New iPad

Thanks to a generous gift card from Sarah for my birthday, I ended up at the Apple Store, upgrading my iPad again. I was really on the fence about upgrading at all, because there’s a rumor they will be updating in March, but there’s another rumor that there’s a massive 10nm chip shortage that’s going to push back the release significantly. And I’m far enough behind the curve with my circa-2012 iPad 4 that anything would be a big upgrade.

My big dilemma was whether to get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro or the 12.9-inch. I ended up choosing the smaller one, partly because of price, and partly because the 12.9 is a bit ungainly for me, slightly heavy and hard to type on. Also, it really feels like I’d bend it in half at some point, like the first time I put it in a computer bag. So I went with the 9.7, but I did option up to 128GB of storage.

I don’t use an iPad that much to need a Pro version, but this is an oddball side effect of the horrible market segmentation going on at Apple right now. There are essentially four different iPads in three different sizes right now, and none of that makes any sense. What is the difference between an iPad Air 2 and an iPad Pro 9.7? Better processor, better screen, better cameras, the smart connector, the use of the pencil, and better speakers. But why make those two different lines? It’s confusing, and it reminds me of the mid-90s, when there were three dozen different Centris and Quadro and Duo and Fucko models of the Mac, back when Apple really sucked.

As far as the not using part, I really have/had high hopes for the smart connector thing, because bluetooth keyboards are always a pain in the ass, especially charging them. But the $170 keyboard that Apple sells is hot garbage. It feels like typing on an Atari 400, and you have to use it on a table. I want something I can use in my lap, but I don’t know what one that is yet.

I don’t write on the iPad, but I do think about it. For a while a few years ago, I would only take the iPad and a keyboard on trips, and try writing that way. But now, it’s just as easy to bring my MacBook Pro with me, and have access to all my writing at once. I wouldn’t mind using the iPad more for notes, or for a distraction-free writing device.

I also ordered an Apple Pencil online, after deciding not to in the store. Maybe I can use the Paper app to sketch out ideas. A million years ago, I had a Toshiba Windows tablet with a pen, and had huge plans to use OneNote and plot out books and take notes, and I never did shit with it. Maybe this will be the same, but who knows.

Overall, the upgrade, which is about four or five times faster, seems nice and snappy. The new screen is much better looking. And it’s odd that it is physically smaller overall, but has the same screen size. I expect that in a week, I won’t notice the speed jump at all, which is what happened when I upgraded from the gen-one to the four. Still, very nice birthday gift to myself.

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The iCloud Music Library Different Version of a Song Thing

I’ve been having some odd problems with iCloud Music LIbrary and Apple Music. Here’s a description and walkthrough of the issue, partly so I won’t forget it in six months when something completely different doesn’t go sideways, and partly so there’s a record of it somewhere on google, because googling on stuff like “iTunes different version of song” only results in insane hyperbole having nothing to do with the issue.

(Also, take all of this with a grain of salt. This is my experience, and what I tested. Maybe I have the terms or usage screwed up. If so, please comment. Also a big warning: there are a bunch of edge cases that you can hit by screwing around with your settings, potentially destroying your entire music library. This isn’t a list of those. PLEASE do more reading and back up all your shit before you do anything.)

First – I subscribed to Apple Music. It’s like Apple’s version of Spotify; ten bucks a month, and you can stream a bunch of music without buying it, ad-free. It’s not the entire iTunes store’s contents; I don’t know if it’s a subset, or a different list, but it’s fairly comprehensive. There are also various curated playlists, which are neat, and I’ve found a lot of great new experimental music there. It’s all confusingly integrated into iTunes, and I have some complaints there (as does everyone else).

So at home, on the Mac, I’ve got 17,000-odd songs that I’ve either ripped from CD, bought from iTunes, or otherwise downloaded (cough). When I’m at home, I listen to those fine, and also have added some Apple Music playlists to “My Music” as it’s called in iTunes. I listen to the mix of those two when I have internet access, or just the ones on my physical machine when I don’t.

Second – the iPhone Situation. Back in the day, I kept no music on it at all, and carried around an 80GB iPod with a mirror of my collection on it. When the 64GB iPhone came out about five years ago, I started mirroring my entire collection to my phone. When that stopped fitting, I created a bunch of playlists and only synced those, to only sync stuff that was higher rated, recently played, recently added, etc. I also used to sync everything I purchased, but that got to be too much after a certain point. Right now, I sync about 2000 songs, 20GB of stuff. The partial collection sync works okay, although every once in a while, I’d get stuck without something I wanted to hear, but I’d live.

Now, about iCloud Music Library. The text next to this option is “Store your Apple Music songs and playlists in iCloud so you can access them from all of your devices.” The general idea is that you are pushing a master list of all tracks and playlists to the cloud. Then when you use the Music app on another device with that iCloud account login, you get a copy of those lists, and can then stream the songs from the cloud without having them on the device. In theory, I could sync no music to my phone, have zero bytes of music stored or synced, and just get everything from the sky.

There are really two things going on here, and it’s a very subtle difference that is not clearly explained. First case, let’s say I don’t have an album on my Mac. I never bought or ripped the Krokus album Headhunter. (Of course, this is a lie. I think I own 17 copies of this album.) But I found it in Apple Music, I liked it (who doesn’t) and I added it to My Music. What I’ve done is added a link to the album in Apple Music within the big list of songs and playlists in my library. I didn’t download it, though. But if iCloud Music Library is turned on in my Mac iTunes and on my iPhone, that link is added to my iCloud Music Library, and it’s synced to my phone. I can then stream the song “Eat the Rich” from my phone, and all is well (until I drive into a tunnel, or like 80% of Indiana.)

Second case: what also happens is that I am syncing the master list of all of my tracks and playlists to the cloud. So let’s say I ripped that copy of Headhunter from a CD back in 2002, and it’s been knocking around various music libraries on my computers since then. (Probably true.) And maybe I one-starred the song “White Din” because it’s a 90-second intro track of sound effects, and it’s stupid when it comes up when I’m driving around with my windows open stuck in traffic. So the file never gets synced to my iPhone, but it’s in my master list in iCloud. The song “Screaming In the Night” is synced and is physically on my iPhone, so that plays fine, even when I’m in a plane at 40,000 feet and don’t pay extortion prices for WiFi. But if I’m listening to the entire album (which is itself a list of the tracks, stored in this synced master list my phone got from iCloud) and it hits “White Din” it will stream that song for me.

(To also slightly complicate things: if you don’t have the physical song on your device, there is a way to download the Apple Music copy and have a cached version of a song you didn’t even buy on your phone, so you can play it without internet access. This is nifty, but it never ever works, because you will always forget to download that version, and the feature is half-buried and impossible to find or use, and you have to do it on a per-playlist basis.)

The second case is a nice-to-have. The first case, you have to turn the iCloud Music Library to see your Apple Music playlists. It appears to me that there’s some difference between Apple Music playlists and an iTunes playlist I’ve created by hand, because you can’t sync Apple Music playlists unless iCloud Music Library is turned on. I’d been adding all these neat playlists to my library, but couldn’t see them on my phone. So, I turned on iCloud Music Library, and that’s when my problems started.

(Yes, I’m a thousand words into this post, and just now getting to the problem.)

I noticed my playlists were getting weird. Like with this theoretical Krokus situation: I’d be syncing the entire album to my phone, from my own non-Apple Music playlist. Then I’d be out and about, and when the song “Headhunter” came up, instead of playing the studio version that’d I’d ripped from the 1983 album back in 2002, it would instead stream some shitty live version with only one original member recorded at a county fair in 2012.  Or it would stream a horrific EDM dance remix by a DJ from Ireland who also happens to use the name Krokus and has a 38-minute trance number he also called “Headhunter.”

(This is a theoretical example; I don’t know if Krokus was having an issue. Here’s one that really happened though: I had the entire Queensryche album Empire synced to my phone, in a playlist of songs rated above a 3. The album was originally ripped by me from a CD. When the last song “Anybody Listening?” played on my phone, instead of using the synced studio version, it would instead stream a live version of the same song.)

My first attempt at trying to fix this: I renamed the track on my Mac, adding an “(r)” to the filename, thinking that would break the match. It did not. I don’t know why, but it still played the same fucking live song.

My second attempt: I turned off iCloud Music Library. I then told it to delete everything from the phone (which is fine, it’s all copies there) and re-sync. It went back to the way it was. I can’t play Apple Music playlists anymore, but all of my music is fine.

I don’t know why this happens, and I don’t fully understand it, but I’ve got a trip later this week with limited internet, so I’m not screwing with it any more.

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The Latest S

Another two years have passed. My iPhone wouldn’t hold a charge more than half a day anymore, and I got annoyed at carrying an external battery charger everywhere. So this week, it was off to the Apple Store to trade in the old 5s for the new 6s.

First things first: I do not understand what the hell is going on with upgrading phones. I’m on AT&T, and it used to be you had a contract, you did your two years of time, then you came in and got a $700 phone for $200 or $300 and the promise to re-up for another two years. I realize phones are not “free” and you pay for that $500 subsidy over time. I recently moved to a different plan and gave up my unlimited data plan so I could use tethering, which was probably a mistake, especially since everything is streaming or in the cloud now. But anyway, I was under the assumption this upgrade deal would continue, and the AT&T web site made it look like it would.

But once I got to the store, they said no. I was given three options: pay $750 for an unlocked phone, join AT&T Next and pay an extra $25 a month for the phone and be locked in for 30 months with an option to swap phones at 24 months, or use Apple’s financing to pay some amount (maybe like $25, I don’t know and I’m too lazy to look it up) and then trade up every year. There is allegedly some discount on the AT&T Next thing if you have a newer plan, probably with a lower data amount — I don’t even fucking know. All I know is my cell phone bill went up like 25% for no real reason, but I did end up not paying for the entire phone up front. So they have made it so you pay the same price for not getting the phone subsidy, or you can pay extra to get the subsidy, which is total bullshit. I have a feeling if I would have said “Yeah, I’m not upgrading at all today and keeping my old shit phone” they would have charged me another $25 a month to do that.

Anyway. I jumped from 5s to 6s. The biggest thing about the 6s is the phone itself – it moved from the 4” to the 4.7” size. I looked at the 6s+, and it seemed far too big for a phone. The 6s is honestly too big for me. It’s also very slippery and I’m almost sure I would drop it within the first day if I didn’t get a rubbery case for it. I haven’t dropped an iPhone ever, but I’m certain I won’t make it six months with this one without face-planting it, hopefully not on concrete. The move of the lock button to the right side is also awkward to me, and touching anything at the top of the screen is a chore when holding the phone in one hand. Maybe I should have gone to the larger size and just completely given up on ever using it with one hand. I like the small amount of extra screen real estate, but honestly, there are rumors of a 4” next-gen phone, and I’d almost consider that when the next upgrade cycle happens (and who knows when the hell that is now, with this stupid contract I signed.)

The 6s is faster. It’s much faster, but I’m sure I won’t notice it in a week or so, and it will be the new normal. But the touch ID is remarkably fast. Battery life is about the same. There is the new 3D Touch feature, which detects finger pressure and opens little pop-up windows for frequently-used functions. This feature is largely useless to me, and is the equivalent to when right-clicking was introduced in Windows 95. It meant that some but not all things had a weird right-click menu on it, and you never knew what you could do unless you experimented forever to find these “bonus” menus in odd places, and who has time for this shit.

The camera is a big upgrade, going from 8 to 12 MP on the rear, and 1 to 5 on the front, with better sensors (really the important part, not megapixels) and the video moving to 4K. I haven’t had a chance to do much with the camera yet, but I used my iPhone as camera for most of my vacation pictures over Thanksgiving, so I see myself doing that going forward.

Upgrade was smooth, going from a backup. I had a phone with no music and no stuff on it for the drive home, which was the same as last time. But this time, I also had a watch that was similarly dead (although it could still tell time and everything) because my watch was now paired to an old phone that had been wiped and traded in. The one snag I had moving forward was that Apple Music and the iTunes Cloud crap meant that no music was syncing on the device anymore, and I was streaming everything. I had to fuck around forever with making playlists available offline, and I’m still not sure they are. Apple really needs to figure that shit out.

There’s always been an odd emotional reaction when the old phone gets wiped, shut off, and shoved in an envelope to go off to the recycling plant. My phone never leaves me, has everything on it, and there’s always a close emotional bond to it, as stupid as that sounds. My phones end up going to many states and countries, held to my face for many long phone calls, and tapped away for literally years of online interaction.

This strange nostalgia seems to happen less and less now with each upgrade cycle; I remember it being horrible the first time I traded in my broken iPhone 3G for a new one, after only nine months of use. Now, it’s not as big of a thing. With the cloud stuff and upgrade process, it’s more like a digital soul is being pulled from one host and dumped into another, because the new phone had the same old layout and data and preferences, but in a shiny new case.

Makes me wish I could do that with my own body at some point. Isn’t Kurzweil done with that shit yet?

 

 

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The Watch

I got an Apple Watch this week – it was an anniversary present from my wife. I’ve vaguely wanted one, but wasn’t sure. I’ve used it for a day now, and it’s interesting in the same way all new Apple products are interesting to me.

I’ve had two different experiences with new Apple products: either it is a complete game-changer, or it doesn’t seem to offer anything, and over time, it slowly becomes apparent why it is valuable. A clear example of the latter is the Apple TV. We had a Roku box, and replaced it with the Apple TV. And at first, all I thought was “okay, more of the same.” It didn’t run apps, didn’t do anything special, and was pretty much the same thing, with a different UI and slightly different lineup. But then its value became slowly more apparent as I realized I could stream anything from my Mac into the living room, and use AirPlay to mirror over video from an iOS device.

Other things hit it out of the park. Switching from a big tower PC with Linux to a little Mac Mini in 2005 was a complete game-changer. Moving from a MiniDisc player to an iPod with every piece of music I owned was a complete paradigm shift. The move from a crap Windows Mobile phone to an iPhone in 2009 was a huge thing. I think any time I replaced something with an Apple equivalent device, it was a major positive change, and usually added functionality that greatly helped my productivity. Or, in most cases, it removed distractions that gave me much more time to focus on other things.

The iPad was a weird example, though. It didn’t replace anything; it was an odd supplement. It did take over using an old laptop when I was sitting on the couch watching TV, and made the passive second-screen experience much more fluid. It also took over using my main laptop on planes or during travel. But it ping-ponged between being too big to be a phone and too small to be a laptop. I tried bringing only it on small trips, using it as a writing machine with an external keyboard, and it never really hacked it. I also used it as an ebook reading machine, before I largely gave up on reading ebooks, because they are horrible and you really should read everything on paper. I love the iPad, but it’s stuck in this chasm between what I need and what I want.

That brings us to the watch. First, like any other Apple product, it is immaculately designed and engineered. The display is incredibly crisp and radiant. The lines of the case are smooth and minimalist. The way it sits on the wrist is not overly “techie” looking like a Pebble watch or other smart watches. It’s very sleek and smaller than my last watch, a Timex Expedition.

I’ve always worn watches. I never don’t wear one, including at night and in the shower. Since high school, it has been a changing cast of plastic waterproof Timexes and Casios, ranging from the most basic drug-store cheapies to a few more expensive G-Shock and Ironman models. My only real requirement of a watch is that I don’t need to think about it, that it is ultimately waterproof, unobtrusive, and has a battery that lasts a long time. I don’t care about fashion or gold or leather or any of the fetishistic Rolex-esque collectible qualities. I dislike analog watches, and I don’t care for wind-up or mechanical watches. If I have to have features, I want a date function, maybe a multiple-timezone thing, a very readable display, and a light is key.

I’ve wandered into the world of smart watches only in the earliest ideas of it. I did have a solar-powered G-Shock with altimeter, barometer, and all that jazz. It was okay, but did not charge well indoors, and I never went outdoors. I did a few different iterations of the Timex DataLink, which was interesting, but ultimately flawed. I generally like the look and feel of Timex, but it always seems they don’t test the UX of their watches, or they generally have 80% of the features I want, and the other 20% is sheer stupidity. And then when they break a year later, you have no way to replace a weird-shaped proprietary band or get them repaired, so they are ultimately disposable.

There are obvious issues with my demands that an Apple Watch won’t meet. It needs to be charged daily. There are Apple apologists who say you can maybe get two days out of it if you turn everything off and don’t actually use it, but get real — you need to charge it every day, for about 45 minutes or so. You could do this at night, but I like to have a watch on at night so I can read the time when I wake up at 2:37, and I’m interested in tracking sleep. I also can’t really wear the Apple Watch in the shower. You can, but it’s “splash resistant” and not “water resistant 5M” or whatever. Washing hands with it on is fine. It’s probably best to keep your wrist clean and avoid irritation, too. So I will try to kill two birds here and put it on the charger in the morning while I am getting ready, and let it charge while I’m in the shower. That’s a change in workflow, and I’m super anal-retentive about getting ready in the morning and do everything in the same exact order like I’m on the spectrum or something, because if I don’t follow a Rainman-esque procedure, I end up putting on deodorant four times and then only shaving half my face. So I need to get used to the new procedure.

The interface to the watch is interesting. It’s a new paradigm. When the iPhone came out, it took a page from the Palm Pilot playbook and made itself a subset of the Mac from which it synced, so you took only your essential data and mirrored it to your phone, along with its own Apps. This is different than the way Windows Mobile and now some Android phones work, with a different methodology, in that the phone is a PC, and the data is partitioned or divided between the two in some hodge-podge manner just like if you had two completely different PCs in your house. My friends who believe in the phone-as-PC are dumbfounded by the phone-as-subset paradigm, and think it is an indicator that the iPhone is “stupid” or “cobbled” because it can’t do everything a PC could. I see it as the opposite; a phone masquerading as a PC usually can’t do everything as well. The input and output methods on a phone aren’t the same as a PC, so you need to tailor the UI of the phone differently, to expect a touchscreen and fat fingers and less viewing area. You also want to keep a phone lightweight, so it requires less CPU and uses less battery. (This is more apparent on the tablet-as-full-PC paradigm, like the Surface. When you transfer an entire PC to a tablet, you also bring over all the parasitic overhead of an OS that has to be backward-compatible 20 years, so you have a disaster of a registry system, DLL hell, the requirement of a thousand background processes and virus scanning and obsolete drivers for floppy drives and line printers polluting your OS, and random PC LOAD LETTER errors or whatever the hell else you don’t want popping up in a Win 3.11-esque UI on your tiny touchscreen.)

So the Watch is a subset of a subset. It pairs with your iPhone and gives a glimpse of its data through a bluetooth tether, with a certain amount of computing working through its own CPU, memory, and network connectivity in the form of WiFi. I don’t know what the division is; this is hidden from the user. It’s fairly seamless; you put on the watch, tell your phone to pair with it, and after scanning a weird QR-like code on the watch face with your iPhone camera, it’s done. It is odd to think of this Russian dolls method of nesting, but that’s how it works, and it works.

I was worried the watch UI would not work out for me with my rapidly diminishing nearsightedness, but it seems fine. The big change is the haptic interface it uses to send notifications. This is more than just a single-frequency buzzer; it uses some kind of variable motor that can make notifications feel like a “tap” of different frequency to send things to you. Depending on the app, this can be quite effective. The issue is how to standardize this on apps, or have an app come up with a good idea of how to notify you. For example, the Apple Maps app uses different tapping to indicate when you should take a turn, which is pretty genius. I think there is a good possibility for an app that uses taps to do things like tell you running pace or notify you of different types of communication via a morse code-like tapping system, to change the need to look at things. I don’t know what yet, but the idea of a haptic sensor in such a prominent place (as opposed to a phone in a pocket) could mean something significant in the form of direct communication beyond the sense of sight.

Apps right now are limited, and it depends on what you want to use the watch for. There is essentially no good input device for the watch, aside from Siri. If you use Siri a lot now, this is very useful. I use Siri at least ten times every time I cook (I can’t do measurement conversions at all — sorry for failing you, grade-school math teachers) and having it on my watch is wonderful. If you make a lot of quick phone calls, having a speaker phone on your wrist where you can yell “call home” is very useful if you drive a lot. Frequent texts, in the form of “send a message to Joe saying I’m going to be ten minutes late” is helpful.

Many of the apps — especially the mail app — are in their primitive, first-stab level of functionality. When I was sitting in bed, it was useful to open mail, and immediately delete half the messages, which I always do. But as I was doing this, it reminded me of 1999, when I had my first Sprint PCS phone, a flat rubberized slab of butt-dialing goodness that had a tiny calculator screen to show you texts and what it thought was “mobile web,” a rough and dumb approximation of browsing the internet in the form of showing you the first 18 characters of a stripped-down web site after about a minute of loading. Reading my mail messages on this little screen made me think back to those early days of reading mails on the tiny square screen of a Nokia, with no adornment or spacing or anything, just bare words in a little LCD box. It looks better and smoother on the Watch, but in my mind it is a representation or reminder of that feeling of “this is our first go at this, but in ten years, this is going to be phenomenal.”

Some apps are silly, or plain dumb. Apps are not separately synced; an iOS app may or may not have an associated Watch app. When your phone app has a watch app, you get it when you sync. As an example, the Walgreen’s phone app has a Watch app, and all it does is remind you when to take your pills. That’s it. I could have used a Watch app that showed me my rewards balance, but no. Some apps are decent. Like the Yelp app is pretty good at giving you condensed choices. The Weight Watchers app is buggy as hell and largely useless. The MLB At Bat app seems to be well thought-out, but won’t even launch for me. I think this will get better as the new native apps API get out there. The possibility for good apps exist. Maybe now that they’ve sold a few billion dollars’ worth of watches, they will start to happen.

Built-in apps are good. I like the idea of controlling iTunes with my watch. The messaging apps are decent. I rarely text or use the phone because I’m an introvert shut-in with no friends, but if you talk to friends a lot, there’s a lot of usefulness there.

One of the main reasons I wanted the watch is to keep track of fitness and quantify that. The sensors for this are excellent, as is the activity monitor. I normally use a Fitbit to count steps/floors, and the Watch seems to count slightly lower, which is normal for a wrist-mounted counting device, I think. The heartbeat sensor is pretty good. The integration with Apple Health is awesome. I first used the exercise monitor feature on yesterday’s walk, and it was great to capture my heart rate changes during the usual fast-walk with hills. I also used the Sleep++ app to track sleep last night, and that worked well.

All in all, it’s an interesting device — I’d like to see how it works out in the long term, and find more uses for it with regard to the usual writing/research/data collecting/tasks workflow.

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The Death of Aperture

So Apple has killed off Aperture, the photo program I’ve been using for the last few years to slog around the 30,000-some pictures I’ve taken. iPhoto is going to die soon, too. They’re replacing both with Photos, a dumbed-down port of the featureless picture program that’s on the iPhone. Oh, but that has The Cloud, so I’ll be able to dump 100 gigs of photos, pay $4 a month rent on them, and then live in fear that I’ll accidentally have some switch flipped in a system update and burn through my monthly data cap when it tries to sync all of that stuff to my phone seven times every time I leave the house.

I know, “why don’t you just put all of your pictures in a big hierarchy of folders on a hard drive and not keep them in a database?”  Because I actually need to find shit, and it’s not 1997 anymore.

I moved everything from Aperture to Lightroom yesterday. There’s a plugin for Lightroom that does most of the deal for you. I bitched about this endlessly, and it ate up a few days of my time, but I guess it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Here’s the various observations and gotchas:

  • It helps if you clean up your Aperture library first. I found I had an insane number of scans that were impossibly huge and didn’t need to be, and a lot of RAW files of dumb stuff that I didn’t need. I like to keep RAW files of Hawaii sunsets, but if it’s a picture of a dumb sign or a Taco Bell, I can smash it into a JPG and still sleep at night. My library was about 140 GB, and I got it down to about 85 GB before import.
  • You basically need your library size in free space on a drive to do the conversion, so good luck with that. I chose to convert in-place, so I freed up about 100 GB, put the new Lightroom in ~/Pictures/Lightroom* and then moved my old library off of my machine to a backup when I was done.
  • Back up your shit before you start. Back up your machine in general. Clone your entire drive regularly, not just your documents.
  • Lightroom puts all of your master photos in a hierarchical tree, just like I made fun of, and then keeps a separate database of metadata and non-destructive edits. The database itself isn’t that big. It keeps a previews database, too, and that can get big, depending on how big you make your previews.
  • Lightroom Folders = the hierarchy where stuff is stored in the above. I used Aperture folders projects as the “hard” dividers of what photos were captured in my library, although those are just virtual and you can move them around.
  • All of my photos ended up in a folder tree like this: LightroomMasters/YYYY/MM/YYYY-MM-DD/files* I don’t know how it decided on that hierarchy. I think it’s based on actual imports into my Aperture library, and not capture time or EXIF data or projects. I guess that format works for me.
  • Your tree in the left panel thing for Folders won’t look right. Right-click on the folders and do “Show parent” endlessly until it looks right.  (I.e. show the parent of the three levels of the hierarchy. Is there a faster way? I can’t find one. You only have to do this once, though, I hope.)
  • An Aperture Library = a Lightroom Catalog. I only had one Aperture Library. If you keep multiple Libraries, I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Aperture albums and projects are converted into Lightroom Collections. I.e. a Collection is a “virtual” collection of photos from your folders, and if you add or remove things to a Collection, you aren’t touching your stuff in folders.
  • If you edit the Collections made from your Aperture projects, you aren’t actually moving your masters in your folders. That’s a huge pain in the ass for me. Like I found a bunch of scans I took in 2006 that were pictures from, like, 1979. They should be in the folder for 1979, and they aren’t, so I had to find the pictures, then move them into the right folders.
  • All of your Aperture Smart Albums are broken. You can possibly use Smart Collections to replicate that, but you need to do it over.
  • All of your Aperture edits are gone. If you did edits, static preview images of the edits were imported, but you need to start over using Lightroom’s tools to do them again.
  • Any of those edited images will not have a Capture Time in them. The default grid view in Lightroom is sorted by Capture Time. So you’ll have a big mess there, and have to spend some time with the Metadata > Edit Capture Time settings.
  • I don’t even know what happened to shared albums. I don’t even care. I’ll start over. Nobody looks at my Flickr page anyway.
  • You end up with a huge shitstorm of dummy Collections with nothing in them. This is probably my fault, but I had to do a bunch of cleaning there.
  • At this point, this bulleted list is longer than I wanted and nobody’s reading, so figure the rest out. It will 90% work, but you’ll probably spend a weekend futzing with it after import.
  • Back all of your shit up again after you do all of this, and not on top of the old backup.
  • Do all of your imports in Lightroom. Don’t just dump images into your Masters directory or Lightroom won’t know they are there. If you want to dump them to a folder because you have a piece of shit phone without a modern sync, you can make Lightroom watch a folder and auto-import it. You can also do various schemes like watch a Dropbox folder and dump pictures there, like screenshots or your security cameras or whatever.

Here’s the main problem with Lightroom: there is no good way to sync with an iPhone (or iPad.)  You can set it up so when you plug in your phone and Lightroom will start and go directly to the Import screen and then import your photos, which is mostly how Aperture worked. (You could also just mount your phone and drag the files to your ~/Pictures directory if you are an idiot and want to lose all of your metadata and spend hours dealing with duplicates and creating new subdirectories and moving files around and whatever else.) So import is fine.

But there’s no real way to export and sync files to your phone. There are half-assed ways, but you can’t use iTunes to do it automatically anymore. It used to be in iTunes, I could say this:

  • Go to my iPhoto/Aperture library
  • Get my last X months of pictures, plus these other Albums I’ve selected
  • Sync those to the phone, and also clean up the ones that aren’t in the above, so my phone doesn’t slowly fill up and I end up trying to sync and I have 62GB of pictures on my 64GB phone and I have to spend a weekend deciding what to kill, and then the fucking thing will try to resync the 62GB anyway.
  • Do all of the above without me thinking at all, with no interaction, without opening iPhoto or Aperture, because life is too short.

There’s no way to do any of this in Lightroom. The closest I can think of is this:

  • Tell iTunes to sync from a folder.
  • In Lightroom, create a Publish Service that dumps a Smart Collection to a directory.
  • Remember to open Lightroom and click Publish before every time you sync your phone.
  • I don’t know how this handles duplicates or if it deletes old images. I haven’t tried it.
  • This is horrible.

There are some various plusses to Lightroom, I guess:

  • My library size dramatically dropped. I went from about 85 GB to about 70 GB. It’s possible that I just haven’t generated previews for everything and that will slowly climb.
  • Lightroom processing tools are supposed to be better. I haven’t gotten into that yet, but I spent a few minutes futzing with some RAW images, and it’s not bad.

So there’s what I did for the last few days instead of writing.

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Apple TV

So last night, as an early anniversary present, Sarah got me the new Apple TV.  Not the rumored buy-a-whole-TV-from-Apple Apple TV, but the third-generation set-top box from Apple.  My first impression is that this is an interesting little piece of machinery, and will largely replace my first-gen Roku, plus do a whole lot more.

The Apple TV is a very minimalist piece of hardware. It’s black, not much bigger than a hockey puck, and has no markings or logos other than a low-visibility logo on the top, and a light on the front that isn’t visible when it’s not illuminated.  The back has jacks for power, ethernet, HDMI, optical audio, and a mini-usb that is for “service use only,” whatever that means.  Other than the dust cover on the optical audio jack, there are no moving parts; it does not contain a mechanical hard drive or a fan. The whole thing is very low-key.

That’s the weird impression I get about a lot of Apple hardware and software. You plug everything in and think “ok, now what?”  And then suddenly, it becomes irreplaceable, because it Just Works.  That’s the way the iPad was.  I got it, fired it up, and thought, “okay, I have a web browser and all of my phone’s apps on a big screen.  So what?”  And then a week later, I was using it constantly, for everything. It’s the big appeal of ubiquitous computing; there’s no dazzle or show, but it’s something that’s always there, and totally utilitarian.

So, what’s it do?  Well, I plugged it into my TV, and when it fired up, it asked me how to connect to the internet.  I’m out of ethernet in my living room, so I pointed it to my wireless router.  (My first minor complaint is having to type in the password with the remote arrow keys on an onscreen keyboard, but that’s what I get for not having a wireless password of ABCDE.)  Then it asked me for my Apple ID and password, which is what I use to buy content on iTunes.  And then, main menu.

The obvious use for the Apple TV is for consuming content you’ve purchased within the walled garden of iTunes.  So if you’ve bought movies or TV shows or music in iTunes on your computer, or your iPad or iPhone, you can navigate the menus on the slick interface and see all of that stuff, and stream it to your TV.  The unit does not store any of the content on the box itself.  (It does have 8GB of SSD storage that it uses for buffering/caching, but those details are hidden away to the user.)  Of course, if you’re living in some rural outback shithole with a 56K modem, this is an issue, but for me, it isn’t. All of this works fine, and of course you can do stuff like peruse the iTunes store from your living room, and click on things to rent or buy them.  Part of the reason for doing all of this is to make it easier for you to throw money at Apple with very simple clicks, and this part, of course, works very well.  And any of your purchases here are added to your Apple ID, so when you go to your iPad or iPhone or MacBook, you’re going to have the same purchases available.

There are a number of other non-Apple streaming services available from this menu.  The obvious is Netflix, and if you’re already paying them, you can log in and stream all of their stuff.  There’s also MLB.TV, Vimeo, NBA TV, Flickr, and the biggest win for me, YouTube, which was not available on the Roku.  I spend a lot of time watching obscure UFO conspiracy theory documentaries on YouTube, so I will now be able to watch them on the big screen.  The one missing feature, for obvious reasons, is Amazon.  That’s a huge one, since we use Amazon Prime, but the PS3 offers that now, so all is not lost.  Another minor quibble is that there isn’t a way to add any channels.  I don’t know why I miss this feature though, because the Roku has it, and has a million channels to add, all of them being garbage.

The big feature that is not as obvious is that the Apple TV will stream whatever is in your iTunes library.  This means that even if you never bought a single thing from Apple, you can still stream all of the stuff you’ve ripped or stolen off the internet, from your computer to the TV.  This is big for me because I rip a lot of my DVDs so I have crap to watch on planes. Once the Apple TV found my laptop on the local network, I had a catalog of movies waiting for me when I plugged in.  Also, a lot of comedians have been doing this Louie CK model of a $5 downloadable concert, and I have all of those sitting in iTunes, ready to roll.  My former CD collection, which is now all ripped and sitting on my hard drive, is also available. Also, iTunes works as a conduit to iPhoto, so I can look through all of my pictures on my computer on the TV.

The other interesting thing is AirPlay.  Basically, the Apple TV acts as an AirPlay receiver, and any iDevice that supports AirPlay or has a program that does can pipe its output to the TV.  This is an extremely freaky and endlessly useful feature.  For example, if I’m sitting in the living room with my iPhone in hand, looking at a baseball game in the MLB At Bat app, if someone hits a home run or whatever, they will post a recap video.  I press play, but I click a little AirPlay logo and choose my TV set, and suddenly, I’m watching the video in 42″ glory, instead of on the tiny screen.  A bunch of games and apps support AirPlay, and will pipe their audio or video to the Apple TV.  This is also cool if you have the Apple TV plugged into a receiver, so you can use your stereo’s speakers as an output destination for audio from your computer or iOS device.

What gets even more mind-blowing is AirPlay mirroring.  If I’m on my iPhone, I can mirror my entire display to the TV wirelessly, regardless of what I’m doing.  The one downer to this is that the only device I currently have that supports AirPlay mirroring is my phone; neither of my laptops or my first-gen iPad have the GPU power to do this.  But it’s interesting, because if for example, I had a company that was an all-Apple shop, I could put an Apple TV on a projector in a conference room, and when a presenter needed to connect, instead of fucking with cables and adapters, they could just beam their stuff right into the projector.  (And of course, this is password-protectable, so your neighbors can’t suddenly shoot pornos at your TV at three in the morning.)

Like I said, this thing comes with a remote, and it’s a tiny piece of shit IR thing that I will probably lose in a week.  If I was smart, I could reprogram my all-in-one that drives my DVR so it would also work the Apple TV, but I’m lazy.  Luckily, there is a free app called Remote that I already have on my iPad and iPhone, that enables me to use them as glorified remote controls.  So when I have to search for something on the TV, I can use the keyboard on the iPad to do it.  (I suppose I could also bluetooth in my real keyboard to the iPad, like if I had to type a dissertation into the Apple TV, but I’m not there yet.)

All of this works perfectly and is an entirely disruptive technology if you’re using all Apple devices and have a bunch of crap in iTunes.  If you prefer registry fondling and DLL conflicts to usability and getting work done, I have no idea if the Apple TV plays well with the Windows version of iTunes.  And I’m certain there are some hidden DRM nightmares that prevent you from doing certain things, although the system seems perfectly capable of taking torrents you pirated off the web and playing them in 1080p glory.  (Not that I would ever do that, Mr. MPAA intern scouring the net for possible lawsuits.)  If you have philosophical issues with iTunes, cloud computing, wireless networks, and not owning physical copies of media, this isn’t for you.  But for me, it’s an almost perfect solution.

There are some minor issues, like the lack of an app store or method of adding channels.  The Apple TV uses the same processor as the iPhone, and a customized version of iOS, so I would suspect some kind of app store in the future, with the ability to add games and whatnot.  (There have been some jailbreaks for the first and second generation that enable you to do some freaky stuff like this, but nothing for the new version.)  Or maybe the philosophy is to keep the platform as just a receiver, and focus on iOS and Mac apps that use AirPlay.  There’s huge potential for kick-ass games that use AirPlay as the main display and your iOS device as a controller.

Anyway, it’s a cool little present.  Now I just need to go buy a new iPad to get mirroring to work.  Maybe that’s how they’re able to sell these things for so cheap.

 

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What happened to hypercard?

Hypercard was released 25 damn years ago.  Has it been that long?

Back in college, I spent a lot of time screwing around on the Mac, and there were certain programs that welded that old-school 68K Classic Mac experience in my mind.  One of them was Aldus PageMaker, which was the desktop publishing program of the day. This was in the very early 90s, in the days of DOS and WordPerfect 5.1, when the most advanced publishing work you could do on the WinTel side of things was using italics.  But the Mac had this funky and advanced program that enabled you to create page layouts and cool newsletters and even newspapers.  I saw many a journalism student slaving away on those old black-and-white Apples with the tiny grey screens, tweaking layouts and dumping fantastic publications to postscript printers.  I later learned PageMaker by doing the last issue of my old zine Xenocide in it, spending months tweaking page borders and reflowing columns.

The other program I messed with endlessly was HyperCard.  This was something included on all of the old Macs, and it was incredibly interesting to me.  Basically, you created a stack of cards, and each card could have a mix of text and clip art graphics on it.  But you could also plop controls on the cards, like links or text boxes.  You could then hook up those controls to link cards to each other, or do other freaky stuff like run scripts.

This sounds pretty pedestrian compared to what we do daily on the web.  And it sounds disturbingly like PowerPoint, which is probably one of the most evil things created in the business world. But back then, in the late 80s and early 90s, these concepts were absolutely revolutionary.  And even better, the interface to HyperCard was not that intimidating.  If you could make basic art in MacPaint or write a paper in WordPerfect, you could easily create a HyperCard stack.

I remember spending a lot of time at work creating a choose-your-own-adventure game using HyperCard.  I forget exactly what it was – I think it was a game about trying to score drugs on a college campus, and you could click on various pictures to move around.  It wasn’t exactly as sophisticated as the Zork series, but it was something I could do at work, under the guise of “learning more about HyperCard.”  I never learned much about the scripting language, but I did work with some people who did pretty sophisticated stacks.  The system was widely used by education majors, I guess to develop learning tools for kids.  I guess the original Myst on the Mac was written in Hypercard, each of the worlds a Hypercard stack, interlaced with heavy-duty graphics and audio, presented with custom plug-ins.

Like I said, the web came along, and HyperCard more or less vanished.  It was one of the products developed by Claris, which was spun off from Apple and then later re-merged.  The last version of HyperCard came out in 1996, but it was one of the projects killed by Steve Jobs after his return.  You could run old versions for a while, but it did not survive the jump from OS9 to OSX.  You could get it to work in Classic emulation on newer systems, but it only worked on PPC Macs.  On today’s Intel-based machines running later versions of OSX, it doesn’t work at all.

Its one big legacy on the Mac is that the HyperTalk scripting language was adapted and added to System 7, and called AppleScript.  It’s still around in modern versions of OS X, and is even more interesting, now that you can run unix commands from within AppleScript.  It influenced the development of HTTP, JavaScript, and Ward Cunningham said the whole idea of wikis goes back to using HyperText.

To me, HyperCard was always a bit of a missed opportunity.  I think it would be very easy for casual users to create HyperCard stacks and then use some kind of tool to push them to a web site; it would potentially be easier to create high-quality interactive web sites with something like that.  There are probably many programs that you could buy to do that, but none that come with your operating system and follow its UI paradigm.  It would also be great to develop mobile apps.  I could see creating a stack, testing it out on your computer, then pushing it through a compiler and shooting out a binary that could be run on a phone or tablet.  You couldn’t write the next Skyrim that way, but for simple stuff, like interactive kid’s books or multimedia guides, it would be great.  Same thing for interactive books on the Kindle or iPad.

I know you can do all of these things with XCode or by hand or whatever, but there’s something about the ease of use by a non-programmer, and the availability on every Mac, that make this a different paradigm.  There are some conspiracy theories that Jobs killed Hypercard in order to solidify the division between creator and consumer.  I don’t know if that’s true; I think he killed it because Apple had eleventy billion disparate things going on when he returned, and none of them were getting the company closer to profitable hardware sales or a decent operating system.  It’s too bad we don’t have something like this anymore.

 

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I’d hate to be a piece of furniture in Steve Ballmer’s office this week

The Mac App Store launched Thursday, and Herman Miller stock went up two points in anticipation of all of the chairs Steve Ballmer has probably been throwing at people this week.  There’s no way the sweaty-pitted Microsoft CEO isn’t beating his middle managers like red-headed step-children after the news came out that people downloaded a million apps in the first day, with 10,000 apps available at launch.  The Mac App Store changes things in ways that people in Windowsland cannot even contemplate, although when Win7SP2 launches with the MSFT half-ass attempt of the same concept, I’m sure we’ll hear all about the greatness, just like we’ll hear about how great judicial advocacy is from Teapotters that have railed against it for the last two years when they need it to keep Guantanamo bay open.

The Mac App Store changes things in a big way, both good and bad.  Back when I got started in this industry, if you wanted to write and sell an application for a Mac (or a PC), you rode your dinosaur to work, hired a bunch of people to put your crap on floppy disks and into boxes, and then either sold it yourself in your local computer stores (kids younger than 20: imagine a Best Buy with only a computer section, that didn’t suck), or you got your retail boxes dumped into the channel and flushed out to big stores and catalogs.  (Catalog: a paper version of Amazon, but it took 4-6 weeks to get your stuff.)  Then the internet happened, and people sold software on web sites, where you somehow sent money and either got a download or got a CD-ROM sent to you through the pony express for later installation at your own leisure.

But if you had this great software package, you had this huge list of problems.  Gotta set up a web site.  Gotta get a shopping cart system in place.  Gotta take credit cards and get a merchant account and whatever SSL nonsense your ISP wants you to get.  Or, gotta bend over and spread for PalPal’s cut of the vig.  Gotta find a way to have a download center that isn’t just at widget.com/dontlookhere/dl/product.zip so the first person that buys your crap doesn’t just spam the magic link to the world and let everyone download.  Gotta come up with come crazy system of software enablement, serial numbers you type in and send securely, whatever obfuscated nonsense you need to keep the world from just emailing your ZIP file to all of their friends.  Gotta find a way to drive traffic to the site.  Gotta find a way to get people to return to the site for upgrades and new versions.  There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of things to consider, and either every software reseller reinvents the wheel, or you join some tribe or cabal or commune or collective or whatever else to use one common set of machinery for everyone’s releases, and you pay for the privilege.

So now you avoid all of that.  Pay Apple a hundred bucks to join, upload your DMG file, and you’re in a searchable, centralized catalog of apps.  When a new Apple user fires up their iMac for the first time, there’s a pretty little icon to click that brings them to a huge store filled with games and productivity apps and stuff people can click on without scrambling for their credit cards or signing up for yet another e-merchant account that will probably eventually get hacked, with your password and Visa number and home phone ending up in a torrent sent out to every script kiddie in the world.

There’s also the issue of central maintenance.  When you have to push out a patch, you don’t spam out emails, and you don’t have to write complicated code to beam back to the mothership and check if the latest version is installed on the user’s PC. You tell Apple you have a new version, and let them do the dirty work.  And when a person bricks their MacBook or spills juice in their iMac and has to go get a new machine, they just plug in their username and all of their apps magically download again.  There isn’t a two-month process of trying to remember all of the crap you installed, or a weekend-long backup and reload on an external drive or a pile of DVD-Rs.

Yeah, there are downsides.  You’re paying Apple that hundred bucks, and they’re also skimming 30% of the take on your sales.  But do you know how much banks take from mom and pop companies on merchant accounts?  I’d tell you, but there are like 79 different surcharges and monthly fees and address verification fees and machine rental fees and every other nickel-and-diming the banks can think of to hit you with.  That 30% erases a lot of headaches.  And compare it to how much of a discount you’d give in channel sales, and it’s not a bad deal.

There are all of the “walled garden” arguments you’ll hear from the Microsoft camp.  You’ve heard the same arguments since the App Store showed up on the iPhone, although you haven’t heard as many of them since Windows Phone 7 adopted the same exact strategy for their app store.  And you probably won’t hear much more about it after that Windows 7 Platinum Home Deluxe SP2 Zune Marketplace shows up in the next rev of their OS, providing the same exact walled garden, albeit with a lot of the wall’s pieces removed to appease any of the big software makers that balk.

I think by the fall, everyone at every point of the food chain is going to try to launch their PC app store.  Amazon’s probably brewing one; I’m sure all of the hardware manufacturers like HP and Dell are going to have a long, painful meeting this Monday where some idiot who has never installed software in his life but can wear a mean tie and gets all of the ZDNet headlines beamed to his Blackberry is going to pitch their genius idea to launch their own bundled crapware app store on their new computers.   App stores will be the add-on toolbar of 2011, just like they were for phones in the last 18 months.

Another argument that is a plus and a minus is what the hell this will do to pricing.  People are now used to paying 99 cents for a game on their phone, so good luck on putting your desktop game on the App Store for $79.99.  Sure, you can trim down that price a bit because you’re not paying $47 a copy in merchant account fees to Bank of America.  And your game is some one-gig DVD release and not just a two-screen screen-tapper you wrote in a weekend.  It’s going to cause unbundling of suites, like Apple is doing with iWork and iLife, where people will only buy the apps they want, at a lower price and a smaller download, instead of buying a full package of apps on a DVD.  I don’t know what the magic price point will become, although I’m guessing people will be less apt to buy a $99 app and more willing to pay something like $19 for Real Apps and $4.99 for games and entertainment.

I just got the update and installed the App Store, and gave it a quick drive to download the new Twitter client.  No problems, no surprises.  I haven’t bought anything yet, but when I get a free second (which will be in like June) I will probably hunt down the latest versions of some of the older registered payware/shareware I have, just to make the next update easier.  All I can tell you now is, I’m glad I’m not working at a hardware manufacturer that’s probably going to go on damage control and require all of its R&D center employees to waste a lot of their free time generating stupid powerpoints re-selling an already done idea.  Also glad I’m not driving across the 520 bridge every morning to potentially have a 57-pound Aeron chair thrown at my head.

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Requiem for an iPhone

Well, my must-last-two-years-according-to-AT&T iPhone 3G just crossed the magical Apple rainbow at nine months.  It was working fine, but it started developing a crack in the back case, just above the dock connector.  It probably could have lasted another year, but I figured I would make the trek to the Apple Store and see if they would swap it for a new one, even if I didn’t have AppleCare, and they did.

First, if we’re in a recession, it sure didn’t look like it in the Bay Street Apple store.  They were wall-to-wall with people grabbing Apple gear for the holidays.  I’m curious what their actual numbers are for sales in the holiday season, and also curious if these new Microsoft stores are doing anything comparable.  Anyway, I made an appointment for the genius bar, and managed to get in at exactly the specified time.  And the swap was no hassle.  Thanks to the whole iTunes-centric backup recovery paradigm and the fact that I backed up right before leaving, the whole thing went almost seamlessly.  (Only exceptions: my WiFi and voicemail passwords vanished and had to be re-entered when I got home.)  I also sprung for AppleCare, just in case, and a new screen protector, which they installed for me.  (It’s pretty much impossible to put on an adhesive screen protector in a home with a long-haired cat, unless you don’t mind staring at a few stray cat hairs on your touchscreen for the rest of the protector’s life.)

What’s weird is that while the Apple genius boxed up my old phone and got ready to pitch it off to whatever Chinese landfill/salvage dumping ground old iPhones go to at the end of their lives, I felt slightly emotional about seeing it go.  Granted, I got an exact clone of the old model, and it even looks identical because it’s in the same old case, but I still felt slightly sentimental about seeing it go.  I think part of that is because this is one of the first cell phones that wasn’t just a vague utensil I occasionally used to make calls, but an actual fully-fledged computer that I used for a wide swath of applications within my somewhat-connected life.  I mean, I really used the camera; I listened to pretty much every Rockies game I could this season, and when I couldn’t listen, I followed along in the MLB app; I sent and read many an email; I used it as a real web browser, not a postage stamp approximation of a web browser; I found myself texting a lot more than I typically would; I even wrote a few blog posts on it.

I guess there’s always been this lack of a suspension of disbelief in my use of a palm-sized computer, either because it didn’t do what I wanted, or it had such clunkiness in what it did do.  Like, I used to have a couple of Palm OS non-phone devices, and while those were decent phone books and occasional game machines (mostly Dopewars), there was a big line to be drawn with all things connected, because there was no way for me to surf the web or read emails on those things.  Yes, you could attach on some giant pack the size of the actual device and sort of use it as a crappy cell phone, and maybe run an email program that barely worked, but there was a pretty hard stopping point in the usefulness of these machines, and it was clear that I would also need to carry a cell phone and a laptop to be semi-functional in the field with these.

I guess now we’re truly reaching this age where we can have a palm-sized computer that can really run apps and really do things and because of that, I feel the same kind of emotional (and somewhat retarded) bond I feel toward some of the primary computers I have in my life.  I mean, when I finally kicked to the curb my entirely obsolete PC that was my primary writing machine from 1991-2001,  I felt a bit of remorse to see that beige rectangle go to the garbage, even if it was fully useless even as a doorstop by the time it went in 2005.  There were many good memories of that thing sitting on my desktop as I chipped away at various books.  And I felt the same kind of nostalgia as that tiny black piece of plastic and glass (which probably had more CPU and memory than said PC) got sent back to the void.

And a side note, iPhone wise – I was tapping away while standing in line at Taco Bell, and curiously got a WiFi connection and didn’t know why.  Then I realized I was standing next to a Starbucks, which has an AT&T hotspot, and at some point I logged in at a different Starbucks, and the new magical AT&T hotspot connector mojo worked without interaction.  That sure beats the old days of having to enter a thousand characters of login info, including a password you can never use or remember.

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