January 30, 2015 2:36 PM PT
There are parts of being a gainfully employed editor for a tech website that I miss—dissecting new announcements, access to the latest and greatest technology, and the steady paycheck assuring me that ruin isn’t lurking right around the corner. But there are aspects to the gig I do not miss at all: PR pitches for subjects I do not cover. All-hands meetings. And picking stock photography for articles that might otherwise go art-less.
No, I do not miss the stock art at all.
Allow me to give you the five-second tour of the sausage factory we call Journalism. Today’s stylized tech sites require Big Bold Images at the top of every story because… well, someone did it that way once, so now every site’s got to follow suit. Much of the time, this art is meticulously planned—a photograph of the product you’re writing about, an image lovingly designed by your graphics team, perhaps a screenshot of your high score in Threes. But sometimes, you have a story that doesn’t lend itself to that kind of artistic accompaniment. Or you don’t have the time to work with your graphics team crafting a meticulous image, as if they even value your input on visual things since they see how you dress yourself. Or maybe running that same photo of that same iPhone you’ve run with your eight previous stories will make you more of a wreck than you already are.
That’s when you turn to the stock art. And that’s when you brace yourself for disappointment.
It is not my intention to kick dirt on the efforts of the hard-working people powering America’s stock art industry. It is extremely challenging to come up with an image generic enough to be used in a variety of stories but not so context-free that you’d be better off slapping a child’s doodle at the top of your story and calling it a day. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that a stock photo depicting a computer or a mobile device or some other gadget at least give off the vibe that everyone involved in the photograph has a passing familiarity with how that piece of technology actually works. I can’t count the number of times I’ve scrolled through a repository of stock photos only to shout out something like “Nobody holds a smartphone that way” or “Nobody installing a hard drive smiles like that, not unless they either have good drugs or a worse grip on reality.”
So you develop coping strategies. Me, I devise backstories for the terrible stock photos I’ve come across and imagine what kind of stories I could possibly use these images for. It’s either that or be haunted by the rictus of a stock model grinning manically at her tablet for the remainder of my days on the planet.
These are the tales I’ve told, as I’ve wandered through the dark corners of stock art websites.
January 29, 2015 7:42 AM PT
Enough of last week’s negativity—for the moment, anyway—and let’s turn once again towards the aspirational. Last night, five of my friends and I defeated the Atheon in Destiny’s Vault of Glass raid; it was a suitably epic undertaking, hampered only by the fact that the voice chat on the Xbox 360 still sucks after all these years. So we turned instead to a Google Hangout, which unquestionably provided both better quality and more reliability.1
But this got me thinking. In the book I recently co-authored with pal Jeff Carlson, we discuss keeping in touch with your family via video chat. While Apple’s FaceTime is great for one-on-one interactions, it doesn’t support multiparty video chats. So if you have many farflung friends or family who want to chat, you have to look elsewhere: Google Hangouts work pretty well, and Skype has begun to offer its formerly pay-only multiparty video chats to everybody (though it’s not currently available on every platform). Those are just two of the most popular options; there are plenty of others. But it’s one ring into which Apple hasn’t yet thrown its hat.
Interestingly enough, FaceTime Audio does allow for multiparty connections, though it’s a little bit hidden.2 And Mac users might remember that earlier versions of iChat (now Messages) actually had support for up to four people in a video chat; it was surprisingly high-quality and easy-to-use for the time. Still, it’d be great to see Apple bring the same simplicity and ease-of-use3 to multiparty video chats that it has to the one-on-one model.
I still prefer FaceTime for one-on-one conversations; in fact, I used it just yesterday, and this morning a friend suggested we FaceTime each other as we shovel out our respective cars. But anything more than that, whether it be a podcast, D&D session, or Destiny raid, means turning to the oft-finicky process of setting up a Hangout or Skype call. (Getting people’s contact info, inviting them, sending out URLs, and so on.)
Of course, not all of my friends and family are iOS users, so it would also help immensely if FaceTime was indeed an open standard…but that’s another kettle of fish entirely.
I can’t tell if this is purely anecdotal, but in my experience Xbox Live voice chat on the 360 has gotten worse and worse. We frequently get situations where people say things that just don’t come through. Or where only part of a sentence comes through. Which gets annoying fast: “Why’d you do that?!” “You said to!” “I said don’t do that!” ↩
You have to start a FaceTime Audio call, then tap the Add Call button and choose someone else to conference in. It’s an interface that was amazingly easy when the original iPhone used it for conference calling, but that’s because the alternative was typing arcane codes on a number pad. ↩
Amusingly, if you go back and watch the WWDC 2010 keynote where Steve Jobs introduces FaceTime, he brags that it requires no setup…and here’s the page on Apple’s site about how to set up FaceTime. Granted, it’s easy, but it’s not nothin’. ↩
January 28, 2015 2:12 PM PT
Listening to the podcast in the car yesterday made me think back to 2010, when the iPad was announced by Steve Jobs at a special media event in San Francisco. The name of the rumored device was one of the hottest topics of late 2009 and early 2010, with speculation running from Canvas to iTablet to iSlate2.
I remember at the time advocating for the return of a then-disused Apple brand, iBook, as the name. It’s a nifty title—revived during that very event, in fact, but as software instead of hardware—but in 2015 I’m struck by how a bad name it would’ve been for that device.
Calling Apple’s tablet the iBook would have unnecessarily defined the device as more of an e-reader, rather than the more versatile device it actually was. In fact, one of the great coups of the iPad keynote was the rollout of a trio of iWork apps. Those apps might have been a little overly ambitious, but in the best possible way—and they made clear Apple’s position on the iPad as a device capable of doing real work.
I know that a lot of people feel like iPad is an awkward name. At the time the name caused quite a bit of tittering, and even today it doesn’t seem to be particularly loved. But I think it’s the perfect name, because pad—like pod before it—is a word that’s utterly devoid of meaning… until Apple inserts meaning into it. And that’s what the company did on stage in January 2010.
For a long time, I thought that Apple would redefine and recycle the iPod name at some point, too. But these days Apple is moving away from products with the i prefix3, so it seems like that chance has passed us by. The Apple Watch, when it arrives in April, will do so with the meaning of the word watch embedded into our expectations.
I am not a huge fan of gigantically long podcasts, but this one’s a good one. It reminds me of an episode of The Incomparable, but the subject’s not a movie or a TV show or a book, but an Apple event. ↩
Hilariously, CES 2010 was full of products trying to hijack the “slate” moniker, assuming Apple would use it. Those products were truly the last devices of the pre-iPad world, and most of them never shipped. ↩
…despite the fact that a product with that kiss of death, that annoying little lowercase i, just sold 75 million units in a quarter. ↩
January 27, 2015 3:51 PM PT
Today Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the Apple Watch will arrive in April.
“Development for Apple Watch is right on schedule, and we expect to be shipping in April,” he said during a conference call with analysts following the company’s announcement of record profits. “Developers are hard at work on apps, notifications, and information summaries that we call ‘glances,’ all designed specifically for the Watch’s user interface. The creativity and software innovation going on around Apple Watch is incredibly exciting, and we can’t wait for our customers to experience them when Apple Watch becomes available.”
Apple previously had only said that the Apple Watch would ship in “early 2015.” When asked on the conference call if the product had been delayed, Cook provided some useful clarity about how Apple defines time.
“What we had been saying is ‘early 2015,’” he said. “We sort of look at the year and think of ‘early’ as the first four months, ‘mid’ as the next four months, and ‘late’ is the final four months. And so to us, it’s within the range. It’s basically when we thought.”
January 27, 2015 3:19 PM PT
Another quarter gone, another set of records fall, and another phone call between Apple executives and financial analysts.
Presented here, via my fast typing fingers, is a transcript of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s statements on the analyst call. Now you can read all about it rather than listening.
January 27, 2015 12:52 PM PT
To say that the last three months of 2014 were record setting for Apple would be an understatement. Not only did the company set records for profit ($18 billion) and revenue ($74.6 billion), but it also sold a mind-boggling 74.5 million iPhones.
“Interest in Apple products is at an all-time high,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said today on a conference call with analysts after the company released its quarterly financial results. “Demand for iPhone has been staggering… On average, we sold over 34,000 iPhones every hour, 24 hours a day, every day of the quarter.”
Mac sales were 5,519,000, only about a thousand Macs lower than the all-time-record Mac sales number the company put up the previous quarter, and up from the 4.8 million Macs sold during the holiday quarter of 2013.
Meanwhile, sluggish sales of the iPad continued. The company announced 21.4 million iPad sales, more than four million less than the company sold during the previous holiday quarter.
Cook said that he’s still “optimistic and bullish” on the iPad, though, citing high numbers of first-time buyer rates: “If you look at some of the developed markets… 50 percent of the people are buying an iPad for the first time. If you look in China it’s over 70 percent. And so when you have that kind of first-time buyer rates, you don’t have a saturated market.”
Cook also suggested that the iPad’s upgrade cycle is “probably between an iPhone and a PC,” and suggested that there’s “probably some level of cannibalization that’s going on” with the iPad stuck between the Mac and the iPhone. But in the end, the CEO said that he believes “over the long arc of time, the iPad is a great business.”
Apple showed big growth in China, 70 percent over the previous holiday quarter. The $16 billion in revenues in Apple’s “greater China” region moved within spitting distance of the $17 billion in European revenue. (The U.S. remains Apple’s strongest geographical region, with $30.6 billion in revenues during the holiday quarter.)
“Growth was absolutely stunning in Brazil and mainland China, more than doubling year over year, which is a 3-4x what those markets were doing according to IDC,” Cook said. “I’m really proud of how we’re doing [in China]… You can tell that we’re a big believer in China, we’re looking at our investment, we’re growing the number of stores, we’ll hit 20 soon and we’re doubling that by mid 2016. We’re also growing the channel there, our online store has expanded to over 350 cities now, and in fact our online revenues in China last quarter were more than the sum of the previous five years. And so, it’s an incredible market.”
In addition to crowing about Apple’s (eminently crowable) quarter, Cook also declared that 2015 would be “the year of Apple Pay.” According to Cook, Apple Pay is responsible for two-thirds of dollars spent on contactless payment systems from the three major U.S. credit card networks. At Panera Bread, he said, Apple Pay represents nearly 80 percent of mobile payment transactions, and that Whole Foods claims that mobile payments have increased 400 percent since Apple Pay launched.
In addition, Cook promised more growth in the company’s HealthKit, HomeKit, and CarPlay initiatives to connect Apple tech to health data, home devices, and car entertainment systems, respectively.
(Formerly) live twitter updates
January 26, 2015 9:48 AM PT
Maybe ten years ago I embarked on a mission to convert a bunch of my old VHS videotapes into digital files. The goal was to preserve home movies and all the videos my friends and I made in high school1. I never managed to get through the entire stack, and for a decade my old VCR, camcorder, and tapes have been tucked away in a box.
Late last week I realized that all the pieces of my old project were within a few feet of my desk, and I set about reconnecting my old setup. It involves an old VCR, which I have to route through an analog-to-digital converter in the form of my old Sony Digital 8 camcorder. I needed to connect that camcorder to my iMac via an amusing cable chain: mini FireWire 400/iLink to FireWire 400 to a FireWire 400-800 adapter to a FireWire 800-to-Thunderbolt adapter.
Surprisingly, that connection actually worked, and my old camcorder—in playback mode but without a tape in it, turning it into a dumb converter box—showed up as a source in the current versions of both Final Cut Pro and iMovie. I could see what was being played on my old VCR right in the preview window. Unfortunately, that software doesn’t really seem to understand the idea of video capture from a setup like this—though I could press the capture button, it seemed to be waiting for some information from the camera that never came.
The solution, as I had feared, was to use iMovie 9.0.9, and indeed, that version was able to capture my old videos. (Standard-definition DV format files are enormous! Fortunately, I was able to convert them to very nice MPEG-4 versions using HandBrake and toss out the huge DV files.)
This turned out to be the easiest part of my project. The toughest part involved the media itself: 30-year-old videotapes. My old VCR struggled to forward and rewind cassettes, which had been sitting unplayed for at least 15 years, if not 20. Even my old trick of forwarding to the end of a tape, then rewinding to the beginning in order to loosen things up, didn’t work great. There was a lot of starting and stopping. What’s worse, this old videotape is falling apart. Tape was constantly getting tangled in the play heads of the VCR.
I ended up popping the top off of the VCR so that when a tangle occurred, I could untangle the tape with a minimum of damage. I also ended up with a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, scissors, and a sheet of blank paper, so that I could cut out little strips of paper, coat them with alcohol, and use them to clean the video play heads, which kept getting clogged.
Shockingly, this approach managed to salvage video of a 1987 high-school rock concert that wowed people on Facebook, and I even discovered a 1999 appearance of mine on Leo Laporte’s “Call for Help” show on ZDTV.
One of my motivations for dipping into my video archive was to uncover the two tapes on which I had collected some favorite moments from “Late Night With David Letterman,” which I watched faithfully throughout high school. I’m feeling nostalgic for Letterman these days, since he’s retiring in May. Every time I would uncover a portion of an episode on a videotape, I’d do a web search for the guests to see if I could find the show date, since there’s a complete list of Letterman shows on the Internet. (Of course there is.)
But as I was making those searches, I noticed something else: Almost every single show, every single favorite moment that I had refused to tape over back in the 1980s because I might want to watch it later, was on YouTube. That May 7, 1986 show featuring Cybill Shepherd in a towel? It’s on YouTube—I watched the entire episode this weekend.
The lesson learned here is, I suppose, that there’s always someone who is a bigger fan than you, a bigger packrat, a more obsessive YouTube uploader, a video archaeologist who will beat you to the prize. And if you put off your rainy-day project of digitizing those old videotapes long enough, someone else will beat you to the punch and save you the trouble. So I’ll survey my old tapes for anything that’s unique, but I’ll do so with the realization that unless it’s a home movie, it’s probably already on YouTube.
They’re pretty painful to watch, but I made a DVD of the three James Bond parodies we made, and we recorded commentary tracks. It was a fun DVD Studio Pro project, but I’m not sure I ever need to see those movies again. ↩
January 23, 2015 9:26 AM PT
RSS used to be the clock by which I watched the news. At regular intervals, a flood of headlines and other folderol would flood in, and if I had time, I would switch to NetNewsWire to scan through the several or dozens of new items, and see if any were worth previewing in the program or opening in a browser.
I haven’t checked RSS for more than a few minutes here and there in the last year, and I don’t think I’ve looked at the aggregator I use at all in a couple of months. It’s not intentional; the need seems gone. It’s been replaced by a change in my needs and a combination of other sources.