(*) Translation: I am in great pain.

So many announcements, so little time..

This year’s WWDC keynote was packed to the gills with a slew of announcements relating to upcoming software features in Apple’s range of products, including the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Additionally, the company also announced a whole new redesign of the Mac Pro, a new high-end monitor, and $1,000 monitor stand (I kid you not).

Apple has a rebranding/versioning problem

The iPad is getting a whole new slew of feature enhancements that won’t be found on the iPhone, to the extent that Apple is now referring to the version of iOS for iPad as iPadOS. This now gives us the following OS derivatives based on the Mach kernel/FreeBSD from which OS X originally came from:

  • MacOS – for Mac desktop and laptop operating systems
  • iPadOS – for iPads
  • WatchOS – for the Apple Watch
  • tvOS – for Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K
  • iOS – for iPhones

So why doesn’t Apple rename iOS to iPhoneOS to identify the operating system specifically for iPhones? I don’t know. I’m assuming iPadOS will be referred to version 13, the same as iOS rather than iPadOS 1. If Apple did change iOS to iPhoneOS, it’d still be version 13 too. Only WatchOS has had significant changes to the version number since it was first released. We’re currently on major version 5, but for iOS and tvOS it’s version 12. For MacOS it’s 10.14. Even I’m finding it difficult to keep up.

Goodbye iTunes – so long, and thanks for all the fish

I’ve been a heavy iTunes user since.. well .. since Winamp died. I migrated over to the iTunes platform on Windows initially long before I had my first Mac, and haven’t looked back since. I’ve tried to leave the iTunes ecosystem a few times, but quite frankly it’s very difficult – particularly because the integration and feature set is very good. The downside is that iTunes has been enormously clunky for quite some time.

So Apple is splitting out music, video and podcasts into three separate applications for the next release of MacOS (called Catalina). This makes sense. I’m an Apple Music subscriber and find that the iCloud Music Library to be extremely useful to sync my own tracks across my iPhone XS Max and Apple Watch series 4. The iTunes store will still be there if I do want to purchase tracks or albums, or movies or TV shows.

The Mac to get 4K movie playback

Apple TV on the Mac will also play 4K content (since many modern iMacs will have 4K or 5K displays) and Dolby Atmos content. It’s no longer limited to Apple TV HD/4K devices. However, my biggest disappointment with Apple in this regard is that iTunes is still not offering 4K television shows for sale. Or TV shows with iTunes Extras content. I feel that Apple’s upcoming video streaming service, Apple TV+, may have had an effect on that. If UHD Blu-Ray content is on the way out, we need a better alternative to just streaming services. People want to buy, download and keep. And they want the extras that come with physical discs.

Apple to stop BASHing MacOS and wants to zig-a-zig-zsh

Apple is, for whatever reason, not a fan of GNU v3 General Public License. As such, the version of the bash interpreter included with MacOS is a little out of date. The zsh shell is more modern, largely backwards compatible with bash and is, in theory, a better option. That said, a good amount of what I do involves bash, so I doubt I’ll be changing over anytime soon.

You’ll be able to use your iPad as a second screen with MacOS Catalina

Something that I look forward to using. The new version of MacOS Catalina will allow users with a modern iPad or iPad Pro as a second screen – with the added bonus that if you have an Apple Pencil, you can use something like Photoshop to sketch on the iPad and it’ll appear on your Mac.

iPadOS will make the iPad more computer-like like never before

Apple has been pushing the iPad and iPad Pro as fully fledged computers. The problem with that is that even with a physical keyboard, key features of the operating system are still incredibly limited.

As well as a new home screen with access to widgets in horizontal view, the icons are now more tightly packed together – allowing more icons per screen. There are new gestures to make it easier to select, copy and paste text – and the cursor should be much easier to reposition.

And you’ll finally be allowed to use a mouse with an iPad! Though it forms part of the accessibility features and effectively emulates fingers – thus it won’t be the same as if you were using MacOS. But I think the new gestures and cursor control should help a bit.

The biggest change is that you’ll be able to plug in a USB hard drive or thumb drive and copy data to and from the iPad like any other file. It’s been mentioned that Apple formatted HPFS+ volumes don’t yet work (which would be silly if you also have a Mac), but may change during the beta/development process.

The iPad will also be able to connect to network shares as well – also offering a way of pulling data into and out of the iPad over the network.

Access to files via USB drive or network drive makes me wonder what would happen if the iPhone XI models ship with USB-C ports instead of lightning ports. It would be a tremendous benefit to have USB-C on the iPhone, but it did, would the Files app also support the use of hard drives and thumb drives as well? And are the other features sufficient to rename iOS on the iPad as iPadOS in that case?

Safari, the default web browser on iPadOS, will be able to use the desktop versions of web sites. Previously this was not possible as Safari always identified itself as a mobile browser, and the web site/app would deliver a mobile-friendly version. It’s not clear whether this will be the default option, or if other browsers such as Chrome will follow suit as it will mean changing the browser identification string. Something I’ll need to bear in mind for work!

In short – iPadOS has more features in it to make an iPad last a good many years as a laptop computer. It’ll always be a locked system, but Apple have opened it up a little more in what it can do that will make it a more attractive option to those on the move.

iPhone users also have a few tweaks to look forward to

I’m so looking forward to disabling limits on the size of app downloads. I have a very generous data allowance with my phone provider, and few humongous apps. But that’s not all – it’s said that apps will launch twice as fast and be half the size. Some serious optimisation work going on there!

I’m definitely looking forward to the new dark mode, and even more so – I like the look of the new Photos app. I use Photos and the iCloud Photo Library a lot across all my Apple devices, so it’ll be interesting to play around with the new features there. Already loving the new layout and can’t wait to start using it.

Pro Macs and Displays

With potential costs of up to $35,000 for a fully tricked out Mac Pro, and the displays costing around $6k including the monitor stand, the new Mac Pro is going to be something for companies or individuals with very deep pockets. The performance will be phenomenal, but it will require substantial effort from developers to make use of those performance enhancements.

VFX, for example, has generally relied heavily on NVIDIA graphics technology – as has anything with big computational needs. That said, when I was working back in VFX, Macs were primarily used for 2D Photoshop work (working with giant size textures).

I think the Apple ProDisplay will do much better in terms of sales – the specifications alone are going to be very tempting for anybody that requires great colour accuracy. And cost point of those monitors – even with the stand – is considerably cheaper than other manufacturers.

Another question that I have is that if Apple is intending to switch from Intel to their own ARM silicon in the future – how far ahead is this, and what about people who have spent tens of thousands of pounds/dollars on these systems only to find that we’re going to be in the middle of another architecture change in 2-3 years time. That’s a very difficult question to answer right now, but I believe Apple *will* do it at some point. Given the number of speculative vulnerabilities that are cropping up in Intel CPUs, people (and Apple) are going to be fed up with Intel.


(*) From the Adult Sim cartoon series, Rick & Morty. “Wubba lubba dub dub” was Rick’s catchphrase.

You’ll have seen the adverts on TV. Well, I did too. And I thought – have they possibly changed in the few decades I’ve known them? They’ve always been in the back of mind – but not in a good way (especially when it came to domains). Has the rebranding done any good?

Bargain Hunt

I like a bargain as much as anybody else does, and although I’ve been very happy with DigitalOcean, 1&1 IONOS’ VPS service for £1.20/month for 6 months before another 6 months of £24/month seemed quite reasonable for the specifications on offer (4 vCPU, 8Gb RAM and 160Gb SSD).

I know my own address, thanks..

So I signed up early last week. The first thing that drove me insane was their postcode/address lookup function when entering your address as a new customer. I have constant problems with postcode databases not getting my address properly and 1&1 are no different. After entering my postcode, the system told me my address was wrong and I couldn’t move forward with completing the registration form unless I accepted their version of my address (which is wrong). So I just accepted it. When it came to payment, a similar problem, but the system seemed to accept it and was charged £1.20 just fine.

It wasn’t until later the following day I received the account set-up confirmation email and I proceeded to log in and start getting things set-up. The very first to do was to lock down the server so that only I could connect to it from my home and work IP addresses for the purposes of SSH access (command line access). 1&1 IONOS comes with a firewall, so I started to configure it. As I also use CloudFlare for caching, WAF and firewall, I started to configure the IONOS firewall for that – though I note that the documentation for the firewall doesn’t mention you can use CIDR notation for the allowed IPs. The web form will accept them though! According to the official firewall docs, you can specify a range of IPs with a dash, but since CIDR is a perfectly normal and standard notation for IP ranges, I’d try that (it saves typing). After a while (as CloudFlare has a fair number of IP ranges), everything looked set to go. CloudFlare’s servers were the only ones that could connect to TCP port 443.

Let me explain how CloudFlare works, as you’ll find that neither 1&1 IONOS engineers or my “personal consultant” understand how systems like CloudFlare or Akamai work (I’ve been using CloudFlare for at least 7 or 8 years, and Akamai for 2).

How does CloudFlare work?

When you request a page from my blog, the request goes to CloudFlare. CloudFlare does a few security checks first of all, then, if you’re not a naughty bot or person, it checks to see if the page already exists in its cache. If not, CloudFlare – and ONLY CloudFlare – will connect to my VPS securely to retrieve the page and serve it to you. You, as a requester cannot bypass CloudFlare to get to my VPS directly unless I specifically disable proxying within CloudFlare (my DNS is hosted with CloudFlare so any changes I make should be almost immediate).

Too hot to trot?

When I set-up the 1&1 IONOS VPS server, it took me about 30 minutes to get everything running including moving everything off DigitalOcean and installing MySQL, PHP and nginx. I’ve written scripts which perform much of the set-up for me – and everything is checked into BitBucket so that I can retrieve those scripts at any time from anywhere. I also have many backups at Backblaze B2, courtesy of rclone (written and maintained by my former boss at Memset Hosting Ltd.)

ALAS!

CloudFlare could not talk to the 1&1 IONOS VPS. Connection timed out every time. I set-up a firewall rule to allow myself direct access to the VPS via port 443) to test that the LNMP stack was working correctly. It was. Output from netstat showed everything was fine. No local firewall was running, and iptables rules were clear and set to accept. And yes, I had changed the IP addresses in CloudFlare’ DNS to the new shiny VPS.

How about you try turning it on and off again?

So I utilised 1&1 IONOS’ live chat system for technical support. They’re fast, but they wanted to know why I was locking off port 443 to specific IPs. I explained I was using CloudFlare. I checked with them if the syntax of the firewall rules were correct. Apparently, they were. Their advice? Open port 443 to the world. I asked them if they had any experience with CloudFlare or Akamai or any other similar service. The whole point with these systems is that it acts as a barrier between the internet at large and your origin servers. The origins which host your application should never be exposed externally but only through CloudFlare, Akamai or whoever.

So I called my “personal consultant” for help by submitting a request for a callback. Within a minute or two I was connected. I explained the problem to him and he went away and spoke to the technical people. Their explanation was how CloudFlare was returning client IPs. Which is absolute bull. See my explanation further above. The connecting IPs are the ones that I defined in the firewall. The same IPs I had been using at DigitalOcean with their firewall. Client IPs that come in are passed to the original server in the form of a header (and my nginx configuration looks at that header and parses the real IP which is then available in the server logs) – but that’s got nothing whatsoever to do with CloudFlare’s servers connecting to my VPS.

No experienced sysadmin should touch 1&1 with a bargepole..

While I was still talking to the chap on the phone, the blog suddenly spluttered into life. But it is not obvious why. The firewall rules didn’t look to have changed. But still, I didn’t like the explanation whatsoever from their technical department as to how CloudFlare operates and the encouragement of opening TCP port 443 to the world. I had to explain that I’m a systems administrator of some 22 years, having worked for two Academy Award-winning VFX companies, and now help manage multi-million-pound websites for some very high profile clients and have extensive experience with CloudFlare. So I cancelled the account there and then.

ALAS!

I was transferred to the US division of 1&1 for cancellation. But after 10 minutes or so, I was put through to the right person who cancelled the account for me. And I received this email:

Every. Single. Image. Broken.

SIGH.

I’ve gone back to DigitalOcean again (~£10/month for third of the resources). But in order to test my DR (disaster recovery) plan, wiped the old server, set-up a new one, and restored everything from my Backblaze B2 backups. It all works perfectly.

CloudFlare had no problem connecting to my new VPS at DigitalOcean. New IP and everything. That’s how 1&1 IONOS should have worked out of the box. I blame their firewall and their documentation. And possibly lack of experience of IDS/WAF/CDN systems such as CloudFlare.

I recently swapped all my Amazon Alexa devices for Google’s equivalent. I signed up for a family Spotify Premium account for one month just to get a Google Home Mini (RRP £49.99, I got it for £14.99 along with a month’s Spotify Premium).

It’s small, cute and stupid as hell – but I like it!

But I was keen on replacing Amazon’s Echo Show which was about as much good as a donkey parade on the moon. It couldn’t play YouTube videos (in fact it was practically restricted to its own Prime Video service), and I had to remember to ask Alexa to ask Hive if I wanted to perform any Hive related functions. You should NOT have to remember syntax with these devices at all. As I had it in my kitchen, I tried to use it to help me with cooking and recipes. That was a disaster. So Echo Show went away.

With the Nest Home Hub, it’s much smaller than the Echo Show. It’s extremely small and cute, in fact. With the just the power cable trailing at the back, the Home Hub is barely there. But you’ll soon notice it – especially as it can work with Google Photos to display a photo album when the Home Hub isn’t doing anything.

Getting my photos from Apple’s Photo service into Google Photos was a bit of a pain, but with the Backup & Sync app for MacOS, I disabled RAW files and other things and just let it do its stuff. And it seems to work well enough. So every time I take a photo with my iPhone XS, it’ll be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library and then downloaded to my Mac when I next use it. Google will then detect the change and upload any new photos or videos to Google Photos.

Controlling smart devices with the Home Hub is a much more pleasant experience than Alexa. I can just ask it to turn the living room lights on or off and it’ll do it. Or ask it to set a temperature and it’ll instruct my Hive thermostat to turn the heating on or off as appropriate. The only problem I stumbled across is that I had the smart plug for the Hive controller in my living room. If I instructed Home Hub to turn off Living Room, it’ll turn EVERYTHING off in the living room – including the plug – and there goes the Hive system. So I moved the smart plug out of the Living Room category and it sits by itself where I can’t accidentally turn it off.

As for other things, watching YouTube is fine. All4 is supported, so I can watch Channel 4 TV shows too. And Channel 5. It’s like having a very small TV in the kitchen. If I were to get to the Nest Hub Max, it’d make for a much better kitchen TV with its 10 inch screen, but for the moment this is fine.

Radio is fine too – just ask Home Hub to play X channel and it’ll do so. The biggest problem I have with the Home Hub is G Suite integration. I’m using the beta integration right now, but like its consumer cousin, the Home Hub is not able to inform you of all-day events.

As for other things, it either works or it doesn’t. I’ve found that the Google Assistant is not intelligent enough to figure out many things and you do need to be very specific in the commands you give it. In that sense, it is at the same level as Alexa’s comprehension. Google Assistant also misunderstands me from time to time and there have been some quite hilarious “conversations” as a result. A simple “hello” translated into “Get You” for some reason.

I’ll give you an example of trying to find information. My dad recently told me the origin of the phrase “time immemorial”. Now, we know this to be something so long past that people have forgotten. But the origin of that phrase comes from 1275 by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of King Richard I, beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the king’s accession.  Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. Wikipedia can tell me that, but Google Assistant can’t.

I think Digital Assistants have got a loooooooooong way to go before they can be considered truly useful. But I have faith in Google. Their Duplex technology looks intriguing (even if restaurants aren’t taking Google identified calls) and they’re going to be making the Google Assistant small enough to work from a mobile phone, so data is never transmitted back to Google. I only hope that the same is going to be said with these devices too – privacy is everybody’s right and processing on the device would go some way to prove Google is being consumer conscious.

On the other hand, I can see how great a device like the Nest Home Hub would be in the office. Assuming limitations are removed by the type of calendar entries it can process, the Nest Home Hub would make a very good personal desk assistant. The Nest Hub Max will feature a very cool video conference system through Google Duo – but I hope Google will also consider supporting Google Meet (for G Suite) as well.

If like me, you’re using Google’s business level G Suite for personal use, you need to be aware that if you want to add any of the Google Voice options to your “organisation” – you can’t.

Tax status within Google’s G Suite billing system

Specifically, Google won’t let you because unless you have established yourself as a Business for tax purposes within G Suite billing system, the system will just throw an error. So if your account type is set to Individual and UK tax info is set to Personal, no G Suite Voice for you.

Apparently, the reason this is all happening is an internal thing to Google. It could possibly change, but I doubt that’ll happen for a long while. I’d rather hoped to make use of this so I could set-up a UK number for work – to avoid having to give out my personal mobile number to vendors.

Netflix has confirmed that it is removing AirPlay support from its iOS application due to ‘technical limitations’.

My concern with this is that it’s taking away one very useful feature – the ability to stream Netflix shows on TVs that have built-in AirPlay (and subsequently AirPlay 2) support. If you’re doing a lot of travelling – whether for business or pleasure – this can be extremely useful.

You could argue that a lot of TVs have a built-in Netflix app already? Yes, this is true. But many hotel TVs don’t. Will Netflix look to make up for potential connectivity problems by attempting to sell dongles or TVs with Netflix built to hoteliers?

I don’t want to have to provide credentials for my Netflix account to completely strange TV setups. AirPlay ensures that my credentials stay secure on my phone (though I’d use a VPN if I was on a hotel Wi-Fi – which could cause problems with Netflix’s policy of using VPNs – another problem Netflix has got to sort out because using a VPN has legitimate uses).

What next, Netflix? The ability to output content from Netflix via Lightning/USB-C to HDMI (which would enable you to hook up Netflix from an iPhone or iPad to a TV or monitor)?

Netflix is becoming awkward on the iOS platform because its app doesn’t support the interactive features that are present in the Black Mirror special, Bandersnatch. And this means other planned titles are unlikely to work either.

The Netflix app on Sky Q is becoming a big problem too. I frequently find that the app on the Sky Q box keeps crapping out, forcing me to switch over to the Apple TV 4K. The Netflix app on the Sky Q can handle interactive features but given that I consider the Sky Q app to be unstable, it’s not

Is the once durable and available everywhere Netflix app becoming a liability and non-consumer friendly? It certainly looks like it. And if Netflix continues on this path, and increases the subscription price, it will be a streaming/cable service like any other and I’m going to stop subscribing.