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Questions and answers

One of our members suggested I post a link to Macworld’s 911 column. This has been an ongoing series where subscribers to the magazines ask common questions, and Macworld posts answers. The answers are well written, and (usually) very good. Here is a recent collection:

https://www.macworld.com/article/228117/your-top-questions-to-mac-911-and-some-answers.html

Sometimes the advertising gets in the way, but the writing is down to earth.

A tip: if you ever try to do something on your Mac or iPad or iPhone and can’t figure out how, back off a bit and try to think of the task more generically. In other words, don’t try and obsess over what you are trying to do at that particular moment but, rather, think of what other people might do with whatever tool you are using. Sometimes you may find that you are using the wrong tool, and another tool is a better choice. Or you might decide this is the right tool, but you are approaching the problem from the wrong perspective.

Such as: someone wrote to me a few weeks ago convinced that they had a virus. Their Mac wasn’t working, and everything was very slow. The answer was less scary and less intrusive: the hard disk was full. Not absolutely crammed, but too full to work reliably. (To even use a web browser, you need several gigabytes β€” sometimes tens of gigabytes β€” worth of free disk space). Copying stuff off to another drive freed up space, and the computer was faster and more reliable.

Cable, connector, and adapter confusion

Cable, connector, and adapter confusion

One of the most common questions I’ve received over the years comes in two forms:

  • I am trying to connect [something to something else] and don’t know what cables I need.
  • I am buying a new [iPhone, iPad, Mac] and need to connect it to [my old printer, my old external drive, an arc welding machine] and don’t know how.

I want to recommend two resources, one (almost) free and one that costs money. First, the (almost) free one: MacTracker. MacTracker is a database of Apple devices (desktop and laptop and server Macs, cameras, displays, iPhones, iPads, Newtons, printers, watches, major pieces of software, etc.) with dates of when they were introduced and discontinued, what software they came with and what software they are compatible with, what ports they have, etc.

You want to know what kind of ports you can find on a Macintosh Performa 600? MacTracker will tell you it has a DB-15 display port and a DB-25 SCSI port, which means it can’t be connected to any modern equipment; even the keyboard and mouse use ADB connectors incompatible with anything used today.

A MacBook Pro from 2008, on the other hand, does come with USB ports, but they are USB 2.0 ports, far slower than the USB-3 or Thunderbolt 4 ports used on a MacBook Pro from 2021. The 2015 MacBook also has a VGA port for external video, incompatible with the 2021 model using HDMI for external video.

You can get MacTracker for your Mac from either the Mac Tracker website,

https://mactracker.ca

or from Apple’s Mac App Store,

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mactracker/id430255202

You can also get it for iOS (both the Mac and iOS versions contain the same information) from the iOS App Store,

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/mactracker/id311421597

I say it is “almost free” because the developer, who has been working on MacTracker for decades,

https://mactracker.ca/20-years/

has devoted vast amounts of time and energy to this endeavor. Say nice things to him; he’s Canadian.

Knowing what ports your Mac or iPhone or Newton has is only half the battle. The next challenge: cables and adapters. It is possible to plug (some) iPads into an external disk drive, but getting the right cables and adapters can be a challenge. An example: I recently could not understand why my Thunderbolt RAID would not work with my new M1-powered Mac mini. I ran a cable between the two, and it fit perfectly, but nothing happened.

The problem? I was using a USB-C cable, which looks almost identical to a Thunderbolt 4 cable. But while the connectors look the same, the USB-C cable lacks the chips inside the connectors that make them Thunderbolt 4 cables. Thunderbolt 4 cables are backward compatible with USB-C, but you can’t use a USB-C cable to connect two Thunderbolt 4 devices. There are also critical speed differences:

  • Thunderbolt 4 to USB 2.0 device (with adapter): maximum of 480 Mbps (in theory, 48 megabytes per second)
  • Thunderbolt 4 to USB 3.1 device (with adapter): maximum of 10 gigabytes per second
  • Thunderbolt 4 to USB 3.2 device (with adapter): maximum speed of 20 gigabytes per second
  • Thunderbolt 4 to Thunderbolt 4 device: maximum speed of 40 gigabytes per second

Once I grabbed the right cable, my Mac mini was very happy with the RAID, and the RAID was impressively fast. Fortunately, I both knew what the problem was, and I had the right cable.

If you lack such experience, I highly recommend you get a brand-new book, Take Control of Untangling Connections. While I haven’t purchased the book, the publisher has a free preview of the book,

and it looks like the perfect reference for those who haven’t spent half a century plugging computer equipment into things. The book is $9.99, and you can purchase and download a copy (in PDF, Kindle, or iBooks format) in one step:

https://www.takecontrolbooks.com/untangling/

 Not only does it tell you which cables do what, it also offers advice on how to reduce cable clutter. My personal record: I had a Mac IIfx once upon a time that had 11 devices plugged into it. One computer, 11 devices. The computer and peripherals spilled off the desk and onto two adjacent tables. Just periodic dusting was a major technical exercise.

Knowing what cables can be used to connect devices is critically important if you want to add a scanner or printer or external disk drive or you are trying to migrate older devices to a new machine. Invest in some reference material; it can save you tremendous amounts of time, and money.

Scams and the war in Ukraine πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resulted in an explosion of online scams, both from opportunists trying to divert donations to their own pockets as well as scams by Russian and Russian-allied hackers. DomainTools, a computer security firm that analyzes security threats at the domain level (strait-mac.org is a domain, cnn.com is a domain, whitehouse.gov is a domain), has tracked a rapid rise in the number of domains that mention some variation of “Ukraine,”

https://www.domaintools.com/resources/blog/threat-monitoring-newly-created-ukraine-related-domain-names

While not all such domains are scams, a surprising number are, and there are hundreds of them that try to mimic legitimate domains engaged in disaster relief, refugee issues, humanitarian relief, and other perfectly legitimate purposes.

Peek Performance, peeked

Peek Performance, peeked

Apple’s March 8, 2022 “Special Event,” titled “Peek Performance,” was indeed a pun. Apple provided a peek at where their future lies, and it is a fast, elegant future.

First, the boring stuff. Apple offered two new iPhones, an iPhone 13 and an iPhone Pro, in green. Same iPhone 13 and 13 Pro specs as their cousins, but green. They also announced the phones would be available on March 18, which was ridiculous. Didn’t they look at a calendar? March 17 is the obvious day to start selling a green phone.

(Yes, I know the previous paragraph is hard to read, but the important thing is: green.)

Green!

Next up was an impressive, if confusingly named, iPhone SE. Apple has introduced previous phones and called them SE, but the new 2022 model is much, much faster, more secure, has better battery life, a far better camera, and camera software, etc. It is priced less than any color iPhone 13, but the performance is not that far behind. The announcement was expected, but still: impressive.

If you have anything older than an iPhone X, your phone is nearing “end of life” in terms of updates, security, and connectivity. The iPhone SE is reasonably priced and comes in several colors (well, red, white, and black), none of them green.

New iPhone SE. No green.

The new M1-powered iPad Air is essentially an M1 iPad Pro, but more affordable and lighter weight. It comes in a variety of colors, including a Sequim-friendly lavender (Apple calls it “purple” but it is lavender). You can also get it as a WiFi-only model, or as a WiFi and cellular version, allowing you to be connected to the Internet anywhere you can get a cell signal. I stuffed my iPad Air under a pillow so it wouldn’t hear about all the wonders of the new model and get jealous; it is an impressive hardware and software feat.

M-1 powered iPad Air, connected to a solid-state external drive via USB-C.

Apple also introduced a Studio Display, which is a 27-inch, 5K (5120×2880 pixel) Retina display with a 12 megapixel Center Stage camera (the camera “follows” you when doing video conferencing, thanks to some fancy software), six speakers that provide Spatial Audio, a very bright screen with an extraordinary color spectrum, three microphones with support for Siri, three USB-C ports, one Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) port, all powered by its own Apple Silicon processor. It probably has a faster processor and more memory than any Mac you’ve ever owned.

An Apple Studio Display hooked up to a MacBook Air. You can hook it up to any other current Mac, too.

Finally, there was the Mac Studio. When it appeared on the screen, my initial impression was that it was a bit more than twice the height of a Mac mini, and I immediately noticed the air holes on the bottom, the two USB-C ports on the front, and the SD card slot. As a photographer, the SD slot in front captured an inordinate amount of my attention. “Look, an SD slot!” My spouse did not laugh, but probably wanted to.

Mac Studio front, showing two USB-C ports plus β€” an SD (Secure Digital) card slot, for still and video cameras.

Eventually, they got around to showing the back of the Mac Studio, and things got more exciting. There are four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10 Gb Ethernet port (10 times faster than what most computers have), two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, and a headphone/speaker jack.

You can also clearly see the air vents on the base, where air enters, and the zillions of holes out the back, where the air is vented. The back also features the power button, hidden away where you won’t accidentally turn things off.

As you might guess, this is a high-end machine, with memory ranging from 32 GB to 128 GB, storage ranging from 512 GB to 8 TB (8 trillion bytes), and two different CPUs. The M1 Max comes with a 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU (graphics processing unit), and a 16-core neural engine. The top-of-the-line model has an M1 Ultra with a 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, and a 32-core neural engine. Translated into English, either one has lots of central processing power for number crunching, lots of graphics processing power for watching up to 5 screens at once (or doing massive movie or audio or photo processing, or breaking Russian codes, or…), and the neural engines can do trillions of operations a second to process Siri requests, handle computer security, and other complex tasks that are difficult to explain but you’ll like the results.

In addition to the very fast Ethernet connector, it also has Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, allowing you to connect to almost anything worth connecting.

The lowest-end model is $1999, but if you go for the faster chip, lots of memory and lots of SSD storage, it gets expensive. Add in a Studio Display (the Mac Studio does not come with a screen, or mouse, or keyboard) and β€” it is not a low-end machine, by any means.

Despite the price, the size of the machine is a breakthrough (no big ugly box to hide), the connectivity is excellent, and the performance is stunning. If you do a lot of video work, or work with great masses of photos, or do high-end music or sound editing, this is an immensely attractive machine.

Peek performance, indeed. You can stream Apple’s Special Event via your web browser, or the Apple TV app on your Apple TV.

Addendum: here is a graphic showing the relative size of Apple’s current desktop processor chips. The M1 was used in the first Apple Silicon iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro (as well as two iPads), the M1 Pro and M1 Max were used in later versions of the MacBook Pro and the lower-end Mac Studio, and the MacBook M1 Ultra is the heart of the higher-end Mac Studio. The M1 chip has an amazing 16 billion transistors; the M1 Ultra has a staggering 114 billion transistors.

Peek Performance

Apple has scheduled a “special event” for March 8, 2022, at 10 am Pacific Time. From Apple, the only hint at what is coming is the phrase, “Peek Performance,” which is undoubtably a pun on something (Mac, iPhone, robot vacuum cleaner) that is more powerful than something else that came before.

Personally, I am hoping for a Star Trek-type teleporter pad, making it faster and easier to visit England, New Zealand, and Japan. But the rumor mill is positing that we will see a new iPhone SE, or a new iPad Air, or possibly a larger Apple Silicon-based iMac, or an updated Mac mini, or possibly a Mac Pro with multiple Apple Silicon chips that can render a Disney animated movie in mere hours.

Whatever it is, we will undoubtably discuss it at the March 15 Strait Macintosh meeting, along with references to the Ides of March.

Meanwhile, Apple has suspended all product sales in Russia, suspended the use of Apple Pay in Russia, block the download of the Russia Today (RT) News app and the Sputnik News app in Russia, and has disabled traffic and live maps in Apple Maps in the Ukraine.

πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡¦

And a heads-up for anyone who runs a website, either personal or for a business or organization. Russia and its allies have drastically stepped up their attacks on websites, including those with no military or government purpose, such as the SMUG site. Why are they doing this? They attack such sites to turn them into platforms for launching attacks against more sensitive sites, essentially trying to turn the sites into a robot electronic army. We are monitoring the situation.

3G networks and your car

Though this really isn’t a Mac or iPhone or iPad issue, it is a good bet that you have a car. And a shutdown, today, of AT&T’s 3G network may disable dashboard telemetry, GPS navigation, the infotainment system, or a combination of all the above, on your car.

Virtually all car manufacturers (Tesla is an exception) entirely outsource their car computer hardware and software sourcing and development. Car manufacturers build cars, and while the cars may be full of computer chips, none of them are designed by the car manufacturers, and virtually all of the software comes from third-party vendors and contractors. This will probably change rapidly in the next few years because of β€” what happens today.

The FCC has been trying, for many years, to shut down the 3G telephone wireless system, and use that part of the electromagnetic spectrum for other purposes. Corporate lobbyists have pushed, repeatedly, for the shutdown deadlines to be pushed back, and have even funded advertising on television and radio telling of the horrors caused by such a shutdown. Forget, for the moment, that the rest of the world made such changes years ago without causing disaster.

But today, the shutdown of AT&T’s 3G network may disable a wide variety of systems on your car, ranging from your radio to your crash notification system. Consumer Reports has a detailed article about how this can disable the crash notification system in many cars,

https://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/3g-wireless-network-shutdown-impact-on-car-safety-a2215482633/

The Drive compiled a list of specific models affected by this change:

https://www.thedrive.com/tech/43187/how-the-3g-shutdown-in-2022-could-screw-your-car

“But,” you say, “I don’t use my car’s navigation system. I use CarPlay!” Unfortunately, CarPlay, while it is driven by your iPhone, uses your car’s built-in navigation system in order to work, and if your built-in navigation system is disabled, CarPlay won’t work, either.

For car owners, this is a problem that can’t be fixed by taking your car to the dealer and getting a software patch. The root problem is that the manufacturer built the car with an embedded 3G modem, which means there is a physical component of your car that needs to be replaced. As the physical component also requires compatible software, which may not even exist, this is a serious issue.

Add in a pandemic-prompted worldwide shortage of computer chips (which includes chips used for 4G and 5G modems), plus the need for software that may not even exist, a fix may not be realistically possible.

Unleashed

Apple is hosting a virtual “Special Event” on Monday, October 18. This graphic is the only information released so far:

Apple Special Event, October 18: Unleashed

Things Apple may announce at the event:

  • A new line of clothing created from recycled packing materials from iPhone shipping containers.
  • A new charging connector that not only isn’t interchangeable with any other connector on the market, but it also will be on backorder until at least 2024.
  • A new high-end MacBook Pro, possibly in both 14″ and 16″ flavors, using a new Apple Silicon CPU chip.
  • A release date for the next version of the macOS operating system, macOS Big Sur.
  • Possibly something having to do with robot gerbils.

We will talk about whatever Apple announces on the very next day, at the Strait Macintosh User Group Meeting.

Privacy settings for websites

β€œ Privacy Reset: A guide to the important settings you should change now” is a Washington Post article you can read for free, and should.

With the almost complete lack of legislation on privacy or security in the United States (plenty of regulation of government sites, almost nothing for individuals or companies), the European Union has taken the lead on both issues. While some large corporations took an early lead in adopting EU regulations as a foundation for revamped privacy and security policies, more recently there has been a push to turn this into something of a game: make customization of privacy and security a maze, and hope the individual users never figure out how to escape.

This article is well worth your attention.

https://wapo.st/3o2SVkL

Homework for talking about email

Email has been around since 1971, when a researcher sent a message to another researcher on a different computer across a network. The two machines were right next to each other, which is oddly similar to things we see today, such as two family members sending email messages to each other from different rooms in the same house, or even different ends of the same couch.

While incredibly useful, email is also very dangerous, as it has been used to end relationships and marriages, start gang wars, manipulate people for political ends, and commit outright crimes. It also has another dark side, which is email’s role in some of the darker aspects of social media.

In preparation for the September 21, 2021 meeting, it would be advantageous if participants did some homework. A short interview with a CBS News editor who has research “dark patterns” will take only about six minutes of your time, and you can view it on either YouTube or the CBS News site:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/manipulative-advertising-technology-dark-patterns/

The second piece of homework requires more of a commitment, as it is a one hour, 33 minute documentary titled “The Social Dilemma.” It is available on Netflix, via your phone, computer, Apple TV, or smart TV app. If you aren’t a Netflix subscriber, it is also available, until the end of September 2021, on YouTube, for free:

You can also read about this award-winning documentary on their website,

While you might think that neither of these video pieces has anything to do with email, many of the problems presented are founded in how email (and the web) work, and watching these two videos will give you a better understanding of why you should prune, sort, delete, archive, and generally treat email as a useful but unruly plant rather than simply a tool.

Give both videos a close look. They are definitely not boring.

California Streaming, September 14

Apple will have a live, virtual event on September 14 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. You can read about it on Apple’s site, which says nothing at all:

https://www.apple.com/apple-events/?cid=CDM-USA-DM-P0021399-484205

Slightly more was released on Apple’s Twitter account,

It isn’t a very useful or informative tweet, but it is pretty.

What people think Apple will talk about are new iPhones and possibly Apple Watch models, plus new versions of iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS, and probably tvOS (for the Apple TV). Some commentators are speculating the event may also announce more Macs, but traditionally that has followed at a separate event in late September or early October.

Whatever they announce, we will probably talk about it at the SMUG meeting on September 21.