Posted on January 22nd, 2020
For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.
So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.
Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...
Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...
Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.
Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.
I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.
There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.
I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.
Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.
For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...
Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.
I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.
Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.
And so... bravo Plex.
I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.
UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.
So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...
...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...
Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.
My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.
QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.
Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).
Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.
I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.
Posted on December 31st, 2019
For those who only read one of my posts each year... or anybody wanting a recap of the past year here at Blogography... this post is for you! As customary, I've jettisoned loads of the usual junk so this entry is "mostly crap" instead of the "total crap" they usually are.
Last year losing my mom was the worst year of my life. This year couldn't help but be better by comparison. But I lost one of my oldest, dearest friends right off the bat, so now I'm horrified at what 2020 may have in store. I guess I've reached the stage of my life where it's all tragedy and loss from here on out? Lord, I hope not.
• Took a look at Schitt's Creek, one of the best TV shows ever...
Took a look at the Seattle Tunnel... and the horrible design of the new spaces it will allow.
• Built a magnificent photo wall in my stairwell...
• Experienced Poster Raising with the Amish...
• Converted another batch more DVDs and Blu-Rays to digital... and explained how you can do it too.
• Wished Jarrod Saltalamacchia, one of my favorite ball players, a happy retirement...
• Dedicated a post to Mufasa, Jake's toy lion, his favorite thing in the universe...
• Lamented the fact that SeaTac International Airport is still a shitpile of fail, even when they build something new.
• Watched as my home keeps getting invaded by trash pandas.
• Spent my 101st Caturday taking inventory of the cats in my neighborhood...
• Watched the funniest stand-up of the year with Nate Bargatze's The Tennessee Kid (highest possible recommendation if you have Netflix)...
• Took Jake back to the vet after he ended up sick again. Still amazed that the little guy can't meow ever... EXCEPT when he is in distress...
• Found out the reason Jake was sick was because he fell off the stairwell banister. Absolutely heartbreaking (and more than a little scary), but he recovered like a champ...
• Built a bannister ledge tray to keep my cats from falling down the stairwell again...
• Talked about the series of travel books I made for my mom to commemorate each of the trips we took together...
• Shared my thoughts on the fucking disaster that was the Game of Thrones final season...
• Once again shared a video on how tax brackets work because I am sick and tired of people believing the bullshit lies that are being propagated. I honestly don't know if this is the best way, but if we're going to discuss tax brackets let's at least be informed as to what they are. And with that in mind, here we go again...
• Said goodbye to Grant, an internet friend who will be sorely missed.
• A visit to the Chihuly Garden of Glass, a magical place crafted by one of my favorite living artists...
• Spent my lazy summer days floating down a river...
• Finally cut the cord and got rid of the toxic mess that my satellite television had become.
• Ooh... Upgrades (a process that is ongoing, by the way!).
• I have opinions. And they get me in trouble by all sides.
• Back in Vegas for the third? Fourth? time in 2019 and decided to take stock of my one-time Planet Hollywood obsession...
• Got to see Janet, Miss Jackson if you're nasty...
• Discovered the total magic of my favorite new thing... THE IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER at Burger King...
• Got myself an Apple Card... an interesting beast to be sure.
• My obligatory Apple Card unboxing entry...
• Total outrage that Hallmark can't seem to ever get the details right.
• Jake and Jenny's cat personality analysis...
• Hell of a Day, Isn’t It? Talked about what happens when you lose that person you share an inside joke with.
• Impressed the internet when I joined in on the SHOW US A PHOTO OF YOUR KITCHEN CABINET meme...
• Shared my brief attempt at being a home designer.
• Put my iPhone 11 Pro through it's paces... and shared my thoughts in it's incredible camera capabilities...
• Took my iPhone 11 Pro camera for a spin in my favorite American city.
• Ranting against changing the clocks because it fucks up my cats like nothing else... and the quail are back...
• Flew to Minneapolis so I could experience Avengers: Damage Control in real-live kinda virtual reality...
• Caring for somebody with dementia involves telling lies and making decisions.
• Disney+ finally debuted with a slew of watchable stuff to occupy time I don't have.
• Get Angry, Then Laugh... same as it ever was... same as it ever was.
• And, oh yeah, I joined the Instant Pot cult!
• Finally replaced my dying MacBook Pro... with a MacBook Pro...
• Let's take a Very Special edition of Caturday to talk about how technology helps Fake Jake survives the winter!
And there you have it... my 2019 year in review.
Thanks once again to my cats, family, and friends for making life bearable through even the worst of times.
Here's to a good 2020, everybody.
Posted on December 22nd, 2019
The holidays are nigh but there's still something to be happy about, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Movies? Does anybody at Apple actually use their shit? Because not a damn day goes by that I don't find bugs or serious problems. Just now it's trying to find a movie in the TV app. But everything is so fucked up that you really can't. Even worse? When you try to browse for it by selecting "movies," they show you a bunch of shit THAT ARE NOT EVEN FUCKING MOVIES...
Such a waste of time. iTunes may have sucked, but at least it wasn't a useless pile of shit.
• Remember. It's weird watching this and knowing EXACTLY what's happening. Not remembering, but not wanting to admit you don't remember. Not understanding, but being polite and pretending anyway. Not having any clarity of who, what, when, and where, but dismissing your confusion. Then an occasional moment where the dots connect and there's a spark of... something... in their eyes...
Hardest days of my life.
• a-ha! No, it's not as refined as the version that came after... but it's still a brilliant, beautiful, haunting song here...
It's so sad to me that a-ha is considered a one-hit wonder when they had so many remarkable songs following Take on Me. That first album is brilliant. But so are the ones which followed.
• Cuteness. I could spend hours watching raccoon videos on YouTube. I'm trying to cut down, but... man... BABY raccoons...
Nature is so amazing that it hurts.
• Retirement? Reality is a harsh mistress...
The future is scary, yo.
• Transcript? I'm just... it's just... I mean...
WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK?!? The transcript LITERALLY PROVES THAT PRESIDENT TRUMP IS GUILTY. If everybody willing to testify says he is guilty... and everybody who says he's innocent refuses to testify... doesn't that say ANYTHING about what's happening here? Does the truth even matter? Talk about reality being a harsh mistress. The future is terrifying, yo.
• Mystery. How Wrabel manages to keep churning out such beautiful work song after song after song is a mystery. This is a Christmas song for heaven's sake!
Happy Christmas, if that's your thing!
Have a great holiday...
Posted on December 12th, 2019
On Friday I was walking through a parking lot to the mini-mart when a car came bombing around a corner and hit me. I was knocked down and my keys and iPhone went flying. They weren't driving terribly fast... but it was way too fast for a parking lot and totally fast enough to knock me off my feet.
The screen protector on my iPhone was shattered. But when I removed it the iPhone was in flawless condition. Since nothing was broken (including me) I told them to be more careful and slow down, then went on with my life.
Alas, the next morning my iPhone display was "banding" (there were dark stripes going across the display). Later in the evening my display was getting progressively dark and when I woke up on Sunday it was completely black.
I am still traumatized from the heinous fucking treatment I had to endure courtesy of Apple "Support" when I attempted to make a claim on my AppleCare+ insurance plan... so it will be a while before I'm ready to blog about that bullshit. But I absolutely will. Suffice to say that Apple "Support" is made of 100% asshole, still, and the number of times I heard "There's nothing I can do!" from "support" leads was staggering. Which means either A) They are lying for whatever reason, or B) Apple management doesn't empower their leads with the power to do
Eventually I did FINALLY manage to get my phone replaced and it arrived today.
Setting up a replacement iPhone is blissfully effortless. You log in to iCloud and restore from a backup. BLAM! You're done.
Except... not so much.
After my email accounts transfered over, I had the same error THAT I HAD A YEAR AGO when I got a new phone. The same error THAT I HAD THREE MONTHS AGO when I got a new phone.
A message pops up which says "CANNOT VERIFY SERVER IDENTITY"...
You click "Details" and the pop-up disappears but nothing happens.
You click "Cancel" and the pop-up disappears but nothing happens.
Then the dialog box comes back over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over AND FUCKING OVER AGAIN! And it simply will not stop no matter what you do. Every five seconds it comes back.
When you search through Apple's knowledgebase, you'll see that this bug has been discussed SINCE TWO-THOUSAND-FUCKING-SIXTEEN! It's been around and been reported FOR THREE DAMN YEARS! And Apple won't do fucking shit to fix it. Your ONLY option is to delete your email account and start over. Which means that migrating your email accounts is essentially useless. How damn hard is it to have the "Details" button bring up a sheet where you can choose to "trust" the server?
I guess Apple has bigger fish to fry.
Like ensuring that their "support" team treats their customers like shit.
Posted on December 9th, 2019
And so I have a new MacBook Pro. At last.
My joy from the new machine's arrival is tempered by the horrific treatment I've experienced from Apple's "support" lately (more on that long story later), but I've needed a new machine for so long that I'm trying to stay positive here.
There’s a lot to love about this laptop. In many ways, it’s everything I’ve been waiting for to replace my aging 15-inch 2012 MacBook Pro (which has been falling apart for years). And it’s so sexy in Space Grey color...
All is not perfect, however.
First of all, there’s no MagSafe power adapter. This magnetic plug (which would break away if you tripped over the power cord instead of pulling your MacBook off the table) was such a wonderful and revolutionary feature that Apple ran ads to announce it. Why they couldn’t have just one of the four USB-C ports be MagSafe is beyond me. I dread the idea of accidentally tripping over a cord and banging up my laptop so much that I bought a protective case for it. Something I have never done before. As if that wasn’t insult enough, the power brick doesn’t come with a power cord extension like every other Apple power brick has done. Irritating, but I think I have a few laying around from old power bricks, so no terrible loss. But wait... it gets worse! Not only does a new 96W USB-C power adapter also NOT come with an extension cord ($19 extra) it also DOESN’T EVEN COME WITH A CABLE! ($19 extra). This is categorically absurd, and further proof that Apple is intent on nickel-and-diming their way through your wallet.
Second of all, the laptop doesn’t have a “standard” USB-A plug nor does it have an SD card reader. And, of course, no adapter for either. All you get is four USB-C ports and a headphone jack (oh the irony). Period. Which means you’re carrying a pocket full of dongles (which Apple is happy to charge you for). Even more nickel-and-diming.
And now that the ugly is over... on with the show...
Much to my surprise, the physical size is identical to my MacBook Pro 15-inch from 2012 (14.35 x 9.82 x 0.6 inches). The weight actually drops from 5.5-lbs. to 4.3-lbs. but, to be honest, it doesn’t feel a pound lighter.
The Geekbench benchmark score for my old 2012 MacBook Pro (Intel i7 4-core at 2.7GHz) is 746, my new 2019 MacBook Pro (Intel Core i7 6-core at 2.6GHz) has a Geekbench score of 1033. This seems a disappointing bump after nearly 8 years, but when you consider that I bought the most expensive model available in 2012... and the cheapest model available in 2019... I’m actually quite happy with the increase I got! The RAM and SSD storage are the exact same specs (16GB, 500GB) which I am also happy about. I paid a lot more money for my 2012 MacBook Pro than this one I have now... so the fact that I have the same storage is pretty remarkable! I resisted the urge to max out my new laptop with 64GB RAM and 8TB of SSD storage. It costs over $6,000 (I checked).
Unlike the shitty and fragile “butterfly keyboards” that App forced on us for far too long, the new (old?) scissor keyboard is actually typeable. Yes, I wish there was just a touch more “travel” to the keys, but at least I can type at full speed without making more errors than correct words! If I'm being truly honest, I'd prefer the keyboard from my 2012 MacBook Pro. It's just so much more comfortable. But compared to what Apple was using prior to this? World of difference.
The “Touch Bar” is something I’ve been resistant to. Yes, the more I use it the more I love it, but I would honestly prefer to have my function keys back. That being said, for the apps which use the thing, it is very nice. So handy (Photoshop’s Touch Bar is ever so dreamy!). For apps where I need the function keys, I am slowly adjusting to having to hold down the “fn” keys to get them back. Maybe there’s a way to make function keys stay showing on an app-by-app basis, but I haven’t found that. Maybe there’s a 3rd party app for it.
Touch ID is something I was looking forward to. I hate, hate, hate typing passwords, so this should be a huge deal for me, right? Well... not really. For some functions, yes, Touch ID pops up and asks me to put my finger on the sensor. But a great deal of the time I am still being asked to type my password. In the past 6 hours of setting up this new machine, I've typed my Apple password dozens of times. So what the f#@& good is Touch ID then? When companies like Apple make a big showing of encouraging security by suggesting complex passwords, but then you have to actually remember and type those passwords, THEN NOBODY IS GOING TO USE COMPLEX PASSWORDS! Such bullshit. I thought Touch ID would be a very cool thing to have. For the most part it hasn’t been. This sucks. Once again Apple is saying one thing to appear like they have our interests at heart, but then doing something completely opposite.
Why Apple thinks that a trackpad this huge is necessary is a mystery. I am seeing no benefit to it. The smaller one on my old MacBook Pro was better for me. This big one feels "mushy." Click-dragging (and two-finger tapping), which I can’t imagine anybody living without, is still an “Accessibility” feature. It really should be with the rest of the trackpad options (or in both places). Alas, until I get used to the larger size, my hand has been “soft-clicking” for me and it’s really annoying... I may have to turn click-dragging off, which would be awful. And, if I can be all nitpicky, natural scrolling is still enabled by default... ugh.
Display resolution scales nicely... which is critical for people like me with aging eyes! My old MacBook Pro was set to a resolution of 1440 x 900. I have the new one magnified a bit at 1536 x 960. Visually it looks similar to what I was using, I just get a little bit extra real estate thanks to less bezel and more screen. Nice! Not only that, the display is frickin’ gorgeous! The best I’ve ever seen. And it’s bright too! This is the first Mac that I don’t have to put at full brightness in order to view the display comfortably.
The sound on this thing is really sweet in all the right ways. The bass is out of this world for a laptop. The difference in quality from my old MacBook Pro is really noticeable. There's nothing quite like blasting The Sun Always Shines on TV by a-ha and having it fill the room. Interesting to note that there’s a “popping sound bug” that Apple has acknowledged. I haven't noticed it, but apparently they are releasing a fix any minute now (or so I’ve read).
This laptop has a massive 100 watt-hour battery. It is rated 11 hours for regular tasks (ie not running massive Photoshop chores). After installing all my apps, I have been mostly just writing and surfing the internet. It's been about 4 hours. I have about 70% of my battery left, so this is probably accurate.
The cooling system is supposed to be robust. That may be the case, but I find the fans are running on high speed often enough to be noticeable. A lot. Like a lot a lot. More than even my 8-year-old MacBook running modern applications! This is a bit surprising. Is the processor really stressed this bad all the time? I mean, sure, some intensive operations in Photoshop I get... but typing an email? I think that all of my files have been indexed by Spotlight, so I’m not getting what’s happening. Hopefully it’s just some other background process from setup that will eventually calm down.
Setup is as easy as it gets. Seriously, if there’s one thing that Apple never stops improving on, it’s setting up a new Mac. iCloud settings are finally working like they should. Accounts transfer over effortlessly. Settings are all migrated. With the exception of waiting for my apps to download, Dropbox to sync, and email to load into Mail, I was up and running very quickly. So nice. Except... email account settings in Apple Mail don’t transfer over the Advanced Server Settings so you can establish a root folder. You have to adjust it yourself. Why? If everything else transfers over, why not this one simple setting? Regardless, I sure wish 3rd party apps would utilize syncing. It’s frustrating to have to import my spam database corpus for SpamSieve manually... load my MarsEdit settings manually... etc... etc... etc...
And that's that.
So far, anyway.
Without the noticeable downgrade of the keypad and the trackpad (and, to a lesser extend the upgrade of the display and the sound), this is essentially a repeat of my existing 8-year-old MacBook Pro. And that's the point. That's exactly what I wanted.
How often can you say that now-a-days?
Posted on November 29th, 2019
And... my one shopping day of the year is here! Every month I put aside $100 for clothes and "other stuff" then wait until Black Friday to buy all the clothes and "other stuff" I need. $100 a month is quite a chunk of cash to not have in my pocket, but worth it when I end up with $1200 in November that magically becomes $2400 (or more!) on Black Friday thanks to all the sales and savings.
Below I refer to "Rakuten Cash Back" in a lot. Rakuten bought out eBates and have taken over their cashback operations. It's a pretty easy way to save even more money on Black Friday (or any other day) and you can sign up to get $10 right off the bat with my referral link right here.
And now? On with my Black Friday scores...
AKASO DASH CAM! • Reg. $66, Paid $38 (after Amazon cash back)
My previous dash cam was $20 and has lasted for four years before falling apart and going glitchy. As I mentioned, I am afraid to drive without one given how crazy distracted drivers are, so I was hoping hoping hoping I could get a nice one on sale. I was going to buy another $20 camera, but the cheap ones force you to remove the tiny memory card every time you want the footage. With a WiFi model like this you can just connect with your iPhone and grab the video directly. Handy! Plus... GPS! Worth the additional $18.
SHOES! • Reg. $170, Paid $128
I should have bought shoes last Black Friday, but I thought I could get one more year out of the pair I have. I'm not rough on shoes... they usually last me four or five years... so a little Shoe Goo will keep them together right? They still look great... it's just the soles that are falling apart. But back in August the soles fell complete apart. My plan was to buy a cheap pair of $20 shoes, rip the soles off, then glue them on mine. This seemed extreme. Instead I used more Shoe Goo to piece everything together. It worked surprisingly well. But I needed new shoes. I would have loved to have found the same model I had before... but of course shoe companies don't do that. I also would have loved to have spent under $100... but of course the shoes I found that I liked weren't under $100. Oh well. It's still 25% off, which is better than nothing.
ALEXA! Reg. $99 • Paid $33 (with trade-in and Amazon cash back)
I bought a SONOS One for my bedroom. It's absolutely fantastic, and fills the room with amazing sound. Problem is, the AirPlay 2 on it is glitchy as hell, which means the audio has constant drop-outs when I'm playing content from my Apple TV. And Apple TV keeps "forgetting" that the SONOS exists, so I am having to reconnect several times a week. It's maddening, because 95% of the time I'm using it for my television. And so I decided to get an Echo (3rd Gen.) which has a 3.5mm audio line-in that I can run directly from my television. I traded in the old Amazon Echo I have in the bathroom for $25, so it ends up being a $35 spend. No, the sound won't be as good as my SONOS One, but it's gotten good reviews for its quality and will be good enough... plus I can transfer the SONOS One to my upstairs bathroom, which will be amazing for listening to music each morning while I shower and get ready.
iTUNES! GIFT CARD • Reg. $100, Paid $70 (with Rakuten Sign-up Bonus)
As is my custom every year, I buy a $100 iTunes gift card at 20% off to cover the Marvel movies and sale movies I buy each year. I joined Rakuten and they gave me $10 cash back for my first purchase, so this year it was an especially sweet 30% off!
OUTDOOR NEST CAM! • Reg. $199, Paid $159
I have two camera systems. A wired system with local recording that has a battery backup and will run even with no power or internet... and a Nest cloud system which is constantly uploading footage to the internet. The Nest cameras are fantastic, but I was ready to ditch them all because the per-camera cloud service cost was absurdly expensive. But they made an announcement a while back that this would be changing to a much cheaper "bulk plan" where all cameras would be covered for one price. Given this, I decided to keep all my Nest cameras and replace a failed outdoor camera with another Nest. But not the new "Nest Cam IQ" which has the stupidest mounting requirements (DRILL A HOLE THROUGH YOUR HOUSE!), I got the original Nest Cam Outdoor. I budgeted to get it for $129, but the savings ended up being less steep than I had hoped.
HELLO! • Reg. $229, Paid $149
The first smart doorbell I had was the original "Ring" model. It was huge, but it worked well. Then Ring sent me an offer I couldn't refuse... a 4th generation smaller "Ring Pro" model upgrade for a fraction of the retail price. Sadly, it has never worked as well. But an even bigger problem with Ring is that it is SO slow. By the time they notify you that somebody has rang your doorbell, they've long gone. And trying to review the cloud footage is futile because it takes forever for it to upload and be available. Since my Nest cloud cameras are always available instantly and very quick to notify, I've wanted to get a Nest Hello doorbell replacement. Now that Google Nest is having a bulk deal on cloud services for multiple devices come 2020, this was a no-brainer.
PRESSURE COOKER! • Reg. $120, Paid $35 (after Rakuten cash back)
I already mentioned this one earlier this week. Thanks to a goof by a website (they switched the sale prices of the 6-quart and 8-quart for half-a-day) I finally got an Instant Pot (or, to be more accurate, an Instant Pot knock-off) for $35. SCORE! I bought this as a flawless egg cooker, but have ended up using it for lots of stuff. Not something I had planned on buying (or had budgeted for) but I was happy to find it.
UNDERWEAR! • Reg. $102, Paid $46 (after Rakuten cash back)
Half of my skivvies are literally falling apart. But I keep wearing them and repairing them because I need enough that I can do full loads of laundry. Fortunately, Old Navy had an EVERYTHING IS 50% OFF SALE plus free shipping on orders of $50 or more. I was able to get 10 pair of quality underwear, some socks, and a couple pair of touch-screen-friendly gloves for $51. Old Navy tends to hold up pretty good, so that was money well-spent. Especially since I earned $40 in SuperCash I can spend on more Old Navy, plus $5 cash-back from Rakuten, which means I am essentially getting all this for $6?!? (assuming I spend the $40).
CLOTHES! • Reg. $947, Paid $367 (after Rakuten cash back)
My favorite jeans, hands down, are Banana Republic slim-fit. They are comfortable, look good, and (most importantly) they last forever. Seriously, I have jeans from four years ago that look new. Unfortunately, my American Eagle jeans do not hold up as well and are needing to be replaced. I took Banana Republic up on their 50% off Black Friday offer and buy four pair. With the Rakuten cash back, they're knocked down to $41.25 a pair! SCORE! Then I headed over to The Gap and Banana Republic Factory for some dress shirts, T-Shirts, casuals, and gloves at 60% off off $480 plus $20-something in Rakuten cash back. Not too shabby.
Grand total? $1025 spent for $2032 in merchandise. Or almost exactly 50% in savings. With tax adding $82, my total spend this year was $1107. So... woohoo! I've got $93 left!
I should keep it in the bank and roll it over for next year... but... the LEGO Jurassic World video game for Nintendo Switch is on sale for twenty bucks!
I guess I'll just blow the remainder on cocaine and hookers. Does anybody know where I can find cocaine and hookers for $70?
And so there it goes. I now have enough new clothes and toys to last me until next Black Friday. And until then... time to start squirreling away another $100 a month. Which never seems like much fun until today.
Posted on November 13th, 2019
I have been enjoying Disney+ far more than I thought I would. So many movies from my childhood are just a click away and it's been great. That Darn Cat, Flight of the Navigator, Blackbeard's Ghost, The Cat From Outer Space, and of course the Herbie the Love Bug movies. It's amazing how good these movies were. That Darn Cat is shockingly smart, funny, and entertaining. They just don't make films like this any more.
In other good news... Apple has finally gotten off their asses, listened to the many complaints of their customers, and released a MacBook without their shitty, shitty, SHITTY "butterfly" keyboards. I haven't tried one yet, but the early reports are good.
I sure as hell hope so.
Because, at this point, I don't give a crap about anything but the keyboard. Well... maybe the display. But Apple has always had the most beautiful displays, so whatever. Everything else? Whatever. I don't care how it sounds, or how fast it's gotten, or if it has a stupid "TouchBar," or if it has "Touch ID." ALL I WANT TO DO IS BE ABLE TO WORK AND TO BE ABLE TO WORK I NEED TO BE ABLE TO FUCKING TYPE!
My current laptop is nearly eight years old and I've used it to death. It's constantly in use every day of the week. It has died and been repaired three times. The fan is starting to go and I can't find replacement parts for it. And yet I've kept hanging onto it because of Apple's shitty "butterfly" keyboards are impossible for me to type on. It's plenty fast and capable and I'd gladly keep using it if it weren't constantly dying.
Hopefully now, at long last, I have another option.
Enter the new 16-inch MacBook Pro...
Since the reviews of the keyboard are so good, I'll definitely take a look. And probably end up ordering one.
Hopefully my current laptop will hang on long enough for it to arrive. As I've been typing this, my fan has been howling again.
Posted on November 3rd, 2019
Worried you don't have time to watch all those new Apple TV shows? Well worry no more, because an all new Very Special Apple TV+ Edition of Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Who Dis? And lo did Apple decree that some of their billions of dollars shall be put aside to create their own media, and it was done. And lo did Apple then decree that all new iPhone purchasers would get a year of Apple TV+ for free, and it was done. And since I had a bunch of work to tackle all day yesterday, I just let Apple TV+ shows run while I was working. There are hits and misses, but most of it is just a "why?" situation. There's nothing so revolutionary here that Apple just had to step up with a pile of money to make sure they were seen. It's pretty much just more of the same.
• The Morning Show. The opening shot of the first episode of this show is Mark Duplass answering his iPhone. The next shot is Steve Carell answering his iPhone. The next is Jennifer Aniston ignoring a call on her iPhone. Reese Witherspoon is too busy putting on eyeliner for me to see her phone, but the guy in back of her in the car has an iPhone. While not unrealistic that absolutely everybody on earth would all own iPhones, it does seem like a ridiculous abundance of product placement and left me wondering if the show was going to revolve around Apple products instead of stories and actors. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. But it was still jarring to see Apple absolutely everywhere when the real world doesn't work like that. And "the real world" is what they're trying to give us: When the co-host of a popular morning news show is fired for sexual misconduct, personal politics and interpersonal relationships are put to the test...
It may be only three episodes so far, but like this show. I like it quite a lot. It's deliciously twisty and appropriately ruthless without being overly-complex, stifling, or boring. The acting talent is impeccable. It's rumored that Aniston and Witherspoon are making TWO MILLION DOLLARS PER EPISODE. This seems wildly excessive. But when they make millions upon millions for movies, that's what it's going to cost to get that kind of talent on your TV show. I'm not saying they're necessarily worth that in the context of The Morning Show, but I will say that they elevate things to a level you probably wouldn't have gotten from many others. And don't discount Steve Carell... his character is equal parts horrifying and charisma, and he's great. Everybody is. That's what $15 million an episode gets you.
• See. "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." Or is he? Let's assume that I can put aside the complete lapse of logic which permeates this show. Let's further assume that I can overlook the ableist aspects of the concept behind the show. And let's finally assume that I can dismiss the obvious idea that Apple wanted their own Game of Thrones for launch, and See (featuring Khal Drago!) is that show. Assuming all that... and you can... I still couldn't get into this post-apocalyptic show about what happens when most of the population of earth is wiped out, those two million remaining are blinded, centuries afterwards everybody thinks that sight is a myth which is heresy to speak of, and evolution has brought us to a time when some are being born with the ability to... see...
Each episode costs $15 million. The same as being spent on The Morning Show. And yet... for the life of me I cannot figure out where all that money is going. It's just inconceivable to me that I'm looking at $15 million per installment. Maybe if $10 million an episode was going to Alfre Woodard that would explain things. I dunno. What I do know is that I was bored bored bored by the goofy lameness of it all. High concept needs to have high entertainment value. This just... doesn't. From bizarre crap like the queen's unorthodox method of "praying" to the whole "betrayal among us" trope being the entire crux of future hurdles... it's just so tired. I don't hate the show, I just don't know if I will make time to watch future episodes. Maybe if I'm bored and there's nothing else on?
• For All Mankind. This terrific alternate-history series is just so... pretty. Not just because of the money put into making it look great... but because nothing puts all of humanity into such vivid perspective as our quest to reach the stars. Yes, things start slowing down after the first episode, but it's still pretty good stuff.
I had read nothing about the series, ignored all the "first look" videos, and had no idea what the show was about until I watched. At the time I was anticipating Apple TV+ costing $12.95 a month, so why invest the time in something I won't see? Because of this, the extended opening which defines the entire series took me completely by surprise. In a good way. Hopefully nobody has spoiled it for you, because surprises this finely crafted don't come along that often! For this reason, I am NOT including the advertisement video here. It spoils everything! I'm hopeful this is headed somewhere interesting.
• Snoopy in Space. I actually liked the computer-rendered Peanuts movie. I found it beautifully rendered and fully faithful to both the comic strip and the animated specials. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple's first effort with the property was to be traditionally-animated. Though, from the looks of things, it's not so traditional. It's too fine and too clean and definitely looks digitally drawn. Not a good look...
But the real importance here would be the story. How does it live up to what Charles Shultz created? It doesn't. The plot is that Snoopy dreams of being an astronaut and breaks into NASA's astronaut training program so he can go into space. Since the Peanuts universe doesn't have adults you can understand, there's an absurd and annoyingly emotional computer standing in. What follows is mundane explorations into NASA, the ISS, the moon, and Mars. And it's so awful.
As a lover of the original Peanuts strips... a liker of the original Peanuts television specials... this show fell completely flat for me. It's like they took popular Peanuts elements that people would recognize and jammed them together into a NASA-sponsored docu-series. There's no real charm or genuine humor here and the story is both horrible and boring. Especially if you love Peanuts, in which case it's just insulting.
• Dickinson. Needless to say, a teen angst reinvention of Emily Dickinson's early life was not going to be my cup of tea. I don't give two shits about that kind of CW crap. And yet... I was genuinely curious to see where Apple would go with this. I'm a fan of Dickinson's poetry and writings, and their nature is ripe for interpreting her life...
Alas, what we got was a complete mess. It's a period piece injected with thumping modern music and familiar modern tropes, but not in a necessarily edgy, interesting, or clever way. Characters use phrases like "I'm pretty psyched about it!" and "Totally!" and "This is bullshit!" which is somehow supposed to be funny or something. What actually was funny was seeing Wiz Khalifa pop up as Death with his magical coach pulled by ghostly fire horses and Jane Krakowski gliding through her every scene as if she's a Jenna Maroney parody of Emily's mom. Everything else fails to hold together. One minute Emily is baking bread for her father as an apology for getting caught sitting in at an all-male lecture on volcanoes at Amherst... the next she's getting fingered by her brother's fiancé as some words from her poem I have never seen "Volcanoes" appear on screen and images of bread baking in a hot oven pop up. It's like they didn't even try. Just one silly, contrived situation after another ("Let's have an opium party so I can hallucinate dancing with a giant talking bee!"). I made it through four episodes... fast forwarded through the last half of the fifth... then skipped to the ninth and tenth just to be done with it. I'm sure there are people who will love this, but it's sure not me.
• The Elephant Queen. If you've ever seen the show Meerkat Manor which documents the life of meerkats struggling to survive their cruel world, The Elephant Queen will feel a bit familiar. This documentary follows Athena, an African elephant trying to save her heard once they are forced to leave their old watering hole in search of a new one...
Beautiful to look at and nicely narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, this is a wonderful but somewhat superficial film. Sure there's tragedy and death along the way. But no mention of poachers despite that being a serious threat and always topical... I mean, come on, even Disney World managed to add poaching into their Kilimanjaro Safari ride at Animal Kingdom. If there's a negative here, it would be the unnecessary addition of comical sound effects and some clueless music queues. Even so, it's a compelling film that's worth your valuable time.
• More to Come... Though Apple doesn't have much content, they seem intent of keeping it coming. Up next are a show by M. Night Shyamalan... a show by Rob McElhennrey and Charlie Day... a show with Octavia Spencer... a show with Chris Evans... more Amazing Stories... more Time Bandits... and, of particularly interest to me, a new series based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels. Among others. Odds are, they're going to be fairly watchable given the amount of money and talent Apple is dumping on them. We shall see.
And... not a bad start. The only complete misfire was Snoopy (what were they thinking?) and even that might have appeal to some. Whether or not I'll pay $5 a month to keep it going a year from now will entirely depend on what's playing at that time. Another series for The Morning Show would be enough for me to pay a couple months, but I'm guessing Apple will have a lot more in store than just that.
Posted on October 13th, 2019
I've been catching up with preparing my home for winter this weekend, but I had to make time for blogging, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Compare. I am putting this video here because I just can't believe it exists. Arun Maini (who has a great YouTube Channel) compared all the iPhones ever made for quality and features, plus showed and unboxing of each as well...
One of the most shocking parts of this video is the end where he compares the cameras. I maintain that the camera in the new iPhone 11 Pro may be the best camera I've ever owned. No, it can't really compare my Sony DSLR... but, in some ways, it actually eclipses it. First of all, it fits in my pocket and is with me at all times. Second of all, it has capabilities you could only get from a device with a massively powerful computer in it... like Night Mode and the forthcoming Deep Fusion. Aside from all that, it's just capable of taking amazing, amazing photos.
Of course the biggest shock is the benchmark escalation...
I mean... wow. As an aside here, I've owned the following: 2G (The Original), 3G, 4, 5, 6, 7, X, XS, and 11 Pro...
I kept all the boxes (except I can't find the box for 7). I think the only actual phone I kept was the 5 (it's in the shadows up there in the corner) because I loved the look of it so much (the 4 is a close second). I also have a 2G Original around here somewhere. The other phones I donated because the trade-in value is always worth less to me than helping somebody out... or, as of the iPhone X, I returned it to Apple as part of their iPhone Upgrade Program.
• Vieux Carré. They are building a Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans at the Northeastern corner of The French Quarter. I was staying just around the corner from the construction site, and walked by while I was there to check things out. Unfortunately I couldn't see much... and, even more unfortunately, there was a horrific accident which has left two workers dead and one still missing...
As the push to get things done ever cheaper and faster escalates, worker safety seems to be pushed aside. I sincerely hope that's not the case here.
• GROUCH. I do not care how many accolades that the Joker movie gets... I have zero interest in seeing it. The "real" Joker was a career criminal who was driven insane when he dropped in a vat of chemicals. The key takeaway being that he was always a criminal. In this new movie, Joker becomes a criminal due to mental illness, and I'm not here for it. The film is a completely unnecessary revision that simply doesn't interest me. Maybe one day when it's free on HBO or whatever, I'll give it a try out of boredom... but I'm not rushing to the theater to see it. Last night on SNL, there was a parody for Oscar the Grouch which brilliantly captures how I view Joker...
Perfect. THIS IS PERFECT!
• Three. It came out a short while back that Kevin Smith had finally manages to get Jeff Anderson onboard for Clerks 3. He had written a script ages ago, but Jeff didn't want to do it. Apparently after some discussion, Smith decided to write an all new script inspired by his heart attack that Anderson could get onboard with. Needless to say, I'm ecstatic...
Kevin Smith has made some of the favorite films. He kinda lost me when he took a detour into Cop Out, Red State, Tusk, and Yoga Hosers... but the idea of getting another Jay & Silent Bob movie this month followed by another Clerks? Too good to be true.
• Vileness. You will be absolutely amazed what Portuguese street artist, Vile, can do with cans of spray paint...
Check out the story over at My Modern Met for more of his mind-blowing graffiti art.
• Apple and TV. I absolutely loathe the way Apple handles the video media they peddle. They charge more money than any other provider to sell you something you are forced to watch with their shitty, shitty apps. AppleTV is a grotesque mockery of interface design that barely works. The iPhone and iPad apps are missing so many critical features (LIKE SORTING YOUR HUNDREDS OF PURCHASES) that they're a heinous burden to use. And now there's the TV app for my Mac that came with their new Catalina MacOS. It is the very definition of crap. I never thought I'd be longing to go back to iTunes, but at least it was functional. The TV app is fucking garbage. They regularly send you to places that have no content... THEN DON'T GIVE YOU A FUCKING "BACK" BUTTON TO GO BACK TO WHERE YOU WERE!
And just try searching for stuff you want to buy. I dare you. I double dare you. I am so fucking embarrassed for Apple that I feel like vomiting. And if Steve Jobs were alive today he'd probably burn the company to the ground. After he strangles all the dumbasses who thought that "butterfly" keyboards in MacBooks was a good idea.
• Stellar. Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is a movie that I didn't like at first but, as time went on and I gave it another chance, I came to appreciate it as pretty good sci-fi. The high-concept science behind it is fascinating. Yes, the way that Nolan tried to inject "humanity" into it was a kludge, but it's still an entertaining story. And while I found everything pretty straightforward (despite some glaring plot holes), I found this cool (spoiler-filled) graphic which explains the time shifts in a great way...
Of course I ended up watching the movie again last night just to follow along. I like it even better the third time through.
See you next Sunday, buckaroos.
Posted on October 1st, 2019
Look, I'm just going to say it... if you've got an iPhone X or XS, then the only reason to upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro is for the camera update, which is significant. Everything else is hardly a revolutionary step up... and, in one case, Apple even takes a step backwards.
And so, I'll just run through everything quickly before getting to the camera, which is why we're all here isn't it?
Still $1000 for the 64GB iPhone 11 Pro. It's too much. But that's the price you pay for tech like this. I can barely fill up 2/3 of the smallest memory configuration, so 64GB is plenty for me. If you use tons of apps and store a bunch of movies and stuff in local memory then you'll want more... and pay more. There's the bigger iPhone 11 Pro Max, which wouldn't fit in my pocket (or my budget) so I took a pass. The good news is that my monthly payment in Apple's iPhone upgrade program is unchanged.
Make no mistake, this phone is gorgeous. The new frosted glass back has a nice matte feel (assuming you don't put it in a case) and the overall design is elegant, polished, and feels solid. I went for the new "Forest Green" color, because it's just so pretty. In most light, it looks more grey than green to me, but it picks up the light enough to give a hint of green that looks great. Alas, when paired with my Project (Red) case, the back is covered up, but you can still see a hint of the color in the camera cut-out. Maybe a clear case is a better way to go? But then you lose the matte glass, so I'm good.
There's all kinds of videos showing the durability of the iPhone 11 Pro. They are impressively tough. But since I'm on the iPhone Upgrade Program (the only way I can afford these things) and I have to return the phone in pristine condition, I can't risk it. I've got a screen protector and case on at all times.
Apparently I should get (on average) 4 hours more battery life over my old XS. I guess that's awesome, but I barely used much battery on my old phone. Maybe when I travel or use maps for driving, but I'm not going to complain about having more time with my iPhone before charging. And speaking of charging... you get a nice 18 watt charger to fill the battery faster, which is a big improvement over the tiny 5 watt charger we used to get. Alas, Apple is still married to its Lightning connector for charging, but the end of the cable which plugs into the power adapter is USB-C. Go figure. Most of the time I'm using wireless charging so it's not a big issue for me.
Still has the annoying notch at the top. That being said, the fidelity of the display is stunning. I mean, the old display was beautiful and all, but this is next level stuff. If you download a high quality movie at full resolution, you are in for a treat. The image simply does not fall apart and the color and brightness is phenomenal. Photos look as amazing as you'd think they would. Everything about the display is as good as it gets and worthy of Apple's flagship iPhone.
Apparently the iPhone is now rocking Dolby Atmos sound, which is cute when you consider it's still pumping it through two tiny little speakers. To be honest I can't tell much improvement, but I thought the old sound was pretty great for a phone already.
Here's the thing about 3D Touch. It's gone. Apple removed it. This is surprising from the standpoint that newer phones should have more features, not less. It's not surprising from the standpoint that Apple rarely promoted or took advantage of the feature. I've read on a few sites that removing 3D Touch helps contribute to better battery life. That (along with the newer, larger battery and more efficient A13 chip) is probably true. But I really, really miss it. I am slowly getting used to Apple's replacement... "Haptic Touch"... which is essentially just a long-pause as opposed to a harder pause... which isn't terrible. But it's not the same. At all.
And speaking of that new A13 chip... Apple claims it's up to 20% faster than the previous generation A12. I have no reason to doubt this, but I really don't notice it. My previous phone was plenty fast and day-to-day speed improvements (if they exist) don't really register for me. That being said, the speed boost is undoubtedly crucial to improvements behind the scenes, like the new camera's jaw-dropping abilities. And so... thanks, I guess.
It's not hyperbole to say that the camera in the iPhone 11 Pro is a quantum-leap improvement over the iPhone XS. It's a bit less of an improvement over the camera in the Google Pixel 3 (which I have limited experience with, but really liked) and the camera in the Samsung Galaxy S10 (which I got to use for three months and was underwhelmed with). Regardless, Apple's latest camera in the iPhone 11 Pro is (currently) unmatched. It's an artful symphony of hardware advancements and incredibly smart and clever software which pushes it ahead in (most) all areas. Which is where I'm at now.
While other cameras are pushing 16 megapixels (and higher!), Apple seems content to stick with 12 megapixels. This is understandable on many levels... primary of which is that they take less storage space. But it's also questionable if we really need more than 12 megapixels on a phone. It's plenty of resolution to print a fairly large hardcopy photo, and way more than enough resolution to look at on a phone screen. Where higher resolution comes in handy is when you want to crop into a photo. THEN it's kinda a big deal. And yet... ideally you'd just want a longer (telephoto) lens so I dunno. Would I like more? Sure. Do I need more? Probably not.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERA LENSES
The iPhone 11 Pro has cameras lenses (not including selfie cam), as follows...
They're all good and have great optical quality. And, thanks to Apple's fantastic Camera App, you zoom between them without even realizing it. You just compose your shot and iPhone picks the correct camera/lens as you zoom in or out. The big news here is the Ultra Wide Angle Camera, which adds a lot of image area. So much area that I have to hold my camera in a new way because my fingers are in the frame if I hold it like I used to. Just look at this comparison... starting with the telephoto...
And here's the wide angle...
And here's the ultra-wide angle...
Granted, where you'll most likely be using the ultra-wide is not shooting things that are far away, it's shooting things closer to you...
In which case it's a very big deal...
Alas, the Ultra-Wide Angle doesn't have image stabilization and can't use Night Mode (see below), so there are some limitations there, but boy is it a handy thing to have. I find myself using it far more than I thought I would, and quickly realized how critical it is not just for travel, but for everyday use.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERA NIGHT MODE
The iPhone 11 has decent apertures for its three cameras, which allow you to get pretty spectacular shots without any long exposure trickery...
The Ultra-Wide Camera is f/2.4 which is darn good and allows for gorgeous shots as well...
Color fidelity is epic...
There are limits of course. Once things get too dark, everything can be lost in the shadows. This is nice for artistic purposes, but not what we want most of the time...
So what happens when there's not enough light for a shot? Glad you asked!
Google's Pixel 3 had a revolutionary "Night Sight" feature which I was extremely jealous of. I was so jealous that I borrowed one from a friend so I could try it out for a day. My iPhone had decent low-light ability, but it was nothing like what I got from the Pixel 3. Night becomes day and it was an incredible thing. Apple being Apple, they've taken the ball and ran with it. iPhone 11 Pro has automatic "Night Mode" which kicks in without you having to do a thing. It's essentially a long exposure which is assisted by image stabilization and some nifty software processing. The results are pretty amazing.
Here's my back yard with Night Mode turned off...
And here it is with Night Mode on automatic which, of course, is activated given that it's pitch black out...
Now, before you think "hey, that's still pretty dark," keep in mind that this is what I got straight out of the camera. I can still go in and make adjustments...
This level of color fidelity and detail would be impossible with any iPhone prior to this one. It looks like early evening instead of the middle of the night! What's surprising is how often Night Mode gets applied. I thought shooting through a bright window in darkness would fail to trigger Night Mode because the subject in the center is illuminated, but it was triggered anyway...
Curious to know why I needed Night Mode for such a shot, I turned it off and shot again...
Welp, I guess that's why. I'm getting a much, much better shot with a longer exposure. This is Apple's remarkable "machine learning" at work. Diagnosing shots so you don't have to. I dare say that even the most amateur photographer is going to be able to get pretty amazing shots with the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro thanks to Apple helping them out behind the scenes.
"Night Mode" is not magic, however. It's a long exposure. And while image stabilization and camera processing will help keep static scenes in focus, you're fresh out of luck if the subject is in motion. A long exposure of motion is just going to make a blur out of it all. And be careful... the telephoto lens does not support night mode. If you zoom in further than 1× the resulting photo will be shot with the standard wide angle camera and be digitally zoomed.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERA APP
Apple's new camera app is pretty great. It's still got an "automatic" mode which will even out the lighting and correct the color tone... usually in a way that's better than what you have without it... but it's the new manual controls they've added to the list which makes the new app so compelling...
And of course all those tools are "live," so even if you don't know what they mean, you can still play around and see what they do. Sharpness and Noise Reduction have been a long time coming, and I'm particularly impressed with how well Sharpness works. It feels like it's more of an "Unsharp Mask," which provides superior results. The Noise Reduction, however, is pretty basic. It's more of a "LET'S BLUR OUT THE NOISE!" tool than anything else. Here's a shot with no noise reduction applied. It may be tough to see here, but there's quite a bit of noise in this image because I turned Night Mode off. You'll just have to trust me, as you will still see the blurry mess that Noise Reduction makes...
Here's 50% noise reduction...
Not bad, but you can see that edge definition is being lost. To see what's really happening you have to turn up Noise Reduction to 100% like this...
Is the noise gone? Sure! But your image is so blurry that even sharpening can't save it. Professional noise reduction tools you can purchase for Photoshop try to eliminate noise while leaving detail. They do a much better job than this, and they do it by not aggressively removing every speck of noise... but finding a way to figure out where noise can be reduced without rendering the image a blur. Since this is Apple's first attempt at the tool, I'm going to give them a pass here... because that they even tried is a good thing... but I sure hope they work on improving it for next time.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERA VIDEO
I don't shoot a lot of video (which is probably why I can get away with the 64GB model phone), but what little I've shot with iPhone 11 Pro is pretty great. Especially using the Ultra-Wide camera. As if the new lens wasn't enough to make videographers start drooling, you can now edit video in ways you couldn't before... like actually being able to crop it. No idea why this took so long, but editing 4K video in realtime is no small feat, so I guess it was worth the wait. Especially since I can now make adjustments and apply filters in the editor... without having to wait for the results to render. That's pretty crazy.
PHOTOGRAPHY: CAMERA SELFIES
I don't do selfies much. But the new front-facing camera got an upgrade to 12 megapixels and does a better job of getting great-looking shots. The "big new feature" for the selfie-cam is the "slofie" which is a slow-motion video capture. Whee.
PHOTOGRAPHY: DEEP FUSION
Later this year, Apple will push out a camera update which includes "Deep Fusion," a technology which uses machine learning to assemble the best parts of multiple photos shot in rapid succession to pull out detail and color like never before, as demonstrated at Apple's keynote last month...
It's kinda a "smart HDR" technique which uses pixel shifting to enhance detail (I talk about HDR here). Naturally I can't wait to give it a shot. Or a hundred shots.
The iPhone 11 Pro is pretty much the iPhone I've been waiting for... and not for the phone part... it's for the camera part. No, it's not going to take the place of my DSLR camera, but it is so vastly improved for photography that I will likely be using my DSLR much less than I already do. This new model is just so incredibly capable of getting fantastic shots that I don't need to be lugging around a big heavy camera everywhere. And it has me wondering what iPhone 12 will bring to the table. Probably more incredible camera features that I can't live without. =sigh= I really would like to be able to skip a year of upgrading... but this was definitely not that year. I will likely be posting more photos as I explore the iPhone 11 Pro's capabilities more, so you've been warned.