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Monday, September 24, 2007

Wacom Digitizer Palette

I have been toying with the idea of a digitizer for some time now. Working with the palette and pen seem to be a much easier way to get some of the advanced effects done in Photoshop. The only thing holding me back was the relatively high price of the digitizers. While wandering the aisles of Fry's Electronics last weekend, I came across a product called Bamboo. It is basically a 3X5 digitizing palette, with mouse and stylus pen. For $99.00, it included Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 for the Mac, and some great add on software for brush effects etc.

Integration was a snap, with the palette being recognized before any software was even loaded. I have loaded up PSE 4.0, and can't wait to do some serious photo editing.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Wireless Printing Solution

Most of you who have read my previous posts know that I have been sharing and All-In-One (AIO) Canon MP780 printer that is installed on my office PC. Although this solution works fine, it does require my office PC to be on all the time for printing to be available to other systems. This has also not been very useful for anything other than printing, as scanning and faxing is a limited experience when sharing the MP780.

I solved this problem yesterday with the addition of an HP Photosmart C6180 AIO printer. With 802.11 wireless, as well as Ethernet port, this is the solution for printing without the need for other systems to be on.

I chose to use the wireless G setup, and it could not have been an easier process. The setup menu in the printer showed my available wireless network, and even gave me the ability to input the WEP key needed for security.

Print quality is excellent, print speed is just OK, and the unit is not the quietest in the world while printing or scanning. The fact that it is wireless means that it does not have to be anywhere near my desk, so the noise issue is mute.

The cost of this printer must be considered like all other ink jet printers. The real cost has less to do with the printer price, and everything to do with the ink price. The ink is moderately priced compared to most ink jets out there. It is hard to gauge, initially, until I have the chance to assess capacity. The good news is that this is a six (6) color printer with six (6) individual ink tanks. For those of you that have used HP products in the past, they have a legacy of using combined ink tanks, which leads to early replacement of all colors, even if you only ran out of one (1) color. Bundles of ink tanks and paper seemed very aggressively priced. I have not found a secondary source of ink for this printer, as I did with the Canon.

No major bugs observed so far. I have software loaded on PCs and Macs. I did notice that when inserting a memory card, or document, pop ups appear on all systems running the HP software suite, asking what to do with the source material. I am sure there are ways to control this behavior, and will do some testing over the coming days.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

MacDrive 7 Looks Promising

Many of you have had the chance to read my earlier posts about accessing the mac partition while running in Vista mode. The product I have been testing is HFSExplorer. Although this solution got me to the point of being able to read the Mac files, I really wanted the ability to write to the Mac partition as well.

For the past few days I have been evaluating MacDrive 7. This creates a connection to the Mac partition that supports both reading and writing of files, and even works graphically via drag and drop. This is not freeware, but at approx $60, it looks like a very solid solution.

Update: MacDrive 7 worked flawlessly in all of my trial and error testing. Once the five (5) day eval expired, which MacDrive will remind you of very often until uninstalled or licensed, I decided to buy the product. While the product is approx $50 as a download, I was able to purchase from Amazon for $40, with free shipping. This adds the bonus of leaving me with the actual media in the event of a reinstall.

Monday, September 10, 2007

MacBook On The Road

Day #11 – It has been a full week since completing the MacBook Project. I figured that giving myself a week to travel and work with the finished product might lead to some insights on what I might do differently. So far the experience has been great. I have had the opportunity to do some word processing, web crawling, compatibility testing, FTP site visiting, network sharing and remote location Wi-Fi connecting. I have observed a few issues that are somewhat minor, but worth mentioning:

1.When booted to Vista, the power icon in the tray says I am connected but not charging, when on battery power. Not a big issue, but it does seem to inhibit the normal warnings you would receive when running low on battery power. The system will go into stand-by to protect data, but it happens without warning. After plugging into power, I have had no wake-up/restart issues.
2.Some internet content that was not compatible with Quicktime did not want to play via any of my browsers (Safari, Firefox, IE). After loading Flip4Mac software, including the WMV player, I have had no problems with any web content.
3.Microsoft Office compatibility is a critical factor for me. So far, all content that I use has worked flawlessly, save one (1). When loading a Powerpoint Slideshow (.pps file), I can view the slides, but the slide timings that were saved as part of the show do not appear to work in Open Office. Not a big deal. I am sure I will cover this in a future series that is focused on Open Office.
4.Audio volume is very low through the built-in speakers. I plan to test some external speakers in the coming weeks, but plugging that stuff in kind of defeats the portability factor of this laptop. I have not yet tested the system with ear buds, or my noise canceling headphones.

Battery life on the MacBook has been very good. I have been using the default power settings, and average nearly 4.5 hours on a charge. I have done most of my work on battery power and have 16 cycles and 100% health at this early stage of the game. I am sure that I could approach the six (6) hour rating, if I was willing to dim the screen and put the system to sleep on a shorter interval.

We have spent the last several days on a trip to Arizona for a family event. We took approximately 70 pictures with our Digital SLR on Saturday evening. By Sunday morning, they were loaded into iPhoto, and published to our .mac gallery. I will tackle a slide show DVD when we return home.

To sum up this entry, so far so good. Mac Os X and Vista are both performing admirably well.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

MacBook Project Wrap Up

Day #4 – Print sharing and file sharing represented the low end of the fun scale, but needed to be tackled none the less. Although my long term goal is to purchase a wireless printer, and park it out of the way somewhere, for now I will have to make due with sharing a Canon MP780 that is shared from a Windows PC in my office.

Finding the shared printer on the wireless network was the easy part. Selecting other printers from the printer control panel, followed by selection of Network Neighborhood yielded the MP780, right there in the mshome workgroup. By default, Macs show up in the workgroup named “workgroup” . After selecting my target printer, I came to the model selection list, and low and behold, the MP780 was not on the list. My first stop was to Canon's website for a Mac driver download. Little did I know at the the time that the driver I was downloading would only work with directly connected USB. After many rounds of searching for the magic drop down box that would list my printer model, I turned to my trusted young friend Google. 20,000 plus entries informed me that I would need to use trial and error to find another Canon selection that would work. I tried several, with the best result being print jobs that only used a third of the page.

A return trip to Google brought me to a merciful soul who had already scraped some knuckles on this problem, and proceeded to direct me to a site called I was able to download a driver package that included network shared drivers for the MP780. You have never seen a man so committed to developing a paperless office, so happy to see paper pouring out of an ink jet printer.

File sharing has added another dimension to my already geeky resume. Thinking I knew pretty much all there was to know about this subject, I sat down to complete what I was convinced was a ten (10) minute job, at most. Having enabled every file sharing feature I could find, and probably opening myself up to high risk in the process, I proceeded to map drives, create aliases, configure mounts and test my new found network of files and resources. There was but one thing missing in my utopia of egalitarian file sharing. I could not share files between the two partitions on the hard drive of the MacBook which is at the center of this discourse. I learned a few important facts while trying to figure out this last challenge.

1.Macs and Windows PCs may share the same chip sets, but they do not share the same file system.
2.Windows Vista, unlike Windows XP, does not give you the option of NTFS or FAT32. NTFS is the required format.
3.Macs can read and write to FAT32, but can only read NTFS
4.Windows cannot read Macs data format without software like MacDrive, which is not yet available for Vista.

Three Advil, and I was on my way back to my young friend Google. Having decided that I could live with only being able to read Vista files from Mac, and vice versa, the hunt was on for some enterprising young geek who had developed a solution for the Vista side of this equation. Turns out that such a product does exist. The product is called HFSExplorer. It has this name due to the fact that HFS+ is the nomenclature for the Mac OS Extended file system. The software is written mainly in Java, with some C thrown in to work with some of the Windows quirks. Turns out that the guy who came up with the software (Erik Larsson – Catacombae Software) needed a solution for seeing his Mac files from a Vista partition running on his Mac. Go figure! Having installed and tested HFSExplorer, my work on this part of the project is complete.

My last step was to Map Network Attached Storage (NAS) drives on each of the systems in my network. This was accomplished using a Linksys NSLU2 Network Storage Link, with a 150 GB external USB drive plugged into one of its two available ports. After all that trouble creating the fragile file sharing network, I wanted to make sure there was a central place to store data that all systems could access, from inside or outside the network.

To test this experiment in high tech mayhem, I started today's entry using NeoOffice in the Mac OS. Half way through I saved my work and reopened the document in Word 2000 via CrossOver. After completing spell check, I saved again and rebooted into Vista. Once logged into Vista, I opened HFSExplorer and opened the file using NeoOffice (Vista version). I completed the days entry in NeoOffice, saving the final draft to NAS. I then proceeded to browse to my blog and edit, using Mozilla Firefox, and there you have it. As these few steps bring me to the end of my initial objectives list, post some comments on what to do next. Lets try and keep it to the technology in hand so far, as my budget for high tech toys is shot at the moment. Questions are always welcome.

MacBook Project Continues

Day #3 – By now, most of us are familiar with the saying “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”. Let me start this day's entry by stating that this is advice I tend to give others, and rarely follow myself. This is especially true when it comes to high tech and software integration. Although I was quite happy with the outcome of my efforts to create a dual boot MacBook, the fact remained that I had really created two (2) Laptops in one that were not capable of working together in any meaningful way. As I surfed the various Web Forums on the subject, I came across at least two (2) different solutions that claimed to allow for the configuration of a Virtual Machine within Mac OS X using the disk partition that I already created for Vista, Parallels and VMWare Fusion. Having worked with VMWare in the past, I opted to use their solution for a test of this feature.

VMWare Fusion is a solution which allows you to create a number of Virtual Machines running within Mac OS X. These Virtual Machines can be Windows or Linux. After installing VMWare, the Vista partition on my drive did, in fact, show up as a configurable Virtual Machine. I picked this existing Vista installation as a Virtual Machine to start. VMWare spent a few minutes configuring the machine to run, and then launched Vista in a window. I should make two important points before I continue describing my results. First point is that the End User License Agreement for Vista only allows for use in Virtualization when purchasing a license for the Business or Ultimate additions. As I was using Vista Home Premium, this may have had an influence on my results. Second point is that VMWare Fusion, and Parallels for that matter, do not claim to support the full video capabilities of the software while in virtual mode. This means that the Aero Theme and gaming will not be possible.

Although the Virtual Machine did run, it was a fairly sluggish interface that took a long time to start. I also noticed that the settings in Mac OS X for how my keyboard and mouse were supposed to behave did not make the jump to the Virtual Machine. This stumbling block was compounded by the fact that these settings also went away in Mac OS X until the next Restart. The graphics experience was in fact dumbed down quite a bit, with limited resolution and response time. All of the applications previously loaded in Vista were accessible via the Virtual Machine.

The fun actually began when I closed the Virtual Machine, and restarted the MacBook, via Dual Boot, in it's Vista configuration. When Vista was finished booting up, I noticed that the video was still in it's dumbed down state. Upon further testing, I realized that many of the MacBook subsystems were not responding as before. It was not long before I received a few Hardware Found pop-ups, which confirmed that things had indeed changed. At this point I decided that clean Dual Boot performance was much more important than virtualization of Vista. I corrected the issues with Vista by reloading the driver disk that Mac OS X built during the BootCamp install. This corrected Vista performance. Needless to say, my next step was to un-install VMWare Fusion from Mac OS X. Still haunted by the desire to be able to run Windows software, while booted in Mac OS X, I decided to install an evaluation copy of CrossOver. CrossOver, by the company CodeWeavers, claims to allow many Windows applications to be installed and run under Mac OS X. As the software seems to emulate Windows 98, this is a somewhat limited list of software. CrossOver installed fine, and even allowed me to install and run some Windows applications, most notably Office 2000 and Internet Explorer 6.0. IE 6.0 showed some limitations when Java content was involved, but browsed fine otherwise. Integration of IE 6.0, and the Java VM that is not longer supported by Microsoft, could be a blog of its own. No noticeable limitations in Office 2000 so far. So having checked Virtualization and Emulation Software off of my to-do list, look for printer sharing and file sharing in the next installment.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The MacBook Project

Having amassed a collection of nearly every type of Mac/Apple manufactured in the past 20 years, I felt it was high time to take the platform seriously. This is not to say that I did not consider them serious computers. I have always used DOS and Windows based PCs for most of my work, and tended to relegate the Macs to the cool, and interesting to play with, category. I have had many technical positions over the years that required a cursory working knowledge of Macs and Mac software. I even participated as a team member on a project for large industrial automation that featured Mac at it's heart.

With the introduction of Intel based Mac computers, my intuition told me that it would not be long before the lines between the two platforms would become somewhat blurred. As Apple's BootCamp product moved from one beta release to another, I made myself a promise that when Vista compatibility was touted, it was time to take the plunge. My reasoning was the desire to seriously test the MacBook, as well as an excuse to try Vista out on a non mission critical project.

D-Day was Friday, August 31st 2007. I exited my nearest Apple store with a new Black MacBook (2.16 gHz, 1GB Ram, 160GB HDD), and made my way to the nearest software retailer for a full version of Vista Home Premium. Although the Business or Ultimate versions would have proved useful in testing, Home Premium was the minimum level that would test MacBook's video subsystem with the Windows Vista Aero Theme.

Day #1 – Nobody packages products quite like Apple does. From the quirky square box beginnings of Ipod, have emerged a family of handled white boxes that shout to the world that you just dropped a load on a cool new computer. Unboxing the product is like Christmas morning. Once unboxed and powered up, I was viewing OSX Tiger in a matter of minutes. It always amazing to me how appealing minimalist design can be. This laptop has all of the ports, software and hardware of every other laptop I have owned, and then some. What takes some getting used to is the fact that it has exactly two (2) buttons. A power button in the upper right corner of the bottom half, and the track pad click button.

My last stop for day #1 was at the NeoOffice website. They have done a very nice job with their particular distribution of OpenOffice. In fact, I am writing this article using the word processing application from NeoOffice.

Day #2 – As I began the process of figuring out how one goes about opening a package of Microsoft Retail software, it dawned on me, the packaging has gotten as sophisticated as the software. I wanted to glance over the package and make sure I had everything I needed before proceeding with the loading of BootCamp on my MacBook.

The BootCamp installation is a very straight forward process. I did not have my first panic attack until reading the warning about printing out the instructions before proceeding. I had not yet tackled the task of getting the MacBook to print to my shared office printer (Canon MP780). Thankfully Apple thinks to include a PDF Writer as the initial default printer. A quick save to a memory stick had me printing the instructions in a matter of moments.

The BootCamp installation went flawlessly. I did not originally understand the first step of creating an Apple Driver CD/DVD. The beauty of that step would reveal itself post Vista installation.

Having created a partition (32GB) and made my driver DVD, I proceeded to install Vista. Other than entering the License key and a couple of mouse clicks, it was a completely effortless install. After the install of Vista, I got my courage up for loading the drivers from the DVD burned earlier in the BootCamp process. With my MacBook having restarted and taken me to the main screen of Vista, I inserted the driver CD. All of my past experiences with drivers told me that I was in for a trial and error Easter Egg hunt to resolve all of the yellow question marks in my device manager. Nothing could be further from the truth. The entire effort consisted of clicking that “Yes” I did want to run the Setup.exe file that was found on the DVD. After completion, all of the things that normally took you on a UN tour of manufacturers websites hunting for drivers, were installed, configured and working. Audio, Network, BlueTooth, Built-In iSight Camera, KeyBoard, Trackpad, well, you get the idea. As Apple has been known to say, “It Just Works”.

The next several days will be incremental trial and error, as I get to know this new hardware and software(s) platform(s). Plans over the coming days include the installation and testing of:

Virtualization Software
Windows Emulation Software
Print Sharing
File Sharing
Feature Discovery