Quick Thoughts on the new MacBook Pro (with touchbar)

After 5 years of service, my trusty, much-loved iMac died suddenly (and of course, in the middle of trying to meet a crazy deadline). We also had a 5-year old MacBook Pro in the house – the family computer, and my backup computer.

Because I work from home (which means I work from coffee shops, and other people’s offices, it made sense to replace the iMac with a laptop). After briefly flirting with the idea of a) switching to windows and b) getting a refurbished older MacBook, I took the plunge and ordered the brand-spanking new MacBook Pro 15″ with Touchbar (I need a shorthand for that. TouchBook? MBPT? Ehhh). This new system, like all first-generation Apple products, has not been without its issues.

Following personal priorities, I ordered a version with the 2.9 GHz quad-core i7 CPU, Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB, and the standard 500GB HDD (my rules: always max-out CPU/GPU capabilities on a laptop, deal with everything else). I’ve had the system for about 8 hours, so these are all early impressions:

The Good

  • The screen! Oh, the screen. It is so, so lovely. I’m somewhat colourblind, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see the new color range, but I can absolutely, 100% see the difference, particularly when looking at my photos. It’s one of those “it’s hard to describe but you’ll know it when you see it” differences.
  • The keyboard. My favourite-ever OS-X era Mac keyboard. So clicky! It feels much like an old-school mechanical keyboard, despite very clearly being not at all.
  • Can run ALL THE THINGS. I usually am working with several VMs. On the old iMac, I would regularly run out of RAM, so I’d habitually spin up a VM, work, shut it down when done and move to the next project, spin it up, etc. Doubling the RAM has made that unnecessary – I’ve currently got 4 VMs up and running for my current projects. With all those running, I could still play Civ VI without the system breaking a sweat.
  • Games: I don’t do a lot of graphics work, apart from photo-editing and the occasional video. But! I do play games. I played both Civ VI and Cities: Skylines last night, and was able to play *both* in “High Performance” mode, for the first time ever on a mac. It was so lovely!
  • Touchbar: TouchID makes virtually every issue ok. Interestingly, it would appear that the “needs admin password” is not some sort of “core” system, because, while anytime an Apple app asks for it, I can use TouchID, I couldn’t, for instance, use TouchID to give Adobe permission to install Lightroom. As apps update, touchID will just become better and better. But 1Password + TouchID is everything. I’ve just started customizing the touchbar, and I think that as I do that, I’ll come to like it more and more.

The Bad

  • Touchpad: It’s too. damn. big. It feels weird. I keep getting issues from my palms touching it while I type. Because it is so big, I have to retrain some gestures that expect me to use the whole space: 4-finger pinch, swipe from edge, etc. I’m also not a fan of how it “clicks” – this is similar to my issues with the new home button on the iPhone 7 – they both are in the “uncanny valley” of clicking for me, that somehow makes them feel cheap and plastic, not nice and solid.
  • Touchbar: I know, I know, I liked it. But – I keep accidentally tapping it with my fingers and having weird things happen – in particular the escape button. Also, I sure wish that the touchbar provided haptic feedback so it felt like I was clicking on something, rather than brushing against it.
  • RAM: I know I just said above that it could do all the things. But given that 16GB is the “currently comfortable amount” of RAM I need to do my work, I worry greatly that this will artificially limit the lifespan of the computer to 2-3 years, instead of the 5-6 I’m hoping for.
  • Buggy: I’ve already had to restart the computer twice because of weird issues: The first time, all of a sudden the system was no longer recording clicks within app windows. Anything outside worked, but not within. The second time the keyboard just stopped working. couldn’t type anything. Super weird. All things that can be fixed via OS Updates, but annoying. I’m used to not restarting my macs for months on end, not every day.

Review: Wolf Parade and The Pack AD at The Imperial

Some seven years after the last time I saw them, I went with Leah to see Wolf Parade at the Imperial last night. &, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But let’s start with the Pack AD, who’re amazing, impeccable and can rock. I’m pretty sure I saw them a long time ago when they were participating in Shindig (maybe 2007? so after I was there every week, but before I stopped going entirely). I have a personal fondness for the stripped-down sounds of a guitar-drum two-piece. Add in serious vocal chops and yeah – just see the Pack AD if you enjoy garage rock, at all. There’s a line in their official bio that is pretty perfect, and true:

the Pack A.D. have owned every spotlight and stolen every show they’ve ever played. Becky and Maya are relentless and riveting, playing with the kind of fuck-off freedom that makes everybody in the room vicarious rock stars, even if it’s just for the night.

Wolf Parade is really a tale of two bands: Spencer Krug’s Wolf Parade, and Dan Boeckner’s Wolf Parade. And they really are two bands dressed up at once explains why still, some seven years later, the same line still applies – they don’t really know how to run a concert. There’s awkward silences (they had technical difficulties tonight as well), for most of the night there didn’t seem to be a lot of joy on stage, and while no one can fault their musicianship, they didn’t seem particularly tight for a band that’s been around as long as they have (even given their long hiatus).

Songs that Spencer (keyboards) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are synth/keyboards-driven melodic garage pop. They are ambitious, involve everyone in the band, are lyrically more diverse. Songs that Dan (guitar) sings lead on (and presumably, wrote), are straight-up guitar-driven guitar rock. Both are excellent – but different. I definitely have a preference, based on last night’s show, on Spencer’s version of the band (at the same time, it wouldn’t be nearly as good a band, or show, if it was just his stuff). Everyone seemed more involved, more together on those songs. Perhaps they are more difficult to play? Not sure.

It’s worth noting that by the end of the night, they’d really come together. What was a really rough start was totally put aside by their finale, an amazing, long, high-energy jam to end the night. It was the first time all night I saw Dan and Spencer looking at each other, smiling, playing with each other. If that’s the band that’ll show up the next couple of nights (this was the first of 3 shows at the Imperial this week), everyone else is in for a real treat.

2016 — my year in books

Liam reads an Elephant & Piggie book to Kellan

I made a New Years’ resolution in 2016 to diversify my reading — not by genre, but by author. I had realized that in 2015, of 26 books that I read, 22 were written by white men — an astounding 85%. So I had a goal to flip that percentage in 2016. Here’s how I did, in a quick summary of books:

  1. Golden Fool (The Tawny Man Trilogy #2), by Robin Hobb
    I love everything by Robin Hobb, and have loved every page of now 8 Fitz books by her. They’re true page-turners in the best meaning of that.
  2. Brooklyn, by Colm Toíbín
    I hated this book. I read it because of reviews and the movie (which I also hated) … and I should’ve stopped about 20 pages in, but I just kept reading, alternately to see whether it would redeem itself (no) or what it felt like to hate-read an entire book (not good).
  3. Fool’s Assassin (Fitz & the Fool #1), by Robin Hobb
    This new series, set when Fitz is much older, is heart-breaking for fans of the series and so, so good.
  4. Fool’s Quest (Fitz & the Fool #2), by Robin Hobb
    See above.
  5. A Man In Love (My Struggle #2), by Karl Ove Knausgård
    If my darkest inner voices were given public attention, perhaps they might sound like this. It is brutal honesty (although fictional? maybe? I hope? A devastating book.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
    So! Much! Fun! I don’t know why I didn’t immediately get the next one in the series, except that I wanted to let Kell ruminate in my mind for a while, this was such a lovely tale.
  7. The Hidden Oracle (Trials of Apollo #1), by Rick Riordan
    So, I’ve read all of the various Percy Jackson-related books to, and with the kids, so I got this one too — and the magic is gone, and Liam didn’t care and I regret reading this.
  8. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie
    Onto book two, where the gender-fuck of the first book has become normalized and the characters, story and setting can truly shine. This is my favourite of the series.
  9. The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1), by N. K. Jemisin
    An amazing, different take on magic in a dystopian (future?) society. Possibly my favourite book of the entire year.
  10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
    The buzziest book I read all year (an Oprah bookclub selection!) that totally held up despite the hype. I loved the magic-realism of the device of a real underground railroad, and it was heartbreaking and hard and beautiful. Contains the most gut-wrenching sentence I read all year (which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t share).
  11. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2), by N. K. Jemisin
    Not quite as good as The Fifth Season as it normalizes into a fairly standard fantasy/odyssey book, but still well-worth the journey if you love the characters as I do.
  12. Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3), by Ann Leckie
    Read this as a meditation on the a nature of identity and empathy and, well, yeah. There’s so much going on in this book, in this series. It should probably be the subject of several academic think-pieces.
  13. The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
    I needed a Neil fix, and was getting on a plane, and this did the trick (It’s a solid habit to read one book by Neil Gaiman every single year, IMO). It’s all over the place. The best thing though is his unabashed love of Books, in all their forms, and the humans who write them. I added a dozen books, by a dozen authors, to my wishlist from reading this (NB: I’m still reading this. I have read a few sections between each of the rest of the books this year).
  14. A Heart so White, by Javier Marías (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
    I struggled mightily with this book — It came highly recommended by my mum, who rarely is wrong about these things, and, much like reading Shakespeare, it takes a while to wrap your head around the language and format, but once I did, wow! I read it nearly twice over.
  15. Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1), by Dianna Wynne Jones
    Silly, simple fun. Ends before I was ready for it, but also definitely felt a little dated.
  16. Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse #6), by James S. A. Corey
    The best entry in the series since book 3. Either you love The Expanse, or you haven’t read it yet.
  17. The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1), by Ken Liu
    I learned of Ken Liu through reading Cixin Liu, and, am so much the richer for it. This book deserves all the accolades it received, but, it took me a while to get through it, as I didn’t get fully into until about 100 pages in.
  18. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers
    This book is sci-fi equivalent of a Belle & Sebastian album. It is lovely and twee, and not quite what I hoped it was. That being said, I immediately started reading the follow-up, so there you go.
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2), by Becky Chambers
    The first book in the series was self-published — I don’t know if this one was, but it feels so much tighter that I wonder if it at least a new, better editor was found. A similar feel to the first one, only moreso, in all the right ways.

I fell way short of my goal for reading this year — I was aiming for 40 books, and didn’t even crack 20. Of 19, 6 were written by men, or 32% — which also fell way short of my goal of reading only 10% white men. But, a definite improvement over my previous habits. Noticeably, when browsing the Kobo store, the recommended books are much more diverse in authorship than they were prior to this.
I’m hoping for follow-ups from Robin Hobb, V. E. Schwab, N. K. Jemisin & Ken Liu this year, and will continue to try and diversify who I’m reading.

Albums of the year, 2009

Update: Just found this, unpublished, in my drafts. I’m spitting it out, as is, for…posterity? anyway. these were apparently my 3 favourite albums of 2009. Stands to reason – they’re all still on heavy rotation.

So I’m getting to this super-last minute, due to a variety of real-life things, but here it is. Oddly, when I started this list, I was thinking that overall this was a pretty bad year, but then as I started getting into doing this, I found I’ve had a really hard time narrowing this down to just 10. I’m purposefully excluding all re-releases, re-mastered & so on and so forth, because, if there’s one thing my 2009 music collection is full of, its really, really fantastic re-releases of old releases.

Without further ado, here is the list, in alphabetical order:

Bitte Orca – Dirty Projector
This is perhaps one of the most surprising albums of the year for me. A difficult, proggy, sometimes dischordantly abrasive album that somehow transcends all those “difficult music” attributes to be a warm, lush, lovely listen time and time again.
Flaming Lips – Embryonic
Definitely gets my vote for the most unexpected re-incarnation of a band I’d written off as no longer critically relevant. It’s dark, it’s heavy, it’s a non-stop assault on your ears that is just incredible from start to finish. Like most of the best albums, I didn’t really appreciate this one until I stopped working, put on the headphones and really listened to it.
Girs – Album
This album is sort of a Gen X masterpiece – a detached, perhaps ironic look at love, relationships, and the question of just what exactly to do with one’s life. Also, the first, and most x-rated video I’ve ever seen.

SHiNDiG 2004: Semi-Finals, night 3

So Tuesday marked the third and final semi-final night for this year’s SHiNDiG and featured Cadeaux, Vancougar and Foster Kare. I’ve seen all these bands before (although I missed Vancouger’s earlier show at SHiNDiG), and so had a fair idea of what to expect.

I just don’t like Cadeaux. They’re fine instrumentalists, and but the vocals I have issues with. They’ve two female singers, who I’ll dub Ms. Tall and Ms. Punk. And see, Ms. Punk’s vocals totally drown out Ms. Tall, but I think Ms. Tall has a much better voice. Both of them need a far sight more ferocity to pull off what they’re doing also. Combine that with a bass first lost in the mix, and then breaking, it made for a not-so-stellar set.

Vancouger is a lot of fun – punk-colored pop with, well, sass would be a good word, although I’m sure the band would and will hold it against me. They’re everything I liked about Cub when I was a kid, and so make natural successors to them (although, sadly, with less interesting hair)

Foster Kare, who started slowly when I saw them last, started slowly again tonight, but gradually won me over as they went. I didn’t like their set nearly as much as I did last time, despite their continued wizardry. It’s perhaps when compared to really good bands, versus the mediocre bands they played with before that their songs, while technically proficient, sound flat, familiar and a little uninspired. Why go to all that trouble of being so damed talented, only to take the easy way out?

In the end, Vancouger deservedly walked away with the win , and will face off against Dandi Wind & Mohawk Lodge in the finals. Which, in case you didn’t know, is next Tuesday, and given the quality of all three bands this year, is a must-see. I haven’t been this psyched by any of the finals of the previous 3 years of SHiNDiG.

SHiNDiG 2004: Semi-Finals, night 1

And so the weak have been culled, and now the various greybacks of the local music scene are left to duke it out to become the SHiNDiG 2004 champion, to go on to a long and successful career as local music darlings (or at least, intend to do such. Actual post-SHiNDiG success seems much more ephemeral that it perhaps should)

Lining up this night were the winners from the first 3 weeks of SHiNDiG, Dandi Wind, The Little Death and Evol Hearted. A small quibble here: I think it would be more interesting if the 9 semi-finalists were all ‘re-seeded’, so that it could be say Week1, Week 5 & Week 9 in the first semi-final, rather than just dividing up the opening rounds into 3 groups.

Like probably everyone else who’d been through the first round, there was little doubt as to who would win this night: Dandi Wind is just so much more than either of these other two bands. Not only is the performance amazing, but musically it stands out too: I forced myself to just listen with my eyes shut this time, to see if the music would stand up without the performance, and it really did.

The Little Death, who are interesting with their varied time signatures, odd little drum lines (I’m sure there’s a technical, or musical term for what I mean – fills, is it?), and other little musicianly tips-of-the-hat. Unfortunately, they are not the virtuoso musicians that this sort of wizardry requires in order to pull off. Also unfortunately, the singer’s voice is almost painfully bad. Which all leads to them just not doing well last night.

Evol Hearted, whom I missed in the first round, were, in my opinion, rather dull. Melodic, clean, talented, but, well, bland. Nothing about them (apart from having a female drummer, which is more common than you might think in Vancouver, but still uncommon) really stands out in my mind as being worthy of moving on. They aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination – they’re in fact quite tight and together and decent. But, like so many bands, they fail the critical test of having something that sets them apart. Which doesn’t mean that they won’t find that spark someday, or won’t enjoy some success – it just means they’re not going any further this year in SHiNDiG.

And so our first finalist is proclaimed, and deservedly so: Dandi Wind. All that remains now is to see whether any band can stand up to their fantastic, manic performances.

SHiNDiG 2004: Night 9

So I’d like to take you on a trip down memory lane…

Do you remember, back in the day, when metal was hard & raucous? Before it was sullied by pop-influences, power-ballads & nü-metal. When 3 guys could stand on stage, scream ferociously into the mike while engaging in fast guitar- & bass-wizardry, backed only by a drummer who you swear, will pound a hole into his kit at any second? Ahh, those were the days, my friend, and that was Foster Kare

Sadly, not all memories are so good. Let’s take a sideways step. Still back in the day, but remember when Gowan & Glass Tiger ruled the radio? When the boys were pretty & the pop was shitty? This, my fellow travellers, was the magic of The Cassanova Playboys, who were far too sexy for their shirts, who brought a gaggle of hotties for fans, and who will likely one day feature prominently on pop radio, much to the horror of us all.

We’ve spent time coursing backwards through the 80’s: the good & the bad, but remember – there was rock before the 80’s. In the 70’s, rock was over-the-top, orchestral, grandiose, all those lovely things. And thus we see the influences of The Rub, a 5 piece that harkens back to the glory days of Fleetwood Mac and their ilk. Featuring a flautist amongst the mix, they played sweet, melancholy songs that never quite lifted off the ground. They’d perhaps be more comfortable with a full orchestra backing them, or at least an over-wrought stage-show at a stadium to play in (I jest). They were certainly virtuoso musicians each, and mirroring the various solos on the flute was a daring move, but I think they need to find their Robert Hunter, to create better songs for their talents.

I’m hopeful that Foster Kare carried the night. I certainly can’t imagine either of the other two acts did, particularly given the character of those judging last night, but, I’ve been surprised before, and will likely be again. But now SHiNDiG 2004’s opening round is done, and next week, the semi-finals begin. If you’ve not been out yet, start now, because the chaffe has fallen by the wayside, and it’s time to see which of the remaining wheat is, umm, umm, the wheatiest?

SHiNDiG 2004: Night 7

Much like last week (which, for various reasons, I haven’t written about here. My apologies to those whose lives are bereft without these reviews ;), week 7 of SHiNDiG was better than virtually every other night. Not the least of which reason was that the Railway Club was packed, as each band brought out some fans.

The first band of the night, Hejira is possibly one of the very best bands that I’ve ever seen in 3-odd years of going to SHiNDiG. Certainly, they were, shall we say, heavily influenced by Radiohead, but they were good in their own right. The cynic in me also wants to say “given the amount of money they must have spent on gear, they’d better damn well be good”. And fortunately they were. Their first song was really derivative, but after that they found their own sound within the techno-rock that Radiohead (and few others) do so well. The singer, with his high, plaintive, somewhat nasal voice, was very evocotive, if a little incoherent. The guitarist, who is the recipient of my major complaint for fiddling with switches as much as playing, thrashed out admirably, while the bassist/keyboardist/mixer held steady, not being too flashy, but certainly holding his own. Their sound is almost certainly unique in the Vancouver music scene, and well-worth seeing (although be wary if they play anywhere with notoriously bad sound).

The Skatomatics, as the name implies, were a Ska band. Like the name also implies, they brought nothing new at all to the genre, seemingly content to rock lightly through the night. It would have been ok had they any edge, or played a little looser, but rather, they kept it safe & staid, and the result was disapointingly boring. Ska should always be fun, at the very least, and I didn’t find theirs much fun at all. It was pleasant, sure, that’s damning praise.

Closing out the night was Cadeaux a really interesting pop-band. Featuring 2 female lead-vocalists, who battled & traded lead throughout the set, they were really good. Sadly for them, their voices were simply too high-pitched for me, and I’d wince whenever they’d hit a high note. There was also a strange tinny buzzing, like a dime shaking on a vibrating plate, or something, that was really irritating. I’m not sure if that was part of their sound, playing the higher ranges on the guitars, or some fuck-up in the sound, but it drove me out of the club early. Despite this, their songs, their sound, their musicianship was all interesting, and worth another look.

Because I left early, I don’t actually know who won last night. I certainly voted for Hejira, but I suspect that Cadeaux might have carried the night, because their sound is closer to what I would call the “CiTR sound” – slightly messy, cute, endearing pop-rock, little pretense and lots of scenester cred.

SHiNDiG 2004: Night 5

Upon receiving a SHiNDiG judging sheet from Ben, you’ll note that that he has boldfaced and underlined the message “constructive criticism only”. On a night like last night’s SHiNDiG, that reminder comes in handy. To stay constructive, I’ll find myself suddenly vastly interested in the showmanship, the set, the dress or even the posturing of the act on stage. Last night, I believe I wrote something to those effects for each of the three acts. Still, someone had to win.

Man meets Bear, another one-man, laptop & guitar act opened. Now carry the normal end-result of a man meeting a bear over to a musical sound, and you’ll get the idea. His songs were actually quite nice, simple little songs, fairly folky. He had a nice, emotive voice. But then he mixed in these discordant, jarring, sometimes even off-tempo (from his own guitar-playing) loops from his laptop, mauling his own songs. Worse (and this is my standard complaint for DIY’ers), he kept breaking the flow to fiddle with his laptop. Still, in the end, he got my vote because I liked his voice, and he could potentially be really interesting.

Ponderosa could have been the house band for Dazed & Confused, or any other late 70’s stoner-rock high-school movie. Right down to the hair. I will say it was really great to hear some old-school blues-rooted rock music, and also, fun to hear a well-played bass featured so prominently. They could well have a great career ahead of themselves as a cover band. If this was one of their first shows, and they gain some confidence, they could actually become fairly listenable. Sadly, I’m not sure they’ll ever be terribly interesting without modernizing, or personalizing their sound beyond what they currently produce.

I really don’t know what to say about Basement. He should never had left it, perhaps? Another one-man act (but with mannequins ‘playing’ fake keyboards for backup), and a pre-programmed track for his set (at least he didn’t have to toy with it), he produced a really tame industrial sound. Clearly heavily influenced by the likes of Trent Reznor, he was sadly simply no good – the sound was week and pop-like. It made Depeche Mode sound hard, the lyrics were inane and his voice rather weak – missing power and emotion.

Ben promises that next week will be better. I certainly hope so, particularly if I’m judging. It’s really hard to rank three acts when not a single one wins you over.

SHiNDiG 2004: Night 4

So a week ago today was Night 4 of SHiNDiG. Tonight will be Night 5. If you haven’t come down to the Railway club to check it out, you should. Or don’t, but then me and all the other cool kids will snub you. And you don’t want to be snubbed, do you?

Night 4 was, I felt, somewhat weak. Opening was Mark of the Beats a one-man smorgasbord (sp?) of sound. I’m amazed that one person can produce such an inconsistent array of genres in such a short time, running from punk, to rap, to techno, etc. I’d like to say that I liked it, or that it was successful, but I’d be lying. The ideas are good, and might one day coalesce into something enjoyable, but it’s not there yet.

Philharmonic took up the middle set, and while, a week removed, I can’t remember why, I do remember really liking them. They seemed a collection of virtuoso musicians – the bassist in particular. I had a mental image, during their set, of the bassist as a Keith Richards, 15 years down the line – totally strung out, wasted, but still showing those occasional flashes of absolute brilliance that lead to albums like Exile on Main Street. Not that this band is the next Stones, but more that this one guy in particular is really, really good.

The Sore Throats closed the night, and well, is it better to say nothing than to be mean? Let’s try and couch this as constructive criticism: 1) Pop-punk is over. It was something of a travesty to begin with, and there’s no reason to keep it kicking. 2)Insulting your bandmates at all times, for everything, just makes you look like a jackass. 3)Loud is not the same as good. On the plus side, they all looked pretty good up there…