Important update!

Lying, it’s not important at all.

But I am still using the new Chromium-based Edge, which surprises me. While there are some niggles, there are no showstoppers driving me back to Firefox.

On the other hand, there are a few features of Firefox I miss, but not enough to compel me to go back to it–not yet, anyway.

The funny part is that the only reason I even looked into switching is because Firefox started displaying some squirrely behavior on start-up (it also feels a bit slow to start). Had that never happened, I’d still be using it daily now.

Anyway, a random tech musing. Carry on.

Crazy but true, I am still using Edge

Why am I still using Edge (to be more precise, the new Chromium variant of Edge)? Have I at last gone mad? Did Firefox kick my imaginary dog?

No and no. Well, probably no and no.

I decided to try out other browsers because Firefox was starting to feel a bit sluggish and was exhibiting inconsistent behavior on startup:

  • Pinned Gmail tab stopped loading Gmail. I actually suspect Google is the villain here, as the pinned Gmail tab still works without issue in Edge. Boo, Google. I am still in the process of moving away from Gmail, so this is probably not a knock against Firefox.
  • This very blog is my homepage, as I am a secret narcissist. But most of the time Firefox now refuses to load the page, falling back to a new tab page instead. The behavior seems to be worse in Windows 10 than on a Mac running Catalina.
  • As mentioned already, it starts up quite slow. I figured this was due to the perhaps ironically named extension I use for the new tab page, FVD Speed Dial. But even after disabling it and just having Firefox’s default new tab page load up instead it still takes longer to load. Edge, by comparison, opens in a blink.

A couple of things hinged on me sticking with Edge for more than a day before going back to Firefox, flaws and all:

  1. Consistent behavior on startup.
  2. Faster performance.
  3. No weird issues on any of my usual sites.
  4. I needed to find another new tab page extension to try out in place of FVD Speed Dial.

#1 and #2 have both been fine. #3 has been mostly fine, with a few little quibbles:

  • Some Twitter embeds will not play video. However, I confirmed the same issue in Firefox, so it’s either a problem on Twitter’s end or an issue with an extension I use in both browsers.
  • When downloading my Kobo books, Firefox grabs them properly as epub files (and loads them into Adobe Digital Editions), while Edge grabs them as acsm files, which need to be opened first in Adobe Digital Editions, converted and then moved to my iPad into the superior Marvin ereader app. This is more a minor convenience, as it’s really only one extra step. Still, it’s an extra step and extra steps add up over time into gigantic staircases. Or something.

#4 was the big one. There are lots of new tab extensions out there that offer some variation on bookmarks/speed dials. Some of them are very pretty, some offer unique options, some require a subscription to unlock decent features (boo), but all of them usually lacked in some fundamental way. I like what FVD Speed Dial does–it just offers large thumbnails of sites, lets you divide them into groups (in this case, tabs within the new tab page) and offers robust customizations of the page. I thought about sticking with FVD Speed Dial, but I really wanted to try something else. I did try using the built-in Collections, which actually work reasonably well–except they don’t sync between different machines (despite the toggle existing to allow sync) and this is a deal breaker because I am not manually maintaining two (or more) sets of Collections. UPDATE: Collections suddenly started syncing across computers today, like my post scared the feature into working or something. Weird. This is good, but I still prefer the extension I found, which I mention directly below.

After passing on Collections and nearly giving up, I finally came across Toby, which is a weird name, but a good extension.

The presentation is minimal and tidy. The organization is there, this time with collapsible sections instead of tabs), it’s very fast (it syncs between PC and Mac almost instantly) and it’s simple to drag sites into different groups. It has a few little niggles, but overall, it does pretty much what I want, and the clean look really appeals to me.

Overall, I now have Edge running in a way that works the way I want most of the time. It still has a few annoyances, but surprisingly, it mostly gets out of the way, and is pretty speedy to boot. Having it available on Mac and PC is a plus.

I’m not abandoning Firefox, though. In fact, if Toby were available for Firefox, I might be using it right now (the Toby website erroneously claims it works in Firefox and it’s odd no one has corrected this. I suspect it may exist for the pre-Quantum versions of Firefox, but these are now obsolete).

We’ll see how long I live on the Edge (ho ho), but for now I am content to stick with it.

And have uninstalled Chrome as a result.

Oh Siri, Part 907

John Gruber posted about a tweet from Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief of The Verge, in which his Apple Watch responds to the question, “What time is it in London?” by showing the time in…London, Ontario.

Gruber later found that his Watch and HomePod both gave different answers, which only underscores how fractured and broken the Siri experience is (if you didn’t click the first link, the HomePod gave the time for London, England.

While this is not the biggest error (or technically an error at all), it demonstrates how sort-of dumb Siri is. When people ask what time it is in London, they are almost certainly asking about London, England. People understand this because London, England is one of the most famous cities in the world (sorry, London, Ontario). But Siri seems to (sometimes, sometimes not) go by proximity and misses the obvious answer.

And is often slow in doing so.

And will sometimes report no connection when there is, in fact, a connection (the servers at Apple apparently lose connection from time to time and Siri will not answer even the most basic questions when it is down).

As a side note, I asked Siri on my watch what time it was in London and it gave the time for London, Ontario. But worse, it didn’t even list the province. It just said “London” because I guess I’m in Canada and should automatically know which London it’s referring to? Even though if I did, I probably wouldn’t be asking what the time was in the first place.

Oh Siri.

Death and rebirth of a keyboard

Today at lunch I somehow found myself troubleshooting an intermittent issue with my CTRL keyboard repeating certain letters, usually the E key. This led me to a possible solution: update the firmware. Or more properly, flash the default firmware again.

I downloaded the appropriate files, ran the command and the LEDs on the keyboard turned off, as expected, the command reported Success! as expected, but then nothing else happened. The LEDS never came back on. I tried repeating the steps. I tried resetting the keyboard using a pin in the tiny hole on the bottom of the keyboard where the reset button lives. Nothing.

I then put it aside and started hunting for a replacement keyboard as my current setup really needs a backlit keyboard and none of my other thousand keyboards feature backlighting.

Tonight, I decided to try reviving the keyboard again. More failure followed. I pressed on, though, out of stubbornness or insanity. I decided to download the default firmware file again and it was then I noticed that somehow, I had not been using the default file. How this happened I can’t say. But I followed the steps with the fresh copy of the firmware, and it worked exactly as expected, allowing me to type this post.

I was already wound up over YASUUPSD (Yet Another Screwed Up UPS Delivery), so I suspect that played a factor.

I’m also reading A Complaint-Free World again to help keep my brain calm and relatively happy. We’ll see how that goes.

For now, I’m happy to have my zombie keyboard return to the land of the living.

As a footnote, I’m still looking for another keyboard, so I can have at least a backlit replacement ready to go in case the CTRL keyboard gets accidently tossed into a cement mixer or something.

Oh Siri, Part 87

Adding containers to a shopping list.

Attempt #1: Kool Aid
Attempt #2: Cooler
Attempt #3: Containers. Hooray.

I pronounced the word “container” the same way, with the same inflection each time. This is why the reports that say Siri is better than Alexa ring false to me (or they are testing something else, like depth of trivia knowledge). When Alexa fails, it’s usually because it can’t process the command, either because I’m asking something impossible, or just phrasing it in a way that it’s not been programmed to recognize. It could be as simple as omitting a key word.

Siri is different. Siri will sometimes just fail completely, offering up a baffling “no internet connection” error when the internet is right there, or asking me to try again later because maybe someone at Apple has tripped over the server’s power cord again or worse, insisting that I have no such list to add an item to, after which I will ask Siri to show me that list and it does–then still refuses to let me add items to the list because it still doesn’t exist. But more often than these, Siri will misinterpret what I am saying, giving me Kool Aid instead of containers.

It does this often enough that it doesn’t surprise me. It doesn’t even bother me, really, I just accept that it’s part of the whole Siri experience. But Siri has been around since the iPhone 4S (2011)–it really should be a whole lot better than it is. Bad Apple.

The 8th gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon is priced to sell (to the 1%)

First, I realize the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a business class laptop and business class means expensive. But this pricing just seems silly.

I get newsletters from Lenovo (I have a 6th gen X1 Carbon) and they’ve just announced the 8th gen model, which uses 10th gen Intel CPUs. There’s a lot of generational stuff here. Anyway, I’ve modified part of the newsletter below to highlight my concern.

The thing, though, is what does that absurdly high (starting!) price of $3149 get you? It’s really just standard specs for any decent ultrabook:

  • 8 GB ram
  • 256 GB SSD
  • 14 inch 1920×1080 non-touch display (not even 16:10)

You get a few minor extras like a fingerprint reader (which is pretty standard on ultrabooks now, anyway), the infamous red nub for navigation (which I find a mild irritant when typing), an alleged 19.5 hours of battery life (take this one with a huge grain of salt–like, jumbo salt), a promise of ruggedness (which I can verify from my model) and the rest is really just configurable options, like a privacy screen, touch display and so on.

Now, compare this to the just-updated MacBook Pro 13 inch model (the one with the 10th gen Intel CPUs). It starts at $2399. This is also a lot of money, but it’s $750 less than the X1 Carbon. What do you sacrifice for that?

  • No USB 3.0 ports
  • No Wi-Fi 6
  • Battery life rated at 10 hours instead of “19.5”
  • Heavier at 3.01 pounds
  • No shutter on webcam
  • Aluminum case will dent and scratch when treated roughly

What do you get over the X1?

  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of 2
  • Touch Bar (OK, some might consider this a negative)
  • 13 inch display–smaller, but running at a higher resolution of 2560×1600 and at a more productivity-friendly 16:10 ratio
  • Wide color support
  • True tone (display can detect ambient light and adjust automatically)
  • Faster integrated graphics
  • 16 GB ram (twice as much)
  • Ram is significantly faster
  • 512 GB SSD (twice as much)
  • Faster CPU (2.0 GHz vs 1.6 GHz)

Really, unless you absolutely need Windows (which you can still run on the MacBook Pro, actually) or some of the privacy features, or must have Wi-Fi 6 now, the MacBook Pro is not just a better deal, it’s a significantly better deal.

How weird.

But good for Apple. I’ll be posting again about my own laptop possibilities again soon. I will not be considering an 8th gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Death of a butterfly

Today Apple released the updated 13 inch MacBook Pro. As updates go it was pretty tepid. The lower end version is essentially unchanged, still shipping with 8th gen Intel processors, but now with more base storage and the revised Magic keyboard. The magic part is that it’s not prone to fail like the butterfly keyboard. The higher end models include 10th gen processors, but are otherwise pretty much the same as well.

This has led people to speculate that another update is coming later this year, that may include a larger display and other niceties. We shall see.

The important thing here, though, is that with today’s update, Apple is no longer selling any laptops with the butterfly keyboard. From the introduction of the new MacBook in 2015 to today that means that users have been suffering through one of the worst keyboards to ever be fitted into a laptop for five years.

Watching Apple’s flailing attempts to fix the design (multiple times) was painful. And nothing could fix the actual typing experience that some loved, but many actively disliked, or even found uncomfortable (raises hand).

At long last, though, the butterfly keyboard is dead. Hopefully it has taken along with it the obsession with thinness over function that seemed to have Apple designers in its thrall. Yes, the butterfly keyboard was thin. It was also terrible. I still find it amazing that it made it into an actual shipping product (ironically that first product, the new MacBook, was killed after only four years).

Anyway, good job, Apple, for finally purging the butterfly keyboard. But next time don’t make your users suffer through years of a deeply flawed product, OK?

I tried Edge again for part of a whole day

I’ve noticed a few glitches in Firefox lately, namely it sometimes doesn’t load my pinned tab on start-up (Gmail) or my default site (this very blog). It also seems less snappy than before. It’s possible these problems are related to extensions. For example, I use FVD Speed Dial to replace the new tab page with a pile o’ thumbnails for websites I frequent. I find this works way better for me than bookmarks because I can use two distinct visual cues to quickly choose the site I want: location of the thumbnail (they don’t shift around) and the actual look of the thumbnail (usually a miniature representation of the site). But I have so many of these that Firefox actually takes what feels like a long time to load up.

So last week I decided to again try Microsoft’s Chromium-based version of Edge. It now has Collections, which are basically parts of or entire sites that you can name and group together. I thought this might make a handy substitute for the speed dials and it actually is pretty nice.

But then, while doing work (actual paid work, as I’m still working from home) I noticed in Footprints (the system we use for managing incidents) it would not link knowledge base articles to tickets, requiring me to either not link (bad) or manually generate the link and paste it in (tedious). I just gave up and stopped using Edge.

There might be a fix for this issue and I can work around it, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m getting tired of fixing things that don’t work for reasons unknown, and workarounds aren’t that great, either. I want things to actually function properly, without a song and dance. I don’t expect perfection, but I do expect all the basics to behave as you’d expect.

So Edge has been kicked to the curb again. It’s too bad, in a way, because it is pretty snappy, and has some unique features (like the aforementioned collections). On the other hand, though Microsoft claims to care about my privacy, they are a giant corporation and while not as loose with ethics as Google (who basically inverted their famous “Don’t be evil” motto), I’m not sure I entirely trust them, either, as ads are definitely a part of their business in a way they aren’t for Mozilla (or Apple, but Safari sucks and it’s not on PC, anyway).

I’ll probably try Edge again at some point, though. The collections idea intrigues me. And the snappiness was nice.

Side note: For some reason have highlighted products in bold, in a wacky throwback to John C. Dvorak’s old columns in PC Magazine.

EDIT: I did try Edge again, just now (the morning after) and in a CBC News story there were big gaps in a story that I assumed were ads being blocked, but no, it was Twitter embeds. I verified that Twitter is the one tracker on the site blocked by default (by Edge), so I set it to allow tracking. It still won’t show tweets. On the one hand, it’s Twitter, so what am I really losing? On the other, if I want to see tweets, it should just work if I say, “Thou shalt allow tweets.” Even the usual routine of clearing cache and cookies, disabling ad blockers, restarting thew browser etc. has no effect. Edge, you stink!

EDIT, The Sequel: I switched over to the Mac mini to do some things and on a lark decided to try Edge because I am a glutton for punishment. Two things:

  • Twitter embeds are working on the CBC News site. Weird, but good.
  • Collections, which are supposed to sync across different systems, do not appear to be syncing, so boo. It may just be syncing slowly, though (hopefully not syncing into the depths to never be seen again).
  • Bonus third thing: I keep trying to spend more time on the Mac, because it’s where my main writing app is, and keep failing because I can never get mice working the way I want. This tasks me as Kirk tasked Khan. I’m hoping I get a better ending (than Khan).

EDIT, The Sequel to the Sequel: Tried a bunch of typical troubleshooting steps to get Collections to appear/sync on the Mac but no go. Alas. It is hard to turn off the li’l troubleshooter in me, but I will try for now.

While I was on the Mac I also tried the Logitech MX 720 mouse again, both on Bluetooth and with the receiver, after doing a firmware update. And it’s still kind of juddery and glitchy instead of smooth, noticeably worse than the Microsoft Sculpt mouse on Bluetooth, so this does appear to be a Logitech thing. Too bad the Sculpt mouse is so basic. Also I feel a bit dirty using a mouse with a dedicated Windows key on a Mac.

I’ll try yet again next week (update: on PC, that is).

The mysterious workout

I got a notification on my watch and like any well-trained modern technology user, I checked it out, to find this:

Nice indeed! There are a few issues with this, though:

  • I do not own an elliptical
  • I was sitting in my chair at the computer doing pretty much the opposite of burning calories. How many calories are consumed by using your eyes to read text off a screen? I’m assuming not many.

This raises the question of how the Fitbit Inspire HR, which was in my pocket at the time, somehow decided I not only did an impossible workout, but did it for 19 minutes. Normally there would be some semi-plausible explanation, like I was moving back and forth from one room to another, and it was misinterpreting that as exercise, but no, I was sitting still in a chair.

Now, I have tricked my Apple watch into thinking I did a few minutes of exercise by vigorously singing along to music with the headphones on, but that’s one of those semi-plausible things. With the Fitbit the only way I could have been less active is if I was sleeping.

It is a mystery, then, and a reminder that while technology can be great, it can also fall flat on its shiny metal face.

Laptop Quest 2020: Maybe a better keyboard

I have two laptops currently:

  • A sixth generation (2018) ThinkPad Carbon X1
  • A 2016 MacBook Pro without touch bar

I got the ThinkPad because I a) hated the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keyboard and b) worried that it would fail out of warranty, leading to a $600-700 repair bill, given Apple’s insane (or insanely clever?) design that necessitates not just replacing the faulty keyboard, but basically half of the entire laptop.

Apple then started its keyboard repair program, which covers every model with a butterfly keyboard (this is every MacBook released since 2015, not counting the MacBook Air prior to its 2018 redesign). For four years after purchase, Apple will repair or replace a defective keyboard for no charge.

I bought the MacBook Pro in December 2016, so I am good for 10 more months, after which the cost of repair will again rise to about $700. Or maybe even more, because Apple has never been shy about raising prices.

This whole thing is further complicated by a couple of things related to my writing:

  • I went back to Ulysses, which is Mac-only
  • I still really hate the butterfly keyboard. I find it uncomfortable on my finger tips, and that’s even when I’m not applying my usual “fists of gorilla” approach to typing

I’m wed to macOS, but have begun looking for other writing app alternatives again, because the tool is really secondary to the writing itself.

But wait! In October 2019 Apple updated the 15 inch MacBook Pro to a 16 inch model and brought back the more traditional scissor switch keyboard. Instead of having half a millimeter of travel, it now has one entire millimeter of travel! I tried it out in an Apple store and it’s better, but it’s still not great.

The ThinkPad keyboard feels luxuriously deep and satisfying in comparison (my partner is using the ThinkPad now, as his $200 HP laptop is not running anymore so much as hobbling along intermittently).

So my current options are:

  • Hope that Apple comes out with an equivalent to my current MacBook Pro this year with a “good” keyboard and a price that is not any more outrageous that what it is currently. Rumors suggest the possibility of this is pretty good, but Apple is notoriously unreliable for updates on anything other than the iPhone and Apple Watch. And they have treated the Mac line pretty shoddily post-Jobs.
  • Get a Windows laptop and find other software to use. I’ve been trying out a bunch of new writing apps, as well as noodling around in some old standbys, like the perpetually-in-beta version 3 of Scrivener for PC. For the actual device, the Dell XPS 13 and ThinkPad (7th gen) both seem like strong candidates. The Surface Laptop 3 can be had for a decent price, too, and I’m not concerned about its relative lack of IO.

It’s early, so I’m not really leaning in one direction or the other yet. On the one hand, Ulysses is a really nice app. On the other, I resent having to pay a subscription for it (the updates have clearly not been enough to warrant the cost, which I’ll go into in a separate post). I’m also not a huge fan of macOS. It’s fine and for writing it does everything I need, but I am both extremely comfortable with Windows 10 and really like some of the native features of Windows (it may come as no surprise that windows management is really good, where in macOS it is just short of a disaster).

Anyway, I’m typing this on the MacBook Pro now and my finger tips are starting to hurt, so unless I switch to voice dictation, I am going to end this post here. More to come!

On the Edge

Today Microsoft released the new, Chromium-based version of its Edge browser. Chromium is the open standard that Google uses as the basis for Chrome, so while some think that Microsoft has essentially caved in and started using a reskinned version of Chrome, that’s not true. In fact, Microsoft will now have direct influence over the future of Chromium, helping to reduce Google’s oversized leverage.

Chromium Edge also doesn’t include all of Google’s data-collecting services, too–an important distinction.

While I have used Firefox for a hundred years and will use it for a hundred more, long after I’ve become a floating head in a jar, I am interested in seeing what an actual competitive Microsoft browser looks like. I’ve installed it on my PC and will also install it on my MacBook Pro and mini. I’m going to try sticking with it for a solid week to see how it feels vs. what I’m used to in Firefox.

Realistically, I don’t expect to keep using it, but you never know. I’ve previously used Chrome and yes, Internet Explorer, as my main browsers in the past, so I’m open to change.

Here’s a few things I already like (some of these are common features to most browsers, others are more unique):

  • Pinned tabs
  • Pinned sites on the taskbar. I find this more useful than I thought.
  • Reading mode
  • Being able to use Chrome extensions from the Chrome web store (MS’s store is a bit sparse)
  • The pretty backgrounds you can opt to get on the new tab page
  • The new tab page customization options
  • Nice-looking dark mode
  • Generally speedy, though these are early days. Er, hours.

UPDATE: The new tab page only lets you have a maximum of seven “top sites.” This is fantastically dumb and basically a deal breaker for me. I then spent most of the evening looking at other new tab extensions, but they all had features missing or other issues, such as:

  • Ugly as all get-out
  • Kind of skeevy (usually requiring an account)
  • Locking basic functionality behind a monthly subscription (lol)
  • Lacked customization (icon sizes, etc.)
  • Focusing on widgets and other things over presenting a list of sites

I did a search hoping there might be a way to have more than seven top sites on the official new tab page, but my results yielded nothing. I was using Bing, though.