Gas station without pumps

2016 November 15

Not getting a new MacBook Pro

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:40
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My old MacBook Pro (late 2009 model) has been failing for the past few months (the SD card reader no longer works, the battery only lasts about 2–3 hours, the case is now failing in a way that exposes the electronics, …), and so I was planning to get a new MacBook Pro when the 2016 models came out.

But having seen the descriptions of them online and the prices, I’m not very enthusiastic about the new laptops.  One problem is the USB-C-only approach.  This video sums up my attitude:

(My wife says that the real story of the video is a restaurant worker who lost all the paella pans to the tide after leaving them on the beach.)

Other problems for the new MacBook Pro include the small sizes for the RAM and SSD drives  (my current laptop has 735GB of files on it and 8GB of RAM, so a new one would not be more capacity). Maybe I’ll wait a year to see if they can get a decent price/performance ratio on them.I’m also not excited about the low-travel keyboard, and the large trackpad might make it difficult for me to type, as I often rest the heels of my hands on the case, just a little outside the old, smaller track pad.  So the machine description did not make me want to rush out and spend a couple of grand on a machine that I may be unhappy with.

But my laptop is unlikely to survive another quarter, much less another year, so I’m faced with a bit of a dilemma, as I need a functioning laptop for giving lectures—particularly for demoing PteroDAQ and gnuplot.

I had recently bought the household a refurbished MacBook Air for travel (11″ early 2014), as my laptop is a bit too heavy for convenient travel, and my wife prefers a small laptop to an iPad (which we don’t have). Today, my wife suggested that I use the tiny MacBook Air for lecturing, and get another iMac as a desktop machine (we already have a mid-2011 iMac). The MacBook Air is sufficient for lecturing and travel—it has a couple of USB-A ports, so I can use flash drives or run PteroDAQ or the BitScope USB oscilloscope for lectures, and it has a mini-display port, so I can use my existing VGA dongle to connect to the classroom projector (which is VGA, not HDMI, according to the website of classroom media capabilities—I’d better double-check IRL).

If I decide to use the MacBook Air for lecturing, I can set it up over Winter break with all the software I’ll need and not worry about replacing my MacBook Pro for a few more months.

And then I probably will get an iMac. I can get much more machine for the money buying an iMac rather than a MacBook Pro, but I’ll have to think about exactly which iMac to get. Currently I’m leaning towards a 27″ retina display  model with an i7 processor, but I’ll have to look at prices and specs a bit more.  I’ll want a machine that will not cost more than about $500/year, amortized over its usable life, and preferably a little less.  There is a tradeoff between getting a high-performance machine that will be usable for a year or two longer, or a refurbished machine that has somewhat lower performance but can reasonably be replaced sooner.

2016 February 3

OS 10.11.3 takes forever to install

Filed under: freshman design seminar — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:28
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I decided to upgrade the household iMac to 10.11.3 (from 10.8, I think), but not because 10.11 offered any valuable new features.  In fact, just the opposite—a student in my freshman design seminar was having trouble getting PteroDAQ to work on 10.11.3, and I need to debug the problem.

It took well over an hour to download the upgrade—6.9Gbytes!  All the text in Wikipedia could be transmitted in about 9GBytes.  What junk is Apple loading my computer with? Sometimes I long for the days when the operating system fit on a 700kB floppy disk.

After downloading, it supposedly takes about half an hour to install (I’m still waiting for that to finish). [Update: after over half an hour, I went to check on it, and it now claims 45 minutes remaining.] I don’t know how much fussing I’ll need to do to get the new OS working—there always seems to be something broken on each new upgrade of the system.  All that time, before I can even look at what they broke/changed in OS 10.11 to make PteroDAQ not work.

Because the Arduino software was able to download to the board, but PteroDAQ was not then able to see the board, I suspect that port listing method has changed, and PteroDAQ code will need to be updated to do something different in OS 10.11 than in the earlier Mac OS versions (there is already very different code for Mac, Linux, and Windows, which share almost nothing in how to list the USB ports—we may need two different Mac code versions).

I was able to solve one student’s problems with the Arduino system losing track of ports, by suggesting he update from 10.11 to 10.11.3.  It seems like the 10.11 release had a new USB stack, which Apple’s was beta-testing on live customers rather than spending the time to do their own QA.  (This didn’t use to be such a problem with Mac releases, but has always been a problem with iOS releases—it seems that bad software engineering practice is driving out good at Apple.)  I checked, and the student having trouble with PteroDAQ did have 10.11.3, so the problem is not so easily resolved as the Arduino problem was.

2011 May 9

New iMacs have only glossy screens

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:11
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I was thinking of getting a new iMac to replace the old G5-based iMac I have at home. The specs on the newly released iMacs look pretty good, though I’ll probably wait until OS 10.7 comes out this summer. (Strange that they did not manage to synchronize the hardware and software releases.)

One spec, though does not please me: the new iMacs only come with high-glare glossy screens. What is Apple thinking? I paid extra for the matte screen on my MacBook Pro (though I felt that it should be included), but they’re not even giving us the option on the new iMacs.

I may have to delay purchase until Apple realizes that not everyone likes high-glare shiny screens.

If you want to help pressure Apple to do the right thing and provide matte screens on the iMacs, sign the petition at
MacMatte (matte petition).

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