Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Comparing Separation Resistance Between Magsafe Options

As I noted in my last post, I recently replaced my older Macbook with a new Retina Display Macbook. Apple changed its power adapter format on the MBPs to use the slimmer adapter format it previously had on recent Macbook Airs, which means that you have to either use a tiny little $9.99 adapter to use your old power supply or use a new power supply.

Searching the internet there's consensus that the new Magsafe-2 connectors seem to be much less securely attached to the laptop; in conversations internally at work, there was a suggestion that old (Magsafe-1) power supplies with the $9.99 adapter seemed more securely attached than the new (Magsafe-2) power supplies.  So I got curious and conducted an informal experiment.

The laptops
For a Magsafe-2 laptop, I used my own recently-purchased Macbook Pro Retina Display.  For a Magsafe-1 laptop, I used a coworker's 17" Macbook Pro, about a year old.

The power supplies
I used three power supplies: The classic power supply with a chicklet-looking connector, the more modern power supply with an L-shaped/barrel connector, and the new Magsafe-2 chicklet-looking connector.  The older power supplies were tested with the Magsafe-2 adapter (on my new Mac) and without (on the older 17" MBP); the new power supply was obviously only tested on my new Mac.

The tests
I taped a little paperclip about 3" from the connector end of each power supply, then used an RCBS Trigger Pull Scale to measure how much force it took to cause the power supply to separate from the laptop when pulling away from the laptop in three directions:

  1. Straight left from the laptop
  2. Straight away from the laptop (and away from the user)
  3. Up from the plane of the laptop
The results
Up Left Away
Old chicklet 0 3 lbs 1.25 lbs
Old L-style Off the charts .75 lbs Off the charts
New chicklet 0 3.5 lbs 2 lbs
Old chicklet with adapter 0 3.75 lbs 1.375 lbs
Old L-style with adapter 1 lbs 1 lbs 2.75 lbs

"Off the charts" in this case means more than 8 lbs, the maximum capacity of the scale.

Notes and Opinions
It's clear that overall, nothing beats the old L-style connector for attachment strength, though I'm not certain this is a good thing -- at more than 8 lbs, if you pull hard enough on the cord you'll be taking the laptop with you, potentially causing an accident as it falls off the table.  That said, it's important to note that in this testing, I was slowly increasing the stress on the cable; in a real life accident, what we'd see is a quick shark jerk and it's more than likely that the connector would require less of a tug to separate.  

What you take away from the results depends on your particular use case, i think.  In my case, where I have the laptop on a bed or a couch, the biggest concern for me is the ability of the connector to stay in place in the face of pressure up from the uneven surface; in that case, I'd definitely prefer the old L-style with adapter option (1 lbs) to any of the other Magsafe-2 options, which were so weak in the face of upward pressure I could not measure how much force was required to separate the connector from the laptop.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

When IT's On Your Side

This post is about the IT group in my current company (Netflix), but I want to set the context (and contrast) by first talking about a previous IT group with which I worked.  I'll leave the previous company anonymous.

A long, long time ago, I worked for a large company.  Their desktop support group and the purchasing group working with it loved standards.  I know, desktop support people usually are fond of standards -- that's a sane approach, because it can vastly simplify supporting and managing equipment if you don't have every one of your customers have something slightly different -- but this was on a completely different level, a "if you love it so much why don't you marry it?" level.  A few exemplary anecdotes:

  • The organization was using Lenovo Thinkpad T40s at the time (this sort of organization, they're the last who'll come to the Mac table).  When they found out the particular model they were deploying was soon going to be discontinued, they spent over a million dollars stocking up on this older model so they didn't have to change their standard for as long as possible;
  • I had a 17" LCD on my desk.  At some point I asked for something bigger, a 19" or 20" LCD. I was told by our purchasing people that they would not approve any LCD bigger than 17", because as soon as they did the floodgates would open and everyone would want a larger LCD.  As a result, as far as late 2008 we were still buying 17" LCDs at a significant premium over 19" and 20" LCDs because at this point only one company we could find was actually still making LCDs that small.
These examples are probably not normal for our industry -- I've certainly not seen it get that bad anywhere else I worked (though I also never worked for a company as big as the company above).  

I was thinking about how IT interacts with employees this last Friday because I had two interactions with our own IT folks (at Netflix), one direct and one indirect, that felt like the epitome of how IT should be thinking, and what IT should be doing.  Mind you, this is mostly in the area of what you might call employee technology -- supporting employee computing needs -- rather than, say, server upgrade projects.  But I think the lessons apply.

First example: I had an interview to do.  That's not unusual for me -- I conduct probably about ten interviews a month (more on a good month.  I like interviewing).  So I printed out the candidate's resume and ... wait, let me tell you what that actually means.

I brought up the candidate's resume on my screen, then hit cmd-P to print it.  I then went to grab a quick snack.  On the way back I passed by a printer -- not the closest one to my desk -- passed my cell phone near it, and it showed me I had one print job pending.  Printed that resume, walked with it back to my desk.  

See, a few months ago IT installed these little sensors that work with our access badges to log us into the printers.  This means I now print to a printer-independent queue, and then I can whenever is convenient walk up to any printer in our campus, authenticate myself with my access badge, and print my job right then.  From my perspective, it's a huge win: I don't have to figure out what printer I'll be going by, and I don't have to go right now because it's not printing until I show up.  It's entirely possible  that if anyone cares about it, they can actually run accounting reports to see who's printing how much, but ... I don't really care about it.  That, in addition to the fact that in the last year we've been replacing our NFC access badge keyfobs with a tiny little sticker so it's now permanently attached to my phone (no more losing my keyfob) means printing is a delightfully invisible process now.  I don't rush to printers, I don't try to figure out, based on where I'm going, what printer will be closest to me.  Print, go, if you see a printer on your way get your document there.

Second example: Netflix's approach to laptop standards is pretty simple: They have a few standard models, and if an employee wants something different, they'll figure out how much the different model is, communicate it to the employee, and if the employee is comfortable with the price they'll get the laptop.  In my case that means I've been running with a slightly non-standard Macbook with one of them newfangled magsafe-2 connectors.  More and more people are getting them, but we're still a minority.  I have a whole lot of support infrastructure for my Macbook -- about four power supplies, for pretty much everywhere I spend time (living room, bed room, laptop bag, desk), and they're all magsafe-1 power supplies.  So on Friday I asked if I could exchange two of my older power supplies for new, magsafe-2, power supplies.  They weren't in stock, but they were happy to get some for me if I wanted to email the helpdesk as a reminder.  Meanwhile, I dropped by my local desktop support room, chatted with the folks there, and was given two magsafe-1-to-magsafe-2 adapters.  No ticket.  No purchase order.  No approval.  

So what's the point here (other than "Netflix's IT people rock my world")? 

I've been in IT for a long time, and for about as long I've been a customer of IT groups.  From an ITIL perspective, Service Delivery and Service Support are particularly interesting to me, and areas I'm particularly passionate about.   My experience as IT's customer was notable to me by how absolutely invisible IT (and to some degree printers) were in the first case -- my process wasn't printer-centric, it was me/user-centric; in the second case, getting hardware from IT was about as easy as walking to the supply closet and grabbing a highlighter.  And, hell, now that I think about it, we actually have hardware supply closets and I might have been able to just get my adapters or power supplies by just visiting these closets without even talking to anyone.  

That's the way you do it.  When your customer breezes through their day not having to think about how they need to work something out with IT, when print jobs just show up wherever the customer is, or they get what they need because on their way to getting their work done they pass by some place that will just give them what they need (and do whatever process and documentation needs to happen on the back end, invisible to the customer), you become delightfully invisible.  I didn't even realize how happy IT made me on Friday, until hours after my interaction with them.  That's the goal.