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Ruminations - Smaller Macs and iPods; Bigger Profits

Ruminations - Smaller Macs and iPods; Bigger Profits

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Once again the Apple faithful gathered this past week in the depths of San Francisco's Moscone Center. And yea, verily, Steve did speak the good words (a.k.a. the "Keynote") and teased the pilgrims with tokens that will soon having them part with their hard earned gold.

Rumors abounded well in advance of a variety of new and improved products. Most notable were the iPod Shuffle (a flash memory music player, about the size of a pack of gum, to capture the low end market) and the Mac Mini (a fully functional desktop computer as big as a stack of four compact disc jewel cases, weighing in at a mere 2.5 lbs.). Both easily filled gaps in the Apple marketing strategy that were much in need of attention.

With the iPod Shuffle priced at $99 for 512MB or $149 for the 1 GB, it's likely to drive the nail in the coffin of many competitors. While it may lack the display of it's bigger brothers, it takes advantage of the very popular shuffle feature or can use play list of songs from the popular (and still FREE!) iTunes software for both the Mac and Windows users. If you think you've seen lots of folks wearing the current crop, in the words of Al Jolson, "Folks, you ain't heard nothin' yet!"

The iPod Shuffle (handy carrying cord included!)

The Mac Mini? Well, if it doesn't put a dent into the Windows PC world, I don't know what will. Starting at $499, this new unit lets a user bring their current display, USB keyboard and mouse along. In other words, you can upgrade only the essential element. There's enough solid performance to be had that even the most loyal current users will have trouble deciding not to step up and move ahead. As a good example, My G4 tower has a 533mhz processor, with 512MB of SDRAM.

"Inside its petite 2-inch tall, 6.5-inch square anodized aluminum enclosure, the Mac mini houses a 1.25 or 1.42GHz G4 processor, 40 or 80GB hard drive, a slot-loading CD-R/DVD-ROM optical drive, 256MB DDR SDRAM and ATI Radeon 9200 graphics chip with 32MB dedicated DDR SDRAM ? all whisper-quiet." At that price, how can I not afford to move up the proverbial ladder?

Does it come with fries? It's almost as small as the cardboard box McDonalds packs your Quarter Pounder with Cheese in!

So, Steve made folks happy and yes, the crops are saved; at least, for now. But the show does not end with Apple's new offerings. Walking the floor of the Moscone's South Hall, I found a trio of new products that I think you might find interesting. They run the gamut from solving an issue of personal security (especially if you own a laptop computer) to an easy and interesting way to catalog that ever growing collection of books, CD's, DVD's, laser discs, and other media to some great shareware applications for clipping sound and images.

Out and about on the floor at Macworld San Francisco 2005.

That security item for your laptop? It's call SecuriKey. Available for both Windows and Mac OS X, it's a simple and elegant solution to keep your data safe. With the SecuriKey (that simply plugs into any USB port) and your system password, you have a two-tier system of protection. "T he SecuriKey System brings "two-factor authentication" to a Windows or Mac OS X logon. This is the same level of security that makes your ATM card secure. The two factors are: "something you know" and "something you have". In the case of your ATM card, the "something you have" is the plastic card and the "something you know" is your PIN. And now for your computer system, the "something you know" is your Windows password and the "something you have" is your SecuriKey USB token." A very simple and easy to use process that also can be applied to a desktop computer.

From my days on AOL, I wish there had been this level of security. Many the time, I was certain that a child had signed on using mom or dads AOL account only to rage against the machine by terrorizing chat rooms and message boards. With a Securikey in place, that access would have been denied and my life would have been a bit easier.

Ambrosia Software has made a name thanks to many popular shareware games over the years. Escape Velocity is one that I have invested far too many hours in over a few years. But at this Macworld, it wasn't their game products that attracted me; even though they do have a few things worth checking out. One of the things I've always enjoyed on my Macs over the years has been their sound and image capability. I have way too many clips from various television shows and movies for my own good. But with the advent of the DVD, I haven't found a really simple and effective way to gather more of both from various titles. Ambrosia has managed to provide a pair of offerings that will solve that problem. Wire Tap Pro does the job for audio clips. As their web page describes it,

" WireTap Pro's simple but powerful interface allows you to record audio from any running applications, as well as from any microphone, line-in, headset, and even your radioSHARK.

Want to record sound snippets from your favorite DVD movie, digitize your old record collection, record streaming audio from the Internet, or even use your iPod as a personal Dictaphone? WireTap Pro is your solution."

"WireTap Pro can save your digital recordings in the popular .mp3, AAC, QuickTime, and AIFF file formats, saving them to your hard drive for later processing/listening. WireTap Pro can also save your recordings directly into iTunes, or onto your iPod or other iTunes-compatible .mp3 player. You have total control over the file format, compression, and quality of your recordings.

Using presets, you can automatically save your digital music in high quality .mp3 format, your voice recordings in a more compressed, space-saving AAC format, or your DVD clips in uncompressed AIFF format... all with the click of one button. But wait, it gets better.

To facilitate recording streaming audio from the Internet, WireTap Pro integrates tightly with Apple's iCal, allowing you to schedule recording sessions that will automatically start up a streaming audio feed, and record it unattended. Never miss your favorite BBC Radio or NPR program again!"

And at only $19.00, the price is definitely right. I know I'll be busy making use of it soon, getting a few favorite songs ready for my iPod...

On the image side of the coin, they offer Snapz Pro X for $69. " It supports saving screenshots as .bmp, .pict, .gif, .jpg, .png, .tiff, .pdf, or Photoshop files, with precise control over image compression. Screenshots can be scaled, cropped, color depth-changed, and dithered. Snapz Pro X can also add borders, generate automatic thumbnails, overlay watermarks/copyright notices... you name it, they got it!" But why stop at just still images? This is a great application of "video capture technology, adroitly capturing full motion video of anything on your screen at a blistering pace, complete with digital audio, and an optional microphone voiceover. Think of it as a digital video camera for your screen. Snapz Pro X makes short work of making training videos, producing product demos, creating tutorials, archiving streaming video, and anything else you can think of." These are the kind of solutions that keep me busy at my Mac day after day.

The last little find came about while I was standing in line to buy a couple of over-priced bottles of Pepsi's water product, Aquafina. (Two came to $5.50, for those keeping score, and yes, still more expensive than gasoline, even here in the Bay Area.) We got to talking with a gentleman who mentioned that his son was part of the team that had produced an application to catalog your personal media collection. Using existing barcodes and several simple input options, Delicious Library creates the online version of the shelf at your local video store, in more ways than one might imagine.

It's a lot more than it looks at first glance. Users can create libraries much like iTunes using a very similar and familiar interface. Using an iSight camera (or an available Bluetooth handheld scanner), barcodes are scanned and the information for a title identified. If you don't have the camera, you can manually enter the barcode numbers and you have images of the cover art for the various media (VHS Tapes, CD's, DVD's, books and even customizable entries) displayed either as a list or viewed on a shelf. Titles are referenced using information including reviews from Amazon.com. Using Apple's iCal, you can even remind friends (by an automated e-mail) that it's time to return that DVD you loaned them a couple of weeks ago. Library is exactly what it is, and again, I know I'll be putting it to great use for a long time to come.

So there you have it! A taste of what I discovered walking the floor at this years Macworld San Francisco. Always nice to find a hidden treasure or two and I was glad to be able to share them with you here.

Next week? Oh, there might be a tale lurking about left over from those days spent in the Hole in the ground. Check back and see what the muses call forth...

Thanks again to everyone for helping by donations to the Red Cross. The difference you make will be felt for a long time to come.

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