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#656: Skype + iPhone, Introducing RapCap, iBook HD Replacement Video, Identifying Chipsets


Happy Tuesday,

With warmer temperatures and signs of spring everywhere I look, I took my yearly March swim in the Mad River on Sunday. Owen doesn’t mind the cold water, and swam whenever the river wasn’t ice-covered through the winter, but to me the water seemed much colder than usual this year.

With Spring comes the anticipation of fresh, local food. Ramps and morels aren’t far off. It’s a great time to consider joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) program near you. These programs are fantastic: you buy in at the start of the season and pick up a load of fresh veggies each week through the fall. A tremendous resource, no matter where you live, is the excellent There you can find the CSAs near you and other resources to help you eat and live sustainably.

Enjoy this issue, and keep in touch!


  Corrections and Feedback on Last Week's Tips  

High Resolution Icons
Last week’s article regarding the high resolution icons often seen in this newsletter works only under Leopard. I apologize to the many thousands of Tiger-using Tech Tails readers for whom this won’t work.



Get in Character
Last week, in my tip, “Get in Character,” I featured the keyboard symbol command for the Degree symbol (˚) as either “Option-K or Option-0” and asked: “Does anyone know which is actually ‘officially’ correct?”

As Michael L. notes:
“PopChar indicates that the degree is Shift-Option-8. Option-0 is described as a ‘masculine ordinal indicator’ and Option-K as a ‘ring above.’”

Hugh H. writes:
“I don’t know whether or not this is ‘officially’ correct but I have always used ° (option-shift 8) for the Degree symbol. That was from Robin Williams book ‘The Mac is not a Typewriter.’ Upon further checking, he wrote, “I find that Option-K (˚) indicates a circle above and Option-0 (º) indicates a Masculine Ordinal Indicator, while Option-Shift-8 (°) is the degree sign. I hope this is of some help. I enjoy trying to track these obscure things down.”

Thanks to those who clarified!


  Skype, Meet iPhone. Finally!  

With the introduction of the iTunes App Store some time ago, the iPhone and iPod touch became even more useful devices. Anyone could be an iPhone developer and get their software onto the App store, and thousands of people have done just that. My iPod touch has five pages of Apps ranging from Pandora, for free music streaming; to Air Sharing, which makes the iPod essentially a wireless hard drive and network browser; to TextGuru, a full-featured text editor that includes copy and paste functions.

Skype released its own App late last night, and the blogosphere is buzzing with reviews and commentary. Skype has been around for quite some time, and is a robust instant messaging, video conferencing, and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) phone service with software available for Mac and Windows users. The Skype App allows you to place free calls to other Skype users on your iPhone or pay a nominal by-the-minute fee to call any landline in the world.

Initial reports suggest that the Skype App works well. It is not as fully featured as the computer-based client software, however. For one, there is not a video conference function. Also, it is not possible to have Skype remain active in the background while your iPhone is sleeping, making it impractical–useless, really–for incoming calls. And, presumably to appease the mobile carriers worldwide, Skype works only while connected to a terrestrial Wi-Fi network. It will not, and probably never will, work over the phone companies’ 3G networks, even though the networks could handle the additional traffic with aplomb. After all, the phone companies are essentially the ones buying the iPhones!

  Video: 14" iBook Hard Drive Replacement  

A few months ago I was sent a challenge over email: to make a video of a hard drive replacement on a 14” iBook. Now, for most technicians they wouldn’t consider a hard drive replacement to be a “challenge,” as hard drives tend to be the easiest thing to replace on computers. That said, it has always been interesting to me that for a new technician the 14” iBook hard drive replacement carries some of the same fears as an optical drive on a 12” PowerBook (a repair that requires gutting the whole machine and removing the logic board before one can remove the optical drive). While I certainly do not put the two on par with each other, I will admit that replacing a hard drive on a 14” iBook feels much like driving all around New York State looking for a White Castle; both seemingly easy tasks that just take way too long to complete!

While many first-time technicians take anywhere from 1-3 hours to replace the hard drive in an iBook, I haven’t found most experienced technicians to take more than 30 minutes and, in truth, it shouldn’t take more than 15-20. Below is the video split in three parts and they add up to 23 minutes which includes commentary. Hopefully I met my challenge and I also hope that those who think a hard drive replacement is never really a “big deal” get a little more of an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes when you drop off your computer for repair!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

  What's Your (Chip) Set?  

Customers are asking all the time these days which FireWire controller is installed in particular Macs they’re thinking of buying. I figured that information would be available in System Profiler, and was amazed when I learned that it wasn’t. I was intrigued. How do you determine which chip is used without opening up the machine and looking at it?

The answer is Single User Mode, conjured by holding down the command and S keys immediately after your computer makes the startup chime. You’ll see the screen turn from the expected gray to black with white text. As the white text scrolls past, there will be a reference to the FireWire chip set used in your machine. The information for my iMac (from late 2008), uses a Lucent ID 501 that supports FireWire 800, as indicated in this line:

FireWire (OHCI) Lucent ID 5901 built-in now active, GUID 000ff3fffe2f9ff2; max speed s800

The same chipset was found in an early 2008 MacBook and a new Mac mini; the Pro machines tend to include Texas Instruments chip sets. There is a third type that may be in your machine made by Agere. The main reason so many are asking about the chipset is that some online forums claim that professional audio devices, particularly those from Apogee and MOTU, do not play well with the Agere chip set. We have no evidence that this is true, and find it extremely unlikely.

  Introducing the RapCap  

Speaking of Skype, Chill Pill Audio, the makers of the Chill Pill mobile speakers, are about to release a tiny microphone called the RapCap™. It’s the perfect addition to your iPod touch using Skype. Of course, it’s great for use with much more than Skype.

RapCap allows you to easily record crisp, clear audio on an iPod nano 4G, iPod classic 120GB, iPhone 3G, and iPod touch 2G. Featuring a durable, ultra-compact design, extreme simplicity of use, and a low MSRP of only $14.99, the RapCap is the perfect accessory for iPod and iPhone.

It’s completely plug and play, thanks to the recording software built in to all compatible iPods; very thrifty, barely affecting the battery life of the host iPod; and it leaves the dock port open for charging and syncing with a computer via the dock cable.

You’ll be able to buy a RapCap at in the upcoming weeks. For more information, check out

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