Category Archives: Technology

MacBook vs. MacBook Air: Which should you buy?

I am so happy with my new 12-inch MacBook. I wanted to share my buying experience comparing it to the 13-inch MacBook Air to help you decide between the two.
Macbook Air next to Macbook
13-inch MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook
This review focuses on the MacBook.
Friends love their 2011 MacBook Airs, so I initially thought I would go with that. However, a trip to the Apple Store and seeing the Air next to the small, sleek, space gray MacBook changed my mind.

How to pay for your new Mac: earn credit card points

I purchased: Refurbished 12-inch MacBook 1.1GHz Dual-core Intel Core m3- Space Gray MacBook from Apple.com for $1099 before tax (business deductible).
A new 12-inch Macbook costs $1299 for 1.2GHz Processor 256GB Storage or $1599 for 1.3GHz Processor 512GB Storage.
Note: Refurbished means you’ll have to wait 3 to 5 days for free shipping.
Credit card point tip: use your Chase Ink and get 2-5% cash on Apple.com through the Chase Ultimate Rewards – Shop with Chase shopping portal. Seasonal awards vary but check for the current cash back or point amount.
Chase Ink Business Cash credit card
Get 5x points on Apple.com through the Ultimate Rewards portal
Apple is not considered an office supply store (a 5x bonus point category on the Ink). As of today, you can get 2% cash back with Ink Cash through the UR portal, which beats 1.5% cash back on the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

MacBook Size and Butterfly Keyboard

One handing holding Macbook
At 2lbs the MacBook is super light

Size:

The MacBook is only a 12-inch screen, so it’s practically a large tablet. It fits perfectly in my big ‘ol saddlebag, which is ideal for moving between meetings, coffee shops, and airports.
Keyboard:
The butterfly keyboard took some getting used to. (In fact, I had buyer’s remorse for the first few days to the point where I even ordered a refurbished MacBook Air so I could compare both side by side during Apple’s 14 day no questions asked return period.)
zoom on butterfly keyboard
Butterfly keyboard: 40% thinner than scissor keyboard
Compare to the thick, spaced out MacBook Air keys:
MacBook Air keyboard zoom
MacBook Air scissor keyboard (traditional, familiar, preferred by some)
In order to make this laptop as thin as possible, Apple reinvented the keyboard. They created a “butterfly” mechanism, which more evenly distributes the pressure on a key than the traditional “scissor” mechanism. This is supposed to provide a more precise typing experience and fewer errors.  Butterfly is 40% thinner than a scissor keyboard, and four times more stable. It feels like you’re typing on a tablet.
zoom corner keys on Macbook butterfly keyboard
All areas of the butterfly keys are equally sensitive
For larger man hands, this might feel too compact and on a 12-inch. For my hands, I got used to it within a few days and now I can type somewhat physically inaccurately, relying on the butterfly mechanism to “know” which key I meant, much like I fly across my iPhone screen with little accuracy and let autocorrect do the work.

MacBook vs. MacBook Air – Display

After five days on the crisp MacBook Retina Display, switching over to the Air screen felt like going to a clunky, much older and blurry low resolution screen. Retina Displays make text and images extremely crisp, so pixels are not visible to the naked eye. It rivals the sharpness of crisply printed text. I just couldn’t get over the clarity on the MacBook. Retina is absolutely worth the added cost. You spend hours each day looking at a screen, and this screen is fantastically clear and sharp compared to the Air.

Limited Ports – USB-C Only

One MacBook drawback is the lack of ports and jacks. It has just one USB-C port and one audio jack for earbuds. No built-in USB.
USB-C port on Macbook
Single USB-C port – you’ll need an adapter
The easy fix is to buy a connecting port. I recommend this one by Dodocool:
At just $45.99 on Amazon Prime, it’s much cheaper than Apple’s $79 version which is overpriced and has poor reviews. All my USB equipment like my wireless mouse and Sennheiser PC 8 USB Headset can connect simultaneously while the laptop also charges.

Podcasting Equipment

By the way: if you’re podcasting with Skype or Google Hangouts, I highly recommend the Sennheiser PC 8 USB – Stereo USB Headset for PC and MAC with In-line Volume and Mute Control:

Do NOT podcast with Apple’s earbuds/mic or a Bluetooth headset. The quality is just not the same as USB. You can hear how clear I sound on the BeanCast.

Bottom Line

Overall I would recommend a MacBook if you travel and want an ultra clear display with maximum portability. MacBook is small and light, it feels fantastic in your lap, and the screen is gentle on the eyes. It just depends on what you plan to do with it. The MacBook Air has a lower resolution screen but the extra inch adds quite a bit more area, which is nice for watching a movie, however it really just looks blurry once your eyes get spoiled on the Retina display.
Verdict: buy the MacBook unless you really prefer the traditional raised keys and a larger screen is important to you. Buy refurbished because the one year warranty is the same as a new machine and I can’t tell any difference, so why pay more?
Here’s the case I bought. At $13.99 on Prime, it’s a good value for MacBook case. The graphics aren’t super crisp on the stained glass version I bought, but it is protective and the snaps and rubber feet are still intact, unlike the Dowswin case I first bought. If you get a solid color, this would look nice and get the job done.

Your Life History on Demand

Here’s what I see coming for voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Lots of marketing opportunities here, and perhaps finally one eco-system to combine all social app data. More on that later.
Basic Functionality:
  • What date did I move to San Francisco?
  • Who joined me at the Bruce Springsteen concert a few years ago?
  • What was the name of that Portland, Maine dive bar on the water with the oysters we loved?
  • When did I first buy raw maca powder?
That’s fairly simple stuff. The required data sources (which we’re already comfortable sharing) include:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Swarm
  • Instagram
  • Amazon
  • Evernote
Amazon Echo Dot on kitchen counterApps like Timehop can already tap into high level info like this and tell you where you were three years ago, but the social and detail layers will require more information and networked data.
Intermediate Functionality:
  • What did I wear to Blackdiamondskye?
  • Which outfit should I wear today?
  • What topics did I research after my first lunch with Sandra?
  • How many calories have I really eaten today?
  • When am I due for an oil change?
Data sources:
  • Google
  • Weather
  • Credit card purchase history
  • Amazon
  • Photos
    • Clothing/style analysis (with predictive capability)
  • Mobile GPS data (location services) from apps like Google Maps
  • Passbook (boarding passes, movie ticket stubs, event badges)
  • Messaging app history (iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.)
Advanced functionality:
  • When was I happiest during the time I lived in New York?
  • Which job offer suits me best?
  • When did I know I was in love?
Data sources:
Everything we say and type? No – just all of the aforementioned sources, plus a future wearable or implanted device to monitor energy. Triangulate the data and apply some algorithms and AI.
hourglass with blue sand
Essentially, I think everything I currently rely on Evernote for will be available through a voice  assistant that is continually self-improving a personalized tagging convention and data-rich picture of who I was, who I am, and who I will be (how I will behave).
Location, check-in, and social data – your digital footprint – will be accessible. Visuals included. The more you check in and document your every move, the richer your look-backs will be. This is similar to the re-do in my favorite Black Mirror episode, The Entire History of You, except what I envision is not based on a 24/7 life recorder, but an aggregation of experiential data shared by permission.
ICYMI – The Entire History of You premise: In an alternate reality, most people have a “grain” implanted behind their ear. It records everything they see, hear, and do, like a first person recorder for life. This allows memories to be (quite realistically) played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen, a process known as a “re-do”.
I’m not advocating for a grain implant or anything as terrifying as what’s available in this show. But the personal data recall possibilities are pretty exciting.
  • Upside: wonderful for re-experiencing memories or pulling up information quickly.
  • Downside: our memories will get even weaker because we will exercise that muscle less and less. Oh, and privacy.

Antisocial Virtual Reality – Retinas Deep

I’m finally reading Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s dystopian future sci-fi novel that’s chock full of awesome ’80s culture. It’s a fun read, accurately called a “nerdgasm” by John Scalzi.

Brief synopsis: In 2044, an energy crisis has resulted in widespread economic despair. The OASIS is a virtual reality simulator in which many people escape the depressing world. It functions as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and a virtual society. High school student Wade Watts spends his days seated in an old cargo van in a junkyard wearing his VR visor and haptic gloves, attending school inside the OASIS and hunting for OASIS creator James Halliday’s Easter egg. (Full synopsis here.)

“In the OASIS, you could create your own private planet, build a virtual mansion on it, furnish and decorate it however you liked, and invite a few thousand friends over for a party.” p.57

15% through the book, these were my first two thoughts, one somewhat unique to me and the other not at all:

  1. OASIS users sit for hours or days on end. They probably take about 200 steps per day (bathroom breaks).
  2. The OASIS replaces real life interaction like Facebook on steroids, and it’s a scary but fathomable progression.

pop art woman wearing virtual reality goggles saying OMGPlenty of people have written about whether Facebook could become a sort of OASIS. It’s clearly on Zuckerberg’s radar with the acquisition of Oculus Rift in 2014, and the fact that the company hands every new employee a copy of Ready Player One.  All covered.

What interests me is whether technology will make our future lifestyles even more sedentary and less interpersonally connected than they are today. In a world that enjoys VR more than IRL, we could really lose our ability to interact in a vulnerable, face-to-face manner. That’s already happening with smartphone addiction (social media and checking behaviors). People are more likely to complain on Facebook about daily offenses by neighbors, fellow drivers, or rude cashiers than to confront one another. But furthermore, in an increasingly virtual future, our bodies could either atrophy (if food becomes scarce) or expand even more (if foodstuff replaces real food and we subsist on cheap sugary cereal and microwave dinners). It’s not a pretty thought.

I like technology. I like the idea of free, globally accessible information. It just worries me that we’ll all be sitting on our asses not talking to each other even more. Instead of being thumbs deep, we’ll be retinas deep.

Two girls playing hopscotch on playgroundOn the bright side, quite the opposite of Wade attending virtual school from his van, here’s an elementary school in California where students have standing desks.  Bloodflow improves cognitive function and learning. Add in some VR use with open source global libraries and submersive educational experiences. Maintain real outdoor recess and give them standing desks – that’s promising.

5 Resources to Help You Learn UX

Here are five helpful resources about UX (user experience) design and copywriting. These are a great place for a beginner to start. If you’re already in marketing, you’re probably less of a beginner than you may think, if you’ve been paying attention. Pay attention all the time, especially when you’re the user. You know what feels good. Start to ask why that site is easy to use, and look for patterns. Screenshot landing pages and exit overlays that work or shopping carts that usher you along the purchase path. Research the design process of products that make everyday life easier.

Chemex coffeemaker
Chemex coffeemaker – flawless blending of design and function. Photo credit: Karl Fredrickson

The classic paperback rhetoric for writers, some copywriting tips, and these podcasts about design should prove informative for designers and marketers of various levels:

  1. Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun. In high school, my dad gave me this book to help me write more concisely, and I’ve kept the same copy at my desk ever since. It’s very University of Chicago, and it’s worth reviewing every couple years, especially if you write copy that users or customers are forced to read. Simplify.
    “Principle 1. Have a point and make it by means of the best word.”
  2. Design for the Human Brain
    UX and UI design tips based on how our brains process information. Cognitive psychology is paramount to user centered design. Reduce cognitive load.
  3. 10 UX Copywriting Tips for Designers
    John Williams gets copywriting and design. “Be ruthless with your copy.” Cut cut cut.
  4. 3 Fundamental User Onboarding Lessons from Classic Nintendo Games
    How to create good onboarding flow and inspire users to progress. Place emphasis on the naive user and value of external testing. Tetris “presents a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks” which stick in your memory, bugging your brain to finish. It’s the best example of the Zeigarnik Effect, or the “need to complete.”
  5. 14 Design Podcasts to Put in Your Ears
    99% Invisible, Design Matters, and more. Tip: I like to listen to podcasts with the free Stitcher app. It gets smarter with use.

Technology Means Fair Play – Parking Apps

By the end of 2016, all parking meters in New York City will accept payment via mobile app. New York isn’t the first city to offer mobile parking meter payment (joining Boston, Fort Worth, Seattle, SLC, and others) and it won’t be the last. Interesting: unused parking meter money will be refunded to users. This is one of very few situations in which the government would volunteer to forfeit funds already in their possession. Historically, they may have kept monies in similar cases of overpayment to increase revenue or more likely to avoid the cost of processing more paperwork. Losses in annual revenue due to the refund feature are expected to be nominal, so it’s likely the latter.

New York City street with cars and taxis
Photo by Jon Ottosson

When technology makes transactions more seamless, it’s harder for either party not to play fair.

As the cloud replaces paper and user generated content competes with traditional journalism for greater media share of voice, policies that have served vendors and governments will give way to ones that serve users. Revenues from happy customers and their repeat purchases will characterize businesses that survive, rather than policies that hurt users but previously were not fought due to acceptance and a lower tech status quo.

Fine print, one-sided policies, and rigid contracts will go the way of the horse drawn carriage (and probably soon, the taxi). Keep an eye on companies like T-Mobile and Spirit Airlines. They put customers in control by foregoing required contracts, forced add-ons (e.g., paying for bags and peanuts), and in general offer more a la carte products. “We’ve never done it that way” and “our system wouldn’t support that” won’t be able to compete.