Dream Theater Covers Xanadu

I was very pumped to hear Dream Theater, my second favorite band, cover what might be my favorite song from my favorite band. I was most looking forward to hearing how Labrie would take it up a notch, like he did for Red Barchetta. Unfortunately, though I like what he tried to do in Xanadu, I think the execution could have been better. After seeing him nail Learning to Live last month, I know he still has it. Regardless, its a fun listen that I recommend.

MacBook Pro Hot Take, One Year Late

In October of 2016 Apple held a special event to unveil the next generation of MacBook Pros. Fans awaited the announcement restlessly since the Mac line wasn’t getting much love at that time. I actually never watched it because I was in Harry Potter World. Alas, what we got was a new thinner design, embracing the controversial butterfly switch keyboard, a TouchBar with TouchID, and a Thunderbolt 3 future to replace USB A and MagSafe.

The reaction was mixed.

Well, I’ve been using a 15 inch 2017 revision at my new gig and I have some thoughts. I am going to break it down by the main new features I outlined above.

Oh, by the way. Space Gray is sexy. Love it.

Keyboard

Well this has been a huge controversy lately. There was Steven Hackett’s recent experience and Casey Johnston’s post that have been getting lots of coverage lately. I don’t like the fact that any little amount of debris can cause a keyboard to malfunction. It sounds like this support article’s success rate is hit or miss. It makes me hesitant to crack pistachios anywhere in my office.

Fragility aside, I actually like the new keyboard over the old one on my personal MacBook Pro. Now it’s not my mechanical keyboard that I’m using right now. But the keys are very stable and I like the clicky sound they make. The feedback from the domes is absolutely necessary given the little travel. I’m able to type just as fast on it as my Varmillo and with a decent amount of satisfaction. But I get why people hate it and I think Apple has to do something to make the keyboard more reliable, even if they don’t change the fundamental direction they are going with lower travel, butterfly switch keyboards. I think if they gave the keys slightly more travel and fix the unreliability, it would be the best of both worlds.

TouchBar and TouchID

You can’t talk about the new keyboard without recognizing the fact that the keyboard lacks a function row (and escape key!) in favor of the new TouchBar with TouchID.

I’m neither here nor there with this change, but overall, I’ll take it.

I do miss the physical interaction of hitting the escape key, but muscle memory doesn’t fail me and I move on. As someone who uses lots of keyboard shortcuts, many of the available shortcuts on the TouchBar are not that useful for me. Although the emoji picker is 💯. I have found that the TouchBar sometimes reveals shortcuts to me that I didn’t know. Emptying the Trash is a few taps away. I didn’t know that keyboard shortcut before. I’m glad that the media playback keys are always available when something is playing on the system. The customizable Control Strip allows for me to lock my computer easily when I leave my office.

I can’t really grade TouchID on the Mac because I think my security profiles from IT are messing with its ability to unlock my machine. I would say it works 20% of the time, and I can’t tell why it doesn’t work the rest of the times. I am thinking it has to do with an ever so brief lapse of network connection. It definitely has nothing to do with how long it has been since I locked the machine. I have come back the next day with it working, and sometimes it doesn’t when I haven’t even left my office yet.

Thunderbolt 3

I love MagSafe. It’s saved my butt a few times and I find it quite gratifying to hover the charger near my computer and see it latch into place magically.

But from a work application, Thunderbolt 3 is much better. I sit down at my desk and I plug in one cable for power, a monitor, speakers, and all my USB peripherals. I am not sure if it is a limitation of ThunderBolt 3 or my dock but unfortunately I need to plug in a second dongle to get my second monitor support although the dock has 3 different ways to get video to a display.

Although you’ll probably need a bunch of dongles in the near term, I think it’s a change that will be for the best (work gave me a Ethernet and HDMI one. Curiously no mobile USB A, I guess the dock will have to suffice).

I do have to agree with Marco that the best part of USB C might never come. After a few years it is still hard to find good supporting hardware. And before you know it there might be a new standard to adopt. But we’d never get anywhere if someone didn’t push the envelope so I am glad that Apple made the choice they did. Though bringing back the SD card slot wouldn’t upset anyone.

Conclusion

After using the new MacBook Pro at work, a computer 5 years newer than my personal Mac, I am not running to get something new at home. It has not ruined me. This is sort of unheard of for me when it comes to technology, but I think it goes to show how mature the personal computer is and how compromised some of the design decisions are. Although I think they are all good decisions to push the line forward into the future (well except the keyboard fragility), nothing is making me want to run and spend another 2500 on a computer. I’m gonna ride this OG Retina MacBook Pro until it dies, or until my app development gets serious enough that I can use the extra horsepower of a new machine for builds. But I think if I get a new Mac for home, it might just be an iMac given how much I like my iPad for most things besides development.

A Change of Season

It’s hard not to notice the weather changing. For instance I went to the last UMBC soccer game in shorts and a t-shirt without checking the weather. It was in the 50s. Whoops.

But with this change of season comes a different change for me: a new job. To be honest, I didn’t see this coming but when the opportunity presented itself I knew I had to take it.

On Monday I will start at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. I am excited to meet my new coworkers and start the new opportunity.

But the real reason for this post is to recognize the people at Lockheed who made my time especially special. On my first day I met my cubemate Dave. It was with Dave that I knew I would always be welcomed at LM. He was extremely helpful when I was first getting started and we stayed friends after work pulled us into different labs full time.

My fellow ELDPs were my backbone for the past three and a half years. Besides spending way too much time working on a project with Veronica, Mike, and Pratik it was great getting to work with so many other kind and talented people. I made some lifelong friends like Jose and James even after they moved many miles away. Hell, I still talk to my favorite Brit Mark (sorry Myke) all the time.

I had an amazing time at Lockheed, especially in the Controls lab. Charles is a great leader and mentor and I will miss working with his team. I’ll always remember my good buddies. Jun, Broderic, Dave, Thomas, Crellis, Shelton, Leah, Chris, Larry, Kevin(s). Thanks for helping me grow as a person and engineer.

And lastly, thanks to my fantastic leadership and mentors. Gretchen, Kat, and Laszlo. You’ve all shaped me into who I am today. So many others have touched my life in one way or another. Baltimore will always be family.

WWDC 2017

Monday:

Although it was my first WWDC, you wouldn’t have known it. Everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming. I think it helped that it was a new location to everyone so everyone was learning the new places in town to hang out and making new traditions.

Monday was the most eventful day. Thanks to the new Beacon app, I was able to start off my day meeting excited developers while enjoying a great cup of coffee at Philz. Afterwards I headed into line to get into Alt Conf, meeting more great people there whilst speculating what Apple would have to unveil. I didn’t stay long since I had the opportunity to watch the keynote with Joe Cieplinski and his friends Curtis Herbert, Ben McCarthy, and Sara Lovic.

I think the announcements were pretty great. iOS on the iPad is getting a much needed buff, truly transforming it into a multitasking dream. Drag and drop on a multitouch surface makes for a great interaction model because you can navigate the UI with the other hand while holding on to your selected content. HomePod is an exciting product, but I think Apple has more of its story to tell in coming months. I’m surprised they didn’t go into more detail about the Siri integrations. I imagine they will when they get closer to launch.

After lunch and the State of the Union I ran over to watch the Accidental Tech Podcast Live. These guys are even better in person. My favorite podcast was a delight to listen to with 900 other nerds. Everyone singing the theme song at the end was a great experience.

Next up was the Relay.FM meet up. Getting to meet the hosts in person after listening to their voices for the past few years was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed my long conversation with CGP Gray and Dan Moren. It’s interesting to think about how these people live normal lives for 51 weeks of the year and become rock stars for 1. Continuing with the theme of dub dub, everyone was warm and welcoming.

Finally I went to the Beard Bash to enjoy some live music and Heineken. Meeting up with friends, we headed to the cocktail bar of WWDC – Paper Plane. It was the place to go for any precisely crafted cocktails.

Tuesday:

Tuesday was a bit more laid back. I spent most of my day at Alt Conf where the talks were ranged from interesting to over my head. One of the best meetups I went to while in town was Manton Reece’s Micro.blog meetup. I was nice talking to other kickstarter backers and meeting some interesting people to follow on Micro.blog. The main highlight of the day was John Gruber’s Talk Show Live. I was able to go with my friend from back when I was a Campus Rep, John Tylko. We got in line early and ended up in the 5th row. When we got in the California Theatre, we saw three chairs and figured it would be Craig and Phil joining Gruber and we were correct. The show was insightful and fun as always, however I don’t think it was as good as last year’s. The most interesting tidbit was the fact that Apple tested changing phones to APFS each iOS 10 upgrade and would set it back to HPFS after the test. I’m looking forward to seeing the buttery scrolling allowed by the new iPad hardware and ProMotion. However, maybe its best I don’t see it. Update: Saw it today…

Afterwards we enjoyed sausage at Original Gravity and went to Paper Plane for those famous cocktails.

Wednesday:

My final day of WWDC. The day started off with a bang, Stephen Hackett gave a great talk about his transition from the corporate to independent worker life. It was an emotional talk and I am personally grateful for the sacrifices he made in order to make Relay.FM what it is today, but even happier that he has found a balance that is healthy for him and his family. After lunch with Airplane Mode sans Dave, Agnes and some developers from Breaker (a new podcast app) and I got bubble tea. I wish I was able to go and get bubble tea again on Thursday but there wasn’t enough time. I did another meet up at Philz Coffee and spoke with Collin Donnell for a while. It’s funny how I’d run into him all over the place, including sharing a Lyft ever so briefly. For over 5000 people being in town for WWDC, you’d see a lot of the same faces.

One big highlight of the trip was getting to see Airplane Mode again in concert. It was particularly great because they have come up with quite a few new songs since the last time I’ve seen them. We rocked all night and afterwards continued the partying. Unfortunately Paper Plane was taken up for a private event so we went to a bar next door and hung out until late night tacos at La Victoria Taqueria called our name yet again.

Conclusion:

I hope to make WWDC a yearly field trip. I felt at home. Thank you to everyone who was so great to me, especially Joe. He broke the ice which led to many great new friends.

I can’t wait to do it (again)