Mac 911 - May 2007

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From VHS to DVD

Q: I have a lot of old home videos I want to transfer to DVD. What software or hardware do I need, and how do I get the process up and running?— Jerry Nichols

A: Usually, the first step in burning your videos to DVD is to transfer them to your Mac. There are a few ways to do that. If you have a MiniDV camcorder, it likely has a pass-through mode, in which the camera will take care of the conversion for you. Plug your VCR’s outputs into the camcorder’s inputs, string a FireWire cable between the camcorder and your Mac, enable the camera’s pass-through mode, and capture your movie in Apple’s iMovie. Note that your results may be less than perfect—some cameras perform better than others (and some, I’m told, don’t work at all).

Alternatively, you can purchase an analog-to-DV converter box such as Datavideo’s $185 DAC-200 or Canopus’s $229 ADVC55 (   ). Plug the VCR’s outputs into the analog input jacks on one of these boxes, string a FireWire cable between it and your Mac, and then capture your video in iMovie.

And if you have a Mac that sup-ports USB 2.0, you can use an EyeTV-compatible video-capture device such as Elgato’s $200 EyeTV 250 (   ), which has an MPEG-2 hardware encoder. If you need to make only minimal edits—simple cuts to lop out extraneous material, for example—the included EyeTV 2 software will do the job, but it doesn’t let you add transitions or effects.

Once you’ve captured the video (by any of these methods) and opened it in iMovie, you can edit it and then export it to Apple’s iDVD to burn it to disc.

If you’re simply looking for a way to archive your video on a more durable medium and don’t want to bother with all those steps, you can skip your computer altogether. A number of manufacturers, including Panasonic, Toshiba, and Philips, sell VHS-DVD decks for under $200—your local electronics store is sure to have at least one of these units on the shelves ( is another good source). These decks can dub tapes to writable DVDs (and vice versa)—and as a bonus, they operate like traditional VCRs.

Later, if you decide you want to edit the video you’ve burned to DVD, you can always extract it from the disc with a tool such as the free HandBrake. Then pull it into iMovie and edit to your heart’s content.

Create the endless DVD

Q: How can I burn a QuickTime movie in iDVD that loops but doesn’t have a menu?— Jane Williams

A: I assume that you need this setup for use in a kiosk. No sweat. Launch iDVD (/Applications) and open a new project (File: New). Click on the DVD Map button (the one just to the right of the Play button at the bottom of the window). At the top of the resulting pane is a box that reads, “Drag content here to automatically play when the disc is inserted.” Do as it suggests: drag your QuickTime movie into this box. Then click on the box to select it, and choose Advanced: Loop Movie.

Save your project and burn it. When you shove the disc into your DVD player and press play (or insert the disc into your Mac’s media drive, which is configured by default to automatically play DVDs), the movie you dragged into the automatic-play area will play, and play, and play.

Too much of a good thing?

Q: Does having too many applications slow down a Mac? System Profiler lists 375 on my G5 iMac. I could remove tons of them with Austin Sarner’s and Brian Ball’s AppZapper, but would that speed up my system?— Stephen Good

A: It depends on a few factors: how much hard-drive space those applications consume, the amount of processing power their components use, and the resources your open programs are sucking when they’re supposed to be doing nothing.

If your Mac is so crammed with applications (and other kinds of data) that you have very little room left on the hard drive, system performance will suffer. OS X uses free hard-drive space for its virtual memory scheme. At the very least, I try to leave 10 percent of my startup-drive space free so the OS has room for those virtual memory chores (see Reclaim Your Hard Drive ).

When an application runs a background job that’s placing demands on your Mac’s processor, the mere presence of that program could slow down performance. In Activity Monitor (/Applications/Utilities), see which background processes appear at the top of the list when you sort by % CPU. If you can do without any of the top ones, getting rid of those programs may improve performance.

If an application requires a login item—if you have a backup program that requires a scheduling component to monitor your Mac behind the scenes, for example—your Mac may take longer to boot up. Again, getting rid of a program you don’t need (and its accompanying login item) may bring you to the desktop a little bit faster when you first start up your Mac.

And don’t forget that open applications can suck on the CPU as well. For instance, I often have Microsoft Word open while I’m working with another application. Word’s doing absolutely nothing, as far as I can tell, yet Activity Monitor tells me that it’s using between 3 and 4 percent of the CPU (see “Stop Processor Hogs”). I’ve found that if I leave a browser open for days on end, this has an impact on performance as well.

So try quitting applications when you’re really and truly done with them. If you find that one of your programs is sucking more of your computer’s oomph than you care for, look for a less processor-hungry alternative.

Finally, have you looked at your Dashboard widgets lately? Third-party widgets can distract your processor, too. See what they’re doing in Activity Monitor. Clear out any processor hogs that you installed out of curiosity but never use.

Shift audio pitch and speed

Q: I am a dance teacher and need some recommendations for Mac-compatible music-editing programs. The software must be extremely user-friendly (I’m a non-geek) and allow me to slow down the tempo of a track without changing its pitch. I also need to edit a track’s length and insert vocal narration between tracks. Any suggestions would be welcome—the simpler, the better!— Lorelei Coutts Luxton

A: If you want the best sound quality in an easy-to-use package, I suggest Roni Music’s Amazing Slow Downer ($45). This Universal app’s name nicely describes what it does. Feed the program an audio CD or an audio file, and then adjust the pitch or speed (see “Change Tempo, Not Pitch”).

When you adjust only the Speed slider, the track’s tempo changes without the pitch changing. Likewise, you can adjust only the Pitch slider to change the pitch without changing the tempo. You can also adjust both, set the start and stop points of your track, and even loop your track.

Once you’ve modified the music to your liking, save the track and export it as an AIFF, MP3, QuickTime, or AAC file. You can import tracks into Apple’s GarageBand (which you likely have in your Applications folder); there, you can array them in a sequence and record narration between them.

You might also try HairerSoft’s $40 Amadeus Pro. This is a full-featured audio-editing application that includes a Change Pitch And Speed command in its Effects menu. This command’s results aren’t as polished as those of Amazing Slow Downer—audio artifacts are far more apparent. But you can do everything you want to within Amadeus Pro without changing over to GarageBand. The application can change the pitch and speed of your tracks, as well as sequence them and add narration between them.

Toss out unnecessary languages

Q: I understand that I can recover hard-disk space by removing foreign languages from OS X. The problem is that I need foreign-language support in some applications but not others. Is there a way to selectively remove language support from applications?— Lane Weiss

A: There is, but if you have a lot of applications, you’ll find the process tedious. Select an application and press 1-I to bring up the Info window. Click on the triangle next to the Languages entry to reveal a list of languages that the application supports (some applications support only one). Hold down the 1 key and select the languages you don’t want. Then click on the Remove button. You’ll be warned that the program may not function properly if you proceed—so it’s a good idea to have a backup, just in case something goes awry.

When you click on OK in the warning dialog box to proceed, the associated .lproj language folders will be moved to the Trash. To permanently slim your application, empty the Trash.

Stop Processor Hogs: Does your Mac seem slow? Use Activity Monitor to find out whether open applications, such as Microsoft Word, are gobbling up resources.Change Tempo, Not Pitch: Amazing Slow Downer can change the tempo of a music track without making it sound as though the Chipmunks had produced it.
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