The Computer Blog

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Finally

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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Still reloading XP

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.

Monday, April 28, 2003

XP Problems

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.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Forgoing an iMac

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!

Monday, April 21, 2003

Printers and PowerMacs- 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.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

Musings

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.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Taxes, Virtual & Real PC

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...

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Turbo Tax Continued and Apple Music

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.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Turbo Tax Anger

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.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

The Beginning

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