Happy 10th birthday, iMac

A decade ago today, I set up the computer on which I’m typing this post. That is an absurdly long lifespan for any computer, much less one that’s seen near-daily use over that many years.

But here we–meaning me and the late 2009 iMac that’s now graced the same desk for 10 years–are. Three things made this longevity possible.

One is my working mainly in text and non-moving images. If I had to do any serious video editing, this model’s processor would have forced its retirement long ago. As is, there’s not that much computational labor involved in polishing prose–and while working with high-resolution photos can require a few CPU cycles, I do most of that editing online anyway.

Another is the relative repairability of this model. In the previous decade, Apple still designed desktops that allowed memory upgrades, so I took advantage of that option to double this iMac’s RAM early on. Apple didn’t intend for owners of this model to replace the hard drive, but its design left that possible with fairly simple tools–as in, no need to cut through adhesive holding the screen in place. I didn’t exploit that opportunity until a couple of years later than I should have, but the SSD upgrade I performed last spring now looks like some of the best $200 I’ve spent.

I could have replaced the optical drive that stopped reading CDs and DVDs in the same manner, but instead I bought a cheap Samsung DVD burner and plugged that into a free USB port–so much for the all-in-one concept!

(My second-longest-tenured daily-use computer, the Mac clone I kept from 1996 to 2002, was far more tolerant of tinkering, since Power Computing designed it along the lines of any PC desktop. That box ended its service to me after two processor upgrades, one hard drive replacement, an internal power-supply transplant, a memory upgrade and the addition of two USB ports.)

Last comes Apple’s baffling inability to keep its desktops current over any sustained stretch of time. The company formerly known as “Apple Computer, Inc.” spent several years not updating the iMac or Mac mini at all. By the time it finally refreshed the iMac, buying a new all-in-one desktop would have meant buying a 4K monitor inseparable from a computer would grow obsolete well before the display. But when Apple finally updated the moribund Mac mini last year, it shipped it with a joke of a 128 GB SSD and then listed insultingly high prices for adequate storage.

It’s since slightly moderated the storage rip-off, but the Mac mini has now gone over a year without an update, so I’d feel like a chump paying new-Mac pricing for that old design now. Even though my legacy Mac is now living two editions of macOS in the past–Apple dropped support for this model with macOS Mojave, leaving macOS Catalina completely out of the question. If Apple weren’t still shipping security updates for macOS High Sierra, I’d be in a real pickle.

Okay, I guess there’s a fourth factor behind this iMac’s longevity: I can be really cheap, stubborn or both sometimes.

Updated 12/3/2019 to note my OS-support issues and better crop a photo.

Finally, an obvious upgrade from Apple

No computer I own has aged better than the iPad mini 4 I bought at the end of 2015. But that device’s days as my work tablet are now unquestionably dwindling.

That’s Apple’s fault and to Apple’s credit. The updated iPad mini the company announced last week may look almost identical (I’ll know for sure when I can inspect it in a store), but it includes a much faster processor and a better screen and camera. Reviewers I trust have essentially been saying “yes, buy this.”

The new iPad mini also doesn’t exhibit two of Apple’s least-attractive habits, in that the company resisted the temptations to remove the headphone jack and sell it with inadequate entry-level storage. So instead of paying extra for a 64-gigabyte model as I did before, that’s now the base configuration.

I wish the new tablet retired the proprietary Lightning cable for a USB-C connector that would let me recharge it with my laptop or phone chargers. But if I must choose, I’d rather be inconvenienced by having to fish out a different cable once every other day than have to remember to bring a headphone-jack dongle everywhere I take the tablet.

If only the the Mac part of Apple would learn from the mobile-device part of it and not gouge buyers who want a reasonable amount of storage! I’m typing these words on a 2009-vintage iMac that I have yet to replace because of this problem. The finally-revived Mac mini would be a logical successor to this iMac–I can’t see buying another all-in-one when its 4K screen should far outlast its computer components–but it starts with a 128 GB solid-state drive. And upgrading that joke of an SSD to a 512 GB model costs an insulting $400.

So I continue to trudge along with a desktop that will turn 10 years old this November–although the 512 GB SSD now inside it is only a year old–instead of paying that Apple Tax. With the new iPad mini, meanwhile, the only real question will be which retailer gets my money.

Weekly output: Emmanuel Macron, Ditch the Box, Tech Night Owl

This week wasn’t really this slow: I filed two other stories that have yet to get edited and posted.

6/19/2017: Why America should import France’s plan to become ‘the nation of startups’, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up this recap of French president Emmanuel Macron’s Viva Technology speech on the flight home last Saturday. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve had to use my not-totally-rusty French for a story: Macron spoke mostly in French, and the simultaneous English translation offered at the time fell behind at a few points, so I had to replay the speech to transcribe and translate some key phrases myself.

6/23/2017: Big Cable broke its promise and you’re paying for it, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this post on my to-do list for a while: One year after major cable operators had put forth a bold, reasonably consumer-friendly plan to offer subscribers free apps to take the place of rented cable boxes, I could point out how almost none of them have done any such thing. The 1,195 comments below the post suggest I may have struck a nerve.

6/24/2017: June 24, 2017 — Kirk McElhearn and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked with host Gene Steinberg about my bootlooped Nexus 5X, Apple’s new iMac, why I wish Apple would finally update the Mac mini, and a few other things.

Weekly output: watching baseball online, broadband privacy, Apple secrecy, Comcast wireless, Tech Night Owl

This week saw me at two Opening Days: On Monday, I attended the Nats’ home opener, and today I kicked off the 2017 lawn-mowing season. In both cases, I’m worried we’re going to fade down the stretch.

4/3/2017: The cheapest way to watch baseball online, Yahoo Finance

For once, I had good things to say about the availability of sports programming online, thanks to many regional sports networks now showing up on services like Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now. Alas, the Nats’ Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is not among them.

4/5/2017: Broadband privacy, Al Jazeera

I talked about the swift, Republican-led dispatch of privacy regulations for the Arabic news network.

4/6/2017: How Apple’s secrecy can hurt consumers, Yahoo Finance

Apple’s unprecedented revelation of even broad details about the next Mac Pro and iMac kicked off this post about the unhelpful hangup many tech companies–no, not just Apple–have about keeping customers in the loop.

4/7/2017: The hidden details in Comcast’s wireless plan, USA Today

The amount of interest in Comcast’s upcoming Xfinity Mobile wireless service–which will run off Verizon’s network as well as Comcast’s network of WiFi hot spots–is remarkable, given that you’ll need to subscribe to Comcast Internet to use it. Also remarkable: how many details Comcast left out of its opening sales pitch for Xfinity Mobile. 

If you look at the comments, you’ll see a complaint from a reader that an accompanying chart didn’t list the correct price for Google’s Project Fi wireless service. That chart now lists the right rate–yes, I do try to read comments, and in this case I sent a quick note to my editors advising them of the error.

4/8/2017: April 8, 2017 — John Martellaro and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I returned to this podcast for the first time since August (had it really been that long?) to talk about Apple’s tepid gesture at transparency, Xfinity Mobile, and the state of broadband privacy and competition.

Weekly output: Windows 10 Creators Update, Apple’s decaying desktop line, IoT security, Google Pixel procurement

This week featured new-product events from Apple and Microsoft–and Redmond impressed me more than Cupertino, which I guess represents yet another way that 2016 has been a bizarre year. Also bizarre: It’s now been more than five weeks since I last flew anywhere for work, but that streak ends Saturday when I start my trip to Lisbon for Web Summit.

Screengrab of Yahoo post about Win 10 Creators Update10/26/2016: The Windows 10 Creators Update could streamline your friendships, Yahoo Finance

I balanced out my tentative praise for an upcoming Windows 10 feature that should help elevate conversations with friends with some complaints about lingering Win 10 flaws. One I could have added to this list but did not: the way you can find yourself staring at dialogs dating to Win 95 if you click or tap deep enough into Win 10’s UI.

(Note that this screengrab shows a Yahoo post at a Google address, an issue with Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format that I noted last week.)

10/27/2016: Apple once again ignores a big market, Yahoo Finance

Crazy thing here: I wrote a harsh post about Apple’s neglect of the desktop computer, and none of the first 20 comments include any form of “how much did Microsoft pay you to write that?” I’m also irked by the increasingly pricey state of the Mac laptop, but that’s going to have to wait for another post.

10/28/2016: Hackers are taking over your smart devices, here’s how we can stop them, Yahoo Finance

My latest post on the mess that is Internet-of-Things security benefited from informative chats with an Underwriters Laboratories engineer and a Federal Trade Commission commissioner.

10/30/2016: Google Pixel’s ‘Only on Verizon’ pitch isn’t what it seems, USA Today

The misleadingly Verizon-centric marketing for Google’s new smartphones has bugged me for a few weeks, but T-Mobile’s rollout of a marketing campaign that also glossed over some issues gave me a convenient news peg.

Side effect of an aging iMac: Bluetooth mouse rage

Overall, the 2009-vintage iMac that I’m typing this on has aged not just well, but better than any other computer I’ve owned. But every few months, I can expect it to send me into a few hours of powerless rage, all because its Bluetooth mouse keeps making a change of batteries a drama-filled exercise.

imac-mouseIt happens something like this: After a few days of the menu bar flashing a low-battery icon for this “Magic Mouse,” that peripheral will finally go offline–most likely when I’m trying to wrap up an e-mail or a story. I’ll pop open the hatch on its bottom, remove the spent batteries, and pop in a fresh pair of AAs.

And that’s when the green LED on this rodent will either fail to illuminate or blink on and then off. I’ll go through the same troubleshooting steps each time: try different batteries, try cleaning the terminals in the mouse with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, then try cleaning the ends of each battery with the same.

Eventually, this rodent will decide to accept its new power source, and that’s when the Bluetooth battle begins. I don’t know if it’s the age of my iMac or of the mouse, but it seems to take anywhere from a few hours to day of having the Bluetooth link repeatedly drop for no apparent reason before the device pairing sets in–as if it were glue that needed time to cure.

I thought I’d knocked the worst of this wonkiness out of the system this spring when I trashed a batch of preferences files and booting the iMac into “Safe Mode.” But then I had to go through another round of iffy Bluetooth pairing after a battery change a few days ago.

A less stubborn person would buy a new mouse already, but I can’t get too excited about paying $49 for a Magic Mouse 2 that can only be recharged with a Lightning cable that blocks any use of the mouse as a pointing device. And would become instantly redundant when I buy a new desktop computer… should Apple ever get tired of selling models that saw their last update a year or two ago. But that’s a separate gripe.

Whenever Apple does deign to ship a revived iMac or Mac mini, one thing’s for sure: I will order it with a wired keyboard.

 

Weekly output: cybersecurity disclosure, Facebook bots, White House Science Fair, Apple’s aging computers, Mac Bluetooth

HONG KONG–I am in this fair city for the first time since 1998 for the IFA Global Press Conference, a gathering put on by the organizers of the IFA trade show at which I’m going to speak on a panel (with my old Yahoo boss Dan Tynan) about virtual reality. I accept that it’s rather shameful to have waited 18 years to return to this part of the world.

4/13/2016: After hospital ransomware attack, time for some blunt talk about cybersecurity, Yahoo Tech

MedStar Health’s vague and dismissive responses to press queries got this story rolling, but this is about more than condescending PR. Compare this “we don’t have to tell you” attitude to the complete and mandatory disclosure you see in commercial aviation, and you will not be amused.

4/14/2016: Facebook bots, Al Jazeera

As I was already wearing a suit to cover the White House Science Fair that afternoon, I was better dressed than usual for this appearance on the Arabic news channel. My take on Facebook’s Messenger bots: Customer service is hard enough to do with actual people answering chat queries, and I’m not fond of having such an interrupt-driven medium take over more of my online interactions.

Yahoo Tech White House Science Fair post4/15/2016: Beyond the robot: White House Science Fair celebrates a nation of nerds, Yahoo Tech

As I wrote on my Facebook page after chatting up many of the intimidatingly smart and poised middle-school and high-school exhibitors here: “I can only hope they will prove to be benevolent bosses when we all wind up working for them.” Tip: Don’t read to the end of the comments if you’re not in the mood to see some mean, ignorant white-guy resentment of brown kids and white girls doing well.

4/15/2016: Hey Apple, how about shipping a new computer sometime?, Yahoo Tech

This column began life as a cranky tweet that spawned a little group therapy with Ars Technica’s Andrew Cunningham. I then turned it into a post with the help of some useful context from NPD’s Stephen Baker, a longtime source of mine.

4/17/2016: Stop your Mac from singing the Bluetooth blues, USA Today

An unadvertised benefit of owning an older Mac: Its random malfunctions provide a steady stream of topics for my USAT column. Fortunately, this crop had a happy ending–so maybe I don’t need to buy a new Mac just yet.

The other thing that happened this week: Friday marked five years since my last day at the Post. I didn’t expect at the time that half a decade later, my taxes would not have featured a new W-2 from anybody. I’ll have more to say about that later this week.