For those of us that signed up to DIsney+ first thing last year – it’s renewal day! And the only opportunity to get the discounted price before the price increases hit us next year. But alas, my payment has just bounced and attempts to update the card on the Disney+ web site is being met with technical errors galore, and I’m currently sitting on the phone to Disney+ technical support for 18 minutes and counting not getting anywhere. Pressing ‘1’ to get them to call back isn’t working either.

Update: I managed to through to an operator who didn’t tell me much as why things were not working properly; he did tell me, however, that there is a 10 day grace period in which the account will be kept active. They will keep trying the card on file, so presumably, they will attempt to take payment tomorrow (which is fine, though I’d prefer a button that grants Disney to take the damn money already).

I suspect Disney+’s payment processing and web site have gone into a bit of a meltdown with annual subscription renewals and I suspect there are a large number of payments that have failed. Even giving Disney+ another card (which definitely has enough funds), it’s still failing on the web site – telling me that payment failed. No activity in the banking app. Nada. Zip. Kaput.

It kind of makes me wonder what kind of performance testing Disney+ did prior to the launch renewal day.

Whenever I read something like this – MPs and Peers say protests should be allowed during lockdown – my blood boils. It seems to me that in the past two decades, maybe more, we’ve put the onus on our rights and needs. Yet how many people are actually thinking about their obligations to the community as a whole rather than their own needs?

The coronavirus spread decrease is slowing in the UK and increasing in the EU. It won’t be too long before cases begin to rise in the UK again – despite the vaccine rollout programme which is now likely to see delays in my age group getting it due to delivery issues. With the government apparently promising no more lockdowns, this is – I think – somewhat likely to lead to another lockdown. Or the government just won’t care and let it overwhelm the NHS again. That 21st June deadline for all social measures being lifted is looking increasingly likely as if it could slip. And don’t get me started about winter and the flu.

Let us as a species not muck this up any more than necessary. Wear a mask. Be careful. Be sensible. Don’t mix with large crowds. Don’t take the piss. Having spent the past year almost entirely indoors, I would dearly love to get out and about and it keeps being spoilt by stupid, selfish people who think other people don’t matter. This is particularly apparent when the virus infection rate rises again after the easing of previous lockdowns (motto: One for one and one for one.)

Yes, we need and require the right to protest as well as many other things. But for goodness sake, let’s be sensible about it. And make sure it’s the right time to do so. We also have a plethora of online social media and communications tools that can do the job just as well. However, one cannot protest if one becomes seriously ill (or dies) after catching this blasted virus at a rally. A virus that’s still very much alive and well and doing much better than us humans.

This little slice of the web is now proudly hosted on an AMD-powered server in Frankfurt. Although if my hosting provider was ever to provide ARM64 servers, I’d move to that. I’ll never host with AWS, Google Computer Engine or Microsoft’s Azure platform because they’re just too expensive for a little blog like this.

I used a WordPress plugin called UpDraftPlus Premium to backup and restore this blog to the new server. I used my own scripts to install and configure Nginx, PHP and MariaDB, then all I needed to do is drop in a basic install of WordPress. From there, it was just a case of installing the UpDraftPlus Premium plugin and activate it (for the Premium features), then connect it to one of the cloud storage services (in this case, Google Drive), rescan the backup store, pick a date, and then restore everything (though I’d avoid reinstalling WordPress core if you’ve already just installed the latest version).

Apple’s move to their own silicon may be the single, most important change since the iPod was first introduced the world. By kicking Intel to the curb, Apple has the power to fundamentally influence how personal computing will turn out for the next decade. Not just for processors, but for operating systems too.

I must admit I was very sceptical at first – especially having bought a 32Gb/4Tb 16″ MacBook Pro the previous year (which happened to be the same year that Apple first announce its transition to their own chips), as well as being in the middle of a major worldwide pandemic. I didn’t think such a strategy would pay off as a result. But I am very happy to say that I was wrong.

But having now had two weeks with an M1 based Mac, I can honestly say that the future of the Mac is going only get more interesting from this point onwards. For starters, for their first-generation Apple Silicon processor, the amount of power versus the amount of power used is just incredible. This thing can beat my 16″ MBP in quite a few areas (though not, understandably, in all of them). It makes me wonder what the higher specced MacBook Pro, iMacs, iMac Pro (if they still continue that range), and Mac Pro are going to look like. Sure, they’ll put something like the M1 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU and 16-core neural processor to shame for sure – but already we get excellent performance from the lowest end of the chain which is going to last most of us, me included, a good number of years.

I’ve had absolutely no incompatibility issues, other than with Big Sur’s outrageously disappointing DisplayPort over USB-C implementation. This has forced me into using HDMI and that’s generally been okay, though even with HDMI I did notice the pink display issue (and a snow-like screen) when putting the M1 MacBook Pro to sleep manually. Waking the unit up got the display back, then putting it back to sleep sorted it out. I’m confident it’s not a hardware issue, just how Big Sur handles external displays.

Some other issues include excessive disk writing when using some Rosetta 2 apps – mainly system utilities/anti-virus. I mentioned before in the previous article that given 8Gb RAM, I expect there to be swap – and there is – but Activity Monitor reports usage within acceptable use for what I’m using this machine for. When I get around to buying the M1 Mac Mini in a few months (with 16Gb RAM), it’ll be interesting to compare, though I suspect most of the utilities that I used to use with my Intel MacBook Pro will have released Universal or Apple Silicon binaries (kudos to 1Password for releasing their own Universal binary update – I’ve got access to unlocking via Apple Watch again.)

As I’m using the machine primarily in clamshell mode at the moment, I can’t really comment on the keyboard – but when I have, it feels a lot nicer to type on than even the 16″ MBP! What’s particularly intriguing is that this machine has never, ever gotten hot. Not once. Haven’t heard the fans spinning at all. Battery life, again, I’m using it as a desktop replacement for the moment, so I’ve not been able to attest to the 20 hour battery life. But it’s there, waiting for me use it when I do go mobile.

No issues with Bluetooth for me – my Apple Extended Magic Keyboard has Just Worked(tm), and my Logitech MX Master 3 mouse has similarly has done its job without fault. While I don’t have a Wi-Fi 6 router, Wi-Fi itself has been rock solid here with decent throughput.

I thought the two ports would be limiting, but using that Anker hub (see previous article), this has not been a problem at all, even if the unit does heat up quite a bit.

Time Machine has, incredibly, been more stable on the M1 Mac than the Intel one. It’s never been slow, lagged or otherwise caused any sort of problem for me. I was at one point looking at alternatives – but thankfully I won’t have to going forward.

Virtualisation via Parallels Technical Preview has been rock solid too – my ARM-based Debian virtual machine runs just fine and doesn’t take up too much RAM, CPU or disk space. Ideal for running bash scripts that would ordinarily need a bit of tweaking under FreeBSD.

With some of the lowest prices in the Mac range right now, an M1 Mac should be your next computer. I think it will last four-five years just fine, and by the time it comes to replace it, new MacBook Air/Pro/Mini designs will have probably rolled out and will be even better. It’s difficult to know when Apple will pull the kill switch on Intel binaries, but I wanted to move across sooner rather than later. The old MacBook Pro will probably be traded in for the Mac Mini (though I have to pay for the Mac Mini first before Apple will give me the dosh back).

UPDATE: I’m convinced it’s best not to install any Intel-based system utility – monitoring or anti-virus/anti-malware – until the vendor has released Universal or Apple Silicon only binaries. I just installed BitDefender Anti-Virus for Mac, which is still Intel only, and it wrote – according to Activity Monitor – 35Gb of data to disk within a period of 5-10 minutes during a scan (it read 22Gb).

There’s been lots and lots of news recently about how the SSD (the internal super fast storage) within M1 Macs (MacBook Air, Pro and Mac Mini) is being excessively written to, and that an M1 Mac’s SSD lifetime is being reduced substantially through all these excessive writes. Like us humans, SSDs have a finite time here on Earth given the nature of the beast, but ordinarily, they should typically outlast the machine they’re installed in many times over.

I have only 8Gb of RAM in my 13″ MacBook Pro M1 machine, and I’m fully aware of swapping. But even so, this shouldn’t affect the overall lifespan of a machine that much – if at all, and especially with modern techniques for managing it within an SSD controller. But even I did notice that kernal_task was writing a substantial amount of data (~250/300Gb) of data daily (after the machine was set-up and all applications installed) – even with the swap file activity was relatively quiet and very few applications were running.

It’s worth mentioning also that the output from ‘top’ and activity monitor looks like it includes ANY disk write activity, including external drives (such as what I use for Time Machine) and other mounted volumes (disk images or DMGs) – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming here. I’m hesitant to pull data from S.M.A.R.T. utilities (or any other utility for that matter) since Apple’s controllers may not necessarily conform to their specifications. Also, if Apple intended us to use SMARTtools for drive diagnostics on the command line, they’d have had them installed as part of macOS. It’s all a bit confusing though, because this is the output from System Report:

and then there’s this from Disk Utility:

Is Apple using its own smarts via Apple Fabric to monitor SSD lifespan, and not the S.M.A.R.T spec?

What I forgot to check was my go-to-machine monitoring app, iStats Menu, was a Universal binary (or at least Apple Silicon). I was wrong. It is still an Intel native app, and is run through Rosetta 2. It is able to monitor most metrics just fine, so I didn’t think much of it. Of course, it was installed on day one of getting the MacBook Pro…

Thinking about all the apps I use, and the kind of use they get, I thought whether iStats Menus may be aiding and abetting in the excessive SSD writes somehow. I couldn’t see any file-based logs growing in size on the filesystem, nothing that would attract substantial writes at least. My thoughts turned back to iStats Menus and its binary compatibility. How does Rosetta 2 handle monitoring like that?

So I decided to uninstall iStats Menu and replace it with iStatistica Pro – something I bought a little while ago. It’s a Universal binary now, and its sensors work with M1 Macs just fine. Since then, the number of writes to the SSD has reduced considerably. We’re talking about 100Gb for 4 hours of the machine being online with iStats Menus versus 15-16Gb for 4 hours with iStatistica Pro. No other changes were made to my application line-up.

I think if there is any blame to be had, it’s probably Rosetta 2. It’s an incredible piece of technology, but I am not entirely convinced – depending on the application – it is terribly I/O friendly – even if it’s no longer a JIT translator anymore, but rather it “compiles”/translates the ARM64 binary from the original when an Intel application is first opened.