Category Archives: Technology

I think I’m getting too old for this

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I’ve been holding off updating my desktop Mac’s operating system for ages. This was partly inertia, partly “if it ain’t broke”, partly worries over an incompatibility with some hardware management software.

Having got an iPad, though, I eventually found my lack of interest in updating the OS was leading to incompatibilities. I couldn’t sync properly, and some of the apps I use were being updated but not supported on the otherwise happily working OS. Also, a new version of the OS will be with us quite soon.

I’d sort of made up my mind about how to do the upgrades a few weeks ago. I began the process of migrating photo libraries, and then forgot about the upgrade! This weekend, the news broke that my preferred photo management and editing software, Aperture, was no longer going to be developed by Apple.

My hand was being forced. I took the plunge. Better to be as up-to-date as possible, making a potential switch to new software less painful down the line.

As I type, a great chunk of iMovie updates are downloading. Numbers, Pages, iPhoto and Aperture all wait in the queue. Then another ton of OS patches.

If I am lucky, I’ll get to see if the hardware drive management software will be compatible after all. If it’s not, then the drive gets reformatted to Apple standards.

I’m getting too old for all this. Gone are the days when I wanted to be at the bleeding edge. I much prefer the comfortable, if worn out, slippers to the shiny, new, but toe-pinching ones everyone else is wearing!

Catching up

Wow! It’s been a while since my last couple of posts. Apologies if you’re a regular visitor and missed my ramblings.

Let’s see, what’s been happening?

I decided to kill off the Invicta Shutterbugs photowalks. After a strong start, and support from some regular walkers, things had begun to tail off during the summer. I contrived to miss the September walk, having double-booked another event, and when it came to organising the October one my enthusiasm was spectacularly absent. I just couldn’t pull together enough keenness to sort out times, parking, things to see and so on, so I decided to kill things there and then. This doesn’t mean there won’t be any further walks. It just means any that happen will be less formal and more likely to occur on the spur of the moment.

My little car had been having a few problems. I’d had a new fuel tank fitted, but there were some teething problems with a persistent smell of petrol when cornering. We’d been all over things to diagnose the problem, and couldn’t locate it. We decided to wait until we could book the car into a garage with a ramp so the tank could be dropped out and checked over properly. While we waited, the exhaust pipe decided to part company. As the car would have to be up in the air for that to be fixed, we asked the garage to see if they could also fix the tank. Happily, they did—at the second attempt! I’ve now got a little red car that doesn’t smell of petrol all the time, and has a shiny new exhaust!

I’ve had fun and games with the pooter hardware again. I use a couple of drives to store original RAW images from shoots. Both drives are identical in content, so there’s a simple form of redundancy if one decides to crap out. Which it did. I thought it might be the enclosure, so I acquired a USB3 dock system, and it turns out the drive itself is buggered. I had to shell out for a large external drive so I could back up the backup again, as well as provide sufficient space for vault archives of my Aperture stuff. This never used to a problem in film days: everything got stuffed in a box and put on the top of the wardrobe! Anyway, the backup system has settled down again—for now. Let’s not even begin to think about migrating to the newest version of the Mac OS. Apparently, it eats Western Digital data for lunch, so I’m holding off until WD sort themselves out and get a software update out. I believe the WD hardware is supported by the OS without the WD software, but I got a bit scared and decided to hold off for now. While I don’t get all the new shiny, and I’m missing out on some new software updates, I can be patient until my data is safe.

I’ve been busy modelling. I’ve made a concerted effort to make it a proper Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job, although that doesn’t stop me working on into the evenings and weekends as the mood takes me. As of now, the two Mark One coaches are nearing completion, and the client has paid their second instalment. I’ve got another build to get through, being a couple of etched brass coaches I need to finish and paint, then I have a steam loco and another coach to come. Things are looking quite interesting for quite some time into 2014, which is great. I will need to look at publicising things a bit more in the new year, and I’m considering a reworking of the web site.

I’ve been paid by my last “official” Imagic Design client, so I am looking to wind up operations there at the end of the year. The last job was a web site, which I will hand off to a friend and colleague who is happy to take it on into the future. I am glad to see the back of the design world, to be honest. It’s not been fun for over five years, and I won’t really miss it.

With my new-found wealth, I decided to splurge on a couple of photography items I’ve had my eye on for more than a couple of years. I’ve finally ordered a 17–50mm ƒ/2.8 lens and a battery grip for the EOS 7D. It seemed a hell of a lot of cash when I added it all up, but then I’ve been waiting for so long to get these items, and I had the money in the bank, so why not treat myself? I’ve been so patient for such a long time it was hard to spend such a large amounts of dosh without feeling very guilty, which I suppose is a good thing in a way. That’s about it for my large photographic expenses, so any more earnings go back into the modelling business. Other items I may want tend not to be in the three figure price bracket.

Well, that’s caught up with most things so far here at Snaptophobic Towers. I’ll share some images over a couple of posts, just to liven things up a bit.

Sixty years, eh?

Today, 7 September 2013, is apparently Cassette Store Day. Six decades ago, Philips revealed the Compact Cassette to the world at the Berlin Radio Show. Folk who really ought to know better (and some weren’t even born when I was playing with compact cassettes in the 1970s and 1980s!) think we should be celebrating this fact, and have persuaded numerous musicians and bands to release their music on this supposedly defunct medium.

It took a while for the format to become mainstream. Early cassette tapes were of mediocre quality, but as the technology improved so did the sound quality. As a youngster, I fell in love with recording tape—my parents owned an ancient reel-to-reel recorder that I played with for hours, even learning to edit tape with sharp things and sticky tape. My sister and I would make rude noises, create silly sound effects and play about with the speed controls. It was a hoot, and I still fondly remember such antics. As I began to earn a disposable income, I began to buy records, and eventually I acquired a reasonable quality cassette recorder so I could still listen to them in my car.

Amazing stuff.

I always wanted to be a radio DJ when I was younger. I’d still jump at the chance if it came my way today, if I’m honest. While I waited, as a callow and spotty teen, for my big break into wireless, I created my own radio show which I lent out to friends. I bought a second-hand Akai 4000DS MkII reel-to-reel recorder (YouTube link to a young fan demonstrating his 40-year-old machine), and a second stereo cassette recorder. I learned to  multitrack using the “bounce” technique, where you played back one tape and recorded it on a second machine with a second soundtrack. It was all very basic and limited, but I had a ton of fun. Eventually it spawned the Ticky Radio Show.

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The Ticky Radio Show was a three-hour über mix tape, consisting of home-made jingles, favourite tracks from my collection, interspersed with snatches of comedy recordings. It was very much a shallow copy of my hero, the sadly missed Kenny Everett. The show was lovingly crafted, with musical selections to educate and entertain—many tracks were “flip sides” of hit singles, if I recall—and presented in two 90-minute cassettes with custom inserts designed by yours truly. Also included was a comprehensive track listing, carefully outlining the artistes, record label, recording number and so on.

Originally, the TRS was in mono only, a legacy of the technology available to me. Then came a breakthrough: I could produce everything and record the show throughout in stereo! Sadly, this high-tech marvel was the last show I ever made, dating from 1985. I do still have those final recorded tapes (and one of the much-chopped-about seven-inch reels somewhere) of the last two shows I made. Having recovered them from their dusty storage to take their photo for Cassette Store Day, they will be rewound to the start of side A, returned carefully tape side down to the plastic case, and put back in the drawer once more. I do not wish to listen to them, as my rose-tinted memories of the hours spent in my home-made studio making the things will be much better than the real thing.

Oddly, I didn’t buy much music on cassette. I preferred the LP until quite late in the 1980s. Eventually I bought a CD player, and began to buy new copies of my existing record collection, as well as add new material. I still made copies on cassette, simply because my car had a cassette player. I was one of those people who invested in the MiniDisc, too, and it was quite a while before I was persuaded that an MP3 player was a worthy replacement. Making mix-discs from CD to MD was a fun exercise, especially with a proper stereo mixer and a pair of CD players, but I digress.

I still buy the occasional CD, but most purchases nowadays are a click away on the internet. The pleasure of selecting music, carefully timing everything to fit into the 46 minutes available, and then painstakingly writing out the playlist on the insert, is something I will fondly remember for many years. The utterly linear process would be completely alien to many today. Having to sit through a track as it’s recorded, and repeating that process to fill a whole tape, must seem such a strange thing to do. Everything is so instant these days, the concept of having to wait while something is recorded in real time seems so very old-fashioned.

I wouldn’t want to go back there, though. I’ve been there, still got my record collection, and some mix tapes to prove it. I just wish I could have had the technology I have today back when I was a teenager lovingly making those “radio shows” in my bedroom.

My love of audio recording is still there. I am currently considering acquiring a digital audio recorder to match with the DSLR for location sound. While I could use my MiniDisc recorder for such a purpose, I have grown to dislike having to replay the sound back in real time to get it into another digital form. If my 17-year-old self could hear me now!

Danger! Idiot at work!

I’ve been mucking around with the internet for more years than I care to recall, yet I have never fully got my head round the clockwork and gubbins that makes this informational wonder actually work.

Yes, I learned enough about how to access the back office stuff, and where to put certain files, but I have never felt in the slightest bit comfortable rummaging around in the internal workings of an FTP server. Here’s a classic example: web forms. I have developed a complete aversion to creating forms on web sites. I think I’ve only ever managed to make one form work reasonably, and that was some time in the 1990s using a standard ISP-supplied script.

Now, take this blog thing. WordPress is one of the most popular and expandable blogging platforms out there. It’s used by millions of people every day. Usually, I visit the home page, see a new update is flagged for a plugin I’ve installed, hit the dashboard and click “update”.  Things go wibbly-wobbly for a few heart-stopping seconds, and then it’s all fine again.

Except today.

I don’t use many plugins, to be honest. There’s a spam-catcher, and something that links the blog to my account on RebelMouse (I still haven’t the faintest idea what RebelMouse is all about. I noticed it appearing in Flickr stats, and wondered what it was. I found myself an “early adopter” of something that appears to aggregate tweets and blog posts in an easily accessible form. No, I haven’t a clue, either.) I also had a WordPress plugin called Jetpack. It adds all kinds of useful bits and bobs to the standard blog, and up until today it had been working happily. I’ve even updated it a few times.

Except today.

New update to Jetpack! I clicked through to the dashboard, checked out the update, clicked “Go!”. And waited.

As I said, usually a few seconds elapse and everything is back in the room. Today, it breaks. Today, “maintenance mode” becomes the norm. Seconds turn to minutes, and before things turn geological I decide to pull the plug. But how do you do that? The site in is maintenance mode. Argh!

Anyway, some helpful friends pointed me in the right direction. Sadly, it seems I’m the one with the problem download, and despite deleting the old plugin, and playing around with the others to see if they are clashing, Jetpack is borked.

So, no fancy bits for a while. I’ll try again another day. I need one of those folding boards you get where cleaners have been at work, but reading “Danger! Idiot at work!”

A nasty dose of nostalgia

By nature, I am a hoarder. I don’t like to throw stuff away—it might come in handy one day. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Just occasionally, though, I force myself to go through the somewhat painful process of clearing the hoarded stuff of years.

We’re doing it now, as it happens. I’m blogging while taking a break from rearranging our shared studio space (a back bedroom in our house). We’ve cleared out about a decade’s worth of accrued junk, most of which is finding its way to our local recycling centre. I had stashed a bunch of software boxes under a desk, and because we wanted to shift some cupboards about to make some space, they had to go. 

Well, some of it had to go. Versions of the Mac OS and various bits of software that won’t install, let alone run, on my collection of Apple hardware. It’s useless to all intents and purpose, but I just can’t quite find it in my geeky heart to get rid of all of it.

Take Softpress UniQorn, for example.

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To run UniQorn, I need a Mac running System 7 and QuickDraw GX. The oldest Mac I own in working order is currently capable of running OS 8, but that’s too modern—and I don’t even have a copy of that OS any more! So, I keep the UniQorn box, complete with the umpteen 3.5in installation floppies because when I bought the software I didn’t even have a CD-ROM drive on my machine, just for the sheer geeky archaeology of it.

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It’s the same with QuarkXPress 4. I can actually run that on one of my Macs, but there’s no point. I think I keep it around simply because of how much it cost me to purchase back in the day. I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but it definitely had four figures before the decimal place…

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There’s a part of me that would love to get hold of an old Quadra or PowerPC Mac with System 7 on it so I could install UniQorn again. But then, the realist in me jumps to the fore and reminds me that once I’d played with it, and rebooted a few times due to the inevitable crashes, I’d soon get bored with it. Best to leave it in the box, with all the memories.

It ain’t pretty…

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…but it works.

The ongoing saga of my ancient laser printer entered a new chapter today. The network card has been squiffy for a while, essentially randomly disconnecting itself whenever it felt like it. 

Fed up with marching to and fro, cajoling and applying percussive maintenance, I decided to get to the bottom of the problem. I reasoned the issue was with the RJ-45 connector alone, and I looked at the possibility of replacing the component.

That proved impossible, and another repair also looked unlikely, namely tweaking the little sprung contacts. After about an hour of further investigation, it became apparent that once connection was made, any movement of the printer—even just the movement made when the print engine kicked in—was causing the cable connector to shift micrometres and disconnecting.

In desperation, and not wishing to buy another used JetDirect card which may end up with the same “fault” I resorted to wedging the connector in the socket with folded bits of paper. This survived the “thump and bash” test to my satisfaction.

As I said, it ain’t pretty, but it works. Old Faithful lives to fight yet another day.

Related: Hello, old friend! / Farewell, old friend

The WebSE Mac System 7 emulation

While we’re in geek nostalgia mode, try this one for size.

I began my love affair with Apple and the Macintosh computer on little beige boxes with tiny black and white screens built in. This web site offers a Flash-based emulation of such a machine running Macintosh System 7. I used to design and lay out entire magazines in QuarkXPress one-dot-something-or-other on a screen that size.

http://myoldmac.net/webse-e.htm

 

Continual Improvement?

Anyone with even a slightest interest in the tech world will have been unable to avoid a couple of big stories over the past few days. RIM, maker of the Blackberry phone ecosystem, has had a major outage of their service, and Apple has released several new updates as well as a new version of the perennially popular iPhone.

I’m not concerned about RIM. I am not particularly concerned with Apple’s new shiny. I am concerned about steadily having my hand forced to upgrade beyond where I am comfortable. I am talking about system requirements for a couple of the new things emanating from Cupertino.

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Let me set out my table. I am a “creative”. I use a Mac for business and pleasure. My Mac is not in its first blush of youth, but it is still quite capable. I am reliably informed I can install the latest version of the Mac OS, version 10.7 aka Lion, and get some more miles under the belt before I need to seriously consider scraping together cash for a new machine.

All of which is very nice. Lion is available from the App Store for not much more than a round of drinks or a Saturday night takeaway. A couple of clicks and away I go.

The thing is, I still use software that relies on some core technologies of older versions of the Mac OS. Apple were incredibly clever when they transitioned from the PowerPC CPUs to Intel back in the day. They engineered code into the OS so it transparently rewrote the PowerPC code in older applications for Intel chips on the fly. You could continue to use older software until the developer updated for the Intel code. Which was (and is) amazing when you think about it.

In the intervening five or six years, most of the applications I use on a daily basis have been updated, and now run on Intel architecture. All, that is, save one or two. My Canon scanner, for example, will never be updated, and even a third party front end software requires the drivers to be present which—wait for it—are PPC architecture. I can get round this, as I have another scanner now, but I can always run it on an older Mac that is unrepentently a PowerPC powered machine.

The other one, which is a bit bigger in my world, is Macromedia FreeHand. Don’t laugh! I still use it, even though Adobe bought out the company and let FreeHand expire in a dusty corner. I use FreeHand because — oh, let’s not go there. It’s not pertinent to this ranty post anyway.

Okay, the FreeHand thing can also be solved by shifting it to that older PowerPC Mac I’ve already mentioned. That’s not the point, really. My point is Apple have just released updates to Aperture, which I use nearly every day for managing my photo libraries and so on. That’s good, yes?

Yes, if you have updated to the latest version of Lion. Otherwise, you don’t get the update to Aperture. I don’t actually think I need Lion. From what I have seen, it doesn’t offer me anything over what I am running now (OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard). Apple, it seems, are forcing me to upgrade to an OS I don’t really want or need in order to keep up with software I do want and need.

There’s also this thing called iOS5. This is the latest version of the operating system for iPhones, iPods touch and iPads. Lovely shiny things I don’t own. Along with the iOS update is a change from MobileMe, which I use, to a thing called iCloud. Guess what? I can’t migrate to iCloud without running OS X 10.7.2 or iOS5. 

My hand is being forced into making an upgrade to something I don’t really want to upgrade. Yet to maintain levels of software I use, I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter.

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but is this the Apple that Steve Jobs always meant it to be?

 

**UPDATE**

19 October 2011—Apple quietly rolled out the Aperture 3.2 update on the App Store. The update was “recommended” for all users. In the system requirements, the magic numbers 10.6.8 appeared. I checked all over the Apple web site to confirm the 3.2 update would work for Snow Leopard, and happily it does. The only requirement for me to sidegrade to Lion now is if I want to keep my @mac.com email address, and I have until the end of June 2012 to sort that out.