The Upgrade Urge—Apple’s October Event

I’m really not in a position to be buying new technology now.* I’m in the middle of a job hunt and I ought to be saving every penny while the employment market remains a fickle, teasing wretch. Why, then, did Apple run an event yesterday designed to remind me that my existing array of gadgetry is but a dusty heap of aluminium and silicon, no more than one careless step from the technological grave?

Yes, all of Apple’s announcement events are supposed to do this. But this one was personal. They specifically announced updates to (almost) every Apple product that I own, and if I find out that Tim Cook did this just to annoy me, I’m going to be … well, I’m going to be impressed. Impressed, but also annoyed.

I wish I was exaggerating. My mostly superannuated selection of Apple technology consists of my elderly Mac Mini, my much-used MacBook Air, and my relatively youthful iPad Pro (which, with accompanying Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard case, has taken on many laptop-style duties over the past year). Everything mentioned in the last sentence saw an update at Apple’s October 30th event, and none of those updates were small ones.

Mac Mini

The oldest of my Macs is my Mac Mini, which has been sitting beside my TV since 2010. It’s done solid service over the years, and I’ve kept it youthful by feeding it as much RAM as it will take and performing some mild surgery to replace its hard drive guts with a solid-state alternative. Yet it’s been slow and clunky for some time now, its major services taken over by an Apple TV (along with my iPhone, the one Apple item I use so much that I often forget it exists), with only the lack of a viable upgrade from Apple keeping me from considering a replacement.

Well, yesterday Apple answered the prayers of us Mac Mini devotees and delivered unto us a new machine, sleek in its smallness, patterned in gunmetal grey, and pulsing with barely contained potency. In other words, it’s been so long since the Mac Mini had an upgrade that Apple was able to claim that the new one is five times faster than its predecessor. Which was a good bit faster than my much older version, so this one would blow the doors clean off if I were to opt for it.

Which I won’t. Not yet anyway. Not because I don’t want to—it’s a desirable little chunk of metal and silicon—nor because I can’t afford to—I can, I just know I shouldn’t—but because, as mentioned above, most of its main duties have now been shifted onto the much more suitable (and cheaper) shoulders of the Apple TV. While not a perfect machine in and of itself, the Apple TV is designed to work through a television and does so nicely. To the point where I’ve ditched cable TV in favour of broadband services. In the meantime, my Mac Mini remains as it is, quietly acting as a media server. It’s happy, I’m happy, and one day we shall part, but that is not this day.

I’m sure the new Mac Mini will sell well anyhow. Just not to me right now.

MacBook Air

My MacBook Air is a little younger than my Mac Mini, being of 2012 vintage. For all that, it’s still running well and speedily, courtesy of having an SSD from the start. I don’t ask too much of it these days, as the battery has long since left behind the days of offering multiple hours’ service, but when I just need to type something, it’s the go-to machine. It’s also survived an unfortunate encounter with a glass of breakfast orange juice, courtesy of a replacement keyboard and some repair guides from iFixit.com—living to suffer another day.

The MacBook Air has seen more regular updates than the Mac Mini, but in comparison to the Retina screen-enabled rest of the Mac laptop lineup, it’s been something of a red-headed stepchild for a while. Minor processor tweaks have bumped up its speed, but the budget Mac laptop was looking a little dated and cheap before yesterday. Now, though, it has been given the Retina screen users have been crying out for, as well as substantial processor and graphics speed bumps and the new butterfly keyboard that Apple is much enamoured of (though its users are more ambivalent). Available in multiple colour options and with a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, the MacBook Air finally feels like a modern laptop again.

Not that I’ll be upgrading though. For a start, all the upgrades have seen its price jump to €1,379 for the base model. Less than the ultralight MacBook or the MacBook Pro but no small beans. The price may well come down in time, but for the moment it’s not really a budget option. Second, my iPad Pro has usurped most of my MacBook Air’s functions in daily life. And that’s what I’ll get to below.

iPad Pro

Having saved up my pennies, I splashed out on an iPad Pro just over a year ago. This was very deliberately meant to be a laptop replacement—I added a Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil to the purchase, and I made sure the device itself had plenty of storage onboard. In the year since, I’ve been more than happy with it. It’s light enough to tote anywhere, powerful enough to handle anything I care to throw at it, has a good enough battery to last for days at a time, and is a serviceable enough typing machine for me to write a NaNoWriMo novel on it last year. All in all, I like it a lot.

This love wasn’t ended by Apple’s announcement of a new iPad Pro yesterday, but maybe it was dented a bit. The new machine is both an upgrade and a refinement: faster and better looking, with the physical Home/Touch ID button removed in favour of a Face ID camera system. The gadget ecosystem has been upgraded too, with a new Smart Keyboard case that provides a better typing experience and better protection and a new Apple Pencil that locks magnetically to the iPad for safekeeping and charging. As is not unusual for an Apple upgrade, everything just feels a little better, a little fresher.

And I won’t be buying one. Of course I won’t—my iPad Pro is only a year old. I’m not crazy! Much though I may envy the improved gubbins that my newly aged device will never provide me with, it does everything I need to it to with aplomb, and nothing other than an excess of cash and a sudden break with reality could persuade me to spend that much on such (ultimately) minor improvements.

Technological envy is a real thing, but patience works as an antidote. The tech you’ve got will serve you well, and the longer you wait, the better the reward when you finally do decide to splash out. Whether it’s for one, six, or eight years, the upgrade urge can be resisted, no matter how well Apple targets its events at you.


*This hasn’t stopped me. I broke open my piggy bank** to add an Apple Watch to my Apple menagerie just three days ago. A review will be forthcoming once I’ve been using it for a while.

**Actually a real thing, but also actually a cow bank. It was a present from a friend. Don’t judge me.

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Election Relief

Last night, I was worried. Yesterday we had another public vote here in Ireland, and with reports of low turnout, the result seemed to be more in doubt than it had been just a few days before. Things haven’t gone as badly as I feared, but there’s still worth to seeing how it came to this.

There’ve been quite a few public votes in recent years, between referenda and actual elections, and they’ve attracted attention beyond our own borders, for good reason. This time, we had both an election and a referendum—the former to choose a president for the next seven years and the latter to decide whether to remove a requirement to legislate for blasphemy from the Irish Constitution. At the moment, final results are being tabulated, but it seems that worries I had late last night about the outcome won’t bear fruit.

The less interesting vote was the referendum on removing the reference to blasphemy from the constitution. The reference was widely seen as an anachronism, but unlike earlier referenda on gay marriage and abortion, this one didn’t inspire much in the way of vitriol on either side, apart from some of the usual figures opposing the change. Right now it looks like the 37th Amendment to the constitution will be passed with support from all age groups. Instead, all the controversy in the final days of campaigning revolved around the presidential election.

At stake in the presidential election was whether or not current President Michael D. Higgins would be returned for a second seven-year term. Higgins had campaigned in his first election on serving only a single term, but he’s proven a popular and even well-loved incumbent, and despite his age he’s in tune with the progressive mood that’s seen Ireland tackle some of the darker elements of its past and return those referendum victories in recent years. As such, it was possible that he would stand unopposed, as has happened with the Irish presidency several times in the past.

That this didn’t happen was mostly down to Sinn Fein. By promising to put their own candidate in the race (something no other political party did), they ensured that there would be a race. In this, they were continuing Sinn Fein’s efforts to whitewash the party’s public image, to the point where it might be seen as a valid party of government in the future. That this gambit seems to have been less successful than they hoped was partly down to their own candidate, Liadh Ní Riada, who struck a condescendingly aristocratic figure in the debates, and partly down to the candidates who followed in their wake.

With the major parties unwilling to challenge a popular incumbent, there were no popular or experienced candidates in the field. Instead, Higgins’s challengers came from the political fringes or from reality TV, specifically the show Dragons’ Den. Rounding out the field in addition to Higgins and Ní Riada were Senator Joan Freeman and businessmen Gavin Duffy, Sean Gallagher, and Peter Casey. For most of the campaign, the challengers lagged far behind Higgins in the poll. Then the election took its reality-show businessmen trend a bit further down the Trump line.

Peter Casey, largely undistinguishable from his Dragons’ Den cohorts, decided to bolster his campaign with some anti-Traveller bigotry. The Travelling community in Ireland, both north and south, has long been an easy target for this kind of political grandstanding, and Casey threw in some welfare-dependency jibes for good measure. There’s always an audience for such rhetoric among those willing to blame the less fortunate for their troubles, and Casey enjoyed a predictable boost in his polling numbers amid the controversy, as he at first seemed to consider withdrawing, then doubled down on his rhetoric.

While I’ve been writing this, the final results have come through. Higgins has indeed won a second term with 55.8 percent of first preference votes, with Casey taking 23 percent and no other candidate reaching 7 percent. Plenty of people (again, the usual candidates) have been rushing to put Casey in a Trump-like position, arguing that he only said truths that the “establishment” would prefer to suppress and that the media conspired against him. Which is a little rich given that Casey’s surge relied purely on his willingness to play the media game, ginning up controversy to get support from the permanently dyspeptic.

That 23 percent figure, you see, is something that’s been visible in politics and culture for a long time. I first noticed it during the presidency of George W. Bush. No matter how incompetent or hateful a regime, if they pay at least lip service to the grievances and bigotries of their supporters they’ll rarely dip below 20 percent approval ratings. Stirring up hate and resentment works as a strategy.

Which is why I was worried last night when I heard that turnout for the election was low. After all, getting voters inspired to vote is how Ireland has seen referendum-driven change in the past few years. With Higgins seen as a certainty and few people inspired by the blasphemy referendum, only Casey voters were genuinely driven—even if only by their own personal hatreds and the promise of a candidate who seemed to reflect them.

That inspiration served to take Casey only to 23 percent, but he may well spend the next few years trying to spin it into a political role. Certainly others will be pushing him to do so now. For the rest of us, who heard his rhetoric and looked to recent events in the UK and the US with a shiver, it serves as a warning. There’s been a lot of positivity in recent years, as the Irish, especially the young, have been reminded that elections actually do matter. However, taking success for granted is only a positive form of apathy to replace the more cynical apathy that existed beforehand.

Ireland isn’t immune from the ravages of Trumpian or Brexit-like campaigns. We have advantages of size and culture (the lack of any pretensions of power) that make such campaigns harder to get started, but as Casey’s antics show, there’s always an audience for them. The only answer is engagement, staying active, and speaking out. Let’s hope this proves to be a blip rather than the beginning of a trend.

Moments of Clarity

Autumn is my favourite season. I may be a little biased because I was born in September, but still. There’s a clarity you only get in autumn, when it’s too cool for a heat haze but the sun is still strong enough to burn away the mist and fog. On days like that, you can see all the way to the horizon in perfect clarity, every outline sharply delineated.

This blog has, after around seven years of life, undergone a bit of a facelift. Part of that is the new title. When I first created it, the intent was to document some travels I was planning and provide a replacement for the LiveJournal site I’d been using for years. (The archives of that site are available through the link above.) Given that the LiveJournal site had been a collection of random thoughts, the process for creating a title mostly consisted of coming up with some vaguely pretentious and throwing it up there. “The Limits of Human Imagination” was vaguely pretentious enough for my purposes, and it’s served in a mediocre fashion ever since.

So why the new title? “The Clarity of Now” seems just as vague and pretentious, right? Well, there’s a little more thought behind it this time. This past twelve months have seen as much upheaval as I’ve had to deal with since, well, the year that saw me set up this blog in the first place. In fact, a lot of the events of that time have echoed in the past year. The main difference is that I’m not the person now that I was then. I have – I hope – more insight into myself. More clarity, if you will.

The Clarity of the Now, then. Why? Because I’ve come to understand that now is the only thing we can have clarity about. The future is always unformed, and all the worrying and obsessing that we might do about it won’t change that a bit. The past might seem more solid, but try to recreate that past and you’ll find that memories aren’t to be trusted. We’re prone to obsessing about past mistakes and regrets just as much as the future and to as little purpose. The past is fixed and gone, providing lessons to learn from, and the future remains unborn in the now that we have and that we create moment by moment.

You may have noticed that it’s not just the titles of my blogs that tend towards pretension. That’s okay. This is a statement of purpose going forward, so I’ll allow myself a little bit of pretension this once.

I’ll still keep writing about my travels, whenever they happen. And when I have time, I’ll add more detailed diaries of those travels under the travels tab above. (Including the long-delayed addition of my Greek odyssey.) I do have some new travels planned, for all the craziness of this last year.

I’ll get back to writing reviews too, as my cultural consumption gets back on track. Thinking about how I react to what I watch, read, and play is something I enjoy doing, and it’s good to have an outlet for that. Plus, whoever reads this might get pointed in the direction of something they’ll enjoy, which would be a bonus.

The main thing though is to start doing something that I’ve wanted to do for a while: talk about the world as it is and what might be done about it. About politics, society, the environment. I’ve made multiple abortive attempts at this already, only to pause and reconsider, daunted by the scale of the subject. Well, I’m going to try again, and this time I’ll stick with it. A single person may only be able to make a small difference, but there are so many people making an effort already, and it’s the pebbles that make the avalanche. I’ve done little pieces here and there, but this pebble is tired of being stationary.

So that’s the reasoning behind the revamp. The acceptance that the only clarity there is is now. These are serious times, but there’s light to be found, and we can see all the way to the horizon, even at sunset.