Making the iPod shuffle perfect

28 March 2008

I like the iPod Shuffle. I especially like the fact that you can use it without ever having to look at it. When you spend a big part of your day dodging fellow commuters on busy trains and streets, you know how annoying it is when people bump into you because they’re staring at a mobile or iPod screen. As a music player, I really do prefer it to its bigger brethren, including the iPhone. 

That said, there are times when I would like to know what I’m listening to. And it seems to me there’s a simple way Apple or another software developer could make it happen: use Leopard’s built-in Text to Speech software to generate a short, small MP3 or AAC sound file naming the song title, artist and album for each track on the Shuffle. 

Ideally, it’d be good to be able to press some button combination to hear  this sound file when you want to know what you’re listening to. But it would be even simply to add the name, track and album speech file to the beginning or end of each track when songs are transferred to an iPod Shuffle. It wouldn’t be that difficult to do. Would it?

Leopard woes Part IV

4 January 2008

Alright, this is not so much a woe as a belated gripe. I tried out the search folders in the new Leopard Finder today and noticed that when you do a search, a slider bar appears at the bottom of the window that allows you to set the icon size – including making it as large as 512 X 512, way bigger than the standard 128 x 128.

Nice feature, you might think. And it is. Especially as it helps make up for the ugly, impractical and very annoying thick white border that appears around photo preview icons in Leopard, wasting megapixels of screen space in folders full of photos.

So the question is, why does the slider only appear in Search folders, and not in any of the normal folder views, where this feature would be really useful? WTF were they thinking at Apple!

iMovie ’08: adding chapter markers for iDVD

3 January 2008

I’ve been doing a lot of playing around with video in what little spare time I had over Xmas. Besides importing VOBs, my other big problem was adding chapter markers to iMovie edits before importing into iDVD.

Yes, what Steve giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other. The iMovie ’08 interface, with its skimming feature, is brilliant – miles ahead of every other editor, which will all work like this when the patents expire – but one of the lost functions that needs to be restored (Apple, are you listening?) is the ability to add DVD chapter markers.

Apparently there’s a way of doing this in GarageBand, but I’ve never used it and deleted it from my MacBook to save space. Instead, I discovered a nifty utility that can add chapters for you: the curiously named Metadata Hootenanny.

It’s not perfect – iDVD started importing widescreen footage in 4:3 aspect ratio after I added chapter markers, which I fixed by adding a tiny bit of blank widescreen footage to the beginning of the video – but it’s quick and easy.

Leopard woes Part III

23 November 2007

As ever, non-Mac users look away now.

So Leopard‘s Time Machine backup system. In one way, it’s absolutely brilliant. Connect a disk, click on a button and (a while later the first time) you’re backed up. From then on you only ever have to connect the disk and everything is done for you. A few clicks and deleted files can be restored.

But what if you handle some very large files, eg video? I started off with Time Machine backing up the Movies folder with my home videos. Then I realised this is a very bad idea because Time Machine isn’t smart enough to know when you’ve merely changed the name of a folder (an iMovie event), rather than its contents (the video clips).

As my backup disk swelled to an alarming size, I chose to not backup the Movies folder. This saved a bit of space by eliminating the last save of the Movies folder from the backup disk. But it didn’t delete earlier instances – and you can’t manually delete anything from the Time Machine backup. So now I’m going to have to start a new Time Machine backup without any of the Movies saves, losing all the other recorded changes as well, which somewhat defeats the point of Time Machine. If you have to keep deleting backups that have grown too large and start again, you might as well just copy your stuff onto another disk periodically, as I did before.

Apple, you need to add some system for paring down bloated backups without having to ditch the entire lot and start over. 

Update: On the latest Time Machine backup, which took ages, all the old Movie folder files disappeared from the backup, freeing up many gigabytes. Hooray!

But I’m totally confused now. Was there some problem with Time Machine that stopped it doing it before? Does it take it more than one session to work out that you’ve chosen not to backup some folders anymore and remove all instances? In the absense of any helpful documentation, who knows?

What’s wrong with Leopard Part II

16 November 2007

I wrote earlier about some of the things I dislike about Leopard, such as the white border around the preview icons of pictures. Tonight I ran into new issues.

I wanted to see what was taking up the space in a folder, so I went to list view, Command-I-ied to change the View option to calculate sizes and closed the Get Info window as usual. It didn’t calculate sizes. I tried again. On the third try I realised that now you have to click “Make default” button to get the Calculate sizes option to stick – whether you want it to be the default or not. But now it applies only to that one window, again whether you want it to or not. How is this an improvement!

It gets worse. The size column in the list view was too narrow to see the sizes, so I dragged it to make it wider. It instantly reverted to its previous width. It seems you’re now stuck with automatically set column widths, unless there’s a preference I’ve yet to find. I’m not used to get frustrated with Macs, and I don’t like the feeling. Apple, it weren’t broke, so why did you “fix” it?

Another bugbear. I used Time Machine to back up my Movies folder, which includes a few gigabytes of video of my son. I’ve been slowly renaming iMovie Events as time allows, and assumed Time Machine was intelligent enough to recognise only the name of an event had changed, as the names of the original clips don’t change when you change an event name in iMovie ’08. But no – a few name changes and my Time Machine backup has swollen hugely. Again, Apple, that’s not clever.

Leopard pounces – sort of

30 October 2007

Non-Mac fans look away now. In fact, perhaps Mac fans ought to look away too. Steve, Steve, what have you done? What possessed you?

Leopard is undoubted better in many ways but in terms of appearance it’s a disaster. The bright, semi-3D folder icons of Tiger have been replaced by dull, flat blue lumps. Worse still, the coloured, instantly recognisable “folder labels” that distinguished different folders  – applications, pictures, movies, etc – have been replaced by dull, dark-blue, impossible-to-see labels.

Then there’s the see-through menu bar. I had read gripes about it but was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. In the event, it’s worse than I imagined, distracting rather than pleasing as soon as any window is opened. All these points and more are made by John Syracusa in his incredibly detailed review of Leopard for Ars Technica (how long has he been working on that!)

Unless I missed it, he hasn’t mentioned my pet peeve, though – the new picture preview icons. Suddenly, a thick white frame has appeared around the preview icons, separated from the pic by a black rule. As a result, the picture preview is suddenly much tinier and less useful, as well as looking hideous to my eyes. Why? If white frames are such a good idea, why doesn’t iPhoto have them?

I didn’t think Tiger’s Aero theme was broke, but it certainly is now… 

Update: Part II and III