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Stephen Green

Stephen Green began blogging at VodkaPundit.com in early 2002, and has served as PJMedia's Denver editor since 2008. He's one of the hosts on PJTV, and one-third of PJTV's Trifecta team with Scott Ott and Bill Whittle. Steve lives with his wife and sons in the hills and woods of Monument, Colorado, where he enjoys the occasional lovely adult beverage.
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This Is Not the Mac You’re Looking For

Thursday, June 26th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

iMac

Apple announced a new “budget” iMac last week, starting at $1099 for an Intel i5 machine with Apple’s gorgeous 21.5″ IPS display. But there’s a catch:

As you can read in our full benchmark report, there is now a wide performance gap between the low-end iMac and the next step up the product line. The new $1099 iMac was slower across the board, and 54 percent slower overall, than the $1299 21.5-inch system. One thing to note: We weren’t crazy about the $1299 model when it shipped. It offered just modest speed improvements over the October 2012 system and most of that was due to the $1299 iMac’s use of Iris Pro graphics—which are not included in the new $1099 system.

Back when I was buying bleeding-edge Windows machines from various vendors, the sweet spot on the price/performance curve was to buy Intel’s second-fastest CPU and match it with the second-fastest GPU from whoever was the hot name at the time. I always aimed above the sweet spot, which is how I ended up with a 200mhz Pentium Pro with a Number Nine video card (remember them?), which at the time was the absolute fastest all-SCSI beast you could buy.

Within months, Intel debuted MMX multimedia instructions on their regular Pentium chips, and GFX put Number Nine on the curb with affordable 3D graphics. Sometimes, top-end buyers get burned.

But bottom-end buyers always get burned, if they’re looking for any kind of performance. For about 17% more money, you can buy yourself more than 50% more performance. Maybe you don’t need a screaming gaming rig, but even just a little future-proofing can go a long way.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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I’m Sorry Dave, I Can’t Do That

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Gizmodo says “this is big” and they ain’t kidding:

A computer has successfully managed to fool a bunch of researchers into thinking that it was a 13-year-old boy named Eugene Goostman. In doing so, it has become the first computer in the world to have successfully passed the Turing Test.

The test is named after computer pioneer Alan Turing. To pass it, a computer needs to dupe 30 per cent of human judges in five minute text-based chats, a feat that until now had never been accomplished.

“Eugene” was created by a team based in Russia, and passed the test organised by the University of Reading just barely, by duping 33 per cent of the judges. It should also be noted that successfully pretending to be a 13-year-old boy for whom English is a second language ain’t exactly Hal 9000.

It’s still an obviously exciting breakthrough, though, one that has critics already raising red flags about its implications. “Having a computer that can trick a human into thinking that someone, or even something, is a person we trust is a wake-up call to cyber crime,” said Kevin Warwick, a visiting professor at the University of Reading and deputy vice-chancellor for research at Coventry University told the Independent.

Aren’t we supposed to be just a decade away, give or take, from the Singularity?

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Dr. Dre: The Next Steve Jobs?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

The Wall Street Journal’s Apple reporting is generally so bad that I rarely bother reading their stories. The widely and thoroughly discredited book, Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, was written by WSJ’s own Yukari Iwatani Kane, which was really the pinnacle of the kind of story WSJ routinely published about the company. So it was a bit of a shock over the weekend when just about every tech blog I read linked to this story comparing Steve Jobs with brand-new Apple employee Dr. Dre.

But there’s good stuff in there, including this:

Behind the scenes, Dr. Dre—whose real name is Andre Young —has quietly played an equally powerful role developing and protecting the Beats brand, eschewing market research for gut instinct at every turn. Though his main obsession is perfecting the sound of the company’s signature high-end headphones, the 49-year-old fitness-obsessed music producer weighs in decisively on everything from TV ads and font styles to the wordiness of descriptions on the Beats Music streaming service.

As one colleague says, Dr. Dre serves as Beats’ “cultural barometer” of what is cool.

But Dr. Dre’s process is mysterious, colleagues say: His assessments are usually immediate, personal and articulated sparely. He often dismisses ideas such as posing for clichéd photos in a recording studio as too “corny” or “cheesy.” Or he’ll wave them off with a terse “I’m not feeling that.”

The Beats acquisition is starting to make more and more sense.

It might still prove to be misguided or unprofitable, but I’m finally “feeling” what Tim Cook must have been when he decided to plunk down $3 billion for the company.

But then there’s another bit slightly further down:

Dr. Dre’s perfectionist impulse, coupled with his disregard for artificial deadlines, have meant that “he doesn’t put out a lot of material,” despite being a workaholic, said Paul Rosenberg, a lawyer and manager of one of Dr. Dre’s protégés, rapper Eminem.

That could portend friction at his new employer, Apple, which agreed to buy Beats for $3 billion last month. [Emphasis added]

Putting in tons of work on very few highly profitable products? Why, Dre sounds nothing at all like Apple, whose entire product line could fit comfortably on your kitchen table.

Isn’t there one damn reporter at that paper who understands Apple?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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World’s Largest, Most Accurate LEGO Star Destroyer

Monday, June 9th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

BRIDGE

BIG

If you like Lego or if you like Star Wars — or if you’re like me and turn eight years old again when you put the two together — then click over to Wired right now for the whole story of this incredible build.

(Big thanks to Christopher Joshua Arndt on Facebook for the heads up!)

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Apple Going After Search?

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Well:

While users will still look to Google when searching in their web browser, the role of search in the modern operating system is more than the browser. It can be evoked in almost any application, and global search is generally a key-press or a touch gesture away.

For Apple this means Spotlight. In the new versions of their operating systems, Google results will be removed from Spotlight and replaced with Microsoft’s Bing. Of course Apple is going to offer searches through iTunes, the App Store, Apple Maps, iBooks, and more, but the prize of web searches in Spotlight now goes to Redmond.

One of the features of OS X Yosemite due out this fall is how much Spotlight has been moved front and center — literally — and how much more power it’s been given. I’ll likely be opening up far fewer search tabs in Safari, and I suspect that’s exactly the point.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Today’s One-Click Impulse Purchase

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

61eTmNoEfDL

A graphic edition of the Amity Shlaes instant classic, The Forgotten Man, and it’s only 12 bucks? No brainer. I’ll have my boys reading it by age 10 or 12 — at the latest.

BONUS: Ed Driscoll interviewed Amity about the new edition. Lots of good stuff, so click on over.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Is Amazon’s New Music Streaming Scheme Aiming at the Fogies?

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

shutterstock_118151752

Amazon bringing free music streaming to Prime customers, but there is a catch:

The company will expand its Prime membership offerings by adding a stockpile of old and newish music for subscribers to stream on demand. The Prime music service, which is scheduled to launch this June or July, will not include recent releases but instead restrict its catalog to songs and albums that are 6 months old and older, five music industry sources familiar with the company’s plans confirmed to BuzzFeed.

Fogies like myself are Amazon’s most-likely Prime customers, and also the customers least interested in the latest music — so the catch is far from a deal-breaker. But when you consider that Prime customers already pony up $99 a year (up from $79), Amazon’s new service makes it harder to justify the $500 million Apple paid for Beats Music as part of the Beats acquisition.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via shutterstock / Alexander Raths

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Censoring Google?

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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Here’s the first result of that recent EU court decision on search engines:

Google is starting to accept requests from Europeans who want to erase unflattering information from the results produced by the world’s dominant search engine.

The demands can be submitted on a Web page that Google opened late Thursday in response to a landmark ruling issued two weeks ago by Europe’s highest court.

The decision gives Europeans the means to polish their online reputations by petitioning Google and other search engines to remove potentially damaging links to newspaper articles and other websites with embarrassing information about their past activities.

I’m not being facetious when I ask, “What’s a search engine for?” Embarrassing or not, we expect to get our search results, all the search results, and nothing but the search results. We don’t expect Google to deliver instead what amounts to hagiography of some politician best known for graft or having his pants around his ankles.

Government should have no authority over the web.

Zero.

None.

But that wouldn’t suit our betters now, would it?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via shutterstock / Lightspring

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Reports of the Death of the Tablet Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Friday, May 30th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Galen Gruman has a good Infoworld column on why Windows tablets aren’t selling, and why the new Surface Pro 3 is unlikely to do much better — although there’s nothing there that Longtime Sharp VodkaPundit Readers™ haven’t known since the first model was introduced two years ago. But something still stood out:

The iPad is four years old this year, and in its short life it has taken the world by storm, creating a new class of computing device that has sold well over 200 million units. Everyone is trying to copy it, with many Android tablets and a bunch of Windows tablets all trying to ride the iPad’s coattails. Never mind that the iPad itself seems to be running out of gas, and it’s unclear whether Apple can refill the tank.

A big part of last quarter’s decline in iPad sales was nothing more than adjustment, not in sales, but in the sales channel. Tim Cook had overshot the year before, making the same quarter this year look worse than it actually was. But overall, sales were down slightly after a phenomenal Christmas quarter.

What it looks like from here is that the tablet market is already a mature one, after just three years. And just like the smartphone market, you have Apple sucking up most of the profits, Android generating tons of sales to people who don’t much use the things, and Windows in a distant third place wondering what the heck just happened.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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VIDEO: 136 Years of Movie Special Effects In Just Under 3 Minutes

Friday, May 23rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Wow.

Up until, and I guess including Jurassic Park, Hollywood could drop our jaws with only the special effects. Something really new might come along every once in a great while like the wire work from The Matrix, but once the computers took over we became jaded pretty quickly. We used to marvel at practical special effects, because some smart and talented people had to figure out a means to make something jaw-dropping happen, really happen, in front of a camera. Now the computer artists just draw it, if you’ll allow me to oversimplify the amazing work that they can do. But we’ll never again wonder, “How did they do that?”

Which means that special effects once again have to go back to doing the simple work of servicing a good story.

Remember good stories, Hollywood? A little less spectacle, please, and a little more storytelling.

(H/T, Wired.)

*****

cross-posted form Vodkapundit

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E-Cigarettes Increase the Success of Quitting by 60%

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

SMOKELESS

Wow:

Smokers trying to quit are 60 percent more likely to report success if they switch to e-cigarettes than if they use nicotine products like patches or gum, or just willpower, scientists said on Wednesday.

Presenting findings from a study of almost 6,000 smokers over five years, the researchers said the results suggest e-cigarettes could play an important role in reducing smoking rates and hence cutting tobacco-related deaths and illnesses.

As well as causing lung cancer and other chronic respiratory diseases, tobacco smoking is also a major contributor to cardiovascular diseases, the world’s number one killer.

“E-cigarettes could substantially improve public health because of their widespread appeal and the huge health gains associated with stopping smoking,” said Robert West of University College London’s epidemiology and public health department, who led the study.

“60% more likely” and “could substantially improve public health” are the things to take away from this report — and yet the busybodies want to regulate e-cigs the same as regular smokes because…

Anyone?

My theory is they want to ban e-cigs because they look like the real thing and because they bring people pleasure.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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When a ‘High-Elf Engaged in Battle with the Evil Morgoth’ Attacks Your Car

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 - by Stephen Green

MORGOTH THE CARJACKER

So this is a thing that happened in Portland:

The last thing the woman from Northeast Portland probably expected when she got up Tuesday morning was that she would be attacked by a sword-wielding elf.

But that’s what happened around 7 a.m. as she drove her red BMW by the intersection of Southeast 7th and Morrison.

A man dressed in chain-mail with a helmet, shield and carrying a sword and staff ran into traffic and started attacking her car.

She called 911, reporting that “a pirate” was attacking her car.

When police got there, they detained Konrad Bass of Glendale, Oregon.

Bass told officers that he wasn’t a pirate but a “high-elf engaged in battle with the evil Morgoth.”

Bass told police that he had taken LSD, which comes as a shock to exactly nobody.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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What Is ‘The Apple Experience’?

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

The first Apple Store opened 13 years ago yesterday in McLean, Virginia. What’s remarkable is how little Apple had to sell at first.

There was no iPad until 2010, no iPhone until 2007, and even the iPod didn’t debut until months later in October of 2001. Pretty much all Apple had at the time was the four Mac product lines — iMac, iBook, Power Mac and PowerBook. None sold in any great numbers.

Watch the video and you’ll see what Apple did have to sell — “the Apple experience,” for lack of a better phrase. Buy a Mac and you enter the world of the Mac as your digital hub, and the Apple Store was the place where they’d teach you how to put it all together. The hub is now cloud-based, but the experience customers buy into is the same — great gear which comes with well-trained “geniuses” to help you get the most out of it.

Other companies make great product — maybe not insanely great, but still — but they can’t duplicate Apple’s experience from purchase, through training, and, yes, through the inevitable problems and eventual upgrades.

Tech geeks who look at price and specs without ever actually shopping at an Apple Store, or talking to people about why they do, suffer from a very bad case of Just Not Getting It. And that’s OK, because price & specs is all that many people need when making a buying decision. But for millions more, there are now 424 stores in 16 countries — and they generate more profit per square foot than any other retail store anywhere, ever.

Not bad for a company which had no prior retail experience and had been weeks away from bankruptcy just four years before opening its first store.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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You Would Never Guess Which Ancient Word Processor George R.R. Martin Uses To Write Game of Thrones

Monday, May 19th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

WORDSTAR 4.0

Old school:

The next time someone makes fun of you for never updating Microsoft Word or for still typing on an old iMac, consider yourself on the cutting edge compared to George R.R. Martin.

The “Game of Thrones” author confessed to late-night talk-show host Conan O’Brien that he prefers to write his popular books on a DOS word processor instead of the latest laptop.

“I actually have two computers,” Martin told Conan. “I have a computer I browse the Internet with and I get my email on, and I do my taxes on. And then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine, not connected to the Internet. I use WordStar 4.0 as my word processing system.”

Respect.

The last word processor I really loved was Word 95, which IIRC was just a 32-but recompile of the previous version to run on Windows 95. It was fast, stable, not wired into the internet in any way, and it didn’t try to do anything “for” me except to format my text the way I told it to.

But WordStar? Niiiiiiiiiiiice.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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A Hoverbike Built for Two

Sunday, May 18th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

AERO-X HOVERBIKE

I’ll wait for a heavier-duty version capable of hauling my camping equipment.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Guess What This California Wife Did With Pop Rocks To End Up in the ER…

Saturday, May 17th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Yikes:

A frisky California wife ended up in the ER after she put exploding candy into her genitals during sex.

The unnamed woman, from Newport Beach, reportedly thought inserting the tingling Pop Rocks confectionery into her vagina would increase her pleasure.

But the sweet treat actually had the opposite effect, and she started suffering burning and itching sensations.

You know you’re not supposed to…

…oh, who am I to judge?

ALSO: The video is a TLC dramatization and not the actual ER visit or anything else.

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Will Disney Restore the Original Star Wars Trilogy?

Friday, May 16th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Han-Shot-First

Want to see a potential good result of Disney milling the Star Wars universe for everything it’s worth? Read:

Unadulterated, “pure” versions of the original Star Wars films are difficult to come by. Except for one sad, low-resolution release on DVD in 2006 (which we’ll discuss in a moment), the films have only been available in their modified “Special Edition” forms since 1997, when George Lucas re-released the films to theaters with a series of changes. Some of those changes aren’t bad at all—the fancy new attack on the Death Star in Episode IV is perfectly cromulent—but others are absolutely terrible. In Return of the Jedi, Jabba’s palace gains an asinine CGI-filled song-and-dance interlude. Dialogue is butchered in Empire Strikes Back. And in the first movie, perhaps most famously, Han no longer shoots first.

Each subsequent release has piled on more and more changes, culminating in the Star Wars Blu-ray release, which now has Return of the Jedi climaxing with Darth Vader howling “NOOOOOOOO!” as he flings the Emperor into the shaft (spoiler alert from 1983, I guess). For every round of changes, the fan outcry for an unedited original release has grown. And now that Disney has its hands wrapped firmly around the Star Wars steering wheel, the company seems to be in the perfect position to give the fans what they want.

It all depends on the analog source material, which the story reports is “actually in pretty terrible shape.”

Better start restoring it now, is all I have to say about that.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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What’s Your Take on the New Batman Suit?

Thursday, May 15th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

NEW BATMAN

Ben Affleck done up right for 2016′s Batman vs. Superman. I go into anything helmed by Zack Snyder with more than a little trepidation, but thought that last year’s Man of Steel was overall a nice refresh for the oldest superhero franchise.

This Batman is very Frank Miller and earns the Coveted VodkaPundit Seal of Approval™.

What’s your take?

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Japan Jails Man for 3D Printed Guns

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

IN 3D

With its notoriously strict gun control laws, this story should come as no surprise:

Yoshitomo Imura allegedly downloaded and printed five plastic guns, two of which could fire real bullets. He was arrested last month, but the news was only revealed on Thursday. It’s believed to be the first arrest made for possession of 3D-printed guns in Japan, a country with extremely strict gun laws. A law passed in 1958 forbids a person from possessing a “firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” although it lists list several exceptions.

Imura defended himself, saying he didn’t know it was illegal to own a plastic gun.

“I produced the guns, but I didn’t think it was illegal,” Imura said, according to Japan Times. “I can’t complain about the arrest if the police regard them as real guns.”

This one guy was caught and arrested, and to this American reader, strangely sanguine or even passive about it. But the internet is undermining all kinds of laws, in all kinds of places, in all kinds of unexpected ways.
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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Beware of Geeks Bearing Gifts

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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A story of pure awfulness on both sides and it comes to us from California? Say it isn’t so!

But it is so:

A tenth-grade California girl allegedly passed out cupcakes to bullies at her school which she said contained “bodily fluids.”

I was pretty sure she got the flour and sugar and whatnot down at the Safeway, but it was more difficult figuring out how exactly she obtained the male bodily fluids in question. But then there was this:

As it turns out, the cupcakes were made with mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and soy sauce.

Either way, students in the girl’s French class were left with a bad taste in their mouths during a food day event last week.

Before the Bakersfield Police Department announced that the cupcakes weren’t laced with anything other than condiments, it was believed they may have contained “pubic hair, semen and expired food and pills.”

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via shutterstock / Ruth Black

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How Porn Sites Hold Android Phones for Ransom

Monday, May 12th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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This sounds fun:

Researchers have uncovered Android-based malware that disables infected handsets until end users pay a hefty cash payment to settle trumped-up criminal charges involving the viewing of illegal pornography.

To stoke maximum fear, Android-Trojan.Koler.A uses geolocation functions to tailor the warnings to whatever country a victim happens to reside in. The screenshot to the right invoking the FBI, for instance, is the notice that’s displayed on infected phones connecting from a US-based IP address. People in Romania and other countries will see slightly different warnings. The malware prevents users from accessing the home screen of their phones, making it impossible to use most other apps installed on the phone. The normal phone functions in some cases can be restored only when the user pays a “fine” of about $300, using untraceable payment mechanisms such as Paysafecard or uKash.

Here’s how the malware takes over:

“The ransomware’s main component is a browser view that stays on top of all other applications, Bitdefender Senior E-Threat Analyst Bogdan Botezatu wrote in an e-mail. “You can press Home and go to the homescreen, but a timer would bring it back on top in about 5 seconds. I managed to uninstall it manually by swiftly going to applications and dragging the icon on the Uninstall control, but it only works if the application icon is on the first row. Otherwise, one wouldn’t have the necessary time to drag it to the top, where the uninstall control is located.”

Users must first choose to allow out-of-market apps permission to install, and then install a porn “player” which is actually the malware. But it’s certainly easy to imagine scenarios not involving shady porn sites tricking the unwary into having to ransom their own phones.

*****
Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

image via shutterstock / Olena Zaskochenko

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There’s a Tricorder App for That

Saturday, May 10th, 2014 - by Stephen Green
This is you in 2017.

This is you in 2017.

Star Trek is coming to your iPhone:

Accidentally slicing into an unripe avocado or trying to guess the nutritional value of a restaurant meal might soon be problems of the past thanks to SCiO, a pocket-sized spectrometer that lets users analyze the molecular structure of anything from food to plants — even the human body — and view the results on their iPhone.

Consumer Physics, SCiO’s creators, promise a Star Trek-like experience with the device. Users can point the Zippo-sized scanner at an avocado, for example, and find out how ripe the fruit is without touching or peeling it.

SCiO could be used to analyze a plate of food to determine its caloric and fat content, making meal tracking easier. It might also help users ensure their medication is authentic, or check soil conditions and alert gardeners that their plants aren’t receiving enough water.

$299 might seem like a steep buy-in, but that’s just for the first-generation model. There will be newer models and knockoffs for $99 within a couple of years, at which point the Tricorder SCiO becomes almost as ubiquitous as smartphones are.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Nintendo Riding the Mario Kart to Extinction

Friday, May 9th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

NINTENDO

Half a billion dollars for a company whose new console flopped, and whose handheld gaming business is being systematically dismantled by Android and iOS.

The Wii U (rhymes with “peew”) was such an obvious stinker I called it a “desperate Hail Mary pass” way back in October of 2011, months before it was even released.

Back in January Nintendo admitted it was looking into new business models. Now would be the time to act — but the company steadfastly refuses to port its beloved titles to other systems.

It’s time for new management at Nintendo.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why Would Anyone Connect 36 External Hard Drives to a New Mac Pro?

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

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MacWorld connected and daisy chained 36 external hard drives to a new Mac Pro. Why? Because they had 36 external hard drives and a Mac Pro — I know I’d do it if I could. More:

While a dozen or so of these drives were bus-powered, most required external power. We plugged 24 power cords into three power strips and plugged each of those strips into a Watts Up power meter. When running a script that copied data from the Mac Pro’s internal PCIe connected flash storage to each of the drives, the combine power draw peaked at a whopping 865 Watts.

The script also tracked the amount of time it took each drive to write 6GB of data. The fastest was OWC’s Mercury Helios, which was able to write at an average of 271 MBps with all other drives running.

That’s an impressive write speed even without competing for CPU time with 35 other drives. 36 others if you count the boot SSD inside the Mac.

My needs are slightly more modest. I picked up a stock six-core Pro a couple weeks ago, with two external drives. The first is a 4TB LaCie d2 Thunderbolt drive for my Time Machine backup. Its only job is to stay out of my way until I mess something up. Or until we get an evacuation order some summer due to wildfires — it’s nice to be able to grab just one drive and then scoot. The second is a 4TB LaCie 2big, also Thunderbolt, in a striped 2TB RAID 0 config.

I dunno how fast that thing is, but I honestly can’t tell a difference between the LaCie RAID and the PCIe SSD boot drive. The new setup is so fast that I’m considering merging my year-by-year Aperture photo libraries into one big-ass 250GB library.

Because like the MacWorld guys — why not?

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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