I’m in the process of migrating my personal computing from an iMac to Macbook Pro. Since MBP doesn’t have the luxury of a 2TB secondary HDD like the iMac had, I looked at external drive options. Thunderbolt looked like a good idea, and specifically, I went for the LaCie 2TB drive.
I tried it out for a few days, and then took it back to the store for a refund. Didn’t work for me.
Here’s the things I didn’t like about it.
Expensive. 500$ for 2TB comes down to $250/TB. That’s just a lot of money.
No bus power. Maybe I’m stupid, but the very fact that there’s a power supply included with the disk tells you something. The disk wanted to have two cables—Thunderbolt to your computer, and separate power cable for wall power. That’s just annoying. I don’t like wall power and cables. USB and Firewire drives are bus-powered (meaning they get their power from computer from the same cable that transfers the data), so why can’t Thunderbolt do the same?
2TB actually means two 1TB drives that you must configure for RAID. Yep, there were two 1TB devices in the enclosure, and I could set them up any way I want with Disk Utility—1TB mirrored, or 2TB serialized, or a bunch of other configurations. Honestly, I don’t care. I handle backup outside all of this nonsense, and I just want one disk, so why do you make me think about the configuration at all?
No advertised speed. One of the advertised benefits of Thunderbolt is that it is crazy fast. I happily admit that I am an idiot who is not able to use these devices as they are supposed to—I just did not see any of the advertised speeds. I saw plain boring old 10MB/s or so, which is achievable with any USB or Firewire drive.
Thunderbolt ONLY. Apparently that is a thing. There is no multi-interface. I used to have a LaCie drive that was Firewire 400, Firewire 800, and USB. No dice with Thunderbolt. You are Thunderbolt-only and can’t connect it to older computers without it.
I put all these items together and decided that I am simply too dumb for Thunderbolt drives at this point in time, or it is too early for the technology, or both. I took it back to the store. (Kudos to Apple Store’s 14-day no-questions-asked return policy.)
Instead, I got some 1TB USB3 drives from Seagate and Toshiba, for about 90$ each, or 5 times cheaper. They are crazy fast with my Retina MBP, and acceptably slow with my old iMac (but hey, I can at least connect them, which is not the case for Thunderbolt drives).
The last home computer I bought was a maxed out iMac in late 2010. I recently got a Retina Macbook Pro and thought it would be interesting to compare the machines’ performance for both work and play purposes.
The configuration policy I adopted for my personal purposes a while ago is “buy a maxed-out configuration, it will last a while”. This is true for both the iMac and MBP. They were both maxed out at the time of purchase in terms of CPU and RAM, and I was interested to see how it affects performance and how/if things have evolved in two years.
The hardware specs of the machines:
27” iMac, 2.93 GHz Intel Core i7, ATI Radeon HD 5750 1024 MB graphics, 8 GB 1333 MH DDR3 RAM, OS X on SSD, Windows on secondary HDD
15” Retina Macbook Pro, 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 1024MB + Intel HD Graphics 4000 512MB graphics, 16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM, OS X on SSD, Windows also on SSD
OS X general performance
I didn’t want to spend money on benchmark tools so I just used the first free one I could find in the App Store, which was NovaBench. Here’s the results for both machines.
The MBP score is slightly higher, since it performs better in all aspects except graphics. I admit that it’s still confusing to me why recent Macs (all? or only laptops?) have multiple graphics chips, and how/why the system or user switches between them.
OS X disk speed
Both computers are running the Apple-provided SSD-s. Looks like there has been a huge speed leap in two years. MBP is more than 2x faster for both read and write speeds. I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test for this benchmark.
This is interesting for games. I used the standard free 3DMark from Futuremark. The iMac was running 32bit Windows 7 from a HDD Bootcamp partition, and MBP was running 64bit Windows 7 from a SDD Bootcamp partition.
My hypothesis was that even though the iMac is 2 years older, it has a stronger graphics chip, but apparently, this is not true. MBP performed better than iMac, though not by a huge margin. I don’t know which of the two graphics subsystems the MBP used for 3D, or whether both of them are even active or usable under Windows.
PCMark (Windows general performance)
This test measures the general performance in Windows. This was clearly unequal, as iMac was running from HDD and MBP was running from SSD, so iMac was disadvantaged and it definitely shows in the score. Still, many of the tests were CPU- or network-bound (e.g browsing and encryption) where the disk should not matter so much. PCMark has many categories, I compared them individually, and MBP beat the iMac in every single category, which is also clearly reflected in the overall score.
More ideas to test?
Is there any more ideas how I could test the performance of these two machines? The Windows tests were clearly unequal, as MBP was Win7 64bit from SSD and iMac was Win7 32bit from HDD. In an ideal world, I would test with the same OS version. I haven’t really kept up with the testing scene recently—any other benchmark softwares in OS X or Windows?
I previously said that there is no web UI to manage your Android contacts, and there’s no sane way to import your iCloud contacts. Fortunately, this was not correct, and there are simple tools for both.
Just go to google.com/contacts where you can manage the contacts. There seems to be a link to this feature in Gmail, of all places. In top left of Gmail, there’s a dropdown kind of thing where you select Contacts and can then access this. Shouldn’t it also be in the top Google bar? It’s an important feature.
Importing contacts from Address Book/iCloud to the Android and Google universe
There’s a clean process. It won’t keep the contacts in sync, but you can do this over and over again.
In Address Book, select all contacts (Cmd-A).
Click File, Export, Export vCard. All your contacts are saved in vCard file.
In Google Contacts, select More, Import.
Select your vCard file and upload.
In More, select Find and Merge Duplicates, which does exactly what it says, and is pretty intelligent.
I bought myself a Samsung Galaxy S3 Android phone.
No, I haven’t ditched iOS. I just happen to have phones in different countries, and rather than keep switching out SIMs or such, it’s a good excuse for me to maintain multiple devices. My Estonian device was an ancient Sony Ericsson feature phone that was like 8 years old.
I used the Galaxy S3 heavily for a week as my primary phone device, and here’s some thoughts from the perspective of having used iPhone for the past 5 years.
To start off, I see mixed feedback about the device. Some people like it.
This mirrors my own experience. There are some questionable design choices made, but it is in several ways superior to the iPhone, and overall a worthy Android flagship device.
The first thing you notice: it’s HUGE in two dimensions. It’s not very thick, but it is wide and tall, and the screen goes super close to the edges. My friends affectionately call it the “shovel”. It does fit in my pocket, but it’s somewhat uncomfortable to use software apps with one hand. I end up holding it with my left hand and using the screen with the right. When I lift it to my ear for calls, it’s easy to hold, though, because it’s slightly lighter than iPhone.
4.7 vs 4.9 ounces (133 vs 140 grams) does not sound like much difference, but somehow my iPhone feels bulkier, especially since it also has a case. There does not seem to be a decent case ecosystem in the Android world, I guess because there’s so many devices. So now I must be more careful than with the iPhone to not drop it.
As for phone calls, the sound quality is excellent.
I don’t like the experience of pressing the home button. It has a weird narrow shape and whenever I press it, only a small part of my finger actually contacts the button, and the rest ends up just being against the phone case. It is slightly raised which slightly improves the experience, but it is still weird, the iPhone button shape feels more natural.
I like how the Back button is at the most accessible location—bottom right—unlike most iPhone apps where it is top left and you must reach a longer distance for it. The whole Back button business is arguable (and see below about app switching), but this location is handy and better than what I’ve seen on some other devices, where it’s bottom left, sometimes even between other buttons.
The device runs Android 4 “Ice Cream Sandwich” with some Samsung modifications and crapware. I don’t think the UI modifications themselves matter too much, but the extra crapware on the device is annoying. Sure, it’s hidden in my Apps and I removed it from all the home screens, but it still feels like those Windows PC-s loaded with crapware. Annoying. I also don’t want to root the device to load vanilla ICS or anything like that, so I guess I’m stuck with it. Why can’t I uninstall the crapware like I can uninstall the other apps?
The single most annoying thing when you use the device for realz is that there is no sane way to get my contacts to it. I’m using iCloud, and my contacts sync nicely between all my Macs, iPhones, and iPad. There doesn’t seem to be any sane way to sync them with my Google contacts. I appreciate the motivation of Apple who won’t give developers an easy way to do that, but the situation is still super annoying. For now, I basically have to maintain two “contact universes”, one in iCloud and the other in Google.
Also on contacts, there doesn’t seem to be a web UI where I could manage my Google Contacts. I can manage my iCloud contacts either on my desktop with the Address Book app, or with icloud.com browser UI. There isn’t any UI at all for Google. There’s some contacts in Gmail, but those are different. Plus is probably not relevant at all. And on the device, after I put in my Gmail account, it sucks down some contacts, and then some of them are in “My Contacts” and some aren’t. I need to put contacts in groups to make them actual contacts. I don’t really understand what’s going on there. I would like to use a web or desktop app to get a better understanding, but there isn’t any.
The most delightful part of using the device is that it’s FAST. Like, really fast. All the animations and transitions are smooth, apps start more quickly, jumping between apps is smoother, and overall it’s just really great performance. My two-year-old iPhone 4 feels like a sluggish piece of crap next to it where everything is slow. I didn’t imagine ever saying that an Android device is faster than iPhone, but there it is. Probably it’s not an entirely fair comparison, as the CPU in iPhone 4S is supposedly faster, but there.
It also reboots faster than iPhone. At least 50% faster. Yes, we don’t reboot very often, but when we do, I don’t want to wait for my device for a long time.
The Samsung is a great Skype device for voice calls. Skype on my iPhone is just unusably broken. It plain does not work and takes forever to load. Incoming chats affect calls. I used to think that it is simply not possible to do Skype properly on a mobile device, but Samsung shows that it’s specifically the combination of iPhone hardware and the iOS Skype implementation that’s broken. With the same user data, Skype runs great on Android, starts up quickly, and calls are fast and crispy clear, and chats don’t affect the calls in any way.
Transitioning between apps
One thing that helps the perceived performance is smooth transitions between apps. Imagine that you read email, and tap a link that’s loaded in the browser. Roughly the following steps need to happen:
The gesture recognizer detects a tap on the element.
The transition happens from the email app to browser app.
Browser loads the page.
I shot a video where I opened exactly the same email on both devices and tapped on the same link at the same time.
You’ll notice that Samsung is faster because of several reasons.
The gesture recognizer timings are more aggressive and it is faster to recognize the tap.
The transition from email to browser app is much subtler and faster. iOS does this with “flip one app out and the other in” visual transition. It is gratuitous and happens at the expense of performance and usability. I always hated it, but seeing the much faster Android transition made me realize just by how much.
Browser starts more quickly. Both devices were freshly rebooted before this test, so neither had the app running.
Browser loads and renders the page more quickly. I am not sure how valid this part of the test is because I had previously loaded the page in browser so things may have been cached. So this may not be entirely reflective of the experience of loading a new page that the browser hasn’t seen before. Nevertheless, the Android browser is fast.
Now, imagine that you’re done looking at the page and want to go back to your email. On Android, it’s one tap of the Back button. On iPhone, you must either double-click Home and then tap the email app in running apps, or click Home and then select your email app from Springboard. No matter what the naysayers think are the downsides of the Android back button, in this situation it provides a much smoother experience.
If I had to choose which device to buy, I would still buy an iOS device for my daily main use. But whereas previously Android devices and software were clearly inferior, they have been catching up and in some cases are better than iOS. This is all great stuff for the users, and all the devices continue to be fun to work with.
A few months ago, my mobile rang. Unknown number. I picked up.
“Hi. This is so-and-so. Do you remember me? You purchased this-and-that from me a while back.”
I remembered. She was a medical doctor that I went to a few years ago. The procedure went well. Why whould she call me now?
“I remember you,” I said. “I bought this-and-that procedure from you a while back. It was great. How have you been? What can I do for you?”
“I’ve been well, thanks. Listen—” she sounded a bit hesitant but at the same time knowing she had the right to stand her ground. “—I am calling you because you have something about me on your blog that is—uh—unprofessional. When you enter my name in Google, it comes up on the first page. Can you take it down?”
Shit. I can’t believe this is happening, I thought. I know exactly what she is talking about. I posted this stupid article a while back. It had her name with some stupid words next to it. Apparently I have good SEO for her name. Okay, let’s end the call in a reasonable fashion and think more later.
So I said the only thing that I think is appropriate to say in this situation…
“Thank you for your call. I know what you are referring to. I am sorry for the trouble that I have caused. I will fix this.”
“Okay,” she responded. And then went on, almost sounding embarrassed that she had called me (even though I am the one that caused the problem), as if trying to make up for what she had requested… “How have you been? All good?”
“Yes, yes, thank you. The procedure was great and I’ve been well. I am again so sorry about this. I’ll take care of it.” And I hung up.
I wanted to punch myself in the face. I had written this stupid post that would otherwise have been fine, but it had in it the name of the honest doctor that was just trying to run her business, which I am not sure is not easy day-to-day. And due to what I had written, when people punch her name in Google, they have this stupid shit come up that does her a disservice, while in reality it was just my random thought after the procedure.
So, of course, I took it down. There was no reason for it to be up there. And Google took a while to reindex and remove the link to the broken page, but I don’t think it’s now coming up any more.
I didn’t expect my stupid blogpost to have such a real impact on someone else’s life and business, but it did. She went back to her several years of client records and took the time out of her busy day to call me up. The good news is, there was no human material damage caused. Maybe it hurt her business a bit, but no one died. Still, I wish I could undo the reputation damage that I had caused.
Already before this call, you’ll notice that I’ve gone light on my public posting. This call reinforces one belief that I already had, that’s grown stronger over the years: you can do whatever you want on the Internet regarding your own person. Post your thoughts, feelings, stupid pictures, whatevers. It doesn’t matter. It is your own life and thus you yourself will be responsible for all of this material.
But, it pays to be super mindful of other people. Don’t post names, pictures, anything really, unless you are sure that the other person would approve. It may come back to painfully bite you years later, as this phone call shows.
This is why I think that it’s not cool to post material about children. Doesn’t matter if it’s yours or anyone else’s. If you browse through all of my public site, you have no idea if I have kids or not. Well—for now, I don’t. But if I ever have kids, I’m sure as hell that you will never find a single photo of them on any public site. I will take tons of photos, sure, but when the kid turns old enough, I’ll hand the whatever-memory-device-we-have-by-then over to them, and they can then themselves decide if or how they want to publish any of that.
I’m sorry I was a dick to you, anonymous doctor. And to those reading this—just be nice to both friends and strangers.
I am somewhat ashamed of myself. And yet glad that I no longer have to be.
I am somewhat of a trancehead and really dig the genre. It is great “work music” and I just plain like it. I’ve been trying to learn more about the history and all the influencers and seminal works and find my own direction, and I’m doing mostly pretty well.
Yet, until recently, I’m ashamed that I had not heard about BT or his “Flaming June” that’s said to be a classic dance anthem. Sure, now in retrospect, I’ve heard fragments of it here or there, but I did not really know the piece.
So, when I heard the Paul Van Dyk remix of it recently on some trance podcast, I became curious. What is this piece that sounds so amazing? There’s a lot of good-sounding trance, but not really a whole lot that’s timeless.
So I found out that an album of “Flaming June” remixes recently came out. I listened to all. Some of them I don’t like. Some of them, in particular Laptop Symphony, Paul Van Dyk and Fred Baker, are OK.
But none come anywhere close to the original. The remixes, like I say, are OK. The original from 1997 is a timeless epic classic anthem masterpiece.
Here’s a low-quality Youtube version of the original.
I did something that I haven’t done in years—I bought a physical CD of BT_ESCM, the album that “Flaming June” was originally on. I just got tired of listening to the low-quality Youtube version. And out of respect for the artist as well as the annoyance of finding the right torrent version, I didn’t want to pirate-torrent it. Good news is, it only cost $6 on Amazon and I got it from Goodwill, so I hope the money goes to the right place.
And… yeah. The original of “Flaming June” is timeless. The rest of the album is fine and BT is a prolific and versatile producer, so it’s not all trance. It’s rock and breakbeat and god knows what. But “Flaming June” for me is definitely the star there.
I’m glad I now have acquired, physically and in spirit, one more piece of the #trancefamily story.
I was on a Bay Area Ski Bus today (which is an amazing way to get to the mountain from around here). The ride is about 4 hours each way. On the way back, there was no movie playing so I figured I’d just play around with some music apps.
Algoriddim’s djay is a great way to DJ on iOS. It was initially released for iPad, but I didn’t have my iPad with me, so I just downloaded the iPhone version and played with it and made these three little mixes.
Nothing spectacular, though some sounds are quite interesting there. I think I liked the Gate and Echo effects the most, together with eq they can make fascinating sounds. And I made some mistakes too as expected—in the second mix, it’s too obvious where I adjust the bpm. I found the bpm adjustment/matching kinda hard to use, and there are other UI quirks I would do differently. Like the method to get in and out of effects with a tiny button could be better. But overall, the interface is quite compelling.
It used to be easy. Humans lived in tribes and everyone knew everyone else. A combination of moral and reputational pressures was in action to keep people in check. In societies, there is often a conflict between personal and group interest, and these pressures make sure that most people act in group interest most of the time.
As civilization grew, we needed institutional pressure and security systems in addition to moral and reputational pressures. Schneier calls all of them together “societal pressures”, and discusses each one in great detail.
Security and trust are a great framework to analyze how societies work, and take a step back from current issues and politics. When you get bogged down in what’s around you too much, it is easy to assume that this is simply “how things always were, are, and will be”. Schneier shows that society and trust operate based on a complex set of knobs we can collectively tweak, and neither too little nor too much security and conformance are good. We don’t want to live in an anarchy or a police state, but somewhere in between.
As part of operating in a modern world, we need to trust hundreds of people and institutions every day, mostly without thinking about it. It’s interesting to watch the daily language where this is often lumped into “they”. “I was late to work because they were repairing the road and some lanes were closed.” “They should serve better food in the cafeteria.” “They’re starting to build some new houses down the street.”
It doesn’t exactly matter who exactly “they” is in each instance—is it some city or state body, or some private company; is it one individual or a big group. “They” is the system that’s running most of the world around us, and it mostly functions fine so we don’t need to be paralyzed with a million little explicit trust and security decisions with every step we make.
Alan Wake is one of those games that I was really looking forward to, for several years. Finland’s Remedy Entertainment who produced the game has deep roots in demoscene that I have great affection for, and the two Max Payne series games were excellent. (And are available on PC Steam. You should go ahead and play them if you haven’t.)
It was an Xbox exclusive for a long time. I was meaning to to borrow an Xbox from someone just so I could play it (I don’t have any consoles). But I was lazy and I never did. So lo and behold, this February Remedy announces that Alan Wake is coming to Steam on PC. Kaboom. I was happy, I could now just use my iMac’s Bootcamp partition to play it with Windows.
(Aside, this 27” iMac from late 2010 is a great game machine. Wake played at full frame rate and resolution without any performance problems.)
Here’s the trailer for the PC version.
The developers say it’s a “psychological action thriller” and the game lives up to that categorization. It is similar to Crysis 2 because both of them are cinematic movie-like experiences, even though from very different genres. Alan Wake has the feel of a great thriller movie and great gameplay and pacing.
It is also a cinematic experience structure- and narrative-wise. The game consists of six episodes like a TV series, and the structure and narrative is constructed well. It develops an intriguing storyline with multiple layers messing around with each other. One thing that I thought of while playing is the movie “Inception” where you have a similar “dream within a dream” structure—except that in this game, the layers are more intertwined and the whole feel is much more dark and sinister.
So, it takes the player through plot twists and turns, keeps pumping up the adrenaline, builds a great complex story where the multiple threads finally come together, all pointing to a great finale ending…
… which never comes. And this is my biggest problem with the game. The story is not wrapped up properly and is left hanging in some weird state. The two additional special episodes do nothing to clear this up either. You know what this is called? Prematurely milking the franchise. It feels cheap and wrong. The story was built well, and deserved to be ended well. Happily or unhappily, doesn’t matter, but at least wrapped up somehow.
Compare this to both Max Payne games, and especially MP2 with its “film noir love story” moniker. There was also some story development there, though not as deep as in Alan Wake, but it was properly wrapped up in the end. I found it especially smart in MP2 that you could get two endings: the dark one one with regular and another, happy one with higher difficulty. They could easily have done the same in Alan Wake and I would definitely have played through the game twice just for that. Now, I’m not sure if I will. Sure, I can find more “book pages” (an important supporting element of the game) in higher difficulty but I’m not sure if it’s worth it for me.
I’m only calling this out because the game positions itself as a movie-quality creative work and thus deserves appropriate scrutiny and to be held to a higher bar than regular PC games. Even with the incomplete ending, the whole package is still far more interesting than many other games I’ve played, and the ending is the only reason why I’m taking one point away from the top rating.
Still, most of the game is not about the ending, and it is highly playable. One great design aspect is good music and sound design by a Finnish band Poets of the Fall where one member is a legendary demoscene-era Amiga MOD composer Markus “Captain” Kaarlonen. Here’s my favorite song from the game that kinda sorta tells about some storyline aspects, but not really, so there’s no spoilers here. I just found it to be a beautiful track that very well captures the mood, style and ambience of the game.
When the credits rolled, I found it cool that there’s a reference to Estonian Ringtail Studios that I didn’t know existed. There’s some game presence in Estonia with casual and mobile games and of course Playtech and gambling. But to my knowledge, not that much with “big”/“serious”/“deep” games like Max Payne, Crysis and the like. Good to see some studios setting up shop and starting to move Estonian creative industry in that direction. I hope that a day comes when we have a full game studio that makes and publishes the full product.
A while back, I declared that since I already have an iPad and iPhone, I don’t need a Kindle. I can read books just as well on these devices as I can on a Kindle. And they even have backlit screens that’s better for me as I’m mostly reading in the dark.
Still, a few months back I got the Kindle for two main reasons.
First, I was interested in how the e-ink technology feels compared to other devices that I have (mostly LCD-s). To fix the light problem, I also bought Amazon’s case with a light that draws power from Kindle’s battery. It doesn’t seem to significantly affect the battery life.
Second, I wanted to see if the reading experience with Kindle is really different or better from iPad and iPhone. I know that iPad is too bulky to read in bed, so I had been using iPhone for that. Is Kindle any better?
The answer to the second question is yes. Reading with Kindle is significantly better for me than on iPhone or iPad.
Let’s get the limitations out of the way first. Kindle is only good for reading static textual book pages, and nothing else. The touchscreen is sluggish, e-ink display has an extremely low refresh rate, and the e-book format is not good for anything other than text. Some books have images and those are pretty much unreadable on Kindle if they have any text, as you can’t zoom or do anything else.
So, only reading books, and nothing else. But at books, Kindle excels.
I like the form factor. The cover adds a little bulk, but even with that, Kindle is infinitely more usable from the weight perspective than iPad, while showing more text than iPhone.
The UI is manageable. Just tap to turn pages back and forth, go Home to pick a different book, and that’s really it. Sure, you can use the store if you want, but I prefer to do it on the computer with my web browser. Amazon’s cloud is nicely done and whatever I do on one device makes it to others.
The text rendering is really well done. The DPI is not super high—at 167 DPI, you can see the pixels if you really want to. But the antialiasing is really good and the letterforms are highly readable. E-ink can do 16 shades of gray per pixel and those are put to good use for sub-pixel text rendering.
My Kindle has ads. The default mode for Kindles these days is that you buy them with ads, and you can pay extra to get rid of ads.
I thought I’d buy the extra to get rid of the ads, but I haven’t done so far. Here’s what a typical ad looks like.
Just a big nice picture and one line of text about the offer. That’s it. No disclaimers, bullets, or other nonsense. Of course, this is in the “screensaver” mode. If you actually go into your home screen, there’s a banner at the bottom where you tap to see more details about the same offer, and then it’s the typical purchasing flow.
The ads don’t bother me because I think it’s one of the most tasteful executions I’ve seen on any platform. In fact, just recently I bought something from one of the ads—and I very rarely make such purchase decisions based on ads. There was an ad for some dried fruit with a big discount, and I was like, cool, I eat those anyway, so might as well stack up. I’m sure the same content is available on Groupon and Facebook and many other such sites, but those feel much more spammy and annoying to me and I don’t really subscribe to any of them. Whereas on Kindle, it’s executed tastefully enough and integrated with my daily life and reading experience that I might just be responsive.