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Backbone One unboxing

As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been waiting for the arrival of my Backbone One controller. It was dispatched at the end of October but took ages to leave the USPS, probably because they had some important envelopes to deliver at the same time. It arrived last night after about 10 days, and I’ve gotta say, first impressions are good.

It’s a good size and feels very nice in the hands, with my only concern being that the er… spine of it cuts directly across the lowest of the camera lenses on my iPhone 12 Pro, and it looks like the lens rests against that bit of plastic. I doubt it’ll cause any damage; those lens covers are sapphire crystal, but it looks a little odd. I’m not sure that it will fit an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but their site claims that it will.

It beggars belief that I could kill 16 people in CoD Mobile without dying once, but that’s just what happened the first time I snapped this thing on. It’s also transformed GRID Autosport from a game that I bought once and regretted immediately into something that feels truly console-like, and I don’t mean a Nintendo Switch. The graphics and haptics on this thing are way ahead of any racing game I’ve seen on that system.

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Week 44.20

  • Let’s get gadgets out of the way. The Backbone One is a USD$99 MFI controller and matchmaking/recording app to enable a more console-like gaming experience on iPhones. I saw a glowing review one evening before going to bed and signed up. I was 1,000~ on the waitlist then. Woke up to find the list had grown to 4,000~ people. It’s currently past 13,000. When your turn comes, you have 24 hours to make the purchase, and I think they’re releasing them in weekly batches of several thousand, so it’s not too late if you’re interested. I got in just before the weekend and mine is now with the USPS.
  • These clamp-on iPhone controller things are not new in any way, and I was never interested in any of them before (I mean, yuck), but the time seems right now. People say the Backbone’s hardware feels amazing, up there with Nintendo’s Joy-Cons. Add to that the large Apple Arcade library of games that support external controllers, the work Backbone’s done to create a socially enabled experience in their app, and the boom in online multiplayer mobile games like Fortnite (oops), Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG, and so on. I’m unusually excited to be getting one and can’t wait.
  • My AirPods Pro have been acting up, and this week Apple officially admitted to possible manufacturing defects with a replacement program. I took ’em down to the Jewel Changi Airport Apple Store to get replaced. Obviously I would have liked to visit Apple Marina Bay Sands but it’s booked solid to the point where you can’t even select it on the site. Huh. It’s just struck me that yes, both locations are iconic as you’d expect Apple Store locations to be, but they’re also just pretty amazing places in general? I’ll get to that later.
  • They only had replacements for one side, and I’ll be getting the other AirPod in the mail soon. One problem: I have to mail the broken AirPod back within 10 days or I’ll be charged something like S$130. A bit of a pain in the ass. Why can’t the courier who brings me the new one take the old one back while he’s here?
  • In any case, it was good to get out and see Jewel for the first time since the end of last year. It still amazes me how it doesn’t feel like anyone here is taking this pandemic seriously anymore when I go out and see people all walking close to each other and not washing their hands for 20 seconds in the bathrooms. Maybe they’ve all reached their limits and haven’t got any more patience for doing it right. That could explain the anti-lockdown protests going on in some parts of the world.
  • The new season of Somebody Feed Phil is out on Netflix, and Singapore is featured as one of the locations our hero visits to find out about the local food culture. We of course watched that episode first. And back to that comment earlier about pretty great places… he visits both the Marina Bay Sands and Jewel Changi Airport, because how could you not? And it takes these things to make me see from the outside in and realize these are spectacular places, period, and not just crowded spots downtown that surely aren’t that interesting to other people.
  • I have been and have also noticed others around me feeling sorta lousy (again). It was more pronounced in the first half of the week and probably stemmed from a lack of quality sleep. In addition to the usual migraines and backaches — that was me a couple of weeks back, but it’s gotten better on its own — there are more stories of anxiety and whatever the opposite of relaxed and content is.
  • We went to a cocktail bar over the weekend that works like a Japanese listening cafe: all vinyls, speaker cabinets, and a good eclectic selection of tunes.
  • I’m slowly getting over my dislike of K-Pop, and I think the new K/DA song has its hooks in me. I actually started playing League of Legends Wild Rift so now I know who the characters are at least.
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Goodbye, 2016 MacBook Pro

In large companies, you measure time by project and work-based milestones, sure, but the mandatory password change pop-ups and automated ‘congratulations on your anniversary’ emails are also sure ways to know you’ve been around for awhile. One of the strongest signals of this sort is the New Laptop Ritual, which tends to happen once every three years, depending on the nature of the job and generosity (is this really the right word?) of your employer.

My laptop replacement was due at the beginning of the year, but I put it off because I was sick of lugging a 15” MBP around to external meetings, and thought it’d be a smarter idea to wait for the 13” refresh with the improved keyboard when it came out in the middle of the year. Andddd then the pandemic hit, and we started working from home. Without an external monitor, a 13” screen would be pretty difficult for a lot of what we do now (Miro) to mitigate the constraints of remote work.

For what it’s worth, I never had any trouble with the keyboard, and it’s been a pretty dependable machine… up until the last few weeks, when the bottom started becoming uneven from what’s probably a battery bulge (!), and so it rocks slightly whenever I try to type on it. If this were a personal machine, it’d now be out of AppleCare and getting it fixed for free at the Apple Store might not be a sure thing, potential fire hazard or not.

So I’ve put in an order for a new 16” MBP which I’ll be picking up tomorrow, and saying goodbye to this sticker collection — always the hardest part of moving on from a laptop or iPad.

When I started running out of space on the top, I moved to the bottom.
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Did you know a Boulevardier is really easy to make? It’s essentially just a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin.

  • 1 to 1.25 parts bourbon
  • 1 part sweet vermouth (e.g. Martini Rosso)
  • 1 part Campari (or Aperol if you want something sweeter and kinder)
  • An orange slice (or dash of orange bitters if you don’t keep fruit around)

Pour over a large ice cube and stir.

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Continue Apple Arcade? 9… 8… 7…

It was with some dismay that I read Apple Arcade is looking to change up their curatorial strategy, and cancelled some games in the process. Hopefully the affected developers will be able to fund and continue their projects via Kickstarter or something.

What made the service so refreshing at the start was its dedication to art and quality, stickiness and engagement metrics be damned. You paid a subscription fee, and got access to a peaceful library of games that didn’t try to milk wallet-attached endorphins out of your brain. We got delightful little experiences like Assemble with Care and WHAT THE GOLF?, and I stuck around on the promise that we’d get a steady stream of those. Well, it seems that train has stopped because somebody upstairs wants more addictive games that will keep people subscribed past the free trial.

One example of what Apple wants, according to Bloomberg, is Grindstone. I personally love it; a fun pick-up-and-play puzzler, and an evergreen game you could easily be playing years from now. But not every game needs to be a Grindstone, and there’s only room for one or two Grindstones in my life at any time. These are games you use to soak up free time, go-to icons for when a moment appears while in line for something, or on the bus. There are plenty of them already on the App Store, so Apple Arcade should supply a breadth of other experiences.

I see the potential of Apple Arcade as analogous to the Apple TV+ strategy : quality over quantity, unique visions only. A change of course so soon comes across as a lack of courage. It’s a long game, so to speak. If people aren’t staying past the trial, maybe they’re not reaching enough of the right people who’ll be their early adopters. Even Airpods didn’t take off immediately.

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iCloud Drive and Calibre compatibility

About 7 years ago, I wrote a post about how the ebook library management app Calibre can contribute to problems with Amazon Kindle e-readers: it basically screws their battery life. I detailed a workaround for it, and to this day, I still get visits to that page, so neither Calibre nor Amazon must have gotten around to fixing it.

At one point, I had a large orange chunk on the bar above dedicated to “Documents” that weren’t actually there.

I now have a suspicion that Calibre also causes problems with iCloud Drive, so I’m leaving this here for anyone it might affect. Some scenarios for the search engines below:

  • If you store your Calibre Library folder on iCloud Drive, and have noticed that your remaining space does not reflect the storage you’re using, this is for you.
  • If you have deleted files on iCloud Drive but find that the free space reported by iCloud.com or your device does not immediately update to reflect the deletion, or…
  • If you have removed everything on iCloud Drive but still find space allocated to “Documents” in the “Manage Storage” section of iCloud settings on your iPhone/iPad — in other words, if you expect to have free space, and have done everything including a check of the “Recently Deleted” area and emptied your Recycle Bin, but the amount of free space is still inaccurate, I know that feeling.

This seems to happen to a lot of people, perhaps for other reasons, but it happens. Skip ahead to “Is it you, Calibre?” if you just want my conclusion.

So here’s my experience. A couple of years ago, I had this issue, and had to call Apple Support. It took several calls to resolve, because they wanted me to sign out of iCloud on every device (not an insignificant hassle with multiple devices), and when that established that the issue was on their servers, it had to be escalated to Engineering, and the eventual fix was they wiped everything on my Drive and reset it. I had to backup all my files locally (requires a Mac!) first. I believe I still suffered some data loss.

After that, it was all good, but my confidence in iCloud Drive was shaken, and I didn’t want to use it as storage for anything important. Every year since then, they’ve made enhancements to iCloud Drive, and to the Files.app on iOS, which has made me slowly more willing to embrace it again as a cloud file system worthy of My Stuff.

And then this happened again. 13GB of space just wouldn’t come back after I’d deleted files. The files were gone, the space was not reclaimed. After putting it off for two weeks, I got on the phone with Apple again, and two calls later, they managed to “repair” my Drive using some standard tools they have (Engineering was not involved this time). So, a slightly better experience than before.

Is it you, Calibre?

I’ll say upfront that this is a hunch. I don’t have the strength anymore to experiment on my iCloud account and conclusively prove anything.

Both times this happened to my iCloud Drive, I was using it quite “normally”. Nothing fancy, except that my Calibre Library folder was on it, and I knew that the Calibre app was actively updating files on it whenever I added/removed ebooks. This last time, the problem appeared after I’d deleted a ton of files THROUGH Calibre, and as best I can recall, a similar situation took place years ago.

With the Amazon Kindle problem, there’s something about the way that Calibre writes files to the Kindle’s drive that causes it. In other words, Calibre (which is a sluggish cross-platform app that behaves in a very non-Maclike way) may have some non-standard ways of interacting with the OS and filesystem. I think the way that it writes/deletes files isn’t the same as if you manually dragged files around yourself via the Finder. It might be through some low-level UNIX operations, but this is where I’m out of my depth.

So it’s not a stretch to imagine that when you delete ebooks in Calibre, it deletes them from your drive in a way that may cause issues. Deletes them in a way that is invisible to iCloud, so it doesn’t know that the files are gone and it should give you the space back. On a local drive? It works fine, and that’s how it’s used by millions anyway. But on a weird aliased virtual cloud drive that Apple hacked together inside a folder called “Mobile Documents”? Maybe not fine!

Here’s what I’d suggest trying if you have this problem: move your Calibre Library off iCloud Drive. I’ve put mine on Dropbox and it seems fine. Do NOT put it on Google Drive. Call Apple, and have them repair or reset your drive. Some luck is required here, but they’re your only hope. Once you get your missing space back, don’t use Calibre with it again.

I’ll be here with crossed fingers too, waiting to see if this happens again.