Tesla’s Autopilot is not magic, it’s just code

Tesla recently rolled out an expensive over the air firmware update for their electric cars. Among the changes in the 7.0 release is a catchy-named feature called “Autopilot,” which enables the vehicle to achieve a fair degree of driver autonomy: On a well-marked highway, the car can keep itself in its lane, change lanes when it needs to, avoid other vehicles, speed up, slow down and even come to a complete stop.

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But it is most certainly not a true autopilot. And in introducing the new feature, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, made it clear that it’s a feature that’s still very much in development. He called it a “public beta.”

I can’t remember the last time an auto executive would have admitted that a new feature in a flagship automobile wasn’t ready for prime time, but there it is.

Still, there have been a few reports of Tesla drivers completely yielding control to Autopilot, with predictably dire results.

I’m not sure what’s more foolish: Naming the feature “Autopilot” to begin with, or being gullible enough to assume that you no longer have to drive your own car simply because some new software has been downloaded.

Years ago, I worked for a Mac software developer in tech support. I was asked to garner a list of customer requests for the next major version of an app we were working on, and presented it at the meeting.

As the list of demands and requests grew ever more esoteric, the exasperated project manager finally blurted, “You know, these people have to understand: There’s a difference between AM and FM. AM being actual machine code and FM being f*ing magic.”

Apple adds Boston transit maps

iOS 9 and OS X 10.11 El Capitan debuted with transit maps for a variety of North American cities, but Boston was left off the list. It didn’t take Apple too long to fix that, though. The company has updated its maps data with transit information for Boston commuters. If you plan to use the MBTA or Commuter Rail to get in and out of Boston, you can now use Maps to plan your route.

There are, of course, third party apps that have filled the gap quite nicely, like Transit. Still, it’s convenient to use built-in apps, and Handoff integration makes it convenient for you to plot your route on your Mac then transfer it to your iPhone.

You shouldn’t need to do anything to see the new content — it’s all server-side on Apple’s end.Screen Shot 2015 10 22 at 10 24 02 AM

The iPad Pro’s new Smart Connector

Almost since the iPad debuted, people have been trying to use keyboards with it. Third-party keyboard case makers have been only too happy to oblige. Over the years, there’s been a landslide of cases and other contraptions designed to make it easier to do keyboard input on the iPad.

With a few exceptions, almost all the keyboard peripherals for the iPad have involved Bluetooth. There’s no actual physical tether between the iPad and the keyboard, just wireless radio transmission.

In practice, this can create a few problems for the unsophisticated user. Bluetooth isn’t perfectly reliable — devices occasionally unsync and need to be resynced, and that’s a process that’s surprisingly difficult unless you’re familiar with the Settings app and how it works. Also, wireless devices need to be recharged, which means keeping yet another charging cable handy and remembering to do so when the battery runs low.

Ultimately, Bluetooth is a maintenance hassle and a pain point for the average user.

When the iPad Pro debuts in November, it’ll be the first iOS device to feature a new peripheral interface called the Smart Connector. The Smart Connector fixes these issues.

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The Smart Connector gives Apple’s new Smart Keyboard, another iPad Pro-specific creation, a place to attach. It’s a three-conductor interface on one side of the iPad Pro. So the new Smart Keyboard doesn’t use Bluetooth to communicate with the iPad. What’s more, it doesn’t need a separate battery for power — it will draw off the power of the iPad Pro itself.

Bluetooth remains a ubiquitous and important technology for the iPad. The Smart Connector is only on one iOS device to start, but Apple will distribute it to work on other future iPads as well.

How to install Photos extensions

One of the coolest features of OS X El Capitan is the ability to extend the capabilities of Photos, Apple’s photo management and editing application. Photos replaced iPhoto when OS X Yosemite was updated to 10.10.4 earlier this year. If you haven’t already migrated to Photos from iPhoto, now’s a great time to experiment.

Photos extensions are available from app developers including MacPhun (including Noiseless, Tonality, Intensify and Snapheal), Pixelmator, BeFunky, and soon, Serif Labs (makers of Affinity Photo).

Extensions do not provide the same functionality that the full applications do. Unlike Apple’s now-defunct Aperture app, or Adobe Lightroom, Photos does not permit the use of full external editors. What this does is provide some limited functionality so you can edit your photos using tools that are parts of these apps, all without leaving Photos itself. It makes doing color correction, reducing noise and making other editing changes that much easier.

To activate Extensions, there are just a few steps:

  1. Download the latest versions of apps that support them, available from the Mac App Store.
  2. Open the Extensions system preference.
  3. Click on Photos.
  4. Click the checkbox next to the name of the extension or extensions you’d like to use.Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 10.39.55 AM

Once Photos is open, you can activate the extension you’d like to use as follows:

  1. Select the photo you’d like to edit.
  2. Click on the Edit button.
  3. Click on Extensions.
  4. Select the extension you’d like to use. Any extension you checked in the Extensions system preference should be available.
  5. Make any changes you’d like, then click the Save Changes button.

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