June 5, 2007

Update: I have cancelled my Macbook Pro order!

I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 10:27 am

I have always said that all good ideas come in the shower.

After the hubbub of this morning, I finally took a shower. And while in the shower, I began turning things over in my head. Gee, it was surprising to me that I only wound up wanting one build-to-order option, and it was RAM of all things. I imagined some Apple technician having to open up a box just to stick some RAM into an otherwise stock Macbook Pro. What a delay for such a simple thing.

But maybe, I thought, if it’s built-to-order that means they actually turn it on and make sure it works. Nah, I said, then thought of something I never noticed before: my first Mac (a PowerMac) was built-to-order, and it was a lemon. My Powerbook which serves me so well was bought off the shelf, an hour after I was hired for the Abundance tour. Not that that should mean anything, but it was interesting. Such a shame to waste all that time, just for something that could be bought later.

Then I said to myself, “Self, why didn’t you just buy a stock model and buy the RAM later and skip all this mess?” And then a tiny little voice said,
“You probably could get all four gigs of RAM from Crucial for less than $750.”
And I said, “Self, shut up! I don’t even want to look and see how much they charge.”

But by then I was out of the shower, so I went to crucial.com, and lo and behold, ALL FOUR GIGS for $369.99. Now remember, Apple is charging $750 just for the EXTRA 2 gigs!

The thought of this, plus having the machine in my hands today, was too much. I called the Apple Store at the Burlington Mall, and asked if they had the 2.4GHz in stock. Yes, he thought so. I explained that I was canceling an online order if that was the case, and I needed to know, and how many they had left. He asked me matte or glossy, and looked it up and said he would reserve one for me for the rest of the day. If I had thought of this scheme a little earlier, I would be typing on it right now, but alas I had no time left before rehearsal. I will have to get it over the dinner break, at 5:00. I have made runs to Burlington to pick up exciting electronic items over dinner before, and it should be easy. So I canceled my $3500 order at the online store, and will pick up a stock model for $2500 plus tax, and worry about the RAM at a later date.

The next post you read will in all likelihood not be from this computer.

A Puzzlement

I call this: computers,mac,summer stock — Posted by KP @ 8:51 am

An interesting question arose as I typed my last post (about the purchase of the Macbook Pro). I said that I had been in need of a new external hard drive for some time, but have been waiting to see what the capacity of my new computer would be before deciding on one. Here I am up here in Waltham, without an external hard drive. My backup program (Intego’s Personal Backup) nags me every few days about how I haven’t done a backup since 5/22/07, and with the entire Reagle season sitting on my 4-year-old hard drive, don’t think this doesn’t worry me. It’s been on my Treo’s Todo list for a week, “Backup to DVD.” Have I done it yet? No. It takes for-freaking-ever, and I’ve been busy, and when I’m not busy I’m lazy. But I really should. But as I have to leave for rehearsal in a little over an hour, now I don’t have time. See how this happens?

Anyway, all this musing about getting that external drive ASAP led me to mention how important it is, since my computer will be running all the video for Singin’ in the Rain. This is one of those shows where the projections aren’t just pretty, they drive the plot. A crash or deletion of something important would need to be able to be fixed right away, on-site.

As I typed this, this is where the puzzlement struck me: if my Macbook Pro arrives somewhere between June 8-13, as Apple says, then it will either be right before tech, or right before the first performance. Which computer gets to run the show?

In this corner, we have the Powerbook. I’m typing a freaking blog post, and the hard drive is cranking, the fan is spinning, and it’s beachballing for a second when I switch between Firefox and Entourage. It’s old, and while it’s done fine for basic projections, sometimes I wonder if it could still handle full-motion video and audio. This machine has been running projections for professional theatre since I bought it. Its credits include the tour of Abundance, Earthquake Chica at the Summer Play Festival 2004, The Reagle Players’ production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the comedy show Laughing Liberally at Town Hall, and the Charlie Chaplin musical Behind the Limelight, where it ran the coolest cue I have ever called in my life (actor-Charlie walking into the screen and disappearing into it as the real Charlie appears in his place on screen and shuffles off into the distance). I have never, NEVER had this machine fail in performance. I once had to start an invited dress rehearsal 20 minutes late because Keynote 1.0 used to crash occasionally when you tried to save, but that’s a separate issue. I have run all three versions of Keynote on it, and it has been 100% reliable in performance — no delays, no mistakes, I have called thousands of cues on it, and it’s as accurate as calling a light cue. However, due to its age, and the fact that it sometimes has trouble, you know, rendering a web page… I worry that someday I’m going to ask it to run a full-screen video with audio output to the sound board, and it’s going to have to think about that for a second or two. In its defense, last December it did run video with audio at Laughing Liberally, and to my surprise did just fine. It was a very last-minute thing. I got to the gig about six hours before the show and said, “You’re running video by hitting pause on a DVD player? Gimme the files and half an hour!” I was a little concerned that it could handle it, but it seemed fine to me.

In the other corner, we have the newcomer. So much faster, I’m not even going to try to quantify it. Will there be enough time to make sure it doesn’t have something wrong with it? A habit of kernel-panicking just when you least expect it? The Powerbook has recently taken to kernel-panicking when I wiggle the connector for my USB hub, but at least I expect it. Of course the earlier the MBP arrives, the more time there would be to test it. But five days of tech and dress might not show all its flaws compared to almost four years with the Powerbook. But it’s my new toy!

I think I will try to use the Macbook Pro, as it has to do its first performance someday, just as the Powerbook did when it was new. You can be sure the Powerbook will be sitting in my bag right behind me in the booth, with the current show files on it, ready to be swapped in if there’s a problem. If the MBP doesn’t arrive until the middle of tech, I will need a day or two to get all the software on it and make sure everything’s good. In that case I may decide to make the switch for the second week of performances, in the meantime letting the MBP get on the projector and run through its cues before the preshow check. It would also be interesting to project both on stage and see if there’s a difference in the quality — if the MBP is rendering noticeably better, that would be an argument for using it as soon as it’s ready. We will have to see.

There are also other important uses for the machine that runs the show projections: we have plans to do a screening of the original movie for cast and crew at some point. And most of all, and I promise to take better pictures of it this time, here is Super Mario Bros. 3, arguably the greatest game of all time, being played on stage during the dinner break of a tech rehearsal for Thoroughly Modern Millie. What you can’t hear is the game audio plugged into the sound board and being blasted through the 1,100 seat theatre.

We had several problems here: there wasn’t really a projection screen to use, as in Millie the only projections are supertitles that translate the comic brilliance of the two Chinese characters. For this reason the projector was tipped up and not really centered on stage, and the screen was just a narrow strip three feet tall. Also, we did not have a light-colored drop to bring in as a projection surface except one that was way upstage. This time, we will have a real screen to play with.

My credit card is smoking!

I call this: computers,mac — Posted by KP @ 8:41 am

As predicted (say what you will about spreading rumors, they’re usually right about these things), the Macbook Pros were released today. No big surprises, they include the new Santa Rosa processor from Intel, which to put it in terms I can relate to, is still “faster than a G4.” The coolest thing about the Santa Rosa, I guess, is that it increases the amount of memory the computer can use, from a maximum of 3GB to 4GB. Now, Apple, they love to be sneaky. They have two memory options: 2GB, which is two sticks of 1GB RAM, or 4GB for a bajillion dollars (or $750). So if you someday want to buy more RAM from a more reasonably-priced vendor, you don’t have the option to buy a 2GB stick from Apple now and plug another one in later, you just wind up having to take one or both of the sticks out to put in your new RAM, and I hate to see RAM go to waste. So I bit the bullet, and not having anything else to spend ridiculous amounts upgrading, I got the whole 4GB. Which again, in terms I can understand, is apparently going to be faster than the 1GB my Powerbook has.

The other not-unexpected update is that they do indeed have the LED-backlit screens, which are supposed to provide more even backlighting, lower power consumption (which is always an issue for me), and while doing all this cool stuff, are also better for the environment because they contain no mercury. I have been rather miffed at Apple since it became known that the 15″ Macbook Pros have a screen flaw in which the anti-reflective coating creates a grainy or sparkly effect. You can see this, as far as I can tell, on every 15″ Macbook Pro — not the regular Macbooks, not the 17″ Pros. If you take a large white object, like a blank Word document, and drag it around the screen, you will see the grain stay still while you move it around. See this thread on MacNN, where I first learned about it. Since then, I have taken every opportunity to examine a 15″ MBP and have never found a screen without it, although on the glossy screens it’s a little less distracting. A large part of my excitement is not about the LED screen being better, but about it being different, and hopefully not from the same manufacturer who made the crap in the last model. Apple has been aware of the problem, although they have not offered any kind of replacements or recall, and it’s apparently never been fixed in the new units coming off the assembly line. I’m willing to put up with being the guinea pig for whatever’s wrong with the LED screens as long as it’s a new problem.

So, all that being said, I woke up bright and early to make sure I got my order in so I would be near the top of the list for getting this thing shipped out. I popped out of bed and went first to TUAW , where I figured I’d find word of the release (or not). Indeed, it had been released, and I read up on it a little before heading over to apple.com. There isn’t much to consider:

  • 2.2 vs 2.4GHz (this is a decision you’re stuck with forever, and faster is always better)
  • How much RAM (2GB or 4GB)– as I said, I decided not to waste RAM by buying two smaller sticks, so I got it all now — this is also good if you ever have problems because if you have non-Apple-supplied RAM, they’ll always try to blame it on your RAM.
  • Glossy or matte screen — Glossy is beautiful, but matte is more accurate in terms of colors, and less succeptible to reflections. I got matte.
  • Hard drive:
  • 160GB, 5400rpm (standard)
  • 200GB, 4200rpm (slooooow, but bigger)
  • 160GB, 7200rpm (fast, a little more expensive, may consume more battery)
  • I originally chose the 160GB, 7200rpm option, but when I went to check out it said “Estimated shipping: 4-6 weeks.” I decided to go back and see which component was causing this delay, and when I found it was the hard drive that I wasn’t so sure about anyway, I quickly changed it to the stock configuration, which resulted in a shipping estimate of “1-3 days.” Much better. I can replace it someday if I run out of room (which voids the warranty, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it).

    I threw in one of those USB phone jack things that allows you to still use dial-up if you so desire. Since I spend a lot of time in places without internet access, this might someday come in handy, though I couldn’t even tell you when the last time I used dhttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifial-up was. In some hotel, probably. Normally I just dial up through my cell phone, but I suppose someday I might be in a basement with a phone line and no cell service, and then I’d be cursing myself for not getting one. I’ll admit now, I spent 50 bucks on this thing and will probably never use it, but I did save $150 on the hard drive if you look at it that way.

    I did not get Applecare, and here’s why: the computer comes with a 1-year warranty. I can add Applecare at any time before my warranty runs out. So if in May of 2008 I decide I want Applecare, I can pay for it then and extend my warranty by two years. But if for instance after a year I decide my hard drive is running out of room and I’m going to buy one at Newegg to replace it, then I’m going to void my warranty. If upgrading the hard drive is more important than being under warranty, I don’t want to have already paid upfront for a 3-year warranty I’m going to void. So I didn’t see a reason to throw away hundreds of dollars for something I may not be able to use. If I’m still using the MBP with its stock components as that year runs out, and plan to keep it that way, then it would benefit me to pay for Applecare when the time comes.

    When all was said and done, the total price was $3298 before shipping and tax (almost all the difference over the $2500 starting price was due to the RAM upgrade).

    There were lots of other goodies to buy — the extra battery was one I actually put in my shopping cart before removing it — but I remembered that everything I buy has to be shipped or carried back to New York at the end of the summer. I will definitely upgrade Photoshop to one of the CS3 suites (I should order that now, actually). I will be getting one of the new Airport Extremes with the faster wireless-n to match the MBP, but right now I have an Airport Express that I use up here (which I’m hoping Apple will update some day), and I think that can wait until I get home. I would also like a second power adapter so I can leave one plugged in at home instead of taking the whole thing apart every time I leave the house with the computer. Also, I do plan to make an order with Newegg for an external hard drive enclosure with a nice hard drive, so that I can back up my new baby, and all these very important show files that I’ve been (knock on wood) not backing up since I got here. I was waiting on that purchase until I knew what size HD the computer would have. I should get on that right away, too, especially since my computer will be running all the video sequences in Singin’ in the Rain. See this post for more on that.

    All in all it has been a great day in my computing life. My order should arrive sometime while we’re in tech or dress rehearsals, which is not ideal, but it does mean that the days will get progressively easier from the moment it arrives. Stay tuned for updates.