May 23, 2015

Wired:

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, founded in 1909, is the world’s oldest permanent motorsport facility. It’s changed a lot since the early days—pavement instead of bricks for a racing surface, new stands and administration buildings—but the track is essentially the same. It still has corners banked at 9 degrees, 12 minutes, and those corners are the same radius they were a century ago.

More than that, the track is still a magical, ghostly place, eerily alive with death and life. Stand on the front straight and stare into Turn 1—it looks like a tunnel, or maybe a wall of asphalt—and you feel the echo of death and time in your bones.

I’ve watched this race every year since I was eight years old and I was lucky enough to drive my motorcycle on it for a charity event. It really is a amazing place.

May 22, 2015

MY thanks to WALTR for sponsoring The Loop this week. WALTR is the first Mac app in the world to allow users transfer and playback unsupported formats such as MKV, AVI, FLAC & more – directly from the native Videos/Music app.

iTunes is the only option Apple gives us for loading media onto our iPhone, iPad or iPod touch from our Macs, and it limits the audio and video file formats we can upload. That’s a thing of the past thanks to WALTR from Softorino. This awesome Mac app lets you upload a long list of file formats — such as MKV, AVI, MP4, CUE, FLAC, APE, ALAC, OGG, AAC, AIFF and WAV — to your iOS device without ever touching iTunes. Just fire up WALTR, connect your iPhone or iPad to your Mac via USB, and drag files to convert and upload them so you can watch or listen on the go. It really is drag-and-drop simple, and file transfers are surprisingly fast.
 
No iTunes required; No jailbreak required; No need to worry about 3rd party converters;

You can try out WALTR for free and a license costs US$29.95 but you can use the Loop exclusive coupon ‘HEINEKENSPECIAL’ for a 33% discount.

Weaknesses in the factory reset function within Google’s Android mobile operating system mean data from more than 500 million phones can be discovered despite being wiped, researchers have found.

And

Recovering data was even possible with full-disk encryption switched on, the researchers discovered.

Good luck Android people. Here is a sure way to fix the security issues you’re having.

In the month since the phone’s launch, however, the response has been lacklustre. The Korean news outlet Yonhap News Agency reports that the device has seen 10 million shipments so far. For comparison, Samsung’s previous model, the S5, shipped 11 million units in the same time frame a year ago — the year in which Samsung’s sales collapsed. These are shipments, not sales, so the number of devices sold could be even lower.

I guess you can’t copy and be successful forever.

Heineken Door Lock

I need one of these.

Mashable:

There’s a building in China that looks almost exactly like the USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Drone footage shows how a relatively conventional-looking building from the ground dramatically transforms into a regal starship when viewed from the air.

Lest you think this is visual trickery done via Holodeck or CGI, the starship/building is clearly visible on Google Maps.

Don’t lie – a bunch of you saw that video and thought to yourself how much you’d like to work there, didn’t you? It looks like Nerd Valhalla.

CNET:

There’s no doubt that the Apple Watch can do a lot of things. It can be used to communicate with others, view notifications from an iPhone and even pay for items with Apple Pay. It’s also a dedicated activity tracker that can measure active calories burned, active minutes, the number of times you stand throughout the day, your daily step count and distance traveled.

We’ve been testing the Apple Watch over the past few weeks, and focused on those final two metrics — steps taken and distance traveled — to see how it stacks up against the competition.

This is an important question for those who want or need to have accurate tracking. Good to see the Apple Watch scored so highly and that Apple has done a good job in making sure the Watch works as advertised.

Not sure how long this has been part of iOS, but I just stumbled on this yesterday. A fantastic tip.

Go into Messages and tap on a recipient. Now press and hold on the camera icon (to the left of the text entry field). Don’t lift your finger. After a brief pause, a quarter circle control will pop up under your finger with an x, a camera icon, and a video record icon. Your camera will become active at the same time.

If you lift your finger, the control will stay in place and you can cancel (tap the x), or compose your picture, then tap the camera (for a still image) or the record button (for a video).

Alternatively, you can keep your finger down and slide it over the control you want. For example, press and hold to bring up the control and the camera, then slide over the camera icon and lift your finger to take the picture.

The only downside here is that once you take a picture, it will immediately be sent. I do love the convenience, but I wish there was a gesture that would let me retry if the picture wasn’t quite in focus.

When notifications appear on your Mac, do they disappear too quickly? Want to make them hang around just a bit longer?

Here’s how.

The Internet Health Test site runs a series of upload and download tests to check for consistency and degradation in the connection through your ISP.

Large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have degraded the performance of their customer’s traffic as a tactic to convince content and application providers to pay added “tolls” to deliver content that Internet users have already requested and paid for. The battleground — where this degradation takes place — is at ISP interconnection points. These are the places where traffic requested by ISP customers crosses between the ISP’s network and another network on which content and application providers host their services.

This test measures whether interconnection points are experiencing problems. It runs speed measurements from your (the test user’s) ISP, across multiple interconnection points, thus detecting degraded performance.

The data that results when you run the test on your connection is passed back to the site and used to build a crowd-sourced picture of ISP behavior.

Clarks is no small operation. They’ve got more than 1,000 stores throughout the world and they also manufacture their own shoes which they sell in their own shops, as well as via third party retailers.

The new system embeds an iPad in a traditional plastic foot gauge:

A plastic bar touches the tip of the toes, but the precise measurement is recorded by the tablet’s touchscreen, rather than the human eye.

The team has also developed a new kind of digital tape measure as part of the system. The Digitape looks like a plastic claw, and measures the width of the foot by gently clamping around it, before communicating the data by bluetooth to the iPad.

The child is enticed through the whole procedure by animated cartoon characters, who hop around telling the youngster what to do next.

Behind all this is the goal of gathering data to aid their shoe manufacturing operation. That data is the real gold here, allowing Clarks’ shoe manufacturing operation to get ahead of the curve on trends in foot size changes and buying habits.

Smart, smart, smart. [HT to Rob Richman]

John Gruber digs into the digital crown interface, explaining how it works and why it’s not as complicated as it first seems. This is helpful if you are confused or, perhaps, intimidated by the Apple Watch interface.

Mark Gurman, writing for 9to5mac:

Facing slowing growth for the first time since the iPad’s 2010 debut, Apple is working on several significant software and hardware updates to reinvigorate the tablet over the next year. Apple is developing a dual-app viewing mode, 12-inch iPads codenamed “J98″ and “J99,” as well as support for multi-user logins, according to sources briefed on the plans.

And:

Sources now say that Apple plans to show off the side-by-side feature for iOS 9 using currently available iPad models. The latest plans suggest that the split-screen mode will support 1/2, 1/3, and 2/3 views depending on the apps. When split, the screen can either display two different apps side-by-side, or multiple views of the same app. This would enable iPad users to see two separate Safari tabs, or compare a pair of Pages documents at the same time. Sources are quick to warn, however, that the feature could still be pulled before next month’s conference, as additional polish would be needed to bring it to the same level as other features that will be making their way into the first iOS 9 beta next month.

I can’t help but be reminded of the evolution of the original Mac, which went from supporting a single application at a time, to a primitive multi-app Switcher, then to basic multiple app support with MultiFinder.

That original evolution was constrained by limited memory and the lack of a built-in windowing system. Not exactly the same, but certainly similar to what the iPad is going through.

Apple had originally intended to debut side-by-side app support with iOS 8 on the iPad Air in 2014, matching the cornerstone feature of Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Pro tablets. In the lead up to WWDC 2014, the feature was deemed too unpolished for public consumption and pulled from iOS 8.0, with tentative plans to appear in iOS 8.1. However, Apple reprioritized its software engineering resources to finish up the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Watch, opting to cut the split-screen app feature for the time being, and reassign the majority of the engineers who were working on it.

Kudos to Apple for not releasing this before it’s rock solid and ready for prime time.

May 21, 2015

Accessibility is not just an additional feature, but a best-practice.

Another great article on app accessibility.

Ideally, people with a variety of abilities should be able to access the same mainstream technology wherever possible. Companies such as Apple work hard to make their devices and software accessible irrespective of whether the user may have hearing difficulties, vision problems, fine-motor challenges, or, for that matter, small or large hands, thick or thin fingers, or whether they are left or right handed, young or old. They want their products to be usable by the widest possible range of people. They don’t design a special iPad for children with autism, or a different watch for left handed people. Yet, they invest a lot of effort in making sure that Apple Watch works well for left and right handed people and that iPads have features that work well for kids with autism without sacrificing their utility for, for example, blind users. They aim for universal design. Ease of use, simplicity, and refinement all contribute to making the products better for everyone.

This sums up my feelings about Apple’s accessibility efforts perfectly. They invest the time and resources to make one product work for everyone.

We should all be aware of accessibility when making our apps. Apple has posted a few on its “Accessibility Awareness” page on the App Store.

There are a lot of changes in the new version. Two that really stood out to me are the fact AmpliTube for iOS now uses the same amp DSP as AmpliTube 3 Custom Shop for OS X, and the “Cab Room” that allows 3D miking of cabinets with up to two mics. I just downloaded it.

In 2011 and 2012, the NSA and the communications intelligence agencies of its “Five Eyes” allies developed and tested a set of add-ons to their shared Internet surveillance capability that could identify and target communications between mobile devices and popular mobile app stores—including those of Google and Samsung.

Notice two words not mentioned anywhere in this story? “Apple” and “iOS.”

I tested this app and love it. It’s so easy to use on the Apple Watch.

Just speak:

“Five point ninety-nine” gets you 5.99 “One hundred US dollars to euro” gets you 100 USD converted to EUR

Works great for me.

Go to songbpm.com and enter an artist and title. SongBPM will search its database and return all songs that match, along with the beats per minute (BPM) for each song.

As an example, if you type Nirvana and Smells Like, you’ll get several versions of Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Steve Jobs and time travel

Yesterday, I posted this video, a collection of photos and audio interviews of Apple’s early days. A reader alerted me to an interesting picture of a young Steve Jobs at about 1:50 into the video.

Here’s a still from the video. Notice anything interesting (the red arrow is mine)? Passing resemblance? A possible source of inspiration? Or was it simply time travel?

SteveWatch

From the Spotify blog:

Every week millions of you lace up and hit the road to Spotify. Music is the perfect running companion but sometimes you need even more motivation to push on. That’s why Spotify Running is all about helping you go the extra mile.We’ve combined the best music on the planet – recommendations based on your listening history, multiple-genre playlists and original running compositions written by some of the world’s foremost DJs and composers – all tuned to your tempo and seamlessly transitioned to ensure you’ll never miss a beat. Start running and Spotify will detect your tempo, matching the perfect music in time to your step – making you a harder, better, faster, stronger runner.

This is Spotify’s latest move to distinguish itself from streaming competition from Apple, Pandora, Jay-Z’s Tidal, and the like.

The promo video is below. Pretty good idea.

I wonder if Spotify adjusts the feed as you speed up or slow down. I get the sense from the video that you set it up as you get started. If the tempo of the music is not reactive, not sure how useful this will be. Hills slow you down, terrain is inconsistent.

Seems to me, this is a perfect problem for the Apple Watch, assuming the Apple Watch is accurate enough.

From Yahoo TV:

After more than 6,000 broadcasts and 33 years in late night television, David Lettermantook the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theater for the final time on Wednesday.

The venue, which has been Letterman’s home since 1993 when CBS bought it for $4.5 million, was packed with stars, many of whom have been regular guests on the show, including Chris Rock, Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld.

The weeks leading up to his departure have included a parade of the famous who have made the trip to midtown for a final session with Letterman: Tom Hanks, George Clooney,President Obama, Tom Waits, Oprah Winfrey, Billy Crystal, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Al Pacino, John Travolta, Julia Roberts (who astutely observed: “I think stupid people annoy you”) and Bill Murray, who on the penultimate show popped out of a cake and proceeded to give Letterman a bear hug covering him with frosting.

And from this New York Times appreciation piece, the definitive word about his supposed relationship with Julia Roberts:

Ms. Roberts’s and Mr. Letterman’s rapport over the years — she appeared 26 times — became legendary: They would flirt. They would kiss. They would collapse in laughter. Except for a few appearances here and there, she said, she almost never went on another late-night talk show.

Like Mr. Stern, she pointed to Mr. Letterman’s originality and his smart brand of humor as distinguishing characteristics of his show.

“If you can’t keep up with his intellect, you have to keep up with his wit and/or his timing,” she said. “I kept up with his tempo. It’s like, ‘He is going to go this way, and now we’re going to go that way.’ I just try to keep up with him because you never know what he’s going to say or what he’s going to do.”

Despite the close bond she developed with Mr. Letterman on the air, Ms. Roberts said she had never once seen him away from his studios. Other than an occasional phone call or a brief chat during commercial breaks, the whole of their relationship has played out on television.

We’ll miss you, Dave.

May 20, 2015

The Wall Street Journal:

Phone cameras have made photography everyone’s hobby. But even owners of the fanciest smartphones would recognize the many genres of disappointing phone-ography: The blurry runaway toddler. The lifeless landscape. The grainy candlelit dinner. The ghoulish flash portrait.

We need to save personal tech’s most endangered species, the stand-alone camera.

There’s no doubt that camera phones in general and the iPhone in particular are really good cameras – for phones. And while we’ve all seen or taken great shots with our iPhones, it’s definitely a “jack of all trades, master of none”.

A good camera provides a wider range of possibilities – from zoom to control over depth of field to capturing low light and a higher dynamic range. If you’re not satisfied with the shots coming out of your iPhone, I’d encourage you to learn more about photography in general by taking a class or reading books and web sites on it but don’t neglect the thing that actually takes the shot – the camera itself.

As an example, over the weekend, I went to a local track to take pics of one of my favourite subjects – motorcycles. Of the 15 shots, only two would have been possible with the iPhone.

Smartwatch maker Pebble seems to be in some trouble. According to sources close to the company, the company is having trouble maintaining its growth and has turned to a Silicon Valley bank for a $5 million loan and $5 million line of credit. Valley VCs have been turning down the company’s requests for new capital.

You can see why VCs would not want to take on Apple.

Wired:

As it turns 40 this year, ILM can claim to have played a defining role making effects for 317 movies. But that’s only part of the story: Pixar began, essentially, as an ILM internal investigation. Photoshop was invented, in part, by an ILM employee tinkering with programming in his time away from work. Billions of lines of code have been formulated there. Along the way ILM has put tentacles into pirate beards, turned a man into mercury, and dominated box office charts with computer-generated dinosaurs and superheroes.

What defines ILM, however, isn’t a signature look, feel, or tone—those change project by project. Rather, it’s the indefatigable spirit of innovation that each of the 43 subjects interviewed for this oral history mentioned time and again. It is the Force that sustains the place.

I can’t think of another person, organization, studio or company that has had a hand in as many of the movies I love as ILM. They have been an integral part of my movie enjoying experience.

This is an amazing video, a collection of audio interviews and still photos, beautifully edited together to capture the early days of Apple. You’ll hear lots of Steve and Woz, and some excellent anecdotes.

The best moment for me was the anecdote (that starts off the video) from Paul Terrell about the phone call he got asking him to commit to buying that first order of Apple I computers from the electronics supplier Steve and Woz were pressing for 30 day term credit. If that deal hadn’t happened, Apple might never have gotten off the ground.

Like a good scam story? How about one about scamming a quiz show? This one is a few years old, but I just ran into it today, thought it was good enough to share. Enjoy.

When he was a teenager, Les Baugh was racing with his brother and ran into some live power lines, ultimately losing his arms. Much later in life, he has been given the chance to try out some new, bionic limbs, arms and hands that he can control with his thoughts.

This is incredible progress. Gives a sense of reality to the pursuit of a head transplant, a big step in the quest for immortality.

Neil Cybart, writing for Above Avalon:

We are quickly approaching a pivotal moment in Apple’s history as technology and mobile are on a collision course with the automobile. While most would conclude Elon Musk’s Tesla and a few of the strongest automakers are the leading contenders of this new automobile era, Apple and Uber are the two companies best positioned to rule the new era of the automobile.

This is a long read, but fascinating all the way through. At the heart of this discussion is the question of what drives (excuse the pun) today’s (and tomorrow’s) automobile purchase.

On one hand, people want simple utility, a safe way to get from point A to point B. Uber delivers this at a reasonable cost. If you live in an urban or suburban area, this model works well. Though some people care about arriving in style, most people just need a ride and are OK getting there in a compact car, as opposed to a black SUV. This utilitarian outlook is especially strong in harder economic times, when tighter pursestrings push luxury further into the background.

On the other hand, there’s the quest for personalization:

Having a car be able to adapt to whoever is sitting in it, which makes more sense in a world where car ownership is on the decline, will be one of the most revolutionary developments the automobile has ever experienced. We are used to a certain level of customization in automobiles such as different seat positions, but personalization will add much more in the way of software to customization to produce an entirely new experience. A family with four kids and luggage has different needs than a commuter headed to work. Having a car that can adapt to both of these users in terms of seating, amenities, and not to mention technological needs and luxuries will be much more important than having a car that has fast acceleration or longer driving range.

And few companies can deliver as elegant and personalized an experience as can Apple.

There’s lots more to the article (notes on history, self-driving cars, Tesla, CarPlay). A terrific read.