Blog Archives

Apple Notebook Strategy?

Recently changed my early 2012 15″ MacBook Pro Retina (quad core i7, 16Gb) for the new 13″ Pro Retina (dual core i7, 16Gb). I passed the 15″ to a student who had more need than me for those two extra cores 😉

A few things struck me in this process:

Read the rest of this entry

Smart Watch, Apple Watch, regular watch, no watch…

So the Apple Watch is now out. I like technology and gadget. The iPod, iPhone and iPad all made sense to me. Apple Watch could make a lot of sense if I were a serious jogger / fitness person and if it could actually do real health measurements such as read blood sugar (using red light – not quite there yet) and so on.

Read the rest of this entry

Automating collection of To Dos from meeting notes using DevonThink, AppleScript and Things

For sometimes now, I went fully digital when attending meetings (one on one, research, scientific congress or even committee meetings). I adopted the iPad for that task just a few month after it came out on the market. There are multiple choices of apps out there for note taking. Apple Notes actually is probably the most simple, and quite efficient, one. Since I bring all of my meeting documents with me in DevonThink To Go or DTTG (see my e-office series to see how I make this work), I now take almost all of my meeting notes directly in DTTG. DTTG sync with DevonThink Pro Office (DTPO) edition on my Mac. I am looking forward for the new sync features of DTTG 2.0 but for now this works really fine.

Read the rest of this entry

BusyContacts: a simple and easy to use CRM alternative for OS X

The guys that brought you the famous OS7 Now Up-to-Date, followed by BusyCal, have done it again with a contact application on steroid: BusyContacts.

I have been using the beta version for the past few weeks and I must say it turns out to be a very stable, useful and easy to use piece of software. Much easier to set-up and deal with than CRM software such as Daylite and others. The software is now out of beta and V1 is available to buy…and you do get a reduced price (“Sidegrade” they call it) if you are a BusyCal user!

Read the rest of this entry

64bits A7/A8 chips: the biggest smartphone technological innovation over the last two years

For some peoples, trivial increase in screen size is what they call innovation. Of course, it is the first things you see but unless there is a significant new underlying technology, making something bigger is a bit trivial. At that rate, we will be talking with 10 and 12 inches phablet to our ears in a few years and call it innovation, instead of stupidity.

No, the biggest technological innovation is unseen to the naked eye: the lower power, high performance custom made 64bits A7 and A8  chips. I wouldn’t be surprise to discover some design genius also in the S1 chip for the Apple watch also (which in itself might be more exciting than the rest of the watch) but will have to wait a few more months.

Apple_A8_system-on-a-chip

2 billions transistors. That is the transistors count of the new 64 bits A8 chips Apple put in its latest smartphone.

Two billion transistors represents about the 2010 Quad-Core Itanuim counts, while the latest Haswell chips has about 1.4 billions transistors (without the GPU). Of course in the A8 this number is for the dual-core CPU and the integrated GPU (6 clusters) units.

Geekbench 3 benchmark scores

The top of the line 3.5GHz i7-4471 64 bits chip score 3914 for single core of  while the A8 gives around 1630 at 1.4GHz (also single core). Interestingly, this give more power per GHz (if such a metric is meaningful). Note that such a score is also equivalent to the 2009 3GHz Core 2 Duo T9900 found in MacBook Pro and iMac of that time… only 5 years back. Also, current MacBook Air scores about 2200 for single core. On the graphic side, the hexa-core Series 6XT GX6650 GPU is around or above 250 GFLOPSs, which would put it in the same class as a GeForce GT 620. The A8 chip is indeed a desktop class chip, if only a few years behind 😉

The iPhone 6 with the A8 does not have the largest numbers in term of GHz, # of CPU core and processor speed; the competition have numbers ranging from factor or 2 to 3 higher in those categories(!). As with anything, higher numbers do not always means better performance or a more efficient device. Yet, the iPhone 6 still ranks best in the class in some benchmarks and in the top contender spots in most categories (expect the benchmark heavily dependent on multicore such as the physics test). This makes it an overall top performer despite having only a 1.4 Ghz dual core chip and despite having only 1 Gb of RAM…

Even more interesting, and certainly part of the excitement for the underlying technologies part of the iPhone 6, is the battery life. Again, the iPhone is not the best but still performing very good in these tests. It does so however with some of the smallest batteries on the market (only 1810 mAh for the iPhone 6). As such, the “talk-time” or “on time” per mAh is by a large margin better for Apple hardware than the competition for similar or better computing performance; Apple obviously prefer smaller phone thickness (which the A-series chips power/performance ratio allow Apple to do) to larger batteries. This option is simply not available to the competition without either seriously impacting “talk time” or decreasing the specs to abysmal level.

In short, the A8 64 bits chip is a truly amazing overall design engineering feat but also telling is the other part of the equation: the extremely efficient underpinning UNIX system (iOS is a derivative of OSX after all) and to some extent much better apps programming to fit within the RAM space and still outperform the competition in usability. This is true innovation, not screen size and the like. At this point, the performance gap between the iPhone 6 and a MacBook Air appears to be roughly 40-50% (based on Geekbench 3 scores). Convergence of computing power between ultraportable notebook, smartphone and other portable devices is almost a reality with the very low power chips.

Again, it is going to be interesting to see what the internal of the Apple Watch is really made of. The internal, that is the S1 chip but also the new haptic interface, might very well be the true innovation in what would otherwise be simply another fitness gadget.

Taking a clear stance on digital privacy…

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

– Tim Cook (View the whole text: Apple – Privacy.)

 

Only a company that make that much money selling hardware could take this stands: Google, Amazon, Facebook and the others simply cannot afford such commitment… and it is not their business model. You are their business model, you are their product!

5 years and still going!

While the frenzy is going on today for the iPhone 6, our venerable 3GS is still functioning perfectly after its 5th “birthday”! A small break on the screen but iOS6 still look good and still allow for the key functions (web, social networks, email, iMessage/SMS, contact, calendar and, of course, phone). Perfect secondary cellphone for our house.

 

IMG_2883

Privacy, convenience, freedom and security or Android as the biggest trojan horse of all time

There was a very nice article recently following the first year after the revelations of Edward Snowden on how it become really easy even for regular citizens to “track” someone online. While all of this NSA business is often link to a debate of freedom vs. security, the biggest concerns should maybe not be NSA but the new Kings and Monarchies of our time aka (some) mega corporations.

Theprocessionofthetrojanhorseintroybygiovannidomenicotiepolo

We have hear and seen repeated for a long time the quote of Benjamin Franklin on freedom vs. security. However a more pervasive attitude is at play, and I must say that I am playing it like many others to some extent: giving away (some of) my privacy for convenience. One can ask how far would it go?

 

Things were looking to go better when Apple announce iOS8 and OSX 10 in which extra layer of security was added, going all the way to even hide your critical data from Apple itself (so employees or external agencies could not get their hands on it!).  Apple will also add MAC address randomization so you cannot be tracked without your consent as you get into various Wi-Fi zones.

 

Since then three announcements, each at 180 degrees from Apple, appears to decrease privacy significantly for, in principal, added convenience:

 

Each of the above announcements means that these companies will collect more information on you and in the end will know more about your general and detail behavior that even you can recalled from memory. The quote from Google Android Chief is quite explicit about this; they want to know where you are and what you do in real-time, all the time…

 

It turns out that the Android is becoming the biggest Trojan Horse virus of all time. First it is “free”, second it is adopted willingly and third Google is at the receiving end of all that information. It is the free part that is the central issue. The truth is than Android is not free. it pays itself by collecting your personal information…and that information by itself and aggregated by categories is extremely valuable to Google and to any one it see fits to share it with or sell to. Google business model is to sell advertising i.e. to sell the best “picture” you at any given point in time to others.

 

In fact, one might contend that receiving these so-called “free” software and hardware is probably not a strong enough retribution for the worth of your personal information: you are really worth more then you think and are probably being exploited without realizing it.

 

The scary part is to understand how wide is the gap between total lost of privacy and that of freedom? The next few years will be interesting.

Office for iPad: too little, too late!

Microsoft announced today that they are releasing office for iPad. If all you want to do is see your files or display you PPT, the apps are free. If you want to be productive i.e. create or edit…you will have to shell-out the Office365 subscription cost. Really! And that is for a product that is stuck with OneDrive and SharePoint.

If you buy a new iOS device or a new OSX device, you are already better served with the free iWorks suite. For most users, this is also more than enough. Frankly, Keynote is so much better than PowerPoint (which on my Mac regularly crashes or corrupt its own files). WORD is OK for simple document, here simple meaning not too large or complex. Otherwise, again on OSX be ready for regular crashes on large and complex WORD documents (lots of sections with tables, figures and so on). Writing a PhD thesis on WORD is simply pure torture. Students should be advised to learn LaTeX right off the bat.

If you are truly working cross platforms and are interested in true real-time shared editing, free Google Drive is actually quite impressive (never thought I would say that of the (evil) Google!) and light years ahead of clunky SharePoint for collaborative work. Tested in a room with peoples on Windows, OSX and iPad all accessing the same “WORD” document for editing. Works like a charm! Did I say it is FREE?

Finally, OpenOffice is an acceptable, free replacement. The issue is for it to be efficient, everyone in your work entourage needs to adopt it. Otherwise, also works nicely.

In other words, unless forced by a stone age IT department to have Office for iPad on your device, you probably do not need it.

Human-computer interaction took a dramatic turn 30 years ago

Let’s go invent tomorrow instead of worrying about what happened yesterday.

– Steve Jobs

The release of the first Graphical User Interface or GUI for the masses happen on January 24th 1984 when Apple release the Macintosh. It deeply changes the face of the computer industry and how we interact with them.

jobs1984

In 1985, our school dumped its old language lab (with tape players) for a network of Macintosh. That same school year, we did a fully digital school year book of the 1985-1986 graduates. Photos were actually scanned using a manual B&W scanner . All texts and final page preparations were done on the Mac! It took years to replicate any of this on another platform, replicate what was done with such facility by a bunch of teenagers. A few years later at the University, one of the major student journals, using a “specialized” DOS program called Ventura Publishing, was still not able to do true WYSIWYG publications.

Of course the famous 1984 commercial, By Ridley Scott(!), also became one of the best commercial ever produced. You can also find the Steve Jobs’ Mac introduction to the world video.

At the time, I had gone through the very beginning of the general public personal computing first hand with the TRS-80, Apple IIe, Vic 20 and Commodore 64. But what we did with the school Macs was, for the time, really exceptional. It was obvious to me that this was the future of the PC. I went on to work on mainframes and UNIX-based workstations (SUNOS and Solaris, HP AUX, Linux, …) for most of my early researcher career. But OSX changed everything again, no more secondary Linux box necessary, I could have everything on a single platform: the best of both world. In that, Steve Jobs’ NEXT Computer was really the next step… The NEXT computer was to play a role in the development of the World Wide Web!

Getting your Inbox to zero quickly and easily with MailHub, an “AI” add-on to Apple Mail!

There are numerous tools and recipes to help you get your e-mail Inbox to zero. One popular choice is indev MailTag and MailActOn. The nice things about indev software is that they plugged right in Apple Mail. Mail Act On is very powerful but requires you to build and maintain all the rules or act on “actions” you create. Also like its use for files, tagging does have limits, in particular when you have a large number of them: it simply does not scale easily. Finally using the combination of MailTag and MailActOn to deal with and file e-mails is not highly efficient when compared the way I am filing my load of weekly digital documents using DevonThink built-in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

One option would be to throw all of your e-mails in DevonThink but Devon is not a Mail program. I also like having e-mails from all of my on-going projects live on the corporate (University) server: accessible everywhere and backup for me!

Here comes Dervish Software MailHub to the rescue. MailHub is a plug-in to Apple Mail that adds intelligent “DevonThink like” filing capability to all of your mailboxes. When I say all mailboxes I really means for all that you asked MailHub to index: Work computer, Exchange/IMAP mailboxes, local mailboxes (I do have over 20 years of e-mail archives of the projects I completed over the years), iCloud and GMAIL. No time spent to create rules or actions, no upkeep “cost”. To be fair it does more than that but the intelligent filing with either a single keyboard shortcut or a single click (you have the choice and the keyboard shortcut is user configurable) is what sold me.

Mailhub1

Figure 1 and 2: MailHub addition to Apple Mail preference pane (above) and its options (below)

MailHub2

According to the website, here is a list of what is possible to do:

  • Organise your email simply and easily using MailHub’s auto-suggest intelligent technology which suggests where to file your mail based on your previous email activity
  • File or delete emails individually, by thread or by sender in one simple process
  • Auto-file sent email to its parent mailbox
  • Create new mailboxes simply and organically when new filing categories arise
  • Set reminders for email related actions at the touch of a button
  • Preview changes before making them / undo changes as required

I will not go through MailHub option tabs as shown in the previous figure. Once you have MailHub install you will notice that Apple Mail now have a new toolbar. I set mine to blue (it is one of the appearance option) in the figure below so you can clearly see it. The most used button is indicated by the black circle. Clicking on it will automatically filed the current e-mail in the mailbox indicated by the black rectangle. Again that mailbox can be local or on a remote server depending on your indexing option. I set MailHub so that all mailboxes, local and server-based, are indexed.

MailHub3

Figure 3: New toolbar to Apple Mail.

If you do not like the filling option (mailbox choice) provided to you by MailHub (black rectangle in the above figure), you can 1) click on the pull down menu to get other choices. This is similar to DevonThink that provides you with its best guest on the top and other choices below it. 2) You can also type in a few letters of a mailbox name in the search bar that will appear at the top of the pull down menu to bring a mailbox to the top. 3) You can also create a new mailbox using the + button shown in the back rectangle region of the above figure. Notice also the arrow, it allows you to automatically jump to the selected mailbox and the home button (green circle) get you back to your Inbox.

Now you probably have picked up that the filling button, indicated by the black circle, also has a pull down menu. This is because you can file the current e-mail, file the entire e-mail thread or all e-mail sent by this specific sender. The delete button beside it (between the black and the red circles) have the same options i.e. selected, thread or sender.

In the red circle, the little clock icon represent reminder options to be set on the selected e-mail. The available options are given in the figure below. It works with Reminder and iCal to set reminders at specific dates and times. An interesting feature is that the complete e-mail content is copied in the reminder  as a note. I set it so that the reminder is capture automatically by Things. It works flawlessly. The only major shortcoming to this is that a link back to the e-mail is not provided.I hope that this option is added by Dervish Software in a future release. As such, for now I much prefer using Things keyboard shortcut to create a quick entry in Things that does contain the link back to the e-mailing question.

MailHub4

Figure 4: MailHub reminder options, including setting flags, action and iCal/Reminder.

You will also notice a new toolbar addition when you write a new e-mail or reply to an existing one. This time you have three “send” mail options, the regular one (original top left icon = third button from the left on the new toolbar – Figure below) and two new options: 1) send e-mail and file the sent message (you get to set which mailbox using the pull down menu (“none set” in the image below) or 2) send e-mail and deleted the sent message. I really like the “send and file” option. For many e-mail threads I like to keep copy of my sent messages. This option allow you to skip CCing myself and then file that message: saving further e-mail processing (or taking manually the sent messages and file them, which would also take extra e-mail processing time). You will also notice the clock icon for setting reminder related to the e-mail you are about to send. This gives you the exact same options as explained before.

MailHub5 NewMail add on

Figure 5: New post/reply to existing post MailHub toolbar add-ons.

You can download and use MailHub free (full feature sets) for 30 days. I was sold after two days but mileage will vary. Conclusion, 19$ very well spent and, at least for me, much more efficient and cheaper that the combination MailTag and MailActOn. Getting my Inbox to zero has never been so quick and easy, especially when combined with SaneBox (that automatically sort close to 40% of my incoming e-mails out of my Inbox without any action on my part!).

Happy New Year!

OSX 10.9 (Mavericks) is available and free!

Wired is running an interesting piece about the latest operating system from Apple. In part past, Apple provided free or very low cost upgrade for its “minor” version of OSX but paying upgrade for significant new version. 10.9 is a significant upgrade but will be free: Apple Just Ended the Era of Paid Operating Systems | Wired Business | Wired.com.

In a related news, iWork (Numbers, Keynote and Page) will be free with each new Apple computing devices, Mac or iDevices! Office productivity and MS Office compatibility out of the box. That should be interesting…

Papers 3 for Mac and iOS now available

I will post more once I get to try them but version 3 for both Mac OS and iOS of Papers are available for download. There are paying upgrades.

Apple A7 chip and iOS 7 thorough reviews available…

For those of you following the tech world, in particular computers, the announcement of the A7 64 bits SoC probably got a WOW out of you. It did for me. To me screen size, phone shape and the same has nothing to do with innovation. The issue of 4″ vs. 4.5″ vs. 5″ screens is like preferring a 13″ vs. 15″ vs. 17″ notebook or a 50″ vs. 65″ TV set. However, screen technology providing rendering image, resolution, contrast, color delivery (gamma, …), lower power consumption and the combination of all of them and more that is innovation. The same for custom, optimized and powerful SoC chips that drive these micro-computer… errr smartphone.

Quite frankly looking back at computing since the Z80, TRS-80 and commodore when I started on my first computers, the power packed in commercially available device of such as small format as the iPhone 5S, fitting in one’s pocket and working for hours before recharge, is absolutely amazing. In addition it delivered to the general public a 64 bits platform along with the OS and numerous apps (all of Apple apps on the iPhone 5S have been recompile in 64 bits). It might not register as a big deal to most phone users but it is from a technological standpoint. Also interesting that ARM was joint venture between Apple and two other companies in part to produce power efficient chips for the Newton, such a long time ago it seems.

A very interesting review, with benchmarks, can be accessed at AnandTech. We will certainly know more when someone actually get a layout of the chip (from high-res X-ray), but still very interesting. The review also look at the integrated camera and fingerprint system. Another interesting read is Daring Fireball takes on 5S new technologies.

Today was also the public release day for iOS 7 (like it or not!). Ars Technica published an in-depth-review.

Good reading 😉

It is not ok to forget basic math…

Is it ok to forget basic math simply because we are reporting to readers some information on the web? I am asking because today Apple was announcing its quarterly numbers and the first reports from specialists were not even able to get the math right. This is rather discouraging considering that this is their full time work for most.

In nutshell:

  • 4.2 billion$/week in revenue vs 3.3 billion $/week in revenue for same quarter a year ago
  • 13.08 billion in total profit over 13 weeks versus 13.06 billion $ for the 14 week quarter a year ago.

This is where the problem start, reading the so-called “serious” news outlet. In term of revenue, the YOY increase is about 27% which is rather impressive for a mammoth-like corporation in this economic context. However how many of these analysts, those providing readers with advices with regards to what to do with their money, have written in the minutes after Apple’s announcement that the profits were flat (or even declining), thus …

I am not an economist but I would grade that statement with a failing mark would it be a math exam. I would certainly expect a high school student to get this right.

13.08 billion over 13 weeks is 1.006 billion $ / week while 13.1 billion over 14 week is 0.933 billion $ / week. This actually translates to an increase in profit of about 7.8% YOY. This is not a flat nor decreasing scenario anymore.

We can of course argue about the significance of this increase (and this is not the place to do so!) but at least we are comparing and reporting the right information. Everything else has nothing to do with hard numbers 😉

%d bloggers like this: