The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

A performance-centric look at the 16″ MacBook Pro

Despite my hatred for the Touch Bar, I recently purchased a new 16″ Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro (and promptly did my best to minimize the Touch Bar’s annoyances). Why buy a machine with an interface I dislike? There are a number of reasons…

First and foremost, I’ve decided it’s not really worth the effort to maintain two laptops—my old 2013 MacBook Pro is used for beta versions of macOS, so that I can test Many Tricks’ apps, and my 2018 Air is my travel and “around the house” machine.

With the new APFS filesystem, though, creating additional volumes (basically equivalent to a partition in the old world) is really simple, and with ultra-fast solid state drives, rebooting is relatively quick.

So it’s my intent to replace both machines with the new MacBook Pro. Yes, it’ll be more of a pain when I travel (heavier and bigger), but I don’t travel a ton, and even when I do, I do most of my work in hotel rooms, not in airplanes. And I’ll appreciate the larger screen and improved performance, in exchange for lugging a bit more weight around.

What follows is a look at my new portable Mac, comparing its performance with both the 2013 MacBook Pro and the 2018 MacBook Air—similar to what I’ve done for that same MacBook Air and my 2019 iMac (Part One, Part Two, and Addendum).

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Our family’s robotic vacuum overlords are Deebots

If you’re interested in technology (me!), and dislike cleaning (also me!), you’ve probably investigated robot vacuum cleaners. There are tons of models out there, covering a wide range of costs from under $100 to over $1,500. I’m not here to try to tell you which is the best, or even which particular one to buy, but to point out a time-limited sale on the one we chose to buy.

Back in May, we bought an Ecovacs Deebot N79S (Amazon)1This is a referral link; I make a modest commission if you use it. to clean our downstairs hardwood floors. I bought it mainly because it was on sale for a relatively inexpensive (for a robot vacuum) $150, and it received decent reviews on Amazon and on various review sites such as Wirecutter.

It’s not the smartest robot—there’s no ability to save a map or mark off “do not enter” areas. But I’ve found it cleans well, it’s quiet, and the app does what it needs to do to make managing the vacuum about as easy as it can be. It’s got a stated 110 minute battery life, and ours usually runs for at least 90 minutes, going over mainly hardwood with a couple of area rugs.

I noticed today that it’s on sale again on Amazon for about $150—it shows as $170 in the store, but once in the cart, a $17 discount is applied, bringing it down to $153. We’ve been so happy with the first that I just ordered a second one to use upstairs (with two cats in the house, one cannot have enough vacuums).

I’m not sure how long this special price will last, nor if it’s some sort of targeted thing where only certain shoppers get the deal, but if you’re in the market for a decent yet not too costly robot vacuum, we’ve been very happy with ours.

De-distractionate the Touch Bar

Shocking even myself, I’m now the owner of a Touch Bar equipped MacBook Pro—I purchased the entry-level 16″ model last weekend. Why? I’ll save the detailed explanation for an upcoming look at the machine and its performance, but the main goal was to replace two laptops with one.

But just because I now have a Touch Bar-equipped Mac doesn’t mean I suddenly like the Touch Bar. In fact, my feelings about it haven’t changed since I wrote about it two years ago:

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum.

After some hours working with my new MBP, this is definitely a problem—and it’s a problem even when I’m not using the Touch Bar, which is pretty much all the time: I’ve found that the changing images and colors on the Touch Bar grab my eye every time I switch apps…

The camera was focused on the Touch Bar, but when I’m looking at the screen, I see all that activity just below the screen, and it’s really distracting. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix, and one I’d not heard of prior to buying this machine…

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Digging into an unexpected encryption speed boost

What follows is a lengthy dive into a semi-recent massive performance improvement in openssl speeds in macOS. As it’s long, here’s a tl;dr version:

  • From 10.14.4 to 10.14.5, a change in macOS improved openssl speed benchmark results anywhere from 15x to 30x.
  • In real world use, encryption of a large sample file (570MB) using a very long password happened nearly twice as quickly as it did before the update.
  • The version number for openssl (which is really LibreSSL) is the same (2.6.5) in both 10.14.4 and 10.14.5. I also confirmed that the packages, as loaded on the Apple Open Source site, are identical.
  • The four libraries that openssl links to have the same version numbers in 10.14.4 and 10.14.5.
  • The binaries for openssl and the four linked libraries all use much less disk space in 10.14.5 than they did in 10.14.4. I can’t explain this, except that openssl itself is no longer a universal binary.
  • I believe the performance boost is due to macOS enabling Intel’s AES-NI, which allow hardware acceleration of some key cryptography tasks. But I can’t figure out how this change was made, given the above data.
  • The Apple Open Source site may hold the answers, but that work is beyond my skill level.

Keep reading if you’d like to see how I came to the above summary…

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A full history of macOS (OS X) release dates and rates

Updated and republished for macOS 10.15.2; skip it unless you really really care about all the macOS releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of macOS (previously Mac OS X) from the public beta through the latest public version, which is macOS 10.15.2, as of December 10th, 2019—the 130th release in total.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.

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System Information incorrectly identifies some 32-bit apps

I received an email from a user this morning, asking if Name Mangler was compatible with Catalina, as he’d seen a report telling him it was 32-bit. This was an odd thing to read, because Name Mangler 3 has been 64-bit from the beginning, way back in 2013.

I asked what report he was looking at, and he told me it was from the Legacy Software tab in System Information. I decided to see what the report had to say about my machine, so I launched the app (Option-click the Apple icon in the menu bar), went to the Legacy Software tab, and saw this…

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Remove the macOS Catalina guilt trip from macOS Mojave

I have no plans to move my main iMac to macOS Catalina, at least for the forseeable future. There are two key apps I use—Fujitsu’s ScanSnap scanner software and the Many Tricks’ accounting app—that are both 32-bit. In addition, there are changes in Catalina relative to permissions that make it somewhat Vista like and slow down my interaction with the system. (My MacBook Air is my “production” Catalina Mac, and I have an older retina MacBook Pro that I use for Catalina betas.)

But Apple really wants people to update to Catalina, so they let you know about Catalina…constantly, it seems. In System Preferences > Software Update, you’ll see this…

And while that’s annoying, it’s not nearly as annoying as the red “1” dot they stick on System Preferences, which will stare at you forever. I complained about this on Twitter, and as is often the case, some very bright people had solutions to the problem.

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Revisiting Intel’s geeky CPU tool, Power Gadget

I wrote about the Intel® Power Gadget back in 2015—it’s a little app that reports on your CPU’s performance in a few categories. I still run it on occasion, and noticed that my version was a couple years old.

I downloaded the new version, and discovered that it now has a built-in software update check (hooray, though it doesn’t appear to be automatic), they’ve improved the graphs’ appearance, and added a new Utilization chart; here’s a new (left) vs. old comparison:

If you like CPU stats, it’s great to get them right from the source, and I think the nicer-looking graphs (and new Utilization chart) improve on this already-useful geeky tool.

When products play hide-and-seek with serial numbers

I recently bought a set of PowerBeats Pro, which I generally love (more on the headphones in a future post), but today, while trying to register my product with Beats, I ran into a clear example of form trumping function.

To register your Beats, you need the serial number; Beats provides a graphic that shows you where to find it…

Seems simple enough, so I flip open the case…

Umm, where is that serial number?

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Travel from the Earth to the Moon in high def

Way back in the late 1990s, HBO aired an amazing miniseries called From the Earth to the Moon. Produced by Tom Hanks, the 12-episode series covers most of the key events in the Apollo program, including the Apollo 1 fire, the first moon landing, the Apollo 13 crisis, and much more. In total, 30 of the 32 astronauts in the Apollo program are represented onscreen during the series.

Each episode runs about 50 minutes; Wikipedia’s entry on the miniseries includes a nice summary of each episode that doesn’t give too much away.

I’ve watched it at least a half-dozen times, and up until this summer, every viewing was at DVD resolution—eventually upscaled on higher-resolution TV sets, but still not the greatest video experience.

This summer, however, HBO re-released the series after remastering it in HD. They also reworked many of the special effects to take advantage of advances in that field over the last 20 years. If—like me—you’re a physical media person, you can pick it up for only $23 from Amazon…or if you’re fully digital, you can get it from the iTunes Store for $30. (Yes, a physical copy with media and packaging and shipping1and it includes a digital copy! is $7 less than a series of 0s and 1s written to a file. What a wacky world we live in.)

The visual changes are dramatic, as you can see in these shots from the two versions.

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