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Archive for the ‘Computer’ Category

The Joy of Calibration!

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/02/2012

Some months back I built out a new computer. Some people enjoy getting a new computer, but I hate it. I’m a creature of comfort, and once I move into a computer I like to stay there as long as possible. I also know that despite being a digital pack-rat, I tend to lose things that are actually important — like my software license keys.

I did better this time. I actually had licenses for almost everything I use, including my CAD and CAM packages. The only two I couldn’t find were Photomatix, which is no huge deal since I don’t do much HDR, and the license to my monitor calibration software. The folks at HDRSoft were great about getting me my license key for Photomatix, which I now keep with all my other licenses. But the monitor calibration software was a black hole.

If you’ve never used a calibrated monitor, you won’t appreciate what a real pain in the rear it is to use one that’s completely uncalibrated. When editing photography, it’s hard to know what something will look like when printed. Colors are off, tonality is off, it’s a mess! Almost three months later, I was still running uncalibrated. I knew my new photos had a strange color cast, but I had no way to figure out what it was.

Over the weekend I tried an experiment: I took the configuration file off of my old computer and stuck it in the right directory on my new one. Lo and behold, the software ran! I don’t know where the license key is in that file. Quite frankly I don’t care. It works! I’m calibrated again! And the config file now lives with the rest of my licenses.

Now I’m dealing with the aftermath of editing photographs on an uncalibrated monitor. Gaaaah! So many of my photos were messed up! Ah well. I have my work cut out for me. Meanwhile, I’m back in my comfy spot. Calibrated and good to go.

– Tom

Posted in Computer, Photography | 1 Comment »

A New Laptop

Posted by Tom Benedict on 05/12/2011

I found the service manual for my laptop and spent the morning taking it apart in order to figure out what’s up with its display. (I still can’t open it more than about 45 degrees or the display blanks out.) I have to hand it to HP: They make their service manuals available online, and they’re actually quite good. I was able to diagnose the problem quickly once I had the service manual in-hand.

The bad news is it’s ugly. The cable that brings the video signal from the graphics card to the screen has a weak wire. After opening up the LCD shell and tracing it, I can see why! It’s got one of the scariest wire routes I’ve ever seen. I’ll put it this way: If we ran cables through the telescope the same way HP runs cables through laptop hinges, we’d be out of business by now. Folks, there’s gotta be a better way.

In the middle of all this my boss walked in, took one look at my bent-over laptop, and asked, “How the hell can you work like that?!”

The answer is: I can’t. I’d priced out a replacement monitor by then, but he pointed out that if I’m having this kind of stuff fail, things are already going downhill. Fast! So he put me on the hunt to find a new laptop.

Long ago I realized that my requirements for a laptop (Office, CAD, photo editing, video editing, and the occasional serious number-cruncher) match another population of computer users: gamers. This resulted in my getting an Alienware Area 51 back in the day. This caused no end of consternation, since this was a computer I used for work. A number of people objected. But in the end it really was a good machine.

But it was fragile. It was designed to be cutting edge, and as with most things cutting edge it’s the user who winds up bleeding in the end. The graphics cooling fan was a delicate piece of work that liked to suffer from bearing failure. Considering it used maglev bearings, I found that ironic. I went through two of them before the company that made the fan finally told me they wish they’d never entered into that contract in the first place. When the fan manufacturer hates a fan design, that’s not good.

So my replacement for the Area 51 was much more mundane. It was an HP Pavilion dv5z-1000. Only a step or two up from their home tote-around machines, but still punchy enough to do CAD without a bunch of extra add-ons. This has been my main computer for close to four years now. It wound up being far less fragile than the Alienware, and to this day is a real workhorse. I hate to put it out to pasture because of a lousy wire.

The new one is likely to be another HP. Not that I’m all that impressed with their cable routing, but they’re still pretty solid little beasties. Besides, the power supply for the one I have in mind is the same as my current one, so things like my docking station, power supply, mouse, etc. all just swap over. It’s a pretty even trade in that respect.

But I had to shake my head once I saw where laptop technology has gone. My Area 51 had 2GB of RAM, an 80GB drive, and a conventional 4:3 monitor. The new one has 12GB of RAM, 1TB of disk, and a full 1920×1080 monitor. Oh, and a quad core processor. This is more computing power than the entire US government had up to and including the successful launch and return of the entire Apollo program. It costs US$1500. Unreal.

The real downer is that I can look forward to spending roughly a week and a half re-installing all my software, moving all my files over, and getting everything situated just right so that I can move in and feel at home. This is the part about getting a new computer I really really dread. Meanwhile my trusty old machine will be parked on one corner of my desk with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse plugged in. I’m turning the poor thing into a desktop. It makes me cry.

– Tom

Posted in Computer | 1 Comment »