Ode to Los Angeles Skies

Little metal tadpoles
Hum by my window on the breeze
Flitting randomly to and fro
Sometimes they gather
To watch Human affairs
Car chases are their favorite

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Do You Want an iPhone 6? Maybe. How About a 5s?

The iPhone 6, with a big, bright screen for talking to your friends when you're in the fjords and they're in the tropics.

The iPhone 6, with a big, bright screen for talking to your friends when you’re in the fjords and they’re in the tropics.

So the brand-spankin’-new iPhone 6 and 6+ are out. Even though it’s in short supply, you can usually call around to a couple of Apple Stores to find one with a few in stock. Consumer Reports proved they don’t bend any worse than other phones, iOS 8.0.2 has fixed the fingerprint and battery life problems, so all systems are go.

But what about the iPhone 5s? This powerful phone has been out for just over a year. Sure, the 6 has some “new,” like the larger, denser screen and Apple Pay built in, but mostly it’s the 5s, but MORE. More battery, more camera, more speed, thinner, etc. It is next year’s model. Only there’s no completely new earth-shaking doohickey.

Of course, the 6’s camera is amazing. It’s as far beyond the 5s’s as the 5s’s is beyond everything that came before it.

It’s vastly superior if you’re:

  • Making videos on an unsteady platform (stabilization.)
  • Changing from close to distant subjects quickly (focus pixels.)
  • Need to slow fast things down quite a bit (better slow motion.)

If you’re like me, with a 5s, and without a pressing need to do any of those things, you have no reason to rush out in a buying frenzy.

But what if you’ve got an older iPhone? You’re a couple of generations back now, maybe your 2 year contract is finally up and you’re wondering if it’s time to make a move. What should you get? The 5s is only $99 now. And some people are getting them for less. Will it last you for a while? Or should you save your pennies until you can afford the $200 needed for a new 6?

The iPhone 5S: more than cromulent, it will embiggen your Edisonograph experience.

The iPhone 5s: more than cromulent, it will embiggen your Edisonograph experience.

Well, let’s start with the easy group: if you have an iPhone 4s, 4, or 3gs, yes. Yes, it’s time to upgrade. You’re going to enter a whole new world no matter what you get (I’ve been there, and I’ve helped others upgrade who’ve said the same thing.) The difference is astounding just going from a 4s to a 5s. Oh, and you 4 and 3gs people haven’t met Siri yet!

If you have an older phone and don’t want to spend a lot, upgrading to the 5s is a good move. The 5s will still be supported for at least another three years, possibly four. It’s very powerful and capable. And it has an excellent camera.

(Note: DO NOT upgrade to a 5c. Someone may offer you one for free. It is not nearly as good as the 5s. I mean, obviously. It’s a whole bunch of letters earlier in the alphabet!)

Here’s another cool thing: If you go into an Apple Store with your old iPhone – even an old 3gs – if it’s in good condition, they’ll give you an Apple Gift Card for its trade in value on the spot, which you can turn around and use against the price of your new phone right there! Now, 3gs’s are a little iffy, maybe $20 or so, 4’s might get you $30 or more, 4s’s might get you into the $50-ish range, and on up. So suddenly the cost of a new 5s becomes a lot less than $100. You can usually get them to give you a trade in price range for your model over the phone, but they’ll have to look your device over in person to give you an exact price. Apple Store employees do not work on commission. It is okay to ask questions and leave.

If you have an older phone, or an iPhone 5 or 5c, and are not a starving actor or do have access to a rich uncle, then go ahead and spend $200 to get the 6. It’s got a gorgeous screen, an even better camera, it’s super-fast, and it will be supported for quite a while. I personally am not a fan of large cell phones. Didn’t we spend the ’00’s constantly making them smaller? Still, it’s quite a machine.



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Getting 8


iOS 8 arrives on Wednesday, September 17. Remember, like all iOS updates, this is free to everyone who has an Apple device that can use it. In this case, that’s all iPhones from the 4S upwards, all iPads from the iPad 2 upwards, and the latest iPod Touch. It’s like getting a whole new iPhone or iPad for free. This is part of the fun of the “Apple ecosystem.”

As a developer, I’ve had a chance to use 8 for a little while, and I have a couple of thoughts, and a couple of tips to hopefully help make the transition easy for you.

The first thing you should know is that this isn’t like iOS 7. Everything is more or less in the same place. You don’t have to get used to a whole new world again. So rest easy in that regard.

Before updating, it’s best to make sure you have a current backup, just incase things go sideways. Hopefully you’re already set up with automatic iCloud backups. Go to Settings, tap on iCloud, then scroll down and tap on Backup. If that isn’t on, turn it on. This will make it nearly impossible for you to lose anything important should your phone get lost or stolen. (While you’re in the neighborhood, go back up one screen and make sure “Find My iPhone” is on. This will let you go to a website and lock your phone if it’s ever lost or stolen.)

The other way to backup your phone prior to the update is to connect to iTunes, go to the phone/pad’s summary screen, and click the manual Backup Now button. Now you’re ready to go!

Keep in mind that if you’re updating on launch day, you might not see an available update for a few hours as Apple rolls out the files to a few servers at a time.

If your pad or phone has some room on it, the easiest way to get 8 is to go to Settings, then tap General, then tap Software Update. And install. But plenty of people have filled up their phones with pictures (as well they might,) and the update might complain that there isn’t enough room.

The next best way to update is to hook your device up to iTunes. Wait! First, run Software Update on your Mac to make sure you’ve got the latest iTunes. Phew. Okay. Now. Plug in your phone or pad, and it should just come up and ask you if you want to update. If not, try going to the device’s Summary screen in iTunes and clicking “Check for Updates.” If iTunes also complains that there isn’t enough free memory, check out what you’re syncing from iTunes. Maybe turn off music syncing or TV show syncing. Those usually take up a lot of space. Hit apply, and that should free up some room on the device. Then try to update again. Once the update is complete, you can go back and turn on the syncing you turned off. All will be as it was, music and whatnot restored.

One more note about updating: as you go through the welcome screens for 8, you’ll be asked if you want to share diagnostic data with app developers… something like that, I forget the exact wording. And it assures you that no personal data will be shared. This is true. And please tap “yes.” It’s a huge help for us developers to be able to tell when one of our apps has crashed. The data Apple sends us also tells us – in a completely aggregate and unidentifiable way – what kinds of devices our users are using. For example, it might say that 70% of my users are on the iPhone 5S. Or that 90% are on the iPad. Oh, well, then I’d better make sure my app looks great on the iPad. See? It’s a big help, and it absolutely doesn’t infringe on your privacy in any way. Thank you.

Oh, also among the welcome screens will be an offer to upgrade to iCloud Drive. That one you should refuse for now. Why? Because it only works with OS X Yosemite, and that won’t be out for another month or so.

So, once you have 8 installed, what are some new things to look for? As I said, it isn’t as disorienting as 7 was. Let’s see… what’s cool?

The Photos app has some great new editing features. It’s much easier to adjust brightness, contrast and color in ways that magically just make a picture look better. There are also more filters, and the crop and straighten tools have been combined in a neat way.

The camera now has a stop motion feature, which can be fun. I set my phone down pointed at my cat for half an hour.

The burst mode for still pictures lets you choose the one you want in an easier way.

There’s now a countdown timer at the top of the screen so you can set it and run to get in the shot.

They’ve also improved the speed and accuracy of facial recognition, so it’s easier to search for photos of a particular person in your collection.

IMG_0785Oh, I should mention Spotlight search. Just drag downward on your home screen and you’ll get a search bar that now looks not just on your iPhone, but everywhere for everything. Wikipedia, sports, movie times, news, nearby places… the works.

I just typed in “giant.” It found the website for the New York Giants, the song “Birdhouse In Your Soul” by They Might Be Giants which is on my phone, and a message I sent a few hours ago with the word “giant” in it. Oh, and apparently a giant 30 foot crack appeared in Mexico somewhere.

Siri has learned a couple of new tricks. If your phone or pad is plugged in, you can just say, “Hey Siri” and then ask her something. If you’re listening to music, you can ask her, “What song is that?” She’ll listen, consult Shazam, and then tell you.

Now, there’s a crapload of stuff Siri can do already that people just don’t know about. I just said, “Hey Siri, show me the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy.” Yeah, it worked. “What percentage of a plan?” I can also ask handy car-related things like, “What was the last text I got?” and she’ll read it back and ask if I want to reply. I can dictate the reply, and she’ll send it. I never have to look at the phone. Okay, but that’s not new…

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 7.12.25 PMWhat is new for Siri and also for dictation is that the words appear as you speak them instead of waiting for you to finish your monologue. So now you know right away if it’s messing up.

(For you kids who don’t know, dictation is that little microphone there next to the space bar. I actually rarely type anymore. I just talk and let the machinery do all the work. Hey, it IS 2014, after all…)

Meanwhile, the keyboard itself has undergone a bit of a revision. It will now try to guess the three most likely next words – or even phrases – that you’re going to type. And it learns your habits over time to become more accurate.

Third party developers can also create new system-wide keyboards now. So look for 5,000 different emoji atrocities in the App Store next week!

Screen Shot 2014-09-16 at 7.21.21 PMText messages have learned many new tricks, as long as the other person is also on 8 (despite everyone saying, “Oh, I hate 7 soooo much!” over 90% of all pads and phones are now running it. You’ll have plenty of friends to play with on 8 very soon, I guarantee.)

First, you can record audio and video clips right into the conversation, just by holding down the little microphone or camera. If 10 seconds of audio will save you a minute of typing, go for it! Or have the grandkid say, “Hi!”

Whether it’s just two people or a group chat, you can offer to share your location. “Holy crap! Privacy,” you spit as you foam at the mouth. Don’t worry. You can choose to send one “ping,” or choose to turn it on for just one hour, or just for the rest of the day. So if you forgot that you left it on (and it’s only on for the other people in the conversation,) it will automatically expire. In any case, it’s a great way to get everyone over to the oak tree you’re waiting under… you know, the one next to that sign… no, not THAT one…

And speaking of voice, if you have an iPad as well as an iPhone, and you’re in the living room reading your iPad while your phone is in the bedroom, and someone calls… guess what? You can now answer the call on your pad! As long as both devices are using the same iCloud account, you can actually make and receive calls on the iPad as if it was your phone. This all happens over wifi or Bluetooth or some such, so there’s no way for a phone company to charge you extra for it. Very handy if there are stairs or the caffeine has worn off.

On top of that, next month when OS X Yosemite comes out, you’ll be able to do the same thing with your Mac!

Finally, there’s Family Sharing. If you and your life mate and/or offspring have devices with different iCloud accounts, you can now associate them together. They’re still separate, but you can now share each other’s music, movies, books, calendars, contacts, photos, and even location (if so desired.) If you have kids, you can also set up a parental control where an alert shows up on your screen if they try to buy an app or make an in-app purchase. You can choose to approve or deny the request.

So those are (to me) the high points. There’s a bunch of other stuff in there for you to find. Oh, there’s also a new app called Tips to help you find features you didn’t know existed. Keep in mind that downloading it on the first day might take some time. Half a billion people are going to want to get it.

Oh, one last thing. A few of Apple’s competitors have been making hay about the celebrity nude picture crime, saying that iCloud is not secure. That isn’t the case. A small number of the total imagery came from iCloud accounts. Of those, none were the result of what we might call “hacking.” No magical “back door” was discovered. It was simply a matter of (over a year’s time) the criminals researching their targets and guessing at passwords and security questions based on personal details (i.e., scouring old Jennifer Lawrence interviews to see if she ever mentions the name of her first dog.) That is how the thieves operated. Use a strong password and unless you suddenly become famous, there is nothing to worry about. If you do become famous, hire me as your computer/video guru for $250K a year and I’ll handle it.

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No, Facebook Messenger Won’t Watch You Take a Shower

selfie(Unless you’re into that sort of thing.)

I’ve seen a number of variations of a very click-baity article in my feed over the last few days dealing with Facebook Messenger and how its Terms of Service (TOS) seems to ask for everything up to and including one’s first-born child just for the privilege of allowing you to send email without actually sending email.

I know that Android is like the wild west, but on iOS, some of what’s listed isn’t possible for an app, and some of it requires explicit permission from the user (speaking as an iOS developer, there is NO WAY for an app to get around it.) Let’s take a look at the most common egregious items:

Change the state of network connectivity:” Not possible. You’re on wifi or the cell network. Airplane mode is on or off. You are in control. An iOS app can’t change that.

Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention:” Not possible. Any time an app attempts to dial a number, you’ll get a big dialog asking if it’s okay. Every. Time. No way around it.

Allows the app to send SMS messages [without your intervention]:” Not possible. No app can send an SMS from your phone without that little share dialog popping up for you to approve not only the message, but who it’s going to.

Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation:” This one’s a little looser. The first time an app wants to use the microphone, it must ask permission with a dialog. After that, it can turn on the microphone whenever it wants. However, if the app is not in the foreground, you’ll see a huge red banner at the top of the screen. And if the phone’s screen is off, no access can take place no matter what.

If you decide at a later time to allow/deny permission to an app (say, you decide you want to use FB Messenger to send some audio greetings or something,) you can go to Settings -> Privacy -> Microphone and set microphone permissions on an app by app basis.

Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.” Any app can take still pictures without permission (however, that will change in iOS 8.) But you’ll normally hear that shutter click sound. Video permission is tied to microphone permission (you can’t take silent videos.) If the mic is off, video is off.

Allows the app to read your phone’s call log, including data about incoming and outgoing calls:” Not possible. Let me say this again. NOT POSSIBLE. No iOS app has access to this data.

Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals:” Half possible. As noted above, call info, when you’ve emailed or texted someone, etc., is not available to an app EVER. However, if you answer “Yes” to a permissions dialog, you can give an app the ability to read and write to your Contacts info. Personally, I think there are very few legitimate reasons to allow this kind of permission outside of a corporate app environment. And again, you can change your mind later by going to Settings -> Privacy -> Contacts.

Allows the app to read personal profile information stored on your device, such as your name and contact information:” The answer is the same as for the last paragraph, as this information comes from Contacts.

Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call:” Mostly not possible. There is technically a way that a programmer MIGHT be able to get the phone number for an iPhone, but it will probably get the app rejected by Apple, and the bug may already have been patched. There is no way for an app to tell if a call is active, or what the caller’s number might be.

Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed:” Only your Facebook and Twitter accounts are accessible, and only after you give explicit permission (I’m guessing for the FB Messenger app, you’ll want to allow it access to FB.) And like the other permissions you grant, you can change your mind and go to Settings -> Privacy to change them.

So what’s going on here? Some people have said this might be the Android version of the Terms. Some have countered that not even Android is this free and breezy with user data (I forget who said it: “iOS is an app platform. Android is an ad platform.”)

Probably, it was just blindly written by lawyers with no idea of what they were setting themselves up for, nobody reality checked it, and into the app it went. Someone discovered it, wrote a blog post, and discovered click-bait gold.

Really, if you stopped to actually read the TOS of almost any app on your computer or phone, you’d find it a most draconian (and totally unenforceable) document. But lawyers gonna lawyer.

The moral of the story is, wherever you think we “are,” we’re not actually “there” yet.

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The Rest of the Family

I’ve written before about my Dad’s exploits in World War II (The Big One.) Here’s what little I can remember of my other relatives.

First, I know almost zero about either side of my family’s service before WW2. However, my grandmother on my father’s side wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution back around 1930, so she researched our family’s lineage and found an ancestor from, I believe, Rhode Island who fought in the Revolution. When I was younger and briefly saw the documentation, there was also a picture of a young man from our family who fought in the Civil War (fortunately, for the Union.) This, and my Dad’s story, is the sum total of my knowledge about my Dad’s side’s military service.

My Mom’s side. Well…

Look, I’m a grown man, and everyone I’m talking about here passed away long ago, so I’m just going to come out and say it: My Mom’s side of the family is a bunch of racist hillbillies. Basically, I attribute any positive aspect of my personality to my Dad, and any negative one to my Mom.

My Mom’s maiden name was Bobbitt. Yes, the same as that guy who abused his wife to the point where she cut off his penis. Am I distantly related? Probably. But the part of the family I’m from lived in Arkansas. I only visited there once, when I was young. The entire town came out to meet us at the tiny airport. I was related to all of them. I have no doubt that if I had known to ask, I would have been told about all the great-great-grandfathers who fought bravely for the Confederacy.

But, moving on to World War II.

We made a few of 'em.

“Someone told the ladies down at the shipyard that these things are just like pressure cookers, and now they’re making 10 a month!” (Note: not what they actually told the ladies.)

My Uncle Lewis didn’t talk much about what he’d done. I’m not entirely sure if it was a sore subject or if he was just tired of repeating it. He was the Executive Officer (second in command) on a sub in the Pacific. In retrospect, I think all the times I tried to bring it up when I was a kid, he was drunk. I don’t remember him having a drinking problem, though. I think I was just asking too late in the BBQ.

Early in the war, U.S. subs had a huge problem in that our torpedoes tended to go wildly off course. There were even instances where they curved all the way around and hit the sub that fired them! It takes time to work up to being the XO, so I’m guessing my uncle might have already been in the sub force during the bad old times. That couldn’t have been easy.

The “kinks” got worked out and by 1944, it was extremely rare for a sub to go out on a standard 44 day patrol without sinking at least one Japanese ship. By 1945, when there weren’t any Japanese ships left, many U.S. subs were more likely to pick up a downed pilot than to ever sight the enemy.

One of those tiny dots in that tiny circle was really, really important.

One of those tiny dots in that tiny circle was really, really important.

The man I knew as my grandfather on my Mom’s side played quite the heroic role in the Pacific war. He was a Seabee, one of the tough-as-nails Marines who would go in under combat conditions and build whatever needed building: a PT boat base, a fuel dump, an airfield…

It was that last one that was the site of their greatest triumph, and one that my grandfather was part of. The island of Guadalcanal is in the Solomon chain, which is northwest of Australia. It’s the southern-most point that the Japanese reached during World War II. They intended to build an airbase on the island. From it, they could send bombers to disrupt any shipping crossing the Pacific from the U.S. to Australia, effectively removing the island continent from the war. So, a bad thing from our perspective.

The Marines landed on Guadalcanal in August of 1942, just as the Japanese were finishing their airfield. The Marines drove the Japanese south off the airfield and set up to defend it. They named it Henderson Field after a Marine pilot who had died earlier that year on Midway Island.

The Seabees (my grandfather included) came in right behind them and within days had the airfield ready for operations. This was really important, because it meant the Marines could fly their close air support missions right from the island instead of from carriers that had to stay far out to sea. Fighters from a nearby carrier were also transferred to the island, because…

So, the next time you complain about a pothole, remember this.

The next time you complain about a pothole, remember this.

Every few hours, planes from the nearest Japanese base would fly over and bomb and strafe the field. My grandfather told me about having to dive under his tractor to avoid the bullets! At the same time, the Japanese soldiers still on the island would sometimes get within mortar range, or a sniper would sneak up close enough to start firing on the field.

Also, there was a smidge of mud.

Also, there was a smidge of mud.

And yet even with all the craters, all the strafing, the constant attacks, the airfield was never out of commission for more than an hour or two. As soon as the enemy planes were gone, the Seabees would be fixing up the damage. This was important because the Marines still fighting on the island depended on the close air support provided by the planes from Henderson Field, and the Japanese bombing was mitigated by the fighters sent up against the bombers whenever they appeared.

The Japanese ran ships down to the island at night (this was before radar was widely used) and landed 15,000 more troops, giving them almost as many on the island as the Americans. In late October, they attacked, trying specifically to take back Henderson Field. Some of them actually made it to the edge of the field, but the Marines pushed them back time and again. Ultimately, the Japanese lost around 8,000 men in a matter of days, while the Marines only lost around 100 in the fight for the airfield.

This cycle continued until two months later when the Japanese decided to abandon Guadalcanal. This victory was, along with Midway, the major turning point of the Pacific war, the furthest that the Japanese would advance before the U.S. could mobilize. And my grandfather was part of the force that stopped them.

I’ve thought about whether I should end on the following sad note. I think I’ve got to. I’ve just told you about some heroic deeds done by someone who, growing up, I saw as an heroic man.

For a short period of time when I was 19, I was living with my grandparents while I tried to figure out what I was going to do with my life. One of my very good friends at the time was a young black woman who had a baby about a year old. We were going to go to the beach or somewhere and I had to stop at my grandparents’ house to get something real quick. I invited my friend in, as babies are grandparent crack. Sure enough, they cooed and fussed over her and her baby. I got what I needed and we left.

A few hours later when I got home, I found my grandfather and grandmother seated sternly before me, asking me to sit down opposite me.

I was told by the hero described above that I was never to bring one of those people into his house again.

There was also the issue that this “negrah” girl was obviously going to get pregnant and entrap me whether I was the father or not. Other considerations were brought up which I won’t detail here. Even though I had no good place to go, I moved out the next morning. I never spoke to them again.

I’m sure everyone has a relative who’s served their country. Of course, our relatives are all people. Imperfect, flawed – sometimes beyond our ability to tolerate – people. It can be hard to separate the service from the person, especially when the service was for freedom, and the person was for segregation.

Ultimately, I’m proud of the service of my relatives in World War II. I feel… (?) lucky. (?) It’s an easy sell. What will veterans of Iraq tell their kids when they’re grown, after everyone’s had time to let it sink in? And what do we tell those veterans? Do we thank them for their service or apologize? Maybe both.

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…And I Know… Something Else

I previously wrote about my love affair with “Breaking Bad.” But I have a confession. I was cheating on it. I still am.

She’s a neighbor. Incredibly hot. In fact, she posed for Playboy once. You might not expect her to be as smart as she is. She’ll come over and we’ll sit on the balcony all afternoon with a glass of wine just talking about deep philosophical things and nothing physical will happen.

Then she’ll drunkenly pound on my door at 1 a.m. demanding sex. Sometimes she isn’t alone. And it is animalistic and wild and on the edge of me wondering if I should start asking for a safe word before we start and whether she would stop if I said it.

And then she’s gone, and there’s a timid knock on the door a day or two later, and she’s there with another bottle of wine, ready to talk global politics, history, religion… as if nothing had ever happened. I don’t know if this is what people call “friends with benefits.” It seems like so much more. It’s so hot and primal yet intellectual. It is the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde relationship. I don’t know how long it can last, but I’m really enjoying my time with “Game of Thrones.”

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I Knew Love

I knew love. A deep, profound, boundless love that lifted me, filled me with its light, kept me warm when I was cold, shared wine with me, snuggled with me on the couch, made me laugh, made me feel. And when it ended, I was not sad for the loss, I was happy for having known “Breaking Bad.”

I never thought I would open my heart up to another show the way I did to my perfect love, but “Fargo” is dancing around me, laughing, embracing me as we both roll down the grassy hillside. My guard is slowly falling away (my heart has been broken so many times before.) It’s the first time since “Breaking Bad” that I’ve opened myself up to the possibility of love.

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Happy Cinco de Meow

Today we celebrate a victory by the Meowxican army over the French (see the previous post for details.)


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