Sunday, 15 April 2018

A review update, of sorts

These past few months have brought more hardware woes, which have inspired me to update some of the things I said in the last blog on Windows 10.

I had a hard disk failure (Samsung SSD 850 PRO), which was under warranty, and has since been repaired, but not before I bought a new one. I was lucky to be completely backed up, and after I installed the new drive I was able to read the old one, although I never did get it to boot.

After refreshing my installation, I was still having some problems:
1) My computer was slow to POST, but that seems to have fixed itself. I'm not sure what I did that fixed it, but it seems to be OK now.

2) When coming out of hibernation or sleep mode, it freezes for a short time. I haven't figured out why.

3) I have had a lot of problems with that Creative X-Fi, and it may have been the driver that killed the old SSD. I finally ditched it, and have opted for an external option: a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. You have to be careful with it. I read some instructions when installing it that you had to attach it to a USB3 port if you have an AMD CPU in your computer (which I do). That, I discovered, is only if you have version 1 of the unit. In fact, I discovered that with version 2, it is better to plug it into USB2. When I ordered it, I decided not to install it until I upgraded my SATAIII card to one that also has a USB3 port. I tried two, and one didn't work at all, but the second one did. Unfortunately, it was competing for bandwidth with my HD, and causing dropouts. In the end, I put the Scarlett on a USB2 port and started using ASIO4ALL to control it, rather that the Focusrite driver, which kept looping (in Sibelius or Finale). It also hogs the device, so I have been leaving the Directsound drive on by default, so it shares with other software. I'm not sure of the advantage of using ASIO just for playback anyway.

My laptop

About 5 years ago, I purchased an HP Split X2. It has become a little long in the tooth lately for two reasons: The SSD (system drive) is full. There is a second drive (SATA) in the keyboard, but if I separate the two, obviously, those files become unavailable. I've installed a 128 GB SD Card, and gotten around some of the problems, but I think there is a speed penalty there.

I decided that I would upgrade the SSD and the RAM. I was having difficulty opening the case and was afraid to do it, so I tried to find out what I can do online. Unfortunately, there are about 10 different model numbers for the Split X2, and I didn't know which was correct. The software gave me the official number, but that wasn't listed on the site.

Finally, I tried Crucial, who have an online checker for such things. It told me I could install an 8 GB kit (2x4GB), but it didn't look like the SSD was upgradeable. I was about to order the memory, and possibly take it to Best Buy to be installed, but then decided to try to open it up again. I was able to pry it open, and eventually discovered there were 4 screws hidden under the grille for the speakers (glued on). I carefully removed the grille, detached the screws and opened it up.

At first, I didn't see the memory or the SSD, then I found a small card partly covered up by a label that said Micron RealSSD C400 mSATA 128GB. That sounded like a hard disk to me, and I eventually discovered that it was. Replacing it with a larger one would proved difficult, although I eventually found a 256GB version on Ebay, so I ordered it. I wanted a 512GB, but never found one.

Next, the memory. I couldn't find it for the longest time, but eventually, I looked under the heatsink cover, and there it was ... soldered to the motherboard. So much for that idea.

So, it was the opposite of what Crucial said. The SSD could be upgraded, but not the memory. The SSD will arrive by Friday, and I've ordered an USB adapter to copy everything across. Should be (ahem) fun. At least, I'll have some headroom on the drive, so it should speed things up.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

More on Windows 10

I've had a chance to live with Windows 10 for a while, and I want to update a few things.

Control Panel

I finally found the classic mode Control Panel. It was hidden in the All Apps section of the Start (Window) menu. It had everything I was used to, and I've pinned it to the start tiles. You can find all the other administrative and system tools down there as well.

Virtual PC

The old Virtual PC that came with Windows 7 Pro no longer works. I use to use it for some older programs that I have, like some label software. I also had installed Sonar, but I've switched to Pro Tools, so I don't really need it anymore. I needed CorelDraw the other day, but I couldn't open Virtual PC, so I'm not sure what I'll do yet. I might stick it on my old laptop, just to convert some files. There is supposed to be a new VM called Hydra, but I haven't found it yet.


I liked it when it first arrived, but I got a new laptop for work that had Outlook on it, which is so much better. I still prefer Thunderbird on my desktop, but it doesn't show new messages in the tiles like Mail and Outlook. I may ditch it when it when my ExQuilla license needs renewal. ExQuilla is the plug in you need for MS Exchange services. It used to be free, but now requires a $10 annual subscription. I have Outlook 2007, but not 2013 like on my work laptop. I'll decide later.


As far a I have experienced, Windows 10 is quite stable. The only problem I have had has been my Creative X-Fi driver, which has a habit of disabling itself when the computer goes to sleep. That means no sound and no midi. I have had intermittent success restarting it in the Services snap-in, but usually I need to restart.

Start up

I think it starts up a little quicker than before. I've ordered an SSD drive, which I'll install next week, and that should make starting up less annoying. My laptops restart in about 20 seconds, as opposed to my desktop (SATA HD) which takes minutes. I wish I could install more memory like my work laptop has (16 GB as opposed to 8 GB). It's really fast. Excel spreadsheets update instantly.


I still don't use it. All my bookmarks are in Chrome, which I have installed on all my machines, so I don't see any reason to use it.


My last post discussed that my Toshiba Encore Mini had not yet updated. Well, it finally did, and promptly "bricked." There is only 16 GB of HD space on it, which wasn't enough to back up the old OS. Fine. It has a 128 GB memory card in it, so I redirected the back up there. Great.

Not. When it tried to boot, for some reason it panicked and wanted to reinstall the old OS. Unfortunately, you need the OS to read the memory card. It looped, and without an OS to install, I couldn't revert. To make matters worse, I couldn't download recovery media from Toshiba. I had to purchase it, and eventually discovered that the model number on my Encore was missing a digit, which made it impossible to use their online ordering system. I also couldn't reach them by phone, and it took about two weeks for their support forum to sufficiently answer my question that I could order it.

Instead, I purchased an HP Stream 7, which boasted 32 GB of HD space, plenty for the install. The good part about that was that I created Windows 8 recovery media, and restored my Toshiba. It formatted the drive a little smaller - I think because their OS recovery partition was larger. That precluded me from upgrading to Windows 10.

Except that when I upgraded my desktop, I created upgrade media. It was tricky balancing when the media was plugged in and when the keyboard was. Eventually, I had a clean upgrade that worked, as well as recovery media. Everything was perfect except that in portrait mode, the screen rotates the wrong way. I've tried many ways to fix it, but none have worked, so now I have just locked the rotation.

I prefer the HP Stream 7, because I can do more with it as a result of the more memory. I have discovered, however, that it's audio system is noisy, so I use the Toshiba to do any streaming that I want to do. That's a good use for it.

I still prefer Windows 10 over 8 at this point, and I think probably over Windows 7 as well.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Windows 10, first impressions

I'm not going to re-hash all the new features. That's been done in all the computer mags, and frankly, I'm not really going to use them.

I have 3 computers that will get Windows 10. The important thing for me was to get all my computers running pretty much the same thing. That was the lure of the free Windows 10 for me.
I had a desktop running Windows 7 Pro, a laptop running Windows 8.1, and a 7" tablet also with 8.1.

Actually, I have another desktop running Windows Me for Score and another desktop running Ubuntu Linux, which I never seem to use, but it is supposed to be able run Score 4 natively with working MIDI. It's not an easy set-up, and when I got the midi to work, Score kept crashing and when Score worked the MIDI crashed.

Back to Windows 10. My laptop was the first to upgrade. I never got the time to upgrade message, but when I opened Windows update, it was ready. Thus far, I haven't run into any real problems with it. There are still some of the same annoyances I had with Windows 8.1. Sometimes the mouse pointer submerges in Chrome, so I have to use the touch screen. Splitting the screen from the keyboard doesn't always fix it now. That's new.

My desktop never gave me the message to upgrade. I finally stopped waiting and deleted the downloaded files in the c:\Windows\Software\Distribution\Downloads folder, and manually called wuauclt.exe /updatenow from the command prompt. That worked. I didn't stick around to attend the upgrade, but everything seemed to go smoothly. When it finished, there was a little problem with the video card driver and my 2-display setup, but that was fixed by restarting a couple of times.

So far everything else has worked except my sound card. That required re-installing the driver. Windows 10 knew to activate the Creative AutoUpdate, but it showed the exact same build I had installed. I ran the installation anyway, and it worked after a restart.

My tablet still hasn't upgraded. It says it's ready and compatible, but I was going to wait. I'm getting close to giving up. Maybe another day or two.

I use Thunderbird for email on my desktop, but it isn't very portable. MozBackup didn't work last time I tried to use it, so I couldn't transfer the setup to my laptop. Instead, my laptop works on Imap and Exchange, so the files aren't local, and they don't delete from the server until my desktop tells them to. That means I use Mail on my laptop and tablet. The new Mail app didn't migrate all of my settings (passwords, mostly). After that, it took a while for it to sync with the remote servers. Now it's fine and works a little quicker than the old app. The layout is a little better, but selecting multiple emails takes an extra step now. I may go back to Thunderbird. Mail did crash once.

Since I'm accustomed to using Chrome, I'll probably stick with it. It has all my favorites synced between my devices. Edge looks clean and quick, but it keeps thinking it's my default browser, even after I've changed it in Chrome. So far, it seems fine on my desktop.

Seems better than before. I incorporates all my calendars, except my Google calendar. I still don't know if I'll ever get into the habit of using it regularly.

Control Panel
Classic mode seems to be gone. That means I have to use Search to find what I'm looking for. I usually do in the end, but it is annoying. I always reverted to Classic Mode in Windows 7. Now I'll have to give in.

I was hoping for some spiffy backgrounds, but there is only one Windows 10 one, which is OK, but I'll probably look for something else. Goodbye Aero. I guess they must have decided that it used too many resources. The colors to seem to automatically coordinate to your background, though.

Look and Feel
It feels quicker, possibly having to do with losing Aero. I'm still not convinced by moving the tiles to Start Menu. Yes, it's back. Is it better than Windows 7? Probably not. At least it is there. I had to reassign my toolbar to the taskbar, but I do like the fact that the pinned apps appear on both displays now. Thunderbird seems quicker ... in fact, the second time I use each program, it seems to work better. It did lose some of my shortcuts from the Windows Explorer. (I'm not sure I've found everything that was in my old Documents folder either.)

Metro is still there as an option, and I may activate it on my laptop touch screen. The charms menu is gone. I didn't hate it like most users. I may look to see if I can re-activate it.

It's stable so far, but I haven't really put it to the test. I haven't checked all the programs I use, so I'll have to come back to those.

So much for now. I'll update once I try doing some heavy lifting. Now, I've got Spotify playing, Chrome, and Thunderbird going. I might try to catch part of a baseball game later. That often screws things up.

More later

Monday, 26 May 2014

Chicago XXXVI "Now"

This is what every Chicago fan has been waiting for. A new album of new music without the shackle of a label. Ignore XXXII: Stone of Sisyphus, since it was recorded in the early nineties, and most devotees had bootleg mp3's that were floating around the Internet, probably due to Dewayne Bailey, who left the band shortly after the recording.  The previous new music was released as XXX on Rhino with muted success, partly due to the fact that Rhino is an oldies/re-release label and I don't think they did a great job on marketing. They released XXXII as an afterthought, with almost no publicity at all, in spite of being one of the best albums Chicago ever produced.

You can also forget the numbering. In fact nobody is sure what XXXV is, possibly the Nashville Sessions, which has no number on its spine. There is also the Chicago in Chicago DVD. Wikipedia has XXXIV as Live in '75. XXXIII is O Christmas Three, their 3rd Christmas release. XXXI is a 40th Anniversary "best of" set.

More Will be Revealed
Crazy Happy*
Free at Last
Love is Forever
Something's Comin' I Know*
Watching all the Colors
Nice Girl
Naked in the Garden of Allah*
Another Trippy Day

Although the album isn't due to be released until July 4, 2014, the band streamed a preview last week. I had heard three of the four singles which have been available on iTunes for about 6 months. The last one, Naked in the Garden of Allah preview didn't really connect with me, so I decided to wait for the album. There are a number of premium packages available for pre-order on Chicago web store.

There is something for everyone on this album: edgy Kath-era-like bluesy-brassy stuff, Foster-era poppy ballads and some Robert Lamm solo album-like songs.

The title track starts a little cheezy, but has the best hook of all the songs. It sounds like real Chicago, perhaps from Chicago X. In fact, there are several songs that strike me as taken from that album. Love is Forever may be their best ballad since the 80's, again with a great hook. Nice Girl is one of my favorites, as it sounds like early Chicago, but not too much.

Another Trippy Day, Watching all the Colors, and More Will be Revealed are Robert Lamm leads. I don't know for certain that he wrote them, but the second sounds like it is from his Bossa Nova project. I'm not all that crazy about them, but Crazy Happy and Something's Coming I Know (also Lamm leads) are excellent. America is a nice patriotic rocker, if you are into that sort of thing.

Free at Last has some of the best music. A lot of it sounds Kath era, but the brass work sounds a little Hot Streets-ish during the verses. The only problem I have with it is that it starts and stops a lot. I would probably re-edit it, if I had the chance.

Finally, Naked in the Garden of Allah. I really don't like the words, but I like the music quite a bit. I don't know what else to say. It has one of the best brass breaks on the album.

If you like the free roving Chicago brass, this is the album for you. Every song has it, almost too much. Overall, I like this album a lot. There is too much Robert Lamm for my taste. I think he had too much influence on the production, at least the artistic decisions. His later music has become a little too predictable and same-y, even to the point that Nick Lane provided some of the brass arrangements. For those who don't know, he is James Pankow's sub for some of their live gigs, and has arranged the brass on Robert's solo albums. (I remember him from the Maynard Ferguson band of the 70's.)

I can't give this anything less than 4 stars (of 5), as it should please most Chicago fans, including myself. Will it get them new fans? Is it "current" enough. Probably not.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013


I've discovered a new guilty pleasure. In these pages, some of you have read my reviews of music as wide in variety as Deep Purple and Avril Lavigne. This is one of those.

A while back I stumbled onto some Evanescence videos on YouTube. I had been pointed towards a single from the latest Avril Lavigne album, which I thought was a far cry better than her previous effort. Perhaps she's growing up. Unfortunately, her lyrics haven't. On the sidebar, sat a load of Evanescence tracks, so I tried one ... and another ... and another. I had always avoided them because they had been described to me as angry girl music.

I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it is angry girl music, but the lyrics are all that I wished Avril Lavigne's would be. They are poetic and deep, and the music is far more complex than I ever expected. Amy Lee has been described as "the breakup singer", and I can see where that comes from, but she's more interesting than that. Granted, she sings more about dying than I would care for, especially on Fallen, their first album.

The self-titled third album is much more mature than that. Yes, it is about breaking up, but now she's learned that maybe it is worth soldiering on. It's still heavy, with some orchestral moments, and poignant piano work. I struggle for highlights because it is all so even and good. The lone exception is that I'm not fond of the last song, Swimming Home. I particularly like the tracks with the more complex beats, Change, Erase This, Sick, and Never Go Back, but I'm hard-pressed to choose one to take to a desert island.

If anything, that is the only disappointment of this album, there isn't a single song that is so amazing that it eclipses the rest of the album, like Bring Me to Life or My Last Breath from Fallen. What sets Amy Lee apart from Avril Lavigne, apart from the lyrics, is that Avril's albums have one or two 5+-star songs and the rest are 2-3-stars. Swimming Home might be a 3-star, but the rest are probably 4.5-5.

Because the album is so consistently good, I'll give it the full 5-star rating.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Double standards

I was just reading some Facebook chatter about someone slapping Beyonce's bottom. Almost everyone in the discussion blamed Beyonce for not dressing appropriately, that it was giving the wrong message to kids, etc. Only as an afterthought did someone, say, "Oh yes, and it goes without saying that, no matter what she was wearing the man shouldn't have touched her."

I chose to stay out of that discussion, because I knew what I had to say would be inflammatory, considering the political views of the participants. While most of them were male, all of them were white and Republican. (I would have said conservative, but conservative means preferring the status quo, and not tinkering with a system that works, or almost works. Republicans want to go back to a system that never worked - we are talking about free-reign capitalism of the early 20th century. They say Reagan, but they are so far to the right of Reagan, that he would be considered a liberal now.)

Anyway, Beyonce, if you are dressing in those skimpy dresses and showing so much skin, you deserve
getting spanked.

Hold on!

These people are the same ones that say, guns don't kill, people do.

Okay, let's couch that in the terms of this topic:

Skimpy dresses don't spank, people do.

Can you see the parallel logic? You are saying above that if you take away the skimpy dresses, men will stop spanking women's bottoms. But take away guns, and people will continue to kill others.

You could say that if you take away skimpy dresses, you might reduce groping. These "conservatives", however, refuse to believe that taking away guns will reduce gun violence. Instead, they cling to an out-dated second amendment.

They say that they should be allowed carry weapons equal to those of the government, so they can protect themselves from said government. In that case someone should be demanding that it should be legal to possess nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

We are told from our school days that the best antidote to bad government is the ballot box, yet we cling to weapons that are often misused for evil purposes.

Around the world countries with gun bans have had mixed results, mostly depending on how effective their governments are. The UK has one of the best records of those countries, with less than 1% per capita of the gun violence of the US. On the other hand, Mexico is in the midst of a drug war, and although they have a recent gun ban, their gun violence per capita is higher than the US. (Where do they get their guns? The US, of course.)

The bottom line is that men are going to grope women regardless of what they are wearing, and if someone is intent on killing, they won't need a gun to do it. If you can at least reduce the firepower, you can reduce the number of deaths. One single shot weapon is not going to kill as many as a semi-automatic in a short span of time.

It's time to make the hard choice: repeal or limit the second amendment. (I'm afraid skimpy dresses are first amendment territory, so unless you want to limit free expression, too, you'll have to live with seeing a little too much of Beyonce's flesh.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Miles Davis: Live in Europe 1969 (Vol. 2 from the Bootleg series) CD review

I picked this up, because I like Chick, Miles, and Wayne Shorter. It didn't disappoint. The sound could have been better, although it is pretty good for a video from 1969. The bass seems a little low in the mix. I've heard that Vol 1 of the series has a similar issue.

There are a few things that I would change. Firstly, there is little change of repertoire over the 3 discs and DVD. Granted, all the performances were noticeably different, but If there were other tracks available (apparently there are), I would have liked to hear them. I prefer the acoustic version of Nefertiti over the electric one, for example. Were there other acoustic performances?

On the DVD, there weren't any graphics to note when they started new charts. Sometimes the transitions are very difficult to catch, and the graphics might have helped.

Overall, I'm glad I bought it, and will order Vol 2 when I can afford it.

4 out of 5 stars