Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

AirPods Pro

I happened to have some time over lunch so popped by the Regent Street Apple Store, and there were plenty of AirPods Pro available for sale, in a cordoned off area.

I was asked if I’d like to try it on, as they had a part of the store setup for this. I told the sales associate I was just interested in the purchase and would not want to try something that’s been in someone’s ears. The Apple sales process is quick, because they’ve got all your customer details handy, worldwide. 

Walking out, I realised I needed to update my iPhone to iOS 13.2. Nothing I could not do after lunch while at a meeting, right? 700MB+ download plus about 45 minutes later, I was ready to try using it.

What better place to try it that noisy Oxford Street, between Tottenham Court Road and Marble Arch? I did one walk with my current pair of AirPods, and another walk in the opposite direction using the AirPods Pro. 

Overall, I came off wowed. Noisy luxury vehicles revving their engines only to stop at the next set of traffic lights? The sirens of the police vehicles? Crowds of people chattering? I was calmly listening to the Taylor Swift Apple Essentials playlist without skipping a beat. 

Taylor Swift seemed like an apt choice because she was once exclusive to Apple Music (“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.”). You could even not mishear the mondegreen in Blank Space!

Upon reaching home, I did try the Ear Tip Fit Test. Admittedly, it was not that intuitive, as I had to find out how to do it via reading the documentation. Turns out the mediums that it shipped with was perfect for my ear. 

I visited the gym, and while just running it in normal mode would have been fine, if you want to enjoy undisturbed music fidelity, you turn on noise cancelling mode, and the noise of two running on the treadmill just disappeared. It was a different experience. I know its supposed to be sweat resistant, but I felt my old pair of regular AirPods have done just fine in the gym.

The real test would come the day after when I would take a ride on the tube and the DLR. I’m pleased to say the AirPods Pro cancels noise perfectly, and I did not once miss my Bose headphones (for context I’ve never owned their earphones, and have used their headphones for over a decade). Those of you that ride the tube know that it can get noisy in the underground, and if you’re trying to listen to a podcast or audiobook you may have to turn the volume up a lot more (even then it might not work). I never went above 50% of volume with noise cancelling turned on, so I presume this is better for my hearing, overall!

I took a call in a noisy airport lounge, and I heard the other two better than I normally would have done, again thanks to the noise cancelling feature. They did not report hearing me better or any worse, so maybe there are no improvements mic wise.

Today I managed to try it on a plane, which is where I most commonly use my noise cancelling headphones (AirPods have won out for every other use); again I never once felt I missed my Bose. I listened to music while reading, and I’m sure I could have also watched a movie or TV show without issue. 

I don’t think I’d be a frequent user of Transparency Mode, but while ordering a cab, and then telling the cab driver directions towards where I wanted to be dropped, it was useful. I surprisingly could enjoy the music while doing these daily tasks. Naturally switching to this mode is going to take some getting used to – it has been so common to remove one AirPod from the ear (and Apple has thoughtfully ensured that even in Noise Cancelling mode, the other in-ear AirPod switches to Transparency Mode). I guess if I jogged on the road, it would also make sense to be able to hear my surroundings. 

I find that running it with noise cancelling mode turned off makes it feel like I’m using regular AirPods. It works for most general use cases. With long term use, I know they feel different compared to regular AirPods but I did not find it uncomfortable.

I’m going back to 2 AirPods life – one regular one (for gym and maybe calls), and one Pro variant for when I use public transport and find myself in noisy situations. Though when the regular pair eventually meet their demise (dead batteries are so common, like my first ever pair), I will probably go all in on the AirPods Pro.

I’m a little mixed considering it costs a lot and the replacement cycle seems to be quite frequent (anything above 18 months seems like a bonus) compared to say my Bose, where I still have a pair that’s over 10 years old. I’ll be using the pair I picked up last year a lot less now… However, it fits in my jeans coin pocket so will get a lot more use than either my Bose QC15 or QC25.

Moving images from an iPhone quickly

Wanted to move 60GB of photos from an iPhone to the Mac. It turns out that Dropbox does not save Live Photos, Google Photos does, but it is all in reduced size (unless you pay them).

Extraction via Image Capture was taking forever.

Had to make sure on the iPhone, in Settings, you select “Keep Originals” under Photos -> Transfer to Mac or PC.

Didn’t realise Image Capture also has this option, it is small, at the bottom, but it also exists.

Fast, HEIC images, with accompanying Live Photos (i.e. movie files).

State of the Mac early 2019

I landed in London sometime in January 2019, and made an appointment at the Regent Street Apple Store the same morning for that afternoon at 1pm. This is apparently a very rare thing, because Apple Store appointments are usually full up weeks in advance.

The reason was simple: my 2016 15” retina MacBook Pro was starting to wobble at the base and the battery indicator did say it was time for a service. This battery for what it is worth has only done under 200 cycles, so it did seem odd. The wobbling suggested that the battery possibly had expanded, and this was also affecting my use of of some keys – notably the left shift key, and on the right side the ? Key (it would many times skip giving me ? But instead give me /).

I arrived for my Apple Store appointment a little early and was told that I could only check in at 12:50pm. Fair enough, I would just wait it out at the store. The Genius Bar was packed full. I was finally told to take a seat upon checking in and a genius would be with me shortly.

I met a friendly genius, who told me that it is likely the battery expanded and they would have to change the whole top cover as this was all integrated, meaning I would also get a new keyboard. Then he said that I would need to typically leave it there for up to 7 days, but since I was travelling all around, they would try to do it within 24 hours. 

As luck would have it, they did not have the parts available in store, and then checked stock to see that Covent Garden had 2 units. Upon calling, they would take 2 weeks (yes, a whole 14 days) to fix it. This was unacceptable. The genius wrote up a report about how they were willing to do it at Regent Street and how this was odd that Covent Garden would not in a timely fashion; he also encouraged me to get this fixed ASAP as it was not a good idea to continue using said laptop. This is great news to hear when travelling, clearly.

So it is clear: Apple laptops are still not made for Enterprise use. Fast forward a couple of weeks later and I order a Mac Mini to my home in Malaysia. I figure it is a computer I have wanted to get for sometime and I would use a desktop for the one week or so that I would be in town.

I make a Time Machine backup of my MacBook Pro, and restore it to my 12” MacBook (2016) that I have not sold from a previous engagement. The restore takes many hours, and when it is finally done, the one thing that I consider quite important – Mail – is not fully migrated. All the local folders are not converting, and maybe this is a Mojave bug (I was coming from High Sierra). So I am thankful to start exporting Mail in the MBOX format. In addition, Chrome seemed to be missing all the plugins that I had installed, so this was further manual work.

This leads me to believe that when I do setup the Mac Mini and also when the MacBook Pro comes back from a service, I will set it up fresh (or hopefully, the MacBook Pro just needs an update, and the data remains intact; this is apparently true according to the genius – nowadays Apple does not even ask for your password any longer). After all, I do have iCloud sync turned on (so Keychain is synced), Dropbox seems to be doing more work than expected, and passwords are managed in 1Password. I’ll have to sync my Mail manually, which seems like some bandwidth will be used, but that seems fine. But maybe I won’t be needing all the applications that I have. And what about my home directory? (The Linux advantage is just moving your home directory; I am uncertain if this is true with macOS as I have always relied on Time Machine).

Today I visited the service centre. I’m told that it would be there possibly for the 7 day period, so I may be able to get it back next Saturday. If this were my only Mac, I would be out of commission for a whole work week. If I had purchased a Dell or a Lenovo, I would have all this fixed by the next business day. Alas, I am still “locked into” macOS.

Initial Mojave thoughts? Kind of silly that when I fire up Terminal I can’t even do a ls in ~/Library/Mail unless I give Terminal all disk access. What a mess, all this lockdown is, if you ask me. 

I’ll hope to have a positive update later this week. The Mac Mini I ordered only comes with 8GB of RAM, since the Apple uplift for 2 16GB sticks (32GB of RAM) would have added RM2,640. I asked the Apple Service Centre how much it would cost, and they too said about RM2,000 since they have to order it from Apple (at first they said it could not even be upgraded!). I’ll go the after-market route, where each stick is only RM490, so getting it all for RM980 seems like a better choice. I’m going to guess that the Mac Mini 2018 model isn’t selling all too well in Malaysia, judging by many saying they haven’t upgraded it yet…

Screen Time and less usage of social media

I have been trying an experiment — the use of less social media, thanks to Screen Time on iOS 12. The last item I uploaded on Instagram was on September 17 2018. My usual form has been to make a photo at every place I land up at, but since seeing that I spent 30-45 minutes of “dead time” daily on the app, I figured I needed to stop using it so regularly.

My thought there is quite simple: do I make money from Instagram? No. I should generally only be doing productive things with my iPhone, correct?

Consequently I haven’t uploaded photos from my trips to Tokyo, Singapore, London, Edinburgh, and apparently London again, where I’m penning this. OK, it will be November 1 2018 tomorrow, so I should maybe start posting again.

I find that I don’t use Facebook much but have the application for the 2-factor authentication (I will have to find a way to move this to Google Authenticator or 1Password so I could zap it). This leave Twitter, which I do spend a bit of time on (I have to work on reducing this).

WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. may be considered social media but the reality is I need to communicate with folk so I can’t stop using those apps.

Screen Time also helps tell me how much time I actually spend on the iPhone. I feel like it is too much. Here’s to more iPad and more MacBook Pro. And in general, more time around Productivity/Reading & Reference/Creativity/Other/Health & Fitness, going forward. And of course… Entertainment (Netflix has some good shows from time to time).

Anyway, measuring where I spend time clearly matters. I’m surprised we don’t see this on macOS yet (but for that I have RescueTime). I understand that Timings is another popular app to use. From a time management standpoint, I reckon reading: The Average User Checks Email 5.6 Hours Per Day and also The Mona Lisa Doesn’t Tweet. These are timely reminders that we should gain from social media, but not give in much more to it.

Thumb drive data recovery

I haven’t done any data recovery or data rescue work in sometime (the last time was on Linux, with a combination of dd, ddrescue, and some throwaway code to parse JPGs – it was a Compact Flash card that needed saving). This time, all I had was macOS, a 16GB thumb drive, and the files were someone’s life’s work, which were more than just JPGs but also AI (adobe illustrator), DOC, XLS, PDF, TTF, etc. files.

So via Homebrew, I installed ddrescue again. A command like ddrescue -v -n -c 4096 /dev/disk2 helena.dmg helena.log seemed to work. On macOS, fdisk totally couldn’t get me anything useful and if I ran diskutil list the output would be as follows:

/dev/disk2 (external, physical):
   #:                       TYPE NAME                    SIZE       IDENTIFIER
   0:                                                   *15.5 GB    disk2

For good measure I wanted to also make an image via dd, dd if=/dev/disk2 conv=sync,noerror bs=4096 of=helena.img. It was clearly throwing many errors, an example of which:

13399375872 bytes transferred in 1263.864380 secs (10601910 bytes/sec)
dd: /dev/disk2: Input/output error
dd: /dev/disk2: Input/output error

The real problem was mounting either the DMG or the IMG. On Linux you have this option to loopback mount a file; on macOS this isn’t quite there. There is hdiutil but frankly, this doesn’t work if there is no partition record. I tried to mount it using hdiutil attach -noverify -nomount helena.img but that didn’t work to then do a diskutil mountDisk.

Then… I found a tool: PhotoRec. I wouldn’t have to write something to parse the magic numbers and extract files. PhotoRec just works. It parsed the IMG file, and spat out plenty of files to look at. Recovery was generally full.

For reference, on Linux, there are some good resources: Mounting a raw partition file made with dd or dd_rescue in Linux, and Guide to Using DDRescue to Recover Data. From a forensic standpoint, Disk-Arbitrator looks like a good tool as well.

December 2017 Crypto Tab Sweep

Cryptocurrencies? Blockchains? I’m sure you’ve heard of them before by now, unless you’re living under a rock. I’m an open source & database guy, so for me, I look at all this with a fine toothed comb. Probably doesn’t help that I enjoy reading the FT on a daily basis. Anyway, a selection of links… You may not be able to read all the links (subscriber only), but maybe I’ll think about something new come 2018.