Last week, on more than one ocasion, I could feel my laptop getting really hot for no apparent reason which pointed me to take a closer look at what’s using up my resources. Indeed CPU & memory were being intensely taken over by mds and md-worker (mkay, they weren’t really “taken over”, more like one core was and half a gig of RAM, but still quite significant). What are those, you ask? Well, they are processes related to Spotlight, that wonderful little tool on the Mac OS that just seems to know where everything is on your system. In order to do that though, it has to spend some time going through your new files so that it can find them quickly when you’re looking for them.
I was on the right track, but I couldn’t really picture any reason why Spotlight would be working out so intensely all of a sudden, as I hadn’t copied any large amounts of files or anything of the sort in the previous days. Even if I had, why would it take so long to index them (it was pretty quick with everything in the very beginning). It took a bit of searching around, but I eventually tracked down a bug that makes Backblaze (a cloud backup service) and Spotlight not play well together.
Here’s a description of the problem and very easy fix (on the Backblaze website! How cool is that? Good job tech team!); it boils down to Backblaze playing with a (large) log file very often which apparently makes Spotlight want to reindex it and results in a continuous load on that process. All you have to do is tell Spotlight to ignore that log file. Done, everything is back to normal.
(Note: It seems that Backblaze does try to tell Spotlight to ignore that folder when it installs, but sometimes it doesn’t work right. Maybe it’s a Lion-related bug? I don’t really know, but nonetheless, it’s good that they actually put up a description of the problem and fix on their website, I really liked that).
Almost a year ago I blogged about getting a Kindle and how I was pleasantly impressed by it (that’s an euphemism for being totally blown away). It’s been 11 months and in this time I have downloaded 58 books on my Kindle. Wow! Now I say download and not bought because about half of these are free ebooks that you can get on Amazon (mostly classics). Out of all these I read probably about 20-25. In case you’re wondering how do I end up getting more books than I actually read, that’s an interesting topic that I’ll touch on another time.
Regardless, that’s still a lot of books read and a lot of books bought. I can say with certainty that I bought more books this year (using the Kindle) than in any year before because of the convenience. Nonetheless, among these numerous books, free or paid, there is not one technical book. I just never bought an ebook that I would be directly using in my work. There are several reasons for that:
- Kindles are great for reading a novel from start to end, but not that great for flipping through pages and going back and forth
- I don’t even notice the screen lag when I’m reading, but it would bug me a lot if I were going back and forth between a few pages (as I often do with reference books) or if I was searching for something specific
- No color makes many figures and screenshots useless and most others hard to read
- The screen is small by “tech book” standard. This is perhaps a weaker argument since there are larger Kindles, but for me it’s an argument nonetheless
- Old habits die hard… I just like having the reference book next to me so that I can flip through it, make notes and of course throw it at the wall when code crashes!
Recently though I did purchase what is most probably my first technical e-book. I actually bought three of them in a pack. These are the Android Books from CommonsWare and again there are several reasons why I decided to buy these. As tech books go, these are quite cheap actually so it’s not a huge gamble if it turns out to be a bad idea, I could check on the author (by observing his inhuman rep on StackOverflow and the way he explains things there) and they actually seemed quite promising in terms of quality. But really, the one selling point that got me to decide on this almost immediately was getting Free updates for one year.
Now let met just stop there and expand on that. Free updates for any period of time is a HUGE thing in technology documentation, especially with something young like Android that mutates into something new every 10 minutes or so. My previous book on Android was outdated by the time I purchased it. By the time I finished it, Android was something else altogether. Updating books is something that you can’t have with “dead trees” and I cannot overstate its importance for tech books. I believe this to be the strongest argument for getting tech books electronically. Unfortunately, not all ebooks come with this benefit (actually…most don’t as far as I know), so the argument becomes rather null. It’s sad to have a medium with so much power, but find it not be used to its full capability.
Of course, I’m now back at my original concerns. Having this new ebook I was faced with the challenge of…well…using it. This is for personal work and I’m doing that off a laptop now which means that I don’t have three screens so that I can put the book on one and just work as normal. Lion’s fullscreen mode plus gestures actually helps a lot, it’s easy to switch between the book and the environment… but I still have to switch, which is a bit annoying (for those of you confused, I was spoiled by working on two 24+21 inch screens for a year; you just can’t really ever get over the experience of 40″+ of screen space).
Among my numerous options with these ebooks, I could get a Kindle version of the book so I could put it on my Kindle, but I run into the problems I was previously mentioning. Again, call me fussy, but I just can’t see myself using my Kindle for a tech reference.
I think this is where I become interested in having a tablet. I can genuinely see that be useful for something like this. A 10″ screen is decent size and if going through pages is as smooth and quick as it is on the computer, that’s great. Since the reasons for getting a tablet are adding up, maybe once the Kindle Fire makes it to the UK, I’ll look into that.
(You know, it’s funny how when the iPad came out I was completely unmoved and considered it a dumb idea and as time went by, I slowly started buying into the whole tablet thing; I hate to admit something like this, but in this case Steve was absolutely right… I had no idea what I wanted until he shoved it in my face. Damn!).
This has been a very sad October for the tech world. After Steve Jobs passed away earlier this month, we lost two more tech giants in the following weeks.
Dennis Ritchie, known best as the creator of C and a key person in the development of Unix, died this month. With all the credit given to companies like Apple and Google for their innovation, it is important to say that without people like Ritchie, none of what we use right now would be around.
And if that wasn’t enough of a hit to the tech world, John McCarthy – the inventor of LISP and a pioneer in artificial intelligence – also died this October. Both Ritchie and McCarthy were Turing Award winners and I would say influenced the world of computing at least as much as Steve Jobs did, if in a different way and not so much in the spotlight.
If you take the most recent iPhone, this influence is easy to trace. The operating system is a “unix-like” OS. The programming language for building apps is based on C. The new Siri “talk-to-your-phone” functionality is just a modern example of the progress in artificial intelligence. So while we pay our respects to Jobs for his dedication to usability and aesthetics, we mustn’t forget the people working behind the scenes to make these technologies possible. All of these are essential to the progress of the tech world and they are all deserving of our respect, love and gratitude.
I was getting a bit frustrated this morning because of various problems moving files back and forth between my Mac and the other Windows machines in the house. All my portable drives, whether they were flash drives or external hard drives, have been formatted to NTFS for the past few years which always worked okay for me before. Windows obviously handles NTFS perfectly and Linux has no problem reading or writing to that either. Unfortunately, Mac OS doesn’t seem to play as well with NTFS (at least not out of the box). It can read NTFS, but it can’t write to it.
So now starts the file system war again. If I leave my USB drives in NTFS, my Mac can’t write to it. If I format it for the Mac, it won’t work on Windows. If I format it FAT32, it will work on both, but it won’t handle files larger than 4gb.
Now before people start commenting about this or that app that handles different file systems, I want to stress that I am aware such applications and plugins exist, I just wanted this to work easily/natively/out of the box on all computers, without requiring this extra layer.
After quite a bit of digging around, I found out about something called exFAT. You can read the wiki page for more info, but in a sentence, it’s somewhat like FAT, but can handle large files. It’s compatible with pretty much any Windows you’d be running in 2011 (hopefully) and Mac OS starting with Snow Leopard. So this should work fine for thumb drives going between the two OSs.
Of course though, nothing is perfect… exFAT is not compatible with Linux. So sooner or later, the file system war will start again. Until that dark afternoon, let’s pray for peace.