Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 124: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do on Your Work Computer or Phone

Your work computer or phone doesn’t belong to you, and you should be careful about what you do on these devices. Your employer can track you and all your activity, and record what you do, and even, perhaps, what you type.

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.

Here’s Why Apple News+ Doesn’t Work

Like many, I tried Apple News+ for one month, then cancelled, because I didn’t see the value in this service. $10 a month seems too much to me to have access to a number of publications that I read only occasionally at best; I simply don’t have the time to read all those magazines. Back when I subscribed to more print publications, I ended up with stacks of them that I tried to “get through” every couple of months.

But Apple keeps trying to interest me in Apple News+, and I don’t blame them. But I do blame them for what they present to tempt me. Case in point: the Apple News app showed me this section today:

Apple news minus

At the top of the section is an article about cameras, and this makes sense: I follow a couple of photography channels in the app. But below that, there are four other suggestions, none of which are “based on what I read.” I don’t watch birds, I don’t care much about houses and homes, I have no interest in advertising, and I don’t have diabetes. I don’t know why the algorithm is this broken, but it’s broken.

The Apple News app does show, in its various sections, articles that interest me, mainly because I follow certain publications (The Washington Post, The Guardian, etc.), or because I follow channels, like photography, business, politics, and others. Nevertheless, I regularly block channels that show up in the “for you” sections because they either don’t interest me, or are local channels for areas in other parts of the world.

Add to that the fact that, after scrolling a couple of screens, I see content more than a day old, meaning that there’s really not much to see.

Apple News is mediocre at best. And Apple News+ has a long way to go. I know some people who like Apple News+ because they had previously been using Texture, the magazine service that Apple bought and rolled into their Apple News app. But most people I know who have tried the service gave up for reasons similar to mine. Reports are that Apple News+ is not successful, and notably that publishers aren’t very happy with it. While it’s a good idea, it seems that Apple just doesn’t know how to get it right.

Meanwhile, Flipboard, which I’ve been using for nearly ten years, has offered a new scrolling design option, which can be an improvement on its traditional page flips to get to the next page. I find Flipboard to be an excellent tool, generally providing content I want to see. To be fair, I’ve been using it long enough that it knows what I read, so it’s easier for it to select articles to show me, but I don’t rate articles that I like or not; the only thing I have done is selected topics to follow, and blocked sources I don’t like.

The Next Track, Episode #170 – Miles Davis’s Landmark Album Kind of Blue

Ashley Kahn wrote the book on Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, the jazz album everyone owns if they one at least one jazz album. We talk with Ashley about the recording of Kind of Blue, and about its legacy. (Apologies for the audio issues.)

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

Voice Memos on macOS Catalina Doesn’t Record for Some Users when Signed into iCloud

Voice Memos is one of the Catalyst apps that Apple has brought to macOS with the release of Catalina. Catalyst is a framework that allows iPad apps, with some small tweaks, to run on Macs. However, seems that Voice Memos doesn’t work on the Mac, at least to record voice memos. You can listen to voice memos you’ve recorded on iOS devices, but when you press the Record button, nothing happens in the app. Not only does it not record anything, but the timeline doesn’t move.

Voice memos is broken

I had thought that the app might need to be added to the Security & Privacy preferences, in the Privacy tab under Microphone – this is where apps are listed that have requested permission to use a Mac’s microphone – but there’s no way to add it.

Some people have suggested that it works only if you’re not logged into your iCloud account; the app does sync voice memos across your devices via iCloud, if you told it to do so on first launch. I tried it with a test account on one of my Macs, which is not signed into an iCloud account, and it works fine.

Interestingly, if I attempt to make a voice memo on my Mac, with my account that is signed into iCloud, the app creates a file (in ~/Library/Application Support/com.apple.voicememos/Recordings), but that file remains at 0 bytes until I quit the app. That suggests that something is happening to prevent the file from being written correctly (perhaps), due to a problem in the cloud (conjecture).

Recordings

When I try to record a voice memo, I see the following error message in Console:

-[RCMainControllerHelper _recordingFailed:error:] -- failed to start recording error = Error Domain=VMAudioServiceErrorDomain Code=6

And when I click Done or the Pause button, this message displays in Console:

-[RCMainControllerHelper exitEditMode] -- finishError = (null)

Turning off iCloud sync for voice memos (in System Preferences > Apple ID > iCloud Drive) doesn’t resolve the issue. And if I delete the Recordings folder at the path mentioned above, the app hangs, then quits.

Voice memos are clearly working for most people, but there are also a number of people reporting that it isn’t working. (Here’s a search on Apple’s forum; there are a number of posts in the list from people with the same issue.) I’ve tried adjusting the settings in Audio-MIDI Setup, and they don’t make a difference, and I’ve tried using different inputs, such as my AirPods, or the mixer I use for podcasts. It seems that iCloud is the variable here, though some people who are signed into iCloud can record using the app. This wouldn’t be the first case of iCloud corruption I’ve seen, especially since iOS 13 was released.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 123: Switching Default Apps on the iPhone and iPad

Your iPhone or iPad comes with 36 default apps, including Mail, Safari, and Messages. You may want to use other apps for email, for browsing, and for messaging, in part to enhance your security and privacy. While you can’t set other apps to replace the defaults, as you can on macOS, you can switch. We explain how.

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.

The Zen of Everything Podcast, Episode 19: Original Buddhism, Changing Buddhism

What is “original Buddhism?” In the absence of texts from the Buddha’s times, how can we know what the Buddha really taught? And how does the corpus of later texts help us understand Buddhism?

Find out more at the Zen of Everything website.

When Books about Science Aren’t Fact Checked, I Can’t Trust Anything in Them

This weekend, I started reading This Is Your Brain on Music, by Daniel Levitin. He is a neuroscientist who had previously been a professional musician, and the book explores why we enjoy music and how it affects the brain.

It started off interestingly, showing that this was a book by a scientist exploring a topic in which he had personal experience. But then I got to a few areas where he made ridiculous statements, a couple of which were outlandish, and one that was just false. This showed that the book had not been fact checked, and made me wonder about everything else in it: if there were mistakes like this, they cast doubt on everything the author says.

The author was discussing the way information is stored in the brain, comparing it with the way data is stored on computers. He says:

People who work with image files all the time are able to look at the stream of 0s and 1s and tell something about the nature of the photograph—not at the level of whether it is a human or a horse, perhaps, but things like how much red or gray is in the picture, how sharp the edges are, and so forth. They have learned to read the code that represents the picture.

This is simply ridiculous. You cannot tell anything about the contents of any file from “the stream of 0s and 1s.” You could tell something about some types of files if you look at the hexadecimal interpretation of those 0s and 1s, but only if they contain metadata (such as the type of file, the creation date, etc.). There is nothing in a file that gives you any idea of its contents by simply looking at the raw data.

He doubles down shortly after the above statement:

Similarly, audio files are stored in binary format, as sequences of 0s and 1s. The 0s and 1s represent whether or not there is any sound at particular parts of the frequency spectrum. Depending on its position in the file, a certain sequence of 0s and 1s will indicate if a bass drum or a piccolo is playing.

I think the only polite thing that I can say is that this is fantastical. The idea that “a certain sequence of 0s and 1s” in any way suggests which instrument is playing, which note is played, or anything at all is ludicrous. Audio files are sampled 44,100 per second, meaning that in each second of music, there are 44,100 discrete segments, combined in “frames,” of audio data. Each of these frames of data contains an abstraction of the sound, and it is not broken up into sections for which instrument is playing, what note is played, etc. The fact that a scientist can write this, and that a publisher fact checked it, is literally beyond belief.

Finally, there’s this:

The research on the development of the first MRI scanners was performed by the British company EMI, financed in large part from their profits on Beatles records. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” might well have been titled “I Want to Scan Your Brain.

Alas, this is the kind of thing that, perhaps, one may have remembered hearing, but that a fact checker should have corrected. It was the CT scan that EMI developed; the history of the MRI is quite complex and took a long time to become a viable diagnostic tool. It began in the 1950s, and took a couple of decades to become useful.

It is beyond disappointing to read this sort of error. I know about these things, and was able to detect them, but I don’t know much about the other things – such as how the brain works – that the author discusses. So there’s no way of knowing whether he is correct, and I simply cannot read a scientific book with this doubt in my mind.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 61: Choosing What to Photograph

A listener in the PhotoActive Facebook group asks a great question, “How do I choose a subject to shoot?” In this episode, Kirk and Jeff explore how they approach a scene, with groups of photos from deliberate photo shoots that seek to answer that question.

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.

Binge Reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher Novels

Reacher

In early December, I decided that I wanted to spend some time reading a series of books. I’ve been reading mysteries and crime fiction for decades, and this is a genre where there are very long series, such as, for example, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, which ran for 40 volumes, until the death of the author. Unfortunately – and I’ll discuss this more later – his estate decided that it was worth containing novels with that character written by others. One of them was unfinished at his death, and his agent completed it, and there have been eight more since then, writing by Ace Atkins.

So I went back through the series that I enjoy, and decided to re-read Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. I had read about a dozen of them, many years ago, but had not gone any further. So I decided to buy all of the books, a few at a time, and read them. I completed the first 23 novels (and one volume of the "complete collected short stories") in about two months, and put off reading the latest (or last) one until a few days ago. I thought that I would perhaps save that one for a time when I wanted to dip back into the character, but decided to complete the series.

What I didn’t know when I began re-reading these books is that the latest novel, Blue Moon, is the last one. Not really, though. It’s only the last one that Lee Child will write. He’s announced his retirement and is passing the series on to his brother, Andrew Grant. (Lee Child is a pen name of James Grant.) I have no real interest in reading books by a surrogate author, so I won’t be reading any more.

The Jack Reacher novels are light reads. They read quickly, and, in some cases, I was able to complete on in an evening. They are well plotted and well paced, but relatively simple in execution. Reacher is an interesting character, a man who roams, almost, as Child has said, like a knight errant. He helps damsels (and dudes) in distress, out of a code of honor that he learned in the military. He has no attachments, and never stays anywhere more than a few days, unless he’s in a novel. This is, of course, somewhat unrealistic, but it is similar to the way in westerns some stranger would come into town, then ride off into the sunset.

He’s a very big man: 6′ 5" tall, or nearly a foot taller than Tom Cruise who played him in two movies, and weighs 250 lbs. Because of this, fans of the series could not accept Cruise’s depiction, and a TV series is on the works for Amazon.

He is also a violent man, with the reptilian part of his brain often taking over. But he also has a propensity for meeting female cops – and sleeping with them – so, in spite of, or perhaps because of, his lack of fine traits, seems to make women swoon easily, even though he is often described as "ugly." But they know he won’t stay long, so his exploits – always tastefully written – are just punctuations to complex stories of crime and punishment.

The books follow Reacher after he leaves the Army, where he was an MP, and there are a couple of books that reach back to when he was still active in the military, including one which leads directly into the first book. His understanding of the military and his experience as an MP gives him a unique outlook on crime, and he is a believable character.

in the first novel, Child writes a lot in an almost Hemingwayesque style. Which he later drops. Though it comes back again at times. While that style may work with the character, it’s a bit frustrating. Another element that I find annoying – and that I skip – is the detailed descriptions of firearms, with an almost erotic discussion of their features, muzzle speeds, and deadly effects. The fight scenes are also too detailed for my taste. Some fights – often fisticuffs, rather than gun battles – run for a few pages, and I just read the first sentence of each paragraph to know what’s happening, because the details aren’t important. I do understand that some people like that stuff though.

Over 23 books, there are a few duds, but for the most part, these are top-shelf crime novels. Child’s plotting is confusing in a couple of the novels, but it’s never the type of Harlan Coben-esque plot where you think you know what’s happening, then something unexpected happens, then something else unexpected happens, and so on. I find this fatiguing; it’s almost as if the author is toying with readers. Reading a Jack Reacher novel, you know what you’re getting: a clear ethical dilemma in which honor wins. His choices are sometimes illegal, but one can understand his reasoning.

Child is very careful to make sure that Reacher’s stern morality is constantly present, but he also constantly underscores some of the character’s weaknesses, such as his total cluelessness with technology. When computers, then mobile phones, come into the story, Reacher is always fat fingered and perplexed about these devices, though eventually manages to figure them out enough to exploit them when needed, as in the final novel, Blue Moon. (It’s a minor plot point, but I won’t include spoilers.) Reacher has many quirks, some of which reflect the author’s lifestyle (he drinks as much coffee as he can) and others which, hopefully, do not (he never washes clothes, but buys new clothes every few days and throws the dirty ones away).

As series go, the Jack Reacher novels are quite strong. There are highs and lows over this many books, and rarely do people read so many in such a short time, as I did. Reading like this allows you to see the similarities that may jar during a binge, but which are reassuring when you read one a year.

If you like this sort of novel, check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

Intego Mac Podcast, Episode 122: Understanding Blockchain and Cryptocurrency

A child spends a fortune on in-app purchases, the CIA has been running a fake company providing encryption services, and beware of public lockers. We then take a deep dive into blockchain technology and cryptocurrency; if you’ve been wondering what Bitcoin is, we explain (almost) everything.

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.