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How and when to reset your Mac’s PRAM and SMC

There are times when your Mac will just start misbehaving. Video settings getting reset, fans start running at full speed, keyboard lights don’t come on when they should.  This is most likely to happen following a hardware upgrade, extended power outage or even a major software upgrade (like Lion). In those cases, sometimes you need to reset your Mac’s parameter random access memory (PRAM) or system management controller (SMC) to get things running smoothly again.

Try this first

There are some good best practices to perform before running off and resetting your Mac at the first sign of strange behavior. This isn’t a step-by-step list; try each and all of the below separately when you’re having trouble:

  • Quit (Command+Q) or even Force Quit (Command+Option+Esc) any and all running applications.
  • Log off and then log back on to any and all logged on user accounts.
  • Put the Mac to sleep and wake it up again.
  • Restart the Mac.
  • Shut down and unplug the Mac (and remove any battery if you have access) for at least thirty seconds before powering back on.

You may even have to press and hold the power button several seconds in extreme cases when your Mac is truly not responding or refuses to shut down and power off. But if you have tried all of this to no avail, then perhaps you do need to either reset your PRAM or your SMC.

Parameter random access memory

PRAM is used by OS X to store certain information that the system can access quickly. Macs will store settings like which startup drive to boot from, various display and video settings, startup speaker volume and even the DVD’s region settings. If you feel that you need to reset your Mac’s PRAM because of the issues you’re having, do the following:

  1. Turn off your Mac. Don’t worry about disconnecting the power or removing the battery.
  2. Turn on your Mac and hold down the Command, Option, P, and R keys all at the same time (all four keys).
  3. Keep holding down all four keys until you hear the startup sound for a second time.

If you do not hear the startup sound twice, then you most likely have not reset the PRAM.  If you find that your Mac is not retaining the information that is stored in PRAM when you perform a shutdown, then it might be time to replace your Mac’s main logic board battery.  This is sometimes referred to as the PRAM or Clock Battery. I hardly ever fully shut down and power off any of my Macs, and have yet to replace this battery on any Mac I have owned, so that should only be the culprit in very extreme cases.

System management controller

The SMC is an Intel-only feature.  There are so many symptoms that can potentially be solved by resetting the SMC that you’d think you would need to do this sort of reset all of the time. These include fans running out of control, lights not displaying correctly, the Mac does not sleep or wake properly, and just generally poor performance and high CPU cycles for no good reason. There are three ways to reset your SMC, based on what sort of Intel-based Mac you have:
Portable Macs with removable batteries

  1. Shut down the Mac, unplug and remove the battery.
  2. Press and hold the power button for five seconds before releasing.
  3. Replace the battery (just put it back in), plug in the Mac and turn it back on.

Portable Macs without removable batteries

  • Shut down the Mac.
  • Ensure that the Mac is plugged into a power source.
  • While the Mac is turned off, press and hold the Shift, Control and Option keys, as well as the Power button.
  • Release all four keys at the same time (note: the Mac should not power on when performing this task).
  • Press the power button to turn the Mac back on.

Desktop Mac Pros, iMacs and Mac minis

  • Shut down and unplug the Mac.
  • Keep the Mac unplugged for at least fifteen seconds.
  • Plug the Mac back in and do not turn it back on for at least five seconds.
  • Press the power button to turn the Mac back on.

This shouldn’t be considered a routine operation, like fixing file permissions in Disk Utility. It’s just something to keep in mind as a possible last resort solution to weird behaviors that your Mac starts to develop, which can often happen when you perform upgrades like installing OS X Lion, especially on older hardware.

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Your iPad’s a Telephone With Google Voice

Out of the box, Apple has you covered on your iPad 2 with FaceTime for video chat with your friends, family and colleagues, so long as they have a FaceTime capable device and a Wi-Fi connection. But let’s face it, not everybody is on FaceTime, and certainly not constantly near a Wi-Fi hot spot. If all you want to do is replicate a phone connection, Google Voice along with a couple of native iOS apps may be just what you’re looking for.

What You Need

Google Voice Account. If you’re not already part of Google Voice, simply log into your Google account and sign-up for Google Voice (google.com/voice, but it’s U.S. only as of this writing). It will walk you through the sign-up process, including setting up a new number.

GV Connect. Google’s strategy for the iPad, including Google Voice, appears to be limited to Safari apps only. Google offers an official iOS-native Google Voice client for the iPhone, but GV Connect is a better option, as it has full support iPad support.

Talkatone. Neither the Safari interface that Google offers, nor GV Connect will make VOIP calls from your iOS device. To enable that functionality, you need to download and install the free, ad-supported Talkatone app.  Yes, this is an iPhone app, but you can control it from the iPad-friendly GV Connect interface.

How to Make a Phone Call

Once you have a Google Voice account, download and install both the GV Connect and Talkatone clients on your iPad, and set up each with your Google Voice account information. Then, in GV Connect, do the following:

  1. Under Settings, set the Start Calls From setting to Google Talk.
  2. Enable the Call using Talkatone setting.
  3. Click on the telephone handset icon in the upper left corner to place a call.

While you are controlling your Google Voice account from within GV Connect, the VOIP call is actually being handled by Talkatone. Talkatone does claim to allow calls over 3G, but the quality of those calls are dependent on the network. I’ve only used it while connected via Wi-Fi.

How to Receive a Phone Call

To direct all your incoming calls to be received on your iPad. In GV Connect on your iPad, do the following:

  1. Under Settings, set the Call Forwarding setting to Google Talk.
  2. Make sure you are logged in to your Google Account in Talkatone.
  3. Wait for an incoming call.

It’s that easy; just make sure you’re not logged in to Google Talk anywhere else. I tend to use the stock earbuds to avoid looking like a fool with the iPad pressed against my face, but unfortunately, Bluetooth headsets aren’t fully supported by either Apple or Talkatone. I have yet to completely dedicate my Google Voice account to exclusive iPad-only calling, but I’d love to hear from you if you end up using the solution described above as a total home or cell phone replacement.

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Getting Your Stuff Off of Your iPhone

There will come a time when you realize that you want to get something off of your iPhone, and yet you don’t have access to the Mac your normally sync with, or your Mac’s hard drive has failed. That’s when getting information off of your iPhone can become a daunting task. Here are a few different ways to recover different types of data from your iPhone.

iPhone Photo Library

The good news is that you can access the iPhone photos you’ve taken from any Mac (and not just the one you sync with) using the OS X Image Capture app. In fact, you can even use the iPad Camera Adapter.  The iPhone itself will look like any other camera that you connect to either your Mac or your iPad. You also even use iPhoto or Aperture directly to perform the transfer. Some of the techniques outlined below can also be used to directly copy image files off of the iPhone when importing from iPhoto fails.Image Capture

iPod Music Files

Ever since the arrival of the iPod, there have been ways to extract music from your Apple device. These same utilities are still applicable to the iPhone. The tricky part is that the files and directory structure are not represented in human friendly text. There is a database file that Apple uses to translate the gibberish back into the artist, album, song format you are familiar with.  Many of the free solutions like Macroplant’s iPhone Explorer, will allow you to copy the music files directly from the iPhone to your Mac in the nonsense naming format they are in on the iPhone.

iPhone ExplorerSo long as you have iTunes configured to “Copy  files to your iTunes Media folder”, as well as to “Keep iTunes Media File organized”, then the file names will all be restored once you have imported the music back into your iTunes Library.  It will retrieve the names of the artist, album and song from the ID3v2 tag embedded in the music file.

iTunes Preferences

Other free solutions like HeadLightSoft’s DeTune (formerly know as expod) will perform the translation before you transfer the files. There are other paid solutions like FadingRed’s Senuti for $18.99, which are also quite good at what they do. But for the money, DeTunes offers a more than adequate solution if all you want to do is recover your device-locked music.

DeTune

iOS App Data and More

Sometimes you may have to get app and data regarding iPhone usage from your phone to your computer outside of iTunes. While you can use Macroplant’s iPhone Explorer to perform this task, I have found that their Pod to Mac product for $19.95 delivers more value.  Also in this category, and my personal preference is Ecamm’s PhoneView also for $19.95. Both Pod to Mac and PhoneView offer a way to access SMS Messages, VoiceMail, Call History, Contacts, and Calendar information.  They also offer solutions to access your Photos, Media Files and even the locally stored files for each app you have installed.

PhoneView

Secret Location Data

There has been a lot of press regarding the storage of location information in the consolidated.db file on your iPhone. Apple recently revealed that it actually provides a database of cell and Wi-Fi tower locations in and around where you use your device, but the info is still interesting. While not part of a formal product offering, there is a crude yet effective tool called iPhone Tracker on GitHub that lets you see it.

iPhone Tracker

Extract From Backup

Sometimes something has happened to your iPhone and you need to extract a file from your iPhone backups. This includes accessing any photos you had on your iPhone at the time of your last backup. There are two utilities that I use to perform this task, SuperCrazyAwesome’s iPhone Backup Extractor which is a free utility, and addPod’s Juice Phone, also free.  Neither solution will work if you have encrypted your backup files. Both allow you to access the backed up data as if the iPhone was connected to your Mac.

Juice Phone

So until Apple comes up with a solid cloud-based solution for iOS products, the fact remains that all iOS devices are just satellites to their Mac hosts.  And so long as you need to sync between your Mac and your iOS device, there is a chance that either your Mac will fail, or your iOS device will fail.  The above solutions will have you covered until Apple comes up with a better solution of its own.

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5 Great Mac Tools for Designing Apps

There comes a point in the creation of every great app that you move from concept to implementation.  On the design side, this is when you feel like you have your wireframes and storyboard walk-throughs (or collection of bar napkins) at a point where you want to start “real” development.  There are definitely some great tools for the iPad to help solidify your app concept from a more abstract design point of view. Looking at the more tangible side of visual design, I’ve found the following tools available in the Mac App Store to be quite helpful.

Choosing the Right Colors

ColorBenderColorBlender ($1.99). When choosing a color palette for your App, you either have an eye for it or you don’t. For those of us who don’t have it, ColorBlender can help out.  There have been a lot of studies on how humans are affected by different colors, and there are certainly combinations of colors that are hard on the eyes.  The main function of ColorBlender is to create a palette with six harmonious colors that will make looking at your app pleasant, or at least tolerable, for most people.  The only thing this app is missing is a good color picker, but that’s quickly remedied using OS X’s included DigitalColor Meter utility. After choosing a base color in the DigitalColor Meter, ColorBender will help you select a collection of harmonious colors to use throughout your app.

AppControlsAppControls ($19.99). Once you have a solid color palette picked out, the next step will be to use that palette when creating various controls throughout your app. AppControls will help you create the artifacts necessary to create some great looking controls. You can copy the values of the colors generated in ColorBender, and paste them into the Color Picker of AppControls. Even if you don’t like the limit of six colors that ColorBender generates, you can at least use it to select the two colors that will be used to create a smooth gradient on your controls. All you need to do is the following:App Control Color Bender Walkthrough

  1. Use the DigitalColor Meter to select the color you want to use as your primary color, and hit the Shift+Cmd+H key combination to hold the colors on the screen.
  2. Type the color codes into ColorBlender to set your six harmonious colors.
  3. Copy the value of the color you want to use directly from ColorBlender’s screen and paste it into AppControls color picker.

Preparing for App Store Submission

LittleIpsumLittleIpsum (Free). How many time have you tried to size up how a data entry or large text display field will look by pounding random keys on the keyboard? A tool named LittleIpsum provides a better way. It generates Latin text in varying lengths including words, sentences and paragraphs. The text is then copied to your clipboard, and ready to paste into your app.

StatusBarredStatus Barred ($0.99). Occasionally, you may want to pull together a collection of screen shots for the current state of the application, either to update documentation when designing a change in the way the application works or simply to craft your marketing material.  Status Barred is a simple little app that will crop off the carrier status bar from the images you take so that the focus in on your app, and not your carrier.

iOSIconsIcons ($2.99). The final Mac App in this collection of design apps will help in the creation of icons, both for and within the app.  It can also be used to help with the design of any support or marketing web sites that will be created.  Icons could not be easier to use. Start with a 512×512 square image, drop it into the tool, and generate your icons.  You can even round the edges and add that cool glass look.

While these tools individually are no match for Adobe’s creative suite of tools, for the price, they add up to a competitive package. And like the start of a thousand bee stings, it only makes sense that this tightly focused new breed of apps help others create more great task-specific software as the App Store model continues to propagate.

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5 Great iPad Tools for Designing Apps

The best app ideas don’t necessarily come from the ranks of iOS developers. Anyone can have a good idea for a new app. The challenge is in getting that new idea down in a way that makes it easy to share and visualize. For both developers and non-developers alike, the App Store has a selection of design tools for the iPad that each play a unique role in the process of evolving a good idea into a great one.

UI Sketcher ($3.99) — In the “better than a bar napkin but still sort of a bar napkin” category, there’s UI Sketcher. In this app, all you get is virtual graph paper and a selection of five different pens.  If you want to pass around an iPad for a rapid session of brainstorming, then a free form based designer like UI Sketcher is the best choice. I would recommend investing in a stylus like the Pogo Sketch or the upcoming Cosmonaut to help your inner artist become more of a professional draftsman than a kindergarden finger painter.

Mocking Pad ($9.99) — Mocking Pad represents a step up from free form design.  There is a lot to be said about keeping the initial design as loose as possible, meaning you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time on color choices, pixel perfect button placement, or even the exact implementation of which widget to use.  This designer is that you have a pallet of roughed out widgets to choose from.  You drag and drop each widget onto a sketched outline of an iPhone or iPad screen.  The number of controls at you disposal is not limitless, but more than adequate to get the idea across.  This is a very good design tool to use early in the design process to work out user interaction scenarios and screen level functionality without getting too caught up in the overall look and feel of the final product.

Blueprint ($14.99) — This is the Rolls-Royce of designers. As with Mocking Pad, you’re presented with a pallet based drag and drop design interaction.  Where this differs from Mocking Pad is that the controls are almost an exact replica of the final product.  It can therefore provide pixel-perfect alignment of each element in your application.  This tool is most useful in the development of a high-level storyboard of the app.  You can see the entire navigation of the app you’re creating from one comprehensive view.  If you are not a developer, and you what a way to quickly piece together a story board of exactly how you want the application to work, then this is the choice for you.  If you are a developer, you may find that time is better spent on creating a series of well drafted XIB files in Xcode.  Then take some screen shots of the XIBs in Xcode’s designer to piece together in some sort of page layout tool, so you aren’t duplicating effort.

Runners UpDraft from 37signals is a good alternative to UI Sketcher as a free hand designer.  It’s worth considering if you’re already a Campfire (web-based chat client) user, as the designs can be shared with your fellow campers from within the app. iMockUps were both good alternatives for Mocking Pad, and are worth a second look if you decide that Mocking Pad is not right for you in this space.  I have found no replacement or competition for Blueprint. For what it has to offer, there is simply nowhere else to look.

Each design tool has its niche.  I would recommend UI Sketcher to get that initial idea down before you forget it. Once you have a good idea and are ready to think through some basic user interaction scenarios, then Mocking Pad will prove to be the tool you need.  I would avoid using a tool like Blueprint at first, as it has the potential to consume a lot of time and could limit your implementation choices when handing your design over to the development team. On the other hand, if you are not at all technically-oriented and really want to get as close to a final design as possible before you hand it over, then Blueprint is a great tool to work with and has no match.

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iTunes 101: Multiple Devices, One iTunes Account

Whether you’re using an old iPhone as a GPS, or one of your children is using an old device as a hand-me-down, you may want to manage multiple iOS devices from one and only one iTunes Account.  This includes, but is not limited to, managing a mix of iPads, iPods, iPhones, Apple TVs, MacBooks, etc., all from the same iTunes Account.  Here are some things to consider when setting up multiple Apple products with a single iTunes Account.

Account Authorization Limits

You may have noticed that iTunes is limited to authorizing only five computers with each iTunes account. This means that you can only authorize five separate Mac or PC computers or user accounts to playback protected iTunes content or use Home Sharing using a single iTunes Account.  For example, if you have created five different user accounts on the same computer, and have authorized iTunes for each user account on that one computer with the same iTunes Account, then you have reached your maximum number of authorizations.  This is also true if you have used that one iTunes Account on the same user account on five different computers. Basically, each iTunes Account can authorize up to a maximum of five instances of iTunes. You can deauthorize computers or accounts at any time following the instructions found at Apple’s support website. Luckily, though, once you have iTunes configured with a single  iTunes Account, there does not appear to be a limit to the number of iPods, iPhones, and iPads one can sync to a single iTunes library.

Computer Authorizations

Losing Some Apps, Gaining Others After Syncing

If you’re only using one iTunes account across multiple devices, you may notice some strange behavior when you sync your iOS devices: apps seem to disappear and appear at random with each sync.  It is likely that each iOS device serves a different purpose, or is even being used by a different person.  This leads to each user adding and removing apps that suit their needs and the purpose of the device.  What is happening is that apps that were purchased on one device are being lost, while apps purchased on a different devices are being added.  This situation is easily remedied by transferring purchases before each sync, and disabling the automatic synchronizing of new apps on each iOS device.  The “Automatically Sync New Apps” option in the apps tab of your iOS device info screen in iTunes applies to any app in your  iTunes library that has been added to your iTunes library since your last sync. If you are managing several iOS devices from one account, it is a good idea to disable this feature.

Automatically Sync New Apps

Controlling Purchases With One Account

With this configuration, each iOS device is capable of making independent purchases.  In fact, there are three layers of where the iTunes Account is configured.  The first is the iTunes installation you use to sync your device.  The second is the iTunes Account configured on the device itself.  This is configured in the on-device Settings app under Store (for iTunes Store).  In fact, there are several techniques you could use in the way you configure parental controls on each device that can prevent or enable each device from making purchases.  These purchasing techniques apply to the iTunes Music, Book and App Store.  Changing which iTunes Account is used on the device to be something other than the iTunes Account you sync with may cause problems when the sync operation transfers purchases from the device to the iTunes installation on your Mac or PC as well as the Digital Rights Management (DRM) on the device itself.  So plan on using the same iTunes Account on both your computer and your device to avoid those problems.

Device Settings Restrictions

Syncing Media Files From One iTunes Library

There are two paths you can take with your iOS device. Either manually manage your iTunes Library when syncing, or set up user-specific Playlists and sync only those playlists.  This feature has been in place for iPods since before the iPhone was ever announced.  You may even want to consider creating a separate playlist folder for each iOS device you sync to.

Sync Selected Playlists

Accessing Media with iTunes Home Sharing

Another layer of iTunes media management has to do with remote playback of your iTunes library, which is accessible on multiple devices via Home Sharing.  With the iOS 4.3 update, now all of your iOS devices can access your iTunes Library remotely on the same Wi-Fi network.  What is interesting here is that the iTunes Account you set up for Home Sharing does not have to be the same iTunes Account you sync your device to.  This is configured in the Settings App under iPod in the Home Sharing section.  Unfortunately, your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad cannot add multiple Home Sharing accounts like you can do with the Apple TV.  This does get a little confusing if you also use the Remote App from Apple that’s capable of configuring multiple iTunes Accounts to access and control other iOS devices like the Apple TV. To access libraries on any device using Home Sharing, you’ll need to leave iTunes open and running somewhere on your local Wi-Fi network.

Conclusion

Managing up to five computers with one iTunes Account and a seemingly unlimited number of iOS devices including the Apple TV is definitely possible.  Apple has done a great job by exposing some settings like automatic syncing in iTunes as well as on-device restrictions to help take control of both apps and media on each device individually while still using the same account.  Apple is still in the process of refining what you can and can’t do with your iTunes account, so stay tuned for more updates as the company rolls out new software updates.

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How to Remaster Your DVDs With Custom Options

When traveling on a long trip, or just any time that the kids are restless, the last thing you want to deal with sitting through movie trailers and DVD menus.  Wouldn’t it be great if the movie would simply start playing as soon as the DVD was inserted? That’s exactly what remastering a DVD can do for you.  One of the best solutions for remastering your DVDs on a Mac is Metakine’s DVDRemaster Pro.  With DVDRemaster Pro you can isolate only the movie, remove all menus, remove subtitles and optional audio tracks, and basically re-create the DVD with exactly the content way you want it to play.

Creating the Remastered Copy

Backing up your DVD onto your hard drive is the first thing you will need to do, and with a program called RipIt, it is as easy as inserting the DVD into your Mac and clicking a button.  Once your DVD is on your hard drive, to remaster your DVD with just the movie file, all you need to do is:

  1. Download, install and launch DVDRemaster Pro.
  2. Click on the Source icon in DVDRemaster Pro’s toolbar and navigate to the location where you extracted the DVD to with RipIt.
  3. In the drop-down labeled mode, select “Movie Only.”  DVDRemaster Pro also does a pretty good job at selecting the correct title, as it is typically the longest running title on the DVD.
  4. Select a destination and file name.
  5. Click on the green start button.

I typically do not use compression and therefore can utilize the fast compression mode.  I do leave “Remove UOPs” selected, even though it is rather pointless when remastering to just the movie only. If you’re going to be picking and choosing which options you leave in, make sure to check this box, too. UOPs are User Operations Prohibited locks, like the ones that prevent you from fast forwarding through the FBI warning, etc.

Burn Back To Disc

At this point you have the necessary files that will let you burn back to a DVD with no trailers, no menus, just the movie.  For this task, use Roxio’s Toast Titanium to burn the VIDEO_TS folder back on to a DVD as follows:

  1. Download, install and launch Toast.
  2. Select the Video tab in Toast and select VIDEO_TS folders.
  3. Use the Finder to drag and drop the folder you created in DVDRemaster Pro into Toast.
  4. Insert a Blank DVD-R or DVD-R DL (depending on the size needed) and click the red burn button.

And that’s it, from DVD to hard drive and back to DVD again.  Remastered for quick and easy playback at the times when you need it most.

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How to Get Turn-by-Turn Navigation on a MacBook Air

When choosing between a MacBook Air and an iPad 3G, you might think you’re giving up GPS if you go with the MacBook.  That may not be entirely true, depending on what you want to do with GPS.  There are plenty of Mac-friendly Bluetooth GPS receivers and data loggers that can provide both realtime and recorded GPS data to your MacBook Air.

The one I’ve been using most late is the Columbus v-900 Bluetooth Data Logger ($99 on Amazon). Once paired with your MacBook Air, you can track your movements, record waypoints, and even plan a route.  Voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation with live, updated routes is also possible on a MacBook Air thanks to an application titled RouteBuddy.

Pairing Your Bluetooth GPS Receiver

As with all Bluetooth devices, paring with a Mac is straight forward and easy.  Once this setup task is complete, the GPS receiver will be accessible to GPS-enabled software like RouteBuddy.  To pair the Columbus V-900 GPS receiver (and most others, too), follow these simple steps:

  1. From System Preferences, click on Bluetooth in the Internet & Wireless section.
  2. Click on the “+” icon in the bottom left corner of the device list to add a new Bluetooth device.
  3. Select the device from the list and click Continue.
  4. Once paring is successful, click Quit.

Once pairing is established, you’ll have to access it through your software of choice, since OS X does not have the same CoreLocation service available to it as iOS does. And because connectivity to the receiver over Bluetooth happens via the serial interface, only one application at a time can access GPS information.

Making location available to RouteBuddy is easy. It just knows that a valid GPS receiver has been paired and turned on, and starts using it automatically upon launch.

RouteBuddy for Mac With Detailed Road Maps and a POI Database

RouteBuddy and its iOS companion app RouteBuddy Atlas are the perfect pair for planning and documenting a trip.  The Mac version can do turn-by-turn navigation, and the iOS version focuses primarily on topographical maps and creating waypoints and tracks.  The road maps that RouteBuddy uses are based on Tele Atlas mapping data, the same service that Google uses for its maps, and the one acquired by TomTom in 2007.  Once you’ve purchased and installed RouteBuddy for Mac (currently on sale for $59) and the detailed road map of the United States (sold separately for $39), you’ll need to install and register your map with the software.  Once complete, you’re ready to create your first navigable route:

  1. Select two or more Waypoints that you want to create a route between.
  2. From the Map menu, select the Create Route menu item.
  3. Double-click on the resulting route to change the order of the destinations if more than two waypoints were selected.
  4. Select the route you want to use from the drop down list of selections in the library on the left.
  5. Click Start to begin your turn-by-turn navigation.

There are several other ways to create a route from within RouteBuddy, too.  You can even connect to RouteBuddy Atlas (available for free from the App Store) on your iOS device via WebDav to access the waypoints and tracks you have recorded, and import them into RouteBuddy for Mac. When navigating, RouteBuddy will even recalculate the route if you don’t follow the turn-by-turn directions exactly, just like a dedicated GPS navigation device.  The points of interest database is quite extensive, with over 4 million items.  The smaller size of the MacBook Air’s screen makes it a perfect choice for use with RouteBuddy, but always remember to keep your eyes on the road, no matter what device you’re depending on to get from point A to point B.

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How to Backup Your DVD Movies for Mac, Apple TV, iOS & iPod

Creating an image file of a data disc is straightforward. Preserving music CDs on a Mac is only challenging if you wanted to get it just right.  While somewhat forbidden, it’s still possible to tame Blu-ray on a Mac as well.  That just leaves your DVD-based movie collection to conquer.

Surprisingly, I’ve found DVDs the most challenging of all disc formats to preserve and back up. The variety of software available for the task is overwhelming, and the success rate of said solutions is far from 100 percent. Sometimes you have to try different software, or tweak certain in order to get the desired outcome. Here’s a guide to using some of the best current Mac software available for DVD archiving.

Keeping Your Discs Clean

For whatever reason, DVDs tend to be the most fragile of the optical disc formats that I’ve had to deal with. Beyond keeping a soft cloth nearby to wipe down each disc before decrypting and decoding, I’ve found that more serious means of cleaning discs are often times necessary.  Generally speaking, Aleratec’s DVD/CD Disc Repair Kit for about $40 on Amazon gets the job done. You’d be amazed at how many failed rips can be resolved just by cleaning your disc.

Decrypt and Copy to Hard Drive

Once you have a clean disc, the next step is to get its contents onto your hard drive. On the Mac, there are only a few good options to consider for doing this. Longtime favorite MacTheRipper has all but disappeared, as has the open-source Fairmount.  That leaves Pavtube and The Little App Factory’s RipIt.  Since I already covered Pavtube when working with Blu-ray on the Mac, this time I’ll focus using RipIt.

  1. Download, install and launch RipIt.
  2. In the Preferences (Ripit > Preferences in the Menu Bar), under General, set the destination for the extracted files.
  3. Also in General Preferences, make sure that “Use .dvdmedia Extension” is not selected. This will make sure your movies are saved as a standard VIDEO_TS folder, which can be read by many applications.
  4. Insert a DVD and click Rip.

It’s that easy. And once you set the location where you want to store the decrypted movie files to, you don’t have to change your preferences unless you want to select a new destination. Just insert the DVD and click Rip.

Encode for Apple TV

While both Pavtube and RipIt offer the ability to compress the DVD’s content into various other formats directly while ripping, I prefer to use HandBrake on the Mac and its built-in preset list of supported device targets. Encoding from a DVD that has been copied to the hard drive is also much faster than encoding from the original disc.  To encode your video files with HandBrake, all you need to do is:

  1. Download, install and launch HandBrake.
  2. Click on the Source icon in HandBrake’s toolbar and navigate to the location where you ripped your DVD’s VIDEO_TS folder to using RipIt (which you set in step 2, above).
  3. In the drop-down menu labeled Title, select the title you wish to encode.  HandBrake usually does a pretty good job at automatically selecting the actual movie title, as it is typically the longest running video on the DVD.
  4. Toggle the presets and select Apple TV as the destination device.
  5. Select a destination and file name.
  6. Click on the green Start button.

Encode for Everything Else

Unfortunately there is not one best encoding format for all devices.  If you encode to the lowest common denominator (likely an older iPod), you’ll notice serious quality problems on larger HDTVs.  You can certainly follow the exact same steps above in HandBrake and select different destination devices each time, but there are two other more convenient options available to you:

iTunes Conversion. In Advanced menu in iTunes, you will notice two options: ”Create iPod or iPhone Version,” and “Create iPad or Apple TV Version.”  This works great for turning files in your library that you’ve created using HandBrake for Apple TV into ones that work with your iPhone or iPod.  This process tends to take a very long time to complete.

iSquint Conversion. Like MacTheRipper, iSquint has fallen from grace and is no longer supported.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still work.  Once you’ve created a version of the movie file created via HandBrake, all you need to do is drag and drop your media files onto iSquint’s single screen. iSquint is great when creating versions of movie files for older video iPods and iPod Classics.

Unfortunately, from time to time you’ll encounter a DVD that just wont rip using either iRip or Pavtube.  In these cases, if you have access to a Windows machine (virtual, Boot Camp, or physical) either AnyDVD or DVDFab should help you resolve the problem. Converting your DVD movies to Apple device-friendly formats may not be easy, but once it’s done, you can sit back and enjoy your film collection however you choose, which feels pretty good.

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How to Preserve Your Music CD Collection on a Mac

Music CDs take up space, break easily, get lost and aren’t nearly as easy to organize and manage as a hard drive-based iTunes collection. But if you want to back up your existing CD collection on your computer, it’s not as simple as just sticking the CD in your computer and hitting “Import,” especially if you’re concerned about audio quality.

You’d be mistaken for assuming that copying a music CD couldn’t be more complicated than copying a data disc. Well, it is, especially on a Mac. While Windows solutions like Exact Audio Copy (EAC) have long been cited as the gold standard for audio backups, a Mac version doesn’t exist. But I’ve come to find the abilities of the awesome, free X Lossless Decoder (XLD) on the Mac to be on par with those of EAC on the PC. XLD is the star of the first two methods below, while iTunes rounds out the list.

XLD: Best for Audiophile Digital Packrats

The big difference between using XLD and just using iTunes to rip a CD lies in the implementation of what is called Secure Ripping. Put simply, all optical discs (CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays) can become damaged.  Inherent in the design of a disc is the ability to rebuild lost data segments due to physical damage.  This built-in error correction capability can be exploited to make extremely accurate reproductions of the original audio stored on the disc.  The technique employed to securely rip a CD typically involves reading each segment of the disk multiple times, comparing the results of each read over and over until the ripping software is satisfied that it has an accurate representation of the original audio data.  When there’s an error, the ripping software attempts to rebuild the missing data segment. These results can be further analyzed against a database of other ripped tracks such as AccurateRip. Both EAC and XLD employ these secure ripping techniques and verify their results via AccurateRip for the best possible audio fidelity.

To decode a disk using XLD on the Mac you need to:

  1. Download, install and launch XLD.
  2. Open XLD Preferences (From the menu bar, XLD > Preferences).
  3. On the General tab, select the output format you want the disc ripped to. Choose a format like Apple Lossless to retain the full quality of the original music.
  4. On the CD Rip tab, select the ripping options you want to rip the disk with. Here you have the choice between CD Paranoia III 10.2 and XLD’s own Secure Ripper implementation. Either should be fine. Be sure to check the “Use C2 error pointers” option if your drive supports it.
  5. Insert your album and select Open Audio CD from the File menu, you should see the name of the CD in a sub menu. Select it.
  6. From the CDDB menu, click on Get CD Track Names to retrieve the album information from freedb.org.
  7. Select “Include pre-gap for all tracks” and click on Decode. You’ll be prompted for a location to save your ripped music to.

Note that in order to add album art, you’ll need to download the image file separately and add it manually. Ripping in this secure manner will take a little longer than other ripping methods.  This is, again, due to how the information is being read, verified and corrected before decoding.

Now you have backups of your music on your hard drive, ready to add to your iTunes collection. But Unlike EAC, XLD can’t take your backed-up music files and perfectly recreate a disc-based copy complete with the same file structure and sound quality. But just because XLD can’t do it doesn’t make it impossible.

XLD + Toast: Best for Audiophiles Who Want It All

Enter Roxio Toast, a program that allows you to make copies of audio CDs or back them up as image files. You have several copy options available to you with Toast.  You can copy the CD directly, save the album as a Sound Designer II image file, or save the CD as a binary copy with a cue sheet (BIN/CUE).  If you choose to create a BIN/CUE copy of the music CD on your hard drive, you can then use XLD later to decode the image and create individual music files for each track, or use your BIN/CUE version to create an exact replica using a CD-R. That way, you’ll have a burnable perfect copy of your disc, and files for your iTunes library. To do this, you need to:

  1. Download, install and launch Toast.
  2. Select the Copy tab in Toast and choose Disc Copy.
  3. In Toast’s Options box in the bottom left hand corner of the window, check “Use Disc Recovery”.
  4. From Toast’s File Menu, choose Save as Bin/Cue…
  5. Choose the save location for the resulting image files.
  6. Once this process is complete, launch XLD and open Preferences from the XLD menu.
  7. On XLD’s General tab, select the output format you want the disc ripped as.
  8. From XLD’s File menu, choose Open Raw PCM (bin+cue)…
  9. Navigate to the image file you saved from Toast in step 5 above.
  10. From the CDDB menu, click on Get CD Track Names to retrieve the album information from freedb.org.
  11. Select “Exclude pre-gap (incompatible with AccurateRip)” and click on Decode, you will be prompted for a location to save your ripped music to.

Again, in order to add album art, you will need to download the image file separately and add it manually.

iTunes: Best for the Casual Music Fan

The final, and simplest option, is to use iTunes and simply encode a music CD using Apple’s Lossless encoder directly from within iTunes itself.  iTunes can be configured to export many of the same audio formats as XLD.  iTunes also has the option to use error correction when reading Audio CDs. This is all relatively easy to configure via the Import Settings of the General tab within iTunes Preferences.  You can even burn a high-quality Music CD from within iTunes.

While it may all sound very good, this method likely won’t result in an exact copy of the original music CD.  Any time you decode an album and then take the decoded files in some other audio format and burn it back onto a CD-R, you jeopardize the integrity of the disc’s structure as well as the audio quality itself. Which method you end up choosing really boils down to how exact you want your copies to be.

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