New New Mac

I recently posted about my New Old Mac so it’s fitting to also mention my New New Mac. I mean, technically it’s not mine, it belongs to my employer, but I’m the one using it every day. It’s a 13″ MacBook Pro acquired in December 2019.

There are a few very striking features of this MacBook Pro. First, it is very thin, and very light. It makes my New Old MacBook Pro feel like a boat anchor. It fact, it’s almost too light. How is this even a computer!? Of course the size and weight comes at a price. When I took it out of the box I looked at it and turned it round and round and only saw Thunderbolt 3 ports. No USB, no SD card reader, no HDMI, no Mini DisplayPort… Nothing else.

So in order to use anything (that isn’t wireless) you need a dongle. Yeah, #DongleLife. It’s a little ridiculous, but as they say “everything is wonderful and terrible”. It is nice being able to use your MacBook Pro as a desktop and just unplug one thing to make it portable and go to a meeting. Of course if you need to connect to anything (that isn’t wireless) at the meeting, you’re bringing a dongle with you.

This isn’t even my full dongle setup. I added a USB cable for an Arduino and I’ve also got a USB thumb drive I use all the time. So after you buy a MacBook Pro you can get yourself a VAVA USB C Hub 9-in-1 Adapter with PD Power Delivery, 4K USB C to HDMI, USB 3.0 Ports, 1Gbps Ethernet Port, SD/TF Cards Reader along with an Anker 4-Port USB 3.0 Ultra Slim Data Hub and $75 USD later you’ve probably got the connections you need.

I suppose there are use cases where these things aren’t needed, but I connect to things all the time. Speaking of connecting to things, the other feature of the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. It’s a context-sensitive control that changes all the time. It’s, neat… I guess. I used it a bit at first but once I added a 4K display, and a keyboard and mouse to my setup I really don’t see the Touch Bar unless I’m using the computer at a meeting with the built-in keyboard. Speaking of keyboard, while I (mostly) love the keyboard on my old 2012 MacBook Pro, the keyboard on the super-thin 2019 MacBook Pro is a little anemic. The keys don’t have much travel, and as someone who has been typing for 40 years, I like a little travel in my keys. Of course I also realize that keyboard have become thinner and less mechanical over the years and it’s just the way things go… march of progress and all that.

So don’t take this post as a review, it’s really just personal observations. I’m sure someday I’ll get used to all the new stuff, but then again, I’m the sort of person who just purchased a serial to USB converter because I want to connect a pen plotter made in 1983 to a laptop computer made in 2012, so I’m probably an edge case…


New Old Mac

So I got a new MacBook Pro… sort of. My old 2012 MacBook Pro, which I acquired in 2014, served me well. I used it almost daily, and carried it with me almost daily. Yeah, on average 5 or 6 days a week for about five years I carried this laptop with me, to work, to school, to the makerspace, and plenty of places in-between. Sure, things broke along the way, I had to repair and replace the charger a few times, I swapped out the hard drive for an SSD when the prices on 1TB dropped enough, and I moved the drive to the optical bay after the second drive connector cable failure. I think I also replaced the battery… but besides all that, it was good.

Around September 2019 I started having issues with the keyboard. Keys from T to P on the top row of letters began to work intermittently. I came up with a few workarounds including using a wireless keyboard that fit directly on top of the built-in keyboard, and yes, I did try to clean the key, but after a lot of research determined the keyboard needed replacing. You can get a replacement keyboard for fairly cheap, and it comes with the tools you’ll need to remove the 50 screws after you disassemble nearly the entire computer…

So my plan was to do this, eventually, but I had a few work commitments that required I had a working computer, and I didn’t want to start the process unless I had time to complete it, and I was short on time so… I researched replacing it, and eventually decided to get an Apple MacBook Pro 13.3-inch Laptop, Dual-Core Intel Core i5 Processor 2.5Ghz, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD… which yes, is the same model I had, except for the RAM/SSD specs…

I got the new one, moved over my RAM and SSD, and was up and running nearly seamlessly. I miss the days when you could do this with Apple hardware. I think everyone who remembers those days misses those days. I invested in 12GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD and they worked FINE, so to just throw that away by getting a new computer that could not use them seemed stupid…

And yes, I know new computers are faster, and do more things, like… faster… but it wasn’t worth it to get a new Mac, and have to pay a premium for RAM/SSD which I have, and that work, and damn Apple, you’ve lost your way. Really. Oh, also, I’ve got USB ports, and a Mini DisplayPort, and a built-in SD card reader, and even… FireWire! This machine is fast enough for pretty much everything I do, and it was affordable, at less than one third the price of an entry level MacBook Pro with less RAM and a tiny SSD. (Upgrading to a 1TB SSD in a new Mac would up the prices $600 USD!)

But don’t worry… I’m not avoiding new Macs… in fact I’ll have a follow-up post about a new Mac!

I also discovered that the battery in the new Mac is pretty terrible, and needs replacing, which means I’ll pull the battery out of my old one and swap that as well. It’s like Ship of Theseus over here! Oh, I’m also contemplating just using the old one as a desktop, because without being portable, and using an external keyboard and mouse, it should be a decent machine.


Overheard Maker Conversation

We had a busy Saturday… Dana packed up the holiday decorations and I spent a few hours at lunch with Maks, my former student and current friend. We took care of a few other things around the house and then headed out for dinner, and the first place we went to was closed, the second place was too crowded, and finally we went to a place we’ve seen before but never visited. It also looked crowded but we sat at the bar for dinner and grabbed some drinks right away.

While waiting for our food I mentioned that the three giant TVs right above the bar all had the same channel showing some sports game, and maybe they should change one to show PBS and another to show the Weather Channel. Yeah, I’m not a sports fan, and I do think giant TVs could be put to better use… why not show some art, or work from local photographers? Sigh…

Anyway, as we were dining, the guy next to us at the bar started talking to a another guy he knew who came up to say hello to him… they were talking a bit about woodworking, and the younger guy mentioned a YouTube maker he liked (someone from North Carolina who made furniture) and the older guy explained his whole dust collection system, including showing some photos on his phone, and then there was mention of a Grizzly Bandsaw, and the younger guy said he had a jigsaw he needed to sell (and yes, I was tempted to say “Hey, I need a jigsaw!” but I didn’t…)

I said to Dana, “This is the best overheard conversation I’ve ever had at a bar!” and then when we left she had to stop and tell them that I enjoyed hearing their “shop talk” which sort of embarrassed me, but I said “Keep on Making!” and we headed out.

I made me feel good that these two guys were having a great conversation about woodworking, and furniture making, and shops, and tools, and dust collection. That’s it!


Fake WiFi Sign

Much of my family belongs to a group that celebrates our German heritage and there’s a clubhouse on a lake that they spend time at during the summer. I’ve spent time there as well, starting when I was a child, and the place has the most basic amenities you need, but nothing fancy… there’s no TV or big stereo system, no video games or pinball… there’s not even an Internet connection, and most of all, there’s no WiFi. When you’re there it’s more about spending time with family and friends, being outdoors, on the lake, enjoying some downtime “off the grid” as it were.

So my cousin told me he wanted a (fake) sign to put on the wall advertising a non-existent WiFi network to trick people into trying to connect to it. I’m guessing he wanted to see the youth get excited and then frustrated, which is always a fun pastime for older people…

I liked his idea enough to kick out a quick design in Inkscape, load the SVG into LightBurn, and toss some 1/4″ Baltic Birch into the laser cutter to make one for him. I chose a Germanic looking font and the word “Gem├╝tlichkeit” which is a German word used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Which is great for a fake WiFi network password aimed at tricking people. It’s even got umlauts! Who chooses a WiFi password with umlauts in it!?

When I heard my cousin was moving out of state for a new job I decided I had to make two signs, one for the clubhouse and one he could take with him to his new home. I used two different techniques as well. The first was simple etched wood that I then sanded and covered with polyurethane, and the second was etched, then spray painted white for the etched letters, then rolled with black ink on the top surface, and finally covered with polyurethane.

I used enough polyurethane on the black and white version to pretty much fill in the etched part so it (almost) matches the top surface of the black part. Since I used oil-based polyurethane it also took on a yellowy tint, which I think worked well because it makes it look like other things on the wall which have probably been there for the last fifty years. I mean, what’s better than a really old looking fake WiFi sign for 2020?


Label Maker Tip

A few years ago I picked up a nice DYMO label maker for less than $10, and found that the third party label cartridges worked fine about 90% of the time for about one third the price. I liked it so much that I got one for work as well where we used it label electronics for exhibit components.

One of the problems, or maybe more appropriately, one of the annoyances, was getting the label size right, so I came up with the following solution…

Right on the back of the label maker, where you can’t lose it, is a simple visual guide showing what size type your label will use. Even with training in graphic design it can be hard to visualize what 16 points will look like versus what 20 points will look like. Guess no more! Here’s the guide!