The Computer Blog

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sense Errors

You would think if I was writing about “sense errors”, I’d be talking about seeing funny, not hearing well, or feeling like I was toppling off a mountain all the time. What I’m writing about, though, is the class of errors that started popping up when I tried writing some CD’s. I first noticed some problems a few weeks ago when a multi-session CD I’d burned using Toast on my MacBook Pro was not recognized by Toast running on my Mac Pro. I’d noticed that problem off and on since I’d transitioned to Leopard but wasn’t sure what the real root cause was.

I use multi-session CD’s to store software updates in case I need them again in the future. I was checking one to see what patches and updates I had stored on it using my Mac Pro. The CD slipped into the drive (a Pioneer DVR-112) and then spun and spun, never appearing on the desktop. I popped it out and then slipped into the SuperDrive on my MacBook Pro, and it read the CD without a problem. I then transported the CD back to the Mac Pro, inserting it in the machine’s second optical drive (a Pioneer DVR-111), only to find it wouldn’t read the disk, either. That made me think I had some kind of problem with that media, which were Maxell CD-R’s. To verify that, I put a Verbatim printable CD-R in the MacBook Pro, burned the same files to it as I had on the other CD, and then popped it into the Mac Pro. It read the disk. That confirmed it was only a media problem, I thought, right up to the point where I tried to burn a disk (using Toast 8) and the DVR-112. Toast quit before writing, giving me a “0x00008” error code. I began to suspect the drive itself was having a problem.

To verify both drive and operating system operation, I inserted both a Maxell CD-R and a Verbatim CD-R into the DVR-112, let it spin up and mount each CD on Leopard’s desktop, and dragged several folders to each one. When I tried to write using Leopard alone, the drive wrote a little and then issued a “media sense error”; and this happened with both types of media used. When I repeated the steps using the DVR-111, it burned the Verbatim media without a hitch but then couldn’t verify the disk and spit it out. The drive choked altogether on the Maxell CD. Was there nothing that worked?

I decided to reinstall the OS 10.5.1 update to see if it might help straighten out things, so I surfed over the Apple site and downloaded it. Once I had installed it, I tried burning a mini-size TDK CD using both drives. The 112 choked again, but the 111 worked just fine. That convinced me the 112 was having some kind of problem under Leopard, even though it had performed a test burn under Windows XP without a problem. Powering down the Mac Pro, I replaced the 112 with the 111 and put a Pioneer DVR-107 in the 111’s old slot. Using some TDK CD-R’s I bought to try, I performed test burns in multi-session mode and all drives and they all worked fine.

I’m using the TDK CD-R’s now for storage. The Maxell’s have been relegated for use only on my MacBook Pro and when I’m going to “close” the disk. (Every machine can see them, then.) It’s a shame I can’t tell you I haven’t seen this problem before, but I have and on both Mac and Windows’ platforms. You would think at this stage of the technology that all burners and media would be compatible, but that’s just not the case. Additionally, I suspect that the firmware in the Pioneer DVR-112 (V 1.29) has some problem with Leopard it doesn’t have with XP. Hopefully, I won’t have any more problems like this for a while. God save me when it’s time to cut a DVD…!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking iTunes Store

If you’ve been to the online iTunes Store lately, you can see the result of the spat between Apple and NBC over movie and TV show pricing. A significant amount of what iTunes had to offer came from NBC, though there’s still plenty of TV shows that remain for consumers to pick from. Unfortunately for me, NBC bought out the SciFi Network (a move that sent a well-warranted shudder through me when it happened) so that my favorite shows, like Battlestar Galactica and Eureka, are no longer there. That’s a loss for all three of us since there are few other shows I’ve been willing to spend money on.

Even worse, Apple has given in to several of the major movie studios and will be raising iTunes movie prices from $9.99 to about $15.99. At $10, I’ve been willing to buy a few movies from the iTunes Store whose DVD’s I did not already own. Most of the time, these are movies I love but I know my wife won’t be much interested in seeing. Additionally, there was also enough of a monetary savings where I was willing to bypass the other things that actually owning a DVD brings with it (like better resolution and special features). But with the prices at the iTunes Store rising as much as 30%, that no longer holds true. For instance, I can buy the Battlestar Galactica’s RAZOR for $16.99. Why would I not want to do that when it’s available at that price? And if part of the movie studios’ overall plan is to jack up DVD prices, think again. Buying a DVD movie is not something I ever have to do.

In my house, I have a Samsung DVD-R/RW attached to my TV cable box, a Mac Pro sitting in my home office and just waiting for something to do, a copy of Handbrake as well as Mac the Ripper and Cinematize, video editors in the form of iMovie and Final Cut Pro 5, as well as iTunes and iDVD. I’m going to leave what you think I can do with that set-up to your imagination. I will say I have the means to bypass the whole unpleasant situation and my iTunes library and my iPod won’t suffer one bit. I’d rather continue to buy the final season episodes of Battlestar from the iTunes Store at $1.99 each; but there’s no way I’d pay five bucks for one when I have the means to capture it for a lot less, and anyone who thinks I’m going to sit at my computer and watch these episodes online is crazy.

I keep hoping that some sanity will rule, but it won’t. There’s big egos involved. Unfortunately, in the end, everyone will be the loser; but I‘m going to make sure I lose least of all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrong About Fusion--It's a Winner!

In a blog posted a few weeks ago, I stated that I thought Parallels had more features than VMware’s Fusion. Well, I spent a lot of time over the last few days working with VMware’s Fusion; and I have to say I was wrong. I like Fusion a lot better for several reasons.

First, though they are evenly priced in the stores, VMware is still offering $20 off if you buy from them online and from some online retailers. Where Nova seems to be pushing its customers to upgrade to Parallels 3.0 to get Leopard support, VMWare provided Leopard support via an upgrade issued at no cost to the user. The best Nova has done was offer a version two to three upgrade at $50, though there was a window for you to get the upgrade free if you bought Parallels after May 7, 2007. That window is gone. Parallels 3.0, which you must pay full price for, is the only game in town.

Secondly, Fusion seems to be faster than Parallels at accomplishing most tasks. I haven’t performed any official timing to be sure; that’s a strictly subjective judgment. But when booting the Guest OS hosted on an internal volume vice Boot Camp, Fusion seems to boot the OS terribly fast. Like Parallels, Fusion installs a set of “tools” when the OS runs that enhance things like cursor display and graphics performance; but unlike Parallels, Fusion did it automatically when I installed XP under it.

Thirdly and lastly, I was really wrong about Parallels having more features than Fusion. One of the things I wrote about was how much I liked Parallel’s Coherence mode, and I didn’t think Fusion had anything like it. It does! It’s called “Unity” and not only does it make it appear that Windows applications are running on the OS X desktop, but the Windows Start Menu is accessible from VMware’s Menu Bar on the OS X desktop. You don’t have to mess with the Windows’ Start Menu at all!

Unlike Parallels, Fusion also has a setting that enables 3D acceleration. After selecting it, I tried running Windows’ Pinball game. Most of the time, the game ran well with excellent graphics, but occasionally the Windows’ video driver would get reset to 8 bit color, something that would have to be corrected the next time the Windows desktop appeared. I didn’t try anything more rigorous, like one of my flight simulators; but I might do so sometime in the near future!

Overall, Fusion responded very quickly. I could tell the difference between allocating Fusion and its OS 512MB of RAM and 1 GB, the latter being where my set-up is today, and it whizzed along under the latter.

Earlier, I had decided to stay only with Boot Camp to avoid triggering off XP’s activation scheme. That was before I tried Fusion. Now, I’ve reloaded XP and all its applications under Fusion and have deleted my Boot Camp partition. I don’t have any more problems trying to set the right resolution on my MacBook Pro running Boot Camp when hooked to an Apple Cinema Display, and I simplified my overall system set-up. I can access all my Windows applications from my Leopard desktop. Boot Camp is great when you want Windows’ full performance and can stand having the machine dedicated to only Windows for a time; but if you want good Windows’ performance, great features, and easy set-up, try VMware’s Fusion. You can download a trial version that’s good for 30 days at VMware’s website.