The Moocher welcomes Ting Mobile

Ting Mobile has surged to the top of Consumer Reports wireless carrier popularity survey. Ting is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) serving the continental United States reselling T-Mobile and Sprint service in its service territories. Coverage is the same as the parent carrier. If you’re in town on or a major road, life is good. In the prairie or the mountains I can’t hear you now but I am never there.

References

  1. https://www.ting.com
  2. Consumer Reports carrier survey (website subscribers only)
  3. Online review https://youtu.be/tpcxbBrEHgs
  4. Funny Advert https://youtu.be/vV_l9ZoBfOI

Why did I change

The incumbent MVNO operator was OK technically but known for horrid customer service. Thanks to good articles on GigaOM and Ars, I made it through on boarding with the incumbent without needing to call them. Since then, I’ve not had to call them but I’m finding my website password goes missing from time to time. Most recently, when I started looking at the number porting. You have to mother may I to move your old number. Being a GV convert, i let Ting give me a new number and saved firing the incumbent for another day.

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2017 That Was the Year that Was

Porch Holiday Lights

What a strange year. The first year of continuous scandal national government. Real scandals, not pretend scandal like those during 44’s watch. 45 became in violation of a building lease with the US Government upon inauguration (can’t lease to USG  employees or elected officials) and it has been a steady slide from there.

Institute for Learning in Retirement

Dave remains active as a standing committee chair in this Tidewater seniors club. The club is in the second year of migration from semi-automated membership and class registration processes to on-line processes that should allow our 3 person part time staff to continue to serve our growing membership. Those wanting to learn more about ILR may do so at https://www.oduilr.org.

The club is in the process of engaging a payment processing service and opening a merchant services account. With this change staff and Dave will be actively trying to figure out how things work and revising our internal work flows. We hope these changes will improve member services.

On the Church Front

Dave is a member of the audio-visual and networking teams preparing a new used building to be our future church. Our architect and builder are well regarded small commercial projects builders but we are finding gaps to be filled in completing the technical infrastructure needed by a modern house of worship having other non-profit tenants.

Networking

The increased size and complexity of our new building requires some internal access controls to allow staff to move about while keeping home school children and their minders out of the upper levels and unimproved areas of the building. In addition, we’re adding internal video and security telephones not in our older building.  Figuring out affordable ways to do this has kept Dave and his committee mates busy for a day a week.

It turns out that the best way to do many of these tasks is with Ethernet network devices. Each floor of our new building will have Power over Ethernet network drops for each office, classroom, and location we’d like to have a phone. The main entrance and staff entrances will have video door phones that allow staff to screen visitors and open the door for expected vendors and congregants

Each office and classroom will have an in wall WiFi access point to support use of WHRO educational materials by Home School Out of the Box classes and WiFi access for home schooler parents. The large meeting areas will also have WiFi service.

Audio Visual Stuff

Dave is also involved with the audio visual systems and theatrical lighting for the sanctuary. Planning for the AV system began with the first plans for the sanctuary. We engaged a local contractor to model the hall and recommend acoustical design elements to manage the reverberation time of the hall for spoken word and acoustic music.

The hall will include a robust high fidelity sound reinforcement system suitable for speech, small acoustic ensemble performances, and movie and video projection. The sound system has a modern digital mixer, high efficiency amplifiers, modern assistive listening, and is able to mix both front of house and on-stage monitor sound. Mix configurations can be saved and recalled making setup easier for  our volunteer audio engineers.

Theatrical Lighting

Our new hall will have theatrical lighting designed primarily for lighting services on stage but with multi-color LED sources to permit some use of theatrical effects as we learn how to do that. The church is fortunate to have a congregant whose day job is Exhibits Director at Nauticus, our local maritime museum. Dustin has been handling the nitty gritty of the stage lighting but Dave has been helping with hall lighting control so we can dim the house lights from the AV booth which also doubles as video and lighting booths.

Critters

Nick and Missy on Zombie Watch

Nick and Missy are both well but Nick is a senior citizen and acting it. His activity is down as is his piss and vinegar level. At 11 and a half, he’s pretty mellow and content to let Missy have the alpha role.

Missy

Missy reminding Dave that supper is late.

Missy defends the house from zombies, hoodie teens, bikers, and other assorted blighters. She’s mellowed some as she approaches 6 and no longer trolls school children at the fence but the neighbor dogs are fair game as are skater kids and bicycles.

Nick

Nick showing devil’s ears

Nick may be old but when Missy calls for aid, Nick comes running and is right in the mix. Interestingly, we have a neighbor dog, a playful Golden Doodle, retriever and standard poodle hybrid. He’s just a sapling and sweet as can be. Nick and Missy chat with him at the hole in neighbor’s fence (neighbor is a tenant). Neighbor dog is a bit bouncy so we’ve not let them run together (hardly a fare contest).

The moles appear to have moved on. But we have coyote confirmed in the area with sitings on the Botanical Garden grounds, airport grounds, and in the woods around the reservoir. They pretty much stick to the strip by the lake and are rarely seen in the neighborhood. The local ones are about 40 pounds and are believe to have a taste for outdoor cats and other small critters. Funny, rabbits are scarce at the moment. Maybe most have become coyote.

Thoughts on Electric Power for Puerto Rico

As you may know, I’m a former electric power utility equipment engineer. Although no longer active, I continue to follow developments in my former industry. Hurricanes Irma and Maria significantly damaged Puerto Rico’s ailing state owned public utility. Because of economic conditions on the island and electric power pricing decisions, the utility has been unable to maintain its generation and distribution equipment. Apparently, the utility was also deferring tree maintenance long its rights of way. Because of the lack of care and the strength of the storms, most of the island’s retail distribution is down and some of its backbone transmission is damaged. Puerto Rico is in the position of rebuilding its transmission and distribution and cold starting its generation.

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The Moocher bakes a Raspberry Pi

In poking about audio sites, I discovered Roon Labs Roon music server product. Roon is the music server I’ve been looking for for 20 years. Roon Labs has its origins in the Meridian Audio Solooes product over in the UK. This is a highly regarded embed music server organized in proper client server fashion. This post describes Roon, my Raspberry Pi build of a Roon Transport, and the commissioning process. Though not a step by step (see the references), this post includes some lessons learned during the build and setup, and the bandaging of my knuckles.

Listening Experience

After several weeks of living with Roon and the HiFiBerry Digi+ transport, I’m seriously taken with the product.

  • The composer, composition, and performance reviews are of high quality, written in an engaging and informative style.
  • Roon Radio is helping me rediscover records and tracks I had forgotten I had. Starting with a Thile-Meyer track, it worked through the album, into Fleck & Meyer, then to Nickel Creek, and Punch brothers and back to Thile-Mehldau. Poor dogs had to listen to acid grass and acid folk while I was shopping.
  • The Digi+ kit just works with the metal case and HiFiBerry standard power supply. There’s no need for expensive linear supplies or unobtainium wire cryogenically aged in unicorn blood. The DAC is going to jitter buffer, retime, and reformat for rendering and any exotica outside this final device is unable to improve the sound. Save your money.
  • Parasound got things right with the P5. The Optical and Coax inputs work well. USB input is reserved for disk mastering off my old Mac Mini and Parasound Z-Phono USB. This device has an ADC with line level and moving-mangent/moving-coil phono preamp. And it works as well as the P5 preamp and DAC. John Curl is a wizard!.

I really love the sound of this rig. If the album is well recorded and the mix is phase coherent, Brad Mehldau’s piano notes dance in space from string to string with a Brad and his Stienway are in the lounge sound.

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Introducing Roon Audio

I’ve been using Plex as my audio player for a while. Noodling around on the Internet looking Raspberry Pi stuff, I stumbled across HiFiBerry and from there Roon Audio. Roon Labs is a spinoff from Meridian of their multi-room digital audio player. These folks have done something right by starting with a client server open architecture which organizes the system as

  1. A music server process
  2. A music management service that builds metadata for your library
  3. A control service that determines what plays where
  4. And endpoints that play content or deliver content to an audio system

They’ve made the endpoint easily embeddable in high fidelity and home theater components. They’ve made the server run as a service so a machine need not be logged in to make your music available. The control runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows and as iOS and Android applications on phones and tablets.

Where I’m At

I have a two week trial running on my new Mac. In August, I’ll subscribe and build a dedicated Roon Bridge using HiFiBerry parts. This Roon Bridge will replace the AppleTV 3 serving the HiFi. I’ll keep the TV and ChromeCast TOSlinks initially but will likely retire the ChromeCast.

Listening Impressions

It works with less fuss than Plex, a superior user interface, better library material encouraging music discovery, and potentially, state of the art digital audio as a result of removing first-mover constraints from the protocol designs and software architecture. I find Roon very listenable using the iMac’s built in speakers. They image surprisingly well in the near field when playing good source material. The sound is also good through an AppleTV and Parasound P5 built in DAC. This combination sounds less good than the Chrome Cast Audio feeding the same DAC. There seems to be a bit more image via the Chrome Cast than the AppleTV.

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Introducing “Trey”

I name my hosts after notable greyhounds. The new iMac is no exception. It’s Trey, named after Kiowa Sweet Trey, Nick’s sire and Crash’s sire. Crash is a friend’s hound pawcationing with us this week.

References

  1. Apple’s iMac user guide at the iBook store describes the basics.
  2. David Pogue’s “MacOS Sierra, the Missing Manual” explains how to make best use of a Mac running Sierra.
  3. There are no current manuals for High Sierra coming this fall.

Revision History

  1. Original issue

First Impressions of Trey

Packaging and Unboxing

Apple packed Trey cleverly in a trapezoidal box, an outer corrugated shipping box covering a similar pasteboard point of sale box. The boxes are designed to stack up nicely in an outer shipping container by putting one base up next to one that is base down.

It was a surprisingly easy procedure to open the boxes. Tamper evident paper tape closed the outer box at the top. Cutting the tape allowed the front flap to drop down and the top flap to fold over revealing the inner package and its carrying handle. Once freed from the outer packing, the pasteboard point of sale box is opened the same way. Flipping the top open gives access to the accessory tray holding your choice of keyboard and pointing device.

Opening the inner enclosure shows the foam shock protection which is easily separated from the machine. A non-woven fiber envelope encloses the machine. A film covering protects the screen finish and case finish. All of this is easily removed.

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A New iMac On Its Way

Today was a bit pricy. I ordered a new adjustable height desk to put under a new 27 inch 2017 iMac.

advanced-keypad-photo-gallery-main-3

My ancient trestle dining table desk is always at the wrong height for work so I decided to treat myself to an adjustable desk from The Human Solution in Austin, Texas. The desk I chose was a 30×60 radiused front bamboo top on an adjustable trestle base like that shown above. An electric drive lets you easily move the desk to one of 4 preset heights and even tells you how high the work top is.

The New iMac

After some poking around at the Apple Store and some on-line reading, I chose a new 27 Inch i7 iMac. Apple makes it tricky as they never change just one thing from model to model. I use my machine primarily for photo and video editing, at least that’s my design basis usage. In reality, it spends its boring life writing this blog.

When fan boys are talking about computer hardware, they are usually speaking about how well the part games. I’m not a gamer so most of their observations are irrelevant. Gaming workloads are unique and are tuned to nVidia graphics by and large.

Apple places a premium on how well the hardware supports OpenCL application computing with graphics rendering a secondary consideration. OpenCL performance is the primary consideration in video and audio rendering. Cryptography support is increasingly important as data is encrypted at rest and decrypted on the fly.

What Apple Changes

From model to model in a line, Apple changes the display, the graphics hardware, storage, and the processor. This means that there are sweet spots in the product line but it also means that upgrading one capability may require accepting additional changes. When you look at the fan-boy discussions on-line, the posters tend to focus on one aspect of the machine without much regard to what it would be doing or that it would be doing several things at once. I thought I’d take a deeper look in this article.

The graphics chipset is the primary differentiator of the 27 inch 5K Retina iMac line. The display and display hardware must be chosen at time of purchase. The processor, memory, and storage can be changed in the field although only memory updates are easy. Storage and processor updates require dealing with the double sided tape holding the iMac together. Of the two tasks, updating the storage is easy. Tinkering with the processor is less easy as Apple has tailored the cooler to the specific processor it uses.

Display

Apple offers 4K and 5 K retina displays in the iMac. The 4K display is more than adequate for general use. The 5K display is aimed primarily at those working with large images. The big display has room for a full 4K video frame with additional pixels for the video editing menu. The display can’t be changed in the field. The iMac’s current USB-C/Thunderbolt interfaces can drive an external 4K display but not an external 5K display. Thunderbolt 3 does not quite have the bandwidth for the 20% larger display.

If you tend to hang on to a machine like I do, opting for the 5K display will give a longer service life. This was the one place where commenters had expressed regret, settling for the 4K display when working as a video producer.

Video

Apple makes three versions 5K Retina iMac best identified by the graphics part used. The three models use the Radeon 570, Radeon 575, and Radeon 580. Reports are that the Radeon 580 chip gives the most crisp rendering experience with the 5K display. This shows up as a smoother control experience when using brushes and other direct manipulation tools in Adobe Lightroom or Phase One Capture One.

In the Radeon 580 variant, Apple ups the video memory from 4 GB to 8 GB. It is believed the bump in video memory is responsible for the improved interaction. The amount of video RAM cannot be changed in the field. I opted for the 5K 580 graphics hardware.

Processors

Apple offers Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors in the iMac. Both processors have 4 execution units but differ in cache architecture (arcane) and availability of hyper threading. With 4 cores, these machines will be able to process network traffic, play music, send content to Air Play, etc without affecting user interaction. They are well quipped to “walk while chewing gum”.

Hyper threading

Intel hyper threading adds a second prefetch, decode, and execute queue to a core that allows it to work concurrently on two threads from a single process. A modern application has several threads. One is running the user interface event loop. This thread receives mouse and keyboard events that it dispatches for processing. Any graphical program will have this thread.

Depending on its purpose, a program may have additional work threads. For example, the simulation I worked on had 3 threads, one for the user interface, one that took simulation time steps, and a third that exchanged information with other simulation instances collaborating to run the problem.

As I understand it, hyper threading adds a second program counter (program status word) and user register set that supports the second thread but the two threads share the memory address mapping, cache, and processor execution units.

One CS lecturer used the example of one thread using the integer unit while the second used the floating point unit. If both threads needed the integer unit, they would be taking turns. This is not as bad as it sounds since the integer unit is pipelined and has several instructions in the works at once. Once you have multiple functional units, instruction reordering, and register renaming hardware in place, the second set of user registers and hyper threading logic produces a 10 to 30 percent performance gain for a smaller increase in the core’s complexity.

I opted for the i7 with hyper threading over the i5 without. Mostly because my Core 2 Duo mini was a dog rendering in iMovie. I felt I would keep the i7 machine longer and it would have a better second life when Apple finally removed OS update service. This choice made the 2 TB Fusion drive standard.

 

Storage

Most PC applications have relatively low disk I/O demands. Typical applications read the document into memory, operate on it there, and write it to disk in its entirety at save/close. There are two notable exceptions, software development and video rendering. Compiling and library updating using traditional Unix compilers tends to be a disk write intensive task. Video rendering is also disk write intensive.

The Radeon 570 and Radeon 575 iMac base storage is a 1 TB Fusion Drive. A Fusion Drive is a MacOS mashup of a regular 1 TB electromechanical disk (EMD) and a solid state disk 24 GB (SSD) at the operating system level. MacOS creates a single virtual volume from the two physical devices and migrates the most recently used files between the EMD and the SSD. Basically, the SDD behaves like a persistent buffer cache for the EMD. Things recently read or written are in the SDD and shadowed on the EMD.

Apple offers a 2 TB Fusion drive as base storage for the Radeon 580 iMac. This disk combines a 256 GB SSD and a 2 TB 7200 RPM EMD. The disk speed will make a difference for tasks that produce long streams of data to write to disk. As the application writes, data goes first to the buffer cache, then to the SSD and from there to the EMD. If the volume to be written exceeds the SSD free space, long sustained writes characteristic of video rendering will eventually drop into equilibrium with the EMD’s ability to put data away on disk.

Apple uses standard 3.5 inch disk drives and M.2 SSD modules but does not make them accessible for user replacement. iFixIt makes repair and upgrade kits available including the proper double sticky tape needed to close the iMac. Opening an iMac and replacing drives in the field is doable but be advised that working with the sticky tape is time-consuming and may be a bit tricky. Apple techs get lots of practice at this.

After fiddling around with the Radeon 580 5k Retina 27 inch iMac, I concluded that the standard 2 TB Fusion Drive would be adequate for my needs. This device is much bigger than the 512 GB SSD in my Mac Mini and the 256GB cache SSD was big enough that it would be a long time before I outgrew it.

Memory

Apple starts all configurations out with 8 GB of main memory. This is generally adequate for writing, drawing, and photo editing. Interestingly, Apple makes the memory accessible and field replaceable behind a trap door. I ordered the base memory and opted to add 16GB in the field should it be needed. That would give a total of 24 GB in the machine.

An Aside on SSD’s

SSD’s work their magic by eliminating rotational and seek delays but current NAND flash devices have finite but high write lifetimes. As the number of times a block has been written approaches the design life, the probability that it will fail goes up. The operating system should sense the error, mark the block bad, and write the data to a new block from the free pool. When enough blocks are bad, the disk will become unusable. I have not personally experienced an SSD failure so I can’t comment from first hand experience here as disk writes are low in my read-dominated disk workload.

This observation is important to video editors. SSD’s used for fast rendering should not be used for asset or product storage as the disk will eventually reach the end of its design life. Many video editors render to external SSD. Economics dictate the fastest sustained writing rates and replacing this device frequently is affordable for the professional video editor.

 

The trials and tribulations of the retired moocher lifestyle