What happened?
Twelve years!
You hit me with a cricket bat!
Ha! Twelve years!

Monday, July 25



One of the most striking things about new Doctor Who is how often the companions die.  In the old series, the only long-standing companion to die was Adric, though the First Doctor story The Daleks' Master Plan killed off short-timers Katarina and Sara Kingdom.

But they only died once each.

Amy Pond died in The Pandorica Opens; young Amelia died in The Big Bang; fake Amy was disintegrated in The Almost People; older Amy died and had her timeline erased in The Girl Who Waited, and finally, real Amy died not once but twice in The Angels Take Manhattan.

River Song died in Forest of the Dead, as a child in Day of the Moon, and as Melody in Let's Kill Hitler.

Rory died in Amy's Choice, died again and was erased from existence in Cold Blood, drowned in The Curse of the Black Spot, and died no less than three times in The Angels Take Manhattan.

And Clara died in Asylum of the Daleks, again in The Snowmen, again in Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, again in Last Christmas, again in Face the Raven, and from the glimpses we were given, at least sixteen other times in TV-series canon alone, before eventually swanning off with Ashildr, who is also dead.

Of course, this is because where the original series used time travel mostly as a plot hook upon which to hang the story of the week, New Who often involves time travel as a plot device, with every kind of time loop, divergent timeline, parallel universe, and temporal paradox cropping up at some point.

But maybe the next companion could just, you know, leave?

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Thursday, July 21


There Be Dragons

Dragon Age: Origins* is 60% off.

That's the full game, with all DLC and expansions, completely DRM-free, for just a few dollars.  Highly recommended if you like fantasy role-playing games even a little.

* The one that doesn't suck.

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Wednesday, June 15


Adventures In Windows 10 Land

I upgraded Chika (my ultrabook) to Windows 10 yesterday.  Azusa, my full-size notebook, already got Windows 10, but I did that as a clean install.

It...  Works.  Even Start 8 works, and that's a specifically Windows 8 only application.

You do need to go through and turn off all the default-on spy options but one.  The one to leave on is checking web pages against malware lists, but that only matters if you use Internet Explorer or the new Edge browser.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced two new Xboxen, a little one which is the current Xbox One shrunk down and ships in August, and a new model which is a half-generation upgrade with four to five times the graphics horsepower - up from about 1.3 teraflops to 6 teraflops, due next year.  The original Xbox One has problems running some games smoothly at 60 frames per second.  The 2017 model should have no such issues.

If you want the same thing right now, just upgrade to Windows 10 (free) and get an AMD RX 480 (coming at the end of this month for around $199).

That just leaves Kei, my main desktop, which I shall remedy... Now.

Well, not now now, it takes ages to download.  But it's on its way.   

On all three I've installed StarDock's Object Desktop, which turns Windows 8 or 10 into a nicer version of Windows 7.  Or if you're feeling perverse, of MacOS or even BeOS. 

Tip: Just buy Start 10, which is $5.  On checkout, you'll get an offer for a 60% discount for the complete Object Desktop suite, which takes it down to $20.

Update: Kei is tenified.  I have one cheap netbooky thing around somewhere running Windows 8, and one survivor from ~2008 running Vista, but everything else is now well and truly sorted out.

Update: Except that suddenly I can't commit to Git.  Which puts just a teensy cramp in my workflow, since that's where all my work is.  It seems that Windows 8 can run a 64-bit executable from a 32-bit one, but Windows 10 doesn't, so I needed to install a 32-bit copy of Git to match the 32-bit version of Java that JetBrains ship with PyCharm.

Which is easy enough, except that all you get when this happens is the error "Resource temporarily unavailable" and a stack trace.

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Monday, June 13


Adventures In Ubuntuland

I changed some of the settings on my Ubuntu Venial Vermin VM, and broke it.  Rather than fiddle with it for an unknown amount of time, I zapped it and built a new one.

And found that Ubuntu desktop by default doesn't even install SSHD.

And once I got that working, and tweaked the settings on my terminal emulator (XShell) so it would work, realised that using the same OpenSSH-specific settings might allow me to SSH cleanly into Taiga, my iMac.

And they did.  Had that Mac for six months and only now am I able to log in remotely directly from Windows.  (Logging in from Linux always worked, because it was OpenSSH on both ends.)

Not much to show for a three-day weekend, though.

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Friday, January 08


New Server: Sakura

I have a new server, Sakura, to handle backups for the mununiverse.  It has 32TB of disk, arranged as two independent 8TB RAID-1 volumes.  The previous backup server (also named Sakura) had 6TB RAID-5, so 16TB RAID-1 is quite an upgrade.  And the new server is slightly cheaper.

Only downside is the new Sakura has shingles.  That is, it uses shingled disk drives, where the tracks actually overlap.  This works because drive read heads are smaller than write heads, and can accurately read the half-sized tracks.  But it means that you can't overwrite a single sector; you have to read a whole group of tracks, change the bits you want, and write the whole lot back.

Sequential performance is just fine - 160MB/sec on both reads and writes.  Random access is fine, even great, up to a point.  The drives have a 20GB buffer area for random writes, which works extremely well - several times faster than a normal disk drive.

But I can't recommend doing an OS update while a RAID rebuild is running.  That seems to be pushing things a bit too far.

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Friday, December 04


Two Weeks-ish With A Mac

After about 10 years in Windows and Linux-land, I've been setting up my new iMac over the last couple of weeks.  This takes a while, because I use a lot of different applications.

My impressions so far:
  • Performance: 9/10.  Almost everything is zippy.  Best result ever on my Python benchmark, twice as fast as running in a Linux VM on my four-year-old Windows box.

    That was one of my main reasons for getting a Mac - I can run the server-side applications I work on directly under OSX rather than having to run Linux virtual machines.  I have VMWare Fusion so that I can run virtual machines, but I don't have to.

  • Screen: 9/10.  Exceptionally sharp and vibrant, let down slightly by the reflective finish and lack of adjustment options (tilt only).

  • Sound: 6/10.  Adequate and inoffensive, but far from amazing.

  • Noise: 9/10.  Pretty much silent when you're not asking it to make noise.  My Windows box gets quite loud when it's busy.  (Though for about $100 I could add a closed-loop water cooler that would silence it.)

  • Mouse: 7/10.  The mouse is a bit oddly-shaped, but the "magic" part works very well - you can left-and-right-click even though it has no buttons, and you can scroll up, down, and sideways even though it has no scroll wheel.

    The only problem is with mouse acceleration in OSX.  Mouse acceleration sucks and there should be an option to just have a constant but high mouse resolution.

  • Keyboard: 2/10.  The so-called Magic Keyboard sucks.  It's a mediocre notebook keyboard with no feel or key travel, transplanted to the desktop where it has no reason to exist.  I dug my 15-year-old G3 iMac keyboard out of the closet and I'm using that instead.

  • Gaming: 7/10.  Runs Baldur's Gate EE, Torchlight and Cities: Skylines just fine.  Haven't had time to try anything else yet.

    One letdown is that it doesn't seem to be possible to run games natively at 5k; they default to the UI resolution, which is half that, so 2560x1440.  That's the right resolution to run at given the mid-range video card it has, but I would have liked to see Cities: Skylines at 5k.

  • UI: 5/10. Coming back to the Mac after a decade away, all the nice stuff is still there.  Also all the bad stuff.  A bit disappointing, really.

    The single menu bar needs to die.  It made sense on a 9" screen.  It's absurd on a 27" screen.  

    Launchpad is dumb - it's the Mac equivalent of Windows 8's Games window.  Snapping windows is dumb.  Finder is dumb.  Installing software works pretty well, mostly.  Uninstalling is a mess.

  • Developer tools: 9/10.  All my JetBrains tools run on Mac, and handle the 5k display better than they do the 4k screen on my Windows box.  (Plus AppCode for Swift and Objective-C, which is Mac only.)

    The Homebrew installer is great.  For my work I need MySQL, MongoDB, Elasticsearch, RabbitMQ, Neo4J, Redis, Python, PyPy, Ruby, Lua, Node.js, PHP, CouchDB, uWSGI, Nginx, LMDB, PhantomJS - oops.

    The PhantomJS package won't install on OSX 10.11, but that's the first problem I've run into.
So overall it works pretty well, and I'm happy with it.  Ran into some trouble with the Adobe installer (it basically refused to install anything), but they released an update and it started working.

The only worry now is how quickly I'm filling up the 1TB SSD.  I have 70GB of loops to download (bundled with Mainstage) and I've barely started installing my Steam and GOG libraries, even though only about one third of my games run on Mac.  I might add an external SSD at some point - the Samsung T1 looks like a nice option.

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Tuesday, November 24


Facing The Raven

Warning: This whole post is a huge spoiler for current season of Doctor Who, up to episode 10 and possibly including episodes that haven't aired yet.

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Monday, November 23


Never Mind The Quality, Feel The Gamut

So the new 27" Retina iMac isn't much of an upgrade from the previous 27" Retina iMac - very slightly faster processor, graphics, and memory, and a significantly faster SSD, though that was already quite fast.

What it does have is a wide-gamut screen calibrated for DCI-P3 - that is, it's designed to display the same colour range as digital cinema projectors, and in the same way.  And that colour range is wider than the typical monitor or television - Apple says 25% wider.

Normally you only notice colour gamut when a device is bad, rather than good.  The original 2012 Nexus 7 had a noticeably limited colour gamut - everything looked like a rainy winter's day even with the brightness at maximum.  (The 2013 model was much improved on this, as on most things.)

And I didn't notice it on my iMac at first either, until the screen saver turned up this image of the Colorado River.  It's a striking photo on my old monitor, but on a wide-gamut screen it's eye-popping.  I've never seen that shade of orange on an LCD display, and I don't think I've ever seen it on a CRT either.

It's one of those things you have to see for yourself.

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Saturday, November 21



Posting from Taiga!

It works.  Plugged in, switched on...  Where's the switch?  Where's the switch?!  Ah.  Switched on, poing sound, off we go.

Magic mouse is pretty good.  Magic keyboard is a piece of crap with no feel or key travel.  An entry-level Logitech keyboard is better than this.  So was the old Mac keyboard from the 2nd generation iMac...  Which I have sitting in closet upstairs, so I'll dig that out tomorrow.

Screen is all it should be - 14 million pixels and a wide colour gamut and great viewing angles.

Everything so far is pretty zippy.  I'd hope so, since it has the fastest of everything that I could possibly get - and since I haven't done anything remotely taxing so far.

The memory upgrade was pretty nice.  There's a couple of tricks to it, but they're well-designed tricks:
  • There's a button that releases the hatch over the RAM slots.  The button can only be reached after removing the power cord, so there's no way you can open it while it's powered on.

  • There's a latching mechanism that locks all four RAM slots at once, and when you unlatch it, they hinge outwards for easy access.  You just drop the modules in and push the latch shut again.
32GB of 1600MHz third-party RAM was $260, vs. $960 for the upgrade from 8GB to 32GB from Apple.  For $700 I'll accept that 2-3% real-world performance difference.  (Though why they didn't just use DDR4 I don't know.)

Now let's install Steam...

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Monday, November 16



Taiga arrived.  Today.  When I was at the office.

And the delivery guy got confused because when he knocked on my door, my neighbours answered their door.

So I had to leave work early to head home and sort it out, which means I'll be working late tonight to catch up.  But that's fine.  Taiga is safe in the spare room and I'll get her set up in the next day or two.

Update: 32GB extra RAM and 5TB external drive arrived today.  The Blu-Ray drive is back-ordered, but that's not urgent; I have on in my Windows PC.

Now I'm all set except for software, and that I can buy online as needed.

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