eXtensions - Sunday 8 May 2022


Sunday Notes: WWDC Expectations and Rumors; Text Anlaysis with the Nalaprop Utility; Apple and Netflix Viewing; Star Wars Sounds by Apple

By Graham K. Rogers


With WWDC just a couple of weeks away, there are plenty of rumors but few hard facts about this software event. India changed its banking regulations making it difficult for consumers to buy online using credit cards. Apple suggested its customers move to paying into a top-up system. It is all Apple's fault of course. The Eclectic Light Company has updated its useful Nalaprop utility that allows analysis of text. It will help improve my writing but perhaps also convince some students about their shortcomings.

It is about a month until Apple's WWDC and we can expect an increase in the number of rumors in the next few weeks. Perhaps the best one (in a perverse sense) that I saw in the last few days was from Evil Geek on Medium (this may need registration), who writes about everything that will be wrong with the next phone. The device will not be announced for a few months, so all we (and Evil Geek) have are rumors. Cherry-picking the negative rumors may garner a lot of hits, but not much else. Who needs truth these days?

The essence of WWDC is the introduction of new technologies to developers who are to write the software that we will enjoy in the next year (and more). They have to know how to handle the new features, the new APIs and the hardware that will be coming. For many, the main point of WWDC is the Keynote address, still expected to be a video presentation, on Day 1.

In this hour or two of announcements and linked video shorts, the updates to the operating systems, with their new features, will be outlined. Let me emphasize that word, "Outlined". There will be some specifics, particularly if there is a new feature that Apple wants us to admire, but many of the new ways in which our devices will be able to operate will not be announced on the day. Some things will filter through. Some will be noticed in beta releases. Some will not be picked up until the OS is released to the public. There may be a hardware announcement; many are hoping for some information on the Mac Pro, but few are expecting details of the iPhone 14.

Part of WWDC is to be live this year for some young developers and more: "Apple is also planning to hold an in-person event for some developers and students, inviting them to watch the WWDC keynote recording at the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California" (MacRumors). It was interesting to see a video from Jared Polin who was contacted by Apple to give away a whole load of gear to a young creator (Samantha Wiley, iLounge). With the help of another photographer, Jared found a young man in Philadelphia who makes sports and music videos and invited him to the studio for a look round as part of a video. The ruse was successful. As the reality dawned on Cam Blumberg he began to tear up.

Cam was asked to produce a before and after video of his studio setup. Even in the relatively brief clip it is easy to see why he was chosen. The talent is clear. Some people just see things in a different way. I hope he is invited to Cupertino and I look forward to Apple helping other young people in similar ways. I looked at the original video on YouTube and skimmed through hundreds of positive comments. There was one negative: a buyer of a new Mac who describes it as trash as he could not transfer files from a Windows system: as if that had never been done before. Among the comments were some from Cam's high school acquaintances who had positive comments about his talents a few years back.

credit cards The authorities in India changed regulations concerning use of credit and debit cards some while back and now Apple (presumably other online stores too) are unable to accept these methods of payment for apps and other services. This has caused considerable inconvenience to users there. The only way to make purchases is to make sure the Apple account is in credit ("like a prepaid card") which is also causing some problems owing to the mechanisms of making these payments and ensuring the account is in the black.

Writing on 9to5 Mac, Alison McDaniel outlines the source of the problem and points out that Apple sent out an information notice on 18 April warning of the changes. The rules had been updated by the Reserver Bank of India (RBI) last October and "banks now need approval from customers through "Additional Factors of Authentication (AFA)" for recurring transactions like subscriptions". She adds that "The new rules also state that Apple has to set up an e-mandate for customer cards", although it is not clear if this requirement only applies to Apple. I think not. The easiest way is to use the AppleID and top that up. Needless to say, despite the warnings and the point that this is due to RBI regulation changes, some customers think this is Apple's fault.

According to India Today the reason is clear: "RBI rules break Apple payments in India"; while several sources in India and elsewhere cover this tightening up by the authorities, Rahul Verma (Business Insider India) makes it clear that, although Apple has garnered the most publicity on this, it does affect other merchants. What is now required is that, ". . . merchants have to set up fresh e-mandates from customers and two-factor authentication for each recurring transaction. Users are also required to give their consent using CVV numbers and OTP for any payment over 5000 Rupees". I wonder if Apple hopes that adding credit to customer accounts will be so unpopular that the RBI may reverse its decision.

On several occasions I have linked to the words (and wisdom) that can be found on The Eclectic Light Company. Although sometimes the technical details are way above my abilities, the explanations are helpful to understand how our Macs do what they do, and how Apple could improve the experience. Most recently, hoakley has been spending time on Thunderbird data transfer rates and the performance of SSDs, internal and external. Fascinating stuff, but in the middle of this, hoakley dropped a mention of his Nalaprop utility that is right up my street.

This free software is for text analysis. When a text is dropped into the first of three panels in the second column it displays the content with parts of speech shown in different colors. That is really useful for anyone trying to understand how a sentence worked, but with further analysis it "compiles a frequency list of words used according to their part of speech".

I dropped some content I am working on currently that is about 5,000 words long and almost immediately the different parts of speech were shown. When I asked the utility to go further a list of words showed me how often I was using certain words. I am aware (and often edit out) too many versions of "use", "user" and "used" from early drafts, and there are other words I inwardly look for. Naloprop also showed me how many times I had used "can" (20), "will" and "might", which I intend to examine before the text is finalized. I was made aware that the verb, "write" had been used 20 times, but as this is a planned book on writing, that may not be a problem. A MultiParse option reveals the frequency of word roots. These options are highly useful for those who write, edit or analyze text. I was unable to find an option to order the results: high usage numbers at the top. That would be useful.

Naloprop - English text analysis
Naloprop - English text analysis

This works with French, Spanish, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, and Turkish as well, while the information online suggests it will also work with several other languages (e.g. Cyrillic) which contain words in those 8 supported languages. The link to the utility is on the explanation page, but remember these utilities are not recognized by Apple's Gatekeeper. I trust The Eclectic Light Company and have already downloaded other utilities, like Mints (custom log browsers and tools). Once they are unzipped I tend to run them in the Downloads folder which seems to work well enough.

Naloprop - Thai text display
Naloprop - Thai text display

I was not particularly surprised that it did not analyze Thai characters as the outline had warned this would probably happen. With the options, available I was able to isolate the Thai, English and other characters that appeared in 3 paragraphs from a local newspaper (Matichon). This is not the purpose of Naloprop, but some texts here do carry larger amounts of English so may produce different results.

A few days ago I was informed that my pre purchase of Kenneth Branagh's Belfast was available and the payment was duly made. I watched that on a suitably wet Friday afternoon and enjoyed it immensely. For people like me, the events in Belfast were usually viewed as violent clashes on the BBC News, with the occasional hand-wringing that took the place of analysis. It was only later that I came to understand more about the historic causes of the hatred.

Belfast The movie adds little to specific understanding of the events, but views the changes in the society from community to sectarianism through the eyes of one family. Although this is a (mainly) fictionalized version of events, Buddy is Branagh. Belfast is regarded as his most personal film. Although some viewers in the USA had complained the Belfast accent needed subtitles, I did not find this at all distracting. However, as I was watching in my AppleTV list, subtitles were provided. I should have turned those off.

This week the Guardian had a review of one of my favorite movies, Cabaret, with Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Gray. The movie is being re-released some 50 years after its original appearance. It won 8 Oscars as well as 7 BAFTAs and like The Devil Wears Pravda, I never tire of watching it. Having noted the re-release, I looked on the iTunes Store and was disappointed to see that not even the original was available here, although I think I have a DVD somewhere (but no DVD player). I noticed also that the panel advertising CODA had moved so clicked that to find that this is finally available here for download. I am delighted. I bought that too and will watch it over the weekend. But no Cabaret? . . .

Over on Netflix, I am working through Breaking Bad for the second time and this has revealed much more. This series has some of the best television ever and Apple will have to work hard to beat such a series. Good points over at AppleTV+ so far for Foundation, Slow Horses, and Defending Jacob among others. That last featured Jaeden Martell as the young suspect. I had already seen him in The Book of Henry. This weekend, I randomly picked a movie called, Metal Lords. Martell was one of the two main stars and plays a pretty mean drummer in a heavy metal band: he practised for the part for a month with some impressive coaches. The movie seems to start out as a typical US high school light drama, but works well - particularly with some of the cameo appearances - earning the approval of Simon Abrams of Roger Ebert

One of the features that made Star Wars so enjoyable was the use of sound. From the movement of a light saber, to the output of R2-D2, Darth Vader's rasping voice and much more, these were made by Lucasfilm in a laboratory that reminded me of the early days of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Anyone who has watched Doctor Who will be aware of the theme music that was created there.

Like the Lucasfilm workshop there is much more and Christian Zibreg (iDownloadBlog) links to an interesting YouTube video that has input from some of the technical staff. The documentary shows how some of the sounds are made (and stored) and looks round the establishment that is heavily into the use of Macs. If you want to know who is going to buy expensive Mac Studio and Mac Pro computers, here is one answer. The video was released by Apple as part of its Behind the Mac series.


We have become used to being informed about weaknesses in computer hardware, which in some cases are unfixable. I guess it was only to be expected that with the complexity of the M1 chips - the M1 Max has 57 billion transistors, while the Ultra has twice that - a potential insecurity would be found. Augury is the name given to the vulnerability which is on some M1 and A14 chips, and a report by Roman Loyola (MacWorld) outlines the details. According to researchers, this is real but there should be no immediate cause for alarm: "Apple is aware of the flaw but has not yet issued a fix." The page here has a link to a website and a FAQ that provides full (technical) details.

M1 Macs
M1 Macs: Image courtesy of Apple

While Apple will doubtless release a fix for this, legislators in several countries are determined to weaken the security of Apple devices in the interests of open markets. This is particularly so in the EU where the Commissioner must have bad dreams about Apple as she seems to focus on the company so much with power adapters, sideloading and now NFC payments, although the main pressure there may be from PayPal (Evan Selleck, iDownloadBlog). Well-known Apple commentator, John Gruber (Daring Fireball) had some scathing comments for Vestager.

Gruber outlines how Apple has built a payment system that no one was really using, but now that everyone wants in the EU is helping them to unlock the door. Many critics complain (wrongly) that Apple does not innovate, but when something like this is developed and limits are placed on its use, people like Vestager see only the exclusiveness, and not the need to reward a company's hard work and investment: "That NFC card readers in retail point-of-sale terminals only work with credit and debit cards isn't Apple's fault or responsibility, and Apple Pay integrates with any and all credit and debit cards that choose to support Apple Wallet. The E.C. complaint would make more sense if Apple Card was the only card Apple Wallet supported, but it's not" (Gruber).

Whatever Vestager says, sideloading is bad for your health. This is a view I have held for a long time, although it has not been fully supported by empirical evidence. I have been aware that those who jailbreak their phones and install unauthorized apps (sideloading) or who work with Android devices have different risks. Originally, there were no apps on iPhones, apart from what Apple released. The idea was that web-apps would do. That idea swiftly changed and the iTunes App Store was put together with its rules and developer fee cut.

Overall it has worked and there have been adjustments (fees et al) over the years. Above all, the difficulties faced by developers are because Apple places a high priority on what the app does (its purpose) and how users are protected. Just to show that my fears are not fabricated and biased towards Apple, Jonny Evans at Apple Must has a comment on a recently released report concerning the risk that some Android users take even when downloading some apps from the Google Store. I am clearly not paranoid enough.

Many people are dependent on delivery systems these days: food, household goods, electronic devices and more. For several years since long before the Covid outbreak I have ordered products from Apple online. They are often available quicker than in local stores, and if I want a non-standard configuration it is done as part of the purchase process. Local retail outlets may have to wait several days for the order to be placed then delivered. I sometimes want to send items: for example cameras when they need maintenance or repair. When I lived nearer to central Bangkok it was not hard to take the items in and have them sent from a service in the lower levels of Siam Paragon. If I have more items, weight is a problem so a couple of years ago arranged for one service with a local office to collect the items and deliver.

Last week one of my old Hasselblad 500c/m cameras broke. This needs more special care. It was also time for another camera, the lenses and parts to go for maintenance. I put them in a bag and used excessive amounts of bubble-wrap, but when I asked a secretary to contact the courier I used last time, we were told no collection. You have to take the items to the office. What is the point of advertising yourself as a courier service if it only works one way? This is inconvenient, particularly when several courier services (including the one I intended using) are visiting the place I work all day long.

Hasselblad 500c/m
Hasselblad 500c/m

I looked online and saw that FedEx appeared to have a collection service, so phoned the number (1782). After a short automatic voice response opening, I spoke to a polite young lady with good English skills. Once I had outlined what I needed, she asked some confirming questions and a deal was made. The one problem was that the driver (whom she had already contacted) only had one box and that was far too large for my needs. I said I would find one.

However, as I went to the office to track down a suitable box, the FedEx van pulled up outside: less than 5 minutes after I had finished the call. The driver waited patiently while I found a box. Staff helped me fill it with protective paper and typed a label. I filled out the paperwork for the driver. With no membership, he needed my passport number for identification. When I paid the fee he declined a tip (I was so grateful for the help given) and the package was on its way. It arrived Thursday morning (Wednesday was a public holiday) and maintenance is being done.

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. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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