‘M1 Mac Users Report Excessive SSD Usage’

From 9to5 Mac:

Some advanced users have been reporting an overuse of the SSD for writing and reading data on the newly-released Macs with M1, Apple’s first computer chip based on ARM architecture. The issue could eventually affect the lifespan of the internal SSD used in M1 Macs — not to mention the machine itself.

My betting is on this being a bug in the software being used to measure SSD usage (a utility called smartmontools that can be installed via Homebrew). SSD usage seems like something that should be pretty easy to automate testing for, and so for this to be a bug would be a major omission from Apple’s test suite. Not impossible of course.

Botched Cosmetic Surgery

Riccardo Mori has written a thoroughly enjoyable critique of the the latest macOS user interface design. This passage in particular made me laugh:

The Mac’s user interface is undergoing plastic surgery by the hand of surgeons who have studied on iOS books. The result is pretty much the same as when you see a favourite celebrity after a procedure. They look ‘younger’ but there’s also something weird about their appearance. Their traits have changed a bit. In certain cases you almost fail to recognise the person at first glance.

I’ve not upgraded my aging 2013 MacBook Air just yet, but I’ve experienced Big Sur when briefly using my girlfriend’s laptop. I agree there is something that feels slightly ‘off’ about the new design. Even small details, like the fact that the new control centre glyph looks like a set of miniature switches – which are a UI components themselves. Whether the new UI will grown on me as iOS 7’s did (I was an iOS 6 holdout for many months) will depend on how much Apple refine the new look over the coming months a years, as they did with iOS. Perhaps my theory will one day hold true, that Big Sur’s big surprise is that it will support touch screens after all.

My fondest memories of Mac OS X was probably Puma. This was a free updated related after 10.0’s abysmal stability and performance problems. I remember picking it up for free from John Lewis. (In lieu of an Apple Store – there were none in the UK at the time – they were the one of the few places to get such things.) Back then Mac OS X seemed like a new frontier in user interface design. Here is what 16 year old me’s desktop looked like in 2002:

Squashing Services Into Apps

The Fitness app in 2016 vs 2021

Lee asks Are Apple ruining user experience to promote their own services? – While using the Fitness app earlier today it occurred to me that the answer is most definitely yes! The current incarnation of the Fitness app (formally known as Activity) now squashes in Activity History, current day, workout lists, awards, and the recently added trends functionality into a single tab. Only Sharing and their brand new premium service, Fitness+ get their own tab, and the cynic in me thinks even Sharing is only there because it helps sell Apple Watches to friends and family.

Really, Fitness+ should be its own app, but that would make it easy to delete and forget about. Instead, Apple who were once leaders in user interface design (so much that they call it human interface), are using an entire tab (one whole third of the total tabs) to show a service many people (I’d wager most) won’t use. The original app was a joy to use, but the latest one just feels crowded. I hope Apple can find a way to promote services without lowering their famous user experience standards.

Moderating Directories, Not Podcasts

Great article over on The Verge, but I have one small issue with it:

Asking it [Apple] to remove a show from its directory is like asking it to make a specific webpage inaccessible in Safari — is that something people want? Podcasting has, so far, avoided crowning one platform as king, meaning anyone, both on the creator and business side, can enter the space and possibly find success in it. That’s what makes podcasting great, even if it requires unclear answers on moderation.

The web browser analogy is close – podcasts are just audio files uploaded to web servers – but there’s a key difference. Apple (or any company) deciding to not include a podcast in its directory is not the same as blocking its URL outright. It is more akin to Google not showing certain web pages in its search results (which it does all the time, especially in the EU). This is very different to your browser refusing to load a particular web address because the browser maker has decided it doesn’t think you should see the content.

Likewise, in the Apple’s Podcasts app, you can either search a directory to find a show, or enter its feed URL manually. (Any app that doesn’t support adding feeds manually is arguably not a podcast app – I’m looking at you Spotify.) Adding a podcast by URL is how most paid podcasts work, and is the podcast equivalent of typing https://nodejs.org instead of Googling NodeJS.

For better or worse I can see Apple expanding its moderation role for its podcast directory, but just as with the web, eager listeners will always be able to find shows from some other source and enter the URL manually. This is an inherent strength of podcasting, which unlike Twitter and YouTube, is not subject to the same algorithmic recommendation spirals.

The BBC Is Using It’s Own ‘Dot BBC’ Domain

The BBC has started using its own custom Top Level Domain (TLD). The entire BBC Online offering is available at https://the.bbc. Many large corporations such as Apple and T.K. Maxx own their own TLD, which were rumoured to cost around $185,000.

Currently the site doesn’t seem to have officially switched as some components such as video and sign-in appear to be broken, and the site’s canonical URL is still set to use the old domain. However the fact that someone has configured the new one along with its own TLS certificate might be a sign that the Beeb is thinking of switching from their iconic bbc.co.uk address.

I suspect for many Internet users of a certain age, the web address http://www.bbc.co.uk was one of the very first they diligently typed into their computer back in the late nineties. The BBC’s use of .co.uk paved the way for this TLD to become the de facto for UK-based companies. To switch now may well commence the beginning of the end for .co.uk being the standard for companies in the UK. While not every company can afford the fee for their own TLD, there are now many others, from .mortgage to .furniture to choose from. The problem is few well-known brands actually use them. Perhaps this might change soon.

For me there is something about newer TLDs that make them less likely to stand out as web site addresses. If I saw weather.bbc or visit.london written somewhere, I wouldn’t necessarily think to visit them in a web browser, whereas anything ending in .com or .co.uk etc. is obviously a web address.

Working From Home in a Small Apartment

You don’t need to spend lots to be productive.

My girlfriend and I are currently trying to move to a bigger house, but with a global pandemic it has been a slow process. Hence we are currently both working from our 1 bedroom flat and are likely to continue this way for the next few months. Both our jobs involve lots of online calls, and so after a many weeks sitting uncomfortably at opposite ends of the dining room table I decided there must be a better way. For 5′ 11″ me the table was uncomfortable, even if my shorter girlfriend felt it was fine for her. Really though, being within earshot each other all day was starting to grate on us both. With her piano taking up a sizeable chunk of our living room, there was no space for a desk anywhere else.

So over the past few weeks I set about making the working day more productive and ergonomic. Astonishingly, for about £70 I was able to get a foldable desk and laptop stand from Amazon.

While there are lots of foldable desks available online, many of them are either too wide or didn’t have the depth required for comfortable typing. Eventually I found one that has enough space for the laptop stand, keyboard and all-important wrist rest. These, along with my company issued Dell XPS 9500 and existing Apple Magic Keyboard, Microsoft ergonomic mouse and basic office chair have helped increase my productivity and comfort no end. (I recommended the programme Magic Utilities for getting Apple’s Magic Keyboard to work with Windows.) I set the desk up in the corridor, and at the end of the day, I simply fold away the desk and the space is regained.

Hopefully once we’ve moved I will be able to have a nicer desk and multiple monitor setup, but for now this inexpensive solution that cost a little over £70 (and would work with a cheap £10 keyboard and mouse if you don’t already have them) has been a valuable pandemic investment. Contrast this with the narrative from some tech podcasters and bloggers who would have you think that you need to spend lots of money to be productive. You really don’t.

Making Siri Timers More Timely

I can be a perfectionist when it comes to software, and one thing that bugs me when using Siri timers is the fact that the time taken for Siri to understand me is added on to the timer duration.

Frequently I will start a timer using the “Hey Siri” wake word, either using my Apple Watch or iPhone. Depending on where I am in the house and general WiFi signal, the time it takes for Siri to respond can range from a few seconds to 10 or more.

From the time between saying “Hey Siri” and completing the sentence “Set a timer for 5 minutes.” the device will upload the audio to a server, which will use a set of speech-to-text machine learning models to predict the words said. It will then use a natural language model to classify this text into an intent, deriving meaning from the sentence.

In many cases, this results in my 5 minute timer not going off 5 minutes after I decided I wanted to start a timer, but 5 minutes and 7 seconds after.

It doesn’t have to be this way however. The device presumably knows the exact time it successfully detected a “Hey Siri” command (a complex set of systems in their own right), and so it could simply deduct this from the requested timer duration. If Siri takes 7 seconds to figure out what I meant, then my 5 minute timer becomes a 4 minutes and 53 seconds timer.

A small request, but if any company could pay attention to small features like this, it’s Apple.

A New Age of Web Censorship?

Opinions are understandably mixed as to whether it was right for Twitter, Facebook et al. to remove Donald Trump’s various accounts from their servers. Amazon blocking access to the prominent alternative Parler, which was welcoming Trump and his followers with open arms was also questionable. There is a genuine debate to be had about whether this all amounts to censorship, or is simply businesses wanting to restrict illegal or unsavoury content.

Since the days of Geocities I remember it being common for web hosts to have clauses in their Terms of Service that prohibit certain content. In fact, here is a snippet from the Geocities TOS in 2000:

You agree to not use the Service to: a. upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any Content that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, tortious, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, libelous[sic], invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable;

Geocities, 2000

Put simply, Donald Trump would have been banned from Geocities too. Of course AWS is a far cry from Geocities, and in 2021 the online world is far more entangled with the offline that it was in the year 2000. However, I still think important to understand that web hosts not wanting to host certain content is nothing new.

This is where the concept of Net Neutrality is important. While I think it’s fine for AWS to not want to host certain content, it would be a sad day for the Internet if ISPs could choose not to carry traffic for sites they find objectionable.

Now It’s Amazon’s Turn to Block Parler

Update: 10/01/2021 05:40. Amazon it seems to have listened to me. (Or have come to the view by some other means, which let’s face it, is probably more likely.) Good for them.

After Twitter banned Donald Trump following his attempted coup on Wednesday, it seems many of his followers are leaving Twitter and joining Parler, a self-declared “Free Speech” platform. Google has removed Parler from its Play Store, and Apple has said it plans to do so unless they start moderating content.

While it’s a nice gesture from both Google and Apple, Parler remains only a few taps away as it can still be accessed via a web browser.

Parler is hosted by Amazon. It’s name servers are owned Amazon. Its DNS A records point to Amazon CloudFront (a CDN service). The domain registrar is DreamHost. If credit card companies refusing to do business with porn sites can help change policy, then Amazon refusing to host what Google calls “egregious content” might do the same with Parler.