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.

Apple's sneaky fix for its butterfly keyboard

Last week Apple (finally) updated the internals of their Macbook Pro line with the latest Intel processors, among other improvements (optional 32GB of ram!). The news however was overshadowed because all focus was on whether or not Apple has fixed the issues with their butterfly-switch keyboards. The greatest laptop in the world would be quite useless if mere grains of sand can render keys wholly inoperative. Bold move indeed if Apple kept the same keyboard in the new refresh. 

The good news is Apple did update the keyboard in the new Macbook Pros, calling it their third generation butterfly mechanism. Missing from the PR literature however is any mention of fix for sticking and unresponsive keys. With multiple lawsuits in preparation against it, Apple is likely not at liberty to openly admit any faults innate to prior generation butterfly keyboards. Therefore the official company line is that the gen-three butterfly keys are quieter than the previous versions. 

Journalists who’ve had a first-hand look have found this to be true.   

The team at iFixit did their usual diligence and tore open a brand new 2018 Macbook Pro. They found that underneath each key-cap is a silicone membrane/gasket covering the butterfly mechanism. The new part appears to be what’s damping the clicking noise (ergo quieter as Apple says), though it also functions to prevent small dust particles from seeping in further underneath the key-caps - a de-facto remedy for the malfunctioning keys problem. 

So it seems Apple did fix the issues of the old butterfly keyboards; they just won’t say so officially, again probably due to the pending lawsuits. A PR move dictated by the needs of the lawyering brigade.

Nevertheless, owners of Mac laptops outfitted with the first or second generation butterfly mechanism ought to demand that Apple retrofit this rubber gasket solution onto their Macbooks. On the other hand I wouldn’t buy a Mac laptop that hasn’t got the gen-three butterfly keys; Apple needs to update the rest of its laptop lineup quickly.  

Apple should also continue to work on its 'Portrait Mode' algorithms. The blur on the stem as it meets the flower head is horrendous. 

Apple should also continue to work on its 'Portrait Mode' algorithms. The blur on the stem as it meets the flower head is horrendous.