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Mix Magazine

This installment of The Bitstream column appeared in the April 2004 issue of Mix Magazine.

The Bitstream

This column discusses my annual coverage of MacWorld San Francisco and the Winter CES…

Alpha Geeks & Gadget Phreaks

At least once a year, I subject myself to the rigors of the trade show circuit, just to test whether I still have the wherewithal to emerge unscathed. This month, Bitstream looks at the stuff that’s piled up on my desk ’round trade show time…

Let’s start with some tidbits not specifically from trade show land but of interest nonetheless…I enjoy talking face to face with my customers when possible but, airfares being what they are, the budget usually prohibits that. Of late however, something simple has come along and that something is iChat A/V. With an ADSL connection and FireWire camera, face time is no longer costly and, since file transfers are also part of the package, I can get a whole lot of stuff taken care of in short order. Plus, it’s fun! Now, with the help of Pixion’s PictureTalk, even Win users can join in. Though not anywhere near the cost of iChat, free being a good thing, PictureTalk brings welcome interoperability to the web conferencing party. In the IT world, I expect 2004 to be the Year of VOIP (Voice Over IP) and, for me. it’s already a hit!

Another product came to my attention while working on a white paper for a client and this one’s essential for anyone whose interested in insurance — business insurance that is. The TOLIS Group, already having shipped the first enterprise–class backup solution for OS 10, is now providing a GUI–driven version of their BRU or Backup/Restore Utility technology. BRU for Mac OS X joins the rest of the family, which already provides comprehensive Unix /Linux support. Since these guy have been doing Unix backup for 18 years and Linux since it was born, they provided the first end-user application for Linux, I feel more comfortable with their solution than what’s been offered so far. It’s not just their reputation, but also their philosophy of engineering “to ensure that the data can come back” after a failure, as Bob Christ, Executive VP at the TOLIS Group puts it. Backups are good but if you can’t restore, why bother?

On to the trade shows…You may not have noticed but, as Apple goes, so does the rest of computing for us media mechs. First it was bitmapped graphics, then SCSI, then 32 bit computing, then media wrappers (think QuickTime), then FireWire, then cutting edge hardware designs (think iMac), then 802.11 and now 64 bit in your studio. So, to keep an eye on Big Steve’s reality distortion field, I headed over to Moscone for yet another MacWorld.

Though announced at NAMM, M-Audio’s FireWire Audiophile and FireWire 18/14 interfaces are out in the market now. I had a FireWire 410, but M-Audio swapped it for a FireWire Audiophile and, for the price, everything about this unit is well done. It’s built around AKM’s AK4628 192/24 bidirectional converter and BridgeCo AG’s “ENA” or Entertainment Network Adapter. The ENA provides low latency signal transport and data format conversion over, in this case, a FireWire 400 interface. With a front panel 1/4" TRS headphone jack along with 2 in, 4 out unbalanced analog spigots plus MIDI and a single AES Type II unbalanced I/O, all you need is an inexpensive mic pre to get on with your work.

Many of you readers are closet collectors and Intelli Innovations is selling a great product called IntelliScanner Collector. Collector makes a pack rat’s job a good bit easier by leveraging both the UPC bar codes on most commercial products and the huge databases of metadata on the Web. When you scan the UPC on a CD, book or DVD with the included USB–attached handheld reader, Collector interrogates Web databases such as Amazon’s, then automagically populates a database record representing that item. It also has a manual entry mode with bar code generation and is a must–have for any media junkie. Since Intelli also makes companion bar code products, IntelliScanner Collector looks to be an easy way to keep track of all the media that usually floats around a facility.

What’s a computer trade show without storage products? Not much of a trade show actually, so ATTO was showing iSCSI HBAs, currently with Win–only support. Now that the standard’s been ratified, hopefully Cupertino will get on the stick with iSCSI support as well. Also in storage news, ACard has a new, 4 channel SATA RAID HBA. Whoa, how’s that for a gaggle of acronyms! In the Easier To Understand category, LaCie showed their Bigger Drive, a truly gargantuan 1 TB drive in a 5.25" full height enclosure. That’s enough room for over 10 hours of 8 channel, single speed DSD…my, oh my. All their new drives have a triple interface, with FireWire 400 and 800 for the pros along with USB2.0 for the less demanding.

To go alone with the aforementioned Bigger Drive and BRU, Exabyte exhibited a FireWire 800 VXA library, their new VXA-2 PacketLoader 1x10, a 1U 10–tape version of what used to be a 2U product. Well over a week’s worth of peace of mind in less space…

I’ve mentioned InfiniBand a few time in the past and now that the world’s third fastest supercomputer is Virginia Tech’s G5 cluster, the promise of InfiniBand is starting to reach down into the grasp of mere mortals. Look for neatly packaged solutions to even the toughest CPU–to–CPU connection problems in 2005. Imagine what this could do for Nuendo or any situation where a render farm is needed.

Yes, Virginia, there’s even audio in them thar corn–puter hills…The Rogue Amoeba kids were singing the praises of the newest addition to their stable of audio utilities, Nicecast, the “…easiest way to broadcast music from OS X” over the ’net. This joins their other audio products which control routing and recording of audio anywhere in your Mac.

The sound isolation stalwarts from Noren were proudly showing their newest AcoustiLock enclosures. Noren keeps the world quiet, cool and dust-free to boot! Speaking of isolation, CRYPTOCard showed what they claim is the first spook–strength authentication solution for OS X. It includes hardware authentication and is a perfect complement to Panther’s new Fast User Switching feature…Keep it secret, keep it safe, as Gandalf would say.

By now, you’ve all heard about GarageBand. What can I say about it except, I wish I had it when I was in high school! While we’re on the subject of consumer software, I must mention good ol’ Aladdin Systems, since they’re selling a bundle aimed at that same 13 year old who buys GarageBand and grows up to be either a guitarist (if she’s good), an audio engineer (if he’s middling) or a lawyer if they can’t figure out what else to do with themselves. They call the bundle The Big Mix and it’s got Rogue A’s Audio Hijack and a bunch of other compositional tools and utilities, all at a very nice price.

That’s all me wrote for this month. Next time, be on the lookout for the straight poop on lossless codecs with a side order of more audio stuff that I’m still evaluating. Part Deux of the Pedants In A Box tech–speak glossary is also on the horizon so, until such time, rock on!


OMas trusts his spendy but effective packet of No-Jet-Lag when traveling ’round the globe to bring the big stories back to you, Mr. and Mrs. Audio Engineer. This particular column was written while under the influence of’s offering of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Tokyo Dome City, a little bit of Vegas in the heart of modern Edo.