After last week’s calamity, I got another MacBook Pro up and running in what must be record time; the FedEx guy dropped off the box at about 12:30 Tuesday afternoon and by dinnertime I had backed up the local Dropbox folder (381GB), installed a fresh copy of Catalina, Office, the Creative Cloud suite, a handful of utilities, and then dumped the Dropbox folder in place so I wasn’t syncing everything over the cloud. Wednesday morning I was up and running by 9AM.
I could not be happier with Apple for the way they’re handling the repair claim. After checking my serial number against the warranty yesterday, I had a human on the phone within 5 minutes, who set up a return with no static. A prepaid shipping box arrived on our doorstep today at noon, and I’ll drop it off at FedEx tomorrow morning to go get worked on.
In stark contrast, AT&T’s upgrade website could not be a steamier pile of shit if it tried. Every attempt to upgrade both of our phones at the same time met with failure; apparently the idea that we might add two things to the cart at the same time never occurred to their engineers. So, I handled each upgrade separately and hopefully we’ll get new shiny new phones sometime in May.
The front porch is ready for a floor upgrade. The last drywall mud got sanded and painted yesterday so I moved a bunch of stuff out of there and set up an order of sanded 1/2″ plywood to be picked up at Home Depot on Saturday. I can’t wait to get cracking in there.
Last night I was sitting on the couch surfing the web, putting off going to bed, and my work laptop notified me that the battery was getting low. I plugged in the power cord and the screen suddenly blinked off, leaving only a momentary flash of green in the upper left of the screen. I unplugged it, reset the SMC, plugged it back in, and got nothing. Figuring it was too late to do anything productive, and too tired to give a shit, I left it plugged in on my desk and went to bed.
This morning it was still dead. No power, no nothing. I’ve only got one brick that goes with this machine (everything else is MagSafe) so I can’t test that; I’m stuck. I do have a laptop being sent to me by one of my former designers, which should be here on Wednesday via FedEx, in which case I can test the brick. If that doesn’t work I can use that machine while I send mine out for warranty AppleCare.
Meanwhile, I’m using a 12-year-old MacBook Pro I salvaged from WRI’s recycle pile to read email through Outlook’s web interface and coaxing Photoshop and Illustrator to do some basic work until the newer machine arrives. SO SLOW.
I’ve been using an iPhone 6 for five years now, and the battery is getting weaker and weaker by the day. It’s been an excellent phone for that period of time, and it’s a testament to Apple’s quality that it’s still functional, running a modern OS, and none of the components have broken down.
The reality is that I’m going to need to upgrade soon—both Jen and I, actually. Apple has a whole suite of iPhones to choose from, starting with the ludicrously large XS Max (stupid name, Apple) down to the 8, which I guess is sort of a supercharged version of my 6. I haven’t kept track of all the permutations of the iPhone, because, well, I have better things to do, but it seems to me that they’ve clogged up the product line with too many models. I don’t know the immediate difference between the 8/8 Pro, the 11/11 Pro/11 Pro XR, or the XE, and while a younger version of me would have investigated the differences for several hours and built a chart to visualize the pros and cons, the modern version of me just doesn’t give a fuck.
Steve Jobs famously axed 3/4 of Apple’s product line back in 2001 when he took the company over, and it was for the best. There were four products with several configurations, and that was it. There’s something to be said for keeping things simple; if I had to advise my Mom on which one to buy next, I’d be caught short.
Apple just announced the new iPhone SE, which has a form factor very similar to my 6 but apparently is faster and better than the more expensive 8. I’ve seen people wrestle modern phones with both hands and I’ve decided that I want to stick with a smaller phone—I have no desire to fumble around with an iPad-sized device, nor would it fit in my pocket—so this size looks perfect to me.
The SE has traditionally been the low cost buy-it-for-Dad phone, with a smaller screen and lower powered processor. This new model has the A13 processor, Touch ID (but no Face ID), a single camera on the back, and is priced out at $450 for the 128GB version. Given current events and my desire to tighten our budget, the iPhone SE looks like a serious contender for the next five years.
I got a new MacBook Pro at work this week, after keeping a 2013 model going for seven years, and it’s taking me some time to get used to the changes. Some of the issues I have are with the machine and some are with the configuration I was given, which I’ll get into here.
From a hardware perspective it’s very nice. It’s a little smaller and lighter than the 2013 model. The bevels aren’t as severe and the feet are smaller. The butterfly keyboard will definitely take some getting used to. I’ve noticed that it picks up random keystrokes here and there; it’s much more sensitive than the old-style scissor switch design. The Touch Bar is an interesting gizmo, and I’ve only just started to fool around with the options it offers contextually. I have to figure out how to turn off all the suggested emojis it wants me to add, and remove Siri entirely. I do really love the touch ID bar on the upper right of the machine, which makes signing in very easy. Having only two USB-C ports on the side is a bit emasculating, but I’ve got a giant dongle on order from Amazon to take the place of all seventeen ports I was used to. And who the fuck decided to get rid of MagSafe and switch to a USB-C plug for power? MagSafe was genius, as were the fold-out ears on the brick to wind the cord. They got rid of that too.
When I originally joined in 2013, there were about 250 employees and they just handed me a box with a new Mac inside. That was fine with me. I might have been one of three or four other people with a Mac in the whole company; I took it back to my office, configured it, administered it and three other inherited machines, and kept things running in my own department with minimal interference for six years. In contrast, we’re now over 900 employees and all the new Macs have been run through the IT department so they can add single sign in and other monitoring software.
When I got it from the IT department they’d set up a master admin account, the first time I’ve ever had to deal with this anywhere. One of their apps controls the Microsoft sign in domain issue, which in theory is nice but in practice is a pain in the ass. Another app is for remote administration, and basically sits in the background listening. The third is a bit of virus software made by a company that was outed for selling its users’ web surfing histories to third-parties in 2018. Its daemon runs in the background and consistently chews up 1/4 of my available CPU at all times. Several times today it spun the fan up so loud I could hear it across the room.
I installed Little Snitch, an app that monitors ingoing and outgoing network traffic to see what is talking to whom and when. It turns out every time I do anything within the Microsoft Office suite, about a million different calls are made to servers all over the world, which seems ridiculous.
In the meantime, I need to seriously consider a new personal machine for home. I’ve got a 10-year-old MacBook Pro that has been adequate for working with email, Lightroom, and other basic stuff, but it’s old and heavy and the battery is tired. And my eyes are spoiled after years of Retina displays.
As I see it, I can buy a new 13″ MacBook variant, but what’s holding me back is the butterfly keyboard and all the assorted complaints it’s generated for the company since they introduced it. I really don’t want to buy a personal machine that might suffer issues, and I don’t want a 16″ machine again—the new MBP design has gone back to a scissor keyboard. Price is an issue, of course, so I’d be getting the midrange machine at best. What I’m not looking forward to is jettisoning an entire ecosystem of USB and MagSafe 2 gear gathered over the years.
I think I’ll probably look for a used model on Craigslist that I can get a discount on. That way I’ll get a USB-C charger for the house and I won’t have to lug this one back and forth.
I spend almost two hours getting to and from work every day, time subtracted from my life that I don’t care to total up, because that figure would make me seriously question my own mortality and then I’d probably want to jump off a bridge. Most of this time is spent sitting on a train, but there’s a lot of other time I spend by myself getting to or from somewhere. I generally choose to fill this time listening to podcasts or music, so having proper headphones is a must. Unfortunately I’ve been skimping on this for years. I’ve mostly been using Apple’s standard earbuds, in their various models, and I guess they work fine. I can hear what I’m listening to, unless I’m under a plane or next to a bus or mowing the lawn, and I can stop, start, and adjust the volume of whatever I’m listening to.
I’m also constantly yanking on the cord as I’m walking, pulling a messenger bag over my head, or working around the house. The dog likes to hook her paw on the cord and yank them out of my ears as I’m putting her leash on. The cord catches on desks, toolboxes, bannisters, and doorknobs. And because they get pulled on all the time, the wires are getting frayed; I’ve got two pairs where the mic/sound control pad doesn’t work anymore, and another where the plug connection is weakened so that it triggers my phone to randomly stop/start/skip whatever I’m playing.
I bought an older set of “wireless” headphones made by Anker several years ago, which were actually two earbuds wired together, and they work pretty good. My two beefs with them were that the cord that connected them was getting caught on my clothes almost as much as an earbud cord, and the fact that they didn’t have a microphone to take calls. They work, and the battery life is pretty good, but they spent a lot of time at the bottom of my bag getting tangled on other stuff.
I see people walking through Union Station wearing AirPods as a matter of course. They are, by all reports, fantastic, but I was wondering if I could find an alternative that wasn’t as spendy but just as reliable. What I settled on was Anker’s Soundcore Life P2, which I got on deep sale through Amazon for a quarter the price of AirPods. They’re a set of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds that have most of the features AirPods do.
They fit my ears perfectly right out of the box, although they have five other pairs of rubber buds that can be fitted for people with dainty little ears or giant horse flaps. Each one has a small button on the side to turn the unit on or trigger several functions, which I haven’t mastered yet: on/off, start/stop, take a call, talk to Siri. The sound is fantastic. Bass is full, and the highs are crisp, but I also get a full range of midtones. It’s a wide range of sound that I’m not used to after years of tinny earbuds. It’s lovely to walk through the noisy platform area of Union Station next to idling diesel engines and not have to cover my ears to hear what’s playing, and they act as relatively decent noise protection when they’re off.
I used them to call my Mom on Sunday night, and while it worked, I found the experience strange. Because the earbuds had closed off my ear canals, I felt like I was talking inside my own head, as if I’d been talking to her with my fingers in my ears. I found it so distracting, I switched over to a set of wired earbuds to finish the call. Apple announced the AirPod Pro three days after I ordered my Ankers, which are built similarly. I read with interest about the Transparency Mode feature, where you can set them to listen to the surrounding noise, and I wondered what that added to the experience, but I get it now that I’ve been on a call: Transparency Mode opens the outside world back up so that you don’t sound like you’re talking inside a SCUBA mask.
Overall, I’m happy with these, and though I won’t be taking calls with them often (I’ll have to keep my earbuds wound up in my bag for those occasions) I’m cord-free and noise cancelled.
As regular readers here might know, I’m loyal to the Apple brand, because it’s been good to us. In the late 1990’s my friend Logan asked me if I thought it would be smart to invest in Apple stock; this was before Steve Jobs had rejoined and before Ameritrade was a thing on the internet. If I’d been a smarter man I would have scraped together $100 at that point and found a way to buy some; I’d have made about $10,000 on that paltry investment by now.
When I look back on my history with Apple machines, I realize there are a lot of them that have come through my door. Here’s a brief account, mostly for my own edification, of what I’ve had and what happened to them all.
- Mac IIcx (Norman): Norman was the first computer I bought myself, having learned the rudiments of Macs at our computer lab in college. I knew I was going to need to find a new job—contracting was becoming a financial drain—so I resolved to learn some design skills. It so happened that a neighbor of a friend who I’d house-sat for was selling her old IIcx and offered it to me with Quark 3.1, an early version of Illustrator, and some other programs already installed. I took her up on the deal—I think it was $400, which was a lot of money for me at the time—and had to scratch more money together to afford a monitor. When I bought it, it was already several generations older than the ones I’d learned on in college, but still usable. Once I had that purchased, I used it for learning page layout and organizing my illustration mailings. That experience, and a well-placed friend from college, got me an internship. Later I put a a DayStar Turbo 040 card, which, as I recall, involved nervously pulling and mailing the logic board off to the company to be soldered together with the new card. Norman ran faithfully and well for years, but he was old when I bought him and like any nerd I had my eye on a newer shinier machine.
- Power Macintosh 7100/80 (1996, G-Force): This Mac was purchased after the internship changed to a full-time design gig at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. While I was there I inhaled Apple/IT information and reorganized our small network of Macs—optimizing and networking a Quadra 900, a Quadra 840AV and an older IIfx, which I later upgraded with a Radius Rocket to boost its speed. The 7100 was a stable, solid unit that I’m sad I ever got rid of. It got me through years of after-hours freelancing, and when it was relegated to second-line status I experimented and got an install of MKLinux running on it so that I could bang around inside Apache and learn Perl and web services. I donated this machine and Norman to the AmVets sometime in 2003.
- Powerbook 520c (Max, 1999): I bought this machine after I switched to web design. I was working at a regional sales/rental/services company that had moved into web design, and our small band of designers and programmers had a big grey cube all to ourselves–the wild west days of the web. The Mac was a rental that they were disposing of, and I got it for cheap. It was an early laptop with a plastic cladding over a magnesium chassis, which meant that most of the screws were stripped and the clutch mechanism for the lid was worn out. In comparison to today’s laptops with their millimeters of clearance, this machine felt like it was put together at the Fisher-Price factory. But, it was COLOR! and it ran System 7 pretty well. It worked OK for a while, but the tired battery gave out soon after I bought it, and the screen started flaking out, and it was soon relegated to novelty status.
- Compaq (1999, beige box): This was one of two PCs I’ve owned, acquired when I was deep into coding and all of the tools I was using were written for that platform. I don’t remember if I bought this or they gave it to me, but I had it for several years. It ran Windows NT, which allowed me to set up local domains and build and serve sites right on the machine instead of out on expensive public subdomains. For what it was, it worked well, and I used it for several years before I went back to Macs. I don’t miss Windows NT.
- Power Macintosh 8500/150 (Alpha, 1999): I bought this from the rental department as well, intending to use it as a replacement for the 7100 and a server in the basement. It worked reasonably well for what it was, but I don’t remember using it as a main machine until I brought it to the game company and stuck it under my desk to use as a print design and light-duty graphics machine. Much of the interface for Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom was built on this machine. I don’t recall what happened to this unit, but I probably donated it when I moved out of the city.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (1999): While I was working on a Windows unit at work, I was also lusting after new laptops. When I switched jobs to the dot-com, they gave me a blank check, and I ordered a top-of-the-line Pismo maxed out with RAM. It served as my main machine up until the day I left. While I was there I had a Sun workstation running some form of UNIX that was neat to play with, but was way out of my league.
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2000): After I was laid off, I needed something to work on, as all of my home machines were pretty creaky. I bought this machine off of eBay and miraculously didn’t get ripped off. It was in good shape and had no dead pixels, and it was my workhorse laptop for the next three years, getting me through multiple freelance jobs and the pivotal switch from System 9 to OSX. This remains one of my favorite Apple machines of all time; the styling of the case set it apart from all other beige laptops of the day, and the keyboard remains one of my favorite designs. It was modular and powerful and sturdy as hell.
The office in my first house: the beige PC, 8500 and a Pismo on the desk. Hi Penn!
- Powerbook Pismo G3 (2001): I bought this from a friend for Jen to use as a freelance machine, and it served her very well until the day it fried itself.
- Various G3 iMacs (2003-8): I went through a phase where I was buying and fixing cheap old gumdrop iMacs and using them for various things, including reselling them. For a while I had a music server at home and one under my desk at work with a giant iTunes library, and ran them until they all fizzed out. Purple was the longest-lived unit, serving all the way to 2008, and then it finally gave up.
- Powerbook 100 (Junior): I found this little gem on Craigslist, I believe. This was the initial offering Apple made to the portable market, and was nothing more than a Mac SE with no floppy drive and limited memory. I used it for simple writing tasks for a year or so but again, because the batteries were long dead it was mostly just a novelty. My sister wound up with one of these and donated it to me when she moved. I tried, but couldn’t get one good machine to work out of two. At some point in the late 2000’s one of the caps blew and it stopped booting, so I traded it for a Powerbook 160 and $10.
- iBook G4 (2005): I upgraded to this machine when my Pismo was getting long in the tooth. It was between this and a full-size Powerbook, and I had to go the cheaper route for financial reasons. In hindsight it wasn’t a bad decision, although as the average browser screen size got larger the size of the iBook display limited the way I saw things unless I was hooked up to an external monitor. This machine served me through a year or so of back-stairwell freelance gigs (always be hustling) and two years of self-employment. It went to Orlando, out to Portland and later to San Francisco, and across the Baltimore/DC area. It was a great machine. I sold it in 2007 to finance the purchase of a new production machine.
- IBM Thinkpad R30 (2006): I bought this as a development machine when I got the TalkPlus gig in Portland, and used it as a coding box while I did all the visuals on the Mac. It was flaky when I bought it but did what I asked of it (running HomeSite and several other handy coding apps) and I humped it and the iBook west for both trips; in hindsight I should have just spent money on a single dual-boot Powerbook. After a while it devolved into chaos when the clock battery died; then there was some nonsense with the BIOS that involved a three-step boot process, and after lending it to my father-in-law for a brief period, it came home and sits on a shelf in the office. It needs to have the drive pulled and get donated.
The Thinkpad hard at work, California, 2007
- Powerbook G4 Aluminum (2007, Dugan Portable) I bought this for the low price of $300 on Craigslist, and while I don’t use it every day, it’s been a dependable workhorse of our fleet. It had a bad LCD, which I replaced soon after I purchased it, and since then it’s been pressed into service whenever I need to go back in time to use an old piece of software or hook up an old peripheral. It also came with a bombproof Brenthaven laptop backpack, which has been used for everything from carting the 17″ MacBook Pro around to hiking trips in the woods.
- Powerbook 160 (2007): I don’t remember why I bought this, but I did. It worked for a while and I had some fun with it (I think I loaded some old floppies in the drive to see if it could read them, that sort of thing) and then I put it aside. Soon after that it stopped booting. I haven’t followed up on it lately, but I’d love to find someone who can troubleshoot and repair it. Having done a little research online, I wonder if it’s the power supply?
- Powerbook 1400cs (2007): this was actually in response to the Powerbook 160 dying, and I wanted something that would still read some of the floppies I had laying around, as well as the ancient CD-R’s I’d burned in my early days. I got it off of Craigslist and was happy to see it booted quickly and came with a PCMCIA slot, which meant after some calisthenics and scavenging a first-gen Airport card from a sick Base Station, I was able to get it connected to our wireless network. I break it out every year or so and boot it up, and apart from a screen issue where the lower half is ghosted for a few minutes, it runs fine.
- Power Mac G5 (2009): I traded some IT time for two of these big boys, as a client was downsizing and didn’t need either of them. They were both finicky, fragile pieces of shit that were constantly overheating and randomly crashing, requiring constant vigilance and multiple surgeries. The first unit suffered from bad RAM and thus kept corrupting its startup disk, and the second had cooling issues which meant it would go down at random intervals with no warning. I installed a older copy of OSX Server and used these machines to learn how to administer it, which came in handy for several IT gigs. I dragged them along for as long as possible but replaced them with a decommissioned Mac Pro from work as soon as I could. When that was complete I gutted both chassis for usable parts and brought the aluminum cases to a recycler, where they fetched about $20. Good riddance.
- MacBook Pro 17” (2007, IdiotCentral): A big-boy portable that wound up being too big. I got this in December of 2006 after dealing with the aforementioned iBook screen, and I think in hindsight it was overkill. This machine was a monster in size and weight. It was great for working on large layouts, and all of the standard connections on a MBP were nice to have back after the limited selection on the iBook. I used this for several years of solid web design work both as a freelancer and at a full-time gig. It suffered from a video board issue later in its career where the lower half of the screen went blank. I cracked the case several times to install new parts, and after installing two inverter boards, I was able to resurrect it in order to put it up for sale. This was sold in 2011 to help pay for a new 15″ MacBook Pro.
- Macbook Pro 15″ (2010, IdiotBrain): This has been my workhorse machine for the last nine years. In frontline service for the first 6, it faithfully traveled with me to and from work at the agency, keeping my freelance work separate from my 9-5 gig. A couple of years ago I upgraded the spinning drive to a solid state unit, which sped it up dramatically. I had few problems with it up until early this year when it unceremoniously blew up. I figure the motherboard just fried itself after thousands of cycles. I pulled the drive and any swappable components out and put it out to pasture. I then put drive inside a decommissioned 15″ MacBook Pro I got from work. This model is two years older than the original, but the drive installed cleanly and it booted up like it was no big thing. The trackpad click function is broken but other than that it runs fine. To all outward appearances, IdiotCentral is still running, even if I’m only using it for personal email and backing up website data.
- iBook, Pismo G3 (2013): These two laptops, mirror images of two machines I’d already owned, were in a closet at the agency and weren’t being used for anything, so I dragged them home and cleaned them up, and they both run OK. The Pismo had never been converted over to OSX (WOW) and the iBook was used for someone’s travel laptop, so they were both used lightly. I recycled the batteries and put the iBook on my workbench downstairs for a couple of years for research needs. The Pismo got juiced with the leftover goodies I’d collected from our old fleet and sits in a container on the shelf.
- Mac Pro (2015, New Brain): I got this from work, as stated above. It had been sitting unused in the corner of a studio room for a year until I saved it and ran some tests. It turned out the RAM was bad, so I bought it for $50 and swapped the bad chips out for new ones. It’s been in the basement ever since, serving out 16TB of data flawlessly. Unfortunately, it’s trapped at OS 10.7 which means I can’t upgrade the OS beyond where it is, and that also caps some of the software I can install. I will eventually replace the platter boot drive with a solid state drive and fill all four bays with gianter drives for our data, but for now it hums along happily.
- Macbook Pro 13″ (2017, WRI Mobile): This is my work-issued laptop, and I’ve had it for about three years now. The first machine I had was an inherited 15″ MBP, which was decommissioned, and they replaced that with a used 13″ machine. That laptop met a sticky end with a full thermos of coffee in my messenger bag, so they gave me another used 13″ that had seen some hard use. I scraped and washed some old running stickers off the case, opened it to dust out the fans, and dropped a larger solid state drive in it, and it’s been my frontline machine ever since. I’m looking at trading it for a new Touchpad MBP sometime at the end of this year.
Celebrating the fact that I got paid this week, I promptly ordered a prehung closet door from Home Depot for the new bathroom. It was a little tricky to find something that fit the style of the rest of the house but HD had what we needed in the size we wanted. And as luck would have it, the door was on sale this week so delivery will basically be free. The only downside is that it won’t be here until the end of the month. I’ve been stalled in the bathroom on trimwork waiting for this door and for movement on the cabinetry, which is wrapped up in a larger ongoing discussion about other project priorities and how we’ll wrap those into a home equity loan. I think I’ve identified what my maximum loan payment will be, which obviously caps the amount we borrow, so it’s now a matter of filling out paperwork and getting the loan started. Meanwhile, I haven’t been able to nail down my neighbor the electrician to finalize the wiring, so we haven’t fired up the heated floor yet.
Once the door is hung I can continue with the trim surround all the way to the shower and start putting kickplate in permanently. The next big trick is going to be adding 3/4″ shim around the inside of each doorjamb so that the casing will sit flush with the wall. (I left the sheathing intact on the walls, which may have been a mistake, so there’s sheetrock over top of that; thus the jamb is generally 1/2″ too narrow. But what’s done is done). Then I can mill and install casing around the back door. The front door will get done toward the end of the project, once the cabinetry is all in place.
The greenhouse is looking great, although one of my Roma plants has developed blossom-end rot. This is due to a lack of calcium in the soil, which means I’ve got to amend it quickly before I lose the whole plant. I’ve got some products coming from Amazon to combat this and hopefully we can catch it before all of the fruit is damaged. Two of the cherry plants have grown taller than the ceiling and are still producing flowers, so I know everything else needs fertilizer too.
Strangely, half of the marigolds Finn and I planted are happy and blooming, and the other half are 6-8″ tall and continuing to produce new leaves but no flowers. I’m going to give those another week to bloom, and after that I’m going to toss them. Apparently I let them get too leggy too early and didn’t pinch off new growth soon enough. Honestly I think the cheaper seed is doing better than the expensive stuff.
Finn was having a problem booting up one of her favorite apps after school yesterday, and I had to sit down and troubleshoot the issue. I locked down a ton of different settings when I set up her iPad so it took me a bit of time to go through the list and figure out what was blocking her (the app icon didn’t even show up on her desktop). When I logged in as her parent it was visible to me, and I spent a bit of time in the Restricted Apps section wondering why it didn’t show up. It wasn’t until I looked closely at the app itself and realized it was rated in the App Store for 12+ and I had her iPad blocking everything 9+ that I realized what the issue was. As soon as I switched this, it showed up fine. I was initially a little annoyed at Apple, but once I understood how the system worked, I appreciated the ability to switch these settings from my iPhone so much more.