Analysis of the Macbook charger

Ken Shirrif did an excellent tear-down on the Mac laptop chargers.  Impressive.

The chargers are generally speaking, terrific.  In particular, it has a small microcontroller that serves as a watchdog, and turns the rest of the charger on and off when connected (or not).  This is laudable from an energy conservation perspective!

I have one pet peeve that has two root causes:

1) The outer coaxial conductor is aluminum, which work hardens and gets brittle over time, especially when the outer insulation layer gets stiffer. I think this is why the newer cables are even more problematic than the older ones.  Coaxial conductors are terrific for reducing radio noise, especially with a switching power supply, but don’t go well around tight radius curves.

2) People aren’t very good about not pulling on their cables and wrapping them tightly around corners. This is a particular problem right at the connection points on both ends. It’s fundamental to human behavior: people do what the object ‘affords,’ and cables look like they are meant to be wrapped up and pulled on. (Read Donald Normal’s “The Design of Everyday Things” for a good explanation of James J. Gibson’s “Theory of Affordances.”)

Bottom line: Apple would be well served to move away from the ‘pretty’ round coax able design and move to a flat design with more and thinner conductors, so that the strain between the outer side and inner side was reduced when going around sharper corners. Adding cable connectors so that the cable is replaceable, not just the whole charger, would also help.

(I posted a shorter version of this in a comment on Ken Shirrif’s blog.)

Dak

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Apple’s OS X “El Capitan” first impressions

TL;DR: Faster, more secure, better looking, and the latest thing.
I upgraded last night.  NOTE:  it’s BIG (6 GB).  For those of you still have data caps, this can be a problem.  Start the process, and then go to bed.
What’s great so far:
1) You can see the new usability features from help.apple.com website, which is the first specific item in the Help menu in Finder:
The El Capitan Finder help menuThe El Capitan Finder help menu
In my case, upgrading from Yosemite (10.10), this points to:
2) The new font.  You will hardly notice it, except that the user interface looks…clearer.  Apple has chosen a font that will look great on Retina and non-Retina displays.  I am typing this on my trusty workhorse of a 2009 iMac, and it looks very clean and clear.
3) Faster graphics (including text rendering).  Much of the old OS X was built on top of OpenGL.  OpenGL is still in place, but now the library graphics calls in use by all apps are going straight to the Metal…which is Apple’s new “more direct to the hardware” API for rendering graphics, first debuted on iOS, where it made rich 3D games possible with lower CPU and therefore power use.  Think of it as DirectX for the Mac.
This means it will be faster for you, including on old machines, and it doesn’t break anything.  Note to business folks:  when developers tell you “we need a layer of abstraction” this is why.  These changes are invisible under the layer of abstraction which is the Mac programming API.  The developers are free to make things work faster and better, without breaking existing programs.
4) Application Transport Security.  A huge number of applications (all platforms, sadly) either don’t use modern encrypting transports when talking to web applications and/or web services.  Even worse, in some ways, they use the secure transports badly, giving the impression of security without the full benefit.  This enables things like “man in the middle” attacks, where your information that should be secure can be intercepted by an untrusted third party.  ATS enforces “works or breaks” in using application transport security by:
     a) requiring applications in OS X and iOS to use the latest secure transport, TLS 1.2.  Previous versions are known to be broken from a security standpoint.
     b) Except:  exceptions for particular domains may be made, but must be explicitly listed. (This is a small lie; you can tell ATS to allow unsecured.  BUT DON’T DO THAT.)
     c) Only ciphers which support forward security are supported.  This obsoletes a number of cyphers which permit men in the middle attacks, as above.
NOTE: 4. breaks a number of applications.  THIS IS A GOOD THING, THEY NEEDED TO BE FIXED.  IF the development companies decide NOT to fix them, there’s a work-around…but don’t do it, *you are betraying your customers by doing so*.  Take the (minimal) time and DO IT RIGHT.  (Sorry for the CAPS).
Remember, these are just first impressions.  I will post a follow-up later. Looking forwards to trying out some of the new features (full screen split screen!).
Have an excellent day,
Dak

Quick article excerpt for the day…on Apple’s business strategy and software leadership.

Steve Jobs at the WWDC 07
Image via Wikipedia

There are many useful business strategies for companies, and many of these are executed successfully up to the point of a crisis, at which point the companies must re-invent themselves or die.  It seems to me that most hardware vendors (RIM, Motorola, Scientific Atlanta) are caught in a ‘how do we race to the bottom on price and still preserve our margins?’.

This article (Steve Jobs Speaks Candidly About the State of Apple and Its Competitors.) suggests that Apple does it differently.  There are many interesting points, but this one struck me as being especially important, both in illuminating Apple’s strategy, and in highlighting how real strategies must be explicit, not implicit, and sometimes reinventing the company strategy is the most critical thing that an executive can do.

“Because Apple looks at things from a software-driven standpoint first and then works to iterate and make the product better while keeping the price the same (or lowering the price), as it did with the iPod, the company doesn’t look at its line and make decisions based on features in order to lower the price, expecting the software to magically perform.”

In my opinion, Software requires real investment, process, and sustainability.  As a software leader, I guide the software team to make our work a key feature of what the company is offering to the customer, not an afterthought.  Apple clearly gets it.  Microsoft gets it (finally?); see Windows 7.

RIM *could*, if they make the Blackberry a great platform for developers, and see their own software on it as being pivotal.  RIM still has best-in-class email and instant messaging, and Outlook integration, but these advantages are starting to erode.  There is still time for RIM to awaken, but the clock is ticking…

Thanks again for reading,
Dak

Saving paper, saving time through PDF

I imagine that you’ve thought about trying to reduce the amount of paper you handle.

A good place to start is reducing the amount of paper you generate.

A GREAT place to start that is to quit printing documents for reference, just keep them on your computer.

Saving output to PDF is a great place to start, and you can do it for free. PDF isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for capturing page images, so it’s a great substitute for paper.

HOW TO, and how it pays off:
Continue reading “Saving paper, saving time through PDF”

Saving paper, saving time through PDF

I imagine that you’ve thought about trying to reduce the amount of paper you handle.

A good place to start is reducing the amount of paper you generate.

A GREAT place to start that is to quit printing documents for reference, just keep them on your computer.

Saving output to PDF is a great place to start, and you can do it for free. PDF isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough for capturing page images, so it’s a great substitute for paper.

On the Mac (OS X only): print your document, and use the PDF link to save a copy.
(Yes, “It just works.”)

On Windows, install CutePDF and use the virtual printer that it creates to save your output to PDF.

In both cases, be sure to check that the information you wanted is in the printout!

If you want to REDUCE the paper you print, but need a few reference pages:

On Mac (OS X): print your document, and use the Preview link to send the PDF to the Preview application. Print the just the pages you need.

On Windows: use the page preview menu item (if supported in the application), and print just the pages you need. If page preview is NOT supported, create a PDF (see above) and print just the pages you need.

Unfortunately, PDF isn’t the greatest format for archiving, but it’s a good step in the right direction.

Best,
Dak