A Choice of Trade-Offs

Apple has gotten to a place where each new product is just as notable for the things that have been removed as they are for their improvements. The iPhone 7 dropped the headphone jack. The newest MacBook Pros add a wonderful new Touch Bar interface – and loses the MagSafe power adaptor, the SD card reader, and has a poorer keyboard than its predecessor. Many professionals are upset about it because they don’t like the compromises in the latest machines.

All products are the sum of the trade-offs made in their design. Add battery power, add battery weight. Make the computer thinner, and you have to reduce keyboard travel. The trick is to make the right choices in what to prioritize, and what kind of compromises to accept. And the problem is, people are starting to feel that Apple isn’t making machines for them anymore.

It seems like Apple’s overriding concern over the past few years is thinness and lightness, and balanced against those, everything else goes to the wall. Keyboard feel and useful ports are sacrificed to make the case thinner. Battery life is sacrificed to save weight. The overall goal is to make the product as thin and light as possible.

That’s great for some people, but not for me. I transport my computer, so I do like using a laptop, but I almost always use it on my desk. Right now I have a wired mouse connected (I hate the BlueTooth mouse at work, because it keeps disconnecting itself), and I often have a graphics tablet plugged in, too. Because my main drive is nearly full, I’ve offloaded my media library to an external hard drive.

For me, the weight and thickness of my phone and laptop ceased being an issue long ago. I was fine with the thickness of my iPhones 3GS and 4S, and I’m satisfied with the weight and dimensions of my current 2014 and 2011 MacBook Pros.

I wish Apple would also create products where the overarching concern was to make the products no bigger than necessary, rather than as thin as possible. I’d like to see them splurge on a couple of extra mm of keyboard travel. I’d like to see the SD card built in. I get that USB-C is a wonderful future, but having to rely on a fleet of dongles is not particularly elegant.

I also wish they’d reconsider internal expansion. I understand that they don’t want to build in features used by a small minority; the flip side is that external expansion is messy. Who wants to live with a rat’s nest of cables? The current Mac Pro is a marvel of design, but I think for its intended audience, professionals who need tons of computing power, a tower design that facilitates internal expansion is more useful. A loaded tower with internal drives mounted inside is neater,  has fewer cables and is easier to move around than a smaller computer with connected external drives.

I understand Apple wants to keep their product line simple. But I do think there is demand for Apples that are not compromised for the sake of thinness.

 

Absent Friends

Christmas is a time to get together with friends and family, but it’s also a time to remember those who aren’t with us anymore.  My brother was showing some old videos from 19 years ago, and it was striking how many of those people aren’t with us anymore.

I miss my Dad. I miss his picking out the perfect Christmas tree, and how he’d play the piano downstairs. It’s been mostly silent since he died.

I miss Grandma. She always reminded me of Miss Marple, all white haired and fluffy, but always wanting to be part of things. Whenever she came for Christmas Eve, my uncle (from the other side of the family) would always flirt outrageously with her, and she’d lap it up.

I miss Fran, the neighbor from across the street. She had been a friend of my mother’s mother, then a friend of my mother’s, then a friend of the family. Opinionated, no-nonsense, but had a great sense of humor; we called her “Auntie” and she was, except for the DNA.

I miss Anne and Bob. Anne was the fun aunt of all my aunts, the one most likely to play with her nephews and nieces. It took a while for her husband Bob to grow on the family, but grow he did; he stuck by Anne by thick and thin.

I miss Dot. She was the widow of the uncle I never knew, and the mother of the cousin who died as a teenager. In spite of all that, she was fun to be around. She had a great sense of humor, and a funny, very plainspoken way of expressing herself. She seldom filtered herself, even when she probably should have. She was a great companion for my mother.

I miss my Aunt Sandy, my mother’s older sister. She too had a great sense of humor. She was very much a gourmet cook, with adventurous tastes, and my Dad and I used to joke about how she was going to be serving “Roast Platypus” for dinner sometime.

Then there are the friends, who are still with us, but literally absent for the evening: brother Tom, Kip and Joanna, Chrissie, and my two sisters, who I’ll be seeing next weekend.

Christmases are like a long running play; older members leave, and new members join the cast. My nephews and nieces are now young adults, as are my cousin’s kids. Over time, the play continues, but the cast evolves.

But here’s to absent friends.

 

Making of a Christmas Card, 2016

This year was a bit unusual in that I actually had two competing ideas for a card, and I was able to do them with a minimum of stress. The first idea was to get some pictures of Christmas lights at night, and I actually brought the tripod with me into work, and went out shooting afterwards at the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I did get some good stuff there, but in the end, I decided to go with my second idea.

I’d gotten a “Table Top Studio” kit the previous Christmas. Essentially, it’s a small square tent with white nylon sides to soften the light coming from the included pair of quartz lights. It came with four backgrounds: red, white, blue and black, and I decided to pick up a small snow globe and photograph it.

My initial thought was to use the red background, because red’s a Christmas color. I shot a number of frames. The snow globe lights up and has a small impeller to stir up the glitter inside, so I shot a a number of pictures with the globe both on and off.

I found that the moving glitter didn’t really read as glitter (or snow) but rather as noise.

I also decided, more or less for the heck of it, to try it with the white and black backgrounds:

I found I really didn’t like the black ones at all, and the white ones were underexposed and the white background was wrinkled, so I decided to shoot a few more with more exposure. I also got the idea to hide the bottom of the background with some fluffy cotton, to make it look more like snow. I shot both red and white versions:

The cotton balls in both are a little too obvious, but I figured that would be easy to fix in Photoshop. The red one was more in line with my original conception of the shot, but there was something about the white one that I liked. The red one was a little cleaner; the white one had some color casts that needed cleaning up. The snowmen in the white one were a little easier to read, and the reflections of the lights on the globe were a little less prominent on that one too. It would also take less ink to print. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to go with the white one, and took it into Photoshop.

All these steps took a lot less time than it usually does. The photography took maybe 45 minutes, and I had the Photoshop work done in less than an hour.

Next, I imported the picture into the card template in Pages. This was a little ticklish since I had to rotate everything 90°, because the template is designed for horizontal pictures. For the text, I used Museo Slab, the same font I use here for headings. I ended up choosing golden text with red rules above and below.

All in all, pretty simple, but I’m pleased with the result, more so than I was with last year’s card.

Final Result

Final Result

Merry Christmas everyone.

The Perfect Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

2016 Christmas Tree

We just finished putting up the Christmas tree. It’s always a lot of work, and it’s always nice to bask in the glow of the lights when it’s done. This year’s tree isn’t perfect, but it is pretty nice.

I remember growing up, my Dad always picked out the family tree, and he had a well earned reputation for picking out a Perfect Tree. Our trees were always much nicer than the Charlie Brown trees my cousins had.

So when he died, my two brothers and I all felt strongly that we had to live up to his reputation, and none of us was willing to cede responsibility for getting the tree to the others. So off we went, the Three Wise Men — or is it the Three Stooges? on a bitterly cold December day to find The Perfect Tree. It took forever, because of course, there is no such thing, and even less so 36 years ago when shaped trees were less common. It took nearly an hour for the three of us to agree on one. It was a great tree though.

Nowadays, it’s just me. I still like to get a nicely shaped tree, but it’s easier now, because trees are more likely to be nicely shaped, and I have less enthusiasm for standing around a windswept tree lot trying to find The Perfect Tree. But every time, I always think of Dad.

Goodbye EX-500

I just got rid of my first motorcycle, a 1987 Kawasaki EX-500 the other day. It had been taking up space in the garage for a decade and a half.

I’d been interested in motorcycles for a long, long time before I got the bike — privately. My parents were very opposed to motorcycles, and I was pretty conservative in the way I manifested myself, so I think it was a shock when I actually got it. (I think my relatives have gotten over being shocked at anything I do).

I started buying motorcycle magazines in 1986 or so, and by 1987, I’d decided on the EX-500 — sporty, but a good beginner bike. I put down my money in the spring of 1987, intending to pick up the bike after taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course.

It was a disaster. I bombed out of the course. In hindsight, it didn’t help that the instructor was a screamer who just made me tenser when I screwed up. At the end, I came home from that weekend convinced motorcycles were not for me. I called up the dealer and cancelled the order, rather to his disbelief.

And yet… over the next few weeks, I found that it really was something I wanted to do. I still found myself looking at bikes hungrily. So I found another instructor who gave me one on one instruction, found that it went well, and called the dealer back, found that they still had the bike, and picked it up in the mid-summer of 1987.

It took me a while to get comfortable on the bike. I remember doing a lot of practice on Green Lodge street, where there is no traffic. Then I started taking it out on the side roads in traffic, and started to get comfortable.

This was all on my learners permit, which restricted me to daytime operation within the state. I had jury duty scheduled in early fall, so I couldn’t make the appointment until after that was over. In the meantime, I practiced circles and figures eight for the license test, and got so I could do one in a fairly tight area.

Finally, I had my appointment in early October. The inspector had me do a circle and figure eight in an area about twice as big as the areas I’d been practicing for, so I whipped through them confidently. He then told me to go down the road half a mile and come back, and as I did, I could see him in the rear view mirror go inside to do the paperwork. I had my license.

That October was when I first developed my liking for night rides, since I could now ride at night. It wasn’t until the following year that I really started to get into riding. I got better at it,  and got more confident. I developed that awareness of other vehicles that motorcyclists have. And I found I really enjoyed it.

The ride that sticks out in my memory was a trip out along the Mohawk Trail in July of 1993. I got to Mount Greylock at the end of the day, and took the road up to the summit. To the west, the sun was setting. To the east, the full moon was rising. It was awesome.

By the late 1990’s though, the bike was getting unreliable. It developed some sort of intermittent electrical problem that left me stranded a couple of times. I took it to one place to get fixed; the problem came back. I took it to a second place to get fixed; they said they found it, and I was just about to pick it up, when they came back and said it had died on the owner while he took it on a test ride. They got to the root of the problem, but I never fully trusted it again.

I was coming back from a short ride to visit my aunt when the end came. I was 90 seconds from home, when the car ahead of me stopped short. I slammed on the brakes, and was just congratulating myself for making a good emergency stop when I heard the squeal of brakes, and got tossed over the handlebars, breaking my collarbone.

The bike sustained enough damage — broken windscreen, mirror, and other scuffs, that it wasn’t worth fixing, especially given its past issues. So I got a new one, and the EX-500 has been sitting in the garage ever since. I wanted to be rid of it, but couldn’t figure out how. Dealers didn’t want it, and there weren’t any local junkyards.

I got a little more serious about this fall, and started looking online, and finally found a page that suggested Kars4Kids. I’d heard their jingle on the radio, of course, but didn’t realize they dealt with dead bikes too. I called them a couple of weeks ago, and asked them about it. “Sure!” they said. I told them the bike was damaged. “That’s OK”. I told them it had been sitting in the garage for 15 years. “Wow” they said, but they’d still take it. Great. So I put some air back in the rear tire so I could move it, and got it out from under all the accumulated junk. Last Wednesday, I wheeled it out to the street, and when I came home, it was gone.