M*A*S*H

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
– Ephesians 6:12

This is the second post of thoughts on the responsibility of Christians in what is undoubtedly the roughest year of my life time — if you haven’t already, read part one first. We live in a rural “red” neighborhood, surrounded by Trump signs, and we really have no choice but to try to reconcile the goodness we see in our neighbors, with the man most of them want for President. Its really challenging, because by no objective measure can Trump be called a good person.

Love

Most of those we know who vote for him are not apologists — they acknowledge his faults, but maintain that his party is closest to their values. Whether those party’s values are most like Christ is debatable, but as someone who can’t vote, I can have empathy for the position they’re in. And I guess that’s where I’d like to start off:

Both sides will tell you they’re not being understood; they’ll bemoan the death of nuance in political conversation (even as their chosen leaders shout each other down). Many people from both ends of the political spectrum are capable of reasonable conversation, and of hearing the other’s viewpoint respectfully — but the national discourse obscures that rationality, the two-party system drives people to increasing polarization, and cognitive dissonance forces people to defend their choice rabidly. Mark 12:31 says “Love your neighbor as yourself” — a statement that requires you to feel for someone else; to understand their context, their fears and needs, their ideals and their goals. Empathy starts with acknowledging the validity of another’s viewpoint… even if you don’t agree with it.

Its tough for me to say this, and even tougher to do it, but for me, this means that it is counter-productive to write-off anyone with a Trump flag as an ignorant racist idiot (despite Trump’s gleeful courting of ignorant racist idiots.) Its also means that it is neither true, nor reasonable, for Christians to claim that anyone who votes for Biden is voting to kill babies. Every issue, idea and problem that a country is facing cannot be sorted into one of two buckets. And an earnest voter, forced to stack rank the issues, then choose a candidate that they hope and pray will aggregate to some over all-improvement, deserves respect, empathy and consideration.

If you’re an American and you earnestly believe that a vote for Trump has the most potential for Christ-like outcomes, this Canadian accepts you.
However, if you’re an American, driving in a Trump parade, shouting “Black Lives Don’t Matter”, then even the most enlightened person has grounds to condemn you. And that brings me to my next point.

Humility

If you have arrived at the decision that Trump is the best candidate to represent you on Christian issues, you must realize that you have chosen a man who is nothing like our Savior, that most of his personal positions are not found in the Bible, and that your rational is, at best, a matter of faith: you’re putting your faith in a deeply flawed human being on top of the faith that God’s providence will work good through that man’s sin. If you can get there, and keep your footing on that wobbly ground, then fine — but you don’t get to attack others who don’t share your belief system, haven’t rationalized this dumpster fire the same way as you, and who have legitimate complaints and fears about the outcome.

The issues on which Conservatives Christians are willing to extend themselves beyond science, politics or the general consensus are, by definition, issues of faith. Positions on how the earth was created, when life begins, how to help others find fulfillment and satisfaction in life — they can be looked at with a scientific lens, but for most of us, they’re going to boil down to what we believe. The Bible tells us that some people are not going to believe what we do, and while that sets us apart, it also gives us a responsibility — not to judge, but to love. If an omniscient God can love a sinful human, then what makes us think that we, as sinful humans, are entitled to hate other sinful humans?

Your leap of faith is not a reason to spite your neighbor. Your political party does not represent your Savior.

Reason

And finally, brothers and sisters, while we do believe there is a war going on, it is not a war against elected representatives, or your neighbor who votes for the other political party. The war is a spiritual one, and the lost are not foot soldiers for the devil — they are casualties of that war. When poor black communities cry out for justice, and your response is to condemn their sense of entitlement, you are on the wrong side of the spiritual battle. When women tell us dudes that their needs aren’t being represented in our systems, and your response is to accuse them of murder, then you are not practicing wisdom from above.

Again, this doesn’t mean that the world’s solutions are necessarily the right ones — but to shut down the conversation and brush aside all other perspectives as just being sinful, is to hypocritically claim that your faith automatically makes you right on every issue. Turns out Christians have a history of being wrong on important issues that they thought the Bible spoke to, but actually didn’t. Christians justified racism by saying black people were descended from Ham, and thus cursed — a horribly vile and sinful perspective that has caused more than a few centuries of problems. We put God-fearing but curious scientists in jail because their findings threatened our very human and very flawed understanding of Scripture…

Christianity does not grant us omniscience. It doesn’t even guarantee reason — but our Savior does call us to it.

So What is a Christian’s Role?

When I was young, my parents used to sneak off and watch a show called M*A*S*H. I didn’t know what it was about (although the theme song is permanently implanted in my brain) but my parents sure seemed to love it. As a parent now I understand they probably mostly just needed a few moments of grown-up humor, and a respite from the constant demands of young children. Recently, we started watching it ourselves — mostly for the same reasons.

The main characters in M*A*S*H are in a war — the Korean war, which continues to be a quagmire for the US even to this day. Set in a time of political upheaval, huge clashes between the American left and right, and generational tumult that largely pointed to a younger, more liberal voting block as being responsible for the moral decay of USA, M*A*S*H is interesting not because of the now-very-mild adult humor, but because of the responsibility of the main characters…

Regardless of what was happening in America, or the politics of the war, or the side a particular combatant was aligned with, when a wounded person arrived at the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, the men and women of the unit dropped what they were doing to fight for the life and dignity of that human being. Personal opinions (or shenanigans) aside, they acted in a way that recognized the Imago Dei of every fallen solider.

Christians, this is us! We are in a war — but we know how it ends! And in this war, we are not called to be soldiers, we are called to be doctors. Our love for the lost does not permit any attack on their position. Our mercy for those in need does not allow us to label someone else as “other” or to treat them un-kindly. We don’t have to agree with them, we don’t have to condone sin, but we must be willing to lay down our opinions, our preferences, our fears, our projections of guilt — because our Savior laid down His life for ours, when we were the foulest of sinners. And even then, He did not condemn us.

There was a time when Christians were famous because of our mercy. There was a time when a hospital was a Christian ministry, when the greatest centers of socialized education were Christian, when caring for the poor was understood to be a Christian vocation. If your interpretation of the Bible is that those things are not the government’s responsibility, then show the world an alternative! Show the world that Christian love puts others first.

Maybe the world would be more interested in our ideas if we took the Trump signs off our lawns, and became known in our communities as people who love and serve others again.

Multi Mac OS X Rescue Drive

Recently someone posted a great idea in a Facebook group for users of old Macs — but apparently wasn’t interested enough in the community to describe how it was accomplished. The idea is to have an external USB drive with multiple Mac OS installers on it, so you can restore or recover a wide range of Macs. Although all the instructions are online, they’re scattered across different sites that have to be pieced together. Here’s my attempt to collected everything you need to make a multi-OS recovery disk for almost any Mac made in the last 15 years.

Multi-boot Mac OS Recovery USB Drive

Things You’ll Need

  • A working Mac with a relatively modern OS (I used a 2008 MacBook Pro running a patched High Sierra)
  • The install media (disk, disk image or installer app) for each OS revision you’ll want (see links at the bottom)
  • At least 100gb external USB drive (an actual drive — not a USB key)
  • Optional, the DosDude patchers for any Mac OS you may want to shove on an unsupported Mac
  • Optional, but recommended, the latest Combo update for each Mac OS you may be installing. (I’ll include links to download these at the bottom of this post)
  • Moderate proficiency with Apple’s Disk Utility and just a little bit of Terminal comfort

Note: You’ll notice that these instructions stop at Mojave. So do I. You could argue that Catalina’s murder of 32-bit apps was necessary for the ARM-transition — and maybe that was right for Apple, but you can read why I don’t think its great for consumers.

Prepping the Drive

Warning: Throughout this process you’ll be completely wiping and over-writing drives and partitions. Always double check your target before confirming any action — you don’t want to accidentally wipe out the wrong volume. If you can, disconnect any drives you won’t need.

  • Launch Apple’s Disk Utility and select your USB drive on the left.
  • Using the toolbar at the top, format the entire drive (not just a partition) choosing the GUID partition scheme. Just use the default Format — usually Mac OS Extended (Journaled) — since we’ll be over-writing it later.
  • You should now have a big, empty USB drive with a single partition.
  • Using the toolbar at the top, click the Partition button, and add 4 partitions. For Disk-based installs, 7GB will work. For App-based installs, you’ll want 20GB partitions. Again, the default Format is fine. At this point, it may be tempting to add more — you can, but I found that Disk Utility is dumb if you add too many at once. You can add more later, but note that the total number of bootable partitions is 9.
  • Hit Apply and wait while the partitions are configured. When done, you should have 4 partitions you made, and a 5th partition of the remaining space. You can revisit this step when you want to add more than 4 operating systems, but I recommend you leave yourself a spare partition for OS Updates and other App installers you may need when rescuing a Mac.
It took multiple trips to the Partition window to get this many created successfully!

Writing the Bootable Partitions

There are three different techniques you’ll need to follow, depending on the era of the Mac OS, and whether you want to Patch it. I’ll cover each in brief, but depending on path, you may want to read up on other sources about the particular OS or Patch you care about — I’ll include links where I have them:

Writing Disk-based Installs

  • Early OS X used a 4-CD install approach and aren’t included in this tutorial. I’m still working on a disk emulator solution for this.
  • Starting in OS X Tiger, there was a DVD-based installer, but I haven’t been able to find a bootable image, and all my attempts at making this have failed.
  • I skipped Leopard, since it was a bit of a stinker. Everything that runs Leopard also runs Snow Leopard — and since it was my favorite OS X release, I started there.

Using either a bootable Mac OS X DVD, or a good disk image of the DVD:

  1. Pick a partition on your USB drive to host the new install and change the drive label like “Snow Leopard” or “Mountain Lion” (this isn’t strictly necessary if you’re doing this first, since it will be over-written, but the practice becomes important as you go along so you don’t over-write the wrong partition!)
  2. In Disk Utility, select the partition you picked, and press the Restore button in the toolbar at the top.
  3. Disk Utility will ask for the restore source — choose the Mac OS X DVD, or if using an image, click the “Image” button and find your Mac OS X disk image.
  4. Wait while the image is written to the partition.
“Restore” an Installer Disk Image to a Partition

The process is the same for Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion and Mavericks. And its really that easy — you might want to customize the partition’s boot entry a little, but I’ll cover that later.

Writing Un-Patched App-Based Installs

  • Yosemite seemed to be an awkward transition between disk-based and app-based installs; the only distribution I could find was an Install package, which didn’t work for any method. I had to skip this release.
  • El Capitan was the first true app-based deployment, and Apple actually documents how to write it to a USB volume — as they did with every subsequent release. We’ll be leaning on their help for non-patched partitions.

With the macOS Installer app handy in your Applications folder:

  1. Choose the partition you want to write, and give it a good drive label in the Finder, like “ElCapitan” — it’ll be easier if you leave spaces out, since we’ll be typing it in the Terminal.
  2. Launch Terminal
  3. Enter the command Apple specifies for the OS you’re writing, substituting your drive label for MyVolume value. Since I used “ElCapitan” in my example, the command will look like this — but remember this is different for each release. I’ll included a cheat sheet below.
    sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/ElCapitan --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app
  4. Wait while the image is written.

That’s it — but now you’re really going to want to customize the boot entry, so read on.

Writing Patched App-Based Installs

  • Starting with macOS Sierra, Apple really started tightening the screws on killing off older Macs with (sometimes artificial) hardware restrictions. Fortunately, a legend named DosDude1 has work-arounds — although be aware there are some caveats where older hardware may actually been unsupported, or have issues. Check his compatibility info for each release.
  • There is no harm in running a patched install on a machine that doesn’t need patches — you can skip patching post-install if you don’t need them. There’s no reason to have patched and unpatched install partitions.

With the macOS Installer app handy in your Applications folder, and the related DosDude patch available on the same computer:

  1. Choose the partition you want to write, and give it a good drive label in the Finder, like “High Sierra”
  2. Launch the DosDude patcher
  3. Click the first big icon to find the macOS Installer
  4. Click the second icon to choose the partition you just picked
  5. Click “Start Operation…”
  6. Wait while the image is written.
DosDude1 not only patches, but also writes the bootable partition. Genius!

If it fails, check your partition (re-format just the partition if necessary), and your macOS Installer app and try again — sometimes it can be a little touchy.

That’s it. You probably won’t need to customize the new partition’s boot entry, since the later OSes did a good job of this, but if you want to, read on.

Customizing Each Partition’s Boot Entry

  • For some versions of Mac OS, you might want to change the icon that shows up in the Finder for each partition. In most cases, double click on the Volume in the Finder and you’ll find an Installer or Folder that has a nice looking icon. Click on the Icon and choose “Get Info” from the File menu (or press Command+i). In the Info window, click on the icon (top left) and choose “Copy” from the Edit menu (or press Command+c). Now click on the Volume icon and “Get Info” on that, click on its icon and choose “Paste” for the Edit menu (or press Command+v).
  • The drive label you picked for your paritions will get over-written during the imaging process, and you’re free to rename it in the Finder — but that value gets ignored by the Mac’s boot loader. Some of them are really generic, like “OS X Installer”, which doesn’t really help. For older installers, where you need it most, a simple Terminal command will fix it. Launch Terminal and enter a command like:

    sudo bless --folder /Volumes/ -label

    Subsitute with the partition name and with the name you want to see in the Mac boot loader. For example:

    sudo bless --folder "/Volumes/Mac OS X Lion Install ESD" -label "Lion Install"
  • Note: If you want to customize newer Installs, there’s an extra step, which is documented here.

Using your USB Multi-OS Installer

Macs have a built-in boot loader that will enumerate available bootable media (including partitions) automatically. You don’t need to do anything fancy with an EFI partition. To use:

  1. Turn off the target Mac
  2. Plug in your new USB Drive
  3. Hold the Option key on the keyboard
  4. While still holding Option, turn on the Mac
  5. Continue to hold Option until you see icons start to appear for the different boot possibilities
  6. Select the one that is appropriate for the Mac you’re trying to rescue and boot from it

Some very old Macs may not be able to handle the partitions on your drives — those old Macs probably can’t use any of the Operating Systems on your drive anyway.

Additional Ideas

  • You can have up to 9 bootable partitions on your USB drive, so you can return to the Partitioning instructions and continue to add new partitions inside the remaining space.
  • Even if you max out the 9 bootable limit, you’re likely to be left with one big partition that isn’t bootable. I use this partition to keep Combo Update installers, and app installers that I frequently use on rescue Macs.

Finding the Bits

As of this writing, the bits for all the recent OS X or macOS releases can still be found online — some even from official sources. I recommend you download everything you think you might need and archive it somewhere for the day they disappear…

Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger
Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
Mac OS X Lion 10.7
Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8
Mac OS X Mavericks 10.9
Mac OS X Yosemite
Mac OS X El Capitan 10.11
macOS Sierra 10.12
macOS High Sierra 10.13
macOS Mojave 10.14

A Hot Mess Inside a Dumpster Fire Inside a Train Wreck

The biggest question I’ve been wrestling with for this whole crazy 2020 is: what is a Christian’s responsibility right now?

We’re supposed to be salt and light. We’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves. We’re supposed to care for the “least of these.” We’re supposed to take care of orphans and widows. All that would suggest we should be pretty broken hearted about a pandemic that has killed tens of thousands. White Christians should be pretty upset when we hear our black neighbors telling us they feel disenfranchised and abused by our systems. We should feel sorrow for immigrant children taken from their parents and locked in cages. All of these reactions seem to me to reflect the heart of a Savior who laid down his life for people who rejected Him.

And if all that seems obvious to you, then can you explain why Donald Trump is the man chosen to represent the “Christian right” in this “Christian” nation? Cause I can’t…

But we live here, and I have no choice but to try, because if a horrible man like Trump represents me, then there must be some justification for it – and believe me, people are working hard at it. Every time I post something about what a dumpster fire Trump’s America is becoming, some helpful Conservative pops up to explain to me why either A) Trump is really a good person, and its just the media making him out to be horrible, or B) Trump is a bad person, but God is using him for His own good purposes, so we need to support the President anyway.

Never mind that I can’t vote, and have no say in what happens in November, some Republicans feel really, really obligated to convince others that Trump isn’t the worst human being to ever make a mockery of a Presidential debate. So let me try to read it back to you – and then, for the sake of my own sanity, and despite being totally impotent on the matter, I’ll follow up with a second post on what I think we should be doing…

Argument #1 – Morality is the Only Thing We Can Legislate

Christians are called to work toward God’s Justice (which is different than “social justice.”) In this theory, we have an obligation to engage in secular government in order to bring about outcomes that are more like how God would want a nation to run. We recognize that this is a fallen world and that any outcome will be imperfect, so we often have to choose the “lesser of two evils” and continue to work toward gradual improvement. Issues like abortion, Israel and the Middle East, the definition of marriage, and for some reason, the right to carry a gun, all need to be protected, to keep secular society from slipping away from being Godly.

This argument is problematic, because:

A new game show for 2020 where American’s get to choose the Best Awful!

This doesn’t mean advocates of this argument are wrong. Certainly any life created in the image of God should be considered sacred – although the Bible isn’t clear on when the image-imparting event occurs during gestation. Certainly we should desire an end to strife in the Middle East. Certainly a family unit is an important part of society and clearly special to God. And certainly there’s some Biblical justification for defending, or providing for, yourself and your family. But there’s no real evidence that Trump cares much about these things – we’ll give him points for some progress in the Middle East, but its laughable to consider a man who hires prostitutes to pee on him, has been married 3 times, and courts violent hate groups as his base, is God’s chosen representative for these “Christian” issues.

Argument #2 – Onward Christian Soldier

The second argument is blatantly evident in Fox News, and other conservative media bylines: we’re in a war. There’s a “war on Christmas”, it’s “time to stand up for our rights” and we’re “fighting for our lives!” Any move toward socialism is an outright attack not just on democracy, but also on our faith, and it’s our job to fight back. Masks during a pandemic are really just the first wave in a new assault on Christianity that seeks to close our churches forever, and if we don’t fight now, our children are doomed to live in a Godless communist society. And this argument drives me nuts for a bunch of reasons:

  • First of all, Jesus was not a warrior, nor did He ask His disciples or followers to become warriors. Jesus chose to be born into government oppression, the early church met in secret, and when the apostles “stood up” for their faith, it wasn’t by demanding that fellow believers fight for them – it was by patiently enduring hardship, devotedly writing letters from prison, and dying for their faith (not killing for it!)
  • Second, Jesus actually promised that we would be persecuted, and that such persecution would get worse – but at no time did He tell us that we could change that! In fact, not only did He tell us not to fight back, He proclaimed that the battle was already won, and that as believers all we need to do is wait it out – and his followers counted it all joy!
  • Third, there are many countries that are more socialist than America – many of them rank higher on the freedom index than the US of A, and God isn’t dead in a single one of them. Canada is a great country, with lots of government services, lots of freedom, and a vibrant Christian community, that has launched some truly impactful missionaries and ministries into the world. There’s no evidence that God is afraid of a progressive President – why are we?

Argument #3 – The Constitution is God’s Other Scripture

OK, Americans who are more invested in the Constitution and the history of this great nation than I am have made some progress with me here. The founding principles of these United States are really good ones, the founding fathers were mostly pretty good dudes, and while they left some stuff out (like that whole slavery thing, and that part about women being people too), they did include a mechanism to address their blind spots, and historically, this country has been a pretty great one. We should absolutely not rush into changing those original intents just for the sake of change. A run-away left-wing would probably do some damage eventually, so if the three branches of government are balanced with a variety of viewpoints, and its leaders are committed to due process, legal understanding, and a diligent interpretation and application of the Constitution, then this country would be functioning a lot better.

But then things start to get a little crazy. “I’ve got my Bible in one pocket, and the Constitution in the other” is the kind of idolatry I’m talking about. In the Old Testament, God gave real specific instructions to the nation of Israel on how it should be run – based on laws, and frankly, some accommodation for the historical reality in which they found themselves. Then He took the nation of Israel apart, because they couldn’t get it right, sent His Son to fulfill the law, and left us with instructions on how to live our lives and care for our families and communities. In effect, He said, my people are now the Church – and this country you call home doesn’t figure much into the plan. We are sojourners in a foreign land, and as such, the two key commandments for us to live by are: love God, and love your neighbor. The United States doesn’t appear in the Bible, there will be no “Americans” in heaven, and God didn’t actually write, or inspire, the Constitution. It’s a human document, modified plenty of times, and while a decent human creation, its not actually Scripture.

Citizens should vote. There are some believers who are called to serve in government – He’s gifted us all in different ways, and we honor Him by doing those jobs well, and applying Biblical principles to our decisions within those roles. This is admirable — and I get that its pretty difficult right now. But we aren’t supposed to be building or fighting for a Christian nation, we’re supposed to be loving our neighbors. Donald Trump doesn’t love his neighbor – he mostly just loves Donald Trump.

Within a democracy, there will be different interpretations of what policies are most loving; rational debate can be had. Is job creation more important than social programs for helping the down trodden? Does reducing taxes create more opportunities for people to live happy lives, or do social safety nets give people a better sense of security? Should an armed police department respond to every incident? These are great questions! Let’s have those debates, do some studies, and try to figure it out! But claiming the Bible always sides with your political party is not only wrong, it is putting something else before God.

So if God isn’t a Republican, Trump isn’t a Christian, and voting for him isn’t going to make this nation more Christ-like, then what is a believer supposed to do? Well, I have some thoughts, but I guess those will have to wait for part two

Managing Social Media: Facebook

The Delete Facebook movement has been around for a while now, and I have to admit, the idea is tempting. The downside of allowing a single company to have such an outsized view into our lives has become increasingly obvious, while the benefits have dwindled. By design, Facebook is more than just a social network – its evolved over the years to become something of an Internet hub. Sure, there’s a lot less people playing Farmville, but it’s still the closest thing to a ubiquitous messaging platform we have on the Internet, so it’s hard to just turn it off. Short of writing a letter and putting it in the mail, Facebook is the one place where I can get a message to most of my extended family. And there are things to be said too (both good and bad) about Facebook Groups, where strangers with common interests can meet and create connections — most of my hobby projects have been significantly helped by members of one Facebook group or another.

So quitting Facebook might be going a little too far for most of us, but maybe putting some limits on Facebook’s reach can help. Here are some easy steps you can take to control Facebook’s visibility into, and impact on, your digital life.

Delete the App from your Phone… Then Put it Back

Facebook’s mobile app, whether on Android or iOS, has a staggering privacy impact. Except on the latest OS versions, most of these permissions, once granted, are permanent, and accessible in the background. Recent improvements to underlying platforms have revealed numerous “bugs” that have all the appearance of spying on users – even while the app is not in use. For example, Facebook helpfully asks for access to your Address Book to facilitate “finding friends” but can use that information at will to quietly strengthen its social graph (the powerful database that makes Facebook so interesting to advertisers and political parties.) Recently a former engineer reported that Facebook experimented with uploading all your pictures in the background to “improve performance” when you chose to post a picture on their site.

Obviously, it’s nice to have your social network in your pocket – it’s convenient and helps pass the time. But, giving away all your personal data seems foolish. Fortunately, there is a work-around, and its actually quite nice. By design, your mobile web browser is a “sandbox” – websites can’t get the same permissions as Apps can, so they’re intrinsically safer. And to make it more convenient, both Android and iOS allow you to “pin” a website to your home screen so that you can launch it just like an App. The experience is slightly diminished from the full App, but its remarkably elegant, and significantly less intrusive.

The process is slightly different for each platform, but it amounts to:

  • Open Facebook in a web browser
  • Find the browser’s menu, and choose the option to Pin to your Home Screen
  • Find the new Facebook “App” icon on your Home Screen and launch from there
  • Use Facebook more-or-less as normal

A nice side effect of this change is that Notifications go away. You can always launch the “App” to see what’s new, but you won’t get things pushed to you constantly. Facebook Messenger is a separate app, which seems to have less privacy issues, so it can remain installed to allow message notifications.

Put Facebook in a Box

This tip applies to both your phone and your laptop or desktop computer, although the process is a little different. It requires you to get used to having multiple web browsers – and keeping Facebook in a secondary one.

Firefox believes that good fences make good neighbors

My strong recommendation is to use Firefox as your daily driver – it has an extension that can limit Facebook’s reach automatically. Chrome and Edge both are reasonable for privacy, Brave is better, but in other ways all of these browsers contribute to Google’s unreasonable control over the evolution of the Internet – but I’ll get to Google in another post. Suffice it to say, choose your main web browser and make sure you’re signed out of Facebook (and Instagram) completely on it. When you visit facebook.com from that browser, you should get prompted to sign-in – otherwise, assume Facebook is tracking you all over the web.

(Update: if you have to have Chrome, check out these extensions to help keep you safe.)

Facebook uses a browser fingerprint it establishes when you sign-in to their site, combined with tracking that same fingerprint detected through their pervasive advertising network, to piece together your browsing history — this is why Facebook ads seem like they’re reading your mind: they really do know everything you do online. Never use “sign in with Facebook” to log into a non-Facebook website or service. This is another way they track your activity. Your main web browser should be anonymous to Facebook at all times.

Once you’re confident that your primary browser is Facebook free, install and setup a secondary web browser that can be signed in with Facebook. Use this secondary browser for your Facebook community, and limit other web surfing. On a computer this is really easy – your computer comes with a web browser that should be your secondary browser:

On a phone this is a little harder, because you can’t completely change the default browser – the built-in engine will still handle embeds and links no matter what you do. But you can still follow the same pattern – create the Home Screen shortcut “App” using the built-in browser and install another browser to do most of your surfing.

Prune Your Timeline

Aside from its privacy issues, Facebook also functions as sewage run-off for some of the Internet’s worst information pollution. Political viewpoints turn angry during an election year (or pandemic) and sometimes it gets to be a little much. You may learn things about your social network that you wish weren’t true – or maybe you just need a break from all the memes.

Sometimes you have no choice but to just remove connections (de-friend people) if they won’t listen to reason. But often a genuinely decent person has just listened to a little too much Fox or NBC News and you need to take a break from the partisanship. It’s OK to “snooze” people or unfollow them. This allows you to stay connected, without having to get inundated with their ideology.

I don’t mean to suggest we shouldn’t hear ideas and perspectives that are different from ours – in fact, I believe it’s healthy to hear both sides of a debate… as long as both sides are rational, thoughtful and based, at least in part, on objectively verifiable reality, or reasoned interpretations of events. But not all opinions are created equal, and not all sources of information are valid. I’d advocate first for a loving attempt to reason, out of concern for a friend, but I’d also advocate (especially as my kids are moving into an online world) for a limitation of the pollution you expose yourself to online.

The Facebook timeline algorithm is tweaked for engagement (sucking you in) and for maximizing advertising impressions (keeping you on the site so you see more ads). It’s not a good source of information, any more than if everyone in town went to the same park and all started shouting our opinions at each other. Prudently manage who and what shows up on your timeline, or ignore the timeline entirely, in favor of personal interactions or Facebook groups that are healthy for you.

Set App Timers

If you use the Facebook app, or a dedicated browser, both Android and iOS will allow you to limit your time in those apps. You can use this for any App that you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through more than you want to. In iOS, it’s called “Screen Time”, in Android it’s called “Digital Wellbeing”, but in either case you can find it in Settings, and easily set a timeout in minutes per day. Of course, you can over-ride it if you need to, but it’s a good reminder to manage what you’re consuming in a given 24 hour period, and make sure you’re including other interactions and sources of information.

Protecting Your Brain

We don’t let our kids use social media yet – their brains are still forming, and they don’t have all the tools they need to discern what they may read online. But adults aren’t immune from the cognitive biases that can trick our brains into unhealthy patterns. Facebook is a relatively new kind of media – one that empowers peer-to-peer sharing and information dissemination much faster than what we had a generation ago. It has many incredible benefits but inherits all the same problems of previous kinds of media, while introducing a slew of others that humanity isn’t really equipped yet to understand. There are efforts underway to understand and improve how this kind of media works, but until those things mature and inform the evolution of the Internet, it’s up to us as users to think about and manage how we interact with technology and other people using it.

Deer Jon

A week ago Friday I was under the knife for a second time, a deeper incision this go around, for a blood clot that developed near the base of my spine (which is a euphemism for “my butt”). I’m not sure whether to read this as a sign of success or just that I’ve gotten better at pain management, but I seem to be regaining function at a faster rate than last time. In fact, I was feeling so good that a careful arrangement of diet and a few modifications to the morning routine gave me the confidence to try having a little family adventure this past Saturday morning. Nicole found a historic property not too far from home that looked to provide a gentle walk, and some fun exploring for the kids, so we dressed in layers, and set out to enjoy a crisp fall morning.

I drove the family SUV, in a show of paternal competence, and we got about 15 minutes from home. Nicole had just updated the GPS with a route to our destination, and I glanced down at the map view, then back up at a shattered windshield. My first thought was that I had something in my mouth, and one of the kids must have thrown something. I picked fur out of my teeth and tried to look in the rearview mirrors — only to find them missing. “That must have been a deer” I said, as I eased the SUV over to the side of the road. “Um ya. You’re bleeding!” said Nicole. I looked down at a tiny pin prick of blood on my index finger. A quick survey found that to be the only injury to anyone inside the vehicle. Abi started, then stopped, then started crying again.

I recall a flash of brown in my peripheral vision. Nicole says she saw the deer the instant before it hit, but didn’t have enough time to shout a warning. Ben, who was in the back row, says he saw the deer somersaulting past him after the collision. The best we can figure, it was hiding in the bushes beside the road and chose a poor moment to try to leap over us. Almost the entire impact was to the windshield — a dent in the driver’s side door panel, and the missing rearview mirror, suggest that his back legs were trailing a little. The engine compartment and surrounding body panels were unaffected, save for a streak of mud. The roof has no dents, although the headliner surrounding the windshield on the interior of the vehicle was ripped back, and the attached electronics and mirror were dangling by their wiring harness. The car was drivable — save for the fact that you can’t really see where you’re going. Thankfully, the deer was a baby — not a fact that comforted the girls much, but it certainly limited the damage. The deer died instantly, as far as we can tell.

A helpful local cop arrived within about 20 minutes of calling 911, a tow truck about 20 minutes later. Our good friends John and Karen arrived in between to commiserate — and give us a ride home. Our insurance agent has been great, and approved a local shop to do the work. The vehicle’s safety equipment did its job — no air bags or collision detection were triggered, because of where it hit (although the rain sensing wipers did turn on!) but the windshield protected us. We will be out of pocket $500 for the deductible, but the rest will be completely taken care of with OEM parts by insurance. Hopefully the family wagon will be back on the road before the snow starts.

It was not the adventure we had in mind for our weekend, but we’re thanking God for His protection. It certainly could have been a lot worse. We were all a little shaken, but after regrouping at home for lunch, we salvaged the Saturday with a round of mini golf and some ice cream in the afternoon.

Church Streaming 2.0

Even though we knew it was probably going to happen, when the lock down order came in from the governor, we didn’t really get a lot of time to adjust. The kids were in school one week, and at home the next. Church was meeting in person on one Sunday, and exclusively online the next. A series of probably-Providential events had happened before this, none of which were deliberately timed by me, but all of which turned out to be helpful in getting our little country church online in time.

At the start of 2020, we didn’t even have Internet in our church building — we would upload sermon audio using a 4G hot spot. That audio was recorded on a 2008 iMac that I found on Goodwill Auctions for $140, and I had just replaced the 2006 Windows Vista eMachine that was in the pastor’s office with a 2009 iMac that I got for $80. With this “new” hardware installed, we decided it was time to petition the church leadership for a stable Internet connection. No one was opposed philosophically — they’d just never had a need before. At the February board meeting, they agreed to my proposal, and later in the month, I camped out at the church for a day and a half to wait for, then help, the Internet installer figure out how to connect our 160+ year old church building to the digital world.

The lock down order came only a couple weeks later. The Internet was unreliable, because the rural infrastructure near our location had issues, the more-than-a-decade-old iMacs were far too under-powered for their new task, and a decent webcam was suddenly very hard to find either online or in near-by brick-and-mortar stores… but in a little over a week, we managed to cobble together a streaming system, do some basic training for the pastor’s family, and hold our church’s first online service. All while hoping this would be a very temporary situation. It was not.

At some point in the summer, it became obvious that the system was too fragile for reliable live streaming, and it became more pragmatic to have a pre-recorded service in-the-bag. This created a more fault-tolerant, less stressful experience, but it didn’t change the chewing-gum-and-bailing-twine nature of the system: it all just barely worked, because none of the pieces were ever intended for the tasks that had been thrust upon them. While it became safe enough for most church members to attend an out-door service this summer, others who are at higher risk to the virus, could not attend — and with colder weather looming and no vaccine in sight, it became apparent that online church was going to be a reality for at least a little while longer. The pastor asked for some options for a more permanent system.

I priced out three bundles — good, better and best; cheap, not-as-cheap, and spendy. The elders settled on a combination of pieces that straddled the mid-range. I got to switch from trolling Goodwill, to a picking out a choice refurb from Backmarket (a great place to get used high-end hardware). The new Mac Pro is commonly called the “trash can” for its cylindrical design — Apple later admitted the look left them “designed into a corner” then basically abandoned the high end market for most of 7 years. Its from 2013, but was way over-powered for the time, and still outperforms most of the stuff you’d find at Best Buy today.

We switched from the commercial Windows software, vMix, to an open source package that runs native in macOS called OBS — a favorite of video game streamers and YouTube stars. It starts up in a fraction of the time, and handles virtually limitless inputs with ease. Switching to an HDMI camera with optical zoom, instead of the cheap USB webcam, allowed us to position the rig at the back of the sanctuary — instead of consuming the front half of the room — which made it significantly easier to connect to the sound board, and have an independent audio mix, which will improve both the in-house and online experience, once we tune it.

Ben helped me set everything up, and we even rigged up an iPad based remote control, so if needed, one person can run both the in-house video screen and the online stream.

This week, we’ll do some training on the new system, and probably work out a few kinks, then I’ll report back to the hospital for a follow-up surgery for a blood-clot related issue I’ve been dealing with all summer. Next Sunday, I hope to be worshiping from bed at home while recovering from this thing once-and-for-all!

One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear

One of the president’s more ridiculous statements in February — one that looked even stupider a few weeks later as we began locking down — has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Not, of course, because we’ve beat the coronavirus, but because as a nation we decided it wasn’t a thing any more. Unable to follow the pattern of other countries that have done a good job of managing the pandemic, Americans quickly decided the bigger threat was to their individual rights, and that anyone with the education or authority (elected or otherwise) to give them guidance during a pandemic was actually the enemy.

In the battle to protect their rights, the collateral damage comes in the form of over 100,000 of their neighbors who died as a direct, or indirect, result of the dangerous spread of Covid-19. So be it, we’ve decided: I’ll do what’s right for me, that’s what being an American means!

I have a whole other draft post of some of the astoundingly ridiculous parts of being in America right now, but I’ve decided those won’t help. While the country that voted for the border wall guy is effectively locked out of visiting most other countries (including our home country that has no interest in seeing more Americans right now) life actually does go on. And the reality we’re in is one we just have to live with. The US is uninterested in participating in global efforts to manage the virus, because no one tells Americans what to do — not other Americans, and especially not the World Health Organization. And so we have to figure out how to live with this virus as a daily reality. A reality that will continue at least until we have a vaccine, but maybe longer, since we don’t trust vaccines either

Of course, opinions on the actual risk fall fairly precisely on political lines. And since its an election year, all data made available to us is filtered through one of two lenses. If you’re on the left, the pandemic must be the worst thing that ever happened because Trump’s mismanagement of it should impact his re-election chances. If you’re on the right, the pandemic has to be overblown, because if it really was a problem, obviously Trump would be doing a better job. Now, go ahead and apply this logic to everything else going on:

Masks Pose a Risk to My Health

If you’re on the left, you wear a mask while you’re alone in your car, because the virus is everywhere and we should all live in fear.
If you’re on the right, you wear a sign like this around your neck, because masks are a form of government oppression.

If you’re on the left, the peaceful protests against systemic racism only turn violent when jack-booted storm troopers appear and start shooting gentle hippies that were singing Kumbaya before they got attacked.
If you’re on the right, Antifa terrorists were burning American cities to the ground before Trump’s heroic defenders of Christian values arrived to save the day.

But what if I told you that you could be anti-racist, without looting local businesses? Or that you could support your local police department, but still want bad cops to go to jail?
What if I told you that practicing basic precautions like wearing a mask, or being thoughtful about interactions with those around you that might be more vulnerable, would allow your society to resume with a reasonable degree of normalcy?

Well, I could tell you those things… but since they don’t align with one of the two available political positions, you probably wouldn’t listen. It is an election year, after all, and any information that doesn’t affirm your worldview is irrelevant. You can hardly blame Americans — its hard to remember a time where politicians didn’t use fear of the “other” to win elections.

It turns out, in talking to individuals from both sides of the Covid debate (because somehow reality is up for debate), one thing we can all agree on is that we’re not getting good information. I’ve been tracking stats for our county, and the neighboring, more populous county, all summer. The raw data is extremely limited — and all other information comes with a political spin. The CDC has failed — not because its not a rigorous scientific organization, but because it doesn’t know how to disseminate information to the American public. Opinion wins hearts because that’s all we’re offered on the news. Most people I’ve talked to, regardless of political viewpoint, are actually hungry for good data, and willing to talk reasonably about what little we have.

I find neither the leftist fear-based view of the pandemic, nor the right’s determination to pretend it isn’t real, to be satisfying. I’d much rather take a data-driven approach to evaluating risk — for myself, my family and my neighbors. And actually, most people I talk to individually are similarly reasonable. Its just that the political discourse in this country drives groups to extremes…

Here’s what I’m fairly confident in for our family, given the data we’ve collected recently:

First, it is possible to get home to Canada. Nic and the kids spent a little under three weeks there, and although it was challenging, there isn’t an actual border wall — just an abundance of caution. Canada requires two-full weeks of complete isolation for anyone entering the country, but allows travel for essential purposes — which includes “reuniting with family”. Because they would be staying in a camper on Nic’s parent’s property, and complete isolation would be challenging, we all self-isolated at home in the States for a week prior to their trip. We then planned a route home with emergency bathroom spots identified where they wouldn’t encounter other people (trails, parks and cemeteries with lots of trees). Fortunately the stops weren’t needed. The border crossing was facilitated by an App-based form they filled out before they left home, that identified where they would be isolating, how they would get groceries, and what numbers they could be contacted at by the government to confirm their conformity to the plan. The camper was spacious and modern, and they had access to the pool and the Internet during their quarantine.
I remained in the US as the “anchor” — and because we couldn’t risk being refused re-entry to the States and losing my job. On the way back they were “reuniting” with me, and had no issues.

Thank you to Nicole’s family for providing a comfortable quarantine spot!

Second, we live in a county where the risk is low. Although compliance with the mask mandate probably hovers around 50% (we have lots of those “don’t tread on me” Americans near us), the population is not dense, and there are few large gathering areas. Since data was made available in March, only 0.7% of the county has been impacted, and less than 50 people have died with Covid. Add to that the new information we’ve just gotten about co-morbidity (and factor in common co-morbidities, like obesity) and its less than 0.05% of our population that has died from this since it arrived. I update my spreadsheet daily, and its been 15 days since I had to update the “deaths” column — I’m sad when I do have to change that value, and I pray for those families, but the data-based reality is that 46 deaths since March is not much.

From my own spreadsheet, tracking cases in our county using raw data

That said, the next county over, which includes the city of Cleveland, has very different numbers. 4% of their (much larger) population has been impacted, there are about 140 news cases a day on average, and they’ve only recently started to get that under control. What this means to me, as someone who spends a lot of time trying to interpret data in my day job, is that risk varies — and therefore, so should precautions. We will, of course, practice reasonable precaution any time we’re outside our home. But we will increase those precautions if we have to go into the city. And for every destination between picking up groceries at the corner store and going to the city, there’s an appropriate scale of precaution that should be applied.

Cleveland area cases, from raw data

Unfortunately, with a polarized, politicized view of the pandemic, there’s little room for this sort of risk-based evaluation. Either you believe you have the right to sneeze in anyone’s face that you want, or you believe that people shouldn’t leave their home. And the truly unfortunate thing is that this has begun to split the Church. God’s people, who should be united in showing mercy, practicing justice, and walking with humility — those of us who are called to love self-sacrificially — are fighting about our rights and our fears.

I am much more concerned about the ability of the church to function lovingly in the world as a beacon of hope, than I am about seeing mega-church pastors fight for their rights to put 3000 people in a room. I am much more concerned with seeing God’s people united in the Great Commission, than I am about exactly how each congregation decides to apply the Biblical mandate to gather (which should be determined based on risk factors, as outlined above.) And while I’m happy that my kids can participate in hybrid schooling and outdoor youth group right now, I recognize that just one county over, things are different — and its not a political spin that should be dictating our reaction to events in the world; it should be Christ’s love, and where available, good data.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

– Micah 6:8

To act justly means that Black lives definitely matter, but that neither violence nor Marxism will fix the problems that need to be addressed.

To love mercy means that I should wear a mask: it is an act of mercy to others who may be at risk.

And to walk humbly with my God, means that my rights aren’t important — a servant heart, and a love for God and others, should rule my life. (It also means a recognition that my political candidate/party of choice might not actually speak for God…)

The Golden Thread

Somehow the math still works. Things may be a dumpster fire here, but the economic situation is strangely detached from reality: the US dollar still has $0.34 on the Canadian equivalent, real estate in Ohio remains significantly cheaper than any Toronto-area bedroom community, and my salary is almost impossible to find on the Ontario job market — and trust me, I’ve checked!

While Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down within US borders, and our home country shows no signs of being interested in having their unruly neighbors come over to visit, a few things have improved a little since my last post.

Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star: Canada-US border

First of all, there are signs of cognitive activity in the President: he called masks “patriotic” and admitted the virus is getting worse. I’m not sure if this is the result of polls showing that the other bigoted old white dude is real competition for November, or if this is just how long it takes for someone like Trump to learn anything new — but we welcome this rational thinking. Hopefully the red hats will follow his lead.

Second, my employer was able to file a correction to our entry stamps. Apparently its not a cheap legal maneuver, but they undertook it on our behalf. Our entry records now show the correct expiry in 2022 — aligned with my work Visa. The correction means we can travel home if/when we need to, and not worry about getting back. The virus related travel challenges remain, but at least 50% of the problem is solved.

We’re 40 this month, and this may prove to be one of the most unusual years of our lives. The debate rages on about a return to school in the fall, and I have a persistent, although minor, medical issue, that may require a follow-up surgery. We don’t really know what the rest of the year will look like, but we’re provided for, safe and mostly healthy, so we’re grateful — despite grumbling to the contrary.

A Tale of Two Countries

I remember the day we heard that Trump had been elected. I was at a trade show with my boss, and we met up that morning in the long hallway leading to the show floor. I said to him, “What has your country done?” and he just shook his head sadly.

Most of Trump’s presidency has had minimal impact on our family. Shortly after he announced his intent to terminate NAFTA, the agreement which provided my work Visa at the time, we finally (after 7 years) won the H1B lottery. This simplified crossing the border, and granted Nicole recognized personhood for the first time in the US — her immigration status still depends on mine, but she has some legal rights now. In the end, the changes to the NAFTA agreement were minor, but we felt safer with our improved status.

So it has been that we’ve been able to ride out the Presidency of a morally repugnant, but mostly politically innocuous, Donald Trump. Since we don’t belong to any minorities, his policies haven’t impacted us significantly. And some of what our Republican-voting friends were hoping for has actually come true — the Supreme Court has tipped toward Conservative leadership (not that it has done them much good), and the economy has performed reasonably well. He’s not a likable person, and some of his fan group is pretty reprehensible, but an argument could have been made that he served his base.

That is until Covid-19 hit. Beginning with denial, following-up with attacks on his own scientific advisers and State leaders, and continuing with threats to de-fund sources of research, Trump led his country into one of the worst possible outcomes. America is exceptional only in its horrifically poor handling of the pandemic. And while other nations are in careful recovery, the US is in resurgence in many densely populated areas.

From the US Embassy in Canada website – the strength of partnership

Its no surprise then, that our home country doesn’t want us back right now. The date of re-opening for the usually friendly border has been moved back at least twice, as Canada (and other parts of the world) watch in horror while our frequently inept State and federal governments scramble to spin the irrefutable, and currently unstoppable, facts of viral transmission in line with their political positions — as if an interpretation of the Constitution will somehow change the behavior of a virus — all while many Americans are indifferent to what’s happening.

But that’s not all. Trump has also put a hold on green cards and H1B stamps through to November, claiming that it will help protect American jobs. Since most H1B Visas (which make up a tiny percentage of the US population) are issued for tech workers, the tech community responded by pointing out the obvious: skilled work forces, regardless of origin, improve American output and create American jobs. But Trump benefits from less educated voters, so he’s not listening. (Not listening is apparently his default state.)

Can I nominate one of these dumb chickens to be the next President?

We are still lucky, though. Ohio’s Republican government has performed well during this pandemic, our mostly conservative community has generally behaved thoughtfully, and our county is fairly safe. I don’t always agree with the political signs I see on people’s lawns, but I haven’t observed any ignorance or hate — “love your neighbor” (or at least “live and let live”) seems to win around here most of the time. Plus, I have a job that allows me to work from home, and the kids have enough space to enjoy the warm weather — we even got chickens for them to raise this summer. So while we’re grateful, the one-two punch of Trump’s leadership in 2020 has a big impact on us…

Nicole and Eli’s Visa stamps expire in September. Normally this isn’t a big deal — when this happens, we take a trip home to Canada, show our work authorization paperwork on the way back to the States, and get a new stamp. But stamps aren’t being issued until at least November (who knows what happens if Trump gets re-elected), and non-essential travel is restricted until July 21. If the border re-opens as planned, that gives us a window of one month to visit home, of which we’ll likely spend two weeks under a mandatory isolation order. If they delay the re-opening by another month (which is likely), that gives us a window of 10 days to visit home, of which 14 will likely be under an isolation order. That’s negative 4 days to visit family and friends…

Biden has said he would lift the Visa holds if he’s elected in November. If that was the only reason to root for his election, I’d feel selfish. But there’s basically unlimited reasons to hope we never have to see Trump in the Oval Office again. He’s turned this great country that we love into an international embarrassment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only hope that our American friends have had enough of this strange timeline, and will vote for the other bigoted old white dude

Why you shouldn’t buy a Mac in 2020…or maybe ever again.

Sad Mac iconThis week Apple surprised no one by announcing they were beginning their transition to “Apple silicon” in their Mac computer line-up. If you don’t know what that means, its sufficient to understand that they are moving from Intel-based computers, to a processor and related architecture of “their own” design.

I put quotes around “their own” because, despite their announcement, everyone knows that “Apple silicon” is derived from the ARM processor — a family of chips most often used in phones and other mobile devices. ARM has been around a long time, and Apple invested in the company back during the Newton era. Intel has obviously been around even longer, but Apple’s use of Intel chips is the stuff of relatively recent history.

This marks the 4th processor migration for Apple, from the Motorola 6502-based Apple I and Apple II computers, to the Motorola 68000 family in the early Macintosh line-up, to the Motorola (and IBM) PowerPC of 1990s processor-war infamy. With each generation, Apple struggled to position themselves against the WinTel (Windows + Intel) hegemony. It wasn’t until 2006, when they transitioned to Intel, that Apple finally found their footing.

Since Steve Jobs’ hostile take-over of the Macintosh project in the early 80s, Apple’s philosophy on computing has been fairly “closed.” Jobs envisioned the computer as an appliance for average people, not a tinker toy for nerds. In the original Mac, this meant unusual screws and an absence of hardware expansion slots. On the iPhone, it meant a “walled garden” where only Apple-approved apps on the Apple-hosted App Store could be installed (unless you were willing to do some serious hacking.)

It took a long time to prove this philosophy out — it was almost a full generation before non-nerds were doing most of the computer shopping. But in many ways it paid off. Macs have a reputation of being stable, reliable machines, and iPhones are the mobile device most people want to own. iOS really represents the logical outcome of Apple’s trend toward locking things down: its an operating system that users aren’t supposed to know anything about, on hardware that customers aren’t supposed to be able to open.

On the Mac, though, there’s always been another layer: under the simple, friendly veneer of the user interface is a powerful Unix shell. And under the sleek case is fairly standard, commodity hardware. The implications of this for the Mac is that despite Apple’s attempts to end their life prematurely, people with a little know-how can keep their Macs running for years. Unlike phones, where people feel compelled (either by fashion trends, or security concerns) to buy a new one every couple of years (don’t do it!), an Intel Mac can last a decade or more as a useful, performant machine. Obviously this is a problem for a company that primarily sells hardware…

Case in point: this is being written on a 12 year old Mac that Apple tried to stop updating in 2016.

Apple zealots will tell you that the move to ARM will let Apple build smaller, faster machines with better battery life. They’re not wrong — ARM rocks for mobility. What they won’t admit is that the move away from commodity hardware will let Apple control the lifecycle of these new computers the same way they intentionally keep the lifecycle of their phones shorter than necessary:

  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, upgrades made for Windows PCs mostly “just work” in a Mac
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, many parts can be sourced from other manufacturers to provide for repairs that Apple will no longer supply
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, users can boot Windows (or Linux) to run software that isn’t compatible with “older” Macs
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, the developer community can create patches to circumvent artificial end-of-life moves from Apple designed to keep you from upgrading to the newest MacOS

It remains to be seen whether the heroic hackers of the world will be able to bring these benefits to new ARM-based Macs, but if Apple’s plan is to make Macs more like iPhones (which it evidently is), you can bet they won’t help us.

The move from PowerPC to Intel was a painful one for the Mac community. Software we owned stopped working, or had to be run through short-lived and poorly performing compatibility tools. Then there was the swallowing of our pride as we collectively had to admit that Intel really did outperform the G4s and G5s we were so proud of. But ultimately, the benefits for consumers outweighed the costs: it was the right move. Arguably, the move to ARM is significantly less urgent — granted, Intel’s track record over the past few years hasn’t been great, but they’re still putting out decent performance at a reasonable price point. Besides, the average Mac user doesn’t care what kind of silicon they’re running on — and they shouldn’t need to. But they should care if a company is deliberately steering them toward a platform of aggressive planned obsolescence and a treadmill of re-buying things they don’t really need.

I’ve put more than two dozen used Intel iMacs and MacBooks back into service for churches, students, teachers and missionaries — all well past the date Apple would like them to be running, and all stable, reliable and with half of them running Windows 10 at least part of the time. They’re really great machines, and I mourn the end of this era. Maybe Apple’s new products will be better than I think; I’m sure they’ll be sexy pieces of hardware. I just hope they don’t become sexy pieces of garbage in a couple years…