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Give your iMac a lift

I have a 2019 27" iMac, which replaced a Late 2014 27" iMac. Both of these are/were placed directly on their stands on my desk. I've always felt that the screen was just a bit too low to be ideal, but I was too lazy to deal with solving it—especially as I knew it meant I'd also have to deal with the mess of cables on the desk behind the iMac.

Then last week, I saw MacRumor's review of the Twelve South Curve Riser iMac Stand, and thought it might solve my problem. But at over four inches (10cm) in height, I thought it would be too high for me—with the height of my desk and chair, I'd wind up looking up at the screen. And, at $80 for just a bent piece of metal, it seemed expensive for what it delivers.

However, MacRumors also linked to their review of the Satechi Type-C Stand for iMac (view on Amazon), which rises a more-reasonable 1.63" (4.1cm) from the desk. But what really intrigued me was that for $90—just $10 more than the Twelve South riser—the Type-C Stand includes two card reader ports (at up to 104MB/s), three USB-A ports (5GB/s), a USB-C port (5GB/s), and a headphone jack.

The ports on the front were the deal sealer for me: My Logitech keyboard and mouse both charge over USB-C, and I'd been using my MacBook Pro to do that as I only have a USB-C to USB-C cable. I also do a fair bit with memory cards—my drone uses microSD and my camera uses a regular SD card. I'd been using a regular card reader that requires the fiddly task of putting the microSD card into a SD-sized card holder; the Satechi stand has two separate slots, so that fiddly work is gone.

As for the brand, I have a Satechi Wireless Smart Keypad that's been working flawlessly for five years, so I felt pretty safe making the purchase decision. It arrived on Sunday, and after getting everything set up, I wish I would have done this years ago.

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Review: Logitech MX Keys for Mac

In April of 2019, I reviewed the Logitech MX master 2S mouse, which I really liked. Earlier this year, Logitech came out with the Logitech MX Keys for Mac keyboard, so I thought I'd give it a try. (I also upgraded to the MX Master 3 mouse at the same time.)

Executive summary: I love this keyboard. I was on a road trip recently, gone for 12 days straight with nothing but a MacBook Air (of the 'broken butterfly' generation). As soon as I got home and switched back to my iMac, I was reminded of just how much better this keyboard is than the one built into my Air…and the one that came with my iMac.

(Note: The "Mac" in the name simply means that you're getting a keyboard with Mac-specific symbols on the Command and Option keys; I'm pretty sure the Windows version would work just as well, but without the Mac-specific look.)

This review won't be quite as thorough as that of my mouse, mainly because there aren't as many nifty features—it is "just" a keyboard, after all.

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Two recommended apps for Tesla owners

If you're a Tesla owner, perhaps you'll find these apps as useful as I have…

The first is a macOS app called Tesla Tunes that overcomes some limitations of Tesla's USB music player: It automatically converts Apple Lossless (which the Tesla can't play) into FLAC, which the Tesla can play, and it offers some rudimentary support for playlists, which aren't supported at all in Tesla's player.

It's quite old, having been last updated two years ago, but it still works well—I prefer USB to streaming over Bluetooth from my phone, which is the other option.

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My iPad case of choice—twice over

When I bought my prior 9.7" iPad Pro back in 2018, I wanted to find a case that met my criteria:

  • Full coverage - front, back, and sides
  • Storage for Apple Pencil
  • Auto-sleep on cover open/close
  • Apple Keyboard support was not important to me
  • Relatively inexpensive

I wound up ordering a few from Amazon, tested each of them, kept one, and sent the others back. The one I kept back then is the same general model as the one I've put on my new iPad Air: The JUQITECH iPad Case with Pencil Holder:

This case cost all of $11, and for that, you get a full-coverage case with room not only for the pencil, but the small USB adapter the pencil uses to connect to regular Lightning cables. And when the charging cap is off, it fits in the small hole above the pencil.

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Taking it back to the matte

Many many years ago, Apple made glorious laptops with matte screens. Sadly (for me, at least), these gave way to brighter, shinier, and much more reflective glossy displays. These same glossy screens are found on iOS devices as well, including my new iPad Air.

But on iOS devices, glossy screens are even more annoying than they are on laptops, because of fingerprints. It sometimes seems I spend almost as much time cleaning my iPad as I do using my iPad. But what if there were a product that could solve both the glossy issue and the fingerprint issue?

A friend of mine clued me in to just such a thing…the Moshi iVisor iPad screen protector. (The full line, including iVisor for iPhones, is also available via Amazon.) While I don't have two iPads for comparison sake, here's how my iPad now looks against an uncovered iPad mini:

Obviously, there's a lot less glare on the covered iPad, which I love—it's still not ideal with bright overhead lights, but it's a whole lot more usable.

But what about installation, use with the pencil, fingerprints, and the brightness of the screen under the cover?

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An unfair fight? New iPad Air versus 2016 iPad Pro

At the end of March 2016, I purchased one of the newly-introduced 9.7" iPad Pros—a Gray 128GB Wi-Fi only version, to be exact. And until Friday, that was the last full-size iPad I bought for my personal use. (I did buy an iPad mini at the end of 2017, mainly as a test device for new iOS releases.)

However, early last week I decided it was time to upgrade, and after comparing a few models, I chose the iPad Air—Space Gray, 256GB, WiFi only for $649. I didn't really need 256GB of storage, but Apple, of course, only offers the Air in 64GB or 256GB capacities—and as I had about 110GB of stuff on my old iPad, I had to get the 256GB model.

Physically, they two iPads are nearly identical—despite the iPad Air's much larger display area, it's only 0.4" taller and 0.2" wider than the old Pro (they're both .24" thick), and it weighs but 0.6 ounces more.

As I had a Pro before, why didn't I buy a Pro this time, too?

I mainly use my iPad for games, watching movies or listening to music, using the internet, reading books, and sending the occasional email. As an iPad will never be my primary work machine, I didn't feel it necessary to pay the extra $2502An iPad Pro 11" with 256GB and WiFi is $899 for an iPad Pro. (And by choosing the Air, I still don't own an Apple device with Face ID.)

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When a light drone is the right drone

Many years ago, I had a big, spendy drone—the DJI Phantom 2 Vision +. This was a monster of a drone, measuring over a foot along the diagonal between the motors, and probably just under a foot in height—this image gives a good sense of the size of the thing:

It was also heavy, weighing in at 2.7 pounds (1.2 kilograms), and it used a 5200mAh battery to provide a claimed 20ish minutes of flight time, though 15 was more typically what I saw. The camera was mounted on a precision gimbal, providing incredibly smooth video—1080p at 30fps (stills were 14mp), which was very good for the time.

While I liked the big drone, for a part-time hobbyist drone user like me, it was also a pain: I needed a big case to transport the Phantom and its spare parts and batteries and charger, it took a while to set up (install propellers, configure controller, make wifi connections, etc.), and I never mastered flying it low-and-slow (perhaps due to the amount of wind its powerful rotors generated). It was also really loud.

Because of the hassle involved with using the drone, I didn't use it as often as I wanted to. So I eventually sold it, and left the world of drones behind for a few years. But lately, I'd been getting the itch again, and after doing some research, bought something much different…

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Fun family card games to help pass the time

As many of us are under stay at home orders, and schools are canceled (or on partial-day remote learning), it can be a challenge keeping the kids entertained without relying on electronic devices all the time. I thought I'd share three of our favorite card games, which are playable for anyone from kids of roughly middle school age up through adults.

Each can be played with as few as three people (the max varies by game), and all are relatively simple to learn but hard to master, and don't take a huge amount of time to play. The first two are packaged games (from the same company), while the third simply requires two decks of cards.

Five Crowns

Five Crowns is a rummy-style card game, where the objective is to score the fewest points possible. The first hand is three cards per player, with threes wild (plus jokers, which are always wild). Players need to build either straights or of-a-kind collections, consisting of at least three cards. Each turn, you can either draw one card from the discard pile, or from the top of the deck; at the end of you turn, you must discard (including when you go out). The objective is to go out by playing all the cards in your hand. So for the first hand, it's pretty simple.

Once one player goes out, the others put down what minimum three-card groupings they can, then have to add up the value of remaining cards, and that becomes their score for the round. The second round is four cards, and fours are wild; then five with fives wild, etc., all the way up to 13 cards with Kings being wild.

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Watch two of the Star Wars Trilogy movies in 4K

Hot on the heels of my weekend post about Harmy's Despecialized Editions of the original Star Wars Trilogy movies, Six Colors maven and all-around good guy (and my ex-boss) Jason Snell pointed me to something I'd previously only seen briefly referenced in a few spots: Project 4K77.

Project 4K77 is, as you might guess from the name, a 4K version of the 1977 Star Wars movie. The group has also completed Project 4K83 (Return of the Jedi), and is now working on Project 4K80 (The Empire Strikes Back).

What's really amazing about the 4K77 project is that it is not an upscale of lower-resolution footage. Instead, as explained on the 4K77 page…

…97% of project 4K77 is from a single, original 1977 35mm Technicolor release print, scanned at full 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at 4K.

Because this is a scan of the original film, it's grainier than the Harmy releases—and there may be some actual film effects like scratches visible at times (I haven't yet watched the full movie, so I'm not sure).

But it is a full 4K, and it's a very different experience than is Harmy's version. As an example, here's the same still as I used in my prior post, but this one was taken from 4K77 (again, click to see the larger version):

Without looking back at the other blog post, it may not be obvious just how different these two versions are…but this composite photo makes it obvious:

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Watch the Star Wars Trilogy movies in their original form

As a child of the 1970s, the original Star Wars trilogy1Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi was—and remains—one of my favorite movie series of all time.

Unfortunately, George Lucas has made it virtually impossible to watch the original unedited versions of the films.2Unedited versions exist on LaserDisc and DVD, but they are low quality transfers. From 1997 onwards, only modified versions have been available—with newly-added CGI effects, deleted scenes that add nothing to the story, changes to sound effects, and even replacement of characters, such as some of those in the cantina in the original Star Wars. He called these releases Special Editions…but to fans of the originals, they weren't so special.

Enter one Petr Harmy and an army of volunteers. Using multiple sources, Harmy and the others pieced together all three original films, doing away with the edits, correcting colors, upscaling imagery, and replacing sound effects. This 20-minute video explains the process, and contains a number of before-and-after comparison shots.

The end result is something called Harmy’s Star Wars Trilogy Despecialized3Because these versions remove the Special Editions' changes—get it? Editions: Amazingly high quality versions of the theatrical releases of all three original movies. As a very brief example, here's one still (click for a much larger version) from Star Wars:

The movies are not at Blu-Ray (1920x1080) resolution, but they're very well done 720p (1280x720) versions which look amazingly nice even when scaled to fill the screen of my 27" iMac. And most importantly, all the cruft added on through the years is gone. No bogus CGI. No replaced characters. No weird sound effects. Oh, and (spoiler alert!) Han shoots first.

So how can you get these Despecialized versions for yourself? That's a bit tricky…

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