Bob Fairbairn

New 12.9 in iPad Apple Smart Keyboard today. Third one! Replaced under warranty. Genius says all too common occurrence…

“TAX DAY”

I live and work in the USA and Tax day for me is the day I do both my business taxes and my personal taxes. I usually have to wait till about March 1st to get all the data in. This is risky with all the scammers out there,… My son just got a 1099 this week that should have been here in January!.. We have gotten three different proof of insurance forms from BCBS IL for my wife. I think they got it right the third time.

So as a macOS and iOS guy tax day for the business means I have to have a PC around because all the tax software for Buisness appears to be only on PCs. Now I have a very simple business so it is not hard. I have been using HRBlock software for a couple of years and up till this year it is just OK. This year has been terrible. I have found it impossible to move the data from one PC to a new one so that I can not be bogged down with the two year old Core i7 machine (that is a joke folks). I should have just re-entered the data instead of trying to import from last year. The program is spitting out forms that have no data on them with things like #VALUE where there should be nothing. The UI is terrible and is about 10 years old Windows style. The documentation and messaging is cryptic. But It is done. So the e-file of federal is done, with the round trip to the printer/scanner to “sign” the special form that lets you e-file. The drive to the post office is done to mail the state taxes that the software will not allow you to e-file.

—- Phase one done —-

Then I tried to use the personal software to do my personal taxes. It kept trying to update itself over and over again. It did import finally and I tried to get started. Boy was that a mistake! I do not know how may times I got the (Not Responding) messaging and could not enter data. They say that there is an update schedule for March 28th so do I have to wait to file>?? WTF??

So I abandoned ship and got the Mac version of TurboTax. And it just worked. Yes there are some cryptic questions, but hey this is the US Tax system built by folks that want to try to obfuscate things because “they can”???

Tax software is a lot like accounting software, it never works like “real people” want it to. And lets not forget payroll, what a MESS.

Now all the data is in for the home taxes and I am “cooling off” to review with my wife later.

I can dream that all of this should just go away for something simple and automated. Really folks this should not be that hard.

RJF

iPad Pro 12.9 and Smart Keyboard “issues”

So my iPad Pro connected to the Smart Keyboard keeps beeping and changing the battery icon to charging. It does this 10- 20 times then stops. When I do not have the Smart Keyboard plugged in this does not happen. No it is not plugged into power… I am on my second keyboard for a another symptom where the on screen keyboard keeps popping up like the attached keyboard is not there. IF tip the ipad forward the onscreen keyboard disappears.

Nesting Great Blue Herons

Near my home is a Heron Rookery (Heronry). Two years ago I counted over 90 nests. I think it is still growing .

Every now and then a “tool” comes along that you cannot pass up

Two walks. Living history farm and forest trail. Ahhh!!

Started using a new “gadget “ in the stereo. Cleans up the USB audio by re-generation and galvanic isolation. Big Smile on my face!

Anyone using the Apple US holiday calendar seeing new holidays that are notUSA. ?? Including one tomorrow called “holi”. Seeing it on two Apple ids. It is making my wife 😡 and that is the last thing I need today. Guess I should file a radar.

Yuk, sore throat, feeling funky all over. Getting nothing done today😕. But I got two new books to read today. So rest, music in the background, read.

So I have this Lenovo Yoga 920 I am setting up and it goes to sleep. I keep pressing on the fingerprint reader to wake it up….. Well it should wake up eh!!??!!

Spring is here; well the Red Wing Blackbirds are back, we have seen the Sandhill Cranes. It is over sixty degrees. A great day for a walk.

Oh and another thing: Apple iCloud for Windows looks 10 years old and does not warn me that when it sets up outlook you need to get the application specific password.

Setting up a Windows machine for myself and wondering why Microsoft Edge cannot stop auto-play video natively… REALLY!

So I noticed yesterday that something smelled bad in the basement but not strong. This morning my wife goes down: “something died down there”…. Well someone left a 1/4lb of frozen ground pork out of the freezer…… Glad it was not something DEAD!

Has anyone tried FastMail as a personal email provider? With all the mess at Google, Yahoo, Comcast, you name it. Mabye $30 a year is not a bad idea.

Taking a FB and Twitter break. I have not deleted the accounts yet. I have removed my business pages from facebook. There are things I will miss. Mostly the pix and videos about my grandkids..

PSA: Be aware of what Facebook “protect” is http://tidbits.com/e/17796

I am re-thinking my portable computing environment of carrying and iPad Pro and a MacBook and moving to one of the new Microsoft Surface Pro devices. Thinking, thinking, thinking?

I sent my HomePods back!

I have __never__ sent a product back to Apple. This decision was predicated on several things.

  1. The audio quality is “interesting”,… Apple has created a sound that I describe as uncomfortable. Too much bottom, not enough detail, not enough middle.
  2. The integration with Apple services is very weak and it does not work in a multiple person household.
  3. Apple Music works well and I cannot fault it for what it is. The integration with Homepod is very good. I do not need Apple Music except for this.
  4. The controls and configuration of HomePod in the Apple Home App is just plain odd. It kind of works but needs a LOT of UI work.
  5. The AI domains are very limited on the HomePod rendering it neutered and less than useful.
  6. Little things are annoying such as the inability to control Alarm volume or type. The whole timer and alarm controls, weird.
  7. Yes I know that almost all of this is software but I have less patience than I used to.
  8. I have a VERY GOOD system to listen to and I do not need the HomePod for “performance listening”

So a bit more narrative is needed here. First on home automation. I have rather simple needs that HomePod did not enhance. I have shared calendars and shared task lists that it could not address or manage well. I have simple lighting automation that only requires occasional intervention and the is very little need for additional features that the HomePod might bring.

I do not want to be overly critical about the audio quality of the HomePod. In my office, the bedroom and when you are a bit further away from it the sound is actually very very good. I have a long term relationship with high quality audio reproduction and Apple has really done a good job on this thing. It does stuff that almost any other all-in-one audio component does not do; room correction, streaming, and more. For a whole lot of Apple’s target market this is a great 1.0 product.

A lot of energy went into this thing. A single audio component that can play streaming music at this reproduction quality and cost is a good value proposition. IF YOU ARE IN THE APPLE ECOSYSTEM. I would like to add an additional caveat that you are a single person household. This is almost frictionless for delivering music.

I have seen a lot of talk on the tech-blogs about use cases that they think the HomePod can fill including using the HomePod with your TV. I do not see that as valuable and it really speaks to the fact that most modern TVs have TERRIBLE audio. Some sort of sound bar system would be a better value. Now Apple could do the Dolby decoding and stereo pairs and surround simulation with all that computing power. But without an optical input from the TV the application to this modality is weak.

Siri “AI” and voice control

I am all in on Apple computing products. I use an iMac for my main computer, Mac Laptops, iPad, iPhone, Watch, Apple TV, and more.. The way the systems work hand in hand and the overall systems design is a head and shoulders above just about anything else. When Apple bought Siri a lot of us were excited to have Apple work through the privacy and availability. And the progress on Siri has been laudable. Apple is not moving fast enough for the tech press and they talk and write a lot about what Siri can do. The voice response system on the HomePod is nothing short of amazing. The music can be blaring away and I can talk in a quiet voice and it hears me just fine. The issue is what it can do with what it hears. The press is brutal in it’s evaluation of the HomePod on this functionality. If I ask it to play the Beatles it will do that. Now if you have 10 variants of something from the Grateful Dead I am pretty sure you will run into issues.

This whole thing is a very powerful integration of Computers and Audio. This is one implementation of the future of Voice First interaction technology. More of this will be in our future. Organizing and delivering the right track out of 40 million is a daunting task. This is a good start.

Finally some notes on Information Security

I assume that many who read this are walking around with some sort of mobile device on their pocket all the time. So we are all carrying around a potential “wireless bug”. Introducing another device into our homes that has a microphone and an internet connection does not necessarily increase our security risk, although it has a possibility higher potential to be attacked and compromised.

So if you have a networked device with a microphone it is a potential bug. The switch on top of an Amazon echo is a software driven push button that tells the computer to turn on the red light and turn off the microphone system in some manner. The HomePod has a voice command to turn off listening which is again software. The HomePod has no visual indication that the device is in a not-listening state. As these are software switches it is possible that they could be compromised. I would think that with Apple the risk might be lower as they are very vocal about their controls in this space.

Now the real meat of the problem is in intent. Apple intends the voice to control and input data. They appear to have no incentive to monetize your voice or keep data around. Their differential privacy system appears to be robust.

Amazon sells the Echo devices to keep you in their system and to keep you buying from them. Their system does use cloud based technologies and the voice information in one form or another is available to them. You can see on their App or on the website the voice information about what you asked or told the device. There may be more exposure here but it is hard to validate.

Google has a different motivation in this. They want you to GIVE them data about you that they can use to sell to advertisers to target you. Now they do that by inference but it does feel more intrusive or creepy to see the ads hitting you after a search. The knowledge about YOU is the product that Google sells to their customers.

Microsoft is a new player to this game and their Cortana software is now appearing in devices like the HomePod. I have no experience with this hardware or how Microsoft implements their software stack. I am suspect of their motivations. Windows 10 bothers me a lot! I find their security statements to be cryptic.

In the end I jumped too fast assuming that Apple did what I want them do to and I was disappointed.

I am back to using the Amazon Echo devices in my home. They provide a service that I currently want including voice activated music playback although not at the quality level of the HomePod. The Echo devices are “just good enough” to listen to. AKA “radio”

—RJF

Well that is a bout 1300 words, sorry not quite a “micro” blog post.

How come saying “Hey Siri” to the HomePod seems Hard compared to “Alexa” on the Amazon Echo?