Good Reads for December, 2019

Every month, we’ll be bringing you a handful of loosely lyrical, if slightly longer, reads about the wonderful world of Apple. Sometimes these will be things that you may have already seen, pieces a few months late because I took a longer break over the holiday period than I originally intended to, but eventually, I’ll realise that I kinda miss writing about about cool, good, interesting things to do with Apple, causing a small period of catch-up while I post about things from months gone by that I still think are worthy of your time and attention. All I know is, bring your own Instapaper account, because this is Good Reads.

  • December was the month Apple’s much-anticipated Mac Pro finally became available to the masses, and naturally, there was a lot of conversation about exactly what kind of a computer it was. We’ll get to all of that in a sec, but one of the more interesting aspects of the 2019 Mac Pro — if you’ll excuse Apple for re-hashing concepts originally introduced with the PowerMac G5 cheese grater, back in the day — is how it keeps all of its high-performing (and therefore, high heat-generating) components cool, while adhering to its standards on noise. Front-to-back airflow might not be strictly new in and of itself, but as Alexander George of Popular Mechanics tells us in his breakdown of the thermodynamics of the new Mac Pro, Apple’s doing a little more than that.

Ideally, anyone who uses a Pro won’t even be aware of the fans’ presence. But it’s impossible to ignore the aluminum case, with those grids of precision divots covering the front and back of the Pro’s exterior and the rear of the Pro Display. That pattern is an ornate example of a passive cooling. That’s where you take a hot component, like a motorcycle engine’s combustion chamber, and attach metal protrusions that absorbs heat and then dissipates it. The more surface area the metal can expose to the air circulating around it, the better.

  • "But the cost", I hear you say. And I hear you, dear reader. The cost is nothing short of exorbitant. Gone are the days when you could drop a few thousand on a Mac Pro and take home a new cheese grater, a glorified kitchen utensil that just so happened to fulfil your every computing need. Now, the Mac Pro is a serious investment that you might find extremely difficult to justify, even if you’re intent on keeping it for 10 years, and even if it is apparently worth every cent if you’re using it for its intended purposes. But how did we get here? How did Apple get into a situation where professionals had to tell Apple, over and over again, that the trashcan wasn’t cutting the mustard professionally? What caused Apple to go back to the drawing board on the Mac Pro? Depending on who you ask, it’s all Apple CEO Tim Cook’s fault.

But Tim Cook is a bean counter. His role at CEO was to cut costs, improve supply chains, and get those margins up. He’s brought that same sensibility to his position as CEO, where it has been disastrous for the products. The first really infuriating thing Cook’s Apple did was start soldering the RAM to the motherboards of their laptops. […] Seems Cook saw lost profit there, and besides, it saved them a few bucks on parts.

  • By wrapping up the decade, December 2019 played host to a number of retrospectives looking back at the years gone by. Over at The Verge, Walt Mossberg briefly emerged from retirement to pen one such piece, telling us about how Apple navigated the 2010s. In the beginning, it was the late Steve Jobs that introduced iPads to the world. But at the end, Tim Cook’s Apple looks quite a bit different. Apple now has revenues six times that of its 2009 self, and each of its businesses could be a Fortune 500 company on its own. What, then, of Apple’s products and culture, arguably what non-Apple shareholders and technology enthusiasts alike care about more?

Cook’s first big all-new product was the Apple Watch, which was released in 2015. But it took until the third generation of the Watch in 2017 for Apple to find the right hardware, software, and functionality. It was essentially a reboot. The other major hardware success under the Cook regime has been AirPods, the wireless earbuds released in 2016 that seem to be everywhere, looking like white plastic earrings.

  • I no longer follow Apple news as closely as I used to, but rumours of Apple transitioning away from Intel keep coming. Sometimes these are backed by reasonable assumptions about what Apple has been doing and why, and other times, they’re not that at all. But instead of discussing this particular transition, which may not happen for years to come, Martin Pilkington takes us through Apple’s previous technology transitions, covering both CPU and API transitions and the decisions and commentary surrounding them.

The problem is once you introduce a new technology, be it hardware or software, developers will start to use it in their apps, and people and businesses will come to rely on those apps. This means that when a technology comes to the end of its useful life, it isn’t an easy choice to just replace it. You could just leave the technology there, but even that isn’t an easy choice, as it requires resources to maintain, and can even prevent you from making improvements elsewhere.

  • One of my favourite features of macOS is Time Machine. There’s a lot to be said for a free, automatic, back-up system that only requires an external hard drive to work. But for all of its user-friendliness, Time Machine isn’t perfect, and can occasionally have issues that prevent it from being the all-singing, all-dancing Mac backup product that every Mac user should be using. Howard Oakley takes a deeper look at both how Time Machine works, and how it fails to, as well as how it has subtly changed in recent years in line with filesystem and other under-the-hood changes.

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will try to explain much of what I know about Time Machine (TM), starting from its basic principles, how it is implemented in macOS from Sierra (and earlier) to Catalina, and how to troubleshoot and fix its problems. I didn’t intend writing a series, just a single article about its issues in Catalina. But without understanding what is going on when backing up, that didn’t make much sense. This first article explains the principles involved, how they’ve changed over different versions of macOS, and the tools you need for diagnosis.

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