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Apple Universe

Top-level category for all Apple, Mac, and OS X related topics.

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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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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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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Add inelegance to remove heat

At home, our network routing and firewall is handled by an open-source software package called pfSense®; it has a ton of features, and is relatively easy to configure. I built a mini PC (a box roughly 9″ per side) for pfSense, and it’s been running smoothly for over five years1I’ll be writing more about pfSense and my routing PCs in a future post..

While it’s not the world’s loveliest box…ok, so it may be the world’s ugliest box…

…it’s been rock solid since day one. However, it’s aging and its CPU won’t be supported in an upcoming pfSense release, so I decided to replace it. (That way, I’ll have a spare if the new one breaks…at least until that unsupported version of pfSense is released.) Here’s the new box…

That’s a Protectli fanless Firewall Appliance with a quad-core Celeron J3160 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of storage. And yes, it’s just a bit smaller and more elegant than my old box—the entire thing is roughly the size of my old box’s external cooling fan.

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How to display the size of an app’s frontmost window

A user asked me a question about Moom

Say I’ve resized a window to the dimensions I want. Is there a way to figure out what these are so I can create a resize action in Moom?

Basically, the user wants to save a window size as a custom action, to make it easy to reapply that action to any window. (If it were just one window in one app, you could use Moom’s Save Window Layout feature to save that layout for easy recall.)

There is a way to see this info in Moom, but it requires enabling our debug log and digging through a bunch of output. As an easier alternative, I was certain that AppleScript could do this; I fiddled a bit on my own, and did some web searching, which led me to this thorough post on StackExchange.

Using the very first bit of the first script there, I came up with this version:

Run the above, assuming Safari is running and has an open window, and you’ll see this system notification:

Change Safari to whichever app you’re interested in, re-run the script, and you’ll have that app’s window dimensions. This script is incredibly basic (no error checking, hardcoded app), but it works1If you see a message about ScriptEditor needing Accessibility access, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy, click on Accessibility in the left panel, click the lock icon to unlock the panel, click the plus sign to add an app, and navigate to Script Editor in Applications > Utilities, then click Open..

Of course, me being me, I decided I’d spend a couple hours making it more useful, even though I probably won’t use it all that often. So I modified it to work for whichever app is frontmost, and made it run from Keyboard Maestro. I then assigned it a gesture trigger with my mouse, so I can easily see any window’s dimensions with a simple mouse movement.

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The high cost of software in the 1980s…

A friend recently sent me a link to a large collection of 1980s computing magazines—there’s some great stuff there, well worth browsing. Perusing the list, I noticed Softline, which I remember reading in our home while growing up. (I was in high school in the early 1980s.)

We were fortunate enough to have an Apple ][ in our home, and I remember reading Softline for their game reviews and ads for currently-released games.

It was those ads that caught my eye as I browsed a few issues. Consider Missile Defense, a fun semi-clone of the arcade game Missile Command. To give you a sense of what games were like at the time, here are a few screenshots from the game (All game images in this article are courtesy of MobyGames, who graciously allow use of up to 20 images without prior permission.)

Stunning graphics, aren’t they?

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