Main Line Computer Users Group


April 2003 Issue 251

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110

MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - APR 12 th


THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
MAIN LINE COMPUTER USERS

Last time, "Images" or "Imaging" took us thru one part of gathering images for manipulation and use: scanning.

This month, we want to take a swing at another increasingly common mode: digital cameras. However, the number of makers, number of models and range of features have proliferated like rabbits! With the traditional camera makers PLUS the usual computer peripheral guys all in the game, choosing a camera is a task! Then, learning how to use even the lower end cameras is a task more daunting (if you can believe it) than programming your VCR! So, we need some help for this one. If you own/use a digital camera, how about bringing it to the meeting and join a discussion of: what features the camera has, why you chose it and how it does or does not do what you'd like. Any problems you have could be grist for discussion, too.

Depending on how the showing is, we may or may not have the time to discuss the subject of acquiring a new club demo computer. On p.2 and p.4 this month are a couple of intro items to the subject. Please look them over; so you can arrive armed for the discussion.

If the discussions are extensive, we'll reserve the right to continue them next time!


IT HAD TO HAPPEN !!

Two trends, that have been progressing furiously, have also been converging - with no-so-nice consequences. They are: 1) the increasing size and complexity of the operating system (OS), hereinafter known as Windows (Win) and 2) patches issuing at frequent intervals to "fix" security (and other) problems with that complexity.

The prime example was the original release of Wineows XP to the public, in the fall of 2001. On that same day, Microsoft (MS) released the first of a barrage of "updates" (hereinafter known as patches) to correct operational and security problems in their brand-new OS. [cont'd.]

########################################
ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
########################################

THE EMAILING LIST - for those members who have provided an email address, we have subscribed them to the MLCUG listserver (operated most graciously by Pete Whinnery and the UPenn system). This is a way to catch early announcements, hear about problems (and solutions?) between the meetings. You can get (and give) help. A useful tool we feel; so when renewing, consider including your email address on that line on the form.

REGULAR REMINDERS: - 1) attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room! So, if you have a very large download, you could bring along a zip disk (or a CD- R/RW) and get it done there, either before or after the main meeting.

2) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the Villanova Diner after the meeting. Why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just to have fun talking about our common interests. The food is quite good, too!

****************************************
NEW CLUB COMPUTER

For the last couple of years, the Steering Committee (hereinafter to be known as SC) has discussed whether we had reached the point of needing to upgrade or replace the club computer. Up until a couple-three months ago, we felt we had not. But, it appears that the time has now come.

Starting to dabble in images, imaging and image processing will tax the capacity of our present machine; so we have started a process to acquire a new box.

The first hurdle was purchase mode. At the meeting on April 19th, we decided that we'd like to identify a set of components, then have them assembled and burned-in by a vendor and have the working (and warranted) box sent to us. This would be a "bare bones" box; so we would need to finish it. The finishing likely would be done as "meeting demos".

But, we'd like to engage folks in deciding on what the "bare bones" box would consist of. As the system emerges, we'll post progress for further comment, if needed.

Initially, the choices to be made are:

Beyond the start, we'll be open to: We have not settled on an OS (actually didn't really discuss it). But, if we get a bare bones, we'll likely have a CHOICE of OS. In any case, since we're very early in the process, comments from the members are solicited.

To jog your brains into gear, give a read to John Murphy's article on p.4 in this issue.

****************************************
No floppy drive!

The following was posted to the MLCUG mailing list:

"Well, a major PC maker, namely; DELL, has finally joined Apple in quitting putting a floppy drive on their machines. Or at least, they said they would stop.

When Apple did this several years ago - in favor of putting a USB port and no floppy, it brought on a new generation of peripherals. That is, ones designed to use the USB serial communication mode.

The appearance of these new generation widgets led PC makers to start putting USB ports on their products. But, the PC makers continued to provide a floppy drive, even tho it cost them a couple of bucks to continue to do so !!!

This "progress" makes it even more important to have some sort of legacy system around; so you'll be able to access those "old" floppies!!!" Have you got one?

That posting brought a couple of followup questions:

> What about boot disks?

NO more boot disks, you'll need to boot from your Windows or Recovery CD. Any future PC without a floppy drive will be able to boot from a CD (actually most, if not all, newer ones already can do so).

> What about Drive Image?

Can't say for sure; but I assume that Powerquest will provide a bootable CD or allow you to produce one yourself.
----------

As a reminder, Apple got thru the no-floppy transition relatively unscathed! Only old Mac owners (like your editor) still need floppies, as they have no USB capability. Also, I expect that the BIOS makers will figure out how to boot from USB devices (if they have not done so already).

****************************************
LAST MONTH'S MEETING

For our March meeting, we had 18 attendees, and a pretty lively session!

After the February choice of "scanning" as a next topic on imaging, Layton brought in his scanner and laptop - which were interfaced to the projector; so we could switch back and forth between the club PC and the scanner setup (thanks to the 2-port KVM switch we installed a few months ago).

His scanner is an HP and uses the HP PrecisionScan software to manage the unit. This software is very versatile and capable of a wide variety of adjustments to achieve the best possible "scan". A good scan means less fiddling (and possible fouling up) of the image.

So, the thrust of Layton's presentation was on the aspects of the scanning process - no discussion of image massaging (that should come up at a meeting soon). The next item in this issue is a summary of good scanning strategy that Layton provided. Give it a look and bring up questions at the next meeting, or in subsequent meetings, while we're focusing on images .

At the steering meeting, the followup topic was chosen to be digital cameras, as an alternate to scanning, for gathering images to massage and show or share.

Most likely, we'll move to image manipulation following these "getting images" presentations.

****************************************
Scanning: Key Points

Please look these key points over, and if you have questions, don't hesitate to raise them nexu time. These comments apply primarily to folks who'll use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for subsequent manipulation. You'll have to modify the items depending on the specific capabilities of your software, Layton.

  1. Get the best image you can, don't try to "fix" it in an application.

  2. As to photos and art work, treat everything as full color. This is done for two reasons: First, in RGB, you get three channels of data (valuable for any image software). Second, Photoshop is set up as a color program. Many of it's features are not available in B&W.

  3. When scanning, attempt to control the contrast so that the highlights and shadows fall within the reproducible range. Also correct any gross color errors. Different software allows different means of adjustment and measurement. Scan at the highest dpi possible, you will need the data for the manipulation of the image.

  4. Save the scanned file in a non-lossy file format. A tiff image type is almost universal, but the very best is the Photoshop file as it stores extra data and profiles (at least, if you are a Photoshop user).

  5. Never alter the original scan. In the future, better means of correction may be available, so keep it pure. There are two ways of doing this. The first is to copy the original layer. Turn the original layer off, and work on the copy layer. The second is to copy the file and work on that. Oh yes, for the purists there is always the adjustment layer. One suggested technique is to copy the original scans to a CD, and then keep the working file on the computer.

  6. Usually the first, best approach in correction is to use "levels", which yields a histogram. Adjust individually the Red, Blue and Green curves. Adjust the pointers at both ends to the toe and heel of the curve. While this is a bit of a judgement call, usually it will bring you into the ball park. While there are several more precise and accurate tools for adjustment, levels usually will get you there. Also, I don't think some of the other tools are available in "Elements".

  7. If the image is in fact B&W, when a satisfactory adjustment is achieved, the color information can be discarded, or the image desaturated. In any case do not discard the original image, do this only with a copy.

  8. Resize. If your intention is to Email the image, resample the dpi down to W90 dpi, adjust the size appropriately, and save the result as JPG. Note: if you do this, you will have your JPG, and if the file you opened was a tiff or PSD, that file will remain intact.
****************************************
Digital Darkroom

The latest issue of Consumer Reports magazine has a 13-page section on various aspects of your digital darkroom. By the time you read this, it will be getting scarce: so you'll have to pop right out to get it!

But, if you have, or are likely to have, an interest in digital photography it has a very wide- ranging introduction to the subject. Add this to the copy of Smart Computing that you got last month (you did didn't you?) for a second viewpoint on this burgeoning activity.

****************************************
Choosing A Computer

by John Murphy

Hopefully the info below will generate some discussion. Pete Whinnery just went through a similar process in BTOing his new PC. Maybe he can post his deliberations?

So, here are the criteria that I used when configuring my built-to-order (BTO) computer:

CPU: I narrowed my choices down to either an AMD Athlon or a Intel Pentium 4. I went with an Athlon. The Athlon seemed!to be the CPU of choice for Linux and for gaming. It also seemed to be the choice of those who overclock their systems. I wasn't really sure that I wanted to overclock my system on a regular basis, but it seemed like a fun thing to try. The fact that the Athlon and the system boards that used Athlon processors cost less than their Intel counterparts was also a factor in the decision.

Specifically, I chose the Athlon 2700+ CPU. It was one step below the latest & greatest Athlon, which at the time was the 2800+. The 2700+ was also the first Athlon to use a 333MHz frontside bus. The earlier Athlon's used a 266MHz FSB.

System Board: I wanted a system board that used the faster DDR memory that has become available. I also wanted a board that supported a 333MHz front side bus.

My other required features were:

Optional features: I wanted USB 2.0 to be able to take advantage of the new peripherals that are becoming available. I wanted IEEE1394 (FireWire) to hook up my DV video camera and my FireWire scanner. The latest video cards are AGP running at 8x. I had plans to get one of the newer video cards. I did not want ISA slots because they slow down the overall system. That also was why I did not want on-board video. Most of these implementations use shared main memory and slow down the overall system.

I have found that most of the on-board audio implementations are sufficient for my purposes. The on-board Ethernet port would save a PCI slot. The MIDI port is to hook up an electronic keyboard that I have.

I selected a GigaByte GV-7AXP system board. It has a type A socket for Athlon CPUs. It supports three DIMM slots at up to 400MHz DDR for a total possible memory of 1.5GB. The board has one 8x AGP slot, five PCI slots, six USB 2.0 ports, three IEEE1394 ports, two serial ports, one parallel port, one joystick/MIDI port, on-board audio and an on-board 10/100 Ethernet port. It also supports up to ATA 133 IDE drives and also has an on-board, IDE RAID controller.

Video: There are two major chip manufacturers of GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit), ATI and NVidia. Both have low, medium and high-end video adapters. I have had good luck with NVidia- based video adapters. I originally specified an NVidia MX440 card for my system. When I got an opportunity to purchase a more expensive BTO system, I gave in to temptation and bought the top of the line ATI Radeon 9700 Pro adapter. I found that while the 9700 Pro is good, it's not as good as its hype. If I were to do it over again, I would go with my original spec and get an NVidia MX440 or perhaps the newer MX480.

Optical Drive: I watched for sales and rebates, then I purchased a DVD-R/CD-RW drive. I wanted to have the ability to create video DVDs and also to be able to backup to DVD-R media, which holds approximately 4.4GB of data. I also wanted to be able create CD-R/RW discs. The drive I wanted, from Cendyne, went on sale with a rebate that brought the price down to $179 from an original price near $300. I bought the drive and found it to be a Pioneer A05 DVD-R drive with write DVD-R at 4x and CD-R at 16x. So far I have been quite happy with it. I also bought a DVD-ROM drive (on sale, with rebate) for less $40. I now use the combination to copy data DVDs and non-commercial video DVDs.

Disk Drive: I wanted the fastest drives that I could afford. I bought two Maxtor 120GB 7200RPM, ATA 133 hard disk drives. The OEM version cost about $136 each, a little over $1 per GB. They also make an 80GB version that usually sells for under $95. I wanted the larger drives because I have been doing a lot of video work and the files take up many gigabytes of space while I am playing with them. I have been happy with the Maxtor drives. They are fast, quiet and I haven't been able to fill them yet.

Case: I wantee a case with USB and IEEE1394 ports in the front of the case. I didn't do a lot of research on the case and basically picked the least expensive case with the front ports that I wanted. I ended up with a silver case that has a clear plastic side that shows the innards. It is fancier than I might have ordinarily selected, but it seems to do the job. It has a big enough power supply and the front ports that I wanted.

****************************************
It Had To Happen!

(cont'd from p.1) This was a first - patches on the day of the initial public offering!! This process has continued, with a record number of patches for XP being released (and the record continually being broken)!

In the ca. 18 months since first release, we have been reminded by various pundits to be sure to stay on top of the patches and get them installed ASAP, especially the "critical" ones!

But, that sentiment has not been universal. In the April issue of PC World, a concern was expressed that these patches might make things worse for your system than the problem they were designed to fix. That item expressed my personal concerns very closely, but I did not expect that it would occur so soon. But, it has!

In the April 6th, Sunday Inquirer, local columnist John Fried had the following:

[snip] Q: After accepting one of Microsoft's updates (ejv: means patch) to fix a security hole, I have been unable to access various sites that require authentication, like my credit card accounts. According to Microsoft's Web site, there is a bug with the update that could result in this problem, so I loaded the recommended patch. I still cannot access several accounts. Any recommendations? - lfreeman0210@hotmail.com

A: As far as I can tell, there is no patch yet to patch the patch.

One solution is to uninstall the update and the patch. Go to Control Panel and to Add/Remove Programs. Scroll down the list until you come to the list of "Hotfixes", as critical updates and patches are named on your PC. Use Remove to get rid of the update that caused the problem and the patch that did not work. [end of snip]

It appears to your editor that:

  1. the folks in Redmond really do not have solid knowledge of the basic Windows code (or at the very least can not bring their understanding to bear on short notice, as with a security flaw being uncovered).

  2. the user must beware of precipitous action, as the "fix may be worse than the problem"!
So, unless the specific security flaw DIRECTLY and IMMEDIATELY affects you, it seems clearly better to wait for the bugs in the patches to be identified and repaired before installing them.

I recognize that this is not an easy decision to make, especially when we are ignorant of the underlying code and how we use it. Asking around on the email list may be a way to help decide, but there is no panacea, yet!!

DIRECTIONS FOR ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER MEETING ROOM

Meetings are in the St. Augustine Center at Villanova University. The regular monthly sessions will be meeting in Room 110.

[The map goes here]

Enter from the ITHAN AVENUE main gate, then proceed to the 2-level parking building adjacent to St. Augustine, on the Ithan Avenue side of the building.

NOTE: maps on our webpage - http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/


PC/128/64 Meetings  2003  Steering Committee Meetings

                      April 12                          April 16 **
                      May 10                            May 21 **
                      June 14                           June 18 **

     * = first Saturday     ** = THIRD Wednesday at Tom Johnson's home
***************************************************************************************
EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
(Produced with C-128D/SCPU 128, RAMlink, HD-40/85, 1571, FD-4000, THE WRITE STUFF 128, XETEC
Super Grafix, Canon BJ-200ex, Swiftlink and Motorola 288 modem)

      MLCUG LISTSERV: Members only...
                 WWW: http://astro4.ast.vill.edu/mlcug/
           PUBLICITY: Robyn Josephs 610-565-4058
   VILLANOVA SPONSOR: Prof. Frank Maloney, Dept. of Astronomy

MLCUG STEERING COMMITTEE:
PRESIDENT: Emil Volcheck      610-388-1581   SECRETARY: Charles Curran    610-446-5239
TREAS/MEMBERS: Dewitt Stewart 610-623-5145   SYSOP/AMIGA SIG: John Deker  610-828-7897
INTERNET/Linux:Peter Whinnery 610-284-5234   DATABASE: Layton Fireng      610-688-2080
AT LARGE: Tom Johnson         610-525-3440   AT LARGE: John Murphy        610-935-4398