Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mac Reflections #4: Boot Camp Pt. 1

Mac Reflections #3: Boot Camp Works!

A warning to readers: In terms of a past posts, this one is long, highly geeky, and more technical than usual. Swim at your own risk.

A couple weekends ago I was able to get Windows XP to run on the new Mac Pro. I used the beta of Boot Camp with virtually no problems. First, I had to slipstream Service Pack 2 into Windows XP to get it to install and went through the setup process. I also ran some benchmarks to test the performance and stability under stress. These updates will come in a later post.

A quick note before considering trying any of this: You have to be running the latest version of OS X and you must run the latest firmware updates. Check the official Boot Camp page to make sure you're running the right firmware and OS X updates for the version of Boot Camp you're about to install. I've read absolute horror stories of people killing their hard drives and ruining the BIOS on their Macs by not having done this. If the term "Flashing the BIOS" is unknown to you, don't try this at home.

Step 1) Get your legally purchased and fully authentic copy of Windows XP (Service Pack 2) out of the vault.

This was the first hurdle. My copy of Windows XP Pro is old. To run at all, Boot Camp requires the copy of Windows XP being used to be at least to the Service Pack 2 level. This is tricky since the way it usually goes is A) Install Windows B) Run the Service Pack 2 update. I needed to update the Windows files to Service Pack 2 before I even installed it.

To get my old version of Windows up to the Service Pack 2 level, I had to slipstream the update into the installation disk. I followed this guy's tutorial, and it worked like a snap. It took a couple hours of downloading, running, and burning but it worked like a charm.

Step 2) Install a new hard drive.

While this isn't technically necessary, it is really helpful. I try to keep like-purposed files on different physical drives when I am able. It's an old habit hearkening back to the days when the operating system had so much processing overhead, that it was smart to keep the media files on a separate drive to speed things up and add a little insurance. Wait a minute! Have you seen the system reqs for Windows Vista? 1GB to recommended just to run the OS? What kind of madness is that?

I purchased a 320GB SATA-II (3gb/sec) hard drive for $79 through Tiger Direct. I installed it via the amazingly simple process detailed in a previous post. I formatted it to run just like any normal hard drive on the Mac. I rule.

Step 3) Download Boot Camp

Boot Camp is a basic boot loader that lets the user, on boot, choose which OS they would like to load. In addition to a raw boot loader, Boot Camp also comes with a simple installation wizard that takes the pain out of building cross-platform driver disks, partitioning / formatting drives, and what to do once you begin the installation process. While I found it to be incredibly stable, Boot Camp is still in beta, so be warned. Beta just means that it's not officially released yet: If you have any problems with it, Apple will not provide support. A quote from the Boot Camp webpage summarizes it as, "We do not sell or support Windows. Duh." As an aside, the new version of OS X, Leopard, will come with the full, gold version of Boot Camp already installed and, by default, supported by Apple. By October (when Leopard is not reported to be released) they'll have worked out most of the bugs. So, if you're the paranoid type, wait until then.

Boot Camp can be downloaded right here.

Step 4) Install and run Boot Camp

The installation process is the same as any other Mac app. Unpack the .dmg file, browse to the mounted virtual drive and copy the .app file to the application directory. Run the app. Bonus!

Boot Camp will prompt you to do two things before you can install Windows. It will make you print a copy of the instructions and burn a disk of Windows drivers. I got around wasting the paper and ink by copying the instructions to our laptop via a handy 2GB thumb drive Mandy's parents gave me for my birthday (thanks!). Either way, you need to have access to the directions some other way than through the Mac box. You do have to burn the driver disk, however. The driver disk becomes vital in step 6.

The last thing it will do is prompt the you to choose the drive and partition size you where you want to install Windows. I chose the new hard drive I had installed and told it to split the drive in half, allowing 150GB of space to install Windows and 150GB for use as either storage in OS X or a Linux installation some point down the road. After the drive had been partitioned and formatted, it prompted me to put the Windows XP disk in the drive, reboot the computer and pray.

Step 5) Install Windows

Windows installs just like always. The terminal-looking blue screen, complete with the bad Courier font has the warm, nurturing feel of an iron pipe to the face. I followed the Windows on-screen instructions and the Boot Camp provided .pdf on the laptop until Windows was fully installed.

During this phase, Mandy read film trivia questions out of a book I received from my sister-in-law. I got every one of them wrong. Good thing I spent all those thousands of dollars on a film criticism degree.

Step 6) Configure Windows to recognize Mac peripherals

After several reboots and an hour of running the Windows installer, I was presented with the XP Desktop. The first thing you'll notice is the resolution is horrible, there is no audio, and the eject button doesn't work. This is because Windows doesn't come with the drivers necessary to run the hardware peripherals built into the Mac Pro box natively. This is where the driver disk Boot Camp forced you to burn in Step 4 comes in handy.

Simply pop open the disk drive and run the disk. Of course, the eject button on the upper-left corner of the Mac keyboard won't work. Windows doesn't recognize the keyboard layout, remember? To open the disk drive you have double click on My Computer > Right-Click on the DVD drive > Select Eject. Once the driver disk is inserted and the drive closed, Windows will run the driver package on the disk and force the system to reboot. Again.

If all goes well with the driver installation, the next thing you'll hear is the creepiest sound ever to come out of a Mac: The Windows Startup Fanfare. I literally felt a shiver run down my spine when I heard it played through the internal speaker.

And there it is: A Mac booting to, not emulating, Windows XP. To choose the operating system I want to boot to, I just hold down the Option key when the computer is starting up, and it will ask me to pick.

I will post some final thoughts and benchmarking figures in a couple days.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hawking Floats and Beams

This is a great picture of Steven Hawking floating around in "Vomit Commit" airplane that simulates microgravity by flying through a series of parabolic diving maneuvers. Here's a quick video on how the a aircraft of this kind works:

And here is the man who held the same seat in mathematics as Einstein and Newton:

(I grin, therefore I am.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Watch what you say….

Last week I was driving into work when I caught the end of a story that has since made it big – Alec Baldwin had a personal phone call to his daughter blasted over air waves all over the world. Yes, he was angry and called her names, but I think the scary point of this whole media story has been missed. He made a PERSONAL phone call and left a PERSONAL message, which someone in turn used to discredit him.

I don’t know how many websites that I have been to in the past few days where they were berating him and his abusive language to his child. Yeah, I don’t agree that a kid should be talked to like that but c’mon!! Do we not care about our personal rights at all? I don't know about you, but I like to have the "luxury" of my private calls being private.

Are we so content to live a life of cattle where anyone at anytime can take our PERSONAL calls and use it against us. We are giving the US government an extra hand for tapping our phone lines…they don’t have to do it anymore our neighbors will.

Saturday, April 21, 2007 Online!

After many delays and much cursing, my demo reel / portfolio site is chugging away in the cyber-ether.

Here’s a quick summary for anyone interested: A demo reel acts as a video resume for film/video peeps. Or, as it is in my case, film/video wannabes. Very often, when applying for video work, I have to submit a resume and a reel. The resume is the same as any regular resume. It details my work history, education, and skill set. However, unlike the resume, the reel is what has the power to actually get me the job. It has to be short, fast-paced, and catchy. The goal of a good reel is convince the person watching that A) I have talent and B) They have a strong desire to call me in for an interview.

In its present state, the reel is admittedly rough around the edges. It has flow problems, some of the clips can be improved or dropped altogether, and a few of the animations need to be reworked. I opted to put up an imperfect reel in lieu of spending the time retooling it to perfection. Reels are always a work-in-progress if the video person is working on new projects (I am). To me, an incomplete reel does more good than no reel at all.

In the not-too-distant future, I will have the full flash version of the site running. Non-flash adopters, and there are many and for good reason, will be directed to static HTML page. Those of the more artistic, flamboyant, and non-web standards compliant persuasion who have opted to install flash, will be directed to the flashy, noisy page. I want to make the content as accessible as possible, and I think the simplistic layout of the static page does the job nicely for the time being, but I am trying to persuade artsy people to hire me. I think the flash adds a nice flare to the content.

Special thanks on the static site goes to comrades Mark and Mandy for their help. Mark designed the sweet, swirling graphics that can found throughout the site. It’s funny, actually, I think this is first time he and I have tried to collaborate on a project that has been 100% successful. In the past, we’ve always had large bureaucracies (i.e. Mark threatening to sue to Public Museum for lack of payment) get in the way. This creative process has been a further testament to how liberating it is to the have tools of production in the hands of the proletariat. As Marx wrote, “The workers control the means of video production!”

Mandy spent a good chunk of her Saturday reworking the code to get the video embedded and the image maps to correctly align. She also helped with the formatting and aligning of the fields on the Contact form, as well as numerous code tweaks. This insane attention to detail is something I have never quite mastered, and I’m endlessly grateful that she has helped out. Thanks again!

As previously written, reels are works in progress. As I take on and complete future projects, I will be dropping out weaker segments of the reel and replacing them with newer, better content. I will also develop different reels that appeal to specific clients and audiences. For instance, I may have a reel that just highlights commercial content, while another focuses more directly on cinematography or motion animation.

To help with the evolution of this reel, I’m asking everyone to take a look at it and email me their comments and critiques. When critiquing, try to act the part of someone determining whether to interview me based on the strength of the reel. In other words, be as (constructively) critical as possible. I really need to know where the weak parts are so I can know what to modify and what to drop. Thanks!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Podcast Review: Hooting Yard - Frank Key

Hooting Yard – Frank Key
Podcast Review

"There was no hat or cap on the shriveled head I took from the sack, just a few strands of filthy, matted hair. I sat on the grass and took a pair of snippy butcher's scissors out of my pocket and gave the shriveled head a much-needed haircut."

I've been listening to a podcast called "Hooting Yard" for only a couple of weeks, but in that short time I have grown quite fond of it. Frank Key, whom I discovered through his narration of various stories on possibly the greatest ongoing podcast of all time, 'Escape Pod', writes each week's episode. Keys is a dour Brit who's voice never fails to conjure up images of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's a fascinating listening experience since the works are so surrealist and patently strange, they often have no plot at all. The material he reads and writes is not only absolutely hilarious but often has a thin vein of malice and puck-like mischievousness running throughout it. Each episode is in some way related to a warped, fun-house mirror reflection of our own world. This place, Hooting Yard, has reoccurring characters, places, and a rich mythology. While it's sometimes difficult to even understand what he's talking about, the more I listen to it, the more I come to recognize the world. It's really cool stuff.

The full effect is akin to combining the humor of the Guide, the surrealism of Dali's paintings, and the hallucinogenic quality of some strong drug—in a free, easily downloaded format.

As a quick aside, my favorite surrealist short story is Harlan Ellison's "The Mouse Circus." Unfortunately, the only way to procure a copy is to get your hands on the amazing and expensive "Essential Ellison" omnibus.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

New Reviews and Podcasting, GO!!!

I'm going to start putting up more reviews of things I like and dislike. I miss writing for Mindsplint. I've found reviewing things is a good way organize my thoughts and help me test my conclusions. Written reviews are easily critiqued and logical gaps can be pointed out because the words are not dynamic like a conversation. I'm going to try to stay away from doing formal critiques of things because they are too much work, and I spent the last two years of my life writing them and being judged by them for school. I just want the Ebert luxury of determining how good something is with my thumb and eschew literature reviews and formal declarations of intent. Bleh.

My first review is going to be about a podcast. If you're new to the podcasting thing, check out this informative link on and read my summary below. If you know about podcasting, stop reading. It will only bore and confuse you. The actual review will show up soon (probably tomorrow).

My executive summary of podcasting is as follows: Podcasting is the common vernacular for a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) web feed that points a client application to content (usually audio or video) somewhere on the internet. It does this according to a schedule defined by the content provider. For example, I record myself yodeling and put it on the 'net. The next time you boot your computer a program running on it checks to see if there is a new song. If it determines there is a new yodeling song on the 'net you have not downloaded, it downloads it for you. Not only will the song be downloaded, it will be automatically moved to whatever portable music player you have attached to your computer. The upshot of all this is all you have to do is turn on your computer and, optionally, attach a portable music device to get new content. Once you've signed-up for a podcast, it's totally hands-free.

In the case of audio podcasts, people use a podcatcher, such as iTunes or WinAmp, to subscribe to and download them. Once downloaded, podcasts can be played on a computer, moved to a portable device like an iPod, Rio, or Zen, or be burned to a CD for use on a car trip.

In the sense that there isn't a direct and immediate cost to download a podcast, this is all free. However, as open source pioneer Richard Stallman famously put it, "It's not free as in free beer. It's free as in liberated." Liberation and no cost are two very different concepts, but English uses the same word (free) to describe both. People spend time and money to produce these 'free' podcasts, so many of them rely on donations to continue to operate. I've donated to a few of the podcasts that I love because A) I love the work they are doing and want them keep producing and B) Nothing is free.

You don't need an iPod to get into podcasting. You can find podcasts that cover nearly any topic you can imagine. The podcasts are free. Hop to it already!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Black Market on the 3rd Floor!

I've discovered an underground market thriving on the third floor!

I work in an office building. It has all the edifices you would come to expect from such a place. Cubicles, bathrooms, buzzing fluorescent lights are as common here as they are in most suburban office buildings. The building also sports a cafeteria complete with (free) soup and salad bar, tables and chairs, and coin-op vending machines. Most basic lunch or breakfast items can be procured from said vending machines. Apples, bad sandwiches, and V8 are enclosed within a sliding-door, carousel styled machines while pop and candy bars are available from the more common chute machines. While these items are marked up a good 10-20%, I would not argue that the items are not too egregiously priced. Especially considering the trouble that goes into stocking and maintaining said machines.

On the sly, a co-worker snuck out of our pod, disappeared for about five minutes, and reappeared with a bag of peanuts. I looked at the peanuts with a sense of awe and confusion. How did she get peanuts, I asked myself. The vending machines never have them and the direction she snuck off in was opposite of the caferteria. Something was afoot.

"So, where'd you gets the nuts?" I asked.
"Oh… you know." She said, gesturing wildly.
"No, I don't. I want nuts."
"There is a place… on the third floor… many things for sale."

So, it turns out, I discovered there is black market thriving on the third floor. It turns out this market offers candy, muffins, oatmeal and even bags of popcorn for $0.50 a piece! Colorfully decorated kiosks sports edible food items of all make, variety, and sweetness. Astounding! I find it fascinating this cultural phenomena can spring up in such a small sampling of people. This small, self-contained sample of humanity a black market has sprung up to meet a need that the polished, beeping vending machines are not meeting. I investigated.

I think I could successfully argue that this kind of behavior is Marxist in its origin, and perhaps not a market based on the acquisition of capital at all. The goods offered at the third floor market are sold at, what appears, to be no profit at all. I don't have access to the trade organizer, to confirm this however. My inquires have resulted in reports of mystery and intrigue concerning one Hilda VonBruglezot, I have been advised to drop my line of investigation.

I have, however, looked into the employee handbook to determine if my purchasing a poppy-seed muffin or a Kalashnikov rifle from one of the many dilapidated kiosks could be considered grounds for dismal, but the section on "Black Markets" is also mysteriously missing. Could it be that Hilda is involved? More investigation is necessary. However, I did discover that while the company has strict policy against facial hair of any kind, you can sport a beard for religious reasons. Sometimes it's nice to be a contractor. I can sport my rebellious and unruly goatee without having to convert to Judaism.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

String Theory

Cool news! I have been selected as a finalist in a video competition!

Discover Magazine, a magazine I have blogged about in the past, recently ran a video competition. The idea was to create a video, 2 minutes or less, explaining String Theory (or M-Theory) to a moderately scientifically-minded audience. They gave about a month to produce the video and submit it. I received the email Sunday morning that I, along with seven others, have been selected as finalists.

Three things, two cool and one worrying have occurred as a result of being selected. First, simply for being chosen as a finalist, I get a year’s subscription to Discover Magazine for free. This is really cool because now I can save the money I would’ve spent on a renewal.

The second cool thing is Brian Greene will be choosing the winner. Greene is a Nobel Lauriat who wrote The Elegant Universe, one of the most complete and compelling books on String Theory I’ve read. Well, it’s actually the only book I’ve read on String Theory, but it is good. Not only do I recommend it, I’ll even let you borrow my copy if you ask nicely and bring me a bribe of cheese and bacon. If you’re not into the whole reading thing, but are interested in the idea that the physical universe is fundamentally comprised of tiny vibrating strings, there is a mini-series about the book made by Nova available on Netflix.

The one worrying aspect about being selected is I’m not overly happy with the final video, and now there is a 1 in 8 chance that it will win. If it happened, it would mean the millions of Discover readers I greatly respect will, if they have any sense of production value, think it sucks.

Like so many college essays, 1/3rd of the project was finished the night before it was due. The few parts of the piece I really like were designed by Mandy. Being the wonderful, amazing, and intelligent woman she is, Mandy came to my aid in an hour of need. She designed several of the sequences and helped with overall flow the piece. If you every get around to watching it and find yourself thinking, “That part was pretty good.” It’s likely that that’s the part she designed.

I really wanted to rework the audio using an M-Audio preamp I borrowed from Chad. I also wanted to redo most, if not all, of the animation sequences to make them more entertaining and less like, uh, a planetarium show. Years of planetarium design have created and reinforced the unfortunate notion that the only way to present educational content is with simple animations and low, monotonous voice-overs. Ah well. We make time for what’s important, and I apparently didn’t find this important enough to finish up to the expectations I set for it. Lesson learned: Don’t procrastinate when it comes to competition deadlines.

Sadly, due to the draconian click-wrap contract I entered into to be eligible to compete, I cannot post the video here. I technically don’t own it any more; they do. According to the congratulations email I received, I do know it will be put up on Discover Magazine’s site soon. When that happens, I’ll provide a link to the page so everyone can see the finalists’ videos.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

New Equipment Time!

I just received an order two new bits o' equipment: an Ultra 2000va UPS and a Western Digital 320GB hard drive.

Ultra 2000va UPS

What: An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is a essentially a battery backup for electronics, in my case, computers and peripherals. Basically, how it works is it plugs into the wall and your computer plugs into it. While plugged into the wall, the UPS' internal battery is charged. When I use my computer, it draws power from the battery, not from the wall socket, that way there is a complete disconnect between the power coming out of the wall outlet and the power entering the computer. So, during a thunderstorm, if the power goes out, my system will stay on because it's already running of the UPS battery. Also, if there is a power surge, it will only destroy the charging mechanism instead of blowing up my computer.

Why: It will protect my equipment from power surges and outages. Our apartment has horrible wiring. Everything in it is electric; the dishwasher, stove, and furnace. All electric. When the stove is on, I can hear crackling through my PC speakers, and that isn't good. With the UPS, there will be a constant, even flow of electricity to the computer and components making for a longer, more reliable equipment lifespan. Even if the apartment power totally goes out, the system will still run for about 15 minutes on the battery. These are a good idea for any piece, or pieces, of home electronics you want to survive a power surge or outage. I would recommend doing some research about how much power the equipment pulls before purchasing one. A good rule of thumb is 1000va to 2000va UPS it plenty for a low to medium end home theater system.

The sucker cost over $200, but I look at it as cheap insurance to protect the equipment. The other catch is it had be a massive 2000va UPS because the friggen Mac Pro is a such a power monster that it can spike over 1750vas when coming out of sleep or when all the drives are spinning. On the plus side, though, I should be able to run my external Lacie drive and my monitors off of it along with the Mac.

Western Digital 320GB hard drive (7200/rpm SATA-II)

What: A massive, inexpensive hard drive.

Why: I bought this for a couple reasons. One, I really want to see if I can get Windows to run on the Mac. My main goal for this, honestly, is to play games. I do also have bunch of non-gaming applications (DVDShrink, Reason, and IMToo Converter) that are PC-only that I would like to run. The Mac has a nice graphics card (ATI x19000 XT) that is well-suited for playing games. However, since most computer games require Microsoft's proprietary DirectX driver platform, it will only be fully utilized on using Windows. The second reason is I want to install and play around with Linux. I'll probably opt for Ubuntu, but I would like to try Debian, since the Windows Manager is so friggen cool looking. Either way, it will be interesting to see how well I can get these operating systems running on what used to be a totally closed hardware architecture. The future is now!

I'll write a review of each after I've used them for a while, and sorry if the most boring post you've ever read. I wrote it in the traditional geek fashion, with pens in my pocket and tape on my glasses.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mr. Forton's 45th Annual March Madness "All Name Team"

[Editor's Note: DropMyStraw is proud to present guest editor Mr. Forton's amazingly successful All-Name Team]

Its hard to find good names these days. Parents aren't keeping their eyes on the prize. Its a sad day when the All American Apple Pie Flag Waving Baby Slapping Uncle Sam Dancing 45th All Name Team has to resort to foreigners to complete the list. Homeland Security should do something about this. Well here is this years list. How do you spell Marty? And can one man be named after 2 food groups? Now for the 45th Annual All Name Team brought to you by America's Furniture in Anacostia DC
"Back Dat Thang Up!"

God Bless You and America!

Scooby Johnson – Texas A&M C.C. Islanders

Idong Ibok – MSU

Goran Suton – MSU

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – UCLA

O.J. Mayo – USC

Antanas Kavaliauskas – Texas A&M

Maarty Leunen – Oregon

Do-kun Akingbade – George Washington

Vovo Severovas – Oakland

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mac Reflections Pt. 2

My PC started acting up. I had been playing Oblivion: Elder Scrolls, converting some .movs to .wmvs, and burning DVDs (not all at the same time) just fine. Then, a couple days ago, it just seized. The screen went black and the sucker wouldn't shut even if I held the power button in for 5-10 seconds. I had to reach behind it and flip the power supply switch. I tried a couple things. I used an entire can of blow-off to clear out the mountain flotsam and dust bunnies that had collected. I reset the mobo to use the factory configuration of the memory and I'm about to try some different voltage settings and front-side bus configs to see if one of those is wonky. It could be the power supply too. I bought the "Diablo" power supply because it had a cool blue LED in it, not because it came highly recommended to actually, you know, power my computer and everything. I'll play around with it; ask some friends for advice.

I'm writing this to you on my Mac. My trustworthy Mac. It hasn't died. It doesn't need voltage tweaks or memory flash sequences reset. It just works. And works well. So, when I get around to it, I'll figure out the problem with PC. Or, more likely, I'll bribe a friend or friends with cookies and beer to get it working for me. It used to be that I defined my ability to accomplish things on a computer by how well I could troubleshoot the myriad problems I came across trying to run a Windows PC. I think I've come to terms with my consumerist, hair-gel wearing self. It's so much easier to use a computer that just works instead of one that, well, doesn't.

It's also much more productive. The PC died right in the middle of converting the aforementioned files--a task I am doing for my client in Grand Rapids. If that was my editing computer, I would be rushing to fix it because failing to do so might mean missing a deadline and loosing them as a client. I can't afford the vanity or the time spent trolling through forums and message boards trying to isolate the problem and fix it/replace it. I need this project done. Period.

It could be a bad power supply. Might be a motherboard setting. Meh. In the meantime, I'll be getting my work done on my Mac.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


We have a number of people write, call, and IM that we haven't been as prolific with updates these past couple weeks. While true, it isn't totally without reason. I have been crazy-busy these past two weeks. A massive computer crash (no, not the Mac), a deadline pushed up two weeks by my client in GR, and fun visit by Chad and Megan last weekend are all reasons why I haven't been posting, not excuses. I should be posting regardless. I'm trying to keep people amused and informed about our going-ons down here in the great sweeping Ohioan expanse, and I can't do that unless I post.

It's strange doing this blogging thing. Both Mandy and I will go through periods of creativity and interest in it, then just as suddenly loose interest. What I need to do is during my next bout of creativity, write a few posts and just keep them in draft, so when I'm not feeling up to writing, I can just post one of those.

To recap, here's few things we've been up to since the last post:
1. Chad and Megan came down to visit last weekend. It was great to hang out with some them.
2. We had a really successful cooking club last weekend. The theme was fondue, and there was much dipping. A special thanks to Chad's parents for the use of their awesome ceramic fondue pot.
3. We saw Grindhouse last night. Words cannot describe the experience. It's so unlike any other movie-going experience I've had, that I'm reluctant to even call it a movie. It's something has to be seen to be believed, both in a good and bad way.
4. Mandy and I have been thinking of adding another member to the family. Keep looking back for more updates on this...

(One of the many amazing scenes from such a wonderful movie. Too bad YouTube resolution is so crappy.)