Tag Archives: OS X

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.

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Snapping web pages – LittleSnapper

I’ve written before about a little app I utterly love on the Mac called Skitch. It’s a really nice tool for taking and annotating screenshots, and I often use it to add an image to my blog posts, or simply to record interesting events in my gallery.

So what if you need to make images of web pages? I’m fairly certain that my new favourite application is going to be LittleSnapper, from my friends at Realmac Software. It looks simple, and gorgeous. They recently posted a demo of some of the features on their blog.

Incidentally, although I’ve not had any cause to use their RapidWeaver software before, I’ve had it demonstrated to me and it also looks like a fantastic tool if you are into web design. I think LittleSnapper is going to be the product that gets me on the hook, though 🙂

disclaimer: I know one of the guys from Realmac, but I’ve chosen to post this independently, and the opinions here are firmly my own

Building a Universal binary on OS X with gcc

Recently I’ve been trying to build a C application on OS X. It actually worked first time for me on an Intel MacBook Pro on Leopard (10.5) just via gcc *.c -o [outputfile] … but yesterday it was pointed out that the resulting binary is useless on a G4 Mac Mini.

The nice thing about Apple’s move from PowerPC to Intel chips is that they have this concept of a Universal binary – the same binary file can run on both PPC and Intel. The slightly complicated part is that you have to actually build your binary as Universal, it doesn’t happen automatically.

So it turns out the the corresponding magic-fu is:

gcc -O2 -Wall -force_cpusubtype_ALL -mmacosx-version-min=10.4 -arch i386 -arch ppc *.c -o [outputfile]

At a high level I’m telling the compiler to build for both i386 and ppc architectures. Note that I’ve also set a flag here to specify a minimum OS X level of 10.4 (Tiger).

Of course there are sometimes some coding changes required to support both processor architectures. Apple’s Universal Binary Programming Guidelines should help there.

Gadgets part 3: Eye-Fi

Here’s something I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while now… an Eye-Fi SD card. If you don’t know about these things, essentially they are standard 2Gb SD cards that fit into any camera that will take the format (or others, with e.g. a Compact Flash/SD adapter). The good part is that they make the camera wireless-capable….

Pull the tab!

So I picked up my Eye-Fi card and the first thing that I noticed was the cool packaging… pull on the tab on the right-hand side of the box, and the box slides out to the left, revealing a USB dongle and the card already inserted. You need the dongle, because you need to use the computer to configure the card.

Once I plugged the dongle into the machine, an Eye-Fi item appeared on the desktop… it was pretty simple to just install the Mac software. Once I’d done that, I hit a small snag… I got a message about the Eye-Fi Manager software being unable to initalise the card. I tried running the Eye-Fi Manager a few times, but the same thing happened… until I took the dongle out of the USB port on the right-hand side of my machine, and plugged it back in on the left. That time, I got a set of dialogs enabling me to register an account. Not sure what happened there!

Eye-Fi error

Actually this seems to be an issue on my MacBook Pro… for some reason the Eye-Fi Manager software will never “initialize” the card when the dongle is plugged in on the right of the machine (although it still shows up as a mass storage device, and Lightroom sees it and offers to import images from it). Worked fine over on the left, but then the dongle is a bit too wide to enable the Magsafe power plug to be connected at the same time. Actually it seems a little random, unfortunately. I raised a problem with Eye-Fi support and they basically talked me through steps for checking that nothing else is using the port, plugging and replugging – nothing specifically useful. YMMV.

Card and card reader

Right, so here’s how this thing works. You start the Eye-Fi Manager software, which opens a web page to configure the card. Here, you can add wireless network details (it supports a whole range of network settings including WEP and WPA keys), rename the card if you want, and configure a huge variety of online services. I have configured mine for Flickr… but the software supports Facebook, SmugMug, WebShots, SnapFish, Picasa, Photobucket… and a gazillion others that I’ve not heard of before (oddly, Movable Type, Vox and Live Spaces, but not WordPress – hmm!). Once you’ve done that, you put the card in the camera, and it will automatically connect to the network and start uploading shots any time you take them.

EyeFiUpload

What appears to happen, is this: the camera uploads to Eye-Fi’s site, which then transfers to your chosen / configured photo service. The next time the Eye-Fi Manager sees the Eye-Fi site, it then mirrors the photos to the local disk (you can specify a location in the Eye-Fi Manager). I’m not 100% certain that this is how it works, but that’s what I’ve observed.

So now what about the downsides to this? Well for starters, the only supported file format is JPG. That’s OK, but of course Flickr now supports video too, for instance. Oh, and by the way, this is going to upload all your photos, anytime you take any, so I’ve set the default privacy option to private for Flickr uploads so I can review and tag etc. before publishing. The photos are obviously not titled or anything when the Eye-Fi uploads them, and they get a simple tag “Eye-Fi” set, but that’s all. So you will want to go and change title, tags, description, potentially rotate and so on once the image has been uploaded. Now that Flickr has Picnik integration, you can of course do some simple editing later as well. This does all bypass my “standard” photo workflow of Lightroom import, catalog, edit, and then upload, though.

One thing that the Eye-Fi does not support is wireless networks with certificates. Other than that, Open, WEP, WPA/WPA2 are all OK. It’s only going to work with networks it knows about, too (although you can configure more than one) – there’s no UI on the camera for configuring the card, you have to use the Eye-Fi Manager software while the dongle is plugged in to the camera.

Also, because there’s no UI on the camera side, there’s no visual indication as to what is happening… the Eye-Fi will silently upload your shots, and there’s actually no way of knowing that it is doing it, or when it has finished doing it. Of course it would be amazingly difficult for this to integrate with every camera if the makers had tried to build the Eye-Fi into the camera’s user interface, so I understand why this is the case – it’s just a little bit disconcerting! One nice feature is that there appears to be support for “interrupted” uploads, I see there’s a “Receive interrupted” comment in the Eye-Fi manager UI, so I think it will support partial upload and then resume.

Overall, it’s a neat idea, and certainly pretty cool for quick shoot-and-upload scenarios. Of course I often want to catalog my shots and touch-up on the computer first, but I can see cases where this could be really cool. Very handy for conferences etc. (oh, and that USB dongle can act as a reader for any SD card, too – handy). A qualified thumbs-up!

Here’s a link to a nice review, and here’s some news about the new models coming soon.

(post updated 14th May 2008 – a couple of additional details about workflow, the card initialization error, and the screenshot of the local machine import was added)

Gadgets part 2: Bamboo Fun

Bamboo Fun Until recently I’d hankered after one of the higher-end Intuous graphics tablets from Wacom, but a few friends have bought Bamboo models lately so I began to think that this might be a good option for me[1]. So far, it seems that way. What’s this all about? Well I’ve wanted a tablet for a while to help with photo / graphics work, and to try out sketchcasting (see below).

The product

The Bamboo Fun is a bundle which includes the tablet and stylus, plus a mouse (slightly redundant given I have a Mighty Mouse already) and Photoshop Elements – only version 4 for the Mac, annoyingly, but I guess I could always upgrade. To be honest, I’ve not even installed it yet.

The Bamboo comes in very stylish packaging reminiscent of something Apple would make… the box unfolds neatly, each item is wrapped in that thin foam bag packaging, and the driver CD is in a square box exactly like the ones that Apple uses for OS X CDs! So, first impressions are good. After that, basically it’s just plug-and-play… there’s a driver to install which provides some System Preferences to customise the tablet sensitivity and behaviour of the shortcut buttons, but that’s it.

Negative marks go to Wacom for having their registration page (and most of the website, it seems) “temporarily unavailable” for over a week. Not cool, and they are ignoring my emails too.

Usage – OS X and a tablet

In use, it’s been something of a mixed experience so far. The tablet itself is great, but it takes a lot of getting used to over a mouse (which is something I fully expected). The issues have been around the software support, and specifically in my case Lightroom. Two major annoyances – one that the zoom wheel at the top of the tablet doesn’t work in Lightroom, and secondly that although a single tap/click will zoom in, it is then really hard to get Lightroom to zoom back out with the stylus (should just be a simple tap/click again, that’s how it works with the mouse anyway).

On the plus side, it works beautifully well in Pixelmator.

Although OS X has handwriting recognition built in (the “Ink” system), actually I’ve not found this entirely reliable so far. [For éampe ltd to intSome word Son tbeTABLET] For example, I tried to write some words on the tablet just then, and you can see what happened. There doesn’t seem to be a way for the system to learn handwriting styles either. There is some software called inkBook that looks promising and somewhat more functional than the in-built software in OS X, but I don’t think I need it just yet (here’s a review). Handwriting was never going to be the primary focus of this purchase.

Oh, and it turns out that there are some issues with Ink and 64-bit apps in 10.5.x … I found that iScrobbler started to crash, and it looks like Ink is responsible. Weird.

Sketchcasting / sketchblogging

One of my main interests with the Bamboo was trying out Sketchcasting. Dave Briggs blogged about this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been fascinated since then. My first effort, though, was not the best… it’s way over-long (mainly as I fumbled around to work out how to get the thing to work) and not as well-planned as it might have been. Actually I think the Sketchcast site is somewhat limited… there’s no way of making things private, no friending, few social features at all. So instead, I picked up ArtRage and will try using that and Screenflow to create sketchcasts, and probably share them via my Viddler account, which will at least enable things to be embedded on WordPress.com.

More recently I’ve also noticed that Sacha Chua has been sketchblogging… using her Nintendo DS. Sacha is very creative and this seems like a really cool way of using a DS, although it looks like you need a bunch of homebrew software to make it work. Worth a look if you are interested, though.

[1] and, evidently, the only way I’m going to get a custom header image is to MAKE ONE MYSELF. This comment is aimed at no-one in particular. That is all.