Category Archives: hardware

39″ Seiki 4K monitor is GREAT!

4K_work_envI have been reading quite a bit about 4K monitors. I recently spotted an article that suggested that these screens are PERFECT for software developers.

I watched several videos and deduced that the screen real estate would be fantastic. The ability to see ALL your code while having sufficient browser tabs open along with Chrome’s debugging console sounded very appealing.

So I ordered one on Monday. It arrived Tuesday. I opened it this morning and bemoaned that I didn’t have a converter for HDMI…until I realized my MacBook Pro came with an HDMI port. And here I am writing my first blog article ON IT!

I have to say that the blog authors were right. It’s GREAT! Up above, you can see it next to my MacBook Pro 15″ retina. I have personal email, skype, and HipChat on my laptop, while my development environment is spread across the big screen.

4K_desktopI am working on a couple things right now. On the left, I have IntelliJ open with a demo app I’m working. I have the app running in the top, the HTML open on the left, and the javascript open on the right.

In the middle, I have a browser tab open towards the bottom, with my mobile user agent switcher activated so I can build my jQuery Mobile front end. Seeing it all in one place without jumping between screen shots is fantastic.

The TALL console window in the middle is currently running a crawler script I wrote in python. We had reports of some of our guides having broken links, I decided to crawl our website to spot any other gaps. On the right, I have script opened in TextMate, and you can see the WHOLE file with scrolling.

The takeaway is breathtaking.

Cons

I am learning how to navigate everything. I tried mirroring at first, but that doesn’t work. I want the relatively unimportant stuff not hogging screen space, so I learned how to shove that onto the laptop.

On this big screen where the refresh isn’t ideal, I kept losing the mouse. So I increased the size of arrow so I simple movement would quickly show me where it was located.

The screen refresh rate isn’t the highest, but that isn’t a real big issue for me.

Finally, I still don’t understand when and why OSX decided that Alt-Tab will pop-up on one display or the other. It seems to have a mind of its own. But I’m willing to live with that in exchange for this supreme work setup.

The long and short of using a MacBook Pro

I was recently approached by a good colleague who was seriously entertaining buying his first MacBook Pro. He wanted the “inside scoop” on whether it worked well and was going to be worth the potential issues in dealing with gaps he might encounter with fellow developers that used Windows or Linux.

Short answer: YES!

Long answer: I’m glad you asked. My answer was lengthy, because I wanted to capture the essence of value I have felt in the past 2 1/2 years as well as the challenges I have encountered. Enjoy!

I have a 13-inch macbook pro, with a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM and OSX 10.6.8. It’s great. Indeed, it’s not a money waster. Some things I don’t mind paying cheap money for, like clothes, basic groceries, and other stuff. Computers I use everyday is NOT one of them. Some of the software listed below is commercial, but worth it, and not outrageously priced.

Key software I use:

  • LibreOffice
  • Chrome, and Firefox when a page doesn’t work in Chrome
  • Skype
  • VMware Fusion with Windows and Linux VMs, for when I can’t find a suitable mac alternate
  • Audacity for podcast mixing
  • Audio Hijack Pro for podcast recording
  • Dropbox
  • Crashplan
  • iWork & iLife, provides handy dvd/video/movie/etc. tools
  • TextMate & gedit as prospective text editors
  • STS
  • Apple distribution of Java 6 (works fine for me)
  • Jing for capturing screenshots
  • KisMAC to analyze surrounding wireless networks for channel data, so I could set my router to a different channel
  • OmniDiskSweeper to scan for data when my harddrive gets full
  • NeatWorks, for managing scanned receipts and documents at work and my personal business

For other open source tools, I use “homebrew” (http://mxcl.github.com/homebrew/), which provides me mysql and postgresql, along with most other GNU/open source command line tools I need.
Conveniences:

  • I have learned some handy shortcuts, like Cmd-Spacebar opens Spotlight, allowing me to find apps by entering their name, kind of like the HUD Ubuntu has now. Cmd-Tab lets me jump between apps. Cmd-Shift-{ and Cmd-Shift-} lets me rotate between tabs in my browser or in the Terminal app. That alone makes my efficiency excellent.
  • The macbook pro has superior power management. When it drains too low, it doesn’t shutdown. It automatically hibernates. Power it back up, and in a couple minutes, you are back to the screen lock with your apps in the same place you left them, not booting like in Windows. I close it all the time, and resume later on, like after lunch. I use Network Connect for VPN access, and it even handles short, 1-hour breaks like that without a hitch.
  • I have gotten the hang of one finger left clicking, two finger right clicking. Three and four fingers does something else, but I can never remember. Two finger swiping scrolls whatever widget you are hovering over, which I really like. Almost iPhone-like in convenience.

Some issues: 

  • Need an older java like Java 5? Well, you’ll have a real issue with that. It’s easier to spin up a virtual linux machine and install Java 5 than find one for the mac. If it not making this clear, it’s flat out impossible to install Java 5 on the mac.
  • I haven’t gotten into Java 7 yet, because frankly, I still marginally work on a project that partially has to support Java 5. If people are reporting issues with Java 7 on the Mac, I’m not aware of them.
  • It will take some time to rewire your fingers to use the Cmd key instead of the Ctrl key. If you install some GUI app built from open source, like gedit, you can’t expect hot keys to work exactly as they did in Windows. They might, but who knows?
  • I was nervous switching to the mac, and being on the hook to close any gaps between myself and others that use Windows. But it really wasn’t that hard. It turned out that the advantages I picked up were great. By using platform neutral stuff like LibreOffice, and the rest of technology being heavily browser-based, it turns out things are easier than ever to use your platform of choice compared to 20 years ago. But…there is an MS Office for Mac if you really want it. I don’t have it, thought others have recommended it. 
  • I don’t do slide shows often, but when I do, I prefer to use prezi.com. It’s really more fun than boring slides. Kind of destroys the whole Powerpoint/Keynote debate by picking a superior form of presentation.
  • I have Snow Leopard installed. I’m not really interested in upgrading to Lion or Mountain Lion, because I’ve heard about issues. I could probably adapt. But you will probably have no choice if it’s a new machine. I’m sure you can handle the UI tweaks they made.

Desires:

  • My current laptop is over 2 years old. It is dual cored, 64-bit. I could really use a quad core for the amount of work I do, especially when it comes to running virtual machines. Allocated a couple CPU cores to a second VM without crippling the host system would be quite handy. And more RAM!!! But that’s kind of a given, right?
Well, that about sums things up.

It’s usually the small stuff that breaks

I just fixed a nasty problem: my iPhone wouldn’t stay linked to my MacBook Pro through the USB connection. This has huge repercussions.

Using MyWI, I have been able to work for the past five weeks at a friend’s house despite the lack of broadband internet. At first, I used the USB mode, where it tunnels through the USB to send packets and forth to my iPhone, which in turn links to the internet. But after a bit, this stopped working. I noticed that it didn’t maintain the connection. iTunes stopped showing the iPhone as well.

I started tracking things down. I typed “sudo dmesg”, and looked at the logs. It seemed like it was having a hard time seeing the device through USB. What was going on? Did some update happen? Was this caused by the fact that I have a jail broken iPhone? I googled the problem, looking for what software glitch caused this.

MyWI has other modes including bluetooth and wifi linking. The problem with bluetooth is that it is tricky to configure, and I couldn’t make it work. The problem with wifi is that it drains the battery very fast. I had to switch to wifi in order to keep working, but even with the phone plugged into the wall, it couldn’t charge fast enough to keep from eventually dying.

The reason for it dying like this I believe is due to low signal in the area I am in. It probably needs to resend more packets, thus consuming more power to get the same amount of information transmitted. This was becoming a big issue, because it meant I could only work for chunks of time and then had to sign off.

I kept googling, trying to see if there was some faulty setting on either the phone or the laptop that had to be repaired. I went to sleep last night really frustrated. Between sleeping and waking, my brain must have been doing some serious debugging, because when I awoke, the answer dawned on me: the USB cable may be the culprit.

I had bought a new car adapter to charge my iPhone, and the cable was definitely not an Apple product. I remember how sometimes it even seemed fickle when I connected that cable to the AC adapter to charge it. It also was flaky in whether or not it would charge when connected to the laptop. When I woke up this morning, it was as if all this was laid before my eyes, and it became obvious.

I drove to the nearest Apple retailer, bought a new power supply, got home, and plugged it in. Voila! It worked perfectly. Flipped MyWI over to USB mode and it worked effortlessly to link me to the internet. iTunes popped up, synched, and then stayed connected. It was really embarrassing to think how much time I spent searching for the software solution, when it turned out that the cable truly was the weakest link in the chain.