Can You Stop Messing Around With Keyboards Now?

At their October event Apple unveiled huge improvements to the ‘pro’ line up of laptops. Moving the whole line over to their own silicone, adding in more ports and silently whispering an apology. Despite more than 5 years meddling with them, adding in needless features as well overcomplicating and compromising their laptops — they are done with meddling with keyboards. How long this will last, who knows, but the simple (all be it silent) admission that can be read between the lines, is that they were wrong in almost all areas. The constant march towards thinner and thinner devices simply does not work with laptops.

In order to slim down their laptop line in the last few years Apple, understandably, made quite a few decisions that were at detriment to its users. Battery life suffered. Connectivity needed by many of its users was removed and replaced by dongles, but most damaging was the compromise to the working of the laptop. The butterfly keyboard is perhaps one of the most damming decisions Apple has ever made about its computers. I was one of the lucky ones that wasn’t affected at all through my usage of them, yet still queued up to pick up my 2020 version once they returned to more traditional scissor switches.

As someone that types out thousands of words a day, I do have some opinions on these keyboards but this post isn’t really about them. It’s more about the way companies view the keyboards themselves. They have improved slightly over the years, but remained pretty mush as they were decades ago. A bit like the mouse, you can mess around with some things, add in buttons or make using it easier to use, but you cant change the way they work. The touch points are the most important area of a computer, and like handle bars on a bike, need to feel good and work well.

Who knows if Apple saw the future of typing on their computers as being as close to glass as possible, but that’s not a future I want to be a part of. The butterfly keyboards I used were fine, you get used to them in the end (unless yours breaks) but as soon as you return to something using scissor switches you realise who bad they are. Nothing beats good key travel and a nice tactile feel — there are whole industries built around it worth more than $1billion.

I can forgive the Touchbar (also now removed) as a gimmick that Apple thought would become more useful. It didn’t hurt the keyboard, apart from needing more concentration to use than it should do, but messing around with the keyboard itself gets much more of a reaction. The company is now aware that is customers like full-Sized, tactile keys but I am not sure why it took 5 years to work it out. Perhaps now they will stop messing around with the keyboard and continue to build thicker, more capable laptops that have what their customers need.

Meta Dismissive →

Casey Newton on Facebook going Meta:

It struck me, given the recent conversation around how old and out of touch Facebook has been lately, how strong the Boomer vibes were coming from those reacting to Thursday’s presentation. A surprising number of people seem to think that technological progress ended with the smartphone, and that augmented reality, virtual reality, and connected experiences between platforms will never come to pass.

I’m not into all opinions that seems a little bit like an old man shaking his fist at the sky being labelled ‘boomer’ but I completely understand where Casey is coming from here.

I don’t think there is anyone of the opinion that technological advancements stopped at the smartphone but if you are of a certain age the prospect of VR/AR being “the future” has been spouted for decades and is still not here. So it may seem to some that land never seems to appear over the horizon.

All through the 80’s and 90’s VR was promised and hinted at through all sorts of media. Movies like the Lawnmower Man, and video games systems such as the Virtual Boy seemed to be the vanguard of a new era — only for the noise to die out for another couple of decades. We’ve also been searching for the next thing after mobile for years, so I think we can excuse the dismissive tendencies even without whoever is trying to build these things.

My Blog Is An Extension Of Me

I go backwards and forwards about what I want gr36.com to be. Over the years it has been a portfolio of sorts, an attempt at being a news website, a podcast host and lots of things in between. Nowadays it’s decidedly more amateur and more of an extension of myself that evolves over time depending on what I am up to and an extension of myself.

I don’t even have a ‘thing’ I want to write about. Most people seem to have an issue, or a cause, or even an interest they want to cover all the ins and outs of. I loosely revolve around technology but expand into all sorts of areas that I am interested in, but I guess thats the point a personal blog should be an extension of the person hitting the publish button.

Everything that my blog is I have learnt to do. I have studied zero computing skills officially, but my blog as taught me HTML and CSS skills along with some serve management things, SEO knowledge and a vast number of things — many of which I have already forgotten. The current WordPress is self-hosted, when it was micro.blog I had to learn all the Hugo things that made it tick. As such, in times of hardship when I wonder why bother I remember that my blog is more than words, it is a place I have grown.

But most importantly, I want to be able to be wrong. I want to change my mind! I want to evolve. . . .blogging feels to me like a world of endless drafting, endless revisioning. – Austin Kleon

I have written a great many words, most of them terrible, but most of which have taught me something about myself just through the act of typing them out. I have changed my mind, worked thing through and changed as a person because I have written them on the internet. I want to be held accountable for the words that come from me and a blog is the best place to do it. As Austin write about above, it’s more forgiving than putting all of your thoughts on social media. You are allowed to get things wrong. Be forgiven for the occasional (or more than occasional) spelling mistake or typo because a blog is you.

Much like the post on a blog, that you can edit, improve, and grow them they reflect the thoughts that spurred them in the first place. Austin Kleon also goes on to point out the importance of getting things wrong later in his post he says “Being wrong publicly is the easiest way to learn what you need to know.” This applies to a friend texting you to say that the MacBook Pro 13″ has two ports and not four, but also to opinions you have on anything. I can get things wrong in person, or on social media, but there is nothing quite like writing a post and growing because I wrote it.

The design is a bit weird; the words are hit and miss but it’s my blog, and it’s personal.

Review Bias Is A Thing →

Lee Peterson on his lack of trust in #giftfromgoogle reviews:

As part of the Pixel 6 rollout Google gives out their latest devices to YouTubers and they are encouraged to share their thoughts via this hashtag. Don’t trust these reviews, it’s a gift so it’s already in the name they will mostly be a biased view point showing the positives not a real work review.

So just like pretty much every review then. Look I get it, the hashtag is a bit weird this year, and perhaps is a way to display #ad without actually saying it — but Google gives out Pixels to people all over YouTube every year — just like what seems like every other brand on the planet.

With that said, I agree with Lee. I absolutely do not believe what half the reviews say on YouTube currently. I have to watch loads of them to get an overview of what is actually going on and then try and pick out the topics reviewers have been told to cover. It’s pretty easy to pick them out because the same words are repeated but some brands are being downright manipulative about what is shown. Anyone remember the original Surface duo weird review embargoes? The below video from Mrwhosetheboss goes through the issues we face as consumers in loads of detail.

Shortcut For Easy Apple Passwords Access

As much as I love 1Password, I don’t love having to pay yet another subscription. So when Apple overhauled their password manager I was intrigued to try it out as fast as possible. Sure, using a fully integrated system probably isn’t the safest way to do things, but given 1Passwords move away from OS specific apps these improvements could be exactly what I needed.

At first look it works well enough to get most people going. Improving the security of average users accounts by suggesting much stronger passwords. The recent improvements also allows users to add in one time passwords, otherwise referred to as two factor authentication codes. Without doubt it is leading users down a path to making sure their accounts are much more secure and anything that allows you to do this without any technical knowledge is a good move. Even if it is perhaps not the very best practice to follow it is better than no password manager at all.

With that said, entry of passwords is not always the easiest when compared to other options. Providing the website or app is developed correctly you can put in usernames, passwords and two factor codes with a few taps, but if not it is a pain to go into setting and find them. Well this Shortcut created by Reddit user Krokmau enables access on not just iOS but also macOS providing you have the Monterey update installed allowing access to Shortcuts. Once run it will detect what OS is being used and display the passwords stored in iCloud.

Grab it HERE

I have pinned this to my menu bar on my mac as well as put it in the iOS widget on my homescreen so I have easier access than I have ever had before. I am sure Apple will improve things moving forward but perhaps not for another year. So in the mean time this Shortcut will save you loads of time hunting around in settings.

Don’t buy the M1 MacBook Pro →

Matt Birchler with some comments on the MacBook to buy:

I would argue the only Apple Silicon Mac I can’t recommend is the 13” MacBook Pro. It’s several hundred dollars more than the Air and gets you the same performance in a larger body.

My first thought was of course you wouldn’t buy the 13″ model when something so good has just launched. To be honest I wasn’t really aware that the ‘older’ model (can’t really call it old now can we) was still available but sure enough there it sits starting at £1299. No doubt to give Apple a marketing angle that their pro laptops start at a lot less than they actually do.

Sure, look at the MacBook Pros in isolation and the base model, hell even the £1499 512gb version is an attractive purchase for some people. A saving of at least £400 is nothing to be sniffed at. However throw the MacBook Air into the mix and it makes no sense to go for a cheaper Pro.

There will be some people out there that need 4 ports, or want to squeeze out a couple extras hours of battery life and there are some very minute differences in performance but for the saving of several hundred pounds more the macBook Air is the machine to go for unless you have deep pockets.

Edit: turns out the 13” MacBook Pro has the same two ports as the Air. So even less reasons to buy it.

Add Information To Notion With Shortcuts

Without getting too much into the tools I use (yet again) I have been enjoying using Notion lately for all of my productivity needs. It’s not perfect but the power and flexibility it offers me for free is pretty crazy. One of the downsides is using it on the go as the iOS apps leave a little to be desired, but seeing as my usage on mobile is limited now I built a shortcut to help out.

The Set Up

The Notion API has been around a little while but it’s very under utilised in my opinion. Given the fact Notion appeals to a wide rage of businesses and individuals alike it comes as no surprised that the API allows for quite a lot to be achieved without even opening the app. In order to get access to this you will need to visit their integrations page and set up you own access token.

1 – Whilst signed in to Notion, head to the main page for setting up automation and add a new integration with a name of your choice. Once set up you will need the API Key, so copy this somewhere safe. This allows limitless access to your Notion data (with a few bits of extra information needed) so please keep it safe!

2 -Second you will need the ID of the database you want to add information into, you can find this in the URL when the database is open as a page. This does not work with Linked Databases so make sure you have the original one open and copy the URL.

https://www.notion.so/{workspace_name}/{database_id}?v={view_id}

If you have only one Workspace you wont have the Workspace name in your URL, so just copy everything after the Notion URL and before the question mark.

While you have this page open share this database with your integration by clicking ‘Share’ then ‘Add people, emails, groups or integrations’ and selecting the integration you just set up. This gives the API full access to this database only. In my example below this is my ‘Inbox’ where everything goes first for me to sort out later on at my desk.

The Shortcut

Download the Shortcut found here. Paste in the API Key when requested and secondly add in the Database ID. You can change these afterwards by editing the commented text boxes with the relevant data.

Once run, this simple set upasks you for a title and some content for the quick database entry you are making. This then puts the information into the below JSON format using the supplied variables. The real power of using the Notion API is the possibilities are huge. The API contains the ability to set up any number of blocks inside this page, rich text styling, adding images and loads more. You can find out more information in their extensive API documents.

{
    "parent": { "database_id": "{database ID}" },
    "properties": {
        "title": {
      "title": [{ "type": "text", "text": { "content": "{page title}" } }]
        }
    },
    "children": [
    {
      "object": "block",
      "type": "paragraph",
      "paragraph": {
        "text": [{ "type": "text", "text": { "content": "{block content}" } }]
      }
    }
  ]
}

I have set up a few of these to be able to add in items for my Todo list, blog post ideas and also clip web information for me to look at later on. I may look at creating something much bigger in future as my usage of Notion increases, it may never pull me away from Obsidian fully but it’s an amazing service none the less. If you create something I would love to see where you go with the Notion API and Shortcuts.

Making Bets On The Future Is Risky →

Jon Porter on Apple being ready to admit it was wrong about the future of laptops:

Whether that’s because Apple is more dominant when it comes to smartphones or just because the benefits of wireless audio were more obvious to people than USB-C accessories, people seem to have been far more ready to roll with Apple’s annoying headphone jack decision. There’s a valid debate to be had about whether Apple kicked off a trend towards wireless audio or whether its move just turbocharged one that was already taking place, but either way, Apple made a bet that the future of smartphone audio was wireless, and for all intents and purposes, it seems to have paid off.

It is unusual for Apple to be early into new spaces of technology it is not unusual on them making bets on the future of computing. Some of these fail (butterfly keyboards), some of them take a long time to come to fruition (flash), and some are forced through simply because Apple is behind them (headphone jacks). All of these are calculated by people far more intelligent than you or I, but theses always those waiting around to point some fingers. Generally speaking Apple seem to take the approach that in computing it’s better to be at the front and corse correct when possible, then be behind and risk missing the boat entirely.

Whilst the linked post above is vastly exaggerated, it’s great to see Apple willing to make corrections when needed. With that said replacing the SD card slot is not admitting they were wrong on USB-C at all, as pointed out they just don’t have the clout to push forward like they do on mobile. Most devices seem to still be sold with a USB-A cable at least on one end, and with so many brands dragging their heels it becomes a drag to carry around a dongle but not as bad as others seem to make out.

Apple didn’t put USB-A ports back in their laptops, but they did concede the the future is not as wireless as they might have thought. Unfortunately just a few months after admitting their bet on the future of keyboards they now return to a macBook that argues it has “pro-level” connectivity, when in fact it has a similar set up to a macBook found in 2015. Ouch.

But I Already Have A Dongle →

Jason Snell on the Exile from Dongletown:

Apple’s argument for getting rid of the SD slot was that the future would be wireless, and we wouldn’t need to use cards to transfer data anymore. It wasn’t true back in 2016, and it’s still not true. Sure, some devices equipped with SD cards now offer wireless data transfer, but let me tell you—it’s not as fast or reliable as just plugging in a card and transferring the data!

I still see this crop up from time to time. “I don’t need one because I have a dongle now” or “my camera supports some weird transfer over WiFi that I need an app for”. Nothing beats having an SD in your laptop, even more so for one aimed at pros.

I might be an edge case for people that will buy a MacBook Pro but I use 2-3 cards in rotation almost daily. Having to shoot onto multiple cards because they fill up fast. Not to mention I am away from my computer while doing this so I rely on being able to transfer all of this onto my Mac in one go. Even in a world where things have moved forward a few years and some cameras are moving partly to CFexpress but an SD card slot just makes sense if you have the room in the machine to put one.

A dongle is fine, but a built in slot is better.

The Pro Default

I always love a good trip to the Apple store. A little to gaze at all its capitalist glory, but I usually have a good chat with the person sorting my stuff out and enjoy meeting some new people. Picking up my Apple Watch last week was no different and I had a good chat about the recent iPhone with the person helping me. We chatted for quite a while about their range of Pro devices.

We joked about what even is a Pro device, and that it means different things on different products, but they pointed out the surprising range of people that buy Pro branded products. To give you the cliff notes of our conversation, they pointed put how great the iPhone 13 is, and the iPad / MacBook Air. It’s great to have a device at every price point, but the reality is that a lot of people buy the most expensive one they can afford and often stretch to buy the Pro device without the need.

The anecdotal evidence seems to point towards the same conclusions. Your local coffee house features people browsing the internet, or writing Word docs on £1500+ laptops, and I have lost count of the number of friends whose children have written a MacBook Pro on their Christmas list. Every year when the new iPhone comes around, I see a whole new range of people that buy the expensive Pro phone and start taking photos walks for a few weeks to justify the costs. Sure, people can spend money however they wish, and more power to you, but Pro shouldn’t be your default.

This was even more evident, something I almost feel for myself, at yesterday’s event. Apple launched some new, good but staggeringly expensive, laptops yesterday which most people have zero need for. I work in a field that typically relies on powerful equipment to export video and manipulate designs easily and the power is still far more than I need. My 2017 iMac still doesn’t miss a beat, and no doubt more power would speed things up, but the cost isn’t worth the trade-off.

These Pros are for those that need serious power on the go, yet I have a feeling I will see these all over the place in a few weeks. Apple devices have always been a status thing for some. Like designer clothing the enjoyment comes from brandishing something just for the cost – or so I am told. I can’t wait to be able to pick those notched screens out with not too much trouble and have a look at what tasks are being done on a machine that is at least a thousand pound more expensive than required.

Of course, you do you, but the rest of the range are great too you know. Perhaps something cheaper might actually be better for you.