2018-08-16

Apple's long history of failures with the Entry Level MacBook

In 2006, Apple released the 13 inch white plastic MacBook.  It wasn't nearly as great looking as the MacBook Pro, but it had a decent CPU and had a lot of built-in capabilities not seen in many other entry level laptops.  It was nearly as powerful as the MacBook Pro, and was really only missing the rarely used FireWire port.

And then what happened???
2006: Plastic MacBook (A1181) is released.  Apple sells a ton of them.
2008: Surprise! A new Aluminum MacBook (A1278) appears.  Is plastic dead???
2008: Surprise!  Plastic MacBook continues (A1181), likely due to the price tag of the A1278.
2009: Surprise! That fancy Aluminum MacBook is renamed the "MacBook Pro" (A1278).
2009: Surprise! A new Plastic MacBook is released (A1342).  It is capable and affordable.
2009: The MacBook Air is released.  It is expensive and under-powered, but great looking.
2010: The MacBook Air gets more powerful and more affordable every year, and then...
2012: The plastic MacBook (A1342) is finally dropped.
2015: Surprise! A sleek MacBook is here, at 12 inches! But it is very expensive and under-powered.
2015: Surprise! The aged 13" MacBook Pro (2012 A1278) is pushed into the low-end.
2015: Surprise!  Apple kills off the affordable 11" MacBook Air.  Want light?  Get a MacBook.
2017: The aged 13" MacBook Pro (2012 A1278) is dropped.
2017: Surprise! A new low-end MacBook Pro (sans touchbar) is released.  Is this really for a Pro???
2018: Will Apple get its entry level Mac Notebook back in order?  It's been messed up for 10 years!


Why get a Roomba and not some other Robot Vacuum Cleaner?

Roomba definitely has the biggest name in robots, but there are a lot of great looking competitors out there.  So why get a Roomba?

Because robot vacuum cleaners have a lot of moving parts.  And moving parts need to be maintained.

The beauty of Roomba and iRobot is that spare parts are readily and inexpensively available.  Sure, there are consumables available for every robot out there.  But new wheels and motors?  How about upgraded parts?  iRobot is unique in that there is the expectation that you can affordably keep an old Roomba going forever.  Everyone else?  Not so much.

My Roomba gets a lot of use, and it's 7 years old.  I've upgraded the entire cleaning head assembly - which includes the primary gearbox and brush motors and dust bin.  I've also repaired a failed power jack.  Other machines would likely already be disposed of.

But my Roomba keeps on going.  I suspect that it will last as long as I need it to.  And that's either with my death, or with the advent of fancy new cleaning technology.

2018-08-12

MacOS Time Machine, the best backup software in the business.

Time Machine is Apple's backup solution.  It's the best backup in the business, but it needs to be updated.

Time Machine is amazing because it is by far more effective than any other backup solution.  You attach a backup drive to your computer, and your Mac asks you if you want to back up.  Say yes, and the backup happens.

Time Machine does full disk backup.  It backs up periodically and automatically. You can step back in time to recover old versions of stuff.  It smartly ignores files that don't need to be backed up (like /tmp and /proc and whatever).  It automatically manages backup disks.  TimeMachine has configuration options, but they're simple and straightforward - perfect for anyone except perhaps the data center backup pro who has spent countless hours developing an optimal backup strategy.

The backup industry has not responded to Time Machine.  It focuses on "every feature under the sun", with countless options and capabilities.  But those products are so time consuming to administrate and maintain that only a tiny number of home users use them.

But Time Machine does not do off-site backup.  And so if your house suffers through a fire, flood, or theft, you still might lose everything.  Bummer.

I hope Apple amps up Time Machine so that Mac users can keep their backups on S3-class storage services. Throw in a few simple configuration options for S3, and Time Machine could help address the weak online backup world including companies like Mozy, CrashPlan, and Carbonite.

Running S3 storage services on my Mac

My primary backup service, CrashPlan, decided to drop home backup services to focus on other things.  So now I'm left with an old home IT problem: how to deal with backup.

I take care of a full fleet of family Macs that are scattered around.  Crashplan helped me make sure those Macs were backed up.  I liked CrashPlan because it was easy, automatic, and reliable.  Now I have to start all over again.

The biggest problem with backup is where to stick the copied data.  I'm a big fan of remote storage, in case of a fire, flood, or other disaster that impacts more than just the local hard drive.  So I'm going with S3-compatible storage services, which is an efficient way to move and store a lot of data remotely.

There are many S3 storage providers out there at a whole bunch of different price points.  At first I was planning to use a commercial provider, but I've decided to give it a shot using my own SE solution to save some money.  My own solution has a cost too, in hardware and electricity and effort spent.

My solution is to use minio, an S3-compatible server for Linux.  My Linux server has an attached 4 TB disk.  This server is located in a building about 100 miles away from any machine I want to back up.

In full disclosure, this "server" is a 2007 MacBook laptop with a broken display, located in a friend's basement.

I estimate that my own solution costs roughly $77 per year for up to 4 TB of storage:
- Annualized equipment costs (mostly for drives, 4 year life): $33
- Power costs (22w): $40
- Network costs: $0 additional

More on this solution in a subsequent post.

What to do with those stupid Visa gift cards

Visa gift cards can be a real risk because they can lose value.  First, they can be lost, and in that case the card has zero value to you.  ...