Background Mode with John Martellaro

I recently had the great pleasure to talk with John Martellaro of The Mac Observer for a new episode of the Background Mode podcast. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s how TMO describes the show: “Join John Martellaro every week for fascinating interviews with tech industry pros and luminaries. It’s more than a show about what they do; it’s about who they are.”

My own personal background is as a first-gen home computer geek, so that’s where we started. We talked about Apple’s current events, too. And we kept it to a very reasonable 33 minutes, so there’s a minimum of bloviation, I promise.

RIP Seymour Papert

I’m in my mid-40s, so I’m lucky enough to be among the first generation of kids who grew up with computers in the home and at school. For many of us who came up during that time, Logo was an essential computing experience. I learned through friends on Twitter earlier today that one of Logo’s creators, Seymour Papert, passed away over the weekend at age 88.

Logo was a programming language developed for kids. It was radically different because it was visual: You issued positional commands to a “turtle” on the screen (a triangular cursor). Once you got down the basic mechanics of it, you learned the essence of programming loops and functions, creating dazzling geometric visual designs in the process. It was a marvelous and engaging way to learn programming at a time when computers were still very rudimentary.

Now kids who want to learn the basics of programming have some great alternatives like Scratch and Kojo, but Logo lives on in spirit and in essence, and Papert’s legacy lives on in generations of programmers and legions of computer users inspired by his work.

Apple’s internal style guide makes the news and we’re dumber for it

Apple VP Phil Schiller made tech blog headlines for a recent tongue in cheek discussion with journalists on Twitter about how to pluralize Apple product names. It’s no surprise that Apple has an internal style guide it uses to make sure that references to its own products are consistent; it’s also no surprise that in a system filled with individual human beings that use their own interpretation of language to communicate, that even Apple is occasionally inconsistent in its implementation.

I got kind of fed up and posted this on Twitter:

I watched this story unfold with a fair degree of irritation, and it finally struck me as to why.

It’s because my role as a tech journalist, I lost track of the number of times that a well-meaning, inevitably junior PR rep would contact me to let me know that I’d misused their client’s name or trademark: it’s intercapped, or it’s all capitalized, or the i at the start, in the middle or at the end is always lower case, etc.

As a blogger and magazine writer, I’m beholden to my publication’s own style guide – or whatever style standard we’ve agreed to (like AP or Chicago), before whatever mishigas your marketing department has come up with.

Happy 32nd birthday, Apple IIc

For some of my teenaged peers, like my best friend, the Apple II and more specifically, the Apple IIe were the machines to get. The first Apple II I ever got my hands on recently celebrated its 32nd birthday last weekend. I’m talking about the Apple IIc.

Apple IIc with monitor

In the years before Macs and before the IBM PC, Apple IIs ran all the coolest games, and they were such popular systems among hobbyists that you could readily find magazines and books with code to program your own software too. While I had a computer of my own at home (I was one of the very lucky ones), the Apple IIc was the first computer I ever used in school. The Apple IIc was introduced in 1984, the same year the Macintosh made its debut.

The IIc was a downsized version of the Apple II, with a built-in floppy disk drive and a peripheral expansion port, all designed in a much more compact chassis that took up a lot less space on the desktop. It had less internal expandability but less need for it, since Apple integrated much of what had been installed on expansion cards right on the computer. More than three decades later we still see Apple iterating and shrinking its hardware the same way, albeit on a very different scale and different level of sophistication.

The IIc was the perfect computer for a computer lab, which is exactly what my high school did with theirs. I remember having to pass a Keyboarding class as a prerequisite to use them. I did, though just barely, with a D. The class was taught by an old-school typist on IBM Selectrics. I could competently input text on a typewriter, but I’d taught myself to type on computer keyboards. So I didn’t do it the way the teacher wanted.

The Data Processing class was when I first got my hands on the IIc. The teachers taught us the ins and outs of using computers – how to start them up, how to put in discs, how to run software. It was basic stuff at a time when using computers was still largely a novelty. For my friends and I who were already ahead of the rest of the class, it became an opportunity to help the teacher, help the other students, and hopefully have some time to play with the computers ourselves without being burdened too much by the curriculum. Oregon Trail, anyone?

The teachers of that class, Mr. Bernier and Mrs. Ledwith, recognized that I was an enthusiastic computer user. Mr. Bernier  took a shine to me and recommended me for my first summer job: Duplicating software for a nearby financial software developer. I’d parlay that experience into getting more clerical work as an office temp with experience on the Mac, and that ultimately led me down the career path I find myself on today.

So thanks, Apple IIc, for being so awesome. You gave early generations of computer users great service, made it a pleasure to use computers in school, and didn’t take up too much space on the desk, either. And happy birthday. (And thanks also to Mrs. Ledwith and Mr. Bernier for helping to give me my first chance to earn money using computers!)

How to get rid of QuickTime for Windows

If you’re running QuickTime on Windows – software from Apple bundled with some of its installers – now is a good time to get rid of it. Turns out it’s a security risk to your PC, and Apple has no plans to patch it – it’s deprecated software, no longer actively supported. Here’s how to remove it.

Several security warnings were posted this past week advising Windows users to get rid of QuickTime, which Apple isn’t updating anymore, and which Trend Micro has discovered has potential security flaws. These flaws haven’t been exploited by hackers yet, but it’s probably only a matter of time.

To get rid of QuickTime on your PC, if you’re running Windows 10. Other versions of Windows work similarly:

  1. Click on the Start menu.
  2. Click on All Apps.
  3. Scroll down the list until you see the QuickTime folder.
  4. Open Uninstall QuickTime.Uninstallqt
  5. Click Remove, then click NextRemoveqt
  6. It’ll confirm that’s what you want to do, click Yes. The installer will then remove QuickTime from your system.Removeyes

Once it’s done, restart your PC.

If, for whatever reason, you can’t find the QuickTime uninstaller, you can still remove QuickTime yourself. Just open your Control Panel, click on Programs, then click on Programs and Features, select QuickTime 7 and then click Uninstall.

Smile “adjusts” TextExpander plans

Smile Software introduced a new version of its popular keyboard shortcut utility for Mac and iOS (and now for Windows), TextExpander. Sweeping changes to the way the app works and its payment model – switching from a perpetual license to a subscription program – caused significant user backlash. So Smile on Tuesday announced “adjustments” to TextExpander to make the transition less painful for its customers.

Among the changes is a lifetime discount for existing users to migrate to the new service. What’s more, the company plans to continue to sell and support the previous versions of TextExpander for OS X and iOS.

Smile’s likely to have lost some customers who have already moved or will move to other shortcut utilities, but this should stave off most of the bleeding. Greg Scown admits that Smile fumbled the TextExpander launch and promised to do better in the future.

I don’t think Scown and company are wrong to evolve TextExpander to a service instead of just an application. Obviously you can’t blindly reinvent your product around the idea of switching the payment model, but that doesn’t mean new payment models shouldn’t be tried.

The Apple Watch is a dud? Some dud

Re/code posted the results of an Apple Watch survey earlier this week that garnered some chatter on the Mac social web – the attention-grabbing headline concluded that the Apple Watch was perceived as a dud, though the article and the research it was based on show a much different perspective from, y’know, actual Apple Watch users.

I’ve had my Apple Watch since June of 2015, and have worn it with an exception or two every day since then. It’s single-handedly changed my mind about wearables, which I thought of largely as frivolous and unnecessary, for narcissists and obsessive athletes but having little practical purpose.

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Obviously I was wrong.

In the months before I got my Apple Watch, I underwent a profound medical change following gastric bypass surgery. I rapidly lost weight for the first time in my adult life and started to exercise more. The Apple Watch came out at a perfect time, when I began tracking my exercise and activity much more consistently than before. I also found the Apple Watch to be enormously helpful in reminding me to take the myriad supplements I need to take throughout the day to help maintain my health.

Quite frankly, these are tasks I’d certainly be able to manage without the Apple Watch, but with it it’s less executive function work for me. It just happens.

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I’ve found other great uses for it, too. I take calls on the Apple Watch regularly (when I’m home and it’s socially acceptable to do so, anyway). I use Siri on the Apple Watch every chance I get. Checking the kitchen for supplies and adding things to the grocery list, for example. Or sending text messages to family members.

One of my most-used Apple Watch apps is the Remote app, which lets me navigate my Apple TV menus without needing to look for the pesky, tiny, infinitely losable remote control that ships with the Apple TV.

I’ve installed a few third-party applications that offer some nice benefits for Apple Watch users, like an app to control my Elgato Avea and Calcbot.

I was there when the Mac was young. I was there when the iPhone was young. And I recognize the same nascent qualities in watch OS and the Apple Watch. It’s not a finished product, any more than the Mac or iPhone are, 30 and almost 10 years later, respectively. This isn’t a product that Apple is going to walk away from, and it’s just going to keep getting better.

Apple and the FBI – straight from the horse’s mouth

Apple has been in the news a lot this past week for its refusal to comply with a court order demanding it to unlock an iPhone used by one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre. There’s been a lot of ink spilled but there’s still a lot of confusion about what, exactly, the government is ordering Apple to do and why Apple is refusing to do it.

To help explain its position Apple has posted a public FAQ with more details. Among some of the major points:

  • Apple says the government request would require it to engineer “an entirely new operating system” compromised with flawed security.
  • Apple admits that it’s possible to do so, but fears that it would eventually end up in the wrong peoples’ hands, and all iPhone users would suffer as a result.
  • Apple says that it has not unlocked phones for law enforcement in the past.
Our country has always been strongest when we come together. We feel the best way forward would be for the government to withdraw its demands under the All Writs Act and, as some in Congress have proposed, form a commission or other panel of experts on intelligence, technology, and civil liberties to discuss the implications for law enforcement, national security, privacy, and personal freedoms. Apple would gladly participate in such an effort.


It makes for interesting reading. I hope you’ll check it out and come to your own conclusion if Apple’s doing the right thing.