The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the macOS 10.12.1 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 (now macOS) from the public beta through the latest public version, which is macOS 10.12.1, as of October 24th, 2016. Note that this release marks the 97th 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.


I have completed my first—and last—marathon

Last weekend, I ran (along with about 7,000 other entrants) the Portland Marathon. This was my first ever marathon, and also my last-ever marathon. I finished, in 4:12:53 (1,365th place, of 4,295 finishers), which is about how long I thought it’d take me. What follows is a brief look back at how I got to the point where I willingly chose to run 26.2 miles; you may find the information useful if you’re contemplating running a marathon yourself someday.

About the race

The Portland Marathon is a great race, now in its 45th year. It’s actually two races in one, as there’s a half-marathon with the same start and finish points. As seen on the course map (caution: 2.8MB PDF), the two races share the same course until the 11 mile mark. At that point, the half marathon returns downtown for the finish, while the marathon heads into Northwest Portland, then loops up and over the St. John’s Bridge, which would typically provide some amazing views. Of course, it was pouring rain and cloudy all day, so the views weren’t quite so good for us.

The course then follows along a bluff (again, typically scenic) overlooking Portland before descending down into the east side industrial area (running right along the rail yard), then returning to downtown (over the much less scenic Broadway Bridge) and on to the finish.

Why did I decide to run a marathon?

When this year started, I had no thought of running a marathon. I have thought about it in years past, when I was running regularly—and my dad had run them when I was younger, so they intrigued me. (My dad was quite fast; his best was a 2:40, which is an insane 6:08 a mile for 26.2 miles!) But as of the start of the year, it’d been roughly four years since I was running on a regular basis, so running even one mile seemed ludicrous.

To force myself to get in shape this year, I set a pretty ridiculous goal: I decided I’d walk or run 2,016 miles in 2016. This meant averaging 5.5 miles a day, every day, for the entire year. From someone who had probably ran a total of five miles in 2015. Yea, it’s a pretty insane goal.


The iPhone 7 and third-party battery pack cases

One aspect of Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7/7 Plus that I haven’t seen discussed anywhere is the impact it will have on third-party battery pack case makers. Traditionally, third-party battery pack cases plug into the Lightning port, and typically provide a micro USB connector in its place. They also then usually have a headphone passthrough, either via a port extender or a special headphone cable extender, to allow you to plug in headphones without removing the battery pack.

I was curious how the case makers were going to address this for the iPhone 7, because blocking the Lightning port means that users will have to use wireless headphones when using a battery pack. I searched Amazon for iPhone 7 battery case, to see what might be in store. However, the results were disappointing—basically, every single product uses micro USB for charge and sync. I could go on, but you get the idea: None of the manufacturers seem to be worried about blocking the Lightning port with their battery cases.

The only exception I found was the SOLEMEMO Ultra Slim Charging Case, which isn’t actually designed for the iPhone 7. But as designed for the iPhone 6, this case uses an ultra-slim bottom with a tiny Lightning pass-through, as seen in the photo below (borrowed from one of the reviews on Amazon).

This style of connector would allow you to connect wired headphones (either Apple’s Lightning pods, or standard headphones via Apple’s Lightning to 3.5mm adapater cable). I don’t know if this company will be making an iPhone 7 version or not; the iPhone 6 case should fit the iPhone 7, but the camera opening won’t line up with the camera’s new position on the iPhone 7.

(I checked Mophie, too, but they’re early on in their iPhone 7 case building process; their iPhone 7 link takes you to their Explore our Process page, which describes the method and timeline they follow in making products for new devices.)

So if you’re buying an iPhone 7, and you want a battery case right now, and you want to use wired headphones with that case, as of today I see three solutions:

  1. Buy the SOLEMEMO Ultra Slim Charging Case for $35, knowing you won’t be able to take pictures. Note that this is a 2400mAh battery pack, so it’s not as large as some of the others (but it is very slim).
  2. Buy Apple’s $99 iPhone Battery Case. This is an 2365mAh battery pack (up from 1877mAh for the iPhone 6s), and it nicely integrates—at the iOS level—with your iPhone. But it’s pricey, underpowered, and has The Hump. For the cost of the Apple pack, you could get two SOLEMEMO packs and have $30 left over!
  3. Buy any of the forthcoming iPhone 7 battery cases and use wireless headphones. OK, so that totally skips the ‘use wired headphones’ requirement, but it’s really the only other option at this time.

I’m hoping we’ll see someone come out with something truly innovative here, such as Lex Friedman’s suggestion on Twitter:

Adding an actual headphone jack would probably be a home run product; I have no idea if it’s technically possible to split the Lightning port’s signals in that way (I would bet it’s not). Even lacking that, though, it’d be nice to see more third-party cases that pass through the Lightning connector, so that wired headphones could still be used.

Plex and I do not get along

After hearing my The Committed podcast cohosts rave about Plex (a free media server), I thought I’d give it another shot: I’d tried a few months back, but because of the way I store my personal videos (using our own Usher app), it was going to be a big migration project, and I just never got into it. So today, I resolved to try again.

And today, I’m giving up again. I’ve spent the last few hours fighting Plex, and despite the awesomeness of the streaming (it *is* awesome), it’s just not worth the aggravation in configuration and setup—to me, of course. Plenty of others find it works just fine.

But for me, it doesn’t work at all, basically. Here’s a short list of some of the things that bother me about Plex…


Do-it-yourself RAV4 cargo area covers

Note: This post will only (possibly) be of interest to buyers of the 2016 RAV4; if you’re not one of what I assume is a handful of people (at most), move along—there’s really nothing to see here! Posting mainly so I remember what I did.

We recently bought a 2016 RAV4, and (so far) love it. However, there’s one thing that bothered us: the front of the rear cargo area is visible to anyone who glances in. Toyota sells a cover for the cargo area, but unlike those for past RAV4s, it doesn’t attach to the rear setbacks, leaving the front area uncovered. This means that a good sized chunk of the cargo area is still visible, even with the cargo cover in place.

I didn’t want to wait for Toyota to release something, so I set out to MacGyver a solution. I had a few requirements for my homemade fix:

  • Absolutely no added rattles/noise
  • Very light
  • Very cheap
  • No bright reflections in back window
  • Move when the seats’ recline angle changes
  • Easily installed/removed

I had a lot of different thoughts, but wound up using foam core covered by felt, attached with some flat black nylon string. Note: These covers require the cargo cover, as they use its crossbar for support.

They may not be the loveliest things in the world, but they work perfectly and meet every one of my original objectives.

If you’d like to create your own covers, here’s how I made ours…


The (lack of) economics in most hybrid SUVs

Recently, we were in the market for a new car, well, not car but SUV. My wife really likes small to mid-size all wheel drive SUVs, so we started looking for one to replace the car she’s been driving.

But she also prefers hybrids, both for the environmental and economic benefits (using less gas, spending less money) and for the “not having to wait in Oregon’s ever-present gas lines” (because we’re too stupid to pump our own gas) benefit. Having now done lots of research, I have to say that looking for a SUV that’s also a hybrid greatly reduces the choices available.

The environmental question This analysis completely ignores the environmental side of hybrids: Using less gas means emitting less pollutants, which is good for the environment. However, producing batteries can be a dirty business, and batteries consume rare metals. So are they an environmental net loss or gain?

On the question of plug-in hybrids, which recharge from the power grid, it gets even messier: How is the electricity used to recharge created? In the northwest, much of the power comes from hydro and wind, which are cleaner than the coal used in other areas of the country.

In short, I’ve completely ignored the environmental issue here because it’s very complicated. If someone’s aware of a good “green impact” metric that works across hybrids, please let me know.

After doing a lot of reading and searching, and not really worrying about budget just yet, we only found a handful of options (excluding some super-high-end vehicles):

There’s also the BMW X5 xDrive40e, but (a) it’s not out yet, (b) it’s a plug-in hybrid not a straight hybrid, and (c) it’s going to be really wacko expensive when it comes out. So I’m ignoring that one, too.

What I found as I started to analyze the various hybrid SUVs is that—with one amazing exception—they don’t make any economic sense even for the most long-distance of drivers.


Why I still use the admittedly-awful Messages

A while back, David Chartier tweeted this:

David really doesn’t like Messages (for many valid reasons), and has often tweeted and written about other, better messaging platforms, including his current best-of-breed example, Facebook’s Messenger.

And you know what? In general, I agree with David: Messages sucks. It’s got latency issues, messages sometimes vanish, shared URLs are ugly, search is troublesome, it lacks many features found in other apps, etc. Yet still, it’s my messaging app of choice, and will remain my messaging app of choice, probably forever. Why?

First of all, it’s bundled with every Mac and iOS device sold, which means that most of the people in my social group already have it and use it. I don’t have to send a link to someone and explain how to install the app, set up an account, find my name/phone number, add me to their group of friends, and initiate a conversation.

Does that make Messages good? No, just because an app is bundled doesn’t mean it’s excellent. (See previous generations of Internet Explorer on Windows, for instance.) But it does make it pervasive, and in a messaging app, that’s what I want.

But even beyond that—even if Messages were so abysmal it lost 50% of the messages I sent and often force rebooted my devices and remotely spilled my milk—I would probably continue to use it. Why? Because Apple isn’t in the business of making money off of who I talk to, what I talk to them about, or what devices I use to do that talking. Apple wants to sell devices, not data about how people are using Apple’s devices.


When good eyeballs go bad

This week I learned yet another one of those things they don’t tell you when you’re younger. In this case, it’s that your eyeballs may spontaneously decide to stop working one day, without any prior warning or causation on your part. So if you’re still young, remember this, so you’re not overly startled if it happens!

Executive summary version

A new “floater” in my right eye on Monday morning turned into near blindness in that eye by Monday evening. A night in the ER and a diagnosis by an ophthalmologist indicated I’d had a hemorrhage and partial ripping of my retina.

But that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was that this isn’t rare or unusual, and is part of the aging process. It can happen to anyone, at any time. To make a long story short, my eye should eventually be fine (though it’ll take it 30 to 90 days to get back to normal).

Ah, the joys of aging…read on if you’d like the (really) long version.


Images replace content in USA Today’s iOS app

Yesterday, I noticed that USA Today had a new iPad app out—they released it as a separate app, so it didn’t replace the old version. After trying the new app, I’m incredibly glad they chose to release the new version as a new app, because it sucks. Absolutely, positively, sucks.

Like the recent CNN redesign, USA Today has chosen to focus on pretty pictures instead of information. In other words, it’s become another news app that has decided not to show any news.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old (left) and new (right) apps:

As you can see, the new app is dominated by one massive image, and very little of anything else. Here’s a quick comparison of just how bad things are in the new app:

Data points… Old App New App
Stories visible 6 3
Words shown 148 43
Weather visible Yes No
Navigation visible Yes No
Ads visible 0 1
Largest image on page 386×220 1024×475
% of page covered by image 10.70% 61.80%

If you’re scoring at home, which I am, the new app has a 50% reduction in the number of visible stories, and a 71% reduction in the number of words. And that insanely-huge ‘hero image’ covers nearly 62% of the page!

In addition, there’s no visible weather, and navigation between sections is now hiding in a hamburger menu. Overall, the usability of the app has gone from very good to basically worthless.

This is progress? I don’t think so. I’m staying with the old app, and giving the new one a one-star review on the App Store. Bad move, USA Today!

The odd story of the single-country multi-country airport

I have traveled through a fair number of airports in my lifetime, but the EuroAirport is the strangest one I’ve ever been in. (I was there because it’s the closest major airport to Freiburg, Germany, where I was working with Peter, my Many Tricks business partner).

The EuroAirport isn’t strange due to layout or location or weird weather or anything. It’s strange because the airport itself is split between two countries, even though it doesn’t straddle a country border—it’s 100% within the territory of France, but a portion of the airport “lies in” Switzerland.

This oddness is a result of the airport’s development history: Basel, Switzerland wanted an airport, but lacked the space. France had the space near the town of Mulhouse, but lacked the money.

The two countries agreed to a joint development effort, starting just after World War II. The end result is an airport in France, paid for by Switzerland, and with portions of the airport physically being in Switzerland, despite the airport’s location completely within France.

You can actually see this in Apple Maps, as seen in the above-right screenshot. Search on EuroAirport and you can see there’s a set of country borders drawn on the airport itself; the outlined region belongs to Switzerland, even though the entirety of the airport lies in France. (Not shown is that the road leading from the airport to Basel is also Swiss property.)


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