A Retina Desktop is Possible

Retina LogoI now have a working retina display on my Late 2012 Mac mini at work. I previously wrote about it late last year and occasionally experimented with normal HD LCDs but really wasn’t going to be able to do anything without an UltraHD display to test with. Recently, I asked the desktop team and they happened to have one that wasn’t in use. I was able to borrow it and worked more seriously on seeing if this was indeed possible.

The quick-and-dirty how to can be found at the mac-pixel-clock-patch page on Google code. You have to patch a single file to enable the higher 3840 x 2160 resolution, but that, plus a UltraHD display, and you’re in business. Having 3840 x 2160 (UHD) display rendering a 1920 x 1080 (HD) screen makes for a nice experience, indeed. Look at the picture on the right or screenshots of my previous article.

For work, I got a pair of DELL 2414Q 24″ LCDs. They’re nicely made and look quite good. I run one in landscape and the other in portrait so I can display content as appropriate (e.g. spreadsheets vs. web pages). If I were using only a single display, the story would be over. The problem is that the Intel HD 4000 video hardware on the Mac mini isn’t up to the challenge of driving two displays at that resolution. It just can’t throw that many pixels out that fast (just shy of a half billion pixels per second). I would get close, but it would result in the video flickering with pixel ‘junk’ over large portions of the screen. I could get one looking great over mini DisplayPort or HDMI (3840 x 2160 @ 30 FPS) but the moment I connected the second display, problems. I tried customizing lower FPS modes to reduce the total pixel clock demands, but no luck.

The DELL UP2414Q I use at work

My workaround is driving the portrait display at 1920 x 1080 (1080 x 1920, actually) over a USB to HDMI adapter (via DisplayLink). It’s only HD with a variable refresh rate, but it does allow me to have both displays active.

Rumors are that Apple will be revising the Mac mini next month which should improve the video hardware enough to work. We’ll see. For now, though, I’m satisfied and enjoying the experience.

Looking for Retina for my Retinas

I’ve had my current MacBook Pro at work for over a year and I have really become enamored with the retina display. For the unfamiliar, Apple started the concept back with the release of the iPhone 4 which replaced the previous 640×480 display with a 1280×960 display in a resolution-independent 2x mode. The beauty of the option is a display that looks that much more sharp that normal. Last year, they added retina to the MacBook line which extends the concept to the full suite of OS X applications.

For comparison, here’s a screenshot for normal mode (scaled ~200%):


And here’s a retina version (also scaled ~200%):


At work since I use my desktop setup for the majority of my work, I’ve been researching what options exist for having a retina mode on a desktop system. Normally, retina (also called HiDPI) is prevented from the screen settings, but it can be enabled with the following command:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.windowserver DisplayResolutionEnabled -bool YES

Then after a reboot or logout/login you can check the options in the Displays System Preference:

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 7.11.54 AM

If you want even more options, you can download Retina DisplayMenu (RDM) from Paul Griffin. On a normally full HD display (1920×1080) I’ve enabled 1280×720 (HiDPI):

Screen Shot 2013-12-24 at 6.16.41 AM

If you’re willing to trade screen real estate for sharpness, it’s a nice usage experience. So now, I’m anxiously awaiting CES next month and the likely release of (semi) affordable Ultra HD/4k displays which have a native resolution of 3840×2160 which will allow for 1920×1080 at full retina (2x). That’d be pretty sweet.

Validation of being me

As can be easily learned as you look through my blog, I am a productivity-minded geek. I have been ‘doing’ geek for nearly my entire life and have become increasingly interested in productivity over the last 5-or-so years. That combination worked out perfectly this past weekend.

As a IT professional, I know that backups are important. If you don’t have any (or recent) backups of your data, can you really say that it’s important to you? As a serious GTD‘er, I don’t trust my memory and create repeating tasks in OmniFocus to help remember what I need to do when I need to do it.

Those two things came together to my advantage on Saturday. Friday night, OmniFocus reminded me that it’s been six weeks since I had backed up my PlayStation 3. No problem, hook up a spare USB drive, kick off a backup, and go to bed. Saturday afternoon the system died. The dreaded flashing red LED which indicates there’s a hardware component problem. Bummer. No worries, though. At work, one of the perks is being able to get a dead console repaired or exchanged for free. In about a week’s time, I should have a replacement restored and back up and running.

If you’re going to have something fail, see if you can have a recent backup of it, first.

OmniFocus: Learning Japanese

At work, I’ve been taking Japanese classes and have been using OmniFocus to help me with daily practice. Here’s a screenshot of a typical morning:


Learning Japanese in OmniFocus

So let me explain the setup. For each word or phrase I want to study, I create a separate task that is set to repeat every two days. In the task name, I have the english word and in the notes I have the word in Japanese with the romaji. When I study, I don’t look at the notes until I want to double-check my answer. If I’m right, I increase the repeat of the task by a day. If’ I’m close, I leave it as is. If I’m wrong, I decrease the repeat by a day. That way, I practice words I’m not learning more frequently and words that I do know naturally move out to show up less frequently.

I’ve been using this system for a couple of years and it’s working pretty well. Currently, I have hundreds of words that in my rotation with anywhere from 30-50 on the list for each day which keeps things manageable. The romaji text is deliberately in a light color so that I focus on the word in Japanese (hiragana or katakana). The only downside is that I’m only focusing on English to Japanese. I need to reverse the many of them to increase my recognition of the Japanese words themselves. Any other ideas for improvements?

OmniFocus: Using Emoji

This is the first in a series of posts about OmniFocus that I’ve been thinking about for ages. I’m going to keep them short to eliminate excuses for not getting to them.

For the unfamiliar, OmniFocus is a OS X application based on the Getting Things Done methodology by David Allen. I’ve been an avid user for over five years and it is central to my productivity both personally and professionally. These posts will presume you’re generally familiar with the software. If not, they may not make complete sense.

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An old take for a new sound

Kickstarter is a crowd-funding site to back creative projects. I’ve heard of plenty of projects and considered backing a few, but the first one I bit on was Brassft Punk. The concept was a creative one. Take a few tracks from the electronic music group Daft Punk and arrange them for a New Orleans brass band. I got my download code this week and am very pleased with the results.

Here’s a preview of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”:

You can preview the other tracks or purchase them at Juno Download.

Peter Hinssen – The New Normal

I was able to attend the Trace3 EBC a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. I can honestly say it was well worth the few days in being away from the office. One of the best speakers was Peter Hinssen whose presentation was like a long TED talk. I re-watched it with my family a week ago and they enjoyed it which confirms it’s not just me being overly geeky. If you watch it, comment below with how many slide you think make up the presentation. I might have a surprise for you.

Trace3 EBC 2013 Peter Hinssen from Trace3 on Vimeo.

This is good to think about as the world in certainly changing and you’d be best to think how so that it doesn’t take you by surprise.

Spend ¢ to save $

I first ran across this nifty idea on Lifehacker though the original is from Snapguide. I recently had to throw away a MagSafe charger due to a crimped connector. The idea is simple, which some of the best ideas tend to be.

In short:

  1. Find an old spring-loaded ballpoint pen.
  2. Remove spring.
  3. Wrap around the end of your charging cable.

That’s it. I’ve already done it for my work computer and am happy with the result. My only challenge is to find a dead or dying pen to harvest another spring from for some home laptops. I just can’t bring myself to destroy a sufficiently-working pen; call me cheap, eh?

From 2001 to 2012 in one afternoon

In the computer class I’m teaching for my kids, we built a PC from scratch a few months ago. Since it was assembled from parts, I simply re-used a Windows XP license that I had. It works (even with new hardware), it’s solid, and I’m familiar with it. The downside, of course, is that it will be out of support in 2014 and is three versions behind the newly-released Windows 8. Fortunately, Microsoft has finally taken a page from Apple’s book and made upgrading affordable. I had the time this weekend so decided to take the plunge.

So, for the $39 upgrade, you purchase online, download and installer, and upgrade the system in-place. When upgrading XP, the only part you can keep is the user data. All programs need to be re-installed. You can also burn the installer to a DVD for installing again in the future.

I kicked-off the upgrade before running out and saw the results a few hours later when I returned home. No smoldering pile of ash. No blue screen of death. A few minutes later, and I was ready-to-rock.

The don’t-call-it-Metro interface is interesting. I’ll give them credit for creating a unified UI to be used on mobile, tablet, and desktop versions of Windows 8, but it certainly is more suitable for touch-input devices than a keyboard-and-mouse desktop device. It’ll take some getting used to. This isn’t meant to be a Windows 8 review so you’ll have to look elsewhere if you want that perspective.

Anyway, if you are upgrading from XP, everything other than C:\Documents and Settings gets put in C:\Windows.old so you still have access to previous applications and system data. A bunch of application installs later, I’m pretty much back to where I began, just 11 years newer. All-in-all, not too painful of an experience.