Downgrading AirPort Extreme to 7.6.1

I made a mistake last Thursday evening: upgraded my AirPort Extreme base station’s firmware to 7.6.3. Until Sunday afternoon WAN routing stopped three times (for which I first blamed our ISP), but when WiFi is also stopped last afternoon I decided to go back to the very well behaving 7.6.1.

But, to rephrase what Mr. Scott said: downgrading is easy, finding the file – that’s hard. Apple’s respective firmware page is an insult: it contains no link to the firmware update itself. Google turned up nothing, so I decided to go after a solution myself.

Note that I’m still using AirPort Utility 5.6. I consider 6.0 a huge step backward.

AirPort Utility stores the firmware files under the ~/Library/Application Support/Apple/AirPort/Firmware folder. You have a numbered subfolder for each model. My 4th generation AirPort Extreme’s number is 114. Here I found just one file: 7.6.3.basebinary.

So I knew that I had to look for 7.6.1.basebinary and put it into that folder. I also found a file named version.xml under the Firmware folder. Opening it quickly revealed that it contains actual download links for firmware images under the firmwareUpdates key (it’s actually an array of dictionaries, with each element corresponding to a firmware file). To find your file look for a dictionary containing your product number under the productID key, 7.6.1 under the version key, and you’ll get the download link in the location key, as you can see below:

<dict>
    <key>location</key>
    <string>http://apsu.apple.com/data/114/041-3395.20120130.Ka1Br/
        7.6.1.basebinary</string>
    <key>productID</key>
    <string>114</string>
    <key>version</key>
    <string>7.6.1</string>
    <key>sourceVersion</key>
    <string>76100.4</string>
    <key>sizeInBytes</key>
    <integer>6364116</integer>
</dict>

Also note that I had to download the firmware directly attaching the ADSL modem to my Mac, as at the end routing was so hectic that I was not able to do it via the AirPort Extreme. Having downloaded the file the actual downgrade procedure was seamless: put the file in the aforementioned folder and choose “Upload Firmware…” from the “Base Station” menu in AirPort Utility 5.6.

I also noticed a strange thing: while on 7.6.3 the Upload Firmware dialog only allowed me to upload 7.6.3 and nothing else. Now that I’m back on 7.6.1, it allows me to choose between 7.5.2, 7.6, 7.6.1 and 7.6.3.

All is well since then.

Update 8/14/2013

Just installed 7.6.4. I’ll report after a week or so how it works.

Sleepless External Display on a Mac

The original frustrating issue: my other half’s 13″ retina Macbook Pro was unable to put the external display into sleep. Video signal was off, but something kept the display always on (it’s a Samsung SyncMaster 213T – which isn’t a young one, but still a very capable monitor). So I tried a crazy idea: swapped my Mini Displayport to DVI adapter with hers.

And the result was – to my biggest surprise – proper display sleep. I was curious whether it is a faulty adapter or what, so tried the non-sleeping adapter with my EIZO CG241W. The result? Proper sleep behavior again.

The only difference between the two MiniDP to DVI adapters is that mine is almost three years old, while hers is from last December. They look exactly the same, have the exact same part number, etc.

Conclusion: if you encounter display sleep issues, the culprit might be compatibility between your adapter and monitor. Try to get an older Apple adapter or try an aftermarket one.

Retina MacBook Pro – After 2 and a Half Months

The 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display is by far the best computer I had ever used, no question about it. And I had used great many – although only a handful made a deep impression (I mean a positive impression, because I came across several that made unforgettable bad impressions). These are heavy words from me. As you might have been noticed I’m really picky on everything I use (just browse the Hall of Shame section for rants about bad design and/or execution).

You can read my initial impressions about the machine here.

During the last months I had used the machine as a desktop for software development (both iOS and OS X) as well as studio work, and lugged it around the country as a field laptop to assist during my photo trips. Most of my first impressions are still valid, and I love the machine even more than I though at first. I would just like to add further observations.

Battery Life

In my initial post I wrote around 5 hours. Since then OS X 10.8.2 came out, which increased battery life substantially. Now I get something between 6 and 8+ hours, depending on the usage pattern (disabling Adobe Flash holds a great contribution to increased battery life, though).

Tethered Shooting

Working Tethered

I started working tethered for landscape shots immediately after receiving the MacBook, and the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience of lugging around a computer. Before the MacBook I had tried to use the Lenovo X200s for tethered work, but was not really satisfied with it and abandoned the idea until the MacBook arrived.

I like several things about this setup.

No time required for image sorting and selection later. I just bring home the keepers. This proved to be a huge time-saver!

I can make the first cut of the final processing in the field, using the same tools I use in the studio. This fits extremely well into my creative process. The high resolution and color-accurate display helps a lot in this. It’s like holding an A4 sized print in front of me. I even stitch panoramas made with the 24mm TS-E lens to check whether everything is good about the shot.

Images are immediately backed up, as the the tethering software saves images to both the memory card in the camera and onto the computer. (Which app? – you might ask. Don’t worry I’ll devote a few posts for that subject later.)

As I wrote in my first impressions piece, the machine fits perfectly into my Lowepro Pro Trekker 400AW. Fully loaded it’s now a back-breaking experience, but if I leave home stuff I don’t need for the shoot, then the full weight is around 15kg, which is bearable. I did several 2-3 hour hikes with the setup without any effects on my back and shoulders (did I mention that the Pro Trekker is a great backpack?).

Other Good Things

The notebook-as-the-desktop was really helpful during the August storms. I routinely power down and disconnect sensitive equipment during thunderstorms, as I saw quite a few over-voltage spikes in the past. But with the MacBook I can continue working during these hours. I really like thunderstorms and they put me in a creative mood, so it’s a big plus!

Last, but not least, no more copying or syncing or Dropboxing files between my desktop and field notebook! No more forgetting to copy something in the hurry before I leave! This saves me lot of time and the peace of mind that comes from the fact that I always have everything I need with me is priceless.

What I miss?

Thunderbolt docks. Matrox’s and Belkin’s solutions are both delayed. Plugging in all those cables (all the connectors of the machine are populated) in the morning really pisses me off. I’ll be first in the line for one of those docks!

Calibrating the Retina Display

In a recent post about the new MacBook Pro I mentioned that it “calibrates very accurately”. Let me elaborate more on this subject.

My standard display calibration parameters are: 80 cd/m2 luminance, D50 white point and L* tone reproduction curve (TRC). I had used this setup for years with my EIZO on both Windows and Mac computers. I’m also using a complete L* workflow (with ProStarRGB working space in Photoshop for example). So my target was the same for the Retina display.

Due to the incompatibility with OS X 10.8, I gave a shot recently to basICColor display for color calibration. The MacBook Pro arrived just before the trial expired on my old desktop and I got another 14-day trial license for the new machine. This allowed me to test the software again before committing to the purchase.

So I spent the whole Sunday on profiling displays and evaluating them side by side. My initial thought was that it’ll be a piece of cake. How naive was I…

First, I calibrated both monitors to the aforementioned conditions and profiled them. The EIZO was good as usual, but my usual 50% gray desktop background on the Retina display showed a strong, ugly reddish color cast. Black levels were also quite different, making it hard to see and make decisions about contrast and work with delicate shadows. I was far from being satisfied with the results.

Then gave a try to X-Rite’s new i1Profiler. Although printer and press profiles created with the application literally sing, there’s a lot to be desired regarding its display calibration abilities. Frankly, I still prefer display profiles from the old i1Match application (not available since Apple eliminated PowerPC emulation from OS X). It also lacks L* TRC support, the most perceptually uniform TRC you can get is the one modeled after the sRGB color space’s TRC. The results were disappointing. Even watching a movie I complained about burnt highlights and ugly gradations (causing a little bit of indignation from my Loved One).

I was thinking what the hell should I do to make the otherwise gorgeous display usable. And a faint memory reared its head. Some 8-9 years ago I evaluated a display calibration and profiling tool named ColorEyes Display Pro. Downloaded the latest version and gave it a try. This was the first time I got acceptable results without the unbearable reddish cast.

The app works fine under 10.8. There’s one thing to watch for, however. For better monitor match it recommends to calibrate to “absolute black” instead of treating the monitor’s lowest black as 0/0/0 pixel value. Yes, this will cut the visibility of the deepest shadows on the monitor. Actually it behaves just like paper and ink, so it’s even easier to fine tune my images for printing (and of course I can always use the levels tool to bring up the shadows a bit temporarily). This worked out very well. Examining my favorite test image side by side showed only very small differences. Actually, I think the Retina display is usable for semi-critical color work, such as quick edits during field trips.

Unfortunately, the desktop and every non-color managed app still had a slight reddish cast. After 4-5 hours of trying every imaginable solution (tuning white points, changing colors, etc, etc.) I ended up with two profiles. One, the usual 80cd/D50/L* for editing images and another one with 80cd/5300K/L* for other types of work I do (such as app development and writing). With 5300K the non-color managed apps look just like D50 does on the EIZO, and even I do light photo editing with it sometimes.

The two displays side by side now look as if they were prints on a matte Hahnemühle Museum Etching and a semigloss Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta. Sweet!

Some closing numbers. With absolute black level calibration I can easily see into the shadows as low as about level 8 (from 255) on the EIZO and as low as about 6-7 on the Retina. Maximum deltaE is 0.90 for the EIZO with an average of 0.5. Maximum deltaE is 0.63 for the Retina display with an average of 0.34. Most impressive! And the Retina display’s color space covers roughly the entire sRGB space (as viewed in ColorSync Utility).

I must mention again that the resolution advantage is huge! Just enabled Retina support this morning in the application I’m working on these days and it looks really awesome. The EIZO doesn’t get much love these days…