Review: Logitech MX Master Mouse

Simultaneously working on a book while teaching and writing on my various blogs and projects has brought a lot of stress to my hands, experienced as twinges in my wrists and fingers. To counteract this, I bought a new mouse… and it has been fantastic.

Logitech mouseSimultaneously working on a book while teaching and writing on my various blogs and projects has brought a lot of stress to my hands, experienced as twinges in my wrists and fingers. To counteract this I’ve initiated several new habits, including regular drummer stretches (which work very well for people who spend too much time at a keyboard) together with the purchase of a wrist rest and a new mouse. Of all of these changes, the mouse was the most expensive component, but arguably the one that has helped me the most.

Designed in the same way the bodywork for cars was originally built – carved from a block of wood – the MX Master is a delight to hold, particularly, I suspect, for those with large hands (mine measure 8″ from the base of my palm to the tip of my index finger). All of the controls on the mouse are located in comfortable, natural positions, and are stable and quiet: the central wheelmouse can be switched between “freewheeling” mode and a more granular notch-to-notch motion.

The wireless mouse can work via Bluetooth or its own RF signal. The latter requires the use of a very small, low-profile USB receiver, which I leave permanently in one of my MacBook’s ports: it hasn’t wiggled free after weeks of use, despite being constantly brought in and out of the close protective sleeve of my backpack. In theory, the mouse can be switched to operate up to three different computers; I haven’t had the opportunity to test this feature.

The mouse does require its own drivers to perform well, which are supported on Windows and Mac. The associated application – Logitech Options – is small, lightweight, easy to use, and very well-designed. In theory, each button on the mouse can be given its own specific function on a per-application level.

Logitech Options screen

One unexpected feature that I’ve got a surprising amount of use out of is the side wheel, which is perfect for scrolling horizontally through large MySQL tables with lots of columns.

The surface of the mouse has a very slight texture to it, and appears to repel dirt and grime. The built-in rechargable battery endures about a week of constant use, with an on-screen warning showing up when battery levels run low. Very cleverly, the mouse is designed in such a way that it can still be used while it recharges via the (included) USB-to-micro-USB cable.

While it is not cheap, and arguably more than one should pay for a mouse – I bought mine for $100 (CAD) from Amazon – I feel that for someone who uses a computer 14+ hours a day it’s a very worthwhile investment.

Welcome to the TeraStor

For years I’ve been slotting 2-terabyte drives into a droboPro to store my media collection and backups. While it worked well, the droboPro never entirely fit the bill:

  • I could never get Ethernet to work reliably, and tended to leave it connected via USB.
  • The drobo is a “dumb storage device” and couldn’t run apps.
  • It took up a lot of desk space.
  • The drobo’s fans tended to run loud, especially with seven drives installed.

As I pondered filling the last of the droboPro’s slots with another drive, I was also considering other options; in the end, I made the plunge and built a full custom NAS system. Doing so was an excellent challenge and learning process… so I decided to write about it here.

What’s a NAS?

Network Attached Storage is usually a purpose-built computer operating as a home server: in this case, a server used to store and share media files. A NAS typically runs “headless”, i.e. without a monitor, keyboard, or other peripherals, running on your network 24/7.

MotherboardC2750D4I motherboard, shown at an angle

While there are an increasing number of all-in-one pre-built NAS solutions available, I decided to build mine from scratch. This is not for the faint of heart: you should have some familiarity with computer assembly and the command line before attempting a NAS build.

Brian Moses’ 2015 DIY NAS was a big inspiration for the build. I used a ASRock C2750D4I motherboard rather than Brian’s C2550D4I due to the C2750D4I being the same size with double the number of cores (useful for transpiling video and running background apps). I chose FreeNAS as the server, as the Debian OS was comfortable and familiar.

The AsRock mini-ITX board packs a lot of features into a diminutive package:

  • 12 SATA ports (4 × SATA2, 8 × SATA3)
  • Dual Onboard Intel Gigabit Ethernet with teaming
  • Max 64GB RAM

My only issue with the board was the fact that it was limited to just three USB ports (two at the rear + 1 header on the board), and that they were USB 2, not 3. This made the FreeNAS installation slightly tricky (see below), but I could always add a USB 3 card via the single PCI-E slot if I needed to.


Three hard drives, shown overlapping

I wanted to start big in storage to contain the files from the drobo and leave the new device alone for as long as possible. I invested in three Western Digital 6TB Caviar Red drives, designed specifically for NAS applications; the 2 ~ 4TB drives out of the droboPro would be used for physical offsite backup.

FreeNAS can be installed and run from CD or USB. Not needing an optical drive I would use only once, I opted for the latter. That meant buying a small, dedicated USB stick to store and load the OS (I used a SanDisk Cruzer 16GB low-profile USB stick)


FreeNAS needs 8GB of RAM to operate, with 12GB total usually recommended for plugins or “jails” (FreeNAS apps). 12GB of RAM provides coverage for up to 32TB of raw storage; as hard drive pool size increases, so too does the need for RAM. A very rough rule of thumb for FreeNAS recommends adding 1GB of RAM for every terabyte of added storage.

This was complicated by my discovery that ASRock boards are somewhat particular when it comes to RAM. Looking at the Qualified Vendor list for the board, I found that Memphis Memory made 16GB DDR3L ECC SODIMMs that were recommended; I bought two, leaving two slots free on the board, which should provide me with enough RAM for 64TB of storage.

CaseAluminium case, shown at an angle

For the case I went with Silverstone’s tiny DS308, which offers room for up to 12 drives, eight of them hot-swappable 3.5″ devices, and sits neatly on my desk.


Since the NAS is usually running 24/7, the build needed a cool, efficient power supply. I settled on a Silverstone 80-plus certfied Gold 450W ST45SF-G.


I’ll go into more detail about how I set up the NAS in the next article; for now, I thought I’d mention some oddities to the setup, just in case others follow this build:

  • The AsRock board takes a surprisingly long time to POST: about 30 seconds. Be patient.
  • The board also assumes the first time it is run that it is doing so remotely: it won’t start without a cable being plugged into its IPMI port. (After the machine is configured, you can detach the cable from there and move it to one of the standard Ethernet ports).
  • Deciding to install FreeNAS from USB presented a quandary: both rear USB ports were occupied by the final USB storage for the OS and a keyboard. I had to purchase a USB header for the second USB stick, attach it directly to the board, and tell the machine to boot from that in order to install.

It’s been two months with the build now, and I couldn’t be happier: media streams to every computer in the house, seamlessly. There are some improvements to make, however… I’ll leave the details of those, together with more information about FreeNAS and Plex, for the next article.


In Which I Spend Far Too Much On Ethereal Objects

I have a sickness: I fund far too many Kickstarter and IndieGoGo projects. But I am trying to change: in the past I’ve funded projects solely because I wanted to see them succeed, whereas now I’m paying money to ventures for products that I actually intend to use. A quick survey:

  • My support for Star Citizen continues: my collection of (currently unflyable) digital spaceships has grown to include an Aegis Retaliator.
  • skylockI have a Skylock on order: a solar powered, iPhone-activated bike lock with theft attempt alerts, and my deposit for a Lily drone camera is still in place.
  • I’ve backed probably the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen: a reissue of the original 1975 “worm” NASA graphics standards manual.
  • I’ve been a big fan of ScotteVest multifunction garments for a long time, and I’m always looking for more, so it was natural for me to back the blazer cut of “The World’s Best Travel Jacket
  • As part of my web design and development teaching, I’ve funded Richard Rutter’s handbook of Web Typography.
  • Finally, I’ve backed the construction of thDome Lighte Dome Light 2.0, a steampunk-esque LED Edison light.

I’ve been very tempted to buy an Electric Object, but the current
physical limits of the hardware (particularly an ugly, thick colored power cord, making wall hanging unreasonable) and the current exchange rate places it just out of reach at the moment.

Man’s Best Friend: A Tag-Along Drone

For some time I’ve wanted a portable, throw-in-the-air-and-forget tag-along drone to take remote video and photographs from above. Lily looks like it could finally fulfill that role.

For some time I’ve wanted a portable, throw-in-the-air-and-forget tag-along drone to take remote video and photographs from above. Lily looks like it could finally fulfill that role.

Lily is an offshoot of an interesting split that’s happening right now in prosumer drones. Like most technologies, UAVs started in the military and slowly made their way into the hands of the public. The civilian enthusiasts that used them were often pioneers in the application of drone technology, and very good fliers; they’re also the ones most likely to look in disdain at the cheap RC knockoffs solid in big box stores, sold to people that use them for a weekend before storing them in a closet (or worse, lose them due to foolish behaviour).

Right now, there are several companies competing to make the next big switch: to become the “Apple” of the drone consumer market, with products that are well designed, low maintenance, and easy to operate. DJI is probably the best known of these, but Lily is another.

Lily takes the “set and forget” aspect of such drones even further: the user wears a wristwatch-sized location device, and simply throws the man-portable Lily into the air. For 20 minutes, the drone follows the operator with a high-resolution camera from five to 50 feet above their head, and up to 200 feet away. Waterproof, the drone can be used by surfers and skiers, in all weather conditions, operating against a 20 mph wind.

While it will never replace a drone flown by an experienced operator, I can think of dozens of shots where Lily could be used. It’s ideal for lone photographers like myself, especially for taking action sequences without a crew or camera operator.

On a far larger scale, there’s a strong debate to be had as to whether the society goal of “a drone in everyone’s pocket” is a worthwhile one to persue. I can absolutely see a time when people being surrounded by a small fleet of nano-drones will not be seen as unusual in the slightest. Conjecture on just what that society will be like I shall leave for a future article.

Lily is being pre-sold for $499 US until June 15, with delivery expected in February 2016; full retail price is expected to be $999.

What Do 2000 Movies Look Like?

My movie collection has grown to over two thousand films, which still doesn’t include a lot of the bad 80’s movies I’ve seen.

My movie collection has grown to over two thousand films, which still doesn’t include a lot of the bad 80’s movies I’ve seen.

In an effort to catalogue them all, I’ve turned to letterboxd, a service built by my friend Matthew Buchanan and his company, Cactuslab. Matt was kind enough to provide me with a Pro account to do so.

letterboxd can import a CSV file of movies, which are very easy to export from a Mac folder with a Terminal command:

ls > movies.csv

letterboxd has an excellent movie-matching service, although spelling errors and foreign films will occasionally confuse it; I had to spend a few minutes correcting a few titles before the import was completed. The site also boasts also a strong community of cinephiles, who recommend, critique, and anticipate films. I intend to keep my catalogue of movies updated there; in the coming months, I’ll also be detailing the construction of a media NAS to replace my aging drobo Pro

On Internet Spaceships, Crowdfunding and Space Sims

Star Citizen may well be the most ambitious game of the last ten years. And if the developer pulls it off, it may change gaming forever.

Star Citizen may well be the most ambitious game of the last ten years. And if the developer pulls it off, it may change gaming forever.

Space sims, a genre stagnant since the early 90’s, have recently experienced a resurgence: Elite Dangerous, KSP, No Man’s Sky and a dozen other games now jostle for space and attention. None of these games is more ambitious than Star Citizen, a galaxy-spanning “Universe Sim” that incorporates multiple styles of play – fighter to fleet conflict, resource extraction, FPS, exploration and trade, story-driven arcs and emergent play – into what is promised to be a single, networked, shared-world experience.

View of a planet and habitable zones in Star Citizen

Like most of the other games in the genre, Star Citizen is being made independently. While independent development has always been a vital part of the games industry, it’s the convergence of Kickstarter funding and online distribution that has made work at this scale possible.

It’s unlikely that Star Citizen would ever achieve the success that it has without massive confidence in its makers and founder, but the way the game has earned over $70 million in funding has not been without controversy.

Backers are reluctant to invest in a game without anything to show for it, so Roberts Space Industries – the company development the property – has taken the unique approach of selling ships and other merchandise to investors, in some cases, months or even years before they can be used in-game. For the most part, these ships can also be earned through long-term play when the game is fully released; pre-purchase simply provides players with a head start.

This has left Star Citizen open to accusations of “play to win”: players who have amassed a fleet may have an unbeatable lead ahead of those who join with a single starter ship when the game launches. Given current funding structures, this may be inevitable: independent game development can take only so many forms, and it’s difficult to imagine any other way of gaining millions of dollars other than by providing early investors a significant advantage. To be fair, RSI makes it constantly clear that buying a spaceship goes directly to funding the game, and that ships can be earned with in-game play over time.

View from the bridge of a frigate spaceship

And some of these ships are big, with crews to match: while it’s possible to pilot a capital ship with a crew hired from the AI NPC’s of the Star Citizen universe, the ultimate goal is to have players cooperating to fly the larger ships in coordinated teams, with each taking particular roles: gunnery, communication, radar, electronic warfare, countermeasures, etc.

Despite reservations – and the fact that I don’t yet have a desktop rig powerful enough to play even the small portions of the game released as modules so far – I’ve invested in three ships, the largest being the Aegis Reclaimer shown at the top of this article. It’s a giant salvage hauler, capable of long sustained flight around the edges of space wrecks and the debris of battle, taking in and reprocessing scrap. To this end, I’ve also initiated an official Star Citizen organization that provides a combination of resource extraction and security:

The Wrecking Crew

The organization is open to applications; as it’s very early days, I’ve yet to develop a full branding workup or charter. It is my hope that I’ll be flying around with teams of my current and graduate digital media students. And if Occulus Rift support is delivered as promised, I might never leave the house.

Star Citizen is the space sim I’ve always wanted: deep, complex and open, with a strong storyline and mythos integrated into the narrative. If Bioware’s Mass Effect 4 fully releases around the same time (early 2016, according to current rumors), I’ll be in space heaven.

Spaceward Ho!

I’ve always loved retro travel posters, like the classic “flat” WPA travel posters of the 1930’s. I particularly adore when the style is applied to space and science fiction themes.

Recently artists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab came up with an “Exoplanet Travel Series”, highlighting worlds recently discovered by Kepler and other extraterrestrial probe programs. As a government-funded body, NASA has made the posters publically available and free to download at high resolution print sizes.

Astronomer and artist Tyler Nordgren has drawn several travel posters in a “Planetary Parks” series, including Europa and Mars:

Visitez Europa En AvionSee Mars

Steve Thomas also has some excellent travel posters:

A poster featuring a dirigible on VenusFly Through The Asteroid Belt

You can buy prints of Steve’s work from the Intergalactic Travel Bureau.

Finally, Justin Van Genderen has created a series of excellent travel posters from science fiction films, including Star Trek and Star Wars:

VulcanBespin You can buy some of Justin’s work at his online store.

Thanks to Bob Dow for the inspiration behind this post.

Words & Pictures: Four Typography-Obsessed Directors

Movie directors, notorious for dominating sets, sometimes take their obsessive control into every aspect of their films, including the way the titles appear on the screen. Of these, a special few stand out in their use of fonts on film:

Stanley Kubrick: Futura

Directed some of the greatest films of the late 20th century, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket. Writing, producing and directing almost all of his work himself, Kubrick fixated early on using Futura for many of his features, starting with Killer’s Kiss in 1955.

Jupiter and Beyond The Infinite

However, he didn’t use Futura exclusively, or even in the majority of his movies: many film titles where hand-lettered, while others used different typefaces between the trailer, film title and poster, or used fonts more relevant to the period (Barry Lyndon being one example).

John Carpenter: Albertus

John Carpenter's The Thing

The director of Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China and The Thing found Albertus early on, and has used it consistently in titling almost every movie he has ever made, where it appears as fixed white text on a black background. Interestingly, Albertus is also the brand font for The Hobbit film series directed by Peter Jackson.

Woody Allen: Windsor

Woody Allen movie titlesSince 1977’s Annie Hall, Allen has used Windsor Light Condensed in white against black for titling almost exclusively.

Wes Anderson: Futura

Anderson has a particular, model-maker’s attention to detail in each of his films, which echoes in his choice of typography: like Kubrick, he has used Futura extensively since his first feature, often combining it with unique hand-lettering (such as the wonderful work by Jessica Hische on the credits of Moonrise Kingdom). Notably, he switched to Archer for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

More Resources

Christian Annyas runs an excellent blog focusing on all things typographic in the cinema. I’d also consider Art of the Title and Typeset In The Future to be required reading for anyone interested in fonts on film.

Interstellar Movie Review

There are, broadly speaking, two different audiences for science fiction movies. The first group is impressed by epic scale, for whom the “science” is incidental; in this way, Star Wars is simply a fairy tale of knights and princesses in space. The second kind of audience takes science seriously: the more grounded in reality the film presents itself, the greater the expectation of accuracy.

Both audiences can exist in one and the same person: I can enjoy a space western like Firefly alongside a hard science fiction movie like 2001. Enjoyment of a film is a question of the rules the movie sets up for its audience, and the ambition of its creators.

Christopher Nolan is a director who has never been short of vision: the man rescued and resurrected an entire franchise from camp and morbidity. But while breathtaking, his latest work, Interstellar, has exceeded his grasp of science and storytelling.

From Hardscrabble To Hard Vacuum

The film’s opening is excellent: a series of vignette interviews with septuagenarians blurs reality, making it unclear if they are talking about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, or the ecological disaster faced by humanity in the movie, set some 50 years into the future. Blight is killing crops worldwide, forcing even highly qualified pilots like Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) into a dirt-poor farming life in Texas (in reality, filmed in various locations around Alberta). Prompted by his daughter, Cooper discovers a message written in the layered dust on the floorboards of his house, which leads them to the coordinates of a hidden launch site where the remnants of NASA live and work. There, Cooper learns that the messages are from an extraterrestrial intelligence, communicating with earth for the last four decades. This same intelligence has somehow formed a wormhole in orbit around Jupiter, which leads to a location in a distant galaxy: habitable worlds, orbiting a supermassive black hole. Probes have been sent through, together with the first explorers, but all of these journeys have been one-way trips: the data that comes back has been tantalizing, but inconclusive, in part due to the spacetime effects around the black hole, where time moves much slower, relative to time back on Earth. NASA convinces Cooper and an assembled team to take one last voyage out of the solar system to find a future home for humanity, not knowing how long the journey might take, or what they might return to.

The setting is epic in scale, and very reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Nolan and science consultant Kip Thorne have received plaudits for accuracy, particularly in the depiction of the black hole Gargantua. The movie even shows some of the exterior space scenes in silence, as they should be, there being no atmosphere in space to transmit sound.

However, this is counterbalanced by several serious mistakes in the movie. Against the silence of space, Hans Zimmer’s score is almost punishingly loud, as if the composer suffered a heart attack while playing a pump organ: the sound is so bombastic that it obscures the film’s dialog at several points. The plot suffers from the usual “aliens can only communicate cryptically” trope, which leads to several questions:

  • Why wouldn’t the vast alien intelligence communicate how to fix Earth’s environment, rather than the far more complex challenges of quantum gravity and interstellar travel?
  • When our own Milky Way has 100 million stars, most of them with worlds of their own, and an equal number of suns floating in a halo around the galaxy, why do the aliens lead humanity to the supermassive core of another galaxy, one of the most zones most inimical to life?
  • Black holes do not give off light or heat, aside from their accretion disks. So where does the daylight come from on the planets the explorers discover?
  • Gravitational tidal forces absolutely stretch time, but not over the distances the film portrays: it’s not possible for descent from orbit to a planet’s surface to change subjective time by years.

Presenting a hard science fiction film is very much like presenting a scientific hypothesis: the creator is allowed one “blue fairy” – a complete supposition, without any supporting evidence. Add more fairies, and the hypothesis melts into fantasy; the same is true of hard SF.

Why Is This Important?

Many will object to this view of “it’s just a movie”, but this is more than that: it’s a movie with pretensions of hard science. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there is always a certain degree of artistic license that can be granted, but communicating the facts of science is important. Science is awesome: interstellar travel doesn’t need the impossibility of frozen clouds on extraterrestrial planets to be awe-inspiring.

Heart Over Head

Emotionally, the film explores themes of love, loss and yearning very effectively, although it dips into nonsense new-age speak a few too many times; this is particularly jarring when the words come from the mouths of scientists who should know better. (To his credit, Nolan places women with important science roles in almost equal proportion to male roles, but also plants some of the dumbest “woo” dialog in their mouths). In the end, the movie ties itself in a paradox without an answer, placing emotion over any sense of logic.

Anne Hatheway in a spacesuit in the movie Interstellar


I’m sure there are audiences who will simply enjoy the movie for its sense of scale and spectacle – particularly on an IMAX screen, as I saw it – but to me the movie was a disappointment. Visible, under its skin, is a glimpse of what could have been done, if Nolan’s ambition had not pushed the movie to ever more-dizzying heights.