Category Archives: Mac

How I Do It #3: iTunes Media Streaming

I just finished watching an episode of my favorite television show, Top Gear, but I did it in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago.

The show itself is a 700mb Quicktime mp4 file that lives on a 1-terabyte Western Digital external hard drive. That drive is connected via firewire to the iMac that sits on the desk in our office at home.

I created a reference to that Quicktime file in iTunes on the iMac by turning off the “Copy files to iTunes’ music folder” option in iTunes’ advanced preferences. That way, movie files are not added to the internal hard drive, saving space, but iTunes knows where they are and can play them when the external drive is connected. Normally, this “copy files” option is always on so that when I add music, iTunes organizes it nicely into the ~/iTunes/iTunes music folder.

But I don’t want to watch movies on my iMac at my desk, so out in the living room I’ve told my AppleTV to stream media from my iMac without syncing it to the AppleTV’s internal drive. So the episode of Top Gear that I watched took this path to get to my television:

Firewire hard drive > iTunes on the iMac > wifi network > AppleTV > TV via HDMI

Streaming playback over wifi from a hard drive daisy-chained to a computer in another room was painless, too. No skipping or stuttering, no dropped frames. The file might as well have been on the AppleTV’s internal 40gb hard drive.

But this isn’t necessarily anything new. People have been using computers and game consoles to stream media to their televisions for a couple years now. The part that wasn’t possible until just this year was that instead of using the little white Apple Remote that comes with the AppleTV, I used the Remote app on my iPhone, as seen here in a screenshot from the phone:


The black space in the middle normally shows the poster frame or album artwork, but since I didn’t create a poster frame for this Quicktime file, it shows a single frame from near the beginning of the file.

I love it when I’m able to use technology to do stuff like this easily without hours of frustration. There’s something to be said for a company that knows how to get all its products to work together so well, and it’s why I speak so highly of Apple’s products. When someone asks me why I prefer Apple to any other hardware maker, I use examples like this. By being in complete control of the hardware and the software that runs on it, Apple can guarantee that its products will work in harmony. I know it’s corny, but “it just works” is more than a commercial slogan.

Previous “How I Do It” entries:
#1: Auto-click in Safari
#2: Mouse button mapping using USB Overdrive

VisualHub discontinued.

In August 2007, I wrote about VisualHub, a small but powerful, versatile and extremely useful application for converting video files from one format to another. Since discovering it, VisualHub is an app I use on an almost daily basis, frequently more than two or three times per day. It is easily my favorite “little” app of all time.

Well, today is a sad day because I just found out that Techspansion is closing its doors, and its three applications have been discontinued. This may not matter to anybody else, but it’s a big loss to the Mac software community, and especially to people who use a Mac in video production and found VisualHub to be an invaluable tool.

VisualHub handles video files with ease, rivaling bigger file conversion applications like Squeeze, Episode and Apple’s own Compressor. Take into consideration that VisualHub costs $23.32 (because of the developer’s fondness for palindromes), and it stands out as an excellent value.

While there won’t be any more updates to VisualHub, it’ll still be a useful tool on all my Macs for a long, long time. And goodbye, iSquint, VisualHub’s free predecessor. And though we just barely got to know each other, goodbye AudialHub, an audio file conversion tool that showed great potential even in its infancy.

iPhone Pro-Tip: Reordering Icons After an Update [DEPRECATED]

*Apple has addressed this issue in the iPhone 2.1 software update*

When applications on your iPhone or iPod touch are updated, they get installed at the bottom of the last home screen, leaving an empty spot where the original app resided. I don’t know about you, but it annoys the crap out of me.

This is especially a pain when, to move the updated icon to back to its original position, you have to perform a delicate tap-and-hold-and-drag maneuver while the rest of the icons dance and jump around from row to row and screen to screen, further complicating the process. It’s enough to make me put off updating apps until I can plug my phone into my laptop and let iTunes handle the mess. Until now.

While brushing my teeth this morning, a simple shortcut popped into my head that will make reorganizing after an update virtually painless. And here it is:

1. In the image below, the homescreen on the left is my “main” screen. The empty space was once occupied by OmniFocus, which is now the last icon on the last screen (middle): four screens away from where it’s supposed to be.

2. While on the last screen, tap and hold any icon to activate the wiggling “reorder” mode. Then, pull any icon out of the “dock” at the bottom of the screen (I chose the iPod icon), and replace it with the app you want to move (right). Once it’s in the dock, press the home button to end reorder mode. The icons will stop wiggling.


3. Navigate to the homescreen where you want to place the new icon (below, left), and then tap and hold any icon once again to reactivate reorder mode. Drag the updated app’s icon out of the dock back to where it belongs (below, middle). Press the home button again to turn off reorder mode.

4. Finally, go back to the screen where you dropped off the first icon (below, right). Tap and hold any icon to enter reorder mode one more time, then tap and drag the desired icon back into the dock. Press the home button one last time to end reorder mode, and you’re all done.


This seems like a lot more work than it actually is, and as usual, I’ve over-explained it, but next time you have to update an app, give it a shot. It only takes a couple seconds, but it’s easy and effective. It should hold us over at least until Apple introduces an “update in place” feature, if it’s even possible.