Thursday, October 30, 2014

Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles

I'd been looking at foldable electric bikes since 2012. This past July I bought one. My thinking was that I could load it in my plane and use it, instead of renting a car, at my destination. This idea would be a one-bike endeavor, though. Even though my plane can seat four people, it would be difficult to squeeze in more than one bike.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to try out my transportation mix when I flew up to La Verne to have lunch with my life-long friend, Andy. I told him not to worry about picking me up at the airport. Using my electric bike to cover the four miles from the airport to his house would be a cinch.

It's always a learning experience the first time I try something new. I remembered to pack my helmet and even though the bike has a 25-35 mile range, I packed the battery charger, too, just in case. I even remembered to bring flowers for Andy's wife since they're newlyweds.

I had to laugh at myself when I landed at the airport, took out the bike and hinged it together. I forgot to bring the key. No ignition key for the bike meant no electric power. Of course, I was too proud to call Andy for a lift so I had to use old fashioned human pedal power.

I don't mind making mistakes and learning from them. But I despise making repeat mistakes. So, to avoid this problem in the future I've placed one of the three keys for the bike in my flight bag. I will certainly never fly without it, again.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts from My Weekend

NPR: Women in Tech

I heard an interesting episode on NPR about why the percentage of women in computer science suddenly began declining in 1984, while other predominantly male majors, like law, medicine, and the physical sciences, continued to increase.

The thing about the absence of women in a field or industry is that it seems "normal" until you look back at it after integration. Ever notice that women have separate leagues in professional sports? Remember the Battle of the Sexes II?

The broadcast concluded that the drop in women in tech happened because computers were marketed to boys in the early 1980s. It's worth a listen.

TWiT: Gold Apple Watch

Today's episode of TWiT had a discussion about the Apple Watch. Specifically, Leo and company speculated how much the gold Apple Watch would cost with estimates of $5,000, on the low end. Dave Hamilton pointed out that a $25,000 gold Rolex would still be worth at least that much in a decade, if not more. Whereas, a $5,000 or $10,000 Apple Watch would be obsolete within a few years.

Their conclusion is, since the Apple Watch uses a system on a chip, it could, possibly, be interchangeable. After all, how much can a watch form factor change, over time? Smartphones have been around a decade or so, whereas watches have been with us for centuries.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Absolute Best Place to Live

"As humans we need to remember that we live in one of the absolute best places in the universe. I say, 'absolute best,' because the average temperature of the universe is just 2° or 3° above absolute zero. Meanwhile, here on earth, the average temperature is 287° Kelvin."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Disruptive Apple


This infographic captures how much Apple has grown. Like Apple, this image is big, so you'll have to click on it to see the details.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Apple Continuity and Handoff

Summary:
1. Make sure your devices are compatible.
2. Turn Bluetooth on, on all your devices.

Apple released Yosemite (OS X 10.10), last week, and iOS 8.1 today. Together, with supported hardware, these two OSes enable the Continuity feature-set; one specific feature is Handoff. In a nutshell, these features let you start a task on one device, such as writing an e-mail or document, and pickup where you left off on another. They also allow your phone to handoff phone calls and SMS text messages to your Mac.

It took a little digging to figure out how to coordinate this. Here are the detailed details [sic]:
http://support.apple.com/kb/HT6337

In a nutshell, your devices need to be on the same WiFi network and Bluetooth needs to be turned on for the them to see each other. FaceTime needs to be turned on and logged into the same iCloud account. It seemed that FaceTime didn't realize that example@mac.com, example@me.com, and example@icloud.com were the same account. I had to uncheck the latter two before I could check the "iPhone Cellular Calls" preference in FaceTime on my Mac.



When my first non-iPhone SMS came through, I had to enter a PIN on my Mac that appeared on my iPhone to confirm I had physical access to both devices.

So far, Continuity seems to be working fairly well.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blogging: The First 20 Years

Twenty years ago, today, the father of blogging, Dave Winer, published his first blog post. Back then, it wasn't called a blog or web log. That came later. But its original purpose hasn't changed. Winer, more than anyone else, has preached and practiced that the purpose of blogging is to narrate one's work.

Blogging is fundamentally different than journalism, but there's also an overlap. There's so much of an overlap that Pulitzer awarded the Huffington Post its National Reporting prize in 2012. The prize was awarded for journalism coverage. The coverage was posted on a blog that grew into a news service. News services have blogs and blogs provide news services. Twitter, more than any other company, has seized this opportunity as a micro-blog, news service, and communications platform.

There's both a human and technical element which causes high-tech services to reach the masses. On the technical side, webifying a technology makes it more accessible. Twitter webified RSS, Hotmail webified SMTP, and blogging platforms like Wordpress and Blogger have webified FTP. But it's the human element that's key. These services, plus Podcasts, social media, and comments, etc, allow people to express themselves. It's the very act of expressing ourselves that is our passion. Plus, these webified technologies are truly innovative. Innovation is something that reduces the cost of a transaction. And well designed technology will get out of your way to enhance your productivity. 

Without realizing it, we've seen these changes over the past two decades. Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, once explained to me how he persuaded Winer to solve the Internet video broadcast problem. Fifteen years ago, video didn't stream, it downloaded due to slow bandwidth. It might take five minutes to download a sixty-second news broadcast that was the size of a postage stamp. Winer had no interest in this user experience until Curry suggested "channels." These channels would download news broadcasts in the middle of the night, while you slept. A light went off in Winer's head when he realized that these channels should be RSS feeds with MP3 or video links. This was the birth of the podcast feed format. What's beautiful about this example is that Winer recorded it for the world to see. He didn't document it only because it was a breakthrough, he documented as just another day at the office.

Winer narrates his work on many levels. Sometimes it's on a human level, like his description of how he and Curry came up with the idea for podcasting. Other times, it's on a technical level such as his step-by-step guide, EC2 for Poets, which demonstrates how a non-technical person can get a server up and running within an hour.

Whether you agree or disagree with Winer, don't simply tweet him, "You're wrong." Instead, write a blog post and point him to it. You'll be amazed how much you'll learn in the process. Winer's been wrong many times. And he's been wrong about being wrong. Winer initially said the iPad had too many shortcomings. He was on Facebook, then off Facebook, and now he's back on Facebook because he's realized its potential as a publishing platform. He's not afraid to publicize his thoughts for debate and discussion. If the sign of strength is adaptability, then the sign of intelligence and humility is the ability to recognize when we're wrong. Now go forth and narrate your work. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Problems with Clean Energy

As much as we dislike paying taxes, that's the cost of living in a civilized world.

Last week, I heard a piece on NPR about solar power. The teaser was that Pennsylvania regulators are putting a limit on how much power a homeowner can generate with solar panels.

"Why would we want to limit clean energy?" asked Vera Cole, the president of the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association.

Her question confused me. First, because the her name is Cole, which is, ironically, pronounced exactly like coal on the radio broadcast. And, second, it sounds like she has an obvious point. Her question sounds like someone (big oil) is overtly protecting their turf and power. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.

The bottom line is that Pennsylvania regulators want homeowners to generate no more than 110% of the power they need. The reason is that the excess power generated by homeowners is sold back to the power utility. The power companies aren't equipped to handled consuming power on a large scale. If too many people generate excess electricity then the power utility can't collect enough money to maintain a reliable electricity grid. Imagine if too many people, in too short of a time, generated more electricity than the power company could handle; to the point that the poorest of Pennsylvania homeowners, the ones who couldn't afford solar panels, couldn't afford electricity from the grid?

Utilities are highly regulated. Your local water or power company can't arbitrarily raise prices. They're not as nimble and flexible as, say, a high-tech company.

Cole's question does raise an important point. The power company does need to begin planning for redistributing electricity. Wouldn't be great if power companies became redistributors of electricity from private individuals, instead of coal-buring creators of it?

So, my point about taxes is that governments need to match up funds collected with expenses. This is important as we explore more energy alternatives. Taxes on gasoline are a big portion of the price we pay at the fuel pump. Those taxes go to repairing our roads. What happens when more and more people find alternatives to use fossil fuel powered cars? I'm not suggesting that we should slow the switch from gas to renewable, clean, energy. But, we need to think about alternative sources of tax revenue. I'm actually a fan of big government, but it has to be efficiently run by effective people.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Macintosh Malware

OS X iframe malware injected into google.com.
Yes, it's true, Mac's don't get viruses.

But viruses are a small part of a larger security issue known as malware which is malicious software. And Macs are susceptible to malware. Malware is software that seeks to harm your computer. Computer viruses, just like real life viruses, attach themselves to something else to reproduce. Computer virus replication doesn't require any action by the user. But, other forms of malware, such as trojan horse software, does require action. Generally, a trojan will masquerade as something beneficial, such as a software or plug-in upgrade.

First Hand Experience

A lady at this morning's Tech Coffee showed me a problem with Safari on her Mac. Last night, she thought she was installing a Flash update, but it turned out to be something else. It was malware that injected an iframe in her home page, google.com. We tried different things to block, avoid, or fix the issue without any success.

Her malware in the iframe would pop-up another window, when clicked on, asking to install more malware. It was an endless circle.

We discussed different ways to fix the problem. Googling for anti-virus software brings up more bad actors than good ones. That's when we realized the best way to find Mac software was to look for it in the App Store. After some more discussion, we realized that she doesn't really need anti-virus software. She only needs something to clean up her mistake. Besides, it's been my experience on the Mac, that anti-virus software tends to get in the way more than it helps.

Her next step is an appointment, tomorrow, at the Genius Bar. In the mean time, she won't be logging into her bank account.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Personal Digital Emissions

We, as individuals, are responsible for our own personal emissions.

Emissions like sound (how loud we speak or the noise we generate) and smell (cologne, body odor, cigarettes, etc.) are obvious. But, over the past 20 years a new category has emerged: personal digital emissions. In the mid-1990s I began teaching time management training classes. While researching time management strategies I read two excellent books that addressed information overload: Data Smog and Information Anxiety. A lot of our digital emissions causes and is caused by stress.

Digital emissions are the electronic information we emit. There are two types, passive and active.

The passive emissions aren't a big problem. These are the digital emissions such as my phone checking a mail server for new e-mail. These emissions usually interact with other devices or servers.

Rather, it's the active emissions – our emissions that interrupt someone else – which quickly get out of control. So much so that I feel it necessary to post this reminder. Every e-mail and text message sent, and every phone call made, will be an interruption in someone's day. It's worth taking the time to think before acting. Is your digital emission urgent and important enough to justify interrupting someone? Frequency and timing are a factor, too. Equally important is your response to someone's digital emission. Did you take the time to fully read and understand before responding? I just made this mistake, myself, last week, when responding to an e-mail from a friend and professional colleague. Good etiquette, clear communications, and time management techniques are important work and life traits.

I've seen people load up on app after app and tool after tool thinking they've found the silver bullet for time management. Truth be told, it's not the tools that make or break us. Rather, it's our own personal habits and self-discipline. You shouldn't need to worry about forgetting the things you need to do. Instead, you should simply organize in a way so tasks and events come in front of you at the appropriate time.

Here's some advice for refining your digital emissions.


Texting Etiquette

Sending multiple text messages, on the same topic, within a minute or two, is annoying. At least I find it annoying. My phone will ding and vibrate so I'll pull it out of my pocket to read the message. I'll either respond or not and then put it away only to pull it out 30 seconds later when the next message arrives. You may be lying in bed with nothing to do when sending your text message, but what's the recipient doing? Are they working, driving, or in a meeting? A simple text message can be distracting. Multiple texts in a short period are very distracting. Many times the sender only needed to wait 60 seconds to collect his or her thoughts to compose a clear message. Don't text me: "It's Jane's birthday next week," followed 30 seconds later with, "What do you think we should do?" followed another 20 seconds later with, "Are you there?" Please don't ask me to respond, with a sense of urgency, to something that's not pressing.

On a low level, SMS text messages may be limited to 160 characters. But this is no longer an issue since wireless carriers can seamlessly stitch together multiple texts into a single message. So please collect all your thoughts on a single subject into a single text message.

I have a name for this type of texter. I call them the, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" texter. Or, more formally, I refer to it as the "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Look at me! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy. Pay attention to me! Daddy! Daddy!" texter.

There are some people who I don't even want to text with. Three texts, about the same nothing, all within 90 seconds is a bit too much. Take a deep breath and gather your thoughts instead of texting me your stream of consciousness.


E-mail Etiquette

We've all read an e-mail and forgotten to respond. But, some people are terrible at managing their e-mail.

Some people are notorious about going off half-cocked. Or, even more annoying are the partial and vague responders. These people seem to lack communications skills across the board. When corresponding with these people, I'm very careful to only put one action item per e-mail. When asking them multiple questions via e-mail, I list each in a numbered bullet format. Yet, still, they'll partially respond thinking they'll get back to my other questions later. But, they have no time management system for doing this. They'll read an e-mail now and neither respond nor write down the task, and then forget about it. You don't need to respond to every e-mail, only the ones you intend to.

As a general rule, when someone sends me an e-mail with multiple topics and questions, I'll copy and paste each item and write my response below it. This makes my responses clear and it helps me ensure that I didn't overlook any items.

Joe,
Do you think we'll finish this product on schedule? What about the budget?
Have we finished the security and privacy evaluation?
Tom

My response:

Tom,
>Do you think we'll finish this product on schedule? What about the budget?
Yes it'll be on time but the budget funding source is still in question. I've reviewed the schedule with the team and they're comfortable that we'll deliver it to QA by the deadline. I met with the comptroller and he had a concern about source of the funding. He'll be meeting with the CFO to ask for more direction on the funding and get back to us by Monday.

>Have we finished the security and privacy evaluation?
Yes. I've attached the approved risk evaluation. Both our security consultant and in-house counsel have signed off on it.

—Joe

Remember in elementary school when we had to respond to a written question by including a portion of the original question in our answer? That wasn't sadistic punishment, rather it was to develop our communications skills.

Once last point is to consider is using the To and CC lines appropriately, especially if you omit a salutation in your e-mail.

Whew, now I feel better.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

iPhone Backup Bug Report

Foreword

The mere process of writing this bug report blog post has helped me run down different troubleshooting options. It's become a personal sanity check ensuring I've carefully reviewed alternatives before claiming, "it's not working."

Bug Report Summary

Title
Two iPhone backups (iTunes and iCloud), from the same device, are missing. 

Steps
1. I backed up my iPhone via iCloud and iTunes.

2. I restored my iTunes backup to a replacement iPhone.

3. After completing the restore, I noticed discrepancies on my iPhone (detailed below). I decided to try the restore again, but both backups were missing.

Expectations
I expected, after getting a replacement iPhone, that both my iTunes and iCloud backups would be available to restore from. When I look at my iCloud account (on my iPad), I see two iPhone backups, yet they're both inaccessible from my iPhone.

Bug Report Details

On Monday, I took my iPhone 5 to the Apple Genius Bar because it would kernel panic almost daily. The Apple Genius diagnosed it as defective hardware (bug_type 110 - CRC error).  He ordered a replacement iPhone 5 for me since it's covered under my AppleCare warranty. It arrived yesterday.

I backed up my defective iPhone via iTunes before going to the Apple Store to pick up the replacement iPhone. To be on the safe side, I also backed it up to my iCloud account.

I picked up my replacement iPhone 5 and brought it home. I couldn't immediately restore it from my iTunes backup because the replacement iPhone was running iOS 7 out of the box. I upgraded it to iOS 8 which took about 45 minutes. Then I restored my backup from iTunes which took another 45 minutes. Nothing unusual there.

When the restore was complete I noticed a serious discrepancy. iTunes reported 4.65 GB free on the iPhone, but my newly restored iPhone 5 self-reported 16.4 GB free.


iCloud Backup Inaccessible

At this point I thought I had two options. First, I could try resetting and erasing my iPhone and restoring it from my iCloud account. After all, my most recent backups to iCloud and iTunes were only a few hours old. But, for some reason, iCloud reported "Last Backup: Never" on my newly restored iPhone.

My iPhone can't see my iCloud backup...


... yet my iPad sees both iPhone backups in iCloud.

iTunes Backup Missing

My second option was to restore from my iTunes backup since my iCloud backup wasn't available. I tried to access my iTunes backup on my MacBook Air but that's gone missing too. iTunes reports: "Your iPhone has never been backed up to this computer."


I thought that was a mistake, so I checked my MacBook Air's hard drive under "~/Library/Application Support." Guess what? The iPhone backup that I just restored from is really missing from my hard drive. It's as if I restored the iPhone from the backup and then it self-destructed.

Another odd thing is my newly restored iPhone reports 0 songs. Ok, that may be possible since I subscribe to iTunes Match and my music may all be sitting in iCloud. While that could be part of the discrepancy, it doesn't explain why iTunes reports that the iPhone has several hundred songs on it.

Has double redundancy failed me? I'm getting a bad feeling that my iTunes restore may have corrupted my iPhone's file system and I've run out of iPhone backups.

Perhaps it's my own fault for not following the 3–2–1 rule of backups:
3 backups
2 media
1 off-site