Mac 911 - April 2007

Keeping up-to-date with iPhoto

Q: I’ve noticed the calendar icon that appears in iPhoto 6’s lower left corner, but I’m not sure how to put it to good use. Any recommendations? —Dale Carson

A: You’ve discovered the much-overlooked calendar feature in Apple’s iPhoto 6 (   ), part of the $79 iLife ’06 suite. Click on this icon, and a list of months appears in the lower left corner of your iPhoto window. Select a month and then click on the small arrow to the left of the year to see a calendar view of that month.

The calendar provides some helpful ways to locate pictures in a crowded iPhoto library. For example, you can use it to find out in which months you shot pictures.

In year view, if the name of a month appears in black type, you shot pictures that month. If the name is in gray type, you didn’t. The same idea applies to month view—days on which you took photos appear in black type; days on which you didn’t appear in gray. Click on a date or month to reveal all the photos associated with that time period in the main iPhoto window.

You can also use the calendar to tally the number of pictures you took in a certain month or on a certain day. Hover your cursor over a month’s name to reveal a tool tip indicating the number of pictures tagged for that month and year. For example, when I hover the cursor over April 2006, I see that I shot 217 photos that month. When you’re in month view, hover over a date, and a tool tip reveals how many pictures you took that day (see “Photos by Date”).

Here’s a handy way to gather all the pictures you’ve taken for a recurring event—say, the winter holidays. Click on the triangle to the left of the year to reveal the month view. Then use the up arrow (next to the word Calendar) to move to December 2006. Click on the dot to the left of the week that includes your holiday event. This highlights that week. Move back to December 2005 and 1-click on the same special week. The past two years’ worth of holiday pictures will now appear in iPhoto’s main window.

Choose File: New Album From Selection and you’ve collected all your holiday photos in one place. If you want to be even more precise, choose specific days each month with this 1-click technique.

Group think

Q: In the January 2007 Geek Factor, “3 Amazing AppleScripts,” I noticed that the author had seven iCal calendars subordinated under the cate-gory School. How do you make one or more calendars do this? —Tom Ballen

A: What you’ve witnessed is iCal’s Group Calendar feature (found in the Mac OS X 10.4 version of Apple’s iCal). To employ it, open iCal (in your /Applications folder) and choose File: New Calendar Group. A new group entry appears in iCal’s Calendars list. You can organize your calendars by dragging them into this group. For example, put all your kids’ calendars or collections of sports teams’ schedules here.

The group calendar feature offers a couple of advantages. The first is that you can easily reveal or hide all the calendars within a group by selecting or deselecting the box next to the group’s name. The second is that you can publish a group as a single calendar to your .Mac account or a WebDAV server (by choosing Calendar: Publish); this solves the age-old iCal problem of how to generate a Web-based calendar that includes only the events from a single calendar.

A bit on bit rates

Q: The AAC version of Macworld’s podcast is larger than the MP3 version. I thought AAC was based on MPEG-4, which is supposed to provide the same quality as MP3 but better compression. What gives? —Gino Vogt

A: You’ve got it partly right. Apple claims that AAC files sound better than MP3 files encoded at the same bit rate, which is the number of bits per second used to encode audio, represented in kilobits per second (Kbps). But the files are no smaller—in fact, AAC and MP3 files encoded at the same bit rate are usually about the same size. AAC just provides better sound at this bit rate than its MP3 counterpart.

In the case of the Macworld podcast, we’re using the same bit rate for both the AAC and the MP3 versions— 32 Kbps with mono sound. I wouldn’t dream of encoding music at such a low bit rate, but for speech, it’s a perfectly fine compromise—particularly when you consider how long it would take to download 45 minutes of audio encoded at music quality (and what it would cost to host such large files).

The AAC version is a touch larger because it’s an enhanced podcast—one that includes pictures, links, and chapters. (If you haven’t yet listened to our podcast, you can give it a try.)

Moving GarageBand loops

Q: I am a huge fan of GarageBand. I have been using it for a few years now, and have only one major gripe. I’ve installed four GarageBand Jam Packs. These sound libraries take up a large chunk of my hard-drive space—nearly 17GB. I work on an iBook G4 that has only 25GB of available space. Is there any way to move these Jam Packs to an external drive? —Zach Paull

A: There is. Apple’s GarageBand (part of the $79 iLife ’06 suite;   ) stores loops in two locations—/Library/ Audio/Apple Loops and /Library/ Application Support/GarageBand/ Apple Loops.

Dig into these folders until you find the folders that hold specific Jam Packs: for example, Jam Pack 2 - Remix Tools and Jam Pack 4 - Symphony Orchestra. Copy these folders to your external drive by dragging them there. Then drag the original folders to the desktop.

GarageBand will give no indication that it can’t find its loops until you try to use one of them. Then it will display a dialog box indicating that it hasn’t a clue where they are and asking if you’d like to reindex your loops. Click on Cancel.

Now locate the Jam Pack folders that you copied to your external drive and drag them into GarageBand’s Loop Browser. GarageBand will acknowledge that you’re attempting to add loops to the browser and ask if you’d like to keep the loops in their current location or copy them to the Loops folder. The correct answer is Current Location. Test your configuration by selecting one of the Jam Packs from the browser loops pop-up menu (the one that normally reads My Loops), choosing a sound, and previewing it. If GarageBand won’t play it and instead shows you that reindexing dialog box, let GarageBand reindex the loops this time.

Once you’re sure everything is working as it should, you can toss out the original loops folders that you moved to the desktop.

Icon, begone!

Q: How do I remove or hide the hard-drive icon in the upper right corner of my desktop? —Gene Dybinski

A: Choose Finder: Preferences and, in the resulting window, click on the General tab if it’s not selected already. Here you’ll see the option to show specific items on the desktop. Simply deselect the Hard Disks option and your hard-drive icon will disappear from the desktop. If you want to, you can also remove hard-drive icons from the Finder window’s sidebar. Just click on the Sidebar tab in the Finder preferences pane and disable the Hard Disk option here as well.

Here’s a little bonus tip: Just as it’s easy to make icons disappear from places where you don’t want them, you can also make an item (a volume, a folder, an application, or a file) appear in more places than usual. To add an item to the toolbar at the top of every Finder window, for instance, drag it to an open Finder window’s toolbar. Hold it there for a couple of seconds until you see a green plus sign (+). Then let go of the mouse button and the item’s icon will appear in the toolbar (see “Easier Access”). Should you later wish to remove it, hold down the 1 key and drag it out of the toolbar.

DVD conversion

You paid good money for your commercial DVDs, and it takes little more than a five-year-old armed with a jar of jam to destroy them. Use these tools to back them up.

HandBrake (free): I’ve tried just about every Mac DVD-ripping utility on earth. Many of them do a decent job, but they can’t touch the complete capabilities that Eric Petit and Laurent Aima’s tool offers for free. (For detailed instructions on how to use it to convert video for your iPod, see If you don’t need HandBrake’s many configuration options, choose its less full-featured sibling, Instant HandBrake (also free). Like HandBrake, Instant HandBrake can convert commercial DVDs to a format that’s playable on your Mac, iPod, or Sony PSP.

VisualHub ($23): My love for Techspansion’s universal video converter for the Mac is nearly boundless. VisualHub can convert almost any video format you throw at it to iPod, PSP, DV, DVD, TiVo, AVI, MP4, WMV, MPEG, and Flash formats. It can even fit up to 18 hours of video on one DVD—though that video won’t look pristine.

What does this have to do with your DVDs? Although Techspansion claims that VisualHub won’t convert video from commercial DVDs, it has in many cases (though not always) done so successfully for me. For example, it ripped Master and Commander with no complaints but produced garbage when ripping my DVD collection of the first season of Arrested Development. (HandBrake had no problems with Arrested Development.)

Another bonus: VisualHub can help you put your converted content on a DVD (compressing it to fit on a single disc) and then burn it—no need to purchase additional tools such as Roxio’s $100 Toast or $50 Popcorn 2 or Erwin van den Berg’s €40 DVD2oneX2. Both of these utilities, however, do provide more flexible DVD-burning options than VisualHub.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, second edition , and Secrets of the iPod and iTunes, sixth edition (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]

Photos by Date: Hover your cursor over a date in black type in your iPhoto calendar to see how many pictures you took that day. Click on the number, and all the pictures appear in the iPhoto window.Easier Access: To make it easier to launch applications and open deeply buried folders or files you use often, drag them into any Finder window’s toolbar. From there, you can get to them with just one click, whenever you’re looking at a Finder window.
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