Pro Alternatives

31 Dec, 2016

After something like 10 or more years completely ensconced in the Apple ecosystem, and now finding the price tag on the new MacBook Pros hard to justify, I'm looking around at alternatives. Before Apple, there was 7 - 8 (only occasionally fustrating) years of Linux in various flavours, so it makes sense to investigate linux-on-a-laptop options again. Looking at the Dell offerings though, it's clear they could learn from Apple's example -- at least in terms of pricing and consistency.

To start with, a higher spec'd MacBook Pro, from the US website:

Apple US (small image)

So that's £2,267 (at time of writing) for a 15" screen, i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB solid state disk.

And for comparison, here's the same thing from the Apple UK and Apple NZ stores:

Apple UK (small image) Apple NZ (small image)

The NZ price is roughly £2,637. Apart from the fact that the US price is a few hundred pounds cheaper, they're roughly consistent (in both price, and what you get for your money). VAT (in the UK) and GST (in NZ) probably account for, at least part of, the price variation.

However, compare this with Dell's Precision series laptops. The Precision 15 5000 series (again with 15" screen, i7 processor and 512GB SSD) installed with Ubuntu Linux, comes in at a much more reasonable £1,483:

Dell US (small image)

The advantage of the Dell is that you can get a second 1TB HDD installed and the price is still less than the MacBook Pro (£1,558).

However, on the UK website, you can't order the additional hard drive, but the price is, at least, consistent (even if their website doesn't make it immediately obvious that you can order an i7 processor):

Dell - no HDD

Dell UK (small image)

However, compare with Dell NZ:

Dell NZ (small image)

That's £4,095, give or take a few pence. A price variation I can only see justified, if Dell haven't figured out international shipping, and are flying the laptop into the country in a business class seat. In addition, not only do the websites vary slightly in each country, but the configuration options vary as well. In the US you can get the additional HDD, in the UK and NZ you cannot (perhaps some different regulations applying to the ex-US models, and the additional HDD doesn't fit?). In the UK, you can get a single 1x16GB memory unit installed, in the US and NZ stores you cannot.

Conclusions? Apple: too expensive for a higher spec. Dell: either obscenely expensive, or inconsistent specifications, depending on which country I happen to be in (not to forget that if I want a bit of future proofing, it's difficult to be confident in the options). Other alternatives? A System76 Oryx Pro perhaps?

Update: Dell really is a bit of a mess. The NZ price for the XPS 15 (with ultra high def display) is only about £200 more than the UK price, but once again the configuration options look to be different between countries. Also with the XPS series, you don't have any option but to pay the Windows tax.

Python3.5 on macOS

10 Jun, 2016

If you're installing Python3.5 on macOS, you don't need to follow the Automator instructions in Python for Kids any more. After installation, it's as simple as searching for IDLE in Spotlight (the magnifying glass in the top righthand side of the menu bar) and double-clicking on (usually) the top hit ("IDLE - Python 3.5").

You might still get an error message saying something like:

The version of Tcl/Tk (8.5.9) in use may be unstable. Visit for current information

Tcl is a simple programming language and Tk is (sort of) a graphics library (more info here -- the Tk graphics library is heavily used in later chapters of the book. If you happen to get the above error message, follow the instructions on the website to install the correct version of ActiveTcl for the version of macOS you're running. This post may also be of help.

Error opening IDLE on Mac OS X 10.6

10 Jan, 2015

Lucas writes (excerpted):

When I try to open IDLE as instructed on page 11 I get an error message.

Error dialog

Any suggestions?

It depends on which version of Python you're running, but if you've installed the latest (3.4.2), then instead of putting the following in Automator:

open -a "/Applications/Python 3.4/" --args -n

Try putting this instead:

/Library/Frameworks/Python.framework/Versions/3.4/bin/idle3.4 -n

The reason the text in the book doesn't work is a difference between Automator in versions of OS X prior to 10.7 (I believe 10.7, anyway) and later versions of the operating system.

Python installation confusion on Mac OS X

19 Sep, 2013

Justin J writes:

I installed python 3.3.2 for my macbook running version 10.6.8 and typed this in, open -a "/Applications/Python 3.2/" --args -n and it didn't work:

"The action Run Shell Script encountered an error. Check the action's properties and try running the workflow again"

I installed both versions 32 bit and 64/32 bit and it still didn't work.

I'm assuming because I installed 3.3.2, I had to change it to open -a "/Applications/Python 3.3/" --args -n. In other words change Python 3.2 to Python 3.3. Then it worked! Unfortunately I think it was running on the 64/32 version which python mentioned something about ActiveTcl 8.5. It recommended I download 32, so I got rid of 64/32 and re-downloaded 32 bit and it finally gave me no error in the shell.

I thought I'd ask if this was an ok thing for me to do?

As per the instructions on this page, you'll need to install ActiveTcl in order for IDLE and Tkinter to work properly (both are used heavily in the book) with Mac OS X 10.6.

ActiveState have a dmg installation file, so once you've downloaded it, double-click on the file, and a dialog will appear:

ActiveTcl installation dialog

You may need to control-click on the ActiveTcl package, if you double-click and get the error message "ActiveTcl-8.5.pkg can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer". So if that error message appears, hold down the Control key, click on the icon and select Open from the menu displayed, then click Open on the following screen. Click through the next few screens (you'll be asked to agree to the license and so on), and on the final screen, once you click Install, you'll get promoted for an administrator username & password.

Apart from that, your change to the open command is correct, so once ActiveTcl is installed, you should be good to go.