macOS Sierra – First Look

It’s that time of year, Apple have released a public beta of their latest desktop operating system. Apple have relied on the ‘OS X’ moniker since the public beta of OS X 10.0 in 2000, so macOS  Sierra is important to Apple, it marks a move away from the past, and towards a new ‘Post PC’ era. This is a continuation of Steve Jobs’ design to move away from the home PC being a hub for your other ‘satellite’ gadgets. Instead, the PC becomes demoted to just another gadget alongside your smart phone, your tablet and now ‘The Internet of Things’.

So has macOS  Sierra neutered the Mac desktop OS, or is it a grand leap in to the Post PC era?

Instant impressions following the install are positive, any changes are subtle, in fact, apart from the new Siri Icon in the top right of the Menu Bar (why isn’t that black like the other icons?), you’d be forgiven for not noticing any changes from El Capitan (the final iteration of OS X).

Ok, so what’s new?

  • Siri has finally come to the Mac. iPhone has been toting the pedantic helper since 2011, so why Apple has waited 5 years to bring her to the Mac is beyond me.
  • Photos – will create slideshows of your memories based on faces, places and photo recognition algorithms.
  • Apple Pay – Combined with Touch ID on your iPhone, you can now make online purchases through Apple Pay.
  • Unlock with Apple Watch – based on proximity between the devices, this one will unlock your Mac without the need for a password or Touch ID.
  • Universal Clipboard – Copy and paste between your devices, again based on proximity.
  • iCloud Drive – Not much change here, just more power between your iCloud linked devices. However, Sierra will now analyse your storage on your Mac and try to create more space by sending less used files to the cloud.
  • Messages has brought a few ‘fun new ways’ of formatting your messages, but there’s nothing ground breaking here.
  • iTunes is now incorporating a revamped Apple Music, focusing on the ‘For You’ section to try and make Apple Music more personal than Spotify or Deezer.
  • Tabs are something we are used to in Web Browsers, and since El Capitan Finder, however now even third party apps can use tabs to save screen real estate and make multi tasking easier.
  • Picture in picture allows you to float a video in Safari or iTunes over other apps, and move the window around the display whilst you work on other documents.

There’s no doubt then that Apple have focused on integrating your Mac with your other devices instead of pushing any major changes on the Mac as a stand alone device. If you use Apple Watch, iPhone and maybe iPad as well, then you will love these new features, copy and paste between devices, Apple Watch Unlock and Apple Pay alone are pretty cool multi-device features. But what about Mac users who don’t have any other Apple devices, is Apple turning their backs on these users?

There are essentially 3 new features which will affect all Mac users, Siri, Tabs and Picture in picture.

Siri

Whether you like Voice Control or AI assistants, there’s no doubt Siri coming to the Mac is an important step towards what many companies (including Google and Amazon) believe is the future of consumer technology. From my first experiments with Siri on the Mac I can see that Siri already has more under the bonnet then previously seen on iOS:

Siri has never been good at understanding context based on previous questions and statements, so hopefully this simple little conversation is a sign of good things to come. You can also ask powerful questions like “Show me files I worked on yesterday” or “Show me emails from Jo” and it reacts just like Spotlight, pretty handy.

Tabs

The tabs view in Pages is great, if you’re working on two documents but want to keep your desktop clean, this works well – although you do currently need to go in to View and select ‘Show Tab Bar’ to enable it. Will is revolutionise productivity, no, but it’s still a nice feature, I can’t imagine Web Browsers without Tabs these days!

Picture in picture

And finally Picture in picture, well it’s not the easiest thing to enable currently, so I’m hoping there’s some big changes coming the GUI on this one. If you are using macOS Sierra and haven’t got it to work yet, go to Youtube (in Safari) right click on the video, then right click again (you see what I mean) and click ‘Enter Picture-in-Picture’. It only allows you to place the video in the corners, so it’s fairly limited, but it’s a nice touch if you want to watch something whilst browsing, shopping or working.

Verdict:

All in all macOS Sierra is not a ground breaking desktop operating system. This isn’t such a bad thing though, Mac OS X has been a very slick and stable system since it’s initial public launch in 2001, and has certainly been far smoother and longer lived than it’s contemporaries (Windows XP, 7, 8 and 10). In fact in that time frame OS X changed very little, it just got smoother and more intuitive, so I’m glad to report we haven’t seen a radical overhaul in the style of Windows 8. We could potentially see a merging of iOS and macOS in the next few years, which could seriously clip the Mac’s wings, but so far so good.

If you are fully immersed in the Apple Eco-system, Watch, iPhone and Apple Music to be precise, then there’s some great features here that will make your experience smoother and quite exciting.

So for now it’s good news, whilst perhaps not the most exciting upgrade,macOs Sierra is an incremental upgrade of an extremely polished system, oh and for the first time since Mavericks it doesn’t have a name that customers outside the US find hard to pronounce and just plain odd.

Warning!

As a final word of caution, although the public beta of macOS Sierra seems to be pretty stable so far, I would not advise you to upgrade your main computer at this point. Betas are by their very nature not fully tested software, and likely to have bugs. If you do decide to take the plunge, make sure you have a full back up safely stashed away before you do it!

A little flutter

For a bit of fun this weekend, we had a day at the races. To spice things up the three couples had a competition. The rules were simple.

  • Each couple started with £50.
  • No topping up the betting fund with extra money.
  • whoever had the least money at the end bought the drinks that evening.

Race 1

Let’s sit this one out to get a feel for things, one of the other couples step up and chance their luck. Their horse comes in second making good their each way bet. However, I am distinctly baffled to discover that despite seeming to win on their £10 bet, they receive back a grand total of… £9. This is a clear indicator of just how little grasp I have on understanding the odds for the rest of the day.

Race 2

Feeling relatively confident, we decide to make a move on the second race. One of the favourites and I’m told ‘the on form runner’ called Serengeti Sky, harking back to our honeymoon in Tanzania, this seems like a no brainer. Time to place the first bet.

I walk up to the first bookie, expecting maybe a bit of banter or some sort of comment on my obviously brilliant choice of horse. Me: “Hi, can I put £10 on Serengeti Sky to win please”. Without a pause, comment or even a knowing nod, my crisp £10 note is quickly swapped for a betting slip, and no more is said on the matter. I turn away feeling like it had been a bit of an anti-climax, the bookie didn’t seem the least bit concerned that I was obviously placing a winning bet and was about to clear her out…

…Five minutes later. “And it’s Harbour Master, followed by Mr Blue Sky then Serengeti Sky, and Harbour Master is going to take it!” We had come third, and to make matters worse, one of the other couples had an each way bet on outsider Mr Blue Sky, netting a reasonable return.

Race 3

This time we’re not going to miss an opportunity. We put a reasonable stake on one of the favourites and a small bet on a 20 – 1 outsider. Either would net us just over £100 if they won. Once again we go to win, not each way. Our horses place 2nd and 3rd. If we had put an each way bet on both, we would have walked away with around £100… but it’s not to be.

Race 4

We’re now more than half way through our money. One more wrong move and we’ll be out. We decide to go to the parade ring and look at the horses first this time. There’s the favourite, South Seas. He looks calm, he looks ready. We decide to put the entirety of our remaining funds on… to win, naturally. This is it, make or break.

“And they’re off, a terrible start for South Seas”… my head drops. For the next 45 seconds our runner slowly makes his way up the field, and half way down the finishing straight seems to step up a gear and comes sailing through… 3rd, 2nd…. 1st… still 1st, and… across the line. We’ve done it! Not only did we back the winner, but we’ve made all of our original £50 back, plus £20! We’re actually up, we’re beating the system… we’re winning!

Race 5

“Let’s just stick with our £70, we should go out on a high”…

Race 6

“Well the paper says Shamshon is the clear favourite, and he likes the good to soft… let’s just put our winnings on – we’ll still have the original £50 safe, let’s go each way to be safe, surely the favourite will place top three.”…

… 4th?! Not even close, what the hell?!

Race 6

So we’re break even again, £50 after five races… that’s not terrible, but we may as well not have bet anything! This is our last race, we should go big, right?

£50, on Bernie’s Boy, to win? Best go each way to be safe. Of the top four as rated by the newspaper, 3 have dropped out, leaving Bernie’s Boy as a dead cert! Let’s do this, If he wins, £140, if he places 2nd or 3rd, £40. Otherwise…. nothing.

My heart is in my mouth as we watch on the big screen. He’s out in front, but it’s too soon, he looks like he’s flagging. Come on, please hold on Bernie’s Boy! 2nd… 2nd… 3rd…. oh god come on!!!

And across the line… £40… just £10 down on the original stake, putting us….last amongst the three couples.

Damn.

Generation Y

Generation Y – The generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, comprising primarily the children of the baby boomers and typically perceived as increasingly familiar with digital and electronic technology.

The Baby Boomers are a notoriously numerous generation due to the economic and social ‘boom’ that followed the 2nd World War. The Baby Boomers are also a generation who rode the wave of economic stability and growth through the 1980’s and 1990’s. This economic stability has of course since been shown to have been based on lies and dodgy schemes within the banking world that ultimately lead to the biggest global economic down-turn since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Watch “The Big Short” for a very interesting perspective of what was really going on (particularly in America) during this period, it’s truly shocking.

So why the history lesson? As a result of all this, Generation Y has found itself in a society (especially in the UK) where houses are incredibly expensive, banks won’t loan the mortgages required to buy them and incomes have been pretty stagnant since before the crash in 2007. We keep being told that it’s a ‘housing bubble’ and that at some point it will burst bringing house prices crashing down, but it never seems to happen. In fact here in the south the housing market has continued to grow steadily throughout austerity budgets, economic crashes and high street banks being bailed out by the tax payers.

house-prices-since-52Taking a look at the properties around me I can see one that sold in 1998 for £113,000. Right now the same house would sell for between £380,000 and £400,000. That’s an increase of approximately £16,000 every year – a small be not unreasonable income – I certainly have friends who survive on less.

Is there anything wrong with renting? Well yes and no. Renting is a similar price to paying a mortgage, in fact in cheaper areas of the country (up north) particularly, a mortgage is considerably cheaper than renting. At the end of a 25 or 35 year mortgage you have a house worth more than the original price (although less than you’ve likely paid on Mortgage interest), which can be passed on to your children or sold to cover extortionate care costs in your old age. At the end of a life of renting you will have… nothing.

What is even more frustrating is the cheap ‘Over 55’s’ properties advertised in estate agent windows. For reasons that escape me, the government choose to subsidise these ‘Senior Living’ properties for the very same generation who have prospered so greatly from the last 35 years of market booms and crashes.

2000px-Supply-and-demand.svgSo what’s the solution? Well one possibility would be to greatly increase taxes on landlords, second homes or buy-to-let properties. A lot of property is bought purely as rental investments, this to me is just compounding the problem. Generation X and the Baby Boomers are using their economic advantage to buy up properties, artificially creating a demand for housing and pushing up prices. This is simple Supply and Demand economics, Supply is fairly steady, so as landlords see opportunities to invest their money in these properties (property has long been seen as a very safe and lucrative investment) they drive up prices.

By limiting these buy-to-let investments it would stabilise demand and put a cap on the artificial inflation of house prices. Essentially, we have a few generations who see property as an investment and then another generation who sees it as an unattainable life goal. We simply want to be able to afford to put a roof over our heads to raise the next generation in a home instead of in someone else’s investment.

I would like to add as final thought that I am no economist, and certainly not an expert in fiscal policy making. These ideas I have thrown out here are, I’m sure, far too simplistic and perhaps based on naive, idealistic views of the world that would never work. Whatever the solution, if there is one, this bubble has to burst one day, it’s just unsustainable, managing that burst has got to be better then letting market forces take their course and potentially leading us back in to another recession.

The Internet

Last week BT had a few issues and as result, in large parts of the UK at least, the internet was as good as down,  you could contact certain servers which were outside the affected area, or even directly contact servers via their IP addresses, but for the majority of sites we use on a daily basis, including Google, DNS (the function by which the easy to remember URLs are translated into IP addresses on the internet) was simply not functioning for millions of users on BT phone lines.

For a lot of businesses (and people) the internet is essential to daily life, in fact without it till systems, online shopping, appointment systems and car park ticket machines (as I discovered to great annoyance) to name just a few do not work. Considering how recently the internet became part of lives let alone a readily accessible, all encompassing service, it’s amazing just how dependant on it our society has become.

It got me thinking about what it would mean for the internet to really disappear. According to webtexttool.com

On August 16, 2013, Google was not reachable for 5 minutes, in that time the global Internet usage was decreased by 40%.

Just think about that for a moment. Including business, an estimated 2.6 Billion users had access to the internet in 2013, and during the 5 minutes Google was down, usage dropped by 40%. That puts in perspective not only how we actually use the internet and how fundamental Google is to that usage, but also just how hard it hits us when a single website disappears. I’m sure similar figures (although perhaps not quite so impressive) could be reported about Facebook or Twitter.

So what would it mean for the internet to cease to exist? The internet as most of us interact with it could disappear fairly easily, take away Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Amazon… you get the idea and most of us would’t know how to navigate to content anymore. Would you go directly to Buzzfeed if Facebook wasn’t there? I doubt it. But for the internet to truly disappear would mean the disconnecting of every personal computer, server, mobile device and anything from “the internet of things” that has begun to emerge in our homes (wireless speakers, smart TVs, smart fridges?! Smoke alarms etc…) Now that these devices are no longer connected, consider what you Chromebook or your iPhone will now be capable of. Virtually nothing. Now think about it a little deeper, imagine the seemingly infinite amount of knowledge that you previously had almost unlimited access to, all gone. Well actually not gone, not lost, just not connected, not accessible.

It seems unfathomable doesn’t it? And yet, the World Wide Web was only created in 1989, even then it wasn’t really until the early 2000’s that broadband came along and we had access 24 hours a day to the internet. This is all within my lifetime and yet I find it so hard to imagine a world where we aren’t all connected 24/7.

I suspect that most users don’t consider what the internet actually is whilst they browse their favourite online shop, or catch up on a friend’s wedding photos on Facebook. The internet is greater than the sum of its parts. You can’t define it purely by the infrastructure that physically makes it, the cables, the servers, the routers. It’s more than that, it’s more even than the content it holds. The internet, when you break it down is the closest thing we have to a definitive collection of human knowledge, accumulated over centuries. The internet is a concept, an ideal in which humankind is connected, we can share our experiences on a global level. Never before have we had such unadulterated access to so much information. The effect this sharing has on progress and research is exponential. No longer are scientific papers accessible to just a few members of an elite society in one small corner of the world, but publicly available 24/7. Currently around 3.4 Billion people have access to the internet at home or via their own personal device (around 40%), so we still have someway to go before the internet is truly all encompassing on a global level.

webtexttool.com also state:

16% to 20% of all searches have never been searched before on Google.

This alone is a staggering statistic. Every single day Google handles millions of search queries, and up to 20% of these they have never seen before. This just illustrates the depth of the internet, and just how much information is out there. When did you last hit enter on Google and see “No Results Found”?

Whatever your thoughts on the internet, or its effects on the younger generations, the impact it is having on our future is unprecedented. I truly believe that we are only at the beginning of an era defined by the sharing of information as an essential part of progress. We have already seen an incredible rate of progress within my life time, and I’m really excited to see what will happen next!

Back to the island

This year we returned to what is fast becoming our favourite place on earth, we went back to The White Isle.

Ibiza.

It really is a magical place, the dramatic red cliffs soar out of the dark water whilst distant misty hills dominate the island.

Islands have always drawn humans to them, they hold some sort of powerful grip over our imaginations. In purely practical terms they are, at least in a modern age, inconvenient places to live. Still everywhere you look we are pulled towards these magical places.

Venice, New York and the Maldives have a romance about them that cannot be matched anywhere else on earth, and would not have been the same if they weren’t islands.

Those people cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them because they see and covet what He has not given them. All of our discontents for what we want appear to me to spring from want of thankfulness for what we have.

– Daniel Defoe – Robinson Crusoe.

Is it then the isolation of islands that gives us pause for introspective reflection? A chance to be at one with your thoughts, away from the advancement of technology and society?

Christopher Mccandless of Into the Wild fame went to extreme lengths to isolate himself from society and become closer to nature. His ultimate realisation was that his experiences were empty when he hadn’t shared them with others (see my previous post). Perhaps islands offer just enough isolation to spark our imaginations without cutting us off entirely from the world. In an ever more connected world, more and more we seak solace to be at one with the world.

Islands are often associated with mysticism and legend. This is the feeling I got from The Isles or Scilly, Ibiza or Fraser Island. They felt special, unique, different. Like they are ‘our little secret’, you feel like you’ve stumbled upon some unspoilt place that very few people know about. And I think ultimately this is what appeals, we like to feel like we belong to some elite club, somewhere that not everyone can go.

The pull the candidates from ‘Lost’ felt when they leave the island, is how I feel most of the time. My mind and body both crave to be back.Whatever the reason, I already have withdrawal symptoms! Take me back the Island!

Oh and in case you’re wondering, we stay on the quiet side of Ibiza!

Vinyl – The Revolution

So it seems apt that a previous post, was about streaming music and now I want to discuss music formats again. Since Christmas the James household has been listening to more music than usual, but almost entirely on vinyl. In fact, I’ve cancelled my Spotify subscription, and disconnected my Sonos Connect.

So why have we taken a step back four or five decades and turned our backs on the convenience of streaming and wireless music? IMG_3500

It all started at Christmas, a good friend turned up (From Australia) with the most amazing Christmas present, an entry level vinyl player. We were blown away by the thoughtfulness of the gift, but didn’t for a moment imagine that it would be the beginning of a full blown obsession.

 

We started with a stack of LPs at my parent’s over Christmas and could already feel the appeal of being so involved in the music, putting the disk on the turntable, lining up the stylus and then dropping the arm and watching as the artwork spins and the arm tracks. It engages the whole family, rifling through old albums, pulling them out, blowing off the dust, and then taking it in turns to drop the needle and listen through at least a whole side, which in itself is an unusual pleasure these days. By the time my 30th birthday had come round in February, the addiction had really taken hold, and I elected to invest in a Project Debut Carbon MSL player to hook in to my existing FatMan Valve Amp and Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 speakers (I was already a bit of an audio-geek). Our collection of LPs had also expanded, taking over half of our living room.

20160623_204137

All of which leads me to… why?

Now, an audio-geek I may be, but I’m not here to talk about analogue wave forms, frequencies or bass response. Well, maybe a little bit about bass response. It’s more about immersing yourself in the occasion. I have gone out of my way to find an interesting album, maybe some Glenn Miller, John Mayer’s “Where the light is” live album or Coldplay’s latest album. This eclectic mix means we have themed evenings, Trad Jazz one night then Daft Punk the next. We have had several nights where we have invited friends around for “Whisky and Vinyl”, I can’t imagine inviting someone round for a Spotify evening…

So what about sound quality? Well this is a very subjective point, however, there is no doubt that having spent a reasonable amount on a decent deck, pre-amp, valve amp and speakers… the sound is… well… amazing. Deep, warm, rich and detailed. But, as I said, I have invested a lot of time and money in to my setup, far more then I have spent on a CD, MP3 or streaming setup. Having started with an entry level turntable, I have to say I fell in love with vinyl, despite the sound being thin and drowning in cracks and pops. I actually committed to investing in the more expensive gear because I had fallen so in love with the charm of vinyl.

I didn’t know when I started this piece that I would be saying I had fallen in love with vinyl, but there it is. It gets under your skin, and you fully immerse yourself in the occasion of popping on an album and actively listening to it with family and friends. Music brings people together, but vinyl is more akin to a campfire, the family sits around and feeds it throughout the night. It drives the evening and warms the soul.