The grand flaw of true wireless earbuds

Last week, after about three days of non-use, I went to put on my AirPods and found that, despite being on the charger, they were only at 77% charge. I’ve had an intermittent issue with the left AirPod where it doesn’t make a solid connection in the charging case and drains instead of charging. This is a tad inconvenient.

Usually I can resolve this by removing the AirPod, checking/blowing on the bud and inside the case, then re-inserting it, at which point the power light turns orange, indicating charging. Five minutes’ worth will give me about an hour of playtime. Not bad.

But this did not happen. I put on the AirPods and confirmed the left one would not play at all, as expected. I fiddled with them for a bit, then went into the Bluetooth settings on my iPhone and chose Disconnect Device. It disconnected.

It would not reconnect.

Lacking any other options, I then chose Forget This Device. It forgot it.

And that was the last time my AirPods interacted with the phone at all. I get a blinking green power like that pulses three times when I pop the case open, then nothing. They are effectively dead.

But this is not the grand flaw I speak of, it’s a roundabout introduction to the actual flaw.

I looked up when I purchased the AirPods: October 2017. They were out of warranty. I looked up repair costs on Apple’s site:

It’s possible the left bud is fine and it’s a flaw in the case itself that is to blame, in which case I’d be looking at a $69 repair cost. This is high, but not completely outrageous–AirPods cost $219 Canadian. But it would still leave me with 16-month old batteries. If I got those replaced I’d be looking at a total bill of $207. Pretty much the cost of a new set.

And here’s where the grand flaw of true wireless earbuds comes in. The beauty of AirPods and similar earbuds is that there are no wires to tangle with. Having to switch back to wired buds in the last week reminded me what an annoyance that is. The extra cost of the AirPods was worth the convenience.

That convenience comes at a price, though. Because there are no wires, the battery must be contained entirely within the ear buds themselves–and they are tiny. And like all rechargeable batteries, they will degrade over time. When the batteries are this small, the degradation can have a major impact on battery life. Rated at a maximum of five hours, people who bought AirPods in 2016 when they debuted are now reporting that they are getting anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes on a full charge now.

This is normal behavior, though you will not find anything official about this in Apple’s site. That means that when the batteries deteriorate to the point that they are no longer usable, you have two choices: pay $219 for a new set, or pay $138. Neither of these is very appealing. If you go the latter route of battery replacement and imagine they need to be replaced every two years (ie. out of warranty), you are looking at a yearly cost (not counting the original $219 investment) of $69. Is paying $69 every year to keep using your AirPods reasonable? They’re not sold as a subscription service, so I’d say no.

But if you asked someone, would you pay $5.75 per month to always get your AirPods batteries refreshed so they never die, I’d bet a surprising number would say yes. That works out to $69 per year, of course.

So I am now left wondering what to do. The repair will be expensive and will only extend the life a few years. Replacement will cost another $219. Waiting for a new model will require going without–and Apple’s trend over the last four years is to jack up the prices on any new version of anything.

For now, I’m just going to ponder, both on what to do, and about how we seem to have entered the era of ongoing costs for something (headphones, earbuds) that never had any real ongoing costs before, without even realizing it.

Fighting my Mac: Part 2 of an ongoing series

To be fair, this is more about fighting Logitech’s software, so the Mac is kind of off the hook for this one.

Even though I got the G703 mouse working in Part 1 I ended up moving it back permanently to the PC, mainly due to the hassle of plugging and unplugging the USB charging cable.

Instead, I switched over to a spare Logitech Marathon M705 mouse that I bought on sale “just in case.” And just in case has arrived!

It’s a nice mouse, has side buttons, works wirelessly, and has incredibly long battery life. Best of all, the Unifying receiver that plugs into any standard USB port is tiny. I plugged in said receiver and the mouse began working immediately…but with only the left, right and middle mouse buttons working (see Part 1 for more gruesome details on this).

However, the Logitech Unifying Software (LUS) would allow me to program all the buttons. All I had to do was flip the power button on the bottom of the mouse, flip it back on and wait for the LUS to detect it. Once detected, smiles all around.

Except this happened:

Undaunted, I turned to the tips hidden behind the Troubleshooting information button. This lead me to discover I had another unifying receiver and a not-unifying-but-still-Logitech receiver plugged into my PC. I removed those (the devices they were used for are long gone), but this made no difference. Another tip said to shut down any device that might be synced up to a receiver and I do have a Surface Pro 3 (in the bedroom) and a ThinkPad (to my immediate left). I may have used this mouse with one of them, but the knowledge is lost to the sand of time. Or the sands in my brain. The ThinkPad is currently installing a Windows update because that’s what Windows computers do, but when it’s done, I’ll shut it down. The SP3 is probably on the edge of where a receiver would reach, but I’ll also shut it down and see what happens. But not right now, because it’s getting late and my wrangling-with-technology timer just went DING.

I am not giving up hope, but am leaning toward needing a third party tool or divine intervention to get those precious mouse side buttons working.

I will update this post with a Part 2a soon™.

Fighting my Mac: Part 1 of an ongoing series

I’ve had a few days to acclimate to working with a Mac for an extended period of time. I normally use my MacBook Pro for an hour or so at most and haven’t spent a lot of time tweaking with its settings like I would a desktop computer. Now that I have a Mac mini, which indeed sits on my desktop, I’ve been diving into settings to make it work the way I want it to. The experience has been…interesting.

Today I am going to talk about one thing: mouse support.

Mouse support in macOS is bad. It’s like a lot of Apple’s mice in that regard. Bad hardware, meet bad software!

Here are some of the bad things:

  • No “snap to default button in dialogs” like in Windows
  • No automatic support for third or fourth mouse buttons
  • Even with some settings maxed out, the mouse still feels a bit sluggish compared to how it operates in Windows

While the first and third items on the list are either subjective or more “nice to have” features, supporting the side buttons on a mouse is pretty fundamental. It’s not 1985 anymore. Mice have more than one button.

I was not actually aware of this because most of my Mac experience has been using a keyboard or a trackpad. When I plugged in my wireless Logitech G703 mouse, it was instantly recognized and worked without any fuss. Yay. But then I discovered the two side buttons would not work. Or rather, they worked in weird ways. In Firefox, pressing Button 3 (the one normally assigned as Back) would result in the same action as pressing the middle mouse button, which is to produce a weird little circular symbol on screen that lets you scroll up and down by moving the mouse. It’s a feature that I’m pretty sure no one ever has ever used on purpose after scroll wheels became a thing.

A mini mouse crisis was now underway.

The Logitech Gaming Software (LGS) showed the buttons correctly mapped as Forward and Back, but the Mac remained unconvinced. I began to investigate using my well-honed Google skills. This led me to try third party tools like BetterTouchTool, which did indeed allow me to map the buttons the way I wanted–nay, the way nature intended! But I didn’t really want to use a separate program just to get the buttons to function the way they would in any sensible operating system. I poked around some more and found that Command-[ is a near-universal key command for Back.

I went into the LGS and assigned Button 3 to Command-[. After doing this the LGS software now showed the button labelled with the keyboard shortcut as seen below.

And at least for now, using the Back button on the mouse does just that–it goes back. It’s even working in Finder, which kind of surprises me.

Searching, testing and playing around with settings for this consumed a decent chunk of the evening. For something that works without any configuration needed at all in Windows. I’m not saying Windows is better. But in this case, Windows is way better.

Perhaps mouse support will be improved in macOS XI.

Giving Ulysses another shot, post-subscription

After securing a 25% lifetime subscription discount, I bit and got a one year subscription to Ulysses, the writing app I famously said I would never use again after it switched to a subscription model.

I still really dislike a subscription model for a writing app, but for $36.99 per year, I’m willing to try it again…for at least the next 12 months. And I have missed it, as the app itself I still consider pretty faboo. I lament that the closest equivalent on Windows is a shameless rip-off. Nothing else matches its UI and interface, though some come close.

This, of course, means I’m committing to writing on my MacBook Pro again, though I am still no fan of the keyboard. I think I may be part-masochist.

And for home, I’m thinking of a better solution than the dongle mess I’m currently using, either a Mac mini or a Hackintosh. Time to ponder.

My keyboard history and a short CTRL keyboard review

In one of those “down the rabbit hole” journeys that happens when I get caught up searching for something on the web and get inexorably drawn into finding and poring over a bunch of unrelated things, I came across the D2D YouTube channel.

Dave Lee seemed personable enough and I liked his low key style, so I kept watching for videos that would interest me and lo, he had one featuring one of my weirdly favorite computer topics: keyboards.

I used to collect computer mice like no one’s business and I still change up semi-regularly (my current mouse of a Logitech G703 wireless, which I’ll review separately. Super-short review right now: Great mouse except for battery life.) but the pace of collecting mice has dropped off over the last few years, perhaps because mice are generally improving enough that I don’t see the need to keep searching for something better.

Which brings me to keyboards.

For some years after I got my first PC (way back in 1994) I just used whatever cheap keyboard I could find, ones that would go for $10-15 today. They were all pretty much the same. The biggest change was when they started including a dedicated Windows key. It seemed weird at the time.

But after I’d upgraded my rig a few times I became more particular and started looking for keyboards that had backlighting or extra keys. I eventually decided the extra keys/macros were something I never used, but backlighting was nice to have, as my computer space was not brightly lit.

Fast-forward to around five years ago when mechanical keyboards became a big thing. I didn’t pay much attention at first because they seemed absurdly expensive. Well, they were absurdly expensive, really. I was intrigued, but not enough to buy.

As I spent more time working on laptops, I found myself starting to prefer the low-travel keys they featured and settle on a desktop keyboard that emulated the style. Although it was not backlit, my computer space was now brightly lit, so it was no longer a priority. The keyboard was wireless (nice, but inessential) and runs off solar power. This is nicer than expected because it meant that I literally never have to worry about batteries.

The worst aspect of the Logitech K750 is probably the glossy sheen the keys and surrounding surface have. Under bright light it can produce surprisingly annoying glare. Glossy is never good on keyboard.

Although happy enough with the keyboard, curiosity got the better of me and I got a Cooler Master Trigger mechanical keyboard. It has red backlighting, extra macro keys, and a weird setup that disables the Windows key by default. I never warmed to it at all and quickly set it aside, regretting the decision to buy.

But buyer’s regret never stopped me, so I next picked up a more business-oriented Das keyboard. It had blue switches and I learned to love the CLACK. However, like the K750, it had a glossy design I came to dislike and it was big and bulky. A tenkeyless design (without the numeric keypad) would be better ergonomically and take up less space. From here I experimented with some tenkeyless designs using red, brown and blue switches. They were all fine, but none really clicked (so to speak), though the blue switches remained my favorite.

Then Dave Lee posted a video for what he declared the best keyboard ever, the CTRL keyboard, featured on Massdrop. I was intrigued and liked the clean look. Thee drop ended before I could buy, but eventually came back and I placed an order.

It took a few weeks to show up and I had to pay an additional fee to actually collect it, so it came out to be very expensive in the end–over $200 Canadian. Although it has a few flaws, it has become my favorite mechanical keyboard and the reason has nothing to do with anything Dave mentions in his video, but rather in the choice of switches.

I was intrigued by the description of Halo Clear switches as having the clickiness of cherry switches, but with a smoother, more “velvety” feel, so I took a chance and ordered the keyboard with them, trusting they would live up to the description.

And they did. And they are the key (ho ho) reason why I really like the keyboard and have finally ended my great keyboard quest.

For now.

The good points:

  • Halo Clear switches are clicky, but smoother than blues and a bit quieter, too
  • Backlighting offers a good set of options
  • USB Type-C connections on opposite ends of keyboard allow for easy cable management
  • Switches are actually hot swappable if you’re into that
  • Aluminum chassis is very solid
  • Works great with both Windows and Mac

The not-so-good points:

  • With the backlight off, the lettering on the keys is very difficult to see. Not a big deal if you’re a touch typist, but something to be aware of.
  • The removable feet will almost always pop off if you try moving the keyboard by sliding it around the desk. Folding legs would have worked better.
  • The default backlight mode is a strobing rainbow effect, which you will see every time you connect the keyboard. It is pretty, but entirely impractical, so you have to go through a series of FN-key shortcuts to get back to something “normal.”
  • I found all but the white backlight color to be too garish, even after adjusting the brightness down.
  • Sometimes the backlight controls will stop responding, forcing you to unplug the keyboard and start from the strobing rainbow again.
  • The keyboard configurator is clumsy

Really, I think any reasonably well-made keyboard with Halo switches would win me over, but even apart from them, the CTRL is a sold offering. Overall, I’m happy with the purchase and typing is once again a satisfyingly clicky experience, though now with a pleasingly softer touch.

The Big Writing Decision, 2019 Edition

See this post for details.

Today is the day I make the decision on what software to use for my writing and the hardware platform for said software. Below is a partial list of the options.


  • Ulysses (Mac, iOS)
  • Scrivener (Mac, iOS, Windows)
  • WriteMonkey (Windows, Mac [beta only])
  • FocusWriter (Mac, Windows)


  • macOS on a genuine Mac, either a Mac mini, iMac or MacBook
  • macOS running on a Hackintosh (PC built to run macOS on the sly)
  • Windows 10 on current PC or shiny new PC
  • Windows 10 on a new NUC PC (separated out from the above because it would not be used for any gaming)
  • Amiga 500 bought from eBay running WordPerfect 4.2

And the winner is…

mumble mumble mumble

No, really. The winner is:

Nothing. Nada. I am plagued with doubts at every turn and am still undecided. However, I said I would make a decision today and I’m sticking to that, so here is my decision of sorts:

I will resume Road Closed in Ulysses (Olde Version) on the MacBook Pro and when I work on it at home I will use the power of The Dongle to connect the MBP to the 24″ monitor and a keyboard that clacks in a pleasant way.

So this is decision deferred. I’m not sure I’m ready for a Hackintosh experiment, I still want to get an actual new PC, and none of the current Mac offerings are very appealing. If the $1399 Mac mini option was the $999 entry-level offering, I’d probably go for that, but it’s not, so YOU LOSE TIM COOK LOL. Seriously, I hope the blatant moves to extract as much money from buyers as possible (while getting increasingly shoddy with quality) bites Apple in its metaphorical ass. I don’t expect or event want Apple products to become cheap, just reasonable. They are not reasonable now.

And so, quasi-decision made, the writing journey continues. I will report on my success on that front next Friday, February 1st. Excelsior!

The Mac turns 35

Today is the 35th anniversary of the original Macintosh. Since I am old enough to have lived through personal computer prehistory, I remember the original Mac well.

In 1985–only a scant year after its introduction–I worked on a Macintosh Plus as part of a job entry program in a small publishing/advertising firm in Duncan. The Macintosh Plus came with what was then a staggering one megabyte of ram and this particular model had two floppy disk drives, one internal, one external, so you didn’t need to switch out floppies. Convenient!

I mostly worked on simple ad blurbs and also did entry for a database (I forget the actual software, but it would be pretty easy to find, I imagine). I spent most of my time writing a parody of Friday the 13th using MacWrite. I printed out hard copy on the LaserWriter Plus (this company either had lots of money or lots of debt) and still have that same hard copy kicking around somewhere. I may even have the floppy disks stuffed away in a box.

Since the Macintosh was ludicrously expensive back then (even more than today’s models in relative terms), my own computer was a Commodore 64, which was inferior to the Macintosh in most ways, except it had color graphics and about ten million more games.

The closest I came to owning a Mac back then is when the Macintosh was offered for student discount while I was attending university in 1990. It was around $1,000 as I recall. By then I had an Amiga, which in many ways was a better machine and cost a lot less, so I never went Mac.

That changed in 2013 when I finally got my first laptop, a MacBook Air, then regarded by many as the best all-around laptop. I was too used to Windows, though, and the display was actually not that great, so I ultimately sold it for a Surface Pro 3 the following year.

I returned to the fold (while keeping the SP3) in late 2016 when I picked up the updated MacBook Pro without the goofy Touch Bar (the Touch Bar-free version was the most reasonably-priced–and it still cost $1799). macOS had matured and was a lot more refined, the haptic trackpad was awesome and it had a bright, sharp display. The battery life was only average, but it met my needs. Unfortunately, the ultra-shallow keyboard was something I learned to merely tolerate, not really like, and when you use a laptop for writing, that’s not a great thing. And this was before all the issues with the butterfly keyboard mechanism became known.

I still have the MacBook Pro, with two years left of free service if the keyboard goes south. I’ve actually been using it more recently, as I toy with the idea of going back to Macs for writing (I make the decision tomorrow, per my self-imposed deadline).

When I look at the current Mac line, it makes me a little sad. It could be so much more, but Apple has gotten so big and so reliant on the iPhone that the Mac is playing not just second fiddle, but third, after the iPhone and iPad.

Apple’s attempts at innovation on recent Macs have all been failures:

  • The 2013 Mac Pro was fatally flawed by its design, which led to heat issues and throttling. Apple also seemed to assume “pros” wanted a small computer that they would plug every sort of upgrade into, creating an ungainly mess of cables and peripherals. Nope.
  • The 2016 update to the MacBook Pro introduced the Touch Bar and raised the prices significantly. A couple of years later and the Touch Bar has really been a bit of a dud. It’s never been expanded beyond the Pro laptops and feels like an afterthought now.
  • The MacBook in 2015 introduced the butterfly keyboard, which was divisive due to its extremely shallow keys. Some people love it, as it requires a very light touch, but many dislike it for the same reason. It was also kind of loud for a laptop keyboard. Worse, it was prone to a number of flaws, like keys getting stuck, or registering multiple times, or just not working at all. Apple has revised the keyboard twice and the same issues are still being reported. They really need to chuck the design altogether, especially since it is now used across all of their laptops. I give this a 50/50 chance of happening in 2020.
  • Even the revised Mac mini, after being neglected for four years, emerged with flaws–cheap thermal paste that results in the machine throttling easily, expensive and with piddly specs on the base model. At least they finally killed the 5400 rpm hard drive it came with in favor of SSDs (that are glued and cannot be upgraded or replaced by the user).

So while I consider a return of sorts to the Mac, it’s only as an adjunct to my PC and likely through either a dock with my MBP or through a hackintosh I’d build from an Intel NUC.

Still, happy anniversary to the first personal computer to popularize the graphical user interface. Despite my gripes, the Macintosh had a huge, undeniable impact on personal computing.

The internet is getting old

I don’t mean old as in tired and passe–though others might make that argument, with some justification–but rather, it’s actually been around a good long while now.

I recall articles in computer magazines (almost as quaint now as the pre-internet days) in 1994 were touting two major developments in the tech world: the forthcoming release of Windows 95 (originally known only as “Windows 4”) and the rise of this new form of online communication known as the Internet.

I was already a regular participant on some BBSes (my roommate in the late 80s had a BBS running off four Commodore 64s) and participated in early forums that were part of FidoNet. Looking back it seems hilariously primitive. You connected to the host, downloaded all of the new messages on the forum, made your replies, then uploaded them and…waited. The conversations were not only not real-time, they weren’t even same-day. It would typically take two to three days for the turnaround. It didn’t prevent people from hurling insults and contributing little, of course, but it helped.

By comparison, my first cable modem and the actual internet–first introduced to me as a separate “premium” service by my ISP–was like stepping into the future. Your connection was always on (!) and you could visit multiple sites at the same time. There were multiple sites!

A big part of the early days for me revolved around gaming and one of the first games I got into online was Tribes, released in December 1998 (I bought it a month later). It got me into a gaming group and I still regularly converse with members of that group twenty years later. Back then I had the reflexes of a thirty-something, so I was already behind the curve, but I held my own. I read a bunch of gaming sites, many of which are either gone now after living on in a zombie state for awhile, like Voodoo Extreme, or have been abandoned after the parent company vanished, like PlanetQuake, which is still up, but hasn’t been updated since 2012 (its parent company, GameSpy, was shuttered the next year).

And then you have something like Blue’s News. Not only is the site still being updated regularly (by the same person, no less), but visually it is unchanged. Yes, the site looks pretty much exactly like it did 20 years ago. It was my home page for a long time, but I haven’t regularly visited any dedicated gaming site since consoles entrenched themselves as the primary way to game. There’s something both admirable and awful about not changing your website design for 20 years (for the record, I find the look today to be pretty ugly. Dense, small text on a dark background is not my idea of readability. On the plus side, the layout is about as straightforward as you can get).

The internet is an inescapable part of our lives now, and much of it is a terrible place. Facebook and Twitter serve as staging platforms for hate, enabling the spread of misery, violence and death. The wealth of information is vast and impossible for any single person to even begin to sift through. You choose your interests, put your faith in Google (or Bing, or DuckDuckGo if you really want to go full rebel) and hope for the best. Sure, you can find stuff through the recommendations of friends, but most of those will come via Facebook, anyway. And there’s always the echo chamber effect, too.

In the olden days the array of content was exponentially smaller. Sites themselves were smaller and updated less frequently. Messages downloaded as pure text at a rate slow enough to read as it downloaded. It wasn’t better, per se, but it was simpler. And in a way, that made it better. Or it created the illusion.

Fun Fact: this site turns 14 years old (!) on February 4th. In my first post I ranted about sites using white backgrounds. How things change. :P

End of the “executive” era (computer desk)

I got a new computer desk from IKEA. It is fairly simple–just a big plank of wood with four legs. It replaces an L-shaped desk that fit the nook I have the computer in, but it was kind of awkward, otherwise. It was too shallow, too narrow and too faux executive office-looking, with a fake dark wood surface.

The new desk comes with a fake light wood surface, which is brighter, happier and will inspire me to previously unforeseen levels of stuff and junk.

What you can’t see in the mediocre shot below is the printer has moved from the left side of the desk to a pseudo-printer stand to the left. I say pseudo because it’s really the old end table from the living room temporarily repurposed to hold the printer. It has two shelves which handily hold all the junk I had scattered across the old desk but did not need quick access to.

Also helping to inspire me is Edvard Munch’s The Scream, as seen on the all behind the desk.

The gear, from top-left, clockwise: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, Blue Yeti microphone (hidden partly by the monitor), Asus P248 24″ monitor (on the monitor stand are Tic Tacs and a WASD 6-key Cherry switch tester), two escapees from a Robax commercial, a Seagate 4TB backup drive, my gateway/router, Logitech G703 wireless gaming mouse, CTRL mechanical keyboard (Halo Clear switches), Sony MDR-7506 headphones with absurdly long cable, and iPad mini 4, which has a battery life similar to whatever bug dies after about four days.

Slow-burning ADHD

I not infrequently fall down the rabbit hole when I sit at the computer. What happens is I’ll read something (The original iPod Shuffle came out 14 years ago), then see something specific to latch onto (a mention of a SanDisk MP3 player, of which I bought one some years back when I first started running), which further prompts me to investigate further (looking at current SanDisk offerings, then what Sony and other companies are offering for MP3 players) and in the course of this, moving onto other things that pop into my head and checking them out.

Hours pass and I look back and I don’t regret the time spent, per se, but it does seem a bit of a waste in that I’ve not accomplished anything other than scratching a faint nostalgic urge (I never had a Shuffle, though I still have two iPod nanos) and confirming things I already knew (the current MP3 player market is pretty bad, filled with brands you’ve never heard of selling products that look suspiciously like Apple’s discontinued designs).

Somehow tonight I ended up on the Wacom site, looking at their Intuos tablets (I have one). And I was thinking, I should draw more. I could draw here at the computer using the Intuos, but I’d have to dig it out of a drawer, plug it in and neither requires any great or special effort, but I just can’t be bothered. So I see on their site that there is a model that uses Bluetooth, so you don’t need to plug it in. That takes away a step, making it 50% easier to use! Is it enough for me to go for it? I think and honestly, it would probably make no difference. I don’t need more convenience, I need more discipline.

Which gets me back to the rabbit hole. I am distracted and allow myself to get pulled into these little online expeditions too easily. I don’t think I have ADHD, though my brain does perhaps spin a little faster than I’d like (this is where learning meditation might be handy), but maybe I have some low-grade variety of it, where I don’t flit from one thing to another, I just flit from something and in the end have little to show for the time spent having flitted.

Anyway, that’s enough pop pysch self-analysis for tonight. But hey, I wrote again.

I want a tiny computer

If I thought I wouldn’t game at all, I’m pretty sure my next PC would be a NUC, simply because they are so small and adorable. And you can get a full PC without any real compromises–you can have fast storage, lots of memory, a good port selection. And it can sit silently and adorably on the desk, where those ports are easy to get to.

I will likely build a new, bigger PC with a full-size video card in the near-future to replace my current, aging machine. But I might go ahead and then build a NUC as a secondary/experimental PC. I might even try a zany Hackintosh build, so I can have that Mac experience, but with a good keyboard.

Photo of the Day, December 29, 2018

I cleaned the innards of my PC today. This is the dust filter from the front of the case. You’d think the PC was 50 years old, but it’s not. Really!