Apple’s Mac 101 Series: Automator

Reading about robots lately has got me thinking about building some automation into my MacBook.

I have been playing around with Automator, the workflow automation software for Mac OS X. Apple has a good place to begin with learning how to use it here. Also, MacStories compiled a list of Automator actions and resources here.

Once I have something working, I will share the results here.

Stochastic Update, Reinstall Complete, Workshops

My Late-2008, Aluminum MacBook is back up and running with Lion, Aperture, and Office. After installation, everything is updated and running nicely. It’s too bad that Apple dropped support for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. I had considered getting back to basics for this particular Mac model, but had I done so, I would not be able to receive any security update or run the most up-to-date Safari web browser.

While restoring files, I have taken some time to trim the fat so that I have a leaner, meaner installation.

Not much else to report besides dissertation writing.

Oh, I do have some new workshops designed for the spring semester digital composition workshops. I will post those soon here so that you can have a sneak peak.

That is all . . .

Cleaning out the cobwebs

Thanks to my home built Lion install flash drive (I purchased Mac OS X through the App Store and created a bootable install drive), I am performing a nuke-and-pave on my late-2008 MacBook. As you might have read before here, I haven’t qualms about performing a reinstall. While the install is progressing, I am reading David Levy’s Love+Sex with Robots. I believe that this is the missing component to my Asimov chapter. Ah, a reboot . . .

Moshi iVisor Pro Anti-Glare Screen for Late-2008 MacBook 13″ is Awesome

One thing that has bothered me for a long time is the glare on the standard LCD displays on Apple’s products. When I was in Taiwan a year ago, Yufang and I invested in Moshi anti-glare screens for our iPads. They work fantastic–installation is easy, cleaning is painless, and glare is stopped.

It hadn’t occurred to me to search for a similar product for my MacBook’s glossy display. Lucky for my eyes, I was sufficiently fed up with the reflection on my MacBook’s display a few days ago that I passed the cognitive threshold to search for an anti-glare on Amazon.

The highest ratings were for Moshi’s iVisor Pro. I received it yesterday, and I have been very pleased with the results so far. It installed as easily as the one for my iPad, and it makes the screen look like a matte-finish display on older LCD displays. It is easy on my eyes, and I do not see glare from lights or my own reflection on the screen.

If you need an anti-glare solution for your Apple product, I highly recommend Moshi’s Film Protectors. Find out more about the products that they offer here.

Julian Assange Claims that Massive Holes in iTunes and Other Software Make Widespread Surveillance Easy

According to a report on the International Business Times by Alistair Charlton:

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claims that there is a “flaw” in Apples iTunes that is used by surveillance companies to take over users computers.

In a private interview with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism before giving a talk in London on Thursday, Assange claimed that governments are actively using surveillance techniques to spy on every single civilian in entire cities, storing everything about them.

via Julian Assange: Apple iTunes Lets Big Brother Take Control of Your Computer – International Business Times.

If this proves true, this could be far more damning than the recent Carrier IQ debacle. However, Assange has yet to support his assertions with evidence or techniques. Could this be the next big Wikileaks break?

“Altars” for Steve Jobs in China and Taiwan, Built with Walter Isaacson’s Biography of the Tech Titan

Taiwanese Home Guy Lucifer posted photos from around China and Taiwan of “altars” for Steve Jobs built out of his official biography by Walter Isaacson. They aren’t really altars, but they have a striking similarity to the kinds of altars a family would build for a deceased relative. A traditional altar for a deceased relative would include photos of the deceased, incense, flowers, and white candles. Go here to see all of the photos that Lucifer posted–I have included only one to the left.

iOS 5.0.1 is Now Available, Plugin and Launch iTunes to Download

I am downloading iOS 5.0.1, which I hope will alleviate the low battery life issues that I have experienced since getting the iPhone 4S. I will report back after the update.

UPDATE: Install went flawlessly after downloading 800+ MB update. Let’s see if I can go more than a day and a half to two days before needing to charge.

UPDATE 2: Downloading the iPad iOS 5.0.1 update over iTunes. However, AppleInsider reports here that Apple is also pushing updates via its i-devices wirelessly. I wish that I had thought to check Settings > General > Software Update on my iPhone 4S before plugging into iTunes earlier!

UPDATE 3: It is interesting that the iTunes update is so large, when the AppleInsider images in the link above show the over-the-air update to be only 55 MB. I assume that iTunes grabs the full iOS system install while the over-the-air update contains only the files/changes needed for the update.

Apple and Sandboxing Programs on Mac OS X

It would seem that Apple is moving towards further convergence of iOS and Mac OS X in terms of their control of what gets installed and how those installed programs operate and interoperate within the OS.

One of the security innovations of iOS is sandboxing. To sandbox a program means to run a program within a secure space that limits its access to files on the systems, to other processes running, and to hardware. Essentially, the program is walled off from everything else in the running OS. This is good for security, because a single compromised app cannot bring down the rest of the OS or delete/damage files in the sandboxes of other programs or subvert the OS by direct access to the system hardware.

There are two reasons why sandboxing programs on Mac OS X bothers me:

1) Apple is enforcing these changes through its Mac App Store. Developers need Apple’s App Store more than Apple needs the developers. Apple realizes that a centralized marketplace with its ease of use will encourage users to buy and install programs from the App Store more readily than through traditional boxed software or shareware. It is only another step after making developers build their software to be sandboxed to enforce an install new programs only through the Mac App Store.

2) If all programs eventually must be sandboxed to run on Mac OS X, then the ability to multitask in several programs drawing on a shared set of files will be a pain. Perhaps through iCloud or other cloud services, it will be possible to access files across apps, but I like to have my files stored locally in one place that I can easily locate and backup on my own. This kind of new app behavior will disrupt my workflow to the point that I would have to reinvent the workflow wheel.

We do not yet know if Apple will enforce sandboxing for any application installed on Mac OS X including those not obtained through the Mac App Store, but we do know that Mac App Store developers have until March 1, 2012 to implement sandboxing and submit their apps for approval for additional privileges [read more here on TUAW]. There are already over 500 comments on Slashdot regarding this news here.

Facetime, Apple’s Slick Teleconferencing Software, is for Cats, Too

In the image to the left, Miao and I are talking with Y with Apple’s Facetime technology. Y is visiting her family in Taiwan, so we are relying on Apple’s Facetime on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion and iOS 5 to talk face-to-face.

Facetime is integrated into the new device and computer operating systems so that you can “call” someone with Facetime and your iPad 2 or iPhone 4S will “ring” automagically with an incoming connection request. We have also used our MacBooks to handle Facetime conversations.

The quality of the video feed is largely dependent on Internet transfer conditions between Ohio and Taiwan. The video is sometimes fluid and sometimes strobe-effect like with lots of funny faces captured by our devices’ cameras. When it works well, Facetime is very slick, but it even holds up well for visual communication over long distance even when conditions create video freezes. The audio generally comes through clear and without stutter–I suppose it is prioritized over video.

Since audio seems prioritized, I would think that they are separate streams that have to be synced at the receiver’s end. Perhaps this is why Facetime spikes CPU usage–muxing the separate streams while simultaneously transmitting demuxed streams. Have you found an explanation Apple’s implementation of the technologies that make Facetime work? Let me know in the comments.