Computing Updates

July 3, 2011

I have completed a number of updates in my computing environment this weekend.  Not without some frustration and annoyance.  Tempered by a great finding.

The last thing I do on Friday afternoon is to check for OS X updates and App Store updates and Windows updates while I am connected to high speed internet at UW.   (For OmniFocus users: I have a ‘High Speed Internet’ context…).  Then I sync my iPhone and sync my iPad.  Then I close iTunes, as a hedge against unknowingly downloading large sized podcasts over the weekend, exhausting our sadly lacking bandwidth at home.

Since replacement of my SuperDrive that had died,  Software Update prompts me to apply SuperDrive Firmware Update 3.0.  But because I was up to date with OS X, the firmware update fails…this issue and the workaround is documented by Apple and involves using an empty hard disk to do a clean install of OS X pre-10.6.5 so that the firmware update will run.   That this article is dated January 7, 2011 and they don’t just fix the updater, who knows?  But with one of my weekend tasks being replacement of the 320 Gb hard drive in my MacBook Pro with a new 500 Gb disk, the time seemed right.

I attached the new drive via my nifty Granite Digital Emergency Drive Copy Standard Kit.  I mounted my “OS X Installation DVD” (which travels in my briefcase in the form of a bootable 16 Gb micro-SD card).  And so began the ~1 hour process of installing OSX 10.6.0.  Most of the time is waiting for the USB 2.0 bottleneck, so it was a great opportunity to read the NY Times on my iPad.

However, one of the iPad App updates on Friday was to NY Times for iPad 2.1.0.  And alas the updated app didn’t work.  Judging from the several hundred one star ratings it has received this weekend at the iTunes store, I was not alone.  Lots of angry people!  (I’m pretty sure that updates shouldn’t be released on the Friday before a long weekend.)  But buried in the many complaints, the fix became evident: uninstall the app, then reinstall the app, then deal with the dreadfully slow authentication engine for my NY Times account and it works.  However I needed to use iTunes for that and my computer was busy with the nuisance operating system install.  I read the new issue of the Economist instead.

Sure enough the Firmware Update ran just fine.  But what is Apple thinking?   How much time has been wasted, either of users or with visits to the Genius Bar?

Now it was time to clone my 320 Gb disk to the new 500 Gb disk.  First I got the NY Times working again.  Then shutdown all programs and let it fly.  Just 6 hours later the drive was ready.  I am lucky to have the “late 2008 MacBook Pro unibody” which makes changing the hard drive a piece of cake, especially since I have a Torx T6 screwdriver to shift the mounting studs.  Thanks to for cataloging the necessary tools.

But more so, thanks to for asserting that my computer could take 6 GB of memory.  Apple says 4 GB.   I began to explore and eventually discovered this blog item on the OWC web:  Secret Firmware Lets Late ’08 MacBooks Use 8 GB.   I am keeping my Phillips #00 handy…I should have memory in hand by Thursday.

My Life with Garmin, Part 1

January 2, 2011

I like to know where I am and where I’ve been.  And so early on I adopted GPS as necessary personal technology.  And I settled on Garmin. My first was a GPS II Plus used in the outdoors to mark waypoints and spread breadcrumbs.  I still like that it doesn’t use Kalman filtering.  It disappeared for a long while, hiding in a seldom used bag, and was supplanted with a Rino 130 which combined a GMRS/FRS radio, a GPS, and a nifty way of communicating locations between Rinos (a feature we never really used, though there have been times when I would like to track Tobae down).  Next came a Street Pilot C530 for the car.  Then to cut down on size and weight and to add topo maps to the screen, an etrex Vista HCx which has a vastly improved chip set, much better battery life and does everything I need for the backcountry.  Tobae has one too!  And finally about six months ago a nüvi 265T to replace the Street Pilot (well actually Tobae has the Street Pilot now, but doesn’t use it).

I love the devices.  But alas Garmin has mastered the razor blade model of retailing.  The “razors”are fine, but the “blades”, also known as maps, bring frustration and pain.

Let’s start with the retirement of the Street Pilot.  There was nothing actually wrong with the Street Pilot, other than its maps were getting out of date.  Near my parents home, California 37 connects Interstate 80 at Vallejo to US 101 at Novato.  The Vallejo end, critical to getting to the wine country, was rebuilt and so directions were wrong.  Closer to home, the realignment of the Interstate 5 ramps in Everett.  And substantial construction on the Sea-to-Sky highway, most noticeable in the now year-old bypass of Horseshoe Bay.  And never ending construction of new residential streets in Snohomish County.  Time for a new map.  I usually start shopping at Amazon, but making sense of the Garmin map products there is not for the faint of heart.  It is near impossible to tell whether one is buying a current map or an old map.  In the end, the practical solution is to go directly to the Garmin web site.  And so I did and at that time the update was $89, regardless of format (I’m sparing you the fine print that guides the decision decide between formats).  Expensive blade.  But a new razor, the nüvi 265T, was $122.  And it came with life of device NAVTEQ traffic.  And a routing engine that uses that traffic information.  And is much more compact for travel.  And wasn’t out of warranty.  (And perhaps Garmin is listening, because for nüvi devices one can now buy a life-of-device subscription to quarterly map updates for $89…which seems much somewhat better that the periodic, expensive one-offs of the past.)

Enough of city streets.  Topography must be much simpler?   It can be.  The data are in the public domain and there are open source tools to create topo maps in Garmin format,  yet the easy and fast choice was to buy the 24k topography of Washington from Garmin on a microSD card.  Anywhere we go in Washington we have a topo map.  So far so good.  But then I bought ski area maps from Mountain Dynamics.  So I have a second microSD card.  The content of the two cards is less than 2 Gb.  It must be a simple task to combine them?  Look forward to Part 2…



Keeping Up With Tasmania

August 9, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about the dearth of bandwidth in rural areas in the U.S.  This morning’s NYT has a short piece on progress in Tasmania, where a push is underway to provide, at government expense, bandwidth at 100 Mbps to all 500,000 citizens.  My friend Larry Smarr is quoted:

The Australian government, according to Mr. Smarr, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, sees the “importance of broadband as part of a nation-building exercise, unlike this country.”

Go Tasmania!

Rural Broadbandification

August 8, 2010

An op-ed piece in the NY Times on Thursday spoke to The Broadband Gap:  the urban and suburban bandwidth haves and the rural have nots:

Lack of access deprives too many families, mostly in poorer rural areas, of any chance to use an essential tool for modern life.

While not in a poor area, I am one of those rural have nots and so the piece hits close to home.

In arguing for congressional action, a recent FCC report is cited:  “[The F.C.C.] defined broadband as a connection with an upload speed of at least 1 megabit per second and a download speed of at least 4 megabits per second”.  The report estimates that 5-8% of Americans do not have that connectivity available to them.  The commission believes that “that private companies are unlikely to serve these relatively unprofitable households” and would like authority to “re-deploy the Universal Service Fund, created to bring telephone to hard-to-reach places” and  “to reallocate telecommunications spectrum from broadcast TV to mobile broadband service.”  (Don’t get me started on TV in the digital age.)

How does my neighborhood–many square miles of 5-acre single family residential zoning–measure up?  Not very well.  There are pockets nearby within range of a secondary telephone switching station and capable of DSL.  Not my house.  There is cable TV at the county road about a half mile away, but no interest by Comcast to wire our road and its 12 houses.

And so we have tried the rural connections.  Satellite Internet–when the rain doesn’t get you, the latency will.  Wave Rider–a line of sight technology which worked for awhile, until the growing trees of others removed the line of sight to a tower six miles south of us.  And these days “Sprint Mobile Broadband”, a 3G connection capped at 5 GB of data transfer per month, often throttled, and with frequent resets.  Via Speakeasy’s Broadband Speed test just now:  .11 Mbps up (11% of the FCC target) and .27 Mbps down (6% of the FCC target).   A bargain at $62/month…

No wonder I like to go to work.  No wonder I like to go to Whistler.  There I have this essential tool of modern life.

Google Ski View

February 10, 2010

I happened onto a YouTube video of the Google Street View snowmobile in action at Whistler Blackcomb.  And so I fired up Google Earth to check out the products…

Google "Ski View"

This screen capture shows the down slope view along the Dave Murray Men’s Downhill course.  I chose this particular view for the shadow of the snowmobile and the trail of other “ski views” in the lower left.

I had imagined that I would find a full trail down the race course, but no such luck. I’m guessing much of the course was  too steep for travel of this top heavy snowmobile.

You can “spin” this embedded Google Map rendition of a nearby (up slope) ski view of the first pitch of the downhill:  Double Trouble.  (The snowmobile track heads up slope to the flat below the run “Orange Peel”

And here’s our neighborhood.  Our drive is just left of center.  The blue lamp post is now also the bus stop marker for the #101 Nordic Drive bus.  Turn the scene about 180 and the downhill grandstands are now straight ahead (but not yet built when this photo taken!) and dominate the view at the break in the slope of the road.

Kindle, iPad and Me

January 30, 2010

So far I’ve not yielded to the thought that I ought to have a Kindle.  Despite usually being an early adopter, and liking to read,  in practice I barely keep up with newspapers and periodicals, much less make it through a book.  Though I did experiment.  I downloaded Kindle for iPhone about a year ago and have since assembled an odd collection of four books:  Dreams from My Father, Googled, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy, and The Chicago Guide to Your Career in Science.  I enjoyed the first, have barely started the second, and the latter two were recommended to me as ones that could help me guide contemporary grad students and so are more reference works.  The experience on the iPhone has been fine, but clearly not matching those reading on the real thing.

Then in the course of the past three weeks some unrelated triggers.  Ron blogged about the Kindle experience with Fly by Wire; I thought I would enjoy the book.  Our friend Dan Lowell received a Kindle as a Christmas gift and he isn’t quite ready to admit it, but I think he is enjoying it too.  But the iPad announcement was coming this week.  And so now the decision is more complicated.  Nonetheless thinking about the decision resulted in an impulse to get my fifth Kindle book today, Fly by Wire.  Reading it on the iPhone would be fine and if I later decided on either a Kindle or iPad, the book would be readable (for the Kindle for iPhone app will run on the iPad).

Not so fast, need to examine my assumptions.   The publisher of Fly by Wire is Farrar, Straus and Giroux, a subsidiary of Macmillan, and Amazon and Macmillan are at odds.  As of today I can’t buy the book–hard copy or digital–directly from Amazon.   Time will tell, but can you say VHS-Betamax?

A Clean Install of Windows XP

December 28, 2009

My sabbatical is underway.  The lone Windows program I still run is Quicken.  The Windows version is so much better than the Mac version.  So on my home desktop I run VMware Fusion with my very old imported Windows XP virtual machine just to run Quicken.

But the home desktop wasn’t coming with me and I need to pay the bills.  And so today was the day I upgraded my Fusion licenses to version 3, installed one on my laptop, and then began a clean install of Windows XP (SP2) from fresh shrink-wrapped licensed media.  Started about 1:00 p.m.  I’m not going to say that I was totally attentive, indeed about a five hour gap while I turned the leftovers of the Christmas Day rib roast into a hearty soup and ate dinner.  But now as 11:00 p.m. is passing what is up with this?

The Fusion “Easy Install” was.  Nary a glitch.  All questions up front.  Took about a hour, mostly in the Windows install stage.  The machine came up with and rightfully complained no anti-virus and so I installed from the UW site-licensed software in about 15 minutes.  Ah, but then Windows Update.  Phase 1:  downloaded and installed three update tools, rebooted.  Pretty easy.  Phase 2:  (and in the middle of this was when I moved into the kitchen)…Windows Update deduced that I need 62 Mb of SP3 and it was installed without my intervention and rebooted.  Windows Update again.  62 updates (I know it is odd that 62 keeps coming up) totaling 97 Mb.  The first one wanted me to agree to a license.  And then things seemed to move ahead.  Except I discovered it stalled at update #21, wanting another license confirmation.  And it seemed to move ahead.  Except I discovered it stalled at update #39.  Except there was no obvious indication of what was going on, other than a progress bar seemingly indicating that progress was being made.  Not!  There was a hidden window wanting confirmation of something.  And in the end #39 needed two more confirmations, but at least now the window was on top.  Free flowing thereafter, up to #59 as I started this rant.  Phase 4:  And now at 11:18 p.m. system has restarted and I’ve just logged on and back to Windows Update.  More questions about IE8 configuration.  (Ah, I take it back not just Quicken; I will install Firefox).  And three more updates!  Finished at 11:20 p.m. and now restarting.  Phase 5:  And at 11:23 Windows Update launched yet again.  We’re done:

No high-priority updates for your computer are available. To check for optional updates, return to our home page and click Custom.

All this time to get a clean install done?  I can only blame about 40 minutes for the size of the significant downloads.  Everything else was balky behavior and an absurd approach to user acknowledgments.

As son Mark (my Mac boy) kibbutzes, no son, Windows 7 wasn’t an interesting alternative.

Update 12/29 at 12:56 a.m.  Installed Quicken, works fine, but… Phase 6: Windows Update is taking another 69 Mb bite for .NET stuff.  And at 1:19 a.m. another restart.

And so I think I now have a stable Windows XP installation that supports my lone application.  Does Windows 7 solve any of this?  I don’t know.  But at the retail price for W7, and with XP working, what is the point?

So the final thought.  There must be many Quicken users on Macs that would buy the current version as a virtual machine.  Microsoft needs the revenue for whatever their license piece would be.  I wouldn’t care if it was totally crippled, if it were stable and the application ran.  Intuit takes many shots to the head over their Mac implementation.  This would be an affordable path, even tossing in Fusion or Parallels.