Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Downsizing on screen real-estate

For the longest time, I’ve only edited photographs on large screens, and by large screens, I mean monitors above 24 inches. It just seemed natural, you know? To have the largest canvas possible, so I can see more of the image in detail, like an architect and his drafting table. Besides, with modern cameras capable of outputting super high resolutions (my trusty Sony A7R2 does 42 megapixels), a screen of commensurate size seems almost prerequisite.

Naturally, I never quite understood how some photographers are able to do editing work solely on their laptops. Isn’t it all a bit cramped? You’d have to hide all the ancillary controls just to get the image to appear large enough, and at the proper 1:1 view, it’s way too zoomed in because the screen simply don’t have enough resolution to show more. I’ve owned many laptops of varying sizes, and as much as possible I avoided editing pictures on them, and instead waited until I get home in front of the 30-inch monitor, or what was the 27-inch iMac.

Indeed, the iMac is no more, due to life circumstances. I now have a 15-inch Macbook Pro as my sole computing device, which means I have no other choice but to run Lightroom and Photoshop on it. Perhaps its the bias of having dropped over $2,000 on the laptop, but I have to say it’s been quite okay doing photo work on essentially half the screen real-estate I used to have. The biggest reason for this is most the latest laptops have intensely high resolution displays, so the issue of not being able to see enough of a photography is mitigated. With the Macbook Pro, I still have to hide all the controls in Lightroom, but once having done so, there’s sufficient space.

Another benefit of sizing down on the screen, one that I hadn’t realize, is the increase in speed. With far fewer pixels to draw compared to the 5K display of the iMac, the graphic system is less taxed on the Macbook Pro. Therefore, making adjustments to a photo returns a more immediate response; there’s no longer that slight pause before the picture reflects the change I just made. It’s a pleasant and welcomed surprise, because more so than screen real-estate, speed is the ultimate productivity assistance.

All things being equal, though, I think I’d still prefer having a large screen. That said, it’s reassuring that doing photo work on a laptop is not the penalty box I’d thought it would be; it’s rather great.

The legendary Shinkansen bullet train.

USB-C dongle life

Due to life circumstances, my trusty 5K iMac (2017 edition) got removed from my possession, and needing a replacement device to do all my creative stuff, I recently acquired a 2019 15-inch Macbook Pro. I’ve gone mobile again, after five years of running desktop macs of varying style. The immediate reaction isn’t from the nearly half-size reduction on screen real estate, but rather the sheer advancement in computing power in only two years’ time.

The 5K iMac remains a beast of a machine: 3.4GHz quad core chip, 40 gigabytes of ram, and 512 gigabytes of super fast storage. It handled everything I needed to do creatively, so of course I had zero plans to replace it anytime soon; unfortunately, other plans got in the way. Armed with a 9th-generation Intel processor with six cores, my new Macbook Pro absolutely chews through 85 MB RAW files as if they were iPhone jpegs. Making adjustments to photos is incredibly immediate, with no discernible lag; it makes the 5K iMac feel rather stilted in comparison, a difference I didn’t even know existed.

Latest Apple computer is fast. News at 11!

Ever since the latest restyle of the Macbook Pro was introduced back in 2016, the constant joke is that owners have to live the ‘dongle life’. In the constant pursuit of forcing users to buy high-margin accessories, Apple engineered the Macbook Pro with only four USB-C ports as IO. USB-C was relatively nascent technology back in 2016, and three years later, the landscape hasn’t exactly improved. Other than a GoPro 7, none of my other peripherals and electronic devices offers a USB-C connection, so in order to use this new Macbook Pro, I am indeed living the dongle life.

It’s absolutely absurd that fresh out of their respective retail boxes, the latest iPhone is (still) unable to connect directly to the latest Macbook Pro.

But there’s another problem: official dongles made by Apple are not exactly cheap. For a basic USB-C to SD card adapter - replicating the SD card slot that’s built-in to the iMac, Apple charges $39. An external display adapter is even worse: $69 if you wish to plug your Macbook Pro into a TV.

Seeing that I just dropped over $2000 on the laptop itself, I am actively fighting having to spend additionally on extra dongles. Thankfully, I actually do have USB-C to USB-A adapter, so I’ve been using that for everything. The process can be somewhat cumbersome: what was once a simple motion of taking the SD out of the camera and plugging it in to iMac, is now a multi-step challenge involving the camera itself, a USB cable, and the aforementioned USB-C adapter. Transfer over camera USB is much slower than the card straight in, too, so that’s quite a pain when dealing with many gigabytes of photos.

I think soon I just might give in and get a small docking station, with all the IO I’ll ever need.

Now this is a sort of commute I want.

Death and taxes

No one likes to pay taxes. I most certainly don’t.

A few days ago I was shopping for a new Macbook Pro; right now is a great time to buy because both Apple and its resellers are running back to school specials. The 2019 edition 15-inch Macbook Pro I’m currently typing on is being discounted by $200 dollars everywhere, which is quite significant. Be that as it may, it’s still an over two thousand dollar machine, so to maximize the possible savings, I looked to avoid paying the relatively hefty sales tax on top of it.

B&H is my go-to for this sort of thing: it’s the place to purchase high-dollar electronics and not have to pay tax. I’ve bought nearly 10 grand worth of items from them over the years, which amounts to plenty of savings (or dodging, if you’re the IRS). So it was to my utter surprise when I was all ready to click ‘buy’ on the Macbook Pro at B&H a few days ago and saw that CA tax is now being collected. Apparently some recent Supreme Court decision is forcing the company’s hand.

Which is a shame because now that B&H no longer carries a no sales tax advantage, I almost have no reason to buy from them over the king of online retailing: Amazon. Indeed, Jeff Bezos’ company charges sales tax as well (though I’m old enough to remember a time when Amazon didn’t; truly the good old days), but compared to B&H, it offers faster shipping (free two day shipping with my Prime account), and more importantly I get 5% cash-back using the Chase Amazon card. The combination of least expensive and quickest shipping is too difficult to ignore, even though B&H is a small business I really would like to support.

But, I would say I’ve already paid enough taxes this year: the tax bill on the Porsche GT3 was immense indeed. You’re welcome, San Francisco.

Together we’ll go far.

I quite like the 'butterfly' keyboard

Apple’s' ‘butterfly’ keyboard is a joy to type on.

Which is something I’ve only found out recently. The incredibly flat and thin ‘butterfly’ style keyboard have been featured in Apple laptops since the introduction of the 2015 Macbook, but I’ve been clinging onto the ‘chiclet’ style keyboard for as long as possible, primarily because I haven’t had use for buying a later generation Macbook of any variant. Plus, as we frequent typists understand, nothing can defeat the supreme feel and tactility of a quality mechanical keyboard.

During the many years since 2015, the butterfly keyboard have proliferated through the entire Apple laptop lineup, and of course I am privy to the relatively catastrophic (for Apple) reputation it has for unreliability. The mechanism is often doomed by normal amounts of dust and crumbs, same amounts that previously did not harm the chiclet keyboards. The invasion of tiny particles would cause keys to flat-out stop working, or singular key-presses registering multiple instances. The reliability problem is so acute that Apple is already on its fourth iteration of the technology, and is simultaneously offering free repairs to all laptops fitted with the butterfly mechanism for four years from initial purchase.

Rumor has it Apple is going to ditch that style of keyboard entirely in its next generation of laptops.

Before that happens, I recently got a chance to sample the butterfly keyboard for the very first time when my work took in a few of the latest Macbook Airs. On admittedly brief impression, I have to say I really like the typing experience. The butterfly keys have an absolute sturdiness, not unlike true mechanical keys, a factor which I appreciate and favor. Key travel is indeed on the shallow end but for my purposes it’s not a detriment at all, because the feedback is so sharp and brilliant.

Easy death by sandwich crumbs and Cheetos fuzz aside, I think I rather enjoy typing on Apple’s butterfly keyboard.

Which is just as well, because due to recent life circumstances, I have a Macbook Pro arriving imminently. Perhaps a bit of bias in my take because I will soon own a laptop with the butterfly keys? I’ll soon find out after some long-term use with the new machine. Nevertheless, I think it will be important to keep the keyboard area on the Macbook Pro pristine at all times, to decrease the chance of getting the dreaded failures I’ve read about these pass few years. Thankfully, I’m known among friends to be fastidiously clean.

Back in a time when “small” cars were truly small.

The old Apple is back

Apple at its best, and what drew me into the company back in high school, is when they announce products in the pro tier of their Mac lineup. Lust-worthy items with exorbitant prices that I desperately want, but cannot hope to afford. I remember when the 30-inch Cinema Display was first introduced: a display so unimaginably large that costs more than entire computer systems! I wanted one immediately, though sadly had to wait for that display technology to trickle down to the hundreds of dollars range many, many years later.

I also remember the first ever Mac Pro, a monster of a computing machine for three times the costs of my poverty-spec Macbook laptop. I couldn’t possibly utilize all that number-crunching power (much less pay the price), but the 'cheese grater’ tower just looks so damn awesome. Apple is clever like that, aren’t they? Their superb ability to make people pine for their products is one of the biggest reason I upgrade to the latest iPhone every year, even though for my purposes I’d still be okay currently with an iPhone 8.

So today it was a throwback of sorts for Apple at their annual developer conference, where they announced a brand new Mac Pro tower, and a 6K display to do along with it. The unit starts at $5999, and the monitor is $4999 for the panel only; the aluminum ‘Pro’ stand with the fancy hinge mechanism is another $999 on top! I could hear the collective groan from the audience over the keynote livestream when the guy on stage announced the stand was separate and costs the same as an iPhone. This is Apple pricing madness at its best, and it brings me back to youth.

Of course, the specs of the new machine and the display is out of this world, and just like a decade before with the old Mac Pro and pro display, it’s way more computing power than I can ever use in my current capacity as a photography hobbyist and a writer. The difference now is that I don’t want the new Mac Pro at all, even though I can somewhat afford it (just have to put a few things up on eBay). Perhaps its my adult sensibilities coming into effect: I no longer buy things for the heck of it; the item has got to serve a purpose. My two years old 27-inch iMac is still up to the tasks superbly, so there’s no reason to replace it with a far nicer box for marginal gains in speed.

Indeed, the new Mac Pro and Pro Display is strictly for the professionals, the type who can expense such extravagant acquisition on their respective company accounts. I’m definitely not one of those people, the type to work with three simultaneous streams of 8K footage, or mix 1000 tracks of sound at the same time.

Who am I kidding, though; I still want it.

Just some late night filings…

Making of the calendars

It’s getting to be that time of the year when people agonize over what presents to buy to gift to friends and family. It’s also that time of the year when people procrastinate until the very final Friday before Christmas. It’s why I never visit malls - or even go outside - on that particular weekend: too much frantic, too much mayhem. The danger of an unsuspecting driver too worried about finishing his errands crashing into my car in a parking structure is immensely high.

Best to avoid all that.

In fact I avoid holiday shopping entirely by getting (making) the same present for everyone: a bespoke calendar for the following year, using the photographs I’ve taken in the current year. My friends receive something uniquely special and useful, and I save lots of money because each calendar only costs 20 bucks.

In the past fews years I’ve done this through Apple’s Photos app, utilizing their official printing service. The results are typically Apple, which is to say amazing and proper quality. Unfortunately, this year there’s a bit of hiccup: Apple for some reason have decided to end its photo printing products operation. What a shame; I guess the scale wasn’t enough for a company that sells iPhones in the billions of dollars.

So for those dozens (?) of users, we are relegated to using third-party companies. Two of those - Mimeo and Motif - provide an extension that integrates with the Photos app and offers a convincing facsimile of the discontinued official product. To produce my calendars this year I chose Mimeo, primarily because for first time users there’s a 20% discount. I’m actively saving up for an 911 so every single cent counts massively.

Having since received the calendars, I have to say the quality is surprisingly good. It’s not to the levels of Apple where the font design and layout of the dates is more clean and carries a simplicity, but where it counts the most - the pictures, Mimeo does the job well.

I do still miss the Apple version, but I’m glad there’s viable replacements readily available.

A study in uniformity and scale.

A study in uniformity and scale.

iPad won't replace my laptop

The most prized team in all of computing technology have got to be the silicon group within Apple. The A12X Bionic chip in the latest iPad Pros have shown in benchmarks to be faster than any Mac computer currently on sale that isn’t an iMac Pro or a BTO Macbook Pro, all for the entry price of just $799. Intel is absolutely getting their ass handed to them by Apple. iPhone users have been enjoying the fruits of the A Series chip for many years now, and it surely won’t be long until Apple puts one of those into a Mac.

But that’s in the future; for the present those wonderful and powerful chips reside in the aforementioned iPad Pros. Apple would like consumers to think of them as laptop replacements, and for a considerable amount of people that can indeed be the case, but for me, a person who’ve owned two previous iterations of the iPad (the very first one and the third generation), it remains but a quality content viewing device. For my particular workflow, the iPad simply cannot replace the laptop.

Apple can cram all the performance it wants into the iPad, and it’ll be utterly wasted in my favor because I can’t do serious photo-editing work on the device. No doubt iPads have got some of the most brilliant and accurate displays in any product, making for a brilliant canvas to work on, but it’s still size-limited at 12.9 inch at the maximum. In handling 40+ megapixel RAW files I want the biggest display possible (I miss the old 17-inch Macbook Pro). The new iPad Pros feature USB-C so it can connect up to a 5K display, though the user is still expected to manipulate the UI using the iPad itself, rather than the more convenient mouse.

That’s because iOS still doesn’t feature a pointer: you’re forced to use your fingers at all times, even when connected to a giant display. Great as it may be on the iPhone, iOS simply haven’t evolved quite enough on the iPad to provide a suitable workflow for me. It does bring up a chicken or the egg question: should a device acquiesce to my idiosyncrasies, or should I adapt to the peculiarities of the device instead?

I don’t mind altering habits, but there are some barriers that simply aren’t acceptable. For instance one cannot import photos on an SD card directly into Lightroom mobile; it must go through the iOS Photos app and then import into Adobe; it doesn’t make any sense. External USB storage are not supported at all on the new iPad Pro even with the USB-C port; how and where exactly do Apple want us photographers to perform backups? Please don’t say iCloud.

One last deal-beaker of the iPad that keeps me clutching to a laptop: the typing experience. I write regularly on this website and a proper keyboard is crucial, and the fabric facsimile Apple trots out in their Smart Keyboard Folio isn’t it. I’m not about to carry an extra wireless keyboard with me just for typing. A mac laptop is still the better in that regard, and more importantly it actually fits on the lap, no table necessary.

All of this is to say I hope Apple really get a move on putting the A series chips into the Mac; I have a hunch when the Macbook receives its next refresh, it won’t be running Intel.

What we mean when we tell users we need to perform diagnostics.

What we mean when we tell users we need to perform diagnostics.