Interview with Jim Heid


iLounge recently had the opportunity to interview Jim Heid, the author of The Macintosh Digital Hub, a contributing editor for MacWorld magazine since 1984 and he also covers personal technology for the Los Angeles Times.

The lighthearted interview has Jim Heid talking about his moments as a Mac user, why he frequents the county dump, his singing floppy drive, and listening to comedian Harry Shearer on his iPod.

How long have you been a Mac User?

Since 1983. I was Senior Technical Editor at the now-defunct Kilobaud Microcomputing magazine, and helped lead the magazine’s coverage of the Mac’s launch. We got a prototype from Apple. Earlier in 1983, I spent some time using and drooling over a Lisa. When I saw the Mac, though, I knew it was a huge improvement, and even though the original machine had flaws, I could see it was where I wanted to spend my time.

What was your first Mac and what is your current Mac?

A 128K Mac with the singing external floppy drive (really, Apple’s first music device!) and an ImageWriter. $2499 for the Mac and $495 for the disk drive—makes me queasy thinking about it.

The current fleet includes a dual-gigahertz G4, a dual 800 G4, a PowerBook G4, a blue-and-white G3, a PowerBook (FireWire), a graphite iBook SE, and a Rev B iMac, soon to be replaced with a 17-inch iMac.

And in my closet is my original 128K, since upgraded to a macho 512K Enhanced.

Do you have any story of an experience where your Mac and iPod saved the day?

Well, I was in a CompUSA one day and I had a craving for a copy of Microsoft Office v. X. So I just…. Wait—wrong story.  🙂

No, I don’t have any magic “my iPod saved my life” stories. The iPod just makes each day a little better.

What is your most exciting moment as a Mac user?

I think it came while I was authoring the DVD that comes with my book. I started listening to iTunes while using DVD Studio Pro to author a segment on iPhoto that had I edited in Final Cut Pro.

At that moment, I was struck by how amazingly versatile and capable this platform is.

What Mac software do you use the most and least?

Well, email and the Web are huge parts of my day, so I’d have to say Microsoft Entourage X and IE 5. After that, it depends whether I’m wearing my writer’s hat or my video producer’s hat. For the former, Word X; for the latter, Final Cut Pro.

What software do I use the least? Why, all the programs I don’t use, of course.  🙂

When you first took your new iPod out of the box and held it in your hand, what was your reaction?

Oh, yessssss.

It was similar to the reaction I had when I saw the first Mac: here was a device that wasn’t the first of its kind, but was the first one to really be done right.

Have you ever talked to Steve Jobs? If so, please explain the circumstances.

I haven’t! Back in 1983, my boss went to Cupertino and attended a press conference hosted by Steve Jobs. Alas, I stayed back in the office and worked on our coverage. I was the Michael Collins of our staff—any Apollo 11 fan will know what I mean by that.

Have you named your iPod yet? If not, name it now, and let us know what the name is and why.

My iPod is named iPoodle, in honor of my dog Trixie, a standard poodle.

You’re stuck on a deserted island. All you have is your iPod and one album of MP3’s. What album is it and why?

That’s an evil question. I love nearly every style of music, but lately I’ve been obsessed with “Simple Things,” from Zero7. They’ve combined elements of jazz, soul, rock, and electronic to create something very musical and very listenable.

Pardon me while I put it on now.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

The last book I read was James Fallows’ “Free Flight,” a fascinating look at the possible future of private planes.

My real passions are magazines: Scientific American, Harpers, The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Atlantic Monthly. I love them all and never have enough time to devour each issue the way I’d like.

What is the most obscure application you have used your iPod for?

This might qualify as semi-obscure. I’m a big fan of comedian Harry Shearer (, and now and then, I’ll use N2MP3 Professional to record a streaming archive of his radio show, then transfer it to the iPod to listen to on a plane. Lower the MP3 compression rate to about 32Kbps, and voice-only streaming audio is still completely listenable.

Are you a station wagon, minivan, or SUV kind of guy? What make and model?

We have a 1988 Dodge Caravan with 160,000 miles on it that we use to take the dog to the beach every day and to go to the county dump. (I live on the coast of Northern California’s Mendocino County, where we have to haul our own trash.)

We also have a 1996 Mazda Millenia S, a little-known but great sports sedan with a small but supercharged engine that gets 25 miles per gallon yet is very happy at 110 miles per hour. Um, so I’ve heard.

What do you want your iPod to do in the next major software upgrade?

Work just as well as it does now. 🙂

I suppose support for AAC, the excellent compression scheme now supported by QuickTime 6, would be nice.

What physical feature do you want added and/or deleted in the next major hardware upgrade?

I can’t really think of anything. For me, the iPod is all about music, so I’m not really interested in seeing more PDA-type features added to it. Give me a bigger hard drive and a case that doesn’t scratch, and I’ll be happy. Make it smaller, maybe, though the current size works for me, too.

If I can fantasize, I’d like a dock for my car. I see that some people have built these themselves, but I want one as standard equipment!

What do you least like about the iPod?

Its sensitivity to scratches and fingerprints. During Macworld Expo NY, I gave a talk at the new Apple Store in SoHo The store has glass everywhere, and there’s a guy who just goes around polishing it all day long. I joked that Apple should bundle him with the iPod.

I have to admit that I also miss the original scroll wheel. I know the new wheel will be more reliable and all that, but the original wheel had a silky smoothness that the new one lacks.

What is your favorite thing about the iPod?

Its sound quality and the fast, pain-free way it synchronizes with iTunes.

Do you have a case for your iPod? If so, which one?

I have one of the Marware SportSuit cases from Dr. Bott. I like the padding it provides.

How do you feel about Apple releasing iPod for Windows? Is this a good thing or bad thing?

I think it’s a bad thing for Mediafour, which put a lot of work into Xplay and apparently got passed over in favor of MusicMatch, a program I’ve never warmed up to. But I understand why Apple did it—it’s likely to sell a boatload of them.

Now that we are on the subject of Windows, what are your opinions about Microsoft and its business practices?

I think Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit creates some of the best software for any platform.

As far as the rest of the company goes, I think Microsoft’s lazy attitude toward security is worse than any of its business practices. Outlook for Windows—or Outbreak, as I like to call it—is a virus vector, and I can’t believe the security sloppiness that exists throughout Windows. Who knows how many hours of stress and aggravation these flaws have cost people? Inexcusable.

What are your opinions on the state of digital music and downloading MP3s?

As someone who creates intellectual property for a living, I think it’s wrong to steal music. I just can’t wrap my brain around a mindset that thinks, “Gee, I really like that artist’s work—I’m gonna steal it!”

Some people say record companies exploit musicians and control the market and all the rest, and they have some valid points. The answer lies in artists somehow asserting more control over their music and its distribution. How that might happen is an issue for bigger brains than mine, and it’s not going to happen overnight—record labels have been calling the shots for decades now. But just ripping off songs you like isn’t the answer. And copy-protecting CDs definitely isn’t.

How and/or where did you research for your new book, The Macintosh Digital Hub?

I lived in the each of the iApps day in and day out, talked with experts who use them, made frequent visits to resource sites like yours (iLounge), and interviewed Apple product managers. Most of this I did right at home.

If you could only give one tip about the iPod or Apple?s iApps, what would it be?

Learn them. Really spend time with them to get below the surface and take advantage of everything they can do. And if you’re into iPhoto and iMovie, learn a bit about the language of photography and movie-making.

My favorite iPod tips are pretty simple ones. If you have playlists that are particular favorites, put a dash before each playlist’s name to have it appear near the top of the iPod’s Playlist menu—saves you some scrolling to get to your favorites. (I learned this one from iLounge, I believe.) And get a set of Bose QuietComfort noise-canceling headphones. They’re bulky and pricey but amazing.

And don’t damage your hearing! I fear that in ten or twenty years, we’re going to have a lot of people walking around cupping their ears because they listened to their portable players with the volume turned up to 11.

Take a paragraph to say whatever you like to get everyone to purchase your book.

Please buy “The Macintosh Digital Hub.”  🙂

I tried to create a package that really celebrates the iApps, iPod, and the entire digital hub concept. I was tired of computer books that have page after page of text and figures and text and figures. Been there, done that. This book is beautiful—full color throughout, and every two-page spread is a self-contained tutorial or reference. We wanted to create something very inviting, friendly, and elegant—just like the iApps.  And the companion DVD is a huge part of the package. After all, we’re talking about programs that work with music and movies and motion—the printed page isn’t enough. The DVD has 140 minutes of video tutorials and tips on the iApps and iPod. The two work together: throughout the book, you’re pointed to chapters on the DVD, and vice-versa. It’s something that hasn’t been done before, and I think it works pretty well!

iLounge would like to thank Jim for letting us interview him and look forward to any other books that he might feel inspired to write. You can learn more about Jim and what he’s up to at his personal website,

The Macintosh Digital Hub is available through Peachpit Press for $26.99.

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Dennis Lloyd

I'm a passionate, long-time lover of Apple products, and was a civil draftsman and graphic designer before creating the iLounge web site. My prior projects include work for The Los Angeles Times', and the company Creative Domain, where I developed websites for clients including Columbia Pictures, Disney, Fox Studios, Universal Pictures and Warner Brothers. As the Publisher of iLounge, I direct the site's community forums, photo galleries, iPod User Group, and general business affairs, which have grown under my watch to over sixteen million page views every month. I'm happily married with one daughter, one dog (Rocket the Wonderdog), one cat (Ferris), many iPods, iPhones, iPads, and two turntables.