Archive for the ‘Missives’ Category

Illustrator CS5 on El Capitan

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Adobe_Illustrator_CS5_icon

I’ve been sticking with Adobe’s CS5 for quite a while now. I had planned on upgrading when CS7 was released… However Adobe decided to go with the cloud-based option, and I’m not ready to have another monthly-fee to worry about.

At any rate, my plan of sticking with CS5 was going just fine until El Capitan came out. 3 (interrelated) problems arose which made using Adobe Illustrator less than ideal.

  1. Adobe Illustrator would crash on exit
  2. Since it crashes on exit, the preferences would never get updated
  3. Since the preferences never get updated, certain settings would need to get changed every time I opened AI.

It was frustrating, but it still wasn’t a deal breaker. I looked online to see if anyone had any solutions. In this post at the official Adobe forums, there was someone asking my exact question. The official response for the thread though was “CS5 is not supported. Update to creative cloud.” Not the answer I was looking for…

As I went deeper, there was another popular suggestion: Downgrade to Yosemite if you are too cheap to upgrade to the newest Illustrator. While that would resolve one problem, it would introduce other issues. Yosemite no longer receives all of the security patches that come with El Capitan. Apple only pushes them out to the newest OS unless it’s super-critical. I’m not willing to give up security for this minor of an issue.

Finally, after wading through multiple pages of this post, a user produced a tip that amazingly solved the issue.

Rename “/Library/Application Support/Adobe/CS5.5ServiceManager” to “/Library/Application Support/Adobe/CS5.5ServiceManager.bak”

This resolved the issue. I’m annoyed that it wasn’t marked as the thread’s solution to the problem, as it is (in my opinion) the best solution to the problem. Illustrator is now working again as it always had before upgrading to El Capitan. I hope that this helps someone else who is having a hard time finding the solution to this annoying issue.

Mac Pro 3,1 (Early 2008)

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Mac Pro

I would generally say there are three types of computer user:

  • Consumer: People who wants something that will get them online, print documents, and just work without any hassle.
  • Enthusiast: (AKA Prosumer) People who like to buy professional products, enjoy tinkering, and dabble in the occasional professional-level project.
  • Professional: People who legitimately needs power for rendering, computing, and getting things done on a daily basis.

I’d put myself in the enthusiast column. I don’t do tons of 3D renderings, or giant Final Cut projects, and I don’t game. I do occasionally encode videos, CAD, and do lots of work with Adobe products. I certainly don’t need a top of the line machine, but I certainly enjoy having the best!

Computers are expensive. At least, they have been historically. For those of us who like Macs, they still are! Sure, the MacMini will only set you back $600, but that’s not the category of computer I am interested in.

Mac Pro 2013

The Mac Pro (and the Power Mac before it) is the line of computer that enthusiasts and professionals have loved owning. To do so, you have to be ready to be ready to part with beaucoup bucks! These machines costs thousands of dollars. For a point of reference, The current iteration of the MacPro is selling today at bargain basement entry price of $2999.00!

Professionals can usually justify the costs of such a workhorse (since it’s a business expense and ideally increases productivity, affecting the bottom line in a positive way). The rest of us have to find some other way to justify the cost…

From my anecdotal evidence (a sample size of 1…), I have found that buying the lowest end configuration of the high-end tier to be the least financially devastating for two reasons:

  1. More durable – They can withstand being used day in and day out for years
  2. More upgradable – Usefulness can be augmented through gradual upgrades over time

In October of 2008, I convinced my wife to let me buy a Mac Pro. Not just any Mac Pro, the lowest-end Mac Pro they made. A quad core 2.8 GHz with 2 Gigs of RAM. All for the paltry sum of $2,200 (Which was actually a lot at the time since we were poor college kids). In order to spend the money, I had to promise that this would be the only computer I purchase for the next 5 years.

I have been a huge proponent of the tower form factor due to the power, longevity, and upgradability. It’s now been over 7 years since that initial purchase, and I still use this computer every day. It’s still wonderfully capable. Over the years, I’ve been able to exploit it’s upgradability, and I believe I have saved a lot of money by doing so.

Since the initial purchase, I’ve upgraded the RAM, the processors, the graphics card, the optical drives, the hard drives, the wireless card, and installed an SSD. I’ve tabulated the cost over the years to maintain and upgrade:

Year Upgrade Cost
2008 Base Purchase $2,200.00
2009 Second 2.8 GHz CPU $350.00
2009 12GB RAM $250.00
2013 SSD Drive $120.00
2013 BluRay Drive $80.00
2015 PCIe SATA3 controller for SSD $45.00
2015 New AMD GPU $120.00
2016 2x 3.2 GHz CPUs $90.00

Total Cost: $3255.00
Cost per Year: $406.86

You can see how steeply component costs go down over time. The additional CPU was quite costly just a year or so after the initial purchase. The price has since plummeted to the point that I replaced both CPUs for under $100.

Slightly relevant XKCD.

To test my thesis that the route of gradually upgrading a low-end high-end Mac is cost effective, I am going to compare against two alternative philosophies I’ve entertained and do a really quick and dirty, back-of-the-envelope comparison of hypothetical cost.

Single High End Purchase

The first alternative is to buy the biggest, best computer upfront with the intent of using it for years on end, and never upgrade it.

Using the WayBack machine, I am able to look at Apple’s store site from the month when I originally purchased my Mac Pro. Matching the specs as closely as possible to my current specs, we have the following (ignoring sales tax):

Item Cost
Base System $2,799.00
3.2 GHz Upgrade $1,600.00
16 GB RAM $3,500.00
Upgraded Video Card $2,850.00

Total Cost: $10,749.00
Cost per Year: $1,535.57

The instant gratification of having the most up-to-date and fastest machine that Apple makes comes at a cost! Clearly this is not the most economical way to roll. And of course always remember to never buy RAM from Apple.

The reason this is so much more expensive is because, as computers depreciate over time, so do the cost for components. So in order to have the goods up front, you have to be ready to pay a premium for cutting-edge hardware.

Frequent Replacement

Another philosophy I’ve considered is to purchase a more modest machine, but instead of upgrading components, upgrade the entire system every few years. The thought process is that you can sell the old machine while it still has value to offset the cost of the newer machine.

Lets say that we replace the machine every three years. This gives the advantage of always being in warranty (assuming you purchase AppleCare). Based on evidence from a quick browsing of eBay, I will assume that a machine 3 years old will sell for about 1/3 of it’s original value (super rough estimation!).

Year Computer Buy Price Sell Price Net Cost
2008 Mac Pro 4 x 2.8 GHz $2,299.00 $765.00 $1,534.00
2011 Mac Pro 4 x 3.2 GHz Nahalem $2,499.00 $833.00 $1,666.00
2014 Mac Pro 4 x 3.7 GHz $2,999.00

Total Cost: $6,199.00
Cost per Year: $885.57

As you can see from this hypothetical, and very rough example, the difference in yearly cost to own an updated computer is about double of the approach of upgrading components.

Perhaps though we should consider the performance difference between the current low-end high-end computer versus the performance of the upgraded 7 year old computer?

Thanks to GeekBench, we have a huge pool of data to look at. Just doing a cursory search, I found these results:

Model Speed Single Core Score Multi Core Score
Mac Pro 2008 8x 3.2 GHz 1743 12149
Mac Pro 2013 4x 3.7 GHz 3235 12780

The single core performance of the new machine is tremendously better than the 7 year old Mac. The multi-core performance isn’t significantly better though. There are obviously many other improvements, including GPUs, bus speeds, and SSD performance to consider as well.

Conclusion

The question is, how much are you willing to spend? This is different for everyone. For me, I believe that there is value in upgrading and keeping products as long as possible. I am very happy with the gains I’ve been able to make over the years by performing gradual updates in order to keep the machine somewhat modern. There is no single right answer for everyone, but for me, this suits me just fine.

Security Breach

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

welcome_iphone

I had an interesting morning… You generally should not see this screen on your 6 month old iPhone while you are out and about doing errands…

9:30 AM

My wife visited me at work because her phone stopped working. It had shut down spontaneously, and she thought perhaps it was broken. It turns out it was more than just not working. It had been remotely erased via iCloud. Obviously, neither of us did it, so began the panic of figuring out who was in our account, how they breached our account, and how to get them out.

I tried logging into iCloud, but it would not accept the password. I initiated a password reset, only to find that the recovery email address, a Gmail account, was also not accepting the correct password. Great…

9:35 AM

IMG_3287

Unfortunately, Gmail was the most difficult account to recover (and most time consuming). Gmail provides a means of recovering an account if someone other than the owner changes the password. Unfortunately it was very difficult to get all the information they wanted. Some of this information includes:

  • Date that the email address was created
  • Security question answers
  • Frequent contacts (5)
  • Oldest recovery email address
  • Dates other Google services were registered

After trying about 10 times (with a lot of frustrated yelling…), I finally hit the combination of answers that let me back into the account. I changed the password, and began looking for evidence of damage.

The perpetrator did not enable forwarding. Well, that’s good. He did remove the recovery email address, and he also took the time to delete every email in the inbox and outbox.

10:00 AM

We checked other accounts tied to that email address. Our Amazon account password was changed, however nothing else appeared to be touched. No orders, no change of address, no change in credit card information, etc.

We called Amazon to see what to do in cases like this. I wanted them to verify that nothing was changed, and that no orders were placed. They in essence told us that they couldn’t do anything for two days, and to not use the account for the time being. It was fairly frustrating because it felt like they had no motivation or means for helping people in this situation.

10:30 AM

The rest of the day way spent changing passwords, and verifying that no other accounts were breached.

I filled out a request to Google to restore the deleted email messages thinking that they would be non-responsive, however, they kindly complied within 20 minutes or so. The restored emails show the time line of events, as well as give some closure as to what additional sites the perpetrator attempted to breach.

9:00 AM – There was an alert that the Gmail password reset had occurred.

9:05 AM – Notification of change of recovery email address.

9:11 AM – Notification of password reset for iCloud.

9:20 AM – Notification that the iPhone had been wiped.

So, clearly, the Gmail account was the weak link in this scenario. My guess is that the intruder guessed the security questions required to reset the password.

What is the Takeaway?

two-factorAlthough the intruder had decidedly ruined our day, nothing of consequence was hurt. No bank accounts were affected, and no fraudulent orders were made. Only a few family videos may have been lost from the iPhone.

It appears that this was just someone being annoying rather than someone attempting to steal our identity, or money.

We have now upped our security by doing the following, and recommend that you do too:

  • Utilize 2-factor authentication when it is available
    (Gmail and iCloud both offer this)
  • Use longer/harder passwords
    Relevant xkcd
  • Use passwords that are unique for each site and application
    If one service you use has a security breach, at least you don’t have to worry about any other accounts.
  • Do NOT use security questions if you can avoid it
    If you have to use security questions, use obscure responses that are not easily guessable or contextually relevant.

All in all, things could have been a lot worse, and we are lucky we were able to get everything back under control so quickly. Still, it’s always better to practice good security before there is a problem