eXtensions - Friday 10 March 2017

Cassandra: Friday Review - Where are the new Macs; Touch Bar Oddities; Falling Foul of Copyright; IoT and AI

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Apple watchers are edgy with the long time between updates. While I use the Touch Bar often, a small problem reared its head this week with the valuable fingerprint input. I had a warning notice from YouTube about copyright which I had to fix. What happens when fiction becomes real. Whither IoT and AI?

Earlier this week there was a flurry of rumours about a potential date for an Apple event. As these appeared late Tuesday night, I thought about adding some extra information to the eXtensions version of my weekly Bangkok Post article which this week focused on my disillusionment with the new BeatsX earpods: stick to Apple Airpods, if you are willing to wait.

By the time I had eaten breakfast on Wednesday, the rumour mill was in total denial walking back the Apple event and tagging it with a "Maybe or not" label. A lot of commentators are edgy at the moment as Apple has hardly updated any of its major models in recent months (or years in some cases) and that means for some that Apple is doomed (again), while even the fanboys are shifting in their seats uncomfortably.

MacBook Pro

Someone commented recently that Apple doesn't update just for the same of updating. There has to be a reason, whether it is a significant upgrade to processors or some new feature, as with the Touch Bar in the MacBook Pro. But not even the Touch Bar as good as it is for those who are actually using it, can disguise the limited processor upgrades and the RAM which still sits at a maximum 16GB. Despite derision at comments made by Phil Schiller, that limit really was due to the way Apple has been stuck with the Intel chips: more RAM would have a detrimental effect on power use.

So the late 2016 updates were not as exciting as some hoped, and as we head into 2017, we are now into March and still nothing has arrived. It must happen soon, right? Dan Moren writing on MacWorld is like me and while keeping his fingers crossed - it will be all right on the night - is not really sure what is coming and has the worst fears for the Mac Pro. And this trickles down to what the Mac was (a device for Pro users) and what some fear it may become: a high-end consumer device.

Moren does some reading between the lines and parses the enigmatic comments of Tim Cook, but is right in suggesting that, although the iPad Pro is a good device for some users, it will not pass muster for those who really are Pro users: the movie makers, music mixers and photographers.

Apple is not forgetting these professionals and is spreading the love in different ways. For example I am told that at the end of this month, workshops for Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro will be held at offices in a certain tower block in central Bangkok, with experts coming over from Cupertino to guide those who attend. This late March date would of course be a good time for Apple to release new machines to match any new features of those Pro apps that might be featured at the workshops.

Touch ID For some reason the fingerprint login feature on the MacBook Pro stopped working this week. I use this when waking the computer from sleep or if the screen is off. I have suspicions as to why this may have happened, especially as I did not turn of WiFi when visting a particular institution earlier in the week whose connections often give me grief.

I have come to rely on the fingerprint login as a useful way to gain quick access to the computer. This is highlighted more when I use the Mac mini at work which does not have this and I resort to the older login method. It is these minor improvements in the user experience that Apple does so well and are so annoying when for one reason or another they become unavailable.

I have found that sometimes the Touch ID arrow does not work due to background processes, such as downloading. Once that job is done, the feature appears on the Touch Bar and I log in. If this takes a little longer than I feel is necessary, I press the FN key and ESC appears on the Touch Bar. Pressing that displays the old-style password panel on the login screen and I type in the password. After a number of checks with the screensaver and sleep, I restarted the Mac and once logged in, the feature worked as normal.

During the restart, there was a nag screen when I re-opened TextWrangler: the text editor I use for all my writing (after the paper stage). A couple of weeks ago, Bare Bones Software announced that they would eventually be retiring this app and asked users to upgrade to BBEdit instead. I use the free TextWrangler, not because it is free but because I do not need all the features that BBEdit provides.

TextWrangler TextWrangler itself has a good feature set allowing users to set the application up in many ways, but the "pro" BBEdit has much more. It might be like me going from Apple's Text Edit up to Microsoft Word: so much I will never use and I have to pay extra for the privilege. However, I did check the Bare Bones site and there is information about the transition.

After an evaluation period, the user may use BBEdit for free with "a modified set of features": all of the TextWrangler features plus a few more. This will not happen immediately, but like the eventual loss of Aperture, I may need to think about my next step. These days I feel guilty about taking up such an offer: with iOS apps for example, I sometimes buy in-app purchases to reward the developers, but $49.99 is a lot of beer.

I teach a course on Ethics and Morals to computer engineering students and one of the topics is copyright. As I have had a number of my articles and photographs stolen by sites over the years, I have opinions on this. I was therefore mortified when I had a notice from YouTube:

Due to a copyright claim, your YouTube video has been blocked in some countries. This means that your video is still up on YouTube, but people in some countries may not be able to watch it.

I thought this was spam but after some checks was sure it was not and looked at the videos concerned on my YouTube channel. These were all student videos from a project a couple of years back and, indeed, the students had included soundtracks. Most were copyright of Sony.

There was another that I had created myself - a slide show using software on the Mac - perhaps Aperture or Photos. This not only had a soundtrack of music that I think I am unlikely to have chosen, but was also running banner ads, on my videos. I deleted all of those that were shown as having copyright claims.

I think I ought to do a lot more with YouTube, but on my terms whenever possible.

eXtensions YouTube channel

I do not admit to being a coward - who does? - but there is a difference to facing death in the real world and on TV or in the cinema. As a policeman, I saw dead people on several occasions, had one guy die in my arms after an accident, and once failed to rescue a woman from a car in a river: as I swam out, she locked the doors and the car sank to the bottom.

Watching movies or TV causes a different reaction. Like many of my generation, I am proud of having hid behind the sofa when Doctor Who (William Hartnell) was first on. Once in a cinema I almost fainted while watching the movie, Survive, a true story about a plane crash in the Andes and what transpired.

Perhaps the worst movie for me was a low-budget production, set in Chernobyl: The Chernobyl Diaries. I have never finished watching this, not because of what I saw, but because of what I did not see. Remember Jaws becomes less scary once you see the shark, and in Hitchcock's, Psycho in the worst scenes, Bates is hidden.

Meanwhile near Fukushima, with the area cut off for many years, it is now reported (ZeroHedge) that radioactive wild boars are roaming the streets there and a cleanup operation is in hand. As people are meant to be returning to the town of Namie at the end of the month, there is a certain priority. And potential. . . .

That idea of potential has been aired a lot recently as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more widespread. I have just ordered a couple more devices myself, one of which is likely to have poor security. I have ordered it just to look and see, rather than to incorporate it into my home system. HealthKit and HomeKit devices are another matter, but there are so few of these available here that the idea of the secure automated home is a long way off: for users in Thailand anyway.

Running parallel is automation of factories and the increasing use of AI. At the back of our minds we should always have the question, What if? Asimov's rules for robots may not stand up to an intelligent analysis by a robot that thinks: remember HAL in 2001, A Space Odyssey?. This has come to the fore for me this week by my viewing of a series called Humans, which was based on a Swedish series. Despite the calming (and welcome) influence of William Hurt, this is somewhat disturbing at times. What if? . . .

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. He is now continuing that in the Bangkok Post supplement, Life. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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