Setting Up a Second Ubiquiti Unifi Site

To finish out my misadventures in home networking, I wanted to capture the process to add a second site and setup the site-to-site VPN. It was less than obvious.

Preparing Your First Site

The first thing one needs to do is prepare the first site. This involves enabling Multi-Site Management and then configure the USG to expose the needed ports for the controller.

Enabling Multi-Site management can be accomplished using the following steps:

  1. Configure your controller to use the New User Interface.
  2. Open Settings
  3. Open System Settings
  4. Expand Controller Configuration
  5. Expand Site Configuration (within Controller Configuration)
  6. Make sure your first site has a name
  7. Check the Multi-Site Management dialogue to enable it
  8. Apply these settings

Now, in the upper left under the Ubiquiti logo, you will see a circle with an abbreviation of your site name in it. This is how you switch sites. Click on that and you can add a second site.

Once you have added that, go into the second site, open Settings, and create your Network and WiFi networks. Note: You must configure a different subnet than your current site. (E.g. If your current site is the default 192.168.1.x, you should configure for example 192.168.3.x.).

Upon completion, it is time to configure the USG. See Ubiquiti’s knowledge base article and create port forwarding rules for everything in the “Ingress Ports required for L3 management over the Internet” to point to your controller.

To make things easier, it is probably easiest to setup a DDNS service to make it easy to find the controller from the second site.

At this point, it is time to move onto configuring the second site.

Configuring the Second Site

All Unifi security gateways by default are on the 192.168.1.x subnet. Because this is a second site, it will have to be configured differently. You will need a laptop connected via Ethernet to the LAN port of the gateway to do this. For the sake of this blog, we’ll assume the second site is 192.168.3.x. The steps required are as follows:

  1. Connect the laptop into the USG LAN port.
  2. Setup a static address on 192.168.1.x network – any address is fine other than the default of 192.168.1.1. Set 192.168.1.1 as the gateway and a public DNS server such as Google’s at 8.8.8.8/8.8.4.4.
  3. Open in a browser https://192.168.1.1/.
  4. Change the address to the new subnet (192.168.3.1) and apply these changes. Ensure that the WAN connection is active/valid.
  5. Change your laptop’s IP to the new subnet.
  6. SSH into the USG using the default credentials.
  7. Enter set-inform https://yourddns:8080/inform/
  8. Wait a few minutes and the device should show up in the Unifi portal at the first site. Adopt the device into the second site and this phase is complete.

Once the USG is adopted, other devices can be setup and adopted accordingly.

Configuring the Site to Site VPN

Once both networks are online, setting up a Site-to-Site VPN is very easy. In the Unifi portal, go to the Networks section in either site. Create a New Network. Pick Site to Site VPN and select the other site – and that’s literally it.

My own experience is that occassionally it will get disconnected and the easiest fix is to simply delete and re-create the VPN network.

******

Hope this has been helpful!

Using a Bell Home Hub with Ubiquiti Unifi

As part of setting up our second home in the Ottawa area, I ended up with quite the trial and error process to figure out how to use Ubiquiti Networks Unifi Security Gateway 4 Professional with the Bell Home Hub 3000. So, beyond writing this down so I don’t forget it, I wanted to share this for other Unifi users out there.

My USG setup was complicated by the fact that (1) the controller is back at our other house in Seattle. I started by configuring the USG at the Seattle house based upon the very helpful UniFi – Ports Used – Ubiquiti Support and Help Center article to open up the Ingress Ports required for L3 Management. I also setup Dynamic DNS at the Seattle house as well.

The next step was to configure the Bell Home Hub. The easiest way to do this is to plug the WAN port into a network port as well as a laptp with a hardware Ethernet port. In the Bell Home Hub setup screens start by disabling WiFi and UPNP. Then, go into the connected devices section and select Ethernet. Write down the MAC address of the USG as it will be needed for the next step.

Then, in the Bell Home Hub setup screen, enable the advanced DMZ and enter the MAC address of the USG – this will allow it to get an external IP address. And the battle is half won.

You can then connect your laptop into a LAN port and configure the USG. You will need to set the connection type to PPOE. The user name begins with b1xxx and can be found by logging into MyBell. In the MyBell Web Site, you can set the Internet access password – this is what the PPOE password will be.

And that will allow you to get online with the USG4 – or a USG3 or UDM (as the same process applies). Getting the site-to-site setup with remote adoption will be the source of my second post. Happy Unifi-networking.

WWDC Wishlist: The Next iBook

With all the recent announcement of the M1-based iPad Pro’s, speculation has of course run rampant on the inevitable merger of the iPad and Mac. And, of course, Apple vehemently denies this. But, with hardware platforms converged, there could be an interesting middle ground. Something I’m calling the Next iBook for lack of a better idea.

Imagine an iPad Pro running macOS with a Magic Keyboard. It work’s just like a MacBook Pro, except that you can only provision a single user account (unless Apple fixes this on iPadOS 15). You have the benefit of 5G connectivity, but perhaps slightly reduced battery life. Otherwise it’s the same as a M1 MacBook Pro. All of your files can be easily synchronized to it from the cloud. Other than a TouchBar as with SideCar or using the Pencil for signing things or sketching, the interface is largely non-touch.

Then, imagine disconnecting from power and/or the Magic Keyboard. You are in iPadOS. But you have the same local file storage. All of your stuff is “just there” – no challenges synchronizing files from the cloud as with current generation iPadOS. Then you have a first class tablet and can get to work with iPadOS equivalents of say your Adobe files or Microsoft Office documents.

And you can switch back and forth at will. This would deliver the first class user experiences Apple loves to drive home. But, negate one of the biggest drawbacks of the iPad today – getting all of your files there without 100% connectivity.

I can but dream…

Weekend Project: Using a Nest Hub Max to Access GSuite + Control a Nest Home

One of my long weekend projects was to be able to use a Nest Hub Max to access my GSuite work calendar and reminders as well as control my smart home utilizing my personal GMail and Nest Account. Google has said that this is supported for a while, but it took quite a bit of trial and error to actually figure out how to make it work.

Note: For this to work you must be on the same Wifi network for all of the steps.

Step 1 – Get the Nest Hub Max Working on GSuite

From an out of the box/factory reset perspective, the first step is to set the Nest Hub Max up with your GSuite work account. I opted in to enable the device preview program. I also configured a Voice Match and Face Match and configured personal results to always show proactively. This allowed my work calendar to pop up reminders and show upcoming meetings proactively and that I could join Google Meet by tapping on the display.

Step 2 – Unlink But Do Not Reset

The next step is somewhat orthogonal. Go into the Google Home application and select the Nest Hub Max. Go into Settings. Then select Remove Device. This will remove the device from your GSuite account’s Google Home so that you can add it to your personal account’s Google Home where your Nest devices are installed.

Step 3 – Adopt the Device Into Your Personal Google Home

The next step is to switch accounts in the Google Home application to choose your personal account. You should see the Nest Hub Max as a local device; select it, go into Settings, and add it to a room. This will add it to your household.

Step 4 – Configure the Assistant Settings

In your personal account’s Google Assistant settings, remove voice and face match from any of the Nest Hub Maxes that you wish to use with your work account. This will ensure that there is no confusion.

Then, switch accounts to your GSuite account.

Go down to Voice Match, select Add a Device, and select the Nest Hub Max. This will get your GSuite account linked to the Nest Hub Max.

Then, while remaining signed into your GSuite account in Assistant Settings, go into Face Match. Hit the “+” icon to add a device, and then select the Nest Hub Max. Then you can configure Personal Results under Devices in Assistant Settings while still signed into your GSuite account to show proactively or show upon face match (which is what I have chosen).

Then, whenever you are in front of your Nest Hub Max, you have access to your work calendar AND can access all of your Nest Devices and other Google Home functionality under Home Control.

This is the best of both worlds, but it unfortunately took a lot of research, trial, and error to figure it out. Hope this helps!

ARM & Apple Silicon: The Future of Desktop Processors

I am in day two of living the Apple Silicon life. My 13″ MacBook Pro with 16GB and 2TB arrived yesterday. My initial impressions are that ARM and Apple Silicon (by proxy) are indeed the future of desktop processors. And once again we see a classic case of Microsoft having the right idea first, but Apple being better at execution.

Echoes of Windows 200x and the DEC Alpha

In 1998 I was working on what at the time was labeled Windows NT 5.0 Beta. I was working simultaneously on Pentium II/III x86 systems and DEC Alpha systems. It was clear from the performance that 64-bit was the future; not being bound by 4GB of RAM the DEC Alpha’s blew away every performance and stress test we could throw at them. Only one small problem – nothing ran on them. Nobody ever bothered porting anything and the Alpha and other 64-bit processors and Windows died a sad but quiet death. The lesson: compatibility matters.

Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP x64

Fast forward five years and I was a Group Program (Product) Manager on Commerce Server and seconded to the Windows Server System (later Common Engineering Criteria) project as a side hustle to help be part of the cross-company working group to standardize server products at Microsoft. One of the programs I was driving was the adoption of x64 processor architectures and 64-bit Windows. I had an early engineering sample with an AMD x64 processor, whereupon Intel had been scooped for the first time in their history.

All the things I loved about the DEC Alpha were there – blazing fast performance and no memory bounds. But there was one big difference – everything just worked. Windows-On-Windows (or WOW) allowed for perfect compatibility with 32-bit Windows applications. Provided you had 64-bit device drivers, application compatibility was a non-issue.

This transition was entirely successful – Microsoft migrated server workloads in ~4 years. Desktops shortly followed suit. And nobody ever looked back.

Ill-fated Attempts at Tablets and Windows-on-ARM

Microsoft invented the Tablet PC form factor. They made for incredible demos, but suffered from lots of practical form-factor-related gotchas and terrible battery life. Even the most die hard dog fooders gave up and switched back to regular laptops within a few years. And the form factor died away.

Then, Apple invented the iPad. It worked with all of your favourite iPhone apps. It used the same developer ecosystem as the iPhone. It had an amazing browser. And it just worked and did all the things you expected of a tablet, including 3G connectivity on the go. I stood in line for hours to buy one and never looked back. It totally changed how I consumed content. And the tablet as a mass-market form factor was born. Lesson two: design and user experience matter.

Microsoft with Windows 8 tried the tablet form factor again with the debut of the Surface RT and Surface 2 and never-launched Surface Mini. And so debuted Windows RT, the first incrarnation of running Windows on an ARM processor.

The iPad and Surface RT/2 proved a point – ARM processors were far better suited to a tablet form factor than x86/x64. They had the battery life. There was just one problem with Windows RT; like the past mistakes nothing ran on it. And, like its predecessors – it died away in one of the biggest write-downs in Microsoft’s history.

The Surface 3 and subsequent devices got the user experience of Windows on a tablet right. But, they still were tied to x86/x64 processors and suffered from horrible battery life.

As the years evolved, Apple made the iPad more and more laptop like. And Microsoft didn’t give up on Windows on ARM.

2019 saw the launch of the Surface Pro X (along with several peers) running Windows 10 upon ARM processors. This time, Microsoft partially re-learned the lesson from x64 – 32-bit Windows applications run just fine (for the most part). So if you could live with native applications and 32-bit Windows applications, you would end up with the best Windows experience out there. (I can attest; I have a Surface Pro X and it is by far my favourite on-the-go Windows device I have ever used with substantially better battery life than x86/64.)

Just one small problem – lots of applications moved onto x64 like Adobe Creative Cloud and these do not work (yet) on Windows on ARM. So, for a lot of people, it is just simply not a viable option. Microsoft has commited this for an update that will ship for 2021, but it remains to be seen how well x64 emulation will perform.

Lesson three: make the developer experience really seamless – Apple got this right on the iPad and Microsoft didn’t on Windows on ARM. This is why the iPad ended up with a vibrant set of native applications and partially why there are still very few native Windows-on-ARM applications incliding Office.

Enter Apple Silicon

Apple finally at WWDC 2020 unveiled the notion of Apple Silicon – macOS running on an ARM-derived processor based upon the A-series in use on the iPhones and iPad’s. Rosetta2 debuted, building upon Apple’s experience migrating from Motorola 6800x to PowerPC, and then subsequently from PowerPC to x64.

The M1-based Macintoshes were announced and shipped in November 2020 and I’m sitting here writing this on the highest spec’ed MacBook Pro available. The verdict? I am *beyond* impressed and feeling the same sort of excitement when I first used an AMD x64 engineering sample back-in-the-day.

The developer experience is seamless – Office, Chrome, Fantastical, Twitter/Tweetdeck, and all of the Apple applications are there on day one. Photoshop is in Beta.

With Rosetta2, anything not requiring a kernel extension or direct hardware access (e.g. virtualization) just works. Perfectly.

The performance is incredibly impressive. Anecodotally, it is as responsive as a 16-Core 256GB RAM Mac Pro with an AMD Radeon Pro Vega II processor. It is *MORE* responsive than a 16″ MacBook Pro with 8-Cores, 64GB RAM, and an AMD 5500 GPU. It is cool and silent – unlike the 16″ MacBook Pro which could get uncomfortably warm and was constantly leveraging its fans. Amazing!

Battery life is out of this world – I have been using it with Chrome (and many tabs), Mail, Photos, Messages, Calendar, Contacts, News, Slack, Fantastical, Todoist, Trello, Jira, Miro, Messenger, WordPress, MindManager 13, Word, OneNote, Teams, Skype, Telegram, WordPress, Twitter, Sublime, and Whatsapp Desktop running for 1.5 hours. The screen is on quite high brightness. Files are still synchronizing from the cloud using iCloud, OneDrive, and Dropbox. And my battery is at 95%. UNBELIEVABLE!

I can run a number of iPhone and iPad applications, which is quite novel. The experience is not great. But I expect that will change quickly.

My day two verdict – this is indeed the future.

Apple has pulled it off – again. And, once again, building upon an idea Microsoft kind of had first.

I hope Microsoft continues to invest in Windows 10 on ARM – and even considers partnering with Apple to offer a version of it on the Apple Silicon Macs (according to Craig Federighi in Ars Technica this is entirely possible). If they can eventually address the developer experience and compatibility, the amazing experience that is Apple Silicon could come to Windows (building on what in my opinion is already the best experience – if one can live with the restrictions).

Meanwhile, I’m more optimistic about desktop computing than I have been in a while…

Catching Up with Photography

Not only is it the 40th anniversary of Mt. St. Helens, but it was also Victoria Day in Canada. This meant that our offices were closed today, and I had a much less demanding weekend than normal. I used this weekend to catch up on some long overdue photography projects. My Mac Pro is now nicely configured and I had finally gone through the extremely painful process of biting the bullet and switching to Lightroom CC from Lightroom Classic CC. With a 400+GB library, this was more of a project than I intended… But, with that done, it was time to dig in…

The Rolls-Royce Owners Club 2017 Fall Tour

RROC Tour

In September of 2017, I and a group of likeminded Bentley and Rolls-Royce enthusiasts convened in Vancouver, BC and took an epic five day road trip north to Whistler and then east through the Okanogan to Osooyoos, BC. This album shares the many unique sites we visited along the way.

Track Day

Track Day

Probably not since the Goodwood Festival of Speed has one taken vintage Rolls-Royce and Bentleys out onto a proper racetrack. But, yet we did at Area 27! I opted out of driving on the track to leverage Area 27’s extremely generous proposition to let me photograph the occasion fron their control tower.

Panoramic Photography (Work-in-Progress)

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One of the things that caught my fascination was building large panoramas out of raw shots from a SLR. The only problem was that I did not have a machine powerful enough to render them. Enter the Mac Pro – 16 cores, 256GB of RAM, and a 32GB Radeon Pro Vega II GPU. I have not cropped and edited these, but instead wanted to get them out raw just to prove the concept. Success I think!

Interesting Lake Shots 2017-2019

49905908761_98655b0f26_o

Lots of interesting ships sail past my house. Here is an updated selection of the most interesting from 2017 through 2019. As part of this I solved the mystery of the blue and white tugboat in Kenmore, WA. It first made an appearance assisting the Island Wind with a barge to the Kenmore aggregate facility in the fall of 2017 – which I actually happened to capture. It was then moored there for several years, but I could never see the name or get close enough without trespassing. Yet, it irritated my curiosity every time I drove past on the 522. Thanks to the photos captured herein and some searching over the Web, I have determined by photo comparison that this ship can only be the Helen S. Mystery solved!

 

Op-Ed: My Take on Apple WWDC 2019

For years, I have observed Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference from the sidelines purely as an enthusiast. Since moving to Hootsuite, I can now definitively state that I have a proverbial horse in this race – as we publish multiple applications on the iOS App Store. Hence, this year I paid even more attention than usual – and thought I would share some of the findings. 

iOS

This year debuted iOS 13, which is very much targeted at end-user enhancements. Most of note is a native dark mode, which has been desired by end users for many years. The built in applications are all getting a plethora of feature-enhancements with the majority of the investment going into Music, Messages (including support for dual-SIM), Maps (including Street View), Reminders, and Photos. And the keyboard now supports swiping – bringing parity in alignment with 3rd party options and Android. ARKit v3 debuted with people occlusion and enhanced movement tracking along with the introduction of RealityKit, which facilitates the creation of photorealistic renderings of digital assets, animating them, and having them obey the laws of physics. CarPlay is upgraded with a new layout that appears to be imminently more useful. 

Verdict: Dark Mode, CarPlay and end-user application improvements will continue to make the iPhone the most seamless mobile experience in the industry; iOS 13 makes recent-generation devices the most capable augmented reality handset on the market and is no doubt setting the stage for something much bigger in the future. 

 

tvOS

This year saw a more modest update to tvOS. Many of the new capabilities are centered around the already announced Apple TV enhancements from the spring. Of note are multi-user support to enable personalized recommendations and support for 3rd party game controllers. The personalized recommendation support is by far the most desired feature for both my wife and I and will no doubt continue the AppleTV as our primary means of watching television. 

Verdict: A hugely convenient evolutionary release that will no doubt make AppleTV the most popular gaming platform beyond XBox and PlayStation. 

 

iPadOS

One of this year’s biggest announcements was the separation of iPadOS from iOS. First up, Safari now reports itself as a Mac to provide a full “desktop-class” browsing experience. The days of getting a mobile optimized site on an iPad are no more. iPads now support external USB storage and the ability to import photos directly from digital cameras. The Files application has been upgraded to mirror the experience in macOS. Sadly, there does not yet appear to be any feature to fully offline sync cloud libraries, but hopefully this will come next year. Multi-tasking and split screen mode has been greatly improved, including the ability to have multiple versions of an application open (e.g. multiple copies of Microsoft Word to edit different documents). There are new editing gestures to expedite things like copy and paste or undo. A one-handed shrunken keyboard is available for one-handed typing. Pencil latency has been markedly reduced on the latest generation hardware. Mouse support is finally provided, but under the guise of accessibility. And lastly is Sidecar, which allows an iPad to be seamlessly used (via cable, WiFi, or Bluetooth) as a second display for macOS Catalina. Stylus-enabled applications can now receive input directly through the pencil. And it also provides a touch bar mirroring what is on the 2016+ generation MacBook Pros. 

Verdict: iPadOS is some of the most impactful news coming out of WWDC. The improvements greatly close the gap between an iPad and a laptop, all without compromising a touch-first experience – something Apple has been extremely principled about dating back to rare indirect criticism of Windows 8. It is easy to see how these capabilities will be more rapidly evolved in the future, making an iPad the only computer one needs for more and more use cases. For someone like me, it will shift even more time to my iPad from my MacBook Pro, especially when traveling. More interestingly is Sidecar – I believe this is a hat tip to the future of touch in macOS, which has been remarkably touch-free for many years. I envisage a world where the iPad is used to enable touch (or stylus) where it makes sense but without compromising what is a desktop-first operating system. The blend of touch and desktop is an elusive holy grail no one has yet solved, but this seems to be well on its way to achieving that elusive goal in subsequent iterations. Project Catalyst makes this even more likely. 

 

watchOS

The sixth iteration of watchOS brings independence from the iPhone. The Watch will now have its own AppStore and apps can now run completely independently, opening up a variety of new completely disconnected use cases. Several popular iPhone apps are finding their way to the Watch such as Calculator and Voice Memos. Health and fitness continues to steal the show, with several key enhancements including long-term activity trends, a decibel meter to alert to potentially dangerous hearing conditions, and a menstrual cycle tracker. 

Verdict: The most popular health wearable will continue to maintain and grow its lead within the market. The ability to run independently from the iPhone and additional productivity apps will open up new use cases and possibly start to see new categories of broad adoption beyond health and fitness. For me, it will make my Watch even more useful than ever. 

 

macOS

Recent macOS releases have all had California names – this year it’s Catalina. And Catalina brings some of the heaviest investment in macOS in some time. One of the most long-requested features has materialized – the breakup of iTunes. Replacing it are new Music, Podcasts, and TV. Devices can now be directly managed in the Finder. Voice control is now offered as a new means of navigation. Apps such as Home and News will also receive significant improvements. 

Verdict: Outside of Project Catalyst (more on that) and Sidecar, this is a largely evolutionary release that delivers upon one of the most long-requested features to address the user experience behemoth known as iTunes, making it a worthwhile upgrade just for that alone. However, Catalyst and Sidecar hint at much broader ambitions to come…

 

Siri

Apple’s often criticized voice assistant gets a number of upgrades this year. First is a more natural sounding voice. Support has been extended on other devices. For example, on AirPods can read incoming messages and facilitate immediate voice-driven response. HomePods can now differentiate voices to allow for individualized responses. More third party apps can now leverage Siri in CarPlay, facilitating a much richer voice-driven in-car experience. 

Verdict: Although not as useful as Google Assistant or Alexa, Siri provides a solid “third place” but without compromising privacy. The number of additional use cases take something that has been growing increasingly useful, and make it even more so. 

 

HomeKit

HomeKit this year added support for several new categories of devices including routers and security cameras. Security camera footage can be analyzed by a HomePod and then encrypted and stored in iCloud, with 10 days of storage available at no charge. 

Verdict: HomeKit is one of the easiest smart home systems available and one that certainly makes privacy a feature. Although I personally have not gone down the smart home path, if I were to do it, HomeKit would likely be my choice given privacy concerns with other platforms. 

 

Project Catalyst

One of the largest announcements was no doubt Project Catalyst, the project formerly known as Marzipan. Developers can now take iPad applications and target macOS merely through xCode and get applications working with a minimal amount of re-factoring provided that no obsolete libraries are used and there are not too many hardware-specific features. iPad apps were chosen deliberately as they were inherently designed to handle a larger display size, with the hypothesis that the experience will translate better to macOS. This is also Apple being cognizant that an application built for a phone may not work very well on a desktop; something that is painfully apparent when utilizing Android apps in ChromeOS. Several major developers have already committed to leveraging Project Catalyst including Twitter and Atlassian. 

Verdict: Probably one of the most game-changing announcements from WWDC – this sets the stage to invigorate the macOS ecosystem like nothing before. All Mac users can no doubt look forward to many more native applications than have been previously available. Early developer feedback is very positive, suggesting that Apple’s timing is once again right to truly drive a cross-platform developer experience. As well, it sets the stage for further blurring between the iPad and the Mac. It’s easy to imagine where this goes as the iPad gains mouse support and true windowing while the Mac becomes more touch-enabled when using an iPad as a second display/input. 

 

Sign in with Apple

Single sign on has been around the Web for a while, with Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Twitter all being quite prevalent. Now Apple has entered the fray – but with a unique twist, Privacy. Whereas the others leverage SSO to build up advertising profiles, etc. – Apple is doing the exact opposite. No data is stored. It even goes so far as to provide e-mail address obfuscation to truly maintain a private identity. And, the use of Sign in with Apple is going to be mandatory for the App Store going forward virtually guaranteeing widespread adoption. 

Verdict: This is the 2019 “Apple tax” for developers, but consumers win in the end – at the expense of the other major SSO providers. It will be interesting to see how actual end user adoption goes, but as a privacy minded individual – I can see myself using this. 

 

The Mac Pro & Pro Display XDR

Several years back it seemed that Apple had abandoned the professional user with the 2013 Mac Pro that didn’t seem to solve very many problems for anyone while exiting the display market and pushing users towards MacBook Pros and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. The rest of the line somewhat languished beyond the outstanding 5K iMac. Professional users were rightfully outraged. 

In a rare about-face, Apple admitted it had gone down the wrong path and re-committed to the professional audience, but with a 2-year tease for a new Mac Pro. In the interim, the core iMac and notebook lines have been refreshed with much better regularity and seen massive specification increases – hindered only by the awful butterfly keyboards. The Mac Mini received an impressive specification boost that nobody thought would happen. The iMac Pro debuted and delivered the most powerful Mac to-date – something far more powerful than the 2013 Mac Pro. All of this led to the speculation that the new Mac Pro and display would be horribly off the mark when they did arrive; the rumor mill was convinced it would be a stackable system of Mac Mini-like enclosures with proprietary connectors while users lamented the old G4-style “cheese grater” chassis. 

In a somewhat shocking move, Apple reimagined the “cheese grater” and delivered the most powerful and expandable Mac ever seen. Industry standards like PCIe are embraced, but Apple made it better with the MPX modules and is encouraging an open ecosystem. At debut, the new system has an impressive array of GPU options plus a FPGA coprocessor for editing up to 3 streams of 8K or 12 streams of 4K video. This is paired with a 32” display that can operate in either portrait or landscape at Retina 6K resolutions with an astounding 1M:1 contrast ratio. The whole setup is ungodly expensive, but ungodly powerful. 

Verdict: Nobody can say that Apple doesn’t care about professionals any longer. There is truly something for everyone from extremely powerful notebooks and iMacs Mac Minis with 3rd party display and GPU ecosystem to the iMac Pro – and now this beast of a setup. It punches far above the weight class of any previous Mac Pro, whose use cases can now arguably be met with the iMac Pro or other aforementioned options. The level of power (and price tag) one can configure is pretty amazing. Likewise, the new display’s specifications are competing with reference displays costing tens of thousands of dollars. When looking at what is being delivered, it is priced competitively to inexpensively depending on the use case. 

As someone that does a lot of virtualization as well as photography (with a budding interest in SLR panoramic photography, which requires a lot of horsepower), this is the Mac Pro I’ve been waiting for. Although an iMac Pro would definitely meet my needs, the modular expandability wins every time. My last Mac Pro lasted from 2006-2016; I can’t say I’ve managed to get a decade out of any other computer I’ve owned. I expect no less here…

 

Closing Thoughts

This was an incredibly exciting WWDC. My key take-aways:

  • The most refined mobile operating system gets even more refined, with a lot of core functional enhancements and a much desired dark mode combined with the best in-car experience available
  • Although by no means winning the AI assistant race in terms of features, Siri has evolved to the point of genuine utility while not sacrificing privacy
  • HomeKit has expanded to pretty much every mainstream use case for a smart home platform, while again prioritizing privacy
  • The Watch and watchOS have emerged into a first-class platform, with a plethora of new use cases opened up with iPhone independence. Only time will tell if the Watch will continue to be a health and fitness first device (and the undisputed leader there) or evolve into something broader. 
  • Apple is truly becoming the “privacy as a feature” company, with this being a core value proposition of virtually every product line and the new Sign in with Apple, which provides a unique means of obfuscating one’s identity over the Internet in what will no doubt become a very widely adopted SSO mechanism given the mandate to leverage it in the App Store. 
  • Apple is more committed to the Mac ecosystem than ever, with the introduction of Catalina, the new Mac Pro, Pro Display XDR, and Project Catalyst, which looks to be on the verge of bringing a multitude of iOS applications to the Mac in an extremely seamless and expeditious fashion. Big name adoption and early positive feedback are indicators that taking the time to mature Project Catalyst was probably the right thing for all. 
  • The iPad is now becoming a true laptop replacement for many more use cases. It’s touch-first user experience is not being compromised in any way and it is clear Apple has even further ambitions in the future. Even more interesting is its fusion as a touch-display accessory to macOS allowing a best-of-both worlds without any compromise. Project Catalyst and harmonizing the developer platform between iOS and macOS hints at likely even greater things to come as iPadOS and macOS converge. 

The fact that iOS was not the star of the show acknowledges what sales and Wall Street have already recognized we are likely at peak iPhone. The renewed focus in broadening and growing the overall Apple ecosystem quashed any lingering doubts I had about Apple’s overall strategy.    

 

Some Other Thoughts

First, a hat tip to my good friend and former colleague Dylan Lloyd, with whom I always enjoy discussing Apple’s latest including this WWDC. 

This is also my first blog post in almost three years. Shame on me. Now that I work for Hootsuite as a social-tech company, I must endeavour to “be more social” and blog more often. Thanks for reading! 

 

 

A Summer of Photography with the Canon 1DX Mark II

Well, summer is over this week officially. And so is Sitecore Symposium and MVP Summit 2016 and the mad rush that goes with delivering multiple enterprise software releases and producing content for events like that.

Likewise drawing to a close is my first season with the Canon 1DX Mark II. I can unequivocally say this is the best DSLR I have ever used. It requires a firm knowledge of how to use its features, but it pretty much does everything I want. It is a worthy upgrade from the 1D Mark IV; skipping a generation seems to have been a good ROI especially as I bought the 1D Mark IV late-cycle. I’ve mostly focused at landscape and aviation action with the EF 200-400mm with 1.4x teleconverter and EF70-200mm 2.8L lenses.

To learn the camera, I focused on interesting scenes from around Lake Washington:

Interesting Lake Shots #8

See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdonovan/albums/72157668138083295/with/26291311203/ 

To get better at action photography, I decided to photograph my wife’s Washington Dulles->Seattle flight, as the approach path to Sea-Tac Runway 16 would take it right over the house:

Intercepting United 389 #5

See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdonovan/albums/72157670122946550/with/28371395245/

One of the funnier moments was the Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Park-to-Park Swim, where people swim from Matthews Beach Park to Denny Park. The morning of the event I woke up to yellow buoys drifting in the lake. It seems as if they ALL got loose, creating quite a bit of chaos for the event organizers and the police. After rounding them up, the boat towing the buoys broke down…and had to be subsequently rescued by the Seattle Police.

Buoys on the Loose #32

See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdonovan/albums/72157672888371252/with/29660947052/

To experiment more with optical filters and Lightroom post-processing filters, I decided to take advantage of the fact the sun sets within my field of view during early September. First, a semi-cloudy sunset:

Sunsets September 2016 #1-1

See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdonovan/albums/72157672843964940/with/29145970524/

And, then a perfectly cloudless sunset. I think I actually prefer the contrast the clouds add!

September Sunsets 2016 #1-26

See more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdonovan/albums/72157673965154446/with/29774144985/

I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I enjoyed taking and processing them…

My Sojourn with Android

I am a global traveler, spending a significant amount of my time in our Ottawa, ON; Copenhagen, DK; and Brussels, BE offices combined with a fair bit of time in the United Kingdom. Being connected is part of my job, which means having a local mobile plan is a must. I have 3 SIM cards (US, Canada, and Denmark with EU-wide coverage). But 3 phones is at least one too many to carry.

I broke down and bought a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge Dual-SIM unlocked from Amazon. This is the closest Android equivalent (sans the single SIM Nexus 6P, which is what I really would have liked if there were a dual SIM variant) to my workhorse iPhone 6S Plus.

And, after two weeks, I thought it’d be interesting to journal my impressions of Android. On the hardware front, I’d give the Samsung a more favorable impression than Apple on a couple of fronts:

  • Curved display
  • Waterproofing
  • OLED screen

But it is a step backward in terms of camera and storage (as you lose the MicroSD support when using dual SIM’s and I’m not brave enough to try the hack). Battery life is about the same.

On the software side, the two couldn’t be more opposite:

  • Android has a setting for everything; figuring out what is what can be quite confusing and Search is your best friend. But, you can personalize the device until you’d hardly recognize it from the default.
  • All of the app-store applications are there – but some are clearly not as polished or stable as their iOS brethren.
  • Android from Samsung ships with both the Google Apps as well as Samsung Apps + Samsung-based lock-screen and launcher. In theory, you can replace all of these with apps of your choices…
    • In practice, I have not been able to replace the Lock Screen without running into challenges.
    • I have replaced the Launcher and all default applications with Arrow and the applications from Microsoft.
  • Chrome vs. Safari is a matter of personal preference; I prefer Chrome but still end up using Safari given Apple’s reluctance to truly let the browser get replaced on iOS.
  • iTunes is definitely a missing link (though with limited storage I could not sync that much anyways).
  • Dual SIM support is pretty elegant, but you can only have 1 primary SIM working at LTE speeds and you have to manually set which one is primary (which was slightly confusing to figure out).
    • The inability to have separate data roaming settings for each SIM is definitely a missing hole I hope gets fixed in Android Nougat.
  • Software updates to Android seem more frequent than iOS; however OS upgrade-ability is a huge problem. Who knows when this S7 Edge will see Android Nougat?

My overall verdict is that there is plenty of room for both Android and iOS, but that other operating systems are probably a lost cause at this point. How to size them up:

  • If price matters, Android is the way to go, as you can get a very affordable device with a complete app store repertoire.
  • If you want to customize everything, Android is the way to go. You just can’t customize to this degree with iOS.
  • If you want an absolutely seamless, intuitive experience where everything “just works” – then the choice is simple – get an iPhone.
  • Those that are heavily invested in Apple ecosystem’s choice is also very simple: iPhone.

This post wouldn’t be complete without mention of Windows Mobile 10. I very much wanted to be able to buy a Lumia 950 XL. This was the phone I really wanted to buy. Microsoft does dual SIM better than anyone and it has the same polished end-to-end experience as iOS. However, the uninspired industrial design of the 950XL (which is outshone by the lesser 650) coupled with longstanding reports of bugs or carrier feature incompatibility (no WiFi calling) and an absolute lack of applications made it a no-go.

Would Android make me switch from iOS? No…but it is interesting and fun to have it and I will definitely enjoy it while maintaining connectivity in Canada and the European Union (and I guess now Great Britain).

This is also a perfect product management case study of customer segmentation and the room-for-both phenomenon (and conversely the lack of opportunities for Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, or others).

Windows 10 and the Surface: Winning Me Back

To celebrate the 30th birthday of Windows, I figured it was time to share my own thoughts on the operating system.

With the Threshold 2 build of Windows 10 (build 10586) and the third generation of Surface devices (Surface Pro 3, Surface 3 LTE), Microsoft is winning me back. For those that know me well – that may be a surprising statement. But it’s true and I have to give credit where due.

By mid-2006, I had switched all of my personal computing to Intel-based Macs instead of upgrading to Windows Vista. From 2008 onward, I used a Mac almost exclusively as my daily machine and used Windows in a VM or BootCamp only where necessary. Although Windows 7 was good, the hardware available simply wasn’t that great. At the same time I traded my trusty Treo running the original Windows Mobile for an iPhone 3G and never looked back.

Windows 8 and its attempt at redemption – 8.1 – was a disaster. Windows RT was a disaster. The first generation of Surfaces were great to look at and touch – but not that great to use in real-life.

Then, Microsoft woke-up and re-focused itself on its customers. Relentlessly. And its working.

The Surface Mini was killed. Given Windows RT, it rightfully probably never saw the light of day. Windows RT was rightfully killed – though it represented an interesting missed opportunity I may blog about as a different topic.

But, the Surface Pro 3 emerged and it is a genuinely great device. All the rough edges of the first- and second-generation devices were filed off. Now, finally, there was a decent Windows laptop (some software/driver quirks notwithstanding). The Surface 3 LTE gave those that are hardcore mobile users something that was very decent (also with some software/driver quirks). The Surface Pro 4 is nicely providing refinements where needed – and I can’t wait to get one when the model I want is available. And the Surface Book – although controversial – is a very interesting contender against the MacBooks.

Windows 10 is another story. It is actually very pleasant to use. All of the goodness of Windows XP and 7 is brought forward. The good ideas of Windows 8 and 8.1 remain. But its nicely wrapped into a single package. And it delivers an experience and applications that are quite pleasant when faced up against stiff competition from Apple. And, with Threshold 2, it mostly works as expected from a stability perspective.

How do I know its working? I had several devices to pull out on this long Washington DC->Seattle flight tonight; the Surface Pro 3 with Windows 10 on Threshold 2 won. As the Surface 3 or Pro 3 did in many meetings this week while traveling.

And, it’s not just me. I have traveled extensively for the last four years. Airports and airliners are a great litmus test of public opinion globally. Apple was clearly winning. But now I’m seeing Surface Pro 3s/Surface 3s pop up more and more. And most of the ones I see lately are Windows 10. This is a much needed regaining of ground with the high mobility professionals that has been absent for Microsoft for many years. And in an even bigger testament – the Surfaces have captured the interest of my mother, who has used nothing but Apple since 2006.

The recipe for this success is very simple. They are focusing relentlessly on their customers and on delivering a quality user experience. There’s no rocket science to this; its just just very hard work.

On the hardware front, I applaud Microsoft for the Surface. They have brought the much needed cachet back to Windows machines – something the OEM partners were definitely not doing. Although its taken far too long and several iterations, credit where its due for finally building a great desktop operating system and hardware combination.

(This post was written over Idaho on my Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 Build 10586.)