Thursday, September 21, 2006

MacBricks Too Heavy AND Too Toxic

Apparently, the MacBook is so loaded with a toxic flame retardant called 'tetrabromobisphenol' that Greenpeace has called them "Poison Apples". Apparently Apple is trying to deal with this issue, but this problem is very typical in Chinese and Indian electronic scrap yards.

My take is that it's not surprising. You get what you pay for with cheap Chinese factories. And one of the reasons manufacturing is so cheap (other than the labor) is that you don't have to worry about any of those pesky environmental regulations that handcuff manufacturers in developed countries.


(Thanks to TUAW for picking up that story.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


MacNN picked up a story from about a supposedly new product - the Sonic EyeTV250 in Japan.

This is not a new product at all, but a rebranded El Gato EyeTV250 for Japan. Looks like Sonic got the contract to repackage the EyeTV250 and gouge consumers here in the process.

You might recall my earlier review on the EyeTV200 I bought in Japan, and returned it because the Roxio support site was useless, and they didn't offer a free upgrade to EyeTV2.0 software that was available everywhere else. You might also recall the EyeTV200 was much more expensive here than elsewhere.

I was looking for the EyeTV250 in Japan, but couldn't find it. So, I bought one and had it sent from the US for about $200 ($185 w/o shipping). I haven't reviewed this one yet, but have been using it extensively. It was half the price of the EyeTV200, and it looks like Sonic is going to gouge Japanese customers by jacking up the price 50% to ¥20,000! WTF - $100 increase for including Japanese documentation and on the box? What a joke.

If you've ever purchased Japanese CDs, you probably are familiar with the gouging you get for Japanese packaging and lyrics. Fortunately, in Tower Records you can choose the cheaper English version. Too bad you can't do so for the EyeTV250.

And worse - it seems that Roxio is owned by Sonic. So that means you'll probably get the same bad support Roxio gave the EyeTV200.


iTV HAS a Hard Drive

Apparently, the iTV will have a small hard drive to serve as sort of a cache to save movies so you aren't constantly transferring them over wireless signal.

Disney's CEO let this slip in a conference with Goldman Sachs in addition to some other thoughts about selling content for this system. You can read about it in Electronista.

It makes you think about how closely Disney, Apple, and Google are getting these days...

(Thanks to MacNN for picking this up...)

My Dream App Finalists All Announced

All 24 finalists for My Dream App have been announced. Apparently these contestents now have to blog themselves to the next level, by impressing the judges with a lot of BS and nonsense about their entries. WTF is that about? I guess I forgot that most things in todays world are more about popularity and image than substance.

I think there are a handful of decent ideas among the finalists, and am not at all bitter that my idea was not selected. However, I'd have to say that most of the entrants' ideas are quite useless or just plain bad. A few are copies of ideas already available.

Oh well - to each his own.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Showtime or Schmo-Time?

Apple had its big Showtime event last week (12 Sept). Those of us in Japan had the pleasure of staying up from 2-3AM to catch details of it from Engadget (erratic feed) and MacRumors (text only). I think most folks were impressed by the offerings at the time, but now that the dust has settled let's look a bit at what was announced.

New iPods
Apple bumped up the capacity of its standard iPods to 80GB, with a smaller 30GB model as a lower capacity option. Screens are supposed to be 60% brighter, and video playback time is extended. Interface has been improved to provide searching and gapless playback. Games available for download.

The Good: Improved features are a good thing, and the higher capacity means you can hold more video content, along with other data. Price per GB is also a bit better.

The Bad: No real change in basic stats or form factor. Battery life overall still sucks.

The Ugly: Brighter screen or not, this screen is still TOO SMALL for decent video playback.

New iPod Nanos

Apple revamped the nano (2G?) considerably and now offers 2, 4, and 8GB capacity. The new iPods have a scratch resistant aluminum shell (ala the iPod mini), 40% brighter screen, thinner/lighter body (42->40grams), up to 24h battery life, and available in 5 colors. The new Nano is already being raved about by Mac media as well as PC magazine.

The Good: More capacity and 2 grams lighter. iPod Mini maniacs can get their fix with the new nano. Scratch haters (like myself) now have a more rugged nano.

The Bad: Can't play the new iPod games on these. Color choices limited on lower capacity models.

The Ugly: These new players are ugly. I kind of liked the old style nano, and am not impressed with either the colors or the aluminum finish. I'll admit this is a personal preference though. I guess I hoped they'd use the old form factor and improve the acrylic finish. The new aluminum finish may also have issues, as some early adopters are complaining about blemishes on their new nanos. Maybe Apple has cut too many corners on these players.

New Shuffle
Apple also announced a new Shuffle in just 1Gb size, with a new form factor. It comes in grey finish, with a built in clip, and a small dock. Apple claims this is the the smallest music player on the market.

The Good: Finally the Shuffle looks as sexy as other non-Apple players on the market. Though I dislike the lack of any screen, this is a slick looking product, great for exercising.

The Bad: No screen.

The Ugly: Only grey? Hmmm....

iTunes 7 & iTunes Store
Apple revamped the iTunes interface and made changes to accomodate new content at the iTunes Store. New views for connected iPods, new icons in left panel navigation bar, two new cover views for main window, and rearrangements of UI elements are some of the notable changes. iTunes now incorporates technology from Coverflow, that allows you to browse your library by CD Cover. You can now download any album art from songs in the iTunes store for your music in iTunes. There is also no all-encompassing "Library" view - all content is separated into Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, & Radio. Songs in the same album can be set for "gapless play" by your choice or according to the iTunes store database. Downloading has been improved with some sort of 'download manager' allowing you to decide timing of downloads.

The Good: iTunes was in dire need of revamping, and many of the new features are welcome improvements. Many people really like the new CD cover views, and Apple did the right thing by buying Coverflow from its developers, rather than steal the idea (ala Konfabulator) before incorporating it into iTunes. You can also move content BACK to iTunes from you iPod via iTunes - a great feature to recover lost music. Playlists and library elements now have individual views. So, you can sort your "Blues" playlist by album and keep in coverview, "Exercise" list by artist and list view, and your Music by list-with-cover view. The Browser for music is nice, allowing you to sort by different things quickly to find your music.

The Bad: Podcasting got left in the dark for this release. You still cannot determine updating & longevity of podcast feeds individually - all or none. If your CD or other music is not sold by the iTunes store, you'll have to get your covers yourself from other sources or with other apps. There is some inconsistence in the use of the word 'update' for iPod. In the past when you wanted to get the lastest stuff/changes on your ipod you went under the Edit menu and selected "Update Joe's iPod". Now it says "Sync Joe's iPod" instead, but the progress bar says "updating". This is inconsistent. The Summary Tab for your iPod uses "Update" for getting the latest firmware. Looks like Apple didn't make the complete transition in terminology here. Many users report problems with updating iTunes from v6 to v7, and the general consensus is that iTunes 7 was rushed out the door.

The Ugly: This is a VERY ugly app. If this is a preview of what Leopard will look like, I'm gonna puke. Don't tell me this 'monochrome bruise' color scheme is an improvement. It's not. The app icon is ugly with a blue note instead of green, but for some reason the old green note icon is still used in my doc and the Apple+Tab view. The navigation window icons are too sharp, too contrasty in color shade - absolutely butt-ugly. They look like something from a Windoze app and I can barely see the symbols when icons are set to small view. The entire UI is kludgy, with elements moved around unnecessarily. For example, the little circle in the upper right hand corner to update podcasts has now been moved to the lower right hand corner as a rectangular button with "Refresh" tattooed on it. Yuck! Hard to find and nondescript. Also, the Podcast Directory and Report a Problem links are very small and hard to see, as they don't contrast much with the background. Coverflow view is nice, but looks ugly when a large portion of your music has no CD cover. When I flip through the entire navigation panel - there seems to be no overall theme for windows. The iPod window (though improved) clashes with the other views. C'mon Apple - this is not a finished product! BTW - Apparently "experts" like David Pogue think the new iPods and iTunes are perfect. I used to think Pogue was very spot-on with his analyses. However, I now put Pogue on my list of MacSheep because of his utter lack of objectivity.

Apple pre-announced a TV box, with the tentative name "iTV", that would allow you to play iTunes movies and content WIRELESSLY to your TV from your computer. However, this won't come out until sometime in 2007. It also doesn't include any hard drive or way to get TV content from TV to Mac. So I guess it's kind of like a wireless reverse EyeTV box. I was initially skeptical, then excited about this product. Now I'm skeptical. You'll need an HD TV to see the content at its finest, and frankly I'm not a big TV fan. I watch news and sports and that's about it. If I want to watch a movie - I'll do it on my 21" iMac. So, while this product has a hook, it's wasted on me and perhaps many others.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Are they serious?!

Wow. I'm absolutely underwhelmed by the recent finalists added to the list of the first "My Dream App" competition. These are seriously bland - bad even. The "iGotPets" idea is absolutely absurd, especially for an application. For a website, maybe OK. But an interactive application? Yuck. "Hijack" is supposed to integrate all your forums into one application. I would think there are too many different formats and forum types for this to work properly. Plus, who ever needs Hijack really needs to get a life. The third is "Ground Control" that puts your most used apps, websites, news feeds etc in a bar across the bottom of your screen. Sort of like a souped up Dock. Ground Control is billed as an app for 'power users', but I'd have to say that real power users wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole. Real power users are using Quicksilver to do just this with a touch of a key or two.

I thought the whole idea of this competition was to come up with application ideas that are both FUN and USEFUL - kind of like the apps the star developers have previously made (like AppZapper & iClip). Unfortunately, only one or two of the ideas could actually be both fun and useful, and I'm not even sure about those. I get the feeling whomever is making these first round choices is out of touch.

Or maybe it's me? :-)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Intriguing Apps

I found an app on that was interesting called "SpotInside". This freeware app allows you to preview Spotlight results. Actually, I'm not sure how useful it is, but the developer site, OneRiver, caught my eye. This site is run by a Japanese developer, Masatoshi Nishikata. I'm going to guess that the site name is referring to a place or person with the name "Ichikawa", which means "one river".

Anyway, Nishikata-san has a four other apps for download on the site. Three of them are related to finding and editing US/Japanese patents and applications. These seem to be related to the developer's work as a translator and technical writer. The remaining app is the most interesting to me. It's called "Edgies" and is described as "a Stickies type memo and launcher application". It's still in beta, but looks very polished and has lots of uses. I'm wondering why I haven't heard of this one before, as it seems quite useful.

I'd also have to say that the concept for this app is heads above most of the 'winning entries' thus far picked for the My Dream App contest. Oh, yeah - three more My Dream App finalists were announced today. Meh.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Dream App Announces Six Winners

There will be 20 finalists of the My Dream App contest, and the judges have been busy filtering through the 2000 odd entries. They've chosen 6 entries so far (3 per day?), and about half of them look interesting. They rest they will announce over the next week or two as they decide them.

The first finalist is Herald - an RSS aggregator that specializes in sorting news feeds to give you that 'morning newspaper' feel. Could be interesting.

Next is Stick It, an OSX rehash of Stickies that allow PostIts to be attached to apps, menus, and desktops. Meh.

Third is Desktop Wars, a game app that allows you to run a war of sorts on your desktop, and make war on other desktops of players on your network. I dunno - if it runs in a layer over your usual apps, could be nifty.

Fourth is Cookbook, a Cooking App on steroids with many bells and whistles, including shopping lists on your iPod or mobile phone. **Yawn**.

Fifth is Chatboard, a visual collaboration app that allows networked users to use a virtual white board they can post their graphics or text or sketch. I kind of like this one, but have enough problems integrating with Windows users on Mac only apps (like SubEthaEdit). Hopefully, it would get to a cross platform status.

Sixth is Portal, an app that creates virtual worm holes for the transfer of files between desktops. Except for the eye candy of portals opening up on your desktop, this program essentially exists already in the form of DropCopy. Thumbs down, dudes.

Well, we'll see if the rest of the finalists are as derivative as most of the first six.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Apple Primes The Product Pipeline

Apple surprised everyone a couple days ago by announcing upgrades to both its iMac and Mini lines of computers. Actually, most weren't surprised by the upgrades, rather the timing. Even AppleInsider reported new iMacs would be announced at Apple's big press event on 12 September (along with updated nano and Movie store).

Also surprising was the new 24" iMac (rumored to be 23" previously) and Intel 2 Core Duos (64 bit!) across the line. One strange thing is the apparent lack of the Apple Remote and BlueTooth in the low end 17" iMac. The Intel Minis are as expected - both faster and running Core Duos. However, I have to question whether Minis are a good deal when stacked up against low end iMacs. The high end Mini at $799 has a 1.83Ghz Core Duo, 512MB ram, only an 80GB hard drive, and no screen/keyboard. The low end iMac is $100 more, lacks BlueTooth, Superdrive Remote, but has twice the HD, a Core 2 Duo at 1.83Ghz, not to mention Screen/Keyboard/Mouse. For $300 more, you can get an iMac with twice the RAM, 2.0Ghz processor, Superdrive and ATI graphics card. So... I'm starting to wonder if the Intel Minis are overpriced for what they bring to the table. I recall the prices of PowerPC Minis were lower, so what's up with this? Certainly the Mini wins out hands down for it's compactness, but for not much more you can get a full system.

So, this leaves us with what will be announced on 12 September. It's curious Apple didn't wait until then to announce the new Minis/iMacs. But perhaps Apple has a very good reason. Perhaps they've much more to drop in our laps, and didn't want the system upgrades to steal the thunder of these unknown products. Speculation has it that we could see new Aiport Express with movie streaming ability, or even the much rumored iPhone. However, it's more likely we'll get a Movie store (apparently Disney only for now), along with upgraded Nanos. But would these latter two products be enough for an Apple event? Perhaps, especially if Apple runs this like the disappointing iHiFi event.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006 fix... sort of

A couple weeks back I got a response from after a nasty email with a threat to demand a refund. Their rep explained to me that they were unable to make work with Flip4Mac, but expected a fix soon (not happening yet). He also suggested using the old Windows Media Player for Mac, and explained settings that would allow me to hear my GameDay audio on Safari and FireFox. He also offered a refund I wanted it, but indicated wasn't obligated to.

Well, I re-installed WMP, followed the settings suggestions, and got audio - the first time with Safari. But after that I've not been able to get it to work reliably - and never with FireFox. I found I had to change settings on the Flip4Mac Pref Panel (uncheck 'use as browser plug-in for audio'), but still it only works intermittently. I'm not sure if I should demand a refund still, but it's not totally broken. I'll futz with it a bit more and see.