I’ve always done my own IT support for work as long as I can remember. My first real paying job was at Johns Hopkins, where I took over a loosely-organized island of Macs and learned how to optimize, upgrade, and network them all until they were singing in harmony. For a lot of reasons that was my favorite part of that job, actually. From there I took my skills and applied them to various situations, inside bastions of PC’s or design firms filled with Macs—but rarely did I ever need to call on the IT department. At my current gig the whole backend system is a Microsoft implementation, and despite their assurances my Macs would be fine using Sharepoint (“it’s just as good as Dropbox!”) Teams (“it’s just as good as Slack!”) Onedrive (“it’s just as good as Dropbox!”) or whatever service they rolled out, the reality never met up with the promise. There was always some reason why their service wouldn’t work correctly: it completely brought my Mac to a crawl, files got corrupted on their way back to my machine, or there wasn’t enough space on the Sharepoint drive and I was always having to ask them to give me more space.

They fielded a SSO system through a kernel-level nannyware system that’s now keyed to the serial numbers of the company Macs they’ve issued, which means that if I wanted to upgrade them anywhere past MacOS 10.14 the nannyware would immediately take over and install itself automatically, without any option to bypass. I held off for as long as I could but they’ve now got the wireless network in the office tied to SSO as well as printing and a bunch of other services I can’t do without, so I bit the bullet and upgraded my work machine to MacOS 13.3 a few weeks ago. On Friday I had to update my password, which worked fine from Mom’s house. This morning I’ve been locked in an endless loop where I can’t access my machine to access the reset to access my machine, which is the definition of modern technological stupidity.

The modern OS is very nice, and has taken some getting used to, but I like it. Things are peppier, the browsers work better, and there’s some software I use that I’m now able to upgrade to a modern version. The nannyware is there, and I have to use a secondary login to install apps on my own machine (grrrr) but generally speaking it’s OK.

With that experience fresh in my mind, it’s probably time to upgrade my personal machine—a 10-year-old Macbook Pro running a 5-year-old OS. Once I’ve finished paying off our vacation trip, I’m going to bite the bullet and buy my first personal Mac in 13 years. I’ve got it narrowed down to either a 13″ or 15″ M2 MacBook Air. Everything I’ve read says there’s not much point in paying the extra money for a Pro, and nothing I do on my personal machine requires the extra cost. Plus I’ll be able to pair it with my watch and use Sidecar to work more closely with my iPad on illustrations, which I’ve not done much with lately. And I was able to get a sweetheart deal on a lifetime Microsoft Office account for $60 a few weeks ago, which won’t run on this old machine.

Date posted: July 10, 2023 | Filed under apple, family | Leave a Comment »

I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to fix things in the last six months, and often that involves some exotic tool I don’t already own. My habit has been to immediately start typing a-m-a-z-o-n in a web browser, but I’m also trying to either gang up orders so as not to be wasteful or find local alternatives. I keep forgetting Harbor Freight opened a nice clean store in Catonsville a few years ago. While I was browsing the aisles yesterday for a new timing light, I stumbled across a small tool for opening the back of a wristwatch, which got me excited; my LL Bean wristwatch has been sitting on the dresser for about a year waiting for battery service, and I just haven’t gotten around to sending it back in. I always knew there must be a simple way to get the back off at home but never really did the research. For $7 I figured I’d give it a shot. Within 2 minutes I had the back off the watch and the number for the tiny replacement battery in hand (which explains why it only lasts for a year or so before dying); this I will have to source from Amazon, as most local home supply and drugstores don’t carry the particular size.

The second thing I looked for was a replacement battery for Jen’s old iPhone 4, which I’ve been using as an iPod for five years or so. There are pros and cons to this strategy: the connector is an ancient 30-pin design from ten years ago. The latest iOS it can run is 7.1.2, and the interface for iTunes in that era was hot garbage. It’s only 32GB, which limits the amount of music I can load. Meanwhile, I’ve got a 64GB iPhone 6 sitting here, but the version of iTunes on iOS 12 is buggy and likes to split songs from a single album up into individual albums, which is annoying as shit. The battery in the 6S is pretty much dead. But I’m going with repairing the iPhone 4 because replacing its battery involves no ju-jitsu or suction cups potentially cracking the display as with the 6. A new battery was $20 with delivery, which I just can’t beat. 

Fuck! I almost forgot to mention: I got an email from my old employer, System Source, about a swap meet and workshop they’re hosting on July 21. I’ve got some old gear I could possibly sell, but what I’m very interested in is enlisting the help of a knowledgable person to help me fix my old Powerbook 160, which needs the monitor recapped in order to function properly. I paused during COVID because one of the parts was out of stock, but I’m going to see if I can order it and bring the project up there for someone to help me with.

Date posted: June 27, 2023 | Filed under apple, watches | Leave a Comment »

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation: How to Enable Advanced Data Protection on iOS, and why you should. I’d like to set this up among all of the devices we have here, but we run a lot of older gear that won’t be covered under this seup—and the idea that if I do enable this, we’ll lose some functionality on things like the Apple TV or this old laptop doesn’t thrill me.

Date posted: May 25, 2023 | Filed under apple, geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Apple Passwords deserve an app. This. If ever there was a need crying out for an app (no, I’m not going to download your fucking app to order a pizza/register for a class/buy a coffee/find directions to your location/redeem a coupon) it would be this. Come on, Apple. I’ve dealt with the ongoing nightmare of LastPass repeatedly stepping on its own dick and claiming nothing is wrong for months now; moving over to a native system-based lockbox shouldn’t have been this hard. Keychain Manager is a relic from OS 10.1 and should be made friendlier and easier to use; the Passwords control panel inside iOS is handy but should be elevated to an app.

Date posted: March 30, 2023 | Filed under apple | Leave a Comment »

My brother in law and I drove down to Bob’s house on Sunday to install a new bathroom vanity, and I was glad for his help. It’s not heavy but it’s bulky, and having two people to get it up the stairs, into the bathroom and over the toilet to fit in the corner was super helpful. 1970’s bathrooms were made for hobbits, I think. We had to return the original sink that had been delivered with a giant chunk broken off the backsplash, and were able to exchange it with another off the shelf. Then we spent most of the rest of the day chasing plumbing fittings down. His house seems to be nonstandard in all the most annoying ways; by the time I had the sizing sorted out it was 5PM and the standard-sized reducer we found to go on the paint waste pipe didn’t fit the P-drain kit we’d bought—which claimed it would fit anything. Good times. So we contented ourselves to cut and fit some kickplate, swapped out the original plug with a GFCI unit, and measured for a new medicine cabinet.

* * *

Renie, you will be glad to know I’ve figured out the notification preferences out for my AirTags. There’s a handy little setting to specify not to be notified at certain locations—so I’ve got notifications off for when I leave the AirTags and all my other location-aware devices at home, for example. Down at Bob’s on Sunday, the tag I put in my messenger bag worked exactly as advertised when I left to go to the store. So I’ve got three of them activated and serving different purposes, and I have an idea for the fourth.

* * *

For the last three weeks I’ve been battling a weird form of insomnia. For my whole life I’ve been able to go to sleep almost anywhere, and make it the whole night through, even when I’d have to get up to go to the bathroom. But lately I’m waking up at 3, sometimes 4AM and I’m unable to get back to sleep. My mind is off and running, and I’m working through problems and issues from the day and I can’t calm it down to return to sleep. I might doze off and on until Finn’s alarm goes off—this morning I had a pleasant dream where Emma Watson delivered a pizza to our house, and I sat down with her and had a wonderful conversation about shooting the Harry Potter series with her even though I’d never been there or knew her—but more often than not I’m just awake. I don’t drink caffeine after 11AM anymore. I’d spent a good part of the day running up and down Bob’s stairs. The previous day I was on my feet for 14 hours straight. Something is clearly going on with my brain or my metabolism; I just haven’t figured out what.

Date posted: March 6, 2023 | Filed under apple, family, life | Leave a Comment »

My sister sent us a Christmas care package filled to the brim with amazing, thoughtful gifts. The highlight for Finn was a Kanken backpack covered with cool metal and cloisonné pins; she immediately ditched her black LL Bean backpack and moved everything over to the new one. One of the things she gave me was a 4-pack of AirTags, which I’ve been curious about for years but haven’t ever pulled the trigger on. Intrigued, I set two of them up and put one in my travel messenger bag and the other on a keyring.

Since then I’ve been getting messages on my phone whenever we leave to walk the dog to tell me I’ve left my messenger bag, keyring, iPad, AirPods and Apple Watch behind (I don’t wear my Apple Watch all of the time). Somehow activating the AirTags kicked off a bunch of notifications for all of the location-aware Apple gear I own; my phone vibrates constantly. I’ve got to figure out how to turn off all but the essentials, I guess.

* * *

As part of our remodeling in the Living Room, we’re opening up the space for new furniture and a new layout. Now that the built-in bookshelves are installed, it’s time to remove the bulkier furniture we don’t need or that doesn’t fit. I broke down the IKEA Expedit bookcase we’ve had in there since before I changed jobs and listed it on Craigslist for $20. The next step will be to disassemble Jen’s oak library table and store it safely in the basement, and move my carpenter’s trunk upstairs in the blue bedroom. There’s no way we’re getting rid of either of those items, but they are too big for our current living room. The West Elm chairs could be here anywhere between this Friday or the middle of March; we have no idea but want to be prepared.

* * *

On Saturday we drove down to Bob’s to bring food and spend some time with him. The three toilets I delivered two weeks ago are now all installed, including the one in the bathroom I’ve been working on. While the plumber was in there working we arranged to have him lower the flange to floor level, so that wrinkle has been ironed out. We’ve got a new 36″ vanity on order and waiting to be delivered this week. The plan is to head down on Sunday, set that in place and hook up the sink. I may rope my brother-in-law in and have him come in to help; we’ll see.

Date posted: February 27, 2023 | Filed under apple, family, house | Leave a Comment »

Old office shelves

Wow, look at that. Fifteen years ago this week I started demoing the old exam room in preparation for a renovation; I think it was this same day Jen came in and told me she’d just gotten a positive result on a pregnancy test.

* * *

I’ve been using a cast-off MacBook Pro from work for email since before the pandemic; I have one good machine cobbled together from multiple out-of-service 2013 Retina models—this one has a drive from one machine, a replacement battery from another, and a screen from a third. It’s serviceable for what I’m doing on it, mainly email, photo selection/cataloguing, and other basics. But I’m stuck at OS 10.14 on this machine and I’d really like to upgrade to the latest version for security and modern features. It can’t talk to my iPad, which kind of sucks. It suffers from random 1-5 second freezes. There are some applications I can’t run anymore.

I think it’s time to upgrade my personal system here, given that the last truly new MacBook I bought was back in 2011, funded partially by the sale of my previous laptop. I’m looking at something ligher and slimmer (and cheaper) than a true MacBook Pro, which points at a MacBook Air: They’ve just updated the model to the new M2 chip and it goes head-to-head with the 13″ MBP with only a few minor omissions that I don’t care about at all. I’m waiting for a large expense report check to come in from work, and when that does, I’m going to pull the trigger.

Date posted: January 24, 2023 | Filed under apple, family, finn, history, photo | 1 Comment »

Polygon is reporting that Bungie may be considering a reboot of Marathon, the seminal mid ’90’s shooter exclusive to the Mac that destroyed my productivity for about five solid years. I have no idea what shape this would take or how they’d design it, but it would be awesome to revisit that world thirty years later.

Date posted: October 23, 2022 | Filed under apple, geek, shortlinks | Leave a Comment »

Way back in early 2000’s I was playing around with home automation and had varying degrees of success. That system was pre-smartphone, so it ran on your computer and used a clever plug that transmitted signals through the wiring in the house to all the connected devices. I ran it off an old iMac I’d salvaged from somewhere and used the latest version of the software, but it was still glitchy (that was the last CRT computer I owned). It worked OK but I was never really able to build a solid case for investing hundreds of dollars into the gear and software, so I gave up on it.

These days Apple has HomeKit, which is an out of the box automation framework that hooks up to a whole fleet of (relatively inexpensive) peripheral gear. I spent $20 on two smart plugs last week and gave them a try. They are simple on/off switches, so they act as slightly smarter versions of the plug-in light timers we already own. They took all of a minute to register with HomeKit, and I quickly had a light in the living room hooked up to one. With one tap on my phone, the light turns on and off. But this kind of sucks, because I can’t just walk into the room and turn on that smart-connected light without a cellphone, and we don’t live the kind of regimented life where timer-controlled lights make sense. They’re great for when we travel, and I’ll probably swap out all of the old mechanical timers this year, but I can’t think of a use case for these plugs other than that. (I’m not buying an Alexa or HomePod to voice-activate anything, before you ask).

Now that I know it works, I’m going to explore some of the more expensive options for automation—maybe  a system set up to control the door locks, for example, allowing us to open the door without a key. But what I’d really like is to replace the thermostat with something programmable from somewhere other than the keypad; our Honeywell unit is about 15 years old and takes three hours of button-mashing to program every time the batteries die. The trick is to avoid the larger monopoly ecosystems; Google bought Nest back in the day and Amazon just bought iRobot—so now Bezos knows how much lint is under our couch. A couple of years ago I picked up a cheap Wyze camera for the house to see what Hazel was doing in her spare time but recently found out their system had been hacked and wide open for several years. Glad I only used that camera for the weeklong demo period. 

Meanwhile, we bought a Nest doorbell cam for Bob’s house to keep an eye on things remotely, which I installed on Sunday. The physical installation went fine but trying to set it up through his phone revealed that the Verizon rep completely fucked up his account setup, so that they were sending his bills to Pennsylvania and shut his phone off for nonpayment. We’re sorting that mess out now.

Date posted: September 19, 2022 | Filed under apple, geek, house | 2 Comments »

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Vaer, the folks who made the Field Watch I’ve been wearing for most of this year. They send me a newsletter once every couple of weeks, which I usually don’t read, but this one was a little different; they were offering a deal for owners who’d previously written a review of their watch tied to the opening of their Amazon storefront. They basically dangled two watches in front of me for a sizable discount and expected me to just walk away.

I was ready to, honestly, but when I realized that one of them was a diver offered with a 38mm case size, I got very interested. It’s a solar-powered automatic with a black face and bezel, and from all the pictures I saw, I thought it looked pretty good. They have a couple of other bezels I like just a smidge better—but the more I went back to the open browser tab, the more I liked it. I figured I’d try it out and if it wasn’t to my taste I’d send it back, so I clicked the button.

In the flesh, it’s a very nice watch. It’s taller than my Ollech & Wajs—the Timex I tried was the same height—which has been taking some getting used to. All of the other watches I own are very thin, with the exception of the Todd Snyder Timex, which is also the widest in diameter. This sits up on my wrist, but the relationship of the bezel to the crystal isn’t as severe as the Timex, and the proportions are more carefully considered. The diameter is perfect. It fits the size of my wrist without feeling like I’ve strapped on a dinner plate. The movement is silent and fluid.

I was on the fence when I first unboxed it. I thought it was too tall. I hemmed and hawed and finally showed it to Jen for her opinion. She immediately liked it. She commented that she likes my field watches but said looks like an adult going-to-town watch, which I agree with. She thought I should keep it, and so the decision was made.

One thing that definitely needs to happen is a replacement watchband. The two Vaer shipped with the watch are chunky and, to be honest, pretty ugly. The strap shown on the O&W is my current favorite: a mustard-yellow NATO strap that’s got a light pattern and looks great on both this and the field watch. I need a couple of 20mm pins and a new band.

And clearly, I’ve got to have the crystal on the Ollechs & Wajs polished or replaced.

* * *

My Airpods Pro have been making terrible crackling noises for the last couple of weeks, something I didn’t notice until I was in the Scout listening to a podcast with noise cancellation turned on last weekend. Once I heard it I couldn’t not hear it, and I realized it was worst in my left ear. I made an appointment at the Apple Store and stopped in Friday morning to have them look things over. The tech verified they were covered under the replacement program, took them in back, tested them, and returned with two new earpieces (I get to keep my beat-up case, sigh). I know I’m a low-key Apple fanboy, but it’s service like this that keeps me loyal.

Driving to and from St. Mary’s County yesterday, I wore them almost the entire day, and I’ll say this: the difference was astounding. It could be the old ones were very broken, or they put new firmware on my replacements, but the noise cancellation was ten times better and the sound was improved.

Date posted: September 11, 2022 | Filed under apple, watches | Leave a Comment »