somewhat daily mutterings

/Computing 1TB Drive, Less than $0.50/Gig

I'm working on a new home theater setup for our vacation place that involves a Mac Mini as the "media center", and which involved ripping all of my movies to disk (I'll write on this home theater in a later post). For additional storage I used a pair of LaCie 500Gb Mini Disks, which go quite nicely with the Mini. The time that went into ripping the disks was not inconsiderable, so I wanted to back up those drives to yet another drive.

The OWC Mercury Elite fits in nicely on a Mac-oriented desk

I searched far and wide and finally settled on a nice Firewire 800/400 RAID 0 (striped) enclosure from Other World Computing. The company also offers a model pre-configured with drives.

I put a couple of Seagate Barracuda 500Gb drives in the enclosure with little effort (I must admit I FUBARed my first attempt by failing to set the drives as master/slave, but that was easily addressed). Once the drive was assembled, I attached it to one of the firewire ports on a Mini drive, and started the process of copying about 650Gb of data to the drive (this took about 13 hours total). I am happy to report that during the copying it ran as quiet as a mouse — just a whisper of fan noise, but nothing compared to the Mac Mini and the Mini drive(s). So far, I can highly recommend this enclosure/drive.

PS — OWC doesn't say what sort of drives they put in their pre-built model. If you don't care about such details, you don't really "save" any money by building the drive yourself. Only go the enclosure route if you want to put your own "special sauce" into the enclosure!

Posted: Sun Feb 11 21:22:24 -0800 2007

/Computing Reminded of how PCs and Windows Suck

We recently bought a PC for MB to use for working at home, and to replace the aging desktop PC she's been using for years. She already has an older PowerBook (a 550Mhz TiBook) that works great, but she has never truly "switched". Therefore, a new Mac for her was out of the question (unfortunately). So, I went on the hunt for a high-end laptop. MB wanted the fastest possible machine with a widescreen display. I ended up choosing an Acer Travelmate 8204. This is a 2Ghz Core Duo machine stocked with 2G of RAM and a high-end graphics card and hard drive. It also features a racy carbon-fiber lid. Sound sweet?

Well, it's sweet only if you haven't been exposed primarily to Macs for a couple of years. Even MB who never claimed to love her TiBook commented that "it looks cheap" as soon as we unboxed it. There's no sense of industrial design perfection that you experience when checking out an Apple product. Too many different textures and grades of plastic. Too many stickers proclaiming vendor relationships. That's just the exterior design. There were many other PC/Windows SNAFUs to be endured.

As soon as we booted the machine, we had to wait for about a half-hour for the Acer utilities to install themselves. Meanwhile, we're getting hammered by all sorts of messages regarding the lack of virus protection, complaints that some DLL or other is not safe, etc. After that was done, we closed the lid on the machine. The next day, I opened the machine at lunch, and discovered a "Windows is preparing to hibernate" screen, and a completely unresponsive computer. We had to reboot. This is a machine fresh out of the box, and it can't even sleep correctly.

Last night, I decided to start doing installs for MB. First, Office. The installation itself went without a hitch. But when trying to activate the software, we experienced a couple of glitches trying to connect to the activation server. This may be related to other problems that followed. I started downloading a bunch of stuff (over WiFi): Eclipse, Firefox, Java 1.4.2, etc. I also was forced to download and install a new version of Windows Media Player, since ours was already "out of date".

Long story short, all these downloads except for the WMP one timed out (wow, good thing we got to install that piece of crap!). Not only did the downloads crap out, but I had no network access at all after that. Thinking that our DSL connection had died, I went to a both a wired and a wireless Mac, and both were fine. I had to reboot the machine to get the network connection back. We tried one more time to download the JDK to no avail - another timeout.

I do not look forward to my next bout with this machine.

Someone tell me, how do people put up with this crap when using Wintel boxes? It must be the old "boiling a frog" story: if you throw a frog into already boiling water, he'll jump right out. But if you put him in a pot of lukewarm water, and turn up the heat slowly, he'll sit there and allow himself to be boiled alive. To mix metaphors, having cleansed my palate with Macs for the last few years, I'm like the frog thrown into boiling water when I have to use Windows. "Ouch! Oh my god, this sucks!". Those who never left Windows must just be used to crappiness.

Update:
The next few sessions with the Acer went better, although we could never successfully download Eclipse (I kept getting a connection reset error). I ended up downloading it with one of our Macs. I did download everything else (JDK, Ant, SmartCVS, etc.) successfully, and got all MBs development tools installed without further problems. The machine also seems to be hibernating properly when the lid is closed, so that's a good thing.

Posted: Fri Apr 14 09:10:09 -0700 2006

/Computing More Celestia Images

Like I mentioned before, I'm addicted. I downloaded some extras and took a few more shots.

Voyager 1 over Saturn [more pix]

This new set of Celestia images is published to my .Mac site.

Posted: Mon Jan 30 06:04:58 -0800 2006

/Computing Celestia Images

A coworker recently turned on to the open source space exploration software Celestia. If Google Earth is the coolest software ever created (it gets my vote), then Celestia is second coolest, and is basically like Google Earth, but in space.

Despina over Neptune [more pix]

I've burned up way too many hours playing with Celestia. My main time-waster has been space "photography". This is accomplished by visiting a location in space, and playing around with time, location, and camera adjustments until a pleasant composition is achieved, then taking a "picture". Celestia currently doesn't support photography on OS X, but a screenshot suffices.

I've published a Celestia photo album on my .Mac site, and intend to do more as I explore Celestia further.

Posted: Sat Jan 28 00:00:00 -0800 2006

/Computing/Mac Headless iMac?!?

According to MacRumors it's coming - a low-cost, headless iMac. I think this will do a lot to lure home users to Apple, as long as Apple blitzes the media appropriately.

The new Mac is said to be incredibly small and will be housed in a flat enclosure with a height similar to the 1.73 inches of Apple's Xserve. Its size benefits will include the ability to stand the Mac on its side or put it below a display or monitor.

I wish them luck!

Posted: Wed Dec 29 09:12:52 -0800 2004

/Computing/Mac OmniGraffle 3.0 Rocks!

I always liked the copy of OmniGraffle 2.x that came with my PowerMac. That is, I liked it fine, but I didn't love it. Well, today I needed to whip out some new graphics for a presentation I'm working on, so I shelled out the $79 for the OmniGraffle 3.x Pro upgrade. All I can say is wow.

They've done a lot to improve the program. I found it much easier than ever to make sweeping changes to a diagram. The program is very "active", meaning it gives feedback at all times, which is very cool. For example, if you're laying out boxes on a page, it pops up little guidelines as soon as a given box is in alignment with another box as you're dragging. Or, while you're dragging, it shows dimension lines that demonstrate whether you're centered, or equally spaced, with respect to other objects. Hard to describe, but very easy to use. Good stuff!

Physical Packaging Diagram, done with OmniGraffle 3.0 [PDF]

One disappointment is the continuing lack of high-quality stencils. While you can download "aftermarket" stencils from the extras area of the Omni Group site, it would be so much better if they'd just added the best of these to the product along with some additional, professionally designed, rather than making users bother with it. If Omni only did that, OmniGraffle would definitely be kicking some Visio butt.

Posted: Sat Oct 23 20:41:24 -0700 2004

/Computing/Mac "Datacenter" News

New Monitor

I've been having a little trouble with my 21" Sun CRT over the past few months, and this weekend I'd had enough. So, I went out and got an Apple 23" Cinema HD Display at MicroCenter. Actually, the story is longer than that. I bought a 23" first. But when I was paying, the cashier made a huge deal about the size of the monitor, and made the mistake of planting doubt: "hey, just keep in mind that if this doesn't fit in your setup, you'll have to pay a restocking fee to return it". So, within 10 minutes I'd convinced myself that I didn't actually have room on my desk for the 23". So I traded it out for a 20".

But once I got the 20" set up I realized two things: I actually had plenty of room for the 23", and I was disappointed in the overall resolution of the 20". It felt a little cramped after having run my Sun at 1600x1200 for so long. So, today I went back to MicroCenter and traded back for the 23". They were excellent about waiving the restocking fee, given that I'd just bought the monitor yesterday, and it was perfectly re-packed.

My crib, rockin the 23"

New Cube Webserver Deployed

I installed the 512M stick of memory in the Cube ('ice') this weekend, then set to work decomissioning my Sun boxes and putting the Cube in their place. It was kind of sad shutting 'buzz', my Sun Ultra 1 down. He's been running the site for years, and he was regularly up for very long, trouble-free intervals. RIP buzz, let's hope that ice works as well as you have.

Having no fan, the Cube is relatively silent (except for a bit of hard-drive noise) compared to the old Sun iron. It fits quite nicely into my "server rack". As a matter of fact, there's room for another. A cube-cluster, perhaps? :-)

The Cube, Racked-up

Posted: Mon Oct 18 06:16:02 -0700 2004

/Computing/Mac G4 Cube on the Way

I just won a used Mac G4 Cube on eBay. It has a 30GB hard drive and 768MB of RAM. I'll be putting it into service as a music and web server. Its assignment to web serving duties will mark the end of my Sun Ultra 1 200e box's reign as web server, something it's done well for number of years now. The Sun box is actually still running fine (as a matter of fact it's been up for 133 consecutive days now), but it's running low on disk space and I'm losing interest in Solaris administration. In addition, the Mac has many more peripheral options (such as the ability to take a wireless card and firewire drives) and a better overall upgrade path should I choose to make upgrades (probably not). It is smaller, more elegant, and has no fan to make noise, so that's great, too.

As an aside, since I mentioned my Sun box's uptime, I thought it would only be fair to mention my iBook's uptime: 70 days, as of today. In and out of sleep, on and off AC power, switching networks, installing software, etc. It's been up for 70 days without issue. That's better even than my PowerBook (which admittedly gets the harder workout).

Posted: Thu Sep 30 20:31:16 -0700 2004

/Computing/Mac New iBooks and PowerBooks are Out ...

... and they look great. The PBs have gotten (a little) faster and offer better graphics cards and a faster SuperDrive, the iBooks are a lot faster, and the "big" iBook now offers a SuperDrive. Which reminds me that I've always felt that a 15" widescreen iBook with a fast processor (not as fast as in the PB line, of course), would kill on the market. They'd have to keep the memory limits low and leave out other PB niceties, as they currently do, to keep the iBook from stealing sales from the PB, but I think a 15" iBook would sell like nothing else.

The bummer of the G4 iBook, of course, is that I bought a G3 iBook last summer. When they announced the G4 model just a few months later, the value of my G3 plummeted. Good for new buyers, bad for me. Oh well.

Posted: Tue Apr 20 05:01:00 -0700 2004

/Computing/Mac New GIANT Hard Drive

Well, the once seemingly huge 60G drive on my G4 desktop has been starting to feel cramped lately. Last I checked I "only" had 8M left. With the imminent arrival of the Garage Band Jam Pack, which I believe takes another 3G, I was definitely in need of more hard drive space. As luck would have it, I happened to be in MicroCenter the other day with a friend that was shopping for a new Mac laptop, and they had LaCie 160GB firewire drives on sale for $169. Geez, just over $1 per gig. Hard to pass up, so I bought one. It's now humming away hosting my 25GB or so of music, with 122.5GB free. And suddenly my original hard drive has 31GB free. Unreal. The only thing cooler would be to have bought two of them and run them as a mirrored RAID array. Maybe when they get even cheaper.

Posted: Tue Feb 17 20:30:52 -0800 2004

/Computing/Mac PowerBook Update

My second post about my new PowerBook was unfortunately kind of lukewarm (I didn't think the battery lasted long enough). However, now that I've lived with "sylph" for a couple of weeks, I'm pretty much in love. I've been using the machine at work, pretty much as my main development machine, even though they gave me a very fast Windows box. Sylph, which is currently carrying "only" 512M of RAM, compiles our entire source tree to a .war file in about 45 seconds. My manager's 2.4ghz Compaq laptop takes about a minute longer to compile it (under cygwin). So, you could say I'm pretty happy with the PB's performance :-).

It's also proven to be as much of a champ as the household's other Mac laptops (a 900mhz iBook and 550mhz TiBook), in terms of stability. I'm constantly sleeping it, waking it, plugging in, unplugging, switching between wireless and wired networking, adding a mouse and taking it off, etc., and it has never stumbled. I think over the last week I've only turned it off once, and it's been carried in and out of different environments daily.

I can recommend a few accessories that I've been very happy with:

  • WildEepz from RadTech. They're little urethane dots that make the case top and bottom mate better when the 'book is closed.
  • A PowerSleeve(z), also from RadTech. This is a very nice slipcover that I use before dropping the PB into my bag.
  • The size 11 SleeveCase from WaterField Designs. This is a very nice case for carrying the PowerBook on short journeys where you don't need a lot of gear, but want protection for the 'Book. I added the optional D-rings and suspension strap. This is top-notch gear. I originally ordered it along with the WaterField Cargo bag, but decided to send back the Cargo bag and just stick my old tried-and-true Tumi Computer Brief (mine is much older than the one at the linnk) for commuting duties. This is no reflection on the Cargo bag -- it was of very impressive quality. Gary at WaterField was great about processing the return with no fuss whatsoever. I highly recommend this manufacturer of great laptop gear.

Posted: Sat Feb 07 16:02:53 -0800 2004

/Computing/Sun Sparky Lives!!

Well, after a bit of fussing, fighting, kicking and screaming, Sparky, my old dual-processor SPARCstation 10 is back up. His hard drive crashed about a year and a half ago, and being the procrastinator I am, it's taken me this long to put a new one in and reinstall Solaris. Of course, I complicated it by trying to use my nice Sun 18.1 LCD panel as my monitor while doing this. Problem is, Solaris defaults to a graphical install if you have a framebuffer, and the default resolution/frequency of the graphics subsystem is wrong for the LCD panel. Result: endless frustration.

But I did finally figure out that, if I held my mouth just right, I could Ctrl-C the setup process before it goes into the OpenWindows install. Once I was at the command line, I hunted for an install program, and found one at /sbin/suninstall. This app is the character-mode install (Sun calls it CLI). I got Solaris installed without problem using this guy.

However, there's the problem of Solaris going to dtlogin immediately after startup, and that process is not breakable, unfortunately. So, my hope of dumping my ancient, screwed-up Sun tube in favor of the LCD has died along with my enthusiasm for figuring this sort of thing out.

At least I'm now set to make sparky a mirror of buzz, my Apache server. That is an interesting problem and will help me maximize uptime for my loyal reader (that's right - no 's').

Posted: Sat Jan 31 06:20:42 -0800 2004

/Computing/Mac More 15" PowerBook Observations

There's one big problem with the PowerBook so far. I think many others have complained about it, too. It's the battery life, which is appalling. So far I've been lucky to get two hours out of it (with full power saving mode on), whereas my iBook will rock out for three or more. OK, the iBook is a G3 with a lower clock speed, but come on, you'd think that Apple would have been able to engineer a reasonable battery life into this $2600 computer, especially when they brag of four hour runtimes. Perhaps there will be an upgrade path for this particular battery someday.

I also downloaded and ran PiXelCheck from MacUpdate in order to uncover any dead pixels on my LCD. Good news! All perfect.

Update

OK, maybe I was a bit quick to judge the battery life on my new PowerBook. Tonight I used it for easily over a couple of hours (I didn't really time it, but it held out much longer than the night before). I guess I should have taken into account the fact that I was using the DVD drive last night to install some software - that definitely drags down the battery. Of course, that doesn't bode well for watching a movie on a plane trip.

Posted: Tue Jan 27 20:37:09 -0800 2004

/Computing/Sun Buzz (Web Server) Uptime

Buzz, my Ultra 1 200e, reports the following uptime:

  9:23pm  up 164 day(s),  6:31,  3 users,  load average: 0.00, 0.02, 0.02

Not bad for an old warhorse of a Sparc. Of course, he's not stressed at all, considering his load average. After all, he does nothing but run Apache in order to host this site, and I get next to no traffic (about 30 visits/day).

Posted: Tue Jan 27 20:28:46 -0800 2004

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