Desktop system update: Mini -> iMac

Back in November 2008, I acquired a Mac Mini to use as my home desktop computer. At the time, I raved about the little machine with its 1.83 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and an 80 GB Hard Drive.
Over the next year and a half, I became less enchanted. The 80GB disk was far too small, and I resorted to a variety of external USB drives to hold my music, photos, and videos. (Right now I’m using the 1TB drive that was originally installed in my ill-fated Time Capsule.) More serious was the 1GB of RAM. Over the last year, the footprint of application and OS software seems to have exploded, and multitasking even a few major apps has become incredibly frustrating. Alec posted an excellent analysis of the brain-dead paging and swapping strategy in OS X, but I couldn’t bring myself to try the radical surgery he proposed. And so I soldiered on, resigned to the appearance of the spinning beach-ball (or pizza?) whenever I tried to switch from iTunes to Safari, and to the fact that MS Word would take minutes to load if Safari was busy. Etcetera.
What made all this worse was that my other Mac is an original MacBook Air: wonderfully light, but with the smallest and slowest hard disk known to mankind. It’s a sealed unit, with no way to upgrade anything. I briefly considered adding some memory to the Mac Mini, but watching a video of the procedure persuaded me that I shouldn’t even try. I had to face the fact that I didn’t have a usably fast Mac. I did have the cursed (replacement) HP laptop, which showed what an Intel i5 with 4GB could do, but that beast runs Windows 7 and is mostly used for games and various experiments using VirtualBox.
A few months ago, I decided that I’d had enough. I was either going to buy a new Mac Mini (and upgrade it to 4GB RAM), or get one of the new iMacs. I went back and forth, and procrastinated, and eventually decided to take the plunge. There wasn’t much price difference between the Mini (plus RAM) and iMac, but the relatively low resolution of my existing LCD display finally tipped it. I would buy an iMac, my first. “Obviously” I was going to buy it from Amazon, taking advantage of free shipping and avoiding sales tax. I waited for Amazon to show that it had units in stock…
…and then Sarah Palin changed my mind. I watched that ignorant poseur rolling her eyes at the teacher in Alaska, and read the attacks on teachers by Republican the Party of “No” legislators over the last few days, and decided that I wanted to pay my sales tax. Maybe a few bucks from the $110.91 tax would make its way into a teacher’s paycheck. So yesterday evening, I headed over to the Apple store in Palo Alto, and bought myself an Apple iMac MC508LL/A 21.5-Inch Desktop, with an Intel i3, 4GB RAM, and a 500GB 7200rpm HD. I brought it home, unpacked it, plugged it in, and pushed the power button.
Nothing. Repeatedly, nothing.
You know what’s going to come next, don’t you? Today I packed it up, took it back to the store, and it booted up just fine. So I made a “Genius Bar” appointment for Saturday morning (just in case), came home, and set the machine up. I planned to transfer the data and apps from the Mini using FireWire, but I found that I didn’t have a suitable cable. So I wound up doing it over WiFi, which took about 8 hours.
The machine is sweet. Very fast, a beautiful 1920×1080 display, nice wireless keyboard and mouse. I launched a dozen tabs in Safari and started sync’ing my iPad, and then fired up MS Word. It opened even faster than on my Windows 7 machine.
For now, I’m simply replacing the Mini with the iMac. All of the peripherals from the Mini are plugged in to the iMac, and it’s acting as print and scan server for all our computers. Eventually I plan to run the Mini, headless, as a print and media server, but I’ll take the opportunity to do a clean reinstall of OS X beforehand. And with any luck I’ll be cancelling that date with the “Genius Bar”.

The week's twitterings – 2010-08-01

  • So here's the first interesting test for the "open" in @openstack. Can you plug Hibari – – into the framework? #
  • Can they really build a Formula 1 Track in Austin in 2 years? If so, I'll be there! ("This is Texas!" Yeah, so?) #
  • We just ran into @Barry_James Folsom at He started the #Sun East Coast Division in 85; I was the first engineer there. #
  • A Town Is Razed In Israel #
  • RT @cswolf: Neil: Microsoft uses performance/watt/dollar as metric to measure effectiveness of data center infrastructure #cat10 #
  • RT @eekygeeky: RT @TTintheCloud The Eli Lilly-Amazon Web Service story still stands – <More innuendo but still no facts #
  • I wonder when all those ex-Sun people will get around to changing their LinkedIn and Facebook affiliations…. #
  • RT @dayfornight: RT @Lotay: RT @mssuzcatsilver: RT @barbrogrindheim: "You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body."< Pure fiction #
  • RT @c0t0d0s0: just blogged: Illumos: Something is going on… < OpenSolaris lives? #
  • RT @russnelson: @geoffarnold freedom is never free. < Equally meaningful: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" #
  • Heading up to San Francisco… Coit Tower and North Beach. Expecting cool, foggy weather 🙁 #
  • Up Coit Tower: Just saw what looks like an LHA (?USS Tripoli) being towed out towards the Golden Gate. #
  • Ahhhh… Lunch at the Mona Lisa in North Beach. Pasta perfection, with a nice Tuscan wine. I love San Francisco! #
  • RT @jamesurquhart: Hedge your bets…: < Nice piece, reinforces my idea that #cloud starts with operational refactoring #

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Coit Tower

Although we moved to the Bay Area a year ago, we haven’t spent any time exploring San Francisco itself. I’ve been up for a couple of business meetings, but that hardly counts. So yesterday we jumped on an early Caltrain, rode up to the city, and took a cab to Coit Tower.

The forecast was for cool and foggy weather, which meant we wouldn’t see too much from the top of the tower, but that didn’t matter. We were most interested in seeing the amazing murals. We planned to join in the guided tour at 11am, which provides access to some of the murals that are normally closed to the public.

We arrived before 10am, and explored the murals in the public rotunda. We noticed that the number of visitors was steadily increasing, so we decided to take the elevator ride to the top of the tower immediately, rather than waiting until after the tour. Even so, we had to stand in line.

As forecast, the view was distinctly misty. However there was one odd sight which piqued my curiosity: what appeared to be a small aircraft carrier, under tow, with a strange structure on the flight deck:
(Click for more detail)
At the time, I thought that it looked like an amphibious assault ship, such as the USS Tripoli, but I was confused: hadn’t the Tripoli been decommissioned years ago? (Yes.) Perhaps it was part of the “ghost fleet” from Suisun Bay; I knew that they were scheduled for scrapping. But in that case the ship’s course made no sense. Kate found a link to a real-time map of San Francisco Bay shipping, but I couldn’t find it on there.
My best guess is that it was in fact the Tripoli, being towed out to sea (perhaps to Pearl Harbor), for use as a launch platform for SCUD and other missiles as part of the THAAD or Aegis BMD anti-missile programs.
By the time we returned to the base of the tower, the crowds had grown dramatically. There was a long line for the elevator, and outside the traffic was backed up all the way down the hill, as people waited for one of the few parking spaces at the top. We decided to skip the tour of the murals, took the #39 bus down the hill (admiring the way in which the driver negotiated the traffic), and had a wonderful lunch at the Mona Lisa in North Beach.
You can see more of the pictures I took here.