Tech

Streamlining - Twelve South Backpack and Seagate Hard Drives by Erin Wade

At this point, probably everyone who has used a computer over the past 20 years knows about the importance of backups. Backing up a computer or mobile device on a regular basis is an insurance policy against losing all of one’s information.

This has become easier over the past few years, particularly with mobile devices which do their own periodic backups (for example, via iCloud). But for those of us that continue to press older devices into service, a structured backup system still needs to be a part of the system.

For years I’ve relied, in part, on back-up drives from Other World Computing collecting their backup information through SuperDuper!. This has worked well, and saved my bacon on more than one occasion. The OWC drives are sturdy and I’ve found them to be very long-lived. All hard drives fail eventually, of course, but I cannot recall a time when an OWC drive has left me stranded. The downside to them is that they are big and bulky. Each drive has its own power cord and brick, and this leaves them better suited for the rack system in a dedicated technology closet than it does for a home office setup. Location has long been a challenge for me with these:

Should these be on the floor?

Surviving placement on the floor is a credit to their durability, to be sure. But it’s also unsightly, and takes away from the minimalist look to which I like to think I aspire (though, honestly, minimalism often seems like a lot more work than it should be...).

I’ve had the current drives for several years, and I had ordered and installed a solid state hard drive in my 2011 iMac with a larger capacity than the backup drives would manage, so this year seemed a good time to make a change. I broke with tradition this time around, and ordered up two Seagate Backup Plus 2TB External Hard Drives, and I also ponied up for Twelve South’s BackPack - a little shelf that sits on the iMac’s stand, behind the machine and out of sight.

The Seagate drives were on sale through Amazon over the holiday season, and have the benefit of both smaller size (I don’t think I would have been able to fit two of the OWC drives on the Backpack), and of taking power through USB. This means there is only one cable to run for each drive, and no power brick to locate.

The whole kit took only a short while to put together. Probably the most challenging part was getting things cleaned up ahead of time behind the iMac and below the desk to get the old cords and cables out of the way and allow the iMac to be pulled forward from the wall.

iMac Prepared

The Backpack comes with a few different fittings (for different sizes and ages of iMac or Thunderbolt Display), and it does take a few moments with the directions to get started, but there’s not a lot to it once you get going. The Backpack can be mounted as a simple flat shelf, or you can add pegs to it to secure items to it.

All the Stuff in the Backpack

I went with the pegs to keep the hard drives in place. One there, though, they sit securely and hide away behind the display.

FullSizeRender.jpg

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With this change I’ve securely fit the hard drives behind the iMac, elevated and away from my feet and any dust and debris on the floor. In addition, I was able to free up two additional outlets, and further clean up the appearance of my work area (now if I could just find a way to keep it clean...).

Streamlining the Presentation Kit - Amaz-Play Mobile Projector and Wapow Lightening to HDMI Cable by Erin Wade

As a part of my work I give talks and do training many times a year. One of the things I learned long ago was that you cannot rely on the training venue to have all of the equipment you need to do your presentation. This is true in general - you can bank on the fact that they will fail to have a proper cable or connector or to offer an outlet for your device. The worst example of this was the "conference center" where I asked whether they had a projector I could rent, and they took me to a very dusty closet and said "you mean one of these?"

They were pointing at an overhead projector - the kind that people of a certain age will remember their teachers putting transparencies on to throw them up on a screen. This would almost be forgivable, except it was earlier this year - 2017.

Although it is getting better, historically things became even more complicated if you were bringing along your own equipment to hook up. Many places would happily direct you to the Windows laptop they have hooked up, and ask for your flash drive. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen the smile first freeze, and then fade from their faces when I’ve pulled out my MacBook or, more recently, iPad, and indicated that I’d be plugging that in instead.

For those reasons I have, for a very long time, maintained my own presentation kit. The composition of this has varied a bit over the years, but the mainstays of it have been:

  • An Apple TV (third generation) and its remote control
  • A power strip with a 10’ cord
  • A projector - specifically a ViewSonic PJD5133
  • HDMI Cable
  • VGA Cable
  • Power cords for the ATV and the projector
  • An Anker 5-port USB charger

(The iPad and iPhone are a part of the mix, but they are always with me instead of being part of the kit).

By far the biggest item in this kit is the projector. It has served me well over the past five years, but it is nearly a foot wide, three inches thick, and weighs more than five and a half pounds. The combination of the projector and the power strip have functionally necessitated that I maintain my presentation kit in a separate bag (in my case, an old Trager Backpack). This means that, whenever I go somewhere to do training, I’m hauling in at least two backpacks. It’s a first world problem, to be sure, but a problem nonetheless.

Given that the projector is the largest part of the problem (no pun intended), that seemed a reasonable place to start. Pica projectors have been around for a while, but they typically have very low light outputs (making them hard to see in anything but a very dark room), and they had historically been expensive. However, it had been several years since I’d looked at them, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I landed on the Amaz-Play Mobile Pico Projector.

Amaz-Play Mobile Pico Projector

This device had a few key benefits for what I was looking for:

  • It’s small - it will fit in your hand
  • It comes with its own tripod and it will mount to a standard camera tripod
  • It’s powered thru a micro-usb cable. This last part means that I can plug it in to the Anker USB charger rather than needing a slot in the power strip (I otherwise only use two slots - one for iPad and one for iPhone)

And while I was searching for the projector, I also came across this Wapow cable that sends from lightening to HDMI and also plugs in to power.

WAPOW lightening to HDMI Cable

What the cable offered was the potential ability to plug my iOS device - iPhone or iPad - directly into the projector. This meant that I could also pull the Apple TV from the kit and that everything I was using was powered thru USB, so I could also pull the power strip out and just go with the Anker charger. Even with everything plugged in I would still have two ports to spare. The direct HDMI connector also means that it will work in those cases where I’m plugging into a television rather than a projector.

By way of comparison, these are the bare essentials of the old and new projector setups side by side:

One of these things is not like the other.jpg

I’ve had the kit out a couple of times since putting it together, and so far it is working well. The Amaz-Play projector is not as bright as the ViewSonic (of course), but it does seem to be bright enough. Because I tend to be cautious with such things - don’t want a presentation to fail for lack of equipment - I’ve brought the old kit along in its backpack for each of the trainings so far. However, I haven’t needed anything out of it, so it’s looking like that will be able to be left back in the office going forward.

There is a fan in the projector, and it does make some noise, but not anything significant. It does have a speaker, but it’s small, as one might expect. If your presentation includes audio, you may want to plug in a separate speaker (and it does have an output for that). It apparently offers wireless connectivity using WiFi, and there is purportedly an app for that, but I have not used it. The reviews on Amazon mentioning that feature are not kind, and it wasn’t something I planned on using. I typically plug in one iOS device and use the other as the remote over Keynote.

The WAPOW connector does get warm around the HDMI connector but so far that does not seem to be an issue. It does bear mentioning that the connector works for screen mirroring and playing slide decks (Keynote or PowerPoint), but it won’t play protected video content. This means that you can show video thru the YouTube app, but attempts to play Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, or anything from iTunes is going to fail. This didn’t matter to me, but it might be a limitation for others.

HonShoop Bluetooth Earpiece by Erin Wade

A while back I bemoaned the lack of high-end bluetooth earpieces. I came to the conclusion at that time that my Jumbl receiver with cheap earbuds might just be good enough, and that was where my search ended. At the time, anyway.

Unfortunately, my Jumbl stopped charging a few weeks ago. At first I'd hoped that it was just that the charging indication light wasn't working but, alas, this was not the case. Now, to be clear, this was not the first generation device I wrote about back in 2015, but a more recent version I'd purchased since. As I noted in that original article, the first version had a proprietary charger - it looked like something you would use to charge an old Nokia flip phone. The newer ones use micro-usb to charge, which is far more convenient. I'd since placed the newer one into regular service, and kept the older one at my desk for calls at home (where I would be much less likely to lose the charger).

I've been happy with the Jumbl (although some users writing reviews on Amazon do appear to have had similar problems with devices simply stopping charging), so I popped open the Amazon app to order another. And I did, but while I was there I also perused Amazon's other options and suggestions, and came across this HonShoop earpiece:

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I'd never actually heard of HonShoop, but aside from my brief flirtation with Jawbone, I'm by no means a Bluetooth earpiece aficionado. It had good reviews, had noise cancelling features, and an on-device mute button, all for about $30. Seemed a good shot. And, thus far it is working well: sound quality is good, even in a noisy car, battery lasts about a week under my normal use, it's got multiple earpiece adapters to fit even my tiny, deformed ears... etc.

And I absolutely loved the fact that it had its own mute button. Turning on mute on the phone - a definite must-do thing when on a conference call in a car - seems considerably more challenging than simply tapping a button on your ear. And this works well, with the only downside being that the device wants to remind you that it is on mute every minute or so, and that audible notification - "mute on" - can block out portions of the conversation.

All of this is why I sat down this morning to write a review on the device - a couple of weeks in I'm pretty happy with it. Seemed reasonable enough, right? However, it appears the device is no longer available on Amazon. Based upon reviews, I'm not the only person to have ordered it within the last few months, so it's not as if there was an indication that it was a product at the end of its life, but there you have it. Perhaps I should have done more homework, but a google search after the fact finds that HonShoop appears not to have its own web presence. The devices are available from a couple of other outlets in addition to Amazon, but not directly from the manufacturer.

There are other (newer) versions of the headset, slightly different in apperance, available from the same company, and one or two others that appear physically identical to those with other company names attached to them (this seems not that unusual for such products on Amazon). The best I can say now is that if they are of the same design and build quality, and if they operate similar software, and if they have similar battery life, etc, the HonShoop earpieces are worth looking into.

What Happened to Bluetooth Earpieces? by Erin Wade

As a general rule, I fall into the "if it can be texted instead, it should be texted" school of thought. Despite this, I end up talking on the phone a fair amount, particularly for work.

If I must talk on the phone, I do not want to be stuck actually holding the device up to my ear like an animal. For years my go-to device for solving this particular first-world problem has been a Jawbone Era. However, time appears to be taking its toll on the device - it no longer activates voice control as it is supposed to, and when the little British voice promises "four hours of talk time remaining" she proves herself a liar a short time later, announcing I have only fifteen minutes left (I have blown right past the fifteen minute mark with no problems multiple times, so perhaps it's due to onset of earpiece dementia rather than deceit). More importantly, either the sound quality, or my ear quality, has declined to the point that it's often hard to hear conversations at full volume.

I've gotten a good five years out of the device, and it's endured some harsh treatment, spending time in my pocket with keys, for example, and at least once being dropped out of my ear while at downhill biking speeds, so I can't complain about the use I've gotten from it, but it is clearly time to look for something new. My first stop on this journey, given those five years of good service, would normally have been to look a the new offerings from Jawbone.

There aren't any. Though the website blog denies it, Jawbone appears to be going through hard times. Once a seller of high-end earpieces and Bluetooth speakers they shifted their focus to fitness trackers a few years ago. The earpieces are almost impossible to find on their website, and are marked "sold out" when you do find them; and, as for the fitness trackers... well... how often do you see someone wearing a Jawbone Up?

So, with a heavy heart I went looking elsewhere.

What I am finding is that the market for these types of devices appears to have changed. Because the time that I spend talking on the phone is virtually always for work, my priorities are on audio clarity in both directions. For that reason, I tend to look towards the higher end devices for features like noise reduction and with the expectation of good call quality. What I'm finding is that there doesn't appear to be much of a high end market any longer (which might explain a thing or two about Jawbone's change in focus). There are a few - The Wirecutter recommends the Plantronics Voyager Edge, with a couple of runners-up to consider, including the Plantronics Explorer 500, which they prefer for noisy environments like the car (The Wirecutter does a pretty good review). Given my use, the Explorer looked like the device for me.

Unfortunately, you apparently cannot get it with free shipping through Amazon, and multiple attempts to purchase through Plantronics website resulted, each time, in this:

Session Timeout

Very frustrating and rendered in Times New Roman, which makes it inexcusable.

This leaves me, today, somewhat in Limbo. And it makes me think: I have been using my Jumbl receiver with cheapie earbuds in the interim because I can hear the calls much better through them than with my Jawbone, and I'm not getting complaints from the folks on the other end of the call. The Jumbl costs $19.99 on Amazon...

...And maybe this is the sort of thing that has happened to the Bluetooth earpiece market...

Time to Re-Tire by Erin Wade

Last December I noted that I was running a bit behind on my tire-changing schedule, getting my snow tires onto my car later than I intended. This spring is no different.

We've had unusual weather here in Northern Illinois - our spring has seen multiple snowfalls late into the season, with the most recent just a few weeks ago, well into April. So - in this case, my delay is only partially due to procrastination. It seemed wise to wait a bit, to avoid having to contend with the white stuff in my all-weather tires.

As the weather gets warmer, though, one can start to see how the traits that make the tires so effective in the cold are a limitation during the rest of the year. As I understand it, the rubber in these tires is explicitly designed to stay softer in the cold than do other types of tires. This means that they become softer still when the temperature rises. Takin an off-ramp at speed becomes an interesting experience of feeling your car seem to roll to the side of its tires, bouncing and bobbling in a fashion that is, shall we say, not comforting.

And so, dear friends if you, like me, have been waiting for just the right time to get to this task, I say today is the day. For, although it's clear that this evening it will seem once again that winter is coming, it's actually done with us in the Midwest. For now.

Apple's New Notes by Erin Wade

With iOS 9 Apple has given some serious love to its Notes app, including many features that you often have to purchase an app to get - drawing, some rich text editing features like bold, italics, etc, and capabilities like making different types of lists (in particular I like the checklist option - great for making shopping lists).

With iOS 9.3 they have added the capability to lock individual notes so the content is kept from prying eyes.

Under lock and thumb

This is great. Because Notes is a system app, it's likely to fall to hand for marking down all sorts of information on the phone, some of which the owner might not want others to see. But its implementation of this feature is, well, a bit odd and clunky.

First, the feature has to be turned on in settings, and then an individual note has to have the locking feature enabled by tapping the share sheet. To finalize enabling it, the user has to either enter the password or use Touch ID. All of this is fine, I suppose, though a bit obscure, particularly with the enabling feature in the share sheet menu (which otherwise mostly houses ways to, you know, share things).

How to Lock a Note

What's odd here is that this process enables the lock, but doesn't lock the document. You have to then tap the little lock symbol in the upper right hand corner to formally lock the document. What's more, you also have to do that every time you exit the document in the future.

Make sure you tap the lock!

And now we're secure

What I mean is this: Say you go through the process of locking a document, and then go back to read it again, edit it, etc. When you get done with that, and navigate out of the document, it remains unlocked unless you manually choose to lock it. What's more, unlocking that note to edit it also unlocks every other locked note you have in Notes.

To their credit, there is a "lock now" button at the bottom of the document menu screen which, when tapped, locks all open notes. And when I manually lock the note I was working on, it also locks all of the other notes that I inadvertently opened as well. But why this manual process to lock? If I really am protecting sensitive information in a note, wouldn't it be better for it to lock automatically when I exit, always requiring a password or Touch ID to open it again? Then I would know it, and all of my locked notes, are always locked - there would be no need to, say, check to see if my notes were locked before I handed my phone to someone else to look at.

One suspects that this is an attempt to compromise. Other notetaking and writing apps can have a password applied, but this is typically to access the the entire app. Here you can access the Notes application itself without entering a password, but your notes themselves can be protected. One can see the value in that - I can show another person what's on a note without giving them free access to everything I've written. The same cannot be said for an app like Day One, an otherwise excellent journaling program. There, when you enter your password or Touch ID and hand your device to another person you have just granted them free access to anything you've ever written in that app. The Notes solution is better, I suppose, if you want to be able to show others selective information on your device. But honestly, those notes I want secured should automatically secure themselves when I exit them - period.

Time Change... by Erin Wade

Today is, of course, the start of Daylight Savings Time here in the United States - a day that presents distaste and a bit of dread for many. It steals an hour from us each year simply to make it lighter later in the day, a phenomenon that, with the nature of the seasons, was already well on its way toward taking care of itself without our crazy clock dance.

This also leaves me with the weighty responsibility of moving about the house and adjusting the time on the analog clocks that we have scattered around the home. It occurs to me that this latter activity is one that, like so many others, is likely on its way out due to the changing nature of technology. For many of us, the clock dance is taken care of automatically, as our cell phones are also our primary timepieces, and they update religiously based upon location and event. In addition to updating for DST, anyone who has traveled across the country with their phones in recent years is also familiar with the fact that they update to the local time zone when you pass across those borders.

It's certainly a convenience, even in my household, as I no longer need to calculate whether I'm advancing forward or taking back - I just look at my iPhone and make the clock on the wall match it. And as I do this I find myself considering the relative value of those clocks at all.

I enjoy an analog clock. I find, with a lifetime of practice, that I can quickly determine the approximate time by glancing at the positions of the hands on a clock face. But my daughter would not say the same. We will routinely be standing in the kitchen, which has two wall clocks opposite one another, and she will say to me "what time is it?" For my own personal entertainment I will point at the larger of the two clocks, as if perhaps she is unaware of its presence. This is then followed by her departure as she moves about the house to find her phone in order to read the time on its digital display.

Like handwriting or paper books, it's unlikely that analog clocks will disappear in their entirety but, as time goes on, it seems likely that they will fade back to become luxury and/or fetish items. And, upon reflection, it isn't all that surprising that this is occurring. Analog clocks are significantly harder to read than a simple digital display of the time.

The thing is, they don't actually need to be. The other day I came across something - or more accurately, I realized something about a thing that I've been looking at, off and on, for a few years now. I have, on my iPad, an app called Emerald Observatory.

Alt text

This lovely looking app has a number of features that are tied to the movement of the planets, including a display of the relative daylight across the map, and so on. It also includes both a standard analog clock with two hands, and a single-hand 24-hour clock. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I don't believe I realized, until now, that this was part of what I've been looking at over the couple of years that I've had this app.

And it turns out that single-hand clock faces are a thing.

Setting aside one's own lifetime of experience reading traditional analog clocks, how much simpler would it be for a new learner to pick up reading the time on one of these? Rather than sorting out what to do with the minute hand, and remembering that the hour hand isn't going to point directly at the current hour unless it's the exact top of that hour, and so on, one only needs to look at the relative position of the hand between the hours. If it's quarter past, the hand will have moved a quarter way past the hour. Half past? Halfway. Quarter till?... You get the idea.

Our history is replete with examples of society adopting and keeping less than ideal versions of things due to primacy, or political or business strategizing - highways instead of railways, the failure of the U.S. to adopt the metric system, the proliferation of Microsoft Windows, etc. This, combined with the fact that digital clocks are both ubiquitous and easier still to read, makes this an idea who's time has past or, more honestly, essentially never came. Still, an intriguing idea in the abstract.

iPad Pro Keyboard by Erin Wade

 iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

I have had an iPad Pro now for a couple of weeks. I have had some difficulty incorporating it into my workflow. I knew that having it was going to be useful, and I have some ideas about how, but it will take some time to fully integrate it.

One of the more frustrating things is how long it is taking some of the app developers to update their apps for the device. In particular this means apps don’t take full advantage of the features of the device, and I am particularly struggling with the failure to integrate the iPad Pro’s new virtual keyboard (which is, in and of itself, pretty awesome - it’s essentially a full keyboard).

In part, this presents an issue because it will take me a bit of time to learn the new keyboard. After five years of typing on glass with the 9.7“ iPad I have a lot of habits based upon that device’s keyboard. For example, I use a lot of dashes in my writing, and I have a habit of hitting the little ”.?123“ button in the lower left-hand corner in order to access that item. But two things are different on the new keyboard. First, there is now a dash on the main keyboard, right where you would expect it on a typical physical keyboard. Second, the Pro reverses the location of the ”.?123“ button and the emoticon button; this means that I keep accidentally accessing the emoticon keyboard when I intend to access the ”.?123" keyboard.

One of non-updated apps in question is Day One, the journaling app I use to do the overwhelming majority of my writing. This means that, when I set the app up in landscape format, I get a comically-large version of the keyboard from the 9.7" iPad, which is spaced all wrong, making typing a challenge.

To better incorporate the new iPad Pro I considered actually pairing it with a Bluetooth keyboard, something I haven’t actually done since the first-generation iPad[1]. And then I remembered something: the size of the iPad Pro is frequently described in articles as being, in landscape, about the size of two 9.7“ iPad screens side by side. This also would mean, that in portrait the iPad Pro is about as wide as a 9.7” iPad in landscape.

Which means that the portrait version of the old keyboard on the iPad Pro is almost exactly the same size as the landscape version on the iPad Air. So I turned Day One to portrait orientation and started typing. This entire entry has been typed on the iPad Pro in portrait orientation. It’s worked quite nicely.

This won’t last, of course. Eventually Day One and the other apps I use will update to put the new keyboard in, and I will be writing on them in Landscape, and learning the new keyboard. But it’s nice to have found a work-around in the meantime.


  1. When the iPad first came out this was exactly how I pictured using it - with a keyboard paired, writing in that format all over the place. But, as often happens when a new system presents itself - in this case, the virtual keyboard - I became curious about using the new thing instead. It turns out that it’s quite possible to type very quickly and effectively on a virtual keyboard.  ↩

Old Soldiers by Erin Wade

image.jpg

For the past decade we have been an Apple household. Among the reasons for this - and one that continues to surprise me - is the longevity of these machines. I may have mentioned before that my first Mac, a 2005 Power PC Mac Mini, continues to soldier on as our media server, a decade after I bought it and several years after it reached the end of its service as a work machine.

The Mini was replaced by a late 2006 iMac, which served for several years before being placed into retirement as a machine for my daughter to use for school. Still, longevity and all aside, it appeared over the past year that the iMac had finally reached the end of its useful life. It was having trouble running for any significant period of time without locking up, and varying white lines across the display suggested to me that the graphics card was on its way out. It was set off to the side, and replaced with a lightly used and well-cared for 2012 MacBook Air that I purchased from Dan Benjamin at the 5by5 Podcast network.

By "set it off to the side" I essentially mean literally that. It sat, for months, on the floor beside my desk, waiting for me to have the time to decommission it by wiping the hard drive and sending it off to the recycling center.

I finally got around to it over the weekend before Thanksgiving. I dragged the Snow Leopard disk out of one of my drawers-o'-technology, and used disk utility to do a secure wipe of the hard drive. Done right this takes a while, and I let it run for several hours (and overnight) while I did other things.

When it was done I noticed that, while running off of the install disk, none of the white lines appeared. This, despite the fact that it had been running for hours. Given this, I went ahead and did a clean install of Snow Leopard just to see what I'd get.

The iMac has been running more or less continuously since the Sunday before Turkey Day, a full two weeks now, with only a brief interruption due to a power outage. The screen is free of artifacts. Essentially, it appears that the machine itself was fine, it just needed a clean install to recover from nearly a decade of continual use.

Of course, now this leaves me wondering what to do with it. Its operating system is several generations behind (10.6.8 vs 10.11 for El Capitan), and it doesn't have some of the bells and whistles of the newer systems like Handoff, for example. However, a little exploring after the clean install finds that it does, for example, run the iWork suite just fine through iCloud.com (though, ironically, I had to install Google Chrome to do this). So, it could serve as a backup desktop system for now, I suppose, while it waits to take its turn as a media server when (if?) the Mini finally shuffled off.

Of Bikes and Batteries... And Cell Phones by Erin Wade

 The Mophie Powerstation fits nicely in my frame bag.  

The Mophie Powerstation fits nicely in my frame bag.  

In an unusual twist the weather today - November 1 - turned out to be perfect for riding.

When I go out for rides I use my iPhone to track my distance, speed, etc, using an app called Cyclemeter. I also use it, paired with my Jumbl Bluetooth Audio Receiver, to listen to audiobooks and podcasts while I'm riding[^1].

The difficulty is that, on longer rides, the battery on the iPhone may have trouble keeping up. It's not really the phone's fault - it's being asked to do a lot: run the the GPS radio continuously, keep the screen lit, and transmit audio over Bluetooth. For rides that run longer than an hour it's hit or miss as to whether the phone will last the entire ride. I can lengthen this by turning off the screen, which can help quite a bit, but I enjoy the feedback the app gives.

It occurred to me a while back that I could take a battery pack and attach that to the phone while I was riding. They do make products to do this - for example, this gizmo that uses the power from your pedaling to provide a charge. But that type of thing seemed fiddly and expensive, and a simple battery pack like the ones made by Mophie would also have uses in settings besides riding.

So that's what I did. I purchased a Mophie Powerstation and set it up to sit in my frame bag, with a lightening cable connecting it to the iPhone, secured to the frame using a Velcro cable strap. I've been using it for the past two or three months, and it works like a charm. I have enough power to get through the ride without worrying about my charge, with a minimum of fuss.


[^1]: The entertainment for today's ride was the 10/29/15 episode of NPR's Ask Me Another featuring Bruce Campbell and Lucy Lawless. I always enjoy this show, but it was exceptionally good this time - both Bruce (from the Evil Dead movie franchise and Burn Notice, as well as the short lived, and truly awful Brisco Country Junior) and Lucy (Xena: Warrior Princess and Battlestar Galactica) were some of the funniest guests I've ever heard on the show.

VW Beetle Fifth Wheel by Erin Wade

For most of my life I've been a small car guy. I've had somewhat larger vehicles - my first car was a '77 Chevy Camaro, and I've had a couple of Toyota Pickups - but I've generally run toward the smaller, more economical and flexible arrangement of the compact hatchback. 

Flexible: Need more room for stuff? Fold the seats down. Got something long to carry?  Leave the hatch open. Got something that won't fit inside?  Put a roof rack on it. 

And: got something you don't want in it or on it? Get a trailer

This latter idea is not one that I think is universally shared surrounding small cars. They generally don't have a lot of torque for pulling, and usually don't have tow ratings provided by the manufacturer. So where does the idea come from?

I was considering this the other day and, unbidden, a memory arose of a segment I had seen years ago on the PBS car show Motorweek. The Internet, being a (sometimes) wonderful thing, found it after just a couple minutes of looking:

Things I Have Learned Because of Apple Music by Erin Wade

  • REO Speedwagon was formed in the late 1960's. And they're from Champaign IL.
  • There is actually a band called Atomic Rooster
  • I still really, really don't like The Rolling Stones
  • I believe Neil Peart is a person who can pat his head and rub his tummy at the same time.
  • In related news, I've learned that I really, really like Rush.
  • there are a lot of British Prog Rock bands from the late 60's and early 70's I'd never heard of. But I want to know more about them.
  • The Eagles have a lot of good stuff that isn't on either volume of greatest hits. None of it is from Long Road Out of Eden.
  • It doesn't matter if you select no country artists when you set it up, it will still suggest an "introduction to Keith Urban" playlist.
  • There is a reason that the handful of hit songs you hear by The Police are the only songs you ever hear by them ("deep cuts" playlists are not always a kindness).
  • Did I mention that I really like Rush?
  • Even though Apple can see your entire music collection they may suggest a playlist that is an introduction to an artist you are already passingly familiar with.
  • He may be vain, but the song really is about him.
  • Neko Case has material I hadn't yet heard, and it, like all of her stuff, is fundamentally awesome.

Apple Music by Erin Wade

I’ve always loved music, and over the years the overwhelming majority of my listening time has been, by necessity, done in the car. Still, over the past decade my listening has become far more heavily weighted towards audiobooks and podcasts, and away from music.

Part of the difficulty is in discovery of new material. Terrestrial radio, with its ratio of something like 12 ads per each song has truly sucked for a very long time. I’ve never gotten into satellite radio - it’s always seemed a bit of a gimmick oriented towards selling higher end features on cars - and while I’ve enjoyed Pandora quite a bit, one has to take care to “like” the right songs on a given station, or your Jethro Tull station will soon be full of hip hop (which I like, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I click on the one-legged flautist). So, often, I just ended up listening to my own collection of music. That represents a fair amount of variety, but like a lot of people my age I stopped collecting new material in earnest more than a decade ago.

But in the past week I’ve listened to more music - and more unfamiliar music than I have in month prior. The reason: the release of the new Apple Music service on June 30, 2015.

There are several new features to Apple Music, most of which are detailed in many, many other locations. Beats Radio, Apple’s live, DJ operated music feed, has gotten a great deal of attention, at least in my Twitter feed. I gave it a try, but that lasted a grand total of about three minutes for me.

The feature I am loving is the For You area. Here, based upon what you both initially indicate are your artist presences, and upon the songs you “favorite” (with a heart), you are given both album and playlist recommendations. And these, so far, have been delightful. Playlists are themed along multiple different lines - some are mix of familiar material with completely unfamiliar artists or songs blended in for discovery: Rock Hits 1977 includes much of what you would expect (Carry on my Wayward Son and Paradise by the Dashboard Light are featured), but also includes a song by UFO, a relatively obscure British heavy metal band. For a Prog Rock fan like myself it offers up playlists such as The Best of British Prog 1973–1975, which is full of bands I’ve never heard of, like the Strawbs, and Caravan, and Nektar. I don’t love them all, to be sure, but I like a lot of them and I’m hearing things that I would never have encountered before.

The other type of playlist that I’m truly enjoying are the introduction to and deep cut playlists. I’ve played the Intro to Rush playlist several times - it’s given me an opportunity to listen to a healthy cross section of music by a band I’ve always been curious about, but unwilling to take the dive to purchase any given album, being unsure whether I’d enjoy it. It’s looking like I’m pretty much gonna dig some Rush.

One of the other features of Apple Music is the fact that you can save things that you like into your own library - including these playlists.

It’s not that there aren’t clunkers in the mix - Apple has access to my music library, so it should know that I don’t really require an Intro to Jethro Tull Playlist; and a foray into a deep cuts playlist on The Police has only shown me that I don’t really love The Police (though isn’t that why we explore, what we want to know?). But overall, Apple Music has me listening to far more music - and discovering far more new music - than I have in years.

The Wright Brothers by Erin Wade

This past week I finished listening to the biography on the Wright Brothers by David McCullough. To be honest, I entered this book with no special interest in the Wright Brothers or their story. I bought the book because it was by David McCullough[1], and because I needed to spend some credits on Audible before I lost them.

My personal mental image of the Wright Brothers has always been that of simple bicycle merchants who took up a hobby and ended up inventing a very basic and rudimentary - albeit the first - flying machine.

I had no idea.

Obviously and understandably the overwhelming majority of what the book focused on was their development of powered flight - and the story it told in this regard was excellent. I learned a great deal about how that happened, the innovations in engineering and understanding required to achieve it, and the struggles along the way. But as a bike guy, the book also left me interested in learning more about the bikes.

They were not simple bicycle merchants, they were bicycle builders. Builders in an era in which the bicycle was really coming of age - moving away from the ridiculous penny farthing designs into something very much like what we ride today.

I wanted to find pictures of their bicycles and learn more about their construction. The book mentions two models designed and built by the Wrights - the Van Cleve and the St. Clair. A very few examples of their bikes are still known to exist - one of them is at The Smithsonian National Air and Space museum, and can be seen in pictures here at Bikerumors.com, and the site Wright-Brothers.org maintains a page specifically about the bicycles, including photographs and old ads for both bicycles, and providing information on their construction.

What is striking about both models is how utterly modern these 100 year-old-plus bicycles appear. The Wright’s innovated in bike design ahead of their work in aviation. They invented a self-oiling hub - a vital item give the mostly unpaved and hence dusty streets and roads of the day. They also developed the notion of threading pedals to their posts with threads going to the right on one side (which was standard) and to the left on the other so that side wouldn’t unscrew and fall off. This was, apparently, a common problem with bikes at the time - you’d just be riding along, and the act of pedaling would cause one of your pedals to loosen, and ultimately just fall off.

What I love about this solution - threading it backwards - is that it seems so very much of a piece with what I learned from the biography about their approach to flight. It is the type of thing that, in retrospect, seems a very simple solution. But it clearly took an elegant perspective to be able to step back from what everyone was already doing, and find a different way of thinking about it in order to solve the problem.

I can heartily and happily recommend The Wright Brothers biography - it was an excellent listen from Audible, and I’m sure it would be an excellent read on your iPad or Kindle (as well as printed on pieces of the processed corpses of trees, if one wants to live that way) as well.


  1. everything I’ve read (or listened to) by David McCullough - The John Adams Biography, The Truman Biography, 1776 - has frankly been so excellent that even if it’s not about a subject I thought I was interested in (Truman was not high on my list) I will go ahead and give it a try anyway. I’ve yet to be disappointed.  ↩

Digital Life and Hard Drives by Erin Wade

 Lots of dead soldiers in house at the moment, preparing for their metaphorical trip to Arlington Cemetary... 

Lots of dead soldiers in house at the moment, preparing for their metaphorical trip to Arlington Cemetary... 

There is a saying:

There are two types of hard drives: Those that have failed, and those that will fail.

I'm not sure where I first heard that, but it is, in my experience, undeniably true.

We live a digital life - in my work we try to get as close as we can to having a paperless office, and in personal life we long ago moved towards having our entertainment options - books, movies, etc - in an electronic format. And for the most part this is wonderful. Anything you want to watch or read right at hand at any time.

It's wonderful, except when it's not.

The Achilles' Heel in the digital system is the hard drive. These devices hold tons of information, and when they are working properly it's great. But when they fail it can be a major pain in the posterior.

I write this now because I am acutely feeling that sharp, stabbing pain in my buttocks.

To be clear, the pain I am feeling is largely of my own making. When you have your media in a digital format it's incumbent upon you to have backups. And backups I do have. My system uses an old Mac Mini (my first Mac computer, in fact) running iTunes as a server for music, movies, and TV shows. This is, by modern standards, rather an old-fashioned setup. Now that there are a multitude of streaming media services in many cases all one needs is a reliable internet connection and one can forego the fiddling with drives and devices that is involved in approach. However, we have chosen to live in the middle of nowhere, which makes it far more important to have a local version of the media available. And backed up. And did I mention that I do have backups?

What I am struggling with this fine Sunday morning is what happens when the backup also fails. Hours of video is showing itself available - tantalizingly available - on a hard drive that is about to fail. But it's all a lie. Each attempt to copy one item or the next meets with an error message, the hard drive equivalent of that kid who would offer you a lick of his ice cream and then jerk it away giggling and shouting "psych".

I hate that kid.

This happens when one ignores the awful sound that the hard drive has been making for the past few days (or maybe weeks) because one knows the process of replacing it will be a tedious one. So, instead I've traded tedium for new and interesting problems.

In a way it's a bit of a blessing. I've been using this setup for nearly a decade now, and as a result am left with some legacy items that made sense at one time, but no longer really do[^1].

Fortunately I had ordered new hard drives when the primary drive had failed, so we do have a platform upon which to rebuild. I was delighted to find that Other World Computing still sells the NewerTech Mini Classic - a combination Hard Drive and USB Hub purposely designed to stack under and visually match the original Mac Mini. I've always thought these were cool items and, at this point, they are price-competitive with other external hard drives.

So now begins a process of listing and vetting all of the video that used to be readily available to determine which items are worth seeking out and downloading to have readily available. It makes one think about what makes a movie or show something you always want to have available. No Country for Old Men is undeniably an excellent film, but like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler's List it reflects a world and time that you (or, at least we) don't want to revisit regularly. We'd much rather spend our time with John McLane or Doctor Jones. And LB has already indicated that she no longer feels any need to have any iteration of the High School Musical franchise at her beck and call.

In the end this likely sounds like a lot of work, and it is. On the rare occasion that people ask I don't recommend setting up a media server in the home - it definitely requires that someone lives in the house that is willing and able to provide tech support. Still, this is the first I've needed to do this type of intervention in over five years - not a bad trade off against the enjoyment and convenience we've had in-between.

[^1]: Mostly this involves music - at one point in time the media server was the central storage hub for all of the music everyone in our little family listened to. Now, between iTunes Match and Pandora virtually everything we want to listen to is readily available somewhere, and as a result we just had old music hanging there, occupying space.