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Macs

The iMac Pro—and upcoming Mac Pro—are Apple’s ‘halo cars’

Writing on his blog, Kirk McElhearn talks about profit and the iMac Pro/new Mac Pro (emphasis added):

I’m speculating, but I think Apple won’t be making much of a profit from the iMac Pro, or the coming Mac Pro, but rather needs to have these computers as flagship devices to show that the company can innovate. If they take a loss, because of R&D costs, it’s not a big deal, because for every iMac Pro or Mac Pro they’ll sell, they probably book 10,000 iPhones.

I think Kirk’s spot on here (though this being Apple, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a small profit on the Pro models). And there’s a perfect corollary in the automotive world: halo cars

A halo vehicle (or halo model) in automobile marketing is one designed and marketed to showcase the talents and resources of the manufacturers and to promote sales of other vehicles within a marque.

Consider Ford and the new Ford GT, which is a stunning $495,000 sports car…

Ford won’t sell may of these—I believe they’ve capped production at 1,000 units or so, and they’re probably taking a loss on each car. But it’s a car that shows what Ford can do given unlimited budget and working outside the constraints of a typical production line—it takes one full day to assemble each car. Compare that to the roughly 300,000 Ford Fusions sold each year, which means they’re producing over 820 cars per day.

It also gives the owner of a Fusion or Fiesta or Mustang the ability to say “Yea, it’s a Ford—the same company that makes that amazing GT.” It may even draw them into a showroom to see the car, where they may leave with some lesser vehicle. (Though with so few GTs being built, Chevrolet’s Corvette is a better real-world example of a halo car, as you can find those at any Chevy dealer.)

Thinking about the iMac Pro/new Mac Pro as Apple’s halo cars makes perfect sense. These are expensive machines that will sell to relatively few people, but every Mac (and iPhone) owner can say “Yea, the same company that makes those amazing high-end desktop machines.” It may also draw users to an Apple Store to see this amazing metal, and they may end up leaving with a “normal” iMac or MacBook Pro.

And it lets Phil keep saying “Can’t innovate any more, my ass!” for a few more years.

The fundamental problem with the Touch Bar

Today, via a link posted on Six Colors, I read Steven Acquino’s The Touch Bar Makes the Mac More Accessible to Me, in which Steven shares his positive experiences with the Touch Bar:

Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji.

Usability is definitely an individual thing, and Steven makes a good case for why he likes the Touch Bar. However, Steven doesn’t mention a fundamental issue with the Touch Bar. Nor does Marco Arment in his Fixing the MacBook Pro article. To me, this unstated issue is the main problem with the Touch Bar, and it’s one that Apple can’t fix with new features or tweaks:

You cannot use the Touch Bar without looking at it

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. There’s nothing physical about interacting with the Touch Bar, aside from using your finger: There are no defined button areas, and there’s no haptic feedback when you tap something. So you absolutely must look at the Touch Bar to interact with it.

When the new MacBooks were released, I spent about 30 minutes testing a Touch Bar-equipped version in an Apple Store, and this constant moving of my eyes’ focus from keyboard to screen to keyboard to screen to…well, you get the idea…was incredibly disruptive. To use the Touch Bar, I’d have to change my focus to the keyboard, then refocus on the screen, taking time to find my active window and locate the mouse cursor. This did not make for a pleasant user experience.

As but one example, Steven mentions using the Touch Bar for zooming:

In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.

Granted, there are some extra capabilities in the Touch Bar zoom, but using the Touch Bar for zoom seems infinitely harder—and more disruptive—than my preferred approach:

You can really customize zoom in that panel, including making it usable via the keyboard, setting zoom limits, and more. I keep it simple, though, with a mouse-assisted full screen zoom.

To zoom my screen, I hold down the Control key, then scroll my Magic Mouse with one finger, and I get infinite and easily-controllable zoom, all without ever taking my eyes off the screen. To zoom with the Touch Bar, I’d need to look at the Touch Bar while I tapped on it to get into zoom mode, then look back to the screen as I zoomed. That seems much tougher, and again, my eyes have to go from screen to keyboard and back—and do so again when I’m done zooming to exit zoom.

Using a Mac should be about doing things efficiently, and to me, the Touch Bar is an incredibly inefficient solution to a non-existent problem. I’m with Marco, and hope that future laptops either remove the Touch Bar completely or make it optional.

An in-depth look at moving from iPhoto to Photos

As noted in prior posts, I’ve recently moved to Photos from iPhoto. So far, it’s been a mixed experience. There are some elements of Photos I like, but as of today, those things are outweighed by the things I don’t like.

I’ve vented on a number of the things I dislike on Twitter, but wanted to expand on both the positives and the negatives in more detail. Hence, this “one week in” review (of sorts) of Photos, from the perspective of an experienced iPhoto user.

I’ve also included some tips for working with and migrating to Photos for those who haven’t yet made the move from iPhoto. Finally, if you’re still reading, I’ve listed the key features I’d really like to see come to Photos in a future update.

Note that I am not a great photographer, but I do take a lot of photos—I have over 40,000 photos and a couple thousand video clips in my database. To keep things organized, I use lots of keywords and Smart Albums, so much of my feedback on Photos is concerned with those areas of the program.

First off, my time with Photos hasn’t all been bad; there are some things that I really like in Photos…

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Making some marks on some iPhone 8 benches

With the arrival of my iPhone 8 Plus and its A11 Bionic CPU, I thought it’d be interesting to compare its benchmark performance (for the CPU and GPU) with some of the other gear in our home—iOS devices, Macs, and even a PC and a Linux box. In total, I tested 15 devices.

How did I test? I turned to Geekbench, which you can run on MacOS, Windows, and Linux (anywhere from free to $99), as well as on iOS ($.99). It has tests for both the CPU (using single and multiple cores) as well as the GPU (OpenCL and Metal on iOS/macOS; OpenCL and CUDA on Windows; CUDA on Linux).

What follows is far from a scientific study; I was just curious how the CPU and GPU in the iPhone compared to other tech gear in our home. As such, I didn’t run the tests under “ideal lab conditions,” I just ran them—one time per machine, with no special setup other than some basic stuff…

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Frankenmac 2017: Fix distorted images at power on

When I originally set up Frankenmac 2017, I did so using an old 1920×1200 monitor, and everything looked fine from power on through booting to macOS.

But then, when it came time to get Frankenmac ready for production use (much more on that in a future post!), I connected it to my widescreen Dell 4K display, and was greeted with the ugliness that is a stretched Apple, as seen at right. This problem would fix itself relatively quickly during the boot process, but it was annoying.

Even more annoying was that the same distortion was present in the Clover boot loader that you see every time you power on the machine. In light of all my other issues, solving this problem was near the bottom of the priority list. But once I’d done everything I could on that front (again, more about that soon), it was time to tackle the distortion issue.

The solution turned out to be relatively simple, though not even vaguely describable as obvious. After much web searching, I wound up in this forum thread, where I found many possible solutions. Some seemed incredibly complex, but finally, on page four, I found a simple fix that worked—no more distortion, in either the Apple logo or the Clover screen:

If you’re experiencing distorted images on your hackintosh, here’s the fix that worked for me:

  1. Power up and enter BIOS (usually by hitting the Delete key)
  2. Find the Windows 8/10 Features setting—on my Gigabyte motherboard, it’s in the BIOS Features section. Set it to Windows 8/10
  3. Once you do step one, a new option, CSM Support, will show up. Set it to Disabled.
  4. Confirm that Secure Boot is set to Disabled.

And that’s that—with those changes (for me at least), the distortion was gone. As a side benefit, the boot screen is at the full resolution of the display, so there’s no more jaggies and everything looks properly scaled. Ah, correct aspect ratio bliss!

See sensor stats in Terminal

Someone—perhaps it was Kirk—pointed me at this nifty Ruby gem to read and display your Mac’s sensors in Terminal: iStats — not to be confused with iStat Menus, a GUI tool that does similar things.

Installation is sinmple, via sudo gem install iStats. After a few minutes, iStats will be ready to use. In its simplest form, call istats by itself with no parameters. Normally I’d list the Terminal output here, but istats (by default, can be disabled) presents informatiomn with neat little inline bar graphs, so here’s a screenshot:

This tool is especially useful on a laptop, as it provides an easy-to-read battery summary.

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Frankenmac 2017: It’s (temporarily) dead, Jim

My purpose in writing this series of posts is to share everything about the hackintosh process, as experienced by a somewhat technical user who has built a number of PCs, and one prior hackintosh. That means sharing the good (the PC booted!), the bad (graphics card roadblock), and the ugly (today’s story).

The ugly is this: Frankenmac is presently dead.

4pm Update: Frankenmac has returned to life. How? I’m not entirely positive, but I think it was a system date/time issue. I booted into single user mode (which worked) and noticed a lot of the system-installed files had dates of 1969 or 2037. Typing date at the command prompt returned some date in 2040. Yikes! I rebooted, set the date and time in the BIOS, reformatted the drive (for the sixth time), installed macOS, waited for the reboot…and it worked!

I was trying to get audio working after sleep (one of the last remaining little things to fix), and managed to get the machine in a state where it’d only boot to a black screen. No amount of web searching found a workable solution, so I thought I’d just start over. To do that, I needed to format the internal drive (using my iMac’s disk dock). Disk Utility isn’t enough, though, as the hidden EFI partition also needs to be removed, and you can’t do that in Disk Utility. (You could, via a hidden debug menu, before Apple neutered Disk Utility in OS X 10.11.)

Some web digging found the solution: Write zeros to the boot sector with this command:

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/disk1 bs=1024 count=1024

Very important: Don’t do this unless you’re absolutely positive you know what you’re doing! You’ll wipe a disk in a hurry, and there’s no recourse. Also, see the comments for a much better way!

After zeroing the disk, I ran the installer again, and that’s where things went south: The installer finishes, but upon reboot, when I tell the machine to boot from the internal drive, it starts the boot process, then reboots again.

And that’s where things sit. So for now, Frankenmac is tabled while I seek the advice of experts.

Frankenmac 2017: From BIOS to installed macOS

Today, a look at how my Frankenmac went from the basic hardware BIOS setup screen to a usable (though not yet fully complete or natively bootable) macOS machine. If you’re just tuning in, you may want to catch up…

  • The Beginnings: Resources, parts list, and ordering. (Steps 1 – 3)
  • The build: Turning the parts into something that powers on…but that’s about it. (Steps 4 – 5)
  • The roadblock: A new graphics card and an old case and old power supply do not mix.
  • Transplanted: Frankenmac moves into a new home, with a new power supply, to get around the roadblock.
  • The parts list: A constantly-updated list of the parts I used and the cost of each part.

Now that Frankenmac is functional in its new home—roadblock averted—it’s time to explain how I got to that point from the BIOS boot screen of step five a few days back. It’s a tale filled with drama, dread, doubt, defiance, and in the end, domination. Well, OK, it’s pretty much none of that, but I had a string of “D words” in my head, and had to use them somewhere…

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Frankenmac 2017: Transplanted

After hitting a roadblock with the graphics card connector in Frankenmac’s many-years-old case, yesterday I picked up a new case and power supply, and set out to transfer the machine to its new home.

The power supply

First, the boring stuff: The power supply I chose is a Thermaltake Toughpower 750W 80 Plus Gold. It works well, and (other than the CPU and motherboard power cables) is modular, so you only add the cables you need.

Very strangely (to me, anyway) is that Thermaltake packages its power cables in a nylon bag, as shown in the image at right. I’m not sure why—do people wander around with PC power supply cables often enough to require a sturdy carrying case? Very odd. Anyway, the power supply is nice and quiet, installed easily, and seems to do its job. But power supplies are boring…

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Frankenmac 2017: The roadblock

Today I was going to write about the process of going from the BIOS boot screen to having macOS installed on Frankenmac 2017. That, however, will have to wait for tomorrow, due to a pretty big roadblock I hit while trying to get my GTX 1080 graphics card working. The roadblock looks like this:

On the left, that’s my hand. More relevant to the problem is that six-pin PCIe connector (from the power supply) in my hand. On the right is my graphics card, with its eight-pin connector. Now, while this may look like a round-plug square-hole problem, I didn’t think it was, mainly because of what I found on this page:

Because of both the physical design as well as the use of the sense signals, the six-pin power supply connector plug is backward compatible with the eight-pin graphics card socket. This means that if your graphics card has an eight-pin socket but your power supply has only six-pin connectors available, you can plug the six-pin connector into the eight-pin socket using an offset arrangement, as shown below.

And it’s true, the plug fits just fine. And when I powered up Frankenmac, the card lit up and the fans spun. However, onscreen I saw a message about connecting the PCIe power cable to the card, so clearly, something was amiss.

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