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What's a Web Site Without Computers

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This page was last updated on September 21, 2022.

Using Computers

I discovered computers in my mid 30s, in late 1986, when my Dad gave me his old Zenith 100 which he had built from a kit. It had a 12-inch amber screen and ran CP/M as an operating system, and used a DOS emulator. In November 1988 I bought an 8088 machine that had a 12mHz processor and 512k RAM, and a 12-inch amber monitor.

The journey continued in June 1991 with a new 286 machine, with GeoWorks as the OS, with 2MB of RAM, a 10meg hard drive, and a color monitor. I bought Windows as an aftermarket OS for that machine. I replaced the 286 in April 1995 with a Pentium I, 75mHz machine. That one was replaced with a Pentium III, 800mHz machine in October 1999, running Windows 98, and was equipped with my first CD-ROM drive, along with an external hard drive and an external Zip drive for daily backups. The next upgrade came in January 2003 when I purchased a Dell Pentium 4, 2gHz machine, running XP Home. The Dell crashed in late 2006, and was replaced by an Apple iMac.

More changes came in mid 2008 after struggling with the limitations of the iMac, and a new homebuilt PC replaced the iMac as my primary computer. The new PC, running Windows Vista, had plenty of expansion space and computing power, along with plenty of storage capacity. I was again able to use programs I was familiar with, and I'm able to tweak and twiddle as I see fit. The iMac only lasted another year before its hard drive failed, and was replaced in June 2009 by a Dell, which, like the iMac in its last nine months, was also used solely for music and video.

Changes after 2008 were less dramatic than the previous three years, with the decision to stay with a Windows PC desktop computer. Upload to UtahRails became quicker with the addition of fiber-to-the-home in spring 2012.

2008 -- PC To Mac, And Back Again

(First published to the UtahRails.net blog at Wordpress.com on August 9, 2008; in June 2009 the iMac was completely replaced by a second PC)

After 18 months of being a Mac guy, the limitations became too much. While still occupying a space on my desktop, it shares that space with a new PC that was placed in service on May 30.

The 20 inch Intel iMac has been relegated to being what is essentially a music server, being the central location for me to manage my 8000+ files of music and audio. I find that iTunes works better on a Mac, plus the fact that there is no longer a simple way to capture audio on a PC. The combination of Rogue Amoeba's Audio Hijack and Fission make audio a joy to work with on a Mac. I use audio capture to grab dialogue from DVDs and from web sites, and I edit various audio files to get rid of bits and bytes that I dislike in particular songs and sound files. This used to be easy on a PC a couple years ago with CoolEdit and Total Recorder. But Total Recorder is now much too dependent on hardware and driver configuration. I tried the entire Replay suite, and DAK's collection, but none of the three work with my particular combination of PC hardware and software. So the iMac stays for the tunes, connected to a set of Bose Companion 5 speakers.

One severe limitation for the iMac was that I have several PC-only programs that I use regularly, including the NoteTab text editor (BBEdit isn't even close), and IrfanView as an image viewer/converter (again, no Mac equivalent). I tried Parallels right from the iMac's first day, but dumped it when VM Fusion became available seven months later. Fusion is a lot better than Parallels, but I grew weary of the back-and-forth program usage.

Although I upgraded the iMac's performance with more memory, the final straw came when I outgrew the 250GB internal hard drive. All scanning projects came to a halt until a solution could be found. I gave much thought and consideration to keeping some files solely on external hard drives, but previous experience with hard drive failure points to the need for all files to be on the computer's internal hard drive, with backups being simple mirrors of everything on the internal drive. SyncBackSE works great as a centralized backup solution. Having all files immediately available is a big plus. Everything gets backed up every night to at least two external drives, via either Firewire 800 or eSATA connections. The lack of these high-speed connections was another iMac limitation.

As for the new PC, it's an Intel processor on an Asus motherboard, with 4GB of RAM, all inside an Antec P182 case, and running Vista Business. Lots of expansion space, and lots of cooling capacity, the two biggest limitations of the iMac. The cost was definitely not low, but was also half of what a comparable Mac Pro would have cost.

After running both programs on the iMac, Dreamweaver and Photoshop both run faster on the PC. All the scanners have PC drivers, and all is working well. All, that is, except that the iMac couldn't talk to the PC over the wired network, or vice versa. I gave up briefly and used a USB drive to transfer the few files that I need to. A very successful solution came with the discovery of a program called Network Magic, which fixed the iMac to PC problem, and a separate problem of an XP box talking to two Vista boxes. [More about Network Magic: As I continue to use the program, I am more and more impressed. Various updates from Cisco have improved Network Magic, and it now sees all of the various bits of hardware connected to the network, both wired and wireless.]

2009 -- Mac And Me, It's Over

(First published to the UtahRails.net blog at Wordpress.com on June 26, 2009)

The iMac has died. -- I was out of town for a couple days in late May, for which I turned off power to the computers while I was away. Upon my return, and when I turned power back on to the iMac, all I got was a folder icon, with a question mark. A quick call to Applecare followed, and with their help we determined that the internal hard drive had died. As I have previously written about, all that was on the iMac was my music and sound collection, and I was doing a daily backup to two external hard drives, so I haven't lost anything.

Any sane person simply cannot be without music in their lives, so I purchased a Dell PC at my local Costco. I have previously owned a Dell, and this one is a nice rig. But there is still that nagging hesitation concerning the crappy, heavy accented tech support, and all the bloat that they add to their machines. This Dell rig has Windows Vista 64 bit Home Premium, with a 24-inch monitor.

Right off the top, within a couple hours of new, one of the cooling fans on the Dell kicked into high gear and tried to imitate a helicopter. Dell tech support was pretty unresponsive, as expected. A couple days later, FedEx delivered a box with two new fans and a new power supply. No note in the box, and still no email. There have been a couple phone messages, in which some guy mumbles something about Dell and what I think is his cell phone number, so I think the two might be related. Still no email, or easily understood phone call, so the new stuff sits on the floor, awaiting an uncertain fate. By the way, a review of the forums suggests that the random high speed cooling fan problem is common to several different Dell motherboards and firmware versions, and is easily fixed by a power-off/power-on cycle; so far, only twice in the one month of ownership, and only after the occasional warm boot. [Update: The high speed fan problem continues to come up after the occasional warm reboot, but a cold boot takes care of this annoyance. As for the new stuff in the box that Dell sent. It all made for some good paper weights because I refuse to use the same crap that failed brand-new in the first place. I didn't ask for it and I won't use it, even if it was free.]

Why another PC instead of simply fixing the iMac?

Simple answer: I like to tweak, and I have a pretty good idea of what I'm doing when I do it. I really, really don't like it that with the iMac I cannot simply open the case, unplug the hard drive and plug in a new one. Ten minutes to a fix, tops. I have always felt that the iMac ran a bit hot, with nothing more that vents on the bottom, and a long slot across the top, and no cooling fan. My own gut feeling is that since I never turned it off, and seldom rebooted, the poor hard drive simply cooked itself, and it died when it cooled down from the power being off.

Because music is such a large part of my life, the next task was how to get the music files from one of the Mac-formatted backups to the new Dell PC. The externals were hooked to the iMac by way of a couple Firewire 400 connections, which the Dell also has. A quick on-line search found MacDrive, a PC program that allows a PC to read a Mac-formatted drive. And it works great. I copied all the music files to the PC without a hitch.

Before loading iTunes, I took the opportunity to reorganize the Music folder to get them off and away from the iTunes folder. The scheme I now use is C:/Users/[me]/Music/Library. I lost about 30 bits of album art that I had previously let iTunes get for me, but I either found them elsewhere on the 'net, or rescanned them myself with Photoshop. To keep Apple's "helpful" fingers out of my stuff, especially that silly "Compilations" folder, when I loaded iTunes I unchecked the "Keep iTunes music folder organized". I have also decided that I'll keep the WAV and other source files separate and away from the iTunes library, using only MP3s for that purpose, which allows adding album art to the file itself.

For an editor, I reloaded CoolEdit, but Vista is a bit too fast for that nine-year-old program. So I tried the open source Audacity, and the intrusive NCH suite. I really liked CoolEdit 2000, so after some consideration, and a trial period, I purchased Adobe Audition 3, which retains all the features of the old CoolEdit, plus some other bits. I especially like the ability to record a vinyl album as a single file, then use Audition's marker labels to split and save the different tracks into separate files.

(Read more about how I capture audio)

As for fixing the iMac, since it was still on the original 3-year Applecare warranty, I let them replace the hard drive free of charge. I have since passed it on to an extremely ill family member who really, really needed the tunes to help him get through his day.

2011 -- New PCs

By mid 2011, the siren call of Windows 7 was becoming too strong. At about the same time, my local Costco had deal that I could not pass up. I was able to buy an HP Pavilion P7 computer that is the fastest and most powerful computer I've ever owned, and the least expensive at just $799 after a $200 instant rebate. In fact, the price was so good, a second computer was purchased with funds gained by selling the old homebuilt machine and the Dell for their parts to a coworker who collected old tech. Included in the deal were all the various spare parts and older computer bits and pieces that had been kept over the years, "just in case." It was quite a pile, and filled several boxes. The second HP Pavilion is used solely for music and video, and is connected to a set of Bose Companion 5 speakers.

For backups there are two external hard drives: a set of two 500GB "Quad Interface" external drives from Other World Computing (OWC) that allow any of the current connections (USB, FW400, FW800, eSATA) between the externals and the main HP Pavilion PC. Although preformatted as Mac, they work just fine on a PC after being reformatted.

To use the two eSATA connections for the external hard drives, I bought an SATA expansion card that has two external eSATA ports connected direct to two empty SATA ports on the motherboard.

2017 -- New PC

A new desktop computer is now the major tool for UtahRails. The new computer is a Dell XPS 8920, with an Intel i7-7700 seventh-generation processor and 32GB RAM, along with a 500GB NVMe solid state drive and a 4TB data drive. I chose Windows 10 Pro as my operating system. The last desktop was an HP Pavilion with an Intel i5-2400 processor and 8GB RAM, running Windows 7, all running from a single 2TB hard drive. The old HP worked very well for 6-1/2 years, but with all the photo scanning projects over the past year or so, the rig was getting slower and slower. Comparing the restart time, for the same startup programs, shows over 5 minutes for the old HP, and 12-15 seconds for the new Dell.

The two OWC external drives previously connected to the main HP Pavilion were retained and connected to the new Dell 8920, after being upgraded to 4TB. The eSATA expansion cards in the old HP were upgraded to USB3 expansion cards in the new Dell. The OWC external hard drives already had USB3 connections on their enclosures.

A new LG 34-inch monitor is connected to the new Dell.

The second HP Pavilion has been retained, and upgraded with an internal 2TB hard drive, a 500GB solid-state boot drive, and a fresh copy of Windows 10, connected to two additional OWC 2TB USB3 external hard drives.

Back in 2005, to maintain UtahRails, I purchased Adobe Dreamweaver CS3. With the new computer and the switch to Windows 10 in 2017, I was forced to upgrade to Dreamweaver CC 2018, which they say has been rewritten from the ground up. I was unable to register the previous version, Dreamweaver CS3, to run properly under Windows 10. To register DW CS3, I needed to use Adobe's Register server, which they no longer support, so I was unable to register the program. They offered a copy that does not require registration, but it is a limited version, with the most notable limitation being that simple Control-B and Control-I do not work to set text as either Bold or Italics. To make my Project VII Drop Menu Magic responsive drop menu extension work, I used Project VII's own Extension Manager, since Adobe no longer supports its own extension manager. About a year ago I set up a testing server using WAMPServer, and it also runs very well on the new desktop.

2019 -- Better Backups

The two OWC 4TB external hard drives started throwing I/O errors in late 2018 for the SyncBack backup software. A simple off/on power cycle fixes the errors, but it got tiresome dealing with daily backups that were failing.

The OWC external hard drives have been replaced by 5TB Seagate Backup+ portable hard drives with USB3 connections; smaller, cheaper, quieter, and they run a lot cooler.

2020 -- Two Computers Become One

In February 2020 the second HP Pavilion running Windows 7 became very slow and almost unusable. After several hours of troubleshooting the decision was made to retire the the nine-year-old machine. Its hardware was salvaged, and its audio and video software was transferred to the Dell XPS 8920 desktop.

2022 -- New PC

A new Dell XPS 8940 desktop computer running Windows 11 is now the new home of UtahRails.net, replacing the five-year-old Dell XPS 8920. The only limitation is that the Epson scanners won't work with Windows 11, so a scanning station was setup to use my laptop running Windows 10. Others have complained about the missing drag-and-drop to the Windows 11 task bar, but I can use a work-around until an update fixes the issue. My work-around includes using the QTTabBar add-on, which gives me tabbed browsing for Windows Explorer, and which I will likely keep when a Windows 11 update comes along with Microsoft's fix for the task bar. Drag-and-drop works great between Explorer tabs in QTTabBar, and the Windows 11 feature of "Snap Layouts" for multiple windows (from the minimize/maximize icon at upper right) works well to drag-and-drop between applications.

Six months before, the LG 34-inch monitor had begun displaying an annoying vertical red line, and random dead pixels. It was replaced by an LG 32-inch monitor, which did not fit a rearranged desk top. The LG 32-inch monitor was replaced by a smaller, and much cheaper LG 27-inch monitor. A second LG 27-inch monitor was purchased as part of the scanning station, connected to my laptop via HDMI.