The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the OS X 10.11.6 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 10.11.6 as of July 18th, 2016. Note that this release marks the 96th 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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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Review: Canmore G-Porter GP-102+ data logger

I recently bought a new big-size camera, bucking the trend of simply using one’s iPhone for photographs. That’s not to say I don’t use my iPhone; it is my main picture taking device. But I wanted a camera that could capture native retina iMac images (at least 5120×2880), and the iPhone can’t do that.

After much looking and sweating over the costs, I chose a Nikon D5500, mainly because I already had a Nikon and didn’t really want to replace all my lenses. While this is an excellent camera, it was a bit of a budget compromise—it didn’t have all the features I really wanted. In particular, it lacks a built-in GPS to geocode all the pictures I take.

As a workaround, I decided to buy a GPS data logger, which is just a small GPS receiver that records GPS coordinates at some interval. Toss the logger in your pocket (make sure it’s on and receiving the GPS signals first!), then go take pictures as you normally do. When you return, you can use an app like HoudahGeo to sync the recorded GPS track with the timestamps on each photo. (I’ll have more to say about this whole sync process in a future post.) Presto, instant geocoded images!

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Semi-Review: Bruce Springsteen The River concert

First off, I’m calling this a semi-review, as I am not a big concertgoer, so I’m hardly qualified to be posting an actual concert review. This is especially true for big acts in larger venues, and even more so since the kids arrived (in 2003 and 2006).

In fact, before last night’s Portland stop on Bruce Springsteen’s The River tour, the last big show I saw was Bruce Springsteen on the E Street Band Reunion tour, back in the spring of 2000 (at this same venue, though in the Eucker seats). So yea, it’d been a while.

I am a long-time Springsteen fan, coming aboard with Born to Run, which was released when I was 11 years old (egads). While I own most of Springsteen’s albums, I’d only seen him perform live three times prior to last night. But it was the memory of those performances that had us forking out $339.50 (plus the hassle/cost of finding a sitter for the kids) for two reasonably-decent seats to The River tour stop in Portland.

My memories of his prior concerts are of an eminent performer, able to connect with the audience even in a massive 75,000 seat football stadium, with boundless energy and the ability to make songs he’d played thousands of times seem fresh and new.

However, with Bruce now 66 years old, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of last night—would it be the Bruce I remembered from years past, or would it be someone just trying to cash a paycheck by phoning it in?
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Tracking uncredited reuse of a popular tweet

The other day, I saw a funny tweet by @gsuberland, and it got me wondering if there were other such bad-tech soldering images out there.

So I went looking, found a few, and sent what I thought was a stupid-simple yet somewhat funny tweet: I stitched together three stock photos showing the actors holding the soldering irons in such a way that they’d be badly burned. I stuck a super quick caption on the image, and off it went:

If you click the image link, you’ll see the media has been removed—the copyright owner made a copyright claim. I could probably fight this on the grounds of fair use, education, or satire, but it’s not worth the effort, and not really what this post is about. (If you’re really curious, here are the three original images.)

The tweet, much to my surprise, took off like wildfire, eventually being liked and retweeted over 2,500 times each, and garnering 250,000+ impressions. I’ve never sent such a popular tweet. Today, when Twitter removed my composite image, I became curious as to whether it’d been cached anywhere (I didn’t save a copy when I made it). So I did a quick Google search on the phrase “all three were taken to the ER” from the original tweet. What I found surprised me, though I suppose it shouldn’t have: My tweet was reused dozens of times, and almost never with attribution:

A quick glance through the links finds that most are probably bot-driven sites reposting content from reddit or 9gag. Best as I can tell, the first uncredited reuse—taking my composite image and my text—was in this post to reddit’s /funny subreddit.

From there, it was picked up by tons of sites, always without credit or link back to the original source. In fact, of 30 sites I quickly scanned, only one included a linked version of the original tweet: Make wrote about one image in particular (which was the first one I actually saw on Twitter), and included my source link. So thanks, Make, for doing it right.

And to everyone else, glad you enjoyed the humor … maybe next time you could leave an attribution in place? Hell, who am I kidding, this is the internet.

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