Weeknote, 18th September 2022

This has been a week of tech-futzing and annoyances. I converted my ThinkPad back to running Windows because I was desperate to use Aeon Timeline for part of my writing project. That was a big mistake for two reasons. First, I could have just used my Mac to run it. I have no idea why I didn’t just do that. Second, I have really grown to dislike Windows.

Not, I should say, because of the interface. Windows has never looked and worked better overall. Microsoft took the opportunity with Windows 11 to get rid of some of the crufty old settings which hadn’t been updated since the Windows 7 era (and in some cases, Windows XP). It’s just a lot nicer to use.

However, they are also determined to lock in – sorry, “integrate” – more of their services and software into the operating system. That nifty little widgets panel offers you your task list, in Microsoft To Do. You can see news and weather, but only Microsoft News and Weather. And if you click on a link, it’s opening in Edge not your browser of choice.

It’s clear that, like Apple, Microsoft sees services as the way to go to build revenue. Making Windows free to update probably still rankles, and they would like some revenue back, please. But that kind of stuff is not for me.

The Mac, too, is frustrating me for a few reasons. Don’t get me wrong: there is so much to love about the Mac, and my M1 Mac mini continues to be a delight. But again, it feels like a system that is becoming something Apple controls rather than me controlling it, and when things go wrong they often take far more futzing about to fix than they should.

Case in point: I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop using the very fast internet here to do some big downloads. Except that my Mac won’t properly connect to the WiFi. Apple uses its own system process to handle connecting to wireless networks which require authentication, showing you a little mini-window for you to login.

Except that it doesn’t always appear. Sometimes, when you have connected using another device, it connects, but doesn’t bring up the window – and because the network sees the Mac as another device it doesn’t properly connect. It claims to have connected, but it doesn’t log in, so you have no connectivity.

Sometimes all you need to do is turn WiFi on and off and it will work properly. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and you need to restart. And sometimes, like today, it just will not connect no matter what you do. I have even tried invoking the system application which does the captive WiFi connection, with no result.

There is probably a preference somewhere which will fix this. Maybe there is some cache that needs clearing. But whatever it is, nothing on the internet helps.

That’s very different to the world of Linux, where almost every problem you will ever encounter has been solved by someone and documented. The only problem I’ve ever found which doesn’t have a fix is, ironically, running Aeon Timeline in Wine. But to be fair, I never really tried particularly hard – and if I find a solution, you can bet that I’m going to document it.

And I still hate the MacBook Pro keyboard. Yes, I know that new MacBooks have reverted to sane key switches, but when I have tried them they still feel crap to me. Not as crap, but still crap. I’m now used to a mechanical keyboard, and only something as good as the ThinkPad’s keyboard suffices on a laptop. I have turned to the dark side.

There is a more serious and less grumpy point to all this. I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with the integration which Apple and Microsoft are focusing on. It’s not that the services are bad – in Apple’s case, at least, they are excellent – it’s that putting your entire computing life in the hands a single supplier seems like a bad idea. You only need to look at what happened to the man who Google believed had abused his children to see how bad it can get.

And I’m less happy too to have all my documents stored in the cloud. It is hugely convenient. It means that for about a decade I haven’t had to think about backing up, as everything is in iCloud or OneDrive and easily accessible. But it also feels like I am putting too much in the hands of companies which I don’t really trust.

Thankfully, at some point I have connected my phone to this WiFi and it is happily reconnecting, because the network recognises it. So I downloaded a nearly 6Gb file on my iPhone, and had to transfer it to the Mac later. Thankfully AirDrop did the job well.

So I lost a day to reinstalling Linux. I know. I know. This time, rather than Ubuntu, I went for the Ubuntu-derived Zorin OS. It’s designed to be as simple as possible to pick up for Linux novices and I think it hits that mark well. It includes nice little features like making using Windows applications easier by letting you just double-click on an installer while it adds Wine in the background.

This weekend is when the first tranche of new students arrives at the University, so the coffee shop I was writing in is full of parents taking their children for a coffee before they head back to whatever corner of the country they have come from. Outside the window there’s the constant bustle of wheeled bags going past, and our close will have more than one car load of people circle round it, with a parent saying “I don’t think this is the university…” before going back and finding the real thing. We should put up a sign.

It’s fun listening to the guy who works here ask each parent in turn if they have had far to come, telling them there’s more seating downstairs, pointing them in the direction of the shop or the library or Sainsbury or wherever they are off to next. Then there are the small groups of students who are obviously new, meeting for the first time and going for a coffee to chat. Or to sit awkwardly in semi-silence.

It brings back memories of my own first trip to college when my dad drove me down to Hatfield. Unlike many families I see, my mother didn’t make the journey: she was upset that the last of her babies was leaving home, and didn’t want me to see her cry. She also gave my dad strict instructions that he was not to use the M1 and to use the A1 instead, because motorway drivers were madmen and she didn’t want him to drive at the crazy speed of 70 miles an hour.

Writing

This has been a terrible writing week. I have struggled to get my head down and write. I don’t have any excuses: I have a good idea where the story is going and I have had the time available to keep writing, but I just… haven’t.

Reading and watching

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is actually very good. The characters and (especially) plot are better than Tolkien, who I tried to reread a while ago and found dreadful. Like a lot of people I read Lord of the Rings young, and raced through all three books in a week or two. I vividly remember staying up late and reading it in bed, gripped by it.

Sadly I haven’t retained that love – or perhaps I have just grown into better writing.

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