Sunday, June 24, 2012

Brother All-In-One MFC-9970 CDW review

My aging  HP 2550 laser color printer was about to give up its ghost so I decided to look for a replacement. I print an average of 15 pages a week and some of these on glossy paper or card stock. Since an added scanner and copier would be nice, I went looking for an all-in-one. Eventually I settled on the Brother MFC-9970 CDW, mainly because the runner up, the HP 1415 had too many bad reviews on Amazon and was also reported to have lengthy self check fits.
The 9970 combines laser color printing duplex or mono, black-and-white or color copying, fax and scanner. The end result of these functions (I have not checked out the fax) are adequate. The installation is quite another story.

I thought of going through all the travails that I went through installing this all in one printer, but I think nobody will care about my whining and so I'll skip all that. Suffice to say it was not easy from the get go.

Knowing what I know now, I can set up the 9970 wirelessly in a breeze as I can now avoid the pitfalls.
After running the initial setup as described in the included Quickstart guide, I would:
  • turn off the automatic IP address and set a static one using the printer controls
  • connect to the wireless access point
  • download the software package that includes the latest drivers
  • install that and provide the static IP when asked for when setting up the wireless connection
  • run the software package from the included installation CD to get the Paperport optional software
  • be extra careful when opening the MP (Multipurpose) tray door

I will say a word on this MP tray. It is all plastic and appears very flimsy. No; actually I did manage to break one of the hinges on the second day when the lid got stuck. Couldn't get the tray all the way open, applied pressure and... snap! the hinge went. My guess is that they took the cost-cutting route while designing this tray. As far I can see, the proper way to open it is to pull it gently from the top with one hand while lightly pressing inward on the lower end.

In regards to printing, there is something odd with the color print quality in which it isn't the best by default even with fine print checked and the toner save settings turned off. Images appear muted/washed off. Buried deep in the advanced settings, within the driver's printing preferences, there is an option to change the printing image quality from 'normal' to 'vivid' which helps a lot, but even then I found the quality still lacking. In just my second try, I got inspired and cranked the color saturation all the way up and that boosted the vividness some more. At this point, what I see on paper pretty much matches what's on the screen. Still, if some more vividness could be added, that would do the trick; I would say it is 95% of the way there. Black text does appear great. Toner cartridge replacement is as easy as it can be.

Update 6/28/13: There are widespread reports that this printer intentionally signals toner replacement much too soon. All I can say is that I tried the toner counter reset workaround six months ago and so far I'm still getting crisp results out of the starter cartridges.

225 g/m² paper has some problems, but prints good. From the documentation isn't clear if this paper belongs to the supported 'thick' or 'thicker' categories. I do not recommend automatic duplex printing on it though. On the first try the printer frayed the edges of the paper and on the second one, the sheet got jammed under the paper tray. Paper jams with regular paper are fairly common when printing more than a few pages from the MP tray. I think this problem may be only particular to me as my machine is not on a completely level surface. By the way, when there is a paper jam the LCD screen troubleshoots the problem which is a nice feature.

Update 6/28/13: No paper jams over the last year. These appear to have resolved themselves by placing the machine on a flatter surface

Scanning is very zippy and so far it has given me no cause of complaint. You can scan in duplex to an image file, PDF or to the included optional OCR software. Copying is even faster and you also get other functions such as size reduction, brightness and contrast adjustments and duplex. As a very last step, you can either choose color or black.

The command center software mostly intuitive and yet powerful. This one wants to initialize on start up along with some diagnostic program. If you find them burdensome for your system resources, you can disable them with the boot tab in the msconfig program.

Overall, the copy, print and scan qualities are just adequate for my needs. Loading pages for printing is more difficult than in my older printer, but on the plus side, tray one can hold a large stack of sheets (300, I think). It is very snappy chugging out about 30 ppm. Paper curling is a small issue for me, but there is an option for reducing it. Duplex printing is understandably slower, but the results are good.  Bottom line: as far I can see it does what it is supposed to do but getting it properly set up can be troublesome, the MP tray is not properly designed and studio quality printing is not its forte.  Recommended with some reservations.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Best midi output for Windows

I must have been living in a cave or something, because I missed the most important development in midi file output probably ever. Now, I'll most likely get the following facts wrong, but this is how I experienced them. If you were not there back then, in prehistory, computers could only output *beep-boop* sounds. Slowly, but surely the quality of synthesization improved so much as to make 8-bit gaming possible. Around the mid-90s development got stuck midi-wise, thanks in part to the emergence of recorded digital music. The last important release was Yamaha's XG format. Windows computers have kept midi support up to this day, but it's quality is as bad as it was 15 or 20 years ago. This midi synthesization is what most people know and hate. But now, there is a way to easily fix this.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I have been enjoying my media library with my S-YXG50v4 Yamaha softsynth. Back in the day, I purchased it for around $50. This softsynth gives better quality than the usual fare, but an independent listener would probably say that by not much. When Vista came out, the synth could no longer be installed and no update was forthcoming from Yamaha. As a roundabout solution, I found that it could still work, if you installed it in a XP virtual machine resulting in no noticeable loss. I was so satisfied with this solution, that I even posted it on the official Microsoft forums.

But why stop here? Claudio Nicora wrote VirtualMIDIsynth which now seamlessly lets you load soundfonts that sound a couple of quantum leaps better than anything you & I have experienced before. The program works by just replacing the Microsoft synth with one of its own, which in turn can load the soundfont (*.sf2) of your choice. The solution is very neat as you no longer need a dedicated player to load the sound fonts and works with the included Windows media player. The solution is so roundly good, that even most of my XG files will play right. If you're a purist, there are at least a couple of XG sound fonts out there which mimic the format closely, but I think no sane person will now prefer that to the superior soundfont offerings which are for the taking. The page offers links to several on which you can sink your teeth into right away.

In conclusion: Rejoice! Spread the word! The problem of midi music in Windows has been solved.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where to find Touhou midi music: community service

Taken by: titus tscharntke. Source: Burningwell

Since about 1996 I have been collecting choice midi files and have just crossed the 1000 mark. I really like listening to them, especially when I'm doing boring stuff at the computer.

Through a circuitous route I recently came to realize how wonderful Touhou music is. In fact,
since the demise of the mighty midi contest (, wow, over a decade ago, I have not found so much great music.

If you do not know what Touhou is (I didn't), watch this:

As a community service, I decided to post in one place all the best links that I have found where you can download Touhou midi files; or close enough. I am leery about hotlinking, so you will have to scroll around a bit to find the files. Just a bit.


Probably the first stop should be the Touhou Midi Central which tries to cover as much ground from all the games as it can. Should that one fail, the original files from Touhou 6 to 8 are the most common. With some 9 included, you can find them here:
Scroll down to the last line in other audio

Much of the music of the earlier games can be found at Zun's webpage:
It's in japanese, so you'll have to translate it or guess around. Also, the files are *.lzh compressed


For some transcriptions, arrangements and possibly future fan uploads, there is Vgmusic

Some of the music here is in XG midi format which can sound poorly if your player doesn't support it (more on that on a later post- good stuff). For some reason I can no longer find here my first Tohou midi ever, Remilia_Scarlet_-_Septette_for_the_Dead_Princess_XG.mid. Do try to find it elsewhere.

For an extravaganza of notes do not miss this version of Necrofantasia

Touted to be the wildest midi ever, I can at least attest that the file is so packed that it is over four times as big in size as the previous title holder in my collection.

Update 10/13/15 Turns out there are even wilder whale-sized midis out there and most of them built on touhou music. However, in my estimate, none of these sound any good and they are probably unplayable anyway as the wiki owner notes.

Samidare's There is a link to a zip file of his music. Included is one of the very few medleys I've found

There's also
in which the available files are better than the usual fare

For sheet music and piano:

This one just came to my attention while looking for Link's "Molduga's battle".  A treasure trove worth not just for Touhou but for everything else.  I'm so new to it that I haven't mined its riches yet. Registration is required. I cherish Myut's 'Voile'

Managed to get a few mids from his old site and I've got to say that these are among the best renditions.  Unfortunately the composer isn't sharing at this time. Keep on checking for, who knows? he might make them all available again... Finally some medleys and music from the later games. Click on 'score'  to the left. Easier renditions. 80%+ of everything incl Cds by the looks of it. Menu at the left

For general information:


The niconicodouga medleys have some of the themes in there: Bad Apple: Tako8 has a really nice rendition of the shadow art Bad apple!! but doesn't sound right without his soundfont:

A better alternative which is based on Tako8's:
Download link in the description. Thanks PianoKid0051

Wanted *.mid:

Music from the more recent games
Medleys (there is evidence that these do exist. Well, mostly tantalizing dead links and YouTube videos, but still)
 Any good remixes
Orchestral Bad Apple
Quellatalo Nin's complete  (fire me up a message if you happen to see QN sharing. I'll thank you so much)

Quick notes:

Let us know of some other sources
To avoid Touhou poisoning, do not try to listen to all of them in one go
Matching the characters to their music themes makes the experience even better!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chess Program: Intensive Course Tactics 1

I wonder how the great chess masters of the past got their high levels of proficiency. It isn't that their skills are duller than what we see nowadays. Say, a three-move combination looks as good now as it did back then. So how did they train? How did the Morphys and Alekhines got to be so good? Having not researched the question, I can give no definite answer, but we can be sure that they had a harder time than we have now. You see, if they wanted to find a certain game, I feel pretty sure that they had at least to go to their local library, or perhaps send letters around to see if someone had the game or book they were looking for; all with large amounts of wasted time. Practice, practice, practice must have been a pivotal piece to improve their natural abilities, whatever those might have been. Now then, we don't have to go the same way as they did, do we? The goal is still the same, but we have now the benefit of over two centuries of accumulated chess to draw upon and, best of all, the miracle of personal computers.

I'll discuss more of chess tactics in future posts, but for now let's assume they are of high importance. If you want to get better at chess, you'd better have more than a good feel for tactics. The easiest way to improve in them is to solve chess puzzles (another, may be playing lots of blitz games) and for that you need to get hold of a collection of such puzzles.

Intensive Course Tactics I by George Renko for Chessbase is such a collection. It holds over 4000 tactical exercises divided  in 104 themes. Each theme illustrates a tactical motif. The themes themselves are grouped into two parts:  1) direct methods, where the tactical motifs work directly such as a fork, pin, entrapment or skewer; and 2) support methods, where you have to prepare the position first to enable a direct method tactic, such as by interference, deflection, or decoy. The first few examples of each category illustrate the motif. Those positions that follow, typically in the dozens, are for you to solve.

On CbLight 2009

Solving relies on the Chessbase training feature, where you are given a certain amount of time and a par score for each correct move. More time and points are granted for more difficult problems. If you cannot solve the current problem correctly on the first try, you're given the opportunity to try again or to see the solution. Or, if you wish to verify or have an idea of your own you can fire up a chess engine and see what it has to say. There are some groups of exercises where all the previous motifs are mixed. In these  you're not given any hint as to what is the tactical motif. I use these separate exercises to verify my progress because these are closer to actual gameplay.

Included reader

The course has very little text, and that is a good thing because it is focused on solving. When relevant, you are given variants and symbolic evaluations. On some positions there are even graphical notations such as arrows and highlighted squares. 

To go through the exercises you do not need to have a previous Chessbase product such as the database program or Fritz, but I would recommend you do. There is an included Windows reader, but looks like something from circa 1998.

The only other downside that I can find is that the positions do not allow for alternate solutions. If you do not give Renko's intended move, you get no points, even if your solution is equal or better. My guess is that there are about 200 of these positions scattered around the course.

Rating-wise, I would recommend this to players rated 1300-2000, but higher non-titled players can also benefit.

If you can find it, it costs about $25. Highly recommended.

PS In case you master the material in this course, there are three further discs by the same author. Intensive Course Tactics 2, deals with forcing moves. Killer Moves explores multipurpose moves. Deadly Threats, looks at quiet, non-forcing moves.