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My Personal Tech Kit 2019

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I start the new year in a very different space, and with turnabout attitude, than 2018. About six months ago, I surrendered my digital lifestyle to Google, abandoning Apple as primary platform provider. Trust brought me to the Apple way. Distrust drove me away. Choosing between priorities privacy and security, in an increasingly dangerous Internet, the latter matters more. The Alphabet subsidiary truly has its ABCs ordered in ways that the bitten-fruit company doesn’t. I can trust that Google, being native to cloud computing and depending on it (mainly by way of search-related advertising), will secure my content and devices better than Apple, which is at best a cloud computing resident alien and more typically behaves like an immigrant who doesn’t speak the language well nor understands local culture.

Sure, I surrender some privacy but that would happen anyway, because privacy is a fiction. If you use the Internet or connected mobile device, you have none. Google is motivated to protect me (and you) because we are the product that generates ad revenue. Between marketers and hackers, it’s easy choice which I’d prefer to have my personal information. Granted anyone can debate which is, hehe, more criminal. But marketers aren’t likely to clean out my bank account or steal my identity. Or yours.

Marketing Magician
As the new year starts, I confess to having been distracted by Apple CEO Tim Cook’s emphasis on protecting privacy and reasons for it. I was suckered and can only blame myself. As example Cook-speak, in March 2018, he told MSNBC: “If our customer was our product, we could make a ton of money. We’ve elected not to do that…Our products are iPhones and iPads and Macs and HomePods and the Watch, et cetera, and if we can convince you to buy one, we’ll make a little bit of money, right? But you are not our product” [emphasis added].

Apple is a notorious marketing magician, using distraction to keep you from seeing what’s behind the tricks—and they are just that. Let’s start with quaint “make a little bit of money”. The company makes a whole lot of cash selling ever costlier gear, which is so clear from 2017-18 iPhone price increases, as one example. The product that matters isn’t you, but what Apple can convince you to buy. Your value ends when you don’t spend.

Cook also told MSNBC: “We’re not going to traffic in your personal life. I think it’s an invasion of privacy”. There are so many ways that claim is a lie that I will state one most relevant to this discussion: By making Google the default search option for the Safari web browser, Apple most surely does “traffic in your personal life”. Restating: Big G’s business is all about collecting information and profiting from it. Cook and company enable an enormously influential third-party to collate data about you and your online habits, generating “a little bit of money” that in aggregate becomes billions.

Yes, I am Google’s product, as are you. The company has huge incentive to protect us from criminals who might jeopardize profits from we the product(s). Additionally, as a native cloud computing company, whose major operations reside on Internet-connected servers, all Alphabet businesses are potentially more vulnerable to criminal or nefarious hacking, which demands continued security vigilance; track record shows great success building motes that keep invaders from storming the castle or the lands surrounding it (where we the users live).

Cook also told MSNBC: “Privacy to us is a human right”. That statement is another marketing magician’s distraction. Safety and security are much more fundamental human rights than privacy. If you believe Apple’s CEO, give up all tech, move to a mountain cabin, and compost. Because you will never have privacy using the Internet or connected mobile devices. But you deserve, and should demand, security and safety. Marketers are going to access personal information regardless, for it’s the price of accessing free content on the Internet.

Trusting Google more than Apple, as primary platform provider, doesn’t diminish risks so much as mitigate them. Safer isn’t the same as safe. Similarly, any online entity could be breached, and the Alphabet subsidiary isn’t the only online services provider I or most anyone else uses. All are susceptible to intrusions. Wired has compiled a chilling list of 2018’s biggest hacks, which includes Facebook and Quora. Following notifications from both companies that my data had been pilfered, I reduced presence on the first and cancelled the second. One of my goals for January: Tracking down every orphaned account, created sometime in the past and now not used, and terminate the relationship.

Going Google
My last platform switch, in 2016, was to Apple from Google for a few reasons. Among them: Chromebook couldn’t quite match the applications utility of a MacBook (or Windows PC); communicating with our daughter was easier on her preferred platform; and I bought into Cook’s privacy shtick. But as mid-2018 approached, angst grew about the fruit-logo company’s ever-pricey, ever-locked-in, never-changing platforms. The year was big for Alphabet innovations and small for Apple, which complicated product lines as it seeks to milk more from the iPhone cash cow.

Google’s advances are too numerous to recount, but a few: Assistant/Home is most-often informationally accurate and contextually beneficial. Artificial Intelligence is major reason, and its application across a swath of Google services is subtly, but directly, innovation in motion. Additionally, big G tweaked for the much better user interfaces across platforms and services; made huge leaps in the quality and utility of mobile photography; greatly improved the experience using Android and Chrome OS (intertwining them on tablets, too); made secure, affordable cellular service available to more mobile devices; and used hardware (Titan chipset) to better secure devices accessing its software and services. I could continue, but…

All the while, Apple stands still, using tired tactics to clutch to aging device platform cash cows. The herd can only moo so long, before the milk dries up. Yesterday, Cook sent a letter to investors warning that calendar fourth quarter 2018 results would fall below company guidance. Should I mix more metaphors and say sour Apple rather than sour milk?

For my digital lifestyle, a trickle of changes in early June 2018 set off an avalanche of them:

Pixelbook. Father’s Day sales on Pixelbook brought me to re-evaluate Chrome OS, which would by fourth quarter finally achieve good enough parity with macOS and continue to offer superior security features. I bought one for my wife and then myself. In late June, Pixelbook i7 with 16GB RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD replaced the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro and Touch Bar that I acquired in November 2016. While the MBP is quad-core, the dual-core Chromebook is zippier in every meaningful way. That was, and still is, unexpected. I retain the Apple laptop for some software testing, mainly because it’s more valuable to keep than to sell and I can hand it down to my daughter when her aging 13.3-inch model fails. But MBP’s productivity utility is finished.

Pixel Phone(s). The same month, I bought Pixel 2 XL, letting Google pay more for iPhone X trade-in than I could have gotten by selling on Craigslist. My wife happily switched to the smaller Pixel 2. Four months later, we moved on to Pixel 3 and XL, although my phone would become a purchasing nightmare at the Google Store. Why switch so soon? Answer: Support for the T-Mobile 600 Mhz band, which would make a switch to the carrier, or Google Fi, easier. Other benefits: I find the third-gen XL with Android 9 to be superior to iPhone in every way that matters. The user interface is cleaner, more useful, and more contextual. Photography is exceptional. No iPhone compares.

One of my nephews inherited the Pixel 2, and the XL likely will go to another relative. I would rather keep the phones, and spread the Google love, rather than sell them.

Google Home. The family already owned Google Home, which had been acquired for free but tucked in a closet. In late June, we put it back into service and bought Home Max, which replaced the Apple HomePod acquired in February. The not-so-smart speaker is mostly an all-Apple ecosystem device, which I sold later that month for obvious platform-switch reasons. Home Max is a friggin’ ugly thing compared to HomePod, but booms audio and is more flexible: the number of services supported is much larger, and core cloud capabilities are more contextually relevant. My wife and I prompt “Hey, Google” repeatedly for information throughout the day. Siri frustrated with her typically useless responses, such we stopped talking to her (except to swear). We are so glad that she is gone.

Google Wifi. While not an away-from-Apple-product switch, I purchased Google Wifi 3-pack around the same time as Google Home. The mesh-router system replaces OnHub, which TP-LINK makes for Google. OnHub, which I bought in September 2015, fit nicely into the renewed Google lifestyle, but I was bothered by buzz about Wi-Fi router hacking that affects most every device from the majority of brands. The change was precautionary.

Gmail. I am not among the many who adore Google’s mail service, which became my primary one in August (but not the only, for security reasons; better to spread the risk). I get more utility from the mobile app than the web browser. Apple Mail now forwards to Gmail, but I have no plans to surrender my Apple ID—if for no other reason than to prevent impersonation or identity theft should the handle return to the public pool and be adopted by someone else.

Google One. In late September—with free terabyte Drive (from previous Chromebook Pixel XL purchase) running out, intention to dump iCloud, and plan to massively move photos and other files to the cloud—I switched to 2TB online storage plan from Google. I will cancel Apple cloud storage before the next billing cycle commences. Cleanup is a process that shouldn’t be rushed, lest something wanted be lost forever.

Pixel Slate. In November, I set aside iPad 10.5 for Pixel Slate i7 with 16GB RAM and 256GB SSD, which may also replace the Google Chromebook. I have to decide whether to sell the Apple tablet or give it to a family member. The decision about this, or other Apple gear, isn’t about money but value—preserving and extending it.

Android TV/Roku Ultra. In December, I reset and boxed Apple TV 4K, swapping in Roku Ultra, which isn’t as pretty but is way more functional and flexible. Android TV is built in to our 43-inch Sony Bravia 4K model X800D, although the Roku is superior in all the ways that matter. Abandoning Apple TV would have been much more difficult if not for Disney-backed Movies Anywhere, which consolidates digital films from all sellers—Amazon, Apple, and Google. That’s how you handle copyrights! Since not all movie studios participate (yet), some of our purchased content isn’t available. But there is more than enough.

My daughter still uses fruit-logo gear and services; to accommodate her, movies and TV shows purchased under my Apple ID will continue to be available through the Family Sharing feature.

Kickin’ Kit
Google may play the key role in my Personal Tech Kit for 2019, but some other gadgets (and services) are vital, too:

Leica Q. I love this thing. Photography isn’t about device features, or even technique, but relationship, finding a camera that makes you want to shoot with it—that is a joy to use. IQ is exceptional; auto-focus is fast and accurate; manual lens ring lets you precisely manually focus; there are dedicated available dials to set everything; the electronic viewfinder can be seen even in bright sunlight; Macro ring around the lens gives precise control for closeups; the 28mm f/1.7 Prime lens captures clearly and cleanly across the focal range; low-light images are remarkable; DNG is RAW format; and more.

For about six months of 2018, I possessed the Leica M10. Strange as that may seem to some photographers, I let go the rangefinder. Leica Q is quintessential, perfect for most of my shooting needs.

Montblanc Summit 2. I moved from Apple Watch to the mechanical Carrera Calibre 7 Twin-Time during July 2018. But then, in early November, I dropped Pixel 3 XL and shattered the screen. That led me back to a using a smartwatch, at least during daylight work hours. I chose the Montblanc Summit 2, which is by far the best smartwatch I have worn to date. The thing looks great, feels fantastic on the wrist, and provides contextual utility.

Grado GW100. The first offering in the company’s “Wireless Series” rises to an audiophile class unmatched by most competing cans; Four words best describe the experience listening to music of any genre: NaturalImmersiveBalancedAuthentic. I love the GW100.

Grado RS1000e. These overly large, wired headphones remarkably reveal details obscured by other cans. Soundstage is expansive, with considerable clarity across the audio range. Fidelity delights the ears, listening from the right source, which for me typically is the Tidal music service. The Grado RS1000e are surprisingly light and comfortable to wear.

Tidal. Simply stated: The so-called hi-fi, streaming music service is the best entertainment for my aging ears and great companion when writing.

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I shot the Featured Image yesterday, using Leica Q. Vitals, manually focused: f/4, ISO 800, 1/125 sec; 28mm; 2:57 p.m. PST.

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