eXtensions - Thursday 4 February 2021


Thursday Notes: Big Sur Update; Teaching about the M1; From Bezos to Jassy; Parler CEO out.

By Graham K. Rogers


Apple updated macOS this week. Some still have problems with external displays. Developer Mac minis have to be returned and there has been comment on the refund offered. Jeff Bezos is to move aside and the new Amazon CEO will be Andy Jassy: head of AWS. He was interviewed by Karen Swisher last year: the video is on YouTube.

An update to Big Sur appeared this week just before I was about to teach, so I waited until later in the day. Although some people reported that the download and install processes were slow, that was not a problem in my case, although I did notice the size of the download was over 6GB. Online notes suggested several changes to apps and features. Photos was mentioned among other. One of the many fixes concerned an external display issue although early reports suggest that some users are still experiencing this.

It all seemed to go smoothly enough for me and the next day, while I had an initial missed heart beat when WebEx seemed to stall, that did load and the class ran smoothly. I ran Time Machine, charged the device and switched to the iPad Pro for the rest of the day.

The next morning, I grabbed what I thought was my MacBook Pro and began work. I was not happy. Mail loaded almost 3,000 messages, some dating back to September, all of which I had read. Some had been in Junk. Notes, failed to load current items initially, but these did appear, including some I thought I had deleted. I saw that in the Mail preferences, Junk Mail filtering had been turned off. This was unusual for an update but there were other changes were, for example to the Dock. Magnification had been turned off; and the app Twitterific was no longer there. I dragged that back, but all these resets wasted a lot of morning time which is normally productive. The Dock preference controls the menubar and that was now disappearing. I like that to be shown permanently, particularly as I use two screens when teaching online: another box to change: this time to uncheck.

Thinking I should consider providing feedback about this unusual series of changes, I looked at the menu item, About this Mac. I saw that the version number was wrong. It was the beta. I had picked up the MacBook Air and not the M1 MacBook Pro which I had left on a different table when charging the night before. The MacBook Air is set up for a different working environment at my office and I never run Mail on it. Switching to the correct machine, I started work again. I took the MacBook Air back to my office. We are starting to open up the university in a few days, so it will see more regular use there, where I also have an older Mac mini. I still have the Intel MacBook Pro at home as well as the M1 Mac.

M1 Mac Book Air
M1 Mac Book Air - Image courtesy of Apple

The first confirmations about Apple Silicon came with WWDC last June when Big Sur was demonstrated running on computers that had the new chips. As usual, developer versions (beta) were ready to download, but Apple had a surprise in the Mac mini computers that were also ready for developers to try out Big Sur and their apps rather than using emulation. These Macs were fairly priced, although offered on a temporary basis. It was not long before we found out that they were running on a version of the A14 chip which seemed to make sense: ah . . . that's how they are doing it.

Everyone then presumed that the first Macs with Apple Silicon would also have a version of the same A14 chip. I am pleased to say that with the M1 announcement, we were all wrong. This week, Apple has asked for those original developer Mac mini computers to be returned, with an offer of $200 to go towards an M1 Mac (Juli Clover, MacRumors). Some developers are not happy with the low offer and it is noted that with the transition to Intel, the developer Macs saw a full refund. If anyone were to keep one of these it could have some value in the future: academic interest of course.

I did some teaching this week with a graduate student. The student was given an article to read and was to come up with an analysis. Last time I did this the results were not what I wanted and a couple of those taking part had only just read the article they had been assigned that day, and probably only once. I was a bit reluctant to experience that again, but when I pulled a selection of recent electronics articles off the web, the course coordinator stopped me and said that my insights into Apple and the advances was what she really wanted to make use of.

She forwarded a representative article for me to look at. Once I had the idea of the level we would be working at I chose a couple from AnandTech, with my preference being for the initial analysis of the M1 Mac mini. AnandTech had prepared some comments based on the A14 developer Mac mini, but had to revise that when the M1 release appeared. It was a reasonably lengthy article, although much was discussion of benchmarking, so I limited the task to Introduction, Conclusion, and one other page.

Before the student spoke I outlined some of the history of the Mac:

Motorola RISC -> PowerPC -> Intel -> M1 (ARM-based tech)

The student actually did quite well and had prepared a proper slide show (already streets ahead of the earlier bunch) with a couple of ideas from external sources so she had done additional research. While she was unfamiliar with some of the technology, she had looked up important terms (e.g. RISC, ARM, SOC) and was able to discuss this all fairly well. The one thing she missed, which I had to look up before the class was the SLC Cache on the M1 chip. "SLC refers to a type of NAND flash that stores only one bit of data per cell. It performs the simplest operation among other flash storage types; hence, it writes data at faster speeds, consumes less power and has higher endurance." This is one of the reasons the M1 is so fast.

M1 processor
M1 processor - Image courtesy of Apple

As the article also commented on power consumption, but was limited in what they could discuss in comparison with how it all works on a notebook computer, I had a look at my own M1 Mac with a little device from Satechi that measures power throughput. When working at a battery level of just over 80% the input voltage was shown as 19.8V at 1.46Amps. That gives me 13.5616438 Ohms but more relevant to the discussion, 30.096 Watts.

Bear in mind that the normal power brick for these Macs gives 61W, so there must be some reduction at higher charge levels. As the battery level approached 100% so power dropped (0.53A). With the screen off, when I returned from lunch this was down to 5v and 0.1A (0.5W). There is also more to the power-saving as when I opened the lid this morning, after leaving it in sleep mode all night, the charge was shown as 100% which an Intel Mac could never do.

M1 MacBook Pro power throughput
M1 MacBook Pro power throughput

I noticed a problem when working on the M1 Mac recently and re-examined this after this week's update to Big Sur. I like to work with some apps that synchronise between the iOS devices and my Macs. As well as Apple apps like Pages and Keynote, these include Notes, IA Writer and Notability. On the Mac, Notability opens but there is no panel to work in. This is the same on the Intel Mac, but not on the MacBook Air (with the beta - go figure). It also works fine on the iPad Pro. After the macOS 11.2 update on the M1 Mac, I tried again, but it was just the same. I deleted the app and downloaded again, but that made no difference. I cannot check Preferences as that panel fails to open too, although I do have visible menus.

I had a look online and eventually arrived at a help page with some ideas, although that needed me to enter the Library, which these days is invisible. Using a Finder panel, that showed me the location of the file, so by clicking on the display at the bottom of the panel was able to open the Library. First, the Containers folder but I did not find the expected file: "com.gingerlabs.NotabilityMac". There is a folder marked Notability. Another search showed that there was something in the Application Scripts folder. I trashed that and also put the app in the trash. The other file, which was supposed to be in Preferences, likewise did not exist: trashing an app's preference file used to be one of the easy fixes. For the second time I downloaded the app. Again, nothing. I wrote to the developers.

iPhone Lock Screen I am aware that, despite the howls from unprepared users and cries, of "worst version ever", or claims that OS versions are not tested, Apple does test its apps and operating systems extensively. Apart from one difficulty (Catalina), I have been running beta versions for a number of years. Like thousands of others I report problems I find. There is action and sometimes dialogue: more information or screen shots may be requested.

There has obviously been much feedback about the frustrations users are finding with Face Recognition and the need to wear masks. Early on, a change was made so that the passcode unlock screen appeared earlier; but this week there was some elation online when it was revealed that the next beta (and probably the next version) of iOS will unlock an iPhone when a user is wearing a mask, if the user is also wearing an Apple Watch (Chance Miller, 9to5Mac). I am running 14.4 so am keen for this release (14.5), which I would not expect for a few weeks yet.

A surprise announcement this week was that the head of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is stepping down. Although he will still be linked to the company as a member of the Board, he wants to spend more time with his rocket ship and the Washington Post among other projects. His replacement is Andy Jassy who has been with Amazon for several years and is head of AWS - the Amazon cloud service that even Apple uses. For those who do not know too much about him, there is a 45 minute interview by Karen Swisher with Jassy available on YouTube. It is worth taking the time to watch this: steely

Jeff Bezos Andy Jassy

Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy of Amazon - Images courtesy of Amazon

Unlike the forced transition at Apple, Bezos will still be around, but this will not stop the pundits asking, What would Jeff do? This undermines the new CEO constantly as it did with Cook. Even though he has helped Apple grow to be a $2.25 trillion company. The most recent quarter was $114 billion, compared with the 2010 figure of $15.8 billion, but Cook has had all his decisions second-guessed. Either that or he is criticised for having supervised the arrival of blandness at Apple: no real advances, the pundits claim. The iPhone is dismissed as a Jobs project. Growth has been phenomenal under Cook.

The new M1 Macs are exciting, even if clothed in older Mac bodies, but the development of the chip has its roots in the time of Jobs, with the 2008 hiring of Johny Srouji, so some will take the credit for the decision to develop this new direction for Macs away from him too. The A7 which was the first iPhone chip with 64-bit computing which pointed the way to the potential for desktop use, was released in 2013, 2 years after Steve Jobs died. Never forget, Jobs chose Cook himself.

In the last online comment, I mentioned that Tim Cook had made a presentation on privacy with particular reference to social networking sites by which many understand the nudge in the direction of Facebook. Apple has now made that video available for viewing. The video is 12 minutes long and can be found on YouTube. I love how he used the term, which he had before, "a data industrial complex" which mirrors Eisenhower's Military industrial complex warning: not that anyone took much notice of that.

A copy of the transcript was made available through MacRumors (Joe Rossignol)

We had mentioned the app Parler in relation to the ways in which some users may have expressed violence. It was removed from the Play Store, then the App Store, and then Amazon pulled the plug on its servers. It is interesting to note in that interview that was recorded last year, that Jassy said users who did not follow the rules would be removed. Now the CEO of Parler has also been removed, Sean Hollister (The Verge) reports: fired he says. By the Mercers.

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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