ARM Macs This Year?

Intel have been dragging their feet when it comes to advancements in laptop-class CPUs for a while now. And it’s costing the Mac dearly. The iPad Pro is a more powerful device than most MacBooks! So for a few years it’s been rumoured that Apple is going to switch to ARM processors like their iOS devices.

In my head this was still a year or two away. But maybe not. Tim Cook:

For our Mac business overall, we faced some processor constraints in the March quarter, leading to a 5 percent revenue decline compared to last year. But we believe that our Mac revenue would have been up compared to last year without those constraints, and don’t believe this challenge will have a significant impact on our Q3 results.

As someone who just had their 6-year-old MacBook die on them and is waiting for WWDC before biting the bullet for a new one I really do hope ARM chips arrive this year.

{via Daring Fireball}




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Some Quick Thoughts on Apple News

I know the tech world is currently busy covering Apple News+, but I’ve recently just been trying out plain old Apple News recently for the first time. Here’s some random thoughts.

  • I actually think it’s a decently designed app. It does nothing outstanding, but it displays stories and their texts simply. It does its job.
  • The main thing I’m not a fan of design wise is the time when posted text (e.g. ‘4h ago’, see screenshot) below each article. As long as it was published today I don’t care about the time published. And I don’t like how it’s placed at the bottom of each story block, as it can look a little stranded if the headline is a short one.
  • You really need to train it. If News was made by Google or Amazon you’d launch the app for the first time and it would would be eerily good at showing you stories of interest. But this is Apple so it takes some time to set it up to get good results. You have to be very proactive in blocking websites and disliking certain stories.
  • The typeface on the Mac version is too small and I don’t think there’s a way to enlarge it.
  • I never visit the human curated ‘Spotlight’ section. Nothing has ever caught my eye in there.
  • Overall I’ve found a lot of the negatives aren’t to do with Apple News itself and are instead due to the websites that are within it. Online journalism now is too short, too wrong and too clickbaity. And there just isn’t enough good articles published each to day to fill out the ‘columns’ of the Apple News app. But maybe the new higher-quality paid stuff in News+ will help with that problem.



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The New York Times Gets It

I don’t read much news, but fairly often one of my RSS reads will link to an article from a newspaper. And this has become a little anoying in recent years as many newspapers now put their online content behind a paywall due to their dwindling physical paper circulation. Which I understand. But as someone who reads just a couple of articles a month from each publication it makes little finanical sense for me to take out an expensive, recurring subscription. The Guardian costs £13/mo (after a 14 day free trial). The Wall Street Journal costs £12/mo for the first twelve months and then an eye-watering £35/mo thereafter. And to sign up you have to fill out the usual endless amount of online forms and give them all manner of data.

Compare that to the New York Times.
– £3.40/mo for the first year.
– £6.80/mo thereafter.
– Buy with Apple Pay and unlock the desired article in seconds.
– Cancel at any time.

(The Washington Post also offers Apple Pay and costs £4.50/mo. A good value.)

Update: 18th September 2019
I forgot to consider ease-of-cancellation. After a few months of my subscription to the New York Times I just didn’t get enough value out of it, so decided to cancel. Well it turns out they want you to chat online to a member of staff to cancel! And every time I tried to apparently they were ‘offline’. But luckily I paid via PayPal so I just deleted the NYTimes as a ‘pre-approved’ payment and it cancelled itself. Something to be aware of, folks.




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Amazon Prime Video

There’s a nice little article by Alex Sherman at CNBC on Amazon Prime Video, beginning with this interesting rumour as to why the Lord of the Rings TV show rights went to Prime Video:

But money alone wasn’t going to separate Amazon from the pack — Amazon’s $250 million offer wasn’t even the highest bid for the show’s rights, according to a person familiar with the matter. The ultimate selling point, according to people with knowledge of the negotiations, related to Amazon’s original business from over two decades ago: books. The Tolkien estate was convinced that in promoting the series, Amazon could sell truckloads of Tolkien’s fantasy novels, including “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion” as well as “The Lord of the Rings.”

So it looks like maybe part of the deal involves the Amazon homepage pushing Tolkien books as hard as it does its Echos.

Amazon Prime Video is a curious thing. It has some good ideas and potential but somehow it’s just not coming together.

According to the above article Prime Video originally focused on ‘high-minded, potentially award-winning content to lure users into Prime’. Which is true, with rather niche films like The Neon Demon, Paterson, and Manchester by the Sea being funded by them. All of which were good, but not exactly mainstream. They’ve had more luck on the TV side, with Transparent and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel finding more appeal. However the rest of their TV offerings haven’t quite cut the mustard.

And now it seems like Prime Video is changing tactic slightly, realising that what really stops people from not renewing their Prime membership is not a bunch of four-star shows, but a couple of five-star shows that customers can’t live without. They’re doubtless aware there are plenty of people who subscribe to HBO GO just for Game of Thrones. And I think that’s one reason they’ve overpaid for The Grand Tour and Lord of the Rings. They need a hit. I’m sure they’ll continue funding lots of original content and seeing what sticks, à la Netflix. But they’re now aggressively pursuing what they perceive as ’ready-made’ hits, in desperation.

Another thing the article mentioned was Amazon Channels, which is essentially a way for users to get streaming content that isn’t on Prime Video into the service if they’re willing to pay for it. For example, $15/mo gets you HBO and $9/mo gets you Showtime. Now that every television network seems to be making its own streaming service, requiring users to deal with a bunch of different apps and bills, why not put all in one easy centralised place? Amazon Channels is a great idea. But it doesn’t quite work. And a large part is due to, what I think, is Prime Video’s biggest weakness: its UI.

Amazon products aren’t exactly known for their design, with nearly everything they make being ugly. But Prime Video is actively dysfunctional. My Mum can’t use it, whereas she has no issues with Netflix. It also makes the catastrophic mistake of showing non-Prime content that you have to purchase alongside the stuff that you get as part of your subscription. You see a movie that takes your fancy and then you realise once you click on it that you have to rent or purchase it. Truly ludicrous. Amazon needs to separate Prime Video and the Prime Video store. And talking of separating. They separate the above mentioned Amazon Channels, the one thing they shouldn’t. Rather than nicely adding Channel content into the interface, it’s almost treated like an app within an app.

If Amazon offered users Prime at $99 rather than $119, but for that they didn’t get access to Prime Video, how many would go for the cheaper plan? I believe a healthy majority would. Prime Video as it stands today, is a fairly limp, ugly offering.




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Remembering Podcasts

Podcasts have a big problem: remembering them. Many of the podcasts I follow are overflowing with ideas, knowledge and references that I will almost certainly never remember to look into further.

A big reason for this is because like a lot of people I listen to podcasts in the background whilst doing something else. 95% of my podcast listening time is spent whilst I’m either walking, running, driving or trying to sleep. Basically times when it’s not appropriate to whip out my phone and start writing things in my notes app like ‘look up BBC news article about bees in South African plane’s engine that delayed flights’. It’s too much hassle. The most I manage to do is take a quick screenshot which lists the show, episode and timestamp. But then my phone just becomes full of screenshots and I can never be bothered to re-download the episode, find the correct spot, listen to it again and then finally do the research. I just don’t bother.

I can hear you shouting “show notes!”. True, show notes are very handy and thankfully more and more podcasts do them now. But I still have to go to their website, find the episode, and then seek out the correct section. Again, I just don’t bother.

Here’s want I want. It’s simple we kill the batman. I want my podcast player of choice (Overcast) to have an easily accessible bookmark button. In an ideal world it would then grab the audio starting from 1 minute before and 1 minute after and then email it to me, or import it into Evernote or something. But I’d settle for a ‘bookmark’ section in the app which lists all podcast episodes with bookmarks then lets you skip through the them. That feature would make listening to podcasts a lot more productive for me. Episodes wouldn’t just come and go. I could sit in front of a computer, browse through the bookmarks, and do the appropriate research.


Now that I’ve written this I just realised that I’ve blindly been using Overcast for many years now and maybe there’s an app out there that already does this? To the App Store!




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I Put My Dad on Linux and Everything Went Fine

Oh the joys of giving tech support to your parents for their crappy computer. I suffered for years with this and so did my poor Dad. It was the classic cheap PC + Windows combo of pain. The laptop display looked like it was 512 × 342 and it lost an average of one keycap a month. And then there was the usual Windows woes. Slowness, old school viruses, antivirus viruses, free-to-play games inexplicably downloaded to the desktop and about seven AskJeeves toolbars. Pure misery. So when the laptop finally died and my Dad came to me for advice about a replacement I knew a better solution was needed.

I quickly recommended going the desktop route over a laptop since my Dad nearly always worked at his desk and a desktop would last a lot longer. We could have picked up a pre-built machine, but I knew buying the parts and building a desktop myself would be cheaper, offer more spec flexibility and be a lot more reliable. Plus if something did break I could probably quickly and easily fix it by replacing the dead part (and not the whole machine!).

I went with a Silverstone Mini-ITX case (in white, which pleased Mum as it blended in nicely with the study decor), Intel Pentium Dual Core G3258, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 120GB SSD, MSI LGA1150 motherboard and a 300W Be Quiet! power supply. Total cost: £240.

Next came the OS. There was no way I was going to give Microsoft £80 for a copy of Windows and a lifetime of headaches. So I thought ‘why not Linux?’. It might seem bizarre, but it’s a near perfect OS for someone like my Dad. He’s far less likely to download a virus, Linux doesn’t bother him with popups, it’s easier to keep the same UI for many years (no forced Windows software updates and ‘visual refreshes’), and his computer will still be blazing fast five years from now. And he doesn’t use Adobe Lightroom or Microsoft Excel, his needs are simple, all he wants is a web browser and a word processor. Linux gives him that easily.

There’s lots of Linux distributions out there of course and at first I looked into ones that mirror his old Windows 7 desktop as much as possible. But they also often copied some of the bad and confusing elements too. So in the end I just settled on Ubuntu with the Unity desktop. It’s simple, with a nice large dock to the left.

His new desktop. Minimalistic with just four buttons that he knows as ‘search, documents, internet, and Word’.

However this was all good in theory and on paper, but how would this system and Dad get on in reality? Well it’s been over two years now and there has been literally zero problems. Honestly. Even the wireless printer works flawlessly. It did take him a little while to get used to the Ubuntu file browser. But now he knows to just save everything in Dropbox and click on that folder or Downloads when wants to find something. But aside from that the transition went swimmingly. We get a lot of power cuts and both the hardware and software have even dealt with that (somehow) without issue. The only maintenance I do is run sudo apt-get update every now and then.

I expect this machine will serve him loyally and reliably for many years to come. Thanks Linux.




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Don’t Skip Chapter 8

I was reading Austin Kleon’s list of his 15 favourite books of the year when his description of “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang stood out (in bold):

I learned about this 1937 bestseller while reading Will Schwalbe’s Books For Living. It’s basically a book about the ancient Chinese art of chilling out and living a good life. (One thing: If you pick it up, just skip chapter 8 and Lin Yutang’s sexist views.)

Please don’t do this. That might be the vital chapter and maybe the one you’ll learn the most from. Maybe it will teach you that even the most wise are still a product of their time. That great men and women are often greatly flawed. It might teach you that sometimes you have to reject advice from a person that has given nothing but good advice before. It could help you understand why certain people are sexist, sympathise with them, learn about their flawed logic, and maybe one day convince a sexist not to be one anymore.

Don’t skip chapter 8.


Link discovery chain:
Browsing the shawnblanc.net blog archive
—— Shawn Blanc: How to Read More
——— Austin Kleon: How to read more
———— Austin Kleon: My reading year, 2017




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Recipe: Tortellini chicken soup

I’ve owned a slow cooker for quite a few years now, but I’m not actually a huge fan. A lot of the recipes I’ve tried have been more miss than hit. But this slow cooker creamy tortellini, spinach and chicken soup is fantastic.

Give it a go!

Notes:
– Actually follow the recipe! The balance and amounts are just right.
– Tear the chicken well at the end. I didn’t and the pieces were too big.
– Don’t use too much parmesan. I like cheese so added an extra 20-30g and the sauce became a little too thick and heavy.
– Despite looking bright and Italian this is a pretty heavy dish and perfect for winter.




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Evernote Still Sucks

Soon it will be two years since I wrote this about Evernote moving to the Google Cloud. I sounded hopeful. In my head the move was just the start of the beginning of the resurgence of Evernote. Instead it has continued to stagnate. I can’t remember any new features being added – other than a few UI tweaks – and both the Mac and iOS apps remain buggy and terribly slow. Oh and the browser extension on Safari is still awful.

Right now I all my notes, stored locally on my machine, are fucking buffering.

Notes. Buffering.

I still use Evernote everyday. It’s still my digital brain. But man do I hate it at times.




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How to Watch US Netflix in the UK

The US Netflix catalogue has famously been superior in quantity and quality to the UK one for a long time now. And while it’s not as bad as it once was1 the US library still remains superior, with a far better movie collection and TV shows like The Office (US).

But until fairly reccently someone in the UK could easily access US Netflix by buying a VPN subscription and just setting their location to the US. However recently Netflix has clamped down on VPN usage and it is now a bit trickier to access the US Netflix without getting the infamous ‘streaming error‘ message.

You now need your own dedicated US IP address, not one that is shared between thousands of other VPN users and thus easily blocked by Netflix. So follow the guide below to see how to do that…

Notes:
* You don’t need a US Netflix subscription to access US Netflix. Just visit Netflix whilst connected to the VPN and it will automaticlly switch to the US library and then revert back to UK Netflix when you disconnect from the VPN. You don’t need two Netflix subscriptions or anything like that.
* I’m using TorGuard.net as the VPN in this guide because the 50% off discount code I use applies for the lifetime of the subscription, doesn’t require a minimum time commitment, and also applies not just to the VPN but also to the dedicated IP address. I doubt you’ll find a cheaper VPN + dedicated IP combo elsewhere. But if you do feel free to use it in TorGuards stead.
* This will get you up and running watching US Netflix on your computer and smart device. Watching it on your TV streaming device (AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast, FireTV, etc.) is more difficult and will not be covered here.2
* Using a VPN to trick Netflix into think you’re actually in a different country is technically against their terms of service. So please do so at your own risk.

Step 1

Head on over to TorGuard.net and go the Anonymous VPN section then choose how often you’d like to pay. Semi-annual at $30 for 6 months represents the best value. Then click ‘BuyVPN’ and it will take you to the checkout.

Step 2

Scroll down to the ‘configurable options’ section and in the ‘Regular Dedicated IP’ box select ‘x1 Streaming IP USA’. Then continue through checkout.

Step 3

At the next page enter TGLifetime50 in the ‘promotional code’ section and hit ‘Go’. Your basket should now update with the new 50% discounted price. Then pay.

Step 4

Once you’ve payed for your plan you need to request your dedicated IP address. So go to the Submit Ticket page and send a ticket to ‘Sales’ with the subject Requesting NEW Netflix streaming IP @ location USA. You can leave the message box blank.

After a few minutes you’ll get an automated message saying which USA location you’d prefer: Michigan or California. Choose which ever is physically closer to where you live (Michigan if you’re in Europe) and respond to the ticket with Michigan as the subject and message body.

Then after another few minutes you’ll get a response telling you your new dedicated IP address. Congrats! You’ve now got an unlimited traffic VPN with your own shiny dedicated IP address. One more step now before Netflix streaming bliss.

Step 5

It’s now time to install the TorGuard VPN software. If you’re going to stream from a PC or Mac go here and click download next to the name of the operating system you’re using. For smartphones you just need to search TorGuard on your devices app store.

Once you’ve installed the TorGuard software, launch it.

Windows/Mac Instructions

Click More settings…

Go to the Servers tab. From the dropdown select United States. Enter your dedicated IP. Give it a nickname. Click Add. And finally Save.

Back at the main menu click Select Server…

Then select your dedicated IP address (it will be at the top of the list).

Now you just have to hit Connect.

iOS/Android Instructions

Launch the TorGuard app.

Tap the gear icon at the top right.

Next to Dedicated IP tap Add.

Choose USA from country dropdown menu. Enter your IP address and give it a nickname. Tap Add.

Now you just have to tap Connect.

Step 6

You’re all done! Head on over to Netflix.com (or open the app) to watch and enjoy US Netflix 🙂


  1. Thanks to more and more Netlifx Originals and media companies demanding extortionate streaming liscening fees for their content in the US (and thus Netflix not agreeing). 
  2. You can do this by either changing your streaming devices DNS, creating a Wi-fi hotspot from your VPN-connected always-on Mac and connecting to it, or installing third-party firmware onto your router, such as DD-WRT or Asuswrt-Merlin



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