Which new Mac Pro? The old one.

December 15th, 2013

So with the new Mac Pro coming out, I’ve been torn between getting one of those or live with my old Mac Pro early 2008 for a while longer. Now, just estimating the price of the new Mac Pro, adding in a Thunderbolt drive storage and two Thunderbolt screens, the sum is way beyond what I can credibly argue myself into. And I’d be stuck with something that has much more processing power than I could invent excuses for, while still being a first generation product.

After a lot of arguing with myself back and forth, I decided to try to speed up my old Mac Pro with SSDs. I also have a bootcamp Win7 I would like to preserve if possible, which seems to preclude using regular SSDs, unless I use a lot of them. The solution seems to be a Fusion Drive (combined SSD and hard disk), where the bootcamp partition ends up on the hard disk proper.

The SSD I bought is an OWC Accelsior E2 480 GB PCIe card, and I combined it with one of my “old” Seagate Constellation ES.2 2 TB drives into a 2.1 TB Fusion Drive with a 300 GB Windows partition. I can access the Win7 through Parallels as a virtual machine, but without any speedup from the SSD (since Win7 is in its own partition), but right now I can’t boot from it. I moved it using Winclone, so I’m waiting on a response from them on how to proceed. Worst case, I can skip bootcamp, I don’t really need it.

But for all the other virtual machines through Parallels, and all the other software and files I have, the machine has become unbelievably snappy. The Fusion Drive has about 1 TB of applications and data on it, so the SSD part should be able to handle most daily tasks, once it balances out right. But already, I’m seeing some fantastic speedups.

Just to make you envious, see the screenshot that follows. Theoretically, I should be getting 800 MB/sec, but I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing. Can’t really see how much faster the machine can get in actual handling. Seems it boots apps and opens files as fast as the screen can be written. Almost.

BlackMagic Disk Speed Test on Mac Pro 2008

BlackMagic Disk Speed Test on Mac Pro 2008

As a comparison, the test data from the “old” ES.2 2TB 7200 rpm drive that contains my old home folder, and which is still in one of the slots of the Mac Pro:

Disk Speed TestScreenSnapz002

In short, for a fraction of the money a new Mac Pro would cost, I got most of the benefit of one by adding this PCIe SSD card. (Nope, I have no relationship to OWC other than as a happy customer.)

The next step would be screens. I’ve got two 24″ Cinema displays, but with their 1920×1200 resolution, they’re getting cramped, especially when using the interface builder and storyboards in XCode. I’m still thinking it over, what to do about that. I already have an ATI Radeon 5870 card in the machine, so it should be able to handle bigger screens fine.

Southend Enterprises scam

September 3rd, 2013

Just this afternoon I got a call from “iAssist” who wanted to fix my computer, since it had malware, or was out of support or something. It was the regular fare with them taking over my computer to “fix” it for me. So I let him do just that.

While I “doddered” around and “tried” to boot my computer, I opened an old XP I have for experiments under Parallels, booted up my ScreenFlow screen capture, did a system snapshot, and then let him have at it. He’d called me on our home number on a DECT phone, so it took me a while to figure out how to get the sound, but finally I simply held a little Olympus hand recorder next to my ear, and that’s pretty good. Had to make him wait, mumbling something about having a prostate problem or something, while I got out the recorder, located batteries and got it started.

The whole thing is 34 minutes. The first 6 minutes or so are silent, then 2-3 minutes of only my voice (I’d turned the Olympus the wrong way up… duh), then after that it’s pretty clear. Note that the sound is offset by 10-20 seconds, so some places may look weird.

What he was after, once he got me, a “living alone 74 year old man who only uses his son’s old decrepit computer (seven years old computer) every sunday” (really; he asked me twice if I lived alone), hooked up was selling me an extended support for Windows and all my machines for only 3200 SEK for five years. That’s $500 by the way. Once I got to the screen where I had to enter my billing info, I quit the charade. After telling him twice that we were in a virtual machine and I had recorded the whole thing, he just hung up.

In the recording, you’ll see my name, street address, and phone number; that’s what he typed in. The email, I gave him (momo..something at hotmail.com, couldn’t think of anything better at the drop of a hat).

As far as I can figure out, iAssist (and LogMeIn) have nothing to do with this, but Southend Enterprises almost certainly do. That’s the “PCSupport” page I’m supposed to enter my payment data into. I found other people on the net reporting on this shady company.

I posted the whole recording on youtube, if someone wants to see them do this thing and hear this guy’s piercing and ennervating voice. It’s pretty boring, but maybe someone gets a kick out of it.

One really, truly, funny thing is that somewhere along the way, there’s a Parallels dialog box that pops up and says “Parallels tools are installed”, and he just clicks it away. I can’t locate it from the video, and I don’t want to watch it all again. Somebody told me it’s at 26:50 approximately. Also, there’s the “Parallels Shared Folders” icon in the upper left corner of the desktop, and even that didn’t tip him off.

 

So today I got a followup call from Customer Satisfaction at Southend Enterprises. Really. To hear if my machine worked fine today. Turned into two five-minute talks, where it’s pretty clear the guy (not the same guy as yesterday) either really is a fine actor, or (more likely) has no idea what he’s doing. But “persistence” is clearly his middle name.

The audio is even worse than yesterday’s recording. Maybe I should set up a rig to record these “artists” better, if this goes on. Here it is:

Buying books is such a mess

August 2nd, 2012

Buying books is such a mess right now, at least if you try to switch over to eBooks in one form or another. Let’s see what we have here.

Kindle

Kindle has the advantage of running on Kindle devices, Windows, OSX, iOS, whatever. Books are also usually cheap on Kindle, even though there are examples where the electronic version is actually more expensive than the paper version. The problem with Kindle is that it’s a proprietary and DRM’d format, and that doesn’t feel right. Non-technical litterature without illustrations are pretty nice on Kindle, but anything with code, drawings, or images sucks big time. Reading programming books on Kindle, at least on iOS and OSX, the platforms I use, is horrible.

iBooks

I’ve never bought a book on iBooks. They may be fine, I don’t know, but since iBooks, an Apple product, doesn’t run on OSX (and how sick is that), I wouldn’t invest in any book on that platform. The books are also more expensive than on Kindle, while being just as DRM challenged.

Protected PDF

APress used to sell protected PDF books, and it was really shitty. You had to use Adobe Acrobat to read them, with all the limitations, such as not being able to read them on the iPad. They fixed that by switching over to unprotected PDF. Several other publishers still use protected PDF, but you have to really scrutinize their sites to discover this vital fact. I’m avoiding doing any business with these people.

Online reading

I have to include online repositories such as O’Reilly bookshelf. I have access to a limited form via ACM, but it’s pretty shitty. The interface to the book is based on a Flash browser plugin, making it difficult to navigate. And, worse, it doesn’t work when you’re offline.

Plain PDF

I’ve found three publishers that sell unprotected PDFs, or at least they are not mandating that you use Adobe Acrobat; any PDF reader, including Goodreader and OSX Preview, is good enough. The only thing these guys do is sprinkle the document with the name of the purchaser, making it really easy to see who gave away copies to the torrent sites. I find this totally acceptable. The three publishers I’ve found are Pragmatic Bookshelf, Apress, and O’Reilly. Somewhat disturbingly, O’Reilly charges almost double for their eBooks as compared with Kindle for the same titles, which irks me enough to not buy the books I would normally have wanted to buy.

What a mess this is

You end up with some of your books on Kindle, some in Dropbox (where I put the unprotected PDF files), and some on your physical bookshelf. The advantages of carrying around a laptop or iOS device with all the books on it, are huge, though. PDF files can also be easily searched, even from Spotlight on OSX. Luckily, the three publishers I mentioned, publish enough good titles that I can simply ignore the rest, at least as far as modern programming goes. I actually think that this is the model that will dominate in the long run, at least as far as technical books are concerned.

Mountain Lion for free?

August 2nd, 2012

I’ve downloaded and installed Mountain Lion (10.8) on several machines now, but I never paid for it. No, I didn’t pirate it, I got it from the App store, but it never gave me a chance to pay. Looking up the transaction in the App store via iTunes, I see this:

In other words, I did “buy” it, but got it for nothing. Officially. What I don’t get is why. I’m just guessing here, but since I’m a registered developer on the same account, and I’ve run the developer previews, that earns me a free release version as well. (Note that the 10.8 above is not a developer preview, but the released public version.)

Nice gesture, Apple. Unless it’s an error. If so, I really don’t mind paying for it; it’s not exactly expensive.

Beware of Network Solutions

May 8th, 2012

…in particular if you’re a European company. I got an invoice ten days back with VAT added from them. Went and checked my account and there’s a VAT field there now, empty of course. So I filled it in and filed a support ticket about it. Waited a week, filed a new support ticket, more upset, especially since they promise response within 24 hours. This morning I got a phone call from them that they can’t refund the VAT. The guy claims they’ve sent out a notification about this in email.

Ok, maybe they did, but Network Solutions is sending out so much spam all the time, that if there was a notification about a VAT field being added to the account, there’s no way I would have seen that. Occasionally, other US companies charge VAT when they shouldn’t, but they’ve always been able to refund that once they get the number. Not so Network Solutions. Too lazy, too greedy, or simply don’t give a shit, I don’t know.

In short, they’re more expensive than other registrars, their customer support is crap, they spam me, so why do I keep using them? Good question, I see no reason.

Invisible failure

March 4th, 2012

Today I noticed the RAID utility icon in the dock and I couldn’t remember having started it. Weird. Clicked on it and this is what I see:

(Click the image for full size.)

Oh, sh*t, a drive just died. “Just” died? No, not really, it died a week ago, and I didn’t notice. That’s not good. Normally, RAID Utility pops up at start to tell you something is going wrong, but what happens is that with Snow Leopard all apps restart in the state they were when closed down, so RAID Utility gets covered by all that other stuff. Any dire warnings are hidden, unless you look for them.

What RAID Utility should do is scream bloody murder, bounce the dock icon, send emails, create Growl popups, any and all of that, but it does none of them. Considering that running on a degraded RAID set is actually several times more risky than not running on RAID at all, the system really should take notifying the user more seriously.

A week… could just as well have been a month or until the next drive failed. Now let’s see if I get a new one from Seagate before another one goes titsup. Checking my backups as we speak…

A platform too many

January 25th, 2012

With the new iBooks and iTunes U app, I’m missing a piece of the puzzle. Just as truckloads of schools have given the kids MacBooks, Apple rolls out the new textbooks to iPads only. Are we supposed to switch over the schoolkids to iPads now, and lose the OSX apps they use?

It would seem logical that iBooks and iTunes U would be available in versions for OSX as well, but there’s no sign of that. Or is Apple planning on running iOS apps on OSX in something like the iOS simulator? What’s going on here? As it stands now, it makes no sense.

Another creator pattern for clusters

September 15th, 2011

This is about Cocoa, and in particular about class clusters. The problem I wanted to solve was having a class cluster with easily extendable hierarchy without too much interdependency. In my case, I want to create a number of different UITableViewCell descendants, depending on the particular data element the cell should handle. If the data element has a field “string value”, then a UITableViewCell with a text field for such a string value should be created. If the data element has a field “check” representing a yes/no answer, then a UITableViewCell with a yes/no functionality widget should be created instead, and so on. In total, I have less than ten different kinds of UITableViewCell derived classes, but they could become more at any time.

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Dr Dobbs circling the drain

March 17th, 2011

I’ve subscribed to Dr Dobbs journal off and on for decades, probably for ten to 15 years in total. Wherever I turn in this house, I encounter stacks of old issues of DDJ, even though I’ve thrown away quite a number. A couple of years ago I stopped subscribing, since the main focus of DDJ was drifting away from my main focus, or vice versa, or both. Since Microsoft started buying up all the people central to the C++ evolution, then riddling their version of it with proprietary “extensions” (or rather limitations), that language has become more and more of a dead end and both I, and DDJ moved away from it. But during the years, I’ve often read parts of DDJ on the web and I do get the “Dr Dobbs Update” through email every now and then. The most recent arrived two days ago and had the weirdest “Editor’s Note” ever, at least as far as one would expect from DDJ.

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Death of medical articles?

February 2nd, 2011

Check out this article on “Improbable Research”. In short, it’s an application that can take raw data and write an article around it. Personally, I think it’s a good thing if the result is more objective and complete than most journalistic writing we see today. Can’t be less researched, at least.

But it also goes to show the opposite, which has a bearing on medical publications. In medicine, we have a huge problem with the sheer amount of articles published. If you want to find out the state of art in some particular disease or treatment, you have to collect a number of articles, skim through them, try to get at the original data that was used (very hard) and make up your mind. There’s not much guarantee of objectivity in selection or interpretation of the articles, and very little objective data on how reliable the articles are. If you can find a (reliable) meta study, it’s easier.

If a machine can produce medical articles based on study data, and those articles look like the real thing, this proves that the prose in the article is not a real value add. In other words, nothing in the text adds information beyond what the raw data already contains. And if it does, it’s probably misleading and wrong, anyway.

In conclusion, this only goes to show that what we need is more studies and less articles. What we need is immediate access to the raw data of all relevant studies and a desktop application that lets us view and manipulate the total of that data according to our needs, without going through the complications of reading articles and reverse-engineer the texts down to the objective facts hiding behind them.

Maybe this heralds the death of medical publishing as it looks today, and if so, good riddance.