• apple,  lifestyle

    The Underdogs – WFH

    I had to laugh when I watched Apple’s new promotional video ‘Working-From-Home Thing’ featuring the likable Underdogs office team.

    Apple’s Underdogs – Working from home

    You see, I needed a distraction from the shenanigans on social media, on cable news, and in newspapers. Apple’s satirical commercial highlights both the challenges we are all facing while trying to work at home while showcasing their products that help make collaborative work easier. With a run time of over six minutes, the video does feel a little long when compared to 2019’s Underdogs commercial. The scene where one of the Underdogs needs to talk to an IT person hits a little too close to home.

    If you want to see what Apple products can do in action, enjoy Apple’s video production values, or simply just relate to trying to work from home when you are used to working in an office, you should watch this short.

  • lifestyle

    Happy Independence Day

    This Independence Day is like none other in our lifetimes. We face a global pandemic. Police are killing unarmed African Americans in plain view of video cameras without fear of punishment. There is food and financial insecurity for the most vulnerable people living in this country while corporations are putting up record breaking profits. Our government is grid locked with “Us” vs “Them” tribalism. And, there a self-absorbed white supremacist who is more interested in dividing us than uniting us in the White House of this once great nation. I am embarrassed by what we have allowed America to become.

    I hope and pray to God that one day We the People will have the courage to return to values such as truth, service, and cooperation.

    So, on this Fourth of July, I recall the sacrifices made by all the men and women who founded this country and, in the words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

  • facebook,  lifestyle,  twitter

    Facebook Cannot Fix Itself

    Catching up on my backlog of Time Magazine (yes, the print edition), here’s Roger McNamee, writing at Time.com:

    Trump has long argued–without evidence–that Internet platforms are biased against conservative voices. In reality, conservative voices have thrived on these platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have consistently allowed conservatives to violate their terms of service. Twitter recently fact-checked two of Trump’s tweets that contained falsehoods, the first time it had done so, which appeared to trigger the Executive Order. Twitter subsequently issued a warning on a Trump tweet for endangering public safety. These actions were long overdue efforts to treat the President’s posts the same as any other user’s. At the same time, Facebook refused to take action with identical posts on its platform.

    This should serve as a warning to companies who try to cozy up governments and politicians. Everything is fine until it is not. Section 230 has allowed large social media and tech companies to wash their hands of the hateful, untruthful, and hurtful content they allow users to post. It’s time to start holding social media and tech companies to the same higher standard as newspapers and other traditional news outlets.

    The benefits of Internet platforms are evident to everyone with access to a computer or smartphone. But like the chemicals industry in the 1950s, Internet giants are exceptionally profitable because they do not pay any cost for the harm they cause. Where industrial companies dumped toxic chemicals in fresh water, Internet platforms pollute society with toxic content. The Internet is central to our way of life, but we have to find a way to get the benefits with fewer harms.

    I think that progressive politicians are finally waking up to the fact that smartphones and reliable high-speed Internet connections are not nice to haves. They are essential to modern life. As the 70 and over crowd retire from politics, or are voted out of office, a new wave of politicians who understand how technology works come into office. The question I have is will they work for the people or align with large corporations, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, to get easy money.

    Thanks to the fight-or-flight instinct wired into each of us, some forms of content force us to pay attention as a matter of self-preservation. Targeted harassment, disinformation and conspiracy theories are particularly engaging, so the algorithms of Internet platforms amplify them. Harmful content crowds out facts and expertise.

    I agree with McNamee on this point. Anyone who disagrees only need to take an honest look the information that is being posted on social media sites about COVID-19 and the mask vs. no mask debate. As a resident of Connecticut, I take issue with Alex Jones’ outright lies out the Newtown school shooting.

    Algorithms need not fill our feeds with targeted and dehumanizing disinformation and conspiracy theories. They do now because amplifying emotionally dangerous content is a choice made to maximize profits. “Optimizing for engagement” undermines democracy and public health. It increases political polarization and fosters hostility to expertise and facts. It undermines journalism, not just by taking advertising dollars from the media but also by forcing news into an environment that discourages critical thinking–and by putting junk news, disinformation and harmful content on an equal footing with credible news sources.

    I really dislike the algorithmic ordering of posts in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn feeds. It was one of the reasons why I chose to delete my Facebook account and try to avoid using Twitter on the web in favor of Tweetbot. The only way to fix this problem is to begin holding social media and large tech companies accountable for the information that is posted to their services by way of a federal law.

    While I am not a fan of Roger McNamee due to his poor influence over Palm, Inc. by way of his investment firm, Elevation Partners, I do agree with him that self-regulation of Facebook and social media companies just does not work and must change.

  • apple,  business,  dell,  ipad pro,  ipados,  lifestyle

    The iPad Pro as a “Real” Computer

    Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.

    The iPad Pro is a real computer. You might be thinking “Yeah, duh!” right now. Let me explain.

    I was recently working in my office – my corporate office for my job-y job, not my fun-with-computers home office – and I was using my company issued Dell Latitude laptop. I needed to jump on a conference call, so I undocked my laptop, opened the lid, and moved closer to the window for better lighting. I also wanted to charge my work-issued 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I decided to try to charge my iPad Pro from the USB-C cable from my Dell WD19TB USB-C/Thunderbolt dock.

    As expected, my iPad started charging immediately. What I wasn’t expecting was a few seconds after that, iPadOS 13.4 “attached” to the dock and started mirroring the screen, accepting input from my Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as connecting to the network.

    iPadOS 13.4’s wireless mouse and system-wide pointer support worked with my Logitech Unifying Receiver connected K750 keyboard and M510 mouse just as smoothly as it does on the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard or a Magic Trackpad 2. I am also using a Dell 32-inch 4k UltraSharp U3219Q monitor, which displayed the video output from the iPad crisply. With an Ethernet connection, I was able to use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Mobile client to connect to Windows 10 and Windows Server machines. Files was able to connect to my frequently used SMB server, and I was able to use multiple FileMaker applications hosted on FileMaker servers with FileMaker Go.

    There are a few things that I found a little disorienting while using my iPad Pro in place of my Windows laptop. I am confident they will become second nature quickly, but I think that they are worth mentioning in case you, dear reader, want to try your own iPad Pro at work experience.

    First, the iPad Pro will go to sleep a lot faster than Windows will put my laptop to sleep. I am apprehensive leaving my iPad constantly connected to power for multiple hours after 100% charge was reached. Second was getting the K750 keyboard to wake up and work with the iPad was occasionally problematic. The M510 mouse never had an issue. As a security feature, the contents of password fields are not mirrored to the external monitor. I kept clicking into the password field thinking I missed the target for the cursor until I realized what was going on. Finally, I discovered that while the iPad saw the USB powered speaks that are connected to the dock, I was not able to play audio of audio of any kind from the iPad through the dock speakers. I will have to keep playing with the speakers to figure out what’s going on.

    Overall, I had an enjoyable afternoon working on my iPad Pro in place of my Windows 10 laptop. There are few specific tasks that I probably could have done on the iPad, but muscle memory makes those technical IT tasks quicker for me in Windows. Enabling hardware support for USB-C docks and accessories is not a glamorous headline grabbing iPadOS feature, but I’m glad it is there.

  • apple,  lifestyle,  macintosh,  newton,  vintage

    These Old Macs

    One of the things that I have been doing to keep myself busy during the craziness that is the COVID-19 pandemic (please keep wearing your face coverings in public) is to refurbish some of the old Macintosh computers in my collection.

    In particular, I am working on a PowerMac G4 Quicksilver (2001) restoration and a PowerBook G3 (1998) repair. Neither machine is working right now, which is understandable since they are 19 and 22 years old, respectively. Rather than talk about each repair project, I figure it would be more helpful to share some of the resources that I have found online to help others repair and overhaul their vintage and obsolete status Macs.

    Repair Information and Manuals

    When many Mac enthusiasts think of repair guides and tear down instructions, we think of iFixit.com. They offer a great service for sure and I have ordered my share of repair kits from them. But they are not the only game in town.

    If you are looking to repair or restore an old PowerBook, you will want to take a look at PowerbookMedic.com. They have repair guides and reasonably priced spare parts to get your old MacBook back in top condition. They also offer some parts and repair services for the iMac and Mac mini.

    Another great site is AppleRepairManuals.com [http://www.applerepairmanuals.com/index.php#tools]. They have a wealth of information in the form of Apple service guides as well as other helpful tips that you will need while servicing your new and old Mac, iPod, Newton, or Lisa.

    Finding Spare Parts for Your TLC Project

    Once you have found the part number for the component that needs replacing, sure, you can use eBay. Many of my component searches start there. But there are other online retail options that specialize in vintage hardware. Depending on the Mac, Other World Computing (OWC) might have the part. I recently purchased an inexpensive PRAM battery from them for the G4. OWC also has a neat IDE/ATA to SATA adapter and SSD conversion kits. Once I have the G4 booting again, I plan to replace an old spinning hard disk with a 120GB SATA SSD. That should give that old boy a nice little speed bump.

    One of my new favorite sites for spare parts is UsedMac.com. Need a replacement IDE drive for your Mac, a floppy drive for your PowerBook, or an external Jaz drive? No problem. I just recently ordered a 6GB 2.5″ IDE notebook drive from them. It was super cheap.

    The Newton

    I came to the Newton late in its life. Like weeks before Steve Jobs came back to Apple and killed it late. I am still intrigued by the Newton and how cool it looks. Old Newtons and eMate portables can still be found on eBay. But sometimes you need that special part. For all things Newton, you will want to check out these great resources.

    Newton Research offers a modern version of the Newton Connection Utilities that will run on modern versions of Mac OS. I was able to connect my Newton MessagePad 2100 to my Macbook Pro 2016 with Mojave.

    Chuma.org has a good write up for how to get Ethernet working on your MessagePad.

    Don’t forget UGreen’s USB 2.0 Type A to RS232 DB9 serial cable. This UGreen cable has a built-in FTDI serial converter so you won’t need a driver on the Mac / Windows PC side to get your Newton to connect and sync.

    Software

    Restoring hardware is only half of the equation. Once you have restored your computer, you may need to download and OS for it. Let’s face it, 1.4MB floppies, in my collection at least, aren’t holding up well. CDs are holding up much better. Regardless if you are the victim of bit rot, scratched discs, or may not be the most organized person in the world, the Internet has you covered.

    MacintoshRepository.org has a wide selection of Apple system software for the Mac, Apple //, and the Lisa. WinWorld’s library of Apple-related software is rather extensive with disk images for System Software 0-6, Mac OS and Mac OS X. You can also download A/UX and NeXTStep.

  • business,  imac,  lifestyle,  logitech,  wfh

    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.

  • journalism,  lifestyle,  newspapers

    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.

  • android,  lifestyle,  sustainability

    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.

  • blogger,  lifestyle

    Hello, World! (Again!)

    “Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!”

    Ok, I couldn’t resist the play on the original 1998 Bondi Blue Apple iMac tagline when talking about this blog.

    You see, for almost the last four years, I have been working full-time and taking college courses full-time to complete by undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Information Technology degree.  That left little time for blogging.  And so, I had a broken and mostly ignored blog hosted over on WordPress.com, and more homework than I cared to admit.

    Thankfully, I am in my final 10-weeks of coursework.  I have repaired the blog here.  I’ll have to do something with my WordPress hosted blog over there.  And I’m looking forward to getting back to talking about Apple gadgets, things that interest me, and my Dad’s whacky technology hijinks.  (There was one just today involving a Windows 10 laptop, Internet Explorer 11, and one of those “Take our site survey” pop-ups.  But that’s a story for a different time.)

    So, hello.  Welcome back to my weird blogging adventure that is this polymorphic blog.

    -Alan