Computer User Groups of Yore

Original Mac (1984)

Steve T. in our group referred me to a great article which appeared recently on ArsTechnica. It describes the great camaraderie and influence user groups had in the 80’s and 90’s and why they have all but disappeared in the past decade. That said, ApplePickers remains as one of the few Apple user groups and the only one in Indiana, so come to our meetings (virtual for the duration of the pandemic) and learn and contribute just like it once was years ago.

WiFi Connectivity Experience

A few years ago, I received a Ring video doorbell as a Christmas gift. If you’re not familiar with one of these they are a great simple device that replaces the exterior doorbell on your house. Most exterior doorbells are really just a simple switch, but these devices include a wide-angle video camera, speaker and microphone for two-way conversation with anyone who rings the bell. I have the earlier version 1 which includes a 720p HD camera, but the newer models incorporate a 1080p camera for better resolution. The device couples with your home’s WiFi network, so that you can connect with it on your iPhone. In addition to iOS, Ring supplies application software for Android, Windows and Mac so there should be no problem with compatibility. 

In my case, the problem came with my regular WiFi signal not being sufficiently strong to work with the doorbell mounted on the outside of the house near the front door while my WiFi router is in my basement office. Fortunately, I had an old Linksys WRT160 router which I had replaced a few years ago with a Netgear WNDR4000. The Netgear was a significant improvement to the older Linksys which did not support the 5GHz speed. The doorbell only uses the 2.4GHz band so I created a separate network for the doorbell and the living room where the signal from the Netgear was weak.

First Netgear Router

The WNDR4000 was fine with my computer located in the same room as the router, but my wife who has her computer on the third floor would often have poor connectivity on the 5GHz band and occasionally even on the 2.4GHz band. Neither router supported the newer 801.11ac protocol, but we rarely need to transfer large files between computers on different floors. Another drawback with this setup is it left us with 5 networks broadcasting their availability; two from the Netgear WNDR4000 (one for the 2.4 band and one for the 5GHz band), one from the Linksys, one from the Comcast cable modem and one for the xfinitywifi network which Comcast foists on all its subscribers for anyone to use when they visit your home. The main reason for not using the WiFi network on the cable modem is that the bandwidth is substantially inferior. Throughput with the cable modem network in barely 25% of what the bandwidth is when connecting through the Netgear router.

Continue reading…

Xfinity Modem Rental

Comcast-Xfinity logo

Exactly four years ago I wrote an extensive article for our newsletter about switching from Comcast TV and Internet service to AT&T’s U-verse. At the time it was a good deal and U-verse was certainly more reliable than Comcast. We had U-verse for two years until the introductory priced contract expired and the rates rose. U-verse service was okay, but not great and streaming Netflix was annoyingly interrupted multiple times for buffering. Both my wife and I have part-time consultancies which require us to have good, consistent internet connections and U-verse just didn’t quite do it for us. So two years ago when a Comcast sales person came around and tried to get us back to Comcast with a deal that was equal to U-verse TV but with much better Internet speeds, we bit and made the switch. That contract ended this month and as we should have expected, our bill rose dramatically. We complained to Comcast and told them we had to get the bill back down to a manageable level, and certainly there must be some other bundle that would do the job for less. To make a long story short, we wound up with a basic TV, phone, and internet package, and upgraded the TV and internet portions to mid-tier levels and still wound up with a price well below the bill we had after our previous contract had expired. Continue reading…

iTunes Match Subscribers Were Robbed

Voila_Capture 2016-01-31_03-29-58_PMApparently Apple announced two weeks ago that it was discontinuing iAd supported radio in iTunes. This passed quietly since few people use iTunes Radio. What was less clear and something I for one missed is that the ad-free streaming music that was part of the iTunes match service was also being axed in the process. While I never associated the two since I pay for iTunes Match was that Apple considered these one in the same features. I respectfully disagree, but they don’t listen to me. So what is it that I’m talking about you ask?

Up until January 28, one could click on any of the pre-configured genres of music under the Radio tab in iTunes and listen to music with ads periodically inserted into the stream. You could also create custom radio stream based on an artist of your choosing. If you subscribed to Apple Music or iTunes Match you were spared having to listen to the ads. While Apple Music has many more features than this, it was one that came along with the $9.99/mo service. iTunes Match ($24.99/yr) is an entirely different service that allows you to store your own music collection in iCloud and not having to store the content on either your computer or iOS device; a boon to those of us with minimal storage space on our phones or iPads that can be put to better use. However the ability to also listen to ad-free music was a nice bonus to Match subscribers, but alas, no more. Now if you click on one of the preconfigured radio stations you get a snarky pop-up inviting you to subscribe to Apple Music – yeh at 5 times the price. Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 4.52.19 PM

To be fair, there are a few radio stations that continue to work – at least for now. They are NPR, ESPN and BBC World Service. Most likely this is due to not having to pay song artists and greedy copyright holders that were previously being paid through iAds.

Frankly, I don’t care for any of the other features of Apple Music and I don’t subscribe. I really don’t care for the odious cacophony of Beat’s One or any of the DJ’s Dre and company have come up with. My musical tastes live in the past, a fuddy-duddy, I suppose, but there are more of us than Apple cares to admit. So Apple has quietly taken away a valuable feature of its iTunes Match service, not reduced the price nor compensated existing subscribers. If more people were interested, I would anticipate a class-action lawsuit with good rationale. Apple has been sued for less.

The Art of the GUI

HUI2When the Macintosh came along in 1984, many of us gravitated towards it over the Apple II or IBM PC largely because of its graphical user interface or GUI. The Mac’s GUI with its mouse, point, and click was much easier to use. Those of us who were not computer majors could increase our productivity while not having to learn many of the arcane intricacies needed to use a PC. The Mac’s GUI and many of its applications were carefully crafted to make a program’s use inherently apparent so that a user could become easily productive without constantly needing to read through a user manual. Indeed Mac manuals were notoriously minimal, and still are today even though applications have become much more powerful. The unfortunate thing about today’s applications are that their powerful options are no longer inherently apparent. With the zeal to create clean interfaces of today’s Apple applications the modern GUI can now be described more as “hover and discover”. A very thorough review of this situation can be read in a recent post by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini, both Apple alumni, who brought us the original Apple GUI and are in large part responsible for the success of the Mac. If you are at all involved in creating applications for any computer system, I encourage you to read this article recently posted on Fast Company’s website.

Apple WWDC 2015 Announcements

El Capitan

Several new and exciting updates were announced this week at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference.

  • OS X El Capitan (aka Mac OS 10.11) refines the Mac experience with enhancements to window management, built-in apps, and Spotlight search. The new OS promises to be more responsive.
  • With iOS 9, your iPhone and iPad become more intelligent and proactive with powerful search and improved Siri features that help you find what you’re looking for before you even ask.New multitasking features designed specifically for iPad allow you to work with two apps side-by-side, or with Picture in Picture continue watching a video while you navigate to another app. And built-in apps are now even more powerful with a completely redesigned Notes app, transit information in Maps, and an all-new News app that collects all the stories you want to read from top news sources based on the topics you’re most interested in.
  • WatchOS 2 features new watch faces that use your photos or photo albums as well as Time-Lapse which shows 24 hours in iconic locations around the world. It also includes watch complications featuring third-party app information and new communication capabilities in Mail, Friends, and Digital Touch. Now developers can take advantage of innovative hardware features including the Digital Crown, Taptic Engine, and heart rate sensor combined with software APIs to build new app experiences.
  • Apple Music combines the best ways to enjoy music—all in one place. The new streaming music service pioneers worldwide live radio station from Apple broadcasting 24/7, and is a great new way for music fans to connect with their favorite artists. Starting June 30, Apple Music will be available in over 100 countries and is priced at $9.99/mo ($14.99/mo for a family plan). A free three-month trial membership gives music fans the full Apple Music experience on their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac and PC. And it’s coming to Apple TV and Android smartphones this fall.

All new software is planned for release in the Fall 2015.

Updated Apple Hardware

Today, Apple announced updated 15-in MacBook Pros with ForceTouch trackpads. The lower end model for $1999 retains a 2.2Gz i7 and 256 GB flash storage and Intel Iris Pro graphics, but boosts internal memory to 16Gb. The $2,499 model upgrades to 512 GB of flash storage and a 2.5-GHz CPU, adding AMD Radeon R9 M370X discrete graphics hardware with 2 GB of VRAM.

The new 5K retina iMac model is now priced at $1,999 with a 27-inch, 5120 x 2880 Retina display, 3.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU and AMD Radeon R9 M290 graphics (2GB of VRAM), along with 8 GB of memory, a 1TB, 7200-RPM hard drive and dual Thunderbolt 2 ports. The $2,299 model, which got a price cut, boosts quad-core i5 speed to 3.5 GHz, graphics hardware to AMD Radeon R9 M290X (4 GB of VRAM), and storage to a 1TB Fusion Drive.

Apple also announced a new Lightning dock with a 3.5mm audio line-out port in the back, which supports headphone remote control. No AC adapter is supplied, so MGRM2charging power comes via a Lightning port that you must connect to your own power adapter and cable. The dock is priced at $39.

Comcast – Time Warner Merger Fizzles

This Friday, the same day the Apple Watch started retail distribution, Comcast announced they were walking away from the deal they proposed 14 months earlier to acquire Time Warner Cable. In my opinion, this is great news for Indiana since part of the deal was that we were going to be shuffled off to a new company called Great Land Connections which would be a spin-off entity from Comcast and partially owned by Charter Communications. Like all cable companies, Charter has a less than stellar record amongst its existing customers. Even though Comcast has the worst reputation for customer satisfaction among American companies, I can’t help but think we’re better off with them rather than being slung around like a pawn in the trade-off Comcast was proposing to satisfy the Federal Trade Commission that the merger would not reduce competition. Great Land would likely not have the negotiating muscle to get as good a rates for media as Comcast, and it would also likely get Internet connections either through Charter or Comcast and be relegated to second tier performance and support. It’s the latter which worried me since neither AT&T through their U-verse service nor Charter provide anything close to the speed and bandwidth that Comcast provides. I currently get a minimum of 105 Mbps (usually around 120 Mbps) download speed and 20-25 Mbps upload speed. This is much greater than when I was with AT&T where I got <20 Mbps download and <1 Mbps upload speed for essentially the same price. According to their website, Charter offers only one Internet service tier at 60Mbps download and 4Mbps upload. While these speed differences have little impact when you’re just surfing the Net with a web browser, they significantly impact performance when you’re watching streaming video or using Facetime or Skype.

So while I have no love lost for Comcast as a company to do business with, I think we in Marion County are better off with them than being traded around as part of their proposed merger with Time Warner. Whether the deal for Charter to buy Bright House Networks which services 120,000 customers in Central Indiana in Hendricks, Boone, Hamilton, and Grant counties is affected by this latest news remains uncertain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that deal also falls apart as well.

Apple Watch Pre-Orders Off and Running

Over the weekend, Apple started accepting pre-orders for the new Apple Watch. While I wasn’t in line Thursday night at the local Keystone store myself, I was interested to see some of the more intrepid reviewer post YouTube videos of their first impressions. In the two URL’s below are some good hands-on coverage of what these two reviewers thought and how the interface works.

User interfaces is where Apple really shines. If you stop and think what sets Apple software apart from others purveyors of technology, it is how they can make maximal use of a minimalist interface. With only two “buttons” and a tiny touch screen, you really have a wide range of commands at your disposal with the Apple Watch.

Apple Pay Associated with Unusually High Credit Card Fraud: Fact or Fiction?

Recently the lay press has reported that in practice Apple Pay is not as secure as Apple would like us all to believe. In fact there appears to be a higher rate of credit card fraud associated with the new service.

Rich Mogull, TidBITS’ security expert took a closer look at the issue. To make a long story short the issue appears to be in the process banks follow when linking your card to your iPhone, a process the banks call “onboarding”. During the process, Apple provides the bank with the last four digits of the phone number, the device name, and the latitude and longitude of the device at the time of provisioning, rounded to whole numbers among other things. Using this information, the issuing bank will determine whether to approve adding the card to Apple Pay. The problem appears to be that if the bank does not use all the supplied information, your card could be associated with a thief’s iPhone and then they could proceed to spend your money until caught. In any case, when you register your card on your iPhone, you should receive an email notification from your bank at the email address they have on file saying your card has been registered with Apple Pay. If you receive such an email and you didn’t register you card, or don’t have an iPhone 6 or 6 plus, act fast because a thief has your number.

To understand the issue in greater depth, check out Rich’s article over at TidBITS.com.