MacBook Pro, 2017

After a lot back and forth in the last months, I finally ordered a new MacBook Pro after this years WWDC. It arrived here a week ago, so time to gather some first thoughts about it.

Initial impression: So light! Coming from a 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro and a 2014 13-inch MacBook Air, I expected it to be somewhere in the middle in regards of portability. But it feels very similar to the Air despite the larger footprint and the small increase in weight. Carrying it in my backpack I couldn’t care less about these differences, but the benefits when using this machine are just so much better.

It is my first retina computer, but I came around to use the display in a scaled mode at 1900 x 1200 pixels. This leaves me with enough space to run the same window configuration on both the builtin and my external monitor. Previously I would have different presets on what’s shown in the IDE and which windows are run in fullscreen or window mode.

One thing I am not completely sold on yet, is the Touchbar. I don’t have any direct issues with it and still manage to hit esc whenever I intend to do so. But I don’t see the advantage over the old function keys either. Of course the addition of Touch ID is a huge thing that finally made me upgrade my computer password to a stronger one. The keyboard works very well for me, so far not an issue for me, but I ditched my old Magic Keyboard as going back and forth between them felt weird.

Funny story related to the Touchbar: In the first few days I often ended up touching the screen and trying to use it as a touch screen. Probably related to the small distance between Touchbar and display. But failing to do this often enough, it’s not an issue any longer. (But maybe a touchscreen isn’t as bad as Apple thinks.)

Obligatory mention of the #donglelife: I try to bypass having a docking station or therelike by directly upgrading most cables to USB-C cables, so I just have one HDMI-dongle for whenever I need to connect to a projector and two tiny USB dongles just in case.

So let’s see how it holds up in the long run, but for now I am very happy with this machine.

Maintaining Different Git Identities

I like to have separate “identities” for my private and work stuff when using Git: Commits at work should be authored with my work email and commits in private projects with my private account. Until now I would always configure this per repository as soon as I noticed a commit done by the wrong email.

As I was setting up my new computer and edited the global .gitconfig, I wondered if there is a better way to keep this separate. Turns out there is one: With the release of version 2.13, Git introduced “Conditional Includes”.

With these includes I can set a specific gitconfig-file to be include for all repositories within a specific location. As I store all my work projects within the folder ~/Work, I set the default user-config to be my private one and include the work-specific configfile for all Git repositories within that location.

~/.gitconfig
[user]
name = Firstname Lastname
email = <private email address>
[includeIf "gitdir:~/Work/"]
path = .gitconfig-work
~/.gitconfig-work
[user]
name = Lastname, Firstname
email = <work email address>

The risk of being annoyed by wrongly associated commits is vastly smaller now — until I start checking out work projects to ~/Desktop/tmp for minor fixes.

To check your configuration, make sure to be in a directory which is tracked by Git. Non-Git directories will always show the default configuration:

$ cd ~/dev/justcurious
$ git config user.email
<private email address>
$ cd ~/Work/projectA
$ git config user.email
<work email address>
$ cd ~/Work/not-a-repo
$ git config user.email
<private email address>

Moving to a System Font Stack

The trends in webdesign are fairly short-lived. It’s a steady move between using different color palettes from pastel to neon colors and back. Currently there seems to be a trend to go back to that classic blue color (almost #00F) for links like Github changed to earlier to this year.

While I am not really fond of discussing colour schemes, something else appears to be happening that I welcome: the trend back to a system font stack. Native font stack means to use a font on websites which the user has already installed, skipping custom Webfonts. In the early years of the web this meant to choose a Font which was most likely to be available on all devices (like Verdana). The 20176 edition of this tackles it in a more sophisticated manner: Trying to find the best font available for each particular platform.

If you look at the (current) CSS rules of my website you will see this:

body{
font-family: -apple-system,
BlinkMacSystemFont,
"Segoe UI",
Roboto,
Oxygen-Sans,
Ubuntu,
Cantarell,
"Helvetica Neue",
sans-serif;
}

Quite lengthy – and there are plenty blogpost going into detail on which order is the right one: bitsofcode, CSS Tricks, Smashing Magazine. So if you’re on a Windows machine, you will read this text in Segoe UI; on a Mac in San Francisco and on an Android device in Roboto.

From a design perspective this might resemble a nightmare – not knowing how stuff will look at the user end – yet it comes with a clear technical benefit: there is no more need to deliver the font families along side the content. No more FOUT, FOIT or FOFT (seeing text in the wrong font or not at all until it has been loaded). Whenever I am somewhere with non-perfect Internet connectivity this drives me crazy.

For me it replaces a set of Google Web Fonts which where hasty picked based on what I saw on other websites. And surely there are websites where the font plays a huge part in the experience (for me that’s Medium for example). But personally I would prefer to have more websites use the system font than ill-suited Webfonts.

And just to be sure: Once everybody has seen enough of the new system fonts, the design trend will go back to Webfonts again. Hopefully the current issues around them are resolved in a standardized way by then.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 SE Review

The Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 SE

Two years ago I tested a couple of Bluetooth headphones and settled on the BackBeat Pro headphones by Plantronics. I have been very happy with them for the time being and it’s successor model, the BackBeat Pro 2, got good initial reviews I wanted to give them a try as well. This is my personal review after almost two weeks using them at work and at home. For the lack of any other comparisons I will mostly go into what’s different to the old pair.

Once unpacked the first impression that they are lighter and look way less bulky. And this impression also solidifies when putting them on: They feel lighter on the head and sit a bit more comfortable on the head. Thanks to the overhauled design I’m not looking like an alien as I did with the version one.

Comfort and Controls

The most distinct improvement first: For me the increased comfort while wearing the headphones justified the expense right away. As I would also call the old version comfortable, the new version fits my head better. Previously I had to take them off after an hour or so of usage because they would put a bit too much pressure on my ears. This has gotten definitely better and now I find myself wearing the headphones all through the morning for example. Yet the earcups could be just a tad thicker for even more comfort.

They sticked with the physical controls for all control elements on the headphones themselves. So without having to grab my device I can control the music player, adjust the volume, and take calls. In comparison to the old model the volume is now also adjusted on the left earcup and behaves more like buttons than the dial. And the OpenMic feature is now an additional option on the ANC switch. I like both changes as this behavior seems more intuitive than the context-depending actions on the previous model.

They also have the “smart” sensors for stopping the music when you take the headphones off, but I disabled this also for the new headphones after a few days as I find it rather confusing and sometimes even annoying.

Sound Quality

Albeit the sound is similar to the first version, the bass sounds a bit “fuller” for the lack of a better term. Yet they are still far from the bass heavy headphones from Beats and alike. As I listen mostly to Rock music I prefer the new sound signature.

The quality for calls is a bit of a mixed bag: In a mostly silent environment it’s okay and the person on the other end can understand me fairly good. But in a situation with more background noise, e.g. while walking down a crowded road, the quality deteriorates quite a bit and it’s harder to be understood. But the quality on my end has improved over the first version: It’s easy to understand the person you’re talking to without the small distortions the old headphones showed every couple of seconds.

A nice surprise was the improved quality when listening over the (old) SBC codec which is the only one supported by my old MacBook Pro. For all other input devices it supports the better aptX and AAC codecs.

Noise Canceling

The active noise canceling (ANC) hasn’t changed much as far as I can tell, regardless of what the Plantronics PR material says. I never listened to the Bose QX35 or the Sony MDR-1000X, so I can’t compare them with what’s proclaimed as the references for noise canceling on Bluetooth headphones (but also costs twice as much).

In everyday situations it blocks out some of the background noise like the cars and the generic sound baseline while commuting to work. Yet you can hear and understand announcements without much hassle. I like this actually quite a lot.

While working the headphones and the enabled ANC actually help me to concentrate by blocking large parts of the background noise, especially since there is a large construction site next to my office.

Other Observations

  • They removed the microphone from jack cable. Yet the cable (with mic) from the old headphones can be used without a problem.
  • The printed wood-imitation seems rather out of place. Not sure how well this ages when you use the controls often.
  • The multipoint Bluetooth connection (you can connect these headphones to two sources at the same time) is still a feature I love about these headphones.
  • Thanks to the new design I now also use the headphones also when leaving the house where I only used them stationary at my desk beforehand.
  • The “Special Edition” is probably not worth the higher price, if you don’t need NFC and don’t mind the different colors