SAST 12

Welcome to the twelfth production of Short Attention Span Theater. This installment is brought to you, not by hay fever and inconveniently draped felines, but by Like Herding Cats. I’m deeply enmeshed in what I hope will be the final revision, and don’t want to take the time to develop complete thoughts about much of anything right now.

Act One: Apple introduced new hardware earlier this week. No, not iPhones; that was back in September. The latest goodies-to-be are a new MacBook Air, a new iPad Pro, and a new Mac Mini.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the laptop and tablet. I’ve never used a MacBook of any sort, and while the iPad Pro sounds like a nice bit of gear, it’s way to rich for my wallet–and massively overpowered for my tablet needs.

That said, I do appreciate Apple replacing the iPad Pro’s Lightening Port with a USB-C port. One less bit of proprietary gear, and more access to existing third-party hardware.

As for the Mini, I’ve got mixed feelings there. I’ve got an original Mac Mini around here someplace. It’s not in use because its power supply has wandered off, but it was a nice piece of kit in its day. I’m glad to see Apple hasn’t killed off the line, but I’m sad to see that they’re changing its emphasis.

The original point of the Mini was to bring in non-Apple users. As such, it was cheap. Cheap to the point of almost entirely forgoing the usual Apple markup. It seems, however, that Apple has decided the Mini has attracted all the Windows users it’s going to, and so they’ve decided to make it a more “professional” machine.

In case you didn’t realize it, in the tech industry, the word professional means “more expensive”. As such, the price has gone up $300. It’s still a good deal for the price, but it’s not as good a deal as it used to be.

Act Two: Our darling president’s latest threatpromise has been getting a lot of press, as usual. No, not that one. No, not that one either. I mean the one about wiping out birthright citizenship.

All the hysterical responses to the effect of “He can’t do that! It’s unconstitutional!” are missing the point.

First of all, “unconstitutional” is what the Supreme Court says it is. If you believe the current lineup of justices is a threat to abortion rights, why would you think they’d be any less of a threat to citizenship?

Secondly, Trump doesn’t care whether he can “do it”. It’s a distraction. Just the latest of many. When was the last time you saw any news about Russian interference in the upcoming election?

Third, nobody can actually stop him from issuing a proclamationan executive order. He may well go ahead and do it, on the theory that even if it doesn’t squeeze past the Supreme Court, it’ll be tied up there for months, leaving everyone scared–the administration’s preferred mental state–and providing the Republicans with the chance to spin the battle as “Democrats are soft on immigration.”

Third-and-a-halfth, if there is an executive order, you can be sure it’ll be written to exclude children whose parents are from countries that aren’t on Trump’s shit list. Because there’s nothing the administration would like better than than to divide the opposition by carving out a block of people who are going to feel like they dodged a bullet. Those are the ones who’ll be shouting the loudest about how Trump’s not such a bad guy after all…

Act Three: We end this production on a cheerier note.

The Austin Lounge Lizards are still doing their thing, thirty-eight years down the road (only eighteen years less than the Rolling Stones!)

Maggie and I went to last night’s show at the Freight and Salvage* in Berkeley. The band’s had a line-up change since the last time we saw them, which suggests that it’s been too long since we last went to one of their shows. It happens. The current group seems solid, though.

* Temporarily renamed the “Fright and Savage”. Though we were disappointed to see that the e and l on their neon sigh were left uncovered.

Granted, there were a few rough edges here and there, but to be fair, it’s probably been two decades or more since some of those songs were on their setlist.

The Lizards have tried out a number of things over the years–you can get damn stale doing the same thing over and over (Rolling Stones, anyone?)–including flirtations with folk, gospel, rap, and a few other styles that are currently eluding me.

The current experiment is with medleys, pairing (and sometimes tripling and quadling) selections from their back catalog with songs from across the rock and roll era–all in their inimitable bluegrass style. By and large, it works. I didn’t know the world needed a bluegrass rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” but now that we have one, I’m convinced we’re all better for the experience. (For the record, “Creep” goes very nicely with “Shallow End of the Gene Pool,” an instrumental take on The Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and The Doors’ “When You’re Strange.”)

The current California mini-tour hits Winters tonight, Felton tomorrow, Culver City on Saturday, and winds up with an Election Night show in Houston, TX. Yeah, I know Houston isn’t in California–and thank all the deities for that–but that’s the Lizards for you. If you can make one of the shows, do it. Show some support for an American icon.

Apple Hardware 2018

Hey, guess what? That’s right, it’s new Apple mobile technology announcements.

Note the lack of an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence. ‘Cause really, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get excited about Apple’s hardware, especially in the mobile space.

Considering that the most exciting bit of news they could come up with to kick off their event is that the Apple Watch is “the number one watch in the world,” I have to figure even Apple is finding it hard to get excited about their own products.

There’s a heck of a lot of marketing gimmickry in that claim, by the way. Number one by what measure? Are we including all the different versions and variations from launch, or just the current models? What time period? And why do we care, anyway? Apple isn’t (officially) a watch company after all.

Anyway, yes, there’s a new set of Apple Watches coming: the Series 4. They’re about a third bigger than last year’s watches. Does this sound familiar? First we have smartphones getting bigger and bigger, to the point where they’re inconvenient to pull out for a quick look. So we get smart watches. Which are now getting bigger and bigger.

What happens when your watch gets too big for your wrist? Will we see a return of the pocketwatch? I rather hope so, actually. Though that chain across my chest could be a bit awkward at times.

Anyway, that extra space can be used to display all sorts of information: sports scores, exercise data, or Apple’s favorite app, the one that reminds you to alternate inhalation and exhalation.

The new CPU is so fast it’ll display a minute in thirty seconds. (That is what “twice as fast” means, right?)

One bit of actually useful functionality: the Series 4 watches can detect the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” scenario and call your emergency contact. It’s too bad you have to buy a $500 watch* to get the feature, because it’s literally lifesaving.

* Yes, you can get a Series 4 for $399, but those variants don’t have cellular capability. To make calls, you’re looking at a minimum of $499. Or get last year’s Series 3 for a measly $279–though it won’t have the fall-detection capability.

On a somewhat related note, the watch will also alert you if your heart rate is too slow. Better take the watch off before your afternoon nap. (It’ll also alert you to signs of atrial fibrillation and let you take your own ECG. I’m less enthusiastic about these features. FDA clearance or no, they seem designed to appeal to the hypochondriac in us all.)

Moving on.

The iPhone X is now, Apple claims, the number one smartphone in the world. Again, no indication of how they’re measuring that. So, this being an alternate year, we’re getting the iPhone Xs.

Which is just like the iPhone X, but with a bigger screen and smaller bezels so the device as a whole is smaller. Unless, of course, you opt for the iPhone Xs Max, which has the largest iPhone screen ever. Remember what I said about phones getting bigger and bigger?

Look, I like my Pixel 2 XL, but I freely admit it’s big. Well designed to be usable at that size, and I’m sure the same is true of the Xs Max, but it can still be awkward. The Max is even larger than my XL.

Of course, the new phones are faster than last year’s. 15% for the CPU (and 40% lower power draw), 50% for the GPU. Better cameras (dual cameras on the back, and a single, faster camera on the front.) Other fasters–networking, for example–and tweaks, such as dual-sim capability. But really, couldn’t you have guessed that this year’s phones would be bigger and faster than last year’s?

Well, except for the iPhone XR. It’s a bit smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus (albeit with a larger screen). Think last year’s iPhone X, but a bit smaller and cheaper. Slightly.

The XR starts at $749, the Xs at $999, and the Xs Max at $1099. Of course, that means price cuts on Apple’s older phones. You’ll be able to pick up an iPhone 8 for a mere $599, or if you’re a real cheapskate, you can get an iPhone 7 for as little as $449. No more iPhone 6s (or original X, for that matter).

So, are you more excited about Apple’s new hardware than I am? You couldn’t be less, that’s for sure.

Nanny Speaks

A final thought on Spectre and Meltdown: while you’re updating your systems, don’t forget about your video cards. Modern cards have powerful processors. Even if the card itself isn’t vulnerable, there could be interactions between the video card and the main CPU that could be exploited. Nvidia is currently releasing new drivers that eliminate at least one such vulnerability.

Moving on.

In the latest sign of the impending Collapse of Civilization, a couple of Apple’s shareholders, the California State Teachers Retirement System and Jana Partners, are demanding that Apple modify their products to avoid hurting children.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Okay, ready to continue. Yes, there is evidence that overuse of smartphones (or, I suspect more accurately, apps) can result in feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. But the key word there is “overuse”.

The groups say that because the iPhone is so successful, Apple has a responsibility to ensure they’re not abused.

Apparently, less-successful companies don’t have a similar responsibility to their users, but leave that aside.

Apple certainly doesn’t have an unfulfilled legal responsibility here. So I’m assuming the groups believe Apple’s responsibility is moral. The same moral responsibility that forces companies that make alcoholic beverages to make them less attractive to teenagers and to promote them in ways that don’t make them seem cool. Ditto for the companies that make smoking and smokeless tobacco products, automobiles, and guns.

There are bigger, more important targets for Jana Partners and CSTRS to go after, in other words. But leave that aside too.

What their argument seems to boil down to is that Apple isn’t doing enough to protect the children who use their devices.

Keep in mind that currently parents to can set restrictions in iOS to limit which apps kids can use (including locking them into one specific app) and to require parental approval to buy apps or make in-app purchases.

The groups’ letter asks that Apple implement even finer degrees of control, so that parents can lock out specific parts of apps while allowing access to others.

Technically, that could be done, but it would be a programming and testing nightmare–and make customer support even more hellish than it already is. Every app would have to be modularized far more completely than they are now. That often results in apps getting larger and more complicated as critical functionality gets duplicated across the app, because developers can’t count on being able to invoke it from another module.

And just how fine-grained would it have to be? Could a parent prevent their kids from, say, messaging anyone with certain words in their user name? Or only prevent them from messaging anyone? Would Apple have to implement time-based or location-based restrictions so certain parent- or teacher-selected functions couldn’t be used at school?

How about a camera restriction that prevents teenagers from taking pictures of anyone the age of eighteen? That’ll stop sexting dead in its tracks, right?

The groups’ other suggestion is that Apple implement notifications to remind parents to talk about device usage with their kids.

Sorry, but if the parents aren’t already paying attention to what their offspring are doing on their phones, popups aren’t going to suddenly make them behave responsibly.

And that’s really where the responsibility lies: with parents. Responsible parents don’t buy their underage children booze and smokes, they don’t let their kids get behind the wheel on I-5 before they have a driver’s license, and they don’t leave their guns where their rugrats can get to them.

It’s a good goal, guys, but the wrong approach.

OS Power Up?

My phone is running Android Oreo.

As I type this, my iPad is downloading iOS 11.

And I’m asking myself why. It’s not like either OS introduces new features on my years-old devices. Yes, there are security fixes. Those are important, certainly, and in both cases installing the entire update is the only way to get those fixes.

Okay, yes, some of my current disenchantment is depression brought on by looking at the current news. But still, why do we have to have major OS updates on an annual schedule?

Remember, Android and iOS upgrades are free. Google and Apple aren’t making any money directly off of them, and they’re spending a bundle to tout the new features. Sure, the iOS release is tied to the release of new iPhones, which is where Apple lives. But they’d sell just as many iPhone 8s and iPhone Xs if they came with iOS 10 point something.

For the record, it’s not just phones and tablets. OS X is doing the same thing. Windows is even worse–we’re getting two upgrades a year.

And every time an upgrade comes out, we get reports of bricked phones and scrambled computers, followed by the eternal reminder that “it’s impossible to test every combination of hardware.”

I’m not suggesting the OS vendors should stop upgrading their software. Just thinking the annual upgrade cycle might possibly have more downsides than up.

What about a slipstreamed approach: roll out new features year-round in a series of smaller upgrades that’ll be less likely to break things?

Of course there are problems there. Problems in design, development, and testing. I may not be doing much formal QA these days, but I haven’t forgotten that much about software development. But the approach works well at the application level. It’s worth a try at the OS level.

On a related note, remember a couple of years ago when I griped about software upgrades violating user expectations? I just found a nice example of not doing that in iOS 11.

For the past couple of iOS releases on iPad, swiping up from the bottom of the screen with four or five fingers has brought up the list of running apps. Quick and easy, and I’ve gotten used to it. (Windows users, think “Alt-Tab”.)

In iOS 11, Apple introduced a new “Dock”: a list of frequently-used and currently-running apps. You can pop the dock up over your current program by swiping up with a single finger. And swiping up a second time brings up the new-and-improved list of running apps.

But, and here’s the important thing, the four-finger swipe still works! Even though there’s now a new route to the task switcher, I can still use the old route.

Mind you, I wouldn’t be surprised if the four-finger gestures disappear in a later release, but at least my muscle memory is safe for another year.

Apple Hardware Day

And now, without further ado, my thoughts on today’s Apple hardware announcements, written as the announcements were made.

New facility is 100% powered by renewable energy. Hooray. Aside from the environmental benefits, that ought to save Apple a few bucks–but I doubt that’ll result in any savings for their customers, though.

Their new stores in large cities will include plazas so you can kick back and chill. Because you can never find a coffee shop near an Apple store. Mind you, it doesn’t look like the plaza will include coffee. Just tables and chairs. Maybe you can hang out there and work on your iPad/Mac while you wait for your iPhone to get fixed?

I’m not sure what this has to do with new phones or other gadgets, but that’s Apple for you. Gotta build the anticipation before they reveal the news that’s already been leaked.

Moving on.

The Apple Watch is now, they say, the number one watch in the world–by what measure, they don’t seem to have said. I assume it’s by number of units sold or total dollars. Rolex, Swatch, and Fossil must be weeping bitter tears.

To celebrate, we’ll be getting WatchOS 4. Which should come as no surprise since they talked about it in June at WWDC. One new feature they didn’t mention back then is a focus on the heart rate app which will now proactively notify wearers if it spots potential problems, such as an elevated heart rate when you’re not exercising. Remember to take your watch off before getting amorously engaged unless you want your Apple Watch interrupting you.

There will also be a new hardware revision of the watch. The big news there is that it has cellular capabilities now. So you can get phone calls even if you left your iPhone home. Have you noticed that it’s getting harder and harder to become unavailable? Now you need to leave your phone and your watch home if you want to take a vacation without your boss interrupting you.

In more important watch news, there will be new colors and new styles in faces and bands. So you can better coordinate with your outfit, I suppose.

You’ll have to wait until the 22nd to get one, though. That’s a whole week and a half. Oh, the horror of delayed gratification! If it helps any, you can place your order on the 15th, and you can upgrade your current Apple Watch to WatchOS 4 on the 19th.

Moving on.

Apple TV is going 4K and getting HDR capability. Did this surprise anyone? Apple thinks it’s as important a transition as the move from black and white to color. Or at least that’s what they’re encouraging us to think. (Ooh, ouch–the first graphic they used in the demo is from La La Land.)

And yes, you’ll need to buy a new box–this is not a software upgrade. You’ve already got a new 4K TV with HDR, right? If not, you might want to get that first. On the brighter side, at some point before the end of the year, Apple TV will support Amazon Prime Video, so you can pay both “Big A” companies.

Same order and shipping dates as for the new watches, so you’ve still got time to go buy that new TV.

Moving on again.

Absolutely nobody should be surprised to hear that there are new iPhones on the way.

The iPhone 8–and thankfully they resisted the urge to skip a few version numbers and call it the iPhone 10 or (gag) iPhone X–has glass on both the front and back. That should make it smoother and easier to drop. But since the glass is “steel reinforced” Apple believes it’ll be more durable. And, as usual, we get two models, one at 4.7 inches and the other at 5.5. Everyone who’s been praying for an Apple phablet is again doomed to disappointment.

Both models have new Retina displays, the usual bumps in processing power on both the CPU and GPU, and new cameras with faster low-light focusing and optical image stabilization. The 8 Plus also gets upgraded sensors and improved realtime analysis of the picture so it can adjust its settings on the fly.

And, of course, the new phones are designed for Augmented Reality. Because that’s the new sexy. Hey, their first example strikes close to home! MLB will release an app that lets you add live player info and stats if you watch a game through your iPhone. Instead of, you know, watching the game directly and glancing at the scoreboard occasionally.

In other news, Apple really, really hates wires. They got rid of wired headphones, and now they’re taking on the power cord. iPhone 8s support the Qi wireless charging standard. It doesn’t look like they’ve eliminated wired charging, but I guess they have to save something revolutionary for the iPhone 9.

And yes, pre-orders open Friday the 15th, with phones shipping a week later. With iOS coming out on the 19th to give you one last upgrade adventure on your now-obsolete iPhone 7.

Whoops! I spoke too soon. There’s also an iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone Ten” *sigh*). It’s got a “Super Retina Display” that covers the entire front of the phone except for a small cutout for the selfie camera, packing at 2436×1125 pixel display into 5.8 inches. (Still not quite a phablet.) There’s no Home button, so you tap on the screen to wake it up and swipe up from the bottom to go to the home screen.

And, since the fingerprint sensor, aka Touch ID, is gone, it now uses facial recognition, billed as “Face ID”, to unlock. Yeah, it unlocks automatically when you pick it up, because there’s no security risk there. Hopefully it’ll be a little harder to fake a face than a finger, but still… They’re claiming it’s twenty times less likely that a random person’s face could unlock your phone than with the fingerprint reader. But the odds go down with relatives, so maybe you can use your phones to settle those arguments over whether your kid looks more like you or your spouse.

Ah–there’s also a passcode screen. If you can force it to require the passcode–and I’ve heard rumors you can–that should help with the scenario where the police hold your phone up to your face to unlock it.

And that AR stuff you can do on the iPhone 8? So passe. Imagine the possibilities when you combine AR with the facial tracking: animated emojis that lipsync to your voice. Yes, this is, in Apple’s vision, the ultimate pinnacle of technological evolution and the direction of phone technology for the next ten years.

As Daffy Duck says, “I demand that you shoot me now.” (The iPhone X should even let him say it in your voice–or let you say it in his.)

Say it with me now: “Pre-orders on the 15th, shipping on the 22nd.” Actually, no. Pre-orders open October 27 and it won’t ship until November 3. So you’ll have more than a month to play with your iPhone 8 before you hand it down to your kids. Assuming, of course, you can come up with the $999 for the iPhone X after buying that new TV, Apple TV, and Apple Watch.

SAST 06

I need to close out a few open issues from recent blog posts, so it’s time for a Short Attention Span Theater.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a poor QA/good customer service issue I had with the Project Fi Travel Trolley.

I’m pleased to report that Swyft customer support came through with the promised travel socks. And they’re just as silly as we had hoped.

Let’s be clear: these aren’t the full height compression socks designed to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. These are ankle socks. But they have little rubberized bumps on the underside to prevent slippage when you take your shoes off to go through the TSA’s scanners. If you follow the often-quoted advice to take off your shoes on the plane and walk up and down the aisle a couple of times during the flight, they should be fine for that. They even seem rugged enough to wear to bed so you can stagger into the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to hunt for slippers.

Most importantly, though, they’re black, they’re fuzzy–kind of snuggly, in fact–and they’ve got a Project Fi logo on the side. Amusing. And I intend to wear them next time I fly.

And I will test the Travel Trolley again.

Moving on.

Last Thursday, I mused a little about the Mariners’ attempt to get above .500 for the first time this year.

Not only did they win Thursday night behind rookie Andrew Moore, but they also won Friday behind veteran Felix Hernandez.

Friday, they also sent Moore back to the minors. Weird game, baseball.

No, it wasn’t because they were displeased with his performance. Whoever made up the schedule decided the Ms needed two days off this week. Never mind that the All-Star Break is less than two weeks away and will bring almost everyone in the league a four-day holiday.

But with both Monday and Thursday off, the Ms didn’t really need five starting pitchers, so Moore went down to AAA. Chances are he’ll be back with the Mariners sooner rather than later.

But I digress. After that victory Friday the Ms were two games over .500. Celebrations ensued.

Saturday and Sunday, they lost to Houston, the team with the best record in baseball. Tuesday and Wednesday, they lost to Philadelphia, the team with the worst record in baseball.

Just like that, they’re back in familiar territory, two games short of respectability.

But that’s the Mariners for you. Ever since Houston came over from the National League, the Mariners have had trouble beating them. And losses breed.

Even with the losses, though, the Mariners are still only three games out of the Wild Card. Of course, the are eight other teams at three games out or less, so it’s a bit of an uphill climb.

Based on their performance so far this season, I expect the Mariners to bounce around .500 for the next few weeks, until they go to Houston July 17. That’ll put them in a short decline. They’ll recover and get back to .500 or a bit more in August, make a serious run at the Wild Card–and then go into a nose dive when the Astros come to Seattle September 4.

Because Mariners.

Moving on.

Apple is promoting the new iPad Pro it introduced earlier this month. The commercials are in heavy rotation during baseball games.

That’s expected. What isn’t is how stereotyped the ads are. The emo girl who hates everything. The power addict who literally explodes with pleasure. The ghost of a dead laptop.

Really, Apple? If you can’t give us a revolutionary computer–and let’s face it, the iPad Pro may be a heck of a good computer, but it’s neither years ahead of the competition nor unique–can’t you at least give us a revolutionary ad or two? One that doesn’t rely on the same easy compartmentalization we’ve seen in the media for far too long?

WWDC 2017

Did you realize it was time for Apple’s WWDC again? I confess that I didn’t–but then, I’ve been somewhat distracted lately. What’s your excuse?

Anyway, the conference was actually last week–the keynote was last Monday–so I was tempted to sweep it all under the rug and move on. But since WWDC is my big opportunity to give Apple their dose of the mockery I direct at Google I/O, I’d better not skip it this year.

So what joy and laughter did Apple promise us for the coming year? (Hint: Remember last year when I said “Maybe we’ll get something radically new in ’17”? We didn’t.)

The leadoff announcement was the impending arrival of Amazon Prime Video in Apple’s TV app and on Apple TVs. OK, that’s pretty big for TV watchers–most people, in other words–so there’s some legitimacy in making it the first announcement, but they sure didn’t spend any time talking about it.

“Here it is. On to Apple Watch.” The big news there is a new watch face powered by Siri. It’ll use machine learning to determine what information you need, depending on where you are, what time it is, what your daily routines are, and so forth, and update automatically to include that data.

That’s a heck of a lot of information I’d rather not have on my wrist, but maybe that’s just me.

Other new faces include “Kaleidoscope” for when you don’t want your life on your sleeve, and–in a followup to last year’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse faces–several Toy Story characters.

More usefully, the health-related watch apps are being updated to encourage users to get more exercise. More guided workouts. Data exchange with gym equipment. So now your watch will know when you’re cheating on the treadmill by lowering the incline.

Moving on.

Last year’s “Sierra” macOS will be succeeded by “High Sierra”. And yes, Apple did actually make all the pot jokes on stage. Not that that’s going to protect us from everyone else making them too.

The name itself is a clue to the revolutionary features built into the new OS. None, that is. High Sierra is all about refining Sierra. It’s full of minor tweaks; the keynote is full of words like “improved,” “better,” and “enhanced”.

OK, there’s some new stuff under the shiny cover. A new file system that should be faster and more stable than the ancient HFS when dealing with large drives and large files. The default video encoding will move from the HD-optimized H.264 to the 4K-ready H.265 (aka HEVC)*.

* Be aware that older computers, especially those that can’t offload video decompression to the video card, struggle mightily with H.265. Suggestions that the change is a move by Apple to sell new computers to grandparents who want to continue watching those iPhone-captured movies of the grandkids may have some truth behind them.

High Sierra will run on every computer that can handle Sierra–but I’m sure Apple would rather you bought a new machine. Or several. So they’ve got new iMacs which will include, along with the usual improvements in capacity and power, dedicated hardware decoders for that H.265 video. Ditto for new MacBooks. Oh, and an “iMac Pro” which Apple is billing as “the most powerful Mac we’ve ever made.” Or, as Tim Cook put it, “really badass”.

Moving on to iOS.

Messages will now apparently be stored in the cloud, so they’ll be available on all of your devices. With your phone, tablet, and desktop all binging at you, you can be sure you’ll never miss another message.

Apple Pay is integrated into Messages, allowing you to send money person-to-person. Handy, as long as you only share checks with other iOS users.

Siri will have a more “natural and expressive” voice–and an optional male voice as well. She (or he, I suppose) will also function as a translator. That should be very entertaining, given the well-known limitations of machine translation.

Lots of tweaks and improvements similar to macOS. I do like the addition of “Do Not Disturb While Driving” which will detect when you’re in a car and block most phone features. Yes, you can turn it off if you’re a passenger, which means you can also turn it off if you’re driving, but at least it requires you to take a few extra steps if you want to text behind the wheel.

And there’s new iOS hardware as well. An updated iPad Pro. This one has a 10.5 inch screen, right in between the sizes of the original iPad Pros. Apparently the old 9.7 inch model is going away, but the 13 inch model will stick around, albeit with some hardware updates to keep it at par with the 10.5 inch model.

More iOS changes, specifically for the iPads. A new dock for app switching, lots of drag and drop functionality, simplifications for the Slide Over and Split View multitasking modes. And–holy cow!–a new “Files” app that will apparently give direct access to the file system. It’s not clear how extensive Files is–whether apps will continue to have totally sandboxed storage, for example–but even a limited step in the direction of letting you control where files are stored is a big concession on Apple’s part.

Ooh, built-in machine learning-based handwriting recognition. I wonder if it’ll handle cursive as well as printing.

Most iOS devices that run iOS 10 will get 11. The exceptions seem to be the iPhone 5 and 5C and the iPad 4.

And, finally, there’s the HomePod.

As the name implies, it’s a iPod for the home, i.e. a smart speaker. Don’t think of it as a competitor to Amazon Echo and Google Home. It’s got some ability for home automation and the like, but it’s optimized to play music. Think Sonos on steroids (and with a pumped-up price to match).

As I said earlier, nothing revolutionary. But there are a lot of good tweaks coming, especially if you’re in the market for a new machine anyway.

Listen Up!

I love the Internet’s response to new forms of advertising.

Specifically, I’m talking about Burger King’s recent attempt to hijack TV viewers’ cell phones and Google Home devices.

In case you missed it, BK ran–and is still running–an ad that deliberately uses the “OK Google” activation phrase to trigger any gadget in earshot to start reading the Wikipedia page about their Whopper burger.

The response? The page in question was almost immediately edited to describe the burger as “cancer-causing” and to list cyanide in its ingredients.

Allegedly, a senior BK executive tried to change the page to something more complimentary, only to have his edits removed.

So, yeah, I think that’s the perfect response. Google, who apparently were not warned about the ad in advance, modified their software’s response to ignore the ad. While I’m sure many people appreciate that, it does raise a few questions.

Let’s not forget that most of Google’s billions of dollars come from advertising. Suppose BK had come to Google and said, “Hey, we want to tie a TV ad to your devices. Here’s a stack of money.” Does anyone think Google’s response would have been “Buzz off”? I’m guessing it would have been more along the lines of “How big is the stack?”

And then there’s the privacy aspect. This contretemps should serve as a reminder that “OK Google” does not use any kind of voice recognition to limit requests to the device’s owner. Nor can the phrase be changed. I’ve complained about that before: not only does it lead to multiple devices trying to respond to a single request, but it also makes it simple for outright malicious actions.

Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are equally guilty here–Alexa, Siri, and Cortana have fixed, unchangeable triggers too.

And now, perhaps, we’re seeing why none of the manufacturers want to let users personalize their devices’ voice interaction. If we could change the trigger phrase, or limit the device to taking instructions from specific people, then the manufacturers wouldn’t be able to sell broadcast advertising like this.

If the only way you can prevent random strangers from using your phone is to turn off the voice feature, then you don’t own your phone.

Microsoft is making it harder and harder to turn Cortana off. Microsoft is also putting more and more ads in Windows. Do you sense a connection?

How long will it be before you can’t turn Siri and Google off?

And editing Wikipedia pages will only get us so far in defending ourselves.

Google was able to turn off the response to BK’s ad-spam. But they could just as easily have changed the response to read from an internally-hosted page or one housed on BK’s own servers. Either way, Internet users wouldn’t be able to touch it, at least not without opening themselves up to legal liability for hacking.

The most annoying part of this whole debacle is that now I’m craving a hamburger. I won’t be getting one at Burger King, though.

SAST 3

I seem to be fever-free, which is nice. My attention span has improved. I haven’t gotten lost in mid-sentence in almost two days!

The cough is still distracting, however. Writing is a race to get words on the page before I drape my lungs over the keyboard.

Sorry about that image. But it is the only way to accurately describe the sensation.

So, another day of short notes, as I write a bit, cough a bit, lather, rinse, repeat.

Daylight Savings Time, how I loathe thee.

It’s not the lost hour of sleep Saturday night. It’s not the next several days of disrupted sleep. It’s not even the need to reset the non-Internet-connected clocks*–or the confusion to the Backyard Bunch, who are suddenly getting their dinner an hour earlier according to their stomachs.

* The stove. The microwave. The thermostat. The answering machine. The car. Half-a-dozen wall and table clocks. Hey, I just gained two wall outlets by unplugging a clock radio instead of resetting it!

No, what really pisses me off is that I’m suddenly getting up before sunrise again. I like having daylight when I stagger upstairs to say good morning to Rufus and take my first look at e-mail. Why should I have to turn on a light for that?

Mr. Trump, if you want to boost your approval rating, do away with Daylight Savings Time. That’s something both parties and the independents can get behind.

I’ve been following “Jim’s Random Notes” for several years. It’s an interesting mix of computer, wood carving, and cycling geekery. A post last week, North Dakota Mexican Food, amused the heck out of me.

You’ve played the game where one person recreates a drawing based on somebody’s description of the original, right? An NDMF is the culinary equivalent: someone describes a dish, and someone else thinks “Hey, that sounds interesting. Let me see what I can do.”

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have a NDMF experience? I can think of three right off the top of my head:

  • The Mexican restaurant that thought fajitas were a stew.
  • The diner whose barbeque sauce was red-eye gravy with a couple of chili flakes.
  • The Mexican restaurant that served Saltine crackers instead of chips.

Maybe the Internet will make the NDMF less common. But really, it’s never been particularly hard to find a cookbook…

Moving on.

Google and Apple have been in the news around here lately over their new campuses. Most of the press has been positive, but I’ve noticed they’re both taking a ding in the letter columns because neither company has included housing in their developments.

Excuse me? Yeah, OK, finding housing in the Bay Area can suck. You don’t have to tell me horror stories about extended commutes, thanks; I’ve got plenty of my own.

But do we really want to return to the days of the company town, where your boss owns the factory, the house you live in, the store you shop at, the air you breathe, the booze you drink, and everything else?

Aside from anything else, if the company owns your apartment, it’s a five minute walk from your office, and they own the phone you’re required to carry, are you ever going to get any down time? Or are you going to be unofficially (or officially!) on call twenty-four/seven/three-sixty-five?

I think it would have been wonderful if Apple and Google had included some subsidized affordable housing for non-employees in their construction. Didn’t happen, but would have been great. But captive housing for employees? Bad idea.

Moving on.

Let’s wrap this up with a positive note. I write a lot–a hell of a lot, actually–about useless gadgets full of security holes and loaded with disappointment.

So it’s a real pleasure to write about a gadget that looks like it does exactly what it’s designed to do without putting your money and privacy at risk.

Take a look at the Fidget Cube.

Pretty slick, huh? Everybody fidgets differently, and the Fidget Cube is designed to offer fidgeting options for anyone.

I’ve carried a fingering stone in my pocket for decades. I’ll turn it around in my hand or rub the smooth side with my thumb when I’m on a phone call. Much less distracting than fiddling with the phone cord and quieter than tapping my pen on the desk.

The Fidget Cube’s got me covered with a smooth curve for rubbing on one side. A trackball for spinning. A joystick for sliding.

And several other goodies that I might never use, but somebody else will find addictive. Click-wheels. Toggle switches. Push-buttons. Spinners.

And it looks to be solid enough to stand up to a pocket full of keys, nail clippers, and thumb drives.

Would it replace my rock? Maybe not; it’s hard to top the appeal of a natural object shaped by wind and water. But who says it needs to replace the rock? Why not try some two-handed fidgeting?

Insert Apple Joke Here

Well, well, well. Seems it’s that time of year again. You know what I mean: the time when Apple announces its new hardware. Oh, joy, oh rapture. So, as usual, here’s my take on the goodies coming our way soon. Feel free to flee now. I won’t be offended.

Apple began its event yesterday with a reminder: Apple Music is still around and “keeps getting better”. Good to know that it’s not getting worse, I suppose, but “keeps getting better” is awfully faint praise.

We’ve also been reminded that the Apple App Store is still around, and it’s far and away the most popular app store for Apple apps that ever ‘appened. Or something like that. I got distracted wondering why Nintendo coming out with a Mario game for iOS is the first story Apple wanted us to hear. Isn’t that leadoff slot supposed to be the most important one, the equivalent of above the fold on the front page of the newspaper? If so, why does Apple want to bury the new iPhones somewhere in with the local news?

Sorry, I wandered off again. Moving on.

Apple still supports schools. They just want you to know that. Oh, and iWork now supports live collaboration, just like Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, and everyone else. How thrilling!

In hardware news (finally!), we’ve got some software news (what?). Remember all of the goodies for WatchOS 3 we heard about at WWDC in June? We’re getting it. Yes, including the “Breathe” app for everyone who needs a reminder not to inhale and exhale simultaneously. In addition, now that the Pokemon Go fad is fading, Pokemon Go is coming to your Apple Watch! Hurray?

Oh, here’s the hardware part of the news. The Apple Watch Series 2 is coming. Water-resistant to 50 meters. Built-in water spitter. Seriously. How else would you interpret “The speaker design has been changed to eject the water after a swim”? OK, maybe it just sort of dribbles out. But where’s the fun in that? Come on, Apple, make it a high-pressure stream suitable for backyard water fights! Beyond that, it’s faster (presumably not the time-keeping portion), brighter, and has its own GPS independent of your iPhone.

And, speaking of the iPhone, Apple announced two new phones today, the latest in the line of what they modestly call “the industry gold standard, the phone to which all others are compared.” Headband getting a little tight, Tim?

iOS 10 is, of course, coming. We knew that–you told us about it in June. And, coming with it, (surprise!) the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. High-gloss black finish, smooth curves, shiny anodized layer. Sounds more like a sports car than something you make calls with. Not that anyone makes calls on an iPhone; they just use it to run apps, right?

Anyway, aside from the design innovations and the inevitable boost in processing power*, the new phones have better cameras (similar to, but of course, even better than what we saw in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro). If you’re a photographer, you’ll probably appreciate having a RAW API; presumably only used by third-party camera apps. The 7 Plus goes even further by adding a second camera. No, not for 3D–they’re too close together. One camera is for wide-angle, the other for telephoto. 2x zoom is a true optical zoom. 3x to 10x is still digital zooming, “but still better quality than before”. OK, then.

* “120x faster than the original iPhone.” (And that’s just the CPU. The GPU is “240x faster than the original iPhone.”) Does anyone really remember how fast that phone was–or rather, wasn’t? What good is a comparison that nobody has a referent for?

What else? A new display (like you didn’t see that coming…) that’s brighter and with a wider color display range than ever before. Stereo speakers, one at the top, one at the bottom. (Now there’s a unique concept.) Twice as loud as last year’s phones. And, if you prefer to keep your music to yourself, you can get new “EarPods”. Yes, Apple has confirmed the rumors that the new phones do not have the traditional earplug jack*. The EarPods plug into the Lightning port. Hopefully, there’s a pass-through so you can listen to music while your phone is charging. The phones will come with an adapter, so if you’re an old fogy who prefers the ancient headset you bought last month, you can still use it.

* Apple hasn’t taken this much flack over a design decision since they single-handedly killed off the floppy drive.

Of course, if you stick with your caveman-level Bluetooth (or worse yet, wired) headphones, you’ll be missing out on Apple’s new “AirPods”: wireless earphones that detect when they’re in your ears, have a direct connection to Siri, and can easily switch between all of your (Apple) devices.

Preorders for the new iPhones open tomorrow, and they’ll be shipping on the sixteenth. Are you going to be online, trying to get your preorder in before the allocation runs out? iOS 10, by the way, will be out on the thirteenth.

And, speaking of “by the way”: those AirPods won’t be coming until late October. So you’ll have about a month to get used to using your new iPhone without ’em. Or, if you’re a Beats loyalist, you can wait for Beats’ version. No release date specified, but since Apple now owns Beats, it’s probably in the same general range.

Happy listening, the AppleWay®.