The Mac Pro Performance Question

Through some fortutious mechanism I'm not entirely sure I'm allowed to disclose, one of my worldly possessions just happens to be a pristine Mac Pro case, to suit the 2007/2008 model Mac Pro

Through some fortutious mechanism I’m not entirely sure I’m allowed to disclose, one of my worldly possessions just happens to be a pristine Mac Pro case, to suit the 2007/2008 model Mac Pro

Note: this all makes a little more sense if you read this post first.

Hypothetically, if I were looking at switching to a single or dual-CPU Mac Pro as my daily driver and gaming rig two-in-one, I’d want to make sure it performs up to the standard of my current PC. At the very least, it would have to be close enough to make me feel somewhat OK about buying into a 6-year old platform.

Before we get into this: for the purposes of all discussion below, none of this is very scientific, but in an attempt to at least have a level playing field I’m using Geekbench as the benchmarking tool of choice. I would’ve like to have seen the CPU comparison from Anandtech, alas their Xeon benchmarks don’t go very far back. While they have the Xeons available in the current model of Mac Pro, we’re not really looking for a comparison between a quad-core CPU and one that has four times as many cores.

This is the Geekbench of my current PC. Comparing it using Geekbench’s Benchmark Charts tells an interesting story. The i7 6700K scores higher than any available Mac on the 32-bit single and equivalent (i.e. quad-core) multi-core benchmarks, even beating out some early-2009 Mac Pros which have double the number of cores. Predictably, the quad-core 6700K loses to the 8 and 12-core variants of the Mac Pro in the 32-bit multi-core benchmark.

So then the question becomes, what kind of Mac Pro configuration would I have to have in order to equal or beat my current Geekbench score? The bad news is, there’s no Xeon chip currently on the market that beats the 6700K in terms of raw, single-core performance. And if we’re looking at multi-core, we really have to jump up to a dual-Xeon configuration before we get to the same ballpark figures, and if we’re looking at eight or twelve cores, we’re also looking at the kind of power consumption that brings.

Good thing we’re well past the point where CPU performance matters for day-to-day tasks, right? A single-CPU Xeon X5690, a six-core, 3.47GHz unit, scores a paltry 2423 on Geekbench’s 32-bit single-core test. That’s not a whole lot higher than the i7-930 that I upgraded from, which scores somewhere in the mid 1900s. The X5690’s 32-bit multi-core test is a little more respectable, bringing home a Geekbench score of 16627, which is at least within striking distance of the four-core 6700K, but still short.

The fact of the matter is, no matter which way you try and slice it, no CPU configuration you can put into a 2009 or 2010-era Mac Pro will measure up to Intel’s latest and greatest, at least not without incurring an extra power or heat cost. I’d expect those 130W Xeons to get mighty toasty on occasion.

But what about current-generation Xeons? Hypothetically, what if I built my own Hackintosh, put the fastest Xeons I could in it, installed OS X on that thing and called it a day? Then I’d be poor, because top-of-the-line Xeons are not cheap, and the whole reason we’re doing this is so I can technically have a Mac as my daily driver and all-in-one gaming rig on the cheap.

Further reading:

  • Wikipedia’s list of Intel Xeon processors — comes in handy if you’re trying to look up, say, all the Socket LGA 1151 Xeons, or what the launch price of a particular Xeon CPU was. Intel’s Ark is OK, but doesn’t have every available Xeon or their specs on the one page for easy searching (and you’ll want to search, because the Xeon CPU family is more convoluted than some voting systems). I particularly like how towards the bottom of the page, when we get up to single-processors with more than 12 cores, the possible Turbo Boost configurations are just question marks.
  • Anthony’s write-up of everything you wanted to know about upgrading a Mac Pro but were afraid to ask
  • Some dude’s on the internet’s 25-part Mac Pro upgrading epic, which covers every possible aspect of upgrading your non-cylindrical Mac Pro. In particular, Part XIII has some specific information on the minor differences between different Mac Pro models, which may help when you’re looking for the dream machine to come along for you to upgrade
  • Geekbench’s Mac Benchmarks — only really useful when compared to either their general CPU benchmarks or your own, in order to put those numbers in some sort of perspective compared to what an off-the-shelf Mac scores

Secondhand Mac Pro Pricing Is Ridiculous Now

IMG_3038If money was no object, my dream Mac would be the Mac Pro. Back in high school, we’d have these impromptu competitions to find the most expensive computer possible. And since the Mac Pro was both insanely expensive and able to be configured to an eye-watering level of performance, ticking all the boxes meant you could get your Mac Pro configuration towards the $30,000 mark without breaking a sweat.

I’ve never actually owned a desktop Mac before. No desktop Mac has really appealed to me, and as someone who’s had a separate PC for gaming for years, having two desktop machines means I lose out on any potential portability I wish to partake in. So every time I’ve had to decide on a new Mac, the only real decision that makes sense is a MacBook Pro, upgraded as much as I can afford it to be.

So here’s the deal: I use a Mac as my primary machine, and at the moment, it’s a Late 2013, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. It does everything, from composing blog posts late at night, to writing the daily new summaries in the morning. General web surfing, media playing, and, on occasion, I’ve played the odd game of Dota 2. Although it’s a portable machine, it almost never leaves the spot on my desk where it’s hooked up to my 4K external display, Thunderbolt dock, and all the other peripherals you’d expect to be plugged into your daily driver.

Which brings us to the other side of the equation, my gaming PC. I recently put together an almost-entirely new gaming rig for the purposes of upgrading to a more modern platform, but it’s been pretty lacklustre as far as upgrades go. For what I’m using it for (i.e. gaming), there hasn’t been any real noticeable difference in performance, which is kind of disappointing, and kind of makes me feel like I upgraded in order to keep up with platform changes, instead of upgrading because my old PC was getting a little long in the tooth.

PC performance (Mac or otherwise) has long passed the point where CPU performance makes a difference, which goes to explain why buying a machine from 2010 doesn’t faze me. In terms of general, day-to-day PC performance, the number one thing that matters these days is a fast SSD. Even then, you’re going to be hard-pressed to notice the difference between any modern SATA-based model or the newfangled PCIe-based ones, despite PCIe SSDs have much higher throughput. Again, it all depends on the kind of workload you’re throwing at them, and for gaming, the only thing that matters is GPU and to a lesser extent, CPU performance.

Which is just about where my dilemma begins. The portability on my MacBook Pro is nice and all, but I almost never use it that way. And having such a highly-specced PC that I only use for gaming seems like a bit of a waste. What if I could combine the two? I’d go from two separate computers to one, and I’d have the best of both worlds — a machine that runs OS X for my day-to-day, then reboots into Windows when I want to play some video games.

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Less Plays, More Good Clean Dota

I can unequivocally say that this was not the play required. Even though I had uphill vision of the Lion, there was an Invoker there which did his usual combo and destroyed me, and my team that followed me in.

I can unequivocally say that this was not the play required. Even though I had uphill vision of the Lion, there was an Invoker there which did his usual combo and destroyed me, and my team that followed me in.

Every now and again, when I find myself with more losses than wins in my latest matches list on Dotabuff, I’ll ask myself what I’m doing wrong. Or doing differently, as the case may be. And every now and again, usually during a particularly depressing six or seven game losing streak, I’ll contemplate giving up Dota altogether.

Seeing as we both know that isn’t an option, I’ve determined that the only way to get better at Dota is not only to play games, but also to lose them, learn what I’m doing wrong, and then improve. Sounds crazy, I know. Sometimes, part of the learning process involves looking back at replays to see what happened in a game that led to a loss, or recording a snippet of Shadowplay footage to celebrate a bad engagement turned into an eventual win.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself what I’ve been doing differently that leads to losses. And this time, I came to the conclusion that I’ve watched too much pro-level Dota, to the point where it’s influenced my own play that I no longer go for the safe kills, but go for the low-percentage, only-possible-with-perfect-execution plays that don’t work out because I only have mediocre skill.

Don’t get me wrong, watching pro-Dota is a great learning experience when you’re starting out, especially if you have no idea what’s going on and what you’re supposed to be doing during the game. But as much as you can learn from the pros, you also have to recognise, that pro-level Dota is an entirely different world from the trench.

When all your games are classed as “Normal skill”, stuff that happens in pro-level Dota are the hopes and dreams of us mere mortals. Besides most people having a tiny hero pool, we farm slower, last-hit less efficiently, frequently miss combos, take bad engagements, and perhaps the most heinous of all, are incredibly inconsistent at all of the above, which means that even without the variety of heroes and item combinations, game-to-game we can play entirely differently, as evidenced by these two recent Bounty Hunter games (the Witch Doctor was the same in both games).

So instead of trying to make “the big play”, the idea is that I play it safe, taking less risks and carefully calculating about what I’m doing. Less flashy plays, more good clean dota.

Which is all harder than it sounds, because everyone likes being the flashy player, the one that dodges skillshots with a well-timed Euls, smokes at the last second to avoid a sniper ult, or uses Aphotic Shield to avoid most of the damage from some burst ability. Pulling off an X-mark into Sacred Arrow combo might look good, but if you can only do it once the entire game, what’s the point? Might as well try and get arrow without the X-mark.

Admittedly, plays are required some of the time in order to bring your team back into the game. But it’s better to take them early game, rather than throw the game later on, and if you can’t make the play, then it’s probably better to play to your strengths at that point in time – avoiding teamfights until your carries get more farmed, or baiting out skills/items in order to secure a favourable engagement later on.

“Toxic”

570_20160409141155_1When you’ve played as much Dota 2 as I have, or even if you’ve lurked the Dota 2 subreddit, you’ve probably heard of them. They’re referred to as toxic players, people who constantly flame their team mates, both due to the competitive nature of the game, the need for five individuals to work together towards the common goal of winning the game, and because everyone thinks they’re better at Dota than you are.

I’ve been there. Everyone has. When you carry has no items and it’s 30 minutes into the game, you can point this out as nicely as you want, but chances are you’re going to get an unfavourable response from someone who thought his supports should have warded better, fed less, or executed combos like your team was playing at The International.

And I get it, I do. Dota is all about winning, and there’s a chain of events that need to occur before that can happen. Your team gets ahead in farm, they take teamfights, objectives (although perhaps not in that order), and eventually, when you take the enemy’s ancient, you’ve won. But when any mis-step puts you behind and makes the game harder until the next engagement or objective, emotions run rampant and often, the response is to take it out on your teammates instead of what you should be focusing on: good, clean, Dota to get you back into the game.

I’ve been told before I have a poor attitude when playing. I’ve been told I take the game too seriously, and that I’m always angry when playing. I’ve flamed team mates — both people that I know and those that I don’t, and I’m no afraid to admit that. But it makes me ashamed of myself, to think that I could say those things when “it’s just a game”, even if that game is the only thing I play with any kind of regularity, and will probably be so for the foreseeable future.

People think memes about winning via friendship and teamwork are all a joke, when in fact they’re the key to success. I had a game recently where three of us picked three different heroes at random, then proceeded to eventually win the game due to not taking losses too hard, sticking it out as a team, and coming back to win the game on the back of some good strategy and play. Obviously, not every game is going to turn out like that. Chances are you’ll lose as many games as you win, but what’s the big deal?

So before you decide to flame your team mates, puffing yourself up about how you just went toe-to-toe with the enemy carry and came out on top, maybe recognise that it was your support that put the enemy carry out of position in the first place, your offlaner that took most of the damage, and one of their supports which stuffed up before recognising that you’re the best carry in the world. And even if you where, why would you need to prove that to your team mates? We know dude, we know.

As for myself, I’m working on it. I suggest things to my team mates instead of telling them what to do, based on what the enemy team has been doing so far. I say “it’s fine” when it feels like we’re behind, and I try not to give up so easily when I know we are — after all, everyone likes a good comeback.

Display thoughts

For this photo, I tried to mirror the image quality of the display as closely as possible.

For this photo, I tried to mirror the image quality of the display as closely as possible.

I’ve been thinking about pulling the trigger on a new display. Not because there’s anything wrong with my current one, but after the kerfuffle that was made by Dota 2 players at the Shanghai Majors over not having 120Hz monitors to compete on, I figured I wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

(There’s also the vain hope that it will somehow improve my game by a few percentage points, but that’s a story for another time.)

A little back story: since December 2014 I’ve been running with a Dell P2715Q, a 27-inch, 60Hz, 3840×2160 IPS display that was a substantial upgrade from the U2711 display I had previously. It’s pretty nice, with a few caveats: since my primary usage is with the display attached to my MacBook Pro, running it a native res means things get pretty unreadable unless I’m pumping up the size of everything. It’s fantastic when using a scaled resolution (I use a tool called EasyRes to switch between resolutions quickly), as it gives the quality of a “Retina” 2560×1440 display (3840×2160 downscaled to half that), making everything as crisp as the freshest iceberg lettuce.

But I don’t usually use it at native res, because things tend to slow down a bit, and the fans are audible all the time. I bought the best graphics card that Apple offered at the time, so maybe the Oculus CEO has a point when he says he’ll offer VR on the Mac when Apple decide to put a powerful enough GPU in their machines. (Stringent heat and power requirements mean that probably won’t happen in the MacBook Pro lineup anytime soon, as much as it pains me to say that.)

So I run my wonderful series of pixels at a non-Retina 2560×1440 when plugged into my Mac, even though text looks worse that way, and I have no more screen real-estate than I did with my previous screen.

My PC is a different story entirely. I like to think I have a pretty great graphics card in the GTX 980, which lets me run whatever resolution I like a a near-constant 60 FPS. And because I hardly play anything other than Dota, which runs on the Source 2 engine, it means I can run that game at the native res of my monitor without getting any noticeable frame-rate drops. Newer games like Dragon Age Inquisition, Fallout 4, or The Division are more of a toss up – I can either choose between maxing all the settings at a lower resolution, or turning down the fanciness for more resolution, and what’s “better” mostly depends on the game.

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The Division Open Beta

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This is going to be hard to believe, but sometimes I play other games other than Dota 21. Crazy, I know. But last weekend I played The Division, I title I’ve been looking forward to ever since it brought the hype at E3 2013, at PAX Aus 2013, and then again at PAX Aus 2014. I’m not even sure why I was looking forward to it — the snippets of information that had been given away by Ubisoft/Massive haven’t been much to go on, but the way that everyone else has been talking about the game has gotten me excited. Even after the beta has come and gone, I’m still not sure what the game is about or what the end-game is, so I guess you can say I’m well and truly riding on the hype-train.

At first I wasn’t sure about the concept of a third-person cover-based shooter on the PC. Then I realised one of my favourite games of all time was a third-person cover-based shooter: Mass Effect. And the more I thought about it, the more I saw similarities between the two games: both are cover-based shooters. Both are futuristic. Both have RPG-like elements in terms of gear and skills. While Mass Effect undoubtedly has the far stronger storyline, I’m hoping The Division’s Dark Zone, PvP multiplayer will make up for the complete lack of late-game content we’ve seen thus far and give it at least a little longevity after the main story is done and dusted.

I almost gave up on The Division. After finishing the initial intro and browsing same-ish city blocks, I wandered towards the first objective, cranked the difficulty to high, and dove in. After ten deaths in the same spot, I gave up and was ready to hang in the towel on the whole thing — and I would have, if it hadn’t been for a friend that wanted to co-op with me.

We actually ended up making it through that mission, even though we died a few times in the exact same spot, but having a friend turns out to make all the difference in the world (or at least in that particular instance of mission).

With both of the two storyline missions under our belt (for an estimated 10% story completion of the entire game) in one sitting, we did what two guys would do next and passed into the Dark Zone.

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In the Dark Zone, not only are you fighting up much tougher AI for better loot, you’re also competing with other players for the same. Loot is instanced so you can never “steal” someone else’s loot by landing the killing blow on a big boss, but what you can steal is their loot when they go to extract the loot so it becomes available for use. Dark Zone loot isn’t usable until it’s “extracted”, which is dicey process of calling in a helicopter, waiting around for it to arrive, and then not getting killed while your character is going through the motions of attaching the loot to the zipline dropped by the helicopter. It’s all very Metal Gear Solid, only with the added threat of someone lobbing a few grenades on you as you’re going for the extract, and then raining bullets on you from the high ground.

Which is to say, the Dark Zone is pretty fun. If you’re playing solo, it’s the thill of being a lone wolf — not necessarily taking out groups of the strong AI by yourself, but contributing enough lead to share in the spoils, then either taking advantage of someone else’s extraction helicopter or calling in your own and hoping like hell someone doesn’t decide you’re a good target.

Ars Technica played through the closed beta on Xbox One a few weeks earlier, and while they say The Division is a repetitive shooter that has neither the cover-based shooting mechanics of Gears of War or the looting and gear-based aspects of Fallout or Borderlands, I disagree. The Division is different enough from all those to set it apart, and what people have to realise is that it isn’t a cover-based shooter with RPG elements, it’s an RPG with cover-based shooter elements.

Playing through the open beta taught me that the pursuit of better gear came above all else, and with the amount of weapon customisation and all the other RPG-type elements that were hinted at in the game but not actually present in the open beta (including food and managing hunger levels in a desolate, virus-ridden New York landscape, the various skills granted by unique weapons, the focus on cosmetic appearance, and more), my guess is there’s going to be playing of role-playing in The Division, whether that means going Rogue in the Dark Zone or just sticking to the streets of New York, trying to do… whatever the hell the main protagonist is trying to do. Seriously, what is this game about?

Seeing as I’ve pre-ordered the game, I guess I’ll find out soon enough.


  1. Which reminds me, I should probably write something about that again. It’s been a while, and I’ve got stuff to say. 

Home

IMG_3532After moving to Brisbane in April last year, I spent a few days in Hobart this February. It’s the first time since I moved away that I’ve been back, and while you could definitely see the differences in little old Hobart compared to when I left. But while I enjoyed my time in Hobart, I’m now more confused than ever about where I consider home to be.

Last August, I was in the Seattle watching The International 2015. The games scheduled for the day hadn’t started yet, so I was doing the widely accepted thing of tracking down Dota 2 personalities in order to obtain their signature.

As you might imagine, players were insanely popular to the point where they had scheduled photo and signature times — I ended up starting in the line for Evil Geniuses player Universe, but by the time I got near to the front it was Aui_2000 doing signatures, which was fine. I collected Aui’s signature on my Dota 2 Steelseries mousepad, and that was it.

Anyway, the games for the day hadn’t started yet — or maybe we were between games — but the English casters were seated and warming up. TobiWan was a caster I was interesting in getting the signature, seeing as he’s one of the most famous Dota 2 casters (and Australian, too). When it was my time to get his signature, I asked how he was and inquired if I could get his signature on my Dota 2 event badge. He said yeah, of course, and then asked if my accent was Australian.

I was a little confused, as even though I’ve lived in Australia for my entire life, I don’t think I have much of an accent. Perhaps it’s one of those cant-smell-your-own-body-odour things, but I replied yeah. While Tobi was signing my badge, he asked me where I was from, and seeing as I had only moved to Brisbane a few months prior, I answered Brisbane. He told me he hailed from a similar part of South East Queensland, the Gold Coast, and in that moment, we shared a special bond. Or I’d like to think so, anyway.

Fast forward about nine months, and it’s once again Tobi in his AMA on Reddit, answering a question about living/working in Germany: “I really just work here, I don’t really live here.”

It’s kind of how I feel about living in Brisbane. I moved here to take up full time-employment, and while that’s great and all, it hasn’t really given me the chance to explore a different state in a different part of the country. I used to do this thing where I’d go and find the biggest shopping centre I could and walk around for a bit, but eventually you run out of Westfields. Plus, not driving kind of makes it hard to venture any further than the train lines can take you, although I’m do going down to Robina every now and then.

To make matters even worse, when I returned to work on the Monday after a weekend wedding in Tassie, one of my colleagues welcomed me home. “Home”. I’m not sure I know where that is anymore, not out of some misplaced sense of belonging, but because I mostly just work in Brisbane, and don’t really live here.

That could change.

Twenty Five

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Sometimes, when people ask me how old I am, I get a little confused. Especially when they combine it with questions like “so is that 23 turning 24, or 24 turning 25?” I don’t tend to think about how old I am all the time, so either I answer too quickly and get it wrong, or I think about it for longer than one might consider “normal”, get laughed at, and still get it wrong anyway.

It didn’t used to be this way, but over the past couple of years I’ve noticed it happening more and more. I’ve filled out enough online forms to know what my birth date is, so I should at least be able to calculate how old I am, but for some reason, deriving an answer to “how old are you” doesn’t come easily. Maybe I’m just over-thinking things, and I should add “I am 25 years old” to the list of things that I just know, like my (rough) height and weight. Maybe this is just what getting old is like.

Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on writing a birthday post this year. Or last year, for that matter. I had plenty of age and maturity-related thoughts when I was writing a birthday post from a few years ago, but when the time came to write about something last year, or something this year, none of the topics I had swirling around in my head wanted to coalesce into something of substance. No matter how long the bus or train ride was, nothing seemed pertinent enough to write about as the main topic of yet another birthday post.

Which is weird, because last year, more than any other, has been a pretty big year. Almost too big to write about, really, given that I accepted my first full-time job, which meant moving out of home and deciding what personal possessions I’d be bringing to another city in another state (computers, electronics, then everything else, in that order).

I made a trip to the US to watch The International, the biggest Dota 2 tournament in the world, as well as check out some west coast cities.

And so far, it’s been the first Christmas I’ve spent without any immediate family, the first New Year, and probably my first birthday. I can’t say for sure, obviously, but it certainly feels that way. Not that I mind about any of that. It was all going to happen eventually, and I’m glad it happened in at least somewhat positive circumstances.

If you’ve read any of my tweets from this year, you’ll know that growing up is, for the most part, pretty awful. No one’s talking about the freedom you get when you live alone, away from your immediately family, but when you work full time, people kind of know what you’re doing most of the time.

What they’re not telling you about is how awful it is having to do all of the washing up. Or needing to eat, but not wanting to do the washing up, and lacking the disposable incoming to eat out or get takeaway more than a few nights a week. Or how house inspections only happen four times per year, but even that feels too often. Or how having getting paid every fortnight feels great, at least until the bills and rent come in, at which point all your hard-earned leaves your bank account. The days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, and a lot of the time, it feels as though I’m living to work, instead of working to live.

People ask me if I’d go back to uni to study, and I usually answer that while the actual study part was pretty awful, the lifestyle was pretty great. Not having to wake up early to go to work, not having to spend the entire day at uni, and occasionally being able to have entire days to myself. Now that I work full time, the only time that I really get is from evenings and weekends.

What it comes down to is a lack of time. If I’m playing video games every evening, then I’m not cooking, or doing the washing up. If I’m on call on the weekend, then I have to squeeze in buying groceries into my “lunch break”, or go shopping after work during the week. Every time I decide to clean my tiny unit, do some ironing for the week, or whatever else needs doing that I didn’t get around to doing last week is another time I’m not playing games on the internet with friends, and as the old adage goes, all work and no play makes Benny a dull boy.

Of course, the solution here might seem pretty simple: give up video games. But games have been such a huge part of my life that giving up video games would be like giving up a part of myself, like trading in my childhood for a shot at adulthood.

And that’s kind of what this is all about. My friends have been moving out, getting married, and settling down for years now. Some times I wish I experienced those things earlier, but I’m happy enough with how things have turned out so far.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the work that I’m doing. But there are times I wish it took up less of my time than it currently does. Some of the time, I wonder what it’d be like to be mostly-unemployed and have heaps of time, or what it would be like to have no time and be earning an amount to make it not matter. Perhaps there’s not much difference between the two, after all, but I guess that’s why they call it life.

Here’s to another year, whatever craziness it may bring.

NAS thoughts

IMG_3508When I moved to Brisbane, I decided against bringing my NAS with me. I can’t remember my reasoning at the time, but it was probably something along the lines of “my external storage requirements won’t be as extravagant if I’m living alone, without an NBN connection”. Besides, I had my directly-connected external USB hard drive if I needed to store anything, the same external hard drive that I’m using for Time Machine. With that mindset, I loaded up a couple of my favourite TV shows and things I thought I’d be able to watch, and figured I could either re-acquire the rest or collect it the next time I was in Hobart.

It’s been long enough that I’m starting to miss my media collection. I’ve re-acquired a bunch of stuff in the meantime, but it’s just not the same, you know? My ad-hoc acquisitions aren’t of the same calibre as my carefully-curated collection back home, and what’s more, I’m starting to worry about the ever-shrinking space on my external hard drive. Plus, there’s the stuff that just isn’t available anymore, or is enough of a pain to re-acquire that I haven’t bothered.

Which is why I’m thinking about another NAS. A NAS solves all my problems: it lets me access all my media from a device other than my Mac, it helps alleviate the storage situation on my external hard drive, and if I bring a NAS back home and make another copy of all my media, then I’ll be able to access all my old media, like nothing ever changed.

But it’s 2016 now, and NAS devices are a touch more complicated than buying a $200 HP MicroServer, stuffing as many drives as I can in it, and calling it a day. I can still buy a MicroServer, of course, but they’re a touch more expensive now, so what else is out there?

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New PC: Firebolt

DSCF0895I was actually in San Francisco when Intel was hosting their annual developer forum last year. At that stage, I hadn’t really thought about putting together an almost entirely new PC, but you could say it planted the seed. After all, my current PC was over five years old, and despite a steady string of graphics cards upgrades, it was probably about time for something new and shiny, seeing as my computer didn’t even have USB 3 yet.

When I got back to Australia, I spent a few good months thinking about whether I wanted to get a new PC or not. There was nothing particularly wrong about my current rig, besides being a little long in the tooth. Depending on the games I was playing, the CPU could be a little bit of a bottleneck, but the GTX 980 meant things still hummed along just fine on screen.

By the time December came around, I had all but made up my mind. I was going to build a new Skylake-based PC, recycling only the graphics card, hard drives, and a fan controller from my current computer. Now all I had to do was decide on some parts, but here’s how it all breaks down.

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Long time, no blog…

I’m not really sure why I stopped writing here.

Actually, I take that back: I know perfectly why I stopped writing. It was, as it always is, a (perceived or actual) lack of time, which can either be blamed on me not thinking I have enough time to write for myself, or not taking the time to do a little dance on the keyboard, tapping out a few words here and there to publish up on ye olde blog.

And it’s not like I stopped writing completely in 2015, either. For a little while, I was into daily journaling with Day One, a little iOS and Mac app that made it easy to create little snapshots of my day. At first, it was pretty great; I’d get to take a photo and record a little snippet of what happened during the day. But eventually, the lustre of doing something new and different wore off, around the time I figured my day-to-day wasn’t as interesting as it once was, back when I was unemployed. So I stopped doing that too, even though I still get daily reminders at 5pm to write in my journal.

As an amateur photographer, I’ve heard the axiom of living in the moment rather than looking at the world through a lens, but I’ve never really subscribed to that theory. How else are you supposed to look back on the good times without some reminder like a photo or a video of that time you flew halfway around the world only to find yourself in a Westfield shopping centre? Sure, some memories will just stick with you, but it’s still nice to see that you have some kind of proof of that time you rode across the Golden Gate bridge on a bike.

But as fun as living in the moment is, I’ve missed writing. As great as it is not having to set aside the time to write about my experiences and what’s been happening recently, Twitter’s micro-blogging just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to getting the point across. I mean, I don’t mind brevity at all, but sometimes you need a little further explanation to get your point across, regardless of how well you think you’ve condensed your thoughts into 140 characters.

My day-to-day might not be interesting enough for daily journaling, but maybe I can manage writing something weekly. If that’s not a New Year’s resolution, I’m not sure what is.

So much happened in 2015 I’m not really sure where to start. But I’ve got a couple ideas — watch this space!

Stories from the road: a tale of two American anecdotes

Paying for stuff

Paying for stuff in the U.S. is weird, compared to Australia. It’s mostly thanks to their weird credit card payment systems, which just recently saw the introduction of chip and PIN to their payment terminals, with contactless payments also being a new thing. Most of the time, you’re signing for stuff like in the bad old days.

Sometimes paying for stuff is the same, if a little outdated. At most retail locations, the cashier scans your items, you swipe your card, and then sign on a little piece of paper saying you authorise the transaction. Australia only recently went chip and PIN only for credit card transactions, which is a whole lot more secure than swiping a magnetic card and getting someone’s signature — there’s less chance your credit card gets skimmed, for one, and where your physical card gets stolen, only someone with the PIN can make a payment. I don’t think I saw anyone check my signature the entire time I was in the U.S.

The really funky stuff happens at restaurants, although I confess my experience may be skewed thanks to not visiting them all that frequently in Australia. When you call over the waiter for the bill/check/whatever parlance you desire to use today, they come back with a book which says the total amount for the food you ordered. You put your card into the book, which is then taken away to be pre-authorised. When they come back with your card, the book now has an additional receipt which has the actual, final amount you’ll be paying for your meal. Which is fine, except you then have to decide on a tip percentage (which differs from state to state), calculate the tip amount, and then write the total amount you’re going to be paying. Because this all happens after they pre-authorise your card, even though they have no idea how much they’re actually going to charge you, it all seems like a leap of faith to trust they’ll be charging you the amount you wrote down, instead of lots more. How often do people check credit card transactions, anyway?

I haven’t even touched on how physical items often don’t have the sales tax (which, again, differs from state to state) added on, which makes things more expensive than they originally seem, not to mention making things hard to pay for with exact change up-front, unless you know how much the sales tax is, and you can be bothered calculating the final amount beforehand (it’s generally not even some nice round percentage like the 10% GST we have in Australia, but something awful like 9.5%, like it is in Washington).

I witnessed one kid get upset because he had the exact amount, in cash, of the item he wanted, but thanks to sales tax, the total was more than he had. Luckily his parents were around to make up the difference, but it almost seems deceptive for stores to list the price before sales tax — I can’t think of a scenario where they wouldn’t be charging sales tax on sales in their store, so why not include it on the sticker? Like I said, paying for stuff in the U.S. is weird.

What makes things even stranger is that Americans have come up with ingenious ways to solve their wild and wacky payment issues. Square is perhaps the best solution for smaller mom and pa stores to take credit card payments that the world has ever seen, and with Apple Pay rolling out across banks and retailers across the country, things are looking up. But still, I can’t help but feel as though Kickstarters like the (multiple card support) are solutions to problems the rest of the world just doesn’t have. Chip and PIN is the way to go, and beyond that, contactless mobile payments via Apple Pay and its competitors.

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