You can’t ship laptop batteries to Alaska

This sucks. You can’t bring a battery through security (as carry-on luggage) unless it’s powering a device. So that eliminates replacement batteries for a device you aren’t carrying with you. And you can’t take a lithium battery as checked luggage in passenger aircraft. Period.

Nor does there appear to be any way (for a consumer)  to ship stuff here on a genuine cargo plane.

Well. That throws a monkey wrench in my plans.


11. May 2018 by luke
Categories: Alaska, Computers | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

App Store Perils

Despite its undeniable convenience, I dislike Apple’s “App Store” for several reasons. The first is that Apple uses it to make developers dance to whatever tune Apple is playing that day. (This is part of their general philosophy of totalitarian control of everything, everywhere.) As a former developer myself, my attitude is “Screw them.”

But the other reason is that it sometimes breaks, and then the recovery mechanism is utterly opaque. Case in point.

Apple App Store Bug

This was the fourth time I downloaded 1.20 GB of Garageband content only to receive this useful message:

Apple App Store Bug

I don’t know who the intern was who coded this feature into the App Store, but they should have run this diagnostic message past someone who can speak English.

So. Google to the rescue. It turns out that not only is this a well-known bug, it’s one that’s been around for a long time. That Apple quality shining through as always.

10. May 2018 by luke
Categories: Mac, Software | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should I repair an old Macbook Pro?

I’m thinking about fixing an old computer. It’s a 2009 MacBook Pro.

It needs a new hard drive. A replacement for the original 320 GB drive costs $30 but I’d love an SSD for $100 or more.

It needs a new battery. Those will cost another $100.

And it probably warrants a RAM upgrade as well. That will cost about $75.

And why not replace the Superdrive with a second hard drive, like a 2 TB drive that costs $85? But it would also require a caddy for the hard drive at about $35. (Or this other caddy at just $25? Without more study, I’m not sure what the difference is. Update: the difference is a $10 “fix kit” with various tools and parts. Also, they say there’s a limit of 750 GB capacity for the second drive.)

I could probably shave off some of that buying the RAM on eBay or whatever, but barring some real bargains, the minimum to get it running is $30+100=$130. The “wish list” adds another $75+85+35 = $195, assuming my labor and tools are free. Plus S+H, of course.

Speaking of which, the old computer isn’t here. It’s in Michigan, and getting it here will cost $60–90, depending on the breaks.

Sigh. This is why I’m thinking about it.

To be fair, it would be a pretty fair computer when I’m done. Unlike recent Macs, it will have expansion ports. But it won’t run High Sierra. Not sure if that’s a bug or a feature.

The best competitor for it available today is the Macbook Air. That’s getting long in the tooth and will probably be eliminated or turned into something much less attractive, like the Macbook. But right now, it has 8 GB and an SSD to start, and 2 USB3 ports and a Thunderbolt 2 port. It weighs 3 lbs. vs. the MBP’s 5, and has slightly better screen resolution. But it costs $999 and up. A Macbook Pro starts at $1299 and has only two Thunderbolt (3) ports, and lacks a separate power socket and SDHC slot; in fact its only real advantage is more screen resolution.

If only Apple would make a MacBook Pro in 2018 as good as the 2009 one was. But that’s an non-starter, since it would require Apple not to suck.

UPDATE: Consider using an SD card instead of a replacing the SuperDrive with a high-capacity hard drive. According to Apple, the MacBook Pro’s card slot supports major SD formats: SD (2 GB max. cap.), SDHC (32 GB), and SDXC (2 TB). It’s a USB device, so it would be a lot slower than a real SSD, but for bulky items that change rarely it should be adequate.



02. May 2018 by luke
Categories: Mac | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ubuntu 18.04LTS on the HP boat anchor

Some time ago, we bought three HP laptops. One had a failure we were never able to resolve, and another was replaced by an ASUS desktop. The last was decommissioned back in January. So I decided to try installing the most recent Ubuntu 18.04LTS on one of them. Here’s my notes from the process.

First, re-read this explanation of UEFI Secure Boot and Windows.

download an ISO and verify it

turn the ISO into a bootable USB stick

boot it up and answer lots of questions

wait while everything gets installed

then install Dropbox and Google Chrome

$ apt install ssh # to get the OpenSSH server

$ ssh some-machine # then copy any data not in Dropbox

$ apt install telegram-desktop

$ apt install gnome-tweak-tool  # to enable permanent workspaces

$ apt install colordiff antiword jhead csvtool ffe poppler-utils

$ apt install sqlite3 sqlite3-pcre

$ apt install git curl libreadline-dev

$ apt install vim vim-gtk

$ apt install build-essential

$ apt install libssl-dev zlib1g-dev

$ cd ; git clone git:// .rbenv

$ rbenv -l # to find what version to install

$ rbenv install 2.5.1 # or whatever

27. April 2018 by luke
Categories: Linux | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 comment

mounting disks at the Ubuntu command line

Thirty years ago I used to know how to use mount and /etc/fstab and things like that to mount disk drives. But nowdays, it’s all too hard to remember. Especially now that we use UUIDs.

So here are some things to remember:

$ lsblk # a very pretty way to see block devices (like lsusb for usb devices)

$ sudo e2label /dev/sdb1 # to see what I called the device

19. April 2018 by luke
Categories: Linux | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple Sucks (Part 33,704 in a series)

A year ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that they could make iTunes worse. But they did. They took out useful things (like managing the apps with a mouse rather than a fingertip, and managing the order of screens). To be sure, it was always a crappy interface, more interested in showing you pictures than giving you useful data, or, better yet, a grid-based sortable interface. But that’s iTunes for you. Now it’s worse.

Obviously, there’s nobody at Apple who has more than a dozen apps on their phone. Or more likely, they’ve got some secret tool that the general public can’t use.

Oh, but they did tart up the app store (both the Mac and iOS versions) so you have to wade through commercials every time you use it. Want to find how monumentally huge that iMovie update you don’t want will be? It used to be on the first screen, but now it’s helpfully like four screens deep.

Thank you so much, Apple. You SUCK. But you knew that.

17. April 2018 by luke
Categories: Mac, Software | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Clobbering my Dual-Boot Laptop

I clobbered my dual-boot laptop. I ought to have clobbered it long ago, so it was uni-boot Linux, but that whole secure-boot UEFI firmware business scared me too much to do that without knowing more, and who has time to learn more, or a test-bed on which to make mistakes.

I was running Ubuntu 17.10 for awhile, but [I made, over a period of two months, a long list of trivial changes that made me decide the simplest thing would be if] I decided to reinstall the OS. And that didn’t work. Or, it sorta kinda worked once or twice, then quit working completely.

Did I run into the Ubuntu BIOS bug? I don’t know. But I was installing Ubuntu and I couldn’t get past the BIOS. So maybe I did. But I don’t know.

For the time being, I’m using my Macs and some older (pre-UEFI Secure Boot) hardware. Here’s an article about how to fix the Ubuntu BIOS bug. Here’s some more about the provenance of the bug.

11. January 2018 by luke
Categories: Computers, Linux | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Konica Drivers on a Mac

It shouldn’t be this hard, Konica: your “self help” website is a mess. It looks like it entered a time vortex in 1998. Compare with, say, Amazon or Facebook. (Separate question, why would someone go to your “self help” site, unless they thought a few hours fighting the web site would take less time than calling for phone support?)

There are people who’ve done what you should have done, like this Mac driver setup walk-through at Tufts.

But what do you do when that doesn’t work? Is this because I’m using 10.12 a/k/a Sierra? (Surely, you realize that’s already a full version back, and you barely support it. What would happen if I upgraded to High Sierra?)

Okay, the second time through, following the obvious links got me to this place (Self Help Product Support, which looks like it did before, more or less), but this time when I entered Bizhub C284 in the dark blue box on the left, I got some different options, so I picked them.)

And it worked! Total time (including writing this blog post in real-time as I went along) was about 35 minutes.

11. January 2018 by luke
Categories: Mac | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

installing eyeD3

I keep thinking I should learn the basics of Python programming. But I never seem to get around to it.

Today I needed to know how to install a program written in Python, because Homebrew used to include eyeD3 and today it didn’t. Here’s what I ended up doing:

$ sudo easy_install pip   # because pip isn’t installed

$ sudo pip install eyeD3

then it says that won’t work because libmagic isn’t installed. But fortunately, Homebrew provides that (whatever it is). So try again:

$ brew install libmagic

$ sudo pip install eyeD3

P.S. eyeD3 is the best command-line ID3 tag editor I’ve found. It is the only thing I’ve found that allows you to install album art from the command line. (See my earlier post.)


02. January 2018 by luke
Categories: Mac, Music, Programming | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mini Magick

I just discovered MiniMagick. It is exactly what I was looking for in a ruby-language wrapper for ImageMagick.

I’ve been using ImageMagick forever. Like, more than 20 years foreer. Maybe 30 years;  I don’t know when it was first developed, or how old it was when I discovered it.

Some of the time, I use ImageMagick from the command line: just convert a file or montage a couple of them, or whatever. But sometimes, I do the same three things to an image and expect to do it over and over again for multiple images, I’ll write a shell script.

Writing shell scripts is hard. (Like, do you use trap? Of course you don’t.)

Writing Ruby is easy. But the only Ruby wrapper for ImageMagick I knew about was RMagick, which is big and complex and the first couple of times I tried to use it I had build problems (this was back before gems and github).

So there I was. Use bash and keep it simple, or use ruby with some crazy backtick `convert foo.png foo.jpg` shell escape there instead of doing it right.

But MiniMagick is just a well-designed wrapper around those backticks. Kudos!

03. November 2017 by luke
Categories: Photos, Programming, Ruby | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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