Archive for April 9, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The 12-inch MacBook

The way Apple’s presentation focused on the new MacBook’s keyboard, you might think it was better for typing, the way all keyboards would be someday. Jason Snell finds otherwise:

Apple seems to have realize that the reduced travel has made this keyboard less appealing, and has attempted to offset the change with a bunch of other changes that improve the typing experience. There’s a new butterfly key mechanism atop stainless steel dome switches, which Apple says increases key stability, and the keys are all a bit wider than on a traditional keyboard, so there’s more area to hit on each key.

These changes help, but they don’t really offset the reduced travel. The MacBook keyboard’s better than I expected it to be—I was able to score 118 words per minute on TypeRacer using it—but it never felt particularly comfortable. If you’re not a keyboard snob, you may not even notice the difference, but if there’s any single feature that would make me reluctant to buy a MacBook, it would be the keyboard.


The Esc key has been elongated and the function keys narrowed, which didn’t really bother me. However, the redesign of the arrow keys really shook me–the up and down arrows are still half-height, but the left and right arrows are now full sized. It turns out that I used the gaps above the left and right arrow keys on prior keyboards to orient by feel, so I knew which arrow key was which. On the MacBook’s keyboard, there’s no longer a gap–and I kept having to look down to make sure I was tapping the up arrow key.

Jason Snell:

I’ve got to say that I’m not a fan of the new keyboard. Apple played the other enhancements that the keyboard offers, such as increased stability and wider keys, as attempts to offset some of the costs of the reduced key travel. That makes me hopeful that Apple sees this keyboard as what it is—a pretty serious compromise in order to get the computer thinner—rather than some breakthrough new keyboard that will be replicated on every other Apple keyboard in the next year or two.

If you don’t type a whole lot, or very fast, you may not care about the substantially reduced key travel. And you can get used to it. But it’s just a tiny step up from typing on flat touchscreen glass.

Jim Dalrymple:

The arrow keys took the most time to get used to. Surprising, I know. However, I use the up and down arrow keys a lot to navigate email messages and RSS feeds and those keys are quite close together—in fact, they are the only two keys on the keyboard that are so close together. It’s like the person that designed the keyboard doesn’t use those two keys and put them together like that because it looked better. At any rate, those keys are just taking a bit longer for me to use without error. I hope for a change in the future.

Keyboard aside, it sounds nice for what it is. It’s not for me, though. After the 12-inch MacBook was announced, I bought an 11-inch MacBook Air to use as an auxiliary Mac. It’s small enough to fit on the desk next to my main Mac, much faster than the 12-inch MacBook, and has a Thunderbolt port for connecting my drive dock.

Update (2015-04-24): Thomas Brand:

I made the same decision to purchase an 11-inch MacBook Air last year to use as my auxiliary Mac.

In addition to having Thunderbolt and twice as many USB ports as the new MacBook, my 11-inch MacBook Air comes with the security of MagSafe, the expandability of upgradable storage, the compatibility of Mavericks, the availability of an easy to install battery, and the comfort of a familiar keyboard. For those who care, the new MacBook does have a retina display, Force Touch, and a gold exterior, but as an auxiliary Mac such features come with a noticeable price tag. (Both machines have comparable performance.)

Note that Bare Feats compared the 11-inch MacBook Air from 2014, which runs at 1.4 GHz rather than the 1.6 GHz of the current model.

David Sparks:

I typed about 500 words of text on it and it didn’t repel me, but it most certainly is different. The key travel is shorter and would take some getting used to. The lower amount of travel might be a deal breaker after using it for a few days but after just a half hour, it felt more strange than terrible.

Yosemite-Only Security Fixes

Emil Kvarnhammar:

The Admin framework in Apple OS X contains a hidden backdoor API to root privileges. It’s been there for several years (at least since 2011), I found it in October 2014 and it can be exploited to escalate privileges to root from any user account in the system.

The intention was probably to serve the “System Preferences” app and systemsetup (command-line tool), but any user process can use the same functionality.

Apple has now released OS X 10.10.3 where the issue is resolved. OS X 10.9.x and older remain vulnerable, since Apple decided not to patch these versions. We recommend that all users upgrade to 10.10.3.

This sounds like a serious bug that Apple should fix for previous OS versions as well. Not everyone can update to Yosemite, and some don’t want to yet because of bugs. Mavericks was the current OS version less than six months ago. It’s too early to abandon it.

Quoted Domain Specific Languages

Shayan Najd, Sam Lindley, Josef Svenningsson, and Philip Wadler (PDF, via Lambda):

We describe a new approach to domain specific languages (DSLs), called Quoted DSLs (QDSLs), that resurrects two old ideas: quotation, from McCarthy’s Lisp of 1960, and the subformula property, from Gentzen’s natural deduction of 1935. Quoted terms allow the DSL to share the syntax and type system of the host language. Normalising quoted terms ensures the subformula property, which guarantees that one can use higher-order types in the source while guaranteeing first-order types in the target, and enables using types to guide fusion. We test our ideas by re-implementing Feldspar, which was originally implemented as an Embedded DSL (EDSL), as a QDSL; and we compare the QDSL and EDSL variants.

Mailman 3.0

Sumana Harihareswara (via Hacker News):

More than a decade after its last major rewrite, the GNU Mailman mailing list manager project aims to release its 3.0 suite in April, during the sprints following PyCon North America. Mailman 3 is a major rewrite that includes a new user membership system, a REST API, an archiver replacement for Pipermail, and a better web interface for subscriptions and settings — but it carries with it a few new dependencies as well.


The architecture and user interfaces of previous versions of Mailman reflect a different era of the web, and of application interoperability. Mailman 2 was a single codebase, written in Python 2, encompassing a rudimentary web application for subscription and list management (and incorporating the Pipermail web archiver) as well as the engine for receiving, moderating, and propagating messages. Lead developer Barry Warsaw explained in the overview he wrote for The Architecture of Open Source Applications that, beyond the browser-based interface, Mailman 2 also offered a dedicated command-line interface, and a Python internal API that system administrators could integrate with by writing Python code.

In contrast, Mailman 3 is a suite of five connected projects, each of which can run independently[…]

AnyBar and SuperDuper

Dr. Drang:

Today, One Thing Well posted an article on a utility called AnyBar, written by Nikita Prokopov, that lets you put a colored dot in your menubar by sending your computer a UDP message. As soon as I read the article, I knew I could make some use of it.


Instead of putting a bunch of words on my Desktop, I could just put a colored dot in my menubar—green for a successful backup, red for a failure.

Update (2015-04-24): Dr. Drang:

Unbeknownst to all of us, though, was TextBar a $3 app from Rich Somerfield that already does what T.J. wants. It doesn’t display graphics, but with Emoji and the rest of Unicode, I doubt that’s a significant limitation. TextBar seems to have a simpler user interface, especially when you want to display more than one signal in your menubar, but it’s meant to be used only for signals that are updated regularly. AnyBar is more flexible, but that flexibility comes with reduced simplicity.


Brian Webster:

PowerPhotos will be free for all existing iPhoto Library Manager customers. Due to the smaller feature set, I’ve decided to offer PowerPhotos at a lower price point of $19.95. iPhoto Library Manager 4 will continue to be sold at its current price of $29.95, and will also include a free copy of PowerPhotos; the serial number you receive with your purchase can be used with both programs. This also applies to existing iPLM customers, who can just use their existing serial number with PowerPhotos. iPhoto is not disappearing overnight, so iPhoto Library Manager will continue to be supported as well.

Git Tower’s Yosemite Design

Fabricio Rosa Marques:

We recently updated Tower to make it feel even more at home on Mac OS X Yosemite. We touched many areas of the app over the course of several updates. Now, we want to share our experience from bringing an app to Mac OS X 10.10.


In some cases it can become tricky to decide whether to treat certain aesthetics system-specifically or just go for a "yosemitized" look on all system. Targeting specific OS versions might bloat the app and will make managing your app's aesthetics harder, so you need to draw a line and compromise at some point.