The Ultimate MacBook for 2018.

As my regular readers know, I love my 2010-vintage A1342 white unibody MacBook.  They are tough as nails - mine have gone through over 6 years of high school and continue to work great.

But the new MacBook and MacBook Pro series are for rich kids only.  They're expensive to buy, and they're expensive to own, and they are absolutely non-expandable once you plunk down your money.   And they're fragile, lacking MagSafe, and readily dent-able.

The poly MacBook had an important place in the lineup, and now there is a void.  I'd love Apple to see that and to address it.

So I don't want a less expandable, more fragile MacBook, but I do want a more modern one.  When Apple originally released the A1342 series, it was technically close to the MBP in power and capability.  It wasn't exactly as sweet as a MBP, but it was no slouch.  This is proven out today - even these machines, 7+ years later, are still capable workhorses.

I don't think my answer is a HomerMobile or an Edsel.  Instead, I think of it as today's Mini Cooper - an affordable and modernized re-think of a classic.

Therefore, without further ado, this is what I'd like from Apple for my MacBook of 2018.

Start with the A1342 unibody MacBook.
  • Modernize the Logic Board and its Ports
    • Upgrade from Core2Duo to a modern CPU chipset
    • Retain use of dual SO-DIMM memory modules, for future expandability.
    • Upgrade wireless to support 802.11ac and modern Bluetooth
    • Add at least two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt
    • Retain Magsafe2
    • Retain or remove DisplayPort, USB2, and Ethernet ports.
  • Modernize Drives
    • Add an internal M.2 PCI-e drive interface to allow for modern commodity SSD drives.
    • Keep SATA interface for a 2.5" drive to allow for high capacity drives (optional).
    • Remove the now-obsolete DVD drive and its drive bay.
  • Improve Appearance, Form, and Robustness
    • Improve display with Retina-class resolution
    • Improve iSight with a modern camera
    • Ensure resultant device is at least as robust as the A1342 series
      • Improve the clamshell hinge to reduce or eliminate the stress cracks that can develop through hyper-extension 
      • Fix the keyboard so it is less prone to water damage and/or more serviceable
    • Thin down the case to account for lack of a DVD drive bay, and/or expand the battery capacity.
    • Retain ability of user service for memory and drives
  • Pricing
    • Retain the $1000 price tag of the 2010-vintage A1342 MacBook.
 And there we go!  Let's hope Apple can meet or exceed this call for great design and engineering!


Canceling AT&T Service, Paying your ETF, and Quickly Unlocking your iPhone

So you're abandoning AT&T.  Congrats!

Leaving AT&T often means that you want to bring your phone and your phone number to a different cell phone service provider.  That's all fine and good, but you need to have your phone SIM unlocked so that you can use it with a different carrier.  And you're under contract.  And you can only unlock your phone after your contract has been terminated.  And unlocking a phone takes significant time.

That means that there will be a block of time when you can't use your existing phone with your new telephone service.  Conceptually, this time could be very quick: cancel the line, pay off the contract, unlock the phone, and go.  But due to the realities of the computer billing process used by AT&T, the unlock process can take weeks.

One way around this is to buy a new phone, but that always costs a lot of money.  So what else can you do?  There is a way to make the unlock process less painful.

Figure 1 shows the basic process.  Unlocking your under-contract phone starts with the process of Porting to a new carrier. From there, there are several steps - some that can take days or even weeks.  In the end, your phone is unlocked and you can use it with your new carrier.

All the orange boxes in Figure 1 represent time when you can't use your existing phone with your new carrier.

With some strategy, this process can happen in as little as 4 days.  Without a strategy, you might not be able to use your old phone for a month or more.
Steps of Porting with a Locked Phone

Preparing to Leave AT&T:

To be as efficient as possible, it is necessary to do some things in advance:

You'll need following information from http://att.com/ :
  • AT&T Account Number.  This is under "Profile".
  • Your AT&T Access ID.  This is under myAT&T Login Password.
  • Your AT&T Security Passcode.  This is also under the Passwords section of Profile.  Don't have a security passcode?  Then you must set one. 
  • Your AT&T Billing Date.  This is NOT your payment due date, but the date your bill closes every month.  For me, my monthly bill always includes charges from the 9th of the prior month to the 8th of the current month.  You'll need your bill closing date (for me, the 8th of the month).
You'll also need these basics:
  • The phone number to move to a new carrier. 
  • Your phone's IMEI number.  Make a phone call to *#06# and the IMEI number will appear on your phone's screen.
You'll need a temporary unlocked phone.

You won't be able to use your phone with your new carrier while it remains locked with AT&T.  You'll likely want a temporary phone.  You can borrow a friend's old unlocked phone, or you can do what I did:  I bought an inexpensive, used, unlocked iPhone on Amazon for about $100, and later sold it on Craigslist for about the same price.

The Efficient Migration Process with a SIM-Locked Phone

The strategy to a quick unlock is for AT&T to bill you as soon as possible after you initiate a port.  AT&T bills are generated at about the same time every month, about three days after your monthly bill closing date.

Therefore, the porting process should be pursued about 1 day before your bill closes.  My monthly bill closing date is the 8th of the month, so I had my phone service ported to my new carrier on the 7th of the month.

Here's the process I used:
  1. Make sure you have all the information mentioned in the Preparation section above, including your temporary unlocked phone.
  2. On the day before your bill closing date, go to your new carrier and tell them that you want to do a port.  Show them your unlocked phone.  Have them verify that the phone is unlocked and works with their service.
  3. Have your new carrier port your phone number from AT&T.  Your new carrier will need your AT&T account number, your AT&T security code, and other things like payment. The port generally happens in under 5 minutes.
  4. Now you have to wait for AT&T to bill you.  This takes about 2.5 to 3 days after bill closing.  Since my bill closes on the 8th at 11:59 pm, or so, that means my bill will appear around the 11th.  I just check the AT&T web site every 4 hours or so until I see that I owe.  Note that since your phone number is no longer an AT&T phone number, you'll need to log into ATT.com with your AT&T Access ID, as gathered earlier.
  5. Immediately after AT&T produces your final bill, pay the bill on-line via credit card.  You should immediately see the amount you owe go to $0. 
  6. On the day after you successfully pay your bill, ask AT&T to unlock your phone via the AT&T unlock portal.
  7. Usually within hours, AT&T will give you information on how to unlock your phone.  If AT&T rejects your unlock request, you'll have to call them up and have them fix the problem.  This could be due to a problem in their billing, contract, or device database.
  8. Follow AT&T's unlock procedures and start using your phone again!


In conclusion, porting a number to a new carrier is easy, but the unlock process make the everything a bit more complex.  By using the above procedure, you may be able to minimize the time and effort to port to a new carrier without having to give up your existing, locked phone.


Why I get rid of stuff on Freecycle, eBay, and Craigslist.

Sometimes I have something that is old, worn out, or even broken, but I -know- that someone in the world could use it.  For instance, the heating element of my coffee maker broke, but I knew that someone could use the coffee maker's carafe and filter basket.  I listed those two parts individually on eBay, and they sold right away.  I didn't get a lot of money for them, but I got enough to cover my costs.

Why bother? 

Yes, I didn't make a ton of money selling my defunct coffee maker's carafe and filter basket.  So what's my logic for selling them on eBay?
  • It's better for my stuff to be used, instead of it being thrown into a garbage heap.
  • It's better for my stuff to be used by someone who needs it, instead of having it sitting idle in my attic to rot.
  • It's better for someone else to be able to fix their own thing with an inexpensive used part, instead of them having to throw away their old thing and buy something new.
  • It's better to repair stuff than to buy new stuff.  Manufacturing new stuff takes a lot of energy and creates a lot of pollution.  Minimizing the production of new stuff is good for everyone.

What's the savings?

When I sold my carafe and filter basket, these things did not go into the garbage heap:
  1. My carafe
  2. My filter basket
  3. The coffee maker of the buyer of my carafe - with a new carafe, its buyer was able to use his coffee maker again.
  4. The coffee maker of the buyer of my filter basket - with a new filter holder, its buyer was able to use his coffee maker again.
Also, these things didn't have to be made:
  1. A replacement coffee maker of the buyer of my carafe
  2. A replacement coffee maker of the buyer of my filter basket
So in all, two fewer coffee makers had to be manufactured.  Two fewer coffee makers went to the landfill.  I got some money.  And the people who bought my used parts saved some money to help reduce their credit card debt.  WE ALL WIN.

Why not just give it to Good Will?

Good Will is great.  They take your stuff and turn it around to help people in need.  But it is bad for them and bad for everyone if we just dump them stuff that they don't know how to deal with.  That includes weird coffee maker parts of unknown manufacture and unknown quality.

The beauty of me selling this stuff instead is that I know exactly what this stuff is and I know exactly what's good and bad about it.   For instance, I know the exact model number of my old coffee maker, and with that someone can be reasonably sure to find it on eBay.  A firm like a Good Will doesn't have the time or ability to assess and research every minor thing that comes in their door.

eBay is likely best for stuff like this, because the market place is enormous and because just about anything can be listed there.  Need a karafe for a Krups model 37G125 coffee maker?  Only eBay and maybe the manufacturer is likely to have something available.

Very common items, like computer parts and iPods have a robust local market, and therefore these parts can be listed on Freecycle or Craigslist.

So if you have junk, think twice about throwing it out - you might be able to stop a whole lot more junk from ending up in the landfill.


The best Mac laptop ever

We all love our Macs, but one Mac laptop was the best ever.

What was it?  It was the late-2009 through mid-2010 white plastic MacBook.

What?  That piece of ugly white?

Yes!  Here's why:
  • They are powerful.  It was nearly as powerful as the MacBook Pro of its day, and can still run a modern OS well.  It was faster than many more modern MacBooks.
  • It was inexpensive.  It was under $1000 when new, and today they are under $400.
  • It is tough.  People could only ruin them with water or with serious abuse.
  • Unlike today's Macs, it is standards-based.  It uses standard memory, drives, and dvd.
  • The memory is replaceable.  The memory can be inexpensively expanded to 16 GB (the same limit as today's most expensive MacBook Pro).
  • The hard drive is replaceable.  A MacBook today can easily use an off-the-shelf 2 TB SSD drive.  Try a 2 TB drive in today's MacBook Pro.  Haha, see you at the bank.
  • The battery is long-lived.  I have many heavily used 7+ year old MacBooks, all still running their original battery.
  • It's still useful.  It can still use the latest Mac OS.
There are a few downsides:
  • The white plastic case can show micro-abrasion scratches.
  • The machine doesn't have USB3, as seen on modern laptops.  Then again, the iPhone and iPad don't support USB3 either (?!)
  • With the built-in DVD drive, it is quite bulky compared to modern laptops
  • On misused machines
    • cosmetic white stress cracks can emerge on the back plastic of the display clam shell
    • liquids spilled into the keyboard can ruin the keyboard, preventing typing, or in some cases, starting.

So there you have it!  The 2010 MacBook.  The best Mac laptop ever.


WTF is going on with Fiber to the Home?

A few years ago we were all excited that Google was getting into the Fiber Internet business.  And before that, Verizon was getting into the game with its FiOS brand.  Now they've all pretty much stopped. What happened?

Part of the issue is that Comcast and its industry brothers have strong monopoly-like powers and the ability to direct Congress and the President.   The Cable TV industry, operating as a single monopolistic business, is a very powerful force despite extremely poor ratings and ever-rising high prices.

The other death knell to Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS is Wireless Internet.  Not today's wireless, but next year's wireless.
With Comcast working towards a monopoly of wireless spectrum, it is financially irresponsible for any wire-based ISP to continue to build out their services. - Lloyd Emerson
It takes a ton of money to string up wires along the street and drag them into a house.  Even a simple thought experiment shows that  a reasonable $200 per house would turn into a lot of money in a region with a million homes.  What if you could transition that cost from $200 per house to $3 per house?  That'd be a HUGE savings.  Why spend $200 million per city today, when you can spend $3 million per city in a couple years?  Sure, you'd lose two years worth of revenue, but you'd save $197 million. 

And that's the future of wireless.  This isn't WiFi, and it isn't Cellular.  Instead, its 802.11af and related technologies, which promises that a handful of access points will cover a city.   The ISP would set up 802.11af access points strategically, ensuring good, high-speed coverage throughout town.  Then you'd buy an inexpensive 802.11af transceiver that you buy at BestBuy, plug it into your router, and configure an account at your ISP.  You'd get to chose your plan for a monthly fee.   You'd get Internet at your house immediately, and there would be no wires to string up, route, or repair.

Bye-bye Comcast?  Not so fast!  Congress is planning to set this up as a monopoly.  Those wireless signals would be on non-public frequencies, and so the highest bidder would likely gain control of the airwaves.  Who has a few billion in the bank so they can buy wireless rights?  Oh yeah, your local cable TV monopoly and multi-billion-dollar firm that has Congress and the President in their back pocket .... Comcast and their industry colleague.

Fiber to the Home is dead.  So is Coaxial cabling and twisted pair.  Wireless is much cheaper to deploy, and so wireless ISPs will have significantly lower costs.