CategoryThe Mac Observer

AmpliTube iRig puts a recording studio in your pocket

I’ve been playing bass guitar since I was 12, and while I’ve always loved the playing music side of playing music, I’ve never been much on the lugging-equipment-around aspect. I deplored it so much, in fact, that I quit the wedding band business for a time, only coming back when the band agreed to hire roadies to take care of our gear for us. Even breaking out the practice amp was a chore I avoided, which meant that I didn’t rehearse nearly as much as I suppose I should have.

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The end is near: app to track asteroid near-collision is half-price today only

From my latest article on The Mac Observer:

If you knew the end of the world was coming, what would you do? Maybe you’d spend a few final romantic minutes with your loved one; perhaps you’d gather with others in your local place of worship. Given TMO’s readership, it’s a fair bet at least some of you would be pounding back pints of beer and stuffing peanuts into your face while those around you covered their heads in paper bags and found a comfortable spot on the floor to lie on.

But what if we were only going to come within 8,000 miles of it being the end of the world? Well, you’d want to download Sky Safari to your iPad or iPhone to track the fifth-closest asteroid flyby of all time, and the first ever to occur in the iOS era.

More info — including instructions on how to track 2011 MD — is in the full article on TMO.

TMO: ‘Apple’s iPad finds a place with autistic children’

Nice piece by my friend Jeff Gamet at The Mac Observer on the impact of Apple’s iPad as a tool for autistic children. What makes it really notable, though, is the first comment following the article, by Pat Mahon (also a friend of mine)—a real-life example of the device’s power.

I won’t spoil it by posting it here—you’ll have to read it yourself.

Newer’s HDMI adapter gives your Mac the ‘Big Screen’ treatment

[In my latest piece over at The Mac Observer, I look at very cool adapter from Newer Technology that lets you hook up your Mac’s video (and audio!) to an HTDV. I examine it mostly from a road warrior angle, but it’s also got some great applications as a home theater solution (as an alternative to an Apple TV) or a presentation tool. The full review is at TMO, along with my final “star” rating.]

I spend a fair amount of time in hotel rooms these days, and lately, I’ve noticed a couple of trends in in-room entertainment. No, not that kind of entertainment — I’m talking about the increasing frequency of HDTVs and the decreasing quality of the programming available for them. I mean, how many different ways can you mash up reality TV concepts? What’s left — “The Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore Apprentice for Survivor Runway Designers?”

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No, between Hulu and burning my own DVDs onto my MacBook Pro I rarely want for something good to watch. But viewing all that content on a 15” laptop when there’s a perfectly good 42” LCD screen blankly staring at me from the wall is not my idea of an efficient use of technology.

Since I usually have a projector cable and a Mini DisplayPort adapter with me, I can get a pretty good picture, but I’m stuck with laptop sound, since I’ve never been able to get the audio in on those sets to work with the video from the projector cable. Besides, when it comes to video-input acronyms, I’d rather go with HDMI than SVGA any day. On a more business-related note, I’ve come to love running through my presentations on a big screen. I find it a much more natural way to practice the delivery and pacing of a talk.

Suffice it to say that when I learned about Newer Technology’s Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter, my interest was piqued — especially when I learned it carried stereo audio to the HDMI port as well as video.

Like most of Newer Technology’s products I’ve tried, it’s a clever and thoughtful concept, well executed. The male Mini DisplayPort jack ends in a female HDMI port, which has pluses and minuses. On the downside, it means you’ll have to supply your own HDMI cable — which means cannibalizing one from another source whenever you need it, or buying a dedicated cable — which adds to the total cost of your solution. On the plus side, it means you can choose whatever length of cable suits your needs; it also presumably keeps the adapter’s overall cost down. I suppose it’s a pay-one-way-or-another situation, and with a little online digging, you might even find a separate cable for less than what an integrated adds to the price of the adapter.

Audio is supplied through your computer’s USB port, which the adapter integrates into its HDMI port. It’s a nice solution, which provides an uncompressed stereo signal through an integrated USB audio decoding chip.

In practice, the adapter couldn’t be simpler to use. Just plug the adapter’s two cables into your Mac (Mini DisplayPort and USB), plug one end of your own HDMI cable into the adapter on one end and the TV on the other. Make sure your TV is tuned to the right input and you should be all set. If your Mac doesn’t recognize the new display on its own (mine did every time), just fire up your System Preferences’ Displays pane and choose it. You can choose to use your TV as a second monitor or a mirror of your Mac’s screen. Audio volume is controlled the same way as your Mac’s speaker — either through software controls or the keyboard. Although the Newer Technology adapter is capable of displaying full 1020p high definition video, what you’ll actually get depends on the source. But in all resolutions I tried, the output was pristine, with no jittering or artifacts. Sound quality was equally good, although I tested it using the TV’s internal speakers and not a high quality sound system.

My only quibbles with the adapter are small ones. First, the plastic housing of the adapter felt slightly “soft” to me, which I at first attributed to a lower quality. After some fairly rough testing, though, the adapter was still in great shape, and I began to think that had the housing been more rigid, it would have been more likely to break. The softness, I suspect, provides more give to withstand the rigors of a travel bag.

Second, at $49.99, I thought it seemed expensive. Searching online, though, it seems in line with or less than similar adapters I found. The only significantly cheaper alternatives only work on a select few newer Macs, and Newer Technology offers those, too.)

So then, the real question is what value to you put on the ability to turn an HDTV into a big, beautiful monitor and speaker for your Mac? While the occasional traveler might be inclined to make do with that small screen, the seasoned road warrior is sure to want Newer’s HDMI adapter for his or her arsenal.

One thing’s for sure: you’ll never be happier to find an HDTV in your next hotel room than you will when you have the Newer HDMI adapter in your travel bag. And you’ll never have to settle for hotel programming again.

Shameless plugs

I missed the opportunity to pimp a couple of my recent contributions to the collective consciousness lately. In my latest piece for the Mac Observer, for instance, I presume to discover the true and heretofore hidden appeal of the iPad.

Meanwhile, over at the MacJury, I participated in a panel discussing AT&T’s new data plans, and give them them a lot (perhaps too much) credit for devising a way to expand their user base in a highly saturated universe while ensuring they don’t take a proportional hit on their infrastructure. Whew, that’s a lot of marketing jargon, even for me.

Greetings from Macworld Expo 2010!

I just returned from a week at San Francisco’s Macworld Conference and Expo 2010. Hopefully, you’ve been frequenting The Mac Observer, where I’ve had a few posts on the subject lately, including one that appeared today entitled “They Said it Couldn’t Be Done: IDG Pulls Off an Apple-less Expo Hit.

I also spoke at the Conference, delivering a session called on keyboard shortcuts called “Look Ma, No Mouse!” If you attended the conference, you already know where to find the slides. IDG, the show’s organizer, will be sending out more information on that soon as well.

On the show floor, I was lucky enough to be asked to participate in MacJury Live – a session of Chuck Joiner’s excellent podcast done in front of a live audience. It was great fun talking about the show with Chuck and fellow jurors Jeff Gamet, Tanya Engst and Ted Landau — some of the smartest people in the Mac community. As soon as the show is posted (in video, no less!) I’ll put a link to it here.

Between the Mac Observer article and the MacJury podcast, I’ve said pretty much all I have to say on the topic, other than to reiterate that it was a great show, ironically made perhaps even better by Apple’s absence.

One Thing’s for Sure: Apple Won’t Unveil a “Tablet Computer” on Wednesday

Jumping on the speculation bandwagon thisclose to the finish line, I wrote an article for The Mac Observer on what I think we’ll see at Apple’s special event on January 27th. What’s missing in my predictions is the “killer feature” I think the device needs to make it compelling enough to fill the very narrow void between the iPhone and a laptop. In fact, my guess is that this won’t be quite like either of these devices and that Apple is poised to unveil a totally different kind of device. A computer, for sure (but then again, so is the iPhone), but not something that will be thought of as a computer — and certainly nothing like the “tablet computers” we’ve seen on the Windows side for years.

Give it a read. There’s only a few hours to wait to see how prescient — or off-base — I really am.


“One Thing’s for Sure: Apple Won’t Unveil a ‘Tablet Computer’ on Wednesday”
on the Mac Observer

How TMO staffers use their iPhones

I just wrote a post for The Mac Observer as part of a series on how the site’s staffers use their iPhones. (My contribution is Part III of II; you have to read it to understand.) Here’s a snippet:

One of the best things I’ve found about the iPhone is that it’s not really a separate device at all – it acts as an extension of not just my Mac at home, but of the accumulated knowledge of the human race. OK, that’s a bit hyperbolic, but that’s the way it feels. Before the iPhone came out, I wrote about the need for a “convergence device” – one that could be used away from my home Mac, but allowed me to access its power and functionality. The iPhone has very much become that convergence device for me. And that convergence has, well, converged even more over time, thanks in large part to the over-the-air synching capabilities rolled out via MobileMe and the speed of 3G networking.

The full article is on The Mac Observer — Don’t forget to read parts 1 and 2 for some insights from more “regular” staffers like Dave Hamilton, Bryan Chaffin, Bob LeVitus, Jeff Gamet and others.

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