“Pro” Mac Hardware

There has been quite a bit of angst in the Mac community lately regarding Mac Hardware, particularly amongst “pro” users. Though there is no accepted definition of a “pro” user, I generally consider the pro user to be anyone who has a use case in which the processing power of the computer has a material impact on the amount of work they can get done. For example, people who can ship more work product because something renders in one hour instead of three, or compiles in 20 minutes instead of an hour.

This excludes the vast majority of users. For most people, speed is a nice feature that makes for  a better user experience. But if the sum total of time savings amounts to minutes per day, there isn’t really much of an actual productivity boost.

The Apple ecosystem has a lot of benefits. The build quality of their hardware is second to none. There is a historical advantage of software reliability and security as compared to Windows, though this gap has closed considerably in recent years. Apple has done a great job of cramming very good hardware specs into progressively thinner and lighter laptops. I still don’t understand why they apply this philosophy to desktops, though they look cool.

However, in pursuit of the continual shrinking and lightening of the product line, the gap between the specs available from Apple and the major PC vendors in the workstation category has finally reached the point where even Apple loyalists are taking notice. We’ll see what Apple releases over the next few months (and years), but as I write this, compared to the MacBook Pro, portable workstations from the major PC vendors can be configured with faster processors, four times as much system AND video RAM, as well as more (and upgradeable) storage. As compared to the Mac Pro, desktop workstations from the PC vendors can be configured with more than three times the number of processor cores, sixteen times as much RAM, and double the number of (more powerful and replaceable) video cards. Compare these specs to the iMac, and the gap is even larger.

These PC workstations will be big and ugly. The battery life of the portable models will probably suck, and getting these kinds of specs will cost a lot of money. These machines will also be upgraded by their vendors – every, single, year. For the non-pro users, annual spec bumps are really not that big of a deal, and even many design upgrades are more about fashion than anything else. For the pro users, Moore’s law has a serious impact on their bottom line. More powerful specs mean significantly more work can get done.

This highlights the risk that’s inherent with being loyal to a single hardware vendor. What happens when your vendor is no longer in addressing your particular needs? I have no doubt that Apple will continue to upgrade the MacBook Pro and the iMac, and they may even come up with a replacement for the Mac Pro. However, even if they do, it’s doubtful that the hardware will be as powerful as what could be purchased in the PC market, and extremely unlikely that the upgrades will happen with the clock-like regularity found in the PC market.

What I think is so frustrating for many pro users is that it would be relatively easy for Apple to profitably build true workstation class machines. Apply loyalists would be willing to pay a premium for hardware that would enable them to make more money. If you exclude size and weight as sacred design elements, development costs would likely drop considerably. Pro users would gladly pay extra for a MacBook Pro that was thicker and heavier than consumer models if it gave them lots of upgradeable RAM and storage, as well as a more useful array of ports. The same holds true for the Mac Pro. The “cheese grater” form factor would allow for specs generally on par with PC workstations and allow for annual incremental upgrades without major redesign work.

These machines would not sell nearly as well as mainstream models, but that’s not really the point. There will eventually be a trickle down effect if Apple loses the pro market. Apple certainly doesn’t owe it to any particular group of users to build machines that meet their particular needs. By the same token, users don’t owe their loyalty to any particular company either.

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“Pro” Mac Hardware

My “New” (old) MacBook Pro

Despite Apple introducing new 2016 MacBook Pro’s last week, I just ordered at 2015 model. Yes, the one that was last updated a year and a half ago. I spent a considerable amount of time looking at the new lineup and thinking through how I intend to use the machine. Ultimately I concluded that in addition to costing several hundreds more, the new models simply offer me less utility than the 2015 models.

I work in Higher-Ed IT in a support role, and need to use both Macs and PCs for a variety of testing and other work functions. Though my very first two computers were Macs (SE and PowerBook 540), I’m really a PC person. I’ve always supported a handful of Mac users, but I started in a new role last January which requires that I become much more proficient in supporting Macs. I was issued Dell Ultrabook right away to get started, and was given the go-ahead to order a MacBook Pro. I decided to hold off on buying a MacBook Pro since new models would be coming out soon (hah!). There was also a four-year-old 21.5” iMac that I could use in the meantime, so I didn’t feel rushed.

I certainly wasn’t expecting to wait until late October. I thought that at worst, the new models would be out for back-to-school. Since I really needed to get up to speed on supporting Macs, I went ahead and setup the old iMac as my primary machine, plugging in a 25” Dell monitor running at 2560×1440. I remote into my Dell for Windows tasks and running VMs (it has an i7, 16 GB of RAM, and a 256 SSD). I then waited, and waited, and waited.

Everyone’s use case is somewhat different, but for me, none of the updates offer any real benefits. Marginally smaller and thinner – I don’t really care. Half a pound lighter – I don’t really care. Better screen, I don’t really care. The 2015 model was already thin, light, and had a great screen. The increases in processor, graphics and storage speed won’t have a significant impact on my workflow, even though I will be using VMs and driving an external monitor. I don’t do design work or video editing, so I don’t expect to ever need to connect multiple 5K displays. I don’t really care about the Touch Bar, and based on the limited time I’ve spent using a 12” MacBook keyboard, I expect to prefer the keyboard on the 2015 model.

However, many of the things that Apple took away are a problem for me. A huge part of my workflow requires that I use a USB security token, and I use USB flash drives a fair amount. I’m not a huge klutz, but I was looking forward to the MagSafe connector. I connect to projectors and large LCDs on a fairly regular basis, so an HDMI port is very useful for me. The thought of having to use dongles all of the time doesn’t appeal to me.

The machine I ended up ordering was the 2015 13” MacBook Pro with the i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage. With our contract pricing and AppleCare, it cost about $2200. It would have cost about $350 more to get comparable specs on the new model, plus the cost of dongles. The price is already painful enough – when purchasing a Mac I try not to look at PC prices for similar specs, but the gap is pretty staggering.

It will be really interesting to see what the sales numbers look like over the next several months. There is certainly a tremendous amount of pent up demand, given how long it has been since the last substantive upgrades. Ironically enough, my purchase will count towards Apple’s sales number for this quarter, even though I’m not happy with the new releases.

Concerns for the Mac

Having read lots of blog posts and listened to a number of podcasts from long time Mac users, I concur that there is legitimate reason for concern over Apple’s direction with the Mac line. It is certainly fair to question Apple’s commitment to the “Pro” market, defined as people who truly need high-end processing capability. Apple seems to have stopped making workstation class machines altogether. These sorts of machines simply don’t fit into Apple’s thin and light design philosophy.

This philosophy makes sense for some models. I think the 12” Macbook is a great machine. I think the new 13” “Escape” model makes a lot of sense, even though it’s overpriced. The 13” Touch Bar model seems nice, and will also make more sense once the price comes down. However, I’m having a much harder time wrapping my head around the 15” model as a “Pro” machine. Pro machines, and for that matter desktops as well, don’t need to be so thin and light. Just as trading off some processing power makes sense for some users to have extra portability, trading off some portability makes sense for users who need more power.

I’m also confused by the mixed messages that Apple is sending with regard to which technologies they are keeping, getting rid of, and introducing. They removed the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 because it’s such an old technology (and courage). Yet they kept it on the new MacBook Pro’s because it’s a “Pro” feature, but apparently they dropped optical audio output through the headphone jack. They also got rid of the SD slot, which is causing fits for some photographers.

Touch Bar

Speaking of technology introductions, there’s the Touch Bar. While the Touch Bar seems like an interesting concept, I do worry that this will lead to a word usually reserved to criticize Android – fragmentation. There is a huge installed base of Mac desktop and notebooks that don’t have a Touch Bar, and Apple is selling current generation laptops without it (12” MacBooks and the 13” MacBook “Escape”). This seems to be the first time in quite a while that there are going to be Macs with a significant enough hardware difference to affect software functionality.

For years Apple has scoffed at the notion of touching any other screen than an iOS device. The Touch Bar seems to be a compromise at first glance – it’s close enough to the keyboard that you don’t need to raise your hands, but also close enough to the screen that you don’t need to adjust your gaze very much. The question is, how will Apple and developers translate the functionality of the Touch Bar to models without the Touch Bar?

This raises several other questions. Will we soon see new iMacs with a Touch Bar built into the lower part of the bezel? Will there be a floating menu on the screen instead for Macs that don’t have Touch Bars? Will Apple just decide to “invent” the touch screen with the next iMac? Will Apple roll out the Touch Bar to the “Escape” and MacBook models next year to justify the prices?

Prognostications

There seems to be much more rumbling from the Mac community than usual with this release cycle. It will be interesting to see if this is part of a trend, and how all of this plays out over the next several years. Overall, I expect Apple to lose some market share, yet remain very profitable.

At the higher end, Mac users have always had to make a trade-off when it came to raw specs as compared to what’s offered in the Windows universe. For these Mac users, the benefits of MacOS and its integration with (less powerful) hardware made this somewhat of a no-brainer. “It just works” was thrown around quite a bit. In recent years this has shifted as Apple has delayed updating the Mac product line, and software quality has slipped. Staying with Mac OS changed from being a “no brainer” to “still worth it”. It now seems like many high-end users have just about had enough. After some ups and downs, Windows has come a very long way. Some of these users are taking another look at Windows, especially given the wide array of hardware choices available for much less money.

At the low end, Apple seems to getting squeezed as well. Case in point – I just purchased an unlocked Moto G4 from Amazon for $120 with ads. It’s a fantastic device, and in many ways is comparable to my wife’s iPhone 6S Plus. Her company paid for it, and would have cost $750 unlocked when new last year. While the Moto G4 won’t be supported nearly as long as the iPhone, based on a three-year cycle for the iPhone, I could replace the Moto G4 twice a year and still come out ahead financially. If she suddenly had to buy her own smartphone, there’s no way we would spend the extra money for an iPhone.

This holds true for laptops as well. Chromebooks are getting better all of the time and selling quite well. I could just about get away with one as my primary computer at home. You can also get a really good Windows 10 laptop for half the cost of the new MacBook Pro “Escape”. As more and more of what people interact with moves to the web, the operating system seems to be becoming less and less important. The companies that make these inexpensive machines aren’t making much money, but as a consumer, it’s not my job to inflate the profit margins of the vendors.

For consumers who are not price sensitive and don’t have unusually demanding processing needs, Macs will continue to be a great option for years to come. However, as Macs become an increasingly small portion of Apple’s revenues and profits, I expect them to become less and less suited to the needs of true power users. Whether this starts to detract from the “cache” of Macs is doubtful.

My “New” (old) MacBook Pro

Golf Expectations

Introduction

One of the keys to enjoying golf, or any other activity for that matter, is setting proper expectations. More so than participants in most other sports, golfers can be deluded into thinking they are much better than they actually are. Just string together a couple of shots that are better than usual, and you suddenly expect this to be the new normal. Unfortunately, expectations rise much more quickly than actual skill improves. This makes setting proper expectations particularly difficult, especially when you are faced with a situation in which your skill or physical capabilities decline.

As I enter my late forties with a bad back and a persistent hamstring injury, I’m having to think about how physical limitations will affect my game for the first time. Up until this point I could just focus on what worked best for me within the context of how much time I had to play and practice. Now I just want to be able to play without getting hurt. With my annual golf trip coming up in a few weeks, this is forcing me to really thing through how I will need to adjust not just my strategy, but my expectations.

I once had to go through a major readjustment of my expectations due to a drastic reduction in playing/practice time. I’m hoping to adjust much more quickly this time. Hopefully someone out there will find the description of my process useful in helping them to set appropriate expectations for their game, and ultimately increase how much fun they have one the course.

My Golf History

I started playing in my late twenties, and the golf bug bit me hard. I started playing and practicing almost every day, and I improved pretty rapidly. After about a year I was playing bogey golf, and two years later I was a shaky six handicap, plateauing the next year as a five. I was able to get to this level despite several problems with my fundamentals: my grip was too weak, I played the ball too far back in my stance, and my alignment suggested I was aimed off to the right somewhere. I had learned how to make this work with repetition and good eye-hand coordination. I always liked practicing around the green, which helped tremendously, as did a good understanding of course management. I often tell people that if you want to get good at golf, just practice and play almost every day for a few years, and learn to think your way around the course.

Over the course of these years, I steadily improved, and my expectations went up along the way. This made sense given how much time I was able to devote to the game, as well as the fact that I almost never had to deal with any sort of injury problems.

The First Adjustment

I soon met my wife, and my playing time took a pretty drastic hit. My scores shot up, which made me generally miserable to be around for a while. Intellectually I knew that I wasn’t practicing or playing enough to realistically shoot in the 70’s anymore, but emotionally this was difficult. After several months, I finally came up with a mind trick that helped this new expectation to truly sink in. Up to this point, I always thought about my score in relation to par. Instead, I started thinking about my score in relation to bogeys, and for some reason that allowed me to feel better about the same outcome.

Interestingly enough, once I fully internalized this, I was able to relax more on the course, and actually started playing a little better. I certainly wasn’t as good as before, but I felt good about my game as I settled down in the 8 – 10 handicap range.

New Potential

Then came what I like to describe as my early mid-life crisis. At the age of 37, with a wife and a toddler, I quit my IT job and became an Assistant Golf Professional at a nearby resort. The career switch didn’t exactly pan out, and I left after a year. I expect to write more about my experiences there at some point, for for now I’ll just say that if you decide to become a golf pro, do it when you’re 22, single, and don’t have kids. Otherwise, get a regular job.

It wasn’t a total loss though. My colleagues helped me to finally fix my fundamentals. It wasn’t an easy transition, even with access to instructors, video analysis, and the ability to hit balls almost every day. For a few months I hit a lot of shots that started left, then hooked even further left. However, at the end of that year, I was hitting it longer, higher, and straighter, with less effort and more balance. I was probably playing to a 2 handicap when I left. I remember shooting one-over for nine holes on my last day, and it felt easy. However, I was pretty burnt out on golf, and I didn’t touch a club for a year.

I then averaged almost exactly six rounds a year for the next several years, four of which were played on an annual four-day buddy trip. Having a child, then another didn’t really leave me with much time to practice or play. My pattern on the trip was pretty consistent – the first two days I’d shoot the equivalent of the low 80’s, and I’d shoot in the equivalent of the upper 70’s on the last two days (sometimes we played our own ball, sometimes in teams). In other words, I was playing as well as I had before my initial adjustment, only now I was doing it with not nearly as much practice.

I was content with my scoring during this time. Despite the fact that I wasn’t nearly as good as when I left the golf course, I knew that I was playing as well as could be expected given my playing / practice time. Still, I always held out hope that once the kids were a little older, I’d be able to really start playing and practicing again. Now that I had a fundamentally sound golf swing, I was really looking forward to seeing how good I could get with a couple of practice sessions a week and a round on the weekend. With my old swing, becoming a 5 handicap was about as good as I could have gotten, regardless of how much I practiced. Now I was fairly certain that I’d be able to get down to scratch. If you have good swing fundamentals, a steady short game, and know how to think your way around the course, this becomes pretty achievable.

Starting to Feel Old

However, my back disagreed with this plan. Around the same time that I was given the green light by life to start practicing and playing some more, my back started to betray me. In a nutshell, I just can’t torque my back like I used to. While some methods of swinging the club rely less on torque than others, a certain amount is inevitable. Ultimately the hips lead the way on the downswing, creating torque in the spine and adding considerable clubhead speed.

I’ve done a lot of experimentation over the last year or so, and this is what seems to work best for me. First, I encourage my hips to turn on the backswing, intentionally not creating torque in my spine. I then try to feel like I’m moving my hips and upper body more together on the downswing to create less torque. I’m sure that if I looked at my swing on video, I’d see that my hips are actually moving first, but it’s almost certainly to a lesser degree than before. Perhaps most importantly, I’m making a conscious effort to hit the ball a lot less far with each club.

This last step seems to be the key to allowing me to swing easier. In the past, I would often take something off of a club by making a half or ¾ swing. I could pretty easily hit my 150 yard club 135 yards by not taking it back as far, yet still making an aggressive move through the ball. While this created less torque in my back than a full swing, it still created quite a bit. I’m now trying to hit that club 135 yards, only now I’m doing it with a full swing. I have a longer time to accelerate the club to the speed necessary to get to 135 yard distance.

Golf is about a lot more than distance, but all things being equal, being able to hit the ball farther really makes the game a lot easier. I’m one of those players who usually hits a lot more 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee than drivers, and avoids big numbers. While it’s true that many golfers would see their scores improve by taking more club and not trying to hit the ball so far, I was already doing that. I’ll now be giving up distance to save my back, not to gain control.

Equipment

To go along with my lower swing speed, I decided to make some equipment changes. I figured out pretty quickly that I am able to make smoother swings with high-lofted fairway woods than with my longer irons. Therefore, while I used to carry either a 7-wood or 4-iron depending on the conditions, I’ll now be carrying the 7-wood, along with a 9-wood, and a re-shafted ladies 9-wood that plays as an 11-wood. The longest iron in my bag will now be the 7-iron. This also has the benefit of making it much easier to get the ball up in the air. This will be problematic in windy conditions, but that’s a trade-off I need to make at this point.

While I am able to make smooth swings off the tee with my 3-wood, I can’t help but to swing hard when hitting it off the ground. Thus, I’m planning to make my 5-wood the longest club I’ll hit from the fairway. The driver was a different story. With my lower swing speed, I just wasn’t able to hit my driver consistently. In my basement I spotted a ladies driver I bought for my wife several years ago. I took it to the range and while it flies higher than I would like, I was able to consistently make slower swings and get good results.

Strategy and Expectations

Part of why I wrote this was to help me think through what my goals and expectations should be, both for my upcoming golf trip, and my game going forward. Intellectually, I know that my old scoring pattern is not likely to hold. In the past I could focus on just making good strategic decisions and good swings. One critical factor I will add is to keep my distance ego in check. I don’t expect this to be easy. Will I be able to actually use my 7-iron for shots where I previously would have used my 9-iron? Will I be able to not try to reach a green from 230 yards out when I have a good lie in the fairway?

Fortunately, most of the guys that go on our trip shoot in the 90’s (or higher), and we typically play from the “white” tees (or the equivalent). The first course on the rota this year is an average difficulty par 72 course that will play a little over 6300 yards. Though I’ve never played this course before, I’ve taken a look at the scorecard online to help me start thinking through how my new distances may change my ability to score.

The two par five’s on the front would have been reachable for me in the past with two good shots, but most likely I just would have been somewhere near the green in two. Now I’ll just plan to hit two shots to full wedge range. This shouldn’t drastically change scoring. The par fives on the back would not have been reachable at my old distances, so I wouldn’t have expected to go for it in two shots. In the past I would likely have just used long iron for the lay-up shot, and had a wedge to the green. Now I expect to hit a longer fairway wood for the lay-up, and a short iron into the green. Assuming I hit the ball solidly, this should shrink my margin for error a little bit. Overall I’d expect to be at most one or two shots worse off than before on the four par fives.

Three of the four par-3’s are in the 170 yard range. Previously I would have either hit a hard 7-iron or soft 6 iron. Now, I’m probably looking at the 7-wood. That’s a pretty substantial difference. However, even at my prior 5 – 6 handicap level, I would expect to miss the green half the time from that range. It seems reasonable to expect to miss one more green with the longer club. Overall, I’m probably looking at about one or two extra shots on the par 3s.

The par fours are where the strokes may start to add up. Given how much shorter I hit the ball now, I’m likely going to be hitting driver on all of the par fours, whereas before I may have only hit it half the time. It’s reasonable to expect to miss more fairways overall, and to be further back on half of my tee shots. A 400 yard par four would have been a driver / 8 or 9-iron before. Now I’m probably looking at driver / 5-wood. There will be shorter par fours where I used to hit a 3 or 5 wood off the tee. I’ll now be coming in from about the same distance, but with a short iron instead of a wedge. Given that I probably used to miss half the greens anyway, it seems reasonable to expect that I’ll miss a few more. If I get up and down at the same rate as before, I’d expect to add about two or three more shots overall.

Add it all up, and it seems like it would be reasonable to expect to shoot between five and seven shots higher than before. Rather than a pattern of low 80’s / high 70’s, I should be capable of shooting closer to 90 the first couple of days, and in the low 80’s on the last couple of days.

Conclusion

I suppose we’ll know the answer to this soon. As I finish writing this the trip is two weeks away. I’m making a concerted effort to put in more short game practice than usual, which should help quite a bit. The interesting question will be how I adjust mentally to all of this. Will I be able to actually take the extra club, or will my ego get the best of me? Will I be able to hold back with the driver, or will I try and maximize my distance? We’ll know the answer soon enough.

Golf Expectations

Pricing Google Pixel Phones

I watched the first half of Google’s product announcement today (October 4, 2016) before heading to a meeting. As many expected, Google announced two versions of their new Pixel phones. Pricing is “premium”, which is to say that the entry level model costs $649. While I am not the type of consumer that shops in this price range, I do think that Google’s pricing is more competitive than people initially realize.

The reason for this is that Google is including unlimited photo and video storage. Apple gives users 5 GB of iCloud storage, and prices go up pretty steeply from there. At approximately 375 MB per minute for 4k video, that space can add up quickly. One hour’s worth of 4k video use over 20 GB of space. Keeping ten hours of video puts you into the 1 TB plan, which costs about $120 per year. The next (and highest) tier is  currently 2 TB, which costs about $240 per year.

I don’t think that the Pixel phones will be a huge threat to the iPhone in the short term. Apple’s customers do not seem to be particularly sensitive to price. However, there are no doubt a number of high-end consumers who will find Google’s Pixel phones to be compelling for a variety of reasons. Fast charging, free online storage, a headphone jack, project Fi – there are clearly some features that positively distinguish the Pixel from the iPhone. By positioning the Pixel as a premium phone, Google may start to poach some of these high-end users.

Pricing Google Pixel Phones

Is Apple’s Messaging Going Negative?

As I work in IT and support both Macs and PCs, I consider it part of my job to stay up on the latest news with regard to Apple. A few days ago, (3/21/2016) I watched the live stream of Apple’s event, in which they rolled out the iPhone SE and the smaller iPad Pro.

By many accounts, this was a bland event, as Apple has trained us to expect breakthrough products at these events. However, there was one moment that really stood out for me.  It happened about 45 minutes into the presentation, when an Apple exec said the following:

“There’s a second group of people that we’d love to reach with the new iPad Pro. Windows users. You may not know this, but the majority of people (who) come to an iPad Pro are coming from a Windows PC. A desktop, or a notebook. Now of course, we all know, Windows PCs were originally conceived of before there was an Internet. Before there was social media. Before there were app stores. And this is an amazing statistic. There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old. This is really sad. It really is. These people, yes, could really benefit from an iPad pro. And when they see the features and performance and capabilities of a product like the iPad Pro designed for our modern digital lifestyle, well many of them will find it’s their ultimate PC replacement”.

Never mind the fact that Macs were also originally conceived of before there was an Internet, social media, or app stores. We can also ignore the fact that bulk of these aging Windows PCs can connect to the Internet, access social media, install more apps than are available for the iPad, and have lots of capabilities that the iPad Pro doesn’t.

Putting aside the absurdity of claiming that an iPad is a direct replacement for a desktop class computer, what I find most interesting is that with the exception of the Apple vs. PC commercials that ran from 2006 – 2009, Apple has used very positive messaging that focused on the benefits of their own products. Apple positions their products as status symbols, and typically pulls new customers toward their products in an aspirational way. The “sad” statement, is very different. Rather than positioning their updated iPad as something to aspire to, this message seems to be very negative – even condescending. Apple seems to be saying that there is something wrong with people who continue to use old PCs.

Statistically speaking, I am the target of this statement. The PC that I’m typing this on is 7 1/2 years old. It was only a mid-range machine when I purchased it, costing about $750 including the flat panel monitor. However, the processor is not drastically slower for day-to-day use than a processor in a new computer. Two years ago I spent about $140 to add more RAM and a SSD, which drastically improved its performance. It is more responsive than a typical new computer with a conventional spinning drive. I expect this PC to continue to meet my needs for at least another two or three years.

However, there is nothing sad about my continuing to use it, and if it died tomorrow, I couldn’t possibly imagine replacing it with an iPad.

What might cause Apple to shift from a positive, aspirational message to one of derisiveness? Why are they making the effort to try and portray older PCs as relics of a bygone era? Why is it sad that people are continuing to use computers that are clearly meeting their needs?

My contention is that Apple is worried about both the slowing product replacement cycle across the industry, and commoditization within their product categories. This is a scary prospect for a company that derives the vast majority of its revenues from hardware sales.

The overall replacement cycle for computers is slowing down tremendously. There are a few reasons for this, but I believe that a major factor is that software bloat has largely leveled off for basic applications – i.e. running Windows, Office, and a browser. While it used to be the case that new versions of Windows or Office placed a significantly higher load on machines than their predecessors, this is no longer the case for most users. Businesses and individuals who used to need to replace their hardware every three years have started stretching their replacement cycles to four years, five years, or even longer. Two years ago I surveyed the faculty I supported who were due to have their four year old computers replaced, and 43% of them asked if they could just keep using their old computers.

Yet Apple is counting on this replacement cycle to drive sales of new iPads. While millions of people have certainly supplemented their aging PCs with iPads, the overall market for iPads seems to be plateauing. Just as with PCs, iPads themselves aren’t being replaced at the pace that Apple would like for them to be. For many customers, even those seeking status, there are fewer and fewer compelling reasons to upgrade with each iteration. The iPhones and iPads are maturing, and Apple seems to be exploring new tactics to stimulate growth.

Competition within the Android phone market, combined with the cell phone industry’s move away from subsidized purchasing, is putting increasing pricing pressure on the iPhone. There is currently a selection of not just usable, but very good Android phones in the $200 range, which couldn’t be said a few years ago. As more and more people pay cash and see the actual cost of their iPhones for the first time, it becomes harder and harder for many of them to justify not just replacing their iPhones, but spending significantly more than they would for an Android phone.

I certainly don’t think that Apple is in any danger of going out of business. I fully expect that they will continue to be the most profitable player in the industry for many years to come. Apple has a tremendous amount of cash, their products are extremely popular, and their customers are willing to pay a premium relative to the technical specifications of their products that is unheard of in the rest of the tech industry.

However, the negative message does seem to signal some insecurity on the part of Apple. It will be interesting to see if this is a one-off statement, or represents a change in Apple’s messaging.

 

Is Apple’s Messaging Going Negative?

Journaling: Analog/Digital

For a few years I wanted to start journaling. I read lots of articles and listed to lots of podcasts that highlighted the benefits of the practice. Intellectually it made a lot of sense, but I was never able to get myself to do it for more than a day or two. I decided to really focus on what might be holding me back, and this helped me to come up with a system that is working for me. The purpose of this post is to share some of the thought process that went into me coming up with my system, and to give some specifics on how I put it into practice.

Abstract / TLDR / Summary

I wanted to write long hand instead of typing, but didn’t want to worry about keeping a journal private. I write long hand, then use the Office Lens app on my phone to scan directly into a designated section in OneNote. I then move the scans into password protected section of the same Notebook. Finally, I shred the paper.

Privacy / Security

I definitely wanted to write long hand, but the big thing that held me back was privacy. I certainly don’t consider myself paranoid –  my journal actually ends up in the cloud. However, I didn’t want to have my journal sitting in some notebook where one of my kids (or wife, or co-worker, or other random person) might read it. Putting privacy notions aside, as an IT guy, the thought of not having a backup was pretty disturbing. Given that a journal is really just text, it seemed crazy to leave it in a form that could so easily be lost.

Analog to Digital

I don’t remember the exact point at which I made the connection between scanning a document into my computer and scanning a journal entry into my computer, but I’m surprised it took as long as it did. I use OneNote pretty heavily, so it seemed like a natural place to store the journal. It just took a quick Google search to learn how to password protect a section of a notebook.

Perfection

Most people have heard the expression, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good”. For some reason, I allowed all sorts of trivial details about how I should journal hold me back from getting started. What kind of physical journal/notebook should I use? What kind of pen should I write with? Should I write in the morning or evening? What if I run out of things to say? What I realized that I needed to just get on with it. The details didn’t matter – I could just use some trial and error to determine what worked best for me.

Paper

I started with a pack of 6’ x 9” unlined memo pads from Amazon. I wanted something unlined, but I didn’t want to use copy paper because I didn’t think I’d have enough in my head to fill a page. Almost immediately I found that I typically wrote several small pages, and that I preferred good old 8 1/2 x 11, college ruled paper.

At this point, the only thing I consider to be really important in paper selection is that the pages be easily removable. This makes is much cleaner to remove the pages without messing up the notebook. I did recently purchase an 8 1/2 x 11 notebook with the spiral at the top, and I really like it. As a right-hander, the spiral in a conventional notebook really gets in the way when I’m writing on the back of the page, which happens much more frequently than I initially expected.

Pen

Of course I also thought I needed a fancy pen for journaling. I suppose it was just a search for an affectation of some sort. I bought some disposable fountain pens, since they are at least conceptually fancy. They made me feel cool for a few days, then I realized just how badly they wrote on most paper. I soon found myself just grabbing whatever pen happened to be close by, eventually gravitating to an old Cross style pen that I was given as a groomsman’s gift about 20 years ago. I like the weight and the size of the barrel.

Tech

I use a password protected section in a OneNote notebook to store my journal. This could just as easily be done in Evernote, but for reasons that I may write about at some point, OneNote fits in better with my workflow. I create a page for each month, and scan the paper right in.

Journal-Pages

I used to have a sheet-fed scanner, but now I just use the Microsoft Office Lens app to scan. The app doesn’t let you save the file into a password protected section, so I save it to a different section and copy it over. The scans are perfectly readable on the screen, and while the file sizes are considerably larger than plain text, I expect free cloud storage to grow much faster than I can fill it up.

I then crop the image to get rid of excess white space. OneNote does not have a built-in cropping tool for images, but there is a free plugin that adds this function. Onetastic adds a tremendous number of features to Onenote, and lets you just right-click on an image to bring up a cropping tool.

Workflow

I try to do most of my journaling in the morning when I first wake up. I start by writing the date and time at the top of the page as a reference point. When I’m done, I’ll scan the page into OneNote. Sometimes I’ll write for a few days, then scan and upload the pages in a batch. Once the pages are safely in the cloud, I shred them. I find that shredding the paper afterwards provides a nice sense of completion to the process.

Occasionally I’ll do a little writing at work if something pops into my head. In these cases, I’ll usually just type directly into OneNote.

Results

The journaling started to pay off in just a few days. I found that forcing myself to write about what was going on in my life, personally and professionally, enabled me to have insights that I simply couldn’t’ tap into just by thinking. It has also helped me to become more action oriented. Seeing the same “I really need to do X” statement written over the course of a few days or weeks often gives me the push to actually do it.

I also found that journaling enhanced my capacity for writing public facing content. I have another site when I post some tech tips, but wanted to start a non-techie blog (i.e. this one). I was reluctant to post things that might be too personal online. As I journaled, I started to recognize that there was a fairly clean line that could be drawn between what was intensely personal versus what could appropriately be shared. It’s no coincidence that after years of wanting to start a blog, I finally started doing it after journaling became a habit.

Finally, my penmanship has improved tremendously. I never had good handwriting when I was younger, and it’s only gotten worse over the years since I use a keyboard for just about everything. I still type much faster than I write, and I don’t expect that to change. However, even in this day and age handwriting is still important, and I am very pleased that I can actually read the bulk of what I write now.

Other Tips

As I write, ideas frequently pop into my head that belong on a to-do list. As a loose follower of GTD, I want to get these ideas out of my head, both to prevent them from being a distraction, and to make sure I don’t forget them. I now make it a point to keep a separate notepad nearby so that I can quickly jot these things down as they come up. I can then deal with them after the journaling session.

I don’t write every day. Looking through my notes I’d say that I write about 4 -5 days a week. I used to worry that meant that I wasn’t doing it right, but there really isn’t a single right or wrong way to journal.

Journaling: Analog/Digital

Introduction

The purpose of this blog is to provide a central place for me to develop and catalog my thoughts on a wide variety of topics. I chose the name “GuttReaction” because I expect the bulk of my posts to consist of a link to an article or podcast that I found to be particularly interesting, followed by my thoughts and reactions to it.

There are a number of reasons why I’ve chosen to use this medium and format. First and foremost, I’m not a fan of comment sections. Comment sections are not a good place for really getting into any sort of depth about one’s position. Nuance and context seem to be in short supply these days, and are virtually impossible to convey without some length. I’d also much rather read a longer, well reasoned and written blog post than a comment thread.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of online content. Over time I’ve built up a list/playlist of lots of “content creators” that I find to be particularly interesting. It’s rarely the case that I’ll find only one particular post/article/episode by a creator to be interesting. If I like a particular writer, I find it very helpful to be able to see lots of their content in one place, rather than scattered around comment threads on dozens of different sites. As I begin to generate more content (and hopefully develop some readership), I’d like to offer the same.

I also like the idea of being able to track the development of my ideas over time. That will be much easier to do if the bulk of my content is located in one place, as opposed to random comments posted to a variety of sites. I find it particularly interesting to watch how creators that I’ve enjoyed change over time. I have a great deal of respect for people who not only have well thought out positions, but who are able to modify their positions as things change. I think it would be interesting to periodically come back to older posts and see if I agree with my former self.

Introduction