Why I look forward to CarPlay

Apple announced CarPlay yesterday, its renamed iOS in the Car technology that gives drivers of compatible automobiles direct access to iPhone features connected via the Lightning cable. The first cars to include CarPlay are due out before the end of the year.

Existing car systems can already do something similar: a driver can access an iPhone to play music using the car’s built-in software. With CarPlay, it’s more like the iPhone takes over the car’s user interface, offering access to music, maps, text messaging and various other apps. In some cars, you may still have to use physical buttons and dials with CarPlay, but the better systems will provide a touchscreen much like the iPhone itself.

I’m very much looking forward to CarPlay. In fact, I’m certain that the next car I buy will have it (given that I’m years away from a car purchase, that’s a safe bet).

As I see it, there’s a big upside and a smaller downside to CarPlay.

The upside

The big upside is the “unification” of disparate systems.

For example, as it stands now, if I want to set up directions for a trip prior to getting into my car, I can do it on my iPhone. Even better, I can do it on my Mac, using Maps, and have it automatically transfer to my iPhone. In either case, it offers no connection to my car’s built-in GPS navigation system. Once in the car, I would either have to depend on the iPhone (probably using a windshield mount so I could see it while driving) or re-enter the data in my car’s system.

If I wind up taking my wife’s car on another occasion, I confront a navigation system that’s different both from the ones in my iPhone and my car. It’s admittedly a “first world problem” — but I have the hassle of dealing with three separate independent systems. It works fairly well in spite of this, but it could work a lot better.

Enter CarPlay. If both of our cars had CarPlay, I could enter an address on my iPhone, connect it to either car and have the directions instantly accessible, with both cars using almost the exact same familiar iPhone-like interface. Perfect!

Now imagine that rental cars came with CarPlay. I could preload my iPhone with various destinations points, prior to a vacation. When I pick up my rental car, I attach the iPhone and…presto…I’m good to go.

Accessing music, either via my iTunes Library or via streaming services such as Spotify, would similarly be simplified and unified across vehicles. The iPhone interface would replace the often awkward controls in current car systems. For example, with the system in my wife’s Nissan Leaf, there is no Pause button to halt a song that is playing.

You get the same “unification” benefits for making phone calls. Finally, CarPlay offers capabilities not available in most existing car systems, such as the option to send and receive text messages.

With CarPlay’s inclusion of Siri, almost all actions can be accomplished via voice commands and spoken responses — allowing you to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

I wouldn’t buy a car today, no matter how good it otherwise is, unless it came with a USB port and was compatible with my iPhone. It’s easy to stick to this requirement because almost every current car meets it. Within a few years, I expect the same will be true for CarPlay. That’s why I can be confident that my next car will include CarPlay. It’s not essential yet, but the day is coming.

The downside

Despite all of these advantages, there remains one likely downside to CarPlay. CarPlay-equipped cars may be dependent on an iPhone. This is not so for current car systems. For example, with my Ford Fusion, I can use its built-in GPS even if I don’t have my iPhone with me.

I’m still not exactly sure how carmakers will bundle CarPlay. But I expect there will be an option to have CarPlay installed in lieu of a built-in GPS. Such a setup might similarly eschew other “smart” features that would otherwise be built-in to the car. With this type of setup, you are dependent on the iPhone to access the absent features. That will mostly be just fine with me. After all, using the iPhone is the whole point of CarPlay. Still, I’m sure there will be times when I (or someone else driving my car) would be prefer a built-in system.

I am hopeful that, to compensate for this downside, CarPlay will be significantly less expensive than current car systems. After all, with the iPhone doing all of the heavy lifting, CarPlay should cost less to install. But who knows? If carmakers believe they can successfully sell CarPlay at current premium prices, I’m sure that’s what they’ll do.

At least in the beginning, I expect there will be an additional option to have a combined traditional system and CarPlay installation. This will allow you to have your proverbial cake and eat it too — but at a presumably higher cost.

No matter what the installation details turn out to be, and despite whatever competition emerges, CarPlay will be successful. We’ll see a rapidly expanding popularity of the technology over the next few years. And the more widespread CarPlay becomes, the more useful it will be for iPhone owners to have CarPlay — creating a sort of positive feedback loop. Similarly, the more prevalent CarPlay becomes, the more incentive there will be to own an iPhone. And that, of course, will be good news for Apple.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPhone, Mac, Technology | 3 Comments

I can’t believe House of Cards

I like Netflix’s House of Cards. I get so caught up in the show that I am seduced into binge-watching because I don’t want to wait to see what happens next. I watched the entire first season in less than a week and was enthralled the entire time. I finished the entire second season in even less time. It’s sort of an anti-The West Wing, revealing the depth of the machinations and corruption that lie behind the public facade of politics in Washington. Rarely, if ever, is anything done out of a desire to serve the public good. And it’s all deliciously played by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. The way they juggle the deceit and backstabbing is truly outstanding.

That said…

I almost gave up watching the show after the end of the first episode of Season 2 [Spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal plot details]. Here’s why:

Frank Underwood, the Vice Presiden(and eventual President) of the United States, is a serial killer.

The utter unbelievability and ridiculousness of the above sentence is impossible to overstate. I thought House of Cards was supposed to be a serious, if not entirely realistic, drama about the underbelly of American politics. Instead, it turns out to be spin-off of 24. I expected Jack Bauer to pop out at any moment.

I was (barely) able to accept last year’s murder, born out of desperation and meant to shock us as we discover just how depraved Frank Underwood really is. But this second murder? No way. Not even close.

According to the show’s plot lines, Frank Underwood, one of the most well-known public figures in Washington, can commit murder anytime he gets the slightest urge. Even “better,” he can do this without raising any suspicion—save for Zoe and Lucas and company. As Janine tells Lucas while he his behind bars, Underwood is going to “get away with it.” True to her prediction, the subject of the murders barely appears on the radar for the rest of the season.

With Tusk trying to uncover every iota of dirt that he can find on Underwood, and newspaper reporters doing their own digging, is it really plausible that no one even gets a whiff of what Underwood has been doing in his spare time?

The end result is that the viewer is left with a sense that we are supposed to treat these murders as some minor character flaw, much less significant than Underwood’s plan to get the President impeached. It’s hard for me to swallow this.

As bad as all of this is, it’s not the biggest problem with the plot development. That award goes to the way Zoe’s murder was carried out.

The way Zoe’s murder is carried out is even more absurd than who did it. Ten times more absurd.

After watching the murder scene, I asked myself: Had Frank already decided, prior to arriving at the subway platform, that he would kill Zoe if she wasn’t willing to play ball? Or was the murder a spur of the moment decision? As I thought about it, I realized that it doesn’t really matter. Either way, it makes no sense.

If he planned the murder in advance, that meant that he somehow knew how to time the conversation so that, at the exact moment he walked away and Zoe followed him, a train would be arriving…allowing him to push Zoe off the platform just as the oncoming front car was approaching. How could he count on things going that well? He couldn’t. For starters, what if Zoe hadn’t followed him and had instead turned around and left? The planned murder would fail.

And let’s not forget the security cameras. Had Frank actually scoped out their locations in advance so that he knew where to stand to avoid being recorded? Remember, not only was there no video evidence that Frank was the culprit, the camera didn’t even pick up that Zoe had been pushed at all! Could Frank be certain this would be the case? Really? How? I can hear my credulity snapping.

One more thing…Frank also had to be sure there would be no witnesses to the crime. But how could he know that no one was in his line of sight at the crucial moment? Actually, he pretty much had to count on no one knowing he was in the vicinity of the train station at the time. The about-to-be Vice President goes off to commit murder at a public subway stop and no one has any clue? <sigh>

Lastly, Frank is generally smart enough to find a way to have others commit crimes for him, so that he can’t easily be connected to the acts — as when he sets up Lucas to get arrested for cyber-terrorism (which, by the way, no one in the media has an inkling about as yet). Why couldn’t he do something like that to get rid of Zoe? Even given the murder he committed last season, it seems out-of-character that he would allow his hands to get so directly dirty. [By the way, I had a similar reaction to the final episode of PBS’s Sherlock Holmes: Would Sherlock really resort to murder as a solution? No. It’s beneath his intellect.]

OK. What if, instead, Zoe’s murder was an unplanned spur of the moment decision? It’s just as bad. In this case, we have to believe that all of the fortuitous circumstances I cited, such as the camera not detecting him, were just the result of “good luck.” Again, it’s impossible for me to believe that (a) Frank would leave something so critical up to “luck” and (b) that he would actually get all the luck he needed.

Bottom line

As the opening episode of Season 2 was drawing to a close, I found myself reaching for the Off button. I came very close to pressing it. But I kept going. And I’m glad I did. A good part of the rest of House of Cards was diabolically nuanced, so unlike what I’ve discussed here. It was fun to watch. Yes, it’s implausible that Underwood would have succeeded in becoming President the way he did. But it remained within the range of acceptable for me. As for the murders, is it too much to ask that scriptwriters come up with plot developments that doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence? Ones that don’t require that we stretch our “suspension of disbelief” so far that it breaks entirely? Unfortunately, it too often does seem too much to ask.

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Stealing wins at Letterpress

[Yes, this is another in my continuing series of articles about the game of Letterpress. For those of you who do not play this game, feel free to move on.]

Occasionally, winning a Letterpress game requires taking a step back and rethinking your entire approach. Such was the case with a recent game of mine. Had I stuck with my typical strategies, I would have lost the game. Luckily, I became aware of the danger before it was too late. As a result, I managed to “steal” a victory—in just two moves!

Position after opening move of REMARKING

My opponent opened with the word REMARKING. Before reading further, take a moment and decide on what word you would play next.

My initial take was that I was in considerable trouble. My opponent had already protected squares in two corners—not a good sign. Worse, if I wasn’t careful, I could easily imagine him expanding to a third corner on his next turn. Alternatively, he could significantly expand his two corners at the top of the board. Either way, the game would likely be effectively over. He would be helped by the fact that the board overflowed with easy-to-find long words, such as LOVEMAKING or MISCARRIAGES or PARLIAMENTS.

I figured that, to have any chance at all, I’d have to secure both the two lower corners on my first word. Further, it would be almost as critical to simultaneously attack my opponent’s position at the top of the board. Doing all of this at once would require a fairly long word—likely 11 letters or more.

While I had no trouble coming up with 11+ letter words, none of then hit the right combination of squares. For example, OPERATIONALISM omitted the essential V, needed to grab the southwest corner. Similarly, a 15 letter word(!), IMPROVISATIONAL, amazingly did not contain an E, needed to protect the southeast corner.

Then the nickel dropped. I was looking at this game completely wrong. I was actually in much more trouble than I had realized. Paradoxically, I was also in much better shape than I had thought.

The bad news was that, even if IMPROVISATIONAL contained an E (imagine that it was spelled EMPROVISATIONAL), I couldn’t afford to play it. It would leave CMPRR as the only remaining unclaimed letters. My opponent could then play any number of possible word, such as CRIMPERS or PROCLAIMER or PARAMETRIC, and immediately win the game! Uh-oh! The same unhappy logic applied to all other super-long words I might play.

But wait! There was actually an up side to this situation. I didn’t have to play a super-long word. I didn’t even have to take both lower corners. In fact, it would be better if I didn’t. Instead, I could play a word like CARMAKERS — which is what I did.

Position after I played CARMAKERS

This word secured the southeast corner, protecting three squares. More importantly, it left 11 unclaimed squares. I couldn’t be 100% certain, but I was almost sure that there was no one word that used all of these remaining letters. Even if there were, I figured it was unlikely my opponent would find it. In fact, unless he understood the situation as I now did, he probably wouldn’t even be looking for it.

For example, if my opponent came back with IMPROVISATIONAL, it would still leave one P unclaimed. That would almost certainly be sufficient for me to find a word that contained that P and enough other unprotected squares to give me a win on my next turn. Actually, my position was even better. If my opponent played any word that contained a P, other than IMPROVISATIONAL,  I could play IMPROVISATIONAL and immediately win.

My opponent came back with PARKINGS. Yes! He had taken the bait and played a word with a P in it, leaving 9 unclaimed letters. He was probably feeling pretty good about his position at this point, unaware of what was about to happen.

Position after my opponent played PARKINGS

I play IMPROVISATIONAL and win the game 17-8

I played IMPROVISATIONAL and “stole a win” with a score of  17-8 — ending the game with just two moves.

One final question to ponder: What should my opponent have played instead of PARKINGS?

I’m not sure. Without the help of a complete list of all possible words (that would be cheating!), he would have to be concerned that any word that took even one unclaimed square might allow me to win the game on my next turn (as, in fact, I did). Given that, it might be best for him to play a word that took no new unclaimed squares. The main exception would be if he could find a word that left him with 13 or more protected squares, blocking any chance of me winning on my next turn.

Of course, if he did play a defensive word, leaving 11 unclaimed squares, I would find myself in almost the identical dilemma. That is, both of us would likely have to play to avoid the 11 squares—and continue to do so as long as it remained a viable option. Eventually, one of us would stumble and lose. What a strange situation. But that’s what makes Letterpress such a great game.

To see a replay of the entire game, click here.

Another “stolen” victory

In this next game, I deliberately gave my opponent a winning position—with the hope that he would not see it. When things went as I had hoped, I was able to surprise my opponent and “steal” the victory on my next turn.

The game was hard-fought over the first eight moves. However, playing second, I was definitely on the losing end of the battle. After my opponent played MOLTEN on move 9, I was unable to see any clear path to victory.

The position after my opponent played MOLTEN

The gist of the situation was that both of us were avoiding the 5 unclaimed squares (XTKLL) for the typical reason: there was no one word that used all 5 letters and the fear was that claiming any one of the 5 letters could allow the opponent to take the remaining 4 and win. For example, if either of us had taken the K, the other player could play EXTOLLING and win. As I recall (my memory’s a bit hazy here), it probably would have been safe to take the T in the southwest corner; however, this would have required a word with two T’s, as neither of us wanted to leave the upper T in the opponent’s hands. There weren’t many words with two T’s that also included the other required squares. ALLOTMENT was a possibility (my opponent might have played it instead of MOLTEN). As for me, I valued the R more than the second T. So the T was left alone.

As such, we were left to skirmish over the claimed but unprotected squares (LMRNTO), exchanging possession of most or all of them with each turn.

If we continued to maintain this see-saw exchange, it’s possible I would have wound up with a final advantage. But it seemed unlikely. With the advantage of having gone first, my opponent was always just a bit ahead. So, out of a sense of “desperation,” I decided to attempt a swindle and go for a quick win. I played EXCLAMATION, taking the X of the unclaimed squares.

The position after I played EXCLAMATION

If my opponent could now find and play a word that used KLLT, he was almost certain to win the game. Actually, I already knew there was at least one such word: CLOTHLIKE. This word would win the game for my opponent. My hope here was that my opponent would not discover this word and (incorrectly) assume he instead needed to continue the see-saw. It seemed worth a shot in a game that I was otherwise likely to lose anyway.

I got my wish. My opponent played EXAMINATOR. It was a great word, reclaiming the MNTO squares as well as taking the newly claimed X. Had I continued the see-saw, I didn’t know of any word that I could use to take back MNTOX. Most likely, I would have had to leave my opponent with the X and an increased advantage. I’m sure that’s what my opponent was expecting to happen.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to do that. Instead, I played CLOTHLIKE and stole the victory by the thinnest of margins, 13-12.

To see a replay of the entire game, click here.

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Macintosh reviews from 1984

When the Macintosh arrived back in January 1984, every personal computer magazine in existence reviewed Apple’s new baby. Recognizing that these articles might be of more than passing interest some day, I collected and saved as many of them as I could.

I recently scanned four of the best of these articles — from BYTE, Personal Computing, A+ and Newsweek — and posted them here for your perusal.

By far, the “must-see” of this group is the gargantuan BYTE magazine material. Newsweek’s take on the Macintosh is more of a news article than a review and thus offers a different, but still worthwhile, perspective. They all offer a great time-capsule look back at one of the pivotal points in the history of computers. Enjoy!

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