A Complete Waste of Time

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice* that my whole family loves fireworks. Why else would we freeze our hind ends sitting for hours on a cement planter on December 31 or a stretch of suburban tundra on July 4?

* Okay, considerably more often than that.

So these last couple of years have been tough. Granted, not the only way they’ve been tough and certainly not the toughest, but still.

And the workarounds have been, well, pitiful. Seattle, I’m looking at you here.

Historically, Seattle has had a fireworks display set off from the Space Needle, and it’s usually been a good show. Perhaps not world class, but well up in the ranks of civic displays.

Since a show was a no-go for 12/31/20, the city commissioned a “virtual” show. By which, they meant “Computer animated graphics added to actual footage of the Space Needle.” It kinda, sorta worked. Arguably better than nothing, anyhow. Some of the animations were entertaining. But somebody forgot that a big part of the fireworks experience is auditory. Way too much generic popular music (with Seattle ties, of course) and a notable shortage of “Boom!”

This year, there was an actual show. Nobody could attend in person, of course, so the city made a big deal about enhancing the display for TV. Much hype about the “first ever” augmented reality fireworks display.

Feh. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

And in this case, there was a big asterisk after the “can”. The computer graphics were definitely a step down in quality from the previous year’s offering. Worse, they frequently covered the actual fireworks. If you’re trying to enhance something, you don’t hide it, you emphasize it. And again, no “Boom!”, but plenty of instantly forgettable pop. (Sorry.) Not even some decent champagne could save this mess.

Even worse: the TV channel’s commentators desperately trying to sound enthusiastic about what they’d just seen.

We started flipping channels afterward, desperately trying to find something to eradicate the memory. Mixed results, obviously.

We spent a few minutes on the Nashville NYE Super Spreader Event–hundreds of sweaty, underdressed people, with not a mask in sight–before we found a channel showing fireworks displays from around the world.

And very interesting it was. Thank you, NBC News!

The show from Russia looked like it was probably excellent–fireworks blasting over onion domes is always aesthetically pleasing–but the poor image quality detracted greatly. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t an official Soviet broadcast, but a low-resolution cell phone recording, probably smuggled out via the Internet.

Oddly, neither India nor Pakistan came off well. Both looked like someone’s backyard display. The Greek show spent far too much time showing off the Parthenon and much too little showing the actual fireworks.

Hong Kong, fortunately, gave an excellent show, combining real fireworks with simulated displays on skyscrapers. Not, I don’t think, computer animated, but video projections. The displays were well synchronized, and it worked beautifully.

The real winner, though? Sydney, Australia. A massive display all around the harbor, combined with “The 1812 Overture” gave plenty of “Boom!” with lots of sparkle.

Hopefully we’ll get real fireworks here in the Bay Area (and Seattle!) this coming NYE. But if not, I know where I’m getting my fix, and it ain’t gonna be any kind of faked or “enhanced” display.

Are You Sure That’s a Cat?

Yes, actually, I am.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure which cat it is–there are several black and white felines in the neighborhood–but I’m certain it’s a cat.

Here, have a closer look:

For the record, I’m posting this not so much to introduce you to a new neighbor–call them our foul weather friend, as they’ve taken up residence in the Rose Cottage only during our recent rain storms–but to demonstrate what the Pixel 6 Pro’s Dark Mode can do.

This picture was taken through the rain (and the rain-splattered window), at 4x zoom. The only light was from the room behind me (hence the reflection of the water bowl on the left side) and the only editing is cropping and–in the first shot–resizing.

I’d regard the fact that you can even see the Rose Cottage, much less the inhabitant, as a triumph of technological brilliance.

Next rainstorm, I think I’ll break out my tripod and see how the phone’s astrophotography mode does in similar conditions.

Quite Nice

Maybe you’ve been wondering how I’m liking living on the cutting edge. That’s the “Pixel 6 Pro” edge, not the “JetSki-assisted Parasailing” edge*.

* Yes, for any of you–especially my relatives–who might have been concerned about my mental health, that was a joke.

It’s been a pleasant experience so far. Android’s ability to transfer data, settings, and apps from one device to another has improved immensely since the last time I tried that trick, mumble-mumble years ago. I just launched the transfer process, connected the two phones with a USB-C cable when it prompted me to, and as best I can tell, everything came over, despite multiple warnings from the instructions that some things could get left behind.

There’s a joke there about the Rapture, but since Mike Pence is no longer in office, I’ll skip it.

Anyway, I did have to sign into all of the apps that require authentication, but that’s hardly a major imposition, since I didn’t have to do them all at once. Just when I first ran each one; a process that was spread across weeks–and is, in fact, still going on.

Tip: if you’re not using a password manager, give it serious consideration. Having all my passwords on all my computers and my phone is a major convenience, and made the re-authentication processes nearly painless.

Yes, I did have to re-record my fingerprint on the new phone. Took about five minutes. And, despite what you may have heard online about the “buggy, unreliable” fingerprint reader on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, I’ve found it to be quite solid. Many of the complaints seem to be from people who expect the phone to unlock instantly. Since I’m willing to wait for the scanner to recognize my finger–something that generally takes one to two seconds–I get very few failed logins.

I was concerned about the under-screen fingerprint reader being less convenient than the old back-of-the-phone style. It is. But not outrageously so. I can unlock the phone with my thumb as I’m lifting it into position, and it’s ready to go by the time my eyes focus on the screen. Maybe it would be more of a problem if I still had the reflexes I had twenty years ago.

The camera is, as I’d hoped, a major upgrade from the Pixel 2. Take a closer look at last Friday’s picture of Emeraldas. Right-click and open it in a new tab. That’s a trimmed, but otherwise unedited shot taken with the zoom at 4X. Nice and sharp, isn’t it? Good colors, too.

I was also concerned about the size of the phone. That turned out to be a non-issue. It is tall, but very well-balanced and much lighter than I expected, and the camera bump doesn’t really get in the way, even when the phone isn’t in a case.

So is there anything I don’t like?

Well, the tall/thin shape does make for an oddball resolution (1440×3120). That takes a bit of getting used to. I still wish Google would give the user more control over how close together home screen icons can be. We’ve got all that space, let us decide how we want to use it.

Honestly, though, the biggest problem isn’t with the phone itself. Rather, it’s been how slow case manufacturers have been to support the phone. (I’m looking at you, OtterBox!). Yes, supply-chain issues. But I’ve been limping along with a cheap silicone case to give the phone some grippiness and a belt pouch so I don’t have to risk shoving the phone in my pocket.

Cases are starting to appear, though–I ordered my usual OtterBox Defender Pro yesterday–and that annoyance should be resolved soon.

Looking forward to the new features we’re supposed to be getting any day now in the December update.

It’s Back

Yep, 2021 strikes again.

Black Friday was a non-event last year. Oh, sure, it happened. But the lines of people camping outside stores, the crushing rush inside when the doors opened, and the screaming fights over deeply discounted items were rare in comparison to the past*.

* It’s possible that being on the West Coast gives me a biased perception. Anyone in a state that didn’t have mask mandates, social distancing, and/or stay-at-home orders want to chime in with local data on last year’s Spend-a-Thon?

This year, though, it’s shaping up to be a doozy.

Not only is Black November gaining force–several major retailers have been pushing variations on the “Early Black Friday” theme since about 12:01 AM on 11/1–but those same stores are ramping up the publicity for their sales on the actual Black Friday.

Because, of course, people are sick and tired of shopping from home–even in the Southwest and Florida and all those other areas where they never started shopping from home–so they have to show up in the malls at Oh Dark Hundred Hours.

Feh.

On the bright side, the stupidity of starting the Black Friday sales on Thursday–better known as Thanksgiving–seems to have gotten lost. And good riddance.

What’s going to be really interesting is seeing what happens with Cyber Monday. Remember that? In case you’ve mercifully forgotten, the premise of Cyber Monday has been that people save their online shopping for the Monday after Thanksgiving when they’re back in the office and can use their employer’s bandwidth.

Man, that sounds quaint, doesn’t it? “Back in the office”? It is to laugh.

It’s only a little more than a week to Thanksgiving and, while your experience may differ, I haven’t gotten a single ad for an upcoming Cyber-whatever event.

Could Cyber Monday turn into a regional event? Only advertised in places where the concept of “working from home” hasn’t caught on?

Probably not. It’s cheaper for national advertisers not to filter their mailings, after all. Our best hope is that PR departments decide the optics of telling people to go to work are just too ugly this year.

First Thoughts on 11

I decided it was time.

Microsoft has fixed a few of the most egregious Windows 11 launch bugs, I’d done my weekly backup, and I had a day off coming. So I went ahead and did the upgrade.

It’s been less than a week, so don’t expect a detailed catalog of everything that’s right and wrong with the latest opus from Redmond. Remember: it’s never too soon to make a good first impression.

The upgrade itself went smoothly enough, though Microsoft sucks at estimation. After ten minutes or so, the progress indicator said 70%. Ninety minutes later, it said 91%. The last nine percent took another couple of hours. Then, of course, there was the inevitable reboot, followed by more thumb-twiddling while Windows shuffled things into place.

Once my desktop appeared, it looked a lot like the old one. Some exceptions: the Taskbar can’t be at the top of the screen–my preferred location–any more, and having the icons centered instead of at the left side of the screen* looks decidedly odd.

* Windows 11 does allow you to left-align the icons, but I stuck with the default. It’s been easier getting used to than I expected, but I do have a lot of muscle memory around the Start button being in the upper left corner of the screen; there are still occasional delays while I reorient myself.

So far, I’ve only found one major annoyance. You may have heard that the Windows 10 Live Tiles (those tiny windows and icons to the right when you open the Start menu) are gone in Windows 11. It’s true. They are gone. I mean really gone.

At least three-quarters of Windows users will never notice or care–there’s a reason Microsoft got rid of Live Tiles, after all. But some of us actually used them. Clean out all the useless games links and other such nonsense Microsoft put there, and the Tile area became a convenient place to put frequently used files and programs. Anything you put there was no more than two clicks away.

Windows 11 does let you pin things to the Start Menu. It does not, however, transfer your pinned items from Win10. Instead, you get a no-doubt-carefully curated selection of useless nonsensepinned programs. Unpinning Microsoft’s choices and re-pinning mine took almost as long as installing the upgrade.

* Sources online seem to be unanimous in saying that you cannot pin individual documents–Word files, pictures, and so on–to the new Start Menu. This seems to be a half-truth. I was able to pin several spreadsheets, but Word documents and pictures don’t seem to work. I suspect it has something to do with the spreadsheets having been pinned in Win10. Further investigation seems warranted.

I could run through my list of Things That Don’t Work Right, but there’s not much point. Most of the glitches are minor-but-annoying, and can probably all be fixed with a little effort. I shouldn’t need to, mind you, but again, Win11 is new and needs some polishing. The upgrade experience should get better over time.

And now that I’ve finished playing the Upgrade Blues, Win11 seems to be working well. Anecdotally, it feels snappier than Win10. Searches are a little faster, programs feel like they’re launching more quickly, and the Windows Photos program–which used to take forever to load and display the first picture–is enormously faster.

WSL–the part of Windows that allows you to run Linux programs–finally supports graphical programs. There were already ways to run those programs, using some third-party tools. Now the functionality is there without any special setup. In theory, one can even add Linux programs to the Start Menu or Taskbar, but that doesn’t seem quite functional yet. Or maybe it’s one of those little glitches.

It’s going to take people some time to get past the whole “It doesn’t look like what I’m used to” thing, but once they do, I think the consensus will be that Win11 is an improvement over the past.

I’m still not recommending a general upgrade. There are plenty of issues that Microsoft needs to work out. Unless you have a specific need for something in Win11, stick with Win10 for now.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to buy a new computer, it’s probably going to come with Win11. Don’t be put off by it and don’t try to downgrade to Win10.

Trust me, Windows 11 will not be the horrid shock that was Windows 8.

Not Quite There Yet

Despite last week’s pessimism, I will be getting my Pixel 6 Pro after all. It’s supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then I get the fun of transferring everything. Last time I did that–going from a Nexus 5X to Pixel 2 XL–the experience was…well, let’s just say “Less than polished” and let it go at that. To be fair, I didn’t do a direct transfer–the Nexus had died, so I did a clean setup and then downloaded my apps and data from the appropriate Google backups. Google then, and probably now, prefers the direct transfer, and since my 2 XL is still working well*, I’ll give it a try.

* Knock on wood.

Once I’ve had a chance to use it for a bit, I will, of course, share my thoughts. But that’ll be a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a feature on the current phone that comes off as only partly baked.

The feature is simple in concept: if you’ve entered your home and work addresses in Maps, you’ll get notifications about the travel time between the two. These pop up during commute hours–home to work in the morning, and the reverse in the evening.

It’s actually quite handy. I don’t know that I need to know when the trip to work is going to take two minutes longer than usual, but I definitely want to know if I’m going to be stuck in traffic for half an hour.

But there are some weird omissions in the system, leaving it feeling unfinished.

For example, there are two routes I can take; on a typical day, the travel time between the two differs by less than five minutes. I almost always take the one that minimizes my time on the freeway because–Richmond Parkway notwithstanding–I prefer the scenery on that route.

Isn’t the Google Assistant supposed to learn your habits over time and improve the information it gives you? If so, it hasn’t been tied into the drive time feature, because the phone always gives me the travel time for the other route.

Then there’s the question of when the notifications appear. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to tweak the schedule. Mine, for example, is not a simple 9-5, M-F routine. The days vary, as do the hours. I’m not sure which is more annoying: not getting a drive time notification for a Saturday commute, getting a notification on a Tuesday when I’m not working, or getting the “going to work” update at 8:00 am on a day when I don’t start until noon.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell whatever piece of the Google Assistant is responsible for these notices what my schedule is? Better yet, what if I could tell it to look for events on my calendar to clue it into the schedule automatically? Heck, I have a calendar conveniently named “Work”; I imagine I’m far from the only person who tracks their schedule that way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Google Assistant saw that calendar and asked if I wanted it to use that to show me relevant commute information?

Bottom line: a useful feature held back by what feels like an incomplete implementation.

But perhaps I’m doing the designers an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with building a tool to meet your own needs, and the current functionality is just fine if you (a) follow Google’s recommended route religiously–or have a shuttle driver who does–and (b) you’re always working–or work from home.

And, for all I know, the current limitations of the system are because my 2 XL is on Android 11 (and can’t be upgraded beyond that point). Perhaps that shiny new 6 Pro with Android 12 will add some controls so I can tweak the notifications to my needs.

Twofer

It’s technology week!

Okay, not really. But both Apple and Google decided the time was right to show off their upcoming toys.

Apple went first, announcing their goodies on Monday. Probably just as well, as they had much more to talk about.

They started by talking up improvements to Apple Music. Question: does anyone actually let Siri provide the music for their life? Apple claims they do, and so they’re improving Siri’s selection abilities. How? By turning the job over to human beings. You read that right. Humans will create mood-based playlists, and Siri will pick a playlist based on what you ask for.

Do we really need a voice control for that?

New colors coming for the HomePod mini. Great if you insist on color-coordinating your décor. The rest of us? Ho-hum.

New AirPods with support for spatial audio. Inevitable, but not exactly exciting for anyone who doesn’t use their iPhone as a movie theater. And you’ll still be able to buy the previous generation. I foresee great confusion down the road.

Of course, what everyone was really interested in was the new Macs. Because everyone wants an improved M1 chip. Well, everyone who wants a Mac, anyway. Let’s not make assumptions about just how good Apple’s brainwashingadvertising has gotten.

Up first, the new MacBook Pro. Built around the M1 Pro, which can have as much as 32GB of RAM–a big jump from the M1’s 8GB limit–and able to move data in and out of memory twice as fast. The result is a system 70% faster; twice as fast at graphics-related tasks. Impressive.

But if you really need power, you’re going to want the M1 Max. That basically doubles what the M1 Pro can do: twice as fast at memory operations, up to 64GB of RAM, and twice the graphics processors. Curiously, it’s only got the same number of CPU cores; wonder why they didn’t double those as well.

So the new MacBook Pro will, to paraphrase Apple’s hype, wipe the floor with the old MacBook Pro, to say nothing of all those awful Windows machines. Not that they’re gloating or anything.

Anyway, the new machines bring back all the ports the M1 MacBooks left out: HDMI, headphone, SD card reader. They are losing the Touch Bar, which disappoints me not a bit, but will no doubt annoy many loyal Apple fans. Nice touch: a new and improved MagSafe port for power, but you can still charge ’em with the Thunderbolt ports.

There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about that, but I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.

Preorders started Monday, first deliveries next week. Depending on the model and specs, you’ll be paying anywhere from $1999 to $6099.

From a technical perspective, I’ll admit to being impressed. Fiscally, too, but the numbers really aren’t that far out of line for a similarly specced Windows laptop.

But people are easily bored. Camera notch aside, I expect the complaints to start before Halloween. “It’s not fast enough for my workload.” “I need more Thunderbolt ports.” “When do we get a desktop with the M1 Max?” “Where’s the M2?”

Moving on to Google’s Tuesday announcements.

A much briefer announcement. Only two products (plus accessories): the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Of course, most of the information leaked out earlier: new, Google-designed CPU, hugely improved cameras, etc., etc. The only really new information is the price point ($599 to $999 depending on model and storage) which is several hundred dollars below similarly specced iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.

Oh, and one other new bit of information: Google is shifting to go head-to-head with Apple on services. They’ve got a bundle called “Pixel Pass” that gives you time payments on the phone, YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One storage, and Google Play Pass. A discount on Fi service. Accidental damage coverage is included as well.

The phones sound impressive, and Pixel Pass could be an excellent deal, especially if you were planning on buying the phone on time or were already paying for any of the premium services.

To nobody’s particular surprise, the Google Store is struggling. Preorders are (nominally) open with delivery around the end of the month, but as I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the store is up, but not able to process checkouts–assuming it doesn’t list all phones as out of stock. At that, it’s doing better than earlier in the day, when it was bouncing up and down like very erratic clockwork.

I’m very interested in the new phones. My current Pixel 2 XL is still working well enough, but the Lure of the New is getting to me–and I really want to see what kind of cat pictures I can take with the new cameras. I’ve been trying to preorder a Pro for the past hour, but I’m starting to suspect it’ll be at least a couple of months before I can actually get my hands on one.

Still Not How It Was Supposed to Work

For the second time this year, Google is caught up in a TV carriage dispute.

Correction: For the second time this year as far as we know, …

This time, though, they’re on the other side of the table.

As you may recall, back in April, Roku dropped YouTube TV. And, of course, everyone found alternate ways to get their TV fix, thanks in part to Google merging YouTube TV into the regular YouTube app. Since it would have been corporate suicide for Roku to drop the entirety of YouTube, both parties retired to their respective Caves of Solitude and indulged themselves with multiple rounds of furious fur-smoothing.

Now Google is fighting with NBC. The latter, naturally, is hyped to the max over their part in putting Locast out of business, and looking to further solidify their monopoly on their channels–even the ones that are supposed to be free to the public, i.e. local NBC affiliates.

You may think you detect a bit of bias in my language here. You’re probably right. I don’t care about most of the channels involved. The only exceptions are the two Bay Area regional sports networks (one carries the Giants’ broadcasts and the other has the As. But with the baseball regular season ending Sunday, at most I’d miss out on three games I care about. Four if the Giants wind up playing a tie-breaker game with the Dodgers to determine which would win the division and which would be the wild card. Frustrating, but hardly the end of the world, given that there are plenty of ways to purchase a few days’ access to those last few Giants games. And many, many things could happen before Spring Training rolls around.)

But even though I don’t care about the channels, I do care about the precedent.

The core of the dispute isn’t really how much Google has to pay NBC to carry those channels. Those negotiations are common and are usually handled quietly; viewers only notice when the result is a big hike in their monthly TV bill.

What’s different this time is that NBC is trying to force YouTube TV to also “carry” their Peacock streaming service.

Note the quotes. According to reports, Peacock channels would not be shown through YouTube TV, forcing subscribers to install a separate app to watch those shows and, where the lineup overlaps between Peacock and YouTube TV, pay twice for the same shows. That’s not a bundle, that’s extortion.

Of course, that assumes anyone wants to watch Peacock channels in the first place. Many commentators are pointing to the service’s low subscriber numbers as being the trigger for NBC’s demand. “Hey, if we can’t sell this crap* on its own merits, let’s force someone else to sell it for us.”

* Lest you think I’m being unduly harsh here, allow me to share a few channels: “Olympics Great Moments”, “Olympics Must-See Moments” (yes, two whole channels devoted to Olympics of the past), dedicated channels for “Saved By the Bell”, “The Office”, and “Real Housewives” (fortunately, they don’t run 24/7, but do the shows really need dedicated channels?). And the less said about “Fail Army” the better. I think NBC is well aware of how thin their lineup is; I’m sure it’s not an accidental oversight that the Peacock website does not have a simple channel list.

Parenthetically, why does the Peacock’s account creation form require you to tell them your gender? It’s nice that they included “Non-binary” as an option, but I really, really want to know why they made “Gender” a required field, especially when they also included “Prefer not to say” as a choice.

NBC charges $10 a month for Peacock if you want it ad-free. It’s probably not coincidental that Google is promising to reduce the bill for YouTube TV by $10 a month if they have to drop the disputed channels.

You can be sure that if Google had caved and ponied up for Peacock, NBC would have made the same demand of every other streaming service. (I use past tense and conditionals here because as I write this on Tuesday, reports are coming out that NBC has given up on forcing Peacock down YouTube TV viewers’ throats.) And if that had happened, we’d really be right back in the old cable model–actually, even worse: at least with traditional cable, you didn’t have to have multiple TVs to watch channels that were part of different bundles.

Hopefully Google stands firm and the future looks more a la carte and less prix fix. The latter is fine for stuffing your face, but not so great when all you want is a quiet evening of killing your imagination dead.

Arms Race

We’ve been hearing a lot about the non-medical fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic: the increasing polarization of politics*, burnout among medical professionals, children falling behind on their schooling, and so on. There’s one impact, however, that I haven’t seen noted in the press yet.

* Though, to be fair to the virus, that one was already well in progress before 2020; COVID-19 is just an excuse.

Noise pollution.

Those of us in mask-wearing parts of the country are being subjected to more and more noise. And we should have seen (heard?) it coming.

Masks do muffle speech and nobody wants to try to carry on a conversation with pen and paper. Heck, only a rare few of us carry notebooks these days, and it seems like even fewer still remember how to write*. I suppose in some situations, we could use our phones. But do you want to give a stranger your phone number just so you can text your dinner order? Think that hot guy at the other end of the bar can be trusted not to abuse your number if you don’t fall for his pickup line–or even if you do? And the whole point of meeting your sweetie in person is so you can whisper sweet nothings in their ear; you might as well skip the dinner date if you’re just going to chat at each other across the table.

* I’ll skip the rant about schools no longer teaching cursive, much less penmanship in general.

So instead, we’re all speaking louder.

Problem solved, right? Not so much.

Business owners are wedded to the notion that background music improves sales.

There’s a reason it’s called “background” music: you’re not supposed to listen to it; it’s just supposed to affect you at a subliminal level. It makes you shop faster, not think about whether you can afford something, but just buy it and move on. Or eat faster, so the restaurant can turn the table over that much sooner.

But if you can’t hear it at all, it can’t have its supposed effect. And so, with everyone tightening their diaphragms and projecting their voices, stores and restaurants are compensating by turning up the music.

Which, of course, makes it harder for the customers to be understood, so they speak even louder. Vicious circle. Arms race–make that “ears race”.

Even here in the masks-mandatory Bay Area, we’re not quite up to volume levels traditionally associated with rock concerts and airports. Not yet, anyway. But hearing can be damaged by sustained noise at lower volumes.

Speaking louder gets to be a habit. I’m hearing that in my own life. At home and mask-free, I’m still talking louder than I used to, unless I make a conscious effort not to.

So I don’t think sound levels are going to drop quickly even once COVID-19 is beaten*. You might want to pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones for daily wear over the next couple of years.

* Make that “beaten”. It’s not going to go away completely. The best we can hope for is to reduce it to the level of the flu. Get your annual flu shot (and, by the way, it’s that time of year–go get yours today!) and a COVID shot; we may even wind up combining them into a single dose.

And it just might be that now is the right time to be buying stock in companies that make hearing aids.

An Apple a Day

It seems like we were talking about Apple’s latest announcements just a couple of days ago, and yet here we are, talking about Apple’s–you know.

Let’s skip the puffery. Does anyone outside Apple really care how many awards Apple TV+ has won?

More importantly, Apple has announced new toys.

Two new iPads, specifically a new basic model and a new mini.

The former is a nice step up from last year’s model. New chips mean a 20% speed increase across the board, and a new camera will let it do some of the video trickery formerly limited to the iPad Pro.

The upgraded mini is probably the most eagerly awaited upgrade. Smaller bezels in the same form factor mean a bigger screen without increasing the weight, Touch ID in the top button*, and a 40-80% speed boost depending on what you’re doing. No more Lightning port; USB-C instead, which opens up a lot of new accessory possibilities. Better cameras, of course. That’s obligatory for any new Apple hardware, right?

* These days, Touch ID is much better than Face ID. Don’t make me take my mask off to sign in without a password, please. And nice of Apple to remember that not everyone who has an iPad has an Apple Watch they could use for automatic unlocking.

And, speaking of the Apple Watch: surprise! Get ready for the new Apple Watch Series 7. Bigger screen and bigger buttons, faster charging, stronger*, and still compatible with your old bands. Because backward compatibility is important, right?

* Let’s hope so. The screens on the previous six generations seem unreasonably vulnerable to cracking from even the smallest jolts. Interestingly, Apple is crediting the improved durability to the shape. I have to wonder why they’re not using the oh-so-strong ceramic they introduced on the iPhone 12 screens.

And it looks like Apple is simplifying the product line a little. Once the Series 7 comes out, the 5 and 6 will both go away. Series 3 for the budget-conscious, SE for the mid-range, and 7 for anyone who doesn’t want to be seen as a cheapskate.

And, of course, new iPhones. Kudos to Apple for not giving in to superstition and skipping “13”.

Smaller front camera notch and, as usual, the best camera ever in a (non-pro) iPhone. Bigger battery. Comes in regular and mini. Faster than your now-obsolete iPhone 12, naturally. Storage now starts at 128GB–no more 64GB devices–and goes up to 512GB. Not quite up to some of the top-of-the-line Samsung phone’s 1TB, but still and improvement for anyone who wants to carry weeks of music or a trans-Atlantic flight’s worth of movies.

Naturally, there’s a Pro and a Pro Max, both of which fall into the “more than six inches” category, also known as “too flippin’ big to fit in your pocket. As usual, the main distinguishing characteristic of the Pro phones are the cameras, but Apple is also talking up the improved battery life (as compared to the equivalent iPhone 12 models) and storage up to (ah, there it is–couldn’t let Samsung get that far ahead) 1TB.

As expected, most of the new devices are evolutionary; only the improved mini could even arguably be considered revolutionary.

But that’s today’s Apple.