No Charge

There’s a rumor making the rounds that Apple will not include chargers with their phones in the future. Depending on who you listen to, it’ll either be all iPhones or only this year’s models.

Assuming, of course, that Apple manages to release new models this year. With 2020 being the year it’s been so far, let’s not take anything for granted.

It’s an interesting idea, but I have to question the logic.

Most sources of the rumor I’ve seen suggest that it’s a cost-saving measure for Apple. Does anyone really think Apple needs to save the cost of a charger when they’re selling their phones for more than a grand? Okay, yes, the SE starts at $400, but the point stands. They sell 18 watt chargers for $29 and 5 watt for $19. Given normal electronic industry markups, Apple’s cost is likely about $5.

Increasing their per-phone profit by $5 isn’t going to be that much of a win. Even if you assume another $5–which probably overstates the case–for a no-longer-included, formerly obligatory cable, you’re still not looking at a significant boost to Apple’s bottom line.

The other common argument is that Apple is reducing electronic waste. Everyone already has a pile of chargers lying around the house, so they don’t need another one.

That’s a very optimistic assumption.

Apple wants to sell phones to people who don’t already have a phone–or at least don’t already have an iPhone*. They don’t want to take a PR hit from people who get their new phone and can’t use it because they don’t have a way to charge it.

* Yes, they want to get iPhone users to upgrade, but that doesn’t build market share.

Because a large percentage–probably a great majority–of those old chargers sitting in desk drawers are going to be low power devices. Anyone who’s ever tried to charge a modern phone with a charger that struggles to deliver five watts knows just how slow and painful the process is.

Can you imagine Apple dealing with hundreds or thousands of phones being returned because “it doesn’t charge worth shit”? Me neither.

The only way I can see this working at all acceptably for Apple would be if they stop including the charger and cable in the box with the phone, but very prominently offer a bundle: “Buy the new iPhone 12 Super Pro Max and get an accessory package for $44.99!” Said package would include a charger, a cable, and perhaps a lightning to headphone adapter (Apple’s estimated cost: $2.) Now we’re talking a serious bump to revenue!

Actually, I can think of one other way the “no charger in the box” model might work for Apple.

What if Apple goes completely wireless and gets rid of the charging port entirely?

Nobody’s going to expect them to throw in a $40 wireless charger with every phone. No PR hit.

And–bonus!–eliminating the port improves the water resistance of the phone and allows Apple to make the phone skinnier.

Of course, that port does have other uses than charging. Audio out for those who don’t want or can’t use wireless headphones. Connection to a computer for loading data and doing backups.

But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Apple has done away with a popular connection option–anybody else old enough to remember floppy drives?

And Apple has certainly been discouraging the use of iTunes for doing backups–they’d far rather everyone paid for iCloud storage. And if you aren’t ripping your own CDs, why would you use iTunes on the computer to load music on your phone? Just stream via the Music app and pay Apple a monthly fee for that as well.

Eliminate charging and syncing, and the only remaining uses of the port are a few repair scenarios. I can think of a few ways Apple could work around that with an appropriate phone design–or ignore it altogether and require a phone replacement in those situations.

I’m not convinced Apple is ready to go port-free. But it is, IMNSHO, a more likely possibility than that they’re just going to stop including chargers with their phones.

WWDC 2020

Well, I sure got that one wrong.

In last year’s WWDC summary, I said, “Odds are good that 2020 will be a year of minor tweaks and enhancements.” Oops.

Even if you don’t normally follow tech news, you’ve probably heard the biggest change coming this year: Apple is beginning to transition away from Intel’s chips to their own designs.

As you could probably guess, the reaction is fairly evenly split between “It’s about time” and “OMG, WTF?!” The latter crowd further subdivides into “Apple is doomed!” and “Man, this is going to be a tough few years for Apple.”

Let’s get real: this isn’t the first time Apple has made a major shift like this. The switch from 68000 chips to PowerPC caused massive confusion. The change from PowerPC to Intel, by comparison, was barely a blip, because Apple learned from experience. Since then, they’ve also dealt with the transition to OS X and splitting iOS into iPhone and iPad tracks (and last year, separating out iPad OS as a semi-independent OS).

There are going to be hiccups. Probably a missed deadline or two, as well. But Apple will get through the transition in one piece. That’s a prediction I have no qualms about.

Parenthetically, if you’re worried about how long Apple will continue to support that shiny new MacBook you bought for working from home, relax. Historically, Apple has supported all of their computers for at least five years–by which time, the technology has advanced far enough that moving to a new machine if the old one breaks is a reasonable choice. It’s highly unlikely Apple will cut off Intel support in less than five years.

Moving on.

IOS 14 and iPad OS 14 will finally support widgets on the home screen. It won’t be necessary to swipe off to another screen to check a stock ticker, control your music, check weather or traffic, or any of the other things Android users have been doing on their home screens for more than half a decade.

Can you tell I’m in the “It’s about damned time!” camp on this? I want to be able to glance at my phone and get the scores without having to launch the MLB app. It’ll finally happen next season*–whether that’s 2021 or sometime later.

* No, I haven’t given up on baseball in 2020. But if it happens, it’ll be this season.

Mac OS will be called “Big Sur”. More excitingly (for the geeks among us), it will NOT be OS X. After what, fifteen years or so, Apple is finally giving us OS 11.

The big changes are (1) a new, very iPad-like look. More specifically, a very iPad OS 14 appearance. (2) the ability to run iPhone apps. One presumes it’ll also support iPad apps. One also presumes there will be a performance penalty running iOS/iPad OS apps on Intel Macs.

We all pretty much saw this coming when iPads picked up support for mice and trackpads, right? Apple is working hard to erase the distinction between tablets and computers, and the OS 11 changes are simply the next step in the process.

Here’s an interesting note: iPad OS will get a system-wide handwriting recognition function if you have an Apple Pencil. That’s one feature that probably won’t work on Apple computers for quite a while. No touchscreens, so no Apple Pencil, after all. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple rolls out Pencil support in select non-Intel machines next year or the year after.

I’m going to lump most of the other announced changes together as the “minor tweaks” I was expecting: user customization of Apple Watch faces, surround sound audio on AirPods Pro, enhanced privacy labels, Apple TV picture-in-picture. You get the idea.

“Clips” sounds interesting. Apple is billing it as a way to download and use only part of an app. The example I’m seeing is for things like renting a scooter without having to install the company’s app permanently.

I’m intrigued, but dubious about the feature’s long-term prospects. Why should app makers be enthusiastic about letting you install the part of their app that does something useful without also installing the part that nags you to use the less-useful-but-revenue-generating functions? You know: “While you’re waiting for your Lyft, sign up for a subscription that’ll give you discounts on your future rides.”

“Nice idea, limited adoption” is my bet.

And, finally, there’s “CarKey”. My immediate reaction was “Why would I want an app that scratches the paint on my car?” But that might actually be preferable to what this feature does: Not only will you be able to use your iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock and start your car, but you’ll also be able to share the digital key with family and friends.

The potential for abuse is staggering. Remember, this is the same auto industry that can’t figure out how to remove app access on used cars. Would you buy a used car with this feature without some kind of proof that none of the former owners and their friends still have access?

Heck, it’s not just used cars. “Hey, Joe, I’m too trashed to drive. Here’s the key to the BWM” sounds good in principle. But are you going to remember to revoke the key the next day? Even if you do, can you revoke it if Joe isn’t right there?

The first cars that support CarKey will supposedly be out next month; the functionality will arrive with iOS 14, but will also be available in iOS 13. Brace yourselves for the onslaught of ads touting this as the greatest advance in automotive technology since the steering wheel.

I hate to end on a negative note, and the truth is, Apple has quite a bit of good stuff heading our way. So, one final bit of good news: Apple is bringing back the “bonnnnnnnnnnnnng” startup sound. It’s been gone for a couple of years. And, while it is possible to turn it on if your computer is running Catalina, it requires a visit to the command line–hardly in Apple’s point-and-click spirit. Word is that Big Sur will have a simple on/off switch for the iconic chord somewhere in the system configuration.

I’m hoping the move will prove popular enough that Apple rolls the same option into iOS and iPad OS. Just not WatchOS–that would be excessive.

It’s That Time Again

If you were expecting some commentary on the state of the world, sorry. I got nothing for you today. No insights that hundreds of other people haven’t already broadcast. All I can say is that I don’t think the current unrest is the end of America, nor do I think it’s a minor blip that will quickly be forgotten. The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere between.

And right now, I’m doing my best to stay safe and healthy, and getting on with my life.

Which, at the moment, includes babbling about my latest toy.

Looking back into my archive, I see that five and a half years ago, I shared some thoughts about my new Nexus 9 tablet. That nine-inch wonder replaced my defunct Nexus 7.

At the time, I said that I had some qualms, mostly around the size and weight of the device. It was too heavy to use in transit, a bit too large for comfortable reading, and perhaps a smidgen too small for comfortably watching videos.

As it turned out, I was right about the first two, and wrong about the third. When I was able to move my reading to another device–at various times, the Amazon Fire tablet, the Windows tablet, and the ebook reader–I didn’t hesitate. But video was just fine on the Nexus, and I often watched ballgames on it. And the size–that inch or so smaller than the iPad–made it quite comfortable for the card and word games I favor.

Jump ahead to today and the Nexus is on the decline. The screen is still fine and the weight hasn’t changed, but the battery is losing capacity rapidly. As recently as the beginning of the year, I could get four or five days of use on a charge. Now I have to charge it nearly every night.

Regrettably, I couldn’t find any Android tablets that appealed to me. Amazon’s Fire tablets are too, well, Amazon. The Amazon store is front and center, and their app store is small and in some cases out of date*. Samsung’s tablets are reasonably solid contenders, but I’m no happier with the add-on software they supply than I was back in 2015. And most of the other offerings are no-name, low-end devices that give the impression that they’ll fall apart or drop dead right after the warranty runs out.

* Yes, you can put the Google Play app on them and gain access to the full variety of apps available through Google, but the process is kind of a pain, and having two app stores on the device can get confusing–they sometimes try to update each other’s apps with mixed results.

So I went in a partly different direction: I got a Chrome OS tablet.

I say “partly” because most Chrome OS devices let you install Android apps. I figured that would let me keep using my must-have apps while investigating Chrome-native alternatives. It was a nice theory, and honestly, it’s mostly worked out that way.

The device I got is the Lenovo Duet. It’s a ten-inch tablet–which means it’s roughly the size of my old iPad Air (though the screen is larger, thanks to its smaller bezels)–and it weighs about the same as the Nexus. Assuming I don’t use the case. Lenovo does supply a case: a back cover that attaches magnetically and provides a kickstand support similar to Microsoft’s Surface Go and a separate front cover/keyboard that also attaches magnetically. Adding the cover and keyboard doubles the weight of the device.

Speaking of the Surface Go, the Duet is roughly the same size and weight as the Go. So why didn’t I just get another Go? Well, cost for one. The Duet is about half the price of the cheapest Go. And much as I like my Go–it’s still my main machine–several of my must-have Android apps have no Windows equivalents. That makes it a less-than-optimal Android alternative.

Let me get this out of the way up front: overall, I’m pleased with the Duet.

That said, there are some issues.

First and foremost, the user experience is inconsistent. For example, Chrome OS apps have access to the entire file system: everything on the device’s storage (including the Android app space and the Linux storage), the Google Drive space, and any other cloud storage options you have. However, Android apps can only access the Android space on the local drive. Any cloud access has to be provided by the apps themselves. Linux programs are slightly better off: you can give it access to specific folders in the Chrome OS space, but even there you’re limited to the local storage–even giving access to the Google Drive space is iffy.

Speaking of cloud storage, while Google gives Google Drive first class support, that’s as far as they go. Chrome OS includes the ability to connect to shared drives on your local network (say, your Windows computer), but as noted above, you can’t access those drives via Android or Linux. As for other storage options, you’re at the mercy of third parties. The Dropbox software, for example, is provided by an independent developer, not affiliated with either Google or Dropbox. OneDrive access comes from Microsoft, but for reasons of their own, it’s read-only. In neither case does it work for Android apps (of course), requiring you to also install the Android version of the software to gain access to those cloud storage locations if you need them in your apps.

The inconsistencies go further. Some Android apps and Linux programs are recognized as being associated with particular file types (for example, the Android version of the VLC media player is recognized as supporting mp4 videos). Other programs are not–and there’s nothing like the Windows “Open with” functionality that allows you to use a program that wasn’t automatically recognized.

Here’s a good one: If you have a keyboard connected, Chrome OS supports multiple desktops, so you can group related programs together and switch between the groups easily. Once you disconnect the keyboard, you can still use your existing desktops, but once you close a desktop, it’s gone. Close all of them and you lose the multiple desktop functionality until you reconnect the keyboard.

Other quirks: many Linux programs are unusable without the keyboard and trackpad because they don’t recognize screen taps*, and support for the on-screen keyboard is limited.

* This may have something to do with the way screen size is reported. The display is actually 1920×1200, but some programs see it as 3413×2133. I suspect this has something to do with making onscreen buttons large enough to tap, but it may be confusing Linux programs that don’t support high pixel densities.

Most–I’m tempted to say all–Android devices allow you to flip a switch in the settings so that you can install apps that don’t come from Google’s app store. This is handy if you want to install an older version of an app or, for whatever reason, the app isn’t available through Google. On the Duet–I can’t speak for other Chrome OS devices–in order to install third-party apps, you have to put the tablet in Developer mode, which makes it awkward to boot the device without a keyboard and may have other side effects.

One odd omission: there’s no support for widgets, so you can’t put programs on your desktop. That’s an excellent bit of Android functionality–so good that Apple is starting to move in the same direction with iPadOS–that would make Chrome OS much more attractive.

I know this all sounds grim, but as I said, on the whole, I like the Duet.

The screen looks good. And, while it’s too large for comfortable ebook reading, it’s an excellent size for reading comics. And there’s a nice split-screen function; if we ever get baseball again, I’ll be able to show the games in the top half of the screen and run an ebook reader app in the lower half–multitasking at its finest.

The sound quality is decent, and I was able to connect Bluetooth headphones without trouble.

The Chrome OS app selection is limited, but most of the Android apps I used on the Nexus work fine on the Duet. The one major omission–the app that controls the MeezerCam–still works fine on my phones and my iPad.

The keyboard is a bit too small for long bouts of typing, but it certainly gets the job done. In a pinch, I could write on it. And the Duet runs Word well, both the web-based Office 365 version (pardon me, “Microsoft 365”) and the Android app. And if I had to write something longer on the Duet, I could plug a full-sized keyboard into the USB port.

I like the Duet. But I can see where a few changes could easily turn like into love.

How About 32,000?

A few further comments on my iPod rebuild, now that I’ve had a little time to play with the device and have started to get the hang of Rockbox.

The flash drive is much lighter. Those few grams may not seem like much, but you notice the difference. And, since there are no moving parts, using a modified iPod on the go feels more comfortable. Exercise? Potholed roads? Sure, go ahead. Better yet, add a cheap Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into the headphone jack, and you can do away with that annoying wires to your headphones or the car stereo’s aux jack.

If you’re doing the hard drive replacement, it’s a good time to look at your iPod’s battery life. On the one hand, opening an iPod Classic is such a pain that you might want to save yourself some trouble and expense by swapping in a new battery at the same time you put in the flash card. On the other hand, the flash card uses so much less power, you may not need to replace the battery to get adequate life.

Not only does the flash card use less power than the original hard drive, it’s much faster. When I did some tests with Rockbox prior to the drive replacement, it took hours for the software to build its database of music. After the replacement, with about five times as many tracks, building the database took less than ten minutes.

Similarly, there’s no lag between tracks. Unlike the hard drive, there’s no spin-up time when the iPod wakes up the flash drive. Well, okay, there is, but it’s measured in fractions of a second instead of multiples of a second.

Rockbox supports music in many formats that Apple’s software doesn’t know anything about. If you keep your music in a flac format for the best possible sound on your computer, loading it to an iPod via iTunes requires converting it to aac or mp3. Sure, iTunes takes care of that for you, but it still takes time and you wind up storing a duplicate copy. Why waste the space on your computer–not everyone has a 50 terabyte server in their home office. Admittedly, the music may not sound any better on the iPod–let’s be honest, even when the iPod Classic was new, there were complaints about the sound quality–but it’s certainly not going to sound any worse either.

To be fair, everything isn’t wonderful in Rockbox-land.

It doesn’t work exactly like the original iPod software. Buttons do some different things, so there is a learning curve.

You can still use iTunes, but you don’t have to. Be aware that if you don’t, you lose Apple’s music management, metadata editing, and playlist generation. Those can all be replaced, but if you’re comfortable with Apple’s approach, you might want to stick with iTunes.

If you do stick with iTunes, however, you should know that some versions have a limit on the number of tracks you can store and the number of tracks per playlist. On some older versions, those limits may be as low as 100 per playlist and 25,000 total. If you like the “I forgot I owned that” moment of discovery that comes from setting your device on “shuffle” and letting it skip around through your entire library, 100 tracks isn’t going to work for you.

Rockbox also has a playlist limit (although there’s no total track limit). However, unlike Apple, you can change it. By default, the limit is 1,000 tracks. The “Settings” screen will allow you to change it to 32,000, but if you’re willing to live on the edge*, you can crank it up as high as you want. For the record, I have around 42,000 tracks–I’ve been buying music for four decades and I’m a packrat–so I set the limit at 64,000 tracks.

* The documentation warns that this can result in memory shortages, but so far at least, I haven’t had any problems. (As a reminder to myself, to set a limit higher than 32,000, you copy Rockbox’s “config.cfg” to “fixed.cfg” and edit the new file with any text editor. Delete the lines you don’t need and change the track limit to whatever you want. When you turn on the iPod, config.cfg gets loaded first, then anything in fixed.cfg replaces the settings in config.cfg. That allows you to make changes while you’re listening to music, but always return to your normal setup at power-on.)

Rockbox isn’t as polished as Apple’s iPod software, but it more than gets the job done. I love having 42,000 tracks in my backpack. Assuming the average song is five minutes long, that gives me more than three months of continuous music and comedy with no commercials. Not bad at all, even if the iPod has to be recharged every couple of days.

When 120GB Isn’t Enough

I’ll admit up front that this post will probably only be of interest to a couple of you.

But for the sake of the two or three of you who might find it useful, allow me to take you all back into the past.

Before there was the iPhone, there was the iPod in all its many sizes and shapes. And in those days before streaming, you needed lots of storage to carry all your music with you.

Of course, back in those days, “lots of storage” meant something very different than it does today. We’re talking 2001-2004, and the top of the line iPods had astoundingly large 40GB hard drives.

Yes, actual hard drives, not flash storage. Itty-bitty 1.8-inch drives. Packing that much storage into something that small was expensive. The fourth-generation iPod that came out in 2004 cost $399 for that 40GB model. But you could, in all likelihood, put your entire music collection on that drive.

Fast forward to 2007 and 2008. By then, Apple was moving to the streaming model. They didn’t really want people carrying their collections. They wanted everyone to stream their music from the iTunes store to their spiffy new iPod Touch devices which maxed out at 32GB of flash storage.

Of course, those of us who had big collections didn’t go for that at all, and we jumped on what turned out to be the last generation of non-touch iPods: the iPod Classic with 80GB, 120GB, or 160GB of storage.

Those Classics have served us well, but our collections have grown. And, regrettably, hard drives do fail. A fifteen-year-old drive should rightly be regarded with suspicion.

The result is a bunch of excellent music players gathering dust.

Naturally, this is the point where the Internet and some dedicated hardware hackers step in.

Flash storage is cheap. What if we could replace that 1.8-inch hunk of metal with an SD card? Physically smaller, use less power, read and write faster, and offer capacities well beyond 160GB.

Turns out you can.

It’s a three step process, which I’m going to document here, partly for any of you who have elderly iPod Classics going to waste, and partly to help me remember how to do it, in case I need to repeat the process somewhere down the line.

Step One: Get the necessary hardware. You need a small circuit board to allow you to put an SD card where the hard drive used to be. You also need the SD card or cards.

At this point, I’m going to recommend iFlash. I bought their iFlash Solo*. Total cost, including shipping from the UK, ran me $44. I probably got lucky, but even in the face of world-wide lockdowns, it only took a couple of weeks to get here.

* The Solo, as the name implies, holds a single SD card. Iflash also offers the Duo and the Quad, which allow you to use multiple cards and have them show up on the iPod as a single drive. Handy if you want really awesomely large capacities or want to make use of whatever SD cards you have lying around the house.

Note that the iFlash boards call for SD cards. If you want to use a microSD card, make sure you get one that comes with an adapter. I wound up with a 512GB PNY microSD card. It came with an adapter and ran me about $100.

Step Two: This is the hardest part. Apple very much does not want you to open your iPod Classic. I failed completely. A friend of mine who repairs computers failed completely. I finally wound up taking the whole pile of parts to a local Mac repair shop. They opened the iPod, swapped the drive for my Solo+512GB microSD card, and reassembled the device. Best $30 I’ve spent all year.

Step Three: At this point, if all you wanted to do was replace a failing hard drive with and SD card, you’re done. Plug the iPod into your computer, let iTunes format it, and you’re all set.

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Unfortunately, if you wanted to increase the capacity of the iPod, you’ve got more work to do. Take another look at that picture. “127 GB Free”. What happened to the rest of my 512GB?

Well, back in those long-ago days, operating systems couldn’t easily deal with drives larger than 128GB. There were some tricks available (hence that 160GB iPod Classic), but they were very limited.

So, to take advantage of that new space, you have to replace Apple’s iPod software with something more modern. Like Rockbox. Specifically, Rockbox for the iPod Classic.

Let’s extend our steps a bit.

Step Four: Install Rockbox. It’s easy. Plug in the iPod to your computer, download and run the installer. Whoops, forgot a step.

Step Three Point Five: Rockbox doesn’t recognize the Macintosh disk format. So you need to use iTunes on Windows to format the iPod. Launch iTunes, plug in the iPod, and say “Yes” when iTunes asks if you want to initialize the iPod.

Okay, back to Step Four. You can take the defaults on the installer. Select your iPod and follow the prompts. You will have to reboot the iPod at one point, but don’t worry, the Rockbox installer will tell you when to do it and how.

Once Rockbox is installed, you’ll see this:
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Yup, still only seeing 128GB. That’s because we have to reformat the iPod to use the entire SD card. So, on to

Step Five: This is the tricky bit. The iPod needs to be formatted in FAT32*. Unfortunately, Windows won’t let you format a drive larger than 32GB in FAT32. There are a number of programs that will let you get around that restriction. Google is your friend here. Or use a Mac and choose “Windows (FAT)” as the format.

Don’t worry about what these names mean. They’re just different ways to lay out the data on a drive.

    1. Using Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder, copy the folder “.rockbox” from the iPod to your desktop. This folder is where Rockbox stores its configuration. Without it, your iPod won’t boot to the point of being able to play music.
    2. Format the iPod.
    3. Copy the “.rockbox” folder back from your desktop to the iPod.

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Ta-da! (Let’s not go into why a 512GB SD card only gives you 462GB of storage.)

Step Six: Load up your iPod. You’ll find that it is much faster. (Quieter, too.) Which is not to say it’s fast. The connection is still USB2, which puts an upper limit on how quickly your music can be copied. But you can always start the copy and let it run overnight.

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That took about twelve hours. But I’ve still got more than a quarter of the SD card free. I figure I shouldn’t need to upgrade the storage for at least another six months.

(Oops. Just realized I forgot to set the iPod’s clock. I’ll go do that now.)

Anyway, total cost of the upgrade was well under $200. That’s less than a 32GB iPod Touch. (The current top of the line iPod Touch will run you $400 for 256GB.) Makes the math easy, doesn’t it?

Some Things Never Change

Isn’t it nice to know there are some constants in life? Things you can rely on?

I’ve largely avoided Kickstarter for several years. It’s not well designed for browsing, it’s not like I really need someplace else to spend money*, and, to be brutally honest, the parade of people who seem to think “I want it” is sufficient reason to say “Give me money” can be depressing.

* And the “pay now, get your product when its ready” paradigm doesn’t work well for those of us who want instant gratification.

But I’ve been inside almost 24/7 for more than three weeks, and one can only watch so much TV and read so many books*. So why not take a look and see if Kickstarter is still a home to useless products, clueless creators, and shameless scamsters?

* Heresy, I know. But even with my e-ink reader, after six or seven hours, my eyes do start to itch.

As you might have guessed from the title of the post, the answer is yes.

I’m not sure which category “Petstagram” falls into, and apparently neither was anyone else.

The creators were asking for $9,100 to launch “social media for your pets”. Because, of course, one can’t post photos of one’s pets on any of the existing social media networks.

This project is clear proof that “Some people will buy anything”. As of Tuesday afternoon, their pledge total stood at one dollar. Did they overestimate demand or just do a really piss-poor job of promoting the product? We may never know.

Which is probably just as well, because it appears they believe that building front end apps for Android and iOS comes before creating backend infrastructure. That’s not just putting the cart before the horse, that’s crossbreeding zebras and giraffes and planning to buy the cart once your genetics project creates a horse.

Then there’s SocialShredder. I’m fairly sure this one falls into the scam category.

The goal of the project is software to allow people to remove their potentially embarrassing or unwanted social media posts. This can be done, the project creator assures us, for a mere $100,000.

To my surprise, as I write this, he’s only managed to attract two backers, who are putting up a grand total of $6. He’s got time, though: the kickstarter will run through the end of May.

The project page is remarkably silent on just how this project will work. Does he have agreements with Facebook to allow more thorough deletions than can be done on the site itself? What about Twitter, which doesn’t offer any way to track and delete retweets? Then there are all of those annoying independent bloggers, who have a nasty habit of taking screenshots and posting them; has he found a way to hunt them down and force them to delete anything someone doesn’t like?

I’m especially amused–and depressed–by the “Risks and challenges” section of the page, which essentially says “Hey, we’re going to be everywhere, forever.” Uh…is that a risk or a challenge?

Finally (for today, anyway), The Harmony Bible folks believe they’ve figured out why so few people have read “the most significant book ever published.” The answer: it’s not arranged in chronological order.

They have, they say, rearranged the entire bible chronologically so it “reads just like a book, from beginning to end”.

Have they ever read a book? I’m assuming they’re talking about novels, because most non-fiction is arranged by subject just like the bible. Or maybe not, because I’ve read a heck of a lot of novels that start with something exciting, and then go back to show the origins of that thrilling bit.

The other problem with the regular bible is, of course, that it’s full of redundancies, with the same story being told several times by different people. Nobody wants to read the same story over and over again, right? So the Harmony Bible eliminates all those redundant retellings; somewhere Akira Kurosawa is crying.

It’s not even clear from the kickstarter what the money being raised will go to. The Harmony Bible is already available in two different ebook versions (only $9.99 each). Is this to produce a print version? If so, that $87,700 goal seems awfully high: there are any number of reputable Print On Demand publishers who would do it for substantially less. Even flat-out vanity presses don’t generally charge that much.

Still, this attempt to get funding is doing better the first try, earlier this year. That brought in $180 in pledges before the kickstarter was canceled; this time it’s up to $1,000 with more than a month to go.

And remember: your pledge of two dollars or more will get you the chance “the read the bible like a book very easy to read, understand and gain know, full copy of what you want 1 Pdf file Sent to you”.

Hopefully the actual Harmony Bible is a little easier to read than the kickstarter.

Time Out

Google I/O has been canceled for this year, for health reasons. Well, the in-person version has been canceled, anyway. Google plans to have some form of streaming conference instead. Interesting notion. Shouldn’t be a problem for presentations–I’ve always thought the keynote address worked better as a live stream than a butts-in-seats show–but people are going to miss the opportunity to get their hands actual devices.

And now Apple is under pressure to do the same for WWDC. Last I heard–Tuesday mid-morning–it was still on, but with Santa Clara County banning large gatherings, Apple may not be able to go ahead even if they want to.

Does anyone else find it amusing that we’re being asked to tune in via computers and smartphones to find out how the big names are going to make our computers and smartphones obsolete?

Given the current difficulties in getting hardware from Asia, I’d like to see Apple and Google (and even Microsoft* and Amazon) take a step back. Don’t release new hardware this year**. Concentrate on improving what’s already out there.

* Much as I’m intrigued by the Surface Duo and Surface Neo, and despite my difficulties with delayed gratification, I have to admit that my life won’t be measurably worse if I don’t get to play with them this year.

** It’s too late to make the same plea to Samsung. The S20 is out.

Hold off the Pixel 4a devices. And we don’t really need huge bunches of new Chromebooks. Ditto for Apple. Using part shortages as an excuse to jack up the price of an iPhone 12 would be tacky. And, while I’d love to see a new MacMini–preferably at a lower price point–I haven’t been holding my breath for it.

Give us Android 11 if you must. Ditto for iOS and iPadOS 14, as well as MacOS Catalina+1. And the next iteration of Windows 10.

Take some of the people off the hardware side, let it sit for a while, and put those people to work on usability. Hook them up (online, naturally) with people who have not been using your products every day for the last five years. Find out where the pain points are in getting started with [insert your OS here]. Do a deep dive into your update process (I’m looking at you, Microsoft). Amazon, take a good look at your pricing model and honestly answer (if only to yourself) whether it’s sustainable: is it bringing in enough to pay writers, actors, and other content producers enough that they can continue to write, act, and lay salable eggs?

Then bring out new hardware next year.

It’ll never happen, of course. The industry is too tied into “new hardware every year is the only way to keep people interested” and “as long as we make a profit while I’m alive, who cares what happens when I’m not?”

But dreaming about it keeps my mind occupied while I build a disease-proof plastic bubble around the house.

Legacies

Some legacies are solider than others.

I got a lot of things from my father. The need to write is all him. My love of baseball, reading, and music are partly from him (though my sense of rhythm is definitely from the other side of the family.)

Then there are more tangible things. I’ve got a box of notepads harvested from his desks*. A pile of flash drives, several outdated but still useful computers, and the collected writings of H. Allen Smith.

* Dad was and I am a hoarder. I look at my mother’s ability to throw out a magazine after she reads it with awe: my default is to save it in case I need it for something.

And The Bug.

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We didn’t get The Bug new; if memory serves, it was about ten years old when it joined the family. And it was and is a family member. The default car when we were going anywhere. The car my sister and I learned to drive in. In later years, through one of those magical shifts of perception, it became Dad’s Car.

And when Dad died, there really wasn’t any question that The Bug was going to stay in the family.

My mother and sister didn’t need it. Nor, really, did I, but I certainly had more use for it than they did. And we all agreed that it was not going to be sold.

Maggie and I spent an eon or so clearing out enough of the garage to make space for The Bug. Maybe not quite that long, though it certainly felt that way–but on the other hand, there’s still more cleaning to do out there so we can use the garage for more than just parking cars.

But The Bug is here and has a place to stay, safe from assaults by the weather, the local wildlife, and neighbors who don’t believe in speed limits.

There have been some changes.

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The steering wheel cover is new. The wheel gets amazingly hot in summer; I still don’t understand why Dad didn’t have a cover. “Not part of the original look,” is my best guess.

And, of course, the plates are new. I don’t think Dad would have entirely approved of them. On one hand, I’m sure he would have found the classic yellow on black style much more appropriate than modern plates. On the other hand, personalized plates were never his scene and misspelled words annoyed him as much as a misused apostrophe bugs me.

Some things aren’t going to change. The Bug’s radio doesn’t work. Rather than get it fixed or replaced, Dad just kept a battery powered speaker and a portable CD player–later replaced with his MP3 player–in the car. I’ve upgraded the speaker to a Bluetooth model so I can play music and ballgames from my phone, but the concept is the same. (Dad’s MP3 player–still loaded with ragtime music–and speaker are on my desk as I write this.)

There are still no seatbelts for backseat passengers, nor will there be. I may eventually get the more prominent dents removed, but I’m in no hurry to do so. I’m not planning to remove any of the outdated parking stickers from the windows–though I’ll probably add a few decorative stickers or magnets. Eventually.

Yes, of course I drive The Bug. Manual transmission and all–that’s one of those bicycle skills, the kind you never forget. My cow-orkers have been insanely jealous since the first time I parked it in the lot. They haven’t seen the new plates yet–they just arrived last week–but when they do, I expect a sharp rise in the number of threats to steal it.

Nor are customers immune to The Bug’s charm. I found this under the windshield wiper recently.

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Dad would have approved.

Overlooked

I feel a rant coming on. Bear with me: it’s not political, nor does it have anything to do with television.

Recently, I was talking to an acquaintance about gadgets. He’s, well, let’s say, behind the times, technologically speaking. He’s got a computer, a five-year-old laptop, that he uses two or three times a month, mostly to do banking-related things. He does have a cell phone: it’s a flip-open model with a four line LCD display.

He told me the phone was on its last legs, and he was thinking about getting a smartphone to replace it. “Which would be better for someone like me, an Apple or a Samsung?”

And I realized the only possible answer was “Neither”.

Remember when the first iPhone came out? The idea of a touchscreen in a phone wasn’t exactly new, but the focus on ease of use and a consistent interface was. Learn to use one app–which took about five minutes–and you could use all of them. Granted, it was a limited selection, but that’s beside the point. They were simple and consistent.

Today, not so much. Want to delete something? Do you select it with a tap-and-hold or by tapping a selection indicator? Or do you first have to tap an Edit button, swipe to the left, or swipe right?

Let’s not even consider the number of times Apple has changed the way we get to the Control Center. Or the fact that there are two mutually-conflicting ways to change the font size on an iPhone.

Android is no better, whether you’re talking about “pure” Android or Samsung’s customized version. Has anybody ever figured out exactly how the Back button works?

And Google’s hands-off approach to the apps going into their store means every designer gets to come up with their own interface. Want to turn off the sound effects in that new game? Maybe there’s something in “Settings”. Or “Controls”. Maybe there’s a dedicated “Sound” menu–if you can find it.

There’s no way a rookie can jump in to a modern device and expect to use it without spending hours learning to do the most basic tasks. Be honest here and take a look at your phone. If you were seeing it for the first time, could you figure out how to call someone, hang up at the end of the call, and save the phone number so you could call them again?

I finally told my acquaintance to check into the phones marketed to seniors. They come with a strictly-curated list of apps designed to work together and work consistently. They’re simple and they work. They’re cheap, too.

And the stigma of using one is so great that nobody younger than seventy-five considers them as their first phone.

Year End Reminders

In this, the final blog post of 2019, I want to remind you of a couple of things.

First, change is inevitable.
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I believe the subject Lefty is discussing with Rhubarb is “If this is the dining room, why aren’t the hoomins giving us food?”

Second, technology advances.
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This shot of Lefty was taken with my work iPhone 11 Pro. Over my shoulder. Without being able to see the subject. (I’ll note that the photo is heavily cropped. Lefty was nowhere near the center of the frame. But it still came out rather nicely.)

And third, some truths are eternal.
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Just as the mound is sixty feet, six inches from the plate, the dining room heat vent is exclusively owned by Sachiko from November to May.

A very happy New Year to one and all. May 2020 be better for you and yours than 2019. See you when the arbitrary astronomical odometer kicks over the tens place.