Apple

Sady

This incredible video is on Apple’s site today because it’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

The video starts showing Sady Paulson who uses a switch or switches to control her Mac. It then shows various other kinds of accessibility built into Apple products. Then, it zooms out to show who’s editing the video. It’s brilliant.

I worked with Apple’s disabilities group in the 1980s and 1990s and we did amazing stuff but Apple has come a long way since and it pays off daily for folks with various access issues who want to use Apple’s tools.

AirPort Extreme replaced with AmpliFi

Background

Some of you reading this who use Apple equipment may have home networks created by Apple AirPort Extreme and/or Express routers, or, in some cases Time Capsules (which are AirPort Extremes with hard disks in them for Time Machine backups).

The big news this past week is that Apple is discontinuing their AirPort line and when current stock is sold, they won’t make any more. I’m not sure what this means for firmware updates but those will eventually stop, maybe not immediately but sometime in the next year.

Most of us think of networking gear like plumbing: it runs in the background and god-forbid we have to fiddle with it (some people do enjoy fiddling with it). AirPort, while a great solution wasn’t perfect although setting it up with AirPort Admin was easy and once up and running, it was and still is rock solid.

There are numerous companies making networking equipment that in some ways is more modern than AirPort: Apple hasn’t updated AirPort devices in years and the rest of the networking industry has marched on.

And, over the years use of the internet has changed: we now stream a lot of video (some of it 4K), have multiple hand-held devices on a home network and some people don’t even have a computer anymore (imagine!).

I knew I would eventually have to replace my AirPort Extreme router but there’s no rush, it still works perfectly.

My setup

  • Cable modem
  • AirPort Extreme wifi router
  • iMac Pro connected via ethernet to a LAN port on the AirPort
  • HP laser printer connected via ethernet to another LAN port on the AirPort
  • Ethernet cable running in the walls downstairs to a wall jack and into an Apple TV connected via a LAN port on the AirPort

We use the AirPort wifi for networking everything else (two iPhones, two iPads and Anne’s MacBook Pro) and the AirPort Extreme covers the entire house easily. Sitting in the far end of the living room which is as far away from the base station as you can be in the house the signal drops a tad but it’s good enough.

So, I needed a router and wifi access point and the router had to have 3 or more LAN ports on the back. If you search around on Amazon there are many devices that fill this need. The two things many of them lack is this: easy to use software to set up the network and control access, and a company that’s on top of things enough to do firmware updates to the router as needed.

AmpliFi

Two of my friends are big fans of the networking company Ubiquiti Networks. This company builds high-end networking gear for offices and larger installations. They only recently got into the home networking space with their AmpliFi system.

The AmpliFi wifi router (just the base station) has all the features I wanted although there was no way to find out if it alone, minus its mesh satellites, would be enough to cover my house short of buying one. It alone costs about $130 which is less than the $199 an AirPort Extreme costs. Adding more coverage costs about $110 per mesh point but there’s no reason to do that up front, you can wait until you find out you need it (or not).

For those who haven’t been following the evolution of home networking, in the old days one could extend an AirPort network by adding another AirPort router (an Express) and the method was either with an ethernet cable or with a wifi connection between the base station and its satellite. It wasn’t hard to set up although it wasn’t great and coverage was improved but still not perfect.

The modern way for a home user to do this is with what’s called a mesh system: a base station router and little mesh antennas that one can plug in around the house to extend the wireless range. Very much like building with tinker-toys, or so we’re told.

I don’t really want a mesh system here: I just need a capable router/wifi base station that has enough range to cover my house. However, the nice thing about the AmpliFi system is that it’s really both: the base unit is a direct replacement for the AirPort Extreme and one can add mesh satellites as one needs them, or, not at all.

Here is the listing for the base station alone: AmpliFi HD Mesh Router.

I ordered one from Amazon two days ago (I figured easier returns to Amazon in case it didn’t work out) and while I dreaded taking down our network, I set it up this morning.

Here’s the executive summary: setup is a snap, it has better coverage than the AirPort Extreme it replaced and my entire network (iMac Pro, laser printer, Apple TV, iOS devices) was up and running again in a few minutes. Seriously, a few minutes! The device is smaller than the AirPort: same footprint, about 2/3 the height.

Setting up the AmpliFi HD Mesh Router

It’s taking me longer to write this up than it will take you to do it.

The box this device comes in is quite amazing, almost feels like overkill but it does give the kind of confidence opening up a device from Apple gives (if packaging can do that for you).

1. Download their app on your iPhone or Android phone before starting. The app is called “amplifi” so just search for that in the app store and you’ll find it. I wish it was built for iPad as well but alas, it’s fine on the iPhone alone. Run the app before starting.

2. Disconnect all the old stuff and power down your cable modem or whatever device you have. In my case I have a battery backup on my cable modem and took that out as well as disconnected its power cord).

3. Connect AmpliFi to the cable modem with included ethernet cable.

4. Power up the cable modem.

5. Power up AmpliFi. Note: the AmpliFi power brick cable is quite short, plan accordingly.

Note: at some point in here (I forget where) I had to quit the AmpliFi app and connect to the new network in Settings on my iPhone. The app uses bluetooth for the initial setup and then uses the new wifi connection.

6. Follow the instructions on the AmpliFi app to name the network and create a password. I used the same network name and password I’d used on the AirPort Extreme.

7. Plug in whatever other LAN stuff you have (I have an iMac Pro, a laser printer, and an Apple TV, all connected via ethernet).

8. Log back into your network on all devices. Even though the network name and password were the same I had to log back in because the access point was new. Apple TV was automatic (nice).

9. The AmpliFi app will tell you all is well and that’s that. The app has ways to control the lighting and feedback on the AmpliFi router and it also gives you your network speed and more information.

Notes

The power brick cable on the AmpliFi is pretty short. Plan accordingly.

Coverage is better than the AirPort Extreme (amazing since its a smaller device). I have complete coverage anywhere in my house and in my driveway. If I need more coverage or over time I find coverage is weak I can always buy an AmpliFi MeshPoint HD or, better, another AmpliFi router and beef up my network.

Apple TV connection was automatic as I had named the network the same thing and used the same password.

Network printing on the laser printer was automatic.

I used the app to change a few settings but the default settings are fine.

If you use AirPort express to connect to home audio equipment I’d slave the same AirPort express to the AmpliFi system. I’m not sure what else to recommend at this point.

If you use a Time Capsule for over the air Time Machine backups I think you’ll probably have to switch to a locally connected Time Machine drive. There may be other solutions coming but I haven’t heard of them yet.

I’d say (so far) that this is the absolute best replacement solution for the AirPort Extreme. Easy to set up, great coverage, and I have faith that this company will keep the firmware updated.

I was dreading this changeover but in fact, it was completely painless. Those of you reading this who are in the same boat, there is no huge rush, just because Apple discontinued AirPort doesn’t mean you have to switch immediately. But, in fact, the AmpliFi setup may give you better coverage with faster speeds and it might pay to make the switch sooner than later. In short, don’t be intimidated by this, it’s doable by most if not all home network users

Feel free to let me know what your experience is in the comments.

Welcome Home(Pod)

This video has been making the rounds and I’ve watched it numerous times; it’s brilliant. Director Spike Jonze put together a great music-video ad for Apple’s HomePod (speaker) featuring FKA Twigs (an English music star and dancer).

She’s an excellent dancer with serious modern dance training and the choreography is brilliant. Notice how she moves walls (and other things) the way we pinch, spread our fingers, and swipe to move windows and objects on our hand-held devices (iPhones, iPads, etc. this is an Apple video).

I posted about another fantastic music-video commercial Jonze did for Kenzo World (perfume) in 2016 here.

Here’s that video saving you a click (grin).

Jonze is amazingly good. His movies include Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her, and many others. When you think about his work, it’s all high quality but definitely outside the box.

Ice in a rut

Ice in a rut

Southwestern, Massachusetts.

I did some shooting with my iPhone 8 on our hike the other day. This is a small rut on the trail with some rather large ice crystals growing in it.

As most folks know, modern smartphones have excellent cameras in them and I’ve seen some amazing images coming from iPhones of all vintages on Flickr and elsewhere. I’ve had an iPhone of one sort or another for years but I’m still not as comfortable as others in using it as a primary camera. Not sure quite why that is, it sure is convenient and easy to carry.

Jessa Jones, master microfixer

Jessa Jones does board-level repairs on iPhones and iPads. Brilliant video, amazing work, and while I get why Apple doesn’t get into this I’m glad she is and hopefully Apple supports her work.

Her company is iPad Rehab.

Jessa has a youTube channel: iPad Rehab with lots of detailed demos on the really nerdy stuff.

[via The Kid Should See This]

Discussing the birth of the iPhone

John Markoff interviews former iPhone engineering team members Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra and Scott Herz, followed by a second interview with Scott Forstall.

This is a two hour interview, Forstall starts about 1:07 but both hours are well worth listening to. Understand that the technology that these people built changed the world and Forstall had an inkling of the importance of what they were doing but really, none of them had any idea that the iPhone would turn out to be the success it has been.

This isn’t just for Apple fan-people or iPhone geeks, this will be interesting for anyone who wants a behind the scenes look at how these people’s careers took shape and how they ended up on the original iPhone team. The personal anecdotes are fascinating.

I was involved with Apple in the early years of the Macintosh and this felt very much like early interviews with Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, and others on the first Macintosh team. Historic.

This event took place at The Computer Museum and regrettably, the sound and video aren’t great, but it is extremely worthwhile.

Note: Scott Forstall left Apple (was let go) in 2012. Wouldn’t it be ironic (and interesting) if Forstall, like Jobs, came back to Apple later as CEO (or in some other capacity) after going through a personal transformation outside of Apple. Sometimes distance makes for a clearer head.

Adding weather to Calendar in Mac or iOS

Weather in your iOS and macOS Calendars

I use Apple’s native Calendar application in Mac OS on my MacBook Pro as well as in iOS on my iPhone 6s and iPad Air II. I’ve used other calendars but there’s something about the simplicity and integration of Apple’s native apps that appeals to me.

I think the reason I didn’t think to attempt to include a weather forecast in my calendar on my Mac before was that I was used to using both the weather widget and a third party widget called Radar in Motion in Mac OS’ Dashboard.

Radar in Motion stopped working a while back and while I have weather set up in my Mac Notification Center (off the right side of the screen), I thought it would be more useful to attempt to integrate a weather forecast into Calendar so I could see both events and weather in the same place.

A few minutes of searching and I found Chris Short’s post above which covers adding a Weather Underground ICS calendar subscription file to almost any calendar, including Mac OS’s Calendar. Note, I’ve not tried this directly on an iPhone or iPad but it should work.

I copied this sample URL into my browser:

https://ical.wunderground.com/auto/ical/NY/NYC.ics

and changed the state and city:

https://ical.wunderground.com/auto/ical/CT/WARREN.ics

Note, before you go and do this, please read the following:

I’ve made numerous categories (calendars) in my Calendar: Home, To Do, Event, Hiking and I’m subscribed to Holidays. I color code each of these calendars and it helps me quickly look at my Calendar and see what’s what. I’ve been doing this for many years, since iCal first appeared.

If you don’t make a new category/calendar called something like Warren Weather” and you go too fast through pasting the URL in your browser, downloading the ICS file and adding it to your Calendar, you may accidentally add the weather subscription to one of your existing categories. I did this by mistake and could not, for the life of me, figure out how to undo it. Couple that with the fact that my Calendar is connected to iCloud and immediately synced with my iPhone and iPad and you have a potential issue if you make a mistake.

I recommend creating a new category/calendar called “Weather” or better, “Warren Weather” (substitute your town/city) and when you download the ICS file add it to that category/calendar and give it a unique color.

calendar detail

The last thing to consider is that this ICS file is for a particular place and it will not change if you travel from, for example, Warren, Connecticut to Chicago, Illinois. If you can figure out how to modify the ICS file to make it GPS aware, please let me know. But, short of that, if you find yourself in another city, make a new weather category/calendar for that city and click the X off in front of your home city to hide it temporarily.

calendar

Looks like we’re going to have some snow on Tuesday and I’ve got an appointment I might have to move. Brilliant.