Zack Apiratitham

Scribble in Thai on iPadOS 16


As I mentioned in my WWDC 2022 reactions post on Monday, one surprise feature for iPadOS 16 is Scribble in Thai. Strangely there is no mention of this anywhere on the feature list page and only shown briefly on the feature tiles slide at the end of the iPadOS section in the keynote.

Screenshot of the feature tiles slide

I would not have guessed Thai to be the third script to gain support after Latin and Chinese. There are so many other scripts that would have gotten more use by way more people like Arabic or Devanagari. Why Thai? I don’t get it but I’m certainly happy to see it.

I decided to live dangerously and installed iPadOS 16 developer beta 1 so that I could try this out.

Animated GIF of the Try Scribble

I’m super impressed at how well it could detect and convert my chicken scratch handwriting.

Animated GIF of the scribble saying 'Hello WWDC' in Thai
"Hello WWDC!"
Animated GIF of the scribble saying my full name in Thai
It even got my Thai name correctly, except the space

This is not the only Thai-related new feature this year. The Translate app now supports Thai, which means Safari web page and system-wide translation support!

Added support for Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Polish, Indonesian, and Dutch in Safari web page translation.

[…]

The Translate app and system‑wide translation add support for Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Polish, Indonesian, and Dutch.




WWDC 2022 Initial Reactions and Thoughts


Overall Event Impression

  • Over the weekend and today, my Twitter feed has been filled with people going to the event at Apple Park. They get to tour the new Developer Center and visit the Ring Building itself. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some serious FOMO.
  • Craig really took it up a notch with his showmanship during the presentation. They’re definitely really playing up and leaning into our obsession with him. And I’m here for it.

iOS 16

  • The new Lock Screen personalization is a really refreshing change as the old one hasn’t really changed much since the original iPhone aside from notifications.
  • Face ID on iPhone now also works in landscape. Hopefully this means it will be easier to unlock the phone without having to adjust our heads too much, if at all.
  • I think the CarPlay sneak peek blew everybody away. This is a clear major sign from Apple that they have been working on a car. This may be the first thing that they revealed to the public that was developed as part of that project. I wish Tesla would support this.

watchOS 9

  • I always track my workouts with my Apple Watch and all these new workout views look incredibly useful: heart rate zones, detailed workout summary, customizable workouts, and running-specific metrics like stride length and ground contact time.
  • The medication tracking is going to be really useful as I take allergy meds every year when spring comes around. With this I won’t have to use a reminders app to remind myself anymore. The drug interactions warning is also a very nice touch.
  • I love to see those new sleep tracking features. It’s been a long road but now the watch is finally a full-featured sleep tracker.
  • Sadly still no custom watch faces. At this point I feel like that’s never going to happen.

MacBook Air

  • This is the second Mac laptop that’s designed specifically for the Apple silicon era. Like the MacBook Pro, it also comes with MagSafe. But unlike the MacBook Pro, the MagSafe connector and cord color match that of the MacBook Air itself.
  • Speaking of colors, I am disappointed that it only comes in four bland colors. With this being the world’s best-selling laptop, they really should have followed the iMac approach and gone with more colorful choices.
  • For their cheapest Mac laptop (aside from the M1 MacBook Air), it even comes with the Liquid Retina display. This makes me feel worse about my brand-new Studio Display that only has a basic LCD display but is much more expensive.

macOS Ventura

  • Continuity Camera using the iPhone is neat. But it does feel clunky and inelegant. It’s almost as if they admitted that the built-in cameras suck. Especially with the Studio Display camera being awful, this is almost like an apology feature. The real solution is to just fix the camera hardware on the display. I’d rather have a good built-in camera than using this. Though the desk view thing is damn impressive but I personally don’t see a use for it.
  • RIP the old Mac System Preferences design. I’ll miss the classic layout but a refreshed design was for sure needed. And now it’s also more consistent with iOS and iPadOS.
  • No new Music app. This app is so bad and I hope they address this next year.

iPadOS 16

  • Full external display support is long overdue and we finally have it!
  • The display zoom adjustment to get more space is something I didn’t know I need. But I am writing this on my 11-inch iPad Pro using split screen with the “More Space” option and this feature certainly makes everything feels less cramp.
  • A big surprise for me is Scribble in Thai. This is not mentioned anywhere on the feature list page, but it was featured on a slide. I'm going to have to check this out.

Screenshot of the feature tiles slide

Everything Else

Notice that the list for each of those OSes above are only features that are specific to each of them. That is something I want to highlight with this year’s announcements: almost all of the headlining features are now available on all three of Apple’s major OSes. These are the fruits of Apple’s labor in the past several years of building APIs and frameworks to allow for easier cross-platform development like Mac Catalyst and SwiftUI. This creates an OS ecosystem that contains more feature parity and I must say that I do like the direction this is going.

Here are my thoughts on these headlining features that are available on all platforms.

  • Not only did I get what I asked for with marking messages as unread, Messages also comes with the ability to edit and unsend messages! Though you can only do it for up to 15 minutes after sending the message. An interesting rule but I suppose I can understand why.
  • I don’t think this was mentioned in the keynote, but Focus mode setup now includes the ability to choose whether to allow notifications or silence them! I am super excited to use this.
  • The Home app finally got the redesign it so sorely needed, and it looks pretty slick.
  • The iCloud Shared Photo Library is such a long time coming and it is so much better than what I had imagined. It took them quite a long time to add this feature but now I can clearly see that they put a lot of thought into this and wanted to do this right. It’s not just a simple sharing of your entire photo library and there are many ways to control how you share them, like starting from a specific date, only including photos of certain people, doing it right in the Camera app, or when members are nearby.
  • Stage Manager seems nice but I’m not sure if it will be useful for me on the Mac since I like the freedom of putting my windows wherever I want. Though it might come in handy now that I am using just a single Studio Display where before I used to have two smaller monitors. However, this on the iPadOS makes much more sense and I’m looking forward to using it.
  • Passkeys look promising. There’s no doubt this is better than passwords. And with the recent announcement that they’re working on this standard with Microsoft and Google, I am hopeful for the future without passwords. But for now, during this transition period, I wonder what kind of support and troubleshooting headaches this will cause for apps and websites that choose to add this.

Some Interesting Tidbits from the Feature List Pages

Added support for Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Polish, Indonesian, and Dutch in Safari web page translation.

[…]

Siri processes more types of requests offline without an internet connection, including Home Control (HomeKit), Intercom, and Voicemail.

[…]

Apps need your permission before accessing the pasteboard to paste content from another app.

[…]

The Hidden and Recently Deleted albums are locked by default and can be unlocked using your iPhone authentication method: Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode.

[…]

Photos identifies duplicate photos in Albums > Utilities so you can quickly clean up your library.

[…]

Save a list as a template to reuse it for routines, packing lists, and more. Create a link to publish and share a template with others, or download templates that others have shared.

[…]

The Translate app and system‑wide translation add support for Turkish, Thai, Vietnamese, Polish, Indonesian, and Dutch.

[…]

Fitness+ subscribers who use AirPlay to see their workouts can now get real-time personal metrics from their Apple Watch on compatible displays.

Wish List Performance

My wish list this year did not do so well. I only got the marking messages as unread and Focus mode block list.

  • For the full resolution photos in Shared Albums, I tested on beta 1 and they’re still resized to 2049px.
  • Same with the Home Control tiles in Control Center. They still ridiculously shuffle around when I interact with them.
  • Studio Display camera fix is unknown. I don’t run the beta on my Mac and haven’t seen any reports on whether there’s an update to the display.
  • Sadly no Mac Pro sneak peek but we got the M2, so that pretty much confirms that the Mac Pro will come with a variant of the M2 instead of the M1.
  • Screen Time for tvOS is not only missing, tvOS itself wasn’t mentioned at all during the keynote which is discouraging for the platform.
  • Still no interactive widgets. Maybe next year.

So I only got two (maybe three) out of the eight on my list. But as you can see, I am quite excited with a lot of these features announced today. Let the beta season begin and happy WWDC!




WWDC 2022 Wish List


All my other WWDC wish list posts: 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021.

We're less than two weeks away from WWDC 2022! Like the past two years, this year's WWDC is going to be fully online which I think makes for a much better and more accessible way to hold this conference. Last year was the first year that I participated in surrounding events and met people in the Apple developer community with events from Diversity in Swift, iOS Dev Happy Hour, and WWDCCommunity Week as well as the Digital Lounges. So this year I'm looking forward to participating in those again.

But before all that, we have the keynote on Monday to start off the week, and like years past, here is my wish list for this year's updates and announcements.

Mark Messages as Unread

For such a popular app on the Apple platform, Messages is quite lacking compared to its competitions. One big glaring miss is that there's no way to mark messages as unread. Look, we've all been there. Sometimes we can't reply to certain messages right away or we accidentally opened a message that we planned to look at later. And with the Messages app, once a message is opened there's no way to mark them as unread, and this results in people forgetting to reply to those messages. Imagine how much anxiety and hurt feelings would have been saved if this feature existed.

Full Resolution Photos in Shared Albums

I love using iCloud shared albums to share photos with friends and family when going on trips. But photos added to those albums get resized down to 2049px. While this might be sufficient when viewing on a phone or tablet, it's too small for viewing on a 4K TV or 5K monitor. And it's entirely unusable if you want to make large prints out of them. It would be ideal if they allow for uploading full resolution photos in shared albums. And yes, this would require more storage and we know how much Apple hates giving away free storage. So I would be perfectly happy if they make this feature only available to paid iCloud+ users, or count that extra space towards your iCloud storage quota. When you think more about it, the current approach of resizing and uploading a copy to the shared album doesn't really make much sense. If my entire photo library is already stored in full resolution in iCloud, it would be more efficient to just use that original copy of the photo for the shared album instead of having to make another copy just for sharing.

Studio Display Camera Fix

My long-awaited wish was granted back in March when Apple released the Studio Display. But the big brouhaha around this display is its webcam with the embarrassingly bad picture quality. I was excited when this was announced and reserved my judgement when reviews came out critical about the camera. After two full months of waiting, I finally got mine and the camera really is not great. My $70 Logitech webcam looks much better than this built-in one. For a $1,600 monitor, the camera hardware should be at the very least the same as front-facing camera on the latest iPhone, and ideally the back camera. But they decided to use a lesser camera that somehow looks worse compared to the exact same camera in the iPad. The recent software fix they released barely made it better so I do hope that with macOS 13, they will further improve this.

Focus Mode Block List

iOS 15 introduced Focus which allows for better control of notifications and alerts. As a person who limits the amount of notifications to be as few as possible, I was super happy that they added this feature. But there's one huge pain point that I need them to address when it comes to setting them up. Currently when setting up a Focus, you have to select individual apps you want to allow notifications while in that mode. So if I want to prevent a small set of apps from sending me notifications at a certain time of day (like work-related apps), I have to manually select every single app except those few. It's incredibly cumbersome. So I hope with iOS 16, we would be able to define a block list for a Focus mode. This would make this feature significantly more useful.

Home Controls in Control Center

Home Controls in Control Center is a really convenient way to interact with HomeKit devices. But it is frustrating using those tiles. The first offense is that I cannot specify the position of each of the device tiles. That's a bit annoying but whatever, I could just get used to their "recommended" positions. But no I can't do that either, because these damn tiles never stay in the same place! Every time I make adjustments to a device, they literally shuffle around in front of my eyes! So I can't rely on muscle memory and have to carefully look for what I want. Just take a look at this screen recording of me interacting with HomeKit in Control Center. They seriously need to address this.

Some Other Stuff

  • The Mac Pro was teased during the spring event back in March, so we know for sure that it's coming. I really hope we get a sneak peek of it during the keynote, but I don't expect it to ship until the end of the year.
  • I sound like a broken record at this point but I would really like Screen Time for tvOS. I thought this wouldn't be that big of an ask but Screen Time has been around since 2018 and we still don't have it for the Apple TV.
  • Home Screen widgets are great but I really think they need to make them more interactive.



The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien


Not many people will disagree with me when I say that The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson is the greatest film trilogy of all time. Despite having watched all three films through many times (including the extended edition), I had never read the book. For years it was a goal of mine to do so, and in my top books of 2021 post I committed myself to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings this year. Last month I finally accomplished that goal, having read both of them back-to-back. It took me just over a week to read The Hobbit and five weeks for The Lord of the Rings.

There’s no shortage of The Lord of the Rings reviews and analyses on the internet, so in this post I’m not going to go that much into my thoughts on the story. What I want to focus on instead is the actual physical copy I read this on.

Some Quick Thoughts on the Story

Even though I already knew all the main story beats so well from the films, it did not at all take away from my enjoyment of the book. I was enthralled from start to finish and there was rarely any dull or slow moment. For years I had been avoiding reading the book as I had this preconceived notion that it was going to be difficult to read and the plot would proceed at a glacial pace, and that it would take me months to get through it. I was happy to not find that to be the case.

These days I don’t read much fiction, and almost never something that is this long. This is one of those rare books that made me feel this huge sense of loss after finishing it. I sat down to read this book every single day for over a month, and I was truly immersed. It felt like I was on this adventure with these characters and went through thick and thin with them. Reaching the end of their story and having to leave them behind just left me feeling sad and empty. As dramatic as it might sound, it was almost as if I had lost some purpose in life now that I won’t get to sit down and continue on the journey with them. I know this phenomenon is not uncommon among fiction readers, but I honestly don’t remember the last time I felt this way; I read the entire Harry Potter series a few years back—which is more than doubled in word count—and I don’t recall feeling this way after completing that.

The 2021 Illustrated Edition

Going into this, I knew that I wanted to read it with a physical copy. I also specifically wanted a single-volume edition with all three parts contained in one binding. The one I ended up getting is the illustrated edition released late last year. This is a hardcover and includes illustrations in full color done by Tolkien himself.

With a $60 price tag, this is not a cheap book, probably the most expensive book in our humble home library (excluding college textbooks of course). It is quite a fancy book, and I know that “you’re not supposed to read fancy books” as John Green said. But this is the only good copy I have and I just wanted to read with it.

The Lord of the Rings book with dust jacket on

On the outside, this book is just gorgeous. The dust jacket comes in gray and features the original illustration from the first edition of the book with Tolkien's signature. The page edges are colored red which gives out a nice contrast. The best part about the exterior design is the Ring Verse on the fore-edge. It almost made me want to shelve this book backwards so this would be visible.

The fore-ege of the book with the Ring Verse

With the dust jacket off (as I always do when reading hardcover books), you will find that the Eye of Sauron illustration is actually printed on the cloth hardcover itself and not on the dust jacket which I think is a nice touch. The same illustrations on the dust jacket spine can also be found on the hardcover.

The Lord of the Rings book with dust jacket off

Close-up photo showing the binding
The book is nicely case bounded which allows for it to lay flat.

With 1,178 pages, this book is not light: it weighs 1,585 grams (yes, I did put it on a scale). So it’s not one of those books that you would want to bring with you to read in a park or on a flight.

Inside there are 32 illustrations (excluding the maps) inserted throughout the book, between relevant pages. It also comes with a nice little bookmark.

The book laid flat on a table on a page with an illustration of Orthanc

I actually purchased a box set of The Lord of the Rings a while back, but it comes in three separate paperback books. The main reason I didn’t want to read those was the low print quality of the text. I don’t know what the correct term for this in publishing world, but it looks almost like these pages were photocopied from older, lower-quality edition of the book. On the other hand, this single-volume illustrated edition has high print quality and sharper text which made for a much more pleasant reading experience.

Side-by-side comparison of the text with the paperback edition

There are two 10.5”×14.5“ fold-out maps drawn by Christopher Tolkien. One of the west of Middle-earth and the other of a more close-up area near Rohan, Gondor, and Mordor. I found these maps tremendously helpful with establishing spatial awareness when it comes to the plot and character movements throughout the story.

Two included maps laid out on the table

This 2021 illustrated edition of The Lord of the Rings is indeed a fancy book. To me it is well worth the premium price for the entertainment value I got out of it. Given the quality of this printing, I’m sure it will remain in good condition in my book collection for many years to come.




Thoughts on Apple’s Peek Performance Event


I didn’t think this event was going to be anything that exciting. Just a regular spring event for iPhone SE, iPad Air, and perhaps MacBook Air refresh. But boy, was I really in for a treat this time. As you may know, for a few years now I had been pleading for a new less expensive Apple-branded display. Here’s what I wrote most recently back in June of last year:

Again, here is all I'm asking: take out that 5K 27-inch panel in the discontinued iMac Pro (or the one you're putting in the new 27-inch Apple Silicon iMac), put it in an external display chassis, maybe add some bells and whistles like a webcam, USB-C ports, fancy speakers, etc., slap a $1,300-1,500 price tag on it (knowing Apple), and take my money.

And look at what they announced:

[Studio Display] features an expansive 27-inch 5K Retina display, a 12MP Ultra Wide camera with Center Stage, and a high-fidelity six-speaker sound system with spatial audio.

[…]

With 600 nits of brightness, P3 wide color, and support for over one billion colors, images come to life with spectacular detail. True Tone technology automatically adjusts the display’s color temperature as the environment changes for a more natural viewing experience. An industry-leading anti-reflective coating enables incredibly low reflectivity for better comfort and readability.

[…]

Studio Display also includes a studio-quality, three-microphone array with an especially low noise floor for crystal-clear calls and voice recordings.

[…]

Studio Display has three USB-C ports that deliver speeds up to 10Gb/s to connect high-speed peripherals, storage, and networking right into the display. A Thunderbolt port enables users to connect Studio Display and any connected peripherals to their Mac with a single cable. The same cable also delivers 96W of power to a Mac notebook, allowing Studio Display to even fast-charge a 14-inch MacBook Pro.

Never before in my time of following Apple had my wish been granted almost so spot-on. The Studio Display has everything I asked for, and then some. Not only that it has a webcam, it also supports Center Stage. Not only that it has speakers, it also supports spatial audio.

The announcement itself was such a roller coaster of emotion. They showed the Studio Display and went into all of its features, talking about the camera, speakers, built-in A13 Bionic chip, etc. And that’s when I (and my bank account) got really worried: this thing is packed full of features and I thought that it for sure was going to be at least $2,200-2,500. So when it was revealed to be $1,599, I never celebrated so hard for something that is still so expensive. But given the precedent with the $5,000 Pro Display XDR with a $1,000 stand, this Studio Display price tag is quite reasonable in my opinion.

Annoyingly the base configuration comes with a non-height adjustable stand which is such a cheap move from Apple given how much it already costs. To upgrade to a height-adjustable stand without the nano-texture coating is extra $400, making it a nice rounded $2,000. Way too much for a computer monitor, but that configuration is what I ordered.

Not to make excuses for how ridiculously expensive this monitor is, but for comparison the Thunderbolt Display that came out in 2011 had a $1000 price tag which, adjusted for inflation, would cost around $1,250 today. That monitor came with a non-retina 1440p panel and 720p camera. So the new Studio Display costing $350 more with all of these extra features is not out of character for Apple.

Mac Studio

This was another surprise for this event. This Mac and the M1 Ultra look like a beast of performance. I definitely don’t have that kind of need and I am very happy with my 14-inch M1 Max MacBook Pro. The tease at the end about the Mac Pro is so very cheeky and I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do with it.




An Unsolicited Streaming App Spec →


John Siracusa wrote up this great post listing out what he thinks are the very basic functionalities every streaming app should have:

Obviously, a list of even the most rudimentary features can’t help but also be opinionated. Though my tastes have surely influenced this list, I really do think that any streaming app that fails to implement nearly all of these features is failing its users. Again, these are not frills. These are the bare-bones basics.

He also pointed out this little feature with Siri on Apple TV which blew my mind:

I can ask “What did he say?” and the Apple TV will skip backwards, enable subtitles, play for a short duration, and then disable subtitles again, all on its own. Surprise and delight!

Surprise and delight, indeed! My ears are not as well-tuned to English dialogues as compared to native speakers so I often miss lines when watching movies. But I also don’t want subtitles on all the time either. This trick is going to be life-changing.


There is one Apple TV-specific thing I would like to add to this list. When a video is paused with a UI overlay with some informational text and/or scrubber, and I hit play to resume playback, I would like to be able to then hit the back button on my remote to dismiss that overlay. Having to continue watching with that overlay still obstructing or dimming the video, even for a few seconds, is a terrible experience. Or better yet, the app should just dismiss the overlay the instant the playback resumes.

The worst part is that this behaves differently on different apps which drives me up the wall. In YouTube and TV app, you can hit back and it will dismiss the overlay while still playing the video. In apps that use the native player you have to tap (not click) on the touchpad on the remote to do so. In apps like Netflix and Disney+ when you hit back it just exits out of the video player entirely! They’re all so inconsistent and it’s just pure maddening!

I don’t know what the solution should be here. It would be great if all these apps use the same native video player so the experience would be consistent across the board, but that’s never going to happen.




Some Thoughts on the 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro


After years of anticipation, Apple officially announced at WWDC 2020 that they were beginning the transition of the entire Mac lineup to the ARM architecture. Since then I had been itching to get my hands on one, but the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 chip did not fit the bill. I was waiting for that long-rumored all-new MacBook Pro.

Fast forward one and a half years later to January 2022, my wait was finally over!

MacBook Pro welcome screen

The configuration: 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Max with 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, 64GB of RAM, and 2TB SSD. I upgraded to the M1 Max for the 64GB RAM option as I don't have the need for that much GPU performance which is also why I didn't max out to the 32-core GPU option. The extra memory bandwidth is a nice perk, but I doubt it would be that useful to me.

About This Mac window

I was originally going to get the 16-inch model, having only ever owned the 15-inch models in the past. But at 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) compared to 1.8 kg (4 lbs) of my 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro, it would be too heavy for me on the rare occasions that I need to bring it somewhere. And since most of the time I run it docked at my desk connected to external monitors, I figured I could get by with the smaller 14-inch model. On paper, the screen is only an inch smaller than the one it's replacing anyway.

Don't get me wrong, this 14-inch MacBook Pro is still plenty heavy for a small laptop at 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs), almost as heavy as my old 15-inch.

The Migration

Transferring everything over from the old machine instead of setting this one up brand-new is definitely the way to go. I didn't want to have to spend time reconfiguring it from scratch with all the files, applications, and countless settings.

Everybody else seems to have no issue whatsoever with the Migration Assistant these days, but it ended up not being as painless as I was hoping for.

Two MacBook Pros connected with a Thunderbolt cable

With these two connected to each other using the Thunderbolt 3 cable that came with my CalDigit TS3 Plus dock, at first the Migration Assistant refused to use the wired connection and instead insisted on using the wireless "Peer-to-Peer" connection. I definitely was not going to let it transfer the data wirelessly as I knew that was going to be flaky. Here's what I ended up doing in trying to get them to use the wired connection:

  • Turned off Firewall on both machines
  • Made sure both Macs were on the same latest macOS Monterey 12.1 (at the time)
  • Turned off Wi-Fi on both machines (I don't think this this mattered)
  • Made sure in the Network preference pane that they could detect each other via Thunderbolt
  • As a desperate attempt, erased all contents and settings on the new Mac and reinstalled macOS (also don't think this mattered)

The final thing I tried—and what I should have done from the beginning—was to put the old Mac in Target Disk Mode. Right away, the Thunderbolt connection showed up so I began the transfer.

My old 2017 Mac used up about 440GB so there wasn't that much stuff to move over. I was hoping that I would see around 200MB/s transfer speed and that this process wouldn't take more than 45 minutes to complete. But to my bewilderment, it wouldn't transfer more than on average 50MB/s with a lot of time spent with less than 10MB/s. It also peaked at only 70MB/s. I quadruple-checked that the cable I used was in fact a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Having already spent too much time and energy going in circles trying to get the wired connection to work, I cut my losses and just let it do its thing, hoping that maybe it would speed up (it never did). I had already waited 18 months for this, surely I could wait a couple of hours more.

Picture of the migration in progress

In the end, it took almost three hours to complete the transfer of over four million individual files.

Screenshot showing the migration is completed

General Observations

I do love the hardware design of this model; it has somewhat of a retro look to it, reminding me of the titanium PowerBook G4. The "MacBook Pro" etching on the back is a really nice touch. I also don't mind that it's thicker.

Picture an engraving on the back

Since the 14-inch one can be configured all the way up just like the 16-inch, I figured I could save some money just getting the smaller size without having to compromise on the specs I want. And as I alluded to earlier, the screen doesn't feel that much smaller than my 15-inch one.

In a little over a month that I've been using it, I didn't run into any compatibility issue (that I could tell) with this being on a completely new architecture; Rosetta 2 is doing a fantastic job translating x86 to ARM. What an amazing feat of engineering that is.

I never had an Apple desktop computer and only ever used MacBook Pros. In all those years, I've gotten used to hearing the fans spinning up when doing anything remotely computational intensive (or even randomly). But now I've discovered the pleasure of working at my desk without that incredibly obnoxious fan noise. It is an absolutely blissful experience.

The notch was no doubt an unexpected feature with this redesign. I'm choosing to look at it not as a protrusion into my screen, but as extra screen real estate extending up to the very edge. Plus I think macOS is the perfect operating system to have to support this quirk since the menu bar, which is the fundamental part of the Mac, is already always at the top. I can't imagine how they would even support this on Windows (not that Apple's support for this was anywhere near perfect).

This also gave us a couple of fun apps like Notchmeister and NotchCam.

I wish this notch included the Face ID sensor. There's no reason why macOS wouldn't be able to support it since it's using pretty much the same chip as the iPad Pro which comes with Face ID. My guess is that they probably don't have the room to fit it as the screen lid is unbelievably thin whereas the iPhone and iPad Pro do have quite a bit more thickness to accommodate it.

This generation of MacBook Pros also sees the triumphant return of the beloved MagSafe connector. I can look past the mismatched color, but it would have been nice if they matched. I really do love the braided cable that comes with it though.

The interesting part about this is that the magnet is significantly stronger than the MagSafe connector I remembered from my 2010 MacBook Pro. Yanking it straight out is pretty much impossible as it's really on there. But pushing it at an angle up or down pops it right out. It definitely still functions as intended, as somebody tripping on the wire would almost certainly not going to be pulling it straight out. Nevertheless, I still feel like this is a slight regression from the old MagSafe we had.

Also props to Apple for still allowing charging via the three Thunderbolt ports because being able to charge on either side is definitely a big win.

Picture of the MagSafe connector connected to the laptop

Good riddance to the butterfly keyboard. These new keys do feel mushier but in a good way. They definitely provide a much better experience to type on, and more reliable too.

I never found the Touch Bar all that useful since I rarely used the built-in keyboard. As much potential as it may have had, Apple clearly did not want to invest in it, seeing that since its introduction in 2016 they did not make a single improvement to it. Unexpectedly, I did find myself missing it when I was filling out forms and not being able to quickly tap to autofill the fields. But other than that, I don't miss the Touch Bar.

With the Touch Bar gone, this means we now have back the physical escape key! No longer do I need to remap my escape key to the caps lock key to make it touch-typable. The inverted-T arrow keys are another greatly-missed affordance for touch typing and I do very much welcome their glorious return.

Performance Tests

I ran some tests to find out for myself how much faster this thing is. For comparison, my 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro came with the 2.9GHz quad-core i7, 16GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Pro 560. The numbers are averages of multiple runs I did for each of these tools.

Xcode

I am rewriting Liftoff in SwiftUI so these tests were run using this fairly small project. Each after cleaning the build folder, of course. The build times came from Xcode directly, thanks to this neat trick (via ATP):

defaults write com.apple.dt.Xcode ShowBuildOperationDuration YES

M1 Max: 10s
Core i7: 25s
Delta: 2.5x faster

Node.js (via Gatsby)

This was conducted using this very site with the gatsby build command with Node version 16.13.1.

M1 Max: 1m 5s
Core i7: 1m 34s
Delta: 1.4x faster

Flutter

Flutter still doesn't support Apple Silicon natively so the performance improvement seen here is not the most we could have gotten out of it. With this I'm running flutter build ios with flutter clean before each run.

M1 Max: 2m 18s
Core i7: 7m 25s
Delta: 3.2x faster

This test was the first time that I heard the fans on this machine, which kind of disappointed me a little to be honest.

Lightroom Classic

This was conducted on the Apple Silicon version of Lightroom Classic (v11.1). From my understanding, Lightroom doesn't really take advantage of the GPU when importing or exporting photos. But it appears to mostly be using it for displaying and processing the images. So the advantage of the M1 Max here would be around previewing and applying edits to photos, unfortunately not something that I could quantitatively measure and compare.

For import, I used 100 raw 20-megapixel photos taken on the Canon EOS 6D. There were three options enabled:

  • Copy as DNG
  • Build 1:1 previews
  • Apply lens correction

This also resulted in the fans going at full speed from what it sounded like.

M1 Max: 2m 53s
Core i7: 6m 42s
Delta: 2.3x faster

For export, I have a recent project with 44 raw 20-megapixel photos, all with various edits and color corrections. The export files were 80% JPEGs and no image resizing was done. The fans did not spin up for this.

M1 Max: 46s
Core i7: 2m 37s
Delta: 3.4x faster

Some Annoyances

My setup is through the CalDigit TS3 Plus dock connected to two 1080p monitors: one via Thunderbolt → HDMI and the other via DisplayPort → HDMI. While the connection and windows rearranging are almost instantaneous, the majority of the times only one of the monitors would display anything. The one connected via DisplayPort is the troublesome one as it rarely ever works. Every time I connect the laptop to the dock, I also have to reach back and reconnect the DisplayPort on the dock. And even that doesn't always work on the first try either, I frequently have to try multiple times for both monitors to be displaying properly.

This is clearly something specific to the M1 as this was rarely ever an issue with the Intel laptops with the exact same setup. Perhaps it's some sort of driver issue. The recent macOS 12.2 update did not improve the situation either. I think I'm going to have to try swapping out these cables to see if that helps.

What makes this all the more annoying is that it wouldn't be a problem if I had an Apple-made monitor connected to my Mac. I keep these stupidly bad monitors around because there are no good retina external monitors in the market to replace them with. This is a huge gap in the lineup that should have been addressed years ago.

This is not unique to the M1 model but there's one tiny UI issue that has been bugging me since I updated to Monterey. In the menu bar, I want hide the stock clock menu item as I prefer to use the one from iStats Menus. Unfortunately, there's no way for me to completely remove the clock so the next best thing I could do was to change the digital time to be an analog clock so that it would take the least amount of space at the very right edge of the menu bar.

Screenshot of the menu bar showing a clipped clock icon

Do you see what I'm seeing? The clock icon is clipped on the top and right side by just a pixel! Every time I look at the time and glance up to that top right corner of the screen, I'm greeted with this badly-rendered clock icon. It's worth noting that this is only visible on external monitors and not the built-in screen. I'm actually not sure how long this has been there. Maybe it's been around since the big redesign they did with Big Sur in 2020. Either way, I filed a bug report (FB9886279) so hopefully this will get fix in a future release.

Final Thoughts

Despite those complaints, I do love this machine. After long dark years of disappointing MacBook Pro lineup, what we now have is truly great and truly pro. It's not lost on me that I'm celebrating getting back what they took away from us in 2016. But it is more than just that: the M1 Max is a powerhouse, the Liquid Retina display is stunning, and the overall industrial design is just gorgeous.

With the modular 2019 Mac Pro, the redesigned Siri remote, and now the 2021 MacBook Pro, Apple showed that they do listen and are willing to give us what we want. The trend has been very encouraging in recent years. My only hope now is that they heard us begging for an external monitor that doesn't cost six grand. I'm cautiously optimistic that this year might be the year.




My Top 5 Books of 2021


All my other top books of the year posts: 2020.

A couple of years back, I rediscovered the joy of reading physical books after having exclusively been buying ebooks for years prior. Since then I had bought more and more books, which filled up my bookcase faster than I could read them. So in an effort to not have shelves full of books I haven't read, I made a decision to suspend all my book buying activities until I clear out those I had piled up. Therefore a lot of books I read in 2021 were from this backlog, and this will remain the case going into 2022.

By pure coincidence, I read 23 books in 2021 with 17 of them being hard copies, the exact same numbers as in 2020. But I read 5% fewer pages than in 2020 with 8,078 pages, dropping the average book length to 351 pages and pages per day to 21.

Below are five books that made my 2021 top list, ranked by how long it took me to read from shortest to longest.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami (2020)

Conditional Citizens cover

In this book Laila Lalami covers her experiences of being a neutralized US citizen and points out the various contradictions and ways immigrants are treated unfairly in the US. She shows how non-white citizens still face challenges and prejudices in this country despite the fact that they should have the same rights and privileges as any other citizen. As a person of color and noncitizen living in the US, it wasn't hard for me at all to relate to her stories and essays.

One starkly revelatory point she made was how the US labels its non-white citizens. Even after years or decades of assimilation and generations later, they are still labeled as hyphenated Americans such as Mexican-Americans or Chinese-Americans. But descendants of white immigrants are simply referred to as Americans and not English-Americans, French-Americans, etc.

This is a poignant book everybody should read to get a better view into the immigrant experience and what it means to be a conditional citizen in the US.

a white woman told McCain that “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him, and he’s not, he’s not, he’s a—an Arab.” “No, ma’am,” McCain replied, taking away her microphone. “He’s a decent family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

[...]

The woman said Obama couldn’t be trusted because he was an Arab, and the rebuttal wasn’t about the lack of causality between the two; it was a reassurance that he wasn’t Arab, he was a family man. The second contradiction was between being “an Arab” and being “a citizen.” Clearly, Obama could only be the latter if he was not the former. (p. 17-18)

The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack (2020)

The End of Everything cover

Cosmology and astrophysics have always been subjects that captured my imagination since I was a kid. But as just a layperson, I find the subjects exceedingly difficult to get into with all of the advanced mathematics and equations. I've read quite a few popsci astrophysics books like Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and Michio Kaku's Parallel Worlds, which truthfully were not light and easy reads for me. But The End of Everything by Katie Mack provided a refreshing perspective on the genre.

This book addresses the topic of how the universe could end, where most popular science media and discussions on astrophysics I've come across usually focus on the beginning. We all know that the Earth and all of its inhabitants will die a fiery death when the sun eventually engulfs us in five billion years. But Mack isn't interested in our insignificant rock's end and instead presents us with five ways the universe as we know it could meet its demise. With enthusiasm and humor, she takes you on a journey through each of them with all the astrophysics and quantum mechanics nitty-gritty details (some of which were not easy to grasp, I must admit). My personal favorite of the bunch has to be the incredibly anxiety-inducing vacuum decay with the expanding "quantum bubble of death" traveling at the speed of light destroying everything in its path by taking apart all of the elementary particles that are held together.

Being quite a short book with just over two hundred pages, it is by no means lacking in substance. She just doesn't go off on tangents and remains straight-to-the-point which was one of the reasons that made this book an enjoyable read to me. I highly recommend it for any space nerd out there.

Something coming at you at the speed of light is invisible — any little glint warning you of its approach arrives at the same time as the thing itself. There is no possible way to see it coming, or even to know that anything has gone wrong. If it approaches you from below, there will be a couple of nanoseconds during which your feet no longer exist while your brain still thinks it is looking at them. Fortunately, the process is also entirely painless: at no point will your nerve impulses be able to catch up with your disintegration by the bubble. It's a mercy, really. (p. 145)

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (2021)

The Anthropocene Reviewed cover

I am no stranger to John Green as I've been a dedicated vlogbrothers viewer for years. But I've only read two other of his books: Looking for Alaska and Turtles All the Way Down. Though young adult genre isn't really my cup of tea these days, I nevertheless still find myself drawn to his writing, not for the plot or romance aspects, but for his nuggets of wisdom and ways of looking at the world. That's why I was so excited for The Anthropocene Reviewed, his first nonfiction book1.

This book is a collection of essays, adapted from his podcast of the same name. In each essay he reviews a facet of our human-centered planet on a five-star scale, kind of like Yelp reviews. But unlike Yelp reviews, the subject is used as a jumping off point for him to tell a more personal story and offer his perspectives on being human. Some essays are autobiographical and can be quite heavy in subject matter, some lighthearted, but all endlessly thoughtful. While I quite enjoyed the humor, of which this book does not lack, I couldn't help but also get emotional reading some of his more reflective and touching essays. Some of my favorites are: Harvey, Auld Lang Syne, googling strangers, and Super Mario Kart.

This is a personal love letter to planet Earth, to celebrate humanity and the wonders of being alive on this rock.

What does it mean to live in a world where you have the power to end species by the thousands, but you can also be brought to your knees, or to your end, by a single strand of RNA? I have tried here to map some of the places where my little life brushes up against the big forces shaping contemporary human experience, but the only conclusion I can draw is a simple one: We are so small, and so frail, so gloriously and terrifyingly temporary. (p. 273)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (2021)

Project Hail Mary cover

The Martian was such a fun read for me with all of the space and science nerdiness. I knew then that I had to keep an eye on Andy Weir. With Artemis, I opted to skip it due to lackluster reception. But after seeing so many rave reviews about Project Hail Mary, I figured I would give it a go.

Without spoiling too much, the premise of this book is that our protagonist woke up all by himself with amnesia on an interstellar mission to save humanity. What followed was a thrilling ride not unlike The Martian with incredible wit, humor, and such care into details any science and space nerd will surely appreciate. This novel puts the "science" of "science fiction" in the forefront and where there's fiction involved with the science, it's not too wacky or ridiculous that it took me out of the immersion of the story. My brain was willing to play along and remained engaged through to the end. This one is definitely a must-read if you enjoy a good sci-fi adventure.

Broadly speaking, the human brain is a collection of software hacks compiled into a single, somehow-functional unit. Each “feature” was added as a random mutation that solved some specific problem to increase our odds of survival.

In short, the human brain is a mess. Everything about evolution is messy. (p. 202-203)

If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future by Jill Lepore (2020)

If Then cover

I've heard quite a bit about Jill Lepore, especially from her widely-acclaimed These Truths (which I still plan to pick up one of these days), but it wasn't until when I acquired a signed copy of her most recent book If Then that I finally got a taste of her writing. This book tells a story about the now-defunct Simulmatics Corporation and its mission to target and manipulate US voters and consumers using behavioral data and prediction algorithms. Sounds pretty familiar right? It wasn't Facebook or Google who pioneered these techniques we've all become so familiar with in recent years. Over half a century before Donald Trump with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, there was John F. Kennedy with Simulmatics Corp., both men succeeding at the same audacious goal with the help of machines exploiting the same kinds of voter data.

This book wasn't originally going make my top list as I felt that large parts of it were quite dry and dragged on a bit too long with all the political details of the day and lives of men who I didn't particularly care about. I also wished that she had touched more on the technical details of the algorithms they used to do these predictions. But in the weeks since I finished this book, it has been stuck with me and I kept catching myself thinking back to it, especially the epilogue which I think was the strongest chapter. She draws parallels to what's happening now in the 21st century, and shows us that these hubristic ad men in the 60s were not all that dissimilar from tech execs in Silicon Valley today. This story also serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us that we've been through this before and that we shouldn't only just look forward to the future but to also look back at our history and not repeat the same mistakes again.

But the study of the human condition is not the same as the study of the spread of viruses and the density of clouds and the movement of the stars. Human nature does not follow laws like the law of gravity, and to believe that it does is to take an oath to a new religion. Predestination can be a dangerous gospel. The profit-motivated collection and use of data about human behavior, unregulated by any governmental body, has wreaked havoc on human societies, especially on the spheres in which Simulmatics engaged: politics, advertising, journalism, counterinsurgency, and race relations. Its rise also marked the near abandonment of humanistic knowledge. [...] The future was everything, the past nothing: a void, the humanities obsolete. Apollo reached the moon. Icarus reached the sun, and his wings did not melt. Instead, the light blinded him. (p. 324)


What I'm Looking Forward to in 2022

  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. I have been putting off reading these for too many years. So now I am publicly committing to reading them this year.
  • Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. I can always read more about the Asian American experience in the US. But I've also heard a lot about this book as it showed up in so many lists, and won the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Memoir.
  • Klara and the Sun by Sir Kazuo Ishiguro. Another book that I've seen a lot of people recommending, including by my friend Indira. It sounds like it's going to be a really thought-provoking read.
  • Rationality by Steven Pinker. I read both The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now, and personally found his writing style right up my alley. This is a follow-up book to that series with a topic that I'm already quite interested in.

  1. The signed copy I have is a delight in itself as not only that it has such a beautiful cover but there are also Easter eggs hidden throughout: from the circle drawings on the endpapers to his review of the copyright page. ↩︎




Immune by Philipp Dettmer


Overall a very informative and approachable book for such a mindblowingly complex subject. The text is easily digestible and engaging in the Kurzgesagt style I’ve come to know and love. There are a lot of analogies to illustrate scale or purpose of certain immune cell features which I found tremendously useful. And those beautiful graphics throughout the book really help visualize what our microscopic helpers look like and what they do.

However these immune cells are heavily anthropomorphized which I don’t like seeing too much with scientific subjects, but I understand that to not do so would make the book much less approachable.

I still highly recommend this for those looking to get a solid understanding of this system that keeps you alive.

Some interesting things I learned from this book:

  • It’s difficult for us to create medication against viruses because the way a virus works is that it needs to connect to our cell to infect it. And to do that, it needs to mimic the shape of the receptors. A drug that attacks the receptors on the virus has a high likelihood that it will also attack our own cells.
  • Developing an allergy is a two-step process. First the body needs to encounter the new allergen first, which our immune system will activate and create antibodies against the new allergen. But nothing happens this first time. The next time it encounters that allergen again is when our immune system starts attacking and that's the allergic reaction.
  • There are no scientifically-proven ways to boost your immune system. People that say so are just trying to sell you stuff.



Mindset by Carol S. Dweck


I totally agree with the main thesis of this book and she gives a lot of good advice and examples on how to apply it. And there lies the problem I have with this book. A large portion of it is just dedicated to examples and stories that I don’t really care about or add much to the central theme of this book. I found myself skimming through a lot of them so that I can get to the actual good parts.






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