The Computer Blog

Tuesday, 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.

Sunday, 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.

Tuesday, April 06, 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.