Trending February 2024 # Homepod Diary: I Want Another One For Sure, Maybe Two More # Suggested March 2024 # Top 7 Popular

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I wrote last time that one of the tests of truly useful technology is how quickly it stops feeling like a luxury and starts feeling like something you wouldn’t want to live without.

For me, streaming music started out as a luxury – something I used to supplement my own collection of music – and has turned into my primary music source. Not just because it gives me access to music that would otherwise have cost me a fortune, but also because For You playlists have introduced me to more new artists than I could count.

I’m finding that HomePod is moving rather rapidly into the same category: a gadget I wouldn’t want to be without.

A month on, I can report that HomePod has definitely completed that transition …

Siri

That’s partly for smart home control. Siri is the most convenient way to control HomeKit devices, and the HomePod is hands-down the most reliable and convenient way to invoke it.

The HomePod can hear you from further away than any other device, and it’s the only thing that can understand you while music is playing.

The real convincer on the Siri front, though, has been my partner. I used Siri all the time anyway; Steph almost never did before HomePod. Now she too uses it daily.

But, on its own, that’s not a great reason to own a HomePod. An Amazon Echo Dot or two can control smart home devices as well as a HomePod, and while a Dot can’t hear you while music is playing, it’s not that great a hassle to press a button on an iPhone or Apple Watch to invoke Siri.

The HomePod only justifies its cost if you’re going to use it as a speaker, and I’ve continued to do so long after the novelty wore off.

Music

In my third diary piece, I talked about balancing sound quality against convenience.

Most of us aren’t willing to accept audio quality we perceive to be poor, but when the difference is ‘great’ versus ‘really good,’ then the convenience factor does come into play. And for me, HomePod audio quality ticks the ‘really good’ box in exactly the way the Sonos Play 5 did.

It’s not B&O. It’s not Naim. But the sound quality is really good. Good enough that I’ve been perfectly happy with it for casual and background listening.

And that, in truth, is most of my music listening these days. There are still times when I really want to immerse myself in music, and that’s when the difference between ‘really good’ and ‘great’ makes itself heard. But the rest of the time, the difference doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the music.

So the convenience comes more to the fore. And the ability to simply tell HomePod what to play – both directly and indirectly – is pretty addictive. Once you experience it, it’s hard to be without it. It actually feels like a bit of a chore with my other speakers to have to open an app and select my music that way.

I mentioned in an Apple Music Diary piece in 2024 that I actually spend most of my time listening to recommended playlists in the For You tab. With HomePod, I’m effectively doing an even more efficient version of this. I tend to use one of five ways of selecting music:

‘Play some music’ – a quick, no-brainer way to get music I mostly like

‘Play my favorites mix’ – which guarantees every track is a winner

‘Play my chill music mix’ – great for background music

The upshot of all this is that I definitely want a second HomePod for the bedroom, and have this high on the list for when we finally stop spending money on home improvements. And, once stereo pairing is available, I’ll be very tempted to add a second HomePod to form our main music system, with the B&O used only for active rather than background listening. That’s something I would never have imagined until I used it day in, day out.

One other note: I haven’t personally experienced the white ring issue, but as it sits on a wooden floor and I don’t want to take any chances, I did have our handyman use a spare section of floorboard to create a little coaster for it.

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While Japan’S Bombing One Asteroid, Nasa’S Bouncing Off Another

While Japan’s bombing one asteroid, NASA’s bouncing off another

Don’t fret, armageddon-fearing folks, NASA’s on the case just as much as Japan. They’ve not yet dropped the same amount of bombs as Japan – but that’s only really a small part of the party. Japan, the USA, Russia, and other countries have asteroid-deflection programs of their own – and some are already as far or further than Japan on their journey toward bringing back samples! Japan’s journey just reached the asteroid Ryugu in the latter half of 2023, and began beaming back photos soon thereafter.

A few days ago, Japan’s craft Hayabusa2 sent an explosive toward the surface of Ryugu. They’ve confirmed success of said bomb, and now await a time at which chunks can be collected. Like the following video shows, it went bang!

Above is a real-live test of Japan’s asteroid-aimed explosives (SCI (Small Carry-on Impactor)) exploding here on Earth. Below you’ll see an animation of the event’s proceedings as created by JAXA.

Next you’ll see JAXA’s latest image captured with Hayabusa2’s DCAM3 camera which shows “ejection from Ryugu’s surface” which they confirmed “was caused by the collision of the SCI against Ryugu.” (JAXA, Kobe University, Chiba Institute of Technology, The University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Kochi University, Aichi Toho University, The University of Aizu, and Tokyo University of Science.)

The image you see below is also from JAXA, captured with the Hayabusa2’s Optical Navigation Camera – Wide angle (ONC-W1). This image shows the SCI floating away from the craft, after release but before impact on the asteroid (not pictured). JAXA said this was photographed from approximately 500 meters above Ryugu.

Meanwhile, NASA’s been tracking big terrifying asteroids for a few decades, at least. In a 2007 report to US Congress, NASA suggested that a nuclear bomb would be the best way to deflect and/or destroy a NEO (Near-Earth Object). They noted, however, that “because of restrictions found in Article IV of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, use of a nuclear device would likely require prior international coordination.”

If you’ll remember back to March of 2013, it was revealed that NASA’s budget for an asteroid preparedness task force was woefully insufficient. Fast forward to March of 2023 and NASA’s tracking the asteroid Bennu (amongst many others), whilst developing the HAMMER. That’s HAMMER: the Hypervelocity Asteroid Mitigation Mission for Energy Response spacecraft.

In December of 2023, NASA arrived at Bennu with an OSIRIS-REx spacecraft that they plan on using to study the space body for a total of two years. This project does not include explosive testing as far as we know.

BELOW: “This artist’s concept shows the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft contacting the asteroid Bennu with the Touch-And-Go Sample Arm Mechanism or TAGSAM.” from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

NASA has a NEO Deflection App (in-browser app) that shows the very basic elements they’ll deal with when tracking an asteroid headed toward Earth.

In Russia there’s a program called NEOShield that’ll likely aim to blast asteroids with nuclear weapons. That program had an outline with goals for the Russian space program all the way up to 2025. A “three-year follow up program” by the name of NEOShield-2 was revealed in March of 2024.

Apple Announces Event For November 10: ‘One More Thing’

It’s been rumored for quite some time, but now it’s finally officially official. Apple has just announced a new event for this month.

Apple has hosted a lot of media events this year, with the all-digital efforts showcasing all the new stuff the company is releasing this year. Just last month we had the iPhone 12 event, where Apple said “Hi, speed” and introduced the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Before that, September’s event gave us a brand new iPad Air and an eighth-generation iPad. Now, for November, it’s probably all about the Mac.

Apple told us all back in June that the company would launch its first Apple Silicon Mac before the end of 2023, and it looks like the company is going to keep to that time table. The company just announced another media event for Tuesday, November 10, 2023. The event will start at 10:00 AM PST/1:00 PM EST, and it will take place within Apple Park.

So, what’s possible at this November event?

Transitions! Apple Silicon Mac

The safe bet is the first Apple Silicon Mac, which Apple teased back at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference back in June. This Mac will be the official transition away from Intel, as Apple develops an ARM-based processor for its computer lineup for the first time. It’s the same strategy the company has used for devices like the iPhone and iPad.

With the transition to Apple Silicon, the company says the new Macs will be more power efficient and offer improved overall performance. That’s due to the integration of hardware and software, benefits that Apple reaps with the iPhone and its other products that follow the same strategy. This also means universal apps will be more accessible across platforms.

There has been plenty fo confusion and rumors regarding which Mac will be the first to introduce Apple Silicon to the market. Some have said it will be an iMac of some size. Others have suggested it will be a MacBook Air. Still, additional rumors have said Apple could bring back the 12-inch MacBook, and others believe a new MacBook Pro could be the first.

We don’t have long to wait to find out.

But wait, there could be more

There are other candidates for new product arrivals.

AirPods Studio

What about the oft-rumored over-ear headphones that Apple has been working on for quite some time, reportedly called AirPods Studio? These headphones have been rumored for quite some time now, and they were previously expected to be announced earlier this year. However, that obviously hasn’t happened yet.

So, it’s possible that Apple could launch its new over-ear headphones at this November event, too. These headphones are said to come in a couple different variants, and the price tag could start at $349. They will reportedly have a retro design, and they will have Apple’s Active Noise Cancellation feature as well.

AirTags

One of the other new products that have been rumored for months now is AirTags. These Tile-like tracking devices are small and round in design, and meant to help you keep tabs on your products like an iPhone, a bag, your keys, and other products. When AirTags launch, it will rely on the Find My app to track the accessories.

Maybe more?

It’s possible Apple has other products to announce too, things that haven’t been rumored up to this point. That’s not as likely, but we don’t have long to wait to find out either way.

Are you looking forward to seeing what the first Apple Silicon Mac has to offer?

What Is A Chromebook & Should I Buy One?

At first glance, a Chromebook looks very much like a typical Windows laptop, but there are significant differences between the two. The term Chromebook (as opposed to ‘notebook’, which many people use to refer to Windows laptops) is there to denote that the laptop runs the ChromeOS operating system from Google.

This has been around for about a decade now, and you can read more about their history in our 10 years with ChromeOS feature. It puts a focus on using online apps rather than installing them on your hard drive as you do with Windows and macOS. 

So, does this mean that a Chromebook is some weird specialist device that can’t run the apps you need? Yes and no. It’s easiest to think of a Chromebook as a web browser. So anything you can do online, you can do on a Chromebook. 

If you’ve used the Chrome web browser (and who hasn’t?), then the layout and interface will feel very familiar. Plus, it’s worth remembering that so much of what we do on laptops these days is often already done in a browser (online shopping, streaming music and video, social media) or held online (cloud storage, email, photo libraries, etc.). 

Many Windows programs, including Microsoft Office, have web versions you can use on Chromebooks, and on modern Chromebooks you can also install and run Android apps, which opens up a lot more uses.

One of the most helpful aspects of this approach is that all you need is your Google account details to use a Chromebook. Logging in will give you access to all your apps and data, then if you move a new Chromebook you won’t have to back up your files and move them across. Simply log into the new one and all of your stuff immediately appears. It’s so easy. For more details read how to set up a Chromebook. 

ChromeOS is a stripped back operating system that is fast, simple to use, and works brilliantly for online activities. Chromebooks are the devices on which this software runs. 

What can you do with a Chromebook?

As mentioned above, Chromebooks are great for doing stuff online. Whether it’s ordering your weekly grocery shop, checking the latest headlines, hanging out on Facebook or Twitter, video calling your family, binging a new series on Netflix, attending online classes or pretty much anything else you’d normally do in a browser on your existing tablet, smartphone or computer. 

They are also very good for office/admin-style duties, with the free Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps giving you access to all the basic capabilities you’d find on the MS Office equivalents. 

If you use Gmail, then it’s built right into ChromeOS (not surprising as Gmail is one of Google’s services), so you can organise your communications, plus there are also apps for Messages (the Android messaging app), WhatsApp, Slack and others. Of course, most email services allow you to access messages in a web browser. 

You may have seen a pattern emerging here: if you use Google apps, then Chromebooks will feel a very natural fit. Also, if you have an Android phone (especially the Google Pixel range), then again you’ll find that the two will work well together. 

Chromebooks have become very popular with schools, as they are generally affordable, easy to manage, and give kids all they need to accomplish educational-based tasks. They are also a good choice for people who don’t really get on with technology too well. If your ageing parent is looking for a new laptop, then a Chromebook could be an excellent option, especially if you’re going to be the one offering technical support. 

Not designed for serious gaming

Not ideal for creatives

Well, if you want to use a specific application then it might not be available on ChromeOS. For example, those who create music, video or graphical content will find the limitations of online services too much, and none of the stalwarts like Logic Pro, Photoshop or Adobe Premiere are available for Chromebooks. 

Gamers will be able to use Android apps, but this isn’t ideal due to the form factor, plus it won’t be anywhere near as good a proper Windows gaming laptop with their powerful GPUs,  processors, and huge choice of AAA games. You can use Nvidia’s GeForce streaming service on Chromebooks though, which does make them more attractive to gamers than in the past. 

Also, if you need a full-blown version of Microsoft Word or Excel, with all the bells and whistles, then again you’ll be out of luck. But, Chromebooks are not aiming for those kind of users. Creative professionals and gamers are already well catered for and heavy-duty Office proponents will always fare better with a powerful Windows PC. 

For everyone else though, who just wants a laptop-style device for administrative tasks, web use, streaming, social media and video calls, a Chromebook has pretty much everything you need.

If you’re interested in a more direct comparison, read Chromebook vs Laptop. 

Can I use a Chromebook offline?

This can be a bit hit and miss. External hard drives, thumb drives, and other storage media usually work without a hitch, as Chromebooks recognise pretty much all of the major file types and formats. Printers can be more problematic, but if they are WiFi enabled you should be ok. 

As for Bluetooth speakers, keyboard and mice, they are usually very happy to play with Chromebooks. Google also announced a Works with Chromebook program in 2023, so you can know immediately whether accessories are compatible. 

If you’ve read all of the content above and feel that a Chromebook could work for you, then we’d certainly recommend you try one out. So long as you acknowledge the limitations of the platform (primarily online, won’t have all the Windows/macOS software, more suited to Android smartphones than iOS), then we think you won’t be disappointed.  

With Chromebooks growing in popularity, there are now quite a few different models to choose between. To simplify this, take a look at our guide to the

What Iuds Are, How They Work, And Why You Might Want To Get One

ABC reports that Google searches for “IUD”, “IUD Trump,” and “get an IUD now” have spiked sharply in the wake of the 2024 election results. In case you’re only vaguely aware of why such a thing might occur—or if those three little letters leave you totally perplexed—here’s a brief rundown on what these tiny devices are, how they work, and why you might want to consider getting one ASAP.

Intrauterine Devices, or IUDs, are extremely effective methods of birth control

Basically anyone who has a uterus and doesn’t want a baby in it right now is a good candidate for IUD use. The tiny, T-shaped devices can be made with and without hormones, lasting around 5 to 12 years, respectively. They’re already the most common form of reversible contraception used worldwide, but it was only recently that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists officially recommended them as primary contraception for most women, including adolescents who are just becoming sexually active. Their popularity in North America is on the rise, but they’re still much more common in Asian, European, and African nations. (This is largely because the U.S. market released a disastrous and dangerous IUD back in 1971, damaging public perception of the devices.)

IUDs aren’t perfect, and they aren’t for everyone (more on that later). But if you’re willing and able to use an IUD, this set-it-and-forget-it method of birth control puts reproductive control in your hands for years at a time—no matter how policies change around you.

It will almost certainly be harder to get birth control in 2023, and IUDs may all but disappear as an option

The president-elect has also announced his intention to do away with the Affordable Care Act. The ACA made women’s health visits and birth control free for anyone with insurance. It’s not clear how Trumpcare will deal with birth control broadly, but it would be surprising if IUDs stayed in the clear.

For starters, they’re expensive: An IUD and its insertion can cost hundreds of dollars up front, and without the ACA in place they may be too expensive for exactly the people who most need a safe and reliable way to avoid pregnancy. And one cannot assume that the devices will remain available in the U.S. at all: Trump has ties with the anti-abortion nonprofit Susan B. Anthony List, a group that considers some IUDs to be instruments of abortion.

Wait, do IUDs abort babies?

No. Not even a little bit. IUDs are birth control.

Here’s how they work: Mirena, Liletta, Kyleena, and Skyla are all hormonal IUDs. They release small amounts of progestin, a hormone very similar to the naturally occurring progesterone and one that’s found in many versions of “the pill”. Because they sit directly in the uterus, these devices only need emit small doses of progestin to create the desired effects; preventing the release of eggs in some cases and thickening cervical mucus to block sperm from fertilizing any eggs that make it out. In other words, it’s pretty much exactly like taking a birth control pill every day—but you don’t have to pick up a new prescription each month or remember to take a pill. These IUDs are all slightly different sizes, lasting from three to six years depending on the brand.

ParaGard is a little different—it’s totally non-hormonal. It gets its punch from copper, which is wrapped all around the tiny device. Copper is toxic to sperm, so it kills any potential fertilizers before they can reach the egg. But while ParaGard is just as effective as Mirena and the like, it’s a lot more mysterious. Doctors know that ParaGard can be used as emergency contraception, meaning that if it’s inserted a few days after unprotected sex it is highly unlikely that a pregnancy will occur. Is this because of ParaGard’s spermicidal properties, or does the IUD actually keep eggs that have already been fertilized from implanting and growing into fetuses? For some anti-abortion activists, keeping a fertilized egg cell from implanting is not a risk worth taking.

Definitely consider talking to your doctor now

Look, IUDs aren’t perfect: While the rate of failure is low (and the rate of a painful outcome is even lower), the IUD, like any medical device, is going to make some people sick or miserable. It’s not unheard of for an IUD to perforate a uterus, especially in women who haven’t given birth before, and some women are more likely to get painful or dangerous ovarian cysts while using an IUD. Things can go very wrong. And even if they don’t, you might not like the symptoms: The symptoms of Mirena and other hormonal IUDs are largely the same as any hormonal pill you might take, but ParaGard is known to cause heavier periods and more severe cramping in many users.

Like it or not, we’ve got a long way to go in making birth control as safe, painless, and accessible as it should be. But with potential changes to healthcare access and women’s reproductive rights on the horizon, it’s worth talking to your doctor about IUDs while the getting is still good.

Apple Watch Diary: Transforming The User

Apple used the word ‘courage’ recently to describe its decision to remove the headphone socket from the iPhone 7, and much fun was poked at the company by those who missed the reference. But what I personally found far more courageous was Apple effectively admitting that it got the original Apple Watch user-interface badly wrong, and completely revamping it in watchOS 3.

Glances never worked. They were supposed to be a fast way to see information from your favorite apps, and to go on to quickly open those apps when required. In reality, neither objective was achieved: data was slow to load, and so were the apps.

And the side-button for immediate access to contacts was simply the waste of a button. Using the Watch Dick Tracy-style for phone calls was never more than a novelty, and sending scribbles and the like to contacts was even more of a gimmick.

So Apple had the courage to abandon both. Glances are gone, replaced by the app Dock, and the side button has been repurposed to access it. These two changes have transformed my use of my Watch …

I said recently that I literally couldn’t remember the last time I actually opened an app on the Watch as it was so tediously slow to do so. Instead, I used my Watch for just four things:

Glancing at Complications on the Modular watch face

Notifications

Replying to text messages

Apple Pay

Those four things were enough for the Watch to earn its keep, but I could see no benefit to me in upgrading to Apple’s shiny new hardware. What I do love, though, is Apple’s even shinier new software.

By keeping the most-used apps in memory, and providing instant access to them via the newly-repurposed side button, using apps has gone from a frustrating act of last resort to a quick and easy way to get stuff done. The result? I’m now frequently using eight different apps. Effectively, a free upgrade to my Watch has added eight ‘new’ features – features that were always there in theory but were previously too slow to use in practice.

I listen to a lot of podcasts (This American Life, Freakonomics Radio and a whole bunch of Radio 4 shows, in the main), so keep Now Playing in my dock. The Watch now makes it really easy to skip back 15 seconds if I missed something or my mind was wandering, and while pause/play is very easy on the B&W P5 wireless headphones I was assimilated into using, sometimes it’s even more convenient to pause on the Watch. That would never have been true before.

The Music app itself now comes into its own. It’s a more convenient way to start a playlist while out and about, and I frequently use the Quick Play button as an instant way to start some music.

Still on the music front, I love the convenience of being able to quickly Shazam a music track in a bar or coffee shop. I previously used to use Siri on my iPhone, but this is much easier. Siri is unfortunately useless for identifying music on the Watch.

I also love that Shazam can display lyrics on the Watch. I’m not usually a fan of using small screens to display more than a glance’s worth of info, but it’s nice when Shazamming a song to also be able to quickly skim the lyrics.

I’m not much of a selfie guy, but it’s always better to prop the iPhone up to avoid motion-blur when taking photos in low light, and using the Watch as a remote-control is much more convenient than using the self-timer.

I love the convenience of navigating by wrist-taps. It’s much more pleasant than walking along staring at your phone screen, and a lot safer in sketchy areas. You can look like you know exactly where you’re going while keeping your attention on your surroundings.

Dark Sky is my preferred short-range weather app. I generally use it to decide whether or not I’ll need a cycling jacket, and to see whether I might be better off leaving a little earlier than planned to avoid a rain shower. Here the benefit of having the info on my wrist rather than my phone is more marginal, but interestingly it’s been one of the things that has most sold friends on an Apple Watch when they see it in action.

I have a lot of friends in other countries, and Skype is my default way of keeping in touch with them. Mostly I just keep the app in the dock to ensure it’s open so I’ll receive call alerts on my Watch. I find that otherwise it can fall out of RAM.

Finally – and this is a big one for me – I now use my Watch as a remote control when listening to music on the hifi. My MacBook Pro is my music repository, AirPlaying music to a variety of speakers in different rooms. In the living-room, I control music directly from the Mac (where it lives in the evening), but in other rooms it’s great to have the Watch as a remote control.

Around 90% of my listening is from Apple Music’s For You playlists, which has two implications. First, I won’t always know the name of the artist or track, and the Watch will show it to me. Second, if I don’t like a track, I can use the Watch to skip to the next one.

The only thing missing for me is Love and Dislike buttons for Apple Music. I do try to religiously like/dislike tracks, as that’s why Apple’s For You recommendations are so good for me, but I can’t do it from the Watch.

One small criticism: I never change watch faces, so for me the ‘swipe left/right’ UI is completely wasted. A friend (thanks, Greg!) observed that, even if you do, it’s unlikely to be something you do so often that a ‘top level’ gesture is justified. I’d prefer to see the swipe gesture used for something more useful – perhaps swipe right to access your most-used app and left for the one you used most recently?

Oh, and a kind of combined compliment and complaint, I guess: now I’m actively using the Watch so much more, I’m finding that I burn through a lot more battery power. International travel excepted, the Watch always used to comfortably make it through a day for me, but I’ve twice run out of power since watchOS 3.

But that aside, I’m blown away by how much difference watchOS 3 has made. I really feel like Apple just gave me a free upgrade to a whole new model.

You can read earlier pieces in my Apple Watch Diary series here.

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