Monday, February 16, 2009

If you wonder why developing a new rocket is complex and expensive ...

People often wonder why developing the next generation of human rated rockets is so complex and expensive. I think the latest edition of The Big Picture from the Boston Globe answers this well. The sheer scale of some of the infrastructure, no matter the development of the multiple rocket stages, is amazing.

Whether you agree with human spaceflight or not, you have to be impressed by the engineering on show in these images.

I also have to recommend The Big Picture site generally, their collections of images from the various wire services and freelancers often show the many sides/faces of a story. Check out their coverage of both the Obama campaign and the Inauguration as examples.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Geeking weekend preparing for Snow Leopard ...

While this weekend has involved great geeking with my Macs it was preceded by far more geek thought and concern. I blame it on/credit it to a couple of podcasts that I've been listening to for quite some time now; Adam Christianson's MacCast and The Mac Observer's Mac Geek Gab. I never used to worry about loosing data or machines getting fried from nearby lightening strikes, but a couple of months ago it began to creep into my nightmares.

You see, I"m a hoarder of data. I have the results of high school chemistry experiments, still have all the different versions of my final year degree project. Every CV I've had to write is still there, along with the letter of application for a years placement at CERN (I have the rejection letter in a file on a shelf somewhere too). However I always had a backup strategy of holding multiple copies of this archive on multiple PCs.

Then I moved to the Mac, and for a while I still had the drives and some of the PCs holding my archive, but eventually it just came down to bare drives that hadn't been used for years. I grabed myself a USB Drive adapter and copied the whole archive onto my iMac. At that point I had one single copy on one single drive. Then all I would hear in my head were the horror stories written in to the podcasts I mentioned. The constant advice of having multiple copies of everything.

When I upgraded to Leopard I bought a Maxtor 500GB external drive for Time Machine, which I thought should be enough to cope with my internal 300GB drive. After 3 months it start erroring on account of the fact that it was full. Time Machine dutifully started deleting old copies of things and I began to worry again. Finally I caved and bought a 1TB WD MyBook drive for Time Machine and then bought a copy of SuperDuper! to use the Maxtor for a bootable clone of my main drive.
Finally my mind could rest about only having a single copy of my data, I could handle 2 potential drive failures. At last restful sleep ... but of course not. My mind moved onto the next possible crisis, fried computer and all 3 drives(!) from a power spike, triggered by both the podcasts and the, getting more often, small power failures in our area. After a good search and taking advice from KC I've settled on the APC Back-up ES 700VA.

But that is for next month, this months tech concern is about the imminent release of Mac OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard. For those that don't know, and are interested, there is quite a large set of unknowns about this next release of OSX. Apple has stated that it will be primarily an update to the internals of OSX, with few new visible features. This is a platform for future releases, but as such is almost certain to be an Intel only release.

Traditionally Apple removes the previous version of OSX from sale when the new one is available. If this happens with Snow Leopard then what are those people who have yet to update their PowerPC machine to Leopard to do? This was my concern, we still have the little iBook G4 which Carly uses a lot.

Of course, and I'm sure that this is no coincidence, Apple has recently released the new versions of iWork and iLife and made them available in a set with Leopard, the Mac Boxed Set, at an incredibly reasonable price. All together this works out really well, I'm a version behind on iLife and 2 on iWork. So I got the set, iLife and iWork for my iMac and another Leopard license for the iBook.

Before installing Leopard on the iBook though a little surgery was required, it only had the built in 256MB of RAM. A quick order from the wonderful people at Crucial, and a 1GB chip was in my hands (1.25 GB being the max on that machine). Using the instructions from iFixIt the installation was a breeze, and I finally figured out a use for OSX's CTRL+Mouse Wheel screen zoom (instructions on the 24" iMac across the room as the printer is out of ink).

While Leopard was installing I installed iLife and iWork on the iMac, now all is good. A great geek weekend, now I just have to wait till next month and the APC UPS and maybe I can relax ...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009