The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 60: Machine Learning with Andrius Gailiunas and Pixelmator Pro

On this week’s episode, we’re joined by Andrius Gailiunas of Pixelmator to talk about machine learning and how it powers some of the features in Pixelmator Pro. In particular, we’re impressed with ML Super Resolution, a way to enlarge photos beyond their original dimensions while retaining quality and crispness.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The PhotoActive on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 120: If It’s Free, You’re the Product

Apple updates everything, the Ring doorbell has trackers in its app, and the Shlayer malware has infected lots of Macs. We then discussed a number of issues where free services you use monetize data collected about you and your activities.

Check out the latest episode of The Intego Mac Podcast, which I co-host with Josh Long. We talk about Macs and iOS devices, and how to keep them secure.

Apple security in 2019: year in review

Computer security is constantly evolving, as new issues and vulnerabilities are discovered, as new software and devices are deployed, and as hackers figure out new ways to get around barriers.

Some security and privacy threats change over time. Ten years ago, we didn’t have to worry much about Internet of things (IoT) devices or data breaches, let alone hardware and even CPU architecture vulnerabilities like Spectre and Meltdown; we continued to see the emergence of similar discoveries and a continuance of these trends throughout 2019.

One thing that hasn’t changed over the past decade is that some Mac malware continues to disguise itself as Flash Player updates, even though Adobe is abandoning Flash at the end of 2020. Perhaps the fake-Flash malware trend will finally die toward the end of this year; time will tell.

Here is an overview of the main issues that affected Apple products and software in 2019:

  • Vulnerabilities and security updates
  • Malware—more than a dozen unique Mac threats
  • Data breaches
  • Phishing, fraud, and scams
  • Facebook failures
  • Internet of things issues

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

What Does Apple Music Do when Multiple Artists Have the Same Name?

There are lots of people who have the same name. I’m sure there are tens of thousands of John Smiths in the world. In acting, in some countries, it is not possible to use a name that has already been used. The Screen Actors Guild and the British Actors Equity Association stipulate that if a name is already used, you must come up with a stage name. As Wikipedia says:

Nathan Lane, whose birth name (Joseph Lane) was already in use; Stewart Granger, born James Stewart; and Michael Keaton, born Michael Douglas. Diane Keaton, whose birth name is Diane Hall, took her mother’s maiden name as a stage name after learning that there was already a registered actress named Diane Hall in the Actors’ Equity Association. Ugly Betty actress Vanessa Williams officially uses “Vanessa L. Williams” due to SAG guidelines, although the other actress with same first and last name (Vanessa A. Williams) is arguably less notable. Similarly, David Walliams changed one letter in his surname due to there being another “David Williams”. Terry O’Quinn of Lost fame changed his surname from Quinn to O’Quinn as another registered actor already had the name Terrance Quinn. Long-time Simpsons writer and Futurama executive producer David X. Cohen changed his middle initial from S to X because there was already a David S. Cohen registered with the Writer’s Guild of America. Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith but found that all variations of that name were already used by other actors.

But in music, there are no such rules. So, for example, you may be a fan of Bill Evans the pianist, but if you search for him you will also find Bill Evans the saxophonist. In fact, there is also a country musician with the same name, and a bass player. And both the pianist and sax player show up more than once in search result on Apple Music for that name.

Bill evanses

The other day, I listened to an album of music by Toru Takemitsu: Orchestral Works, by Nexus, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and Carl St. Clair. It contains three works: From Me Flows What You Call Time, Twill By Twilight, and Requiem.

Takemitsu

Carl St. Clair is the conductor, as shown on Discogs, but there are other artists with that name. In fact, since I “loved” the album on Apple Music, I now see, in the For You section, a whole list of suggestions of his music.

Carl st clair
I think it’s pretty obvious that the first two are not by the same “artist.” But my Apple Music profile will forever be tinged by the belief that they are, indeed, the same people, just working in different genres. And so the algorithm that recommends music will be skewed.

The solution is, of course, to “un-love” the album, which I will do. But highlights two issues with the way streaming recommendation algorithms work. First, when loving or liking an album, you are perhaps liking the music (in the case of classical music) with no concert about the artists. However, you are showing your interest in the composer, which is generally forgotten in these algorithms. Second, the fact that multiple artists with the same name are lumped together means that there is a good chance that you will pollute your profile with artists who you don’t care about, and have never even heard of.

The solution is simple grunt work; humans have to go through these things, perhaps using Discogs as a source, and separate out different artists. It’s not hard, but it’s time consuming. And it will never happen; music streamed is probably 80% from well-known artists, so the big streaming services just don’t care. Even though Apple averaged $1 billion dollars in revenue per day in the holiday quarter of 2019.

The Next Track, Episode #168 – L’Affaire Sonos and Obsolescence in Audio Equipment

Andy Doe joins us again to discuss the perils of having software-controlled audio equipment. After the Affaire Sonos, when the company announced that a lot of its older products would become “obsolete,” perhaps it’s time to think more carefully about how long hardware we buy will last, when it depends on software.

Find out more at The Next Track website, or follow The Next Track on Twitter at @NextTrackCast.

Nightmares on wax: the environmental impact of the vinyl revival – The Guardian

nside a US vinyl pressing plant – its owners have asked that I do not give its location – dozens of hydraulic machines run all day and night. These contraptions fill the building, as long as a city block, with hissing and clanking as well as the sweet-and-sour notes of warm grease and melted plastic. They look like relics, because they are. The basic technological principles of record pressing have not changed for a century, and the machines themselves are decades old.

[…]

It is impossible to know the proportion of the effluent in the Chao Phraya or how much of the pollution is directly linked to the production of LPs. One thing, though, is certain. Vinyl records, as well as cassettes and CDs, are oil products that have been made and destroyed by the billion since the mid-20th century. During the US sales peaks of the LP, cassette and CD, the US recording industry was using almost 60m kilos of plastic a year. Using contemporary averages on greenhouse gas equivalent releases per pound of plastic production, as well as standard weight figures for each of the formats, that is equivalent to more than 140m kilos of greenhouse gas emissions each year, in the US alone. Music, like pretty much everything else, is caught up in petro-capitalism.

Vinyl isn’t green. It should be obvious, of course, but unless someone draws our attention to these things, we probably don’t think about them.

The overall music industry isn’t very green, from plastics in records and CDs, to the carbon footprints of bands traveling around the world, with their equipment, to the electricity used to run streaming services.

Source: Nightmares on wax: the environmental impact of the vinyl revival | Music | The Guardian

The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10 – Daring Fireball

Ten years later, though, I don’t think the iPad has come close to living up to its potential. By the time the Mac turned 10, it had redefined multiple industries. In 1984 almost no graphic designers or illustrators were using computers for work. By 1994 almost all graphic designers and illustrators were using computers for work. The Mac was a revolution. The iPhone was a revolution. The iPad has been a spectacular success, and to tens of millions it is a beloved part of their daily lives, but it has, to date, fallen short of revolutionary.

[…]

Software is where the iPad has gotten lost. iPadOS’s “multitasking” model is far more capable than the iPhone’s, yes, but somehow Apple has painted it into a corner in which it is far less consistent and coherent than the Mac’s, while also being far less capable. iPad multitasking: more complex, less powerful. That’s quite a combination.

Consider the basic task of putting two apps on screen at the same time, the basic definition of “multitasking” in the UI sense. To launch the first app, you tap its icon on the homescreen, just like on the iPhone, and just like on the iPad before split-screen multitasking. Tapping an icon to open an app is natural and intuitive. But to get a second app on the same screen, you cannot tap its icon. You must first slide up from the bottom of the screen to reveal the Dock. Then you must tap and hold on an app icon in the Dock. Then you drag the app icon out of the Dock to launch it in a way that it will become the second app splitting the display. But isn’t dragging an icon out of the Dock the way that you remove apps from the Dock? Yes, it is — when you do it from the homescreen. So the way you launch an app in the Dock for split-screen mode is identical to the way you remove that app from the Dock. Oh, and apps that aren’t in the Dock can’t become the second app in split screen mode. What sense does that limitation make?

[…]

How would anyone ever figure out how to split-screen multitask on the iPad if they didn’t already know how to do it?

Multitasking on the iPad is one of those things that 2% of people will use, because only, say, 10% bother to figure out how it works, and most of them will find it too unwieldy to use. (Yes, I’m estimating, for rhetorical reasons…) While I think it’s great that Apple has forked iOS to create an iPad specific version, it’s too complicated to use these features.

I don’t use my iPad a lot, but I know there are people who use it as their main computing device. While some of them leverage every possible feature of multitasking, shortcuts, etc., most probably just use a one-app-at-a-time approach. Why? Because it’s not confusing. When I have used multitasking, I’ve never felt that I accomplished any app-arranging actions by anything other than luck.

It’s not Apple’s fault that they couldn’t come up with a better system, it’s just the limitations of the device and its interface. If they want people to use these features, they need to figure out a way to make them easy to use, and, above all, easy to discover.

Source: Daring Fireball: The iPad Awkwardly Turns 10

Opinion: ‘American Dirt’ Is Proof the Publishing Industry Is Broken – The New York Times

Despite the multiple cultural inaccuracies and Spanish dialogue of Google Translate quality sprinkled throughout, the manuscript was acquired by Flatiron Books for seven figures in a nine-way bidding war. Hailed as a modern-day “The Grapes of Wrath” by the writer Don Winslow, it was heavily promoted for a year, poised to be the book on the immigrant crisis.

I’m not equipped to chime in on the issues around this book, whether the person should or should not have written this story being of a different cultural background than her subjects.

However, I can comment on the question of “Spanish dialogue of Google Translate quality.” Being a former French > English translator, I have assisted a few best-selling authors with bits of French texts in their novels. Not being native French, I also had my son – who is bilingual from birth – check and edit my translations. I’ve also edited English texts in works in other languages; essentially the opposite direction from this book.

For an American author to not find a native Spanish speaker to translate, or at least check the “Google translations” is a very serious error. It’s not that hard to find people to “fact check” translations. With seven figure advance, this suggests that both the author and publisher had the means to hire a professional translator to go over the text and make corrections.

There is really no excuse for this sort of thing in books. Are publishers and authors so cheap they don’t want to spend what would probably be a few hundred, or maybe a couple thousand dollars for this sort of work? Shame on them.

Source: Opinion | ‘American Dirt’ Is Proof the Publishing Industry Is Broken – The New York Times

The 5 Best iOS and Apple Watch Apps to Stay Hydrated

We all know how important it is to stay hydrated. If you don’t drink enough, you can get tired, foggy, and your work may suffer. Here are 5 apps that can help ensure that you drink enough during the day.

Actually, that’s not what I’m going to tell you. The headline and lede are both clickbait. Why? Because you don’t need an app, or a smart water bottle, to stay “hydrated.” You just need to drink when you’re thirsty.

I’ve long been annoyed by this idea, that somehow there is a magic amount of water you need every day. It doesn’t matter your age, your activity, or your body weight, but you have to drink 8 glasses of 8 ounces each (if you’re in the US), or, in France, where I used to live, you have to drink 1.5 liters of water each day. (Coincidentally the size of most bottles of mineral water sold in the country.) These recommendations don’t take into account your activity, the temperature and humidity where you live, and other variables, such as how much water is in the food you eat.

Also, drinking too much water an be unhealthy; it lowers electrolytes, notably sodium, and in extreme cases can cause death.

I’m reminded of this today because of an article in The Guardian: The truth about hydration: should you drink eight glasses of water a day? They’re headline is a bit click-baity too, because asking a question in a headline gets you better Google search results.

Drink when you’re thirsty. Unless you have a medical condition, or you are taking specific medication, you don’t need to do anything else. Yes, the elderly need reminding, because they don’t notice thirst in the same way, but I doubt that many elderly people have bought smart water bottles that sync with their iPhones.

Also, tea, coffee, and beer don’t dehydrate you. As the article says:

In 2016, Galloway tested the hydrating potential of a range of drinks and found a litre of beer was no less hydrating than a litre of water. Similarly, a litre of instant coffee, containing 212mg of caffeine, was as hydrating as water.

We all have trouble dealing with the myriad health recommendations we get, but some of them just make no sense. And with this one, it’s hard to do the research; there are so many sites that repeat this useless information, and, in particular, lots of businesses wanting you to think that you need more water than you do, so they can sell you bottled water or Bluetooth water bottles.

How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 23: Playing CDs

It’s been more than a year since I published the last article in this series. I reached the point where so much of what I was seeing was just repeats of topics I had already covered that it didn’t seem worthwhile to post anything new.

Until today.

In an article on the illustrious Wut Hi-Fi? site, we are informed of 9 hi-fi tricks you might not believe affect sound quality (but they do). There is actually one good idea in the article, and that is to listen in the dark. Light, and even color, can affect what you hear. Your hearing is more acute in a dark or low-light environment. And this one even gets some scientific backing, from “chief scientist for Dolby Laboratories, Dr. Poppy Crum.”

But the last idea in the article, for those who have made it past the first eight, which are mostly bogus, is about “Playing CDs from the beginning.”

So, how come a CD sounds better if you stop it and then press play, rather than playing it from pause? Because, dear readers, we can assure you they do.

We haven’t heard a definitive explanation. Nevertheless, in our experience doing things this way just sounds that bit better.

Try it out for yourself with a favourite album on CD. You’ll soon see that we’re not crazy. We just love bicycle inner tubes, little stands for our cables, pitch black rooms and very, very late nights…

And, it bears repeating: what matters is what you hear, so if you can’t hear the difference, save yourself a whole load of trouble and money. But if you do find yourself with some tinkering time, why not give the above a try.

I don’t even know where to begin. How about with that bit where the journalist hasn’t “heard a definitive explanation?” Or, “we assure you they do?”

Thanks, Wut Hi-Fi? Onward and upward.