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  • 5th Feb, 2023
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  • 28th Oct, 2022

    Stage Manager first impressions

    Ever since Stage Manager was demoed at WWDC 2022, I’ve been keen to give it a go. The idea of grouping windows by project, task or any other theme is really attractive to me and it looked like it did just that.

    In the months leading up to the release of macOS Ventura, Stage Manager has received a largely negative reaction in the coverage I’ve seen. I suspect that’s mostly because of the myriad Stage Manager issues in iPadOS.

    But I’ve been using it over the last few days and I’m pretty into it.

    Stage Manager vs Spaces

    Years ago, I tried Spaces. That kind of worked, but I didn’t like zapping between screens. That was particularly annoying if I opened an app forgetting it was in a different Space as I’d find myself whisked away from what I was doing.

    (This may have changed since I last used Spaces – apologies for any mischaracterisations here.)

    To me, Stage Manager feels like a more manageable and flexible version of Spaces. There’s no desktop-wide transition and, if you happen to open an app forgetting it’s in a different Stage, it’s easy to visually move the app or reorganise your Stages.

    Spaces are relatively flexible, but the setup always felt a bit more fixed, not least as apps could be set to specific Spaces. Stage Manager seems more ephemeral: set up a Stage that you need right now and close it when you’re done. Or don’t.

    Workflow options

    I particularly like that apps with multiple windows (i.e. browsers) can have windows in different Stages. That gives a real flexibility to how Stages are grouped: they can be hyper-focused to a specific task/project or more general (i.e. a productivity Stage).

    Now if the Notes app could open multiple windows, that would be very handy...

    I also just discovered that making a window full-width in Stage Manager causes the sidebar to move off-screen. It then reveals on-hover, like the Dock can, which makes for an interesting use case on smaller screens.

    All-in-all, I’m enjoying Stage Manager so far and would recommend giving it a go, particularly if you’ve tried Spaces previously and didn’t quite get on with it. Stage Manager definitely won’t be for everyone, but it’s good that Apple continue to over multiple workflows without forcing a specific technique on their users.

  • 27th Oct, 2022
  • 21st Oct, 2022
  • 11th Oct, 2022

    The concept of a “personal carbon footprint” was something that the oil company BP promoted in the mid-2000s. Indeed, BP launched one of the first personal carbon footprint calculators, arguably as part of a larger public relations effort to establish the company as the environmentally conscious oil company.

    Though beef consumption is responsible for only 6 percent of total carbon emissions, it often seems to fill close to 100 percent of my Twitter feed. The meat melee was fed by a highly successful and influential 2014 documentary, Cowspiracy, which promoted the false notion that meat-eating is the primary contributor to human-caused climate change. Cowspiracy diverted–you might even say deflected–attention from the real conspiracy on the part of fossil fuel interests to confuse the public about the role of fossil fuel burning.

    The dividers have successfully generated a veritable “food fight”—in fact, a literal one, getting people to argue about their dietary preferences, as well as their preferred means of transportation, how many children they have, and other matters of lifestyle and personal choice. “If nobody is without carbon sin, who gets to cast the first lump of coal?” I asked in a commentary for Time magazine. “Who is truly walking the climate walk? The carnivore who doesn’t fly? The vegan who travels to see family abroad?” The opportunities for finger-pointing seem endless.

    Regenerative agriculture based on recycling farm waste and using composted materials from other sources, combined with land use practices that enhance soil carbon sequestration, could potentally bury somewhere in the range of 3.5 to 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Let us once again take the very optimistic upper limit of 11 billion tons per year.

    Adding together these contributions gives us 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. That sounds like quite a bit, but we are currently generating the equivalent of roughly 55 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide through fossil fuel burning and other human activities. That means that even if we accepted estimates from the very upper limits of the uncertainty range, the combined effect of reforestation and agriculture and land use practices would at most only slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a factor of 44 percent. In other words, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would continue to rise, just at a rate that is roughly half as fast.

  • 27th Aug, 2022

    Backing up my Mac

    At the end of 2021, I had the misfortune of needing to reinstall everything on my main computer. Something had crashed and the only way to get my computer working was to do a fresh install.

    I was using Time Machine on a local HDD and a Popular Backup Service™ – let’s call it, I dunno, Blazing Backups – for remote backups. One of the attractions of Blazing Backups was that it also offered a service to send a physical drive in case of emergency.

    As it turned out, neither of these worked particularly well and restoring was an incredibly time-consuming process. It took over a week to get things back to normal.

    Restoration

    Firstly, Time Machine completely failed. I’m a little fuzzy on the details now: I seem to remember the drive could be seen by the new device but it either wasn’t possible to restore from it or it hadn’t been backing up useful things. Either way, it was unusable.

    And Blazing Backups was not a great experience. The online interface for manually accessing files was clunky and download speeds were incredibly slow. It took a few days of back-and-forth to get the files downloaded, on 200mbps internet, to download a little over 1TB of data.

    I considered asking them to zip up the files on a physical drive and send it, but I was told it could take 2–3 days for this to even be dispatched. The packing time, shipping time to the UK and poor-timing of needing the service around holidays meant that delivery alone could have taken two weeks!

    Of course, Blazing Backups can’t do anything about these things: it’s reasonable for there to be some time in preparation and shipping times are out of their control. But if you’re unlucky with holiday breaks when you need the back up, the physical disk option may not be as useful or quick as it sounds.

    In some senses, my backup strategy worked: my first backup failed, but I was still able to get my files back. There will always be some disruption when your system is wiped, but this whole experience was incredibly suboptimal. I knew there must be a better way.

    New strategy

    Everything, except project files is stored/managed through Sync (not an ashilliate link – if you would like an extra 1GB use this link instead). It’s end-to-end encrypted and basically as easy to use as Dropbox local.

    This entirely replaces my desktop. The beauty of this is that setting up a new computer is incredibly quick:

    1. Download the Sync app
    2. Choose the highest-priority folders to download
    3. Sync other folders later
    4. Download and install other apps as needed

    I also use Super Duper for the local backup. This has the added advantage of also backing up applications not just files, something that Blazing Backups didn’t offer.

    Project files are stored in git repositories, so those are synced very quickly.

    Concerns

    The only downside of Sync is that, unlike Dropbox, you can’t run multiple accounts on the same computer through the local app...yet. But I’m willing to trade that for the end-to-end encryption.

    I also wondered about the environmental impact of going all-in on a cloud setup. But this may actually have reduced my cloud use as I was previously using Dropbox in addition to the Blazing Backups service, so everything has been consolidated to a single place – no duplication.

    Check your backups

    The advice is always to test your backups. In particular, I’d suggest checking out your remote backup’s interface for restoring files: if it’s clunky and slow, moving to a cloud service might be a better option in case of emergency.

  • 26th Aug, 2022

    Mac Recommendations

    “Which Mac should I buy?” comes up fairly often in communities I’m in. There are a lot of options – especially as Apple haven’t completed their transition from Intel to the M-series chips yet – but here are some general recommendations.

    All the usual caveats apply to this: your mileage may very, question all advice (even this), etc...

    Don’t buy an Intel

    Only buy a MacBook with an M1 or M2 chip. Support for Intels will decrease significantly over the next year or two and the M1/M2’s wipe the floor with the previous chips from a performance POV – a different ballpark altogether.

    Avoid the 13” base model MacBook Pro

    If you buy an M1 or M2, don’t buy the 13” base model MacBook Pro – these are the worst machines in the M1 and M2 line-ups (a spec-matched MacBook Air is usually a better choice despite the ‘Pro’ name).

    Airs and Minis

    Related to the 13” MacBook Pro advice above, M1/2 MacBook Airs and Mac Minis are excellent computers for most people. With upgraded space and RAM they’ll suffice for most use cases.

    If you’re coming from an Intel, an M1/M1 Pro will likely be a huge upgrade from what you’re used to and it may not be worth spending more on a Max or Ultra. If you need that extra power, you’ll probably know.

    Upgrade the M2 disk space

    If you buy an M2 MacBook Air, be sure to upgrade the disk space to at least 512GB – there’s a bit of a performance dip on the base storage model (256GB).

    Processor upgrades are optional

    The old advice for Intels was “max out the processor”, but this is much less important than it used to be due to the way to M1/M2 series chips work. In lots of testing, the upgraded chips offer little-to-no real-world improvements.

    If you can afford it, do it – if it’s a choice between that and extra storage or something else, the processor is probably less important.

    RAM

    Similarly, your RAM needs on an M-series chip may be lower than previous Macs. I’d still recommend buying the maximum you can afford, probably a minimum of 16GB unless your laptop use is incredibly light and/or not business critical.

    Any 14”/16” M1 MacBook Pro should be good!

    The choice mostly comes down to screen size.

    Laptop or desktop?

    With Apple’s transition to M-series chips, there is no real performance difference between a desktop and laptop machine equipped with the same chip (i.e. an M1 Max Mac Studio vs an M1 Max MacBook Pro). So if you’ve previously had a desktop and laptop, you might be able to consolidate the machines.

    Apple Studio Display

    The main reason to buy an Apple Studio Display over other options is that it’s one of the only displays on the market that offer a 5K resolution at a native size. That means that the pixels aren’t scaled up like they are on 5K displays at bigger display sizes.

    The build quality is excellent and, despite the poor reviews, I regularly get comments on the quality of the camera – despite previously using a front-facing iPhone 7 camera.

    Last updated: 26th August, 2022

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