Leaf Peeping on the Charles

Fall foliage is such an ephemeral thing; one moment all the leaves are green; then in August, the first “traitor trees” start turning color, then one day, most of the trees are in full color – they still have most of their leaves, but they’ve turned color. Then, a few days later, the bonds holding the leaves to the trees start to break, and the leaves start to fall, leaving the trees barer and barer, until nothing is left except the oaks, grimly holding onto their dry brown leaves.

This weekend was pretty much peak season around here, and the weather was pleasant, so I took the kayak out for a trip along the Charles in Dedham – I didn’t have time for a longer trip as I had to get home to make supper. It was gorgeous.

I put in at the landing by the Dedham Recreation Center, and paddled downstream through Motley Pond, down past the Route 109 bridge to just short of the Bridge Street bridge. Along the way I saw a bunch of young mallards; the heads of the males were a deep rich green. Judging by their size, I’d guess this was their first time in adult plumage. On the way back, I spotted a snowy egret and a bunch of painted turtles by the entrance to Motley Pond.

Motley Pond is a bit of a misnomer; it’s more like a spot where the river spreads out a bit. Unlike the Basin, between Boston and Cambridge, the Charles is pretty narrow here, no more than 15 feet in some spots. At Motley, the river widens out; there is also a sandbar island in the middle, and you can often spot waterfowl there.

I haven’t been on the kayak much the past year. It was great to take the boat and the camera out for a few hours.

Forty Years

Forty years ago this morning, I was on my way to start my first day of student teaching. I took the Riverside Line out to Newton Center, and as I passed through the Longwood area, I looked out the window, and got a glimpse of the distinctive Deaconess Hospital garage. I’d been there several times, visiting my father, who was dying of cancer.

I made it to the school, checked in with the secretary, and was just talking with the cooperating teacher before the kids arrived, when the principal came in, pulled me aside, and told me that my Dad was gone. My uncle Kip was on his way to pick me up. I vaguely remember hugging Mum when I got home, and I think there were a couple of officers from the Boston Police there to offer their condolences and pick up his gun and badge.

I still wonder if I was passing by his hospital at the moment he died.


Five years ago, I wrote “Hard to Believe, and Not Hard to Believe“. This anniversary feels different. It has been a long time, and there has been more water over the bridge. Mum had her 80th birthday three years ago, and her stroke a year ago. Dad’s older brother George died this spring, at the age of 94. I still have all the memories of that horrible summer, but they’re more distant somehow.

In any case, when I remember, I prefer to remember the time before. I remember going downstairs to watch him paint. I remember him explaining how he created the roundedness of the ship sails by curving the edges and adding shadows in the corners.

I remember him passing along his love of photography to me. My uncle Tom sent back a set of darkroom equipment from Japan while he was overseas; Dad helped me set it up. In hindsight, I wonder if Tom had sent the equipment to Dad, and Dad gave it to me. Dad taught me how to use his cameras, how to set the aperture and shutter speed; and how to use the rangefinder, and him letting me use his cameras. (I also remember him blowing up at me while he was trying to show me how to use the Polaroid; I had trouble seeing the frame marks at first).

I remember the weenie roasts up in the Blue Hills. He must have set up half a dozen sites over the years before settling on one that he liked by a small brook. The weenie roasts were quintessential Dad, combining his love of the outdoors, how great he was with kids — and it wasn’t just his own kids, there were often neighbors and/or cousins along — and his disregard for rules.

I remember helping him in the garden. For the last decade or so of his life, he was really into vegetable gardening. He dug out a small plot by the porch, and enlarged it a couple of years later. The soil here isn’t great, so he added bags and bags full of cow manure, and took great pride in his tomatoes.

I really wish he had lived to see his grandchildren. Dad was so good with kids.

I wish he had lived long enough to go shooting with me with my cameras. I think using an SLR instead of a rangefinder would have been a revelation for him. And interchangeable lenses! I would have loved to have seen what he could have done with a telephoto. And now digital. A couple of years ago, I was in the hold of HMS Victory, taking pictures with existing light. He would have loved that whole day — the ship visits, the photography, everything.

Two years before he died, he and Mum had their twentieth anniversary, so we decided to have a surprise party for them. I used his camera to take pictures of the party. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the flash, so I had to use existing light and a slow shutter speed. I got a couple of pictures of them opening packages:

Dad opening package
Mum and Dad at their twentieth anniversary, as Jimmy and Philip look on.

AOL and Me

At the 1988 AppleFest, Apple demonstrated something cool called “AppleLink – Personal Edition”. It was an online service for Apple II users, providing chats, libraries, forums, and access to Apple technical documentation. The latter, especially, appealed to me, so after a couple of months, I joined. It was a small enough community that while I wasn’t able to get the screen name “Ted”, I did get a pretty low number tacked onto it, and I’ve been Ted38 ever since.

Apple and the company running the service, Quantum Computer Service, parted ways a few months afterwards, and the service was rebranded America Online shortly before the Macintosh version left beta. While the Apple tech docs disappeared, the Apple II Forums remained, with their message boards, chat rooms, and software libraries staffed by volunteers. I found myself spending more and more time online, even though it was expensive at $5 an hour for off-peak usage. At first I was a lurker, then I started becoming active in a couple of forums, and started attending chats.

My favorite part of the Apple II Forums was the “Across the Boards” message board. It was a message board available from all of the Apple II Forums. It was a place for non-technical discussions of Apple, Apple and AOL, and how both companies were (mis)treating the Apple II. It was a place to talk about rumors, ways the Apple II could be promoted, and what Apple wasn’t doing for the platform. It was our back fence. The biggest contributors were the forum staff — those wondrous people with the fancy AFL (forum leader), AFA (forum assistant) or AFC (forum consultant) prefixes on their screen names.

Eventually, in early 1990, I think, a Forum Consultant position opened up in the Apple II Art & Graphics forum, and I got my very own spiffy AFC screen name. Oh the joy! And an overhead account too, meaning I didn’t have to pay for my online time anymore. I really enjoyed that job. I got a glimpse of the behind the scenes areas of the system, and got to moderate message boards. When the forum assistant was called to active duty during Operation Desert storm, I took over running the library.

It was fun for a couple of years, and then a couple of things happened. First, Apple II usage dropped — partly because the Apple IIGS AOL software sucked, and partly because Apple was actively steering people away from the Apple II and to the Mac. Secondly, I switched locations for work, and was working later in the day, and spending large amounts of time online was less fun. For the last 10 months or so, they consolidated most of the Apple II forums under two forum leaders, and I actually got to moderate Across the Boards.

At the end of October 1993, AOL discontinued Apple II service. By that point, I myself had gotten my first Macintosh, and was mostly accessing the service via the Mac at that point. The software was so much better. I was offered a position with the Apple Beginners Forum (ABF), and took it reluctantly.

The ABF experience for me, was not a great one. I’d been kind of auditing the forum quietly for a little while, trying to decide if I wanted to join, when the forum assistant, who was a friend, recommended me to the forum leader, and I didn’t feel I really had a choice anymore. The job there was to answer questions from beginners, so I’d been contributing to their forums. I was pretty new to the Mac myself at that point, so mostly what I could contribute were directions for getting to the proper forum where the user could get help.

What I didn’t realize until too late was that the forum leader, Sandy, who was a wonderful person, one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met, would also solicit emails from new users. “Confused? Email me, AFL SandyB, and I’ll help you.” She would then parcel out the emails to her staff to answer, in addition to message board duty.

I quickly became overwhelmed. Remember, I was now getting home relatively late, and I was now getting a bunch of questions that had to be answered very painstakingly, because new users are both easily confused and easily hurt or discouraged. I don’t know if Sandy ever realized just how artificial the voice I used for answers was for me — I had to strip out every little bit of sarcasm and snark, and most of the humor from my prose. I laughed hysterically one day when she asked me to write something, and said something to the effect of “Don’t spend too much time on this, just let it flow…” I think she would have had a heart attack if I’d done as she’d requested…

One thing I did enjoy was doing graphical help screens. These were little graphics explaining various concepts like navigating via keywords or uploading /downloading:

diagram explaining uploading and downloading
Uploading and downloading explained.

Probably my favorites was a pair explaining good and bad online behavior:

Diagram explaining good behavior with an angelic Mac
Online don'ts illustrated with a devilish mean Mac burning in hell

I dithered for a couple of years. I wrote a resignation email one night and nearly sent it — and then the following week, AOL fired Sandy over a dispute about her mailing list, and made my friend Andy, the forum assistant, the forum leader. I stuck it out a little while longer, to avoid leaving him in the lurch, but eventually left. I was burnt out on chats, tired of answering questions I didn’t know the answers to, and not having any time to have fun online anymore.

I was also discovering the web, and starting to leave AOL’s walled garden behind, and frankly, AOL had less and less to offer. In the early days, when they charged by the hour, there was an incentive to provide content via libraries and message boards and chat. Once they switched over to a flat fee, the incentive declined. Also, back in the Apple II days, the service had been a small town, where everybody knew everyone, or at least, all the most colorful characters. Now the service was a big city, full of people, and some of them, not so nice.

Eventually, I got broadband access, and wasn’t reliant on AOL for dialup access anymore. I converted my account to a free plan, and kept the email address mainly for the sake of a few friends who were still using it. I haven’t really spent any time on the service or on the online portal in years, though.

I would have been content to leave it like that, but lately I’ve been getting a prodigious amount of junk email on my AOL account. A frightening amount of it gets caught in the junk filters, but not all, and it’s becoming untenable. I checked, and I haven’t had an email worth saving on that account in years. So Saturday, I deleted the sub-account I had, and in four weeks, I’ll be able to shut down the main account.

But before I do, I wanted to remember the good times I had, way back at the beginning.

Magical Thinking

One of the things I find most dismaying about the current political and cultural climate is the utter disdain for facts among some people. If a fact is inconvenient, just lie and say things are the way you want them to be.

Put more charitably, this is “magical thinking”. The fact of asserting something will make it so, or that if you can convince enough people, saying something is so will make it so. I find it maddening.

To be fair, there are times when magical thinking does in fact, work. It’s most effective when it’s directed at human efforts, because of the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. If people believe something is so, they will work to make it happen. Over and over again, when you read about how something was done, you read that “If we had known how difficult this would be, we would have never done it” Or you see the person who fails because they gave up on themselves.

Steve Jobs was a notable magical thinker. He was able to envision how things would be, and had a “reality distortion field” to make others believe along with him. The original Macintosh was built partly on magical thinking — for both good and bad.

On the plus side of the ledger, he was able to get his team working 80 hours a week to create the first semi-affordable graphical user interface. On the other side, the original Mac only had 128 KB of memory, a laughably small amount of space for the work the computer had to do, because Jobs insisted on it. Within 6 months Apple had to admit it wasn’t enough, and released a Mac with somewhat more memory.

More critically, the physical world doesn’t believe in our magic. Thinking something will become so when it isn’t, doesn’t help with things like viruses or cancers or the atmosphere. When Jobs first found out about his cancer, he insisted on trying diet based remedies, despite the urgent advice from his doctors that surgery was needed. By the time he agreed, the surgery was too late, and his cancer had spread.

Magical thinking won’t make climate change go away. There has been pretty good scientific consensus about what’s going on for a couple of decades. I remember Isaac Asimov writing about it over three decades ago. The world is getting warmer, on average, than it was. Fall lasts longer into winter, and springs — not every spring, but on average — have been coming earlier. What we’re seeing aligns well with predicted models, and we need to accept that the climate is changing, and that the seas are rising.

Mitigation work, on the other hand, probably would respond to magical thinking. It’s unclear what it would take to update infrastructure to take the rise in sea level into account; a “can-do” attitude would help.

Magical thinking won’t make the corona virus go away. The virus doesn’t know or care what people believe, it just wants a host to infect. It’s just as contagious whether you think it is or not, and the effects on any one person are a crapshoot. Some people, will feel crummy for a couple of days. Some people will be respiratory cripples for a long time. And some people it will kill.

With that in mind, I think it’s really foolish and stupid and selfish not to take the warnings about social distancing seriously. We know it’s crazy contagious, and we know it kills. To believe otherwise just because it’s what we want to believe is magical thinking, and magical thinking doesn’t work with the physical world, and not recognizing that is the peak and pinnacle of stupidity. It angers me immensely that this country has so many stupid fools.

Things I Miss

Between the COVID-19 outbreak, and Mum’s stroke, things have changed. These are a few things I miss under the current circumstances.

  • Breakfast out on Sundays. I hope our regular restaurant will be able to recover, but I’m not sanguine about it.
  • Going into Boston on the weekends
  • Thursdays out with Kris, Paul, John and Rich
  • Having the surplus time and energy to do yard work
  • Buying plants
  • Going to the Apple Store to gawk at the newest stuff
  • Kelly’s Roast Beef
  • Going grocery shopping at a civilized hour
  • Not wearing a mask when I go grocery shopping
  • My crocuses. The neighbor mowed the lawn where they’re naturalized last year. (OK, can’t blame this one on COVID 19)
  • Feeling free to just disappear for a couple of hours on my days off
  • Going for a bike ride along the Charles
  • Country Kitchen doughnuts.
  • Window shopping
  • Going to a bookstore and just browsing
  • Dunkin Donuts blueberry muffins. Their coffee is so-so, and their doughnuts are now crap, but their blueberry muffins are fantastic.
  • Sleeping through the night.
  • Seeing people in person.
  • Not worrying

What do you miss?

New Job

I’ve started a new job.

Along with everything else going on in my life, all through the fall and early winter I was sweating out the health of the company. It was in the middle of a reverse acquisition that took much longer to complete than expected, which left the company badly cash starved. (Lawyers suck). Payroll was usually a month or so late, then they’d make a payment, then they’d be late with the next one. They got almost caught up in December, then fell behind again. For a while, it felt like work and my mother were double-teaming me — when she got worse, it seemed like there would be some good news on the work front, and when she got better, work started looking more dire.

The acquisition went through in the middle of December, and we had expectations of getting paid, then they emailed us right before Christmas that funding was delayed due to the holidays, and that we wouldn’t be paid until the first week in January. Come the day, and there still wasn’t funding, and we found out that getting the funding wasn’t as cut and dried as we were led to believe. That’s the point I decided it was time to update my resume on Monster. One of my concerns was the fact that Mum still needs a lot of help, and it was convenient on that count to be working from home, so I was trying to find someplace else where I could work remote.

It didn’t take long. The morning after putting my resume on Monster, I got an email from a recruiter looking to fill a position for a company called Andela.

Andela connects engineers in Africa with employment in the US and the UK. Their motto is “Brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not”. They were looking for someone to join their internal teams. They have engineers in Africa, headquarters in New York City, and a small group of people in the Greater Boston area working remotely. I talked first with the VP of Engineering, and liked what he had to say, and then had interviews via Zoom with the engineering team and then the engineering managers, and got an offer in early February.

It was a little bittersweet leaving appScatter — Matt, my immediate manager, has been very good to me, and I’m grateful for the chance to see London. But the situation had become increasingly untenable, though I will add that they finally did get caught up and I have been paid in full what I was owed.

I started Andela on February 18th. I spent the first two weeks onboarding — learning their policies, and getting to know their corporate culture. After that, I started getting to know the codebase. It’s Angular, so it’s been pretty easy to get into the swing of things. They’re very heavily into Angular Material, so I’ve had to get into the swing of things with that. Like appScatter, there is a big time difference — currently 5 hours, while we are on DST and they are not, and 6 hours in the winter. They’ve been very accommodating in terms of rescheduling things for me. I’ve been trying to be online around 7:30 in order to maximize the time overlap.

So far, I’m liking it a lot. Everybody there is very sharp, but everyone wants to help. A lot of how they do things has been unfamiliar, but not so unfamiliar that I’m totally lost and frustrated, but rather, I’m learning a bunch of new toys. They started using Angular later than I did, so they’re using some of the newer features of the framework that I hadn’t known about since I first learned it while Angular was at version 2. Best of all, it’s taken a little while, but I’m starting to get to know and like the people I’m working with.

Tweaking the Theme

I’ve made a few small tweaks to the site theme.

When I first switched to this custom theme, responsive design was in its infancy, and neither the parent Twenty Twelve theme or my custom adaptation were designed for phones.

When I started using Jetpack on the site, it came with a mobile theme that I enabled. It looked very generic, but it also looked more presentable on mobile than the main theme… until a week or so ago.

Jetpack has given notice that they are retiring their mobile theme, so I decided to turn it off, to see how bad it was without it. Pretty bad. So I decided to turn Jetpack’s theme back on until I found time to deal with it… and found I couldn’t re-enable it. Oops. So, I’ve been chipping away at the issues for the past week or so, and now it’s pretty presentable on mobile.

The first thing I did was to override the fixed width on the content container. Here, I simply added a max-width to it, so that it wouldn’t get wider than the viewport. Next, I changed the way the background images are delivered — by default, the page only has background colors, and the “words” background image is only loaded for larger sizes. Next, I adjusted the positioning and sizing of the search field on mobile. Now, it’s small by default, then expands to cover the whole masthead. Finally, I adjusted the padding of the nav items so they all fit on a small screen.

I’ve also replaced a couple of the gradient images with linear gradients. I was using repeating background images for a couple of the gradients, to work around IE issues, and I really don’t care about IE anymore. I’ve also stripped out some vendor prefixes on some styles.

Update 2/29/2020

I’ve replaced the repeating “words” background image on the body element, so that I could also have a retina version for retina users. The words are mostly the same, in the interest of providing a text alternative, here they are:

<html> <head> <body> <nav> <img> <heading> <section> <div> <div> <span>


reading motorcycling New England diving photography kayaking Boston Charles River gardening bicycling Star Trek


document window Angular Observable function Array Event prototype Class string


aperture shutter lens ISO depth of field motion blur histogram exposure focal length strobe SLR f/stop


padding margin box-sizing flex color text-decoration background border top left

I’m not sure this theme is “worth” this effort. It’s just over 8 years old, which is ancient in web terms, but frankly, I still like the way it looks. And now, it looks like itself on mobile, too.

Ugh, Adobe.

I’ve used a pair of custom fonts, Museo and Museo Slab on this site since I debuted my custom child theme on New Years Eve of 2011. I originally got the fonts through a company called TypeKit, which Adobe bought a couple of years ago.

A nice security feature of the CitiCard app is that I get notifications when a card not present transaction happens . Saturday, I got a notification that I’d been charged by Adobe. I assumed at that point it was for my annual font license, and didn’t think much of it.

Then today, I got an email from Adobe, “You’ve bought Adobe XD, but haven’t downloaded the app yet.” WTF??? I don’t remember ever buying Adobe XD, a vector-based user experience design tool, and it’s not a product I would want. My first thought was that my Adobe or credit card account had been hacked, my second thought was that maybe something got fouled up with the font subscription, and that I should talk to Adobe.

It is not easy to talk to Adobe. They make it very hard to talk to Adobe. You can’t find their number on their website, and and when I found the number on gethuman.com, I fell into a phone tree that I escaped only by semi-randomly mashing on the phone keys, then waiting on hold for a while.

Fortunately, the first person I spoke to gave me the essential clue. He told me that I’d had the subscription for a year, and that it had simply just renewed. I didn’t remember subscribing a year ago, so I dug through my old emails, and found this:

You’ve subscribed to Typekit — thousands of fonts you can use on the web or your desktop. As we mentioned in our last email, we’re making some changes to our service that will affect your plan for this email address …

As part of our move to Adobe Fonts, we have discontinued standalone Typekit plans, and will not bill you again for yours. You’re still covered for fonts on web and desktop and there will not be any interruption to your font service. 

In early 2019, we’ll add a free year of Adobe XD CC to your Adobe account, which will extend your font licensing for a full year. This is just one of the Creative Cloud single-app plans that includes our complete library of fonts.  

At the end of your free year, you can renew Adobe XD or choose another Creative Cloud plan that fits your needs and price point. There are more fonts in the library now than we’ve ever had before (over 14,000), and we’ve lifted sync and domain limits to make them a lot easier to get to. 

I hadn’t paid much attention to it, because I didn’t care about the free year of Adobe XD. I simply perceived it as a free perk I wouldn’t use. What I didn’t understand was that in order to continue the subscription — and the Museo fonts aren’t included in the free level of Adobe fonts — I would have to have some sort of Creative Cloud subscription.


I’ve used Photoshop off and on for decades, starting with Photoshop 3. My own personal copies were never for professional use, so I never saw the need to keep it up to date every year, especially when the annual upgrade was a couple hundred dollars. Still, I did buy about six different versions, culminating in Photoshop CS 5. Photoshop CS 6 didn’t seem like enough of an upgrade to bother with, then Adobe switched to their subscription model, and I held onto CS 5 for as long as I could. It became crash-prone two versions of macOS ago, and unusable in macOS Mojave. I’ve been using other image editors instead, like Pixelmator Pro and Acorn, but haven’t felt as comfortable with either as I do with Photoshop.

I actually have been looking at Adobe’s Creative Cloud plans for a little while, but they don’t offer the bundle I would really want: Photoshop + Illustrator at a reasonable price. Photoshop and Illustrator singly are each $21/month. They do offer a “Photography” plan which combines Photoshop with Lightroom for $10/month, but I don’t really need Lightroom — I’ve just finished settling into Apple Photos, and I don’t like the idea of my photo library being bound to an Adobe subscription plan

Nonetheless, once it became clear that I had to have some sort of Creative Cloud plan to keep the fonts on the site, I decided I would rather have a subscription to an app I would use. For me, that’s Photoshop, and the cheapest way out is the Photography plan.

I’m not happy at all with this situation.

  • Their initial email announcing the demise of TypeKit should have made it clearer that some sort of Creative Cloud subscription would be required for more than the free tier of TypeKit
  • If I have to have an app, last year’s email should have let me pick the app I wanted to tie it to. The way the email was worded, it seemed like Adobe XD was just a free perk they were throwing in, one that I disregarded since I didn’t value it.
  • I’m not happy with the plans available. I’ll probably try Lightroom, but I don’t really want it. I definitely don’t want the cloud features, I tend to do my stuff on one device
  • I really wish they had a Photoshop / Illustrator bundle. Or a limited app bundle. If they’re willing to bundle Photoshop and Lightroom for $9.99 /month, surely they could afford to sell Photoshop + Illustrator — or any two apps — for a reasonable rate. The two options are to buy both apps singly for $20.99 / month, or to buy all app access for $52.99 / month — but I neither want all 20 apps, nor can I afford them.
  • Adobe’s telephone support is ridiculously bad. The number isn’t on the website, the support options aren’t helpful — and I would not have deduced that the issue was the initial “free” addition of Adobe XD to my account a year ago, because I’d scarcely noticed it a year ago, and had forgotten it since. To be fair, the first operator I spoke to first did pick up that it was a subscription I’d had for a year, but couldn’t address why I had it — I had to look through my old emails to find out why. I then got transferred through three other representatives before determining, yes, I had to have a Creative Cloud subscription to get the fonts. To the credit to the final operator I spoke to, he did price out the cheapest app for me, but if I have to have a subscription, I’d rather get something I want.

I guess it’s good to have Photoshop again. But I’m feeling rather shaken down right now, and it doesn’t feel good.

16” MacBook Pro

On Black Friday, I ordered a Christmas present for myself, the new 16 inch MacBook Pro.

Writing this post on my new 16” MacBook Pro.

Its predecessor was five years old, and showing its age. Even though I’d replaced its built in 500 gigabyte (GB) solid state drive with a 1 terabyte (TB) SSD, its onboard drive was nearly full. Worse, it was restarting randomly and was having trouble waking from sleep. I worried that one day I would go to start it up, and it wouldn’t.

I generally try to get four years out of a computer, so the old one didn’t owe me anything. Unfortunately it was the Era of the Butterfly Keyboard. In the interests of thinness, Apple had gone with a hyper-thin keyboard that was uncomfortable to type on. As time went on, it also became clear that the keyboard was unreliable. So I held onto the old one, hoping that Apple would reverse course.

I’d hoped that they would release a butterfly-less laptop during the June World Wide Developer conference, but no. Then I hoped it would appear during an event during the fall. Nope. Then finally, in mid-November, this computer was announced.

I did a little hemming and hawing on it – the timing is not great for work, and I initially thought I would need to get a 4 TB model, which would have cost $4000. My old computer was nearly full, and so was the external drive I keep my media library on. But then I took a second look at what was on the external drive. Half was an old Aperture vault, which I don’t need anymore, another quarter was video, which I was happy to leave on the external disk, and another large chunk was scans, which I was also content to leave on the external disk. That only left about 100 GB for my iTunes library which I wanted to move back onto this computer. I decided to go with a 2TB build-to-order (BTO) model, with extra memory as well, but with the base CPU and stock GPU.

I ordered the computer on Black Friday, with my new Apple Card, figuring I’d get the 3% back for the card, and assuming Apple’s Black Friday discounts would apply. It turned out they didn’t, at least not initially, but I did get a $200 refund from Apple a few weeks later. I also traded in my old Early 2011 MacBook Pro; it’s been mostly gathering dust since i took advantage of the repair extension program. They offered me $170 for it, which I thought was reasonable for an eight year old computer.

Because this is a BTO computer, I had to order online, and wait for the computer to be built and shipped. It was fascinating tracking the shipment from Shanghai China to the West Coast to here, and it arrived earlier than Apple had estimated.

This computer is actually a little bigger and heavier than its 2019 15” MacBook Pro predecessor, but about the same width and slightly thinner than the 2014 15” model I had. The bezel on the sides of the screen are narrower, so it can fit more active area on the screen.

Like all of Apple’s more recent laptops, this is a USB-C machine only, so I’ve had to pick up a number of adapters. I got a small dock with USB-A and HDMI ports, a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adaptor, for connecting to my external monitors, and an external SD card reader for reading camera memory cards. I also picked up a new wireless Mighty Mouse since I would need to use the adapter with my existing mouse. In actual practice, the SD card reader is the one I will probably use the most, and I do feel that it would have been a better machine if it had been built in.

So far, I like it a lot. I took a lot of pictures the week before Christmas, and processing photos is a lot faster on this machine. Importing pictures on the 2014 machine would slow it to a crawl as it would try to index all the new photos; not so with this machine.

The keyboard is nice. I never had to deal with the butterfly keyboard, but this uses a traditional scissor switch mechanism which has a decent amount of throw, and should be more reliable.

Battery life is noticeably better than the old machine. I’m not sure how much of this is improvements to the new machine’s batteries — it now comes with as big a set of batteries as the FAA will permit for carry-on luggage — and how much is the aging of the batteries in the old computer, but it’s been a pleasant surprise. I can be reading on this computer unplugged for hours before having to charge.

Heat management is supposed to be better on this computer. I haven’t really taxed it the way I tax my work computer, but I haven’t heard the fans spin up.

Apple has been bragging about the sound quality of this computer, and it’s real. All my previous laptops sounded kind of tinny, and I never played music through their speakers — they didn’t sound good, and it was better to listen to music through headphones. With this computer, it’s rather pleasant to have it play music while you’re using it.

The color gamut of the screen is improved compared to the old one. I notice this most in vivid greens and reds — they seem more saturated.

The side bezels of the screen have been narrowed, but the top bezel is roughly the same width as older machines, which looks a little weird. I think it would have been better to have a tighter corner radius on the case, and have narrowed the top bezel too.

Narrower side bezels give more image width, but the top bezel remains the same size, probably because of the radius of the case’s corners

This computer did come with the latest version of macOS, Catalina, and this has meant getting rid of my old 32 bit apps. I think the one I miss the most is Sweet 16, my Apple IIGS emulator. Catalina is supposed to permit the use of an iPad as an external monitor, but I haven’t been able to make it work yet.

One minor thing I’ve noticed is that there are vent grooves on the underside of the machine, along the sides. The edges of the grooves are sharpish. Not sharp enough to cut, but sharp enough to feel a little rough. Hopefully, Apple will correct this in a future revision.

Speaking of revisions, this machine comes with a revised version of the TouchBar, which replaces the physical Function keys on older machines with a small touch sensitive strip that displays a changeable user interface, which the application can tailor to its own needs. The TouchBar debuted with the first butterfly keyboard MacBook Pros; this version is slightly narrower; there is a physical Escape keyboard once again, with the TouchBar placed next to it. I know I’m in the minority, but I rather like it. I don’t use it a whole lot, but it’s handy sometimes, especially with dialog boxes that present a pair of buttons to accept or cancel an action.

On the other side of the TouchBar is a Touch Id sensor; you can train the computer to recognize your fingerprint, and this will authenticate you anywhere you need to enter your password. It’s awesome. I can log in by touching, Safari can enter a site password by touching, I can confirm a purchase on the App store with a touch.

Overall, I’m very happy with this machine. The nitpicks are minor, and I’m getting five years of improvements in battery life, display, and performance with a keyboard that I can like.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2019

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do a Christmas card this year, with everything that’s going on. But at one point, Mum indicated she would like to join my card (she later changed her mind), so I started looking though my photo library to see if I had anything suitable. I knew that even more than most years, I did not have the spare time to devote a lot of time to cards. Fortunately, I was able to spend some time on them Thanksgiving weekend.

I quickly zeroed in on a picture I took at First Night last year of Boston’s 2018 Christmas tree. I would have liked a scene with snow, but this picture was decently framed, didn’t have any passers-by standing in front of it, and I felt that with a few simple enhancements, it would do.

Boston’s 2018 Christmas Tree, at First Night 2019

It was pretty simple. Unlike most years, I didn’t use Photoshop, as my ancient copy of Photoshop CS 5 has given up the ghost, so I used Pixelmator Pro. I cropped the photo, to change the aspect ratio to 4:5 and to get rid of most of the empty foreground. Then I added a translucent layer over the tree, and blurred it slightly, to lend a glow to the lights. Finally, I added another blur layer over the remaining foreground, to make the texture of the dirt a little less obvious. I briefly considered adding snow, but realized that it would take several hours that I don’t have this year.

I then moved to Pages. I used to lay out my cards laboriously in Illustrator, but then macOS dropped support for PowerPC software (I detect a theme) and I wasn’t able to use it anymore, so several years ago, I looked into Apple’s Pages, and found it had a built in template for quarter-fold cards.

(Aside: I like both Illustrator and Photoshop, but I don’t use them enough to justify keeping them up-to-date, and I don’t like Adobe’s pricing model of charging an ongoing subscription, so I’ve had to find substitutes. I use Illustrator so little that it hasn’t been a problem, but I do miss having Photoshop available.)

I started by duping my 2016 card, which was also a vertical photograph. I removed the old photo, added the new one, and then chose a different font and text treatment for the text.

The inside was the harder issue this year. My normal holiday greeting didn’t seem right this year, but how much to say about Mum? I ended up with three versions this year — blank, with a hand-written note, and two versions that addressed her stroke, with one version being a little more personal for recipients who know her themselves.

For card stock, I went back to quarter fold card stock this year. I hadn’t liked the half-fold cards last year, and besides, the quarter-fold cards print faster, since you get two per sheet. This year, all Staples had when I picked it up was textured paper. I liked the feel of it, but it lowered the contrast of the photo. But I didn’t have time to go chasing around for plain stock, or to order some online, so the textured stock it was.

I’d accidentally forgotten one of my old friends last year (Hi Trixi!) , and she asked me about it when I saw her this spring, so I made sure she got card #1 this year.

Fortunately, the printer behaved itself this year, and I was able to manufacture the cards relatively simply and without too much waste, and was able to get them out without too much trouble.

Finished 2019 card

Merry Christmas everyone.