eXtensions - Wednesday 27 May 2020


Wednesday Diversion: Broken MacBook Pro and a Fix; Replacement MacBook Air

By Graham K. Rogers


I broke my MacBook Pro moving to new accommodation. It needed a new screen, which would take a week. I needed to work, so picked up a basic MacBook Air, which actually worked far better than I had hoped.

An update to Catalina was made available today (Wednesday) and I will be downloading that soon. Several sites reported that there is a new battery health management feature. All batteries deteriorate: this is chemistry, not magic. Many manufacturers, not only Apple, have been looking at ways to improve the problem for users, with Apple concentrating mainly on software solutions, although they do have engineers who look at the construction and makeup of batteries. There are also some changes for Group FaceTime calls and screen calibration. I tried that last week in case the broken screen could be fixed through a settings change. The update also has the usual bug fixes and improvements.

Catalina update

The iOS 13.5 update was released last week. With my current location and internet speeds I expected this would take forever to download. The internet was fair but not brilliant last week but just after I moved in the speeds dropped to a glacial level and at times the connection was unusable. I had to switch to 4G several times. One of the main features of that update is the way the passcode numbers appear more quickly when face recognition does not work if the user is wearing a face mask. That will save some time.

I went to a couple of providers as the landlord had agreed I could arrange for my own line. Not so easy. I am not in Bangkok now and rural life is not the same. As I had been a customer of True for a while, I tried there first. No lines. I then had a chat with AIS. Likewise they had no spare lines - we are in rural Thailand now - although the young lady made a suggestion about another service they have. I may consider that for the future, but it would limit some devices I have. She also suggested the other internet provider, 3BB, but they too were out of lines.

With no proper internet, I cannot work, so the idea that the staff at my office had of downsizing may have failed. I will have to consider moving to a place that has a real connection. And if I am going to move again, I have to put off buying furniture like desk and tables and cupboards. I will continue to live out of the boxes and cases all my things are crammed into. This is costing me far more than the move was intended to save. I am not a happy camper. I looked at another condo and have information on more. Rent will be more expensive, but if I cannot work, the systems I need to put in place are costing me more than I was supposed to save.

I had an absolute disaster moving to the new apartment last weekend as I mentioned last time. I had been covering the FaceTime camera lens for security and privacy reasons, and when I made the move forgot to remove the covering, then put the MacBook Pro in a bag which I put inside a case. At the new location I checked the devices. The iPad Pro, iPad, and iPhone were fine; but a jagged line across the screen of the MacBook Pro indicated a serious problem. During the journey the screen had broken. That was my fault for not making sure it was properly secure. Whether it came on during the journey with the screen opening slightly, or whether there was another reason, the screen was done.

Mac screen

At The Mall, Bank Khae on Monday a technician confirmed my analysis. A replacement was needed and from experience that would be about a week. I need the Mac. I considered a MacBook Air, but the shop was out of stock, despite displays. I had already checked online and delivery was shown as a week. I was considered moving the Mac mini from my office and borrowing a monitor, but when I went in to Siam Paragon on Tuesday I looked at the MacBook Air computers displayed there and asked an assistant if they were in stock. Yes, he said, I'll check. He came back and said what color do you want. They had all three: space gray, gold and silver. I took the space gray. It is only the bare bones model 256 GB disk 8 GB of memory, but it will keep me going and act as a useful office spare.

When I took the MacBook Pro into the iCare shop in the Mall, I was asked for the password. As this was for a screen replacement and I have the data backed up anyway, I declined. The young lady was not convinced and asked for advice. In the end she agreed that this was OK and the documents were completed. I wonder how many people just hand over their password giving technicians and others whom they do not know, total; access to their computers. I had never done this before and did not intend to start now. A phone call on Sunday evening told me that the MacBook Pro was ready for collection.

When I collected the Mac it started right away and I could see that all accounts were still on the installation, so it had not been wiped. I would have been surprised if it had been. Back home, it needed some application updates and the re-entering of the iCloud password - that happens often these days. The photographs that had been imported to the MacBook Air the previous evening, arrived on the MacBook Pro, quite quickly, so internet speeds have improved considerably, to 11.6 Mbps (initially 20Mbps, last week 2Mbps), while I am seeing 88Mbps on the 4g network. That personal hotspot works better than cable and wifi: something wrong there.

When I had brought the MacBook Air home, it needed to be updated because the backup was from 10.15.4. The glacial network was the first hurdle. Downloading the 10.15.4 update took almost an hour, but it arrived.

While I was downloading the Catalina update, I thought back to how speeds were when I first used a modem in Bangkok: 2400 BPS. That was not the slowest I had ever seen, as when I was in America in the mid80s I saw my first demonstration of a computer to telephone link using an acoustic coupling at 300 bps. The realization right then of what that would mean - not just Illinois to California, but anywhere in the world - was an eye-opener for me of the brave new world we were about to experience.

For the time being, 20Mbps would do, but as soon as I moved in the speeds dropped to single figures and I was unable to do much work. Even watching Apple TV meant that the video feed would stop from time to time.

MacBook Air
MacBook Air - Image courtesy of Apple

Having updated, I had to transfer data. However, because of the disk size, I had to limit this to a single account, hoping to rely on iCloud for data. This is a fingers-crossed shortcut. I had to use Migration Assistant which seems to have changed since I last used it with Mojave, but then Catalina has far more security built in than previous versions of macOS. Migration Assistant now needs several checks and references to confirm which users will be used and even the level of the users account.

Despite the limited internet, once Migration Assistant had done its job, data began to download from the cloud, although the file structure I depend on was not visible. Using a browser, I saw that everything was accessible, so if necessary I could work through Safari: not perfect, but it is part of a redundant system, as is the data on iOS devices that could also be transferred if needed, so no data was lost.

Although the Desktop and Documents folders were not shown initially in the Finder sidebar, by next morning they were all there, with some of the files and folders needing download. With one or two, I wanted immediate access, so clicked on the icons and they were soon available. I also started Photos, linking that to iCloud. There was a warning that disk space would limit the contents to optimized images, but I know that if I want to work on a specific photograph, that would be downloaded for the purpose.

The contents of the library were visible (and available) within an hour, although thumbnails from some recent scans were displayed in red. Enlarging the image showed the correct black and white, while editing also fixed the thumbnails. When I looked at the Library a day or so later, after editing one image, all of the thumbnails turned to black and white. I am putting this down to the unusual internet connections.

One interesting thing about using the MacBook Air and running a single account was that when a password was needed, for example accessing certain features in System Preferences, I was able to do that with the Apple Watch: on the MacBook Pro I work in a user account and this needs Admin privileges. The MacBook Air is no supercomputer. I ran a the Novabench benchmarking software and this produced a score of 981 overall. Their top scorer is the AMD Rizen Threadripper with 256RAM and a whole lot more at 6823.

Despite using the Apple Watch for passwords when software downloads, with the internet speeds here, every time I want to unlock the MacBook Air, I have to use the Fingerprint ID. At my office, it works fine. Overall the MacBook Air is a really usable computer, although it might have been better for me had I bought the 512GB SSD; but I know if I had wanted additional RAM that would have taken 14 days from the local stores. While the online store is usually quicker, delivery times are set back with the current situation. As the MacBook Air is a stop gap (a really usable one) this is something to work round. I am also working round the accounts: Admin only instead of Admin and User; but that is not providing any real problems.

The main difficulties came with setting up certain software for uploading files. With my regular FTP application, I failed completely, as I could not find the registration details or the details for setup. I was able to find these for Feeder 3 which uses FTP for uploading the RSS feed and that was successful. Without the FTP application, I resorted to a browser page for the site and was able to upload files for myself and for the students I am teaching online.

At the weekend I also tried the DSLR camera with its hefty RAW files and in the main this worked well too, although certain actions were clearly slower. Downloading from the camera using the USB-C cable was fairly quick, but once all images are in, I like to export originals to a SSD disk for archive purposes. That uses USB-C both ends, but the transfer of the 57 images was slower than I usually experience with the MacBook Pro.

Local wildlife
Heron in a rice field

It was not a "go and make tea" slowness, but I was aware that more time was taken. Once those originals are stored away, I can edit the photos I like and delete those that are not up to standard (content, focus) safe in the knowledge that if I do need to refer to them again, they are still available. With the lower speeds from the MacBook Air processor, some actions take a little longer, for example scrolling when editing large images.

On Sunday afternoon, a phone call told me that the MacBook Pro was ready for collection and I went on Monday. Although they had asked me for the password, they did not need that and all the data was intact. I was ready to roll as soon as I started it up. The MacBook Air is now in my office as a spare.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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