Chuckellania for October 19th, 2021

Published on Thursday, October 21, 2021

One of the sillier aspects in Monday's Apple Event was the way they announced, proudly, that problems they themselves had created have been fixed. Bringing back HDMI, MagSafe, and an SD card slot. Bringing back a tactile row of function keys.

But they did fix it, even though it took them half a decade, so, it's not nothing. It was kind of a refreshing change that they went just short of acknowledging "turns out the Touch Bar wasn't that popular".

Nonetheless, with some people, it was! It's almost a bummer we aren't given a choice. And I do wish I had ever gotten to play around with it to get my own sense. Certainly, Apple didn't do much to evolve it. macOS Mojave, two years later, added Quick Actions, which you can easily add to your Touch Bar. And third-party tools like BetterTouchTool (which I use for other reasona anyway) add a ton more flexibility, letting you add entirely-custom touch bars.

I can't help but wonder if they ever tried to add pseudo-tactile behavior using their Taptic Engine. Had they given up at that point? Or were the results not promising?

But there were other problems as well. How do you use it externally, such as on a desktop Mac or when in clamshell mode? Again, it seems they abandoned it halfway through, before considering an external Mac keyboard with the Touch Bar built in. Years later, they did ship one with (just) Touch ID in it.

So many tech decisions swing like a pendulum between "I wish this were more integrated" and "I wish this were more modular". E.g., in recent years, we've seen "microservices", which are really just DLLs over the Internet. They come with added complexity, latency, and risk of failure — but they also come with typical benefits of a modular architecture. Someone will find a fancy term for a more monolithic architecture, and then that will be popular again for a while.

Or, "I wish these communicated better" vs. "I wish these were more isolated".


This week's MacBook Pro is certainly about as pro as it gets for a laptop, which I think is great. But is it overkill?

Apple has now increased the gap between the $999 Air, the almost-pointless old $1299 Pro, and the $1999 "real" Pro. I suspect next year's Air will similarly go up in price, perhaps to $1199, while still keeping the old one around for a while. But will there be a ca-$1499 laptop again, in the next two years?

Making these more "Pro" will hopefully also allow the Air to distinguish itself better. In the 2016 era, I found it hard to understand why any distinction existed at all. The entire Apple laptop line-up seemed like variations of the "Air" theme: thin for thinness's sake, with lots of compromises that entails.

It wasn't a problem when the 12-inch MacBook, and only that, had the Butterfly keyboard and went all-USB-C. But when all laptops you could buy from them went those ways, that wasn't just bold, but arrogant.

I don't think it was very realistic that displays on desks and big TVs and projectors in conference rooms would transition away from HDMI to USB-C any time soon. Instead, five years in, they haven't been transitioning at all. Some USB-C displays exist, but they're the exception, not the norm. WHich isn't that surprising: moving projectors from VGA to HDMI brought major benefits like a digital port and higher resolution. USB-C would not.

Schools using surveillance software to spy on students' online activity , and — inadvertently or not — outing LGBTQ students to their parents.

I missed it in the video, but Apple's performance-vs-power charts came with footnotes of what machines they were comparing against. I still think the y-axis is problematic, but still: what Apple is claiming here is that they come close to the laptop variant of a RTX 3080, while consuming about 40% the power to achieve that.

So interested were people to figure out various performance comparisons to the MacBook Pro that Geekbench's site had uptime issues.

[Your occasional reminder that, in large parts of the world, the phone, not the laptop, is now the primary computer.

This is hard to wrap your head around if you've grown up in the 1990s' desktop GUI era, but that is increasingly not how people use computers.

One of the disappointments about the new MacBook Pros: still no cellular.

While tethering is a thing that exists and works OK, it isn't quite the same. For example, because tethering isn't that common a use case, Mac apps by and large aren't tweaked to consider the case where you're on a higher-latency, occasionally-interrupting (as you move around) and often-metered connection.

If Apple offered cellular as a $150 BTO option, apps would start adjusting. (And, as a nice side effect, tethering would become more practical, too!)

Meet the shoebill, a rather unsettlingly large bird.

Some of the 2021 MacBook Pro design features are a throwback to the 2001 PowerBook G4 Titanium (which was perhaps the most drastic shift in the PowerBook/MacBook design language of all time). I do think we could use some other changes, though. Does it always have to be a silver-like color?

Today in machine learning failing us, Google Maps gets confused by cat cafés.

And also, an "ethical chatbot" is OK with anything as long as you add "if".

The 68K emulator for PowerPC Macs (back in the early 1990s) was written by just one person, Gary Davidian.

macOS's place for widgets is currently in a sidebar, which I find myself never looking at. It was previously an all-screen overlay known as "Dashboard".

Windows has also struggled this: Vista had a sidebar with "Gagdets", then 7 still placed them on the side but made the sidebar less obvious, then Windows 8 replaced those with a Start Screen with large "Live Tiles". Windows 10 moved those into the returning Start Menu (and made them smaller), and Windows 11 removes Live Tiles, but allows "Widgets" in the Start Menu.

Mobile OSes like Android and iOS, meanwhile, seem more successful with this concept. Perhaps it just isn't as useful on the desktop.