Category Archives: Mac OS X

Moving up in Mac hardware – from Mac mini to a 27-inch iMac (coming soon)

Good morning, afternoon or evening.  Hopefully this day finds everyone well.  I’m editing this post using only my iPad mini R, so let’s see how this works.

It’s been almost two months since my previous post, and a lot has happened during that time, including my part-time duties as a Purchasing/AP Clerk, ensuring that I had enough financial aid for the upcoming school year…and going back to the drawing board regarding a future replacement for my aging Mac after Apple’s failure to announce new Mac mini hardware during June’s WWDC.

Sure, Yosemite and iOS 8 is nice, but WHAT about the freaking Mac mini!?

You see, I wanted to continue using Mac minis because they made the most economic sense.  I don’t have as much time to play games like I used to because believe it or not my head is either in textbooks or legal fiction than games these days.  Over the past two years however, I’ve purchased Humble Indie Bundles which contained games that simply refuse to run under my current Mac mini’s meager specs (a 256 MB shared VRAM-equipped machine and a meager 2.0 GHz CPU just DOESN’T cut it for today’s games).


On the reverse side, however, the “newest” Mac mini at the time of this writing is over eighteen months old.  The dual-core 2.5 GHz Ivy Bridge is adequate, but if I ever get the urge to play Fez, Dust: An Elysian Tale or a smooth game of Left 4 Dead 2 without turning down the graphics, I’d be out of luck.  I’m also a Borderlands and BioShock fan, and those games demand a smooth frame rate and high resolutions to create immersive experiences.

And uh…it also goes without saying that no matter which hardware I’ll choose, I of course need dependable hardware to do my coursework as well.  With my current machine my wireless connection keeps going in and out, and I’m assuming that due to five years of use and vulnerability to heat from all of the components I’ve added to it.

In short, after WWDC 2014 I went back to the drawing board. It’s been fun using the Mac mini, but the hardware tends to become outdated very quickly, especially the graphics (unless one uses them as home theatre boxes). While one can replace the hard drive and the RAM and (depending on the model) the Bluetooth and wireless antennae, once the CPU and GPU become outdated due to the operating system or the hardware’s age (or in my case, both) it’s over for the machine. It was also fun picking out the monitor, which is almost four years old at the time I’m posting this. The average year for an LCD is three years. Not only that, but since the latest Mavericks update my Logitech mouse is no longer working as it should, with drags barely performing at all, double-clicks when there should be a single-click and in many cases, clicks when there shouldn’t be.

Hmm. Aging, underpowered hardware that needs replacing. Educational stipend in early September. Games already installed on the system that require more horsepower than what’s available on the current machine. The 500 GB HDD that I installed almost four years ago now constantly needs Steam games removed in order to fit new ones. Old USB speakers now showing signs of age. Gee, I guess it’s finally FREAKING time to get new hardware. But if Apple won’t announce a new Mac mini for 2014, then what should one do? Probably the one thing that Apple expects Mac mini users to do…

2013 iMac

So that’s the plan for the first week of September anyway (stipends aren’t released by the university until one week after the semester starts, but students can purchase items allowed by financial aid [books, pens, calculators, et cetera] until then).  I wanted to get a system that wouldn’t age as quickly as my previous Mac, but since going to school is part of my midlife crisis I decided to get the best all-purpose machine that I can afford.  The purchase is also due to common sense, as since the 21-inch models don’t allow user access to the RAM slots, and because I multitask on my coursework well with a 25-inch screen (I do usually run either two LibreOffice windows, a TextEdit/online Accounting homework combo or have the Calculator, Dictionary or Safari window to the right of my main window, I need the 27-inch screen.  Not just because of the slightly higher real estate, but also because I know that this fall’s release of OS X Yosemite will be RAM-heavy (Mavericks gobbles up nearly all of my 8 GBs of RAM) as well as more VRAM hungry than ever, so all 21-inch iMacs and the base 27-inch is out.

Steam's Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)
Steam’s Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)

Steam in Big Picture Mode will also benefit from the hardware. On my current Mac mini with the Nvidia 9400M GPU, BPM will run, but only at a resolution of 1066×600 (!) which crashes, and with playing games while the graphically-intensive (for my machine at least) BPM is running with only 256 MBs of VRAM and nearly all of my main memory used by Mavericks, well…you’ll see where I’m going.

“But James”, you may be wondering, “just get a Windows machine. Buy a Windows 8 machine and then downgrade to W7 for a fraction of the cost of an iMac”. Well, you know, I had such a plan in the back of my mind…until this happened to my mother’s brand new HP laptop:

The latest Windows nightmare: the dreaded "update failure" reversion loop.
The latest Windows nightmare: the dreaded “update failure” reversion loop.

How ironic. It was because of a mandatory Windows Vista update which wrecked part of my motherboard that I purchased my current Mac as an emergency back in July 2009. It took another mandatory Windows-related update error (this time Windows 8.1) to cause me to remain a Mac user in mid-2014.

iMacs, yay

In any case, I made final plans to purchase the high-end 27-inch iMac before Labor Day. Call me crazy but I’d rather pay Apple the extra money and simply use my computer rather than deal with hours and hours of troubleshooting Windows errors. And that previous sentence was not an exaggeration; it took hours into the next day to find a solution for that Windows 8 error. Better to simply throw money at Apple and be able to USE the machines than cut corners on Windows-based hardware and software and deal with headaches.

In any case, a glitch related to WordPress knocked out a paragraph, but what I plan to do for my next post is to create a laundry list of games that I can actually play on the new machine once I get it. These would be games that I already have in my library but can’t run them acceptably or are new games that I now have access to. Until then.

*NOTE:  edited on July 22nd to correct a LARGE number of spelling and grammatical errors due to my using only an iPad mini for editing and posting (including image retrievals).  My apologies.



Meta Update: Successful First Semester, Now a “Student” Employee

Todd Rundgren - Influenza
Current 80s favorite: Influenza (Todd Rundgren)


Six-hour study sessions pay off

Good morning, afternoon or evening.  It’s been six weeks since I last posted, but for a good reason – FINALS.

Cramming for finals

If I want to earn a scholarship or graduate with honors, there comes a time where one must neglect sleep, food, games, social life (and basically everything else) and concentrate on the grades.  Leading up to the finals, it was a marathon of class-study-class-homework-type-study-food-study-sleep up to May 13th, the date of the last final.  All of the studying has paid off, and with two As and an A-, plus my additional credits transferred from my out-of-pocket community college attendance in New Jersey (all As), my GPA is in great shape as I prepare to enter my sophomore year.

Fortunately the university has a very busy yet effective Career Services department; busy in that they do everything they can to not only place graduates but also undergrads in summer or year-round positions, which is amazing for a two-person department.  Ironically, I was able to land a lucrative Accounts Payable/Purchasing position within the university with almost no effort (as a student), but before I enrolled in the university my applications for employment were turned down three times during the first seven months of my being an Ohio resident.  It was only after proving myself academically and then showing the school my resume that I was able to get my foot in the door.  Not that I’m complaining – by both studying Accounting full-time and working in the financial field it’s basically the same as killing two birds with one stone.

The pay isn’t high but it’s more than enough.  If I was still in Philadelphia I’d be starving, but in Springfield small wagers still go a LONG way.  The hours are great – meaning I can work a full day and still have time to enjoy the town and it’s amenities or write before collapsing.  One thing I still need to get used to is being classified as a “student” employee when I’ll be thirty-six next week.  There’s a difference between being an “internal” employee and a “stranger” hired off of the streets, but after so many temporary assignments I have trouble performing in the former role.

In any case, so far so good.  Should the position stretch into the fall semester then I could integrate campus life with work (working, eating and attending classes, all on the same campus or within walking distance), and then home to sleep.


Current Mac wallpaper - Cave Story+

I don’t have much to talk about which is worthy of going into full detail for this post, mainly because all of my energies had been spent cramming for finals, completing them, praying for straight-As and learning duties for my summer job.  What free time that I had was spent on the Mac version of Minecraft (again, thanks Dan for the addiction!), Gumi’s Brave Frontier for iOS, playing Cave Story+ on Steam and researching options for a new desktop this September to replace the five-year-old Mac that still (grudgingly) runs, even with the recent Mavericks 10.9.3 update.  To round out the post, I’ll touch briefly on three of these things in order.

Minecraft – the REAL version (PC/Mac)

Ravine ObservatoryCentral base to work from, check While still waiting for Mojang’s 0.9.0 update for the mobile version, I went to a game store and bought a PC/Mac license.  Playing the game for the first time on a desktop instead of a mobile device makes the experience a LOT better on so many levels – especially the nigh-limitless landscapes, a larger variety of enemies and biomes, more objects to craft, and a end-goal to the game (the End biome with it’s resident Ender Dragon).

I managed to open a portal to the Nether over the previous weekend, and found that going in unprotected is a HUGE mistake.  I knew what to expect from religiously reading official wikis, but I wasn’t prepared for was Zombie Pigmen wandering around in the Overworld once I emerged from the portal after being attacked by Ghasts whose fireballs I couldn’t deflect accurately.  After accidentally hitting one of the two Pigmen, they knocked me out in three rapid hits.  Fortunately I dropped all of my loot near the base closest to the portal, but while trying to re-obtain the loot I found that my diamond sword was missing.  Well, guess who now held it…and used it to VERY QUICKLY pound my a-double-s.  Again.  And again.  AND AGAIN.

After that I said “screw that!”, disabled the portal and blocked off the path to both it and the now-Zombie Pigman-owned base (they managed to find a way in!) until I was ready, opening new files and gathering better materials during the meantime.  The Nether…just no.  The Glowstone is worth the trekking alone as I was able to rebuilt the Dust into lamps for my home base (far, FAR away from the one close to the portal), but trying to attack Ghasts on unstable ground with 100-block high sheer drops into lava oceans while hunting down Blazes for their Rods to press forward to the endgame…yeah.  That can wait for a bit.

For the first time ever - color-stained glass

Brave Frontier (iOS) – Guardian Boss #1 defeated (video)

Gumi’s Brave Frontier is a rather easy yet enjoyable Japanese RPG in which you collect and summon elemental characters to fight an evil god’s denizens and prohibit them from wiping out the planet (typical RPG story).  Though there’s not much to the game besides collecting, selling and fusing summoned characters, there’s item crafting, enlisting other players’ characters to address elemental deficiencies in your group or for simple backup,  battling in arenas and participating in weekly and special events.  Though I say the game has little in the way of substance, it appeals to me due to having a Shining Force III-type of vibe.  It has the look and feel of a late Sega Saturn title, and that by itself is a plus in my book.

Recently I defeated the first guardian boss of the game, which one reaches only after completing dozens of fights.  Gumi had recently added an update which allows easy and quick uploads of battles to YouTube, and since this was an important battle I decided to upload it.  I therefore leave an imbedded HD-enabled video for your review.

Researching the next desktop replacement: few good alternatives


We’re just a couple of weeks from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC 2014), but my faith in the Mac platform is starting to dwindle.  First, the 2013 Mac Pro was released, and for all of the hype of being Apple’s most powerful desktop they’ve neglected two essential items:  an optical drive and more hard drive space.  Why in God’s name would a company release a $3000+ USD computer with only 256GB of storage!?

“But James,” you may be saying, “it’s a workstation.  It’s not meant for Jane and Joe Schmuck consumers like us”.  BullCRAP!  Just the mere fact that it’s a WORKSTATION AND that it’s replacing a machine which allowed TERABYTES of hard disc space with a few lever flips and a couple of tray slides is simply inexcusable.

But NO, they didn’t stop there!  THEN they had to axe the only Macbook Pro that was worth the bang for the buck – the classic unibody Macbook Pro.  The “classic” model lacked a retina display but had user-accessible RAM and hard drive slots, as well as an optical drive for those who needed a drive slot and didn’t want to spend $80.00 USD to get Apple’s USB alternative, or scour Newegg. Instead, Apple forced the hand of would-be customers by killing off the optical drive, soldering the RAM into the slots, and chopping down the amounts of storage.  So instead of merely opening our computers to add more RAM or larger storage drives, we’ll be purchasing new Macbook Airs and Retina Macbook Pros every three years instead of every six or seven.  Good job, Apple.  Good FREAKIN’ job.

That’s two strikes for Apple, with the foul tip being the same things being done to the entire iMac line.  Well, not the entire line.  I mean, you can access the RAM slots on the high-end machines – which you SHOULD, being that the user has to spend over TWO GRAND on the hardware to gain that privilege…

Here’s what I call the potential third strike – either a refusal to update the aging Mac mini line (STILL no Haswell architectures anywhere in the minis, they’re the only ones using Ivy Bridge chipsets since October 2012), an insane update to the line mimicking the gimped Mac Pro in having low amounts of storage while also mimicking the gimped Macbook Pros in having soldered RAM, or killing the Mac mini line altogether for “beefier” Apple TV hardware (there’s a good reason why some people hook up Mac minis to their home entertainment centers instead of Apple TVs, thank you!).  June 2nd is the make-or-break date as far as I’m concerned; give me one good reason why I shouldn’t build a Linux machine.  Otherwise, I’m GONE.

And it’s not like there’s much in the Windows-based pickings, either. Acer and HP hardware is fast, but they’ll require a graphics card purchase before I can reliably start playing games, as the best integrated chip I’ve seen is an Intel HD 4400 (at least with most of today’s desktop Macs, you get…well…something).  CPU speeds are rather lackluster, even when spending $800 USD and up, though this could be because of their turbo boost abilities (Intel).  The last time I purchased AMD CPU-equipped machines, AMD was the king, and Intel was a laughingstock (remember those days?  I barely do.), but today, with Haswell and Broadwell, with power plus efficiency as well as having integrated chips worth using, AMD looks to be a mere shadow in such a way that I’m wondering if their graphics card line can save them from potential bankruptcy.

I don’t know, perhaps I’m not looking hard enough, mainly because I have this feeling that I should shut up and wait for WWDC and Apple’s announcements.  Still, there used to be a lot of ready-made Windows-based hardware which could easily rival Apple-based hardware; all one would have to do is buy it, take it home, plug it in, and turn it on, the only future purchase being more RAM and a graphics card later on.  Nowadays, from looking at sites like HP and Acer…not so much.

*NOTE:  Another reason why desktop pickings could be weak; it’s because (and you may say “no duh” to this) it’s mid-2014.  The world has all but moved on from desktops.  Frankly, laptops are slowly but surely being forced aside for better and better tablets, so if laptop sales overall are starting to lessen, then what could I expect from ye olde desktops?  Does this make my ranting irrelevant?  In some cases yes, in other cases no.  In some ways, the raw power and expandability (well, on Windows and Linux-purposed machines anyway) cannot be duplicated on a laptop or a tablet, but then again, with a tablet or a laptop, you’re no longer chained to a desk.

Then again, some desktop-like builds allow you to leave the desk; they just have compromises.  Sigh…

At least downgrades from Windows 8 to 7 are plentiful.  Win7 is a decent, stable version if I really have to go down that dark ell-ridden road.



Steam's Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)
Steam’s Big Picture Mode (Music Beta)

Images are uploading rather slowly to WordPress (my Minecraft images for one) so I have to cut short this update.  Memorial Day is coming up, there’s a lot of topics I’ve placed on hold and some free time later so I’ll post something less hodgepodge-y then.


Ushering in Spring Break 2014 with Reflector (iOS screen recording app)

*Note:  the featured image depicts actual gameplay of Block Fortress War, (C) 2014 Foursaken Media, available in the iTunes Store.

As I had explained in previous posts, I usually post new content on Thursdays, mainly because it’s the one day that I grant myself free from academic studies. The preceding Thursday had been an orgy of studying and cramming for a Financial Accounting midterm, the result of which means a low “B” or a low “A” going into the final. Despite studying for nearly half the day, I stumbled into an app which will temporarily allow me to bypass my aging Mac’s lack of Airdrop or high-resolution recording capabilities when making gameplay recordings, and the above non-HD video is my result.

Reflector app

Reflector is a Mac OS X and Windows app ($12.99 USD from AirSquirrel) that allows iOS hardware users to record their device’s screen using Airplay onto desktops via wifi.  Once the user decides on an appropriate frame and resolution, they could then begin recording gameplay, step-by-step how-tos, or anything they please. Once finished, the app then converts and saves the resulting .mov file on the desktop for editing and publishing.

The trick is in the type of internet connection available, as the developers recommend an 802.11n connection for seamless recording. Unfortunately all I have at the moment is a 768kbps DSL line with frequent drops used by three people (two of them needing always-on access), but some bandwidth was freed long enough for me to attempt the experiment.

To begin the recording, Reflector must be launched and all desired settings (iPad/iPod/iPhone frame around the recording as well as the desired resolution). After setting the desired changes, Reflector then has to be relaunched.

On your iDevice, swipe up from the very bottom of your screen to access the Control Center. Make sure that your wifi is on and Bluetooth is off, then select AirPlay (the monitor-shaped icon with a small arrow pointing into it):

AirPlay enabled
The iPad mini R’s AirPlay option enabled, and mirroring toggle on. Both are found in the Control Center by a single-finger swipe from the bottom of the screen.

On slower connections, it’ll take time for a representation of the iDevice’s screen to appear on the desktop, but on a faster network it should appear instantly.

The iPad Mini's screen in real-time
The iPad mini R’s screen displayed on the desktop in real-time (hopefully). Lag may or may not appear based on the strength of your wireless signal.

 Once the image appears on the desktop, change screens or select icons on the iDevice to test for lag issues. On a good wifi connection there should be near-instantaneous responses showing on the desktop (if not, I recommend disabling a home wifi appliance like a wireless printer or another such unnecessary device to improve signal strength). Once you’re satisfied then choose Start Recording on Reflector’s Devices menu on the desktop.

 Recording option

The recording I made above is short, but I did it as a spur-of-the-moment thing between arriving home from taking a midterm and rushing to the laundromat. Still, I was able to record and convert a five-minute video via a weak wifi signal in about fifteen minutes.

Block Fortress War (Foursaken Media) Overall, it’s a decent app and well worth the thirteen dollars. The quality of the experience has more to do with your wifi signal strength and the level of patience you have when your signal is weak. In my case my signal was so weak that I gave up after more than hour and downloaded the first title in Capcom’s Phoenix Wright trilogy for my iPad. Your case will (hopefully) differ.

About the game: Foursaken Media, a development team consisting of four brothers, released a spinoff to one of their first and most addictive tower-defense titles (Block Fortress) with the hard-as-heck but equally addictive Block Fortress War, a tower defense/real-time strategy game. The gameplay shown above is live gameplay of the first level of the first campaign, which I replayed for the sake expediency. Enjoy, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to post gameplay regarding the prequel Block Fortress.