2014.12 Analysis: Death by Infinite Paper Clips

How concerned should we be about the rise of artificial intelligences (IE, computers smarter than human beings)? Well, according to some very smart people, real worried!

AIs would not be conditioned by billions of years of evolution to have the same concerns as biological life forms such as ourselves. Their priorities wouldn't necessarily be our priorities. For example, a cold-eyed analysis of oxygen would reveal it to be one of the most corrosive of all elements, behind only chlorine and fluorine, and a logical consequence of that observation for a metallic life form would be that the planet would be better off without it.

Remember that next time you hear that friendly start-up chime.


2014.12 News: VP Doc Huntington Has Resigned

SWAG Vice-President and long-time activist and supporter Dr. Robert W. "Doc" Huntington has resigned his office and its position on the SWAG board due to deteriorating health. He has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and forthrightly grants that the prognosis is not good.

The board extends all best wishes to Doc with wholly inadequate thanks for his long, diligent, and humor-laden service.


2014.10 News: Apple's Tim Cook Lays a Brick

It hasn't exactly been a secret that Apple CEO Tim Cook is gay, but — once again leading the way in true Apple fashion — in his first public statement on the subject, he's not even remotely apologetic about it, saying it's made him more empathetic and a better executive as a result.


2014.10 News: Another Trophy on the Zune Shelf

Apple has its own backtrail of failed devices (Newton, anyone?) and services (eWorld?), but perhaps more impressive is the string of corpses it's piled up from other companies that tried to displace Apple from its favored position in the hearts and minds of tech consumers. Perhaps the most famous of these was the Zune media player, which Microsoft introduced to great fanfare as the iPod killer and supported with all of its considerable resources. Indeed, Microsoft kept propping it up long after tech analysts everywhere had pronounced it doomed.

Well, it now has company on that shelf: Amazon's Fire Phone, which not only didn't displace the iPhone, it made it look even better by comparison.

It's not really schadenfreude if they deserve it, is it?


2014.10 Report: Upgrading to Yosemite

I know that OS X Yosemite's release number (10.10) is mathematically equivalent to the original 10.1, but it sure looks a lot cleaner. I like the new "flat" appearance; lots of plain, simple lines, without the 3-D feel of earlier versions. Nice new system font, too; easy on the eyes.

Be forewarned: It takes 3.5 hours to download it (even in the lower-traffic dead of night, which is when I set it up to run while I'm sleeping) and another half hour to install it. (The installer started off claiming it would take 22 minutes; that message was on screen for 5 minutes, followed by another 4 minutes pretending that it would take 21 minutes. After that, things seemed to go as announced.)

This is way earlier in the release cycle than I usually upgrade to new software. My normal practice is to wait a month until all the early adopters have run the gamma testing and the company issues its bug-fix X.X.1 release, but I have a major database client who had just upgraded the OS on his computers, so I figured I should probably be able to reproduce any situation he might encounter, and I bit the bullet. So far, so good.

BTW, Yosemite is off the hook for a problem that I'd been experiencing with disappearing keyboard shortcuts in FileMaker Pro. I first noticed it after upgrading to Yosemite, and the simplest explanation was that Yosemite had co-opted them for its own purposes. However, a different computer, still operating under Mavericks, had the same problem crop up. So it’s some oddity in FMP. It can’t be custom menus, because I’m not using them. Nor am I using any utility that remaps keyboard shortcuts.

Intermittent errors are, of course, the worst kind, but at least this is one with a readily available workaround: simply use the still-available menu command.

Next time it happens, I’m gonna relaunch FMP and see if that fixes it.

I am looking forward to my first opportunity to try the feature that I believe will endear Yosemite to me more than any other: the interoperability of AirDrop with iOS 8 on my iPad. Finally I'll be able to just get my photos off my iPad and onto my iMac, which is just sitting there, mere centimetres away, deaf and blind to the iPad's plaintive lament that it would dearly love to send it a file but can't make the connection.


2014.09 Tip: How To E-Mail

Google's Chairman Eric Schmidt describes in this article the 9 rules his company uses to make the best use of e-mail. (Notice he didn't strain to get to the "magic number" of 10. He said what needed to be said and then stopped talking.)


2014.09 News: No Pushing!

Half a billion iTunes users got the latest U2 album for free. Many of them probably liked it. Some didn't notice; others didn't care. But some got kind of ticked off about it. Apple is backing away, lesson learned.


2014.09 News: New Ones Are Coming

Apple's real close to introducing new computer models, which means that all the retailers are gearing up to clear the shelves of the old one. There are bargains to be had. This one, from Other World Computer, just hit my inbox, but there are bound to be others as well. (No endorsement of OWC expressed or implied.)

These are brand-new machines, and they come with the full warranty. They are not the latest, greatest, super-duper, bleeding-edge machines they once were, but they're perfectly fine for 99.8% of what normal users have occasion to use them for. If your current iMac is 5 years old or more, hey, a 1-year-old model is still a step up, right? And the price will be right for the next month or so.


2014.09 Event: Open House at the IoT Lab

A gleaming new building at the University of Wisconsin houses the combined Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery* and Morgridge Institute for Research, and there's where the UW's Internet of Things Lab will hold an open house on Thu. Dec. 4 from 5 to 7 PM. No details yet, but it'll probably be similar to the previous one on May 1.

*not to be confused with the creationist Discovery Institute


2014.08 Fiction: It's a Wonderful Machine

It's a Wonderful Machine
The Sweetest Christmas Movie Frank Capra Never Made

Guess I shouldn't have gone to a party where the eggnog was spiked, and maybe I shouldn't have watched the movie It's a Wonderful Life while leafing through MacWeek. But anyway, I had the weirdest dream last night — like a bizarre black-and-white movie that went just like this ...

Jimmy Stewart stars as Steve “Jobs” Bailey, who runs a beleaguered but beloved small-town computer company. For years, big monopolist Bill "Gates" Potter has been wielding his power and money to gain control of the town. And for years, Steve has fought for survival: "This town needs my measly, one-horse computer, if only to have something for people to use instead of Windows!"

But now an angry mob is banging on Apple's front door, panicking. "The press says your company is doomed!" yells one man. "You killed the clones! We're going to Windows!" calls another. "We want out of our investment!" they shout.

Steve, a master showman, calms them. "Don't do it! If Potter gets complete control of the desktop, you'll be forced to buy his bloatware and pay for his cruddy upgrades forever! We can get through this, but we've got to have faith and stick together!" The crowd decides to give him one more chance.

But the day before Christmas, something terrible happens: On his way to the bank, the company's financial man, Uncle Gilly, somehow manages to lose $1.7 billion. With eyes flashing, Steve grabs the befuddled Gilly by the lapels. “Where's that money, you stupid old fool? Don't you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal! Get out of my company — and don't come back!"

Desperate and afraid, Steve heads to Martini's, a local Internet café, and drowns his sorrows in an iced cappuccino. Surfing the Web at one of the café’s Macs, all he finds online is second-guessing, sniping by critics, and terrible market-share numbers.

As a blizzard rages, Steve drives his car crazily toward the river. "Oh, what's the use?!" he exclaims. "We've lost the war. Windows rules the world. After everything I've worked for, the Mac is going to be obliterated! Think of all the passion and effort these last 15 years — wasted! Think of the billions of dollars, hundreds of companies, millions of people ...” He stands on the bridge, staring at the freezing, roiling river below — and finally hurls himself over the railing.

After a moment of floundering in the chilly water, however, he’s pulled to safety by a bulbous-nosed oddball. "Who are you?!" Steve splutters angrily.

"Name's Clarence — I mean Claris," says the guy. "I'm your guardian angel. I've been sent down to help you — it's my last chance to earn my wings."

"Nobody can help me," says Steve bitterly. "If I hadn't created the Mac, everybody'd be a lot happier: Mr. Potter, the media, even our customers. Hell, we'd all be better off if the Mac had never been invented at all!”

Music swirls. The wind howls. The tattoo on Steve's right buttock — Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story — vanishes.

Steve pats the empty pocket where he usually carries his Newton. “What gives?"

"You've got your wish," says Claris. "You never invented the Mac. It never existed. You haven't a care in the world."

"Look, little fella, go off and haunt somebody else," Steve mutters. He heads over to Martini’s Internet café for a good stiff drink. But he’s shocked at the difference inside. "My God, look at the people using these computers! Both of them — they look like math professors!"

"They are," says Claris.

"What is this, a museum? It looks like those computers are running DOS!"

"Good eye!" says Claris, "DOS version 25.01, in fact — the very latest."

"I don't get it," Steve says.

"DOS is a lot better and faster these days, but it hasn't occurred to anybody to market a computer with icons and menus yet. There's no such thing as Windows — after all, there never was a Mac interface for Microsoft to copy."

"But this equipment is ancient!" Steve exclaims. "No sound, no CD-ROM drive, not even 3.5-inch floppies!"

"Those aren't antiques!" Claris says. "They're state-of-the-art Compaqs, complete with the latest 12x, 5-inch-floppy drives. Don't forget, Steve: The Mac introduced and standardized all that good stuff you named."

"But that's nuts!" Steve explodes. "You mean to tell me that the 46 percent of American households with computers are all using DOS?”

"Correction: All 9 percent of American households," Says Claris cheerfully. "Without a graphic interface, computers are still too complicated to be popular."

“Bartender!” shouts Steve. “You don’t have a copy of Wired here, do you? I’ve got to read up on this crazy reality!”

The bartender glares. “I don’t know what you’re wired up on, pal, but either stop talking crazy or get outta my shop.”

“No such thing as Wired,” whispers Claris. “Never was. Before you wished the Mac away, most magazines were produced entirely on the Mac. Besides, Wired would be awfully thin without the Web.”

“Without the — now, wait just a minute!” Horrified, Steve rushes over to one of the PCs and connects to the Internet. “You call this the Net? It looks like a text-only BBS — and there’s practically nobody on line! Where’s Navigator? Where’s Internet Explorer? Where’s the Web, for Pete’s sake?”

“Oh, I see,” Claris smiles sympathetically. “You must be referring to all those technologies that spun off from the concept of a graphic interface. Look, Steve. Until the Mac made the mouse standard, there was no such thing as point and click. And without clicking, there could be no Web ... and no Web companies. Believe it or not, Marc Andreesen works in a Burger King in Cincinnati.”

Steve scoffs. “Well, look, if you apply that logic, then PageMaker wouldn’t exist either. Photoshop, Illustrator, FreeHand, America Online, digital movies — all that stuff began life on the Mac.”

“You’re getting it,” Claris says. He holds up a copy of Time magazine. “Check out the cover price.”

Steve gasps. “Eight bucks? They’ve got a lot of nerve!”

“Labor costs. They’re still pasting type onto master pages with hot wax.”

“You’re crazy!” screams Steve. “I’m going back to my office at Apple!” He drives like a madman back to Cupertino — but the sign that greets him there doesn’t say “Welcome to Apple”, it says “Welcome to Microsoft South”.

“Sorry, Steve; Apple went out of business in 1985,” says Claris. “You see, you really did have a wonderful machine! See what a mistake it was to wish it away?”

Steve is sobbing, barely listening. “OK, then — I’ll go to my office at Pixar.”

“You don’t have an office at Pixar,” Claris reminds him. “There was no Mac to make you rich enough to buy Pixar!”

Steve has had enough. He rushes desperately back to the icy bridge over the river. “Please, God, bring it back! Bring it back! I don’t care about market share! Please! I want the Mac to live again!”

Music, wind, heavenly voices — and then snow begins softly falling.

“Hey, Steve! You all right?” calls out Steve’s friend Larry from a passing helicopter. Steve pats his pocket — the Newton is there again! It’s all back! Steve runs through the town, delirious with joy. “Merry Christmas, Wired! Merry Christmas, Internet! Merry Christmas, wonderful old Microsoft!”

And now his office is filled with smiling people whose lives the Mac has touched. There’s old Mr. Chiat/Day the adman. There’s Yanni the musician. And there’s Mr. Spielberg the moviemaker. As the Apple board starts singing “Auld Lang Syne”, somebody boots up a Power Mac.

Steve smiles at the startup sound. “You know what they say,” he tells the crowd. “Every time you hear a startup chime, an angel just got his wings.”

Originally printed in “The Desktop Critic” column by David Pogue, Macworld, 1998 January


2014.08 News: Out of the Closet

A little warmup for Nostalgia Night. Remember MacWrite, MacDraw, MacPaint, etc.? They came with the original Macintosh computer in 1984 and were simply Apple products. In 1987, Apple created a software division called Claris, which assumed control of these signature programs as well as the new AppleWorks integrated program, soon rebranded as ClarisWorks. (It eventually reverted to its original name and owner.) In 1988, Claris acquired a database-management program called FileMaker from Nashoba Systems; it too was the beneficiary of substantial upgrading. Thru the 1990s, FileMaker was the only Claris product that managed to hold its own in the face of increasing market domination by Microsoft, and by 1998 Claris had ended support for everything but FileMaker and renamed itself FileMaker Inc.

It was still a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple, but that aspect had been soft-pedaled since the release of the Windows-compatible FileMaker Pro 2 in 1992. The company knew that Windows had huge market share that it wanted to tap into, and it didn't want Microsoft snobs shopping elsewhere for no better reason than that FileMaker came from Apple.

That decision was made nearly a quarter century ago, and FileMaker has, ever since, presented itself publicly as just another software company, albeit one with a sterling reputation for quality, reliability, user-friendliness, regular updates, and 99% cross-platform compatibility. You can develop FMP databases on either Macs or Windows computers, and they'll run almost identically on the other platform.

But now, ever so softly, with Apple having been in the top 5 most admired brands in the world for over a decade, the company's coming out of the closet:


2014.08 Tip: New Keyboard

I love a story with a happy ending, and this is one.

I was chugging along on my iMac when I wanted to check my schedule to see what was coming up. I've got my desktop set up using Spaces, so all I have to do is type ctrl-→ to swap out the current display for a different one that shows my Calendar and Contacts. But nothing happened. Then I discovered that nothing happened when I tried typing anything else, either.

"Hmmm," I figured, "dead batteries in my wireless keyboard." So I installed new ones. Still nothing. Another pair of new ones. Still nothing. I tried turning the keyboard off and on again. No little green light. Conclusion: dead keyboard.

Those were, in fact, the 1st 2 words out of my mouth after I walked into the Apple Store at West Towne and one of the friendly blue-shirted associates asked what he could help me with. Less than 10 minutes later I was walking out of the store clutching a brand-new, still-in-plastic replacement keyboard, batteries already installed. $69 value. No charge. Yay, Apple!

Now we come to the "some assembly required" part. I set the new keyboard down in front of my iMac, pressed its IO button, waited for its little green light to start blinking, then waved my hands and said "You guys talk to each other now." Alas, they did not. And, of course, without a functional keyboard on which to type my log-in password, there was no way I could fire up my iMac and ask it to please begin the conversation.

Or was there? (Here comes the tip.) It turns out that your computer comes with a "Guest User" account pre-installed for your convenience. I suspect that the average user just ignores it and goes straight into her or his own personal account. But you can log in as "Guest User" without needing a password. I did that, then used my fully functional mouse to select "Bluetooth" from "System Preferences" and discovered that my new keyboard had been beseeching the computer all along for a hook-up. All I had to do was type in the 6 digits displayed on the screen, and presto! the deed was done. Logged out as "Guest User", logged in as "Richard S. Russell", and all was back to normal.

I guess the moral of the story (beyond merely "Yay, Apple!") is that you never know when that "Guest User" account may come in handy, so don't get carried away with your spring cleaning and decide to throw it out.


2014.08 Entertainment: Mr. PC Hits Town

Remember those "Get a Mac" TV commercials featuring Justin Long as the Mac and John Hodgman as the PC? Well, Hodgman has gone on to a further career as a comedian, notably as the senior millionaire correspondent on The Daily Show and, of particular interest to propellor-heads, the go-to expert on "Geeks vs. Nerds" for the YouTube series Geeking Out.

This is relevant locally because he's coming to Madison's Barrymore Theater Sun. Oct. 19 at 8:00 PM. You can buy tickets on line for $20 ($22 day of show).


2014.07 Tip: ICal Schedule Subscriptions

You may be thinking "What's with the 'iCal' moniker? Didn't Apple change the name of that utility to just 'Calendar'?". Yes, it did — to bring the desktop-computer utility (under OS X) into sync with the handheld-device app (under iOS). But the websites that were set up prior to that name change continue to use "iCal" as part of their identity, and the point of this tip is that you'd go to one of them, specifically
to subscribe to the Green Bay Packer 2014 season schedule. Its author, Joshua Campbell, promises to update the listings with game scores as soon as they become final.

First up: pre-season game vs. the Tennessee Titans at their place, Sat. Aug. 9, 7:00 PM Central.

(Incidentally, I found this site quite easily just by googling "apple calendar subscriptions". There are others as well. Pick the one that tickles yer fancy.)

Update: If you tried to use iCalShare to do likewise for the Wisconsin Badgers, you'd have been disappointed, as the most recent listing was for 2006. However, if you go to the Badgers' own website, you can follow the "Schedule" path to the destination
which allows you to download a football schedule compatible with your Calendar utility.

First up: Wisconsin vs. LSU in Houston, Sat. Aug. 30, 8:00 PM Central.

Note that a download (as for the Badgers) is a one-time-only deal. Once you've done it, it's done, and your Calendar listings won't change thereafter unless you consciously change them. A subscription (like the Packers), OTOH, can be dynamically updated by its original source.


2014.07 Celebration: Happy Birthday, Mibs!

Happy 92nd birthday today to SWAG's own Mabelle R. "Mibs" Ewald, who served as a US Marine in WW2 and only recently picked up a brand-new Mac laptop to further demonstrate that she's getting ready for her next century.


2014.07 News: Apple and IBM Team Up

Remember when Apple announced its partnership with Microsoft, and Steve Jobs stood on stage with the big head of Bill Gates projected on screen in the role that Big Brother occupied in the famous 1984 commercial? Macheads everywhere took it as a sign of the Apocalypse ("cats and dogs together", etc.). Well, it turned out OK.

Here's the sequel. Winston Smith is giving Big Brother a big hug — and Big Brother is hugging back!


2014.07 Travel: Apple Abroad

Our sleuthy secretary, Holly McEntee, couldn't find any listing for an official Apple Store anywhere in Russia, but evidently they have their own equivalent of a Best Buy where Apple products are available for sale, as evidenced by these June photos taken on Moscow's tony Tverskaya Street by SWAG's foreign correspondent, Barbara Leuthner:

A couple of years ago (late 2012), Barbara also encountered a real Apple Store in Ljubljana, Slovenia:


2014.06 News: Aperture and IPhoto Laid Off

Apple is migrating its photo-processing functionality over to the generically named "Photos", which is intended to wholly replace iPhoto and Aperture by the end of 2015. Photos is yet another step Apple is taking toward merging the way its programs work on computers (under OS X) and hand-held devices (under iOS). The program called Photos will run much the same way on your Mac that the app called Photos will on your iPad. At least that's the plan.

Furthermore, Apple evidently intends Photos to be the one and only image-processing tool it makes available to its entire range of users, from grandma's vacation photos up to intensive high-quality professional work. That's quite a range of capabilities to try to cram into a single program, and Apple will have to strike a delicate balance to deliver the desired power to the pros without overwhelming the neophytes.

Still, many people who've been frustrated with iPhoto's unreliable and utterly opaque library — which can produce a gargantuan file with all your images stored in it, God only knows how — will keep their fingers crossed and hope that there's a clear migration path over to whatever Photos will use as a storage system, hopefully one that gives the user more of a peek at (and control over) what's going on.



2014.06 News: New iOS (8) and OS X (Yosemite) Unveiled

We've reached the point where we can reasonably expect a new release of Apple's operating systems (iOS for handheld devices, OS X for computers) every summer, and here they are again, right on schedule.

Should you upgrade? Well, you can't — not until the fall at the earliest; this is just an announcement of things to come. When fall rolls around, if you're an early adopter, of course you're going to upgrade immediately anyway, regardless of what we say here. For everyone else, give it a month for all the early adopters to finish the gamma testing for you and then download the +0.1 bug-fix release. This will all be available thru the App Store, and your currently installed operating system will undoubtedly remind you of it from time to time until you do.


It's been an amazing time for bird watchers all over Wisconsin! Many species are passing through Dane County this weekend, and it should continue for another week at least. UW-Green Bay's species audio library of birds that breed in Wisconsin is a very good collection of MP3s birdsong that can be used to identify the birds you're hearing. Traditional tweeting at its finest!  Find it at:


The link below is for a 4-minute interview with Professor Martyn Poliakoff, a Research Professor in Chemistry at the University of Nottingham, about his first Mac, how he was persuaded to move to a PC, and what he uses his new iPhone for,  The interview starts out with a demo of a stress-reliever called "Smack A Mac."

(A couple of searches on eBay didn't turn up any Smack A Macs for sale - oh well.  But Professor Poliakoff does have his own Wikipedia page…and a professorial pompadour to die for!)


Smack A Mac with Prof. Poliakoff


2014.01 History: The Greatest User Group Meeting of All Time

It was probably the greatest user-group meeting of all time, the day back in 1984 when Steve Jobs showed up at a gathering of the Boston Computer Society to introduce the Macintosh to actual users. And, while you probably weren't there in person, Time has just unveiled the next best thing: a video recording of the entire presentation.

It runs 90 minutes, so if you're not quite up for something that long, check out the post on this very blog from a couple of days back and remind yourself of why the Mac's introductory Super Bowl commercial is still considered to be the best of all time in its field.


2014.01 Nostalgia: 1984

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Tuesday was the 4th anniversary of the infamous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Do you know what turns 30 on Wednesday?

It's Apple's introduction of the Macintosh, using a Super Bowl commercial that later was declared by Advertising Age magazine to be the best TV commercial of all time.

And now we all know why 1984 was not like 1984.

2014.01 Humor: When Fonts Find Love

OK, there's a little quiz that goes with this cartoon. Skip right past the puns in the dialog and figure out which are the fonts depicted here. (Hint: They're more common on Windows machines than Macs.)


2014.01 Humor: Autocorrect vs. NSA

Thanks to Sarah Karon of the ACLU of Wisconsin for this month's presentation on "Computer Privacy in a Surveillance Culture". Speaking of which ...


Update on Former Member Danny Matson

Some of you may remember Danny Matson, a long-time member of our group when it was known as Mad Mac.  Danny created and edited Mad Mac News, the group newsletter, for several years before I took on the responsibility. True story: he picked me up in a limousine and took me to brunch at the Edgewater - complete with mimosas - and pitched the editor job to me. It worked!

The State Journal ran a story on December 28th of the story of Danny's recent kidney transplant that says a lot about friendship and shared passions for music.  Congratulations, Danny!


Paper vs. iPad

As this French paper company advertisement reminds us, while iPads are ideal for many many tasks there are times when paper is essential.


2014.01 Opinion: Speaking of Death ...

Time's Techland experts opine on 5 Tech Products That Will Be Dead in 5 Years. For the SAS generation, they are:
  • Blu-Ray/DVD players
  • stand-alone in-car GPS units
  • dial-up Internet
  • low-end digital cameras
  • car keys