Yes, here we have another quick diversion from photography to work out more of the kinks on my audio recording, this time comparing a couple of dynamic microphones.
Yes, here we have another quick diversion from photography to work out more of the kinks on my audio recording, this time comparing a couple of dynamic microphones.
I've renewed my hope in my well spec'd PC that has experienced severe freezing issues. I had temporarily written it off as a "Stupid Windows Vista!" type of issue. In fact, I think it is more of a hardware issue, at least in this case.
And I should mention, the reason this all came up is that the $300 application I use to record screen casts is windows only. :: Sigh ::
So, with gritted teeth, I've scoured the Internets, Interwebs, and other online resources to figure out why the computer seems to freeze so often. Based on this research, it appears that the high-end memory I purchased is made for extreme PC, overclocking gamers. Which I am not. And, by extension, the problem is that I haven't amped up the voltage on my RAM and front-side bus enough for the computer to run in a stable state.
What?! My problem is that I'm running a fighter jet on gasoline?
So, I waded through the nearly completely un-documented BIOS settings and cranked up the memory voltage by 0.2 volts and the same for the front-side bus, ran several memory tests, and then stress tested the whole thing. Stress testing was fun: I ran about 6 high-def videos, opened and played a high-def video of my own in my video editor, while simultaneously browsing multiple sites and editing photos in Lightroom.
Amazingly, no freezes yet. I wonder how long the beast needs to go without a freeze before we can place a verdict... What do you think?
I'm coming at you from my new, old Mac. I'm in the process of copying all of my photos over so I'm going to take a one day break from the photos while I explain what's going on.
This week I indulged my geekier side (thanks to DD for her patience and understanding) and built the new PC. It's name is Tyrannosaurus which continues the theme of naming our computers for ancient reptiles in honor of DD.
I couldn't be more pleased with all but one aspect of it. More on that one aspect later. The hardware is simply incredible and it runs much quieter than our previous PC. This puts Tyrannosaurus in the same league with a Mac Pro in terms of audible operating noise.
The quad core processor is smooth and fast. The RAM is spritely. The case is tight and includes thoughtful design features like vibration isolating drive mounts and a separate case chamber for the power supply and hard disks. I'm in geek heaven.
Except for that one aspect I mentioned earlier. I will be careful how I convey this disappointment because EV watched Bambi a few weeks ago and reminded me that "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say nothin at all..." With that in mind, I will say that Windows Vista is pretty, a la Mac OS X. That's all.
But not to worry. Linux to the rescue! And I can run Windoze in a virtual machine from Linux. If you following that last sentence, I'm impressed. If not, you probably have a decent social life. Congratulations. ;-)
WARNING: This post is far nerdier and geekier than most. Note: That makes this ultra-nerdy since I began from a pretty nerdy baseline. You have been warned.
Back in 2003 or so, I received clearance from DD, our financial gatekeeper, to purchase the parts to build a new PC. This approval came after several drafts of a formal five page proposal. My primary argument for why we should buy a new PC went something like this:
- I'm a nerd and enjoy tinkering with computers
- I get smarter when I tinker with the computer
- Smarter = periodic pay raises
She bought it, granted formal approval, and I ordered the parts. I remember they arrived one hot summer day in Arizona (read, 104 degrees +) when I happened to be finishing the final exam of my business law class on the couch, resting my bare feet on the cool, stained-concrete floor. I had a hard time finishing the exam after the UPS guy rang the doorbell but I managed to muster the fortitude somehow. DD and EV were up in Utah visiting the grandparents so I had the rest of the day to tinker away.
The PC ran Linux, my tinkering operating system of choice, until about 2 years ago when DD decided to give teaching for an online college a try. We bought an iMac at that point because the PC was pretty underpowered by then (still running Windows 2000 with 512 MB of RAM) and I insisted that I could no longer find any places for additional chicken wire and bubble gum to hold her 1998 PC together. I insisted on a Mac because she suffered from misgivings about moving from our first PowerMac to Widnows PC in 1997. This speaks to her fine taste in quality operating systems and lack of patience for the silly antics users must endure to operate a Windows PC.
Alas, the college later decided that they wouldn't support faculty members with non-PCs so we had to move her back over to the 2003 PC. In a fortunate turn of events which DD can relate to you herself, she has happily moved on from teaching at the online school, eliminating any need for her to remain on the PC.
And finally, a few weeks ago, the PC from 2003 died. I made no emergency-room style attempts to save it's life. Fortunately we had all our data backed up.
We worked our way through the proposal routine again, though this time my argument consisted of a single page making the case for the ability to backup files to redundant disk (I had a RAID 1 array in that whimpy old PC) and to continue my education so that I can remain competitive in the technology job market. Secondary arguments, though they tend to hold less weight because DD rightly contended that we could simply share the iMac, included things like the ability to edit photos with a reasonably capable machine, part-time consulting work, etc.
So the last several weeks, I spent pricing out the various options. Deep down I wanted a 24" iMac. No, deep down I wanted a MacPro with a 72" cinema display but I'm not even sure they make those and I'm pretty sure that would be a pretty foolish way to spend $10,000. To be fair, I had to price out all the build-your-own PC options too. From a strictly financial point of view, the PC was the winner.
But I wasn't willing to give up so quickly. To my surprise, I learned that some guys with a whole lot more time on their hands than I have figured out how to make Mac OS X work on regular PC hardware. I'm not sure how legal it is to run this on PC hardware though I have to imagine that Stevey J and Billy G would get a good chuckle out of it over fish and chips out on the wharf.
So, we settled on a do-it-yourself PC. But I changed the requirements a bit. Most do-it-yourself, high performance PCs sound pretty much like an F/A-18 Hornet. That's not a pleasant sound to have in one's home. So I set rule number one: The computer needs to run quietly. I found this incredible site called Silent PC Review that provides all sorts of great information regarding PC parts that run quietly and perform well. I was very excited to find a PC case that didn't look as dorky as most and that was specifically made to run quietly by using large, low RPM fans and separating the hard drives and power supply into a separate chamber from the mainboard and CPU.
I also hate buying mid to low-end hardware that is outdated the day it arrives. So I waited until my favorite PC-parts online retailer got the new Intel processors--a Core 2 Quad running at 2.5 GHz. Yes, that's 4 glorious processor cores to keep all that audio processing, email, iTunes, Lightroom, virtualized operating systems, etc. running smoothly and playing well together. Thus, rule number 2: It needs to be fast. The video card sports 512 MB of dedicated RAM and cools itself with a massive passive (fanless) cooler. The RAM is the new DDR3 that runs at 1333 MHz. And the motherboard has a feature that allows you to boot up in 5 seconds into a pseudo operating system that allows you to surf the web, make a Skype call, listen to music, or watch a movie without booting Windows.
Ok, that's enough nerdiness for now. I'll be back with you again next week with a pictorial account of it all coming together!
PS--Is one really a nerd if they fully realize that they're a nerd? Just a hypothetical question.
I would like to apologize for my last blog entry which I wrote at the end of a particularly demanding week. I typically check any jaded thoughts regarding the organizations that pay my bills. ;-)
Another melt is upon us in the mountains. EV and I had a walk down to the mailbox the other day and she insisted on putting her rubber boots to the ultimate test: She walked the entire 1/8th of a mile in the streamlet along the road that appears during the many late winter thaws that we experience here. I insisted on photographing the rocks and water.
Mrs. D kindly noted a while back that my photographs look rather lifeless when viewed on a PC but much more saturated, contrasty, and realistic on the Mac. Looking at both, I have to agree (all the posts are made from the Mac.) So, I have a working hypothesis: The poor people in Redmond, Washington scarcely endure the issues associated with 300 days per year of overcast skies and those pains are reflected in their products. The happy people in Cupertino, California, on the other hand, enjoy somewhere around 300 days a year of sunshine. Think about it. I bet if I ran a multiple regression model with Cupertinoans and Redmondians that the hypothesis would bear out.
Oh, and I have to write about my valentines day gift from Mrs. D--Tommy Igoe's Groove Essentials DVD! Tommy Igoe is this great drummer from NYC that leads a big band and composes the percussion scores for broadway shows. He's very versatile and put together this instructional DVD with something like 50 grooves on it. I've been working on a 16th note rock groove with some nice syncopation. How do I get my music into this blog thingy?
Actually, you don't want to hear it yet--just ask Mrs. D, or CJ3, or Lucy, or EV, Mr P, or Sijbrich, or China Kat. Mimi thinks my drumming is rad, though.
Ok, I'm back on the Mac after a significant hiatus. The time away, I should note, was not because the Genius Bar didn't get the Mac back up and running as promised.
Approximately 8 days after I experienced the Genius Bar I thought to myself, "Dean, I wonder how that Mac is doing..." Then I thought, "Hmm, I wonder why the Genius Bar hasn't called me with the good news..."
So I looked around my house in an effort to find the paper they gave me when I walked out of the Apple store. Yes, I managed to misplace it but mentally backtracking quickly led me to the Applecare box where I had conveniently stowed it. I called the number on the paper, typed in my service number and the friendly computer, which was most decidedly one of the sythesized Mac OS X voices, noted that my iMac was ready to go. Note to self, the Genius Bar lets you check the status of your iMac rather than call you with the news. Not a big deal but good to know.
I picked it up without incident and was delighted to find that everything works quite nicely. I finally broke down and ordered the additional RAM (now at 2 GB) and everything has been humming along very smoothly without any of the issues we experienced before.
I don't have any new photographs as I've been far too busy to take any but I did print this one up to put in my gray cubicle at the office. It seems to add the color and warmth that the neutral colors of my desk scream for:
Mrs. D's iMac is in the hands of a genius.
On Thursday I managed to get the iMac down to the closest Apple store which is a mere 30 minutes (ish) from work. I was able to justify the trip on a couple of grounds; I had to run another errand in the vicinity which was time sensitive and as my employment with my former job officially ends on this coming Tuesday and I have to send their computers back, I'll be essentially computerless. The old machine with a Pentium III-450 MHz processor sitting in my office doesn't really count as a computer anymore. And for practical reasons, Mrs. D uses what used to be my PC for teaching classes.
So I haul the iMac in its rather imposing, stark white box through downtown to the store and find the nearest available Apple store worker. This fellow, quite expectedly, fits the profile you might imagine of an Apple employee--a little bit nerdy with an edgy haircut that comes off as artsy and a black t-shirt a-la Steve Jobs. He asks how he might help and I explain that my iMac is rather ill and the phone support people told me to pay a visit to their store. "Ah," he asks, "Do you have an appointment at the Genius Bar?" "The Genius Bar?!" I ask, trying to mask any of the incredulity that may have slipped out.
He grabs the nearest mouse to awake one of their display Macs, quickly pulls up a program of some sort and asks me to fill in my information while he goes off to see if the "Genius Bar" can fit me in. I explain that I live a full hour's drive away and ask whether I might just leave the iMac with them and have the first available genius ring me on my mobile phone where I can explain the symptoms. He smiles and says, "The Genius Bar is fully booked today but let me see what we can do to fit you in since you came so far." I obediently fill in my contact information wondering whether purchasing a Mac was really such a good idea in the first place and feeling a little embarrassed that I may have come off as stunned when he mentioned the "Bar."
So I stand over by the iPods for the next five minutes trying to look natural while I wait for my Apple representative to work his magic. I watch the Apple store clientele. I see angry looking teen age boys with haircuts and clothes that I think were meant to say, "I don't care," but it is evident that they care enough to choose just the right clothes to make their statement. There is a guy that looks like a salesman of some sort, complete with a salon tan, asking an Apple guy which firewire external drive he should buy. Then there is a 40 something looking guy asking how to put music on his iPod. There are a few people dressed up with the "I'm an artist" look--bold framed glasses, loud shoes, and very tight shirts. And, there was me--a somewhat nerdy 30 something with a pensive look on his face.
The pensive look came from my thinking that I had better behave myself a little better if I expected this Apple worker to squeeze me in at the Bar. He comes back a few minutes later and says, "Let's get you set up, Chris will help you out today..." I follow him over to the far end of the bar and a 20 something fellow with a friendly disposition and a black shirt that says in small lettering, "Genius," says, "Hey Curtis, I'll help you out today..."
So we set up the ill Mac and I explain that it usually takes about 15 minutes and then the Mac will start to show all sorts of stray horizontal lines in application windows and eventually freeze--at least 75% of the time. Chris says, "Cool. Let me put a little load on your CPU and you can hang out, browse the web, check your mail, or whatever, until the issue occurs. When it does, just call me over and we'll check it out." I go to work opening every application I can think of hoping beyond hope that the Mac will cooperate and clearly display it's illness.
A couple of minutes into my application launching frenzy an evidently frequent visitor of the Genius Bar drops by and notes that her iBook has been freezing up lately. I focus my eyes harder than ever on my screen to make sure I don't make any silly comments given the kindness of the Genius and his fitting me in without an appointment. But Chris, the Genius, employs his friendly disposition to put her and I at ease. He jokes a little, "Yes, but its freezing out there, literally!"
By this time I'm feeling a lot more at ease and hopeful that the Mac will reveal it's issue. I figure if I open 20 browser tabs within Firefox and fill them with really noisy pages with tons of graphics and perhaps even a few videos, we should be on our way in no time at all.
So the woman and I joke with each other about which Mac will freeze first and I am pleased to note that our little iMac won. We got the full random line symptom and then when Chris took a closer look, it froze. Nothing could have made me happier.
"Well, I think we'll start by fitting you with a new logic board," he explains. "In these iMacs, is that just the video controller or is it pretty much everything including the CPU?" I ask. "Yeah, everything, this really ought to take care of the issue." He checks their stock and notes that they should be able to get the new board fitted into the computer and have it ready for me by mid next week.
Wow. I guess this Genius Bar is pretty cool after all. Most other service places keep their technicians as far away from customers as possible. The Apple store puts them right there with you. And they put you right there next to other customers with issues. That's pretty bold if you think about it. Interesting. Genius, actually.
Winter is clearly in full swing here in the mountains. Little EV has put her new purple, high performance, steerable sled through fairly extensive tests down the slope in the back. We determined that Daddy may be a little too heavy for this ride except when the snow exceeds at least 8 to 10 inches of accumulation. Little EV noted that we should put "rock clearing" of the sled run on our to-do list for this spring so that Daddy can ride without scraping the bottom of the sled when we encounter rocks.
Fortunately we spread the wildflower seeds in the front a couple of months ago and we are hoping for a nice, fairly low maintenance first round of landscaping. With a few exceptions, our native grass is covered with snow.
I received a few requests to hear a bit more about the new job. My new job is great.
The new job feels a bit like an assignment to understand the principles of an internal combustion engine and be able to answer all questions about it, how it can break, and define how we will make it better in the coming years--a gratifying yet overwhelming task. But, that's only because I just started and have a lot to learn. I am the reporting systems business analyst. That means that when anyone, customers or fellow employees, have a question about reports or accessing data, I'm up to bat. So far I have navigated through a couple of gratifying experiences where customers had detailed questions about how to get specific types of information, I researched the issue, and then provided working solutions.
My responsibilities also extend into the realm of product management. This means that by collaborating with others, I define the philosophy and future direction of the product as far as reporting is concerned. So, for example, the product managers of the core reservation system have outlined some of the requirements for future releases. One of the most substantive requirements is that the system will be capable of allowing customers to code-share. This is the practice of airlines selling multi-leg tickets, say from City A to City C, where the carrier from which you bought the ticket gets you from City A to City B, and then they reserve a seat for you on a different carrier to get you from City B to City C. So given that requirement, I get to define how the reporting aspects of the system will evolve to handle those requirements. It seems simple enough but will undoubtedly keep me occupied for a long time to come. I enjoy these types of mental puzzles, particularly when information systems are involved. Yes, I'm pretty comfortable with my nerdiness.
Happily, the drive is quicker than I expected--roughly 40 minutes each direction when the road conditions allow. Admittedly, the drive has been a little rough, though not unbearable, because the conditions have been icy. On Wednesday last week a fellow traveler that passed me in his VW Jetta suddenly lost all traction, spun until almost sideways, nearly hit the center concrete barrier and then slid to the emergency lane on the opposite side of the Interstate. Then, the next day I passed an overturned SUV and several other vehicles involved in a collision in the same area. Fortunately, emergency services had already responded and it looked like there were no fatalities. I think the main issue is that some drivers attempt to navigate our mountain Interstate a little, or in some cases a lot, too quicly. My front wheel drive car equipped with snow tires seems to do pretty well as long as I drive at reasonable speeds. Coming over the pass one day last week, reasonable was about 25 miles per hour. But again, this is limited to this season of the year.
Now regarding the Mac...where to start? I like our iMac a lot. It is elegant in terms of design and function and the operating system is pretty solid. But the hardware--not so much. We're having issues with random horizontal lines showing up in application windows, and in a few cases, complete system freezes. So, to determine whether this is a software or hardware issue, I reinstalled the OS. We still get the random horizontal lines, though I have not, as yet, experienced any freezing. While that's a little bit of an ambiguous answer, my working hypothesis is hardware. It's one of those funky issues that are hard to nail down and is probably hardware related but the Apple people may hesitate to jump in and replace the motherboard without a whole lot of testing.
I must say that the $169 Apple Care plan was a good investment. Maybe I'll show up at the store and the friendly Apple worker will smile and say, "No problem Dean, we'll just swap out your iMac and have a new one on your doorstep by Thursday. Will that work ok?" Visualization is powerful. ;-) Stay tuned for the rest of the story.