Presenting the Most Bad-Ass Macbook Pro Skin in the Western Hemisphere

One of the things I was looking forward to when getting my MacBook Pro 13 was the fact that I buying a hardware platform. By that, I mean a product that would immediately achieve such critical mass that hundreds of companies would create accessories, cases, covers, adapters, etc. for it. Apple keeps their form factors for years (sometimes too many years) and that gives hardware companies the stability they need to roll out a broad array of products. That’s a compelling advantage!

Coming from the Windows world, where often every year the new model has a new design, whenever I’d get a new laptop I’d search in vain for cases, covers, etc. Anything I’d find would be generic and generally boring. My last Windows laptop, a Dell XPS 13, was the first one I’d ever owned that was popular enough to warrant some accessories. I remember being so exited when I found this plastic shell for it.

I hadn’t bought a skin for a laptop since back in the Fujitsu P7000 days (and I was amazed I found a skin for it at all), but I decided that since I was likely going to keep this MacBook Pro for longer than any other laptop I’ve ever owned, I wanted to protect it from wear and tear more than any previous laptop. Time for some skin shopping!

The front is a Slickwraps Color Series wrap in, you guessed it, red. ūüėĀ I chose to leave the vinyl in place over the Apple logo. I may prefer Apple laptops now, but I have no desire to advertise for the company.

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Xbox One Game Discs: Gaming Like it’s 2001

Long ago, in the days of yore, gaming consoles lacked local storage. Everything was stored in the game cartridge – or, in later years, on a CD or DVD – because putting rewritable storage on a console was expensive and complicated. It was easier to create one-time writable storage that the customer would buy, and put into their console to play the game. You want to play a different game? You put in a different cartridge or disc. That was fine for the early years of gaming, but when consoles with hard drives came along (the Xbox was the first), things started to change for the better. Hard drives grew larger, and eventually you could install entire games to the drive. The sped up loading time and made it easier and faster to play games.

This trend continued with the Xbox one, and as broadband proliferated, entire games could be downloaded with relative ease. What continues to dismay me though are the number of games who, despite having been installed onto the local hard drive, insist on having the game inserted before you can play them. This is clearly a DRM enforcement issue to stop people from sharing game discs, and while I wouldn’t mind it if it asked for the disc once a week, the current method of having to have the disc inserted every single time you play is quite frustrating. It wouldn’t be so bad if I lived in a household where I was the only one that ever played the Xbox One, but my son also enjoys gaming, and he tends to play different games. So what’s happening is a never-ending disc swap battle where, when he wants to game, he has to take out the disc from my game, and I have to do the reverse.

Digital games obviously have no such limitations; once you install them, they will load immediately. When I think about the reasons why Microsoft makes digital games so easy in this regard, and disk-based games so irritating, the cynical part of me might actually think that Microsoft wants to encourage digital purchases of games over discs. Why? Pretty simple in my view: they want to kill the used game market. Microsoft makes no money when people sell their old games, or when people buy used games. Their ultimate business model is based upon Xbox customers buying new games regularly. We know that they don’t make much money on the console hardware, but they do make a good amount of money on games, and accessories.

At this point, I would be willing to pay $50 for an Xbox multi-disc changer that would allow me to load up five or 10 games and leave them there for the Xbox hardware to authenticate against. I’ve never heard of anything like this though, so maybe I’m in the minority‚Ķwould you buy one?

A Quote About Responsiblity

“The thing about responsibility is that it’s most effectively taken, not given.”

Seth Godin

Like Trying to Photograph Lightning: Taking Pictures of Hummingbirds

I had an opportunity to take photos of feeding hummingbirds this summer when we stopped over for the night in Trail, BC. It was the single hardest photo subject I’ve ever had – hummingbirds are so small, and move so fast, it was extremely difficult to get a focus lock and take a photo. Most of the time the bird would leave the frame before my camera could get a lock. I must have shot 60 frames just to get these four. I had to learn to hear their incoming buzz – they sound like small helicopters – and guess/hope where they’d be. I didn’t have a tripod or a shutter release so I couldn’t set up a “proper” shoot, but it was still fun trying to capture just the right moment. And if there’s one argument for 50 megapixel cameras, it’s this: being forced to crop so much leaves few pixels left. The source photos after processing are only 3.5 to 3.9 megapixels in size, so no giant wall prints for these photos. ūüėú

The VAVA VOOM 22 Bluetooth Speaker Reviewed

VAVA (which appears to be a sister company to HooToo) did a launch promotion on the VOOM 22 for $39.99, so I ordered it from Amazon the first day it was available – and as I write this, no one has reviewed it yet. The product packaging arrived a little banged up – and with a rip on top – which surprised me. Opening the box, I found a small instruction pamphlet, a power adaptor, a 3.5mm cable, and the speaker itself. The power adaptor made me frown – it’s round-plug style connector rather than something more universal such as microUSB or USB-C. That means if you want to charge this while travelling, you need to bring this special power adaptor. It’s a huge failure in my eyes when companies do that. The rather large power supply outputs 18v at 2A, so I’d guess they opted for faster charging at the expense of customer convenience, and that’s a mistake in my eyes: I’d rather have a device that might not charge very fast but can charge with the cables and external batteries I already have. The power adaptor prongs also don’t fold down, so it would be a hassle to travel with. On the plus side, the VOOM 22 plays while charging. There are only three dots showing battery level so you’re either at full, 2/3rds, or on the last 1/3rd. You can press the power button once to display the battery level.

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Why is my Orange Crush Water Enhancer Genetically Engineered?

As a general rule, I am not worried about scientific advances in food growth and production. I do not buy organic (it’s not worth the cost to our wallet or the planet) and I do not boycott GMO food like some do. Genetic selection¬†of plants has been happening since the first farmer selected the seeds from the strongest plant; now it’s happening in different way, but there’s no reason to vilify it. I am generally resistant to the waves of hype and fear that swell and sweep across my social media feeds every few months.

However, I was genuinely curious to see the words PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGINEERING on the back of the Orange Crush water enhancer squeeze bottle.

The ingredients? Water, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sucralose, contains 2% or less of the following: Malic Acid, Acesulfame Potassium, Yellow 5, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Red 40.

I understand some of the reasons why some food is genetically enhanced – to make it resistant to disease, resistant to pesticides needed to kill bugs that feed upon it, or to otherwise enhance growth. But what part of this delicious and potent concentrated superfluid needed to be genetically engineered? This may be a mystery that is never solved…unless someone out reading this is a food scientist and wants to chime in!

A Technology Pickle: a New Small Form Factor PC or an Upgraded Synology NAS?

I’m in a bit of a technology pickle and I’d like some opinions from my geeky readers. For the past several years, I’ve had a small computer (a Gigabyte BRIX, Core i7 CPU) running as my 24/7 server. It runs Plex for streaming movies, runs CrashPlan for backing up all my data (as well as serving as the data location host for family member CrashPlan backups), Resilio Sync for always-on syncing with my other computers, and a few other apps. Connected to it is a 4 TB external hard drive, which is where I store copies of all my data (pushed and pulled there by a combination of Resilio Sync and SyncBackSE) and the CrashPlan backups from other people.
 
I also have a Synology NAS (a 1512+) from five years ago, stuffed with five hard drives and a DX513 expansion unit stuffed with another four more. I have about 32 TB of total storage and it’s where I keep my MKV rips from our movie collection – and this is what Plex uses for a data source (but the Plex server is on the Gigabyte BRIX). For the most part this works fairly well, though Plex (used via a Roku) routinely takes two tries to start playing movies – I think because the first attempt to pull the MKV from the mapped network drive fails – and it’s not uncommon for us to have a few moments of buffering in some movies. It’s very random though and I’ve never been able to pin down the source of these Plex glitches.

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My Dysfunctional MacBook Pro & a Lesson in Humility

Since the first week I had my MacBook Pro, it had a peculiar, intermittent problem: it would spontaneously turn off, and getting it back on was hit or miss. Pressing and holding the power button didn’t do anything. Tapping the keyboard did nothing. Once,¬†I reset the SMC and it came back to life – but that trick never worked again. Other times, simply leaving it alone for 5-10 minutes would bring it back to life. What was odd was that it would only happen when I was away from home – it never exhibited this behaviour while it was used in my home office. I didn’t think heat was a factor as it didn’t happen after extended uses of heavy load – in fact, it often happened before I even started doing any real work.

This issue, when combined with the lackluster battery life, combined to leave me with a feeling of frustration and regret and having spent so much money on this product. No longer being a professional tech blogger, I am much more judicious about my technology purchases – this was my only laptop for the next 3-5 years, so it had to be a great¬†purchase…and it sure didn’t seem like it.

The sixth¬†time this happened (while I at my kid’s Taekwondo class), I finally got fed up enough to bring it into the local Apple Store Genius Bar. That time, it blinked off just after I logged in, which was a new behaviour. Normally it simply wouldn’t turn on.

In truth, I am still a neophyte with the UNIX¬†underpinnings of macOS, so the “deep in the guts” troubleshooting methods aren’t part of my skillset yet (and might never be if I’m honest). The particular symptoms my MacBook was having were difficult to search for – I couldn’t find any online resources that were applicable. I thought¬†since I paid the Apple premium – which includes the benefit of taking it into an Apple store – I’d see how the premium tech support experience worked. I already had decades of experience calling tech support lines in India for Dell and HP laptops, arguing with them about the problem, so I’d try the Apple way.

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MacBook Pro 13 Use Outdoors: This is One Bright Screen

There are some things that drive me nuts about my MacBook Pro 13 (mainly the battery life), but the outdoor view-ability of the screen is top-notch. And, interestingly, cranking the screen brightness doesn’t hurt battery life as much as you’d think.¬†At minimum¬†(one-notch) brightness with the MacBook Pro being passive, using iStat Menus, power use was a mere 1.94 watts. That’s pretty incredible and shows how dramatically the overall system scales down power usage.
On the flip side, if I crank the screen to it’s eye-searing maximum brightness – which Apple says is 500 nits – it uses up 8.11 watts. That’s a 4x increase in power consumption, yes, but 8 watts is still not a massive power drain. The screen Apple used is both bright and efficient.
Unfortunately, the scenario where I crank the screen brightness up to maximum to use it outdoors yet do nothing that uses the CPU aggressively is a rare one. Maybe if you wanted to watch a movie outdoors in the daylight? That’s not a scenario I’ve found myself in just yet.