Sunday, July 27, 2014

PogoPlug V4 now $8.

Adorama (via Amazon) now has the V4 PogoPlug for $8.

Dang, this thing is getting cheaper by the day. Sure, it isn't as fast as the E02s but they are good for hacking ArchLinux and converting these to cheap AirPlay servers running Shairport. I currently use two of them in my 12 AirPlay Speaker set-up. They're also good to use a micro RSYNC servers, TimeMachine backups, or Linux Motion camera servers.

If you've been reading my blog for the past few years, I love running Linux on these low power ARM devices. You can read my up on original review of the V4.  At $8, you can't complain. You can find a use for them if you want to dive into ArchLinux.

BTW, I've been asked a few times on this. PLEX media server. You can install PLEX but this thing isn't fast enough for transcoding. You'd need to rip your media into a suitable format so no WMV, MKVs,etc. People have been using these as cheap Chromecast servers. Even then, I don't recommend it for running PLEX.

UPDATE: 2014-07-28. Sale is over. That went fast!

16GB RAM default on the new 15" Macbook Pro Retinas


According to the various Mac Blogs and Rumors, the 15" Macbook Pro Retina is going 16GB as standard. I don't think I'll be uprading unless there is an option for 32GB RAM. Since I already have 16GB of RAM, I don't see a compelling reason to upgrade. I notice the NVIDIA GPU is now 2GB which will be handy.

I don't think it is a worthwhile upgrade to my 2.7GHZ, 16GB RAM, 760GB SSD build. It is still the best laptop I've owned and is still plenty fast.

However, I'm yearning for 32GB RAM which I have on all my workstation desktops.

16GB is bare-bone minimum when you run a lot of VMs. I can definitely feel the need for more RAM. 2GB of video RAM would be good at driving two 27" monitors. I can definitely feel some lag right now.

Storage wise I'm still good. I've only used 300GB of my 760GB. It is good to have 40 terabytes accessible via Thunderbolt so I've kept local storage to mostly scratch work.

I've thought about going back to Lenovo but I want stick to a Thinkpad over their consumer Yogas. A Thinkpad W540 is out of the question due to the mammoth size. And Linux's HiDPI isn't still as good as OSX. So for now, I'm going to stick to 15" Macbook Pro Retina.

Monday, July 21, 2014

45th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and Omega Speedmaster Professional

I'm a day late on this. Yesterday, July 20th was the 45th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Yep, on July 20, 1969, man first set foot on the moon.

I'm reminded by this every other day. I own a few Omega Speedmaster Professional "moonwatches." The one pictured above is the 35th Anniversary, limited edition commemorative edition. What makes it unique is the Apollo 11 mission patch and unique white dial. It also has the date inscribed on the dial; marking the famous July 20th, 1969 date. So, I guess you can say, I'll never forget that date despite the fact I wasn't even alive then.

Thus this post is a reflection on the Speedmaster Professional. It isn't specific to any model or limited edition versions. Just the Speedy Pro, in general.

But if you are interested, Omega just released the 45th Anniversary in a rich chocolate finish with an nylon strap. It looks pretty good. Limited to 1,969 pieces.

The Speedmaster Professional is a really great watch. Despite all the furor and talks about smart watches these days, nothing compares to a finely designed and crafted Chronograph. The Speedy, in my opinion, would be in the top ten of the greatest chronographs ever made.

Then there is all this talk about sapphire crystals and who and what will be using it in our new smartphones and watches.

Well, the (original) Omega Speedmaster has neither of those things. No electronic doodads or flashy sapphire jewelry crystal. Sapphire is awesome no doubt but in space, it has no place. It has what you call "hesalite." Basically, a synthetic acrylic crystal. Why? To deal with sub zero atmospheric pressure. If sapphire cracks and breaks in outer space, it has a high probability of puncturing a space suit. It is also anti-magnetic, anti-vibration which comes in handy in those multiple G-Force rocket launches.

The Speedmaster has and is worn on the outside of a spacesuit as you see below. They are rigorously tested and is flight qualified by NASA (and other Space agencies) for EVA; Extra Vehicular activity outside of the space ship.

The movement is incredibly robust. Depending on the vintage, it can either be a Cal 321 or Cal 861 Omega movement. Cal 321 being the original vintage and after 1968, all Speedmaster Pros sports a Cal 861 (or one of it's derivatives).

The watch is a manual wind affair; meaning it doesn't have rotor like many automatic movements. I actually prefer it this way. There is a sensual joy of winding it up every morning and the fact it has no date complication is even better. As I alternative between watches in my collection, I don't have to worry about setting the date if I haven't worn it in a week.

NASA did rigorous testing - heat, cold, and all that in the 1960 and the Speedmaster came out on top. It is very robust for space applications. And the fact that it has hesalite crystal is a big bonus for the aesthetics.

Why is hesalite better in this watch? Because at certain angles, it gives it a nice aura, a soft vintage reflection or as some would say, a glow. However, looking straight on, the dial is matte and not glossy like some sport watches. It is incredibly visible. I guess you would say the non-reflective matte dial is paramount for visibility when an astronaut is doing space walks with the big fat Sun in the background. They obviously don't want any glare.

If the crystal gets scratch, you can usually clean it up with toothpaste or some soft abrasive. I'm not saying you should but that is what I use on my Speedmasters. I have one that is over 20 years old and the crystal is still in working order. Then again, if you are not a purist, Omega does sell a variation with a curved sapphire crystal. It just wouldn't be right calling it a Speedmaster Professional. Thus, some of those models are just part of the regular Speedmaster line.

Yep, the Speedmaster Professional is all that and more. One bad-ass watch that every serious watch collector/tech geek should have in his collection. Below is the 45th Anniversay case back.

I'm going to close with one point. Timeless.
Introduced in 1957. It still looks modern andcontemporary; transcending generations with a rich illustrious history. There is no doubt there is a iconic history to it. A design that is close to 60 years old. What smart watch can compete with that? With all the talk about Android Wear, iWatch, what could they offer that is even comparable in terms of lineage. Being able to run indefinitely without ever being out-dated or replaced. Or have the ability to pass down two, three generations within a family. Many Speedmasters have even appreciated over time. In general, they keep their value and increase. No other electronic gadget can say the same. Thus, I guess what I am saying, as a geek, I am an old school hold-out when it comes to watches.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oh how the mighty have fallen. Nakamachi headphones at K-Mart and Sears

Back when I was a kid in the 80s, Nakamichi was synonmous with high end audiophile gear. They were considered one of the high-end brands.  As a teenager, I didn't know much but I did know Nakamichi products were ultra expensive - tape decks were $1000 and car audio systems cost around $4000 back in the eighties. Today, you can get Nakamichi branded headphones for as low as $15 in the aisle of K-Mart and Sears (both are owned by the same Sears corporation).

There was an offer for one Beats-like fashion headphones for $23 with $20 back in reward points so I got myself one out of curiosity. With the reward points, it was basically getting a pair of headphones for $3. The model I got was the NK2000  but the other models usually have similar promotions at both Sears and K-Mart.

This takes me to today's post. Nakamachi is an example of a great brand that just fell to the wayside.

What happened?

I don't profess to know the exact details. I remember one of their defining moments was in 1989 when they were introduced as high-end car audio gear for the newly minted Toyota's division called Lexus. The first Lexus LS400 featured an interesting Nakamichi stereo system with a single CD front loading dash that stored 7 CDS internally. It was like having a CD changer without using a cartridge or carousel.

Then the digital revolution happen and Nakamichi simply did not keep up. The company went bankrupt in November of 2002.The brand was eventually sold off to a Chinese Holding company. After some research, this totally explains why you now see Nakamichi at K-Mart.

The particular pair of headphones I got is pretty crappy. The fitting, the material is very cheap. You can't even adjust the fitting. The sound is a bit bassy and abysmal. I guess they work in a pinch if you are into bass heavy music. I read some reviews of some of their more fancier looking professional studio headphones, NK2030. They cost around $40 but are always on sale in the $20 price mark. Apparently, they are rebranded cans that are often found on Ali-baba and other wholesale Chinese electronic outfits. However, according to some, they sound pretty decent for $20-30 cans.

My advice, resist your youthful urges and curiosity if you see a set of "Naks" on sale anywhere. They're not the same company you remember from the 70s or 80s. It is a shame actually but at least I was only out $3 dollars. Unfortunately, I don't think kids today even know or even realize Nakamichi's past. They just look like trendy Beats like gear.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Getting better sound. AudioEngine D3 DAC and AKG Q 701 headphones

I got some new audio gear: AudioEngine USB D3 DAC (Digital Analog Converter) and a pair of AKG Q 701 headphones. Both are highly, highly rated and offer premium sound. Depending on where you shop, is this  $400-$500 combo worth the upgrade? Hard to quantify but I am loving the soundstage and fidelity.

The AudioEngine DAC goes for $149-199 depending when it goes on sale. The Same applies to the AKG 701 at $199-$350.

I love this set-up except the AKG requires some power. The volume is very low and I'm going to have to invest into a different headphone DAC/Amplifier. Forget about using this on my iPhone or HTC ONE M8. There is simply no juice to run these headphones. I was debating about getting the AKG or Beyerdynamic dt880 600 ohm and I'm glad I got the AKGs.  There is no way to run the DT 880s un-amplified. The AKG 701 runs fine off my Macbook Pro in my quiet office using the AudioEngine DAC.

The AudioEngine D3 is very good for the price and size footprint. I've been using it for weeks and I don't think I can listen to music without a DAC of some sort. Unfortunately, I can't get the DAC to run off my HTC ONE M8. This picture you see below is a no-go. That is a shame.

On a similar subject, this reminds me about Apple's earlier announcement about MFI Lighting certification for audio. Since higher end headphones require amplification, I can see where a lightning cabled DAC/AMP would be a big seller. It is much better than scotch-taping/jury rigging an Fiio portable AMP with a bunch of wired adapters.

I seriously want to run a DAC and AMP combo with my mobile phones but I don't want to look like a dork with a bunch of dangling cables/adapters/attachments.

Monday, July 14, 2014

iStabilizer Dolly Short Review

OK. I saw this in one of my Facebook feeds and it was marked down 40% off so I went for it.
The gadget is called the iStabilizer Dolly and I snagged one for $40 at this link.

It is a Panning "stabilizer" dolly for small cameras. It is targeted for iPhone and smartphone users. However, my larger HTC ONE M8 didn't fit the cradle. It has a standard tripod screw head so you can use any small camera/dSLR with it. Think of this as a mini tripod on wheels. I've always been trying to get the perfect panning shots and I figure $40 is a small price to pay for something that will improve my shots. You can read my short review and watch my demo shot to conclude if this is a cheap thrill gadget worthy of your consideration.

First, the packaging is real simple. The wheel base, the adjustable pod, and a smartphone cradle. I didn't even find any instructions nor did I need it. It is pretty easy to set-up.

Next, it has adjustable wheels so you can have it go in a curve, certain angle, or straight. The tripod stick articulates like a Joby and similar gadgets. This allows you to do crazy angles or pan an object in circles. It could come in handy if you wanted to shoot something like jewelry on a table.

Here are hero shots with the iPhone and Olympus Micro 4/3 OM-D camera. This is how it looks like with cameras/phones attached. It is very low to the ground.  I think it is too short to be of meaningful use. I guess you can prop it up if you plan to improvise.

Next, I would not call this a "stabilizer." Panning Dolly, yes. It does work as a Panning Dolly but stabilization is out of the picture. I think the name is a bit misleading.

However, you will need a pretty flat surface. You can use plywood or something flat to help smooth out the panning but the wheels have no articulation or suspension to stabilize the shot. Shooting with an  iPhone, I could not get any decent shots. This is mostly due to the focal length of the iPhone's lens. After most tries, I found it too jerky to be of any good. I had to resort to using my Olympus OM-D which has optical and digital built in stabilization. I shot in various locations around my house with hardwoord floors.

Here is a sample footage shot with an Olympus OM-D in 1080p.

Was it worth $40? I don't really know. I'd need to be in a situation where I needed that panning B-roll shot. Still, I think it is cheaper than rolling my own contraption with various bits and pieces from a hardware store.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Reviewed: Kanex Thunderbolt to eSATA + USB 3.0 Adapter . A cheap Thunderbolt USB 3.0 alternative.

The most referring request to my website is a Google search query for a cheap Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 adapter. This comes up in the statistics everyday. I've also read countless forum requests for such a device. Before today, the only option was a Thunderbolt docking station. Thunderbolt docking stations are not portable and they start at $199.

Today, I have the next best thing: The Kanex Thunderbolt to eSATA + USB 3.0 combo adapter. No, it isn't that simple single Thunderbolt to USB adapter that everyone wants but having the eSATA add-on comes in handy. You can also get a similar device that supports USB 3.0 + Gigabit from Kanex as well.

As you can see, this model has both the blue Superspeed port and eSATA. The construction feels solid. The Thunderbolt end cable is permanently affix;making this officially a dongle. Having the cable permanently built in means you save $40 off the price of cable. However, I do feel the cable should have more girth and thickness.

This is fairly priced at $79. I was hoping for something around $40 but this is the closest thing you will get to a cheap Thunderbolt - USB 3.0 bridge. Is it expensive? I don't think so considering a USB eSATA would cost you $30. I think this matches fairly with those card-bus PCMCIA expresscard USB  3.0 adapters. $79 is also cheaper than the next option up which is $199. Furthermore, you don't have to buy a $40 Thunderbolt cable to use this.

The unit is driverless for  OSX 10.8.4 and above. Windows users can download a driver for Windows 7 and newer. I didn't have a chance to test it with my Windows Thunderbolt PC so I can't comment on Windows functionality.

Here it is in action with a USB 3.0 drive and a eSATA RAID5 attached.

A few important notes:

First it does support full 5.0 Gbps USB 3.0 throughput.
eSATA port also supplies port multiplication. SATA is up to 6G speeds.

Below are screenshots from the system profiler.

And from a 2011 27" iMac with no superspeed USB 3.0 ports.

 Now, with a simple upgraded accessory, other 2011 Thunderbolt Mac owners can have superspeed USB peripherals connected at 5Gbps.

The only negative is that it does not have a Thunderbolt daisy chain port. This will be the last item on your Thunderbolt bus. This isn't a problem for an iMac since it has two ports but I can see where an Air owner would be concerned.

This device is ideally designed for Macs with Thunderbolt produce in 2011 like the 27" iMac that I have. My two other Macbooks have USB 3.0 built in. For newer macs, this is a tougher sell product.


I tested this on my 15" Macbook Retina Pro. Since my Macbook has built in USB 3.0, I wanted to see how it compares. I've tried various USB 3.0 sticks and 2.5 inch drives and none of them had any connectivity or bus powering issues. It will definitely power most USB 2.5" external drives. So you don't have to worry about that. It won't, however, power multiple drives due to the power draw.

For my testing, the main things I am looking for are:
USB 3.0 speeds and compatibility.
eSATA speeds.

USB 3.0 Speeds.

Just for point of reference and comparison, I used a Samsung 830 SSD and OYEN USB 3.0 enclosure. I've used this in the past so it is a good reference for my old readers. I tested this with the on-board Macbook's USB and through the Thunderbolt Adapter. Here are the results.

With the KANEX adapter.

Macbook On-board USB 3.0

2011 27" iMac w/ Thunderbolt and the Kanex. Note, the iMac does not have onboard USB 3.0

The results are very close. The Samsung/Oyen is an older drive but the Macbook Pro already has an optimally fast USB 3.0 internal bus so this fares very well. I didn't have any faster drives on hand to see if it could push higher speeds (UASP).

eSATA Notes.

So how does this fair to the Seagate Thunderbolt "hack" solution featured here? Well, it is more elegant. But there are also USB to eSATA dongles out there in the market place.

Last year I tested an USB 3.0 eSATA NewerTech dongle. I tried to compare it to the KANEX but the NewerTech USB 3.0 dongle didn't mount my SANDIGITAL RAID. That particular dongle (and many other USB 3.0 to eSATA) tends to have problems with larger disk arrays.

The KANEX adapter had zero problems. The RAID box was a SansDigital TOWERRAID TR4UTBPN that was reviewed here.

The RAID is a RAID5 4 drive array and here are the results. Considering the eSATA threshold, it did very well giving me in excess of 160 MB/sec writes.

For comparison, last year's review of that box in RAID5 connected to Window's machine directly to an internal eSATA port. There is a bit of a discrepancy compared to the Windows test because the RAID is formatted NTFS which will run slower on a Mac platform.  Furthermore, I had about 3TB filled out of the 9TB.

I would say the results are very close and very good.

The Seagate Thunderbolt "hacked" solution faired a little better and you can read it here:
However, now, the Seagate is no longer the cheapest solution. This is.

There is a small gripe about the eSATA. However, it isn't the fault of KANEX. I was hoping it had eSATA-P support. Not all eSATA adapters have this so it isn't something to knock a point away. eSATA-P is a dual USB combo port that powers portable eSATA devices. like this below.

With the Kanex adapter, I couldn't power a stand-alone SSD as you see above.

Up close, this is how an eSATA-P port looks like. It is a dual socket that allows you to connect USB or eSATA. It also powers whatever SATA device you connect to it. I think the reason KANEX didn't go for anything like this because 1) I've never seen an eSATA-P with USB 3.0 speeds and 2) Having two USB ports may be too big of a power draw. Thus, the dongle is limited to something like gigabit ethernet or eSATA in addition to the single Superspeed USB port. The other eSATA-P adapters I've seen and used (ExpressCard) had to use an extra USB port to get power.


The Kanex Adapter does provide booting off eSATA. I've successfully tried it and it works without incident. However, you cannot boot off a USB 3.0 drive. As you can see in the following picture, I was able to boot 10.9.4 off a eSATA SSD enclosure. However, if you plan to do this, you have to be aware of the drive getting ejected if the computer goes to sleep. Thus, adjust your power management settings accordingly if you plan to boot off an external SATA drive.

Note. Booting is YMMV. According to different sources, booting is not officially supported and some have difficulty. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).

Things to Note.

Again, these are not major faults but some things to address and consider.

You can only connect so many devices. It is only rated to power a certain amount of power as specified by USB specs and how much Thunderbolt can provide. I had mixed results between my Macbook and iMac. Do not to expect to power multiple 2.5" drives off a portable USB 3.0 hub. It can't be done. Now, if you have a powered hub, then it isn't an issue.

Next, the Thunderbolt cable should have been a little bit longer to accomodate the iMac. As you can see in the picture below, the adapter doesn't fully rest to the base of the table.

I also have an issue where an Edimax USB 3.0 802.11 AC adapter will not run on my iMac as it hangs.

However, the USB wifi card runs fine on my two Macbooks. It could be a driver issue so I will look into that. I've tried a USB sound DAC and all other USB 2.0 devices worked without issues.


So far I like it. Do I have real need for this device when I already have the handy and great Caldigit Thunderbolt dock? Yep, I suppose so. Instead of buying another dock at $200 for work, I can use this where I have a lot of eSATA devices. I'd plug this in at the end of my Thunderbolt chain and plug my powered USB 3.0 hub which has gigabit ethernet built in. I'd still have a single cable connected to my Macbook in most instances.

This also comes in handy for my 27" iMac which doesn't have USB 3.0 but two un-used Thunderbolt ports. I reckon, I'd us the iMac more now.

I can see people opting for the USB 3.0 Plus Gigabit alternative also sold by Kanex. Obviously  I can see the combo USB/Ethernet can be handy for Macbook Air owners I know.

Updated Conclusion:

I thought about this a bit more after I wrote my initial review. Come to think of it, the eSATA is really the key selling point for me. Since I already have USB 3.0 on my newer macs, I don't need the Thunderbolt to USB converter functionality as much as eSATA. The only other Thunderbolt - eSATA is the LaCie which goes for $199 (without Thunderbolt cable).  I also happen to have a few eSATA enclosures that can be put to good use. I can also buy a dual SATA 6 eSATA dual bay enclosure for $80. Then if you add the price of this adapter, you can have a Striped Thunderbolt RAID set-up for under $200. Actually, if Kanex comes out with a Thunderbolt to eSATA + Gigabit adapter for $80, I would immediately pick that up too. However, based on the voice and opinions I read online, I think the this Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 was smart move. I bet this will be a very popular device soon.

Price: $79.99 direct.