October 31, 2012

Apple's New Fusion Drive Works on Older Macs

MacRumors reports developer Patrick Stein's successful experiment to create a Fusion Drive on an older Mac Pro. It looks like all we need is an updated Disk Utility to make this easy for anyone to do. Anyone with both an SSD and an HDD installed, that is!

Fusion Drive is a just-announced Apple technology that binds an SSD and a traditional hard drive into a single volume, and moves application and data files to the SSD for faster access as needed. It was announced last week as a build-to-order option on the new iMacs.

Hit the link for an overview, or drill down to Stein's Tumblr blog for the nitty-gritty details.

October 30, 2012

Who's On the Bridge at Apple?

All you need to know about who's running Apple (Dan Moren, MacWorld) for CEO Tim Cook today. Keep a geek-eye on Bob Mansfield's new Skunk Works, which owns semiconductor and wireless development. Semis are the chips that power Apple's gadgets, and wireless is how those gadgets connect to your world.

If you've come to love the minimalist aesthetic of Apple's hardware, you're a fan of Jony Ive. He's headed the Industrial Design group at Apple since before Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Jony will now count software interface design among his responsibilities. That's a very good thing for Apple customers.

Apple Delays iTunes Refresh Until November

All Things D reports that Apple has delayed their iTunes refresh until next month. I was wondering what happened to that … 

I’ve been using essentially the same iTunes software since I got my first Apple product, an iPod Shuffle, replacing an older MP3 player.

The software was a little wonky on Windows. I was pleasantly surprised at how solid it’s been on OS X since moving to a Mac. Still, an update is welcome. Now I know why I don’t already have it.

(Via Mac Stories.)

October 29, 2012

Shakeup at Apple


“Apple also announced that Scott Forstall will be leaving Apple next year and will serve as an advisor to CEO Tim Cook in the interim.”

(Via 512 Pixels.)

Forstall was the head of iOS software development, which will now be lead by Craig Federighi, who also helms the OS X group. His portfolio included Apple Maps (poorly received due to errors in the map backing data) and Siri (labeled “beta” upon release and for some, not useful). Philip Elmer-Dewitt covered the situation for Fortune last month.

Forstall was once seen as a possible heir to Steve Jobs. Apple doesn’t well tolerate poor performance.

Jony Ive, head of Industrial Design, will pick up duties overseeing human interface design across the company’s product lines. That’s very good news. Ive is the creative mind behind Apple’s iconic iPod, iPhone and iPad mobile device hardware design. I like to think of Jony as Steve Jobs’ spiritual successor at Apple.

October 28, 2012

NYSE to Shut Trading Floor Monday, Trade Electronically


“NYSE said on Sunday afternoon that it will close its physical trading floor operations for the first time in nearly three decades due to a weather-related emergency, but would move trading of NYSE-listed stocks to its fully electronic exchange. This is also the first time NYSE has ever gone fully electronic.”

Major change often comes from times of upheaval. How long will it be until NYSE Euronext decides tomorrow was a successful demonstration and permanently moves to a more profitable operation, one without trading posts, floor space or the building in which they’re housed? NASDAQ has been electronic-only since it opened.

Venus, Steve Jobs' Yacht, Launches in the Netherlands

Unique, like the man.

(via iMore.)

Dr. Drang: My Next iMac

Dr. Drang has published a well-reasoned piece on choosing his next iMac.

I’m curious about Apple’s new Fusion Drive option, whether Drang goes for it and how that choice turns out. I did a little surgery shortly after taking delivery of my MacBook Pro last year, removing the optical Superdrive and replacing it with a hard drive. I’m holding out hope that Apple updates Disk Utility and I can use it to merge my SSD and HDD into one. Drang’s experience with a Fusion drive will be a useful guide.

October 27, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet: An Alternate Universe

Marco Arment:

“The Surface is partially for Microsoft’s world of denial
In that world, this is a groundbreaking new tablet that you can finally use at work and leave your big creaky plastic Dell laptop behind when you go to the conference room to have a conference call on the starfish phone with all of the wires and dysfunctional communication.”

Jeez, sounds like Marco has been to my workplace.

He goes on:

But it’s not for me at all. Not even for testing, experimenting, or curiosity. It feels too much like using a Windows PC, which was exactly Microsoft’s intention, and it will appeal to people who want that. But that’s a world I fled 8 years ago with no intention of returning.

The Windows universe and the Surface tablet experience are akin to something I discovered a long time ago. I had lived the first two decades of my life in and around my home town, but my career choice would likely have me move away. My parents were contemplating leaving in retirement, too. About those ideas I had heard many people remark 'Why leave? We have everything right here.'

What I found after I left was so much nicer in intangible ways that I've never regretted the act. My parents, who left the area five years later, had the same experience in a different direction. And what I've heard from others who left the same home town area at various phases of their life is wonder at why they didn't do so sooner.

That's exactly what I found when I wandered away from the Windows universe. The clunky, glitchy, gradually slowing-to-a-crawl world of computing I had known for twenty years was just a tired, dismal blot on an otherwise bright, comfortable landscape.

I wish Microsoft well with its new OS and hardware. To everyone else I'd say, move away. It's nicer here.

October 24, 2012

iPad Resales Surge Over 700%

That headline is about re-sales … not exactly what comes to mind the day after Apple debuts two new iPad models.

Quentin Fottrell, writing for MarketWatch:

“While some people are trading in first and second generation iPads, both Nextworth and Gazelle say that nearly 70% of their resellers are dumping the iPad 3. In fact, the third generation iPad 32-gigabyte with Wi-Fi is the most popular device being traded in, according to Gazelle.com. Why? ‘Consumers can fetch up to $495 for an old iPad,’ Scarsella says. In other words, they can swap the used tablet for the mini and walk away with over $160.”

(via Cult of Mac.)

Interesting angle. Get a new iPad mini and pocket some cash at the same time.

Not sure I’d trade a Retina display iPad 3 with a faster, A6 processor for a smaller, slower and lower resolution iPad mini, but hey, I’m still happily using a first-generation iPad, so what do I know?

Apple's Fusion Drive - What is It?

Lee Hutchinson, writing for Ars Technica:

“Apple’s Fusion Drive does not appear to function like an SSD-backed disk cache, but rather seems more like a file-level implementation of a feature that has existed for some time in big enterprise disk arrays: automatic tiering.”

Translation: Fusion Drive storage will be faster than Seagate’s hybrid SSD/HDD drives, because OS X’s Core Storage actively manages the arrangement of files between the SSD component and the hard drive platters. Seagate’s hybrid technology simply uses flash memory as a cache for frequently accessed files. The files never fully “live” on the SSD component, frequently falling out of cache.

Apple has slowly rolled out new features based upon Core Storage, their storage management software delivered in OS X Lion. Their revamped File Vault full disk encryption is an example. The Fusion Drive, a hardware technology, relies upon Core Storage capabilities as well. All of this is invisible to users.

Early indications are that the hardware packaging is two separate drives: an SSD chip array and a familiar, 2.5-inch hard drive. If that’s the case, customers who purchased last year’s iMac with both SSD and HDD storage should be able to marry them into a Fusion Drive with OS X’s Disk Utility. There’s no obvious menu item for that right now, but stay tuned.

Is this a transitional technology, or will solid state drives eventually fully replace spinning hard drives? The first Fusion Drive incorporates a 1TB or 3TB hard drive. We’ll be hard-pressed to see solid state storage of that size at reasonable prices any time soon.

Why reinvent the wheel, anyway? Fusion Drive technology plays to the strengths of both storage types. Perhaps the answer is SSD-only for mobile platforms, and Fusion Drives for iMacs, Mac minis and Mac Pros where users are more likely to need or desire much larger volumes, and physical space can accommodate larger drive packages.

October 23, 2012

Moon Thinks Criticism of Newton is Off-base, Possibly Racist

Pro Football Talk:

“‘I don’t understand it,’ Moon said. ‘I heard somebody compare him to Vince Young. It’s the same old crap – it’s always a comparison of one black to another black. I get tired of it. I get tired of defending it.”

Warren Moon is saying that criticism of the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton is race-based, that he’s compared to Vince Young only happens because they’re both black. That a more apt comparison would be to Jay Cutler. I call bullshit.

Young was a head case. Anyone watching Newton The Drama Queen’s post-game interview last Sunday would agree, he’s a head case, too. Newton is erratic. The Panthers are 1-5 with him under Center. Those two aspects justify comparison, and critics are right to point the finger.

Nothing succeeds like success. Want a terrific (and yes, black) comparison? How about the Washington Redskins’ RG3? The ‘skins are only 3-4, last in the NFC East, but no-one is criticizing Griffin. ‘skins fans love him. Something great is going to come from this guy, because he so obviously busts his ass.

Here’s a thought, Cam. Work your ass off, too. Struggle. Take your lumps. Persevere. Win. ‘cause this is the NFL, where wins and losses know no race.

Apple Threw a Media Event Today. Here's What They Introduced.

No other company builds anticipation for new products like Apple, and they do it without saying a word about their new offerings until they’re ready to ship. Today’s highlights:

  • A new MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display was announced. The base model sports 8GB RAM and SSD storage starting at $1699. Shipping today. All the goodness of the previously announced 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, for $500 less.
  • The Mac mini was refreshed with faster processors, USB 3 ports, more memory and larger SSD storage. Shipping today.
  • There are two new iMacs, and holy crap are they thin. 80% thinner than last year’s model. Still available in 21.5-inch and 27-inch sizes. Starts at $1299/$1799, ships in November/December, respectively.
  • New Apple “Fusion Drive” available in iMac and Mac mini. It’s a combination 128 GB SSD + 1TB or 3TB hard drive in one, seamless volume managed by Mac OS X. Near the performance of a flash-only SSD, but with the storage of a big HDD. I speculated on such a product a while back (the last paragraph killed it). This is worth strong consideration in a new machine.
  • Apple has sold 100 million iPads as of two weeks ago, all in 2-1/2 years.
  • A new, 4th-generation iPad powered by the new, faster A6X CPU was announced. This comes only six months after the 3rd-gen iPad. It sports 2x WiFi performance and the Lightning connector. Same colors, same prices for the same capacities as the 3rd-gen device. This is a minor set of bumps, not a major new product rev, though the A6X chip is interesting. When the A5 went to an A5X it gained a third GPU. Wonder what’s behind the A6’s “X?” 3rd-gen iPad device is phased out. iPad 2 will still sell in 16GB model for a reduced price.
  • The big news: The all-new iPad mini was announced. Extremely thin, manufactured similarly to the iPhone 5. Looks like a bigger iPod Touch. 7.2mm thin, 25%-thinner than today’s new, 4th-gen iPad. As thin as a pencil. 0.68 pounds, as light as a pad of paper. Black or white in contrasting slate, silver rear colors like iPhone 5. 7.9-inch diagonal display. Not Retina. A5 CPU, same as iPad 2. FaceTime cameras front and back; back camera is 720p HD. WiFi and LTE cellular. Lightning connector. 10-hour battery life, same as full-sized iPad 4. This new device is beautiful, a jewel not unlike the new iPhone and iPod Touch. Smart covers available. $329/$429/$529 for 16GB/32GB/64GB storage, $130 more each for cellular LTE and GPS. Pre-order this Friday. WiFi-only ships November 2, WiFi + LTE ships two weeks later.

In a nut, both MacBook Pros now possess Retina displays, a thinner chassis and no optical drive. iPads are 9.7-inches for the 4th-gen, 7.9-inches for the mini. Both possess WiFi with LTE as an option. iPad mini is $170 less than the full-size device at the same capacities and capabilities. iMac is much thinner, possesses a new, Apple-only Fusion drive and loses its optical drive.

Are you sensing a theme? Thin and light, and optical is yesterday’s news.

October 22, 2012

Arlington Cemetery Debuts New Interactive Map

Matthew Barakat, writing for The AP:

“the cemetery debuted an interactive map available through its website and through a free smartphone app. It uses geospatial technology to hone in on specific graves and can also be searched by name.

It can be accessed through the cemetery’s website.

When a name is called up, a viewer can see when the person was buried and the dates of their birth and death. Photos of the front and back of the headstone can also be viewed. Monuments and memorials that commemorate the service of specific military units are also included in the database.”

(Via WTOP.)

This is quite a comeback after the recent controversy over "who's buried where." There's even a set of mobile apps available! This is a smart use of technology to help families and visitors learn where their loved ones and Americans of great stature have been laid to rest.

Great, good stuff.

October 20, 2012

Skyfall Trailer #2

Opens November 9 in the US. Hell yeah!

BP Says Everything Is Fine … Scientists Aren’t So Sure

There's apparently been an additional release of oil from the site of BP's rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and knowledgable speculation pegs it on more well damage than originally thought. The Washington's Blog republished here by The Big Picture includes great graphics and photographs of equipment tried and abandoned in the process of capping the leak, and makes for a good Saturday read.

October 19, 2012

Honan: Why Windows Just Can't Win

Mat Honan, always a good read, has issues with Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 OS. I’m genuinely bummed.

The new “Windows 8 style UI,” nee Metro, looks great. Microsoft's decisive move putting mobile on equal footing with desktop is a winner, if a bit me-too-ish. But they've muddied the waters by holding over the classic Windows desktop, trying to be all things to all users.

I hope Microsoft doesn't blow it this month. There's room in the market for three mobile competitors. Apple's iOS and Google's Android are one and two. Microsoft can swim to number three or sink, making way for Amazon's cash machine-Kindle tablets to capture that position.

Used to be, a new Microsoft OS was a guaranteed win. Then came Vista. That was my and many others' reason to jump to a Mac, or Linux. Windows 7 was a solid product, though the last of its kind: a Microsoft desktop-centric OS. Windows 8 is a very different beast, one with a learning curve. Mat Honan thinks it's out of the gate with a handicap.

What do you think will happen?

I Guess We Have Our Answer

Joshua Brown, writing for The Reformed Broker:

“How’s earnings season going? Only 42.3% of S&P 500 reported companies beat Q3 revenue expectations and 57.7% have missed. 64.9% have beat EPS estimates. Sucks.

On Monday, I laid out the only question that I felt mattered for the markets. And based on this week’s earnings reports and today’s catching-up reaction, I think we have our answer…”

Joshua asked "Is the weak earnings picture for Q3 the start of a new trend toward lower profitability or a bump on the road to full recovery?"

I say lower profitability. Corporate profits are at a record level, thanks mainly to manageable debt and reduced payroll expenses (read: laid off workers). Looking at a chart of corporate profits, a reversion to the mean seems likely.

How to push profits back up? Hire more workers who turn out more goods and services, which in turn brings in more revenue. Managed correctly that translates to increased profits. But companies won't go on a hiring spree until they see the economy improve. While sentiment has improved lately we're still not yet to the promised land. I think none of this will change until the president and Congress resolve the looming "fiscal cliff" scenario facing us this January.

October 18, 2012

Gruber's Thoughts on the Forthcoming (Smaller) iPad

John Gruber opines on the smaller iPad’s display, price and name before next Tuesday’s debut. He might be eating claim chowder by Wednesday, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Will you be buying one?

October 14, 2012

Skyfall Approaches

Early reviews are very good (thanks, Kenning).

After my theater-going experience for the Batman I swore off going out to the movies, but for this one I might have to break out the ear plugs.

October 13, 2012

∴ The Magazine

A new thing appeared in the iOS App Store last week. Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, published his latest creation, The Magazine.

The Magazine begins with the premise that today's tablet- and phone-based periodicals are but hand-recoded versions of their paper forebears. Accordingly, that content feels encumbered with print model constraints. Ads and editorial graphics designed to consume attention distract from each author's work. Navigation varies by publication, and some content is no more than stitched-together PDF's.

Available only on the iOS Newsstand app for iPhone and iPad, and requiring the newly minted iOS 6 at that, The Magazine at long last redefines that publishing model for the digital universe by making content simply accessible and exclusively available for mobile use.

Witness Wired Magazine: the paper version, first published twenty years ago, was a visual festival of color, shape and new-thinking design. Today's electronic version, while carrying the same relevant and thought-provoking content, is ungainly to navigate and devoid of common digital publishing niceties. No copy-paste, no highlighting and no send-article-to. It carries a substantial advertising load, though apparently not enough to bring the tablet-only subscription fee down to that of the paper copy. It is, in short, a less-pleasant read for its complexity, a holdover from high-design print.

The Magazine, in contrast, is a picture of elegant simplicity. Four ten-minute-read articles per issue, published and automatically delivered every two weeks for $2 per month. The first editions' authors are well-known in the geek world, among them Guy English, Jason Snell, Alex Payne and Michael Lopp. Article ownership remains in the authors' hands, allowing their re-use elsewhere after a one-month interval.

The Magazine eschews all but the simplest graphics, hewing to prose-only content in a one-column format. There are two font sizes and two contrasting color schemes, one fit for daylight and one bedtime-friendly dark. Nothing stands between the reader and text.

It is subscription supported at present. In his foreword, Marco holds open the possibility of moving to an ad-based model as needs dictate. Given his use of The Deck for supporting his personal web site I fully expect any ad content in The Magazine to be both minimal and tasteful.

It is a modest beginning; the ways forward from here are many. Longer-format and serial content come to mind. Marco holds open the possibility of eventually publishing the articles to the web. Pondering it, there is an exciting sense of building the future to The Magazine.

I enjoyed the first edition and so will allow my one-week trial subscription to morph into a regular payment, handled through iTunes. Marco's reputation, borne of his excellent Instapaper and the always-fun Build and Analyze podcast was more than enough to bring me to the trough. His early crop of content is enough to keep my here.

October 7, 2012

iOS Passbook

I used the new iOS Passbook app this AM to check in and check a bag at the airport. It worked great: I checked in for the flight with the United app yesterday, tapped the "send to Passbook" button, and that set me up for today.

To check my bag and pass through security I woke the phone and swiped the United notification, which was alerting me to my flight. I use a passcode on my phone, but Passbook bypassed that and simply displayed my boarding pass. I didn't have to worry about locking orientation of the display, either. The boarding pass displays only one way, so it was easily picked up by the scanner.

United isn't the only airline to link their iOS app to Passbook. It's worth a try the next time you fly with your iPhone!

October 4, 2012

Former Manson Follower Recommended for Parole After 40 Years


“Davis is serving two life sentences.”

Bad recommendation?

Free Birth Control Cuts Abortion Rate Dramatically, Study Finds

Brian Alexander, writing for NBCNews:

“When more than 9,000 women ages 14 to 45 in the St. Louis area were given no-cost contraception for three years, abortion rates dropped from two-thirds to three-quarters lower than the national rate, according to a new report by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers.”

Paging Sandra Fluke, paging Sandra Fluke. Rush Limbaugh, eating his foot on line one.

Maybe free contraceptives for poor women aren't so expensive, after all.

What Tweets Say About The Denver Debate

Julie Bort, writing for Business Insider:

”Even though yesterday’s presidential debate looked like a big win for Romney, the tweets tell a different story.

Researchers at SAP, a software company, tallied the tweets and analyzed their sentiment and discovered some surprises.

Folks on Twitter generally thought that Romney won the debate. But he didn’t win their hearts.

The negative sentiment towards Governor Romney far outweighed the positive.

Hard to say whether what people tweet is any indication of how they really feel or how they’ll vote. Romney has been dogged by the “not personable” label throughout the GOP primaries, though.

Statistic graphs appear in the article.

Why Obama Lost (Last Night's Debate)

David Frum:

“In Denver, Romney executed his long-awaited pivot to the center. Obama by contrast neither talked purposefully about his record nor effectively attacked Romney’s proposals.”

President Obama was far too conciliatory throughout. There were a number of points at which he could and should have pointed out contradictions in Governor Romney’s oratory. Opportunities missed.

I’m in agreement with Frum’s final comment (click through for the article). Romney has long been a moderate Republican, which is why he succeeded in Massachusetts. His tone changed after a resounding defeat at the hands of his own party base in the 2008 GOP primaries. As with Frum, I like the Romney I saw last night, though I’d like him better if he could effectively answer the criticisms Frum claims the president should have made.

Yet there-in lies my problem with modern Republicans in general. As with George W. Bush in 2000, what you hear during the campaign isn’t what you get for the next four years. Remember compassionate conservatism? Bullshit. Remember “no nation-building?” Ditto. Remember the balanced budget he was handed by the Clinton administration? Never to be heard from again.

At least we have a four-year track record from Barack Obama to go by. Like or dislike his politics, there’s no doubt about the overall direction of his next administration.

If you think the Republican base will allow a President Romney to govern as we saw him debate last night, I have a bridge to sell you.

October 2, 2012

Winter Storms to be Named by Weather Channel

Tom Niziol, writing for weather.com:

“During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season, The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events.”

The story includes this year's inaugural list of names. I have to admit to mild surprise at not seeing brand names among them. Seems like a prime opportunity to raise revenue, and if any organization is going to commercialize weather, it's The Weather Channel.

October 1, 2012

Bond in Blues

(MG Siegler)

Two things that make my world better: Daniel Craig’s James Bond and the sultry voice of Adele. This November 9 they come together as her voice graces the theme song to Skyfall, the twenty-third Bond film.

Ohhhh yeahhhh.

DeAngelo Hall Calls Redskins’ Defensive Performance ‘Average’

Mark Maske, writing about yesterday's 'skins' defense performance for The Washington Post:

“Cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who had a first-half interception to set up a Redskins’ touchdown, called the overall play of the defense ‘average.’”

Nope. Below average, if we're measuring against past 'skins teams. The Washington team used to have a top-5 or -6 defense year-in, year-out. Their Achilles heel was a porous offensive line, which let the other team's defenders through to clobber our often-mediocre quarterback. The 4-3 defense strategy under Gregg Williams was a winner, even if the offense failed to score.

The 'skins switched to a 3-4 defense upon Mike Shanahan's arrival and hasn't been as effective since.

Here's a thought: what if Jim Haslett, the 'skins defensive coordinator, moved back to the 4-3 formation? While there's no guarantee the team would return to strong defensive performances, imagine an effective defense coupled with the newly-exciting offense under Kyle Shanahan, with the top-notch rookie RGIII at quarterback. That's where Washington's best potential lies.

The iPad 1

Marco Arment:

“everyone who bought an iPad at least 19 months ago has an iPad 1, and their unsubsidized, non-contract, $500+ tablet is going to grow much less useful over the next year as apps start to require iOS 6. This has naturally angered a lot of iPad 1 owners.”

That would be me. My iPad 1, an anniversary gift from Kelly, is my in-car GPS, book reader, travel computer and all-around handy gadget. According to Marco, though, Apple's choice to build it with less memory a few years ago means it's locked out from new iOS versions, and the app updates that will require them. iOS 6 marks the beginning of the end for it.

Only a fool expects technology to hold value indefinitely, but a mere year-and-a-half is ridiculous for a $500+ device. Frankly I'd prefer to suffer balky operation under iOS 6 than enforced obsolescence so soon.

Despite the urge to get the most sale value from it, though, I'll hang onto my iPad 1 at least until next spring, when we'll likely see the next generation iPad. We managed to wring three years of heavy use out of our old iPhones, until they were no longer useful. That's the future for my iPad, too.

In the mean time, though, I have a pair of recently-retired iPhone 3GS's now collecting dust. The batteries require a recharge so often that they're best used as music players in a speaker dock. I wonder what use I can find for a washed-up iPad?