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Theater Review: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Redux, at the Royal Shakespeare Company

About six weeks ago, I saw the RSC’s latest production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona (you can read my review of that performance). I was able to see it again today, at one of its last performances, which was also used as a camera rehearsal for tomorrow’s broadcast live to cinemas.

I suggest you see my full review of the first performance I saw to learn about this production, but I wanted to make a few comments here about seeing it a second time. As I suggested in July, it’s a shame that this play had such a short run, and that the RSC essentially ignores it on their website. It’s a bright, intelligent production, with youthful vigor and a dynamic cast. It’s a play that doesn’t take itself seriously, but that deals with both comic and serious situations.

I noted that the first part of the play was much longer than the second; seeing it again, this seemed a bit odd. This can be explained by a minor set change, but it does unbalance the experience. Seeing a first part which is around an hour and a half, then as second that’s merely 45 minutes, just feels odd.

One change I noted was in the lighting. In a scene which is set in a disco in Milan, there were bright banks of light on either side of the stage. In my first review, I said:

“Sitting on the side of the stage, I was blinded during some scenes by three bright banks of lights on the other side, one at each level of the theater. I’ve sat in that location for several plays in the theater, and never noticed the lights to be a bother.”

They didn’t use those lights this time, either because of the filming, or because they realized that they were, well, annoying.

It’s too late to see this on stage now; the last performance is tomorrow, the one that will be broadcast to cinemas. If you can, go see it. It’s a fun play, one that isn’t performed often, and one that, in this production at least, deserves more attention.

Oodles of Great Ways to Manage Email

If there’s one daily chore that cries out for automation, it’s managing your email inbox. Fortunately, there are all kinds of tools—some built into Mail.app itself, others from third-party vendors—that can help you do just that.

In my latest (collaborative) Macworld article, seven of us – myself, together with colleagues Christopher Breen, Katie Floyd, Dan Frakes, Matt Gemmell, Topher Kessler and David Sparks – discuss automation tricks we use to manage our email. I cover email rules, and using email to store my favorite tweets. Read the entire article to learn new ways to make your email more productive.

The ABCs of Lossless Music Files

Lots of people like to use lossless digital music files. These are files that reproduce exactly what is on a CD, with no loss in quality; they can even go further, offering high-resolution capabilities, with bit depths and sample rates well above that of CD.

One of the advantages of lossless files is that they are bit-perfect replicas of your CDs (or digital downloads). When you rip a CD to a lossless format, then play it back, iTunes, or other software, converts the file to the exact same digital stream as was on the original CD.

This can be confusing. In a recent Ask the iTunes Guy column on Macworld, I addressed a question about that. A reader had written in:

“I read your column regularly, and really appreciated your recent explanation of AIFF, WAV, and Apple Lossless formats. But I don’t get it; how can the file size of Apple Lossless be half that of AIFF without some voodoo going on?”

My reply was:

“I received this email with the subject: Apple Lossless, Magic?. And I can understand that it can seem like there’s some voodoo in this process, but it’s actually pretty simple. (At least the concept is simple; the math behind it is a bit above my pay grade.)

“Imagine that you have a text file with, say, the complete works of William Shakespeare. This text file contains 908,774 words, and takes up 5.6 MB on disk. If I compress the file using OS X’s built-in Zip compression, the same file takes up just over 2 MB, or about 36 percent of the original file size.

“Lossless compression for audio works in a similar way. Unlike, say, AAC or MP3 files—where psychoacoustic models are used to determine which parts of the audio can be removed without affecting what you hear—lossless compression formats simply compress all of the data in a file. When played back, these files are decompressed on the fly, so the compressed data becomes audio data again, in a bit-perfect equivalent to the original. Nothing is lost, just as none of Shakespeare’s words are lost when I decompress the zipped file.”

But there’s another thing you should know about lossless files. You can convert from one lossless format to another, back and forth, without losing any data. (This, of course, assumes that you have no hard disk glitches or the like.) So, when a reader wrote me today asking some questions about AIFF files, I asked why he didn’t use Apple Lossless? He can save half the space with the same quality.

Here’s an overview of lossless audio file formats:

  • AIFF: These are files that take raw PCM (pulse-code modulation) data from a CD and wrap it in a header so it can be used on a computer. AIFF files are commonly used on Macs.
  • WAV: These are similar to AIFF files, but more commonly used on PCs.
  • Apple Lossless: This is a format that Apple created, then later released as open source, which compresses losslessly, so the resulting files take up roughly half the space of the original AIFF or WAV files.
  • FLAC: These are files in the Free Lossless Audio Codec format. iTunes does not support FLAC and probably never will.

You can rip CDs in iTunes in AIFF, WAV or Apple Lossless. You can buy music by download in FLAC and Apple Lossless, with some sites also selling AIFF and WAV files.

It’s important to note that, if you use iTunes, WAV files are problematic, since they don’t support tags or album art very well. AIFF files do, as long as you keep them in your iTunes library. When you move them, some of the metadata is lost. If you want to use lossless files with iTunes, Apple Lossless is the way to go.

But, since you can convert these files easily, and for the best metadata support, I recommend that you use Apple Lossless files. Use the free XLD, or X Lossless Decoder, to convert from one lossless format to another.

If you want to keep a library of lossless music, save the space; don’t use AIFF or WAV, because there is no difference in the audio quality (despite what some audiophiles claim).

Neil Young’s Pono Player Delayed

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Neil Young’s Toberlone-shaped Pono high-resolution music player, which was supposed to be released in the fall, has been delayed until the first quarter of 2015. This product earned $6.25 million on Kickstarter, then $7 million on Crowdfunder, which is a crowd-funding investment site, so the company has around $13 million (though they don’t have all of the Crowdfunder money yet). That will earn a lot of interest between now and delivery date.

This is another setback for Pono, which has seen its CEO leave (or be fired), and those fans who ponied up money may start getting antsy. Oh, and Neil Young’s getting divorced; it’s not clear if that has anything to do with the delay…

TextExpander 4, an Essential OS X Utility, on Sale Half Price, only $17

TextExpander is another one of those utilities that I couldn’t live without on my Mac. The principle is simple: you set up snippets of text that TextExpander replaces when you type certain abbreviations. For example – let me go turn TextExpander off, so it doesn’t expand what I’m going to type… – I type hrf to create HTML link, with TextExpander inserting the contents of the clipboard in between tho quotes, then moving the cursor between the two parts of the tag, so I can type the text that will be seen. Or, I type lb for LaunchBar, which has saved me a lot of time when I was recently working on the soon-to-be-released update to my Take Control of LaunchBar. (And, as you can imagine, writing this article, I just used the first snippet again.)

Here’s what the TextExpander interface looks like:

Mail001

It’s sober and utilitarian, but you don’t see it often, only when you create or edit snippets. There are also other, quicker ways to create snippets; for example, copy something to the clipboard, then choose the TextExpander menu extra > Create New Snippet from Clipboard.

Seriously, you’d be crazy to not take advantage of this half-price sale. Get TextExpander now for only $17!

Beware Huge Caches with BitTorrent Sync

I’ve been using the excellent BitTorrent Sync app to keep some folders synchronized across my two Macs. I work mostly on my Mac Pro, but also do some work on my MacBook Pro. Also, when I write books and articles, I generally do the screenshots on the MacBook Pro, because it has a retina display. I dump them in a folder, which BitTorrent Sync then syncs to my Mac Pro.

I noticed recently that the space on my MacBook Pro’s SSD was shrinking. I looked through my files, and couldn’t find anything huge to delete. Then I looked at folder sizes, and saw that one of the folders I sync with BitTorrent Sync was more than 6 GB on my MacBook Pro; it was only 500 MB on the Mac Pro.

I looked inside the folder, checking invisible files. On OS X, invisible files and folders’ names start with a . or dot character; that’s what tells the Finder to hide them. There are several ways to view these invisible files: you can do so in Terminal, or you can use an FTP program to look at your local files. Or, to view them in the Finder, you can use this command in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles YES

Paste that command in Terminal, then Option-click on the Finder icon in the Dock and choose Relaunch. Look inside any folders you’re syncing with Bittorent Sync for a folder called .SyncArchive. You could probably delete the folder, but I just opened the folder, selected all the files, and sent them to the Trash, then emptied the Trash.

Run this command in Terminal to hide hidden files:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles NO

Then re-launch the Finder as above.

As I said, this saved me over 6 GB on my MacBook Pro. I don’t know why so many files were being cached, and only on one of my two Macs. But I’m happy to have found the culprit.

Update: Thanks to the commenter who pointed out that there’s a setting for this. For each folder, click the Info button, then the Properties tab. Uncheck Store deleted files in SyncArchive. It doesn’t look like this deletes the folder, so you may still want to delete it manually.

BitTorrent Sync001.png

Here’s Everything We Know about the iWatch

I’ve seen several articles with similar titles recently, as we approach Apple’s 9/9 media event presenting (almost definitely) the iPhone 6, and (perhaps) the iWatch, or whatever it will be called.

But here’s everything we know about the iWatch right now:

Yes, that’s all we know. 

Stonehenge WAS completely round

“Every summer stewards at the ancient monument in Wiltshire water the site to keep the grass healthy and green and the earth well nourished.

But this year the hosepipe was not log enough and failed to reach the outer part of the circle – where no stones stand.

The dried out land, which couldn’t be reached, revealed marks of parched grass which were spotted by a volunteer who alerted experts.”

WTF? Decades, even centuries of archeologists didn’t find this, and all it took was a too-short watering hose? What else are scientists too dim to find…?

Stonehenge WAS completely round | Mail Online.

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