Blog

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

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.

Going backwards on technology

It’s interesting how we get used to certain new features in cars, and when that gets taken away, it’s a bit jarring and uncomfortable. Case in point, plenty of new cars have this feature called ‘keyless go’, in which the key remains forever in the driver’s pocket, and utilizing sensors and buttons, doors can be locked and unlocked, and the engine can be turned on with the push of a button. It’s all very clever in allowing freedom from fumbling with keys, and you get super used to simply opening the door and pushing the engine start button.

My first exposure to the keyless go technology was rather reluctantly. It was a few years back during my search for a Mazda MX-5, and due to less fortunate financial capabilities compared to the present, I was cornered into finding the most striped-out, poverty-spec example possible. The new ND generation of the Miata have only just been released, so not many cars were actually yet on dealership lots. After some searching, I was able locate a base sample that was actually en route to the dealer, but there was a problem: the car had the keyless go option fitted, for the princely price of $150 dollars.

Which is to say it was cheap enough for me to overlook it. I’m sure the likes of Porsche charges many times more for that same feature in their cars. So my Miata ended up with keyless go, and indeed it was pleasant and convenient to not have to ever take out the key to operate the car. The only way it could’ve been better would be if the car also locked itself once it detects I’m a certain distance away from it; seems like a natural extension of that particular feature set.

Anyways, fast-forward to this January when I bought the 911 GT3, a six-figure car of 2015 vintage that doesn’t have keyless go; I’m not sure it was even an option available on the GT3 trim. You can imagine the confusion of my muscle memory the first few times driving it: I’d approach the car with the key still in my pocket, expecting to able to simply press a button on the door handle to open, only to be jolted out of rhythm with the realization that I do in fact need the physical key. It’s like returning to using paper maps after years of benefiting from the convenience of Google Maps.

Complicating things further is the fact other cars in our family all have keyless go, so often times operating the GT3 feels like a throwback to an arcane era. Of course, I’d forget about that as soon as I turn the engine over and that atmospheric flat-six starts making its melodious noise.

Physical key.

Verdict from GIMS 2019: electrification

Media day for the 2019 Geneva Motor Show was yesterday, and there’s plenty of exciting stuff to see. I’ll leave you to peruse the major media outlets for an outline on each and every new model; rather I’m going to touch on the major theme I see at this year’s Geneva show: electrification.

Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same (thanks, Thanos); the automotive industry is rapidly shifting from internal-combustion to the electric motor, and it’s all readily apparently when looking at what’s being displayed and talked about in Geneva. Super cars have a need for electric power in order to achieve ever lofty performance numbers: both Ferrari and Aston Martin will be turning to turbo V6 engines with hybridization for their next generation products. Normal city cars are converting to full electric to satisfy increasingly stringent emission standards: German manufacturers are promising massive electrification of their portfolio in a very short timeframe.  

I don’t suppose in any of our lifetimes we’ve seen such a paradigm shift on the motive power of vehicles. The combustion engine has been de rigueur for the longest time, and it’s only rather recently the industry have changed from natural aspiration to small displacement turbocharged motors – for the sake of efficiency and lower carbon outflow. It appears this ‘turbo era’ will super short-lived: full and partial electrification is quickly arriving.

Let’s look at the brilliant Honda Civic Type R. The latest generation have only just made the switch to turbocharging after a long history of fantastic atmospheric engines, and now Honda is already announcing the next Type R will be an electric hybrid. We can thank tight emission requirements for this one: Honda could easily squeeze more power out of the turbo engine, but adding an extra electric motor instead makes it far easier to achieve that extra power, but with zero penalty at the tailpipe.

The automotive landscape is transforming right before our eyes, and the rate of change is something I did not anticipate to be so swift. My 911 GT3 is 2015 model year car, yet it’s already feeling like a relic of the past: a gas-guzzling sports car with a non-turbo engine.

To be clear, I am not against electrification: I think fully electric vehicles are fantastic for dense urban commutes. Once the powers at be figure out the technology to deliver “refueling” technology for electric at the same speed as the ubiquitous petrol station, electric cars will be a good fit for suburban and rural communities, too. For the sake of cleaner air and a healthy populist, the switch to electrification is a worthy process.

However, for the weekend sports car type of vehicle, electric motivation just doesn’t stir the soul. Once you get pass the accelerative prowess of an electric car, what’s leftover is, to me, immensely dull. I want an engine that speaks to me: a thundering howl as the revs climb, pops out of the exhaust on a throttle ease, and the clattering of the mechanicals. This is the sort of motoring joy I grew up with, and I’m going to cling to that ethos for as long as possible.  

I intend the GT3 to be my ‘forever car’, and the electrification of the automotive industry isn’t helping to convince me otherwise.

Here we have the Golf GTI in its natural habitat.

Here we have the Golf GTI in its natural habitat.

Mac Mini and Macbook Air is still alive

And just like that, the longest neglected two products in Apple’s portfolio - sans Mac Pro - finally received updates.

I woke yesterday to the Apple event in Brooklyn still ongoing: it started at 7am, and I tend to wake at 8am. An avid purveyor of Apple products I may be, I was not about to forgo precious sleep time just to watch a keynote. Nevertheless, I hopped on immediately onto MacRumors, ignored the presentation of the new iPad that was ongoing, and went hunting for details on the new Macs earlier in the event.

After four inexplicably long years, the much beloved Mac Mini finally gets refreshed. No longer are people suckered into paying the same price for hilariously outdated internals. I’ve fond memories of the Mac Mini because I bought one back in 2014, the last time it got an update until today. It was a relative powerhouse in a tiny package, and the unit served me well in my creative endeavors until it was replaced by a 5K iMac last year. Had today’s refresh been available then, I probably would’ve bought it.

The new Mac Mini receives innards that rival the iMac, as long as you don’t care about graphics performance. It’s got the latest 8th-generation Intel chips, alongside a completely flash storage architecture, featuring up to 64GB of memory and 1.5TB of SSD storage. With an army of IO ports at the back similar to the iMac, the new Mac Mini should make plenty of BYOP (bring your own peripherals) customers happy; even those wanting more graphics can attach an eGPU unit via Thunderbolt 3.

Here’s to hoping Apple doesn’t let this Mac Mini languish unchanged for another four years.

The other Mac product to receive a refresh, a genuine surprise for me, is the Macbook Air. Thought to be in purgatory since the introduction of the Macbook back in 2016, it seems Apple have decided to reharness the immense brand value of what is easily their most popular laptop ever. Essentially an entry-level 13-inch Macbook Pro by a different name, the new Macbook Air changes it up slightly by retaining the iconic tapered design, and adding Touch ID to the keyboard (previously only available on Pro models with the Touch Bar). The new laptop looks fantastic.

Macbook Air with a retina display: we’ve been clamoring for it endlessly, and after many long years Apple finally delivered. As a previous owner of an 11-inch Macbook Air which was unceremoniously forsaken at a TSA checkpoint, I’m dangerously close to plopping down the $1200 necessary for the base new one. If only I wasn’t saving up for a 911…

All of the lines.

All of the lines.