Dictation software

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One area where the Mac has consistently lagged behind the Windows world is in dictation. Sure, the Mac has software out there, but none of it is very good, while Windows has Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a voice-recognition program that reportedly allows natural dictation with little training.

That gap is finally narrowing. Next month, MacSpeech will release the $200 Dictate, which is based on the NaturallySpeaking software, to bring parity to the Mac world. It does not have all of the features of its Windows counterpart yet (for example, you cannot use voice commands to correct mistakes), but the company says they are working on it, and the report is that the accuracy is outstanding even with no training.

The back story behind this release is pretty interesting. It turns out that Andrew Taylor, the creator of iListen (another speech recognition application for the Mac), is a former Dragon engineer who wanted to bring the Dragon algorithm to the Mac, but found the terms too onerous to be practical, opting instead to use not-as-good software from Philips. That was many years ago. Now, ownership of NaturallySpeaking has changed hands and negotiated a deal that Taylor can live with.

You can read the full story at the New York Times here (subscription required) or see one of David Pogue’s goofy, but enjoyable, videos on the matter here.

MacBook Air / MacWorld Expo news

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As expected, last week’s MacWorld Expo brought a number of announcements and new products, most notably Apple’s MacBook Air. Here is a recap of the news and my initial analysis of the MacBook Air.

iTunes

Apple announced that iTunes would now offer movie rentals along with sales and will also start offering HD versions of the latest movies. Both of these features are available now through the iTunes Store. Rental prices range from $2.99 for older movies to $4.99 for the latest HD versions, and you will have 30 days to start watching a movie, then 24 hours to finish watching it once you start.

Apple TV

Because Apple’s Apple TV has been less than the killer product they’d hoped (see my analysis at [http://www.mactechnologies.com/wordpress/?p=19]), they are releasing a new, less-expensive version which is really the old unit with new software. Apple TVOwners of the existing unit will get a free update to the new software too, and it will let you use the Apple TV without requiring a computer to synchronize with. It will now connect right to the iTunes Store and let you buy or rent directly, which is both less complicated and more useful. Since iTunes now offers HD content, it also becomes a better compliment to an HD TV, as long as you have an Internet connection fast enough to support that.

You can get more information on the Apple TV here:

Read the rest of this entry »

“MacSweeper” warning — The price of popularity

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There is a company that has introduced a utility called “MacSweeper” with two versions, free and not-so-free. If you visit their web site, it will offer to perform a free scan of your system and, if problems are found, will helpfully suggest that you upgrade to the full version to resolve them. The trouble is, the free version always finds problems.

Always.

Let me be clear: This Mac-only utility will find Mac-only errors no matter what machine you use to run the scan, even if that computer is a PC running Windows.

This class of classless application is called a “rogue”, and, although this kind of scam is common in the Windows world, it is the first such program known to exist on the Mac.

That’s the price of popularity, I guess.

That the idea is unoriginal should come as no surprise since even their web site was copied from Apple and Symantec. I won’t give you the link, but you can read one of the stories with more details here:

http://www.f-secure.com/weblog/archives/00001362.html

It’s unfortunate, but the lesson is, if you see a utility (or any application, for that matter) from an unknown company, you should be a little skeptical. In this case, MacSweeper reportedly does nothing more than lie to you, but it just as easily could have caused the problems that it purports to fix.

On the eve of the MacWorld Expo

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The MacWorld Expo kicks off in San Francisco tomorrow with Steve Jobs’ keynote address at around 9 AM PST (noon EST). Those of you who are interested in up-to-the-minute reports on the announcements from Apple will not be able to watch it live, but you can visit sites like the Mac News Network [http://www.macnn.com] for reports from the auditorium.

Apple will broadcast the video of the keynote over the Internet starting in the afternoon, but you should expect it to be flaky due to the sheer volume of people who will try to get onto the site at that time. (Yes, there really are that many who are that interested.) You should wait until late at night, or even until the weekend, to join them.

As for announcements, well, the shroud of secrecy is intact and there has been nothing but rumors. As is my policy, I won’t share those here, but there are more than enough sources willing to indulge the speculative.

After the event, I will post a summary of any announcements that I deem worthy of your time. As I’ve mentioned before, if you’re in the market for new Apple hardware, you should wait until after this event to make a decision.

You can visit Apple’s web site here:

http://www.apple.com

Redesigned web site

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I am pleased to announce our brand-spanking-new web site, currently online at [http://www.mactechnologies.com]. It is a marvel of design achievement heretofore unwitnessed by mortal men. It shall no doubt lead to the cessation of all other artistic and utilitarian efforts since it will be viewed, without a doubt, as the ultimate product of all previous cyber-events that lead to the moment of its incarnation. Behold the wonder of it!

OK, so it’s just a web site, but I am still pretty proud of it. First, it was designed and written entirely in-house with a focus on function, with a little bit of form thrown in. The thing is all PHP and database-driven with a modular architecture that will make future updates a snap.

In fact, it’s buzzword-friendly in all the right ways.

For example, these e-mails that I’ve sent out over the years have been recreated as blog entries that can be searched, commented upon, and subscribed to via RSS. Support articles have also been entered in the blog making additions as simple as typing a letter and as accessible as… well, a blog entry. You’ll even find instructions for taking over the world with nothing more than roller skates and a worn toothbrush. (Disclaimer: No, you won’t.)

So have a look. I doubt you’ll make it the center of your surfing life, but you might find it handy from time to time.

New Mac Pro and Xserve announced

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In what is probably the first of many announcements in the week leading up to the San Francisco MacWorld Expo, Apple has announced new models of the Mac Pro and the Xserve. The key differences between these and their forebears is that they are using a newer Intel chip that can reach up to 3.2 GHz, and subsystems that are dramatically faster too.

The details are many, so I won’t bore you with them here. For info on the Mac Pro:

http://www.apple.com/macpro/

and the Xserve:

http://www.apple.com/xserve/

Keep in mind that, although Apple says these are available “today,” the Apple Store says that these will take anywhere from 3-5 days to 3-5 weeks to ship, depending on the configuration. (Hint: Don’t add the Nvidia video card if you need this soon!) Naturally, I recommend that you let others shake out the bugs for a month or so before diving in yourself.

Google search tricks

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There is an interesting article at a site called “LifeTracker” that lists a variety of options and tricks when performing Google searches. For example, did you know that you could convert currency or measurements? Find out the time in another zone? Track a flight?

There is also some good advice, like limiting a search to pictures of faces when you are looking for a person, or using the cache to view an otherwise blocked site. Rather than go through all the tips here, I’ll just point you to the article at:

http://lifehacker.com/339474/top-10-obscure-google-search-tricks

On camcorders and iMovie

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One of the problems with previous incarnations of iMovie HD is that it would only work with Firewire-based camcorders. Fortunately, that restriction has been lifted with the version of iMovie that comes with iLife ’08 which works properly with camcorders that use USB 2.0, even those labeled for Windows only.

Naturally this does not mean that every camcorder will work with the new version so you should check with the manufacturer to be sure, but it does open the field to additional models, especially since more and more units have USB 2.0 built-in, and fewer are shipping with Firewire.

For more details, look here:

http://tinyurl.com/2yb4bx

For some information and tutorials on using iMovie, see Apple’s site here:

http://www.apple.com/imovie

If you need more information about using iMovie, consult the Help menu in the program itself, or get the book, “iMovie ’08 & iDVD: The Missing Manual”. (I recommend this by reputation only as I have not read it myself.)

The Amazon link to that book is:

http://tinyurl.com/25ug8w

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