Alpha Geeks and Gadget Phreaks

Bringing Back the Goods From MacWorld
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At least once a year, I subject myself to the rigors of the tradeshow circuit, just to test whether I still have the wherewithal toemerge unscathed. This month, “Bitstream” digs through thestuff that piled up on my desk 'round trade show time.

But let's start with some tidbits that are not specifically fromTrade Show Land. I enjoy talking face to face with customers whenpossible, but airfares being what they are, the budget usuallyprohibits that. Something simple has come along to aid incommuniqué, however, and that something is Apple's iChat A/V. Withan ADSL connection and FireWire camera, face time is no longer costly,and because file transfers are also part of the package, I can get awhole lot taken care of in short order. Plus, it's fun! Now with thehelp of Pixion's PictureTalk, even Win users can join in. Though notanywhere near the cost of iChat (free being a good thing), PictureTalkbrings welcome interoperability to the Web conferencing party.

Another product came to my attention while working on a white paperfor a client. This one is essential for anyone interested in insurance— business insurance, that is. The TOLIS Group, already havingshipped the first enterprise-class backup solution for OS X, is nowproviding a GUI-driven version of its BRU (Backup/Restore Utility)technology. BRU for Mac OS X joins the rest of the family, whichalready provides comprehensive Unix/Linux support. This company hasbeen doing Unix backup for 18 years and Linux since it was born (itprovided the first end-user application for Linux), so I feel morecomfortable with its solution than what's been offered so far. It's notjust the group's reputation, but also the philosophy of engineering“to ensure that the data can come back” after a failure, asBob Christ, executive VP at the TOLIS Group, puts it. Backups are good,but if you can't restore, why bother?

ON TO THE TRADE SHOWS

You may not have noticed, but as Apple goes, so goes the rest ofcomputing for us media mechs. First, it was bitmapped graphics, thenSCSI, then 32-bit computing, then media wrappers (think QuickTime),then FireWire, then cutting-edge hardware designs (think iMac), then802.11 and now 64-bit in your studio. So to keep an eye on Big Steve'sreality-distortion field, I headed over to the Moscone ConventionCenter (San Francisco) for yet another MacWorld, held January 6-9,2004.

Though announced at NAMM, M-Audio's (www.m-audio.com)FireWire Audiophile and FireWire 18/14 interfaces are out in the marketnow. I had a FireWire 410, but M-Audio swapped it for a FireWireAudiophile. For the price, everything about this unit is well-done.It's built around AKM's AK4628 192/24 bidirectional converter andBridgeCo AG's ENA, or Entertainment Network Adapter. The ENA provideslow-latency signal transport and data format conversion over, in thiscase, a FireWire 400 interface. With a front panel ¼-inch TRSheadphone jack, 2-in/4-out unbalanced analog spigots, and MIDI and asingle AES Type-II unbalanced I/O, all you need is an inexpensive micpre to get on with your work.

For those closet collectors out there, Intelli Innovations(www.intellisw.com) sells a great product calledIntelliScanner Collector. Collector makes a pack rat's job a good biteasier by leveraging both the UPC bar codes on most commercial productsand the huge databases of metadata on the Web. When you scan the UPC ona CD, book or DVD with the included USB-attached handheld reader,Collector interrogates Web databases such as Amazon's and thenauto-magically populates a database record representing that item. Italso has a manual entry mode with bar code generation and is amust-have for any media junkie. Because Intelli also makes companionbar code products, IntelliScanner Collector looks to be an easy way tokeep track of all the media that usually floats around a facility.

What's a computer trade show without storage products? Not much,actually. ATTO (www.attotech.com) was showing iSCSI HBAs, currentlywith Win-only support. Now that the standard's been ratified, hopefullyCupertino will get on the stick with iSCSI support as well. Also instorage news, ACard (www.acard.com/english) has a new 4-channel SATARAID HBA. (Whoa, how's that for a gaggle of acronyms!) In the Easier toUnderstand category, LaCie (www.lacie.com) showed its Bigger Drive, a trulygargantuan 1TB drive in a 5.25-inch full-height enclosure. That'senough room for more than 10 hours of 8-channel, single-speed DSD— my, oh my. All of its new drives have a triple interface, withFireWire 400 and 800 for the pros, and USB 2.0 for the lessdemanding.

Adding to the Bigger Drive and BRU, Exabyte (www.exabyte.com)showed a FireWire 800 VXA library, its new VXA-2 PacketLoader1×10, a 1U, 10-tape version of what was a 2U product. It giveswell over a week's worth of peace of mind in less space.

I've mentioned InfiniBand in the past, and now that the world'sthird fastest supercomputer is Virginia Tech's G5 cluster, the promiseof InfiniBand is starting to reach down into the grasp of mere mortals.Look for neatly packaged solutions for even the toughest CPU-to-CPUconnection problems in 2005.

The Rogue Amoeba (www.rougeamoeba.com) kids were singing the praisesof the newest addition to their stable of audio utilities: Nicecast,the “easiest way to broadcast music from OS X” over theNet. This joins the other Rogue Amoeba audio products that controlrouting and recording of audio anywhere in your Mac.

The sound-isolation stalwarts from Noren (www.norenproducts.com) were proudly showing theirnewest AcoustiLock enclosures. Noren keeps the world quiet, cool anddust-free to boot! Speaking of isolation, CRYPTOCard (www.cryptocard.com) showed what the company claimsis the first spook-strength authentication solution for OS X. Itincludes hardware authentication and is a perfect complement toPanther's new Fast User-Switching feature.

By now, you've all heard about Apple's GarageBand. What can I sayabout it except I wish I had it when I was in high school! While we'reon the subject of consumer software, I must mention good ol' AladdinSystems (www.alladinsys.com) because it's selling a bundleaimed at that same 13-year-old who buys GarageBand and grows up to beeither a guitarist (if she's good), an audio engineer (if he'smiddling) or a lawyer if they can't figure out what else to do withthemselves. They call the bundle The Big Mix and it's got Rogue A'sAudio Hijack and a bunch of other compositional tools and utilities,all at a very nice price.

That's all I have for this month. Next time, be on the lookout forthe straight poop on lossless codecs with a side order of more audiostuff that I'm evaluating. Part Deux of the Pedants In a Box techglossary is also on the horizon, so, until such time, rock on!

This column was written while under the influence ofAudible.com's offering of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and TokyoDome City, a bit of Vegas in the heart of modern Edo.