Author Archives: michaelcastellon

COVID-19: Rural Texas Hospitals Brace for Impact

Sophie Novack for Texas Observer:

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas have grown more than six times since May 25, when many Texans were out celebrating Memorial Day, breaking new records nearly every day for more than a month. A record 9,610 people were hospitalized in Texas as of Wednesday, with a high of 98 new deaths reported since the day before. Abbott’s insistence that hospital beds statewide were plentiful means little in a state as big as Texas: An open bed in El Paso is little help for someone severely ill in Starr County, more than 700 miles away. Regional totals show a dire situation. The nine-county Gulf Coast trauma service region in East Texas, which includes Beaumont and Galveston and is home to 1.3 million people, had a single ICU bed available as of Wednesday. The 12-county Coastal Bend region of more than 630,000 people that includes Corpus Christi had three. In the mostly rural West Texas region spanning 17 counties from the Mexico border to north of Midland and Odessa, where 527,000 people live, there were 27 free ICU beds. And in the four-county Rio Grande Valley, home to nearly 1.4 million people, there were 25

Rural hospitals across the state have been stretched thin for years, underfunded and understaffed long before the pandemic hit. At least 20 small-town Texas hospitals have closed since 2013, more than double any other state. More than one-fifth of Texas’ 254 counties have just one doctor or none at all. Large swaths of the state, with populations that trend older and sicker, do not have enough hospital beds, health care equipment, specialists, or medical staff to combat an infectious disease outbreak.

My Review of the 2020 MacBook Air

2020 MacBook AirOn June 22 Apple formally announced its departure from Intel x86 to its in-house ARM chipset, dubbed Apple Silicon. 

ARM-based chips, like those found in iPhone and iPad, are considerably faster and more efficient than their Intel counterparts and will allow for better battery life and enhanced integration between hardware and software. Close your eyes and imagine the speed and stability of a mobile device but in a laptop or desktop computer. 

The first Apple Silicon Macs will be available later this year. 

All of this is to say my own Mac — a 2011 MacBook Air — died within days of the announcement, so I was confronted with deciding between buying into a dying line of Intel-based Macs now or holding out for Apple Silicon later this year. 

It wasn’t an easy decision; while ARM-based Macs will be exponentially more powerful and more efficient, the transition to get there may include bugs and kinks. While this will be especially true for niche software developers who may lag in their production cycles, I don’t expect transitional issues from “anchor” apps like Microsoft Office and Google Chrome. Still, as a general rule, I avoid buying the first generation of any new tech. Plus, I can’t go months without a computer. 

I opted for the upper-tier MacBook Air. 

My Air’s configuration includes performance and memory bumps: a 1.1 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5, 16 GB 3733 MHz LPDDR4 RAM and a 512GB SSD. Choosing quad-core was a no-brainer, and the bump to 512GB of storage provides more wiggle room without fretting about space. 

This configuration is more than powerful enough for my needs: writing with lots of open tabs, light web development and casual video editing. I can run Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro X if need to, though if I used either of those tools fulltime, I would have opted for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple’s attention to detail did not escape the 2020 MacBook Air. At the top of the list of enhancements is the return to the traditional scissor keyboard. The 2020 Air’s Magic Keyboard has 1mm of travel and has a satisfying click to keystrokes. 

And finally, at long last, I have a retina display and Touch ID. 

The line between the macOS and iOS is blurring more each year. There isn’t a hard divide between mobile and desktop experiences, at least when it comes to photos, bookmarks, documents, and settings. The majority of my stuff was synced via iCloud, and the rest was available through my Time Machine backups. I’m comfortably within the walled garden that Apple has constructed for me over the last 15 years, and I can seamlessly move between my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. I expect macOS and iOS to become even more enmeshed when Apple releases its next OS, Big Sur, later this year. 

The 2020 MacBook Air has only two ports, and they’re both USB-C. None of my devices –– not my printer, my external hard drive, or my GoPro camera –– is USB-C. This is my biggest grievance with the 2020 Air. It didn’t occur to me how many older USB devices I had until I couldn’t use them. The issue of legacy ports was solved by buying a USB-C Hub Adapter, which opens the notebook up to all of my older devices. 

The 2020 MacBook Air, like all current Mac laptops, features a very awful 720p FaceTime camera, so don’t expect much visual appeal for virtual meetings from home. I suppose this is due to the Air’s thin form factor and lack of space for a larger, higher-quality camera. This is unfortunate as so many of us depend on video calls more than ever during the pandemic. 

Will I get almost a decade of use out of the 2020 Air? It’s unlikely. But based on my experience so far, I can say that shoddy camera aside, the 2020 MacBook is a solid option for anyone who needs portability and power.

Monday, May 25, 2020

  • We finished watching The Last Dance last weekend. It scratched the sports itch for me so much that I may rewatch the entire series soon.
  • Carnegie Mellon: Nearly half of Twitter accounts pushing to reopen America may be bots.

Get Lost

Last week a friend recommended a new activity: set out on foot or drive to an unfamiliar neighborhood, get lost … really lost … and find your way back without the use of your smartphone. My first flight instructor would often do this to me in airplanes. The idea is to regain situational awareness using a simple set of procedures and reestablish where you are and where you’re going. While locked down at home with grocery deliveries and broadband, it’s easy for our minds to get soft and lose resiliency. I think it’s important to find new sources of discomfort other than the 24/7 news cycle or the fear of what the future may hold.

2020 and the Death of Information Technology

Via Robert Cringeley:

IT — Information Technology — grew out of something we called MIS — Management Information Systems — but both meant a kid in a white shirt who brought you a new keyboard when yours broke. Well, the kid is now gone, sent home with everyone else, and that kid isn’t coming back… ever. IT is near death, fading by the day. But don’t blame COVID-19 because the death of IT was inevitable. This novel coronavirus just made it happen a little quicker…

Amazon has been replacing all of our keyboards for some time now, along with our mice and our failed cables, and even entire PCs. IT has been changing steadily from kids taking elevators up from the sub-basement to Amazon Prime trucks rolling-up to your mailbox. At the same time, our network providers have been working to limit their truck rolls entirely. Stop by the Comcast storefront to get your cable modem, because nobody is going to come to install it if you aren’t the first person living there to have cable…

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) extends both the network and a security model end-to-end over any network including 4G or 5G wireless. Some folks will run their applications in their end device, whether it is a PC, phone, tablet, whatever, and some will run their applications in the same cloud as SASE, in which case everything will be that much faster and more secure. That’s end end-game if there is one — everything in the cloud with your device strictly for input and output, painting screens compressed with HTML5. It’s the end of IT because your device will no longer contain anything so it can be simply replaced via Amazon if it is damaged or lost, with the IT kid in the white shirt becoming an Uber driver.

Since COVID-19 is trapping us in our homes it is forcing this transition to happen faster than it might have. But it was always going to happen.