September 7, 2010


I call this: phones,tech — Posted by KP @ 1:22 am

If you’ve been following the heartwarming friendship between my broken Visor Deluxe and my iPhone 4, you will be happy to learn that I have just won an auction for a working Visor Deluxe.

They both look very happy.

As you can see, the Visor I have won is blue. I won’t just be swapping out the blue shell for the orange one. That’s besides the point. I have never in my life broken an electronic device through clumsiness besides this one, and I have felt bad about it for ten years. I am going to make that right, and repair it.

And all for less than $8 including shipping!

September 5, 2010

Let Me Tell Ye: Windows 7 Upgrade

I call this: computers,mac,pc,tech — Posted by KP @ 11:20 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Let Me Tell Ye” post, so just a reminder / warning that in addition to some useful computer tips, you’re going to get some snark.

I’ve been using Windows XP since late 2001, shortly before I switched to Mac (basically WindowsME was what made me switch, and by the time XP came out, my mind was made up, but I bought it just to get me through the last couple months before I could afford a Mac). Since then I’ve always had an install of Windows on my Mac, which until this week has always been XP. I also have a gaming rig, which also runs XP. I recently hit a point where I felt that Windows 7 had been around long enough that I trust it will be compatible with my games and peripherals, and will provide better performance with modern hardware (such as my 4GB of RAM). Over the summer it made it to the top of my short list of things to buy when I get a little money.

As part of preproduction for my upcoming tour, I’ve been focusing on Windows a little more than usual because I have a PC-using assistant. So I thought it might be a good idea to take the opportunity to buy Windows 7 now, so that if we ever need to do something Windows-based, there won’t be a chance of it not working because I’m using an obsolete OS.

So let me tell ye, without further ado, my experience installing Windows 7 on my MacBook Pro, over an install of XP. I wrote this throughout the process:


So here’s what I’m working with:

  • mid-2010 15″ 2.66GHz i7 MacBook Pro
  • 4GB RAM
  • Mac partition with Snow Leopard 10.6.4
  • Windows partition with XP SP3 32-bit
  • Windows 7 upgrade disk (which comes with 32-bit and 64-bit install disks, I will be attempting 64-bit)

The Begininng

I made sure I had the latest Boot Camp update (3.1) for Windows 32 bit, which gets run on XP before the update. Honestly I’ve never been quite clear how Boot Camp works, but I know it’s necessary for driver support, so I need to make sure that’s done first, and everything I’ve read says this is necessary before installing Windows 7 in Boot Camp.

Step 1: Open the Box

When I had recovered from the optical spectacular that is the hologrammed install disc, I found a loose piece of paper in the box making it sound like if I’m going from XP to Win 7 my life is going to be miserable. So I grabbed one of my spare hard drives, reformatted as NTFS, and got ready for an ordeal.

The instructions sent me to a website to download a helper. I carefully typed in the address (in IE, cause I figured they’d do something stupid like make that important). But because I was using IE, it didn’t send me to the page because I didn’t put “http://”. Sorry. I must have been looking for that other internet, so it’s a good thing you sent me to Windows Live Search instead, where the only result happened to be the page I was looking for.

The first instruction cautions me that when I start the installation I need to select the “custom” option if installing from XP. Well, I know the OS is old. To me it feels like just yesterday because I switched to Mac just a few months after it came out. But let’s not pretend that the only OS in between didn’t suck. Plenty of smart people, and lucky ones who didn’t need to buy new computers, skipped over Vista. So stop acting like those of us still on XP are some kind of technology-shunning aberrations. Thanks.

So it checked that my computer is compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7. Then I was instructed to download the optimistically-named Windows Easy Transfer. Now this “easy” transfer doesn’t actually transfer all your stuff intact, it takes your files, but you need to reinstall your programs. That seems like a pretty smart idea when changing OSes anyway, but I’d call it more like, “We’ll Kinda Help You Transfer.” Like if a friend offers to help you move and all they do is hold the door open for you while you carry the stuff out, and then leave you at the door to your new place with a list to help you remember all the stuff you have to unpack.

While Windows analyzed my computer for ease of transfer, I heard my Mac reboot. Apparently spontaneously and unintentionally, because when I restarted it said the bit about “Windows has recovered from a serious error,” and actually used the word “blue screen” somewhere in there. I wish I had been looking, it would have been a great photo op.

With this comforting sign before I’ve even begun my major upgrade, I started over with the “Easy Transfer” program. That time, it alleged it was able to back up all my files. Then while doing absolutely nothing, my computer initiated a shutdown. It wasn’t a blue screen or anything, just a very calm “windows is shutting down now,” like any other shutdown, except that I hadn’t asked for it. Now I’m hoping that this install will wipe everything, cause obviously it’s F’ed up.

Side note: Dropbox is being real slow. I wonder if Evernote might actually be faster for transferring single large files. I’ve been researching and downloading the files I need from my other computers and then just putting them in my DropBox so I can get them from the machine I’m updating.

So finally I put in my install disc. Because I’m going from a 32-bit OS to a 64-bit one, I have to boot directly from the CD, it can’t be done with the OS loaded. Check out this futuristic loading screen. I’m so excited to be computing in the 21st century!

Of course the progress bar has no bearing on actual progress and freezes at 100% for an uncomfortable period of time. Maybe I should just play a game of Civ 4 or something while I wait so I’m not tempted to mess with it. I’m not kidding, that’s what I’m doing. Let’s see how many millennia I can get through while it loads files.

…I started in 10,000BC, by the year 435AD I gave up.

I came to discover through more googling that apparently while you can upgrade from XP to 7, on a Mac it’s not so easy. Something about how it boots off the CD, and the differences in how Macs and PCs boot. The only path seemed to be to do a clean install. Which is more or less what it was going to end up being anyway, as I understood it, so I didn’t find that to be a problem. Back to the same “loading files” screen… This time I got beyond it. There were even some greater-than-1-bit graphics.

Finally the whole thing installs beautifully. Then I go to put in my product key and it says it’s invalid. I come to find out that you can’t do a clean install from the upgrade disk, despite the fact I had read that you could. It doesn’t bother to ask you for a valid XP product key or install disk. So now I’m back to square one of reformatting and installing XP (which also means an upgrade to SP3 and all other updates since then) before I’m ready to try the upgrade to 7 again.

Total elapsed time so far: 3 hours.

5 hours in, I am now back where I started. I got interrupted when The ’70s called, asking for its progress bar back. I said it was still frozen on my screen and I’d return it when I got it unstuck. I even tried using the 32-bit install disc, thinking that would be an OK solution temporarily until I can figure out how to fix this. But that still told me it needed to boot from the disc, and still froze in the same place.

I googled some more, and found that getting stuck on “Windows is loading files” is very common, for Mac users and regular PC users alike. One lucky fellow I read about said he found the solution to his problem in that after randomly restarting about 10 times, all of them resulting in the process freezing at “loading files,” he was rebooting again, giving up and trying to boot in OS X and suddenly it worked. Mine had only failed about 3 times, so I decided this ridiculous “solution” was worth trying. And on the fourth time, suddenly it loaded fine. So far so good. Back in the 21st century.

If I EVER have to go through this process again I will not be happy. I would just like to point out that this is one of those situations where legitimate users get punished. I can only imagine how many people have installed pirated copies and had none of these troubles because they could have done the clean install and avoided the incompatibilities with XP.

6 hours and counting — it accepted my product key and I’m using the OS. Haven’t installed Boot Camp drivers yet, but it’s run its first software updates.

Boot Camp installed, so I can now see it in full resolution. This is the ugliest OS I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it’s supposed to be. When I start tinkering with settings I’m sure I’ll figure it out. Right, Microsoft?

Well I found the personalization settings. Yeah it does get a little more attractive with all the Aero effects turned on.

The default wallpaper is hideous. I’ve always thought Microsoft was pretty good about that in the past. I don’t like any of the built-in wallpapers. I decided to start with an orange theme, and found a wallpaper I liked online. I’m not sure I like it, but I would have died of boredom with the default theme on. My buttons still turn blue when I mouse over them, and I don’t see a way to change that.

Overall performance seems good. I like that I finally have an OS for gaming that can see all my RAM. I haven’t done a lot of gaming yet, but what I have done feels very good. Sorry, I don’t have any before-and-after FPS comparisons.

So to summarize, if you run into this problem that a lot of people face with the install freezing at “loading files,” the highly sophisticated solution is to just keep doing it over and over and one time it might work. Which, incidentally, is also the definition of insanity.


After getting everything up and running in Boot Camp, I checked it in Parallels. I had to go through a bit of a reinstall, but Parallels handled that pretty well. There was a point where Windows tried to do a repair on itself and failed, but I used the tried-and-true method of “just try it again” and it worked. I wasn’t given any grief about activation. With virtualization you can have problems because the OS sees your machine as having different hardware in Boot Camp and Parallels, and thinks you’re a filthy pirate trying to install it on two different computers. I actually don’t know how they check it, but I’ve never had it reject me since 2007, when I had to call a number and explain to them what I was doing. The nice woman I spoke to in India cleared it without giving me any argument, so it wasn’t a terrible experience. I’m just amazed that as many times as I’ve messed around with that install, it’s never happened again.

Performance in Parallels is something I’ve been struggling with for quite a while. I had finally gotten it to a level I was happy with, which involved devoting less than half my RAM to the virtual machine. Unfortunately Windows 7 requires 2GB of RAM, so I have not tried giving it less than that. I’m still experimenting. I really would like 8GB of RAM, but it’s still pretty expensive.

I wish the install hadn’t sent me on a wild goose chase, but when it was all done, I was able to get the OS I wanted installed, and so far I like it. Of course I won’t really be spending much time in it, but I like what I see so far.

September 4, 2010

Cross-Platform Stage Management

I call this: mac,On the Road Again,pc,theatre — Posted by KP @ 7:16 pm

This tour is going to be something of an experiment, and an opportunity for new stage management technical discoveries, as I have an ASM who uses Windows — I know!

Contrary to popular belief, I will actually choose ASMs who use Windows. And the people I most often assist use Windows, so I’m used to the cross-platform thing, although it’s been a while since I’ve been the PSM in that case and had to decide what software to use for the show. So I had no reservations about Meaghan not being a Mac user. I knew she was a PC user when we worked together two years ago, but I couldn’t remember if she had since switched, and I didn’t ask until this week when I was trying to nail down what software I’m going to use for the tour. Well she has a PC, but she assures me she has an iPhone, which is comforting somehow, and is an advantage I never had with Nick and his cursed-trackball Blackberry.

In day-to-day life I don’t find the OS to make that much of a difference. There were a couple events over the course of two years on tour where I remember saying to Nick, “thank God you have a Mac, or we’d be screwed!” but those were situations where we were already screwed and managed to avoid further screwing. Which is good. But those situations are rare, and if you are lucky enough not to be screwed in the first place, then you have nothing to worry about. The big one I remember was when my computer just up-and-died one day, an hour before the show. I was able to install all the software I needed on Nick’s and carry on. It was great, but in reality if that happened again, especially in the more cloud-based world we have now two years later, most things would be fine on a PC, and if I really needed a Mac, there will be like 15 more of them on tour and I could borrow somebody else’s to get what I need converted into PC-friendly form. But those kind of contingency plans will be part of the decisions I make when setting up our digital world.

The first of which is that there needs to be a backup of all our critical files on a drive formatted for FAT32. My backup drive, which uses Time Machine, is formatted for HFS+, which is the format required for Mac-bootable drives. I think I may keep all our files and installers on an 8GB thumb drive that I just purchased. Our show files are on DropBox so we both have access to them, so that’s a pretty good backup right there, but it might be smart to have an offline copy as well. I’ll probably keep that backed up every day or two.

I also have Windows running on my Mac (both natively, and alongside Mac OS using Parallels), which might come in handy if we need to share something in a Windows-only way. I was still using XP for compatibility with older games, and out of cheapness, but when I had the money, wanted to buy Windows 7. I would hate to find us in a situation where we can’t share something because I was still on XP, so I started to think of it as a business necessity to invest in the upgrade at this point. So I just installed Windows 7, and it seems to run well on my machine so far. Maybe this whole collaboration will help me to educate myself on changes in the Windows world that I’ve glossed over since I switched to Mac in 2002. That would be helpful, cause I sell myself as a computer geek stage manager, and if you sat me down in front of a machine with Vista or Windows 7 I don’t think I’d be much of a geek, and at this point it’s starting to feel like false advertising.

Meaghan and I are now pretty much caught up as far as being set up with all the software we’ll be using. Here’s what we’ve got:

  • FileMaker Most of the actual paperwork for the show will go in my database. Thankfully FileMaker is cross-platform, so we should have no problem with that. When at work, we will work off the master copy served from my computer, but I have recently added a feature to upload a copy of it to DropBox, so if she needs to reference the information inside when away from the theatre it will be in the cloud. Plus we could both access it from our iPhones if we wanted. If she was going to do some homework of her own, she would have a copy to work in, as long as I know not to be making changes at the same time on my copy, and to make the Dropbox file the master after she’s done. Nick and I sent the file back and forth over email sometimes, but this way should be a little cleaner.
  • DropBox This summer I started using DropBox as an alternative to MobileMe’s iDisk. The main difference between the two is that DropBox works. It works well enough that I could put my folder for each show on my DropBox and trust it not to get corrupted or out of sync. After three shows using that method, I’m now taking it a step further: I’m sharing that folder with Meaghan, so we will both be able to work off the same files.
  • Evernote For more on Evernote, you can see my first impressions post. I’m storing a bunch of stuff on Evernote, everything from the show logos to essential emails from office staff, to my shopping list for Staples. Meaghan can then check it to see all the information I have, and when we’re actually working she can add notes to my notebook for the tour with information and paperwork that she generates. I’m hoping between this and DropBox, we’ll never have to worry about me forgetting to pass on a file to her.
  • Microsoft Office Obviously. I don’t create all that many Office files, but it’s always necessary at some point. Our script will be the biggest one, and changes will be tracked throughout the rehearsal process.
  • Skype It may come in handy from time-to-time, but what I really intend to use it for is to teach the database before we start rehearsal. Meaghan only arrives in New York the day before we start, so using screen sharing will have to do.

In addition to getting us set up for rehearsal, I’ve been trying to make Windows a little more hospitable for my own use. The problem I have when gaming is that I become completely useless for anything else, because in order to access, well, anything, I have to reboot into OSX. The use of all these cloud-based, cross-platform tools has made it much easier to spend hours and hours in Windows without being prevented from doing anything else. The one major element I’m missing is OmniFocus, which is cloud-based, but only compatible with Mac and iPhone. However, the act of creating or checking off a task is so quick and simple that doing it on my phone is almost as fast as doing it on the desktop. Overall I’m excited to play with some new ways to organize.

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