16GB Problems

For many years, 16GB devices have been an issue for Apple and its users. However Apple fixed this in September, bumping up to 32GB of storage as the new minimum capacity in the iPhone 7, and then going as far as to rev-up the existing iPad line to this new minimum.

16GB problem, gone.

Yesterday, Apple announced a revamped MacBook Pro. Thinner, USB-C / ThunderBolt 3 all over the place, P3 display, Intel Skylake CPUs, and a new dedicated T1 chip powering a watchOS-enabled Touch Bar, including a Touch ID sensor in a non-iOS device for the first time.

Great stuff. One small problem.

Intel’s Skylake processors and chipsets that Apple is using are able to support more than 16GB of memory. For instance, the i7–6920HQ, which based on Apple’s advertised clock speeds looks to be what is utilized in the maxed-out 15” model, says it can do up to 64GB. Apple is a company that makes amazing products, that create and redefine entire catagories. But they’re they’re bound to some limitations.

I figured this wasn’t something that Apple did “just because” … if there was a way they could sell me more memory, at a premium, I’d think they’d do it. There’s a tradeoff being made here.

On the Intel page for the Skylake chips, it indicated that the maximum size was dependent on memory type. Apple is using LPDDR3 chips, which from what I can gather based on the 2133MHz speed, are either made by Micron or Samsung as they appear to be the only two vendors producing them, and based on past relationships makes a lot of sense.

In both cases, what I’ve been reading is that 16GB is the maximum size available in this class of chip. LPDDR3 has a lot of advantages when it comes to power consumption, running at a much lower voltage of 1.2V, and only using 10% of the power during standby compared to regular DDR3 or DDR4 memory.

Given that the people who’d really take advantage of the additional memory are people like me who want to run multiple virtual machines, containerized applications, etc, and these tasks are probably better suited to systems not running off batteries, a trade-off of limiting the maximums in order to reduce power consumption, makes a lot of sense.

If the decision here was something like “We can use LPDDR3 and get 10 hours of battery life but we’re limited to 16GB, or use DDR4 and get 8 hours, but support 32GB,” I’d rather get 10 hours of battery.

I’d probably use those two hours in the field a lot more than the extra RAM, right now.

All this appears to be backed up by Dan Frakes, who confirmed the limitation with Apple.

I was already going to sit out upgrading my Late-2013 Retina MacBook Pro 15” since it does everything I currently need, and has 16GB of DDR3 RAM already.

It also doesn’t require me to replace every cable, dongle, adapter and power brick that I currently own.

Mobile Advantaged

You know you have a problem when you get excited about plan changes on your cellular provider. Yesterday, AT&T gave me a problem.

Initially, no more data overages, higher caps, and reduced pricing tiers looks like good news all around, but is that really true? After looking at the details of these new AT&T data plans I’m less than impressed. They’ve upped the per device access charge from $15 to $20.

Right now I have the $100 plan for 15GB, plus three devices, for a total of $145. Under the new plan, if I move to the similar the 16GB plan the base price is $90 but I’m now paying $60 in per device charges for a total of $150. (+$5)

Even going from the 15GB down to the new 10GB plan, would result in a savings of only $5, at the loss of 5GB of data.

Maybe.

It’s still really a bit confusing, the press release says “All Mobile Share Advantage plans also have an access charge of $10 — $40 a month per device not included in prices shown above.” but then later “customers will pay a $20 access charge per smartphone a month for Mobile Share Advantage.”

My hope/guess is that it’s likely to depend on which plan you pick, at least that’s how it is on the current setup. I believe the current $15 per device does jump to like $20 or $25 , on their current plans. So, if it continues to be a graduated scale, the new 16GB plan may actually be a money saver, but until their pricing calculator shows up when the new pricing is available on Sunday, we probably won’t know.

But from the “clear” statement, it looks like not a great deal. For now, they get a splashy headline. Verizon, who has a similar plan, has the separate fee for allowing “unlimited” reduced bandwidth, instead of charging an overage, and it seems like this increase is just a clever way of hiding that fee.

If I was really concerned about overages I’d probably just do it, but I never go over.

Clean Harvest

I’ve long been annoyed with copying files to a USB stick, and then handing them to a Windows user (typically a customer) and then telling them to ignore all the .whatever files that are created.

Recently I found BlueHarvest, which runs $15 and has a 30-day trial, and it’s appears to be the new solution to my problem. It automatically cleans the OS X specific files on any non-Mac formatted (exFAT, FAT32) drive that enters the system.

The results have been great, and my portable drives are now very clean.

I used to have a menubar application called CleanMyDrive by MacPaw that would get rid of these, but at some point I quit using it for reasons I don’t even remember. I think the menu bar icon was kind of ugly on Yosemite+ (yes, I’m that picky.)

Apple TV

When the 4th generation Apple TV was announced a few weeks back, my initial response was basically “take my money!”

But then, I had second thoughts, and I didn’t order one at the start of the week when they were first available. I don’t really know why, my heart just wasn’t in it. I decided I’d wait it out and let others figure out all the kinks. However, on launch day I had a change of heart and decided to stop by the Apple Store and pickup a 32GB model.

I have two of the 3rd generations units, and the 2nd generation, and while I love them for all they do, I have been patiently waiting for Apple to revolutionize TV. I want a single TV solution from Apple that makes my life as a cord cutter better. Unfortunately, that still hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a nice box.

Pros:

  • Universal search, with Siri, is fantastic. Telling the box to “show me the latest Ben Affleck movies” results in unified results with content from all the major providers like iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, and HBO. Selecting a title brings you to the one that is the best option based on if you’re paying for streaming or if you’d have to buy it. (ex: Gone Girl is available on HBO, and iTunes, but it defaults to HBO.)
  • New remote is very handy, and a nice upgrade from the previous one. The touch sensitive panel is very sensitive and takes some getting used to. I’ve used the motion controller on a couple of games, and it’s fun but not something I’d probably do a lot of.
  • The volume control and TV power is controller through the new remote, and I didn’t have to do anything to program it.
  • The App Store. Yeah, that’s pretty self explanatory.

Cons:

  • The current iOS Remote application that can control my 2G/3G units doesn’t work with the new Apple TV. No using the iOS keyboard to enter search terms on your TV.
  • You cannot pair a bluetooth keyboard (even the Apple ones) to the Apple TV, either.
  • The first two combine to make initial setup with logging into accounts, a real pain in the ass when you have super complex passwords for everything.

Overall, I very much like the new box. There probably isn’t a day that goes by where it doesn’t get used. I’m going to be adding an OTA network tuner and downloading the Channels app this week to replace switching inputs on my TV to a dedicated antenna. I’ll probably also pickup another box for the downstairs TV and then gift my 3rd generation units out to the family for the holidays.

Size Matters

My original bout with the 4.7” iPhone 6 lasted almost seven months to the day. I remember this because I received it on September 19, 2014. It was the same day my second son way born.

On April 18, 2015, I purchased an iPhone 6 Plus.

Why Switch?

That’s what everyone had been asking me since I even brought up the idea of switching. I’m one of those people who originally couldn’t even fathom Apple ever making a phone with a screen larger than 4”, like what we had on the iPhone 5. Jony Ive had taught us that this was the superior phone size, and I carried that logic and marketing out into the world. Over time, I started to rationalize to myself that a 4.7” phone was a good size, and that if Apple were come out with one I know they’d do it right. It was inevitable. That’d be the phone I’d buy.

And then came the iPhone 6… and the iPhone 6 Plus. The Apple Phablet had arrived.

Admittedly, the thought to join the dark side had entered my mind a few times since the 6 Plus was announced. Would I want a phone this big? Could I handle a phone this big? Back in September, I said “Nope!”

So along came the iPhone 6. And I loved it. Reading my original quick review from October, it’s still absolutely true:

I’ve owned it a month now. Originally I felt that I was going to drop it every time I tried to grip it (using my smaller than normal man-hands) — that panic led me to the Apple Store to pickup the black, leather Apple case. The case gave me a safety blanket and the ability to learn to adapt my grip, however, last Thursday I took the case away. It’s been a week since I’ve removed the training wheels.

I love this phone, it feels great. The size is perfect. The rounded corners feel great holding it for long periods of time. I’m also past fussing about the camera bulge. I worried it’d get scratched, now, in Apple(Care) and sapphire crystal, I trust.

I had an original iPad through work, and then purchased my own iPad 2 on launch day, which I used until it was replaced by the iPad Air. However, I found myself using the iPad Air less and less over time, especially as OS X started to get more and more features from iOS. I started to embrace the idea of two primary screens. My phone and my laptop. Also, the larger screen size of the iPhone 6 gave me fewer reasons to think about the iPad.

And with iOS 8 and OS X 10.10, along came iCloud Photo Library. This feature I absolutely love, but, it blew up my iPad. I have 170GB of photography stored in iCloud now. Even with the optimization features enabled, my 16GB iPad Air couldn’t deal with this. This led to it being turned off completely more than anything, and then eventually being sold to my brother.

I was on the edge of buying a new 128GB iPad Mini for about a week, but I could never bring myself to buy. I wasn’t sold on the utility of another screen. I was actually very happy with the idea of my iPhone 6 and MacBook Pro as my major points of computing.

But then my wife’s iPhone 5S started to have the same issues as my iPad. The 16GB limit would hit and every other day I was shuffling around apps and data to keep her under the bar. Enough was enough.

My solution at the time was to obtain an iPhone 6 Plus 128GB for myself, and give her my gently used iPhone 6. This worked, and at first it was glorious. I was in love with my giant new friend. In my new two device world, it was a match made in heaven. The iPhone 6 Plus was great for reading, writing, and arithmetic.

But, it had trade-offs.

It is massive. It’s great for use around the house or at the office, when you’re not up and around with it. It was the first iPhone that I ever dropped and broke the screen, in seven years of owning them.

Going out with it felt a little bit like having an iPad to contend with. My car didn’t really have a convenient place to put it and at one point we had family pictures done and I forgot to empty my pockets. Now, the giant rectangle in my pants will be forever immortalized in print.

And the struggle with RAM, is real. There simply isn’t enough in it. Having a page open in Safari, and then switching back to a different one caused the site to reload. Having streaming audio from Apple Music running and then opening Tweetbot would cause jitter. It was annoying but not life threatening.

I commented about this back in August, and even then I was planning to stay with it. As I said:

… the reality is I’d have a hard time going back to anything smaller.

It turns out, it wasn’t that hard.

Coming Back

When the iPhone 6S was announced, I started hatching a plan. What if I got a pink one for my wife, and (re)obtained the iPhone 6. I’d just give it a shot for a little bit, and then if I thought it was too small to stick with, I could sell it and go back to my Plus.

So I did, and it turns out, I liked the 4.7” phone a lot more. It was easier to hold, didn’t act as sluggish, and overall was a lot more comfortable for me. Playing around with 3D Touch on my wife’s phone, I imagined the difficulties and all the broken screens I’d have with a larger display to contend with.

The battery life on the regular 6 is crap compared to the Plus, I’d really become spoiled by that, but I own at least a half dozen Anker batteries with more car and wall charging outlets than should be legally allowed, so I made it work. I sold the Plus to a nice woman on Craigslist.

And I love it.

I tried to go back to the Plus, twice, just to be sure. One night I lasted almost 5 hours before switching back. It was sold the next day.

I’m back to the 4.7” phone, and when the iPhone 7 arrives, assuming Apple doesn’t do anything stupid and move everyone to 5+ inch devices, that’s probably the form-factor I’ll stick with for the future.

Neil McNeill

Neil McNeill was the most interesting man in my world.

Neil knew something about everything and had an opinion to share on all of it. Not in a way that made you feel inferior or insignificant, but in a way that kept you wanting to hear more. It wasn’t hard to spend hours in his living room engaged in conversation.

He could discuss corporate taxation, or international affairs, and then a few minutes later explain how to avoid overcharging a lithium battery.

He was born in Kansas. He worked in the Pentagon, lived in Japan and served in Vietnam.

He flew planes both big and small. He retired from the Navy, but didn’t want to be called Captain. He had a PhD from Harvard, was an accounting professor, but hated to be called Doctor.

He was a husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Those titles he didn’t mind.

He owned one of the very first telephone answering machines. He sniped eBay auctions for radio control airplane parts. He complained about PayPal, a lot. His house had a gadget, part or widget for doing just about anything.

He was a geek.

In 2013, doctors told him he had just a few months to live. He lasted almost two more years. Even as cancer gripped tighter on his liver, lungs and heart, even as radiation and other treatments abused his body, he always had just enough energy to light up and entertain us all.

Neil’s dad had lived to be 102, but Neil was only 83. He had too much life to live for. This man wouldn’t go down without a fight. Even towards the end, hospice would say he had only had a few days left, and weeks would go by. When they said it was a matter of hours, no one believed them.

They obviously had no scale to properly measure Neil McNeill.

Neil was my wife’s grandfather and since both of mine had passed away years before I was even born, over the the 12 years I knew him, he became mine too. He was the most interesting man in my world, and he will be forever missed.

Peace out, Gramps.

Rash Judgement

A couple of months ago I noticed a rash on my wrist, under my Apple Watch. I didn’t put a lot of thought into it at first, made sure to clean the strap and back of the watch. Figured it was just from lack of skin breathing under the sport band, on a hot day, after a workout.

But the rash didn’t go away, it actually got worse, and it seemed to be localized to one spot on the back of my wrist, right where the metal clasp of the sports band rubbed by arm.

And it was getting painful.

My wife was the first to suggest that it looked like a nickel allergy. At first this seemed strange, why would Apple put nickel in the band? Everyone knows that can cause issues. So I did a little research.

The stainless steel in the Apple Watch and in the bands, is grade 316L, per Apple’s own site. It’s incredibly common in jewelry, medical implants, and other places where contact with the human body is a thing. It’s also easier to machine than other grades of stainless steel. But it has nickel in it. According to AZO Materials, about 10–14% of the composite is within spec for 316L.

Still, I’ve worn watches forever, and ever since I was a teenager they’ve all been watches with metal bands. Apple Watch was the first watch in probably 18 years that had a band made out of plastic. (Sorry, fluoroelastomer.) I started thinking back, and when I was about 15, I had a similar reaction on the top of my wrist that a doctor told me was because of the nickel in the back of a cheap watch, but I ditched the watch and it was never an issue again.

My wife suggested that I apply some nail polish to the back of the watch clasp to create a barrier between my skin and the watch. This didn’t last very long, within a day the polish had separated from the metal and stuck to my skin. I started to wear a bandage with some hydrocortisone cream on the irritation, under my watch. But this all seemed silly.

So, I called Apple.

The first person I spoke with instantly transferred me to a specialist the second I mentioned a rash and Apple Watch. They weren’t going to mess around. Tom took my case, and started to ask me a lot of questions about my usage of the watch, how often I wear it, what bands I use, if I shower with it, work out with it, how often do I clean it, etc. Then he started to ask medical questions like if I had asthma, allergies, other issues with jewelry, rashes on other areas, etc. And then questions about the rash specifically, what I was doing about it, what it looked like, did it hurt, was it raised, when did it appear.

The initial call took about an hour, and at the end he had me send 8 pictures of my wrist. Four with the watch on from all angles, and four without the watch on, including a closeup of the rash. Eventually he let me know that this would have to be escalated to engineering and that he’d give me a call once he heard back. It was the Saturday before the big fall announcement, so I didn’t expect anything back for a while. I was told to stop wearing the watch to see if the rash cleared up. Eventually I put the watch back on with a barrier and continued my hydrocortisone treatments. The rash went away.

That Thursday, Tom called, and after discussing the current status of the rash, advised me to try wearing the watch again to see if it returned. So I did, and it did.

Tom called back a few days later, and I let him know the rash had returned. He asked for more pictures, the same as before, which I sent over, and he said he’d call back in a couple of days once the case had been reviewed again.

Eventually, Tom called back and said that after reviewing the case Apple had determined that it was indeed a nickel allergy, and they’d be willing to process a return for the Watch. He also suggested trying an alternative band. I quickly told him I wasn’t interested in returning the watch, because despite the fact it’s slowly trying to kill me, I love it. I asked if under the circumstances I could get a discount or trade-in on another band, he said he’d find out and called back a little later with another woman from the customer support team.

She asked me what band I would be interested in, color, size, and then asked for my shipping address. She initially said she would call back the next day with more information but then about an hour later I got an email from Apple that they were sending me out a new medium black Leather Loop, at a $0 charge.

It arrives today.

For those of you who keep track, I’ve actually had the leather loop before, for about 18 hours. I bought it on an impulse. Twice, actually. The first time I ordered it with the watch before it shipped, but then cancelled it to give the sports band a proper evaluation. The second time, was in the store, but I had buyers remorse at the $150 price tag. (More accurately, I decided it wasn’t worth trying to justify to the wife.)

For now, I’m still sporting bandages under my watch, to clear up the second coming of the rash. My next problem is figuring out what to do about the fact that the leather band isn’t appropriate for working out in.

My other issue is that a week before I learned all this, I backed a Kickstarter for a stainless steel band to match the space grey aluminum watch. It’s made of 316L.

Plus Thoughts

Despite its increased screen resolution over the iPhone 6, the 6 Plus ships with the same 1 GB of RAM as its little brother. Any 6 Plus owner will attest that this leads to some stuttering and sluggishness at times. I’ve experienced audio tearing and apps crashing under load. It’s not awesome. It makes the 6 Plus look half-assed, and it makes me sad.

This is really my only complaint about the iPhone 6 Plus. The iPhone 6 doesn’t have these issues. Driving so much real estate at such high resolutions just needs more memory. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it’s such a buzzkill.

Otherwise, it’s a great phone and a few months after stepping up to it, I’m glad I did. I had an iPhone 6 at launch day, but back in April switched to the 6 Plus and gave my wife the regular 6. Like Stephen, there are some days where it’s a little cumbersome, and there are even days where I wish for the simplicity and ease of grip from a 4” iPhone 5 style device, but the reality is I’d have a hard time going back to anything smaller.

Java Jive

Yesterday my local paper posted an article about a new coffee shop that has opened up near my house.

Arshad said he has instilled his own requirements for quality in the restaurant. Most of the products used are kosher and organic and he uses organic fair-trade coffee.
And with that philosophy, he also balances the need for affordable prices. Arshad says he has accomplished that and maintains some of the lowest prices in the area. A large cup of coffee at Java Jive costs $1.95 while a small costs $1.50.

I’m all for supporting a local business, so this afternoon I decide to go check it out.

I just wanted to get a plain cup of coffee, nothing fancy. I look at the prices and a confirm what the article says a coffee is, $1.95. I ask the girl working there for one. She asks if I want milk in it. Sure.

“OK, that’s a latte” … Rings me up for a $4 drink.

No, I explain, I just want regular coffee.

“But you said you want milk? Did you mean a cappuccino?” and she points to the cappuccino machines in the corner that look just like the ones you see at a gas station turning powder and water into drinkable substance.

“No, plain, black coffee, with milk in it.” … She looks puzzled. Turns around at the board, looks at me, shrugs her shoulders and says …

“So, not a latte?”

I left and went to Starbucks.

(Thanks to @djchrisallen for pointing out how much like Larry David I’ve become.)

Competition Blockers

Some tech companies attempt to impede the natural flow of talent by tying the hand of employees with non-compete agreements. … It’s not hard to see why some companies like them. The whole point of these agreements is to discourage employees from seeking greener pastures.

In truth, there is no free lunch. … Tempting though they may be, non-competes are bad for everyone they touch, employees and employers alike. … The bottom line is that non-compete agreements are bad for business. They are anti-competitive and anti-capitalist. … They reduce productivity, create labor market inefficiencies, depress wages and discourage innovation.

Non-compete? More like non-competitive.