The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


Use Intel’s Power Gadget to keep an eye on your CPU

If you’re the type who likes to keep an eye on your system, you may be familiar with tools such as Activity Montior’s CPU meters, or iStat Menus, which displays a ton of system info via its menubar icon. Neither of these tools, however, really show you what the CPU itself is up to—and that’s where an Intel-provided tool enters the scene.

The Intel® Power Gadget shows you exactly what your CPU is up to: how much power it’s using, what speed it’s running at, and its temperature. As seen in the image at right (click for larger), it graphs these three values over time.

The data you’re seeing there is from my 4GHz Retina iMac, and the screenshot was grabbed while it wasn’t doing much in particular. What really stands out to me is how often my 4GHz CPU is running at something closer to 3GHz; if the CPU isn’t being called on for its full power, I’m assuming it slows itself down to reduce power usage.

But as soon as you do something that demands the CPU’s full power, the napping stops. Here’s a brief movie I created showing the CPU tracking when I started ripping a Blu-Ray:

The machine is basically idle at first, then I start the rip after 15 seconds or so. As soon as the hard work starts, the power and temperature charts shoot upwards, and over time, the CPU speed pegs right around 4GHz; the naps are gone.

I’m not sure how much real-world use this tool has, but from a geeky perspective, it’s pretty cool being able to see exactly what your CPU is up to at any point in time. (You can even send the data to a log file, in case you really want to study power, speed, and temperature over an extended time period.)

My thoughts on Apple Watch upgradeability

Lots of people are talking about the possibility of an upgradeable Apple Watch.

In particular, the ultra-expensive Apple Watch Edition is the version that seems to inspire these conversations: Who’d pay $5,000 (or $10,000 or whatever) for a non-upgradeable high-end watch?

While this seems a fair question, I honestly don’t think upgradeability of hardware will be a major stumbling block for folks with this kind of money. Instead, they’ll be focused on two questions: Does the watch do what I want it to do now, and does it make the statement I want it to make? If they answer yes to both of those questions, then they’ll buy the watch.

A year from now, if Apple comes out with Apple Watch Edition 2 (gads, could that naming get any worse?), they’ll ask themselves the same two questions, and then either buy a new watch or keep the old watch. Remember that functionality will improve on the existing hardware, as Apple ships software updates over time, so it’s not like the watch will lose functionality as time passes.

Apple has never been in the “let us help you upgrade” business. They’re in the “let us help you buy a new device” business, and I don’t see their entry into the watch market changing that focus. If you want a new watch, they’ll sell you one. Perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a formal trade-in program for existing Apple Watch customers—but I think that’s all it would be, a simple trade-in credit when buying a new watch.

I just can’t envision “Apple Watch Specialists” at the various Apple stores, sitting around on benches, loupes on eyes, swapping out watch motherboards. That’s not Apple’s business, and it’s not a business I think they want to be in.

There is one minor exception to this: clearly there must be a relatively easy way to replace the battery on the watch; there’s just no way they’re going to require folks to mail in their watches for battery service. Perhaps the battery will even be a user-serviceable part…wait, what am I saying, this is Apple we’re talking about.

I believe the level of Apple-provided hardware upgradeability in the Apple Watch (all versions) will match that of the iPad or Mac lines: none. In theory, we’ll find out the answer in a few weeks when the Apple Watch is released. But in reality, Apple could take another year (or more) to figure out what to do for existing customers, as that’s not an issue they’ll need to address until the second generation Apple Watch is released.

Stupid by design: Voice command uselessness

I drive a 2014 Subaru Legacy; for the most part, I’m happy with the car. But there are some design features that are just comically stupid. Here’s one example…

The image at right shows the steering wheel controls on the left side of my steering wheel. The up/down arrows icon is a toggle switch to quickly change the audio track being played (or the radio station preset); it works great, and I use it all the time.

The stupid comes in just below that, with the face/speaking icon button. This button activates voice command mode, which does many useful things, such as dialing the phone, setting a destination for the nav system, etc. But you can also—you guessed it—use it to change tracks. Here’s how that works:

  1. Press face/speaking icon.
  2. Wait about one second for the car to say “voice command please.”
  3. Say “next track” or “previous track.”
  4. Listen to car say “track up” (or “track down”), then the track changes.

Now I ask…who is ever going to use this method of changing tracks? The very first thing you do to use it—pressing the face/speaking icon—requires touching the steering wheel. The same wheel where, roughly an inch above that button, is a toggle switch that will switch tracks in precisely one step!

Did they include the voice command track changing features because someone in Marketing said they had to? Did they think there are people who prefer a slower, more cumbersome process to simply tapping a toggle switch? Did they think there are people who need audible feedback about what they’ve asked the car to do? (Never mind that they get that feedback by hearing the new track after using the toggle button.) Do they think there are a group of people who will use steering wheel buttons but would never use steering wheel toggle switches?

I honestly have no idea why they included the voice command ability to change tracks, but it definitely strikes me as stupid by design…or am I overlooking some really-obvious use that I’m just not seeing?

The iOS App Store’s paid apps lottery game

In case you missed it, Apple is promoting “pay once” games in the iTunes App Store:

I think it’s amazing that Apple is highlighting pay-once games; anything that helps focus attention away from the freemium model is great in my eyes. I hope this is a regular feature and kept up to date.

Looking at just the apps I can see on the screen without scrolling, there are about a dozen I think I’d like—for a total cost of around $85 or so. But that’s where I reach the freeze point: Instead of sending Apple my $85 and trying out a bunch of cool games, I do nothing. That’s because if I decide to buy these games, I might as well spend the money on lottery tickets.

You ‘win’ the iOS lottery if you get a great game for your money. You ‘lose’ the iOS lottery when you wind up purchasing a steaming pile of donkey dung of a game. Sorry, you lost this time, but please play again soon!


How to search the archived Mac OS X Hints site

Late last year, just after its 14th birthday, Mac OS X Hints was officially put into a coma. The site exists online, but it’s no longer accepting hints, and exists in a static state.

While it’s great that this information is still online—as there are tons of still-useful tidbits there—it’s apparently not searchable. When you enter something in the search box and press Enter, nothing happens…well, not nothing: The page reloads with an empty search box. Without search, the huge database isn’t quite so useful.

The good news is that Google and Bing have indexed the static site, so you can use their search engines instead of the site’s search engine. Even better is that you can build complex queries that aren’t possible when searching directly on the site.

To search the hints site from Bing or Google, just include in the search string. A few quick examples:

While this isn’t quite as handy as searching directly on the Hints site, it works well. (To make it easier, I’ve created a Butler search engine entry that searches hints via Bing.)

Another way to look at 74.5 million iPhones in 90 days

My buddy Kirk came up with some analogies about just how much “stuff” 74.5 million iPhones represents. While I found his comparisons very interesting, as a Finance guy, I have a different method of comparison for you to consider…

I started with guesstimating the mix of of iPhone models and variations sold, using nothing more than common sense that says the mid-tier version would be most popular, with a few more people opting for high-end over low-end:

Pricing Sales Mix
Model Entry Mid High Entry Mid High
6 $649 $749 $849 15% 60% 25%
6+ $749 $849 $949 15% 60% 25%
5s $549 $599 50% 50%
5c $450 100%

I then estimated the sales mix by iPhone model, using Tim Cook’s statement that the iPhone 6 was the most popular. I distributed the rest of the mix assuming that the newer models would sell more than the older models. Once I had the mix percentages, that let me calculate an average selling price for each phone. Combine that with the estimated sales mix, and out pops revenue by phone line:

Model Avg Sale Share of Total Units (Mil) Revenue ($Mil)
6 759 50% 37.3 $28,273
6+ 859 30% 22.4 $19,199
5s 574 15% 11.2 $6,414
5c 450 5% 3.6 $1,676
Totals 74.5 $55,562

All those numbers and assumptions crunch down to this:

In one quarter, Apple’s iPhone business was somewhere around $55.5 billion dollars in revenue.

One quarter. Not a year. A quarter. Ninety days.

But just on that one quarter’s iPhone sales, “Apple iPhones Inc.” would be number 50 on the 2014 Fortune 500, coming in just below Caterpillar ($55.656 billion), and above UPS ($55.438 billion). Remember, those are full year results, versus just one quarter’s iPhone sales.

A couple other fun comparisons using these assumptions:

  • Google’s full-year revenue in 2014 was $60.2 billion, ranking them only four spots ahead of one quarter’s worth of “Apple iPhones Inc.” on the Fortune 500.
  • Using last year’s 169,170,000 total iPhones sold, “Apple iPhones Inc.” would be number 13 on the Fortune 500, ranking between CVS and Fannie Mae.

74.5 million iPhones in one quarter is a stunningly huge number. Huge enough to put the fictitious “Apple iPhones Inc” company well up the Fortune 500 based on just 90 days’ sales. Mind…blown.

A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the OS X 10.10.2 release; skip it unless you really really care about all the OS X releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of OS X from the public beta through the latest public version, which is OS X 10.10.2 as of January 27th, 2015. Note that this release marks the 85th release of OS X (counting major, minor, and released-then-yanked updates). Wow.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.


Fix Messages’ image pasting by killing its engine

Kirk McElhearn explains how Messages in Yosemite has trouble sending pasted images. These problems typically only occur between people who use AIM accounts in Messages; sending pasted messages when using iMessages’ accounts seems to work fine. (I use an AIM account to keep iMessage traffic off my main Mac, and for its great screen sharing.)

Kirk’s article details the fix, which is to kill the imagent process, which is what controls Messages. He uses Activity Monitor to do so, which works fine. But I have to kill the stupid imagent many times a day, so I wrote the World’s Easiest AppleScript™ to do the work for me.


My post-CNN news sources

With the horrendous redesign of CNN, I quickly determined I had to find a new news source (or sources). After browsing the comments to my post, and doing some searching, here are the changes I’ve made in my news reading.

The first change is the biggest—I now use an RSS reader for the majority of my news reading. I’ve always used an RSS reader for most non-news sites, but preferred reading news directly on a web page (not sure why).

But as most sites seem to be heading in the image overload direction, I decided to find news sites with good RSS feeds, and read them using Vienna, my RSS reader of choice.

Why Vienna? I’ll write about that in a future post, I think…but its excellent keyboard controls, and its ability to open articles in background tabs, are two of its key features for my reading habits.

The second change is obviously what sites/sources I use in Vienna. Here’s my list of new sources, with both the web site and RSS URLs provided:

BBC – US and Canada web RSS
UPI – Latest News web RSS
UPI – US News web RSS
Reuters – Top News web RSS
Reuters – US News web RSS

There’s obviously some overlap between these sources, but that’s OK; it’s easy to mark/skip duplicates in Vienna. When I’m visiting a site on the web, all three (BBC, UPI, and Reuters) present a clean interface, without invasively large photos, and zero auto-playing videos or scrolling marquees. In short, all three are a joy to use on the web, unlike the “new and improved” CNN.

Sorry, CNN, but you’ve permanently lost at least one viewer; your new site makes it too hard to get what I want, which is news. The BBC, UPI, and Reuters understand that news is what viewers come to a news site to see. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for CNN, if they can see it behind those enormous photos and CPU-sucking videos.

Send your Retina iMac’s desktop to deep space

Last week, I used the just-released Hubble Space Telescope images of the Andromeda galaxy to create a couple of desktop images for my Retina iMac. I liked the results so much that I spent some time collecting other suitable images from the Hubble site, and then cropping and/or scaling them to create interesting high-res desktop images. (I used Acorn for all the edits; it had no troubles, even with TIF images as large as 20,323×16,259!)

The end result is a collection of 50+ Retina iMac-sized (5120×2880) desktop wallpapers, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here’s the full collection:

Tip: If you click on the caption below the image, you’ll be taken to the source page on the Hubble telescope site where I found the image.

There are at least two versions of nearly every image—one or more where I cropped out an interesting area of the photo at 5120×2880, and one where I scaled down and then cropped as needed to get as much of the full image as possible.

There are three ways to get an image (or all the images):

Method One: One at a time

  1. Command-click on the image (anywhere other than on the navigation arrows) you’d like to download. This will create a new background tab (in Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, at least), loaded with that image’s high-resolution page on my Copy cloud drive.
  2. At the top right of the page are Copy’s control icons, as seen at right. Click the downward arrow (the leftmost of the icons) to save the file to your Mac. Do not click the much-larger Save button (a bit further down the page). That button saves the file to your Copy account, which is not what you want to do.
  3. Repeat for each image you want, and then organize as you wish, and set them up as rotating desktop images.

Method Two: Another way to get one at a time

Open the full folder on Copy, and browse/download directly from there. Click on any image, and a preview column will open; click the down arrow, as above, to download the selected image to your Mac.

Method Three: Gimme the full set!

If you want all 54 images, just download this zip archive (286MB). Expand on your Mac, then look through and keep the ones you want.

Note: The above all-files link may disappear at times; if it’s not working for you, try one of these mirrors:


Images courtesy of NASA/ESA, and full image credits can be found on the linked image page for each image reproduced above.

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