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.

I Did Not Know: multitail

I think I once knew this, but forgot about it. Still, the fact remains:

I Did Not Know about multitail.

I’m watching eight different log files from a Windows server through CIFS on my Windows 7 desktop where I’m running Cygwin and multitail. This is both pleasant and awesome-looking, which is not normally the case for watching eight different log files, especially on Windows.

I Did Not Know: pbzip2

I just learned about pbzip2, which lets your multicore computer use more than one core when using the bzip2 compression algorithm.

On my Mac Pro at work, I installed it with MacPorts (`sudo port install pbzip2`). It is this kind of awesome:

$ ls -lh original.tar
-rw-r--r--  1 jmcmurry  staff   2.4G Feb  4 13:47 original.tar
$ time bzip2 -k -v original.tar
original.tar: 36.215:1,  0.221 bits/byte, 97.24% saved, 
2604288000 in, 71911733 out.

real	13m3.313s
user	12m50.536s
sys	0m3.773s
$ mv original.tar.bz2 bzip2.tar.bz2
$ time pbzip2 -k -v original.tar
Parallel BZIP2 v1.0.5 - by: Jeff Gilchrist [http://compression.ca]
[Jan. 08, 2009]             (uses libbzip2 by Julian Seward)

# CPUs: 8
BWT Block Size: 900k
File Block Size: 900k
-------------------------------------------
File #: 1 of 1
Input Name: original.tar
Output Name: original.tar.bz2

Input Size: 2604288000 bytes
Compressing data...
-------------------------------------------

Wall Clock: 119.369207 seconds

real	1m59.612s 
user	14m39.090s
sys	0m44.840s

Sweet. 6.57x faster by adding a “p” to my command line.

The resulting compressed .bz2 files aren’t exactly the same according to md5 (the pbzip2 output is a little larger, which makes sense due to the splitting of the work), but when they decompress, they’re both identical to the original .tar file.

See also: mgzip.