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Strongly Considering an Apple Mac

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#26 rboe

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Posted 22 June 2003 - 10:07 PM

Tom;

I wonder if Apple has a contract with MacMall preventing them from selling to schools. As in K-12. Just a random thought.

So who are you buying from? Guido? And 60 PC's! Did the bonding issue pass?! :) I though we had lot's of cash when we bought 35!

I get the same MacMall/PCMall flyers, I'll have to check them out next time I hit the can. Apple does do some cool stuff and I would like to try one out.

Ron

#27 Tom T

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Posted 23 June 2003 - 09:33 AM

Ron,

Actually, I was told it's not just MacMall. Seems Apple is trying to control the education (at least k-12, and I thought I was told college as well) market themselves. <shrug>

No, no bond issue, just plain old capital outlay. My guys are also wiring one building this summer, putting in two building communications systems, installing at least two new servers, in addition to the standard summer cleaning and maintaince. Gonna be a busy summer. S'alright, my contract is for 10 months, when I work in the summer it goes under my consulting business, and is hourly. :)

We are saving the bond issue for when we run fiber, and replace our phone systems.

The 60 PC's are Compaq D315's, which we just bought from a southwestern Michigan vendor. (Reminds me, I have to check to make sure the PO got faxed.)

Tom T.

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Posted 24 June 2003 - 05:50 PM

Allister,

I've spent a great deal of time researching Windows, Mac and Linux for a book on writing about amateur astronomy and computers, and the bottom line is that any one of them can make a viable choice. There are more planetarium programs for Windows than the Mac or Linux, to be sure, but some are in common between Windows and Mac (TheSky, Starry Night for example). Both Windows and Mac enjoy some cracking shareware and freeware apps, for example Cartes du Ciel and MPj Equinox.

The fundamental gaps are as follows:

1. At the top end, XEphem on the Mac is the only app comparable to Megastar and SkyMap Pro. XEphem is a good app, but since it is a UNIX app rather than an Aqua one its interface is very different to the other Mac programs. This makes it a little more awkward to use and troubleshoot.

2. There is really only a single webcam image processing package, Keith's Image Stacker, and while good, it doesn't match the range of software available for Windows. Neither is there the experience of using the Mac as the processing platform for webcam images; most articles on this subject refer to Windows software.

3. There has historically been much less support for CCD cameras for the Mac compared to Windows, or even compared to Linux (which benefits from some third part software for the Apogee cameras). I can't say much now, but I do know unofficially that this is changing, and at least two _big_ companies in this field are providing third part developers with a lot of help. But for now, if you plan on doing CCD imaging, life is a lot simpler with a PC than a Mac.

As for the experience of the two, I use both extensively at work but own a Mac for my home computing. The new Mac OS is phenomenally good, extremely stable (though not crash proof, I had a freeze today by accidentally unplugging a live FireWire device for example). But we're talking a system freeze every couple months and maybe an app crashing (leaving the OS and other apps running) once a week.

PCs do seem to be a bit faster, and buying third party hardware and software is easier. On the other hand the Mac hardware is lovely, I own a Titanium PowerBook and really there isn't a better looking machine on the market. You probably can buy a better specified PC laptop for the money though, but you won't get envious looks from people when you pop it open in the departure lounge at O'Hare!

Cheers,

Neale

PS. Over at www.applelust.com I regularly cover astronomy and the Mac. Stop by and have a read.

#29 rboe

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Posted 24 June 2003 - 07:22 PM

Neale;

Way back in the good ol' days folks would say that there was more software for Windows/DOS than the Apple Mac but the quantity of quality software was in favor of the Mac. Have not heard that comment in years. I would think that may be an untruth now. But, is the Mac software still, on the whole, high quality stuff?

Was in Fry's today; work related of all things, and really had to control myself so I wouldn't buy a mac laptop; just a little one. Didn't do it but it was close.

Ron

#30 Tom T

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Posted 24 June 2003 - 07:43 PM

And Neale spake thusly:

1. At the top end, XEphem on the Mac is the only app comparable to Megastar and SkyMap Pro. XEphem is a good app, but since it is a UNIX app rather than an Aqua one its interface is very different to the other Mac programs. This makes it a little more awkward to use and troubleshoot.


Neale, while I think XEphem is a decent program, and does have a lot to recommend it, I'm curious as to how you think it's comparable to SkyMap Pro.

I've followed XEphem through several linux iterations (over a couple of years), and while useable (and it does have some tools that skymap pro lacks), personally, I think SkyMap has it beat hands down (as does cartes du ciel) in all but one or two areas. (As per Mac specific - I'm curious that you don't mention Starry Night or The Sky. I thought those were available for Mac. Am I wrong there?)

In fact, that's the main thing that keeps me from running linux as my main desktop OS at this point. I'm awaiting the linux version of cartes.

Could you clarify the comparable bit? Maybe there is more to XEphem than meets *my* eye.

Tom T.

#31 Victor Kennedy

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 01:12 AM

I'm using Starry Night on the Mac. I have an older version for OS9, but plan to upgrade soon to the OSX version. The technical support from Space.com makes it worth the price.

I just installed OSX on the computer at my office (iMac 450, which also runs as a web server), and it was about the most painless upgrade I've ever done. Everything worked right the first time. As soon as I can scrape together the tolars for a memory upgrade, I'll install OSX on the iMac at home too.

I've owned several Macs and PCs, sometimes concurrently, and prefer the Macs. I used to like the PCs almost as well when I was running OS/2 on a Compaq 486. Back then I found it was more reliable than either the Mac OS or Windows.

I find fewer compatibility problems between platforms than there are between older and newer versions of MS Office. I am at a loss to understand why people continue to insist on using MS products when there are better, cheaper alternatives.

Regarding the price difference between Macs and PCs, I have found that Mac hardware is more economical because they last longer. On the other hand, I buy more Mac software than PC software, so it evens out :smirk:

#32 rboe

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 09:01 AM

Wow! Somebody who admits to using OS/2; besides me. I tried loading it on my "new" computer last year and no go. The install disks didn't like something. Since I have a partition running on my old PC for those times I need OS/2 it's not a big deal.

I do have a software astronomy package from a Netherlands I should comment on later. I tried running it on a 486 and a P166 at one time and it was a pig. The K3-III 450 was better but it could still use more horsepower.

Glad to hear you had seamless Mac OS upgrades. Years ago one did not attempt them unless they had nerves of steel.

Ron

#33 asaint

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 09:35 AM

Hey Neale and Victor,

Nice to hear from some Mac users. It appears to me that Apple has made some advances that are now gaining the attention of a percentage of Windows users. For the first time in years, Apple is perceived as pulling ahead of the Windows OS. It's my opinion that since Apple controls both the hardware and OS, they SHOULD always be ahead of the Windows os.

Bottom line from both of you appears to be, either will do the job for most users. However, I think there is more to this then meets the eye.

Example? Well, how about AppleScript? Appears to be a real neat breakthrough in user scripting. Kinda reminds me of the last Apple user scripting breakthrough called Hypercard.

Another example? Appears the integrated multimedia tools Apple bundles with their computers is a new standard in ease of use. IMovie looks like a great product.

So I guess the question I'm asking is what are the 10 advantages of the OSX over Windows for the average user?

Allister
(still drooling over the Apple Cinema LCD monitor)

#34 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 10:36 AM

Tom,

I used the word "comparable" rather than "equal" with care; yes, you are right, that there are real differences between Megastar, Sky Map Pro and XEphem. But if you take these sorts of applications as representing the top-end of the planetarium market, then XEphem is the only one that runs natively on the Mac.

I stacked 21 apps from all three operating systems against one another in an Excel spreadsheet. You can get to it here:

http://users.macunli...iles/files.html

My method for comparing them was to award a point for each feature they offer. There's no weighting involved, just a simple count. The features are ones that I consider most useful for amateurs in general; of course there may be things important to you (or me) left off. Feedback more than welcome. I was surprised how strongly Starry Nigh Pro 4 came out.

Part of the issue with XEphem compared to Sky Map or whatever is the smaller user base and the consequent lack of familiarity with the application by the hobby on the whole. Sky Map and Megastar are both great programs and understandably popular, and the lack of something _exactly_ like them for the Mac or Linux is a gap. But XEphem _can_ be used to do most (90 percent?) of the same things, maybe not so gracefully and certainly not within the usual Mac interface. But it does mean that Mac users have something to chart Abell, P-K, etc., catalogues. It's also a great teaching tool, and I used it for my classes at Pepperdine quite a lot.

What the Mac lacks is something good and free like Cartes du Ciel, and a proper Moon charting application like Lunar Map Pro. While both XEphem and Starry Night Pro let you identify craters and whatnot on the Moon (in the case of SNP, very effectively) they don't produce maps, instead you are zooming into a bitmap image, which isn't real nice. Some home for a powerful but free planetarium comes from a Linux app, KStars, which runs pretty well on the Mac too. (The UNIX side of the Mac is incredibly useful!)

Cheers,

Neale

#35 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 10:57 AM

Ron,

I don't extensively use PC astro software, pretty much sticking to TheSky and Cartes du Ciel, and one of the free Moon mapping apps, Virtual Atlas. Otherwise I use Mac stuff primarily because that's what my laptop computers are and these are the programs that come out into the field with me. So it really isn't for me to say whether the PC has more or less rubbish software compared with Linux or the Mac; I just don't have the experience.

What I will say is that there is a diversity of Mac applications running from some fairly poor stuff through to amazingly good ones. In the latter category I'd highlight MPJ Equinox. It is regularly tweaked and updated, and comes with some of the nicest and easiest to use go-to telescope tools I've yet seen. If you were on a budget and wanted one app, this would be the one I'd recommend. I get sent a lot of Mac apps to review and correspond with developers fairly frequently, so do have a reasonable appreciation of the Mac astro software market.

Windows and Mac share a number of apps, too: Starry Night Pro and TheSky being the most important, but there are others. The Windows Level 4 of TheSky differs from the Mac Level 3 in having CCD support and tools; otherwise they are very similar -- Software Bisque told me they think of the Mac version as Level 3.5!!

If I were being partisan, I'd say the attraction of the Mac lies more in the overall quality than in absolute performance. Using my Meade LX 90 is a lot like using Windows XP: it does the job well and efficiently, but it isn't sexy. But OS X is like observing with my Tele Vue 76: I might not see so much, but I do see things differently, and the fit and finish of the thing is so **** sexy you need to take a cold shower afterwards.

Cheers,

Neale

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 11:14 AM

Allister,

AppleScript has huge potential but I haven't found it all that easy to learn. Simple scripts are easy enough to write (I do them all the time) but to make ones that look and feel like real applications takes some effort. Okay, the tools are free and sitting on your hard disk to play with, but you will need a book and some degree of familiarity with simple programming to make any headway. But then I really only played with HyperCard and never fully understood it. I'm just not a natural programmer, I guess.

The "iApps" as they are called are simply unbeatable and have NO equals on any other platform. This isn't just me saying this, any and every review says the same thing. Part of this has to be down to Apple having a phenomenal amount of control over hardware and OS integration that Windows software developers can't hope for. But Apple also have some good designers and a tradition of understanding user interfaces.

Anyways, if you want 10 advantages of OS X over the opposition, my votes would go for the following:

1. Stability / multitasking / other such niceties
2. Consistency of the user interface
3. Seamless integration of peripherals like cameras and external drives
4. The hardware (Ti Powerbook, the iBook, iMac, etc.)
5. UNIX apps run natively and (usually) easily
6. The iApps -- iTunes, iDVD, iMovie, etc.
7. Seamless networking, file sharing, etc. with Windows and UNIX
8. Read and write to Mac, Windows and UNIX volumes
9. Built-in Terminal with bundled UNIX apps
10. Drag and drop text, weblinks, e-mail addresses etc.

In the interests of balance though, here are some disadvantages:

1. Smaller range of budget hardware (e.g. inkjets, webcams)
2. Virtually impossible to buy software at Office Depot, etc.
3. Smaller range of games, and often Mac versions pricier and later
4. Less free astronomy software (no C du C, for example)
5. No official support from most CCD and telescope makers (changing, slowly)
6. Hardware marginally more expensive
7. Current processors arguably less powerful than Pentium equivalents

Hope this is useful,

Neale

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 08:47 PM

Allister,

You've gotten a lot of good opinions, but let me throw one more at you. I work as an IT specialist for a college that uses about 600 PCs and 300 Macs. On my desk I have both a Dell C800 laptop as well as a G3 tower with OS 10.2. In the office we have every flavor of iMac, eMac and powerbook.
The one thing I've learned in life about choosing a computer is the following. People look at it from the wrong angle, they debate the pros and cons of various systems ad infinitum, then make their choice. They unpack the box and say "gee now what software can I dig up to run on this". Businesses buy computers from the opposite end. You pick the software you want to run, then you choose an OS that will run your app and then you choose a box to run the OS. The software is what you have to work with the most, and you'll end up kicking your self if you have to run software you don't like because of your platform decision. If I were in your shoes I'd pick my favorite apps, figure out what platform will run those apps, and then buy a box in my price range that meets those criteria. I bet if you take it from the top down, it will really narrow your focus. "End Rant" :)

Patrick


#38 rboe

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 10:42 PM

Painless;

Really good point. Another two businesses take into consideration: Who can I hirer to support what I get? What is everybody using (I don't want to get fired for making the wrong decision).

Very strong influences that the home user may or may not take into consideration (any divorces caused by buying the wrong platform?).

It explains why the Mac is very strong in some niche markets like music, advertising and graphics and why the PC is strong in the office setting. Massive generalizations there with exceptions proving the rule.

But still, for the home, many will do well by following your advise. A slight twist would be, what did you learn computers on? Many don't want to learn a whole new OS and platform: way too stressful.

Ron

#39 Bob Pasken

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Posted 25 June 2003 - 10:45 PM

In yesterday's mail; Small Dog Electronics (I think its www.smalldog.com)
is offering a eMac 800Mhz 128mb, 40gb, DVD/CDRW for $779. The
memory is a bit low, but it takes stock PC memory and its cheap to
upgrade. You could also put in one of the $50 80gb drives from
www.surpluscomputers.com. granted it's only a 7200 rpm drive,
but I don't think ides come much faster. surpluscomputers haa
a fast turn over like liquidator Louie so just keep an eye on them for
a few days and you will get the drive you want. :jump: :

#40 rboe

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:07 AM

Bob;

I'm beginning to think your posting of the two links was not such a good idea. I feel the money tugging to get out of my pocket already. It's too late for Pat G., but others could make a cheap astro-den computer

Tom, Allister; you guys know anything about these sites.

Ron

#41 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:26 AM

Patrick,

A good point, but where I disagree is that home users do much more with their computers, and an OS that allows them to do as many things as possible will lead to more productive computing. In contrast offices need computers to do a specific set of tasks day in and day out, with little in the way of change.

That's why the operating systems that dominate at home, Windows and the Mac, are so popular -- they allow uses to plug in camcorders, run telescopes, play MP3s, burn CDs for the stereo in the car, play games, etc., etc., more or less easily. I guess one could say Windows does this all more cheaply and with a wider range of hardware and software, while the Mac does it better with less recourse to downloading drivers and whatnot, but with a smaller range of software and often lacking the budget hardware extras. But they both do these sorts of tasks well.

The various other OSes, such as Linux, really aren't user friendly for the vast majority of people likely to want to a computer in the home. Computer geeks may be happy with them, but honestly if you put them side by side by Windows or the Mac in a family situation without a geek to help them, and 99.99 percent of the time the folks at home will prefer the Windows/Mac alternative.

So while I agree pick the software you want and take it from there is a sensible approach, at the same time you want to consider the breadth of things you'd like to expand to as your hobbies or interests expand. If all you want is a device to run a planetarium program and a go-to telescope, then a cheap PC laptop running Windows 98 will probably be fine, but if you're thinking about making home movies using a digital camcorder and burning them to DVD _as well_, then an Mac laptop with iDVD and iMovie might be a much better choice. Maybe you are toying with getting a CCD one day. In which case, a WindowsXP laptop would be better still.

Anyway, my point is that picking software for a business decision compared with a home user isn't precisely the same thing, you need more of an idea of an "expanding front" to work around.

Cheers,

Neale

#42 Guest_**DONOTDELETE**_*

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:38 AM

Ron, good point, comfot withan application/OS is huge. On a slightly different topic. One of the things we've been talking about at work, is the fact that Apple needs to put out a low-end tower in the $1,000 range. the imac concept is good, but now that they have very ncie 17" flat panels included in the high end model they might be shooting themselves in the foot a bit. people tend to upgrade boxes every 3 years or so, but a good monitor will last more than twice that long. who wants to throw away the money that they've spent on that flat panel. I'd like to see a $995 box so that I could then go buy a nice flat panel to go with it that I could keep for 6-7 years. I have a 19" mitubishi CRT at work that will probably be good for a long time. I've used it with 2 dells and a powerbook. processor come and go, but good monitors....

Patrick


#43 lewdwig

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 11:25 AM

I bought my first new computer January 2001, a Compaq running Windows Me, it crashed the first time about two weeks after I got it (and lots since then), it has it's flaws. I bought a SuSE Linux program to install on it to learn Linux. It is supposed to partition the hard drive itself, it doesn't and I don't have the time or guts to learn how to partition it myself. I got my kids a used IMac, I'm trying to install OS X "Jaguar", no luck with that so far. These computers make me want to run out into the backyard with my telescope.

#44 rboe

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 01:11 PM

Lewdwig:

Get yourself Partition Magic. Takes most of your worries about partitioning away. It's graphical, few problems, pretty easy to use and has a boot manager that works great.

From the cartoon Frank & Ernest "A TV can insult your intelligence but nothing rubs it in like a computer.".

Proven to me many times a day. :)

Ron

#45 asaint

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 03:55 PM

Hey guys,

Thanks for the great advice on the Mac. I like the idea of figuring out what you use your computer for and using this to make your decision. OK, here is what I do and want to do in the near future;

1. Dreamweaver
2. Picture manipulation (for the site)
3. Document conversion (word, wordperfect, html, etc)
4. Web surfing
5. Upload music to my Rio player
6. 3d Games (only just getting back into it)
7. Email
8. Take all my mini CDs full of family photos and get them all organized and burned off to standard cds
9. Take all my family mini-dvds and organzie and burn them off to standard DVDs (whatever that is).
10. Astro planning software
11. Watch occassinal DVD movies on it.

Lastly, I want my next computer to have a nice, crisp LCD monitor.

Allister

#46 Tom T

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 05:25 PM

What games are you getting back into Allister?

I'm nearly ashamed to admit it, but the last ones I picked up were:

Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, Medal of Honor, Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

I'm a twitch kinda guy, I guess. :)

Tom T.

#47 Charles

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 06:37 PM

Hi Allister

So your still deciding. There is a couple of ways you can go. First about your software. It's obivious you want to do a lot of multi-media work. Dreamweaver is not that big of a resource hog and I'm not sure how much editing you want to do. If you just want to touch up red-eyes and the ocassional scanned photos that have scratches you do not need that much of a system. If you are going to work with a 200 meg photo file and really get in to the weeds of editing like I do, that requires a much better system. Out of the box systems, I would recommend the Sony VIAO (did I spell that right), or a MAC. The SONY is kind of pricey, but you can find discounts on them plus it adveristes it's multi-media capabilities. If you want a workhourse I still recommend you build your own, AMD or INTEL system with quality components. If you don't want to build it look at the Alienware graphic machines. I just can not call them gaming machines because they are too well built for just gaming. Nothing against gaming! They make great computers that will dim the lights when you turn on on.
Charles

#48 rboe

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 07:13 PM

Charles;

Your true colours are coming out! Do I need three phase power for the Alienware hardware?

As a fellow committed to the build your own - the desire to own a Mac is a contradiction I'm having some difficulty dealing with. The wallet is helping a lot. Guess it's just the ying counter balancing the yang.

Charles; what are you using to create the 200MB photo file? Have you had a chance to use the Kodak digital back that attaches to the top three 2-1/4 cameras?

Ron

#49 Charles

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:22 PM

Hey Ron, I sitting up here at the WINGATE hotel in Clarksville TN. Just finished a week of briefing and being briefed. Was briefing DOD Architecture Framework. I'm telling you if that won't put you to sleep nothing will. Anyway headed back home in the rain tomorrow. Hey to all, if you travel stay at a WINGATE. They have DSL in every room and it's free. Can't beat that.

Back to the 200 meg files: The only time I get files that big is when I build a whole moon that consist of about 20 pictures taken in Tiff High resolution (About 12megs per shoot). I also get that high when I start building space art. I like to utilize free 3d Studio Max models of Enterprise, Voyager and other space ships you can download on the web. After I put them in the position I like utilizing 3dsm, I like to export them as tiff and paste them into space art I build in Photoshop and other programs. It doesn't take long for all the tiff files to add up to 200 megs. When I finally get what I want then I reduce the overall image resolution to JPEG, but until I finish I like to maintain the higher resolutions. Could I get the same results utilizing a lower resolution...probably, but hey I got enough power to handle and I LIKE IT!

As to the kodak digital back I have not. Just bought a SBIG 10XME which hopefully will be delivered next week. I can't wait to learn true CCD photography. Probably take six months before I get a image worth a hoot. I hear there is a fairly large learning curve to CCD photography.

Charles

#50 rboe

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 10:28 PM

Charles;

I can recommend several physics books for those nights when it's hard to fall asleep. If I could remember their names, lucky for them I can't, there are a couple professors out there that gave some real hypnotic seminars.

Do you have a web site with examples of your work? Not to imply we need sleep aids mind you. :) But it sounds like you do some cool stuff.

If it's raining and you have free DSL it can't be all bad. Since I have clear skies I think I'll head out with the Pronto and see what I can see.

Ron


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