Archives For Opinion

Woods

No surprise, I’m depressed by the election result and think it portends terrible things for our country. There’s work to be done, art to be made, and a million tiny positive things we can do that will add up to repel darkness and hatred.

“But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. … [I]f you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done.”

—Barack Obama

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StrongerTogether

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While Apple was introducing the new 2016 MacBook Pro during its recent media event, I was ready to place my order. My workhorse 2010 MacBook Pro, which I’ve Frankenstein’d in various ways to eke out more life, is now enough behind the curve that it’s time for an upgrade. (It’ll make a great Mac for my daughter to use.)

Apple’s events build in a predictable manner: introduce the new product, play a video about it, go over the technical details and new features, play another video about it (often with plenty of design and engineering photography to make one salivate), and then, finally, reveal the specifications, price, and availability. The floating breakdowns in the MacBook Pro design video are stunning:

But like a lot of people, I didn’t order one right away. The 16 GB RAM limit was the first thing to make me pause; my current machine is maxed out at 8 GB and I often hit that ceiling when I’m editing photos and running many applications in the background. We’ve since learned that the limit is due to a Intel’s memory chips to maintain acceptable battery life using the available processors.

Also, these new models are expensive. Macs have often cost more (although just as often they shake out pretty even or better when you configure competitors’ low-priced computers evenly), but these are definitely a few hundred dollars more than previous models. I realized that I could buy an existing 27-inch 5K iMac (announced last year) and a new base 13-inch MacBook for roughly the same price. That initiated a lot of internal analysis.

And I still bought one. As I was deliberating, I wrote up the following list of reasons this MacBook Pro, at this time, is the new computer for me. Let me reinforce that this is my situation; I’m not trying to be universal or tell you what to buy. But I thought that posting my thought process might help other people who are also weighing many of the same questions.

If I’d gone through these mental exercises in the hours after the machines were announced, I’d be getting one two weeks earlier. Ah well. Now I’m looking at the first week of December.

Why I’m Buying One

Here we go (generally in no particular order):

  1. At the top of my list, and certainly one of the most important factors, is that I spend all of my professional time on my Mac. It’s not like the machine won’t get used.
  2. My 2010 MacBook Pro has served me well, but it’s old. It doesn’t have modern technologies like Handoff, a Retina display, USB 3, or Thunderbolt of any variety. In fact, even though I’ve written about all of these things, none of the machines I own include them. (For things like Handoff I’ve had to borrow machines or have used review units that go back to Apple.) For the record, in addition to my workhorse MacBook Pro, I also own an Early 2009 Mac mini and a Mid 2011 Mac mini, both of which are used as internal servers and test machines.
  3. I often do client work that requires me to use applications such as Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom, etc., where more horsepower and a better screen will be assets. Making the jump from my existing MacBook Pro to one with modern internal hardware will hopefully be quite a shift.
  4. The new MacBook Pro runs macOS. I know, obvious, but I have no desire to switch to Windows. I’m not knocking people who use Windows (and I do, too, in emulation), but it’s not the everyday OS for me. Too often critics fail to take this into account when they’re obsessing over specs. Sure, go get a laptop with better specs and a lower price point, and have fun when ads start popping up everywhere.
  5. While it’s true that I spend much of my time in my home office, I’m a mobile worker. I sometimes work in coffee shops or on my couch. Although a 27-inch iMac 5K is sorely tempting, it means I can’t do much of my work if I’m not sitting in front of it. If I was solely writing about general topics, I could envision using an iPad Pro as my carry-around computer. (Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six months pondering this.) However, I already carry a 9.7-inch iPad, and although the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a great device, it’s too big for me on an everyday basis.
  6. I upgraded to the 1 TB storage option (an extra $400) because I currently have two 512 GB SSDs in my Frankenstein’d MacBook Pro, and use most of it. (I wrote about replacing the optical drive with an SSD at TidBITS.) I believe I could get down to 512 GB with a lot of work, but I’m concerned about having enough overhead to handle scratch files and such for media that I work on. The storage in modern MacBook Pros isn’t upgradeable in the future. Also, the storage is fast—speedier than most standalone SSDs.
  7. Similarly, I paid $100 more to double the memory in the graphics card, from 2 GB to 4 GB. That’s because many apps now take advantage of graphics processing to speed up operations (like image and media apps), but also because I want this machine to last longer. It’s not lost on me that I continue to use my MacBook Pro after 6 years of daily work.
  8. I look forward to Thunderbolt 3 and getting an external RAID that can store my photos and media library. Right now I have about 2.1 TB of data stored on an old Drobo that is just glacial over FireWire 800. It’s painful. That said, I’m holding off on that until Thunderbolt 3 is more widespread. In the meantime, I ordered a USB 3.0-only G-Technology drive to replace the Drobo in the short term. (More on external purchases below.)
  9. Space Gray. Space. Gray.
  10. I could save some money by buying a 13-inch model, but it feels cramped to me. I’ve used a 13-inch MacBook Pro provided by a client this year, and it’s fine, but especially when I’m working on photos, the 15-inch model is better. Also, the 15-inch model uses full Thunderbolt 3 connections on each of its four ports; the 13-inch offers limited connection on two of the four ports.
  11. The Touch Bar is definitely interesting, but it’s not a deciding factor. It will probably get limited use on my desk at home, because I connect to an external monitor and use the MacBook Pro’s display as a second screen. I am, however, eager to see how non-power-users will react to the Touch Bar. I’ve spent my career encouraging people to use keyboard shortcuts, and yet I think that most people don’t bother with them. Having logical options appear as a button on the keyboard—without having to junk up the interface on the screen—could be great for discoverability.
  12. Related to above: I’d love to get a new 5K monitor that would work with the MacBook Pro, but I’m not made of money. The LG announced at the event seems good—and Apple even reduced the price to $974 through the end of the year!—but we’ll have to see more specifics. I may get The Wirecutter’s pick for a 4K 27-inch display, but for now I’ll stick with what I have. It’s not great, but it’s paid for.
  13. Battery life! Right now my 2010 MacBook Pro is lucky to get about an hour’s worth of battery time before it needs to be plugged in. I could have had the battery replaced at some point, but I knew that a new machine was coming up soon and it didn’t seem worth the expense. FruitJuice tells me that it’s at 56% of capacity, having clocked 1198 out of 1000 recharge cycles (Apple’s estimate for battery life). Apple is advertising the new MacBook Pro as getting 10 hours of battery life on a charge, which sounds luxurious! In fact, lost in the moans about Apple abandoning the MagSafe connector is the idea behind that, having so much battery life, you won’t be plugged into power if you’re out and about. I won’t need to. I’ll still keep the included power adapter in my bag, but hopefully I won’t need to take it out often.
  14. The wide color gamut screen.
  15. Thin and light. I agree with the arguments that Apple’s obsession with making every product thinner and lighter is getting to be overkill. Why not make it the same size and add a bigger battery? But I can also say that I do like thin and light. My MacBook Pro, itself thinner and lighter than some laptops I’ve carried in the past, is still kinda bulky and heavy in my bag. And even though this machine is old, I swear to you that every day when I pick it up, I enjoy—real tactile enjoyment—that its unibody construction is so solid. When I buy a new piece of technology, I want to feel like I’m embracing the future. And whether that’s an iPhone 7 or MacBook Pro, Apple design delivers.

Pricing

I ordered the top-end MacBook Pro configuration, which includes a 2.7 GHz quad-core i7 processor and 16 GB of memory. I opted to not increase the processor to 2.9 GHz for $200.

I upgraded the storage from 512 GB to 1 TB for $400. Although 2 TB sounds lovely, and perhaps in six years I’ll regret it, another $1,200 felt too steep for me.

I spent $100 to increase the graphics card to the Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB memory.

I did spend the $349 for AppleCare+. In my decades of owning Apple laptops, it’s been helpful every time. Even if it hurts to pay that upfront (and double injury when you see that first “Your order has shipped!” notice, and realize it’s just for the box with the AppleCare information).

Grand total, with estimated tax (and free shipping! Damn right they should include free shipping) was $3,998.20.

Yeah. Ouch. I know.

So, before I pulled the trigger on the order, I went back and calculated how much I’ve spent on my 2010 MacBook Pro over the years. Including AppleCare, tax, a RAM upgrade (to 8 GB), and SSDs, I spent $3,785.

So, the new machine costs more, and it’s more all at once instead of parceled over several years, but it’s not terribly more expensive.

However, that’s not the end. I also need accessories to bring everything up to modern standards. Of course, nothing I own has USB-C, so that meant ordering dongles and adapters. But to my surprise, that wasn’t as bad as I feared: an extra $400. Here’s how it broke down. (These all include affiliate links; if you order them from here I get a small percentage of the sale to help me pay it all off.)

  • Kanex USB-C to DVI Adapter 8.25 Inches (21 cm)-White: $17.82. My external monitor, an NEC MultiSync P221W, only has a DVI connector, so I need this.

  • CalDigit USB-C Docking Station: $149.99. Right now I plug everything individually into their ports on my MacBook Pro. With Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, I look forward to having most everything plug into this dock: Ethernet, USB (for a ScanSnap scanner, headset, iPhone and iPad occasionally, speakers, etc.). Not known offhand is whether I can connect an external hard disk toaster to this via USB 3.0 for duplicates I make to internal drives. I think so, but we’ll have to see.

  • G-Technology G-DRIVE USB 3.0 4TB External Hard Drive: $179.95. This is the drive that will replace my FireWire 800-based Drobo (which will go to one of the Mac minis). USB 3.0 is fast enough for what I do most of the time, and this is an affordable stopgap until I switch to Thunderbolt 3 down the line.

  • Anker PowerLine USB-C to USB 3.0 Cable: $6.99. This cable will connect the G-Drive to the MacBook Pro directly via USB 3. Oops—this has the wrong connector for the G-Drive. Let this be a lesson, kids: don’t shop for USB-C accessories really late at night!

  • Cable Matters USB 3.1 Type C (USB-C) to Type B (USB-B) Cable: $8.99. Here’s the cable to use with the G-Drive, with a USB-B connector.

  • AUKEY USB C to USB 3.0 Adapter (2 Pack): $7.99. Adapters for existing USB cables. I figure it’s good to have a couple in my bag for when I’m out and about. If I need to charge my iPhone 7 via the MacBook Pro, I can do it using one of these and my existing Lightning to USB cable; I don’t need to buy a dedicated Lightning to USB-C cable.

  • SanDisk Extreme Pro SD UHS-II Card USB-C Reader, $29. One thing I will miss on the MacBook Pro is a dedicated SD card slot. There are other, less-expensive card readers that plug into USB-C, but I went with this one so I can test faster transfer speeds in the future.

To be sure, this is a lot of money, especially all in one chunk. But my alternatives were to look into an iMac plus some mobile option (maybe even a basic MacBook), in which case I’d be chained to my office desk for some tasks; or wait a year and see if the next MacBook Pro models are better or cheaper. They’ll most certainly be better in some ways, but a year longer with my current machine isn’t a good option.

I hope this breakdown has been helpful to you, or at least mildly entertaining!

If you like the work I do, please consider signing up for my low-volume newsletter that I use to announce new projects, items, and giveaways that I think my readers would be interested in.

Independence Day

July 4, 2016 — Leave a comment

Happy Fourth, my friends! This year’s Independence Day seems to carry more weight, largely because it’s an election year (make sure you vote! It’s important), but also because I’ve spent the last eight months being captivated by Hamilton, the Musical and, in turn, the stories of the people who founded the United States. I’m still reading the Chernow biography of Hamilton and am frequently amazed at the parallels between what we see today in politics and leadership and what was happening at the birth of our country.

Have a safe and happy celebration, wherever you are.

(Photo from July 4, 2015 in Seattle.)

The Wall Street Journal estimates 12 million watches were sold in its first year, compared to 6 million iPhone sales in its first year. That sounds pretty successful, but what does it mean for the next couple of years? (For the record, I think 12 million is a pretty good indicator that the watch isn’t a “flop,” which is the current sentiment in most media.)

Macworld has just published an opinion piece I wrote, arguing that a better comparison is the iPad, not the iPhone, when looking at longer-term performance. Read it here: Look to the iPad for Apple Watch comparisons.

If you like the work I do, please consider signing up for my low-volume newsletter that I use to announce new projects, items, and giveaways that I think my readers would be interested in.

The day after Apple introduced the iPad Pro, Mason Marsh and I chatted about what it means for photographers. What does it add to the game? Is Apple trying to make a Surface? Mason wrote up our conversation in an article at Photofocus: Apple’s New iPad Pro – Laptop Killer or Just a Bigger iPad?

How Pro is the iPad Pro?

September 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

In my latest column for The Seattle Times, I speculate just how “pro” the upcoming iPad Pro will be. The hardware looks impressive, but will superior hardware be constrained by an operating system designed for consumers? Part of the issue is that loaded term “pro,” which means different things for different people.

I’m looking forward to trying the iPad Pro, but I can see areas where software needs to catch up.

Read the column here: How pro is the Apple iPad Pro?

Sunflowers

As a writer, I’m always trying to avoid clichés, so naturally that applies to my photography, too. That thought was on my mind when I visited the Ballard Sunday Market near my home in Seattle. It had been too long since I’d wandered down to the market, and so my wife and I dragged our non-caffeinated selves out of the house and into the sunny morning.

(Click any photo to view it larger.)

After grabbing breakfast crèpes at one stand and much needed coffees from the Convoy Coffee cart, my brain was in a better place to start making photos. And that’s when my inner editor spoke up: “An open market? Could I get any more urban cliché than that?”

That voice is a real pain in the ass. Yes, a market can be a visual cliché. But a Sunday market is also filled with color, and variety, and interesting morning light. Those are all things that are great to put in front of a camera lens.

Baskets of Garlic Succulents

I also reminded myself that I wasn’t on assignment, or even shooting photos for any specific project. I deliberately chose to spend a lazy summer morning at the market, sampling food, talking with the woman I love, and experiencing life. I gave myself permission to take photos that appealed to me, and if none of them turned out well, that was okay.

Peppers and Tomatoes

I ended up leaving the market with a bouquet of sunflowers, a bottle of hard cider, half a dozen freshly made mini donuts, and a few photos I like.

Peppers, Ballard Sunday Market

Cal hammock

When I saw the headline that Apple Watch sales were “down 90% from launch,” I assumed it was a poorly-researched attempt to grab attention. And guess what: it is. (Eye roll. I’m also not going to encourage their traffic with a link.)

First, Apple hasn’t released any numbers for the Watch, at all. And if Apple doesn’t release numbers, they don’t share that info with anyone—especially a company you’ve never heard of. So at best this is a guess.

Second, all sales numbers go down after a big splashy launch, particularly for a product with a lot of pent-up demand.

I like my Apple Watch, I’ve written a lot about it (including a new book, Apple Watch: A Take Control Crash Course), but I don’t expect the watch to be as big as the iPhone or iPad. The Watch is brand new, and a lot of people are waiting to see how it will shape up before they commit to buying one.

When analysts (headline-grabbers) try to spin it as some great failure, you know they’re blowing smoke out of certain orifices and calling it wisdom.

The Macalope at Macworld and Rene Ritchie at iMore explain specifically why this report is a crock.

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Crumble & Flake Assortment

I’m saying it now: no visit to Seattle is complete without going to Crumble & Flake.

This isn’t a new sentiment, but today seals it for me. My daughter and I have been talking about making a trip to Capitol Hill to get some of the brilliant pastries for weeks, and today was a good opportunity to actually do it.

I’ve known Crumble & Flake’s owner, Neil Robertson, for years—since he was one of the foremost practitioners of interactive Web design. At some point Neil decided to pursue his dream of being a pastry chef, went to culinary school, returned to Seattle, worked in a few very good restaurants, and then decided to start his own patisserie. (That’s quite a concise overview of an interesting career path.)

While he was putting it together, he told me about which signature item he’d chosen: the Kouign Amann (pronounced “kween a-mon”). It’s amazing. From the Crumble & Flake Web site: “A specialty of the Brittany region of France, these golden rounds are similar to croissants, but made with salted butter, rolled in sugar, and baked until the outside caramelizes and turns crunchy.” (The photo above includes three of them at the bottom middle, with a chocolate-filled one to their left.)

Today, my daughter and I wanted to buy one of everything, and we did a pretty good job of coming close. (Oh, who am I kidding. We bought samples of only about half of the offerings.) We brought them home to my wife, and then the three of us devoured everything.

A word of warning: get there early. When it first opened, Crumble & Flake would run out of inventory within an hour and a half. I wasn’t able to sample the croissants or the Kouign Amann my first two visits because they were already sold out. The rush has slowed to a respectable pace now. Since today is the start of Daylight Saving Time, the shop wasn’t yet crowded when we arrived shortly after it opened at 9 a.m.

For reference, the items in the photo above are (clockwise from the top): a cinnamon roll, a raspberry chewieo, a coconut-filled cream puff (filled when you order them), an apricot-earl grey macaron, a passionfruit macaron, a chocolate-filled cream puff, three Kouign Amann, a chocolate Kouign Amann, a croissant, and, in the middle, a canelé. The latter looks like chocolate, but it’s not; from the Web site:

A unique pastry from the Bordeaux region of France, these are made from an eggy batter flavored with vanilla and rum. Baked in special little molds for a long time until the outside becomes a dark, mahogany brown and crunchy, while the inside stays moist and custardy.

Seriously, it’s all fantastic and you must go.

And bring me with you.

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