Review: MacBook Pro 13.3” (128GB) [non-touch bar], refurbished, June 2017 model

25 years!

That’s how long I’ve been an almost exclusive user of Microsoft products (from early teen to nearly forty), particularly the Windows operating system on PCs. So, you could forgive me for boredom and foolhardiness that drove me into the arms of a Mac.

I’d temporarily had a Mac before, an obsolete hand-me-down as a taster, and in 2008 I had a netbook with Ubuntu on it, which I used quite happily for five years. Other than that, I only had PCs, and my smartphones and tablets were all Windows-based too. The demise of Windows Phone drove me to an Android, and I’m sure the freshness of that magnetised to me an Apple laptop when a second(!) Asus machine died of multiple failures. So, now I’m a tech-bohemian – I can be criticised and loved by all…

Given that I like to use computers for music-making, whether I see a recording project through, and I wanted my laptop as a secondary computer to my 5-years-and-still-running-well Windows desktop machine, the clear choice from Apple was a MacBook Pro. Being averse to their price tags I decided to opt for a refurbished one from Apple themselves, saving about £200! The machine is still current, and it looked retail to me! It came in a shrink-wrapped box that was marked as refurbished, but the machine itself looked untouched. The cable was surely new, as was the documentation (I also get the standard warranty).

I worried if the 128GB model would be cutting it for space but seeing as I use OneDrive cloud storage (my desktop holding a lot of content that I don’t access much) and that I could get an external drive for music project files, and that I had only used about 135GB in total (including Windows) on my desktop, I reasoned I could get away with it through shrewdness. And so far, it’s looking good. The machine came with 97GB usable space, and once I updated it and added all the programmes I use, and selectively downloaded from OneDrive, I was left with 70GB free. That’s plenty for me given that I don’t anticipate much new programs to add (I first saw if all the longstanding programs I use on PC were available on Mac, and they are) and music projects will often be transferred to PC for more comfortable editing. This laptop will help with more portable recording. If this machine was to be my primary computer, I think 256GB would be more rational, but it does cost you a bit more.

I’ve not found it too much of a leap from Windows as the basic concepts are the same and I’m getting used to the small intricacies.

While I’ve often criticised Apple buyers as money burners, there’s no doubting the build quality of this thing. It’s a stunning and strong silver aluminium with a Retina display. The lack of travel on the keys feels odd but I’m quickly getting used to it.

The machine’s thinness allows famed Apple ‘braveness’: there is just one headphone port and two USB-C/thunderbolt ports (either can be used to charge the laptop or connect devices). You can pick up a USB-C to 4xUSB-A (standard port) dongle for a tenner, and all your gadgets will be good to go. It might be inelegant, but not when the machine doesn’t need those ports, say when you’re just travelling and doing document editing/watching films. Some dongles allow you to use an SD card reader, if you so need it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my Office 365 Personal subscription allowed me to install it on this as well as my desktop as the license is technically for one PC or Mac, plus a tablet and a smartphone. Given that tablets are out of fashion and hybrid tablet-laptops muddy the category, that’s probably how it ended up fine. This subscription also gives me 1TB of OneDrive space, so all Android phone photos go straight there and onto my desktop. I’m leaving them un-downloaded on my Mac. So, this allows a bit of Microsoft-dependence-continuity, which I’m happy to continue with (e.g. OneDrive is more generous than iCloud, and Office and Outlook beat the OS X default equivalents; Pages, Numbers, Mail).

It’s early days so far but I’m pleased with the purchase, particularly if it has a long usable life. At least OS X updates are free like Windows ones are now. Future resale value might keep me on the Apple ladder. *shock*

I had briefly looked at the equivalent-priced Surface Laptop, which is a bit more generous in spec, but I figured that if you’re going for a pocket burn, it feels more justified by going for a radical experience.

There’ll be new MacBooks later this year, no doubt, but they won’t be a relative bargain on the refurb shop immediately, so I feel this was a good time to get one.

Mac OS Mojave is out soon and that will have a dark theme mode which is something I’ve enjoyed already on Android and Windows.

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We’re machines…

Men are PCs:

1. Utilitarian design
2. Often cheap
3. More likely to crash
4. Prone to viruses
5. Obscure methods of self-promotion
6. Perfectly adaptable to your needs

Women are Macs:

1. Attractive design
2. Better at multi-tasking
3. Accessories cost more
4. Hardware lasts a little longer
5. Better at advertising itself
6. Want you to do things their way

Depeche live, Kaspersky freeze, OnePlus refuge, Grenfell soreness

That hodgepodge of a post title is probably fairly unique on the internet, if also uninspired.

I saw Depeche Mode at the London Stadium last month and forgot to blog about it. Not the first time I’ve seen them (in fact, a good few times over 12yrs) but the first at a big outdoor venue (West Ham Football Club’s home). It was great. They filled that vast stadium with their particular brand of atmospheric electronic rock and everyone lapped it up.

The only sour end to the night was the London Bridge terror attack which was in the vicinity of the concert and had killed me and my girlfriend’s audio high as we looked at the news in shock. It’s terror like that that keeps me questioned when flying.

As for Kaspersky, well I use their Internet Security suite on my PC. I had been having some problems since the Windows 10 Creators update though, where a few minutes after booting the system would freeze and I would have to manually turn it off and worked out temporary methods to stop frozen reboots. With a bit of help from tech support from Russia I found out that it was actually Malware Bytes, sitting seemingly idly as a confirmation scanner, that was now causing a conflict with Kaspersky, and – what do you know – uninstalling Malware Bytes sorted me out. Just thought I’d share that for anyone who needs it.

OnePlus. I have a OnePlus 5 phone. Yes, I’ve moved from nearly 6 years of Windows Phone/Mobile to Android, and I’m totally happy. Not only am I on the most popular OS which has quenched my app desire but I have high-quality mid-range hardware to go with it. It’s all been smooth and I wish I’d left sooner as even Microsoft services excel (haha!) here over WP. I do have a fondness for my old smartphone OS choice but with decreasing support, no real new phones and an uncertain Surface Phone, I just wanted to float on stable waters.

I haven’t talked about the now-famous Grenfell tower. Partly because of immense coverage everywhere and some internal soreness over the issue. I used to live in that area from birth to around 18 months, not in that tower but exceedingly close. I have pictures of where I lived but I can’t connect it to real memories as I was so small.

I saw the tower recently while travelling on the Tube. You’d normally ignore it as any grey building, but currently that charcoal-black-warzone-looking wreck stands out ominously and everyone looks at it on the carriage. It’s worse up close, and even worse is that it’s seemingly the result of a cascade of errors. A friend’s grandmother lost an acquaintance there.

I hope that justice is delivered and that this never happens again. I also hope that I can avoid being immediately around bad news.

I’d write more but I’m feeling quite yawny already early this evening, in a summer that wants to be autumn prematurely.

Iron Maiden @ The O2, 28/5/17

Another weekend, another event. I and a friend were actually pencilled in for this long before last week’s and one next week.

When I saw Megadeth a couple of years ago, it was a day after the Bataclan shooting in Paris and I was nervous: I was seeing an American heavy metal band in Wembley Arena. It turned out fine though; in fact I was quite happy about given a quick frisk in security, given that people of my look are the guilty parties.

Now I was seeing Iron Maiden after the Ariana Grande bombing in the more closer Manchester. Some artists cancelled their dates and venues even allowed customers to get refunds for active shows. I wasn’t put off though, because I had come to realise that attending an event immediately after a terror attack is likely the safest time because of the alert. The O2 always had security machines to pass through but now I saw more police on patrols than usual.

This was the first time I attended a ticketless event – ticketless because Maiden did an honourable move to prevent touting where you could only attend with photo ID and the card you purchased with. Unfortunately, my card had been replaced because of use at a suspected compromised cash machine, and I forgot I needed that old card for Maiden before I scissored it up. I worked out that email confirmation would help me out but it wasn’t too clear where to go, but I was sorted out at the box office. And I was not alone as there were at least 30 others who didn’t have a valid card for various reasons.

We sat down just in time for the end of support band Shinedown, and as support bands go they were just another generic one. All I remember of them was fists in the air.

40 mins later, Maiden come on. Or, first, there was a little video of their mascot Eddie in some sort of Doom-game like-thing. Then the lights came up on their Mayan-themed stage (because recent The Book of Souls album is framed that way) and they went through mostly new songs with some older classics.

It has to be known that I’m not a huge Maiden fan. I mainly tagged along because a friend not usually in to concerts wanted to go and he turned it into a late birthday present for me. I prefer their energetic earlier stuff (Powerslave is my favourite album, I love every track on that) and think their longer, mid-paced, proggier stuff of recent times can sometimes test my patience (consider that my favourite type of metal is the more zesty American thrash). But as a whole package I thought it was a great show. It was very theatrical and you know you’re having fun when it seems like you haven’t had enough.

Singer Bruce Dickinson ended with a little speech about Manchester, pointing out that there are lunatics all over the world (Trump was quite emphasised) and that the house of Maiden is welcome to all (whatever colour, religion, sexuality or other persuasion) who come in peace. You could argue that it was schmaltzy but it was a good way of saying that if you give in to fear and you buy into division, we’re all doomed. Apparently, there were more people at this show than on the sold-out first London night.

Set list here. Also check out this fan vid of the song Powerslave live from there.

PS: WordPress informs me that this blog has reached its 10th anniversary. It’s limped along in recent years, but it’s alive.

Omid Djalili @ Hammersmith Apollo, 20/5/17

I don’t frequently see live comedy (any time I’ve been, including this, has been at someone else’s expense) but whenever I do I always think ‘why don’t I go more’? They’re often cheaper than musical events and you walk away just as entertained, and also a little less tired.

Omid is a British-Iranian comedian who is very visible in that he’s appeared in films and TV. One almost risqué quality of his material is that much of it is race-based – but not racist. His contemporary David Baddiel points out that he gets away with it because of his innocent naiveté (there’s no malice and he makes fun of himself too), and most likely because of his ethnicity. I once heard Omid describe himself as an adopted (South) Asian. And why wouldn’t we take him in when we’re happy for him to be a representative?

The 90min support slot was admirably supported by Boothby Graffoe with his guitar, and Omid’s jokes covered Trump, Brexit (yes, I found his anti-Brexit stuff funny) and any other thing that’s currently or timelessly topical. I would be interested in buying any possible DVD for this Shmuck for a Night tour – in which the Apollo was the closing date.

Going back to the material. I remember liking some comedy when growing up that was in hindsight racist. Why? Though race-based material can often be low-brow, it can still be funny. My thought process on viewing such things is “yes, this is a stereotype, and it’s even exaggerated. I find it funny not because I hate myself or that who is being targeted, but just because it’s an observation that can be used to entertain and not necessarily be malicious.” The problem only is in the intent of the comedian (Bernard Manning, for example, was pretty funny, but it seems quite clear that he genuinely believed other ethnicities are inferior). You could even have a fan that misinterprets what Omid says, but given that his liberal-left leanings are obvious in his other material there probably won’t be many of those.

And I don’t think being white disallows you from good-hearted race-based material. Al Murray pulls it off very successfully with his xenophobic Pub Landlord character.

There was even what could be seen as a sexist joke from Omid – but all the women were laughing. I remember in the 90s that there was a backlash against anything that could be seen as prejudicial, but I think the balance is just right with comedy at the moment: Be funny, by whatever means. But don’t be cruel.

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On another note, the historian Tom Holland followed-up his previous documentary on the genesis of Islam with one that examined ISIS and the genocide of Yazidis. I didn’t watch this one. I thought the other one was fine, but on deciphering that he places human tragedies in ranking order rather than equally, I now find him a bit suspect, in terms of his conclusions rather than his research.

Bladed boomerangs always return injuries

My country’s turn again yesterday for a terror attack.

The only people who should be getting media coverage are the victims and heroes, not the attacker.

The other people who shouldn’t be given coverage are those using the event as some kind of evidence for their illogical politics.

If the attacker did represent all Muslims, London would have been reduced to a crater a long time ago. Why is Abdul Sattar Edhi not seen as representative of all Muslims? Click that link. No one represents anyone but themselves; Muslims, like people of other or no religion, are too diverse to subscribe to groupthink politics. And even where politics are shared, actions are not.

We shouldn’t worry about Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson either because if they held the common view of white Britons, London would also have been reduced to a crater a long time ago.

Most far-rightists and Islamists etc. are all mouth. Those who shed blood are mercifully even less.

Also consider this: Why did we worry about the IRA largely until the Good Friday Agreement? Why have we been worried about Islamists since then?

Bladed boomerangs always return injuries.

Lost in Trans-lation

Yesterday, The Times published an article (pay-walled, though free access is possible) by Jenni Murray titled ‘Be trans, be proud – but don’t call yourself a “real woman”‘ which explained that biologically and experience-wise there’s no real analogousness between a born-woman and a transgendered woman. It didn’t call for any hatred of transgender people, however.

Not entirely unexpectedly, the article riled a lot of people: there’s those who defend what Murray wrote (me included) and those who think that her pointing out a differentiation was alienating. While I’m sympathetic to transgendered people, at risk of sounding deeply conservative, I do think some things are getting out of hand.

It must be incredibly hard to go through life with a mental gender that is incompatible with your biological sex and that deserves sympathy and compassion, and certainly a lot of psychological support. But I think medicines and surgical techniques which were designed to treat, for example, intersex conditions, have been misused for gender reassignments. Not least because some people regret their transition, but because it’s very invasive and it still doesn’t make you an authentic woman (sorry).

A transgendered woman will not ever be chromosomally (coded) female. A fully-grown man will have a brain programmed by high testosterone, plain hips, an Adam’s apple and other male features that are not muted by gender reassignment. You can put on a dress, grow long hair or get a wig, but you’ll still easily be recognised as a male in denial by both men and women. This is also why some want gender reassignment to be offered to confused children because they can be better physically moulded, yet I don’t think a pre-pubertal child has the ability to make an informed choice.

I recently saw a photo of a gender-neutral toilet which was converted from a women’s toilet. There was no conversion of the men’s toilet or the disabled toilet (which is gender-blind anyway). Why? I can make assumptions: a) the company didn’t want to spend money on an extra room for a facility (transgendered people are very rare, I don’t know any), and b) because transgendered people are likely often men transitioned to women it’s easy to serve both women and transgender women by toilet bowels without urinals. However, as some women have pointed out, this rightly would unnerve many women. If a transgendered woman has a vagina, other women are not going to check for this and will be alarmed at someone probably in a dress, with an Adam’s apple and male hips walking in. If the transgendered person hasn’t had the operation and they just want to urinate, they’d be better standing in front of a urinal in the men’s toilet.

While transgender women feel an affinity with born-women, it’s not a mutually exclusive thing. Women can’t see a fellow sister in someone who is chromosomally male and grew up so. Their social and biological experiences are very different. Women who transition to men would find the same problem.

Intersex is a different thing. A child will likely have features that are more one than the other and will likely connect their gender identity to that. Not only is it easy to shape ambiguity it’s welcome when it’s done young. They will therefore always really be what they’re assigned.

It’s not different to preference for different ethnic features. The black activist Rachel Dolezal was criticised for having a very dark tan, an Afro-Caribbean haircut and conjuring up a story about her ancestry which helped get her job. While, she’s entirely free to modify her appearance, this does not make her a real black woman. Just like Michael Jackson’s skin-bleaching did not make him ethnically white.

The loss or acquisition of body parts doesn’t mean much either. If a woman loses her breasts or womb, she isn’t now somewhat male. If a man loses his testicles or prostate, he’s not now somewhat female. If synthetic hormones weren’t devised for HRT you wouldn’t see transgender operations as viable at all, which is why it’s a bit of a manufactured problem.

I think Murray is right to say that there are women and transgendered women and men and transgendered men. It is better to own the transgender tag because it is unique and you don’t feel alienated by the unacceptance from the gender you want to be and aren’t really.