Day 167

I don’t really know how many days into the lockdown we are. I suppose I could figure it out. I also suppose I could update more here, instead of just when something breaks. But there’s not a lot otherwise going on.

So remember last year when my iPhone 8 blew up? Almost exactly a year later, the replacement started swelling again. I wasn’t planning on upgrading for a while because I was fully paid up on the old one, and I figured the year-old replacement would last until Apple came up with a reason for me to get a 12 or a 13 or whatever. Well, there’s my reason. I bought an iPhone 11 Pro, and paid far too much for it. The Apple Store near me is open in a limited fashion now, so I did an in-store pickup, where I showed up at an appointment time, stood out on the sidewalk, and got the phone brought out to me. I bought it straight-up instead of dealing with any of AT&T’s byzantine payment plans. That part was easy enough.

The migration, which is supposed to “just work” did not work. It took me four tries, about a half day. I thought I’d just sync the old phone to my Mac, then plug in the new phone and restore to it. I don’t know why it took so many tries to get this to work. One thing I noticed after my first fail is that the cable I bought a year ago and the cable that came with the phone were different. They are both Thunderbolt (aka USB-C) to Lightning, but there’s some internal difference. The same thing happened with the laptop last May. There’s some subtle difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt, or there’s some difference between data cables versus charging cables versus fast-charging cables versus… whatever. And of course all of the cables are white, and look identical. I found out that some of the newest cables have a very light gray number on them, like instead of the RGB value of #FFFFFF for white, it’s #FEFFFF, and you need a jeweler’s loupe to read it, and then you have to google the value, and it’s on the seventh page of results because the first six are rumors about the next iPhone or something.

The new phone has a larger screen, but is about the same size. It has Face ID, which is fairly useless. First, it can’t identify me with no glasses, or with a mask on. Also, I’m in the habit of grabbing my phone and unlocking it while it’s still in my pocket or on the way up, and that’s impossible now. I also can’t unlock it while it is on the dashboard of my car. Also, I bought the battery case, so the phone is far too heavy and thick. I am almost sure I will drop it in the near future. And the gestures to use it with no home button are annoying.

The new camera is interesting. It has a portrait mode, which simulates a low depth-of-field lens, which is nice. It also has a wider lens, which is good for landscape photos. There is a night mode, which might be useful if I ever leave my house at night again, which won’t be any time soon. Overall, the camera stuff is neat, but for this price, I could have bought a nice DSLR or mirrorless camera.

* * *

Another Apple semi-fail is that the Airport Extreme I bought a few years ago was showing its age, or maybe having Sarah work upstairs full-time was requiring better WiFi coverage. I have bad luck with routers and they always seem like a perishable product; after two or three years, they just go rotten, and no firmware update or restore will make them better. Apple doesn’t make routers anymore, so after much research, I ended up with a Ubiquiti Amplifi HD. It works, but I’m not in love with it. First, it took a few tries to get it started. (They insist that you reboot your cable modem during setup, which makes no sense, but it didn’t work until I did, so I guess that’s my fault.) It uses a cutesy phone app for all configuration, and I’d rather have an actual browser-based admin. I also wouldn’t mind better logging or something (I’ll get to that in a second) but it seems to work fine. I have the router downstairs, and the mesh stations in the living room and upstairs, and it has roughly doubled performance up there, so mission accomplished.

* * *

On to the next problem. Right after I got the new phone set up, Comcast started complaining that we were close to our data cap of 1.25 Terabytes. They’ve waived the cap for the last few months because of COVID-19, but now that COVID is completely cured and everyone has returned to the office, they’ve started charging people for going over again. Wonderful.

This started the anxious exercise of trying to figure out how we’re using so damn much bandwidth. Of course, plugging in a new phone meant it automatically had to redownload every app and a bunch of big updates, so that’s probably fifty gigs. And as I looked at my machine, I realized my Backblaze cloud backup was then uploading that fifty gigs of updates, so I got double-taxed on it. I installed a copy of Bandwidth+ and Little Snitch to try to figure out where all of my data usage was coming from, and man that is horrible.

First of all, Apple is downloading monster updates constantly. Every little point release of iOS or MacOS is at least five gigs of data, and on my desk, I’ve got three different devices. And like I said, those are all getting backed up. (I stopped doing that, so that’s some savings.) But it’s also amazing how much a Mac will change over the course of a day. I started scheduling my Mac to back up at midnight, and it would send a few gigs of data up. Then I’d wake up, do nothing for nine hours, and Backblaze would say it had a half-gig of updated files ready to back up. I’d look, and it was all crazy iCloud stuff, the Mac recording Siri suggestions even though Siri was deleted, tons of deltas on files in the calendar and email programs that had been doing nothing. I have no idea how to stop any of this, but with two Macs in the house doing this, there’s like ten percent of the 1.25 TB right there.

Another thing with Little Snitch – ok, so this is a program that will fire up an alert every time anything tries to make an internet connection, and then you can set up automated rules to allow or block certain things. It also shows you what programs are using the internet, and tracks their usage. (My router problem: I wish I could do this for every machine in my home, like at the router level. I know if I spent two grand on a pro Cisco router, I could do this. But my little consumer one won’t.) Anyway, it is amazing how much some programs hit the outbound connection. Like if someone in my house even says the word “Adobe” I get a dozen outbound connection requests. Creative Suite is basically a piece of malware that happens to have an image editing program in it.

Facebook is also particularly bad. Even though I think I’ve disabled whatever video auto-play is in FB, it will hit this one video CDN continually, preloading things it isn’t showing me, to a tune of a gig per every few minutes. I know, quit Facebook. But it’s amazing how blocking that CDN saved me a ton of grief. Even better, I spotted the CDN that auto-loads those annoying videos that pop up any time you go to any news web site. Life is much better after I blocked that thing.

Oh, about the data cap. After much research, I found there are a few options to remove the cap. One is to straight-up pay them $30 a month. The other is to lock into their new xFi router ecosystem, and rent a new modem, and they will remove the cap for $25 a month. I currently rent an older modem of theirs for $14 a month, so they sent me a new router, which I will immediately put into bridge mode and ignore all of their new features, which probably don’t work. I hate to pay that $11 a month, especially with how high the bill is already, but $11 versus obsessing over this every time I launch my browser is worth it.

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Not much else is up. I’ve spent a lot of time walking at NAS Alameda and have a ton of photos I should probably organize someday. Other than that, it’s been work, work, work. I have another “vacation” coming up, so maybe I can do something productive that week.

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