iOS 8 Keyboards

Apple opened iOS 8 for iPhone and iPad to third party keyboards, and some, including Swype and SwiftKey are very good. Except for one thing. What you type gets sent to a server in the cloud. I’ve used and like SwiftKey. Josh Centers reviews the iOS 8 keyboard conundrum, as well as how to install and use keyboards.

But I don’t trust it. I didn’t trust it on Android, and I don’t trust it on iOS. There are a few reasons for this:

It’s free. On Android, SwiftKey makes money by selling themes and other features through in-app purchases. But those have not arrived on iOS yet. There has also been talk of offering advertisements on the keyboard, though that is expressly forbidden by Apple’s App Store guidelines. In any case, I’m unconvinced by these business models, and I’m less trustful of companies that don’t seem to have a clear, dependable revenue stream.

It’s more insistent about requiring Full Access than any of the other replacement keyboards I’ve tried, to the point that it’s practically unusable without it.

It “helpfully” offers to scan my Facebook and Gmail accounts to learn my writing style. Creepy. No thank you.

The USB Security Problem

USB devices are ubiquitous, and it may not be long before the nearly undetectable USB security flaw known as BadUSB spreads throughout the world. Russell Brandom explains:

Anyone who plugged in a USB stick was opening themselves up to the attack, and because the bad code was residing in USB firmware, it was hard to protect against it without completely redesigning the system.

The good news is that there’s a fix on the way. The bad news is the fix won’t be implemented any time soon.

In the meantime, any time you plug a USB drive into your computer, you’ll be opening up a huge vector of attack. It’s easy to imagine a pile of dirty USBs being dumped onto a table at CES or desk at your local Kinko’s. Unless you can track a device’s provenance from the factory to your computer, the only real protection avoiding USB drives and devices at every turn — covering over your USB ports the same way you might cover your laptop camera.

Container Ship Crash

Obviously Hawaii is home to giant container ships but I don’t recall seeing them crash into one another. Zach Doell has a video:

Slow moving cars are generally pretty easy to stop: just mash the brake pedal and pull the e-brake. Giant slow moving container ships however– that’s a different story.

A pair of behemoth freighters collided at the north end of the Suez Canal on Monday. While the reason behind the incident remains unknown, the crash itself is surely not something you’ll see every day

Add A Photo Lab To Your Mac (if you dare)

Photography just ain’t what it used to be. It wasn’t that long ago that photography consisted of cameras, extra lenses, add-on flash units, film, processing, and prints. If you wanted to do anything special with a photograph, that required a dark room or an expensive scanner.

Today an iPhone takes great photos and all you need to enhance photos are a few apps. One of the more interesting for Mac photography apps is called Photo Lab FX (as in ‘effects’), a modestly priced app packed with loads of effects and filters that render photo lab-like results with simple point and click effort.

Photo Lab FX doesn’t blaze any new trails other than an option to mix photo effects and filters with a few drawing and painting tools, seemingly tossed in as an afterthought. So, instead of using two apps to dress up a photo, one app will do (unless the one doesn’t have the right tools, which is often the case).

The app’s interface is familiar and simple to master. Basic tools line the top Toolbar while each effects, filter, or drawing tool can be dropped in with a click to the Sidebar palette.

Photo Lab FX

The list of effects and filters you can apply to a photo is extensive, though. Brushes toolbox, color picker tools, canvas and image cropping and rotation, color tools, a text toolbox for fonts, shapes (part of the drawing package), and a variety of filters.

This is where Photo Lab FX is competitive. I counted a dozen blending options from color to burn to screen blend and overlays. Distortion effects are many; from bumps to glass to pinch and twirl.

The app does blurs, color, luminance, unsharp mask, color maps, and color masking. The list is extensive and mostly point and click.

Photo Lab FX Sample

Most of the standard Mac file formats are handled in Photo Lab FX, including JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, BMP and even HDR files.

The problem I have with Photo Lab FX is one I have with a number of such Mac apps which pile in a long laundry list of filters and effects without giving thought to long term value or a customer relationship. In terms of capability, it doesn’t hold a candle to Pixelmator; far more features, less money, and a long-time Mac citizen.

The link to Photo Lab FX’s support and website is to a Domains For Sale page. Attention to detail is nominal, too. Note the floppy disk icon in the Toolbar used to save a file. Macs haven’t had floppy disks since what? The last century?

The Missing Spare Tire

No, this isn’t about losing a few pounds. It’s a trend among some car manufacturers. Here’s an increasingly common experience. Jim Travers:

It wasn’t until Bob Kronberg of Carolina Shores, N.C., drove his new Kia Optima home from the dealership that he got an unpleasant surprise. Instead of finding a spare tire in the trunk, he saw a tire-inflator kit, with a small air compressor and a can of sealant to use in case of a flat.

When he called Kia USA, a representative told him that the spare had been eliminated to save weight and, therefore, gas. The rep added that he could purchase a temporary spare-tire kit from his dealer’s parts department for about $200 to $250.

Is there still space in the trunk for a spare tire?

The Average Bugatti Owner

You’ve always wondered what it’s like to have the Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous. As it turns out, they have lots of stuff. Take the average Bugatti owner. From Bugatti honcho Wolfgang Dürheimer:

The Bentley customer on average owns 8 cars. The average Bugatti customer has about 84 cars, 3 jets and one yacht.

84 cars?

Earth’s New Moon

Someone needs another definition for ‘moon.’ Phil Plait on 2014 OL339:

…a 150-meter (or so) diameter rock discovered serendipitously in July by a team of asteroid hunters. Its orbit is highly elliptical; it crosses the orbit of Venus and gets out as far as Mars. It’s also slightly tilted compared with the Earth’s orbit by about 10… the numbers work out such that it takes—get this—364.92 days to circle the Sun once. Sound familiar? That’s only a few hours less than the Earth’s orbital period (one year, of course). When two objects orbit with periods very close to the same number (or simple multiples, like one taking exactly twice as long as the other) we say they are in resonant orbits.

So, it’s not earth’s new moon?

A Free Blast From The Past: Edit Fonts On A Mac

Way back in the day, too far back in the 20th century to be comfortable, Apple introduced fonts to the world with the Mac and a year or so later, the LaserWriter printer. Unfortunately, fonts were few and far between (or, excessively expensive from Adobe), so many Mac users, including yours truly, made our own. That’s right. Mac users with the Fontographer app could create and edit their own fonts to use on a LaserWriter (which came, if memory serves me appropriately, with Courier, Times Roman, Helvetica, Symbol, and Palatino; not exactly a great selection).

For anyone who wants to create and edit their own fonts, Fontographer in the 21st century is alive and well, runs on both Mac and Windows, but is anything but free. So, if you’re a Mac user on a budget but also have a desire to figure out how to create and edit fonts, there’s BirdFont, a donationware app that isn’t exactly Fontographer, but gets the job done.

Most of the basic font editing tools you’ll need are in BirdFont, including an option to create graphic and vector-based fonts.

BirdFont

What you won’t find in BirdFont is built-in help on how to use the variety of tools, though there is a tutorial which will walk you through the basic options. There are many, including tips on how to draw with a grid, drawing glyphs over background images, converting images to vector-based fonts, font kerning, and more.

More BirdFont

In the end you’ll end up with a greater appreciation for how fonts are designed, created, and published (including the work it takes even for a single, customized font), and not have spent as much money as you would with Fontographer (which, in all fairness, is the granddaddy of font editors for Mac users), and it might give you an appreciation for how the world of fonts on Macs and PC has developed and improved over the years.

‘The Rematch Is Subject To Change’

Last year the St. Louis Cardinals roughed up Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. A rematch is possible and could feature two 20-game winners in Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. But the math is messy. Dylan Hernandez:

Should the Dodgers pass the Nationals and finish the regular season with the league’s best record, they would then play host to the winner of next week’s one-game wild-card playoff, likely between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants. The winner of the Central Division, which is currently led by the Cardinals, would then play Washington.

Pittsburgh can still pass the Cardinals in the Central, though, and the Milwaukee Brewers could catch the Giants in the wild-card race, all of which would complicate everything.

Storybook Ending

Some careers end badly. Other careers end as if they’re a Hollywood script. How did Derek Jeter’s career end at Yankee Stadium?

Of course it ended like this. This is Derek Jeter we’re talking about, he’s always lived a charmed baseball life. And in a moment that seemed so perfect, Jeter stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, with a runner on second base and lined a base hit into right field.

Yankees win. Jeter’s the hero. Where have we heard this story before?

Well done.

‘Surprisingly Tasteful’

Viknesh Vijayenthiran on Will.i.am’s customized Lexus:

The custom NX, which is based on the entry-level NX 200t variant equipped with the car’s available F Sport package. There is a long list of modifications but the most obvious is the new wide-body kit. It’s joined by brushed aluminum and carbon vinyl as well as matte pearl white paintwork and a black-tinted panoramic glass roof. As well as sitting lower to the ground, the custom NX is also fitted with massive 22-inch alloy wheels finished in a gloss black hue. These are contrasted by bright orange brake calipers.

But it’s ‘surprisingly tasteful.’

Lexus Will.i.am

The Mac App That Baby Boomers Need

There are times when I come across a Mac app that I’m certain was made for me. Usually they’re damned expensive. Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X come to mind right away. Way down the list in terms of expense is the app Boom. What it does is what almost every member of the baby boomer generation probably needs.

Louder sound from your Mac.

Boom is loaded with a variety of sound enhancing features, but at the base level you get louder sound from your Mac’s speakers. Think of Boom as an optional enhancer tool for the Mac’s sound volume.

Instead of cranking the sound up to, say, 10, Boom lets you go to 14 or so, with crisper sound that’s clearer, louder but without accompanying distortion. Whatever comes out of your Mac’s speakers– iTunes music or movies, Skype, QuickTime Movie, iMovie, YouTube, Garageband music– comes out louder and easier to hear.

Sound settings in the built-in equalizer are customizable but presets make it easy to get results from Boom within minutes.

Boom Settings

Beyond the basics Boom also boosts the volume of audio and video files so they’ll play, well, louder on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod, too. Simply choose the files to enhance, and ‘boom’ them.

The presets are a godsend to anyone who’s ever suffered through the settings on an equalizer. Boom works much like the settings in iTunes, only better. Setup Classical, Acoustic, Jazz, and many others with just a click, but you can customize each to match your ear, room, and requirements.

For those who just want more sound, Boom’s slider control in the Menubar may be all you need. Slide up for more sound. Slide down for less. Boom is simple to setup, a bit more difficult to use all the capability, but if all you’re after is more sound, that’s exactly what you get in this inexpensive Mac app that’s made for the baby boomer generation.

10 Of The Creepiest Things Superheroes Have Done

You’ve got to have a favorite on this list from Chris Jenkins. For example, #10:

Even the most casual comic or movie fan knows two cornerstones of Batman’s character: Batman does not use guns, and Batman does not kill. However, for Bat-fans with long memories, both of these are actually untrue.

Yes, the early Batman killed his villains. #9? Superman got involved in p-o-r-n under the spell of Sleez. Ant-Man had some strange habits, Green Lantern was a mass murderer, and you don’t want to know what Kitty Pryde could do.

640 Horsepower Mustang

Nicole Wakelin on a customized Mustang:

The factory version of the 2015 Mustang V8 model has 435 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque and Saleen managed to bump up that number quite a bit.

How much?

The full specs include a naturally aspirated engine that will get a little boost up to 450 hp and 410 lb-ft, but the supercharger numbers are a huge jump. We’re talking 640 hp and 565 lb-ft of torque for a veritable beast of a car. The buyer can also choose from different final-drive rations and either a six-speed manual or automatic regardless of the engine choice.

Beast, indeed.

Black Holes Don’t Exist

Laura Mersini-Houghton with another view of the conflict between Einstein’s theory of gravity and a fundamental law of quantum theory that unites the two.

Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories — Einstein’s theory of gravity and quantum mechanics — for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony

Dog With 2 Noses

Video of a dog with two noses. I dated a woman that I thought had two noses. She could smell and smell at the same time.

Hidden In Plain Sight: How To Hide A Document Inside A Photo On A Mac

Steganography comes to the Mac. Steganography?

steganography |ˌstegəˈnägrəfi| noun
the practice of concealing messages or information within other nonsecret text or data.

Steganography is a way to conceal a message, image, or file within another message, image, or file. In this case it’s the free Mac app Outguess which does the deed– hide a document inside a photo. James Bond would be impressed.

Using Outguess is rather straightforward. Select a photo (it’s called a ‘container‘ and needs to be a common JPG file). Select the file or document to hide (it’s called ‘content‘). Type in a key (like a password). Click the Hide Data button.

Outguess

That’s it.

Outguess creates a new image or photo but with the file or document secretly embedded inside. Without the password key the file or document cannot be opened.

Extracting the file or document from the JPG image is just as simple. Select the Outguess image in the extract panel. Type in the password key. Click the Extract button.

How safe and secure is an image embedded with a file? Very.

First, out of sight, out of mind. JPG images are so common it’s unlikely anyone would suspect that a photo also contained a file or document with an embedded message. Second, a thief or hacker or NSA agent or Russian spy would need to know that and use Outguess to extract the image but without the password key that won’t happen, either.

Outguess is free and it’s about as simple as it can be to get a file or message hidden out of sight within the confines of a JPG image or photo.

Big Problem With Big iPhone 6

Articles like this are highly predictive. Every time Apple releases a new iPhone someone comes along with headlines like this one: ‘The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone.’

As I stood in line at my local AT&T store Friday morning, preparing to plunk down $399 on Apple’s next big thing, a fear crept into my thoughts: What if the iPhone 6 Plus is too big to fit into my pants pocket? Am I going to have to start carrying a purse?

Yeah, this is a big problem. If only one could test out the size of a new iPhone before buying it. Any other problems?

Yet just as I began to rejoice that I hadn’t wasted my money on a phone I couldn’t carry, a different drawback became apparent: There’s no easy way to use the device with just one hand.

Except for the little trick iOS 8 does which brings the screen down to your fingers (thumb).

When Apple announced the 6 Plus, I noted that it had included a feature that allows you to pull the top buttons halfway down the screen by double-tapping the home button. I did not anticipate that I would quickly come to rely on this feature for almost everything I need to do on the phone.

So, what’s the problem with the iPhone 6 again?

A device that requires two hands is a device that demands your full attention. It’s not a device you can whip out of your pocket and glance at quickly in between other tasks. It’s not a device you can use to quickly scan your email while carrying a grocery bag or hanging onto a subway pole. And perhaps that was Apple’s intention all along: An awkwardly sized phone might be just the incentive some people need to buy a $350 smartwatch.

Ah, that’s it. The big iPhone 6 Plus is there only to make us buy an Apple Watch. Clever, those marketers at Apple. Can I get a refund on the time it took to read an article with absolutely no redeeming value?

The Space Elevator

Add this one to the list of ‘I’ll Believe It When I See’ but someone wants to build an elevator into space. Meghan DeMaria:

The elevator could reach nearly 60,000 miles into space, which could start a revolution for space travel. Its robotic cars would transport passengers to a space station for significantly less than the cost of rockets, and the elevator could eventually eliminate rockets entirely. While space shuttles cost roughly $22,000 per kilogram of space cargo, the elevator would average just $200 per kilogram.

Ludicrous? Or, visionary?

Turn Your Mac Into A Security Camera

There’s nothing like a little paranoia to start the day. If you worry about who’s wandering around your home while you’re away, or who is checking out your cubicle while you’re at lunch, here’s a way to capture the perps (TV lingo for ‘perpetrator’). It’s a Mac app with the clever name Security Cam and it records both photos and video clips of whatever walks by your Mac’s built-in camera.

You can buy security cameras that work in standalone mode but they’ll cost $100 or more (Dropcam is a favorite), but this is a security camera in app form and it comes with a whole laundry list of features so you can customize to meet your security needs.

The Motion Trigger option turns your Mac into a motion detector. Set the trigger to capture a photo or video clip as soon as motion is detected by the camera and app.

There’s also a built-in Audio Detector which will snap the camera when a pre-defined level of sound is detected by your Mac.

No security camera is worthwhile unless there’s a stealth mode and Security Cam has that, too. It turns off the Mac’s display but keeps the app active. Security Cam is accessible from the Mac’s Menubar and displays settings, current camera view, and other options.

Security Cam for Mac

Security Cam can be customized with frequency settings, too. That means the audio trigger and frequency capture combine. There’s a similar setting for both frequency and motion detection.

As you would expect, the app exports videos and photos with a simple click, and if you prefer, each can have a time and date stamp so you can see exactly what took place and when.

Security Cam is nicely done, affordable, very Mac-like in usage, and a boon to any Mac user who is paranoid about home or office security. After all, if everyone is out to get you, a little paranoia is the right attitude to have.