Sunday, September 13, 2015

27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display

My Mac Pro (2008) was a great machine, but 2008 was a long time ago. The SSD gave it a few more years of useful life, but the end was drawing near. So, back in May, I finally bit the bullet and ordered a 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display. The Mac Pro's SSD died a few weeks later.

Firstly, the screen. If you haven't see one, go check it out at an Apple Store. It is truly spectacular, with 5120 × 2880 pixels. It's like having a giant 27-inch iPhone 6 on your desk. My eyes are now utterly ruined for regular LCD monitors, and my 13-inch MacBook Air looks like someone's drawn grid lines all over the screen.

Secondly, I did skimp on the disk. Full SSD was an option, but I went for a 3TB "fusion drive" instead. After the OWC Mercury Accelsior in the Mac Pro, I swore I'd never go back. But I've gone half-way back. No complaints so far, but I'm keeping a close eye on it.

(Oh, and yes, I'm just going to jump right in here and pretend it's not nearly three years since my last post. This blog was so neglected, Blogger wouldn't even let me edit the template—evidently too much bit-rot and it made the dashboard explode. I had to export all the posts, delete the blog, re-create on with the same name, and import all the posts again.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

iPhone 4S + iOS 6 + E92 BMW M3

I've upgraded my phone and my car since my last post about a quite similar but very specific phone-car combination. Unfortunately, this one isn't about eventually triumphing over my own stupidity, but two observations.
  1. Since upgrading my iPhone 4S to iOS 6, I very occasionally get the following problem. I plug the phone in via a USB cable, select it as the input source, and start a track playing. Despite being plugged into the car, and controlling the device via iDrive, the audio inexplicably plays out of the phone. Unplugging the phone and plugging it back in doesn't seem to help. Stopping and re-starting the car does seem to fix it, though not always. It doesn't seem deterministic at all—I don't know how to make it happen at will, and I don't know how to fix it reliably.
  2. iOS 6 was supposed to bring email and SMS integration with iDrive, among other features. I upgraded the car's Bluetooth software to the latest version available, and yet I get none of the new features. I've set "Show Notifications" to on in the Bluetooth settings for the car on the phone, but under iDrive's "Office" screen, all I get is "Contacts" (which has always been there), not "Current office" or "Messages", where the new features are supposed to appear.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bypassing the lockout period for failed iOS restrictions passcode

That's a long title, but the problem I'm solving here is very specific. My 6-year old daughter likes trying to guess the restrictions passcode I've set on her iPad. (She's a pretty good spy, too—she managed to get a couple of digits by watching in the reflection in my glasses while I was typing it in once.) I was just about to let her buy a single from iTunes Store, when I realised she had been guessing again, and the device had been hit with a lockout period of over 17,000 minutes. (I'm not sure how many times she had failed in total, but that seems extreme!)

The solution is simple, and doesn't involve reseting the device or restoring from a backup. Just go to the date and time preferences, and roll the calendar year over by one. Go back to the restrictions keypad—the lockout will have expired, and you can enter the passcode. Return to date and time preferences and roll the year back. Done.

Friday, May 25, 2012

OWC Mercury Accelsior PCIe SSD

Over four years ago I purchased a Mac Pro. I was pretty happy with it at the time—indeed, I wrote:
For now, here's my initial impression: the Mac Pro is fast. It's the snappiest I've seen Mac OS X, which, in my opinion, can be a bit of a dog on my MacBook Pro.
Over time, a few things have happened. Firstly, I am certain that my expectations have increased. My wife has had a MacBook Air for a couple of years, and I've had one since late 2011. Solid state drives are a whole new level of fast. I can't even use my ageing MacBook Pro any more—it's just too slow. Screen real estate was what I thought would be the biggest trade-off in moving to the Air (from 17 inches to 13 inches), but the MacBook Pro is just so eclipsed by the speed of the Air that the screen size is basically irrelevant.

Secondly, I'm starting to buy the argument that's being posed in various places that something is deeply broken in OS X memory management. I've been seeing most of the features mentioned in that post for some time, especially "frequent beachballs, particularly when switching applications and sometimes even tabs", and "general overall slowness and poor UI responsiveness". Safari regularly takes 30 seconds or more to launch to a blank tab. Opening a Terminal window takes in the order of 10-20 seconds. And all the while my main disk is pathologically thrashing. It basically never stops moving. And this is a machine with 12G of RAM. The Mac Pro is now the "bit of a dog" that was the laptop four years ago—with 8 cores and a single system disk (and a separate storage disk, 1T total), it's completely disk-bound.

So, I did something about it. Last Monday I ordered an OWC 480G Mercury Accelsior PCI Express Solid State Drive from Macfixit Australia, and by Friday afternoon I was installing it in the spare x16 PCI Express revision 2.0 slot in the Mac Pro. The rest of the evening went like this:
  1. After booting the machine, OS X detected the new disk, but complained it could not be read—completely expected, as it had not been formatted. Using Disk Utility I formatted it as a single partition Mac OS Extended (Journaled) disk.
  2. I had intended to use Disk Utility's "Restore" feature (somewhat oddly named for this use) to clone the existing 500G (about 380G used) boot disk onto the SSD. With no attempt at explanation, Disk Utility informed me that it couldn't clone a bootable disk, so that was the end of that.
  3. I downloaded SuperDuper! and started a standard "Backup - all files" backup. (I wish someone would just call it cloning. That's a pretty standard term.) This took about 5 or 6 hours.
  4. I rebooted the machine with the Option key held down, assuming I would be able to select a boot disk. Instead I was presented with two options: "Macintosh HD", the existing boot disk, and "Recovery HD"—apparently a new Lion feature, about which I knew nothing. (Obviously I was hoping to be able to select to boot from the SSD. I don't know whether there was another key I was supposed to be pressing, or whether you just can't do that.) After quitting the recovery application, I was able to select a boot disk, and booted off the SSD.
  5. The machine is still up, and still running off the SSD as boot disk. I have set the SSD as the default boot disk using System Preferences. Once I'm satisfied everything is working smoothly, I'll format the old boot disk, freeing up some 500G of spare storage, which is nice.
The Mac Pro is now blazing. It's also noticeably quieter without the endless thrashing of the old spinning disk. You can read a Macworld review for the numbers, but the qualitative summary is that this is almost certainly as good an upgrade as when I went from 4G to 12G of RAM. The SSD is pricey (just over $A 1,000 with shipping), but cheaper than buying a new Mac.

Monday, August 22, 2011

NetNewsWire: the last straw

I've used NetNewsWire as an RSS reader for years. Personally, I don't think it's brilliant, but it's serviceable. A feature I quite like is its ability to sort subscriptions by the "attention" you pay them—the more articles in the feed that you read and open in a browser tab, the higher that subscription drifts over time. After a few weeks, the feeds you pay the most attention to are at the top of the list.

Tonight, my Mac Pro wedged itself somehow and needed a reboot. NetNewsWire was running at the time. I've just fired it up again, and everything has been reset: the historical attention data has been dropped on the floor, and the feeds are now in roughly alphabetical order. It's 2011. How can that kind of user data be so volatile?

So, anyway—NetNewsWire, it's not me, it's you. I'm off to download Reeder.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Lion vs Snow Leopard in daily use

Despite resolving to be more cautious, I usually end up buying and installing new versions of OS X in the week of their release. Since it was distributed on the Mac App Store, I bought Lion on the day of its release. I installed it on my (ageing 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo) MacBook Pro immediately, but for a chain of reasons I've held off installing it on the Mac Pro. (Specifically, my wife needs to run a pre-historic version of some Windows application, so I have Parallels Desktop on that machine. I haven't purchased the last couple of upgrades to Parallels (they're too frequent and too pricey). Parallels Desktop 4 apparently won't run on Lion. So I need to either find an OS X equivalent of the application, or upgrade Parallels before I install Lion.)

Consequently, I'm running Snow Leopard and Lion on two different machines, and swapping between the two on a daily basis. Some observations:
  • I don't have a strong opinion on the change to scrolling behaviour. If anything, the new behaviour seems more "natural" in some sense—I think it had always struck me as slightly wrong that the metaphor was moving the scrollbar rather than moving the content of the viewport. Having said that, swapping between them regularly is utterly infuriating.
  • There are some even smaller changes that, while far from important or even interesting, serve only to annoy:
    • Mail's Activity window shortcut has changed from Cmd-0 to Opt-Cmd-0. Pointless.
    • There are apparently folders which Finder now doesn't display by default, such as ~/Library. Why?
    • When I take my laptop away from the WiFi LAN at home, it continues to try and connect to the Time Capsule. Ad nauseam. I've dismissed the "unable to connect" dialog five times already this morning.
  • Skeumorphism is out of control. Changing the iCal and Address Book applications to closely resemble their iPad counterparts seems inexplicable to me. Two perfectly decent applications now look like toys.
Obviously Lion has upsides, and you can read about those anywhere. Using Lion and Snow Leopard in parallel has been interesting, though I would argue that the difference is more of a modest jump than a quantum leap.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Final Cut Pro X pricing

I saw the news that Final Cut Pro X had hit the Mac App Store earlier today. I've got to say, from where I'm sitting (in the enthusiastic amateur corner), it looks like an awesome product. I bought Final Cut Studio 2 (including Final Cut Pro 6) a couple of years ago, and struggled slowly up the learning curve. FCP 6 is obviously outstanding software, but, from the previews and initial impressions written up today, FCP X looks revolutionary. (It will be interesting to read the reviews from the professional angle over the next few months.)

In Australia, Final Cut Pro X is priced at $A 349, compared to $US 299 in the US. Currently, the Australian dollar buys about $US 1.05—so I can buy $US 299 for just under $A 285. It's really not clear to me where my extra $A 64 is going. I've read justifications for differential pricing on, say, iTunes that involve regional record company deals. I don't see an analogous explanation for the pricing of Apple's own software. I'm pretty sure I'll end up buying Final Cut Pro X, but I'd much rather being doing so for $A 285.