The Computer Blog

May 5, 2005

One Down and One to Go

Early this morning, I got Outlook 2001 on my iMac working again.

From reading various forums and support articles, I was fairly certain the problem lay with Outlook’s inability to resolve the name of my workplace’s mailserver, an Exchange server I was accessing through VPN. I knew from my research that Windows networks seldom had a problem finding a server with only its name.  I reasoned that if that was true, I might be able to hook up to my workplace network using my Windows XP machine via VPN and determine the address of the mailserver by doing a ping.  That’s exactly what worked.

I signed onto my workplace network using VPN, then went to XP’s Start Menu and selected Start/Run.  In the “run” box, I simply typed in: “ping mailserver”, without the quotes and substituting the name of the mailserver on the Exchange network for “mailserver”.  A command line window popped up displaying the I.P address of a server responding to two pings and then it closed, disappearing.  I repeated the feat again with pen and paper in hand, quickly scribbling down the displayed i.p. address.  I signed off the VPN network with my XP machine, cranked up my iMac, signed on to my workplace network using its VPN, and started Outlook 2001.  Since it’s running in Classic mode, I had to wait for OS9 to start and for Outlook to present me with its “Make a new profile” block.  Once it did, I typed in the Exchange server’s i.p. address in the slot where it asked for the name of my mailserver, typed in the name of my mailbox in its correct slot, and clicked on the “Test Settings” button.  The settings worked; and a few moments later, I was looking at the e-mail messages sitting in my Inbox at work.  I clicked on the Calendar to check it, and it was working, too.  I was back in business!

So, Tiger didn’t kill the application after all.

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that will be true for ClickNDesign 3D, the other Classic application I lost with this upgrade.  The problem there does seem to be routed in Tiger’s innards.  The application is not starting up in Classic mode even after being told to do so via Get Info.  I’ve tried deselecting and reselecting that setting and wiping out the preference files, all to no avail.  I’ve put the application up for now and will try installing it again after the 10.4.1 update, which is probably not too far down the road from now. 

Wild Thing…!

Okay, okay.  So I just bought my G5 iMac a few months ago. I’m still thinking about either selling it or trading it for one of the new 2.0 Ghz G5 models.  I’ve got enough spare funds for one more computer “hoorah!”.  While all its changes are evolutionary rather than evolutionary, I like them all; and they add up to a machine I’d be more comfortable keeping without upgrading for a while (like 3-5 years).

The new iMac’s speed increase is minimal.  In real world usage, I suspect it will be on the order of 10%.  Still, that’s enough to make a machine feel snappy sometimes; and I like the round 2.0 number.  I don’t have Bluetooth in the Mac I have now; that would be something to grow with.  And while I’m only using about 40GB of the 160GB hard disk in my current machine, a 250GB hard drive simply means I would be able to go a very long time without worrying about upgrading.  I’d also like to have the 8X and double-layer Superdrive in the newer models, though I acknowledge I could stick one in my current machine for less than $180.

It’s the whole package that makes me want it.  Will I go for it?  Who knows?

I always watch market values on Macs, and recent Macs are not holding value like they used to.  Apple’s constant updates are driving the used machine market prices down.  While that’s desirable from Apple’s viewpoint (I’m sure they’d like to see every old machine made obsolete), it means that upgrading to a newer model will be more expensive then it used to be.  I doubt if I can get more than $1300 for my machine, and $1100-1200 is a more likely number.  That’s if I sell it on eBay myself and take the risk of not getting paid or it being damaged in shipment.  On trade-in, I’m willing to bet the offer would only be $1000.  I’ll let you know; I have contacted PowerMax to see what they would give me.  Once I get that offer, I’ll decide if I want to trade my old system in, sell it online, or not pursue a newer machine at all.

There are times, actually, when I consider going a completely different direction.  I sometime feel I’d like to simplify my computing life by selling my iMac, buying a new 20 inch display, and then run my PowerBook on the big display along with a regular keyboard and mouse.  Believe it or not, my wife fusses at me when I broach that.  She can’t believe I would ever consider giving up my iMac and is convinced I need one; I’m convinced she does and she’s projecting her need on me.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story.  I do have some hesitation due to the limited size of my PowerBook’s hard drive and its lack of a SuperDrive.  Still, it would make my life quieter and simpler and actually reduce the risk of damage to my G5 PowerMac.  Right now, I’ve got it and my PowerBook hooked to a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display via an IOGEAR ADC KVM switch; and I don’t totally trust that switch.  I’m concerned I’ll get some kind of power feedback between the two machines.

Yes, the new iMac idea is a bit of a wild hair for me. 

Heh, maybe I really do need to change directions….and buy another new 12 inch PowerBook.  I’d give my 1.5 Ghz 12 inch to my wife and she could give hers to an upcoming college grad on her side of the family.  I’d leave the iMacs where they are and just stick an 8X SuperDrive in my machine later.  And, then, if I wanted to just use a PowerBook and a PowerMac, all I’d need is a screen.  And with Apple’s 20 inch display priced at $800, that’s not an outrageous expense.

In either case, whatever I did would be the last big thing for several years or more. All my computer money for big purchases would be all gone!

 It’s no wonder the song “Wild Thing!” keeps rolling through my head!

May 4, 2005

Running With Tiger

My wife and I visited the Apple Store during Friday night’s launch of Tiger, but only to try to win the PowerBook they were giving away.  I had actually bought a Tiger family Pack shortly before from MicroCenter.  That store was offering a $50 rebate on both the single-user and family packs, and that was a much better deal than anyone else was offering.

We got back to late Friday evening for me to start upgrades, then, even though I felt I was ready.  Using Firewire hard disks, I had backed up both our iMacs and the G5 PowerMac. I began upgrading by applying Tiger to the g5 PowerMac using the “Upgrade” option, and it all went without a hitch.  All my applications worked, including Epson printer and scanner drivers I had half-expected to disable. I don’t really use the PowerMac for scanning or printing; my G5 iMac serves as that workhorse.  I had set up the PowerMac to serve as my upgrade “canary”; and since it didn’t croak, I decided to move ahead with upgrading my iMac.  I wanted a chance to get to know Spotlight, and I hadn’t seen anything to make me think that Tiger would kill any of my major applications.

 I used the Upgrade option for all the installations, and they all went smoothly.  The installer said it would need 2.7 -2.9 GB for the installations.  The time they took varied.  The installation onto my PowerMac took 23 minutes while the installation on my iMac took about 28 minutes. 

One of the new features of the installer is that it will check the installation DVD for errors before proceeding.  It will find scratches and oily fingerprints; I know this from personal experience.  This routine adds about 10 minutes to the installation time.  (The times quoted above do not include that routine.)    There is a button that lets you skip it; and if you want to use it, I still recommend you check your DVD during the first installation and then skip it for any subsequent ones.

The first boot after the installation was completed was not fast, though I would expect that type of behavior with any operating system. 

The first thing I noticed was the Dashboard icon located next to Finder in the Dock.  Dashboard is an extension of Expose.  When you click on the Dashboard icon, colorful “widgets” appear.  These are small applications that run various tasks you might find helpful.  For instance, since I just shipped a Tiger family Pack to my son Tim today via FedEx, one of my widgets provides FedEx tracking number info. To see where the package is, I simply click on the Dashboard icon.  The widget automatically updates to the latest information as it occurs, saving me from having to travel to the FedEx website and constantly check.  I also have one that displays data from my Address Book, the local six day weather forecast, a calculator, a sticky note, and a commercial flight tracker.  About a dozen or so come loaded natively, and Apple has pages more you can download from their website.  To install a new one, you simply download it to your desktop and double-click on it.

Apple’s Setup Assistant was the first thing that actually ran.  It asked if I had a Mac I wanted to transfer data from.  I didn’t, but if I had, I would have only had to connect the “old” Mac via a Firewire cable and boot it in Firewire Target Disk Mode to have it handle the data transfer.  It dutifully asked for registration information and also pushed several screens designed to get me to sign up for .Mac.  Once I jumped through all the not-so-sticky wickets, I was at my desktop, which looked different only in the addition of Dashboard to the Dock, the bright blue Apple at the top left of the menu bar, and the blue ball with a white magnifying glass in the middle of it, the symbol for Spotlight, on the right end of the menu bar.  The other new thing I noticed fairly quickly is the addition of  two nee menu items in Finder, a Burn Folder and a Smart Folder.  The Burn Folder entry also shows up on any Finder context menu.  While I have a suspicion about what that is, I have not had time to do any investigating.  I believe Smart Folders have something to do with Spotlight, but I’ll leave the firm diagnosis of both of those to another date.

Overall performance actually seems a bit snappier than Panther.  Repairing permissions is much faster.  Where I used to watch Panther sign onto my home’s wireless network, it’s done by the time the Desktop hits the screen now.

There are two new applications in the Utilities folder, i.e., Grapher and Voice Over Utility. (I haven’t had time to explore them, yet.)

QuickTime 7.0 was also loaded up with the Tiger installation.  Streaming video is faster and visual clarity is outstanding.  The only downside to QT7 so far is that it disabled all my QuickTime 6.0 Pro keys, both my retail key and the one that came with Final Cut HD, originally Final Cut Pro 4.0.  That’s a hidden cost of the upgrade, and it amounts to $30 for each machine you want to run QT Pro on. 

Like with any operating system upgrade, Tiger’s incompatibilities are something to look for. 

Here’s at list of the applications and drivers I own that required no modifications or updating to run in Tiger and suffered no loss of functionality (as far as I can tell):

Thunderbird

Adobe PhotoshopCS

Adobe Illustrator CS

Adobe InDesign CS

Adobe GoLiveCS

Adobe Live Motion 2.0

Firefox 1.03 G5 version

iPhoto 5.02

iMovie HD 5.02

iDVD 5.01

iTunes 4.71

Garage Band 2.01

Keynote 2.01

Roxio Toast 6.09

Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0

AppleWorks 6.29

Corel Draw 11.693

MT-Newswatcher 3.4

MacTracker 3.01

Yahoo Messenger 2.53

MSN Messenger 4.01

Epson Perfection 1660 Twain drivers (Epson Scan 2.30)

Epson Print Center 2.14 (on my 1.8 Ghz G5 iMac)

Epson R200 Printer drivers

HP Deskjet 1100D printer drivers

Here’s the list of applications I own that required updating or lost minor functionality under Tiger:

MacKiev’s Print Shop (a version 1.07 update is available)

Micromat Tech Tool Pro 4.03 ( a 4.04 update is available)

Microsoft Office 2004 (handheld synchronization with Entourage is lost; Entourage crashes more when saving an e-mail)

 

Here’s the list of applications I own that lost functionality under Tiger:

ClickNDesign 3D (Classic mode; cannot run in Classic mode-crashes when trying to run in Carbon mode and runs in Carbon mode even when told not to)

Outlook 2001 (Classic mode; cannot find mail server)


Unfortunately for me, the two applications that lost functionality where fairly critical.

Lots of Mac newsgroups are reporting that Tiger breaks VPN functionality with third-party VPN applications.  It did not break VPN with my workplace per se; I can still log in to my workplace and access my workplace like I used to via my browser, but Outlook 2001 seems unable to resolve my mailserver’s name.  Of course, Outlook 2001 is known to have this problem no matter what operating system it’s run with; so, I really don’t know that its problems are attributable to Tiger.

I’ve managed to replace ClickNDesign 3D—or at least regain some of its functionality—with a version of exPressit I downloaded from the Memorex website. 

I haven’t given up on both these applications, however; as Tiger patches are released, I’ll see if I might regain them.

Do I think the upgrade was worth it?  In a word, “yes”.  Spotlight really does change how you work with your computer. I could write a whole blog on it alone and am sure I will be writing about it more.  Even though I first though Dashboard’s widgets were all flash and no substance, I’m actually finding them somewhat useful and certainly colorful and fun.  Still Tiger’s incompatibilities are driving my not to upgrade my PowerBook for now.  Virtual PC 7.01 also breaks under Tiger and it is on my notebook, and ClickNDesign 3D and Outlook 2001 both run there. 

I haven’t had time yet to see if I can judge the positive impacts of Tiger on my video editing dual 2 Ghz G5 PowerMac.  That’s next.  As always, I’ll keep you posted.

April 27, 2005

All Quiet on the Home Front…again...

I’ve actually written more than has gotten published in this blog; I’ve just been so busy I haven’t been able to get the stuff posted.  I still have to finish balancing my checkbook, something I started last week before I got distracted by oldest natural born kid’s deciding he wanted my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac.  I’ve spent every spare minute of the last several days getting it ready to go.  I thought it was only going to take a couple of hours, but Jaguar kept corrupting, forcing me to upgrade it to Panther.  Additionally, I discovered that the PowerMac’s Firewire 400 ports were dead and lost more time confirming it and then coming up with a workaround.  A Q-Sport combination Firewire 400 and USB 2.0 card I bought at Fry’s, one that claimed to be PC and Mac compatible and used a VIA chipset, was totally unrecognized by the PowerMac.  I looted my PC, taking from it a SIIG USB 2.0 (2 ports), Firewire 400 (1 port), and 10/100 Ethernet (1 port) combo card that the Mac immediately saw and put the Q-Sport card in the PC, adding a LAN card to take the place of the lost Ethernet port.  After adding as many updates as I could find and loading up X11 and GIMP, I then packaged the PowerMac for shipment, along with the other packages, including a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display, that was to accompany it. 

My wife and I drove the four packages for Mike, one package for my sister Debbie (containing a Panther Family Pack), and one package for Tim (containing a Radeon 7500 video card to use to troubleshoot his dual 1 GHz PowerMac) up to a local FedEx World Shipping Center.  While I was standing at a counter off to the side and filled out paperwork, a young man asked if the PowerMac G4 box really held one.  I replied it did, and he hovered like a bee near a hive.  He wanted to buy it.  Resisting the temptation to sell it on the spot, I told him that Apple was no longer manufacturing them and he could find them on eBay, something he didn’t seem interested in doing.  He said he was a recent switcher, he had been “a Windows person forever”, and I responded that I had been, too.  Discipline and promises won out, and I finished filling out all the forms with my wife’s help and we took the stuff to the counter.  It came to seventy-one bucks and change all told, but I was finally done.  Something for almost everyone in my family was now sailing out of Houston; my office was finally uncluttered, and my life could return to normal, such as it is.

Don’t regret a thing….

This morning Apple updated the PowerMac line. My wife asked me if I regretted not waiting.  My answer is “no”.

The low-end of the PowerMac line is always a “dumbed-down” version of its predecessor, and this newest line up is no exception.  The dual 2 GHz G5 PowerMac, which is what I bought about a month ago, is now priced at $1999, the same price I paid for a refurbished model.  But if you look at the specifications on the machines, you’ll notice that the new PowerMac is only upgradeable to 4 GB of RAM and it has only PCI slots.  My PowerMac is upgradeable to 8GB of RAM and has PCI-X slots.  Now, it’s true that I only plan on expanding my RAM to 4GB and I don’t have any PCI-X cards, yet.  But I have the capability of using the new technology.  Had I bought a new one, I wouldn’t have. 

The newer PowerMac has a faster and double-layer capable DVD burner and a 128 MB Radeon 9600 XT video card.  Well, as soon as I understand what dual-layer and dual format drives are natively supported by Tiger, I’ll be equipping my G5 PowerMac with one.  My G5 came with a Radeon 9600 Pro video card with only 64MB of RAM, and the Radeon 9600 in the new machine is not available outside of Tiger.  But I plan on bumping the video card up at some point anyway, probably to a Radeon 9800 Pro with 256MB of RAM, so I can run Motion and get real-time rendering.  The bottom line is that both of those options are things I’m going to address on my current G5 on my own.

I can’t see how I would have done anything but lost out if I had waited and bought todays’ 2 GHz machine.

April 25, 2005

Surprise!

This weekend I convinced myself I no longer needed my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac.  I set it up for writing novels using Microsoft Office 2004 and played with its Project Center.  While I have always loved Jaguar (which is the operating system I am running on the G4 PowerMac), I started feeling that what I wanted was an environment where the sole focus was on writing fiction.  I would have to rebuild the PowerMac to get there; it had inherited all the computer files associated with my everyday life.  For some time, too, I’ve wanted my writing on something portable, so when I traveled or my house caught on fire, it would to go with me.  (If I met with an editor, every project would be there to display.)  I had initially thought a Mac mini might fit that bill, but I kept questioning why I wanted to go that route when I already had a PowerBook that was faster than any mini.  So, I set up the PowerBook with a new user whose sole purpose in life was to write fiction and found I liked the setup even better than the one on the PowerMac.  The PowerBook’s set up had its own minimalist desktop…only a few applications, directly related to writing, were on the Dock along with only my novel/short story/poetic folders, or at least their aliases.   That was what I had been looking for; and it meant the only reason I was holding onto the G4 PowerMac was its ability to run Click 3D using Jaguar.  But I had Click 3D running under Classic on my G5 iMac; and even if the up and coming Tiger unexpectedly ruined that, I still had the Windows version of the program on my Windows 98SE PC. 

So, the question then became: what do I do with the G4 PowerMac?

Obviously, my first thought was I could put it up for sale on eBay.  More than likely, I could still get $800-$1000 for it.  That aside, I had been discussing with my wife’s sister a computer gift for one of her sons’ upcoming graduation.  There was a slim possibility he might want the PowerMac, especially since he wanted a machine to edit video on.  I also knew my oldest natural born kid, Michael, might want the machine but didn’t think he did because we had talked about it before and he just hadn’t seemed that interested.  Still, his older brother Tim had gotten my last system; so Mike was the next in line.  I put together an e-mail note and sent it from my job asking him if he’d like the machine; he responded back almost immediately he wanted it and seemed very excited to get it, talking about retiring his Windows PC.  (Anytime I can retire another Windows PC, I’m in!)  I was so gratified and grateful to be able to do something really nice for him I also decided to give him my spare 20 inch Apple ADC flat panel monitor.  With that, I will have given my oldest sons a complete Apple system. 

I went home from work about an hour early so I could begin reconfiguring the G4 PowerMac for shipment. I’m hoping to have his system ready to ship out in a couple of days. I’ll ship it via USPS or Fed Ex depending on what I hear from Max about his PC as well as what I hear from Mike about his preferences.

Want an ADC 20 inch Apple Cinema Display for cheap?

My son Tim reported to me about two weeks ago he’s having a minor video problem with his dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac.  I believe it’s in the video card, so I’m shipping him an ATI Radeon 7500 to troubleshoot with.  Just in case it’s the monitor, I did some hunting for Apple LCD displays and found some good deals at SmallDog.com.  They’ve got SmallDog refurbished 20 inch ADC Apple Cinema Displays for only $649.  That’s a really good deal.  I’m tempted to buy one myself! (NOTE: This was written 2 days before Apple dropped its prices on a 20 inch display to $799. You gotta hope that SmallDog drops their prices as well. If not, buying one of their refubs no loner makes any sense...)

They also have refurbished 17 inch Apple Studio Displays, the ADC LCD version, for $399.  Not bad, but I’d fork up the other $250 and get the 20 inch.    

Up and Coming ComputerZone Restructurings

I never have enough time to do much of what I’d really like to, especially when it comes to this website.  If I win the lotto so I can retire, then I’ll have a couple of hours a day I can devote to this thing.  But that’s not likely, so I’ve been looking at what I can do and how I need to restructure the website to synch up with that.

First, with the release of Tiger, the website will be two OS’s behind current day.  So, to catch up, I’m going to use Tiger as the basis for further development of the OS X section of the website.  The sections that refer to Jaguar will be moved to a Jaguar sub-section of the OS X section.  I may also put up a small subsection on Panther, mainly to highlight the differences between Jaguar and Panther; but if I do, it will be after I get up some information on Tiger, which is where the most public interest will be.

I will not do any more development of the Windows XP section of the website, except for a troubleshooting section.  I am going to further develop a troubleshooting section as its own entity, and it will include XP hints, tips, and references.  OS X will be the main focus in that section, however, since that’s where most of my own personal focus and that of my family is.  I don’t have a timetable detailing when I’ll complete this.  I’ve already done some off-line work to move me in that direction, but I want to get the Jaguar restructuring and Tiger “quick look” stuff up first.  So, it may be a while.

 I will update the Shootout article soon with real numbers from my own personal dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac, but those updates will be minor.

 If there’s something in The ComputerZone you’d like to see, let me know.   

April 22, 2005

BootCD

I have a copy of TechTool Pro 4 I’ve been using to maintain the hard disks on my Macs, but I’ve been unable to use it to defragment the hard disk on my G5 iMac.  Well, almost.  I can’t boot from the CD and use its tools, but I have been able to boot from an external Firewire clone of the iMac’s hard disk and run it from there.  Still, I wanted some means of running from the CD and without buying a new copy of the utility.  The answer proved to be a donationware utility named “BootCD”.

BootCD lets you build a bootable CD from your Mac’s operating system and also lets you include applications loaded on your hard disk.  It automatically includes Terminal and Disk Utility, two tools you might need to troubleshoot a system in the event of a crash.  Including Tech Tools added another layer of usability. 

Version 6.0 of BootCD only made two coasters out of the two CD’s I burned with it.  They would hang at the OS X sign on screen at the “Starting Login Windows” phase.  Version 6.03, the latest version, worked.   I was able to boot from the CD it made and run Tech Tools to examine and refine my hard disk.

Of course, my victory is short-lived.  Word on the ‘Net is that Tiger is already shipping.  If I’m going to defrag my hard disk using my current tools, I better do it now.  Tech Tools Pro 4 is incompatible with Tiger which introduces some changes to the file system.  I just learned about that this morning and am still evaluating what that means.  I also read that Tiger, for reasons not clear to me, kills any retail version of Quick Time Pro 6; and I do own one.  I think, though, the one installed on the G5 PowerMac is the one that came with Final Cut Pro 4, and the retail version is the one on my PowerBook.  I’ll have to check into that. 

Re-evaluating Tiger

I’m not happy with the fact that Tiger kills Quick Time Pro 6 registration keys.  That makes the third negative impact an upgrade to Tiger will have.  As I mentioned in this blog earlier, I also know it will not run the latest version of Virtual PC (7.01, which is on my PowerBook) and it also breaks the handheld synchronization feature of Office 2004 (and Office v.X, I bet).   I didn’t realize that Tiger introduced file system changes until this morning.  So, I’m re-thinking which machines I’m going to upgrade to Tiger when it arrives.  The only one I’ll do for sure if my G5 PowerMac.  More than likely, I’ll go ahead and also upgrade my 20 inch 1.8 Ghz G5; but that is the one I’m re-evaluating the most.  The additional costs now total up to $29.99 for QuickTime Pro and probably close to $80 for a new copy of Tech Tool Pro, though I’d probably spend that money on Alsoft’s DiskWarrior instead.  (That assumes DiskWarrior will be updated for Tiger fairly quickly.) 

So, why am I upgrading to Tiger at all?  The major reasons are for 64 bit memory addressing (even though I’m not sure I’m ever going to use more than 4GB of RAM in my G5 PowerMac), Core Video and H.264, iChat with 3 way video conferencing (my wife wants that), and Spotlight.  As you can see, two of the features really have to do with my PowerMac G5 and video editing.  Without G5’s in the house, I would certainly be waiting a while and perhaps not moving up at all.  But once I decide I’m going to upgrade even one machine, moving to Apple’s Family Pack makes the most sense.  Why spend $129 to upgrade only one machine when I can upgrade 5 for only $70 more?  That (barely) covers every Mac I own. 

On Sunday, I’ll synch up my Palm Tungsten E with Entourage 2004.  I don’t synch up the two very often, so I’ll plan on that holding me until Microsoft comes out with a patch to fix what Tiger broke.  When they also issue a patch for Virtual PC 7, then I’ll upgrade my PowerBook.  I’ll have to talk to my wife about upgrading her iMac. More than likely, she’ll want to upgrade; she tends to like the newest, latest, or greatest.  It will break her synchronization, too, not only with her Palm also with her university-issued iPaq, which she hasn’t installed anything on anyway.  She does use EndNote, but its links with Microsoft Office were already broken when we upgraded to Office 2004. I’m just note sure if she bought EndNote 8, which is compatible with Office 2004, whether Tiger would break it again. 

 I’m sure over the next two weeks the Mac user community will be finding out the hard way just how many programs Tiger will break.

April 21, 2005

Like a Virgin….

A big box showed up on my doorstep two days ago.  It was from one of my nephews on the “in-law” side, and it contained a PC I had made for him a while ago. He had told me months ago it had stopped working, hanging up on the BIOS boot screens.  I pulled the box inside, unpacked the PC, and hooked it up to my PC’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse.  I saw what he was talking about right away.

I don’t have any real diagnostic equipment in my house. I troubleshoot by eliminating or swapping components and observing machine behavior.  While the problem first looked to me like it might be in the CPU, motherboard, or memory.  Yet, I knew I had to begin by taking the machine down to its baseline components.  So, I disconnected its hard and optical drives and pushed the power button to start the computer. It booted straight to the error message I expected:  “SYSTEM HALTED.  OPERATING SYSTEM MISSING.”

I rebooted with a Windows 98 boot floppy inserted into the floppy drive, and the computer started as expected.  With both those operations yielding expected results, my suspicion turned now toward the hard drive.  After shutting the computer down, I reconnected the hard drive only, removed the boot floppy, and restarted it.  It hung just like it did when I first turned it on, matching Max’s description of the problem he was encountering.  So, I knew now that the hard disk was indeed the problem.  Luckily, I had a 120GB Maxtor hard disk sitting in a closet, so I installed that in Max’s computer and removed its older and smaller 40GB Maxtor.   

Normally, I like to return a machine to its state before the failure occurred, but Max didn’t send his operating system CD, so there was no way I could load up anything.  I did use my Windows XP Home Edition CD to boot into the Recovery Console and used the DISKPART command to partition the new hard disk, and the FORMAT command to format it.   Max could take it from there.  All he had to do to reload his OS was boot the computer with the Windows XP CD in his DVD drive.  I did do one other hardware-related thing for him, i.e., I replaced his Samsung combo drive with a Sony DRU-510A DVD burner I had sitting in the closet. 

To give him a selection of software, I downloaded the most recent copies of Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office, and GIMP and burned those to a CD I am sending back with three other CD’s.  One contains a copy of Windows XP SP1, the other is a copy of SP2, and the third contains software Sony shipped with the DVD burner.  That’s a good package that will get him started and not cost any bucks. 

I’m shipping the PC back to him via USPS Priority Mail today.  I packed it the same way he did, and I’m considering it a test of which carrier does the best job of handling packages.  I’ll write more on that once the PC arrives and I hear back from Max about how it fared.

My Next PC Project?

One of the really cool things about a Mac is that it automatically can search for loaded operating systems and will boot from any it recognizes that are loaded on the machine.  (That’s generally any operating system or OS version invented after the Mac was released.)  On my G4 PowerMac which has four hard disks in it, I could load up Jaguar on one, Panther on another, and Tiger on a third, load up OS 9.2.2 on a fourth or any of the other three, and then pick which operating system I wanted to boot from.  I can do it when the machine boots by holding down the Option key during start-up or by going to System Preferences/Startup Disk and selecting it there after the computer is operating.   (Macs can do the same trick using an external Firewire hard drive as well.)

The closest I can come to that on my PC is by using a boot loader, special piece of software that will allow me to load and manage multiple operating systems.  I’d really like to be able to boot my PC into Windows XP, Win 98SE, or DOS 6.22 at will.  While I can today boot into Windows XP or 98SE, adding DOS 6.22 is another matter.

After searching the web (a valid technique for conducting some research despite the railings of Tom Delay), I found a boot loader called “OSL2000”. The beauty of this boot loader is it will boot from your first or second hard disk.  That would allow me to add a second hard disk I could boot from (and move my current data disk to the third hard disk).  I would add make the first partition (active) on the 2nd boot disk about 40GB in size, and then make the rest an NTFS partition I could load video footage on.

 Why do I want to run DOS 6.22?  Old flight simulators that won’t run on 98SE well or XP at all are the reason. 

 Now, to find a copy of DOS 6.22…. (Ebay, here I come!)

April 14, 2005

Tiger Caveats

Probably not many of you reading this blog are thinking about moving up to Tiger, Apple’s about to be released OS 10.4.  Since I am, I’ve been looking for the almost inevitable caveats, i.e., the things Tiger can be expected to break.  So far I’ve found two, and they both concern Microsoft products.

If you’re using Entourage to synch with your Palm, Tiger will more than likely break the synch functions.  Microsoft is saying they’ll fix that with a future update to Office 2004.  What they’re not saying is how long you’ll have to wait on that.  Odds are the wait will not be short.

Virtual PC 7.01 will not run under Tiger.  Again, a future update will fix that. Again, there’s no word about how long it will be before the fix is released. 

Almost a Basket Case (G5)

I retrieved my G5 PowerMac from the Apple Service provider and hooked it up to one of my 20 inch Apple Cinema displays and couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The Dock, which I normally place on the right side of my screen, was nowhere to be found.  Other files on the desktop were there, right where I had left them.  Opening System Preferences/Dock, I clicked on the buttons to put the Dock on the bottom and left sides of the screen; and the Dock jumped to each place dutifully.  But when I selected the button that put the Dock on the right, it would immediately disappear.

Opening the Displays preference pane (also in System Preferences), I noticed that there was an extra “Arrangement” tab.  That meant the software thought it was hooked up to a second display.  Checking what display the operating system had selected, I found it was optimizing for a “Color LCD”.  The “Apple Cinema Display” normally in my list of displays was nowhere to be found.  I clicked on the “Detect Displays” button, the display blanked and went black, and then returned.  But “Apple Cinema Display” was still not one of the selections.  The G5 normally would automatically recognize it and select it.

Did I have a hardware or a software problem?  I wasn’t sure.  I hooked the display up to my G4 PowerMac and it worked just fine with it. Thinking it might be something in my operating system software, I hooked up the two PowerMacs with a Firewire (400) cable, booted the G5 in Firewire Target Disk mode, and booted the G4 PowerMac normally.  The G5’s hard disks were nowhere to be found!  I disconnected and reconnected the Firewire cable from the G4 to force it to reinitialize, but nothing changed.  Pulling out a 2.5 inch Iomega hard drive from a closet, I hooked it up to the same Firewire port on the G4, and it saw the hard disk right away!  Not only was my desktop screwed up (NEW FAILURE), but the G5’s Firewire 400 didn’t seem to be working, either (NEW FAILURE)!  Time to get BACK on the phone with Apple Support. GRRRRRRR!!!!!

During the twenty minutes of waiting on the phone, I asked myself what else I could do to try to fix the thing.  It dawned on me I hadn’t reset the PRAM.  So, cradling the phone on one shoulder, I clicked on the commands to Restart the G5 PowerMac and held down the Command-Option-P-R keys.  The machine rebooted, saw the keys, rebooted again while zapping the PRAM.  I held the keys down until I heard the third set of chimes.  Then, when the machine booted, the Dock was back where it was supposed to be.   Still cradling the phone, I hooked up the Iomega drive to the front port of the G5.  The G5 saw it!  I hung up the phone and checked the G5’s rear Firewire 400 port, and it saw the drive there, too.

KPLAH!  (Success! – in Klingon)

April 11, 2005

Another Switcher?

After I wrote in this blog about the PowerBook upgrades I had just done, mentioning that we were thinking about selling my wife’s 700 G3 iBook, Marty, Connie’s nephew, e-mailed me, asking how much we wanted for it.  That was serendipitous. Connie had told me only a few days before she didn’t want to sell it and preferred to give it to a family member considering we would probably only get $300 or so for it.  Though she wasn’t sure whom she wanted to give it to, she was thinking Marty might be able to use it.  Then, Marty wrote he could really use it at college and there were several reasons why, one of them being the problems he had trying to keep his sister’s HP PC clear of Window’s viruses.

 I started reloading the iBook with its original software Friday night and then worked off and on through the weekend to finish it up.  It’s running Jaguar, and I used our wireless network to download every patch for the operating system I could find.   I wrote a three page note explaining what software was on the iBook and how I had set it up and packed that in with the package.  I’m going to Fed Ex the iBook up to his mom’s workplace this evening.  I would think it would be there by the end of the week.

Obviously, I’m curious to see how Marty likes the iBook and OS X.  We gave a flat panel 800MHz G4 iMac to my sister and I haven’t been able to tell if she really likes it or not; but, then, that’s my sis.  She’s just not very excitable.  I know my daughter-in law really likes the 700 MHz G4 flat panel iMac she got from us, and I think her husband likes his dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac, but I’m not real sure about that, either.  While it ran almost trouble-free for me, he’s had a few problems with it, though minor. My impression at this point is that most family members have been ambivalent about OS X, though it may be that they’re just ambivalent about computers in general.  That certainly isn’t true for my wife and me, but then a lot of our professional lives and much of our personal lives revolve around the things.  It’s hard for us to be ambivalent about something that’s impacting us so much. 

  One Splitter Too Many

For about the last month, our cable modem service has become somewhat spotty.  It dropped out for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon and then again on Saturday morning.  After recycling both my modem and my router several times, I called Time Warner Cable’s support line.  The woman on the other end of the phone had me recycle the modem again while she waited on me—even though I told her I had done it twice already—and when that didn’t cure it, scheduled a repairman to come out Monday afternoon!  Not wanting to go the whole weekend without service, I decided to see if there was something I could do to check out the household connections.

After the cable TV and Internet signal hits a connection box on the back of my house, it travels up via a single cable into the attic.  Once there, it was split via a two-cable splitter into a line that ran the high-speed broadband into an outlet in the living room where the previous owners had a desk and PC.  However, we had put a formal dining table there and set up the computers in a back bedroom that became my office.  The line to my office was one of three connections mounted on a second splitter downstream of the first.  Knowing that cable modems need to have only one splitter between the outside connection and the hook up, I simply swapped the line to my bedroom and the one to the kitchen.  Voila!  Problem solved.

ATI Radeon 9000 Card Quits!

I’ve never had a video card actually die until this weekend.

I was performing some video editing and DVD burning on my MDD PowerMac G4 when I noticed that the lighting on my Cinema Display was uneven. The top part of the display was fine but the bottom seemed to be darker.  The little power button light on the display was flashing short, short, long.  Looking that up on the Apple Support website, it recommended I disconnect and reconnect the display.  So, I powered down the PowerMac, disconnected the display from the IOGEAR switch, and disconnected the cable to the PowerMac from the switch.  As I went to reconnect the PowerMac’s ADC cable to the switch, a small spark jumped between the two.  I reconnected the display to the switch and powered up the PowerMac.  Nothing. No video at all. 

Boy, oh boy!  If I blew that display….!

Not sure what was going on or exactly what had caused it, I disconnected the monitor from the ADC switch, hooked it directly to the PowerMac, and booted the machine again.  No joy.  I shut it back down, pulled out my extra Cinema Display out of the closet, and tried it.  No joy!  That was good news.  That meant the problem didn’t lie in the display but in the PowerMac.

Hoping the problem laid in the video card, I swapped out the PowerMac’s ATI Radeon 9000 video card with an older Radeon 7500.  I hooked up the spare Cinema Display to the PowerMac and booted it.  It worked like a champ.  I then powered down the machine and hooked up the original Cinema Display, and it too worked like it was supposed to. 

Well, spending $130 for a new Radeon 9000 is a lot better than losing a $1200 display. (Well, that’s what it cost me when I bought it.)  I’m grateful that’s all it was.

Dropping Back and Going Forward

Since my dual G5 PowerMac is still in the shop, I used my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac to edit, encode, and burn a DVD of a 43 minute movie.  What my G5 did in less than an hour, the G4 took a couple of hours.  I had been wondering if spending all that money on the G5 had been worth it.  Now, I know it was.   

April 7, 2005

The Best Mac Value?

If you’re a current Windows user who’s been intrigued at all by all the press Apple’s getting, then you probably know about the Mac mini, the lowest price new Mac you can buy.  A 1.25 Ghz G4 powered model with 256MB RAM, a 40GB hard drive, a combo (DVD reader/CD-RW burner) drive, a 56K modem, one 10/100 Base T Ethernet port, one Firewire 400 port, and two USB 2.0 ports will run you $499.  The slightly faster 1.42 GHz version with an 80GB hard drive costs $100 more. Not bad.  I’m tempted to buy one just to see what we can do with it.  Some people are using them as servers, putting them in the kitchen to track recipes and check e-mail, or using them in their cars. 

But are they the best Mac value?  It’s all dependent on what’s important to you.

A refurbished 1.25 GHz eMac with 256MB RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a combo drive, two Firewire 400 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, a modem, and one 10/100 base T Ethernet port will put you back $650.  For the extra $150, you get a 17 inch CRT screen, an extra Firewire 400 port, one extra USB 2.0 port, and the ability to easily upgrade the memory and add an Airport card.  Making the same upgrades to the mini requires prying the machine open, risking the machine’s health and its warranty.  And the eMac will certainly outperform a mini running the same speed processor.

If you already have a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse; you want to drive a bigger-than-17-inch screen; or you want a super-portable desktop, then a mini makes sense.  If you want to give Apple a shot but don’t have any of that, travel over to the nearest Apple Store, MicroCenter, CompUSA, or Fry’s, and take a look at an eMac.  If you think you might like it, then prowl the Apple Store website’s refurbished section (e.g., “Apple Certified”—look for the red “SALE” label) and pounce on the eMac of your choice.  You’ll get the same one year warranty you would if you bought one new. 

April 5, 2005

Singing the G5 Blues

The dual G5 PowerMac arrived last week, safe and sound via FedEx.  I’ve used it now to so some minor editing using iMovie HD and burned DVD’s using iDVD 5.  I’m impressed with its speed. But, as I’ve often railed about in this blog, I’ve gotten nailed by Apple’s lack of quality control.  The machine’s audio line out port issues somewhat repetitive “pops” (or knocks) whenever the computer is doing anything.  Apple Support could hear it over the phone from speakers two feet away while the machine was burning a DVD.  They’ve recommended I take it in for repair (already!) at MacAmerica near downtown Houston, and I hope to drop it off there tomorrow.  I talked to Kevin who I believe is their Apple Specialist, and he thought we were talking a logic board replacement.  He said he could get to it on Thursday. How long it will be there after that, I don’t know.

Didn’t anyone at Apple check out the computer’s audio ports before shipping it?

The G5 PowerMac is known for having audio problems, ironic considering that the machine is being marketed to video and audio professionals.  My iMac G5 makes nary a sound it is not supposed to.  My PowerMac G5 leaks audio signals like a sieve.  Even without the popping I’m experiencing, the thing chirps and squeals at a low but audible level when it does anything.  I’ve loaded the XCode Tools and CHUD and disabled NAP (a feature that puts the G5’s processors to sleep when they’re not being used) and that helps the chirping and squealing some but doesn’t eliminate it.  Yes, this is a Rev A machine but the problem still exists for the Rev B machines as well; and that says that Apple’s Engineering department hasn’t figured it out or someone is preventing them from fixing it, probably due to cost.  Not understandable since the money they’ve gotten from us alone this year would have been enough to fix the entire fleet.  Not to mention that they’ve gotten their money twice out of a refurbished machine.

You can argue that this would not have happened had I gotten a new machine.  I can show you plenty of discussions in the Apple Support Forums that would say otherwise.  Besides, you would think even if Apple couldn’t get their act together when checking new machines, they certainly would put extra effort into performing quality checks on their refurbished computers. 

I’m hoping this machine is out of commission for no more than a week, if that. The Apple Specialist I talked to thought he’d have to replace the logic board to fix this problem. 

I could work around this.  Hooking up a Griffin iMic to the G5 and plugging my speakers into that does eliminate the problem.  But I paid 2 Grand for a new if reworked computer.  I want it all to work like it’s supposed to before the warranty runs out. 

Even if it pops, it’s fast!

Not long after I got the G5, I downloaded the G5 optimized version of Cinebench 2003, ran it, and compared the results to the dual 2GHz G5 PowerMac scores posted in the “G4, G5, and AMD Shoot-Out!” on this site.  It ran slightly faster, so sometime in the next week or so, I’ll update the article and graphs to reflect the new figures.  They’re only slightly better, but it’s enough where I’m motivated to do the work.

At least the new PowerBook works…

I bought a new PowerBook this past weekend.  It’s the first new current generation PowerBook I’ve bought; my first was a generation back, a 1 GHz machine bought after the 1.33 Ghz machines were released.  This is the last new Mac I expect to buy for several years if not longer.  I’d love to keep moving up and keep providing fodder for my website, but I simply don’t make that much money. 

The PowerBook seems to be the antithesis of the G5 PowerMac from a quality standpoint.  I had read a lot of comments about the darkness of the LCD displays in this current generation of PowerBooks and had confirmed that by examining PowerBooks at the Apple Store.  Yet, the screen on mine is great, at least as good and I think a tad better than the 1 Ghz PowerBook I gave up.  As usual, I’m trying to get the most bang out of my bucks by getting a couple of upgrades done with one buy.  My 1 GHz PowerBook trickled down to my wife who moved up to it from her 700 MHz G3 iBook.  (We don’t know yet what we’re going to do with the iBook.  I might try to sell it and get a few hundred bucks if we don’t identify someone in the family who really wants or needs it.)  My new one is noticeably faster than my old one, not only due to the 50% faster CPU but the 5400 rpm (vice a 4200 rpm) hard drive.  The other good thing about this deal was that I could swap out the new machine’s 256MB SODIMM (RAM) with the extra 1GB SODIMM I had with the older one.  That’s left my PowerBook with 1.25 GB of RAM and my wife with 512MB of RAM, plenty for both of us.

March 31, 2005

Open Office 2.0 Beta

 PC World carried a story a while back about an agreement between Sun and Microsoft that opened the door for The Big Evil MS to sue individual users for downloading and installing Open Office.  There's good reason for Microsoft to be worried.  If you haven't seen Open Office 2.0, then you might want to go take a look.  Its interface is very improved over Version 1.0; and for most people, it will fit the bill every bit as well as Microsoft Office.

Open Source software has to be the thorn in Microsoft's side; and while it's not the only threat to MS, it is certainly the one that has their attention.  The adoption of several mainly overseas governments of open source, Linux especially, has been the first of many kinks to come in Microsoft's armor.  Open Office is, of course, the open source office tool of choice.  Allowing people to download it for free—if it catches on—could put another rather large kink in their monetary rails. 

This is an interesting time to be involved with computers. I am convinced we are in the middle of an era of change, one in which Microsoft's dominance will begin to crumble.  Open Source and Mac gains will slowly eat away at MS's market, replacing its monopoly with the two things that will win out every day every time—low cost and/or innovation.  MS largely strikes out on both counts.

Pages

Fry's put copies of iWork on sale this week.  At $59.99 a copy, I couldn't resist snagging one and spending some time looking more closely at what it had to offer.  I spent most of my time in Pages, and I am more impressed with it than I thought I would be.

As I said in an earlier blog, Pages is more of a desktop publisher than a word processor, though it will certainly perform both functions.  One of the features that caught my eye was its export options.  The program can export its products in .rtf, .html, .pdf, and several other formats.  I tried out the .pdf export, and it seems to work well.  I'm thinking about taking some of my blogs and putting them out in a .pdf newsletter...or coming up with some other subject for a newsletter folks might be interested in.

 One of the coolest things about Pages is its ability to change formatting on the fly.  That gives you the ability to play with several layouts and see how it looks before committing to serious production.  It's not seamless.  It only changes the document below the insertion point.  Still, I found it useful for seeing whether 1 column, two column, etc., worked the best.

 The downside to the program is that its templates are limited.  It does not do labels, and so a Print Shop replacement it is not, at least for now.  Of course, if you're using Avery labels, the best way to print those may be on the web anyway.  If you have a specific publishing need, be sure to prowl around Apple's web pages before you buy the program to see if there are templates for the project you want to pursue.  If not, you might want to be cautious.

 It's obvious that if I need to produce something quickly and Pages has templates for it, I'll more than likely use it vice something a lot more complicated like Adobe's InDesign.  I haven't tried building anything from a blank page.  It's possible that I might actually like InDesign better for such a task.  But for the average home user, Apple's Pages is a winner and worth the price of iWork by itself.  If you can find it being sold at a discount somewhere, it's an even better value.  Just be sure it's rigged for what you want to work on.

March 28, 2005

First Impressions of a G5 PowerMac

My dual 2 GHz G5 PowerMac arrived Friday about 1:30 p.m. via FedEx truck.  I spent most of Friday and Saturday reconfiguring my computer set-up to accommodate it.  It’s done now and up and working the way I want it, albeit not the way I originally planned.  More on that later.  But, for now, I thought I’d scribble down a few thoughts about the machine.

Mine is a “Revision A” PowerMac sporting dual 2GHz G5 CPU’s running under 512MB of DDR-3200 memory.  The computer came with a single 160 GB hard drive (a Seagate ST3160023AS model) an ATI Radeon 9600 Pro video card (the 64MB model) and a Pioneer DVR-106 DVD +/- R/RW drive.  I’ve expanded the memory up to 1.5 GB using a pair of 512MB memory sticks bought from Crucial.com, and I swapped out the DVD burner with a Pioneer DVR-107 that was in my dual G4 PowerMac. I’ve also added a Maxtor 250 GB Serial ATA hard drive with a 16MB cache.  I plan on swapping out the current video card with an ATI 9800 Pro Special Edition card in the near future and slowly expanding the memory up to 4GB.  But for now, it's good enough for me to get cooking!

One note, though. The description on the Apple website when I bought the machine said it came loaded with OS 10.2.7.  It didn’t.  It came with 10.3.5.  Why do I care?  Well, I had gone after a Rev A machine not only because it was $100 less refurbished than a Rev B but because I wanted it to be able to boot into Jaguar.  It won’t.  Apparently, when Apple refurbished the machine, they upgraded the bios so it won’t boot into anything less than its new OS.  I decided not to send the machine back because of that, but Apple does need to be careful about what they’re advertising when it comes to a refurbished machine.

Overall, I am pleased with the G5.  The fans knock a bit (a quiet knock!knock!knock!) just like my G4 PowerMac’s fan did before I replaced it.  I also had a problem with the G5 recognizing the Ethernet after first working like a champ, and I eventually solved the problem by wiggling on the cable a bit vigorously.  (I had already tried seating and unseating the cable, resetting the PRAM, and reloading OS 10.3.8 using the combo updater before I did that, not to mention checking out the cable by hooking up my other PowerMac to it.  Thank God a good shake worked!  The only option I had left was to call Apple Support!)

Now, I’m really ready to edit video. In the next few months, I’ll step up to the new video card and  get a copy of Motion, though I’m waiting on both Tiger and the release of Motion 2.0 (at the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention in April, rumor has it.)    And there will be no more Apple desktops bought by us for some time to come.  I do have a PowerBook replacement scheduled for this year, but anything else would have to be driven by need or it won’t happen.  I need money to spend on lights and cameras.

Why the G5 Kludge Didn’t Happen…

My initial plan with this machine had been to hook it up using a KVM switch with my G4 PowerMac, run them off the same keyboard and mouse, and to use the G4’s old hard disks to expand storage capacity in the G5.  Well, I do have the computers hooked together using a KVM switch, but the G4 still has all its hard disks.  The G5 has a total of 410GB of storage space, less than half of what I had hoped to load in it.  Still, its current configuration is simpler, more elegant, and works for me.  Now, if I can only get my money back on all the knick-knacks my original expansion plan had called for…

The G5’s internal expansion hinged around a hard disk expansion kit called “Swift Data 200” by transintl.com. I had planned on taking at least three if not all four of the 160 GB hard disks, mounting Parallel to Serial ATA converters on them, and then using them along with a Firmtek 4 port SATA PCI-X card and the Swift Data kit to mount them internally in the G5.  Without getting into all the gory detail (something I will do when I review the Swift Data kit shortly), I will share that I realized I was going to have to do more jury rigging than I had planned on doing.  That introduced too much complexity and even the specter of damage to my G5.  I opted out of that set-up to maintain the machine’s simplicity and elegance, something you can’t appreciate until you see it.

If I can get my money back on the Swift Data kit, the Firmtek SATA PCI card, and the Parallel to Serial converters (the last two bought from other companies), I will not only have maintained the G5’s elegance but have saved myself some money.  I will be looking at other external disk expansion options as time goes on and the need arises.  For now, the 250GB Maxtor SATA hard drive I added will be enough.  It’s still got plenty of room left even after loading the media from three video projects.

Saving the Day---Final Cut Pro’s “Reconnect Media” feature

Two of my video projects are videos of weddings (mine and a relative on my wife’s side) and the other is what will become a training film.  They are all loaded into Final Cut Pro HD.  With some trepidation, I decided to move the projects from the 4 hard disk dual G4 PowerMac to the two hard disk G5 I had just bought.  I knew if I was unsuccessful, I would either have to finish the projects on the G4 or reload all the footage onto the G5.  The latter would take a week of evenings.

Before making the attempt, I pulled out my Final Cut Pro User Guide and looked up the “Reconnect Media” feature.  According to the manual, when you dump video in Final Cut Pro, it establishes a link between the browser window containing the list of your clips and the actual files.  The “Reconnect Media” feature was supposed to allow you to re-link to your media if you moved the files to another location.  If that worked as advertised, I could move the files from my G4 to the data hard disk (the second one) on my G5 and get full functionality back by simply telling FCP where the files were.  To test that without destroying my ability to edit if it didn’t work, I copied the files from three G4 hard drives on to the G5 using external Firewire hard disks as “go betweens”.  Copying to Firewire disks not only provided faster movement than going across my network but gave me backups so I only had to disturb the original files once. 

Once I got all the media files moved to the G5, I launched Final Cut Pro and opened the associated projects one at a time.  In each case, FCP gave me a window listing the clips with broken links and a chance to reconnect the media to them.  When I told it wanted to, the program presented a dialog similar to an “Open File” dialog; and I simply directed it to the folder where the files were.  Only the name for the file I was looking for was highlighted in the folder; the others were “greyed out”.  While I had to step through the process for each clip with a broken link, locating all the files in one folder on the G5 made it relatively fast and painless.  In a few minutes, I was ready to edit---now on the G5!

March 25, 2005

What Apple Doesn't See Can Hurt Them

In various postings around the ‘Net, one of the widely discussed problems has been discoloration showing up on many of the new Apple Cinema Displays.  Often, this manifests itself as a pink tint.  I was in the Apple Store in the Galleria this weekend and looking at various Macs while contemplating buying a new 12 inch PowerBook.  One of their G5 PowerMacs was hooked up to one of the new 20 inch Cinema Displays, and it was exhibiting the pink tint!  I almost started laughing.  Obviously, no one on the staff in the store has noticed it.  What a piece of advertising for Apple’s lack of quality control!

 I’ve said multiple times in this blog that Apple’s low quality control was going to bite them.  It sure seems to be doing just that when it comes to these new displays.  Apple has certainly sent waves through the professional graphics community with this blunder.  Frankly, I’m retiring one of my older 20 inch Apple Cinema Displays so I can keep it as a backup.   I not only don’t want to spend the money on a new display if I can avoid it; I like the older 20 inch Cinema Displays better; and who wants to deal with the quite good odds of display issues? 

March 22, 2005

Avid, Pinnacle, and the Race to Video 

Until recently, I considered Pinnacle Studio as the top consumer video editing application in the Windows world.  Based on the reviews I’ve read, I now believe that Adobe’s Premiere Elements may have stolen that title.  But that may be short-lived.  Avid, probably the premiere name in broadcast video editing, is moving to acquire Pinnacle. 

To be honest, Adobe may not have much to worry about.  Consolidating Pinnacle and Avid may indeed pose a threat to those companies engaged in preparing broadcast video products, at least on the Windows side of the house. From my reading, I never get the feeling that many TV studios are into Adobe Premiere, i.e, that it remains the realm of professionals who prepare videos for other venues, like the local wedding videographer.  With the advent of non-linear editing on computers, Premiere has also made its way into the hands of serious hobbyists and prosumers.  Pinnacle Studio, on the other hand, was primarily the tool of hobbyists and your everyday “I want to make a home movie” enthusiast.  For years, I’ve thought it was the best of the bunch of consumer-level home video editing packages out there; but the last couple of versions have looked a bit long in the tooth.  With the entrance into the consumer market of Adobe’s Premiere Elements, Pinnacle Studio’s place as PC World magazine’s and my personal favorite is gone. 

Avid’s takeover of Pinnacle Studio is unlikely to change that.  Unless Avid does some serious work to understand consumer interfaces and rework its products, the takeover may even help Premiere Elements take the same place in home computing that Photoshop Elements already has. 

In the Mac world, Pinnacle has never been a player and neither has Avid.  Avid tried to make a move in that direction a year or two back by releasing Avid Express, a “lite” version of or commercial video editor.  But Avid products have always carried a reputation for having steep learning curves, and their late entry into a market Apple had already saturated with iMovie and Final Cut left them with no toehold to grab onto.  iMovie 2 (and beyond) from the start was always as good as Pinnacle Studio, and iMovie’s integration with iDVD made it a Pinnacle Studio killer.  I find Final Cut Pro’s interfaces great fun to work with, and it’s hard for me to imagine that Avid could beat Apple in that regard, even if they wanted to. Additionally, my impression of Avid has been that it was a lot like Quark, i.e., it didn’t seem very interested in responding to its customers’ complaints about its products.  Taking over Pinnacle won’t help them there.  Pinnacle was never known for its great customer service either. 

I may not be giving Avid enough credit.  Seems to me that when I first started working video (on the Windows platform), I might have been using an Avid product.  And liked it.  But whether Avid can jump in now and improve Pinnacle Studio to make it the top consumer-level video editing package for Windows remains to be seen.  Of course, they may not care.  It’s just as likely that Pinnacle Studio will disappear and that Pinnacle’s assets will all be geared toward the broadcast market.

G5…..Arriving (almost)! 

My G5 PowerMac is still in transit from California.  I’m making plans to get off work early on the planned delivery day so I can be home when it arrives and not spend days trying to pry it loose from my carrier.  In the meantime, all the other little goodies I ordered to help me with this transition have been arriving.  The IOGEAR ADC KVM switch (ordered from Provantage) I’m going to use to run the G5 and my G4 PowerMac with the same 20 inch Apple Cinema Display is here, as are the Parallel to Serial ATA converters from Other World Computing, and a Firmtek Seritek 1V4 Serial ATA PCI-X card from Firewire Depot.  I’m awaiting the arrival of the Tranintl Swift Data 200 kit as I write this. 

Once the G5 gets here, I intend to check it out right away.  Not only will I check its condition and operation, but I intend to run Apple System Profiler to see what kind of DVD burner is in it.  Then, I’ll run Software Update and play with various applications to look for any problems.  If I see none, then I’ll load up the extra twin 512MB memory sticks I’ve bought and see how it does.  At that point, if everything is honkey-dorey; I’ll shut the machine down, hook up the KVM switch, and test operation of both PowerMacs using it.

Assuming that works okay, I plan to boot the G5 using Firewire Target Disk Mode and then boot the G4.  Using a Firewire cable, I’ll clone the G4’s boot drive onto the G5 and shut down both machines when I’m done.  Then, I’ll boot up the G5 and check it out.  If it did the job, I won’t have to reconfigure the G5 at all.

The next step is to disconnect the G4, pull out its hard disks, and mount the Parallel to Serial ATA converters on them.  Once that’s done, I’ll mount one hard disk in the G5’s internal bay and then rig up the Swift Data kit and load the remaining 3 hard disks into it.  Hopefully, I won’t blow the G5’s power supply with that load! 

If that all goes well, I’ll put the G5 up, pull two 120GB hard drives I’ve got in a closet out, and mount the drives in my G4.  I then will boot the G4 using an external LaCie 120GB Firewire hard drive and clone that drive onto the boot disk for the G4.  The second hard drive in the G4 will be for data archiving and backup; and I’ll be able to add more hard disks to the G4 later if I need to.  (I wouldn’t buy any more parallel ATA drives.  Instead, I’d replace the converted parallel drives in the G5 with real SATA drives.)

Voila!  My Creative Corner will be made!  I’ll have a desk where I’ll sit down only to do creative work…either writing or video.  And have a great time doing it!

It just doesn’t get any sweeter than that!

March 20, 2005

Coming Soon – The G5 Kludge

In my last blog, I mentioned I had ordered a PowerMac G5.  Finally.  It’s not the newest; in fact, so I could run Jaguar if needed, it’s a Rev. A machine.  Refurbished, so hopefully most of the Rev A bugs will be mitigated.  The Rev A fit me better.  Not only would it run Jaguar but it had an ATI video card, which I wanted more than the Nvidia Geforce card in current machines.

Of course, as soon as I bought the thing, I started looking at how I was going to transfer the video projects sitting on my dual 1.25 GHz G4 PowerMac over to the dual G5.  Using Carbon Copy Cloner, cloning my current PowerMac’s Panther-carrying boot drive onto the G5 doesn't appear to be much of a problem.  (Though my plan is to boot the machine using its native Jaguar hard disk, register the G5 with Apple, and check it out before doing that.)  Originally, I had thought I might buy a 300GB Serial ATA (SATA) hard disk, mount it in the G5's second bay (to replace ths second of four hard disks I'm currently using), and hook the other two in via a Firewire 800/400 case that would not only mount the two hard drives but later put them together in a RAID 0 setup.  But when I looked at the money I would have to spend, I started wondering if there was some other way I could move and use the hard disks.  I also had two 120GB ATA 100 hard disks sitting in my closet.  Was there some way I could use them all?

One of the PowerMac G5’s design shortcomings is its lack of room for extra internal hard disks.  Two companies offer “third-party” solutions to this problem.  Transintl has its “Swift Data 200” and Wiebe TECH has its “G5 Jam”.  I decided to purchase the “Swift Data 200” from Transintl because of its lower cost.  It starts at $259, though that price is deceptive because it doesn’t account for everything you need if you’re starting from scratch.  It assumes you’ve got a controller for the extra 3 hard disks you can mount, a fact I realized after I had placed my order.  Transintl’s website is not customer friendly; once you place an order, there is no way to electronically cancel it; you must call them on the phone.  If it’s late at night when you realize you’ve made a mistake, then you just screwed the pooch.  The real “in the door” cost is $339, and that price includes a Firmtek PCI controller card.  Rather than spending the next day correcting the order, I bought off on a little extra expense and ordered the Firmtek card from somewhere else.

Since the Swift Data add-on would let me mount 3 hard disks in it, I now had enough room to mount all the hard disks that are currently in my PowerMac G4.  Of course, the big problem is that the hard disks in the G4 use an ATA interface and the G5 uses SATA.  But I realized I could solve that problem by using ATA to SATA converters, which I ordered from Other World Computing for $25 each. I could have gotten them cheaper elsewhere, but these were guaranteed to be Mac compatible.

My plan now is to clone the G4 PowerMac’s boot drive onto the G5’s and use the Serial to ATA converters to move the ATA hard disks over to the G5.  If this works, my G5 will sport 900GB of hard disk space, including the boot drive.  There are a lot of questions, though, about how well such a kludged setup will work.  Introducing the Serial to ATA converters adds five extra components that can cause incompatibilies or produce errors.   I’ll clone the boot dive, check the machine out, and then add one of the converted ATA drives to the G5’s internal bay.  If it won’t fit, I’ll buy a 160GB SATA drive for that bay and then try using the others in the Swift Data bay.  The worse case scenario would be that I’d have to replace all the Ultra ATA drives with Serial ATA drives, which would cost a pretty penny but at least be a “one time” expense.

The other two 120GB hard dives that have been sitting around are going into my dual 1.25 G4 PowerMac.  I’ll clone a Jaguar drive I’m already running onto one of them ans use it as the boot drive and probably use the second 120GB drive as a data backup drive.  I may use the machine as a back-up video editor, though I would need to get a copy of Final Cut Express to do that. But my major and overriding use of this machine will be to use it exclusively for my creative writing.  In time, I may decide that it’s overkill and that I’m not using my G5 PowerMac enough to make a separate machine for writing necessary.  In that case, I’ll boot it from an external Firewire hard disk loaded with Jaguar and use it exclusively for writing.  For now, I’m going to keep the two PowerMacs largely separate.  “Largely” means I’m going to use an IOGEAR ADC KVM switch to run them both with the same 20 inch Apple Cinema Display, the same Apple keyboard, and the same Logitech MX510 mouse.

Obviously, how all this works and evolves will be the subject of this blog, as well as the other things I learn while running this G5.  This will be the last desktop purchase on the Mac side of the house I will be making for the next few years and may be the last PowerMac upgrade I do for many, depending upon how much video work I get into.  Honestly, I’d like to use my purchasing power for another video camera and some good lights rather than any more computers, though I will upgrade one notebook this year also. 

(Of course, if I win the lotto, all bets are off!)  I need to move more into the creative work these machines were bought to support, instead of them being an end unto themselves. 

March 16, 2005

Sometimes Apple and Microsoft aren’t that far apart…

 …when it comes to behavior, that is.  Specifically, I’m referring to the behaviors that both companies exhibit to force customers to upgrade. 

 Whenever Microsoft comes out with a new operating system (hereafter called the OS), it forces retailers to stop selling its older products.  That means that when your old operating system craters—and it’s Windows so it will—you have no choice but to buy the newer OS.  In many cases, that also means you wind up buying hardware to upgrade your machine.  Forced obsolescence is the name of the game.

 Apple doesn’t follow that lead when it comes to software but does do the same thing when it comes to firmware.  Firmware controls the booting and operating of your Mac, and Apple routinely changes the firmware in the Macs being built at any moment to match them up with the current Apple OS.  That’s fine, but this is the reason why Macs often will not boot up on Apple operating systems older than they are.

Booting into an older OS is generally not a problem in the PC world.  If I want to run DOS 6.2 on my Athlon XP 2800+, I can do it.  I do run Windows 98SE in a dual boot configuration with Windows XP on my PC. 

With a Mac, I can run OS 9.2 and OS X on the same machine (and I really like the way that works), but I cannot run an earlier version of OS 10 than the Mac was born with because the machine’s firmware will not permit it.  I could see this if the feature sets of any particular Mac were so different that an older OS needed to be prevented from running, but this does not appear to be the case.  For instance, the technologies in my 1 GHz G4 PowerBook are not radically different than those in my wife’s G3 700 iBook; yet, my PowerBook will not boot up on a Jaguar (OS 10.2) retail CD while my wife’s iBook will. 

In a case like the iMac G5 where software is controlling the fan or some other feature of the model, I can understand changing the firmware to restrict booting to OS 10.3 or later.  Of course, the Rev A PowerMac G5’s, which also use software to control the fans, boot into OS 10.2.7. That makes me wonder if an iMac G5 could run Jaguar as well.

Why would I want to?  Because I have some software that wasn’t updated for Panther and because I simply like Jaguar’s look and feel more.  The former is important from a functionality standpoint, the latter from a creative standpoint.  Creativity is very important to me; and I’m going to do everything I can to nurture it.  Panther and Tiger, for all their feature sets, have a darker tone I don’t find as inspiring.  Even after I upgrade most of my machines to Tiger, I will have a copy of Jaguar sitting around, just to do creative writing on.

I finally ordered a 2 GHz dual processor G5 PowerMac, but I ordered a refurbished Revision A model, not only to save money but to ensure I got one that could boot into Jaguar.  I also will be keeping my dual 1.25 GHz G4 PowerMac and loading up a hard disk with Jaguar and another either with Panther or Tiger, more than likely the latter.  I’ll be doing my creative writing on my PowerMac using Jaguar while using my iMac G5 running Tiger to do my other writing and chores, including the work associated with maintaining this website. 

It’s ridiculous I have to go to this much trouble just to be able to run 10.2.

March 4, 2005

Firefox for the  G5-The Need for Speed

 While surfing over at Accelerate Your Mac.com, I noticed a link to a version of the new Firefox 1.0.1 the writer claimed was optimized for the G5.  I downloaded the browser and have tried it, and I’m here to tell ya that it is the fastest browser I have used on my G5 iMac.  Pages load damn near instantaneously using my cable Internet connection.  Of course, the speed of my Internet connection is a factor; it tested out (using the Road Runner Speed test this morning (5:28 a.m.) at an unbelievable 4683 kbps!  But before you claim that it’s the cable speed that is the sole arbiter, I conducted subjective page loading tests using the optimized version of Firefox and the latest version of Safari; and the G5 version of Firefox is the clear winner.  I’ve never seen pages load so fast!

Some readers have reported some crashes with this browser, but mine has been extremely stable.  For the moment, I’ve changed my Preferences to make it the default browser and have moved it higher on the Dock, my personal way of ensuring it gets the most attention.

To read more about this or get your own copy, go here: http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/feedback/firefox_G5_builds.html#updates

 February 17, 2005

Where Mossberg Got It Right and Wrong

Walt Mossberg, writing in the “Personal Technology” website this week, stated that switching to the Mac isn’t for everybody.  On that, I agree.  Yet, I found his arguments a bit off.  In fact, I had to wonder if Mossberg had ever performed the Windows to Mac transition.  If so, his experiences are apparently different from mine.

 Mossberg essentially came to the conclusion that only people who use Macs for common, everyday tasks could switch to Macs.  Of course, that’s probably about eighty to ninety percent of the computer users out there; so maybe my quibble is only what he said about the remaining ten to twenty percent.  As you know if you’ve been reading much on this website, I use my computers for a lot more than that; and I’ve happily switched the majority of my computing—including work I do on my job—to the Mac and will not go back to Windows.  That said, I also happily admit that I do keep a Windows PC around; and I’ll summarize the reasons for that in a moment.

One place where Mossberg and I agree is that hard core gamers need to remain on the Windows platform.  While the newest G5’s are competitive with the fastest PC’s in many areas, the Windows platform still holds a slight edge in speed and a bigger edge in game availability.  One of the major reasons I keep my PC is to run flight simulators.  While there are some excellent ones for the Mac, I still have a better selection of sims on the PC.

From there on out, Mossberg and I largely depart company.

He stated that if you needed to access your network at work—most of which are still run by Windows servers—you need to stay on Windows.  That’s half-true. I use VPN over a cable modem and router to connect to my workplace, and for simple e-mail and calendar access my Macs often will hook up with the network when my Windows XP Home machine will not.  I use Outlook 2001 running in Classic mode to check e-mail and manipulate my calendar and it works just like my Outlook at my workplace except for access to Personal Folders.  I haven’t been able to get to the shared folder where they are kept; and that is where my Macs don’t do as well, i.e., accessing some shared servers.  Whether this is a true failing of OS X or my own limited knowledge of networking is not clear.  (In this case, too, some of the problem is the way Outlook for the Mac is set up.)  I can connect to those servers using my XP machine, so I simply have no reason to spend the time to get the Macs to work. I do have full access to all my folders when I use my XP machine.  As Mossberg mentioned, you can run a Windows operating system using Virtual PC (and perhaps a new application called Guest, though I haven’t tried that, yet) and use it to access networked shares or resources if needed.  On the other side of the coin, I can testify that if not for my Macs, there are times I would have been dead in the water when trying to work from home if I had been totally reliant on my PC. 

As Mossberg said, I’ve heard that some financial services associated with Quicken don’t work with the Mac.  However, I consider his statement that converting your Windows Quicken files to the Mac Version is “a bear” as puzzling.  I did exactly that when I first switched over; and while it did take several steps, I did not consider it “a bear”.  I understand that Quicken has moved away from the .qif file format and maybe that’s harder to convert than the file I did was.  I don’t know.  What is “a bear” is converting from the Mac file format back to Windows.  In any case, I run on Quicken for the Mac today and have been happy as a lark with it.  Admittedly, though, I access credit card and bank accounts via the web and don’t use Quicken’s special features to do any of that. 

One group Mossberg left out who not only could switch to the Mac but need to consider it if they haven’t already is video professionals or serious video hobbyists.  There are no packages on the Windows platform that have the capabilities and play together as well as those in the iLife suite, Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro.  The latter, too, are beautiful packages to edit and produce on.

Creative professionals have already been long associated with the Mac.  Frankly, with most creative packages (like Adobe’s) available for both platforms, the distinction between the two is not that great anymore.  But there are still compelling reasons for creative professionals to stay with or move to the Mac platform.  Frankly, OS X is not only more secure than XP, but it simply easier and more joyful to use.  That enhances the creative process and is not a small thing.  Additionally, the fact that OS X is not susceptible to viruses, etc., does mean you’ll spend more time doing your creative work than troubleshooting your computer.  That’s not to say that Mac’s are trouble-free; they’re not.  But they are a lot less troublesome than a Windows PC.  Most of the time, it is true that I turn my Macs on and they “just work”. 

I agree with Mossberg that professionals or companies running specialized software probably need to stick with Windows…or DOS.  (Like many point of sale systems.) But that is only true if there is no OS X or open-source version of the software available.  If your company runs Unix, Linux, or has been contemplating either, then a move to OS X makes sense since it is essentially a Unix operating system with a great GUI (graphical user interface).  Products produced with Microsoft Office for the Mac are very compatible with Windows versions of Office.  Most of the time, folks cannot tell whether the Word or PowerPoint document I just shipped to them was made on a Mac or on my work PC.  And if you don’t want to use Microsoft Office, there’s Open Office that can be downloaded for free.

If you’re a pilot, you probably also want to stick with Windows, especially if you’re an AOPA member.  But this is not an absolute.  I am the living exception to what I just said.  I run my AOPA flight planning software on the road via my PowerBook and Virtual PC 7.1 running Win XP Pro.  It runs fairly well, too, even though the PB only has a 1 GHz processor. So, I am making my way around the problem; but I honestly did consider buying a Windows XP laptop just to use when flying.  (And if we buy an airplane and start flying a lot more than we are now, I may reconsider.)  But, for now, the PowerBook works well enough; and it’s kind of funky running XP full screen on my PowerBook.  Really throws other folks off…

Yes, I have spent a lot of money switching to the Mac.  I was one of those people Mossberg’s advice would have been to not switch, but I felt the expense was worth it.  All my Adobe applications and Microsoft Office have been “re-bought” for the Mac platform; in fact, I run newer versions of the same on my Macs and have largely stopped upgrading Windows software.  My costs of maintaining two platforms really are minimal over the cost of maintaining the Mac alone.  I simply focus my time and money on the one I like the best and use the other as I wish. 

It has all been worth it.

So, if you’re thinking about switching to the Mac, here are the reasons pro and con for or against doing so, as I see them:

 Pro’s 

 Con’s

 Ultimately, there are no absolutes.  You must decide what’s best for you, no matter what any of us computer writers thinks.

February 8, 2005

A Windows kind of night—on a Mac

It’s been unusual for me to have to spend a night troubleshooting problems since I’ve primarily switched to the Mac, but last night was an exception.  I did wind up getting the completing original project I was after when the whole thing started, but I spent four to five hours working it out.

 I’m using a 120GB LaCie external hard disk to backup two of my Macs and to support booting from Jaguar and running “Click N' Design 3 D”, my favorite CD/DVD labeling application.   Mac development and support of that program stopped with the release of Jaguar (OS 10.2), and I have been unable to get the program to run under Panther or get the OS9 version to run under Classic.   I had built a movie and burned two copies of it to DVD and wanted to use Click 3 D to build and print their labels.  I booted into Jaguar last night with my dual 1.25Ghz G4 PowerMac without a hitch but then noticed that the machine was not finding my Epson R200 printer on my little USB 2.0 network.  A ZIP disk drive is also attached to the network; and when I inserted a disk into it, it did not pop up on the PowerMac’s desktop as expected. 

 The connection to the USB network is via a SIIG USB 2.0 PCI card.  To see if the problem was with the SIIG card or the USB network itself, I unplugged the USB cable from the card and inserted it into one of the PowerMac’s native USB 1.1 port.  The ZIP disk popped onto the desktop.  The SIIG card or something associated with it was the problem.

To determine if the problem was due to hardware or software, I replaced the card in the PowerMac with an identical one.  The problem remained.  To see if the problem was associated with the PCI slot, I moved the card to another.  The problem remained.  That pointed toward a software problem.

Traveling to the SIIG website, I downloaded the newest driver for the card and ran its installation routine.  When I tried to reboot, however, the reboot hung right after the Apple appeared and gave me a “prohibited” sign.  Boot files on the hard drive had somehow gotten messed up.  Investigation at the Apple website pointed toward a reinstallation of Jaguar. Before I did that, though, I ran Tech Tools Pro 4.0 and used disk and file utilities to search for errors.  I found a few and tried to reboot after correcting them but had no luck.  So, I booted the PowerMac using its internal boot drive and ran Disk Utility on the Lacie partition containing Jaguar.  It corrected a large number of permissions but still would not boot afterwards.  Reloading Jaguar became my only alternative.  I inserted my retail Jaguar CD into the PowerMac’s primary DVD drive, rebooted, and held down the “C” key expecting it to boot from the CD.  Instead, the screen flickered and the PowerMac booted from its own internal drive.  Clearly, it was not recognizing the CD as something it wanted to boot from.

To rule out a problem with the DVD burner, I inserted the CD into The PowerMac’s secondary optical drive and tried to boot from the CD again.  No luck.  Then, to see if the machine was having a generic problem with booting from an optical drive, I inserted the machine’s original Restore DVD into the primary optical drive (a Pioneer DVR-107 DVD burner), and it worked.  When I checked the version of the operating system on the disk, I found it was 10.2.3.  The version I originally tried to boot from was 10.2.

I then pulled out my 1 GHz G4 PowerBook and tried to boot it using the retail Jaguar CD.  It would not.  When I checked the software version of the software that had been delivered with the PowerBook, I found it was 10.3.

With those two results, I suspected that the Macs were built to boot only on the operating system version they had been shipped with or newer.  To verify that, I borrowed my wife’s 700 G3 iBook, slipped the retail Jaguar CD into its combo drive, and tried to reboot on it.  That worked!  Using the iBook, then, I hooked into the LaCie drive and reloaded Jaguar using the Archive and Install option, and rebooted.  Finally, the drive worked like it was supposed to!  Retrieving a copy of the OS 10.2.8 Combo Updater from a DVD,  I updated the hard disk to take it to 10.2.8 and then ran Software Update to get the rest of the fixes.  I rebooted again and it worked, so I unhooked it from the iBook and hooked it up to the PowerMac.  The PowerMac booted from the drive like it was supposed to.

I was, at least, back to square one.

I surfed back to the SIIG website and looked again for updated drivers for the USB card, unfortunately confirming that the driver that had hosed my system up was the only one posted for Jaguar (and Panther).  The USB still wasn’t working and had to be or all was for naught, so I downloaded the driver and applied it again.  It hosed up my system again.

This time, though, I took a different approach. I booted into Panther on the PowerMac’s internal hard drive, repaired permissions (and there were many of them that needed fixing) on the Jaguar hard disk, and then reinstalled the 10.2.8 combo updater.  I rebooted.  It worked!  Not only that, but the ZIP drive popped up on the desktop.  When I checked for my Epson inkjet printer, I realized its drivers were not installed, so I took care of that.  During that, though, I discovered that my Microsoft Mouse drivers had gotten hosed, so I reinstalled Microsoft’s Intellipoint 5.2 to get them back.  It also hosed my system!  The next reboot would not work.

Back to Panther I went, repairing permissions on the Jaguar disk, reapplying the 10.2.8 combo updater, and rebooting.  Finally, I had it all working; and I had a fast an reliable means of recovering the drive if some installation fowled it up.

Finally, I printed my DVD labels.

I truly believe all things work out for the best.  While not really what I wanted to happen, I had learned something that was going to prevent me from making a costly mistake.  I had been thinking about buying a Mac mini to use to boot into Jaguar.  I am fairly convinced now that will not work.  Instead, I’m going to keep my wife’s 700 G3 iBook for running Jaguar so I can move my other machines onward and upward and still have the ability run "Click N' Design 3 D" when I want to.  I’ll let go of that when I find Mac software that does its job as easily and efficiently as it does.  So far, I’ve been looking for over a year and haven’t found it yet!

Spend the Twenty-Nine Bucks!

If you’re a Windows user thinking about buying a Mac mini, consider spending another $29 for an Apple keyboard.  If you have a favorite keyboard you want to keep using, fine.  I have to tell you, though, I have yet to find a Windows keyboard as nice as Apple’s, not to mention that it has two USB ports for your mouse and one other peripheral.  And once you get used to ejecting CD’s or DVD’s from the keyboard, you’ll be spoiled.

February 5, 2005

Printing Return Address Labels

 Not long ago, I fell for one of those ads selling return address labels, 500 for four bucks.  Of course, after I sent out my order, my wife printed up a sheet of return address labels for herself, reminding me that I already had the Avery labels here to do that.  She had printed hers in Microsoft Word 2004, which, like most versions of Word, has label printing capability within it.  But she was unhappy about the actual spacing of the print on the label.  The first line of the address was too close to the top so it was slightly clipped.  This is one of the things I don’t like about using word processors for that kind of thing, which raised the question about what software is out there for desktop publishing these things.  And what did I already have?

On Windows…

My first thought on my Windows XP computer was Microsoft Publisher.  I have Publisher 2000 which is too old to have the Avery 8167 return address label template I needed.  However, it did have the Avery 5267 template, essentially the same thing.  I did have to move the address block downward as far as it could go on the screen’s template to actually get the spacing on the actual printed sheet more centered on the labels themselves.

 While looking around for CD labeling software a few nights before, I had downloaded the free Avery Design Pro Limited software.  It had even better controls for making up a label, easily including pictures or clip art.  But to get a full sheet of labels, appeared to require performing a merger with a database file, presumably one listing my name and address 80 times.  While it has some limited database file management tools in it, I moved on after not being able to easily get it to work.  Maybe later I’ll open Access and output an 80 item database file and see if I can get it to work.

I checked Adobe’s PageMaker 7.0 to see if it might have some kind of plug in, but it didn’t.  (I’ll talk later about how I can build a template without too much sweat in one of these high-powered page layout programs when I address it via In Design in the Mac discussion next).

As I mentioned earlier, I could also use Microsoft Word. I’m running the 2002 version of the program on my PC.

Open Office 1.1 also is set up to allow you to build labels as well.  To get there, select File/New/Labels.  Near the bottom right hand side of the window, select “Avery Letter Size” under brand and the Type slot will fill with all the current Avery label types and select the one you want. Type your address in the “Label Text” window and then click on the “New Document” button. Voila!  You will have a full page full of return address labels using the Times New Roman 12 point font (default).  That makes the address lines too large for the labels.  The only way I could see to change the font or adjust its size was to do it one address label at a time.  It would take a while to do all 80 of them.

On The Mac…..

…you can print Avery labels directly from Address Book.  It’s all hidden under the Print function. Select File/Print and the select “Mailing Labels” in the “Style” drop down menu that appears in the Print window.  However, the hard part is getting it to repeat your address 80 times.  It only wants to do it once.  Some folks have used a FileMaker database file, with the address fields filled in 80 times with their own address, to get this to work using Address Book.  (You could use the same technique with Avery Design Label Pro on the Windows platform.)

 Surprisingly, if you are running a Palm PDA (on Windows or a Mac), you can use Palm’s Desktop.  Launch the Palm Desktop and select File/Print.  From the “Print As” drop down menu, select “Return Address Labels”.  On the “Return Address” drop down, click on “Add a New Return Address”.  Type a name for the sheet you’re about to print in the “Return Address” dropdown and type the information in the “Return Address Text” window.  Click on the “Save” button and then go back to the Print dialog and select the return address you just made in the “Return Address” dropdown.  Select the Avery label format in the “Label Layout” window.  (Palm Desktop 4.0 doesn’t have the Avery 8167 format but does have the 5267 format.  Select that.)  Insert your return label sheet and click on “Print”, and you’re done.

 PrintShop for OS X has nice label printing formatting tools, but I can’t tell you how well they work since the application would choke on my HP Laserjet 2100.  I’d get a printer error every time, and the MacKiev website had no information to help me troubleshoot it.  Unfortunately, my HP 1100D Business Inkjet printer had picked that afternoon to spit up the black printhead (which hasn’t been used all that much, HP!), so I couldn’t switch out to my inkjet and trying it there.  (I’ll have to give that a go the next time I need some address labels.  I’m stocked up for now.)

On either platform…

If you own Adobe Illustrator or In Design or some other program that will import .pdf files and you want to use one of those programs to build your labels, then go to Worldlabels.com.  They have .pdf file templates for just about every Avery label you’d want to use.  In Illustrator or the like that will actually open a .pdf file, you can open the file and make changes directly and save them out.  For other packages like In Design that will import the templates but not open them, simply open a new page (8.5 x 11 inches), import the template, place it on top of the page, and then use the template as a guide to drag guides and create a page layout.  Once done, remove the .pdf file from the page and save the work as a template.

 But that’s a lot of work, more than most of us bill paying folks want to go to.  The easiest and slickest way to print out the return labels you need (or any other Avery label you need) is to go to the Avery website (http://www.avery.com).  Click on the “Avery Print” tab and then follow the web-based wizards through the label creating process.  Print when you’re done.  

Isn’t that cool?

I’m sure there are lots of other ways to get labels printed, but these are the ones I’ve found so far.  As you can see, if you’ve got a PC or a Mac and a printer, there’s not a lot of reason to order address labels in the mail.  You can make your own a lot faster and cheaper. 

February 4, 2005

Not So Fast…The New PowerBooks and Base Memory

I saw an editorial on the web praising Apple for finally including 512MB RAM in their new PowerBooks.  I agree it’s a step up and I commend Apple for that, but a little closer look at the specifications will show you that this leopard only changed a few of its spots.  While the machine’s total memory is a heftier 512MB, the internal base memory is still only 256!  To expand the machine’s memory above the 512MB it comes with means you’ll have to throw away 256MB of RAM.

Admittedly, most people can make do with 512MB of RAM.  But if you’re a heavy Photoshop user, multitask a lot or (God forbid!) use your PowerBook for video editing, then you’re going to want at least 1 GB of memory.  That kind of tasking is supposedly what differentiates the PowerBook from the iBook. 

 If Apple had really wanted to impress its users, it would have stocked the machine with 512MB of internal memory.

 Think how much more useful that would have been.  As it is, though, I’m not sure Apple did us much of a favor.  I would have preferred they either kicked up the base ram or left the machine in its 256MB configuration and lowered the price another $100.

February 3, 2005

Adjusting my iTunes

When inserting my relatively new 4G iPod into iTunes on my PowerBook, I turned down its offer to synch up the songs on the two devices.  Even so, I still could not play my iPod through my computer like I used to.  I thought at first that there might be some “feature” in the newer iPod that was causing it.  Still, I decided to prowl through iTunes 4.7’s Preferences to see if changing some setting might restore that functionality.

iTunes defaults to automatic synchronization of songs on the host computer with any inserted iPod.  Because of that, it deselects the iPod even though it mounts it.  Changing the iPod Preference from automatic synchronization to “Manually manage songs and playlists” in iTunes/Preferences/iPod/Music made the iPod a 3d icon again and gave me computer access to its songs.  If that hadn’t worked, I might have been convinced that Apple had gone too far…

The Apple Cinema Display and Windows--Half Ass Support?

When Apple redesigned their line of Cinema Displays, they moved the display connectors off the proprietary ADC to a more universal DVI.  Speculation was that one reason Apple was doing that was to make the displays more attractive to Windows users. That speculation was correct.  Apple’s own ads market the displays to Mac and PC users.  But if you scour the web, you’ll find that Apple didn’t live up to  the total end of their bargain.  Apple does not include .inf files for Windows machines and unwary users have found out from AppleCare that they don’t support the display on Windows. 

It’s great that Apple is working to attract Windows users to both the Mac platform and to their equipment (Cinema Displays, iPods) that are compatible with Windows’ machine.  But just like Apple has released iTunes for Windows, it needs to release .inf files that would allow Windows users to fully use their displays.

It may be that the displays work just fine under Windows XP without the files.  Certainly, my older 20 inch Apple Cinema Display does running with an ADC to DVI connector.  But I know I lucked out.  If I needed to even adjust brightness or contrast, I’d be out of luck.  And I’m sensitive to their pain for another reason.  My display works great under XP but not so great under Windows 98SE.  Under XP, my ATI Radeon 9550 hits the display’s native resolution exactly.  Under 98SE, I can get close but the display actually looks best at a lower 1024 x 768.  Would an .inf file help that?  Perhaps, though I suspect that differences in the 98SE and XP video drivers have more to do with it than the .inf file, a correct one couldn’t hurt.  Hmmmm…, maybe I need to go play with monitor types and see if something other than “Plug and Play Monitor” under 98SE works better.

Thank God for my own website….

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is not something I listen to very well.

I did start trying to find some way to get my Apple Cinema Display’s full native resolution under Windows 98SE.  I tried loading up some .inf files for monitors that had equivalent resolutions but had no luck.  Then, I tried modifying the .inf files for the video card itself.  Still, no luck.  I don’t remember exactly what I did, but somehow I wound up with my Radeon 9550 video card uninstalled.

I tried installing using the CD that came with the video card.  The installation routine would start and even come up with Win98 drivers, but it would halt with a “can’t find needed components” error message every time.  Thinking that maybe it was looking for DirectX components, I installed (or reinstalled?) the latest version.  Didn’t help at all.  I tried a couple of downloaded drivers (Catalyst 4.3 and 4.10) from the ATI website and got the same result.  After a couple of times of trying to get the normal installation routines to work, I searched for the write-up I had done when I had installed this card before.  Much to my chagrin, I couldn’t find a copy on my PC!  So, I went into the Computer Blog (yes, what you’re reading now) and found the entry where I described how I had installed the card before.  I followed its instructions and, voila!, instant success! 

Once I had the card reinstalled, I gave up trying to get some kind of .inf file that would work.  Instead, I played with the monitor’s various resolutions and got it as close to its native resolution as I could and that didn’t look stretched or squashed.  It’s running at something odd now like 1280 x 960. 

Windows XP 64 Bit—Why I’m Not Installing it…For Now…

PC World’s website posted an article yesterday a link to a Microsoft download site where I could get a copy of Windows XP 64 bit edition, RC1 (release candidate 1).  Since I’m on broadband at home, the 450MB download would be lengthy but not intolerable.  While I don’t have an Athlon 64 CPU yet, I’ve been toying with the idea for quite a while now.  And I’m still thinking about it.  But for now, I’ve decided not to download it.

The download file has to be burned to a CD and the installation run from the CD.  I really don’t have a problem with that and have considered downloading it just to have it for when I do upgrade.  ATI does have a 64 bit beta driver for Radeon cards, so I would have video support.  But XP 64 will not have 16 bit application support, meaning that applications built for Win95/98/3.1 will not run, as won’t any DOS applications I still own.  Additionally, I could count on the OS killing all my Norton Utilities and Anti-Virus as well as Partition Magic and any other disk utility I own.  I still remember how upgrading to XP on the PC side and Panther on the Mac side killed applications I really liked.  I won’t upgrade to XP64 without a lot of thought.

I can’t really afford to upgrade all my applications on both my PC and my Macs.  Frankly, I’m already at 64 bit computing, if in name only, on the Mac side of the house because of my G5 iMac.  I’m sure I’ll move my XP machine over to a 64 bit CPU and perhaps this year, but my move to XP’s 64 bit operating system may come a lot later.  I have no compelling reason to move.  All my PC applications are 32 bit.  I am doing some video editing on the PC this week, but it’s a minor project to output some short movies in Windows Media format (.wma, .wmv).  I just don’t want all the possible hassles such an OS upgrade might entail.

January 23, 2004

iLife05 – First Impressions

 My copy of iLife05 arrived on Friday.  I installed it on my G5 iMac and compared it to iLife04 installed on my dual 1.25GHz G4 PowerMac.  All in all, I’m impressed.  It was definitely worth the money.  I bought the Family Pack for only $20 more, so I have enough licenses to install it on every Mac in my house.  (We have five.)

iPhoto has changed the most.  The addition of the Adjust window now lets you adjust several parameters that previously required you to use third party applications was the biggest change, though there are other more subtle changes to the interface.  iDVD5 not only contains new themes but now sports a progress bar that gives you an idea of how far into the encoding and burn processes you are, a great improvement over previous versions’ horizontal barberpole that only told you it was working.  Beside it, there’s even a thumbnail that shows what scene the process is working when encoding.  If you know your footage, then you know right where it is.  iMovie also sports several sleek interface changes and adds effects and transitions, and Garbage Band does the same.  The only downside I’ve seen so far in the package is that encoding in iDVD5 is slower than iDVD4’s when set at “Best Quality”.

I’ll publish a review of the package as soon as I can, hopefully in the next week.  Right now, I can tell you I’d rate it four out of five AndyZone CD’s. 

January 22, 2004

Broken Mouse

I can’t remember a time when a mechanical failure with a mouse forced me to stop using it.  Unfortunately, I am experiencing that now with a Logitech MX 500.  The right mouse button goes through cycles of sticking, something that drives me nuts.  I’m on the second cycle, and I’ve once again packed the mouse back in its original box with the hopes of contacting Logitech and getting them to repair the thing.  I just bought it in October, so it’s still covered by the factory warranty. 

I pulled out a Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer 4.0 with Tilt Wheel to replace it but really don’t like it as well as I do the Logitech mice, even though the latter don’t have tilt wheel functionality.  I’ve discovered that my 20 inch screen makes that almost unneeded, anyway.  I really like what Logitech calls “Cruise Control”, which are small buttons ahead of and behind their mice’s wheel buttons that tell the computer screen’s vertical scrolling bars to move up and down.  Microsoft mice have an “auto scroll” functions, too, but I find it easier to just push a button than drive an arrow up and down on a screen the Microsoft way.

I put the MX500 back in its box and replaced it with a Logitech MX510.  The MX 510 is lighter than the MX500 and has a better feel, has the same functionality, and is royal blue.  We’ve been running the MX510 on two iMacs here and both my wife and I like them and have had no problems.  I’m happy I’ve got one on my PC now, too, though I really hated to spend $50 on a replacement mouse right now. 

What ever happened to the $5 mouse?

January 14, 2005

Notes on Apple's Mac mini

The Mac mini is a cost effective way to break into the Mac universe, but that’s true only if you don’t stray too far from the standard configuration and you have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to hook up to it. 

Since I hope to buy one in the future, I decided to look at the economics of ordering the slower model (1.25GHz) and equipping it with a 80 GB hard disk like its faster brother, upgrading memory to 512MB, and replacing the SuperDrive with a combo drive.  It was still slightly cheaper than equipping the faster machine (1.42GB) with a 512MB stick and a SuperDrive but the difference was on the order of $50.  So, if you’re going to buy a Mac mini, be sure you go to the Apple website and price out configurations using both the $499 and $599 base systems. 

Another thing about the mini is that, unlike the new iMac, it is not user configurable or repairable.

The other thing about the device is that there is only one memory slot.

The immediate impact of both is that you cannot upgrade the system yourself.  To upgrade memory to 512Mb or higher, you must order the system that way or have the memory installed by an authorized Apple Service center.  Neither of those options are exactly cheap.  Apple is known for its inflated memory prices.  Most people, including me, buy memory from third party vendors if we want to expand a system’s memory.  I did that with my new 20 inch G5 iMac.  Its meager 256MB of memory was replaced by a single 1 GB DIMM on sale at MicroCenter.  I took the 256MB stick and added that to my wife’s 17 inch G5 iMac to kick hers up to 512MB.  Like Windows XP, Mac OS X performs better with at least 512MB of memory.  I would not run either operating system on less, but then I do run major applications, sometimes several at a time.

(Update on January 18, 2005- MacWorld is reporting that Apple has told them you can upgrade the Mac mini's memory yourself as long as you don't break anything when you do. If this is true, I retract the above and will be looking ar buying a Mac mini and doing the upgrade myself unless the cost difference is not worth my time.)

I said in an earlier blog I wanted a G4 in the house, and the Mac mini seems to be a great answer.  On both the Windows and Mac platforms, I have found it handy to keep copies of earlier operating systems. I’ve already discovered that my G5 will not boot up on Firewire hard disks running anything less than 10.3 (Panther).  Panther disabled a software application I needed that would run on Jaguar and earlier. I have no doubt that Tiger will do the same.  No matter what platform I’m running on, I don’t like losing capability.  That’s why I’d like to have a G4 that will run older OS’s.

January 12, 2005

More About Apple's “Pages”

 My first thought when I read about “Pages”, Apple’s new word processor, was that it was more of a desktop publisher than a word processor.  But then I let Apple’s marketing hype override that impression and wrote yesterday’s musings about Pages Vs MS Word.  Today, I stand corrected because of a web article by a MacWorld staffer who validated my first impression, i.e., Pages is more a desktop publishing application than a word processor.

 When the PC revolution started back in the 80’s, the differences between word processors and desktop publishers were more apparent.  Since then, as the PC market (and I am including the Mac in that term) has become more sophisticated and software makers have strained to differentiate their products, the line has become more blurred.  Most word processors today are a hybrid of true word processors and desktop publishing applications.  That’s why Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect, among others, come with templates that allow you to make everything from brochures to labels to calendars.

The MacWorld writer thought that Pages was Apple’s answer to the killing of Adobe Pagemaker for the Mac.  I disagree.  From what I’ve seen of Pages (and admittedly that hasn’t been a lot), it’s more akin to Microsoft Publisher or MacKiev’s PrintShop than PageMaker.  PageMaker’s replacement on the Adobe side of the house was and is In Design.  PageMaker might have ended its reign on both the Windows and Mac platforms as a “small business and home use” app, but it began life as THE professional product for desktop publishing on the personal computer.  It was PageMaker and the laser printer that made the desktop publishing trail.

More About the “Mac mini”

I’ve already told my wife I want a Mac mini.  Okay, that makes me crazy!  Most of you probably had already guessed that, but I digress.  Having a G5 iMac to use has impressed upon me the need to keep a G4 based Mac around.

Why do I say that?  I have a copy of Jaguar loaded onto a partition of a LaCie  120GB external hard disk, and I keep it because one of my CD/DVD disk labeling applications will not run on OS 10.3 or above.  My G5 iMac will not boot from that partition.  My dual 1.25 Ghz G5 MDD PowerMac will.  While I’m not in a hurry to replace it with a version of the dual G5 PowerMac, at some point later in the year, I hope to.  Just like I’m hoping within the next year that Apple will come out with a G5 PowerBook.

The Mac mini is so small it will finder under the bottom sill of my 20 inch Apple Cinema Display it will drive!  I already have a DVI to ADC adapter on the display to use it with my XP PC.  I can set the Mac mini on the same desk without losing any desktop footprint (actually, more efficiently using what I have) and simply disconnect the PC and hook up the display to the mini when I want to use it. 

On both the Windows and Mac platforms, I seem to have some applications that run better (and sometimes only run!) on older operating platforms.  The Mac mini is a great way to ensure I can still run those applications and yet not have to sock in my office with another desk, monitor, keyboard, or mouse.

 As soon as I can get the stuff I’ve recently bought paid for, I’ll buy one.  (Maybe sooner!  If I really get a wild hair, I might pull $500 out of savings and order one so I can get a review of it up on this site as soon as they come out!)

January 11, 2004

HITS and MISSES: Macworld Expo Apple Product Announcements

Well, there’s no doubt now that Apple is trying to capitalize on the iPod’s popularity with the introduction of the Mac Mini. 

HIT-Now, some friends of mine have already questioned why Apple is attempting to resurrect the Cube.  That’s a good question.  Yet, I do believe the timing is right to introduce a relatively inexpensive Mac, and being so small will enable it to fit in almost anywhere.  Not to mention that its simple design is still rather stylish.  I call the Mac Mini overall a “hit”.

One of the unsung beauties of the design is that it’s so small you can now have a truly portable desktop.  Set up monitors, keyboards, and mice at each frequently used location and then haul the machine back and forth.  Expensive?  Not when compared to the cost of a Powerbook.  This might be the ideal machine for college students who don’t want or need a notebook to take to class but still want a portable machine for use at school or at home.  And you can secure the thing by locking it up inside a desk drawer!

MISS- Yet, the “inclusion of a Combo drive vice a DVD burner as standard equipment is a bad idea.  The major idea behind the computer is to hook new users on the capability and integration of the Mac, iLife 05, specifically. Putting a combo drive in the Mac mini as standard hobbles iLife’s capabilities, i.e., you can’t use iDVD for anything, a fact that also impacts iMovie.  That may prove ultimately to be the machine’s Achilles Heel and may show Apple up as a “penny wise but pound foolish” company.  Yes, you can order the machine with a Built-To-Order Superdrive; but how many people not already familiar with the Mac platform will know to do that?  How fewer will want to pay for it?

HIT- iLife 05 has several new features that make it appear to be a hit.  iDVD finally will support DVD+R and DVD+/-RW as well as DVD-R.  Both iMovie and iDVD will now handle High Definition (HD) video.  iPhoto seems to have opened its file management capabilities a bit and may know allow me to finally just have one set of folders that are available from Finder or iPhoto and reside in the same place.  (Not sure if I understand that piece correctly.)  The Apple ads also state that iPhoto will now produce “cinematic” slide shows, and I’m not sure how that is better than the slideshows it will already produce. But I’ll let you know.  I’ve already ordered the iLife 05 Family Pack.  It’s due here by Jan 22nd.

MISS- While HD is admittedly the “up and coming” standard, it definitely is not at the consumer level, yet.  In fact, I suspect it will be at least a year if not two before HD camcorders penetrates the consumer market to the point of wide acceptance.  The moves Apple is making to move quickly into the HD market is laudable even if it is premature for the mass market.  With this release, unless the next release has 64 bit computing and offers me performance or capability increases because of it, I probably will not upgrade to iLife 06.  I’ve got too much capability now I’m not using.

MISS- iWork holds almost no interest for me, other than as a piece of software to review.  While I agree AppleWorks needed reworking, I have to question what Apple is trying to achieve with its release.  Certainly, Apple does not need to alienate Microsoft and have it withdraw support for the Mac version of Office, though iWorks really doesn’t seem like much of a threat.  Of course, there is the counter argument that Apple needs its own word processor in case Microsoft does withdraw support.  I’m going to go take a look at iWorks at the Apple Store just to see what there is to it.  We’re running Office 2004 for the Mac here.  I have no need for it, though I know there will be many Mac users who will buy it just to get the last Microsoft product off their machines.

HIT-The iPod Shuffle will be the low cost MP3 player that will open the doors of the iTunes Music store even further.  If my wife or I want an iPod to take walking or jogging, you can be the iPod shuffle will be it.

MISS-Final Cut Express HD is simply premature in bringing HD editing to the market.  At this point, its prime mission in life will be to allow professional videographers and broadcasters to play with the Apple platform without sinking the full price of Final Cut Pro HD into the experiment.  I’m not saying this product won’t sell.  It will…to those people who want Final Cut Express anyway.  I just don’t believe you’re going to see a significant increase in orders.  I own both Final Cut Pro HD and Express 2.0 and see few reasons to upgrade FCE 2, though there are a few things about the new version that make it desirable.

 Look for a review of iLife 05 as soon after the 22nd as I can get to it.

December 31, 2004

John Dvorac and the Temple of Doom

In his latest musings from PC Magazine, John Dvorac prophesizes that the Mac is a doomed platform.  The argument, and one that keeps popping up eternally from various computer pundits, is based on market share.   Dvorac calls the Mac market share “shrinking” despite the popularity of the iPod which he seems to feel is distracting Apple from its ills, or at least, is hiding them.  Indeed, this year has seen several Mac software developers and hardware vendors drop support for the platform; and there is at least some truth in his observation from that aspect.  Yet, the “shrinking market share” a.k.a. “sky is falling” approach does not match my own observations nor the expectations of some financial analysts who feel Apple is “on a roll”.  Time will tell who is correct.

It is a typical American flaw to focus on quantity instead of quality.  (I could get into a very verbose discussion of the associated neuroses manifesting in our everyday lives of that, but I won’t do it here.)  Dvorac makes the argument—and a good one—that Macs need to be cheaper.  Apple may be answering that call this year with a “headless” Mac in the $500-$600 range rumored to be released at Macworld Expo in a few weeks.  Even if it doesn’t, if Apple needs to charge slightly higher costs than their competitors to keep charging forward in innovation and design, I think they’re warranted in doing so.  Don’t get me wrong.  I often do hesitate to buy Apple because of the premiums they charge; but I also have felt that the premium was generally worth it, which is why I’m still a Mac customer despite Apple’s continuing guffaws with quality control. 

It’s been interesting to watch the effects of exposing people in my own family to Macs.  So far, everybody who has become accustomed to them has liked them.  In some cases, family members familiar with what they can do on a Windows machine have been impressed and surprised with what they could do with a Mac.  Where that will lead, who knows?  But you can bet the next time they need to buy a computer, they will at least look at Macs a lot more seriously.

 The Mac may look like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, but it is really the Emperor Windows who’s in trouble.

December 30, 2004

Why Apple Is Such a Class Act

If you’ve been to Apple’s website since the devastating tsunamis hit parts of Asia, then you’ve seen that the banner headline swamping the website’s lead page is this: “Our hearts reach out to those hurt by the Indian Ocean tsunamis”.  The rest of the page contains links to the various relief agencies working to relieve suffering in the region.  Apple’s own products are totally absent.

 After seeing that, I pad a little visit to the websites belonging to Dell, Gateway, E-Machines, and Microsoft. Their pages are littered only with the mention of their own products.  It’s business as usual. There is no mention of what is being touted as one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters. 

 Once again, Apple has demonstrated why it is such a class act.  I’m proud to be an Apple customer and supporter.

December 27, 2004

A Mac-Apple Christmas

This year was a “Mac-Apple” Christmas not to be seen on this scale again.

While delivered several weeks before Christmas, I bought my wife a refurbished 17 inch G5 iMac.  We’ve had no problems with the machine, and its stable performance allowed us to give my wife’s older 800 Mhz G4 flat panel iMac to my sister.  Both iMacs continue to perform well, and the delivery of a Mac to my sister’s household permitted her to give her Windows powered PC to one of her boys.   The Smiths are now exploring a new “Mac” world of computing, and so far my sister seems to like it.  Her boys seemed to be skeptical and resist it at first, but they are slowly succumbing to the iMac’s coolness and its ease of use.

I had given my wife a new iPod for her birthday in late October, and she decided to repay me the favor at Christmas.  She gave me a new 20GB iPod to replace my old 5GB model.  Unfortunately, the new replacement did not like its new home.

When I tried to synchronize the new iPod with iTunes, I found it would only load about 120 or so of the 644 songs loaded on my hard drive.  iTunes detected the new iPod,  correctly initialized its routines, and would begin loading the songs onto the machine only to bog down and stop somewhere around the “120” number.  And do it time after time, no matter how I came at it.  I spent HOURS reloading iPod and iTunes’ software and troubleshooting the iPod trying to solve the problem. Finally, as I began feeling what I’ve felt too often while solving some Windows installation error, I used my old iPod to update its songs.  When it worked like a champ, I knew I had a hardware problem with the new iPod.  OK, so maybe I was a bit slow on the uptake (or is that stubborn?), but it was a good thing that hadn’t been my first experience with Apple or I might have fled right back to the Windows platform from which I came.  Because I knew this was atypical, I quit troubleshooting and chose to swap the unit for a new one the next day at the Apple Store.  Once again, Apple’s customer service (vice its quality control) paid off!

My second new iPod worked like it was supposed to.  iTunes recognized it as soon as it hooked up, ran its initialization routines, and promptly and quickly loaded my whole song library onto the iPod.  I have a new click-wheel iPod and really like it, and I‘ve shipped my old 5GB iPod to my stepson and his wife for them to enjoy.

Meanwhile, my sister in law has decided to get high-speed Internet access.  She has an even older 400MHz G3 CRT iMac at her home along with her grandson’s 800MHz G3 iBook (all donated from us).  They haven’t been using the iMac that much; but when I heard this, I realized there was an opportunity to press it into service.  I had a copy of OS 10.1 lying around and knew the old iMac could run it.  The grandson’s iBook is equipped with an Airport card.  If they hooked up their new Internet access via a wireless router, they could not only protect themselves with the router’s firewall but could use both machines to access the Internet at any time and simultaneously.  I bought a Belkin 802.11G wireless router and sent it and OS 10.1 with my wife to Missouri. 

More and more, we’re introducing my family on both sides of the wedding line to Macs.

It’s nice to have a purpose in life, isn’t it?

December 4, 2004

Another rebuttal to Rich Brooks

As you might expect, Rich Brooks took some heat over the editorial he wrote in the Herald Tribune and that marginalized the Mac in the classroom. You can read his response here. That, of course, generated a rebuttal which I e-mailed to him this afternoon. I also submitted an edited version of this to the Letters to the Editor section of the paper. Here was my response:

"Dear Rich,

 Sorry to hear you got attacked by people you termed the “Mac cultists”.  I am one of those people who wrote you.  However, I hope my e-mail to you was one of those you called “polite and well thought out”.  It was meant to be. 

However, your response to those e-mails seems to demonstrate your close-mindedness about the Mac platform.  It really is quite unfair to blame the platform for the excesses of a few.  People who will attack others when they disparage the computer they are using exist on all sides of the fence and underneath every platform.  Believe me, I know. About two years ago when I posted some analysis demonstrating that Apple’s G5 CPU’s had largely closed the performance gap between Athlon XP processors, I got a similar tirade from people using the PC.  My name was not only dragged through the mud but posted on websites around the world.  That comes with the territory, doesn’t it?

Secondly, some of your second response made me wonder if you read my response to you at all.  I would point out to you again I have a Windows XP PC running MacDrive that can read Mac disks.  One step.  (Attach drive.) I didn’t mention that my Mac can read floppies using an external USB floppy drive.  One step.  (Insert floppy.) So, your argument about floppy drives, which some PC manufacturers do not include on their systems any more, is irrelevant.

Actually, I still feel you’re the one missing the point. If every school system in the country adopted your approach of buying only the platform that is in the widest use, then the school systems will forever be behind whatever technology is being brought forward.  The kids in school today are more likely to be using Linux or Mac OS X or some operating system that hasn’t been invented yet as they are Windows.  Note that both Linux and Mac OS X are Unix based operating systems, and many computer pundits have said that Mac OS X is already what Linux aspires to be.   I believe the future of computing lies in a Unix not a Windows base, and that’s one thing you’ve shown no awareness of at all.

Thanks for your time."

I really don't expect to hear from him. My feeling at this point is nothing anyone is going to say is going to get him to consider he might be wrong or that he really doesn't know much about what is happening in computing today. I'd like to be wrong. Time will tell whether I am or not.

December 1, 2004

A Response to Rich Brooks' "The Mac Attack"

Columnist Rich Brooks wrote an editorial in the HeraldTribune, a Southwest Florida newspaper, assailing the use of the Mac in the classroom. I e-mailed a response to him this afternoon. Here's what it said:

"Dear Rich,

 As someone who has experienced the joys and dismays of working on both platforms, I wanted to respond to your article about schools and PC’s and the Mac platform in general.

 I started out life on the PC back in 1986 or so when the PC I could afford used an IBM 8088 CPU, DOS was the operating system, and Wordstar was the word processor of choice.  I wanted a computer to help me write and perform desktop publishing. Several friends advised me to get a Mac; but like you argued, I decided to go with the platform that would be compatible with the systems being used at my job.  So, I went with DOS and Windows.  Almost twenty years later, I now know the decision was a huge mistake.  If I had back all the time I spent learning the intricacies of DOS and Windows and troubleshooting them, I could write fifteen novels.  I have become very good at troubleshooting and even building PC’s, but that was not what I had intended to do.  It became a matter of survival.

 In your article, you completely ignored the problems with viruses, crashes, etc that seem to plague Windows platforms much more than the Macs. While Windows XP is a more stable platform than any of its predecessors, I still find myself often trying to troubleshoot why something isn’t working before I can start the real work I came to do on it.  Schools typically have very limited IT budgets and staff; and, in many schools, teachers fill in the gaps.  While the initial buy into the Mac platform is often higher (and some systems are competitive with similarly priced PC’s), the overall lifetime costs may be lower.  Certainly, I spend a lot less time troubleshooting systems because I have mostly switched to the Mac platform, and that is an intangible cost often not considered.  The fact that Macs are not currently plagued with virus problems is a huge plus, especially in an academic environment. I didn’t see you address that at all

I had been struggling for several years with editing and producing videos on the Windows platform when I married a Mac user.  I wasn’t impressed with her little iMac running OS 9.  Windows 98 seemed to have more functionality than it did.  Then Apple released OS X and the flat panel iMac.  My wife wanted both; so, I bought her them.  She got my attention when, without cracking a book, she burned a DVD slideshow complete with music twenty minutes after starting the task.  I was impressed!

I can tell you for a fact the Mac platform is better for video production.  The new G5’s have kicked up Mac performance where it is competitive with the PC’s, and Mac software, Final Cut Pro or Express, iMovie, and iDVD, provide not only great environments but great integration as well. With them, I get consistent, creative results, something I was seldom able to do on the Windows platform.

Further, it is a simple thing to equip an OS X Mac with a newer G4 processor and create a video conference using an iSight, iChat, and a high speed Internet connection.  It takes no more moxy than being able to hook up the iSight camera to a Mac’s Firewire port, calling up iChat, and knowing the other person’s screen name.  We did that this Thanksgiving and connected up with my wife’s family. (They’re in rural Missouri, and we’re in Texas.) Her 80 year old parents were able to configure the device and get it running.  One of my nephews, who is a Windows advocate, commented that it worked better than anything he had seen on the Windows’ platform.  One could use such a  simple set-up (at a cost of only $150 per camera) to support video conferences between classrooms within the same school, hook up to a class at a different school, or connect a class to a government or industry expert.  (Lest you think that Macs only inhabit academia, I’ll share with you that there are Macs running around at NASA, among other government agencies, including the Office of Homeland Security, which adopted them because of their security advantages.)

Your statement that Macs use different programs and that file transfer is difficult between platform is an anachronism based on the past.  I’m writing this to you using Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac and a PowerBook running OS 10.3.   I can save this document and transport it to my PC using either my home network or some other means and open it in Office 2000 on my home or office Windows machines without a hitch.  Secondly, I do some graphics work using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, desktop publish using In Design, and manage a website using Adobe Go Live.  I have these programs on both my Windows machine and a Mac and swap files all the time invisibly.  I build presentations in PowerPoint that no one at my job can tell came from a Mac, and I routinely type notes in Word I transfer to my work PC.  If you don’t want to invest in Microsoft Office for the Mac (and students and teachers can get the new version which permits three installs for only $150), there is Open Office which can be downloaded for free and runs on both the Mac and the PC.  Many Macs come with Apple Works, Apple’s equivalent of Microsoft Works, and the latest versions with come with Microsoft Word filters.  It’s true that not every program available on the Windows platform is available for the Mac; but my point is that most major programs do have Mac equivalents, and file swapping is just not that big a problem anymore. 

The latest versions of the Mac operating system also network fairly effortlessly with Windows networks.  I move files routinely between my Macs and my PC using a wired and wireless Ethernet network and find that the Macs are easier to set up and use than my PC.  Strangely but not particularly surprising to me, I can often get into my work network using Virtual Private Networking (VPN) on the Mac when my Windows XP machine will not hook up.  There are some places on my work network my Mac does not easily go and I do use my Windows machine to access those.  But I can check e-mail and calendar events using Outlook on either machine and access most websites without a problem.

I do keep one Windows PC around to run a few programs (most of them are flight simulators not available on the Mac) and to do a few things on my office network I haven’t figured out how to do with the Mac.  Even then, my PC is not Mac adverse.  I’m using a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display for its monitor; and it is the cleanest, brightest display I own.  I run an application called “Macdrive” that lets me mount Mac formatted disks as if they belonged to Windows (That includes a Mac formatted iPod.).   If I owned no PC’s, I could run Windows XP on my Macs using Virtual PC.  This is something I do on my PowerBook to run a flight planning application I use when I pilot an airplane.  It won’t do for games, but many games are being made available for the Mac platform.

As for the Mac’s shrinking market share, there are plenty of current reports of financial analysts predicting that the Mac may move into double digits in the near future.  Your argument that one needs to buy Windows because it’s the big bugger is the equivalent of telling folks to do what is popular instead of what’s best for them.  A move to the Mac may not be for everyone, but it certainly has been a good thing for me.  

I would encourage any school system to move to them if they’re not there already.  They will enhance creativity and “out of the box” thinking more than any PC will; and ultimately, that may be the most important thing about them.

If you haven’t dropped by an Apple Store, you might want to give it a try, just out of journalistic curiosity if for no other reason.  You might be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll find. "

November 25, 2004

Installing an ATI Radeon 9550 on a Windows 98SE System

When I tried to install the ATI Catalyst 4.10 driver on my Windows 98SE system, I got an error message that said the software could not find components it was looking for and I needed to check my software and hardware configuration to ensure it met system requirements (or something close to that).  At one point, it suggested I try installing the video card as the Standard VGA driver.  Frankly, that driver and the Standard PCI Graphics Card (VGA) driver is all that would install!

I finally got some time to try to troubleshoot the problem.  While the ATI website had no direct words on my problem, I did find something that hinted the problem could be due to a hardware or software conflict preventing the installation routine from recognizing my card as a Radeon 9550.  That made me think I might be able to figure out a workaround for the problem.  I eventually did, and here’s what worked.

(1)  If you’ve had ATI video cards installed on your system in the past, download and run the Catalyst Uninstaller.  Otherwise, proceed to Step 2.

(2)  Download the Catalyst 4.10 driver and control panel combined download.  If you haven’t tried to install it yet, do so.  If it installs normally, you’re done.  Otherwise, continue to Step 3.

(3)  Right-click on my computer and select Properties.  Click on the Device Manager tab.  Click on the plus sign for Display Adapters to expand it.  Click on whatever video card is listed there and then click on the “Remove” button.  When the dialog pops up asking you if you want to reboot your system, click on “NO”.  Repeat as necessary to remove all video cards.  (Video cards with dual monitor support will have two video card entries.)  Now, reboot your system.

(4)  When the Add Hardware Wizard pops up, it will detect a “PCI Graphics Card (VGA)”.  When it asks you if you want it to search for drivers, tell it instead you want to search from a list.  The list will pop up with nothing in it.  That’s okay.  Click on the Browse button.

(5)  Navigate to the folder where the ATI driver extracted itself for the earlier installation.  This is typically C:\ATI.  Navigate down to the ATI/Setup/Support/wme-catalsyst-8-03-98-2-041020a-018705e/Driver/9xinf folder and select the “C8-18705.inf” file.  The list will then show a bunch of ATI cards. Select the “Radeon 9500 Series”. 

(6)  The operating system will protest that this software is not compatible with your hardware and it may not function properly.  Select it anyway.

(7)  Repeat Steps 5 and 6 for the “C9-18705.inf” file when the operating system finds and hunts for a second video card (Dual monitor support will install as two cards on your system).

(8)  Reboot your system and set the video card’s number of colors and resolution.

(9)  Enjoy.

 November 23, 2004

The "iPod Halo Effect" - How Real Is It?

It wasn’t that long ago, a year perhaps, when Apple’s stock was selling at $29 a share.  Today, it is listing at $100, making me wish I had bought some.  Why is it so high?  Because one financial analyst is predicting that Apple will once again wind up with double-digit market share.  The prediction is based on a survey of iPod users and shoppers that asked if they were considering buying a Mac.  A large percentage of them answered they were.

The design of Apple’s G5 iMac is based on the iPod in the hopes of cashing in on the “halo effect” of the iPod’s success.  The “halo effect” theory states that people who use the iPod and like it, especially people who have not owned an Apple product before, will be drawn to the brand by the device.  And there seems too be some truth in that.  But is it really all that it’s being cracked up to be?  I have my doubts.

I’ve been shopping for airplanes lately.  One thing I’ve learned about buyers from that experience is that there is often a wide gap between “wants” and “will do’s”.  My bet is there are a lot of people out there thinking about switching to a Mac because of the iPod; but the percentage of them who will actually make the move are small, though perhaps as large as 15%.  Why do I say that?  Let me share a recent personal experience.

This weekend I was in the local MicroCenter getting ready to buy a new G5 iMacs.  I wanted to give myself one last look at one before deciding to make the purchase.   The PowerMac and iMac display models are set up on a square table offset from the center of the room.  A very tall gent with thinning blonde hair and black eyeglasses sat slouched in a chair in front of the 20 inch G5 iMac rubbing his chin.  A salesman was standing next to him and they were talking about the machine.  The prospective buyer was asking about compatibility and mumbled something about viruses.  The salesman was a Mac user and told him he had never had a virus, but I could tell the buyer was still afraid to make the switch even though he was tired of dealing with Windows.  In the end, he got up from the table and wandered back into the PC department.

There also were lots of folks wandering in to look at iPods.  Those who had PC’s made sure the salesmen knew it, and they did not look at Macs.

In those two categories of buyers, I believe you have most of the new iPod market.  And if I’m right, Apple stock is overvalued, and the market at some point will make a correction.

This is one time I’d like to be wrong.

Windows Never Looked So Good! (Radeon 9550 on 20 inch Apple Cinema Display)

When I was at work yesterday, I mentioned to a friend I had bought a 20 inch G5 iMac and now had a 20 inch Cinema Display I could occasionally hook up to my PC because I was going to sell the PowerMac it had been attached to.  He started talking abut me using the PC’s Samsung 760V TFT LCD in addition to the 20 inch Apple Cinema Display to make a three window setup for Microsoft Flight Simulators.  That made me realize that the dual monitor setup might bypass what I thought was a permanent limitation of running the ACD on my PC, i.e., the display would be black until Windows XP booted, meaning that the BIOS screens were unreachable.  My PC is a homebuilt AMD XP 2800+ powered machine with 512MB RAM and an ATI Radeon 9000 All in Wonder video card.  Checking to see if it would support dual monitors, I found out it wouldn’t, so I spent a few minutes checking out the ATI and CompUSA websites to look for a video card that did and wouldn’t cost much.  I didn’t come up with a firm answer and decided to drop by my local CompUSA to do “up close and personal” research.

I started looking at the ATI Radeon 9600SE but then noticed the ATI Radeon 9550 at the same price after rebates.  The 9550 had twice as much video memory and supports DVI and VGA monitors, exactly the setup I needed.  The 9600SE supported two monitors as well, but I decided to buy the 9550.

 Once I was home with it, it took me only a few minutes to pop the side off my PC, remove the 9000 All in Wonder card, install the 9550, rearrange my desk to accommodate the 20 inch Apple Cinema Display (hooked to the 9550’s DVI port using Apple’s ADC to DVI adapter) and the Samsung 760V.  I  booted the PC and much to my surprise and delight, I saw the PC’s BIOS screen pop up on BOTH monitors!  What I had thought was a limitation of the Apple Cinema Display instead appeared to be a limitation of the video card.  That meant I could run the Apple Cinema Display as my prime monitor; and since I really didn’t have enough desk space to support both the Samsung and the ACD, I pulled the Samsung off the system.  (Since this caught me by surprise, I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do with the Samsung.)

 Windows XP is gorgeous running on this display!  The display is running at its native resolution of 1680 x 1050 pixels and 32 bit color.  Man, it makes me want to use the PC more!  I haven’t run any of my Microsoft Flight Simulators on this display, yet, but that’s coming.  They were the major reason I attempted this, and it’s paid off in spades!

The only problem with this setup is that the Radeon 9550 is not supported by Windows 98SE.  It’s installed as a VGA PCI card over there running 16 colors and 640 x 480 resolution.  No ATI driver set I’ve tried has worked, most of them bombing out as they tell me some components they were looking for could not be found.  It looks to me like the only way to recover a functioning Windows 98 is to upgrade to ME, and I’m not sure I’m going to do that.  Instead, I’m trying to move every application I really need over to the XP side.  I still have some things I can’t get XP to run and really need, so reconfiguring the dual boot system to XP only is not something I’m going to do right now, even if I did have the time to do it and I don’t.

I really love this setup.  It’s very seductive.  I’ve been wanting to get a 20 inch display on my PC for some time to support the flight simulators.  I’ve accomplished that now by spending only $130 vice $1300.  (Of course, there’s the indirect cost of the 20 inch iMac that made it all possible and wound up killing several birds with one stone, so I haven’t yet figured how to divvy that out.)  For once in the PC world, something I’ve done has worked out even better than I had hoped!

November 21, 2004

iMac City

 My wife’s refurbished iMac showed up yesterday and I managed to snatch it out of the hands of FedEx before they dashed off.  (A female shipper was at my door already writing the “sorry we missed you” note fifteen seconds after knocking at my front door.) After I talked with my wife on the phone about what her preferences were (She was at work.), I unpacked the machine, photographing the process all the way, and popped its back off to install an Airport Card before setting it up next to her “old” flat panel G4 iMac, laughing all the way.  For two people who didn’t like the G5 iMac’s square looks, we sure have gone for them!

Amazingly, the iMac didn’t seem to exhibit any unusual noises and its screen brightness seemed fine.  The new Setup Assistant came on screen after the initial registration screens Apple always produces.  It asked if I had data on an old Mac I wanted to transfer; and when I answered “yes”, it had me connect the two machines via Firewire cable.  It then instructed me to boot the G4 iMac in Firewire Target Disk Mode by holding down the “T” key on the G4 while it booted.  Once I had done that, the Assistant inventoried the “old” iMac, presented me with a list of the areas it was going to copy so I could approve it, and then it proceeded to copy everything from the old machine to the new one.  The process is additive.  In other words, you’ll more than likely find your Applications folder has a few more things in it than you were expecting.

Once the process completed, the G5 iMac booted into Mac OS 10.3, otherwise known as Panther.  The desktop looked just like it had when my wife last turned off her G4 iMac.  Sweet!

I booted various applications, including Photoshop and Word for Office v.X among others, looking for application or operating system crashes.  There were none.  No crashes, good screen brightness, and no dead pixels on the display.  This was a good day!

I played with the machine for a few minutes to see how I felt about moving back to a 17 inch format from the 20 inch I was used to.  For the first time since I had started debating with myself about whether I was going to get an iMac and which one if so, I knew.  Turning off her machine, I gathered me and my credit card up and headed over to Micro Center.

Two hours later, I was home with a new 20 inch G5 iMac and a much larger credit card bill.  (Authors’ note: I got a special deal on this.  2% interest until I get it paid off, which is the only reason I was comfortable with it.).  Still, I only paid $10 more than I would have for a refurbished one from Apple to get a new one.  (That’s $1704, folks!  MicroCenter has 10% off all Macs in the store until December 5th.  It’s an in-store special and a bigger discount than one directly from Apple as a federal employee or a teacher!  The place was packed, and for good reason!)  And I was able to get a full 1GB of memory for only $162!  Apple is charging an extra $525 for a single 1GB stick of memory ordered at the same time as your iMac, and Crucial.com is charging $259. All in all, even though I spent a bunch of dough, I saved just under $300!  Not bad!

It was my dual 1 Ghz G4 PowerMac’s hard drive this iMac’s Setup Assistant cloned.  The process went better than I had hoped; I was uncertain if it would transfer the OS 9 System Folder and all that went with it.  When it was done, I found everything had transferred and most of it worked, with irregularities showing up in the operation of my Microsoft Mouse, my Griffin PowerMate, and my Epson 1600 Photo scanner.   After some troubleshooting, I recovered the Microsoft Mouse’s function by reinstalling OS 10.3.6 using the combo updater and Intellipoint 5.0 drivers, the PowerMate by reinstalling its version 1.0.6 drivers, and the scanner by installing the latest drivers from Epson.  I also had to re-enter settings for connecting up with the VPN network at my workplace, but that was about it.  Considering all the software on my machine, that really was pretty good.

The new iMac has three USB 2.0 ports and two Firewire 400 ports.  The keyboard only supports USB 1.1, though, so one USB 2.0 port is essentially lost even with a standard setup.  The rear-mounted ports are not as handy as front mounted ports, but they’re accessible enough, though putting anything in the ports requires me to also find a way to brace the iMac against movement. 

Its screen brightness and clarity are on par with my other 20 inch Cinema LCD displays, though they look a tad clearer.  (Note: If you buy one of these new iMacs, make sure you go into System Preferences/Appearance and set the “Font Smoothing Style” to at least “Medium-Best for Flat Panel” before judging the quality of text on your display.  The iMacs seem to be arriving from the factory set at “Standard – Best for CRT”.)

As you might suspect, ergonomics of this new iMac are excellent.  The bottom baffle of the machine below the screen raises it to a good height, and most things are at near eye level, just slightly low.  The keyboard’s keys are responsive and not too resistant.  The keyboard’s USB ports are near the center of the keyboard vice being at each end.  That requires less chord to reach the ports but also means the routing of any wires must near the center of the keyboard.  (Not a problem for me.)  All cables, including the keyboard’s, are routed through the hole in the machine’s metal stand behind it and are invisible from the front.  Fan noise is generally minimal, though it sometimes does increase after the unit has been on for a couple of hours.  Still, even then, it is not objectionable but it is noticeable if the room is quiet.  (It’s a soft, medium pitched whirr.)  (Note: Using an Energy Saving Processor Performance setting of “Automatic” and under light to normal use, the iMac CPU seems to run at 53.5 degrees Centigrade.)

 In general, let me summarize how these stack up to our previous Macs using the following categories:

 Ergonomics:  Excellent, though the ability to move the display screen to exactly where one wants it still leaves the G4 flat panel iMac as the winner in this department.  I actually like the optical drive in the G5 iMac’s side-mounted vertical position better; it seems more natural to put in and retrieve optical disks than from a tray I have to look down into.  Screen quality and brightness are on par with the G4 iMac’s and almost equivalent to that of the wide-bezel 20 inch Apple Cinema Displays.  Ports are more easily accessible on the G5 iMac than on the G4’s.  It’s much easier to find and manipulate the power button on the G5.  Noise levels are fairly low even as the machine heats up and you notice the fans.  The fans in my wife’s 17 inch iMac are louder than the ones in my 20 inch. 

 Performance:  Really nice speed on everyday tasks, though not significantly faster than my dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac on most of those.  However, photos and collections of photos (such as in Photoshop CS’s File Browser) appear faster and scroll fairly effortlessly.  I don’t have any 3 d games here and haven’t any plans to produce much video on this machine but will post any impressions on the website later if I do.  Cinebench 2003 benchmarks will be posted to my website within the next week.  I did see a noticeable but not significant improvement in overall performance when I moved the memory from 256MB to 1 GB. If you want to understand more about the G5 iMac’s speed, check out articles at Barefeats.com.  There’s a bunch of them.

Expandability: Not any iMac’s strong suit.  The G5 iMac can handle up to 2 GB DDR 400 (PC3200) memory.  However, there are only two slots for memory, so to get to that amount you must have 1 GB in each slot.  Unlike the G5 PowerMac models, however, the G5 iMac can use single memory sticks, i.e., memory does not have to use matched pairs.  (One of Apple’s support documents states that this improves performance; but at least with the current operating system, the difference is not significant.)  The hard drive can be changed out as can the optical drive, but as of this writing anything other than a part sent to you by Apple Care will void your warranty.

Value:  …the best in Apple’s G5 line unless you already own recent displays you’d like to keep using.  Then look at the dual 1.8 PowerMac.  A refurb dual 2.0 GHz is even better.  Don’t buy extra memory from Apple unless you just want to or are ordering a Build To Order machine and have some reason to pay more.  Look for good third party vendors instead. 

I have to say I’m not happy about the expense but am happy with the purchases.  I’m looking forward to growing with my G5 iMac and waiting to see what 64 bit performance will buy me in the future.  Hopefully, something…

November 19, 2004

Apple's Achilles Heel (or Hell, depending)

I’ve commented (okay, bitched!) about Apple’s lack of quality control ever since I became a switcher.  You would think by now that the company would understand that quality control is its Achilles heel and the one thing, more than any other, that will keep it from acquiring significantly more market share. 

 Apple’s latest debauches center around its 23 inch Cinema Displays and, to a much lesser degree, its 17 inch G5 iMac.  Many owners of the new, aluminum 23 inch Cinema Display are reporting color distortions within weeks after taking ownership.  Most complaints describe the display turning pink, though some have talked about seeing yellow edges as well.  Not the kind of thing one expects when he or she pays $1999 for a display that Apple is bragging can be professionally color calibrated. I saw a note from one owner who had already gone through two displays and both had the same problem.  If you had spent all that money to switch over from Windows and then encountered that, would you stay with the platform?  I think not! Some 20 inch owners are reporting the same problems as well, though the number seems to be significantly less than the 23 inchers.

Likewise, the new 17 inch G5 iMacs are suffering from two sets of problems as well.  Fan noise often has been a problem solved by having the customers replace the machine’s “midplane assembly”  (motherboard for you PC folks).  Screen dimness is a second, and replacing a power inverter in most cases solves that problem.  Still, these are things Apple needs to jump on at the factory during manufacture as soon as it becomes aware of them.  Instead, Apple tends to deny the problems until they become so widespread and in the news that denying them is futile.  (As I write this, Apple has been pulling discussions about these problems off its forums.) Once it goes after a solution, it tends to find one and then does a pretty good job of getting it out to its customers.  As I’ve said before, Apple’s Customer Service, as a rule, tends to be superb, which is the only thing it has going for it that mitigates their quality control gaffs.  It is, ultimately, the only reason why I’m still comfortable ordering Apple machines.  Even so, I’m always nervous when I recommend for a friend or relative to switch since I never know what their first experience with a Mac is going to be.

I ordered a “new” G5 17 inch iMac for my wife, and it is due to arrive in a day or so.  I’ve tried to hedge against the real possibility of something being wrong with her machine by informing her about the generic problems with the machines.  The possibility of a problem is one argument against buying a machine via mail order, even straight from Apple itself, which is what I have done.  This machine is refurbished, and one would hope that the quality control on a refurb would be especially tight. 

I guess we’ll find out.  

November 16, 2004

The Game's Afoot-New iMac G5 Arriving

I’m not sure if I mentioned I was looking at getting my sister some kind of Mac for Christmas.  Initially, I had planned on getting her an eMac.  But after looking at my costs and options and figuring I could kill two birds with one stone, I ordered my wife an iMac G5 this morning.  It’s the mid-range 17 inch 1.8 GHz with a SuperDrive model and a refurb (factory refurbished).  That’s just fine with her, and she is anxiously awaiting its shipping.  We’ll then give my wife’s 800MHz G4 15 inch flat panel iMac to my sister, hauling it to North Carolina with us when we go to visit just before Christmas. 

I’ve been thinking, too, of replacing my dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac and its 20 inch screen with a 20 inch iMac G5.  But, to be honest, keeping my credit cards paid off takes a lot higher priority than that; and I’m pretty happy with this setup.  Sometimes an “upgrade” doesn’t turn out to be better than its predecessor, so that makes me cautious.  I like the idea of an iMac since it would free up some desk room, keep me from having to crawl under my desk anymore to plug anything in, and moves us to 64 bit computing even though there really isn’t much benefit for us right now.  Still, I spent a little over a half hour in the Apple Store last weekend looking at 20 and 17 inch G5 iMac’s but couldn’t get clear which, if either, was really the best choice for me.  So, I didn’t buy anything until this morning.  My wife really needs an upgrade more than I do, and my sister didn’t really believe I’d give her a Mac.  I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to make sis eat crow.  What brother would?

Earlier in the year, I said I didn’t see a compelling reason to upgrade our operating systems to Tiger when it is released, probably in early in 2005.  If we had all G4 machines, I’d still feel that way.  But with at least one G5 moving into the house and maybe more later, my position may change.  It will depend on what performance advantage Tiger might have running on a G5 that Panther does not.  That remains to be seen.  Apple hasn’t really done a good job pre-selling Tiger.  Rumor now has it that Tiger and possibly G5 PowerBooks will appear at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco in January 2005.

I’m looking forward to my wife’s iMac arriving, too.  I’m hoping the noise problems appearing in many of the 17 inch iMac’s do not plague us; from a quality control standpoint, one would think Apple would be even more careful with a refurbished machine.  I also want to use it to see if I might be happy with a 17 inch iMac instead of a 20.  While larger screens work with desktop publishing, when writing I’ve found that the larger screens create a visual distance from my writing that creates an emotional distance as well, i.e, smaller screens feel more intimate.  I’ve got a novel to revive and though I can do it on my PowerBook hooked up to a 17 inch flat-panel Apple Studio Display, I’d really rather work on an iMac.  But the web, Photoshop, and PowerPoint work I do as well as sporadic work in Illustrator and In Design argue for the larger screen.  If I decide I want to stay with a 20 inch screen, I also have another option which will save me some dough and some hassle, and that is to buy a single 1.8 GHz G5 PowerMac.  It would cost less than the 20 inch iMac, yield the same performance, be slightly less convenient but much more expandable. 

 I’m not sure which argument is going to win out.

I'll also post a review complete with pictures after it arrives and update the AMD, G4, G5 Shootout article with its Cinebench performance once I get 512MB of RAM in it.

November 3, 2004

Office 2004 Professional- Some Impressions

I had been waiting until Microsoft released their first “bug fix” before trying Office 2004. Service Pack 1 for the software arrived several weeks ago, and reports started hitting the Internet street that some of the major problems I had been avoiding had been fixed. I also needed to get a copy of Virtual PC that would run Windows XP or 98 on my PowerBook. While hunting around, I stumbled on a good deal at Amazon.com. They were selling Office 2004 Professional for $279 before a $50 rebate! For those of you who don't know what Office Professional for the Mac is, it's a copy of Office 2004 bundled with Virtual PC 7.0 running Windows XP Professional. Office 2004 retails normally at $329 by itself, and Virtual PC 7.0 with Windows XP Professional retails for $249. With this deal, I could get both applications I was interested in for less than the price of one of them! Needless to say, I sprang for the purchase.

Office 2004

The jump between Office v.X for the Mac and Office 2004 is not a leap but a skip. User interface changes are not huge. The addition of the Project Center, which is accessible not only from the Project Gallery wizard but from the applications themselves, is the biggest major change.

In Word, the thing I noticed right away was the red toolbox sitting on the Standard menu. Click on that toolbox and the Project Center window flows onto the screen. The window has a toolbar near its top sporting a Scrapbook, Reference Tools (the icon is a picture of several books standing together), the Compatibility Report (the icon is a wrench), and the Projects briefcase. The Scrapbook is a place where you can store all kinds of items you may need to assemble together a project (putting all your graphics on one place). The Reference Tools window contains the dictionary, thesaurus, a button to “Search Encarta Encyclopedia” and one to “Search MSN”. The Compatibility Report section lets you run your document through a check to see how compatible it is with other Windows and Mac versions of Word. And I don't have any current projects so clicking on the Projects briefcase does nothing. As soon as I have a project and can see that little icon in action, I'll let you know.

In general, other changes in Word are minor. Like some of the recent versions of Windows Word, this version gives you the option to automatically undo an action by clicking on an icon that appears next to the word acted upon. The extra automation is also one reason why this version of Word is slower than the last, though not significantly so. The speed loss is minor but it is noticeable if you spend a lot of time in the application.

PowerPoint is also changed little. The biggest addition to the application is the addition of Presenter Tools; but since I haven't used them yet, I'll reserve comment. The biggest thing I had to get used to was the changed Formatting Palette. At its top is now an “Add Objects” section that lets you add AutoText, Tables, Symbols, AutoShapes, Lines, and Text Shapes, including text boxes. Graphics can also now be inserted using tools in this section. Many of these functions were previously accessed through a floating toolbar, and their movement and use within the Formatting Palette were not intuitive. The Formatting Palette is now also almost totally transparent when not the active window, which can be good or bad, depending on how hard you have to look for it. Otherwise, the rest of the Office v.X functions are still there and it doesn't take any guessing or retraining to use them.

The biggest thing I've noticed about Excel was the subtle change to the worksheet view. The application boots with a lower magnification view and dotted lines now show you where the page edges are if you immediately print the worksheet. I haven't really used this feature enough to have an impression of it one way or the other. Stay tuned. Most other interfaces appear to be the same.

Entourage is where the Project Center is now located. It has its own little button next to Mail, Address Book, Calendar, Notes, and Tasks. I haven't yet seen any significant differences in most of those applications. What has caught my attention has been Mail's Junk mail filters. They are on by default and do a really good job of intercepting spam. Lots of people seemed to also be enraptured with Entourage's natural filing of messages into groups sorted by when they were received. That's not a feature I like. I've turned it off. While this version of Entourage also has expanded Exchange Server functions, I was not able to get it to work well enough with my Exchange Server at work to adopt it. I still use Outlook 2001 (in Classic Mode) to connect to my work e-mail using VPN. The only other thing about Entourage I'm going to mention is that, as a security feature, HTML messages that arrive with photos arrive without pictures, which Entourage has stored on your e-mail server. It does give you a link telling you to click on it to download the pictures and see the message as intended. I'm not sure exactly what evil it's trying to protect me from, in true Gatesonian fashion.

Virtual PC 7.0 (for Mac) with Windows XP Professional

Since I own a Windows XP/98SE powered PC, I never thought I'd ever need Virtual Pc for anything. That changed when my wife and I decided to buy an airplane and the Aircraft Owner's and Pilot's Association released a Windows-driven “Real-Time Flight Planner”. It is an awesome tool to use for flight planning, but there is no Mac version. The AOPA site shows Mac is supported, but when you read the fine print, it is through running the application using Virtual PC and Windows XP. While I could easily run the application on my XP PC when I was at home, what was I going to do when I was on the road? My laptop is a 1GH G4 PowerBook. My choice seemed to be to buy a Windows powered laptop (something I might still have to do) or try running a Virtual PC/Windows XP combo. The 12 inch Windows laptop I wanted (by Averatec) could not be had for much under $1000, so I decided to give Virtual PC a shot to see if I could save some money!

Installing the application took about 15 - 20 minutes on my PowerBook, which at the time was running with 512MB of memory. The installation went without a hitch, and actual inputs to get the new OS configured were, well, no more than it takes to normally set up Windows. The application installed a little Start menu icon on my Dock; by clicking on it, I can access the Windows XP Start Menu just as if Windows XP was running.

The boot up process is not exactly quick. It takes a little over a minute for XP to boot to the point where it asks for a password, and another forty seconds after that to get the desktop loaded and the rest of the operating system booted. (This is on a 1GHz G4 PowerBook with 1.24 GB of PC2700 DDR RAM.) System response with this setup is adequate, roughly equivalent to running XP with a 1 GHz Pentium 3 and 256 MB RAM. It is adequate for my purposes, though screen redraws and other system responses do require some patience. Networking over the PowerBook's internal Airport Extreme connection has been flawless, as has been networking using the PowerBook's internal modem.

Interestingly, I evaluated system response with both 512MB and 1.24 GB of RAM in the PowerBook. While I wasn't trying to run any heavy duty Windows apps, I could see no perceptible difference in how the system ran. This may be because the allocated memory didn't change (512MB for both cases).

So far, I've been happy with how Virtual PC has performed. It's an okay way to run average Windows applications, though almost any kind of 3d game would be out of the question. Certainly, for what I paid for it and Office 2004, I made a great buy.

October 13, 2004

Ballmer, Schmallmer!

About ten days ago, Microsoft’s Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said, when speaking about the digital home: “There is no way you can get there with Apple. The critical mass has to come from the PC or a next generation video device”.

I learned a long time ago that when someone totally discounted someone else, it was because they considered the other a threat. Ballmer’s worried. And he has reason to be.

One financial analyst publicly predicted last week that Apple might well move into two digit market share in the next year. And it is because of Apple’s inroads into the home…the digital home…that this has a chance of happening. I said in an editorial within the last year I believed Microsoft has seen it’s best days, and I stand by that estimation.

Microsoft’s big push is the Windows XP Media Center, another approach to “convergence”, the merging of the PC with multimedia entertainment equipment. I was one of its early adopters. When I was single and living in an apartment, I did not own a TV or a stereo, per se. I did have two PC’s, each equipped with TV cards, stereo sound cards and speaker systems, and DVD burners or players. I could watch TV or movies complete with stereo sound at either one. And when I needed the PC for more routine “PC-related” tasks, I could still watch TV by shrinking down the picture from full screen to a window of my own sizing. I really enjoyed having that capability; and when I see some of the 30 inch LCD screens on the market now, there are times I feel like it’d be neat to go back to that. But my wife doesn’t want a PC in the living room, so I don’t go there. Her “office” is set up in there, by the way, she’s okay with having a flat panel iMac in the living room, just not a PC.

Could I get the same effect using a Mac? You betcha. In fact, with the ability to stream music via Airport Express, I could take it one step further. The major difference would be that the selection of games or flight simulators I might want to run would be more limited. Other than that, a Mac would be prettier and easier to use.

Really, the only downside of doing the same thing with the Mac is that all the TV devices one uses with them I know of are external. ATI doesn’t make an All-in-Wonder card for the Mac, and that’s too bad. There really isn’t a technical reason not to.

So, if you’re really looking for convergence, especially if you want to integrate photography or video or streaming music in with other multimedia functions, take a strong look at a Mac. Do your own research. Make up your own mind. That way, no matter what decision you make, you’ll at least now you weren’t schmallered into making a decision you might later regret.

September 18, 2004

New iMac? Not So Fast!

My wife and I traveled to the Apple Store to see the new iMacs. She had said she wanted one almost immediately after seeing their images online, and I had already gilded myself for the financial burden of buying one. But Murphy’s Law works with computers, too. Once we got to the store and she saw and typed on it for real, she didn’t like it.

“It would grow on me, I suppose,” she mumbled. Then, she spied one of those new 20 inch displays directly across the room and fell into it like a moth into flames. “I really like these,” she said.

Talk about busting my bubble! To put her in a PowerMac where she could use that screen, I’d have to double my planned expenses. Or figure something else out. I had only planned on spending about $1600 of future income on her computer. The 20-inch display would cost $1299 on its own. Thankfully, my wife has no qualms about refurbished equipment; I could get a refurbished display for only $1099…if I could find one.

“If you had your druthers,” I said, “would you rather have a new 20 inch screen running our old dual 1 GHz G4 PowerMac or a refurbished 20 inch iMac?” Apple has them only occasionally, but they are selling for an astonishing $1399 when they do. I had apparently offered her a Hobson’s Choice. She was unable to make up her mind.

If she decides she wants a new 20 inch screen, I’ll get one of those, clone my PowerMac’s hard drive onto one already in my dual 1.25 G4 PowerMac, clone her iMac’s hard drive onto the PowerMac’s hard disk, give her iMac to my sister, and transfer my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 PowerMac from video duty to my being my personal machine.

She’s been murmuring, though, that she likes her iMac. I’m not sure if that’s because she really has a sentimental attachment to it (and I understand that, though I gave mine to my daughter-in-law anyway) or because she’s feeling like she doesn’t deserve a new machine and that’s her rationalizing her feelings away. Actually, I’m flattered she doesn’t want to let go of it. It was the first large gift I…or anyone else…had given her.

Oh, what to do?

Let me move now from our petty troubles to those of a much larger entity, i.e., Apple computer.

Whenever Apple releases anything new, the media hype about the new product is nothing short of incredible. By the time you walk into an Apple Store, it’s easy to feel like you’re gazing upon the new Holy Grail. But if my wife’s reaction to the new iMac is the typical response, then Apple has bought a lot of trouble with the new design. I’m lukewarm to the thing. I like it, but not enough to go spend $2K on it. One gentlemen we observed in the Apple Store never could seem to get happy with it; he moved on to inspecting PowerBooks.

Interviews with Apple stated that the new design was designed to take advantage of the synergism of it with the iPod. That may hook a few teenage kids; but if there is no synergism of the new iMac with the customer, Apple has made a big mistake.

My wife put it rather bluntly.

“This is the first time in a long time a Mac has come out looking like a PC.”

I think I’ll leave it at that.

September 9, 2004

Mac Crash

It’s not often my Dual 1Ghz G4 PowerMac crashes, but it happened to me last week. I’m not totally clear on what caused it, but it had something to do with disconnecting a USB device. The cascading grey screen of a kernel panic appeared along with little white text telling me I needed to reboot. So, I did and kept getting the same thing.

From my experience, the most likely cause of such a “kernel panic loop” is hard disk corruption that occurs during the initial crash. To confirm it was a problem with my hard disk and not some other part of the machine, I hooked up a Firewire hard drive containing a backup of the PowerMac’s boot disk. For some odd reason I haven’t determined, the PowerMac would not see the Firewire hard drive during the boot up; I got the machine to boot by selecting a Jaguar partition on the boot hard disk and then into Panther on the Firewire hard drive. Panther came up without a problem, albeit an older version than the one the PowerMac had been running.

Since all my applications were also cloned onto the Firewire drive, I opened a version of TechTool Pro from the Applications/Utilities folder and had it run Volume checks on the original Panther boot drive. Sure enough, it detected an “allocation overlap” error in the boot sector. I told it to repair it, and it got to work.

Using Tech Tool to repair a boot sector on a hard disk is always slow going. It literally took all day for the software to make a repair, and three tries to ensure it did it all. The repair process hung twice when the monitor (and the monitor only) was turned off by OS X’s Energy Saver. I disabled the energy saver altogether and checked on the Mac continuously to make sure the disk repair was working. A watched computer never crashes. Well…almost.

If memory serves, this was the second crash of the same type I’d suffered recently. Both of them had occurred since I reconfigured the PowerMac to run only Western Digital hard disks. One more crash like that and I’m going to swap them out with equivalent Maxtors. That’s the only way I can establish if the WD’S are in some way contributing to the problem.

Just when I thought it was safe to put away my checkbook….

My wife has decided she wants one of the new iMacs. Since I’m the official “computer administrator” in the family, I’m in charge of buying one (and paying for it). The Apple Store here says they’ll have them in stock on Sept 14th, so you can expect us to go down not too long after that and take a look. I hadn’t planned on buying any new computers this year…except one for my sister...so this is throwing a kink in my financial planning. What’s even worse, I’m looking at buying one for me, too, but I do plan sell my dual 1Ghz G4 PowerMac and its 20 inch Apple Cinema display to help pay for it. (I’m want $1900 for them together. Anyone in the family who wants this set-up, talk to me! We can work out terms…just don’t expect much of a break in the price.)

I may stagger the buys so I don’t have to deal with this all at once. I’ll get my wife’s first so I can give her G4 flat panel iMac to my sister. And then get a G5 for me. But all that really depends upon whether we like them as much as we think we’re going to. The new iMac’s inability to position the screen vertically may be a major drawback. We won’t know until we get some hands on at the Apple Store.

As for which ones we’re getting, we’ll both be getting 1.8 Ghz G5 models. I plan on buying her the 17 inch version (She’s been using a 15 inch flat panel iMac.) and me the 20 inch version (I’ve been using a 20 inch screen.). Hopefully, I will be able to get the money out of the dual 1Ghz PowerMac and the 20 inch Apple Cinema LCD I want. It’ll make the whole thing more palatable financially. As it is, I’ll be paying for these things through all of next year!

BTW, once I get my hands on one of these, I’ll add the benchmarks to the AMD/G4/G5 Shootout article on my website, as well as full benchmarks for a dual 2.5 Ghz G5 PowerMac when I can get ahold of one of those.

August 31, 2004

Apple's New iMac

When I checked Apple’s website this morning, I found they had already posted pictures and specifications, including price, of their new iMac. Once again, Apple has proved me wrong, or at least that’s how it would appear. I like the damn thing. The real question is whether my wife will want one. If she does, I’ll probably find some way to get her one and then give her old flat panel to my sister.

The 20 inch iMac, priced at $1899, costs the same amount of money as her old machine. It sports a 20 inch flat panel screen and a single 1.8 Ghz G5 processor. It has two Firewire 400 ports and three USB 2.0 ports with two more USB 1.1 ports available on the keyboard. The lower end models are 17 inch flat screen versions sporting a single 1.6 Ghz or 1.8 Ghz G5 processor and are priced at $1299 and $1499, respectively.

The beauty of the first flat panel iMac was the machine’s ability to make itself unnoticeable when you were working on it and noticeable when you were not. I wasn’t sure if Apple could capture that same charisma with a square form factor, but I think they just might have done it. I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve seen one and have had a chance to plunk on its keyboard.

What’s going on…

The blogs have been kind of sparce lately, but it’s not because I have lost interest or don’t have anything to say. Things are really nuts at work, and my workload is so high I’m having to bring stuff home. This will continue for the next 4 to 6 weeks.

Frankly, it seems like I just have too much to do, period. Some nights I’ve got so much to do at home I can’t keep up. I am literally behind on tasks at both home and work. I’m doing the best I can to keep up, but I’m not being very successful at it.

August 24, 2004

Is Apple Snagging the Kids but Losing the Parents?

In an article about “Engineering the teenager only-PC”, CNN noted that teenagers have fallen in love with the iPod and iTunes. While this was leading to the teens becoming interested in Macs as Apple had hoped it might, the teens are reporting that their parents have been resisting buying Macs because “they don’t run Windows”. While those of us with experience on a Mac realize that “not running Windows” is one big reason to buy one, most adults are simply not that educated. Most people settle for the status quo and what they are familiar with; and most parents are totally ignorant of the fact that Microsoft Office for the Mac, in v.X and 2004 versions, makes owning a Mac at college largely invisible.

Has Apple miscalculated?

It’s true that the Apple stores opening across the country are serving to introduce the Mac to the uneducated masses. The question is whether they are working fast enough to do the company some good. If teens are failing to sway their parents and are forced into buying Windows machines anyway, the answer would seem to be “no”. Apple needs some mechanism to reach those parents and show them how buying a Mac for a college student is an advantage, not a disadvantage. …like a targeted advertising campaign…maybe another version of the Switcher campaign where once beleagured Windows-bearing parents talk about how switching to a Mac has made their lives and the lives of their students better. No matter what, Apple needs to do something or else the momentum the iPod has brought them may crash to a halt at every local PC retailer’s cash register.

Random failures? Look to Power...

I asked my son Tim how his PC was doing, and he replied that he had to often cycle the on/off switch on its power supply before trying to boot his computer to get it to work. Obviously, his power supply is having some problems. I had a spare CompUSA 400 watt power supply I believed was good, so I sent that to him yesterday via the United States Postal Service, which is rapidly establishing itself as the leader when it comes to getting my parcels where they are going undamaged, if not always in a timely manner. The whole affair got me to thinking about Tim’s PCs’ histories. Seems to me he’s had a lot of squirrelly problems, more than I would expect anyone to have. Our conversation about the power supply leads me to suspect he might have pretty ratty power at the wall socket.

I asked if he was using a battery supplemented Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) and he said “no”. He commented he had put his PC’s on better surge protectors, which is what most people do. I don’t feel that’s enough. If you really want to protect your investment in your computing equipment, UPS’s are the only way to go. I happen to like the “APC” brand. They have performed excellently for me.

A good UPS will not only protect your equipment from power surges (most of the really good ones will promise to replace your systems up to a certain dollar value if they are damaged by a lightning strike while connected) but will also smooth out less obvious power fluctuations that can invisibly shorten the life of your PC. Their battery backups make them an even better value since they kick in to keep your PC running when power drops out. That protects your data and your equipment at the same time. Who hasn’t seen the lights in their homes flash off when the power company switches substations or some car hits a power pole down the street, not to mention the standard summer afternoon thunderstorm? All my Macs and PC’s except for my Powerbook---which I run off the house voltage only on occasion--have an APC UPS hooked up to them. And the PowerBook is run off an APC surge protector when its plugged in.

If you’re seeing random failures and everything else you’ve checked isn’t causing the problems, suspect the power supply. And if you’re seeing a high failure rate on multiple machines or a sinle machine after multiple repairs (including replacing the power supply), I’d start suspecting the power being supplied from the tap. The computer’s power supply and the power being supplied to it both must be up to snuff to make one’s computing life pleasant. Ignore them and you might just be throwing both money and time down the drain.

August 18, 2004

XP Lite? Whom are they trying to kid?

You may have seen the headlines that Microsoft has become so concerned about the headway Linux is making in Asia it has offered a version of Windows XP called “XP Lite”. A better name for this version would be “XP Crippled”. It won’t let you use a video resolution higher than 800 x 600 and you can only multitask three applications at a time.

The Asians are smart people. They’ll see through that approach and continue on their Linux upward trend. “XP Lite” is a sop, a bribe, a half-hearted and typically Microsoftian approach to the problem. If Microsoft had been serious about wanting that market share and not as arrogant as they are, they would have brought down the price of XP across the board. That, of course, is not going to happen.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Microsoft has seen its best days. Its arrogance and its pricing policies are driving consumers away from it. XP Lite? XP Slight is more like it.

August 13, 2004

New iMac? Ho-Hum...

Mac news sites today are all clamoring about a new G5 iMac to be released in the next few weeks. According to the rumor mill, the new all-in-one computer design will have the components mounted vertically behind a 17 or 20 inch LCD screen. It will be very similar to the Sony VAIO W700G. I’ve seen them and think they look cool, but wouldn’t buy one because the screen size was too limited.

The one thing I loved about the old iMac design was that the articulating screen let you position it right where you wanted it and in a way that helped you forget you were working on a computer. If the rumor mills are correct, the new iMac design is ergonomically no different than a tower hooked up to a “same size” monitor. Even with a G5 processor, this makes the new design a “ho hum” event for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I actually see the new design. But for now, looking at Tiger and the new designs Apple has come out with lately, the old Apple is looking a bit tarnished. We’ll see how it really turns out.

Microsoft Intellipoint 5.1 for Mac Shows No Mouse.

I downloaded Microsoft’s Intellipoint 5.1 Mouse application today. While it installed without a hitch on my Quicksilver running Jaguar, I found that on my Panther powered MDD PowerMac, the preference pane showed the wrong mouse. In fact, what it showed me was a regular Microsoft two button mouse icon with a big red ?x? through it. I uninstalled the application completely and reinstalled it but got the same result.

The MDD is running an older MS mouse, an Intellimouse Explorer 3.0 while the Quicksilver is actually running a newer Intellimouse Explorer 4.0.

I solved the problem by uninstalling 5.1 and reinstalling Intellipoint 5.0. The preference pane now shows the correct mouse.

This is the first time I’ve had this problem with an Intellimouse upgrade. But it just goes to show you that QA is a problem not only for Apple but for Microsoft...which is why I'm going to wait awhile before taking my XP machine to Service Pack 2.

August 4, 2004

Linux Overtakes Mac on the Desktop

Several Mac sites reported the news story today that Linux has overtaken Mac on the desktop. I fully support the use of Linux as an alternative to Windows. Still, I think it’s sad this is the case. Why? Because I believe Mac OS X is already what Linux hopes to be…an elegant Unix based operating system for the consumer. It has a beautiful graphical user interface. It is easy to use....something Linux is still not known for, though it has gotten better.

I have to ask myself “why is this happening?” I really don’t know the answer, but my guess is it’s mainly an issue of perception. While the average computer user is much more aware of Apple’s products than he or she was even a few years ago, the perception still exists…and for a reason…that Macs are simply too expensive for the average Joe. Apple’s prices are a lot more competitive than they used to be and really are on par or only slightly above its competitors for a machine with the same capability. But on the low end, the only machine below a grand is the eMac, and it is about $200 higher than a low end, Dell, Windows driven system. In the store, the average buyer sees dollar signs and forgets the amazing hassle and complexity that a Windows’ computer brings with it, even if it is running Windows XP. That leaves the masses with the idea that Apple is a company they just can’t afford, even if it’s not really true.

It’s hard to say what path really yields Apple’s brightest future. Most financial analysts seem to argue that the company needs to increase its market share, something Apple seems incapable of doing with its computers. Others say that those who fail to heed history’s warnings are bound to repeat its mistakes. Apple seems to have dead ears. While the iPod is all the rage, if Apple is going to remain as a computer manufacturer (and it may not), it’s got to focus equally as hard on the computers it’s producing and do whatever it takes to get them into a lot more customer’s hands.

iPhoto 4.02-Needing More QA

A couple of days ago, Apple released their 4.02 update to iPhoto. As of today, the update has been withdrawn from Software Update and even manual downloading. Why? Because immediately upon releasing the thing, Apple started hearing from a bevy of users that iPhoto 4.02 wouldn’t quit. Despite second thoughts, I was one of the people who downloaded the update as soon as it was released and hit the problem. iPhoto would take 20 – 30 seconds to quit after I told it to.

To recover, I had to delete iPhoto from My Applications folder, reinstall it from my iLife 04 DVD, and reinstall the iPhoto 4.01 patch. A lot of trouble to go to because…once again…Apple did an apparently poor job of performing quality control on its software.

Doesn’t Apple release its application updates in beta form to developers? If not, why not? It certainly does seem it needs to in light of the numerous times it has withdrawn updates lately. It needs to use some kind of test audience before it releases this stuff to the mainstream. Apple’s Software Updates are rapidly approaching the level of lack of credibility as Microsoft’s Windows’ security patches. It’s hard to trust either of them.

July 29, 2004

No More Mr. Nice Guy

If you had a direct link to any image on thus website from another, those links will no longer work. I really didn’t mind the ones coming from other websites to the charts in the “AMD Shootout” article in The ComputerZone, but the recent episode with a message board moderator at “The Insiders” (http://www.theinsiders.com) has made it necessary to protect both the images and my bandwidth from my website. I have enabled software that will block any attempt to direct link to images on the site.

For my personal friends, if you have any links to pictures not hosted on a webpage, they also will no longer work. Sorry. In the future, I’ll host such pictures on a webpage and let you know the URL.

July 28, 2004

Violating My Space

Well, folks, I’ve seen a little of this before; but I have experienced my first rather blatant copyright violation running my website.

I noticed in my website’s logs a lot of activity surrounding the image I use as a logo for The CougarZone. So, I followed the link and found it led to a website called “The Insiders” (http://houston.theinsiders.com), in particular the piece of the site that is for Houston Cougar fans called “CoogFans.com”. One of the message board moderators who calls himself “Bocephus” has been using the logo as his personal icon. That’s my art, folks, and I do have a problem with that kind of use...not to mention the bandwidth I'm paying for that is being stolen.

I wrote a note to the website asking for them to stop Bocephus from using that image. We’ll see what kind of response I get. I am willing to hire an attorney to defend my rights to that logo, though I would hope it doesn’t go that far.

I can’t know what “Bocephus” was thinking. Maybe he thought it was harmless. Maybe he thought I’d never know. But I do, and I don’t like it.

I spend a lot of my free time maintaining this website. As they say, time is money. Don’t expect me to sink as much time as I do into this thing and then have me day nothing when someone else tries to take advantage of it. If you’re read any of my blogs here, you know I’m all for “fair use”. This is not that.

July 27, 2004

iTunes for Cell Phones?

iTunes for cell phones? Aren’t things bad enough? I mean, it’s terrible that you can’t go to meetings (well, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that cell phones interrupt those), symphonies, ballets, theaters, dinners, and yes, for God’s sake, even the bathroom without having the less than melodic tones of a cell phone interrupting our lives. And sending the sounds of a flushing toilet screaming across the airwaves. Let those extraterrestrial on Alpha Centauri, who will intercept those radio waves in a very distant future, figure out that one…

Then, again, maybe it would be kind of cool to hear the refrain of the 1812 Overture (Tchiakovsky) or an angry snippet from Billy Joel or a soft ballad from the Beatles. Or Maybe something more modern like the lessening angst of Alanis Morrisette, the romping lyrics of Barenaked Ladies, or the forgotten ballads of Collective Soul. Or at least pieces of them since it’s not clear how many songs the new Motorola cell phones are going to store.

Frankly, I don’t see any use for such a device. Maybe lots of teens and college students will. Would it be cool to have a single device that was PDA, cell phone, and iPod all in one. Yes, as long as I wasn’t using it to play music when the phone rang. When I think of that, I want to keep my iPod separate. Some conversations can only be endured when there is good music in the background.

July 22, 2004

Mini DVD-R? Why?

On the MacNN website, I saw a notice stating that Verbatim, a computer media manufacturer, was going to release “mini DVD-R” disks at a price of $4 each and “mini DVD-RW” disks at $10 each. These disks would meet DVD-R standards but be only 3 inches in diameter, the same size as mini CD’s already in circulation.

I have only one question: why?

I bought a little package of mini-CD-R’s, thinking it would be neat to have media that would store data files bigger than I could carry on my USB drive (256MB) but smaller than that on a regular CD (680MB). But using them was not as straightforward as I had thought it would be.

First, I discovered that using these mini CD’s in a slot-drive CD or DVD ROM or burner could damage the drive. I believe the drive mechanisms are not really built to handle disks that small, though most tray drives can accommodate them without a problem. Luckily, I discovered the warning before I tried to read or write one of the mini CD-R’s in my PowerBook which houses a slot type combo drive (CD-R/RW/DVD).

Secondly, on more than one occasion, other people’s computers had trouble reading the mini CD-R’s. Of course, there are lots of reasons a CD or DVD drive will not read a CD that have nothing to do with the CD’s size. But the disproportionate number of rejections I got while using them versus the lack of problems my users had when I used full sized CD’s has made me back of from using them for any purpose but my own data storage needs.

Lastly, speaking to the mini DVD-R’s themselves, there’s the little matter of cost. My reasons for wanting to use mini DVD-R’s would center around portability and economy. At $4 a pop, mini DVD-R’s will cost at least twice as much as full sized DVD-R’s. Their higher cost would outweigh any other consideration. Simply put, I have no motivation to use them. Where the hell is the market for these? I’m sure there must be one, but I probably will not be one of the customers in it.

July 21, 2004

A Quiet PowerMac

The last two generations of G4 PowerMacs were not known for being quiet. The Mirror Door Drive (MDD) PowerMac caused such a stir with its noise that a website was started to protest it and Apple faithful complained in droves to the company. I own a machine from both generations, one known as the QuickSilver and the other a Mirror Door Drive. The QuickSilver sounds like it was equipped with wind-tunnel fans but the noise is even, so I don’t find it particularly bothersome. My MDD PowerMac was another story.

My MDD PowerMac was one of those built after Apple responded to customer complaints, so it had a quieter case fan and less noisy power supply fans. But the factory case fan had an annoying knock to it, and the power supply fans still whined, even though they were supposed to be quieter. I tried to get Apple to replace the case fan but had no luck.

I’ve searched the web for a year for a solution to the MDD’s noise. I wanted it to be as quiet as my homebuilt PC which I had constructed using components known to be low noise. The best known solution for the MDD was by a German company named Verax that made a kit to answer the MDD noise problem. The kit supplied new fans for the MDD’s power supply and replaced the large 120mm case fan with two smaller fans fitted to a special mount sitting on the CPU. The kit was very expensive, retailing at over $350. I did not want to spend that much money on the problem.

Many Mac owners solved the case fan noise problem by replacing the original fan with a 120mm Panaflo fan. There are several breeds of this fan, and I wasn’t sure what the spec airflow was supposed to be. If I replaced the case fan with one that didn’t put out enough air, I ran the risk of overheating the CPUs. But a few weeks ago, I finally found the specs on the factory supplied case fan and found a Panaflo fan that might work. While it didn’t put out as much air as the original factory fan, it was significantly quieter and had enough airflow where I thought it might work. I ordered it and, after trimming up its sides a bit, managed to fit it into the MDD case and hooked it up to the motherboard’s socket. The fan did nothing. Betting that the electrical lead polarity was reversed, I cut the wires and then spliced them to its socket’s pins backwards. The next time I started the MDD, the fan started right up.

It was a LOT quieter!

The power supply fans were now the loudest components on the machine. I discovered that in the last year the Verax fan kit had been broken into two pieces, allowing me to buy replacement power supply fans for only $129. I ordered the kit, removed and opened the MDD’s power supply following its instructions, and installed the new fans.

The MDD PowerMac is VERY quiet now. I can hear its hard disks hit for the first time; and when it’s not hitting the hard disks, I can barely tell it is on. Even so, the MDD runs at essentially the same temperature as before.

Too bad it took me a year and about $150 to solve a problem Apple needed to have designed out in the first place. Apple has largely addressed the problem with noise in its G5 model PowerMacs, though some problems with CPU’s ?chirping?have been experienced. I’m hoping quietness is one of the ramifications of ?water cooling? recently introduced in the G5.

One of the things I loved about the flat panel iMac was its silence. You could almost never hear it running. The same holds true for Dell computers. The day of the quiet PC has come. For me, the day of the quiet PowerMac has, too.

July 9, 2004

The Spam King

If you haven’t read the interview PC World did with Scott Richter, the Spam King, you can find it at http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,116807,00.asp. Give it a read. It’s a good example of how someone can practice self-delusion and rationalization when it lines their pockets. In this case, it’s with your money.

If someone sends you a piece of direct mail, it costs them Postal Service fees. It’s true the direct mailers don’t bear all the costs since we all share in the costs of the USPS; in some ways, we help pay for those guys to run a business. Spammers or e-mail marketers , or whatever else they wish to call themselves, take money from you much more directly. Each month, you pay for the Internet access and for the e-mail servers they use to run their businesses and clog your e-mail box. The transport costs lie largely with you and not them, and that disproportionate costing is what makes the whole thing both objectionable and insidious. It’s objectionable because it is an abuse of an open system, and it’s insidious because it is raising the costs in time and money we all pay to use e-mail. Many experts think e-mail as we know it today will not survive because of these guys, and that’s a bad thing.

I could take hours to discuss how spamming, whether over e-mail or the telephone, is a sign and result of codependent behavior. It displays a total lack of boundaries and disrespect for the consumer. But many sick behaviors are excused by our society when we start calling it “marketing”. Marketing is, is it not, too often an attempt to con or manipulate the consumer for the sole purpose of getting them to spend their money on the product you are selling. Claims that the consumer opted in don’t mean much when the consumer isn’t even aware it happened; confusion and obfuscation are common tools of this trade. It’s dishonesty no matter how else you try to paint it.

In the interview, Richter points out how he’s working with spam filtering companies to help them develop spam-fighting technologies. There’s even the implication he’ll make money from it. His function, then, is the same as the virus writer’s. He’s generated the disease that forces the spending of more money to find the cure. In the medical business, such a practice would be illegal and send people to jail; on the Internet, it makes people rich. No matter how you look at it, the analogy to cancer holds; and in the end, the effect on the Internet may be just as deadly as cancer often is to its own host.

July 3, 2004

Bad Law, Bad Senator

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, who makes money as a song writer but still chairs the Senate committee with jurisdiction over copyright law, has introduced Senate Bill S.2560, “Intentional Inducement of Copyright Infringement”. It’s bad law. This bill amends Section 501 of Title 17, United States Code, to punish those who produce any tools that can be judged as possessing an “intent to induce infringement” of the “commercial viability” of any copyright. In other words, this bill can make computer manufacturers liable for copyright infringement damages. Your MP3 player, your iPod, your DVD burner, all could make their manufacturers liable for copyright infringement suits.

Think of the chilling affect this could have on computing and the First Amendment.

Over the years, the gun lobby has argued that ?people kill people? and that gun manufacturers were not liable for how their products were used. I believe Mr. Hatch has been a proponent of those arguments. Why is he so willing to hold that line when it comes to guns but throws individual responsibility out the window when it comes to using a computer or electronic music device to download music?

And how far do you carry that argument?

First, if the premise in this law holds, the country needs to demand that not only gun manufacturers but gun sellers be responsible for “inducing infringement” of life, liberty, privacy, or whatever right a gun was used to deprive someone of. And let’s extend the analogy to other areas as well: the automobile dealer that sells a vehicle used in a felony; an author who writes a novel someone decides to enact; a musician who sings a song about an injustice that leads to protests that turn into riots and looting.

Of course, a good lawyer will latch onto the “intent to induce” phrase and put the burden on the government to prove his client’s intent…if we’re still judged innocent until proven guilty, that is, which is something very much in doubt these days.

Write your Senators and urge defeat of this bill. Better yet, I think it’s about time consumers start giving serious thought to organized boycotts of both the movie and music industries. The only way to stop the madness is either through politics or economy, and the latter will have far more impact than any law that can be written.

I’ll begin my boycott right after I see Spiderman 2.

June 30, 2004

Rating Apple: Quality “0” Customer Service “1”

For a year now, my wife and I have been talking to my mother-in-law about getting a new computer. She was using an old iMac not even 300 Mhz fast with only 64 Mb of memory. We’ve been trying to convince her to get a new Mac; her friends, of course, all have PC’s. Though there was a dangerous period when she was considering going to WalMart and buying one of their PC’s, she decided last week to get a new Mac. An eMac was in her price range, and I could get her a little bit of a discount. So, I ordered it for her, selecting free “2 day” shipping.

The Mac shipped on June 24th from Toronto. I had expected it to get to her Missouri home on Monday, the 28th. The tracking number Apple sent me showed it in St. Louis on the 28th. And it didn’t arrive at her place on the 29th. I called Apple late that afternoon, the customer service staff called the carrier while I was on the phone, and assured me the eMac would be delivered to her the next day. It was. A very courteous driver dropped it off at her house and even helped her unpack it.

That was the end of the good news. The eMac would start (they could hear its start up chimes and the music of the OS X Welcome) but the video screen stayed black. Marty, one of Connie’s nephews, is pretty good with computers, he got Apple Support on the phone; they reset the PMU (power management unit) on the motherboard and zapped the PRAM, all to no avail. I had Marty zap the PRAM using a slightly different technique and we unplugged the machine for 15 minutes and plugged it back in but nothing changed. My feeling was that the video was D.O.A. (dead on arrival), and I told them so. Once again, Apple had validated what I have been saying in these blogs, i.e., THEY NEED TO GET A HANDLE ON THEIR NEW MACHINE QUALITY CONTROL.

NICE IMPRESSION, APPLE!

That said, Apple pulled it out the fire with their customer service. They are sending my mother-in-law labels to use to send the eMac back to them via FedEx. Once Fed Ex picks the eMac up and gives her a tracking number, she can call Apple, relay it to them, and they’ll send her a new eMac. My mother-in-law commented how nice they were, and that matches my experience as well, except for one time. Unhappy about the noice the case fan in my new Mirror Door Drive PowerMac was making, I talked to a snarly tech support guy who refused to send me a new case fan even if I would pay for it and tried to troubleshoot it by listening to the fan over the phone! (I did replace the fan on my own, and it runs much quieter now.)

It’s somewhat likely I may buy a G5 PowerMac this year, and it’s very likely I’ll buy another eMac for someone in the family close to me. If Apple’s customer service had given us one iota of trouble, that latter eMac purchase would not even be a blip on my radar screen. The G5 is because I live in a city with an Apple Store. Apple would do better to tighten up their quality control and make “save the bacon” customer service calls unnecessary or at least very rare. Otherwise, their tiny little market share will remain tiny, no matter how much innovation they do.

June 29, 2004

Goose and Gander

What’s good for the goose must be good for the gander. So, they say, and if you look at Apple’s recent behavior, you can’t help but notice that it’s a lot like Microsoft’s, just on a smaller scale. Which just goes to prove you can get away with monopolistic behavior as long as your market share is small.

One of the reasons Microsoft has become villainous (and I realize there are many) is because of their tendency to take software features developed elsewhere and ingest them into their operating systems and applications. I can’t help but notice that Apple has done the same thing with two operating system releases. Apple likes to “think different” and they usually do, and that’s why this behavior from the company is such a surprise.

When Apple released Jaguar , they also released a revamped search utility named “Sherlock” that mirrored a very popular shareware application called “Watson”. This essentially drove the small developer, Karelia, to sell Watson off. Here’s a quote from the FAQ on the Karelia website:

“…Karelia software was not involved in any aspect of Sherlock 3, other than serving as…shall we say…inspiration. While Apple recognized Watson as 2002’s “Most Innovative Mac OS X Product”—and we appreciate the recognition—the company didn’t hesitate to make use of Watson’s specific innovations for its next OS release, without any concessions to Karelia.”

Now, Apple’s pulled the same tactic again with Tiger (OS 10.4) by coming up with an operating system feature named “Dashboard” which has a striking resemblance to a very popular piece of Mac shareware named “Konfabulator”. I’m not crazy about either one of them, but I’ve already heard the grumbling about the resemblances on some of the major Mac websites.

Ethically, there is no difference between Apple’s behavior or Microsoft’s; and that’s a sad thing for us Mac users. It makes you wonder what is going to happen as Apple grows. Will we one day see Apple being pursued by governments around the world for their monopolistic practices? It’s unlikely for two reasons. One is Mac prices. The other is that if they keep this up the small developer will not support them. If the small developer doesn’t and they piss off all their large developers, too (like Adobe and Microsoft), who will be left?

The business world may be “dog eat dog”, but the last thing you want to do is be at the center of a snarling pack. It’s difficult to do business if nobody trusts you.

June 27, 2004

“Scanner Did Not Send File”

Friday night, I decided to mount an extra Hitachi hard disk in my PC. Once that was done and while I had the case open, I decided to replace the PC's network and USB 2.0 cards with a USB 2.0/Firewire 400/Ethernet combo card sitting in my closet. The combo card went in without a problem; and, to my delight and surprise, Windows XP did not demand I re-activate it. Installing the card's drivers was a two step process that took a little extra time but otherwise went without a hitch.

The real test of the new card would be whether it would work with my little USB 2.0 network. For those who have not read previous blogs, the network consists of a Belkin USB 2.0 switch connected to a Belkin USB 2.0 four port hub. The switch allows me to connect my Mirror Door Dual 1.25 G4 PowerMac, my Dual 1 Ghz Quicksilver PowerMac, my 1 Ghz 12” PowerBook, and my AMD XP 2800+ powered Windows XP PC to my Epson 166o Photo Scanner, an HP Business Inkjet 1100D printer, a HP PhotoSmart 7150 photo printer, and a Zip Drive.

The Macs have always worked almost flawlessly with this setup, even though the Belkin stuff never said it supported Macs. The Windows XP machine has been the cranky one of my computer pack, and I was anxious it might start throwing me “scanner did not send file” error messages seen when setting the network up.

Sure enough, it did!

If you do a search on Google for this problem, you’ll find it’s fairly common with some Epson scanners. You might see this message anytime you hooked one up via a USB hub. Obviously, that wasn’t my problem since the scanner had been working through the hub just fine.

I was NOT going to put the old USB 2.0 card back in! (I will not be defeated by this PC!) I was suspicious that the problem might lie elsewhere in my network since the new combo card was from the same manufacturer and used the same USB 2.0 chipset as the old one. So, I played with the USB related BIOS settings in the PC. During that process, I shut down my Quicksilver PowerMac which had been playing music using iTunes.

When I then tried scanning an image with the XP machine, it worked perfectly.

The tumblers in the old brain crashed together and I realized that the problem wasn’t where I had thought it was. I had thought there were conflicts between the PC motherboard’s USB implementation and the USB 2.0 card’s. Now, I was suspicious the USB switch was not isolating the machines from each other, and an “on-network” Mac was causing some kind of signal or timing error that prevented the XP machine from getting a clean signal from the scanner (or sending one to it). I performed several tests with the QuickSilver powered up and down; and during every one in which it was powered on, the scan would fail.

I doubt if very many people are running a USB network like I am, so knowing that probably won’t help anyone else but me. But, at least, I now understand what the true cause of the problem is. The workaround is very simple. If I need to scan using the Windows PC, I need to make sure the Macs are turned off or, if not, disconnected from the network.

As I was writing this, I powered up the PC (I was already using the QuickSilver) and tested whether scanning using the Mac was similarly affected with the PC online. It is not, and it’s using the same USB 2.0 card as the PC.

That’s why there’s 3 Macs in this office, and one PC.

June 25, 2004

The Ridiculousness of Government: The Florida Wi-Fi Tax

For years there’s been a funny little e-mail hoax circulating around the Internet about a tax on e-mail. The state of Florida, where senior citizens and bad elections go, has decided to go one step further and place a tax on computer networking within people’s homes and businesses. You gotta hope this is a hoax as well, because the e-mail and the proposed tax both are truly ridiculous.

This is not a tax on equipment sales. This is a tax based on whether or not you are using a router or networking switches to connect up computers in your home.

What are they going to tax next? Air?

Don’t underestimate the insidiousness of this proposal.

How are they going to enforce it? Well, other than counting on everyone’s honesty, something governments generally do not do, they would have to come into your home to determine what networking equipment you have. Even if they did it by affidavit, the law establishing the tax, sooner or later, will lead to court cases deciding that it gives the government has “just cause” to enter your home or small business. Our only hope to stop it would be if we could get a court to decide that it amounted to an “unreasonable search” and violated the US Constitution. I doubt if that’s likely.

This feels to me like the worse kind of intrusion and terribly bad policy for any free country or state. The fact that state and federal governments already get too much tax money aside, the bigger questions concerning this proposal lie around the possible intrusion into people’s homes or home businesses and personal application of technology. It needs to be fought at almost any cost.

It makes me wonder if things are so bad in the State of Florida that their legislators are drinking seawater.

June 23, 2004

Accessorize Your iPod; Buy a BMW

I own an iPod. My wide owns an iPod. My birthday is coming up, and I’m all bummed out. I take pride in staying on the cutting edge of computer technology (After all, I can’t stay on the cutting edge of space technology because, after all, I am involved with NASA in flying the shuttle.). And that’s why I’m all bummed out. I simply can’t afford to accessorize my iPod with a BMW.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Apple’s made a deal with BMW to sell an adapter that lets you manipulate your iPod using audio controls on the BMW’s steering wheel.

“Connect with music like never before behind the wheel of your BMW 3 Series, and X3 and X5 SAV or Z4 Roadster. With the installation of an integrated adapter developed by Apple and BMW, you can now control your iPod or iPod mini through the existing audio system and multi-function steering wheel. Which means no loss of power. No loss of sound quality. No loss of control.

The BMW iPod adapter can be installed in 2002 or later 3 Series, X3 and X5 SAVs, and Z4 Roadsters.”

So says Apple’s webpage.

So which is it the ad campaign designed to pump up? iPod sales or BMW’s?

What I want to know is this:

When do I get an adapter I can use with a Toyota Tacoma 4x4?

June 7, 2004

Apple 20 inch Cinema Display LCD on my PC!

Last night, using the Apple ADC to DVI Adapter I bought to run my 17 inch Apple Studio LCD with my PowerBook, I hooked up one of my 20 inch Apple Cinema Displays (LCD) to my Windows XP PC. The machine currently has in it an ATI Radeon 9000 video card.

As I expected, none of the machine’s BIOS screens displayed. During the computer’s boot up, the display’s power button light blinked in cycles of three. The first screen that appeared on an otherwise black display was the Windows XP Welcome Screen and the pictures looked stretched. Once I selected my user account and the machine booted into the XP desktop, I found that XP had loaded it as a “Plug and Play Monitor” and that it was still running at the last set resolution, i.e., 1024 x 1280. I reset the resolution to the Cinema Display’s native 1680 x 1050 which the Radeon 9000 seemed ready for. I have only one word for the picture quality:

Amazing!

For grins, I ran Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. When I reset the display resolution to match the monitor (1680 x 1050x32), the Cessna 182’s instrument panel filled the screen, making the flight instruments close to real size! I then flew flights out of my real airfield (Clover Field, TX) in both a Cessna 182 and a Learjet 45. Graphics display was outstanding with no noticeable motion effects, and the clouds looked exactly like the real things.

You can bet when I fly any of my XP powered flight simulators, I’ll be using my Apple Cinema Display from now on!

Running it as my sole display, however, would not be a good idea. I’d have to keep another display around to do any kind of troubleshooting or BIOS setting adjustment. Also, since the BIOS screens don’t show, neither does the Windows XP/Windows 98SE boot menu that allows me to select which operating system I want. I’d have to learn to select Win98 using a timer. That’s more hassle than I’d want to go to. But if you have only XP loaded on your computer, it would work rather well. I’d keep an el cheapo 14 inch LCD in the closet for those times when I needed into the BIOS. Another solution I might pursue if I wanted a 20 inch display would be to look at the Formac 20 inch LCD. The reviews I’ve seen say it’s almost as good as the Apple Cinema, is slightly cheaper, and comes with DVI and ADC interfaces and is PC and Mac compatible. It has a slightly different resolution, though, at 1600 x 1200. For running flight sims, the Apple Cinema Display is therefore slightly better.

That said, the crispness of the Apple Cinema Display is amazing. Brightness can not be adjusted on the PC, but frankly it was unnecessary on mine. Colors were bright and text was sharp. It was all I could ever ask for out of an LCD monitor.

I really loved running it on my PC, and you can bet from time to time, I’ll do it again!

June 6, 2004

PC World—Mac OS X is Better

What makes this month’s issue of PC World magazine so interesting is the “Up Front” editorial by Harry McCracken. The piece is entitled “The More Operating Systems, the Merrier” and tells of his experiences with a brand new PowerBook. While he makes sure you know he hasn’t completely switched to OS X (after all, how could he be the editor of PC World if he did?), he does state it’s a better OS.

What makes the editorial so relevant to me is that his experiences mirror mine. The first Mac I got “up close and personal” with was my new wife’s iMac running OS 9. I wasn’t impressed. The machine’s screen was small, the single button mouse was too limited in functionality, and OS 9 didn’t seem to have anything Windows XP didn’t have. Mac OS X was a whole different story. It was an operating system to fall in love with, if there is such a thing.

Even if there’s not, it is an operating system I enjoy working with, and that’s not how I’ve ever felt about working with Windows, even with XP. XP is the most stable and attractive Windows operating system I’ve used. But OS X beats it in attractiveness and usability and is an equal in stability. Yes, I did have to invest in Mac versions of Windows programs I was already running. But, like the editor, I swap data between my Macs and my single Windows computer without effort, just like I do with Windows computers at my job. And if you’d ever seen or used Microsoft Office v.X for the Mac, you’d find it’s a no-brainer to prefer it over its Windows’ brethren. I also don’t struggle anymore to find a really good video editor; I have several on the Mac. iMovie is on par with Pinnacle Studio and Final Cut in any form beats the hell out of Premiere. There is nothing in the Windows world equivalent to DVD Studio Pro (and, yes, I’ve tried Ulead’s DVD Workshop)?or GarageBand for that matter.

I find it heartening that this is the second editorial to spring up during the last two months in print and on the web about influential people in the computer industry switching to Macs in some form. It will be fun to see if the trend continues.

But don’t take my word for it or theirs. See for yourself. Find an Apple Store or Apple retailer near you and go give the Mac a try. Keep a Windows PC around for flight sims and games; but for anything else, you might want to ask yourself what it is you really of with a PC and examine whether you might do it better and with more fun on a Mac.

Project PC

Whenever I do any kind of PC upgrade, I always look hard at what I can do to get the most bang for my buck. I hate to throw away any PC components, not only because I feel like there must be a use for them somewhere but also because of the environmental impact discarded PC’s and PC components have. So, last year, when I upgraded my system from a PIII 1 Ghz machine to an AMD powered AMD 2000+, I took the P3 system components and built a machine from them and gave it to Connie’s nephew, Alex. He wound up with a P3 1Ghz machine with 512MB RAM, a 30GB hard drive, ATI All in Wonder Radeon (AGP) video card, a Creative Lab sound card, a Firewire PCI card, Ethernet, a 56K modem, a Pioneer slot-drive DVD ROM, and a TDK 24X CDRW. Alex got it for Christmas.

Earlier this year, I stepped my system up to an AMD 2800+ and took my old AMD 2000+ CPU and used it to upgrade my son Tim’s PC, which was the one UPS destroyed in shipping. (You can read about that on this page.) To recover, I ordered Tim an AMD 2500+ CPU, a new motherboard, memory, and case; and he built himself a system using those components and what was salvaged from the UPS destroyed PC. This weekend, I put my system components in a new snazzy case (a black and silver “Dragon” case from Soyo bought from Microcenter for $29 after a rebate) and put together another “Christmas PC”. The “new” PC consists of:

I added to that an ATI Radeon 9000 video card, loaded up a copy of Windows XP Home OEM (bought at Fry’s for $109) on the machine, configured it, added a few applications (like Open Office, iTunes for Windows, Nero 5.5 Light, and ATI Multimedia Center 7.8) and a Microsoft Intellimouse Optical, updated the OS using Windows update, and then put it up, awaiting word from Connie’s sister about whether to send the machine now or wait until Christmas. Someone there has to buy a monitor for it. It will stay here until they’re ready.

More than likely, this is the last one I’m going to build for a while. Alex’s machine could use an upgrade, but I’m not going to volunteer for that unless I take my own PC to 64 bit and it generates the spare parts. That’s not likely anytime soon, if at all. My own sons seem to be taken care of, so I don’t see a reason to undertake another project soon. That’s a good thing. I’ve hit my limit on PC related expenses.

Installing Windows XP on this project PC was an adventure, like it always is. The setup routine would crash just before the screen where you select either the installation or the recovery console. It taught me a new Stop Error….06F…accompanied by a message that “Session 3 Init Failed”. Research indicated it was hardware related. Surprise! What isn’t? I had forgotten that the hard disk’s partition was not set active, so I used FDISK on some Windows 98SE boot floppies to repartition the drive and set it active. I then formatted it using FAT32, double-checked my memory timings, played with external cache (turning it off and on) and somehow got the installation to work. I hit another snag when it couldn’t copy a file from the Win XP CD; obsessive cleaning of the CD got me past that one. I had no further problems, but it would be nice to install XP on a “new” machine without having to troubleshoot the hell out of it. I know, I know; that’s not likely to happen.

DVR-105 Sense Errors

About a month ago, the DVR-105 in my Quicksilver PowerMac began issuing “0x72 Sense Errors" at the end of a burn of a multisession CD. Roxio’s support site and several online forums suggested this was a hardware problem, and that the drive had suddenly gone bad. Something about its failure didn’t seem right to me. So, I held onto the drive even though I removed it from service.

When rebuilding my system in the new case (see the paragraph above), I put the DVR-105 in as the “master” optical drive and a placeholder. I had tried to flash the drive’s firmware in the hopes that a firmware update might fix whatever the problem was, but every flasher I had tried, both under Windows and the Mac OS, had reported “Target drive not found”. I finally found references to an online flasher that someone had used when they also had that problem, so I downloaded it, gave it a shot; and it worked! My OEM drive became a Pioneer running version 1.33 versus version 1.0 firmware. I then burned about 300 MB of material to a CD-RW as a test, and it worked like a charm. I declared the drive “fixed” and removed it from the PC and put it back in my QuickSilver, swapping it with a black DVR-106 that went into my PC. To test it in the Mac, I burned 275Mb of material to a 16X CD-R and 3GB of material to a DVD-RW. No problems at all.

Imagine my surprise when I put in a CD-R to add a few files to a multisession CD and the sense error reappeared! Suspicious of that I might have incompatible media, I went to Wal-Mart and purchased some 52X CD’s from a different manufacturer. The drive handled them with aplomb.

The media that had malfunctioned were Philips 52X CD-R 80’s. I had picked up two 50CD stacks of them at Office Depot on a special buy. To be fair, the media works fine on my PowerBook, and the DVR-105 is the oldest drive I have here. However, I now have a bunch of CDR’s I can’t use and won’t buy Philips again. I’ve used TDK, Memorex, and Verbatim without errors on every drive in my office.

The thing to get out of this is that “sense errors” may be related to your media as well as your drive's hardware. That’s something I couldn’t find documented. Check the situation out by performing the same type of burn that produced the error message but use other brands of media before making up your mind about what the problem is. You might save yourself a fair chunk of change.

June 1, 2004

Who Will Support Dual-Layer DVD?

Within the next month, the first dual-layer DVD burners will hit the streets for both the PC and Mac platforms. If you haven’t heard, “dual layer” or “blue ray” DVD’s will hold up to 8.5 GB of material on a single disk. That’s almost twice the data you can store on one now. If you’re a little video producer like me, then you’re probably viewing the arrival with both glee and anxiousness. On the plus side, once the media, burners, and software support all become available, I’d be able to produce a DVD on par with those produced by large distributors (like Hollywood studios, for instance). On the minus side, I’ll have to invest in new burners and media and risk incompatibilities with older DVD players. I thought I read somewhere that to play these disks I’d have to buy a new DVD player as well.

My original title for this blog was to be “Will Apple Support Dual-Layer DVD?” But as I thought about it, I realized the real question was whether the average Joe Blow consumer would support dual layer DVD. After all, DVD technology is still in its infancy and people are already being asked to step up to a new format. While that tactic might work with the computer crowd, it’s not as likely to be popular with the average Joe Blow or Mom and Pop. Especially when their paychecks are being hit so hard by rising gas prices and out-of- sight medical insurance premiums.

The other problem with the technology is that the dual layer (also known as “double layer”) disks are only going to be immediately available in +R format media. I don’t care what the hype is, -R DVD’s are more compatible with a larger number of players. While my current policy is that I’ll only produce –R disks, that could change; and I’ll have to adopt some strategies to protect against incompatibilities with my customer’s equipment, a risk that will be larger due to the newness of the technology.

I believe that the market will move forward to embrace the technology. But the pendulum could swing either way. We could see both +R and –R formats move forward with it and see it gain wide acceptance despite the new set of costs; it could be the “deal clencher” that pushes the market into the +R format as “the” DVD format; or Sony, the lead player in this field right now, might find itself staring at a repeat of the VHS vs BetaMax war, with today’s DVD playing the role of “VHS” and the new dual-layer DVD’s sliding into BetaMax antiquity.

It will be interesting to watch.

May 30, 2004

Upgrading a Hard Disk

It’s been several years since I’ve upgraded a hard disk on my Windows XP machine; but a great price on a Seagate 120GB hard drive made me undertake the task. My desktop's boot drive was a 7200RPM 60GB Maxtor; and though I never had any problems with it, I had been thinking about replacing it for some time with a larger drive with an 8MB cache.

On the Mac platform, cloning an operating system hard disk is easy thanks to a great utility named Carbon Copy Cloner by Mike Bombich. I routinely use it to back up and swap out hard disks and have never had any problems at all. Cloning a drive on the Windows platform has always been a pain, no matter what software I have used. (So, I’m always more hesitant to swap out a Windows hard drive than a Mac’s; and that’s just another reason why I moved most of my stuff off the Windows platform.)

Seagate supplied me with a bootable installation CD containing a utility named DiscWizard. After installing the new drive as a slave and using the software’s DOS and advanced options, I booted into a graphical window that let me select the drive to be readied and offered me choices about what file system to use and how many partitions to make. Even though I will probably install Linux on this machine at some time in the future, I partitioned the drive into a 30GB partition for Windows 98SE and a 90GB partition (give or take some for normal losses) for Windows XP. (I figured I’d use Partition Magic to later help me repartition for Linux, if and when I decided to go there.) I then told the software to copy files from the old drive to the new. It did; but several hours later when it had finished, it appeared to have copied only the files for the first (Windows 98SE) partition. I restarted the software and then used its disk maintenance utility to copy files from the old Windows XP partition to the new one. Both of the copies took hours!

That said, ordering the second copy operation was really insurance. The software might have actually copied the Windows XP files. I couldn’t tell because Windows 98SE will not see an NTFS partition, which is what I had installed XP on. After the first copy operation when I tried to boot the system, I got an all too common “cannot find hal.dll” message from Windows XP. Damn! I tried to boot into Windows 98SE but found I had an “invalid system drive”! To recover and get one operating system running, I booted the system using a Windows 98SE floppy disk and from the command line performed a “sys c:” command. That gave me back a Windows 98SE system. That didn’t help me with XP since Windows 98SE couldn’t see it; so, to be safe, I assumed that the software had not performed the file copy for XP and commanded it. A couple of hours later, I knew I had all the files from XP copied to the hard disk but the boot sector remained messed up. It would not allow me to into the Windows XP partition.

For many hours, I tried using Windows XP’s Recovery Console and tools in Partition Magic 7.0 to get each Windows’ installation to recognize the other. I never could. I could get Windows 98 to boot by using “sys c:” to take over the boot sector or I could use XP’s Recovery Console’s “FIXBOOT” command to give it to XP. I tried to get back into my old boot sector configuration by using Partition Magic 7.0’s Rescue Disks but had no luck. I tried to use Partition Magic’s PDQ Boot to link up the operating systems but could only find Windows 98 when I asked it find bootable systems.

I finally got the problem solved by taking a different tack in the very wee hours of the morning; I reinstated the Windows 98 boot sector (“sys c:”), booted from XP CD, went into Windows Setup, and told it to repair the XP installation. (This is an option within the Windows installation routine if you already have XP installed on your system.) After it finished reinstalling, it rebooted and I found had recovered access to both operating systems from the XP boot menu.

I still had a bit more pain to endure. Error messages during the installation had tipped me off that XP had not found the VIA motherboard drivers, and on the reboot I found that the operating system had lost my ATI Radeon 9000’s video drivers as well. A quick check of Device Manager also revealed that the OS was having trouble with USB 2.0 support. In response, I reinstalled XP Service Pack 1, VIA 4.46 drivers, and the latest ATI video card drivers. That seemed to get everything working.

I did discover a few interesting things I haven’t mentioned yet, so here they are:

(1) When I was having trouble with getting the Seagate software to clone my hard disk like I wanted it to, I went to the Maxtor website and downloaded their MaxBlast 3.0. It is the SAME software that Seagate is using, just rebranded. Both companies are using a utility built by Ontrack.

(2) If you’re running a dual-boot Windows 9X/Windows XP system, don’t count on the XP Recovery Console finding the 9X installation. Mine never has.

(3) Building a dual-boot OS X system on a Mac is a breeze compared to building a dual boot Windows system.

(4) Staying up all night troubleshooting computer problems is a great way to “burn off” months of stress, as long as you can make up for the lack of sleep the next day.

May 18, 2004

What PearPC Means to Apple…and Microsoft!

Making the headlines on the Apple news websites this week was a mention of PearPC. If you haven’t heard, “Pear” is an acronym for PowerPC Emulation Architecture. An open source software project has come up with an “emulated Mac” using software, and it is now possible to run Mac OS X on an x86 powered PC powered by Linux or Windows.

On his website, Kevin Rose of Tech TV’s ScreenSavers posted instructions on how to make OS X run under Windows. Following them, it’s not a relatively hard task to get OS X installed and running on a virtual Darwin hard disk, just like Virtual PC runs Windows on a virtual hard disk under Mac OS X. With a little tweaking, Mac OS X will run on an AMD powered 2800+ system using Windows XP as well as Windows 3.1 would run on a 386 powered PC. However, at least under Windows, PearPC cannot access the PC’s real hardware, so loading any application software on the virtual hard disk becomes a bit of a chore, if possible at all. PearPC is an interesting proof of concept, but not much more than that, at least right now.

It does fuel hope for those folks who want to be able to run OS X on PC hardware without shelling out the extra bucks for a Mac. I used to be one of them. I’m not any more. I’m really sold on the whole Mac experience; and though I hate the high price of entry as much as anyone else, I consider it worth it for what I get...most of the time. The cost differential to get into the Mac is not as high as it used to be; in many cases, several hundred dollars, money that my experience suggests will be recovered in joy of use and simple productivity. Additionally, every time I’ve tried running any kind of emulation, I have always been unhappy with the performance. It has been adequate for the most basic of tasks but not much else. It’s hard for me to believe that Mac emulation would pose much of a threat to the Apple platform. The people who would find emulation on a PC suitable would probably not buy a Mac anyway. At least Apple would have the dollars in their pockets from the purchase of the operating system.

Except, of course, that there’s a catch. The Apple license included in the Panther installation states that the operating system is licensed only for an “Apple-branded” computer. PC’s thereby do not qualify, and running Mac OS X on them is a violation of the license. Whether Apple would (foolhardily, in my opinion) go after the websites demonstrating how to get OS X running on a PC is anyone’s guess. Frankly, I think Apple needs to remove the “Apple-branded” restriction but make it plain they won’t support the operating system on anything but the Mac platform. They can take a page out of the Microsoft book and encourage adoption of more “virtual Macs”. Microsoft realized they could use Virtual PC as another means of selling Windows or at least, of gaining more foothold on the Mac platform; it doesn’t make sense that Apple would turn down the same opportunity for revenue. Removing the language that restricts OS X to Mac hardware could be done quietly…

The company that really needs to be concerned about PearPc isn’t Apple but Microsoft! PearPC represents another choice for users who currently have investments in x86 architectures. If Mac OS X were to eventually join Linux as another choice, both home and corporate users would have fewer reasons to stick with the Microsoft hegemony. Eventually, if PearPc evolved into a low resource, easily installed base layer that could run OS X on x86 architecture with only a slight performance hit, then the whole landscape of the software market could shift, eventually taking the hardware market with it. Apple might have to shift off their current price points; but their machines’ performance advantage, even if it eventually turned out to slight, over software emulated PowerPC hardware could be parlayed into market share. Instead of Apple switching to x86, Dell might be forced to switch to PowerPC.

It’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

May 11, 2004

Bad, Bad Apple!

My frustration level with Panther’s bugginess and its ability to kill off perfectly good programs is at an all time high. It initially killed off my CD labeling program (I keep Jaguar loaded on an external Firewire disk to run it.) and now, inexplicably, its VPN to my workplace has stopped working. Not completely. It connects up without error messages but web page loading and e-mail retrieval via Outlook 2001 stalls. (Outlook displays a “Communicating with server” dialog and the standard Apple blue and white “I’m doing something” striped progress bar. And displays it and displays it and displays it…) I’ve now spent more than half a day troubleshooting the problem. I can’t say for sure whether the problem is due to one of Apple’s Security Updates or whether it’s due to a Microsoft Security Update applied on the server side. I’ve tried different settings (including adjustments to the MTU), wiped out my configurations and re-established them, and even loaded up a clean installation of Jaguar (10.2.8) on a “spare” hard disk in my Quicksilver. None of that repaired the VPN connection, one that works just fine on my Windows XP machine from behind the same router. (A Belkin 54G wireless router.) The fact that a clean Jaguar installation also doesn’t work seems to point to the problem being on the corporate (Windows) side; and it might be, but I’m still suspicious since I know one of the Apple Security Updates affected Point To Point Protocol. (My VPN uses PTPP.) In any case, lately I feel like I’m doing no better than I used to under the Windows regime, i.e., I’m spending all my time troubleshooting instead of working.

Think Secret, one of the Apple rumor mill websites, reported that OS 10.3.4 will impact USB devices and TWAIN scanners! HOW? You can be certain I will not be applying the update for days if not weeks after it’s been released because of my growing skepticism about Apple’s checkout of it. I appreciate that Apple is working hard to improve usability, squash bugs, and add features; but most updates introduce as many bugs as they solve. It boils down to a lack of good quality control. I’ve bitched about Apple’s lack of QA (quality assurance) many times on this site, and I’m not the only one who’s written about it. If Apple can’t get a handle on its bugs with only 3% of the market share, how can it possibly handle more? iPods are only going to carry the company so far….

After much hunting, I found a mention in the discussion forums of Apple’s Support website of a VPN client named “DigiTunnel”. The program is a product of Gracion Software located at: http://www.gracion.com. DigiTunnel has gotten my VPN connection under both Jaguar and Panther working again. But it’s still maddening to have to fork out $58 for something that used to work. If I find out that one of Apple’s updates killed my VPN and 10.3.4 doesn’t solve it, I’m going to let Apple have a piece of my mind!

May 5, 2004

Living with a PowerBook, Part Deux

I’m pretty impressed with the PowerBook. I really like being able to use it as my primary personal machine whether at home or at work. When I bring it home, I plug it into a 17 inch Apple Studio LCD, an Apple keyboard, and a Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer (the one with the tilt wheel) and go to town. It does have a few quirks I’ll comment on, but they’re nothing I can’t live with or fix at some point.

First, the native video quality of the LCD, at least from a brightness and color saturation standpoint, in this PowerBook is not as good as it was in my iBook. It’s not so bad that it bothers me, but it is noticeable. I read in a forum that the new PowerBooks (the 12 inch 1.33 GHz in my case) have better screens than the older generation. If you’ve ever seen the difference in brightness and clarity between Apple 17 and 20 inch displays, then you know what I’m talking about. The screen on my PowerBook looks closer to the 17 inch display; the newer PowerBooks look closer to that of a 20 incher. If you haven’t seen the difference (and especially if you’re trying to decide between the two), beat feet down to an Apple Store or Apple retailer and take a look.

Secondly, I kept wondering whether it was hard disk performance or dual processors that made web surfing and general tasks so much faster on my Quicksilver PowerMac. I answered that question by booting the PowerBook from a Firewire 400 hard drive running at 7200 rpm. From what I could see, launching applications and viewing web pages became almost indistinguishable from performing the same chores on the Quicksilver. I could get the same performance out of my PowerBook by installing a 7200 rpm hard drive into my notebook. There aren’t too many 7200 rpm notebook hard drives out there, but Toshiba does make a 60GB model that would exactly meet my needs and desires. I could get it from Other World Computing for under $300, but I’m going to delay buying it until I get closer to the end of my year-long Apple warranty. I am considering buying a LaCie D2 Firewire hard drive and running from it when I am at home; but for the moment, I like the near total silence the internal hard drive yields, so I’m leaving the whole subject alone for now.

Lastly, I encountered one little quirk running the PowerBook as a desktop. The 12 inch PowerBook has a mini-DV port on its left side that can be used via adapters to hook up an external monitor. Since I’m using Apple monitors with ADC ports, I also have to use an Apple DVI to ADC adapter in conjunction with the mini DV adapter. The DVI to ADC adapter contains a USB connector that plugs into the PowerBook to carry the USB functions. My mouse is plugged into a port on my Apple keyboard; I plugged the keyboard into a USB port on the Apple Studio display thinking that it would be the same as plugging the keyboard directly into the side of the notebook. Not so. With the keyboard and mouse plugged into the display, the PowerBook would frequently not recognize either on boot up (via the DVI to ADC adapter’s USB connector). Unplugging the adapter’s USB connector and re-plugging it back into the PowerBook would sometimes solve the problem but not always. However, plugging the keyboard directly into the PowerBook always results in a successful boot up. That’s how I run now. I haven’t seen any information out there that details this problem or whether plugging the keyboard and mouse into a display is simply an unsupported configuration. I also haven’t tried booting into Jaguar; I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Panther is the problem.

No Tigers for me…

Mac news sites are saying that Steve Jobs is going to preview Tiger, the next iteration of OS 10, at the WWDC Conference in June. I will be interested in seeing what he brings forward, but it will be more of curiosity than anything. Apple’s operating system update cycles are simply becoming too expensive from both a time and money standpoint. My next one more than likely will be when I buy a G5 and need 64 bit support. That’s a year or two away.

April 27, 2004

Well, there goes my finances!

This has been one helluva weekend for Apple product announcements. As a result, I am hereby resolving to be financially insolvent. There is a new..well, kinda new… PowerBook in my future, uh, present, uh, family!

My iBook was a G3 800 that did pretty much everything I needed it to do. I ran Panther, Photoshop, Illustrator, Go Live, Live Motion, and In Design 2.0 on it, not to mention all the iLife stuff and Microsoft Office v.X. Most of the time lately I’ve been using Office and Photoshop because we’re generating training material at my job. I don’t have Photoshop on my work PC and don’t want to use Windows any more than I have to, anayway. At home, though, I’ve been using my dual 1 GHz PowerMac for a personal machine. That’s fine, but I want to have two production machines for video in my home business (not doing much business, yet), and. If I got either a new iBook or PowerBook, I could use that as my personal machine at both work and at home and move the dual 1 Ghz to a backup video editor and a prime GarageBand generator, not to mention a heavy duty Photoshop, Illustrator, or Go Live workhorse when it’s not being used for anything else.

When I looked at the pro’s and con’s, it made more sense to spend a few extra hundred and go for the PowerBook, though honestly I liked the iBook better. At least until I got some “hands on” with one, then the PowerBook came out on top. The grayness of the iBook turned me off, even though in features it’s almost equivalent to the most recent generation of PowerBooks and its keyboard had improved. Part of the deal breaker turned out to be the PowerBook’s ability to drive Apple displays. Depending on how I set things up, I could use it to drive a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display or finally have something to drive a 17 inch Apple Studio display sitting in my closet. The other part of the deal breaker turned out to be that my local Apple Store had a “refreshed” (new that had been returned) 12 inch 1 GHZ PowerBook for the same price as a new iBook of the same speed. While I could use both the newer 12 inch PowerBook's extra speed (1.33 Ghz), bigger hard drive (60 GB vs 40 GB), and extra video memory (64MB vs 32 mb), I could save $300 buying the refreshed machine. The refreshed 1Ghz PowerBook is what I decided to buy.

The big discussion within the family became what to do with my 800 Mhz G3 iBook. While we could really have used the money the iBook would have brought on the market to pay off other debt, we decided to send it to Caleb, Connie’s 12 year old great nephew. As I write this, it is nearing its destination. It is supposed to be delivered tomorrow. And for those of you familiar with my UPS PC debacle, you’ll be pleased to know the iBook is being cared for by the US Postal Service. Not only is there a much better chance of it reaching its destination intact, but the USPS, unlike UPS, has a reputation for paying insurance claims when they are made. Still, I double boxed the thing and the interior box is the original Apple box and packing; someone would have to work really hard to damage it.

As if the new notebooks weren’t enough to help nudge me into a deep financial pit, now there’s also DVD Studio 3.0 and Motion. I may not move to DVD Studio 3 Pro quickly; I’m just now starting to learn to use 2.0. Moving to buy Motion may be a different story. Motion seems to be Apple’s answer to Adobe After Effects and priced at $399 is a real bargain. Apple isn’t releasing it until the summer, and that’s good since it gives me time to prepare financially. (As an aside, one has to wonder what impact the introduction of this product will have on Apple’s relationship with Adobe. Some reports have said relations are already strained, despite the denials by both parties, due to Apple’s success with Final Cut Pro. Since Apple is now going after the Mac market for After Effects, hopefully, the Mac marketplace for Photoshop and Illustrator will remain untouched. But I wouldn’t count on it. It’s almost a certainty that Apple needs Adobe a lot more than Adobe needs them and Adobe could start working to drive that point home…or may already have.)

In any case, I’m a bit financially poorer. It was a good deal, though; with a government discount, I got the 12 inch PowerBook, an extra 256Mb of memory, and an Airport Extreme card for $1220. Not bad.

Now, all I’ve got to do is pay for it.

And I’d give it all up to see the look on Caleb’s face when the iBook shows up. He doesn’t know it’s coming. For him, the challenge won’t be what to do with it but how to keep mom and grandmom off it.

Living with a PowerBook…

I’ve had the PowerBook a few days now. I like it but its Airport performance has been okay but not stellar. I wish the thing had a faster hard disk but Apple seems to saddle its notebooks with 4200 and 5200 rpm drives. You can bet at some point I’ll be swapping out the hard drive for something faster. It’s too bad they don’t have CPU upgrades for Powerbooks…

The most fun and interesting thing I’ve done was plunk down an extra hundred bucks for a DVI to ADC adapter and use the PowerBook to drive, at different times, my 17 inch Apple Studio display and my beautiful 20 inch Apple Cinema Display. It ran them both without a hitch. To use them, I simply hooked up the DVI to ADC adapter to my closed PowerBook, plugged in their power chords, and turned the whole setup on by pushing the power button on the display just like it was a desktop. On boot up, the PowerBook automatically senses and sets the proper resolution for the display. I didn’t have to touch a thing.

There are one or two little quirks about this set up. First, the PowerBook must be plugged in for am external monitor to work with it. Secondly, after the power button on the display lights, it goes out and there’s nothing on the screen to tell me that the PowerBook is still booting until OS X starts to load. Thirdly, since my network connection is via Airport Extreme, I have to have my wireless router turned on before I start up the PowerBook or I wind up logging out and back in to pick it up.

Using the PowerBook does largely liberate my dual 1 Ghz PowerMac from personal use, something I have mixed feelings about. The PowerBook is slower, and I have the 20 inch Apple Cinema Display hooked up to it and I’m using the PowerBook on my 17. The 17 inch Apple Studio display doesn’t hold a candle to the 20 inch Apple Cinema. As soon as I can, I’m going to sell the 17; but until I get it paid for, it’s tied up in a lien. With the 20 incher sitting where it is, I can still use it when I want to, it’s on the machine that can take the most advantage of it, and my wife may get to occasionally use it as well. I have a second PowerMac for video, graphics, and desktop publishing.

April 11, 2004

ElumineX Slim Keyboard

I bought a new keyboard today and am pretty happy with it. I knew I was going to be typing more on my XP computer than I have in the past because I want to add more material to the XP portion of my web site. The keyboard has the key feel I’ve been looking for. There is a downside to this purchase; it cost me a lot more money than I wanted to spend. The reason it cost so much was because it’s illuminated. Now, the illumination is not something I really need, at least right now. The PC is located in my office; and whenever I’m in there, I have the room’s lights turned on. This keyboard would have done me a lot more good when I lived in my two bedroom apartment. When we had visitors, Connie and I moved to the back bedroom where the PC was located; and I would get up to use it to scan the Net or do some other task while my wife was asleep. I could have really used a lighted keyboard then.

Still, I bought it because I have bought keyboard after cheap keyboard looking for something that felt right. I love Apple keyboards and one works great under Windows XP; but under Windows 98SE, I have to “refresh” Device Manager whenever I’m using the USB keyboard to get it to work. I also run some DOS based flight simulators I am not sure will respond to any USB keyboard. Additionally, when using a USB keyboard, my PC would sometimes not respond when running under just its BIOS. Because of all that, I run PS2 based keyboards on my PC.

The keyboard I bought is an Auravision EluminX Slim Keyboard. HardDrive.com is located in a storefront just a block away from me; I bought it there for $79 + tax ($85.14 total). The keyboard has a really nice feel (moderately gentle tactile feedback and a quiet but audible “click” when each key is hit). It’s a full sized keyboard with a numeric pad. The Delete key is in the upper right hand corner of the regular keypad, just above “Home”, “PgUp”, “PgDn”, and “End” keys stacked vertically. The only downside to this keyboard, other than its price, is the absence of any multimedia and PC management controls. That’s probably also why it has not been necessary to load any drivers. I just plugged it in. It’s working great under Windows 98SE and XP, though admittedly there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t.


The Mac Trojan Trojan

I’m finding it hard to get too excited about the MP3Concept Trojan horse. As you might expect, the news of this proof of concept Trojan horse, released this week by security software company Intego, made the rounds of the web news services and even made it into the headlines at CNN. However, as it all too often happens any more, the news story was out of date by the time that CNN posted it. Their reporters weren’t venturing into the places I was on the web, or they might indeed have given the story a different spin.

Most developers and people who know more about this subject than me didn’t think this was anything to get spun up about. In fact, many of them questioned Intego’s motives for releasing it, as indeed I must, too. For a long time now, there’s been a quiet groundswell on the Net that has questioned whether some announcements similar to Intego’s might have been motivated by a company boosting it’s on bottom line. Indeed, it is hard to escape that conclusion when I read that the press releases that state the company released the proof of concept Trojan, that now will be used by someone to try to actually release a Trojan that’s malicious, because they felt they had a duty to inform their customers about it. Where is the true logic in that? The best way for them to protect their customers was to not release the proof, keep their mouths shut, and then patch their own antivirus software, and then quietly contact the other antivirus companies and let them know about it. That’s being truly altruistic, and that’s not what happened here.

The good news is that the file’s resource fork must be preserved or the Trojan is rendered useless. That means that the file must arrive compressed, be uncompressed, and double-clicked-on to launch before it stands the possibility of doing any damage. Also, if you’re suspicious a file you received might be a Trojan, right-click (Cntrl-click for Mac mouse users) on the file, select “Get Info”, and check the file type. If Finder says it’s an “application” rather than the .mp3, .jpg. or whatever file type you thought it was, drag it to the Trash. Lastly, if Finder is set to display file extensions, any Trojan masquerading as something else will display as a “.app” (application); unlike Windows, Mac OS X will only stand for one file extension. If the icon and the file extension don’t match, beware.

Am I going to buy Intego’s software because of this? Nope. I’ve been a staunch Norton fan, at least when it comes to anti-virus software. As one might expect, Symantec has posted updates to also handle this non-problems.

For virus companies, excuse me, I mean anti-virus companies, just like for celebrities, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

April 6, 2004

Why Playfair Hurts Us All

“Playfair” is a utility designed to strip the Digital Rights Management technology out of songs downloaded from Apple’s iTunes Music Store and allow the user to play the songs wherever they wish. It appeared on the web this week. If you go their website (and I’m not going to link to the site from here), at the bottom of the blurb explaining what Playfair is you’ll find the moniker “Information Wants to Be Free”.

I understand what some of the fuss about DRM and associated technologies is about. Some DRM schemes, including what’s being implemented in the Microsoft Office 2003, causes me great concern, not only because of the hassle it’s bound to introduce into my life but also because it will make it easier for governments and corporations to hide information from the public that might otherwise be incriminating. But whoever invented Playfair is confused. Songs, plays, stories, and movies might be just bits and bites to them, but they are not information. They are copyrighted works. Copyrighted works have never been free, not until they have been released into the public domain.

Don’t get me wrong. I have never agreed with RIAA’s heavy handed tactics and also don’t agree with much of the DRM being imposed by computer manufacturers, which you can be sure will serve their own ends. My argument has always been, though, that instead of restricting what users could do with what they’ve bought it was more productive to offer positive alternatives that made illegal or immoral conduct not literally worth it. Apple did just that when they came up with the iTunes Music Store concept. Playfair poses a threat to that positive gain and reinforces the arguments of the heavy hitters at RIAA and elsewhere. It’s only going to result in no good.

It’s a sad fact that too much of the world is money driven. It’s also a fact that the world doesn’t owe any of us anything. If the folks that invented this utility really want to play fair, then they need to remove it from the web, go look at why they want something for nothing, and let the rest of us download our songs at 99 cents a lick. I spend more than that on a Diet Coke from McDonalds.

March 10, 2004

More on the “Gates of Hell-E-Mail Tax”

Macworld magazine’s MacCentral ran an article entitled “Macs help The Spamhaus Project take on spam”. (Click here to read the article yourself.) Steve Linsford, head of The Spamhaus Project, an effort to provide identification and tracking as well as deterrence to the world’s worst spammers, said the following:

"In the fight against Internet spam, which is now 70 percent of all e-mail in the U.S., Apple is nowhere to be seen. In contrast, Microsoft, whose OS insecurities are at the root of most spam problems, is at every spam conference and law enforcement meeting we attend. They position themselves as saviors, but in reality they're very much the silent conveyor of the problem: 70 percent of all spam comes from hijacked Windows machines."

Now, it may not be absolutely correct to blame the problem on Microsoft. Most users do not take the simplest of measures to secure their machines, and they are easily hijacked. However, to blame it all on users is an oversimplification of the problem. The fact that Windows is so insecure is very much at the heart of the problem. And Mr. Linsford hit on the exact reason why I felt Gates’ suggestion about an e-mail tax was so insincere, i.e., it did nothing to address the fact that Gates’ products were part of the reason for the problem. In fact, it appears to me that Gates stands very much to profit from such a measure (e-mail tax). You can bet it would result in either Microsoft selling more “must have” software to make it work (after it had been mandated by the government, no doubt) or somehow, someway, Microsoft would skim off some of the fees.

Instead of us users paying a fee to stop the problem Mr. Gates and company helped create in the first place, maybe we can get the government to insist that Mr. Gates and company pay us a penny for each unsolicited e-mail we receive. The cash drain out of the Microsoft coffers would be large enough where we’d see a technical solution appear out of the company pretty quickly, and they might even give it away for free.

March 7, 2004

Upgrading G4 PowerMac Storage—Lessons Learned

Because I spend too much money and time upgrading computer systems, I try to get the most bang for the buck by buying components that will allow me to cascade an upgrade on one system into an upgrade on the other. My latest adventure involved upgrading the storage on my dual 1 Ghz G4 Quicksilver PowerMac. Natively, it would support only two IDE drives using an ATA 66 interface. Since I wanted to make it into a mean video editing machine, I needed more space in it than that. I also wanted to upgrade two of the storage disks on my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 to 160GB capacity. So, I ordered two Maxtor 160 GB hard drives from Multiwave, placed them into the dual 1.25Ghz MDD, and then moved the two 120GB hard drives they replaced, one Maxtor and one Western Digital, over to the Quicksilver. To do that, of course, I had to add an ATA PCI card to the machine; so, I ordered a SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro card from Other World Computing to cover that base.

Once I had all the pieces, I easily installed the new 160 GB hard drives in my MDD PowerMac. I had thought about putting the SIIG card there and getting another one for the Quicksilver but decided against that when I saw that the IDE cable supplied and another I had sitting around would not reach the drive interfaces. (The SIIG card only supplies one IDE cable, by the way, so you need to have or buy another one if you’re hoping to hook it up to more than two drives. Even those have to be in a Master/Slave vertical stack.) In the Quicksilver, there simply wasn’t enough room to put two vertical stacks of two drives in the case; the door wouldn’t close. The only way to get four drives into the thing was to use the original drive bracket that holds two droves and put the each of the other two beside it on the floor (where SCSI drives were designed to go). While that gets all four drives into the case, a single IDE cable would not reach both single drives mounted on the floor. After examining the possibilities, I decided that the best I was going to do was put three drives on the IDE card and one on the Quicksilver’s native ATA 66 interface. But what drives did I hook to which interface to get the best performance? I conducted some tests with the boot drive connected to the native ATA interface and the new IDE card. Concluding that it seemed to make little difference where it was, I put the boot disk on the native ATA interface and the three data (video) storage disks on the ATA 133 IDE card. I rigged the boot drive as a Master and placed it farthest away in one of the SCSI bays, hooked it up to the ATA 66 interface using a spare IDE cable (yes, 80 pin); placed Hard Drive 2 in the SCSI bay next to it and hooked it up to the IDE 1 port (the closest) on the SIIG card (ATA 133), put Hard Drives 3 and 4 in the original two disk bracket and hooked them both up to a single IDE cable on IDE 2 of the SIIG card. Later, after I bought a 36” IDE cable, I hooked up all drives to the ATA 133 interface even with that physical layout.

It seems to be working like a champ, but there are a couple of things I learned about OS X and extra IDE cards and drives.

When I booted into Panther, I noticed that the hard drives located on the ATA card all had an “eject” icon next to them in Finder! I surmised that the OS was seeing the drives as “removable”, and I clicked on the Eject icon to see what it would do. Sure enough, the hard disk unmounted, disappearing from view. I had to reboot to recover the drive. While I have enough self-discipline not to do click on an Eject icon and presume the system won’t let me do that when using the drive for capture (or anything else), I don’t care much for the implementation. I don’t understand why the OS can’t tell that the drives are fixed. This case of mistaken identity holds true for every volume except the start-up volume, inclduign other partitions on the boot disk. The operating system will obviously not let you eject the start-up volume, even if it is located on an ATA card.

Secondly, on the first boot after hooking up the start-up drive to the card, the Mac displayed a folder icon overwritten with a flashing question mark and spent some time hunting for the start-up volume, even though I had not changed it in System Preferences since the last start. A trip to the Apple Support site suggested I reselect the start-up drive, which I did; and the problem did go away. All starts after that were normal.

I had seen some information telling me I would need to reinitialize any drives attached to the card. I did reinitialize two of my storage disks but did not reinitialize the third or the boot disk. Still, everything appears to be working fine.

Can I see much of a performance difference? Not really. In fact, there are quite a few experts out on the web who will tell you there is no real performance difference between ATA66 and ATA 100 speed-wise. My hard disks are all ATA 133, but this was worth what I went through because I know I can use hard disks bigger than 137GB and I have 4 hard disks in my Quicksilver where before I only had two. Speed gain or no, that makes it worth it.

If there’s anyone out there who put one of these SIIG cards in a MDD PowerMac and is using it to capture video, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop me a line and let me know whether it made a difference for you. I’m going to capture footage using the PowerMac’s native ATA100 and 66 interfaces and see how they do. If I have problems, I may try out the SIIG card in that machine and order another, unless someone has tried the Sonnet card, too, and can tell me it’s better.

Gates of Hell…The E-Mail Tax

If there is a way Bill Gates can inhibit (as in "control") computing while extracting more money from you, he’s going to do it. Take the e-mail tax, for instance. Sure, it doesn’t bother Gates if he has to pay a penney an e-mail. He won’t miss the money. As long as it solves the problem of spam, something his own products have not been very adept at handling, then he’s happy. He has no problem with the chilling effect such a move would have on the Internet’s ability to foster Free Speech. I do. And I’m here to tell you that I would not only strenuously object to such a move on both economic and political grounds, but I have to ask why it is that pundits such as Gates seem to forget that I’m ALREADY paying to support the Net. I agree it’s not right that the fees I pay my ISP and the fees I pay my web hosting service (where my mail servers are) wind up supporting the spammers. They have already proven they have no issue with taking from others or with walking a thin line of what’s legal and what’s not and sometimes crossing it, all in order to make a sale. That said, I believe there has to be other ways to ensure that these folks stop this abusive practice. Taxing the people who are victims of the problem is NOT it. Going after the people who are doing this and making sure they can’t use the resources of others to accomplish it are.

March 2, 2004

Finally, USB 2.0 Success!

I rearranged my home office this weekend as part of an effort to really get serious about getting a video business off the ground. The place had just not felt right ever since I gave my iMac to my daughter-in-law. It left an empty desk sitting right next to my Dual 1 GHz PowerMac. Since I have an extra 17 inch Apple Studio LCD in the closet and I really expect I can use one more computer to edit and encode video, I gave a lot of thought to buying a G4 or a G5. But in the end, practicality and outstanding credit card debt won out. I decided instead to expand the hard disk capacity in my Quicksilver (the dual 1 GHz PowerMac) and reorganized my home office so that my Windows XP computer was a bit handier and able to fill in when both the Macs are busy. There was only one catch. I had not been able to get the XP machine to work with my USB 2.0 home network.

Every time I tried to scan using my Epson Photo 1660, I'd get a "scanner did not send image" error message. Worse, my new HP Business Inkjet 1100D would act strangely when attached to the Windows machine via the hub and spit out uncommanded pages with a line of garbage on it. Thinking the problem was with my USB hub, I tried several of them; but they made no difference. This past weekend after I finished moving desks around and building a bookcase, I tried troubleshooting the problem some more. Because the system gave me slow and sluggish responses and even the same errors with my scanner plugged directly into the PC, I began to suspect the motherboard's implementation of USB 2.0. (I'm running a MSI KT3 Ultra 2 updated with the latest BIOS.) So, deciding to try one more thing, I pulled a SIIG USB 2.0 PCI card out of my Quicksilver and put it in my XP computer, cranked up the PC, and turned off all the USB ports on the motherboard. Much to my delight, it worked!

Sunday afternoon, I drove over to a local Best Buy and picked up another copy of the SIIG card. I installed it in the XP machine, and it worked for a few hours. But, then after I shut down and restarted my system, my scanner performance became very slow, no better than USB 1.1 speeds. During troubleshooting, I made the mistake of trying the SIIG drivers for XP even though I was running XP's Service Pack 1, which has USB 2.0 drivers in it. Little yellow question marks popped up on some of the USB card's controller entries in Device Manager, and no amount of installing or reinstalling would fix them. Once again, XP had screwed me. That refurbished 1.6 G5 sitting at the Apple Store began looking attractive...

After a good night’s sleep and more pensive thought about the whole thing, I decided to try a couple of things before I threw in the towel and relegated the XP machine to running flight simulators and helping out with network access at work for me and my wife. I tried re-installing XP’s Service Pack 1. That had no effect. Then, I shut the computer down, shuffled its Ethernet, Firewire, and the USB 2 card into different PCI slots, and started it back up. Eureka! I was in business! The scanner was working via my network at USB 2.0 speeds. I flopped over to the Windows 98SE side of the machine and tried it again with equal success. In short, the PC began acting like I had been expecting it to. It’s nice having everything working….for once!

February 23, 2004

Apple’s Quality Control—Their Achilles’ Heel?

With the release of the mini iPod last Friday, reports have surfaced today that the new device is sporadically freezing. Unless you’re inside the Apple camp, there’s no way to really know how widespread the problem is. But considering Apple’s recent track history regarding quality control—actually, its lack of it—one has to wonder whether Apple’s great opportunity to bridge into the world of the everyday consumer will be stopped dead in its tracks by the defects in quality control that have been affecting the rest of its products.

Apple ignored the iBook motherboard problems until a lawsuit and emerging bad press forced it to take action. With the mini iPod or any other product that has the potential to enter the mainstream, the damage poor quality control can do the company will be far deeper than that even a class action lawsuit would bring.

As much as I’d like to have a G5, they seem to suffer from a broad smattering of problems that include noise in the audio circuits, noisy power supplies, and the inability of the computers to burn DVD’s using Apple’s latest version of iDVD (iDVD4). Great reasons not to buy a G5 when you’re into videography, as I am. I’m leery of the G5. As much as I’d like to buy a machine, I’m more apt to buy a dual processor G4 not only because they are cheaper but because they’ll give me fewer problems. All the speed in the world doesn’t mean anything if the computer won’t do what you need it to, a lesson I learned all too well on the PC side of the computing world.

How big is Apple’s problem? They’re not talking. If Apple really wants to capitalize on the momentum it seems to have, it needs to return to a very basic business and manufacturing fundamental. Whatever they make has to work and work well, or it is all for naught, no matter how good the overall product is.

February 13, 2004

Sometimes newer is not better…

The old saying that goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” certainly doesn’t apply to computer software. Too often, it appears that someone changed something original in a program for the sake of change, not because it wasn’t working, and they invariably made it worse. I know I’ve bitched before about what I consider to be the darkness of Panther’s interface and how much I dislike it, but I’m going to mention it again because it feeds into the changes Apple continues to make to its operating system, changes I’m questioning as necessary.

Really, about the only thing Panther has going for it is Expose and the fact that Apple has locked some application functionality, like the new iChat AV Beta and the Safari upgrade, into it. (It’s sad when Apple has to take a Microsoft course and try to push upgrades on people with such tactics, but that is what appears to be happening.) While there are some other smaller things also going for it, I don’t use any of them enough to make them assets to me. Between Panther’s darkness (greyness?), its inconsistent and sometimes slower performance across my home network, and the fact that one of my prime OS X applications won’t run on it, I’m sometimes regretting the upgrade. My only salvation has been the fact that I can boot my PowerMac from either of its hard disks, so I am running both Jaguar and Panther on the machine. As pressed as I am for time right now, I am honestly thinking about doing some slight reconfiguration of the machine to support booting into Jaguar as my prime operating system. I have already decided that I will not move completely off Jaguar, though that had been my original intent.

I find myself in the same situation I am in on my Windows machine. I am holding onto Windows98SE because my PaperPort scanner works reliably under it and doesn’t under Windows XP. While I like XP’s functionality more, Win98 is easier to troubleshoot and keep running. I won’t be getting rid of it anytime soon.

The mentality of the computer companies is that the newer product is always better and therefore whatever losses you incur in moving up is worth it. That ain’t always so. It ain’t always the truth. Yes, they must keep moving ahead to make a profit and keep growing, but they don’t have to do it at my expense. Apple’s now infamous yearly $129 OS updates are getting old; the thing that has made them palatable are the family pack deals where you can upgrade multiple machines, usually five, on one license for only about twice the cost. But, as I’ve already said in this blog, I’ll be looking a lot more critically at any OS releases next year from Apple before I spend any money. There will have to be a dammed good reason beyond fixing Panther’s bugs before I’ll go there.

Of course, sometimes newer is better. After looking at the newest version of Photoshop, I have convinced myself to upgrade. I love the new Photomerge and its file manager and they plus the new filters and color matching filters make it worth the expense. That would not be true if activation software was also present; but it is not on the Mac versions, so I feel okay about taking the plunge. I will also look at upgrading my other Adobe software (Illustrator, Go Live, and InDesign) on the Mac side; my Windows versions will stay where they are since I so rarely use them and I’m not willing to further support activation schemes in software.

February 7, 2004

Jaguar is brighter than Panther…

I know I’ve said this before, but I love Jaguar’s brighter interface. Panther has its speed and additional features going for it, but I feel like Apple went backwards in interface design and moved OS X more toward the dull look and feel of Windows with Panther. Often, when I use Panther, I use ShapeShifter and a Jaguar GUI theme to get me back to a Jaguar look; but it’s still not quite the same. You never quite step away entirely from Panther’s dirty look. There’s a lot about Jaguar that’s brighter, and it has a much better feel.

I’m writing this note using Jaguar. I have two hard disks mounted in my 2002 Quicksilver PowerMac, and I have Panther loaded on the boot disk and Jaguar loaded on my second. I can’t transition to Panther entirely—and actually don’t want to—because my CD/DVD labeling application won’t run under Panther. It’s the same situation I found myself in on the Windows’ side of things were I was forced to build a dual-boot system to be able to use my Visioneer PaperPort scanner, an old tool I still find immensely useful. Amazing how much some things change, they still remain the same.

After several years of paying for operating system upgrades, I’m at the point where I’m looking very critically at whether or not I will do the next. Frankly, I would have to have a very compelling reason to. Additionally, if I felt that Apple had wandered even farther away from the bright, colorful designs of OS X that helped draw me to it, I would have an even bigger uphill climb to make. The odds are I won’t do it, just like the odds are I won’t upgrade to Longhorn. It would probably take a new machine here to take me into a new OS, and that machine would probably be a G5. In any case, it’s more than likely a year away. Apple’s new OS probably is, too; and Longhorn is even further out than that; so, it’s not something to worry about.

Will I have to take them to court?

The official report on the damage to my son’s PC inflicted by UPS is now at my local UPS store. I know because they called the house the other day, even though they didn’t leave a message. Game playing! I’m sure they’re hoping I’ll forget and not come in and they can claim they called, even though they never made any real attempt to get in touch with me. I’m going down there today and talk to them. My hope is that we can settle this thing amicably without me having to take them to small claims court, but everything I’ve seen and heard from the company since the inspection makes me think that won’t be the case. If I have to go down the hard road just to get reimbursed for the damage they did, I will never ship anything with them again. If the store just settles up (and I’m being generous since they’re not being charged for labor), then I’ll consider doing business with them again.

I’ll update this section later today with what happened when I went to the UPS Store.
(See the Beware UPS page for updates and more info.
)

Update: 12:26 p.m., February 7, 2004

I have been reading the situation correctly. From the beginning, it has been apparent that UPS had no intention of compensating us for the damage they did to the CPU. After first denying that UPS has sent him a report, the store owner admitted that the claim had been denied after I confronted him with the fact that the store had called the house.

I intend to take the store and the company to small claims court and seek damages under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices act. I'm not going to give my case away here; but what I will say is this: I will never ship with UPS again. All their practices, from riding around Houston for a day with my packages when they arrive early to the total absense of customer service I have recived after they damaged the CPU, that the customer, especially the small business or individual customer, is not something they care about. I believe I have a pretty good case in court. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Once everything has made its way through the legal system, I'll post pictures of the damaged box, the damaged case, and the damaged packaging.

For the rest of you doing business with UPS Stores, I would advise against shipping with them at all. If you feel like you must, then be sure you sit down and read all the disclaimers they put on the little yellow receipts they give you. I think it'll make you think twice about shipping with them and well it should.

February 1, 2004

VISA Scam

A nice little VISA scam showed up in my mailbox a couple of days ago. It was just like a million others floating around, though ingeniously done, that asked for me to click on a “Continue” button where it would take me to a website and have me verify my VISA info. The “social engineering” of this one consisted of it purporting to be from VISA and that this was a security check; and, indeed, it was. It just wasn’t the security check it would have you believe it was.

I would say I doubt if there’s anyone who doesn’t know by now that if any e-mail arrives asking you for personal or financial information, it needs to be treated as suspicious. But the fact that these things keep arriving and people keep falling for them says that not everyone understands that, yet. And they’ll keep showing up until everyone does and sending them becomes not worth the risk of being prosecuted.

To respond to the note, I surfed over to the VISA website where I located the real VISA address where their security folks reside and forwarded the e-mail to them along with a note detailing when and how I had received it. I received a response within hours saying that they had already contacted the authorities and were pursuing the source(s) of the note. It also explained how helpful it was for folks to forward stuff like this to them. They depend on us telling them this is going on.

The cool thing about the Internet is the worldwide community it creates. Like any community, though, it contains folks who don’t have their act together and seem to feel that the only way they can make a living or find happiness—and the two are often mutually exclusive—is to take advantage of or hurt others. In the long run, scam, spam, and other abuses of the Net hurt the Internet itself since they provide fodder for more regulation, more security, and more governmental intrusiveness. A lot of reports compare the Internet to the Wild West; remember, the West was tamed.

HP Business Inkjet 1100D

For the last two years, I’ve been looking for a good replacement for my HP 940c inkjet printer. I have a need for color brochure printing on demand; and while the 940C could produce some nice colors and detail, it was terrible from an overall production standpoint due to paper misfeeds and high ink costs. (I would typically lose 25% of a run due to misfeeds.)

Why have I been looking for two years? Well, I never have been able to find a printer that reviews shows had the right balance of cost, utility, and performance. Ever since the 1100D was released, though, I’ve been reading reviews on the web, snatching print samples for showroom printers at computer stores, and searching the web for a good price. I decided a couple of weeks ago it was finally time to move forward, and I would buy an 1100D.

I spent several hours yesterday getting the printer to run on three machines, two Power Macs and a Windows XP/98SE Andy-built machine. As it turned out, most of the problems were due to a Belkin USB 2.0 hub I had in my little USB office network. Even without that, though, Panther just was not extremely friendly to the drivers that came with this printer. It took several attempts to get the printers to load and have Panther recognize them. Jaguar, on the other hand, had no problems at all. Windows XP started bogging down and locking up after I installed the HP software; troubleshooting revealed the culprit was the printer’s “Monitor My Print Mileage” (mpm.exe) utility. Once I disabled and uninstalled it, XP worked fine. Win98SE also yield up no problems.

I’ll put up a full review of this printer (hopefully) in the next week, as soon as I have a chance to put the printer through some paces using both my Athlon XP powered Windows XP machine and one of my PowerMacs running Panther.

January 30, 2004

Why Shipping from UPS Stores Might Not Be a Good Idea

My son reported that UPS finally made it out to his house to perform the onsite inspection. While the gentlemen taking the pictures (and my son said he had to point out a dent on the top of the case to keep him honest) was not the adjuster, he said the adjuster would look at the pictures and send a report to the UPS Store I shipped it from. UPS considers the UPS Store I shipped it out as the shipper, not me. Has anyone had a UPS Store owner or employee explain that to them? Not me! I might have shipped it out from elsewhere had I known that. Of course, that might not be a bad thing since the local UPS Store owner might be a lot more reasonable than UPS itself appears to be.

The picture taker also started making noises, noises I expected them to make, that the PC was not “properly packed”. According to this guy, I was supposed to have “double-boxed” it and surrounded every inch of it with 2 inches of foam.

Now, that’s very interesting. I’ve received CPU’s this year via FedEx and UPS from a major computer company, and none of those CPU’s were double-boxed. They were surrounded by foam but not completely surrounded. So was the CPU I sent my son. It traveled to and from his place of residence in the original box the case had come in complete with molded foam inserts on the top and bottom. Those foam inserts were smashed to bits when my son got them. The PC case was dented, bent, and warped.

I’ll learn more in the next 7 to 10 days. While I am hoping that the local UPS Store will agree to reimburse me for the parts we’ve replaced (The package was insured for three times that value.), I am preparing a case for small claims court. I believe I can prove that the PC was packaged in a manner that would have protected it from anything but abuse. I also believe I can make a case for retrieving three times my losses under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices act. Not only will I file a claim in small claims court, but I will also begin discussing this with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. I’m not going to say about what, but I will share that you need to be very careful about shipping anything out of a UPS Store you packed; and you need to be sure to read the ENTIRE shipping form before you ship anything of value with them. The “Limitations on Liability” section is on the back of the form, not the front; and it traps you into signing away rights to damages by having you agree that a service was provided that may not be.

If the UPS Store here comes through for me, I might ship with them again. But, right now, based on what I’ve experienced so far with UPS corporate, I’m expecting to have to take this to court even though I'm only asking to be reimbursed for parts and the insurance was for three times that amount.

January 25, 2004

Shape Shifting!

You might think I'm writing about losing weight and firming up here; but since this is the Computer Blog, I'm writing about changing the appearance of my Mac's operating system. If you've read any of my earlier blogs, then you know that one of the few things I hate about Panther is the dull silver-grey menu bars that obliterated the white/grey stripes of Jaguar. I still use Jaguar via a Firewire boot drive on my Quicksilver Powermac and run it on my iBook and come back from it always amazed at how much happier I feel after using it compared to Panther. The more metallic, duller look of Panther almost overwhelms its better speed and feature set. Happier feelings were part of what brought me to the Mac. The changes to Panther's interface made me feel like I was sliding back into the same old, dark, depressive state I get into anytime I'm sitting at a Windows machine. I felt trapped between the bright fun of Jaguar and my desire for Panther's snappy, responsive feel.

Not anymore!

Following intuiton, I did a search this morning for "Panther Jaguar interface" on Google and stumbled on a haxie at Unsanity.com named ShapeShifter as well as an OS X Jaguar Theme at ResExcellance.com made by MaarteenApple@Mad.Scientist.com. As we speak, I'm running ShapeShifter (which installs as a Preference Pane) with the Jaguar theme selected and loving it! My mind is still snapping to the fact that I'm running Panther and can let go of my negative feelings about it. This is going to be well worth the $20 it will cost to register Shape Shifter.

People always underestimate the importance of feelings about things and the emotional and mental attachments we make to them. It's often more important to well being and quality of life to let go of things that have negative connotations, no matter what the financial cost. Frankly, I had been thinking this morning of taking my Quicksilver back to Jaguar because of how I felt about Panther's color changes; but now I don't have to do that. I can have the best of both worlds, and I'm grateful to the folks out there who enabled it to happen.

More on the UPS Saga...

Timothy has done enough troubleshooting to determine that the UPS fiasco destroyed the PC's motherboard and case. Frankly, because the motherboard was severely flexed and the weight of the AMD fan is so great, I also consider the AMD processor suspect. So, working with Tim to get a case he likes, I've ordered replacement parts and hope they will ship out to him on Monday. I ordered another MSI board with a VIA 400 chipset so he can just stick the board in and run. Hopefully, we'll finally have the system up and running next week.

I have been less than impressed with UPS' handling of this whole thing. The customer service agents have been friendly enough, but there seems to be a continuous disconnect between corporate and the field office in Florida (Ft. Walton, I think) that is handling this case. They were supposed to call Timothy Friday and arrange to come out to inspect the damage, but they called him Friday to tell him they'd call him Monday to arrange the inspection.

After they inspect, they apparently send the report and paperwork to the UPS store it shipped out of. UPS had indicated they wanted to pick up the machine and repair it, but my son and I were unanimous in our opposition to that plan. We want some say in what would be put back into the system, and a shop that doesn't know us is liable and likely to use the cheapest parts they can. We're going to repair the system oursleves and bill UPS for the parts. That's a generous settlement from my perspective. If I charged them for our labor (and a shop would), it would cost twice as much.

January 21, 2994

After all that...(See "Bustin’ My Ax Again Fixing an XP Machine" below.)

UPS busted up the PC during shipment! It arrived with a 3" x 6" hole in the box. My son is reporting that the computer is not even getting into post. Diagnostic LED's show the CPU is damaged..which I suspect means the motherboard is damaged. The case was scuffed and flexed out of shape, a screw holding down the motherboard was loose in the case, and the motherboard is bent.

I've already filed a claim online. We'll see where this goes from here.

Very disappointing....

Bustin’ My Ax Again Fixing an XP Machine

This is a story, told in its full bloody glory, of how I got one son’s AMD 2000+ powered Windows XP pro computer working over the MLK holiday weekend. Let it be a warning to those intrepid souls who want to upgrade a computer but haven’t done it before and then want to load Windows XP. It is not for the timid.

It began at Christmas. I had sent my son Timothy a used AMD 2000+ CPU, a “new” MSI KT4V motherboard, a 512MB stick of generic PC2700 DDR RAM, an ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon, and a Pioneer DVR-104 to upgrade his PIII 700Mhz homebuilt running XP Pro. For two weeks after, he had tried to get the CPU to run at full speed and Windows XP to load. The computer only ran without problems at a front side bus (FSB) speed of 100 Mhz; the CPU’s full speed could only be had at 133. Once there, if Windows XP Pro would load without a stop error and a blue screen of death, it would hang after running about five minutes. The very first thing we did was check CPU temperature, but it was never exceeding 52 degrees Centigrade, a pretty normal temperature for that chip. So, we went into the computer’s bios and experimented with turning off various caches and playing with AGP timings but nothing had any effect. We loaded new video drivers and even tried to see if the machine would run right with a PCI video card. Still, there was no change.

Finally, after helping my son for several weeks, I suggested he send the machine to me where I could use spare parts and broadband resources (of which he had neither) to troubleshoot it. He agreed and shipped it to me UPS. It arrived in fine shape three days later, which turned out to be January 16th, Friday afternoon. It was also the same day that iLife 04 and Final Cut Express 2.0 arrived from the Apple store, so it was almost like Christmas.

Once I had loaded the Apple software onto our Macs, I pulled his PC out of its box and hooked it up to a monitor. The machine crashed on its first boot. Just to make sure we had covered all the ground we could, I went in and tried turning off various caches and played with the AGP settings (making sure fastwrite was off, AGP set to 2X and then 4X) and installed a different memory stick; but nothing made any difference. The machine would crash with stop errors (and not usually the same one) or lock up. After disconnecting all redundant hard drives, optical drives, and yanking out all PCI cards, I tried loading XP Pro again but got the same result. I tried loading a copy of XP Home but the machine crashed anyway. I decided it was time for a different approach, so I wiped the boot drive clean and then loaded up Windows 98. Or tried to. The version I have is an upgrade; and when it went to validate my copy of Windows 95, it could not find it on the Windows 95 installation CD. Screw that! I stopped the Windows 98 installation and installed Windows 95 instead using an PCI based STB PowerGraph 64 as my video card. (Remember STB? The company that guaranteed their cards for life? They meant “their life”, which didn’t turn out to be long. They were bought out by 3dfx who were bought out by Nvidia who will be bought out by…?).

Windows 95 seemed to run fine, so I ran the installation routine for Windows 98. It also installed and ran fine. I booted up on the Windows XP Pro CD and tried to start an installation, but it crashed at the “Setup is Starting Windows” point. When I rebooted, I turned off “internal cache” and got into Windows 98 and started an XP Pro installation using the “Upgrade” method. The installation routine ran normally but slow as molasses. At this point, I didn’t care. I just wanted to see if I could get XP Pro to run at the processor’s full speed. It did, but there was no way I could say the machine was fixed. It was running very slow...too slow...with the inetrnal cache off. Since I suspected the internal cache, I thought I'd try another motherboard. It was 2 a.m. when I hit that point. I went on to bed.

The next morning I hobbled over to HardDrive.com (http://www.harddrive.com). They have a store front less than a mile away, and I had seen an Asus motherboard on their website I wanted to try. It was an Asus A7V8X retailing for $67. A salesman gave me a board in a white box he said was complete and only in the white box because the original box got damaged. Heh. He kept emphasizing their 30 day “no questions asked” return policy but didn’t explain the “Asus 7N8X” hand-written on the box. I didn’t question it and took the board home.

Of course, when I was installing the board, I saw the “A7NX” tag and knew that's what it was. I jumped out on the Internet on my PowerMac and downloaded the correct drivers and a .pdf copy of the motherboard’s user manual. Wanting to try out the Nvidia chipset, I installed the board using the memory from my XP machine, plugged in an ATI All in Wonder Radeon, and began installing XP Pro. I had no problems at all until I went to enter user names. The machine rebooted with no warning. It started up in XP on its own but locked up almost immediately. I shut it down, removed the ATI card, and put back the STB. The system ran fine. I installed the Nvidia drivers I had retrieved from Asus, connected to the Internet using my home network, installed XP Service Pack 1 from a CD-R I had made of it long ago, and then connected to Windows Update and downloaded everything I could find. I then shut the system down, installed the original memory, and then cranked into XP and loaded Office XP and Windows Media Player 9 with no problems. I thought I was “home free”. So, I selected “Start”/“Turn off computer” and, instead of shutting down, the computer rebooted instead!

A trip to and search of the Microsoft Knowledge base and Internet newsgroups gave me what appeared to be the solution. During the very first phases of the installation, XP polls the bios to determine what power management profiles to load. The one in use today and that allows Windows XP to shut the machine down from the menu is called ACPI for the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface. The software routine associated with controlling the machine is called the Hardware Abstraction Layer; XP had apparently loaded on one of the available non-ACPI HAL’s. While the workaround was fairly minor (turn the machine off by pressing the power button instead of the Start menu), to hand the machine back to my son in such a state would exhibit no pride in workmanship. I wasn’t going to do that. Unfortunately, the only fix was to reinstall the operating system and tell it what ACPI to install by hitting the F5 key when it asked me if I wanted to install any third party SCSI or RAID drivers. Grumbling, I grabbed the XP Pro CD and did just that.

That time was the install from hell. In the middle of it all, a string of error messages in the form of grey windows with OK buttons and that shouted they “could not find the entry point” clobbered my screen. Restarting the machine, I made several attempts to get the upgrade going again from where it had failed; but, again, no joy! I finally gave up and tried to repeat the installation from scratch. I got it going and manually chose the ACPI configuration and reinstalled. But it made no difference. When I would tell the machine to shutdown, it would restart instead.

What now?

Trying ANOTHER motherboard seemed to be the only recourse I had. MicroCenter was selling a Shuttle AK38N for only $43. Though it was an hour’s drive away and research on the Net showed that the board often had a lot of problems running XP, I decided to give it a shot. (True insanity!) Several hours later, I was back home and installed the board using my known-good memory; life plunged downhill. There were lots of crashes and machine shutdowns with an accompanying “British Police Siren” as one other user called it, and no hint from Shuttle about what it meant. I could not get XP installed. I tried turning off “L2 Cache ECC Checking” hoping that maybe this memory check might be causing the machine to shutdown, but that had no impact. Once again, I went back onto the Net trying to see if someone had gotten the board to run. One user noted that he had experienced lots of crashes with this board until he had set the memory speed (frequency) manually, making sure it was matched with the CPU’s FSB. AMD CPU’s were sensitive to that, he said. Hmmmmm. I tried that, but it didn’t help me at all.


Now, I was at am impasse. I had tried two motherboards and had no luck. There were still two things I hadn’t looked at, i.e., whether I had a bad CPU or power supply. But I believed they were okay. Then, I had an inspiration. Neither Tim nor I had thought to try manually setting the DRAM frequency to 266 in the MSI board. The memory was DDR2700, so the board’s bios would set it to 333 instead of the 266 speed the AMD 2000+ CPU would run at. Could the fix be as simple as that?

I remounted the MSI board using my known-good memory, cranked the machine up, went into the bios and manually set the DRAM frequency to 266, rebooted while checking that the machine booted up with that setting, and booted using the XP Pro CD. The installation ran smooth as silk. I then loaded up MSI’s VIA chip drivers and Microsoft's XP SP 1 from CD, connected to the Net and ran Windows Update until I had everything they offered, and shut the system down using the Start menu. I removed my memory and installed my son’s, installed Office XP and all the other software he had sent along, then shutdown the machine again, and installed the last ATI driver and Multimedia Set that had been built to support the ATI AIW Radeon. At about 1 am, I called it a night, happy that I finally had the thing running!

Success at last!

Well, almost….

The next morning I decided to check out DVD playback. Tim had said it wasn’t right, and I obviously wanted to make sure it was. I grabbed a copy of Shrek and played it. The music seemed a bit skewed and had a slight pulse to it, though the video seemed otherwise okay. That might mean a drive motor problem. But the real shock came when I tried to play a DVD-R containing a TV program. The damn thing ran at about twice the speed it was supposed to and the audio was severely clipped. I searched the web again for this problem and did find a few people who had experienced it but no solution.

Since I suspected the DVR-104’s motor drive, I headed out to find a replacement. My choice became to buy an on-sale Pioneer DVR-A05 at Micro Center or an equivalently priced Memorex 4X dual format burner at CompUSA. After speaking with my son on the phone about his preferences, I picked up the Pioneer because of its better compatibility and Micro Center’s better return policies. (I also returned the Shuttle motherboard while I was there. They gave me a full refund.)

Once back home, I installed the A05 drive and the smoothness of Shreks’ audio did improve but the chipmunk behavior of the DVD-R was still there. While I could find nothing definitive about that problem, swapping out video cards was something I could try. I had an ATI All in Wonder Radeon 9000 Pro I could use. Before I did that, however, I decided to install the drivers and the multimedia center (including the DVD player) it would use. I had nothing to lose. Lo and behold, though it wasn’t supposed to support the ATI AIW Radeon card, the setup worked like a champ with both the commercial DVD and my homemade DVD-R! I had installed a new video driver, DVD encoder, and DVD player; one of those had fixed the problem!

The computer is on its way back home as I write this. UPS is supposed to deliver it today. When it left here, the system was running fast and stable as a rock. Hopefully, it will do the same after it arrives at my son's home; and his Christmas present will finally be complete.

I took the Asus board back to HardDrive.com and they did give me a refund, too, though nowhere near as cheerfully as Micro Center had. I’ve got an old DVR-104 drive now I suspect isn’t much good, but am waiting for a chance to pop it into my PC and test it before making a decision about what to do with it. I’m waiting to hear back from my son. I feel good about what I did. It was both a hellish time and a lot of fun. I enjoy fixing PC’s for the most part; too bad you can’t make any decent money at it. If I had charged someone for all the time I had spent, it would have been more than the entire PC was worth. Who would want to pay that?

January 7, 2004

Winners and Losers at Macworld Expo 2004

Winner-iLife ’04

Of all the product announcements made at the keynote address for this year’s Macworld Expo, the biggest winner was iLife ’04. While the changes in iPhoto 4 were minor, the ability to import iSight video and edit clips on the timeline in iMovie 4, iDVD 4’s new two hour video limit with better encoding, and the inclusion of Garage Band, a new consumer level audio tool (along the lines of Soundtrack), and all of it for only $49, make iLife ’04 the most valuable product introduction for the home user and small business consumer. Apple already has $79 of my money for a “family pack” version of this software. Both my wife, who’s a musician at heart, and myself are awaiting iLife ‘04’s arrival with baited breath.

That said, it’s not clear when it will ship. While the Apple Store showed a “deliver by January 16 date” for the “regular” version of the product, the “family pack” showed a shipping date of “7-10 business days”. With some reservation, I paid an extra $9 for 2 day delivery hoping to get the software at the same time it’s released.

Minor Winners-Final Cut Express 2 and Microsoft Office 2004

Both of these products provided incremental improvements over current versions but nothing I found compelling.

That said, I have plunked down $99 to upgrade my Final Cut Express to version 2, mainly to match it up with Final Cut Pro 4 loaded on my other PowerMac and to provide for better G5 compatibility when that day comes.

Office 2004 is another story. I’m not seeing anything that makes me want to plunk down the cash. However, we might wind up with a copy in this house if my wife, who is a university professor, decides to buy it after taking a look. I believe she might like the Notebook view and decide that at academic prices she'll buy the new version.

Loser-mini iPod

Whatever infected Britney Spears this weekend apparently also hit Steve Jobs. Apple may have wanted to go after the flash player market, but their pricing of the new mini-iPod guaranteed that it will stay a mini product. At its current $249 price point, buying this new too-limited iPod makes absolutely no sense, and there is a lot of forum traffic on the Net already that shows a majority of folks agree with me. If Apple really wants to make in-roads with this product, the highest price point that’s making any sense to anyone of us who have to fork over the cash is $199. Even at that, I consider the mini-iPod competitive and not “a steal”. At its current $249 price point, though, it’s simply a ball buster. I would fork over the extra $50 for the $299 15GB iPod instead.

Once I go over $200 on any computer related purchase, I consider it a different financial ball game. I’m betting that your average consumer and especially your average college student will, too.

December 19, 2003

The Little Mouse That Roared

Maybe you’ve heard about Sun JDS. Maybe you haven’t. If you haven’t, Sun JDS stands for Sun Java Desktop System. It’s a misnomer for a new Linux based operating system from Sun Microsystems, and you can read about it at Wired News.

Why would you want to? Well, some programmers and analysts believe that this may be the first stirring of a Microsoft killer operating system. Go look at the screen shots for the OS and you’ll see what I mean. If I hadn’t known it before I looked, I would have thought I was looking at a copy of Windows. And that does make me want to try it. It’s hilarious that Sun appears to be out-Microsoft-ing Microsoft; and it’s about time.

Realistically, I doubt if the release of this OS in and of itself will unseat Microsoft’s domination of the computer industry. But I think Microsoft has already seen its best days in this arena; and though they will diversify, it will be downhill from here. Apple will continue to make inroads in gaining market share; but unless and until their pricing becomes more competitive, they won’t become the market leader (as much as I like them). A world of mixed computing environments, one composed of mostly Unix based operating systems (Linux and Mac OS X or its successors) with some remnants of Windows, is on its way; and Sun may be quietly positioning itself to lead the charge into it.

December 11, 2003

iMovie and iDVD vs Pinnacle Studio

A little while back I decided to pull my PC back into my video production flow since I didn’t have good tools on the Mac to convert video to Real Media or Windows Media formats. My best solution for the few times when I would need that capability was to use Pinnacle Studio 8 to perform the task. I also wanted to ensure I had DVD+R capability and I felt I had better support on my Windows PC than my PowerMac, so I upgraded the PC’s DVD burner from a Pioneer DVR-104 to a Sony DRU-510A drive. The last tweak to prepare the machine for the kind of work I wanted it ready to do was to upgrade the CPU to an AMD AthlonXP 2800+. That’s all done now, so last week I decided to give it a test.

Using my camcorder, I recorded a two hour TV show and dumped its footage into iMovie on my dual 1.25Ghz G4 PowerMac and into Pinnacle Studio 8.5.10 on my Windows XP PC. On the Mac using iMovie 3.03, I edited out the commercials, inserted chapter markers at each cut, exported the footage to iDVD3, and then timed how long it took iDVD to encode and burn the footage to DVD-R. On the PC using Pinnacle Studio, I edited out the commercials (Pinnacle Studio 8 has only basic DVD construction capabilities—it cannot build menus or set chapter markers) and then told it to render and burn the project to DVD+RW. On the Mac, the entire project was rendered and burned in 1 hour and 45 minutes. On the PC, the project took about six hours.

I rendered the footage to an mpeg2 file using Pinnacle Studio, and that was another half day or so gone. I still want to take the Pinnacle Studio rendered file (mpeg) and see how it long it takes to simply burn a DVD using Ulead’s Movie Factory 2. Hopefully, the PC will do much better.

The relative difference between the platforms performing this task is also validated by tests run by Macworld magazine in their December 2003 issue. Even using Athlon64FX CPU’s and Adobe Premiere, the PC’s trailed far behind a PowerMac dual 2.0GHZ G5 in encoding video. So, you can see why if you’re working video, you might want to consider switching to a Mac if you’re not using one already. Not only are the tools at both the consumer and professional level awesome, but the time you’ll save…even with a pokey dual G4…will be your own.

Going Back Again…Not!

Since I’m using the Windows machine more than I have in the past, I sometimes have moments of nostalgia, just like I used to have after I divorced my first wife. Sometimes, it seemed like my old life wasn’t that bad; and I started questioning the decision I made to leave.

Of course, with Windows, I haven’t quite left; and that’s a good thing. I’ve got a big investment in time and money in my Windows set up. Why let it go to waste? But, when I look at the rather huge investment I’ve made in Macs over the past two years, I sometimes feel like it was overkill and I didn’t need to do it. All that money! Of course, I had a good rationale for why I wanted this or that; but it will take me another six to nine months at a fairly high payment level to get all of it paid off. When I put the numbers down on a piece of paper and stare at them, it's easy to forget anything but a question: Why in the world couldn’t I do what I needed to on a single Windows PC?

A few weeks ago, I ran across this statement in a MacWorld article:
“…many researchers told him that Mac OS X allowed them to trade in three computers -- namely a Mac, a PC and a Unix machine -- for one computer, a Mac running OS X. Researchers can use Mac OS X to run their Unix applications, their commercial research applications like Mathematica and their productivity applications such as Photoshop or Word all on one machine.”

That is one of the things I love about Mac OS X, even though—in terms of general philosophy—I went in the opposite direction. I have a PowerMac I use only for video production; another for graphics, desktop publishing, web publishing, and a backup video production machine; and a flat panel iMac use for writing but that can be pressed into “backup” video service as well. I really do use all of them, often several at once. (If Apple produces a G5 powered flat panel iMac, then I’ll probably sell the iMac and my slower PowerMac, buy it, and drop back to using only three machines.)

But I digress.

I had started thinking it was all nothing but excess until I started burning DVD’s on my PC again. I got reminded why I had switched to the Mac in the first place. I realized that I hadn't been looking at how I feel when I sit down at either OS. I love and always have loved OS X. Using Windows is like living again with an ex-wife I divorced long ago. It works for a while, but then I suddenly realize the decision to leave was a lot wiser than I first thought.

November 23, 2003

On Apple’s 20 inch iMac

Like a lot of Apple watchers, I couldn’t figure out what the market might be for an iMac with a 20 inch flat panel screen. But after seeing one this weekend, I have to answer that I’m one of the folks who is interested in the machine.

My wife and I both initially thought the machine would look out of proportion, but it doesn’t. The screen glides with the same smooth feel of its smaller brethren, just with a little more resistance due to the larger screen’s mass. Just like the smaller versions, the screen stays put once you stop moving it. And, like the 20 inch Cinema Display, the brightness and clarity of its screen surpasses those that have come before it. It makes you want to look at it.

I’ve told lots of folks that if you’re a writer there isn’t a better computer for you than a flat panel iMac. The 15 incher provides a writer with an almost intimate experience where the written word is indeed the object of your affection; the iMac all but disappears. It is a little less so with the 17 inch flat panel iMac and even more so with the 20 inch. The 20 inch is less of a writer’s machine as it is a good, general all-purpose machine capable of graphics work, desktop publishing, and movie editing, if you can stand having only a single processor G4 as your CPU. That’s not to say that a 1.25Gz G4 isn’t snappy. It is for most everyday tasks. It’s when you wander into creative graphics or publishing territory that one wants more.

As a compromise between the power of a dual G4 PowerMac and the intimacy and good looks of a flat panel iMac, the new 20 inch iMac fits the bill. With a $2195 price tag and a lot of screen territory, the machine is probably a bit much for the average college student. However, if you like the iMac’s form, need a larger screen than what has been offered in the past, can live with single CPU power, and can afford it, then by all means swing by your nearest Apple store or retailer and take a look. I’d love to have one myself, but I can’t figure out how to pay for it and am not willing to give up the intimacy of an iMac with a smaller screen.

November 19, 2003

Fixing Out of Synch Audio and Video using FCE

It’s only been recently I learned that most camcorders come set from the factory to record using 12 bit audio. That’s not a problem if you’re just dumping the tape to a VCR; but if you’re dumping it onto your computer (whether PC or Mac) especially to burn to DVD, you’ll usually find that somewhere in your video editor’s timeline or, worse, in the DVD itself, the audio and video falls out of synchronization. This is because DVD’s are encoded using a 16 bit audio format, as I’ve mentioned before. I’ve since reset my Sony TVR720 camcorder to 16 bit audio, and there it stays. But I still have left some irreplaceable footage (like mountain lion and wedding videos) recorded in 12 bit audio. How was I going to fix the synch problem if it came up?

To experiment with that, I recorded an hour’s worth of footage using 12 bit audio and dumped it onto my Quicksilver PowerMac and into Final Cut Express. I had often paused the camcorder during filming and found that the pauses were often where the out of synch problem would begin. So, using the Razor Blade tool, I cut both the video and twin audio tracks. To move them right, I simply clicked on the appropriate track and typed in a number representing the number of frames I wanted it to move. Most of the time, the number was “+3”. This moved the track 3 frames to the right. I then played the remaining footage on the clip to see if it was in synch. If it was, I selected the “Modify/Mark in Synch” menu item with all the applicable clips selected.

In two out of three clips, no further manipulation proved necessary. In the last clip which was longer than the others, I noticed that the audio and video was in synch at first but then fell out again much later. Theorizing that the effect of an “out of synch” condition was cumulative and that I was only slightly out, I told FCE to move the audio tracks “0.5” to the right. That proved to be the magic bullet.

When I run the video in FCE, it all looks good. I’ll burn this footage to DVD using iDVD in another night or two and see how it does. I have no reason to think that it all won’t work, but it’s best not to assume anything.

On Apple’s Newest…

Yesterday, Apple released a new 20 inch flat panel iMac and a new dual 1.8Ghz G5 PowerMac. I’ll have to see one of the new iMacs before I can truly say how I feel about them; my first impression is that a 20 inch screen seems almost out of proportion to the iMac’s 10 inch base. Maybe it will work just fine. Maybe, I’ll even want one. I’ll comment here as soon as I get to play with one and see.

If I were shopping for a G5 right now, I could see where the dual 1.8 Ghz might be attractive. At $500 less than the dual 2.0Ghz model, its price/performance ratio might make it attractive. But, I have to admit, I’m still more attracted to the dual 2.0 Ghz model, though my real strategy is to wait for the dual 3.0 Ghz models that will come out sometime next year. The middle of the line model then will be the 2.0 Ghz models or faster, and those would be fast enough for me.

November 17, 2003

Full Circle

There’s no inexpensive way to convert videos edited on the Mac and exported in QuickTime format into Windows Media or Real Media formats. (The only product I’ve been able to find to do that is Cleaner, and it’s $500.) I’ve also been wanting to fly a bit more on Flight Simulator 2004 and the other flight simulators. All of that means I’m using my Windows XP-powered PC more than in the recent past. As you may or may not know, that PC was in another bedroom. I started looking last week at how I might move the PC back into my office, known around my place as “The Studio”. This past weekend, I finally hit on a furniture arrangement that would work.

I spent the whole weekend working to get the PC in the room and hooked up to the network. I now have 3 Macs and 1 PC crammed into my small office, linked together by both Ethernet and USB. Every machine has some access to every printer (an HP Laserjet 2100, an HP Deskjet 940C, and a HP Photosmart 7150) and the Epson Perfection 1660 Photo scanner in the room. I say “some” because…ONCE AGAIN…the PC proved to be the least cooperative neighbor. In fact, if not for the Windows computer, I would have finished Saturday night instead of late on Sunday afternoon. The hilarious thing is the Macs worked perfectly with equipment designed for Windows , and the PC the stuff was designed for didn’t seem to want to work with it at all.

One would think that moving the PC so it’s right next to my wireless router might have improved its ability to sign on automatically. That didn’t prove to be the case. Screwing around with a wireless network sign-on became irritating in short order. After playing with it for several hours and trying various software tricks, I broke down and drove to Best Buy and bought a PCI-based Linksys 10/100 Lan card, substituting it for its wireless Belkin brother. But the PC’s really troublesome behavior came when I tried to hook it up to my burgeoning USB network.

On Saturday, I had bought a Belkin USB switch and some USB 2.0 cables to add to a Belkin 4 port mini-USB 2.0 hub. I wanted to use them build a switchable USB network that would allow any Mac or PC in the room to print to any USB inkjet or scan using my Epson scanner. When I hooked everything up, I found the Macs worked as expected but the Windows machine was unable to see the scanner or printers if they were hooked up through the switch. A direct connection worked fine as did a connection through the 4 port hub alone. But not through the switch, even though it was purely mechanical.

On the off chance that my troubles might have to do with the VIA USB chip controller on my motherboard, I mounted a 5 port SIIG USB 2.0 PCI card in the Windows PC and tried again. This time, the PC saw the scanner; but when I tried to actually scan an image, I got an error message saying that the scanner did not send the image and could see the scanner light flashing, telling me it was hung up. However, mounting the same card in my Dual 1.25 Ghz MDD PowerMac (running OS 10.3) resulted in flawless operation. Once again, I can only use the Windows PC via a workaround!

A PC is like an ex-wife. You think you’d like to go back to it until you spend a few moments with it, and then you realize once again why you left.

Despite that…

I am going to upgrade my Windows PC. While I’m still defining what its role in my new production world will be, I have discovered it will take only a BIOS flash and some new memory to support running an AMD 3000+ versus the AMD 2000 I’m running now. I haven’t decided if I’m going to re-run the Cinebench tests using that CPU since the whole G5 vs AMD issue seems to be dead for now.

One interesting thing I discovered while doing my normal investigation into what bang I get for my money, I took a look at the AMD 3000+ vs the AMD 2800+. In some tests at Tom’s Hardware web site, the 3000+ was actually slower. For the money, the 2800 seems a much better value.

November 12, 2003

Mac iPod on a WinXP PC…

A couple of weeks ago, I said I wanted to see if a Windows XP computer running MacDrive, an application that lets a PC see Mac disks, could work with the new iTunes for Windows and a Mac formatted iPod. Well, folks, I’m here to tell you it works like a champ. I finally got a chance to try it tonight when I stumbled on my “lost” copy of MacDrive 5. I loaded the software up; and during the installation process, it asked me if I wanted to download an update. I answered I did. The update downloaded just fine but the installation routine hung because it needed to update files being used by the Update Wizard. I worked around that by closing the Wizard and leaving the Setup routine running. When the installation finished, I was surprised by another window that let me know that MacDrive could configure iTunes to work with a Mac formatted iPod, and it asked me if I wanted to let it do that. Of course, I answered “yes”. The window disappeared., and I rebooted the PC and fetched my iPod.

It took a few seconds for the PC to recognize the iPod and figure out what to do with it, but about 15 seconds or so after I had attached the iPod, iTunes launched with my iPod firmly in tow, just like I was on one of my Macs. I played Alanis Morisette’s “Thank You”, and it sounded great! Well, at least as well as it could with the speakers I currently have on my Windows PC. Might have to buy better speakers if I’m going to play my iPod on it…

I have one of the second generation Firewire iPod's, by the way. I'm not sure if one of the newer ones will work.


iMovie 3.03 and iDVD 3 Stalls…

I’ve been doing quite a bit of work lately using iMovie and iDVD; and I’ve noticed that on a couple of occasions the encoding process seems to stall. I’m not sure why that is, yet; but I have discovered that starting both applications from scratch after rebooting usually clears it.

Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to recover the hours that a “stall” eats up…

November 11, 2003

Apple’s Quality Assurance or Lack Thereof…

You’ll find several places in this blog where I’ve commented on the apparent lack of quality control from Apple. I’m not the only one who thinks this is a current problem for the computer manufacturer. A recent article in MacWorld talking about the new PowerBooks noted problems with a significant number of “out of the box” units they’d received. Now, there is another article on the same at subject the Ars Technica website.

I listened to a pitch by an Apple sales rep at my workplace recently and he noted that Apple really likes their price points. Consumers don’t. They are high compared to their competition (PC’s), and Apple has been able to get away with them because they have brought unique and easy to use products to the table. However, if the product doesn’t work because of a hardware or software defect, then consumers will balk at paying any price at all, much less more money than they would have had to for a competing product that will let them do the same thing.

This is the box Apple has put itself in. No one doubts that Apple is the most innovative computer company out there, but its continuing quality control failures run a real danger of being the iceberg in this Titanic’s voyage. This is the company’s biggest problem. “Zero defects” needs to become as much an Apple motto as “Think Different”.

November 10, 2003

Running with Panther…

I’ve been running Panther without seeing the problems others have, especially when it comes to external Firewire hard disks. I have Jaguar mounted on a Firewire drive and have been using it when I needed to use my CD labeling software.

Even when I’m booted up the external hard drive, I can access the other hard drives in the machine. I can actually access the Applications folder under Panther. For grins, I tried to see if I could launch Photoshop. It did try to launch, but didn’t make it. I also tried to access my Users folder and subfolder on the Panther hard disk and found myself locked out. Nice security. To be able to get files I want from the other hard disk, I found I needed to move them to the Shared folder.

Earlier in this blog, I mentioned I wasn’t crazy about the silver and metallic coloring applied in Panther. I learned of a little utility called “Whiteout” that changed a resource file and would restore an Aqua interface to the Finder and a few other applications like iChat, Safari, and iCal. While I did like what it did to Finder, the utility didn’t affect the silver on the title bar on most applications and also turned the nice blue Apple (on the Apple menu) into a black one. In the end, the black Apple bothered me more than the original Panther coloring. Whiteout also includes an uninstaller. I’ve used it several times to install and uninstall the program.

That’s not to say that running Panther has been trouble free. I’ve seen a few iMovie crashes in Panther, but I don ‘t have enough info to decide whether it’s due to the application or the OS. I suspect the latter, though, because I’m seeing spurious crashes of several applications and the initial explanation in the debug box is the same, i.e., some kind of exception error; and those crashes have been on two separate machines.

An iMovie crash…

I had about 45 minutes worth of video dumped into iMove when it crashed. I halted the camera and re-launched iMovie. The application saw the camera; but when I hit iMovie’s “Play” button, the camera did not respond. I disconnected the camera and turned it off (to recycle its electronics), quit iMovie, and rebooted the PowerMac. Once it was back at the Panther desktop, I reconnected the Firewire cable to the camera, turned it back on, and re-launched iMovie. It found the camera again.

However, error messages popped up telling me that there were some “stray files” not associated with my current project. Upon examining the files, I knew that they were associated with the project and iMovie had lost track of them. I wanted to just import them back into the project but found that the File/Import function was greyed out. Making sure “Clips” on the iMovie interface was selected, I then tried dragging and dropping the files onto the Clipboard. That worked. I recovered all the clips but one using that technique. It apparently had gotten corrupted, but it was a clip I really didn’t need, so I didn’t bother trying to recapture it.

Pioneer DVR-106BK in a Mac…

I ordered a Pioneer DVR-106BK from one of my favorite vendors, Multiwave at http://www.mwave.com. I wasn’t sure if Panther (Mac OS 10.3) would see the drive as a Pioneer DVR-106D and grant full burning support or whether I’d have to flash the firmware to a “true” Pioneer 106D using a utility furnished by “Flashman”. The drive labels showed the model as a DVR-106BK but System Profiler in Panther showed the drive as a Pioneer DVR-106D with full burn support. I haven’t used the drive to burn anything, yet, but I have no reason to suspect that it won’t work as advertised.

November 6, 2003

From Houston to Toronto…via iSight

Last week, my wife made a trip to Toronto for a conference. She had been dropping hints for at least a month that she thought we might want to look into getting a couple of iSight’s for video chatting while she was gone. We’ve both been interested in exploring that, but I didn’t spring for it because money’s been tight lately and it didn’t make sense to buy just one. Secondly, it wasn’t clear to us whether the hotel she was staying in had broadband Internet coverage.

Once she got there, she found they did support broadband at a pretty standard $10/day, though they did make a little over the top profit by not supplying Ethernet cables for hooking up and charging $10 to sell you one. In any case, she asked me to get an iSight, Apple’s new little video chat camera. I bought one the next day at CompUSA for the standard U.S. price of $149.99.

If you haven’t seen an iSight, it’s shaped like a little cylinder and uses a “metal mesh” design for its skin akin Apple’s G5. As all things Apple, it is sold in an elegantly designed black box that opens outward from its middle to display white plastic trays holding the camera and three plastic clips. While the clips are built to cover Apple’s iMacs, eMacs, Cinema Displays, iBooks, and PowerBooks, the only clip that just clips on is the one for the notebooks. The others have a circular base covered with adhesive (and protected from sticking to unintended objects by a waxed paper bottom) that you’re supposed to stick on the display somewhere. (A more elegant solution can be found using MacMice’s iSight Clips.) To get the correct perspective, I installed the iSight into its tallest clip, one that will stand on the desktop by itself, and set the pedestal on top of a rather flat, upside down flashlight positioned in the center of a 17 inch Apple Studio LCD. I hooked the camera up to my Dual 1 Ghz G4 PowerMac; my wife had only a 700Mhz G3 iBook on her end. Both computers were running Panther, Mac OS 10.3.

On the first evening, we hooked up using iChatAV and its “one way video chat” feature. I could hear her clearly without any clipping or dropouts, and she could both hear and see me without any problems. Connecting up was very easy, and the experience was so pleasant I asked her to see if there was an Apple retailer where she was where she could get an iSight. Searching the web, I found one for her named “Computer Service Centre” that was about a mile from her hotel. She traveled there the next day and bought an iSight there at the slightly elevated price of $165 U.S. We tried hooking up that evening, but the second night did not go so smoothly. It took us about an hour of fiddling with it to get any audio flowing across both sides, apparently due to some kind of loose connection on her end. Once we did, it worked pretty well, with slight audio drop outs on my wife’s end I suspect were due to her little G3’s struggles to keep up. Still, I’ve tried video chatting before; and iSight is the first thing I’ve used that not only does a good job but was easy to set up and relatively inexpensive. If either of us were going to travel a lot, we’d want at least a 1Ghz G4 notebook to run iSight well.

Now that she’s home, I’d like to set the cameras up using her 800 Mhz G4 iMac and my 700 Mhz G4 iMac and see how they do. We can run them across our home network using Rendezvous. The only problem now is being too accessible


Smart Move!

Microsoft is now offering a half million dollars for information leading to the arrest of hackers responsible for some of the recent viruses that have wreaked Internet havoc. I had to chuckle at that. What a smart move! Whoever wrote those viruses better hope that some enterprising hacker who needs the money and doesn’t agree with what he/or she did doesn’t find that surprisingly strong motivation to backtrack them. Offering bounties might be exactly what it takes to put the brakes on what appears to be a growing epidemic.

November 1, 2003

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back…

I burned some video DVD’s this week. I got into making labels for them, and the software I’ve been using is a package called “Click N Design 3D”. Unfortunately, I discovered it wouldn’t run under Panther and would crash as it tried to launch.

It’s a Carbon application, and my Quicksilver Powermac will boot into OS 9. The application runs fine there, but printing on my HP Deskjet 940C was painfully slow. There were no helpful updates to Click N Design nor any likely; the program had been sold to a company named CD Stomper and they only support Windows. Too bad. I would have paid for an update,

I searched the web for another CD labeling program that ran in OS X. I tried a demo of Discus; and while it supported a broader range of label formats than Click N Design, its interface was too simplistic for my tastes. Click and Design lets you “drag and drop” photos onto its template, centering it and “cutting” it for you, something that would take a bit of time if you were doing it manually. I really liked the program and wanted to continue using it. But how?

When I explained my problems to my wife, she asked if the program ran under Jaguar (OS 10.2). My iBook was still running Jaguar, so I installed Click N Design on it and started it up. It ran like a champ! Then, I could either run the program on my iBook or “downgrade” one of my machines from Panther back to Jaguar. (There are a lot of Firewire 800 drive owners who might be doing exactly that today.) I wanted to run the program on something with a reasonably fast G4 processor, so I would either take my iMac back to Jaguar or install Jaguar on my Quicksilver PowerMac’s second hard disk. While I was thinking about that, I realized there was another solution.

One of the beauties of a Mac is its ability to boot from external hard drives. I had an external Firewire 400 hard drive I was using for data backup. I could install Jaguar to it and boot the PowerMac from it only when I needed to use Click and Design. Additionally, if I needed Jaguar on one of my other machines, that approach would allow me to the Firewire drive to any other Mac and, voila!, instant Jaguar. And all my data files would remain intact, though at a slightly higher risk of loss.

I installed Jaguar on the drive and updated it to 10.2.8 using the combo updater. The PowerMac boots off it flawlessly. I simply turn on the Firewire drive, boot the PowerMac into Panther, go to System Preferences/Startup Disk, select the 10.2 disk as the start up drive, and reboot. After that, until I select 10.3 as the start up disk in 10.2’s System Preferences, the Mac will boot straight into the 10.2 (Jaguar) disk just like it was installed in the system. All I need do is make sure it’s turned on before I boot the PowerMac, and I’m there.

Click and Design runs like a champ on Jaguar. I immediately printed out the DVD cover I’d been trying to since late yesterday.

Ahhh, there’s nothing like the sweet smell of success!

October 30, 2003

Notes on Panther

I’ve been running Panther (OS 10.3) on several of my Macs for a week now. My overall impression is that it was worth the investment, then impact of which was lessened by Apple’s Family Pack pricing. Both my PowerMacs (2001 Dual 1Ghz Quicksilver and 2003 Dual 1.25 Ghz Mirror Door Drive), both our iMacs (800 and 700 MHZ flat panel G4’s), and my wife’s 700Mhz G3 iBook have been upgraded without a hitch. Here are my observations and notes about the OS I have accumulated so far:

I used the “Upgrade” installation routine vice “Archive and Install”.

Once I installed the operating systems, I repaired permissions on the slower iMac and both PowerMacs and did not suffer the printing problems other users have reported.

Panther killed the Samsung SM-352B CDRW/DVD in my 700 iMac. I knew it might do that, but I was hoping that modifying the “DeviceSuppport.drprofile” file as suggested at the XLR8YourMac.com website might work. It didn’t. The System Profiler shows “not supported”. I can still burn CD’s using Toast 5.2.1.

The Apple System Profiler has been renamed System Profiler. Seems to be faster than previous versions.

Graphics and screen presentation are improved. Colors on the desktop are deeper and more saturated. Text presentation is noticeably crisper on my Apple Studio 17 inch LCD.

I’m having no problems launching or using Photoshop 7.01. My Epson 1660 Photo Scanner works fine using Epson Twain 5 Drivers from within it. I’ve had only minor problems with Microsoft Office v.X. Word crashed once unexpectedly. I have only one application that ran under Jaguar that crashes under Panther. It is "Click'N Design 3D", a software package I use to design and print CD and DV covers and jackets. I'm able to run it by booting into OS 9.2.2. Everything else is working great.

Internet Connect’s interface is much improved. All connections are now handled from one window. And switching between each function (modem, VPN, etc.) is handled by clicking on a toolbar at the top of the window.

On my iMac, the Network Browser operation has not been smooth. Gave error messages and then worked correctly. Seems to work fine on the PowerMacs. Finder’s Networking function now lets you browse and log onto servers from the Finder window. While this is convenient, it is no longer so evident that you’re still logged on since the network server icon looks the same when you are logged on or not. Unlike in Jaguar and OS 9, there is no longer a separate disk on the desktop that shows you you’re attached. So far, the only way I’ve found to verify whether I’m logged onto a server or not is to double click on the icon and see if it requires me to log in.


All printers (two inkjets, one laser) are working nominally (Deskjet 940C, Photosmart 7150, HP Laserjet 2100)

Quick Notes on iDVD
3.01

I finally got around to burning a DVD with iDVD 3.0. The footage ran 1 hour and 27 minutes, just three minutes under the overall limit. When I went to burn the DVD, I got a warning message telling me that projects over 60 minutes long could be made but at slightly reduced quality. I elected to do that, even though I had been surprised by the warning. I couldn’t tell the difference when I ran it on the TV later; but if you can stand no quality loss at all, be aware that the limit is 60 minutes of video, not 90 as has been portrayed.

Also, when I first started iDVD, it gave an estimate of 232 minutes to encode the project. I didn’t record the exact time it took (though that is something I’ll do in the future to figure out workflow requirements), it seemed like it was almost half that. It looked like, at least as far as the time estimate was concerned, iDVD was not aware of the second processor.

October 26, 2003

Getting Used to Panther

Panther is slowly growing on me. Overall, its extra snappiness, organization, and design do make it a better, more mature package than Jaguar, though I still feel that the muddy silver used for most menus runs OS X in a negative direction. Microsoft has never understood that the metallic (dark grey) designs it used for its GUI set up a boring, unfeeling experience for the user. Apple seems to have understood that. Many computer columnists, lots of them Windows users seeing OS X for the first time, have called OS X with its Aqua interface “beautiful”. Indeed, it is. Or has been. Panther (OS 10.3) shows
a drift of Apple’s GUI designers toward more metallic interfaces. That could be a big mistake. The beauty of using a Mac and OS X (especially on a flat panel iMac) is you forget you’re using a computer. You’re in an environment, one that is colorful and fluid. Designing too many metallic colors into the interface destroys that feeling, and feeling is something that needs to be encouraged…not discouraged…when one is performing a creative task. The beauty, feeling, and ease of use of OS X were the things that attracted me to it. Its stability, security, and ease of maintenance are why I have stayed with it.

Speaking of interface design, the new Finder window is taking a bit of getting used to. I like its organization, but I have to keep reminding myself that I’m using Finder and NOT an application when I see its brushed metal borders. It seems like the application of brushed metal borders in Panther was not thought completely through, especially when it came to looking at what precedent Apple had set in Jaguar with them. I don’t have a problem with brushed metal at all; in fact, I use a brushed metal theme on my Windows XP computer to give it more of an OS X look. But there it is applied to everything; I don’t have to sort out where I’m at, i.e., what the visual cues are telling me. Apple might want to think about that a bit as it designs its next operating system upgrade.

October 25, 2003

Panther...First Impressions

I did pick up a Panther Family Pack at the local Apple Store and stayed up until about 1:30 a.m. loading Panther on my wife’s 800 Ghz G4 (flat panel) iMac and on my Dual 1 Ghz G4 Quicksilver PowerMac. Here are my first impressions and observations about running the new OS.

Installation: So far, installing Panther has been a breeze though not necessarily fast. The installer detects that this is an upgrade by scanning the disk you tell it to install on. If it detects an older operating system, it tells you it’s going to install as an upgrade and gives you a radio button that lets you confirm that’s what you want it to do. Installing Panther has taken between 1.3 and 1.5 GB of additional space on my hard disks than Jaguar. You can knock that down quite a bit by selecting “Customize” (It appears right after you select the hard disk you want to install on during the Installation Type portion of the installation.) and deselecting printer drivers and language translators you don’t want or need. ( I knocked down the installation requirements on one machine by 500MB by doing this.)

Compatibility: I’ve done just preliminary testing; but, so far, Panther doesn’t appear to have “broken” any of my existing applications. I was most worried about Photoshop, but I’ve seen no problems with it. My PowerMate still works as do the Microsoft Intellipoint Drivers I’m using with my mouse.

Speed: Faster. Not breathtakingly faster, but noticeably faster. Just seems snappier than Jaguar. Certainly, boots and shuts down noticeably quicker.

Interface:
Coloring: The silver stripes are more subtle and have blended together to give the background menus and borders a muddy silver look. Apple needs to be VERY CAREFUL here. They are in danger of ruining the Aqua interface’s attractiveness. Looks like a kid ran a silver crayon over the menus and couldn’t get them as dark as he wanted. The continuing addition of grey and silver is making Aqua look more and more mechanistic and boring like Windows has always looked. If Apple doesn’t think that has an emotional impact on the user, they don’t understand human interface design. Along these lines, the light/dark shading used in System Preferences looks amateurish; the large spacing of the icons makes the attempt at differentiation by shading unnecessary. Frankly, I’m hoping someone will produce a haxie I can install that will restore Aqua’s borders and menus to its Jaguar look, though Panther’s is growing on me slowly so it might be more likeable after a while. It’s the darkness of it that bothers me.
New Finder Window: I like. It makes moving around the system a lot easier.
Fonts: Font crispness seems slightly better. I haven’t used Font Book yet.

Coolest Feature: Exposé, without a doubt!

October 22, 2003

Safari, Firebird, and Tabbed Browsing

Several months ago, I heard all the fuss about tabbed browsing. I took a quick look at it and couldn’t understand why it was supposed to be the next great thing in web browsing. Last week, I read an article in the November issue of MacWorld magazine entitled “Unsolicited Advice” (Help Desk) that showed how to set up Safari to load multiple web pages at once with only a single click. I set up Safari to gather five of my favorite Mac sites (in a group I call “Mac Review”) with one click and haven’t looked back since. Using Safari’s Bookmark Bar, I’ve also set up an “Aviation” group (airplane scheduling, weather, and flight planning all at once) and a “Writer’s Groups” cluster that contains the home pages of my favorite writer’s organizations. Asking to load the group all at once and switching back and forth between the web pages with a single click, like having four or five pages spread out side by side on a desk, is a real kick.

I also run Mozilla as a browser, so I checked out tab browsing in Version 1.5, and it didn’t work the way it was supposed to. The Mozilla website talked about a leaner version of the browser/mail and news reader/html editor named Firebird. Firebird is a browser only, leaner and faster than Mozilla; and it claims tabbed browsing as its forte. I downloaded it, tried it, and love it. I’ve replaced Mozilla with Firebird on most of my Macs. While its tabbed browsing interface isn’t as elegant as Safari’s, it’s pretty close. I use Firebird for those pages Safari doesn’t render correctly.

Apple Shoots Itself in Its Foot

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog the problems some folks are reporting with Final Cut Pro 4 if QuickTime 6.4 is installed. I learned today that there is an even bigger impact of this bug than I had first thought. Apple’s new operating system, Panther (OS 10.3), installs QuickTime 6.4. One FCP user reported that Apple support advised him not to install Panther because of this problem.

I intend to follow that advice.

That does not mean I won’t buy Panther when it is released Friday night. I will. I’m going to install it on my PowerMac Dual 1 Ghz G4 and on my iBook to see how it runs. But I won’t install it on my video editing PowerMac until I become convinced I am either not suffering from the QT 6.4 problems (and some FCP 4 users are not) or there is a fix that others are reporting works.

More importantly, Apple really cannot afford to have Panther bomb in the graphics and video communities, two of its biggest supporters. Some changes in Panther apparently play havoc with some Photoshop installations. Add to that QT/FCP problems, and Panther suddenly starts looking like it might be more pain than it’s worth. It’s like stumbling over the doorstep and crashing into your date’s head with your own. Bad first impressions are sometimes dreadfully hard to overcome, no matter how undeserved they really may be.

Apple needs to improve both its hardware and software quality control; or no matter how loyal past users have been, they’ll move on to somewhere else.


October 21, 2003

Another FUBAR Apple Update?

Probably about a month ago now, Apple released the OS 10.2.8 update which it promptly withdrew because the update induced Ethernet access problems (and a few other problems as well) to Macs in certain configurations. Frankly, I never had any problems on any of my machines, but knowing that the update was causing so much havoc made me nervous. When would I stumble on some problem the update had introduced? Since then Apple has released a re-worked update that seems to do the job. I’ve installed the new patch on all my machines, and they all seem to be doing just fine.

I recently updated QuickTime from 6.3 to 6.4 using Apple’s Software Update. Today, I learned that the update is apparently causing some problems with Final Cut Pro 4.02. Well, that’s exactly what I’m running. I haven’t yet seen any problems with FCP 4, but then I haven’t tried to edit using mixed media types which is when the problem occurs (hang). For now, I’ve decided not to roll my systems back to QuickTime 6.3 until I see some problems, even though Apple has provided a 6.3 re-installer. But following on the heels of the last botched update, I have to question—as I have done before (even though my complaints had mainly to do with hardware)—Apple’s Quality Control. The company doesn’t seem to be catching some pretty elemental things before rushing products out the door. Don’t they use their own hardware and software? Apple seems to be getting as bad about missing things as Microsoft, and Apple only has about one-thirtieth the market that MS does to deal with.

OK, so I’m running a bit slow…

I’ve slowed down updates this week, and it’s simply because I both have run out of time and have needed a little break. The Final Cut Pro Lessons Learned will go up tonight, even though I have just begun building them. Unfortunately, I don’t have much more time than what it will take to do that tonight. I’ll post more stuff over the next few days and even more over the weekend, assuming that my Panther installations go fairly smoothly. If not, it may be somewhat quiet in Webville this weekend. (Remember, in your computer, only your motherboard will hear you scream!) Along with website updates I’m doing some work in FCP 4, so time to update this website is at a premium right now.

Photoshop CS or Tools for Television?

Video and “regular” computer graphics work uses two kinds of pixels. Computers use square ones, meaning that the pixels’ vertical and horizontal dimensions are the same. Some video formats, and digital video (DV) and MPEG-2 are two of them, use rectangular pixels. Why do we care? Because when I make something up in Photoshop (or any other computer graphics application) I want to use in my video, the pixel types don’t match. That means the image imported into the video will look distorted. While there are manual techniques that can account for that, the two solutions I’m looking at involve upgrading to Photoshop CS (just released by Adobe and does support non-square pixels) or an application entitled “Tools for Television”, a Photoshop plug-in that would allow me to use my current version of Photoshop to build images I can import into FCP. The cost of the Photoshop upgrade is $10 less than buying Tools for Television, but buying the latter would leave my Windows and Mac versions of Photoshop matched. I’m weighing which way I want to go; and if I do upgrade to Photoshop CS whether I want to follow that with Go Live, Illustrator, or In Design upgrades as well.

October 17, 2003

Why Upgrading to Windows XP 64 Bit Might Not Be In The Cards

The November issue of PC World contains a small article about Windows XP 64 bit. What it had to say about the operating system’s features cast a lot of doubt about whether I would move my Windows machine to it. Just like Windows XP was incompatible with a lot of hardware and some software that ran fine on Windows 98, Windows XP 64 bit may offer some of the same drawbacks as its 32 bit brother.

For instance, XP 64 bit will not offer any DOS support at all. Then, there will be the problems of drivers. Drivers will be very slow in coming since not that many users will make the move; and Microsoft is already warning users about expecting old hardware to work with the new OS. I just got my old Paperport mx running under Windows XP. Do I want to risk sabotaging that with a move to Win XP 64? If I do, will WinXP64 support my current dual-boot set up with Windows 98SE? I’ve seen nothing on that at all; and while I have no reason to expect it won’t, I also have no reason to suspect it will. The news for gamers is that while some games will be patched for 64 bit, the true benefits in 64 bit computing won’t be seen until the next generation of games, and the article predicts that will be in 2005. I’m happy with Flight Sim 2004; something would have to happen in the flight sim world to make me want to move to 64 bit.

Probably, I’m going to opt instead for staying with Windows XP and maybe doing one or more incremental upgrades on my current PC. I can move to an AMD 2400+ for under $100, so that may be something I do pretty soon. Maybe early next year, I’ll step it up to an AMD 3200+. But for now, my thoughts of going to some kind of 64 bit processor in my PC are on hold. The advantages of making the move are just too few.

October 16, 2003

Upcoming G5 Tests

You may or may not know that Maxon has released a beta version of Cinebench 2003 optimized for the G5. As reported earlier, the optimized version shows about a 25% increase in performance. I’ve got the software and will re-run the Cinebench tests on whatever G5’s I can get my hands on, though it will probably be the weekend of the 25th before I get the results posted. I might move faster, but I’m not convinced of the newsworthiness of the optimized test since overall results can be found elsewhere on the web. Still, I will post the new tests for completeness and will include the full data set when I do.

Upgrades, upgrades, upgrades…

I didn’t get anything done on the website tonight other than this blog because I spent the whole evening loading software updates on all the computers and troubleshot a problem my wife was having with her iBook, something I’ll talk about in a minute. I downloaded QuickTime 6.4 and iTunes 4.1 and installed both on all the Macs in the house. I also installed the OS 10.2.8 combo upgrade on both the iBooks. And the Macs were not all I played with. I installed iTunes for Windows on the XP machine and loaded a new mouse on it, a Logitech MX500. Pretty cool.

Speaking of iTunes for Windows…

I was surprised that the software was only compatible with Windows XP and 2000. There are still quite a few folks out there running variants of Windows 98. I’m not sure whether digital rights management played a role in the decision to only port to Windows XP and 2000 or whether it was simply it would be easier to port an XP/2000 compatible version to Windows XP 64 or Longhorn.

My wife and I both own iPods. They are second generation versions made only for the Mac. Or so they tell me. The way I understand it, the thing that makes a Windows machine unable to read a Mac iPod is that the iPod’s hard disk is formatted in HFS+. That makes me wonder if a Windows XP machine running MacDrive can load up an iPod in iTunes. I might try that out this weekend to see if it works.

Apple Pro Mouse/iBook Trackpad Bug

My wife’s Windows 2000 work computer refused to boot up this morning, and this was the replacement machine given to her while her IT folks had sent her newer Dell out for repair. She called me saying she was dead in the water, IT wasn’t coming anytime soon, and asked me to help hook her iBook to her network. She had asked me if that was feasible a few days before, and I had walked her through how to note the Windows 2000 network settings. The network appeared to be using DHCP, so hooking up her iBook appeared to be a cinch. It was. I took her into System Preferences/Network, had her reconfigure her Ethernet settings to DHCP, and we were there. She used her iBook for the rest of the day and could do everything but print. That was because the Deskjet 842C in her office was using a parallel printer port and though it has a USB port the iBook could use, we didn’t have a cable. (I have one here at the house she’s taking with her tomorrow.)

This evening she complained of a rather strange problem. She told me when she was typing in Word, words would get magically selected and the mouse cursor would jump all over. Obviously, I figured she was hitting the iBook’s trackpad while typing. I also was pretty sure, though, that we had configured her iBook a few days before to ignore the trackpad when a mouse was connected. I hooked up her mouse—an Apple Pro mouse--, cranked up her iBook, typed using Word, and made sure I brushed up against the trackpad while typing. Sure enough, I got the symptoms she had been describing. I checked System Preferences/Mouse and Keyboard/Trackpad and confirmed that “ignore the trackpad when using the keyboard” was selected. While I suspected the hardware, I also knew that the iBook was running the first release of 10.2.8, the one that had enough bugs in it that Apple had withdrawn it within a day or so of releasing it. So, I updated the machine using the repaired 10.2.8 Combo Updater and checked it out again. The problem was still there. Could it have something to do with the mouse she was using? To check that out, I borrowed a Microsoft Intellimouse Optical from my XP machine, plugged it into her iBook, and the problem disappeared! Of all things, when the Apple Pro mouse is loaded on the iBook, the “ignore trackpad” settings are ignored! (NOTE: It turns out Apple knows about this problem. There is a Knowledge Base article on this.) She got to keep the Microsoft mouse, of course. I’ll put the Apple Pro mouse in storage and use it on a desktop…if it’s ever needed, which right now it’s not.

I haven’t tried using the Apple Pro mouse with my iBook or tried using a different Apple Pro mouse with either one of ours, so I am curious if anyone else has had that problem. When I get some time, I’ll peruse the Apple forums and Google newsgroup archives to look for it. Until then, may the Force be with you; and be sure not to use an Apple Pro mouse on an iBook to seek it.

Final Cut Pro 4.0 Lessons Learned

I’m a newbee to Final Cut Pro and a pretty "wet behind the ears" video editor. I have copies of Final Cut Express and Final Cut Pro 4.0 and am just venturing into using both, mainly FCP 4. I’m going to add a “lessons learned” page to journal the things I’m learning as I venture into this software, probably via a separate Final Cut Pro section in The ComputerZone. Look for it in the next few days. It'll at least have my lessons learned and links to other FCP resources.

October 12. 2003

Product Activation, Software Licensing, and Lost Markets

We’ve all seen the article in the news detailing Intuit’s apologies for the problems introduced last year by their inclusion of product activation technology. I was one of the people who had to deal with it. Until that point, I had been a loyal Turbo-Tax user. And really liked the program. But I wound up not being able to get the program to consistently run on the same PC even after a trip to Intuit’s tech support. I have enough hassle in my life, much of it introduced by computers, without dealing with stuff like this. Even with Intuit’s apology, I probably will not return to Turbo-Tax this year. I got good results using H&R Block’s software, and they’re not interested in playing the activation game, at least for now. I’m going to support those who don’t support this intrusive technology.

Product activation has worked for Microsoft because they have a monopoly. But has it really been effective? Users who really want to crack the technology have done so; and Microsoft’s own uneven enforcement of it—by leaving it out of some corporate versions—did nothing to make their own argument for including it. It was a technology clearly aimed at the home user. Without the monopoly to prop it up, most home users would have bolted from MS by now. Indeed, while it wasn’t the only reason I switched to Macs, it was one more straw in an ever growing Microsoft pile. I was in the business then of building and tearing down PC’s. I didn’t want to worry about whether the operating system I paid for and was using within the limits of the software agreement (one copy on one PC) could be loaded on another machine when the original one was torn down. And I did. That was enough for me. It became the deciding vote when other factors were already leaning me toward abandoning Windows.

The software industry is one of the few industries in the world that have so far gotten away with antagonizing and even abusing their customers. The institution of onerous software agreements which the customer cannot view before the sale are a great example of the kind of excess we have all let them get away with. (Product activation is another.) I was heartened by the lawsuit from Cathy Baker in California who is going after both Symantec and Microsoft and a few of the bigger software retailers. It’s standard that software doesn’t allow consumers to view the terms of the software agreement before it’s loaded on their machines and then doesn’t allow refunds after consumers view the agreement and don’t’ agree to it because the software has been opened. This is an unfair business practice; and, finally, Ms. Baker decided to do something about it. I salute her and hope she gets somewhere with that suit, even if the direct result will apply only in California. It’s the kind of customer abuse that has been blindly accepted by people sometimes unknowingly and sometimes because one feels he/she doesn’t have a choice. You simply can’t afford the money bleed some software companies would like to see.

I’m always very skeptical whenever I see projected estimates for how much money is lost each year by software piracy. Underlying those figures seems to be the assumption that all those illegal copies are taking up places in the market that paying customers would fill, and that’s simply not true. Piracy is a bad deal, that’s for sure. But I can’t escape the feeling that some of those figures are vaporware intended to legitimize the companies’ own little sidesteps of both the law and courtesy in the name of profits. Reducing prices is another way to combat piracy, but that is a tactic I’ve never seen any software alliance advocate; and it will probably be a cold day in hell before I do.

October 9, 2003

Is Apple Biting the Hand that Feeds It?

Many loyal Apple users have kept their systems updated, especially with newer optical drives, by patching specific files within the OS X framework. A report I read today at XCLR8Yourmac.com seems to indicate that Apple may be trying to restrict users from performing these kinds of upgrades by making the file that controls them un-patchable in Panther, their newest operating system. If that’s true, then the difference between Apple and the much maligned Microsoft is truly only their size. Their tactics are the same, with the only difference being that Apple is trying to force people to buy only their hardware and Microsoft tries to force people to buy only their software.

If this is true, then Apple is biting the hand that feeds it. Computer technology, especially in removable storage media, changes fast; and there is no way anyone in their right mind can buy a new machine to provide CD or DVD support every time they change. This is an issue for the home consumer but more so for video professionals. DVD formats are changing quickly, and Apple does not provide support for new technologies as fast as its Windows’ counterpart, if it does at all. Is anyone burning DVD+R using Apple products? No.

Every company lives or dies by the profit it makes. Before that, though, every company lives or dies by the relationships it has with its customers. It’s perfectly understandable to “not support” something like this, but it is another thing entirely to actively block it. Ultimately, attempts like this to control user behavior, whether in the software or hardware arena, will backfire; and Apple has more to lose than anyone when it does.

Second Guessing…

John Sculley, the ex-CEO of Apple Computer, reportedly said that the biggest mistake he ever made was not moving the company to the Intel platform. But was it? True, such a move might have given Apple a larger playing field and perhaps even more market share. But second guessing is a very dangerous proposition. Had Apple switched to Intel, it’s just as possible that it would have become another maker of ho-hum. Frankly, I’d rather have Apple as it is, i.e., small and innovative instead of humongous and boring.

October 8, 2003

Panther is coming…

Today, Apple announced that it will be releasing Panther (10.3) on October 24. Even though I still have a few reservations about upgrading to Panther, I’m going to go ahead and order the $199 Family Pack. That will allow me to upgrade all my Macs, though I won’t do that all at once. It will also allow me to report on the changes in the OS and put my own observations about it here. Panther and Jaguar will be split out into their own respective sections under The ComputerZone’s “Mac OS X” heading. I had hoped to complete the Jaguar section of the website before Panther’s release, but I don’t believe I’m going to get there.

Coming Updates to The AndyZone…

I didn’t post any blogs over the last couple of days because I’ve been busy working on the “Disks, Files, and Folders” topic in the OS X section of the website and hope to have that complete in the next few days. Regular OS X users probably won’t find much there they don’t already know, and I do realize that much of what I’m posting for OS X is for people who might be thinking about switching or for those users who just aren’t that intimate with the OS. For more advanced users, I am planning on getting the Troubleshooting section going pretty soon; and my plan is to put information on or links to explanations for solutions to the most common problems or extraordinary ones I’ve had to deal with.

On the XP side, I plan to continue to fill it out as well. I’ll intersperse updates there with the work I’m doing on the Mac side. I feel like I’ve got a little more time with it since Longhorn is at least a year away. I do plan on upgrading my PC to an Athlon64 and Windows XP 64 bit, but finances are dictating that I wait a while before committing to that. I’ll launch the Troubleshooting section of the XP website before too long as well and before I fill out the rest of the subject matter in an effort to provide some another resource that might provide a helping hand.

In The LaunchZone, some updates to the Contingency Abort section will be appearing by the end of the weekend. I believe I have the nominal trajectory (uphill and TAL) two engine out pages complete with only some formatting and fine tweaks left and some of the three engine out pages ready as well.

I’m also going to start hitting the WritingZone’s blogs pretty soon, though most of the writing I’m doing write now is for my website. I intend to post some poetry and a short story within the next two weeks.

October 5, 2003

PaperPort mx on Windows XP

Years ago, Visioneer made a little sheetfed scanner and coupled it with software that allowed us to scan documents into electronic form. I’ve used a Compaq keyboard scanner (a PaperPort sheetfed scanner built into a keyboard) and a PaperPort mx scanner to keep electronic copies of a lot of records and data that would have otherwise filled up several file cabinets. One of the major pains of moving to Windows XP from Windows 98 was that I could not get the PaperPort scanner to work reliably under Windows XP…until today.

When I first moved to XP, I did have the scanner working using PaperPort 4. I don’t remember why it stopped; it may have been when I installed XP’s Service Pack 1. In any case, one of the major reasons why I have held onto a dual boot WindowsXP/98SE system was so I could keep using the PaperPort. That seemed a much better solution that buying one of Visioneer’s new sheetfeed scanners, especially since owners have been reporting spotty reliability and the cheapest one is $200. I needed a dual boot system anyway to run some games that simply won’t install or run under XP, so keeping it to also run the PaperPort just made sense.

Still, as easy to install and manage as Windows 98 is, I like XP better. It is a bit of a pain to have to boot into 98 just for the PaperPort when I’ve got other things to do in XP. This morning, I got the bug again to see if I could get the scanner working under XP, and it looks like I have. With some help from an old newsgroup article, that is.

If you do a search at Google, for “paperport mx windows xp” and then click on the Groups tab, you’ll find a newsgroup article posted by someone who got his PaperPort mx scanner running under Windows 2000. While I had tried his method before and it hadn’t worked for me under XP, I read the article again, analyzing what the major gist of it was. I realized that it was that the operating system had grabbed the com ports and was preventing the PaperPort drivers from accessing them. Maybe, I thought, I could use the same basic technique. I did, and got the scanner working.

First, I went to the Visioneer web site and clicked on “Drivers” under the “Support” heading on the frame on the left of the home page. Under “Strobe scanners” I selected “Ix, Vx, or MX”. On the drivers page, I downloaded the “vx002.exe” file. This is a driver patch that improves communication with older versions of PaperPort and higher speed CPU’s. Some time before, I had also clicked on the “Spare Parts” tab at the top of the Support column and ordered PaperPort 6.1. It’s on a CD that Visioneer will send to you only for the cost of shipping and handling ($9.95); this versions contains drivers for all the sheetfed scanners they had manufactured up until that time. This is the version I have loaded on my computer. Anyway, I launched the driver patch and told it to install. Frankly, it gave me an error message saying I was running NT and it didn’t need to install; and I’m not sure it did, but I think it did.

Now, according to the newsgroup article, I needed to create a conflict between the port with the PaperPort scanner and another com port on my machine. I was running the scanner on COM 1 and COM 2 was free, so I brought up XP’s Device Manager, navigated to COM 1, Properties, and then under Resources selected the address for COM2 (using manual settings). This created the conflict I was looking for. I rebooted and heard the PaperPort cycle and knew I had it. I’ve rebooted several times since then, tested it, and it still continues to work.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

October 2, 2003

When Final Cut Pro didn’t cut it…

I finally took time last night to dump two hours of video onto the MDD PowerMac from my Sony TRV-720 camcorder. But what I thought would be a two hour job took about five, the only saving grace being that I could work on my website using one of my other machines while the MDD was cranking away. Still, one of the things I don’t like about Final Cut Pro is how it captures. If something happens before the capture is complete, all video already dumped onto the machine appears lost. (That may be because I haven’t figured out a way to recover it.) So, last night, when I tried twice to some one hour tapes and they both hung at the very end, I was not a happy camper. Hours of work down the drain… (NOTE TO APPLE: If there isn’t a way to recover files from a crashed or hung FCP capture, MAKE one!)

If you drop by Apple’s support forums, you’ll find a fair number of folks having problems capturing using Final Cut Pro 4. (FCP 4 is what I’m using. I never saw any capturing problems using FCP 3.0 nor have I seen any when running Final Cut Express on my older PowerMac.) FCP 4 capture problems with a solution were associated with having Norton Anti-Virus on the machine, and I have been careful not to install any Norton product on the MDD because of how they tended to enmesh themselves in its operating system. So, whatever was happening with mine had to be some kind of a bug in FCP, OS X, or in the machine itself.

To troubleshoot the problem, I asked myself what had changed since I had performed a successful capture and identified two things. I had changed my hard drive configuration and had updated the OS from 10.2.6 to 10.2.8. While the operating system update certainly was suspect, the only way to drop back to the older version of OS X was to reinstall from scratch. I decided to pursue reinstalling the operating system only as a last resort after eliminating all possible hard disk problems.

To look at the hardware, I booted the machine using a Drive 10 CD and then ran hardware checks on each hard disk. Drive 10 found no problems. I then booted the machine using its Software Recovery DVD, ran Apple’s Disk Utility and repaired permissions on the boot drive. After that was done, I performed a normal boot into OS 10.2.8.

Unlike IDE set ups in a PC, the primary and secondary hard disk IDE ports in the MDD do not run at the same ATA speeds. The primary IDE interface is ATA100 and the secondary is ATA66. Kind of ridiculous if you ask me, but that’s the way it is. So, could that be causing some problem with capturing in FCP? To find out, in FCP’s System Preferences, I deselected all hard drives and then set the hard disks on the primary IDE (ATA 100) interface as the only scratch disks within FCP. I then tried a 30 second capture. It worked. A ten minute capture also worked, as did a fifteen. After following that with a 30 minute capture that had no problems, I declared the problem fixed, at least for now.

Obviously, I still don’t really know if the problem is due to the split-speed ATA interface or whether there is some issue with one of the remaining 120GB hard disks (one is a Maxtor and one is a Western Digital). I may try capturing tonight with one or the other of them selected. I may not. If I ever do find out it that the split interface is the cause, I could try using a PCI based card to put all drives on ATA 100 or even ATA 133. My experience with those cards in PC’s, though, says they’re often as much trouble as they’re worth; so, it’s unlikely I’m going to go there. I prefer to just use the 160GB hard disks as capture disks and use the remaining 120’s to archive stuff.

September 29, 2003

Adobe and Apple wars...NOT!

Today, Adobe announced the release of their Creative Suite package in both a standard and professional version. These are definitely business level packages. The Standard package will cost $999 and the Professional level package will cost $1299. The standard package includes “CS” versions of the Adobe mainstays in the graphics and desktop publishing world, i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator, and In Design along with a new application called “Version Cue” which is essentially a file manager that can be used inside any of the other applications. The professional package also includes Go Live and Acrobat 6.0 Professional. An Upgrade from Photoshop to the Creative Suite will run $549 for the standard version and $749 for the professional version.

Frankly, after giving laid out a bunch of cash for Apple’s Final Cut Pro 4.0 and DVD Studio Pro 2.0, the piggybank is kind of busted for any kind of a large upgrade, even if I wanted one. Photoshop 7.0 is powerful enough for me; but if I do decide to upgrade my Adobe applications, I would more than likely do it one application at a time. $169 a pop is a less bitter pill to swallow than either $550 or $750 all at once.

When the announcement was first made, I traveled over to the Adobe website to see what upgrades would cost. The only posted upgrades were for Windows! Was Adobe lying when it had said that Apple was still a viable part of its market even though they had released Final Cut Pro, undercutting part of the market for Premiere? Well, it appears not. Later in the day, the online Adobe Store, the only place where you could actually see the upgrade availability for individual applications, went down; and when it came up again, it did show I could pre-order either a Windows or Mac version.

I saw a note on a forum stating that the Windows versions were going to have product activation technology and the Mac versions would not. Personally, I hope that’s true. If not, I’ve bough my last Adobe product for either platform.

CompUSA USB2.0/Firewire Combo 3.5” Adapter

I saw this little device (SKU# 296202) at my local CompUSA store and decided to buy it and install it in my Windows computer to avoid having to crawl around it to plug in extra USB and Firewire devices. The computer has a MSI motherboard with USB 2.0 ports and I had Firewire via a PCI card. The little adapter would install in a spare 3.5 inch bay and I had an open spot (actually, I could create one) just below the machine’s 3.5 inch floppy drive. The device’s system requirements stated only “Windows 98SE/2000/XP” and “Available Exposed 3.5 inch Drive Bay”. I had both of those and it only cost $20, so I bought it.

Not so fast! The connecting chords were built to hook to a motherboard, a fact I couldn’t easily discern until I had opened the package. The USB chord ends in a straightforward, multi-prong connector (10 pins with one blocked) but the Firewire chord ends in 9 individual pins. While the instruction sheet was clear about which pin was which (and they are lettered), the set up won’t work with a Firewire card. All the ones I own have internal ports that work with a standard 6 pin Firewire connector, the same type you’ll find on external hard drives.

I’m thinking seriously about slowly putting moving my Windows desktop to an Athlon64 CPU. Knowing I’m probably going to do that at some point, I’m storing the device for now. When I buy a new motherboard for the Athlon64, I’ll get one that has both Firewire and USB ports. Then, I’ll try installing my front port adapter again. In the meantime, if you’re looking to put both Firewire and USB 2.0 ports on your PC, be sure and do your homework and check out what kind of connectors the adapter uses.

September 26, 2003

Knock, knock, knocking on Apple’s door…

Every now and then something comes along that doesn’t bother some people but drives you nuts. That’s the way it is with the fan noise from my Mirrored Door Drive PowerMac. Most of the time, the machine is fairly quiet, much better than the first models of the MDD that were released. But there is a certain mid-range of rpm’s where the fan in my machine starts knocking, sounding like the muffled walk of an old horse sauntering down the street or the sound of loose rails as a train rolls over. It is a subtle knock a knock a knock; and it steals my attention like a college girl flashing her breasts. No matter how much I try to ignore it, I can’t.

I talked to Apple Care about it the other day. In true Apple fashion, the first thing the tech did was to ask me if I had the optional Apple Care coverage even though the machine was still under warranty. I told him I wasn’t interested in that right now. I described the problem to him and mentioned it was making the noise right then, so he asked me to hold the phone down so he could hear it. I thought that was probably pretty useless; and it turned out to be just that, not only because of poor audio on the phone but also because the fan shifted rpm just enough to shift it out of the range where it makes the noise. The tech told me I was going to have to take the computer to a repair station and let them listen to the noise before he could do anything. Kind of ridiculous if you ask me. I would much have preferred to have paid for a new fan and been done with it. Buying a fan was never offered as an option. Sure he wasn’t willing to do anything about this problem, I thanked him and hung up.

That made me “one for two” with Apple Tech Support. I took the fan out and examined it but could find nothing obvious. In the hope the noise might be from the fan hitting the case, I put some sound absorbing material underneath the fan and behind it, but had to remove the material behind the fan because it made normal operation louder. At first I thought that bottom material might have done the trick; but after running for about ten minutes, the knock returned. I don’t mind the smooth wind-tunnel sound of the fans in my Quicksilver PowerMac as much as the knock in the MDD. Now, I’m in a quandary about what to do about it.

If this was a PC, I’d simply study the fans out there (and that is something I’ve done) and then replace the fan with a better one. But, in true Apple fashion, the Mac uses two pin connectors when PC fans use 3 or 4. I may try a 4 pin fan I believe would work, anyway. Other people have successfully replaced their fans (See G4noise.com and XLR8yourmac.), so I know you can get it to work.

Apple’s living up to the terms of their tech support, but they did nothing to make me feel better about their sometimes amazing lack of quality control (first MDD fans, OS 10.2.8 update). Nor did they really help my relationship with them. It’s kind of ridiculous not to send me a fan since it’s on the list of “customer installable parts” to avoid the downtime at a shop and the expense the shop would bill Apple for. I haven’t bought a PowerMac yet that didn’t have some kind of problem, even if it was minor. That’s one of the reasons why, unless I have just have money to burn, I won’t chunk down $3000 for a top of the line
model again. If I know I’m going to have something to fix anyway, it makes sense to wait until the prices fall.

The Hunter Becomes the Hunted...

Today, Kazaa turned the tables on RIAA by suing them for copyright violations. It appears that RIAA used a hacked version of Kazza Lite to track down music downloaders and that violates the user agreement for the software. I'm not surprised. I've felt for quite a while that RIAA would break the law to protect their pocketbooks, and that is exactly what they've done. Anyone who thinks this whole situation is not out of control simply doesn't understand what's going on. (Read the full MacCentral article.)

September 24, 2003

Ulterior Motives…

Microsoft announced today that they are terminating MSN Chat services in Europe and parts of Asia while leaving services in North America virtually intact. Their rationale states they are taking this action because of pedophilia and concerns over children’s safety. But is that their real motive? Is the risk of children encountering a pedophile in a chat room any less because the child lives in the US? Canada? Japan? My bet is it is not. Isn’t it too big a happy coincidence that Microsoft is still being investigated for monopolistic practices in Europe, that parts of the German government have defected to Linux, that parts of Asian business communities have also defected to Linux, and that China has developed its own operating system in an effort to boot Windows out of the country; and those appear to be the some of the target areas for the MSN chat shutdown? MSN stated they will allow paid subscribers in the US, Canada, and Japan unsupervised access to chat. All in all, my bet is that this has more to do with money than with child security. It’s Microsoft being their typical selves.

September 23, 2003

AMD Athlon 64...The Other 64 bit CPU

AMD released its Athlon 64 CPU today, and it looks like an interesting chip to watch. Performance tests show it will be the chip to beat if you’re interested in gaming and overall workplace performance, but the Intel P4 still seems to hold the video processing crown in the PC world, at least from the performance test I saw at AnandTech.com. That test actually used the Opetron, though I’m sure that performance tests using real Athlon64 CPU’s will be hitting the web pretty soon--if they haven’t already. PC World tests of the Athlon 64 were impressive. I had a fleeting thought I might upgrade my XP machine to this chip until I visited one of my favorite retailers, Mwave.com. Right now, as one would expect, the Athlon64 3200+ carries a $453 price tag. That’s bit rich for my blood at the moment. Instead, I might go ahead and creep the system up to an AthlonXP 2400+. It’s only $85 and will run on my current motherboard. In another year or whenever Athlon64 CPU’s hit the $100-$200 price range and I can get a 64 bit version of Windows XP (the beta was released today), I’ll take another look.

Mac OS 10.2.8 Update

Mac OS X has stepped up to a 10.2.8 version update, one that is meant only for us G4 and below owners. Using the Software Update feature, I updated all the Macs in the house to this version without problems. Lots of folks are reporting they are losing Ethernet connections (and therefore Internet connections), some folks are reporting loss of USB 2.0 or other third party PCI cards, and some people are reporting video problems. There’s plenty of traffic about this subject at XLR8Yourmac , MacNN, MacInTouch, and MacFixIt websites. One of the things one can do if he/she is having problems with an OS update is to download the stand-alone update and apply that. Even though I’m not having problems, I like to download both standalone and combo operating system updates so I can burn them to CD or DVD in case I have to completely reload a system. (Well, it does happen, even though it’s usually because I’m changing out hard disks or otherwise screwing with one of my systems.) I just went to the Apple website a few minutes ago, tried to do that, and got “not found” messages from their servers. Apple appears to have yanked the packages but it's unclear if it's because of the reported problems or some other reason.

September 22, 2003

About G5 Fever…

I added a section to the ComputerZone entitled “G5 Fever”. I want to make the section a one stop shopping place for G5 information as we watch it evolve. I will provide commentary and links to other websites and G5 performance tests as I dig them up (with proper credit for where I found them) or run them myself. The story of the G5 is just beginning to be told.

While I’m on that subject, if you haven’t seen it already, PC Magazine ran a review of the G5. The performance numbers were pretty good, even if they didn’t back up Jobs claim that the G5 is the fastest personal computer around today. The reviewer and I agree that the G5 is on par (call that “competitive”) with the fastest PC’s. That said, Mike over at AccelerateYourMac wondered if the magazine used the G5’s automatic or best performance energy saver settings. My money is that it was in auto, the default, either purposefully or because they didn’t know that an energy saver setting could actually affect the machine’s performance. That’s behavior you might expect out of a laptop but not a desktop unless you knew it was there. It’s also something I don’t know I’d expect a PC magazine to be aware of unless they’ve been following the G5 from day one.

Nostalgia...


I started feeling nostalgic this weekend and pulled my chair into the guest bedroom where my Windows computer sits so I could do some work on it. I booted it into Windows 98 to use a PaperPort scanner and also pulled up my ATI Multimedia Center to watch TV. My nostalgia promptly disappeared when I got reminded again one of the reasons why I had moved off Windows in the first place. The ATI application crashed. I had to reinstall it a couple of times to get it working. Once I did, I scanned in the papers I needed to and worked in Word 2000 for only a few minutes before I shuffled back into my office and cranked up my iMac. I finished the “Drive 10” review using it and the dual 1Ghz Power Mac sitting beside it.

To this day, the clarity of the fonts and the brightness of my 17 inch Samsung 760V TFT LCD running Windows XP are excellent. They are honestly better than my flat panel iMac or my Dual 1 GHz Power Mac running a 17 inch Apple Studio LCD. My dual 1.25 MDD Power Mac with its 20 inch Apple Cinema Display is on par with the XP machine, but I don’t use the MDD for anything but video. So, I hunger sometimes to work on the XP machine (Win 98’s fonts are the worst of the bunch). But I remember that during my divorce from my first marriage I’d start rationalizing it wasn’t that bad and would want to go back…until cold reality reminded me of why I left in the first place. It’s the same with my Windows machine. I think I’ll leave it in the guest room where its major purpose in life is to watch TV and play games.

September 18, 2003

Singing the Website Blues…

If you’re reading this, all my website problems have been resolved. They started on Wednesday, Sept 19, the day after I had begun moving my website to another hosting service. Ironically, my website host’s (ApolloHosting) entire operation cratered all day from what I could tell, taking my website with it, of course, and convincing me I needed to hurry the transition to my new hosting service. Boy was that right! Unfortunately, I rushed one piece of it a little too much; and that helped knock me off the air for a few days until the DNS change got implemented.

As you may or may not have known, I had been hosting the site for the past few months at ApolloHosting. While their service was pretty good, their prices seemed high and they seemed best for small to medium websites with little to moderate traffic. While that describes my site most of the time, I am rapidly expanding it and did have a huge traffic increase last month when I posted the “G4, G5, and AMD Shootout” article in the ComputerZone. That required me to pay extra for transfer and made me take a look at what I was getting for my money from both a space and transfer perspective. After all, I didn’t know when I might hit paydirt again and wanted to be able to. (I’ve been telling my wife we need to get a dual 2Ghz G5 in here for testing, but so far, she’s not buying…) I wanted the capability to expand the site without it costing a fortune, and Apollo Hosting just did not fit that bill.

After doing a bit of research, I decided to give Lunarpages a try. I get twice the space and transfer for the same amount of money I was paying at Apollo Hosting, and I can reduce costs further by renewing for a year, something I’m not yet ready to do. But, you know what they say about getting what you pay for. My first impressions with Lunarpages have been--they are good but not great. I suffered through tons of “FTP errors” when uploading large files to the new website. Also, some file name capitalizations got changed in the transfer, and that caused me a lot of manual labor on the server side to keep things straight. (I think that was the fault of Adobe Go Live, but that’s something I’m still checking out.) The down time on Sept 18 and after was not their fault, though. It happened because Apollo Hosting requires that you submit a cancellation at least 5 days before your billing period ends or they will automatically renew your account. My account period was up the 24th, so I dropped the cancellation notice today. They reacted immediately and killed my site, knocking me off-line and making no effort to refund any remaining monies. That certainly didn’t leave me with a good taste in my mouth about them. I felt trapped by their requirement and knocked off the air for no good reason. I asked for the DNS change from Network Solutions yesterday, but it hasn’t happened yet. If you’re reading this, it finally kicked in.

The new site is being hosted at Lunarpages. If this works out, I’ll probably stay with them a while. We’ll see how it goes.

September 15, 2003

MacAddict’s Dual G5 Benchmarks

Mac Addict published some very interesting benchmarks using PSBench 7 on a dual 2 Ghz G5. The dual G5 was compared to a 1.8Ghz G5 and to dual 1.42Ghz and 1.25 Ghz G4’s. While the dual G5 was faster, using 512MB RAM, it was not that much faster than the single 1.8. For instance, the best case was in the “Convert from RGB to CMYK” test where the dual G5 performed the test in approximately 15 seconds and the 1.8 G5 performed it in 21. However, in the “Rotate 90 Degrees” test the dual G5 took 24 seconds while the single 1.8 took 25. In several other tests, the results were or almost were on the same scale.

Not until they loaded the dual G5 with 2GB of RAM, that is! The G5 had been shipped from Apple with 2 GB of RAM they removed to match the systems up at 512MB. When they loaded 2GB of RAM back in, the dual G5 performed the “rotate 90” test in 2.15 seconds! The “Convert from RGB to CMYK” test was performed in approximately 7. They not only prove that the PSBench test and Photoshop love memory but also show that the strength of the G5 lies in its memory and bus architecture. Applications that can take advantage of those will scream on the dual 2GHz G5's and the future, even faster processors to come.

Next Website Update…

I’m working on a product review of Micromat’s Drive 10. I hope to have it up by the end of the week. If I miss that, it’ll be end of the weekend at the latest. Blogs and some extra material on OS X and Windows XP will be added through the week as I am able, the latter after I finish the product review.

Site Move…

I’m coming up to the end of my contract period with my current website host. The G5 “shootout” article got so much interest that, for the first time since I opened this site, I had to upgrade the amount of transfer; and I’ve already used 82% of my website space. While my time with my current provider has been pretty good, I need to find a cheaper and more generous webhost. So, sometime during the next week, I’m going to be transferring my website to another host. If this goes smoothly, you won’t notice it. If there is an interruption in service, then something went wrong; check back. I’ll get the website up and running as soon as I can.

September 14, 2003

Chasing a Corrupt Stack…

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been getting kernel panics on my MDD PowerMac during disk optimization runs using both Norton SpeedDoctor and Drive 10. This weekend, for some reason (must be because I really don’t have a life!), I decided to troubleshoot the problem to see if I could eliminate it.

I had discussed the problem with tech support at Micromat, and they thought something was wrong with hard drive. All the hardware checks in Drive 10 were passing, but I had not done a surface scan. So, I ran that; and Drive10 found no problems.

Next, to eliminate a bad RAM chip as the culprit, I pulled two of the three memory sticks (DDR) out of the machine, leaving in only the 256MB Samsung stick that came from Apple, and ran the Drive 10’s Optimization routine. The machine crashed at the end of the optimization routine (“Finishing” was displayed on the screen.). I then removed the 256MB stick and replaced it with one of my 512MB sticks bought from Crucial.com. I got the same result. That told me that the problem was not due to bad RAM. I also had used different RAM slots for these tests, eliminating a bad RAM slot on the motherboard as a cause.

To rule out a hardware defect on the disk that Apple’s Hardware Test wasn’t catching, I went out to Best Buy and bought another 160GB hard disk (Maxtor L01P160). (They had a great price on it and it was the same model as the one in my machine.) I brought it home, installed it, and configured it as the only hard drive on that IDE, bypassing the original by leaving it completely unhooked. I then ran the Software Restore Disk that came with the PowerMac to install Mac OS 10.2.3 to it. Once I booted up on the new hard disk and made sure it was working, I then rebooted and ran Drive 10’s Optimization routine. It ran like a champ. There were no crashes.

I then installed the Mac OS 10.2.6 Combo Updater (from a file archived on DVD). After rebooting, I rebooted again from Drive 10’s CD and ran its Optimization routine. It crashed again (kernel panic-corrupt stack).

Suspecting that the 10.2.6 updater might have overwritten or corrupted something in the PRAM, I reset the PRAM (Command-Option-P-R keys held down during reboot until I hear the system chime, and I listen for a second chime before releasing the keys.) and booted to the Drive 10 CD and ran the Optimization routine. No crash. I reinstalled the old 160GB hard disk and ran the Optimization routine. No crash. So, I put the two 160GB Maxtors on the primary IDE and two 120GB Maxtors on the secondary hard disk IDE and rebooted into 10.2.6. Then, I rebooted on the Drive 10 CD and ran Optimization. No crash.

That was at about 1:40 a.m. I went to bed and got up the next morning and tried it again. It did crash, but it did not crash during any part of the optimization routine. It crashed as Drive 10 was moving back to its main menu (“Scanning Volumes” was shown on the window). I also ran the Optimization on one of the 120GB hard drives and got the same result. At least, the Optimization routines are running now. That’s farther along than I have ever been since I’ve owned this machine.

Obviously, it’s somewhat suspicious that the machine is crashing once the version of the OS on the computer is newer than the version of the OS on the boot CD. Both Norton and Drive 10 use OS 10.2.3. I am not seeing any kernel panics during normal use so far. I may shoot a note over to Micromat later in the week. I also may talk to Apple care this week. The lower fan sounds like a horse walking down a road sometimes, which leaves me wondering if it’s on the way to failure. I want a quieter machine anyway.

September 10, 2003

How RIAA's Shooting Itself in the Foot without Really Trying…

Every day on the news, we read about the music industry, in the form of RIAA, trapping and jailing another kid or another grandparent. While I don’t condone copyright violations, I have felt from the beginning that this battle against online piracy was a deflection, the creating of scapegoats for the music industry’s problems. Now, as sales statistics are rolling in while the online piracy war is raging, the opposite seems to be true. CD sales are not increasing but continuing to decline and at a faster rate than before.

Now, as this is going on and customers are getting an even worse taste in their mouth about the music industries, they are releasing copy protected CD’s that won’t play or will allow only limited play on PC’s. Well, for all you music industry executives out there who aren’t listening, let me say that if I can’t play CD’s on my PC, uh, Mac anymore, I have no real use for buying any CD. Most of my music machines are Mac’s. I seldom listen to CD’s in my car, and my household is usually too busy to shut down the TV’s or Mac's or PC’s in the rest of the house to listen to our only regular CD player in the living room.

Have I bought any music CD’s lately? You bet! This past weekend I had the wonderful privilege of seeing and listening live to one of my favorite groups, Brulé, as they played at the Indian Summer Festival in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My wife and I bought 3 of their CD’s and did so almost without thinking because I KNEW they weren’t copy protected and I could play them wherever I wanted. If the CD's had been copy protected, would I have bought them? No. I’m not going to spend money on a product I can’t use in the manner I want to and that is within the law.

I will shy away from any mainstream music CD’s that incorporate copy protection. The debacle of a CD screwing up one of my computers or an arbitrary restriction on where I can listen to my music is not something I’m going to endure. I'm not going to spend any time trtying to figure out which ones I can play and which I can't. I suspect a lot of people will feel that way; and, in the end, RIAA and the music industry will discover they were trying to control the uncontrollable and that more time spent innovating and producing better product would have benefited them a hell of a lot more.

September 9, 2003

Awaiting Dual 2Ghz G5 Cinebench Results and About G5 Bus Slewing


I’ve seen some dual 2Ghz G5 Cinebench 2003 benchmarks at a couple of places, but I have not seen a complete data set, meaning I’d like to get data on each of the Cinebench sub-tests as well as the official benchmarks. When I do and am sure the data is valid, I’ll update the shootout section and look for Cinebench numbers on an AMD chip that yields the closest performance. I will also update that section if and when Cinebench gets its G5 optimizations.

I may have to wait until I can get my hands on a dual G5 since most folks only post the benchmarks. If you’re interested in only the latter, drop by Barefeats.com. They’ve got those benchmarks and several others that pit the dual G5 against other Apple and Intel powered systems. There is also a set of Cinebench benchmarks comparing a dual G5 to various other Macs at MacInTouch.

One interesting point concerning the G5 that is just now surfacing is about “bus slewing”. Depending upon the setting in OS X’s Energy Saver preference, the G5 manipulates its bus speed to control CPU temperature. Here’s a quote from Apple’s Developer Documentation explaining it: (Thanks to Xlr8yourmac.com for providing the link.)

Processor and Bus Slewing

To lower power consumption, heat generation, and fan noise, the Power Mac G5 computer incorporates an automatic power management technique called bus slewing. Bus slewing is designed to run at high processor and bus speeds and high voltage when the demand on the processor is high, and to run at low processor and bus speeds and low voltage when the demand on the processor is low. Switching between different processor/bus speeds and voltages is achieved by a gradual transition that does not impact system or application performance and operates seamlessly to the user. In slewing, the bus runs at half the speed of the processor.

The ranges of the slewed processor speeds are listed below:


Configuration
Processor range

1.6 GHz
1.3 GHz to 1.6 GHz

1.8 GHz
1.3 GHz to 1.8 GHz

2.0 GHz
1.3 GHz to 2.0 GHz


In addition, the Power Mac G5 computer allows the user to control bus slewing mode. The options for specifying either high, reduced, or automatic processor and bus speeds are located at System Preferences>Energy Saver>Options; then select Automatic, Highest, or Reduced.

If the Power Mac G5 computer detects a system temperature that is too high, due to high ambient temperatures or other factors, it will automatically enter bus slewing mode regardless of the selected setting.”

My bet is that the machine comes set at “Automatic”. The question then becomes how many of the benchmark results we’ve been seeing have been influenced by this setting. If I get a chance to re-run my benchmarking tests with the G5’s set at Highest, I’ll add a section to the ComputerZone showing the results.

Tales of An Unexpected Switcher...

If any of you are thinking about switching to Macs and OS X and what you've seen on my site has not been enough to convince you, here's someone else's experience to consider.

September 4, 2003

Used and abused: About DRM…

Both news articles and forum-talk on various spots in the Web are focusing on Microsoft Office 2003 and its use of Digital Rights Management technology, also known as DRM. Users who make Office 2003 documents will have the ability to restrict who opens any file made by the software. While at first blush this may seem like a good thing, there is also the potential for Microsoft, in its usual fashion, to use its monopoly and this new technology to gain a bigger stranglehold on the computer industry.

Currently, software companies can compete with MS Office, at least on some basis, because they can engineer document filters that make their own formats and those of Microsoft’s interchangeable. But some folks already playing with Office 2003 are reporting they cannot open even unguarded documents with anything than Office 2003. Error messages are stating that they must have a “DRM” client to open the files. The only current DRM client software is in Office 2003. Effectively, this means that document interchangeability with anything other than Office may become a thing of the past. Through this door, Microsoft can effectively shut out competition until the competition collapses. And it is likely that Microsoft will do just that given the weak pursuit of them by our current Department of Justice. Indeed the Department of Homeland Security’s choice of Microsoft as their software provider will bolster their case as paranoid as American are right now about anything even purported to pertain to national security.

DRM and product activation technologies have the potential to plunge the computer industry into the darkest days they’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s up to us consumers to take them there. I’m not going to spend money on anything that makes my life harder or takes away from me capability I had before. I urge everyone to inform themselves about how these new technologies are being utilized and boycott those companies who are putting the consumer’s interests behind their own.

September 1, 2003

About Testing the G5…

My wife and I made it up to the Apple store yesterday and got to play around with the G5. They had a 1. 6GHZ machine and a 1.8Ghz side by side, which made it easy to run tests and get a feel for a comparison between the two. I ran Cinebench 2003 on both machines and took some video of the 1.8 running Cinebench. I also re-ran tests on my other two PowerMacs and the AMD machine mainly for data consistency and to get the “formal” benchmarks, and some went up so ever very slightly and some went down. I’m in the process of updating the “shootout” article with the results. Additionally, I shot video of my dual 1.25 G4 and my AMD 2000+ running Cinebench and hope to have all the video posted on the site in the next few days. They will be clips about 30 seconds long and won’t show the entire Cinebench rendering tests but will include enough for you to see some visually evident differences.

I didn’t know if I’d really like the design of the G5, even though I had seen pictures of it. Having Firewire and USB ports on the front of the machine is especially nice. Admittedly, the store environment is not very quiet; but I put my ear up to the front grille of the G5 and could still barely hear it. Overall, we had a favorable impression of the design.

My wife did lament the machine’s capacity for only a single optical drive, which was kind of funny, because she’s a bigger Mac fan than I am and has lived that way for years. I reminded her that my Quicksilver held only one optical drive and my MDD Power Mac was an exception with two. I am more concerned with the G5’s ability to only hold two internal hard drives. That’s not a huge issue, but it does come into play when I’m looking at a machine to work video on. Yes, I can use Firewire 800 drives for additional storage; but that’s not the same as having extra hard drive carriers in the machine. Not only are internal hard drives still generally faster, but they don’t cost me an extra $100 per disk (or more) for an external drive case.

Is there a G5 in my future? At some point. Right now, paying off the debt I’ve already incurred switching to or equipping the household with Macs over the last couple of years takes priority. As I tell my wife, I never hurt myself by waiting, as much as Apple’s marketing department might not like to hear me say that. Sometimes there are opportunities you lose if you don’t seize them, and sometimes there are opportunities you can afford to pass up to wait for something better. This seems like one of the latter. I’m going to wait for the dual 2Ghz machine to come down in price or for Apple’s single processor 3Ghz model. Sooner or later, they or something like them will happen.

About Panther and DVD+R/RW…

MacFixIt (http://www.macfixit.com) is reporting that Panther may include DVD+R/RW support. Assuming I could then put a Pioneer or Sony dual format in my dual 1.25 G4 and get it work using both disk formats, this would drive me to Panther even if I would not otherwise go there. I, for one, hope this is true. I’d like the choice of being to work in either format.

A few words about GenieSoft and Micromat…

I’ve had a couple of reasons to correspond with two software companies I’ve never bought from before, i.e., Micromat and GenieSoft. I wrote Micromat about the kernel panic problems I’ve been having with Drive 10 right at the end of an optimization of my 160MB hard drive. Their technical support folks responded in about a day with some helpful hints for troubleshooting the problem. True, I had already done everything they suggested, but the conversational tone of the note was really nice and the response fast. They think the problem is the drive. I think the problem could be the drive but is more likely the combination of this drive and my MDD Power Mac. Frankly, the optimization seems to be completing, I have not found disk errors on the drive after it has crashed during that process, and I’m not having kernel panics during normal operations. I'm not going to spend a lot of time chasing it. Why do I not think it is Drive 10? Because Norton Speed Disk also crashes on that drive, and it doesn’t get but halfway through the optimization when it does.

My wife and I stopped by Micro Center yesterday and picked up a copy of GenieSoft’s ScoreWriter 2. When I tried to install it on her iMac, I discovered that the CD inside the box held an upgrade to patch Score Writer 2.0 to ScoreWriter 2.5 but no ScoreWriter 2. From where I live, it’s a one hour drive back to the store one way and under moderate to light traffic; and not knowing whether I’d find the same problem if I went back to the store and swapped it, I contacted GenieSoft via e-mail and explained the problem. They answered me back in a couple of hours, stating that if I would fax or e-mail them a copy of my receipt, they would send me a copy of ScoreWriter 2 at no charge. Well, I did and they did. Not only did the package leave the next day (today) but they shipped it UPS 2 Day Air! This was for a $35 product!

I only have five words for both companies: “Now, THAT’S customer service!

August 30, 2003

I’ve spent much of the day fooling around with my computers.  It really all started a few weeks ago when I thought I’d replace the XP computer’s 60GB boot drive with the faster 120GB data drive that wasn’t being used.  I decided to do that while I had time this weekend.  I used a disk utility from Western Digital to copy the boot drive’s contents over (and found a surprise in the box it was in).  But, frankly, when I’ve done that in the past, I’ve still had to reinstall hardware or software to get things working again, sometimes even having to completely reinstall most of the system.  I decided it just wasn’t worth the risk.  After all, I still had about 15-16 GB of space left on each partition.  Still,  I didn’t like the idea of that 120GB hard drive going largely unused.

I usually know each and every spare piece of hardware and software I have in the house.  But I apparently had forgotten that an 80GB Hitachi hard drive that had originally come in my MDD Power Mac was stored in a box, replaced by a faster 120.  It happened to be the box that held the WD disk utility I needed to perform the copy operation.  I had one more hard drive in the house than I thought.  What was I going to do with it?  How could I optimize my use of all of them?

I had two hard drives in Firewire cases I used for backup.  I knew the one I used for backing up the data on my Power Mac held 80GB, but all I could remember about the one I used to backup my Windows machine was that it held everything with some room to spare.  Since I already had two copies of the data (between my Quicksilver Power Mac and its Firewire backup hard disk), I could afford to sacrifice the Firewire hard disk used to backup the Windows machine.  I decided that the best use of the 120GB hard drive would be if I put it in my MDD Power Mac to become another scratch and storage disk for use with Final Cut Pro.  And since the MDD Power Mac could hold four hard disks but only had two mounted in it, I could also mount the 80GB Hitachi in it.  The Firewire hard disk I backed up the Windows machine with (using direct copy techniques) would become the data disk (i.e., the D drive in the machine). I wouldn’t have to do anything but mount it since the data was already there.

To make a long story short, my Windows machine is running a 60GB Maxtor boot drive (FAT32 and NTFS partitions) and an 80GB Seagate data drive using FAT 32 (at least for now---I may divvy it up into a FAT32/NTFS volume later).  My MDD Power Mac now has a 160GB Maxtor hard drive (boot volume), 120GB Hard Drive 2, 120GB Hard drive 3, and an 80GB Hard Drive 4. That gives me plenty of space to work with lots of digital video and even some room to archive a few projects I know I’m going to keep.

During all the swapping and checking of jumper settings, I discovered I didn’t have the two disks on the primary IDE cable of my MDD Power Mac set correctly.  I had set them up as a Master/Slave pair.  While that is correct for my Quicksilver, it is not correct for the MDD Power Macs.  The MDD Power Mac needs its hard disks set to Cable Select.  I corrected that. I was hoping that mis-setting might explain the kernel panics I had gotten running Norton Speed Disk and Micromat’s Drive 10 Optimizer from their respective CD’s, but it seems to have had little impact.  Drive 10 crashed as it always did on that machine just as it was reporting “Finishing”.  As I wrote this, Norton Speed Disk was crunching away on the hard disk.  I’m waiting to see if it crashes, too, or runs successfully.

NOTE: It crashed, halfway through like it always does.  I’m booting off the Software Restore DVD that came with the MDD and using its Disk Utility to check the disk and repair permissions on the boot volume.  I’ll see if that helps.

Regardless, tomorrow will be fun.  I’m off work tomorrow, so my wife and I are driving up to the Apple store to photograph, video, and play with a couple of G5’s.  They say they have both 1.6 and 1.8Ghz machines.  I might even try to smuggle in Cinebench and PSBench7 on a CD...!

August 29, 2003

Going too far…

In an article published on CNN, Findlaw columnist Marci A. Hamilton tells why she believes that RIAA’s lawsuits against students are the right thing to do. Her arguments center around “ the enduring value of copyright” and she argues that all of the commercial art that exists today would vanish if there were not copyrights to protect them. As a writer, a web publisher, and videographer, I am sensitive to copyright issues and protecting the rights of individual artists. Still, I believe her argument that commercial art would not exist without copyright is simplistic and overstated, the kind of argument to be expected from anyone associated with our legal system. What she is not addressing is this question: Is RIAA going too far?

Indeed, CNN reported that in one case RIAA stated that they had examined the files on a young woman’s computer but did not explicitly state how and when. If they did it online before they had obtained a subpoena, then RIAA has broken into the woman’s machine and invaded her privacy. In respect for private rights under our Constitution, we do not even allow our police to take such action without obtaining a search warrant. At least from what’s being reported in the news, it appears that this situation is out of control. What’s worse is we’re allowing it to happen.

RIAA is acting boldly because dollars are at stake, or so they claim, and because they have powerful allies in Congress and in the legal establishment, all of whom tend to line their pockets by looking the other way. Can someone explain to me how Senator Orin Hatch can chair the Senate committee that oversees this matter when he is earning money as a songwriter? That’s in clear violation of Senate ethics rules, yet no Senator I’ve contacted via e-mail has responded to me about the matter. In any case, it is clear that the people involved in this will do almost anything to secure what they see as their rights, Constitution be damned.

When it became apparent that RIAA would begin taking these kind of actions, some analysts stated that this could backfire and that RIAA was placing the blame for declining sales where they didn’t belong. Indeed, since RIAA began these actions, the sales decline of CD’s has accelerated.

On the other side of the coin, the unauthorized copying is happening because new digital technologies, and I include the Internet in those, have made copying data in electronic form easy and convenient. For example, anything posted on this site is copyrighted by law. Yet, I found one of the “G4, G5, and AMD Shoot-out” charts posted on a forum by someone who did not give me any credit for the chart at all. Technically, that was a copyright violation, not to mention just flat out rude. However, I feel that legally it falls under “fair use” copyright provisions. The person’s use of the chart fell within the use it was posted on the Net for and, more importantly, they were not making any profit off of it. Would I go after someone who was making money off of material posted on this site? It would all depend. But, for the most part, I’m smart enough not to post material here that, if stolen, would cause me large financial harm.

Of course, we’re talking about this situation because what it has illustrated, most of all, is the real problem. Too many people don’t have a good set of boundaries and feel like anything posted out in the Internet wilds belongs to them. They don’t recognize dishonesty when they see it, especially when they are practicing it. That’s where the real problem lies, and that’s also why legal means of approaching it is only a temporary solution and why technological barriers ultimately will be defeated.

August 28, 2003

On Computer Security…

MacWorld’s news service MacCentral had a couple of stories on it about Mac OS X security. One op-ed piece was by Charles Haddad in Business World Online who claimed that the reason there are few viruses for the Mac is because the Mac market is small and the Windows market so big. Another piece by David Zeiler (“The Mac Experience,” Baltimore Sun) contained reader responses to a previous article quoting a spokesman for an anti-virus software company named Sophos. The Sophos spokesman claimed that the Mac was not inherently any safer than the PC. Readers who are a lot more familiar with OS X code than I am (and really that includes almost everyone) stated it simply was not true and gave specifics why. That included a discussion about how insecure Outlook and Outlook Express are by design, which has me wondering about Entourage.

No matter whether the Mac’s inherent security is because the Mac’s market segment is so small or whether it’s because it is simply harder to code worms and viruses for OS X, I have to say it’s nice not to have to worry about it. Even when I used to retrieve my e-mail on my Windows’ machine, once I had the Macs on my network, I purposely downloaded my e-mail first to one of my Macs so I could examine their payloads. Once I found something suspicious, I simply deleted the suspect note from my mail server (using a webmail interface).

Most users whose machines get infected by a virus get there because they don’t take even the most basic steps to secure their machines. If you’re on a Windows PC and you either don’t have any anti-virus software or don’t have your anti-virus software scan your incoming e-mail, you’re a prime target. For Windows 98 and XP users, routinely using Windows Update is another way to keep your machine’s operating system up to date and free of security holes. Us Mac users also need to routinely use Software Update for the same reason. Even with all this, it is never a good idea to open attachments from folks you don’t know or open files ending with .bat, .pif, .exe, or .scr even if you do. Windows Outlook or Outlook Express users can make themselves even safer by turning off Preview and by applying the e-mail security patches for those applications. File swapping is another way to make yourself a prime target, as well using any kind of warez. And everybody needs some kind of firewall, even if you’re on dial-up using dynamic IP. Don’t believe me? Download one, install it on your machine, tell it to alert you when someone tries to intrude, and then log onto the Net during the wee hours of the morning and surf for an hour or two. You’ll be surprised at what happens.

If you’re on high-speed broadband and especially if you’re on a Mac, buying a router is one of the best investments you can make. Not only will the router handle all your sign-on duties, but most have pretty good hardware firewalls that will hide your computer from those baddies on the Net who are trying to find you. Some of them support Apple Talk, too. If you’ve been thinking about setting up a home network, consider the security improvement you will also get once you turn its firewall on and enable encryption, especially if you’re on wireless.

About being a little slow…

As I mentioned the other day, I got a copy of Drive 10 and have been using it to check and defragment the disks on most of my Macs. Well, I let my iMac run off and do the optimization by itself and noticed when I came back the next morning that the iMac appeared to have gone to sleep. I wasn’t sure how the defragging had gone. That afternoon when I tried to use Toast 5, it would load up a CD but acted like the CD had already been burned, i.e., I could not add any files to the CD, even if it was new. Additionally, when I tried to boot a Classic application, I got an error message even as Classic finished loading. The message indicated that “Classic Clipboard Services” had been terminated. I did some searching looking for a fix but found nothing and decided to reload Jaguar and all my applications. That worked. Everything is honkey dory. But it did take me an evening of work and slowed down my updates to this site.

This weekend I’ll post some Xbench 1.1 numbers comparing a 1.6 Ghz G5, a dual 1.25 Ghz G4 Power Mac, and a dual 1 Ghz G4 Power Mac.

August 26, 2003

What Norton doth crash under, Drive 10 fixeth…

After a few days delay ostensibly caused by bad weather (though I’m unaware of any hurricanes or snowstorms in Texas at the time), UPS finally delivered my copy of Micromat’s Drive 10. For the first time since I’ve owned it, I now have the 160 GB Maxtor hard disk in my MDD G4 Power Mac fully optimized. (Norton Utilities 8.0, which I paid almost a hundred bucks for a month or so ago at Fry’s Electronics, would hang about half-way through the optimization and then crash the Mac with a kernel panic.) Drive 10 worked like a champ until the very, very end of the process (I saw the word “Finishing” displayed on the status window) when, like Norton, it crashed with a kernel panic. I immediately re-ran both the disk diagnostics and optimization. The disk diagnostics found no problems, and the optimization routine reported that it was “done” a soon as I ran it.

I’m not sure what’s causing the kernel panics when I run a disk utility. They haven’t occurred when I use the machine normally, and Apple’s hardware tests show no problems. (I’ve tried removing various memory modules and re-run Norton and it still crashed. Makes me suspect the hard disk.) We’ll see if the utility crashes the next time I run it on my Mirror Door Drive Power Mac. It’s done fine everywhere else (one Quicksilver Power Mac and one G4 iMac).

I love Drive 10’s interface. Look for a review of the product here within the next week.

Once more into the breach (or, where I’m headed with the speed tests)...

I’ve had some interesting conversations with folks about the benchmarks over the last couple of days. Several have made suggestions and, even better, sent me some data. I’m looking forward to updating the Cinebench benchmarks with AMD 2400+ data and G5 1.8 data once I get a complete set of each. I may even wander down to the local Apple store soon to see if they’ve got a G5 I can use for a few moments.

One reader who claimed to be discussing the subject with Maxon employees claimed that I had “used Cinebench incorrectly” because I used the time values instead of the raw CPU scores in the testing. Frankly, while some people may prefer the CPU benchmarks, I find the time and frames per second more meaningful. I can understand them right away. The argument that they’re not meaningful leads to the question: “If they’re not meaningful and don’t mean anything, why did the testers choose to display them?” I feel I must also point out that Rob-ART over at Barefeats.com uses the time values as well, and he has a lot more experience than I do. Frankly, I’m on the same page he is about why using the time values is a valid tactic. I believe folks are fussing at me about what they’re seeing because they don’t like the result. It appears to be a “shoot the messenger” approach.

Another reader suggested I run benchmarks against AMD’s Opetron. That’s a fair suggestion but not something I’m going to pursue right now. I’m a home and small business user and want to confine myself to the market I know. For the moment, the Opteron is really a server CPU, just like the Xeon. Secondly, there are other folks out there already gathering that kind of data (Barefeats.com is one), and I don’t have access to the assets I’d need to do that. So, for now, I’m going to constrain myself to running G5’s and some G4’s against Athlons and Pentium 4’s, cpu’s I would be more likely to buy.

Several readers made me aware of what I believe to be a pretty big trend. Many folks are treating the website like it’s a Playboy magazine: they claim to be reading the articles, but they’re really only looking at the pictures. Please read what I have to say and then if you have a comment or suggestion, send me an e-mail. It’ll save us both time and worry.

I’m going to generate some Photoshop files in the next week or so and run some informal tests to at get some G4 and AMD performance data using Photoshop 7 filters and tasks. If anyone in the Houston area would be interested in working with me on testing their G5, send me an e-mail and we’ll discuss what we can do.

August 25, 2003

More on the speed tests and Computer Dogma…

I was looking around for some 1.8 GHz G5 benchmarks and stumbled on an AMD-related website that took some of my comments about the relative strength of the AMD 2000+ and the G5 out of context to make a case for putting down the Mac. I didn’t see one bit of objectivity in those remarks or any real data put forward, only the author’s opinion that his product is better. The author also showed he had not read any of the commentary at my site. I got what I was looking for out those tests. Other people are seeing what they want in them.

This particular website stated that the comparison of an AMD 2000+ to Apple’s “latest and greatest” was not reason enough to say Apple had caught up. Obviously, I don’t agree. As an everyday user, I’m looking at relative performance from a big picture standpoint. Frankly, having built PC’s for two decades and performed scores of upgrades, I’m a lot more thoughtful when comparing how much pain and cost an upgrade is going to put me through versus how much gain I’m going to get out of it. I haven’t seen enough of a gain to upgrade the PC from an AMD 2000+ to a 2400+ even though I could do that with just a CPU swap. The same holds true for a system purchase. I’ve already stated on this site why I switched to Macs this year. Speed just wasn’t enough to keep me on an Intel or AMD platform.

The speed tests are interesting from a technical standpoint and from a marketing standpoint. Apple put itself on the hook with the claim that they had made the world’s fastest personal computer. Now, they have to prove it. But in the end, no matter which platform one uses or what operating system one runs, there will always be one faster. That is the nature of competition and technological advance.

Frankly, we all have things in computing that we like and we don’t. I consider the kind of computer dogma I often see on the Net immature, especially when it turns into personal attacks, direct or disguised. I learned a long time ago that if I wanted people to listen to me I needed to approach them with as much openness and honesty as possible. There are things a lot more important in life than how fast a CPU is or what software someone is running. We’re fortunate to have stable and materially plentiful lives that we can discuss those issues. Turning it into a fistfight just means we’ve got some growing up to do and have lost perspective on how important the real things in life are.

August 24, 2003

About the “G4, G5, and AMD Shootout and Speed Testing in General…

I want to thank the folks who have dropped by the site to take a gander at the “G4, G5, and AMD Shootout” in The ComputerZone. And a special thanks to Mike at the “Accelerate your Mac” website. Mike really has a hell of a good website and does us Mac owners a huge public service by running it. My G4 iMac and my MDD Power Mac today are upgraded because of the material at Mike’s site. It’s really nice to have the option to upgrade these machines; without Mike and people like him, that option might not exist.

Sometimes, you just get lucky. I happened to be in the right place at the right time to perform a performance comparison between two older but recent generation Power Macs, a relatively current AMD powered XP machine, and one of the new G5 computers from Apple. (This type of thing is something I’ve always wanted to do.) The comparison was especially germane because the G5 and the AMD chip ran at roughly the same clock speed and video cards were matched up at all the machines at my end. True, it would have been a little better test of relative CPU strength had the G5 had a Radeon 9000 video card; but there was nothing I could do to change that since I didn’t have a G5 in the house. The G5 benchmarks came from chaosmint.com. Thanks to everyone involved in that site for posting them.

I’d like to say a few words here about the tests. Hopefully, you’ve seen some of the comments at xlr8yourmac.com about running Cinebench on the G5. Obviously, the code is not optimized for the machine. Folks involved with different aspects of the benchmark believe that once they optimize it for the G5, the numbers will go much higher. That’s good and great for bragging rights. But what does it mean to me today if I buy the G5? That’s the question I was after. Since my primary use for these machines is video and graphics, I felt that a rendering test like Cinebench was especially applicable. I’ve been hearing that Cinebench runs better on PC’s. Is that because the code is optimized better for PC’s or are they inherently faster at rendering than Mac’s are? Certainly, you would think that the Cinebench code would be optimized for the G4 by now; and as I sat and watched the test run on both sets of machines, it’s hard to argue that for the most part the AMD is not significantly faster. Does that mean I’m going to go back to AMD/Intel/Windows for my basic computer needs? Hell NO! Decades of running computers, working graphics and video on them, putting them together, and troubleshooting myself every single problem that occurred with them all convinced me that while speed was desirable, productivity is not so narrowly defined. Macs create a more desirable, integrated working environment than anything on the PC side, and that’s why I’ve spent huge amounts of money over the last couple of years converting over to them. I knew Macs were slower on some counts. But a slower machine that works—that you even have fun at—is worth more in my book than a faster machine I’m cussing at because I’ve got to troubleshoot it once more.

As I said in the test article, while there are some places where the AMD chip outperformed the 1.6 Ghz G5, they appear to be fairly evenly matched. (This would put the 1.6 Ghz G5 even today on par and perhaps slightly ahead of a 2Ghz P4.) Optimized Cinebench code will probably close the gap up a bit further and perhaps push the G5 ahead. But the real story won’t be told until applications like Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Photoshop, In Design, Quark, and perhaps Mac games become truly optimized for the G5 running on a 64 bit operating system. That’s some years down the pike. This story is just beginning.

As for the story on this website, I’ll add dual 1.42 Ghz G4, 1.8 Ghz G5, and dual 2 Ghz G5 data to the plots as soon as I can find them or sweet-talk someone into letting me run Cinebench on their machine. Check back every now and then to see what I’ve found and feel free to send me any references.

August 21, 2003

About this website…

Last night, I prowled through some of the statistics logged by my web server. I was surprised (but not totally since I know the site is listed in the sci.space.shuttle newsgroup FAQ) to see that the LaunchZone is the most highly visited. That’s the section I’ve done the least work on for a long time and probably won’t work on for a little while, yet. I’m working to finish up, or at least balance out, the other website sections before I come back to it. Most of my time is spent on my blogs (the OpinionZone and the ComputerZone), but when I’m actually adding other material to the site, it’s mostly in the OS X (Oh-S-Ten) section of the website. Once I get some material in each of the OS X sections, I plan to go back and fill out the Win XP section (also in the ComputerZone), and then add more to the WritingZone. Only then do I plan to come back to the LaunchZone and begin finishing the Contingency Abort section. The latter is long overdue, I know, but I’m doing this all at my own expense. So, I hope both my readers are not too disappointed.

I might also add a “FlightZone” or “AvZone” to talk about my aviation experiences, provide a clearinghouse and perspective on aviation issues, and to inform folks about aviation events. I’m still thinking about whether I’ll do that at all; and if I do, whether I’ll leave the LaunchZone alone or fold it in as a section underneath the “FlightZone”.

In the Computer Zone, I will add a section about Panther, Apple’s upcoming release of OS X, after I finish the OS X section I’ve already started and if I’m running it. I know that the most helpful stuff in both the XP and OS X sections will be the tips, tricks, and troubleshooting sections, but they will be the last sections to go up. For my own sake of continuity, I need to finish the basic sections first.

I would like to add some forum sections to the site, but I’m not sure how easy or hard that will be to do. I'm still looking into that.

To give myself time to do more video editing, most updates to the site will occur on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. There will be exceptions to that, but I’ll try to keep to at least that schedule. Use the “Latest Updates” section on the home page to keep track of what’s new. Come back often, and if you’d like to see any material here that’s not or if you’d like to offer constructive comments, drop me a line.

August 19, 2003

Apple’s DVD Studio Pro 2.0

Last night, I ordered Apple’s DVD Studio Pro 2.0 from PC Connection (http://wwww.pcconnection.com, also known as Mac Connection) and it arrived today. Wow! What a cool piece of software! True, I only had few minutes to play with it during my lunch break; but even that short foray into it impressed me. For one thing, there were four settings you could configure it to boot up in, ranging from a very basic interface similar to (Apple’s) iDVD 3’s or an “advanced” configuration that displays just about all functions the software offers.

You’ll hear more about this software as I begin to use it to actually turn out DVD’s.

On the PowerMac G5…

If you’re into computers at all, you probably know that Apple’s PowerMac G5 has begun shipping. I haven’t seen one, yet. I’ll get around to that next time I have some reason to wander across town to the Galleria, which probably won’t be anytime soon. Most pundits say that some stores around the country will have the machines by mid-week. You might want to look for them. You can tell them apart by the big Apple with a bite out of it on their side and a case that looks like aluminum swiss-cheese!

Last week, I found an article at SoundTrack Lounge that compared Photshop performance between a single-processor 933 Mhz G4 PowerMac and one of the pre-production dual-processor G5’s (2 Ghz). (You can see the article at: http://www.soundtracklounge.com/article.php?story=20030812073633362). Frankly, I didn’t feel the numbers were all that impressive. Admittedly, the operating system may not have been as tuned to the G5 as the OS shipping with them is; and Adobe released Photoshop optimizations for the G5 yesterday, so the full story does remain to be seen. But Apple has raised everyone’s expectations awfully high with marketing hype that the G5 is the world’s fastest personal computer. If the machine can’t produce to the point of making believers out of the folks, then the G5 will be a big bust, one that Apple will find hard to recover from.

As for me, I can’t see a G5 in my future anytime, soon. If I do decide to go there, it will be because I have all my current machines paid off, can trade in one of my PowerMacs on the G5, and can get a decent price on it all.

Frankly, I’m happy not to be a first adopter of the G5 or the upcoming release of Apple’s new version of OS X, Panther, OS 10.3.

More “non-problems” with Windows XP…

In the “Bugs and Fixes” section September issue of PC World, Microsoft once again claims that another XP problem is not a problem. This one has to do with trying to print from a parallel port using XP or 2000. When you do, applications other than the one you’re trying to print from may hang. MS has no plans to fix this, just like it has no plans to fix the speed hits many people were (and are) getting from XP’s Service Pack 1.

Once again, I am SO happy I only use Windows for gaming and watching TV!

By the way, the new Office (for Windows) is out…

Years ago, I bought Office 2000 Professional. Office 2003 is coming out, excuse me, Office 2003 System is coming out at its usual inflated prices. (If I truly wanted to upgrade, it would cost me $329 for the Professional version.) Not sure about you, but as a home and small business user, I didn’t see any good reason to upgrade to Office XP (I do have some copies of Word XP but only one of them is used) and surely don’t see any reason to upgrade to Office 2003. MS’s pricing is squeezing out the little guy, anyway. There won’t be a “standard” version of this office you can get without buying a PC…

August 16, 2003

About Cyber-Acoustic CA-3080 Speakers…

My wife really loves JBL’s Creature speakers and has wanted a set for her iMac. Since she’s really into making music with her machine, she really needs some nice speakers. The Creature speakers sound pretty nice and look cool. My only gripe about them is they perform best at moderate volumes and can’t really crank up very much. I had a set I bought for my own iMac, but I had moved them to the Windows machine once we decided to move it into the guest room. Since the Windows machine had become primarily a gaming and entertainment station, I was content to give her the Creature speakers and see what I could find to replace the ones on the Windows machine without spending too much. Ideally, if I had to spend more than what I paid for the JBL’s, it made more sense to buy her a new pair of Creatures.

I took her across town to do some shopping at Coldwater Creek and then stopped by Microcenter after she was done. We wandered through and looked at their Macs and then stopped to listen to various speakers sets wired together in a bank. As we listened, I was particularly struck by speaker sets from Cyber-Acoustic. The company had flat panel speaker sets available at both the $19.95 and $29.95 price points, and they sounded as good as systems costing four times as much! After listening to a bunch of them, I decided to buy the $29.95 Cyber-Acoustic CA-3080.

I brought it home and set it up on my Windows machine. Near their highest volume setting, the speakers exhibit a hissing as the computer is booting. Turning the volume down a little mostly gets rid of the problem and doesn’t seem to affect the overall volume much. General sound and tone is as good as the JBL’s, though the bass is not quite as deep, and there is no way to adjust the amount of bass or treble as there is on the JBL’s. The on/off switch is on the front of the right speaker, very convenient compared to the on/off button in the rear of the Creature’s dome shaped subwoofer. The little subwoofer that comes with these speakers is not magnetically shielded so it must be located away from your monitor, but it’s small enough so that locating it on the floor is not a problem. The label ensuring you know this is a very nice touch. It’s apparent that even though I only spent $30 with them, Cyber-Acoustics wants me to come back.

Overall, the CA-3080 seems to be quite a bargain.

On IT departments, and Mac’s ease of use and maintenance

From The Pulpit, Robert Cringely’s column for PBS (which can be seen on his website), he writes that the reason macs have not and are not being readily accepted into corporate IT departments has more to do with keeping IT departments staffed than whether the machines and software could meet their users’ needs. He believes that the move toward Linux could be more easily be met by moves to Macs, but that doing so would eventually mean that IT departments could and would downsize since the Macs would require less maintenance. Frankly, I think he has hit the nail on the head. Or someone did. Cringely credits the insight to a reader.

Certainly, my own experience with Macs since I began switching to them a year or so ago has been that they cost me less time...a lot less time...to maintain than any Windows system I own or have ever. I wrestle with my Windows machine almost every time I boot it to get it to log onto my wireless network even though it is using a Belkin wireless card hooking to a Belkin wireless router. My Macs, both our iMacs and iBooks, boot into the wireless network using Airport cards and log on automatically without nary a care. I don’t even think about them but I HATE sitting down at the Windows machine. I KNOW I’m going to have to reconfigure something on it…

I was shocked a while back to discover that configuring my OS X Macs to hook into the Windows NT network at my workplace was easier and faster than configuring my Windows machine to do the same thing, no matter whether I used Windows 98 or XP. It’s true that I haven’t figured out how to get the Macs to my personal folders but getting to them even using XP hasn’t been a cake walk, either. In fact, I often can’t. And you can bet at that moment I want to be on a Mac. Outlook 2001 is a lot more colorful…

Bet me that a switch to Macs would cause corporate IT departments to shrink or destroy that lucrative outsourcing contract. Actually, that's a bet I won't take, because you'd be betting on a sure thing.

August 13, 2003

I don’t think so…

Writing in Business Week, technology writer Charles Haddad in his “Byte of the Apple” column states that Apple has already lost the battle for the educational market. He makes a valid argument that they have lost because IT managers like to hang with what they know and that is, of course, Windows.

I’ve seen this phenomena in action myself when I worked as a technical writer for a manufacturing company here in Houston. The IT department manager wanted to cling to Windows 3.1 and Netware long after it had become either efficient or economical to do so. We took our part of the company over to Windows 95 and Ethernet practivally on our own.

I agree that Haddad’s premise is accurate and that Apple is fighting an uphill battle. I don’t agree with his conclusion, however. From my perspective, I believe that Apple has begun what will prove to be a magnificent, long, uphill climb. As more and more people in all markets see the beauty and ease of use of OS X and Apple’s machines, they will choose Macs more and more. I’m certainly talking to more and more people at all levels who are open to looking at a Mac. I talked to one such person today, and he was en engineer who had not been considering it. And that’s forgetting that I was talking to a woman I work with who told me a relative of hers was making DVD slide shows from pictures they’d taken during a vacation to Italy. He was using a Mac and Final Cut pro to do his editing.

August 11, 2003

Norton SpeedDisk Crashes…

I recently upgraded my copy of Norton Utilities for the Mac to version 8.0, the latest. My previous version was the one included in Norton Systemworks 1.0 for the Mac; and it required booting into OS 9, something that won’t work with my new Mirrored Door PowerMac. However, I’m finding that Norton Speed Disk continuously crashes with a kernel panic anytime I try to defragment the MDD’s primary hard disk, a 160GB Maxtor. It’s not clear to me whether the crashes are due to a bug in Speed Disk or some incompatibility with the 160GB hard disk. Speed Disk seems to run fine on all my other Mac’s, and the new MDD PowerMac is the only one with a hard disk bigger than 120GB.

Of course, as usual, I can find nothing on the Symantec website about this problem. I’ve run Apple Hardware Tests on the computer, and they are not finding anything unusual. Since I have not seen the machine crash with any other application I’ve been using on it, I must conclude that the problem is specific to Norton.

So, where do I go from here? Frankly, I’m going to try another disk management product. I’m leaning toward ordering MicroMat’s Drive 10 disk utility. If I do and it defragments my new Mac without a problem, more than likely I will have bought my last version of Norton Utilities for the Mac.

Apple Cinema Heaven…almost…

Part of my move to the Mac has been to set up a couple of PowerMacs to ue for desktop publishing and video editing. I had been sharing a 17” Samsung 760V LCD between my Quicksilver PowerMac and my AMD powered Windows computer; but I wanted to move the Windows machine to the guest room (for reasons discussed in the Aug.10 blog). That would require some kind of new monitor for one of my PowerMacs. I spent several weeks looking at monitors; though the 17 inch Apple Studio LCD would suffice and was more affordable, I opted for the 20 inch Apple Cinema Display (LCD).

If you look at how Apple prices their LCD monitors, after you hit the 17 inchers $699 price tag, the first three inches of space costs $600 and the second $700. Quite the opposite of how scaling usually works. So, what sold me on the 20 incher obviously wasn’t its cost but its clarity. Compared to the 17 inch screen, the 20 is both clearer and brighter. It was hard for me to justify to myself spending the initial $700 for a poorer screen. (This is a relative comparison. The 17 inch Apple Studio LCD is still brighter and clearer than my Samsung 760V, though not by a lot.)

What also weighed into my decision was that I’m expecting a little windfall of money soon that would just about cover its cost.

The monitor is absolutely huge. I have only one complaint about it, i.e., one red pixel is stuck on just below and to the left of center. I’ve tried some gentle massaging to see if that might cure it without result. It’s barely noticeable. Still, there’s something about spending $1300 for something that is flawed, no matter how innocuous, that rankles me. I doubt seriously if I’d get any empathy from Apple about a replacement.

July 27, 2003

The shortsightedness (and arrogance) of some people…

Scott Blum, the CEO of Buy.com, this week chose to launch his own online music store (BuyMusic.com) to compete with the iTunes Music Store. That’s fine. What has angered me is the hypocrisy he has displayed by copying as many aspects of the Apple operation as he could while publicly running them down. Additionally, buyMusic.com has locked out anyone except those using Windows and Internet Explorer.

Now, Mr. Blum, you won’t miss my music business. I haven’t bought any downloaded music, yet. I tend to buy CD’s. If I do buy downloaded music, I’ll look at Apple’s iTunes music store anyway. Most of my machines are Macs and my wife and I both use iPods to cart our music around. They’re incompatible with the .wma format as are many other music devices. Nothing like picking a proprietary format…

What you need to realize, Mr. Blum, is that you have lost a customer for Buy.com as well. Over the years, I have used Buy.com to buy components and software for both my Macs and my Windows machines. I had every intention of continuing to do so until I saw your attitude toward those people using the Mac platform. Frankly, I’ve always considered the platform wars nothing short of petty and ridiculous. That’s where I put your comments, and why I won’t consider using Buy.com in the future. There are plenty of other online retailers who are just as cheap and efficient as your company, no matter which platform I’m buying for.

Besides, I don’t think I have much to worry about. Not only was alienating your Mac customers (many of whom use a Windows machine for one reason or another) a stupid business move, but you’re going to have some real competition soon from Apple itself. In case you didn’t know it (and apparently there are indications on your website you don’t), iTunes for Windows is coming this year. Let’s talk in a year from now and see how you feel about your comments then, and what the reality of the business world might have taught you about them.

By the way, my cable modem came back on a little after noon today. That made for a 28 hour outage, but at least they got it fixed.

July 26, 2003,

On Apple Displays and PC’s…

I know I have some money coming in soon, so I’ve been toying with the idea of buying a 20 inch Apple cinema Display to replace the 17 inch screen currently on my 1.25 dual CPU MDD. I wanted to then switch the 17 inch screen over to my Quicksilver PowerMac which is currently running on a Samsung 760v (17 inch) LCD. My Quicksilver and my XP machine are both running off the same monitor, keyboard, and mouse via a little CompuCable manual USB KM switch. I’ve been investigating what it would take to run the PC and the Quicksilver using a 17 inch Apple Cinema display instead.

As always, the answer involves money and a new piece of equipment. The best answer seems to be a hybrid ADC (Apple Display Connector)/DVI (Digital Video Interface) KVM (keyboard, video, monitor) switch from CompuCable. Like most things that involve the Mac, it’s fairly expensive. But even at its $279 online price, it’s still a lot less expensive than the Gefen ADC KVM switch retailing at $450. At that price, it makes more sense to buy another 17 inch Cinema Display for an extra machine than it does to buy the switch.

Yes, you can find cheap KVM switches if your monitor has VGA input, that is. I did just that when I set up my current systems. My little manual CompuCable switch was on sale, reduced from about $30 down to $15. I added two VGA cables and two USB cables I already had, and I was (and am) in business.

I spent some time today at the local MicroCenter and discovered that Belkin now makes a 2 port KVM switch that supports DVI. It retailed for $200. I could make that work if I added Dr. Bott’s DVIator for $95 (this allows an ADC monitor to run via a DVI port) and a couple of DVI cables that cost $35 each! But that put my costs at about $100 more than buying the CompuCable switch which comes with DVI and ADC cables. Obviously, I decided it was not worth going the Belkin/Dr. Bott route. It was not only more expensive but it was more complex.

When I got home, I spent some time tweaking my old 570v. I adjusted brightness, contrast, and gamma and got a damned good presentation out of it, one generally on par with my Apple Cinema Display. I may or may not decide to buy the 20 inch display when the money shows up. I need a copy of DVD Studio Pro, and at $500, it’s not exactly cheap. I’d be much wiser to buy the software and use the rest of the money to pay off what I’ve already got. But there is no guarantee I’m going to be that sensible.

About Time Warner High Speed…

We have a cable modem hookup with Earthlink via Time Warner Cable. It is 8:09 p.m. on Saturday night, and our high speed Internet connection has been out for about twelve hours. This is the second time in the last few months we’ve seen an outage. We’ll see how long this lasts. If they fix it soon, fine. But if it’s down in the morning not only am I going to have a chat with them about a reduced bill; but if this becomes a habit, I’m going to rethink whether I want to go back to DSL.

I just talked to them at 8:30 p.m. They have no idea what's causing the outage or when it will be fixed.

July 23, 2003

Read my lips…

Sometimes after I’d burn a DVD, and especially when I would use my PC for that task, the burn would go well. But when I’d play back the DVD, the audio and video would go out of synchronization. I could never figure out what was causing it.

Now I know.

The DVD standard, and the standard for most professional audio processing, is 16 bit audio. Did you know that nearly all digital video camera manufacturers build in 16 bit audio into their cameras but default them to 12bit? Not only is 12 bit audio noisier than 16 bit, but the mismatch between the audio and your editing and burning software (which is expecting 16 bit audio) is responsible for the “out of synch” audio problem.

If you’re going to shoot video that you subsequently want to burn onto a DVD, go into the camera’s setup and make sure that the audio is set to 16 bit.


Where the hell is DVI…

Both my XP machine and my Quicksilver PowerMac have ATI Radeon 9000 Pro video cards in them. The XP machine has VGA and DVI video output ports, and the PowerMac has ADC and DVI video output ports. They’re hooked up via a manual switch box that lets me use one or both machines via the same keyboard, mouse, and LCD monitor. It’s working great using a Samsung 760v TFT LCD.

At some point, I’d like to replace my 17 inch Apple Cinema Display with a 20 inch Cinema Display. When I get to there, I’ve been toying with the idea of replacing the Samsung with the Apple 17 inch display. Therefore, I’ve been looking for a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch with an ADC or DVI port. And there are some. But they are so expensive it makes no sense to pursue one.

The inexpensive KVM’s all have VGA ports. Obviously, DVI has not taken off the way some predicted it would. I’m sure it will at some point; but when that will be, I don’t know.

I’m going to either have to sell the 17 inch Apple Cinema or pull off the Quicksilver Powermac and put it on its own desk. Time will tell which approach I take.

July 20, 2003

To finish up the hardware reconfiguration of my Quicksilver 2002 PowerMac, I went in search of a USB 2.0 card. I own an Epson Perfection 1660 Photo scanner, and it uses USB 1.1 or 2.0 to relay its scans to the computer. Obviously, I wanted USB 2.0 because of its greater transfer speeds. So, I stopped by a local Best Buy and took a look at what they had. The card that looked the most promising of the ones I could see was a Belkin 5 port USB 2.0 PCI card. Under its system requirements, it stated that it worked as USB 2.0 under Mac OS X with the following caveat: “USB 2.0 under OS X requires third party driver.”

OK. That I knew. But what exactly did that mean? They wouldn’t be dumb enough to market a card as USB 2.0 and then not supply drivers, would they? Who did they think the third party was supposed to be?

To make a long story short, obviously, it wasn’t them. The card worked great as a USB 1.1 device, but there were no OS X drivers on the enclosed CD nor were there any at the Belkin website.

After researching the other cards Best Buy had on their website and at the store I had gone to, I decided to take the Belkin card back and swap it for a 5 port SIIG USB 2.0 PCI card. Not only were there OS X drivers on the SIIG website, but the card had a $10 rebate attached to it.

The SIIG card works like a champ. To quantify the difference in performance, I scanned an 8 x 10 photograph using Epson Twain 5 drivers and Photoshop 7 using the card before the USB 2.0 drivers were installed. Under USB 1.1, it took 34 seconds for the photograph to appear on my desktop after I clicked the “Scan” button (Manual mode). After I loaded the USB 2.0 drivers and rebooted, the same scan took 19 seconds (USB 2.) to complete.

On the other hand, Belkin is being irresponsible by marketing a USB 2.0 card without USB 2.0 drivers for OS X and inferring, however confusingly, that it is Mac compatible. Frankly, unless they’re willing to provide drivers or tell you where to find ones to use, they need to remove any Mac reference from their packaging. If you’re a PowerMac owner looking for a USB 2.0 PCI card, look at SIIG, IOGEAR, or Orange Micro. Avoid Belkin at all costs.

July 19, 2003

Yesterday, I took a visual tour of Apple’s upcoming release of OS X named “Panther”. I wasn’t impressed. (You can see it at: http://208.189.136.121/PantherPreview/html/PantherPreview00.html.)
In fact, I found some of the interface tweaks—and I’m talking about the graphical appearance of the OS—a turn off.

The more Apple moves toward grey or metal finishes, the more they look make the Mac look like Windows. Yuk!

There’s an old saying that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. This often seems to be an axiom that software companies enjoy flaunting their defiance of it. That’s fine if it’s on their dime. But when they tweak things and want me to pay for it, it’s a different matter altogether. That’s especially true when the tweak is less elegant than the original; and, for me right now, that appears to be the case with Panther.

The elegance of the visual interface of OS X is one of the more attractive things about it, its appealing technical aspects aside. In Panther, Apple has applied iTune’s metallic skin to almost all system interfaces. I’m okay with that in and of. I run my XP computer with a Style XP skin called “Gbrushed” which does the same thing. But Apple applied theirs in a way that often makes the dialog boxes inelegant. I’m hearing from other folks, too, that the metal skin treatment is inconsistent. Those are not good things.

In the bigger picture, I have to wonder if Apple is headed down the same road Microsoft plundered. One of the reasons I wanted off Windows was Microsoft’s continual tweaking of the operating system, especially when they made it incompatible with applications or hardware I was using. Critics would often say that Microsoft appeared to be tweaking Office or Windows just to tweak it. Apple appears to be doing the same thing? Why? Is it to justify Apple’s charging $129 for each incremental update of its operating system? My upgrade costs are becoming a bit much. Because of that, I’m going to take a harder look at what I’m going to get for my money and whether the update is really worth it. In the case of Panther, it might not be.

I won’t make any final decisions about Panther until it’s released, I see the reviews, and play with it on a machine in a CompUSA store, at a Micro Center, or in an Apple Store. But for now, I’d say the odds of me springing for Panther are not huge. Jaguar is good enough.

July 17, 2003

<A tale of reconfiguration…

Call me irresponsible. Call me insane. Call me needlessly in debt. There is a new computer baby in the house, and it is a Dual Processor 1.25 GHz Mirrored Door Drive (MDD) PowerMac G4.

I fell in love with the Mirror Door drive computers a little over a year ago. They had everything I thought was wrong with the Quicksilver line: dual optical drive bays, more hard disk capacity, and a really nice looking case. Since the introduction of the G5, the prices on the MDD’s had dropped; and my wife and I were in Houston’s Galleria at the Apple Store looking at a single processor 1.25 GHz model. Attached to it was an older gent playing a keyboard with a mixer on it. That caught my wife’s attention immediately. Turned out the fellow was a school band director and interested in using the G4 and the keyboard to compose and record music. That really intrigued my wife. She was drawn to it.

I wanted another G4 PowerMac so I could do the majority of my work on OS X. While my little iMac was working just fine, I had bought it just to write on. I didn’t consider its 700 Mhz CPU really powerful enough for desktop publishing or heavy graphics work. (Yes, I know that it will work.) I felt I needed at least a 1Ghz CPU. Even though the new G5 looked like it was going to be a lot faster, the price drop on the G4’s made them a better value for me right now.

Anyway, my wife agreed to let me buy a single processor 1.25 G4 Power Mac I insisted on buying her the midi device, a Roland Eridol midi-Keyboard ECR-30. I walked toward the rear of the store, found a salesperson, and asked him to see if they had the computer and the keyboard in stock. As he disappeared into the rear storeroom, I noticed a stack of computers in boxes stacked in a corner. Some of them were marked “HOLD” and some of them were marked as returns. A PowerMac was marked as $1399. What model was that? Looking closer, I realized that it was a dual 1.25 GHz MDD! WOW! New machines were retailing at $1699. At only $1399, this one was only $100 more than a new single-processor 1.25 Ghz machine. When the salesman came back, I asked about it: why had it been returned? Had they refreshed it? Was it really $1399 and available? He remembered the woman who had bought it. She had taken it home and then decided it wasn’t what she needed and brought it back the same day she had bought it. He didn’t think she hadn’t even opened it.

That was too good a deal to pass up! So, after agonizing over it for about 30 minutes, we bought the keyboard and the MDD and took them home.

The new MDD PowerMac was configured as a “basic” model with only 256MB RAM, not enough to load up Final Cut Pro 4.0. I ordered 1GB of DDR RAM from Crucial (http://www.crucial.com), paying about $150 for it, one half what I would have paid Apple. The computer only had a combo drive (DVD/CD-RW) mounted in the top optical bay, so I moved it to the bottom bay, pulled a Pioneer DVR-105 (DVD-R/RW) out of my Quicksilver PowerMac, and put it in the top bay of the MDD. I replaced the new computer’s small 80GB hard drive with Maxtor 160GB and 120GB (7200 RPM, 8MB buffer) hard drives I had in the Quicksilver. The new dual 1.25Ghz MDD PowerMac G4 now sports 1.2GB of DDR RAM, 160 and 120 GB 7200 RPM hard drives, a 4X Pioneer SuperDrive, and a 12X DVD/32X CD-RW combo drive.

With that taken care of, it was time to reconfigure my Quicksilver. While the new MDD would become my primary video editing machine, I wanted the Quicksilver to be my desktop and web publishing machine, my backup video editing machine, and my machine for everyday tasks other than writing. So, to get it there, I pulled a Maxtor 120GB 7200 RPM (8MB buffer) hard drive and an Apple Superdrive (DVR-104) out of my flat panel (700 Mhz) iMac and put them in. I added in another Maxtor 120GB 7200 RPM hard drive from a Firewire hard drive to it, and then moved the reconfigured machine over to the U-shaped desk that houses my Windows XP machine. Using USB and VGA cables, I hooked them via a Compucable USB/KVM switch to an Apple keyboard, a Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer, and a Samsung 760V LCD display. I can now run them separately or at the same time from one desk. It is an ideal set-up.

To get my iMac up and running again, I pulled an 80GB Seagate (Apple branded) hard drive out of another Firewire case, bought a Samsung 352B combo drive (52X CD-RW/16X DVD) from CompUSA, and installed them both in the machine. I moved an Airport card from the Quicksilver over to it. The iMac is on its own desk; and with the Quicksilver, the MDD, my XP machine, and my HP Laserjet 2100 printer eating up my router’s wired Ethernet ports, the iMac was moved to the wireless side of my home LAN.

(There’s another story about the iMac and getting it to run with Jaguar, but I’m saving that for later.)

Since my Quicksilver was going to be my backup video editing machine, I wanted to get a copy of Final Cut Express to run on it. I also needed a Firewire 4pin/6pin cable to hook up with my video camera to it. Apple really made my day yesterday. As you may or may not know, Adobe discontinued Mac support for Premiere; and, as a result, Apple’s offering Premiere users a switch to Final Cut. If you send in a Premiere CD, you can get a free copy of Final Cut Express or $500 off Final Cut Pro 4.0. (See the Apple website if you’re interested in that deal.) Well, it just so happens I have a Pinnacle DV200 kit (for Windows) lying around. Inside it is a copy of Adobe Premiere 6.0 (full version), a 4pin/6 pin Firewire cable, and a 2 port Firewire card. Needless to say, my copy of Premiere 6.0 is on its way to Apple, the Firewire cable is on the Quicksilver, and the Firewire card is in my XP machine where it took the place of a 3 port job that will work in my Macs.

Yesterday was a very good day!

June 28, 2003

Apple’s introduction this week of the new PowerPC 970 processor, nicknamed the G5 (and associating it with poorer performing chips from Motorola for reasons only Apple knows), was a great thing for the company. They’re aiming the G5 at the professional graphics designer, publisher, and videographer market to reinvigorate sales of the Power Mac line. That’s fine for now, but Apple must realize that it is not a strategy they can afford to adopt for very long.

In an interview with Macworld magazine, Apple’s Vice President of Hardware Product Marketing, Greg Joswiak stated that: “…the [G5] is not going into the Powerbook soon.”. That’s understandable from a technical standpoint. The architecture of the G5 is different enough from the G4 that it will take some time to retool all production lines to fit it. But if Apple keeps the PPC 970 out of its Powerbook, iMac, and iBook lines too long, it’s going to completely sabotage the market momentum it gained by the G5’s introduction. Mr. Joswiak stated that the G4 would be around “as long as the market demanded it”. That’s not reality. The market is demanding the G5. Apple needs to be moving to incorporate the G5 line in all its products. For now, the only place remaining for the G4’s (and these are the 1Ghz and faster G4’s) are in the iBooks and possibly a bottom end iMac just to keep the price points down.

June 26, 2003

I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for the last two days. I’m in the process of moving this website to a different hosting company. You would think that’s no big deal; but my old host uses Windows servers running IIS (Internet Information Service), and IIS lets you get away with some sloppy web page coding practices. (And using any Microsoft product to code introduces a lot of them.) My new service runs Unix servers, so little things like capitalization mean a lot. I’ve had to spend a lot of time manually tweaking code. While there’s still a lot more I could do, I have the site on the new host running well enough where I can get back to more of a “normal” life. Frankly, running a website can eat up your life. That’s something I only have so much time to invest in since I’m doing this for free (Actually, it costs me money to do this!)

I’ve been with my current webhost provider, WebPanache (webpan.com) for about five years. Maybe longer. I’ve been pretty happy with the server speed and uptime. But over time, the company has remained static. They’ve offered no cuts in pricing or new services. Worse, I have a problem with the site publication process every time I put up a significant amount of new material. A couple of days ago, after publishing new content to the site and making corrections to some old pages, the webserver my site was on would not update the content on a specific page no matter what I did. It took six hours of trying to fix and diagnose it and a full day and two e-mail arguments with the owner/operator to get them to reboot the server. (In fact, I diagnosed the problem for them!) IIS 4.0 and 5.0, it appears, has problems with updating its cache. This was the second time I had gone through this with the company, so I decided it was time to move. There were too many other webhosting companies offering better prices and better service.

I’m giving Apollo Hosting a try. So far, everything has been going fairly smoothly. Their servers seem to be a tad slower than Webpan’s, but they more than make up for that with the controls I have available to me, 24 hour online chat for support, and the ability to host three domains within a single account. That’s important to me right now since I’m launching a video editing business and plan on having a website for it up in the near future.

I’ve already requested the DNS change, and I’m just waiting for it to happen. Since the website material on both my old and new webservers is identical, I tagged the “old” website with the statement: “Note: This website is in the process of being moved!”. If you go to the home page for the AndyZone and that statement is not there, the change in webhosts has taken place.

Now, back to the real world…

As you probably know by now, Apple did announce their new G5 PowerMacs this week. Like everyone, I was impressed by what they showed. I believe without a doubt that they will sport significantly improved performance over the G4. But whether they are, as Apple has been claiming, the fastest personal computers available today remains to be seen. From past experience, I know that Apple often hypes their performance claims. Indeed, there is already discussion on the “Net” that Apple has done just that with the G5; and the people waging those arguments are far more knowledgeable than me. I’m going to reserve judgment for now. I’m waiting until the production machines are delivered and I see benchmarks from real users using industry standard benchmarks and real world applications.

Apple also bumped up their price points by $500. That puts their top end machine at $3000. That’s a lot of money for a small business owner or a home power user. Indeed, though I’d love to have a G5, adding $500 to the prices probably priced me out of considering one for now. Frankly, I like the design of the Mirrored Door Drive G4 PowerMac’s more and can make a case that having two slower dual-processor machines for $ $1400 less than it would cost for the dual processor G5) makes more business sense than going after a G5. Dual 1.25Ghz G4 MDD PowerMacs cost $1600. I am sooooo tempted…!

June 23, 2003

Once more into the breach…

CompUSA put a 160GB, 7200 RPM hard drive with an 8MB buffer on sale this week for only $99 after a rebate. Always needing more room and speed for editing video, I sprang for the deal. There was only one catch. I wanted to put the hard disk in my PowerMac.

I own a Quicksilver 2002 dual 1Ghz CPU model. The hard drive database at the Accelerate Your Mac! website indicated that most 2002 models had big hard disk support (>137GB hard drive) even though Apple claimed that only the Mirrored Drive Door models did. I decided to take the risk and installed it in my machine as the Primary IDE hard disk and put my old master drive (120GB with 8MB buffer) on as a Slave.

When I booted the machine, it booted up on my secondary hard disk, the one that had OS 10.2.6 on it. (I didn’t realize until this that Macs would search all hard disks for a bootable volume.) Under 10.2.6, I was able to easily partition and format the drive’s full partition. But just because the machine’s BIOS had big disk support didn’t mean that OS 9 or any other Mac installer would see it. And they didn’t. The Software Restore CD’s that came with the computer gave me an error message when I tried to use them. My OS 9 CD would install the OS 9 to the hard disk but only to 131GB of it. The rest of the hard disk was not recognized. The same held true for my Jaguar installation CD’s. They would partition and format only 131GB of the disk. I also found that when I ran Norton Disk Doctor on the new drive, it reported an incredible number of errors. Allowing it to fix them hosed the hard disk so OS X couldn’t even find it when I rebooted. Therefore, short of buying a new PCI card with large hard disk support, making the new drive my primary hard drive would be fraught with peril even if I could do it. For the moment, I decided to make the new drive my secondary hard drive. That way I could still utilize the hard drive’s extra space and speed in Final Cut Pro, my primary objective. If my system crashed, I could still do a normal restore

I’m still researching IDE PCI cards to see if I want to go down that road. Buying one might allow me to use the 160GB as my primary hard disk, the 120GB with an 8MB buffer as my secondary, and a third hard disk (120GB with a 2MB buffer) that’s just sitting around.

As rumored, Steve Jobs announced today that Apple would be releasing the long-awaited G5 computers. “G5” is actually a misnomer since the machines are not powered by a Motorola CPU but the IBM PowerPC 970. Apple has stated that these are the fastest personal computers ever. They better be. Yes, they have 64 bit CPU’s and incredibly fast bus speeds (1Ghz). But if the benchmarks, whether using industry standard benchmarks or application performance, don’t show them as truly competitive with today’s Intel and AMD powered machines, Apple will be seen as only executing another piece of marketing hype. This hit to their credibility could be serious, especially if the machines are priced at higher price points than current models, which is what the rumor mill has been saying. Assuming that is true, Apple cannot afford to take them a lot higher than today’s machines. Apple is on a roll, partially fueled by their innovation and partially due to their attempts to be more competitive with PC pricing. Apple can’t afford to forget that they’re competing against PC’s and not against their own past. If they do, there is no hope that they will ever grown above their current 3% market share; and that would be an injustice for everyone.

June 20, 2003,

Macworld is reporting that in a bit of a minor slip up, Apple posted details of its new G5 PowerMac on its website Thursday night. Wow! Reported CPU speeds are in the 2Ghz range, with a 1 Ghz bus, 8X AGP, and Firewire 400 and 800 ports. Now, this will be interesting if it turns out to be true! I can’t wait to see the new design and the benchmarks that’ll hit the web in the next month or two. Finally, Macs might be moving toward being as fast or faster than Intel PC’s. With Apple’s killer apps and operating system, Apple could be moving into a new era. I hope so.

In a true display of how absolute power corrupts absolutely, Senator Orrin Hatch stated publicly he was interested in finding ways to disable the computers of people downloading music on the Internet in violation of copyright restrictions. I have never seen a larger display of irresponsibility. What the Senator is proposing appears to be in violation of Federal anti-hacking statues. Even if that is not true, what he is proposing—what he is interested in—is essentially executing legal punishment without due process and allowing that punishment to be executed by corporate entities instead of government authority. This is a blatant abuse of Constitutional power; and Mr. Orrin needs to resign as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He is obviously unfit to serve in such a post.

I sent the following e-mail to Senator Hatch (see the section in quotes) and, after examining Senate rules, also sent e-mails to the Chairman of the US Senate Ethics Committee and the Vice Chairman of the Committee. Quote:

“Dear Senator Voinovich,

Below is a copy of an e-mail I just sent to Senator Orrin Hatch:

‘Dear Senator Hatch,

Though I am not a Utah resident, I am a computer user and have been for several decades. I am also a writer and videographer. While I am sensitive to copyright issues, I find your public comments concerning disabling the computers of people downloading music in violation of copyright irresponsible.

What you propose appears to be in violation of Federal anti-hacking statues. Worse, you directly advocated breaking the law to enforce the law, something that usually sends law enforcement personnel to prison. You advocated allowing corporations to execute legal punishment without due process. This is a blatant abuse of power.

The press has been reporting that you earned $18, 000 last year as a songwriter. Your chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee while it is hearing matters of copyright, especially those connected to the music industry, directly violates Senate Rule XXXVII, part 2 which states: “No Member, officer, or employee shall engage in any outside business or professional activity or employment for compensation which is inconsistent or in conflict with the conscientious performance of official duties.”

Your apparent violation of Senate rules and your apparent disregard of due process leave me no choice but to ask you to resign as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.’

I'd really love to hear from you why Senator Hatch is not in violation of Senate Rule XXXVII, 2 and why ruke XXXVII, 4, is written to state that a Senator may not pass a bill that furthers only his pecuniary interest vice specifying any pecuniary interest.

Thank you for your time.”

Of course, I’ve heard nothing back. I don’t expect to.

Hatch has lost it. He’s going too far.

June 16, 2003

Last week, Microsoft announced it was discontinuing development of Internet Explorer for the Mac, not surprising due to Apple's release of Safari. About two weeks ago, Microsoft announced that it was discontinuing development of stand-alone versions of Internet Explorer for Windows, something I didn't know about until this morning. It turns out that Microsoft's dropping of new "standalone" IE Development is part of a grander strategy that (surprise!) once again takes advantage of its near-monopoly. Development of Internet Explorer will continue, but the new versions of IE will only be found in the new versions of Windows which will be offered to consumers at higher prices than we have ever seen before.

This attempt by Microsoft to gain more revenue by once again twisting the consumer's arm may backfire. Many websites are optimized specifically for IE, a bad idea in the first place; and Microsoft is counting on those websites remaining in the IE camp to pull this off. My advice: don't! Everyone needs to be writing code to W3C standards. Not only does writing to standards help optimize everyone's experience, but it also prevents the kind of proprietary blackmail like the one I'm discussing.

Even more importantly, open source efforts and even Apple's move to develop its own browser may mitigate any advantage Microsoft hopes for. I don't know if you've been running Mozilla (http://www.mozilla.org); but if not, take a look at it. It's certainly as fast as IE or Safari and surpasses Safari's handling of some sites while holding its own with IE.

If I lost the entire use of Internet Explorer for Windows, I'd simply move my prime surfing to Mozilla; and I'll certainly do that before shelling out $199 for a new operating system that has a new version of IE, if IE was the only reason for it.

On the Mac, I keep a version of Mozilla around. Most of the time Safari runs just fine, but I go to a few sites where Safari does not display the pages correctly. Mozilla does. I only use IE on the Mac anymore as a last resort.

I may start making "IE-less" browsing my everyday experience. I'm going to do everything I can not to subject myself to Microsoft's schemes. I already started down that road by moving most everything I do to the Mac and by moving my web management and development work from Front Page to Adobe's Go Live. Moving to something other than IE for my web browsing is only one more little step down that road.

June 12, 2003

Two days ago, the word hit the street that Microsoft had acquired RAV antivirus. PC World's first articles talked about the impacts to the PC industry of Microsoft acquiring an antivirus vendor, but the most important articles on PC World about this matter appeared yesterday. The biggest impact of this move will be on the Linux community. RAV Antivirus, a product produced by GeCAD Software Srl in Romania, is the most used antivirus software in Linux.

This not surprising at all. With this one acquisition, Microsoft has continued its Blob-like expansion in the PC World and dealt a blow to the ever-threatening Linux community as well. Though it is a severe blow, it is not likely to be a fatal one, even though Linux is suffering the slings and arrows of its own success. Some industry players (like Microsoft) are threatened by it; others see its success and want to own a piece of it (like SCO). Hang in there, Linux users! This, too, shall pass.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Mac Business Unit announced today that there would be no further development of IE 6.0 for the Mac. They're hearing, they said, that Mac users prefer Safari. A lot of folks thought that, even though Safari had been released, Microsoft would not drop IE support because of antitrust concerns. Think again.

It's not a huge loss to me, even though Safari still has a fair number of bugs to get worked out, especially in the area of security. And I still can't really use Safari at Schedulemaster.com where I schedule airplanes with my flying club; the blocks used to display scheduled time never show the user name and are not sized correctly. I use Mozilla to get around those problems. It is as fast as Safari and doesn't seem to have either its display or security problems. I rarely pull out IE anymore.

At least on the Mac, Apple has beaten Microsoft in the browser wars.

The interesting thing will be to see if Microsoft also withdraws support for Office V.X for Mac OS X if Apple releases a complete office suite it is rumored to be working on. Even if they do, it would have to have some compelling features as well as full Word and Excel compatibility for me to drop Office in favor of it. It could happen if I bought a new Mac with a new Mac OS that my current version of Office wouldn't run on, I really liked Apple's version, and it was cheaper than Microsoft's. That's not very likely right now. I've got too much money invested in Office and in my current crop of Macs.

June 11, 2003

For those of us who are Mac-heads, WWDC is now only two weeks away. For the uninitiated, the big point of the World-Wide Developer's Conference isn't that Apple will be showing off its next operating system but whether or not that Apple will reveal its new PowerMacs. If the rumors are true, they will be the first machines using a new PowerPC chip from IBM called the IBM 970. Not only do these chips sport faster speeds that the Motorola G4 chips Macs are currently using, but they are 64 bit processors capable of running 32 bit software without resorting to emulation.

I'm not in a position to afford a new PowerMac. Still, there will come a day; and a faster more capable CPU, especially if in a dual processor machine, is something I look forward to.

While OS X's installations have proven to be superior to Windows XP's, OS 9's just proved to me that they are almost equally problematic as XP's. This weekend, I replaced my PowerMac's 120MB Western Digital hard disk with a 2 MB buffer with a Maxtor of the same size and an 8 MB buffer. I had to reload the operating system and application software, of course. All of it went very smoothly on the OS 10 side of the house. When I booted into OS 9 to check it out, the system immediately locked up on the desktop. I did a quick reinstallation of the OS, but it didn't help.

I suspected the problem was between OS 9 and my video card, an ATI Radeon 9000 Pro. I had installed the 9000 Pro sometime after I had bought the machine; and I thought I remembered a caution about installing the drivers before installing the card. Searching the information on the CD and the ATI website, though, yielded no references to that; and there was no way I could have done that easily anyway.

Information from Apple's Support website revealed that the problem probably had to do with the operating system's extensions. Ahhh, the dreaded extensions, those extra features that used to help make the Mac operating system more functional. Apple's info informed me that by booting my PowerMac and holding down the Shift key, the OS would start with all extensions turned off. That was true, and the machine did boot up. However, it was useless for doing anything. I couldn't open my DVD drive (it would not respond to keyboard commands) nor would the ATI software installer run. I had to try something else.

While at Apple, I had also learned that holding down the Space Bar while the machine was booting would bring up a utility called Extension Manager. This utility let me see all the extensions the operating system was using and turn each one or a group of them on or off as I desired. I tried turning off the ATI extensions and rebooted but the system still locked up. What finally worked was turning off all the ATI extensions, all the Nvidia extensions (which were probably conflicting with my ATI card), and all the Airport and Ethernet extensions. After several hours of playing with it, that got the system to boot into OS 9 and let my DVD drive work. Using the ATI supplied CD, I was then able to install the 9000 Pro extensions and turn the others back on. It's all working honkey dorey now. But it took me three hours to figure it out, only a little better than the time it took me to install my ATI Radeon 9000 in XP!

That made me glad I'm not working with OS 9 all the time and actually made me regret reinstalling it. After all, no major applications on my PowerMac required OS 9. I really did it just because that's how the machine had been set up and just in case something popped up where I needed OS 9. That's not very likely, however.

As I reported here, I upgraded my iMac not long ago by installing a Western Digital 120 GB hard drive. There were two rebates associated with that purchase, one for $10 and one for either $50 or $80 (I don't remember). I submitted paperwork to get both. Well, today, I got the $10 rebate. We'll see if I get the other one. They were both sent in to Best Buy.

Speaking of Best Buy, be careful about both rebates and what you actually are buying if you're responding to their Sunday ads. On two occasions recently, I discovered that they were advertising 7200 rpm 8 MB buffer hard drives at discount prices that turned out to be 2 MB buffer hard disks when I got to the store. Also, be cautious about multiple rebates on a single item. Make sure you qualify for all parts of the rebate and be a little getting more than one. I am. That's why I said the above. From everything I could see at the store, I was eligible for both rebates simply by buying the hard disk.

June 6, 2003

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wrote a memo yesterday finally admitting that Microsoft considers opens-source Linux a threat to his company's bottom line. That's nothing new. Companies in Europe and Asia have been gravitating toward Linux for the last several years. What seems to have sparked a formal declaration of war was Munich, Germany's city government's conversion of all its computer systems to Linux despite a visit by Ballmer last month (See the full article on this at PC World; http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,111036,00.asp.).

In parallel, the SCO group, a company that claims it bought the rights from Novell for Unix System V, launched a lawsuit against IBM, the major player who has announced support for Linux in commercial avenues. SCO is claiming that Linux infringes on some code they bought from Novell, and commercial users of Linux may be subject to royalty payments or penalties. Sounds like a Microsoft move, doesn't it? It is. Microsoft had approached SCO about licensing from them some Linux of their own. The lawsuit was subsequent to that.

(More articles on this at PC World are: http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid/110904,00.asp ; 110794,00.asp;110712,00.asp; and 110750,00.asp.)

And speaking of the perils of doing business with Microsoft or ATI, on a subject a little closer to home, I bought a Radeon 9000 video card to replace my All-In-Wonder Radeon in my Windows XP desktop. I had decided I wanted full cable modem speed and a quiet haven in my office rather than TV or analog video capture capability. At about 8:20 p.m. last night, I started trying to install the card into my dual boot XP/98SE machine.

I finished FOUR hours later!

The more I use Windows, the more I hate what it's done to my life.

Here's what happened:

Since I knew ATI's software installation routines don't check for prior versions before trying to install, new software, I uninstalled the AIW Radeon software from the machine before beginning the Radeon 9000 installation. I had installed Direct X 9.0a and Windows Media Encoder 9 (WME9) a week or two before so I could use ATI's latest version of their Catalyst drivers. They were working fine.

I first ran the ATI software CD under Windows XP. The installation seemed to go well. But when I tried to test out the DVD Player, the computer would bog and then give me an error message telling me of a runtime C++ error. I decided to look for generic software conflicts and started by checking what applications remained installed. I discovered that an older ATI Multimedia Center was still there; so I uninstalled it, downloaded all 9 components and installed them per instructions at the ATI Tech Support site. (That included Direct X 9.0a, WME 9, a newer version of the Catalyst driver (3.4), as well as the Control Panel, and the Multimedia Center.(MMC 8.5). All in all, that took about two of the four hours to do.

The real problem came in when I tried to install the card under Win98SE using the ATI CD included with the card. Again, I uninstalled all previous ATI software before beginning and rebooted. Win98 recognized the card as a Radeon 9000 and began asking for specific files from the ATI CD. I cycled through every directory on that CD (in and of itself a pain in the butt!) and Win98 only recognized the .inf file! No other files could be found! Not only was the OS asking for a whole bunch of them—and each one required you to tell the OS to "Skip File" during the return—but the card went through that TWICE, one for each of the two monitors the card is capable of driving. That set a video card in the Registry but left it with no active drivers installed. The installation routine hung the system because the video drivers were not correctly installed and forced a reboot. After I rebooted and was staring at the black screen part of the Windows 98 load, the system made a sound like "donk" once, telling me it had encountered some type of error, and hung. To get around that, I rebooted into SAFE mode, uninstalled all ATI components, went into DEVICE MANAGER, and removed the Radeon 9000 entries. And rebooted again.

I tried the CD a second time, got the same result, and went through the same procedure AGAIN! I then booted the system normally, clicked through the 2000 "Skip File" commands when Win98 tried to install the Radeon 9000 (again), and got onto the Internet. (Network drivers do not load in Safe Mode, so it wa s necessary to get a normal boot to get to the Internet.) I then downloaded from the ATI website the latest Catalyst drivers for Win98, installed them from my hard disk, and installed the latest Multimedia Center (MMC 8.5), the same one I had downloaded earlier and used in XP. That got everything working, but that whole mess took another two hours!

It only took 15 minutes to install a Radeon 9000 Pro in my PowerMac running Jaguar (OS 10.2).

Enough said.

June 3, 2003

Finally, I'm settling down enough after a move to get back to writing this. I have a very nice office set up in the new place. My three desktop computers (an iMac, a G4 Tower, and an AMD powered XP machine) are arranged in a U-shaped cockpit. The iMac is in the center (and looking out a window), my PowerMac is on my left, and my XP machine is on my right. I can get to the keyboard of any machine by simply turning my chair and scooting over a little. Neat!

Internet access is now via Earthlink cable modem. Actually, the network belongs to Time Warner; but I signed up for Earthlink to save some bucks and I've used them before. Really, the only thing they're really supplying is an ISP service; most of the technical end (hardware) still rests with the cable company (Time Warner).

Moving from DSL to a cable modem has been interesting. First, I am seeing higher download speeds using the cable modem modem. The fastest download speed I ever showed using a DSL speedtest was 1100 KBPS (kilobites per second). With the cable modem, I routinely test out at about 2048 KBPS. I have not seen any noticeable slowdowns on our network at any time of the day, so it looks like the user/capacity ratio must be pretty good.

The only significant problem I have had with the cable modem concerns the signal to noise ratio on the lines in the house. Sunday morning, the "Cable" and "Data" lights on the cable modem (a Toshiba model) both went out, and a call to tech support determined that the problem was at my modem. The tech support guy explained that the signal-to-noise ratio was too low, and he scheduled a technician to come out and take a look at the house. (He is supposed to drop by today.) In the meantime, I decided to see if a splitter installed by the cable modem installer might be the culprit. Bypassing it and cycling power to the modem did restore the signal to the modem and speed tests showed about speed improvements of about 6%, though on one test I saw about a 30% jump! More telling, since I bypassed the splitter, the cable modem has not dropped the signal once.

I did some research on the Internet about this subject and discovered that the placement of splitters on the cable lines is a major driver of cable modem performance. A splitter is used to divide the cable modem line and the TV line going into the house. The house's prior tenants had their cable modem hooked up in the living room; mine is hooked up in what is one of the smaller bedrooms. So, I want a technician to examine whether I may have too many splitters installed or, more likely, have my current ones installed in the wrong place.

Why was there also a splitter in the room with the cable modem? My XP machine has a TV-capable ATI All-In-Wonder Radeon video card installed in it, so a splitter was being used to divide the cable signal between the cable modem and the AIW card. I have been watching TV on my PC for years and wanted to continue that practice; but my desire to get more serious about both writing and videography, my desire to get max speed out of my cable modem connection, and my love for quiet in my room are forcing me to reconsider it. I'm going to see what happens after the tech visits today before I make a decision, but I'm leaning toward replacing the AIW Radeon with a Radeon 9000. That would still leave DVD playing capability in place while expanding video memory and adding some shading functions I don't have (not that I'm a heavy gamer). Still, I might keep the TV card (or replace it with a more up to date AIW version) if my speed losses remain less than 10% and constant connections can be maintained. We'll see what happens.

Now, to switch gears entirely, my little iMac has always had a problem with the flat panel display drooping a bit to the left. Just looking at it, it appeared that tightening up of the hinges on the side of the top joint would do the trick. I ordered a special tool and gave it a shot. Not only did it not work, but the two outer hinge pins were connected by an internal shaft that broke when I applied a torque that didn't feel unreasonable. I secured the bearing of the top joint using a machine screw and nut. It doesn't look pretty but since it's directly behind the flat panel, you can't see it anyway unless you go looking for it. For the moment, I put one of the outer hinge pin covers underneath the machine's base on one side to level the display out.

I have no problem ordering replacement parts, but how do you do that for an Apple? Apple ties everything up so that all repairs are done only by an Apple certified facility. I understand the reasoning, but can anyone spell monopoly?

May 8, 2003

Last night, I read on the PC World site that Symantec was going to incorporate product activation technology into its products. I have two words to day to that:

Goodbye, Symantec!

Adobe will be next.

I have absolutely no objection to people enforcing copyright protection. As a writer and videographer, I am sensitive to those issues. I have a right to be compensated for the work I do. I have a right to take to court those folks who illegally reproduce my works. I don't have a right to screw with your computer or limit your use of my product so you can't employ it in any legal way you wish, i.e., I don't have a rightto tell you I won't allow your reading my book or viewing my movie on a Greyhound bus or in a brothel or in a church. In my view, product activation is an abuse of technology based on greed, distrust, and arrogance. Software companies that engage in this conduct will not stop until consumers revolt with their pocketbooks. They are hoping and counting on consumers accepting this technology because they feel like they don't have a choice . The technology will, one step at a time, become more and more intrusive.

We can make other choices.

You don't have to run Windows anymore. You can run Linux or buy a Mac and run OS X. You don't have to buy Symantec products. There are other utility and anti-virus products around. You don't have to buy new Adobe products even if you're in a professional shop. Run your old versions until they break or switch to a Unix platform and find a Unix based equivalent. There are other choices. Don't let these guys take us further down the path of monopoly. They've gotten too big for their own britches. It's time to let them know.

May 7, 2003

The old computer blog job-jar has been empty for a couple of days because I spent most of the weekend upgrading my 700Mhz G4 flat panel iMac. Even though there were a few months left on the warranty, I decided to attempt the upgrade since I wanted to do video editing and most of my other everyday work (including work in Photoshop, Illustrator, and In Design) on the machine. It had been originally outfitted with a 40GB hard disk and only 128 MB of RAM, a configuration I considered underpowered for what I now wanted to do; and a new machine was financially out of the question.

I knew there was a tutorial at the "Accelerate Your Mac" website that detailed how to take apart your G4 iMac. While I don't consider the article complete, it was comprehensive enough to get the machine apart and the drives out. The fine points I feel it omitted I will cover here in case there's another brave soul who wishes to venture into the unknowns of Upgrades in Flat Panel iMac Land.

Getting the drives out was fairly straightforward. What the pictures accompanying the "G4 Take Apart" article don't show you is that the hard drive is mounted on top of and perpendicular to whatever optical drive one has in the machine. The IDE cable from the hard drive is routed underneath it and folded so it can make a 90 degree turn. A thin, silver foil thermal shield separates the optical drive from the hard drive, and the IDE cable is routed on top of it and spits out the rear of the optical drive's bracket. The IDE cable is an 80 pin ULTRA DMA type but is different from a PC cable in that the MASTER drive is mounted on the first of two connectors up from the motherboard and the SLAVE is on the second (end). (PC's use the reverse of this arrangement and put the MASTER on the end of the cable.) Configure the hard drive as the MASTER and the optical dive as the SLAVE. The cable used to connect them is about 18" long (I think!) and the distances between the connectors (Motherboard-Master-Slave) are the same as those between a reversed PC IDE cable of the same length (Motherboard-Slave-Master).

The article mentions applying thermal paste. Make the thermal paste application the last thing you do before buttoning up the case. It's very easy to get it all over everything.

There is a connector on the "right hand" side of the case that connects or disconnects as you connect or disconnect the top and bottom halves of the case. You don't have to worry about mating it before you close the case halves; it is mounted on a couple of posts that will force it down into position as you close them up. Do take care, though, to make sure the case is lined up correctly before trying to push it closed. You can use the icons and their accompanying ports (like video, Firewire, USB, etc.) to get the line up correct. In general, if the case pushes together easily and everything is lined up, then the connector will mount okay. Once you get the case mounted, check it for protruding wires. If you find any, unclench the case, check the wire(s) for damage; and if they are okay, then reseat the case.

I also upgraded the RAM while I had the case open. Originally, the iMac came with 128 MB RAM. The installed memory was a 168 pin PC-133 Samsung SDIMM. I replaced it with a 512 MB PC-133 Kingston part. Because the Kingston RAM was almost twice as tall as the Samsung RAM, I was concerned about the fit. The case inside the iMac is tight, but it is working okay.

Once you have everything back together and crank the machine up, use the keyboard CD eject key to load your Mac OS CD. (In my case, I used the Mac OS X CD.) Expect the software to only see the optical drive until you run the Disk Utility to partition and format the hard drive. You can then install the MAC OS of your choice or run your Software Restore CD's.

My iMac is back together and working fine. I changed out the original 40GB hard drive for a 7200 RPM 120GB Western Digital hard drive with 8MB of cache, upgraded the memory from 256MB (128 MB internal, 128 MB add-on) to 1 GB (512MB internal, 512MB add-on), and upgraded the Sony 1701E CD-RW to an Apple Superdrive (2X). I now do the large percentage of my personal work on the iMac, leaving my PowerMac for video editing only. My iMac is running Mac OS 10.2.6 and iMovie3, iDVD3, iPhoto2, iTunes4, AppleWorks 6.27, Microsoft Office vX, Adobe Photshop 7, Adobe Illustrator 10, Adobe Go Live 6.01, Adobe Live Motion 2.0, and Corel Draw 11. I'll be switching my Quicken activity to the Mac soon as well.

There has only been one problem with this whole thing, and it appears to be a minor one. When I had the machine apart, I noticed a small, elliptical tear in one of the 80 ribbons in the IDE cable. As I noted earlier, I had 80 pin PC IDE cables that were the same length as the Apple cable but with reversed connectors were reversed. I tried mounting one to see if it would work but the iMac didn't see either drive using it. Having no better alternative, I put the old cable back in. So far, I haven't seen any impact.

I have been searching the web for days for somewhere to order a new cable (Apple part#590-1522) and have had no luck. I've been impressed with how hard getting something simple like this is. Apple may not be a monopoly, but at times they act like one.

When I was shopping for memory, a sales rep at Microcenter advised me to use SimpleTech memory (and one other brand I don't recall) when outfitting a Mac. He claimed they had tried to use other PC133 memory in Macs and that the memory was not fully recognized. I'd be interested in hearing from other folks about what luck they've had running "regular" PC133 memory in their Macs.

And for a final note for today, I've been playing around with various multimedia keyboards on my Windows XP desktop. I really like being able to call up Office applications, control multimedia applications, close applications, and shutdown my PC all from my keyboard. I haven't , though, been able to find any multimedia keyboards with keys I like! In the end, no matter what features are on a keyboard, typing key size and feel dictate whether I will stay with a keyboard or not. I've gone back to running an Apple Pro keyboard on my PC. It's fully recognized under XP. Under Win98, I have to go into Device Manager and do a "Refresh" to get it to pick the keyboard up; but I don't use 98 all that often, so that's not a big deal to me.

April 30, 2003

I completed my XP reload yesterday. I only had a couple of problems. My "500 Nations" multimedia CD would hang on the Microsoft logo screen. I could get my Firewire hard drive to mount, but I was unable to repartition and reformat the drive using both XP's tools and those in Partition Magic. I kept getting various error messages. To workaround that, I booted into Windows 98SE, installed Partition Magic, and tried deleting, re-creating, and formatting the Firewire drive's partition from Win98. Worked like a charm! I reformatted the Firewire drive using Partition Magic's FAT32 format and then copied my data drive to it. That was one more vote for moving back to Windows 98SE.

So, why don't I? Well, XP is more stable and handles fonts on an LCD and multitasks better. And it's a better system to edit video on. But it wouldn't take much at this point to convince me that those advantages are outweighed by 98's workhorse ethic. I'm going to do nearly all my video editing on my Macs anyway. That's why I bought them.

While I really like Partition Magic, I may have bought my last version of it. One of my pet peeves has become computer companies that treat customers like criminals or that act like I need to be grateful to them for their product. When I was having problems getting Partition Magic to work for me under XP, I decided to look for an upgrade and see if that might help. There was one, but the website wouldn't let me download it without registering my product. I didn't want to register. Instead, I sent an e-mail to PowerQuest telling them they had alienated a customer. Then, I came back and booted under Win98SE and got everything to work without it. I'm a firm believer in voting with my pocketbook and my feet.

April 29, 2003

The traffic going home was the worst I'd ever seen it. The roads in every direction were blocked. After an hour on the road, I gave up trying to drive the seven miles to my apartment and went out to dinner with my wife who managed to drive to the restaurant without much trouble.

What does that have to do with computers? It meant I got home at just before 8 p.m. I stayed up until almost midnight reloading application software onto my XP machine and loading new software up on a couple of the Macs but didn't get finished. Apple released iTunes4 and QuickTime 6.2 yesterday in conjunction with their new music service. Obviously, I haven't had any time to look at that yet and see how I feel about it. I didn't even get the new software loaded up on all the Macs. I have one desktop and two iBooks to go.

Meanwhile, I'm almost done with my desktop's application reload. I suspect I'll finish today. I have only a few games and simulators to load up. Then, I'll finish tweaking my Start Menu setup, defrag the hard disk, and see if I can accomplish what I initially started out to. I'll turn on my external Firewire drive, check out its condition using Norton's Disk Doctor, and try backing up my data (D) drive.

I decided not to sell my iMac and have, instead, been toying with the idea of upgrading it with more memory, a bigger hard drive, and replacing its CD-RW with a (4X) Superdrive. Instructions on how to do that are at: http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/systems/iMac_g4/imac_g4_takeapart.html.

I'm not sure I want to take that risk; the procedure most certainly will void my Apple warranty and there are a few months left on it. More importantly, I really love iMacs and know if I hosed this one I'd want another one. They're not cheap. Having to reload the XP machine has taken some fight out of me, too; I'm not sure I want to mess with trying to restore another computer right now. I'm going to have to think about that.

April 28, 2003

Last night, I had an external Firewire disk hooked up to my Windows XP machine in an attempt to back up my data drive. The file transfer was infinitely slow. I tried rebooting and deleting folders on the backup drive but nothing helped. I decided to use Partition Magic 7.0 to reformat the Firewire drive and see if that helped. I had done that before with no problems.

In typical XP fashion, I got a STOP error that hosed the operating system. On the next attempt to boot my computer, I was told that the boot.ini file was bad and that the operating system had halted since it couldn't find "hal32.dll" in the Windows/System32 directory.

I booted the machine up on the XP CD and tried to fix the problem using the Recovery Console. When I used the "bootcfg /scan" command to have it find and list all Windows installations, it only found the XP installation on the E: partition. That threw me off. According to the reference book I was using, the C:\Windows installation was supposed to also show up. I thought maybe the boot sector had been messed up and decided to reboot the computer using my Windows 98SE boot floppy. Then, I performed a "sys c:" to reload the Win98SE system files. Yes, I know XP takes over the boot sector. I was hoping that by reloading the 98 system files I could get the Recovery Console to see the Windows 98SE installation, and I could rebuild the boot.ini file and add it in. I tried "bootcfg /scan" again with no luck, so I decided to reload the OS from scratch. That seemed to me to be the only alternative.

According to Microsoft Knowledge Base article 330184, both symptoms (boot.ini corrupted and the hal32.dll error message) were due to only a corrupted boot.ini file. The proper procedure to rebuild the file was to command "bootcfg /list" to see what entries the file contained and "bootcfg /rebuild" to have it rebuild the boot.ini file. According to the article, as part of the rebuilding process, it will find the other Windows installation (C:\Windows) and ask me if I want to add it to the menu. I won't get the chance to see if that would work correctly right now; I've already started loading XP from scratch. Sooner or later, though, XP will crash again. I printed the article out and intend to put it in with a reference book I made for my computer.

I usually use the Microsoft Knowledge Base routinely. Last night, I did think about searching it for the problem by bringing up one of my Macs, all of which were up and running routinely. I didn't, and it cost me. I mention this because I have noticed that most computer "professionals" don't refer to the Knowledge Base when troubleshooting problems and therefore take three times longer and three times the expense than if they had they used it routinely. If you own a Windows machine, make the Microsoft Knowledge Base your friend.

Because I was reloading the operating system from scratch, I decided to change the operating system disk's file system from FAT32 to NTFS. I did this mostly as an experiment; I'm interested in seeing if there is a performance hit and if the system might be more stable. To get there, I did not "convert" from FAT32 but instead told it to reformat the partition with NTFS during the installation routine. I had read somewhere that the conversion process was not as clean and performance hits were more likely than if the disk was initially formatted with NTFS. I have my system up and running ATI Multimedia applications, Office 2000, and Norton Anti-Virus. So far, I'm seeing no problems.

I'm actually on my second installation of XP in the last twenty-four hours. I've been surprised I haven't had any problems with activation. I've done it twice. I'm also seeing no problems the second time around. On the first go, I installed XP, XP Service Pack 1, all the recommended downloads from the Windows Update website, Office 2000, and Norton Anti-Virus. The second time I installed XP, XP Service Pack 1, ATI video drivers and multimedia components, Office 2000, and Norton Anti Virus, in that order. It's gone a lot smoother.

The good thing about having to reinstall is that it will give me a chance to document how I'm setting up my system. I'll use that information here in this website. It also gives me another opportunity to re-evaluate what applications I'm going to install. Of course, I 've had too many of those opportunities running XP. My list probably won't change much. The bad thing is I will lose several days reconfiguring everything. That's time I could have spent writing or editing video, and just another validation for me moving all my stuff to the Mac.

April 25, 2003

As much as I would like to buy it, I'm leaning toward forgoing a purchase of a 1 Ghz iMac. I do have my 700Mhz flat panel iMac up for sale; at two days to go on the auction, the bids are less than a third of what it would take for me to let it go. I've been looking at a different approach, one that would require less cash outlay but get me pretty much where I want to go. A company named MCE Technologies (http://store.powerbook1.com/mceindvsupup9.html) works with some service centers to install SuperDrive upgrades into your flat panel iMac for only $279. There are two in Houston near where I live; I e-mailed both of them last night looking for true costs and a good estimate of how long they'd need the machine. I'm hoping to get answers from them today. If they look reasonable, I also intend to see if I can upgrade my hard disk while they've got the case open. I can get most of the capability I'm looking for at only a fraction of the cost following this route. Not sure what I'm going to do, yet; it depends whether my 700 iMac sells.

More details are being reported about Apple's up and coming music service. While the service will be formally announced in a few days (April 28), it's being reported that they have signed "The Eagles" and "No Doubt". You'll be able to download albums for $10 or songs for a buck. You'll be able to play the songs on up to three Macs and an unlimited number of "registered" iPods, though no one has yet explained to me what "registered" means. You will not be able to e-mail songs or transfer them to friends' computers.

Am I interested in this? I'll wait and see what the reports are before I answer that question. If it's more convenient and economical for me to get music that way, I'll use the service. If it's not, I won't. Simple as that. To all you computer manufacturer and software service and music industry execs, I say this: Make it easy, convenient, and efficient, and I'll buy your service or product. Make my life a hassle in any sense, and you're gone!

April 21, 2003

I finished up printing my mountain lion brochures last night. (You can see the brochure in the Cougar Zone in the Downloads section; download the kids' brochure.) As usual, no matter what I did, I had significant paper misfeed problems. Even though I was using both my HP Photosmart 7150 and my DeskJet 940C printers, I lost 30 of 120 brochures to misfeeds. While the newer Photosmart printer had fewer misfeeds and was faster than the 940C, they both seemed to get worse the longer they were used.

The job also ate one complete set of ink cartridges and damn near depleted another. All told, I spent about $130 in ink completing this job, not to mention spending just about all weekend baby-sitting the printers. Not only did I need to be available to handle paper jams and misfeeds but printer errors that seemed like they were due to timing problems with XP.

This is the last time I'm going through all that using inkjets. I built my mountain lion brochures in PageMaker, and there are plenty of online printing bureaus that can print them using those files. I'm still deciding whether I'm going to invest in that or go out and buy a color laser printer that's under a grand. Right now, the HP2500 has my interest since it will work with both PC's and Mac's; but the odds are I'll just have a printer work up the brochures.

Oh, and by the way, I'm sure someone out there is thinking I could buy either Epson or Canon inkjets and solve the problem. Possibly. I did try an Epson C80 but found that its printouts wouldn't color match the screen closely enough; most things had a bit of a red or pinkish tone in them. I also looked at doing them on an Epson Photo 820 I used to own but that got even more expensive and I don't believe the color matching was much better. In any case, I'm looking for a way to break down the time I'm spending and the expense; and I'm not sure any inkjet would make those better.

One other note before I leave the subject of the brochures completely. I opened the brochure file in Adobe PageMaker 7.0 on my PowerMac and found that Pagemaker could not find one of its fonts (kids.ttf). I had loaded the font on both the OS 9.0 and X side of the system, though being a newbee to the Mac, obviously I missed something. However, In Design did find the font. In you're using OS X, In Design is definitely the way to go.

While buying my replacement ink cartridges, I breezed through the Apple section of my CompUSA store and took another gander at one of the new 17 inch flat panel iMacs with a 1 Ghz G4 CPU. Very nice! I REALLY like the larger screen, the speed of the 1 Ghz CPU, and the 4X SuperDrive (DVD-R/-RW). I like it so much so I talked to my wife about the possibility of trading in my little 15 inch 700 Mhz G4 flat panel iMac for one of those. She's not real hot on that but not totally against it either. PowerMax (http://www.powermax.com), an Apple retailer in Oregon, will take older Macs in trade for newer ones; I sent them an e-mail note describing my machine and am waiting to see what kind of trade-in they'll offer. It probably won't be enough to make me take the plunge, but I'll just have to wait and see.

Another thing giving me pause is that Smalldog.com has some refurbished G4 PowerMac towers for pretty good prices. They have a dual processor 1.25 Ghz model for the same money I'd spend on the new iMac and a dual processor 867 Mhz for several hundred less. We'll have to see what I decide to do., but this is probably "all talk". More than likely I won't do anything. Too many other things are going on.

Put a new keyboard on my PC. It's a Memorex MX3300 Office keyboard. It has multimedia keys, Microsoft Office keys, keys for My Computer, Calculator, Outlook Calendar, and keys to Log Off and Shut Down. Pretty slick. Really nice key feel, too. While it retails at about $30, CompUSA had some instant savings and some rebates going. I think my final cost on it will be about $10.

April 19, 2003

There's been a lot of talk in the media for quite some time now about the obesity of America. I keep wondering if anyone has done studies to see if there is a correlation between the expansion of the personal computer and the expansion of our waist lines. I bet there is. It's been true for me.

On Monday I travel to an elementary school to talk to the kids about mountain lions. I do this once a year and would like to do it more. I'm printing off 120 copies of a brochure I designed a couple of years ago using an HP Deskjet 940C. So far, everything is going smoothly. Usually, I lose about 25% - 30% of the pages to misfeeds. I've seen none, yet. What's different? I haven't used this printer in a while for one thing, though I don't think that's got a lot to do with it. I believe there are two main factors. One is that I changed my workflow. Before this, I would print the front page in batches of 10 and the manually feed them back through to get complete brochures. This year, I'm printing all the front pages first and letting them dry overnight before printing the back pages on them. I'm also, for the first time, using HP's 24 lb. Bright White Inkjet Paper. Seems to me I've tried the overnight drying trick before and it didn't help much. If tomorrow goes smoothly, then I'll buy HP's paper from now on.

I'm thinking of replacing my 700GHz 15 inch flat panel iMac with a new 1GHz 17 inch flat panel model with a Superdrive. I bought the iMac solely to write on. It's underutilized and I'd like to use it more for most of the personal stuff I'm still doing on my Windows machine and I'd like to have a second Mac for my video business. I've been thinking I would buy a single processor PowerMac to fill that slot. But the 17 inch iMac makes more sense since I feel comfortable letting my other iMac go to get it. Powermax (http://www.powermax.com) will let you trade in your old Mac for a new one. I may explore the idea with them to see what I can get. My little 700 iMac is in great shape and works like a champ. Its only flaw is one you can't see; the little plastic arms that are supposed to hold in an extra memory module (underneath its baseplate on the bottom of its motherboard) broke off when I was trying to install memory using Apple's directions. That doesn't affect its ability to hold the module, but without the little arms the module tends to torque upward toward the baseplate. I taped it down. I haven't had one crash with that machine.

One of these days remind me to tell you about the letter I wrote Apple complaining about that (poor design--using tiny strips of spring metal like some PC's do would have prevented the breaking) and their quality control for giving me a bad DIMM on a $3000 PowerMac.

It's going to irritate me if Powermax doesn't want it because of that. I'd have to take my chances with Ebay, then, and I'm not sure that's something I'd like to do.

April 17, 2003

I did get my taxes done, and it was by using H&R Block's Tax Cut. Unless I hear that Intuit has dropped product activation from Turbo Tax, I won't even consider that product next year. Hopefully, H&R Block will be too smart to incorporate it. If not, some human will get my tax business.

For the Mac lovers out there...

Most of you probably know that Microsoft acquired Connectix and Virtual PC, the only real product out there for OS X that allows you to run a Windows operating system within it. Now that Connectix is gone, FWB software has announced that Real PC and Soft Windows would be updated and released for OS X shortly. Apparently, they had some agreements with Connectix that had been holding them back. Now, that Connectix is gone, they are free.

One interview I found about this subject is on the website "MacBoduille". The most interesting thing about it is that not only will Real PC be cheaper than Virtual PC, but it is being designed for true multi-processor and 3D game support! That would be a real breakthrough for us Mac lovers. Not that I would give up my Athlon XP powered desktop for running games. I wouldn't. But I feel really good knowing I won't be absolutely tied to having even one Windows' machine in the house if I don't want it. Once Macs get fast enough where I see my flight sims run as fast on my Mac as they do on my PC, I will more than likely replace my PC and give it to someone else in my family. But I'll keep my PC for now...

April 12, 2003

I talked to Turbo Tax's tech support yesterday in an effort to get Turbo Tax to work. The tech support person was very nice. She walked me through installing a new product key (18 digits), a new order number (8 digits), and a new activation code (about 50 digits). Just like when I reinstalled Windows XP, I didn't have time to write down the activation code. The program seemed to accept the inputs. I was supposed to be able to crank Turbo Tax right up.

She terminated the call, and I tried to start the program. SAME RESULT!! It tried to get me to pay for it again! I uninstalled the program, went to CompUSA, and picked up a copy of Tax Cut. Next year, when I get one of those Turbo Tax programs in the mail, it's going straight in the trash.

I asked the tech person to tell her superiors I would not buy Turbo Tax next year because of the product activation scheme. She snickered. Even if Turbo Tax abandons the scheme (and they probably won't), I'll more than likely buy Tax Cut next year just as a form of protest. And if they adopt product activation, I'll pay somebody at H&R Block to do my taxes.

On another front, Apple is looking at buying a music company. What's up with that? Apple needs to take its disposable cash and sink it into newer, faster processors or improving its quality control instead of trying to lock into a digital hub monopoly. Financial analysts seem to agree. Apple's stock dropped on the news.

April 11, 2003

I'm really angry this morning. When I cranked up my paid for copy of Turbo Tax to check on tax info before filing this weekend, it started acting like I hadn't paid for it. Worse, when I pulled my hard copy with my product key and order number and entered it, it refused to accept the order number. My only recourse is to call Intuit during work hours when I am NOT at home on my computer and see if I can get good data from them to get the program running tonight.

Between Microsoft and Intuit, I am really tired of dealing with product activation. You can give me all the piracy arguments you want, as a paying customer, the only thing this bullshit has done is to cause me pain and grief! To all those out there who are as sick of this abusive technology as I am, I say "Vote with your feet!" Go find someone else's product to buy and let them see what doing without legitimate customers feels like. I'm willing to bet you that if enough of us did that, the piracy argument wouldn't hold water. Half the friggin numbers of what they say they've lost are trumped up anyway, based on a set of assumptions that have little or no validity.

I will try to call Intuit this morning. But even if I get this worked out, I will not buy Turbo Tax again. I'd rather pay someone to help me than put up with this. Whether Quicken will be the next casualty remains to be seen.

April 8, 2003

It's hard to imagine a life anymore without computers. Not that I can't. Put a backpack on me, send me out to west Texas, New Mexico, or Utah, and I am at home. Still, even if I had a little cabin in a canyon or sitting high up on a mountain or butte, I'd more than likely have some kind of computer there. I use a computer to write , to desktop publish, to publish to the web, to make movies, to watch TV and movies, to surf, to send and receive e-mail, to surf the 'Net, to watch TV and movies, to track finances, to do taxes, to fly simulators, and to play games. So, as you can see, I am quite involved with them, like it or not. Most of the time I do like it; sometimes, I don't. I'm the kind of guy who builds his own computers and does his own troubleshooting and, occasionally, troubleshoots for others. I've been involved with computers since about 1986. The first PC I bought was an IBM clone running a 286 and DOS 3.2 or 3.3, I think. My current PC is self-built, an AMD powered Athlon XP 2000+ with 512 MB PC2100 memory, a 60GB Maxtor and an 80GB Seagate hard disk, an ATI All-in-Wonder video card, a Soundblaster 512 soundcard, and a Firewire card, all run by a MSI Ultra 2 motherboard. The PC is configured to boot into either Windows XP Home Edition (default) or Windows 98SE. For peripherals, I have a HP Laserjet 2100 printer with extra memory and a Postscript module, a Deskjet 940C, a Photosmart 7150, an Epson 1660 flatbed scanner, a Visioneer mx scanner, and a seventeen inch Samsung 760V LCD monitor. And that's just my PC!

You see, I got married a little over a year and a half ago. My wife is a Mac person. I had never seen a Mac up close until we got married; and since my wife didn't know a lot about computers, I became the system administrator. To make a long story short , we have become a Mac family over the last year or so. In fact, I do most of my work on the Mac and prefer it over the PC for most things. It's all linked up on a DSL-breathing home network managed with a Belkin 54G router. Like they say...a man and his toys!

What you're going to see here are my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as a PC and Mac owner and someone interested in home and business computing. Since I've become a switcher, much of what you will see here will be drawn from those experiences. I doubt, though, that I'll be able to keep my mouth shut about the PC world, though. So, drop by; and see what's here.

Andy