No time …

Monday, 1 June 2009

It’s been quite a while since I’ve published anything new on this blog. That’s because I don’t seem to have enough free time these days. Who knows, maybe in the near future I’ll start blogging again …

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Macbook versus Macbook Pro: my decision

Sunday, 16 March 2008

A few weeks ago, while I was sitting at my computer, I noticed a strong burning smell coming from somewhere beneath my desk. I sent for a computer repair dude, he confirmed motherboard was fried.

So with the old computer completely written off, and Apple just recently having upgraded the specs of their Macbooks, I thought now is as good a time as any to switch to a portable Mac.

So first I must determine my needs: I require a fast, sturdy and highly portable laptop, with good battery life and good wireless support, a nice clearly readable screen suitable for writing papers.

And perhaps I should also specify what the laptop will *not* be used for: gaming of any sort, photo-shopping, video editing, programming.

Based on these requirements, I determine that certainly the midrange white Macbook, with 2GB ram, 2.4Ghz CPU and 160GB hard disk drive, should meet my needs. But I also wonder whether the entry level Macbook Pro won’t be worth the extra investment. So I thought I might post a comparison here and hopefully, by writing this down, I will gain more insight into what I require to help me make the best decision.

So let’s begin with listing some of the most important pros and cons of the Macbook.

Pros:

  • Lightweight, sturdy polycarbonate frame
  • Long battery life
  • Good wifi support
  • midrange white model is 516 euros cheaper than the entry level pro, with same CPU and RAM (I get students discount on Mac merchandise, so this price difference is actually less than what it normally is)

Cons:

  • The magnetic latch system is known to cause chipping of polycarbonate shell after prolonged use.
  • The X3100 graphics with non-dedicated memory bites into RAM memory
  • Speakers on this thing really suck, even for a laptop

And now the pros and cons of the Macbook Pro.

Pros:

  • It has a nicer screen, with better backlighting and greater vibrancy
  • Dedicated graphics card
  • More stylish and thinner than the Macbook
  • Better sound

Cons:

  • 516 euros more expensive!
  • Some users have noted that wifi signal quality of the pro is less
  • I don’t like the keyboard as much as the ‘chicklet’ keyboard on the Macbook
  • The aluminum casing dents easily, it’s not as durable as a Macbook
  • It’s wider and slightly heavier than the Macbook
  • Battery life is not as long as on the Macbook

OK, now to think it over a little better.

Under the “pros” of the macbook pro, I have mentioned the dedicated graphics. But like I said, I do not intend to be gaming with this thing, so I could just as easily get a Macbook and use a 4GB memory set for around 90 euros. 2GB of extra RAM to satisfy the X3100 is a lot cheaper than going for a Macbook pro just for the dedicated graphics memory.

The screen on the Macbook pro looks better, but is that alone worth 516 euros? I also have a 19″ Dell display that I can hookup, so this quality difference will only be an issue when I’m traveling. On top of that, I won’t be doing any of the graphics intensive stuff anyway that would warrant the investment in the more colorful display the Pro version features.

One thing that counts against the Macbook is the problems with the magnetic latch, but from what I gather after much searching on google, is that Apple is aware of the problem and they will fix it for you if this happens to your system. Furthermore, the problem appears to be entirely cosmetic anyway.

The last point is sound quality. To be honest, the built-in speakers of the pro version sound much better than those in the small macbook. However, it still doesn’t sound nearly as good as the perfect stereo sound I get from simply plugging in my Sennheisers. So I’d just be paying for an upgrade that wouldn’t get used.

So I guess the conclusion becomes inescapable: the mid-range white Macbook is simply the best buy for my needs. (Wow, who would have thought that writing everything down like this could *really* help this much ;-)


Happy New Year!

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Oh well, better late than never eh? I’ve been very busy again, so I haven’t been able to write much for my blog. So my new year’s resolution is to post more messages ;)


Initial impression of Ubuntu 7.10

Thursday, 18 October 2007

It’s been quite a while since I last posted something on this blog, but two days ago I decided to install Ubuntu 7.10 (a.k.a. “Gutsy Gibbon”) on my laptop. And so I thought I might share my initial impressions.

The first thing I noticed is that the network manager (used for configuring wifi connections) no longer prompts the gnome-keyring-manager to ask me for a password every time I boot the computer. This is one of the biggest improvements, in my view.

Also when you surf to a flash site for the first time, you can now finally tell firefox to install the missing flash-plugin. You even get to choose between installing gnash or Adobe’s flash, which is very nice (but be sure to select Adobe’s flashplayer for now).

And I used the alternate installation CD for the installation, so I could configure the laptop hard drive to use encryption, which is yet another new feature in version 7.10. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do. At least now I don’t have to worry about people being able to get to my passwords, GnuPG secret keys, e-mail and other private data, if my laptop gets stolen or lost.

This is also the first Ubuntu system to finally correctly set the resolution to 1024×768 on my laptop. But although the new X configuration utility looks nice and simple, users who desire fine-grained control will still have to manually edit the xorg.conf file. Perhaps this utility will be improved in future releases.

And regrettably I have also discovered something to complain about. I began hearing the CPU fan come on constantly, which is very annoying, and so I ran the top command to find out the cause. Thus I noticed a process called “scrollkeeper-up” (=scrollkeeper-update) using over 80% of the available cpu cycles. After a little searching on google, I found a silly, but effective, hack to disable the scollkeeper-update program (it is not needed to run Ubuntu). I have even posted a question about this on the Ubuntu forum, but after 24 hours there are no replies (thread is located here).

For the time being I can ignore the problem. But of course when the scollkeeper program is included in a future software update, then I don’t know what is going to go wrong because of the quick and dirty fix I’m using.

Nevertheless, on the whole I’d say Ubuntu 7.10 is definitely a big improvement. (Well, so far anyway ;-)


Open wireless access points and the theft analogy

Monday, 20 August 2007

Many homes and small companies are using Wi-Fi access points so that their computers can establish a wireless connection to the internet. It is still not uncommon for such access points, the devices with antennae that can transmit and receive data, to have no measures implemented to prevent undesired connections by other computers.

It has often been asked whether people who log into unprotected access points are stealing. The analogy often used is that it’s like being able to walk onto your neighbour’s house just because his front door isn’t locked, then tapping into his cable TV connection, run the cable back to your house and then watch TV for free.

This analogy, however, is false. An excellent analogy I have read goes as follows: You ring the doorbell of your neighbour’s house, the butler opens the door. Then you ask if it’s OK to watch cable TV, the butler then answers “sure, no problem.” So are you stealing cable television? No, you’re not.

The butler is simply carrying out his masters instructions, or otherwise used his own discretion when the master fails to provide explicit instructions. The open access point device is to internet access, what the friendly butler is to cable TV.

In other words: people with open access points have delegated decisions, regarding who to grant access to the network, to the access point’s software. It can decide for itself who gets permission to access your network, as you have implicitly or explicitly given it permission to do. That means that it is broadcasting its presence to the world, and any computer in the vicinity who kindly asks permission to log on, is indeed given permission to do so. This is not a mistake, this is by design.

Believe it or not, there are quite a few individuals who deliberately want to leave their access points open. It’s a philosophical decision for some, who hope that someday internet access will be open and freely available everywhere on earth, through open access points.

So there is nothing wrong about accessing open access points, and it’s certainly not stealing.


Solaris “Nevada” build 70 also fails to install: I give up

Monday, 20 August 2007

I tried installing Solaris Express Community Edition, code name “Nevada”, build 70. And this time I got a different error, which ended with the following statement:

Error 28: Selected item cannot fit into memory

After a bit of searching, I have discovered that it is likely caused by an incorrect build of GRUB. If I am correct, this will require rebuilding GRUB and creating a new ISO altogether. Translation: I cannot install this build of Solaris Express, at all, no matter how much I stamp my feet. I have to wait for build 71 to be released. But I am not going to.

It is becoming clear to me that older systems, such as mine, are to OpenSolaris developers what bugs are to windshields. They clearly don’t care, or it is so low on their priority list that they don’t even bother testing builds on these kind of systems. It may be worth noting that, yet again, it worked like a charm on my Athlon XP system.

This is ridiculous, are they just making it up as they go along? I know they make no guarantees regarding stability and such, but I am basing my choice on the HCL and the system requirements. That means I do not expect it to fly on my slow laptop, but it should at least install.

Why waste my time with incorrect minimum system requirements and outdated HCL entries? Or are these purely theoretical system requirements, for arm-chair computer enthusiasts to run on imaginary systems?

If this is the future of what SUN is touting as the “world’s most advanced operating system”, then I do not predict a very bright future. At least, it will be quite some time before I even think about trying OpenSolaris again.


OpenSolaris: no Pentium II support?

Sunday, 19 August 2007

As I wrote earlier, I have been thinking about trying OpenSolaris. I checked the hardware compatibility list on SUN’s website, and my Toshiba Tecra 8000 was reported to work fine. The system requirements indicated that my laptop, with 256 MB RAM, 400Mhz Pentium II CPU and 40GB hard disk drive, should be able to run OpenSolaris just fine.

So I downloaded OpenSolaris “Nevada” Build 69 and burned a copy of the first CD image. Tried it on my Athlon XP machine, and it booted just fine. So I took it home and tried it on the laptop, but then I got the following error that repeated itself over and over again:

WARNING: init(1M) exited on fatal signal 9: restarting automatically

I googled the problem, and discovered that it is related to my Pentium II and its lack of SSE support. I also found the following bugreport: “snv boot failure since snv_66, no support for systems without SSE?

So people with pre-pentium III CPUs are out of luck with builds 66-69, inclusive. Fortunately, it seems that a fix is to be implemented in “Nevada” Build 70, which I noticed became available for download yesterday.

I will try the first CD of that build later this evening and see if that works.