« "Thoughts on Scientific Troubleshooting" | Main | "Java Stored Procedures in a LIMS Environment" »
May 02, 2005
My Mac is Like a Temperature Gauge
A few years back I owned a 1998 Ford Mustang Cobra. Like all modern automobiles, it had a temperature gauge. But instead of reporting the engine’s temperature in a quantifiable value, the labels on the temperature gauge simply indicated Cold and Hot. And to make it worse, after a few minutes of running the engine, the needle would move to a certain point on the gauge and stay put until the Cobra was shut down. It didn’t matter if I was driving like Jen's granny or like the Little Old Lady from Pasadena - the needle on the gauge was always fixed a little to the right of center. I began to suspect that the gauge was defective and started distrusting it.
After some research on the interweb, I learned that the temperature gauge on the Cobra (along with most other modern Ford vehicles) was, in fact, buffered to report 60% between Hot and Cold for a wide range of “normal” operating temperatures. As long as the car was neither stone cold nor overheating, the temperature read just to the H side of center. It seems the marketing geniuses at Ford got together with the engineers to produce a gauge that would give the “average driver” a warm, fuzzy feeling about the state of the vehicle. However, this rendered the gauge unusable for detecting subtle trends in engine temperature, which might be used as an early warning of oncoming disaster. Maybe the average driver is fine with this; and maybe I’m a freak who likes everything to be as complicated as possible, but I wanted a gauge that reported the precise temperature of the engine (in degrees Celsius, of course).
So now to the mac. I recently acquired a 17" PowerBook G4. And while I have a lot of great things to say about this fine piece of hardware (which I’ll write about in a future blog), like any good relationship between a consultant and his laptop, I first focus on and overemphasize the negatives (no, not the slow hard drives and stupid pointing devices they put in laptops). I have to say - some things about this machine remind me a lot of that temperature gauge.
First, the reporting of file size: it seems that OS X frequently reports files or groups of files as drastically larger than they really are. For example, my documents folder on my desktop contains 1.7 gigs of files (as reported by `du –h` in linux and confirmed by manually counting the number of bytes in each file:) However, OS X reports my documents folder as 34 gigs. And when I try to copy the folder to the PowerBook (which has 33 gigs of free space), OS X won’t even allow the copy to start because it thinks I don’t have enough free disk space. After freeing a few extra gigs of space, I can copy the directory just fine, and it clearly takes up only 1.7 gigs of space. What’s up with that!? Maybe the geniuses at Apple want to prevent us from using up too much disk space thereby causing system difficulties.
Second, when OS X crashes (yes, I had a crash within the first week of using OS X) the desktop darkens to a shade of grey and you get a warm, fuzzy message indicating that a problem has occurred and you must turn off the computer. I’m pretty sure this crash was caused by a faulty application (one of the apps provided by Apple that many of you probably use even if you are a PC user), but there was no option to ignore the warning and try to save any files or fix the problem without rebooting. While this message is more graphically pleasing than the dreaded Windows BSOD, it is still pretty worthless. I would prefer to know in more detail what caused the mysterious “problem” so that I have the option of dealing with it in the future (again, I like things the hard way).
All the eye candy that comes with a Mac definitely gives the average user lots of warm fuzzies. But for someone who wants to look at what’s happening under the hood and observe precisely the operating temperature of the computer, the buffering from details can be frustrating. It can even cause the user to start distrusting the values they see. Fortunately, since OS X is built on top of an open-source kernel, freaks like me can get their hands dirty and swap out some of those crappy temperature gauges with more accurate tools (that report in Celsius, of course).
If you are interested in additional bizarre analogies, the next time you see Brian, ask him, what “is like a report server”.
Posted by Rob Sullivan at May 2, 2005 09:49 PM
TrackBack URL for this entry: