The Real Christmas for Mac Heads

Apple announced a slew of new stuff at MacWorld today

Since I’ve become a mac head once again, I look forward to MacWorld like the first day of Chanukah. When people ask me about buying an Apple product in the closing months of a year, I always tell them to wait until after January, because it is almost guaranteed that the landscape will change after Steve Job’s keynote. Today was no exception. Here is my take on the new Apple stuff and the stuff I was hoping was going to be announced that wasn’t.

For the first time, most of these announcements were leaked. In the past, Apple did an awesome job at holding back the leaks so as not to steal the thunder from Steve. Apple themselves tipped their hand and gave credibility to the leaks by suing the websites that had them. This was a big mistake since beyond giving the leaks credibility, it always pissed off a lot of very loyal mac users.

First off, the new stuff:
As many expected, Apple did release a new flash-based iPod, the iPod Shuffle. It doesn’t have a screen. In the interest of interface simplicity, it just plays its entire contents on shuffle or non-shuffle play. That is pure chuzpah on the part of Apple, and a feat of marketing genius in making its possible defect as its main feature! iPod proved that features didn’t always win the race, user interface alone could make a product super-successful. The Shuffle will put this to the test. Apple is entering a very crowded market and competing on brand and simplicity alone. The thing that I don’t understand is the size; on the website, it sits next to a pack of trident and looks pretty small, but around the necks of the models on their site, it looks feaking huge! Much bigger than many of the competing flash-based MP3 players with a lot more features. From a gambling perspective, the Shuffle was the biggest gamble Apple took today and it will be really interesting to see how it plays out.

As widely reported on various mac user sites, Apple introduced a sub $500 machine called the Mac Mini. It was widely thought that this machine might be Apple’s attempt to invade the den as a media center and it is kind of close, I can definitely see people using it that way. The one big omission was an IR port on the front of the device for a remote control. It is possible that bluetooth will make it not necessary, but only if someone introduces a bluetooth remote soon. Also, there isn’t anything on the page saying that the machine is quiet and the exhaust port on the back implies that it has got some fans in it. If it is loud it won’t be showing up in too many media cabinets just yet. Also, missing was a TV tuner, but a lot of 3rd party options are already available for that. The machine itself is pretty beefy for the price, but I would have liked to see more RAM standard. I don’t know anyone with only 256 MB of RAM in their machines anymore. It is possible that it was the only way to be the $500 mark. Also keeping it as a non Media Center right out of the box is the omission of multi-channel and optical audio out. I think that Apple really meant this as a cheap add-on machine for those who were afraid to abandon their PCs or as an extra machine for those with older Macs. I think a lot of people (myself included) will be looking at this as a possible media machine, but you’ll need to spend another few hundred bucks for a TV tuner and better audio to make that happen. I just priced out a top end system with the 1.42 GHz processor, a Gig of RAM, a superdrive and bluetooth and Airport extreme and it comes in at $1253. That is probably more than most people need, but it is still relatively cheap.

As also widely leaked, Apple announced a new productivity suite named “iWork“. This includes a new version of their presentation app, Keynote and a new word processor called “Pages.” While this isn’t the Office killer a lot of people expected, it definitely will be an answer to the many people who just need a word processor and not the entire office suite.

Now we’re out of the leaked stuff. There were a couple another announcements that definitely got me excited. I hadn’t really thought about that fact that iLife ’04 is now a year old, but it is a new year and Apple has created another major release of the iLife suite, iLife ’05. Since there are several new versions of products in the new iLife, I’ll mention each briefly. iPhoto 5 looks like it is aimed straight at Photoshop Elements with new organizing, sharing and editing options. iMovie HD‘s main new feature is (you guessed it), HD support. This is pretty cool for a low end app. Also it is supporting some of the new flash based MPEG-4 video cameras and it some magic movie feature that will make a movie for you. iDVD 5 adds some very cool new features, HD DVD support, Editable map view, moving drop zones (with editor!) and finally disc image archiving. As a frequent iDVD user, this makes me very happy, but I’d still really like multiple audio streams or 5.1 support and multiple angle support. I guess that is a lot to ask of a low-end DVD tool though. Garage Band 2 further blurs the line between itself and Logic Express by adding multi-track recording and music notation viewing and editing. They have raised the price to $79, but that is still a steal given the depth of the tools that they are selling.

It has been a while since Final Cut Express 2 came out and I’ve been expecting an update. Well, here is Final Cut Express HD, which adds HD support to Final Cut Express. While that is pretty cool, even cooler is that they are now bundling LiveType and Soundtrack with it which used to only be available with Final Cut Pro. The inclusion of these tools makes upgrading a no-brainer.

Now, here is the stuff I was hoping for, but didn’t hear…
A G5 Powerbook! An Apple/Motorola Cell phone! DVD Studio Express!

Overall, I’m pretty excited. I’ll definitely be upgrading my copies of iLife and Final Cut Express and I’ll be working through plans in my head to turn the Mac Mini into a real media machine for my den, even if I can’t really afford it right now.

So thanks Steve and the Apple Gang and Merry MacWorld to everyone!

How to make your podcast sound better

A couple of links for podcasters to look at to help make their podcasts sound better

Part of the lure of podcasts for many people is the immediacy and intimacy that they have. It sounds like you are in someone’s head. However, there is a reason also why most people still listen to the radio, it just sounds better. Dare I say it sounds more “professional”. There are a couple of podcasts that podcasters should check out to make their podcasts sound better.

One was Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code from December 27th, 2004. In this podcast (and the pictures on the site), Adam talks about his setup. Especially which audio plug-ins that he uses. I’ve mentioned something like this in an earlier blog post. Now, he is a professional broadcaster, so he know how to work a microphone, but even he uses a compressor (his mda dynamics plug-in). You probably don’t need a signal path nearly as complicated, but it is worth doing something to make it sound better.

Another podcast was from the NPR show “On The Media.” In their December 31, 2004 show there was a segment by John Solomon about how NPR edits its broadcasts. This is definitely good listening for a podcaster. We really don’t need to hear your coughs, people.

Our government lies to us

The Bush administration has led a propaganda campaign against its own people to a degree not seen since Joseph Goebbels or Soviet Russia

Through intimidation of the press and ever decreasing budgets the fourth estate has been co-opted into question-nothing shills for the Republican party. The news that Armstrong Williams was paid by the administration to promote their policies on news programs shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Especially given the fact that Government Accountability Office has twice charged this administration with using “Covert Propaganda” to promote its policies. The question is if the press will ever get their act together (especially the mainstream television press) to be a voice for the people and not the people in power. It is up to us to demand to be better informed, to support the organizations that give us the truth and to shun those that feed us lies.

spineless democrats in the senate

Barbara Boxer was the only Democrat in the Senate with a spine last week

The Republicans called Barbara Boxer and the Democrats in the house that protested the election results in Ohio the X-Files wing of the Democratic party, and they were able to do that because the rest of the party left them out to dry. Here is to you Barbara Boxer, the only Democrat with a spine! And to the rest of the party, it is time to get some guts and stand up for the rest of us who are getting run over by the right.

Here is Barbara Boxers Statement
Here is CNN’s coverage

This may make me reconsider buying another PC desktop

I thought I’d bought my last PC desktop, but Shuttle just announced a new killer Small Form Factor Machine

Got this from Engadget, Shuttle has announced a new machine which looks like it has some pretty awesome performance in a very small package.

shuttle case

It can support Pentium 4 chips, it has a GHz front-side bus, it has 8 channel audio built in, supports RAID 0/1. It’s made for digital media creation, but in a package small enough that you can bring it to the studio with you if you are camping out there for a week.

I don’t know if I’ll really get it, I’m hoping for a G5 laptop announcement at Macworld, but it definitely makes me think about PCs again.

Is Microsoft trying to rewrite history?

Bill Gates’ CES Keynote webcast has been following a very interesting path…
I didn’t go to CES, but I wanted to see Bill Gates’ keynote. Microsoft was nice enough to host a webcast on their site. Before the event, they even had it set up to put a reminder in your outlook calendar. The time came, I went to the page and nothing. I refreshed over and over waiting for the link to appear and finally gave up 15 minutes after he started. I figured that they would post it later anyway. Looks like I missed some good fun with blue screens of death. Yesterday, I went back to the site hoping to watch it then and was promised that it would be appearing later in the day. Around 7:30 pm, it was promised to be posted shortly, but still nothing. Well today they are now promising to post “highlights.” I wonder which segments will have been edited out :)? It is definitely a lame move by Microsoft. Everyone knows that there were problems, why not cop to it and show how well Bill re-acted under pressure? I guess we’ll never know and I now I’m going to have to track down someone else’s pirate video or something.

Anger To Hope

I’ve had a revelation which is giving me hope in these dark political times

I’ve been on sort of a self imposed news blackout for the last week and a half. I often find myself becoming nostalgic at the end of the year, looking back a bit and also looking forward. This year’s elections really left me with little hope for the immediate future though.

As I’ve been catching up on the lesser known stories about our good ‘ol government that many have missed in the coverage of the devastation in Southeast Asia I had a realization which I’ll talk about below.

First the stories that led to this revelation. I’ve excerpted their first paragraphs so that you can find them on other sites if you don’t want to deal with the NYT registration or when they go into the NYT archive and cost cash to read)

“James C. Dobson, the nation’s most influential evangelical leader, is threatening to put six potentially vulnerable Democratic senators “in the ‘bull’s-eye’ ” if they block conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.” – story by David Fitzpatrick of the New York Times

“To show that President Bush can fulfill his campaign promise to cut the deficit in half by 2009, White House officials are preparing a budget that will assume a significant jump in revenues and omit the cost of major initiatives like overhauling Social Security.” – story by Edmund L Andrews of the New York Times

“House Republicans pushed through a significant change in the handling of ethics complaints over strong Democratic objections Tuesday as the 109th Congress convened with a burst of pomp and partisanship.” – story by Carl Hulse of the New York Times

“Last week, the Bush administration put another spin on the twisted legal reasoning behind the brutalization of prisoners at military jails, apparently in hopes of smoothing the promotion of Alberto Gonzales, the White House counsel. Mr. Gonzales, who oversaw earlier memos condoning what amounts to torture and scoffed at the Geneva Conventions, is being rewarded with the job of attorney general.” – from a New York Times Editorial

“Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, delivering his 19th and most likely his last year-end report on the federal judiciary, returned on Friday to one of his longtime themes: a need to safeguard the independence of federal judges from intrusive Congressional oversight.” – From an article by Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times

Those were the stories that made something readily apparent: The Republican majority’s hubris will be their downfall in the 2006 mid-term elections. Their majority (if there really was one in this election) was slight. Very slight. The people who voted against them aren’t going to change their minds and support them given the kind of crap that they are pulling now. Given that by becoming even more partisan and right-wing they won’t add to their majority that really only gives them one direction to go. The best that they could hope for was to maintain the slim majority that they have now, but the odds are pretty low as they try and railroad a right-right-wing agenda down America’s throats.

So now I have hope. The more that Tom DeLay and the Rapture Right try to force their agenda through the congress by threatening democrats and the judiciary the more they will alienate their own constituents. They have already made it clear that they do not intend to work across party lines which will lead to an increasingly contentious congress and it will be their own fault.

Here’s to a Democrat controlled congress in 2006!

more on this fake Chistmas controversy

Liberals like Christmas too, at least most of us

The problem isn’t that people celebrate Christmas, actually, most liberals do to. What many people, including me, object to is that Christians demand that Christmas be celebrated and that all other holidays are excluded. It isn’t that liberals hate Christmas, its that Christians hate Chanukah and Kwanza and Eastern Orthodox Christmas and basically anything that they don’t celebrate. You wanna sing Christmas songs in school, excellent. Whoop de doo, just please don’t force the non-Christian children to sing about how great Christ was. There are about a zillion non-religious Christmas songs. How about singing them instead? How about tossing in “Dredyl, Dredyl, Dredyl” while you are at and maybe just some nice winter songs? What scares me is that the Christian right isn’t just demanding that they be allowed to celebrate their holiday in a government sponsored setting against all measures of Church/State issues that our country was founded upon. It is that the right considers anything that isn’t Christian to be evil and demands that their children aren’t exposed to it. Remember that flap about the southern university giving the Koran as reading in their comparative religion class?

This country was founded upon the belief that all people should be allowed to worship as they please without government intervention or backlash. You wanna dance with snakes or play loud gospel music in your church, go for it. More power to you. Just don’t force me to do it if I don’t want to. It is in the freaking bible: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Right now, the religious right is doing a lot unto me that I don’t think they’d be happy me doing onto them.

The right war on the left and the ACLU

Flush with a stolen victory and a deeply divided America, the right has declared war on the left and specifically on the ACLU and non-Christians
I’m not sure if the right is feeling galvanized and emboldened after the election, or if they are trying shore up support because they are feeling vulnerable. My guess is the former. It seems that Christian Conservatives are using the Christmas season to wage a war on non-Christian liberals and the ACLU. Why they are choosing to go after the ACLU is beyond me since they have defended Christians right to their religion pretty often too.

This attack is too coordinated for it to be coming from a single high ranking member of the religious right. Time and time again, the White House has pushed the more extreme planks of its agenda using Christian Conservative mouthpieces and an emasculated press which does no reporting of its own. Press releases are being issued by churches and Christians claiming that the ACLU is threatening to sue them over all sorts of nonsense things. A teacher in San Francisco tried to teach his social studies class that America is a Christian nation and they Christianity is the one true religion. The result, he was fired. He is suing the school claiming that he was just teaching the constitution. Of course he issued a press release that he was fired by a “liberal” school board because he was religious. The right-wing-nut talk show hosts picked up on it and now they are spinning it. There are about a million stories like this floating around this year.

I think that the rest of us can’t let this go by, it is unfortunate that there isn’t some sort of coordination across liberal groups, it makes it very difficult for concerted action, which is exactly how the right continually trashes us. Maybe it is time for us to get more organized to counter this liberal-bashing. Maybe it is time for us to start bashing the right more publicly. Maybe it is time for a showdown.

Randi Rhodes has been covering this in excellent detail on her show for the last couple weeks.

Here’s some examples I’ve found in disperate parts of the web, but with eeriely similar ideas and wording.
A Letter to the editor of the Southern Illinois University student paper
A poll conducted by a Conservative media watchdog group (lots more creepily evil articles here)
Some complete asshole’s blog
Another sheep brainwashed by right wing blog
A bunch of idiots protest the ACLU for something that hasn’t happened
Another moron’s blog (this site gives me some kind of Timothy McVeigh vibe, I’m not sure why)
A scary, 38 year old single man defends family values and attacks liberals for hating christmas

Now, how can YOU help?
Join the ACLU if you aren’t a member! If you hear someone on a radio show or around you attacking the ACLU or liberals, point them to the website and challenge them to find evidence of any of the right wing’s claims that the ACLU hates Christmas. Show them all the many times that ACLU has defended people’s ability to worship as they please (including Christians). Most importantly, make sure your voice is heard! The right and religious zealots rely on the fact that they can drown us out, show them that they are wrong!

First they came for the socialists,
and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

–Pastor Martin Niemoller, Nazi Germany, circa 1945.