Monthly Archives: June, 2007

iChat and USB cameras

Apple’s iChat AV allows you to make video calls. I often have problems because I’m usually behind firewalls but when it works, it’s very good. And most Apple machines have built-in cameras which make it a low-hassle process.

For those who have Macs without a camera, however, there’s more of a problem, because Apple’s (excellent if pricey) Firewire iSight camera was discontinued a little while ago, and iChat didn’t support anything other than Firewire inputs. So what do you do if you have a Mac Mini? Or an older Mac without a camera? It’s hard to find Firewire cameras these days, and using a camcorder is a bit messy.

Well, the good news is that, as of the 10.4.9 Mac OS X update, USB cameras are supported, at least if they’re recent ones and conform to the standard USB 2.0 video protocols. The Xbox Live Vision Camera is confirmed to work, and I’ve just ordered a used one from eBay to try out.

(Other USB cams have been and are supported if you install third-party drivers, but drivers are not normally something that Mac users have to bother with, so we get out of the habit and view them with slight suspicion…)


The NYT’s David Pogue has done a fabulous little video about the process of reviewing the iPhone. Very nice!

Many thanks to John for the link.

Social… umm… well, Networking, actually

At CamViNe, our CODA system lets us put ‘albums’ of visual information onto an arbitrary number of ethernet-connected screens – we have several around the office.

We often use this for simple photo slideshows, but increasingly we want to display dynamically-generated information sourced from the web, so we created the CODA Markup Language (CML) which is easy to generate and produces beautiful antialised output for whatever information is currently of interest:

Time until smoke-free

One thing the system can do is take RSS feeds and convert them to CML, so we have an ‘album’ of our favourite blogs and newspaper headlines on one of our displays. But in the last week or so everybody’s been talking about Facebook, so I signed one of my screens up to the status feed of my Facebook friends. Ta-da! An instant way to keep in touch with what my pals are up to.

Facebook screen

This is fun stuff. Perhaps it’s the modern equivalent of having a pinboard with holiday postcards and change-of-address cards stuck to it…

Phone home

On Friday afternoon in the US, the iPhone will be launched, and one thing I’ve been wondering is how they’re going to handle the paperwork for the thousands of people who will be queueing up for a new AT&T contract – the first obligatory accessory to the device.

Well, of course, it turns out that Apple won’t require anything so last-decade as a signature on a piece of paper. From Steven Levy’s review:

Instead of going through the usual complicated contract signing and credit-vetting ceremony with a fast-talking and slow-processing salesperson, Apple has come up with a startling idea: you simply buy the thing and go home. Then you open up the snugly fit black box – the design blitz at Apple begins with the packaging – and take out the handset.

Setup is a snap. As with the iPod, the device is a satellite of Apple’s free iTunes software. Plug the iPhone into a computer with your iTunes library (Mac or Windows) and the automatic sync function not only carries over your songs, videos and movies on iTunes library, but also photos, your contacts and calendar items. It also copies your e-mail address book and information onto your phone. This is one of the few phones that easily imports your information from your PC; because this is usually such a painful process, the vast majority of people with mobile phones never get around to moving over all their contact and calendar items. Signing up for phone service is easily handled in a straightforward process through the iTunes store.

The features of the iPhone have been discussed elsewhere in a phenomenal number of column inches and podcast minutes. As Leo Laporte says, this is perhaps, with the possible exception of the PS3, the most eagerly-anticipated consumer electronics device ever launched. But Levy points out that it may also have a huge impact even for those who don’t splash out on this Mercedes of mobile devices:

In a sense, the iPhone has already made its mark. Even those who never buy one will benefit from its advances, as competitors have already taken Apple’s achievements as a wake-up call to improve their own products.

And about time too.

From our own correspondent…

My friend Pete Naughton is in Buenos Aires. There’s a lovely snapshot of life there in his blog today.

Shopping for the sake of shopping

Got 100 quid in your pocket and just have to buy something with it – doesn’t matter too much what it is – for the sake of the ‘retail therapy’?

I guess there are such sad people in the world, and they may be grateful for Burning A Hole.

Cash me if you can

40 years ago, the world’s first ATM was installed in Enfield, London. John Shepherd-Barron, its inventor, tells the story to the BBC.

Adder good idea?

Many thanks to Frazer for the link to this rather sweet binary adding machine:

Mac Video-handling Essentials

Final CutConverting video between different formats can be a challenging experience, particularly since it’s also rather time-consuming. You may have to wait hours to find out that what you were trying didn’t really work, and you have to start again.

Of course, there are lots of expensive high-end software packages which can do marvellous things, but there are also many utilities which can make the job easier at little or no expense.

These are some of the favourites in my toolkit, some of which will also work on non-Mac platforms:

  • Perian is a free QuickTime component which will allow you to play a variety of formats in anything that uses the QuickTime engine, including, of course, the QuickTime player, but also including FrontRow. I often download things from BitTorrent for viewing on a Mac Mini connected to my TV, and this is invaluable.
  • VLC (not to be confused with VNC!) The media player from the VideoLAN project will play almost any format out there, and is the thing I immediately turn to if QuickTime is defeated. But it has a lesser-known feature: it can also do conversions, and write the converted video to disc instead of playing it on the screen.
  • Handbrake rips DVDs to MPEG4s. Simple and efficient.
  • VisualHub brings together a bunch of conversion libraries into one, nice, simple package. Select the format you want and drop the files onto the window. The default settings are generally pretty good. You can get this functionality elsewhere for free, but the ease of use is well worth the $23.
  • CocoaJT is really designed as a viewer for streamed media from around the world, but I’ve never really used it for that. For me, the important feature is that it can also record those streams to disk. If you know the URL of a stream and want a local copy, this is the app for you.
  • Flash Video (FLV) is becoming the dominant format on the web. ‘Tis true, ’tis pity, and pity ’tis, ’tis true. One way to get those YouTube videos into another format, for example to play on a phone or iPod, is to use the online conversion service
  • JW FLV player. If you need to embed a Flash movie in your page but want more control than you get from things like YouTube and Google Video, you can do it yourself. Create an FLV file using VisualHub and then get hold of Jeroen Wijering’s Flash applet, which you can embed in your page and point at your FLV file. Free for personal use and very cheap for commercial.

I used a combination of the above, for example, to make my recent talks ‘Changing the Face of the PC‘ and ‘The Paper Renaissance‘ available here when they were previously only available in a streamed, Windows-only format elsewhere.

I hope others find the list useful!

Facing the book

OK, so despite telling a friend yesterday that I was trying to cut down on ‘social networks’, I’ve been persuaded that Facebook is now a socially acceptable forum even for people over 20. So here’s my shiny new profile.

As with LinkedIn, though, I’m going to restrict my list of contacts to people I’ve actually met. Or at least spoken to on the phone…

Let’s see how it goes.

Set in our ways

Why do you do what you do?

I like this story, which I’ve seen attributed to David Byrne:

A woman is asked why she cuts the ends off a ham before baking it.

She explains that her mom always did so.

Her mom explains that she learned it from grandma.

And grandma says, “Silly, my pan was too short for the entire ham.”

Cross-cultural caffeine

I have a confession to make. When I visited the Forbidden City in Beijing last month, I went to a little café there.

Starbucks Forbidden City

Found while emptying out my wallet.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser