Search This Blog

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Unlocking the power of iTunes 2: Adding new visualizations

In our previous encounter, we learned about the various controls available from the keyboard in iTunes, specifically for controls related to visualizations... Well now, we need to learn how to add new visualizations to accompany the Visualizer provided by Apple.

This process is really broken down into two steps:

1. Locate and download a new visualization for iTunes

2. Move (or copy) the new visualization to the iTunes folder

There are several places to begin searching for new visualizations; an easy first choice is Google, followed by Apple's Downloads section. When one or more visualizations have been downloaded, it is time to move (or copy) them to the iTunes folder, in a specific place. The path to use is:

User folder / Library / iTunes / iTunes Plug-Ins

All new visualizations need to be placed within this folder. If iTunes was running, quit and relaunch the application, and the new visualizations should be available to select from the Visualizer menu, as can be seen in the image below:

Have fun and see what else is available; I've been really enjoying one called NastyFFT, a great real-time, colour-switching spectrum analyzer...

Keep in mind that using the path provided above installs the new visualizations for the active user only, and not every user on the system. In order to have visualizations available to every user, move (or copy) the visualizations to the following folder:

Hard drive / Library / iTunes / iTunes Plug-Ins

In our next installment, we will explore some options available using playlists and smart playlists!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unlocking the power of iTunes 1: Visualization control

For those who have been using iTunes since it has come out, the following information might be old news, but for several new Apple users, this might be entirely new. iTunes is a fairly straightforward application to use, and most users, although proficient, are only aware of about 75% of what iTunes is capable of doing. This article will deal with the control of visualizations in iTunes. As you may already be aware, Apple has included a fairly complex, if somewhat psychadelic, set of visualizations for iTunes. These visualizations are built on a three concept: one layer, labelled the Visualization Form, a second layer, labelled the Visualization Effect and a third layer, labelled Visualization Colour. It is the combination of these three independant layers that creates the seemingly endless possibilities of Apple's visualizations.

But now that we are aware of these layers, a question that comes to mind is how many are there and are they listed? Well, yes, and someone has gone through the trouble of listing the contents of these layers at Winston's iTunes Cheet Sheet. Apple has thoughtfully provided several keyboard controls for iTunes that are simply not published for consumers. Some of these keyboard controls are specifically for the advanced control of visualizations.

The three following controls, which allow the user to toggle each layer independantly, is used to create a specific combination of layers to reach a desired visual effect. These controls are:

  • Q / W - toggle visualization "form"

  • A / S - toggle visualization "effect"

  • Z / X - toggle visualization "color"

Once a desired combination is reached, it can be frozen, or saved and assigned to a designated numerical key by using other commands. This can be an interesting addition for anyone using iTunes in a DJ setting, as it provides the ability to project a programmed visualization on cue. Here are these additional commands:

  • D - Reset Visualization to default

  • N - toggle Normal or high-contrast colors

  • M - Manually select config mode (user, freeze, random)

  • R- Randomly select config mode

  • C - display Current visualization config

  • NUM keys - user config presets (use SHIFT and # to record a preset)

Have fun experimenting with these settings. They can provide a new and interesting feature to a great media player like iTunes.

In the next installment, we will look at adding new visualizations to iTunes and where these can be procured...

New addition to Apple's Board of Directors...

In a press release announced today, Apple Computer Inc. indicated that Dr. Eric Schmidt was named to Apple's Board of Directors. With the addition of Dr. Schmidt, the Board of Directors now numbers eight, and includes:

  1. Fred D. Anderson, Partner, Elevation Partners and former CFO (Chief Financial Officer), Apple Computer, Inc.

  2. Bill Campbell, Chairman and former CEO Intuit Corp.

  3. Millard Drexler, Chairman and CEO J. Crew

  4. Albert Gore Jr., Former Vice President of the United States

  5. Steve Jobs, CEO, Apple

  6. Arthur D. Levinson, Ph. D., Chairman and CEO Genentech

  7. Jerry York, Chairman, President and CEO Harwinton Capital

  8. and

  9. Dr. Eric Schmidt, CEO Google

Dr. Schmidt has a long resume, which includes his current positions as CEO of Google, as a member of the Google board of directors, and finally, as a member of the Princeton University board of trustees. He was also formerly the CEO of Novell as well as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) at Sun Microsystems Inc.

"Eric is obviously doing a terrific job as CEO of Google, and we look forward to his contributions as a member of Apple's board of directors," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "Like Apple, Google is very focused on innovation and we think Eric's insights and experience will be very valuable in helping to guide Apple in the years ahead."

Rumours of Mac Mini hardware update...

Rumours have been flying around about some proposed changes to the Mac Mini line. According to these latest rumours, Apple would keep the existing 1.66 GHz Core Duo model, and add a 1.83 GHz Core Duo model, while dropping the 1.5GHz Core Solo model. This decision would eliminate any Core Solo platforms from Apple's line of computers. No timelines have been indicated yet, but information is sure to leak out any time... Keep in mind that Apple did the same thing to the Mac Mini last year, without advertising the changes in hardware that were made to the model line. Several analysts have suggested that Apple has chosen to follow this strategy in order to liquidate inventory without having to resort to drastic retail price cuts.

More information can be found over at Think Secret, as well as lots of assorted news and rumours...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The 10,000 mark...

Today, my music collection has hit the 10,000 song mark... I know it may seem unimportant to many, but I have spent a lot of time in the development, improvement and maintenance of my music collection. Here are some statistics:

  • 10,052 songs,

  • 100% of songs are labelled by title,

  • 92% of songs are labelled by album,

  • 85% of songs are labelled by original track number,

  • 65% of songs have associated front cover artwork,

  • 75% of songs are part of a full album...

  • and finally, 88% of songs are over 192kbps bitrates, with almost 35% at 320kbps.

There are no duplicates in my collection, unless the same song is available on several albums. I know that many of you may think that I am encouraging media piracy by promoting my own collection. For these people, let me say that I do not share my own collection. I have downloaded a large portion of it, but I have also ripped another portion of it from my own CD collection.

I don't want to get into the whole debate, but suffice it to say, it is a milestone in any media collection, so I am happy to announce it!

Talk to you soon...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Using scripts with iTunes...

It has come to my attention that several friends of mine have been using iTunes as their primary media player for a little while now, and although many of them are PC users, there are a few that are Apple users. And it is for these people that I write today; I would like to teach you to add functionalities to iTunes using some pre-built scripts. These scripts are Applescripts, and they can provide you with the ability to make iTunes work exactly the way you want.

This is a three step process, so here goes:

1. The first step is to locate the folder user/Library/iTunes and insert a new folder labelled Scripts.

2. Locate some existing scripts; a great site for this is Doug's Applescripts for iTunes site. So far, they have over 400 scripts available for free download.

3. Once you've downloaded a few scripts, unzip them and copy the scripts to the Scripts folder created earlier.

A new icon becomes available in the iTunes menu; this icon allows a user easy access to the new functions provided by the scripts.

Have fun...

My impressions so far...

After using my new 20" Dual Core iMac for a few weeks now, I can safely say that I made a good purchase. Of course, as with any new system, I've encoutered some strange behaviour, but most of that has been dealt with. Last week, I removed the 512 MB of RAM installed in my system and replaced it with a Kingston KTA-MB667/1G stick of RAM; 1GB chip, with the option to install a second one later on. Although I don't have numbers to verify my claims, the system performs better as a whole; all applications launch faster, all Finder operations seem snappier than before. All in all, a wise choice to upgrade. The surprising part was that I got this memory upgrade from CompuSmart, of all places; they have been maintaining a small Apple section, and I will continue to go there because of this...

The upgrade is where one strange thing happened. The day before I upgraded my RAM, I found that my Airport hardware just seemed to vanish from the system. No amount of coaxing would get the hardware detected. I rebooted twice, to no avail. The following day, after installing the new RAM, I relaunched the system, and lo and behold, the Airport was back. I have no explanation, but I am happy that it is back.

I have also added an APC ES 650 UPS to my setup:

The easy to install software allows me to monitor the status of the UPS, as well as provide some parameters for safe shutdown of my system in case of a power failure. As the ES 650 provides 8 outlets (4 surge protected and 4 surge protected and UPS protected), I decided to connect my DSL modem, wireless router and iMac to the UPS side of things. Might as well protect my entire setup.

On the software side of things, I have installed MySQL, made some modifications to the PHP config file and installed Moodle, the open source LMS that I had experimented with in the past. The platform has truly matured and it is a really great application to play around with, especially in my professional field. My preliminary examination of the platform has yielded some great ideas for the future. I also took the time to install a new Preference Pane, that allows me to easily launch and shutdown the MySQL server. On another topic, I replaced the official BitTorrent client for Transmission, a freeware BitTorrent client, and let me say that Transmission has so far blown the pants right off the official client. I highly recommend this software, if only for its automatic management of ratios and seeding.

More news later...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

On the purchase on my new Intel Dual Core iMac 20"...

I finally broke down and purchased my new Mac; I got a great deal from Best Buy, who although had the sam price as everyone else, gave a free iPod Nano (1GB) model to anyone purchasing an iMac. It was a no brainer... I decided to get a 512MB RAM model, as I can purchase RAM separately and save almost 200$ in the process. As for the hard drive upgrade, all I can say is that I am satisfied with the present capacity, with the 250GB SATA drive currently installed.

As soon as I got it home, I unpacked it and connected it by FireWire, to my Cube. It took only a few moments, and I was able to browse the Cube from the iMac. I transferred all of my documents, data and files over to the iMac, then connnected it to the router, so that I could get connected to my Powermac. I proceeded to transfer a copy of my Music folder to the iMac, as well as all of my images and movies. With this transfer complete, I wiped the information from the Powermac and liberated almost 85GB of storage space. And with the ability to burn DVD with the iMac, I have been archiving some data on DVD; I may just have to pick up a pack of the Dual Layer DVD-R, with even more capacity.

So far, I am tremendously satisfied with my purchase. It is a very noticeable increase in speed and performance, as well as a definite upgrade where the monitor is concerned. Seeing the iMac and my old 17" monitor side by side really hammered that point in, with the sharpness, brightness and overall size of the iMac LCD dwarfing the 17" CRT.

More on the iMac once I have more information to report...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On the subject of input devices...

After having used a Griffin PowerMate controller for over 2 years now, I can safely say that I am a firm believer in new input technologies. This fascinating device allows a new input method for computers, and is compatible both with Windows and OS X. As computer users, we have become familiar with two very specific input devices, the keyboard and the mouse. Of course, there have been variations on the basic designs of these two devices, but they all function in essentially the same manner as the original design. The PowerMate is slightly different, as it is an assignable controller; this means that with the use of software, this device can provide different kinds of inputs in different circumstances.

Because the PowerMate provides several input methods (specifically, rotation, single click, double-click and click during rotate), these can provide several functionalities within software that you might use today. For example, when I am using Microsoft Word, the rotation input allows me to scroll through the open document, while this same rotation input provides volume control in iTunes.

Of course, the PowerMate does not replace the mouse or keyboard, but simply adds to this combination. The other day, as I was browsing through Logitech's website, I saw a link for one of their subsidiaries, called 3Dconnexion; once on their site, I quickly deduced that they specialized in input devices, similar in concept to the PowerMate and just as revolutionary... As their website states: "These devices will revolutionize the way you work in 3D - pan, zoom and rotate all at once! From F1 racing and aerospace design to animated film and game development". They have calculated that on average, most users increase their productivity by up to 30%, and reduce overall mouse use by over 50%. That can be excellent news for anyone suffering from repetitive stress injuries.

One of the devices that caught my eye was the SpaceTraveler. It is a compact motion controller that on first appearance seems to copy the PowerMate. But appearances can be deceiving; the SpaceTraveller provides 6 axes of control, in what is essentially a very stubby joystick. But in this application, the concept of the joystick is taken out of the gaming world and brought into a new spere...

The SpaceTraveler is the perfect space saving solution for the designer who prefers a more efficient two-handed work style.Simultaneously pan, zoom and rotate 3D models or datasets with the controller in one hand while the other hand selects, inspects or edits with the mouse.

Another device that caught my eye seems to be a refinement on the SpaceTraveller, and it is called the SpaceBall (no, I am not kidding)... This device is somewhat larger that its diminuative cousin, but I can imagine that for professionals, who perform thousands of hours of CAD design, or animation and similar fields, might find this device more useful.

The SpaceBall features enhanced high-precision optical controller, drift-free/calibrationless sensor mechanism and a contactless/non-wearing measuring system. The 5000 model is available in USB.

Go take a look a some of these devices if you can; it may change your mind about the ones that you have been using at home. Some gamers have already understood this and several specialized devices have come out on the market lately, aimed squarely at this audience.