There are surveys and there are surveys. And on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I focused on a couple that had misleading implications.
In the first half of the episode, we presented outspoken commentator and podcaster Peter Cohen. As part of an extensive agenda, Gene and Peter talked about self-driving technology, and what Apple might be planning. Gene explained how air bags and seat belts combined to help save his life during a serious auto accident recently. What about the claims from Greenpeace, the environmental organization, about whether Apple is engaged in planned obsolescence by making its products difficult or impossible to upgrade? What about a survey that some 25% of Windows users in the U.S., who plan to buy new computers in the next six months, are going to choose Macs?
You’ll also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. The discussion started with a brief pop culture segment, as Gene mentioned that Joel Hynek, the son of the late Dr. J. Allen Hynek, the well-known astronomer with a fascination for UFOs, is an Oscar-winning special effects artist. On the tech front, the discussion moved to whether self-driving technology will spread to car-sharing. Instead of buying a car, you will share autonomous vehicles with other drivers. Just how will it impact the car-buying experience? Jeff also talked about the Greenpeace report, and the flaws in the smartphone and notebook test methods employed by Consumer Reports magazine. Can you really get nearly 20 hours of battery life from a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar?
Now when it comes to CR magazine, I continue to focus on the subject, because the publication receives more credit than it deserves. There are reasons why, such as the fact that CR is published by a non-profit corporation. More important, at least when it comes to optics, is that all tested products are bought anonymously at retail. So there is no risk of a manufacturer deliberately tampering with a test product to perform better than a production model.
While the theory about product altering may seem credible, I’ve never seen it happen in the real world. I have been reviewing tech gear for some 25 years. During that time, I’ve received product from a number of tech companies, and at no time was there any evidence that any of it was somehow altered to perform better. Indeed, I recall the time when I took a review machine, a Mac notebook, with me when I attended a Macworld Expo in the late 1990s. Soon as I sat down in the hotel room to catch up on my day, I awoke the computer, an original iBook, and heard the telltale clicking and clacking of the hard drive failing.
Fortunately, I was able to borrow a notebook from a fellow journalist, and more or less get back to work. But things happen, and it did seem pretty clear to me that Apple didn’t send me anything other than a normal production unit. Drives fail, and maybe it had been roughed up by previous reviewers, so by the time it got into my hands, it was poised to fail. Tampering? Never.
But CR’s real problem is its questionable test methodology. I understand about motor vehicles exhibiting dangerous handling characteristics, and when CR reports such results, you can bet that car makers take notice and make the appropriate changes in their designs. But when CR rates notebook computers, Mac and PC, as having twice the rated battery life — contrary to user experience — something is wrong, very wrong.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host Curt Collins present Mark O’Connell, author of “The Close Encounters Man: How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs,” a biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek. You’ll learn about the amazing personal history of a scientist who, at first, tried hard to dismiss the possibility that UFOs were real, but eventually discovered, by the weight of the evidence, that there was something real behind this phenomenon. During this episode, Gene will discuss the time he introduced Dr. Hynek to best-seeing author Charles Berlitz. And just how much money did Dr. Hynek receive for the work he did on Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi classic, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?”
You know, it wasn’t so many years ago that I would install developer betas of new operating systems the very first day they appeared on Apple’s site. I didn’t mind hitting the wall on an installation, or just running the apps that I used most often. But I also had a spare Mac around, or a spare drive, so I could test the waters, first, and go through different builds before they were reliable enough to commit my work computer to the process.
I don’t have much in the way of extra gear anymore; well unless you count that 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2010, which still gets regular if occasional use. A couple of years ago, it was upgraded from 4GB to 8GB RAM, and the internal 500GB hard drive was replaced with an similarly-sized SSD from Other World Computing. So it runs a whole lot faster than before, and thus it appeared to be a suitable platform for macOS High Sierra.
But it’s also one of the oldest Macs that will support an upgrade to 10.13. Those requirements are unchanged from Sierra, which ran pretty well. It was worth taking a chance.
With the release of the public beta, it appeared that Apple felt it was safe enough for the unwashed masses to try. So I backed up my MacBook Pro’s data, downloaded the latest beta, and prepared for the upgrade. But I ran into some glitches that stopped me cold. When I first launched the installer, it would shortly deliver a prompt about a damaged resource on the server. It didn’t make much sense, but I tried reinstalling Sierra via the Recovery Disk, and that seemed to help.
Until it delivered a message about needing to upgrade macOS Server first. Only I’ve never used that computer as a server. So what was going on here?
I did, however, locate the presence of a Server app. I’m not sure when that happened, but removing it allowed the installer to proceed.
The first step of the setup process was to switch the file system. This is one of the most important features of High Sierra, as Apple completes the migration from its aging file system, HFS+, to APFS (for Apple File System). The existing file system, introduced in 1998, has become a patchwork of add-ons to accommodate the switch to Mac OS X, and to add such features as journaling. The same old, creaky file system was used on iOS.
After reportedly flirting with other possibilities, Apple decided to do its own replacement for HFS+. APFS is more secure, offers better protection from directory damage and, among other things, may deliver improved read/write speeds, particularly on solid stage storage devices.
APFS was introduced in beta form last year, but with the release of iOS 10.3 earlier this year, hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads were seamlessly upgraded. The installation just took a little longer, and I doubt that most of you otherwise noticed any differences.
The process is more involved on a Mac, with so many combinations of storage devices and use cases. But when you launch the High Sierra installer, the first part of the process is to make the APFS switch before installing the new OS. On my MacBook Pro, it took about 55 minutes before it restarted and proceeded through a normal setup process.
In fact, when I first looked things over after the MacBook Pro restarted, I really didn’t see much, if any, visible differences among the apps that I normally used. Well, there’s Photos, which has received a major revision, but I’ll get to that in a later article. Safari also looks about the same, but you can now configure the browser to block autoplay on individual sites. The Settings for This Website feature is similar to what was available from third-party browser extensions, and it means that I no longer have to put up with unwanted video playback, with sound, when I open articles from CNN, USA Today and other sites. It’s a great thing. You can also activate content blockers, and automatically open a site in Reader mode.
I wonder, though, whether webmasters will finally take the hint and just switch off autoplay for good.
Some of the new features, such as Metal 2 graphics, aren’t supported on older graphics processors. But I didn’t see any evidence that anything slowed down as the result of installing an early beta.
That said, some things didn’t work as they should. Take Sleep mode. Whenever I tried to wake the machine, it did nothing. The screen remained dark. My only solution was to press the power button to turn it off, and then boot. With an SSD and APFS, that shouldn’t cause any harm, but this sort of behavior is not atypical of an early beta.
Mail is supposed to get some back-end improvements to reduce mail storage space, but I haven’t had a chance to see if it makes much of a difference. Since it has been a couple of months since I actually spent much time on the MacBook Pro, it still has to download a couple of thousand messages from the email servers. Unfortunately, that process has turned out to be dead slow, and it usually stalls until I quit and relaunch the app. Sometimes it won’t retrieve new messages either.
I am still checking my most important apps for compatibility. I use Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack to capture and combine audio streams for my radio shows. According to the developer, the app’s Instant On feature, which allow you to capture audio without having to relaunch an app, doesn’t work yet with High Sierra. There are also visible glitches; it appears to be functional otherwise. But I don’t plan on using it to prepare a radio show unless I need to do a location recording.
Audio Hijack and other apps are tightly integrated with the OS, so such glitches are to be expected. As High Sierra matures, and Rogue Amoeba’s developers continue to work on the problems, I’m sure the app will be all or mostly compatible before long.
In the meantime, I’m very glad I didn’t install High Sierra on my iMac. There’s plenty of time, and plenty of things to fix before I take that chance. My best suggestion is to think carefully before taking the plunge. and only try it on a spare Mac, or a spare drive. The switchover to APFS is especially dangerous, because of something goes wrong, you’ll need to erase the driver and restore from a backup.
THE FINAL WORD
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