The Computer Blog

Thursday, 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.

Sunday, 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.

Saturday, 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!

Wednesday, 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.

Tuesday, 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.

Monday, October 20, 2003

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.

Friday, 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.

Thursday, 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.

Sunday, 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.

Thursday, October 09, 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.

Wednesday, October 08, 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.

Sunday, October 05, 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?

Thursday, October 02, 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.