Monday, December 31, 2012

repost: Awesome retro accessory for your tablet

When I first started this blog, I was raving about how great this accessory is. Well, I got another one and I can say this is still one of the best gadgets to get a tablet user. I figure I'll repost why I love this gadget.

The iCade retro arcade cabinet for your tablet (works with iOS, Android, and webOS). Works off bluetooth and is compatible with many games; specifically MAME.

Running old school Mame games like Zaxxon, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong and Street Fighter is totally cool. It also makes a great display fixture for your man cave.

Running MAME off a smartphone (Galaxy Nexus)

Samsungs' Massive advertising budget

If you think Apple is a marketing machine, you will be completely surprised by this chart.

Samsung spent more this year than Apple, Dell , HP in the last four years combined.
Think about it. It is also bigger than Apple, HP, Dell, Microsoft and Coca Cola combined.

Wow, I did not know that. No wonder there are so many S3s flooding the market.

Source: Business Insider , CNNMoney, Cost of Selling Galaxies.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Early Apple designs that never transpired

I normally dont like to repost other articles on my blog but I found this interesting for many of my mac readers.

Designboom has a showcase of some interesting 20-30 year old designs that never saw fruition. Some of them look rather interesting considering the technology at the time.

Here is a tablet from 1982.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Most disappointing gadget: Logitech Revue Google TV

I got this last Christmas (2011), booted it up once, and quickly put it away in the closet.

This has to be the most useless device out there. It was such a major flop, Logitech embarrassingly admitted to have lost over $100 million in operating profits and quietly distance itself from this fiasco.

Who thought of releasing a smart tv device that couldn't stream Hulu or Netflix must be insane. Moreover, there is like zero apps for this thing. The only thing you can do with this is surf the web on a big screen. You can do that with a $60 MK802 USB stick that can run any ARM app from the Google Play store.

So here I am , cleaning out my closet and wondering what to do with this. It was a Christmas present so I just can't unload it on ebay or craigslist.

This thing runs an ATOM  1.2 ghz x86 processor so it should be good for running a low-level Linux distro, right?  Well, it turns out this POS has a locked bootloader.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

$35 thunderbolt cables

We all know Thunderbolt accessories are very pricey right now. Well, here is a good deal on brand new Thunderbolt cables.

From Western Digital, you can get cables in either white or black for $35 each.

Link: White or Black

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New toy. $100 RAID enclosure.

I haven't had much time to post. Once I get drives, I'll see how this $100 RAID box compares with a $850 drobo.
Initial testing with old 500gb drives look promising.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Syba 5.25 Dual Bay Rack w/ USB 3.0

Here is another geek short review of another handy gadgets for those who build their own computers.

The Syba 5.25" Dual Bay mobile rack for both 2.5" (ssd/laptop) and 3.5" drives plus USB 3.0 headers. It sells for around $30-40 which tends to be a bit more expensive compared to $20 single bay units. Unlike the $20 single bay units, you get USB front ports and a second bay which justifies the price differential.

My computer case has 5 front 5.25" drive bays unused so I try to fill them with useful stuff. This is very handy. I've installed many dockable drive bay enclosures but this is the first one to neatly provide two drives along with USB. Hence my recommendation.

As you can see from the press shots, you can pack quite a bit. The USB 3.0 front connectors connect directly to an available 19/20 pin USB 3.0 connector on your motherboard. The bay requires only one SATA power connector (it also comes with a MOLEX adapter) to power both drives.

You will also need two available free SATA ports.

The nice thing I like about it is the power switch that you can turn off and leave the drives off. You simply flip the switch to make the drives available when you need them.

Not all products are perfect so here are the cons I can think of:
There is no locking mechanism in the front.
There are no fan or cooling.  The lack of fan may be an issue in the future for higher rpm drives and cases with inadequate air flow.

Here it is in my case:

And most importantly, it supports SATA 6.0 Gb/s. I've found other docks I've used in the past only support SATA II/ 3.0 Gb/s so this is a nice. Connecting directly to the SATA bus of the motherboard will always give better speed than USB 3.0 or eSATA.

Product Link on Amazon:

Friday, December 7, 2012

Santa's Direct Line

This time of year, I pull this prank on my kid.

I carry two phones and I change the contact photo of my work phone to a picture of Santa.

When my kid is naughty or spending too much time on the iPhone, I speed dial it from my other phone.

The results: a good kid for the rest of the day. He actually thinks Santa is calling to check up on him.

Note, this only works on little kids and only around Christmas season.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

USB 3.0 header adapters.

After a building a new computer, I often have various USB sticks and dongles that stick out the back of the case. I like to hide some of my USB devices. Operating systems like FreeNAS, OpenElec and ESXi can run and boot off USB sticks. Why waste a full drive when a 4-8GB stick is all you need. Furthermore, why have a USB stick dangling outside where other people can yank them; especially little children.

Well, the solution is USB headers. This post will cover two different types of USB 3.0 header adapters I got from Amazon.

I got a Y Cable:

and a dongle type header:

The Y cable comes in handy for those older cases that uses USB 3.0 passthrough instead of header connectors.

These use the 19/20 pin motherboard adapters for motherboards that support USB 3.0 headers.

Here, you can plug in a wireless keyboard/mouse dongle and hide them from view.

Here they are inside the case and in the motherboard.

You can plug in USB sticks. Wifi, bluetooth dongles, license keys (some software uses USB dongles for authentication). I am thinking of putting in a 7" USB display to fill up the side of my atx-case.

Here, you can have USB stick shown as a hidden boot disk.

The dongle is great in theory but on my motherboard, it takes up too much clearance. It covers up another USB header. Here the Y-cable works perfectly and now I have 10 USB 3.0 connections along with 6 USB 2.0

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Evo Heatsink

I really like my new Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Evo heatsink.

This $35 heatsink is definitely a good buy. It is pretty big and supports two 120mm fans.
It keeps the i7 3770K very cool without resorting to water plumbing. Only drawback is some cases will not enclose it due to its girth.

It runs about 21-28 degrees celsius at idle. At full tilt, I have not seen it go over 60 degrees. For most use, it hovers around the mid thirties.

Here it is running 94-96% CPU load across all cores running a BluRay Handbrake to 1080p h.264 file and creating a 10GB 256 bit AES encrypted Truecrypt file container at the same time. Both are very CPU intensive.  96% load and it never went over 60 degrees.

Impressive indeed.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elementary OS Luna Beta 1 Short Review

Elementary OS recently released their Luna Beta 1. It is one of the new and controversial Linux distro due to it's mac-like aspirations.

Here is my take and short review.

My background: I use OSX and Linux extensively. I run a variety of CentOS/RedHat servers and I use Ubuntu 12.04/Linux Mint 13 over a dozen different workstations including a Thinkpad I tote along with my Macbook. I normally don't like using Ubuntu off-shoots and derivatives (except Linux Mint) but I've been tracking eOS (Elementary OS) for a while due to the cohesive design philosophies. On Ubuntu/Mint,  I usually run Cinnamon on multi-monitors setups or Windowmaker on single monitor PCs. Unity looks horrid on two large monitors (30 in and 27).  I pretty much hate Unity so you now know my bias. Hence, I have settled with Cinnamon Desktop. I am pretty much happy with 12.04 (running Cinammon) or Linux Mint 13 so I don't have a burning desire to test out new distros.

So why did I install eOS? As a Mac user, I like the idea of a well design UI with consistency. After all, I run WindowMaker in Linux because it works for me. I like polish and eOS promises to be those things. Visually, it is the slickest looking distro on Linux. There are only a few apps I need to run on Linux and I'd like a desktop environment that is fast and free of clutter. eOS is also a fresh take.

Furthermore, eOS is based of Ubuntu so you can easily install Debian apt packages the same as you do on Ubuntu.

Now for my review:

Overall, the distro is very rough around the edges.

I first tested it via VirtualBox and liked it enough to try on a dedicated full SSD drive install.

And then the problems arose. First of all, I could not get dual spanning monitors to work on a dual 23" Dell setup. The same machines run Linux Mint and Ubuntu just fine. I tried the normal and proprietary drivers. I don't have the patience to modify .xorg files to get it working.

Secondly, my build (originally done on a AM3+ FX AMD board) would not boot on an Ivy Bridget i7 rig.

I normally install an OS on a single SSD and try to run them on different machines via front panel docking into the internal SATA buses. It simply would not boot on my new Gigabyte Z77 Thunderbolt motherboard with a Nvidia Kepler GPU. I'm certain I could have fix it but I didn't want to go through the hassle. I wasn't ready to do another new install on the i7 rig. I've been having bad luck with new OSes deleting bootloaders off my other drive on same machine.

However, I was able to boot the same build on a Thinkpad T420. It ran just fine on my Thinkpad.

Take note, I firmly believe in the notion of one disk build running off multiple machines. I've been doing this for over a decade on macs and this is something that needs to work on other platforms. I like the idea of taking one SSD and shuttling it from work, client location, to home with all my apps, servers, SSH keys all one one drive.

Performance wise, I could not tell the difference running natively with 32GB of RAM & SSD versus running it with 4GB inside VirtualBox off a standard hard drive. UI responsiveness was the same running natively or virtualized. This is a good thing because it will be fairly responsive on mid-range machines. I'm running some IDE and Java apps so nothing fairly intensive. Windows, scrolling, and opening apps was fairly fluid. I couldn't tell you how fast it ran on my i7 3770K rig because I couldn't get it to boot but I think it will be fairly fast.

Now for the quirks. I accept the fact eOS has little customization and I get that. There is no need to add or modify themes if the built in ones work. And they do for the most part. I wouldn't change much in the UI of eOS. Unfortunately there are some customizations I need to have working. There are apps that I run that don't have Debian apt equivalents so they don't install into your normal Ubuntu App menus. This is fine in Ubuntu because you can manually add them and if you use a OSX like clone Dock like Cairo, you have the option of locking apps to the dock. You can't seem to do that with non-apt install apps on eOS Plank (their name for their dock). For example, I run Sublime 2 and various WINE Windows apps that I like to be permanently affix as a launcher in my dock. Plank is based off Docky so I can probably customize it via a hidden ~/.config/*.dockitem  text file but I don't want and need to go through that hassle. It should just work.

Some of the built in apps aren't quite there yet. The calendar app doesn't have CalDAV support. I couldn't figure out how to add additional new mail accounts in their Geary Mail client. You can't quite theme (solarize) your terminal which I understand because of their UI mindset. Overall, this is definitely a beta release and I can accept those limitations. As with Linux, if there is something you don't like, you can easily replace it. I quickly replaced their text editor, Scratch, with a customized themed gedit to my liking.

The OSX comparison.

If you used Mac OSX for some time, you can't help but notice the glaring similarities in philosophies. Would I call it a rip-off? No but the similarities are uncanny. Most notably, the Window Manager borrows quite a bit from Expose/Spaces.

Here is Window workspace switching. You can even configure similar hot-corners. Also, what they call  "Exposed windows"  works very similar on the Mac's version of Expose. Except, you can do both switching and tasking windows at the same time on OSX.

Minor quibble, you have no visual feedback when you create a new workspace. Did it work or didnt?

And on a Mac below. An extremely powerful and thought out concept.

Instead of showing workspaces below, OSX shows it on top with a floating modal for the current desktop. As for exposing windows, it is done at the same time in one swoop.
The OSX implementation is more intuitive and advance in the fact you can re-arrange the order of workspaces (Apple calls it spaces) and drag-n-drop apps from one workspace to another. As you can see above, I drag the calculator app from my current workspace into Desktop 2 (cursor not shown in screenshot). Also, OSX has the ability to have different wallpaper/color backgrounds in different spaces which is handy. Different backgrounds comes in real handy when you are re-arranging the order of virtual spaces. The key strength of OSX is also multi-gesturing instead of using hot corners or keyboard shortcuts.  The whole experience of switching and tasking is incredibly fluid on OSX. Multi-touch gestures isn't quite there in Linux yet.

This small comparison isn't mean to be a critique on eOS part. I like their direction but if you plan to lift some ideas from someone, you should go full tilt and improvise on what made the original so good.

There are other Mac-like nuggets like the Mail client and even the system preference seem OSX-like to me. I wont go into details but you can definitely find those screenshots online.

The App Launcher is a modal floating panel in the left mid corner. It is different and I don't have much to say about it. It does the job and it is something different to acclimate yourself to.

Like I mentioned earlier, I could not get dual spanning monitors to work on real hardware but I was able to test out spanning display in Virtualbox and there were some issues. Apps would snap into their respective workspace if you tried to move them across monitors. Screenshot below shows what happens when I tried to move my mail client across.

Minimize wouldn't minimize but move over to the other monitor. There were other issues but I wont bore you with a dozen screenshots regarding spanning display. Surely, these are pre-production bugs.

Overall, I like it but I think I'll wait for the final release to make a final judgement. It definitely looks very slick and performs very fast but there are little things that annoy me right now. Here are a few: To make a new folder in the File Manager requires a contextual right click. I prefer a toolbar button for this and other functions.

There is no minimize window button (you can add an invisible one from reading a few blog posts). There is simply fullscreen and close.

To minimize, you click on the icon on the dock and it makes it feel as if the OS was designed for single app full screen use. I say this because if you have multiple browser windows or text files, one click of the docked app will minimize all of them. Then there is fact that you don't have multiple docked previews of your browser windows in the dock corroborates with the idea of the Single App UI. It feels like they want to make it too clean and simplified.

Lastly, I like to use the mail client but how do I add another account? I don't feel like googling for answers for something so simple and you shouldn't have to in this day and age. It needs to be that intuitive.

Windows 8 Copy Dialogue Box

The only thing I care for in Windows 8 is that nice new copy dialog. I like it very much. It is very pretty and slick.

It shows you in real time the progress of the copies. The graph is pretty cool and shows you the up and down progress. Lot of people will rave about how cool it is and how innovative Microsoft has done with Windows 8.

Unfortunately, this is not new.

It may be built into the OS but the implementation and concepts are not new. I've been doing this for a few years now; using muCommander.  muCommander is an old-school norton like mc file manager (Midnight commander) that is cross-platform. I've been running it under OSX and Linux for years.

I also like the ability to pause /resume my copies and limit the speed with muCommander.
There was also iStat on OSX but that no longer works on Mountain Lion.

You can get similar verbosity in the command line with Rsync. Rsync (by default) won't give a graph but it will give you everything else you need. Like all POSIX cli tools, you can pipe rsync and output to an external log for post analysis. Rsync is great at giving real stats when it comes to viewing sequential and random copies (both small and large). If you are good with regex/grep, I bet one can grep and pipe a 3D overlay graph, generate a PDF report using rsync with ImageMagick/Ghostscript. If you now Python, you can generate an .xlsx Excel file of your copy.

Regardless of who had it first, I still think it is a cool feature. They should implement this natively on other operating systems in the GUI's File Managers. Or use muCommander!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Classic MacOS 9 on a 2012 iMac at 2560x1440

If you ever wonder how Classic Mac OS 9.0 would look on today's modern hardware, this would give you a rough idea.

Running SheepShaver (a Mac Emulator), I got OS 9 running on my 27" iMac. I can surf the web using a browser from 1999. It comes in handy when you want to open a decade old Filemaker database.

Nice indeed.

Windows and Thunderbolt. What works and what doesn't.

So, I've been playing with Thunderbolt on Windows and here is a follow-up report.

My motherboard is a GIGABYTE GA-Z77X-UP5 TH. I am running an i7-3770K Ivy Bridge CPU with 32GB of RAM. I got to say, it is a very sweet motherboard CPU combo. You can allocate resources and memory in the BIOS. 

Most Thunderbolt drives should work with exception. The Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adapter (STAE121) works great. See screenshots below.

Connected via Thunderbolt. You wont get this performance with USB 3.0.

Built in SATA.

I also tried the LaCie 2big and it shows up in the device manager as drives but since they are in Mac software RAID, I could not mount them. I didn't want to reformat my drives but the drives checked out fine in Windows 7.

Sadly, the new Drobo 5D will not work with Windows via Thunderbolt.

Drobo has posted the following:,-thunderbolt,-drobo-5d-%26-drobo-mini

USB 3.0 works on the Drobo 5D just fine. This is a major bummer for those looking to use the Drobo in Windows. This may change in the future.

Thunderbolt mini-Displayport works but I could not do a iMac Target monitor connecting to a Windows machine. Next, displayport via Thunderbolt only works with Intel integrated GPUs. On the Ivy Bridge models, it is the HD4000. I could not get my Kepler Nvidia GPU to pipe the display out to Thunderbolt.

So those are my initial findings. I have not seen any other personal blogs regarding Thunderbolt usage under Windows on the net. Maybe this will be the first post of its kind.

Thunderbolt still seems to be very much a Mac exclusive for the time being.

Blu Ray player on Macbook

Frys recently had a sale on an LG USB portable BluRay Player for $40. I though to myself, why not.
When I got there, there were only open box models and I was able to score one for around $30 and some change.

I'm still not a big fan of optical drives. I remove them from all my (PC and Mac) laptops and replace the bays with SSDs. However,  a cheap DVD burner is nice to have around and it is another reason for me not to boot into Windows.

So how does it work? Well, there is no supplied blu-ray player for OSX so you need to go out and source one. I went out and bought MacGo's Mac BluRay player. There is a trial if you want to test it out.  I know PC folks will complain that you have to go buy an app. This is a fair argument. However, you will end up doing the same on Windows because the OEM supplied Cyberlink ones are pretty limited.

First of all, performance is fine. I thought USB 2.0 limited bandwidth would cause problems and it did on some machines. I simply moved the USB cable to another port which usually solved it. No stuttering  or lag issues. I played the LG player on both my Macbook and MacPro.

Secondly, the MacGo's player does the job at a cost. It doesn't use the native built-in Blu Ray menus. You wont be getting those snazzy 3D animated intro menus. Maybe I did something wrong but I tried all the prefs and could not enable it. I've seen this before on Linux and other cheap bluray players. It can be a distraction but you still get access to all the content. See below.

For some people, this may be a GOOD thing.  I was able to skip all those "required" movie trailers and commercials that even plague my Sony BluRay player in the living room.

You do have the option of playing off an .iso disk image and from ripped folders/files.

Like I wrote earlier, performance wise, it does the job, You can watch Blu Ray movies on current Macs. I was able to play some the of the latest titles without issue like the Avengers.

I was happy enough to go buy an 5.25" internal SATA LG BluRay recorder (also on sale at Frys) for my MacPro.

I wont be watching much BluRay movies on the Mac or (PC if ever). I normally just rip them to hard disk and re-encode down to 1080p 6GB h.264 MP4 so I can watch on my iPad or via XBMC.

Again, I now have another reason not to boot into native Windows. I was able to mount the BluRay player in VirtualBox on my Mac and I can rip BluRay to a shared Virtual drive. Encoding will be done natively on the Mac via Handbrake.

LG Model: CP40NG10

MacGo BluRay Player for OSX