MacOS Sierra and Adobe Creative Cloud

OK this is a little annoying, but the standalone (perpetual license) versions of Adobe Create Cloud like Photoshop etc. do not install properly on MacOS Sierra, you have to manually navigate to the Installer/Contents/MacOS/install and run the command line application manually.

This seems true for Creative Cloud 2015 and 2014.

Decoder ring… one connector to rule them all USB/C

Well with Apple making a huge statement by moving to a single connector for everything, it’s time to look back and figure out how we got here. So here in chronological order is a short incomplete history of computer cabling and some explanation for how we got here.

TL;dr

The future is that all peripherals, monitors, external disks, network connectors will fit into a single physical connector called USB/C. It is the highway on which everything will eventually travel. In the mean time you dongle your way to the future with existing hardware. One confusion is that USB is actually a family of connector standards USB/A, USB/B, mini-USB, micro-USB and USB/C and a family of protocols that can run on top USB 1, 1.1, 2, 3, 3.1. So you can have a USB/A connector that supports USB 3.1 and a USB/C connector that support USB 3.1, Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort 1.3. Confused yet.

On that one hardware highway, there will be different protocols. Not unlike the way the Internet works, there is one connection, but web pages, video, email, etc. all use different exchange protocols. Sort of the way one road can have many different kinds of cars and trucks tuned for different uses. Those protocols are going to vary quite a lot based on low cost (USB 2, 3 and 3.1) and performance for specific purposes (Thunderbolt 3 for external disks and graphics cards vs. Displayport 1.2 and soon 1.3 for monitors).

The big shoe to drop will be DisplayPort 1.3 which will allow 5K and 8K video output and wide dynamic range on the same USB/C connector.

So for example even with USB/C you need a collection of cables:

  • USB/C to USB/A supports USB 3 by Nona ($11) or AUKEY ($3.50 each). Maybe the simplest example, this converts a USB/C to USB/A connector for use with USB/A cables. It is limited to 5Gbps of USB 3.0 though but costs just $11.
  • USB/C to USB/C supports Thunderbolt 2 (20GBps) Cable Matters. This cable supports 20GBps using Thunderbolt. It costs $22 so much more than USB 3 support.
  • USB/C to USB/C support Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) Startech and Cable Matters. The same cost as the Thunderbolt 2 cable so be careful!
  • USB/C to Displayport supports Displayport 1.2 Cable Matters. For $20 get a cable that is DisplayPort for video connection up to 4K at 60 hertz. In contrast the Apple version of this only works to 30 Hertz because it is DisplayPort 1.1 and it costs $49!

The IBM PC (c. 1980)

In a brief history of time, the original IBM PC had a different hardware connector and a specific protocol for every peripheral. Computers were slow enough back then and as today, cost vs performance was a big driving factor. The slower peripherals used cheaper connectors. Also back then size wasn’t as much of an issue and electronics dominated costs, so having a bunch of connectors wasn’t a big deal. So in the back of the original IBM PC you would see:

  • Keyboard and Mice. These were the slowest peripherals and used a serial connection running as slow as on a physical connector called DB-9 (9 pins right?). IBM migrated the same nine pins to with the IBM PS/2 to a cleverly named PS/2 connector which was the cool round thing.
  • Joystick. This was an analog input for joysticks
  • Video. Back then video was analog, you basically fed the monitor with the actual RGB values on a CGA, EGA then VGA connector which was 15 pins and easy to break by the way 🙂 Even today many monitors still have this as the fall back connector.
  • Printers. In the day, when you connected a printer or even a terminal to a computer you typically had either a parallel connector called a Centronix interface or a serial connection with a big DB-25 connector using RS-232 serial connection.
  • Modems. These were also serial devices using RS-232 and usually a DB-9 connector connecting to the phone systems with RJ-11 jacks.
  • Floppy disk. These also had a dedicated connector
  • Networking. The ethernet was a huge coax cable so that’s what you got on the few machines with any kind of networking.
  • Internal disks. OK not really part of the cable story, but part of the larger unification is that disks also had their own protocol and connectors called ATA and then IDE. The big disks used something more expensive called SCSI.
  • Internal cards. These used the IBM bus standard and were completely different from the outside world. They were high speed parallel connectors either 8-bit or 16-bit.
  • Power. All of these peripherals were separately powered with their own connectors.

The main point of this was that we started with a very diverse collection of hardware and protocols tuned for very different uses. Everything up until that point was a different wire for each kind of peripheral

USB Convergence (1990s)

The first big change for cabling came with the universal serial bus. Technology moved forward and now instead of a dedicated controller board for each peripheral, a single chip could handle it and as costs plummeted, peripherals started to merge at the low end. At the high end, the drive was still on performance so the cables changed as physical connectors did.

However as USB moved forward the connectors changed significantly from USB A to B to mini USB to micro USB. So you ended up with a huge number of different cables all supporting some version of the USB protocol although the faster peripherals continued to used dedicated physical connectors and protocols. The big change was the move to serial protocols because at higher data rates, the skew on parallel connectors was a problem and electronics got cheap enough that they could handle the additional processing needed for serial connections

  • Keyboard, Mice, Joystick, Printers, Modems, Floppy Disks. USB 1.1 was the version that really took off providing 1.5Mbps and 12Mbps high speed in 1996. This led to so called legacy-free PCs with much simplified systems. This was a huge simplification of the back of a PC although the connectors were a mess. There was USB/A on the back of most PCs, the the peripherals themselves had a wide range of connectors from USB-B, mini-USB, 4-pin USB and finally micro-USB. This was the first connector that began supplying power as well at 500mA up to 1Amp
  • Firewire/400 and 800 External drive or eSATA. Apple of course had their own course of things and they used Firewire instead for things like external disks. eSATA (external SATA) was the equivalent PC standard, but these too were niche products
  • DVI and HDMI Video. At this point, video also moved into the digital world as controllers in CRTs and then flat panels could process digital. Still the computer world (DVI) and the home electronics world (HDMI) were still not quite converged and both used big thick cables cables that were quite different.
  • SATA internal drives. The disk drives also moved to a serial model with eSATA as variant for connecting external drives.
  • PCI bus. The internal bus of PCs because PCI, more on the this later, but the emergence of PCI was the start of convergence between the internal and external worlds.
  • Ethernet. The world moved to twisted pair ethernet and RJ-45 connectors for 100Mbps fast ethernet.
  • Power. Nearly all the “real devices” used a wall wart of a high power source.

USB/A and USB 3 Rules them all (2000s)

As the beat went on, USB went from being a slow bus for peripherals to big Intel support and very high speed. The new USB 2.0 was 480Mbps and then USB  3 at 5Gbps and effectively killed all but the fastest devices including external disks for the first time with speeds of 20MBps possible, so this PC would have:

  • Peripherals and external hard drives. USB/A connector to any of a large number of USB physical connectors. Most of these could be self powered at 10 Watts to 20 Watts. (1-2Amps at 5V).
  • USB Keys and hard drives.. These were a new form of peripheral as SSDs got cheap enough and USB 3 was fast enough to support them
  • Dual DVI and HDMI with most displays working fine at 1080p 120 hertz with DVI, but not with HDMI.
  • PCI Express. This was Intels big move to a fast serial bus internally
  • SATA internal drives ruled although SAS following SCSI was for enterprise systems.’
  • Ethernet. RJ-45 continues to rule as speed move to 1GBps

Internal and external merge (2010s)

In our current decade as processing got faster, the core PCI Express protocol would now work outside. This was a huge change in technology as having a single protocol across internal and external was a great simplification. At the same time, as bus speeds went for USB 3.1 4oGbps even the highest demand peripherals like video and disk could use a single connector. As a result the latest MacBook Pro could get away with a single external connector and a single internal protocol (PCI Express).

The biggest confusion is that cables can look alike (they both have USB/C connectors), but they are spec’ed to carry different protocols. So you will have cheap USB/C cables that only support USB 3.1,

  • All external peripherals. USB/C connector to USB 3.1 at 10Gbps. This protocol is tuned for loosely coupled devices so there are some specialized protocols for specific purposes (disk and video).
  • Self powered even for laptops. USB/C power. Another big change is that power can also be supplied up to 100 watts so that most laptops could be powered from a USB/C
  • External disk and graphics to Thunderbolt 3 on USB/C. For the first time high speed internal components like disk and even the graphics card can move outboard. The Thunderbolt 1, 2 and 3 provides 10, 20 and 40Gbps that are really PCI Express 1x, 2x and 4x exposed externally. A conventional hard disk has a speed of 600MBps (basically Thunderbolt 1) while the fastest SSD barely saturates a Thunderbolt 3 connection. Thunderbolt  unlike USB 3.1 is designed for these fast peripherals, so be careful that you are buying a USB/c Thunderbolt 3 cable when you connect them.
  • Monitors use DisplayPort Alt Mode with DisplayPort 1.2 on USB/C. While there remain some transitional monitors using a mini-Displayport or Displayport connector, these were only used for a short time. The new USB/C connector can carry digital video to monitors efficiently. Monitors in this timeframe had a huge number of transitional connectors. Intel started the DisplayPort family with DisplayPort and mini-DisplayPort connectors and with protocols called DisplayPort 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 (each with higher power) before they decided to abandon the connectors and move everything to USB/C connectors. Make sure you get a USB/C cable with DisplayPort 1.2 support which is part of the Thunderbolt 3 spec. Confused yet? The monitor world has had a huge transition because 4K UHD really blows out the bandwidth requirements. To get to 4K at over 60 hertz plus wide dynamic range requires moving to DisplayPort 1.3 which isn’t yet int he spec.
  • Disks use PCI Express and m.2. While SATA lives on as a legacy connection, the world moved to SSDs and they use a PCI Express protocol with a new connector called m.2. The m.2 is just a smaller version of the PCI Express slot and comes in 1x, 2x and 4x versions.
  • Graphics cards use PCI Express. Like the the previous world, graphics cards need 16x lanes and PCI Express is the only way to provide them. External graphics cards only have 4x lanes on Thunderbolt 3 so it will be interesting to see how they do.
  • Ethernet using USB/C to RJ-45 convertor cable.

 

Restarting Amazon Affiliate links

OK for the last year I’ve been terrible at Amazon affiliate links. First I missed the deadline to update my website information (there is some regulation about sites) so my old affiliate ids (tongfamily-20) were invalidated and I have to start again with new ids.

But how to change 20 years of links? Well, at first I thought I would just search for all links amazon and change, but it turns out there are WordPress add-ons that help. So off to find:

  • Amazon Link. This basically gives you a new markup so you can add `[amazon asin=somenumber&text=sometext]` but it does require that you change everything but is useful for new links because it will generate at runtime which is probably want you want
  • Amazon Affiliate Tag (aka Amazonify). This is smarter and works across your whole site to do a one time change of affiliate links. You just tell it the link and then you can set nofollow so search engines do not continue on to your links. You can also set it to target=_blank so that Amazon links open up in separate tabs and your website stays around.

Microwaves

(another break from the political news) Well we’ve had two of them break in the last six months, so time to actually spend some time shopping for the. Three big sources are Amazon reviews (I know they are biased for small things, but people do not often give away microwaves for reviews ;-), Wirecutter’s home site called Sweethome as a meta site and Consumer Reports (although they do not often correlate well with Amazon). So here’s an analysis for on the counter microwaves. Note that there are actually very few real microwave makers left, most are rebadges of GE or Panasonic or LG, etc.:

Sweethome. GE JES1656SRSS (or Amazon) at $150 or the newer $200 JVM6175SKSS. This is ironically the exact model that we already have in our house. After years of hard use, it started to vibrate and rattle and stop heating. But wow was it dependable. Looking at the Amazon reviews, there are not many on this model, although Home Depot has lots of good ones, so a decent choice. The $150 model seems pretty good and I’m not sure there is really any real difference.

Amazon. Panasonic NN-SN936B. The GE gets only 3/5 starts on Amazon, the winner there seems to be the Panasonic with 4.5/5. But beware this thing is big: 37 pounds and 22 inches x 14″ for the 2.2 cubic foot one. Even the 1.6 cu foot version is still 21 ?” so it will not be a good fit for a standard 22″ wide cabinet in the US.

Consumer Reports. They like the LG, but on Amazon, folks complain about how noisy it is.

Commercial Microwaves

Finally in looking more at Amazon, I looked at a few “commercial-grade” microwaves. Given how much we use it to see if they are worth it. The main thing is that they are theoretically longer life and they are easy to clean since there are no rotating parts inside. (There is also a restaurant supply store called webrestaurantsupply.com with a long list but they are poorly rated by reselleratings.com):

Panasonic NE-1025F. They don’t have fancy controls but a six minute timer and instead of a rotating dish, the microwave tube itself rotates, so much simpler to operate.

Panasonic NE-1054F. This does have electronic controls and is a higher grade but more expensive at $250. It is 20 ?” x 11″ so somewhat smaller than the 1025F.

Battery Buying Guide

It’s a sad day when the best battery reviews are found buried in an Amazon rating, but there is someone who actually went ahead and tested batteries but:

  1. AAA Alkaline. AC Delco. the no-name AC Delco came up on top and for less than the cost of Amazon Basics even?
  2. AA Alkaline. Duracell Quantum. Then there are AA batteries where BatteryNinja and Consumer Reports says the Duracell Quantum AA are the longest lasting, although the Costco ones are half the price and a good value.
  3. AA NiMh rechargeable. Everready. Finally if you want rechargeable, it looks like the Eveready has the best ones according to Wirecutter.

Vuescan hanging on Minolta DiImage 5400 on MacOS Sierra

Seems like there is some sort of strange bug in the USB driver on MacOS Sierra and Vuescan. I’ve been having trouble with hangs for a while and this seems to have gotten worse with Sierra, although El Capitan had the same issues. The calibrate for this 35mm image scanner takes forever.

Sigh. Old hardware doesn’t ever seem to work at some point. Looking at Vuescan, I do not see anything that can help, but I may switch back to firewire to see if this helps. I switched from Firewire (on an old iMac 2008) because I was having troubles with that driver. But with Sierra, it looks like Firewire 400 does not work anymore. The only thing that seems to help is a reboot of the system.

It could also be that it has to do with the hardware itself. The little door at the front can get stuck in the open position and it requires a paper clip to push it back in. Hardware from the last decade was like that!

As another aside, I did see that I should use the Vuescan dedicated Filter/Infrared Clean instead of ICE to get rid of scratches.

Best WordPress hosting

Well with my troubles with Bluehost, time once again to see who the best hosting partner is. Now that Bluehost is owned by a mega-corporation, I wonder what else is out there. A quick test at webhostinghero.com does show the speed issues with this site.

Bluehost has been pretty decent to me, it’s about $12/month and allows unlimited storage (not really, they complain if you are over a certain limit and threaten to close you :-), unlimited email, websites, ssh access as well. The main issues are their Cpanel is pretty confusing and their documentation is a mess plus they only have chats and no trouble tickets. Also their shared hosting is very slow. On the plus side, their email seems to work pretty well and they give you decent control.

There is of course GoDaddy which Blake runs and they’ve been doing better, but what do the reviews say? They are actually quite fast, but have DDNS attack set at 25 concurrent users, not a big deal for me, but nice to see they are doing well.

A top real performance review shows they like InMotion, SiteGround and A2 Hosting, so it might be time to do some trials and see where it leads.

One problem by the way is that all the reviews are biased because of the various bounties that hosters put out there. But SiteGround could be the alternative company that makes sense particularly with great support.

One issue is that they only do WordPress or website hosting, so I need to find another place to get email services.

The big problem is that the internet is filled with spam on reviews or just ones that seem to disagree with users. For instance, PC Magazine did a review and feature-wise they liked Hostgater and Dreamhost. Hostgater like Bluehost offers unlimited storage and email. They also like 1&1 for WordPress hosting with unlimited data and sites. But who knows how good this review is given the scathing comments about 1&1’s product and Dreamhost and Hostgater.

On the other had, InMotion Hosting is only average according to PC Magazine, but the user comments gives it great reviews. And WebhostingHero seems to like it too. Plus it also offers email hosting which is nice and much cheaper than Google hosting.

Bluehost mail blocked because of an expired Spam Experts trial

I spent a couple of days tearing my hair out. Word to the wise, if you are on bluehost and hit the Spam Experts trial (which I gather I did at some point). What happens is that when the trial ends, it silently queues all your mail into the spam experts and no mail at all flows into your domain.

You do not get any notice or warning and there is nothing on the console, but the good folks in tech support finally figured it out. Net, net, when you have a problem like this, then you want to make sure that all spam filters are off including the pay ones.

As an aside this blocked all mail on the inbound, so all forwards were also backed up silently./

Best 9V Batteries, SATA SSDs and HDDs

(A small refuge from all the political news), here are the latest recommendations:

  1. 9V Batteries. if you use them in smoke detectors, etc., then you want one with lots of charge. But Powerstream.com recommends the Energizer Industrial has 450 mAH or the Rayovac Industrial Plus. They have nearly 50% more charge of a Duracell Coppertop.
  2. SATA SSDs have just about disappeared as a high  performance product with the advent of NVMe and m.2. But there are still differences. The 850 EVO remains one of the top performers and the 1TB version is just $350. Plus it has a 10 year warranty Finally for budget use, the Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 is just $250 for a 1TB version.
  3. Finally if you need some hard disk drives for your server or NAS, then right now the Storagereview.com folks show that 8TB is now the new sweet spot and that the new 10TB are just coming out. Wow, what an increase in density!

The picks here are a little confusing, but the Newegg and Amazon reviews are a good guide to reliability as is the warranty period. While a little more expensive, the 5-year warranty

OBD and other car strangeness

Well figuring out how to get useful data from your car is definitely an obscure art. Here are some notes for noobs:

  1. There is a standard connector for all cars after 1996 which is called OBD. (Onboard Diagnostics), you have you to google your car to figure out where the port is. But it is usually under the steering wheel (Honda Fits) or in the left change area (Mazdas) or somewhere under the dash (BMW).
  2. There are a huge number of OBD readers but the best ones transmit via Bluetooth or Wifi. The really neat ones use Bluetooth LE so you do not even have to pair your phone to them. There are cheap knockoffs that cost $12 on eBay, but the most reliable according to the folks at Harry’s GPS Timer cost about $80-90.
  3. Some devices work with IOS, but many do not (there is something I haven’t had time to research about the way Apple handles Bluetooth). The Kiwi 3 is really nice, it uses Bluetooth LE and just seems to work out of the box. The GoPoint BT1A uses Bluetooth as well, but you do have to pair it which is a bit of a pin. The OBLink MX is Android only and also requires pairing.
  4. The controllers themselves either use the ELM 372 processor or their own (GoPoint has their own). Those with the Elm will find that it is using a simple serial protocol using the venerable AT command set.
  5. On the actual bus there are some standard PIDs (Performance IDs) and they are in two flavors. There are problem codes indicating and internal fault and continuous codes for monitoring data in the car itself. These are called P-codes and C-codes.
  6. The codes themselves have a standard set, but there are also extensions per manufacturer, you have to use various sites like carobdcodes.com to figure out what they mean.
  7. You then buy some software for your phone that reads these values and puts up a cool display and also produces raw data in CSV form for later analysis. Our good buddies told us about Harry’s Lap Timer which although somewhat arcane works pretty well. It dumps data either via email or onto a Dropbox account. It also records video from the camera’s phone and can also connect to GoPros so you get that cool multiple camera  view. You can even run multiple phones and have them mounted.
  8. You want a really good mount if you are driving. Harry’s likes the RAM mount system