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Archive for the 'Thoughts on Technology' Category

Reader questions: Attempt #2

March 30th, 2016 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Technology

A tech-savvy reader, Bill, asked:

Hi Michael,
Since you asked, I do have a question for you, one that does try to leverage your unique situation – I hope it’s not too personal…

I’m working to try to introduce Assistive Technology folks to their local Robotics & STEM groups. I’ve noticed as I represent LessonPix at AT conferences that many of the technologies that are very expensive and hard to get in the AT world are downright cheap & available in the Maker world and I’d like to help fix that.

So, here’s the question: what are the few pieces of technology that have been the most enabling for you. I’ve made the argument that a device like a switch interface (that takes a switch and controls a keyboard/mouse) is HUGE in that it gets the user’s input into software where so many things are possible. But what else are the things you’d focus on? Would it be notification (doorbell/phone), outbound alerts, home automation?

If you had a team of motivated (but relatively inexperienced) engineers that could help you, what would you ask them to first?

I look forward to your answers!

Way back in the early 2000s there was a company that made a USB IR Remote for OS X called, the ZephIR. I still have my ZephIR, it’s a spectacular device, and it still works after all these years to control my HD TV, Apple TV, surround sound, all from my Mac. Unfortunately, the folks who made the ZephIR went under, and the ZephIR faded into obscurity. Aside from my ZephIR, I don’t know of many others in use out in the wild, and I’ve researched it. I also haven’t found any available for purchase, anywhere. Regardless, the ZephIR is rather long in the tooth, not so much hardware-wise, but its software is quite in need of a lot of love. Its database of remotes is getting really outdated, so you can pretty much forget controlling 4K tvs, current audio equipment… I rigged an Apple TV 4 to work, but it took some doing.

So, if I had my own team of plucky engineers, I’d first want to create a modern, elegant USB IR Remote for OS X, so that people with disabilities could control their home theaters, one area in which Mac users are sorely lacking. It wouldn’t just benefit the disabled, but anybody busy on their Mac who’d rather change their tv channel or crank up the volume on their home audio system without digging around for clunky hardware remotes.

Ultimately, I see the Apple TV becoming the hub for Home Automation… climate control, lighting, security systems, the works. Therefore, true access to the Apple TV will mean access to so much more.

Still, the USB IR Remote would come first.


Live! Tonight! Sold Out! Mac OS X 10.11.4

March 21st, 2016 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Technology

So, I’m now running Mac OS X 10.11.4, and it’s spectacular. Nothing broke, and everything feels more responsive.


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Apple Watch: Supposed Short Comings

June 16th, 2015 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Technology

So, when Apple Watch was announced, I kept hearing, “I’m not going to buy a first-generation gadget for $350, let alone $17,000, I’ll wait until the second version comes out next year.” I didn’t buy into that sentiment. The simple fact that a $17,000 iteration would be available told me that we almost certainly wouldn’t see new Watch hardware next year, or the next, or the next. If people paid $17,000 for a watch, only to have even a somewhat better version ship a year later, it would hurt Apple’s most valuable asset, our trust in their brand. When you buy something with the Apple logo on it, you know you’re getting quality, and you know it’ll be plenty useful for many years to come. Generally, you also know that your $400 device, or even $1200 device still won’t be the best of the best for very long. The Watch, however, felt like a totally different proposition. It struck me that, whether you buy the lowest-end $350 Apple Watch Sport, or decide to go all-in with the $17,000 Apple Watch Edition, the Watch’s internal specs are EXACTLY the same. The Edition isn’t the fastest, it doesn’t do anything the sport can’t do. If you buy the top end Apple Watch Edition, you’re getting an 18k gold case, a sapphire glass face, a sexy leather band… you’re paying for the epitome of style, sophistication, and elegance. I also believed from the moment the Watch was announced, up until right now, and including many tomorrows, that you’re paying for an unspoken promise, the promise that your solid-gold, sapphire glass, sexy leather masterpiece is going to be the best of the best for awhile.

All that said, at first glance the Watch does seem kind of underpowered, How could Apple NOT ship an upgrade, like, yesterday? Why buy any model if it’s hobbled? It requires an iPhone to set up the Watch, the iPhone has to be near the Watch to do anything internet or telephone related, most of the Watch’s apps run on the iPhone while the Watch displays the processed results, the Watch can only hold 2 GB of music, and so on. According to plenty of “professorial reviewers” the Apple Watch is a DOOMED device. At least, it was until last week, when Apple confirmed everything I’ve been thinking all along. At Apple’s annual World-Wide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple CEO, Tim Cook, took the stage to announce that watchOS 2 would ship this Fall, the Watch’s first major software update. Suddenly, all those “professional reviewers” are walking back their cries of DOOM.

See, hardware-wise Apple Watch is plenty powerful, absolutely powerful enough for everything needed of a Smart Watch. Its supposed short-comings are all in software, a fact that became clear to me after spending five minutes with my Sport model. Yes, I had to sync with an iPhone to set up my Watch, but the iPhone I used didn’t have cell service. An iPhone without cell service is basically an iPod Touch, meaning the Watch could be opened up to sync with ANY iOS device and run as a pure internet device without cell service…. like a Touch. I synced my 2 GB of music, yet the watch has a remaining 6 GB of storage. Another “short-coming” easily adjusted via a software update. These changes may be in watchOS 2, but if not, I won’t flip out, these tweaks are only a matter of when. We do know watchOS 2 will address one giant roadblock in the way of making Apple Watch self-sufficient, the lack of native apps. watchOS 2 will fix that lack. Apps will no longer require an iPhone to do the heavy lifting, they’ll run entirely on the Watch, AND they’ll be able to connect directly to the internet. Much less iPhone go-between. Were native apps the only feature introduced in watchOS 2, it’d be a big deal, but it’s really just part of a long list of features. watch OS 2 is just a first step toward Apple Watch realizing its true potential. I see Apple Watch becoming self-sufficient, only requiring a nearby iPhone for phone calls, as it is with Macs, and iPads.

Unlike other Apple devices, I see Apple Watch evolving through incremental software updates rather than hardware upgrades. The base hardware is already strong enough for some time to come, innovative software will make it shine. Apple won’t break its $17,000 unspoken promise.

Of course, I could end up totally wrong about everything, but I feel right enough.