Apple's Powerful Trojan Horse: The Ecosystem

With tremendous fanfare, Apple introduced new hardware and services this week. Among the offerings: larger iPhones, a new method of paying for purchases called Apple Pay, and a brand new product category — the Apple Watch. On this last announcement, Apple CEO Tim Cook was completely unable to contain his joy. And why not: this is the first Apple product that truly stamps his tenure as CEO in a way that most closely resembles his predecesor.

If you've never seen Tim Cook this happy before, it's because he never has been.

As usual, it didn't take long for the press -- the tech press specifically -- to start panning Apple's announcements. Mashable featured a writer who declared that he already knew he wouldn't be buying an Apple Watch. Business Week headlined "These Top Designers Aren't Impressed". Engadget: "Much Ado About Nothing". San Jose Mercury News: "Apple Watch Underwhelms". LA Times: "Don't Call It Stylish".

As usual, it didn't take long for the press -- the tech press specifically -- to completely forget that their opinions — good or bad — don't matter. What they forget — what they always forget because they're too busy trying to come up with a strong point of view — is that consumers are just ordinary people. And ordinary people don't, as a general rule, read technology reviews before buying their electronics: they make purchases based on a gut-level instinct. Either the product attracts people to WANT to use it or it doesn't. 

Apple's mastered the art of making devices that appeal to hundreds of millions of people, not to journalists or tech bloggers. And, because they now have a history of reliably delivering on this front, Apple is the most valuable company in the world. With that position comes a massive user base who actively depend upon it's ecosystem of products and services. 

That last point - the ecosystem - is Apple's trojan horse that most bloggers and journalists seem to have missed in the wake of Apple's September 9th announcement. Tim Cook said as much himself.  Go back and watch the event. Right around minute 56, Apple's CEO says the following, just seconds before introducing the new watch:

"We love to make great products that really enrich people's lives. We love to integrate hardware, software and services, seamlessly. We love to make technology more personal and allow our users to do things that they could never have imagined."


It doesn't matter if the new phone isn't big enough, powerful enough or cheap enough. It doesn't matter if the new watch doesn't sell 95 million units in the first year because it's too much glitz, too much money, and not enough substance. While Apple's hardware is, in and of itself, well-engineered and very polished: the hardware wasn't the big announcement.

The big announcement was, as it always is: the ecosystem, in this case, the triumvirate of the new iPhones, Apple's iOS running the Apple Pay software, and a massive partnership with credit card companies and merchants nationwide. The big announcement was that Apple was going to do for using credit cards what it did for buying music: making it fully digital, making  more secure and making it really, comedically easy.

Now all the parts are in place:

  • Apple designed the new iPhone6's to come with a special NFC chip.
  • Apple designed the Apple Pay app, facilitating making credit card payments using the NFC chip.
  • Apple created partnerships with retailers and services who will provide Apple Pay availability during check out.
  • Apple partnered with six major credit card companies to allow the payments to be accepted and processed.
  • Apple integrated touchID functionality into all new phones to use a unique, biometric identifier — your fingerprint — to authenticate that it's you making a purchase with your credit card creating, hopefully, a more secure and hacker-proof method of payment.

All you and I see is the end result: buy something, take out your phone, wave it, place your finger on the home button and.... you're done. It's simple, elegant and powerful. That's what Apple is selling and that's what Apple has always sold: the experience. Average people who already have an iPhone will love this. And they'll love it enough to buy a new iPhone 6. And now, maybe, also an Apple Watch. 

And, since Apple receives a profit each time a customer uses its experience, you can be sure the company's profits will continue to soar. And, with those profits will surely come more ecosystems that make life easier: medical, scientific and artistic. Who knows what the future holds?

Well, actually: Apple does. They're building it. 


30 Seconds to a Better YouTube: Guaranteed.

I'll be honest. I dislike commercials. Intensely. And I say that as a former SAG/AFTRA actor who was paid good money to hawk products on radio and TV. Still, how many times can I be interrupted by the endless number of pop-up annotations on YouTube videos before I go insane and slit my wrists? 

(note to self: don't actually try to find out the answer to that question...)

So I conducted a bit of research today and discovered that — lo and behold! — there's a really easy way to prevent these annoying interruptions from infecting my video playback experience. Here's all you need to do:

  1. Sign in to YouTube.

  2. From the upper right side of the screen, click once on your profile pic, then again on the "YouTube settings" link.

  3. Click "Playback"
  4. De-select "Show annotations on videos"
  5. Click "Save"

That's it. You'll never see another pop-up annotation again. However, please remember: this won't stop paid commercials from airing before any YouTube videos: I'll tackle that issue in another post. This fix will most certainly stop any annotations entered by the person who posted the video during playback. That means, you won't need to click on small buttons to dismiss each of those pop-ups and that, in turn, means that you can better enjoy your videos now.

Like that tip? You can always say thank you, and buy me a coffee. 

Helpful Tech Advice, Part I: Protect Your Data... Proactively.

I can't tell you how often (yes, still) people call me because, they've lost their data and never thought they'd really need a back-up. Sad, but true: most people think data loss won't ever happen to them. And when disaster strikes (and it eventually will), dealing with it is emotional, expensive and time-consuming. Also: you've JUST LOST YOUR DATA!

So don't wait to be REactive and instead be PROactive. That means you do something now, before the problem happens, right? Right. That means having a regular back-up. If you're on a Mac (I am), you can connect an external hard drive and use Time Machine which is free and included as part of the Macintosh OS. If you're on a PC, you can use Symantec System Recovery which is reasonably priced at around $90.

And, for those of you who are either "on the go" with your computer or simply don't like having to connect something physically to back up your data: then back-up to the internet. I use a great program called CrashPlan made by Code 42, but there are others like Carbonite or Mozy that all do the same thing. Most of these companies charge about $60/year for their unlimited back-up service, but It's worth it for the peace of mind and the time saved.

The $4.99 Olympic Games

The wife and I stopped paying for cable TV a few years back. It's one of the best investments we've ever made, especially considering how much low hanging shit passes for newsertainment these days. However, in order to help ensure that we always do have something compelling to watch, I signed us up for subscriptions to Netflix and the NFL’s Game Rewind. Between those options and being able to watch a few other shows online for free (like The Daily Show, for example), we're totally satisfied. Well, scratch that: we're mostly satisfied. As it turns out, we found ourselves unable to watch the pageantry unfold online earlier this month when the 2014 Sochi Olympic games launched.

Here in the States, NBC paid $4.3 billion dollars to broadcast the Olympics and they never do a good job of it. To make matters worse, their online offerings — and please excuse my technical terminology here — sucks balls. In fact, NBC’s Olympic coverage regularly sucks balls, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised by their rather predictable ball-sucking. But I am.

I’m surprised because rather than do what every other first world nation does — make old events available available to anyone to watch online for free — they instead force you to prove that you're a cable TV subscriber. Which the wife and I are not. And if you’re not a valid cable TV subscriber then, tough shit: NBC has determined that you can’t watch any of "their" replays of Olympic coverage. 

So, forced with a situation where my freedom was being hampered, I did what any freedom-loving American would do in my position. I fought back using the power of the free market and a little something I like to call: "research". Here's what my research uncovered. 

  1. The Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) serves up, on their Olympics website, a delightful number of video replays of super cool Olympic events, including the entire opening ceremonites. And so does the BBC.
  2. All of the videos on these public websites are free, but made only available to those with a local Canadian or British IP address. This practice is known as "geo-fencing".
  3. Using a virtual private network (VPN) client is not illegal in the US when accessing free, public websites. 
  4. By using a particular VPN client like Tunnel Bear, my IP address can appear to be either Canadian or British. Presto: I'm now able to access the CBC's or BBC's Olympic coverage.
  5. Tunnel Bear is free and streaming unlimited data through their servers costs $5 per month. 

But is doing this legal? Because I don't advocate being a douche bag or breaking the law. So I indulged in a bit more of the aforementioned research: 

The Electronc Frontier Foundation (EFF) not only believea this practice is legal but, in another article, recommends Tunnel Bear, the very same VPN client, I stumbled upon. PCWorld claims using a VPN is absolutely legal. Lastly. while this article in Forbes indicates that the legality of out-smarting geo-fencing is unclear, they also mention that the CBC's response to outsmarting their technology will be technological, not legal. 

Is it perfect? No. It's not the same as watching on TV. Even with my high-speed internet, the bandwidth takes a bit of a hit. But it works. And I don't ever have to deal with NBC again.

So go ahead. Invest the $5 and watch all the Olympics you like online. It'll feel like it's worth at LEAST $4.3 billion, eh?

TV Repair Technicians: A Lesson in History

Say you're handy with computers. Say your friends tell you, "Hey, you're handy with computers! You should charge money for your time and expertise!". So you start doing just that. Say you've even got a consulting business or, like myself, worked for a large institution where you got paid a nice living to manage hundreds or thousands of computers all at the same time. 

Your life is comfortable, your job is secure and you haven't a care in the world, right. Only, you do. And here's why...

Every generation gets the chance to experience and create using a new kind of technology. And, not far behind that technology, come the experts who master it and help us utilize it. The first technology was foundational: fire, arrowheads, and wheels. Those who could master these crafts had special, revered places in the community. But as humanity evolved, so did technology. The introduction of electricity into technology brought us the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television, the computer and more. Who knows what other phantasmagoria is just around the corner that we can't even yet conceive?

But we can conceive, with some reasonable certainty, historical patterns. Initially, the folks who knew morse code were in VERY high demand. But that demand peaked and then faded as radio technology evolved and matured. Once the telephone and radio had become mainstream, how many people were needed to send messages in morse code over the wire? Not many. And then, eventually: none. But those engineers who understood electronics and transmission lines and vacuum tubes were in VERY high demand. But that demand peaked and then faded as television, motion pictures and the internet technology evolved and matured. 

The historical pattern is clear: if today's technology experts can't or won't evolve, they'll get left behind and see their demand fade. They'll become the TV Repair Technicians of the future. I'm looking at you SysAdmins, app developers, & coders. The world has always changed, technology has always evolved and now, together, the acceleration of a changing world has created incredible opportunity. And instability.

If you love tech as I do, it means never resting on your laurels and always reinventing yourself. But, then again, you already knew that, didn't you? You just needed a polite reminder of the ways things are. That's why it's always a blast (a slightly alarming blast) to hear Charles Edge speak about The State of the Mac. But the writing is on the wall and always has been. When folks like Charles speak, they're merely pointing out the latest iteration of that same writing on that same wall. 

Twenty years from now, when the internet becomes, possibly, the meta-internet and IPv6 allows all of our various devices to be connected to the web and then inter-connected with each other, the world will - most likely - be a very different place in which to live. Information will flow not just from our computers, hand-held devices and biometric recorders, but also from every object that uses electricity. Stop and think about that for a second. Will you be ready to serve your clients, your company, your country or even your family with the emerging technology of the future?

Your own future isn't yet written, so don't be afraid: be proactive.

I shall remain,

Mac Dweeb

Mac Tech Conference - Day 1

So alright. Here we are. Dweebs and geeks together. Forever. Or, at least long enough to get on the bridge of the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise (no, seriously) and snap a photo in the captain's chair. And you know what? I'm grateful. No, not for the picture in the captain's chair. But for this conference.

About five or so years ago, Apple pressed +delete on the IT track of sessions at its famed WWDC conference at the Moscarpone Center in San Fransisco. So that left the nation's Mac SysAdmins and dweebs with no place to go to network, learn, trade tips, and trade secrets on where to drink beer. I'm looking at you, Chris Lasell. 

And the community wept. And crowd sighed. 

The folks at Mac Tech recognized an opportunity, took a chance and - three years ago - Mac Tech's yearly IT conference was born. Since then, it's grown into it's own special gathering and many of the community's best and brightest that I used to see at WWDC are now in attendance here. Even that Asian guy who always wears a safari hat with a fan built into it. And that Andy Ihnatko guy who always wears a cowboy hat. Him too. 

Folks share code, software tools, insights and more. I'll be presenting on -- what else? -- the art of presenting. But that's because The Mac Dweeb thinks that other dweebs CAN be good presenters and just need to know a few solid tips and tricks on how to pull that off. 

That, and some fine home-brew beer from Chris Lasell.  

Mac Tech Conference

I'll be attending and presenting at this years Mac Tech Conference in gorgeous downtown Manhattan Beach, California. The worlds finest SysAdmins and software developers will be in attendance and I'm looking forward to meeting everyone in person after a long year of coding, scripting and deploying. :) 

My presentation, entitled, "Hacking the Science of the Brain to Create Unforgettable Presentations" will be a joint session (which means that both the IT and Dev attendees are invited) held on Friday at 11:15 in the shore room. The session and Q&A is meant to help anyone who needs to make a presentation (for sales, for management, for fun!) better understand the science of the brain in order to make a lasting impression.

Hope you can all make it. 


WWDC 2013: The Biggest News that No One's Reporting

As a technologist, writer, surfer and Apple fan, it became obvious as Monday's WWDC keynote shifted into gear that there was a huge story developing right in front of everyone's eyes. Only, to the best of my knowledge, no one — not a single tech writer or enthusiast — caught this story, let alone mentioned it. But here it is:

Craig Federigh, head of the Mac OX and iOS team is a surfer. Boom.

I mean, if anything is clear after watching the big keynote earlier this week, it's that Federighi's a surfer. He's tall, in shape, casual and funny. Of course, he's a surfer. So forget about the new OS's, the new hardware and the new software offerings: Federighi's a surfer and the keynote was riddled with surfing references, pictures, websites, locations and more.

Think I'm joking? I'm totally not, dudes. And I'll prove it 'cuz I'm rad like that. First here's the joke name of the new OS: based on an animal that nearly every surfer has seen around the breaks:

Then the actual name of the OS, based on North America's premiere big wave surf spot:

Then, during demonstrations of iOS 7, we start to see even more. First, a website called aquabumps, devoted to surfing:

Then an even more well regarded surfing website, liquid salt:

Then, demonstrations in the Photos app of ALL the places Federighi's travelled with his shiny new iOS7. Places like, of course, Hawai'i, the surfing Mecca (although, he spelled it wrong, so maybe he's a grom):

And then... Eddy Cue took to the stage. Now I know what you're thinking: Eddy Cue isn't a surfer. And you're right. Because there's no way he's a surfer. I mean, just LOOK at him: this is not a surfer:

But, fuck me, because Eddy's obviously a surfing fan. I know that because the same surf references kept right on coming. As Eddy demonstrates the shiny new Siri, he just happens to showcase the possible requests that Siri can now handle, like, you know, information on surfing:

But, you know what, dude: one surfing request to Siri isn't really enough. So Eddy, surfing fan that he is, asks Siri for even more information about surfing:

And that last request of Siri brings Eddy joy. And why wouldn't it? As a man that was due to appear in a court a mere three days later, Eddy needed something to make him smile. And there it was: big 25-35 waves. 

So there it is.

Federighi is the man who heads up both of the OS teams and was tasked to take to the stage and introduce both new OS's, so he clearly had a say in the flavor, feel and content of the keynote. 

The dude's a surfer, plain and simple. As for Eddy Cue? Well, as a bonus, we got to see just how much of a fan of surfing he is.

And gents: if you're reading this, please come join me in the lineup the next time you find yourself down here in Southern California. We got some waves down here as well, yo.

xProtect II, The Sequel: Now More xProtect-ier

By now, if you've not heard of Apple's hidden xProtect mechanism, you're probably not a SysAdmin: it's Apple's previously unknown mechanism to lock various aspects of how your OS behaves, mostly by enforcing minimum software requirements. Mostly these requirements seem to be restricted to items like Flash and Java but, in truth, Apple can add or subtract to their xProtect mechanism at will.

Unless you stop them. And, if you're a SysAdmin, locking down their mechanism is something you should consider.

With OSX 10.8.4, some of the the ground rules have changed:

1) The previous scripts that we've used to fix the issue (based partially on work by the formidable Greg Neagle and others) no longer work. Apple engineers —lovely people that they are — changed the xProtect meta plist "key" from "JavaWebComponentVersionMinimum" to "MinimumPlugInBundleVersion". Thanks, Apple.

2) A new executable, plist and launchD item have been included into the xProtect mechanism: xprotectupdater-init. This means now that you have two, not one, executables and their cruft to manage, lock or delete in order to stop Apple from wreaking havoc on your network.

What are the files and processes and where are they located?

The previously known files are located at:

The new files are located, similarly at:

The new launchD item is: 

sh-3.2# launchctl list | grep xprotect
- 0

A previously known file that's now changed formatting is located at:

Good times.

What to do about it?

In my book, on an enterprise network, the SysAdmin and not Apple should be in control of software versioning. Which means it's my responsibility to fix this stuff. It's also important to note that even though we've been running a previous xProtect fix, the mechanism GOT REINSTALLED with the OSX 10.8.4 combo updater.

Which means, moving forward, you should either expect to re-run this script each and every time you update your Mac OS or, perhaps, create some kind of LaunchD item which is always running and looks for these processes and kills them.

Our method: doesn't delete the files, we unload them and then either move them or rename them so we can have access to them later if we so desire. Here's the script I put together yesterday that does the job on a one-time basis for us. We're big on logging here (as you'll see) but you can use whatever stdout you prefer.

802.11g Whiz

For a long time now, I've wanted to more deeply explore our fundamental relationship with technology. And so, since everyone is drooling with excitement this week because of Apple's new products, it struck me that now is the perfect time. More specifically, it's precisely the time because of Apple. 

For most of us, our relationship with technology starts with our relationship to media. And thanks (mostly) to Apple, we now consume a vast amount of media: 2 million movies, 200 million TV show episodes, 16 billion songs, 25 billion apps, & 100 million books. Why such high figures? Because our appetite for collecting and owning more/better/newer things has never abated. Go back no further than your own childhood for proof: kids in their youth that collected LP's, cassette tapes and CD's, matured into post-grads collecting DVD's and BluRay's and, nowadays, find themselves as adults curating digital rips of those discs. And, probably, of their friends' discs. And, perhaps, from those friends' disks and, increasingly, from total strangers. Never mind if it's illegal, though, because we're Americans, God-damnit, and we want to have or own EVERYTHING. 

Maybe I'm a typical consumer and maybe not, but I'll start with myself: at last calculation, I have 100GB of photos, 100GB of music, 268GB of movies, and about 180GB of TV shows. And, to consume that stuff, I have two iPods (the original and a nano), two iPhones (because I just can't part with the original), an iPad, a Macbook Air, a Mac Mini which is hooked up to my TV and, most-recently, a Mac Pro tower. Which means, by any reasonable definition that I'm utterly insane, right?!?

Well, not exactly (although my fiancee might disagree...). Turns out, we're all buying increasing numbers of computers, cellphones and gadgets each year. That's because the "problem" of having abundant data, has created a far more interesting question: shouldn't we be able to access  the data we desire in a way that's convenient, seamless, and effortless?

Hells, yes, friends. Hells, yes.

And, in a post-PC world, it's not a problem to claim that wanting to access media at different times and in different places requires... different devices. The real problem is that we don't have easily identifiable categories of devices. People are simple: give us something tangible that we can grasp (figuratively and, in this case, literally) and we'll buy a gazillion of your widgets.

And let's start by being honest about how we'll define our categories: since so many devices do the same kind of tasks — check email, browse the web, create various kinds of art work, etc. — I suggest instead that we define our categories based on where we put our devices, not what we do with them.
 Or, put another way, "how big is the screen"? Therefore, I humbly submit the following to start the conversation:

  1. living room devices
  2. desktop devices
  3. laptop devices
  4. handbag devices
  5. pocket devices
  6. wearable devices

Category #6: Wearable Devices

Wearable devices, simply put, are devices you don't have to hold with your hands that bring you closer to your data. It's also one of the emerging market of the future. And I'm not just saying that because Google is trying to pretend it's the latest fashion statement. It isn't, Sergey. Please. I'm saying that because wearable technology — the result of miniaturization — is allowing us to interact with our technology on a truly casual basis. If you wear a bluetooth headset or use your iPod nano as a watch, you understand what I'm saying. But here's where it gets fascinating, friends... As Ray Kurzweil and INTEL and others predict: the result of technology's miniaturization along with our never-ending thirst for more and more data will be the inevitable merging of human and machine. Which is to say: wearable tech will evolve into implanted tech. In fact, it already has. But hearing-aids, pacemakers and artificial hearts which are commonplace implants today are nothing compared to what's about to start happening. Right now, computer chips are being implanted in the eye, enabling the blind to see. Right now, there are machines we can control by thinking. Sweet fucking jesus, it's an amazing time to be alive, people.

Category #5: Pocket Devices

The pocket device is the smallest device that you hold in your hands to access your data. This is the category everyone is talking about this week, thanks to Apple and whatever new iPhone they'll be announcing. Which is curious to me because I don't think that Apple really "re-invented" the phone as Steve Jobs famously announced in 2007. What they DID re-invent, however, was the pocket device. For the first time, ever, that device in your pocket is truly a computer. Which is why, largely because of Apple (but not exclusively you Droid douches), that device you carry in your pocket now contains three or four episodes of "Breaking Bad", an advanced navigation and map system, every photo you've ever snapped of your two children, twenty to thirty of your favorite games, and a download of every Oprah Book Club recommendation. Oh, and it's also a phone. Go back in time just SIX years and someone would have laughed at you if you'd told them that you'd have all of this on your pocket device. Yeh, right. And soon, that same device will replace cash. Yes, I'm serious. 

Category #4: Handbag Devices

I define this category as those devices that are too big for a shirt pocket or for one hand. These are the devices that help make accessing data fun, interactive and readily available in many locations: on the bus and train; on the sofa, in the kitchen or in the bedroom; while at the office with co-workers or at a park with the kids... This category was defined and popularized by Apple with its iPad and was further cemented for consumers with the popularity of the Kindle, the Nexus 7 and the Samsung Galaxy TabThis category is confusing for consumers because of the overwhelming number of options. But make no mistake: it is ALL one category. In my humble opinion (and others), Apple dominates this market and will only further pwn it when they offer an iPad-mini. And, since all of various-sized devices from all of these various companies do, essentially, the same tasks, the only real question the consumer needs to ask is: on how big a screen do I prefer to view my data when I'm not at my desk?

Category #3: Laptop Devices

These are devices that fit on your lap, and offer the most portable methods to do the most powerful computing. Not much to add to a category of devices that is already widely accepted and in use all over the world. Even if Apple or Samsung makes the slimmest model out there by removing the media tray and SATA hard drive, it's still a laptop computer.

Category #2: Desktop Devices
The most traditional and easily identifiable of all device categories, probably because it's been around the longest. ENIAC, considered the first computer when it was announced in 1946, filled an entire floor with its component parts. Even so, operators still sat a desk to run it. Today, super computers still fill large rooms, and the average computer who creates audio, video, film, graphics, and documents... usually sits at a desk. Although "standing desks" are growing in popularity these days as well.....

Category #1: Living Room Devices
This category of devices is still emerging but very, very exciting. I define it as those devices which fit most comfortably in the living room, because that's usually the room with the biggest god-damn screen you an muster. In this category, you'll find the XBOX, the Playstation, the Wii, the Roku & AppleTV and, increasingly, a full-fledged computer that acts as a media server. I have a Mac Mini hooked up to a 36" Hi-Def TV because the idea of an AppleTV or Roku box just seems... stupid to me. I'd rather have an entire computer connected to my biggest screen so that I can do whatever I'd normally do on my desktop or laptop computers. But the market is wide open here and, not surprisingly, many are looking to Apple to help define this category. But no one, and I mean no one, is more excited than Gene "My Last Name is a Cheese" Munster for Apple to finally announce a TV set, with with it's rumored "revolutionary" user interface. Full disclosure: I think Gene Munster looks like a former football player. 

So there you have it, kids. Six easily definable categories for the world of devices. But, as you've been such a lovely crowd, I'd like to offer a couple of bonus parting shots:

First, as the very electronic structure of our homes becomes "futurized", look to see a new category of devices in the not-too-distant future: home devices. Entire walls and counter tops will be used as video monitors and the home network will start to resemble, even more closely, the most complex enterprise networks of today. Expect the same for cars.

And, lastly, I really feel that one of the untapped aspects of the future is how all of these categories of devices will flow together. Currently, each of your devices in each of these categories operates independently of one another. There are a few bridge-like applications, but this is only the beginning. Soon, all devices will be inter-dependent: as you walk into your home on your phone, the call will transfer, seamlessly, onto your home network; documents that you're viewing on your pocket or handbag devices will be able to be "wiped" off one screen and onto another allowing you to use the new interface to continue viewing or working on your document.

Like I said before: it's a sweet time to be alive if you're in to tech. Let's hope this week brings us something truly wonderful.

On the road in Newark,
The Mac Dweeb