Category Archives: Reality Distortion Field

Apple and Mac related stuff.

The iPad is 3 years old

whyipad

Time flies.

This is what I said back when it was announced. I underestimated how much laptop usage time would be replaced by iPad usage time.

If you want to see what professional technology reporters, analysts, etc. said at the time, then check out this post by Asymco. It’s eye-opening. Summary: iPad is an overpriced, underpowered, crippled disappointment that will bankrupt Apple.

In reality, the iPad turned Apple into the biggest and most profitable computer maker in the world, destroyed the horrendous netbook market, forced Google to clone it, and MS to completely redesign the Windows UI for touch and start making their own hardware.

Shows you how much faith you should put in the opinion of “experts”.

Late night surgery

Last year I upgraded Shlomit’s MacBook Pro to an SSD. A few months ago I upgraded my MacBook Pro. The only little Mac left behind with its puny little spinning platters was my Mac mini. So I finally broke down and bought an SSD for it. This time it was a 250 GB Samsung 840.

Samsung 840 SSD

Similar to the last times, I used Carbon Copy Cloner to transfer the contents of the original 2.5″ hard drive to the SSD. This took about three hours over USB 2. Slow but without a hitch.

CCC

But one thing would be different this time: turns out that when Apple ditched the DVD drive on the Mac mini, it left room for a second internal hard drive. So I can fit both the original drive and the SSD in the little box! Great. The problem: You need a special cable to do this. The solution: OWC ‘Data Doubler’ SSD/2.5″ Hard Drive installation Kit.

For $35 you get:

  • A little ribbon cable to connect the drive
  • Four cute screwdrivers: two were needed for the installation, two were not, and a third type that was needed did not come in the kit but thankfully I had it.
  • Four screws.
  • Four rubber bumper thingies.
  • A piece of green plastic they call “pry tool” and was actually super useful.
  • A U-shaped piece of bent metal, effectively used to move the computer’s motherboard out of the chassis.

A rip-off? Hardly, because they also bundled a very detailed manual with great photos and step by step instructions. Trust me, the booklet alone was worth the price. This was one tricky installation, they sure pack those little boxes tight.

mini
The Mac mini 40% into the installation. These little boxes fit together like one of those impossible to put together wooden puzzles.

I’m happy to report that although it took a long time, the operation was a success. The computer is a lot faster now. Nobody should be forced to use magnetic hard drives anymore. Now all I need to do is decide how to best distribute all my stuff across the 5 (five!) hard drives connected to this machine. I want iPhoto to be fast, but my giant library won’t fit in the SSD. Questions, questions…

1Password boomarklet for iOS

IMG_0222

I’m a huge fan of 1Password. If you aren’t using it or some other secure wallet / password manager, you should go set it up, then come back and read this.

In any case, I often find myself browsing on my iPad/iPhone and land in some website that I need to log into (my bank, Twitter, Reddit, Google, whatever). Since I use unique random un-rememberable passwords on every single website, I have to:

  1. Copy the URL from the Safari URL bar
  2. Open 1Password
  3. Paste it inside 1Password’s built-in browser
  4. Use 1Password’s auto-fill

or the reverse which is more painful:

  1. Open 1Password
  2. Find the login info I need
  3. Copy
  4. Go back to Safari
  5. Paste

So I wrote a small bookmarklet that will open the current Safari address in 1Password. It works with 1Password for iOS 4.1. And here it is:

Open in 1Password

In order to install it while on your Mac, just drag the “Open in 1Password” link to the Bookmarks bar. If enabled, iCloud Safari syncing will take care of making the bookmarklet show up on your iPhone/iPad.

If you want to install it directly from your iPhone / iPad, follow these instructions.

Once it’s installed, you can visit any page in Safari. Click on the bookmarklet you just created and the page should open in 1Password. I hope this saves several minutes of your life!

My other set of bookmarklets for changing font size in iOS Safari is quite handy and popular too.

Mapping it all out

google_maps_iphone

Anyone who is tech-savvy enough to read this blog has undoubtedly heard about the “Apple Maps debacle”. The press has written lots and lots about it – some justified, most over-simplified link bait, as follows:

  1. Apple hates Google ‘cuz they copied the iPhone
  2. Apple wants Google off the iPhone so it created its own Maps, got rid of Google Maps
  3. Apple Maps suck.

The reality is, of course, much more complicated. Since their negotiations happen behind closed doors, all we can do is use what we know and speculate on the rest. My take follows.

Continue reading Mapping it all out

Adventures of an iPhone 5 in Mexico

I have my new Sprint iPhone 5 and I had to travel to Mexico. I obviously wanted to use my prepaid “Amigo Telcel” SIM card.

These are the steps:

  1. Call Sprint, ask them to provide an international unlock.
    Some carriers will sell you an unlocked iPhone, meaning that it will work with any GSM-compatible SIM card in the world. Most won’t, they will sell you a phone that is programmed to work only on the specific carrier’s network. Some carriers will, however, unlock you iPhone. In the US case, Verizon iPhone 5 comes unlocked, AT&T will unlock it once your contract is up, and Sprint will sometimes unlock it for international use only assuming your account is in good standing and some secret set of circumstances are all fulfilled. The way they do this is unclear to me, but basically you call them, they ask you for your phone’s IMEI code, and then they do something (tell Apple to unlock it?) on their end so that your iPhone is unlocked.
    If you are on a different carrier, then you need to research whether that carrier will unlock your phone. The easiest way is to contact them directly. Multiple times if needed.
  2. Back up your iPhone.
    After some indeterminate amount of time, the request Sprint places on Apple goes through. Connect your phone to your computer, open iTunes, and back it up.
  3. Restore your phone.
    This takes a while, and in my case, there was no “Congratulations! Your iPhone is now unlocked.” message. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because what I got is not a full unlock, rather an international unlock, which means I can use it with any cellphone company outside the US that has SIM cards, but not with AT&T nor T-Mobile. The lack of message made me nervous that the phone did not get unlocked.
  4. Get a nano SIM.
    The SIM card in the iPhone 5 is smaller than the regular ones or even the iPhone 4/4S microSIM cards. This is where you may need to get crafty and cut down your SIM card. Be careful!

    Left: nanoSIM for iPhone 5
    Right: microSIM for iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S
    After my handy work, the former microSIM is now a nanoSIM. I was nervous about the metallic edges shorting on the aluminum iPhone 5 SIM tray, but everything worked fine.

    I had access to a nicely equipped soldering station for my SIM operation, microscope included. You may not be as lucky, nor as handy. Be careful!
  5. Use.
    Once I arrived to Mexico, I popped in the “new” nanoSIM and it worked like a charm!

    Yep, that’s a real iPhone 5 screenshot taken in Monterrey, Mexico connected to Telcel.

Verizon iPhone 5 came fully unlocked for some reason, and AT&T will unlock them at some point. I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.

Google is not making any friends

From Counternotions:

For over a decade, Microsoft — the monopolist of its era — treated its customers on Macs as second-class. Its Office suite never achieved parity with its Windows sibling, even when the differences were not dictated by platform architectures. Whether it was document compatibility, font-metrics, macros, integration with other Microsoft software or myriad other gotchas, Mac versions were always lacking. Every new version of Office promised better compatibility but never really delivered it. Worse, Microsoft never quite integrated Apple-grown technologies into Office to better blend it into the Mac ecosystem, claiming it would break cross-platform compatibility with the Windows versions.

Sadly, this wasn’t an occasional inconvenience but a source of daily frustration for millions of paying customers, corporations and individuals alike. With business so dependent on Office, Microsoft’s message was loud and clear: if you want the real thing switch to Windows.

Sufficiently annoyed by all the trouble, some users did.

Most didn’t, and haven’t forgiven Microsoft ever since.

Therein lies a lesson for Google

I should not need to spell out the analogy they are making, but here it goes anyway:

“Google Maps is to iOS is what Microsoft Office is to Mac OS”

To be fair, Mac users resent Microsoft for more than that. After all, Microsoft ripped off Apple’s groundbreaking user interface whole-heartedly when they created MS Windows.

Oh, wait…

iPhone 5

I debated long and hard whether to upgrade to the iPhone 5 or not. Three minutes later I decided to upgrade. I will attempt to write something coherent about it that is different from all the hundreds of reviews out there. If you want a review, Ars Technica is a good place to start.

Read more…

Continue reading iPhone 5

Samsung vs Apple

The Samsung vs Apple trial opened today. Apple is accusing Samsung of “slavishly copying” its designs, specifically for the iPhone and the iPad.

Samsung is a gigantic company that can put together impressive high-technology products like almost no other company in the world. They build components (screens, chips) and they build end products. They should be admired for this.

But it’s obvious to me that there is a deeply ingrained culture of copying other companies’ successful designs and not respecting their intellectual property. They make the highest quality, most reputable KIRFs. The phone market is probably where this shows the most obvious. This is not new and is not just about Apple.

Examples:

Does this phone remind you of any other phone? Perhaps one that was quite successful a just few years ago? If you can’t see how this phone is a close copy of Blackberry, then let me convince you: coincidentally, this phone was named “Blackjack“. Is that close enough?

Here’s a slightly older model. Its thin flip-phone form factor may remind you of a very popular phone made by Motorola in the mid-2000s: the RAZR. It could have been worse, of course… they could have called it Samsung BLDE. Instead Samsung kept all the vowels and called it Blade. To avoid confusion, of course.

And here is the Samsung Galaxy at the heart of the lawsuit, next to an iPhone. Even the background color of the phone app icon is the same! At least they did not call it sPhone or iSamsung. So… copy or gigantic coincidence?

There’s many more examples floating around the web: cables, packaging, their tablet. We’ll see how it develops. Samsung may get away with it because what they did is still legal as defined by the law. But nobody should pretend that there’s no copying going on.

SSD Upgrade

Solid State Drives have been replacing Hard Disks on computers lately. Instead of storing data on a rotating magnetic disk, they store data in flash memory: basically silicon chips that keep data even when powered off. They are lighter, use less power, have no moving parts, and most importantly are way faster than hard disks. The problem is that, compared to their rotating counterparts, they are (still) more expensive.

Still, prices have dropped dramatically recently. Shlomit’s computer was feeling a little sluggish so I decided to give it a nice little upgrade.

Crucial M4 SSD

After waiting for a good price on DealMac for a few weeks, I bought a 256 GB Crucial M4 for $180, a very good deal at the time of this writing, to replace the stock 250 GB spinning disk.

The upgrade is reasonably simple, here are the steps:

  1. Copy your Hard Drive contents to the SSD.
    1. I used a borrowed adapter to connect the SSD to the Mac via USB.
    2. Use Disk Utility (it comes with Mac OS X) to format the SSD.
    3. Use Carbon Copy Cloner (donation-ware) to copy the contents of your old hard drive to the new one. This was straightforward and it even created a Recovery Partition on the SSD. But it took a long time: almost 3 hours.
  2. Swap the hard drives. It’s easy, just follow the instructions posted on any of hundreds of YouTube videos. Like this one. But make sure you have the right tools, in my case a Philips #0 and a Torx #6 screwdrivers.
  3. Turn on your Mac and be amazed at how fast it feels now.
  4. Go into System Preferences and make sure you select the SSD as the Startup Disk. Otherwise every time you boot your computer, it’s going to spend ~30 seconds looking for the old drive.
Carbon Copy Cloner doing its thing.
MacBook in mid-transplant. Make sure you don’t misplace a screw.

Really, the speed difference is amazing. Everything is snappy. Opening programs like iPhoto or iTunes happens in less than a second.

If you have a computer that’s 1-2 years old and you want something much faster without buying a new machine, strongly consider upgrading to an SSD. You may have to sacrifice capacity but I think it’s worth it. Just put your pirate movie collection in an external hard drive and/or pay $25 to keep your music on iTunes Match.

If you are buying a new laptop, make sure you get one with an SSD. If it’s too expensive, get a slower processor instead to make up for the difference. You will be surprised at how most slow tasks are dramatically sped up by an SSD. Don’t believe me? Check out this video of a side by side comparison:

Another nail in the pixel’s coffin

On Monday Apple released a new MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It has an incredibly high resolution screen with 5.1 million pixels. Four times as many as the regular 15″ MacBook. Compare to your big full HD 1080p TV, which has only around 2.1 million pixels.

So a regular person sitting in front of this computer at a regular distance cannot see the individual pixels on the screen.

This is another step in Apple’s quest to  kill the pixel: sure, screens will still be made out of pixels but you as a user could not care less, everything will look perfectly smooth.

Need more proof? This is how you select screen resolution on this new Mac:

Screenshot from AnandTech

Yep, they only mention anything related to actual numeric screen resolution as a little side not in grey letters.