I WANT MY VCD!!! [DVD players are no longer standard on Macs (this year)… now what?]

First there was the CD-ROM. It was fast, and it was large, and it was without limitation. But then came the DVD-ROM revolution (or so the recording industry would have us believe); rendering the lowly CD-ROM now ‘puny’ and the video on them ‘low res’. If you look at the shelves at your local retailer, the space that once held VHS cassette tapes is slowly being overrun by oversize don’t-steal-this-DVD boxes. Ask anyone on the street what a DVD is and they may not be able to tell you what the three letters stand for (we’re not telling, either); but most know that it means digital video on a disc that looks deceptively similar to its ancestor, the CD-ROM.

Other things they may not be able to differentiate are the increased capacity, decoding mechanisms necessary for MPEG-2, and conventions for menus and multiple audio tracks.

While these things are a boon to an entertainment industry that has become tiresome and over-hyped, not every home has a DVD player yet. It’s not the cost — decent hardware can be had for under $200. Perhaps many consumers are thinking, “Do I really need another device in my entertainment center?”

When Apple decided to include DVD players in their iMac systems in the last couple of years, industry pundits complained that the choice should have been CD-RW drives instead. But the Apple camp stuck to their guns, and now there are thousands of DVD-loving Mac users out there (many of whom bought external CD-RW drives as well).

Ring in the year 2001. Steve Jobs admitted to stockholders that sales figures and customer feedback begged a shift away from the default DVD. But what about all those Mac users who have finally become ready for the idea of watching movies on our desktops and PowerBooks?

Enter VCD (Video Compact Disk). Imagine a regular, run-of-the-mill CD-ROM with a movie encoded with the MPEG-1 standard, that can be read in any computer — and that can also be played on most consumer DVD players. Although it usually takes two disks to hold an entire movie, the playback quality is not much worse than a VHS tape. Windows users can use Media Player; Macs do well with QuickTime – and there are more shareware and freeware players (with VCR-like console controls) available for these and other platforms.

Why don’t you see VCDs at Best Buy and Circuit City? The publishers that own the movies we see (MGM, Columbia House, Disney, etc.) want DVD to succeed; the format has built-in copy protection, can be sold to specific regional markets, and drives sales of consumer electronics (if you have a DVD player, you may be more likely to purchase movies than you would be if you had only a lowly VCR). But the promotion of DVD disks in the United States doesn’t mean that you can’t get VCDs here. There are several vendors worth checking out that import these disks at such a low cost that it would be foolish not to check them out.

Another advantage of the VCD format is that finding software capable of editing your purchases is effectively impossible with DVDs. But I plan to order Star Wars Episode I (“The Phantom Menace”) on VCD, and take the time to edit out all the appearances of Jar Jar Binks. Then I’ll burn it back to a new disk and toss the original. Granted, I won’t be able to sell or trade the result legally, but at least I won’t have to put up with that blithering idiot anymore.

Dan Oblak

Video CD, or VCD, is a digital movie format. It’s basically a primitive version of DVD. A Video CD is a kind of CD. It looks the same as a music CD or a CD-ROM, except that instead of music or software, it holds movies, using compressed MPEG-1 video. Its resolution is 352×240 (NTSC) or 352×288 (PAL), which is roughly comparable to VHS.

A single VCD disc can only hold about 74 minutes of video, so for a typical movie, you need two discs. You can play VCDs back on a Video CD player connected to a TV, or on a fast PC with a CD-ROM drive. Some DVD players can also play VCDs.

Philips and Sony introduced video CD in 1993. It never caught on in North America, but it became hugely popular in Asia, where most households didn’t already have VCRs. In Asia, Video CD players are roughly as common as VCRs in North America: China alone manufactures 2 million VCD players a year.

You can go straight to Dell! [Michael Dell throws a tantrum by discounting Apple to media…]

“If you look at proprietary computer companies, whether it’s Digital or Silicon Graphics or Apple I think the fates are all relatively similar. We know how the movie ends. It’s just a question of what happens in the middle. Apple has a very little customer base. If you look at the economics, it has been extremely hard for Apple to get a return on its R&D with a shrinking volume base. It’s not to say that Apple’s products aren’t innovative or cool, but the economic factors here are so overwhelming, it’s very hard for them to swim against that tide.” -Michael Dell

(Uh, thanks for the insight, Mike… what’s your excuse for Dell doing just as ‘poorly’?

P.S.: What’s it like to be Uncle Bill’s lackey?)

Where the heck are my Apple logo stickers?

Many who have been staunch proponents of the MacOS for years are accustomed to many simple pleasures; one of which has been the handful of Apple logo stickers shuffled in with the user manual, CD-ROMs, registration card, and other assorted goodies (the ever-popular AOL disk?).

More recently, we have received a non-adhesive version that stays put by static cling. Apple hardware comes with the white, adhesive variety (the new OS X package doesn’t include the any decals at all).

Here’s hoping that some kind soul at Apple will recognize good free advertising when it sees it and begin to provide white static-cling Apple decals in the first boxed update/revision of X.

Anyone who scans the parking lot where I work will see more than a dozen six-color Apple logos in rear windows, and perhaps three of the white variety. The static-cling type wins hands-down; maybe they disappeared because of Apple’s move away from the six-color logo. Anybody listening?

Dan Oblak

No, Really, Why Mac? [An open letter to Apple, Steve Jobs, and the Marketing Department]

I know this may not play well into the ‘MS is our closest friend’ mantra, but…

What ever happened to the “75 Macintosh Advantages” document? I first saw it at a MacWorld as “50…” but both documents were a fantastic side-by-side comparison of common tasks on ours and the ‘other’ platform. I have a PDF of the “75…” version and have shared it with friends over the last few years as they have jumped back-and-forth between Windows and the MacOS (it also served as a nice introduction for platform-crossing users – going either direction).

I even used an old Apple ‘advice’ email address years ago and suggested that the TV ads be used to show a different ‘advantage’ (straight from the book) each week; 52 weeks out of the year – and the ones that play better for TV could be run more than once.

Anyway, a quick review of it today proves it to be grossly out-of-date (it was designed to compare against Win95, not 98/NT/2000/ME, and includes old news such as ADB, SCSI, etc.).

I stopped seeing it published on Apple web pages about the same time MS invested their paltry $150M (and more importantly, committed to providing Office for the next five years). Was part of the agreement that Apple would never again tout the design differences between us and Windows?

At recent Demo Days (I’ve had the opportunity to participate in every one since XMas ’95), I have pointed out the differences between a ‘Shortcut’ (Windows) and an ‘Alias’ (MacOS) to the “Ooooh!”s and “Aaaah!”s of inquisitive crowds including both prospective customers and WinBigot sales people. I run installers and show how files get added (not altered) in the MacOS. I then show the salespeople (we don’t do this in front of the customers, because we guests in these stores, and cannot do anything to harm Windows sales while on the floor) the number of files that are edited, replaced, and moved without the users’ knowledge… making complete application removal a joke. Then we walk back over to the Mac to show them the Extensions Manager and I sort by ‘Package’…

Well you get the picture. This is untrodden territory. None of these guys have even heard of the Extensions Manager, nor do they know why there are no .ini files. It seems all we’ve been able to accomplish over the last five years is to beat down (but not eradicate) the myth that there is no software available on the MacOS. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE ADVANTAGES OF THE MAC.

Now, with OS X, we have a grand new opportunity to use what we’ve learned from this lesson in the trenches. Since you’ll want to spend extra effort ‘preaching to the choir’ to move the MacOS masses to X, why not extend that education to the Wintel crowd that still believes that all PCs are by nature held together with Band-Aids and baling wire?

Or, we could stick with the old soft-shoe and say that it’s just ‘prettier’. Or ‘cooler’. Or more stable. Just don’t call MS’s bluff and clue customers in that it’s a miracle that anything with a Windows machine’s poor design can even run at all.

Your choice.

Dan Oblak

Kensington [Finally] Feels My Pain [The Big Ball is Back!]

Well, I have to say, the transition from ADB to USB has been much more graceful (on both sides of the platform war) than any of the industry pundits could have predicted. Sure, there have been bumps along the way (we’re not out of the woods yet); but generally speaking, few have suffered mortally for the change.

Unless you were as emotionally attached to a device as I was to my Kensington Turbo Mouse.

Although the manufacturer was quick to get a USB version of their popular Orbit mouse (another trackball, but with a smaller ‘orb’, placed up by your fingertips instead of under the ball of your hand) onto store shelves, those of us who had long since become dependent on the satisfying heft of the billiard-size Turbo’s ball were left to dangle without a rodent.

Until now.

From the manufacturer’s own product data sheet (PDF file requires Adobe Acrobat Reader): “Kensington, the recognized leader in Macintosh input devices, has made three of the most popular Mac productsÑthe Turbo Mouse trackball, the Orbit trackball, and the Mouse-in-a-Box mouse – compatible with both USB and ADB Macs. Regardless of the type of port your Mac has, Kensington has engineered these input devices to connect with it. Another Mac first from Kensington – leading the way in quality and innovation.” (http://www.kensington.com/products/pro_mic_d1328.html)

Dan Oblak

What’s Wrong With Your Email Program?

There’s a nifty article posted by (Rueters) about how it seems everyone’s language and communication skills have taken a vacation when writing email. I am even finding this to be the case on the web, as well… but for some reason, a poorly-written web page seems more humorous than harmful to me than the characteristicly inconsiderate and careless verbage too often found in my inbox. Perhaps it’s because I am forced to read the email; and a badly-written web site will simply illicit a mental note not to return for a second dose.

Regardless, this article has prompted the following list of my EMAIL PET PEEVES, which I feel compelled to share with the world…


  2. Spelling, grammar, and clarity are NOT less important in email than in other forms of communication; yet many of the notes I receive look like they were pecked out by drunken pigeons. If your email program doesn’t have spell-check capabilities, switch to one that does.
  3. Perhaps there is a familiar tone that most users assume in email that is fine between one or two coworkers, but not necessarily appropriate when forwarded half a dozen times around the office. Assume that whatever you write will eventually be read and/or quoted (or mis-quoted) to several others you didn’t intend to publish your views to, and pull in the reins accordingly.
  4. There is no chain letter, even if it doesn’t specifically ask for money, that does not cost somebody something (time wasted, server bandwidth, etc.). Hence, all chain letters are illegal. If you are unsure whether to agree, simply re-read the previous two sentences until you do.
  5. Bill Gates, Walt Disney Jr., and Jessica Mydek are all figments of your imagination, and are not going to send you money, tickets, or be cured of cancer no matter how many friends you forward that email hoax to.
  6. ‘If you can’t communicate clearly, you aren’t communicating at all.’ If you don’t spend an extra few seconds reviewing an email before it hits the wire, it may take the recipient that much longer to understand what you are trying to say. Think of how rude it would be to try to hold a conversation over lunch with a coworker while holding your tongue with one hand – ridiculous, right?

Dan Oblak

Hi-tech Ideologies

Jesus and Satan were having an ongoing argument about who was better on his computer. They had been going at it for days, and God was tired of hearing all of the bickering. Finally God said, “Cool it. I am going to set up a test that will run two hours and I will judge who does the better job.”

So down Satan and Jesus sat at the keyboards and typed away. They moused. They did spreadsheets. They wrote reports. They sent faxes. They sent e-mail. They sent out e-mail with attachments. They downloaded. They did some genealogy reports. They made cards. They did every known job.

But ten minutes before their time was up, lightning suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, the rain poured and, of course, the electricity went off. Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld. Jesus just sighed. The electricity finally flickered back on, and each of them restarted their computers.

Satan started searching frantically, screaming “It’s gone! It’s all gone! I lost everything when the power went out!”

Meanwhile, Jesus quietly started printing out all of his files from the past two hours. Satan observed this and became irate. “Wait! He cheated, how did he do it?”

God shrugged and said, “Jesus saves.”

Top 12 Reasons for AirPort

  1. Easier than acting like a human dust mop above your rafters to string ethernet cable.

  2. Renters can’t (shouldn’t?) tear up the walls of their home/apartment.
  3. When you move, did you honestly plan on pulling out all the cabling & connectors that you invested in? NO – you’re going to buy all-new stuff for the new place, because it’s too much trouble!
  4. Nothing beats the ‘cool’ factor of surfing the web from the couch with your laptop and a TV dinner.
  5. Your VCR has a remote control; why shouldn’t the whole internet?
  6. Cabling is ugly!
  7. Since you’re going to buy a DHCP router anyway, it may as well be wireless!
  8. When friends visit, should you have to worry about where you stowed that crossover cable?
  9. When your PC friends visit, you can remind them that Apple’s Airport cost only $99!
  10. If your next-door neighbor has it configured improperly, you might get free broadband!
  11. Three words: Wireless Pod Racer!
  12. Many airports (the kind that people use to get to far-off places like Newark) are installing 802.11b connectivity in their terminals for travellers; can libraries, local governments, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, and Saturn dealerships be far behind?

Identifying an email/internet hoax

From time to time email users will receive messages that have incorrect or misleading information; sometimes from seemingly reputable and authoritative sources. To help discern the validity of such information, we have provided this short guide.

1. How can I tell if the message is a hoax?

http://HoaxBusters.ciac.org/The CIAC is the accepted database of information on any threat to networks; this includes viruses, internet rumors, and server security issues.

http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.htmlThe Symantec page on virus hoaxes is also a good resource of information about these stories that waste time and cause undue panic among email users. Their objective is to help users separate the real virus threats from those that simply annoy us.

http://urbanlegends.about.com/This one is an entertaining foray into the gullible mind of humanity; not only is this a good place to look up a story you may wonder about — it’s also fun reading! The About.com site is home to a plethora of information on a wide variety of topics – including folklore. This is a well-organized place to search for the story-of-the-week.

Also, if the message in question is legitimate, you will see the email address of the original sender and a web address with further information. DON’T trust the message just because the names of reputable companies are mentioned; for instance, if Microsoft or Sony issues a press release, there will be a corresponding web page with the warning posted on their site. If you don’t see a web address backing up the email message, there probably is no truth to the story.

2. How do I know if the threat is real?
Visit one of the following web sites maintained by people who work all day, every day, to track and document virus behavior and measure threats to your computer (real and imagined).

3. Should I pass it along to all my friends?
NO. Instead, the most helpful action you can take to caution your friends is to give them the advice in section ‘5’, below…

4. What should I do when I receive a virus warning?
Assuming that there is a valid warning that needs to be published; little red flags should go up in your head whenever you receive a message that says something like, “no one knows about this yet – hurry and pass it along to all your friends…” For instance, when the ‘Happy99.exe’ virus was discovered overseas, the CNN web site (and their paper publication) warned about it _weeks_ before it actually reached American shores. The lesson: if CNN doesn’t know about it, it probably isn’t true! The same goes for ABC, MSNBC, and many other news organizations; they make their money by getting the news in a timely fashion, and by being as accurate as possible.

Their web sites, respectively, are:

Each of these web sites has a ‘Search’ or ‘Find’ button that will help you locate articles published on any subject easily.

5. How do I keep from getting infected by a virus?
It is a good idea to install up-to-date antivirus software on your computer; choose a package that will let you download monthly updates (for free) from their web site; this way, you know your software is intelligent enough to deal with all the latest threats.

More importantly, you should follow the same advice the US Postal Service gives about receiving packages from their couriers: If you don’t know what it is, if you don’t know who sent it, or if the packaging seems a little strange, DON’T OPEN IT.

Receiving an email message with a malicious payload cannot do any damage to your computer, no matter how dire the warnings sound. BUT OPENING AN ATTACHED FILE CAN ALLOW A VIRUS TO ATTACK YOUR DOCUMENTS, YOUR APPLICATION SOFTWARE, OR YOUR OPERATING SYSTEM. Rumors aside, there is no way a virus can destroy your power supply, monitor, keyboard, mouse, cables, etc.

When in doubt, throw it out!

6. Why do these hoax messages keep getting recycled?
The ploy is referred to as ‘trolling for newbies’ — the act of locating (& ridiculing) people that are new to the internet and collecting their addresses for fun and profit.

Sometimes it’s teenagers who are curious as to how many people will fall for the message. Many times, though, the messages are initiated by unscrupulous companies who want to collect lists of email addresses that they can later send junk mail (often referred to as ‘SPAM’) to.

Using ‘BCC:’ for multiple recipients

Do you ever get email messages that list about thirty recipients (including you) at the top? Did you ever worry about the fact that everybody on that list now has your email address? How well do you know them? Can you trust them not to give your address to someone who regularly sends junk mail (‘SPAM’)?

While these concerns may seem unnecessarily paranoid to some, it’s become a matter of common courtesy on the internet to ‘hide’ the names of recipients when sending a message to a group of individuals — especially if those individuals don’t know one another.

Obviously, if you are corresponding with a group of friends who already know each other, this is not an issue. But if you plan to send information to a few people who may not want their addresses ‘advertised’, there is a way that you can politely reach each person: use the ‘BCC:’ box!

When you compose an email message, there are fields at the top for ‘From:’, ‘To:’, ‘CC:’ (carbon copy), and ‘BCC:’ (blind carbon copy). The regular ‘carbon copy’ field allows you to let others know what you are telling someone (whoever is in the ‘To:’ field), and the ‘BCC:’ field does the same thing without letting their names show in the message.

So put everyone’s name in the ‘BCC:’ field, and put your own name (or a dummy address) in the ‘To:’ field. Here’s how you would compose it:

DATE: November 23, 1998

FROM: John Widget



BCC: joeboxer@widgetsonline.com, jimbeam@widgetsonline.com, diane_reems@npr.org, jdoblak@msn.net, JulieB@aol.com, AngusARG@apple.com, lboblak@usa.net

RE: Discontinuation of Widget Sharpener line

It is my sad duty to inform you that the much-heralded line of sharpening tools by Widgets Unlimited is slated to be discontinued due to a pending lawsuit involving a certain competitor’s CEO and one of our mailroom employees. While we have not been formally accused of industrial espinonage…

Here’s what the recipients will see:

DATE: November 23, 1998

FROM: John Widget




RE: Discontinuation of Widget Sharpener line

It is my sad duty to inform you that the much-heralded line of sharpening tools by Widgets Unlimited is slated to be discontinued due to a pending lawsuit involving a certain competitor’s CEO and one of our mailroom employees. While we have not been formally accused of industrial espinonage…

How did we get the ‘To:’ field to say “All WIDGETS UNLIMITED employees”?

Simply make a new address in your address book; and put the word “Everybody” (or “All Employees”, etc.) in the ‘name’ field; you can use your own email address in the address field.