So much for my New Year’s resolution to keep up my blog. Ah, well…
Today’s story is, How I Burned Three Days and Six CD-ROMs.
It all started when I commenced to preparing my art files for The Architect for printing. Yes, it will actually see print, like I’ve been promising Mike Baron all these months. Our release date will be, we hope, July 16, just in time for Sandy Eggo Con, and it will be distributed in real, actual bookstores by Baker & Taylor, as well as in Direct Market comic shops via Diamond.
One of the many reasons it’s taken so long to get this together shall be explained here:
Every printer wants its files formatted a bit differently. Expecting to use the Print-On-Demand outfit ComiXpress to do a short run of “galley” copies, which we needed for shopping a distributor and seeding to select reviewers, I originally formatted them to that outfit’s standards.
But when I wanted to do the print run, a few weeks before the New York Comic-Con (an important event for us), ComiXpress started acting very flaky. So at the last minute I switched to Lulu. Lulu’s requirements are a bit different from ComiXpress (or any other printer I know) but I didn’t have time to re-format the files so they went in as-is. As a result the art was not positioned quite right on the pages and the ISBN box on the back looked like it had been pasted on by a nearsighted mongoose, but that was all right because these were “galley” copies. They’re allowed to be a bit wrong.
I took some bids for our “for real” press run and once again the low bidder was the same Hong Kong outfit who’d printed our last book, The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel. They did a good job and we had no qualms about using them again.
This printer wants single-page PDF files, with a 1/8″ bleed area on all sides (fortunately, ComiXpress also wanted 1/8″ bleeds so that was already set up), along with crop marks, which had not been required by ComiXpress. So I spent the better part of Friday going through all the pages and adding crop marks to the Illustrator files. (This book had been drawn on paper, then scanned for coloring in Photoshop, then imported into Adobe Illustrator for page composition and lettering.)
Then when I went to convert my Illustrator files to PDF files I learned something really annoying about how Adobe does this. In every Illustrator file, there is a rectangular boundary called the “artboard.” This can be useful in cases where you know when you’re setting up the page exactly how you’re going to be using the files in the long run, but it can be a real pain in the ass otherwise, because for some reason there is no way to automate the setting of the artboard dimensions across multiple files. I can, however, automate the exporting to PDF with various settings (thank Mithra).
So when exporting to PDF files, Adobe crops the image at the artboard boundary. I can’t make it not do that. So all those crop marks I had laid in on Friday were useless. Adobe provides a different way of setting crop-marks for exported PDF files: in the settings dialog, I can specify automatic crop marks of varying thickness, style, and offset, and the depth of the bleed area. It sets the crop marks at the artboard boundary and then sets the bleed area OUTSIDE the artboard boundary, cropping the art at the outer edge of the bleed area.
After some testing I worked out that I would have to set the artboard for every page file to the trim area (6.625″x10.25″), which was a pain because most of the files had the artboard set to the bleed area (6.875″x10.5″) and because there is no way to automate that I had to manually open each file, manually reset the artboard file, save the Illustrator file (so I didn’t have to go back and do this again later), and then export the PDF file.
So I finished that up around noon Saturday, and then the real fun started.
I went to burn the files to a DVD-ROM using my spiffy HP 300i DVD Writer (which came with the HP Pavillion a250n computer I bought three years ago) — and the burn failed during the verification. I tried another disc, same result. I went to the store and bought a different brand of blank DVDs — same story. By the time I had about 8 blank discs in the trash, it was clear the problem was not the discs. First I looked at the burning software — an older version of Veritas RecordNow!. So I upgraded to version 7 of what is now Sonic RecordNow!. Now, the burns failed about a minute into the write process.
So I went to the HP support site and found that there is a firmware update for my burner. I installed that, carefully following all instructions. No improvement in the DVD writer performance, but now I discover that my secondary CD-ROM drive refuses to open. How wonderful.
After a bit more poking around I found that the HP site offers a live chat with a technician, so I opened a chat window and started a long-pause-filled chat with one of their techs. He’d say something, I’d respond immediately, then I had to wait an average of four minutes for his next remark. After I had made clear what the problem was, he told me to fire up an application called “PC Doctor” which HP provides on their computers.
I did so, but when I went to run the test for the DVD drive I discovered that it required me to insert a blank DVD+RW disc, and all I had at hand were DVD+R discs. At this point the tech said he was sure the problem was a bad write head on the writer and began hard-selling me to purchase their new writer for $70 plus shipping. I did a quick check on the TigerDirect site and found the same unit available for $50, and told him that and besides I wanted to test my existing writer anyway to make sure it was faulty, but he would not take no for an answer. So I closed the chat window and went to the nearby Office Max to get some CD+RW discs.
I ran the test, and the result was “SCSI error; unable to format disc.” That’s funny, I don’t have a SCSI interface in my system. So I ran tests on my motherboard and found that the CMOS was consistently failing something called a “pattern test.” It just keeps getting better.
Well, fortunately I remembered that the twin Dell computers I’d bought for my kids a couple years back both have CD-ROM burners. So after a couple of false starts I managed to get files copied over to Son the Younger’s computer, and burned the files onto six discs. Mission accomplished.
Of course, I still need to figure out what to do about my computer. Do I need to get a new motherboard? I haven’t experienced any other significant problems with the machine besides the DVD writer failure. Should I just get the new DVD writer?
My brain hurts.