What is a computer?

Here is a quote from Matt Gemmell in an article called Low Expectations about the PC industry:

The keyboard, touchpad and screen are the computer …

Really he is harping on a review of one of the new laptops coming out from Samsung. In it, he hits on something that is often overlooked when reviewing a computer: how you interact with the thing.

Actually, it is probably something we overlook in many aspects of our lives. We are constantly interacting with objects, but is the interaction designed for humans or is it designed for other goals: profitability (poor quality, cheap materials, etc.) or machines (overly complicated) for example?

Bringing it back around, when you are looking at purchasing a computer, are we finally at a point where we can make our decision on what to buy on how the computer looks and feels? How it is designed and how well it is built instead of how much horsepower they were able to sneak into a 2 inch case?

I hope so.


How Drive Prices Change Perception

It is no secret that hard drive (the spinning disk variety) prices are crazy at the moment and that the floods in Thailand are the majority of the cause. It was just a little over two months ago that I was looking at terabyte drives to maybe fill out a simple NAS at my house. At that time, drives were sitting around $80 for a terabyte drive.

However, today, this is what I have to pay for a terabyte drive.

Current HDD pricesYeah, prices have doubled and now we have news of manufacturers running out of high-capacity (2TB+) drives and pushing custom machine build dates in the future (from Ars Technica).

That change in price makes a custom-built NAS a little bit less desirable at the moment.

So two things change in my perception at the moment because of the price increase:

  1. SSDs look far more desirable, not because they’ve come down in price, but because hard drive prices are going up. A 128GB Samsung SSD sits around $200 and you get the massive speed increase.
  2. That Time Capsule I was talking about before looks a lot better when 2TB of traditional storage can cost me $320 for just the drives. A refurbished one costs $250 from Apple and comes with the same warranty. That’s cheaper than plain drives at the moment.

Now, you can get a 2TB drive for less, but you still need to get the rest of the hardware to support your NAS. I know that. You also still are locked into a single size for your Time Capsule. Understood. However, it does look far more desirable with prices where they are right now.

With Christmas coming, maybe I’ll look into getting one just to have another layer of backups available at home. Right now I’m using SuperDuper! to make clones of my wife’s MacBook just in case something happens, but having Time Machine always sitting vigilant would make me feel much better.

Just an interesting side effect of the rising hard drive prices.


If Apple is BMW … where is Mercedes Benz?

This isn’t about Apple, as much, but more about the entire technology industry as a whole. Here areisthe tweet from @gilesgoatboy on Twitter that got my mind churning:

I get and love that Apple is the BMW of computer manufacturers, phones, etc., but I wish there were a Lamborghini thereof as well

Setting aside if you agree that Apple is the BMW of technology, I think the latter part is interesting. What other company is really competing with Apple, or on a different level than Apple in the same categories? We have plenty of “Chevys” and “Nissans”, but where are the unique, high-end brands of computer manufacturers?

I’d go a step further and ask why no one has attempted to try Apple’s model of owning the whole widget. Instead of licensing the OS, they own the OS and the hardware and marry the two together. Yes, software would be an issue (and I’m not trying to downplay that), but if they would base their OS on a flavor of Linux, if could maybe be overcome.

It just seems like everyone besides Apple is attempting to get the table scraps (as far as money) left over and no one is trying to do an end-around Apple and provide some good, high-quality experiences that aren’t a cobbled-together middle-to-low-end piece of hardware.

I can hope.

Expanding the Network: Change of Course

Alright, I’m changing my mind.

After spending the last week trying to beat an old firewall into submission, I’ve decided to go the route of getting a Time Capsule to extend the network. I “wasted” too much time trying to get things working right now and really just need something that “just works”.

So, I’m scrapping the “fun” plan from before and “selling out” to Apple again.

Expanding the Network: Tenuous Decision

So I have come to a tenuous decision on how the network expansion is going to go. Here are the three stages:

One: Modem Moving

I’m going to move the Motorola SB6120 (Amazon link) cable modem closer to where Comcast’s cable enters the house. For now, that will also require me to move my Airport Extreme closer as well. I will run a long ethernet cable to my officer where I will use my cheap-n-tiny TopLink gigabit switch to dole out the goods to my printer, Windows desktop, MacBook Pro, and bench.

Inelegant, but needed to try and eliminate the terrible degradation of signal over the coaxial cable that is currently running to my office.

Two: FreeNAS Storage Box

The second stage will be to add a FreeNAS box into the mix, fill it with disks, and then run it as a general file server plus as the host for over-the-air Time Machine backups. I’m looking forward to getting this running.

At first it will be in a rather generic desktop box, running under my bench or near my desk, but ultimately it will be mounted in a rack.

Three: pfSense Firewall

Now we’re getting to the theoretical part of this entire exercise, which is the addition of an actual firewall to the mix. I would probably put this into a rack mount case, powered by a little Intel Atom board and make it as quiet and unassuming as possible as to not try and overcomplicate things. This would also allow me to move my DHCP assignment from my Airport Extreme to another box (the pfSense box) and free my wireless networking from having to also handle the assignment of leases.

The other option is to try and hack together a firewall from an old Watchguard x1250e firewall. Possible.

Four: Rack It Up!

Finally I would get a server rack in, along with a gigabit switch to tie everything together a little more neatly.


Everything is tenuous because I could change my mind. A simplified version of this is to move my current Airport Extreme and cable modem but then pick up a Time Capsule and just tie the Airport Extreme and Time Capsule together to provide what I need for now.

Not as tacky, but simpler.