Working From Home

With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic underway, many businesses are allowing employees to work from home (WFH). The company I work for is no different. So, this week, I am starting a new work from home schedule.

On the plus side, I get to wear the typical computer nerd uniform: jeans, t-shirt, and a sweatshirt of some kind since it is still cold here in the northeast United States. Since I am working from home, I am also able to use my 25-inch 5k iMac (2015) by adding in a little VMware Fusion and a company Windows 10 virtual PC [1].

With the kids starting online learning with their schools, the kitchen and dining room tables are already occupied. To help keep work and personal computing needs logically separate on my iMac, I am using the Mission Control spaces and multiple desktops feature. It is super easy to switch from my “personal” space to my “work” space with a quick Control + Left or Right Arrow. (Actually, I have three spaces: personal, Music and Home space, and then work.) A set of paired HomePods keep whatever I’m listening to sounding great.

But the one thing that isn’t “great” about my setup is the Magic Mouse 2. Yes, it looks and works great – for short bursts of work. But I found that when I was doing a trial WFH day last week, using the Magic Mouse 2 for about 10 hours was starting to get on my last good nerve. In a Windows world, the right-click action is used heavily. When I’m trying to quickly mouse around, there were too many times when the Magic Mouse 2 was incorrectly interpreting my right-click as a left-click action.

For this week, and for the duration of my WFH stint, I have switched to the Logitech M510 mouse. I have used many Microsoft and Logitech wireless mice over the years at work. The M510 is currently my favorite. (I have a black and a blue one. The black one came home with me.) With its dedicated left and right buttons, I don’t have to worry about the touch sensor misinterpreting my right-clicks as left-clicks. I also prefer the high back feel of the M510 when using it for long periods of time over the Magic Mouse 2.

The Logitech Options control panel used to customize the M510 button layout.

The M510 does have five points of customization when the Logitech Options driver software. You will also need to install the LogitechUnifying Technology USB-A receiver before the mouse will work. Both can be installed from a single download from the Logitech website. I like to keep my mouse setup pretty simple, so I turn off left/right scrolling, the side buttons, and the scroll wheel center-click features. Your mileage will vary based on your personal preferences.

Be well and stay safe.

[1] I should note that I do have my work-issued Dell Latitude 7480 laptop home with me too. I don’t skimp when buying Dell computers for employees. I do like the business class Latitude notebooks a lot, but, you know, they still aren’t Macs.

Uninstalling Adobe Flash

Adobe Flash’s days are numbered. Flash is one of those technologies that I never liked using. Using a Flash app on a small business website was never great, but Flash on commercial websites just felt gross, slow, and never felt like it belonged on my Mac. Adobe announced that they would discontinue Flash Player for interactive content at the end 2020. Unfortunately, Adobe’s announcement was in 2017. With months still left on the countdown clock, why are we talking about Flash now?

In the intervening years, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome have been becoming more aggressive at warning and then blocking access to Flash apps. Starting with Safari Technical Preview 99, the WebKit team will be completely removing support for Adobe Flash support from the browser.

Long time Apple fans knew that this day has been coming. From the get-go, Apple famously did not allow Flash to run on their iOS platform. It was a decision that I fully supported after seeing how terribly Flash ran on Palm webOS devices. A decade ago, the late Steve Jobs ranted about Flash in a 1,600-word argument against the technology in a blog post titled “Thoughts on Flash“. In the post, he made an impassioned plea to convince the tech industry, and Apple customers, that Flash was a terrible technology while also arguing that Flash-free Apple products would perform better. It was classic Jobs: fight for the users and Apple all at the same time.

So, now what? If you are like me, I’m ready to ditch Flash now. I already use the Safari Technology Preview beta software. My remaining need for Flash, working with a team that still used Flash on their website, has gone away. Now, I’m ready to rip Flash out of macOS 10.15 Catalina. Here’s how we can uninstall Flash together.

First, go get Flash uninstall tool from the Adobe website.

Next, double-click the uninstall_flash_player_osx.dmg download file. This will create a Flash Player drive icon on your desktop (below, left and center).

Inside the Flash Player drive, double-click the Adobe Flash Player Uninstaller.app file (above, right). When prompted, enter your macOS password to authorize the removal of Flash.

When you are done, drag the Flash Player drive icon and the uninstall_flash_player_osx.dmg file to the trash can icon in the Dock.

Since Flash has a System Preferences control panel and plug-ins for the web browsers that you may have installed on your Mac, I like to also add in a reboot just for good measure.

Upgrade Firefox Now

In an eyebrow raising announcement, users of Mozilla’s Firefox browser are urgently warned to upgrade to Firefox 72.0.1, Firefox Extended Support Release (ESR) 68.4.1, and Thunderbird 68.4.1 (which uses the Firefox engine) or later right away.

All software has bugs, and Mozilla’s software is no exception. Also, bad guys will ruin everything on the Internet.

What makes this warning from the United States Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) so important is that there are active attacks being made on Firefox compromised websites that have been infected with malicious web pages. Once an unpatched version of Firefox is successfully exploited, an attacker will be able to gain control over the Mac or Windows PC that the browser is running on.

The CISA cybersecurity warning reads:

“Mozilla has released security updates to address a vulnerability in Firefox, Firefox ESR, and Thunderbird. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability to take control of an affected system. This vulnerability was detected in exploits in the wild.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) encourages users and administrators to review the Mozilla Security Advisories for Firefox 72.0.1 and Firefox ESR 68.4.1 and Thunderbird 68.4.1 and apply the necessary updates.”

Mozilla has provided directions for upgrading your copy of Firefox to the latest release on their support website.

Keep yourself safe. Apply this update, even if you normally do not like to apply software patches and upgrades.

Linux Mint 19.3 Now Available

Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia Cinnamon desktop in action

Now that the holidays are over and the family schedule is going back to normal, I discovered this morning that the girls and boys at the Linux Mark Institute have released Linux Mint 19.3 “Tricia”.

Released with three desktop environments, Cinnamon, MATE, and Xfce, “Tricia” is ready for download as an .iso downloadable for new installations or via the software update feature in an existing Linux Mint install. If you have not used Linux before, or need help with the installation process, you can download the install, user, or troubleshooting guides from Linux Mint website.

If you have an extra PC lying around, or have a virtual machine system, such as VMware Fusion, Parallels, or Virtual Box, you install a Linux distribution like Linux Mint 19.3 Tricia is easy and painless to do.

A nice feature of booting up the .iso installer as a virtual PC is that you can test drive and play around with Mint before committing to installing it. If you like what you see, double-click the install icon on the desktop to take the plunge!

Some of the advantages of using Linux as your PC operating system includes getting away from costly Microsoft Windows upgrades and copy protection shenanigans, frequent security updates, and side stepping all of the popular Windows-based malware. (No OS is 100% secure, so you should always use a malware protection product).

Dump Facebook, Read More Journalism

On the afternoon of October 7, 2018, I made the decision to delete my Facebook account.

I made the decision after realizing that I was tired of the user tracking, the targeted advertising, the prioritization of acquiring political campaign dollars, and the spreading of outright lies that helped to disrupt the 2016 United States presidential election and beyond.

If you are like me and can not fathom the outright lies that are already being peddled as truth on Facebook this coming election year, I urge you to do two things.

First delete your Facebook account. A support article titled, “How do I permanently delete my Facebook account?” on the Facebook website walks you through the process.

I promise you it will not the end of the world. I deleted my account and I have not looked back. Not once have I regretted my decision. I still keep in touch with family and friends by iMessage and – gasp! – calling them on the phone. I also share photos using the shared photos album feature found in the Photos app on my iPhone. Seriously, you don’t need Facebook.

Secondly, I encourage you to read multiple news sources. I’m not talking about the “content” that is shoveled into social media feeds. I am referring to “journalism.” In today’s toxic environment, it is more important than ever, in my opinion, to get local and national journalism from reputable news outlets. Read articles written by people you do not agree with to gain perspective and insight into stories. And then, after taking in good information, be an informed citizen.

I choose to subscribe and read The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine. There are plenty of other places to get great journalism, including CNN, National Public Radio, The Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune among others. My preferences may not align with yours, and that is ok. Pick the newspapers and news outlets that you prefer, subscribe, and start reading.

Fairphone 3 – The Earth Friendly Smartphone

I recently learned of Fairphone, a smartphone company based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The Company

Fairphone, as the company name implies, has at its core the idea that smartphones should be manufactured from a process that is environmentally friendly to the planet and to the people who use them. The materials used to manufacture Fairphone 3, the current flagship phone, relies heavily on recycled materials, fairtrade gold, and business decisions that promote a “more sustainable electronics industry”, according to the company’s website. In short, Fairphone puts people, the planet, and product longevity first.

Fairphone 3 Specifications

But, what about the phone specs? Fairphone 3 is a balanced, modern smartphone that is customer repairable in a way that iPhones just aren’t. Fairphone 3 runs Android 9 and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor. The 3 has a single stock configuration that has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage that is expandable by adding in your own microSD card, another thing that is not possible with an iPhone. Another differentiator between Fairphones and other major smartphone manufacturers? Fairphone 3 offers a replaceable 3,000mAH Li-ion battery.

The display is a 5.65-inch Full HD+ 18:9 panel. All of the expected radios are built into Fairphone 3. For example, the device supports MIMO 4×2 LTE radios on many of the bands used by carriers around the world, offering 300Mbps and 150Mbps download and upload streams, based on location conditions. Rounding out wireless package are 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi radios, Bluetooth 5 + LE, and an NFC system for contactless payment systems.

Fairphone 3 has a 12MP f/1.8 rear facing shooter that supports HRD and a 8MP f/2.0 forward facing camera. Both cameras have digital image stabilization. The rear facing camera can shoot 4K video at 30fps. In terms of the iPhone, Fairphone 3 is on par with the camera system that is on the 2017 iPhone 8.

Fairphone 3 Repairability

To improve the durability of Fairphone 3, the exterior case is made out of recycled plastic. This is a marked departure from high-end smartphones that use glass housings. If you drop Fairphone 3 on concrete, for example, you pick it up, dust it off, and put it back in your pocket. Dropping a naked iPhone on concrete can be a very expensive mistake if you do not have AppleCare+. A broken Fairphone 3 screen will set you back about €90 ($110) where as an out of warrantee iPhone 8 Plus screen repair will cost about €152 ($169).

Fairephone promotes repairability by including a screwdriver in the box with the phone. The spare parts catalog offers many replacement parts for current and previous models. To demonstrate how serious Fairphone is about self-repair, one of the two accessories included in the box is a screwdriver.

Considerations Before Buying

There are a few considerations that potential customers should make before buying.

The first is where you live. While the Fairphone 3 is widely available in Europe, it is not currently available in North America.

Second, Fairphone 3 runs Fairphone OS. The current version o Fairphone OS is a derivative of 2018’s Android 9 Pie. Given that Android 10 was just released this past September (2019), one can overlook the fact that Fairphone 3 hasn’t received an upgrade to Fairphone OS that is based on Android 10 yet. Still, it is unknown how often Fairphone releases Android upgrades and security patches to customers at the time of this post. On their website, Fairphone promises software updates for five years after a phone is released.

Third is the lack of third-party accessory ecosystem support. For example, I was not able to find any major smartphone accessories manufacture that sold a case for Fairphone. After searching several websites, I finally found Happer Studio, an independent  Lithuanian company, that makes slip covers for Fairphone 2 and as “Universal” size on eBay.

Finally, Fairphone 3 only ships with a bumper case and a screwdriver. Fairphone, the company, believes so much in their dedication to sustainability that they won’t ship accessories that you probably already have such as power delivery capable USB-C cables, charging bricks, or ear buds. (If you want first-party accessories, Fairphone does sell them on their website.)

Conclusion

I like the guiding principles behind the creation of Fairphone 3. I think it goes to show that you don’t have to be one of the top five technology companies in the world to create a product that values sustainability and end-user repair. If you live in a region that Fairphone are available, at €450, you can get a good Android-style phone that allows you to easily replace parts that break over time.

Apple TV – The Device, the App, and the Service

The name “Apple TV” used to mean a single hardware product line from Apple. Today, the name is used for apps found on iOS devices, Macs running macOS 10.15 Catalina, apps on other manufacturer’s smart TVs and streaming boxes, and for Apple’s new subscription-based TV service, Apple TV+. And yes, Apple still uses the name for their expensive streaming devices.

The Devices

Apple TV HD, Source: Apple.com

Apple TV, the Apple branded hardware device, has been around for a long time. It was first introduced by then Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, at the 2007 MacWorld San Franciso event. Back then, Jobs described the device as a “hobby”. The first Apple TV looked very much like a modern day Mac mini – a small, flat grey box. The first Apple TV ran a stripped down version of Mac OS X 10.4. In the 12 years since, Apple has released five versions of Apple TV. Apple currently sells two editions of Apple TV: the 2017 Apple TV 4K ($179) and the non-4K Apple TV HD ($149). Theses devices connect to your TV using an HDMI cable. They can stream your purchases from the iTunes store. If you have a subscription to streaming services, such as Netflix, Disney+, or Hulu, you can install their apps. The Apple TV 4K is available in 32 and 64GB capacities. I use a 2015 32GB Apple TV HD almost every day and have not found a reason for wanting to purchase a 64GB model.

The Apps

Apple TV app with The Morning Show, Source: Apple.com

Apple TV, the application, while not as old as the Apple TV hardware line, has been on iOS devices since iOS 10.2, released in December 2016. The Apple TV app was the primary way that iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users played back their iTunes purchased video content. Today, the Apple TV app, has appeared on other devices. Earlier this year, the Apple TV app came to macOS 10.15 Catalina, taking over the role as the iTunes purchased content player from iTunes. Apple TV, the app, also appears on Apple TV, the devices too. In preparation of the launch of Apple TV+, the service, which I will get to in a minute, Apple TV is now appearing on select Samsung smart TVs and third-party streaming devices from Amazon and Roku. Primarily intended to be the delivery vehicle for Apple TV+ streaming content, the Apple TV app on smart TVs and streaming boxes allow you to login to your Apple ID/iTunes Store/Apple TV+ account (they are all the same account) and stream your video purchases too. I recently tried using the Apple TV app on a second generation Amazon Fire TV Stick and it works well for streaming the movies and TV shows that I have purchased on my Mac.

The Streaming Service

Apple TV+ streaming service, Source: Apple.com

Apple TV+ is Apple’s paid video content streaming service. After being rumored for many years, this past November, Apple entered the original content creation and distribution arena. Subscribers to Apple TV+ can watch new original content such as Ron Moore’s For All Man Kind, on any device that can run the Apple TV app. The service costs $4.99 a month. If you recently purchased an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or iPod touch recently, you likely have an option to receive the first year of Apple TV+ for free. Like other streaming TV services, Apple TV+ also has a website: tv.apple.com. The Apple TV+ website works like other streaming service websites. As a test, I logged into the Apple TV+ website using a current version of Mozilla Firefox running on Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux Desktop 19.10 using one of my Apple IDs.

That is a lot of Apple TV hardware, software, and service. Hopefully, this blog post has helped clarify what all of these TV related products from Apple are.

Oh, for “F”s Sake!

With the introduction of the 2016 MacBook Pro line, Apple introduced a number of new features, including an all USB-C port configuration, the Butterfly Keyboard, and the Touch Bar with Touch ID sensor. The Butterfly Keyboard is ok, but I preferred the Magic Keyboard from the iMac. I don’t use many USB peripherals, so USB Dongle Town to convert USB-C to the popular USB-A wasn’t too bad. The Touch ID sensor has been a great addition to the MacBook Pro. However, the Touch Bar has been seen by many Mac users as a so-so addition.

The default Finder Touch Bar configuration on a 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro

The Touch Bar replaced the standard Function Key (F Keys) row that sat above the number row of keys on the standard MacBook Pro keyboard. To be sure, the technology behind the Touch Bar is impressive, featuring a Retina Display with touch input. The whole thing is driven by the secure T1 chip which is running a stripped down version of watchOS.

While I like using the Touch Bar for things like activating Siri, adjusting the brightness and volume controls, and media keys in the Music/iTunes app. In my opinion, the Touch Bar never realized the excitement that Apple had hoped. It is cool, but I can live with out it.

The Touch Bar configuration when holding down the ‘fn’ key on the MacBook Pro keyboard

Meghan, who has a 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro, recently complained to me that her Mac didn’t have the F Keys that her fellow engineering program classmates have on their Windows PCs. In typical Apple fashion where a “clean” design is valued over user functionality, holding down the “fn” key on the MacBook Pro’s keyboard changes the default Mac Touch Bar keys into Windows/Unix-style F Keys.

Constantly pressing the fn key to bring up the F Keys can get old quickly if you are working on an exercise in class or a homework assignment. Fortunately, you can setup a macOS shortcut for the Touch Bar that flips the behavior around. Here’s how to set up a Touch Bar F Key shortcut by application.

Configuring the MacBook Pro Touch Bar To Show Function Keys By Default Per app

The Function Keys Keyboard Shortcuts allows you to toggle the F-Keys on when an app on the right is launch, in this case, Microsoft Excel
  1. Open the Settings app in macOS.
  2. Navigate to or search for the Keyboard control panel.
  3. In Keyboard control panel, click the Shortcuts tab.
  4. On the Shortcuts tab, select Function Keys from the left window pane.
  5. On the Shortcuts tab, click the plus icon to add the app(s) you want to default to the F keys configuration.
  6. Repeat this process for all of the apps you wish to add.
  7. When done, click the red close window button in the top left of the Settings window.