Sunday, July 26, 2015

Happiest recent purchases

A few products that made my summer family travels happier:


Anker 4-port USB car cigaret lighter charger.

Car vent phone holder (don't remember the brand.)

Short stereo audio cable. It's ghetto compared to bluetooth, but more reliable.

Family Computers, 2015 edition

As summer draws to a close, I am planning my family's computer use for the 2015-2016 school year.

My plans for this year are:
  • Each family member gets their own mobile phone and laptop.
  • We also have a shared desktop and a few shared tablets.
  • Shared network scanner/laser printer.
  • We print color documents and pictures at the library or at the drugstore.
  • Android TV for shared movie watching.
  • Chromecast for audio sharing.
  • Comcast Business Internet
  • Apple Time Capsule for backup / WiFi / NAT
Note the lack of a dedicated game console. The kids play games on mobile, tablets, and laptops (for Minecraft specifically!).

My two youngest kids are getting their first phones this year. I'm worried about their phones getting lost, broken, or stolen. So for the first six months my kids will use hand-me-down phones. After they've learned to take care of phones, I'm going to give them better phones. (Still used, though!)

To achieve my plan I need to buy one laptop and three mobile phones. For the laptop I'm leaning towards a 13" Retina Macbook Pro. For the phones I'm leaning towards used iPhone 5Ss.

Why a Macbook and not a Chromebook? Build quality and applications. I have a low-end ARM Chromebook, and I noticed that nobody in the family uses it by choice, due to its low speed and poor quality screen. I _could_ get a Chromebook Pixel, but for my family, at that price level a Macbook is a better deal.

Why iOS and not Android? It comes down to ease-of-administration. I want to lock down my kids' phones, and unfortunately experience with my oldest child using Android is that it's all-too-easy for him to defeat the aftermarket Android parental control apps.

For phone service I'm probably going to go with the BYOD T-Mobile Family Plan, because:
  • It is cheap.
  • Unmetered music streaming.
  • When you hit your data cap it switches to low speed data for the rest of the month, rather than charging more.
  • It has free 2G international roaming.

Thoughts on laptops and other legacy hardware

If I were on a tighter budget, or starting from scratch, I'd consider dropping the laptops, the Comcast Internet, and the home WiFi, and going pure mobile. I would get bluetooth keyboards to make typing school assignments easier.

There's (Already) an App for That

Story of my hobby hacking life these days:

  1. Think of an idea for a small application to write to learn a new technology and incidentally make my life better.
  2. Prototype the app.
  3. Plan a MVP, estimate costs in time and money to develop.
  4. Search Play Market and/or IOS App Store, find that reasonable equivalent already exists, and is only $2.
  5. Buy the existing app, get on with life.
This happened to me last week with the concept of a "comic book reader". I wrote a prototype that let me browse my collection. I was starting to list out all the features I needed to add (zooming, panning, sorting,RAR archive support...). And then I did a web search for comic book reader, spent a couple of minutes reading reviews, and bought one of the popular ones for $2. Sure it's got UI issues, and bugs, and doesn't quite work like it should, but I saved myself weeks of development time.

I need to think through how best to spend my hacking time in today's world of super abundance. What's my comparative advantage in this new world? What's my compliment? What am I trying to learn, trying to achieve? What is worth working on? Existential questions on a Sunday morning. :-)


Pixar Non-Commercial Renderman for OS X

Pixar released their Non Commercial version of Renderman. Woo! Hurray for patent expiration dates!

If you don't have Maya and you do have Mac and you just want to play with the command-line version, you have to jump through several hoops:


You need to install XQuartz before trying to install Renderman. (Otherwise the Renderman installer will fail.)

You need to copy /Applications/Pixar/RenderManProServer-19.0/etc/rendermn.ini to ~/.rendermn.ini  (Note the added "." in the front.)

You need to edit .rendermn.ini to add the line

    /licenseserver    ${RMANTREE}/../pixar.license

You need to add these lines to your bashrc (or equivalent, depending on your shell.) 

export RMANTREE=/Applications/Pixar/RenderManProServer-19.0/
export DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=/Applications/Pixar/RenderManProServer-19.0/lib/
export RMANFB=it
export export
PATH=$PATH:$RMANTREE/bin:$RMSTREE/bin/it.app/Contents/MacOS:$RMSTREE/bin/slim.app/Contents/MacOS

Once you've done that, you can use the "prman" command line tool to render rib files.