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.


A 1982 Joystick


Back in the 1980s my brother bought an Apple ][+ from a local computer store called the Byte Shop in Greenfield, Wisconsin. (And yes, there were other stores that used the same name.) I was lucky enough to be able to use the Apple ][+, and learn about computers and programming, and it was the start of my journey of understanding and using technology that has been part of my life for the past 40 years.

My brother recently gave me the receipt for the joystick I purchased in 1982. Yes, this is what 12 year old Petey was saving his money for, an analog joystick made by TG Products from Richardson, Texas. (And you knew it was from there because it was printed right on the top of the enclosure.)

The included “documentation” mentioned a method of removing the springs inside that centered the joystick when released, and I used the “hack” to utilize the joystick as a drawing device (which was quite difficult with the springs in place, and still difficult with the springs removed.)

I remember a lot about this joystick and using it with the Apple ][+ at the time. Computers were so scarce back then, and I don’t think anyone else I knew at school had one at home. I did my best to treat the computer with care, and even to this day, I’m sometimes shocked at the way people treat their technology, as if it’s disposable… but maybe that’s just how it is today, with computing devices being so ubiquitous and easily replaceable.

TG Products Joystick

Above is a great photo of the joystick that I borrowed from the Computer History Museum’s web site. Those buttons are still available, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used them for projects. (I may have even bought some from Radio Shack back in the day.) Also, check out that awesome ribbon cable! (Hey, it was an analog device.)

I did a bit of searching for this old joystick and came across a few links. Here one from a Vintage Apple site. It’s a bit weird because it’s extra long… what’s up with that? Well, see this tweet for some interesting info on that.

I found a few other TG Products online as well. There’s also a TG joystick at The Strong (which I wish I had known when I was there two years ago.)

And this one is a little weird… It’s a Super Game Stick for Apple II I found on Amazon which is obviously a clone.

The other strange thing for me is that back in 1982 I bought a computer controller (a joystick) and in 2019 I now occasionally build computer controllers, sometimes for work, sometimes for fun, and sometimes it’s a joystick.

Well, you know what they say… you can’t ESC your past.


The Lights are…


I love @internetofshit on Twitter (and reddit) and things like Stupid Shit No One Needs & Terrible Ideas Hackathon, not just because they are hilarious, but because they reveal some truths about technology some may ignore.

As much as I love technology, I hate technology. In many ways, it makes our lives better… but in plenty ways, it makes our lives worse.

The Internet of Shitty Things is here. Have all of your best home appliances ruined by putting the internet in them!

Back in 2011 (or maybe 2010?) I ventured into the “Internet of Things” world a bit, and I’ve played with ideas since then, and watched as companies imagined everything connected to the Internet, typically with no thought to security.

Whether or not Cate’s tweet is true, it points out the fact that as we add technology to things we risk making them overly complicated and prone to failure. Turning on a light shouldn’t require installing a damn app or syncing anything. We live in a tactile world, and in my work (designing and building educational museum exhibits) we don’t want to turn everything into a touchscreen interface, for good reason.

Light Switches

Check out a few of these light switch mods on Thingiverse, including Frankenstein Light Switch Plate, Arcade Button Light Switch, and LEGO Light Switch Cover. These concepts all demonstrate that the light switch can be re-imagined as a fun activity, and not relegated to some app running on a digital network.

In other news, I recently tried an Oculus Rift, and while watching a corporate video inside of a virtual world was <sarcasm>completely amazing</sarcasm> I was surprised how comfortable the goggles were, and the first idea I had for them was an application that would allow me to wear them while in lying in bed reading, which I do a lot of while suffering from insomnia. Either a great use case or a great idea for the Stupid Hackathon.

Well that’s enough incoherent rambling for one day, I need to go read the specs on a TTL laser…


Here comes the PCOMP!


Somehow the folks at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts convinced me to become an Adjunct Lecturer and teach a Physical Computing course titled “Electronics and Sculpture”. Okay, I’m being a coy, I jumped at the chance, and I’m pretty excited about it!

I’ve been playing around working with Arduino microcontrollers for a little over five years now, building all sorts of strange projects, and truth be told, I did a lot of weird electronics projects when I was a kid, and even took electronics classes in high school. As for the sculpture part, I think a bunch of these projects qualify as sculptures.

Potentiometer LED

I’m still designing the course as I go, so this semester is extra hard. (I taught a digital art lab class last semester, but the material was all provided for me.) Developing curriculum is hard! Luckily I’ve got a great group of students are we’re figuring it all out together. I’m also trying to bring in bits and pieces from the world I’m used to; un-conferences, open-source, hackerspaces, maker culture, DIY, etc. So far it seems to be working.

Photocell LED

As for these diagrams, I did them all with Fritzing. I also recently used Fritzing to design and fab a circuit board. Since it’s proven so useful to me, and using it has somehow become part of my job(s) I wanted to contribute. I donated some euros to the project. I wish I could do more, but perhaps in the future I can contribute more than just cash. Still, it’s a start!