Tag Archives: macosx

Back to my Mac, aka Lionification

There are simply so many things to write about lately, but the one which has finally prompted a post is this:

Lionificated

… yes, it’s a computer desktop. Exciting stuff, huh? đŸ˜›

Background

I’ve been a Mac user for a little over four years now. In fact, the journey has been more-or-less chronicled here on my blog since acquiring a MacBook Pro in 2007. I still have the same machine, and it is still in great condition, although I’ve been through several batteries. It has never seen a fresh install of the OS since it shipped (with OS X Tiger 10.4) – instead, it has been upgraded through Leopard and Snow Leopard (which I really liked on its debut).

Over time though, it has become less central to my computing experience. I moved from Windows to Ubuntu on my day-to-day work machine, and my computing life fragmented to include a netbook, smartphones, and most recently a tablet (which is yet another of those things I keep meaning to write about!). Main use cases for the Mac continue to be Keynote – by far the best presentation software available on any platform, in my opinion; Lightroom and iMovie; and iTunes, which is firmly embedded in my life as a sync source for my iPhone and for organising my music library. Even though the iTunes data itself was migrated off the now-comparatively-weedy 120Gb internal drive a couple of years ago, I’ve continued to struggle for a comfortable amount of available disk space, but I still use the Mac for all of those things and I can’t really think of a viable alternative, despite the cloudification of many of the other services I use and their associated data.

Pros and Cons

When Lion was announced and the features previewed last year, I really struggled to see anything compelling in the release. It was clear that it was the iOSification of the desktop OS. The early views of Mission Control looked cluttered and bloated (combine Dashboard, Spaces, and Expose? surely a mess?). I wasn’t a fan of the idea of the Launchpad, I didn’t have a multitouch trackpad, I like to be able to switch and recompose app windows on a GUI and not run things full-screen. My early experience of the Mac App Store wasn’t positive either, with many apps I’d previously purchased having to potentially be repurchased to get the benefits of autoupdate that the App Store could bring.

My early 2007 MacBook was just on the cusp of supported hardware for Lion (it scraped in by virtue of the Core 2 Duo processor; I bought a Magic Trackpad a little while ago to take advantage of gestures, although since it’s separate I still haven’t used it a great deal). I already mentioned my continual struggle for space on the hard drive, but knowing that Apple had actually managed to make the OS smaller in previous releases by getting rid of legacy cruft, it seemed like Lion might be worth a shot.

I spent the week before the release cleaning things up – removing any remaining Classic apps or PPC apps that relied on the now-defunct Rosetta (very few, mostly old camera drivers which were only included in their respective packages to support older machines at the time they shipped); running OnyX to clean out caches and logs; uninstalling anything I’d not used for a long time; cleaning down Library and Application Support folders associated with software I no longer use. Yes, a clean install would have got around this, but on the flipside I would have spent a lot of time putting things back the way they were and reinstalling software. Once I’d done the upgrade I was miffed to discover that the installation package had vanished, but I’m glad that the brilliant Don McAllister has found a way to recover it from the Mac App Store for future use!

So what do I think?

Well, the scrolling thing is interesting. I get the reason that so-called “natural” scrolling has been introduced to unify the touch interfaces across OS X and iOS, and I also realise that while I could switch it off, it’s not going to go away so I may as well get comfortable with the idea. It’s one of those brain-rewiring exercises, similar to the one I’ve been going through learning Unity on Ubuntu, and for the same reason – there’s little point in fighting the future once the decisions are made.

Now for two things I didn’t expect to like: Mission Control and full-screen apps. I really, really like them… I’ve always used a large number of Spaces to organise my workspace and I’m finding that Mission Control makes this even more intuitive. I can still quickly zoom out to have an overview and move things around, and if I’m using the Magic Trackpad the swiping to switch apps and spaces is nice too. There are a few apps that need work on their full-screen modes, notably Chrome, but that will come in time.

I’m not bothered by iCal or Address Book having strange faux-“natural” new looks, since I’ve migrated almost all of my use of those apps to Google anyway, for maximum interoperability across devices and platforms. On the rest of the visual aspects, I’m not sure I like the “zoom/pop” dialog boxes yet. The more rectangular buttons do seem more serious and polished than the older Aqua lozenge style, but it’s a shame to see a much more grey overall feeling across the UI.

Java is gone, as Apple said it would be, but the procedure to get it back was very smooth and simple, typing “java” in a command window started an Apple Update installation, with within a few moments it was all done.

Java on Lion
A couple of little niggles with some other apps. I also found myself resetting my Dock (which I’d been running in 2D with various folders docked as Stacks) to its default state by clearing down the associated .plist files and restarting it, to get it back to the way Lion comes out of the box / download.

The future

I mentioned a tablet and a variety of other lightweight devices, but I can’t see myself abandoning the PC device (in this case a laptop of some kind) just yet. As I mentioned in the discussion of scrolling, I’m firmly of the opinion that we need to adapt to new ways of interacting with technology, and I’ve got a range of devices to play with right now. However, I haven’t yet found a replacement for the keyboard / graphical desktop / pointing device combination that is as effective for creating content as a PC (be that Mac, Windows or Linux, with keyboard and mouse/trackpad/pointer). I can type quickly on a touchscreen smartphone or tablet now, but it’s still not as comfortable for creating text and laying out images as a graphical computer desktop of some kind. I can perform simple and basic image or video edits on a mobile device, but again for anything more extensive I find myself wanting to see more and have finer control than I get with a fat fingertip on a small touchscreen.

So all of that leads me to think ahead to a next device… not that I must have one at the moment, but still. I’ve increasingly fallen out of love with Apple over the past year or two as they have behaved in an increasingly anti-competitive manner over Android, the App Store, made silly restrictions locking out hardware replacement in new iMacs, etc. – but I can’t see myself escaping the ecosystem completely due to the quality of the software I’ve already mentioned, even though I’m not locking myself in to the entire Apple life end-to-end.

The new generation of MacBook Airs hit on Wednesday alongside Lion, and I’m reconsidering whether or not that would make an acceptable replacement for an older 15″ MBP. On paper, at the expense of a diagonal 2″ of screen real-estate, I would still get +1Gb RAM, potentially more storage (256Mb flash storage over 120Gb HDD), a CPU that’s clocked slower (1.7GHz vs 2.33GHz) but probably runs faster due to architectural improvements… it’s tempting… if I could be convinced that I’d get the performance I’d like in iMovie and Lightroom, and if I had the cash, then I might make that jump. I suspect that Lion and the Air make a great match.

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Things I like best in Snow Leopard

There are a heap of things I’m really liking about Snow Leopard so far… even though it turns out that my early 2007 MacBook Pro can’t take advantage of a lot of the under-the-covers enhancements đŸ˜¦

  1. The new (configurable) Dock behaviour to have application windows minimise into their app icons – combined with the click-hold-Expose feature, this has made the Dock useful for me again. I’ve moved it from autohiding at the side of the screen, to permanent (but 2D) at the bottom.
  2. Safari running Flash as a separate process. Far fewer browser crashes.
  3. Nearly 15Gb of reclaimed disk space. Seriously! Could be the fact that I opted for a custom install and removed most of the language support I didn’t need, too, and also influenced by the fact that Snow Leopard reports disk space differently.
  4. Scrollable, more intelligent grid views in Stacks. The Dock is even more useful.
  5. Seeing the date in the menubar. Bye bye, MagiCal.
  6. Setting Spotlight search to find in the current folder by default (in Finder preferences).
  7. The default screen gamma setting is now 2.2 – at last.

If you want to dig a bit deeper to find some of these things, check out a couple of Macworld articles – I wouldn’t have known about them otherwise! All-in-all then, a minor upgrade with a bunch of welcome changes.

My Mac Menubar

Continuing some of the posts about Mac software and tools I use, this might be of interest – a few of the applets you’ll find in my menubar. The vast majority of these are free.

My Mac Menubar

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  1. LittleSnapper – handy for taking annotated screenshots or grabbing webpages. I don’t run this all the time, but it was running to take this shot.
  2. Google Quick Search Box – I’ve been a Quicksilver user for a long time, currently I’m trying out QSB instead.
  3. Camouflage – hides the icons on the desktop. Great for recording screencasts, or just for tidying up.
  4. DropBox – handy for sharing files between Windows, Linux and Mac.
  5. Caffeine – disable screensaver for watching movies and presentations etc.
  6. iScrobbler – for Last.FM support
  7. Skitch – my screen capture utility of choice, which I do have running all the time. Not as good for annotation or web page capture as LittleSnapper, but quicker to use.
  8. Evernote – todo lists and note taking (syncs with iPhone)
  9. Eject applet
  10. Canon printer/scanner utility for the MP620
  11. SoundSource – very handy tool to select input and output sources, great for podcasting etc.
  12. Displays (enabled from System Prefs) – useful for presentations and viewing video on the TV.
  13. Language (enabled from System Prefs) – quick access to language, special characters, keyboard viewer, etc.
  14. MagiCal – pop up monthly calendar

Some media workflow updates

My earlier post on some of the tools I use in my video workflow was pretty popular, so I thought I’d post an update on some of the latest developments.

Software

I’m now using VideoMonkey for some transcoding tasks. I mentioned in my previous post that VisualHub is now defunct – it was more-or-less the de facto free transcoding tool on OS X. VideoMonkey is also free and is based on a similar codebase… currently in early development, but it works and is looking really promising.

Since I wrote the previous entry in February, iMovie 09 has been updated to 8.0.1 (and, today, 8.0.2). Amongst the “hidden” / undocumented additional features is proper HD export, which had been a bit hacky via QuickTime export before. That’s particularly handy for dealing directly with YouTube’s HD option.

One piece of weirdness I’ve encountered… I’ve been using Keynote for animating certain intro and closing sequences, and exporting as QuickTime for import to iMovie. I did that the other day, and iMovie reported that the movie file could not be imported as the format was not valid. I ran the .mov file through VideoMonkey to get a .mp4 h264 encoded video, and that imported into iMovie as required. I hadn’t come across that before, so maybe an iWork or iLife update changed something there.

Oh, and I’m no longer a stranger to GarageBand – I used that the other day for building some sequences for Dogear Nation. Ironically I still ended up exporting the “song” to iTunes, getting the .aif file, and chopping it up and re-exporting pieces as MP3 using Audacity! However, it worked very nicely for applying real-time effects and applying volume ducking etc.. Once I got my head around the interface, I was very happy.

Hardware

Latest acquisition is a Blue Eyeball USB HD microphone and camera. It’s the evolution of the Blue Snowflake that I’ve been using, but with the addition of a tiny (and I do mean tiny – the iris is really small!) HD 1280×1024 webcam which pops out of the side.

This was mentioned on MacBreak Weekly a couple of weeks ago, and being a fan of the Snowflake I expected to be blown away by this product too. The truth is – I do think it’s a lovely piece of kit, and the audio quality is great. The problem I have is around software compatibility on OS X! It turns out that iMovie can record from the internal iSight, or from a Firewire-connected webcam, but not from a generic USB webcam. This is an insane limitation that I hope Apple fixes soon! (surely no-one is going to try to persuade me that they use this as a differentiator between the consumer and pro line of products, or that there’s some inherent limitation, given that other native tools can capture the video?). The workaround, as described in the Blue Eyeball FAQ, is to use Photo Booth to do the video capture and then import and edit in iMovie. Oh, and although Skype works flawlessly with the camera, any Flash tools (like, say, Viddler and 12seconds and TweetDeck) don’t seem to want to see it. Video and still image wise, the camera is a definite step up from the iSight, but it still leaves something to be desired on the part of Apple and Adobe software support. On final thing is that it auto-adjusts image quality based on light levels, and there’s no software support for tweaking white balance etc – a bit of a shame.

Useful tools for homebrew media – my OS X workflow

As I’m sure regular readers are aware, I’m producing a wider range of media than ever before, now that I’m a regular podcaster and creating a range of video content as well. I thought it would be useful to talk a little about the range of tools that I’m using – far from professional level Final Cut or anything!

Hardware

The hardware is pretty varied. The core of the whole “system” is the MacBook Pro, which I use for pretty much all of my editing. That also has the iSight camera, which is adequate for videos which need to include my face, although I’d like something higher quality (any recommendations?). I’ve mentioned iGlasses before, which is useful for adjusting the iSight input. From an audio perspective I use a USB headset and also a Blue Snowflake USB microphone, which is absolutely great – compact, convenient, and it captures excellent quality sound.

If I need to capture video away from the computer, my current camcorder of choice is the Kodak Zi6 which can take HD 720p footage, albeit at a quality limited by the rest of the hardware (lens, sensor etc). I’ve yet to do a proper review of this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a step up from either the Flip Mino or the older disgo Video Plus which I’d tried. I also sometimes grab snippets of video on my compact Canon camera.

Screencasting

For screencasts I use ScreenFlow. This is just a wonderful piece of software which is capable of recording both the screen, and from the iSight simultaneously. This allows the video to be overlaid into the screencast if required, so you can personally narrate what is going on. Even better than that, ScreenFlow lets you zoom in on windows and desktop features, and is really a general purpose compositing application… if you look at this video I made when I talked to a friend recently, you’ll see there are no desktop elements at all, just the video stream from the camera, a picture of him, and the audio, with some nice image tilt and reflection effects applied. ScreenFlow has also recently added text annotation features, which are really useful.

I’ve yet to use it for any practical purpose, but I also just downloaded OmniDazzle, which is now free. OmniDazzle lets you highlight areas of the screen with visual effects using a single keystroke – I can see this being useful in combination with ScreenFlow in the future.

Video editing

A few weeks ago I blogged about iMovie 09. I know a lot of people really dislike both iMovie 08 and 09, but I’m totally comfortable with both versions now, and I have to say that 09 is just beautiful. I’ve had no issues with it – it’s great for rapidly mixing and editing video, still images and audio. Watch my introductory series on YouTube or the whole thing as one movie on Viddler. I wrote a bit more about my use of iMovie back in December, too.

Here’s a tip: have you ever wanted to create some animated titles of your own? I have one word for you – Keynote! When I created the Home Camp TV title sequence it was a simple matter of creating a slide with some animated elements in Keynote, and exporting it as a Quicktime movie (which I did without sound, allowing me to overlay a choice of audio on the title sequence in iMovie). It’s great for quickly creating JPEG stills with text for titles, too.

In terms of finding audio to accompany videos… I’ve used both the pre-canned loops that come with iMovie, and also used some audio from Podsafe Audio. I do find that site a bit cumbersome to search though, so I’d be interested to know of any other useful, royalty-free resources.

Audio editing

I’ve not done a great deal on the audio-only side of things, but my essential tools here are Audacity for editing and cleanup; and Levelator for post-processing. That’s a really important point, by the way: only levelate your audio once everything is mixed together, the whole point is that it’s going to analyze everything and modulate the volume equally… if you have a bunch of snippets of audio and levelate them separately, then edit them together, you may well still end up with volume variations.

Another quick tip at this stage: to avoid issues with VBR MP3s showing up as weird (and incorrect) lengths in some tools, I bring the audio file into iTunes and do the MP3 export in there.

Imaging

For “proper” RAW photo editing and management, regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Lightroom. I use Pixelmator for finer adjustments on exported images.

Beyond that, I find that iPhoto is useful for quickly grabbing snapshots from the digital compact camera for compositing into iMovie clips. Skitch and LittleSnapper are both very useful tools as well as they enable me to rapidly take, resize and annotate screenshots or clips of web pages. For diagrams and so forth, there’s nothing that can beat OmniGraffle.

Extras

Finally, a couple of other useful bits and pieces. Transcoding to different formats is through either VisualHub (now defunct) or ffmpegX. QuickTime Pro is an essential (and highly cost-effective) upgrade too, since it lets you make very quick edits to QuickTime movie files and control the output format more finely.

There. Now, I imagine this may attract a range of “have you heard of…?” “why aren’t you using…?” and other responses, but that’s how I’ve currently settled things. Hopefully some of the tips and thoughts here will be useful to other amateur content creators, too! đŸ™‚