Archive for September, 2006

iTunes 7 might delete your Files! Silently!

iTunes 7 IconPlease be careful – iTunes 7.0 might delete files and folders in your music folder, even if you have switched off automatic management! This turns out to be really nasty if you have set the music folder to something like E: or C: !! As I did on my PC. Au revoir, my precious downloads … 😦

Want to see a demo? I have recorded a Youtube.com video of iTunes in Action (deleting files).

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Thunderbird just stole me 30 Minutes

Thunderbird IconI used to advertise Mozilla Thunderbird to friends as a great free E-mail client with excellent IMAP support. Not anymore (I switched to Apple Mail). This is due to some stupid UI flaws in Thunderbird that just make me shake my head. Today, I focus on my fight against Thunderbird to recognize the changed password of my IMAP account. I expected a dialog box with a prompt for the new password. But far from it!

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Counting UTF-16 Characters in Java 5

If you take I18N serious, then you should take a look at Sun’s latest “Core Java Technologies Technical Tips” covering Strings if you think the following code sample is always the correct way to count the length of a string:

private String testString = "abcd\\u5B66\\uD800\\uDF30";
int charCount = testString.length();

Java 5 introduces support for Unicode 4.0, which defines a significant number of new characters above U+FFFF (the U+ prefix signifies a valid Unicode character value as a hexadecimal number.). Thus, the 16-bit char type does no longer represent all characters!

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Apple officially acknowledges Macbook Random Shutdowns

Apple surely felt the heat when the Macbook community (again!) raged on the “Macbook RSS”, the Random Shutdown Syndrome. (See also my formely posted blog entry about a possible cause of RSS.) As with the recent Walk of Shame case, Apple came to its senses and has now published an official statement: Knowledge Base article 304308 says:

“If your MacBook is shutting down intermittently, please contact AppleCare for service.”

Apple SupportApple has acknowledged the RSS as a hardware related defect, meaning that repair is covered by your guaranty. (Hopefully, you haven’t void it by opening your Macbook!). And as other sources as well as comments to the former blog article indicate, Apple is specifically replacing the heatsink in Macbooks suffering from the RSS. Good news, then, finally.

Update Sep, 19: MacBidouille has a story (in French) about Apple now providing specific instructions to Apple Authorized Service Providers on how to resolve the RSS. Apple also delivers a revised motherboard and a new heatsink for the repair.

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iStocks Dashboard Widget: International Stock Quotes

Tracking stocks can be fun on the Mac, thanks to the Dashboard. However, my home stock market is Germany and Apple’s Stocks dashboard widget, which comes with Mac OS X 10.4, only displays quotes and charts of US stocks. (Actually it’s a limitation of Apple’s quote server and not of the code.) There are 2200 registered widgets available currently, with some dozens of them related to international stock markets. It’s sad, but none of these widgets were as nice or useful for me as Apple’s.

iStocks MiniSo, with a little time to spare today, I’ve completed a small hack which I had on my Todo list for quite a long time. iStocks Widget is a modification (aka patch or clone) of the original Stocks widget which pulls its stock information from the international Yahoo quotes servers. So basically, you can track any stock as long as there’s a corresponding Yahoo symbol. The symbols usually carry information about the stock exchange location, like “SIE.DE” is Siemens, XETRA, Germany.

I’ve put the release at 0.1, since I’m not quite sure if the Yahoo URLs are stable. I’ve tested it against some random stocks (which all worked fine). BTW, you will notice that the intraday and weekly charts are images from Yahoo (they are not rendered via Quartz as the rest). The problem here is that 15-minute and hourly quotes are not available yet for international stocks. I think Yahoo is about to provide them when its new Yahoo Finance Charts will be announced officially.

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Drag your Drawers with Afloat

Drag your Drawers with AfloatAfloat is a Cocoa plug-in that allows your windows to float above all others (thus the name), make them transparent, and move them without having to go search for the title bar. This last feature is what I use the most. And I was quite amazed when I realized that I can detach and move the drawers of Cocoa windows as well. Watch the screencast for an illustration. That’s quite a useful thing since I can place them now like regular tool palettes.

When checking out Afloat, make sure you fully utilize its key/mouse bindings. While pressing Cmd-Ctrl use the mouse wheel to increase/decrease transparency, or move the mouse to drag the window.

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Producing Screencastings on the Mac. The cheap Way.

After having read the great article “A Review of Video Screen Capture Software for Mac OS X”, I have finally selected iShowU as my tool of choice for recording my screencastings under Mac OS X. (I tried Snapz Pro X, but it’s not a Universal binary…)

iShowU is a nice tool with a focus strictly on recording. But what about enhancing the movie? Well, of course there are add-ons like OmniDazzle, Mouseposé and others that you can use during recording. These effects really show off. But I mean something for a quick post-editing, like voice-over and text boxes or bubbles.

Enhancing Screencasting It turned out that all tools I was longing for were already installed on my Mac, but I just haven’t been aware. First of all, GarageBand is great for adding voice-over, sound effects and background music. Put each of them into a separate track, adjust volumes, add effects (I like my voice a little deeper…). A perfect, very capable tool, easy too use. 100% Mac-like. And then Quicktime, well, the Pro edition. It has some features that make it a perfect match: text tracks and image tracks with a multitude of options, like transparency, effects and positions. The multi-track editor of Quicktime Pro is not so intuitive, but quite capable. It supports export to mp4, which produces perfect and small movies. For more fancy formats, like Flash (FLV), ffmpegX is the free tool of choice. See the posting “Flash Movie Conversion for Mac OS X” and “How to encode FLV” for an elaborate discussion.

I’ve uploaded my first Screencast to Youtube.com. It shows Quicktime Pro and how to enhance a screencast by adding text tracks and nice speech bubbles (really image tracks with a bubble exported from OmniGraffle; again, shipped with your Mac).

Quicktime Alternatives?

The alternatives to Quicktime Pro would be iMovie HD and Final Cut. Well, iMovie HD is targeted for editing DV material; one show stopper for me was the lack of support for custom dimensions, like 200 x 100. This is also true for Final Cut Express. The next issue with iMovie HD was the inferior export quality. As a result, this leaves only Final Cut Pro as a valid alternative, but it’s way too expensive for me.

Optimal Settings for Exporting Quicktime to Youtube.com

Quicktime Export to YoutubeWhen publishing videos from Quicktime (i.e. .mov files) to Youtube.com, I had to tune the export settings. I’ve taken screenshots of the optimal settings (Photo set on Flickr.com). Without these, my uploaded videos always had some nasty artefacts caused by Youtube’s automatic conversion. (BTW, Youtube can digest a lot of video formats; it always converts them to mp4, NTSC/4, 320×240, 15fps with audio as MP3 at 22050 kHz. The video format is FLV.) But why export at all, and not just upload the .mov file? My .mov files had seperate tracks, which is fine usually, but Youtube only recognizes some of them; specifically it drops text and image tracks, and also video/sound tracks that are positioned at a specific starting time. I can collapse all tracks to just one audio and one video track by exporting to, for example, MP4.

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