Switching from Linux back to the Mac

I used a Linux Thinkpad laptop for a little over 1 year at work. The latest long-term-support Ubuntu version of Linux was installed. As the months passed, it got more and more unreliable. The most serious problems were:

  • When powering on, it would often require 3 full power cycles to get to the desktop after login. I would be staring at a blinking cursor, and it would hang, with no progress, and I’d have to power off and on again.
  • Waking from sleep reliably would almost never happen, especially with a USB-C external monitor connected. I’d have to reboot when it couldn’t wake from sleep, sometimes multiple times.
  • Randomly forgets 200% scaled resolution at 4K and brings me back to 100%, requiring a trip to settings to set it back.
  • Fans spin louder when connected to any external monitor at any resolution.
  • Requires numerous tweaks to get many things working. For example, AirPods used to be normal volume but are now very low volume and can’t be reset, monitor brightness can’t be controlled via function keys and requires command line tool to adjust, fingerprint login only works 20% of the time, etc.
Image credit: itsfoss.com

All this time I had an older Mac laptop for another work project right next to it, and it by contrast was utterly reliable, even with gobs of enterprise security software installed on it. Wakes from sleep instantly 100% of the time, never forgets resolution, works perfectly in clamshell mode, and is mostly silent unless it’s doing an update.

My workplace has since replaced the Ubuntu Linux Thinkpad laptop with a M1 MacBook. It’s silent at all times. Really the only problems I have are occasionally it will set the external monitor to 100% brightness when waking from sleep, and once every couple of weeks I will have to unplug and replug the external monitor to get anything shown on the screen again. Other than that, it’s fantastic. No reboots needed.

iOS (iPhone 13 Pro Max) versus Android (OnePlus Nord N200 5G) in 2021

I recently got a cheap Android phone – the OnePlus Nord N200 5G – to use as a backup, to play around with Android, and to use when walking in potentially dangerous areas or while traveling in countries where it’s likely to get stolen.

Here’s what I’ve noticed, as a new Android user:

Pros:

  • Some parts of Android are quite similar to iOS 15 – the Chrome browser has the same tab interface that Safari does. Gestures are the same or similar. (but the gestures are a bit slower/jankier)
  • Some things are better than iOS – like settings being integrated into apps.
  • Control center seems a bit more configurable (but uglier and slower) than Apple’s control center.
  • App drawer is similar to App Library but instead of being organized for you, it’s a simple alphabetical list with tags.
  • Android is far more configurable, but I found myself not needing to change much. What I wish could be configured actually isn’t configurable, as we’ll see below.

Cons:

  • There’s a loud, bright, and annoying carrier boot up jingle which I needs an app called Silent Boot to disable.
  • The second day I had it, it woke my family up at 7:30AM with a loud Amber alert/siren. We don’t currently commute, and are used to waking up later, so this was aggravating. Thankfully alerts are easily turned off (Messages – Settings – Alerts).
  • Preponderance of triple dot mystery menus.
  • Unremovable “Never Settle” OnePlus wording on widget screen. You can change the text but can’t free the space the spot occupies.
  • Unchangeable red “1” in digital clock display and weather temperatures (subtle OnePlus branding), but I hate it.
  • Amazon shopping app keeps getting reinstalled by itself.
  • Instantly spammed with Amazon Treasure Truck texts as soon as I inserted my SIM card.
  • Auto rotate is slow and unreliable compared to iOS.
  • Google is worse on privacy than Apple.
  • You get around 5 years of supported upgrades on iOS, often adding many new features, vs. 1-2 years on Android
  • App quality is generally worse than Apple app store quality, although scammers are in both stores.

As far as the hardware goes:

  • The 90Hz display on a sub-$200 phone is pretty nice. The $999 iPhone 13 Pro is the minimum model with a higher (120Hz) refresh display. Most other phones, including the standard iPhone 13, only go up to 60Hz.
  • The 6.7″ OLED iPhone Pro Max display is definitely nicer – better viewing angles, deep blacks, more info on the screen. But having a 6.5″ LCD display for under $200 is not bad either. It’s definitely usable.
  • The camera on the OnePlus is garbage, but GCam (the Google Camera app from the Pixel) makes pictures look a bit better. The hole punch design on the front camera is nice though – better than the iPhone’s notch.
  • Fingerprint scanning is, surprisingly, just as reliable and fast as the old touch-id iPhones. A lot more reliable than the fingerprint scanner on my Thinkpad laptop.
  • Sound quality is quite a bit worse. Audio only comes from one side instead of from all around like in the iPhone Pro. There’s no easy connection to AirPods either, though I haven’t tried Google’s version of AirPods.
  • 5G works too, though it’s still not as fast as the iPhone’s ultra high speed mmWave 5G.
  • 4GB of RAM vs. the iPhone Pro’s 6GB. Still better than my old iPhone XR which was struggling at 3GB.
  • Battery life is good – the N200 actually has a bigger battery (5000 mAh) than the one in the iPhone 13 Pro Max (4352 mAh). And the weight is much less due to it being made of plastic vs. glass & metal. I find the Pro Max getting heavy to hold in my hands at times.

Overall, it’s not a bad phone, especially for under $200. It’s amazing to me you can get this level of hardware for such a low price.

Sidecar and Fast User Switching

I am thinking about getting an iPad for an external display for a Mac mini and have a couple questions about how it would work:

  1. If you use Fast User Switching to switch to a different user, what happens to the Sidecar display?
  2. If the display sleeps, what happens?

Nobody was able to give me answers to this online, so I tried it with my wife’s iPad and MacBook. Here’s what happened:

  1. When you switch to a different user, the iPad display shows the login screen background, but no login prompt. The login prompt shows on the primary display. After you login with the new user, Sidecar disconnects. And you can’t use Sidecar with a user that is not signed into the same iCloud account as the iPad is.
  2. When the primary display sleeps, the iPad shows the iPad login screen. When the primary display wakes up, the iPad automatically wakes and shows the secondary desktop.

Luna Display/Astropad can’t really switch between two users either. Here’s what their helpful support rep told me: “When you switch to the second user, even without User A fully logging out, the [Luna Display] app will still remain running on the iPad and keeps the last-known screen images on display. This means that User A’s screen contents will still remain on the iPad after User B logs in, and Astropad will remain connected to User A even if User B opens the Astropad app, until the connection is stopped by either quitting Astropad before switching to User B, or closing and restarting the iPad app.

I did find an interesting way to Sidecar to a headless Mac mini from the iPad, via a shortcut.

I only have space left on my desk for something about the size of an iPad. A 10″ IPS monitor of dubious origins costs $120-$140. It would have a lower PPI vs. an iPad, a lower quality display, and not be as generally useful. Though it would allow Fast User Switching. The iPad and iPad Air sometimes go on sale around Veteran’s Day for $279-$289, so for double the price I get a full iPad built into the display. Not bad. I think I’ll get one!

Comparing Recharge Times: Sony Wireless Headphones vs. AirPods

From experience, it takes 2.5 hours to recharge Sony wireless headphones (MDR-XB70BT) from empty to full. This is also stated in the manual. The Sonys give 9 hours of battery life for listening. At 3 hours per day of usage, that’s 3 days between charges.

It takes 1.25 hours to recharge the Apple AirPods battery case. They give 24 hours of battery life when new. At 3 hours of usage per day, that’s 8 days between charges of the battery case.

Like all battery-driven headphones, you need to charge more often as the battery ages. After ~1 year of usage, I’ve found I need to recharge the AirPods battery case every 4 days, instead of every 8.

As an aside, I got the AirPods with wireless charging case, and don’t really like the wireless aspect of it. It’s too hard to position the AirPods perfectly on most wireless chargers. Next time, I’ll get the non-wireless AirPods.

AirDrop and VPNs

My colleagues and I had trouble AirDropping files from our Macs to our phones. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

I figured out that AirDrop would fail with the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client connected.

Specifically, when your Mac’s sharingd service tries to connect to https://yourphone.local:8770/Ask to ask for permission to accept a file, it times out via the VPN. This happens even if LocalLanAccess is allowed in your VPN settings.

The solution was simply to disconnect the VPN client whenever you need to AirDrop something.

Unread Mail in Apple Mail

I had a problem for months in Apple Mail (both on the Mac and the iPhone) where multiple folders would show up with an Unread mail count, even if all mail in that folder was already read. If you clicked one of the Unread folders, the Unread count would instantly go away. (But it would reappear when re-opening Mail.)

Here’s how I fixed it:

  1. Open Mail on the Mac
  2. Click on the Archive (or All Mail) folder
  3. Select all mail, right-click on the selected mail, and hit Mark as Unread
  4. Repeat step 3, but now hit Mark as Read

Now close and open Mail again and you will no longer see folders with Unread mail in them. If the problem continues to occur, you may need to repeat steps 2-4 on all of your mail folders.

Troubleshooting Why My Mac Was Slow: photoanalysisd

I woke my Mac after it had been sleeping for a while and I noticed it was slower than usual.  Clicking browser tabs felt like pushing through molasses.

I opened a Terminal window and typed: top, and immediately1 saw photoanalysisd consuming 95% CPU.  It showed no signs of letting up, after several minutes of watching it.

  • What was it doing?
  • Wasn’t photo analysis only supposed to happen when your Mac is idle or in PowerNap/sleep mode?

I opened Photos.  Now two CPU hungry processes were going: Photos itself and photoanalysisd.

After a quick web search, I went straight to the first hit at Stack Exchange, and found this gem:

  1. Start Photos, let it continue past the first dialogue box;
  2. Now Preferences in the app menu is clickable (if it wasn’t before);
  3. Preferences > General , and untick both check boxes in Memories;
  4. Close Photos.
    This stops photoanalysisd cold, no reboot or kill required.

uncheck-photoanalysisd.png
Untick these two boxes in Photos > Preferences > General > Memories

Not sure how this guy figured this out, but this tip worked great.  It did indeed stop photoanalysisd.  Hopefully this trouble won’t crop up again.

Jerky Animation in Safari Reader

I was trying to figure out why Safari’s Reader animation was smooth on my retina MacBook display (“1680×1050”), and super smooth on my old iPad Pro (1668 x 2224), but jerky/stuttering on my USB-C-connected external 4K monitor in any resolution except “1280×720”.  This even happened on simple web sites with very few photos.

safari-reader
Safari Reader Mode is just slow at 4K – if you don’t have a discrete video card. Image credit: Apple

Turns out it’s the VRAM.  From iCruiser7 on Reddit:

Pushing high-res external monitors primarily depends on VRAM size and bandwidth. Integrated graphics have to use system RAM as VRAM which is slower compared to dedicated VRAM. If you only had 8GB system RAM then the shared VRAM would further strain the entire system since less system RAM is available to apps.

Now, the new G7 graphics have more computational performance and are coupled with faster 3733 LPDDR4X system RAM which provides more bandwidth so performance on an external display should be at least somewhat better. However, a discrete graphics card would bring much more improvement. So if pushing high-res external monitors is your goal, I’d recommend you either 1. upgrade to a 16-inch MBP or 2. get a eGPU.

I looked into eGPU prices and they can be $300 for the enclosure alone.  And $700 for an Apple-recommended one with a video card included.  The cheapest MacBook Pro 16″ with an extra video card included is $2100!  I’m going to pass on that and see what external graphics performance is like on Apple Silicon.

Wish there was a way to turn Safari’s reader animation off.  If anyone knows how, please let me know.

Quick Fix for Slow Scrolling in macOS

On long web pages, especially when using a high resolution (4K+) external monitor, scrolling takes a long, long time.  Feels like you’re dragging the page through molasses.

I found a quick fix for this, buried in Accessibility preferences:

  1. Open System Preferences > Accessibility
  2. Scroll down to Pointer Control
  3. Hit Trackpad Options… and move the Scrolling speed slider to Fast.

trackpadoptions.pngWhy this isn’t in Trackpad preferences, I don’t know.  It used to be, back in 2011.  I guess Apple decided the Trackpad preferences were getting too overloaded and hid them deep in Accessibility settings.

 

Apple Watch Series 3 on Sale for $169 at Amazon

Amazon just listed the Apple Watch Series 3 for $169 – on sale.  This is a great starter watch for anyone interested in dipping their toe in the waters with Apple’s tech.  (They will need an iPhone to use it, though.)  Series 3 runs smoothly with watchOS 6, and will be supported by the upcoming watchOS 7.  (which includes sleep tracking)

apple-watch-series-3.jpg

These watches actually come with blood oxygen detection built in, but it isn’t enabled yet due to FDA restrictions.  Once the FDA eases their rules, this will be great for early detection of COVID-19-like symptoms.