Mini.

So a few weeks ago, during one of their recent announcements, Apple unveiled their latest addition to the Apple complete home, the Apple HomePod Mini.

I was very excited about this.

We’ve been rocking the home automation vibe in our home for several years, both back east and here in our condo in Chicago. When we moved to the Windy City, I decided to go all in on Apple’s HomeKit automation, and for the most part it has worked very well for us. One of the issues with this approach, however, has been the price of Apple’s HomePod. We have two of them in the house and they were both purchased when on sale at Best Buy. The sale doesn’t come up often.

To provide full coverage throughout the house and to explore other options, we’ve also entertained both Alexa and Google Assistant in addition to our HomePods. Having dissimilar systems is rather maddening, you don’t know who to talk to when you enter a room. Is this an Alexa room or a Google Assistant Room? Should I be talking to Siri.

Earl asked me to get things under control and when Apple announced the smaller, and cheaper while still quite capable HomePod Mini, I was sold. I ordered one as soon as they were available and it arrived in the mail ahead of schedule.

I love it.

Like it’s bigger sibling, the sound quality of the HomePod Mini beats anything else in its class. Setup is a snap. You literally plug it in, hold your iPhone near it for a minute, and then let it do its thing. That’s it. Even though it’s a small device reminiscent of the Amazon Echo or the Google Nest whatever it’s called, the sound quality is amazing. It rivals the sound quality of the original HomePod. The only noticeable difference is less bass, and that’s to be expected due to the differences in size of the unit.

I have the HomePod Mini in my office and it has been working well since installed. While others have issues with interacting with Siri, I rarely have issues when working with the voice based assistant, perhaps I just “speak Siri” or something. She seems to know what I want when I want it and she is properly responsive 98% of the time.

At a $99 price point I’m not disappointed in the purchase at all, in fact I’m delighted. I’m looking forward to adding one more to the household when the funding department permits it.

It’ll be wonderful in the bathroom for music while I’m getting ready in the morning.

Go For It.

Folks in the neighborhood have begun decorating for Christmas and surrounding holidays. Initially this struck me as odd, because honestly my head is still stuck in March when the whole pandemic kicked into high gear. I find it very weird when I hear Christmas Sale ads on television; it just doesn’t feel anywhere near the season to me.

Normally I’m all about enjoying Thanksgiving first and then decorating for the holidays. However, with the pandemic and all, and people desperately seeking joy wherever they can safely find it, I’m all about decorating any way you want to decorate. If you want to put up Memorial Day flags in November, go for it.

I’ve seen a lot of Christmas trees going up in front room windows all over the place. These far outnumber the number of outdoor decorations thus far. I’m certain this will change after this weekend.

Find the season to be merry. No judgement from me in this fun year of 2020.

Lockdown.

Yesterday I told my mom and that we weren’t traveling for the holidays this year. This is not a decision I made in haste. With new lockdown restrictions and advisories snapping into effect all over the country, coupled with the fact that transmission of COVID-19 to any family member could potentially be a real possibility that turns deadly, it’s safer for us to stay at home and exchange holiday pleasantries over video chat.

This is not an ideal situation. It will not be the same. But 2020 has not been an ideal situation. It has not been the same.

I am hopeful after reading the news about promising vaccines and especially since the research for the Pfizer vaccine has been outside of U.S. government funded efforts. I know the government has to be involved in some way, but anything being pushed hard by the government during this administration makes me cautious; are things being rushed for political gain? I feel more confident of independent research.

I’m thankful that work allows us to carry over unused vacation time into 2021. We’ll be doing a lot of traveling after the vaccines start being distributed to the masses.

Wind.

It’s very windy at the moment. Converting the wind in knots at O’Hare to the more civilian miles per hour in the United States, the wind is currently blowing at 28 to 50 miles per hour.

It made for an interesting walk through the neighborhood.

As a weather geek and an amateur storm chaser I have always been amazed and fascinated by strong wind. Wind at this time of year is very magical for me. It’s like Mother Earth is clearing out the Northern Hemisphere to settle down for her winter’s nap. Bursts of wind were swirling leaves and such around the neighborhood as I walked over four miles this afternoon. Luckily, my flight jacket kept me warm and I was able to shield my eyes from the debris blowing around. The “roar” of the trees was magical.

While others were bundled up bustling here and there on their errands or walking their dogs, I was out for a nice Sunday stroll in 50 MPH winds. Sounds about right.

Big Sur.

Image from Ars Technica.

Earlier this week Apple had their third product announcement event in as many months. This week’s even focused on the Mac and provided more detail on the company’s move from standard Intel-based CPU chips to their own design, dubbed “Apple Silicon”. During the event Apple talked about impressive bumps in computing speed and, probably more noticeable to the average consumer, battery life. There was talk of some Mac models lasting nearly 20 hours on one charge.

That’s impressive.

Apple also announced the final release date of their latest version of macOS, dubbed “Big Sur”. Originally announced in June at WWDC, “Big Sur” is the first version of macOS to not be a “10-dot-something” since the year 2000. Big Sur incorporates new design elements that are somewhat more relatable to the iPhone and iPad users and is designed to run well on both traditional Macs with Intel CPUs and then new Macs running Apple Silicon.

As an iOS developer, I’ve been running macOS Big Sur for a couple of months. I jumped on the beta in mid August and it has been surprisingly rock solid for the entire experience, to the point that I forgot I was still running a beta. I jumped onto the “Gold Master” or release candidate earlier this week. It has maintained its rock solid status for both me and for my husband when I updated his MacBook Pro on official release day.

There’s plenty of reviews and guides and videos and the like around the details of the new operating system scattered all over the Internet, so I shan’t bore you with the intricacies of what’s changed, but I find the Big Sur experience to be very comfortable, pleasing to the eye, and a slightly faster version of the “same old, same old” I’ve been enjoying on my 2015 MacBook Pro since, well, 2015. Yes, it has a fresh look to it but it works and functions like it always has and that’s what we have, right? Advancements? Maybe a little. Revolutionary? Not at all. Evolutionary? Maybe a tad. Apple likes to play it safe with these things.

The thing is, I don’t find anything else out there to be as polished or as reliable as macOS, at least anything that offers some sort of flexibility for both the casual user and the technical diehard. On a recent Linux podcast they were celebrating the fact that one Linux desktop can now control Philips Hue lights from the computer, something we’ve been able to do for many years on a Mac. I like what Linux is trying to do, but it feels like it’s lagging behind. Google’s ChromeOS locks me into a web browser all the time, and Windows 10 is, well, pretty much the same Windows as Windows 2000. (Much like macOS is a lot like the Mac OS X released in 2001).

I watch “Star Trek” and see holograms and people waving their hands at projected desktops and the like and I wonder if we’re ever going to get there. Probably after I’m dead. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy what I have.

Grooming.

I recently looked up a governmental official on Wikipedia and inadvertently clicked on their photo. With today’s technology, official portraits can be huge in size and the photo in this Wikipedia article blew up to unreasonable proportions.

Because of my eccentric obsession with shaving and with facial hair, I couldn’t help but notice the public official did a really lousy job of shaving for his official portrait. If you look close, he’s missed a bunch of spots around his mouth, and in various areas on his cheeks. He probably just glided over his face really quick with an electric razor before the photo shoot and called it a day. Smile and say cheese.

So then I got to looking at other politicians’ official portraits, all male, and zoomed in to see what their shaving habits appeared to be. When you can zoom in to outlandish dimensions, it’s easy to see who cares about their appearance and who’s in rush.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump? They both shave well. Don Jr.? Before the beard that poor bastard had no idea what he was doing. The best I can ascertain about Eric Trump is he used his mother’s Flicker razor from the 1970s. Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of the DHS? He’s a mess. Mike Pence? Like the guy above, he shaves with an electric shaver and he misses a lot of spots. Who knows, maybe Mother shaves him. Mitch McConnell? The dude is mean as hell but his clean shave is well done. Chuck Schumer must go to the same barber because he shaves well as well. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is groomed well. I could go on for a while discussing this but I shan’t bore the reader.

I had a hypothesis that Republican male politicians were careless in their shaving habits but Democrats were more refined. This turned out to be false. The interesting thing is as the men get younger, the lazier they became with their shaving habits, at least for their big photo shoot where they take their official photo and get it plastered on Wikipedia. And then people blog about them.

At one time the White House had a full-functional barbershop but I believe it has since been replaced with a spray tan facility. Trump has been sporting a light mahogany lately.

306.

The counts have been projected for all 50 states of the union at Joe Biden is projected to get 306 electoral college votes and is the next President of the United States. Unless, of course, Trump resigns early so Pence pardon him, and then Biden slides into the role as #47. With the topsy turvy asshattery of the Trump administration, who knows what will happen. But despite all the hand wringing and fake lawsuits and use of CAPS LOCK to denote FACTS and TRUTH in tweets and the like, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have 306 votes and will be the next President and Vice President.

Trump cheerleader Kellyanne Conway talked about a 306-232 victory in 2016 and said it best.

It is my ultimate wish to never hear from her or her ilk again. I’m hopeful the Trumps and their cult followers will go back under the rocks they used to live under and we’ll get back to building a better United States. Of course, this is a pie in the sky fantasy, but the important thing is that Biden will be President and that signals that better times are ahead for us.

I think Joe Biden was the best realistic choice for the 2020 Presidential Election. I hope his message of unity and reconciliation will reach those that need to hear it. But at least the hopefully worse part of this nightmare is coming to an end.

Words.

I walk a lot. I average about six miles a day, usually taken in three different walks. My beginning of the day walk is the opportunity to listen to podcasts. My playlist generally contains podcasts about tech, but I also listen to some featuring humor or news commentary. Now that I think about it, what news isn’t commentary these days?

I also walk twice during my traditional work hours, once in the morning and once in the late afternoon. Lately I have been leaving my phone behind and opting to instead lose myself in my thoughts. I tend to solve work problems during these walks but occasionally I think about non-work topics as well. I rely on my Apple Watch to keep track of my steps and people are able to still reach me by text message. Responding can be a little tricky.

The only drawback is when I walk without my phone I have no way of capturing any photos. And lately I’ve been enjoying taking photos. The magic of taking the film to get developed is gone, but it’s fun to see photos on a bigger screen when I pull them up on my MacBook or iPad Pro.

But alas, my Apple Watch does not have a camera in it. And I’m OK with that.

Precautions.

When I was in elementary school, before we headed for the buses out front when the clock clicked to 3:30 p.m., we had to turn our chair upside down on our desk. This would make it easier for the custodians to clean the classroom after school hours. We did this every school day without fail, even that one time where we didn’t leave school until around 5:00 PM at night because the buses were having a hard time getting back to the school through the snow after the first run had taken the high school students home.

One of the elementary schools in our neighborhood, a private school for German students, has been holding their classes outside. I believe the Chicago Public Schools are closed, but private schools are open, and this is their way of keeping the students safe from COVID-19.

I had to giggle a little bit when I walked by and noticed the students are putting their chairs up on the tables outside. This is probably a good thing; we had a bit of rain yesterday and the chairs could have probably been swept away in the downpour last night.

I really appreciate that this school is open in as safe a way as possible. With the colder weather now here do I encourage them to be open with the students inside? Probably not. The classrooms look quite small and while I don’t know how big the typical class is, it doesn’t look like they’d have a lot of success in separating the students with social distancing.

I know this pandemic sucks. It sucks for everyone and it’s sucking extra hard for the U.S. because so many of our fellow citizens believe it doesn’t exist. But it does exist.

Do the right thing. Wear a mask. Maintain social distancing. Put your chair up on your desk at the end of the day.