Archive for March, 2009

My friend’s Dell Mini 9 running Mac OS X Leopard

March 31st, 2009 — Wordman

I have this… uh… friend whose wife gave him a belated Christmas present in mid March: a tricked out Dell Mini 9. He wanted this machine because a) it’s one of the only netbooks that can use all of its built-in “peripheral” hardware while running Mac OS X, b) the 12″ PowerBook G4 he used for role-playing is falling apart, with a dead DVD drive and failing wi-fi card and c) the Mini 9 was cheap enough to buy as an experiment. OK, maybe c) isn’t really true, but he wanted it anyway. Features and cost were like this:

Dell Inspiron Mini 9
  IntelĀ® Atom ProcessorĀ® N270 (1.6GHz/533Mhz FSB/512K cache)
  Obsidian black
  2GB DDR2 RAM at 533MHz
  Glossy 8.9 inch LED display (1024×600)
  Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950
  64GB solid state hard drive
  Ubuntu Linux version 8.04.1
  Wireless 802.11g mini card
  Integrated 1.3M pixel webcam
  Built-in Bluetooth 2.1 capability
$519.00
Portable CD/DVD-RW Drive with DVD Playback Software $80.00
Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) $129.00
Total $728.00

This is about as tricked out as you can make the Mini 9. Other configurations will be cheaper. It actually looks like Dell doesn’t even sell the 64MB drive as an option any more (at at least, as I write this). Another thing to note here is that the pixel dimensions of the screen are pretty close to that of the 12″ PowerBook G4 (which were 1024×768).

To set up the machine (probably violating one or more license agreements in the process) my friend followed the instructions provided by Gizmodo. He reports some deviations from the instructions there:

  1. The post says “some drives are mysteriously not compatible with installing OS X on the Mini 9”. This might not be entirely true. The first attempt, using a brand new OS X DVD failed, as described. The second used an OS X DVD from the initial release of 10.5. This succeeded. So, it may have something to do with what version of the install disk you have. I believe the current version of the installer disk is called version 10.5.2. Among other things, it has new video drivers at the very least. To repeat, this version did not work, but the original 10.5 disk did. Might have just been coincidence, as there was a hiccup with installing from DVD…
  2. At step 4, the install process seemed to hang, and the DVD drive seemed to stall and spin down. Unplugging the drive (which immediately displayed a bunch of errors on screen) and plugging it in again caused it to spin up, and suddenly the install sprung to life and continued fine (with the 10.5 disk; the same technique didn’t work with the 10.5.2 disk).
  3. As a result of coercing the DVD to spin up, the painful USB drive-based install (Gizmodo steps 5 through 11) was not needed in this case.
  4. It took my friend a while to come up with a name for the hard drive volume during step 12, during which the DVD drive spun down. Again, the solution was to unplug it and replug it in. The UI froze until doing this, but resurrected once the drive was spinning again.
  5. There should be a step 19 added to Gizmodo’s instructions: boot into the BIOS and DISABLE the “Legacy USB Support” setting. Waking from sleep will not work until you do this. Note that, to be able to boot from USB devices, this setting needs to be re-enabled.
  6. There should be a step 20 added as well: Most windows size themselves correctly on the netbook, but some contain dialogs that don’t fit the small vertical resolution of the screen (which is only 600 pixels). Unfortunately, on the “doesn’t fit” list are some of the System Settings panels. This can be fixed by setting the scaling of the System Settings application, using the following command line:
    defaults write com.apple.systempreferences AppleDisplayScaleFactor .85

So far, everything has worked one the machine except trackpad scrolling. There appear to be some hacks to enable this, but these have not yet been applied, but may need to be soon. My friend claims that the trackpad is a bit uncomfortable, with the buttons needing way too much downward travel to activate. Using a miniature external mouse helps quite a bit.

Some other general observations from my friend:

  • The machine as a whole is slightly less stable than OS X usually is, though not significantly. When waking from sleep, sometimes the UI gets these sort of stalls, but usually another sleep/wake cycle brings things back to normal. One beta application that has always crashed every so often on standard Macs seems to crash a bit more often on the Mini 9.
  • It takes a while to get used to the shift keys, particularly the one on the right.
  • Spaces seems more useful on this machine, particularly when used for gaming, combined with the “full screen” features of Acrobat and Safari.
  • Some of the Fn keys work, and some dont:
    • Fn-1 (sleep): works
    • Fn-2 (toggle wi-fi/bluetooth): does not work
    • Fn-3 (battery status): does not work
    • Fn-4 (mute): works
    • Fn-5 (volume down): works
    • Fn-6 (volume up): works
    • Fn-7 (print scn): untested, since I haven’t set up a printer yet
    • Fn-8 (screen/vga/mirror): when no monitor is connected, doesn’t work
    • Fn-9 (contrast down): works
    • Fn-10 (contrast up): works
    • Fn-[key in home row] (F1 through F10): works; however, no keys exist for F11 through F13. This is not a huge deal, but some of the default Exposé key bindings need to be changed if you want to use them.
  • By default, the “alt” key is mapped to the Mac’s “command” key, while the “Windows logo key” is mapped to the Mac’s “option” key. This matches the positions of a Mac keyboard correctly, but it is totally wrong as far as nomenclature. Typically a Windows “alt” maps to a Mac’s “option”, leaving the “Windows logo key” to map to the Mac’s “logo key” (i.e. “command”). This can be changed around in the System Preferences if you want. Apparently the keys come off reasonably easily if you want to move them around a bit.
  • The machine is noticeably lighter than a MacBook Air. If you’ve ever lifted an Air, think about that a bit.
  • It seems to run movies of varying resolutions very cleanly, and FrontRow looks great. No battery tests have been done while doing this, so how long you could watch movies on a plane is undiscovered.
  • It runs games like Fate in 800×600 resolution, at reasonable frame rates. I’m guessing it would run WoW OK, with some of the settings turned down.

No Congressman left behind

March 26th, 2009 — Wordman

During his campaign, President Obama promised to reform No Child Left Behind, calling it “one of the emptiest slogans in the history of American politics”. No doubt he’ll get around to doing so before too long. Chances are, however, that any improvement will still involve some sort of standardized test, in one capacity or another.

Though I’ve never really liked standardized testing, I have some suggestions for whatever bill gets written to “improve” No Child Left Behind:

  1. Whatever standardized test is settled upon, it must be administered annually to all members of the U.S. Congress, with results made public, by name. (The rest of this post will call this test by its current name, the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP.)
  2. Six months after Congress takes this test, they must take another standardized test created specifically to assess their abilities in key areas necessary to make informed choices about the laws they create. Again, the results would be made public. (Since all tests need a TLA to be taken seriously, call this the Legislative Aptitude Test or LAT.)

In addition to testing basic reasoning and skill, a strong motivation of the LAT will be questions aimed and determining how well our lawmakers detect bogus statistics, improper inferences, logical fallacies and flat out bullshit from lobbyists and people who testify before congress. The test will involve the following sections:

Math

The NAEP should take care of the basics of arithmetic, algebra and so on, so the math portion of the LAT should emphasize unraveling the weaselly corporate statistic speak used by lobbyists to lie. Some sample questions:

A popular light beer claims to have “one-third less calories than regular beer”. If a regular beer has 120 calories, how many calories does a light beer meeting this description have:

  1. 0
  2. 40
  3. 80
  4. 120
  5. 160

Answer: C. [120 – (120÷3) = 120 – 40 = 80]

You are invested in a stock with a steady price of $100 per share. One day, the price drops to $75 per share, a 25% drop. Approximately how much will the price now need to rise to get back to the original $100 price?

  1. 10%
  2. 25%
  3. 33%
  4. 50%
  5. 100%

Answer: C. [75x = 100; x = 100/75; x ≈ 133%, an increase of 33%.]

Geography

The NAEP has questions that cover Geography, though I’m not sure if it has an official Geography section. The LAT, however, should. Further, this section should combine current events and historical context as well. Sample questions:

The second largest denomination of Islam believes that Muhammad’s family and descendants have special spiritual and political rule over the community. Further they believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, was the first of these Imams and was the rightful successor to Muhammad and thus reject the legitimacy of the first three Rashidun caliphs. What is this denomination called, and in which country does it dominate?

  1. Sunni, Iraq
  2. Shia, Iran
  3. Sunni, Saudi Arabia
  4. Shia, Saudi Arabia

Answer: B

During 2008, what country had a nation occupied by the U.S. military on its main western border and another country occupied by the U.S. military on its main eastern border, but was not itself occupied by the U.S. military?

  1. Iraq
  2. Iran
  3. Somalia
  4. Syria

Answer: B

If you walked from the geographic center of the most populous Muslim nation directly towards Australia, which direction would you be walking?

  1. South
  2. Southeast
  3. East
  4. North

Answer: A [Australia lies directly south of Indonesia.]

In 1981, Israel bombed a French-built 70-megawatt uranium-powered nuclear reactor near what capital city?

  1. Beirut
  2. Baghdad
  3. Damascus
  4. Tehran

Answer: B

Economics

The accounting questions in the NAEP are OK, but most aren’t really policy type questions. In this section, I’d honestly settle for something that forces someone studing for the LATs to question his sanity. Such as:

If a private business enters an contract where it agrees to pay out some amount of money (to, say, it’s employees) several years from now, it is obligated by law to account for this future liability. Is the U.S. government required to do the same?

  1. Yes
  2. No

Answer: B (It would be highly entertaining to read the answers to a follow-up essay question: is this a good idea?)

You are given take $1 million of taxpayer to help correct the financial crisis. Which of the following actions has no chance of making any money back on your investment?

  1. Provide loans at reasonable rates to large companies that employ many people.
  2. Buy assets backed by American homes from banks that don’t know how to price them because they don’t trust each other, and become a source of trusted information in a market for them, eventually selling them.
  3. Make housing payments for citizens with poor reading comprehension and math skills.

Answer: C

Given single-handed control over government funds, how would you address the $60+ trillion shortfall that the U.S. will face in the coming decades? (Essay question)

Answer: I’m sure it will be good. If it doesn’t at least include the menu of pain or a way of offing the Boomers, it’s wrong.

Science

Imagine an isolated island, populated by a variety of animal species, but no human beings. After several centuries of stability, the island suffers a fairly sudden environmental change (drought, a major fire, etc.). The theory of evolution predicts that:

  1. Some individual organisms will develop new traits that adapt to the change. Those that don’t will die off.
  2. If any of the slight differences between individuals present within a species provide an advantage in the changed environment, those differences are more likely to be passed on to future generations.
  3. By chance, some individuals in a species will be physically larger and stronger than the others. These individuals will live through the change while the others die off.
  4. The Creator will choose which organisms live and die through the change.

Answer: B [A is wrong because individual organisms don’t evolve; species do. C is wrong because an advantage that turns out to help a species survive a given shock isn’t necessarily related to physical size and strength.]

You are breeding an organism of some kind in a bottle. At 11am, you put the first two organisms into the bottle. The population in the bottle doubles every minute. At noon, the bottle is full. At what time does the bottle become half full?

  1. 11:00 am
  2. 11:30 am
  3. 11:59 am
  4. noon

Answer: C (Follow-up essay question 1: what time do you think it would be when the population in the bottle notices that “its getting crowded in here”? Follow-up essay question 2: what time do you think it would be when the entire population in the bottle chokes on its own waste and dies?)

Technology

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in 1999, as the number people using Napster to illegally share music files rose, what happened to the shipments of CD albums?

  1. Decreased 50%
  2. Decreased 20%
  3. Decreased 10%
  4. Stayed the same
  5. Increased 10%

Answer: E (see this hysterical article, which hides inconvenient truth behind a lot of dire numbers about “CD singles”, a format no one cares about, and one that many consumers have never even seen.)

A hypothetical cellular carrier handles 100,000,000 calls per day. Running the network for one day costs $100,000. Trough subscription rates, customers on this network pay an average of $1 per call. The carrier testifies before Congress that, in addition to its normal traffic, each day they also have 10,000 calls made fraudulently. How much does each fraudulent call cost the carrier?

  1. $100
  2. $1
  3. Between $1 and and $0.01
  4. Less than $0.01

Answer: D.

Moral Reasoning

A lobbyist wants you to vote for something to which you are 100% opposed. How much does the lobbyist need to pay to get your vote? (Essay question.)

Well, OK, maybe I’m not the person to design the questions for this test, but the basic idea is sound. If some panel can figure out a standardized test that millions of students have to take, surely we can come up with a decent test for the legislative branch.