Saturday, December 27, 2014

Questioning Steve Jobs

At Apple, the engineers are the talent. They're the ones who innovate. And, thanks to great designers, technology is turned from engineer-ugly into intuitive elegance. All the consumer facing products used to go through Steve. If you ate lunch, every day, at Caffè Macs you'd probably see Steve eat there once or twice a week.

Steve once sat one or two tables away from me with a developer. It surprised me how quiet Steve was. He simply asked the engineer questions and then listened, very closely. It was a one-on-one brain storming session about integrating services across different products. Steve would ask, "What if we did this?" or, "How would that look?" Steve focused on his conversation and was immune to the casually intense glances from passerbyers.

I worked as a software engineer at the Apple Online Store. We'd have an annual online store summit that lasted a couple days, usually in Apple's Town Hall auditorium. The high point was if and when Steve would speak to us and take our questions. Just before lunch, the last year I worked at Apple, we were told that Steve would be holding a Q&A session.

Excellent! This was spring of 2007 and the iPhone had just been announced but it wasn't yet shipping. The iPhone was on everyone's mind. When Tim Cook spoke to us at our summit he whipped out his iPhone, for a moment, and said, "This is so cool!" Our mouths watered.

Since Steve would be meeting with us, this was a perfect time for me to ask him about iPhone marketshare. He had forecast, during the Macworld Keynote, a few months earlier, that iPhone would sell 10 million units the first year. This seemed a bit high, to me, since it would only be available in the U.S. in 2007; and only on Cingular which had 58 million subscribers. To my ear, it sounded like Steve was expecting one out of six Cingular subscribers to shell out $499 or $599 for an iPhone.

One secret to corporate success is to never embarrass your boss. So, during lunch, I gave a heads up to my boss and the director of the Apple Online Store that I'd be asking Steve a question. We chatted about it, briefly, and it was a perfectly sensible question. So, I was cleared to ask away.

Just before Steve entered Town Hall we were told not to ask any questions about future products. We were also told that we'd have to give him a standing O when he was done with the Q&A. No problem. Steve walked in to the Town Hall. This was a rare time that I've seen Steve take the stage from the back of the room, rather than from backstage. He spoke for a little while and then it came time for questions.

One of my coworker engineers asked Steve a question that stumped him. Or, perhaps, he didn't want to answer it candidly. "Steve, what companies do you admire most?" Steve thought about it for a long, silent, half a minute.

"I don't know. I'd have to think about it," Steve answered.

I'd really like to know what he was thinking. Was it simply that he couldn't think of any companies he admired or was he worried that his answer would be made public?

Then it was my turn to ask Steve a question.

"Steve, you mentioned during your iPhone Keynote that Apple would sell 10 million iPhones the first year. That would mean one in six Cingular customers would be using an iPhone. That seems like a lot of marketshare for the first year," I said.

Steve simply clarified what he said during the Keynote. The 10 million unit statistic was at the end of the first full year of sales – in other words, at the end of 2008, not 2007 – and, by that time, Apple would be selling the iPhone in Asia, with other wireless carriers.

I doubt that his answer could have been any less climactic for me. Questioning Steve is easy when he's right.

Of course, Steve's 10 million iPhone estimate was a bit low. Better to under-promise and over-deliver. By the end of 2008, Apple sold more than 17 million iPhones – 70% more than his initial estimate.

Mobile Web Rendering Standard

The web needs a simple de facto standard for mobile vs. desktop web rendering.

When someone tweets out a link from their smartphone (mobile web), it looks terrible if I click their mobile link in my desktop browser:

Just like hard or soft page breaks in word processing, there needs to be a simple standard for web servers to render an HTML page based on the user agent or force a particular rendering when desired.

Blogger makes it simple and obvious based on the URL query string:

Render based on user agent:

Force mobile, regardless of user agent:

Force desktop, regardless of user agent:

This technique makes it easy for me when tweeting out links. Much easier than changing to to see if I've figured out a particular web server's URL naming scheme. I understand that m. and www. are different host names which makes it easier for load balancing, but there are ways to manage that with load balancers, etc.

PS – My other pet peeve is a mobile web page that doesn't allow zooming. What's a user to do when the fine print is too small to read?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Looking for God

In the dead of the night, seemingly simple soft sounds travel far. A fallen leaf moving across concrete in a quiet breeze or rustling tree branches as a gentle rain falls upon them. While I'm a heavy sleeper, something out of the ordinary will wake me up with a feather's touch.

Last night, I slept with my bedroom window open. This morning, at 4 AM, I awoke to the gentle rustling of plastic bags about 50 feet away. It's a sound I occasionally hear. I immediately knew it was a homeless person dumpster diving. I went outside and asked him what he was looking for. He stared at me for a moment and, in an annoyed tone, he said, "I'm looking for God." I told him that he should move along. I went back inside and he was on his way.

After he left I began wondering what he was really looking for. The seemingly obvious answer would be recyclables. Yet he wasn't going through the bottle and can bin next to the dumpster, nor did I hear any clanging or banging of glass and metal. He was simply opening plastic bags, mostly, if not all, bags of Starbucks trash. Perhaps he was looking for food. But there are better restaurants, nearby, to scavenge.

He was definitely not looking for hard-goods, and he was a pro at being as quiet as possible. What could he – as many I've heard before him – be looking for?

Friday, December 12, 2014

iOS Spotlight Bug

Without noticing it, I've installed well over 100 apps on my iPhone. Obviously, the ones I use most frequently are on my first home screen with a couple stragglers on the second screen. Occasionally, I need an app that's buried somewhere on the other 15 screens. To find those apps, I, like most everyone, pull down on the home screen to reveal the Spotlight search text field.

Unfortunately, after most iOS updates or after restoring a phone from a backup, Spotlight seems to stop finding apps until I open the app I'm looking for, for the first time.

This is a reproducible problem that I've noticed for at least a year. Here's what it looks like along with my workaround.

1. Confirm that the Applications option is checked and it's at the top of your Spotlight search setting.

2. Search for the app that Spotlight can't find. In my case, I was looking for my little-used eBay app. Sure enough, it didn't show up in Spotlight.

3. Search for the app in the Apple App Store. The App Store knows if you've already installed an app so that you don't need to redownload it. If an app is already installed on your iPhone, the GET or $x.xx button will say OPEN. Tap the OPEN button and the App Store, which is hundreds or thousands of miles away, will find and open the app that Spotlight, running on your own phone, couldn't find.

4. Once I've opened the app and then closed it, it magically appears in future searches. As a matter of fact, once I've gone through this exercise it seems that Spotlight is now primed to find other apps too.

Postscript: I've also seen a similar issue when searching for people or text in the iPhone's Messages app, but I haven't found a work around for that, yet.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Super Stellar Service

As a consumer, nothing makes me happier than superior customer service.

Yesterday, I effortlessly exchanged an iPhone case at my local Apple Store. When I was done with the exchange, the Apple employee took me through the iPhone Apple Store app. This app allows customers to self-checkout items rather than hailing an Apple employee to process the transaction. This works for all their products except for the two serialized items they sell on the floor: Apple TV and the wireless basestations. That's amazing. As far as I know, it's the only place where customers can self-checkout without supervision. Obviously, that makes pilferage easy, but Apple doesn't seem too worried about that.

This afternoon, I caught a lift with a Uber driver from Ethiopia. Like most San Diego Uber drivers from East Africa, my driver was a former taxi driver. Since I used to live in East Africa, we had a great rapport. I couldn't help commenting how nicely his iPhone 6 was connected to his car vent. He popped it off and gave it to me so I could have a closer look. It was a Kenu car vent mount that snuggly held an iPhone without having to remove the case.

This evening, I took a trip back to the Apple store and bought a Kenu case. Of course I checked myself out. It was my first experience with Apple Pay and I was hooked. On the way through Bloomingdales I bought a Brooklyn t-shirt, that caught my eye, using Apple Pay and that was dangerously easy for this impulse purchase. Before leaving the mall I used Apple Pay, for the third time in an hour, at The Container Store. That, too, was a breeze.

The Apple Pay transactions happen so fast that I almost missed them except for the part where I had to sign; after all, it's still a credit card transaction. The cashier at The Container Store told me a previous customer said that the store receipt had the wrong last-four credit card digits. I took a look at my paper receipt and, sure enough, the last four digits didn't match my credit card. But, then it hit me that Apple Pay generates a unique, one-time, credit card number for each transaction.

Service with a smile in the blink of an eye. What more could I ask for?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Uploading Large Files to S3

I've downloaded and tried out quite a few AWS tools since I started using Amazon's web services in 2007. Originally, S3 had a 5 GB file size limitation which was increased to 5 TB four years ago. Unfortunately, all the S3 tools I've downloaded are limited to 5 GB. The challenge appears to be that any object larger than 5 GB requires the use of the multipart upload API and none of my tools can handle that.

Today, I needed to upload a 7.35 GB file. I was almost ready to give up after trying a few of my desktop tools along with my plug-ins for Firefox and Chrome. Then I got the idea to simply log into AWS with Safari and use their web based management console (duh). That, along with my speedy fast home Internet connection, did the trick. It was such a simple solution that I almost overlooked it.

Update: One bit of funkiness is that the tools which can't handle files over 5 GB can't properly report an object's size, although they do seem to be able to successfully download the files.

Free Music

Ever wish that you could listen to free background music like you hear in a cafe? It turns out that many mom and pop cafe owners simply stream multi-hour long music from YouTube. A bargain at twice the price.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

What was I doing just shy of the Mexican border at midnight? Because, if you don't shop on Black Friday, then the terrorists win, I joked.

I shop for clothes once or twice a year and Black Friday has great deals. I didn't do too much planning. The outlet mall near the US/Mexico border opened at 6 PM, yesterday (Thanksgiving Day) and they'll close tonight at 10 PM (Black Friday). Yes, that's 28 hours straight they'll be opened.

A couple years ago I went to the outlet mall by Legoland when I was living in Carlsbad. It was simpler, there, since that mall was just a few miles from where I lived. At the time, they opened at 10 PM and stayed open for 24 hours. Now, they've obviously stretched that by four more hours.

The worst part about the outlet mall in San Ysidro, tonight, was getting into and out of it. From the freeway, it's a single lane in each direction, so it was backed up, up the offramp and onto the 5. After watching some people walk past me faster than the queue of cars was moving, I decided to park on the street and walk the last half-mile. That also saved me the hassle of finding a parking spot once I had actually made into the parking lot. Walking turned out to be a good decision with the exception of breathing in car fumes.

Obviously, the outlets were packed. Even Starbucks had a line out the door; so were lines at some other stores. Luckily, I was shopping at Brooks Brothers which isn't exactly known for being  trendy. There were no shortage of pooped families, plopped down on the benches with half a dozen shopping bags apiece. What did surprise me, though, were how many people were dragging large luggage bags to pack up their booty. That's fairly smart for those who had to walk back across the border into Mexico. I only had to walk half a mile and my fingers were getting a little sore carrying a couple shopping bags and a coat hanger. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yes, Dave, Everything is Broken

Everything is broken. I said that in September and Dave Winer said it yesterday.

Ok, it's not quite everything, but it sure feels like it when your simple workflow comes screeching to a halt.

Software engineering is about managing complexity. It seems the level of personal technology has exceeded our ability to reliably manage it.

I'm typing this on my two-year-old iPad with Apple's Bluetooth keyboard. Normally, I use my MacBook Air, but today I wanted to focus on writing. It's too easy to go down a rabbit hole on my laptop. With just my iPad and keyboard, it's as close as I can be to being offline while being online. It minimizes my distractions.

Unfortunately, my afternoon is failing miserably. I can't get my iPad to keep its Bluethooth connection with my keyboard. On top of that, I can't respond to an incoming text message even when the keyboard is connected. One could make the case that it's a dying battery in the keyboard. (How would I know if the battery is dying? There's no way to check on the iPad.) But that doesn't explain why, when the keyboard is connected, it doesn't allow me to respond to pop-up text messages.

That frustration, added to the fact that Apple's Continuity fails me 50% of the time, is too aggravating. I hear my iPhone ringing, just a few feet away, but I can't answer it on my Mac half of the time. Oh, have I mentioned that the "Check Spelling While Typing" sometimes flags misspelled words now, and sometimes, at an arbitrary point in the future, it will suddenly flag a word that's been misspelled for hours? And don't get me started on the OS X dictation feature which is sometimes unavailable for no discernible reason.

So, I gave up trying to write in Pages on my iPad, this afternoon, and decided to blog here for a few minutes. Prose will have to wait.

And this isn't a case that all new technology has bugs. It's that the level of complexity is getting more than can be managed. My keyboard used to connect to my iPad, and stay connected; and my mouse used to do the same with my Mac. Now, both are hit-or-miss. Trust me, I clearly remember how elegant and bug-free the first iPhone was, yet how bad OS X 1.0 was.

Could it be turnover at Apple? I wonder if the lessons learned, from 15 years ago, are being repeated by the new software engineers at Apple?

Technology is suppose to move out of the way to enable productivity, not hinder it. But, I guess that's my problem to deal with. Perhaps I should focus on the positive, like the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I've had a kernel panic over the last few years.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Visiting Home: Lasers, Computers, & Sweatshirts

I spent the last two weeks visiting my mother in my childhood home. It's been a long time since I've spent that much time here. Tonight, as I was packing up, I came across a few things from decades ago.


The first thing I came across was my prep school sweatshirt from NAPS. At a quarter of a century old it still looks as good as new.

Naval Academy Prep School


After seeing my old sweatshirt, it piqued my interest to take a peek in the attic. I found my first two personal computers. A TRS-80 Model I and a Model III. I spent many hours writing BASIC and Z-80 assembly on these machines. Without a doubt, these two computers formed the foundation of my career. The Model I was first manufactured in 1977 and the Model III shipped about three years later. The year 1977 was the defining moment for the personal computer industry; it's the year that the first personal computers shipped with a keyboard, monitor, and tape deck for persistent storage. It's the year of the Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore PET. Out of the gate, Apple set the standard for a personal computer with upper and lower case text and color. I gravitated to the TRS-80 simply because they were sold in Radio Shack computer centers which were easily accessible to me via a two mile bike ride. The only store that carried the Apple II was twice that distance. 

Wrapped up TRS-80 Model I on the left, Model III on the right.

Metrologic He-Ne Lasers

Last, but not least, I came across my two helium-neon lasers that I purchased in junior high school to make holograms in my basement. The process of making my holograms was fairly simple. The most important thing was that there could be no movement more than a half-wavelength of light, otherwise the hologram would be ruined. I wrote about my first hologram a half dozen years ago.

I unboxed my two lasers, tonight, and I was astonished that, after more than 30 years, they both still worked. In the 1980s, laser diode technology was nonexistent for consumers – there were no laser pointers. Helium-neon lasers cost a few hundred dollars and they were the least expensive lasers that I could buy that could be used to make holograms. I spent many months delivering Pennysavers and newspapers to earn enough money to buy the two lasers.

I doubt I'll be using them to make holograms anytime soon. But, who knows?

More than 30 years later, my two He-Ne lasers still lase. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I just saw Interstellar.
It's very good.

Tears and applause throughout the movie theatre.

It's this generation's 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles

I'd been looking at foldable electric bikes since 2012 and 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

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]:

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,, and 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
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, 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.

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

My response:

>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.


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


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

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

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.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Replacing the Legend at Apple

Apple HQ: 1 Infinite Loop
My uncle's worked on Wall Street for half a century. There are two pieces of advice he's repeatedly told me. "Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered," and "You can't replace the legend."

It's the advice about replacing the legend that's interesting. When the legend leaves a great company, things change, almost always for the worse since the legend can't be replaced. Ford at Ford, Dell at Dell, Gates at Microsoft, Perot at EDS, Hewlett and Packard at HP. There's no shortage of great 20th Century companies whose best days are behind them. Companies tend to decline when the founders relinquish control.

This begs the question I've been repeatedly asked over the last three years, "How will Apple do without Steve Jobs?" Is Apple so different that they can transcend this pattern? After all, it's crystal clear that Steve Jobs was the leader who made Apple great. He founded the company and created the personal computer era for the first decade. Then the Apple board of directors pushed Steve out under direction from then CEO, John Sculley. During the decade that Steve was gone, the company came within 90 days of bankruptcy. Steve returned. Apple fans call it the Second Coming. It's crystal clear that Steve made all the difference. Not by going after marketshare. Rather, by creating great products and answering the fundamental question, "Why?" as in, "Why are we doing this?"

Steve's Greatest Invention

What was Steve's greatest invention? It wasn't the Mac, iPod, or iPhone. Steve always believed his greatest invention was Apple, the company. Steve's focus was simply on creating the best possible customer experience, from womb to tomb. Initially, Apple employees learned this by osmosis. When Steve returned to Apple, he made sure this cultural thinking was instilled into the DNA of Apple.

Steve focused on nearly every aspect of Apple. This worked well before the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. Since then, Apple's operations have become almost overwhelmingly complex.

The logistical coordination for Apple to ship their products requires a herculean effort. Tim Cook is certainly the person to manage this. He did an outstanding job as COO. Now, as CEO, he's changed some of Apple's processes to fit his style. Steve relied on small teams. Tim, on the other hand, now cross-coordinates large teams when designing and building new products. These teams have a long term focus on financial discipline.

Steve had the vision. Tim made it happen. I think Tim had the insight of seeing the operational mistakes Steve made. This weekend showed that Apple is still plagued by the same high-quality problem. They simply can't make enough of their products. But, only time will tell if Tim can succeed Steve. The success of the  Watch will be a crucial indicator.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pulitzer Prize for Coding and Blogging?

I've debated whether coding is art.

Writing prose has a lot of similarities to writing code. Both activities require a lot of time spent inside a text editor. The key difference is the final product. When writing prose, the audience sees the final written letters. When writing code, the audience sees what the software does, not what it is in its raw form.

Coding seems more like a craft than an art when you consider that it's one key part of software engineering. This difference is even more pronounced when considering the Pulitzer Prizes.

The Pulitzer Prize board usually awards a prize in each category to a single person. Yet, there were a lot of people on the team who contribute to the winning book, news report, or editorial cartoon. Compare that to making movies or software which require large teams. Software released today is not written from scratch, like a book or poem. This is obvious when you consider the OS and code library dependencies.

Blogging, on the other hand...

The Question is Begged

Why is there no Pulitzer Prize category for blogging?

I wholeheartedly believe there should be a Pulitzer Prize category for individual blogging. After all, Pulitzer awards their prizes to individuals. Some of their prizes are for journalism and some are for art. Are the Pulitzer's about the content or the medium? Meta-blogs have won Pulitzer Prizes, such as the Huffington Post. But I would no longer consider Huff Post a blog, like, say, TechCrunch. Rather, HuffPo is an online journalism news source. There's a distinct difference.

Bloggers are doing important work. The Pulitzer Prizes should formally recognize this with its own category. When it is, I shall nominate the Scripting News blog. Not just for being around for 20 years, next month, but rather for defining what the true essence of blogging is.

If you agree, then please let the board of the Pulitzer Prizes know:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Heads Up: Package Delivery

UPS: We Love Logistics.
I'm wondering why package delivery services don't offer heads up delivery notifications, out of the box. They already provide automated status updates, so this idea seems like a natural evolution.

Generally, when I'm tracking a FedEx or UPS package, I can provide my e-mail address or cell phone number to receive updates. FedEx and UPS are good about customer service. In my experience, they (especially FedEx) have frequently attempted a second delivery at my request. I realize that UPS is much larger than FedEx, but we're talking about moving bits, not boxes. Since I've already provided my contact info for tracking status updates, why not also send a heads up notification? UPS/FedEx Driver in your area. Please expect delivery within the next 90 minutes.

Today's UPS Story

After putting more thought into it, I realized that my heads up solution seems more than doable. Obviously, I missed a UPS delivery, today. I called UPS to hold my package at the local UPS facility. Then I tweeted them about my heads up idea. They misunderstood and tried to help me get my package, not realizing that I'd already arranged that. Ok, fair mistake – I appreciate the help.

UPS suggested I sign up for My Choice. I gave that a go, but the sign up process wanted to confirm my cell phone number billing address to verify my info. Unfortunately, I tried to sign up with my Google Voice phone number, so I gave up. Too much friction and not the best UX. Perhaps I'll try signing up later. In the mean time I had two options. First, I could wait for UPS to redeliver my package tomorrow. That option might cost the driver an extra five minutes worth of his time. Instead, I chose the second option and decided to go to the local UPS facility and pick it up. It's worth the 32 mile round trip drive rather than sitting around tomorrow.

Apple Pay Rejection Leads to Bigger Question

I read this article, Walmart, Best Buy Reject Apple Pay, earlier today, and it got me thinking.

I understand that scanning a QR code is a simpler payment process than NFC technology. It might not be as fast as  Pay, but it should be quicker and more secure than the current credit card technology. I also get the point that Walmart and Best Buy want to use their own joint venture technology, MCX. Their technology is like a stored-value card. But this article lead me to a more fundamental question. Why do companies like Target and Home Depot keep retail customers' credit card numbers?


A customer swipes their credit card at the point of sale. The transation could be run as an authorization in the case of a restaurant or gas station. More likely, it'll be a sales transaction to capture the funds. To complete the transaction the merchant processor sends back an authorization number. That should be the end of the transaction. The merchant doesn't need to store the customer's credit card number. When my local cafe swipes my credit card with Square, they aren't privy to my credit card details. Reconciliation can be done via the authorization number. Returns and even recurring charges can also be accomplished using the authorization number.

So, I'm wondering what the advantage is for the big box retailers to keep retail customers' credit card numbers on file. I'm sure there's a good answer explaining why it's worth the risk.

Update: CNNMoney cybersecurity reporter, Jose Paglier, replied to some of my questions. He said retailers use my credit card number to figure out where I live. That's fine, but once they figure out who I am, they shouldn't need my credit card number anymore. At the very least, retailers could store my credit card number as a one way hash. They could still figure out which locations I shop at without my credit card number being compromised.

Innovation Chasm

Hard copy print out of the Internet with yesterday's news.
As companies grow, seemingly small changes become difficult. Change is even more difficult when companies have been around for a long time. Most companies think in terms of what they do rather than focusing on the benefits they provide. It's hard for many companies to recognize they could be left behind when technology changes. The classic example is the ice trade of the 1800s. More recently, we saw it in the newspaper industry over the past decade.

One clear example of this is SMS. It is a shrinking technology. Since 2005, the cost of sending a single text message rose steadily from 5¢ to 25¢ over the next few years. This falls under category #3 of the The Good, The Great, and The Bad Business Models.

Rarely do people send SMS text messages through their computer. It would be a simple feature, but the carriers didn't implement it. Other companies have stepped in because the wireless carries didn't innovate SMS. It was Grand Central that brought texting via computer to the masses. Apple has taken this one step further with Messages. Messages strongly encrypts the content and deliveries it to multiple devices at the same time at no cost.

The markets are bigger than any one person or company. A company can fight change by controlling or cornering the market, but that won't last forever in high tech. The companies that tend to fight it and succeed for long stretches of time tend to be oligopolies (Think: Big, as in Big Media, etc). It lasts for a while, but what companies truly last for centuries?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

One Million and Counting

Sometime in the past week my blog crossed over one million page views. I have to admit, as a casual blogger, I'm impressed with that stat.

It seems the secret to blogging is to write prose that's clear, concise, and to the point. For that, I use the Hemingway App. I also blog about things that interest me without caring too much about popularity. These days, interesting means blogging about Facebook privacy issues or Apple. To be honest, I did design my top post, Car and Life Insurance, to be interesting to Google, too. Like the Jerry episode ("The Pilot") on Seinfeld, my top blog post was about nothing. It simply hit on some keywords. But that was years ago. Since then, Google's refined their search algorithm.

Hacker News picked up The Tricks I Learned At Apple, which was my first surprise hit. It showed me that an average Joe can occasionally write something popular. linked to my second most popular blog post which was about Apple's logo, so that obviously helped traffic. And, finally, ReadWrite featured the $5,000 Security Breach, which happened this past spring.

Fact or fiction, everyone loves a great story. Let's see how long it takes me to reach 2,000,000.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple Rant™ – The Failure of Technology

Technology has come to life. It has come to life in such a way that it's failing us due to its complexity. Technology should be the lubricant of life, not the friction and now everything is broken.

The most anticipated Apple keynote since the iPhone, announcing the Apple Watch, was an abortion. From an inaccessible live feed to 45 minutes of listening to an Asian translator is not the best possible customer experience.

Apple Watch

"Soup Nazi:" No Keynote for you: two hours.
Here's a key problem with the Apple Watch: it doesn't replace anything – rather, it adds. It adds another device to manage thereby adding complexity to my life. The iPhone replaced my cell phone, iPod, and, to a certain degree, my computer when it came to e-mail and surfing the web. Nowadays, when I travel on business, I feel it necessary to bring my iPhone, MacBook Air, and iPad. Six months from now, will I need to bring a fourth item, too? Sure, this is great for the Apple investor; but I want to simplify my life. We all do.

Apple Epidemic

On top of this, I'm a bit frustrated after spending half an hour failing to download the new U2 album. Then I spent ten minutes figuring out how to submit a support request about the U2 album because the web form had a bug.

Forty years ago, when we changed the channel on our TV, the new station tuned in instantly. I'm at a loss, when explaining to my mother, why using an app has a lag, especially when network connectivity isn't a factor. What good are billions of cycles of CPU power that make me wait. I shouldn't have to wait longer and longer due to launching, buffering, syncing, I/O and latency.

My 500 GB MacBook Air hard drive is full. Each time it drops below 10 GB I have to find something else to delete. You'd think 7 GB sounds like a lot of space. But, after a day or so it dwindles down to a few hundred megabytes and OS X becomes unusable until I reboot. Am I really expected to delete my personal photos?

Duplicated iOS Note of this blog post draft.
Why is Siri worse today than in 2011? Or perhaps it is the same, but the novelty has worn off? Why did my Time Capsule wireless base station freeze, requiring a restart, resulting in this iOS Note being duplicated multiple times?

Here's the kicker, Apple solves these First World grievances of mine better than any other company. Yet I am more and more frustrated. Technology must move out of the way to enhance our lives, not complicate it.

Technology is alive and it's not just getting a cold, it's getting cancer. As a consumer, I want to live my life and focus on my passions, not my technology. As a software engineer, I'll deal with all the technical headaches, but I won't tolerate it as a consumer. Technology seems to be failing us faster than it's helping us.

Apple Epilogue

Obviously, I've reconsidered some things I've said in the previous 24 hours. Dave's right, Apple Pay is the big deal. Or, technology that's embedded in my body, as he suggested, would be very interesting.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tomorrow's Apple Keynote: What to Expect

Tomorrow is Apple's Keynote. New iPhones are a given. They'll probably introduce mobile payments too. Then there's the talk of an iWatch. Most people don't wear watches, so could it really be a big deal? My thinking is, "Yes."


The iPod was a pivotal change for Apple. Steve decided to build a product for the right reasons: to make something he loved that would be better designed and integrated than any before it. Obviously it was a success. Then, in typical Apple fashion, after starting with well over 90% market share, they let it erode since they moved on to the next thing. Here are two key points. Apple doesn't go after market share for market share sake. Also, the iPod was about listening to music and, at the end of the day, it was only an entertainment product.


Next came the iPhone. Before the iPhone, getting apps, ring tones, wallpaper, etc., on to your mobile phone was a lousy experience. Plus, the wireless carriers dictated what could go on a phone and how it could be used. Remember the Rokr E1? Apple partnered with Motorola to put iTunes into a phone. But it wasn't an Apple product. One key limitation was that its firmware restricted it to only holding 100 songs. Other carriers placed similar restrictions on their phones such as not allowing tethered syncing. Rather, they wanted their users to transfer files and photos over-the-air so they could charge them for data usage.

An iPod owner could go days, weeks, or months without using their iPod, but iPhone owners use their phone every single day. For many of us, it's the last piece of technology we touch when going to sleep and the first thing we touch before getting out of bed.


While we may need to communicate every day, we need to live every second. What if the iWatch has the ability to monitor our health in a nonintrusive way? So much can be told just from our basic vitals like our heart rate, temperature, respiration, and sleep cycles. As a runner, I've worn a heart rate monitor for nearly every one of my runs over the past 20 years. It gives me an absolute indication of my effort level based on my health. If I'm coming down with something or it's a hot day, or I'm dehydrated then my heart rate monitor indicates that. But, I only wear it when I'm running. What's going on with my body the rest of the day?

Twenty years ago, I didn't carry a mobile phone. This afternoon, I ventured a block away without my iPhone. I knew I'd be gone for only a few minutes. Yet, as I crossed the street, I seriously considered going back to get it – not that I was expecting any calls, e-mails, or texts. I simply felt unconnected. Could an iWatch become so ingrained into our health that we'd feel exposed without it?

Sizzling Customer Service

One thing I absolutely love is excellent customer service.

This afternoon, I had lunch at a place that was rather slow, plus I found a wire brush bristle in my sandwich. I've been here several times before and today was the exception. The owner offered free cookies. Mistakes happen – it's what's done to make up for them that sets great businesses apart from mediocre ones.

Tonight, I went to a Home Depot I'd never been to before. As I walked out I saw a Sizzler restaurant on the other end of the parking lot. I hadn't been to a Sizzler in years and it pulled me in. An employee saw us walking up to the restaurant and held open the door. The manager behind the counter was extremely courteous and the wait staff was very friendly. There was an obvious pattern of top notch training in customer service. On top of all this, the restaurant looked brand new as if it were opening night.

There's something very pleasant about great customer service when your hungry. It's the polar opposite of hangry.