By Casey Liss
 

Mac Power Users is an institution.

Just recently, my ATP co-hosts and I celebrated our 300th episode. We spent a little time discussing the run we’ve had, and congratulating ourselves for showing up every single week for around five years.

Katie and David have been doing Mac Power Users since 2009!

As recently announced, Katie is leaving Mac Power Users at the end of the year, so I’m overjoyed she and David asked me to join them for one last guest spot before Katie goes.

On this episode, we discussed my new working life, my transition into becoming a YouTuber, my rekindled love for iPad, and my Go Pack, and more.

Being on MPU is both great fun and a great honor. I’m sad to see Katie go, but I’m also super excited for what Stephen will bring to the table.


Nik's Minimal Wallets

I freaking love Tom Bihn bags. I have a Cadet, which was my daily bag when I carried a 15" MacBook Pro. I have a Co-Pilot, which is what I use now that I’m flip-flopping between the MacBook “Adorable” and my 11" iPad Pro. I have various and sundry other smaller things that Tom Bihn makes, because I like bags in my bags. Yo dawg.

In addition to bags, I’ve always been pretty opinionated about wallets. I prefer to have as tiny a wallet as possible, despite wanting to carry a fair bit of stuff in my wallet:

  • Joint credit card
  • Joint debit card
  • Personal credit card
  • AAA card
  • Driver’s license
  • Medical insurance card
  • Dental insurance card
  • Some cash

Yes, there are arguments that some of the above could be pared down — I’m looking at you dental insurance card — but that’s the situation as I write today. (Yes, I carry cash. Yes, I judge you for not carrying cash. No, you’ll never know when it comes in handy. Yes, it does more often than you think.)

Nik has come up with four different designs for his Minimal Wallet:

  • 1: Two interior pockets, enclosing strap, and nothing else.
  • 2: Two interior pockets, enclosing strap, but one pocket is see-thru.
  • 3: Two interior pockets, one exterior pocket, enclosing strap, one pocket is see-thru.
  • 4: Two interior pockets, one exterior pocket, enclosing strap, webbing loop for attaching the wallet to a clip.

Tom Bihn was kind enough to send me samples of wallets 1-3, and I do quite like all of them. They’re all extremely light and thin, and available in (as I write this) nine colors.

For my needs, I prefer wallet #3. For 99% of the purchases I make with a physical card, I use our joint credit card. That card lives, conveniently, in the exterior pocket. On the interior, I have my ID and medical cards on the left hand side, and other cards on the right-hand side. Finally, the cash gets pinched in the middle.

Wallet #3

Everything I want. Nothing I don’t. Light, easy, simple. No fuss.

At prices that range from $24 → $32, these wallets won’t break the bank either. In fact, they’re quite a bit cheaper than my previous wallet, in no small part because they’re from here in the good ol’ US of A.

The holidays are fast-approaching, and a Minimalist Wallet from Tom Bihn would make for a great holiday gift.

 

One of the beautiful things about podcasts is that there’s room for a zillion of them. If you want to talk weekly about anything — even pens — you can do that.

On Double Density, your hosts Angelo and Brian discuss tech news… and also explore the world of the paranormal.

In this episode, I join the boys to discuss the travesty that is Montreal “bagels”, iPads, ARM-powered Macs, podcasting, and internet comment culture. Then things take a turn for the weird, and we discuss superstition and where I sit on the scale of paranormal believers.

Double Density was a fun show to do; you should check it out.


 

Speaking of guest appearances, this fortnight I was the guest on Miha Rekar’s interview show, Parallel Passion. On this episode, Miha and I discussed my origin story for both podcasting and cars, how I do a poor job of responding to trolls, and more.

I had a lot of fun talking with Miha! I think you’ll find the show is well worth your time.

 

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining Heather Kelly, Dan Moren, and Mikah Sargent on this week’s episode of Clockwise.

On this episode, we discussed what tech products we’d like to see reinvented, what it’s like to live in Dongletown, how tech changed voting in midterms, and what strongly-held decisions we’ve eventually reversed. I also did a DuckDuckGo search for old man hat.

I know how hard it is to make time for another podcast, but Clockwise is short and always enjoyable.


 

As mentioned on his excellent video review, I joined my buddy Tyler Stalman on his podcast, the eponymous Tyler Stalman Podcast. On this episode, we discussed Tyler’s sneak preview of the iPhone XR, which just went up for presale overnight here in the States.

Come for the iPhone XR review, but stay for the really wonderful and meandering discussion of being a creator — both podcast and YouTube — in 2018.

I had a blast turning the tables on Tyler for this episode; I suspect you’ll probably enjoy it too.


Go Pack, 2018 Edition
Closed go pack, with AirPods for scale

I’ve spoken about my “go pack” not once, but twice in the past. However, it’s been a couple years, so I figured it’s worth revisiting.

In short, I’ve found it to be incredibly convenient to keep a small bundle of essential and redundant chargers/dongles/doodads in a small pack that can be grabbed at a moment’s notice. If I’m leaving the house to go somewhere overnight, I take my go pack with me. I have 100% confidence that any cable I may need will be in it.

The key to the go pack — convenient both at home and away — is redundancy. I don’t have to go disconnecting my bedside setup every time I go on a trip. I simply grab my go pack.

Some of these cables are not cheap, which makes this a seemingly wasteful endeavor. The convenience of knowing everything I need is waiting for me makes the juice well worth the squeeze.

As always, some of the below links are affiliate links. I get a small kickback if you use them to buy things. As always, I would not recommend anything here that I don't truly believe in.
Exploded go pack

Essential Items

AHarry’s Toiletry Bag — $20
I got this as a sponsorship perk/freebie, and though it’s designed for Harry’s wonderful razors/etc, the Toiletry Bag is actually a wonderful go pack. It’s light, smushes down if necessary to fit in a corner of your bag, and has two compartments to store stuff in.

BAnker PowerPort 5 — $23
I resisted buying one of these for the longest time, but inevitably caved. I’m glad I did. This small brick will charge both phones, both watches, and one other USB item simultaneously. Very convenient, especially when traveling internationally, as you only need one plug adapter for five devices.

CApple Lightning Cables × 3 — $19 each
I have actually had good luck with the far better priced $7 Monoprice Lightning cables. However, I have enough first-party Lightning cables lying around that I’ve just committed to using only those. I landed on three because I have both Erin’s phone and my phone, as well as my AirPods or occasionally my iPad.

DApple Watch Charging Cable × 2 — $29 each
Erin and I each have an Apple Watch. There are no third-party substitutes that I trust, even if they do exist. Expensive, but worth it.

ECable Matters 6’ USB Extension Cable 2-pack × 3 — $8 each
Our Anker charging brick is in one spot, but the devices it charges may be across the room from the brick. Erin’s phone, in particular, is often on the other side of the bed from the power, which lives near my side. I’ll daisy-chain two of these extensions with a Lightning cable to enable Erin to leave her phone on her bedside table. Sometimes I need one as well, so I carry three cables. I’ve searched long and hard for thin USB extension cables, and someone recommended these to me on Twitter. I can’t find that tweet, but I’m so thankful for it. The ones linked on Amazon look different, but according to Amazon, are the same SKU I had purchased.

FMonoprice Ultra Slim HDMI Cable — $11
I often want to plug in one of my devices — be it a computer or iOS device — to a hotel TV. It’s often easiest to do so with my own HDMI cable. These directional cables are as slim as I’ve found, and work great, as long as you plug them in the right way.

Dongletown

Three dongles

GApple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter — $69 (!!)
This ridiculously expensive USB-C dongle gives me USB-C in (for power), USB-A (for a peripheral), and HDMI out (for using an external TV/monitor). I’ve tried third party versions, but they seemed less reliable, particularly with the USB-A port. However, if I were to recommend one, I’d go with the FastSnail knockoff, which is roughly half the price.

HTP-Link USB 3.0 to Ethernet — $14
Unfortunately, with the ubiquity of WiFi, hotel rooms very rarely offer Ethernet ports anymore. However, you never know when you’ll want to transfer a lot of data, or wish to do so slightly more securely than WiFi allows. Though I’ve tried some native USB-C adapters in the past, I’ve settled on pairing this traditional USB adapter with the above Multiport Adapter. This way my one-port MacBook can have power and Ethernet, rather than one or the other. Conveniently, the TP-Link adapter requires no drivers to be installed on my Mac.

IMonoprice USB-C SD Card Reader — $12
I have a “big camera”, and take it with me pretty much anytime I’d also need to grab my go pack. To read the images on the “film” in that camera, I use this very-cheap and very-reliable Monoprice reader.

Non-Essential

One cable and one dongle

JSF Cable 6’ Flat Ethernet Cable — $6
As previously stated, Ethernet ports are very rare these days, but it is sometimes convenient to have a cable with you. This flat Ethernet cable is small and light.

KApple Lightning Digital AV Adapter — $49 (!)
Speaking of hilariously expensive peripherals (though in this case we may know why), I still like to carry one of these dongles. It allows me to connect my iPhone (or iPad) to a TV via HDMI. Since I typically have my MacBook with me, I use this sparingly, but it is handy in a pinch.


All-in, with the bag, and the non-essential items, the total bill is an eye-popping $340. However, you may find that many of these items you may have lying around. For me, my spend expressly for my go pack was roughly $100 less.

As a final tip, believe in the sanctity of the go pack. Never remove an item from the pack, as you will forget to return it, and then end up on a trip without an essential cable. I made this mistake on a recent beach vacation, and were it not for some good luck and redundant items in the car, I would have been doomed.


 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become more cognizant of the feel of the things I put on the internet. It is way too easy to fire off a snarky tweet, or a hot take, about something that isn’t perfect. I’m trying to stop doing that, and also start calling out things that are great.

Sam and Ross Like Things is one of those great things.

Two friends, Sam and Ross, who happen to be not only fellow Richmonders but also friends of mine, talk about two things that they like every fortnight.

Their one rule: No hedging.

I was lucky enough to be their guest this particular fortnight, and though there are a zillion things I could have spoken about, I had to choose only one:

Cook Out. 🤤

I love this show, and I had a blast doing it. Unlike nearly all of my podcast appearances, I was able to do this in-person. Which was critical, since Sam had never had Cook Out before. 😱

Naturally, I came bearing gifts.

Anyway, S&RLT is a great show, that puts a little bit of happiness in the world, every other week. You should definitely check it out.


Casey on Cars: 2018 Volkswagen GTI Autobahn
Volkswagen GTI in the dark

Often times, the best — but also worst — problem in the world is a difficult choice.

As I write this, 40mm versus 44mm is one of those choices.

Sometimes it’s shaken or stirred.[1].

If you’re very lucky, it’s something else entirely: GTI or R.

Volkswagen offers several different flavors of its all-things-to-all-people Golf line. Many of them I find uninteresting. Two of them are not only interesting, but compelling: the GTI and the R.

How do you choose between them? At first glance, it’s a very difficult choice to make.

Two very powerful, very fast, very comfortable, very good hatchbacks, both of which seem like they should cost more money than they do. It’s a tough choice.

Video

This would not be a Casey on Cars review without a video. You can find my video review of the GTI on my YouTube channel. I’d love if you take a few minutes to watch it:

Too Much of a Good Thing

In the Golf line, there are several different models:

  • Golf – The standard economy hatchback
  • e-Golf – The super economy hatchback
  • GTI – The hot hatchback
  • R – The performance hatchback

The space between the models varies depending on which pairing you’re comparing. With the GTI and the Golf R, the differences are slight. Almost imperceptible at a glance.

In my review of the R, I wrote the following:

The Golf R is, on the surface, little more than a GTI cranked to 11. However, upon closer inspection, it’s quite a lot more than that… while also being less than that.

Having spent a week with the GTI, I stand by the above.

Again quoting myself:

At a glance, there are a few major changes from the GTI. The Golf R:

  • Has a Haldex all wheel drive system
  • Has more power:
    • Horsepower is bumped from 220 → 292, a ∆ of 72 HP
    • Torque is bumped from 258 → 280, a ∆ of 22 lbft
  • Is made in Germany (the GTI is actually assembled in Mexico)
  • Has Volkswagen’s new “Digital Cockpit” instead of traditional analog gauges.
  • Has an electronic parking brake

As it turns out, there’s a lot more space between the two cars than I originally thought.

GTI from the side

Starting Lineup

The particular GTI I was able to spend time with was a Autobahn, which is the highest trim level available on the GTI.

The GTI S is the base model; if you opt for the SE, you get:

  • A 8" larger touchscreen (instead of the S’s 6.5")
  • Sunroof
  • A limited slip differential
  • Larger brakes
  • Nicer wheels
  • LED headlights
  • Blind spot monitoring

Opting instead for the Autobahn also gives you:

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Dynamic chassis control
  • Fender audio
  • More configurable driver’s seat
  • Leather seats
  • Dual-zone climate control

The Autobahn is considered fully loaded; the only options you really get at the Autobahn trim level are exterior color and transmission.

GTI's hindquarters at night

Shifting Gears

The particular GTI Autobahn I was given was equipped with Volkswagen’s direct shift gearbox, which is their dual-clutch automated manual transmission. It’s also a $1100 option. To oversimplify, the DSG is sorta kinda two separate manual transmissions that are interleaved. There are two clutches — one per transmission — which allows for expected shifts to be lightning-fast.

I’ve said for years, that I much prefer DCT/DSG transmissions over traditional automatics. Though I’ll always prefer to row my own, it’s clear that won’t be an option for long. A DCT/DSG is as close as one gets while still having only two pedals.

Or is it?

As discussed in my Giulia review, the ZF 8-speed is truly phenomenal. So good, in fact, that I think I prefer it to the DSG in the GTI. Which is a deeply uncomfortable conclusion I never expected to come to.

The problem with the DSG in the GTI is that it never lets you forget that you are driving a hack. It’s a phenomenally impressive hack, but ultimately, still a hack. It’s taking a manual transmission and trying to bend it to be something it really isn’t. It’s right there in the name: manual transmission! It shouldn’t be automated!

This is most easily exemplified by trying to take off, from a stop, with a moderate quickness. In the ZF, it would behave exactly as I expected: a quick-ish launch, then lots of acceleration. In the GTI, it was different. I got a standard, more leisurely launch, and then once the computer felt like the clutch was done slipping, it would lay on the throttle.

This never felt really natural, and always frustrated me, at least a little bit.

Otherwise, the DSG was great. The only other foible I really noticed was that it allowed you to request a downshift into first gear at speeds where you probably shouldn’t. It was never smooth, to the point that I wish the transmission just ignored my requests. I eventually trained myself not to ask for a downshift to first, but it took me a while.

Closeup of the GTI headlight assembly

Traction Liss

Though the DSG left me wanting for the magical ZF 8-speed[2], all in all I liked it a lot. Regardless of the transmission the GTI is equipped with, it was stunningly quick.

I quite expected to dearly miss the speed of the R. I expected the GTI to be noticeably — if not considerably — slower.

It turns out I was right, but not for the reason I expected.

The GTI makes way, way too much power for the front wheels.

Any time I really got on the gas, I got wheelspin. Wet weather? Wheelspin. Dry weather? Wheelspin. Turning? Wheelspin. Straight shot? Wheelspin.

Naturally, this could come down to the Bridgestone tires that the car was equipped with. A friend also has a 2018 GTI Autobahn, but with aftermarket tires, and he swears it’s a totally different car. But he concedes it doesn’t make the traction problems go away; they’re simply decreased.

When the GTI digs in, and connects, it’s nearly as fast as the R. Fast enough that my butt dyno couldn’t really tell much of a difference. However, with almost any steering input, or any amount of moisture on the road, all bets are off.

So, the R is quite a bit faster, but not because of the motor; it’s because of the all wheel drive system.

On the plus side, however, the limited slip differential in the GTI must be powered by unicorn tears, because it was magical. I never felt any torque steer, which I remain surprised by. The last time I drove a truly powerful front wheel drive car — my dad’s SRT-4 — it torque steered like its life depended on it. I got none of that in the GTI.

GTI rear lights at night

Value for Money

The GTI has its problems, but one thing I consider to be inarguable: a Volkswagen GTI — in any trim — is incredible value for money. The interior fit and finish feels like a car north of $40,000. The GTI is well equipped, particularly in Autobahn trim. All of this car can be had for $37,065.

However, a base GTI S starts at $26k. That’s already a ridiculous deal, but from what I’ve been told, dealers are willing to make deals on GTIs. It’s not unheard of to get a GTI for around $20k. Brand new.

I can’t imagine a better deal for a car that can do almost everything, and do so with such gusto.

GTI vs. R

When I reviewed the R, I had said that I was looking to unload my BMW, and replace it with either a GTI or an R. Having had a week with the R, then a week with the GTI, I have reached a conclusion.

The GTI is legendary. People have been raving about GTIs since before I was born, and for good reason. I’ve heard from everyone — those in the know and those who are not — that it’s the ultimate all-things-for-all-people car. And everyone is right; the GTI really is. Bang for the buck, value for money, it’s the best I’ve ever driven. By a mile.

However, I hated the GTI.

I hated the GTI because it exposed a second uncomfortable truth: I’m not a particularly good driver. I’m not good at being gentle with steering and throttle input. I’m not good at being… discreet. I like to be able to just plant the gas, turn the wheel, and go.

Thus, a couple of weeks ago, this happened:

We bought ourselves a 2018 Golf R. 6MT, of course.

The GTI is an incredible deal, and a phenomenal car. I would happily drive one. But to spend my money, I wanted to get the car that best suited my driving style. So we got a Golf R.

I couldn’t be happier.

At the end of the day, I put my money where my mouth is, and I did my part to save the manuals. Will you do yours?


  1. It’s always vodka though.

  2. Thinking this, much less saying this publicly, still feels gross. But it is how I feel.


 

This week’s episode of Kathy Campbell’s feel-good podcast about podcasts, Friends in Your Ears, I join my friend nemesis fremesis Matt Alexander to discuss how we got into podcasts, why we started making them, and our favorite podcasts.

Additionally, Matt and I end up dissatisfied with each other’s answers to the bonus question, and decide to take matters into our own hands.

This was tremendous fun to record; I bet you’ll enjoy it.