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Cool Hardware

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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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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Our family’s robotic vacuum overlords are Deebots

If you're interested in technology (me!), and dislike cleaning (also me!), you've probably investigated robot vacuum cleaners. There are tons of models out there, covering a wide range of costs from under $100 to over $1,500. I'm not here to try to tell you which is the best, or even which particular one to buy, but to point out a time-limited sale on the one we chose to buy.

Back in May, we bought an Ecovacs Deebot N79S (Amazon)1This is a referral link; I make a modest commission if you use it. to clean our downstairs hardwood floors. I bought it mainly because it was on sale for a relatively inexpensive (for a robot vacuum) $150, and it received decent reviews on Amazon and on various review sites such as Wirecutter.

It's not the smartest robot—there's no ability to save a map or mark off "do not enter" areas. But I've found it cleans well, it's quiet, and the app does what it needs to do to make managing the vacuum about as easy as it can be. It's got a stated 110 minute battery life, and ours usually runs for at least 90 minutes, going over mainly hardwood with a couple of area rugs.

I noticed today that it's on sale again on Amazon for about $150—it shows as $170 in the store, but once in the cart, a $17 discount is applied, bringing it down to $153. We've been so happy with the first that I just ordered a second one to use upstairs (with two cats in the house, one cannot have enough vacuums).

I'm not sure how long this special price will last, nor if it's some sort of targeted thing where only certain shoppers get the deal, but if you're in the market for a decent yet not too costly robot vacuum, we've been very happy with ours.

De-distractionate the Touch Bar

Shocking even myself, I'm now the owner of a Touch Bar equipped MacBook Pro—I purchased the entry-level 16" model last weekend. Why? I'll save the detailed explanation for an upcoming look at the machine and its performance, but the main goal was to replace two laptops with one.

But just because I now have a Touch Bar-equipped Mac doesn't mean I suddenly like the Touch Bar. In fact, my feelings about it haven't changed since I wrote about it two years ago:

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum.

After some hours working with my new MBP, this is definitely a problem—and it's a problem even when I'm not using the Touch Bar, which is pretty much all the time: I've found that the changing images and colors on the Touch Bar grab my eye every time I switch apps…

The camera was focused on the Touch Bar, but when I'm looking at the screen, I see all that activity just below the screen, and it's really distracting. Thankfully, there's an easy fix, and one I'd not heard of prior to buying this machine…

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Add inelegance to remove heat

At home, our network routing and firewall is handled by an open-source software package called pfSense®; it has a ton of features, and is relatively easy to configure. I built a mini PC (a box roughly 9" per side) for pfSense, and it's been running smoothly for over five years1I'll be writing more about pfSense and my routing PCs in a future post..

While it's not the world's loveliest box…ok, so it may be the world's ugliest box…

…it's been rock solid since day one. However, it's aging and its CPU won't be supported in an upcoming pfSense release, so I decided to replace it. (That way, I'll have a spare if the new one breaks…at least until that unsupported version of pfSense is released.) Here's the new box…

That's a Protectli fanless Firewall Appliance with a quad-core Celeron J3160 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. And yes, it's just a bit smaller and more elegant than my old box—the entire thing is roughly the size of my old box's external cooling fan.

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2019 iMac vs Late 2014 iMac—Ripping addendum

In Part 1 of my 2014 vs 2019 iMac comparison articles, I provided an overview and a number of comparison benchmark results. In Part 2, I looked at changes in gaming performance between the two machines.

But there was one more thing I wanted to do: Compare Blu-ray ripping speeds. At the time, though, I didn't have any new movies to rip, and I really didn't want to spend the time re-ripping an existing movie. Now, though, I do have a few new movies to rip, as I'm trying to finish our collection of all the films in the first three phases (now called the Infinity Saga) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That meant buying the films I'd liked the least—The Incredible Hulk and the first two Thor movies. With that came the chance to compare the Blu-ray ripping speed of the two iMacs. I use the method described in my article Revisiting ripping Blu-ray discs, which is this:

  1. Use MakeMKV to create an MKV file on the hard drive that contains the video and audio tracks.
  2. Use Don Melton's Video Transcoding tools to create the final movie from the MKV file.

Using The Incredible Hulk, I timed how long it took to create the MKV file and how long it took to create the finished movie. Without further ado, the results (times are in hh:mm:ss format)…

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