Summer Upgrades

Apple macbook pro update True Tone Technology 07122018

There was a time when we were preparing to move where I didn’t want to have to make one more decision, major or minor. After arriving in Arizona there were plenty more decisions to be made, even for fun things like choosing new hiking gear for the desert climate. But as things slowed down I’ve taken the time to make some upgrades, some of which should have occurred a while ago but I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with them.

My laptop will be 5 years old in a few months and all is not well under its lovely exterior, a problem since I use it as my main computer. I was torn between a new laptop or a new desktop but neither was quite what I wanted until Thursday morning when I woke to news that Apple updated the 15″ MacBook Pro to my liking. After walking Ellie I ordered one before leaving for work, it should be here by the end of the week. As you’d expect given the age difference there are many improvements in the new laptop, the benefit I’m most looking forward to is 32 GB of RAM, four times what I have now and 50% faster too. The processor is much faster and with two more cores. The SSD is faster but more importantly will store twice as much at 2 TB. It has a dedicated video card (which I don’t think I care about one way or the other) but it has 4 GB of RAM itself which will be nice.

All of which should making editing images a more enjoyable process. When I started shooting with the Sony A6500, its 24 megapixels compared to the 20 of my Canon 7D II seemed trivial but something crossed a threshold as editing those images became more painful, especially when trying to do quick back-to-back comparisons. I’ve also been holding off processing the 4K video I’ve started playing around with, that in particular the new laptop will be much better suited for, so I’m going to purchase Final Cut Pro and learn to edit video.

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I’ve been thinking about replacing my tripod head for quite some time now, it doesn’t hold the telephoto lens well when at an angle and the quick-release hasn’t worked well in years, so I purchased the Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball head. It went on my old Gitzo tripod and has been doing well with my 100-400mm lens. Here the pair are attached to the bottom of my Tom Bihn Guide’s Pack with my camera bag (an old Tamrac I’ve used since the 90’s when I got into photography) and Black Diamond trekking poles alongside, my setup after I put my camera away when the light gets too bright.

I’ve had the poles a while but hadn’t used them too much until we arrived in the desert but I am loving them, they fold up so they go in the backpack until I’m ready for them, then I can get a good speed going with the poles and they are fantastic when the granite pebbles make the footing a bit dicey. They’re carbon fiber so they weigh next to nothing so I don’t regret bringing them on the rare day I end up not using them.

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I’ve always loved the 100-400mm lens for hiking, I got the original Canon version in 2001 and the updated version as soon as it came out in 2014. But here in Arizona I’ve found I prefer to use it with a 1.4X teleconverter and the Canon camera doesn’t work well with it, so I purchased Sony’s 100-400mm and teleconverter and the combination has been an absolute joy. I wasn’t expecting to use Sony for my wildlife work but I probably should have bought this lens when it came out, it’s fantastic (as is the Canon lens, my complaint is with the camera not the lens). This was my setup at Cathedral Rock when I spent the morning photographing desert spiny lizards, got a number of great pictures thanks to the new gear.

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You might have noticed from the previous picture that there’s a new camera bag, it’s the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 20 (Sandstone). I used the old Tamrac on every hike for over 20 years, can’t believe how long it’s lasted! Most of it is still in fine shape but two of the three buckles that secure the top are down to one prong holding the clasp together, along with some other less severe problems. I’ve been meaning to replace it for years but it’s been such a great bag I was hesitant to do so, but with the new Sony gear the Retrospective 20 had a feature which pushed me over the edge: I can put the Sony 100-400mm with the teleconverter and camera attached into the bag, then easily retrieve it if I see something to shoot. It’s worked out great so far, here it is next to my backpack beside my favorite saguaro.

The long and short of it is, I’m happier hiking and getting better pictures and soon enough I’ll be happier editing them too.

Before I go let me express my gratitude for Things by Cultured Code, I’ve used it as my task manager for a while now but the improvements they made in the last year or so really proved their worth from when I started looking for work to when we arrived in Arizona, I use it every day but on those days when so much had to be done in such a tight timeframe it kept me sane as well as on task. It syncs flawlessly between my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro (I use it regularly on all three devices) and it’s a great balance of simplicity and sophistication.

The Classics

Our black-and-white cat Scout inspects the box of the new 15 inch Apple Powerbook

In May of 2004 my new laptop arrived, a 15″ Apple Powerbook. It was a big step for me in two ways, I was not only switching full-time to the Mac but also to a laptop. Previously I had a smaller Apple laptop for the train and a Dell desktop for photo work, but my delight with a 12″ Apple Powerbook purchased months prior convinced me to go full-time with the bigger laptop. It was a good decision, that laptop remains one of my all-time favorites and I used it daily for years. All these years later and my current laptop is but a refinement of that classic design.

I’ve stayed a laptop-only user pretty much since then (I do have a Mac mini I use as a file server), but each time I’ve replaced a computer I’ve debated if I should go back to a split setup. I’m going through that again as it’s time to replace my aging laptop, although I’m leaning towards getting another 15″ one. The only reason I’d even consider a desktop is that lovely display on the iMac, but I’d have to go back to working at a desk at times instead of doing all my work on the couch covered in cats.

Speaking of cats, the lovely little creature who came out to inspect the new box was my beloved Scout, she and Templeton always liked to inspect new boxes.

The Master At Work

Our cat Templeton appears to be working on my laptop

All three of our current cats are spot stealers but nobody can hold a candle to Templeton, master of the art. On this night he was recuperating from surgery so I was in the guest room with him and when I stepped out for a moment, not long enough to bother putting his cone back on, I came back to find him sitting at my laptop.

The Guest Room

Our cat Templeton rests on my Powerbook

Looking at this picture from 2006 of Templeton recuperating in our guest room reminds me of the role the room has played in the lives of several of our cats. He spent a little time here in isolation from our cat Scout until he recovered from surgery to remove a sewing needle in his stomach. Two years later after he died, we adopted Sam and Emma and they spent time here before we were ready to introduce them to Scout. Now little Trixie is in the room after we adopted her in January, we’re just beginning her introductions to the rest of the family. Boo never spent time here after we adopted him as it was July and we don’t have air conditioning and this room gets rather hot during the summer.

The picture above I was surprised to see I had never put online before, the pictures below have been but I’ve recently re-edited them. Templeton was amazing and completely changed my thinking about cats, all the cats that have followed owe a debt of gratitude to this charming and occasionally mischievous little fellow in a handsome gray tuxedo coat. The pictures aren’t posed, I had been editing pictures on my Powerbook and got up for a moment and Templeton did what he always did — he stole my spot.

Our cat Templeton rests on my Powerbook

Our cat Templeton rests on my Powerbook

The Unexpected Upgrade

15" MacBook Pro Retina

You’ve by now noticed that updates here slowed dramatically this year, and while there are many reasons for that, one major reason was rather prosaic: my laptop kept dying.

For many years I’ve been a laptop-only user, and while I did add a desktop late last year, I still use my laptop for nearly everything. Unfortunately it developed intermittent failures which were hard to diagnose and it became frustrating enough that I used the laptop less and less as the year wore on. On its latest visit to Apple a couple of weeks ago they started to check it in for repairs, but then looked at its repair history and wondered if I’d mind if they gave me a new one instead.

Would I mind?

I was a little puzzled until I realized they wanted to replace it with a new new one, as in the laptops that were announced just a few weeks earlier. Apple had discontinued the regular MacBook Pro like mine so they wanted to give me the newest Retina model. It doesn’t have some features my old one had, but I didn’t need them, so they custom ordered one for me and it came in late last week.

I loved that old laptop and would have preferred that it had never developed problems in the first place, but given that it did, the timing worked out well. It’s hard to believe that laptops have progressed so far in less than three years.

It’s noticeably thinner, and more importantly, lighter. Faster, yet quieter. With a much better display, and much faster storage. And yet also with much better battery life.

It’s delightful.

Supercomputer

2012 Mac mini

Many of the tasks on my big list involved finishing up the remodeling of my office that started about a year ago, including getting a better photo processing solution. I’ve been getting further and further behind in editing my pictures, which decreases my desire to go out and take new ones. I had four options and gave them each a lot of consideration but in the end settled on Apple’s adorable Mac mini. I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since the first model was introduced but never had a use for one until now.

Aperture runs much better on the mini than my laptop, which was a bit of a shock as the mini is made out of similar laptop parts. There are several big differences, the first the amount of RAM (the mini has 16 GB, twice that of the laptop). The second is the storage, the mini has Apple’s new Fusion drive that seamlessly combines an SSD and hard drive, the laptop a traditional hard drive. Regardless of the reason, I love the results.

I took advantage of the new USB 3.0 ports to get a faster card reader from Lexar, it downloaded my images so quickly that at first I thought something had gone wrong.

My biggest criticism is I wish it was slightly larger so it could house the bigger 3 TB Fusion drive that the iMac gets, letting me eliminate the hassle and clutter of my external drives. All-in-all though the mini has been a delight, greatly exceeding my expectations.