The Robservatory

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Cool Hardware

Add inelegance to remove heat

At home, our network routing and firewall is handled by an open-source software package called pfSense®; it has a ton of features, and is relatively easy to configure. I built a mini PC (a box roughly 9″ per side) for pfSense, and it’s been running smoothly for over five years1I’ll be writing more about pfSense and my routing PCs in a future post..

While it’s not the world’s loveliest box…ok, so it may be the world’s ugliest box…

…it’s been rock solid since day one. However, it’s aging and its CPU won’t be supported in an upcoming pfSense release, so I decided to replace it. (That way, I’ll have a spare if the new one breaks…at least until that unsupported version of pfSense is released.) Here’s the new box…

That’s a Protectli fanless Firewall Appliance with a quad-core Celeron J3160 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. And yes, it’s just a bit smaller and more elegant than my old box—the entire thing is roughly the size of my old box’s external cooling fan.

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2019 iMac vs Late 2014 iMac—Ripping addendum

In Part 1 of my 2014 vs 2019 iMac comparison articles, I provided an overview and a number of comparison benchmark results. In Part 2, I looked at changes in gaming performance between the two machines.

But there was one more thing I wanted to do: Compare Blu-ray ripping speeds. At the time, though, I didn’t have any new movies to rip, and I really didn’t want to spend the time re-ripping an existing movie. Now, though, I do have a few new movies to rip, as I’m trying to finish our collection of all the films in the first three phases (now called the Infinity Saga) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That meant buying the films I’d liked the least—The Incredible Hulk and the first two Thor movies. With that came the chance to compare the Blu-ray ripping speed of the two iMacs. I use the method described in my article Revisiting ripping Blu-ray discs, which is this:

  1. Use MakeMKV to create an MKV file on the hard drive that contains the video and audio tracks.
  2. Use Don Melton’s Video Transcoding tools to create the final movie from the MKV file.

Using The Incredible Hulk, I timed how long it took to create the MKV file and how long it took to create the finished movie. Without further ado, the results (times are in hh:mm:ss format)…

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Review: Logitech MX Master 2S mouse

Shortly after I bought my 2014 iMac, my third-party mouse died. So I started using the Magic Mouse that came with the iMac, and added “get new third-party mouse” to my to do list. Although I never found the Magic Mouse all that comfortable, I kept putting off replacing it.

Finally, when I ordered the new iMac—yes, that task sat on my to do list for nearly five years—I decided to go back to an ergonomic button-laden third-party mouse. After some searching and hand-fit tests, I bought a Logitech MX Master 2S ($70 at Amazon) mouse1Note that this is definitely a right-hand-only mouse, and Logitech doesn’t appear to offer a left-handed version. Sorry, lefties..

Note: I really dislike reviews that are so short they read more like press releases (and sometimes actually are reprinted press releases). I don’t do a ton of reviews here, but when I do, they tend to be long, because I like to use a product first, then review it in depth.

So what follows are many words (and images) about a computer mouse. If you’d like the tl;dr version instead, here it is: I love the MX Master 2S due to its great ergonomics, customizability, and easy multi-computer support. Keep reading for the much longer version.

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An unexpected ending to an electrifying car story

If you weren’t reading along this week, I spent the last four days—parts one, two, three, and four—talking about my Tesla Model S and how much I love it.

Today’s surprise ending is this: I sold the car. What I’d replace it with? This…

Obviously that’s another Tesla Model S—a used Model S. It is, in fact, a 2016 Models S 90D—yes, basically the exact car I had, but not really—more on that in a bit. My wife and I call it the unicorn car; read on to understand why, and why I made this trade. (As I was writing this, I learned that others had already used that phrase for this particular vintage of the Model S.)

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An electrifying car story – part four

This is Part Four of a four-part series on our 2016 Tesla Model S. In Part One, I covered why we chose the Model S, the cost of the car, and a bit about Tesla the company. In Part Two, I listed some of the things I love about the car. In Part Three, I listed more of the things I love, plus those things I hate. In today’s Part Four, I’ll discuss what it’s like living with an electric car, cover a somewhat long road trip I took last fall, and offer a few thoughts on the future of auto electrification. Finally, tomorrow’s Part Five will provide an unexpected ending (of sorts) to the series.


Living with an electric car

My two-plus years with an electric car have been basically a non-event. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that I work at home, and that we have non-electric vehicles, so the Tesla doesn’t have to do everything. (But even if I commuted, with the car’s range of 280 miles, I think it’d still be a non-event.)

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An electrifying car story—part three

This is Part Three of a five-part series on our Tesla Model S. In Part One, I covered why we chose the Model S, the cost of the car, and a bit about Tesla the company. In Part Two, I listed some of the things I love about the car; today’s Part Three has more of the loves, as well as the not-so-loves. Part Four will discuss what it’s like living with an electric car, and my thoughts on the future of auto electrification. Finally, Part Five will provide an unexpected ending (of sorts) to the series.


Continuing with the things I love about the car and its infrastructure, and then getting to the not-so-loved things…

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An electrifying car story—part two

This is Part Two of a five-part series on our Tesla Model S. In Part One, I covered why we chose the Model S, the cost of the car, and a bit about Tesla the company. In today’s Part Two, I’ll discuss some of the things I love about the car; Part Three will have more of the loves, as well as the not-so-loves. Part Four will discuss what it’s like living with an electric car, and my thoughts on the future of auto electrification. Finally, Part Five will provide an unexpected ending (of sorts) to the series.


What I love about the car

Everything. OK, that’s not true. But there is a huge list of stuff that—even after nearly three years—helps make any drive in the Tesla an enjoyable experience. The list is generally ranked by order of importance to me, though a lot of these would be ties if I had to absolutely rank them. Most of these things are particular to Tesla’s cars (and some to the Model S in particular), though a couple are generally true of any electric vehicle.

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An electrifying car story—part one

Coming up on three years ago, in June of 2016, I replaced my Subaru Legacy with an electric car. Not just any electric car, but a Tesla. Our Tesla is a 2016 “original nose” Model S 90D, which roughly translates to “a very expensive, quite large four-door sedan with about 290 miles of range, all-wheel drive, propelled by a couple of powerful electric motors.” This is not only the most expensive car—by far—we’ve ever owned, but (spoiler alert) it’s the best car we’ve ever owned.

I’ve been writing this post—off and on—almost since the day we bought the car. So why has it taken so long to publish?

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Review: Olala 10,000mAh Power Bank

For those not aware, I have something of an addiction to portable power packs—with two kids and who knows how many devices, it seems someone somewhere is always out of power.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing an addition to our stable of such products: Olala’s $32 10,000mAh Power Bank.1I received the Power Bank at a greatly reduced cost, but my review is based solely on its performance and my impressions of its build quality.

This shiny piano black unit looks great (though that shiny finish is a fingerprint magnet), and its smooth surface means it easily slides into a pocket in a backpack. Four blue LEDs let you know how much juice you have left. Unlike some battery packs, this one is Apple MFi Certified, meaning Olala has gone through the necessary steps to certify that their device meets Apple’s standards. (You can search for MFi certified devices in case you’re ever curious about a given accessory developer.)

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Fujitsu ScanSnap software and the 64-bit-only future

A fair number of my apps are still 32-bit—see how many you still have—though many I don’t really care about all that much. But there’s one suite of apps that I use every day, usually multiple times a day: Fujitsu’s ScanSnap apps. This is the software bundled with the ScanSnap ix500 scanner.

While Fujitsu has been good about updating their software in the past, I was a bit concerned about the upcoming 64-bit transition. So I both tweeted at them and sent them an email. I haven’t seen a reply on Twitter, but a (clearly form letter) reply to my email is at least somewhat encouraging:

There is no problem in the behavior of the application or the OS concerned. The message is only inform that the application needs to be modified for compatibility with next-generation macOS (which should be available near the end of the year). PFU is going to resolve this, but the resolution date is not set yet. In the meantime, please continue using the latest version of the software available.

This blurb was obviously prepared as a response to those complaining about the new 32-bit warning dialog in macOS 10.13.4, but it does seem to address the longer-term question: Fujitsu is planning to “resolve this,” which hopefully implies 64-bit versions are in our future, though at some not-yet-disclosed date.

There are very few things in my workflow that I couldn’t replace…but replacing my ScanSnap and everything it does for me would be quite difficult. Hopefully we’ll see a 64-bit ScanSnap suite before this fall’s deadline.

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