eXtensions - Wednesday 6 January 2021


Wednesday Notes: Slowly Moving to the M1 MacBook Pro; Online Teaching Drawbacks; Assange Decision (sp. correction)

By Graham K. Rogers


The grades are in and I am ready to move fully to the M1 Mac. Online teaching does not produce the results that were predicted in theory. Some users refuse to embrace new technology. OWC Thunderbolt Hub needs the right cables. Intel has a $1 billion nudge. The decision on the Assange extradition: room for error.

I have finally put in the grades for the semester, but I am left questioning the effects of online teaching. Many of my colleagues are also dissatisfied with the results. In general conversation like me, the teachers I know tried hard to adapt their materials for conferencing, and in some cases it was learn it as you go. Some of my early class warmup exercises were scrapped because I saw them as impractical. It is fine to ask students to come and draw on a white board, but if all you have is the screen that, and some the ways I would use to draw students into a live interactive group, are dead in the water.

real classroom work

I am trying hard to blame myself, but teaching is a two-way activity. Many students are content with a lecture format in which the teacher explains ideas on a white board or uses other media, but even this fails in some situations. I had to lecture to a group of science students a couple of years back and it was clear that many did not attend. It was also clear that, while some students were listening and taking notes, a considerable number of others were working on tasks for other classes. It is no easy task to walk round those tiered lecture rooms and while talking to one group, others elsewhere were not receiving attention, while the teacher's dais limits how materials are delivered.

It is clear that some students do not follow the online class. If I am working through online exercises that require the students to read sentences out loud, in the class I am able to ensure that most students are paying attention. That is not the case online. On several occasions when I asked students to read, they did not know which sentence they should be delivering. I can see that some students are taking phone calls, or working on other devices. I was also told by another teacher that she was messaging one of my students and only realised later that this was while my class was running.

Feedback from students in the UK are generally positive with two problems: poor internet connections and students not submitting homework (even if done). As the Internet is often a factor that affects students here - and in many other countries - if only someone had come up with the idea of universally available connections, rather than the hodgepodge of systems, some of which seem to have been developed with the intention of keeping users out.

With the online delivery systems I am using, I set up my own room to give me the best delivery mechanism possible, but there are limits. One major problem is that the internet connections for students are intermittent. While my computer is online, students are in many different locations and the networks that they are linked to are of varying levels of reliability. One result of this is that videos are limited: students reported that they can follow the sound but that the visual input is jerky. If I am trying to show Steve Jobs announcing the iPhone, or Craig Federighi in total control of his presentation while going off at tangents, the effects are totally lost.

With an apparent lack of attention, much more is lost, apart from learning of course. I do not have exams for my courses. Instead I set a number of mini projects: some larger and more complex than others. A simple starter is a resume: to receive marks, a perfect version has to be produced and my part in this is to make suggestions as the work is delivered. To begin with, the work is a mess. Design and content are the two main areas I work on. In normal times, I make comments in class to the whole group. In the new normal, students send their work as PDF attachments and I mark up the content and send it back. In this way, the work evolves.

Before, I would work on this the first class after the project was outlined. With online teaching, most did not begin to appear until after midterm exams, so time was being lost. I did set a final deadline, but for the first time some students failed to meet that. This was magnified with other projects, particularly the final writing project which some students did not begin until the last few days. A lesson for me here is that I need to set firm deadlines for the students: I cannot rely on them, which is a shame and I feel much has been lost.

The new normal with work at home rules for some organizations has meant a number of changes to the ways we work although some are embracing this more than others. I recently became aware that an office worker was required to come in to the office and print out several applications. She used 10 boxes of A4 paper. The reason was that another official in the same organisation had to read and sign each of the documents, but had not mastered the digital signature, despite having been instructed.

That officer also had to come in instead of working at home, collect the pile of documents, read them at home, then return them (which uses fuel as well as time). For those on a Mac, Amber Neely (AppleInsider) explains how a digital signature can be added to a PDF document in MacOS. On the iPad Pro, I can do this fairly easily with the Apple Pencil in the same way I markup student writing. Save fuel, save time, reduce risk.

OWCThunderbolt Hub setup

Last week - last year - I tried out the OWC Thunderbolt Hub that had just arrived. Although I have eschewed the use of hubs in the past, with the four-port 13" Intel MacBook Pro I could manage easily with the use of converter cables (e.g. micro-USB to USB-C) and a couple of Apple adapters, for the VGA-connected classroom projectors, and latterly the HDMI monitor I bought for online teaching and a webcam (USB type A to USB-C). The M1 MacBook Pro would not allow that, so I bought the OWC Hub.

I put it to the test, but instead of the iPad Pro that I use for online markup of writing during a class, I scanned some negatives. I also ran a Time Machine backup disk. All three USB-C output ports were in use, as well as the USB type A port for the webcam. I still had the second USB-C port on the Mac free, so that meant I had some flexibility. After I had scanned the negatives, I kept the monitor attached to the Mac as on the old Mac, this had seen a power drop if I just used the battery. After an hour, the Mac was still showing 100%, while the Intel Mac showed a drop of a few percent with no other tasks running. In an online conference, that can drop to 20% in a 3-hour class. After a few more hours, the Intel Mac had dropped to just over 70% so that drop was due only to the monitor which does have its own power supply.

OWCThunderbolt Hub

While setting up for my first online teaching session this year I could not make the monitor or the webcam work. I tried different Ports on the Hub and the Mac but realised that instead of the short cable that came with the Hub, I had tried to be clever and used the Apple USB-C cable. When I swapped back to the short cable the connections were made immediately. That new cable must be Thunderbolt 4 while the Apple ones are of an earlier specification: there are no markings on the cable or the connectors.

A report this week shows that some M1 Mac users are seeing odd behaviour when a monitor is connected. While working the screensaver comes on and it is impossible for the user to return to the desktop. The only solution has been to restart, which would not be acceptable if one were running an online class.

With the tasks I was running in the scanning session last week, while the screen saver was activated after a preset time, there was no surprise activation, so this may not be a problem for everyone. I wondered about him use, monitor brand, or other tasks that those affected users were doing. Apple is aware and no doubt a fix will be coming.

I had commented recently on the move by AMD to begin research on new ARM chips like Apple, while it seemed that Intel was happy with the status quo, although they had begun looking at 7nm production. Apple is moving to 5nm and the EU has signed a declaration to develop a 2nm node (Evan Federovicz, WCCFTech). In the meantime, Intel has been urged by a hedge fund to get their corporate head out of the sand and look at ways "to restructure and explore alternative business strategies". Hartley Charlton (MacRumors) reports that Third Point LLC is critical of the lackadaisical attitude coming from Intel when other companies are making advances. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, AMD, TSMC, and Samsung are mentioned.

The investment group apparently has a $1 billion stake, so will be able to apply some pressure and wake the sleeping giant. With that in mind, it might be useful to read the article on AnandTech by Dr. Ian Cutress who in a comprehensive review (24 sections) examines the current Intel Flagship: the Core i9-10850K.

iMac box A friend took delivery of a new iMac this week. It had been on order since before Christmas, but these were in demand. He asked me to help him set it up. When we took it out of the box and started it up, I was surprised to see that it had Catalina installed: version 10.15.5. Before I updated to Big Sur on the Intel MacBook Pro, that was running 10.15.7, while the M1 MacBook Pro came with version 11.1 ready to go. Once I had created an Admin account for him, we downloaded Big Sur and that was soon installed. While setting up, we skipped the iCloud login as he would work in a user account. I created three of these: friend, wife and son.

A problem came when trying to log in to iCloud. Although the username and password were accepted, verification failed several times. He was able to use the same account details to log in to the App Store, but then the login for iCloud changed. He was asked to enter the user password for Keychain authorization, followed by a request for the iPhone passcode. His company had changed this from numeric to alphabetic and the iMac refused to accept any characters. Typing in random numbers was possible (although obviously failed).

Unlike me, he is not a major user of iCloud and its features, preferring to use external disks for any backup, while relying on apps other than those from Apple for messaging. It does still seem that this should work, for example for photos

With the ease of modern communications, I signed up for an email newsletter from where I had lived in the U.K. and was offered several more, some of which I also joined. One of these was for court reports. I read a couple concerning child anonymity and TikTok then on Tuesday morning there was a link to the decision in the case against Julian Assange which everyone had expected to be a foregone conclusion.

In some ways it was. Each of the potential arguments was rehearsed in the PDF with the reasoning behind the decision at the end. It looked well-researched to my layman's eyes, but each time the defense argument was not upheld. That was until District Judge Vanessa Baraitser came to the argument concerning risk of suicide. She examined evidence from psychological experts, from lawyers, and from other sources. She had clearly dug into what would happen to Assange if he were extradited, particularly where he would be incarcerated. She outlined the potential sites and the probabilities of him going to these.

I was particularly interested in descriptions of conditions he would be held under and these are core to her final decision. Also in that decision, the words of Mike Pompeo were cited to show the probability of where and how he would be held.

we have to recognise that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us. To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now (Baraitser decision, Page 93)

In her opinion, the conditions were likely to cause a mental decline, with the probable result of suicide. On this, the extradition failed. The same quotation was used on Page 61 of the Decision where it was not seen as supporting the view that this was a political extradition. Many are pleased with the ruling that he cannot be extradited, although there is considerable disappointment that the other arguments were all dismissed, particularly that on the political nature of the prosecution. Pompeo's words that were used to show the risk of extreme incarceration were as much a statement of political revenge.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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