Monday, December 29, 2008

Review: EFI-X Boot Module

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Today's edition of MacInTouch reviews a new product, the EFI-X Boot Module. This is a $260 (currently discounted to $200) USB dongle that sets up an EFI boot environment on a generic PC.

For those who don't know, EFI is a new boot environment for PCs that is intended to replace the old BIOS environment that PCs have used in various forms since the first IBM PC shipped in 1981. EFI is much more advanced than BIOS, but only the most recent operating systems can boot on EFI-equipped PCs.

So why is this interesting? Apple Intel-based Macintosh computers (which is everything sold since mid-2006) use EFI and Mac OS X requires EFI in order to boot. (There have been some hacking efforts to make Mac OS X run on BIOS-based PCs, but they are of questionable reliability.) With the EFI-X Boot Module, you can get that same EFI software on a generic PC. It would appear that this alone is sufficient to allow Mac OS X to install on non-Apple hardware. (Assuming you have hardware for which Apple provides drivers, of course.)

Of course, installing Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware is a violation of Apple's software license terms, so actually doing this might be illegal, depending on where you live and what the courts decide. And it is likely that Apple will update Mac OS X in some way to make it incompatible with an EFI-X-equipped PC. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting piece of news and an even more interesting product for PC hackers to play with. (And there's absolutely nothing illegal about using EFI-X to run Linux or the 64-bit version of Windows Vista - both of which have EFI support.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Ornery American: Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?

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Orson Scott Card deals out a much-needed blow against the media, who are lying through their teeth about the causes of today's financial crisis in order to get Obama elected.

Read the essay for the whole story.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Global Warming as Mass Neurosis

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Back in July (sorry, I just read the article today), Bret Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal that much of the science behind today's global warming panic has been discredited (he presents several specific examples) and that the arguments being tossed about today are based on religious and political ideologies, not scientific fact.

Read the article for the full story.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The entire universe

1 comment:
Today's XKCD depicts the entire unvierse, plotted on a logarithmic scale of distance from the Earth's surface.

Pretty nifty, eh?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Talking to the Police by Professor James Duane

1 comment:
Professor James Duane gives a 47-minute lecture on why talking to the police without a grant of immunity is always a bad idea, even if (especially if) you are innocent. The first half of the lecture is the professor's lecture, the second half being commentary by a police officer who confirms everything and then describes many (all perfectly legal) techniques for getting people to confess.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Male dogs and other unusual words

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This week, I started wondering if there is a term for a male dog. We all know the term for a female dog, but the males are usually just called "dogs".

Well, thanks to the internet, I now know that answer.

There are three terms used for a male dog:

  • Stud - usually only used for breeding purposes
  • Sire - but only if it has fathered pups
  • Cur - although this usually implies one that is angry or ill or abused

And while on the subject, I was able to find out what male and female cats are called. Until now, I only knew the first of the following:

  • tom - a male cat
  • gib - a male cat that's been neutered
  • queen - a female cat (usually only if she hasn't been spayed)
  • clowder - a group of cats

And now you know too.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A terabyte in the palm of your hand

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This weekend, I assembled a 1TB hard drive for my Mac. I purchased a Seagate Baracuda ST310005 1TB internal SATA drive at Micro Center for $210. I installed this drive into a Vantec NexStar-3 360UFS external drive case, which cost $70. This is an all-metal case that provides USB, FireWire and eSATA ports. It is currently attached to my Mac via FireWire, that being the fastest interface I currently have. (I may install an eSATA card for better performance, but not now.)

Overall, installation was very simple. The drive just snaps onto the circuit board in the case. The circuit board is also attached to a metal frame that contains the case's external connectors. Thanks to the standardized (and simplified) ports used by SATA drives, there is no need for actual cables. Just a simple connector that mates with both of the drive's connectors. The drive then attaches to the board's frame with four screws. It was important to use the screws that came with the case, and not the ones that came with the drive. The former are pan-head, while the latter are round-headed. The round-headed screws scrape the bottom of the case when the drive is inserted. After attaching the drive to the circuit board, the assembly slides into the case. A single wire attaches the case's in-use LED to the circuit board.

After assembling the drive, I attached it to my Mac. Although simple from a technical point of view, this was tricky trying to find a place for it on my desk. My other external drives (two hard drives and a tape drive) reside on top of my Mac. When I tried to put the new drive there, however, the power cord proved to be too short to reach the power strip on the floor. I found another location, on my desk, behind the monitor, only to find that the bundled FireWire cable was too short to reach from there to my FW hub. Fortunately, I have other FireWire cables and was able to swap it for a longer one.

After physically attaching the drive, the rest was smooth sailing. As soon as I turned it on, Mac OS informed me about the new drive and asked me if I would want to format it. I said yes and the system's Disk Utility launched. The drive was partitioned and formatted in a few minutes. Afterwards, I chose to explicitly zero-out the partition - this is unnecessary, but I do it with new drives, to check for any damaged sectors. That operation took nine hours. (This is a trillion bytes we're talking about!)

After formatting, the drive appeared on my desktop and Mac OS asked me if I wanted to use it to store Time Machine backups. Since this was my purpose for buying the drive, I said "yes" and it was automatically set up.

Time Machine took about four hours to make the initial backup of my data (about 90GB). Subsequent snapshots (taken every hour) take only a few minutes, because they only back up files that have changed.

I don't yet know what the overall reliability of this system will be, since it's a new drive and a new case, but so far I am suitably impressed. The drive case has no fans, so it gets a bit warm but the aluminum case seems to dissipate the heat well. It does not get hot to the touch, and I don't have any other devices stacked on it. Mac OS X seems to have absolutely no problem supporting a single disk volume of 1TB.

Update 6/13/2008:
See also my review on Epinions

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The story of the Commodore Amiga (updated: now with part 7)

4 comments:
Ars Technica has been writing a series of articles about the history of the Commodore Amiga. For those interested in computer history, this is a fascinating story. More interesting, in many respects, than the stories of Microsoft and Apple.

Here are links to what's been written so far:

I will update this article with additional parts, as they are written (and as I learn about them, of course.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The self-peeling potato

1 comment:
The Japanese seem to have a miracle solution for everything, including a clean and easy way to peel a potato:

Monday, March 31, 2008

Delicious irony: Sony caught using pirated software

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Ars Technica reports: Sony BMG's hypocrisy: company busted for using warez

Sony BMG, proud RIAA member and supporter of thousands of lawsuits against people suspected of distributing pirated music, has been caught red handed using pirated software on some of their own servers.

Insert obligatory comments about people in glass houses, karma, etc.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

PlayStation scare tactics

1 comment:
According to Sony's PS3 network troubleshooting page:
Use only an Ethernet cable compatible with 10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX or 1000BASE-T networks. Do not use a cord for a standard residential telephone line or cables of types other than those mentioned here. Using the wrong type of cord or cable can cause more electrical current than necessary to flow through the LAN connector, which may lead to heat build-up, fire or malfunction.
(emphasis mine)

So if you use phone wire instead of a Cat-5 wire, it can make the PS3 overheat and catch fire? If that's true, then the PS3's network interface is a complete piece of trash. With any other network device, using phone wire will simply not work - you won't be able to move any data, but it won't make the device catch fire!

So, is Sony simply exaggerating reality, or is their network hardware really that badly designed?

Or are they worried that someone will try and solder a power plug onto the end of a phone wire and shunt 120vac into the Ethernet jack? But even then, it should just blow out the PS3's circuits. It still shouldn't catch fire.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Wire coat-hangers sound as good as Monster Cable!

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Experiments: Do Coat Hangers Sound As Good Monster Cables?

Somehow, this doesn't surprise me. And it's a finger in the eye of every so-called audiophile who, over the past 20 years, has tried to sell me expensive (sometimes $20/foot) cable when I try to buy el-cheapo $1/foot cables for my stereo.

I do like to get heavy-gauge wires with thick insulation and gold-plated connectors. Not because it sounds any different, but because these kinds of cables are more durable and resistant to corrosion over time. But that's still a whole lot less expensive than what Monster (and other audiophile brands) charge.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The death of HD-DVD, the fall of Microsoft and the power of free markets.

2 comments:
In Lessons from the Death of HD-DVD, Daniel Dilger points out the Blu-Ray's success (now almost inevitable) over HD-DVD is a lot more than just one media format winning out over a rival. It is also the combined energy of an entire industry focussed against Microsft's attempt to "embrace and extend" and take over that industry.

In the article, Dilger points out that this is hardly the first example. A lot of Microsoft's recent projects have suffered the same fate, including the XBox 360, the Zune, Windows CE, and even Windows Vista. Part of this is due to the technical merits of the competition, but a lot of it is a direct result of the competition deciding to gang up against Microsoft.

On the surface, this would seem like a cartel, which is illegal in the US. For those unfamiliar with the term, In a cartel. industry leaders conspire together in order to control a market. This usually results in high prices and (when the market does not involve commodities) inferior products. IMO, it also destroys a free market economy, since the cartel prevents customers from having choices, and it prevents competitors from entering the market.

But here, we're seeing something different. Microsoft's competitors are not conspiring together. They are all independently deciding to focus their individual efforts against Microsoft. And it's not because they want to control the market (although I'm sure they wouldn't object to that outcome), but because they want to prevent Microsoft from establishing itself as the controlling entity. And not just for arbitrary reasons, but because Microsoft has a well-established history of abusing its monopoly power.

There have been anti-trust lawsuits against Microsoft, but history has shown them to be ineffective. Microsoft consents to token actions and continues abusing their monopoly power. This time around, however, the industry is not trying to use the legal system. Instead, the competition is using the power it has always had - they are choosing to support and promote competing standards, they are shipping products using competing standards, and they are selling those products to customers. The market is bringing down Microsoft where decades of litigation could not.

I find this very uplifting and reassuring. A monopolistic company does not inevitably dominate its markets. As long as competitors (no matter how small they may be) are free to sell alternative products, consumers end up with all of the real power. When they choose to vote in unison with their dollars, not even the biggest company can fight the trend.

The only real question here is: Will Microsoft see the writing on the wall and start delivering what customers want, or will they continue their current behavior and be further marginalized in the marketplace. Regardless of what they choose, it's good for consumers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Your tax dollars at waste

4 comments:
Maybe those of you who understand sports can explain why I'm wrong.

As many of you are no doubt aware, the baseball player Roger Clemens has been accused of using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. He's been testifying before Congress about these allegations, and recent news is that it seems he was lying about it and may end up facing criminal perjury charges.

What I want to know is Why the hell is any of this happening and why is Congress wasting our time and money on this nonsense???

As far as I know, there are no laws against using steroids or HGH. I can go and take them until I explode without violating any laws.

Major League Baseball has rules against players taking performance-enhancing drugs. This is not in question, and I don't even disagree with the rule. But that's all it is - one corporation's rules regarding the conduct of its own employees (which is what these players are, right?)

If I start a corporation and require my employees to wear yellow name-tags, and one employee refuses, I can fire him. If it's in his contract, I might even be able to sue for breach of contract to recover some kind of damages. But that's where it stops. There's no way this person could (or should) be jailed, and Congress certainly shouldn't get involved.

But that's what we're seeing here. MLB has a rule against steroid use. Clemens was accused. So MLB should conduct an investigation and depending on the result, they can fire Clemens and maybe sue him for breach of contract. If the investigation's results are in dispute, then maybe they should go to binding arbitration, or a local court (e.g. a wrongful termination suit.) But for some reason, it is going way way beyond that. Somehow, Congress - the supreme legislative branch of the United States - has gotten involved in what is still an MLB internal affair. They are having hearings before committees all over the place, treating this as if it was a matter of national security. And for what? Because a baseball player is accused of violating league rules? That's it?

And they're going to pursue criminal charge against him because of what? Because he was caught in a lie (so the committee says) while testifying about this BS that should never have begun in the first place?

What's next? Federal tribunals for people accused of jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk? At least in that case, a law was broken.

This is yet another incident in a long chain of prosecutorial abuses by our legal system. Somebody in Congress likes baseball and doesn't like Clemens. So he sets up a show-trial, with no actual charges, solely for the purpose of forcing Clemens to either lie or make a career-destroying statement (or even better, both).

But it's not all that surprising. It's now a tradition to send unpopular people to jail on trumped up charges. Lewis Libby and Martha Stewart were also convicted of perjury regarding crimes that were never committed. And this won't be the last case either - you can be certain that in a few months, some other unpopular public figure will be similarly railroaded.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Child Discovered In Word Code.

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Who would've guessed it? The Microsoft Word code is so big and bloated that a child got lost in there and was apparently living with Clippy for several years.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fun with a Wiimote

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Johnny Chung Lee has a fascinating set of simple projects demonstrating the amazing capabilities of the Nintendo Wii controller.

The Wii controller is an infrared video camera capable of tracking up to four light sources. It also has a 3-axis accelerometer. It communicates via BlueTooth. This means any BlueTooth-equipped computer (like a PC or Mac) can use the sensors in the controller. Mr. Lee has videos of three proof-of-concept experiments:

  • A multi-touch interface for manipulating an on-screen object by moving your fingers through the air (like in the movie Minority Report).
  • An interactive whiteboard application
  • A demonstration of head-tracking to produce virtual reality
The demos are incredible. Go visit the link and see for yourself.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I resemble that remark!

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Today's Dork Tower strikes a chord here.

Or am I the only one who (like the comic) listens to music, thinking about if the songs would be good for Guitar Hero?

And am I the only one who really really would like to see Tempus Fugit as a Guitar Hero track?

Friday, January 25, 2008

A primer on TV terminology

2 comments:
After reading discussion threads from many forums, it appears that a lot of people are unfamiliar with the terminology used to describe the different features of modern TVs. As a service to them, I present the following primer.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Administrivia: e-mail links work again

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At some point, Blogger's standard CSS template lost the entry for displaying the mail-to icon. I just added code to my blog's template to put it back.

Click on the envelope icon if you want to e-mail someone a link to an article.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another blow against the evil empire

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Exonerated RIAA defendant scores double victory in court.

Tanya Andersen has been persecuted by RIAA lawyers for years. When shown that they could not win their lawsuits, the labels dropped their case. Ms. Andersen, however, didn't stop there. She sued to recover attorneys' fees, and won. She is now filing a malicious prosecution lawsuit and is seeking class-action status for it, so the results will apply to everyone wrongfully accused by RIAA lawyers.

Every now and then, something like this happens to make you realize that the legal system isn't 100% corrupt (yeah, so 99% isn't that much better, but it's still a little better.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why my next PDA will be an iPod

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Today, at the Macworld expo, Apple announced a software update for the iPod Touch. This adds several key applications, giving it almost all of the capabilities that I have in my Palm PDA. Given the fact that Palm will soon stop making PDAs (focusing entirely on smartphones), this is very good news for me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just when you thought Network Solutions couldn't get any more sleazy

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We all hate domain-name squatters. They put web pages on unused domains, so your typos don't generate the errors they should produce, and they prevent legitimate companies from registering the same domains. But we used to think that the domain-name registry itself wouldn't be that sleazy.

Wrong! Network Solutions (the most popular, for historic reasons, DNS registrar) has set up a new service. When you use their "whois" server to look up information about a domain, and it's not used, they automatically register it for themselves and install a DNS-squatter page, with links to their "buy this domain" form. This makes the domain appear to be in-use, making it impossible to use any competing registrar.

If this isn't illegal, it should be.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Orson Scott Card: Bhutto's Death Shows Who Our Candidates Really Are

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Orson Scott Card writes yet another insightful essay on current events. This time, he points out how the various Presidential candidates reacted to the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Unfortunately, most of the major candidates (of both parties) proved their incompetence.

According to Card (and I tend to agree), only Giuliani and McCain acted responsibly, saying the right things. Romney pretty much said nothing. The others (Clinton, Obama, Huckabee, Biden and Edwards) all said things that, if said by a President or an ambassador, would destroy our peaceful relationship with Pakistan, possibly even expanding our current war to one where we have to fight more than just terrorists.

You may disagree with Giuliani and McCain. You may even agree with what the others said, but in the final analysis, these two people are the only ones who seem to understand diplomacy and foreign relations enough to not turn Pakistani tragedy into a US atrocity.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Apple updates the Mac Pro

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And wow what an update this turns out to be. $2300 gets you a 2.8GHz quad-core system. $2800 gets you an 8-core system. This is power that, only a few short years ago, would've cost tens of thousands of dollars. When you consider that my 2002-era Mac (dual 1GHz PowerPC G4) cost $3000, we've come a long way.

Details follow

Monday, January 07, 2008

The fours in my life

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This meme is making the rounds. If you want to play along, answer the questions for yourself and either post them as a comment here, or (even better) post it to your own blog and write a comment here with the link.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Sears corporation installs massive amounts of spyware

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Sears/KMart has set up a new "community" forum, supposedly to allow you to communicate directly with manufacturers. What they don't tell you (except in obscure legalese fine-print) is that if you sign up, they install spyware that redirects all of your internet traffic to a market research company. This includes secure transactions (like your banking and e-mail, including all of your account numbers and passwords.)

I hope some lawyer has enough balls to completely destroy them over this. People should be going to jail for this offense against humanity (and yes, that's exactly what I consider this.)

New FAA restriction on Lithium batteries

2 comments:
The FAA has just enacted new rules. Lithium batteries may not be transported in checked bags. They may be in carry-on bags, as long as they are not too large. Lithium batteries not installed in devices should be transported in insulated containers, like plastic bags, to prevent short circuits.

Read the article for all the details (including what defines "too large").

According to a DOT press release, this is an issue of safety, not security. The FAA has determined that the fire suppression systems installed in commercial cargo bays can not put out a lithium fire.