Month: December 2010

Support Joao Silva

Photographs To Cover Cost Of Medical Bills

João Silva, 44, a South African photographer on contract with The New York Times, stepped on a mine while accompanying American soldiers patrolling an area near the town of Arghandab in southern Afghanistan on October 23rd, 2010. Despite immediate help from medics, both his legs were lost below the knees.

Now his friends are auctioning some of his most famous photographs to cover his medical bills. You can also donate to his medical fund via paypal at this site: Support Joao Silva

Flags in blizzard

Flags in blizzard

Warren, Connecticut. The snow is almost over but the wind continues to howl outside. These days people make a huge deal out of storms like the one that just hit the East Coast (the Weather Channel effect) but in fact, this storm has lived up to the hype: we have about 20″ of snow on the ground here and more in drifts.

The driveway will be no fun to clear but we’re going down the road to dig Dave out and he’ll come up here to help Gary and me get things cleaned up at our place. We’re putting that off as long as possible.

The good news is that we never lost power throughout the entire storm (yet) and so, have been able to stay connected to the outside world through the internet. What was life like pre-net? Probably better but hey, it makes for great entertainment during a big storm.

Hope you’re warm and dry wherever you are.

Prayer flags in early morning light

Prayer flags in early morning light

Warren, Connecticut. I’ve been collecting these Tibetan prayer flags for many years now and our backyard is starting to look a bit like Everest base camp. Our cat, who died a year ago is buried right under them and hopefully the flags and her spirit will keep the rodent population down in the backyard while at the same time bringing peace to the world.

I hope you’re warm and cozy wherever you are and may your world be as peaceful and rodent free as my backyard.

Tumblr and WordPress

Tumblr Now Has More Money & More Pageviews Than WordPress (Including Sequoia Money)

The two most popular hosted blogging platforms, tumblr and WordPress are duking it out. This blog runs on WordPress but it’s an installed version, not the hosted version that the article is about. Interesting statistics and the fact that new venture money is being aimed at tumblr is significant.

All of these services go down, but tumblr suffered an outage that lasted more than a day and infuriated some of the more popular bloggers hosted there. No doubt WordPress has gone down in a similar fashion.

Word Lens

Wow, this is impressive, not just for translation but also for ESL and even slow english readers.

The app is a demo, not really useful and to get Spanish to English will cost you $4.99, English to Spanish another $4.99. The price is fine but the app should include both of these and cost $9.99. Giving a way the engine and then selling the languages seems like an awkward way to do this.

[via Edward McKeown]

Instapaper = virtual breadcrumbs

Feel Free to Read This Later, on Your Phone

But there are also other approaches, alternate distribution systems like the one that Marco Arment, a 28-year-old programmer, has created while working at home in Hastings on Hudson, N.Y.

He built Instapaper, a clever way to create personalized publications. It is clever because it plays to human psychology by helping us gather articles we want to read, but have no time to read while we are foraging.

Instapaper is breadcrumbs for your winding path through online information and it’s fantastic, I’ve been using it for a few months now and I can’t live without it.

As I use my iPad and iPhone more Instapaper becomes even more valuable. The article doesn’t explain well enough the power of RSS feeds though and some folks (like me) prefer apps like Reeder to apps like Flipboard as aggregators of feeds. Instapaper is the next step, saving things from browsing feeds we want to read later.

This entire structure is breaking down information consumption for many folks. Some of us have done it this way for years because we use RSS newsreaders and scanning there is a step before going deep on any one piece of information. For many folks, a setup like this makes it easier to scan and save things while you’re on the train where it might be hard to read deeply so that you can read things later when you’re in a quieter place.

Wendell Minor and Gordon Titcomb

Wendell Minor and Gordon Titcomb

Washington, Connecticut. Wendell Minor (illustrator and author) and Gordon Titcomb (writer and musician) have put together a book based on the lyrics to one of Gordon’s songs: The Last Train.

Our local book store, The Hickory Stick Bookshop had a signing and I had them sign three copies: one for me, one for my friend Gary who like me collects signed first editions and a holiday gift for my friend Edward’s son Henri.

It’s not every day that you can hang out with book authors but I happen to know these guys because our paths cross often in our small part of the world.

Wendell is a world renowned children’s book author and illustrator and has dozens of best selling books out in the world. Gordon is a world class musician who has played both on tour for years with Arlo Guthrie and in studios for numerous musicians. They’re both great guys, totally accessible and the book is wonderful and would make a nice holiday gift for many a train lover.

Gordon played and sang between signings but there were so many he couldn’t keep up.

I should have taken this with my S90 but I had the iPhone out so I used it. Not great but good enough.

SSD and Energy Saver in OS X

Energy Saver System Preference Pane

Now that I’ve installed a solid state drive (SSD) in my MacBook Pro I’m wondering if the checkbox about spinning down a hard disk to save energy has any meaning anymore.

Maybe a more interesting question is, does that checkbox even exist on a MacBook Air? How context sensitive is the Energy Saver System Preference pane?

This may sound like splitting hairs but given that an SSD mimics a hard disk (is installed instead of a hard disk in the same slot) while the solid state memory on a MacBook Air is soldered to the main system board, energy saver might treat an SSD differently from the MacBook Air’s solid state memory.

Anyone out there with an Air care to comment on this? Does that highlighted checkbox even exist on a MacBook Air?

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

I recently decided to forgo getting a new computer and give some new life to my now 3 year old 2.5 ghz MacBook Pro. SSDs (solid state drives) have come down in price enough so that putting one in is an option and because an SSD has no moving parts it’s faster, quieter and cooler than a mechanical hard disk. It’s still not as cheap per gigabyte of space as a hard disk but the price is low enough now so that it’s a possibility if one wants to get more speed out of an older machine instead of upgrading to a new machine just for the faster processor.

The drive I bought is the Mercury Extreme Pro SSD from Other World Computing. 120 gigabytes is a sweet spot for price but I wanted to replace the 250 gigabyte drive in my computer so bought the 240 gigabyte SSD.

I’m running off the SSD now and it’s extremely fast, silent, and makes a lot less heat than the hard disk I replaced. I’m happy and this should give me at least another year on this machine before Apple eventually comes out with solid state MacBook Pros.

Solid state drives or, given what Apple has done with the MacBook Air and the iPad, solid state storage (not necessarily in drive form) is the future and I’ve decided not to buy another machine with a hard disk if I can help it.

The Install Process

The SSD install is the same as a regular hard disk which I did on an older machine, documented in detail here: MacBook Pro Hard Disk Replacement.

Rather than copy my internal hard disk onto a backup hard disk, installing the SSD, then starting from the backup and cloning it onto the SSD, I saved a step by copying the internal hard disk directly onto the SSD and then installing it. This way I could test the SSD by starting from it as an external drive to make sure it worked and once installed the machine is ready to go with the latest backup of my hard disk in one step. The next few images show taking apart an external firewire drive so I can use its chassis to hold the SSD and connect it to my computer via firewire 800.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

External firewire hard disk drive to be taken apart and used to hold SSD for initial backup.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

External firewire hard disk drive taken apart.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

External firewire hard disk drive taken apart with hard disk removed to expose chassis.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

250 gigabyte hard disk (left) and 240 gigabyte SSD (right).

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

SSD in firewire chassis for initial backup. It’s not screwed in, it’s just got the power and data buses connected.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

Before backing up I used Disk Utility to partition (GUID for Intel) and format the SSD. Then I used SuperDuper to copy/clone the internal hard disk on my computer onto the SSD.

I use SuperDuper daily to back up my hard disk (now SSD) onto an external firewire drive which lives in the basement in a fireproof box. SuperDuper is one of the single best pieces of software I’ve ever used on any computer, period.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

MacBook Pro with top deck off. Top deck holds keypad and touchpad. Hard disk to be replaced on left, optical (CD/DVD) drive on right. Opening is battery compartment. Most of the screws that need to be removed are used to hold the top deck in place.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

Quick and dirty diagram to hold screws for MacBook Pro case. Excuse dysgraphic handwriting but hey, it works for me. There are only two torx screws and a multitude of small and larger phillips screws. If one did this for a living one could put them all in a bowl and fish out the right ones for each step. I need to keep them separated to know which ones go where.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

Hard disk removed from MacBook Pro, SSD ready to put in. This step was different from my earlier hard disk replacement experience with an earlier version of the MacBook Pro. The hard disk bracket and the ribbon cable on top and its tape made getting the hard disk out a bit more difficult as I was nervous about crimping or breaking the ribbon cable which is stuck to the top of the hard disk. With patience it came out and the SSD went in easily.

MacBook Pro SSD upgrade

MacBook Pro with SSD installed. All that’s left is to replace top deck and all the screws.

I got it all back together easily and it booted relatively quickly the first time. It takes a bit of time for Spotlight to reindex a backup and as it gets more indexed things move faster. As I write this the entire SSD is indexed and boots extremely fast. Launching applications like Safari or MarsEdit (what I’m using to write this post) is near instantaneous.

I used Lightroom to process these images, not because they were shot in RAW but because I somehow set the S90 to 3200 ISO and I wanted to get the noise out of the images in Lightroom rather than iPhoto. Lightroom launched incredibly fast and working with the images felt like I was using a quad core MacPro.


The SSD is a very worthwhile upgrade or replacement for an internal drive on a MacBook Pro and while a MacBook Pro with an SSD installed not as light as a MacBook Air, it’s ultra quiet, has a very long battery life, has a faster processor, has a CD/DVD drive, a large 15″ screen and hopefully this upgrade will keep me computing for another year at which point we’ll see what Apple has come out with.

Gorilla Glass, the Smartphone’s Unsung Hero

Gorilla Glass, the Smartphone’s Unsung Hero

…I still carry my phone around naked all the time, and there’s not a scratch on it. (To be clear: only the phone is naked all the time.)

What I’ve never understood is how that can be. The screens (and, on the iPhone 4, the back as well) are glass, for crying out loud. People carry their phones around in pockets with keys and change. People drop these things, toss them, scrape them. Why on earth don’t they get totally scratched up?

Fascinating piece by David Pogue. Great to hear of an American company (Corning) getting this right.