​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Tag: Windows

I finally caved...

I just ordered my first new Mac since my 2013 MBP which was relegated to drum room duties a few years back. It had been chugging under the weight of multiple monitors and larger track counts for awhile.  Apple has creators wrapped around their fingers since they still imo provide the most stable and streamlined environment, especially for music and video. And they charge for that exclusivity. 

I’ve managed with a WinPC these last couple of years, enough to write all of the songs I’ve posted to date. It’s been a bumpy ride at times as I’ve had some major shutdowns and failures (all in the WinPC driver/software side) and recurring hiccups that regularly interrupt the creative process. It wasn't a new experience for me, as I've owned desktop PCs for over thirty years. I actually got my start on a TRS-80 Color computer, followed by an Apple IIe (which we never really knew how to use properly), an Amiga 500, and then finally a Gateway IBM 486.  I toiled under the pre plug n play environment for many years, so I'm not unaccustomed to making PCs work, I just grew really tired of it.

For me, the appeal of the Mac is that it just works. You turn it on and it's reliable like a television (pre smart tvs) or a refrigerator. You don't have to constantly struggle with driver updates, hardware conflicts, etc. I’ve had multiple Macs in the past, dating back to my first Mac Pro in 2007. With rare exception, they just perform. They don't unpredictably freeze up, crash, fail to boot, etc. like my WinPC still does on a recurring basis. When they die, they die horribly, but that’s typically after many years of steady service (and usually a few months after the AppleCare has run out). I'm willing to take the chance again just to have that Mac workflow environment, which is still my favorite by a long stretch.

So, with shaking hands (and spouse approval), I clicked the mouse and drained a considerable pile of ducats from the vault to order one of the new iMac Pros. I chose a mid tier option that I’m hoping will last at least four years and beyond. Mid tier in Apple terms is premium by any other company’s standard. By the time I feel compelled to upgrade again (inevitable in the computer world for the foreseeable future) we’ll hopefully have the house paid off and enjoy a bit more discretionary flexibility. Of course I paid for AppleCare this time so I'll be covered for any disasters at least for three years.  Depending on what's developed in that timeframe, I may still be happy with the its performance to keep going for a few more years beyond. 

It's not about having the fastest/newest computer, I've resisted Macs for many years now and went back to the desktop PC when they released those touchstrip MBP with very little incentive for the creative types. The iMac Pro is a step in the right direction and maybe the upcoming Mac Pros will be even more appealing, but I'm not willing to wait at least another year that could stretch to two based on how slowly they've trickled out updates to the pro level devices.  Having seen several reviews and demonstrations from creative professionals, I know the new iMac Pros are a content powerhouse and I look forward to just creating for a good long while. 

(Not so) Spectacular Vistas

So I think I may have finally recovered from my foray into the pre-release wilderness. After I got home yesterday, the attempted killdisk re-format and subsequent reinstall attempt resulted in the inevitable boot for a few seconds and then BSOD. Lather, rinse, repeat. So I googled and found someone who was having essentially the same problem as myself and an ITish person had suggested a different format utility while also suggesting that it didn’t sound like a Vista specific issue and perhaps it was something to do with the install program. I downloaded the suggested format utility which must have been really extra special deliciously good because instead of 3 hours, this thing took 14 hours to finish. Imagine my delight when I went home for lunch today and the cycle of reinstalling XP and the … wait for it… BSOD began yet again. This after peforming a destructive reformat 3 times in a row with a duration of approximately 20 hours of continuous erasing of the little 1s and 0s. So in a last dying gasp of an attempt I decided to try the Windows Vista disk to see if it would offer any recovery utility. After booting up I was given some recovery choices but I couldn’t tell if it meant recovering to my previous installation or to Windows Vista.

Since I was having no luck with anything else I decided to run a program called something like automatic or self repair of installation errors. I don’t know exactly what the focus of this utility is, but I couldn’t be any worse off than I was, so I tried it. The odd thing is that I let the program run for about 30 minutes (it does warn of taking several minutes, but several sounds like less than 30 to my ears) before giving up and shutting down the computer. After this I tried booting from the Windows XP install disc and lo and behold, there was my SATA original hard drive and the extra SATA I had added, ripe for installing XP upon (certainly no pesky data left to get in the way after having been formatted thrice over) which I immediately set about. After letting the install finish and getting to the Windows desktop, I realized that the Gateway recovery disk I had been using was to my wife’s Gateway and was actually from 2003 while my recovery disk is from 2005. I don’t know how much of a difference that makes, but I figured it would mean fewer updates to download, so I went ahead and ran my correct 2005 recovery disk right before I returned from lunch. I’ll see how it went when I get home.

I think I have learned my lesson in that running a beta operating system needs to be done on not only a drive that you’re willing to lose the data from, but probably also on a secondary drive (read: smallest) that isn’t a better default drive that you would prefer to use. In my case, I would have been better off using the 200GB SATA drive to play with so I would still have the 500GB as the fall back OS and backup drive if things went poorly. Fortunately I just lost a bit of time, but no significant data that I couldn’t do without. This has also given me the excuse of cleaning up some excess BS off the hard drive I needed to discard anyway. The only big pain now is going to be the Itunes and other authorization hoop jumping I will have to do since the DRM cops will assume I’m trying to run my software on a “new” computer even though I’m still going to be running one version of all my software on essentially the same computer. I think I have had to get Apple, Audible and a few other DRM happy companies to de&re-authorize my computers on several occasions since I don’t keep a static setup for more than about 1 year at a time.

My Windows Vista RC1 experience

So, in the true spirit of the frontier, I decided to try out the new Microsoft Windows operating system in beta pre-release, because apparently I don’t have enough fun with computer and operator meltdowns at work. I used it for about a week and it wasn’t causing any major problems. I will say that I like the new graphical enhancements and the sidebar, but these are really just nice little aesthetic enhancements and not really worth upgrading for. One of the major changes to Vista is a real time search engine which constantly scans your computer for changing information with the apparent intent of being able to readily produce quick, context specific results to any searches you throw at it. It’s similar to the Google desktop search tool, especially in the “I’m now taking over your hard drives and you can wait your turn for whatever trivial task that you consider important” sense of the word.

This wasn’t such a problem at first because I thought it would eventually get done with the majority of the indexing and only need to update changing information. Well, in practice this seemed to result in the hard drive spinning CONSTANTLY regardless of what background tasks were or weren’t active. I tried shutting down everything except the bare minimums and still with the spinning hard drives. I would specifically try to shut down the search indexer, but it would always somehow restart itself and I couldn’t find a way to disable it (although I’m sure there is probably a very obvious way in the control panel or something in the interface, but I didn’t find it. If not, they need to provide this option or find a way to get the thing to get it’s indexing over with so the computer can be used for something else.

I don’ t know if this is directly related to the search indexer, but the straw that broke the wildebeest’s pinky hoof was the fact that I kept having problems with the audio engine freezing up which resulted in audio drop outs during recording. Nothing is more satisfying than finally nailing a take of a longish song (4+ mins), especially when you have had to try multiple times to get it down just right. Arguably, multi track recording and digital audio workstations eliminate the need for the perfect take because you can always tweak, tweak, tweak. However, in the world of solo acoustic guitar, I am a firm believer in the “nail it right in one take” school of thinking. I don’t mean you need to get it perfect the first time, but you should endeavor to be able to play the song perfectly and so it’s even more important to achieve this when recording. It makes the mixing process so much more straightforward than trying to splice clips and get the right volume, etc. levels. It’s much more difficult to fool the ears with an acoustic instrument that is basically recorded dry with little in the way of effects. Yes, I know you can do anything with digital audio, it’s just that I hate all the extra effort at the computer when I could expend the work at learning the song better and be able to play it in one take and forget about tweak, tweak, tweak.

Well, one of the “features” of Windows Vista RC1 is that the drivers aren’t quite up to par yet, and this combined with the hard drive on perpetual spin courtesy of (in my opinion) the search indexer, may have been the reason I was plagued with audio dropouts, especially when I had finally nailed a take. Because of these issues, I decided to let Vista work out it’s problems on its own time. This is where the fun begins.

Apparently Vista makes some changes to the master boot record of the hard drive (in hard drive terms, the holy of holies where thalt shalt not tread unlesseth thou knowest what the hell thouest is doingeth) (and thou doesn’teth) which Windows XP apparently gets very confused about and does what any good Windows machine does when it runs out of ideas. Yes, the BSOD. (That’s the blue screen of death if you were wondering). I had tried to reinstall Windows XP clean once I decided to rid myself of Vista, but XP wasn’t going along with my plan. I then tried my recovery disk courtesy of Gateway, which seemed to make better progress, but eventually led to the BSOD once again. As I type, my home computer is trying to perform a completely destructive low level format via the killdisk shareware program. It takes a long time, so hopefully it will be finished by the time I get home. If that doesn’t cure the problem, I may have just bought a 500GB paperweight in the shape of a SATA hard drive.

Yes, I had backups of everything important for those with the smug grins on their faces. It’s just a little frustrating when the XP format utility isn’t enough to wipe the hard drive clean and I have to go to these extra lengths. And no, I never wanted or expected to be able to recover the hard drive intact with the original files (hence, the backup was performed before I tried to reinstall XP).

All that being said, I will probably look at Vista once it’s finally released and had a chance to get a decent user base established to work out the bugs. It promises some nice improvements and there are a host of other features that I haven’t even mentioned. Time will tell.