The M1 Lifestyle: “Snappy”

For the second time in as many months I did something I’ve never done before; placed an order for a new Apple product right after the keynote event where it was announced. As previously blogged, I ordered a new Apple Watch Series 6 after the Time Flies event in September. Last month I ordered a new Apple Silicon M1 Mac mini to replace my aging iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011).

The Back Story

The iMac was a gift from my cousin Ann. It had belonged to my Uncle A.J., who passed in April of 2015. I kept it updated up to the latest operating system it could run (macOS 10.13 High Sierra). I’m sure I also stressed it much more than my uncle ever did with lots of menu bar utilities and Adobe Creative Cloud software. It was a work truck, but showing its age. Some iCloud services were no longer syncing reliably, partly because of the age of the OS. It was slow and prone to spinning beachballs. I couldn’t upgrade to the 2021 versions of the Adobe creative software apps as they didn’t run on High Sierra. And most disturbingly, it appeared that the graphics system was going out. The displays, both the built in and a connected Apple Cinema Display HD, would spontaneously flash little multicolored checkerboards at random intervals and areas across the screen. I knew I needed a new Mac sooner than later, but because of Apple’s June WWDC announcement of new Macs based on their own silicon design coming before year’s end, I wanted to wait until the announcement to see if one of the new systems would fit my needs and budget. I was hoping for an iMac or a Mac mini. My wait was rewarded and shortly after Apple’s One More Thing event on November 10, I ordered the M1 Mac mini.

My First Mac mini

This is the first time I’ve purchased a new Mac that didn’t have a built in display or come with a keyboard and mouse. Because of that, it’s also the least expensive Mac I’ve ever bought. Every Mac I’ve purchased since 1987 through 2018 (there have been five) were all on the high side of $2K. Since I did have a keyboard, mouse, and display, the Mac mini was the perfect fit and I could afford to bump up the specs and spend less than $1,500.

The New Setup

Photo of new M1 Mac mini setup on desk with two displays and peripherals.
The new M1 Mac mini setup.

My new M1 Mac mini has 16 GB of memory and 1 TB of storage.

The monitor on the left is an LG UltraFine 4K display (21.5-inch). This monitor was a gift from my father a few months ago. He used it as an external display for a 2017 MacBook Pro (the first generation with a Touch Bar), that he eventually sold and replaced with a 27-inch iMac. It had been in his basement, so he generously sent it to me for an external monitor for our 2018 MacBook Air so I would at least have a backup machine in case the old iMac went completely kaput before I could replace it.

Since I was used to a two-monitor setup, I knew I would want another display. On the recommendation of Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun of the Mac Geek Gab podcast, I purchased the Monoprice 27-inch CrystalPro UHD 4K monitor (on the right). Even though Apple worked directly with LG to produce the UltraFine displays back when Apple stopped making and selling their own, out of the box the Monoprice display seems, to my eye, to have a more accurate white point. The LG display looks to have a bit of a blue cast in comparison. I have not done any calibration on either yet — one of many things on the list for refining the new setup.

Peripherals attached include:

  • Fantom Drives G-Force MegaDisk 3 TB hard drive (Time Machine backup)
  • Anker 10-port USB 3 hub (three ports are charging only)
  • Western Digital MyBook 1 TB hard drive (file archives)
  • Western Digital MyPassport 1 TB hard drive (file archives clone)
  • Epson Perfection 4490 Photo flatbed scanner (I have not yet tested this with the new Mac and Big Sur — the software from Epson is not compatible, so I have to find an alternative.)
  • Wacom Graphire graphics tablet (from 2004 — it still works as an input device, even without specific drivers, and I can draw with it, but the pressure sensitivity is no longer recognized by any software I have tried lately.)
  • Anker PowerWave Stand (Qi-certified, upgraded since I purchased)
  • Apple iPhone Lightning Dock — White (only available in black or gold now)
  • MacAlly Solar Powered Slim Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac
  • Apple Magic Mouse (generation 1 — the one with replaceable AA batteries)
  • Altec Lansing stereo computer speakers (I’ve had these for years)

That’s how it stands for now. As mentioned, there is a list of things to do and things to purchase as time goes on, but for now I can be productive with this initial setup.

Week One Impressions

During the initial setup my main first impression was, “Wow, this Mac is snappy!” That word has been thrown around a lot in many reviews of the new M1 Macs I’ve read. Even to the point of being perceived as hyperbole. It’s not a bad adjective for the experience, but one could also say “this Mac flies” or “it’s wicked fast”. Granted, I’m coming from an overburdened, nine-year-old iMac. But even our two-year-old MacBook Air is not as “snappy” as this new Mac mini. Apple has done something extraordinary in computing with their own systems on a chip (SoC). They have created a computer that is quiet, efficient, cool, and fast. Usually there are tradeoffs among those characteristics, but not with the M1.

System Setup

Instead of setting this up as a brand new machine, letting my cloud documents sync down and reinstalling all my apps, etc., I chose to migrate the system over from the iMac and see if I could get up and running faster. Actually I used a clone of the system on an external hard drive for it’s ease of implementation.

Usually, migrating a previous system to a new Mac is a processor-intensive, fan-spinning, slow process. I’ve never migrated a system from an old Mac to a new Mac as easily and quickly as this time, however. I could tell it was hitting the new M1 SoC pretty hard as the Mac mini’s cooling system did come on. Although I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t put my hand behind the enclosure and felt the air coming out. It was moving quite forcefully, but was not hot. It was completely silent, however — no fan noise whatsoever.

Initially, Migration Assistant indicated it would take three plus hours to complete the transfer, which was in line with my past experience. I got up to let it do it’s thing while I did a little Christmas decorating around the house (this was Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S.). About ten minutes later I wandered back into the room where I was setting up the new Mac mini and Migration Assistant now said it would be done in about 20 minutes.

Photo of the Migration Assistant screen while setting up my new M1 Mac mini.
Only 22 minutes left?

What‽ Never have I had a migration go so fast. I wonder how quickly it would have finished if my previous system clone had been on an SSD?

When the Mac mini booted up in macOS 11 Big Sur and I logged into my user account I was immediately overwhelmed with notifications and alerts asking for various system permissions for numerous software programs that launched at startup. I was so used to the old iMac’s startup routine taking ten minutes or more for all my menu bar utilities to load. I was unprepared for how fast this new system loaded everything, seemingly all at once.

It took some sorting out and a little time on my part to get through all these initial setup tasks. I lost count of how many times I entered my Apple ID and password as well as the new admin password for my user — at least I got a head start on impressing it into muscle memory. But after a while things settled down and I moved on to testing old software, installing updates, uninstalling incompatible apps, and installing new software (Adobe Creative Cloud apps, specifically).

Snappiness

There’s that word again. The thing that brought this most pointedly to my attention was opening apps, specifically the Apple apps that have been updated specifically for Big Sur on Apple silicon.

On the old iMac, I kept my music and photos libraries on external drives since the internal storage was only 512 GB. I upgraded the M1 Mac mini at the time of purchase to the 1 TB storage option so I could move my music and photos back on to the internal storage. The process was pretty seamless using Apple’s Music, Books, Podcasts, and TV apps to consolidate their respective media from the external drive back into place on the Mac mini. Moving the Photos library was even simpler — copying the library file from the external drive to the Pictures folder in my user’s Home folder, then double-clicking the library file to launch Photos.

When I first launched Photos I was blow away by the fact that the window opened immediately with all photo thumbnails fully visible before the icon on the dock had finished bouncing once. There was no delay to draw the thumbnails in the window as the individual photos were read from disk. This same almost-instant launch of apps is the new normal for those that are compiled for the M1 or are universal (contain both Intel-native and Apple silicon code). I’ve never experienced anything like it. Ready to launch an app and do some work (or play)? Click the dock icon and BAM, the machine is ready for you to start! No more waiting around for windows to render or files to load —they are just there on screen waiting for you to do something.

Real World Production

After getting licenses transferred and apps updated, I am enjoying a new working environment for my telecommuting graphic design production. The main Adobe Creative Cloud app — the one that manages my account subscription and installs/updates the individual applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDeisgn, and the like) — updated itself to an M1-native beta version, which is “snappy” and has so far worked great, except it did not recognize the 2020 versions of creative apps I already had installed, so I could not just tell it to update everything to the 2021 versions and migrate all my user settings and preferences. This I had to do manually.

The creative apps that I use mostly are not yet M1 native, so they run in Apple’s translation environment, Rosetta 2. Apple has done it’s best to make sure that Intel-based applications that are translated with Rosetta 2 work as expected (just as if they were running on an Intel Mac). The Adobe apps are no exception. They are not “snappy”, but they do load faster and perform better than they did on the old Intel iMac I was using. I’d say they launch in about half the time it took on the iMac. So, even though they are not yet optimized for Apple’s silicon, I am experiencing a much more responsive working environment. All the features that I’ve put to the test have worked and I’ve had no unexplained crashes. This is all anecdotal and only over three days of working, but It’s a more enjoyable experience by far.

Moving Forward

There’s still a bunch of tweaking and app updates to go (when developers get M1-native versions out) before I have the new setup where I want it. But for the time being I am very pleased and glad I jumped onto the leading edge of Apple’s Macintosh offerings. Considering these are the first generation Apple silicon Macs, and the slowest of this class we are likely to see as the rest of the Mac line transitions to Apple SoCs, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending to anyone needing a new Mac computer to choose any of the new M1 macs. This is the future of Mac computing, available now!

New Apple Watch

As mentioned in my last post, I ordered an Apple Watch Series 6 the day of the announcement. It was supposed to arrive between September 28 and October 1. It came a few days early on Thursday, September 24. So I got my iPhone 11 Pro upgraded to iOS 14 that evening and set up my new watch the next day. I made a silly unboxing video and finally found time to get it edited and posted to my YouTube channel (having a day job certainly puts a monkey in my wrench).

Week One Impressions

I am thoroughly enjoying the upgrade from a Series 1 to the Series 6. It’s a big jump in capabilities, size of display, responsiveness, and delight. I set it up as a brand new watch rather than use the backup from my Series 1. This is allowing me to experience the discovery of the new features of both the newest hardware and watchOS 7. This is an ongoing process. This is what has impressed me so far.

Apple Watch Series 6 gold aluminum with product red sport loop on wrist
After unboxing, I set up the watch to use the Analog Activity face as a starting point.

Speed

It’s unsurprising that a jump from a 1.5 generation device to a 6th generation device would bring a faster user experience. My Series 1 watch was upgradable through watchOS 6, but the hardware was never “snappy”. The Series 6 seems so much more responsive in all interactions—swiping through watch faces; scrolling with touch and the digital crown; launching apps from complications, the dock, and the app list (I don’t use the app “cloud” although I might give it a try since the display is bigger); and giving Siri voice commands.

Apple Watch Infograph watch face full of Complications
The larger watch size with smaller bezels allows for more information in the form of complications.

Size

Speaking of the larger display, I am enjoying it for enhanced readability and getting more information on the screen. My previous watch could not take advantage of many of the newer watch faces that packed more complications on screen because of it’s smaller size. Two millimeters and smaller bezels make a big difference.

Features

My older watch was also not able to take advantage of things like fall detection and the advanced monitoring of heart rate that were introduced with Series 3, 4, and 5 watches. I don’t feel left out anymore. I haven’t tested the fall detection yet, but I have set up the ECG and Blood Oxygen apps (I’m all normal so far) as well as started tracking my sleep by wearing the watch to bed. The always-on display is very nice when I want to glance down to check the time without having to raise my arm to wake it up. The display is also noticeably brighter and the colors seem richer.

Apple Watch hand washing detection app
The Apple Watch hand washing detection shows only 14 seconds more.

Delight

Oddly enough, it’s the hand-washing timer that continually delights me multiple times per day. It seems magical in how it detects that I’m actually washing my hands. I’ve only had a couple of “false positives” when I’ve gone to rinse something off my fingers while cooking—not fully washing my hands, but similar enough to tigger it. It has never once thought I was washing my hands when I really wasn’t, like when rubbing on hand lotion or just rubbing my hands together briskly. My wife says she wouldn’t want her watch telling her what to do, but I find the technology that can accurately figure this out fascinating and delightful. I don’t think of it as being told what to do or how to do it. I think of it as a tool to help my personal hygiene, especially during the pandemic.

Apple Watch Analog Activity watch face at 3:30.
Using the Apple Watch Activity watch face keeps me going to complete all three rings.

Workouts

I take a 2.5-mile walk every day and track it as a walk workout in the activity app on the watch. Getting the Series 1 got me up and moving more consistently through the gamification of closing all three rings. Like most things, I’ve gone back and forth sticking with the habit, but the Series 6 has revitalized my dedication to keeps the walking habit going.

I use that workout time to listen to podcasts and now I have a watch that performs well enough to use the watch app from my favorite podcatcher, Overcast. I still carry my iPhone and play the audio from there, but use the Overcast app on the watch to control it.

So Much More

I know I’m still just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this new watch. Of course it can alert me to notifications so I don’t have to pull out my iPhone, but I was using the Series 1 that way before. I’m intrigued by the notion that I can use the Shortcuts app on my iPhone to automatically set watch faces on the Apple Watch at specific times of the day. I’ll be looking into that next.

After only a week, I am very pleased that I purchased the Apple Watch Series 6. It was definitely time for me to upgrade. I look forward to several years of enjoyment before needing to replace it.

Fruit Flies Like an Apple

Apple Time Flies logo.

Yesterday Apple presented part of it’s annual fall new product introductions in a pandemic-friendly, highly-produced, pre-recorded video event titled, Time Flies. I say “part of” because there was no mention of new iPhones, which would be expected in a mid-September announcement, if this was a different kind of 2020. More on what was not announced below.

What Apple did announce was right in line with most of the leaks and rumors reported by too many reporters, bloggers, tech pundits, “analysts”, and YouTubers. The hardware announcements included the Apple Watch Series 6, a new mid-range Apple Watch SE (the series 3 is still available at the entry level), an updated iPad (gen. 8), and a new iPad Air (gen. 4) sporting the design language of the iPad Pro line. On the software/services side there were segments about new apps on the new watch—most notably the ability to take a blood oxygen reading, a Family Setup option for Apple Watch that provides the ability for multiple family members to have an Apple Watch that’s managed by a single family member, a new subscription service called Fitness+ that integrates with the watch and provides video training for 10 different kinds of workouts viewable on any Apple device screen ($10/month or $80/year, available late 2020), and a service bundle called Apple One with three price tiers (Individual: $15/month, Family: $20/month, and Premier: $30/month). Check out the links for all the details.

If you’d like to read Apple’s stories on all the announcements, point your browser to Apple’s Newsroom for the official press releases. For the moment Apple’s Fall 2020 Keynote is at the top of the feed. It’s also well worth the little over an hour to view the video of the keynote in order to get the full experience of the new “reality distortion field”.

For some thoughtful first-impression analysis, you can do no better than reading John Gruber’s “Brief Thoughts and Observations on Today’s ‘Time Flies’ Apple Event”. If you prefer videos, tune in to Rene Ritchie’s YouTube channel.

I do have to say I do like the way Apple is making announcements by presenting these pre-recorded keynotes during the COVID-19 pandemic (both for WWDC 2020 and these fall announcements). They are certainly missing a specific energy that only a live audience can provide, but these recorded keynotes provide an opportunity for Apple to tell a very tightly controlled and concise story about their hardware, software, and services. Another aspect I really enjoy are the transitions from segment to segment where the viewer is seemingly flying through the Apple campus, inside and out—with a couple of comedic cameos by Craig Federighi in the Time Flies event video. It’s like getting a privately guided tour of parts of Apple’s headquarters that most of us will never get so see in person, albeit a very speedy one.

Apple Watch Series 6 gold aluminum with product red sport loop band.
The gold aluminum Apple Watch Series 6 with a (PRODUCT)RED sport loop band that I ordered.

This keynote marks an historic occasion for me personally. It’s the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a new Apple product on the same day as it’s announced. That’s right, I ordered an Apple Watch Series 6 a few hours later. I had several Apple Store gift cards burning a whole in my virtual Wallet app on my iPhone. I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a newer version for a couple of years, but this time I actually followed through. It should be delivered about September 30. It’s not a moment too soon, either. Last evening when I was going to bed after placing the order I noticed that my current Apple Watch Series 1 screen has begun popping off of the case.

Apple Watch Series 1 on a wrist. The display is coming off of the case.
My Apple Watch Series 1 with the display coming off of the case.

Near the end, Tim Cook made a somewhat passing announcement that the new operating systems would be available today (Wednesday, September 16). Specifically, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14. I will be waiting until the weekend before my new watch arrives to upgrade my iPhone 11 Pro, however. The main reason being that this last-minute announcement has caught a lot of developers off guard. They were provided less than 24 hours notice of when the public will have access to the new operating systems. Normally they would have about a week to get the final adjustments to their apps made before the operating systems went live (thanks, 2020!). I’m not in a hurry and want to make sure that the developers of the apps I use have time to get their iOS 14–compatible updates submitted and through the review process before I upgrade my iPhone.

Lastly; what wasn’t announced. There was no word on the release date of macOS 11 Big Sur. There was no mention of Macs. We recently got updates to the Intel iMacs, but we were told at WWDC that the first Macs with Apple’s ARM-based SoCs would be out before the end of the year (there have been rumors and/or leaks regarding an Apple silicon MacBook coming soon). And as mentioned up top, nothing about this year’s new iPhones. We know there will be some if for no other reason than on Apple’s Q3 financial results call the CFO specifically set expectations that this year’s iPhones would be “a few weeks later” than usual. My suspicion is that there will be another announcement event sometime in October to tell the story of the iPhones 12 (I thought this was supposed to be an 11S year), more features of iOS 14 that depend on the new hardware, the first Apple silicon Mac, and when macOS 11 Big Sur will be available. And maybe, just maybe, “one more thing”, although the talk of the tech pundits would lead me to believe there might be two or three “one more things”.

One thing for sure is there is no shortage of rumors and speculation about what Apple’s going to do in the future. When/if they actually do, we’ll find out when Apple tells us.

Apple Silicon

Apple Silicon illustration slide from keynote.

A slide from the WWDC 2020 Keynote showing components of future Mac SoCs.

On June 25, 2020, a good friend of mine, Kathryn Knoll, posed a question on my Facebook wall. I worked for/with her in the mid-’90s at Sophia Center, a spirituality-support center now located in Portland, Oregon.

Kathryn said, “Hey Barry, would you be willing to help those of us who don’t know what an Arm CPU core is. Why should we be excited about it? You always explain it so well and I’m humble enough to say I don’t know anything about it even though all of my devices are Apple products.”

I thought it was a great quesiton. Since I figure a lot of my friends, family, clients, and readers may be asking the same thing, I decided to answer the question in a blog post.

So, Sister Kathryn, let me see if I can do this without getting too geeky. To paraphrase Wikipedia, ARM is a family of architectures for computer processors. ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machine. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing. So, there’s an acronym inside an acronym going on here. (Still pretty geeky, eh? Bear with me; just trying to establish a bit of a foundation.)

Again, from Wikipedia: “Arm Holdings is a semiconductor and software design company wholly owned by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group and its Vision Fund”. Oddly enough, even though ARM is an acronym, the logo for the company is all lowercase “arm”. They license their CPU core designs to many mobile device manufacturers around the globe, Apple, Inc. being one.

At their 31st annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 2020; link to the keynote) this past week Apple announced the start of transitioning the Mac from Intel-based CPUs to custom-designed “Apple silicon”. They never actually used the term “ARM” in the announcement, however.

Apple has been designing their own “CPUs” for iOS devices for a decade now. The iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices have been running on custom-designed Apple silicon since the iPad was introduced in the spring of 2010. But this silicon is actually much more than a simple CPU. They are SoCs, which stands for “systems on a chip”. They license ARM technologies, then design and build custom architectures around them that include GPUs, image signal processors, machine learning and neural engines, to only name a few parts of the overall system (see the slide at the top of this post). Apple contracts with third-party fabricating companies to actually manufacture the SoCs, but they are unique to Apple devices.

That’s where the Mac line of personal computers are going over the next two years. After that, Apple will no longer be tied to Intel’s x86 chip roadmap, but will be able to make Macs on their own schedule. Apple silicon–based Macs will be able to do things no other PC can. Some things we can expect are better performance, lower power requirements (longer battery life on MacBooks), and less heat. The iPad Pro that came out earlier this year outperforms the new MacBook Air (also early 2020) in benchmark tests. In the future, Macs will probably outperform most off-the-shelf PCs from any manufacturer.

Should we be excited? I’m a bit. For most folks, they probably won’t notice when it happens. If you want/need a Mac, buy one. Whether it’s a current Intel-powered Mac or a future Apple silicon–powered Mac (the first one is supposed to ship before the end of this year), it will provide many years of service and performance. Apple is still making Macs with Intel CPUs and will be for at least two years. In the keynote they stated support for Intel Macs will continue for years to come. I imagine that if asked, regular users won’t know or care what kind of processor is in their Mac. Apple has set out a transition path for their hardware and software—and especially their tools for app developers—that will in most cases make the change virtually imperceptible to users.

If you haven’t watched the keynote yet, it is well worth it to get an overview of where the Apple ecosphere is headed.

A First World Problem

Prologue

I am a coffee drinker. I suspect many of you are as well. I also enjoy a cup of hot tea on occasion. However, I very rarely just sit down and drink a cup of one or the other for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. I will consume a hot cuppa with my breakfast but that’s usually just on the weekends as my weekday breakfast is a smoothie. I mostly drink coffee, and that most often while sitting at my desk, either at home (as I work away on one of my Macs) or at my day job (on a “DULL” Windows PC [gagging noise]).

Here’s my problem. I like my coffee hot. The hotter, the better. Just shy of burn-my-tongue hot. If it gets much cooler than that, I don’t enjoy it as much. When I’m sitting at the computer I’ll often get so engrossed in what I’m doing (Mac) or frustrated by the experience (Windows) that I forget to drink my coffee while it’s still hot from the pot. When I do pick up the cup to take a drink, it’s cooled down too much. What to do?

Well, at home I do have a Mr. Coffee mug-warming hot plate, so I can set my ceramic mug of hot coffee on it and the coffee stays hot until the last swallow. But I still had the problem at the day job. And there’s not much that’s worse than drinking cold coffee while using Windows.

Sometime in 2018 I became aware of a new product that would provide a solution to my day-job problem. Yes, I could have bought another hot plate, but being a gadget geek, the new Ember temperature-controlled Ceramic Mug intrigued me.

Ember had first launched a temperature-controlled travel mug in 2015. I saw both the Travel Mug and Ceramic Mug for sale at my local Starbucks. I found them on Amazon and put the Ceramic Mug on my wish list.

I did not buy it right away because I wanted to find out more, read some reviews, and, quite frankly, the retail price of $80 was beyond an impulse buy for me.

Then Jesus made it possible for me to get one. That is, I received enough Amazon gift cards for Christmas to make it possible for me to order one without spending my own dollars.

So, I’ve been using it at work to keep my coffee hot while I suffer through using Windows. There have been many reviews of the Ember Ceramic Mug all over the interwebs, so I’m not going to do another one here. This is just my story and my observations.

Ember Mug sitting on charging coaster on a desk.

My Ember Mug keeping coffee hot on my day job desk.

Act I

As I opened and unpacked my Ember mug I was impressed by the quality of the packaging and product. It reminded me of the experience of opening and setting up many of my Apple products. I later read at their website that Ember employs former Apple designers and engineers.

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There is minimal documentation on paper in the box. What’s there is printed on circular paper. The instructions are a single sheet and easy to follow. There even are stickers! The product itself consists of the temperature-controlled mug, a charging coaster, which I call a saucer, and a power supply/cord combo.

Act II

I inaugurated the use of my Ember Mug at the day job office. After all, I have Mr. Coffee to keep any ceramic mug heated at home. As I began to set it up I immediately ran into a snag, but not one with the Ember Mug. There was not an available electrical outlet under my desk. The closest outlet wasn’t close enough for the saucer (charging coaster) to be on my desk. So for the first week I set it up on a bookshelf a few feet away to the side of my desk. I could charge the mug on the shelf, but it wasn’t close enough to reach while sitting at my desk. This became a good testing scenario for determining how long the mug would keep a drink hot on a battery charge.

As it turns out, I was a little disappointed. The battery only lasted about 30 minutes in my first test. I was only about halfway through the cup of coffee (the Ember mug capacity is 10 ounces).

I thought, “that can’t be right”. The Ember website claims the Ceramic Mug battery will last approximately one hour. Either it wasn’t actually charged all the way, or I accidentally turned it off in the iOS app, or I received a lemon (and not the kind you put in your cup of Earl Gray, hot).

As I was using it at my day job, I didn’t have the liberty to give it the attention of testing, being caught up in all the glorious “fun” that is Windows 7. So the following week I got the electrical outlet issue resolved by adding another power strip under my desk so I could have the saucer (charging coaster) on my desk and proceeded to use the Ember Mug and even got some more “testing” accomplished.

For my next cup of coffee I made sure the mug’s battery was fully charged, filled it up, started the stopwatch on my iPhone, and proceeded to go back to work with the mug off of the saucer (charging coaster). Eventually, I got a notification on my Watch that the Ember Mug’s battery needed to be charged.

Apple Watch screen shot of Ember Mug recharge notification.

Time to recharge notification on my Apple Watch.

I checked the stopwatch and it had lasted 55 minutes and 30 seconds. When I checked the battery level in the iOS app, it was at 10%. It probably would have lasted at least an hour if I let it go until it was drained. I had almost finished my cup of joe and it was just as hot as when I started — problem solved.

Act III

I’ve been enjoying the benefits of a hot cup of coffee at my work desk ever since. While it’s great to have every sip be 135°F, the Ember Mug is not without some fiddleyness.

Apple Watch screen shot of Ember Mug perfect temperature notification.

The Apple Watch notification that the Ember Mug has reached coffee’s perfect temperature.

The care and feeding instructions are explicit about cleaning — do not immerse; hand wash only. That in and of itself is not unexpected. Common sense would prevent me from putting an electronic gadget in the dishwasher or a sink full of sudsy water. But there are further instructions warning against putting the mug back on the saucer if there is any moisture on the bottom of the mug. The bottom has a double ring of metal contacts that connect with a couple of prongs on the saucer — this is how it charges. Those rings are surrounded both in and out by a rubbery, non-slick material. The potential problem is that the material is either a bit porous or even when hand washing I was getting enough water on the bottom for it to gather a bit in the very small spaces between the rubber and the metal rings. It appeared dry to my eye but after I picked up the mug to get another cup of joe after it was sitting on the saucer for a while recharging, there was a ring of condensation on the saucer.

So I have developed a hand-washing routine that minimizes moisture exposure to the foot of the mug. If I think I’ve accidentally got water on the rubbery bottom, a short blast of compressed air around the metal contact rings forces the water out of the small crevices.

Lastly, I had to get used to trusting the device to manage itself. It must have some smarts built in because it knows when there is liquid in the mug and when it’s empty. It will automatically turn the heater on and off accordingly. At first I was using the iOS app to manually turn off the mug heater when I finished a cup of coffee. Then when I filled it up again with hot coffee I would have to remember to turn it back on. If I forgot, it would not keep the coffee hot. I forgot more than once and discovered it when taking a lukewarm sip. That taught me to just leave it alone once the heater was on and let the firmware manage the heater. Since then, I’ve never had anything but a hot sip, no matter how long the coffee has been in the mug.

Epilogue

I’m not sure I would have purchased this gadget with my own money, but I have surely enjoyed having it on my work desk at the day job. Having hot coffee in my mug no matter how long it sits has made using Windows just a little more tolerable.

Happy World Backup Day!

Please join me in reciting the World Backup Day pledge.

“I solemnly swear to backup my important documents and precious memories on March 31. I will also tell my friends and family about World Backup Day — friends don’t let friends go without a backup.”

If, like me, you have a backup strategy implemented, then take this opportunity to make sure it’s working correctly — restore some files from your backup.

If you don’t have a backup plan in place, I can recommend a great ebook; Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, by Joe Kissell. If you’re not a Mac user, sorry, I don’t have a book recommendation for you.

And don’t forget to backup your iPhones and iPads (and iPod touches, if you have them), too. Turn on iCloud Backup or connect your iOS device to your Mac (or Windows PC) and back it up with iTunes.

As some wise guy once said, “Don’t be an April fool. Be prepared. Backup your files on March 31.” All I can add to that piece of wisdom is to continue backing up your files every day of the year. 😃

Black Friday at Apple

Both my wife and I need new Macs. We each currently drive a 21.5-inch iMac; hers is a mid-2010 and mine is a mid-2011 (neither support macOS Mojave 10.14). We were planning on purchasing new iMac desktops sometime in the next few months, but holiday plans put a monkey with a wrench in the way. We will be traveling for the holidays and since both of us have work to do that can’t be completed on iOS, we decided to purchase a MacBook as a satellite travel Mac for us both instead.

I had been looking at the new MacBook Air announced in October as a possibility for a week or so since we made the decision when Apple announced their shopping event for November 23 through 26 where qualified Mac purchases would include a $200 Apple gift card. Even though it’s not technically a Black Friday discount, the gift card value exceeded the local government discount I could get. So we decided to buy on Black Friday.

I opened the Apple Store app on my iPhone early Friday morning and placed the order through the special shopping event links within the app, tapping through Shop, Apple Shopping Event, scrolling down to Macs, tapping on MacBook Air and finding the new models there immediately below the header stating “get a $200 Apple Store Gift Card when you buy select Mac models today.” It appeared as if the new MacBook Air was one of those, since it was listed right below that. So I went through the configuration process, found out it was available in store for pickup that day, and placed the order.

We were visiting relatives for Thanksgiving and planned a bit of a longer trip home in order to pick up our new Mac. After a lunch of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, we headed out and arrived at Apple La Encantada in Tucson, Arizona mid afternoon. The store was packed, as expected, but after checking in with the associate at the door, it only took a minute or so for someone to arrive to help us pick up our purchase. As Carlos, the associate helping us, was finalizing the process, I asked about the gift card.

Customers and associates in a busy Apple retail store.

Carlos helping us check out with our new MacBook Air. My wife Lucinda is in the lower left corner.

He checked his list and as it turns out the only MacBook Air that qualified was the 2017 model that was still on sale for $999. I showed Carlos on my iPhone the way the special event section of the Apple Store app made it appear as if the new MacBook Air was part of the offer (if I had scrolled down to the old Air in the list I would have found the label “Special Offer – See in bag”).

He got his manager and I showed her. She agreed that it did seem to visually imply what I had assumed, based on the way the new MacBook Airs were listed first, and offered to pass that feedback up the chain. But, of course, they couldn’t just decide to ignore the corporate policy and give us the gift card anyway just because I didn’t scroll far enough.

We didn’t want the older MacBook Air, and the lack of the promotional gift card wasn’t going be a deal-breaker. But Carlos and his manager did suggest we could complete the purchase pickup and then immediately return it. They’d refund my credit card and then we could repurchase the same Mac using one of the discount programs we did qualify for (local government employee for me and educational for my wife, who teaches at our local community college). So that’s what we did. But the best customer service of any retail store chain I’ve ever experienced was not finished yet.

After the initial online purchase was completed and “picked up,” and then subsequently returned, as we started the repurchase of the MacBook Air, Carlos looked through all the special discount buying options Apple offers and applied the one with the biggest percentage off—more than what either of us actually qualified for—amounting to almost $150 off the retail price.

Wife and husband happy customers at Apple Retail Store

My wife Lucinda and I are happy owners of a new MacBook Air.

So a big shout out to Carlos and his manager at Apple La Encantada for going the extra mile in the midst of a busy shopping day to make our Black Friday one we’ll remember every time we use our new, discounted, MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018).

Mac geek with new purchase outside Apple retail store

Bazza the Mac geek outside Apple La Encantada.

Apple, you’ve got some ’splainin’ to do!

20180912-apple-event-invite

I did not get an invitation, but Apple live streamed the event, so I watched. And I’ve got some questions. Whether Apple answers them or not is up to them.

Gather round?

What’s with this title? If it is a title, why is it not set in title case, as in “Gather Round”? And, does this really mean “gather around”? If so, where’s the apostrophe for the missing “a” (i.e. Gather ’Round)? The grammar police surely started surveillance back in 1997 with your Think Different campaign. Why they let you continue to get away with abuse of the English language, I’ll never understand.

What’s in a name?

I’ll tell you what. The shaking of heads (and probably some fists), that’s what. Last year was confusing enough with iPhone X. But it looks cool and goes along with the history of Apple using a roman numeral for 10 (except for when they don’t, like for Xcode). So I got used to the name and mostly remembered to pronounce the X as “ten”. I also love using it and am looking forward to the new iPhone experience that iOS 12 will bring.

But, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR? Seriously? Let me see if I got this right.

iPhone Xs Emoji

(In case it’s not obvious, that’s a man singer emoji — the closest thing to a tenor in the emoji character set. Don’t you just hate it when someone explains their jokes? 🙄)

My cell phone has a first name,
It’s I-P-H-O-N-E.
My cell phone has a second name,
It’s X-S-M-A-X.
Oh, I love to use it everyday,
And if you ask me why I say,
’Cause Apple people have a way with M-A-R-K-E-T-I-N-G!

What’s on your wrist?

It’s not a Capital One credit card, that’s for sure. Well, I take that back. I have an Watch Series 1 and I do have a CapOne credit card in the Apple Wallet app and can use it via ApplePay from the watch. After my iPhone X, the Watch is my favorite Apple device. The Watch Series 4 is the announcement from this week’s event that is most drool worthy for me. Will I buy one? I’m thinking it’s time to upgrade, yes.

Watch

The Long Wait is Over

After the Apple Watch was introduced in the Spring of 2015, I wrote a short post entitled “Which Watch.” Twenty months later, I finally purchased one. I did get the Space Gray 42mm aluminum with black fluoroelastomer sport band. Since I waited so long, I had a choice between the Series 1 and Series 2. Target made my choice easier due to a Black Friday discount on the Series 1.

I was originally planning on making this an unboxing photo essay, but it’s now been almost a year, so what’s the point? The introduction of the Series 3 has prompted me to come back to this draft post and wrap it up, finally!

My First Apple Watch

I did have an Apple Watch prior to the introduction of what the tech community is now calling “series 0,” however.

Original Apple Watch

Even though it thought different [differently?], it was not smart. So I was glad to upgrade to the Series 1.

Watch Series 1 Box

It has been a fun 11 months with the Watch Series 1. I use it primarily for notifications, a remote for playing audio from my iPhone 6s, and, in the last six months, walk workout fitness tracking. Having the watch has motivated me to get out and move more than I had been in many years, so I think it has been a good investment.

Watch Series 1 on Wrist

So, there you have it. I’ve incorporated the Watch into my daily routine. Now, another decision has to be made. Do I upgrade to the Series 3? And if so, do I go for LTE?