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Main Technology

The Apple Era

I realised something today. The world is riddled with complicated questions with even more complicated answers. And it can feel crippling at times. But when it comes to computers, phones, smart watches, smart headphones and tablets there’s a simple answer to the question of what to buy: Apple.

We’re living in the Apple era. The Apple brand is universal and unparalleled. Their output is by far the most innovative and beautiful. They’re so dominant that its rivals often seem laughable in comparison. And whilst in certain details they aren’t always the best, on the whole they are.

In fact I’m struggling to think of a single comparative company in history. All the ones that come to mind dominated through monopoly, isolation or acquirement of rivals, not through technical brilliance.

I’m no Apple cultist (half my blog posts feel like they’re moans about the minutiae of Apple’s latest ‘failings’) and I say all this not to gush. But I say it simply because it’s nice not to have to waste time and thought about the subject of what brand to buy. 9 times out of 10 – if I can afford it – Apple is the answer. So I’m free to spend my brain power elsewhere on unsolved issues like the perfect ratio of cheese to cracker.

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Link Technology

‘Apple Acknowledges Personal Hotspot Issues’

MacRumors:

In an internal document distributed to Apple Authorized Service Providers this week, obtained by MacRumors, Apple has acknowledged that some iOS 13 or iPadOS 13 users may experience issues with Personal Hotspot.

I have had nothing but problems with Personal Hotspot for a long time. Long before iOS 13. And that’s actually a big problem because when I turn it on it’s because I can’t find Wi-Fi anywhere and I really need it to just bloody work right now. But all too often it fails. An iPhone is increasingly a digital Swiss Army knife and Personal Hotspot is an important part of that. It has to work 100% of the time. Imagine if Apple Pay didn’t work every single time?

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Links and Notes

Links and Notes – Week 12, 2020

‘Working From Home — Tips, Tricks and Motivation’

I’ve read a lot of these type of articles this week. This is my favourite. I really like the ‘pairing up’ idea a lot:

Pick a buddy for an afternoon, install Discord, and stay persistently on Discord with them or your team so you can strike up audio conversations at will and feel like you’re interacting more. Hearing other people socialize even if you’re not interacting will help with the isolation.


[New Book] ‘Coffeeland: One Man’s Dark Empire and the Making of Our Favorite Drug’

Near the end of Coffeeland, Sedgewick attempts to quantify exactly how much value a pound of coffee gives an employer (or, put another way, extracts from an employee)… He estimates that it takes 1.5 hours of Salvadoran labor to produce a pound of coffee. That’s enough to make 40 cups of coffee… In other words, the six cents that Hill’s plantation paid for an hour and a half of labor… was transformed into $22.50 worth of value [for the American economy,] an alchemy that reflects both the remarkable properties…

But the symbiotic relationship that coffee and capitalism have enjoyed for the past several centuries may now be coming to a sad close. Coffea arabica is a picky plant, willing to grow only in the narrowest range of conditions: Sunlight, water, drainage, and even altitude all have to be just so. The world has only so many places suitable for coffee production. Climate scientists estimate that at least half of the acreage now producing coffee—and an even greater proportion in Latin America—will be unable to support the plant by 2050, making coffee one of the crops most immediately endangered by climate change. Capitalism may be killing the golden goose.

To be released on April 7, 2020.


Apple Product Updates

Updated iPad Pros with a new keyboard that has a trackpad because iPadOS 13.4 now has ‘pointer’ support! The MacBook Air and Mac mini also have been updated. Daring Fireball has a good summary.


‘For, Then Against, High-Saturated-Fat Diets’

Could eating a lot more saturated fat and a lot less unsaturated help the obesity epidemic? Spoiler: probably not. But this article is still very much worth your time. If only because it doesn’t pretend to know all the answers, which I always appreciate when it comes to articles on nutrition and health.


‘How Saunas Could Boost Your Mental Health’

Jari Laukkanen, a Finnish cardiologist who’s fond of taking a daily sauna, has observed a similar pattern among larger groups. In a 2018 study of more than 2,000 Finnish men, he found a correlation between taking a traditional sauna four or more times a week and decreased risk of developing a physician-diagnosed mental-health disorder.

My current gym is a little bit out of my ideal price range. But I’m still a member because its the only one in town with a sauna and steam room. And I find 25 minutes in a sauna to be a truly wonderful thing. It’s a great way to unwind after a workout or a long week. And while I’ve never been particularly convinced by a lot of the supposed physical health benefits it wouldn’t suprise me at all if it does improve mental health.

I think this paragraph sums up the reason why you have to take a lot of sauna health studies with a grain of salt:

But critics contend that these associations could stem from selection bias — fit people who exercise regularly may just happen to sauna more often. Sauna bathing could also serve as an indicator for people who live in affluent societies and have healthier living patterns.


‘The Stoics in Exile’

Coronavirus self-quarantines are the closest many of us are going to come to being exiled. It’s important to use that time wisely. Learn from the stoics in exile:

Now imagine this. Imagine you’re at your peak in Rome with a remarkable influence, life is pretty good, and you get kicked out, you’re exiled, you go from Rome at its peak to some desolate island in the middle of nowhere. How would you respond to that?

Well, if you’re a Stoic philosopher you’d respond with taking responsibility and looking after yourself properly. That’s what Rufus did. He took exile as an opportunity to practice courage, justice, and self-control. Exile doesn’t prevent anyone from practicing these virtues, he said.


‘TikTok Told Moderators: Suppress Posts by the “Ugly” and Poor’

One document goes so far as to instruct moderators to scan uploads for cracked walls and “disreputable decorations” in users’ own homes — then to effectively punish these poorer TikTok users by artificially narrowing their audiences.

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Links and Notes

Links and Notes – Week 45, 2019

Any Amount of Running Linked to Significantly Lower Risk of Early Death

When the study data were pooled, any amount of running was associated with a 27% lower risk of death from all causes for both sexes, compared with no running.

You really can’t afford not to be doing a small amount of regular exercise. We’re not talking about marathons or three hour long cycle rides here. There’s been so many studies finding that just twenty minutes of exercise three times a week gives humans massive life extending gains (not to mention the added benefit of the slowing down of cognitive decline). This is a really good deal that your body is offering you. Take it up on the offer and exercise!

There’s a Whole Category of Software to Help People Manage Friendships

While many of the apps have an explicit professional-networking utility, the Irish company Monaru, one of the Y Combinator companies, is focused specifically on users’ 10 to 15 closest relationships. Not only will Monaru remind you of a loved one’s birthday, but it will also suggest specific gifts to buy her. It can help you plan a date night, or remember to call your parents regularly. “Millennials are four times lonelier than seniors,” the company’s homepage reads, probably erroneously. The service costs $20 a month, and its tagline is “Be the most thoughtful person you know.”

Apple Has Released a 16-Inch Macbook Pro

‘New’ keyboard with a physical Esc key. Not as expensive as I was expecting. Good short reviews from Marco Arment and Daring Fireball:

No one would ever suggest that the steering wheel for a car be designed by people who don’t drive. But yet somehow the entire Macintosh world has spent the last three years dealing with or avoiding keyboards that were seemingly designed by people who don’t type.3 The whole saga of the butterfly keyboards — their unreliable switches, poor typing feel, and anti-functional layout — betrays a certain arrogance. The more powerful an organization — a corporation, a nation, a sports team, whatever — the more at risk that organization is to hubris. It’s power that allows one to act on hubris.

We shouldn’t be celebrating the return of longstanding features we never should have lost in the first place. But Apple’s willingness to revisit these decisions — their explicit acknowledgment that, yes, keyboards are meant to by typed upon, not gazed upon — is, if not cause for a party, at the very least cause for a jubilant toast.

Seeking the Productive Life: Some Details of My Personal Infrastructure — Stephen Wolfram

This is my third time reading this long and in depth look at Stephen Wolfram’s personal tech setup. I love stuff like this.

Instagram Is Testing Hiding ‘Likes’

Probably a good move. However, in the video linked in the article Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri says “private likes”. So I’m presuming the poster can still see the ‘like’ count, but the outside world can’t. The main reason ‘likes’ are so harmful is because people obsess over how many their photos receive. If they can still see this metric I’m not sure this fixes anything.

All the International Brands That Have Apologised to China

It’s eerie how all the PR press releases from these companies are so similar. “[Company] consistently respects and upholds China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” To the word repetition of the same thing is very dystopian. And let’s be honest, China is very dystopian.

The King (2019)

The Netflix movie “The King” is out. Directed by David Michôd – who also made “War Machine” – this in many ways has a lot of the same disjointed elements. With the lack of flow and continuity in some scenes making the film feel a bit like the effort of an inexperienced first time director. The script is decent and this could have been a much improved movie with a better director involved. However there’s enough here to make it worth the 2 hours 15 minutes of your time. I’m not sure if the restrained realism of the sets was planned or due to budget constraints, but either way it works. I also really like how realistic the light is, considering the period it’s set in. No artificial flood lighting here. Just sun streaking in through the windows. Timothée Chalamet is maturing as an actor and despite his boyish frame and bad posture sometimes undermining the believability of certain moments he leads the film very well. And Robert Pattinson is great in his brief moments on screen. 6/10

Categories
Main Technology

Minor MacBook Pro Refresh

Apple has announced a slightly updated MacBook Pro.

Jason Snell (Six Colors):

These updates don’t bring any changes to the exterior of the MacBook Pro — it’s the same base design introduced in late 2016 — but they do bring 9th-generation Intel processors with up to eight cores to the MacBook Pro for the first time. There’s also been yet another tweak to the controversial butterfly keyboard Apple first introduced in 2015.

I’ve had to buy this (I went with the 15-inch base model). My mid-2012 MacBook Pro died a few months back and I’ve been waiting for an update to the lineup before biting the bullet. I was hoping for a whole new refresh with ARM chips. But that was always a little hopeful.

But the main reason I didn’t go out and buy a new one straightway is due to the unreliable butterfly keyboards on this current generation of MacBook Pro’s. I wasn’t waiting for a refresh for that sweet new industrial design. I was waiting simply because I wanted a keyboard that would work reliably.

This update does have an ‘updated’ keyboard though. John Gruber (Daring Fireball) has some info:

First, these new MacBook Pros still have the third-generation butterfly-switch keyboard that debuted with last July’s updated MacBook Pros. But Apple has changed the mechanism under the hood, using a new material for at least one of the components in these switches. The purpose of this change is specifically to increase the reliability of the keyboards. Apple emphasized to me their usual line that the “vast majority” of users have no problem with these keyboards, but they acknowledge that some users do and say they take it very seriously.

Fingers crossed that his update fixes a lot of the keyboard issues. But the simple, sad truth is this: a fancy MacBook Pro is being delivered to my house tomorrow and I’m more apprehensive than excited. Will this new machine last 6 years like my old one? We’ll see.

Categories
Technology

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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Random Thoughts Technology

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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Technology

iOS6 Maps

In Apple’s iOS 6 mobile operating system, they decided to ditch Google’s Maps for their very own maps.

But maps are hard. Really hard. And Apple have failed. And now people are angry because this new Maps app is worse than it was before, when it used Google’s glorious Map data.

Personally, I’m not too angry, as I now use Waze for navigating in my car, and use public transit rarely. However, the Google-based Maps app was great for finding addresses, and navigating when walking. And lets be honest, a step backwards is always a bad thing. And iOS 6 Maps is a step backwards. I’ve used it just a couple times, but each time it has failed in some regard.

For example, when searching for ‘Heathrow Airport’, (one of the biggest and busiest airports in the world) Apple goes to a minicab company many miles away. And when you do eventually find the right Heathrow Airport amoungst the collection of irrelevent dots, you’ll find that Apple’s map of Heathrow is awful. Nothing is where it should be. Roads go over the terminals, and even over the bloody runway!

iOS6 Maps fail

Being Apple, the maps look beautiful, but its data is poor. So please, if you spot an error with the map, lay a pin on it within the app, tap on it, and then tap ‘Report a problem’. User power triumphs all.

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Technology

iPhone 4 Review

“I don’t gamble. I don’t drink. My one vice is buying a new iPhone every summer. Well, that and lying about drinking and gambling.” — John Gruber

Design

From the few I’ve spoke to it seems that men like the new design and women don’t. The ladies don’t like the stainless steel around the edges or its sharpness. They find it unforgiving and masculine. Personally, I love it. Seeing stainless steel in an increasingly plastic society feels refreshing. Plus it’s a nice design wink to Dieter Rams and old Braun products. Most Apple designs are – but traditionally the iPhone never was.
I’ve found the 4 to be both terrible and terrific in the hand because of its hard edges. Most reviewers loved the feel, and I do. But only sometimes. That cold stainless steel makes holding it very mechanical in portrait mode. It’s comforting and industrial. And after a while that feeling welds itself to you and it feels familiarly beautiful holding it. I imagine hand gun owners get that same feeling of ‘home’ when they rest they’re hands on it in their holster.

However – for me – in landscape mode when taking a video or photo it feels pretty bad. It feels pleasant but not comfortable. You have no grip and feel like your going to drop it. The problem is likely magnified with my large hands. But it’s the main reason I’m ordering a nice, round, grippy case.

I had my 3G for 2 years and dropped it quite a few times caseless and it never broke. I had some minor scratches and an obtrusion at the bottom from when I dropped it heavily once. But, it never broke, and I never experienced any of the fragility others reported. Yesterday I dropped my 4 from just below waist height. I was confident there would be no large damage. And there wasn’t. However, there are some really horrible scuff marks. Because of the square design each corner takes the full weight of impact. On iPhones of old the rounded bottom would sort of soften blow. But not with the 4. And these scuff marks are horrible! They aren’t too noticable by sight but are in the hand. The smoothness is now replaced with sharp scratches and it feels rough. Sure, it’s my own fault. But if you own it for 18 months (24 in my case) your going to drop it. And after several shunts I can imagine the phone looking really battered.

The flat, glass back makes it sit nicely on tables and it looks splendid. But I’d prefer a plastic back. Having glass on the reverse of the phone doubles your worries of dropping it and doubles the chance of damage if you do. Also, you don’t want to touch the rear. It’s smooth and lovely, but with sweaty hands it feels slippy and makes you not want to touch it for fear of smear. Yet another reason for purchasing a case.

Tech

Jesus Christ!!! The screen is stunning. Beyond belief stunning. It is mind blowingly clear. It’s so perfect you don’t want to touch it. I just want to load up a Andreas Gursky picture and mount my iPhone. Other phones screens are like regular printer paper; the iPhone’s screen is museum quality paper. (It makes me so excited for the new iPad.)

Other reviewers have praised the 4’s camera saying it’s pretty good but not top of the range. That may be so, but this new camera is more than enough. I consider it just as good as nearly all point and shot cameras. As a photographer I honestly believe I could use the 4 on assignment in most cases. Not for studio based stuff, but certainly onside on location. It’s hard to take a bad picture with it. The point to focus feature is nice but I rarely use it as the large f-stop often makes it irrelevant. It’s handy occasionally though. The flash is okay. Again, nice to have. I haven’t used it enough to really critique it. It boosts everything nicely when using it in medium to low light. But the 4 is good generally adequate in low light. It’s good at night to get the job done. But whitewashes – like most flashes – so don’t expect too fine results.

It’s 720p video capabilities are better than it’s photo taking. The video is so good! Everyone I’ve shown videos to have been blown away. The biggest problem I’ve found with video is exporting it. I like to share it the moment I take it, on Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, e-mail, etc. Most websites give you your own e-mail address so you can attach it, send it, and then the website will upload it. Bit of a problem though. Firstly, it’s compressed before the phone evens sends it and by the time the website of your choice compresses it again and converts it to flash it will look terrible. Really terrible! Secondly, you can only e-mail short videos. It’s based on how long it is and I’ve never been able to upload a video longer than a minute. That’s not very long. Say you’ve taken video on a holiday and edited it all together with the iMovie app. That could easily be 5 minutes long. So, the only way to share it is wait to you get home to your computer, connect your phone, and export it using a software of your choice. So much for cloud computing. The poorly compressed problem is also magnified due to the phones amazing screen.

The battery life is pretty poor. The tech on the iPhone is so immense that it was never going to be great. And all things considered the battery life is decent. But mine has never lasted more than a day. It lasts ages on stand-by. For example, I’ve been up 4 hours and am yet to touch my iPhone since fully charging it over night and the battery percentage is at 98%. Which is great. But the moment you start using that beast of a screen it tumbles faster than a V8’s MPG. Last week it lasted half a day with heavy usage. I shouldn’t have to worry about battery percentage 5 hours after its last full charge.

iOS4

The iPhone’s software has always been one of its plus points. Joyful and easy to use, it defined the product and put other phones interfaces to shame – and still does. On the surface iOS4 looks like any of its previous iterations. It looks exactly the same. The main new features are folders, the ability to group apps in folders; the ability to gift apps; wireless keyboard support; tap to focus video and 5x digital zoom. And, multitasking. I thought multitasking would be magnificent. And it is. But the 4 is so fast it’s almost pointless unless your in the middle of a game. And even then most games take a few seconds to start up and continue from where you left off. Also, to use multitasking you double-click the home button. Well, I’ve found only ninjas and pac man enthusiasts can do this. You have to tap it twice to quickly it’s unreal. Maybe it’s just me, but 70% of the time I want to bring up the multitasking dock it takes me back to the home screen.

The Antenna Issues

I have had some antenna problems. If I put just part of my finger against the bottom left black line of the phone I will lose bars. Usually at a rate of 1 per 5 seconds. I can easily avoid holding this area when using the screen. It’s when I’m talking on it that I experience the problem. That black line is right where my pinky finger likes to sit. So, as a result I have to move my whole hand higher or lift the pinky and look like I’m a posh twat sipping on a cup of tea. My friend Thom got the exact same model, from the exact same store, on the exact same network right before me and has experienced no issues though. So maybe it’s only on certain phones. Or maybe he’s just missing a pinky. Personally I don’t think Apple will be able to do much just by changing software. It certainly seems like a hardware issue. Despite all this it doesn’t bother me that much. I mean who uses there phone for phone calls now-a-days anyway? I’ve been on the phone for 9 minutes over the week I’ve got it and most of those calls where only to gloat. But joking aside, if your a heavy caller you’ll probably find this more of an issue than I have.

All things considered

This is a truly great phone. Reviewers are arseholes. We nitpick because it’s impossible to critique a perfect product and equally impossible to claim something to be perfect. If you’re a previous iPhone owner this will be a nice upgrade. The 4 isn’t what the 3GS was to the 3G. This is a whole new phone. And if you’re not an iPerson, now will be the perfect time to jump on the Apple ship.