Buying a laptop

Well someone just asked me what laptop would you buy. The good news is that with Intel performance stalking you have lots of choice. Even three year old laptops are the same speed as even the newest Kalby Lake versions. PC Magazine remains a decent source of reviews for this so here’s a summary but right now there is a split in the choice you can make. The main issue is laptop longevity. 

  1. Chromebooks. Let’s face it for $250 you can consider a laptop a throw away commodity. It’s something with an ok 

The math of MacBook Pro battery life and trickle charging

Batteries are rated in one of two ways. Watt Hours which means for how many hours can they supply 1 watt of power. The new MacBook Pro 2016 has a 76 Watt-hour battery

Put another way if you load Battery Doctor and see you are drawing 18 watts then you will have roughly 76/18=4 hours of life. 

Another common measure is amp-hours. This assumes you know the voltage that you are pull out. For a MacBook Pro 2016, it says it has a 6773 milliamp hour or 6.7Ahour. By the way that means that the output voltage for the battery is 76/6.7 since V x A = W so it is a 11V battery internally. 

Now for the reason for the low battery life. Apple says the MacBook Pro should last 10 hours or they think average battery usage is 7.6 watts. 

Today when I started my MacBook Pro it was running at 4 watts so the mystery is why yesterday it was 18 and today it is 4.8. Sounds like a background process or Safari going crazy to me. 

As a final aside the older MacBook Pro 2015 had a 99.5WHr battery. The FAA maximum for a battery is 100WHr for safety reasons. That means that for their 10 hour use they were expecting 25% greater power usage at 9.95 watts. So the new mbp 2016 is supposed to be much more efficient. 

One interesting thing is that such a lower power consumption, you can use a tiny 10 watt, 2 amp USB charger to keep your laptop powered up. U can even use a car charger to freshen the battery. That’s one of the nice things about USB C. In fact even a lowly 1 amp 5 watt USB outlet is pretty good with today’s low power consumption laptops. I now need a USB A to USB C cord when going to meetings as it’s lighter. And your little iPhone charger even at 10 watts should be able to charge a battery in eight hours or over night. 

The huge 87 watt charger you get with your MBP 2016 should be able to recharge a completely dead 76 watt hour battery in less than an hour. Even with power losses which would make it longer, that’s pretty impressive. 

So on to figuring how why the laptop is drawing so much! But this USB c does add lots of flexibility. 

So what happens when you get an exclamation point on your android phone

Ok so this weekend, I’m staring at a phone on a Verizon MVNO (the AARP sponsored one) which worked fine and suddenly it can’t access the Internet. I also see an exclamation point next to the LTE signal symbol. 

And when you click on the internet you get to a site called datareplenishment.com and it says page not found. 

Well it turns out that the days of just getting a new phone and swapping a sim in don’t quite work. A few calls to product support and it turns out the solution is simple but you can’t do anything about it by yourself. The carrier had to turn on and off the account from their side and all was good!

More on MacBook Pro 2016 Battery Life

Well folks were asking on Facebook (it does seem like most of my “clicks” are landing there and on Yelp these days) about battery life with the new MacBook Pro 2016, I put a battery meter on this for the last few days and here’s what I’ve found even after applying the 10.12.3 update which fixed a bug that Consumer Reports had with icon caching.

TL;dr

Safari appears to be chewing up power when it is running a long time. You can check with your battery health application and restart it. Feels like either a bug or some of the web pages are running lots of JavaScript.

The details

  1. This application Battery Health is free and lives in the tool bar and is way more helpful than Activity Monitor for monitoring usage. When you see a spike (that is usage beyond say 5 watts), check your Activity Monitor and sort energy usage to see what is running.
  2. The big battery hog for me appears to be Safari. I think there is probably a bug somewhere, but normally running just a browser, I’m burning 4 watts. To see what that means, the battery in the MacBook Pro is 6700 mAH and 5 watts is about 300-500 mAH draw, so the battery should last 12 hours at that low rate.
  3. However, sometimes, when Safari alone is running, it pops to 14 watts, that is about 1200 mAH and that is what is getting me to 4-5 hours of life. The solution is to restart Safari and then the usage falls again.
  4. I also see that Spotlight also will run in the background as will the iMessage, iPhone Agent and other daemons, this causes a spike as well to 8-10 watts (600mAH-800mAH)  and particularly for iMessage this can go on for a long time.
  5. Finally, if you do some things like Photo sharing, then you force the Mac to transcode. This gets very warm particularly for video and I see usage spike to 30-50 watts as the discrete GPU turns on.

Escapism in Shooter and Night Manager

Well with so many headlines, it’s nice to find some really engrossing (non big budget) action/thriller series. We’ve watched two you should check out:

  1. Shooter. Yes the original movie was kind of hokie (although I loved it), but the series is really terrific. 10 hours of really, how does he get out of this anyway. Plus the soundtrack is just awesome. And it worked just as a standalone series. Omar Epps is just awesome as usual and Ryan Phillippe and the cast are great. It’s very loosely based on the original film which was loosely based on Point of Impact.
  2. The Night Manager. I think I wrote about this one already, but it is a series that I’d love to watch again. From our friends at the BBC. It loosely follows the plot of the John LeCarre novel.

Staying Safe in the new World

Well, we are in a new era in 2017, so nice once again to look at how to stay safe and private in this new age, here are some recommendations.

For the truly tin foiled hat paranoids

Remember just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean you don’t have people snoopy into your digital life, so here are some recommendations from Bruce Schneier. Note that as always, the actually applications these guys produce can be hacked, but you have to trust someone.

  1. Signal. While there are many secure messaging applications out there, this one is open source and really protected. The main issue is that the other person has to be on Signal too. So I get maybe a message month, still it is the safest.
  2. ProtonMail or Lavabit. In the post Snowden era, this seems way more practical than trying to use OpenPGP keys etc. They do allow web browsing of your mail by the way.
  3. Tor Browser. This browser is slow, slow, slow and disables just about anything useful, but it is the safest out there for looking at cnn.com without anyone knowing you are doing it.
  4. Air Gapped PCs. They do seem take their security seriously and if you keep your connection time to the internet at a minimum. Some would say never connect it and use a hand scroll to copy notes from an air gapped machine to another, you should be safe.
  5. Veracrypt. With TrueCrypt dead, the best source of on disk encryption is still open for me. But basically you have to encrypt the files that really matter. I need to give this one a try, but it uses Fuse to create a new file system handler so it is pretty transparent. You can get Fuse for OS X from Macports or from Homebrew by the way
  6. Hashed user names. It is pretty useless to use all this if you just use the same user name for everything, so you want to create a random user name for everything.

Tinfoil bootstrap

Ok, for the double double paranoid, the question is how you got your laptop in the first place and how to prevent recognition given all the cameras out there in the real world.

  1. Wear sunglasses and a hoodie. OK there are lots of security cameras, so people are selling actual camo gear to confuse image recognition (I said this was about the paranoid didn’t I?).
  2. And of course take public transportation and map the cameras so you to find some blind spots and change your clothes in them. OK I feel like Jason Bourne now.
  3. Burner phone and laptop. Walk into a store (preferably about miles from you usually live) with your camo gear and buy a phone. You’ve seen it on Breaking Bad I’m sure and change them often. It’s good that burners and chromebooks are so cheap now 🙂
  4. Tails . Run the operating system for your laptop from a USB key so you don’t have to worry about viruses. OK, this is getting a little crazy!
  5. Make sure that when you turn on your laptop or phone, it is in a very public spot as your MAC id on your laptop and IMEI on your phone do identify you the local cell phone tower or access point. You can spoof your Mac ID, I’m not sure about your IMEI
  6. Throw away your phone and laptop regularly.

For the concerned but practical

If you actually want to talk to more than the 3 tinfoils  people in your life here are some other choices.

  1. WhatsApp. This actually uses the same open source security protocol as Signal and is end to end encrypted. You can tell because Facebook gets in trouble all the time around the world with this applications. It’s less secure than Signal, but more people use it.
  2. iMessage. Another proof by example, but this should be reasonably safe which SMS definitely is not.
  3. Private Internet Access VPN. You have to trust your VPN provider, but this will at least get you partially there.  These guys are outside the US, so maybe a little safer.
  4. Startpage. If you do not want Google to track what you do then you want to use an anonymize for your queries. Startpages is one of these companies that give you some protection.
  5. Apple Encrypted DMG and FileVault. Turn on file vault to on disk encrypt your hard disk. And for really secret stuff create an encrypted DMG on top of that.
  6. 1Password. They have a zero knowledge system of storage so that they do not know what is being encrypted which also means if you forget then your keys are lost forever, but in the world of encryption, they allow you to use really random passwords.

Office supply store for iTunes cards to get 32% off

One Mile At A Time reminded me of a good way to save significant dollars by quadruple stacking

  1. ITunes gift card are currently 15% off there
  2. Signup for the free staples rewards program. Over time this is another 1% off
  3. Signup for a Chase Ink business card. This gives you 5x points for every $1 spent at Staples
  4. Have a Chase Sapphire Reserve card so those points transfer there and are worth 2.2 cents on average. That’s 11%
  5. Use cashbackmonitor.com to find a click through site. Click to Staples. Right now that’s another 5% rebate

And there you have it. It’s another reminder that if the price is similar with the Chase systems you want to buy there. 

American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve Benefits and chaining

Well, if you are lucky (woohoo!), you have gotten yourself a Chase Sapphire Reserve and also got an American Express Platinum Business card. Now in the rewards game, things are pretty exciting if complicated, here’s a short list and you can see how when you start with one program, you often get a cascade. That is, if you have United 1K then you get Marriott Gold, so you get SPG Gold so you get China Eastern Elite. You get the picture. Here’s a list of some of the chains:

American Express Platinum

Don’t just get the card, you have to spend 30 minutes or so hitting the enrollment sites to get all the benefits which include:

  • Boingo membership (for those pesky airports that limit you like Boston)
  • 10 Gogo inflight wifi vouchers
  • Priority Pass Select. You actually have to fax this in, but that’s pretty easy, fill out the for and use a free fax service
  • Hilton Gold status. You have to call for this and it isn’t listed as a benefit, but it is there
  • $100 credit for random charges from a specific airline
  • Access to the Centurion Lounges and to Delta lounges if you are flying them
  • 5x points for air travel. Hard to beat that! That’s nearly 10% back.
  • National Emerald Executive Club

Chase Sapphire Reserve

  • Priority Pass Select
  • $200 travel credit on any travel related expenses
  • 3x for travel broadly defined, so use for all your other travel
  • National Emerald Executive Club (really for Visa Infinite holders)

United 1K

If you have this, remember to sign up for:

  • Marriott Gold status (just short of Platinum)
  • Then link your Marriott to SPG to get Gold there too
  • Hertz President’s Circle

SPG

They have a bunch of other programs so now the fun really begins, but note you have to be Platinum for it to work, but the main thing to do is to link the accounts together

  • SPG Golds get one point for every mile they fly on Delta
  • SPG for Uber points. Get 2 points for every dollar spent on Uber while you are staying at Starwood and 0.5 points otherwise  if you stay once a year at a Starwood’s hotel. Note that JetBlue also has a promotion like this as well
  • SPG to China Eastern. This is mainly for platinums but again if you like your Gold account, you get priority boarding on China Eastern.

 

MacBook Pro 2016 one month in…

OK, there have been about a million opinions about the new MacBook Pro, here are the tips, tricks and traps:

Unexpectedly cool

  1. Touch Id. I didn’t realize how much time I spent typing my password in and it is super cool that it is integrated into the phone.
  2. The Sound. Ok, this is the biggest surprise, I don’t understand what they put into the thing, but the sound is absolutely incredible. How did they do this? It is like having Adele living in your computer. And watching movies is just awesome!
  3. The thinness. Ok, the negative is that battery life, but wow, the thing is really thin, I hadn’t realized it until I look al my MacBook Pro 2010 (and 2014). Even with a translucent case, it is really nice.
  4. The build quality remains exceptional of course and with AppleCare, this is something that will last. I remain surprised that computers that are 8-10 years old (our iMac 2009 and MacBook Pro 2010) just work.
  5. The keyboard. I know many people dislike the short throw keyboard, but I like it quiteThe a bit. Probably because my first keyboard I really loved was a Sun workstation with the same short throw. It feels precise to me.
  6. Having power that works on either side, I sort of miss the magnetic lock, but I do really like the ability to charge the thing on either side. No more snaking cables.
  7. Really, really, really bright display. Yes some people are jamming 4K displays into 15″ screens, but really you won’t see the difference. What is great about this screen is that it is so bright that at 100%, it feels like you are looking into the sun.
  8. Support for 4K and Thunderbolt 3 is great future proofing. This really opens up what you can do with the monitors and the flip side of the switch to USB C is that you can really use this thing to run multiple monitors and petabyte drive arrays, so the flexibility is awesome. Although I got the model with 1TB of SSD, I’m really thinking that the 512GB SSD with a portable drive for data is better for most people.
  9. Longer term leaving the hegemony of Apple proprietary chargers and cables. I think this is subtle, but while Apple makes the only decent 89 watt charger today that will change, eventually, you will be able to get USB C power from every power outlet and cables will actually really work. In the mean time, it is pretty cool to be able to buy $80 bricks and know they can charge everything in the future from MacBooks, to phones. It is kind of cool that in a pinch you can trickle charge this with any USB C 15 watt charge. I’ve done this with my Nexus 5X charger and it works.
  10. The same goes for docking stations, they are just coming out, but the idea that you can one cable that does power, display and everything else is a reality with this move to USB C.

The traps

Well these are obvious but I’ll mention them:

  1. The battery life. Yes, I actually still have to worry about battery life, when I read the reviews, I kind of expected the thing to die in 45 minutes, but it is about the same as the MacBook Pro 2014 at least for me. At least the fan doesn’t go berserk like the MacBook Pro 2010.
  2. The move to USB C, but fine once you get there. Yes, sigh, this is yet another conversion from cables and it takes quite a bit of research to figure out what you need. Not to mention a zillion label makers to figure out what connectors and the capacity of each cable are.
  3. The price so wait if you can. This thing is really expensive, but it looks like prices are sliding now, so if you can I would wait to buy one. This fall, you should see a 32GB version which is nice and it is not that much of an upgrade over MacBook 2015 or 2014 that you should run out and switch.
  4. Touchbar. Well this was the nifty feature that made me really want the thing, but in practice I haven’t found it super useful for everyday typing and browsing, certainly the autocorrect feature is pretty useless, if they do that, it should just appear on the screen. I do think that applications that use it are really the future. FaceTime for instance does a great job.

The tricks

Since this is probably a computer that you will be using in 2026 (yikes!), it pays to keep it new. There are two reasons, first Apple is more likely to fix the product if it is pristine and second, with the flattening in performance curves, it’s pretty likely that it will still run applications then, so what are the pieces to get:

  1. Translucent case. You want to show off the space grey (it is really beautiful), fortunately, for about The Mosiso case is absolutely awesome for $30, it fits perfectly and looks great. It also comes with a film protector for the screen. I normally don’t like film, but it looks pretty good and protects the screen.
  2. Keyboard cover. UPPERCASE makes a really nice one, completely clear and it fits properly. They do include adhesive because the case is so low pitch. But you really want a cover because there is nothing more depressing that yuck on the keyboard or worse yet a Diet Coke spill
  3. Getting the right cables. This is the biggest way you can torch this thing. I’m testing a bunch, but right now the J5create JUX01 is the best combination charging and data transfer cable. It is 100 watts and 10GBps at 1 meter.