Summer summarized in one photo

As the days get shorter and the website & blogging bug started biting, it is easier to slip behind the computer in the evening and high time to share some of this summer’s news, which was intentionally kept a secret ’till family visited (so it would be a surprise).

Rather than getting into a lenghty post (and carrying on about the absolutely  horrible summer weather), I thought this snapshot might reveal some  changes in our life:

Car and house

Car and house

Yes, that is a different car in front of a different garage, which is of course attached to a different house.

So, yes :) we bought a new car and moved into a bigger  house.

We’re pretty excited. A super comfortable and safe all wheel drive vehicle for when winter hits. The house was not as easy nor quick a decision, but we after some negotiating, we bit the bullet.  We’re still getting settled, but you can look forward to a house tour soon.

Where is the icerabbit

Good question!

Once again history repeated itself with a blogging hiatus. Mea culpa. It starts out with extra work, some garden duties, another project or two … doing stuff for other people and ends up being “where did the summer go?”.

I’m actually typing this in tropical 90+ degrees Fahrenheit Florida. Just landed yesterday and I think this is the first day in over two months I am actually sitting down and doing absolutely nothing (right now).

Thanks to the wonders of mobile broadband en netbooks I can post from a bench in the shade under some live oaks & palm trees, watching all kinds of wildlife (buzzards, herons, woodpeckers, …) with the adopted wild cat Perdu by my side.  It’s good to see her healthy after she had been lost, abandoned and neglected.

Things are good. Busier than ever and more complicated than ever as well because of the extra responsibilities.  Two remodeling projects have been on hold, due to some changes in our life (more on that in a next post) and other things creeping up as priorities.

We had a horrible summer weather wise. Plants died because of too much rain and lack of sun. We didn’t even pull the boat out of storage ’till a few weeks ago and somehow managed not to go out on the water or even have a barbecue! That’s how crappy the weather was and how busy we’ve been.

I’m still not sure how we’re going to fit everything we need to do into the next three months, before winter kicks into high gear up north, but time will tell and there’s always next year :)

Who turned the oven on?

I thought it felt a little warm out yesterday. Especially since this is the end of April and we’re in Maine, so I put two thermometers in the shade on the patio table.

93F in the shade

It was >90F (>32C) in the shade!

Quite a departure and historic heat record in Maine, considering the previous record was 73F, according to wunderground

April heat record in Maine

Blog root change and a blank permalink page

I removed the splash page overnight. An idea left over from yesteryear, long overdue on the to do list.

To have the blog page display by default when you visit icerabbit.com, I had to make some changes in WordPress and of course this didn’t go without a (minor) glitch.

Installing things in folders within any given website comes natural to me, so, the nice thing was that I had wordpress nicely installed in its subfolder and it was going to require minimal work. 

You can’t beat official instructions, so I followed the WordPress Codex instructions to “Giving WordPress its own Directory” which outlines this process. Even though my files are already in a subfolder, you can follow it to display the blog on the domain root. All goes well up to step 11. 

11. If you have set up Permalinks, go to the Permalinks panel and update your Permalink structure. WordPress will automatically update your .htaccess file if it has the appropriate file permissions. If WordPress can’t write to your .htaccess file, it will display the new rewrite rules to you, which you should manually copy into your .htaccess file (in the same directory as the main index.php file.)

Nothing. A blank page. Nothing to see or update. Tried removing one or both .htaccess files in the root and wordpress folder. No change. Figuring I can’t be the only one who stumbled on this, I searched the WordPress forum a little. Didn’t find a solution, posted a message in the support forum and since it was very late, I called it a night. The blog was working fortunately and so was the admin area, apart from permalinks.

I woke up early and figured the issue had to be with the .htaccess file. Before I looked at permissions, I compared the original site root .htaccess file to the new one that was moved in Step 7.

7. Copy the index.php and .htaccess files from the WordPress directory into the root directory of your site (Blog address).

Sure enough. The original one included a line to use php 5: 

AddHandler php5-script .php

After restoring this line the Permalinks page returned. 

So, if you have a host, like MediaTemple, which allows you to select PHP4 or PHP5 and you decide to move your WordPress blog index page to the root of the domain; try it with only moving the index.php file. 

The support request and my answer are posted here in the WordPress forum.

Benchmarking the Mac mini 2.26 (Part 2)

[ Part 1 is posted here ]

Here at icerabbit HQ we have been a little too busy recently to focus on testing the new Mac mini 2009 2.26GHz with other hard drives, after we upgraded the memory. Last night I finally gave the mini a nice place on my desk under the 20″ Cinema Display to which it is hooked up.

My original plan has been to use the Mac mini with a faster 3.5″ external hard drive, rather than upgrading the internal drive, which is rather tricky. If you like detailed instructions to perform such an upgrade, look no further than this iFixit guide.

Noting that I haven’t switched to the mini as my primary machine yet; so far, I have been very satisfied with the speed of its 2.5″ Fujitsu …. hard drive. The combination of this drive + the mini is more responsive than many macs with 5400 rpm drives I have seen over the years. So, I haven’t special ordered an anno 2009 zippier 3.5″ 7200rpm drive yet for the ministack. Right now it looks like I will use the ministack for secondary mass storage with a regular drive.

I still want to do some tests using the newertech miniStack v3 with some older drives as well as a couple retail external drives from Maxtor (3.5″USB2 & FW400) and Seagate (2.5″USB2). While I agree that the internal SATA bus is the fastest connection, it doesn’t mean the internal hard drive is the fastest by default. Regardless of connection method, the internal hard drive is still the slowest component in the computer (apart from the optical drive) and so an external hard drive could be faster.

Even if I don’t find something faster than the internal drive in the house it will be a fun exercise to see how long it takes to back up the mac mini using USB2, FireWire400 and FireWire800. What external bench scores will be? Which will be the faster drive? Which applicaion will be faster? SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner? And what about temperatures? Does all this hard drive activity kick the fans in overdrive, or not? Click through for the findings.

Continue reading >>

Now with HD banners

I trolled through our photo library a little bit yesterday, looking for a couple images and somehow (A.D.D. ?) ended up setting a taller banner size for the site and decided to use less compression on the images. 

I did not take the decision easily, since it does add some KB to the site, which directly effects users on slower connections. And, because of that I may not be totally set on the taller size, but with the higher percentage of broadband users, I think the time is right to boost the banner a little. It gives me a little extra room  to crop certain images and I think the result looks better for a photo banner. 

Plus, I will now be making a surprise appearance in the banner from time to time.

No, I’m not the frog waiting to be kissed! You’ll see :)

Early spring

Our first flower has been blooming for a week now, with a dozen more just days away from unfolding. 

First krokus

Spring came a good two weeks or so early this year. We haven’t had snow since the beginning of March, which is exceptional, and the snow cover is practically entirely gone. Apart from some little shaded corners, you would not know we had quite a hard winter with high snowfall and record breaking cold temperatures.

The other weekend we were finally able to put our outdoor christmas lights away. No, it is not that we’re lazy! That’s what happens in a northern climate when the stuff gets covered by many feet of snow and wiring gets encased in a thick ice layer on the ground as the snow melts.  

While it is still to early to do anything in the gardens, we were able to start the first remodeling project of 2009: creating access to a 100 year old unused attic and converting it into storage space. It feels good to hammer  something together.

Benchmarking the Mac Mini 2009 2.26 GHz (Part 1)

[Update: Part 2 with some external drives is posted here ]

Quite a number of people wonder if it is worth upgrading the Mac mini 2009 from its default Core 2 Duo running at 2 GHz to 2.26 GHz (13% CPU increase), so below are my first benchmark results.

I hadn’t see any 2.26 GHz benchmarks yet, when I decided to order my mini with this upgrade. I figured it was worth it since I was going to save money on doing the other hardware upgrades myself. Upgrading the CPU, memory & hard drive kicks a mini over $1000. 

Note that I consider 2GB pretty much a mandatory upgrade, so it enables both memory channels and unlocks the shared graphic memory from 128MB to 256MB. The jury is still out, I think, about a 7200 rpm drive.  Generally the hard drive is the slowest component in a computer (ignoring the optical drive) and a 7200 rpm drive should be faster than a 5400 rpm drive. But, other technical details come into play like amount of cache, # of platters, platter density, … and so you can see a great 5400 rpm drive hold its own against an average 7200 rpm model. Research is key.  The PowerBook greatly benefits from the 100GB 7200 rpm drive over the default one, but maybe Apple made a good hard drive choice here. 

Note: Geekbench 32 bit demo mode. 

Mac mini 2009 2.26 GHz – 1 GB RAM – OS X 10.5.6 – 1st Boot * 

Geekbench 32: 3007 — Integer: 2428 — Floating point: 4343 — Memory: 2410 — Stream: 1558

Xbench: 124.57 — CPU: 142.52 — Thread Test: 307.03 — Memory Test: 154.54 — Quartz Graphics Test: 170.22 — OpenGL Graphics Test: 110.46 — User Interface: 248.38 — Disk test: 48.79 

* I noticed after completion that Apple had a software update process running in the background that was pulling several hundred KB/s of updates, so that may have compromised the result.

Mac mini 2009 2.26 GHz – 1 GB RAM – OS X 10.5.6 – Restarted

Geekbench 32: 3032 — Integer: 2448 — Floating point: 4413 — Memory: 2413 — Stream: 1486

Xbench: 178.53  — CPU: 136.81 — Thread Test: 321.07 — Memory Test: 156.73 — Quartz Graphics Test: 179.30 — OpenGL Graphics Test: 137.04 — User Interface: 244.39 — Disk test: 48.52 

Upgrading the mini is not for the faint of heart, but I did it. More on that in my upgrade story. 

Mac mini 2009 2.26 GHz – 4 GB RAM – OS X 10.5.6 – Restarted

Geekbench 32: 3081 — Integer: 2492 — Floating point: 4378 — Memory: 2476 — Stream: 1821

Xbench: 130.57  — CPU: 137.74 — Thread Test: 252.28 — Memory Test: 174.42 — Quartz Graphics Test: 185.21 — OpenGL Graphics Test: 136.94 — User Interface: 285.55 — Disk test: 48.90

I had no idea why the second Xbench score was significantly higher the second time around with 1GB, only to see it drop back to a still improved level with 4GB. A fourth & fifth result were 131. Actually, the only difference that I am aware of was that the initial monitor topped out at 1024 x 768 pixels, versus the mini’s monitor now being 1920 x 1080. Back to the original 15″ monitor: Xbench 132. 

Also noteworthy:

Default installation takes up close to 17GB with the OS & iLife ’09. 

Boot time: 4 seconds to the “bong” and 35 seconds to desktop fully loaded with custom menu bar (iStat Menu), Wifi on DHCP, BlueTooth on. 

Shut down time: I have seen it shut down as fast as 5 seconds. Another time 32 seconds, where the display goes blank in 3-4 seconds, but it takes another half a minute for the mini’s power light to extinguish. 

All in all I am very pleased with the mini’s performance.

Hello Mac mini

I have been waiting for the mythical midrange mac for so long – namely since the G4 Cube was shelved and Apple went with Intel – that I finally bit the bullet and purchased a Mac mini 2009.

Mac mini 2009 box.

Of course this probably means we will see Apple release such a mid-range machine in the next few months. Which would be the third, or is it the fourth?, time an Apple product we buy is significantly upgraded or replaced by a new model a few weeks later. C’est la vie. I know, you just can’t time Apple for some things.  

So, why the Mac mini? Well, it is very simple. There are three things I like in computers: horsepower, silence & a sense of value; and one thing I absolutely hate: glossy screens.

The latter immediately rules out the glossy iMirror, I mean iMac. If it were matte, I could be convinced about the all-in-one factor. Glossy MacBook & MacBook Pro = no thank you. We have two glossy portables (one of which a MacBook and the screen is really sub-par) and I see no need to buy another. The Mac Pro certainly has the horsepower, but $3000 for another behemoth like the G5? I would have to be mad.

If Apple had a new Cube or a one third or quarter size Mac Pro, with Core i7 CPUs (instead of those $$$ Xeons), somewhere in the $1000 – $1250 range, I would order one instantly. Unfortunately the new Cube is still a pipe dream, so, there is only one machine  left: the mini. With the 2009 revision it includes dual monitor support and after some evaluation, I figured the time was right to simultaneously downsize (in size) and upgrade (in cpu). I decided on the base Mac mini with 2.26 GHz CPU and will do the upgrades myself. 

Mac mini 2009 unboxed

During the un-boxing I found it funny how I kept thinking there should be something more in the box, like a mouse or a keyboard. Pretty much any new computer I have purchased or set-up for someone else ( apart from self-build ) came with a new keyboard & mouse; so it felt like the mini was lacking those. No luck fitting them into the mini’s box, I guess ;) 

Only a mini DVI to DVI adapter is included, so if you have a VGA monitor, or something else, you will need an additional adapter as well as the keyboard, mouse and monitor. 

I was somewhat surprised by the huge power brick. It is hefty, but fortunately smaller than that of a Cube. 

Here is the port configuration in the back: including FireWire 800 and mini DisplayPort. While I didn’t like Apple’s decision to use mini DisplayPort on their MacBook & MacBook Pro, I am happy it is added on the mini besides the DVI port, so it is dual monitor capable. 

Mac mini 2009 port configuration

I know some people are interested in the Mac mini 2.26 GHz benchmarks and I will post those next. Default as well as upgraded with more RAM and later with a 7200 rpm drive.