The Computer Blog

Friday, December 16, 2005

After I Cooled Off a Bit...

After I had some time to cool off and think about things a bit, I decided to call Adobe and see how hard it would be to get the activation for my PowerBook turned on. I was fairly certain that the reason I had tripped the “two computer” activation limit was I had installed Photoshop CS2 on my old iMac and deleted it without thinking and before transferring the activation to another machine. So, that’s what I told the Adobe Customer Service rep. He was comfortable with that, so he had me read the product’s serial number and activation code (contained in the window that denied me activation in the first place) and then the sixteen digit number the overrode the activation lockout.

What’s ridiculous about the whole process is that to override the activation all one has to do is give the customer service rep a valid reason why activation has been tripped. If a person is willing to copy software to a third machine, why wouldn’t they also be willing to lie a little on the phone to get it done? Yet, to prevent alienating its customer base and because activation is too easily tripped by everyday malfunctions or reconfigurations of one’s computer, Adobe can’t afford to do anything else. Its customers would revolt, and I’m still on the edge of doing just that.

Frankly, I don’t want to have to deal with the added hassle activation brings. To that end, I’m still considering removing Photoshop CS2 from my machines and sticking with Photoshop CS. The feature difference isn’t huge, though I obviously thought they were worth the upgrade costs or I wouldn’t have spent the money. But they were marginal, and activation now tips the scales in the other (I don’t need to buy this) direction. It won’t take much to push me over. A hard disk crash or even an operating system upgrade that kills activation will probably be enough to push me over the edge, and edge I may choose to jump over anyway. I’m going to give myself a few days to sort this out, but if I’m still uncomfortable with running products with activation on my machine, I’m going to jerk them off.

Has activation impacted my plans for future Adobe purchases? Yes. I’m still thinking about whether I’m going to commit to buying Illustrator CS2. I’d really like to have its Live Trace and Live Paint features. But I have backed off any plans to upgrade InDesign Cs to CS2 and GoLive CS to CS2. Further, I will not buy any future Adobe software that contains the technology. So, Adobe and I are done; and that spells big trouble for Apple as well.

My big processor hogging applications are my Apple video editing applications and my Adobe applications. The latter I run on my iMac, and that computer was one of the two I was most likely to take to Intel when Apple goes there next year. But now that I am abandoning any further Adobe upgrades (because of activation), I also am much more likely not to “upgrade” my iMac unless it breaks and can’t be repaired or there is some other reason I can’t conceive of today where I really need a new machine.

Activation shifts some of the costs of software piracy from the software company to the user. It sends a message that the software company considers their lost profits more important than the money you lose in lost productivity because of dealing with this stuff. Five minutes on the phone may not be much for a single application where dealing with a customer service rep goes smoothly, but it’s something else again when it doesn’t or you have multiple applications all of which have to be managed in this fashion. As long as us users put up with this abuse, they’re going to continue to behave in this way. If we want to stop it, we’ve got to vote with our pocketbooks.

Open Source software just leapt up a notch in my book. For now, if I decide to ditch the CS2 line of products, I’ll drop back to CS. But going forward, I’m going to look to other vendors and also take a much harder look at whether Open Source software might get the job done.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why I'm Finished with Adobe

In a word, it’s activation.

I bought a copy of Photoshop CS2 for the Mac and initially installed it on my dual G5 PowerMac. Last night, I decided it made sense to move it to my iMac; so, I called up the PowerMac’s copy of Photoshop CS2 and preformed the “Transfer Activation” routine, receiving a message that the copy of it was deactivated on that computer. Fine. I moved it to my iMac and activated it there without a problem. But then I tried to load Photoshop CS2 on my PowerBook, something permitted under the license. When I tried to activate it, it told me I had already hit the maximum number of activations, something that is certainly NOT true.

My recourse now is to call Adobe on the phone and convince their support folks that I’m not a criminal. I’m not going to do that. I don’t have enough hours in the day to get done what I need to now. I’m not going to waste any time trying to convince Adobe to let me run their product, something I’ve already paid them for. Adobe doesn’t give a damn about the time this debacle costs me, and time is money for me as well. So, I’m going to buy a copy of Illustrator CS2 (because I want the Live Trace feature) and then I’m hanging it up. I had wanted to upgrade Go Live and InDesign from CS to CS2 versions as well, but it’s not going to happen.

The friggin software companies have been using technology to hold its customers accountable; likewise, we need to hold them accountable for the time we’ve lost and the hassle we’ve endured. The best way to do that is to simply stop buying their products and find other ways to get our work done. I'll chance buying Illustrator CS2, but that's the last Adobe product containing activation I'm going to buy.

I'm going to take a much harder look at Open Source software from here on out.

IOGEAR UH-275 USB Hub Incompatible with PowerBook

I use my PowerBook at work so I can use OS X and Office 2004 to create documents. To transfer material between the PowerBook and my office’s Dell PC, I use an Emprex ZU-40 “MicroStorage 4.0GB” microdrive. It utilizes a USB interface as does my mouse and now my iPod Video. Since my PowerBook (a newer 12 inch model running a 1.5 GHz G4) only has two USB 2.0 ports, when I want to run a mouse, the Emprex drive, and the iPod, I obviously have a problem. So, last weekend, I went hunting for a small USB hub, one that would support USB 2.0 and was small enough to easily use with my PowerBook. I chose an IOGEAR UH-275 4 port USB 2.0 mini-hub, not only because of its stylish looks but because IOGEAR equipment usually works pretty well, especially with a Mac.

In this case, I made a mistake. I pulled it out for the first time and hooked it up to one of my PowerBook’s USB 2.0 ports. I then hooked up my mouse and the Emprex microdrive to the hub. The PowerBook saw the mouse, but the Emprex drive showed no activity at all. The PowerBook simply did not see it. I also hooked up my video iPod to the hub, and it was likewise ignored. Removing the hub, I hooked up the Emprex drive directly to the USB 2.0 port the hub had been connected to, and the drive worked normally.

I then hooked up the hub to the front USB port to my Dell PC and hooked up the Emprex drive to the hub, and it worked normally.

Surfing over to the IOGEAR website, I checked the Support section for any articles on this problem but found none. I also checked for USB drivers, but there were none for OS 10.4. In short, there was nothing at the IOGEAR website to help me defeat this problem. This is especially disturbing because the company’s packaging says the hub works with OS X and the website touts that the hub is compatible with the Mac Mini. I don’t have a Mac Mini available to test that, but I am obviously skeptical.

I left the Emprex drive hooked into the hub and left it in the PowerBook while I did some more troubleshooting. While I made no progress on getting the drive recognized, System Profiler showed that the Mac was recognizing the hub. Also, the hub was hot at the port where the drive had been plugged in, so the drive was obviously trying to pull power through the hub’s port. (NOTE: Other users have also noted how hot this hub gets at the far end, which was where I had my Emprex drive plugged in. Beware. There could be a real hazard there!) That made me wonder whether the voltage in the PowerBook’s USB ports was simply not enough to power the drive or the iPod. The hub does have a power port on it for an “optional” AC power adapter, one that is not readily found in the stores, I bet. (I hate it when USB manufacturers do that. If the hub is going to need an external adapter, INCLUDE it!)

When I got home, I hooked the hub up to my Rev B G5 iMac, plugged my Exmprex microdisk into that, and it worked. I’m more convinced than ever that the problem has to do with voltage levels on the PowerBook’s USB ports being too low to support the microdisk’s or the iPod’s operation.

I have seen comments from other users that the hub was working with their PowerBooks, so maybe the problem is just isolated to certain models. Still, if you’re using a Mac and want to run this hub with your PowerBook or iBook, whether you can or not appears to be a bit of a crapshoot.

A Few More Words on iPod Video Quality

Last night, I watched a few minutes of Star Wars Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, on my dual G5 PowerMac and its 20 inch Apple Cinema Display. While doing so, I was paying particular attention to the quality of the images. After doing so, I feel like I need to amend a previous blog in which I stated that my iPod hooked up to a TV yielded images about as good as a DVD. I probably really need to compare the iPod’s video quality to that of a very good VHS player. The images are slightly softer than a DVD’s though still quite good.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Playing Battlestar

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I took a mini-plug to RCA type video and audio cable, hooked it up to my video iPod and a 20 inch TV, and used the Ipod as a video player to run downloaded episodes of Battlestar Gallactica on a TV. I was surprised at the video and audio quality. It was great!

I also hooked up the (video) iPod to my PowerMac via its regular USB-to-Dock Connector cable. In iTunes, the videos look like songs in the iPod’s library except they have a TV icon beside (to the right of) their names. To play one of them, I simply double-clicked on its name, though I could also have single-clicked on the filename and clicked once on the iTunes’ play/pause button. I then played the video using iTunes just like I had downloaded the video to that machine.

For those of you with PC’s, you can use iTunes with a video iPod just like I did my Mac’s.

This also means I can use my iPod with my PowerBook and watch videos on the PowerBook’s screen. The iPod will also be able to pull on my PowerBook’s battery, enabling me to watch several hours of video or a movie if I ever get one on my iPod.
I can make my video iPod a movie or TV show depository I can take with me anywhere and I am not restricted to the iPod's screen unless I choose to be.

Life is sweet!

Why a MacIntel is Looking Less Likely

The rumors about which Mac will first show up with an Intel processor are flying around the Net, with some claiming that the MacMini will be first and others insisting it will be the PowerBooks. The latter has now been claimed by both the AppleInsider website and by a Citigroup analyst, giving some credence to the idea that Powerbooks may indeed win the race. (I think it’s just as likely Apple won’t unveil just one Intel based line in January at MacWorld SF but several.)

In previous blogs, I stated my interest in an Intel-based Mac laid primarily in PowerBooks because I wanted the ability to boot into Windows XP and Mac OS X. As I’ve taken more time to assess my true needs, though, the need to boot into Windows XP has somewhat lessened. That need for Windows is the sole driver for my consideration of a MacIntel PowerBook.

It’s not that I need the Windows applications I run any less. They are primarily flight planning applications I use on the road. I’m simply not flying as much cross-country as I thought I would; and when I do, running those applications under Virtual PC is working just fine, even if not a quickly as I would like. I had thought I would need Windows to update my aircraft’s GPS database, but the airplane wasn’t wired up with a data port when the GPS was installed, so I have to find another way to perform the task. I have, and while it does require a Windows machine to do it, I have a desktop I can use for that. Indeed, the realization that I will be keeping a Windows desktop is part of what lessens my need for a Mac notebook. The other factor in my cooling is Apple’s abandonment of the 12 inch form factor. I really don’t want to haul a 15 inch notebook around; they are of marginal use in an airplane, whether a general aviation aircraft or a commercial airliner.

Buying an Intel based iMac doesn’t make much sense for me either since I’d have to run all my software, other than i-apps supplied with the computer, under Rosetta. That goes doubly for buying a PowerMac. Upgrading my video editing pro-applications to Intel versions would cost more than a pretty penny and would make no sense to do unless I was into video as a business. Right now, I’m not.

So, that leaves a MacMini employed as an entertainment center as the most likely candidate to buy. At the moment, though, I don’t have a large LCD or plasma TV to hook it to, so buying it would be a true experiment. That’s not something I can afford.

I hate to be out on the sidelines; but it’s starting to look more and more like that’s where I’m going to be. (All that aside, where are the applications? If vendors don’t hit the streets with dual binary applications at or before the machines are released, there won’t be any software for the machines to run.)

All that said, there is one scenario where my buying an Intel PowerBook would make sense. If a dual-core, Intel-based PowerBook could run my current applications under Rosetta even faster than my current 2.0 GHz PowerPC iMac, then replacing the iMac with a 15 inch PowerBook and a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display makes sense. I’d hand the iMac and my current PowerBook down to my wife if she wanted them, contact PowerMax and trade the iMac in on the PowerBook, or sell the iMac outright. In that case, I could see the PowerBook becoming my “everything machine” except for video editing, assuming the PowerBook could be gotten with a hard disk big enough to house OS X, Windows XP, and my data as well. That could be the best of all worlds.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Downloading BattleStar – Part 2

Last night, I completed the downloading of “Battlestar Gallactica”, at least what I’m going to do for now. I bought all 13 episodes of Season 1, most of which had run times between forty-two and forty four minutes. It took roughly 10 minutes to download each episode. I let my iMac perform that feat on its own as I slept.

At the end of the process, Finder reported that my hard disk was using 55.15GB of its available space. The thirteen episodes had therefore taken 2.35 GB of additional space on my iMac to store. That means each episode is taking 0.1807 GB of space or 180.7 MB each. With 93.84 GB of hard disk left, if I stored nothing else but TV shows on it, I could get 519 more episodes of Battlestar Gallactica on my iMac before I ran out of room.

More importantly, after downloading the episodes from my iMac to my iPod, Finder showed that the iPod was using 11.19 GB of its available 30Gb of storage. The thirteen episodes were taking an additional 2.56 GB of hard disk space on my iPod. That equates to 0.197 GB per episode. I could therefore get 95 more episodes of BattleStar on my iPod before running out of room. That’s enough for 7 more seasons. That’ll be plenty, I bet.

I took the iPod into work with me and showed some of my coworkers the beginning of the miniseries. Without exception, everyone of them thought it was really cool; and they were all surprised at the video and audio quality. But they were no more surprised than I was after I got home and hooked the iPod up to a 20 inch flat screen TV via a standard audio/video cable (from my Sony camcorder) and played part of an episode on the TV. The picture quality was outstanding! I saw none of the pixilation I’ve seen in other reports. In fact, at least on that TV, I could tell no difference between the show being output by my iPod and that of a DVD! Of course, a lot of Battlestar’s scenes are literally dark, and it’s possible that a brighter picture would have shown more. But I was critically searching for any picture defects and saw none.

My only complaint so far is the battery life. While the iPod will easily play a one hour video, if it makes it to two, it will be just barely. Battery life is just barely acceptable for this kind of a device, which makes Apple’s omission of a power adapter even more noticeable.

Another thing I can’t do is hook my iPod up to any of my other Macs and play the video from there. Since I’m not moving the content, that seems like overkill from a Digital Rights Management standpoint.

Purchasing a DVD set of these same episodes is something I might do in the future, but that also looks like overkill right now. Having several full seasons of BattleStar in a device that fits in my shirt pocket is nothing short of miraculous. I’m becoming even more impressed with the video iPod than I thought I would be.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Downloading BattleStar – Part 1

It would probably be the height of idiocy to think that anyone from Apple reads my blog. Nevertheless, I had said in here a few weeks ago I was hoping that Apple would somehow get “Battlestar Gallactica” from the Scifi Channel and make it available for download. Today, they did just that. As I write this at 10:20 p.m. on Tuesday evening, I am downloading “Battlestar Gallactica, Miniseries”, a four part series that runs for a total of 3 hours. After that (though perhaps tomorrow), I will download the first season of the show. though I’ll hold off from getting Season 2 for now. There's only a partial season available, and I need to go back and think about whether any episodes are missing or not.

I’m downloading Gallactica not only because I love the show, but to test out and play with this new means of television delivery. I’m curious to see how expensive it is, how sustainable it is, and how easy or hard it is to move content around. I’m curious to play the shows over a TV using my iPod and measure it against delivery on a DVD. Can this replace buying a DVD set? That’s one of the questions I hope to answer.

Part 1 of my four part purchase is almost done downloading. It’s a 55 minute and 24 second piece that started downloading at 10:11 p.m. and is completing at 10:25. I’m using a high-speed cable modem connection (Earthlink via Time Warner) to do my dirty work, and Part 2 began downloading as soon as Part 1 completed. If the download speed ratio holds, it will take about 10 minutes to finish this part, 15 minutes to do the next, and 9 minutes or so to do the last. That would finish things up for me about 11 p.m. So, Season 1 will have to come tomorrow evening.

Before I started downloading, I used “Get Info” to take a look at how much hard disk space I had used and had free. I’m downloading to my iMac, and it has a 160GB hard disk in it. I’ve used 51.76GB and have 97.17 GB free. I also recorded how much space I’ve used ony my 30GB iPod Video. I have used 7.81GB and have 20.07GB free. That space holds all my music (813 songs), 5342 photos, and one music video (Fatby Slim, Weapon of Choice) also purchased from the iTunes Music Store.

Part 2 finished downloading on time, completing at 10:35.

How much space will the Battlestar video take? Normal DV video takes about 13GB per hour. I’m not sure which video format these episodes are recorded in. MPEG4? H.264? I might be able to figure it out later. For now, I simply intend to check how much hard disk space I’ve used after these downloads. That’ll give me an idea whether I continue to download to my iMac or shift those operations over to my PowerMac, which has 300GB and 250GB hard disks.

Also, will the video quality be good enough to enjoy these shows on my 17 inch iMac’s screen. The Fatboy Slim video (really the Christopher Walken “dancing bear” video) looks pretty good on it, so I am assuming that Battlestar Gallactica will look as good.

Now, if I can only get Apple to go after “The Twilight Zone”.

Based on my earlier estimate, Part 3 would complete downloading at 10:50. It’s finishing a bit faster than that, coming in at 10:47. Part 3 is the biggest of the lot with a 57:43 runtime. Part 4 has begun downloading. It is the smallest of the lot with a 31:51 runtime. I’m looking for it to finish up downloading by no later than 10:56.

It finished at 10:54.

Finder now shows 52.8 GB used on my disk with 96.13GB available. The four videos are therefore taking only 1.04GB of space. That’s for 3 hrs and 4 minutes of runtime.

Video quality while playing the video on my iMac is good with no noticeable pixilation at full screen. The picture is a tad dark however, even with the brightness on the iMac up at full. The picture does seem to be a bit brighter when played in the small window that is closer to the iPod’s native resolution.

Part 1, when copied to the iPod, caused the “used” space to jump to 8.05 GB. The video therefore took only 240MB (0.24GB) of space on the iPod. With usage that small, I went ahead and copied the other 3 parts of Battlestar (miniseries) to the iPod. The total usage at the end of this operation was 8.63GB of hard disk used.

Heh, I might be able to get the entire Season 1 on this thing, too. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer First Look

CompUSA was running a deal this weekend where a Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer (version 2.0) was only $17.99! That was too good a deal to pass up, so I bought one and mounted it on my dual PowerMac/Windows XP PC set-up. It’s working really well on both systems hooked in via my Apple keyboard.

The mouse itself is a shiny but dark blue (Cobalt Basin) and uses the large, right hand sculpturing of its wired cousins. Cursor response is excellent; I can not tell this mouse from its wired counterpart, though, even accelerated, Microsoft mice do not seem to speed across the screen as quickly as Logitech mice do. This gives the Microsoft mouse a “softer” feel, but not enough to make it undesirable. The scroll wheel on this mouse works in both the horizontal and vertical directions and yields better scrolling inside Photoshop than my Griffin PowerMate. I’m looking forward to testing it inside Final Cut Pro, though I suspect the PowerMate’s “wheel”-type ergonomics will make it the winner there.

Marketing material on the box stated that this mouse would get three times the battery life of the competition. That’s going to be a hard thing for me to judge since this is the only wireless mouse I own. To their credit, Microsoft included two Eveready AA batteries with the mouse, making the CompUSA price for the thing even that much more incredible.

I can’t really comment on the mouse’s range. The transmitter and receiver are less than a foot apart. So, why am I using a wireless mouse? Because I can. Seriously, though, it’s because the chord from a wired mouse tends to droop beyond the keyboard shelf and can get tangled up with lines going to my joystick or even get caught in my feet. A wireless mouse seems to be a good solution to avoiding the clutter.

Logitech MX 510 Right-Click Fixed

I’ve been using thee dark blue and beautiful Logitech MX 510 optical mouse on both my iMac and my PC for some time now and have really loved them. In appearance, functionality, and feel, I felt they were the best mice on the market. But I’ve noticed a little problem with them that drives me crazy. After a time, the right mouse button would begin sticking a tiny bit, not enough to affect functionality but enough to drive me crazy. It was the optical mouse equivalent of driving a squeaky piece of chalk over a blackboard. I hated how it felt, and stopped using the mice because of it.

This weekend, I had one of the mice out and was examining it when I noticed, at points along the right button’s right edge, small amounts of dirt and debris, technically known as crud. Using a plastic toothpick from my Swiss Army Knife, I cleaned the crud out and the mouse worked just like new! So, I happily re-mounted it on my 17 inch iMac. So far, it’s still working like it’s supposed to.