• Newsletter Issue #804

    April 27th, 2015


    It was real hard to get away from news about the Apple Watch if you monitor the tech media on a regular basis, or even the mainstream media, at least in recent days. Even though Apple’s online ordering system meant you couldn’t buy one from a store, except for a handful of exclusive boutiques around the world, the lack of crowds became a story unto itself. But it hardly made sense for someone to go somewhere to buy a product that couldn’t be bought.

    There was also plenty of speculation about what sort of people might buy an Apple Watch, and some pundits still suggest it’s a tech toy and that, after the initial demand is met, fashionistas won’t be so enthusiastic about getting one. Of course, those pundits are not fashion experts, so the long and short of it is that they just don’t know.

    But Apple will no doubt have some early demographics about demand, sales, and a profile of some of the customers. It remains to be seen whether that information will remain proprietary or some of it will be shared during the quarterly conference call on Monday, April 27th.

    Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, there was, as you might expect, heavy coverage of the Apple Watch, which began shipping the weekend this show was broadcast. We covered the sort of customers who might actually want to buy one, and provided a reality check about the crazy critical coverage from people that, for the most part, never actually used one.

    First up was prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who was not the first to order an Apple Watch, but did it a few hours later and will thus wait a few more weeks to get his. He also discussed his early feelings about the new MacBook, and how he converted his workflow from a Mac workstation to a MacBook Pro with Retina display. I’ll have more to say about going all portable in the next article.

    You also heard from commentator Kirk McElhearn, who is also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who detailed his experiences trying on an Apple Watch after he ordered two of them, and whether he regretted his decision. He also explained why he cancelled his order for a MacBook, and about the limits of online backups. Hint: It’s all about the dreaded bandwidth cap that may come into play if you upload too much of your stuff and it exceeds your ISP’s monthly allotment for you.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: The Paracast conducts a memorial roundtable remembering the life, times and influence of paranormal investigator Tom Adams. He was one of Chris O’Brien’s most important early mentors when he began my investigation of the San Luis Valley. We lost Tom last summer and his death was not made known to the research community until early April of this year. This episode features longtime Adams’ friend and colleague, David Perkins. Perkins, who does not normally do any radio shows, was one of the first cattle mutilation researchers back in the mid-1970s.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    If you’re a regular reader to these columns, you probably know about my normal workflow. I have a desktop Mac, an iMac, and a 17-inch MacBook Pro from 2010. I haven’t traveled so much in recent years, so the portable doesn’t get all that much use, particularly since I take my iPhone into the bedroom and use it to manage email. On the rare occasions where I need a full-sized keyboard and a traditional computing environment, I walk over to the home office to get things done.

    I am in the minority when it comes to a typical Mac user these days, however. Some 80% of Macs sold in recent years are note-books, ranging from the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro with Retina display. That’s a reason why Apple has clearly invested a tidy sum in advancing the portable platform (not that they’re giving up on desktops). While PC makers will depend on Intel’s guidance, in the form of the UltraBook, from which to base note-book designs, Apple actually has to invent stuff all by themselves.

    Once upon a time, going note-book meant severe sacrifices, from the tiny screen to far less computing performance. I remember my first exposure to PowerBooks in the early 1990s, when I had to bring the family with me on a trip for several days, but I couldn’t interrupt the work schedule. This was before I actually owned a PowerBook, and so a company with whom I contracted for writing assignments, owned by a close relative, rented me one along with a portable printer. I brought my backup drives with me, and was soon able to recreate a semblance, far from a replacement, to my daily work environment.

    It wasn’t easy. I was so accustomed to a traditional mouse and keyboard that I brought both with me. Today, Apple’s note-book keyboards have generally felt the same as their desktop counterparts, and I did manage to get mostly comfortable with a trackpad. The trackballs of the past were not my style.

    I’ll omit the new keyboard included with the 2015 MacBook. I haven’t tried one yet, but expect to shortly. However, I do feel I’ll survive. I’ve used lots of keyboards over the years.

    Now through the 1990s, after I bought my own PowerBooks, I managed to wean myself from dependence on too many external devices. If I needed a fax, I’d work it out with a hotel’s business office (most have one if they cater to road warriors rather than just vacationers). Ditto for printing. Otherwise, I could subsist for a while with the note-book and perhaps a portable backup drive; Apple’s Time Machine makes it real simple, and I also use a cloud-based backup service, CrashPlan, to store copies of my critical stuff.

    Even after adapting to the trackpad and portable keyboards, I still felt constrained when it came to display size. It’s why I gravitated to the 17-inch note-books Apple produced — the last one rolled off the production lines in 2011. I assume sales weren’t terribly high and that the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a Retina display provides plenty of workspace for most of you.

    On my desktop, I relied on displays ranging from 23 inches to 30 inches through the 2000s. Having an expansive screen in front of me gave me the room I needed to get my work done, both writing and multimedia content, with maximum efficiency. That and having a fast enough Mac to do the heavy lifting.

    Now today’s Mac note-books can drive those large displays. Some recent models can even handle 4K, so it’s not as if I’d be sacrificing all that much in the way of flexibility if I went portable. While mobile processors don’t quite match an iMac or Mac Pro, having up to a 2.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 as an option on the most expensive MacBook Pro ought to be sufficient for most needs. That and a speedy SSD that helps to address the major cause of tepid performance on note-books.

    I can tell you that, when I removed the 500GB hard drive on my MacBook Pro and replaced it with a 480GB Other World Computing SSD, it was a revelation. The startup process that took several minutes to complete, including launching several apps, was mostly over in 30 seconds. I can see the possibilities of going all portable.

    I can even understand the use case for the 2015 MacBook. Yes, the Intel Core-M processor gives you the performance of a four-year-old MacBook Air, but maybe that’s quite enough for many of you. That’s particularly true if you currently have a Mac note-book that’s four or five years old. A major complaint of today’s critics will not apply to you.

    The flexibility of going all note-book seems to make sense as an academic exercise. If you still need a large display, you can attach one. A reasonably expansive SSD and a bank of external drives can give you a dual-purpose computing environment. You can put everything on a single machine, no worries about syncing content. I know one of my clients tried to get all his stuff done on a MacBook Pro that he carried from office to home and back again. This was before SSDs were plentiful and fairly affordable, so he was forced to wait extra time to save his desktop publishing and illustration documents every step of the way. I mean 30 seconds to a minute every single time.

    I wouldn’t have the patience.

    Now going all portable may be cheap enough if a MacBook Air of any size suits your needs. Even the basic 13-inch MacBook Pro, at $1,299, isn’t expensive. It may seem costly compared to a typical Windows note-book, but not when you actually compare the specs, the hardware, the performance and the bundled software.

    But you get a paltry SSD, 128GB. A gussied up version, with a more powerful processor and 512Gb SSD, is $1,799. If you can accept a 13-inch display, you’re ready. If not, you might consider, if the graphics can handle it, purchasing a 4K display for as little as $500, though I wouldn’t speculate as to its quality. Apple sells a Sharp 32-inch 4K (Ultra HD) display for $3,595, clearly earmarked for professional content creators.

    Either way, you’ll have something akin to a large Retina quality display, if that’s what you need. Alas, Apple has yet to update the Thunderbolt Display, which still sells for $999. Perhaps they are considering 5K someday?

    My personal approach would more likely favor buying a souped up 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display and a proper high resolution external display. But it can cost. Maxed out with the 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 and a 1TB SSD, it’s $3,199. That’s without the external display.

    You can, by the way, purchase an iMac with 5K Retina display for $2,499, and optioned with a 3TB Fusion Drive, the 4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, top-of-the-line graphics and 16GB of RAM, it’s $3,349. It’s noticeably faster than any MacBook Pro, has much more storage that delivers performance close to that of a traditional SSD, but at the expense of portability. It weighs 21 pounds, compared to 4.46 pounds for the MacBook Pro, plus whatever a larger display weighs.

    If I could become accustomed to a far smaller screen, well, perhaps that would be a future solution, but that requires needing portability on a more extended basis than I do now.

    I suppose I could sell off my souped up MacBook Pro and buy a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display — and keep the iMac for the time being. Customized with an SSD, I’ve seen note-books similar to mine on eBay in the $1,000-$2,400 range, although I seriously doubt the seller will ever collect the latter price since it makes little sense from any logical point of view.

    As it stands, though, I am quite comfortable with my current workflow and the equipment I own. Barring total failure, I am not inclined to feel at all tempted — assuming funds were available — to make any changes.

    You see, years ago, I would upgrade my Macs on a regular basis to keep current as a tech journalist, and to serve the function of an early adopter. Nowadays, I am content to depend on review samples, which I get from time to time, to give me an exposure to the latest and greatest. But if I do upgrade my Mac installation, the prospect of having it all in a single computer is downright tempting. Not cheap, but tempting.

    This story remains a work in progress.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #804”

    1. degrees_of_truth says:

      I really liked my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, which was stolen. I had been on the verge of installing an SSD, so the limited bright side is that it was stolen first. I replaced it with a retina 15-inch MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD. While I do like the retina display (who wouldn’t), I would say that other things equal, I would rather have a 17-inch non-retina than a 15-inch retina. Because 99% of the time, my computing location is on the couch with one eye on the TV; zero percent in a coffee shop or fighting an airline table. And that extra screen space, purely subjectively, was just enough to have, say, usefully sized Finder windows side by side where on the 15-inch they have be be overlapped or made annoyingly smaller.

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