Dec 29

Running My iMac On An SSD via Thunderbolt

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Thunderbolt Dock

Thunderbolt Dock

Recently the hard drive in my mid-2011 27″ iMac has been getting on my nerves by being too damn slow. When I need to reboot the machine I usually have all sorts of programs running, 4 terminal windows on one desktop logged in to various servers, a browser for personal use, a browser dedicated to server management, Mail, and maybe Lightroom and Coda. So restoring all of my desktops after a reboot was just taking too damn long.

DH gave me an external Thunderbolt dock for Seasonal Holiday Gift Man Day, and by chance I had just snapped up a great deal on a 480gb SSD by Crucial. The first hurdle I needed to jump to accomplish this task was to decide what to do with most of the files on my internal drive because it is a 2tb drive and had about 1.5tb on it.

Since 1.2tb of data on my iMac was in my user account as photos, music, movies and websites; the easy thing would have been to clone the Macintosh HD to my SSD while excluding /Users, but then all of the files for my account would have still been on the hard drive, sacrificing a lot of the potential speed gain.

The trick is to clone your internal HD to a Thunderbolt connected SSD while excluding specific folders so that the capacity of the SSD is not exceeded, but you get your user account with its thousands of cache and library files onto the fast SSD, gaining benefits while running that extend beyond just faster boot-up times. I used SuperDuper, a program I continue to recommend and use while also using Time Machine.

Speed using hard drive

Speed using hard drive

Here is what disk access was like on my internal Hitachi OEM drive.

As hard drives go this is not bad, really, but at boot time there are so many files to be accessed, and rapid I/O is the hallmark of an SSD. The impact of switching to an SSD will be most noticeable when dozens of files need to be accessed in rapid succession, such as booting up, loading Photoshop, or any other large application that viciously thrashes your storage at boot time.

with Samsung 840 Pro

with Samsung 840 Pro

After trying my iMac using the Crucial M500 SSD I liked the idea so much I decided to go top drawer, and yesterday I cloned the Crucial SSD to my new Samsung 840 Pro and got this result. I’ll use the lower cost Crucial SSD to maintain a clone of my Samsung 840 Pro.

With symlinks to the original folders for my Pictures, Music, Movies and my websites they remain on the hard drive, but all executables and most of my account-related files are on the SSD. I feel like I just added years of usefulness to my iMac. The days of spinning rust are nearing an end.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , , , ,

Feb 04

I Choose A Streaming Music Service, After Buying an EV

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thmb_=-UTF-8-B-Q2hldnJvbGV0X1NwYXJrX0VWLTE0LmpwZw==-=Last month we bought a Chevrolet Spark EV, and like most new cars satellite radio was built in and enabled at delivery. I know the Internet is a series of tubes, but the satellite radio, voice and music, sounds like it is digitized inside a 4 inch diameter pipe. I don’t know what they are doing to reduce the bandwidth, it sucks badly. But because the new car is pure electric I’ve been loving driving it and wanting to listen to something.

I wanted to choose a service that would be widely available on various devices I own, including my new car. The Spark EV allows users to operate a small number of iPhone apps on a USB connected phone, their interface appears in the cars multipurpose display. One of these is Pandora.

My Pandora account had lain idle for maybe a year, as I also like the Amazon MP3 player, but the support in our car pushed Pandora to the top.

I did not consider any Apple service, as I want cross platform usability. I wanted to use whatever service I chose on televisions, with a Roku and two TiVos Pandora wins again there. I can use Pandora on my iPhone, Kindle Fire HD, Nexus 7, laptop, desktop, TiVo, Roku and maybe some gadgets I’m forgetting as well. And for $36 a year the ad free service is certainly not a ripoff.

Leave a comment and tell us what music service you use, and why you like it.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , ,

Jun 25

13.3″ Mid 2013 MacBook Air Review – I Upgrade to Haswell

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MacBook_AirThree years after buying my first 13″ MacBook Air it was still performing as new, but there are a few ways in which it disappoints. Primarily it is the way it heats up and runs its tiny little fan full tilt when I watch 1080i live TV via my HDHomerun IP tuner or my Slingbox. I decided to upgrade to the new Haswell based 13″ MacBook Air. I required 256gb of flash storage and Amazon did not have that model in stock. They offered to ship one in mid-July. Three days into waiting 3 weeks I found one at a nearby Apple store, so I picked it up and cancelled the online order.

I had about 170gb used on the first MacBook Air and I definitely wanted to migrate my account, but connecting the old and new machines via firewire is sort of deprecated. I soon discovered that Apple added Wi-Fi as a way of doing account transfers, so I let that rip with the two side by side on my coffee table. It took about 6 hours and then my new machine sort of was my old machine, only newer, nicer and much more thrifty with power. During the account transfer the older MacBook Air was racing its little fan, while the new one was either silent or I simply could not hear it over the other. My original has a 2.13GHz Core2Duo, the new one is a mobile dual-core i5 @ 1.3GHz, the base CPU speed is much slower, but it has a turbo boost speed of 2.6GHz. In actual use it is noticeably faster.

The critical test for me came this morning as DH and I were watching the news at 7AM to see if SCOTUS had granted us equal rights under the law, but alas the shoe did not drop this morning. The MacBook Air did splendidly well, though, letting me watch TV full screen for over an hour while the machine remained silent. The warmest spot just below the center of the screen was warmer than the rest of it, but by no means hot or uncomfortable to touch.

I’ve concluded that the tales of phenomenal power efficiency in the Haswell series CPUs are true, that this new MacBook Air does meet my requirement of remaining cool and quiet while showing live HD TV, and I’m very pleased with my purchase.

I chose the 13″ MacBook Air with 256GB of Flash and 4GB RAM, retail was $1299, I paid $1299 plus tax at the Apple Store.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , , , , ,

Dec 16

A Tale of Four Tablets: Not Really a Tablet Review

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tabletsOver the course of the last few years I’ve owned and used four different tablets, three are still working, one has a cracked screen but still works, and one has gone to meet its chip fab. This post is about what I have liked and not liked about them all.

Number One: iPad v1
My first tablet was a first generation iPad with 64gb flash and 3G. For consuming content it is OK, but for creating things, especially posting on blogs and forums, it was always horribly frustrating. Apple sold me this device with 256mb of RAM, this is way the hell too little, and it made using a multi-tabbed browser session absolutely miserable because it would reload the pages when I switched between tabs. I hate it for using a browser, but it is a good navigation device. I also have grown to hate the way Apple is making their products more and more difficult to navigate at the file system level. I finally felt locked in and enslaved using my iPad and wanted out of iOS.

Number Two: Acer Iconia Tab A500
My second tablet was a refurbished Acer Iconia Tab A500. I loved it right away, and I fell head over heels in love with Android Ice Cream Sandwich (not really, I prefer humans, but just barely). I felt set free, emancipated. I can put files on it and take them off without using iTunes, and who does not hate using iTunes? Although my Iconia Tab did not have a 3G or 4G modem and was not ideal for use away from home, I’m usually at home anyway so that was not a big deal. It was faster, smoother, and Android is much more user friendly IMHO than iOS. It was a revelation that I could have a tablet I did not hate using. Then one day it would not boot, just showing the Acer logo at power up. Try as I might to reflash, reset, or restore it there was no success. It’s a brick now. C’est la vie.

Number Three: Nexus 7
The Nexus 7 completely blew away all other tablets I had ever used. It is just barely small enough to hold in my smaller than average hands, it is fast, smooth, well designed, and very pleasant to use. I was down in the dumps about my Acer tablet going belly up, and there it was, right in front of me, and I’m glad I bought it. Mine had Ice Cream Sandwich on it when I got it, and was autoupdated online to Jelly Bean within a few hours. Among my uses for a tablet at home is watching TV via a Slingbox on our LAN, that experience is much better on the Nexus 7 than it ever was on my iPad or Iconia Tab because the Nexus 7 has a fast quad-core CPU. Everything was going along great. I was sitting outside on the deck near a freeway, holding it up to my ear to hear a weather forecast (the speakers on the Nexus 7 are tiny, tinny, and not loud enough) when it slipped out of my hands and fell face first onto a cement deck. I was not pleased. It still works, but the blush is off the rose. So it goes.

DISCLAIMER: I have strong positive associations with Amazon, a family member is an employee, and I was an Amazon affiliate for many years, operating dozens of Amazon linked shopping sites until 2 years ago.
Number Four: Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G

When Amazon announced the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ I was interested because I was used to the larger form factor, and my wounded Nexus 7 has no cell modem. I wanted to completely replace my iPad and the 4G model of the new Fire HD 8.9″ seemed like a good candidate. Jeff Bezos wanted the Kindle Fire HD to be ideal for consuming content, especially content from Amazon. The Kindle Fire HD is locked to the Amazon Appstore, but not nearly as tightly as the iPad is linked to the iTunes store. It is very easy to add apps from sources outside Amazon, but they have made it much easier to shop their app store, no surprises there. I think the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ is a big success. I like it even more than my Nexus 7 in some ways, the sounds is the best yet from a tablet, the 4G speed inside the structures atop Geek Hill.

It has an ideal screen ratio (like the Nexus 7) for 16:9 HDTV, and using my Amazon Instant Video access is enormously easy and pleasing. Amazon’s customized version of Android does isolate the user a bit from the basic features of Android by creating a very attractive and pleasant to use interface. It has plenty of RAM, is easily fast enough, although the Nexus 7 seems slightly faster, the only flaws I see have to do with the locations of buttons and connectors. The on/off switch and the volume control are in an odd place, there is no contrast between the buttons and the surrounding also dark case material blends visually with the buttons, they are hard to see and not at all where your fingers might expect them to be. I’m also not impressed with the idea of having the power connector so close to the very similar microHDMI connector – that was stupid. Still, it is my new favorite tablet.

Since I do have an Android tablet setup to use the Google Play store I have the option to sideload apps I legitimately own between my Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7. I was not at all thrilled with the idea of my browser traffic being routed through a proxy server run by Amazon (or anyone else) as happens with the Amazon default browser Silk. (I do like Silk soy milk, but that’s a different blog) So I sideloaded Dolphin Browser from my Nexus 7 into my Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G and now the world is a good and happy place.

Similarities and Preferences

Both the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G are clearly very well made and purpose designed products. Both are truly excellent IMHO. They both have brilliant, lovely high resolution displays. I slightly prefer the temperature of the Nexus 7. It is the best handheld display I have ever seen on any product, and the one area where the Nexus 7 outshines the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G, but only very slightly. The Fire HD display is crystal clear, and you might have to touch the screen with your eyelashes to see a pixel, they seem to have faded into invisibility. The Fire HD backlight seems just the tiniest bit too warm, with an almost imperceptible yellow tint. Both displays seem to have nearly 180 degree field of view, no problems there. They both work outside in the shade at Noon letting you still perceive some colors, in full sunlight they lose apparent contrast and are not pleasant to my very old eyes.


This was nothing like a review, which would have matched a current iPad against the Droid devices. It’s more a tale of the evolution of the tablet market over the last few years, as viewed from my experience. Bottom line, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 4G beats the Nexus 7, but both are very fine devices. The Kindle has better speakers and it has been optimized to do exactly what a tablet does best, provide you an observation portal into the world. I do not miss the Apple App store, my Droid tablets do whatever I need. Dropbox on Droid rocks. iCloud, who cares?

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , ,

Nov 14

iPod nanoI was among the many people affected by the late Steve Job’s reality distortion field on the day he introduced the original iPod nano. Fortunately I still had mine kicking around in a drawer this past weekend when I got an email from Apple, unsolicited, saying they thought they should give me a new iPod nano because mine has a battery that might do odd things like bursting into flames.

I found it, entered the serial number in a form and it was confirmed that my nano, ordered before the reality distortion field had worn off, was within the range of serial numbers affected by this recall.

Speaking of batteries bursting into flames, a federal agency used a Chevrolet Volt in a side crash test, and 3 weeks later the car burst into flames, a la battery fire. GM has responded that the instructions for handling their electric car include a procedure to discharge the high power battery after a collision like the deliberate crash test. If the feds had drained the battery pack as instructed the car would not have burst into flames.

Bursting into flames is arguably the worst possible failure mode for a battery. I respect the fact that Apple took the initiative in their case, and in the case of the Chevy Volt it highlights the importance of emergency response personnel knowing about the special handling for hybrids like the Volt or all-electric cars.

Battery packs bursting into flames will likely become a more serious problem as we are surrounded increasingly with more and larger battery systems.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , ,

Jul 23

Mail in OS X Lion: A Huge Bucket of Fail

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OS X Lion Mail: An AbominationThere are quite a few innovative and useful features in OS X Lion, the new Apple Mac OS, but the newest version of Apple Mail is not one of them. We’ve never liked the dumbed down interface in the iPad mail client, and when Apple chose to make Mail just as simple it left my heart cold and sad.

I do not wish to be protected from useful information, for example the email address in the To: field. I have multiple email accounts on multiple providers and quite often I’ll receive a terse message sent by a person who has no grasp of context. For cases like that I want to know which of my email addresses the message was sent to in order to figure out what they are going on about.

If you find the new Mail interface as dreadful as I did you might get some relief by selecting Classic view in Mail preferences, but that still left a product that was dumbed down, with ugly, too large fonts in the sidebar, and otherwise a source of constant frustration.

MailMate: Email for power usersAfter a few hours of trying this and that I have now settled on a commercial email application called MailMate which is going to save me the hassle of reverting my system back to Snow Leopard.

If you have not installed Lion yet *please* make a bootable total system backup first on an external hard drive using SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner (I like SuperDuper) because if there is something you do not like about Lion it will make going back to the way things were just a matter of a few clicks and then a bit of waiting.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , , ,

May 30

Canon SX230 HS Camera w/Built In GPS, 14x Optical Zoom

digital photography, Hardware, Reviews Comments Off on Canon SX230 HS Camera w/Built In GPS, 14x Optical Zoom

Canon PowerShot SX230 HS

Canon SX230 HS with built in GPS

This year I received a Canon SX230 HS as a birthday gift from DH. Yesterday we took it out on a hike through world famous Palm Canyon in Palm Springs, CA. I was stunned at the superb job this camera does at finding optimum white balance and exposure settings. Standing among mixed spots of deep shade and Noon sun on white sand in the bottom of the canyon the camera still did a superb job of showing the colors in shaded tree trunks. I have never before used a camera that does such a fantastic job of capturing subtle grades of light between extreme levels of brightness and shade.

The GPS function is a joy to use also. At one point when we were hiking through a narrow canyon passage with limited view of the sky I had to change the battery, this camera will eat batteries like candy whenever the GPS is on, after I had changed the battery the camera was not able to get a position fix right away because of the narrow canyon walls. As soon as we could see a more normal arc of the sky the camera did quickly acquire a position fix. I was carrying a GPS datalogger as a backup in case the GPS function in the camera failed to satisfy, but it was not required.

The other thing that impressed me with this camera was the optical performance of the lens, features are great, but in the end if a camera does not take good photos there is no use having it. The lens in the Canon SX230 HS is the best I have ever seen in a pocket sized camera, and it has a 14X optical zoom to boot. I was using it yesterday on our hike and it did not disappoint. Judge for yourself.

For size comparison I took a photo of the SX230 HS next to my also very nice Canon SX 110IS.

Canon SX230 HS next to Canon SX 110IS

Canon SX230 HS next to Canon SX 110IS

I’m pleased beyond my expectations with this camera. If you buy one get one or two extra batteries. It uses the existing Canon NB-5L battery and I already had a few for use with my Canon SD950.


  • Built in GPS!
  • Surprisingly sharp lens
  • Astoundingly clever white balance/exposure
  • 14X optical zoom
  • Fits in a jeans pocket


  • Eats batteries like candy
  • Costs about $350

Five Star rating for Canon SX233 HS
You can see the entire set of test photos on my accounts at SmugMug, Flickr, Picasaweb or on this server at Steve’s Photos.

written by Steve Rider

Mar 15

Time Warner Cable TV iPad AppToday Time Warner released an iPad App that allows customers to watch certain cable TV channels at no extra charge if they are customers for both Cable TV and Internet access. Since I meet those requirements I grabbed this free app as soon as I heard about it. Once I provided my user name and password for their online billing system I was surprised and very pleased to see that it just works immediately.

Many of the channels I prefer to watch are included, among these the Comedy Channel, CNN and MSNBC. Local channels are not offered at this time, but I can watch those using EyeTV via an IP tuner and my Mac Pro anyway.

It seems to me that my DirecTV account is in jeopardy of being cancelled now that Time Warner has this very welcome new FREE feature for their customers.

I’m giving the Time Warner Cable TV iPad App a very enthusiastic five star rating!

Time Warner Cable TV iPad AppTime Warner Cable TV iPad AppTime Warner Cable TV iPad AppTime Warner Cable TV iPad App

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , , ,

Mar 01

Refurbished MacBook Air 13inch 2.13GHz, 4GB, 256GB In June of 2009 I purchased a 15″ MacBook Pro. I have used it virtually every single day since then, going through two batteries and one replacement mother board all under the Apple extended warranty. It has been very good overall, but recently it began locking up when warm as it had once before when the graphics chipset failed.

I decided I need to replace it with something newer and more reliable. For the longest time I could not decide if I should get another MacBook Pro or go with a MacBook Air. I kept comparing prices and build configurations between Apple, Amazon and MacMall. I knew the MacBook Air was pretty nice because I gave my husband one for Seasonal Holiday Gift Man Day in December. He loves it. But i wanted to be able to edit websites and use graphics applications on my portable too. It came down to a choice between a 13″ MacBook Pro or a 13″ MacBook Air. Because the MacBook Air uses an SSD and the 13″ model sports the same 1440 by 900 pixel display resolution as my 15″ MacBook Pro it was the leading contender, but the MacBook air is so expensive!

Then I found a MacBook Air that was maxxed out option-wise for sale as a refurbished item on the Apple Store. That was the deciding factor.

I have had my MacBook Air about a week now and I love everything about it. It is definitely faster than my MacBook Pro was, disk access is blindingly fast as one might expect from a solid state drive, and the higher speed RAM no doubt helps too. My website editor of choice, Coda, loads and runs faster.

I was able to migrate my MacBook Pro to my MacBook Air by using SuperDuper to backup the MacBook Pro, then using Migration Assistant to bring it all in. I still have over 100GB free space on the amazingly fast SSD.

I see no dead pixels or any other reason that might explain why this piece of techno-art was sold as refurbished, but I saved big bucks.

I am completely satisfied in every way. It is lighter, faster, has a better keyboard and has much longer battery life than my much more expensive MacBook Pro. It does not get as hot, it rarely uses its fan, and when it does it is much more quiet. I recommend the MacBook Air with no reservations whatsoever.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , , , , , , , ,

May 22

MacSpeech Dictate: Software That Does Not Disappoint

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I’m dictating this review using the software that I am reviewing. It’s called MacSpeech Dictate and it was a birthday gift I received this week. Having grown up in the 1950s and 1960s I was never taught to type in fact that was women’s work when I was growing up. Maybe that’s just an excuse, but for whatever reason, I’m probably the worst typist I know. I pretty much always know what I do want to say, but when I have to type it it takes me a really long time because I’m constantly correcting typos. I never learned to touch type and even when I look at the keyboard my hand eye coordination is so poor that I often hit a key next to the one I intended to press. The bottom line is I hate typing, but I love using computers.

Years ago when I was still using another operating system that I need not mention I tried a different dictation software package. The state-of-the-art has changed dramatically since then. Apart from occasionally saying the words scratch and that together to correct the word it did not understand I’m finding this dictation software is far more accurate than what I can accomplish using my fingers. It’s fun as well.

Last night I was using it in an online chat session and the performance was fantastic. People used to wonder if I’d gone away in chat sessions because it took me so long to type, now they can hardly keep up with me.

If you have been considering using dictation software I honestly can recommend MacSpeech Dictate as having exceeded my expectations by far.

written by Steve Rider \\ tags: , , ,