Background Mode Podcast

Join The Mac Observer's John Martellaro every week for fascinating interviews with tech industry pros and luminaries. It's more than a show about what they do; it's about who they are.

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Alex Nevala-Lee on Background Mode

TMO Background Mode Interview with Science Fiction Writer & Biographer Alec Nevala-Lee

Oct. 22nd, 2018 - 5:49 PM | 00:29:49

Alec Nevala-Lee is a science fiction novelist, essayist and biographer. He’s known for the scifi novels: The Icon Thief, City of Exiles, and Eternal Empire. He’s written for Analog Science Fiction, and he’s had essays and non-fiction published in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The...

Podcast Archives

  1. Oct. 22nd, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Science Fiction Writer & Biographer Alec Nevala-Lee

    Alec Nevala-Lee is a science fiction novelist, essayist and biographer. He's known for the scifi novels: The Icon Thief, City of Exiles, and Eternal Empire. He's written for Analog Science Fiction, and he's had essays and non-fiction published in the Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Daily Beast and more. We chatted about growing up in California, the influential book that inspired him to become a writer, his early career, life at Harvard, and quitting his job to become a struggling - then successful novelist. Alec also shared a bit about his writing tools and techniques. Finally, we explored his new biography entitled: ASTOUNDING, a critical look at the life, writing and mutual influences of four famous scifi authors: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard during the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1940s and 50s.

  2. Oct. 15th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Planetary Scientist Dr. Pascal Lee

    Dr. Pascal Lee is a planetary scientist with the SETI Institute. He's also Chairman of the Mars Institute, and Director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at NASA Ames Research Center. His research includes the history of water on Mars and planning future human exploration of Mars. Pascal has a Ph.D. in Astronomy and Space Sciences from Cornell University. We chatted about how he spent his very early years in Hong Kong, inspired by American and British SciFi TV shows. Later, he migrated to Paris where he continued his education and, inspired by Dr. Carl Sagan, made his way to Cornell in the 1990s. He was Dr. Sagan's last teaching assistant. Next, we talked about his trips to the remote Canadian island, Devon, to study Mars-like conditions. We wrapped up with an introduction to his thoughts on SETI.

  3. Oct. 8th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Encore #5 Interview with Science Communicator Dr. Kiki Sanford

    Dr. Kiki Sanford makes her fifth appearance on Background Mode. Kiki is a neurophysiologist with a Ph.D. from the University of California. She's a popular science communicator and creator of This Week in Science (TWIS) podcast and radio show. In this episode, we chat about some some recent topics discussed on TWIS that fascinated me. 1) Yale roboticists have developed skins with embedded actuators that can turn just about anything into robots. 2) A 127 million year old fossil was discovered in China that fills in another gap in the story of how dinosaurs became birds. 3) The new NASA exoplanet search mission, Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is operational. We talk about its mission and how it compares to the Kepler spacecraft. This is just a sample; we covered much more cool science stuff.

  4. Oct. 1st, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Former Apple Software Engineer James Dempsey

    James Dempsey worked at Apple for fifteen years before setting out on his own in August 2011. As a software engineer at Apple, he worked on iOS, Aperture, and macOS releases Leopard through Lion, including half a decade on the Cocoa frameworks team. He's the founder of Tapas Software, developer of iOS and Mac software. We talked abut his "aha" moments in life starting with his college roommate's Mac Plus in 1986. His dream to work for Apple was eventually fulfilled in 1996, and James described what it was like to be an Apple evangelist in those days. But James is also an accomplished comedian, vocalist, ukulele player and has a published album. He's also routinely written special songs for WWDC each year. If you ever wanted to work for Apple, this show is must listening.

  5. Sep. 24th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Technology Journalist Ryan Faas

    Ryan Faas is a technology journalist and author who has been writing about Apple, business, enterprise IT topics, and the mobile industry for over a decade. He also spent a large portion of the past 15 years in the systems/network engineering and IT management fields as an IT director and systems administrator. He's worked for MTV Networks as well as being a former Apple Genius. Today, he is also a Contributing Writer for Computerworld. We chatted about how he became such an expert in enterprise matters as well as knowledgeable in multiple OSes. He told me why the wireless carriers decline to push Android updates as often as Apple, and he filled me in on what really going on with macOS Server. Finally, Ryan also predicted when Apple will go to ARM processors in the Mac.

  6. Sep. 17th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Early Apple Podcaster Victor Cajiao

    Victor Cajiao was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in the U.S. and became well known in the Apple world for several different podcasts. He's an Apple tech geek as well as a musician (saxophone) and hobby photographer. Victor told me the story about how he came to the U.S. via a special initiative started by President Kennedy. The fascinating story continues as he eventually worked his way into a job with AT&T rising to the level of IT Technical Director. He also told me the story about how he fell in love with the Mac and then launched his podcast, The Typical Mac User. Victor recently retired from AT&T after 26 years and now travels the U.S. in his Airstream trailer. Recently, he's been sighted at Macstock, doing terrific demos of Mac technologies.

  7. Sep. 10th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Academic Director of IT Bradley Chambers

    Bradley Chambers has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Currently he's the IT director at a school in Chattanooga, and he's also a contributor to 9to5Mac via his weekly column: "Making the Grade." Bradley told me about his work as an IT administrator, how iPads and Macs are deployed, configured and repaired. There are some good tools for doing that, but they're also supplemented with Google docs and JAMF tools. His kids are taught programming at an early age with Swift Playgrounds, and it turns out that the iPad offers just what his students need for a K-5 curriculum. We finished with a discussion of a few of his recent columns, including why digital textbooks generally failed in the market as well as thoughts about the state of Apple's iBooks Author app.

  8. Sep. 4th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Backblaze Director of Product Marketing Skip Levens

    Skip Levens is currently the Director of Product Marketing at Backblaze, the cloud storage and backup company. He's very experienced in brand marketing and technology evangelism. Skip is a former U.S. Marine. After leaving the Marines, Skip went to work for Alain Pinel, a real estate company that embraced the NeXT computer, and that launched his successful crusade to work for Apple. We chatted about Skip's work at Apple in early internet technologies, then Developer Relations that involved him with supercomputers. We explored the rise and fall of Apple's Xserve and Xserve RAID as well as the evolution of his expertise in storage technology at Active Storage, Quantum, Symply Storage and now Backblaze. You can't have more geek fun than this show.

  9. Aug. 27th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Sr. Mobile & Networking Developer Alf Watt

    Alf Watt is an experienced software developer with expertise in macOS, iOS and wireless technology. He operates iStumbler Labs, most notably the Wi-Fi monitoring app iStumbler. He's also a former Apple employee. As a youth, Alf's first computer was a Commodore 64, and he leaned how to enter the code for computer games. Later, with a Mac plus, Alf learned HyperCard. Alf's first serious language, however, was Perl. At Apple, Alf became deeply in involved with Wi-Fi and Apple's AirPort technology, and that provided a foundation for his legendary iStumbler app. That app is now in Mac App Store. We finished with Alf's description of his new tool called KitBridge which allows iOS developers to bring apps to macOS. Alf is an engaging personality in the Apple world, and you'll enjoy his stories.

  10. Aug. 20th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with macOS Software Developer Sander Berents

    Sander Berents has been fascinated by astronomy since childhood when he started using his older brother's telescope. In his teens, he also became immersed in BASIC and assembly language programming with his TRS-80. Later, he earned an M.S. in astrophysics. His earliest jobs involved computer programming, and nowadays, he's an independent, professional macOS software developer and the developer of the macOS app called Observatory. Version 1.0 was released in April 2016. We chatted about the development of Observatory, written in Objective-C and C++, which has several important features for astrophotographers: plate solving, image stacking and a digital blink microscope used for discovery. This app can also be used as a non-destructive photo library for astrophotos. Sander chatted about life as a developer and explained a little bit about how astronomers use his app.

  11. Aug. 13th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Host of The Carson Podcast Mark Malkoff

    Mark Malkoff is a comedian, filmaker, and the host of The Carson Podcast in which he talks with guests about legendary talk show host Johnny Carson. His guests include stand-up comics who debuted on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, individuals who worked on the show, and entertainers who were influenced by Carson. I chatted with Mark about his early jobs on various TV shows, sketch comedy, and video projects. As a comedian, he'd always been fascinated by Johnny Carson. It was Peter Jones (PBS) who encouraged Mark to do a podcast all about Carson's Tonight Show. Mark told me about how he lines up guests and how he prepares. In 180+ podcasts, Mark has learned a lot about Mr. Carson's personal life and the details of show's production. Mark enthusiastically shares it all.

  12. Aug. 6th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with NightCap Camera Developer Chris Wood

    Chris Wood is the developer of the iOS photography app called NightCap Camera, an app that specializes in low-light photography, be it terrestrial or astronomical. Chris told me the story about his technial evolution as a developer, coming out of a M.S. degree and the IT, database and network world. It was the allure of the original iPhone's graphics that whetted his appetite for programming in Objective-C . His big break came with the iPad 2 which had a fairly strong graphics processor (for its time). That led to the development of the acclaimed iPad app called Camera Boost. Later, the experience Chris gained led to the NightCap app and its descendant NightCap Camera. Chris and I chatted about the evolution and capabilities of this excellent app that even novice photographers should own.

  13. Jul. 30th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Special Edition Chat with Kelly Guimont: TV Mysteries

    Kelly Guimont is a Contributing Editor for The Mac Observer and Social Media Manager for Smile Software. She first appeared here in December, 2015 to tell her career story and has returned several times for interesting technical discussions. In this special edition, we chat about our favorite movie or two, and how, for some movies, the music has become a thing in itself, the soundtrack of our lives. Then we delved into the legendary BBC/CBC mysteries: Foyle's War, Murdoch Mysteries, Shetland, Death in Paradise, and Broadchurch. For most of these mysteries, we look at their celebration of place that becomes an integral part of the show. Join us as we explore together what makes these shows so cool. 

  14. Jul. 23rd, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Novelist and Freelance Tech Writer Dan Moren

    Dan Moren is a novelist, freelance tech writer and prolific podcaster. He's written for Tidbits, Fast Company, Popular Science, Yahoo Tech, and Tom’s Guide. He was a senior editor at Macworld for many years and continues to write the excellent Stay Foolish column there every Friday. Today he also writes for Six Colors and hosts severable popular podcasts, including Clockwise and Inconceivable! We chatted about his years before Macworld and how he launched his career by writing about Star Wars for a newspaper (most interesting) and later bumped into Jason Snell at a Macworld Expo. Dan told me the story about the development of his SciFi novel, his favorite Mac and his favorite writing tools for both fiction and tech. Finally, Dan briefed me on the many different podcasts he hosts.

  15. Jul. 16th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Amateur Astronomer Mike Weasner

    Mike Weasner is a noted amateur astronomer, known for his book on the Meade ETX telescopes, early iPhone astrophotography and work with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Arizona. Very early in life, Mike fell in love with astronomy, and that led to a B.S. in astrophysics. Via ROTC, Mike later joined the United States Air Force, where he served as a fighter pilot (A-7D), instructor (T-38), and a manager in the Air Force's Space Shuttle Program Office. After his USAF duty, Mike spent 23 years as a program manager with TRW/Northrop Grumman. We chatted about his Air Force days and some interesting flight experiences. In the second segment, we talked about the construction of his observatory, evolution of his telescopes, astrophotography of asteroids, supernovae patrol and his work with the IDA.

  16. Jul. 9th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with University Psychologist and Podcaster Dr. Robert Carter

    Dr. Robert Carter is a Ph.D. Psychologist at Texas A&M, a long-time Apple enthusiast, and the co-host of the Tech Doctor podcast. He's very well versed in assistive technologies, having been blind since birth. Robert tells an amazing story about he's coped with his disability through the years. It started with using a portable typewriter in grade school, discovering the Apple II at age 18 and a speech synthesizer plug-in card, and ultimately using Apple's extraordinary VoiceOver technology on the Mac—and now iPhone. We chatted about the techniques he uses to read and write, including the use of the Hims BrailleSense Polaris display. We finished with a discussion of his Tech Doctor podcast, and its focus on assistive technologies, and how the evolution of AI and robot technologies look to really help those with disabilities.

  17. Jul. 2nd, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Encore Interview with Freelance Tech Jounalist Kirk McElhearn

    Kirk McElhearn is an expert technical journalist for all things Apple. He was a Senior Contributor at Macworld for 15 years, is known as "The iTunes Guy," and writes about Macs, security, iTunes, books and music. Kirk has also written several "Take Control Books," including tutorials on iTunes, Audio Hijack and Scrivener. In this encore appearance, Kirk and I chatted about the evolution of photography at Apple, the emergence of the iPhone as a pocket supercomputer-camera, AI technologies and facial recognition used in iPhone photography, lens and CCD technologies, Aperture vs. iPhoto/Photos, managing digital assets, and how sophisticated software has allowed the average user to take great photos. And more. We finished with a discusion of Kirk's new podcast (with Jeff Carlson) called PhotoActive which is all about photography and the Apple ecosystem.

  18. Jun. 25th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Science Fiction Novelist Steven Brust

    Steven Brust is a popular science fiction author with 31 novels to his credit. He's known for the Vlad Taltos series as well as the Khaavren romances. He's also a musician: drummer, guitarist and banjo player, and he has a solo record out, A Rose For Iconoclastes. Like many writers, as we pondered on the show, he has a cat. We chatted about his early career as a computer programmer and the life-changing event that launched him into writing science fiction. Steven's career has been filled with a fortunate series of happenstances, "luck," both in the cover art of his novels and his choice of themes. Inspired by Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, Steven writes what he'd love to read himself, and that has worked amazingly well. You'll enjoy our chat about all things science fiction.

  19. Jun. 18th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with Georgia Tech Roboticist Dr. Ayanna Howard

    Dr. Ayanna Howard is a professor of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology. She's also in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Ayanna received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California. I asked Ayanna how she became inspired by robot technology. Like many of us, it was via science fiction on TV. In graduate school, robotics was still immature, so she wisely elected to pursue electrical engineering. Her first job was at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) working on vision, fuzzy logic, and neural network methodologies. Today, she leads her students in the areas of assistive robots in the home, therapy gaming apps and remote robotic exploration of extreme environments. Our discussion covered the whole field of robotics, so tune in and hear all about the state-of-the-art from an accomplished roboticist.

  20. Jun. 11th, 2018
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    TMO Background Mode Interview with IDA Astronomer Dr. John Barentine

    Dr. John C. Barentine is an astronomer, historian, author and science communicator. He is currently the Director of Conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) in Tucson, Arizona. He earned his master’s degree in physics at Colorado State University and his Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. Throughout his career, he's been involved in education efforts to help increase the public understanding of science. We started with a brief segment on his early career as a observing specialist at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. In the second segment, we chatted about his work at the IDA in Tucson, the organization, its goals, and why it's so important for all of us who live on planet Earth to be able to look up on a clear night and see stars.