Archive for January, 2009

Lesson of the day

January 19th, 2009 — Wordman

I have a walk-in attic. That is, a standard door on the second floor opens up into the space over part of the first floor, and you can enter and walk around. Most of this space contains plywood flooring so you can walk on it. Other, clearly delineated parts, are unfinished, with the bare rafters and insulation open and visible. The unfinished spaces are separated from the walkable parts with 2×4 framing, such that no sane person would want to walk into the unfinished bits without a really good reason.

Lesson for the day: don’t let your mother-in-law wander the attic unattended.


Seeking Mac advice

January 7th, 2009 — Wordman

The iMac in my kitchen has flaked out and evidence suggests that parts of the logic board are fried. Though the board could be replaced, basically it’s time upgrade to something else (it is a PowerPC machine, after all). I’m struggling with what to replace it with, however, and am soliciting advice from readers.

This machine acts as the central hub for the house, so is our main media repository. It also hosts the sorts of information you might normally track using paper, magnets and a refrigerator: shopping lists, calendars, sticky notes, and so on. It’s also the recipe database and cooking timer. I should also mention that I will probably be redoing my kitchen soon, so the exact height between the counter and the bottom of my cabinets might change slightly.

Here are my main contenders for a replacement:

A 20-inch iMac: This is the obvious choice, but for for one glaring problem: it’s about a half-inch taller than the space under my cabinets, so it will not fit as is. There is, however, quite a bit a clearance between the bottom of the machine and the bottom of the stand stand, so it would definitely fit if I took the stand off. I could then mount it to the wall on an articulated arm, which would actually be quite helpful. Unfortunately, the 20-inch iMac doesn’t include standard mounting brackets on the back. Apple does make a bracket for the 24-inch model, but this wouldn’t fit even without the stand. So it looks like I need to use a custom solution, making use of this third party bracket and then, because this leaves the stand in place, cut a good bit of my stand off with a metal saw. (Further, as I understand it, getting the stand off of this model iMac is very involved, and certainly voids the warranty, so I might need to saw the thing while it’s still connected to the machine.) I was hoping that MacWorld 2009 might feature an iMac revision with a VESA mount, but no such luck.

  • Pros: powerful, one unit (i.e. not as many cables running amok), sexy.
  • Cons: setup that is complex, annoying and risky

A Mac mini and VESA mounted LCD. In this case, I would mount the mini upside down to the bottom of the cabinet, and use an articulated arm to mount the LCD. With choices of vendors, I could certainly find a VESA mountable monitor, so the labor wouldn’t be a problem. The issue here is that while I was hoping for an iMac rev, I was flat out expecting a revision of the mini during MacWorld. The current version was released in August 2007, and was only a very minor improvement to the version released in February 2006. While they are fairly cheap, buying 18-month-old tech is not a great idea, especially a product line that might be canceled soon (or mutated into something very different, like an AppleTV/Mini hybrid). This counters one of the mini’s largest advantages in such a setup: that you could keep the same monitor and just swap in new minis as the tech curve advances. Since Apple doesn’t seem that interested in the mini, that advantage instead changes to the bummer of basing the whole thing on a concept that isn’t sustained. The biggest problem with the mini, though, is that the hard drive in the current models just isn’t large enough to be a media center. While it’s possible to upgrade the drive, it’s a pain.

  • Pros: cheap, potentially upgradeable, easy setup, monitor choice allows more flexibility (such as also using it for TV, speakers, etc.)
  • Cons: old tech, uncertain future, underpowered, extra cables

A mounted Modbook Pro. These were introduced at MacWorld 2009. Since Apple is never going to make their own tablets, this is the only way to get a tablet right now. (An iPhone with a bigger screen won’t count, and Apple might never make that either.) New to this model is the addition of a touch interface, to go along with the pen input of the previous model (or a bluetooth keyboard). In some ways, the pen input is a natural fit for a kitchen, and the touch is even more so. It would also be nice to pull it from the mount to use as a tablet on occasion. A drawback, in addition to the cost, are that it would be a step down in screen size, though this might not be the end of the world. The other problem is that I can’t tell if it is VESA mountable or not. The old one was not, but Axiotron claimed to be working on a bracket for Q3 2008 that would allow VESA mounting, though they have yet to deliver it. There hasn’t been much coverage of the Modbook Pro so far, so I’m hoping for more mounting information.

  • Pros: touch interface, could be unmounted and used as portable
  • Cons: expensive, smaller screen than current iMac, uncertain mounting, not available until the summer

Other possibilities exist, but aren’t as palatable to me. A small form-factor hackintosh, for example, could be done similarly to the setup mentioned for the mini. It’s not clear how long hackintoshes will remain possible, though, and I’m not sure I want to be bothered setting one up. (Also, I’ve been counting on the purchase of a new Mac to provide an upgrade to iLife, which I would otherwise need to buy.)

What would you do? Are there other choices? And what kind of VESA arm should I get?

A silver lining. Sort of.

January 3rd, 2009 — Wordman

Since hearing a lecture by Laurence Kotlikoff, author of The Coming Generational Storm, it’s been pretty clear to me that:

  1. The political future of the United States is going to be colored significantly by generational conflict, with the needs of the various generations pulling the country in very different directions.
  2. My generation, Generation X, is basically totally screwed in such a conflict because, among other things, we are flanked by generations that are much larger than us.

One battle in this generational war is almost certain to involve social security and other entitlements. In the coming years, the Baby Boomers will do what they have proven over and over again that they do best: look out for themselves. Amid anti-aging treatments and doses of viagra, a good number of them will scream like hell at any attempt to reform the current entitlement system to their detriment and support any change that helps them, regardless of the long term cost. In spite of the fact that any such reform would have needed to start years ago to really be effective, their massive voting clout will ensure that it doesn’t happen at all, even when entitlements start unraveling.

And unravel they will, all over Generation X. By the time the Boomers die off, Gen X will be ready to reap the rewards of the giant Ponzi scheme that is social security, right when it starts to collapse. They will try the same tricks that the Boomers did to get what they were told was coming, but it won’t matter: not only will the money be gone, but Generation Y will massively outvote Gen X, and see to it that whatever comes out of the wreckage will benefit themselves, at the expense of Gen X. (To add insult to injury, a lot of the “moral justification” for this will probably involve a sort of “guilt by association” with the selfishness of the Baby Boomers.)

So, what chance does Gen X really have? Well, its best bet is to engineer (or at least hope for) some situation that radically reduces the voting power of the Baby Boomers. One sure thing that would do this is a massive reduction in their population. Since the Boomers have repeatedly shown a willingness to do nearly anything to avoid unpleasantness, or even inconvenience, it might be possible to manipulate them into extinction. With the right ad campaign and marketing, we could probably make offing yourself for the benefit of the following generations “dying with dignity” cool enough that many would volunteer. An opening strike would be a campaign to eliminate laws against assisted suicide. If done right, we might even get some kind of trial Logan’s Run mandatory death law, that expires shortly after most of the Boomers.

None of this will happen, of course. So, if the Boomers themselves cannot be eliminated, the next best thing would be to severely reduce their spending power. They would still have the bodies to vote, but without a lot of cash, it may be possible to outspend them for political influence, even if their candidates get elected.

To do this, we’d need to generate some kind of economic situation where the Boomers are convinced to invest and save their earnings in certain ways and then, right when they retire, pull the rug out from under the markets to erode their investments. This is something of a “scorched earth” policy, as it would hurt everyone else as well, but Gen X would still have time to replenish their funds, while the Boomers’ sources of income would have dried up.

Engineering this would be a massive undertaking, but fortunately, it’s happening already. The silver lining of this whole economic downturn is that the massive market losses are eroding the wealth of the Boomers as we speak, right as they are starting to retire. This is especially true since many Boomers couldn’t afford to retire, even before the current downturn.

Gen X couldn’t have planned this better. And, to think; they called us slackers.