Mac 911 - Feb. 2007

Manage iWeb pages from anywhere

I used to share my photos via .Mac’s HomePage feature. Now that I’ve upgraded to iLife ’06, iWeb is more suitable for my needs. The only problem is that with iWeb, I can manage my site only from my home computer. Is there any way to edit my iWeb site when I’m not at home?—WL Cheung

You can indeed manage an iWeb site from more than one computer, but doing so isn’t as easy as managing your .Mac page was.

iWeb stores its resources in your user folder—specifically, here: your user folder /Library/Application Support/iWeb/Domain.sites. When you’re away from your home computer, you’re usually away from that Domain.sites file and all its goods.

To muck with your iWeb site on another Mac, you must first copy this Domain file from your home Mac to the second Mac, taking care to put the copy in the same folder on it. When you launch iWeb on the second Mac, iWeb should display the site you created and let you edit it as you like. When you return home, you’ll need to copy the updated Domain file back to its original location on your home Mac, replacing the now out-of-date file.

Alternatively, if you have enough online storage space, you could copy the Domain file to a protected area of your iDisk and then download the file to any Mac you’re using when you’re out and about.

Which is better: .Mac or iLife?

I have a number of vacation photos I’d like to put online, with a caption below each. I have a .Mac account. I have iLife ’05, but I just bought iLife ’06. Should I use HomePage or iWeb?—Alan Serotta

Either can do the job, but iWeb has so many advantages that I couldn’t imagine doing things the old-fashioned .Mac HomePage way unless I needed to quickly post some pictures from a computer that wasn’t my own (more on that in a bit).

To begin with, iWeb is faster. Because your site is stored locally, you don’t have to wait for your Web pages to download before you can work on them. Nor do you have to wait while you upload a bunch of pictures to your iDisk; all the pictures you’ll be working with are on your Mac, and you can save the tedious uploading part for when you’ve completed your page. And iLife’s Media Browser lets you easily see what you’ll be adding to your iWeb page. It couldn’t be much simpler. Just click on the Photos tab in the Media Browser, choose an album, and drag selected pictures (or the entire album) into an iWeb photo page.

Both iWeb and HomePage allow you to change the frame style of your pictures, but iWeb does it faster, with the little Style pop-up menu that appears when you select a photo on a page and choose the Inspector window’s Graphic tab. Unlike HomePage, iWeb lets you change the page’s background—with a gradient fill or even a semitransparent image. In iWeb, it’s easy to set the amount of space you want between your images and their captions. And the Mac’s spelling checker is built into iWeb, so it’s easy to track down misspellings in your captions.

So are there no advantages to HomePage? As with many of .Mac’s tools, there is one: If you’re not at your own computer—if you’re using one at an Internet café, a library, or a friend’s house, for example—you can still use HomePage to easily create a page full of pictures on-the-fly (provided that either you can upload those images to your iDisk or the images already exist on that iDisk). When traveling abroad this summer, I couldn’t jack my PowerBook into my hotel’s Internet connection, but I was able to use one of the computers in the hotel’s business center. From that computer, I was able to post a few snaps I’d taken to a HomePage photo album. I couldn’t have done that with iWeb.

Keeping an eye on kids’ computing

If we didn’t stop them, our children would play online games such as World of Warcraft endlessly. I’ve seen a program called Time Boss for Windows that allows parents to set time limits on the use of certain programs. Is there an equivalent program for the Mac?—Kerry Fisher

You bet. Luma Code’s Mac Minder ($30) can provide the service you seek (see “Minor Minder”). It allows you to set time limits for single applications or groups of applications (all games or all browsers, for example). Just choose a user account, pick an application or a group of applications, and create either a simple schedule (one that limits the user to, say, one hour a day for applications in the Games group) or a custom schedule (which lets you specify how much time your kids can use a given app or group of apps each day: an hour between 4 and 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, for example).

The program requires that the administrator (a parent or teacher, for instance) enter a master password to create or edit schedules. Switching accounts won’t crack it—you need to know that master password to work with schedules. Version 2.5 lets you administer Macs remotely. You can also log and graph use by day and user and track user logins and logouts.

Note that if you can wait, Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) will have far more extensive parental controls than the current Accounts preference pane provides. We’ll just have to wait and see whether these new features will exceed what you get from Mac Minder and similar apps.

Recording conversations on Skype

A friend who lives across the country and I have been trying to put together a podcast, using Skype and recording both sides of the conversation. We’ve had a ton of problems, including lost connections and bad sound. Is there a way to do it without all the glitches?—Steve Larson

I’ve participated in a few podcasts using Skype and have to agree with you: free though Skype may be, recording podcasts over it is a pain in the neck. You have to put up with constant disconnections (particularly when recording conferences) and occasionally wonky sound.

Oneansweristhedual-recordingtechnique: Before podcast participants get on the line, everyone launches an audio-recording application on his or her computer and records his or her end of the conversation. Ideally, those recordings will be done in the same format.

One member of the podcast should ask that, on the count of three, everyone clap loudly just before the podcast begins (see “Start … Now!”). This produces an audio spike that’s easily discerned in the resulting recordings’ waveforms. When the podcast concludes, all participants save their recordings and ship them off to the person responsible for editing the podcast.

That person then imports each of the individual files into GarageBand (or any multitrack audio editor), switches on waveform viewing (if it’s not on by default), and uses the clap spike at the beginning of the recordings to line up the tracks. The resulting sound will be far superior to anything you’ll get from Skype.

Editing old home videos

I’m trying to use a DVD recorder to transfer my home videos to DVD. Then I’d like to be able to edit the .vob files from the DVD to cut out unnecessary footage. How do I transfer those .vob files from the DVD into an editing program on my Mac, without having to demultiplex them, recompress them, and so on? I’ve tried DVD Studio Pro without any luck.—Sarah McDonald

First, you’ll need a few apps: Squared 5’s free MPEG Streamclip, Apple’s QuickTime MPEG-2 Playback Component ($20), and Roxio’s Toast ($80). If you have Final Cut Pro or DVD Studio Pro, that MPEG-2 Playback Component should already be on your Mac—it’s included with those programs.

Once you have the apps, drag the .vob file you want to edit from the DVD into MPEG Streamclip. If there are additional .vob files associated with the one you’ve dragged into the program, you’ll be asked if you’d like to import all the parts of your movie. Yes, you would.

In MPEG Streamclip, use the Cut, Paste, and Trim commands to edit your video. Once it’s edited to your satisfaction, choose File: Save As, and save your edited file as a new .vob file; that way, your original .vob file won’t need any demultiplexing and recompressing. iDVD and DVD Studio Pro won’t take the resulting .vob file, but Roxio’s Toast will. Create a DVD-Video project in Toast, and drag the .vob file directly into Toast’s main window; then you should be good to go.

If you care to, you can export your video to another format that DVD Studio Pro will accept: MPEG Streamclip can export these files as standard QuickTime, DV, AVI, or MPEG-4 files.

Audio cable conundrum

I’m trying to import audio from an old tape deck to my iBook G4. That iBook doesn’t have a mic/line-in port, so I’ll need to use some sort of USB device. Assuming I can buy an external device—such as Griffin’s $40 iMic —to serve as an interface between my Mac and the tape deck, what kind of cables will I need to connect the tape deck to that external device and from that device to my Mac?—Michael Sung

Every device of this type that I’ve encountered—including the iMic—comes with the USB cable you need to connect it to your iBook. If whatever device you end up buying doesn’t come with one, you’ll need to find a standard A-to-B USB cable. The A side, which goes into your computer, has a rectangular male connector; the B connector is squarish and connects to the USB audio interface.

The cable you need for the other leg of the connection depends on your output device and the audio interface. Typical cassette players include RCA output ports—those red and white plugs that populate the typical home stereo. USB audio interfaces sometimes have RCA inputs as well. If so, just get a standard RCA-to-RCA cable and you’re in business.

The 1/8-inch minijack is increasingly popular on audio interface hardware. (The iMic, for example, includes minijack in and out.) This is the same kind of connector that your iBook’s headphone port uses. If you have a standard cassette player with RCA outputs, you’ll need an RCA-to-stereo miniplug Y cable (see “Coping with Cables”). A quick trip to Radio Shack should secure one for less than $10 (assuming you look elsewhere in the store after the clerk directs you to the nicely made, but really expensive, Monster cables).

Minor Minder: You can control your kids’ computer time with Mac Minder.Start … Now!: A telltale spike in the waveform will help you synchronize tracks. Coping with Cables: Need to connect audio hardware to your Mac? An RCA-to- miniplug Y cable is an increasingly popular answer.
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