Category Archives: Apple

AirPort wifi issue solved

For the past few months I’ve had sporadic drop-offs on our home network which is provided by a cable modem and an AirPort Extreme base station. I figured this was our cable provider although to be fair, we rarely have issue with cable unless there’s a severe storm.

Then I read Marco Arment’s piece Wi-Fi connections stalling on AirPort Extreme with 7.6.3 firmware and noted that I was running the latest (7.6.3) firmware. I didn’t do anything about it but saved the link to Marco’s piece.

Last week I was out in California visiting my mother and noticed that the AirPort Extreme router I have set up in her house was also running the latest firmware and in the past I’ve noticed that her network ground to a half at odd times.

So, I followed Marco’s directions and downgraded her AirPort Extreme to version 7.6.1 (extremely easy to do) and everything seemed to work fine. I don’t know if it did anything good but it certainly didn’t do anything bad. Next time I’m out there I’ll know better.

When I returned home I downgraded our AirPort Extreme and while I can’t say it solved the problems we were having they have not re-occurred since.

Marco seems to have been having problems with an iPhone dropping off and we may have had this too but I noticed it on my computer which I use much more at home.

I think this is worth trying if you’re running the latest firmware on an AirPort Extreme and have had any kind of noticeable drop-offs or slow downs.

Could Apple clean up my living room?

Why Are TV Remotes So Terrible?

This short NPR piece is interesting and it overlaps nicely with the speculation that Apple is cooking up something in the TV area beyond the current AppleTV.

I don’t agree that the primary reason remotes suck is because there are now more channels, it’s easy enough to plug any channel number into a remote number pad. The reason remotes suck is because there are now more devices and each has it’s own operating system and remote, most of which have no clue about the others. The assumption in the NPR piece is that everything I want to watch is on cable or the internet but in fact, most of Netflix’ movies are still DVD-only and I own a lot of DVD/Blu-rays that I like to watch as well.

Also, I am watching at least some content via my computer although that’s less a matter of choosing the computer or the internet, more a matter of how I find out about it and where I’m sitting in my house when I do. However, even though I thought Apple might do this a while back, the last thing I want is a huge iMac in my living room. While there is no doubt that TV will get more interactive, I’d prefer to use my MacBook Pro or my iPad to get non-TV content while sitting in the living room. The idea of surfing the web on an HD TV while sitting on a couch, driving the entire thing with Siri (voice) or an iPhone remote app doesn’t appeal to me. I prefer to do that kind of stuff which involves a lot of reading in a more intimate setting.

Our TV/media process (in the year 2013)

Everyone has a different setup and a different process, this is what we have at the moment. We do not watch a lot of TV and when we do watch TV it’s usually a single channel. We don’t channel surf looking for content. But, we watch a lot of movies and so, we have a collection of remotes and interactions to make it all work.

We have a three year old 52″ (should have bought a 55″) Sony “Bravia” HD TV set that has a great picture and incredibly bad operating system software and a bad remote. Deciding on it over other models was very much like buying a camera these days: do you want image quality or do you want a decent user interface, because there is no one camera or TV set that has it all. Frankly, the user interface on almost all TVs sucks so the analogy isn’t all that good.

Connected to our TV we have an old Bose 3-2-1 DVD/stereo system with speakers, a cable box from our cable provider, a DVD/Blu-Ray player, and an AppleTV. Each of these things has a remote and while we don’t use all the remotes all the time, they have to interact with one another in small ways to make it all work. This is much like the old days when one had to switch the TV to channel 3 or 4 to get the VCR to show through, which my wife finally got just as things changed to what they are now.

The Sony TV set has four HDMI inputs and we use three of them:

HDMI 1: Cable box
HDMI 2: Sony DVD/Blu-ray player
HDMI 3: AppleTV

Watching cable TV

The cable box is powered on all the time and it has an awful remote which we use mostly to switch between two PBS stations: Connecticut Public Television (09) and New York Public Television or “13″ (22). if there’s a big event we might watch CNN or MSNBC but that’s rare. I watch John Stewart and Rachel Maddow on my computer. If we lose power the cable box usually resets itself but it defaults to a channel we don’t watch so I’ve got to reset it to 09 using the awful remote. For the most part, the awful cable box remote is tucked away, out of sight. Thank god, it looks like a ray gun out of a Flash Gordon movie.

Since the cable box is on all the time all we have to do to watch TV is turn the TV on with its remote, wait for it to warm up (yes, it has to load its settings and if you jump the gun it gets cranky) and if it’s not already set to HDMI 1 (cable box/TV) cycle the inputs to HDMI 1. The Sony TV is so sluggish in responding to hitting the input button that it can be frustrating and even though I know it’s sluggishness well, I find myself going around the cycle numerous times to get what I want. We don’t (well, I don’t) like the sound that comes out of the TV speakers and so I mute them and turn on the Bose and make sure it’s set to “TV.” Usually I leave the Bose on and set to TV so this step isn’t always necessary but muting the Sony TV always is and I’ve not found a way to tell the Sony TV that we have other, primary speakers (this may be possible but I’ve not figured out how to do it). I also have never found a way to mute the TV’s startup sound, which is obnoxious. But, this means that once the TV is set to the right input the remote that gets used most is the Bose remote to control sound volume.

Watching a DVD

If I want to watch a Netflix DVD I turn on the TV with its remote, cycle to HDMI input 2, mute the TV’s sound, open the DVD drawer of the Sony DVD/Blu-ray player, drop in the DVD, and close the drawer, turn on the Bose (sound) if it’s not on and make sure it’s on TV. One of the reasons we stopped using the Bose DVD player, besides wanting to watch an occasional Blu-ray which it can’t play, is that the HDMI port on it was very finicky and if you didn’t get the TV cycled to HDMI 4 (it’s input) before putting in the DVD, the handshake sometimes didn’t happen. The Sony Blu-ray player doesn’t suffer from that, thank god. But, it has the same Sony user interface as our TV (called Bravia). Most of the time putting in a disc pushes through the Sony operating system and it simply starts playing. I attempt to end-run previews when I can with a single button on the Sony DVD/Blu-ray remote or, if the DVD locks me out of that I fast forward through them (again, using the Sony DVD/Blu-ray remote) if we don’t get caught up in them.

Hitting a single “play” button on the Sony DVD remote will start things and unless we want to pause or get to a particular scene, I don’t need that remote anymore. I pick up the Bose remote to control sound.

Watching streaming content using AppleTV

If I want to use AppleTV to watch a Netflix streaming video or some other piece of AppleTV content the process is similar: Turn on TV with its remote and cycle to HDMI 3 and mute its sound, turn on AppleTV with its (too small) remote, find the content I want and start playing it, controlling sound with the Bose remote and pausing with the Apple remote.

I have the AppleTV remote app on both my iPhone and iPad and while it’s novel and sometimes useful I don’t use it all that much. I don’t like the size of the AppleTV remote (too small in my hand) but I find using it’s physical buttons easier than the virtual buttons on it’s iOS counterpart.

But, that could easily change and it’s a heck of a lot easier to change a software interface than to put out a new physical remote every time someone comes up with a better idea.

In short, I have a pile of five remotes lying around, all of which are necessary, all of which are hard to use and using them in conjunction with one another is akin to having to have a TV tuned to channel 3 to watch a videotape plus layers of other conditions. It’s all rather stupid.

And, that leads me back to speculation about what Apple might be doing to clean this up.

AppleTV in the big sense

Now that Apple is a big company, has millions of customers who are hooked into iOS, and is known for its design chops, there is an opportunity here and I think they’ve got their foot in its door with AppleTV and the (for now) crude iOS Remote app.

I’ve never been one to think that Apple is building a new, self-contained television set (and yes, I’ve been reading the recent speculation about Apple and LG doing just that), Sony, Samsung, and others and others have that covered and there are too many variables in the TV set market to have the kind of small, tighter offering there that Apple would typically present. Best to let people buy their own screens and treat them like computer monitors, going after the experience of building a platform for the control of what gets presented on the screen.

By connecting the current AppleTV to a television set and allowing it to end-run much of the television set’s operating system, Apple is at least some of the way there. In order for the grand scheme to work both the current AppleTV box (or some future one) and the iOS Remote app would simply need to learn about more things connected to AppleTV, and/or, the HDMI interface would need to be able to do things that it currently can’t do.

Or, maybe the reason people think Apple is working on an all in one solution here is because it’s not possible to control all of this disparate stuff with a single box and software.

I’m wondering how successful Bose has been with their VideoWave offering. This certainly solves at least some of the remote and speaker problems but one still needs a cable box, a DVD/Blu-ray player, and an AppleTV and/or Roku to get streaming.

If, in some future world, all movie and TV content was streaming over the internet then Apple could easily build control of it into a box like AppleTV and have a single remote control it all, be it a physical remote or an iOS app. If one wanted better sound than a TV has then somehow that sound would need to be controlled by whatever controls the TV. No doubt this is doable now.

But, as Netflix subscribers know, there is a large offset between its content available on DVD and the amount of that stuff you can get via streaming with a lot more content available in physical form. No doubt one reason for this is that if everything was streamed the internet would melt under the weight of it all. We haven’t had a streaming “choke” in over a year now and no doubt there would be plenty of choking if Netflix put it all out via streaming. But, the other reason they can’t is akin to why Apple can’t get control of the cable box: content providers have rules about distribution that Apple and others can’t get around.

So it remains a big mess.

Grand Unification

On the one hand, we absolutely love our big TV and sound system and watching a movie like Avatar on a smaller screen with TV set sound is just not the same experience. But, as it is, the process of making that happen is currently a kludge and there is an opportunity for Apple and/or others to make it better. I think it’s just a matter of time before they do.

For me there is a tension between having a company like Apple build a TV set/media center that does it all and putting together my own system of pieces that do each piece better. The liability of separate pieces is five different operating systems, five different remotes, etc. The liability of one company building a TV that does it all is that no doubt some of the all won’t be what I want. Apple is pretty good at figuring out what I want so if there’s a company to do this kind of thing it would be Apple, but as both a user and a stockholder it makes me both hopeful and uneasy.

The Computer Backup Rule of Three

The Computer Backup Rule of Three

Scott Hanselman’s rationale is excellent. I don’t follow all of it but the post and the comments following are all worth reading.

If you don’t back up your computer or your mobile devices you’re looking for trouble, simple as that. Hard disks fail and short of that, operating systems fail.

What I do:

1. I have two external bus-powered, small, portable LaCie firewire 800 drives that I use SuperDuper! with to back up my entire computer.

On day 1 I use SuperDuper! back up to drive 1 and put it in a fireproof box in our basement.

On day 2 I use SuperDuper! to back up to drive 2 and when it’s done I take it to the basement and swap it with drive 1 which comes back up stairs and goes in my desk drawer.

On day 3 I back up over drive 1 (using SuperDuper!’s “smart backup” to just update the new stuff, etc.), then take it to the basement and swap it with drive 2 in the fireproof box.

I repeat this daily, even if I don’t use my computer for anything significant. This way I don’t think about what’s backed up when, I just know that the most I could lose is a day of work.

2. At the same time I’m doing my SuperDuper! backups I’m doing twice a day Time Machine backups onto another LaCie external hard disk (a bigger one to hold the growing Time Machine collection of days).

3. The only cloud backup I have isn’t really backup, it’s iCloud and it’s just my contacts, my email, my calendar, and a few other things. I use gmail (cloud based) and have a .me mail account (cloud based) so my email lives outside of my house.

I’ve been using this method for years and it’s saved my bacon numerous times.

The important thing to consider in both backing up and in deciding which methods you want to use is this: If your computer dies or is stolen, how fast can you be back up and in business. My SuperDuper! cloned backups will boot any modern Macintosh and so, all I have to do is boot my wife’s MacBook Pro with the most recent of my backup drives and that computer is essentially mine with all of my stuff exactly the way it was when I backed it up. Then, I can go to an Apple store, buy a new MacBook Pro (or have mine fixed if it’s fixable) and use SuperDuper! to backup back over it, or, leave the new native system on it and migrate all of my stuff back.

There is no perfect method for doing this stuff, the important thing is to do it and work out a method that works for you and that you’ll use on a regular basis.

Entitlement and a comment on Apple’s Maps app


Aaron Mahnke comments on the iPhone 5 and our jaded attitudes towards new products and services.

We can trash an app because of the color of its icon and use powerful words like “hate” and lambast the decisions of the developers as “stupid” or “wrong”. But in doing so we ignore the multitude of positive aspects and elements that make the app worth buying and using. We, the generation of armchair developers and silver-spoon cry-babies. Shame on us.

I agree 100%. I’d go further: It feels to me that many people who are piling on Apple about the lack of data accuracy on the iOS 6 Maps app have never used it, they’re just echoing the buzz that Apple has stumbled.

On Apple’s Maps app

I was going to do a longish post on my recent use of Apple’s new and to some “disastrous” iOS 6 Maps app but I’m not sure I will. Suffice to say that I not only love the new app, it has guided me flawlessly with turn by turn navigation to two spots in LA: a restaurant which is correctly located on Apple’s map, and the Huntington Library and Gardens, which is also correctly located on Apple’s map.

I think the design and iOS integration is better than anything I’ve ever used (including Garmin, Google, and others). Yes, it’s not as rich in data (yet) as Google maps but Google maps had problems when it started as well. I remember them although we were all so blown away by the introduction of this kind of mapping we let them go, knowing they’d be fixed in time (as they have been).

Apple should have called maps “beta” and made it easy to crowdsource fixes. That’s where they blew it, not in releasing it prematurely. They had to start somewhere.

I’ve been testing addresses in my contacts list and so far only a few are off. For example, B&H Photo, a store I know well is located in New York on 9th Ave. between 33rd and 34th St.

Google maps not only has it right, it IDs the store. Here’s a screen snap from

google maps screen shot

Apple Maps on my iPhone finds the address and locates it correctly on 9th Ave. but incorrectly on the corner of 30th St., three blocks south of where it actually is.

apple maps screen shot

No doubt things like this and all the melted overpasses and monuments in the wrong place will get fixed in due time. Again, Apple might have made this easier for themselves by pushing us to send in the fixes.

Back to Aaron’s idea that we’re a bit too entitled these days. Remember, Google Maps had lots of problems when it started as well. We’re so jaded these days that we expect everything, especially things from Apple, to be absolutely perfect out of the gate. I certainly don’t feel that way about Apple’s Maps app and I think they’re off to a fine start. Remember, it’s not just about the map, it’s also about the way its integrated into the rest of the operating system of the device, and in this area no one touches Apple. I’m confident that Apple will get this right and until then, we have alternatives.

A week with iPhone five

a week with iPhone five

Chuck Skoda writes about his first week with the new iPhone 5. Well written review, worth reading.

If there is one top selling point with the iPhone 5, this is it. Which is funny considering the iPhone is late to the LTE party. iPhone is the only device many of us have with ubiquitous internet connectivity, and LTE speeds make for an even bigger improvement than 3G had over Edge. In other words, this speed on a mobile device is a game changer.



I just downloaded and used a new iPhone app called Cardiio that measures your heart rate with the front camera of your iPhone.

Every time your heart beats, more blood is pumped into your face. This slight increase in blood volume causes more light to be absorbed, and hence less light is reflected from your face. Using sophisticated software, your iPhone’s front camera can track these tiny changes in reflected light that are not visible to the human eye and calculate your heart beat!

It works amazingly well, keeps track of your various measurements over time and shows you how you’re doing relative to others your age.

This is really incredible and I can’t wait to use it on a hike to see what my heart rate is on a steep climb.

The Computer Chronicles: HyperCard

Computer Chronicles: HyperCard

An introduction to Apple’s Hypercard. Guests include Apple Fellow and Hypercard creator Bill Atkinson, Hypercard senior engineer Dan Winkler, author of “The Complete Hypercard Handbook” Danny Goodman, and Robert Stein, Publisher of Voyager Company. Demonstrations include Hypercard 1.0, Complete Car Cost Guide, Focal Point, Laserstacks, and National Gallery of Art. Originally broadcast in 1987.

As a long time HyperCard user and lover, this is a wonderful trip down memory lane.

People may forget that the late Gary Kildall wrote CP/M 86 which lost out to MS DOS as the OS of the first IBM PC. His questions are pretty nerdy but then, so was CP/M. Neither of the interviewers really get it the way Atkinson and Winkler are explaining it (simply) and in actuality, few in the computer world really did.

Remember, HyperCard was pre-web, during the old AOL days. I think it would have lasted longer had Apple had better leadership during that time and had a clue of what to do with it but between Apple/Claris and the birth of the web it died out as did Atkinson’s next project: The General Magic “personal intelligent communicator” which was a hybrid smart-phone internet and hypertext device.

Amazing to have been aware and involved in all of this stuff over such an amazing period of technological evolution.

Here are some other HyperCard-related posts at this site:

HyperCard Snow Crystals
The Bee
Confusing Words

Postscript: I was just doing some work on my iPhone and it struck me that aside from the Macintosh Finder in the early days, HyperCard’s iconic (pun intended) home screen was an early prototype of the current iOS home screen.

[via Dale Allyn]

Mountain Lion’s new document model explained

The Very Model of a Modern Mountain Lion Document

Matt Neuburg does an outstanding job of describing Apple’s new document model in Mountain Lion, how it improves upon Lion and how both of them are vastly different from document models in earlier versions of Mac OS.

I’ve been struggling with “Save,” Save As…” and auto save since the Lion upgrade and while I’m not completely comfortable with the new model in Mountain Lion, reading Matt’s piece enabled me to make the changes in my System Preferences General Pane that I need to to feel comfortable, for the time being.

All of this is OS X being influenced by iOS, for better, worse, or who knows?

These are the details that Mac and to a lesser extent iOS users sweat over and I’m glad of that. Apple sweats over them too and that’s what makes this stuff work so well.

Fascinating time to be using these tools.

How Mat Honan was hacked

How Apple and Amazon Security Flaws Led to My Epic Hacking

This is a both a fascinating and sad story and a wakeup call for those of us who have built up a complex life online. It’s also a wakeup call for those of us who do not back up our computers, iPhones, iPads, and other devices connected to a single or even multiple connected digital ecosystems.

This story scares the shit out of me. I’m paranoid enough right now so that I have serious mixed feelings about posting this (it might be looked at as a potential challenge to a hacker).

I urge anyone reading this post to read Mat’s story slowly and carefully and make note of every detail described and put yourself in Mat’s shoes. He may have made some mistakes that you haven’t made but no doubt we all have vulnerabilities, I know I do.

In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.

It isn’t just having an Amazon account, an Apple ID and an iCloud account, or having “Find my Mac” turned on in iCloud that brought Mat’s digital life down, it’s also a seemingly insignificant fact that he had a short, desirable three character Twitter handle and enough followers to make that account useful to hackers who wanted a high profile account so they could send a message: “we got into this account via a complex ID hack.”

But, even if you’re nobody of import on the internet, reading this article is a useful wakeup call if for no other reason than to hear that a person like Mat who’s a relatively sophisticated tech journalist stupidly did not back up his home computer and so it was vulnerable when hackers took over his iCloud account and found “Find My Mac” turned on. They did a remote wipe on his Mac for no good reason given the reason he was hacked and he lost the complete early photographic history of his daughter because he had no backup.

Here’s how I map myself into this

I’m a much less desirable target but who knows what makes a person a desirable target?

I use an Apple AirPort Extreme router between my local network of computers and iOS devices and our cable modem and the internet. It has a built-in firewall. We do not use local file sharing although I trust the AirPort firewall to protect us. If you have a computer directly connected to a cable or DSL modem you are extremely vulnerable and you need to do something about that.

I back up my iPhone and iPad to my computer daily (sync – backup). If they are mistakenly or maliciously remote wiped I can get the data back easily.

I use iCoud’s Find My iPhone and Find My iPad features (like David Pogue) so I can find and if necessary, remote wipe my iPhone and iPad if they fall into the wrong hands. I do not use Find My Mac which means my Macintosh isn’t visible and vulnerable to a complete wipe from my iCloud account (I hope).

I back up my computer daily in two different ways (SuperDuper and Time Machine) which means I have a complete back up of my computer and my iOS devices in case of accidental or malicious remote wipe. I actually have multiple complete backups: I have two external drives that I swap daily one being kept in the basement in a fire proof box.

I’ve only lost everything once in my life, in the very early days of personal computing before there were easy ways to back things up. It felt bad enough so that I swore I’d never let that happen to me again and hopefully it won’t. But, all it takes is once and that ought to be enough of a wake up call to get your attention and get you doing something about it. Since the early ’80s (pre-Mac) I’ve had a backup scheme in place that I’ve used religiously. Some people who hear about this think I’m nuts but their time will come and when it does they’ll get it.

I may be vulnerable via the online methods that got Mat in trouble and rather than blaming Apple and/or Amazon I need a plan to do something about this. I’m working on it and for obvious reasons I’m not posting that plan here. Your ideas are always welcome in comments, email, chat, phone.

I’m quite sure that some reading this are even more vulnerable than I am and I urge you to read Mat’s story and make note of both his mistakes and how your digital life maps onto his. Even if you feel you’re not a target because you have no status online there may be other aspects of your life that make you a desirable target for a hack or an ID theft.

Hacking and ID theft like this should bring on the most severe legal punishment no matter what age the hacker (Mat’s hacker is 19). Life in prison sounds about right. Of course, the stiffer the penalty the greater the challenge for a motivated hacker.

[via Dale Allyn]

Mountain Lion first impressions

I upgraded my 15″ early 2011 MacBook Pro to Mountain Lion yesterday morning. Here’s what I’ve been using and loving so far:

Dictation. Works great, just like in iOS. Dictated chat messages in new iChat, some emails, and some notes as well as this sentence.

Notification Center: I love notification Center in iOS and I really like it in Mac OS now. Works better than badges in the dock and notifications interrupting things in the middle of the screen for me. I see incoming emails, texts, reminders and more, all in one place and I can snooze or close them. Great. Before Sparrow was bought by Google I switched back to using Apple’s native Mail program for email and it’s working fine for my two email accounts (gmail and .me). The small upgrades to this application in Mountain Lion are excellent: better threading of related emails and no doubt much more as I find it.

AirPlay: AirPlay is now on the system menubar. We have an AppleTV and with a simple menu command I can see my screen on our big 52″ HD TV. Sweet. So, I see a fun video I want to share with my wife, just send it to the TV and she can see it. Very cool. We’ve been using AirPlay in iOS on iPad and iPhone for a while now, great to have it on the Mac too. AirPlay is an incredible technology and the way it works with AppleTV is a great example of what makes Apple such a great technology company. Fantastic stuff.

Safari: I love the unified url and search fields and how Safari intelligently deals with text entered there. I also love the Sharing button for tweeting, sending pages in email and more. Excellent, saves many steps for me. The Sharing button is system-wide and I’m finding it in other places as well. Wow, very cool.

Messages: I was using the buggy beta of the new Messages app but switched back to the older iChatAV until because it was too rough around the edges. The finished version works extremely well and allows me to connect with contacts via AIM, Google, and Apple on any computer and iOS devices. I love that I can now send a message to a phone first over wifi and then over cell. Works seamlessly.

I’d be using the new Notes application with iCloud syncing to the Notes apps on the iPhone and iPad but I already use SimpleNote and JustNotes on the Mac to sync with it and at this point I’m going to stick with the third party system because it’s more full-featured and works faster.

Here’s Apple’s intro video on Mountain Lion in case you haven’t seen it.

Here’s a list of all of Mountain Lion’s new features.

I think Mountain Lion is a hit and well worth the $19.95 cost to upgrade. My friend Gary who’s visiting did the upgrade right after me, no problems and he’s loving it.

Is Siri riding a Dragon?

Goldman Sachs and the $580 Million Black Hole

This is an amazing piece of history by Loren Feldman at the New York Times and it’s not just about Goldman Sachs, it’s also about Dragon Systems (founded and run by Janet and Jim Baker), the inventors of Dragon Naturally Speaking, one of the first continuous speech to text dictation systems on any computer.

Goldman was hired ($5 million) to broker the sale of Dragon which eventually got sold in 1999 for stock only to a Belgian company, Lernout & Hauspie (L&H).

L&H collapsed soon after the sale and the Bakers were left with nothing, they even lost the technology they invented.

The lawsuit claims that Goldman didn’t do due diligence and had a troubled past with L&H that should have made them wary of a sale.

No doubt Goldman should be sued although it’s easy to pile on because of all the other bad things that have come to light about Goldman in the past few years. The problem is, the Bakers agreed to the stock only deal and could have walked away from it. It will no doubt be argued that Goldman didn’t do its job and that’s true, but the Bakers had final say on any deal and they took a bad one (that Goldman misrepresented to them).

As someone who’s been extremely interested in both synthetic speech and speech to text technology for over twenty years, I’ve followed Dragon closely and I was aware that the Dragon sale had been problematic as this case has been around for a while.

Dragon Dictate was never built for the Mac (it does exist as a free app for iOS: Dragon Dictation) and the various Macintosh equivalents were never as good but even if it had been built I doubt I would have embraced it; it required hours of training and was a clunky system. Now that Apple has put both dictation and control (commands) into the iPhone and iPad and no doubt, eventually the Macintosh I can say that I love it and use it all the time. It’s a beautiful implementation of this technology that requires no training (except us learning how to deal with Siri) and it works extremely well.

This paragraph from the end of the article should be interesting to any Apple follower:

Dragon Systems, the Bakers’ “third child,” was put up for sale at a bankruptcy auction. Visteon acquired some of Dragon’s technology. ScanSoft bought the bulk of it and went on to become a $7 billion giant, with a licensing deal with Apple. (The Bakers believe that some of their technology made its way into Siri.) ScanSoft later acquired — and assumed the name of — Nuance, another voice technology company.

It will be interesting to see if the trial, set for November 6th in Boston digs through the code in Siri and tries, for whatever reason, to show a genealogical relationship between Dragon and Apple.

Thoughts on Apple’s recent announcements

I was traveling the day of the Apple keynote presentation at their annual World Wide Developer’s Conference so I didn’t see the announcements live but the next day I watched the event as you can here:

Apple Special Event, June 11, 2012

If you’re an Apple user (Mac, iPhone, or iPad) and are interested in what’s coming in the year ahead you might enjoy the presentation.

Unlike others who seem to have been let down by the presentation, I loved it and it gave me a clear picture of Apple’s direction in the near and probably the mid term, maybe even the long term.

Mac OS X.8 (Mountain Lion) and iOS 6 both look like wonderful upgrades but the bottom line is this: Apple’s various devices are becoming simpler, more streamlined, and most importantly, better integrated with each other and with various social and informational services outside of Apple’s domain.

iCloud is better integrated into more Apple applications and it looks like there will be built in functionality that will compete with Simplenote, Dropbox, and Instapaper, to name a few.

Dictation, which was initially only on the iPhone is now on the iPad (3) and is coming to the Macintosh. No doubt Siri is coming to the iPad and at some point to the Macintosh as well. Think about this: it wasn’t long ago that speech to text and/or speech commands and text to speech were novelties and didn’t work all that well. Now they’re both reliable, understandable and work on small, handheld devices. This is revolutionary. Apple is betting heavy that speech will be a big part of using all of its devices going forward.

Apple’s computers are starting to move in a bigger way toward flash storage (SSDs): the new MacBook Pro model is a solid state device with no hard disk. While I’m not in the market for a new computer at the moment, I’d buy this machine in a heartbeat if I were. Solid state storage is the future of computing and no doubt more of Apple’s computers will move to it as it becomes more affordable.

Neither AppleTV nor Apple’s plans for a television were mentioned during the presentation. No doubt the next step is to tie AppleTV into this mix in a bigger way and my guess is that it will happen incrementally as it has been for a few years now. Here’s an idea for a next step: Add Game Center to AppleTV. I don’t play games on computers or iOS devices but if I did I’d be using Game Center and it seems to me it’s just a matter of time before Game Center is on AppleTV, another iOS device that will no doubt run at least some iOS apps in the future. When that happens AppleTV will essentially be an “iOS Mini” driving an HD TV and computing will have truly entered the living room.

While Wall Street and the pundits may be disappointed that this particular keynote didn’t announce much that wasn’t already known, I found it exciting to see the way the new operating system for the iPhone and iPad and the new operating system for the Macintosh work so well, individually and together.

Simpler is better and Apple is definitely moving in that direction.

iPad (3) notes

My wife Anne and I have had new iPads (3rd gen) for almost a month now and I thought I’d report on our experience with them so far.

Anne had been using my original iPad (trickle down) and loved it. She used it primarily for reading and while she tried the Kindle app she prefers iBooks and continues to use that as her primary reading tool. The lack of speed of the original iPad limited her use of it as a computer replacement because much of her computer use is on the web. She does have an iPhone, a MacBook Pro (an old computer of mine) and an iCloud account and has them all working together.

The new iPad is fast enough so that she’s now doing pretty much everything on it: email, web browsing and a bit more. Reading remains her primary use of the iPad and she’s loving the extra resolution on the new iPad screen. Anne says that this iPad is very close to the step that could allow her to go computer-less.

Richard (me)
I was going to skip the new iPad (3) because my iPad 2 was doing the job for me. When Anne’s new iPad came I had my iPad 2 to compare to it side by side. While the screen on the new iPad is spectacular, the thing that tipped me was dictation.

I use both Siri and dictation on my iPhone 4S and find both quite useful (when they work) and one of the things that has always bothered me about the iPad is the on-screen keyboard. I’ve refused to buy a bluetooth keyboard for my iPad because while I appreciate the difference between Mac OS and iOS, I have a computer with an excellent keyboard and I don’t see a reason to recreate that in the iPad world. One of the things that makes the iPad so amazing it’s its small size and weight and simplicity. Adding a keyboard pulls it back into the computer world.

So, I found a buyer for my iPad 2 and ordered the new iPad.

Dictation on the new iPad is a dream and I’m a very fast typist, both on a hardware QWERTY keyboard and on the iPad screen. But, even with that, I find dictation quite useful and I like having it in addition to a keypad. I can’t wait until it’s part of Mac OS.

Recently I cut the tip of one of my fingers off cutting potatoes of all things. It did not require stitches and there was no way to reattach it so I’ve been changing dressings and keeping it covered and it’s healing nicely. However, during the past week and a half, my keyboarding has been compromised by the bandage on my finger and so, out comes the iPad with dictation and it’s a godsend.

Editing text in iOS is still in its infancy and feels crude by comparison to editing text on a computer. This video by Daniel Hooper is a nice demonstration of a possible solution to multi-touch text selection on the iPad. It’s great and I hope Apple is considering this issue.

As iOS gets better text editing it will push me further along the path of using the iPad to replace things on this computer.

Aside from dictation, which was the feature that tipped me I’m finding the new iPad a bit faster than the iPad 2 and this small speed increase is enough to get me to use it more to replace this computer. I still use this computer the most of all of my devices but the new iPad is eating into some of that time.

While the screen is great for reading and looking at images, for me it was not the most important factor in doing the upgrade and even now that I’ve had the iPad for a few weeks and love the screen, I think the maturation of iOS, dictation, and the small speed upgrade makes the new iPad a revolutionary evolutionary version of an already great tool.

I have little doubt that the new iPad is eating away at Apple’s low end computer sales and this in turn affects how they position and market MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros.

Apps that push me to iPad use
I was going to avoid listing all of my iOs apps but in fact, some of these have helped push me into more iPad use so it’s important to list them as part of a general discussion of the evolution of the iPad as a computer replacement. iOS is a very different environment than Mac OS and because of this and the fact that everything runs full screen by default, some tasks done with the right apps are more pleasant for me to do on an iPad than on a Mac.

Each of these is a cloud-based application: each uses the cloud to connect to itself running on another device and so, I use these on my computer, my iPad, and my iPhone along with an iCloud account to keep my contacts, calendar and bookmarks in sync.

Reeder for iPad is a newsreader client for a Google Reader account. It is so well designed and such a pleasure to use I can’t imagine using anything else. Given that RSS feeds are the center of my web life I spend a lot of time in this app on the Mac, iPad and even iPhone. Because it’s cloud (Google Reader) based Reeder syncs all of my devices seamlessly. Reeder for me is the equivalent of iBooks for my wife; I spend more time reading in it than anything else.

I’ve had a Twitter account for a while but rarely used it on anything but my Mac because tracking numerous feeds on multiple devices without any native way to keep the feeds in sync proved less than wonderful for me. Once I got used to using RSS as a way of scanning information I could not tolerate Twitter’s lack of cloud based syncing on multiple devices. I still think this is a severe weakness of the native Twitter platform.

However, once I found out about Tweet Marker I started getting more serious about using Twitter because I could keep my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac in sync. So, I started using the native Twitter app on the iPhone and iPad for a while and found it awful and eventually got two clients that are better.

Tweetbot is the current “Reeder” of Twitter clients and it’s simple, beautiful and is the hip Twitter client of choice to use. It can and does make use of Tweet Marker and I would not use a client that didn’t.

While Twitterrific is less hip it’s what I use on my Mac so I decided to give it a go on the iOS side as well. It too makes use of Tweet Marker so all of my various Twitter clients are in sync with one another.

Reading Later
Imagine that you start reading a long article on your computer’s web browser and don’t finish it before you have to rush off for a doctor’s appointment. It would be nice if you could take the article with you to finish reading it. If you knew your doctor had public wifi in his or her office you’d be all set, or, if you had an iPad or iPhone and a cellular signal you could get back online and finish. But, if you’ll be off the grid (so to speak) what do you do?

Instapaper was made for situations like this (and others). You click a “Reader Later” button on your browser and it uploads the link to your Instapaper account. Before you leave your house, run the Instapaper app on your iPad and/or iPhone and update your account. The article you were reading will be loaded and cached in its entirety.

Now when you get to the doctor’s office you can run Instapaper on your iPad and continue reading the article in a very clean, iBooks-like reading environment without being connected to the internet. Works on planes, or anywhere.

Instapaper is such a great reading environment I use it in the house to read things on my iPad that I’d rather not read on this computer.

Shared Writing
I know many people use more capable and complex apps like Evernote as their writing and collecting environment on the Mac and iOS devices but as one who likes extremely simple and spare software tools I’ve stuck (so far) with Simplenote. It has continued to work well for me for quite some time and with the addition of dictation on the iPad I use it more than ever. The one change I’ve made since starting to use it is that I’m using nvALT (Notational Velocity Alternative) on the Mac as my Simplenote client. It works quite well and supports the Simplenote API while being a decent text editor on its own for the Macintosh.

Make a shopping list in nvALT on your computer and go to the store with your iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch) and there it is.

iPad as computer?
I have dozens of other apps on my iPad, many of which I use daily but the ones listed here coupled with iCloud make the new iPad a serious alternative to a portable computer. I don’t mean to sound defensive of what might otherwise seem like an expensive upgrade just to keep up with everyone else (can’t let my wife have a later iPad than me, right?) but the new iPad pushes the iPad into the world of computing and may well be the only tool many people need to do the types of things only done with a computer just a few years ago.

Knowledge Navigator, here we come.

Keyboards, touch typing, dictation

Shawn Blanc has done some research on keyboards for the Macintosh and written an exhaustive piece on using them as a professional writer: Clicky Keyboards. It’s not clear from the piece if Shawn is a touch typist but my guess is he is.

In 1985 I witnessed my friend Steve Splonskowski (still in college) typing at lightening speed on the awful Macintosh 128K keyboard. He was looking at the screen and typing away and it was a thing of beauty. I wanted to type like that so I bought a copy of the keyboarding instruction program “Typing Intrigue” and started playing the rain game (type a letter as it falls from the top of the screen) and quickly moved on to typing odd practice sentences.

At that time I was starting to contribute articles to early computer magazines and between that writing and early email with AppleLink, bitnet and a few other email networks I had enough of a writing load so that within a few weeks I was able to leave hunting and pecking behind. Once I’d made the transition to touch typing my speed and accuracy went down for a while but as I felt more confident and kept my eyes comfortably on the screen and my writing the feedback loop between fingers and brain got tighter and faster. The more writing, the better it got and as a person who had avoided writing for most of my life, a computer and touch typing was like opening a dam: writing spilled out of me on a daily basis.

The way to become a better writer is to write more. If improving your writing tool (a keyboard, a pen) helps then improve it.

Touch typing has changed my life by being one (important) part of the process of getting my ideas outside my head and encoded into writing. Before computers, keyboards, and touch typing my image of myself did not include “writer.” Here’s a now dated piece I did on the mechanics of this experience: How Computers Change the Writing Process for People with Learning Disabilities.

At some point, maybe after I’m compost, touch typing will probably go the way of cursive handwriting but until then it’s a useful skill to have and if you have it the layout and feel of your keyboard is an important part of your writing experience.

One of the things that will send keyboards and with them, touch typing to their grave is dictation: being able to talk to your computer, iPad, iPhone or whatever and have the device type out (encode) your voice. We used to call this “speech to text” or “speech recognition” but the single term “dictation” will no doubt supplant those awkward phrases.

I bought a new iPad (3) for one reason (not the screen): it has dictation capabilities. I’ve been using dictation quite a bit on my iPhone 4S and I’m finding it quite useful and it’s quite good on the new iPad as well. However, it’s a very different writing experience from touch typing and so, my brain is making a feeble attempt to adapt. I really like the tight feedback loop that happens with touch typing and dictation is a different kind of experience. We’ll see how touch typists like me adapt (or not).

No doubt we’re in transition: I’m touch typing this on my MacBook Pro’s keyboard which works quite well for me and for any longer piece of writing/editing I’ll probably be using this tool but for a lot of the other writing I do I’ll just as easily be using the iPad or iPhone with dictation (or with their awful but useable onscreen keyboards).

Apple, Inc.

If you take a look at Apple’s Executive Profiles* you’ll note that there is no “executive” responsible for Macintosh hardware or Mac OS X. No doubt the Macintosh and it’s OS fall under Bob Mansfield’s control but his title is “Hardware Engineering” which no doubt is all Apple hardware: Macintosh, iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc.

Apple has a senior executive responsible for iOS software: Scott Forstall, and Eddie Cue is in charge of all of Apple’s online software and services. But no one at this level is responsible for Mac OS X.

This is an indication of just how far Apple has moved from “Apple Computer, Inc.” to Apple, Inc. Apple probably moves more iPhones and iPads in a year than they have Macintosh computers in the entire history of the company (I’m making this up but you get the idea).

This is no doubt a piece of the reason Mac OS X Lion and the upcoming Mountain Lion are inheriting pieces of iOS. There are (many) more iOS users than Mac users.

*Note, the link is working now, apologies to anyone who tried it and got an error.

The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes

The Lost Steve Jobs Tapes

If Steve Jobs’s life were staged as an opera, it would be a tragedy in three acts. And the titles would go something like this: Act I–The Founding of Apple Computer and the Invention of the PC Industry; Act II–The Wilderness Years; and Act III–A Triumphant Return and Tragic Demise.

This excellent piece is about act II, the wilderness years he spent at NeXT and the start of Pixar and how that prepared him to return to Apple and start it on its climb back to success.

[via Asymco]

Apple’s Secret Plan For Its Cash Stash

Apple’s Secret Plan For Its Cash Stash

Connie Guglielmo at Forbes has written an excellent piece that looks like it’s a roadmap for Apple for the next few years: after adding more retail stores, server farms, a new campus in Cupertino, paying dividends, and buying a few companies to expand research and development, she thinks they’ll start buying pieces of their own supply chain. Tim Cook has done things like buy up huge quantities of Gorilla Glass from Corning, LCD screens from Samsung, and flash memory from a variety of vendors which gets him what he needs to build millions of devices a quarter but also gets him lower pricing and locks competitors out of both the pricing and the parts. Going a bit further into ownership of pieces of the supply chain with its huge pile of cash seems like a real possibility.

[via Asymco]

Introducing Macintosh Newsweek ad insert

Introducing Macintosh Newsweek ad insert

Amazingly, I have a number of good copies of this Newsweek ad insert as well as almost all of Apple’s advertising from the launch of the Macintosh. I also have many copies of Apple’s HyperCard introduction brochure, also done by Apple’s Creative Services department (Clement Mok I think). I’ve been holding onto all of this stuff hoping it might interest a collector at some point. I wonder if that point is getting closer?