Experiments, I’ve Had A Few

Those that know me even moderately well, know that I love exploring different sides of tech. Back in the early 2000’s I was a Windows user and really happy with my brand new Compaq laptop. It was one of the first to feature a graphics card you could game with and was really light and compact (I resisted the urge to say compaq, you’re welcome). Then someone brought a Mac into the office. A PowerBook. It was shiny. It was different… “Never seen OS X before, is it any good?” I was asking. Oh, UNIX based? Photo management built in? You can edit videos with ease? I’m sure you can see where this is going. The next time I bought a laptop, it was a Mac and I absolutely loved it. The PowerBook G4 was my first experience with OS X and I’ve been a loyal user ever since. Mac Minis, Mac Pros, MacBook Pros, MacBooks, iMacs the list of Macs I’ve bought at home and at work would probably be staggeringly long. And it all started with you little guy:


Over the years that same curiosity has led me to try all sorts of weird and wonderful tech. On the phone front I switched to Android for a few years and thoroughly enjoyed the breath of fresh air that came with trying out things from a different perspective.

Ok, history lesson over. Fast forward to last year and I’m travelling to the states. I brought my 2016 MacBook Pro with me, which I felt had disappointed me in so many ways. High Sierra bugs though mostly minor kept annoying me. The keyboard wasn’t fun to type on and keys kept getting things under them which stopped some keys from clicking down properly. The Touch Bar I’d hoped would be a wonderful revelation in how I used my laptop turned out to be an annoying hindrance. Who knew I pressed ESC so many damn times in a day? Not I apparently. And in my time off between doing work and going to meetings I tried to game on it. The terrible frame rates and a lap that was on fire indicated to me that perhaps the machine wasn’t really comfortable doing what I’d asked of it. The fans concurred. Then, as if it were some kind of scripted event in a game I noticed something while browsing The Verge…it was an ad for something quite different

A graphics card you can actually game on? Top end hardware in an interesting form factor? Full size USB ports? SD card reader? Unlock it with your face? Touch Screen?! That…detaches? What the actual f***? I’m not exactly sure how it happened to this day, but I ended up in a Microsoft Store in San Francisco and somehow this came into my life:


Having impulse bought yet another tech gadget I decided to see what all the fuss was about and attempt to use this as my primary laptop. How long would I last? Probably not long, I thought. Maybe a week? Well over a month later, this is still my primary laptop and my MacBook Pro just looks at me, sadly as it gathers dust. I know, some of you are cheering (I’ve met you Microsoft fans) and some of you are yelling at your screens (I’ve met you too Apple fans). So here are some thoughts about the why and how of it all.

What I love:

  • The GTX 1050 in the 13″ model I bought can handle almost any game on medium to high settings. It’s not the 1080 that’s in my desktop, but it’s decent. I almost bought the 15″ GTX 1060 model but they had none in stock at the time.
  • When doing intense tasks the laptop stays nice and cool. No more feeling of my lap being on fire that my MacBook Pro gave me every damn day. I’m not sure if this is more modern components, better cooling or just the placement of parts in a bigger case, but it’s so good.
  • Touch screen and stylus support. I didn’t think I needed this in my life until I had it. It’s really useful.
  • The pen magnetically attaches to the screen, nice touch Microsoft!
  • The form factor feels great.
  • Windows 10 is so damn stable. I haven’t had to restart it once because things were going wrong…something I find myself doing a lot on the Mac recently.
  • Gaming on Windows is a million times better than macOS. I know all the historic reasons for this, not all of them Apple’s fault, but still, it is. Also unlike under Apple BootCamp, Microsoft is quite happy for you to download the latest Nvidia drivers and install them if you choose.
  • Have I mentioned the hardware? It’s really solid and nice.
  • The keyboard feels like it has more travel and is much nicer to type on.
  • Battery life is solid, I feel like I get roughly double the battery life my MacBook Pro was getting.
  • You can unlock the laptop with your face! It’s basically the same technology Apple uses for iPhone X but done earlier and better by Microsoft. I say better because it is far better at recognising me and if my face is obscured or there’s directly sunlight telling me that and trying again.
  • Physical ESC key. ‘Normal’ USB port. I missed both these things, now I have them again. I like the idea of having an SD Card reader but freely admit to not having used it yet.
  • Surprisingly all my MacBook Pro dongles work. Ethernet, HDMI, etc. I’m sure Microsoft ones are just as overpriced as Apple’s so that was a nice surprise.

Things I have had to find another way to do:

  • I use Terminal on the Mac heavily, having UNIX there ready to go at any time is essential for me. Turns out Windows 10 supports installing a Linux subsystem with minimal effort. You go to the store, download Ubuntu (or your other Linux flavour of choice) and you’re done. There’s no tab support in the Ubuntu window but you can open as many windows as you like, and it’s actually real Ubuntu, no funny business.
  • I really like Tweetbot on the Mac. The official Twitter client for Windows is reasonably good but I don’t love it as much as Tweetbot.
  • Tower (my Git app of choice) is available on Windows. That said, I ended up using SourceTree just because their app felt like a more mature, stable Windows app.
  • Android Studio and Intell-J run pretty much the same as they do on the Mac. That covers my Android and Web development needs.
  • As much as die hard Mac fans laugh at things like Electron, turns out there’s a huge upside for Windows users. Slack, Sublime Text and so many other apps I use all the time work exactly the same way thanks to their cross platform nature.
  • 1Password for Windows is surprisingly good. If they added Windows Hello support it would be perfect.

Things that are worse, or that I don’t care for:

  • Detaching the screen seemed like such a great idea. I tried it a few times and didn’t really have a use for it, so I pretty much use this like a regular laptop. I wonder if that’s a me thing or a universal experience. I’m not embedded enough in the Windows world to know.
  • Running Xcode in VMWare is horrendously slow. I *may* have tried installing macOS directly, but getting the drivers for the graphics working seemed like an uphill battle I just didn’t have time for. This means that I have to do all my home development on my iMac, tethered to a desk. The humanity! In all seriousness if I didn’t have an iMac at work and at home this would be a huge problem. iOS development is an essential part of my job.
  • Windows still has a few dark places you can end up in. There’s still a registry (though it’s buried further down these days) and there’s still Windows 2000 style areas that you need to go to for some things. It’s not as bad as it once was, but the OS still feels a bit underdone in some visual areas.
  • While Microsoft’s ‘Authentically Digital’ design aesthetic is clean, I honestly find it bland and boring. It feels like all the bad things about iOS 7.
  • I’ve never used Siri on the Mac and I see no reason to try Cortana either.
  • Hi DPI support seems much more solid than the last time I tried it, but occasionally you’ll still run into an app that has fuzzy text or image assets because they haven’t updated to support it yet. I feel like on the Mac we passed that point several years ago.
  • The laptop goes into sleep mode when you close the lid, good. It doesn’t wake up when you open it though if it’s been a while since you did it. I suspect it has something to do with the laptop moving from sleep -> hibernate, but it’s mildly annoying.

Is this the greatest laptop ever made? No. Does it blow the MacBook Pro so far out of the water that I’m walking around laughing at people still using Apple laptops? No. But there’s something here, and you can really feel it. Microsoft is getting good at hardware. Windows 10 is improving. They are listening to feedback and making yearly incremental updates based on it. If I were Apple I’d start to worry. Being arrogant and opinionated only works as long as all the decisions you make are right. As soon as they aren’t, the illusion of “it just works” is broken and people will start to look elsewhere. Not all at once, not in some massive exodus, but person by person they will seek out the solutions they feel best for them.


My Next Mac Mini Part 2, The Minining

Early this year I wrote about my 2010 Mac Mini and the desire to replace it with something more modern. For some reason the article got some traction and it seemed a lot of people were in the same boat as me. They were also looking at something Mini-like but were uninspired by Apple’s Mac Mini lineup. At the end of my previous post, I settled on this Intel NUC as being my next Mini of choice.

This week, it arrived:


iPhone 7 for scale

Out of the box a few things struck me. Firstly: Just how small it was. If that iPhone 7 above doesn’t give you an idea, here it is sitting on top of my old Mac Mini:

cable management

The second thing that struck me is how un-Apple like it looked. Ports on the front! Coloured ports! I was excited though, this was going to be a fun project. By default Intel NUCs come without a hard drive and RAM, but you can order them pre-configured from places like this with those things and an OS installed too. I decided that half the fun was picking those parts myself, so I picked up 2x8GB RAM sticks and an M.2 drive from my local PC retailer as well as a copy of Windows 10. It was interesting (though not surprising) to see just how cheap RAM and SSD drives are when you don’t buy them from Apple.

Putting in the hard drive and RAM was a breeze. You just flip the NUC over, take off the base and pop both in. Installing Windows was also surprisingly quick and easy. It even comes on a USB stick these days which is handy, since this thing is physically smaller than a CD/DVD.


Windows Update automatically found drivers for all the bits of hardware in the NUC and before I knew it we were up and running. My requirements for this machine were quite specific so I set about verifying everything I wanted to do would work:

  • Drives a 1080p TV
  • Plays online content like Netflix, YouTube, various online catch up TV services, etc
  • Runs iTunes and can play various TV and movie content that I’ve already purchased from Apple
  • Allows me to watch terrestrial TV, as well as pause, record, skip etc
  • Is able to use VPNs and Torrent clients to download very import Linux ISOs

So how did the NUC running Windows 10 go? Very admirably: it did all but the terrestrial TV part. It turns out my almost decade old USB dongle (EyeTV Diversity) isn’t that well supported. I eventually found drivers that seemed to run it, but it didn’t work that well. Also all the various PVR programs I tried had interfaces only a mother could love. I bet some of you out there are fans of them, and that’s fine, but I felt like I was in a horrible alternate reality universe compared to the program I was used to using: EyeTV from Elgato. No big deal, I told myself, I’ll just wander down to my local retailers and pick up a more modern USB TV dongle. It turns out (and perhaps this is a surprise to only me) that watching TV isn’t that popular with the kids anymore, because literally nowhere had them. Also Elgato at some point sold off that part of its business to another company that seems to be running their products in maintenance mode. At this point it was past midnight so I gave up and went to bed.

The next evening, fresh and spritely after a day at the office, an evil thought crossed my mind. I could search for a TV experience I was happy with on Windows 10, buying all new hardware and hoping for the best…or…I could install macOS on this machine. Now I’m not saying I actually did this, mind you. But if I had I would have used a combination of this guide, mixed with this one. And a short time later I probably would have seen something like this:


And perhaps then I would have installed all my software I had before, including EyeTV 3 and had a faster, smaller and much better Mac Mini running all the things the 2010 did. It probably would have looked something like this:


Had I done this I probably would have discovered that everything just works, except for the Bluetooth and WiFi. Perhaps I would have made a quick trip to a store to pick up a Bluetooth USB dongle which worked perfectly with my existing Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard. Finally I might have gone into the BIOS of the Intel NUC and turned off all the flashy lights as well as set the fan settings so that it’s all but silent except when doing processor intensive tasks. I’d like to think I would have been happy with this setup. Had I done any of that. Which of course I didn’t.

Hal: Open The Air Pod Doors

There are a million reviews of Apple’s new AirPods on the web, so this is not one of those. I have however been so impressed by mine that I just had to write about it. And why you ask? Well I feel like this is the first time in a long while that an Apple product has genuinely wowed me and exceeded my expectations. Everything from how small they are, how easy they are to pair (just open the lid) how well everything they do works, wow, just, wow. The feature where it pauses when you remove one? Works 100%. Instantly connecting to my iPhone when I take them out and put them in my ears? Works 100%. Battery life is great, charging them in the carry case is just genius. This is Apple at their very best, it feels, dammit I’m about to say it: magical.

I think the reason all of the above makes me so happy is that this is what it used to feel like to be an Apple user. Every new product was a chance to experience just a little bit more of that crack like magic. Of course it would always break occasionally (like when my laptop pretended like my AirPods didn’t exist until I signed out of iCloud and back in) but you were always willing to forgive the occasional glitches because the experience as a whole was so good.

Lastly, and really importantly they also pass a pretty high bar in my household: the Michelle Test.


I occasionally joke (lovingly of course) that I married my biggest critic, but it’s true in a nice way. I trust Michelle to give me feedback no one else would. The second she saw the AirPods in my ears she just laughed. And rightly so, right now it does feel goofy wearing them. So it was rather poetic that when she opened her xmas presents, among them was her very own pair of AirPods which she reluctantly concedes are pretty good. I caught her a few times just opening and closing the lid of the case, watching the little card go up and down on her phone each time she did.

So hats off to Apple for bringing some of that elegance and charm to their product line that wowed me back in the early 2000’s. I hope there’s more where that came from.

It Meshed With Me

Something about the new year makes me look around and want to replace things I own. Out with the old, in with the new! I know, how very first world, 1%, consumerist of me. To ring in 2017 with a bang, the first thing I replaced was something that doesn’t need replacing at all. My recent(ish) Netgear WiFi Router. Apart from the management interface designed in the 90’s by hardware engineers, it has served me pretty darn well. The WiFi is fast everywhere in our house, the routing…well it routes…and it has done the best job it can to distribute the ultra slow Internet we have here at home around my house.

But when Andy Ihnatko (my co-host at Relay FM) told me about his new Google WiFi mesh network, I instantly wanted it. I couldn’t just buy it though, I’m impulsive at the best of times, but at $299USD for a pack of 3 even I needed a reason. Then it dawned on me, sometime this year the new house that we’re building will be finished. This new house as it happens is much bigger and has more bedrooms than our current tiny house. Yes, what this house needs is good WiFi, and it won’t get that with just one router alone! What this new house needs is a new style of router, one that has multiple nodes that seamlessly mesh network together!

Lame attempt at justification over I headed to Amazon and to my amazement found they’d happily ship it here to our Penal Colony in Australia. The first thing that surprised me when it arrived was how nicely it was packaged. The second was just how small each of the units is:

A white cylinder, one LED strip through the middle of it and on the bottom two Ethernet ports and USB-C for power. The USB-C part was really handy since it came with US power plugs. I already own a lot of devices that charge via USB-C so finding a spare adapter or two was easy. From there I installed the Google WiFi app and was impressed with just how easy it was to set up. It got me to scan a QR code on the bottom of the first device and walked me through plugging it in and setting up a WiFi network. Basically the first unit you set up and plug into your router via Ethernet becomes the primary device, any others you add automatically mesh with that first one, or if your house is big enough each other. On being prompted to plug the second one into power it found it straight away. A short mandatory update later and my new WiFi network was live. Being curious I broke out a great app called Netspot and it confirmed that my house was all lit up in sweet, sweet green WiFi.

I tested file copying to various devices and that was fast and error free. Next up was my pet hobby, Rocket League on the PC for a few minutes of gaming. Here I encountered my first and only roadblock. Every minute or so my ping would go from a reasonable 65 to an unplayable 500+. I quickly figured out that my kids were watching YouTube which causes problems at the best of times (welcome to Australia and my 3.5mbs connection). Not to worry though, this was the perfect time to test out the ‘priority device’ feature. This lets you choose a device to give a premium level of access to, in theory allowing the packets it’s sending and receiving to be prioritised over all the others. In fact the Google Help page about it specifically lists gaming as one reason you might turn this on. So I turned that on and my connection…got worse. This part made no sense at all to me…had Google, the fledgling hardware maker made yet another dud? Their previous failures like the Nexus 9 (with it’s frequent unexplained freezes and lock ups) made me all the more nervous. The amazing Pixel phone in my pocket though gave me some hope though, maybe I’d done something wrong? The next day happened to be a Skype recording of Material…and it too went rather badly.

Some quick googling of my setup afterwards revealed a few things that might be wrong and needed investigating. The first one being that when I’d plugged it into my router, I hadn’t changed any settings on it at all. So my router was both handling the ADSL connection and routing traffic through its LAN ports. The Google WiFi was trying to do the same, on it’s own 192.168.86.x subdomain while my router and devices attached to it were on 192.168.2.x. There’s no point in having two routers going like this (and it can sometimes cause routing issues like ‘Double NAT’) so I changed my router into ‘modem only’ mode, and re-configured the Google WiFi to handle that change. A quick trip to Rocket League revealed a drop in my ping from 65 to 52…a small but seemingly positive change. The frequent and unexplained lag spikes (even when quitting YouTube on the other device) also seemed to be gone. The final test though was what originally had me so excited about setting this up even before moving house: could I play a game like Rocket League (that is incredibly dependent on the latency of your Internet connection) while other people were also doing things on our Internet? Previously I had tried to configure the Netgear QoS settings that were meant to allow this and it didn’t seem to make a lot of difference. So I tried the priority device settings on Google WiFi again with this new setup…and lo and behold it now seemed to work! Even when everyone else in the house was doing things on the Internet the game would still mostly be responsive. I say ‘mostly’ because I was still getting occasionally slowdowns and spikes in ping, but it was night and day compared to what it had been like with the Netgear. The takeaway for this feature seems to be: it’s not magic, if something like Google Photos saturates your upload bandwidth during a backup for example, even the priority device will be affected. However if a few people are browsing or playing other online games, it seems to make a big difference.

All in all I’m really happy with Google WiFi, and I haven’t even mentioned things like being able to pause the Internet on a device (or a group of devices that you label) or just how smooth and seamless the app for it is. Literally the only change I feel like I’m missing is the ability to schedule these pauses: it would be great to kill the Internet to all the kids devices in the evening, and only have it turn back on in the morning at a reasonable hour. But this for me ticks all the boxes otherwise, the units are small and elegant so you can place them anywhere you have power. If you have a router that’s many years old or you have dead spots in your WiFi connection, then it’s definitely a worthy upgrade.

My Next Mac Mini


I think I might be getting old, but it took me completely by surprise that the Mac Mini we use in our lounge room as our TV was 6 years old. It’s been such a great little machine. It lets us watch content from all over the Internet no matter where it is or what format it’s in. Netflix, YouTube, perfectly legit Open Source documentaries distributed on Bittorrent, iTunes, Amazon Video, catch up TV stations and even regular old terrestrial TV that is being beamed into our house. I know various nerds and geeks out there each have their own preferred setup for how to get this content onto a screen, but this was ours. One Mac Mini, one wireless keyboard and mouse and one 40″ TV. Perfect.

Well, perfect except that six years in this machine is very creaky. It needs a reboot every week or so (otherwise it will refuse to launch anything). The once super stable TV program we use (EyeTV) has started to flake out on us and in general it’s starting to turn into a hassle rather than a joy to watch content on it. No worries you might say, go to Apple and buy a new Mac mini! Except when you do, you quickly realise there’s something up with the Mac Mini:


Yes that’s right, it hasn’t been updated in 813 days…and the last update Apple made to them was mostly a downgrade in terms of performance. No one except the most desperate of people should even consider buying one of these things. The fact that Apple will still happily sell you a 2-3 year old computer for new prices is beyond insulting.

With the above in mind, I asked myself a question I haven’t really considered since switching to macOS (the artist formerly known as OS X) back in the early 2000’s. Do I actually need this computer to run macOS? I quickly realised I don’t. I need Chrome, I need a few basic apps and I need my Elgato EyeTV Diversity USB stick to be supported so I can watch TV. It turns out there’s another OS that has all those: Windows. I’ve had Windows 10 on a gaming PC I built over 6 months ago and I’ve not had a single problem with it. It’s never bothered me, needed rebooting because it was flakey or even broken a sweat doing all the things I’ve asked of it. I’m not a huge fan of the aesthetic or DOS roots of Windows, but none of those really matter for this device. I just need a small, quiet machine that will do all the things the current Mac mini does. But surely Windows PCs are all great big clunking behemoths that have no place in the living room right? Right?


Wrong. I tweeted about my dilemma and the suggestions started pouring in. The most common one seemed to be for something called an ‘Intel NUC’. I’d never heard of this thing before, and a different three letter acronym came to mind when people kept suggesting it. At 115mm x 111mm x 35mm it’s much smaller than my current Mac ‘mini’. With the latest Kaby Lake (7th Gen) Intel Core processors in it, it’s much faster than my current Mac Mini. DDR4 RAM and a M.2 drive slot means I can choose from the wealth of suppliers out there in terms of speeds and sizes. 2 USB’s on the front, 2 more on the back. Thunderbolt 3. HDMI 2.0 with 4K support at 60Hz. 1Gbit Ethernet, AC WiFi and Bluetooth built in. Oh my golly gosh. Is this what I’ve been missing all these years as a dyed in the wool Mac user? While Apple has been trying to flog us a 3 year old giant computer as state of the art, this is what the PC crowd has had access to?

I never thought I’d say this, but, this is my next Mac mini.

Job Opening at Shifty Jelly

I don’t normally cross post from our company blog (something something opinions are not my employers) but we are currently on the lookout for a support person:

If you’re adept at Twitter and Email, if you get along well with people, if you have outstanding written and verbal communication skills then this could be the role for you! You’ll be responsible for managing our Twitter accounts, answering customer emails and helping out in other tasks that go with releasing and managing successful products like Pocket Casts and Pocket Weather.

If this sounds like you, then take a look at the post and apply!

What Did The Dynamite Say To The Fuse?

A little over a year ago I decided that it was a bit odd that I’d never experienced the other side of podcasting. I helped build Pocket Casts, an amazing app for listening to podcasts that’s available on iOS, Android and even the web. I had also made guest appearances on quite a few podcasts for interviews and commentary. But I’d never actually edited a podcast, seen one submitted to iTunes or experienced the regular week in, week out life that podcasters all over the world live.

I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but somehow Jelly and I got together and decided we wanted to try to make a podcast together. I had met Jelly previously at a conference in Melbourne, and he had me once or twice on the Mobile Couch podcast. Long story short Topical was born. Our original idea was that we’d each take opposing sides on a topic, and debate it for no more than 30 minutes. For whatever reason Topical turned into another kind of show altogether, with episode 4 probably being the closest we ever got to that vision. I learnt how to edit a podcast, what goes into publishing a podcast and all sorts of things about microphones, background noise and sound proofing.

It was a great ride, I still remember how much fun it was to record things like Shower Thoughts. Or the time we unveiled Myke Hurley’s killing spree. Casey Liss joined us to talk emotions. Wendy Zukerman (who has the best voice in podcasting, bar none) talked Science Journalism with us. But as with every ride, it had to come to an end one day. In true Topical fashion the episode aptly named ‘The End’ wasn’t the end, the Epilogue was. It’s worth staying right to the end of that one to see what transpires in the future for Topical.

So to anyone that ever listened to our fun experiment, I thank you. I had a blast doing it and I think we ended on a high note. Also if you’re reading this in the future and robots have indeed taken all our jobs, please don’t tell Jelly, I can’t bare the indignity of him being right about that one.