July 6, 2015

NASA:

If you go outside at (a particular) time on a clear day, the world around you will be as bright as the surface of Pluto at noon.

It’s always Pluto Time somewhere, and NASA wants to see your view. New Horizons will become the first spacecraft to have a close encounter with Pluto. After the historic flyby on July 14, 2015, we’ll combine as many submitted images as we can into a mosaic image of Pluto and its moons.

Here in Chilliwack, BC, my “Pluto Time” is tonight at 9:20 PM PDT. I’ll definitely be outside taking a picture for NASA.

Susan Bennett, the original voice of Siri, talks about voicing Siri and the fact that her real voice sounds so much different than what comes out of your phone:

“A Siri-like voice is still, at this point in time, very robotic,” she says. “The pitch is a little bit lower…it’s not as evenly paced as if you were speaking naturally.” She told me that few people recognize her on the street, since her speaking voice is different.

Watch the video. Absolutely love this.

[H/T Brandon Cosby]

Salon ran an excerpt from the new book Team Genius: The New Science of High-Performing Organizations. One of the chapters focuses on Steve Jobs and Apple.

One of the greatest examples in business history of a large organization’s maneuverability took place right before our eyes: Apple Inc. In September 2002, Apple’s future was thought to be so bleak you could buy shares in Apple Computer at a price that valued its operating enterprise at less than zero. What you were buying, if you had been so bold, was Apple’s cash reserves of $5 billion. Beyond that, you were buying a prayer that Apple could do something with that cash.

Remember, this was five years after the return of Steve Jobs. Contrary to myth, Jobs did not immediately turn around Apple’s dismal fortunes. Yet just one decade later, Apple would drop the “Computer” from its name but win the world. It would become the richest company on earth in September 2012, valued at $656 billion.

Meanwhile, during that decade of Apple’s extraordinary ascent, other great American companies, stalwarts of reliable business success, fared poorly. Among them were Pacific Gas & Electric, Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Adelphia Communications, US Airways, Trump Entertainment Resorts, Northwest Airlines, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, Chrysler, and General Motors. Thus, even while Apple prospered, a greater number of American companies went bankrupt or out of business altogether than in any decade in the country’s history, including during the Great Depression.

The book offers an interesting analysis. I think the authors get much of this right, but miss a core element of Apple’s success: The birth and evolution of Apple’s walled ecosystem. And a big reason for the success of that ecosystem was the quality of the operating system on which it was based.

The ideas behind NeXTSTEP, the operating system that came on board with the return of Steve Jobs in 1997, evolved into OS X and, eventually iOS. All of the software on every device Apple makes is either based on or is designed to connect to those operating systems. Obviously, Apple is much more than software, but the consistency of the software interface is a big part of what makes Apple devices feel so familiar, makes them so easy to use. Those underpinnings were a critical part of Apple’s success.

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore, tells you how to set a timer that turns off your music (whether it be a playlist or Beats 1) after a specific amount of time. Excellent if you like to fall asleep listening to music.

Pretty sure this has been around a while, but the ability to fall asleep to Beats 1 is definitely a new angle here.

Fascinating look at the age group demographics of each of the major social networks. Pay attention to the numbers that show where the major growth is for each.

Jean-Louis Gassée, writing for Monday Note, discusses the difference between algorithm and human curation. In order to be scalable, most problems are solved via algorithm. For example, in order to work on a world-wide basis and still be cost efficient, Google Translate must depend on algorithmic translation. Imagine the costs involved in having each request translated by hand.

On the other hand, Apple Music employs human curation in a number of ways. The tracks played on Beats 1 are selected by hand. The very first track played, City, was by a relatively unknown artist. No algorithm would ever have made that choice.

As you make your way through the various areas that make up Apple Music, you can’t help but notice all the handwork. Though the For You section depends on algorithm at some level (an algorithm helps build the picture of your personal musical tastes, for example), the playlists are clearly hand crafted by humans.

With Apple Music’s human curation in mind, Jean-Louis observes:

If it’s a good idea to use human curators to navigate 30 million “songs”, how about applying human curation to help the customer find his or her way through the 1.5M apps in the Apple App Store? Apple bought Beats for $3B and spent a good chunk more to build its Music product. Why not take another look at the App Store jungle and make customers and developers even happier?

Jean-Louis’ Open Letter to Tim Cook from last August does an excellent job making this point.

July 5, 2015

From the good folks at Playing for Change and with the support of The Jerry Garcia Foundation and others, a new, world-wide version of The Grateful Dead classic, Ripple, in honor of the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary.

Some familiar faces in there.

[H/T, Barbara Roseman]

July 4, 2015

How to listen to Apple Music offline

Part of the joy of Apple Music is the access you now have to a vast library of music. Discover new music, dig back through the archives and listen to music you haven’t heard in years. You can even listen to that new music without sucking on your data plan. One way to do that is to download songs from Apple Music’s library while you are on WiFi, then use those songs to assemble your dream offline playlist.

But before you do, take a few minutes and back up your existing music library. There are many reasons for this but, for the sake of this discussion, the issue at hand is DRM.

Without rehashing the shoulda, coulda, woulda here, just know that if you store your songs in the cloud, Apple may replace the cloud-stored copy with a link to Apple’s copy of the same song. Apple’s copy will be DRM protected. This is done, presumably, to save space. If 10,000 people upload a copy of Happy, Apple only needs to store a single copy of Happy and point everyone at that copy.

If you then download a copy of Happy, you’ll end up with a DRM protected copy, even if you started with a an unprotected copy, perhaps one you ripped from a CD.

Another reason to backup your music library is the newness of Apple Music and iCloud Music Library. This is new software that is being stressed by millions of users. No matter how well Apple tests this in house, there’s no way to simulate the massive impact of millions of extremely active users. Bugs will reveal themselves. And those bugs might impact your local copy of your music. Back up your music files, save that copy for the long haul, just in case something goes wrong.

You might also want to consider disabling iCloud Music Library on your Mac and enabling it on your iPhone (as suggested by Serenity Caldwell in this post):

Don’t want your Mac’s files getting scanned? Turn off iCloud Music Library on your Mac. In iTunes, go to Preferences > General > Uncheck iCloud Music Library.

You can still keep iCloud Music Library active on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch and add tracks from there if you don’t mind not having your Mac’s library streaming to your other devices; you can also make a secondary user account on your Mac that has no music and iCloud Music Library enabled so that you can listen to your streaming catalog on OS X. But if you don’t want it to scan your files, you don’t have to let it.

Which brings up the ultimate goal of this post: offline listening.

If you want to listen to music offline, you’ll need to enable iCloud Music Library. Once you’ve backed up your music, you might want to read Apple’s iCloud Music Library support page before you click Merge or Replace. Once you’ve enabled iML, you’re ready to build your offline music playlist.

Though there are a number of ways to listen to music online, you might consider starting with a new, empty playlist you can use to accumulate your offline tracks.

Once your playlist is created, start searching for tracks to offline. You can click the magnifying glass icon in For You or New to search the Apple Music library or your own music. Once you find a track you want to save, tap the More icon (it looks like an ellipsis: ) to the right of the track listing. When the list of actions appears, tap Make Available Offline. That will download the song to your device, adding it to My Music. If you have iCloud Music Library enabled on your Mac, the song will be added to that library as well. That’s step one.

Next, tap Add to a Playlist… and select your offline playlist. That’s it. Rinse and repeat.

One last thing you need to know. To get rid of a song, tap its More icon (…) and select Remove Download. That will free up space on your device. Of course, that song will no longer be available for offline listening.

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore, walks you through everything you could ever want to do with Up Next, the Music app’s list of songs queued up to play next. Add songs to the queue (even while tracks are playing), delete from the queue, rearrange the queue, it’s all there.

Dave Wiskus is a self professed content creator and musician. You might know him as part of the team that built Vesper (a notes/ideas/to do collecting app) or as the vocalist and guitarist for an emerging band called Airplane Mode.

Creating music is hard. Promoting that music is even harder. Writing for his blog, Better Elevation, Dave lays out the difficulties in being an independent artist and his hopes for Connect, Apple’s second cut (remember Ping?) at a social network for artists and fans.

As Dave explains, the interface is rough, the Mac side feels like an afterthought, and the social side feels broken. All that said:

These are early days, and there’s hope. I don’t like complain-y posts where designers pick something apart and either offer no meaningful ideas or, worse, presumptuously redesign someone else’s work. So instead I’m going to break the fourth wall and make a simple suggestion to Apple: consult with independent musicians. Talk to bands who have succeeded on social media and see what worked for them. Talk to bands who have made great YouTube videos and find out how they get their audience to share stuff. Talk to bands who haven’t made it yet and ask what tools they might need to get there.

Or, maybe talk to a rock band from New York that happens to be made entirely out of iOS designers. We’d love to help.

And that’s exactly what happened. Dave’s post appeared yesterday, and by last night, he added this update:

I got an email from Trent Reznor this afternoon. Apple is aware of the growing pains and is working to address them.

I’d like to add in this suggestion. I’ve been working with an iOS developer named Matt Abras who makes a social music app called SoundShare. Matt is from Brazil, and SoundShare has a phenomenal following there. SoundShare gets social right. You can follow a musician, see what they are listening to, follow your friends, see what they are into. You can listen along with musicians you love, or with your friends.

To Trent, I’d say: Follow every move Dave Wiskus makes, learn from his pain, figure out what works for him. At the same time, download a copy of SoundShare, talk to Matt, get his take on social.

The potential for Connect is huge. But only if you get it right.

July 3, 2015

As I continue on my weight loss journey with Apple Watch, one thing people kept telling me is to stay hydrated. I thought I was, but when a friend recommended I try “AddWater”, I saw how much more I needed to drink. This is now part of my daily logging. It’s really simple and tracks all of your drinks, not just water.

Future Sonics are the absolute best in the industry. They are the first and original Ear Monitor (and own the trademark) and I company I trust with my hearing—and to deliver quality sound. I’ll have more details later, but I’m heading out for my first walk with these.

futuresonics2

futuresonics

Many thanks to Designer News for sponsoring The Loop this week. A new and exciting website has recently been launched for web designers and developers.

You likely spend hours every morning browsing through hundreds of posts on your RSS feeds, hoping to stumble across relevant stories. Designer News was built to provide web designers and developers with a single location to discover the latest and most significant stories on the Web.

They search through hundreds of posts on blogs, social media, and news channels, to deliver the most essential stories of the day. The content covers quality news, fresh tools and apps, case studies, code demos, inspiration posts, videos and more.

With frequent updates throughout the day, you’ll always find something interesting and fun to read.

Click here to visit the Designer News website and subscribe to the newsletter for the latest stories of the day.

Digg:

This Saturday, July 4, The Tour de France starts. And you should watch it.

Granted, out of all the sports, professional cycling is, by far, the most impenetrable to outsiders. There are so many questions: Why do they all ride together in a group? Why doesn’t just one guy jump ahead and leave everyone behind? If there’s only one winner, why are there teams? What’s with the different jersey colors? Aren’t all of these guys on steroids? All understandable!

But read this humble primer to cycling’s most prestigious — and most grueling — race, and we promise that you will relish waking up at 8 am to watch a bunch of men in spandex ride bikes through the French countryside.

I love this race. The spectacle, the scenery, the drama, the controversies, all add up to a month of great viewing. I wouldn’t ride a bicycle if you paid me and the sport is, like boxing and The World Cup, tarnished (almost) beyond redemption but I’ll still watch every second of it.

Politico:

“The hot-dog contest is a physical manifestation of the concept of freedom,” said George Shea, the mastermind behind the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. “The contest has come to represent the spirit of July 4th itself. That is why people go to the event. It is kind of a pilgrimage to the center of July 4th and the center of freedom.”

More than 30,000 fans of the absurd will pack the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues to watch the annual feeding frenzy—the Super Bowl of eating contests.

I love America but I don’t understand the fascination with competitive eating in general and certainly not with this particular event. It’s actually been broadcast on ESPN. If this is the “spirit of July 4th”, I fear for that spirit.

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore.com, addressing the FUD flying around the internet on Apple Music and DRM:

Yes, Apple Music has a DRM component. Yes, it sucks, but it’s similar to every other streaming service. No, it does not overwrite the files on your Mac to make all your music DRM-laden. For those Googling in a panic, here’s the deal.

Great post. At the heart of this issue is the thought (incorrect) that Apple somehow adds DRM to any of your music files. Back up your music collection before you get started and you’ll still have all your music/video files, in their original state.

Damien McFerran, writing for Nintendo Life:

Before Sony entered the home console arena it worked with Nintendo on a CD-ROM drive for the SNES. The aim was to eventually release a combined console – called the PlayStation – which would play SNES carts and SNES CD-ROM games.

Of course, this never came to pass – at the 1991 CES Sony officially announced the system, only to discover that at the same event Nintendo confirmed that it was working with rival Philips instead. It was one of the most infamous double-crosses in video game history, but Sony would have its revenge by creating the stand-alone PlayStation system, a best-selling console which would end Nintendo’s dominance of the industry and establish the brand for years to come.

Great story. Click here for images of the prototype. So cool. Bizarre to see the Sony and Nintendo branding together like this.

Go to Bing, search for the term Pong. Click to start.

I’ve tested this (purely for scientific purposes) on my iPad and iPhone. Fun was had.

Apple Watch owner Dmitri built up this list of things he’s done with his Apple Watch.

I’ve done some of these things, certainly, but there are other things I hadn’t even thought of. All of these things are doable, all good to know, and this list is worth passing along to anyone who asks you, “What can you do with an Apple Watch?”

P.S. In case you were wondering, here’s how to use your Apple Watch as a remote to take a selfie.

If you’ve been spending time listening to Beats 1, you’ve no doubt heard a song playing, loved it, but missed the name of the song or artist. Perhaps you’ve tuned in in the middle of a song and didn’t get to your screen in time to catch the name.

No matter, there is a solution. Follow @Beats1Plays on Twitter. The account posts the artist and song title of every song played. And your Twitter client can tell you exactly what time the post was made, how long ago the song played.

Pass this along.

Jonny Evans, writing for Computerworld, pulled together some Apple Music related tips and links from around the web. These are well assembled, useful, and interesting.

July 2, 2015

AT&T:

When you see the driver next to you looking at their phone, it’s no longer safe to assume they’re texting. New research1 from AT&T* shows nearly 4-in-10 smartphone users tap into social media while driving. Almost 3-in-10 surf the net. And surprisingly, 1-in-10 video chat.

7-in-10 people engage in smartphone activities while driving. Texting and emailing are still the most prevalent. But other smartphone activity use behind the wheel is now common. Among social platforms, Facebook tops the list, with more than a quarter of those polled using the app while driving.

As a motorcyclist, this survey is not only disturbing but, sadly, not surprising. There’s not a day goes by I don’t see someone more focused on their phone than on their driving. There’s also generally not a day that goes by where I don’t have to take some kind of evasive action to avoid an accident with a distracted driver. Please, as AT&T is campaigning, “It Can Wait”.

Ars Technica:

By this point, fairy-tales about successful funding and horror stories of projects that end in abject failure or corruption have led most of us to recognize the volatility of any Kickstarter project. But lost between these two extremes is a long, sometimes confusing road that is invisible, and sometimes even inaccessible, to the mildly interested passersby. In today’s Kickstarter Web storefronts, projects appear so singular to their backers that any unplanned activity can seem more erratic and suspicious than it actually is. In most cases, though, delays are normal.

This underreported grey area between funded and shipped (or sailed) isn’t necessarily something to loathe. Rather, it highlights many of the reasons crowdfunding is worth protecting—even if some of the practice’s worst contradictory forces are at play.

I’ve backed several Kickstarter projects over the last few years and have been universally disappointed for various reasons, not the least of which is failure to ship. I won’t be doing any more.

Good find by Federico Viticci.

Quartz:

It is broadcast 24 hours a day, with real people picking songs, introducing them, and conducting interviews. Everyone around the globe hears the same thing at the same time—a rarity for internet-based media, which is rarely experienced in sync. As a result, everyone can also discuss in real-time.

It’s early, but tuning into Beats 1 on launch day and following along with other listeners on Twitter made it a fun, memorable, shared experience.

It’s hard to argue with the sentiment. Sure, some (many) don’t like the mix – “there’s too much ____ (insert music genre you dislike the most here)” but I’ve been listening to nothing but Beats 1 since the launch. The shared music aspect of it is really appealing to me. For the most part, I like the DJs. I especially like Julie Adenuga and her drum and bass mix. Sure, there are glitches and odd bits (the naughty language edits are particularly annoying) but, after only three days, it’s a remarkable achievement that will only get better, in my opinion.

How to properly use “Likes” in Apple Music

I use the “Like” system in my music services all the time because I want it to learn from my listening habits and be more personalized for my tastes. However, it seems that every service uses this system in different ways, so I talked to Apple about how you should use likes with Apple Music.

First, let me tell you one of my big problems, or sources of confusion, with likes on streaming services. Let’s say I’m listening to a Metal station and a great song comes on, but I consider it to be Rock. Do I like it? I enjoy the song, but I’m afraid if I like it, more Rock songs will come on the Metal station, diluting it.

What if I don’t like it? Will it never show up again, even in Rock? Perhaps I should skip it, but is that equivalent to a “dislike”? These are the questions and concerns I had as I listened to Apple music.

So, here’s some guidance on what you should be doing.

Apple’s built in Radio stations are all handpicked songs. They are handpicked with a thought to what song is playing and what song comes after it. By doing this curation, Apple strives to make one song flow into the other so, hopefully, you won’t need to skip songs—or at least skip less often.

When you play a radio song, you will notice a heart—this is the like button. If you tap the heart, indicating you like that song, it does absolutely nothing to “tune” that station. Since the stations are human curated, there is no need for a tuning algorithm.

Tapping the heart does affect “For You,” the section of Apple Music that’s custom built with playlists, albums and songs tailored to your individual tastes. For You also takes into account music you add to your library and full plays you listen to. Skips aren’t really taken into account, because there are so many reasons you may skip a song—maybe you’re just not in the mood for it right now.

You can further tune the For You section. If you go to For You and there is a recommendation for an album that you just don’t like, tap and hold on the album. A menu will popup where you can choose “I Don’t Like This Suggestion,” allowing Apple Music to further learn about your musical taste.

Now, If you build a station yourself by searching for a band or song and tap “Start Station,” you’ll notice the heart changes to a star. In this instance, you can tune the station to your likes and dislikes.

Tapping the star gives you a “Play More Like This” or “Play Less Like This.” These choices can be made on a per station basis without worrying that you are affecting your overall enjoyment of a particular song or band.

Using these tips should give you finely tuned For You section and enjoyable custom radio listening experience in Apple Music.

M.C. Siegler, writing for Medium:

What do you listen to when you can listen to literally anything? For me, it’s often the same things over and over again. I hate choosing.

First world problem to the extreme, I know. But I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way as it has long been the selling point of the Beats music service (and what has made Pandora so great): choices made for you.

Beats 1 is the extreme extension of this. It’s a choice — one choice — made for everyone. This sounds draconian until you look at the flip side: everyone on the planet currently listening to Beats 1 is listening to the exact same thing. How cool is that? Actually, very cool.

Exactly.

Divide by zero, Apple Music, The Beatles and Siri

Siri is a novelty. Siri is incredibly useful. Both of these things are true.

Whenever a new, funny answer to a Siri query (hey, it rhymes!) emerges, it is sure to make its way around the internet. One fine example is in this tweet from Aaron Paul:

Ask Siri “what is zero divided by zero?” RIGHT. NOW.

If you haven’t already, go ahead, it’s a fun answer. Not useful, but novel and funny. Most importantly, like all Easter eggs, finding and sharing this draws you in, builds a bond between you and Siri and, between you and the Apple ecosystem.

This same logic applies with useful queries as well. For example, try asking Siri this:

Play the top songs from 1970

Feel free to pick your favorite year. If you have Apple Music installed, Siri will reply with:

Now playing the top 25 songs from 1970…

and will build a playlist of the Billboard top 25 from that year, edited (of course) to include songs in the Apple Music collection.

Super useful, incredibly fun.

Which brings us to The Beatles. There is a gaping hole in Apple Music. A Beatles-sized hole. Ask Siri for the top songs of, say, 1964. You’ll get songs from 1964, certainly, but no songs by The Beatles, who OWNED the top of the charts back then. If you search Apple Music, you’ll get lots of Beatles music, but it’s always instrumentals and other covers.

A friend of mine who knows about such things, suggested that the agreement between Apple and Capitol Records is what’s known in the industry as an EBTB agreement. Everything But The Beatles. Here’s hoping that gets fixed.

This story has gone viral. It is tragic and bizarre. First, the accident:

A robot killed a factory worker at a Volkswagen plant in Germany, FT reports. The 21-year-old worker was installing the robot when it struck him in the chest, crushing him against a plate. He died after the incident.

Apparently, the worker was inside a safety cage designed to enclose the robot. For the safety cage to work, he needed to be outside the cage.

The twist:

Twitter users were quick to point out that the name of the FT reporter, Sarah O’Connor, is remarkably similar to Sarah Connor, hero of the “Terminator” franchise. She was not amused by the barrage of tweets about “Skynet” and reminded them of the serious nature of the situation and that someone had died.

Follow the headline link to read O’Connor’s tweets, as it became clear to her that she was being seen as a character in a “life imitates art” moment.

Tragic. Bizarre.

Really interesting essay from Shibel Mansour on the value of an app that you pay for. At the heart of his argument is this chart from xkcd, which shows you how much time you need to save on a repetitive task to make an initial time investment pay off.

Terrific read, well worth the time.