My Personal SSD-palooza

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Hardware, Problems, Uncategorized on May 22nd, 2020 by Michael
(They look like this)

I’ve been doing a few things with SSDs lately. It all started with my niece Christy.

I’m kind of the family Tech Support guy. There are others in the family who are – dare I say? – possible even better tech supporters than I am. Yet I get my share of the work, and I love doing it.

Anyway, Christy lives very close to us and she had a problem: her very old (early 2011) 13″ MacBook Pro had stopped booting and refused to give up its secrets. And it held many of Christy’s secrets. Mainly her photos and a bunch of school work, as I recall. There were no backups. And she needed that data. So I went to work.

I did all the usual things, mainly involving trying to use Apple’s tools to restore the OS, which didn’t work. It appeared there were one or more damaged disk sectors in the boot area. No boot. I needed to operate.

With Christy’s permission, I took the back off the machine, retrieved the damaged disk, put an external USB drive interface on it, and plugged it into my Mac. Everything was there. I copied it all and put it on another external drive her dad Ken gave me. The day was saved!

The machine was old and pathetically slow and I asked Christy what she wanted done with it. She said to keep it and do whatever I wanted with it. So I put it back together, wiped the drive, and reinstalled the operating system.

It booted! But I was right – it was pathetically slow. It was old, couldn’t accept the latest OS, had a slow 320GB drive, and sported 2GB of ram. Pathetic. So while I got it working again, it was far from useful. Time to throw it away?

Nope. I assumed the 5400 RPM HDD was holding it back. So I budgeted a hundred fifty bucks or so and ordered up a decent 500GB WD (Western Digital) SSD and 16GB of RAM. Easy install, quick OS install, and the machine was fast! Even though it won’t update to Catalina, it’s pretty cool. In fact, I’m writing this on it now. Its name is Groucho.

Classic case of the cheap upgrade. Encouraged, I decided to do it again.

I have an ancient Dell Latitude E6430, circa 2012. Joanne and I bought matching refurbished Dells in mid-2019 when she was in the middle of a job change. We wanted the best available bang for the buck for the lowest price possible.

These are actually pretty cool old business laptops. They have 14-inch screens and refurbished, with Windows 10 Professional, 8GB of memory, and 500GB hard drives. We got matching docking stations too! We both really like them, in spite of their age and weight.

The trouble is that they’re a bit slow. So it was time for another project on my laptop. The exact same project as with the MacBook Pro. I bought another 500GB SSD and 16 more gigs of memory. The install on the Dell was even easier than on the MBP. Those things are made to be serviced.

And the best news is that the machine became really fast! Two for two!

It wasn’t long before Joanne felt her machine slowing down and wanted the same upgrades. So I bought a 1TB SSD, threw it into my machine, and gave her my 500GB drive as a hand-me-down, which she seemed okay with. So we both have fast, solid, relatively powerful Windows laptops!

Mine is named Joe. Joanne’s doesn’t really have a name, but that’s okay. It’s her only computer and it doesn’t need a name.

Now what to modify? Curly, my 27″ 5K iMac is pretty new and has a fairly powerful 3TB hybrid drive. I upgraded Curly’s memory to 24GB the day I bought it and other modifications are quite difficult to make. So Curly was a no-go.

Moe, my late-2014 Mac Mini, has a 1TB HDD, 8GB of memory and is slow. iFixit says it takes 35 steps and a complete disassembly to get to the hard drive. And that machine’s assignment has been downgraded to just serving Time Machine backups to the other Macs on the network. So not for now.

Larry is my early-2013 15″ MacBook Pro. I loaded it up pretty well when I bought it. It has 8GB of memory and a 500GB SSD, all of which I’m led to believe are soldered on to the motherboard. Plus, it’s still a quite adequately powerful laptop. So it remains as-is.

On to Brutus, my homebuilt desktop PC. It has a 3.3GHz 8-core AMD cpu, 32GB of memory, and a GTX-760 GPU. It also has 5TB and 2TB internal hard drives. But it runs slowly. What the heck?

So I bought yet another 1TB WD SSD and installed it. Turned it on and . . . it’s still pretty slow. What the double heck? The research began.

My first concern was that I might have installed the drive in a way that resulted in some kind of electronic interference, as remote a possibility as that might be. I had kind of temporarily zip-tied it to the bottom of the 2TB drive. Not the best install in the world, granted.

So I bought a 2.5″ drive sled and installed it. Still slow. As expected, to be honest. What else could it be?

I downloaded the motherboard manual to look for clues. And I found one! The machine has 6 SATA ports, but they’re only SATA-2. I think I need SATA 3. A little bit of research later and I’ve ordered a replacement motherboard that’s slightly newer, has 6 SATA-3 ports (6Gb/sec), and USB 3.1. It uses my existing CPU, memory, drives, GPU, and everything else. Should arrive sometime next week, and then we’ll see.

Enough for today. I’ll tell you about the SSD attached to Junior, my Raspberry Pi 4b, next time.

See you soon.

Do not let your waitress take your group photo!

Posted in Problems on April 1st, 2018 by Michael

My sister and me at schoolSee those cute kids? As you can no doubt tell, that’s my sister Sandy and me in front of Charles Lindbergh Elementary School in Dearborn, Michigan. I believe the occasion was my first day of elementary school in September of 1962. Photo courtesy of my loving, well-meaning father.

Honestly, could that photo be any worse? You can’t see Sandy. You can’t see me. You can barely even see the school! Why did my dad find it necessary to stand so far away from us? Did we smell bad? Was he permanently banned from the campus? (No to both questions.)

And this is why you should never let your waitress take your picture.

Just about every time we go to take a picture of a group in a restaurant, a kind waitress will come by and offer to shoot the photo right as we’re lining everybody up in a selfie. In the past, we’ve handed over the camera to the nice waitress and smiled for the camera. She steps WAY back and snaps a couple of photos.  Just about every time, though, the results have been mediocre, and it’s usually because two simple rules have been broken.

Honestly, we should have just taken the selfie.

Listen, I’m not a professional photographer. But I have taken a couple of classes and read some articles and I have learned two simple rules about photography:

  • Rule one: Fill up the frame with your subject.
  • Rule two: Follow the rule of thirds.

And there’s maybe one more rule:

  • Rule three: Lighting matters

These rules are not complex. Just a few words about each:

FILL UP THE FRAME WITH YOUR SUBJECT

The biggest mistake your waitress makes is simply that she stands too far back. She thinks she has to do that to get everybody in the picture, but she really gets WAY too far back. For one thing, you don’t need to see everybody from head to toe. You’re interested in seeing their faces, not their shoes. So leave their shoes out. You’re interested in seeing the people, not the restaurant decor (usually), so get close. Get right up there and fill the frame with everybody’s faces. Don’t forget to make sure everybody’s there, but get everybody into the frame and stop backing up right there. How about an example?

I noticed a pretty bouquet on the coffee table near my comfy chair and thought it would make a nice picture. Can you see it there right in the middle of the frame (more on the rule of thirds later)? It looks so … small and hard to find. Kind of like my sister and me in front of our school. Let’s try that one again:

Oh, that’s better! Now I can see the flowers and just a bit of background. It’s obvious what the subject of the picture is and I can see it in detail. I got up close and filled my frame with it and I rather like the result.

FOLLOW THE RULE OF THIRDS

Pictures are more aesthetically pleasing when the subject isn’t right in the middle of the frame. For example, here’s another flower vase by my comfy chair:

This picture is okay, I guess, but it’s just missing something. Top Scientists tell us it’s because this picture violates the Rule of Thirds, which is defined by Wikipedia thusly: “The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.”

In other words, put your subject a third of the way from the left or right and/or a third of the way from the top or the bottom. Easy as can be.

Let’s see how that last photo looks when I follow the rule of thirds:

Much more visually pleasing. This is another photo I like.

This rule is so important that your camera makes it easy to follow! On iOS, Apple has provided a “Grid” setting in the Camera preferences:

It couldn’t be easier:

Turn it on and you’ll be taking beautiful photos in no time.

And now for the last rule:

LIGHTING MATTERS

Lighting matters. Look at how your subject is illuminated. Take pictures when the sun is low in the sky whenever possible. Pose people in front of a window. Or just keep looking for beautifully illuminated subjects. Here’s one of my personal favorites:

So fill up that frame. Get that subject off-center. And use light to make things look interesting. Go forth and take beautiful images.

Alexa works on iOS! Mostly.

Posted in Amazon, Apple, Internet, Problems, Software on April 24th, 2017 by Michael

I was delighted to learn today that Alexa is finally ready for iOS! And it seems to work great, except for one glaring problem – one of my very favorite Alexa apps: Jeopardy.

Like many people, I’m a big fan of the Jeopardy television show. I’ve loved it since the Art Fleming days, when little-boy me ran home from school for lunch and watching Jeopardy with my mother. They may not have any more-loyal fans than me.

So I was delighted to learn today that Alexa was now working on iOS, within the Amazon app. I tried it out first by asking for a joke. No problem! Immediately, I asked it for today’s Jeopardy clues, since I’m out of town and don’t have access to my beloved Echos.

That’s when I discovered the problem: Jeopardy hangs the app very frequently when it’s waiting for a user response. Maybe they forgot to test that functionality. The only recourse seems to be to close and reopen the app, at which time it allows you to either start over or resume from where you left off.

But there was a bug with that too. One of the several times it hung, I closed and reopened the app and asked it to play another joke, just to be sure it was still working. Jeopardy had apparently not really closed that time (although it seemed to do so every other time I went through the close/open cycle) and interpreted my joke request as an answer.

I lost credit for my correct answer! Noooooo!

Anyway, please fix the iOS app to allow Jeopardy to work properly, Amazon. In the meantime, it works fine on my Amazon Fire tablet. So that’s plan B until they fix the iOS implementation.

Another OS X calendar quirk

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on December 16th, 2014 by Michael

angry-computeruserOkay, it just keeps getting weirder for me with Calendar.app in OS X. I created a calendar event just now and wanted to include the restaurant’s name, address, and phone number in the “Location” tab. When I enter that information into the Location box, the app pops up a suggested address that’s identical to mine, but doesn’t include the restaurant’s name or phone number, which I want there. When I click outside of the box to dismiss it, the app deletes my entry and puts in its own “suggested” data.

The only way I can get it to keep what I want there is to tab out of the field. If I subsequently click in that field (ever!), it changes it again.

Now, I love Apple products, and they usually do things well. But dammit, if I want to put additional text into the Location box for an appointment I have, Apple has absolutely no business forcing a change there. None.

Unacceptable, Apple.

Flaky iOS camera behavior

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on December 9th, 2014 by Michael

Photographer1850s

I’ve been getting an unrepeatable error with both my iPhone and iPad under iOS 8. The Camera app’s shutter sound doesn’t work on the first photograph. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s frequent enough that it’s noticeable. When I take a second photo, the sound is there.

I just tried to duplicate the problem with the Camera app started cold and again with it brought up from the background, and the sound worked great. I have no idea how to get it to repeat, but I swear I’m not going crazy!

I did a quick web search and couldn’t find any reference to this issue. Has this happened to you?

OS X Calendar app quirk discovered!

Posted in Apple, Problems, Software on March 26th, 2014 by Michael

I just added an appointment to OS X’s Calendar app. It’s supposed to run from 10:00 AM until noon. I go to the app and double-click on a date, fill in the event description and location, and then click on the date/time and get this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.09.06 PM

From the keyboard, I enter 10:00 AM as the starting time. Then I tab to the next line and try to enter 12:00 PM as the ending time. It won’t enter that time. It enters it as 10:00 PM, after which I have to go back and manually change it:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 5.11.35 PM

In fact, it won’t let me type anything in the Hours space other than 11 until after I’ve changed the AM/PM indicator first. Now, I know I could do that and I know I could click on the time and select from Apple’s pre-ordained choices (from 30 minutes to 3 hours in half-hour increments). But what if I just want to type in an ending time? Don’t you think Apple’s programmers would automatically allow meetings to go past the noon/midnight barriers?

Am I the only one to discover this issue?