Archive for January, 2013

STOP THE SILENT PUSHES!

If you’re a Mac OS X user, you might want to take a trip to some of the Mac news sites on the Web and read the articles popping up about the “silent push” that Apple apparently performed which completely disables Java on your system.  I found it out this morning and confirmed it by going to a “mission critical” website and seeing if it would work.  It won’t.  Not only will it not work, but Apple insured they put you out of business by telling the operating system that to allow Java to work at all, the version had to be beyond the current version.  I’d like to know who gave the company permission to do that?  To my knowledge, I didn’t!

So, I say to Apple this:  STOP THE SILENT PUSHES!

It truly has become 1984, except now Apple is the Big Brother on the television screen, not the comely woman athlete attacking it to free the enslaved masses.  The line out of “The Dark Knight” where Dent says: “ You die or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” is true.  In this case, though, it is Apple who’s the villain. They have indeed gone full circle.

We all know how easy it is to allow someone else to do things for us, and how humans will often give their power away to someone who does.  That’s what has happened here.  Apple, in true Big Brother fashion, has decided it will protect its users and itself by making decisions for you about what software you can run. You can cloak this as “being for the best” but what it is really about is protecting Apple’s public relations at your expense.  They are taking from you the right for you to decide what software you want to run, and that’s simply wrong for the consumer and wrong for teaching proper computer security.  It may be a logical step in making a computer an appliance, but manufacturers rarely have the ability to tinker with your appliance without your knowledge.  Most are smart enough not to do it anyway.

In truth, I needed to have complained about it before now.  With silent pushes, Apple becomes nothing more than a legitimized hacker.  There is no treason for the company to approach the subject this way unless they think most of us are too dumb to understand what a pop-up announcing the new software, especially one that requires administrator permission, would mean.  Maybe some of us are, but even if a user blindly accepts the notification, they have been given the choice and the responsibility is theirs and not the company’s.  It’s hard for me to believe that Apple won’t be sued about this at some time in the future, especially when they inadvertently stop a business venture that costs someone a ton of money.  Regardless, it is a poor security practice to condone or allow silent pushes. At the very least, the company owes people the blatant opportunity to sign up for them or turn them down…and not tied to some operating system update.

If Apple continues these silent pushes, this will be the straw that pushes me out of the Apple ecosystem.  I can put up with a lot (and have over the last few years…software updates that don’t work, user interface changes I haven’t liked, feature removal or system/software requirement changes without notification, and what often appears to be change for the sake of it), but I can’t afford not to have faith that the company isn’t going to jack with my system simply because there is a piece of it they don’t like.  If you agree, then I urge you to let Apple know through their feedback system or any way you can that this type of behavior is unacceptable. If not, and you just let them continue to do this, don’t fuss when you wake up one morning and something on your computer or iOS device won’t work because Apple didn’t like it.

Trying Out RAID 0 on a Mac Pro

For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at ways I could economically improve the performance of my 2008 Mac Pro in ways that would help mainly with video editing.  I’m running Mountain Lion as my main operating system on a SSD with a Snow Leopard backup on a hard disk that also includes the main user profile and data.  The ML SSD references that user profile as well, so that for a slight cost in speed I get lots of storage that can be used when I am in either operating system.

About six weeks ago, I bought a Nflightcam for use in my flight school, and I’ve been bringing home video used in testing the camera and getting me used to editing and posting content for student use.  I’m not a fan of the current iteration of iMovie, so I do any editing either in iMovie HD or Final Cut Studio 2 (Final Cut Pro 7 and company).   I know I could move to Final Cut X or even Premiere Pro CS6, but for now, I’m saving what bucks I can and trying to use what I’ve got. (I also have some projects in FCP I need to finish.)    So, I’ve been looking for ways to speed up my video processing workflow. I didn’t really have the bucks to put all the FCP footage on a SSD.

My data and media (including a rather good-sized iTunes library) have been on a 1TB hard disk that was within 70GB of being full.  I offloaded the FCP and DVD Studio folders onto another 750GB hard drive and put my Contour Library files there as well.  Because I’ve got 16GB of RAM and I’m running on the SSD for most things, the computer’s speed was pretty good.  But I still wanted to see if I could decrease video processing time. So, after looking at various options and what they would cost in time and money, I decided to set up a RAID 0 using the two hard disks I use to run OS X.

The first thing I did was boot the Mac Pro up normally, go into System Preferences/User Accounts and reset the USER account from the SL disk to the one on the ML SSD (which has almost no data in it).  I rebooted onto the Snow Leopard disk (using the Option key) and used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the Snow Leopard boot drive onto a 1.5TB Seagate drive inside an Esata box.  I then manually copied the files on the 750GB to the Esata drive, shut down the Mac Pro, opened it up, and mounted the Esata hard drive in a drive sled.  I booted the Mac Pro and, using the Esata drive as the boot disk, used its (Snow Leopard) Disk Utility to partition the 1TB hard drive into 750 and 250GB partitions.  I then used DU’s RAID tab to make a RAID 0 set of the 750 GB hard drive and the 750GB partition on the 1 TB hard drive. Rebooting, I used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the boot drive onto the RAID 0 set.  That left me with a cloned hard drive and a Time Machine backup I could use to recover if things went awry, which I am happy to report they did not.

When I rebooted the Mac Pro normally, it booted into the ML SSD.  I reselected the “joint” user account now on the RAID 0 set and the computer rebooted, returning to the Dock and desktop I had before I had started it all.  I opened several applications (some of which I have loaded on both the ML and SL partitions) to check their operation and observed no anomalies, except for some registration data that was lost and had to be re-entered. Satisfied I had “normal” system operation, I wanted to see if I could boot into the Snow Leopard RAID set, so I rebooted the Mac Pro while holding down the Option key.  Much to my surprise, it showed me each INDIVIDUAL disk (Raid Set 1 1 and Raid Set 1 2) as well as the ML SSD, the Esata disk, and the ML Recovery partition! If software was managing the RAID properly, my thinking was that I could pick either disk in the RAID set and the Mac Pro would boot properly.  To test that, I selected the RAID Set 1 2 disk.  The system did boot normally into Snow Leopard, though the process seemed to be a bit slower than usual.  I launched applications and observed what I thought to be faster performance than I would have seen running single disk.  For grins, I also booted into RAID SET 1 1, and while it worked about the same, it did seem like the desktop appeared a little sooner with that selection.  (The RAID 1 1 hard disk is the actual 750GB hard disk while 1 2 is a 750GB partition.)  After checking system operation here, I shut down the machine, removed the Esata hard disk, and replaced it with my Windows 7 (BOOTCAMP) hard disk I had removed for this experiment.  I then booted into Windows 7; and while the initial loading appeared nominal, the machine crashed with a BSOD and a STOP message implying IRQ conflicts.  I booted the machine using Windows Safe Mode and got to the desktop and then rebooted into Windows 7 normally.  I had no more problems after that.

Overall, this seems to be a worthwhile experiment.  Overall responsiveness has definitely improved, though I don’t have any benchmarks to tell you how much.  I did see slightly LOWER Geekbench scores (like about 150-200 points) I believe might to be due to the extra overhead of the software RAID.  In every other way, though, the machine is snappier under both Mac Operating Systems.  For that, the cost is decreased hardware reliability I am mitigating by a good backup strategy and acquisition of a spare 1TB hard drive I’ll keep for quick retrieval in case a failure does occur.

I may not have SSD speeds with this setup or what I could achieve with a Velociraptor RAID set or maybe even hardware RAID, but considering this only cost me some time, this appears to have been a worthwhile thing to do.

One Step Forward Two Steps Back!

Today, Apple fixed my main complaint about the new 21.5 inch iMac; you know, the one  saddled with a 2.5 inch 5400 RPM hard drive, all to make it unbelievably thinner for reasons only they understand.  Today, Apple announced  you can pay an extra $250 for the low end iMac so that it will match the glowing performance referred to in nearly all its reviews.  You can order the machine with a 1TB Fusion Drive, something you could only previously do with high low-end machine. Of course, that means that a decent entry level iMac now costs $1549, making this the most costly set of iMacs Apple has ever released.  They are undoubtedly also the best performing, but whether you are getting what you paid for is still up for debate.

Still, I consider this one step forward.  But Apple has performed a lot of missteps lately.  IOS 6 Maps, the initial 2.12 HP Printer Driver update, the flakiness of Mountain Lion when it was first released, the inclusion of 5400 rpm hard drives in iMacs, and now there is another…the latest…Tunes 11.

I’ve been saying privately to my wife that I, as a Mac user, was deeply concerned about Apple’s direction.  I haven’t minded fixing things now and then…even inventing workarounds haven’t been that frequent….except in the past year or so.  Apple software quality control has gotten so poor that I do not automatically apply upgrades; I wait and see what other people are reporting and try to make sure the update is okay before pressing ahead.  I actually thought iTunes 11 (and, yes, I’ve downloaded 11.0.1) was okay… I had managed to reconfigure it to behave the way I liked (since many things in its redesign seemed to dumb the software down, something Apple’s been too guilty of lately).  That was until yesterday.  Then, I noticed that if I selected a song in a playlist, started playing it, selected another playlist, and tried to play it, the first song I selected would continue to play!   Worse, I tried the same trick on a different Mac and got exactly the same behavior!  That became the last straw for me; as I have done too often recently I reverted back to a software set that worked, i.e., iTunes 10.7 in this case.

Listen up, Apple, you’re being given a BIG APPLE FAIL on this software!  Your discussion forums are full of people who, like me, are questioning your technical prowess and value on the dollar.  You seem to be moving from “it just works” to “ it only works the way we want it to…most of the time” while making sure “it just hurts” is what resounds from our pocketbooks.

I don’t mind paying a bit more for a better product, but when I feel like I’m paying more “just because I can”, it’s time to find another party…

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