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James Koole Posts

A Mini-Review of the new 10.5” iPad Pro

I picked up a new 10.5” iPad Pro last weekend and I figured it might be fun to put some thoughts on virtual paper now that I’ve spent almost a week with the device.

The tl;dr is that this is the best Apple device out there. Period. It’s really quite amazing and (for me) pretty much replaces a laptop for everything I want to do outside of work, and also some of the stuff I do at work too.

The Hardware

The 10.5” model is a new screen size for the iPad, sitting between the 9.7” regular iPad and the 12.9” iPad Pro. Truthfully, I considered the larger iPad Pro and really thought it would be the one I would choose. But some time with both at the Apple Store left me thinking the big one was just too big for what I was after.

If I didn’t have a work laptop, I would probably opt for the bigger one, but since they provide me with a 13” MacBook Pro, I have that power and screen size when I need it. Holding the larger iPad feels just a bit too big for things like couch surfing or writing a blog post in bed.

The Apple Pencil is an amazing device, especially paired with the new 120Hz ProMotion screen on the iPad Pro. It’s really uncanny how much it feels like you are literally writing with a marker on the screen. I don’t think I’ll use the Pencil a ton, but I’ve been grabbing it to make some quick notes in meetings, and for annotating pictures and screenshots. It’s excellent.

The Smart Keyboard is my favourite accessory. It takes a consumption device and turns it into a creation device. The keyboard is a bit small, compared to the MacBook Pro, but it’s big enough and I am able to type quickly and accurately on it. In fact, I’m writing this post using the iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard and the WordPress app for iPad.

iOS 11

I upgraded both my iPad and my iPhone 6S to Developer Beta 2 on Friday and the new multi-tasking features and dock really extend the iPad’s capabilities as a laptop replacement. Being able to flick up from the bottom of the screen to show the Dock, and then touch and hold to drag a Safari window into split screen is pretty slick.

I haven’t done much with the new Files app yet, but taking screenshots (like the ones in this post) and dragging them in is intuitive. The old way of adding photos from the camera roll was okay, but this is much more like macOS.

It’s a Laptop

Using the iPad Pro like a laptop makes you realize it’s a laptop. Keyboard shortcuts like Command-Tab do what you expect. Command-Space brings up Spotlight which works like Alfred or Spotlight on the Mac does (a quick launcher). In fact, most of your favourite keyboard shortcuts like cut/copy/paste just work. You can even go back to the home screen with Command-H.

The Upsides

Battery life is amazing. It goes for hours and hours and hours. It’s super light and portable, especially with the keyboard cover removed. Even with the cover on, it’s quite light and slides into my bag and feels “barely there”. The Smart Keyboard is more than usable on my lap or on a desk, table or counter.

The screen is…amazing. Bright, crisp and clear. It’s an incredible display that’s readable in sunshine, or indoors at night.

The Downsides

Coming from a 13” MacBook Pro (late 2016) to the iPad, I did run into a few things that get in the way of being able to say it’s a full laptop replacement.

Safari sometimes gives you the mobile version of a website, and things like pop up seat checkers on the Blue Jays website sometimes don’t load properly. Occasionally I find the 10.5” screen a little small and wish I hade just a bit more size to work with. Split screen apps give you a pair of iPhone-sized interfaces vs. getting two iPad mini versions of the app.

Final Thoughts

The iPad used to be the computer for people who didn’t need a computer. It was perfect for email, light web surfing, and games. My parent’s love theirs and Ginny gets by with her 9.7” iPad fairly well. But the new 10.5” iPad Pro, with the Smart Keyboard and iOS 11 takes the iPad and brings it much closer to being a “real” computer.

Most people will find the iPad Pro to be a very capable small laptop. While there are a few things that might have you wishing you had a full laptop, the portability and flexibility of the iPad easily makes up for that the rest of the time.

I’m super happy with mine and expect to get a ton of use out of it.

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The End of Social Media

Crazy prediction time: I think 2017 will mark the year that social media began a significant decline.

I’m seeing many blog posts and stories on the mainstream media about people checking out of Twitter, Facebook and other services. Millennials already don’t use them in a lot of cases and Generation X is getting a clue as to why. It’s a waste of time, energy and it’s terrible for your mental health.

My own experience with quitting recently has been positive. I don’t miss Twitter, and I never really cared for Facebook anyways. Instagram is still enjoyable, but that’s a carefully curated stream of photos of things I want to see and nothing else.

Imagine if Twitter declined to the point that it was no longer relevant. Would you miss it? I think the only thing I thought I was giving up was the ability to get news updates and real-time information about services I use like the TTC and some web services.

It turns out that most of that was noise. It seemed useful, but in reality it was a stream that contained far too much useless and unimportant information to be really useful. I thought I needed to know, but the truth is, I didn’t.

Here’s a challenge for you: go a week without using Twitter and/or Facebook. After seven days, honestly assess whether you’ve gained or lost from the experience.

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I’m Out

I think I’m done with social media.

I don’t check Facebook anymore. The app is gone from my phone and the bookmark is gone from my browser favourites. Every one of my “friends” has been unfollowed. In Facebook parlance, that we are still “friends”, but I don’t see any of their posts, likes, and other Facebook activity like article shares.

I held onto the Facebook Messenger app since some friends use that to contact me now and then. I’ll check a lone Facebook group now and then for the Sunday running routes.

On Twitter, I’ve unfollowed pretty much everyone. My timeline consists of TTC notices, and tweets from a few select people and services whose tweets I find interesting. If the TTC provided those notices some other way, I’d probably kick Tweetbot to the curb as well. I’ll see if I still check those updates. I think I probably won’t.

What I used to see on Facebook years ago is vacation photos, some updates on friends lives, a birthday, some pics of a dog or cat, maybe a Dailymile run or two. You know, actual stuff that I’m interested in hearing about so I can get a glimpse into the lives of people I care about.

What I get now is endless shared articles, mostly political, hurled into a vast echo chamber. For years I’ve been carefully pruning my Facebook feed through the “hide all from website” feature. Hide all from BuzzFeed. Hide all from Huffington Post. Hide all from OMG Facts. You get the idea.

It’s become too much. Despite my constant pruning, Facebook insists on showing me article after article about how the world is ending, and how society is breaking down around me.

Do I blame Facebook? No. Because that is literally all it has to show me. That’s all people post these days. See an article, share on Facebook. Comment. Like. Shake head. Rant and rave. #whatever.

Twitter is the same thing.

OMG, this is INSANE! Retweet some celebrity going on about some cause. Someone died. RIP. So sad. Some company gave me bad service. Call them out with “Hey @starbucks…” so everybody knows that Starbucks messed up my latte in some awful way. RT to try to win some contest.

I’ve been guilty of some of this over the years. It’s too easy to just type out 140 characters and send it out into the world without thinking whether a) it needed to be said, or b) anyone either read it, or cared.

I write a blog post, link to it on Twitter, see a few likes, and when I check analytics, it turns out that nobody actually read the post. What’s the point? There isn’t one.

No time to actually read or learn or investigate or come to your own conclusions. Read clickbait headline, retweet and like. Repeat.

The value of these social networks to me has been diminishing and a tipping was reached where I don’t think the value I get out of being a part of it is greater than the cost I’m paying in time and mental health. Ironically it was #BellLetsTalk that really pushed me over the edge and got me thinking about quitting.

I’ll keep my accounts for now, but don’t expect any posts on Facebook or Twitter from me. If you need to reach me, Twitter direct messages aren’t a good way anymore. I’ll be on Signal, iMessage or Facebook Messenger (if you must).

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How I Secure My MacBook Pro

Securing a computer is a balancing act. On one hand, if you go for complete security of your data, you’ll be annoyed by repeated password entries and other hassles. On the other hand, if you rid yourself of even a few of those pesky little hassles, it compromises security.

Who cares?

If you wondering why it even matters, think about what you have on your computer right now. I bet you have easy access to your email account(s), photos, probably a year or more of your browsing history and logged in sessions for your online banking, and who knows what else.

Would you hand your computer to a stranger, walk away for an hour and let them dig around? Of course not. Losing it or having it stolen is the same thing except it’s more than an hour, and the person with your laptop is going to be looking for more than your bathroom selfies.

It’s all about balance

I’ve got what I think is a pretty good balance now. Here’s how I’m set up:

I have a good user account password for my MacBook. It’s long, contains things other than lower case letters but it’s still memorable enough that I can type it in if required.

The user account password on a Mac is almost useless if someone gets physical control of your computer as it can be bypassed without much effort. With that in mind, I also have a firmware password set. My firmware password is not the same as my user password, it isn’t very memorable and I store it safely in 1Password in case I ever need to use it.

I also have FileVault full-disk encryption enabled. That means my full hard drive is encrypted and protected from prying eyes, even if someone clones the drive or steals my whole computer.

‘Unattended’ consequences

None of those things do much if I leave my Mac logged in and unattended. To mitigate this risk, I have fairly aggressive screensaver and lock settings. My screensaver starts after one minute and my computer locks five seconds after the screen saver is activated. Closing the lid puts my Mac to sleep and locks it immediately.

For example, if I’m sitting at my desk and don’t interact with my Mac for a minute, the screensaver starts. I have five seconds to flick the trackpad and clear the screensaver before it locks my Mac, requiring the password.

When I leave my desk, my computer is vulnerable for the first minute and five seconds which is probably not the end of the world where I work. I sometimes use the “hot corners” feature of macOS to instantly start the screensaver if I am leaving my desk, or I use Alfred to quickly start it from the keyboard.

The ‘key’ to reducing password entry annoyance

Entering my user password a few dozen times a day is a bit of a pain point, so I invested in a Yubikey 4 USB key. This little device works with macOS Sierra and when it’s plugged in to one of the USB ports on my Mac, the requirement for my user password is reduced to a requirement to enter a 6-digit numeric pin which is quick and easy to type.

1Password

As noted above, I also use 1Password to help keep all my online accounts secure. I have unique, long, unmemorable passwords on every online service I use, and I rely on the 1Password browser extension to log me into the various accounts on my Mac and the 1Password app on my iPhone.

The Yubikey 4 offers some additional convenience for 1Password. While there isn’t the full support I’d like for these type of hardward keys, the Yubikey 4 in particular can store a static password that it will enter on demand by pressing a button on the key.

I have my 1Password password stored in the Yubikey and when the 1Password extension asks for my password, I touch the button on my key for a few seconds and the Yubikey 4 types the password in for me, and hits enter. That allows me to to set the lock delay for 1Password to a much shorter duration as it removes the annoyance of having to type a long password in every time I want to use the extension.

Balance achieved

Overall I’m finding this to be a workable balance. My MacBook Pro is locked and secured behind good passwords when it is unattended. When I do need to log in, the Yubikey makes it much less annoying by lowering the requirement to a PIN.

If my laptop is stolen while closed, I’m covered. The data is encrypted and locked away. My user account is safe. Inside the office, my data is safe from snoopers by enforcing a quick account lock. I never store the Yubikey with my MacBook unless it’s plugged into the USB port. If I leave my MacBook on my desk at the office, I take the Yubikey with me. When my MacBook is in a bag over my shoulder, the Yubikey is in my pocket on a keyring.

Total investment was about $40 USD for the Yubikey, $5USD/month for 1Password Family, and some time getting the various screensaver and lock timings set up.

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Using ProtonMail alongside iCloud (or another free email service)

I recently made the switch to using ProtonMail on a custom domain for the majority of my email. I like that ProtonMail stores all of my email encrypted and that they use end-to-end TLS when sending and receiving email to and from most large email providers. It means that nobody should be able to snoop my email in transit, and that in the event that my account is compromised, the contents aren’t readable by anyone since they are encrypted (hello, John Podesta…this would have saved you guys bigly).

To make the switch, I’m using a bunch of email forwards to handle things like bill emails and various notifications so I don’t have to update them anymore and I can also have some of them sent to myself and also to my spouse so she knows what’s happening with our finances.

While I’d love to completely cutover to ProtonMail, switching email addresses for all my friends and family is a pain. Because of this, I’m continuing to use iCloud email for a lot of my personal emails. I’m more comfortable with iCloud than something like Yahoo or Gmail because it isn’t ad-supported. I trust Apple to maintain security of my emails. Obviously, I don’t trust someone like Yahoo or Gmail to do the same based on past experience.

That said, I also don’t want all my mail sitting in iCloud forever (just in case), so I’ve set it up to forward my mail to my encrypted box at ProtonMail automatically.

On the ProtonMail side, I use their Gmail-like filters and tags to archive and mark that mail as read, so I don’t get double notified. I tag that mail as “forwarded” so I can find it later and add other tags like “bills” to keep things nicely organized.

The one missing feature I would love to see in ProtonMail is the ability to send via outside SMTP servers so I could reply to my iCloud email within ProtonMail. I’m hopeful that we’ll see that in time, but it’s not the end of the world for now.

Other than that, I feel much more secure knowing my email is stored encrypted in ProtonMail. Over time, I’m hoping to slowly ease back on my use of iCloud and ProtonMail plus a custom domain is turning out to be a great first couple of steps towards that.

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