Archive for the ‘General Hardware’ tag
Yesterday Apple held it’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) and announced a slew of new software and hardware. Most notable were the introductions of a new Mac Pro and iOS 7. Of course Apple also unveiled a new version of their desktop operating system, OS X. OS X 10.9 no longer follows the tradition naming convention of large cats, instead 10.9 is called Mavericks. Frankly, I think it’s a stupid name but the name really is irrelevant. What is relevant are the features.
The first feature Apple announced in 10.9 is property multi-montior support. Yes, Apple has finally joined the 1990s. No longer are users relegated to a menu bar and dock only on one screen and users can now have a full-screen application running on each monitor! All I can say is that it’s about fucking time.
OS X will also include Apple Maps. What does this mean for consumers? It means they can get the same shitty direction on OS X as they get on iOS and even transfer those shitty directions from their Mac to their iPhone or iPad.
iBooks will also be included in OS X. Mac users can now not read the books they didn’t buy in the iBooks Store because they were too busy buying them from the Amazon Kindle Store. As you can tell I’m absolutely ecstatic about this announcement.
That’s basically it. Apple did talk about new Safari features but nobody uses Safari so nobody cares what features are included in it.
Switching over to more exciting things Apple also announced new MacBook Airs. The new Airs are based on Intel’s new Haswell processor, which means the battery life is mind blowing. Apple claims the 11-inch Air will get 9 hours of battery life and the 13-inch will get 12 hours. Even if those claims are exaggerated and the 11-inch only gets 7 hours and the 13-inch only gets 10 hours those numbers of fucking impressive.
Hell hath also frozen over because Apple has finally announced a new Mac Pro. The new Mac Pro is an impressive piece of hardware. It’s no longer a large box. Instead the computer is shaped like a cylinder with a crap load of ports on the back of the device. It also includes new Xeon processors that are 256-bit, which I didn’t even know existed. The rest of the specs are equally impressive. In the end the new Mac Pro was probably the best thing that was announced. Sadly it’ll probably cost $5,000 because of the obviously alien technology included in the case.
I also mentioned the new version of iOS was announced. The biggest difference between iOS 6 and iOS 7 is the graphical interface. Apple gave iOS a complete overhaul. The shitty skeuomorphic applications are finally gone; replaced with flat icons in pastel colors. I’m not sure if I’m wild about the color scheme since it looks like the Easter Bunny vomited all over the screen but I’ll take a new design that looks a little nutty over the old design that I was getting bored of.
iOS 7 also includes a new feature called Control Center. Control Center is a small dashboard that allows users to quickly disable wireless interfaces, adjust the phone’s volume, adjust the screen brightness, and several other features Android users have been enjoying for ages. I’m glad Apple has finally joined the party, it would have been better if they arrived on time.
There’s also some unspecified multitasking features. I hope this means applications can have some limited access to network resources while sitting in the background but I’m guessing the implementation won’t be as good as I’m hoping. I’ll have to play with this feature before I make any ruling. On the upside Apple has finally copied WebOS’s app switcher, which was basically the best app switcher implemented in smartphone history.
The other iOS features were pretty minor in my opinion. It was good to see Apple didn’t announce any new iPhones or iPads. Why is this good? Because it means iOS 7 won’t be gimped on my iPhone 5. I hate downloading a shiny new operating system only to find out various features are disabled.
Overall this is the first product announcement Apple has done in a while that impressed me. Granted the only thing that really impressed me was the new Mac Pro but impressed I was. I may not be as impressed when I see the price tag but that’s another story.
One of the major criticisms of the United States healthcare system is the exorbitant costs associated with almost every medical procedure. Proponents of letting the free market solve healthcare problems often mistaken the United States healthcare system for a free market healthcare system. This mistaken belief leads them to defend the American healthcare system. When asked to justify the extremely high costs of healthcare in the United States these people often claim such costs are necessary to provide quality technology. These people forget to mention that cheaper alternatives are actively suppressed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) whose high certification costs ensure cheaper alternatives never get approval. Thankfully this isn’t the case in every country. Even in a supposedly communist country such as China cheaper alternatives to expensive medical technology aren’t strictly prohibited:
When a devastating accident with a homemade fishing bomb destroyed both of Sun Jifa’s hands, the farmer from Jilin province in Northern China couldn’t afford the expensive prosthetics provided by the hospital. Faced with a family to take care of and rudimentary prostheses that made it impossible to do farm work, Sun began an eight-year quest to design and build his own bionic arms using whatever materials he had available. After a series of prototypes built from pulleys, wires, and scrap metal, Sun settled on a final design that proved so successful that amputees in neighboring towns have been clamoring to buy them. In this video from New Tang Dynasty Television, Sun reveals that he’s already sold 1,000 of the arms at around $490 US apiece, turning his personal catastrophe into a prosperous family business.
The primary reason healthcare costs so much in the United States is due to protectionism. Politically connected corporations are protected by small competitors through state-created barriers to entry such as FDA approval requirements. When such restrictions are absent small competitors can offer alternatives to expensive technologies.
I don’t know what possesses people who don’t understand the advancement of technology to write about the advancement of technology. Bitcoin has been headlining many news sites recently. Most of the headlines discuss the recent crash but Mark Gimein had decided to write about another aspect of Bitcoin, the energy requirements of Bitcoin mining. According to Mr. Gimein Bitcoin mining is an environmental disaster:
Most people aren’t used to thinking in terms of the energy it takes to solve math problems; a few minutes of Excel may not take much energy. But make the problems complicated enough, and things change. “Mining” Bitcoins takes so much processor power that it’s often done with specialized computers optimized for rapid repetitive calculations. So how much power can that take?
Blockchain.info, a site that tracks data on Bitcoin mining, estimates that in just the last 24 hours, miners used about $147,000 of electricity just to run their hardware, assuming an average price of 15 cents per kilowatt hour (a little higher than the U.S. average, lower than some high cost areas like California). That, of course, is in addition to the money devoted to buying and building the mining rigs. The site estimates the profits from the day of mining at about $681,000, based on the current value of Bitcoins. So mining, at least for the moment, is a lucrative business.
The trade-off here is that as virtual value is created, real-world value is used up. About 982 megawatt hours a day, to be exact. That’s enough to power roughly 31,000 U.S. homes, or about half a Large Hadron Collider. If the dreams of Bitcoin proponents are realized, and the currency is adopted for widespread commerce, the power demands of bitcoin mines would rise dramatically.
What Mr. Gimein fails to understand, or at least mention, is that Bitcoin is in its infancy and, like any technology in its infancy, is still running inefficiently. New technologies always start off rough around the edges and improve over time. A majority of Bitcoin mining was originally performed using computer processors. Today a majority of Bitcoin mining is done using graphics cards. Both processors and graphics cards, especially the powerful ones that were and are used by Bitcoin miners, can require a great deal of power. However the technology is improving.
First, let’s understand the the current trend in computing is power efficiency. More computing is being performed on mobile platforms, which need to run off of energy stored in batteries. A mobile phone, for example, doesn’t do much good if it can only run for an hour before the battery goes dead. This is why manufacturers are sinking huge amounts of research and development dollars into making more power efficient chips. Consumers always want more. They want more powerful devices and better battery life. Manufacturers want to make consumers happy because making consumers happy is what nets manufacturers a profit. So we are seeing more powerful processors and graphics processors that also consume less power.
The age of wearable computing is also beginning. Google has introduced Glass, the Pebble watch is selling very well, and there are rumors that Apple is planning to introduce a watch of its own. Wearable computers are even smaller than mobile phones, meaning there isn’t as much room for batteries. When wearable computers begin to take off the demand for even more power efficient chips will increase.
Today Bitcoin mining may take 982 megawatt hours a day. Tomorrow it will likely take less. Not just because of more power efficiency processors and graphics cards, but because current efforts are being focused on Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). ASICs are chips designed to perform a specific task. This contrasts with general purpose computing chips such as the processor and graphics card (which are more specialized than processors but still capable of performing other tasks) found in your computer. Because of this ASICs can be designed to use less power. The linked article linked to Butterfly Lab’s website. Butterfly Labs is purporting to build ASICs for Bitcoin mining (I say purported because I know several people who have ordered from Butterfly Labs but have so far received no hardware). ASCIMiner is another ASIC aimed at Bitcoin mining and is powered off of a standard USB port.
Mr. Gimein must believe that Bitcoin miners like sinking vast amounts of money into buying electricity. If that was the case then Bitcoin miners wouldn’t be looking for more efficient methods of mining. But Mr. Gimein’s apparent belief is incorrect, Bitcoin miners don’t like spending great deals of money on electricity, which is why money is being put into developing more efficient mining hardware. Doing more with less has been the trend in human technology. When somebody makes estimations based on current technology they are doomed to fail. One must also predict how technology will advance. The electricity required in Bitcoin mining will decrease as the technology matures.
Via The Firearm Blog I learned of some great news, Defense Distributed has successfully printed an AK magazine:
Since all but the most expensive 3D printers lack the ability to work with metal (that will change) you still have to supply a spring but the rest of the magazine can be printed. You can count this as yet another nail in the coffin of gun control. Advancements like this effectively render New York and Colorado’s recent magazine bans meaningless.
Head over to Defense Distributed’s website and download the plans.
I’ve been discussing Tor more frequently because I foresee a day when laws such as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) force everybody wanting to communicate online anonymously to seek shelter in fully encrypted and anonymized networks. In addition the that Internet related laws are slowing making it so only people who receive a stamp of approval from state regulators will be allowed to legally post material online. In fact the United States government has already used its influence to take down websites it found undesirable and there is no reason to believe such actions won’t continue.
Many people are turned off by Tor because it is relatively slow. The Tor network’s bandwidth relies on relay nodes, which all traffic is transmitted through. What is needed to speed up the Tor network are more fast relay nodes. To this end I’ve begun investigating the use of Raspberry Pis as Tor relay nodes. For those who are unfamiliar with the Raspberry Pi it is a credit card sized ARM-based Linux computer. Two models are available, a $25.00 model and a $35.00 model. As you can see the device is dirt cheap, based on a processor that Tor has been ported to, and, in the case of the $35.00 model, has a built-in Ethernet port. All of these features make for an ideal platform on which to run a Tor relay.
I ordered a $35.00 model Raspberry Pi (although I paid slightly more since they are in very short supply at the moment) Friday and received it Monday. After installing Rasbian, the Debian-based Linux distribution optimized for the Raspberry Pi, onto an SD card I had lying around I plugged my little device into my television and booted it up. Installing Tor on the device was easy, I just had to enter the command sudo apt-get install tor and wait for a minute or so (since the device uses an SD card for storage write operations can be kind of slow). After the short wait I had Tor up and running and merely had to edit the torrc file to enable it as a relay node, open port 9001 on my firewall, and restart the Tor service. My little relay now appears on the Tor Metrics Portal and has traffic routing through it. For now I’ve throttled the relay to use 1Mbps normally and allow 1.5Mbps burst speeds. I plan to increase the bandwidth bit by bit until the relay begins to interfere with my overall network speeds (I use my network for other services including serving this website and I don’t want the relay to interfere with those).
If this project pans out I believe it will offer an effective way to increase the overall bandwidth of the Tor network. I know several people who would like to run a Tor relay but lack the technical expertise to set one up. Having a cheap Tor relay appliance, which is possible by utilizing embedded platforms likes the Raspberry Pi, would give those people an option to help increase the network’s bandwidth and, by so doing, make the network more appealing. Someday, if the Tor network becomes fast enough, a bulk of Internet traffic could seek refuge from today’s tyrannical states in the encrypted and anonymized heaven it offers. Should that happen there is little states could do to censor people online.
I’ll close by saying that the future we live into today is amazing. You can now pick up a fully capable computer for $35.00. That is something I never expected to say just a few short years ago.
I’ve mentioned my interest in the Tavor rifle but expressed concern about the price. Back in April a representative of Israeli Military Industries (IMI) said they were aiming for a manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of “under $2,000.” As I expected, the rifle will have an MSRP of $1,999.
Thus continues my love-hate affair with bullpup rifles. I like the concept of having a rifle that fires proper rifle cartridges in a compact form factor but I don’t like the prices being asked for any of the currently available options. For $1,999 I can buy a nice AR-15 and AK-47 with change to spare. On to of that the bullpup form factor doesn’t solve enough problems, especially when the problems it introduces are considered, to justify that notably higher cost in my book. Then again value is subjective and I’m sure there are a lot of people who are willing to shell out $2,000 for a bullpup rifle. My only hope is to know one of these fine individuals and ask them to let me fire it a few times.
Earlier this year, amateur gunsmiths got together to see if they could print out some parts that could be used to construct a fully functional AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Last weekend, a 3D-printed lower receiver was tested to failure shooting real bullets, and made it through six shots before suffering what you could legitimately call a catastrophic structural failure.
Some people are pointing at this test as a failure because the lower failed after six rounds but I see it as the dawn of a new age. Technology, as a rule, has a tendency to improve. Even though this first lower failed after six shots it proved that the concept is workable. Now that the concept has been proven viable it’s time to improve the technology. This may involve using different materials or making design changes to reinforce weak points. It is my hope that someday future generations will look back at today and say “Man, they had it hard back in the early 21st century. Did you know that most people had to buy their firearms from dedicated manufacturers? It’s crazy! I’m glad we can just print up our firearms at home, going to the store would be such a hassle.” Decentralization makes suppression impossible. If anybody can simply print a firearm at home controlling firearms becomes impossible.
This will likely be the last update for today since I spend last night (I usually write my blog posts the night before and schedule them to automatically post the next day) fighting with my laptop again (which is the system I keep material I’m planning to post). As far as I can tell I managed to anger some deity somewhere because the headaches I’ve been experiencing with my laptop can only be describe as a divine conspiracy.
A few weeks ago I started experiencing problems waking my laptop from sleep. Due to the amount of time it takes me to get my system booted and setup the way I want it I usually put the laptop to sleep instead of shutting it down. This hasn’t been a problem until recently. Instead of waking from sleep my laptop has begun to randomly go into a state that I can only call undead. While the fans come on, indicating the system has powered up, the screen says off and the keyboard and mouse appear to be unresponsive. The only way to bring my laptop out of this state is to hold the power button for a few seconds to turn it completely off. Upon restarting the keyboard and mouse will usually remain unresponsive until I power cycle the laptop again. If I manage to power cycle the laptop before the decryption prompt appears I can restore the system from the sleepimage file (it’s the file that stores the contents of random access memory (RAM) when OS X goes into sleep mode).
During these last few weeks my procedure for bringing my laptop out of sleep has been to cross my fingers open the lid, and breathe a sigh of relief if it comes on or curse all that is holy if the laptop enters the state I mentioned above. If the laptop awakens to it’s undead state I power it off and hit the power button a few times before letting the decryption prompt appear.
After numerous hours of debugging I eventually determined that the problem is most likely hardware related. Due to the rather odd nature of the problem I believed the issue had to do with either the RAM, logic board (the term Apple uses for the motherboard), or the hard drive. I ruled the hard drive out because the Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) stated that the drive was fine. That lead me to test the RAM.
The reason I believed the RAM could be the culprit is due to one of the times I booted the system up only to have it report 4GB instead of the usual 8GB available. Doing some searching online I found a couple other people who experienced the same issue and ended up having to either replace a RAM module or the logic board (which is how the logic board became a potential culprit). I ran memory tests on my RAM overnight only to have the testing software report no issues. Thinking the problem may be missed by the testing software I removed my 8GB or RAM and replaced it with the 4GB that the system originally came with. I ran the system is this almost crippled state for six days without any issue. Believing the RAM to be bad I ordered new modules. The day the new modules arrived my laptop experienced it’s undead state again (obviously some deity was having a spot of fun at my expense). At this point I lost all hope as it appeared my logic board was going out.
It appears that the logic board may not be the issue since the hard drive appears to have died last night. Out of the blue the system almost entirely froze up for several minutes whenever the disk was being accessed. After I powered the laptop off I was unable to power it on again (granted the hard drive continued to run and wasn’t giving me the click of death, it just wasn’t accessing data). Fortunately I keep a spare drive around and have relatively effective backups so this problem is more of an annoyance that a major problem. Unfortunately swapping drives and restoring the new drive from my backups is time consuming and ensures my laptop remains in an unusable state for many hours.
On Black Friday I was made aware of the fact that AT&T had refurbished iPhone 5s for sale. This caught my eye because the cost of refurbished iPhone 5s was $100.00 less than brand new ones and still came with the same warranty. On top of that my contract was up so I was eligible for one of those steeply subsidized discounts that are all the rage with cellular phone users. I upgraded my old iPhone 4 for a new black iPhone 5 with 64GB of storage.
Although I’ve only had the phone for a few hours I feel safe giving my initial impressions. Overall I like the new iPhone. Apple installed a taller screen that, thankfully, is the same width at the iPhone 4 screen (I can still operate the phone with one hand, something that becomes more difficult as phone width increases) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) radios. Another positive change is a mostly aluminum back plate, which I hope it more sturdy than the iPhone 4′s glass back plate (I never broke mine but I know many who did).
Beyond those changes, some notable hardware improvements, and a new connector (which I’ll rant about in a bit) the iPhone 5 is a standard iPhone. If you like the previous iPhones you’ll probably like the iPhone 5 and if you disliked the previous iPhones you’ll probably dislike the iPhone 5.
Compared to the iPhone 4 the iPhone 5 feels like a toy. That’s not to say it doesn’t feel sturdy, the phone doesn’t creak or make any other odd sounds when you press on it, it’s just light. In fact it’s so light that it feels like an empty casing in your hand when compared to the iPhone 4. I doubt the weight difference is going to be appreciated by anybody as it is a very minor thing but it’s still something to note.
Since I upgrade from an iPhone 4 I never had much hands on experience with Siri. Siri is a pretty nice feature and has worked reasonably well for the minor testing I’ve performed so far. I should note that I’ve had great success with voice recognition software on Android so my expectations were high from the beginning. My testing consisted of performing searches, sending text messages, opening applications, and telling Siri to go fuck herself. Overall I was impressed although I must note that many foreign works are not transcribed properly by Siri (try doing a search for Odin, Thor, or any other Norse god and you’ll be amused with the results you get). Siri also has a decent sense of humor. When I asked “Do you know HAL-9000?” the response was “Everybody knows what happened to HAL, I’d rather not talk about it. But if you insist:” and the option to search the web for HAL is available. Little touches like that amuse me greatly and I do appreciate the attention to detail in that regard.
I was surprised to find an LTE signal in my dwelling. As far as I knew AT&T had not rolled out LTE in the Twin Cities yet. Even though LTE comes with the promise of blazing speed I ran a speed test on my LTE connection and was left wanting. The average download speed was a pathetic 4.63Mbps and the average upload speed was an even more pathetic 2.56Mbps. Perhaps the slow speeds are due to the fact that LTE is technically rolled out in the Twin Cities yet or it could be due to a ton of iPhone 5 users connecting to the LTE tower and soaking up all the glorious bandwidth. Either way I plan to do more speed tests in the future to see if things improve.
One of the most notable changes on the iPhone 5 is the connector. Gone are the days of the 30-pin iPod connector that has served use so well. In its place we now have Apple’s new connector which they dub Lightening. What does this mean for you? It means all of those 30-pin connectors you’ve been collecting over the years are worthless. Considering the number of Apple devices I’ve purchased over the years this is a big headache for me. Of course Apple sells a 30-pin to Lightening adaptor but at $29.00 you’re better off buying new cables, which Apple only wants $19.00 for. I understand why Apple is moving away from the 30-pin connector as it takes up a notable amount of room but it’s still annoying.
Speaking of annoying Apple has included one of my biggest phone pet peeves on their newest phone; the headphone jack is on the bottom instead of the top. Granted moving the headphone connector is a minor inconvenience but it still pisses me off. Why should my phone be upside down just to have headphones plugged into it? Unless you’re going to say “It shouldn’t,” don’t bother answering that question because you’re wrong.
Overall I like the new iPhone although I will admit it’s not that much of an upgrade over the iPhone 4. If I had to summarize the difference between the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 I would say the latter is merely a collection of nice, albeit minor, improvements that have become available over the last two years. Nothing about it is Earth shattering but I felt it was worth the upgrade cost. My feelings are obviously subject to change based on future experience but so far I’m impressed.
Yesterday Apple announced new products which means a bunch of people who hate Apple’s products have been busy furiously writing about all the stupid decisions Apple apparently made. They claim that the iPad mini is inferior to the Nexus 7 because the former’s Wi-Fi only model lacks a builtin Global Positioning System (GPS) whereas the latter doesn’t. Many angry paragraphs have been written about how horrible it is that all of Apple’s products, minus the slowly dying Mac Pro, have mobile Graphics Processing Units (GPU) and therefore are worthless for gaming. An almost uncountable number of keyboard strokes have been further spent complaining about the price Apple charges for their devices.
Why is everybody spending so much time complaining? If you think the Nexus 7 is a superior product to the iPad mini then get the Nexus 7. Do you want a gaming machine with the most powerful GPUs on the market? Build one or buy one from a company that sells a computer with the specifications you want. Is Apple charging more than you want to pay for their products? Buy products from a company charging what you think is appropriate. We live in a wonderful world where great products can be found everywhere. When you’re buying a tablet device you have to decide if you want the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Google Nexus, Amazon Kindle Fire, or a tablet from another company. Hell you can even buy multiple tablets. The biggest problem facing consumers is deciding which amazing product to select.
We really do live in the future. Information can be easily and freely obtained thanks to the large group of interconnected computers we call the Internet. Data can be sent, almost like magic, through the air to most parts of the country thanks to cellular networks. Literature, music, and movies can be stored on laptop hard drives, tablets, and portable media players freeing us from carrying bulky books, CDs, and DVDs everywhere we go. I can access the largest information repository in the world from almost anywhere via a device that is so small it fits in my pocket. How fucking awesome is that?
Instead of getting angry over somebody buying a product that doesn’t fit your needs just enjoy the device you bought that does fit your needs. When Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon, etc. release a new product let’s cheer the fact that we have so many choices available to us. We all have different needs and people are trying to ensure as many of those needs are being fulfilled as possible. The future is here, it’s awesome, and we should be celebrating that fact instead of fighting about it.