Sunday, February 27, 2005

FUD-based Encyclopedias

Robert McHenry, former Editor in Chief of Encyclopedia Britannica, wrote a bit of FUD slamming Wikipedia called "The Faith-Based Encyclopedia" back in November. Aaron Krowne has written an excellent reply called "The FUD-Based Encyclopdedia" which rips apart McHenry's arguments and goes a long way towards explaining why so many people love Wikipedia. Definately worth a look.

2005-02-28 04:13 C&T

Friday, February 25, 2005

New Domain Ahead

Step one is complete. If you go to it will bring you back to this blog. Once I decide on a hosting service that fits my non-existent budget for such things, I will be consolidating this blog, the pages hosted from, and my other projects to this new domain. If you want to update your bookmark to this blog before that change happens, most web browsers will let you use a context menu to do so. Right click (or control-click for you Mac users) on the above link and look for an option along the lines of "bookmark this link."

2005-02-26 0:20 C&T

Space Hotels On The Horizon

Popular Science is running a story called "The Five-Billion-Star Hotel" about Robert Bigelow and Bigelow Aerospace. This is by far the most detailed article I've read yet about Bigelow's dream. Check it out.

2005-02-25 23:50 C&T

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

iPod line updated

Apple has updated their iPod line as of this morning. Here's the specs on the revised line. Some notes:

  1. You'll notice that the iPod minis now come in 4Gb and 6Gb varieties, with four colors. This is an increase in the number of unique iPod mini models.
  2. There is only one iPod now, with the 30Gb iPod photo having taken the 40Gb iPod's place.
  3. The top-end 60Gb iPod photo has had its price lowered by $150US.

It looks to me like the plain-Jane, black & white iPod is on the way out, to be completely replaced by the iPod photo in the next revision. The only question on my mind is whether the iPod photo will keep the "photo" suffix when that next revision comes.

2005-02-23 20:56C&T

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Wearable Computing

This recent Ask Slashdot about wearable computers contained this gem by krikat:

"Wearables haven't become popular because the people that would possibly use wearables realized that rather than wearing an expensive computer, they can wear armor or a startrek uniform and still look like just as much of a jackass."

I also enjoyed a link to this BOFH story on the topic.

2005-02-23 4:33 C&T

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Mac mini as a server?

The Mac mini is designed to be used as an inexpensive desktop computer. However, the moment this computer was announced geeks started dreaming up other applications. The best fit seems to be as an in-dash computer for your car and there have been a few installations already.

Other solutions based around the mini are less ideal. Using it as a media center PC or DVR requires an external I/O box and either putting up with the limited laptop-sized hard drive or using an external FireWire drive.

In fact, the hard drive is the Mac mini's primary limitation. Being a 2.5" laptop drive, it is relatively slow and limited to 80Gb (as available from Apple.) In most other respects, the mini is actually an excellent computer, even beating Apple's other low-end systems in a number of performance tests.

Assuming that "you" have valid reasons for using MacOS X instead of Linux or (god-forbid) Windows, another potential use for the Mac mini is as a server. The mini's appropriateness for this role is dependent on exactly what you want to serve. With a minimal back-up option in place (such as a FireWire HD), the mini could be used for most basic services such e-mail, DNS, low-traffic web hosting, and basic non-multimedia file sharing for the home. However, the moment you exceed basic serving, the limitations of the mini's HD are likely to become glaringly obvious.

Of course, you could easily start adding external drives via the FireWire port, but the geekier amongst us would find that option too "inelegant," what with all the extra cables and everything.

So, is modifying the Mac mini a viable option? It is impossible to put a full-sized desktop drive into the Mac mini's case, so transplanting the mini's guts into a different case is required. Which brings us to this guy's Mac mini-based server. Although his server works, it's more of a proof-of-concept than something people should emulate because his total costs (which he doesn't openly state but I estimate as being more than $1,500 US) were high enough that a low-end PowerMac G5 with dual 250Gb drives would have been a smarter move and using a "pre-owned" PowerMac G4 instead of a Mac mini would have cost less than his mini-based rig. Either solution would have been better than what he ended up with.

While it may not be a smart move to put a mini in a tower case for use as a server, the question remains on whether it would be a good idea to build a low-end rack-mount server around a mini. Someone else has already shared their thoughts on a Mac mini rack-mount server. Considering that a low-end Xserve from Apple costs $2999US, this approach may actually make some sense. The Xserve does come with a MacOS X Server license, which costs $499 for the 10-client license (limit only applies to simultaneous file sharing) or $999 for the unlimited license, so you need to subtract whichever is appropriate for your needs. Still, that leaves you with at least $1500 to mod the mini into a 2U server (I don't think it'll be possible to get the mini in a 1U case.) This could easily be a viable option if you don't need the full power of the Xserve and I look forward to seeing if anyone tries this.

The other server aspect of the mini is its possible validity as an inexpensive Xgrid cluster node. In a gross over-simplification, the mini provides one-forth the processing power at one-sixth the price of the Xserve cluster node model. The big question would be whether the 100TX networking on the mini would totally invalidate it here, as 100TX seems completely inadequate as an interconnect. Assuming you were using an Xserve as the controller and connecting it to the nodes through one of these, it would be interesting to compare a 24 node mini cluster to a 4 node Xserve cluster. While you're at it, you might as well get some FireWire 400 hubs and try using that for an interconnect with the minis, just for shits and giggles.

Either way, the minis will probably get their butts kicked and I doubt anyone will ever conduct this experiment as it would cost about $33,000 for the hardware. Still, a 4 or 6 node cluster of Mac minis just might make a nice toy cluster to play with.

In conclusion, if you need a Mac server or a toy cluster and low cost is more important than performance the Mac mini may be a viable option for you.

2005-02-16 20:07 C&T

Friday, February 11, 2005

Wal-mart, the Randian Hero

I love Wal-mart. Although I don't consider myself an Objectivist there is something about Rand's heroes, particularly those in Atlas Shrugged, that warms my heart. As a corporate entity, Wal-mart also embodies that special something.

Now, it seems Wal-mart had a store in Canada that wasn't doing so well and the employees voted to unionize. Wal-mart responded by closing the store. Wal-mart's CEO explained the company's actions:

"You can't take a store that is a struggling store anyway and add a bunch of people and a bunch of work rules that cause you to even be in worse shape," H. Lee Scott Jr. explains in an interview set for Friday editions of the WASHINGTON POST.

Scott says WAL-MART saw no upside to the higher labor costs and refused to cede ground to the union for the sake of being "altruistic."

"It doesn't work that way," he said.

Very John Galt, no?

2005-02-11 16:25 C&T

Sunday, February 06, 2005

My iPod shuffle

My iPod shuffle arrived last Monday. Now that I've had some time to play with it, I'm ready to share some of my thoughts and experiences.

First off, the shuffle is small; barely larger than a 512MB thumbdrive I have. Considering that the shuffle adds MP3 and AAC playback, a 12-hour rechargable battery and controls, that's pretty impressive. I had seen the pictures of it but you really can't grasp its diminutive size until you hold one.

Secondly, I can actually accept the random play mode. I had woried about giving up control of the play order but I decided to drink the Apple kool-aid on that one, and it's worked out. The other day I went to get some more cash, and my iPod randomly picked the theme to Mission Impossible. I had never felt so awesome about using an ATM in my entire life.

So far I don't really have any major complaints. The slider on the back was a little hard to move at first, but it has loosened up a bit since then. I've never been a fan of the earbud style headphones it comes with, but I've adapted to them pretty well so far. Overall, the iPod Shuffle is "freakin' awesome!"

2004-02-07 4:25 C&T