It makes me so happy to have found my first computer. It’s a TRS-80 Pocket Computer PC-1 from 1980. I spent many, many hours making tiny programs with it.

The Surface Book 2 is everything the MacBook Pro should be – Owen Williams

The Surface Book 2 is everything the MacBook Pro should be – Owen Williams:

If, like me, you’re coming from the Macbook Pro with the butterfly keyboard, I promise that typing on this thing is salve for your butterfly-keyboard wounds: it’s got a perfect amount of travel, feels comfortable to use and doesn’t sound like you’re typing on a hollow piece of wood.

Stories like this (long) one by Owen Williams have been around for years, but it sure seems like they’ve been increasing significantly in frequency. My disappointing experiences with the latest MacBook Pro do tend to pique my curiosity about the other options.

One nice side effect of disliking my laptop’s keyboard so much is that I’m not as easily tempted away from my paper journal. The way writing feels is important to me and for that, pen and paper kills the MBP.

If I ever have to travel with this MacBook Pro again I’m packing an external keyboard even if it means I have to check a bag.

Apple HomePod – The Audiophile Perspective + Measurements!

WinterCharm (reddit):

Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an Audiophile grade Speaker.

I love how the HomePod sounds, but I have no way to quantify it. I’ll just link to this instead.

About the automatic room correction:

To have this sort of thing be a built in feature of the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) inside the speaker that is, for all intents and purposes omnidirectional, allowing it to adapt to any room, no matter how imperfect, is just beyond impressive. What Apple has managed to do here is so crazy, that If you told me they had chalk, candles, and a pentagram on the floor of their Anechoic chambers, I would believe you. This is witchcraft. I have no other word for it.

And for fun, from the comments (seanheis)

When I heard that Apple was releasing a smart speaker that had been in development for 6 years and could only set one timer at a time…I knew that it had been properly developed by an audiophile.

Chuckle.

 

Two Days With the HomePod

Remember that time I wrote that “I don’t think I need a smart speaker“? Well, I bought Apple’s new HomePod anyway. It arrived a couple days ago and I am thrilled with it.

Image result for homepod

A combination of great sound and just-smart-enough control was enough to make me consider shelling out $350 for a HomePod. Early reviews raved about the HomePod’s sound quality, and that clinched it for me.

It may seem self-evident, but the most important aspect of any music speaker is sound quality. It doesn’t matter how “smart” a speaker is if it doesn’t sound good. I’m not talking about the smart device with a speaker you have in your kitchen for setting timers and telling you the weather. I’m talking about a speaker for listening to music. The HomePod is a speaker made for listening to music that also happens to be able to tell you the weather.

I have a few Alexa devices around the house, and I only ever ask them the same handful of questions. “What’s the weather?”, “Set a timer for 15 minutes”, “Remind me to take the trash out at 7:00 PM”.  Siri on the HomePod doesn’t need to be terribly clever to keep up with Alexa in my house.

Even so, I was worried because Siri and I have never gotten along. I gave up using it (her?) on my iPhone long ago, and I’ve found Siri on the Watch to be pretty terrible.

Not so with the HomePod. I can be listening to loud music and casually say “Hey Siri turn it down” in a normal conversational voice from across the room and she always hears me. It’s wild how well it works. Not having to think about or second-guess Siri is new to me and quite a nice surprise.

As for the sound quality, I did a quick side-by-side comparison with a Sonos Play:5 and to my (admittedly non-audiophile) ears, the Play:5 sounds better but the HomePod holds its own. The Sonos packs more of a punch at louder volumes, but the HomePod sounds “bigger” somehow. The HomePod sounds great no matter where I am in the room. Its best sound isn’t limited to any particular sweet spot. I also think it sounds better at lower volumes than the Play:5.

So, even though I didn’t think I wanted a HomePod, I’m very happy to have one. I like it so much that I’m getting another one as soon as I sell the Sonos.

 

 

What I Learned from Watching My iPad’s Slow Death – NYT Magazine

John Herrman (NYT Mag):

I wouldn’t say my old electronics always aged gracefully, but their obsolescence wasn’t a death sentence. My old digital camera doesn’t do what some new cameras do — but it’s still a camera. My iPad, by contrast, feels as though it has been abandoned from on high, cut loose from the cloud on which it depends.

Above all, my old iPad has revealed itself as a cursed object of a modern sort. It wears out without wearing. It breaks down without breaking. And it will be left for dead before it dies.

Reading this made me sad.

I have an Apple IIc that was first used in 1984 and I can fire it up today and it still does what it did then. I may not have a use for what it can do, but that’s beside the point. 1984 was a long time ago and I’d like to not give up on the idea that things should remain functional for more than just a few years.

 

I ordered an extra power supply for the ThinkPad: $19.00. I recently ordered an extra power supply for my MBP: $79.00 + $19.00 for the USB-C cable that doesn’t come with it.

My Linux Experience – Day Two

So here I sit in front of a new-to-me Thinkpad X1 Carbon from 2015. It’s running Linux. I spent yesterday wiping it of Windows 10 and installing Ubuntu 16.04.

The installation process wasn’t too bad. It was much better than I remember. I opted for Ubuntu because it seems like the easiest path to actually using Linux. I’m sure there are other options that I’ll want to try later. First things first.

I like the hardware. It’s just sort of solid and businesslike. It feels like something I can use and toss around without too much worry. This is partly due to only paying $300 for it, but it’s mostly because the thing feels like it could take a beating. The screen is nice. Not Retina MBP nice, but nice.

I have to admit that I don’t mind not feeling like Jony Ive is whispering in my ear every time I open it.

The ThinkPad’s keyboard took a minute to adapt to, but only a minute. I’ll tell you right now it’s miles more enjoyable to type on than my 2016 MBP. The keys have a lot of travel, and they inspire confidence. Oh, and there’s an actual Escape key, which I’ve missed.

Let’s talk about the trackpad. Something is wrong with the trackpad. Something must be wrong with it. Using the trackpad is the most frustrating, inaccurate, unpredictable thing. I’ll leave final judgment for later, because I assume there’s a fix out there. There has to be a fix or the whole machine is going to go sailing out a window soon.

I haven’t explored software much. I’ve got Emacs (Spacemacs) all set up. That took some finagling, as the bundled package was 24.3 or something and I needed 25.x. The package system and software installs are going to take some getting used to. I expected that. My email is all local via mbsync and viewed in Mu4e. At first I thought managing email in Emacs was a gimmick but it turns out to be pretty great.

Other than Emacs, right now it’s mostly just Firefox and a terminal. This machine isn’t intended to replace my Macs. It’s more of an experiment to see how far I can get. I’ll keep you posted.

 

How did Amazon become my Smart Home hub before Apple?

How many years are we going to continue saying, “Well, Apple is going to do something amazing with Siri and Homekit any day now.” I’m not seeing any signs of that happening. An over-priced speaker with an under-powered voice assistant certainly isn’t what I’ve been dreaming of. I’ve tried. I have a Series 2 Apple Watch, an Apple TV, an iPhone, newer Macs, and a number of “smart” devices. I try, but Siri kind of sucks. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but she just doesn’t get me.

A few years ago Amazon sort of quietly lobbed the Echo at us and I’ve used a phrase starting with “Alexa…” many times a day ever since. Alexa isn’t perfect, but my frustration with her never reaches the fever pitch that it does when arguing with Siri. With an original Echo and a couple of inexpensive Dots, Alexa is always within earshot. No battery and nothing has to be on my wrist or in my pocket. And she seems to always hear me when I talk to her.

I want Apple to provide me the perfect ecosystem of hardware and software that is needed for a smooth smart home experience. So far they have failed to produce or even hint at anything.

So, with the introduction of the Echo Plus with a built-in smart hub, I’m heading even further down the Amazon path. If I can set up new devices without adding more hubs or device-specific apps I’ll be happy. Of course I don’t know how well it’ll all work, but Amazon’s track record with these things is pretty good. Surprisingly good.

I don’t understand how Apple, having had all of the smart home ingredients available to them for so long, can seemingly be so far behind Amazon. But that’s where we are. This stuff feels like a “hobby” for Amazon too, but they’ve gotten it pretty close to just right. I’m tired of waiting for “any day now.”

Setting up the Pakon scanner again

Every once in a while I get the urge to shoot color 35mm film and scanning that film is no fun at all. The only thing I’ve ever found that made it painless is the Pakon F-135 Plus.

I recently paved and rebuilt my iMac, meaning I had to recreate my carefully-constructed Parallels/WinXP/Pakon configuration. This turned out to be no small effort. So that I don’t forget, I’ve captured a few random notes here. The short version is that once you have this all running, don’t lose it.

First, I needed a Virtual Machine that would run Windows XP. I decided to try VirtualBox, since it’s free and I wouldn’t need to deal with upgrading Parallels (and the associated cost).

I downloaded the Pakon software and updates from the Pakon Facebook Group. Join the group and check out the Files section. Lots of great information there.

I could not get the Pakon software to see the scanner after about four hours of throwing everything I knew at it. There’s even a pre-built VM available with everything already configured. I just could not get it to recognize the scanner. I must have done something in the wrong order when first connecting the scanner. Eventually I gave up and installed Parallels. That worked on the first try.

After installing Parallels and downloading/unpacking the PakonUpdate.zip from the Facebook Group, I did the following1)See also, http://filmwasters.com/forum/index.php?topic=6842.0:

  • Run Setup from the fx35install folder inside the Pakon Update folder
  • Run Setup from inside the Pakon Update folder
  • Reboot the VM
  • Plug the Pakon in (USB) and turn it on
  • Wait until Parallels asks if I want to use the new device on Mac or Windows (select Windows)
  • When the New Hardware wizard starts, don’t let it use Windows Update2)There’s no way I’m letting XP touch the internet, but do let it find the drivers itself. This worked for me anyway, and I think is where I may have gone wrong earlier.
  • Reboot again (just in case).
  • Wait about 30 seconds, then launch the PMI app in Windows
  • Say No to the request to upgrade Firmware
  • Click the icon at the top left to get to the “advanced” screen. (I’m not sure what it’s called).
  • Leave the password blank when prompted and click OK

This left me ready to start my first scan. I’d almost forgotten how fast this thing is! A roll of 36 frames scanned at 3000×2000 and cleaned with Digital ICE in about 5 minutes. The colors are always dead on, or at least much better than anything I’ve been able to achieve after many hours of tinkering with every known scanning package. The Pakon scans are as sharp or sharper than those from my V750.

In short, if I’m going to shoot color film, the Pakon is the way to go, whatever it takes.

References   [ + ]

1. See also, http://filmwasters.com/forum/index.php?topic=6842.0
2. There’s no way I’m letting XP touch the internet

I have zero concerns about “the notch” in iPhone X. I’m getting a X (pronounced, “a ten”, but I really want to write “an X”, pronounced “an ex”). I want the best camera available in a smaller form factor than the 8 plus.

Cloud backups

I am no longer backing up my drives using a cloud backup service. Namely, Arq to Backblaze B2.

This seems like a terrible idea, and perhaps it is, but a few things happened recently that have caused me to throw up my hands and quit.

First, I’ve locked myself out of my Backblaze B2 account. This is because I stupidly wiped my iPhone before reconfiguring my two-factor auth entries in Google Authenticator. Doing that without making copies of the 2FA backup codes was unwise. A few emails with support haven’t gotten me very far and I’m tired of trying.

Second, Arq isn’t working properly. Suddenly it claims that I don’t have anything configured to back up. Pretty sure I do. This could be due to running High Sierra but I can’t tell. I also can’t tell what Arq is actually doing. I’ve always just let Arq do its thing but now that I’ve dug in I’m finding it difficult to determine what has been backed up, what hasn’t, and how much time/bandwidth I’m going to need.

Third, and speaking of bandwidth, I’ve exceeded my Xfinity quota for the second month in a row, meaning they’ll start charging me for overages. This is a first and no doubt all of these new backups are contributing.

Frankly, I’m tired of thinking about it. The smart thing to do would be to just install and use Backblaze’s automated backups but for now I’m not sure I need it.

  • All of my working files are in either Dropbox or iCloud
  • Photos are in iCloud and Google Photos
  • Older files are mostly in DEVONthink, which is synced and in Dropbox

There’s really not much at risk these days. I’ve only removed one step from my backup strategy, and it’s one I think I can do without.

Starting from scratch on the SE

I’ve been running the iOS 11 betas on my iPhone SE for a while now. I installed the GM a week ago and I’m still having weird problems. Can’t install new apps. Update checks fail. Won’t update my watch. So I just clicked “Restore” after deleting the beta profile. Starting from scratch. If this fails I guess I’ll have to buy one of the new phones. :).

Courage – Marco.org

Marco Arment:

Apple just completely changed the fundamental shape of the most important, most successful, and most recognizable tech product that the world has ever seen.

That’s courage.

From where I’m sitting, “the fundemental shape” is almost exactly the same. It’s at least a bit of a stretch to call it “completely changed.” Count me in the camp that believes the notch is an unwanted but necessary compromise and that Apple is simply not as ashamed of it as many people feel they should be. Developers are going to try camouflaging the notch because they believe (and I agree with them) that it’ll look better, whether Apple wants them to or not.

I don’t know about “courage”. Removing the headphone jack took more courage than this. The notch is nothing more than a visual inconvenience, where the missing jack is actually inconvienient.