The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the OS X 10.9.5 (Mavericks) release; skip it unless you really really care about all the OS X releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of OS X from the public beta through the latest public version, which is OS X 10.9.5 as of September 17th, 2014. Note that this release marks the 82nd release of OS X (counting major, minor, and released-then-yanked updates). Wow.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.

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My most-useful and least-used shell script

I have a large number of small shell scripts I’ve either written or collected over the years. Today I had the opportunity to use my favorite one—which is rare, as I only need it a couple times a year. But when I do need it, it’s a wonderful little script.

It’s also a very simple-minded script, as it does just one thing: it copies my public IP address to the clipboard and shows it in a pop-up message, as seen at right. OK, so that’s two things, but they’re very closely related.

Clearly this isn’t something I need to do often, but when I do, the script changes this…

Switch to browser, open new tab, load the DynDNS check IP page, drag mouse to select IP address, press Command-C to copy, switch back to destination app, press Command-V to paste

…into this…

Press a key combo, wait about a second, then press Command-V

This is a big timesaver, obviously, and it makes the process about as easy as it could be.

I originally wrote this up for Mac OS X Hints a few years back, but thought I’d post it here (given the changes at Macworld, I’m not sure how long the hints site may be around). I’ve also modified it a bit, as I no longer use growlnotify for the onscreen display of the copied IP address.

You can read the original how-to at hints, or below, where I’ve posted the updated version that no longer uses growlnotify.

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A few tidbits about the AT&T Next plans…

Having studied the AT&T Next plans in great detail, and with the help of some great comments to this post, I feel that I have a very good (though not perfect) understanding of the AT&T Next plan.

Based on what I’ve learned, here are some bullet points about the Next plans to keep in mind as you decide how to pay for your next phone.

Please keep in mind these are my thoughts based on what I’ve been told and/or read about—so some of them may be quite wrong! (If you see anything that seems wrong, please let me know. Or if you think of other things to add, let me know that, too.)


Next 12 vs Next 18
The Next 12 and Next 18 plans vary only in the number of payments (20 for Next 12; 24 for Next 18) and when you can upgrade (12 months and 18 months, respectively. See the Upgrades section for more details on the upgrade options.

Using AT&T’s money
The Next plans let you borrow AT&T’s money—at 0% interest, no less!. That’s a good thing. Assuming you have the cash to pay off the phone at some point in the future (see Upgrades), you’ll want to use AT&T’s money as long as possible. So go for Next 18, not Next 12.

How to switch from Next 12 to Next 18
If you signed up for Next 12 due to late-night-itis (umm, that might be me), you can switch to Next 18. Here’s how: You have to wait for your phone to arrive, then—before you activate it—take it to an AT&T store. They’ll be able to switch the plan—at least, that’s what the AT&T rep told me after she consulted with her supervisor.

How to cancel a Next 12/18 purchase
You can apparently cancel an AT&T iPhone 6 order—just call them (1-877-782-8870). I was told I could cancel and reorder as another method to switch to Next 18; I politely declined. But if you want to cancel, apparently this is how you can do it (untested).

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An AT&T Family Share Plan/iPhone 6 cost calculator

In my article on the (possible) vanishing monthly discount for AT&T Family Share Plan users, I included a table with some cost estimates for a given phone and service.

Given the popularity of that article, I’ve did a bit of work to clean up my spreadsheet to make it usable by anyone. You choose which phone, and the size of your shared data plan, and the calculator spits out the results (click the image at right for a large version). As you can see, I’ve added a column for the Next 18 plan, too.

Download the calculators here. The zip archive includes versions for Excel and Numbers. Usage is pretty simple: Click the two red-text cells to set the desired iPhone and your data plan size, and that’s that.

To summarize what I saw in building the worksheet:

  • If you’re on a shared plan with under 10GB of data, going contract will save you a bit of money over two years. You’ll give up flexibility over buying or Next, though.
  • If you’re on a 10GB or more shared data plan, then going Next or buying outright is definitely the way to go. More flexibility, and you save money—assuming you do not upgrade at 12 or 18 months under Next by just sending in the old phone!

Note: I do not vouch for the accuracy of this thing, beyond its role as a “what if” tool. I took the values from AT&T and Apple sites, but those figures could change. Feel free to modify as you wish; it’s a quick and dirty spreadsheet with minimal formatting.

It’s the iPhone 6 Plus for me…I think

After a few chats with AT&T and Apple online reps, some spreadsheet work to examine the costs, and much thinking, I’ve believe I’ve figured out how I’m going to order my iPhone 6 at 12:00am Pacific time tomorrow morning. Here’s what I’m going to do…

I’m going to order the “contract free” 64GB iPhone 6 Plus directly from Apple. The phone is listed as “T-Mobile,” but after chatting with Apple and AT&T reps, and hearing from people in the Twitterverse, it seems this will be usable on AT&T with a simple SIM card swap at the local AT&T store. And buying it off contract means I can keep my AT&T discount, as discussed in the above-linked article.


Update: Based on some comments on this article, I’ve changed my mind: I’m going to try AT&T Next 12. It can be paid off early without penalty, the total cost over two years is the same as buying up front, you still get the $25 monthly discount, and you save the up-front cost.


Why buy directly from Apple, and why choose the monstrous 6 Plus?

The Apple bit is simple: it’s due to their friendly 14 day return policy. (I’ve also confirmed they’ll take back an activated phone without any issues.) AT&T offers a return program, too, but there’s a potential restocking fee for opened devices.

Buying from Apple gives me the chance to test the monster phone in my hands for a week or so before deciding if it’s right for me. I’ve been “testing” this week with the cardboard-and-coin monstrosity seen at right. Somehow, it’s not quite the same—though I think the call quality is a touch better than on my real iPhone badda-bing. I really need to have the beast with me for a week to see how it goes.

Why did I choose to start with the monster phone? First, because I’m really interested in the optical image stabilization feature, and want to see how it works in real life. Second, because I tend to think the Plus might be the rarer of the two phones, therefore harder to get if I do decide to do an exchange in a couple weeks. Finally, it’s the most-different device from my current phone—if I’m going to make a change to something bigger, I might as well start with the really big one.

Of course, I may change my mind at 11:59pm tonight, and start with the smaller Six, with the option to return and replace for the Plus. I figure I’ve got about eight hours left with my two cardboard stand-ins (yes, I made one for the regular Six, too) before I have to make up my mind!

The AT&T Family Share Plan’s vanishing discount—don’t get burned

The popularity of this article led me to write two followups:

Please give these a read if you’d like to know even more about AT&T Next.

Tomorrow (starting at 12:01am Pacific time, apparently) you can order a new iPhone 6/6 Plus. But you probably already knew that. What you may not know is that if you’re on AT&T’s Family Share Plan, and you enrolled in that plan with phones on a two-year contract, you’ll see a large increase in your bill if you upgrade to a new on-contract iPhone 6—even if your current contract has expired and you’re now contract-free.

Why would your bill go up, simply moving from an older to a newer iPhone? That’s never happened in the past. But we’ve not had the Family Share Plan in the past. And when AT&T rolled out this plan, they gave folks an incentive to move to it: they offered a discount for on-contract phones, from a $40 per month per device cost to either $25 (for under 10GB of shared data) or $15 (10GB or more) per month per device. So if you look at your bill, you’ll see something like this:

That discount was applied to the under-contract (at the time) iPhone 5 I moved to the Family Share Plan; the other two lines we have in the plan show the same discount. But if I buy a new iPhone 6 under contract, the discount will go away. If we upgrade all three phones with contract iPhone 6’s, that’d be another $75 per month!

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Check the status of the online Apple Store

We’re only hours away from today’s Apple event. So millions of people are now preparing themselves, practicing their Command-R keystrokes, so they can reload the online Apple Store page as quickly as possible.

Me? I’m letting my computer do the work. I wrote a shell script (which uses the handy terminal-notifier Ruby gem) and cron to keep an eye on the store, and notify me when it’s back online.

Caution: I am not a programmer by trade. I know just enough about shell scripts to be dangerous. Typically this is only to myself, but as I’m publishing this one, it’s potentially dangerous (or at least inefficient) to others. Proceed at your own risk.

My script checks the store about every three seconds, and does absolutely nothing if the store is still down. If it’s up, it uses the aforementioned terminal-notifier app to send an OS X notification:


I click the notification, and bingo, I’m in the store.
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Ford delivers (via FedEx) excellent customer service

About a year ago, we were in the market for a new car. We wanted a roomy midsize car with good gas mileage, and lots of tech toys for me to play with. After much searching around, and too many test drives to count, we chose a new Ford Fusion Hybrid.

We don’t drive so much that a hybrid makes economic sense, but I so despise Oregon’s “can’t pump your own gas” law that we went for the Fusion Hybrid’s 47/47mpg rating (at the time we bought), and its expected 600ish mile range between fill-ups.

Our experience with the car has been nothing short of terrific—given I hadn’t bought an American car in over 30 years, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the car’s comfort, quietness, reliability and features. (More on our experiences with the car itself in a future post.)

Overall, our gas mileage has been great—we’re usually around 40mpg in the city, and often over 47mpg on the highway. Our experience versus the EPA sticker didn’t surprise us, as we’ve previously owned a hybrid (a Camry), and saw similar results. I also don’t think I’ve ever hit the EPA numbers for any of my prior vehicles, hybrid or not. So while we weren’t seeing 47/47, we weren’t far off, and were quite happy with our mileage.

Which made the FedEx we received yesterday all that more surprising…

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The (semi) hidden world of Dulles’ Z gates

I spent the last three-ish weeks on the east coast, visiting family along with various tourist sites. We flew in and out of Dulles International Airport, via a direct flight (oh wow, they still exist!) from/to Portland.

If you’ve never been through Dulles, it’s an interesting airport—though a bit less interesting now than in the past.

In the past, you entered the main terminal, cleared security, and then boarded a bus (a two-headed elevating bus, similar to what’s seen in the image at right, often with tails on top to help them be seen from the control tower) to one of the outlying buildings holding the actual gates.

Now most terminals are served by a train system, or via a walkway. But Concourse D is still accessed via the bus, and that’s where we were set to fly out. It was just me and my kids for the flight home; my wife had returned a week earlier. We arrived at the main terminal about 90 minutes before departure. After clearing security, we were headed for the bus to Concourse D when I happened to check a departure sign…and discovered that our flight was delayed for 50 minutes. Ugh.

The Concourse D building at Dulles isn’t one of the nicest places to wait, especially with kids (it can be noisy and hard to find space to relax). But I didn’t really want to head back through security either. Standing there near the entrance to the shuttle busses, I spotted a sign for “Z gates,” which I’d never heard of before. So we headed down that way, just to see if we could find somewhere quiet to pass the time before boarding the shuttle bus.

What we found was a wonderful, nearly deserted oasis of peace and quiet right in the heart of Dulles.

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