Alpha Geeks and Gadget Phreaks

Apr 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Oliver Masociarotte

Bringing Back the Goods From MacWorld


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

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

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


You may not have noticed, but as Apple goes, so goes the rest of computing for us media mechs. First, it was bitmapped graphics, then SCSI, then 32-bit computing, then media wrappers (think QuickTime), then FireWire, then cutting-edge hardware designs (think iMac), then 802.11 and now 64-bit in your studio. So to keep an eye on Big Steve's reality-distortion field, I headed over to the Moscone Convention Center (San Francisco) for yet another MacWorld, held January 6-9, 2004.

Though announced at NAMM, M-Audio's ( FireWire Audiophile and FireWire 18/14 interfaces are out in the market now. I had a FireWire 410, but M-Audio swapped it for a FireWire Audiophile. For the price, everything about this unit is well-done. It's built around AKM's AK4628 192/24 bidirectional converter and BridgeCo AG's ENA, or Entertainment Network Adapter. The ENA provides low-latency signal transport and data format conversion over, in this case, a FireWire 400 interface. With a front panel ¼-inch TRS headphone jack, 2-in/4-out unbalanced analog spigots, and MIDI and a single AES Type-II unbalanced I/O, all you need is an inexpensive mic pre to get on with your work.

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

What's a computer trade show without storage products? Not much, actually. ATTO ( was showing iSCSI HBAs, currently with Win-only support. Now that the standard's been ratified, hopefully Cupertino will get on the stick with iSCSI support as well. Also in storage news, ACard ( has a new 4-channel SATA RAID HBA. (Whoa, how's that for a gaggle of acronyms!) In the Easier to Understand category, LaCie ( showed its Bigger Drive, a truly gargantuan 1TB drive in a 5.25-inch full-height enclosure. That's enough room for more than 10 hours of 8-channel, single-speed DSD — my, oh my. All of its new drives have a triple interface, with FireWire 400 and 800 for the pros, and USB 2.0 for the less demanding.

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

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

The Rogue Amoeba ( kids were singing the praises of the newest addition to their stable of audio utilities: Nicecast, the “easiest way to broadcast music from OS X” over the Net. This joins the other Rogue Amoeba audio products that control routing and recording of audio anywhere in your Mac.

The sound-isolation stalwarts from Noren ( were proudly showing their newest AcoustiLock enclosures. Noren keeps the world quiet, cool and dust-free to boot! Speaking of isolation, CRYPTOCard ( showed what the company claims is the first spook-strength authentication solution for OS X. It includes hardware authentication and is a perfect complement to Panther's new Fast User-Switching feature.

By now, you've all heard about Apple's GarageBand. What can I say about it except I wish I had it when I was in high school! While we're on the subject of consumer software, I must mention good ol' Aladdin Systems ( because it's selling a bundle aimed at that same 13-year-old who buys GarageBand and grows up to be either a guitarist (if she's good), an audio engineer (if he's middling) or a lawyer if they can't figure out what else to do with themselves. They call the bundle The Big Mix and it's got Rogue A's Audio 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 for the straight poop on lossless codecs with a side order of more audio stuff that I'm evaluating. Part Deux of the Pedants In a Box tech glossary is also on the horizon, so, until such time, rock on!

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

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