If people are wondering why we’re heading for a second lockdown, well, this is the kind of behaviour that’s been going on during the first one. Good old fashioned panic and stupidity – though to be fair, the government has hardly been clear and decisive in their leadership in all of this.
Well, I was wrong. And it kind of makes me happy that I was wrong. Apple will be going through another major architecture change for the Mac range of computers – even in the face of the pandemic and economic downturn. But after watching the the World Wide Developer Conference 2020 (WWDC 2020), I am somewhat more optimistic than I was.
I like how they demonstrated all the apps, including Microsoft Word and Excel, alongside Adobe Photoshop, all running natively on Apple’s A12Z Bionic processor running macOS Big Sur (yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full, sir), and the system didn’t flinch once. This is the same processor used in the iPad Pro 2020. And they demonstrated a triple-A game running with Intel x86 code translation, performing admirably well. What’s interesting is that these new Macs will be able to run iPhone and iPadOS apps natively. It’s genuinely nice to see a build once, run everywhere platform.
I’ve been down the Mac transition route before – my trusty work G4 to an Intel Core 2 Duo. It was pretty painless, though some apps were left behind because the developer didn’t want to update or couldn’t update for whatever reasons. But ultimately we came through with relatively few scratches and we’ve had a good long run with Intel and the x86 architecture.
The biggest question mark in the whole thing is how well Windows is likely to run through their virtualisation system. We saw Parallels, a VM system for the Mac run Debian 10 just fine, but Windows was not mentioned at all. It may be the biggest casualty in this transition, which could piss off a number of developers that work across Mac, iOS, Windows and Linux. Maybe more details will be forthcoming about how Windows and VM will work with the A-series processors. If at all.
It’s interesting to note that after 20 years, macOS gets a major revision change and becomes 11. Yes, they finally cranked it up to 11.
I love what Apple are doing with iOS and iPadOS in terms of improving usability – especially with widgets embedded directly within the home screens. macOS Big Sur gets a major cosmetic change as well as architectural change, of course.
I won’t be able to afford a new Mac for a good 3-4 years, and unless this change introduces some major price discounts, the spec I’m using is not something I’m likely to be able to personally afford again for a long time. The resale value of my MacBook Pro is going to be affected, obviously, given the Intel Mac is given a commuted death sentence.
But the people that have spent over £10-50k on Mac Pros which only very recently were updated as late as 2019 were always going to be the people who were really going to be miffed. Thankfully Apple expects the transition to take two years (for the whole range of Mac systems, I presume), but will be supporting macOS on Intel Macs for a good more number of years (probably at least 5, I’d have thought).
It’s certainly a start of an interesting new era of Macs, and indeed, the whole Apple ecosystem. But what will the likes of the EU (which is currently going after Apple for their App Store) make of an entire closed loop system – and what about the right to repair? Interesting times indeed.
There’s a LOT of hype going around that Apple intends to announce the switch from Intel processors to their ARM-based A-series processors for the Mac line of laptop and desktop computers. There are plenty of reasons for doing so – including complete control of the silicon and working to Apple’s own time frame rather than that of a third supplier (e.g. Intel).
.. we’re still in the middle of a worldwide pandemic which isn’t slowing down significantly yet (indeed, it’s getting worse – and I trust the WHO a lot more than the blathering jibber jabber from the UK government and the constant lies and deceit from Trump). People are still getting sick. The economy is doing badly, and it’s going to take years to recover. People are either furloughed or have been made redundant. If we get a second wave and have to go into a series of lockdowns again – this is only going to cause more frustration and loss of income.
Is now REALLY the time to introduce a whole new architecture on the desktop? Sure, for most developers that have moved to Swift, this shouldn’t cause too many problems. But if A-series Macs are announced on Monday, we still don’t know how much the development kits are going to cost, what kind of support developers are going to get for them over the coming months (consumer support from Apple isn’t great right now – taking far longer than usual), when the new A-series Macs might be introduced and what models will get the A-series CPU treatment first, etc.
I think it’s going to be tough enough as it is just to get the new Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 consoles out the door later this year. Everything is so uncertain.
Even the iPhone 12 is said to be launching at least one month later than usual. For me, I don’t see much reason to upgrade – at least not for the cameras at least – since I’m stuck at home at the moment and there’s really not much reason to take photos of anything. 5G? That ain’t going to be happening around where I live for some time. Don’t use it much while I’m at home unless the main broadband starts playing up, or I need another connection to test web sites I’m working on. But 5G is not something I particularly need or want right now. What does interest me more this year is the Apple Watch, which has been an incredible device ever since it launched and improved leaps and bounds with every generation.
If A-series Macs are getting the go ahead, what happens with all the recently updated Macs such as the 16″ MacBook Pro which has a new $800 GPU option which essentially gives it close to 2x the graphics performance of the highest end model from the end of 2019. If a whole new iMac design is announced on Monday, that’s surely going to have Intel CPUs? Apple is still tweaking the Intel platform. Thus how long is Apple actually going to support the Intel platform for – and especially for those that can afford to fork out for the super expensive Mac Pro and iMac Pro models if they’re going to be heading over to the ARM architecture? How long is it going to take for Apple to get the A-series processors up to those levels of performance?
In these uncertain times, it’d be nice to keep things somewhat certain until the world has managed to get this bloody virus under some form of control. An entire architectural change is not what’s not needed immediately – it could stand to wait a year or two first.
As we enter yet another week of lockdown, I’ve been all too successful at remaining indoors. While Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Ocado, Waitrose and all other grocery stores online delivery services are completely out of bounds, Amazon Prime Now has proven itself worthy over and over again. Best £7.99/month I’ve ever spent.
I’ve managed to keep up stocks of the regular staples including bread and main meals regularly over the past few weeks without too many issues. One has to keep checking available slots, but usually something turns up every few hours. This is in stock contrast to Sainsbury’s which is only delivering to the most vulnerable. Click and Collect is always unavailable.
The big problem with the main supermarkets is that they make the assumption that everybody drives and has a car. I don’t. The bus service where I live has reduced its services to about one bus per hour rather than the usual 10 minutes when they were operating normally. So it could take several hours for me to go grocery shopping each week – and bear in mind that I’d have to cart everything back by myself.
Virtual Music Concerts
I’ve not been to many music concerts in my life (I can count on one hand – The Divine Comedy at The University of East Anglia (UEA) back in the late 90’s, Last Night of the Proms at Hyde Park in the mid 2000’s, and similarly one trip to Guilfest in 2006), but as we’re all still in lockdown, new ways are being found to provide the concert-going experience at home.
Fortnite, the wildly popular video game, recently put on a virtual concert for Travis Scott. The event, called Astronomical, showcased a few of his existing songs as well as previewing a new track. It was rather spectacular – and more importantly, provided a virtual mosh pit where you could jump and run around and, in some cases, swim and fly. The Xbox controller’s haptic feedback engine vibrate in time to the music often.
I’ve put together a few highlights here.
It was a wildly successful event, and I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of these things in the future – lockdown or not.
Replacing the daily commute with a webcam
One of the most difficult things I had trouble sourcing when work asked us to start working from home was a webcam. Every other bugger was buying them as well. But I’ve finally managed to get my hands on one, albeit it at a cost which closely matches that of my monthly commute via South Western Railways. It is a 4K webcam, though, and designed for streaming.
Work has a regular weekly meeting with all employees, and a daily virtual coffee/chinwag in which using video is highly encouraged. My 16″ MacBook Pro is hooked up to my new 27″ BenQ monitor, and the lid is closed, so I can’t use the webcam there (and besides which it’s only 720p because Apple has seriously skimped on what is now a vital resource). I’ve used the 2018 iPad Pro temporarily, but the angle is such that it looks up my nose and just isn’t flattering at all. With the new Logitech Brio 4K Stream camera, it’ll sit on top of the monitor and will provide viewers with a much better angle, and at a much better quality.
I imagine that realistically, we won’t be back in the office much until June/July time, so it seems worthwhile making the investment now. Given the potential for reinfection, we may be using video conferencing a lot more.
Photo slideshows and video editing
I’ve started experimenting with Apple Photos’ slideshow functions to put together a few slideshows of various things. One thing that I put together was a tribute to the family cat, Lupin, who sadly passed away last month. It’s quite interesting that looking back on the photos, I took a LOT of pictures of that cat. But alas, it’s not great, so I won’t embed it here.
After messing about with Apple Photos, I attempted to put together a slideshow of a trip I made to the Pacific Northwest I went on 5 years ago next month. I wanted to do something a bit special for the 5th anniversary. Alas, Apple Photos is a massive pain in the arse and, combined with my lack of organisational skills in managing the photos and date/time settings on the camera and iPhone, it’s all a bit of a mess. Re-ordering them in the slideshow caused significantly more problems.
I had even imported the exported slideshow into Final Cut Pro X, created some text overlays (with a flag for each country I visited) and polished the presentation. It looked good, apart from noticing the completely out of order photos which kept happening every time I messed about with the export function in Apple Photos. So I’d preview it in Apple Photos, see that it was okay, and got a completely different result from the export after putting all the effort in captioning and graphics and watching the results.
I think what I need to do is create an album, add the photos I want to add there, and then create the slideshow for that. I’ll give that a go soon, but having spent nearly 7 hours very early Saturday morning messing about with Apple Photos and Final Cut Pro X, I’m not in a rush to do so again too soon.
As we enter the third or fourth week of lockdown (to be honest, I can’t remember – I’ve been working from home since early at least early March), and with a good few more weeks to go (four, maybe even eight), I decided that I’d take some of the money that I’d be spending on commuting and upgrade some more of my home computing kit – particularly my monitor.
I’ve been using a Dell 24″ monitor for the past couple of years – it was something I bought for around £150 and has generally done me well. However, the 2018 15″ MacBook Pro and 2019 16″ MacBook Pro didn’t entirely get on well with it. iTunes/Apple TV would often complain that HDCP wasn’t available and refused to playback any of my 400+ iTunes movies and TV shows. Occasionally the screen would just blank for a few seconds too. I tried USB-C to HDMI cables, the £70 certified Apple adaptor and HDMI 2.0 certified cables – no joy.
I settled on a gaming monitor for the replacement. It may sound strange, but as the MacBook Pro can support higher refresh rates, supports AMD FreeSync for improved frame rates, it made sense. I went for a 27″ BenQ EX2780Q display.
It supports a 144Hz refresh rate (the higher the better), it has a native quad HD resolution which supports the 144Hz refresh rate – but can upscale to 4K resolution at 60Hz. The Mac will only see 2560×1440 – but this is a definitive improvement over 1920×1080 from the Dell. A bigger screen + resolution = more real estate for Terminal and Remote Desktop windows when working.
HDR is also supported, but this is a bit of a strange beast. Even now, HDR is still a bit of a mystery to me. My 60″ 4K TV doesn’t have it, but my iPhone and iPad Pro do (HDR10 and Dolby Vision support). This monitor has HDR support, though it isn’t very specific as to what it will support – though HDR10 on the Xbox One X seems to work just fine. On the Mac – no HDR mode is seemingly supported. But when playing on the Xbox One X, I do seem to notice more vibrant colours than before. There are options to change different HDR settings, but I’ve more or less left them alone and just accepted the defaults.
The monitor comes with a decent sound system built in – with a volume knob within easy reach. In fact, the controls for this monitor are excellent. Especially as it comes with its own remote control. I can change input settings easily – scroll through and make changes in the menu system all without touching the monitor itself. And speaking of inputs – it has support for USB-C, 2 x HDMI 2.0 ports and a DisplayPort. The Mac is hooked up via USB-C and the Xbox One X is connected via HDMI. Two presses on the remote control and I can switch between the Mac and Xbox with ease.
Since using the BenQ monitor – no HDCP problems, no screen blanking – it’s been working perfectly. I think this has been one of the best electronic purchases in recent years (along with the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro) and will keep me going for the next 5 years or so.
The other additions to the the upgrades include the Logitech MX Master 3 mouse. I’m an owner of the MX Master 2S, but found that the battery life wasn’t very good (at least at home) and that the scroll wheel was very noisy/not terribly smooth. The MX Master 3 fixes ALL these problems, and then some. It’s perfect for the Mac – and I’ve been going weeks – not days – with the MX Master 3 without recharging. I’m extraordinarily happy with it. The Apple mouse is being kept because MacBook Pros (and Mac Minis) seem to have real difficulty with wireless mice in firmware mode unless it’s an Apple mouse.
Finally, I bought an Xbox One X. I did own one a few years ago, but found I didn’t play it very much. So it’s a system I had already invested in. With the lockdown and not being able to get outside, I wanted something to stimulate me that wasn’t work related. I also wanted to get a controller that worked with iOS and iPadOS too – and the Xbox controllers will work with them. The Xbox One X is effectively a Windows 10 PC – but you just can’t run Microsofft Word on it. Yet. More games are supporting keyboard and mice – including Fortnite – though as I found out, you really need a USB keyboard and mouse to make it work. The Xbox One X doesn’t support Bluetooth.
It was rather difficult getting the console because everybody else seems to be having the same idea. But it arrived, and set-up was very easy. It sits on my desk opposite the Mac and if I feel the urge to cure people of Freddy Mercury-itis in Two Point Hospital, it’s there:
or futuristic football with cars (Rocket League), I can just jump quickly into a match:
I’ve taken out the Xbox Games Pass Ultimate which, for £10.99/month, gives me access to over 100 games (Rocket League and Two Point Hospital are just two examples). One game that truly stands out as part of the Xbox Games Pass is the wonderful Ori and the Will of the Wisps which is simply one of the most attractive looking and sounding games I’ve ever played:
Even on the easy mode, this is a difficult, difficult game. It’ll keep me occupied for many months to come.
The only other thing I really need to complete my home office (haha – as if the Xbox is part of the office – though one could say it’s a de-stresser) is a webcam. I used to have a Logitech 4K Brio, but sold that about a year ago. Now you can’t buy them for love nor money as everybody is practically working from home now. At least the iPad Pro’s built in camera is useful for video conferencing, so I’m using that as a workaround.
Not entirely sure how I feel about this one, because streaming video is undoubtedly a luxury versus the need to keep businesses running through video conferencing, voice over IP phone calls, and instant messaging.
The problem is that the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and even Apple have all been asked to reduce the bandwidth or resolution of their streaming services by the European Commission in order to reduce load on Internet Service Providers.
Here in the UK, despite the occasional spike, ISPs have generally stated that they’re able to cope with the extra demand of people streaming video now that social distancing is being put into practice. Yet Netflix has reduced the bitrate for their service to save bandwidth by 25%. The trouble with this is that their service was already very efficient with video compression – and the Premium level gives you the highest quality video (up to Ultra HD). People pay extra for this tier, so is Netflix intended on compensating people for the reduction in bitrate? And especially for those who are also paying extra for top tier ISP performance (G.Fast in particular at 100Mbs or above)?
YouTube is another culprit. I’m paying them £11.99 for the Premium service, and expect to get the highest quality video where available (as well as the removal of adverts – I could just use an ad blocker, but there are a number of creators I want to support and going down this route seems the fairest route).
Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Britbox, BBC iPlayer, UK TV, All 4, ITV Player and Channel 5 On Demand only operate on one tier and you can’t really complain if they reduce the resolution or quality. However, Apple TV+ seems to have gone overboard. This has lead me to cancel my free year-long trial. I was rather enjoying Amazing Stories and Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – but otherwise there isn’t much other content that interests me, and they don’t offer any extras at all – a good opportunity for Apple to showcase their own iTunes/Apple Extras. But I won’t let the buggers reduce quality to the point of blocky artefacts. Even if I’m not paying for it (and yet they expect people to pay up to $350 for an iPad Pro keyboard/trackpad?!).
And what do you think is going to happen on Tuesday 24th March when Disney+ launches in the UK and other countries in Europe. You bet demand is going to go through the roof that day. Will Disney be joining others in reducing bandwidth or resolution?
And furthermore, what’s happening with the US studios plan on releasing titles that were intended for cinema to be available to rent on streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, etc.? Will those titles – which cost around £15-20 to rent have their bandwidth or resolution restricted? If so, you can bet that piracy is going to outpace the legitimate version – further hurting the film industry.
(While I’m at it – given that practically everybody in the world is now social distancing and staying at home – what’s the point of separate domestic and international release windows for new releases? Why is there still a pre-order for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in the UK when it’s been released early in the US? Why does the country release window matter anymore? We’re all stuck indoors!)
These companies were asked to reduce bandwidth, not ordered to do so. But I expect there would have been consequences if they had not – that seems the way with the European Commission. I wonder if ISPs had ever been asked about the usage and their plans on monitoring and handling traffic accordingly.
Streaming video is a luxury – yes, but for some this is escapism given the solitary demands of social distancing. And what does the European Commission think of video game streaming, video games that communicate with servers for multiplayer games (Fortnite, for example) – the traffic should be fairly negligible (though I use 50Mbs for Nvidia GeForce NOW which is often significantly more than what my streaming habits consume) – but would the European Commission craack down on that too? What other services or protocols does it want to reduce the use of?
What I strongly object to are web sites that load and then autoplay video in a small window (or even if the video is embedded in the body of the page, autoplaying is bad!) alongside 20 billions adverts. Plus the 50 billion third party calls to external services just to make the bloody site work. Now THAT is a waste of bandwidth.
For my work, I just need voice over IP telephony (Zoom), the occasional online conference where we share screens, SSH access, RDP access, VPN access and your usual web based traffic. Face to face video conferencing is not needed for the most part (I can’t remember the last time I had to use it). I paid for a decent internet connection for the likes of streaming – I should be able to use it for it until such times I can’t afford to do so, or the plan I’m using isn’t available any more. I trust my ISP has the ability to manage the traffic accordingly. And if they asked me to reduce my usage, I would (though there would be some discussion about what I’m paying as a consequence of that). But I dislike the EU interfering without first doing some substantial research first.
I had to pop out to the local Sainsbury’s today to stock up on main meals for the coming week. The local bus service is still running, so I hopped on one with my big Sainsbury’s Bag-For-Life and hoped for the best. The car park was completely full, but in terms of people, it wasn’t that much busier than a regular Saturday shop.
Evidence of stockpiling is very evident in the following areas:
Soup and tinned goods
Most cleaning products
Non-fresh/long life pasta
(Click on the image, but not text part, to expand pictures below)
However, fresh produce was plentiful, as were a lot of other fresh/refrigerator-based items. So I stocked up on bread, sandwich fillings, some ready meals, some toilet supplies (not toilet paper – thankfully because it’s just me at home, I’ve been buying a 9 pack each week since January and have a fairly decent store of them – for now) and some chocolate.
Checkout was painless. I used the Sainsbury’s Smart Shop app on my phone to avoid having to use/touch Sainsbury’s own scanner – and it meant that I could skip the very long queues (both regular checkout and the self-service checkout). It took about a minute to complete – though I did have to get some help as I managed to procure some bleach for the toilet (and one packet of paracetamol (just in case) – I can’t remember what they check you for these days).
At the time of writing, an Amazon Prime Now delivery has actually been accepted (via Amazon’s warehouse – not that of Morrisons) and is the process of being delivered. I attempted to place a delivery order on Tuesday for Wednesday delivery, but Amazon/Morrison’s cancelled the order 2 minutes after it was due to be delivered. Effectively I’m getting more sandwich fillings and enough soda to last about a week – possibly two.
I do hope Sainsbury’s and the other supermarkets ramp up their home deliveries. This is going to be important if there is an official edict to prevent people from leaving their homes. Otherwise people will still need to leave their house at least once a week to go shopping.
They came for our toilet rolls, because for some mysterious reason, people are pooping a lot more than they used to. Then they came for our hand sanitisers, because suddenly hygiene is seen to be super important now. Then they came for our pasta, because people suddenly find carbs super attractive.
Now that the coronavirus pandemic is escalating to the point of insanity by the Great Unwashed Public, supermarkets are struggling to keep stock of key foodstuffs and toiletries.
I thought that maybe I should book my regular Saturday morning slot with Sainsbury’s Online and add all my regular, not-at-all-panic-buying quantities of foodstuffs (there’s only me – I don’t need much). Alas, there are absolutely no available slots for at least two weeks. Tesco is the same. Ocado put me into a waiting queue just to get to their home page:
(We do this kind of virtual queueing at work for one client who sells shoes – and at this point of time, nobody is going into a frenzy buying shoes mainly because they’re stuck at home, can’t eat them, sanitise their hands with them (unless they wear shoes on their hands for the next several weeks), or use the shoes to wipe their arse.)
That said, I have plenty of food to keep me going for several weeks, and assuming that the local shops don’t close, there shouldn’t – providing people are sensible (oh please be realistic, Martyn – of course they won’t) then things like bread and tinned something should be fine.
This ain’t Supermarket Sweep, people. It’s not about filling your carts with everything you can find. Just do a normal weekly shop, and nothing should run out as quickly.
You know the ending to The Day The Earth Stood Still in which the alien leaves us a warning to mend our ways? If I were that alien, I’d have had the Earth blown to smithereens. Humans are the worst. (Hopefully the dolphins could facilitate a mass evacuation of dogs, cats, birds and other decent animals before the Earth is destroyed.)