Category Archives: mac

Out with old and in with the new

startrek-ubuntu-bootupI have been waiting a long time to resurrect an old friend of mine: my MythTV box. I built that machine ten years ago. (I’d show you the specs, but they’re locked away ON the machine in an antique mediawiki web server). It runs Root-on-LVM-on-Raid top to bottom (which, BTW, requires LILO).

It was great project to build my own homebrew DVR. But with the advent of digital cable and EVERYTHING getting scrambled, those days are gone. So it’s sat in the corner for four years. FOUR YEARS. I’m reminded of this through periodic reports from CrashPlan.

I started to get this idea in my head that I could rebuild it with Mac OSX and make it a seamless backup server. Until I learned it was too hold to not support OSX. So it continued to sit, until I learned that I could install the right bits for it to speak “Apple”, and hence become a Time Machine capsule.

So here we go! I discovered that I needed a new VGA cable and power cord to hook up the monitor. After that came in, I booted it up…and almost cried. Almost.

As I logged in, I uncovered neat stuff and some old commands I hadn’t typed in years. But suffice it to say, it is now beginning its first distro upgrade (probably more to come after that), and when done, I’ll migrate it off of being a Mythbuntu distro and instead pick mainline Ubuntu (based on GNOME).

One that is done, I hope to install docker so I spin up services needed (like netatalk) much faster and get ahold of its ability to provide an additional layer of home support for both my and my wife’s Mac laptops.

How open source has commoditized computers

mac-snow-whiteAs I type this blog entry, from my wife’s newly purchased MacBook AIr, I marvel at the power of open source. Thanks to open source, we are no longer bound to a particular vendor, operation system, or anything else.

My wife’s old netbook was the last machine in this household that ran Windows. Back when we got married and lived in a smaller house, the desktop computer in the living room ran Ubuntu LInux. It took my wife little effort to learn how to drive that machine, considering she primarily used computers to browse the internet and a little bit of picture management when making Shutterfly books.

I introduced her to OpenOffice (later migrating to LibreOffice) for writing. I then threw in Dropbox and gave her her own folder to keep her own written works. With all these in place, it didn’t even take a whole day before she was up and running, editing her manuscript on the new Mac.

By moving to a handful of open source projects, the need for a particular vendor evaporated. Now we can pick a machine based on more important things like: quality, performance, and tools. I got her a maxed out 13″ MacBook Air (8GB memory , 512GB SSD disk).

Suffice it to say, she is definitely happy. You can even see the decal she just ordered up above! I have gone in and done a couple extra steps, like installing Crashplan to back things up. I am also installing Homebrew in case I need this machine as a backup development workstation. I also flipped on remote login support so I can ssh into this lightweight laptop as needed. It truly is a thing of beauty. Ahh! Goodbye Windows!

My software cheapskate days are behind me

In the past eight months, I have plunked down money cash for some really handy apps. And I’m happy I did.

I used to be really stingy. I’ve slowly become aware that software devs are probably the last people to actually pay money for software. We’re always looking for freebie or open source versions. We claim it’s for security reasons. Or we want the option to file a bug report or submit a patch. But raise your hand and confess. It’s because you don’t want spend a nickel.

One point I made in last years SpringOnr talk was that software devs are cheapskates. I watched my old company penny pinch and not buy a $100,000 database of customer location data and end up burning off more than that over the life of the contract in hours working around data issues.

I began to break free when I bought Tweeetbot for my laptop and my iPhone. I think that was $25 total. Huge amount for a software dev to spend! And to think this was just to read and write tweets. Heck, it took me four months to make the choice. And I’ve been happy ever since. No more advertised tweets. I don’t care about their new look and feel.

Next? Well I had already bought Markdown Pro last summer. We were slugging out guides left and right. This tool saved me gobs of hours. And it only cost $10. I think I can find enough change in the sofa for that.

Next? I blew thirteen big ones of the Reflector app. This let me stream my iPhone to my laptop. I had tried it out for free and used it to record clips for a mobile screencast. Seeing the value for this year’s SpringOne talk, I managed to scrape together the money.

I recently got a 39″ 4K monitor. It was great except for one annoying side effect. Whenever my laptop went to sleep, all the windows would jump to the corner and shrink. I would then have to reposition hem. In about fifteen minutes of research, I discovered the Stay app. I gave it a shot. It worked beautifully. It took me no effort to beg my wife to let me spend $15 to keep it.

What is that? $68? I’m a high roller now.

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.