Saturday, October 29, 2011

Video Editing & Final Cut Pro

One of the more significant reasons I decided to get a Mac was because of my video editing issues that I often experienced on the PC.  Below is my story and I hope it gives a little more insight into my experience and reasoning.

I have been filming videos ever since 2002. Back then I purchased my first Sony video recorder in anticipation of our first child, Kaitlyn.  It proved to be a great purchase and I captured many moments of her, and countless other events (Christmas parties, Weddings, Birthdays, etc) since then.  That was quite a few years before HD came out and I was pretty content with the camera.

Going even further back... I can remember my grandfather (Dad's side) first introduced me to a VHS camera when I was probably around 10 years old. He was always the guy with the camera whenever we had family events, particularly on Christmas.  As my Dad tells it, he was always more excited than even the kids were growing up and having Christmas morning. So it made a lot of sense that he would spend much of his time filming from the chair in the corner of the living room when we went to visit Grandma & Grandpa.  I suppose my Grandfather first got me interested in doing video. In a way, I think I have picked up the torch- now it is me sitting in the chair taking everything in.

Fast forward another 8-10 years to College. I was involved in a campus ministry, Campus Crusade for Christ.  Every now and then we decided to create some video skits. These skits usually became epic works that years later were still talked about.  A good buddy (and roommate) of mine would spend countless hours at the PC using Ulead Studio, his Packard Bell doing basic video editing. I learned a lot about working with video through this process.  I also learned that 30 seconds "is an eternity" on video and you have to work hard to fill it up with something interesting...

Not long after I graduated college I found myself still quite interested in the whole AV/Video thing. Being a long time computer nerd as well, it made perfect since for me to be at "the intersection of computers and video".  Some of the things I dove into were Windows Media Center (the early version that was an add on to the OS) and programming... with the vision of having all your media at your finger tips on your living room TV, as opposed to looking at a computer screen in the damp, dingy, dusty basement.  Media Center ended up being a pretty pivotal piece of technology and allowed me to display all my old school videos on my TV.

Things changed again in 2006.  High Definition was finally affordable, though I was definitely an early adopter of the technology.  I picked up a JVC HD video camera that did "full HD" which turned out to not really be full HD, but 1080i (close enough).  The video quality on this camera was stunning but it came with a big price... disk space and huge cpu needs. The camera itself has a 60GB hdd which ends up holding about 4 hours of video.  For several years, my computer was a bottleneck- it was really difficult to do much with the footage.  But that was OK- recording the files and simply watching them were good enough most of the time.

A few years later Intel came out with the i7 chipset which finally meant I could easily edit and render video without having to wait several hours while doing so.  I built a PC and experimented with several different NLE's (video editing tools) including the latest version of Ulead Studio and Sony Vegas. During that time I had some great "use case" footage- including the Youth Lockin where we filmed about 10 video skits.  The total footage was well over 8 hours, but each video ended up rendering around 5 minutes or less once I cleaned them up and put into content.  They were quite the hit at the Church and are still talked about today. For some reason, people just love to see themselves in videos! :)  I've also done several weddings, rehearsal dinners, church events, family vacations, etc. over the years.

Although the PC generally did the job, I would get the occasional lock up or freeze and lose my work. Certain file formats (like .MOV) would not import well from the lower end camera that I had picked up to take on Disney trips (rather than lugging around my larger camera).  This was frustrating me and I started to look around and consider my options.  With everything going on in the Apple World, and having known for many years that a lot of the "pro's" use Mac's for video editing, I thought I would at least get more educated about it.  I didn't have to look too far.  There was a new couple that started coming to our church and they were both very talented.  Tom teaches a class at UT on Video / Multimedia... and his wife Cheri plays piano professionally for the Toledo Opera (and joined the music team).  I talked to him several times about some of my challenges, especially after seeing some of the exceptional video work he has created for our Church.

As you may have been following my Mac Adventures, you know that I haven't really reported too much on the video experience simply because I haven't had that time until now.  Well, I've finally got a chance to get hands on and I am here to tell you:


I am using Final Cut Pro, iMovie, iPhoto, and a few utilities. But it is so amazing working on a Mac to edit video.  Coming from Sony Vegas / Ulead in the past it was quite easy to come up to speed for basic editing with Final Cut Pro (version 7).  I found a web site that also greatly assisted me:

I have been able to successfully edit my high definition MPEG 2 camera footage as well as my low end camera that creates .MOV footage.  One downside is that I have to convert all my MPEG 2 footage into .MOV in order to get Final Cut Pro working how I want, but that conversion is very quick and I can't discern any loss of quality (huge!!)!  To convert, I am using a utility called MPEG Stream which is apparently available on both PC and Mac.  If I want to create a slideshow movie with photos, I use iMovie.  The best thing about all these utilities is that the Mac gives you complete control over what format your video is in across all these tools.  That means there is no conversion, stuttering, lag, or other general ugliness when working on a video. No drivers, codecs to mess with, etc.

It just works!

So the verdict is in... it has been totally worth the switch. If I wasn't convinced before, I am now! I spend a lot of time working with multimedia and now I can do so in a very nice environment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Going on a month...

I have been a Mac user for one month now and wanted to take a moment to blog more of my experiences and views as I have gained more experience and knowledge on this platform.

First off, it is hard to believe it has been a month! I've done a lot on my new machine since then, but there is still quite a bit that I want to do. For the last week or so, I have all but shut down my home PC. I consider myself just about fully switched now.

Disclaimer: I am still using my PC at work. I don't really have a choice in the matter because of our network / security / whatever policy.  Since I use the PC at work it helps further polarize the differences between the two.

Latest observations:

1. Using a Mac feels like a "treat'. After I get back from work I smile when I think about using my computer. It's not just blah, more of the same like what I get at work. I tend to approach it in a different way- it's not just about getting something done, it's also about the experience. 

2. It has been fun to show other people (family, friends, etc).  One of the first thing that they notice is "all those icons" on the bottom of the screen.  I really like having everything at the touch of my finger.  The more I use the icons to launch an app, the less I want to use the start menu on the PC.  It just makes more sense that way.  

3. I find myself somewhat disappointed by lag when I am running my Windows VM. However, I think this will be pretty easy remedied when I upgrade the memory. Still haven't gotten around to that yet- my wallet needs a break for a bit.  

4. I'm starting to notice that there are a lot less apps "out there" for the Mac as compared to the PC.  That's ok because I'm running a Windows VM but... there are some things that I would expect to be out there. For instance, there is an iPad application out there that allows you to extend your desktop to the iPad wirelessly (displaylink). Ironically, there is no Mac version of it.  Another one is a gmail download utility. I take some of these tools for granted on the PC.

5. Portability is great, even for a 17".  Battery Life is not as good as I hoped- seems like I get about 5-6 hours tops. I am sure my extra upgrades are contributing to the lower battery life- it's advertised as up to 7. Still not bad, especially compared to my work PC which is half the power and about the same battery life. 

6. I am definitely taking more notice of other "Mac users" that are out there. I often wonder "why are they Mac users?" I notice pictures on Facebook, links from twitter, comments on blogs, twitter, etc. My initial stereotype of "Mac people" seems to be a little off: more eccentric, pop-culture lovers, etc. I'm finding that there are quite a few people similar to my background- developers, musicians, etc. A bit of right brain and left. It also includes people who just don't want to accept the mainstream / mediocrity from the PC experience. 

I'll close off the entry like this: is it worth getting a Mac? After the first month, I can definitely say "Yes!". I have been really happy with my decision and continue to enjoy it.  Despite my best intentions, I still haven't been able to get real deep in some of the functionality that I originally purchased the Mac for... ie, video editing, music editing, photo editing, etc. But from what I am experiencing so far it is doing a fine job and I am learning new things on a daily basis.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

VMWare Fusion, Unity, and VS.NET 2010


I've finally gotten around to it!

Windows 7 VM is installed, up and running in "Unity View" and VS.NET 2010 running as an application. I was asked how this worked on a Mac (on twitter) so I thought I would blog the steps needed.  There is more than one way to do this of course, but I chose to do it with VMWare.  Another way would be to use "Bootcamp" to do your own bootable Windows 7 partition, but what fun would that be?  You could also use Parallels, which I hear is also pretty decent.  Or, if you are really daring, you could just go MonoDevelop and not even utilize the Microsoft IDE... (note to self: future topic for another post)

1. For the steps below, you need VMWare Fusion. I am using version 4.0.  
2. You also need a valid Windows 7 and Visual Studio .NET 2010 license key.

General steps:

1. Create a new VM, using the Windows 7 64 bit choice. Go with the default 60GB option. To use Unity, make sure you pick the scary "sharing" option, not the isolated one. It sounds dangerous because it is.  This means that your shared mac documents could potentially get infected by windows virii and malware.  (See step 3 below to help protect).  A sacrifice for a seamless experience, but it's worth it for me. 
2. Install using an ISO image (click "continue without disk" on first screen). I used Windows 7 64 bit ultimate. 
3. After installing Windows 7 and after several VM reboots, you will then have the opportunity to install other apps like usual. Before proceeding (the average windows machine is infected in 10 minutes if not firewalled) I recommend:
 a) Installing Microsoft Security Essentials. Free download for Microsoft, and one of the best anti-virus scanners out there.
 b) Installing all the Windows Updates that it recommends.
 c) If you ever install Adobe products, make sure you religiously update these as well. Apart from "promiscuous browsing", most virii originate from these products and lack of a patched machine.
4. After completing all of step 3, obtain Visual Studio 2010.  I utilized the "web installer" from MSDN.
5. Run the web installer. I went with the default options, which includes installing C++, F#, and SQL Server Express.  Some may not want these features to conserve on space.
6. After the install, you are pretty much ready to go!  Open the VMWare menu and select the "View", and check "Unity".  This will enable whatever applications you are running to be viewed in a window that is very "Mac like".  It will also minimize the application in your task bar.
7. It's not a bad idea to close your shiny new VM and make a copy of the file.  This will allow you to revert back if you happen to hose your Win 7. If it gets infected by a virus, you can easily delete it and revert back to your fresh copy.


The windowed view- everything appears to be a normal Mac application.

The taskbar. You can see the VS.NET 2010 "infinity" icon parked right next to the VMWare one (red and blue boxes)
Other tips / thoughts:
You can make your "home" directory for your source code point to your shared files.  That means all the source code will co-exist on your Mac. In the event that you have to re-install your VM you will still have your source. I am also using Timemachine and that means it will automatically be backed up by default.

Have fun!!!

Of VM's and Switching

I am now up to two VM's on my MBP. This is all part of my multi-step program to switch to the Mac. :) This is just about the final step in my master plan...

The first VM is Windows 8 Developer Preview.  It's a great way to check out some of the new features that Microsoft is coming out with. However, it is not anywhere near ready for "prime time"- and seems to be best viewed on the Samsung tablet.  The reason I say this is because the Metro UI is very difficult to use with a mouse.  It is also extremely laggy in a VM- I can only stand about 5 minutes working with it, but it's good for the purpose it serves (preview!). The second VM is Windows 7, along with Visual Studio .NET 2010. It is also running in "unity" mode which means I put Win7 apps on my Mac taskbar and run them seamlessly. However, that also opens up the possibility for my Mac Files to get corrupted by a Windows virus since the documents and network are shared.  To be on the safe side I downloaded Windows Security Essentials- a fairly lightweight but comprehensive virus / malware scanner.  The lag on the Windows 7 VM is barely noticible, but I still need to upgrade my ram to 4GB.

I am now getting down to brass tacks and in the process of handing down my PC's.  For me, this is the true litmus test of making the switch. I've had my PC and its 24" screen quietly humming away in the background.  After wrapping up the installs of my other "must have" apps on the VM I will finally complete the process.  Fortunately, there is not much I can think of that I can't do on my Mac that I could on my PC.  I suppose one thing would be utilizing my Blu-Ray drive, but I could pull that out and make it external.  I only use the blu-ray for a few things: 1) burning blu-ray data discs, and 2) burning blu-ray videos. I can do both on the Mac if I make the drive external.

The other needs are pretty straightforward:
1) Visual Studio .NET - a requirement for doing .NET development. Not available on the Mac platform, unless you are using something like MonoDevelop. I haven't tried that yet but I will some day.  It looks quite a bit like the IDE on Windows. VS.NET 2010 will be going on the VM.

2) Microsoft Zune.  The software is only available for Windows.  I am using ITunes, and have been since the IPad. I am starting to like it more but I feel a lot more comfortable with the Zune UI.  Plus, I am paying $15 / month for the privilege of virtually unlimited, legal music downloads and 10 tracks I can keep "forever", per month. Not a bad deal at all.  This will also go on the VM.

3) Microsoft Visio.  Incredibly useful tool for drawings. I use this on occasion for things like re-modeling, layouts, etc. I don't believe there is a Mac version available. Another one for the VM.

4) My backup scheme.  Currently I use a batch file to backup all the documents, images, videos, etc that are strewn across my various computers on the network.  I also have two 1TB USB drives plugged in to my main PC which is basically a kludged up RAID.  Since most of my work will be done on my Mac, and it's a little more impractical to connect/disconnect with a laptop, I will leave that connected to the PC and utilize it remotely. I already created a "timemachine" backup share that my MBP will use to backup apps and files. This will automatically fall into the backup and get mirrored.  I'll start scheduling the backup/mirror to run at 3AM so I get everything.

Since I am not using this for work, that is about it.  There are a handful of other utilities that I use on occasion with the PC, but there are either Mac versions or suitable replacements.  For instance, FileZilla is a great FTP program that is open source and available on Mac.  N-track studio is an awesome multi-track recorder that I run on the PC, but so is GarageBand, Adobe Soundbooth, or Soundtrack Pro. Paint.NET is good but Adobe Photohop is awesome. Final Cut Studio is great for videos and will easily replace Sony Vegas.

One final thing: I need to be able to utilize my Dell monitor so I can have dual screens. Apparently, I purchased the wrong adapter at Best Buy because it won't fit into the display port connector. I am going to have to figure out which one to get. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Superdrive to HDD - Update

For those of you following the "Saga of the Superdrive" I wanted to post an update.

I was losing a little sleep over the matter because I kept having a recurring though: I spent all that money on a shiny new Mac and now I've got a stripped screw of my own doing. I am a person who likes closure (or as my wife puts it, obsessive compulsive).  Consequently, I was compelled to go to the Mac Cafe and show and tell my feebly failed attempt at unscrewing the Superdrive.

Please, help me! I felt like I had a load on my shoulders and the only recipe was more cowbell a trip to the local Mac Cafe. So.. I took off a little early for lunch and made the 15 minute or so Trek to Talmadge Rd, in Toledo, OH- which happens to be the only store within 60 minutes (as far as I know) that can service Macs. I walked in with my head held in shame but figured I had nothing to lose- they seemed willing enough to help on the phone call the day prior.

After waiting in line behind an elderly gentleman who apparently had a relic from the 90's (an old iMac) that finally gave up the ghost (the mac, not the gentleman), I was graciously greeted. I plead my ignorance: I was just trying to unscrew the Superdrive and before I knew it, the screw wasn't turning!  I'm sure it was a tale that has been spun many a time... Within a few minutes, Nick took my Macbook back and did a quick triage. He quickly declared that "it was pretty bad" but the other experienced technician could probably work his magic.  I crossed my fingers and paced around the store for what seemed like an eternity... and after that eternal 5 minutes, I heard a voice proudly proclaim "I got it!". I eagerly walked up to the technician desk and was greeted by what I can only refer to as my new hero. He proudly proclaimed "You need to get a good screwdriver like this from Sears".  I promptly replied "I just ordered a set from <company name>" to which he replied "Nah, those won't work".  Doh. Good thing I only spent 5 bucks or so.

After that I asked them about the Warranty- am I ok? Nick said it would be no problem. They found a replacement screw that fit the bill.  I asked him a few questions about Apple Care and decided to take the plunge- Mac Cafe can also service the computer if I ever have problems in the future. They seem to be a little more lenient than if I were to take it to Apple as well.  Even better, they were cool installing my optical / hard drive kit and it only took them 30 minutes to do so.  I am sure I could have pulled it off assuming I could find the right screw driver set, but they seem to be pretty reasonable for doing installs and were very helpful. I'm definitely pleased with the overall experience and plan on going there in the future.

This adventure cost me a little mo money, but that's the way it is with Apple. Despite that it was a pretty good experience. The drive is running well but my VM of Windows 8 still chugs. Next on the list: mo memory.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Superdrive HDD Upgrade = Supermess?

Time is flying with the Macbook Pro since my last update. I've been a little busy this past week and haven't had as much time to putter around like I was hoping to... But nonetheless, this past week I ordered a new component for my MBP- the Superdrive caddy. Thus a new adventure to blog about.

The superdrive caddy allows you to put an internal sata hard drive in it.  My reasoning is that I will get improved performance of VM's (which will then live on that drive).  Case in point: I am running the Windows 8 preview but it is dog slow, so anything I can do to help eek out performance will be helpful.

I ordered the caddy sometime last week and it arrived yesterday. It was late in the evening (had another soccer game), but upon returning I figured I'd give it a crack.  I had the screws off the case in a few minutes... Everything was going well until I started unscrewing the first screw that was helping hold in the superdrive.  I started cranking my phillips head and noticed the screw wasn't coming up. Instead, it was stripping away the screw head.  I quickly backed off and decided I'd better not do any more damage. I think the head might still be usable but it'll be pretty close if it is.

I didn't think much of it- decided I'd call the near by "Mac Cafe", which is an authorized reseller / repair shop (the closest Apple Store is in Ann Arbor, about 1 hr away). I've been in there a few times and it's not a bad place, but they seem a little pricey and don't have any "non-standard" configurations unless you special order (ie, nothing you could upgrade to on the Apple web site). At any rate, I called them and explained my dilemma... the first thing the guy told me was that I probably voided my warranty.  I almost laughed out loud I was so surprised- what a shocker! He just about lost a potential customer- but then told me he'd check with the technician and see.  Fortunately he changed his tune and told me they could take a look and potentially replace the screw, and depending on how bad it was, possibly even free of charge. Whew, that sounds a lot better.  He rattled me a little bit- so I googled up the Apple Forums and searched for "stripped screw" to see what other people had experienced.  I found a few examples where people had similar worries about violating warranties, but had no problems when they took it in to Apple.  Thank goodness.  If that was really the policy this will be my first and last Mac. I've been handling computer components for quite some time now- and Apple's "high end" but flimsy screws should not be cause for me to have an invalid warranty.  Sheesh.  In retrospect, it makes sense that a company specializing in "professional" service repair would try to scare customers into using their service vs. attempting to do it themselves, but come on. Spare me the sensationalism.

Something he also mentioned was that if I ever did have to send it in to get it fixed and had the Apple Care, they would want me to swap out all the components to the original apple ones. With my current plans, that would mean my system drive and superdrive replacement would have to come out. I was also thinking about buying the cheaper non-apple memory.  That seems a little bit of a hassle and I'm not sure if that is really the case, but I am going to try and find out what the official policy is.

So I am still on the fence about taking it in. I decided to pony up $10 or so to get the OWC toolkit, which comes with all the correct screw drivers. While the one I am using was able to get the case open without issue, I figure it'd be best to get a set that are designed for the MBP. I will give it another shot once those arrive, and if at that point it doesn't look promising, I may take it in.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A week or so later...

I've been able to log a lot of hours on the new MacBook Pro and am still quite pleased with it.  I haven't really been able to get as much done as I had hoped, especially in the multi-media editing department.  The "honeymoon" period of breaking in my new Mac is still in force, but I am definitely getting to learn its weaknesses and find myself frequently wondering how to do X and Y like I have taken for granted on the PC.

Anyway... here are some more impressions.

1. Safari is kind of lame. I've been using it on IPad so I already knew this, but I thought the experience might be a little better on the MacBook Pro.  I downloaded Chrome and feel more at home now.

2. I am digging the multi-touch gestures.  So much so that I was trying to find a way to get them on the PC.  The two finger scroll (vertical scrolls window, horizontal scrolls desktop) is fantastic. Three fingers brings up the "dashboard" which is similar to holding Windows Tab.  One annoyance is the lack of a right click button on the track pad. I went out and purchased a really cool "magic mouse" that gives me multi touch and also the right click (caveat: right click is actually not a button, just a click on the right side of the mouse, which is all one surface) The quality of the mouse seems very solid, but my $20 logitech corded mouse on the PC performs just as well, minus the multi-touch.

3. Apple accessories are expensive (yeah, no surprise). The aforementioned mouse was about $70. It is Bluetooth, but similar "PC" versions are about half the price. Granted it also looks like a "piece of art" so I guess I am paying for form as well as function. The wife is going to notice my additional purchases soon so I better prepare my defense. :)  On the plus side, I did find some generic components that should be sufficient- a miniport to DVI adapter ($20 vs the $40 Apple wanted), an internal hard drive bay that fits in the superdrive slot for $20, etc.  Some components are worth scrimping on, but it also somehow feels wrong- the Apple logo is important to Mac owners.

4. There are a few annoyances, but one that particularly irritates me.  It generally takes a good 10 seconds for my internet connection to be recognized after I wake the computer, even though the screen turns on instantly. I checked online and it sounds like this was not the case for some of the earlier versions of OSX, like Snow Leopard.  The 10 second delay occurs whether I'm using a direct ethernet connection or wireless.  Not a showstopper, but I usually open a browser window first thing and I get the "Internet is not connected" message.

5. The "task bar" on a Mac is great. I can jam many many icons there and don't have to try to hunt for applications on my desktop and/or start menu.  Spotlight is also a simple way to find an application that isn't on my task bar (command space).

6. I really like the way the top menu (file, edit, etc) is "context aware". It changes based on the application you are in.  Similar to what Microsoft is doing with Office these days, but much simpler.

7. Mac OSX's unix shell is great. It's using a Bash shell, which I spent many nights working in back in my college days. I find myself running a lot of familiar unix commands, particularly the other night when I was trying to get a new web site launched (along with some DNS configuration changes).

8.  Installing applications was not intuitive at first. I had to download a "DMG" file and then drag the application into my apps folder.  After doing it a few times, I've come to appreciate the simplicity of it.  I also don't have to worry about "crud" in a registry, generally speaking.  Most apps seem to be content to live in the applications folder without spreading out on the hard drive.

9. The laptop is actually quite easy to lug around. It weighs only slightly more than my work laptop, which is a Dell i7.  It also fits in the same bag, despite being 17".

10. The build quality and especially the aluminum chassie continues to impress me. I haven't had it out much, but when I do I tend to get the "hey, that is a nice laptop" type comments. Unfortunately, the downside of people noticing is that people notice.

11. People that know me say "woah, you got a Mac? I thought you were a PC guy- Why?" I may need to develop my elevator speech and give them a business card with my blog url on it.

A lot of adventures a head of me. I'm not sure where I'll be in another week! I'm still having a lot of fun exploring and learning the new system.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Update: VMWare Fusion & Windows 8 Preview (part 2)

Continuing from the last post... (Wanted to separate out since some may not be as interested in the A/V stuff).

Since I had a small victory getting my videos and pictures imported earlier in the day, I wanted to move on and install the Windows 8 Developer Preview.  Although I haven't been developing professionally for some time (management has its downside), I still enjoy staying up to date on the latest bits, trends, and technologies. The Windows 8 Developer Preview has a lot to offer and in my opinion, is a pretty big transition for developers.  Microsoft has  significantly changed the "developer stack" with the introduction of WinRT.  There are many articles on it... But one of my favorite explanations so far was from Richard Campbell when he visited the Northwest Ohio .NET User Group (nwnug).  I am sure I will be playing around with it. I am also sure it is going to change significantly between now and the final release of Windows 8, especially since this is a "Preview".  This is definitely not the scale of change as the shift of COM to .NET was, but there will definitely be some similarities (there were a few .NET betas and several Release Candidates before the final thing RTM'd).

At any rate, this is not a .NET blog so I digress... I am going to talk about my experience of installing it on the MacBook Pro.  It was quite frankly a piece of cake.  Firstly, I had a decision to make: VMWare Fusion or Parallels?  Both have new versions and seem to get a lot of buzz.  In the end I could have almost flipped a coin to pick. The final decision maker came down to scanning a few blogs and VMWare was a tad cheaper.  What put my decision over the top was one of the VMWare employees that replied to one of my earlier  tweets-- thanks @kevkill!  Apparently twitter can help sell products! :)

VMWare did not disappoint. After purchasing and downloading, I was able to create a new VM and utilized the ISO download.  One slight road bump was that I was trying to copy the file from my PC to a network share that was Win32.  Well, the ISO file is almost 5 GB which is over the 4GB limit so I had to create a new share using NTFS.  I wasn't sure if my MBP would be able to read that, but it did without issue. I copied the ISO file over locally and then ran the VMWare Fusion. It took all of 2 minutes to get the VM created and ready to go for the Preview.

The end result speaks for itself:

It maybe took 15 minutes to load, configure, and "prepare", and the VM had to reboot a few times.  At first my Metro apps were not working and I was a little panicked- simply had to increase the VM's resolution to 1024x768 and everything was fine.

One thing that I did notice is that my computer seem to slow down a little bit while the VM was running. I am not entirely sure why but I do plan on buying some more RAM. I also need to move the VM to a separate drive.  The response time was still very good but I wasn't expecting any type of lag.

Looking forward to playing around with it more.  It was overall a pleasant experience getting things up and running today!

Update: Video & Photo Editing (part 1)

I've been busy once again!  I wanted to get a few things accomplished today on the MBP, mainly to help me feel "justified" in my decision.  It's probably too early to make that call, but today went a long way.

I was quite eager to see how the video and photo capabilities would work.  In the end, all my photos and videos were successfully loaded to the desired location (which happened to be a network share on one of my PC's external drives). I was also able to successfully create a video with the stubborn kodak .MOV file format (encoded h.264) that my PC just couldn't do without crashing in multiple programs, giving me "out of memory errors",  or in one case, blue screening.

So the end result was great but the journey was a little tough.  I first tried using "Aperture" because it was the program that was set to default load whenever I plugged in a camera or video camera. I imported about 5GB of QT video and it seemed fine, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to get it "out" of Aperture and into the file system. It appeared to create one ginormous project file. I'll chalk it up to a learning experience- one that I wasn't interesting in learning at the time. So I did a quick google and found out that there is an Importer utility and that ended up working the best (for both photo's and video's)

After using the Importer utility I tried to directly copy the .MOV file to Final Cut Pro. It immediately gave me an error that it didn't support the funky format.  I was a little worried, so I tried the same thing in IMovie.  It let me pull it in no problem, though it spent some time converting it to the "proper" format. Once it did that I did a really simple test and stuck a couple of clips together. Worked great.  Then I tried loading in Final Cut Pro- it looks like it worked, though when I tried playing the clip it wasn't showing me anything in the preview window.  I'll chalk that up as a learning experience as well.  But as far as I can tell, everything is working great on the video front and I should be able to get things working how I want without error, freezes, or memory lockups!

Stay tuned for the next entry...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Upgrade Successful!

Upgrade Update: It took about an hour to complete the hard drive clone and swap out from start to finish.

Pictured here is the laptop drive connected to the MacBook Pro
using the SATA to USB cable.  

After about 40 minutes running SuperDuper to clone my drive, I spent the next 15 minutes hunting down a screwdriver that could open the tiny screws on the bottom of the unibody. Opening up the laptop further confirmed the high quality build. It was also easy to locate the drive and perform the swap. I then screwed on the back and powered up the MBP.

What a cinch! End result seems fine, though I can't really tell much of a performance difference with the new drive. However, I can definitely tell it is louder. Good 'ol Seagate. (The drive that came bundled was a Toshiba).

The next step was upgrading Snow Leopard to Lion:

Lion upgraded without any issues. Checked a few of the apps and everything seems to be working great. Now I'm going through the application updates.

Lastly, from a PC perspective, as compared to what I would normally go through on upgrades, I think this one went quite smoothly. The software did its job and didn't require any extra foolishness like booting from the CD because Windows keeps the files locked (which would have been the case on a PC, per the instructions).  I did have to do some minor partitioning with the disk utility on Mac, but that was also quite easy and straightforward  similar to Windows 7.  Not bad!

Venturing Into My First Mac Hardware Upgrade

Being a PC enthusiast, I've been building computers since I was 14 years old, and was adding components to them even before that (modems, video cards, etc). Consequently, I don't have any qualms about diving into the guts of a MacBook Pro laptop. Well, maybe a few- this is by far the most I've spent on a machine.

Nonetheless, I made a trip to Best Buy this evening to pick up the Seagate Momentus Hybrid laptop drive. (On a side note, I swore I'd never buy another Seagate drive again after I had a desktop drive that crashed within 6 months... but I have heard a lot of good reviews on this, and will be backing it up regularly). I also grabbed the Apricorn SATA Upgrade kit.  It allows you to easily clone a source drive (on either mac or PC) and copy it to a target drive. It comes with a SATA to USB 2.0 cable that appears to be giving me around a 12MB effective rate of copy which isn't bad at all- about 40 minutes to copy the entire source drive. Another side note- In some of my earlier musings, I was originally planning on using Carbon Copy. However, the cable came with "SuperDuper" which is apparently a decent program for cloning drives on the Mac, so I am giving it a shot.

After the copy is done I will be removing the screws from the laptop case and carefully replacing the original drive, which is only a 5400 RPM drive, with the new one (found a decent guide here).  The original drive will serve as my backup from this point forward. I am then hoping to pop in the new drive, boot up, notice a significant performance improvement, and then move on to upgrading Leopard to  Lion. With any luck the upgrade will work, my applications will be fine, and I'll be able to start using my machine. Otherwise I have my original drive that I can utilize.

Here's to a great Friday evening!  (The wife is also picking up some Thai, dropping of the kids, and we've got some movies to watch).  Fortunately, most of the work requires little interaction after the hardware stuff is done. With any luck I'll have that out of the way before she gets home!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

MackBook Pro First Impressions

The new MacBook Pro has finally arrived!

I unboxed it this evening and am currently in the process of downloading my "free" copy of the latest OS, Lion (since I purchased my MBP after July, I get it free). It came with Snow Leopard but I want to be up to date. Lion appears to be a pretty large download if the status of the progress bar is any indication.

First impressions: wow, the 17" model really is big! I love the screen but my eye sight isn't what it used to be. I may end up changing the resolution or at least increasing the font size.  I love the build quality and overall feel.  Even the power cord (with the "MagSafe")- it has a magnetic latch.  The power brick is pretty big, basically similar to what comes with the IPhone / IPad but about 3 times larger.

After connecting to wireless and registering, one of the first things I tried out was FaceTime with my IPhone and the wife/kids. It worked really well. I also went through a few of my pre-installed applications (part of the package deal) and everything seems to be working quite well. The icons on the bottom of my screen practically fill the entire width so I've got a lot of exploring to do.

First impressions are great! Some of my next tasks will be downloading from my video and digital camera to see how well that works. I also need to get TimeMachine working on my external hard drive which is shared out from my PC.  Looks like I've got a lot of work ahead of me!

After having it on for about an hour, I'm starting to notice the aluminum is getting a little toasty under my left wrist. Not too bad but I may be springing for an external keyboard. I am also noticing that the missing home / end key are a little awkward as I suspected.  However, control-arrow seems to work ok (though it doesn't go back to individual words like it does on the PC, instead it goes to the start of the line).  The keyboard is very nice and comfortable though. I also like the back light.

That's all for now- got a lot more exploring to do!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Still Waiting... Oh the anguish!

I continue to eagerly await the arrival of my MacBook Pro. It was at one point within arms reach of my front door... but not for long--  the FedEx man was much quicker than my wife, who apparently was in the back yard doing some chores hoping to hear the truck's arrival. No such luck.

However, since I just got back from a trip in Orlando, FL a few days ago, it wasn't a huge deal since I have several things to catch up on. I think the neighbors may have been worried that my yard was going to turn into a jungle. Case in point: I had to set the tractor cut depth to 5" and still had clumps. Don't even ask about the weeding.

In an effort to self-soothe, I figured I would do a quick post on some of my upcoming plans. This will also serve as a "todo" list so I can refer to it later.

1. Figure out what I'm going to do with my current desk space so I can make room for the MBP. Right now I have dual monitors and not an inch of desk space to spare, especially with the recent addition of a speakerphone for my MagicJack. Most likely, I will utilize one of the PC monitors for the MBP, but I still need to figure out how to make enough room on my desk. I also need to get another power strip. This is probably something I should do sooner rather than later!

2. Choose VMWare Fusion or Parallels to facilitate the install of Windows 8 Developer Preview. I am still not sure which version I want to go with yet. It seems like most blog entries or articles I come across are Fusion users, but Parallels released a new version and I like the idea of having a more seamless experience (+1 for Parallels).  We'll see. I found both  VMWare HOWTO guide and Parallels that seem simple enough. The VMWare one is linked directly from the blog, whereas Parallels doesn't seem to be as forthcoming (+1 for VMWare).

Another interesting observation is that the steps to install on a Mac seem to be somewhat less complicated than installing on a PC in a virtual environment. I remember doing all this with Vista and Windows 7 previews, so it's not rocket science, but I know a few .NET developers that are still struggling with it and not having much success.

3. Get a good external backup drive and utilize Carbon Copy Cloner (free software). My laptop comes with Snow Leopard and I want to upgrade it to Lion (free upgrade). Before I do that, I want to make sure I have a bootable backup.  I also eventually want to get a drive that is faster than 1TB, but is also a Hybrid SSD like the Seagate Momentus. Right now that drive only goes up to 500 GB so I may hold off for a bit.

4. Play around with some video footage so I can familiarize myself with Final Cut Pro (video editing software) and Aperature (photo editing software). I've been watching a few good tutorials on Youtube to help get me up to speed.

5. Build out my dream video editing rig. This will require the following:

a) Getting an external closure and pulling out the internal super drive to make room for an internal drive
b) Utilizing the space for a "raw footage" drive, SSD or SSD hybrid, 1 TB
c) Thunderbolt Raid 5 (striped, backed up) with at least of 2TB of space for video editing and rendering.

One can dream, can't he? :)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why even consider a Mac? (Part 2)

In my last entry, I gave you some back story on my decision making process for getting a Mac. In this entry I will continue where I left off and also get into a few more specific reasons. And since my Mac hasn't arrived yet, I will also bring up a few apprehensions based on some of the research and discussions with others I've had on the subject. If you want to skip the back story and go straight to my reasons for buying a MacBook pro, click here.

So the iPad was what started me down the path of making the move toward a switch. I have always been into technology so it wasn't much of a stretch for me to pick one up. As I alluded to in my last blog entry, I almost called it quits because of my frustration and I want to provide a little more insight into that because it actually taught me a lot about Apple and in the end made me a stronger customer.

Let me take you back to April of 2010. I purchased my iPad and was quite thrilled to play with it. I got it home and out of the box... It was awesome for the first week or so. However, it started asking me to synch with ITunes every time I turned it on or hit the home button. Since I bought it from Best Buy, it was still within the warranty so I took it back in hopes of a replacement. Unfortunately there were no iPads in stock so they couldn't help me-- talk about a sad day! At least they gave me a no hassle return. Fast forward a week and still no iPad to speak for.  I decided to look at other options. In the end, I went straight to the source to place my order. I called Apple and explained my frustrating dilemma (most of which I chalked up to being an early adopter). They seemed to have sympathy for me and told me I'd be first in line for a new one, shipping out the next day. Little did I know that meant straight from the factory in China! After talking to the customer tech, I was under the impression that it was going to be arriving at my house the next day or two. I had tasted the iPad goodness and needed my fix badly!

I then decided to call back customer service and see if there was anything they could do to help me understand why I wasn't going to get my iPad immediately. Instead of the usual 3 or 4 escalations to get someone who could actually help, I only had to escalate once- and both individuals I spoke to were "native English speakers", a huge plus in my book. After spending a few minutes politely describing my frustration, the customer service rep asked me if there was anything they could do to help. I was hopeful (but doubtful) and simply asked them if they could throw in a case for my troubles... and much to my surprise they did! Apple immediately rose to the top of my customer service experience after that. My second iPad was on it's way, along with a free case, which I think retailed around $30.

That was iPad #2, but there is more to this story as I am actually on my third iPad! Not long after leaving the shipping docks of somewhere in China,  iPad #2 crapped out on me, sometime around November/ December of 2010. Ironically it had the exact opposite problem that the first one had. I could no longer synch it with my computer. At all. The only reason I learned of this issue was because iOS 4 for the iPad had been released and I wanted to upgrade, but no dice! To add injury to insult, I had not once backed it up so a lot of my purchased apps had to be Downloaded again (which was somewhat painstaking, and will potentially be the subject of a future rant).

When my second iPad had issues, I was able to try out the Apple Store at Easton (A suburb of Columbus, OH) which lead to another positive experience. I took the iPad in and the "genius" gave it a quick diagnostic. A few minutes later he emerged and informed me I needed a new one. I was glad he didn't make it any more painful than it needed to be, no questions asked. Naturally it was around the holidays, so there were no iPads available  to take home that day. Fortunately, I only had to live without it a few days- the replacement was shipped free to my home. I am now on my third iPad with no issues so far. Third time's a charm, eh? I did purchase one year of Apple Care and I think that was a very good idea, though my iPad parts and labor were covered the first year. I plan on getting the 3 year Apple Care for my new MacBook- fortunately I have some time to decide if I want to do that.

In summary, my iPad experience had a big play in my decision making process. It wasn't just the awesome capabilities, portability, and stunning screen. What really impressed me was the way Apple treats their customers and I hope they continue to do so. Since my iPad experience, I have visited at least 2 other apple stores including those in Ann Arbor, MI and San Francisco, CA. I've have had very positive experiences despite the hundreds of other customers in there. Well done, Apple!

Now onto more specific reasons on my decision making process, since I did promise those. These are more or less in rank order. I will try to enumerate them with a bit more brevity though may take a tangent or two along the way.

1. I am an avid camera and video geek. It is generally known (amongst that particular geek subculture, anyway) that Apple provides much more stable and intuitive software when it comes to making a multi-media master piece. One reason is that apple largely controls the hardware it supports. Thus, things that cause problems with high end HD editing on PC platforms due to chipsets, drivers and other issues don't tend to occur as much on Macs. How do I know this? I visit a lot of video forums (such as, speak with people who do it professionally and academically, and they all use and love The Mac. I also have a fairly high end PC (an intel i7-920), but despite that I experience frequent lock ups and crashes when working with HD video, especially if it is encoded with H.264.

2. Similar to reason #1, I want to be on a solid portable platform that I can record and mixdown music on. I have been using my iPad for some basic recording but I still go back to the PC for editing. The PC is also  stuck in the basement and consequently, not an ideal place for recording music.

3. I am active with my Church and help with many technical things including our web site, taking pictures during activities, creating videos, and helping lead the music. Our resident sound man / professional video guru is quite the Mac expert and creates professional quality videos  for the Church. I'd like to be able to learn the "Mac Way" and potentially help him out once I am up to speed.

4. I see what Apple has done in the mobility space and I am a firm believer that the industry is heading this way. As a manager of technology (including mobile solutions) I want to gain more insight into Objective C, which can (for the most part) only be developed on a Mac. I plan on getting some development experience under my belt with this platform. Additionally I have a long background of developing Microsoft technology and I have noticed a niche of developers moving to the MacBook pro. It can run Windows 7 as well as any PC and the build quality is superior. I just have to decide on Parallels or VMware Fusion.

5. Before I ventured in to Windows, I was a Linux user. I totally love the command line and learned all about Unix in my early college / late high school days. I hosted a Linux web server in my dorm room for some time and learned the language of the web (perl script, html, and later javascript) first, on that platform Having said that, Mac moved to a Unix platform when they went to the latest version of their operating system- OSX. I am very much looking forward to utilizing the command line (which I do as well in the PC, but it's not quite the same).

So those are pretty much my top reasons for going Mac without getting into some of the more obscure techie talk. I could write another post or two about the new 35nm Sandy Bridge quad core cpu with hyperthereading, the 10 gb/sec thunderbolt ports that essentially give you the ability to have external pci devices; high end internal video cards in the MBP, aluminum unibody, etc. Those all factored in to my decision as well, but the above reasons, along with my experiences to date with Apple (I didn't even mention my iPhone) have made my decision a pretty easy one.

You can probably tell that my expectations are pretty high, and you'd be right. But I am not naive, especially when it comes to technology. Thus, there are a few areas of apprehension and I know it will be tough as I pick up the new platform. The reality is, I will  never leave the PC platform either- I will continue to use it for work since that is the corporate standard. Here are some of the challenges I'm anticipating:

1. The new keyboard and all the commands. I usually am not a big mouse person and know most of the common shortcut key combos on the PC (alt f4, cntrl c/x cntrl p, cntrl a, alt tab, shift alt tab, cntrl home and end, cntrl arrow, etc). I recently learned there isn't even a home or end key on the mac. I know that is going to take some getting used to. Before I buy a USB keyboard or install a mapper, I want to get immersed and give it a shot the way Jobs intended it. We'll see how long I can last :)

2. The way that the windows icons on the top left (opposes to top right) work, particularly the lack of a maximize to full screen button. I heard this was fixed in Lion but I am guessing there will still be some differences. When I played around with the Mac at the apple store, I found myself scratching my head a bit especially when it came to the mouse and the window icons.

3. Probably the biggest concern is what I call the Steve Jobs factor. "who needs flash?" and most recently "who needs USB 3.0?"... Now that Steve has stepped down I do hope Apple changes its tune on some of these things. They are defacto industry standards and there doesn't seem to be a good reason not to adopt them- at least not that I have heard. To help mitigate this concern,  I went 17" versus 15" was because of the expansion port, hoping that a component manufacturer will introduce USB 3.0 (I think Lacie is working on one already). Sure, thunderbolt will kick some serious butt... That doesn't mean the industry is going to wildly adopt it. Especially if it is primarily a Mac thing. It shouldn't be, as Intel is supporting it and  they have basically said no USB 3.0 chipsets on their boards. For now.

Well folks, there you have it. I hope you have enjoyed reading my saga, and maybe it will help you in you journey as well! Stay tuned for more.  My next Mac Adventure entry will probably be when I unbox it sometime next week, assuming all goes well.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why even consider a Mac? (Part 1)

There was a time not so long ago that I, with almost a religious zeal, professed against Macs even at the mere mention of one. They seemed to be all about form and very little about function. Steve Jobs was a sworn enemy of the open, capitalistic world of cheap "IBM compatibles" as they used to be called.

To be honest I think I had good reason for my zealotry back in the day. Things really were a lot different back then, and I'm sure my youthful arrogance didn't play into it one bit... ;). While I'm feeling a bit nostalgic I'll take a trip back to memory lane my sophomore year of high school.

I was a recent transfer student. I wanted to take a computer related course if the school offered one... Sure enough it did. An intro to programming if I remember right. After the very first class I had a negative experience. Prior to my transfer (from a small island in the Pacific where I spent my first 1.5 years of high school) I had self taught myself on a Packard Bell 386-16mhz. In addition to having maintained a computer bulletin board system for several years, I had also picked up BASIC on MSDOS and a flavor of C scripting due to my favorite terminal software, Telemate. I was in the process of learning Turbo Pascal which I considered a much more powerful and interesting language (especially compared to BASIC).

Much to my disappointment, the class was not only on BASIC, it was a stripped down version for the Apple (or Mac, I don't recall). I thought "why not give it a shot" and started coding the first assignment, which was to simulate 10 frames of a rudimentary bowling game. As I was grudgingly typing up my masterpiece the teacher walked by--either shocked or awed after beholding my work-- and loudly proclaimed that I was clearly a structured programmer, noticing that I was indenting my code in the c/pascal style. It probably went to my head a little bit, and not long after that I decided that I would rather pursue my own thing in Pascal than stoop down to BASIC again. In the back of my sub-conscience a seed may also have been planted- from then on, all things Apple were second rate, inferior, and possibly even subpar. I know it sounds like I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater but I was in high school and I knew everything!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand... I have since done a complete 180, and am now blogging about my new MacBook experiences-- even evangelizing them on the Internets. (As a side note, it is purely coincidental that I chose the 10th anniversary of a tragic event for my first few posts on the subject- I am neither that delusional or narcissistic, it just worked out that way).

So what was my reasoning after all these years? Well, the answer is complicated but it starts out pretty simple. It didn't happen overnight. It was more of a process. A somewhat subtle, but not too surprising process. It all started with the IPad.

Once again I must take you back to explain. Ever since high school, I managed to ignore just about everything Apple managed to come out with-- easily dismissing it as dumbed down technology for the masses. The introduction of the iPod only seemed to reinforce that perception. It was hard not to notice the commercials with the sillhouted characters gyrating to their "music" in ignorant bliss as the quintessential white earphone wire dangled. Whenever I saw the commercials or stopped in for a Starbucks and looked around I usually chuckled to myself and thought "IPods are the Opiates for the Unwashed". (Admittedly, I can't say my opinion on that has changed too much- I am still a Zune user after all).

But the iPad was different. Of course, I was initially a skeptic and even imagined yuppies walking around with a 10 inch "cell phone" glued to their ear while driving as the next big thing. Fast forward to the release date back in April of 2010. A few colleagues at work had gotten in on the madness and brought them into work. After seeing it in action I couldn't believe what I was looking at. I had been using a netbook at home to do some basic web surfing and it couldn't hold a candle to the beautiful screen of the iPad. And there were all those apps!! I knew it was love at first site and nothing else mattered, including my former lowly opinion of Apple. Armed with an inexplicable compulsion, it wasn't even a week later that I found myself hunting one down at Best Buy. (Back story on my first year of owning an IPad may be a future topic - I almost gave it up, it was a love/hate relationship for the first 6 months or so)

So what does this have to do with "going to the dark side"? Going from IPad to MacBook Pro is a big leap. Or is it?

Stay tuned for part 2...

Step 1: create blog.

About me:

I am a geek. I have been doing geeky things ever since I was a kid. I still remember how excited I was at age 6 or so when my dad brought home our first computer- an Atari 800. I learned about modems, happy backup drives, and game cartridges. I'm sure I will tell more of my story later.

About my blog:

I wanted a forum, other than the usual social networks to blog about my venture into my latest compulsive technical obsession: a new Mac. On September 11th, 2011 I decided to do something I thought I'd never do and pulled the trigger on a 17" MacBook pro.

I plan to use this blog to talk about my experiences, reasoning, frustrations (I am not so naive to think there won't be any) and most certainly the occasional vent or rant on anything geeky or technical. I hope you enjoy the journey with me. And I hope keep this updated more than some of my other blogs. ;)

So stay tuned. My next post will be about my decision making process and probably a little background as well (not necessarily in that order).