The Blog of Maxim Porges

Archive for December, 2007

  • How Is Vista, Anyway?

    There was a point in time where I was pretty well heeled in all things computerized. I was a source of knowledge and assistance to my family and friends when they had computer problems, and I was eager to assist.

    However, it’s occurred to me recently that in some ways, I’ve lost my edge. I had to field a call last month from Jessica’s dad to assist with setting up a wireless network in Vista, and having never used Vista at the time, I had nothing to offer. From a Windows perspective, I’m stuck with nothing except what I remember from using XP, an OS I probably spend no more than 30 minutes in every week. I’ve also lost my ability to guess what the OS wants me to do, since OS X is generally so intuitive and helpful regardless of the task you’re pursuing.

    Shortly after that call, Jessica’s family was in town for Thanksgiving, and I installed Office on her mom’s new laptop, which was the PC running Vista from the aforementioned call. I was excited to actually get to play with Vista, since I’ve only seen it over people’s shoulders, and while I’ve heard a lot of bad things about it I wanted to make up my own mind.

    People tend to think I’m a Mac bigot, but this isn’t really true. I call Apple on their stupidity as much as I laud them on their accomplishments. If anything, I’m always more annoyed with Apple when they screw up because they so often get things right in my opinion. So, my opinions on Vista are as objective as I can make them.

    There were two things that stood out big time as I moved around Vista.

    First, I was surprised by how cluttered and confusing the UI was. There are so many tabs, buttons, colors, and text that looks very much like marketing banner ads from the Internet that I never knew where to look. The eye candy, like transparency and drop shadows, reminded me of my early Photoshop work in high school: too many effects and not enough real substance. OS X uses drop shadows to visually explain the app being used, and transparency to show that one window is a less important child of a parent window, whereas Vista seems to use it because alpha blending is cool. I won’t even go in to how many pop ups I had to deal with, or how many times I had to enter an admin password to get anything done.

    Second, I was surprised how sluggish the OS was. Now, bear in mind that Jessica’s mom’s laptop was a bargain basement model, but even so, performance shouldn’t have been that bad. Installing Office took almost a half hour. I think it took less than ten minutes on my single-processor VMWare instance, and Jessica’s mom’s machine had dual cores. Opening apps truly took ages, to the point where I had to fire up Task Manager to see if anything was happening. This also indicated to me that Microsoft has done nothing to fix the long standing problem of Windows not giving you visual cues of what is happening when it is performing background processing.

    Any positives? Yes. When I fielded the call in November, I was able to walk Jessica’s dad through finding his wireless network without ever having seen Vista before. I kept saying things like “there should be something that looks like this” or “look for network setup options”, and the wizards asked intelligent questions that Jessica’s dad could read to me to guide us through. So, it appears that (at least some of) the wizards are smarter and more intuitive than in the past.

    I was prompted to write this post after reading Eckel’s recent thoughts on Vista after a year of use. Based upon the scathing articles he linked to, and compared to what has mostly been praise for Leopard, I really do wonder what the hell happened to Microsoft. They used to at least be able to put out a half decent product, but something has gone horribly wrong over in Redmond.

    Leopard certainly isn’t perfect, and I think Apple is as guilty as any software company of putting something out that isn’t fully baked, but I have to say I prefer their approach. There comes a point with software where it’s good enough for prime time, and the best way to find and fix the bugs is to put the gold master in to the wild and start fixing them. Leopard was released in November, and Apple has seeded their second patch set already, less than two months after the release. I, for one, have had very few issues with Leopard, and the OS in general has a cohesiveness to it that the previous releases had lacked (mainly in the UI, which finally looks like one OS across the board).

    I’ve got a copy of the top-of-the-line version of Vista that Jessica won at a conference last year, and it’s been sitting waiting to be installed on VMWare for almost a year now. I just haven’t heard anything compelling to make me want to even bother with it.

    But I’d love to hear what actual Vista users have to say. If you’re on it, let me know your thoughts, and if you find it overall an improvement – or (as Eckel feels) it’s just a step backwards in the evolution of the OS.

    2007.12.28 / 6 responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Ah! So THAT’s How You Ping Local Mac Servers…

    I’ve always been annoyed that my Mac can find other Macs on my local network, but that I can’t ping them using the names I’ve given them. For example, my G4 tower is named “zaphod”, but if I run “ping zaphod” from Terminal I get “host not found.” Usually, you would have a DNS server set up, or an entry in your hosts.conf file for other machines – but how does OS X automatically find these other machines in the absence of either of these solutions?

    Well, I did a little research on the “mdns://” protocol I had to use to configure one of my printers over Bonjour, and it turns out that this is the “Multicast DNS” protocol which is what Bonjour and zeroconf networking are based on. A little Googling got me to this page, which tipped me off on how to resolve addresses for machines on my local network without setting up DNS.

    So, to ping any server on my local network, all I need to do is append “.local” to the machine name. So, to ping zaphod, I type “ping zaphod.local” in to Terminal, and Bob’s your uncle. This works equally well for the “Connect to Server” dialog and all the other IP-or-server-name-requiring utilities in OS X.

    2007.12.28 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Unable to Find Shared Leopard Printer from Tiger

    I recently bought a new HP Photosmart C4200 printer (free after rebate with the MacBook I got Jessica for Xmas). The software on the CD that came with the printer had the version 8 package, which is not compatible with Leopard. After downloading the latest drivers and software from HP and installing them (version 9.7), all was well.

    Previously, we have always shared USB printers through my Airport Extreme base station. However, since this printer also has a scanner and copier, I can’t get to these features if it’s connected to the Airport Express. Instead, I would need to connect the printer directly to my Quicksilver G4 tower upstairs via a local USB port, and share it via Bonjour. So, I shared the printer through “Print & Fax” under System Preferences, and enabled Printer Sharing under “Sharing”.

    I went downstairs to get my old MacBook Pro laptop running Tiger, and tried to access the shared printer. No love. Wouldn’t show up in Bonjour as it usually would. Jessica was sitting next to me, so I tried browsing the shared printer in Leopard. Worked instantly as it usually would in that special Apple way. I took my laptop back upstairs, and spent about an hour figuring out how to get the new printer connected to my old MacBook Pro.

    The Solution
    For whatever reason, I could only see the printer on my MBP if it was connected to the Airport Extreme. As soon as I connected it to my old G4 tower, it would not show up in Printer Setup Utility. To see how the printer was configured, I launched Safari on Jessica’s MB and accessed CUPS via the web interface (http://localhost:631 on any Mac running OS X – use your administrator login and password if you are prompted for them at any time).

    The web interface is different for OS X 10.4 and 10.5 since the version of CUPS on Leopard is updated, but they work basically the same way. You can get a list of printers and see exactly how they are configured in CUPS. I launched CUPS on both my MBP and Jessica’s MB side-by-side, and browsed to the new printer on Jessica’s MB. I then created a new printer on my MBP by clicking the button at the bottom of the printer list for “Add Printer”, and set it up identically to Jessica’s configuration (I accessed the configuration for the printer on her MB by clicking “Modify Printer” and just leaving all the settings as they were).

    Once I had finished setting up the identical settings on my MBP using CUPS, the printer popped up in Printer Setup Utility. The only thing that was different was that CUPS did not show the latest HP drivers (which I had installed on my MBP, and had come with Leopard on Jessica’s MB since it’s only a week old). I went in to the Printer Setup Utility’s entry under the Printer List for the new printer, and selected the appropriate drivers. After that, I printed a test page, and all was well with the world.

    The key in setting it all up seems to be related to the URL for my printer, which my MBP could not seem to figure out automatically. Jessica’s MB had this as follows (yes, there is a dot at the end with nothing after it):

    mdns://HP%20Photosmart%20C4200%20series%20%40%20zaphod._ipp._tcp.local.

    “HP%20Photosmart%20C4200%20series” is URL encoded format for “HP Photosmart C4200 series”, “zaphod” is the name of my Quicksilver tower the printer is connected to, and “._ipp._tcp.local.” must be used by Bonjour or CUPS to identify the location of the printer specific to zaphod.

    WTF?
    So, why couldn’t OS X configure this printer automatically? I don’t know. This is the first time I’ve had issues with setting up a printer on OS X; usually it is stupid easy. It seems like I’m the only person with this issue, since all the stuff I found on the Internet was with people unable to share legacy Tiger printers with Leopard, which is the opposite of the problem I was having.

    The only thing I can think of is that once I installed the latest HP drivers, CUPS did not have them, which leads me to believe that maybe restarting my computer would have enabled CUPS to refresh, find the latest drivers, and auto-configure the new printer for me. I’m not sure at this point.

    Hopefully if anybody else is having this same issue, this blog post will give them a few places to start to resolve their issue. Note that another useful utility I used for figuring out this problem was Console, which has an entry for the CUPS logs under /var/log/ => cups => access.log (and error.log). You can see HTTP posts to CUPS taking place here as well as error messages written to both log files.

    Please post here if you are having similar issues, or know what my problem was and can point me in the right direction.

    2007.12.28 / 3 responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Apple Software Update Site Slow

    I’m updating Jessica’s old PowerBook G4 tonight, and the software download is taking ages. I got her a new MacBook for Xmas, so she’s giving her old one to her sister.

    I’m guessing that the fact that Apple’s software update site is slow is an indication of just how many computers they sold for during the holiday season. Usually I can get around a 200 MB download in less than 3 minutes, whereas today it’s taking about 20 minutes.

    This is very Microsoft-esque, though. That’s the one thing I’m really hoping doesn’t happen to Apple as they continue to take the consumer market by storm. Let’s hope they roll some of those profits from 2007 in to bigger and better infrastructure to match the market share they took back this year.

    On the flip side, this should be good news for the stock report next month!

    2007.12.26 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Super Magical Flying Hat Turbo Adventure

    Man, I miss this game. They need to port this bad boy to the Wii for US release.

    As a kid in the UK, my MegaDrive was a Japanese edition (grey ring around the top of the console instead of red) and it played games from anywhere. I got this game as a bundle with six others and it was so much fun. Half the fun was the fact that the entire game was in Japanese, so you had to figure out what did what as you went. Apparently they released a Westernized version called “Decap Attack”, but it sucks compared to the original Japanese version.

    I’m also a bit pissed off that they ported ESWAT to Virtual Console, but they’ve only released it in Japan. Bastards. What gives?

    UPDATE: I just found a copy of the Magical Hat game loose on JapanGameStock.com. It’s loose with no manual and no case, but it was $20 so I figured… what the hell. How do you say “Merry Christmas to Me” in Japanese? Now all I need is an old Genesis and a Game Genie to translate the import cartridge, and I’ll be good to go!

    2007.12.24 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Flex Topic Accepted at cf.objective() 2008

    Looks like my session has been added to the confirmed speakers list at cf.objective() 2008. Please let me know if you have anything specific in my topic that you’d like to have me cover, and I hope to see you there!

    2007.12.20 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • iPhone Remote for Pro Tools LE

    This is by far the slickest iPhone app I have seen to date!

    2007.12.12 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Issue with Subclipse 1.2.4, Eclipse 3.3, and org.eclipse.core.resources

    If you are trying to install Subclipse 1.2.4 on Eclipse 3.3 and are getting an error about the org.eclipse.core.resources version being incorrect, check where you are running Eclipse from.

    I was running Eclipse from a network share mounted on my VMWare Fusion installation of Windows XP, and apparently Eclipse doesn’t like that for installing plugins (the network share, that is). Copying Eclipse locally, running it from the local copy, and then installing the plugin works fine.

    Why was I doing this? I’m setting up some base installations of our software so our developers can rip them off the network and have everything they need to get going. Something we’ve sorely needed for a while now, but I’m just getting caught up with my year to be able to do it… and since everybody except me is running Windows, that’s the environment I’m trying to work with (hence the network share from my Mac to VMWare).

    2007.12.04 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized

  • Flex and Flash Media Server

    I was playing around with Flex and the Flash Media Server tonight. It seems that things have changed a few times over versions, since a lot of the code samples I found just didn’t work. The best ones I found are linked below.

    1) Creating Connections
    2) Using the VideoDisplay control

    I have a copy of FMS running in VMWare Fusion (it’s Linux- and Windows-only) which I had no issue connecting to from my Flex 2 installation running in my JBoss server on my Mac. I was able to hook in to the webcam on my MacBook Pro and record some video. I was also able to pull that video back out easily enough as a stream using Flex. Finally, I took the raw .flv file created from the recording and called it directly from the Flex app without streaming. All worked like a charm.

    I also downloaded ffmpegX and converted the .flv to .avi. I had a weird issue, though; the final movie was about 4 times faster than the original. After messing around with frame rates and other parameters without success, I converted the base .flv file to .flv format again using ffmpegX, and used the output .flv file from ffmpegX as an input file to convert to AVI. This time, the rate of the movie was correct. Not sure why I had to “clean” the file this way, but at least I have a workaround.

    If you’re wondering why I’ve been doing this, we had a question from the business about whether or not we could make recordings. I figured we could record using a Flex app and then either store the files as .flvs, or convert them to MP3 using ffmpeg and store them elsewhere. Not sure if we’ll be using this solution or not, but at least I now have a good understanding of how the media capabilities of Flex and FMS work!

    2007.12.01 / no responses / Category: Uncategorized