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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…

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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.

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Hard Drive Woes

Oops!

Last week was a bad week for hardware… On Saturday I opened up my MacBook Pro to wake it from sleep and start using it (which I do multiple times per day) and it was a no go. It did not wake up. I restarted it and got the old blinking system folder, as if the drive was gone, or corrupt, or something. It was a hard drive I didn’t fully trust, and even though I thought about replacing it just weeks ago, I didn’t.

The first thing I did was assumed the drive was shot, and got on Amazon to order a replacement hard drive. I ordered on Saturday and it arrived about 24 hours later… on a Sunday. (Thanks, Amazon!)

Meanwhile, I pulled the drive out of the MacBook and put it in an external case. It worked fine. Damn. This told me it was probably a hardware issue with the MacBook, not the drive. I’ve been through this one before… twice actually, and I’m really wishing Apple would make better hardware!

I ran from the external drive until Wednesday, when I took it to the Apple Store. Oh, in the meantime I had put a replacement drive in the MacBook after I installed a fresh version of 10.9 onto it. (I figured I had to show the Apple Store the issue and I really don’t like them having access to my data.)

They fixed it the same night, and it was all good. (Replaced the hard drive cable/bracket assembly.) We booted it up in the store, it worked, so I went home and I went to sleep. The next morning I woke up at 6am, and swapped in my original hard drive. This is where things went to shit. Did you notice I forgot to shut it down? Yes… I highly recommend you do not try to hot swap the hard drive in your MacBook Pro while it is in sleep mode.

When I opened the Mac to start it (and it was already on) it showed the desktop from the drive I pulled out… probably not a good sign. A reboot later everything was gone. No good on the drive. But like we all know, even if you can’t see your data, it’s probably still there.

A quick Google search for destroyed partition table mac brought me to the blog post Repair a Mac OS X HFS+ Partition table.

I pretty much did everything [PERR0_HUNTER] suggested, and BAM! just like that my partition table was back, and the drive was as it was before I completely screwed it up. I immediately used the ‘Donate’ link on the site to send [PERR0_HUNTER] some money.

The rest of the story is pretty boring, involving running restores and more backups and going through eight hard drives I have in the office. But hey, I’m back up and running… All good. Thanks, [PERR0_HUNTER]!

And the lesson is, don’t swap your hard drive before 8am.

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Mac-Cat-Attack!

RepRap Cat

I’ve already talked about the Top 5 Places Kitten was, but since kitten (who is now a cat, and sometimes referred to as RepRap Cat) spends a lot of time in the office with me, I thought it was time for a new list…

The top 4 Macs kitten has sat upon:

  1. MacBook Pro
  2. Mac mini
  3. G4 PowerBook
  4. Mac Pro

She also spends a lot of time on the printer, which isn’t a Mac, but has a lot of buttons to press.

The only Mac missing is the iMac, and that’s because she hasn’t figured out how to sit on top of that one… yet.

Update: I snapped this picture less than two hours after posting this.

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iSight vs. Logitech C910

In my Photo Booth post I talked about using a Logitech C910 instead of the built-in iSight camera on a 2007 iMac. I wasn’t happy with the quality and ended up using a Logitech HD Pro USB Webcam C910. The Logitech camera worked much better on the iMac, so I figured I’d compare it to the built-in iSight on my 2009 13″ MacBook Pro.

iSight - Color
MacBook iSight – Color

Logitech - Color
Logitech C910 – Color

Comparing the two images you can definitely see the difference in color temperature. The iSight leans more towards red/yellow while the Logitech leans the other way. (Note that the Logitech has a slightly wider field of view as well, so you may have to move in closer.) The only light in this room was a CFL bulb with a lampshade over it, and the glow of 3 monitors. Besides the color, the sharpness of the image is what really stands out. The Logitech is way sharper.

iSight - Black and White
MacBook iSight – Black & White

Logitech - Black and White
Logitech C910 – Black & White

Taking color out of the comparison, and just looking at a greyscale images, the sharpness of the Logitech over the iSight seems even more noticeable. As I’ve said before, the iSight is a tiny little camera, with a tiny little lens, and a tiny little sensor. It’s great that every MacBook contains a camera, and for general video chat, etc. it’ll do just fine, but if you need better image quality, it’s nice to know you can get it for a reasonable price.

The Logitech also has the advantage of being able to view things on the other side of the Mac, and be placed a short distance from the Mac itself. The images on the 2XL Networks Photo Booth site were taken with the Logitech, and we’ll be testing it out with Make: Live as well…