Saturday, February 26, 2011

So it's been a while ...

I'm sitting here at the iMac, something that is happening less and less thanks to iPhone, iPad and AppleTV, and I thought I should post an update. Skipping the testing/source code rant from late last year, when last we spoke the iMac was in trouble. After much restarting and disk recovery attempting, the internal HD was declared dead. Now, thanks to the folks at M.R. Systems, I now have a wonderful new 500GB internal drive, and a much cleaner iMac (running about 5 degrees C lower than before).

Most importantly, on returning the iMac home, I told it to restore from Time Machine and 3 hours later I was back to exactly where I had left things. It is a wonderful technology and if you have a Mac you really should be using it. Although while my machine was quickly dying I also appreciated my SuperDuper! bootable cloned drive too.

I said I am sitting at the iMac. What I am actually doing is watching the Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-133 preparing, in the next couple of hours, to dock with the International Space Station. There are many wonderful things to think about in this scenario.

I could be thinking how amazing it is that a craft with 6 people in it was launched to space 3 days ago and is about to dock with a freaking space station! A space station that also has 2 Soyuz, 1 Progress, 1 HTV and 1 ATV space craft docked to it. That all these were launched from 4 different places by 4 different space agencies.

Of course I probably should be thinking how amazing it is that all of the above is happening ~180 miles above my head and the video is being beamed through multiple satellites, many ground stations, back up to satellites, down to somewhere, encoded and streamed to and from there to me. It's pretty cool :)

Strangely though, I keeping finding myself in awe of the iMac itself. In respect to the recent problems, which given it's non-stop performance for the 3 years prior I totally forgive, it is amazing that I don't really think of it as old or ailing.

The iMac I am sitting at is a first gen aluminium iMac, bought late 2007. At the time, having put up with a slow iBook G4 for a couple of years, I knew I was willing to spend up on it. I wanted it to be my computer for a good few years. I did build to order with it and got a Core 2 Duo Extreme 2.8 GHz CPU, 4Gb of Apple installed RAM. That was about all you could do to the iMac at the time, but it was totally worth it.

The photo above is from the day the iMac arrived home, with the slow iBook next to it. You will notice the complete lack of anything else. In the 3+ years since that photo, the iMac has become the brains of a much wider mess of technology. Highlighted to me when I took it away to be repaired and left a hole on the desk with wires hanging there looking for a home. I think of the iMac as like the V'Ger probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. A single piece of tech which has drawn other tech into its orbit, making it more than it was. Right now, hanging off the iMac is;

  • HP Printer/Scanner/Copier
  • 1 TB WD TimeMachine drive
  • 500 GB Seagate cloned drive
  • 20" Apple Cinema Display
  • iPhone in Dock
  • iPad in Dock
  • Wired Keyboard
  • Magic Mouse
  • Magic Trackpad
  • Wacom Bamboo tablet
  • Via network;
    • Apple Airport Extreme
    • Apple Airport Express
    • AppleTV
Beyond the nest of cables and technology that the iMac supports I am also in awe of its capability. I don't treat it well, I have 4 Spaces set up and treat each almost as if it were a separate computer. One contains controls and management for the 2 web servers and MySQL DB's that are running, another is for web development with Eclipse, Sequel Pro, JEdit and CyberDuck always open along with a collection of browsers including IE running under Wine. There's another space for Apple dev with XCode and Kindle open. Then finally there's my main space which, while I am writing this, has Twitter, Chrome, iPhoto, Spotify, iTunes all running. There's also a Chrome window full screen on the second monitor with the Nasa TV stream running as well as a copy of Video Monkey current converting a copy of a Space Station tour video available on Wikipedia, from OggVorbis to H.264 ready to stream from here to the AppleTV.

True, iStat Menus is telling me I've been at 100% CPU for a while now, that I'm using a lot of network bandwidth and the overal temp is up a couple of degrees from before all this started. But I'm still using this computer without really thinking about it. Pretty awesome don't you think.

Unfortunately the next couple of years must bring the iMac to the end of it useful life as my main machine. OS X Lion reportedly removes support for Core Duo chips putting mine as the lowest allowed spec. When the iMac was last updated (October 2010) it was reasonably 10 times more powerful overall. Of course you pay for that, maxing out the current iMac in the way that I did back in 2007 puts it almost twice the amount I paid. Guess I've got a couple of years of hard saving to do, but as before it will totally be worth it.