No new tech to blog about…..

I’ve come to the point where I’m not acquiring tech in a regular interval (I used to get something new every few months) but I think I’ve stabilized on just a few different platforms rather than trying new things out. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the entire family is locked into the Apple Eco system when it comes to mobile devices (iPhones and iPads) but we’re not upgrading as fast as I used to. The family has an iPhone 7,8, and 6S Plus as well as 2 iPad Pro’s from 2017 and a newer iPad mini 5. That keeps things pretty simple in terms of getting apps and support and also reducing the complexity for syncing phones with music and videos. I personally use a MacBook Pro at home (very little though since my iPad Pro pretty much can do a lot of the things that I normally used my MacBook for)

I am becoming a little less reliant on computers in general (the traditional kind) and have simplified the things that I install and try to keep things vanilla. I still buy my computers with massive hard drives (at least 1TB and on SSD for speed). Thats just my old school thoughts on storage for computers but a lot of my audio and video files have moved over to the NAS and the NAS runs 24×7 unless I shut it down. I’ve also embraced more cloud storage with my main cloud storage providers being Box and Google Drive. I have more than enough storage in both accounts that I don’t have to keep a lot of “stuff” on my laptop. My MacBook Pro is a 2017 and its maxed to the gills but I don’t use nearly all the power that I could since I was originally going to use it for videos for the family but I’ve been able to do that on my iPad.

I’ve also consolidated my camera platform to just using my iPhones and GoPro’s. I don’t know how long GoPro is going to be around but they are pretty solid and they do what I need when I go on vacation. I haven’t bought a GoPro since 2018 but it does what I need it to do and the image stabilization is wonderful. It’s not as fast as a point and shoot camera but its good enough for what I need for it to do. All other devices have kind of fallen away. I still watch lots of videos about different kinds of hardware that seem cool, especially about Android phones like the OnePlus stuff but when I consider the ecosystem I’m in, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to switch over.

The last reason that I don’t have a lot of tech to talk about these days is that I’m just hanging on to my stuff a lot longer. I’m still sporting an iPhone 7, it still seems to work pretty well and it hasn’t slowed down. I’m not really missing any feature that I consider “must haves”. The only thing that I’m really waiting for is 5G capability but I think those will come with the 2020 iPhones so I’m going to skip this generation again. The GoPro Hero 7 Black is good enough the way it is, its just really there to take videos during my ski trips and for soccer games but I think I start using it as a point and shoot too which would be cool. I have lots of extra batteries for it too so I know its going to last a while during the day. iPads will last a while too as long as there are software updates, again nothing really earth shattering that I need. They all work with the first generation Apple Pencil and frankly it works great, I don’t see a need to get a whole new iPad just for the Apple Pencil 2.

Maybe in the next few months I’ll find something compelling enough to upgrade to but in the mean time, I’ll have to look for something else to blog about.

Using an Ubuntu 18.04 LTS VM for uploading pictures and video to Google Photos

Ubuntu Bionic Beaver

I’ve been taking a lot more video on the GoPro of late and there is even video that I haven’t even moved over to Google Photos yet and I’ve been struggling to find a good solution on how to upload all those videos without keeping my MacBook Pro on all night. Recently I upgraded my NAS (I blogged about it before) and now I have a ton of extra space on there. With that extra space and the RAM upgrade I was able to install a virtual machine. I chose Ubuntu Linux primarily because it was free and I had dabbled with it in the past. I had all these videos from Breckenridge on an external drive and the old way that I uploaded video was to mount the drive on the MacBook, go to Google Photos on the web, and then do a drag and drop. Since a lot of those videos are pretty big, it would take a long time for it to upload, sometimes days I’d leave that thing on.

Given that I have all this extra storage space, I thought, why not load the videos on the NAS and then fire up the VM and see if I can do it that way? The loading of the videos was only slightly problematic since my external drive is formatted for Mac and it can’t be read by my NAS when I plug it in directly. That forced me to transfer the video using the Mac to the NAS, that was fairly easy and quick. Only took 10 minutes for about 300GB which is fairly fast. The next part was a tad more difficult. I was familiar with mapping drives and everything with Windows but not Linux. Thankfully the GUI interface for Ubuntu is pretty easy and it saw my NAS as a network drive.

Let me just start out saying that the performance on the VM is pretty shitty when you’re using a browser to navigate. I think it would be way more responsive if I used it directly on a monitor but I don’t have the right plugs currently since its an older monitor that uses DVI and not HDMI. I got Google Photos up on Firefox in Ubuntu and started loading the photos and videos. Unfortunately I kept on getting script errors on the page (no clue why that was) but after rebooting the VM and starting over it seemed to be working for uploading the files. Given that the interface was really really slow I wasn’t able to put them in an album after the upload was complete. I was however able to leave the VM running while I went out to the movies and was able to close out of the browser tab with the VM and come back to it hours later.

After this experiment I think I have found at least my best way of getting all the videos from my trips up to Google Photos. instead of loading all the photos and video on my iPad for my next trip, I think I’m just going to leave it on my GoPro and wait until I get home to start reviewing and making combined videos. I don’t want to take a computer with me, just my iPad but transferring all that stuff is also a pain in the ass and I’d like to relax a bit more this trip.

Long Live Touch ID

I must be one of the last hold outs that still like having Touch ID. Granted I have never owned a Face ID enabled device but most of my devices use it. I have iPads and iPhones that all use the tech and its nice to be able to share an iPad or iPhone with my daughter. While I can go ahead and use a passcode, Touch ID is still more secure but not as restricting as using Face ID where its only your face or using the passcode.

The use case that I use for Touch ID is managing my daughters phone. She has 2 fingers enabled, and my wife and I have a finger each which leaves one finger left. This is good for us since the passcode is pretty long and I don’t always want to type it in. It gives us instant access to the phone and its content (there isn’t a lot on it but its helpful when I need to muck around with the settings and stuff.

Most of the newer Apple devices are going to Face ID. All the new iPhones and even the new iPads use Face ID. MacBook Pro’s still use Touch ID but I think the implementation of it could be better. When I first start up the computer it requires a password, but after that I can use Touch ID when waking up the computer from the screen saver or after I’ve opened the lid back up. It also lets me pay for stuff with credit cards that I’ve saved in Safari. I can see Face ID coming to a future MacBook Pro so it works similar to Windows Hello which I’ve heard is awesome but most corporate computers don’t allow it.

I still think that Touch ID has its uses in phones and computers. Better use of Touch ID would be great on the Mac. So many people cover up the cameras on their computers it would almost render Face ID useless. I’m surprised that Windows Hello is widely used based on this phenomenon. I’ve seen some of the Android Phones on YouTube lately that are incorporating the finger print reader right into the screen. That would be cool to give the user a choice to unlock with their face or their finger. I’m waiting for the 2020 iPhones personally to upgrade. Thats when apparently Apple will support 5G and it will also be an “S” year, so they would have had a full year to refine their phone design and maybe they’ll bring back a little bit of the Touch ID magic back.

Rediscovering Firefox

Back in the days of yore, I used a web browser called Netscape. Netscape eventually died off but out of its ashes came a browser called Firefox. For a long time this was the only alternative to Internet Explorer and before Chrome was even a thing. I recently saw on my news feed that Firefox had come out with a new browser that was faster and more secure than Chrome for iOS. Of course I had to try it out.

I’ve installed it on the iPad Pro and my personal iPhone and I can definitely say that I like it better than Chrome. I’m almost to the point where I want to delete Chrome from all my devices except for my MacBook Pro and my Windows computers. The speed of Firefox is definitely a plus for me and their private mode is also better. I also like the menu layout better in Firefox compared to Chrome. Where I think Chrome could have defeated Firefox was being able to use all the extensions that I have installed on the desktop version. Thats the only reason I keep them on my computers but frankly I still use Safari more on my MacBook Pro and only revert to Chrome when I have to.

What’s cool is that Firefox is its still free. It’s definitely a distant 3rd in terms of desktop browsers but it will become my #2 for my mobile devices. I think I’ll decide later this weekend if I’m going to delete Chrome from my mobile devices or not and install them elsewhere. Truth be told, I also installed Firefox on my work computer and unpinned Chrome from the tool bar. Since I can’t use the Chrome extensions that I have for home, the browser just became worthless to me. Most of my work stuff still needs Internet Explorer (no I can’t use Edge either) and without the extensions its just another browser.

There aren’t as many desktop extensions for Firefox but that’s not why I want to use the browser. I’m looking for speed and using less memory on my devices. That’s one of the complaints that I have about using Chrome on my older desktop, it just slows everything down by sucking up the memory. That machine might be a good candidate to install Firefox. I’ll keep checking up on the extensions offered by Firefox, who knows they might come out with the extensions that I like to use on a day to day basis and totally supplant Chrome. Now if they could only come out with a better email client than Outlook, then they could rule my windows desktop experience.

Switching to Spark Mail because of an SMTP error

Screen Shot 2017-06-29 at 10.00.24 PM

I’ve been using my new MacBook Pro and everything has been going pretty good except for sending out email.  Apple claims that everything just works but for some reason Mail is not working right out of the box.  I’ve tried looking for advanced settings to set some specific ports and encryption but those settings seems to have disappeared with macOS Sierra.  There have been a few times in which I’ve wanted to send out mail and it says that my SMTP server can’t be contacted. I’ve done diagnostics, I’ve done verbose diagnostics and I can’t figure out why its not working.  I think it has something to do with the 2 factor authentication with Gmail and Hotmail thats causing the issue.  I’m too lazy to try and figure it out because it should just WORK!

I’ve gone ahead and downloaded Spark Mail on my MacBook again.  I have the app for my iPhone and iPad and I haven’t had any major problems with it.  I can do a unified inbox and I can create smart folders as well to catch all of my unread mail.  The thing thats great?  It just WORKS!  There are some things that I’m going to miss like seeing the inline pictures in my message (I can live without that) when I create it and the integration throughout the OS.  The interface for Spark Mail isn’t bad, at least its familiar like my iOS devices but the one limitation is that it doesn’t have real time updates to my mail account.  I kind of have to wait a few minutes before everything updates.  It’s probably because there is some caching involved at the Readdle server side.

I’ve gone ahead and pinned this to my task bar on my Mac and turned off all the notifications for the default Mail app.  I hope they fix this in MacOS High Sierra so that I can delete yet another app on my Mac.  I don’t want to clutter it with a ton of apps that I’m not going to use. One example is me not installing Flash for Safari.  I am fine with not installing it since I’m not missing much. I do however refuse to install Chrome again since its such a memory hog.

New MacBook Pro 13″

IMG_5907

I finally received my brand new MacBook Pro 13″ from the good little elves at Apple in China!  The computer came in an unmarked box and it said it came from some obscure company in China.  I’m guessing they did that so no one would steal the computer from the back of the UPS truck.  I didn’t go with the 15″ because it was too big and heavy and the screen on this thing is pretty awesome for a 13″ so I’m pleased with my purchase.

I got the one with the touch bar and so far its been decently useful.  I can’t say much about it since most of the things I’ve been using have been pretty standard.  It’s been useful for the volume and brightness so far and I’ve also started to experiment with audio and video playback using the touch bar.  I just noticed that there are spelling suggestions when you type just like the iPhone but I don’t know if I’m going to use it since I type fast and just let auto spell check do its thing.  I’ve spent most of my time trying to get all the data back onto the computer.  I didn’t bring stuff back from TimeMachine since there was a lot of junk on my old computer that I didn’t want on my new one.  It was a good thing that I was able to move most of the media to my NAS so I don’t have to worry about jamming up the SSD with a ton of files that can live elsewhere.

This MacBook you definitely can’t get in the store.  I upgraded the RAM to 16GB and I also increased the size of the SSD to 1TB.  I’m used to having large on board storage and I can’t give that stuff up now.  Even though I have my own private cloud, my internet connection at home isn’t fast enough to support media streaming except when I’m at home.  But that was the purpose anyway from the get go.  I am going to start using it more for iMovie which is why I got a more powerful machine this time around.  My old MacBook was struggling a little bit when it was trying to splice things together so I’m hoping that this will be better.

By far the coolest thing is unlocking my computer with my Apple Watch or with my finger using Touch ID.  When it recognizes my Apple Watch, I don’t even get a chance to use Touch ID!  Thats pretty cool!  I haven’t found any shopping websites that use Apple Pay (I mostly use Amazon for my shopping and they don’t support it really) but I’m keen to give it a go.  I did install some software like Paragon NTFS.  That thing costs $20 but I need it for reading and writing the NTFS drives that I still have at home because of my Windows 10 computer.  I should probably re-do those drives as exFAT or something so they can be read by Mac and by Windows.  I also got a HooToo hub so I have 3 USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, and a SD Card reader for my GoPro stuff.  I also have 2 adapters from Aukey to change my plugs from USB 3.0 to USB-C.  Using the HooToo and the adapters really isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be on YouTube.  I was able to use it just fine when I was doing my backups of my iPhone and transferring files over from my external drives.  It’s just one more thing to put away but thats a really small thing in my opinion.  This computer is really kind of like a desktop replacement for me so its not going to go many places and even if it does, I’m going to be pretty mobile and won’t need a lot of cables to sync or do nutty things like that.

The one thing I was concerned about was the keyboard.  I had tried out the keyboard in the store and it was just meh to me.  It wasn’t great and it wasn’t too bad but the key travel was kinda not the same.  I’ve been using it for about a day and a half and I’m typing up this post on it and I like the keyboard a lot.  It reminds me of typing on my iPad when I’m not using the external keyboard, the key travel is pretty short but theres just enough that lets me know its a real keyboard and not a screen.  The reason I was hesitant at first about getting this was the lack of input by using a pen to draw stuff.  When it really came down to it, I don’t draw that much anyway and it was a nice to have.  The Retina display is awesome since my old computer didn’t have it but all my other apple devices do.  I can tell there is a difference when I look at the screen and it not being touch doesn’t really bother me in the slightest.  Thats what I have an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 7 for after all.

One thing that I have found kind of useful is using Siri.  I was attempting to move my backups from on the SSD to an external drive for iOS.  Instead of using finder, I just hit the Siri button on the touch bar and asked for it to bring up Terminal.  it was pretty handy since it worked similar to how it works on the iPhone.  I just asked her to “Launch Terminal” and away it went.  I haven’t had too many problems and its already done a few software updates to bring it up to speed.  I can’t wait to try out macOS High Sierra.  Unlike my past MacBook Pro, I’m not going to use the beta on this computer.  Maybe I should create a VM or something but that would take up precious space on my SSD.  Maybe I’ll look and see what software I can use to create a VM so I can try it out and off load the VHD somewhere so it doesn’t take up space.

I’ve got some traveling to do tomorrow so I won’t be able to mess with my MacBook tomorrow but I should have some time in the coming week to fine tune it so I have it just the way I want it.  Hopefully this thing will last more than 5 years, I’d like to keep it a little longer than the last computer.  It would be sad if my HP Desktop outlasted this MacBook Pro.

Got a new MacBook Pro!

Yesterday was Apples WWDC and while normally it’s software focused, yesterday they announced a bunch of hardware updates.  One of those updates was to the MacBook Pro which received the Kaby Lake processors.  Out of everything yesterday this is the only news I really cared about since it triggered my “buy” order on the Apple Store.

My other MacBook is pretty much dead right now, I’ve tried getting it to boot but to no avail.  I’m saving the SSD from it as an external drive or something that I can take with me to transfer pictures and other things.  Similar to my now dead Macbook, I just had to modify the configuration.  I opted for the 13″ screen instead of the 15″ screen since the 15″ was too heavy to carry around.  I also maxed out the RAM and the SSD to 16GB and 1TB respectively.  I left the processor alone at the 2.9Ghz i5.  The older MacBook I spiced up the processor so it was an i7 quad core but I don’t need that sort of thing.  It needs to do iMovie more and more since I take more video which is why the RAM and SSD are important.  I also have tons of things that take up space like pictures and video.  While I do offload that stuff to the cloud it’s part of my crazy backup strategy so I never lose a photo.

The unfortunate part is that I won’t get the MacBook until next week.  It takes 3-5 business days just to get out the door let alone ship it to my home.  I can survive a little longer with my daughters computer but I will say it was painful doing Azure on Chrome.  This one will hopefully last at least 5 years like my last MacBook Pro.  Although if it could last as long as my desktop that would be amazing since it’s 9 years old running Windows 10.  With the extra power, maybe I’ll update to Final Cut Pro for video edits.  The templates in iMovie are few and far between and the stuff from GoPro is good but the editing interface sucks.

The great thing with the MacBook Pro is that there will be minimal configuration needed.  Just a few apps here and there and that’s it!  I’m going to find a way to import my iTunes playlists and music from the NAS and keep that crap off the laptop so it’s not cluttering my drive. I had problems with it on my desktop but then again it’s running Windows.  Worse comes to worse, I have a time machine backup to make it a quick restore.