General Hardware Software Tech

Google, Me Too – annual edition

What was announced was all a little ho hum. Even the presenters seemed a little non plussed although it did get better. I did only watch the edited presentation though.

World’s worst kept secret. Google Pixel 4.

Pricing here in Australia is ok. Although for just a little more theres the iPhone 11.

Its an alright update. Apple seems to have jumped ahead in terms of lens but it’ll be interesting to see if the Pixel keeps its photo crown.

The jury is out on gesture controls. Its nice to not see a notch. Is it enough to make a mark even in the Android market? The 3a. I’m just saying.

Being where I am, we only got the revised Nest Mini and Nest Wifi. Good iterative updates. The Nest Wifi inheriting smart speaker functionality is a no brainer.

Unfortunately Australia doesn’t get the Pixelbook Go. This is positioned more as a regular device where last years ambitious tablet went down in flames.

I don’t know that Google weren’t wrong in what they wanted the tablet to be. Its just that it was half baked, going by the reviews. Microsoft are having a tilt at this with the Surface Pro X. The Pro X may go over better as Microsoft are pushing aggressively and it is running Windows.

Thats all folks.

Addendum. As of time of writing. Google and retailers are doing $150 redeemable vouchers on the Pixel 4.

Hardware Software Tech

Platform + Services = Jackpot!?

Platforms. Thats the clear takeaway for computing as a whole.

No doubt, its been there for some time. Microsoft pivoting so hard just makes it clear as day.

With their October 2nd event, they laid out their hand. Taking a bet in a couple of directions.

The key ones being the Surface Pro X, Surface Neo and Surface Duo. Each going different ways. The later two being a technology showcase as they aren’t planned for release until 2020 at the earliest.

No Data Available

The Surface Pro X is the rumoured ARM based 2 in 1 returned. It very much looks like a direct iPad Pro competitor and is priced similarly. Armed with LTE and good battery life (hopefully).

Interesting side note is that the storage can be user upgraded. Its using a new M.2 2230 SSD.

As with the original Windows RT, compatibility will be the big issue. Enough so that Microsoft put out some initial notes.

The Surface Neo has floated around Microsoft’s design studio for some time. This looks like Microsoft’s wildest bet. The demonstration was extremely hand wavy but showed the use cases.

Actual hardware details are scant. The promo video showing that it runs Intel so compatibility should be no problem. A customised OS to handle the 2 screens, Windows 10X. Apparently its pronounced, Windows ten ten?

The interesting part is the Windows UI customisation to the magnetic keyboard. The LCD panel switching to a track pad mode or a minimised screen / Touch Bar depending on where the keyboard sits.

Given the small size and internals, the battery life will be key. This looks pitched at a similar market to the Surface Go. The Go has been popular but one of the key knocks has been poor battery life.

Its an intriguing device nonetheless. Able to meet a wide variety of use cases while still being super portable.

The issue will be, will it find an audience. Where the Go neatly filled the low end, affordable portable niche. The Neo is likely going to fall between the Go and the regular Pro.

Again, price will be a major factor. Especially when the customer hears that the keyboard and Surface pen costs extra. (Pure conjecture but thats how the Surface Pro has rolled.)

Then for the almost “One more thing” moment. Don’t call it a comeback. Panos Panay jokingly had something left to announce.

It wasn’t presented as a phone.

Given how mature the smart phone market is. Microsoft having learnt a lesson from their first go round has partnered with Google. The special sauce being the work to allow Android to work with a dual screen UI.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much work was done. I’ve no doubt that Microsoft will have a uniform user experience within its own apps. But how soon does the UI fall apart as disparate Android apps are loaded.

The over arching issue here is development. Theres disparate versions of Windows on different architectures and then theres Android. I know Microsoft has been working hard on platform agnostic development tools.

Successfully so. At this point, they’ve managed to claw back a lot of developer mindshare. Delivering great open technology and tools. Even building Windows out as a developer OS. Can I get a high five for WSL!

However they’re all very different paradigms. Some like Windows 10X and the dual screen Android UI still in development.

To be successful, these products need to find an audience. Microsoft themselves have productivity covered. But a healthy App Store is needed. Even if its just to convert a sale.

Microsoft has always been a leader in development tools. So much so, that Windows always led in the desktop OS wars. Winning developer mindshare allowing it to dominate business and consumer markets with software alone.

However the computing landscape is very different today. The ubiquitous computing platform isn’t a desktop computer. <Billie Eilish>Duh</Billie Eilish>

At the core, each target platform has its own particulars and APIs / tool sets. Microsoft has clearly said they want developer input. The problem will be just how much work is involved in delivering to all these different devices and will it be worth it.

Users want a good selection of apps. Developers want a large paying user base to sell to. The issue is kick starting an App Store which has neither.

Third party developers will be faced with deciding on what to deliver to. Its a similar problem that Apple has been trying to address. Although from a very different angle.

Even Apple has struggled. When they have the advantage of a more uniform product set and significantly more control over those products. Along with one of the biggest App stores and largest paying user bases focused almost exclusively on the iPhone.

With Swift and unified APIs, Apple are hoping to make delivering macOS and iPadOS simpler and easier. Enough so as to entice iOS developers to broaden these smaller markets.

Microsoft has yet to address any of this in a significant way. Maybe the next Build ? If they can develop this into a platform then they can leverage those sweet sweet subscription services.

Hardware Tech

AMD production analysis

Stellar analysis of AMD’s current state.

TLDR, demand for EPYC and the potential revenue is too hard to ignore. AMD having gained some advantages over Intel in this space. Enough that the high end market is switching.

So the bulk of AMD’s production targets are shifting that way. Desktop CPUs and GPUs then have to contend with the leftovers. This does put paid to the idea that AMD were having problems with yields.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it means AMD are in a stronger position and making use of it.

The down side is that for the consumer desktop, prices will remain high and CPU / GPU options short.

Hardware Tech

Motherboard dark mode

Dark mode. Now coming to motherboards. Well, at least EVGAs anyway.

Its like saying, “Once upon a time. All food was organic.”.

Hardware Tech

QLC NAND & more – the Intel roadmap

Intel just announced their roadmap for storage. Anandtech got the full scoop.

Their enterprise storage game is strong. Optane at the enterprise level is going to provide significant benefits in being able to quickly restart / recover and maintain persistent data readily.

The final measure, as with anything, will be the price. But for mission critical corporate and server applications it should be an easy sell.

On the consumer front, Intel’s QLC NAND has been extremely succesful. The 660P has been a winning combination of price and performance. Linus gave a good run down on it.

Theres clear benefits and problems with it. The key ones being sustained throughput drop off and life span.

However Linus does come around and I’d agree. For general consumer use, the price / performance is hard to beat.

Hardware Tech

US tariff exemptions on some computer parts

Say, “Thank you Apple”. According to Reuters, Apple won some exemptions from the US trade regulators on certain computer parts.

Specifically around the new Mac Pro. Partially because they’ll continue to build the Mac Pro in Austin, Texas.

The knock on is that these exemptions look to be across the board as it benefits general PC makers and likely retail computer parts.

Making Stuff Tech

Mac futures

So what is the future of the Mac ? A lot of discussion has resurfaced again.

Dan Benjamin tweeted recently:

John Dvorak devoted another article to the Mac being phased out.

What I’m sensing is that like the old Apple II (forever), the Mac will be phased out and the whole line will be replaced by iPads.

I would take Dan’s tweet with a hint of humour (because I know I’d lose in a fight with him) but John is serious.

The iMac Pro landed to much fanfare just before Christmas. In time for a lot of good press and general reviews. It looks like a solid workstation for users needing a machine that can multitask heavily.

Apple have struggled with the Mac line. The problem seems to be the resources needed to maintain it when they’re focused chiefly on the main money maker, iOS and its devices.

When a rumour that Apple was going to drop the Mac Pro, professional users raised a clamour. It was enough to cause a usually quiet Apple to respond by having Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller do press. They re-confirmed Apple’s commitment to the Mac.

Initial discussion was around a pro version of the Imac. However further feedback caused Apple to say that they would deliver a revised “modular” Mac Pro.

In the meantime, that pro iMac has arrived. The specifications and performance are solid. However Apple’s definition of pro is very specific. The iMac Pro is very much an iMac. It is completely non user upgradeable. Some upgrades can be done by service centres.

So far I could see this machine being one that Apple worked on all along. Based on the initial discussions and expectations that Apple were hoping to set.

My issue here is, are Apple gauging the professional market with this iMac and the proposed Mac Pro ? The iMac Pro is very much an all in one with a finite life span. The only solid evidence we have is that Apple are firmly committed to AR and VR. Developers in this area will need workstation machines capable of handling demanding tasks.

The problem will be if sales aren’t to Apple’s expectations. Is this the end of the line ? Apple themselves have said that the desktop market is a small percentage of the overall Mac market. The Mac Pro an even smaller percentage of that small desktop percentage.

It’d be understandable if the amount of work and time to deliver a pro desktop is a tough ask. Its hard not to take the current Mac Pro’s state as an indicator of what they’ve been thinking. Sure I can understand that they might have made some bad design decisions but it saw no major revisions since its release.

Granted some of the fault rests with Intel’s workstation processors lagging badly on their roadmaps.

I do hope that we’ll get workstation Macs. I look forward to seeing what the future holds. Possibly even buying one. Because my use cases better fit the Mac Pro then the iMac Pro. I’m leaning towards having a workstation again one way or the other.

At the prices Apple is asking, its an investment that needs to last more then four to five years though.

Software Tech

What do we do with a problem like macOS or that rumoured Apple Universal Apps plan

So Apple are rumoured to be going to a single binary in the future. This means that developers can deliver to MacOS and iOS all at once.

To quote, Mark Gurman, who broke the story:

“Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.”

I can see Apple’s direction in this.

  • It puts macOS on the same footing as iOS with users.
  • Makes iOS developers consider macOS versions. In a lot of ways, macOS is an untapped market. Mac sales have been and are strong.
  • Potential simplification of programming APIs from both the language, itself, and for developers.

Thing is this isn’t without its problems.

  • Pricing. macOS apps are traditionally pricier then iOS apps. Arguably there is more work involved on macOS. Part of this is the comprehensiveness of features and inter-operability.
  • App Store only ? With the state of the macOS App Store currently, developers have been leaving to sell their apps independently. Would the universal binaries be restricted to the App Store only ? This would come with the guidelines about sandboxing which was the reason for developers leaving to begin with.
  • Half baked macOS versions. The bulk of the App Store market is in iOS. Given customers are use to very cheap or free that puts pressure on developers to assess very carefully what platforms and features they service. The dearth of good iPad apps is a reflection of this. How will macOS fare ?

Its pretty clear that the iPhone is the champion in Apple’s stables. So it has the chief share of development resources and marketing push. Thats not to say that iPad and Macs are slouches. Any company would die to have the sort of market that the iPad or Mac has.

Its just in comparison, the iPhone is the bread winner.

My issue is that even the iPad, which directly shares a lot of the iPhone resources, comes off second best in developer eyes. Its going to be a tough ask of iOS developers to invest in macOS development. Even as a hobby developer, I weigh the time and cost of each “platform”.

For this to succeed Apple will need to provide unified tools and APIs to help with delivering these sorts of apps quicker and easier then they are today.

If theres anyone to do this, Apple are it. The sorts of technical challenges that they’ve managed in the past are proof of that. Its just the road behind is also littered with the proof where their will hasn’t been up to the task as well.

Apple seems to be taking on board a lot of discussion around their product offerings and responding more (for Apple). So I’ll take this as a good sign in that they’re looking into the Mac as a whole.

For a comprehensive discussion of this, head over to the excellent MJTsai’s blog.

Drones Software Tech

Unifly Launchpad – Drone Map

As part of my drone pre-flight checklist, I use Unifly Launchpad as a guide to what CASA regulations there are for that location.

As a novice UAV pilot, theres a steep learning curve. CASA has been very generous with its regulations in allowing drones to be used with very little restriction or tracking.

Launchpad is a free app available for iOS and Android. Aside from flight guidelines, it can be used for flight logging of multiple vehicles.

There are a number of CASA approved flight apps. However they are aimed at proper pilots with a subscription price tag to match. There is an official UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) app from an approved developer but its not available as of time of writing.

Australia flight maps and restrictions zones have been loaded. Combined with the GPS location, Launchpad can give advice on what flight restrictions there are in the location I’m at.

I’m not a hundred percent on how often Unifly are updating their data. Just as an example, I’m finding Launchpad has recommended 152.4 metres where the official CASA height limit in controlled airspace is 120 metres.

Again, I can’t stress highly enough that the regulations are for safety. I want to enjoy flying a drone knowing I’m not going to cause issues or injury. Its not just being aware of whats at ground level but everything above as well.

Ultimately I check back to CASA’s regulations as the final word.

Software Tech


Miniflux is a simple fast web based RSS reader.

Its quick and easy to install. Only needing a webserver and php. Data is stored in SQLITE.


Most importantly:

  1. Responsive design. So it works with mobile devices and desktops.
  2. Open source. So it can be self hosted. Or if you want the developer offers a hosted version.
  3. It respects privacy and doesn’t throw advertising at you. Thats not to say that subscribed RSS feeds don’t though.

I’ve used Miniflux on and off over the years. Recently returning to it. To better keep track of the more outlying websites that I like to read but sometimes forget.

Its a straightforward application that does one thing really well. This is where the web is great. A web application hosted online thats accessible from everywhere with no local installation required. Take that mobile apps!

Note that the self hosted route, requires some server side knowledge and a host for it to live on.

Highly recommended.