February 20, 2018

Nashville Post:

“Gibson Brands, Inc. today announced that the company made a $16.6 million coupon payment to holders of its $375 million, 8.875% senior secured notes due 2018.”

That simple statement issued a week ago — at all of 26 words, it’s less than a quarter the length of Gibson’s boilerplate company description that accompanied it — suggests a business-as-usual tone of a company taking care of its contractual commitments.

But the situation facing the iconic Nashville-based music instrument maker, which has annual revenues of more than $1 billion, is far from normal: CFO Bill Lawrence recently left the company after less than a year on the job and just six months before $375 million of senior secured notes will mature. On top of that, another $145 million in bank loans will come due immediately if those notes, issued in 2013, are not refinanced by July 23.

Reading through all of this, things do indeed look dire. But I can’t imagine the Gibson brand going away. I’d be more concerned with new hands coming in to run the company and changing a process which produces some of the finest guitars in the world, diluting a brand synonymous with guitar craft.

Damn.

[H/T Josh Centers]

I’m on an email list that caters to the geeky and to engineering. This story hit my inbox over the weekend, but was written about 15 years ago, and was given the title “Engineering Pornography”. But it’s not what you think. This is about a massive engineering problem, solved in a beautifully elegant way.

If I still have your attention, here’s a highlight to whet your appetite:

Several days ago a very large number of trucks and men from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power descended on my neighborhood. They removed large sections of Pershing drive to a depth of 15 feet or so over a stretch of about a city block. I assumed they had a problem with a water main or something.

When they started building semi-permanent structures over the holes I knew something really big was up. When the large trucks full of strange power tools, mega-welding machines, breathing equipment, and racks of test equipment came I started wondering. Driving by a couple nights ago (11 PM), I noticed that the pace hadn’t slowed – they were at it 24 hours a day.

My curiosity got the best of me yesterday when they brought in the giant tanks full of liquid nitrogen. LN-2 for the DWP? I parked my car and played the lookie loo.

Fascinating.

John Gruber dug into this article from the Hong Kong Free Press:

The US-based global tech giant Apple Inc. is set to hand over the operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) by February 28, 2018.

You can read Gruber’s take here.

As a postscript, Gruber links to this Apple knowledge-base article, which lays out the encryption methods used to protect the various data types stored in iCloud.

I found all three of these definitely worth a look.

Lory Gil, iMore:

We’ve got a list of the best streaming live TV services. Keep in mind, though, that most of these services don’t offer unlimited access to broadcast channels like NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox. What I’m referring to is the ability to watch any broadcast channel available in your area.

And:

The thing about broadcast television is that I couldn’t watch it on Apple TV. I’d have to switch my TV input over, and then flip through the channels until I found something to watch. I rarely watched broadcast television because I tend to stick with Apple TV for my TV and movie watching activities.

And:

With HDHomeRun, not only can I watch live broadcast television on my Apple TV, I can also watch it on my iPhone or iPad. Plus, with a subscription, you can record live TV and watch it the way a person with cable and a DVR would watch TV. Skip those commercials!

If you are a cord-cutter and have an Apple TV, you should definitely read Lory’s review.

As much as I love to see products like this emerge to fill a void in the marketplace, I see the cord-cutter marketplace as a fragmented mess. And no matter how many alternatives emerge, they are all dependent on a non-throttled connection to the internet. That means, the power cards are still held by the internet providers. Hard to overcome the built-in advantage of being able to package internet access and programming.

Nathaniel Popper, New York Times:

In the beach resort of Phuket, Thailand, last month, the assailants pushed their victim, a young Russian man, into his apartment and kept him there, blindfolded, until he logged onto his computer and transferred about $100,000 worth of Bitcoin to an online wallet they controlled.

And:

A few weeks before that, the head of a Bitcoin exchange in Ukraine was taken hostage and only released after the company paid a ransom of $1 million in Bitcoin.

And:

In New York City, a man was held captive by a friend until he transferred over $1.8 million worth of Ether, a virtual currency second in value only to Bitcoin.

This has become a thing. Why? Because once the Bitcoins have been transferred, there’s no way to prove ownership, no way to get the Bitcoin back. When the victims call the police, the police shrug their shoulders. There’s simply nothing they can do.

Game changer? Really? Hmm. Let’s take a look.

Aneesh Chopra, Shafiq Rabaneesh Chopra and Shafiq Rab, Wired:

In late January, Apple previewed an iOS feature that would allow consumers to access their electronic health records on their phones. Skeptics said the move was a decade too late given a similar (and failed) effort from Google.

But:

This move is a game-changer for three reasons: It affirms there is one common path to open up electronic health records data for developers so they can focus on delighting consumers rather than chasing records. It encourages other platform companies to build on that path, rather than pursue proprietary systems. And it ensures that the pace of progress will accelerate as healthcare delivery systems respond to the aggregate demand of potentially millions of iPhone users around the world.

This, indeed, is a game changer. To me, the key is this:

That’s because Apple has committed to an open API for health care records—specifically, the Argonaut Project specification of the HL7 Fast Health Interoperability Resources—so your doctor or hospital can participate with little extra effort.

Developers, this is an app opportunity, an area full of untapped potential.

Start with the linked Wired article, then dig into the details of the Argonaut Project.

Great stuff.

February 19, 2018

Complete Digital Photography:

We’ve long advocated Photoshop Elements as the ideal non-subscription image editing app: it is cross-platform, has a decent Organizer, and almost all of the features found in the full version of Photoshop. Right now, through Feb. 20, Photoshop Elements is on sale for $70 on the Adobe site, which is 30% off the list price.

Photoshop Elements doesn’t get nearly the love it deserves. It’s actually a pretty good photo editor, especially for amateurs.

Uncrate:

From the 125 S in 1947 to the FXX K Evo, Ferrari’s passion for automobiles has been on display on and off the track. Almost every Ferrari is an icon, but this video hits the highlights of the most important models in the company’s 70-plus year history.

I am an unabashed lover of most things Ferrari and this video is just a reminder of how many of their cars I’ve lusted over through the years. I’ve always wanted the 308 GTSI (The “Magnum P.I.” Ferrari) and I would murder family members just to drive the 1962 250 GTO.

Discogs:

Our mission is to document every physical record shop and record event on the planet. With your help, we can create an accurate listing of all record shops & record events, useful to diggers and travelers everywhere.

What a cool use of crowdsourcing data.

How iFixit became the world’s best iPhone teardown team

This is a terrific story, well told by Jason Koebler and the Motherboard team. From the video description:

Every year there’s a race to become the first to tear down the phone, with teams from around the world flying to Australia—where it’s first released—to compete to be the first to look inside the world’s most coveted new phone.

This video is riveting, well worth your time. If this sort of thing interests you, you might check out this Twitter thread, where Jason tells the story about dropping his MacBook, cracking the screen, and encountering iFixit for the first time.

Hey Apple, I lost my drone on your roof. Can I get it back?

Matthew Roberts (the guy who posts those monthly Apple Park drone construction videos):

A drone crashed into Apple Park over the weekend. The drone pilot got in touch with me shortly after the incident to inquire if I could assist in locating the downed drone. I was happy to oblige, so I took a Phantom 4 Pro out and began searching for it. It was eventually located on the Solar Roof and appeared to be intact for the most part.

The drone operator has gotten in touch with Apple and notified them of the drone crash and it remains to be seen, whether the operator will get his crashed drone back.

The video has (very choppy) footage of the drone going down. When I first saw this, I was reminded of all those times I knocked on neighbors doors to get back baseballs, footballs, and frisbees that landed in their yard or on their roof. Never a drone though.

Charles Arthur, The Overspill:

A couple of weeks ago, I opened my Macbook Pro as usual. The keyboard lit up, as usual. I waited – there’s that pause while the display gathers itself (it’s a 2012 model) and the processor pulls everything together and presents the login window.

Except this time, nothing. The display didn’t light. There was the quiet sound of the fans going, but nothing. Oh dear. Closed the display, opened it to catch it unawares – no, that wasn’t going to fool it. After a bit more futzing around, I concluded that it was not in the mood to work. But I had work to do, and so I turned to my iPad Pro.

This is a well-written post, from someone who uses a MacBook Pro to maintain a blog. This is particularly interesting to me for the obvious connection to my work writing for and maintaining The Loop.

What I particularly like about this post is the objective list of the good and the bad. All of these comments resonated for me. If you’ve considered what it’d be like to move from MacBook to iPad, I’d encourage you to read this list of good and bad first.

Kylie Gilbert, Shape:

Kacie Anderson, a 24-year-old from Hannover, PA, used the watch’s SOS feature to call for an ambulance after suffering injuries from a car accident late last year. As Anderson recently shared in a letter to Apple, she was stopped at a red light with her 9-month-old baby when her car was struck by a drunk driver. She wasn’t able to reach her phone after the collision—but she was able to use her watch to get help.

“The moment he hit us everything inside the car went airborne. My face took a horrible blow to the steering wheel, headrest, back to the steering wheel, and then to the window. I blacked out for about a minute and could not see. My eyes were wide open but all I saw was black,” Anderson shares exclusively with Shape. “My hands flew around to feel for my phone and then I realized I had my watch on and commanded it to call 911.”

I love stories like this. Great publicity for Apple that shows an unassailable value of the Apple Watch.

I kind of love the look of Apple’s new Close Your Rings page. The design matches the Activity app icon, with lots of red, green, and that “Stand” shade of pale blue.

While we’re on the subject of Stand, I’d love to see Apple add just a bit more functionality to Stand tracking. As is, there’s a “you’ve not reached your Stand goal for the hour” and “You did it”. But nothing in between. The Activity app does show the individual stand status on a time line, but the current hour is either filled in (you reached the hour’s Stand goal) or faded (you’re not there yet).

I’m suggesting more of a status bar, something that fills up so I can see how close I am to my goal for the hour. As is, it’s a bit of a mystery how close I am. Sometimes, I get the “You did it” message and wrist tap when I reach the Stand goal, but often I do not get that completion message. Some sort of progress indicator (fill the Activity app’s bar for that hour as my Stand progresses, for example) would be a motivator for me and less frustrating.

Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac:

On the heels of this past Tuesday’s annual shareholders meeting, Apple has made the transition to their new campus official by changing the company’s corporate address to One Apple Park Way. The change comes just weeks after Apple was given occupancy permits for several sections of the main campus building.

I feel like a small piece of Apple culture shifted. Goodbye Infinite Loop (sung to this tune).

February 18, 2018

Open Culture:

In addition to his keen melodic sensibility, Sinatra also set a high bar with his technique. In the video at the top of the post from 1965, we see the consummate artist record “It Was a Very Good Year” in the studio, while smoking a cigarette and casually sipping what may be coffee from a paper cup in his other hand.

Think about it…this was a live studio recording. One take. No overdubs, No added tracks. Just pure talent. The only thing the sound engineers had to do was adjust the eq levels a bit and that’s it. This is what you hear on the album. You’d be hard pressed to find ANYONE who could do that today.

Sinatra was “before my time” but my mom loved him and played his music constantly so I grew up listening to his songs. This is a really interesting video of an artist doing something that few, if any, still do today.

How does SpaceX get these amazing camera shots?

Primal Space:

Ever wondered how we get such smooth tracking shots of rockets moving at incredibly fast speeds? In this video, I talk about the camera equipment that’s used and how it was used in the past.

I have often wondered. Now I want to know the specs of those cameras.

February 17, 2018

“The Gunfighter”

It may not be the “Best Short Film Ever” but it is damn funny.

February 16, 2018

Twitter:

Starting today the Twitter for Mac app will no longer be available for download, and in 30 days will no longer be supported.

What used to be a great app atrophied and died because of lack of support from its owner, not because Twitter is “focusing our efforts on a great Twitter experience that’s consistent across platforms.” If you’re looking for a replacement, I highly recommend Tweetbot or Twitterrific.

Mike Bombich:

This week we reported to Apple a serious flaw in macOS that can lead to data loss when using an APFS-formatted disk image. Until Apple issues a macOS update that resolves this problem, we’re dropping support for APFS-formatted disk images.

What I describe below applies to APFS sparse disk images only — ordinary APFS volumes (e.g. your SSD startup disk) are not affected by this problem. While the underlying problem here is very serious, this is not likely to be a widespread problem, and will be most applicable to a small subset of backups. Disk images are not used for most backup task activity, they are generally only applicable when making backups to network volumes. If you make backups to network volumes, read on to learn more.

As Bombich points out, this is a fairly specific issue that may not affect many of you but it could be catastrophic to those of you it does affect. Thanks to Moeskido for the heads up.

The latest in smart speaker innovation deserves state-of-the-art surface protection. Our Leather HomePod Coaster is designed in Minneapolis and handmade by skilled artisans. You’ll love it, but don’t put a ring on it. Your HomePod’s new home features durable & luxurious American full-grain leather with an ultra-soft leather backing because the only rings you should see in your home this season are of the Olympic variety on TV.

That didn’t take long. Seriously, if you’re going to put your HomePod on something, you should use Pad & Quill—I have several of their products and they are all high quality.

HomePod, Siri’s shopping list, and a small complaint

One of my favorite Siri features is the Shopping List. I love the fact that HomePod Siri supports this feature. To try this yourself, fire up Siri on your HomePod or on the iPhone used to set up your HomePod and say:

Add milk to the shopping list

If you don’t yet have a list named Shopping, Siri will ask if you want her to create one for you. Say yes. Next, tell Siri:

What’s on my shopping list?

Siri should read your list. The key here is that your shopping list is shared between your HomePod and iPhone. This gives you the ease of saying “Hey Siri, add zzz to my shopping list” pretty much anywhere within hearing distance of your HomePod. Then, when you get to the store, pull out your iPhone and either have Siri read the list, or fire up Reminders and tap the shopping list (that’s where the list is stored).

One small complaint: To me, a key to a shopping list, especially if you live with other people, is sharing. If you use HomePod to create a shopping list (as we did above), the shopping list will default to being locally stored on the iPhone used to setup the HomePod. As far as I can tell, once a locally stored list is setup, there’s no way to change the sharing settings for that list to share on iCloud (please do ping me if I’m wrong about this).

A better path: If you find that your shopping list is, indeed, stored locally and not in iCloud, do this:

  • Fire up Reminders on your Mac or iOS device
  • Delete any existing Shopping list (copy down any items on there first)
  • Tap the + to create a new list. When prompted, save it on iCloud. Name it Shopping.

Now, when you ask HomePod Siri (or any of your Siris, really) to add an item to your Shopping list, you’ll have access to the same list on all your devices.

Note that there is nothing special about the name Shopping, either. You could call your list Grocery or Stanley. Just ask Siri to add an item to the XXX list, where XXX is the name of that list. Key is for the list to live in the cloud.

UPDATE: I have gotten some pings telling me that I can already share Lists. True, but the point here is that HomePod Siri creates the list as a local list. My issue is, once a list is local, I can’t find a way to change it so it is stored in iCloud. Once the list is in iCloud, sharing is easy.

Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, Google Home in an (occasionally interrupted) infinite loop

First things first, you might want to listen to this one on headphones, else you’ll find your home devices firing off constantly. Amusing the first time it happens, but trust me, you don’t want that.

The fact that this infinite loop of requests gets interrupted says something about reliability of this technology. I’d hate for my life to depend on one of these assistants getting something right. As I understand it, the CNET folks who pulled this together tried several times to tweak settings to get the infinite flow and just couldn’t.

It’ll get there.

Side note: I kept expecting that weird fake flowers thing in the middle of the picture to come to life. Sadly, it did not.

The Register:

Apple last month fixed a flaw in macOS and iOS that allowed a text message to crash its chat software – and now it has the opportunity to do so again.

Various macOS, iOS, and watchOS apps that rely on Apples’s text-rending code can be crashed when sent a message containing a symbol composed of characters used in the Indian language Telugu.

And:

The symbol represents a combination of Telugu letters and signs, specifically the letter “ja,” the sign “virama,” the letter “nya,” a zero-width non-joiner and the vowel sign “aa.”

Trying to open a message with this symbol in iMessage or other apps that rely on Apple’s UIKit framework for text rendering, like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and WhatsApp, will cause a crash. Don’t what ever you do try to create a filesystem folder using that symbol.

Unless you use Telugu or interact with someone who does, chances are you’ll never encounter this bug. But it is interesting. This came to light when this OpenRadar post appeared.

The original radar was marked as a duplicate, meaning Apple already knew about the problem. And sure enough, there’s already a fix in place in the latest betas:

Cord cutting and fragmentation

From this TidBITS review of YouTube TV by Josh Centers:

Along with most of the channels you’d expect, such as ESPN, Fox News, and MSBNC, YouTube TV has just added Turner networks, including Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, and TNT. It will also soon offer NBA TV and MLB Network.

Which channels you want is highly personal, but here are a few notable channels that are missing: BET, Food Network, Hallmark, MTV, and Nickelodeon.

And from this YouTube TV support document:

FOX has not secured the rights to NFL games on its national feed, FOXNet. Users in Albuquerque, Austin, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Grand Rapids, Greensboro, Greenville (South Carolina), Harrisburg, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Norfolk, Portland, Raleigh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, and West Palm Beach will not see NFL games on FOX.

Every cord cutting package I’ve seen so far has holes like this. With cable, you pay a lot more, typically (but not always) have to make a long term commitment, get a lot of stuff you don’t want, but pretty much can get everything you want, as long as you are willing to pay for it.

Ideally, at least for me, the market will devolve to the point where you can build a package that has every element you want, but leave off (and not pay for) things you’ll never consume.

My two cents: Once that sort of package becomes affordable, one of two things will happen. Either the companies that deliver internet will throttle packages they don’t own and make the experience untenable, or cable prices will come down to keep customers and become competitive again.

John Voorhees, MacStories:

When Apple acquired Shazam, people wondered what would become of the popular song identification and music discovery app. It’s not unusual for an app acquired by a big company to be pulled from the App Store or for development to slow substantially.

As John reports, the new version of Shazam has a great new UI, supports Spotify, same as always, and features lyrics sync, for those karaoke moments.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you’re using the iOS 11.3 beta, playback is broken throughout the app.

Good to know.

That’s not units sold, but 51% of total global smartphone revenue. Both have value, but I’d argue that revenue is much more important than units sold. While total unit sales buys influence, revenue buys investment in R&D.

51% of total global smartphone revenues is astonishing.

February 15, 2018

Mental Floss:

Olympic curling has taken to the ice, but if you’re like most Americans, this writer included, the game is a bit baffling. Here’s a quick, stripped-down primer on everyone’s favorite icy alternative to shuffleboard. It doesn’t cover anywhere near all of the game’s nuances, but it should give you enough info that you can enjoy watching an end or two. (And yes, you’ll learn what an “end” is.)

Anyone who lives in a small northern town, be it in Canada, The US, Scotland, Norway, etc, knows what curling is. It’s incredibly popular in those kinds of communities but almost completely unknown outside of them. But, every four years, the Winter Olympics brings it to the forefront again and, while it may look silly with all of the yelling, sweeping, and sliding around, it actually is a very nuanced sport.

We Canadians love our curling. It helps that we are a “world power” of the sport.

Bottom line? Bigger is not always better. But I still wish I had the scratch for either of those machines.

Check the picture in this tweet:

This, clearly, is the nature of the beast.

Seems to me, “damage” implies permanence. As far as I can tell, the rings left by HomePod, etc., are like smudges. A bit of mayo (or whatever cleaning miracle you use for your wood surfaces) and elbow grease, and it’s all cleaned up.

Or put something solid under the speaker to prevent the ring in the first place.

[H/T Jack Brewster]