this card at 20MB/s. So let’s take Delkin’s claim of 15MB/s as real for a moment. That doesn’t sound super-fast, but not horrible if it were a real-life speed. Sandisk and Apiotek have similar adapters, but I couldn’t find speed claims.

I then ran Aja’s System Test, a decent and free hard drive speed test utility. On my laptop drive’s FileVault volume, I get 14.1MB/s write and 15.1MB/s read. On the drive root (non-FileVault), 36.5MB/s write and 20.3MB/s read. This also tells me something I was curious about, the speed hit of FileVault. Nasty, especially on write. But necessary for security in my case.

So in theory, the ExpressCard solution would get me the same speed as my FileVault user volume. Which I find acceptable for everything except video editing. Now I haven’t seen a test of the adapter yet, so no promises. To balance this, Flash storage has no seek speed issues, super-low power draw, and no moving parts.

Things will get better. Delkin (not to pick on them) has announced a set of Express Card solid state drives, shipping in March. They claim 46MB/s read and 35MB/s write – faster than my informal hard drive test. And I just ran across a similar Lexar card, 16GB for $179. Not as fast though. Hmmm, Transcend (not a premium brand, and very poor reviews) has a 16GB for $99, and a 32GB for $275. So we’re getting there. My complaint about these is they’re non-upgradable. The speed is likely a result of RAIDing together two internal cards, or the electronic version thereof, so I don’t expect single adapters to be quite as fast.

Arghh, I just read that SDHC tops out at 32MB. If true, my generic adapter idea becomes less interesting. There will be more I say, more! Actually what I think is possible is an adapter that holds two (possibly more) SDHC cards in the same form factor. Rather than sliding in long-edge, they could snap into the flat surface. Hmmm….

So will I buy my $110 16GB Delkin/Cheapie combo setup? Maybe. It would be nice to have 16GB swappable SDHC cards, and they’re certain to get cheaper. Perhaps when the pair drops under $100 I’ll give it a try.

What I really want is about 1TB in my MBP. But by the time there’s a 1TB drive, I’ll want 4TB. Sad, but true. This leads into my theory Apple could squeeze a second hard drive into the 17″ MBP, but that’s another story…

Technorati Tags:

My oldest email

I ran across an interesting post regarding the font used in Woody Allen’s film titles. I briefly perused the blogger’s site, where he asked folks to post (on their own blog) the answer to the question:

How old is the oldest e-mail message stored on your computer?

For this I’m using the rule of email actually stored on my computer. I began using email in 1980, and started an old dialup BBS in (roughly) 1983. I certainly have emails from that vintage on old 5-1/4″ disks in the basement. Whether or not I could retrieve them is another question, but they’re not actually on my computer so they don’t count. It’s also likely some of these old messages are on hard copy, but again that doesn’t count.

The answer in my case is May 5, 1986. This is the oldest email stored in my small archive of VAXmail from college. It was an email from someone who worked at the college computer center, and who I helped with a student-produced play (I was on the stage crew, and at the last minute was asked to played a guy lost in the woods, a long story).

The oldest email from someone I’m still regularly in touch with is from January 27, 1987.

The oldest email that I sent which is still on my computer is from December 3, 1986.

The oldest email in my current email database (accessible via searching within mail.app) appears to be December 8, 1996. It appears this is when I began using Claris Emailer and moved away from pine or elm on my first ISP unix account. I’m not quite sure this is definitely the oldest as I have dozens of old folders organized by purpose, not date, and have no easy way to show all messages by date. But from memory, that’s a reasonable date for such a transition.

An interesting search.

In the Office 2008 Blogger Lounge

I am currently in the Microsoft Office 2008 Blogger Lounge, here at MWSF2008. The purpose here is to write blogs in comfort. But there’s no WiFi or ethernet, so I can’t exactly post this from here. Pretty lame.

They do have M&M’s with Office icons, which is clever and tasty.

AHHA, I just found the instructions, which they didn’t tell me about. It’s a private network (no announced SSID) called “mslounge”. I’m on it, and it’s working.

So that I can honestly say I sat on this comfy leather furniture I’ll post this entry, complete with a photo. Here are Herb and I.

Photo 35-1

The M&M’s:
200801161534-1
Now if that doesn’t make me want to go out and get Office 2008 I just don’t know what will. (Then again I qualify for a free copy, so don’t read all that much into the prior statement.)

It’s ok, I’m a psych major

I’m currently 32,900 feet over Wisconsin traveling westward at roughly 505mph.

Not long ago I decided I’d blog more. And, for no reason other than timing this is the first entry in that attempt. I promise further entries will be at least as shallow and unforgettable as what you see here. Move along now, you have something better to do with your time.

By the way, I’m not nor was I ever a psychology major. I just finally watched Burning Annie, a film written and produced by folks I knew in college. It’s worth a look. The line “It’s ok, I’m a psych major” is indeed from the film. The line caught my fancy. Now for all I know it’s a line from some other movie, as Burning Annie does reference quite a few other flicks (Annie Hall being primary, but good mentions of Kevin Smith and others). But given my current altitude and velocity I’m unable to Google the phrase. I will, however, insert this here very link for everyone’s enjoyment.

Brief interlude… I actually have seen Burning Annie once before, just not in a quality setting. They showed it at an arts event of some sort in NYC, and I happen to be in town (for Macworld of all coincidences). The film was shown in what could have been a concrete bunker – the audio quality was disastrous. I was able to follow along, but this was my first viewing where I could actually hear the thing. (Sad when one considers a jet a comparatively superior setting for film audio.)

I’d insert a profitable link to purchase the DVD from Amazon, but without internet access I’m also unable to do such a thing. Plus I believe it’s possible to purchase from the official Burning Annie web site as linked above, and them being the actual artists deserve the cash more than I.

I’m headed towards the annual Steve Jobs worship event, the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. I’ll be staying with Herb (who needs to blog more often himself).

Currently listening to the Waking Life soundtrack, well worth the listen.

So the question is, what shall I blog about and how often shall I attempt the creation of new entries? Should I pick a topic, and become an “expert” in said topic? Or just ramble. Currently I’m rambling, and honestly not doing a fascinating job about it. Must be that darned altitude. I have a few posts in my head which I’ll get down on virtualpaper soon enough. Monday’s a lay-low day for me, the day before the keynote address.

I’ve recently found myself an extremely minor participant in two national/international events. I should probably say something about them. They’re in extreme contrast to one another, about as extreme as one could imagine. But not today, or at least not within such a ferociously dull post. Seriously, this is tremendously poor writing, lacking wit, substance, and style. Not that I have the right to claim expertise on any of the three but I’m often a few steps upwards of where we are today. So please, stop reading now if you haven’t fallen asleep and read earlier posts either here or over at www.AlysaandMitch.com/blog/.

We’re now over Wyoming, so I think I’ll watch another movie. King of Kong, perhaps.

(No, I could not actually post while in the air. But keeping true to the “I can’t look that up” theme I’m posting without cheating. I also did not watch King of Kong yet – listened to the soundtrack from Juno, took a nap, and eventually landed.)

Technorati Tags:

iLife ’08/iPhoto/dotMac: Email to web gallery is security risk

I have filed bug 5405311 relating to what I consider a security problem with the new iPhoto/dotMac Web Gallery feature (which I otherwise consider to be excellent!). More thoughts on iLife ’08 to come.

When using the new Web Gallery feature of iPhoto 7 and .Mac, it is extremely simple for others to add unauthorized photos to your web gallery if the email-add feature is enabled.

I expect image spam to become a problem for .Mac/Gallery users very quickly.

In general, the most likely configuration should allow the account owner should be able to add photos to their own account (such as via an iPhone), but others should be rejected.

The general problems are:

-No review of added photos
-No notification that photos have been added to your web gallery
-Moderately simple to machine-guess email address if not public (username + 4 characters)

Suggested changes:

-Option to allow photos to be added only from specified addresses. If the .Mac email is included, you should reject any fake emails not submitted through your SMTP server (since the .Mac email address is trivial to guess from the URL). For simplicity, iPhoto could pre-select addresses in mail.app for inclusion.

-Automatic notification (via email) of photos being added via email. This should be on by default, and difficult or impossible to disable.

-Email address to add photos should be much longer – suggest a 16-digit code, instead of a 4-digit code. In addition suggest removing the username from the address when email address is not visible, so that mail robots would be unable to connect addresses with URLs.

Thank you.

Technorati Tags: ,