Sunday morning

I’m not sure I should really be writing a blog post right now, but I might as well give it a shot. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I’m still a little groggy. But I want to post a few links and get some stuff out of my head, so here goes.

First topic: Biden’s inauguration. A lot has already been written about that, and I don’t really have much to add, but I’d like to note one item of interest: Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem. Here’s an article from the NY TImes and one from NPR, both of which include video. I think it’s worth watching her read the whole thing. I’m not really a fan of this particular style of poetry, but I really think this was the right poem (and poet) for this particular moment in time. Here’s an interview with Gorman, again from NPR, from the day before the inauguration. And here’s something from Literary Hub, with every inaugural poem, ever. (There aren’t that many.)

Next (and completely different) topic: robocalls. I’ve been getting a lot of them lately. I can’t do much about those that come in on my home phone line. I get so few calls on that number that nearly all the calls I do get are robocalls (or unsolicited calls from actual humans). I’ve thought about dropping the line entirely, but I don’t really want to lose that phone number. Porting it over to a VOIP provider that does robocall screening is possible, I guess, but I don’t really want to mess with that right now.

For my cell phone, I’ve started looking at iOS call screening apps. I already have Verizon’s Call Filter app enabled on my phone, but it doesn’t do much. And I sometimes turn on the iOS silence unknown callers feature, but I can’t leave that on all the time. Here’s a Washington Post article from 2019 that I used as a good starting point for third-party apps. I’m worried about the privacy implications of some of them. For now, I’ve installed and enabled Nomorobo. The Sweet Setup, in this 2017 article, named Nomorobo as the best app for blocking robocalls. The guy who wrote that article shares a lot of the same privacy concerns that I have, and Nomorobo is just about the only app that doesn’t have some privacy issues. I’m on a two-week trial subscription. So far, I don’t think it’s successfully blocked any robocalls, so it’s not looking good. Since robocallers can basically just randomize their phone numbers, I’m not sure any call blocking solution is going to be really effective.

I’ll probably give up on the whole idea and just stick with the “silence unknown callers” method. That does mean that I’ll have to continue toggling it on and off, whenever I’m expecting a call from someone that’s not in my contacts (like a mechanic or doctor’s office that might not be calling from their main number). Here’s a blog post from someone comparing the utility of SUC vs DND (do not disturb). My thoughts on it are pretty similar to his. I think SUC would be a lot more useful if Apple would put a toggle for it in control center.

Next topic (also completely different): Sátántangó. I mentioned about a month ago that I had pre-ordered the new Blu-ray release. It should have shown up this weekend, but apparently got lost somehow. So I guess I’m not going to spend the day watching a 7.5-hour, black & white, Hungarian film.

Last topic: Harold Budd. I was listening to a podcast this week and the host mentioned that Budd had passed away recently. I did a little searching and found obituaries from the Times and NPR. His death was apparently related to Covid-19, so that’s one more artist lost in 2020 to this pandemic. My favorite Harold Budd album is The Pearl, an album he recorded with Brian Eno in 1984. Today might actually be a good day to listen to some Harold Budd. Some nice slow ambient piano music might just help me get my brain back on track, after last night’s troubled sleep.

 

a few more iPhone XR notes

I’ve had my new iPhone XR for a few weeks now, so I thought I’d post some follow-up notes on it. My last post on it was on New Year’s Day.

First, while it has been generally reliable, it did crash once. And it required a “force restart” to get it back up, via the procedure described here: volume up, volume down, then hold the side button. It came back up with no data loss, and it’s been fine since, but I hope that doesn’t happen regularly.

Headphones

On the headphone jack front, I’ve settled on using the Belkin Rockstar adapter in the car, using the $9 headphone jack adapter with my old Sony earbuds at work, and using the Lightning Earpods at home. The whole headphone jack thing got me thinking about headphones vs earbuds vs earphones and stuff like that.

I came to realize that the Sony MDR-J10 earbuds that I’ve been using at work for so long are almost perfect. I bought them many years ago, in a Staples Express in Penn Station NY, for maybe $20. They’re not made anymore, but it seems that they were popular enough that a used pair goes for $50-$100 now. They’re regular earbuds that don’t go all the way into the ear, and they have clips that fit behind the ear to hold them in place. So they’re comfortable and they don’t fall out.

Sony makes a similar pair now, the MDR-AS210/B, but it’s not quite the same design as the MDR-J10. I also haven’t found anyone that makes a similar design that includes a Lightning connector instead of a regular headphone plug.

I’ve been using the Apple “EarPods” at home, for listening to podcasts and audiobooks, and they’re not horrible. They’re not nearly as good a fit as the Sony MDR-J10’s though. (Specifically, the left ear is a good fit, but the right ear isn’t. I guess my ears aren’t both quite the same size.) I’m thinking about buying a pair of the newer Sony MDR-AS210/B earbuds for use at home, with the $9 headphone jack adapter.

I’m also curious about these Urbanears earbuds that I saw in the MoMA gift shop recently. The design is interesting and might be a good fit. (Or not. If I buy them, I should make sure they’re returnable.)

I’m still trying to avoid Bluetooth headphones and/or in-ear designs. I may eventually give up and try Bluetooth, but I’m resisting. I don’t want to add yet one more device with a battery that needs to be charged to my already-impressive list of devices with batteries in them. And the in-ear ones just don’t seem like they’d work well for me.

Cases

I’ve bought two cases for the phone, one a sleeve, and the other a silicone case. I ordered the sleeve first, but it only showed up yesterday, since it was shipped ground from Germany. (I didn’t notice that when I ordered it.) I initially tried using the phone with no case at all, but I found that the back was a little too slippery, hence the silicone case. That case does a good job of making it harder for the phone to slip out of my hands or fall off a table.

I’ve noticed that the screen on this phone seems to pick up a lot of dust (or lint or whatever) when I have it in my pocket, hence the sleeve. I like the idea of a sleeve, for a couple of reasons. First, for the screen protection. The second reason is a little subtle, but I like having the phone in the sleeve when I’m not using it; it makes it a little harder for me to pick it up and start fiddling with it when I should be doing something else. It adds just enough friction that it’s a little easier to ignore the phone.

Of course, the sleeve is too tight for the phone to fit when the silicone case is on it, so I’m going to have to work that out. I’ll probably go back and forth between the two for awhile.

I was amused to see that Apple is now selling a battery case for the XR and XS. The XR’s battery life is good enough that I shouldn’t need an external battery any time soon. Apple’s battery case is ridiculously expensive, at $129. But that’s Apple. There are third-party battery cases that only cost $35.

iPhone XR day four

I didn’t talk about my new iPhone XR in my New Year’s Day post, since I knew it would set me off on a tangent and add another 2000 words to the post, so here’s a separate follow up to my previous iPhone XR post.

I’m still struggling with the headphone jack thing. I bought these urBeats3 Earphones at the Apple Store the day after I bought my iPhone, then returned them today. They plug into the Lightning port, just like the Apple earbuds, so I thought that would simplify things. My thought was to use them as my main headphones at work. These were the first in-ear earphones I ever tried though, and it turns out they don’t work well for me. They include tips in four different sizes, but none of them fit my ears well. And microphonics turned out to be a big problem for me. I tried the trick of looping the cord behind my ear, and that helped, but also made the tips even more likely to fall out. I also thought about trying some Comply tips, but I don’t know if those would actually help, and I didn’t want to spend another $20 just to make a pair of already-overpriced $60 earphones work better. So, in a nutshell, I think I need to avoid in-ear earphones.

I picked up a second $9 Lightning headphone jack adapter when I returned the Beats. So my plan for now is:

  • Keep the Belkin Rockstar adapter in the car, so I can charge and connect to the car stereo at the same time.
  • Keep one headphone jack adapter at work, and keep using my good old comfortable Sony earbuds. (I won’t be able to charge and listen at the same time, but that’s probably fine.)
  • Keep the other headphone jack adapter at home, and use it with my Sennheiser headphones, when I want to listen to something at home, and don’t want to pipe it through my Sonos speaker.
  • Try to remember to toss that second adapter in my backpack when I travel, so i can use it with the Urbanears headphones that I keep in my backpack.
  • Consider giving AirPods a try at some point in 2019.

So that’s more complicated than it needs to be, but is probably workable.

I do still have a couple of minor annoyances with Face ID. Sleep Cycle works a bit differently with this phone than it did on the old phone, and I’m finding that I need to unlock the phone to stop the alarm every morning. And Face ID isn’t working for me first thing in the morning, so I have to type in my passcode. So that’s a bit irksome. In theory, Face ID should work in the dark, but, well, it’s not working for me. It’s probably that I’m not picking up the phone at the right angle for it to work. But it’s 6am, and I just want to shut the alarm off, and I’m not thinking about lining up my phone with my face properly. Maybe I’ll get that figured out over the next week or so. Overall, Face ID is working fine for me, but honestly it’s at least slightly less convenient than Touch ID.

I’m still finding the phone to be a bit unwieldy. I might pick up a silicone case at some point to make it a bit harder to fumble.

That’s about all for now. I briefly thought about returning the phone, and getting an iPhone 8 instead, so I could at least go back to Touch ID and a slightly smaller form factor. But that would be a lot of hassle, and probably a bad decision long-term. I think I’ll get used to the XR, and will probably start liking it more over time, as I get used to it.

iPhone XR day two

Today is day two with my new iPhone XR and Apple Watch Series 3, so I thought I’d post a few more thoughts on the phone. I’ve got all the basic setup done now, and things are working smoothly.

First, let me talk about the size of the phone. For some apps, it’s really nice to have the larger screen. For others, it doesn’t make much difference. For general usability, I’m still finding it a bit unwieldy. It’s harder to hold in one hand than the SE, and I’m finding that the back is a little more slippery. I’ve dropped it a couple of times already. I could make it a lot easier to hold if I stuck a PopSocket on the back, but I’m not sure I want to do that. I don’t really like the idea of sticking something directly to the phone. So I could buy a case and stick the PopSocket to the case, but that adds even more bulk to a phone that’s already too big. So I’m not sure if I’m going to keep using the phone as-is, or do something with it. I did order a sleeve for the phone, so at least I’ll have something to put it in to keep it from getting scratched up while it’s in my pocket, but that only solves one (potential) problem, and doesn’t make it any easier to use.

I’m still at loose ends with the headphone jack thing. My general attitude about it is still pretty similar to this guy’s (I want it back). But I’m trying to work my way over to this guy’s attitude (it’s time to move on). I tried the Lightning earbuds that came with the phone, and they’re not great. I might decide to bring them into work and use them as my “work headphones”, but I’m not sure they’re good enough or comfortable enough. I have a pair of low-end Sony earbuds at my desk that are a good fit and sound (I think) better than Apple’s earbuds, so I’ll probably stick with them for now, using the $9 adapter. If I keep the adapter at work, though, then I don’t have one for home or travel.

Maybe I’ll keep the Lightning earbuds at home; if I really want high-quality sound at home, I use my stereo and not my phone anyway. I can just use them for podcast listening at home. And maybe I’ll throw them in my backpack when I’m taking the train to NYC, rather than using the Urbanears headphones that I keep in there now, though I don’t really like that idea. Or maybe I just need to buy a few more $9 adapters (sigh).

For the car, I have the Belkin Rockstar thing to let me plug into my aux jack and charge at the same time, so that’s taken care of, though it’s going to be a little messy. And I think I’ll just keep that in the car.

I’m curious about AirPods. If not for the rumors of a new version coming early in 2019, I probably would have ordered a pair with the new phone. (Of course, if I did, I wouldn’t have them yet anyway, since they’re still not keeping up with orders on those.) Meanwhile, I’m thinking about buying a different set of Bluetooth headphones, but I don’t want to spend too much on them, if I’m just going to switch to AirPods next year anyway. But I don’t want to get really cheap ones either. So, in summary… yeah, I’m still at loose ends.

Aside from the size and the headphone jack stuff, it’s a fine phone. (I haven’t made a phone call on it yet, actually, but I assume it can do that.) It works fine for most of the usual stuff I do, but not noticeably better than the old SE. I haven’t checked out the camera much yet, so that’s another thing to play around with. It should, theoretically, be better than the SE camera (but not as good as the XS camera).

Given how much it cost, I’m hoping I can get three years of use out of it, but I know that’s a stretch. (The SE was about 2 years and 9 months old when I retired it yesterday.)

new Apple gear

I’ve been thinking about buying some new Apple gear lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about replacing my iPhone, iPad, and Watch.

My old iPhone SE is almost (but not quite) three years old. The battery life on it has been pretty bad lately. If I go through a whole day without getting a chance to recharge, it’s usually at about 20% by the end of the day. And if I use anything that drains the battery, like Uber, Lyft, or Apple Maps, it can drain down enough that it shuts itself down. (I had this problem one day during NYCC this year, where the phone was dead by early afternoon, largely because I’d used Uber to get to the con.) And it’s been getting noticeably slow lately too, in some apps.

The iPad I’m using now is an iPad Air that I bought via eBay in 2014. The battery life isn’t good, and it’s acting a little funny sometimes, but overall it’s still OK. I’d like to replace it, but it’s not top priority.

And my Apple Watch is a “Series 0” that I bought not long after I bought the iPhone SE. There’s really nothing wrong with it, but it won’t run watchOS 5.

I’ve been looking at the iPhone XR, but I haven’t been really enthusiastic about any of the current crop of iPhones. They’re all too expensive, too big, and none of them have headphone jacks. But, well, I decided to give in and buy an iPhone XR today. I ordered it via the Apple Store app on my old phone, for pickup at my local Apple Store. I got the “(Product)Red” 128GB version. We’ll see if I can get used to the size and the lack of a headphone jack. The total price, including AppleCare, the $9 headphone adapter, and a Belkin Rockstar adapter (so I can use headphones and charge it at the same time), came to just under $1000. Which seems like a crazy amount of money to pay for a phone. But oh well. I’m too old and set in my ways to switch from iOS to Android, so I have to pay that Apple premium.

And a friend dropped by today with a Christmas present for me: a new Series 3 Apple Watch! So now I have that taken care of too. The Series 3, physically, is pretty much identical to the Series 0. I haven’t done enough with it yet to tell whether or not it’s any better than the Series 0, in any noticeable ways, but I’m happy to have it, and to now be running watchOS 5.

Setup on the iPhone XR was a little painful, but could have been worse. It took several tries to activate it with Verizon. And, since it was running a slightly older version of iOS than my SE, I had to set it up as new, update iOS, then restore from backup. Setup for the Watch was comparatively easy. It paired with the new iPhone easily, and restored from the previous Apple Watch backup pretty quickly.

Over the next few days, I’ll have to see if I can get used to carrying and using a larger phone. The XR is significantly bigger than the SE. While the larger screen is nice, it’s a bit harder to hold than the SE, and it’s noticeably heavier. I haven’t put it in a case yet, and I’m not sure if I’m going to; it looks nice as-is, and I don’t know if I want to add to the weight. (I’ll probably write a cranky follow-up post about the phone in a few days…)

Verizon confusion

I’ve been on a 3GB data plan with Verizon for a while now. I often get pretty close to that limit, but I haven’t gone over it, so I’ve just stuck with it. This month, though, I got the notice that I only had 10% left, and there are still 9 days left in my billing cycle, so I decided to look into upgrading to a plan with more data. (Going over would have cost me $15 for one additional GB.)

Well, it turns out that Verizon has a plan that gives me 5GB of data for about $5 less than I’m paying now. And I can chop another $5 off if I switch my account to auto-pay. (And there’s rollover data too.) When I saw this, I was almost certain that there had to be a catch, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t one. I was just on an older, more expensive, plan, and I guess Verizon saw no reason to let me know about the cheaper one. (And, in fact, if I’d taken the easiest path to upgrading, it would have been to another old plan that would have gotten me to just 4GB for $5 more a month.)

So if this all works out, I’ll have enough data to do a little music streaming at work maybe. That’s a nice thing. I still think there’s probably a catch somewhere in the fine print…

Home phone service (for old people)

Last summer, I got a notice that Verizon was going to retire the copper phone lines in my town. And, via my landlord, I’ve been told that our building apparently can’t be upgraded to fiber. So, we won’t really have an option for “traditional” home phone service anymore. I got a follow-up notice from Verizon last month. They still haven’t set a final date for retiring the copper, but it looks like it’ll happen before the end of this year. So I started looking around at alternatives. My cable company has an option for phone service, for $30/month, which is a little less than what I’m paying Verizon now. But I did a little more digging and found that Verizon has a wireless home phone option that’s only $20 a month (assuming you already have Verizon Wireless), plus $30 for the little base station that you need to buy. So that’s not a bad deal.

I know that all the young people have given up on regular home phone service. But I’m an old man, and I’ve had the same home phone number for more than twenty years, and I don’t want to give it up. So I went ahead and signed up for the Verizon wireless home phone service today. I’m hoping that the call quality is reasonable. In theory, it should be about the same as my cell phone, since it’ll be on the same network, but who knows whether the $30 device they give you affects call quality (vs an iPhone) or not.

more cable TV and internet shenanigans

I got a phone call from my cable company recently; the person who called started rattling out a prepared script about some good news: they were upgrading my internet speed. I got suspicious pretty quickly, and, at some point in the script, she mentioned some additional fees. I assumed the call was a sneaky way of getting me to agree to upgrade my account, and cut her off to tell her that I was happy with my current service and didn’t want to upgrade. Then I hung up.

Afterward, I started to get a feeling that maybe I should have listened all the way through or at least tried to engage her in conversation and get some questions answered. Maybe it wasn’t a sneaky attempt to get me to agree to a service upgrade, but instead a sneaky way to try to brand a price increase as a service upgrade.

A few days later, I got an email from them, again with the “good news” that they were increasing my internet speed, to 60 Mbps. I read the fine print carefully, but there was no explicit mention of a price increase or any additional fees.

So I did some internet research, and I found a thread at DSL Reports that seemed to confirm that there would, indeed, be additional fees. So I then went and checked my most recent bill, and found the details in the fine print there. It looks like they’re going to start charging a $5/month modem rental fee, starting next month. And they’re signing me up for their “service protection plan,” for free until the end of the year, after which it’s probably $7/month. (I think I can drop that when the free period is up, at least.)

The most frustrating thing about all this is how they can’t just come out and tell you that they’re raising prices. It’s always a bunch of double-speak and shenanigans. The “service protection plan” is (of course) nonsense.  And the modem rental fee is also pretty ridiculous. (And they try to make it sound like they’re doing you a favor on it, by discounting it from the usual $10/month fee.) I might be able to dodge the modem rental fee by buying my own modem, but it’s not clear if they’d let you do that, or how much grief it would be to set up. (And I’m not really in a mood for a bunch of extra grief right now, so I’ll probably suck it up and pay the fee.)

Anyway, Cablevision/Altice just keeps getting worse, but I don’t really have any alternatives. I also found out recently that Verizon is retiring their old copper lines in my area, and that they probably wouldn’t be running new fiber into my apartment building. So I may lose the option of getting POTS from Verizon soon. (I know all the “young people” think that having a landline phone is an anachronism, but I kind of like having one.) So I might have to drop home phone service entirely, or switch to Optimum Voice, giving Altice yet another way to drain money out of my wallet. (Also, I had always assumed that Verizon FiOS was an option for me, for internet service, but from what I’m hearing, apparently it never was, since my apartment building isn’t wired for it. So I’m stuck with Altice for TV, Internet, and maybe phone service.)

Oh well. (Yes, I know that this was a pointless rant, but if I can’t rant on my own blog, where can I rant?)

Verizon’s new plans

I can’t decide if I want to switch to Verizon’s new version of the “medium” plan, and get an extra gig of data, plus (limited) rollover data, for $5 more than I’m paying now. My old plan is $45 for 3 GB. The new version is $50 for 4 GB. (The additional $20 device fee stays the same.)

I’ve been staying below 3 GB largely by never streaming music over LTE. Going to 4 GB would give me room to listen to a little streaming radio now and then, which would be nice.