Posted on August 12th, 2015
The file restore from my cloud backup after my catastrophic drive failure is taking much, much long than I had anticipated... or hoped. I started the restore July 25th and they're telling me they're not even half-way done collecting the files.
Needless to say, this makes everything I do take far longer than it should.
Partly because I haven't yet received the afore-mentioned backup yet and have to request files to be downloaded from the cloud multiple times for each project I'm working on.
But mostly because those older file on local backup I DO have available are trapped on Apple's "Time Machine" technology.
I used to really love Apple's approach to backup but, now that I am forced to use it for something other than an occasional "oops" moment, it's just so horribly bad. The goofy "space vortex" interface is absolute shit for serious recovery. I finally abandoned it and started restoring directly from the Time Machine file bundle, but this has its problems as well. So many times I get an "ALIAS BROKEN" error and can't even get at the original file. Even worse, every time I get the error, the Finder snaps my search window closed... so instead of choosing an alternative file to restore, I have to start my search all over from the beginning. Like I said... bad.
So... once I get up and running again, Time Machine will be completely abandoned in favor of a more traiditional technology that actually... well, you know... works.
Posted on March 28th, 2015
Much to my shock and dismay, my faithful iMac died a horrible death for no apparent reason after a mere four(!) years. My guess is that the video card crapped out but, as you would expect from an all-in-one unit, it's not like I can rip into it and effect repairs. So I am now using a shiny new iMac with 5K Retina Display at work.
Since I have a Retina Display on my MacBook, which is admittedly very nice, I didn't think going full-Retina on my desktop would be a big deal.
I was so wrong. This display is the most glorious thing I've ever seen in my life.
The Sistine Chapel? Utter shit by comparison.
I don't want to look at anything else ever again unless it is displayed in this iMac...
I'm not sure how I managed to avoid sneaking into an Apple Store and taking a look at this jaw-dropping piece of Apple hotness over the past five months since release, but I'm kinda glad I didn't. Because firing up a 5K display and seeing just how amazing it looks is something you can only do once, and having it be on your own machine is priceless...
What's even more amazing than how it looks is what it costs. Or, more accurately, what it doesn't cost. To purchase a 5K display alone will cost you around $2,500. The iMac with Retina 5K Display starts at... wait for it... $2,500. And you can bet your ass that Apple's display is probably superior quality to boot. Which means the best 5K display on the market essentially comes with a pretty decent Mac attached for free.
To power such a massively beautiful display requires all kinds of technological advancements that Apple goes over in detail here. Sure it all sounds very impressive and everything... but there's simply no substitute for sitting in front of the machine and looking at some great quality photographs. Or reading small text. Or just looking at the icons in your Apps folder. Everything is so incredibly sharp... so mind-bogglingly vibrant... so orgasmically beautiful... that you have a hard time believing you're looking at a computer display. It's higher res than HD. It looks better than the best quality print you've ever seen. There's just no comparing it to, well, anything, really. The future is here, and it's stunning...
But what about that Mac part?
The computer itself tapers to a surprisingly thin 5mm on the edges and looks fantastic. I'm guessing there are fans in there but, if they ever turn on, I've not heard them. Overall its a gorgeous Mac that makes previous implementations look clunky and archaic by comparison.
I opted for the pricier 4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 chip, which is a pretty good performer. Sadly, it looks like this i7 is using the older "Haswell" architecture instead of the newer "Broadwell" chips that Intel has unleashed, but I don't know that the newer CPU would give me a terribly huge real-world advantage. Guess we'll just have to wait for the benchmarks when Apple catches up. In any event, it's plenty fast for the rather intensive applications I run, so there's no complaint there.
I also chose to upgrade the standard AMD Radeon R9 M290X 2GB GDDR5 to a full 4GB. I have no idea if the $250 price tag was a worthwhile investment, but I figured I'd rather be safe than sorry in case Photoshop needs the extra room when I have to work on massive-sized files.
Storage was a tough call for me. I have long-since given up on "regular" hard drives as boot drives, because once you've experienced the terrifying speeds of a Solid State Drive (SSD) you will never go back. But Apple has a technology called "Fusion Drive" which marries a 128GB SSD with a 1TB hard drive in a single volume. The system then optimizes your experience for fastest results by keeping commonly-used files (like the operating system) on the SSD and transferring seldom-used files to the HD. Probably because I haven't filled up my SSD section yet, but the disk access feels as fast as it ever was when using the SSD-only unit on my old Mac, so I'm happy.
Physical expansion is pretty much what you'd expect from a modern Mac... four USB-3 ports, a couple of Thunderbolt 2 ports, GB Ethernet, a headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot. No USB-C connector like on the brand new MacBook Pro, but that's no big deal for me, as I plan on sticking with Thunderbolt peripherals for the foreseeable future.
About the only thing you don't get is a CD SuperDrive, which is to be expected now-a-days. I can't tell you the last time I had to read or burn a CD, but it was knowing that I could do so if I needed to that added a bit of comfort to my previous iMac purchase. Oh well. Something tells me I won't be missing it.
And that's a wrap!
It's easy to recommend a Mac where the display alone is worth the cost of admission (both literally and figuratively)... even when that cost is $2,500. One look and you'll know it's worth every penny.
So don't look unless you have $2,500 burning a hole in your pocket.
Posted on March 15th, 2015
All the world's troubles getting you down? Well, things are about to turn around... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• ELECTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRRRRRRRL! I don't know what's cooler... that they're resurrecting Electra Woman and Dyna Girl... or that they've tapped some amazing internet personalities for the leads. Daily Grace's Grace Helbig and My Drunk Kitchen's Hannah "Harto" Hart are (apparently) already filming the series...
Oh yeah! For the uninitiated, bask in the glory...
ELECTRA TRICKY! Can't wait.
• Gauntlet! I will never get tired of watching movie heroes being heroes in real life...
Robert Downey Jr.'s awesomeness really knows no bounds.
• John Lewis. And then there's real-life heroes. In case you missed it... so worth your time... so worth your time... so worth your time...
This terrific (albeit brief) interview from The Daily Show featured a mind-bogglingly good talk with Representative John Lewis, whose advocacy for civil rights is about as inspiring as anything you will ever find. As if THAT wasn't enough,.. John Stewart mentioned that Rep. Lewis had a couple of graphic novels out which presents his story in comic book form. And they are glorious. Fantastic art. Great story. Well worth your time to track down... and you can even purchase them digitally at Comixology... just $8 for Vol. One! Highest possible recommendation.
• Wonder? Where do I even start. Wonder Woman's new costume has to be one of the ugliest, most disorganized, least elegant, "toss in the kitchen sink" super-hero costumes ever. Just no...
The criticism has always been that Wonder Woman's costume shows too much skin to be taken seriously as a super-hero. Her costume is impractical. So, instead of tastefully updating her look to address these concerns, they just keep slapping more and more shit on her until now she looks like garbage.
And, as if that wasn't horrific enough, I give you the new Superman costume...
If that's what you can call it. More disturbing to me than this joke of a "costume" is that the artist has such a massively skewed idea of anatomy that Superman's legs are so long one has to wonder how he is able to sit in a chair. Who in the hell is running DC these days that total shit like this is seeing the light of day?
• Archie? Next up on the comic book makeover roster...
Now... this one I get. They're trying to shift Archie away from his 1940's comic strip roots and move him into modern comic book times. By creating a more "realistic" version of the character, they're obviously trying to keep the Archie gang relevant in the year 2015. I don't know if this will be a successful reimagining, but they certainly did a good job of it.
• LOL! Yep, this pretty much sums up my impression of the new MacBook... LMFAO! LOL! ROTFL! LTIP!
"That's an extra $79 accessory!"
It's only a matter of time...
• Lively! Murder. Uh huh. Genocide. Right. But is homosexuality worse than kicking a puppy? THAT'S what I want to know. I mean, come on, a little perspective here...
Disgusting. That people still listen to this bigoted piece of shit is just beyond my ability to comprehend. IT'S OVER, YOU STUPID FUCK! YOU LOST! SO JUST GO SIT IN THE CORNER WITH YOUR BIGOTRY AND BE THE PATHETIC LOSER YOU ARE!
Annnnnnd... Bullets, out!
Posted on December 23rd, 2014
Virtual desktops have been around for a very long time. But it wasn't until Apple unleashed their version of the virtual desktops in 2007 (called "Spaces") that it became a seamless experience on Macintosh computers.
And essential. At least to me.
By creating multiple desktops using Apple's "Mission Control," you get clutter-free workspaces that you can switch between with a flick of the mouse or trackpad...
Being able to give each of your Spaces a different background image so you can tell which desktop you're looking at is pretty cool. But the killer feature that makes Spaces so compelling is being able to anchor different apps to a specific desktop...
So now when you click on an app icon in the dock, you are sent to the associate desktop automatically without having to keep sliding between all your Spaces. Nice. I've become so accustomed to using Apple's "Spaces" desktops that I don't even think about it anymore... it just The Way Things Are.
Until this morning when they stopped functioning for some reason.
I tried working without virtual desktops, but was quickly driven insane. Instead of effortlessly switching between Spaces I was having to hide and unhide apps... sort through piles of windows... constantly resize app panes... it was a nightmare of inefficiency and trauma. So much so that I wasted precious time Googling a solution (had to kill some prefs) so I could get back to work.
And now I'm a little paranoid... wondering which technology I take for granted every day is going to be the one that gives out next. We've let tech take over our lives bit by bit, and now it has become so integrated into how we function that we don't even notice it.
Until it's gone.
Holy crap don't let Angry Birds be next.
Posted on October 1st, 2014
Everything's coming up picture perfect... because a very special Bullet Sunday on Tuesday FOUR HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY "WHAT'S IN YOUR CAMERA BAG" EDITION starts... now...
• Sony NEX-6 Camera. This is my main shooter, which I reviewed here back in May, 2013. Because it's a mirrorless camera, it is small, light, and perfect for travel... yet maintains the photo quality of a bigger, heavier DSLR. The one big caveat is that it doesn't have a full-frame sensor, so there's a crop factor for any full-frame lenses you attach. This actually ended up being a benefit on my recent trip to Africa, because my 70-200mm FE lens becomes a 105-300mm lens, making it much easier to zoom in on animals in the bush...
There's not much I don't like about the NEX-6... except the start-up time, which is kinda slow and did cost me a shot or two. Otherwise? A wonderful camera that is capable of delivering great photos. Will probably trade it in for a full-frame sensor camera before my next big trip (hopefully the successor to the Sony A7r.
16.1MP • ISO 100-25600 • $748 (discontinuted) • ★★★★☆
• Sony A7s Camera. I bought the latest Sony mirrorless camera specifically for night-shooting on my Africa trip. I knew there would be game drives in the evening, and wanted every possible advantage in getting clean shots. The A7s is made for this kind of shooting with its high ISO full-frame sensor, and gave me images I would have had a very hard time getting with any other camera. This post-sunset shot, for example, was taken in near-darkness. It was so dark that I could barely see, and didn't know what I had captured until after I looked at the camera's display...
Yes, things get a bit grainy when shooting at those monster ISO levels, but at least you get a shot...
For red-light safari drives in total darkness the A7s really shines, giving me shots that my NEX-6 couldn't hope to touch...
The A7s loves low light and, quite by accident one night, I discovered what this would mean if I shot the night sky...
The ability to shoot in near-blackout conditions comes at a price, however. The sensor resolution is a meager 12.2 megapixels. This will turn off a lot of photographers who equate megapixels with photo quality, as a 4240 x 2832 image seems weak compared to the 7360 x 4912 you'll get out of other cameras in this price range. But all the pixels in the world can't save a shot if your camera records a big black blob, so it was a trade-off I was happy to make. And after looking at the amazing photos I managed to get, I have zero regrets. The A7s has terrific video capabilities, but I'm not a video shooter, so I'm taking Sony's word for it.
12.2MP • ISO 100-102400 • $2,499 • ★★★★★
• Sony DSC-HX50V. As a backup-backup (hey, how many times will I get to go on safari in Africa?) I needed a camera with some reach to it, and started shopping for ultra-zooms. The field has gotten really competitive, and finding the right camera was tough. Ultimately size was the deciding factor for me, and Sony's pocketable HX50V fit the bill perfectly. Sure, I would sacrifice some zoom (it's 30x when others in this arena are at 50x), and not being able to shoot RAW was disappointing, but it's a camera I could slip in my pocket and have with me at all times that I'd barely notice.
Turns out the image quality is quite nice (for JPEG) so long as you don't zoom too much, and the HX50V is a capable little shooter that I was happy to have on me for those times my camera bag was back at my tent. But ultimately I regretted my purchase for one big reason... no eyepiece viewfinder. The only way to compose a shot was to use the display on the back, which is completely obliterated in bright light! Under the African sun this camera was rendered totally useless. I couldn't see a damn thing to compose a shot, and was shooting blind any time I was out of the shade (even when setting the screen to max brightness). If you buy this camera, I hope you'll only be shooting indoors or in overcast conditions, because that's all its good for. Still, it DOES have a GPS... which is more than I can say for the much more expensive Sony's listed above. I took an occasional shot with this camera just so I could use the GPS info to geotag my other photos, and it worked pretty great for that... meriting an extra star.
20.4MP • 30x • ISO 80-3200 • f/3.5(W)-f/6.3(T) • $325 • ★★☆☆☆
• Sony FE 70-200 f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. Go with a cheap zoom lens to get the reach you need... or go with a quality zoom lens and crop the reach you want? It's a question that every photographer has to grapple with at some time in their lives. In the past I've just gone for the cheapest zooms I could find because I don't use them very often. But for my Africa trip, I decided to invest heavily in a good zoom because the quality of the image was what's important to me... even if I wasn't as close as I'd like to be. And since Sony only makes one E-mount zoom with any reach to it, the FE 70-200mm, my decision was made for me. I reviewed the lens back in August, and have only one thing to add to this remarkable addition to my camera arsenal... WHY IN THE HELL DOESN'T SONY HAVE A SWITCH-LOCK ON THE IMAGE STABILIZATION SWITCH?!? Every time I slid this lens into my camera bag, image stabilization would slide off. So the next time I'd go to shoot a lion (or whatever) I'd end up with blurry camera shaken images until I'd remember to turn it back on. This is categorically stupid. At no time... none did I ever want the "Optical Steady Shot" turned off, yet there was no way to lock it in the "on" position. Very, vey frustrating. But, once I remembered to switch OSS on, I was getting some fantastic shots from this lens...
Sure it's big and at almost 2 pounds it's a bit heavy too... but you can't argue with the results. Crisp images, beautiful bokeh, fast auto-focus... I was very, very happy to have this full-frame wonder with me on safari, and was much relieved that I spent the money to have a quality telephoto in my camera bag. 90% of my photos were shot with it. Minus a star for the lack of an image stabilization switch lock... and for not having a bit better aperture (it's locked at a consistent f/4 though, which is nice)... but if you're an E-mount shooter, this is the zoom to get.
70-200mm (full-frame), 105-300mm (cropped) • f/4 • $1,499 • ★★★★☆
• Sony FE 35mm F/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E-Mount Lens. I skipped the kit lens for my A7s full-frame sensor camera because I wanted some glass that would really let it shine. Unfortunately, my choices were limited, because Sony doesn't have many options when it comes to FE prime lenses. Ideally, I wanted a 35mm with image stabilization and a maximum aperture of f/1.4... but it doesn't exist. A 35mm with NO image stabilization and a pokey f/2.8 aperture is as close as I can get. And, to make matters worse, Sony is charging a whopping $800 for it. In all honesty, I don't think the Zeiss name justifies such a heinous price tag, but what choice do I have? None at all. Yet despite the absurd cost, this lens has a lot going for it. It's small and light. It focuses blazingly fast. It's super-sharp. Color is very good. And I got some really nice shots with it...
Night sky images were mind-bogglingly great...
The slow aperture was never a problem on my NEX-6 in the sunlight nor on my A7s with its amazing low-light capabilities, but I still find it disappointing... f/2.8 on a 35mm? Who does that any more? This, along with the crazy-stupid price tag drops two stars from my rating, even though the FE 35mm is a darn fine lens once all is said and done. And yet... I keep coming back to the cost. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS?!? For THESE specs? Holy crap I hope Sony gets their heads out of their asses and starts producing affordable FE lenses soon.
35mm (full-frame), 50mm (cropped) • f/2.8 • $799 • ★★★☆☆
• Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS E-Mount Lens. I shoot a lot of wide angle, so this lens was purchased alongside my NEX-6 on day one. I absolutely love it. Small and light for a wide angle. Really sharp. Great color. Quick to focus. Image stabilized. And all at a reasonable cost! As if that weren't enough... even though it was designed for the cropped sensor on Sony's NEX cameras, it works amazingly well on my full-frame A7s if you limit the focal range! Amazing! This lens fulfills the promise of mirrorless cameras, and proves Sony doesn't need Zeiss (or Zeiss' absurd price tag) to give their customers a great lens. And though I didn't get much use out of it in Africa, it's the one lens that's always in my camera bag...
If you've got an E-mount camera, this is the lens to own. Fantastic for landscapes, yes... but I use it all the time for just about everything (the wide angle distortion is very easy to correct in Photoshop). Thank you, Sony.
10-18mm (cropped) • f/4-f/22 • $849 • ★★★★★
• Apple 11-inch MacBook Air. I'm using an iPad more and more for things like email and web browsing, but when it comes to photography, there's simply no substitute for Photoshop on a Mac. My MacBook Pro excels at running Photoshop, but is way too big and heavy to tuck in a camera bag. Fortunately, Apple has a diminutive solution that tucks easily in my bag, and it runs Photoshop just fine thanks to the 8GB memory option...
Until Microsoft manages to come up with a "Surface" tablet/PC hybrid that's worth a crap... or Apple comes up with a MacBook Air that has a retina display touchscreen I can give five stars... this will certainly do.
1.7GHz i7 • 8GB RAM • 256GB SSD • $1,250 • ★★★★☆
• Transcend Information USB 3.0 Card Reader. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room in the MacBook Air 11-inch model to fit a card reader, so you need to buy an external one. This Transcend model takes advantage of the USB 3 speed of my MacBook and accepts SDHC, SDXC, microSD, microSDHC, and microSDXC cards. Cheap, compact, and does the job. If they could remove the micro card compatibility (that I'll never use) to shrink it even further, I'd give it five stars.
$7 • ★★★★☆
• B+W Kaesemann XS-Pro Circular Polarizer. I have UV haze filters on all my lenses to protect the optics, but I stopped using "creative" filters ages ago. Between in-camera functions and Photoshop, I just don't need them. But every once in a while, it's handy to have a circular polarizer in your bag. B+W makes my favorite filters... pricey, but high-quality, so all I had to decide was whether or not I would go with the Kaesemann variant or not. Ultimately I went with Kaesemann, despite the added cost, because they don't "gray things up" like a traditional polarizer can. The only time I ended up using the thing in Africa was when I was shooting through a helicopter window...
It helped take the glare of the sun off the water, which was nice, but the shake of the copter coupled with the lack of image stabilization on my lens kinda sabotaged my efforts to get great shots. Oh well.
Kaesemann XS-Pro, MRC Nano Filter • $89 • ★★★★★
• VisibleDust Hurricane Blower. Dust and moisture are the enemy of photographers who rely on clean, dry optics to get the best image quality. Having a blower on-hand is essential, and I was using it several times a day while in Africa. At home I have a Giottos Rocket Blaster, but I wanted something a bit smaller to take with me, so the VisibleDust Hurricane got the job. Works great.
$14 • ★★★★★
• LensPen Lens Cleaner. The only lens cleaner I use. Has a good quality brush on one end and a concave lens swab coated with a carbon compound (from the lid) on the other. Works perfectly every time.
$10 • ★★★★★
• SanDisk 32GB Extreme Plus UHS-1 SDHC Class 10 Memory Cards. It took me a while to settle on a memory card manufacturer I like best, but once I got my hands on the SanDisk Extreme Plus line my camera storage of choice was found. They're tough, reliable, and blazingly fast... yet don't break the bank. Which is good, because I've stopped re-using memory cards. They're small size makes them all too easy to slip into a safe deposit box, thus providing the perfect backup of your precious memories. Sure you can save money by going with a cheaper card, but is it worth taking the chance something will go wrong and you'll lose all your photos? Not to me. There's higher-capacity versions of the Extreme Plus, but 32GB stores more photos than I can manage as it is, so I don't want to go bigger.
$38 • ★★★★★
• Oben TT-100 Table-Top Tripod. This tiny tripod slips easily into my camera bag, but still manages to secure my camera perfectly. Unlike some smaller tripods, the Oben has a ball head which made it really handy to get the perfect angle for a shot. A great product... I just wish it was a bit easier to tighten and manipulate.
$35 • ★★★★☆
Add some extra camera batteries, a couple of battery chargers, a ballpoint pen, a Sharpie marker, and some unscented wipes to keep everything clean, and I'm done!
As for what camera bag I use? That's another story...
Posted on September 10th, 2014
Three big announcements from Apple yesterday. All of which would have been surprising if it all hadn't been leaked to the internet weeks ago. If you haven't seen the keynote video, it's over at Apple's site for your viewing pleasure.
• iPhone 6... And so the inevitable happened... iPhone got bigger. But the user interface didn't get bigger with it. Meaning it's not any easier for people to navigate if they have poor eyesight (me), or older eyes (me), or vision problems (me). Nope... the tiny icons and text have just been moved further apart on the bigger screens of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus...
Except... Apple mentioned something called "Display Zoom" which sounds interesting. The iPhone 6 can apparently render the text and icons larger than previous models on command...
Huzzah! But... I can't find much detail as to how this works. Can you leave "Display Zoom" on all the time, or is it a temporary thing? Does it work everywhere, or only with apps that support it? However it works, it looks to be a step in the right direction for people like me who need an easier time of it when trying to use their phone. My fear is that this only works on the home screen, but I guess that's better than nothing.
The new seamless, ergonomic design of the iPhone 6 is just beautiful. Apple's mobile aesthetic has been looking dated for a while now compared to what the competition is doing, so this is a welcome sight...
A pity that you have to slap a case on that sexy design in order to keep it from smashing to bits if you happen to drop it. With this in mind, Apple is introducing both a leather and a silicone case to protect your investment. Hopefully this time they'll be available at launch so your iPhone is made safer from day one.
Screen resolutions are getting to be ridiculous... with some newer phones having pixels that are smaller than the eye can detect. Which means wasting precious battery life to power something that you probably won't even notice. Apple increased the density on their "Retina Display" screens, but didn't go too crazy (326 ppi on the 6 and 401 ppi on the 6 Plus). This should strike a good balance between getting a beautiful display while still being battery efficient.
Not surprisingly, Apple is using a new 64-bit A8 chip for the brains of their latest and greatest. If you watched the game demo during the keynote, you've seen what this kind of power is bringing to the table. But power, of course, comes at a price. Lucky for us Apple has made advances with the iPhone power cell as well, so you can still get decent battery life with the faster processor.
But what about the feature I use most on my iPhone? What about the camera? And I'm not talking about all the bells and whistles like "face detection" and "burst mode" and "HDR"... I'm talking about the actual camera element. The specs say that iPhone 6 is still stuck at 8 megapixels, which is a bit surprising. I mean sure, megapixels aren't the sole determining factor in getting great photos... but higher pixel counts do allow for more detail. So if not the megapixels, what has been improved?
Well, the lens has been bumped up to an f/2.2 aperture, which is a bit brighter than before. That's a good thing. Exposure control should make getting shots with wildly disparate lighting conditions a bit easier. Also a good thing. And Apple has come up with "auto stabilization" to reduce motion blur and shake. That's a very good thing. BUT, if you've been waiting for actual OPTICAL stabilization, you can get it at long last... but ONLY on the iPhone 6 Plus. That's a not-so-good thing for me, because I don't want to have to start carrying a purse so I have a place to put my iPhone.
The only bad thing I've noticed is that the camera lens now protrudes from the shell. Seems like that's an invitation for damage if you're not using a case on your iPhone... but superior camera features are going to have a trade-off, and this is what you have to pay...
If you shoot video, there's a slew of improvements on that front. Automated time-lapse. 240 frames per second slo-mo at 720p. And while there's no 4K option, you do get beautiful 1080p HD video running at 60 frames per second... all with cinematic video stabilization. Sold!
Of course Apple included Touch ID on the iPhone 6 models... which nicely addresses my bitching from yesterday about the shitty password security Apple is using on pre-Touch ID models. AND it dovetails nicely into another big announcement today...
• Apple Pay... And heeeeeere's Apple's new "digital wallet" functionality! Many others have tried to bring us this golden carrot of the modern age... but they've all failed. This October, we'll see if Apple has the muscle to get their version accepted by merchants around the globe. Something tells me they can. But... what about security? Well, it would seem that Apple has put some real thought into Apple Pay, because its security features are pretty well-rounded. First of all, you no longer have to disclose your credit card number, name, and security code like you do when you hand over your credit card. Instead, Apple Pay creates a Device Account Number that is stored on a new Security Element chip on your phone... not on Apple's servers... to conduct the transaction. Furthermore, Apple is actually adding privacy to the transaction by keeping them private. No details will be stored or transmitted, so your purchases can't be tracked back to you. Well, through the payment anyway. And since Apple Pay also has an online component, this should make it easy for Conservative lawmakers to get their gay porn fix anonymously.
I'm in love with the idea of not having credit cards bulk up my wallet. But that day isn't coming any time soon. So long as one retailer you deal with doesn't accept Apple Pay, you're going to have to hold on to your plastic. And while it's nice that you won't have to dig them out as often as this technology get adopted, it's not like using a physical credit card is such a huge burden that it's going to matter all that much in the end.
Verdict? Cautiously optimistic.
• Apple Watch... Praise be to Jobs that we seem to have escaped from the "i" branding that's dominated Apple for the past several years. By naming their wearable "Apple Watch" instead of "iWatch" I will be able to purchase one without screaming.
And, yes, you read that right... I am buying one.
The minute I saw this image hit the screen, the decision was made...
Everything else is gravy, because I'd buy the watch if all it did was display the time using an animated Mickey Mouse (he taps his foot with the time!).
And about that gravy...
The health crap is nice, but probably not something I'm going to make use of. The whole "send your heartbeat" "tap a friend" and "send a sketch" stuff isn't very compelling to me. Heck, a lot of the features being touted aren't compelling to me. Yes, it will be nice to not have to go fishing for my iPhone every time I've got an alert or a message or whatever, but the defining feature to me? We're one step closer to Dick Tracy, baby...
The day I can hold a FaceTime conversation on my Apple Watch will be one of the greatest days of my life.
In the meanwhile, I'll just have to settle for the dozens of things that Apple Watch can do right now.
All of which wouldn't mean shit if Apple Watch wasn't something I wanted to wear. Fortunately, that was never really a concern. I knew Apple would come up with something good-looking and wearable... and they did...
...IN TWO FRICKIN' SIZES!!!
Which means that if the larger one is like a brick on my bony arm, I have another option available. Sadly, it doesn't look like it gets any thinner, which has always been the problem with so-called "smart watches." I mean, just look at this boat anchor...
To be honest, I really thought Apple's watch would be thinner than this. I thought they'd find a way to put the battery in the band... or make it run on nuclear fusion... or something to make it not be so obvious...
Maybe they're saving that for Apple Watch 2.0.
The one thing that did turn out as expected was the interface. Apple being Apple, they weren't content to force a Phone interface on their watch. That's what other companies do. No no... they started from scratch and came up with something more appropriate to the smaller size of the device. Using the "crown" for interactivity so it doesn't obscure the screen is genius. Using "deep presses" for touch selection is genius. Having the watch tap you for attention instead of jolting you with a buzz is genius. The MagSafe contact charger is genius. The customization options are genius. Everything about the Apple Watch is genius...
Battery life? Memory size? Durability? Water resistance? Who knows? Who cares?
Well, except the wait. "Early 2015" is pretty non-specific, and could mean as late as May.
Another sticking point could be the price. "Starting at $349" leaves a lot of latitude. The style/band you want could run much, much higher.
Not that it matters. If I have to sell a kidney to get my digital Mickey Mouse... that's definitely on the table.
So... a banner day for Apple and Apple Whores alike!
It's hard to know for sure until I find out if I'm going to be down a kidney or not.
Posted on June 4th, 2014
"Android fragmentation is turning devices into a toxic hellstew of vulnerabilities."
— Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, ZDNet
This is the second half of my notes on Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, this time focusing on what's coming down the pipe in iOS 8. And something else entirely, which was an unexpected surprise.
To start things off, Apple CEO Tim Cook was back on stage to drop some rather startling statistics on iOS update adoption vs. Android update adoption...
89% of iPhone users are on the latest version of iOS. A mere 9% of Android users are using the latest version of that mobile OS. For developers, this is a pretty big deal. If you are counting on new OS features for the functionality of your app, you have to be assured that your users have a version of the OS which has those features. From the looks of things, Android developers are going to be very slow to implement new stuff in their apps, because the vast majority of their users are on some older version where they are unsupported. Add to that the heinous fragmentation of the Android OEM variants, and Apple has made a very good case for developers to choose iOS as their platform of choice.
After Tim Cook's intro, Craig Federighi comes back to show everybody what end-user features and improvements we can expect with the next update.
One area where iOS has always been pretty horrible is dealing with interruptions. Get an alert, and you have to dump out of whatever you're doing to deal with it. iOS 8 takes a big leap forward by allowing you to handle common interruptions (like text messages and calendar alerts) without leaving the app you're in...
This is very cool, but it would be pretty useless if it were restricted to Apple-only interrupts. Fortunately, interactive notifications are available to 3rd-party apps, which is fantastic for people like me who communicate primarily through Facebook Messenger or other non-Apple services. What remains to be seen is how far the interactivity goes. Can developers customize the controls available to best fit their apps? Or does Apple limit interactivity to internal iOS buttons and text fields? Time will tell.
Taking a page from Windows Phone 8, iOS 8 now has some people-centric additions... like being able to access frequent and recent contacts on the app-switcher page. A terrific use of some wasted space...
Unfortunately, the usefulness of this feature is hampered by Apple deciding how you can interact with these people. Right now you can text, call, or Facetime with them... but there's no option for Facebook messaging or a slew of other 3rd-party apps that people use to keep in touch with the people in their lives. So, ultimately, a step in the right direction... but not a very big one.
Next up was a beautiful new grouped tabs interface for Safari on the iPad...
I do three things on my iPad... 1) Watch movies when I travel... 2) Read comic books... and 3) Surf the internet. The area in most need of improvement is Safari for web browsing, and it's nice to know that Apple is at least trying to make it a better experience.
One of the most exciting pieces of news at the keynote was Apple's announcement of an improved keyboard... now with predictive text. As you type, words appear above the keyboard where iOS is trying to guess what you're typing. Kind of like what happens now as words appear above your input cursor while you type... except now you get more than just one word, which should be a lot more productive. iOS doesn't stop there though... it also tries to predict words you'll use in response to emails based on the content and whom the email is from! The keyboard learns context, and tries to be smart about how it assists you...
As if all that weren't enough... Apple is now going to allow you to install alternative keyboards! This means terrific technology like Swype, which allows you to slide your finger from letter to letter in a word... and Fleksy which has an amazing word-guessing algorithm and cool gesture controls... can be installed and used system-wide. This is fantastic news, because now users can test keyboards and find the one that will allow them to type the fastest.
And then, AT LONG LAST, Apple has finally given some love to their texting app, "Messages." I don't know what the heck took so long, but now we can finally manage users on group messages... and even dump out of a conversation if you want. If that's too extreme, you can put a thread on "do not disturb" so it won't keep buzzing your phone. Even better, iOS 8 has even more ways to communicate... allowing you to share your location, and even add voice memos and quick videos...
Now if Apple would only get off their ass and give the same attention to VOICE CALLS. I mean, come on... PC call center software has been around for decades which allows you to do simple things like record custom voicemail messages and selectively route callers... why in the hell is iPhone so far behind in this? It IS, after all, primarily a PHONE, isn't it? Oh well, I suppose I should be thrilled that we at least get to block a caller from calling again... how long did we have to wait for that?
And then we have HealthKit... Apple's portal to managing all your health apps...
The ultimate promise of the idea is that one day you will be able to monitor various aspects of your health (like blood pressure and the like) which can automatically be transmitted and monitored by your automated analysis software and you doctor. If there's a problem detected, your doctor's office can then contact you to get it sorted out. It's a fantastic idea. In theory. In reality, I wonder how many doctor's offices are going to implement this stuff any time soon. I also wonder when we're going to get Apple's "iWatch" which will have health monitoring and syncing that makes HealthKit actually useful. Who knows.
From there we moved on to photo storage (in iCloud, of course) and the idea of Apple's "Smart Adjustment" technology which gives you the ability to perform comprehensive edits that are smart enough to do a lot of "behind the scenes" work to give you much better photos with little effort...
It will be bundled with iOS 8 and be added to Yosemite in 2015. Which is great and all... but I have to wonder where this leaves Aperture, Apple's high-end photo editing and storage software. How will it be able to handle edits made in iPhoto on iPhones, iPads, and Macs? Will they integrate, or be a separate set? Will flattened edits in Aperture be saved out so that devices reading from your iCloud Photos can actually view them? All of this is up in the air. And since Apple won't comment on future software (natch) it's tough to tell if Aperture is even going to be around in 2015. This is very, very frustrating... but so typically Apple. I honestly don't expect them to tip their hand and tell people what's happening with Aperture... but it would at least be nice to know that it's still going to be around.
A surprise to no one, Siri is being updated...
I use Siri all the time, so naturally I am thrilled to have improvements to his/her functionality. What bums me out is how far behind the Mac version is to the iOS version, and no mention has been made as to whether or not any love is going to be spent improving the Macintosh side of things. I would hope so, because the crappy dictation functionality on the Mac is pathetic. Why Apple can't keep up with the iOS side of things is a complete mystery. Why can't you ask Siri questions on a Mac like you can on an iPhone? It makes -zero- sense. And yet here we are.
And here's where things start to get interesting.
Very interesting, if you're a developer.
First of all, Apple is going to finally allow permission-based data sharing between apps. Something that is long overdue and will makes for some incredible extended functionality possibilities. Sure, the functionality will be limited so as to keep data safe... but this is such a massive leap in the right direction that I find it hard to not get excited at the prospect.
Game developers will get up to a massive 10x speed bump in their apps thanks to a new technology called "Metal" which allows them to get closer to the raw power of the iPhone/iPad processor than ever before.
And, lastly, something that took everybody by surprise... a new development language called Swift that takes the best parts of past programming languages and marries them to modern programming concepts while leaving all the antiquated baggage behind...
Without being able to see it and play with it, there's no way I can really comment on how useful Swift might end up being. But it certainly sounds promising. And powerful. And easier to use. And smart. I can't wait to take a look.
And that was that.
No new hardware. No new AppleTV. No new iWatch.
Just some interesting new features and a promising new future for Mac developers. Which is what I guess we should expect from a Developer's conference.
So I guess I'll try not to be disappointed with the lack of new toys.
Posted on June 3rd, 2014
Because my entire day yesterday was spent catching up on work, I had the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference keynote running... but couldn't pay very close attention to it.
And so... today's the day I get to channel my inner Mac Whore and talk about new happings at everyone's favorite fruit-named tech company. If the thought of that bores you, here's your chance to escape! But don't come back until the day after tomorrow, because that'll be Part Two.
OS X YOSEMITE
The successor to OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite, was presented by Craig Federighi, the Senior VP of Software Engineering at Apple...
The guy is incredibly charismatic and engaging... reaching to near Steve Jobsian heights with his presentation skills. He's also darn funny, injecting wit and humor into his speech at a breakneck pace.
The look of Yosemite is very much a continuation of iOS7. All aspects of the OS from the controls to the icons have been simplified, saturated, and flattened. In addition, transparency effects have been liberally sprinkled all over the interface elements. Which is something I'm not thrilled about because I find it unnecessarily distracting. Hopefully users will have the ability to disable the transparency like they currently can with the menu bar.
Federighi seemed especially proud of the new look for Yosemite's trashcan...
Personally, I don't give a shit what the trashcan looks like... I only care that it works. Which it currently does not in Mavericks. It will show as "empty" even when there's files inside. Hopefully somebody bothered to fix this incredibly basic and incomprehensibly ignored bug.
After talking trash, we moved on to the system font, which is no longer Lucida Grande. I don't know what the new typeface is called, but it's very pretty and easy to read. And as exciting as that improvement is, the next improvement is something I've been begging for... DARK MODE... where the menu bars and menus are darkened so they don't distract from what you're working on...
The window model for Yosemite continues to add functionality for title bars and devote more space to content, which is nice. Apple has also changed the way window controls work... with the green button now taking the window full-screen. Something I could get behind if they WOULD ONLY HAVE AN OPTION TO KEEP THE MENU BAR VISIBLE! I frickin' hate going full-screen because fighting the disappearing menu bar drives me insane. I need to be able to see my clock... my battery level... the date... all that important stuff that's so handy to have available... at a glance.
Notification Center is getting the ability to add widgets, which will finally make it useful to me.
Spotlight, Apple's search system for OS X, is getting an upgrade... and this time it looks more than just cosmetic. All I care about is that it's not a flaky pile of shit like the interface is now (How many times do you end up launching the unintended result? For me, it's practically daily). The addition of Sherlock-esque internet data for searching is a welcome throwback.
Next up, Apple puts the smack-down on DropBox by releasing an online storage option of their own called iCloud Drive. I don't know how it will be an improvement over DropBox, which makes cloud storage so drop-dead easy, but I'll definitely be taking a look.
Federighi then took a look at Yosemite's update for OS X Mail... currently the most-hated app I use every day. It is a buggy, slow, and overall shitty email client that looks downright embarrassing when compared to what Microsoft has going on with Outlook. He promises that they have worked very hard to make improvements with the basic functionality, which would be very nice. A new feature for Mail is "Mail Drop," which allows the seamless sending of files up to 5 gigs via iCloud Drive.
Safari is a world-class browser, but Apple's not resting on their laurels. They've added a number of new features for convenience, speed, and improved battery life... but the standout for me is being able to spawn separate windows for Private Browsing instead of it being an "all or nothing" game.
And then came the first surprise of the day... something Apple is calling "Continuity"... which works towards providing a seamless experience between MacOS X and iOS. The crowd erupted in applause when Federighi announced that FINALLY you can "Air Drop" between MacOS X and iOS. This omission has been categorically absurd and, if I had been in the audience, I would have been screaming "IT'S ABOUT FUCKING TIME!"...
But Apple didn't stop there, because next came a new feature called "Hand-Off." This nifty bit of tech means your Mac and your iPhone (or other iOS device) now has proximity awareness of each other. You can start composing an email on your Mac, then hand it off to your iPhone so you can keep composing as you walk out the door. Additional features, like being able to answer an incoming call from your iPhone on your Mac or use your Mac to make calls through your iPhone is dead-sexy. That Federighi demoed this by calling a "new employee" — Dr. Dre — was just the icing on the cake.
And there's where Apple wrapped up their look at just some of the new features that will be available with the new MacOS X.
The beta for Yosemite has been released to developers already. Non-developers can join the beta program later this Summer. Then everybody will be able to grab a free copy come Fall.
Tune in tomorrow when I unleash my commentary on Part Two of the keynote... with iOS 8.
Posted on May 9th, 2014
For the longest time I've been dismissive of those who say that Apple has gone downhill since Steve Jobs left us (praise be unto His name). As a Certified Apple Whore, I pretty much have to, right? And besides, as great as His Steveness was, Apple has always been more than just one man. Steve Jobs didn't do it all alone, and the people who helped to make Apple into such a remarkable company are still around. So, yeah, Apple isn't going to be the same... but it couldn't possibly be the horrific disaster that all the nay-sayers keep insisting: "APPLE IS OVER!" "APPLE CAN'T SURVIVE!" "POST-JOBS APPLE IS DOOMED!" What nonsense!
As time goes on and the user experience with Apple products degenerates to complete and total shit, my opinion has been changing.
Don't get me wrong... I firmly believe nobody is doing it better... but the detail-oriented Apple that made me commit my eternal servitude over the past decade simply doesn't exist any more.
Let's walk through an example, shall we?
I perfectly understand the need to prevent random people from walking up to my computer and charging a bunch of crap to my Apple ID. Really I do. But having to enter my password four times? What kind of sadistic fucking asshole made that happen? And how badly would Steve Jobs explode over what a shitty user experience that is? I'd rather just buy a physical book at Amazon with their One-Click shopping.
This problem goes much deeper than just inconveniencing customers to enter their password over and over and over and over again... it encourages people to pick simple, short, easy-to-remember, passwords. Which is pretty much the opposite of what you want, because those are the passwords that are easiest to crack. What you want is people using heinously complicated passwords that are very difficult to crack. But to get this to work, you have to make it so the password only has to be entered rarely. The password should be remembered by the system and auto-populate whenever you want to buy something. Of course you have to secure the system with a password... otherwise you're back to square one. But THAT is the kind of stuff Apple figures out so well. Like the fingerprint scanner on the iPhone, for example.
So where is it?
And since one example doesn't build a compelling case, here are a few more things off the top of my head that have been bugging the shit out of me with Apple's "User Experience"...
Holy crap... and that was just the stuff off the top of my head. Had I put some actual thought into this list, it would be ten times as long, I'm sure.
And there's my problem with Apple. In the past, I would expect that insane shit ruining the Apple experience would eventually be fixed. Now? I honestly don't know. There's obviously people in charge of these problem areas. But is Tim Cook obsessing over making sure these people are getting things to work exceptionally well like Steve Jobs was? Or is he being distracted by shiny things to buy with Apple's massive bank account? Early after his take-over, I was willing to give him the benefit of doubt. But now? We're going on three years and I'm starting to worry.
I want... need... Apple to be insanely great.
Anything less isn't Apple.
Posted on March 16th, 2014
Stop digging out that old bomb shelter... because Bullet Sunday starts... now...
• Cold? "Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash." — Kremlin-backed television presenter Dmitry Kiselyov, host of a weekly current affairs show in Russia. Behind him was a backdrop of a mushroom cloud following a nuclear blast. (from Reuters)
You wanna know what bothers me more than the thought of being turned into radioactive ash? I really, really, want to visit Russia. I always have. Ever since I first saw a photo of Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square. For most of my life, the idea of it has been an impossibility. But then the Soviet Union collapses, the cold war thaws, relations normalize, tourism becomes more and more common, and suddenly... but not really suddenly... the impossible becomes possible...
And now I'm asking myself... Are current tensions going to blow over? Are current tensions going to escalate? What happens if they do escalate? Have I waited too long? Am I too late?
Last year I ultimately decided to visit Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. But also in the running? A river cruise through the Ukraine, including a couple stops in Crimea...
I guess that ship has sailed... for a while. Or forever. You just never know. How shitty is it that we can't all just get along?
• Flash! The first two comic books I ever bought were Green Lantern/Green Arrow #121 and The Flash #277. Not coincidentally, they became my favorite super-heroes for quite a while...
At least until I discovered The Legion of Super-Heroes. And Batman, of course. But even so, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for those first heroes. Green Lantern finally made it to the big screen with a fucking horrendously shitty movie that I hated. Then Green Arrow got a very good television show I'm currently enjoying called Arrow. Next up? The Flash!
It's a spin-off from Arrow, so my hopes are high. The costume is certainly a step in the right direction.
This isn't the first iteration of The Flash on TV. The first was a show starring John Wesley Shipp back in 1990. It was surprisingly good, but limited by the technology of the day. To say I'm anxious to see what we'll be getting in the year 2014 is an understatement. The pilot is filming now. I'm assuming we'll be seeing it this Fall. Assuming the show is picked up. That's a lot of assuming.
• Drop. Apple has a terrific bit of tech called "AirDrop" that allows you to share iPhone/iPad photos, contacts, files, and whatnot pretty much effortlessly. Open what you want to share, activate AirDrop, and you can beam stuff to other AirDrop users...
Apple has a terrific bit of tech called "AirDrop" that allows you to share Macintosh photos, contacts, files, and whatnot pretty much effortlessly. Locate the file you want to share in the Finder, activate AirDrop, and you can beam stuff to other AirDrop users...
BUT YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S NOT COOL?!? EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE BOTH CALLED "AIRDROP," THE iPHONE AND MAC TECHNOLOGIES ARE NOT FUCKING COMPATIBLE! This is outrageously stupid and, for the life of me, I just don't get it. I keep thinking "It's coming any day now, I'm sure!" But then it doesn't, and I get pissed off all over again. Why bother naming them both "AirDrop" if they are so different that they can't even talk to each other? How is it that Apple can be so smart in so many ways but so stupid in others?
• Stick! I promised myself that I wouldn't start in on the new video game, SOUTH PARK: THE STICK OF TRUTH, until I finished LEGO MARVEL SUPER-HEROES, but I just couldn't resist any longer. I'm a massively huge South Park fan, and the trailer looked amazing (warning, NOT safe for work)...
And you know what? It IS amazing! It looks exactly like you're "playing" an episode of the TV series. As if that weren't enough, it is frickin' hilarious. As in laugh-out-loud-funny. Not only because it's South Park, but because they've managed to create a fully-realized RPG game that's actually a parody of RPG games... with humor built into practically everything you see and do. I'll want to play it a bit more when I get back from vacation before I write a review... but, if you're a South Park and video game fan, it's pretty much a no-brainer. You simply must own this.
“With the first movie, because it was crowd-funded, it was a love letter to the fans,” he explains. “I put every character they loved back into the movie. There are a lot of inside jokes. With a second movie, I would build it from the case out. In the first movie, I feel like I did just the opposite. I put all the dessert, all the frosting on there, and then put a detective case in the middle. On the next one, I would want the detective case to be the driving force of the movie.”
It's as if he read my blog post and is answering my prayers!
Needless to say, I would be positively thrilled to get a sequel. Especially if we get a fantastic Veronica-Mars-style mystery on-par with what we saw in the first and second seasons of the show. NOW SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
Annnnnd... the end.