(You're reading all posts by Lewis Wallace) Lewis Wallace is a San Francisco-based writer and editor specializing in technology and culture.
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Lust List: July 2014
A good piece of gear can make your life better. And, just as surely, a crappy bit of kit can turn an ordinary task into a profoundly irritating experience. This month's Lust List items keep us moving in the right direction.
Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C
Pushing my bike into what can only be accurately described as a head-sided tailwind and attempting to navigate the tourist-riddled Golden Gate Bridge towers, I was once again thankful to have the Cosmic Carbones mounted to my whip.
There are faster hoops. There are rims that have spent more time at the salad bar. But if you are looking to go faster, over more “epic” terrain, with nary a concern about how precious your carbon wheels may be, then the Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C (1,990 euro a pair list) should be on your upgrade shopping list. They will get you where you need to go regardless of the condition of the tarmac or what the weatherman has in store for you.
On that recent trip across the international orange landmark, I experienced just about every microclimate and terrain known to man. The braking surface worked surprisingly well in the wet foggy conditions, the climb up hawk hill was a joy and only during the nastiest of crosswinds did I notice the Carbones’ deep rim. Mavic took its sweet time releasing their first full-carbon clinchers, but they nailed the Mavic tradition of building bombproof, lust-worthy wheels. — Jim Merithew
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Goldtouch ergonomic keyboard
You know what I hate about Apple computers? The precious keyboards. They look lovely, with their sleek designs and tiny little keys, but they absolutely kill my wrists and fingers. That’s why I plug a grimy old Goldtouch keyboard ($129 list when they made ‘em) into the MacBook Air that I use for work. I even take the weird-looking A-frame keyboard with me when I travel. It’s not an elegant-looking solution, but it’s a lifesaver.
I’ve dealt with typing-related RSI for decades. While I use voice recognition when I have to write something lengthy, it’s not the perfect tool to accomplish every task in every situation. Sometimes I need to hammer away on a keyboard, and when I do, the Goldtouch makes the experience far less painful. It’s split down the center, with a ball joint that lets me adjust the angle between the two halves as well as the height at the center. And the soft-touch keys just feel good to me. — Lewis Wallace
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
I'll admit it: I checked out Rocket Girl from my branch library out of a thing for cat-eye glasses and an ingrained curiosity about smart women that history has forgotten about.
Even if you don't care about either of those things, pick up this biography about rocket scientist Mary Sherman Morgan. It's written by her son George D. Morgan, who found that the Los Angeles Times was unwilling to print the obit he wrote because so much of what she accomplished "couldn't be verified." So he painstakingly pieced together her story — from her hardscrabble childhood to some tendencies that today we'd probably call OCD — while tracing the history of rocket science in America.
Rocket Girl ($18) reads like a novel (and, in fact, the work first debuted as a play at CalTech). The story about Mary’s now-credited invention of liquid fuel Hydyne, which powered the Jupiter-C rocket, is super-compelling. It's a great read, whether you care that she was our first female rocket scientist or not. — Nicole Martinelli
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Garmin quatix sailing watch
Sailing at the local Friday night beer can races used to be more humiliating than fun: The dispirited crew of Baby Blu almost rechristened the boat Dead F***ing Last before I got armed with Garmin's quatix marine GPS watch ($449.99 list).
As the defacto crew tactician of the decrepit Cal 20, I followed the oldest advice from racing sailors: Start first, keep ahead, finish first. Now that I'm sporting a good countdown watch and can accurately gauge the distance and time to the start line, we are often first off the mark. The navigation aids and speedometers on the quatix help us with the “keep ahead” part, though they can't do much to cover the fact that the old lady we sail desperately needs a face-lift. The best part: I got to keep our first commemorative beer glass from the first win. Arr, thanks quatix! — Stefano Maffulli
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Vinturi red wine aerator
The first time I saw a Vinturi wine aerator in a Sonoma County tasting room, I pegged it for a gimmick. The woman behind the bar opened a bottle of red and poured some into a glass. Then she poured some of the same vintage slowly through the Twinkie-size plastic contraption into another glass and invited us to try the two side-by-side.
It was an effective demo.The flash-aerated wine clearly tasted better: richer, fuller, a little bit softer. More balanced and less brash. The Vinturi ($39.95 list) opened up the young wine, allowing its true character to shine through. Wine snobs have been decanting their vino forever, but dumping a bottle into a separate container and letting it “breathe” properly takes patience. The Vinturi gets the job done in seconds flat. The strange sucking sound it makes is air that’s getting mixed into the wine as it flows through the funnel-like device (thanks to the Venturi effect). It’s not for everybody, and not for every wine, but when you pop a cork and you don’t want to wait around, it’s a fantastic time-saver. — Lewis Wallace
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Think Tank Shape Shifter Camera Backpack
The Shape Shifter and I just returned from a photo shoot in Utah. I could not have asked for a better travel companion. I stuffed two camera bodies, three lenses, a Q-Flash, various cords, cards, batteries and battery chargers, my laptop and oh so much more into this gear-swallowing beauty. And then I carried it on and stuffed it under my seat. Amazing.
I have also put a minimal amount of kit into it and zipped the compression zipper shut, so I could commute on my bicycle with this pack. It has waist and chest straps to keep it securely in place and plenty of pockets to help you organize your life.
Think Tank builds serious camera bags for serious photographers. If you like to travel light, like to work out of the same bag you travel with, or only carry a minimal amount of gear, then this thing is overkill. But if you travel with a pack of cameras, love adventure photography or just like to get your shit organized, I can’t say enough positive things about the Shape Shifter ($264.75 list). It’s the perfect bag for the photographer who likes to go loaded for bear. — Jim Merithew
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
When the standing desk craze took off, I thought it was another overblown trend created by the same fitness yuppies that turned gluten into the most dangerous edible compound since trans-fats. Then I got a NextDesk Terra (starts at $1,497) and I’ll never go back to a boring, sit-in-your-chair-till-your-ass-is-numb desk again.
The design is perfectly simple. The stained bamboo top is gorgeous and enormous. But the best thing about the NextDesk is how smooth and quickly it moves up and down, thanks to the 18-volt DC motors in each leg that raise it up to a max height of 50.5 inches.
Fast-forward 18 months and not only have I cut my Red Bull dependency in half by moving around to stay alert, I’ve become a master at typing while dancing as Google drones through another painful three-hour keynote. — Buster Hein
Photo: Buster Hein/Cult of Mac
Harman Kardon Onyx speaker
Sitting up by the Russian River in the baking sun, there’s nothing better than the incredible sounds created by Jamaica's legendary Trojan label. And the Onyx did them justice, thanks to the four speakers and two passive radiators packed into its distinctive round enclosure. The Onyx has a stainless steel handle that makes it look a ringed planet. It’s big for a portable speaker, and well-built, but it’s light and easy to carry.
Best is that it sounded great — rich, balanced and loud. It has every connection option under the sun, including AirPlay (via Wi-Fi), DLNA and NFC/Bluetooth for our Android friends. Buttons are touch-sensitive and there’s a simple, easy-to-use app that can be downloaded from the App Store. Battery life wasn’t great (five hours unwired/ eight hours wired), but it was adequate for a long afternoon’s partying. It’s a bit pricey ($399 on Amazon) but for a speaker of this high quality, well worth it. — Leander Kahney
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac
Siri: “How long should a keynote last?”
As anyone who watched Wednesday’s nearly three-hour livestream of the Google I/O kickoff, the answer to that question should be 90 minutes or less.
As the event dragged on, the tone on Twitter went from restrained interest about Google’s somewhat underwhelming announcements to reports of sleeping reporters and jabs at the ponderous presentation’s length. “Apple just launched a keynote shortener,” tweeted Dave Pell.
Devs on the street
SAN FRANCISCO -- While Apple watchers tuned into last week's Worldwide Developers Conference keynote for a look at where the company might be headed, coders at the annual convention were getting a look at the current state of the art when it comes to the company's software.
Cult of Mac asked developers from around the world who were in town for WWDC (or its indie sibling, AltConf) what they thought about changes coming in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. We also asked them about their favorite apps as well as their views on Swift, the new programming language Apple introduced at WWDC. Get their takes in the gallery above.
Aaron Hillegass, Atlanta
What he does: Co-founder of Big Nerd Ranch and author of books on Objective-C, iOS and Cocoa.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: "They aren't terribly exciting releases. I think this WWDC is more about making things better for developers."
On Swift: "I am a huge fan of Objective-C, but it's great to see some of the conventions codified into a language and enforced by a compiler."
Favorite app: OmniGraffle. "It is a flawless tool for creating great diagrams."
A.B. Vijay Kumar, Bangalore, India
What he does: Developer for IBM India who works on enterprise apps for automobile industry clients.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Most excited about Continuity, which will offer "seamless integration between devices," and the awesome SDKs for HealthKit, CloudKit, Swift, Xcode enhancements, Playgrounds, 3-D view hierarchy interface builder, Camera and Touch ID.
On Swift: "Loved it -- much easier than Objective-C."
Favorite app: Flipboard and Monument Valley -- "a very peaceful game" that is completely different.
Hilmar B. Olafsson, Reykjavík, Iceland
What he does: Developer for mobile games company Plain Vanilla. Worked on QuizUp.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: OS X's new Spotlight search; in iOS 8, "a lot of stuff looks promising, especially from a developer standpoint: Swift Playgrounds, TestFlight integration, etc."
On Swift: See above.
Favorite app: Foursquare, Facebook Messenger, Uber, RunKeeper.
Nick Dalton, Evergreen, Colorado
What he does: App entrepreneur, developer and mentor. Worked on apps for Chipotle, Zinio.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Most interesting part? Handover and Extensions. Also interested in all of Apple's new frameworks for developers. "We won't see the results of this for many months or years," he said.
On Swift: "Always good for the brain cells to learn a new language."
Favorite app: Odyssey Translator, which helps you learn foreign languages. "It gives you a feel for the language and guides you to learn it."
Michael Petruzzo, Los Angeles
What he does: iOS developer and co-founder of Slight. He's worked on Slight, Grandview and Launchwrite (for Mac).
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Yosemite is "absolutely beautiful on a Retina display." When it comes to iOS 8, he's "extremely pleased that group chats in iMessage are being more considered."
On Swift: "I wasn't planning on learning another language this year but I'm stoked. Apple is going full-court-press on the platform."
Favorite app: Tinder. "They cracked social discovery. It validates a new behavior."
Dave Verwer, Manchester, England
What he does: iPhone and iPad developer and trainer who publishes IOS Dev Weekly.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Extensibility and sharing changes are "quote long-awaited!"
On Swift: Apple's new programming language lowers the barrier to entry for new iOS developers. "Building a platform for the next 10 years!"
Favorite app: Echofon – a "simple and reliable Twitter client."
Michael DiStefano, Portland, Oregon
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: CloudKit "lowers barrier to entry to server-backed app" and touch ID for third-party apps. "If I never have to login again I'd be super-happy."
On Swift: "Brings us all (sort of) back to the same level" and offers an "opportunity to develop new conventions with [an] understanding of mobile that wasn't available when Objective-C was created."
Favorite app: "Active diary" app Moves – "simple interface to very useful and 'delightful' app."
Andrew Stone, Albuquerque, New Mexico
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Best new feature? Swift! "I hate emailing myself."
On Swift: See above.
Favorite app: Words With Friends – "a game that requires the brain!"
Patrick O'Neill, Huntington Beach, California
What he does: CEO of Olloclip, maker of macro and telephoto lenses for iPhone and iPad.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Manual control of camera, which lets iPhoneographers set things like exposure, shutter speed and focus, is "going to give the user a lot more fine control over how their pictures look."
Favorite app: Instagram – "so easy to use."
Kru Majithiya, Melbourne, Australia
What he does: Developer at Gridstone. Worked on Vulhunter, an iOS app that checks for security vulnerabilities.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: The new Playgrounds functionality in Swift will make it much easier to test programming logic. "Build, run, build, run – that process will take you hours," he said, but Playgrounds will cut that time.
On Swift: See above.
Favorite app: Flipboard is a "great place to get all the news."
Ivan Ablamskyi, Kiev, Ukraine
What he does: Founder and CEO of Coppertino, maker of Mac music player Vox.
On iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite: Handoff is a "cool feature to sync between iOS and Mac."
On Swift: Not excited -- it's "just another language."
Favorite app: HyperDock, a Mac utility that expands functionality of OS X's Dock.
What’s your take on iOS 8, Swift and OS X Yosemite?
Got your own favorite features in Apple’s latest releases? Let us know in the comments below.
Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Instead of dropping an iWatch or some other hardware bombshell at WWDC, Apple showcased the futuristic tools it will use to extend its rapidly growing empire.
“Apple engineers platforms, devices and services together,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook as he wrapped up the Worldwide Developers Conference keynote Monday in San Francisco. “We do this so we can create a seamless experience for our users that is unparalleled in the industry. This is something only Apple can do.”
Casual observers (and stock analysts) might fret that there was no big wearables reveal, no amazing new Apple TV, not even a spec boost for an existing device during the highly anticipated WWDC kickoff.
1976 Gibson Explorer
Ahead of its time when released in the 1950s, the Gibson Explorer fits right into the rock 'n' roll landscape two decades later. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Apple is born
Also in 1976, a couple of longhairs named Steve and Woz start a little computer company you might have heard of.
Rocky KOs the box office
Sylvester Stallone becomes a Hollywood heavyweight after his 1976 boxing movie turns into an unexpected hit.
VHS storms the screen
JVC's HR-3300 video cassette recorder, unveiled on September 9, 1976, becomes the first VHS-based machine to hit the market.
Jimmy Carter wins the White House
The humble peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia, defeats incumbent President Gerald Ford.
Kiss goes to 'Detroit Rock City'
Hot on the 7-inch heels of surprise hit Alive!, the paint-faced rockers unleash Destroyer in 1976.
U.S.A. blows out 200 candles
The nation's Bicentennial celebration drapes the United States in red, white and blue.
Howard the Duck gets his own comic
One of Marvel Comics' most unlikely heroes goes solo in 1976.
Mission to Mars
Viking 1 puts a lander on the Red Planet on July 20, 1976.
Wacky Packages peter out
The parody stickers' highly successful second run fades away with the 1976 series. Bubble gum was never so fun.
Cuckoo's Nest is crazy successful
Director Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest wins big at the Academy Awards in 1976, sweeping the "big five" Oscars.
To me, the 1976 Gibson Explorer means lust at first sight, love at first feel and that rarest of man-machine crushes: an enduring passion that persists long after I plunked down my hard-earned cash.
Gibson’s luthiers prototyped the Explorer (alongside pointy siblings the Flying V and the apocryphal Moderne) in the ’50s. The space race was on, rock ‘n’ roll was coming into its own and cars boasted bold curves and sci-fi fins. The Explorer and Flying V were released in 1958, a year after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1. (The Moderne didn’t makes its official debut until 1982.)
Like the beautiful but doomed Power Mac G4 Cube, the radically shaped guitars were clearly ahead of their time: These pointy instruments, which years later would become staples of heavy metal and hard-rock style, flopped hard. Gibson discontinued both lines within a few years.
In 1976, spurred by the success of competitors’ Explorer clones, Gibson came to its senses and reissued the Explorer. The natural mahogany finish on the best of these, much like the lighter Korina of the original models, gave the strangely shaped guitars a retro-futuristic look. That marriage of old and new is coming back into fashion now as designers tumble to the innate beauty of natural materials.
AOL Time Warner
2000 kicks off with a big deal: AOL's $164 billion purchase of Time Warner. AOL chief Steve Case says the deal proves "new media has truly come of age." It's the biggest merger in history (and will eventually be known as the worst).
Hedy Lamarr dies at 85
Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr, often called "the most beautiful woman in films," goes to the great studio shoot in the sky at age 85 on January 19, 2000. Nerds will remember that the beauty had brains: Lamarr invented a "Secret Communication System," paving the way for modern wireless communications.
PlayStation 2 storms onto the scene
Sony unleashes its PS2 onto the gaming scene in March 2000. The black, blocky unit goes on to become the best-selling game console of all time.
Eminem drops The Marshall Mathers LP
Unlike Apple's Cube, Eminem's third studio album becomes a massive hit right out of the gate. Released May 23, 2000, the controversial album sells 1.76 million copies in the United States in its first week, fueled by the incredibly hooky single "The Real Slim Shady."
American Beauty rocks the Academy
Which is more memorable, Kevin Spacey's fantasy about Mena Suvari in a rose bath, or Annette Bening's manic "I will sell this house" scene? American Beauty, Sam Mendes' haunting film about suburban ennui, takes home five Oscars in 2000, including Best Picture.
Snoopy retires his typewriter
The final Sunday Peanuts strip by Charles M. Schulz is published February 13, 2000, a day after the cartoonist's death. Newspapers will never be the same.
Life's a beach for Richard Hatch
Another winner from 2000? Richard Hatch, who walks away with the title of Sole Survivor in the first season of reality TV show Survivor, thanks to some savvy strategy (and loads of naked ambition).
Dora packs her backpack for the first time
A spunky animated adventurer packs her backpack and jumps onto the silver screen as Dora the Explorer begins a long run at Nickelodeon on August 14, 2000.
As the 20th century waned, Apple laid a beautiful square egg.
The Power Mac G4 Cube, introduced in July 2000, delivered a fair amount of Apple computing power in a unique see-through enclosure made of acrylic glass. Designed by Jony Ive, the futuristic-looking Cube offered a glimpse of the sleek industrial design that would come to epitomize Apple’s upscale take on consumer technology.
“I just remember it being this incredibly elegant, sexy machine that looked nothing like a computer,” said Randall Greenwell, director of photography at The Virginian-Pilot and a longtime Apple aficionado, in an email to Cult of Mac.
The Mac turns 30 today. It’s a big day for Apple, and obviously it’s a big day for every member of the Cult of Mac (that means you!).
Here’s a roundup of all our stories about the Mac’s milestone:
Siri has a dark side. Try to send a text in a movie theater, and you might feel the life-destroying wrath of Apple’s perky AI helper.
That’s the message delivered in a new PSA-style video that’s the Alamo Drafthouse‘s latest salvo in the war on rude moviegoers. The creative clip, which will be shown ahead of screenings of Spike Jonze’s Her at the indie tastemaker’s theaters, uses the voice of Siri to send an anti-texting message.
It’s not easy making a posthumous movie about the world’s most well-known and beloved control freak. Just ask Joshua Michael Stern, director of new Steve Jobs biopic Jobs. The film delves into the early days of Apple Computer as Stern paints a picture of a man he calls a “brutally honest character.”
Don’t go into the PG-13 Jobs expecting any bombshells about Apple’s late, great maximum leader — you won’t find any. Instead, what you’ll get is a straightforward cinematic take on Jobs’ early partnership with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (played mostly for comic relief by Josh Gad), a healthy dose of Hollywood-style boardroom intrigue and a few glimpses into Jobs’ personal life. Many of the scenes, whether factually accurate or not, have been woven into the tapestry of tech history. And Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, obviously isn’t around to fact-check the past or exert his famous control over the final product.
“Part of the shackles for me as a director was, we really had to do everything that was sort of public domain, you know, we couldn’t stray too far off of what we basically knew about Steve,” Stern told Cult of Mac during a recent interview at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco. “But the interesting thing about Steve, being such an enigma, there really isn’t that much more to know at all. I mean, everyone knows what they know.”
Some space geeks are calling today “The Day the Earth Smiled,” because the Cassini probe is set to take a picture of our planet as seen from Saturn later this afternoon. To honor this momentous occasion, the maker of astronomy software SkySafari is giving away basic versions for iOS and OS X (and discounting the Android version) through Sunday.