What You're Not Doing with Your Mac Matters a Lot

In the early days of personal computers, there was nothing to do with them but compute. Nowadays, computers have wrapped us in a worldwide web of consumer services that's most helpful but masks the kinds of helpful research that can be done, even with a desktop computer.

There is something magical about the story I'm going to reference below. I hope it will shake you out of your doldrums and inspire you.

What's up here?  You'll see down below. Image credit: Shutterstock

Having worked in astrophysics, then the aerospace industry and finally the computer industry, I am well aware of all the research that takes place in our technical society. A lot of it is applied R&D that leads to better products, and that's something that becomes immediately apparent to us in faster, thinner, more capable computers, tablets and smartphones.

We also get peripherally exposed to things like virtual reality, robots and artificial intelligence. Those are popular topics for TV and film. But video entertainment can also become an obsessive distraction, lacking in real accomplishment.

Pure Science

Just as important is the pure science done in universities and research institutions. We don't often get exposed to that in our daily explorations of computer technology in the Apple world.

If one were a young person, reading voraciously about the things that interest them in modern high tech society, one would hardly ever be exposed to things like the search for the Higgs boson, dark matter, extraterrestrial planets (and life), cures for major diseases, and the effects of our industrialization on the animal life and climate of our planet Earth.

It's worse. When personal computers first appeared in the 1980s, they were primarily in the hands of scientists and engineers who were already doing important research. So early PCs were pressed into small scale but equivalent kinds of work. Soon after that, PCs became business tools. Nowadays, there is tremendous computational power in the hands of a billions of people, but that power is used primarily for games, video entertainment, travel, banking, shopping, and so on.

That's not a bad thing either, but the massive scale of consumerization of computing does have the side effect of masking the computational research that can be done with a modern, fast computer like an iMac or Mac Pro. Apple used to celebrate precisely this power, but that has fallen out of fashion.

Serious Inspiration

As a result, I'm pointing to this next item because over the years I"ve talked about how the focus on personal computers has shifted from doing really important work with rare computational power to conducting one's entire life in a vast (and often dangerous) computational world of services.

And so, here's a reminder for all young people. You can do amazing, helpful, productive things with a computer besides build just another app. You may need a supercomputer for some kinds of research, but don't overlook what a teraflop-class iMac can do as well. Everyone. Prepare to be in awe. "Big Data Is for the Birds." Read it all. Tell me what you think.

The future of our planet may depend on what we do with the all the computational power that's been handed to us personally.

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of August 17. What we can expect from the next Apple TV.

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of August 17


Image credit: Apple

Apple Pay is a fabulous thing to see in action, and customers love it. In the US, Apple takes a modest 15 cent fee on every US$100 transaction compared to the bank's take of about a dollar. But in Australia, the banks don't charge nearly that, and so Apple's 0.15 percent is just too much of a bite. That's why negotiations with Australian Banks are in a difficult phase. Here's hoping Apple will be flexible so that it can preserve its significant head start over the competition. "Australian Banks Hold Back on Apple Pay Support Due to Fees."

What's the best guess about what Apple's new 4th generation Apple TV will look like? The always impressive Mark Gurman at 9to5Mac lays it all out for us. "What will September’s new iOS 9-based Apple TV bring to the living room?" I think he's nailed it all except for a 4K/UHD discussion—something I personally believe is a must.

Recently, we've heard about how ghastly it is to work at Amazon. I couldn't help but reference this (humorous) report from the ONION about the response from CEO Jeff Bezos. Remember, it's the ONION. Too good.

Here's another entry for the things-that-raise-our-eyebrows department. In this case, it's Windows 10, which by all the accounts I've seen is a stellar OS. However, "One line from Microsoft has triggered an outburst from gaming fans."

I can't help but notice, and I'm sure you've noticed it too, that sparks fly when onerous things show up in our software or EULA these days. A small seed of a bad idea, a slip up, something creepy or something stupidly phrased rapidly blows up into a major firestorm in social media. Spotify just learned a hard lesson. "Spotify Just Learned the Hard Way About Customer Trust."

All this is why Apple is so very, very careful in its public statements. It takes a team of real pros these days to communicate a company's intentions about product design. When they don't, we often get overreaction and even legislation. "Legislation Would Warn Consumers Of Smart TVs Ability To Record, Transmit Conversations."

In this age of Roku, Apple TV, HBO Now, Amazon Prime and Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Netflix, why would people buy plastic discs anymore? Actually, there can be many reasons. Blu-ray video quality for favorites is usually much better than highly compressed streaming. Disney classics on DVD/Blu-ray are favorites of the children, easier to handle and don't carve up data caps. There are often locations such as military outposts, military and merchant ships and rural areas where broadband isn't available. A good library of discs make sense there. Finally, the good feeling of physical ownership of a favorite movie is hard to resist. It's always there, always free to watch after the initial purchase and a candidate to place on an iPad (where legal). And so, "Digital Consumers Still Buying Discs."

No writer I follow has come to the defense of iTunes 12. The outcry to fix it is reaching a crescendo that Apple just can't ignore. But will it ever be fixed? Or will Apple start all over as it did with iMovie, Final Cut and iPhoto? Read more here: "Why iTunes Can’t And Won’t Be Fixed."

One can just about sense that Apple is doing everything it can to shake up the iPad. Larger displays, a more capable iOS 9, the partnership with IBM, and (rumored) adding Force Touch and a stylus are just a few. And now, here's another candidate. "To shake things Up, Apple may Add Cellular Voice Capabilities to the iPad via a new Wireless headset."

Regular readers of this column know that I am a big fan of Firefox. It's been my browser of choice for years because of Mozilla's agressive stance on privacy and security that even Apple can't match. If you are also a fan of Firefox, you'll want to read this. (BTW, the title reflects a good thing.) "Firefox is about to work a lot more like Chrome." The deeper, glorious details are here: "Mozilla sets plan to dump Firefox add-ons, move to Chrome-like extensions."

Finally, what's the secret to Siri's speed you ask? Here's some great background on our favorite digital assistant. "How Apple got Siri to run much faster, for a lot less cash."


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.