Mac


My Experience with the Base Model 14” MacBook Pro

18th March 2022

Back in early February, I decided to treat myself to a base model 14” MacBook Pro, upgrading from a 16” model from 2019. I had it in my head that I was going to write a big post on my experience of using an M1 Mac compared to an Intel. From both a user and developer perspective, and go over any adjustments that I would have needed to make. Turns out, that won’t be happening, as it’s been a completely seamless experience. This machine is great, and to be honest, it’s surprised me a lot.

Why I Got the Base Model

My last machine had an 2.6 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 processor, 32 GB memory, 1 TB storage, and a 16” screen. So, this time, I imagined that I’d probably need around the same spec. Except I didn’t really know what to expect from Apple’s M1 chip. I had heard it was better, but then when I was asking on Twitter, and watching reviews on YouTube, it still seemed like developers “needed” the higher spec M1 Max chip, and definitely 32 GB memory or higher.

Based on the feedback I got, and the reviews I watched/read, it seemed like the model for me was the 16” MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip and 32 GB memory, so it was looking pretty expensive.

But then I remembered how well received the original M1 MacBook Pro/Air machines were, even the models with 8 GB memory. So, I decided to look at it from another perspective. I wanted one of the newer models (14” or 16”), so I started with the base model 14”, and decided that I’d only choose an upgrade if I was certain that I’d need it.

The screen size was easy, I’ve had many 13” models, and the size was always perfect. I went with the 16” last time because I wanted to experiment with a larger screen, but I can’t say it ever added much value for me. So, 14” it was.

Which M1 chip to get was the hard choice. The base chip seemed to be so much more powerful than my current Mac, so it seemed straight-forward. But I still had the recommendations in my head that developers needed the M1 Max chip, or at least a very powerful M1 Pro chip. I then came across the XcodeBenchmark project on GitHub. It’s essentially a very large Xcode project, from which build times can be measured, and various MacBook specs can be compared. My Intel MacBook Pro built the project in 242 seconds, so that was my baseline. When I noticed that the M1 8-core Air took only 128 seconds, I knew that whatever model I got, I’d be getting a substantial upgrade in power. The base M1 Pro chip in the 14” model was even faster at 109 seconds. That was enough reassurance for me, so I decided that I could easily get away with the base M1 Pro chip.

The memory became a lot simpler when I discovered that the Mac I use at my day job only had 16 GB, and I had never encountered an issue. And the storage was never really an issue since I don’t really use much storage on my laptops, I have a load of stuff in iCloud, and a load more on my NAS.

All of that meant that I didn’t actually need any upgrades. Turns out, the base model was all I needed.

My Experience

Like I mentioned at the beginning, my experience with this machine has only been positive. It’s by far capable of what I’ve been throwing at it, whether that’s been compiling and running iOS/macOS apps or playing games like World of Warcraft. I can’t say that I’ve ever pushed this machine anywhere near its limits. Which both makes be pleased I chose this model, but also confused why I was seeing so many recommendations for various upgrades.

Keyboard

The keyboard was a big surprise for me. I’m not sure if I didn’t know, or I’d just forgotten, but I didn’t realise that the keyboard had been upgraded in the new models. The key travel is much better, the keys are so much more responsive, and they feel really sturdy. I was also expecting to be slightly disappointed by the lack of Touch Bar (I was one of the few fans), but that didn’t happen at all. The downsides of not having a few contextual actions available near the keyboard really don’t outweigh the responsiveness and ease of physical keys.

Speakers

These are great. I don’t know how you’d go about explaining how good they are, but now I’ve experienced these, I can’t listen to any other laptop speakers again.

Camera

I’ve had a few Zoom calls on this machine, and I have seen an upgrade in the camera quality. Nothing to shout about, but definitely an improvement.

Rosetta

From what I’d read and watched on the new M1 Macs, I expected that I’d be dealing with Rosetta a lot. Especially when developing apps. But, I haven’t actually had to deal with it at all.

I’m guessing that some apps I’ve used may be running using Rosetta, but I haven’t noticed anything weird. So, I guess it’s all working as expected.

The Notch

I’m not sure how believable this is for people, given what I’ve seen online, but I honestly never noticed the notch when I’m using this machine. I only remember that it has a notch when I see someone mention it on Twitter, and then I look up and see a black cutout over the menu bar.

My expectations were that I’d find the notch to be hideous and intrusive, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

Overall

Overall, I can only reiterate how great this machine is. It’s by far more than I need, and I think the same will probably apply to most people. The base model is so powerful now, I think that if you aren’t aware of any specific use-cases of yours that absolutely require an upgrade, then the base model is most likely more than sufficient.

Safari to Link Post Shortcut

12th February 2022

Since getting my new Mac a few days ago, I’ve been trying to move my iOS writing automations over. However, one of the main shortcuts just wasn’t possible on the Mac. It’s the “Link Post” shortcut that I’ve been using for quite some time on my iPad.

It doesn’t exactly do much, but it saves a lot of time and effort. It essentially uses the share menu in Safari to pass the article and the highlighted text to a shortcut. From there, it extracts the title, author, and url of the article, along with formatting the selected text as a markdown blockquote (using my app, Text Case), formats it nicely, and creates a new sheet in Ulysses. Leaving me to add some comments to the sheet, before publishing it to my blog.

Turns out the Mac’s a bit more complicated, as while there’s a share menu, you can’t use it to launch a shortcut. So, my existing solution was out the window.

I tried a few other options that sounded promising, such as the “Get Article from Safari Reader” action that seemed to be precisely what I wanted. I’d be able to detect the URL somehow, and then be able to extract any information manually. Unfortunately, this action doesn’t work, and I’ve been told it hasn’t been working for some time.

After some experimenting, I realised that as long as I could have the URL and highlighted text, then I would be able to come up with something sufficient. Because from the URL, I can make a quick GET request, and get the page title. I haven’t worked out how to get the author using this method, but it wasn’t exactly reliable on iOS anyway.

My last option was to try to use macOS Services. I discovered that if I used a service from Safari, then it received the selected text as the input. And to top it off there was also a way to receive the “onscreen content” inside a shortcut, which in the case of Safari, returns the URL of the current page.

That meant I was able to combine the selected text from the input, and the URL from the onscreen content, and put together a link post generator.

After fetching the page title and url, the only thing it needs to do is to format the selected text as a Markdown blockquote using Text Case, and put it together into a nice format.

It’s definitely not the quickest shortcut, with it taking around 5 seconds to create the Ulysses sheet, but it’s definitely better than doing all of this manually. I also added a notification after the sheet is created, so you can be sure it’s done. And you also get an option to open the sheet straight away.

Here’s a quick video of the shortcut in action:

Download the “Safari to Link Post” shortcut.

Vinegar - A Safari Extension To Fix YouTube Videos

1st December 2021

You may have heard about Vinegar, since it’s been doing the rounds recently. However, if you haven’t, It’s essentially a Safari extension that makes YouTube videos look better, and act like standard HTML videos. Which means they use Safari’s native video player, which means that you have slightly more control over the video, but at the same time you do lose some functionality that YouTube has in their player.

As you can see, the video player still lets you change the video quality, use subtitles, stream to an AirPlay device, etc. So the basic functionality is there. And it makes Picture-in-Picture a lot easier to access, as the YouTube player requires three clicks, and the native player has a button in the top-left corner.

And as much as I would say that YouTube looks better with the native player, and that it’s easier to use, there are still downsides. For example, autoplay doesn’t work, you can’t access the YouTube Miniplayer, you can’t toggle Theatre Mode, and you can’t pause/play the video using the space bar.

The downsides will have different levels of importance to different people, and I’m personally a bit in the middle. I’m definitely keeping it installed, and going to be using it by default, but there are certainly ways it can be improved.

What I can say, is that it’s definitely worth it’s £1.79 price. Which seems to be an opinion shared by others, as it’s currently sitting in second place in the Utilities category of the Mac App Store in the UK.

Using a Tiling Window Manager on macOS

30th November 2021

Since starting to use Linux, I’ve been hearing more about window managers, and especially tiling window managers. I started to play around with them on my Linux install (I’m now using Kubuntu), and after some getting used to the keyboard shortcuts, I found it to be really useful to quickly be able to rearrange windows, and also have everything visible at once.

That’s why a few days ago I tried to see what I could achieve on my Mac. I’d tried BetterSnapTool recently, but wanted something with a bit more control. After watching a to of demos on YouTube of people’s setups, it seems as if yabai was the most popular option. I was starting to get the feel of it, but it never felt stable. Sometimes as I was typing in Safari’s address bar, the windows would attempt to readjust as if I’d moved something. But it just resulted in a bunch of flickering. Add on that you need to disable SIP before installing yabai, it never felt like a great choice.

But, I looked a bit more, and I discovered another option, Amethyst. I checked out the website, and it looked reasonably simple to grasp the basics of, while also offering an absolute ton of options. This is what I wanted ideally, as I want to be able to use it straight away, but I didn’t want to be stuck with a really restricted experience.

By default, it has over 50 different actions that are configured with keyboard shortcuts. Right now, I’m using about five of them regularly, and I already feel faster on my Mac.

There are a few default layouts, and you even create them yourself, but I’ve been using the “Tall” layout the whole time, and I think it’s certainly enough for now. That basically means that there’s one window to the left, and all other windows are in a vertical stack to the right.

Here’s an example of how my Mac usually looks:

On the left, I have the “main” window, this is usually a web browser or text editor. Then on the right, there’s usually at least one terminal window, and maybe a few extras.

How I’ve been using the right side is that I’ll have a handy terminal window to perform quick commands, like managing a git repository, but also windows that I might want to occasionally check out. So if I’m writing code, I might have a terminal to the right for git, and a web browser while I’m looking at how to do a certain task.

There are times where I’d like a full-screen app, for example when I’m writing, I like to have just Ulysses open, or if I’m reading a long web page, I might want to also have that as big as possible. For this, I usually use a different desktop. Amethyst does have a bunch of shortcuts for managing desktops, but I’ve not got the hang of those yet.

As for the shortcuts that I do use, I can adjust the width of the focussed window, by using SHIFT + OPT + L to make it bigger and SHIFT + OPT + L to make it smaller. And if the window you have focused is in a vertical stack, then they are all resized at the same time.

To move focus between windows, you can cycle through them clockwise with SHIFT + OPT + K, and clockwise with SHIFT + OPT + J. Most of the time I do this via the trackpad, but the shortcuts can be useful.

But I’d say the most useful is SHIFT + OPT + RETURN, which swaps the focussed window with the “main” window. Essentially making it the big window on the left of my display. It becomes key when there are three or more windows on the right, and I want to quickly make it bigger. Then when I’m done, I can just focus on the previous window and make that the main window again.

There are definitely some drawbacks to using a tiling window manager. The main one is that you can’t have two big windows, with one behind the other. This has forced me into multiple desktops, but also hide or quit applications when I’m finished with them.

The only thing I’m not sure about is how it will deal with multiple monitors. Maybe I’ll try that out soon.

For now, I’m enjoying how fast it feels to navigate between windows on my Mac, and hopefully, I’ll get the hang of some more shortcuts soon.

GlanceCam 3

GlanceCam is an app developed by my friend, Cesare Forelli, and it's once that I've admired for a long time. In short, it's an app that lets you view IP cameras from your Mac. But in reality it's so much more, especially with the recent major update.

It's a relatively minimal design, however it's still packed full of functionality. It support multi-windows, always on top, 4K streams, you can use it to sent HTTP GET commands to your devices, keyboard shortcuts, a URL scheme, AppleScript support, and so much more.

This app is probably the main reason why I'm thinking of investing in some cameras for my house.

Put Your Pasteboard in Your Menu Bar With ClipBar

9th December 2020

ClipBar, an app made by my friend Cesare, is a recently released app that puts your pasteboard in your menu bar. It's such a simple idea, but it's already helped me a ton.

I haven't got a great memory, so I regularly forget what I've copied. Previously, I would hit CMD + SPACE, paste the contents into Spotlight and get a preview. But with ClipBar, I've always got a snippet in the menu bar that makes it much faster.

There's no need to worry about the size of the pasteboard either, since you can set a maximum character limit that will appear. You can also fine-tune the truncation, by having it clip the start, middle, or end of the content.

If you've simply copied text, then that's what will appear. However, if you've copied a file, then you'll see the path, and if you've copied an image, you will see an icon to show it is an image, and it's file size.

In a recent update, ClipBar gained a preview feature, so you can view the whole contents of your clipboard. For images, it switches from the file size to an actual preview of the image.

From the preview, you can share the contents using any built-in or third-party share extensions.

Having your pasteboard contents permanently in your menu bar can sound potentially dangerous, especially if you regularly copy sensitive information. Unfortunately, if you are worried about such problems, then this app may not be for you.

But ClipBar does work with an existing agreement between developers to help identify when passwords and other secure information has been copied, and it will then attempt to conceal the data. You can read more details on this in the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

While I may copy sensitive information on my machine, I'm happy with the fact that ClipBar is sandboxed, it doesn't store your data anywhere, and the precautions regarding sensitive information.

With all that said, I think ClipBar is a great app, and one that will undoubtedly make your life easier.

You can download ClipBar on the Mac App Store.

A Hill to Die On →

22nd November 2020

Matt Birchler:

Today the hill some seem to be willing to die on is that the Mac will never get a touch screen.

“It sucks on Windows, Apple wouldn’t do that. They’ve said no for 10 years, why do you expect them to change?”

Optionally, bounce back to the top of this post if you’re not sure where I’m going here. 😋

This year Apple added a mouse cursor to the iPad, something a few years ago would have been brushed off as “a Mac thing that didn’t belong on a touch-based OS.” Yet here we are. If you can find a single person who thinks the iPad is worse off for adding a cursor, I’d be very impressed. Apple didn’t just glom the Mac cursor onto the iPad and call it a day, they updated iPadOS in ways that made it work wonderfully.

This is a great piece by Matt, and I think he's managed to convince me about touch screens eventually coming to Macs.

I think I was biased by the touch implementation in Windows, which I don't think is particularly impressive, and also the difference between macOS and iOS where Apple do support touch.

But Apple adding a touch screen wouldn't be just that. There would be a story behind it. And I for one, am intrigued to see what that story will be.

Quick Tip: Enable Touch ID for sudo →

19th November 2020

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

My new MacBook Air is proving to be all that I’d hoped, and it’s not just because of the fancy new M1 processors. Since I’m coming from a 2014 MacBook, I’m reaping the benefits of all the other advancements Apple has made to its laptop line in the intervening years, and prime among those is the incorporation of Touch ID: I’ve already enabled it for 1Password (what a lifesaver) and, thanks to a tip from Twitter follower Josef, I can bring it to one of my other favorite places: the command line.

Such a great tip. I wonder why it's not more easily available?

Mac Mini Teardown Provides Real-World Look at M1 Chip on Smaller Logic Board →

18th November 2020

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

A teardown of the new Mac mini has surfaced on the forum eGPU.io (via Reddit), providing us with a real-world look at Apple's new M1 chip, which is soldered onto a much smaller logic board than the one found in the 2018 model of the computer.

There sure looks like there's a lot of empty space in there, which bodes well for the future. You can take it as more room for future even more powerful models, or that this power could be put into an even smaller chassis. Either way it's positive.

How To Expand Launchpad

6th January 2020

Shihab Mehboob (@JPEGuin) shared a useful tip on Twitter, where you can expand the amount of rows and columns in Launchpad.

Turns out you can do this by altering the following values via Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.dock springboard-rows -int 8
defaults write com.apple.dock springboard-columns -int 8

For these changes to have effect, you’ll need to restart the Dock. You can do this via Activity Monitor or by typing killall Dock.

Here’s what mine looks like on my 16″ MBP:

Launchpad

So much better than the massive icons that come by default.