13th November 2019

Apple today, took me by surprise and announced a new MacBook Pro. A 16-inch one to be exact.

I’m very excited about this machine, for various different reasons which I will discuss below. But it has come at a very good point at least from my perspective, as I’ve been recently feeling the need to upgrade my current Mac because of the annoyances I have with it.

My Current Machine

To provide some context, my current machine is the MacBook Pro 13-inch Late 2016 model (not Early-2015 that I somehow thought I had earlier). It has a 6th generation 3.1 GHz Dual-Core i5 CPU, a whopping 256 GB SSD, and 8 GB of memory.

I purchased this while I was at university, so my budget was limited. And that is clearly represented in the specs of the machine. I clearly did not think about the lack of upgradability when I purchased it.

It was a good machine when I first bought it, but over the years it feels like it’s causing friction whenever I want to get something done. Which is a big reason why I think I’m going to buy this new model.

What I Do on My Mac

Along with the usual web browsing, Twitter scrolling, and other common tasks, there are only a few main tasks that I use my Mac for:

  • Developing applications
  • Writing
  • Gaming

All of these are perfectly capable tasks for my machine, but I would say that each of them certainly comes with its own level of friction.

For example, I find developing iOS apps to be cumbersome on a 13-inch screen. This used to be fine for me, but I’ve since been using external displays at work, and I find the 13-inch to be just a bit too compact. The time it takes to compile my projects, and run simulators to be annoying. Not necessarily what I would call slow, but it’s certainly not enjoyable. And with the limited time I have to develop my own personal projects, I want my machine to be as accessible as possible.

The writing I do is essentially all for this blog. I use whatever text editor that tickles my fancy at a moment in time, and I write in plain Markdown. It’s nothing that demands much resources from the machine at all. But it does require a reliable keyboard, and while the current keyboard served me well at the beginning (I personally don’t mind the “clacky” noise it produces), I’ve been slowly finding problems with it. My command keys are a bit flaky, I still haven’t adjusted to the escape key being in the Touch Bar, I occasionally get double characters when typing, and it generally just doesn’t feel as comfortable as other keyboards have been for me.

To me, a keyboard is something that you shouldn’t really notice, but when using this machine to type anything (I don’t need Grammarly), I’m constantly aware of it. Even if it’s not making any errors, I know it can and it means I can’t always focus properly on my writing.

By gaming, I’d like to refine this to playing World of Warcraft. It’s the only game I play on my Mac, and I certainly do play it quite a lot. You may be surprised by the fact that I actually game on a Mac, but while this machine isn’t necessarily built for it (It only has integrated graphics and 8 GB of memory), it gets the job done. But I’ve always wanted a better machine for this reason alone. World of Warcraft can look amazing on a Mac, I’ve just never purchased one good enough.

What Can the 16-Inch MacBook Pro Offer Me?

Perhaps the most obvious improvement that this machine has over my current machine is the size of the screen. I really want a bigger screen, and now it’s an inch bigger than I thought I’d go. I used to be hesitant about this for many reasons, but because of my iPad Pro that I use quite a lot, I’m not taking this on as many trips as I used to. So essentially the only portability I need is the ability to move it around my house.

The keyboard is the most major difference that I think is a real problem solver. I have issues with my keyboard, and I would like to hope that with the new key spacing, increased key travel, and the early opinions of reviews, that this will fix my problems. It also features a hardware escape key, which I think is the perfect comprise between having the Touch Bar or not. I like the Touch Bar, but tapping a screen with no tactile feedback for the escape key has always been weird to me.

One improvement that I think shocked everyone with this new model is the new speaker and microphone systems. I don’t really use the microphone at all, but I watch a lot of videos and listen to a lot of music on my Mac, so these are all welcome changes.

Obviously, with this being a brand new model, using new hardware, it’s going to bring with it enhancements all over the board. I’m sure compile times will be faster in Xcode, gaming will be smoother and with much superior graphics, and everyday tasks will surely feel much more seamless.

What I’m Looking At

The spec I’m looking at getting is the base 2.6GHz 6-Core i7 model, but with an upgraded 32 GB of memory, 1 TB SSD, and the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of memory. I think that GPU would be suitable for my needs, but seeing as the next step is just £90, I’ll have to do some research and see if it’s worth the jump.

What I’m doing differently now, is that I’m actually thinking about the future of this Mac. For example, I limited myself to 8 GB of memory last time, and while I think 16 GB is probably fine for me now. I think the extra jump to 32 is going to prove worthwhile in the long run. The same applies to the SSD. There’s no way I’m going to get anywhere near 500 GB, let alone 1 TB. But it removes a needless restriction, to a machine that simply can’t be upgraded at a later date.

Hopefully, this new 16-inch MacBook Pro can become a laptop that I actually like using again. And after writing this post, I’m even more sure that I’m going to get one.

1st March 2019

There are loads of apps that track your Macs CPU usage. But only one of them uses a running cat to visualise it.

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RunCat is a free Mac menu bar app that features a running cat that adapts to your CPU speed. If it’s running relatively slow, then the cat will just be running at a leisurely pace, but if it’s running really high (try building a huge Xcode project), then the cat will go crazy!

It’s really fun!

Runners

It’s not just a cat either, you get to choose from 21 different “runners” for free – Cat α, Cat β, Cat γ, Cat Tail, Mock Nyan Cat, Parrot, Human, Push-Up, Sit-Up, Rubber Duck, City, Sausage, Dots, Dinosaur, Terrier, Hedgehog, Horse, Penguin 2, Hamster Wheel, Octopus, and Steam Train.

There’s also another 21 runners if you want to pay for them – Cheetah, Dog, Puppy, Rabbit, Frog, Bird, Penguin, Dolphin, Dragon, Owl, Cogwheel, Bonfire, Drop, Rocket, Pendulum, Newtons Cradle, Sine Curve, Pulse, Coffee, Reindeer & Sleigh, and Snowman.

And if you really want to personalise RunCat, there’s a paid option to unlock the “Self-Made Runner”, which will let you create your own animation to track your CPU usage.

Options

There are a few options in RunCat to change the way it works:

  • Show CPU Usage – This puts the CPU usage percentage as text next to the runner.
  • Invert Speed – This means the runner will be running fast when your CPU speed is low, and vice versa. Sounds weird to me.
  • Flipped Horizontally – This flips your runner, so it will run in the opposite direction.
  • Launch at Login – I shouldn’t need to explain this.

Download

Check out the RunCat website, and download RunCat for free from the Mac App Store.

3rd January 2019

Up until today I used Reeder 3, and it’s served me well for a very long time. However, in August the developer announced that Reeder 4 is being worked on, and in the meantime version 3 would be free to download. I planned on waiting for the update, but there’s a few minor issues that are causing me a bit of friction. The main one being that while it supports Dark “modes” on macOS, when using actual Dark Mode on my Mac it doesn’t actually alter the whole app.

I started my searching via SetApp, as I already pay for that. An app called Cappuccino took my fancy, and it also had a companion for iOS, which is ideal. That lasted about 5 minutes, as I discovered it doesn’t support external RSS feed services like Feedly that I currently use, so everything is stored in that app. That wasn’t the immediate turn off though, as I could use the iOS app as well. But then I checked out a few articles, and there just wasn’t any level of user presences apart from a few themes, and things like block quotes just weren’t being displayed correctly. So that was off the table. The other option on SetApp is News Explorer, and that looked okay, it also had an iOS app that I didn’t particularly like the look of.

So I checked out the Mac App Store (that I actually really like using), and I discovered that had already purchased a copy of Leaf in the past. So I’ve started using that again, and it feels good to have an app that lets me fine-tune my experience. It doesn’t seem to support macOS Dark Mode, but that is actually okay. As it supports its own themes like most other RSS readers. And unlike other apps without Dark Mode support, parts of the UI aren’t “automatically” adapted via the OS, so it doesn’t look half-baked.

For now I’ll keep on using Reeder on iOS, as there’s nothing there that irritates me. But that could be something I look at in the future. As there are a lot of alternatives available.


After having a search through my blog and past tweets, I discovered the reason why I switched to Reeder was the fact that it was free. It’s strange that the same reason that brought me to the app was essentially the reason I’m now leaving it behind.

12th August 2018

I was reading another great piece by Matt Birchler this morning, about the things he (an Apple fan) loves about the Microsoft Surface Go.

But when I read this little section, something about the iPad clicked in my head:

Connecting to an External Display

I keep asking for Apple to allow this on the iPad, because the ability to plug this into my 27″ screen and use it at that higher size and resolution is wonderful. This wouldn’t work on the iPad of course unless you had a larger touch screen, but it would totally work if you had one of those (not that this is impossible, of course).

There was this rumour recently, about how the Smart Connector on the iPad is going to be moved to the bottom. But there’s no real solid proof that it’s true, and there are tons of differing opinions, including one that it isn’t a smart connector, but instead, a moved Touch ID sensor.

Mac Rumors have a great page about the related Smart Connector rumours, and you can find the source CAD image below:

But what if it had something to do with extra connectivity, rather than simply moving an already existing port.

The original idea of a Smart Connector on the bottom (in portrait) was met with jokes about how the keyboard would look, and how unusable it would make it. But the image showing the Surface Go in landscape mode, with the USB C connector visible, made me think that it is, in fact, the perfect position for a connector that is designed to add more functionality while working.

I think the reason why people were originally mocking the idea of this new position for the connector, was because the majority agree that the time these ports are needed are when the device is in landscape mode, connected to a keyboard and while they’re doing real work.

So what if this allowed them to do more?

Maybe connecting to another display, accessories like cases that come with batteries, or things like an SD card reader.

However, just like the rest of these posts, this is pure speculation. And my attempt at creating a different perspective, that I don’t think has been made that much. What if, instead of simply moving a port, they were adding one, and making the experience better, rather than worse.

Further Speculation

While I’m speculating on this rumour, I’ll go a step further for a second.

What would happen if Apple added a USB C port to the iPad?

It would, of course, have to be alongside the Lightning port in my opinion. But that would open up a whole new bunch of possibilities:

  • You could charge your iPad while having EarPods plugged in, meaning they could remove the headphone adapter.
  • Fast charging would be standard, (if they included the USB C charger).
  • Connecting to portable storage, batteries, and monitors, would be extremely trivial.
  • Only one charger for your MacBook and iPad.
  • Another type of port means more chances of third-party manufacturers making accessories. It’s easier to adopt a standard connector like USB C than creating a one-off product that uses a Smart Connector.
  • It would boost the USB C world just slightly more. Or at least move in the direction of having a single port that’s available on all Apple devices. For example, you’d get one external drive, and maybe an external display, but you’d be able to connect your Mac or iPad. It sounds super simple, but that’s what it should be.

Anyway, this has probably gone on longer than it should have done. But I hope I’ve got a different perspective across, and maybe spawned some more speculation.

12th July 2018

Well this is unexpected, Apple have updated some of their Macs:

Cupertino, California — Apple today updated MacBook Pro with faster performance and new pro features, making it the most advanced Mac notebook ever. The new MacBook Pro models with Touch Bar feature 8th-generation Intel Core processors, with 6-core on the 15-inch model for up to 70 percent faster performance and quad-core on the 13-inch model for up to two times faster performance — ideal for manipulating large data sets, performing complex simulations, creating multi-track audio projects or doing advanced image processing or film editing. – Apple Newsroom

The improvements are to the 13” and 15” models of the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, and there are also a few extra bits of news. I thought I’d try and extract the key improvements:

MacBook Pros

 Hardware

  • Faster CPUs – Now using 8th generation chips:
    • Quad-core Intel i5 and i7 processors up to 2.7GHz (Turbo Boost to 4.5GHz) for the 13”
    • Hexa-core Intel i7 and i9 processors up to 2.9GHz (Turbo Boost to 4.8GHz) for the 15”
  • Up to 32GB of DDR4 memory in the 15”
  • New HDD options – 2TB for the 13” ad 4TB for the 15”
  • New Apple T2 Chip
  • True Tone
  • Upgraded graphics chips:
    • Intel Iris Plus 655 for the 13”
    • Radeon Pro chips with 4GB of video memory for the 15”
  • The 13” model now ships with 4 USB C ports
  • The keyboard has been replaced with a new 3rd generation butterfly keyboard, which is quieter, and maybe more reliable.
  • Battery capacities have been slightly increased to cope with the newer specs. However, Brian Heater at TechCrunch says that no mechanical changes have been made.

Software

  • “Hey Siri” comes to the MacBook Pro because of the new T2 chip.
  • Also, enhanced security with secure booting, and on-the-fly storage encryption because of the T2.

 Extras

  • There are new colour options for the MacBook Leather Sleeve (13” and 15”) – Saddle Brown, Midnight Blue, and Black.
  • These MacBook Pro’s are also part of the Back to Schoo program, where students can receive a free pair of Beats headphones with eligible Macs.
30th January 2018
Permalink

Ryan Christoffel wrote a great piece over at MacStories, about what he wants to see the iPad gain from the Mac:

I made the iPad Pro my primary computer when it first launched in late 2015. The transition pains from Mac to iPad were minimal, and the device has grown even more capable since that time thanks to improvements in iOS. My need for a Mac is now extremely rare.

My desire for a Mac, however, still exists in a few specific use cases. There are things the Mac has to offer that I wish my iPad could replicate.

Now that the modern iPad has many basics of computing covered, here are the things I think it needs to take iPad-as-PC to the next level.

My favourite proposition:

Wouldn’t it be great if an app like Workflow could become more Hazel-like, triggering workflows automatically in the background based on pre-set rules?

They’re great ideas, and I hope Apple adopt at least a few of them.

Read the full article.

 

15th January 2018
Permalink

Stephen Hackett, writing in his MacStories column:

Today, all of our notebooks are thin and light. We’ve traded our optical drives in for a series dongles and our spinning hard drives for fast, silent SSDs.

It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, notebooks had optical drives and a full array of ports, complemented by features like removable batteries.

A decade ago, we entered the current era of notebook design when Steve Jobs pulled the future out of an envelope.

The MacBook Air was a real astonishing product when it first launched, and the envelope presentation shocked quite a lot of people.

Stephen, goes into a lot of detail in his article, where he discusses things like the overall design, the IO it had, and also some of the issues it had.

Along with the article, he also produced another of his insightful videos:

Watch it on YouTube.

Read the full article on MacStories.

17th March 2017

I’ve been a user of many different task managers over the years, but one I’ve tried before, and what I’ve finally settled on is Todoist.

My main philosophies regarding task managers are that they should be stable, and by that I mean it should be something you can rely on, you should be able to view your upcoming tasks everywhere possible, and the syncing should be very fast. With all of these requirements, Todoist is the choice that makes the most sense, because at a fundamental level it is a web service, not just a collection of apps, which makes it a super stable platform.

Projects

The main way to organise tasks in Todoist is by assigning them to projects, which you can also further organise with sub-projects. I have split my tasks into context relevant projects, so for example I have a University project, and inside this I split up any coursework or big chunks of work into a sub-project. This structure makes it much easier to visualise your tasks, especially when you input a load of small tasks like I do.

As you can see in the screenshot above, I also use emoji in my project names. This is just so I can find the right section at a quick glance. There’s also the added benefit of using an emoji first in the project name, which is that it always puts these at the top of the list. This is because an emoji character will always come before the usual alphabetical characters. Luckily I only have a few top-level projects, so this doesn’t affect my list.

Labels and Filters

Another away to organise and view your tasks is by using labels and filters. Labels offer a separate way to collect tasks together, which can of course be used in conjunction with projects. A common use of this is to have labels such as “admin” or “writing”, or even time-based names such as “quick” so that when you only have a specific amount of time available to get some work done, you can find suitable tasks can be completed.

Filters are ways to view your tasks, by applying some criteria to fine-tune your results. If working in a team, viewing tasks assigned to different users would be quite helpful, but I don’t personally make use of them.

Adding Tasks

The three main ways you can add a task is by using the “Quick Add Task” method, which is accessed pressing the “+” button, or by hitting the “q” key while in Todoist, by pressing the “+” button or by pressing the “A” or “a” key to add a task to the top or bottom of the current list, and also by using the “Quick Add Task” method outside of the app.

With apps such as Fantastical, inputting data has become much easier with the support of real language entry. So if I want to to add a task for university I can simply open up the Add Task view by pressing CMD + SHIFT + A, and then by typing “Finish Lecture Notes #University”, this will add a task with the entered name, and subsequently organise it into the University project. You can take this even further by adding dates and labels, so when I decide I want to write about an app, I can add a task like “Write about App X today #TheAppLife @Writing”. It’s a feature that once you learn how to make use of all the little tricks, you will really love to use.

Overdue Tasks

Something I haven’t seen before in other task managers is a ways to quickly reorganise overdue tasks. It is a feature that Todoist has, and one I have found to be very useful, especially when I plan way too much work for one day and end up leaving a few incomplete.

Todoist’s “Smart Schedule” is an AI powered feature that uses your habits, the urgency of tasks, your upcoming tasks, and even uses learned patterns from the other Todoist users, to help find the the best suited day to fit them in. So far the suggestions have been pretty spot on for me.

Your Productivity

This is a feature that it’s use continues to elude me, by competing tasks, and keeping up streaks, Todoist grants you “Karma”. These are all calculated by configurable goals, and I guess gives you a glance on how well you’ve been performing.

Fortunately for me, it doesn’t affect the usability of the app, because I don’t see myself making use of this in the future.


What I’ve found Todoist to be, is a fully featured, easy to use, and stable task manager to can really adapt to my own needs. I would recommend this to all users that are wanting to start using a task manager, and see if it fits them.

You can download Todoist from the Mac App Store, and find out about the other platforms on the Todoist website.