Commanding Chaos for Coworking, Open Source and Creative Communities

December 2010 Posts

LA Computer Company, FTW! Gazelle, just fine.

Fri, 12/17/2010 - 08:43 -- rprice

The saga of Ryan's G5 Mac:

Back in 2006 I was getting hard-core about making videos and podcasts. There have been times when I was more active in this arena than others, but I have decided that I truly miss getting to share these stories with others, so I am going through some superficial updating of my hardware.

The fine folks at Apple have decided that anyone who bought a Mac before 2006 and has not upgraded yet is "below them" and deserves no fresh pellets in their hamster bowl, so I needed to get at least a 2007 Mac Pro in order to keep running the latest and greatest Mac OS, Final Cut Pro, iMovie, etc and to use any of the commercially available add-on cards, like the Blackmagic Intensity capture card.

Now I had two goals: unload my G5 PowerMac, and gain a Mac Pro, hopefully for less than $1000 out of my bank account.

I had heard about Gazelle, where you can sell your old stuff for cash. If you opt for an Amazon gift card, you get a bonus, but that doesn't buy me beers at Redlight Redlight. Gazelle has been an advertiser on the TWiT podcasts for a while, so they had a bonus code which was almost as good as getting an Amazon card. Off to the FedEx store to box up the monstrous computer.

I figured this was all way easier than eBay, which I'm not a fan of anyway. I also sent an old cell phone, which could have gotten me $80. I was told the cell phone "does not consistently power on, which affects the offer we are able to make." Affects in that it makes the offer $0. At least "we will gladly recycle this item responsibly free of charge." Like I said, I'm too lazy to try and hock this phone off on Craigslist, so I let that one go. Maybe good Karma will still find me.

Sadly no.

Apparently the inspectors "found some conditions that affected the value of the Desktop." Namely, "Condition was determined based on: Slightly bent out base on back right." If there were a court of appeals here (which there is not), I would have asked to see photos. I could literally find no way to contest my offer, simply accept or deny. I understand this could get seriously tedious for the Gazelle folks, as I'm sure there are lots of legitimate claims.

Original offer + bonus: $732.35
New offer + TWiT bonus: $547

Ouch. I wonder what they would have said had I not asked for the bonus. (It's just the skeptic in me talking, I know it's mean)

I received the check in a timely manner, no feelings hurt beyond repair.

Now it's time to find a Mac Pro, 2007 or later. Magically, I am on a mailing list I can't remember signing up for called the LA Computer Company. Later, I found out I bought a product from a sister site which must use their back-end. Once you reach the end of the story, you'll realize that I'm glad I was on the list.

$1399 MacPro.
Email us today

(at the time I thought I was getting $700+ from Gazelle) I was excited.

I checked out the specs. The machine I laid my eyes on was:
MP/3.0GHz/8Core/500GB/4GB/SD/AP/BT/256VRAM $1599

In English, that means 2 quad-core processors, a 500GB HD, 4GB of memory, SuperDrive, AirPort and Bluetoth, with an ATI 7300 something-or-other video card with 256MB of ram. The weakest part of this deal was the video card. Other deals had better cards, but were only "4Core". It was a trade-off.

I did some research: could I get a used system with similar specs elsewhere? After much deliberation, I decided this was the best deal I could find (at the end of November).

Shipping would have cost almost $50, but I was told if I mailed them a cashier's check or money order, shipping would be free. I guess processing credit cards has gotten to be an expensive and fraud-prone business, and we're talking about almost $1600, so I understand their concern. Free shipping sounded like a good deal, but I was cautious about sending a cashier's check...

At this point I went and did some low-level web snooping: Better Business Bureau, Google the name of the company with "sucks" or "do not buy" after the name, stuff like that. They seemed legit, and had a very good track record, nearly spotless. I think this is the kind of place that only sells to professionals, so they don't get too many people with unrealistic expectations, and as long as they deliver on their promises and fix any mistakes, I think a customer would have no reason to complain.

Once the check arrived, it was almost no time before I was given a tracking number. When the FedEx guy came, I still wasn't wearing pants. I don't mind encountering the religious solicitors in my sleepwear, but this was different. I was surprised to see an original Apple box inside my front door just seconds later. Turns out the box is from a G5, but I pray that the product I ordered is inside.

Success! A Mac Pro with a 3rd party keyboard, mouse and power cord was now mine. No software disc, but it was only loaded with Leopard, so I have to upgrade anyway.

Turn it on: no internet connection. Not even an option to set up an AirPort connection during the "first time" set up. There were lots of other choices on the networking screen, but not Wi-Fi.

Huh? I click through that screen on setup and finish with an Ethernet cable. I open the System Profiler app, click AirPort: "No information found." How about Bluetooth? "No information found."

I shoot an email to Melissa from LA Computer Company, with whom I had discussed shipping and paying by check. She forwarded it along to Nate, who directs me to send him a screen shot of System Profiler. I decided to open the case and send an additional picture of my computer's innards, proving that the "BT" and "AP" on the original product description were indeed missing. Nate promises to speak to his manager.

Within an hour of sending my pictures, I get this email:


I want to say I'm sorry for the typo and all this confusion. I talked with my manager about the situation, and he said that we could send you a USB bluetooth adapter as well as a USB wireless adapter, standard overnight, so it would get to you on Monday.




Thank you Nate, Melissa and the LA Computer Company. That's great customer service.

Now, a USB Bluetooth and Wi-Fi adapter are not the same as internal Apple parts, but there is functionally no difference. I consider this a fair deal.

At the end of this whole business, I am at:
$1599 - $547 - $17 (to box up the old G5) = $1035

Not... Bad.

Before I knew the resolution of the AirPort and Bluetooth incident, I already told a friend of mine about my purchase from this company, with the caveat that I would let him know how this all turned out. I guess I'll find out for sure on Monday.


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Cultural Wasteland or a Football Shangri-La?

Fri, 12/17/2010 - 06:32 -- rprice

I'm a regular reader of the Orlando Business Journal's blogs. As far as I know, they don't post all of their articles online. I get a lot of great info from the blogs though, and they help me keep in touch with my city in ways that I don't get from other publications.

Yesterday Richard Bilbao posted a blog called "Which should come first: Citrus Bowl or performing arts center?" where he asks if the new performing arts center in downtown should get put on the back burner in favor of the stinky old football stadium, because it's old, stinky, rusty, and seen by almost 100,000 people over the course of 2 days in December.

If you ask me, for the rest of the year, it would be lucky to be seen by 100,000 people who aren't driving West on the 408. Since UCF pulled out, very few regular events are left that happen there. This is something that was debated ad nauseum 2 years ago when all this Venues hype was going around, and before tourism taxes took a nosedive.

The second point he makes is that the Citrus Bowl will bring in almost 6 times the amount of tourism taxes. I'd like to see the math on that one. So would commenter David P.:

This is more than a bit misleading. Some (most?) of the noted $200M revenue projection for the renovated Citrus Bowl is ALREADY being generated and thus isn't additive. The projected revenues from the Performing Arts Center are ENTIRELY additive. Come on folks!

The Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center will have other, non-monetary, benefits as well. Just last night I was talking to some people about the seemingly worldwide perception that Orlando is a "cultural wasteland". I think the DPAC can help us to change that, but not simply by existing. Let me explain:

People in our society fail to take the long view, I think. They say "If I just had another $1000 I could get X and be happy", "If Urban ReThink was just open today, I could get more work done", "If the EDC just gave money to little guys like me, I could make some waves in this town". While any of these might be true, the preconditions are all superficial.

Saying that "If we just had a better performing arts space, we could stop being a cultural wasteland", is similarly flawed, but we know how people think. I could say the same of Creative Village. As someone who has toiled in the Grassroots for the last 4 years, I see the Creative Village as a way to help put Central Florida on the map. I know I'm being narrow-minded, but I still think that. What is really going to put Orlando on the map from a cultural, entrepreneurial, and otherwise awesome perspective is not about the amenities.

At the same time, things like Creative Village and DPAC have some built-in benefits that the Citrus Bowl project does not. DPAC is going to house administrative offices for Orlando's "Big Three" arts organizations. (sadly, the Opera folded, but I'm sure someone is in the #3 spot now) This encourages these organizations to do cross-promotions, collaborate, or just go to lunch and share knowledge. The same will be true of Urban ReThink, and any of the companies that choose to move in to the Creative Village. Proximity is necessary for massive reactions in Chemistry as it is in the Creative world.

What new opportunities will the renovated Citrus Bowl create? What groups, organizations and movements will an updated stadium create or enable? Sure, it will bring some revenue, but in the "big picture" view, a few hundred thousand people get a cushier trip to Florida. I think our amenities are pretty damn world class as it is - let's try to serve our citizens instead of Bowl Game attendees. If Orlando were getting a pro sports team, I'd have a somewhat different view, but not wholly. I'd still think that an updated stadium isn't creating anything on top of income for the local government.

If you think otherwise, or you can prove me wrong, please do so. I'm not trying to say I have all the answers, and up to this point the argument is fairly one sided. Volley served, your move.


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Firefox4 Demo

Thu, 12/09/2010 - 02:26 -- rprice

Looks like I've had a 2-month blogging hiatus... oops! I normally don't go this long with something to write about. Here is something so cool I couldn't avoid posting it:

The fine folks up in Canada (at least I assume that's where this guy is) have done it again! Video via

I have actually been using Firefox 4 in Alpha/Beta for quite some time now, but this video is just such a great demo of what you can accomplish with modern web browsers, and in this case, Firefox.

Notable things are:

  • HTML5 Video. Firefox has had support for plugin-less video (i.e. no flash) for a while, but now that Google has opened the WebM codec, Firefox can have that in common with Chrome, Opera and the forthcoming IE9 (i.e. everyone except Safari). What does this mean? You should only have to encode your video twice now, into h.264 and WebM. You can still do Flash for backwards compatibility, but I fear rendering Flash video will become the "IE6 stylesheet" of the next decade.
  • CSS Transitions and History API. Paul is doing all of his slides (except the page with 5 videos, the film site and the photo grid) in one giant HTML page with a bunch of transitions and the History API, which I assume you access with JavaScript. He then later shows how he uses the Web Sockets (you'll start hearing this instead of AJAX soon, I promise) to control the slides on his computer with his phone, over the cloud (instead of the local network).
  • Hardware accelerated graphics. The browser can talk to the GPU; This goes above and beyond what you can do with Flash, I think, or at least in all but the very latest versions. This greatly speeds up all of the animations and "candy" that Paul shows in his demo. This is cool because the video card in any modern computer is a very capable and sometimes under-utilized piece of equipment, and it's perfect for doing stuff like this. While the contents of web pages will take a few years to catch up with these new developments, we can't have the next quantum leap unless every browser maker is able to accomplish stuff like this GPU-level optimization. (I think this only works on Windows today)
  • 3D. Probably one of the coolest demos, but the one I'm most skeptical about. We've been hearing about 3D in the browser (and Flash) for years and years and years, but it's so different, it's probably just more candy. I don't think today's web designers would know what to do with 3D, and content companies (like game makers) are often way more interested in proprietorship, which is not consistent with the "view source" aesthetic of the web.
  • Drag and Drop file uploads. All I can say is, "Finally!"
  • Canvas.Paul appears to skip over canvas, but I believe that canvas was so instrumental in getting most of these other technologies to be usable in the wild, that I'll give him a pass. I put SVG in the same camp as 3D, though. (I'll believe it when everyone uses it.)
  • He doesn't have demos for some of the other (relatively) new things, like the IndexedDB (see: Google Gears, Flash Shared Objects) or Location-aware browsing. I know there are some sites out there that are making use of the location services, because they are throwing pop-ups and permission requests at me.

Please note also, the title of this post - Firefox 4 Demo - not HTML5 and CSS3 Demo. Still, I think a lot of these things are possible in other browsers, but they don't have this guy with the killer French accent to give the demo. There is also a mobile version of Firefox beta, if you use Android at least (or you're in the Maemo minority).


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