acl digest – 13 september 2018

Variegated Miniature Hibiscus

Here we go again – I’m writing this for two reasons. One, because this is my second attempt at the digest format. Two, because as I write this a thunderstorm is raging outside my house, a tiny and pale imitation of Hurricane Florence’s invasion of the Carolinas. The last time I stood in fear of a hurricane was when Irma hit Florida last year, passing over Orlando on its way through Georgia and on up the east coast. Irma was one of three especially fearsome hurricanes out of 2017; the other two being Harvey, which heavily destroyed Houston, and Maria, which wiped out Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico in particular will take years to fully recover, assuming no new equally destructive storms strike first.

My heart as well as genuine prayers go out to the citizens of the Carolinas in harm’s way, especially those ill suited economically to recover from such a storm. And more lies will spew out of the Orange One’s mouth like maggots from a festering wound with regards to this storm as they did with Maria and Puerto Rico.

Rescuing a Hibiscus – I’ve been working in my back yard for some time now, converting it into a small flower garden primarily to attract and sustain butterflies. Many of the flowers I’ve purchased new over time, but some of them I’ve had growing for years, such as the miniature variegated hibiscus pictured above. Around the first of this year I repotted that plant from my back yard into a large pot with fresh potting soil, gave it a slow release fertilizer, and basically kept it close to the house in the screen covered area close to the pool.

When it was repotted it had less than a dozen little leaves on it and the root system was pretty much gone. Over the last eight months it has slowly grown back to where it is entirely covered in foliage. And today I went out back to discover this one bloom on it, the first in I don’t know how many years. This one plant started out in a pot, and then I made the poor decision to plant it in the yard. It never really took to being a yard plant, and now that it’s back in a (bigger) pot than before, it’s thriving. I’m glad because this plant is over ten years old, and it covers a significant part of my personal history. I’m thinking that next season I’ll roll it outside to help attract butterflies. But it will remain potted until the day it truly dies.

The new iPhones are here! The new iPhones are here! – I will never forget the scene from the movie “The Jerk” where Steve Martin’s character is excited to find his name, in print, in the phone book. I’ve been hit with multiple Apple emails to get ready to pre-order the new iPhone XS (which I pronounce “excess”) phones. I currently have an iPhone 8 Plus, which believe it or not, is more than good enough for me. I might not have the fastest iPhone anymore, but I still have the second fastest, and you know what? I’m OK with that.

I don’t know if I’ll never get an iPhone Excess, but I believe I can certainly wait until maybe later next year to think about it. Right now I’m more excited about the imminent release of iOS 12. I’ve been beta testing it on my original iPad Pro 9.7″ model, and it really is faster than iOS 11. Hopefully it’s more bug free and consequently more stable than iOS 11. Only time and use will tell.

The insanity of camera gear prices – In case you’re not a camera gearhead like me, Nikon and Canon both released so-called full frame mirrorless cameras, i.e. cameras that don’t have the flapping SLR mirror in front of their sensors. Those cameras are the Z6 and Z7 for Nikon and the EOS R for Canon. Both makers re-invented the lens mount, making all existing brand lenses obsolete with those new bodies, but not to worry! You can spend hundreds of extra dollars picking up an adapter to use that older glass.

The biggest punch to the gut is the cost of these newest camera bodies, starting at $2,000 for the Z6 and going up to $3,500 for the Z7. The EOS R is “only” $2,300 for that body. And let’s not get started about lens costs. Nikon is on the low end starting around $600, with prices pushing up to over $3,000 for zooms from both Canon and Nikon. I personally will never own either camera nor any camera from either brand.

I’m an egalitarian type of photographer who believes you shouldn’t have to spend the equivalent of a year’s rent just for the privilege of owning said cameras. I’m more in the several hundred dollar range for camera gear, like you could spend on the old Pentax K1000 or Minolta SRT-100 film cameras from decades ago.

I predict this will drive more people to use the cameras that come on increasingly advancing smart phones, such as the just announced iPhone Excesses. I personally use Olympus micro four thirds, and I expect for that mount to slowly fade away. Which would be a real shame as there are a number of low-cost yet high quality Olympus (and yes, Panasonic) mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras that mere mortals can afford.

snapshot of apple device performance metrics

There has been talk for some time about how Apple devices running iOS are contenders for replacing standard Intel architecture computers, such as MacBook Pros. Since I have a number of Apple devices, I thought I’d install Geekbench 4 (version 4.1) and run it across three of my Apple devices. I’ve put the results in a simple table below, with the results in the first three rows.

MBP mid-2015 iPhone 7 Plus iPad Pro 2016
CPU Single-Core 4462 3457 3017
CPU Multi-Core 16005 5872 5082
Compute 38117 12296 14764
Processor Intel Core i7 Apple A10 Fusion Apple A9x
Max Frequency 2.8 GHz 2.34 GHz 2.26 GHz
OS macOS 10.12.5 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2

The MBP I own is a 15″ Retina MBP with 16GB of memory and the 2.8GHz quad-core i7. I wasn’t surprised to see the MBP be the leader across the board, particularly in multi-core scoring. The MBP is certainly the brawniest of the three with its Intel processor and eight times the memory over both the iPhone and iPad. Keep in mind that the MBP is the oldest of the three devices.

What I found rather interesting is the GPU-based Compute score. The iOS version of Geekbench uses Metal, the graphical framework that’s a part of iOS. Geekbench on the MBP uses OpenCL and because I’m too cheap to buy a copy, the built-in Iris Pro on the i7 processor was used instead of the beefier AMD Radeon R9 M370X. So even though I’m using the “lesser” graphics processor and “poorer” graphics software framework, the MBP still scored a solid two to three times faster than either iOS device. Of further note is the sizable performance lead of the iPad over the iPhone, even though the iPhone’s CPU is clocked faster and it’s using a more current Apple SoC.

So, am I ready to trade in the MBP for either iOS device? It all depends on the use case.

For general uses involving reading content and typing, I could easily switch to the iPad Pro. I use it with a Logitech keyboard-and-cover in landscape mode, which, when attached to the iPad using the Smart Connector gives me a decent keyboard with back-lit keys. It’s not as efficient and comfortable as the MBP keyboard, but it’s more than serviceable especially over a period of hours. I can do writing and other types of textual creation, as well as fairly sophisticated graphical content creation and photo/video post processing. There are, however, limits to the iPad Pro.

For the ultimate web experience I prefer the MBP and my selection of browsers, which includes Chrome, Firefox, and Vivaldi. I am not a fan of Safari on either iOS or macOS, and I don’t think I ever will be. What makes web browsing on iOS truly annoying is Apple’s insistence of forcing every other browser to use the Apple web engine used by iOS Safari; it is buggy and poorly performant.

When I need to develop software I much prefer the MBP. When I need to do light code editing on the iPad Pro I use Textastic with Working Copy. I have iOS Terminus that allows me to ssh into machines around my home running Linux and macOS (nothing like that for Windows, unfortunately). Under ssh I tend to use vim with extensive vim customizations and colorizations. And I can use scp and git to move things around that need moving. So the iPad Pro makes a pretty decent work platform when I don’t want to fire up the MBP, especially when I need to put it down due to interruptions.

I haven’t even mentioned the iPhone, but it’s decent enough that it can fill in for the iPad when all I can carry with me is just the iPhone. I use a Microsoft Folding Bluetooth keyboard to type on, and I have an SDHC to Lightening card reader for reading JPEG and RAW files produced by my Olympus cameras. The same apps I would use on my iPad to post process work just fine on the iPhone 7 Plus. And when I don’t want to, or can’t have, my Olympus camera, then the iPhone 7 Plus camera is just fine.

Finally, there’s the truly heavy lifting that the MBP is called upon to do. For example, I have a number of Linux virtual machines I power up to perform testing and development in parallel with work on the MBP. I use Xcode to develop iOS applications, as well as Android Studio to develop Android applications. If I want to develop using a full Javascript stack starting with node.js, then the MBP is the only way to go. If I want to develop in Java or Python or Go or Rust, only the MBP allows me to do that.

And the 15″ screen on the MBP is the easiest of all the screens to read, which is important due to my poor eyesight (20/700 and near sighted).

There is no easy answer to the original question, except to say it all depends. As long as I can choose which to use for which task, I will choose all three based on the work at hand that needs to be done.

But I am impressed with what the Apple SoCs can accomplish. While the MBP rules them all, for single core scoring all three devices are fairly close together, compared to multi-core and compute. This bodes well for Apple’s continued evolution of its ARM-based processors, and if I were Intel, I really would be looking over my shoulder at ARM in general and Apple in particular.