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.

SAST 15

Some days a Short Attention Span Theater is the only option.

The West Coast Ragtime Festival is this weekend. Not much notice, I realize, but stuff happened. Nothing worthy of a story, unfortunately.

It looks like a good group of performers are on the schedule this year. There are several young players, and there are plenty of new faces among the adult performers I’m already familiar with.

The usual caveats about the unexpected apply, including the expected unexpected–this is California, Home of the Majestic PG&E Planned Power Outage and the Diabolical Unplanned Forest Fire–but I expect to be there all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday.

If you’re in the Sacramento area, drop by and say hello. Or, better yet, drop by and listen to some good music. Much more entertaining than hanging out with me*.

* Your Mileage May Vary, of course, but I feel obligated to exercise a little modesty, since the festival wasn’t organized to showcase my talents.

Moving on.

After some work-related delays and distractions and some purely writerly procrastination, I began work on the third draft of Demirep recently.

Yesterday, I reworked somewhere north of 5,000 words. I’ve always said that rewriting is faster and easier than writing* and Draft Three is the easiest one in my usual process. Even so, that’s a lot of words in one go, and it gives me hope that the book is on the right track.

* In some ways, it’s more fun, too. Finding the perfect word instead of the one that’s almost right is the good kind of challenge.

Draft Three is usually the one that goes to beta readers. That’s the real acid test for any book, of course: how does it resonate with people who weren’t involved in its conception? Will I be asking for beta readers? Probably. But not yet. This draft is still in the early stages, and I may yet decide it needs a major change of direction. Stay tuned.

Moving on again, this time to something that’s not all about me.

Perhaps you’ve heard that Apple just announced a line of 16 inch MacBook Pro notebooks.

The timing is odd. MacBook Pros are designed for a small group of professionals–tech, video, and other such industries that need big power on the go–not the general consumer market. There’s no real need to launch the line during the holiday season. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to hold off until next month and launch them alongside the new Mac Pro workstation? Let people spend their Christmas gift money on the consumer devices and then bring out the pro goodies. Aside from those people buying them in pallet loads for businesses, almost anyone buying any Pro product from Apple is going to be financing the purchase, so they don’t need that holiday cash in hand, right?

But then, I’m clearly not a marketing expert. I’m sure Apple has plenty of expertise in that area and neither wants nor needs my advice.

In any case, new MacBook Pros look like great machines. Apple’s usual premium pricing applies, but still, $2800 will buy you a lot of computer. If you’re considering getting one, though, make sure your budget includes a wheeled computer case. Four pounds doesn’t sound like much, but schlepping it around for ten hours a day (Apple claims a ten or eleven hour battery life; these machines aren’t designed for a nine-to-five workday) will put a serious dent in your shoulder.

And finally…

Speaking of those planned blackouts for fire prevention, we’ve been lucky so far.

I’m probably jinxing us by saying this, but the first three blackouts all missed us. In at least one case, it was only by a few blocks, but blackouts are not one of those situations like horseshoes and hand grenades where “close” counts.

There’s a movement afoot to force PG&E to bury all of its power lines. The reasoning is that underground lines don’t cause fires, so there’s no need to shut off the power during high winds. That may be true–as far as I can tell, we don’t have data showing complete protection–but it’s not a total fix for all of PG&E’s woes.

Case in point: while we’ve avoided the planned shutoffs, we had an unplanned outage a couple of weeks ago thanks to a blown high tension line. An underground line.

We’re now in Day Six of PG&E digging up our street and sidewalk to get access to the line and, based on a conversation with some of the workers, the job is going to stretch into December and include at least one planned outage.

Burying the lines may make them safer–though, since this is California, let’s not forget about earth movements, both slides and quakes–but it does make them harder to repair.

And there are secondary effects of outages. Ones that apply regardless of whether a protracted blackout is planned or unplanned. How many stories have we heard recently about fires and deaths caused by improperly maintained or incorrectly used emergency generators?

Before we spend decades and billions of dollars burying power lines, let’s spend a bit of time considering all the implications and hidden costs, financial and otherwise.

Smile!

And here we go again.

Well, not immediately. But another round of furor over hidden cameras is likely on its way.

I can’t be the only person who remembers how much fuss there was when smartphone cameras got good enough to take pictures that were more than vague, fuzzy blobs.

Bans on phones in health club dressing rooms. Mandated “shutter” sounds. And, naturally, the debate over “creep shots,” which is still raging in Britain, years after pretty much the entire rest of the universe has agreed they should be criminalized.

As SlashGear reports, Apple is resurrecting the idea of putting a camera in a watch.

The kid’s “smartwatch” I got for Christmas a few years back has a camera. It’s a lousy camera, but it works. And, as SlashGear points out, it’s incredibly awkward–and obvious–to use. Unless you’re taking a picture of something directly in front of you at sternum level, you’re going to have to contort your wrist in a direction wrists were never intended to bend to aim it, and then hope you can press the shutter button without pushing the camera off target.

Mind you, kids are, generally speaking, much more flexible than I am. Your typical preteen likely would have no trouble at all using the darn thing.

But even on the wrist of a child, it’s still very obvious when they’re taking a picture.

Apple’s patented notion of putting the camera in the watch band will make it possible to snap a picture subtly. And, don’t forget that you probably wouldn’t have to press anything to trigger the shot. After all, Siri is listening through your AirPods. Twist the watch band a little and mutter, “Hey, Siri, take a creep shot,” and it’s done.

Okay, maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion. We can trust Apple with our privacy, right? Maybe they’ll build in a mega-bright red LED that flashes whenever the camera is operated.

Or perhaps they’ll sell an “Apple Watch Camera Blocker”. The Atlantic noted a couple of years ago that Apple had filed for a patent for a device that would use “infrared rays to force iPhone cameras to shut off”.

If Apple built the Watch-Blocker into the iPhone XII, releasing it at the same time as the Apple Watch 6 with iStrapCamera, how many people would plunk down $1500 for the phone?

When I reviewed my Kidizoom watch, I said “Ball’s in your court, Apple.”

Looks like Apple is finally getting ready to swing their racquet.

WWDC 2019

I’m back from Sedalia, mostly caught up on everything that’s been going on in the world while I’ve been out of touch, and feeling guilty about not having commented on Apple’s WWDC last year. I’m sure we can all agree that Apple’s plans for the coming year are far more important than anything else that’s happening (Trade tarifs? Disaster relief? What are those?), so I’ll start there.

Of course, the keynote address, which is where I get all my information was Monday–while I was driving halfway across Missouri–so you’ve probably seen some of this in your local newspapers already. But that’s okay. The extra days should allow me to give a more nuanced, thoughtful take on the story.

And if you believe that, perhaps I can interest you in my new business: selling snowplows to airports in the tropics. (Don’t laugh. Turns out snowplows are the most efficient way known to humanity for clearing storm debris off of airport runways.)

Anyway, the opening announcement gave quick references to Apple News+, Apple Arcade (later this year), Apple Card (later this summer), and Apple TV+ (this fall). Three of the four are extensions to existing things. The fourth? Dunno about you, but I’m not sure I’m ready to have the credit card reinvented. Didn’t it cause enough trouble the first time it was invented?

Moving on.

tvOS, which powers the Apple TV boxes is getting a facelift with a new homescreen. It’s also going to handle Apple Music, and games in the Apple Arcade will support controllers from your PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That’s a nice ecumenical gesture on Apple’s part. Gamers can be passionate about the One True Controller, so there’s a lot of goodwill in letting them bring their favorite to an otherwise tightly controlled garden.

Moving on.

Apple Watches are also getting enhancements, of course. New faces. Chimes that include physical taps–I like this idea, actually. It should cut down on the “Who’s phone just rang?” dance. Better audio support–voice memos and audio books. A calculator (really? It took five iterations of the Apple Watch to bring out a calculator?) App Store support, so you can still buy apps even if you leave your phone in your backpack.

Naturally, there are also updates to the health features. Progress tracking over the past ninety days with nags if you’re falling behind on your goals. I’m sure those will be amazingly persuasive to get off our lazy behinds and exercise harder.

Hey, I like this one: Apple Watch will monitor noise levels and alert you if they reach levels that could damage your hearing. An actual use case for those new chimes, since you probably won’t be able to hear the old ones. Good to know my watch will be ready to distract me from the music at the next BABYMETAL concert.

Cycle tracking. That one sounds useful. Useful enough that they’re making it available in iOS so even women without an Apple Watch can get the benefits. It looks like initial features are somewhat limited, but I expect enhancements over the next few iterations of watchOS.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be WWDC without the announcement of new Watch bands–including a Pride edition.

Moving on.

IOS 13 will, of course, be much faster than the ancient iOS 12 that came out last year. Apps will download faster, install faster, and launch faster. One hopes they’ll also run faster once they’re launched, but Apple was curiously quiet about that aspect.

There’s a Dark Mode. For all you fans of Darth Vader, I suppose. Personally, I dislike Dark Mode: I find white text on a black background hard to read. But different strokes. Enjoy.

The keyboard now supports swiping. Only about five years behind Google on that one. But, to be fair, Google’s swiped more than a few tricks from Apple during those five years.

Lots of changes in the default apps around text formatting and image handling. Maps are updated with more detail and more 3D geometry. Integration with street level photographs (more maintenance of feature parity with Google).

More enhancements to privacy. One-time permissions: you can require an app to ask you every time it wants access to your location. (I wonder if that applies to Apple’s own apps, or if it’s only for third-party apps.) If you give it blanket permission, Apple will send you reports on what the app knows. They’re also making it harder for apps to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi information to figure out your location. That’s a nice improvement that’s going to piss off a lot of app makers who haven’t been able to come up with a good excuse to ask for location data.

Here’s a cool one: Apple is introducing a “Sign in with Apple” feature that uses Face ID to authenticate you to websites and apps. The cool part is that it can create single-use email addresses that you can give to websites that require an address. The site never sees your real email address, and Apple will automatically forward messages from the fake address to the real one. Hopefully it’ll also work the other way, so if you reply to an email from a company, it’ll go out under the fake address.

Homekit now supports handling video (motion detection, alerts, and all the other good stuff) on your device instead of sending everything to the cloud. That’s a big win.

A few more quickies: more flexible memoji, if that’s your thing. Improvements to photo taking and editing. Adding camera filters to video. Automatic categorization of photos and AI-generated displays that try to be context-aware. (I suspect the key word there is “try”.)

Moving on.

More capable Siri in AirPods. Allowing temporary pairing of AirPods (so you can share your audio with somebody for the length of a song or a movie and not have them automatically able to hear everything you do from then on.) Handing audio from iPhone to HomePod and vice-versa. Access to streaming radio stations. HomePod can recognize individuals and give them different experiences.

The big change is that iPads are going to get a customized version of iOS, inevitably called iPadOS. Lots of tweaks to take advantage of the larger screen, like widgets on the home screen. Apps can have multiple windows open at once. I love that idea: being able to have two Word documents open side by side, for example, is a major productivity booster when editing.

Support in the Files app for USB drives and SD cards. That’s great for photos, when you want to import or export just a few images without copying the entire photo roll over Wi-Fi.

Safari on iPads can now get the desktop version of a site instead of the mobile version.

Lots of tweaks to editing as well, mostly around three-finger gestures for copy/paste/undo.

I have to wonder if all these goodies are going to make it onto all the supported iPads–for that matter, will iPadOS be available to older iPads at all?

Moving on.

There’s a new Mac Pro. Hugely powerful and much more expandable than the previous version. And a matching monitor. Would you believe 32-inch, 6016×3384 display? Believe it.

Believe the price tags, too. The Mac Pro starts at $6,000 and goes up from there. Which is actually not out of line for it’s capabilities. Want that lovely monitor (or several of them–supposedly the Pro can use up to six of them at once)? Plan on spending $5,000 for each of those. (Again, not unreasonable for the feature set.) Oh, and don’t forget the $999 for the monitor stand. Now that’s just ridiculous. Yes, the stand can raise and lower the monitor, tilt it, and rotate it to portrait mode. But there are plenty of third-party monitor stands that will do all the same things for a tenth of the price.

New year, new operating system. This year’s version of macOS is “Catalina”.

Thankfully, iTunes is getting broken up into three separate programs. One to handle music, one for podcasts, and one for video. That should make life considerably simpler for anyone who only does music, and it should end the current view of TV programs and movies as music that happens to have an inconvenient video track.

Got an iPad and a Mac? Of course you do; doesn’t everyone? With Catalina, you’ll be able to use the iPad as an external monitor for the Mac. That’s been possible with third-party apps, but now it’ll be built into the OS. And yes, it’ll support all of the iPads’ touch functionality, including Apple Pencil, and it’ll do it over Wi-Fi. Very handy, indeed.

Voice control. Find My Mac. Activation lock. For developers, a path to quickly convert iPad apps to Mac apps.

Actually, quite a lot for developers. Much convergence between iOS and macOS. Though the claims that companies will be able to do apps that support all Apple products without adding specialized developers sound suspect. Maybe they won’t need separate Mac and iPhone teams, but they’re still going to need the people–and my cynical side suggests that any developer savings will be totally wiped out by the need for more QA folk who can test cross-platform.

Bottom line here is that, unlike the last couple of years, Apple has promised some things that sound genuinely exciting. Not necessarily revolutionary, but well worth having if you’re in the Apple infrastructure. Just don’t get your hopes high for a continuation next year. Odds are good that 2020 will be a year of minor tweaks and enhancements to the goodies that show up this fall.

SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.