Hooray! Apple implemented my iPod Shuffle idea!

11 March 2009

You read it here first! A iPod Shuffle that tells you what track you’re listening too:

Making the iPod shuffle perfect

The Voiceover feature in the new 4GB Shuffle iPod is pretty much exactly what I suggested in a blog entry last March:

Ideally, it’d be good to be able to press some button combination to hear [the track name] when you want to know what you’re listening to.

Of course, I think it’s a pretty obvious idea for anyone who uses a Shuffle on public transport, or while walking or running, and is aware of text-to-speech capabilities. But I did submit the idea to directly to Apple too, so who knows, perhaps it helped persuade them to implement it.

(If so, Apple guys, a free one would be nice!)

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Beware, Time Machine users!

8 July 2008

My MacBook hard drive recently started making strange clunking noises and I knew at once it was a goner. I felt a brief surge of panic at first, as I’d just got back from holiday and imported a load of photos, but I had done a Time Machine backup to an external drive just a couple of days ago. It should all be saved.

Once I’d got a new hard drive sorted out, I thought, it was going to be a doddle getting back to where I was two days ago. How wrong I was!

 

First point: don’t try to save space by opting not to back up system files (as I did). 

If you’ve backed up everything, you can choose to restore everything by booting from the Leopard DVD and choosing this option from the Utilities menu. If not, you find you can’t even get at your Time Machine backup without choosing to back up your virgin OS X installation to that disk.

I haven’t dared do that, because if you choose to start backing up a clean installation with Time Machine, what happens to your pre-hard disk failure backup? It’s not going to get deleted but presumably it becomes not the latest backup, but the last backup but one, which I assume complicates the restoration process yet further.

 

Second point: you can restore user accounts via the Migration Assistant in Utilities after you’ve got done a clean install and upgraded the system to the latest version, but this option doesn’t let you restore other data such as Applications.

If this option is made clear by Apple, I didn’t find it in any of the support documents I read. Instead, I stumbled across it during the first reboot and system setup after a clean install of OS X. At this stage, it does offer you the option of restoring non-user account files such as Applications – except it doesn’t work! When I chose it, everything froze. 

So, to cut a long story short, I set up a temp account, upgraded to 10.5.4 and then clicked on the Migration Assistant in Utilities with the external drive with the Time Machine backup mounted. This gives you the option of restoring entire user accounts but nothing else.

 

Third point: did Time Machine really backup your account properly last time you did it? Check if you’ve done a lot of precious stuff.

So after numerous failed attempts and much swearing, I’d done a clean install, upgraded it and then restored the user accounts from an external drive using Migration Assistant. I thought I was finally back to where I was when the hard disk failed about a week ago.

I logged back in to my restored account and opened up iPhoto. We’d got back from holiday a few days before the drive conked out, and as I had had a new camera to play with, I’d taken loads of photos that I had spent quite some time sorting out in iPhoto. Fortunately, I’d done one Time Machine backup since returning from the holiday. It would all have been backed up.

It wasn’t.

Time Machine had restored me not to the latest version but one more than two weeks old. When I opened up the Backup folder, I saw why: the latest backup had failed and produced an XXXXXX.inprogress file. 

The .inprogress file can be opened by right-clicking and choosing Show Package Contents – and the latest iPhoto libary with all the holiday photos was there. But simply it copying over didn’t work – iPhoto produced a “you don’t have permission” error when I tried to open it, which no amount of playing with permissions would fix.

Eventually I discovered the way round this. You have to copy files from the .inprogress folders to your account using Automator rather than dragging and dropping. Don’t ask me why it works but it does.

 

Time waster

So how many hours did it take me to figure this out? I hate to think. I was hopping mad with Apple at the time, but the question I had to ask myself was this – without Time Machine, would my last backup have been two days before my hard drive failed?

Honest answer: no, probably more like two months at best.  

So Time Machine did save my bacon. But restoring my system wasn’t simple, it wasn’t quick and it certainly wasn’t fun. Apple, I hope you can make it a lot better!


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?


Mighty stupid mouse

1 February 2008

I’ve just had to spend half an hour or so disassembling and reassembling my “Mighty Mouse”. (If you don’t know what a Might Mouse is, be thankful.) 

Sure, the sideways scrolling is neat. But I think the convenience is outweighed by the time you have to spend trying to clean the damn thing to get the up-and-down scrolling working again. Eventually it stops working altogether, as mine did months ago. 

Fixing it was pretty easy but it’s just not something one should have to do. I can’t believe Apple is still selling the same flawed design. (Steve, are you using one?)

All Apple needs to do to fix it is make cleaning the scrollball properly a two-minute job rather than a half-an-hour job involving screwdrivers, knifes and glue. In the meantime, if you haven’t bought one, don’t.


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.


iMovie ’08: importing VOB, DVD or MPEG2 video without losing quality

3 January 2008

As ever, non-Mac users look away. This is just a bit of technical bumf, but it took me ages to work it out and I haven’t seen quite this elsewhere, so here it is in case it helps anybody. 

So, my family had jumped the gun by paying to have some old cine films converted to VHS video, and then throwing away the original films (groan). That resulted in a huge loss of quality and, worse still, the only way I had to convert the VHS to digital was via a very poor DVD recorder, resulting in further losses from re-encoding. I then copied the VOB files from the DVDs onto my Mac, so I was left with a bunch of VOB files in desperate need of editing.

FWSE it and you’ll find most people recommend converting the MPEG2 video (which is the underlying format for DVD/VOB) into DV for editing in iMovie. But converting means re-encoding, which means losing more quality, which I couldn’t afford to do with what had already become poor quality footage thanks to re-encoding.

For the past two years the VOB files have been sitting on a hard disk, and I’ve occasionally done a search for MPEG2 video editing solutions for the Mac. I had no luck until the much-maligned iMovie ’08 came out. This, apparently, can import MPEG2 for editing without re-encoding, as it’s intended to work with cameras that record to hard disks/DVD rather than just DV.

Trouble is, when I tried to trick iMovie into importing MPEG2 by using the create-a-disk-image-with-camera-like folder names mentioned in the above links, it just crashed. Then I discovered by accident that if you open iMovie when you have a non-commercial DVD in the computer, iMovie treats it like a camera and will offer to import it. This not-very-well-advertised feature came as a surprise to me, though of course many others are well aware of it.

So here’s the bit that I haven’t seen elsewhere: if you’ve just got video in VOB format, rather than as an actual DVD, you can get iMovie to import it by converting the VOBs back into a DVD image, using an application such as Toast. The trick, however, is to mount the disk image by control-clicking (right-clicking) and choosing Open with Diskimagemounter. I found that if the DVD disk image was mounted with Toast, it just crashes iMovie.

So that’s most of my problems solved, and I hope other people’s too.

The only remaining issue is that some of the VOB files seem to be corrupt, as there are some chunks that iMovie won’t import (thumbnails don’t load in the import dialogue panel and if you try to import them, iMovie crashes). Any solutions, anyone?