A couple of years ago, I posted about my then-new pair of AirPods.
They’ve proven themselves as one of my favorite ever technology purchases. As a result, I was eager to check out the AirPods Pro that Apple brought out in the fall.
After using them for 3 months, I’m happy to say that they were worth the upgrade. The in-ear design, with multiple insert sizes, mean that they stay in my ear much more securely than the first-gen models. The noise cancellation works well, and the transparency mode is really remarkable for the times when I need to hear what’s happening around me without removing them. I daresay the new physical profile (the shorter stalk, poised at a “jaunty” angle in the ear) is an improvement as well.
They’re still not cheap (indeed these are even more expensive), but they’re worth every penny to me.
I grew up with my parents having a transistor radio in the kitchen. It was usually playing news or sports or my Dad’s favorite jazz station. I always liked the idea of having one in the kitchen, to accompany meal prep, cleanup, dishwashing, etc.
A few years ago, I decided what I really wanted in the kitchen, though, was a streaming radio / remote speaker. I realize I could have gone with a smart speaker or a simple Bluetooth speaker, but I really wanted something flexible, and I liked the idea of building a DIY radio with off-the-shelf parts.
It was pretty easy to build a Raspberry Pi system and get Volumio running on it. In addition to supporting playback of local media, Volumio also supports web radio and can work as an AirPlay remote speaker.
I added a USB laptop speaker with a built in DAC, similar to this one (it fits perfectly on the counter ledge, hidden behind a small plant) and I was ready to go.
Quite often, I’ll want to stream audio from my phone, when streaming an EPL match, for example. This is pretty straightforward — I just need to switch my audio output to my fancy kicthen radio.
Thankfully, IOS 13 adds some nice automation options that make this as simple as can be. I keep a credit card-sized NFC-enabled card in the little nook where the radio lives. Now, all I need to do is wave my phone past the card and the audio output is redirected to the kitchen radio. This triggers a Shortcuts automation so that I don’t even need to unlock my phone or go fiddling with audio settings.
As you can see from the above timeline, I got off of an annual replacement cycle for iPads pretty quickly. My primary workhorse machines are MacOS laptops, and as much as Apple has pushed (in fits and starts) an iPad-first computing philosophy, they are, and remain, consumption devices. Traditionally, I’ve used them for websurfing and light reading from the couch or in bed.
This is a very longwinded way of saying that Apple’s cpus have gone through many generations since I last had a new iPad. Going from an A7 to an A12 is an upgrade you feel. Webpages that took 5-10 seconds to fully render on my old iPad render nearly instantly on the new one.
I was actually torn between the Air and the new Mini, but I decided that I might want to try using it with a Smart Keyboard later. I haven’t picked one up yet, but I did get the 1st generation Pencil. The Pencil is primarily going to be used by Julia on her currently backordered Mini, since she can actually draw. 😄
I’m often an early adopter when it comes to Apple gear. I picked up my Apple Watch, iPad, and a few other things on launch day. When Apple introduced Airpods in 2016, though, I held back a while, for a few reasons.
Let me get the other disclaimers (the caveats mentioned in my title) out of the way first. If you’re not completely inside the Apple ecosystem, these are probably not for you. Like a lot of Apple products, a lot of their virtues come from their integration with the rest of the ecosystem. If you’re an Android person with a Windows or Linux laptop, keep looking.
If you primarily buy earphones/headphones for audio quality, keep looking. These are (quite) decent as far as earbuds go, but they’ll never sound as good as a set of high-end closed-ear phones.
The solution to my “earpods fit weird in my ears” issue was surprisingly simple.
That said, I finally found a use case that justified picking them up. We live in an open plan house, and I like watching TV at night (really, it’s the only chance I get.) I’ve tried other solutions for balancing the TV volume, but generally speaking I’m either in a situation when I can’t hear programming well enough to enjoy it, or I’m annoying others in the house. The killer feature for Airpods, for me, is that I could pair them at the iCloud account level. This means that after pairing them once on my iPhone, they automagically became accessible from my Apple Watch, my iPad, my MacBook, and, most importantly, my Apple TV. Plop them in your ears, then hold down the play/pause button until the audio output device selector pops up. There is no step 3.
I use them sometimes from my phone (mostly when grocery shopping), but where they’re most useful is at the office (paired to my MacBook Pro) and on the aforementioned Apple TV. Since they’re not completely audio-isolating, they work well in an office where people may actually have need to get your attention, and since you’re sitting down, you’re not really worried about them falling out. They also work surprisingly well for conference calls.
I haven’t even gotten into how clever the charging case is, or how slick and painless it is moving them between your various devices, or how much better the AAC compression sounds than A2DP.
In short, they’re great and I’m very glad I bought them.
This is adapted from an email I sent to an internal "gadget fan" mailing list at work in response to a question someone asked about controlling lighting electronically.
I went “simple” and I’m pretty happy with it.
I bought this bulb from Amazon.
It’s made in China and sold under several different brand names, most commonly “Flux” and “Magichome.”
You can get the WiFi RGBW version from Amazon (and a domestic seller) for ~$35.
If you feel comfortable shopping via Alibaba (I don’t) you could probably get it for ~$20.
It doesn't do the dumb thing (UPnP on the open internet) so no, my light bulb isn't helping to bring down Twitter.
I can tell Siri to control my lights. Useless, but fun.
More practically, I wrote a Python script that turns on the lamp in my son’s room in the morning and gradually eases him up with subtle color changes.
It kicks off from a cron job running on a Raspberry Pi. (It doesn’t have to be a Pi, of course — any Linux machine or Mac would work.)
I’m sure it could be made to work from Windows, too, but that’s Somebody Else’s Problem. 😁
I’m familiar with hotel breakfast bar waffle irons, but completely automated pancake makers were a new one on me.
spotted in Brooksville, FL
This is fifth in an indeterminate series of posts about my experiences with the iPad I bought on 2010-Apr-12.
As it stands now, Apple launched their iBook reader and the iBooks store simultaneously with the iPad. Amazon’s Kindle reader app showed up a few days later, as did more specialized readers like GoodReader, InstapaperPro, Marvel Comics, and Zinio.
I’ll concentrate on iBooks, since that’s the experience Apple is leading with. The first release is actually pretty functional, at least for reading fiction and light nonfiction. I don’t really know how it stands up as a reader for technical documents or more specialized fare. My first iBooks purchase was William Gibson’s Neuromancer, which seemed somehow appropriate — it struck a good balance by being a book I’m pretty familiar with, but at the same time it had prabably been 20 years since I’d last read it.
As you would expect, there’s a lot of polish in the iBooks interface for common tasks like navigating within books, setting bookmarks, and searching. The controls are evident and discoverable, without the “747 cockpit” too-many-widgets problems of a lot of other reading tools. The “real book” accents (like the visual page illusion and the fake inside-cover you see when reading a page) are visually appealing without being overdone.
Despite the cries of “lock in” predictably hurled at Apple from the usual corners, it’s pretty trivial to get books for iBooks from sources other than the iBookstore. Just as iTunes and the iPod family support MP3 files from wherever you buy/find/borrow/steal/convert them, any book you can get into an unencumbered ePub file will be cheerfully synced by iTunes once you’ve added it to your library. It’s pretty simple to run pretty much any non-DRMed book in the most common formats through a tool like Calibre or Stanza Desktop to create an .epub file that’s readable in iBooks. As with MP3 files you find on the web, you can make the resulting book as nice as you want, provided you’re willing to put a little effort into metadata grooming.
There is a lot of backlight control in the iBooks application. It’s very easy to make the screen equally readable in a brightly-lit room or in a completely dark one.
I may have read on a spec sheet once that the iPad gets less battery life than a Kindle between charges, but I’ve yet to run my battery all the way down in a single day doing anything on the device, even performing far more CPU-intensive tasks than book reading, so, um, I haven’t found cause to care.
The biggest problem I’ve noticed, at least with reading, is the the insistence on full justification without hyphenation. It simply makes text harder to read. I can understand that good hyphenation is nontrivial to support, but until we get it couldn’t we at least have the option to display text ragged-right?
Despite all the scare stories from E-Ink partisans about how reading on a backlit screen would make our eyes bleed (conveniently neglecting that most office workers spend several hours a day reading on, um, backlit screens), the real visibility problem I’ve hit with the iPad is reflective glare off the shiny screen when reading in direct sunlight. Like the iPhone screen before it, the iPad screen is pretty much a mirror, so don’t expect to get a lot of beach reading done unless you take an umbrella.
The iPad weighs a lot more than the “pure” e-readers (Kindle, Nook, etc.) If you do a lot of reading in bed, you may find yourself switching the iPad from hand-to-hand a fair bit as your wrists become fatigued.
A friend linked the transcript of a speech by Steven Berlin Johnson where he expressed concern and disappointment that he was unable to copy text from Charles Darwin’s “The Descent of Man”:
But there are worse things than paywalls. Take a look at this screen. This, as you all probably know, is Apple’s new iBook application for the iPad. What I’ve done here is shown you what happens when you try to copy a paragraph of text. You get the familiar iPhone-style clipping handles, and you get two options “Highlight” and “Bookmark.” But you can’t actually copy the text, to paste it into your own private commonplace book, or email it to a friend, or blog about it. And of course there’s no way to link to it. What’s worse: the book in question is Penguin’s edition of Darwin’s Descent of Man, which is in the public domain. Those are our words on that screen. We have a right to them.
The important bit in that paragraph are the words “Penguin’s edition.” I haven’t downloaded “Penguin’s edition” of the Descent of Man because it’s $12.99 and the Project Gutenberg edition, which is returned by the same search query in iBooks, is free. What I can confirm is that I am able to highlight and copy text from the exact same passage in the Project Gutenberg edition of the book.
I am not arguing that a publisher flipping the “copy inhibit” bit in an eBook isn’t lame — it is. What I am pointing out is that the symptom pointed out by Johnson is under the control of the eBook publisher. It isn’t an Apple mandate, and it’s not some inherent failure of the iBooks platform (nor an Insidious Apple Plot To Lock Up Culture.)
Next up: some nice native apps.
This is fourth in an indeterminate series of posts about my experiences with the iPad I bought on 2010-Apr-12. I originally planned to post this last Friday, but, um, whatevs…
The iPad’s built-in applications are a bit of a mixed bag. A few of them benefit massively from the increased screen real estate and speed (Safari, Mail, Maps), but don’t really add a lot of functionlity over their iPhone equivalents. In a lot of cases it begins to feel like the applications are just being allowed to exist at the sizes they always wanted to be, if that makes sense. Others (e.g. Notes) feel like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Safari is, in many ways, the most important application on the iPad. Just by being a fast as hell browser you hold in your hands and interact with gesturally, it may be all some folks need to justify the iPad. As I mentioned in a previous post, it handily whips Chrome and Firefox on an Ubuntu netbook, both in page rendering speed and pure joy of use — desktop browsers on small screens are seriously compromised applications, being designed, really, for a very different form factor. There are some small but notable improvements over the iPhone’s Mobile Safari as well. The most immediately noticeable is that videos (both native mpeg4 and embedded YouTube, at least… not yet sure about other h.264-friendly sites yet) are displayed inline, instead of forcing a trip to the video player. There’s also an (optional) bookmarks bar. I even have some of my favorite bookmarklets (or at least the ones that make sense there, like Readability and TBuzz) there. It doesn’t do Flash, but if you care about that you’re probably not reading this post.
It’s hard to tell if Mail on iPad is rewritten from scratch or if only the interface has been redone. Like Mail on the iPhone, it lacks a unified Inbox, but switching between accounts is so fast I don’t really mind. It’s pretty easy to plow through emails on the device. You’re not going to type epics on the onscreen keyboard, but reading emails is almost unreasonably pleasant.
Worthy of note is the iPod application. Aside from the not really portable thing, it’s easily the most visually yummy presentation I’ve ever seen in a music playing application. The screen size allows displaying CD inserts at full size (assuming you’ve embedded suitably large cover art in your metadata), and it’s really striking with a pretty album cover. The onscreen widgets are all consciously finger sized, including the volume slider. It’s all very tactile.
The Maps application is functionally pretty much identical to the iPhone version, but being bigger makes it prettier. That’s pretty much enough for now.
Notepad is pretty pointless. The only difference is the larger screen size. It brings nothing new in terms of syncing or easy exporting of notes. Meh. Even something as simple as being able to use Bluetooth file sending would help matters. It still insists on Marker Felt.
The Photo viewing app is gorgeous, but it’s not the
easiest thing in the world to find the one photo you’re
looking for among thousands. For some unfathomable reason, it
doesn’t support iPhoto keywords. As an adjunct, you can turn
the iPad into a really expensive digital photo frame from the lock
screen. It’s also got that “cool to demo, but kind
useless”-feature of being able to click on an album and
pinch-zoom on a bunch of pics at once. It’s worth noting that
the first time you sync photos from your computer to the iPad,
it’ll spend hours “optimizing” them. This is
irritating when you have a new gadget you just want to play around
with. I recommend aborting the process and deferring it until
The iTunes Store and the App Store are pretty much exactly what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less. The YouTube app is presentable, and pulls off the admirable trick of allowing you access to the worst comments on the Internet without shoving your face in them.
I suppose I could treat iBooks as a built-in application, seeing as how you’re prompted to download it from the App Store the first time you go there, but I suppose it’ll get a separate post all its own anyway.
This is third in an indeterminate series of posts about my experiences with the iPad I bought on 2010-Apr-12.
There were a lot of fanciful hardware designs being bandied about by people before the launch of the iPad. There were things that had all sorts of ports, buttons, and frippery, obviously coming from people how haven’t been paying attention to the ruthlessly minimal designs coming from Apple for years.
I didn’t really pay any attention to them, because I knew that externally, anything they shipped would be a moderately sized piece of aluminum and glass wrapped around some very understated functional engineering. It would be something with no fans, no battery covers, and the bare minimum of external controls and ports.
In retrospect, the idea of scaling up the iPhone/iPod touch form was the most logical thing they could have done. This device isn’t being aimed at the neckbeards on Engadget whipping out their spec sheets and measuring units, it’s a device aimed quite specifically at the tens of millions of people whose first experience with Apple was the iPod and/or iPhone. The end result is a device that has a very small number of external controls and interfaces that will feel completely familiar to lots of people. It’s the gadget equivalent of printing “Don’t Panic” across the front in large, friendly letters. It so happens that the chosen form factor is very comfortable for sitting on a couch or an easy chair. There was some grousing that they went with a 4:3 aspect ratio instead of 16:9, but 4:3 makes a lot more sense if you expect that the device is going to spend as much time oriented vertically as horizontally.
After a week of carrying an iPad around in various contexts, I’m very pleased with the form factor. It is a very comfortable thing to carry. The weight, which is somewhat greater than I’d expected, gives the thing a reassuring feeling of solidity. I know, intellectually, that a great part of the weight is the fairly massive battery assembly, but it really gives the impression of being a solid block of aluminum in the hand. As you would expect from an Apple device, the whole thing feels very constructed: there arent any gaps or seams, and there is no “flex” when you grasp the opposite corners in your hands and apply slight twisting pressure. The weight isn’t all good, though. When reading in bed, it’s definitely noticeable if you’re trying to hold the device in one hand. One and a half pounds may not sound like much, but when you’re lying on your back supporting it at eye level, it’s quite noticeably heavier than you’d probably like.
As I stated earlier, it never warms to the touch, even when playing video. There’s some serious hardware witchcraft in this little slab.
All of my performance remarks are subjective. I have an iPhone 3G, and the iPad is dramatically faster in all aspects than the phone. Switching between screens on the Springboard has no delay at all. As stated earlier, the browser is desktop-fast. I don’t know how much of this can be ascribed to the A4 chip, the video hardware, or low-level OS tweaks, but the performance is really quite remarkable.
The multitouch screen is very responsive, of course. I’ll come back to this in a later post, but the iPhoneOS UI really comes into its own when paired with an extra large control surface. There are all sorts of interface niceties that work better on the iPad than on the iPhone, simply because there’s so much more screen and control surface area to work with. The battery life and charging experience is worth a whole post on its own. Suffice to say, being able to get 10+ hours on a charge, even under intensive use, is a huge win.
One minor complaint I have about the form factor is, since the device is perfectly happy to work in any of the 4 possible orientations, it’s very easy to lose track of where the external controls are. I often find myself reaching for the rotation lock or volume controls, only to find they’re on a different edge of the iPad than I thought.
Next up: the included software.
This is first in an indeterminate series of posts about my experiences with the iPad I bought on 2010-Apr-12.
I got the 32GB WiFi model.
I tried to resist, honestly. Come on, laugh at the early adopter.
The itch became unbearable the weekend following the big launch. I started calling the local Apple stores (there are 4 in the Greater Detroit area) and all of them were completely sold out on Sunday (4/11). I called again at lunchtime the following Monday, and the Troy store (~10 minutes from the office) had the 32 and 64 GB models.
I had quite a few people ask me how I liked it when I first bought it, and I pretty much said exactly the same thing to everyone: I’ve only used it a few hours; ask me again after I’ve used it for a week.
So it’s been a week, and I figured that this was as good an opportunity as any to brush the cobwebs off my poor, neglected weblog. My plan as of now is to break this into a series of smaller posts that will run 1-2 per day until I’m tired of hearing myself blab. I’m projecting about a half-dozen moderate length posts, as of now.
I’m not claiming I have any unique insights, but I’ll offer the perspective of someone who already owns a bucketload of Apple gear and a netbook. Since one of the big debates among the dorkerati was whether the iPad is more or less useful than a netbook, I’ll talk about things from that direction, too.
This is second in an indeterminate series of posts about my experiences with the iPad I bought on 2010-Apr-12.
One mistake the Slashdot/Engadget/Digg crowds always make is assuming that their harware use cases are universal: “It won’t play my 2 terabytes of Ogg Vorbis files stored on an NFS server. I can’t self-host the entire GNU toolchain, therefore it’s useless…” I will try to avoid that here.
I’ve written in this space before about our Acer Aspire netbook. It’s basically the third computer in the house — where I use my desktop (a G5 tower) and my office laptop (a 13-inch MacBook) as machines to “get things done”, the Ubuntu-based netbook has pretty much functioned for a small set of tasks:
I will now say, that for the way that I have used a netbook, the iPad is in most respects a (much) superior platform.
It’s true that the iPad is currently more expensive than most netbook-class machines, but not unreasonably so.
Anyone have one of those little Polaroid PoGos? I wouldn't be expecting huge things from the quality, but a little photo printer that would literally fit in the side pocket of my camera bag does have appeal on its own.
I'd probably be using it via PictBridge, if that matters.
If you’re a free software kinda person who feels guilty about your heresy/iPhone purchase, you can always try to ease your karmic burden by rocking the Free Software Song as a ringtone (128k, no copyrights claimed.)
Putting this here for Google's sake -- the information is out there, but scattered...
You can play the High Definition videos from Apple's Quicktime Trailer site on your PS3 (maybe the Xbox 360 as well -- I don't have one to test.) This is nice, as Apple's trailer site has about 10x as many trailers available compared to the PSN store. The HD videos are internally MPEG4 conformant h.264 video and AAC audio. I believe Quicktime Pro is also required. In theory this should work in either OS X or Windows, but I only have OS X to try.
Click one of the links (depending on your TV's resolution, of course) and the trailer will load in QuickTime Player. Depending on download size, it will take anywhere from a couple of seconds to an eternity for the movie to finish downloading. I recommend allowing the trailer to download fully before trying to export it.
I’ve owned an iPod touch since the beginning of the year and it’s a pretty cool device— it does the expected iPod stuff with a very nice screen for video and the bonus of being a WiFi enabled handheld web browser. I also, for work, carry the world’s worst mobile phone. That’s actually probably a little unfair— it’s probably not so much worse than all the other shitty little phones billions of people carry around, but I do hate the thing — horrible UI, poor battery life, impossible to find accessories (sync cables, chargers) for, etc.
Back to positive things, as mentioned above, I really do like the iPod touch, particularly the net-enabledness of it. As ubiquitous as WiFi is, though, finding a quality clear and open connection when I’m out and about is always a bit of a crapshoot. Watching the prerelease hype for the 3g iPhone, I finally decided that what I really wanted was an iPod touch that had an always-on connection. A few months back I looked into getting something like the CradlePoint PHS300, but quickly realized that then I’d be carrying 3 little devices around all the time, and that’s just silly.
So, I, um, bought an iPhone (Tammie did, too.) We hit the sweet spot in terms of availibility — we purchased at the Somerset Apple store on Saturday. This meant that the Friday launch day activation disaster had been resolved (a friend and I talked to a guy Friday who spent 6 hours waiting for a phone), but there were still actually phones available (most stores sold out on Sunday.) We got in line @ 2:30 PM and were inside the store at 4:00. We walked out with two working phones a half hour later.
It’s been a few years since I’ve really paid much attention to gaming consoles. Since I own one again I’m trying to pay at least moderate attention to the various gaming sites so I know what’s coming out and when, how to spool content from my computers to it, etc. One thing I’ve (blissfully) forgotten in the interval is how obnoxiously stupid console fanboys are. Every time I follow a link to an article about a title or accessory or feature I’m interested in, I make the mistake of reading past the end of the article and I see the comments posted by the various mental giants who’ve invested their entire self worth on which small television-attached beeping box sells the most units. It’s almost as bad as adults who hold a grudge against other cities because the hired-gun millionaires that run around in the stadiums and arenas in their town won or lost versus the hired-gun millionaires that run around in someone else’s.
There was, it appeared, a mysterious rite of initiation through which, in
one way or another, almost every member of the team passed. The term that
the old hands used for this rite — West invented the term, not the practice —
was `signing up.’ By signing up for the project you agreed to do whatever
was necessary for success. You agreed to forsake, if necessary, family,
hobbies, and friends — if you had any of these left (and you might not, if
you had signed up too many times before).
— Tracy Kidder, _The Soul of a New Machine_