Pre-“Hello Again” Mac Event Thoughts

Having been a long time Mac user and developer it’s been very disappointing to see Apple ignore the hardware release cycle of the Mac platform over the last few years. I’m really anxious to see what’s going to come of the “Hello Again” event this week and I might even buy a new Mac depending.

Current Mac-state of Mind

So my main personal machine is a 2011 maxed-out iMac. I bought it after waiting and waiting for a proper Mac Pro update in 2011 that was never to come. Overall I’ve been pretty happy with the iMac. I have had to do a USB storage dance with some backups and media drives but overall it’s been a workhorse, with tons of days of Xcode and Warcraft under its belt.

Other Macs in my arsenal include:

  • A 2011 Mac mini which at times has served as a CI box but as of now is dormant (might be resurrected depending how CI plans turn out for my side project).
  • A 2012 Macbook Air which I use situationally. Recently for beta testing 10.12 over the summer and the occasional Philly CocoaHeads video capture.
  • My work provides me a high end Mid 2014 15-inch Macbook Pro. I’m trying to do a better job of keeping that machine in kind of a white room state just for work stuff with mixed success.

I also have a 27-inch Thunderbolt display and a 27-inch Dell display which I use to extend my Macs in various ways at different times.

To Upgrade or Not?

Technically speaking my 2011 iMac is working fine. It does have some issues: occasionally the wifi likes to disconnect, there are some color issues spreading out from the lower left corner of the display, the DVD drive broke (I bought an external one to supplement the occasional need) and the 256 GB SSD is not large enough to hold all my stuff anymore so I have an awkward HD layout with USB storage. The iMac also runs very hot. I suspect part of this is dust build up but have not investigated too much. While annoying, none of these issues are blockers.

The first big upgrade question is laptop or desktop? I’ve always leaned on the desktop experience for pure power but there are many things that push me towards a laptop as my main personal machine right now:

  • I could setup a very “swap” friendly environment that would allow me to have a home work station letting me plug in my personal or work laptop as needed.
  • Since I have a Gaming PC now I don’t need the graphic power of the Mac as much making laptop more feasible.
  • I am traveling more — more conferences, more work trips, single days at IndyHall (instead of a full time desk and me leaving the iMac there). A personal laptop for these days would help me with that home/work separation on the company laptop.

Other welcome improvements:

  • Retina Display. My iMac does not have a retina display and my hope would be that a new laptop from Apple would support this natively as well as support a future retina external monitor connection.
  • More SSD storage. Would be nice to consolidate my external drives into one big SSD.
  • If I go laptop, no need to upgrade two machines every year with a new OS, keeps all the software/licenses in sync.
  • Complier speed improvements. From a numbers perspective my iMac has a good CPU but I would hope improvements to the bus speeds and other architecture improvements would see some improved Xcode complier times.

I feel like in the process of writing this I’ve talked myself into a upgrade but we’ll see what comes out of Apple on Thursday. Enjoy the show.

My New PC Gaming Computer

Final Parts List: http://pcpartpicker.com/list/4Wjcf8

I’m a fairly serious/casual gamer (as in serious love of many games, casual in that I can only play so many hours a week because of other life responsibilities). I play a lot of 3DS (Pokemon, Zelda) and I also own a Wii U, a PS4 and lots of other older/retro consoles.

I’ve been considering a gaming PC for a while. My main drive has been to support a mix of playing World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy 14. I’ve been playing both on my 2011-era iMac (Bootcamp-ing into Windows for FF14) but the graphics performance of the old machine was starting to become a real limiting factor. Additionally was the interest in playing some PC-only (or PC preferred) games, like Overwatch and Stardew Valley.

A few months ago I started assembling a parts list and talking to some other friends. Part of me just wanted to buy a pre-built system but for better or worse my geeky friends assured me the assembly wouldn’t be that bad and it would let me save some money or buy some better components.

My initial target was to spend about $1500 and go for a upper mid-tier machine. I wasn’t interested in VR right now and just wanted something to play games. After getting acquainted with the video cards and performance I choose the GTX 970. I had a full parts list waiting to go but I didn’t pull the trigger. This was around April and I was still traveling a bit. I was also working towards paying off my student loans and decided I’d do that first.

GTX 1080

When I came back to my parts list at the end of May there was the announcement of the new GTX 1080 and 1070. These new cards were destroying the performance charts and I started to get a little greedy. I kept up with the release, and noticing the 1080 was selling out joined an alert website to let me know where and when it became available. I eventually grabbed a Founder’s Edition directly from Nvidia. I will concede the upcoming non-Founder’s Edition cards are probably better cooled and cheaper but I was anxious to play and didn’t want to wait until end of June / July to get my hands on this thing. I splurged.

I came back and cleaned up my final parts list. I ordered the rest of the machine from NewEgg with a few pieces from Amazon. (Even if a bit more I’d prefer to buy from NewEgg and Amazon who are very easy to work with regarding returns and such.)

One item I was not planning to buy but did, was a new monitor. I was really hoping to get dual use out of my Apple Thunderbolt monitor (which I use with my iMac to extend my display) but as I did research it would seem hooking that up to a display port was not going to work out. I ended up buying a Dell Gaming S2716DG 27-inch monitor to make it work, and it does. I just am not enjoying using it with my iMac as much as my other Apple monitor since the colors aren’t matching like they used to.

Assembly

Workbench

After ordering the parts a week before, I sat at home Friday night and got started with the assembly. I took my time. I read the motherboard and other manuals as I slowly connected it all together.

Motherboard

Motherboard Mounted

Some things gave me trouble. It took a few attempts to get the motherboard mounted in the case. In general there was always a scary feeling of putting too much pressure on a part to get it to fit in. The case came with a ton of different screws and I had to take a lot of time to make sure I was using the right pair for the job.

All Done

Windows

I worked on Friday from 8pm till about midnight and then Saturday morning 9am until lunch to finish the assembly. Much longer than a seasoned PC gamer I’m sure — but keep in mind this was my first build since college and even then I had a lot of help from my roommate. Once assembled I was lucky in that it powered on into the BIOS right away.

Windows

Despite some known gaming headaches, I decided you use Windows 10. It installed fairly quickly. During initial setup I did opt-out of a lot of personalization features that do not interest me. My next challenge, getting the network card working.

My gaming PC is not near my cable modem so I need wireless connectivity and surprisingly this is not on the motherboard — I needed a seperate PCI card. The card I bought seemed to use PCI for the housing but also plugged into the USB on the motherboard. After spending some time downloading the latest drivers and playing the format game with some USB sticks I eventally installed the software but the card would not start up. It took some searching but I eventually found out I had to disable XHCI Handoff to enable the third USB connection on my motherboard which is what I was using to connect the wireless card. With all of that figured out, I had network access on my computer and began downloading some system updates and then some games.

The Games

I’m sure I’ll buy some more in time (and would greatly love your recommendations, email me) but for now the primary PC games for me are:

  • Final Fantasy 14
  • Overwatch
  • Civilization V
  • World of Warcraft (idle until Legion)
  • Stardew Valley (New, not played yet)
  • Rocket League (New, not played yet)
  • Undertale (New, not played yet)
  • Hearthstone (I play this on my iMac and iPad as well but there are some nice Windows-only analytics add ons I might try.)

Final Thoughts

I have mixed feeling about the time I spent doing the build. It does feel empowering to refresh my memory of how to do it all — but that said it’s not something I get a ton of enjoyment out of so let’s hope this box keeps ticking without too much maintenance in the years ahead. And while I do carry a little guilt about going for the super high end video card I also look forward to for the next few years being able to turn on ULTRA options without losing frames.

31 Days, 31 Products: Elgato Game Capture HD

Day 17: Elgato Game Capture HD

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Elgato Game Capture HD is actually a hardware/software combo. Its an external capture device that does HDMI passthrough, grabbing whatever video signal you are passing through (be it from a video game console or computer display). It will them compress the video as mp4 on the device and and delver the compressed video to a Mac via a USB cable connection (which is also used for power). On the Mac you’ll run some software that saves the capture to disk and also optionally helps you stream to Twitch.

I originally bought and used the Game Capture HD to help me record some Let’s Plays.

Let’s Plays are video series where an individual will play a game, capture it as well as their commentary while they play. Some personalities are very detailed in the mechanics and secrets of the game while others treat the videos very casually, almost as a diary of sorts, mixing in stories of the past as well as the present.

As for my own “Let’s Play career”, it was short lived. I had a bunch of fun doing a handful of series before quitting mid-way through Final Fantasy IV. I quit because I started to have other life goals and while fun, the amount work it took to produce the videos compared to their small impact — it didn’t feel worth it.

ANYWAYS… the Elgato Game Capture HD found its way to be useful for me once more this past year when we decided to start capturing CocoaHead talks. I now use the device to capture our HDMI output (before it’s redirected to the televisions) and I have to say the recorder software holds up well to us switching machines, resolutions and what not while recording. After the meeting, I take the videos from here and then match a separate audio capture we do through a lapel microphone to build our final video, (edited in ScreenFlow, and published on Vimeo).

If you are interested in video capture you can browse the Elgato Gaming site for a rundown of the current product lineup. The device I use is the base model and costs $150 retail but there are other options if you want higher frame rate capture (mine is 30 fps, they also have 60 fps available).

31 Days, 31 Products: Hearthstone

Day 16: Hearthstone

This post is part of a larger series where for 31 days I’m posting a story about a particular product or service I’ve come to enjoy.

Everyone needs something to destress, something to be a friendly distraction in-between long coding sessions. For me as of late this is a mix of podcast walks and Hearthstone.

Hearthstone is an online card game from Blizzard, designed around the heroes of Warcraft. Warcraft lore is not a requirement but will be enjoyed for those have some background. Leeroy!

The format of the game has you pick a hero class and build a deck of 30 cards (a mix of class specific cards, and general cards). As you play the game you’ll draw cards, spend mana to play cards, use cards to fight other cards and hopefully, overtime, kill your opponent. It sounds more complicated than it really is. The good news is Hearthstone is extremely welcoming to new players. It has some great tutorials to get you started.

Hearthstone is a free to play game. You can earn gold through daily quests (win 2 games as mage, etc.) and other means which let you buy more cards, expansion packs or play special Arena mode games (which itself rewards cards). These things can also be unlocked for cash directly should you start to enjoy the game and want to progress your card collection a little faster.

As it goes, being a free to play game, you’ll have a plenty of opportunity to experience the game to see if you like it without spending any money. If you do like the game, you will probably want to buy some cards to jumpstart your collection. The need for this will also vary with how much you like to experiment with new decks. Sure enough there are players our there who have gotten Legendary rank using pure Free 2 Play accounts.

The game itself is playable on the Mac/Windows, iPhone or iPad. If you every want to throw down, my Battle.net name is zorn711. Good luck.

A Walled Garden of Shit

From the App Store Review Guidelines:

We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted.

I sure wish they would take that guideline to heart and start rejecting some of this shit.

So PBG got an iPad and found some shitty iPad games and I’d like to say these are the exception — but they’re not. There are tons of these crappy apps on the store and while it helps inflate that “total app” number for Apple it really hurts people browsing around trying to discover new apps.

WEIRD IPAD GAMES!

Philly Craftsmanship

Software as Craft Philadelphia

A community of professionals dedicated to well-crafted software

Was very happy to attend the inaugural meeting of this group last week. Was a great mix of discussion and hands-on coding/pairing. Thanks to Promptworks for hosting.

During the discussions, the Software Craftsmanship North America conference (as well as its manifesto) were mentioned. You can find a bunch of the conference videos on the eighthlight vimeo channel. Seems like pretty interesting stuff.

In related news (since I think all hosts were in attendance at said meeting), I want to give a plug to the podcast Turing-Incomplete podcast. Finally starting to catch up on this Philly showcase of talent and really enjoying the discussions. Keep up the good work!

MegaManEffect now on GitHub

A few days ago I started to archive a lot of the Clickable Bliss website, replacing it with a smaller “hiatus” version. In the process I moved the MegaManEffect which lived primarily via a blog post and a GoogleCode subversion repo to GitHub.

https://github.com/zorn/MegaManEffect

The MegaManEffect is an application that emulates an effect seen in the classic NES game Mega Man 2. When you launch a Mac OS X application, the screen goes dark, stars sweep the night sky and your application’s icon is presented in a blue letter box bar with a cheesy 8-bit music introduction.

MegaManEffect was written while I attended the ADHOC/MacHack conference in 2004 and took second place in the ADHOC Labs Showcase! In the summer of 2005 the application hit a nerve in the community generating tons of interest and downloads. It is to this day one of the most distributed pieces of code I’ve even written.

Funny enough after tweeting the move I ended up getting an email and later a pull request to update the code base to compile on 10.9. I approved the pull request today (thanks @smithrobs!) with a few other fixes.

The MegaManEffect will be 10 years old this summer.

Week in Review: WWDC, E3 and CocoaHeads

It’s been a crazy week. Some random notes and observations…

WWDC

Apple did a tremendous job streaming the Keynote. I watched it live on my Apple TV in the living room while chatting with friends on IRC and Twitter. It was awesome. As for the content, let’s review:

Mac OS X 10.9, Mavericks — Not a huge fan of the name. I liked Sea Lion! As for the user facing features, most are pretty meh for me, I will enjoy better dual monitor support. I also like the idea they are pushing iCloud Keychain and that it will suggest higher quality passwords for people. I myself will stick with 1Password but this is a great feature for users at large. The advanced tech of 10.9 looks great. Love the focus on battery life.

iOS 7 — I have very mixed feelings for the new UI. Some of it I like, some of it I don’t. Between the historic adoption rate of new versions of iOS and the complexity of delivering a consistent experience across iOS 6 and iOS 7, I can see many apps moving to iOS 7 only in the coming months, particularly ones that aren’t released yet.

While not reviewed in detail during the keynote, the real gems for me are in the developer tools and APIs released this week. Xcode 5 looks awesome. The new continuos integration services of OS X Server looks great (though time will tell if it can be a full on replacement for current solutions). Tons of brand new tech including: Text Kit, Sprite Kit, Game Controllers, UIKit Dynamics and better multitasking have been introduced along with some great improvements to current APIs. It’s going to be months until I have time to play with everything.

New Mac Pro — I’ve been a long time customer of the Mac Pro and was in the market for one in 2011 when I sadly, after continued uninspiring updates to the product line, had to settle for a loaded (max RAM / max Graphics Card / 256 SSD) iMac instead. Not to sound like a total dick, the iMac has been great and really fast but I still longed for the multi-drive, graphics card replaceable, mega ram slot tower that I was accustom to. So this new Mac Pro is actually in my eyes more of a loaded Mac mini style device. There is little chance you’ll be replacing these graphic cards (yes cards, it has two of them; probably to support the unannounced retina display this Mac Pro will probably ship along side with) and there doesn’t seem to be much room for extra internal hard disk space. That said, this machine’s stats looks awesome and I have been antsy for a retina display on the desktop. I’ll have to see a price tag before I commit myself but am happy I have options when it comes time to upgrade my current iMac.

There were also new Macbook Airs released at the show. I have and really enjoy my 13-inch Air and while the new extra battery life of these new models are probably very important for some people I am lucky enough to be able to plug-in when needed so will probably skip this generation. If it was a retina screen, maybe I’d change my tune.

Sessions — After the keynote, Apple, like they had promised, started publishing the session videos, usually less than 24 hours after they had been presented. By the end of the week we also had choices for HD or SD variants as well as the PDF slides. This helps take the sting out of not being able to acquire a ticket a lot and I thank Apple for putting forth the extra effort to do so.

E3

I haven’t been keeping up with E3 nearly as much as I have been Apple news, but seems like everyone had a great time out in LA. Playstation 4 announced it will not be following Microsoft’s lead and is promising very little DRM on the PS4 that will inhibit things like game sharing and used game sales. This, plus a cheaper price tag and arguably better under-the-hood tech has pushed itself to the top the console food chain. Time and games will tell how things end. For me, I’m not planning on a day one purchase. I’d like to see how things pan out and find a must have game to push me over the edge.

As for my Nintendo, for which I always have a love/hate relationship with, we saw a new Smash Bros, a new Super Mario 3D World, as well as lots of new info on the new 3DS Pokemon and Zelda titles.

Moving from back to front, I’m getting pretty jazzed for the new Pokemon. Even outside my previous fandom for the series, this new release has a lot of new elements to check out. Being a huge Link to the Past fan has me interested in this new sequel game though I’m still mixed on feelings of curiosity mixed with disappointment that they aren’t doing something more unique. I own Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS and it was not something I really enjoyed. The gameplay was very slow and continued use of the same old Mario platforming was exhausting. Considering the lack of interest New Super Mario Bros got as a Wii U title, you’d think they’d start to catch on that we need real NEW things but alas this seems lost on Nintendo. Finally, Smash Bros fans will inevitably enjoy a new release of Smash Bros. Even I get a little giddy seeing MegaMan added as playable character. Unfortunately I’m not a fighter fan. I no longer share a house with people to regularly play with and even when I do play these games at a party it becomes a button mash as no one knows all the moves. I think I’ve grown out of it. :(

CocoaHeads and our iOS 7 Hackday

On Thursday we had our usual monthly meeting for CocoaHeads. With the Apple event still in-progress there was lots of chatter about all the new stuff. When the meeting finally started we actually ended up with so many talks and demos we went over time. Reactive Cocoa in particular kept many a CocoaHead asking questions and thinking out of the box.

Saturday we held a hackday, our first CocoaHead event in some time. The hackday was focused on iOS 7 and had people work solo or team up to experiment with the latest API toys. Throughout the day we provided breakfast, snacks and a home made lunch from IndyHall’s own Kara LaFleur (@KaraLaFleur). At the end of the day we presented our results to the group and awarded book prizes from the Pragmatic Programmers and Big Nerd Ranch. All in all things went great and it was good to see some people attend who normally can’t make our nightly meetings.

Sunday Rest

It’s now Sunday and after an extremely busy week I’m relaxing. I do have plans to head out for some dinner later to wish my Mom to wish her a happy Father’s Day but otherwise am enjoying a lazy day around the apartment.

For all my Apple and gaming friends, I hope you enjoyed this week as well and enjoy the upcoming releases. Have fun!

New Let’s Play Section

While I haven’t mentioned it too much on the blog, I’ve recently got back into Let’s Plays. From the new Let’s Play index page:

Let’s Plays (often shortened to LPs) are basically people playing a video game and adding commentary on top. Some people like showing off all the things and secrets, such as HCBaily and ChuggaaConroy, while others treat LPing more as a personal journal, like NintendoCapriSun. I’m still finding my voice but am enjoying the process.

I just finished a Let’s Play of Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past and have now started a Let’s Play of Super Mario Galaxy 2.

For more info, RSS links and such check out the new LP index page.