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You know that I have a lot of gadgets at my house. So many, that at times Grace gets frustrated with all the home automation stuff. When we have our dog sitter come to stay Grace doesn’t even tell her how to talk to Siri or Alexa. Nevertheless, I have both of those assistants hanging out in my house listening to my every word.

I grabbed one of the first HomePods that we received and set it up in my office at my house. I will definitely be bringing it back to Vermont with me. The HomePod is the best yet both in terms of the sound quality and the integration with my home. I had also tried a Google Home unit some time ago but it was so bad that I sold it on eBay.

Let’s talk music first. I have a lot of ways to interact with my music. I have Sonos everywhere including the Alexa-enabled Play One and with their voice interface with Amazon Alexa it is easy to request music from a variety of sources. In terms of content, at this point I think that Amazon/Sonos has the broadest selection. I can get songs from Pandora, Apple Music or Spotify. I can also get content from Audible and Tune-in.

But I have a pretty large music collection after spending hours/days digitizing all my CDs and spending a lot of money buying from the iTunes store. I also subscribe to Apple Music so I literally have access to more music than I could listen to in my life. So, what sounds the best? HomePod! It is clear to me that the HomePod has better sound quality, deeper bass and clearer sound than the Sonos Play One by a hair and it is not even close when comparing the sound to the tinny Amazon Echo. It is reggae Thursday at my office every Thursday and I just say “Hey Siri, play me some reggae” and she says “sure thing, here’s some reggae just for you”. The play list that results is tailored to me by learning what I like. I can say, “Siri, I really like this song” and she says “okay, I got it” and that helps to fine tune the music the HomePod plays for me. You can even add songs to a playlist or create a playlist by interacting with Siri.

I can tell Siri to pause or stop if I can a call and it is instantaneous which is handy because it is not always party time at the office.

So, with all the technology I have, when I am listening to music in my office it is HomePod now. It is not quite up to the Sonos Play 5s in my bedroom but the sound fills my office perfectly as it automatically adjusts to my room to provide me with optimal sound.

For music I give the nod to HomePod based upon sound quality, intelligence and ease of use. I give the nod to Sonos/Amazon for the breadth of content.

HomePod also serves as your HomeKit server. When I activated my HomePod and got it on my network, I literally had to do nothing to make it take over the HomeKit tasks. It was automatic. While I will probably still keep my AppleTV powered up you do not need an AppleTV or iPad to have remote access to your HomeKit devices.

The integration with HomeKit makes it simple to use. I can simply say “ Hey Siri, turn on the office lights” and she does it. I can also ask her to turn the thermostat up, lock the doors or do any of the tasks that are HomeKit compatible. I also have scenes that mostly work. I say mostly because as a security feature Siri will not unlock your doors so my “good morning” scene requires my iPhone but that security feature is appreciated. I can probably figure out a workaround but I like the security. My other most used scene is “good night”. When I say “hey Siri, good night” she turns off all the lights except the one next to my bed, turns down the thermostat and locks all three doors. She then says “on it!”. I have to say that Siri’s responses are friendlier and hipper than Alexa.

Of course, you can do much of this with Amazon Alexa but it would take multiple commands and Alexa just seems a lot finickier with names of devices. Because HomePod is connected to my network, I can also unlock (with iPhone) and lock my house in Vermont remotely.

Getting information from Siri is pretty much the same as using Siri on your other devices. I find her answers to be more complete than Alexa but again there is more breadth to Alexa’s database. I have heard that Apple has made a bunch of new hires for Siri and I fully expect that Apple is working hard to show Alexa that she is just as smart. Artificial intelligence is just in its infancy and it is pretty exciting to see what it can do. A bit scary, too but unless we start making Terminators we should be okay.

Later this year as Apple continues development of the HomePod you will be able to add a second HomePod to create stereo sound or use Airplay 2 to play the same music (or different music) is separate rooms. This will give Sonos a bit of competition.

HomePod has some other tricks, too. You can receive a call on your iPhone and hand it off to the HomePod for a conference call —we might have to use HomePod in our conference room. When you receive a text, Siri can read it to you on HomePod. You can tell Siri to send texts, make shopping lists, add stuff to your calendar and I am sure this is just the start of Siri’s skills.

After a few weeks with HomePod I can give it my full endorsement. If I had to have just one music device I would choose HomePod for its versatility, sound quality and because of how seamlessly it integrates with my other Apple devices.

Starting today, skiers and snowboarders can use Apple Watch Series 3 to track their activities via new updates to apps available in the App Store. Watch users can now record runs, see vertical descent and other stats, and contribute active calorie measurements directly to the Apple Watch Activity app. See, I have been thinking about you guys up in the north country!

Apple Watch is selling well, in fact, Apple Watch outsold all competing smartwatches combined last year. One in five smartwatches sold was an Apple Watch. We have been selling quite a few Apple Watches at our stores and they do seem to gain functions pretty regularly. I love my Apple Watch and if I was a skier or snowboarder this new feature would be interesting. Emily and Artie might like it since they can be found out on the slopes from time to time.

Developers are taking advantage of the built-in GPS and altimeter in Apple Watch Series 3 as well as custom workout APIs released in watchOS 4.2 to enable tracking of specialized metrics. App updates for Snow, Slopes, Squaw Alpine, Snocru and Ski Tracks now track new metrics on the slopes including:

*Total vertical descent and horizontal distance
*Number of runs
*Average and maximum speeds
*Total time spent
*Calories burned

Apps can auto pause and resume and users will get credit towards their Activity rings; workout information will also be recorded to the Health app on iPhone with user permission. Using Siri, users can start Slopes and Snoww to track their runs using just their voice.

Having the ability to track the details of runs with Apple Watch is an incredible asset for everyone from training athletes to skiers and riders just looking to have fun and stay active, said Jonny Moseley, Olympic Moguls Gold Medalist and Squaw Alpine Mountain Ambassador. The Squaw Alpine app for Apple Watch helps me when I’m out with my family to not only track exactly where my kids are on the mountain, but also compare our performance so I can make sure I’m keeping up with my sons and add some fun competition to our day.

The updated apps are now available on the App Store and require watchOS 4.2 or later.

Octavia Butler was an acclaimed science fiction author who, among other honors, won both the Hugo and Nebula awards multiple times. Born in Pasadena, CA she started writing sci-fi at age 10. An outspoken critic of racism and a feminist, Ocatvia Butler was a prolific writer with award winning books such as Kindred, Xenogenesis, Bloodchild, and hundreds of others.

Her female heroes were fascinating and her social criticism was detailed and relevant. She envisioned a true multiracial future.

She met science fiction writers Harlan Ellison and Samuel R. Delany at a Screenwriter’s Guild of America workshop and soon after sold her first story Child Finder. She was the first science fiction writer to win the MacArther Fellowship in 1995. She once described herself:

Who am I? I am a forty-seven-year-old writer who can remember being a ten-year-old writer and who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer. I am also comfortably asocial—a hermit…. a pessimist if I’m not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive.

Octavia Butler passed away in 2006, but I have long admired her and enjoyed her visions of the future! If you haven’t had the pleasure of her work, why not try it?

Most Mac users know if they want to know what’s “under the hood” of their Mac, they could boot into the OS, click on the Apple logo, and click “about this Mac”.

But, did you know you could go into Terminal, and type in “hostinfo” and hit enter?

The command host is usually used for DNS lookup and info but you can use it to find out which kernel version you’re running, how many processors you have, the amount of physical memory and the number of Mach tasks. Mach tasks are a variant of the load average, number of threads using.

The syntax looks like this

That’s it, there are no further options as it is a simple command. We Techs use it a lot when performing RAM upgrades and when we don’t want to wait for the Mac to boot all the way into the MacOS to see if the RAM modules are recognized.

Shut down the Mac completely, and wait a couple seconds. Then, hold down the Command and S keys simultaneously while pressing the power button to start up the Mac. You’ll hear the chime, and then a black screen will appear. Shortly thereafter, a bunch of scary white text will show up. This is single-user mode.

Here you simply type “hostinfo” and you’ll see something like this:

Mach kernel version:
Darwin Kernel Version 16.7.0: Thu Jun 15 17:36:27 PDT 2017; 
Kernel configured for up to 8 processors.
4 processors are physically available.
8 processors are logically available.
Processor type: x86_64h (Intel x86-64h Haswell)
Processors active: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Primary memory available: 128.00 gigabytes
Default processor set: 377 tasks, 2201 threads, 8 processors
Load average: 1.95, Mach factor: 6.04

This outlines the following information about your machine:

  • Mach kernel version: basically the version of the version of Darwin or the open-source Unix that your OSX is based on.
  • How many actual processor cores you have, in this case we see 4 processor cores as it’s an Intel i7 processor. In this chip, each core can run 2 threads so we get…
  • 8 processors logically available – 4×2=8
  • The identifier of the actual main processor chip you have installed.
  • An enumeration of each processor that’s active and available 0 through 7
  • The amount of RAM available in your machine
  • What your processor is busy doing at that moment in terms of tasks and threads
  • Load average, or how busy your machine has been over the last minute. Higher numbers mean more activity.
  • Mach factor, which is a variant of the load, but divided by the number of logical processors. The closer to 0, the more load the processor is experiencing. So in my example, an 8-core processor doing nothing should show pretty close to 8, whereas if it was running full speed rendering video or something, you’d see a much lower number.

When you’re finished exploring this info, simply restart you computer by typing:


This info is the tip of the iceberg of the information you can coax out of your machine from the command line but it’s a good way to get your feet wet to explore what’s possible.

If you pay any attention to technology news, you’ve probably already heard of the recently discovered Meltdown and Spectre exploits that are reported to effect a majority of computer systems currently in operation, regardless of their operating system. Since the vulnerability is at it’s core, hardware-based, users of Macs, PC’s and some mobile devices are all at risk equally. The hardware in question are processors by Intel, AMD and ARM and the issue could be exploited in 3 ways known as Variants 1 and 2 (identified as Spectre) and Variant 3 (identified as Meltdown).

The way the Spectre exploit works is by taking advantage of the way your computer processor’s architecture is wired to execute code. In a very basic way, the processor’s job is to make a series of decisions very quickly and pass along the results of those decisions. To speed things up, most modern processors use a technique known as “branch prediction” to guess what the next decision it’s going to have to make is. This “speculative execution” greatly improves the speed of a processor as it can always stay a few steps ahead of the game. It’s not always correct in it’s predictions, but that doesn’t matter because the speed at which it does these predictions allows it to perform many, many of these per second.

In very simple terms, it’s all of these incorrect predictions that allow your sensitive data to be potentially revealed. When these bits of data are trashed, for just a moment, the state of your processor can be analyzed by some malicious agents and backtrack it’s way to what bits of data were used to arrive at it’s incorrect prediction. It can then exploit this method by making your processor arrive at incorrect predictions on purpose by injecting data far outside the bounds of what it expects and, in turn, grabbing more of your sensitive data with each execution.

Patches to guard against this involve an extra step every time your computer executes these kind of instructions, double checking to see if the data it’s executing lies within the bounds of what’s expected as well as separating the code and predictions into separate areas of memory. Different processor models have slightly different architectures and the exploits work in slightly different ways across them, however this is generally how things work.

Meltdown is much more clear-cut exploit. To run efficiently, data being run through different parts of your computer processor is stored in a cache as it’s passed between sections of your processor. Meltdown reads this cache and can take the information contained in it and send it off in another direction to be utilized for nefarious purposes. The fix for this involves splitting the address space for this shared memory so that the data is never complete and would appear as gibberish if it were captured, the downside to this fix is that it involves making your computer do twice the work for the same amount of processing. Fortunately, this type of shared memory space only occurs in an impactful way during specific I/O events such as disk-reads or network communication and has little effect on computationally-heavy computing such as video-editing or gaming.

New chipsets and operating-systems should be affected very minimally by any patches to eliminate these exploits, however older systems and certain cloud and virtualization computing systems could take a pretty big performance hit as they rely heavily on I/O to operate.

It’s not often that we see such a vulnerability so widespread and so tricky to fix. It’s something that has been baked into the core architecture of so many of our computer systems in slightly different ways and yet it exists almost universally between manufacturers. It’s like suddenly discovering that bare lightbulbs can steal your credit card number. Sure you can just say “use a lampshade” but lightbulbs come in different sizes and styles even though they all work pretty much the same way and even if you design a lampshade for every bare lightbulb out there, there will be slightly less light when fitted with a lampshade.

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