My frustrations with Apple’s new Macs

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So Apple released their new Macs with Apple Silicon now, and while I was really looking forward to this transition, there are things that just irk me and make me hold off from purchasing.

What was released?

Apple put out three new computers, that all feature on new System-on-a-Chip (SoC), named M1. It’s a 13″ MacBook Air, a 13″ MacBook Pro and a Mac Mini.

Unlike with their previous transition from PowerPC to Intel (2005 f.), Apple aren’t changing their branding here. The main difference between the MacBook Air and the Pro are that the Pro has a bigger battery for supposedly crazy long battery life, a fan, and the TouchBar. They all, including the Mac Mini, have two USB 4/Thunderbolt ports (the Mac Mini thankfully adds two USB-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet and HDMI 2.0).

Apple harps that these new models are sooo much faster, and early benchmarks seem to confirm that. Now, that’s great – and the massive increase in battery life (Apple says these machines are going to last up to 18 hours (MacBook Air)/ 20 hours (MacBook Pro)) is also awesome.

So what’s your problem?

Repairability and upgradability

Earlier this year Apple went big on boasting what they are doing for the environment. They also previously were big on showing off their recycling efforts. Now what’s better, than recycling? Right, reducing!

Modern Apple Hardware (including, but not limited to MacBooks) seeks to make user/self repair and repair by 3rd parties impossible. Now while there are good reasons for this (protecting the brand by ensuring a good experience), it still is likely leading to more e-waste than neccessary and thus bad.

Bad Default specs

Random Access Memory

It’s 2020. While 8GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD as defaults may be justifiable for people that are looking for a MacBook Air, it’s just a total joke that they even offer that as default for their “Pro” branded offering.1 It’s almost like no one at Apple ever uses the RAM-eating shit-fest the modern web is, or if, they only use it in their own Safari browser (that is, the parts of the web that work in Safari).2
Now, a lot of RAM use may go to Electron-based apps, that may be replaceable by more RAM-friendly iOS apps now (assuming the app developers allow runnning their iOS apps on the Mac), which might drop RAM load. Still, 16 GB as a default with 32 GB as an upgrade option would have been the right way to go, ensuring long usable lifetimes for these new computers.

SSD / File Storage

When you boast that your new hardware is great at multimedia work, please, for the love of god, supply reasonable storage options. While a 2 TB maximum is ok (not really for the ‘Pro’, admittedly), it’s just crazy expensive at 800 USD (896 EURO) upgrades. And you have to choose your size when you buy it, you can’t upgrade afterwards.3

Now, they have some reasoning for that. But why not go the Microsoft route, and allow upgrading by having an empty m.2-slot or even something proprietary, that’s user accessible for later upgrades? Why not at least allow an option for slower storage (e.g. by adding a microSDXC-card slot), for all the people who want to keep their family photos on device?

Pricing

Last but not least, pricing. I don’t want to make this about their bad european pricing4
I love the Mac5, and I would love for it to be more affordable.

Apple is able to deliver great products at affordable price points, as evidenced by their entry level iPad. I want Apple to adopt a strategy that allows them to gain market share, because I do strongly believe that they offer something great with the Mac, that enables people to do more with there Computers without these being as “dumbed down” as the mobile platforms.

Switching to their own Apple Silicon is considered to likely increase Apples profit margin by quite a bit, yet they kept pricing mostly the same. This, as I believe, is going to harm them in the future, if they want to cut on their margin to offer products for the Everyman or education (in a push for market share or against Chromebooks) and not just their usual high-income bracket – shareholders would likely have questions and not approve.

Conclusion

I won’t buy a laptop for almost 2000 EUR unless I am certain to be able to use it for at least 4 years as my main machine. I am not sure that a 16GB RAM MacBook Air or Pro can deliver that, so I will just sit tight and wait for their next announcement.

Also, I have little hope that they are going deliver a cheaper, entry level MacBook (at least for education), and clear up their “Pro” branding problem. Long term they should refocus more on customers, deliver hardware that makes their environmental claims more credible, respect the right-to-repair more and bring their mission of preserving user privacy to everyone.

Unfortunately, Apple seem to be too obsessed with their bottom line to care enough about anything else.

  1. The MacBook line generally has had serious branding issues for since the introduction of the “not really Pro” 13″ MacBook Pro. []
  2. The blame is on the web developers here that don’t do a proper job and build incompatible websites, not on Apple. []
  3. It’s been like this since 2016, I know. But it’s still terrible. []
  4. If you were to use the current exchange rate, add german sales tax of currently 16 % you would end up at 980,81 EUR for the 999 USD Macbook Air, not the 1100,50 EUR they ask for. []
  5. I am very much a Linux user, too, but I won’t get into the additional problem with only being able to VM my Linux needs here in order to keep this piece more concise. []

Hope in a Crisis

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I felt certain that this virus would spread around the globe when I first heard of its rather long incubation period and the fact that it could feel just like a cold. That must have been in late December or early to mid January. I remember thinking: Why don’t they halt air travel from Asia, especially from China?

Of course, I can’t prove any of the above, but does it matter? The overwhelming majority of western nations are in total crisis mode. People are dying, left and right. German scientists boast that Germany is doing so great with testing, but still you coudn’t really get a test two weeks ago, if you just had symptoms but weren’t a likely case because you weren’t in a dangerous area or have been in close contact with someone infected. There must be quite the Dunkelziffer.1

Continue reading “Hope in a Crisis”
  1. Number of unreported cases. []

Switching Phones without wanting to

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On December 21st, 2020, my Google Pixel XL, which I had used with LineageOS and microG and loved for its great camera, just plainly died. During a phone call. The screen turned black, and never lit up since. When connected to a computer, it turned out it is stuck in something that is called “HS-USB QDloader 9008 mode”.1 And, if all resources I have found yet are to be believed, without specific files that would have to published (or leaked) by the device manufacturer, there is no way to get this fine hardware back into a usable state.2

Continue reading “Switching Phones without wanting to”
  1. For reference, have a look at this discussion on xda-developers. []
  2. Actually, I think that there ought to be regulation to make this category of problems user repairable (#righttorepair) or to force the manufacturer to offer fairly priced (compared to used-market device prices) repair options. []

Resource Exhaustion

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It was the end of the year, and my resources were pretty much depleted. After what seems to me like it was the most demanding year in my life, on early December 27th I headed of to Leipzig to attend the 36th Chaos Communication Congress. My father had brought me there, thankfully, especially as his resources are likely more depleted than mine.

Beforehand I hadn’t been sure whether I would attend «Congress» for a fifth consecutive year, as I really felt kind of burned out. But I went, mainly to record an episode of a podcast that ironically then never aired due to a noisy recording environment negatively affective audio quality.

Having learned from all these years, I had carefully checked the official program for interesting talks, focusing on the topic of climate crisis and related environmentalist themes, being fully aware that I would not attend most of them. The use of Congress is to meet people in sessions, that are not being recorded and generally enjoy the atmosphere and survive all the input while sourcing great food is surprisingly difficult (or not so surprisingly if you are familiar with the food at german trade fairs).

After last year, I had had high hopes for a couple of sessions like the «Hackers Against Climate Change» of yesteryear. That did not really pan out.

I attended the one session on day 2 that had the same title this year, and while it was nicely moderated, it did not spring following sessions as far as I am aware of – and it was way less crowded. Then, there was a session called «Planet A», which was even less populated and had a way different target than I would have thought and at least let to me learning about two more platforms that are out there (just links, not endorsements):

With regards to talks, I linked some before. I did not manage to watch all of them at congress, and I haven’t managed to catch up since by watching the recordings.

I wrote the upper part until January 6th, 2020 (today is January 30th). As I still did not manage to finish it (i moved and there has been other stuff), let me just finish this post with what I remember as my objective when I started out to write it: 36C3 felt less like a point to start acting on climate change than 35c3 did, which was disappointing to me (I am thinking of sessions, not talks). Also, I felt less of the “be excellent to each other” vibe than on previous congresses.

That said, I look forward to 37c3. Let’s have a great 2020 till then!

What I’ve done lately and some thoughts on what matters

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I have been awfully silent the past months. While I drafted more than one post, none got published. Partly that was due to me finally finishing my long (loooooong) lasting studies of Business Adminstration, which required me to write a thesis while also remaining employed and was quite exhausting. Even though I handed the thesis in in late October, I don’t know whether I managed to finish my studies successfully – the feeling of relief has thus not kicked in yet (and won’t come this year).

In other matters I have been a little bit engaged with “Hackers Against Climate Change”, a group effort that formed on the last (35th) Chaos Communication Congress. I hope that this effort will grow on the 36C3, because there is a lot more to consider than just dealing with „how can we help other groups with digital infrastructure“.

To explain what I mean, let me point to a selection 36C3 talks:

… and there are even more talks related to the subject of climate change and sustainability.

Reviewing this past year of 2019, I did not blog much and mainly about mobile phones. That was not just due to a lack in time, but also because it’s still easy for me to do so, and because it is not controversial. Let’s face it: Writing on the topic of climate change and climate policy just requires a lot more effort (including research) and is more controversial than to write about some stupid linux phones or other minor technology topics that essentially can be called consumerism.

While it matters to have alternatives to the smartphone duopoly in general, compared to the life extinguishing danger of climate change, it’s unimportant chicken shit. In fact, I would argue, everything is. Social issues, as they are, can in theory be changed at any time, because they just require forming a new consensus amongst humans (as hard as that is). But you can’t argue with the laws of physics and climate change. This is an issue that cannot be postponed.

For 2020, I hope to be able to be more engaged in this pressing issue. While I actually doubt that humankind will manage to choose survival instead of greed, I will try hard to proove myself wrong on that count.

Notes from LNLs Todd Weaver Interview

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On Episode 57 (published Feb. 19th, 2019) of the Late Night Linux podcast Purism CEO Todd Weaver was interviewed by podcast host Joe Ressington. Below is a brief summary in bullet points:

  • Generally Purism is doing “extremely well”: Year over year triple digit growth rates, overall community support and achievements are great.
  • Laptops: Coreboot, neutered Management Engine, security story is great
    • Soon Pureboot (Coreboot + Heads + TPM + Librem Key) will be announced: Tamper evident systems.
  • Librem 5 hardware
    • “Shipping hardware is hard”
    • CPU issue ended up moving the Phone to Q2, mayor update soon
    • after development kit shipments interest went up, flood of orders
    • dev kit problems: Screen not working, neither does HDMI out
    • point of development kit: get developers work on hardware close to actual hardware, phosh speed, core applications need to be improved and will be, “one time programming” necessary to get screens to work, as SoC can’t send initialization code to the screen (NXP i.MX8M buffer to small, silicon bug?). Every developer kit screen will be enabled by software work with NXP or sending out One Time Programming kits.
    • “dev kit size enormous”: Dev Kit is a break out board for the SoM which has all the most complex parts of the system, SoM is small and right for phone size. Phone is going to be about 14mm thick (or so), similar to kind of iPhone 4 original thickness
    • Massive heat sink on dev kit, fan on postmarketOS photo, how will this be cooled in the phone? Errata against CPU; no power management early on; initial temperature 90°, now by software improvements down to 34°, more optimizations coming like idle state
    • iMX8 not designed to be in a phone. Snapdragon would be clearly designed to be in a phone. iMX8 has a pretty high power draw. is more for mains connected devices. True. But: There are no mobile chips that offer “complete freedoms”. i.MX6 and i.MX8M are helping with freedoms, i.MX8M will be dropping to 14nm in 2019, so power consumption will improve with a later hardware revision. Good roadmap. i.MX8M vs. i.MX8Mini: GPU differences, …
    • Target for idle battery life: One work day battery life. Confident it will be reachable for phone ship date.
    • When will the phone ship? Q2 or Q3 (1th of April to 30th of September), everything is marching forward, big problem was the silicon bug, created delay in fabrication, but software stack development progressed very nicely.
  • Librem 5 software
    • Software store: Going remarkably well. Easy way for people to recognize what applications are available and does it respect me as an individual.
    • How many apps are going to be phone optimized at launch? Campaign promised 5 apps for typical tasks: Phone call, Browser, e mail, messaging. But: Libhandy is in GTK proper, porting an application over just means changing a few classes. Music player, settings application, contacts incoming. Even some game developers started development. People want to be part of the ecosystem.
    • In house development of apps vs. community efforts: Focus on initial 5 internally (80 % Purism, 20 % community), Fractal (Matrix client) funded development, some applications are going to be entirely written by the community.
    • Community ports: Some working, …, as dev kits got shipped to early backers first and then to partnerships. Plasma Mobile is advancing, UBports will receive dev kits soon.
    • Android: No interest in Android backup plan, fine with people working on it. The mission for Purism is to solve the long term problem of having a phone that respects people.
  • Twitter questions:
    • App store: Elementary OS-style “pay what you want” thing? Yes, talked to them. Want to have a curated set of applications with options of donating to the developer, a pay the developer process, a subscription process or straight up gratis. Working on it, is going to be part of the Purism store.
    • Number of developers working on Pure OS mobile: Close to 20.
    • Will Signal be supported? Community folks are working on the APIs to have Signal work. Purism have connections with signal, of all the applications out there it is the most likely one to be included by default and meet the criteria Purism have.
    • Different Mobile hardware? It’s going to be i.MX8 going forward, next silicon version will lead to 2nd gen Librem 5. Qualcomm or Mediatek are not on the table for the near future.
    • Other devices: Lot’s of other things on the table. Services coming, version 5 of Laptops.
    • Ethical subscription services: Purism will be launching a bundle of services based on decentralized services under on simple account. Free and paid tier. VPN, E-mail, chat, video and voice calling, social media, all in one. Virtual phone numbers, cloud storage. Convenient, but also completely respecting user freedoms. Will launch before the phone, services have been used before internally, will be scaled up for external users. Cross plattform, Android, iOS, desktop platforms. Federated, so people can run their own.
    • MIPS or RISC-V? Testing RISC-V, following very closely. Within a couple of years Purism will have some kind of a RISC-V product, maybe a router, as the platform moves along.
    • Still working without VC money? Yes. Have completely avoided VCs and will continue to do so.

Necunos NC_1 or a Lunchbox Smartphone?

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While Purism has allegedly finally managed to ship out their developer kits, Necunos will provide you with a thingy they call a smartphone much faster.1

Necunos NC_1
The Necunos project may be scam. Be careful! Update 2/3/2019: After FOSDEM it seems a little more real. Necuno Solutions plan to ship the NC_1 in March. Let’s see.

Specifications:

  • SoC: NXP i.MX Quad, ARM Cortex A9 quadcore @ 1.2 GHz, Vivante GPU (Etnaviv driver, hardware acceleration)
  • 1 GB Ram (meh!)
  • 8 GB Storage
  • 3500 mAh Battery
  • 5,0″ display (no resolution given)
  • Aluminum body
  • 5 MP Camera
  • Audio: 3.5mm audio jack
  • Charging: Micro-USB, Data transfer disabled
  • Microphone: Built-in microphone
  • Speakers: 2 Built-in speaker
  • WLAN: WiFi (via SDIO) WL1801 (2.4 GHz)
  • Ethernet: High speed 100Mb/s
  • Serial: Internal
  • Closed source firmware with memory access: NO
  • Binary blobs: NO
  • Locked bootloader: NO
  • Operating Systems: Multiple community driven operating systems to choose from.

Price: 1199 EUR
Continue reading “Necunos NC_1 or a Lunchbox Smartphone?”

  1. To me, this – while it is an admirable effort – is not a smartphone, but rather a modern Linux PDA since it has no modem to connect to cell services. I’ll keep sticking to this 22 year old definition, where a smartphone has to be an actual phone. []

One more phone for GNU/Linux

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KDE and Necuno Solutions today announced a new open source GNU/Linux smartphone that is supposed to be running a Plasma Mobile based interface. Based on the FreeScale/NXP i.MX6 SoC, which is quite dated, this thing certainly reminds me (in terms of the hardware) of what Purism initially intended to deliver. All in all, while I am interested, I will just patiently wait if this project will ever deliver anything: The software isn’t there, the hardware does not seem to be totally defined yet. Smells like vapourware to me.

(Actually, I find the PinePhone more interesting, although the same concerns plus additional ones due to the SoC apply there, too.)

VIA: liliputing

An update on the reMarkable paper tablet

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In April I wrote down my impressions on the reMarkable Paper Tablet. This is an update to that post.

How much did I use it?
For some time, I have used it a lot.But after getting a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet,1 my use the reMarkable
dwindeled as that Surface was just a lot more convenient for what I did at the time.2 Unfortunately, the Surface started to suffer from “ghost touch” issues, which – while I still like to do stuff with the pen on it – has made me use the reMarkable more again, with the Surface serving as a laptop replacement.3

Continue reading “An update on the reMarkable paper tablet”

  1. Because it turned out that using the recommended tools (mostly Citavi and Microsoft Office) for university can make life easier, especially as I spend my workdays in Microsoft Word anyway. []
  2. Marking up PDFs with colors is sometimes more useful than doing it in black and white. []
  3. Mostly in portrait mode with a ThinkPad USB keyboard attached, which is tremendously great for text writing and editing. Everybody should try this. []

Early Learnings in Podcasting

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Sifting through my recent posts here, I think I forgot what this blog is supposed to be, and made it something like a LINMOB thingy again. So here is a post about nothing for a change. It may turn out quite personal, I don’t know yet.

Recording setup in Copenhagen.
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Recording setup in Copenhagen.
SZB001 recording setup in Copenhagen.

When you start doing something new, you always learn a lot. There are two sides to this: There are things you need to learn in order to get whatever it is that you just started doing done. And then, there are things you learn about the world by doing these new things.

Continue reading “Early Learnings in Podcasting”