The new Macbook Pro’s limited reach

Two of the Macbook Pro’s most hyped improvements – the Touch Bar and more compact profile – have little benefit to many professionals. I’m worried Apple is increasingly hawking consumer level tech that’s missing the high end market.

At least half of the developers and designers I know work primarily with a Macbook Pro hooked to an external display and paired with an external keyboard and mouse. Ergonomics improve with both displays at similar height and distance. It’s more efficient to scan and drag content given the screens’ proximity. And by driving the setup through a laptop, you still get the flexibility of a portable device for meetings or work on the go.

Therein lies the rub with the Macbook Pro’s Touch Bar. With the aforementioned setup, the Macbook’s distance makes the Bar out of reach and hard to see. Ironically, a setup for serious work nullifies the Bar’s purported productivity benefits. And based on Apple’s pricing segmentation, we’re paying a premium for it as well.

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The PS4 Pro and Sony’s marketing problem

The PS4 Pro has serious potential. It has decent internal specs, a reasonable price point, and follows the popular base PS4. But we’re a less than a month away from the release date, and Sony’s marketing and PR wing feels asleep at the wheel. Performance claims, especially for those without 4K displays, are vague. And there’s few titles or publishers with Pro enhanced games ready for 2016. As someone bullish on a more iterative console cycle (for both Sony and Microsoft), that’s worrisome.

Granted, tech and home theater enthusiasts in the market for a PS4 won’t hesitate for the Pro. They already own 4K set or PS VR, or plan an investment in either over the next year or two. But this is a niche minority of potential buyers. For everyone else, Sony needs to step up its game and provide more information.

The Pro isn’t a routine tech release. This is the first time two consoles both labeled “PS4”, with the same game library and similar feature set, are on sale side by side. Yet one has $100 price tag for premium performance. That’s commonplace in consumer tech, but a first for game consoles. And consoles historically are very sensitive to price differences. Unless the marketing situation changes, I see few outside the enthusiast market paying extra for the Pro.

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A Most Violent Year: beauty within decay

NY skyline, cars

All stills are property of their respective owners and are used here strictly for educational purposes.

J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year is the rare crime drama that balances epic and intimate themes well. Chandor’s screenplay makes big statements on capitalism and the American dream. But it’s also microcosmic in its scale, a character study of Abel Morales’ (Oscar Isaac) struggle to protect and grow his heating-oil business.

Abel built his company legitimately, and he takes pride in the righteousness of his decisions. Yet given external threats to his company, AMVY asks how much Abel will give into gangster-like behavior to stay ahead.

As underlined by the title, time and place is key to Abel’s predicament. New York City in 1981 had record high crime rates and was in the midst of a recession. Capturing the city rests on DP Bradford Young. His cinematography is authentic and realistic; rough edges, industrial sprawl and graffiti abound.

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Overcast and Pocket Casts: two great podcast apps

The more I listen to podcasts, the more I find a good podcast app enhances my listening experience. I can save time by eliminating silences during playback. Fast search and discovery tools help me find more to listen to. And a reliable sync system smoothes transitions between clients. I like to experiment; I’ve dabbled in almost every major podcast app on the App Store. As of today, I’d recommend two: Overcast and Pocket Casts. Both have standout feature sets and are well maintained by their developers.

The right choice depends on your podcast listening habits. If you listen on platforms other than iOS (desktop, the web, Android), go with Pocket Casts. Likewise, if you have a more advanced listening workflow filled with custom playlists, filters, and subscriptions, Pocket Casts’ user interface is exceptional. In all other circumstances, stick with Overcast.

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The Xbox Scorpio gamble

Microsoft’s E3 announcement of Project Scorpio is big news. It’s the first official sign of consoles moving toward a faster, more iterative release cycle. But the announcement is also a big strategic mistake.

Not because of the Scorpio concept itself. Consoles have advantages with a faster release cadence. There’s more wiggle room for innovation and breakthrough gaming experiences. Game compatibility expands; older platforms aren’t immediately left behind.

Yet I see two big errors on Microsoft’s part. They announced Scorpio too early and are targeting a high end, costly specification.

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E3 2016: Microsoft and Sony presser analysis

The maturity of the console market and strong sales clearly rubbed off on the Microsoft and Sony this year. Each had their missteps, but they stayed on message and were the most interesting pressers by each company in several years.

Yet Sony and Microsoft took different approaches. Microsoft knows it’s well behind Sony and wanted to present a wide net for potential buyers. They succeeded; onstage content was bright, fun, and diverse.

Sony had the swagger of being in the lead. While Microsoft went wide, Sony went uncharacteristically narrow and minimalist. PlayStation VR got a mention, but the focus was otherwise all on games, many of them first party exclusives.

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Good UI engineering requires more than tech skills

To become a better web UI engineer, study design, communication, and vocabulary. Even if you cut back on some extra technical training, it’s worth it. That’s because the difference between good and great UI work rarely comes from technical prowess alone. It’s distinguished by creativity, visual insight, and sound organization.

Yes, JavaScript and styling fundamentals are important. You need to understand the tech behind your craft. But the solution to a tech blocker can be a tool or coworker away. And once you learn the basics of one MVC JS framework or CSS coding methodology, you can learn another.

Reusability is a bigger issue. Every time you change styling or write a new UI element, consider its impact elsewhere. Think ahead to where the application will grow and how you can cut repetition. It’s more than an blind grep through the code. It’s finding patterns. And visual patterns or usage trends are especially tricky to detect.

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Uncharted 4 and the blurry line between game and film

Uncharted 4 is the rare example of a action adventure game with emotional heft. It’s one thing to match expectations for pretty scenery, tight gameplay, and big set pieces. It’s another to have UC4 generate the emotions and surprise that I associate with a well crafted movie. Technological breakthroughs push the game into new territory.

That’s not to say story, dialogue and acting isn’t important. But gaming has reached the point where strong narratives are no longer revelatory. In recent years we’ve had the superb Tales From the Borderlands, Firewatch, and the Walking Dead series. Until Dawn and Heavy Rain also have their moments. And The Last of Us has a heartbreaking storyline that works on many levels.

UC4’s story is strong, but isn’t a high point for gaming. Graphics are the differentiating factor this round. It’s all in the faces.

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PlayStation NEO and the Apple connection

An earlier than usual PS4 successor has its benefits. But why is the PlayStation NEO coming now?

Early console releases are usually for companies with lagging hardware and low sales. The news grabs attention, can drive sales, and establish a clean break from the past. Nintendo’s upcoming NX console is a textbook example.

Sony’s the opposite of underperforming. They’ve exceeded expectations: 40 million PS4s sold, over double the Xbox One, and sales are accelerating year over year. And consoles thrive on momentum. Sony’s lead allows them to coast on the PS4’s success for a while; don’t rock the boat and watch profits grow. Yet success also buys the chance to take some costly bets. That’s Sony plan, an investment on the NEO today for the chance to solidify PlayStation over the long run.

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Getting started with Flexbox

Flexbox is a powerful web styling tool, one my favorite recent CSS additions. It’s an effective replacement for hacky, float-heavy layouts. Given its wide browser support and mature feature set, I lean on Flexbox for most project work.

However, I’m surprised many developers stay away from Flexbox. They’re worried about browser support, a big learning curve, or otherwise strange behavior. They shouldn’t. Here’s how to get started.

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