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.

 

Changing Workflow for iPhone photos

Now that I’m taking so many more pictures with iPhones, I’ve been thinking about how to best move files off. With digital cameras, here is the flow:

  1. offload the SD or CF card
  2. use DxO to process them as I find it’s automatic features blow things out less than Adobe Photoshop.
  3. Add location information with Lightroom and change dates as needed in the EXIF as I sometimes forget to set the date and time correctly when traveling (I do everything in local time)
  4. then put them into a simple file system (not Lightroom) that makes it easy to access and which is independent of the editing application. It’s work, but protects me from changes in software. These files go into a RAID-6 Synology NAS. I separate the JPGs from the RAWs so that I have an archive and also something that is in common format
  5. Backup these files onto another Drobo NAS and then into Crashplan so I get four backups
  6. FTP them to Bluehost running Gallery so there is access to them (although this is super slow so I need to either upgrade Bluehost or switch to a faster photo poster).
  7. For sharing purposes, use the low resolution iCloud Photo Sharing as it’s simple to add from the iPhone (more on that later) or from a Mac.

However with iPhone’s, this seems a little silly since the devices are naturally connected, so in experimenting with the flow. Also there are many more phones in our family and I’d like to collect the data there:

  1. Turn on Photo Stream if you only need JPEGs. I normally have left this off, but it allows full resolution backups of anything from the phones which is really a good idea. The main thing that you lose here are all videos and the live photos. Photo Stream only supports regular JPEGs
  2. Turn on iCloud Photo Library. If you have less than 5GB of photos (e.g. are cheap and do not want to pay Apple more), then this works, it copies all 5GB of photos up to your Mac automatically. The main issue is that you have to be disciplined about how much you store on your phone. In practice, other things are using iCloud storage, so you have to disable iPhone backup (I do anyway since it is pretty easy to recreate configurations) and disable a bunch of the applications that are storing stuff on iCloud, like WhatsApp for instance. The other thing you should do is to sweep through the iCloud Drive on your Mac and see what files are there, I had 1GB of old Keynote presentations.
  3. Final hint is that you should go to Photos/Preferences and unclick copy into library, you want as little as possible in the iCloud Photo Library so you leave most of the room for the iPhone camera.

From here you pretty much have the standard flow:

  1. Go to a Mac and use Photos to do selection and quick edits of these photos.
  2. Then export the photos as unmodified originals usually to the file system
  3. I have started to take DNGs now that iOS 10 allows that and DxO does not like this, so I use Photoshop to convert from DNG to JPG.
  4. Now I can delete the photos from Photostream and from the iPhone storage as well. The result is that I can now manage my photos as needed without have to “dock” the iPhone.
  5. Finally when I use multiple phones, I just access their photostream. This does require that I have the user’s password, but that’s not a huge problem in a family. Then I can use their Photostream to do the same as above.

IRS and ePayments

There is a dizzying array of ways to make your tax payments. And I have to say they are not super discoverable, but here is what I have found from cheapest to most expensive:

  1. directpay.irs.gov. This requires that you valid by knowing some facts from previous returns and then it will let you put your checking account in and the government gets your money. It takes a day or two to settle so plan ahead.
  2. eftps.gov. I think this is mainly meant for business, it does the same thing, but requires that you first enroll, you then get actual physical paper with your pin, then you can setup your password and tie it to your bank account. It also let’s you schedule payments for quarterlies if you do that. More hassle I think, but you don’t have to have a copy of your tax returns around.
  3. https://www.irs.gov/uac/pay-taxes-by-credit-or-debit-card. Then there are third parties, if your bill isn’t large, you can use a debit card for about $2 a transaction. Or if you are a points lover and your points are worth more than 1.6%, you can use an actual credit card. This is not a bad way to hit things out of the park or at least meet spending requirements. There are lots of providers, but I’ve used Pay1040.com and PayUSAtax.com successfully.

Post CES Updates

Ok in consumer electronics, here are the next recommendations:

TL;dr

  1. TVs as Computer monitors. Do not get one, instead, get a low-end TV. At 43 inches, this will let you really develop software well assuming you have the room on your desk and believe me you will want to. The Samsung 6300 line for instance is $500 for 43″.
  2. 4K HDR Televisions. The world of quantum dots and 4K HDR are here, the picture has never been brighter and televisions cheaper. The sweet spot are 65 inch television which you can get for $1K. We aren’t moving up in resolution for a long time. For folks with a little more dough, heading to HDR makes sense. The new Sony’s look amazing.
  3. 4K content. This has also matured. Windows 10 supports DRM on 4K, so you can watch your Netflix, but the best choice right now is the nVidia Shield. With the latest software update, you can watch 4K HDR from Amazon, Netflix and Youtube. Note that all Shields are getting a software update to do this and you should get the $200 one because they have two USB connections for adding storage.

USB C to SATA Adapter reviews for MacBook Pro (2016)

I got two adapters that convert USB C to a SATA interface, you can bus power a SSD, so this is not a bad test. I then ran Black Magic Speed Test and found to my surprise that one of the cables is 20-30% faster than the other. I used two SSDs, a Toshiba OCZ TR150 1TB and a Samsung 850 EVO 1TB and as expected the 850 EVO was slightly faster.

  1. Sabrent 2.5″ SATA Hard Drive/SSD to USB Type-C Adapter EC-HDSS. This cable’s main drawback is that it is long (about 0.5meters long), but it has an LED to tell you it is operating and both of these drives averages 510MBps read and 480MBps write on this interface. It also says it supports UASP so should be good for small reads and writes. At $17, it is hard to lose
  2. Cable Matters USB C to SATA. I don’t have the exact part number for this, but it’s main advantage is that it has a much shorter cable, probably about 0.25 meters. However is is slower for both these drivers running at 400MBps read and 380MBps for the Evo and 360MBps read and write for the OCZ. Not sure that makes a huge difference, but I use these for big backups, so it does save time. One reviewer by the way says it’s not compatible with the MacBook Pro late 2016, I haven’t found this to be a problem at least on my 15″ MBP.
  3. Startech USB 3.1 Adapter Cable for SATA with USB C. I also have ordered this but haven’t tested it yet.

Google Slides tricks

I’ve been using Google Slides quite a bit lately and I’ll be on to Office365 next, but here are some power user tips:

  1. The themes are really powerful, but you can many themes with the same name. There is an invisible GUID for themes, so when you are confused about formatting turn on the themes and then click on the “In this Presentation” button, you will probably see many themes of the same name. If you delete all but one, then things will be sane again.
  2. Deleting lists. Lists in this product are really strange. You can add them with the GUI, but there appears to be no way to get rid of lists. In a slide, you can use a keyboard shortcut, CMD-SHIFT-7 but this does not work in a theme. Very strange.
  3. Images are really easy. You just go and give it any link, but the tricky thing is you can actually crop images to shapes. Just click on the crop icon on the right and you will see you can crop to any shape. It is not in the format images menu though so hard to find.

Amazon Prime Photos doesn’t quite work for me

Well they now allow unlimited photos with an Amazon Prime account and you can share your high resolution photos with up to five family members. It does sound like the ideal backup strategy. But here are the problems:

  1. Live Photos. They still have a 5GB limit for videos and other storage, unless you pay $59 a year. The problem is that I have mixed my videos and photos all together and live photos have a video component, so you pretty quickly get hit that limit.
  2. They rename the photos! OK, this matters mainly to me because the actual names of the photos have meta data for me. That is, they will often have the name of the camera and also once the photos get renamed, you cannot just download them and use it as a straight backup, you either pickup Amazon’s scheme or not.

Anyway, continuing to look for a good photos sharing solution. As I said before iCloud Photo sharing isn’t bad but limits the photos to 4Mp. Amazon doesn’t but renames files. Still looking for something that is relatively free!

Ubiquiti Edgerouter Lite

I’ve been meaning to put a real router into the house for a while. You really want something that can handle 2M packets/second (why, I don’t know) but more importantly something that is reliable. Previously I had used the Linksys WRT-54G (which dates me!) and I found that under heavy load it would crash and hang. Even with DD-WRT installed.

For a long time i’ve been recommending Airport Extremes because they just seem to work, but now that Apple is out of the business, it seems like a good time to reconsider. There are two big features:

  1. Reliability. Making sure there is enough memory in the thing to keep it from crashing
  2. Failover. Having two internet connection particularly in an office is a good idea. So I have both the Edgerouter Lite and also the Linksys small business version.

Here’s a list of what I found:

  1. Make sure to plug the computer into the ETH0 port as that is the configuration one. The other ones will not respond to 192.168.1.1.
  2. Edgerouter is more of an enterprise thing but the Quickstart is pretty clear, so first thing I discovered it that it came with version 1.2, so none of the guide are correct at the Ubiquiti site. I see that 1.9 is the current version
  3. There is no place in the UI for the router to update the firmware that’s obvious but looking at it, you actually click on a tab at the *bottom* of the screen called system (what a strange place to put this) and then scroll all the way to the bottom and then you can upload a file. go to the ubiquiti site first and get the latest tar. it looks like it needs ssh commands to do this. Which is actually easier to understand. It does need a connection to the outside world to do this though, so kind of hard to configure. Once nice thing is they let you have two firmware versions, so if an update fails, you can recover.
  4. Now I tried the load balancing wizard and the router seemed to just hang. You have to switch to ETH2 as the LAN port, but fortunately reset is easy. On the next try, I got the connection for a little bit and DHCP seemed to work but then I got the message could not load router configuration. The main issue seems to be that you have to wait a while for the configuration to take effect. You can’t just refresh the browser.
  5. When this is finally setup, then there is a new error, the router works, but I get “cannot read router configuration” when browsing to the web ui. It looks like you have to close Safari at least and then you can see the Web UI.
  6. Finally remember that user names are case sensitive, so the user name Rich is the not the same as rich

USB C cable recommendations; aka do not destroy your phone or laptop

Ok there are real problems with after market cables particular with USB C.

TL;dr

USB C, unlike other USB cables, are not created equal. Some only have six wires in them, some have 24, some have the right passive electronics (pull up resistors) and some have the right active electronics (e-mark), so you need to read reviews careful and grade cables by:

  1. USB IF certified. Ignore the Amazon reviews, search for this or search for Bensen Leung’s list.
  2. Power carrying. Cables carry a limited set of power, the most of 100 Watts, the least is 15 watts, mark this on your cable.
  3. Data carrying. Cables vary from 480Mbps to 40GBps
  4. Length. The longer the cable, the less data they carry

Decoder Ring

It used to be pretty easy. A cable had a set protocol and speed. However with USB C it support multiple and very different protocols over the same connector. USB really seven separate factors you need to consider:

  1. Connector type.The connectors on each end which typically use letters to identify themselves.  In the beginning there was USB A (the familiar rectangular thingy) and less common USB B (big and square) and then a host of smaller ones. Mini-USB and micro-USB.
  2. Connector genders. USB has traditionally been asymmetric and non-reversible. So the most common cable would be a male USB A with a female micro-USB for most cell phones. With USB C for the first time the two ends are asymmetric and reversible.
  3. Protocol and speeds. Over the wires there have been a host of speeds with really confusing names. So there is USB 2.0 or 480MBps, USB Superspeed aka USB 3.0 or 5Gbps. USB Superspeed+ aka USB 3.1 Gen 2 or 10GBps. And with USB C there is something called alternate mode so you can put other protocols through. Notably for video you can feed it HDMI 1.4 or 10Gbps or HDMI 2.0 or 20Gbps. You need 2.0 to get 60 hertz 4k. And also now Thunderbolt 2 at 20Gbps or 3 at 40Gbps. Confused yet?
  4. Length. In general the faster the protocol the shorter the length. It’s easy to get 4 meter USB 2.0 cables but USB 3.1 10Gbps is limited to 1 meter and Thunderbolt 3 to 0.5m. So one size cable does not fit all
  5. Power carrying for phone. The original USB 2 was limited to 250mA at 5V. Then this was bumped to 500mA then 2A and finally to 2.4A and there is a proprietary Qualcomm 3A specifications called quick charge. So this is how you 10 watt chargers (5V x 2A) or 15 watt (5V x 3A). For these 5V systems, the big problem is that cables need a 56 Kohm resister to signal what they can carry and many off brands do not.
  6. Power for laptops. With USB 3 the voltages are also negotiated from 5V to 20V. Not all cables can carry the full 100 watts per the specification (20V x 5 amps), some are limited to 60 watts so beware of that as well. The MacBook Pro 15″ late 2016 needs 87 watts for instance.
  7. Certification USB IF and emark. This means it has been tested. If it is has an emark chip then it is active and works longer.

Follow Benson Leung to get the scoop but basically bad power can destroy electronics. And you also to really understand how much data you want to push though.

  1. USB C to USB A. These connect your old USB charger the problem is that the cheap ones do not use 56K pull-up resistors, so can draw too much power and burn out your phone.
  2. USB c to USB c and USB c chargers . The new standard has variable voltage. So for phones it can be 5V by 2-3 amps but for laptops it can negotiate to 10V, 15V or even 20v at 5 amps. However some cables and chargers do not correctly set the voltage and will destroy your electronics.
  3. Full featured USB C vs USB 2.0 There seem to be differences in USB c cables because they support are USB 2, 3 and 3.1 Gen 2 in transfer speeds. That is 480Mbps, 5Gbps and 10Gbps (highspeed, Superspeed, Superspeed+). And of course now there is thunderbolt using the same connector at 40Gb. So net net u want USB c with USB 3.1 and all those extra wires. Because this thing is high data rate it is hard to get cables longer than 1M in full featured. Full featured also allows some wires to be used in alternate mode so it can drive a display.
  4. USB c For thunderbolt 2 and 3. These are even faster at 20Gbps and 40Gbps so u again need special cables. Even Apple doesn’t have a TB3 cable but startech makes a 0.5m cable which is the max length for 40Gbps. Or you need an cable active electronics to go farther. And for displays you have 10Gbps for DP 1.4 and HDMI 1.x but need 20GBps for DP 2 and HDMI 2 and 4kp60. And this alternate mode is so new that some cables do not work with certain laptops. Ao make sure your model has been verified to work.

Net, net here are some cables that you can try.

  1. For phones: USB C for USB 2 at 480Mbps and 15 watts. Use cables and chargers from Apple or Google. Note that the apple cable is only rated at Highspeed USB 3 or 480mbps. These are $19 from Apple or just $5 from VCE.  Troll Benson’s links to see what works but his list of recommended phone cables is on an Amazon wish list that works for mobile phones.
  2. For laptops: USB C for USB 3.1 Gen 2 at 10Gbps and 100 watts. And Startech JUX01 which is 10Gbps with 100 watts charging which Nathan likes (a trusted reviewer) at $24 or Choetech for $15 which has only 60 watts for $15.
  3. For SSD to a laptop. USB C for USB 3.1 Gen 2 at 10Gbps and 15 watts. There is also Amazon has the Belkin as highly rated example for $13-15 in 2 meter length but only support 15 watt sharing, so best for connecting a peripheral like an SSD for instance to a laptop and getting power from the laptop.
  4. For disk array to a laptop. USB C for TB3 for 40Gbps and 60 watts. I haven’t found testing for it but u will need a different cable set for TB3. StarTech cost $20 for 0.5m and a terminated with USB C on both sides and supports 60 watts for laptops (so not quite enough for a 15″ MBP 2016) and 150  watts for phones (e.g. 5V only). It is not e-marked though.USB
  5. For UHD 4K display to a laptop. The main issue here is making sure it supports 5K or 4K displays at 60 hertz. So for a USB C for DP 2  for 18Gbps, the Cable Matters seems to work with a full DisplayPort. Then Pluggable has a USB C to HDMI 2.0 for 18Gbps that also supports 4kp60 but it is not MBP 2016 compatible. Note that Apple’s own adapter does not support 4Kp60.
  6. For ethernet to a laptop. Cable Matters makes a 1Gbps Ethernet that seems pretty decent.
  7. As a one connection docking station. The right one hasn’t seem to have been invented yet but I would say a single connection that is 40GBps USB C that breaks out Ethernet (1Gbps), 4Kp60 video (18Gbps), SD card reader (5Gbps) and some passthrough USB A and C Ports would be great. There is enough bandwidth at 40Gbps to do this, but most do not support 4Kp60 yet or the full 100 watt passthrough. Satechi or Juiced Systems at $75 is the closest with 4kp30 and about 60 watts passed through..

The confusing thing for consumers is that all look the same so get your label makers out and mark the cables with the power they can carry for phones (15W), for laptops (100W) and data rates (480, 5Gb or 10Gb). Wow that is going to confuse lots of people.

More bloggers from tongfamily.com

Well, the family the blogs together has the most fun together. Here’s a list of everyone who is blogging. I don’t know how up to date, but we definitely have the domain names covered: