I am an official C# programmer

I wrote “Hello world!” in C#. I’m adding C# to my resume now.

(This is part of a bigger plan that will hopefully come to fruition this year. More details soon, possibly in the next post if I’m not lazy or distracted.)

Let’s see if I can remember the code:

Console.Writeline("Hello world");

Fake edit: I checked and forgot to capitalize the L in Line, which would have produced an error, since C# is case-sensitive. But I remembered that it’s case-sensitive!

Also, this is the most coding I’ve done in like ten years.

A list of all the things I like about Apple

Time to be positive for a change.

  • The Apple logo is nice
  • The M1 MacBook Air offers excellent performance
  • Apple includes the fast Thunderbolt 3/4 interface on all of its computers–and now on an iPad
  • They seem to be on the right side of user privacy
  • The Apple Watch clocks (ho ho) all other smartwatches in terms of versatility and performance
  • They’ve been around for over 40 years, they can’t be *all* bad
  • My iPhone 12 works as intended
  • My iPad Pro is really pretty good as a drawing tablet
  • Did I mention the logo is nice?

The best (worst) YouTube thumbnail for an M1 iMac review

Macrumors posted this YouTube link for their review of the M1 iMac just released.

Yes, the computer is facing away. It is backwards. It was explained by noting that the orange on the back of the iMac is much more saturated and vivid than the pastel orange found on the front-facing chin, so they wanted to show that.

I’d like to think no one would ever actually set up their iMac this way but…you just never know.

Why are wireless mice so bad on the Mac?

Seriously, this should be a solved problem, but the only way to get consistent performance on a mouse when I’m using any Mac (I have owned three in the past four years) is to use one that plugs in using old-fashioned cables.

Tonight I have been using my MacBook Air with the Logitech Marathon mouse and it started out fine, but over time the mouse cursor starts to become slow and then erratic, glitching across the screen. It improves for a bit, then starts glitching again. If I dig out one of my old wired mice it works just fine, so it seems like there’s something up with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity on Macs.

This never happens in Windows. In fact, I can take this exact same mouse and use it in Windows right now and it will operate perfectly fine. My regular Windows mouse is a Logitech G703 wireless gaming mouse. It works perfectly when untethered.

I just don’t get it. It’s like Apple optimizes the OS to only work with their mice and nothing else. It’s incredibly annoying and reminds me why I never manage to make it long whenever I try using the Mac. For an OS that gets lauded for its stability and design, it has some pretty deep flaws.

At least the keyboard works properly. Oh wait, it’s plugged in. Bleah.

EDIT: Here, have an amusing (?) semi-related gif:

Book review: Insanely Great

Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything by Steven Levy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Steven Levy’s book chronicling the development of the Macintosh is not just a historical record of the development of that seminal personal computer, it’s a historical record in itself. Originally published in 1994, with an afterword for the revised edition added in 2000, it captures Apple at three distinct periods in its history, all of them coming before the development of the iPhone and Apple’s eventual rise as the world’s most successful consumer electronics company:

  • The early 1980s when the company went through its first growth spurt, buoyed by the success of the Apple II. This is where the bulk of the book takes place, as it covers the genesis of the Macintosh through to its debut in 1984.
  • The early 1990s. The Mac is established and successful, albeit not the world-changing device many of its developers had hoped for. Apple itself is in a precarious position, embroiled in boardroom drama, a bloated product line and the existential threat of the growing PC market.
  • The late 1990s. In which the story comes full circle, in a way, with Steve Jobs returning to Apple and unveiling the iMac, the first major release that would help guide Apple back to profitability and long term success.

The first third of the book lays out the history leading up to the development of the Macintosh, centering largely on Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). One of the scientists working there was Alan Kay, whose hypothetical “Dynabook” would embody many of the design elements we take for granted in modern personal computers. The scientists at PARC would go on to create machines that used mice and windows, but the company was never able or particularly interested in turning their research into commercial products, frustrating many of them who wanted to push forward the boundaries of computers.

From here, Levy–who actually visited with these scientists during this time in the early 1970s–moves on to the newly-minted Apple Computer, which was expanding to dozens of employees on the success of the Apple II. The Apple II was a capable but primitive machine and most acknowledged it would not be the future of Apple. A serendipitous trip to PARC by a team from Apple to take a look at what the scientists there were working on would lay the groundwork for what ultimately became the Macintosh.

It’s here that Levy moves onto a two-pronged approach, covering the development of the technology, along with the personality clashes along the way, many of which were due to Jobs’ combination of perfectionism and antagonistic management style.

Apple actually developed the Lisa first, a Mac-like computer doomed to fail mainly due to its exorbitant price (some things never change). Another team worked on a more accessible computer and while Jef Raskin led the Macintosh project initially, Jobs imposed himself and eventually took over.

Levy does a good job in letting the principal characters tell the story through their own words, fleshing out detail when needed, without imposing his authorial voice (though he is an unabashed Mac fan). Oddly, Levy’s tone stands out most when he is simply talking, often in a condescending way, about the technology itself. He is clearly interested more in what the technology can do and not the nerd factor.

The fun here is in seeing how the Macintosh team struggled and (mostly) overcame so many obstacles as they put together the original 128K Mac. Levy does a very good job in dispelling the notion that Apple simply copied what they saw at PARC. The Apple engineers actually expanded the PARC research in significant ways and put all the technology into a device that could be used by anyone. The Macintosh was not the first computer with windows, a mouse and a graphical interface, but it was the first available to the masses and the first to do many things we take for granted now.

It’s especially illuminating now, some 36 years after the debut of the Macintosh, to see how it all came together and how the original device really shaped the personal computer industry–and still does, as witnessed by the introduction of Apple’s in-house M1 chips that will power all Macs going forward.

One minor complaint about the book–it is filled with numerous grammatical glitches, possibly due to a bad scan (it effectively predates the e-book era). There’s also some sloppy, if amusing typos, such as a note on how “Hypercard was included for free with every Macintosh starting in 1977” (impressive as the Macintosh did not debut until 1984).

Overall, this is an informative and at times fascinating look back at the birth and clumsy adolescence of the personal computer, and how one, the Macintosh, dared to push forward, thanks to an incredibly dedicated and talented team of designers and engineers. Recommended–and not just for nerds!

View all my reviews

MacBook Air M1, Test #2: Hooking up things

In this test I take my Apple dongle (heh heh) and hook up the following things to the Air:

  • Asus 24″ monitor via HDMI
  • Logitech M720 Marathon mouse (using USB Type-A wireless receiver)
  • CTRL mechanical keyboard via USB-C

I’ve done similar with the MacBook Po in the past and the good news is everything simply works as expected. The default mouse tracking speed is set in a way that I am convinced it is meant to test your patience as it very slowly and carefully tracks across the screen. But that is easily adjusted.

The monitor works fine and looks good once True Tone is turned off. Every time I connect an Apple laptop to this thing it makes me want a 4K monitor. Someday.

The keyboard just works, as expected.

So until my dock arrives, I can use this jury-rigged system to use the Air for writing and such activities. And I will.

Starting tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Definitely by the weekend.

I’m not kidding. Just watch.

Also, I have added a few more apps:

  • Discord. Intel-only but runs fine. It’s mainly a chat program, so it doesn’t have to do a lot (I don’t plan on streaming games from the MacBook Air, though that could prove modestly amusing)
  • Day One. Maybe I’ll finally commit to this journaling thing and record my darkest thoughts for all the world to never see but wonder about. Until I re-post everything to this blog.

The new MacBook Air and its allegedly silent clicking

This is not a full review, as I’ve only had my 2020 M1-based MacBook Air for a day, but I can give a few impressions.

First, yes, I got a replacement for my 2016 MacBook Pro just a few weeks shy of its four-year free keyboard replacement offer ending.

After mulling over the differences between the equivalent MacBook Pro replacement and the Air, I opted to go with the Air because:

  • The Air costs a fair bit less, allowing me to increase the ram and storage without spending more
  • They have the exact same M1 chip, so general performance is pretty much identical
  • The Air only loses out on sustained performance, something my use case would rarely if ever hit
  • As a bonus to the above, the Air has no fan, so is completely silent
  • The Touch Bar still seems like a goofy, unnecessary idea
  • The extra battery life of the Pro is nice, but the Air is already way better than what I had before, so the improvement in the Pro is not worth the price premium

Setting up the Air was pretty straightforward. I have made a new rule this time, which I plan to strictly enforce (until I stop):

Only install programs I am actually using, not ones I might use or may eventually need to install. Slim (installs) is in. So far I have installed:

  • Firefox
  • Edge (to have a Chromium-flavored browser handy)
  • Ulysses
  • OneDrive

And that’s it!

For Firefox, I started with the current non-native version, but it was just janky enough to drive me to use the 84.0a beta, which is M1 native. The two issues I encountered were crashes on quitting and searches not working. Annoying and I could have probably managed, but the beta has been stable and runs fast.

Ulysses is M1 native. Edge and OneDrive are running under Rosetta 2 translation, but they both seem fine. So software-wise, I haven’t had any major issues, or nothing that couldn’t be fixed fairly easily.

I set up Touch ID and it is fast. FAST. Pretty much instant. But having the system unlock with the Apple Watch is even better.

The system wakes up almost instantly, too.

Battery life so far seems very good, though I haven’t really used the Air enough to give it a proper workout.

I selected Silent Clicking for the trackpad, but can still hear it click. Maybe I need to reboot? Maybe silent means kind of silent.

Oh, and the keyboard. This feels much closer to the keyboard on my old 2013 MacBook Air. It is still clicky (and clicks notably with my caveman typing style), but the clicks are much softer, because there is actual travel now. It no longer feels like pounding your fingertips into hard, unyielding plastic. It’s what the 2016 keyboard should have been. Better late than never, I suppose.

I’ve ordered a dock for the Air and in a few days will ship off my Mac mini for trade-in, so the Air will be doubling both as my laptop (for the future days when people can take laptops outside their homes again) and as a desktop machine, where simply plugging one cable from the dock to a Thunderbolt port should be all I need to get it working with an external monitor, keyboard, mouse and all that stuff.

So far it seems pretty good. We’ll see how it holds up over the long term. My MacBook Pro still works, but I can’t say I ever enjoyed typing on it. Considering it was my primary writing tool for a few years, that was a bit of a problem. Hopefully the Air will be a better overall experience.

Getting a camera

Something funny happened last Saturday. Well, it technically started before that, so let me back up even further.

We journey way back to the days of 2014, when U.S. presidents weren’t sociopaths and pandemics hadn’t been around for almost a hundred years. It was a simpler time.

In December, I upgraded my 16 GB iPhone 5C to a 64 GB iPhone 6. The new phone was bigger (but not too big), faster and all that good stuff.

We move forward three years to 2017. The U.S. president is now a sociopath, but there’s still no pandemic, so not totally awful. My iPhone 6 is starting to sputter a bit, performance-wise, though the battery is still fine for my modest needs. I deiced to upgrade to an iPhone 8. Other than a faster processor and support for wireless charging, it is functionally the same phone.

We move forward again to May 2018 when I get a kidney infection. This is not nearly as fun as getting a new phone. I lose over five pounds. I am forced to walk much slower than normal, because my innards hurt if I walk faster (my usual pace). This leads to a little bit of serendipity.

As I stroll the neighborhood, I begin to notice more and more details–flower beds, fruit-bearing trees and so on. I take out my phone and start taking pictures.

I take a lot of pictures.

In 2017, I took 510 photos. In 2018 that jumps to 1,149 and it stays that high (or higher) after.

We now catch up to the fall of 2020. My iPhone 8 is about the same age as my iPhone 6 was when it got replaced. Unlike the 6, the 8 still performs well, thanks to Apple’s CPU improvements. The battery, though, has suffered terribly. Is it due to taking so many more pictures? Hijinks related to wireless charging? Just generally a lot more use? I don’t know.

What I do know is that now, in November 2020, the battery on the phone is so bad I can’t go out for more than an hour without needing a power bank to revive it. So I made the sensible decision to replace it and conveniently, Apple has an entire line of new phones for me to choose from (I loves me Apple Watch too much to consider Android at this time).

At this point, you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with getting a camera? I will explain.

Last Saturday Nic and I went to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Knowing my phone was likely to poop out, I did two things:

  • I brought along an Anker power bank that could fully charge the phone up to six times
  • I dug out my 12-year-old Canon Powershot point-and-shoot camera and charged it up to bring along, just in case

My initial plan was to use the camera as a backup in case the phone died. The phone did, in fact, die. I found I could tether it to the power bank and still take pictures, though (sort of like having a portable generator for it), so what I ended up doing was taking a lot of pictures with the phone, then the same shots with the camera to see how they’d compared. What I found was:

  • The camera still takes pretty good photos!
  • The 3x optical zoom allowed me to get shots that were impossible with the iPhone
  • Some of the photos from the camera were actually superior to those from the phone (some were not)

All of these–but especially the optical zoom–instilled in me a sudden yearning I did not have before. I wanted a standalone camera again. Surely this is madness, I thought. Do I really need a dedicated camera for most of the pictures I take? No. Would it allow me to take pictures I currently can’t? Yes! Would the pictures in general be better than what I’d get with a phone, even a fancy new iPhone 12? Yes again.

So now I want a camera, and I am starting to research models. My main criteria:

  • Must offer specs that put it above a smartphone, otherwise what’s the point?
  • Spec 1: High pixel count (iPhone cameras are 12 megapixel)
  • Spec 2: Good optical zoom. I’m thinking at least 8x but more is better
  • Spec 3: Must be capable of good night/low light shots
  • Spec 3: Must cost no more than around $1,000 because I’m not going full prosumer crazy here

I am starting by looking at point-and-shoot cameras that generally come with a single lens but still offer good quality, then seeing what else may be out there.

Oh, and I’m still getting a new phone, but now I may not need the best camera since a good camera will likely suffice. Look for a rambling long post about the new iPhones soon™.

WordPad: The little program time (or at least I) forgot

WordPad has been part of Windows since forever, or at least a very long time, and given its name, it seems like it’s been meant for people who need something like Notepad, but fancier, and who are unable or unwilling to buy Microsoft Word (or Office).

I have never been once of those people because I’ve had some version of Word dating back to Word 6.0, which came out in 1993. I’ve only opened WordPad out of curiosity over the years and only opened it today when I saw someone on a forum mention that it’s still included in Windows 10–and it is!

I suppose someone out there uses it or Microsoft would have turfed it by now, like they tried to do with Paint, until they discovered that people actually used Paint or at least had unhealthy, possibly nostalgic attachment to it. I have no such attachment to WordPad, but perhaps I should find its presence reassuring, should I let my subscription lapse and find myself with the urge to draft a letter in Comic Sans.

It was 25 years ago today Windows 95 started to play

Yes, 25 years ago on this day, August 24, 1995, Windows 95 was released. This might be the only time in history that a computer operating system was a genuine media event.

I worked at Computer City in Coquitlam at the time–the chain disappeared within a few years, imploding after a large expansion across the US and into Canada–but at the time it was possible to go into a store entirely devoted to computer-related stuff. And it wasn’t like Future Shop where other electronics or appliances were sold, it was computer stuff only. Rows of software. Endless aisles of inkjet printers. Miles of parallel port cables ready for purchase.

We had huge stacks of copies of Windows 95 ready to go, in both CD-ROM format and floppy disk (13 floppies in total). We had a setup with two Compaq machines showing how Windows 95 worked with both 4 MB of ram and 8 MB of ram. All of this seems so quaint now (it ran much better with 8 MB, to no surprise. The 4 MB minimum was really meant to make windows 95 look less like a resource hog. Memory was not cheap back then).

Quaint as it seems now, at the time Windows 95 felt like a real breakthrough for Windows and the PC in particular. It ditched the Program and File Managers of Windows 3.1, added the Start button, task bar and system tray–all of which are still part of the Windows 10 UI in 2020. In reality, of course, it heavily mimicked the feel of the Mac’s OS, but had its own vibe, a weird sort of smooth-yet-clunky and sometimes backward compatible thing where it excelled in some regards and fumbled around a bit in others. You had Plug and Play and it sometimes even worked well, but USB support was not in the initial release. We still had mice with balls back then and they plugged into the serial port and speaking of serial ports, IRQ conflicts were still very much a thing with Windows 95. All of its DOS underpinnings couldn’t be entirely hidden (that really didn’t happen until Windows XP shipped six years later–or Windows 2000 the year before if you count it as a successor to 95).

But even though I have undoubtedly blocked memories of things not working right in Windows 95 (native gaming was a bit undeveloped, though it played a mean game of Solitaire), I look back on it fondly. I had just gotten a PC the year before and after a year of running Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows 95 truly felt like the future.

Here’s a shot from an emulator I downloaded today. You can quibble about it, but the UI still looks clean and simple to me–and better than some of the versions that followed (I always found XP a bit overdressed and Windows 8 was a spectacular misfire). Good times, as the kids say.

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.