Apple Hardware (sans iPhone)

I’m going to give you my usual recap of Apple’s latest hardware unveiling in a moment, but first, a public service announcement.

Ahem.

I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT TOILET PLUMES. IF YOU USE A PUBLIC BATHROOM, FLUSH THE DAMNED TOILET WHEN YOU’RE DONE!

Okay, on to Apple.

As expected, Apple is coming out with a new Apple Watch. All the features of the previous versions, and now adds blood oxygen level monitoring, an always-on altimeter, new faces, new bands, and one big new feature.

That’s Family Setup, which lets you set up watches for other people who don’t own iPhones. This could be really nice–though I suspect anyone willing to buy their kid a $500 watch isn’t going to balk at getting them a $400 phone to go with it. But I know plenty of older people–who can really use the health-monitoring capabilities of the Apple Watch–who don’t feel the need for an iPhone each. One phone to handle the watches of both members of the couple? Win!

The other big watch announcement is the Apple Watch SE. Like the second-generation iPhone SE, it’s got most of the hardware of the new watches, but at a significantly lower price. In the case of the phone, the SE’s cost savings are the display and camera; for the watch, they’re in the CPU: it’s faster than the Series 3 phones, but not up to the speed of the Series 6. (It looks like the SE is replacing the Series 5 watch; the 3 is still around at an even lower price, but the 5 appears to be gone and the SE will use similar or identical components.)

Moving on to the iPad, we’re getting a new generation with (surprise!) a faster CPU, the dedicated machine learning chip, support for the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Nothing really new here.

Ditto for the new iPad Air. More colors (whoopie!) and a USB-C port instead of Lightning. New CPU–faster–and larger. I thought the selling point of the Air was that it was light and easy to handle. At eleven inches (diagonally), it’s definitely getting into the “rest it on a table or your lap” territory. I do like the idea of a fingerprint sensor in the power button. No more Home button, but still keeps the ability to unlock the device without removing your face mask.

iOS 14 comes out today (Wednesday), along with the iPad, Watch, and Apple TV variants. Nothing new there we didn’t already know about from WWDC and the last couple of months of public betas.

No iPhones, thanks to (according to rumor) problems testing the 5G capabilities. No doubt, those will be coming later this year, along with the new Apple-CPU Macs and a few other little projects in the pipeline.

Usually there’s one product line that looks generally good, and the rest are highly snarkworthy. Certainly this set of announcements is no exception. It’s nice to see the Apple Watch finally getting out of the snark category (“Breathe” app, anybody?) but we’ll have to see how long that lasts.

SAST 17

You Know Who has never been subtle, but even by his standards, the paired assault on the Post Office and on mail-in ballots is crude and obvious.

Fortunately, the counter move is just as obvious. To misquote Pogo, vote early and vote widely.

Fill your ballot out as soon as you get it*–you know who you’re voting for–and get it in the mail immediately. Better yet, if your state offers a way to drop off ballots in person in the days or weeks preceding Election Day (California does; I’m sure others do as well), use one. They generally have a shorter wait than actually voting, and they often keep longer hours than polling places. Best of all, they avoid the Post Office completely.

* And if it hasn’t shown up within a couple of days of the mail-out date, use whatever process your state has for dealing with lost ballots. Don’t wait around, hoping it’ll show up.

And vote in every contest on the ballot. And vote Democrat. This is not the time for a protest vote, much less a no-vote protest. It’s not the time for voting for a third party candidate. Anyone who runs as a Republican is automatically complicit with You Know Who. Defeat ’em all.

Moving on.

Watching baseball on TV doesn’t feel quite real.

It’s not the fake crowd noise–or fake crowds–though those don’t help. Nor is it the omnipresent threat of a sudden end to the season. It’s not even the universal DH or the fake baserunners in extra innings.

What it really is, is the contrast with everything going on outside the stadiums. Defined beginnings and endings. Rules known to everyone and largely accepted, however grudgingly. Even, Goddess help us, leaders–team captains, coaches, managers–who lead.

Still, I don’t let the fantastic aspects stop me from watching. Heck, I write fantasy; I can deal with a universe totally unlike the real world.

Aspirational? Sure. Achievable? Probably not–but we can dream.

And moving on again.

In a move that surprised absolutely nobody, Google announced their latest phone, going head to head with Apple’s announcement of a few new models of computers.

I’ve been trying to get excited about any of the forthcoming gadgets, but it’s touch. None of them, Apple or Google, is radically new. They’ve all got minor advancements over the previous generation, but nothing to make anyone want to rush out and buy one.

Which seems weirdly appropriate for today’s universe.

Apple is nominally targeting the Back-to-School audience, but with so many schools being virtual, there’s not much scope for the usual implied message of “be the envy of your peers”.

Google, on the other hand, seems to have announced the Pixel 4a solely because it was already developed and in production. Might as well push it out there, collect a few news stories, and prepare the way for the Pixel 5, possibly as soon as a couple of months from now.

Maybe if Microsoft ever gets around to releasing their dual-screen Android phone, we’ll have something to get excited about. Right now, though? Gadgets: boring.

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.

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?

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.

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.

History Repeats

I’ve got to give up swearing off things. It just backfires.

For example, when I was in grad school, far too many decades ago for comfortable remembrance, I lived in Austin, Texas. No offense intended to anyone who thinks of the place fondly, but it wasn’t for me. After I graduated, I left Texas cheerfully, and swore a mighty oath never to return.

So what happened?

My previous job–the one I left to devote myself to writing–required me to visit Texas several times a year.

The universe is a perverse place.

There are plenty of other examples, but I chose that one for a reason. You see, that previous job required me to carry an iPhone.

I’m not really an iPhone guy. I use ’em. I appreciate the effort that goes into the design, and despite my usual snarky comments about the annual WWDC, I do respect the thought that Apple puts into their devices and their software development process.

But, given the choice, I prefer Android*. I didn’t have a choice. There were sound, logical reasons why it had to be an iPhone. And, since I didn’t want to put my contacts, messages, and other private information on a work device, I wound up carrying two phones: a work iPhone and a personal Android.

* Actually, given a totally free choice, I’d go for a pre-smartphone RIM device, from before they became Blackberry. But I digress.

It was a pain in the neck. Literally. Holster technology was primitive, so I usually carried the iPhone in my shirt pocket, and I suspect the unbalanced pressure on my neck contributed to the development of left shoulder issues that plague me to this day.

It was a figurative pain as well. Double entry of contacts. Having to mute two phones every time I went to a meeting–or a movie. Juggling twice as many chargers. And so on. When I left that job, I swore a mighty oath not to carry two phones again.

You see where this is going, right? Fast forward a few years, and guess what?

No, my new job isn’t sending me to Austin. Try to keep up. My new job requires me to carry an iPhone.

Holster technology has improved. I can put one phone on each hip and preserve some kind of balance–though it does make me look a bit like an Old Western gunslinger.

Or I could try to adapt to wearing the phones vertically and put them both on one side. I’m leery of unbalancing myself that much, though. Between the weight of the phones, their cases, and the holster mechanism, we’re talking several pounds of ongoing pressure on my hip.

Any of my massage-and-or-yoga-aware readers want to chime in with suggestions?

The iPhone, by the way, is a new requirement. I just received it yesterday and I’m still trying to get it set up. Preliminary indications are that my Apple ID* is corrupted or not properly set up at Apple. Joy.

* For those of you not in the know*, the Apple ID is an account at Apple which is critical to using some Apple services with the phone. Nothing important, of course, just such minor things as backing up data to the cloud; installing apps; and using iMessage, Facetime, and Find My iPhone. Trivia.

* For those of you in the know, I can use stand-alone services tied to the Apple ID, such as the App Store, but anything that touches iCloud, such as setting up the phone, fails with an “invalid account or password” error. It’s not the phone that’s at fault: I get similar errors logging into iCloud.com with a web browser, but other web-based Apple service are fine. Including the Apple ID site for creating and changing IDs.

So it’s a bit of an adventure. I’ll spare you the saga of getting basic phone service working–let’s just say that Verizon needs to put some serious thought into their user interface. Maybe they can contract it out to Apple.

The universe’s overall message is clear.

You’ve heard the saying “Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it”? I’m here to tell you that you’re in far more danger of getting what you explicitly don’t wish for.