October 2011

RAM: Still the Best Upgrade Bang for the Buck

by Joey deVilla on October 31, 2011

Standard issue Shopify gear: MacBook Pro 15", Apple 27" display, Apple wireless keyboard, Apple Magic Mouse, Aeron chair

One of the nice things about working at Shopify is the gear you get to work with. The standard issue machine for most employees – most of us are developers and designers – is a 15” MacBook Pro. Combined with the other goodies that Shopify developers get: Mac LCD display, Magic Mouse, keyboard and Aeron chair, it’s a great web development setup.

Until recently, most of the developers were working on machines with the stock 4GB RAM. While an out-of-the-box MacBook Pro is more than enough to support a lot of coding, development and testing are resource-hungry activities. With our developers taking on increasingly ambitious projects and the prices of 8GB SODIMMs falling, we saw fit to double the developers’ RAM. They seemed pretty happy about it.

As the Platform Evangelist, I don’t write any production code; any coding I do is for examples, demos and tutorials. The stock 4GB RAM is more than enough for those coding needs, but my other work uses resource-hungry software. Although I generally prefer Mac software, I have yet to find a tool  that can beat Windows Live Writer, which I run on Windows under Parallels.

Evenly sharing 4GB of RAM between MacOS 10.7 and Windows 7 yields a worst-of-both-worlds on both sides. I eventually went with assigning 3GB to MacOS and the remainder to Windows. While workable, it’s still pokey, especially on the Windows side.

This sluggishness, coupled with my starting work on videos, meant that it was time for an upgrade.

2 packs of Patriot RAM 4GB SODIMMs

At the time of this writing, the price of 16GB of laptop RAM is still pretty steep: most vendors are asking for $700 for a pair of 8GB SODIMMs on average. The less bleeding-edge configuration of half the size — two 4GB SODIMMs — is much, much cheaper: about one-tenth the price of 16GB.

For the early-2011 15” MacBook Pro, the RAM you want for 8GB is 2 204-pin 1333Mhz 4GB DDR3 SODIMMs. I picked up the two SODIMMs pictured above at a nearby Tiger Direct outlet for CDN$68.

Replacing the RAM on the current-model MacBook Pro is pretty easy. The only tool you need is a PH00-sized Phillips screwdriver to remove the 10 screws that hold the base of the MacBook Pro. Popping out the old SODIMMs and replacing them is pretty simple, as the video below shows:

After installing the RAM and replacing the bottom cover, I fired up the MacBook, which booted without a hitch. A quick check of “About This Mac…” under the Apple menu confirmed that the RAM upgrade went successfully:

"About this Mac" window displaying 8GB 1333MHz DDR RAM

Before I replaced the RAM, I ran the trial edition of Geekbench on my MacBook Pro and got this report:

Benchmark for MacBook before RAM upgrade: Geekbench score - 9885

Here are the Geekbench scores for the old configuration:

  • Total Geekbench score: 9885
    • Integer benchmark: 8314
    • Floating point benchmark: 15175
    • Memory benchmark: 5691
    • Stream benchmark: 5260

With the new RAM, Geekbench reported some slightly better scores:

"Benchmark for MacBook before RAM upgrade": Geekbench score 10014

  • Total Geekbench score: 10014
    • Integer benchmark: 8409
    • Floating point benchmark: 15225
    • Memory benchmark: 5926
    • Stream benchmark: 5576

On the MacOS side, things seem a little snappier, especially when switching apps. The difference in performance in Windows under Parallels with the extra RAM is like night and day. I changed the RAM allotment in Parallels so that Windows uses 4GB of RAM and ran the Windows Experience Index test. Here are the results:

Screenshot of Windows Experience window for Windows under Parallels - Base score 5.4

  • Windows Experience Index base score: 5.4
    • Processor: 5.4
    • Memory: 7.3
    • Graphics: 5.9
    • Gaming graphics: 5.9
    • Primary hard disk: 6.4

Dell Latitude E6500 laptop

I decided to compare the performance of Windows 7 under Parallels to the same version and edition of Windows 7 running on my fastest PC, a Dell Latitude E6500 with 8GB RAM (a fabulous parting gift from my old employer). Here are its Windows Experience Index results:

Screenshot of Windows Experience window for Windows on the Dell E6500 - Base score 4.2

  • Windows Experience Index base score: 4.2
    • Processor: 6.4
    • Memory: 6.4
    • Graphics: 4.2
    • Gaming graphics: 4.4
    • Primary hard disk: 5.9

With the new RAM, it’s like having a brand new machine. In fact, with Windows running snappily on the Mac – so much faster than it did before – it’s like having two brand new machines.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

{ 1 comment }

Dennis Ritchie Day

by Joey deVilla on October 30, 2011

"October 30, 2011: Dennis Ritchie Day": Old photo of Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thomson working on a DEC PDP computer

Inspired by California Governor Edmund Brown’s declaration that October 16th would be Steve Jobs day, Tim O’Reilly wrote in O’Reilly Radar:

I don’t have the convening power of a Governor Brown, but for those of us around the world who care, I hereby declare this Sunday, October 30 to be Dennis Ritchie Day! Let’s remember the contributions of this computing pioneer.

Photo of Dennis Ritchie

For C and Unix, as well as all the goodies that came forth from their creation – from the concept of platform-independent programming languages and operating systems to the internet to the platforms we use today at Shopify (we develop on the Mac, deploy to Linux and procrastinate on our iPhones, iPad and Androids) to “Hello, World!”, we’re taking this day to pay homage to Dennis Ritchie. As like to say: “Mr. Ritchie, I salute you with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!”

Cover of the O'Reilly book "Practical C Programming"

The folks at O’Reilly are also marking Ritchie’s passing with a half-price sale on sale on C, C++, Linux and Unix ebooks and videos for one day only. If you’ve been meaning to snag some C or Unix books, this is your chance to get a discount – but today only!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

{ 0 comments }

Future Visions

by Joey deVilla on October 28, 2011

Welcome Daring Fireball readers! In case you were wondering if I’ve prepared a response to the article titled The Types of Companies that Publish Future Concept Videos, take a look here.

Pictured above is Microsoft’s most recent technology concept video. Here’s their description:

Watch how future technology will help people make better use of their time, focus their attention, and strengthen relationships while getting things done at work, home, and on the go.

As you might expect, John “Daring Fireball” Gruber, who’s often been called Apple’s freelance PR guy, viewed it with a jaundiced eye:

This video encapsulates everything wrong with Microsoft. Their coolest products are imaginary futuristic bullshit. Guess what, we’ve all seen Minority Report already. Imagine if they instead spent the effort that went into this movie on making something, you know, real, that you could actually go out and buy and use today.

Of course, he’d never say such a thing about Apple’s classic Knowledge Navigator video, which at the time it was made – circa 1987, when the Macintosh II and SE, IBM PS/2 series and Amiga 500 and 2000 were brand new machines – was at least as pie-in-the-sky as this newest Microsoft video. It’s contained within one of the segments of the video below, which features videos by Apple:

Now I’ll agree with Gruber that by and large, Apple technology is generally more enjoyable to use and feels more like “the future”. I will also agree that my former employer, whom a former coworker recently referred to as “The Fail Ship Microsoft”, seems a shadow of its former self and far less likely to be the company to create future industry-defining products than Apple — or at least the incarnation of Apple with Steve Jobs as Chief Tastemaker. Today’s Microsoft doesn’t have a keeper of the vision: Bill Gates has left to focus his on saving the world, Ray Ozzie, the guy who took on the role of “chief visionary” at The Empire, resigned last year along with the Entertainment and Devices division’s last, best hopes, Robbie Bach and J Allard. The people who remain are extremely skilled techies, astute suits who can continue to drive sales and “keep their managers’ scorecards green” (that’s a common expression within the company) and an evangelism team that’s second to none and of which I was a proud member, but they’re all hamstrung by decision-makers with the sense of vision that God gave oysters. That’s one of the reasons I left the company: to be an evangelist, you have to believe, and I didn’t believe anymore.

I part ways with Gruber in his declaration that Microsoft should spend more effort making some cool stuff today and less on creating concept videos. Concept videos aren’t promises of products coming in the next one or two years, but act as a star by which people can navigate the future and an inspiration to invent it. Working with technology means dealing with overwhelming amounts of minutiae, and it’s all too easy to get lost in the technology for technology’s sake and forget about what it’s all for. I would argue that if Microsoft wants to rehabilitate its image and regain its relevance in the hearts and mind of both the alpha geeks and the public at large, they should probably make more of these videos, not only for the public, but for their own benefit as well. Without visions like concept videos to guide them, especially with the lack of someone in the visionary role, they may remain stuck on their current course: doing well but effectively coasting, content to make incremental improvements to already successful products or playing catch-up as with Internet Explorer, phones and tablets in efforts that are in danger of being too little, too late.

Some other concept videos worth watching include these old AT&T ads from that played all the time between shows in the early 1990s. Many of the predicted devices and services in these ads came to be, but AT&T had little to do with their creation:

Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini was a user interface guy at Apple from 1978 to 1992, after which he worked at Sun and created the Project Starfire concept video, a little drama that illustrates his vision of the office of the future. Just as Apple’s Knowledge Navigator has the 1980s all over it, this video has all the earmarks of early 1990s television, right down to the incidental synth music that’s straight out of the better, earlier seasons of Beverley Hills 90210.

Here’s part one:

The first thirty seconds of the video shows how risky it is to try and add little “realistic” touches to a story about the future. In the first thirty seconds, Princess Di is mentioned as having joined the British House of Lords; in real life, she died seven years prior to the story’s setting of 2004. Also sad is the fact that while Sun existed in 2004, it would be absorbed by Oracle six years later.

Here’s part two:

Compare the Starfire video with this “vision of the future” video that Microsoft debuted at the TechReady conference in early 2009. Popular Science said that "The 2019 Microsoft details with this video is almost identical to the 2004 predicted in this video produced by Sun Microsystems in 1992." I’ll leave it to you to make the call:

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

{ 37 comments }

Ooooh Yeah!

by Joey deVilla on October 26, 2011

Grand Theft Auto V - Trailer 11.02.11

The first trailer for the upcoming installment in the Grand Theft Auto series of games, Grand Theft Auto V, comes out in a week. I’m looking forward to this one.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

{ 1 comment }

Featured Shopify App: Address Labels

by Joey deVilla on October 20, 2011

"Featured App: Address Labels": Picture of shipping boxes

While having to put address labels on packages for your customers is a good problem to have – after all, it means you’ve made some sales – it’s still a problem. Luckily, there’s an app called Address Labels to solve this problem. We talked to Travis Haynes, the developer of Address Labels, and we shared we he told us; just read on to find out more.

The Shopify Fund: A cool million for cool apps

A quick aside before we talk about Address Labels: The Shopify Fund is a million-dollar fund that we set up to encourage developers to build apps on the Shopify platform to extend the capabilities of shops and make shopowners’ and customers’ experiences better. If you’re a developer with an app idea, take a look and see if we can fund your app!

What does your Address Labels do?

Address Labels does one thing, but it does it well: it simplifies the tedious task of printing labels for your shop’s orders.

What are Address Labels’ key features?

Screenshot of Address Labels app

Address Labels:

  • Supports the major manufacturers’ label templates, including Avery.
  • Pulls order data from your Shopify shop so you don’t have to export anything manually.
  • Reduces time spent printing labels for orders to just a matter of seconds.
  • Saves label batches for up to 7 days so you can reprint them if you need to.

There more features in the works that will be rolled out very soon,
including, but not limited to:

  • Keeping track of which orders have been printed.
  • Selecting from a list of fonts, or uploading your own fonts.
  • Customizing the layout of the labels.
  • Selecting which label to start printing from so that you can reuse partially printed label sheets.

Any additional feature requests are more than welcome!

Why should shopowners use Address Labels?

It can be very time consuming to copy and paste each individual order’s data into a word processor and format the text to make it look just the way you want. Address Labels makes this process as simple as selecting which orders you need to print the address labels for, tell it how many copies per order, and how many copies of return address labels you need, and then click "create labels". Your shop’s address is automatically used on the return address labels, so there’s no set up required to get going. Within about 15 seconds after signing up, you can print your first batch of labels.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a freelance developer. If you asked me for a specific title, I would give you a look of frustration. I have no idea how I’m supposed to label the work I do other than "computer work," because of the enormous variety of jobs I’ve helped with over the years. I’ve done everything from setting up and
maintaining Linux servers and networks, to blogging, and SEO, and setting up eommerce solutions. All I can give you as far as a title goes is what I use on my tax forms, which states, quite vaugely: "IT Consultant."

Most of the work I do is behind the scenes, so I have very little web presence. I do have a Github account – github.com/travishaynes – and I suppose if you ever wanted to contact me, I would ask you to email me.

"Don't Panic" emblem from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In my spare time I read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, drink coffee, and compile Gentoo from scratch.

Where did you get the idea for Address Labels?

I got the idea from the Shopify forums. I saw it on the App Wishlist, and though to myself, "Hey, I could do that!" So I did.

How long did it take for you to build Address Labels?

I am actually building a whole suite of Shopify apps that will integrate seamlessly together as one big app. This was the one that took the least amount of time to finish. It’s been slow going, because I’ve been too busy with jobs that actually pay the bills, but this app took about two weeks to write, but I’ve been working on the other apps for about 6 months. So, stay tuned, because they are awesome apps!

Where can I find out more about Address Labels?

Address Labels icon

You can find out more about Address Labels on its page in the Shopify App Store.

This article also appears in the Shopify Blog.

{ 1 comment }

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Angry Birds”

by Joey deVilla on October 18, 2011

Illustration of Alfred Hitchcock sitting on a park bench, surrounded by the birds from "Angry Birds"

Found at My Modern Met. Click to see the picture at full size.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

{ 1 comment }

An Animated History of the iPhone

by Joey deVilla on October 18, 2011

Here’s a clever, just-under-four-minutes animated history of all the things leading up to the iPhone created by CNET UK. It includes:

  • Steve Jobs
  • The Motorola Dynatac, and later the ROKR
  • Sony portable tape players (which would lead to the Walkman)
  • ARPANET
  • Tim Berners-Lee and his NeXT cube
  • Apple’s Jony Ive and his spiritual predecessor, Braun’s Dieter Rams
  • NeXTSTEP

Found via Laughing Squid.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

{ 0 comments }