My Mac Story: Part 1

I’m starting a series of blog posts inspired by a Facebook post I made — and the subsequent comments — on June 21, 2020. That happened to be Father’s Day here in the U.S. I posted a photo of myself with my brother Mark and my father John wishing them both a happy Father’s Day. In the photo all three of us have new T-shirts draped over our chests that my mother Judy gave us. The solid black shirts have three simple words screen printed in white on the front: “I’m a Mac”. We were — and still are — Mac users and avid Apple fans.

Portrait photo of three guys with “I’m a Mac” T-shirts.
The Midgorden “Macs”: from left to right; brother Mark, father John, and Barry (me). Taken June 25, 2007.

A Facebook friend commented, “Curious, what does ‘Mac’ mean?”

I replied: “Mac is short for Macintosh, as in Apple’s personal computer. ‘I’m a Mac’ is in reference to the series of Get a Mac TV commercials featuring John Hodgman as a PC and Justin Long as a Mac that ran from 2006 to 2009.”

What follows is the rest of my reply, added to and edited for this first installment of “My Mac Story”.

The Beginning

My Mac story starts in the fall of 1984. My wife and I were living in Portland, Oregon at the time. We had traveled to my parents’ home in Fremont, California for Thanksgiving. My aunt Ruth (my dad’s sister) and uncle A.J. from Fountain Valley, California (in Orange County near L.A.) were also there.

My uncle was an engineer and computer programer for McDonald Douglas. He had an original Macintosh 128 and was leaning how to write software for it.

A Macintosh 128 with keyboard, mouse, and external floppy diskette drive.
The original Macintosh 128

He brought it with him to show my dad, but I was also entranced. I spent hours over the holiday weekend playing with MacPaint and eventually recreated a logo I had recently designed for JJC Ministries* in tiny black and white pixels on the 9-inch (512 x 342) monochrome display.

Photo of a printed program cover with the JJC Ministies logo.
A printed, vector-based version of the JJC Ministries logo.

The Macintosh obviously made an impression on me. But it was way out of my price range at the time and the professional graphic art environment in which I worked was still fully analog — drafting tables, Rapidographs, rubylith, and dark room with a process camera, photo chemicals, and hand-set typography equipment.

I didn’t think much about computer graphics at all until I was sent on a business trip to a 3M-sponsored design conference in Redondo Beach, California in 1986. One of our field trips was to the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. There we got to sit and play in a computer lab for exploring early digital design tools. It was equipped with Apple IIGS computers running what was essentially a color version of MacPaint. It was fun, but I did not come away from that experience nearly as captivated as I was with my uncle’s Macintosh.

I didn’t have too long to wait until I got to use a Mac again, however. In the summer of 1987, my employer at the time, Gillespie Decals, Inc., purchased Macintosh SEs for the production art department.

A Macintosh SE two-floppy diskette model.
The Macintosh SE

It was a two-floppy diskette model and we used System 4.2 initially with MacDraw software to create small, simple label art, printed it out on a 300dpi LaserWriter, then took the black and white output to the darkroom process camera to create the transparencies needed for the printing processes being used in the plant (screen, flex, and/or hot stamp). Later that year we added external SCSI 40 MB (that’s megabytes) hard drives and the first version of Adobe Illustrator, which was an amazing leap from MacDraw for vector graphics.

Later that year I took out a personal loan and bought the identical model for home and “I’m a Mac” ever since.

There’s more to come, so stay tuned to this blog for more installments of “My Mac Story”.

* “JJC” stands for Jesus, Joy, and Clowns. In a former life I was involved with the Christian clowning movement, but that’s a topic for a completely different blog.

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!

My Favorite Things: Part 2

Sometime in the first couple of months of the 2020 pandemic shelter-at-home period, my wife and I rewatched one of our favorite movie musicals of all time, The Sound of Music. Every time I see it my heart is filled with euphoria at the sweet sound of Julie Andrews’ voice as she masterfully delivers unforgettable song after song. One of those songs, sung to the Von Trapp children on her first night as governess to calm their fears during a late-winter thunderstorm, is titled, “My Favorite Things”.*

Keeping Apps Up to Date

The practice of listing things to be grateful for is a recommendation for dealing with the stress and uncertainty of these times. So I thought I’d take a cue from that song and make a series of blog posts on some of my favorite things related to Apple specifically and technology in general. In this second installment I’d like to share with you my favorite app for helping me keep applications on my Macs up to date.

If you only use the applications provided by Apple with the operating system or only add apps from the Mac App Store, then this may not really apply to you as those get updated automatically by Apple with OS updates and by turning on “Install app updates” in the App Store preference pane in System Preferences.

Screen shot of the App Store preference pane in System Preferences for macOS.
The App Store preference pane in System Preferences. Check the “Install app updates” box for your Mac App Store purchases/downloads to get updated automatically.

But if you install applications (utilities, games, etc.) from third-party software developers by downloading from websites, you may find that they don’t all have built-in mechanisms for keeping themselves updated to the latest versions. As the old Apple marketing campaign used to say, “There’s an app for that.”

My Favorite is actually a website/app combo from CoreCode called MacUpdater. The website is macupdater.net and it gives you free access to their database of all Mac apps, which provides information on their current versions. You can search for the app’s name that you want to find out if there is an update and use the tools on the website to download the update, either through the Mac App Store or from the developer’s website. But this is still somewhat of a manual operation—there’s a better way.

Screen shot of the MacUpdater.net website in Safari for macOS.
The MacUpdater.net website.

Download their desktop app, appropriately called MacUpdater. It’s also free to download and use. When you run the app, it scans your Mac for all installed applications, calls home (you need an active Internet connection) and compares the versions on your Mac with the latest version in their database, and presents you with a list of apps that have updates/upgrades available. You can tell it to “update all” or click on update buttons for each one in the list manually, whatever works best for your situation. It can even run in the background and automatically update apps when they become available.

Screen shot of the MacUpdater app window after scanning the internal drive for apps that need updating.
The MacUpdater app after a scan.

It doesn’t work with every single app, but when it has a problem updating an app, it will notify you of the issue and usually download the installer and launch it for you so you can proceed with the update/upgrade. It won’t automatically upgrade any apps where there’s an upgrade fee—for those you will still need to deal directly with the software developer for the app in question..

The free version lets you update up to 10 apps on your system. I believe that is per session/scan. You are limited to 4 manual scans every 18 hours (this applies to the full paid version, the limit for the “free” version may be lower). The full version is only $9.99 U.S. (same in €). It’s a one-time purchase and not a subscription. The blurb about it on their website has the infinity symbol next to it, which I assume means it’s a lifetime license—you’ll never have to pay again even when MacUpdater gets updated. You can use it on up to 5 Macs with that one license.

Now, there may be some confusion in that there is another similar website/app service combo called MacUpdate (with no “r” on the end). The website is macupdate.com. They also have a desktop app you can download to scan and update apps on your system. It can be downloaded for free, but I’m not sure of it’s “free” features and/or limitations. I did use it years ago when it was totally free, but when they went to a paid subscription model, I just decided to monitor my app updates manually on my own (until MacUpdater came into my consciousness, thanks to one of my favorite podcasts, MacGeekGab). The MacUpdate app is $20 for six months. This is not the one I’m recommending. But feel free to check it out—you may like it.

*By the way, “My Favorite Things” is not really a Christmas song, even though many musical artists have covered it on their Christmas albums over the past 60+ years. First, in the chronology of the musical, it was sung in late February or early March 1938. Second, the lyrics don’t mention Christmas at all. There are references to mittens, packages, sleigh bells, snowflakes, and winter—all of which could be inferred to be images related to Christmas, but could just as easily not.

My Favorite Things

Part 1: Podcasts

Sometime in the first couple of months of the 2020 pandemic shelter-at-home period, my wife and I rewatched one of our favorite movie musicals of all time, The Sound of Music. Every time I see it my heart is filled with euphoria at the sweet sound of Julie Andrews’ voice as she masterfully delivers unforgettable song after song. One of those songs, sung to the Von Trapp children on her first night as governess to calm their fears during a late-winter thunderstorm, is titled, “My Favorite Things”.*

The practice of listing things to be grateful for is a recommendation for dealing with the stress and uncertainty of these times. So I thought I’d take a cue from that song and make a series of blog posts on some of my favorite things related to Apple specifically and technology in general. In this first part, I’d like to share with you three of my favorite podcasts for Apple-related news, tips, and knowledge.

Mac OS Ken Podcast Art 231x231

Mac OS  Ken

Independently produced by Ken Ray, Mac OS Ken is a commute-sized, weekday podcast recapping the previous day’s tech news as it relates to Apple. Ken’s delivery is infused with his unique wit and dry humor, making even the stock market numbers enjoyable and understandable.

Mac Geek Gab Podcast Logo 231x231

Mac Geek Gab

The Mac Observer’s Mac Geek Gab podcast is my go-to listen for tips, geeky information, and new software and gadgets. Co-hosted by Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun, it’s about 90 minutes long and episodes usually drop every Monday.

MacVoices Logo 231 x 100

MacVoices

Chuck Joiner, the host and face of MacVoices, has been involved in the Apple ecosphere for decades and has been a mainstay of my podcast subscription list since I became aware of podcasts. I like MacVoices for the broader community perspective and understanding I receive from his guests. Chuck interviews influential “voices” from all parts of the technology world that orbit around Apple; software developers, hardware inventors, tech journalists, bloggers, other podcast hosts, special event and trade show coordinators, consultants, publishers, etc. MacVoices episodes run about 30 minutes or so and are published regularly, but not on a set schedule.

So, if you have a hankerin’ to learn more about Apple news, want to brush up on geek tips and gadgets, or broaden your understanding of the Apple ecosphere, you can’t go wrong with these three podcasts.

*By the way, “My Favorite Things” is not really a Christmas song, even though many musical artists have covered it on their Christmas albums over the past 60+ years. First, in the chronology of the musical, it was sung in late February or early March 1938. Second, the lyrics don’t mention Christmas at all. There are references to mittens, packages, sleigh bells, snowflakes, and winter—all of which could be inferred to be images related to Christmas, but could just as easily not.

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.

Get Emojified!

Some time ago a client with both an iPhone and a Mac, who enjoyed using emoji on her iPhone, asked if there was a way to use emoji characters on her Mac. My answer to her was, “Why yes, Virginia, there is a Great Pumpkin!” Well, maybe not in those exact words, but this paraphrased quote is seasonally appropriate and in keeping with the theme of my latest Bazz MacGeek Quick Tip. Here, see for yourself.

Sorry for not posting last week. I was preparing for my local computer user group meeting (the Mountain View Computer User Group) and ran out of time. The meeting, that my fellow geek, Mike McLain, and I ran was yesterday and we covered the topic of “YouTube, why is it worth watching.” I had prepared this tutorial screencast so as to have something to demo how to upload and put into a playlist. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading (and watching). Please post your comments below and I’ll be back again next week with another blog post.

10 Timeless Typing Tips: the Missing Post

I started working on a 10-part series of posts of tips for better typing on a Mac this week. Actually, it began as a single post with 10 tips, but it gradually ballooned beyond my capacity to get it all done before my self-imposed posting deadline. That’s when I changed my mind, thinking I had enough material for ten week’s worth of posts, and decided to break it down to one tip per week.

The 10 tips are from a presentation I did for my local computer user group back in 2004, which was essentially a book review of Robin P. William’s The Mac is Not A typewriter.

The Mac is Not a typewriter book cover

However, as I progressed through the old Keynote slide deck and converted the content into blog posts, I realized after a few hours that I had quoted the book directly a number of times as part of that presentation. So I changed my mind again and decided I didn’t need to go to the trouble of creating my own versions of these tips — and risking plagiarizing Ms. Williams — I could just tell you about the book and provide you with a link. So here goes.

As a graphic designer and a self-proclaimed Mac geek I was already familiar with many aspects of typography that this style manual addresses when I became aware of it. But it was (and still is) a delightful read. Ms. Williams approach to writing about design and technology is entertaining as well as educational. She explains why using the typographic principles outlined in her book will help you create better documents. It’s easy to read and can be digested in convenient “helpings”.

My favorite tip — and my most frustrating pet peeve about text I receive to be put into a design — is “Use only one space after periods, colons, exclamation points, question marks, quotation marks — any punctuation that separates two sentences.” Ms. Williams goes on to explain why in compelling terms while bringing historical and technological context. It may be a hard habit to break, but your written words will look so much better.

It may no longer be in print, but it is still available new and used on Amazon and from the publisher, Peachpit. The tips in the book may be subtle, but they can make a big difference if you spend a lot of time writing for any kind of printed publication and even for the web.

Thanks for reading this week. If you have a copy of The Mac is Not a typewriter or get a copy, let me know in the comments what you think of the book. Maybe share your favorite tip.