ResearchList #35

I haven’t done one of these in entirely too long.

Current Obsessions:

  • Desert Storm Night Camouflage
  • Document Boxes (aluminum)
  • Rack Mounted Firewire 800 (or, maybe USB 2.0) Storage solutions
  • New Shoulder bag design parameters, referencing
    • TOPO Designs
    • Able Archer
    • The Hill People
  • Air-Hardening Clay
  • Custom Palet racks


Oh man, I’m in deep.

My (most) current obsession is monochrome everything. Here’s the run-down of how that’s manifested (thus far):

  • My iPhone’s home button has been set to toggle the entire phone into greyscale mode with a triple press.
  • I’ve installed Lenka on my phone- it’s a camera app that only does B&W photos. I know you can apply a B&W filter, or that you can set the stock camera app to B&W mode, but you can’t make the camera stay in that mode, and applying the filter after-the-fact robs you of a B&W viewfinder.
  • I’ve spent a mildly embarrassing amount of time researching B&W only digital cameras. Yes, there are (a few), but they’re wildly expensive (Leica) or super-specialty (custom conversion).
  • I’ve got my analog film processing gear all located and ready- I’m likely due for some new fixer, but we’re nearly ready to develop the growing backlog of film I’ve shot.
  • [edit] I’ve also just swapped the display on this computer to greyscale, too. Lovely.

I bought a new computer.

Ah, so. The time had come.

My “current” computer is a very (10!) old MacBook Pro- it’s been great, but it’s gone all glitchy, and keeping it up and running has become entirely too time consuming- and inconsistent. I’ve written before about my affinity for Plex as a media serving solution, and this machine had been pulling Plex Media Server duty. It’s gone so flakey that it can’t be relied upon for that anymore, so it was clearly time for something new.

Or, I should say, new-er. I had planned to ante up and grab a 27″ iMac Retina of some flavor- by all accounts a lovely machine. It’s minimally user-serviceable, though, and the most you can really do is upgrade the RAM a bit. And: $1500 base price. So I also looked at a Mac Mini, but the price of those can be stiff, and they’re not user upgradable anymore, so… used? Nope- they hold value like crazy, and you’re effectively better buying a new one. So that’s out. And I don’t need the portability of a laptop.

Enter: Xserve. They dropped this line in 2010, but these were rack-mounted Macs meant for use in data centers. They are proper servers, too: dual redundant power supplies, lots of space for disks and RAM, dual gigabit ethernet, etc etc etc. I bought one on ebay, and it should be here early this week. Mine’s from 2008, and you might be thinking that I’m nuts to have bought an eight-year-old machine, but let me point out a couple of things:

  1. It’s faster than the iMac I might have bought- mine has 2x 3.0ghz quad-core Xeons, and the benchmarks for the machine are still pretty quick. It’s roughly a 6x improvement over my existing machine.
  2. It’s got plenty of RAM- mine has 16gb, but it’ll handle (at least) double that.
  3. It’s got space for 3 hard drives. Mine has 3x80gb, but I’ll eventually swap that to 3x2tb, so I’ll have 6tb of internal storage.
  4. It has an internal super drive (HA! well, useful for ripping existing parts of my DVD collection…)
  5. I paid $200 for it. Plus $90 for shipping, since the thing’s a TANK and is coming from the west coast.
  6. It’s entirely user serviceable. All the parts can come out and be swapped- it’s a industrial computer, after all.

Some downsides, of course:

  1. It eats power. It idles at 150W or so, but I’ll be running it on a scheduled boot/shutdown cycle to minimize that problem.
  2. Officially, it’s only supposed to be able to run 10.6.8 as an OS. Really, though, it’ll run 10.11.x without any real trouble- Apple dropped support for it’s video card, but I’ve got a much more modern card en-route that will fix that issue.
  3. It’s huge and rack mounted- but I don’t care, as I have a rack in the basement anyway.
  4. It’s loud under load- again, irrelevant, as it’s in the basement, and I’ll be managing it via screen sharing remotely anyway.

I’m excited. It’s been a very long time since I had a proper work-horse of a computer, and it’ll be nice to finally have my data and projects all consolidated onto one capable machine. The next stage will be monitors for it- the new video card will push 2650×1600 resolution, but I can’t figure out of that’s across one screen, or if that’s each on two screens. Whatever- it’s enough either way, really. I’ve got a 24″ 1920×1080 kicking around that’ll do in the meantime.

I figure even if I only get a few more years of life from it (which, honestly, seems unlikely- these were built like brick houses, so it should keep ticking along), it’ll still have been less expensive than an iMac, and I’ll have roughly the same speed and power, so that’s a bonus. And, given the price, if I want a “couch computer” for browsing, I can grab an iPad or Chromebook or whatever, and still have the total cost be less than an iMac.