March 2nd, 2004

Questions and tips.

Phew, it's 2 am and my video for CHI is finally done.

Two questions.

1. Has anyone using Mac OS X experienced a problem where the window manager behaves like there's an invisible window covering up a small square (maybe 150 x 150 pixels) in the top left corner of the screen? No mouse clicks get through in that square, and things that normally light up don't light up when they're hovered over in that square. Rebooting fixes it (and so does killing the WindowServer), but the problem reappears eventually and i haven't figured out what triggers it. Any ideas?

2. Why do images lose so much resolution in video? For example, when i bring in a 640x480 photo as a still frame in iMovie, it becomes totally ugly in the preview. It looks like a blocky 320x240 image that's been blurred a bit. You can see this happening if you make titles using iMovie, too — the titles look crisp and perfect just for a moment, until they are actually rendered into the movie, and then they look like unreadable garbage. In Premiere, this is even weirder — previews of movie clips seem to randomly switch between a full-resolution mode and a half-resolution mode. And some movies will play at half-resolution in Windows Media Player (what a piece of crap) but full resolution in the original Media Player (mplayer2.exe). What the heck is going on?

Two tips.

1. If you're exporting a movie from iMovie and using "Expert Settings..." to specify the format of movie you want, beware the "Frame Rate" setting. There's a drop-down menu in the Quicktime Movie settings panel that offers options like 12, 15, 24, 29.97, and 30 fps, and an option labelled "Best". You might think that "Best" would choose 30 fps, or a frame rate that matches your footage. Well, apparently "Best" means "make the output five times bigger without any improvement in quality". I kid you not — that one flag has made the difference between a 30-megabyte file and a 160-megabyte file.

2. If you're using Premiere on a Windows machine, the best pre-installed codec is usually Microsoft MPEG-4, hands down, achieving much smaller file sizes and much better quality than all the other codecs. (DivX is better, but it's not always safe to assume that a random movie watcher will have it.) Unfortunately, movies encoded with Microsoft MPEG-4 are unplayable on a Mac — unplayable with QuickTime and even unplayable in Windows Media Player for Mac! I hate the pit of madness that is Video Incompatibility Hell.

Voting day.

It's primary day in California.

Vote for Dean today.

To those who are deciding between Dean and Kucinich, keep in mind that voting for Dean is about a lot more than just "pulling left": it's a vote for the whole movement of people getting involved in politics, and for restoring the soul and the backbone of the Democratic party the way only Dean did.

Sad, sad Mac.

Sigh. My iBook G4 is having lots of trouble starting up — i noticed yesterday that it took a couple of tries to start properly, but didn't think much of it. Today it just froze up in the middle of normal operations and i haven't gotten it to successfully boot since.

It always starts up with the LCD backlight completely off, so the only way to see what's on the screen is to shine a bright light at just the right angle. The backlight came on during one of the many attempts to boot, and my desktop background loaded up so i thought there was hope for recovery, but before i could do much of anything it froze up again, and there were little horizontal black streaks flashing in columns down the screen. I've tried removing the extra RAM, thinking it might be a memory problem, but it still refuses to start. That is, the screen just remains black as far as i can tell. If i shine a bright light on it, i can sometimes see Trogdor (i replaced the startup apple image with a greyscale picture of Trogdor) with the spinning spokes underneath, but that eventually disappears.

Single-user mode appears to start properly, though. Does anyone know how to start up networking in single-user mode so i can get my data off this machine? /sbin/SystemStarter doesn't seem to be enough (en0 isn't listed in ifconfig even after i run SystemStarter).

Alternatively, does anyone know which system disk to use, or how to create a CD i can use, to boot the system and have access to the hard drive and the Ethernet so i can transfer my data to a safe place?

Update: I have used Command-Option-P-R and Command-Option-O-F to reset both the PRAM and the NVRAM. The backlight comes on now, but the system remains unwilling to start — it displays the grey spinny thing as usual, then clears to a light blue screen with no mouse cursor and stops there. Single-user mode still works fine.

Update: Adam figured out how to start networking. Thanks, Adam! After starting single-user mode by holding down Command-S during boot, the magic incantations are:

/usr/libexec/register_mach_bootstrap_servers /etc/mach_init.d
At this point, ifconfig should show an entry for en0, and then you're on your way. There's also a pretty good detailed description of the boot process over at
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