August 16, 2017

Accidentally Famous: The story behind the original voice of Siri

This is from a Ted Talk Susan Bennett gave last year.

One particular nugget (about 1:17 in):

One of the original engineers was from Norway. His name was Dag Kittlaus. He was responsible for naming Siri. In Norwegian, the name Siri means “beautiful woman who guides you to victory”.

Fascinating to see Susan Bennett tell these origin stories. My sense, from the iOS 11 beta, it that Siri is moving toward a more generic, machine generated voice. Yet, in the latest commercials (with The Rock), Susan appears to do all the Siri voice work.

It’ll be interesting to see how all this will play out. Will Susan be “classic Siri”?


During its initial printing run, International Data Group printed just 7,500 copies of DOS for Dummies.


By 1993, the series had sold 1.3 million copies on its own. Now there are 1,950 individual books in the series, covering a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with computing, and the books have sold upwards of 300 million titles.


Recently, I bought a book—quaint, I know—and I’m probably the only person to have purchased this book or anything like it in more than 20 years.

It’s a reference book, the kind that you can still pick up at Barnes and Noble today. But it’s best described as what you’d get if you combined a phone book, a Matthew Lesko free money guide, and the internet.

That book is really the crux of the article. A fascinating look back at a time before Google, when the Internet was but a toddler.

Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner on Carpool Karaoke

Fan of Game of Thrones? Then this edition of Carpool Karaoke is for you. Arya (Maisie Williams) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) join the carpool and surprise some fans.

I am looking forward to this one. Karaoke is coming.

Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. (AAPL) has set a budget of roughly $1 billion to procure and produce original content over the next year, according to people familiar with the matter–a sign of how serious the iPhone maker is about making a splash in Hollywood.

Combined with the company’s marketing clout and global reach, that immediately makes Apple a considerable competitor in a crowded market where new media players and traditional media companies are vying to acquire original shows. The figure is about half what Time Warner Inc.’s HBO spent on content last year and on par with estimates of what spent in 2013, the year after it announced its move into original programming.


Programming costs can range from more than $2 million an episode for a comedy to more than $5 million for a drama. An episode of some high-end shows such as “Game of Thrones” can cost more than $10 million to produce.

The back-to-back success of the original shows “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” is credited with building Netflix’s business. At the time they were released the company’s annual budget for original and acquired programming was about $2 billion; this year it is expected to spend more than $6 billion.

Personally, I would not judge Apple’s chances here based on shows like Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke. That would be like judging a developer on the apps they write as they learn how to program.

Key to Apple’s success will be setting aside enough cash (which they appear more than willing to do) and ability to bring on board the right mix of people, people with experience and craft. With the hire of Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, and the addition of Matt Cherniss to oversee development, Apple has the start of a significant original programming effort.


In one of their first major moves since joining Apple as heads of worldwide video programming, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht have brought in Matt Cherniss to oversee development.

As a reminder, Van Amburg and Erlicht were hired away from Sony, where they shepherded hits like The Crown, Breaking Bad, and The Black List through production.

Cherniss, a respected veteran network development executive, had been in demand since he recently stepped down as president and general manager of WGN America and Tribune Studios.

Cherniss will be a lieutenant to Amburg and Erlicht. Apple is building a formidable team here. Now all they need is money.

August 15, 2017

Fast Company:

The task of maintaining the individuality and values that propelled its initial success became more challenging when ComiXology integrated itself into a conglomerate the size of Amazon in 2014. Three years on, Steinberger—who continues as ComiXology CEO and also helms the digital comics business on Amazon’s Kindle ebook platform—has not only expanded upon the two companies’ common corporate values, but is creatively incorporating assets from Amazon to hone ComiXology’s business.

I remember when this buyout happened and many predicted doom and gloom for ComiXology. Good to hear they’ve been able to survive and even thrive under Amazon.

Ford Thunderbird automatic transmission rebuild time lapse

The inner workings of the automatic transmission are a mystery to most (us included), so we decided to crack one open and find out what sort of black magic makes it go.

I knew this stuff was complicated but I had no idea just how involved it was. Much respect to mechanics who do this well. Thanks to Horace Dediu for the link.

Ars Technica:

Hundreds of Internet-connected locks became inoperable last week after a faulty software update caused them to experience a fatal system error, manufacturer LockState said.

The incident is the latest reminder that the so-called Internet of Things—in which locks, thermostats, and other everyday appliances are embedded with small Internet-connected computers—often provide as many annoyances as they do conveniences. Over the past week, the Colorado-based company’s Twitter feed has been gorged with comments from customers who were suddenly unable to lock or unlock their doors normally. Complicating the matter: the affected LockState model—the RemoteLock 6i—is included in an Airbnb partnership called Host Assist. That left many hosts unable to remotely control their locks.

As convenient as these kinds of things are (and their convenience may be minimal), stories like this make it crystal clear why I personally will never own or install these kinds of IoT devices.


Sometimes your Mac isn’t running properly, so you need to reset the NVRAM and PRAM. Sometimes you need to boot in Recovery Mode in order to reinstall an OS or recover your hard drive via the internet. Whatever your needs, you can boot your Mac in a variety of modes in order to complete a task before startup; all you need to do is press some keys down and wait for the chime (unless you have a later MacBook Pro, in which case I’m sorry).

Here are all the keyboard shortcuts you can use when starting up your Mac!

I had a kernel panic situation a couple of weeks ago and was glad I had a cheat sheet of these lying around.

Mac Observer:

ARKit, Apple’s answer to augmented reality (AR) on iOS, has become tremendously popular already. Folks have posted quite a few ARKit demos on YouTube since Apple’s announcement of of the software development kit at WWDC 2017.

We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what developers are going to create with ARKit but even some of what we already can see is amazing.


Google is paying Apple billions of dollars to remain the default search engine on iPhones and iPads, Bernstein said in a note to investors on Monday.

The firm believes that Google will pay Apple about $3 billion this year, up from $1 billion just three years ago, and that Google’s licensing fees make up a large bulk of Apple’s services business.

It stands to reason that, if they are paying billions, they are making billions more.

People are awesome

Thought you all would enjoy watching Jim go through his daily workout routines.

This is a fascinating story about how Winamp squandered its opportunity to be the dominant force in the music universe.

Great read, all the way through, but this bit amazed me:

Amazingly, given all the time elapsed, AOL still makes a decent amount of money on the site and on the program—while the company has declined to release official figures, former employees who worked on Winamp estimate its current revenue at around $6 million annually.

Wait, what? I find that astonishing.

This piece originally ran on June 24, 2012 (and Winamp finally called it quits in November 2013).

Ah, that explains it. Still, a great read.

This is as of today. It’s all about smuggling. Pretty interesting.


Apple and Aetna held a series of secret discussions last week to bring Apple’s health and fitness-tracking smartwatch to millions more people connected to Aetna, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The insurer, which covers 23 million, offers an Apple Watch to its 50,000 employees as part of its corporate wellness program. Now, Aetna is negotiating with Apple on a plan to offer a free or discounted Apple Watch, Apple’s wearable device, as a perk to its members.

Seems to me a brilliant move. For Apple, a discounted Apple Watch brings potential new customers to the ecosystem. For Aetna, it’s possible they’re doing this just to make money on Apple Watch sales, but more likely, they’ve run the numbers, see a cost saving with insured folks having an Apple Watch.

Fascinating story that Dave Hamilton dug up about the origins of multitouch.

August 14, 2017

My favorite audio company is back at it, releasing four new plugins in their latest update. Universal Audio released the KORG SDD-3000 Digital Delay, Dytronics Cyclosonic Panner, ENGL Savage 120 Guitar Amplifier, AMS RMX16 Expanded, and the Sonnox Oxford Dynamic EQ. There are videos on the update page for each plugin, so you can get an idea of what they do.

In 2010, Patrick and John Collison, brothers from rural Ireland, began to debug this process. Their company, Stripe Inc., built software that businesses could plug into websites and apps to instantly connect with credit card and banking systems and receive payments. The product was a hit with Silicon Valley startups. Businesses such as Lyft, Facebook, DoorDash, and thousands that aspired to be like them turned Stripe into the financial backbone of their operations.

This is a great read. They have done exceptionally well in a cut-throat business.

The story behind the song ‘Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)’

What a great song.

There’s a lot of excitement these days about the new APFS filesystem coming from Apple. I’m certainly excited about it; some of the promised features sound great. However, I’m going to make a bold suggestion: Don’t convert your production startup disk to APFS this Fall. Wait for the new filesystem to get some more mileage before making the switch. HFS+ is still a supported configuration for High Sierra, and sticking with the tried-and-true filesystem may save a lot of headaches and wasted time.

Mike is the founder of Bombich Software, the makers of Carbon Copy Cloner, so he knows a lot about file systems.

At BlackPods, we’ve developed a proprietary coating system specifically for Apple’s AirPods. Our three-phase finishing procedure utilizes the latest in solvent-based painting technology to yield a luxurious finish that exceeds U.S. Military specifications. Every pair of customized AirPods we produce is hand-finished by a team of skilled artisans. Whether you purchase them through us or send yours in, each pair of AirPods is subjected to a rigorous visual and quality inspection.

BlackPods sells their AirPods in two colors: BlackPods Classic (high-gloss black), and BlackPods Stealth (matte black). BlackPods Classic are available for $279, and BlackPods Stealth are available for $299. Both finishes include free domestic shipping. BlackPods also allows its customers to mail in their own AirPods for customization– $99 for high-gloss black and $119 for matte black.

Use promo code THELOOP at checkout for $20 off anything in our store.

There are a few of these videos (food prep done in the style of famous directors), but this one just nailed the concept.


EVERY TIME I get in my car and plug in my iPhone, the same exact song plays: “All of Me” by John Legend. But not the John Legend version, which would be much less embarrassing. No, the very first alphabetically sorted song in my Apple Music library is a cover of “All of Me” by the Dartmouth a cappella group The Dartmouth Aires. It’s not that I hate the song, or this version. It’s that I’ve heard the first 15 seconds of the song approximately 438 million times, blaring through my speakers as I open Spotify or Pocket Casts and play something I actually want.

Every iPhone user has a song like this.


I could go on a whole bender here, ranting about how my phone should know what I want to listen to when I get into the car (probably whatever I was listening to five seconds before I got into the car!) and how annoying it is that the phone instead just plays the song in my library in the alphabetical pole position.


Instead, I’ll just tell you about Samir Mezrahi, the former BuzzFeed and the Dodo social media guru, and his new song, “A a a a a Very Good Song.” The song consists only of nine minutes and 58 seconds of glorious silence.

Silence is not the solution here. Silence is a bandaid, masks the problem. Interesting read though.

New York Times:

In the case of the iPad, you might be able to transfer your plan from the old tablet to the new one right in the settings, without having to fuss around with the hardware.

After you have gone through Apple’s sequence of steps for setting up a new iPad out of the box, tap open the Settings app on the home screen. On the Settings screen, choose Cellular Data on the left side and Set Up Cellular Data on the right. If your previous iPad uses a compatible SIM (subscriber identity module), you should see an option to transfer your existing plan over to the new iPad through your wireless carrier’s network. You need to know the user name and password for your account with the carrier to complete the move and activation process.

Tuck this one away for the next time you upgrade your iPad.


Beijing’s 274 subways stations let you pay with nothing more than your smartphone — as long as it’s not an iPhone, which currently doesn’t support the technology.

On Monday, authorities began rolling out citywide promotions for the wireless function, which allows direct payment from 160 smartphone models, including those from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Xiaomi Inc. and Samsung.


But the service is unavailable for iPhone users because Apple doesn’t currently allow the required near-field communication (NFC) technology on its handsets to connect to third-party payment terminals in China, BMAC said.


An upgrade to Apple’s iOS operating system due this fall will enable the latest iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models to read more third-party NFC devices, according to company information released at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June.

A BMAC employee told Caixin that the state-run company doesn’t know for now whether the iOS upgrade will be compatible with the city’s payment terminals.

Sounds like a marketing opportunity for Apple. Address the problem, then sell iPhones in Beijing with the tagline, “works in all 274 subway stations” or some such.

Fabrice Dubois:

So, apparently the next iPhone won’t have a physical Home button. There’s been much speculation already about what that means for the user. The bottom area of the device, for some, will be used to host the navigation bar items, as well as a virtual Home button.

This article describes another possibility.

This post does two thing:

  1. It does a nice job of talking through the iOS 11 home button experience on the iPad, making the case that the new “swipe up from the bottom edge” reduces the need for the Home button.

  2. Offers a nice conceptual take for the iPhone, which does not offer that bottom edge gesture, at least not as of the current iOS 11 beta.

Interesting take. I doubt we’ll see such a chance in a future beta, but perhaps some food for thought for iOS 12.

I got this notice from Amazon over the weekend:

We’re writing to provide you with important safety information about the eclipse products you purchased on Amazon (order #113-5832038-7027461 for Daylight Sky G021 Plastic Solar Eclipse Glasses with Carry Case, Adult Size, Cool Style and Look, CE and ISO Tested, Safe Solar Viewing, (3 Glasses and 3 Cases), 3 Piece).

To protect your eyes when viewing the sun or an eclipse, NASA and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) advise you to use solar eclipse glasses or other solar filters from recommended manufacturers. Viewing the sun or an eclipse using any other glasses or filters could result in loss of vision or permanent blindness.

Amazon has not received confirmation from the supplier of your order that they sourced the item from a recommended manufacturer. We recommend that you DO NOT use this product to view the sun or the eclipse.

I suspect that this is about liability and on advice from Amazon’s legal team. While I am disappointed in the move, I’d rather not risk my eyesight.

That said, I can only imagine how disappointing this must be for the folks who sell these solar eclipse glasses. It’s not like they are ever going to get the chance to resell these in some other market. This is a definitive “speculative bubble”.

More on Consumer Reports flipping Microsoft Surface to “Not recommended”

On Friday, we posted news about Consumer Reports very publicly changing their Microsoft Surface opinion to “Not recommended”. From our post:

Take this change with a grain of salt, give the experts a chance to dig through the methodology. But no matter the ultimate resolution, this certainly gives a black eye to Microsoft’s Surface brand.

Over the weekend, I ran across this take from Ben Bajarin (it’s from a subscription-only newsletter, but Ben graciously gave me permission to repost it here):

I want to briefly comment on a consumer reports article that came out yesterday. CR officially does not recommend Microsoft Surface hardware based from their interviews and survey of 91,741 laptop and tablet owners. They claim 25% of Surface owners reported a form of breakage after a few years.

What bothers me most about this is the flawed methodology. Surface sales are not huge, and the installed base is relatively small. So even though CR covered over 91,000 people, there is no way they had what any respectable statistician would consider a representative sample. The fact CR is not further detailing their methodology or telling us how many Surface owners they had is a red flag. Based on some other source data I’ve come across, I’d bet CR had less than 50 people respond who owned a Surface and it was probably more like 30. So 25% of my estimate means five people had an issue with Surface after two years.

The flawed methodology is disingenuous, and sadly Consumer Reports has become a bit of a click-bait outlet. They do this with Apple and now with Microsoft. Media outlets endorsing the CR report and flawed methodology only further affirm that CR can do this in the future. Which means, for all the Apple fans in my Twitter timeline mocking Microsoft and Surface based on this flawed process by CR, this may come back and bite you when CR needs another click-bait headline and targets Apple with their disingenuous agenda and methodology.

Personally, I’m not a fan of Windows, but I am a fan of fairness. When I saw the Consumer Reports flip, something just felt off. Consumer Reports has an outsized reputation, which gives them clout. And, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

If Ben’s take is correct, I’d love to see Consumer Reports either completely reveal their methodology or take the change back and redo their testing in a way that would stand up to public scrutiny.

August 13, 2017

Market Realist:

Apple recently broke a noteworthy silence after nearly four years, and the move it’s making now appears to have Alphabet’s Google in the crosshairs.

Last month, Apple added Virgin Mobile USA to the list of its US (SPY) carrier partners. As part of the deal, Virgin and Apple are throwing a one-year party in the form of steep discounts for their customers. Any customer who purchases a new or refurbished iPhone from either Apple or Virgin gets the opportunity to enjoy services on Virgin’s network for only $1 for a year. After that introductory offer, customers will normally pay $50 a month for Virgin’s network service.

But the relationship between Apple and Virgin comes with potential pain for Google. The deal is part of a broader plan that will see Virgin drop support for Android phones on its network and instead become an iPhone-only carrier.

Obviously, “coup attempt” is ridiculous hyperbole (ironic from a web site called “Market Realist”) but definitely a shot across the bow.

Ars Technica:

In 2015, 4,700 people in the US lost a finger or other body part to table-saw incidents. Most of those injuries didn’t have to happen, thanks to technology invented in 1999 by entrepreneur Stephen Gass. By giving his blade a slight electric charge, his saw is able to detect contact with a human hand and stop spinning in a few milliseconds.

Now federal regulators are considering whether to make Gass’ technology mandatory in the table-saw industry. The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced plans for a new rule in May, and the rules could take effect in the coming months.

But established makers of power tools vehemently object.

I’m a danger to myself and others whenever I use any kind of tool and table saws in particular scare the living daylights out of me. But forcing manufacturers to use the “safe” saw technology presents its own challenges.