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.

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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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?

Where do you spend your time?

For the last little bit I’ve been using a program called MyTime which tracks the programs you use and websites you visit while you use your computer. It’s an interesting little program that I’ve mostly forgotten about. At the end of last month, I decided to take a look what I’ve been up to while working. Here’s the breakdown:

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by how much time I spend in Mail. It certainly feels like that’s how my professional life is.

So, where do you spend most of your time at work?






Alfred: Function and Style

While there have been a few quick launch programs for the Mac (Quicksilver is the most notable), I’ve generally not bothered with them as I was satisfied with OS X’s built-in Spotlight function (the magnifying glass in the top right of the screen). With Apple’s App Store being released for OS X 10.6.6 recently, I was poking around looking for the cream among the collection and ran across Alfred by Running with Crayons, Ltd. My position has changed.

First, Alfred is a well-designed piece of software that displays a nice big dialog when activated by pressing the pre-defined hot-key (the default is opt-space):

The main Alfred dialog

That dialog is where you can perform application and file lookups like you do with Spotlight but the real power is the fact that pre-defined functions allow you to not only do searches of other websites (e.g., Amazon, eBay, WikiPedia, Google, Facebook, etc.) but the ability to add search for any other site that uses a URL-based search method. That is what has sold me. In only a few minutes I added search strings for many internal websites I use at work which will be most convenient.

The application is free but a ‘Powerpack’ add-on is available which adds even more functionality (iTunes control, file manipulation, terminal shortcuts, and others). I’ll be getting that but will wait for it to be available in the App Store. If you ever use Spotlight, give it a try. Plus, the developer’s a LittleBigPlanet fan which gives me even more reason to like it. ;-)

A handful of OmniFocus items

I’ve mentioned before how I use OmniFocus to manage everything in my life. It has been an essential tool for me for several years. So much so, I can’t say how excited I am about the pending iPad version which I believe will become very critical for keeping me sane. I check the App Store a couple times a day but so far, nuthin’.

If you’re not familiar with OmniFocus or David Allen‘s Getting Things Done methodology, please take the time to read ‘The Psychology of OmniFocus’ which is a better write-up than I would be able to put together on how GTD works and specifically

The last thought is that with this post (and the associated task ‘Write a blog post’), I will for the first time in longer than I can remember, be caught up with all of my overdue tasks. I’ve written about having challenges keeping up with tasks before and I have improved, but I seem forever behind. That’ll change when I wake up tomorrow and when I get to work on Monday, but if I can continue to keep due dates to a minimum, I may actually start getting to those things I’ve haven’t been able to get to. One can hope.

MacBook Mini lives!

I was happy to receive shipment confirmation on my Dell Mini 9 order on Thursday and it showed up Tuesday afternoon. After quickly archiving the SSD (I had considered evaluating the pre-installed Ubuntu Linux setup, but ‘eh, I’ve used Ubuntu before), I proceeded to install OS X Leopard (10.5).

My initial attempt didn’t work directly off of the install DVD (the easy way) so I had to resort to the more mucky copy-install-DVD-to-external-drive solution. On the plus side, the install proceeded fairly quickly as it was not hampered by the slowness of installing from DVD.

After a few reboots and updates, I now have this:

I must say that it is the cutest and coolest little laptop that I’ve used in a while. I’ve been able to install the apps I want to use (Firefox, OmniFocus, 1Password, iStat Menus, Growl, and Adium) as well as the VPN software for work so I can respond to any issue that might come up. After purging items mentioned in my last post, I have 4.5G free on the 16G SSD (formats to 14.03G).

It isn’t all paradise, however. Getting used to the keyboard is proving challenging. Not surprisingly, the keys are about 80% normal size, but I can live with that. The part that’s really strange is that the ‘/” key which is normally to the right of ;/: is now below ./> but the really annoying thing is the right shift key is half size right next to the up arrow. More often than not I end up moving the cursor up a line whenever I try to capitalize something.

While I will opt for my work MacBook or the family MacBook Pro for anything really serious, the Mini 9 is a great little “goof around” Mac that Apple never made. After our budget digests the purchase in a month or two, I’ll pick up a 2G DIMM as I’m noticing the slowdown of OS X on 1G. I’ll also get a 8G SDHC Flash card for scratch and I’ll be ready for anything.