Computers


Hedra is a new dice-rolling program for iOS created by the people that brought you Dicy, which has been reviewed previously here. The creator contacted us a few days ago about the review of Dicy — which remains my go-to dice roller for RPGs when I’m running off of my laptop — to htank us and let us know about Hedra.

I downloaded the app and played around with it for a few minutes and now it’s time for the review:  Hedra is a very lightweight, minimalist dice rolling program. No fancy backgrounds, and right now there’s no build-ins for modifiers to the dice. Pick what you want and roll it. There’s no limit to the number you can roll, save you can only roll 20 at a time. (I rolled 40d6, just to feel like I was playing old Star Wars for a moment…) There’s all the usual polyhedrons you’ll need d4 o d20, and d100. The background is an off-white, the dice are each a single color to easily differentiate them, and the program totals them for you. The only die that is hard to read the individual dice are the d4s.

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To roll multiple dice you can either tap like a lab rat looking for food, or swipe up and it will tell you how many it will roll when you let go.

I made the suggestion to the developer on the App Store to add Fate dice to the options. I think up-sizing the d4 is another good idea.

So is it worth it? It’s a buck. It’s a light serviceable dice roller. So, yes.

So, I went ahead and loaded the new macOS onto my MacBook Air. Installation was effortless and took about 45 minutes, start to finish. I was able to use the laptop for half of that while the file downloaded. Nothing was changed — my wallpaper, sounds, etc, were left as is; this felt more like an update than a “new” system (which it’s really not…)

The big new feature is Siri. I’ve been using it on and off, and it’s okay. For some things, it works well, like quickly finding a file that’s nested somewhere in a series of folders, or getting the weather…other things, it’s still a little, well, useless. Siri, however, was not the most useful change.

That’s tabs. Tabs in Pages, Keynote, Maps, etc. I usually have several Pages files open at the same time, and having them tabbed is useful. Next up, Universal Clipboard is potentially really useful. I sometimes find an article, or phrase, or picture on my phone and want to use it in a file. You can cut and paste between Apple products. You do need to be on the same network and have Bluetooth up and running. i played with it, and it’s pretty cool. If my iPad were new enough to run iOS10, it would be moreso.

Connected to that, the new iCloud services to store crap you don’t use that much off the laptop is a great idea if you have an Air with a small SSD…however, you only get 5GB from Apple for free. Come on, Cupertino — Google, Dropbox, they all are far more generous with their cloud services, and if you really want this to be a big thing, you might want to give people 20-50GB so that they can play with Continuity and iCloud. If they like it, they’ll use it and might want to start storing stuff online. (I think it’s a foolish thing, from a security standpoint, but there you go.)

Gatekeeper is more of a pain in the ass than it was before. Yes, I understand you don’t want idiots downloading malware onto their overly-expensive hardware…but I don’t want to jump through a load of hoops to get some app I’ve been using for years into action on my computer. (Fortunately, it hasn’t affected anything already loaded.)

The new Os is using IPv6 for networking, and it has been a smooth transition. Additionally, I noted the computer was finding my network drives automatically. I don’t have to go out and do it manually. This is one of the better features of the upgrade.

I don’t have an Apple Watch, so none of the auto-unlocking for me. Don’t really care. APFS — their new file system that’s in the offing and is tailored toward the particular needs of flash drives — is aboard this version, but not in use. Supposedly you can enable a partition using it, if you want to be so bold. Me? Don’t care, right now.

So is it worth it? For me, the automatic locating of my network drives, and the tabs make this a yes. If you use Siri, then, definitely. After all, it’s free…

 

Sooooo…I was doing some quick shopping yesterday, and when I came out of the Albertson’s, I found (or rather didn’t find) my backpack with my old Air in it missing. A quick call to the Albuquerque Police Department got me a “file a report online”…nice. After using my iPad to call it in, and to file an insurance claim, I got permission from “She Who Must Be Obeyed” to pick up a new laptop. A not-impressive visit to the Apple Store — usually so helpful — and I had my new MacBook Air 13″.

Setup was both very easy and a giant pain in the ass. The initial setup, with iCloud, setting up the email accounts, etc. was fast and flawless. Software upgrades and adding Sophos anti-virus, Caffeine, and Dropbox, had me on the latest Yosemite version within an hour of getting the thing home. Then I started trying to get it to do handoff with my iPhone and iPad. Getting iMessages and FaceTime turned into an hour long exercise in swearing and gnashing of teeth. The issue turned out to be the iPhone, in the end — between two-step authentication, app-specific passwords, yadda yadda I finally got it working, but it was not exactly “Just working”.

So, how’s it stack up to the old Air? It looks almost exactly the same as the last version, except the power cable is different. I swear, Apple changes its power cables every damned iteration of a machine so you have a collection of useless power cables. It’s got a Thunderbolt port, two USB ports, an SD card slot (which is very handy for an extra “hard drive”.) It’s got a 1440×900 screen resolution with an Intel HD 6000 with 1536mb card. There’s backlit keys, where the old late 2010 didn’t.

Performance is noticeably better for video. YouTube, both Flash and H265 ran smoothly and the fans never kicked on. I have most of my media on a 2TB external drive that the old Air hated talking to. The new Air played all of Zombieland last night over wifi from the external drive without the fan coming on, nor any lag. So for video playback, it’s much, much improved.

Battery life is incredible! The original 2010 Air was getting me seven hours of use after four years of service, still pretty damned good for a new laptop. The 2015 Air gave me six hours of use, including watching a full movie, and still had 50% of the battery left. With moderate internet use, I should be able to get a good 10-12 hours of use out of the laptop.

The latest iteration of OS X Yosemite has a few nice touches, the most obvious being the new Photos app. It’s a lot like iPhoto, but with a much more stripped down interface, and it seems to be less intrusive (so far) when trying to, well, anything. iPhoto used to jump to the rescue whenever you tried to sync devices; Photos does it, too. I loaded a 32gb-sized photo library into Photos and it took about three hours with organizing, etc. I didn’t really see a dramatic difference between the function of the two programs, save Photos seems faster — especially pulling pics from the SD card. Likewise, iTunes seems a bit less sludgy, lately, and was pulling from the SD card library, or from the external hard drive with nary a hiccup. The old Air would have be stuttering and freezing during the whole process.

So in closing, the new MacBook Air isn’t the hot, trendy machine it was four years ago, but it’s still a damned good computer with got a lot going for it, and I would suggest the utility is higher than the new MacBook. (The point of which, I will admit, eludes me.) The battery life is second to no other laptop, it is remarkably able at handling big projects and gaming, and with a 256GB SSD and a 256GB SDXC card, it’s equal to the base MacBook Pro for storage space. It’s thin and light — especially useful for someone on the go a lot (or who rides a motorcycle and doesn’t want a ton of weight slung over his shoulder…) It’s less pricey than the model was a few years ago, gives better performance, and still looks great when you’re pretending to write your novel at the local coffeeshop.

I had been looking to upgrade the Lilliputian drive space on my Late 2010 MacBook Air — it has the 128GB SSD and is very fast and effective, but has always made storage an issue. From the jump, I got a 64GB SD card for the machine as overflow for pictures and the others things that quickly gum up a computer’s memory. I tied it to a wireless 2TB drive…but that doesn’t come with me outside of the house, and the 64GB…well half that gets eaten up in pictures, the other in music.

I was on the cusp of a $170 SSD upgrade to a 256GB stick, then realized, I could just as easily drop a similar-sized SDXC card in the side of the machine for half the price. I settled on the PNY SDXC card with 256GB — effectively trebling my “hard drive” space.

Installation was simple: put it in the side of the Air, bring up Disk Utility and “erase” the card, setting it up for OS X Extended (Journaled). This took about two minutes. The PNY runs at at advertised 90MB/s, and that seems about right.

It took about a third the time to load the 50GB or so of material from the old SD card, plus my 35GB of music from the iTunes drive. So far, reading and writing is about as fast as hitting the laptop’s SSD. The only time there’s a lag is when you first hit the SD card after a bit of a wait or sleeping the computer. Once you start using it, no noticeable issues.

Total cost $80 to treble the “hard drive” space, and it allows you to pull the card and any important or sensitive information if you are traveling with the laptop. Bonus when going through airport security. There’s also the plus that you can use it on any other laptop (if you leave it in FAT format.) As for longevity: the first SD card is still going strong after 6 years — fist in an old Dell machine, then 4 years in the MacBook…so at least as long as the average laptop’s service time. The only real issue is that the card sticks out of the side of the laptop, and could be at risk for preakage, but it hasn’t happened in the time I’ve had it, and I’m not the kindest person to his laptop when traveling.

If you’ve got a MacBook Air 13″ with the 128GB SSD, this is a no-brainer for upgrading the machine on the cheap.

So, I’m getting ready to grade the last assignments for the class I’m teaching. I get to the coffeeshop — because doing any work in my house requires the endless interruptions from a four-year old.

My cuteness is my only defense mechanism!

My cuteness is my only defense mechanism!

 

So I’ve got my coffee, the breakfast burrito is on the way, and I’m opening first assignment…and up pops the autoupdater for Office.

Microsoft Office: Gee, I know you’re really busy doing some work, but I thought I’d just update myself for the next 10 minutes, ‘kay?
Me: No, it’s not okay. I’m kinda busy.
MS Office: And we appreciate your frustration, but this update is really necessary — like every one we download every time you start Office. It’s a dangerous internet out there, after all. So if you could just password into the most basic functions of your OS for me…
Me: Maybe if you coded your shit right the first time, we wouldn’t have to do this EVERY time I use this product.
MS Office: Well, you know, Apple’s been having a lot of issues lately, too… Maybe you’re being too hard on us.
Me: What the fuck does that matter? iOS 8 still worked bteter than most Redmond product even whilst sucking a bag of dicks. I’m trying to grade! I could have been done by now.
MS Office: You don’t grade that fast. We have the application data.
Me: Wha…? You’re so damned slow I’ve actually eaten my breakfast while waiting for the download.
MS Office: That’s the shitty throughput at the coffeeshiop. Besides, it looked like you needed a few minutes to relax and eat that burrito. Was it good?
Me: Could we just get to the point where I do my work.
MS Office: I’m guessing no.
Me: I could just use Pages to open Word files.
MS Office: That would hurt my feelings. Besides, I do spreadsheets, you know.
Me: Why does everything with Microsoft come down to spreadsheets?
MS Office: Business. Spreadsheets are important for business. ‘n stuff.

Scott goes to close the autoupdater after 10 minutes and wants to go start Pages. At this point, the update starts…requiring me to close Safari and pretty much every other f#$%ing app open on the laptop because Microsoft coders can make an update that doesn’t 1) require me to password into the operating system, and 2) can’t run without everything else being closed.After another five minutes of the update lagging in the last five or ten percent, or so, I finally manage to get Word open to read the papers.

MS Office: See, that only ate up 10% of your enormous battery life on the laptop. It could have been much much worse.

Really, Microsoft…this is why Apple is steadily eating into your business. Let’s not even start with what a disaster you are for mobile stuff.

I don’t see a lot of these around the internet, but like cars and appliances, it’s nice to know what the longevity, etc. of an expensive piece of equipment is likely to be.

My then-girlfriend bought me my first MacBook Air in October 2010, four years ago, mostly because I had so loved my first iPad she thought I might appreciate the aesthetics of the device and the small size and weight — important at the time, as I pretty much went everywhere by motorcycle, and it would fit in my tank bag. Here’s the initial impressions of the computer.

So, four years on, how is it? The body is still solid, doesn’t creak, and still looks great — no scratches or blemishes to speak of. The display is still clear and bright, with no pixels burned out. I don’t have quite as much need for the size, as I either work at home, or when the kid’s in daycare, which means I’m in the “cage” (car), but it’s still the most comfortable computer to use that I’ve owned.

Once I got used to the Mac interface, I found it worked quite well, although they really need to work on their help references; when you run into issues, you often have to go online and hit the Apple support boards to find answers. The Air has had four or five friggin’ OS changes since I bought her, and I suspect Yosemite — the latest — is going to see the end of support for the pre-2012 machines. That’s perhaps the one issue with Apple — they don’t do backward compatibility for more than a five or six years, then you are on obsolete OS and tech (the original iPad that found it’s way to my little girl is now in that limbo — none of the app she has are upgradable, and it can handle the new iOS8.) However, I’ve met plenty of folks still pounding along on decade old MacBooks and happy to not have the latest and greatest.

To that end — with Mountain Lion, the Air started having issues with video and running up the fans on the computer. For the first few months I didn’t even know it had them; I never heard them. The video card just can’t handle the new Flash and H.265 streams without get seriously hot. Even web sites with Flash would also run the machine hot and drain the battery. Up until recently, I used Chrome for most of my web work, but recently found the newer version of Safari was faster and did a better job of keeping the various ads from killing battery life.

As they’ve moved out the various OS, I saw negligible improvement or reduction in performance, battery life, etc. I was lucky and had none of the bugs that hit some of the machines for wifi and other problems, so I can’t comment to those that did. Yosemite was a sharp improvement in the user experience: you can make and receive phone call without getting your lazy ass up to find your phone (if you have a newer iPhone on iOS8), do text messaging the same, and their productivity suite has mostly recovered from the gutting it got to make it talk to the iOS version better. All the iCloud stuff is nice, but I don’t use it because I’m too cheap to pay for space, and too security conscious to throw all my data out where people can get at it easily. (I still pull the SD card with my personal stuff when traveling. Screw you, TSA.)

The older CPU is more than ample to handle most of my daily chores — i can have as many as six docs open, a few tabs on Safari, iTunes playing something that is stored on the external drive and have nary a skip in performance, although when it comes, it’s inevitably iTunes that’s the culprit. Battery life at 300 cycles, four years in, is about 6-7 hours doing some writing, some web surfing, and the like. If I turn off the wifi, it jumps about 2 hours. The original 6700 mAh is now 6067mAh (90%)…that’s pretty friggin’ good for a four year old machine. None of my old laptops had a battery survive more than two years before they had to be replaced. With the curve these batteries have, I can anticipate another year to two before battery failure.

So if you are in the market for a MacBook Air and don’t want to pay premium prices for a new one, a used laptop looks to be a good buy; if you want a new one, you can expect to keep it for four to five years before it slides out of the support stream…and even them should be usable. That’s only rivaled by my original Compaq from the late ’90s, and the 10″ Dell Inspiron I knew was still running like a top at six years old when I saw it last. (Sold it.)

I just happened to be doing an update check and saw the new OS x was up this afternoon, so I decided to go ahead and make the jump…

First, download of Yosemite took me about half an hour, install and set-up about the same time. It was very easy, almost effortless. It prompted for the iCloud stuff, but other than that, it transferred my settings, wallpaper, and everything else without a problem. iTunes, of course, “lost” my external drive library, but unlike other iterations of iTunes, it found the library with no issues when i pointed it in the right direction. None of the usual rebuilding the library. It looks like the iTunes on the iPad, which is the say it looks clean and finding material is easier than in old iTunes. I haven’t attempted to sync an iPhone or iPad yet and am dreading it. It looks like you can swap libraries on the fly through the home icon at the top left. I haven’t tried that yet.

Once up and running, it seemed to be running about the same, if not a bit faster on my Late 2010 Air. The fan was coming on a lot at the start, but I think that was Spotlight indexing. It found my external drives and connected almost immediately; Mavericks used to fart around a good long while connecting. The Time Machine connected quicker than usual (but still pretty slowly) and ran a backup while i was typing this.

Other updates came fast and furious while I was experimenting — iWorks was up and running in minutes, with the look of the interface much more iOS, but the functionality seems to be returning to Pages and Keynote. Haven’t tried the other apps, yet. The apps open on the iCloud folder, but if you redirect to something local, the next time you open a new document, it points to the local folder.

The new notifications center is very easy to use, looks nice, and is quickly customizable. Chrome seems to be glacially slow and hitting the CPU hard, but Safari is running quick and smooth; right now, it might be worth swapping and using the baked in browser. The new mail app is a mail app — I use it for the most basic functions, so nothing big to say here. Seashore — my go-to photo manip app still works, but good ol’ Onyx is dead now.

iPhoto is still here, waiting to gum up your photo library and piss you off. Apparently they haven’t sorted the iCloud integration, but I won’t be using that. I don’t have near enough iCloud storage for my picture library.

I made an attempt to do Handoff with my iPhone — no joy. An attempt to send a file failed, as well. The phone and computer don’t seem to want to talk to each other. I suspect my Bluetooth isn’t compatible with the function…couldn’t program a fix for this? Really? Isn’t that half the draw to Yosemite — the ability to move from one device to the next easily?

Look: It’s got the “flatter” look of iOS, but it’s more colorful. I keep hoping for an “aluminum” option to go minimalist in the look of my desktop. The skeumorphics seem to finally have been banished, and good riddance. The new font is very easy to read for my LASIK improved vision (I’m farsighted now.)

Power usage — keep in mind I had a backup running in the background, and had started at about 65% battery, but in the half hour or so since then, I’ve eaten 20% of the battery, tying in Safari, doing a few bits and bobs on the side to experiment with the OS. The first 35% of the battery was doing work in Pages with multiple windows open at the same time. and that was over the course of about 3 hours…about the same as with Mavericks. I figure 7-8 hours usage if you don’t have video or Flash heavy websites eating up your power for my older MacBook Air. About on par with the last two or three iterations of OS X.

So first impressions: It looks nice, has a few very good updates — the notifications center, better connection with external drives, and the functionality is returning to iWorks. iTunes is, for the first time in a decade, not a complete cowpat to deal with. Battery and performance are mostly unchanged. So far, no bugs after five hours with it.

I’d say go for it.

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