My Favorite Work Computer Ever

There’s a lot of hubbub about the state of Apple notebook computers these days. Here’s a fine list for those who want the details.

I have a job. Many people I know there rely on a notebook computer to get things done. I see plenty of shiny modern MacBook Pro models around the place. I can’t get excited about it.

  • Here’s a $2,500 computer that manages to be a half pound lighter than the previous model, but requires a two pound DongleBag™ to be useful for many people in a work context because there are no USB-A or HDMI ports.
  • I agree that Blu-ray was (and still is) “a bag of hurt”, but stable, reliable USB-C interoperability appears from my sideline view as a literal DongleBag of Hurt™. Maybe you have what you need in that bag, and maybe it will work most of the time.
  • The butterfly keyboard is prone to being damaged by dirt or just generally failing, causing a multi-hundred dollar repair because it’s not very serviceable. How this remains a topic of debate at this point is hard to understand. Nice design, bad in practice.
  • Don’t get me started on the Escape key. I use the Escape key all the time. I want an Escape key.

What I Want From a Work Computer

  • It should always work. No force quitting things all the time, and I should have restart it only when updating the system software.
  • It should allow me to start working within five seconds of touching the keyboard, without ceremony or multi-step incantations.
  • I like to walk around and be productive with just a notebook computer. Light is good.
  • I never ever want to plug my computer into power during a meeting. In my view, this would be an admission of personal failure and a sign to my colleagues that I do not have it together.
  • Most of the heavy work I do runs in a very nice data center with very nice computers in it. I need to get to those things with near-100% reliability. Wireless must be frictionless.
  • It should have a physical Escape key.
  • I like macOS because it lets a suit be a suit, and a geek be a geek.

My Favorite Work Computer Ever

My absolute favorite computer I’ve ever used for work is the one I use every day for all of the above. It is the 13″ MacBook Air (Mid-2013). It features a cruddy plastic third-party shell I bought with my own money, being held together with dark grey duct tape. I have dropped it more than once. It still works.

The 13

I am a computer guy, and I could get a newer computer, right? Sure. I’ve been asked if I want to upgrade. But why? This is working, and the new models require me to give up things I want for things I don’t want.

The scene in Star Wars were Han Solo says, 'She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.' “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”

After five years, I believe I have plugged it up to power in a meeting room perhaps four times. You would not believe the number of meetings I attend. The battery life remains magical. I don’t carry an AC adapter with me.

Side note: when I’m at my desk, I use a Mac mini (Late 2014) with two external monitors. I have lots of things happening all at once on that machine, and it is never the reason I can’t get work done.

Things I Might Change About the Five-Year Old Allegedly Obsolete Notebook Computer I Use Everyday for Work

I regret getting 512 GB of internal SSD storage. It’s about 400GB too much for me.

It does not have a Retina display. I have those on my personal devices, and it’s very nice, but I don’t really need it. I would take a Retina display if battery life remained amazing, even after five years.

It has a constrained screen resolution. I agree more would be better. If I had a Retina display, I would use it for more real estate, not crisper images.

I would like an HDMI port for the rare occasions I need one, because I am not going to carry around a DongleBag of Hurt™ 100% of the time just in case. I would trade the SD card slot for this.

Performance: Not much. There was a short period where I was getting intense PDFs to review, and this computer could not handle it running Preview. I just held my nose and started using Adobe Reader for those documents, and that short-lived problem was solved.

Yes, I Know

This is one of the many bits of writing these days about Apple notebooks and how they meet (or don’t) the needs of an individual. I know I’m just me, and I am different from a lot of people.

I think writing this has helped me decide what I need to do about my work computer situation. Nothing. It’s fine.

RANT: Cheap Server Rail Kits

This is a very specialized topic, but my hand hurts this morning for a very specialized reason, and I wish to rant about it.

Attention cheap white-box server manufacturers: the cheap, flimsy, rickety, ill-fitting, funny-smelling rail kits you continue to ship so you can save $10 are absolute garbage, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I would so dearly love to name names, but as this post surely proves, I am too pro for that.

You can and should do better. The mechanism responsible for holding something heavy and important should not be made of materials as utterly not-resilient as (and unfavorably comparable to) plastic wrap, talc, or balsa wood. I would rather use duct tape, because at least I know what to expect from duct tape, and it typically does what I expect.

IKEA ships better rail kits to hold a two pound drawer.

I would shake my fist at you, but I am having trouble making my hand into that shape this morning because of an encounter with one of these travesties of engineering yesterday afternoon.

Please round up all such alleged rail kits and leave them out in the sun, where they will surely melt into a greasy puddle of sadness and embarrassment in under 15 minutes.

This is perhaps the leading reason I do not prefer cheap white-box servers, and have a moment of nausea whenever I know I will have to deal with one. It is never by choice.

Thank you for your time and attention. My soul feels better, but my hand still hurts.

Winter Safety Tips

It’s been a few days of snow and ice here in Memphis, Tennessee. I’d like to offer some Winter Safety Tips that I’ve found helpful as I’ve negotiated our recent winter wonderland.

The Prime Directive: Exhibit patience towards yourself, your schedule, and your fellow humans. (This is good even when there is no winter wonderland.)

When walking on snowy, icy walkways:

  • No Airpods. Yes, the walk will be unbearably quiet and you’ll start making a mental list of Winter Safety Tips. Here’s the deal: Your momma told you to wear a hat when it’s cold outside, and your hat will mess with your Airpods. If one falls out, you will never find it because they are tiny and white. 1
  • Step down, not out.
  • Don’t lift Foot #1 until Foot #2 is solid. Think about your foot placement like astronauts think about their tether.
  • Put your 15 year old formerly hip messenger bag across your shoulder, and make sure it’s directly in the small of your back. Improved center of gravity, less swing to make you imbalanced, and if you fall, all the unnecessary crap you carry in there might save you a broken hip.
  • Emulate my superior balance and jungle cat reflexes and you’ll be fine. Years of marching band would have helped here.

Bonus tip for driving:

  • Your absurdly large SUV and/or truck can unquestionably start moving on icy roads. Your absurdly large SUV and/or truck has questionable ability to stop moving on icy roads, especially when you are behind me or in the lane next to me. Slow down. (See “The Prime Directive.”)

This is Relaxing?

If you had told half-my-age-ago me that I would:

  1. Voluntarily sit down at a keyboard
  2. Turn on a metronome
  3. Play fingering exercises up and down an octave
  4. Progressing chromatically
  5. With both hands
  6. BECAUSE IT IS RELAXING

That guy would have had a hard time believing it.

Yet, it happens and it is awesome.

Simon Fresh

Simon and I have a lot of fun with GarageBand, because music should be fun and not a lot of fussy work.

Here’s a track we made last month. Simon’s freestyle is liquid fire. So proud.

Production note: I apologize for my clipped hollering at the beginning, which both sounds bad and is absurd. This was a failed level test, but The Talent thinks it’s funny and wants it to stay in the mix.