The 3 biggest takeaways from WWDC keynote

Dreams really do come true.

That’s the mantra I kept repeating to myself as I watched this year’s WWDC Keynote. Make no mistake: this was a historic keynote. It’s hard to overstate what Apple did today. An incredible number of groundbreaking features were revealed for both the OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 — due out this fall.

Consider this for starters: Apple announced Health (new iOS “health and fitness apps that can communicate with each other, with your trainer, and even with your doctor”), HomeKit (software that provides control of home automation devices from your iPhone or iPad) and an entirely new programming language (Swift). These announcements alone (actually, even just one of them) would be sufficient to satisfy most companies as the entirety of a media event. And yet, for this year’s WWDC, Apple only had time to briefly mention them. If you blinked,  you missed the topics altogether. That’s how much was going on here.

But I digress (which is very easy to do with today’s announcements). Back to my dreams coming true. Of the new features Apple announced, three in particular stand out for me. That’s because they each represent Apple delivering on items that have been on my wish list for more years than I care to count.


Over the years, I have written numerous articles about the potential “iOS-ification” of OS X. Loosely defined, the term refers to making OS X run more like iOS. As I pointed out, this could be either a good thing or a bad thing.

Apple could have chosen to make OS X increasingly mimic iOS system attributes — such as a lack of access to system software and the removal of the Finder. To me, that would be a disaster.

The better side of iOS-ification is to have OS X work ever more seamlessly with iOS, while not changing the basic OS X structure. This is the direction Apple has been going in previous iterations of OS X. Maps is a perfect example — with its ability to send a directions map directly from OS X to your iOS device. Another example is the similarity of interface and shared content of Notes across both OS X and iOS apps.

My dream was that Apple would continue down this road and avoid the dark path altogether. Happily, this is precisely what Apple has done. With OS X Yosemite, Apple not only expanded similarities of apps across platforms, but doubled down with the introduction of an entirely new set of features called Continuity.

One aspect of this (called Handoff) allows what you do on one platform to be instantly picked up on another. This means, for example, you can start working on an email on your Mac and finish it up (and send it) from your iPhone.

Via Continuity features, you can also access capabilities from one platform to use on the other. For example, with Yosemite and iOS 8, you’ll be able to answer and make phone calls on your Mac via a connection to your iPhone. Your Mac can also make an instant Hotspot connection to your iPhone, for online access when no Wi-Fi is available.

[Update: Almost forgot to mention: AirDrop will finally work between iOS and OS X devices.]

This is potentially huge for Apple. If all of this works anywhere close to as well as it appeared in the demos, it will have the added benefit (to Apple) of selling more Macs. If you currently own an iPhone and a PC, it forces you to consider how much better your workflow would be if you instead had an iPhone and a Mac.

iCloud Drive

At least since 2010, I have been complaining about iOS file-sharing — especially sharing documents between Macs and iOS devices. I have lamented about how complicated (and sometimes impossible) it has been to make such transfers. More recently, while noting improvements to document sharing, I still lamented remaining limitations — such as that files saved to Documents-in-the-Cloud are accessible only from the app that created the document. This meant, for example, that there was no way to take a TextEdit document saved to iCloud on your Mac and open that file in any iOS app.

My dream was that Apple would someday relent and provide Dropbox-like access to files in iCloud. With iCloud Drive, Apple appears to have granted my wish. [It’s sort of a mashup of the now extinct iDisk with iCloud’s Documents in the Cloud.]

Although I still have questions about how exactly iCloud Drive works, it is at least a welcome step in the right direction. On the Mac, it appears that you drag documents to the iCloud Drive window/folder. Having done that, you can work on (and save changes to) these documents directly from within that location. More importantly, iOS apps can bring up an iCloud Drive panel to have access to (and thus be able to open) these same files, regardless of the app that created the file on the Mac. At last!


Over the years, one of the most frustrating features of iOS has been the inability to extend the reach of third-party iOS utilities system-wide. Two obvious examples: Wouldn’t it be great if you could easily access TextExander shortcuts from any iOS app? Or access 1Password’s data from within Safari?

I have maintained hope that, despite the restrictions due to sandboxing, Apple might some day allow such options. With iOS 8’s new extensibility, Apple appears to have delivered on this third dream of mine. I’m not yet certain whether it will allow TextExpander or 1Password to do what I want, but it’s definitely moving in that direction. As demo-ed at the Keynote, you’ll certainly be able to do things like add filters to the Photos app, add your own choice of third-party apps to Shared sheets, add custom widgets to Notifications, and even (trumpets blaring here) add system-wide third-party keyboards!

This is huge. Mega-huge. It will take awhile before third-party developers update their apps to take advantage of all of this. But it could well turn out to be the most significant new feature in iOS since the App Store opened.

Wait! There’s more…

So those are three items at the top of my WWDC announcements list. But they are hardly the only ones that generated excitement. Here’s a sampling of other features that are sure to generate buzz in the months ahead:

• With the new Messages app, you’ll be able to speak a message and have it delivered as audio to the recipient. No need for you to type or even dictate your text message.

• With Family Sharing, you can share data with up to six other people — allowing all to automatically share photos, calendars, reminders, music, movies and more.

• With QuickType, iOS devices will predict, based on your prior typing, what you intend to type — before you even enter the first letter of the next word.

• Among the expanded options in Siri, you’ll be able to use Shazam to analyze and recognize songs.

• With Apple’s new Metal SDK, games will be able to process information up to 10X faster, allowing for true console-level performance in iOS.

..and on and on.

Apple didn’t address every item on my wish list. Multi-tasking (as with a split-screen) and simplified copy-and-paste (especially across apps) remain as big items for the future. But I’m fine with that. When I look at all Apple delivered this year, I’m more optimistic than ever about what Apple can do in time for next year. At this rate, I may even be able to throw out my wish list altogether in a year or two.

I know there are nay-sayers out there, grumbling that Apple did not announce any new hardware at the Keynote. I admit that this surprised me as well. At least it did until I considered the full weight of what Apple did announce. Given the scope of what was covered in a fast-paced two hours, there was no room for new hardware. I’m not worried. Before the year is over, I am certain we’ll see new iPhones and new iPads, and almost certainly a new Apple TV, new iMacs, and some sort of wearable technology.

WWDC started the ball rolling with its almost overwhelming number of software announcements. The hardware will soon follow.

No other company besides Apple has such complete control over both the hardware and software ends of the market. This is what allows Apple’s devices to work so well together. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the product integration we saw on the WWDC stage today. That’s why I believe today’s announcements will allow Apple to go beyond its current lead in innovation and lap the competition altogether. They are that significant.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Technology | 5 Comments

Cosmos and God

It’s easy to understand why Creationists are not pleased with Cosmos: A Space Odyssey. After all, the show’s host, Neil deGrasse Tyson, emphatically and repeatedly states that the universe is billions of years old — in contradiction to the Creationist’s calculated age of less than 7,000 years. The show unequivocally supports a Darwinian view of evolution, another anathema to Creationists. To top it off, the show occasionally takes on religion more directly — noting the pagan origins of Christian holidays and the church’s historical persecution of heretics.

However, the primary challenge that Cosmos presents to religion is more far-reaching. It’s one that extends beyond a minority of people with extreme religious views. By explaining the physical and biological bases of our universe in terms of “natural laws,” it implies an absence of God’s role in their creation and maintenance. Most particularly, the evidence presented on Cosmos represents a challenge to a commonly accepted core religious tenet — the one that states God takes an active interest in and intervenes in our lives, that humans are a central focus of God’s attention, that we should “rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth,” and ultimately that we are in some sense “special” and are the reason behind the very existence of the universe.

How exactly does Cosmos challenge all this? Here’s how…

The science

From the viewpoint of science, humans “arrival” in the universe is hardly special. While the universe is almost 14 billion years old, humans did not appear on earth until the very very end of this enormous stretch of time. As an analogy, if you compressed all of time into a “cosmic year,” humans would not appear until about 8 minutes before midnight on December 31. Christ was  born only 5 seconds(!) before midnight. The American Revolution happened during the final second (the clock tick we are currently living in).

Further, although we are now here, our continued existence is far from guaranteed. For one thing, changes in the size and temperature of our sun will almost certainly destroy the earth within several billion years. Unless we have found a way to colonize other planets by then, humans will disappear. But we needn’t wait that long. Due to both natural and human-caused changes in our environment (such as global-warming), our species is likely to go extinct well before that far-off catastrophe. This should not be a surprise. Extinction is a natural part of life on earth: it’s estimated that “99.9% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.”

For those who want to cling to the notion that humans represent some sort of pinnacle of creation, the news gets even worse. Most views of the evolution suggest that the very existence of humans is an unlikely occurrence that might well have never happened. By this I mean, if we could rewind the tape of evolution, and allow for different random events to occur as the tape replays, it is quite likely that humans would never appear.

One episode of Cosmos beautifully demonstrated this point. It showed how the earth is not at all the static object that it appears to us to be. It only seems static because the time scale of  change far exceeds our life spans. At the appropriate larger time scale, we would see how the movement of tectonic plates separated the continents and created oceans. These movements continue today and may yet reverse, eventually bringing the land masses back together.

In another example of cycling, repeated minor wobblings of the earth’s orbit over thousands of years result in ice ages. The polar icecaps grow, extending much closer to the equator than they are now, only to recede again as the ice age retreats.

In other words, the human-friendly earth that now exists may not remain in the future.

Not every big change occurs in cycles that take thousands of years to transpire. Our planet’s evolution is occasionally altered by dramatic one-time random events — such as the giant meteor that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. If that meteor had not landed, it’s quite plausible that dinosaurs would still roam the earth and humans would have never evolved.

Finally, there’s the matter of the earth’s place within the vast scope of the universe. The earth is one of several planets orbiting the sun, the collection of objects that make up our solar system. The size of our solar system is immense. In fact, it has only been in the last year or so that Voyager 1 managed to become the first human-made object to exit our solar system. It took years of travel to do so. Members of our species may never travel much beyond the borders of our solar system. It would take 4 light-years, for example, just to get to our nearest star.

And yet, the size of our solar system is dwarfed by the rest of the universe. Our solar system is just one of billions of such systems in our galaxy. In fact, if you were to look at an 8×10 photo of the Milky Way galaxy, our sun would be too small to distinguish, buried in a tiny unremarkable corner. And our galaxy is just one of about “100 billion galaxies in the observable universe.” Put another way, if you held up a grain of sand to the night sky, the patch that it covers would contain about 10,000 galaxies. The universe is so large that, even if we could travel at the speed of light, it would take about 93 billion years to travel from one end to the other.

The story may not end with our universe. Most recently, astrophysicists are coming to the conclusion that there are multiple universes. Ours is merely one of many.

Viewed from this pan-universe perspective, the “pale blue dot” of earth is infinitesimally small. It is of no consequence to our universe, certainly not to a multi-verse. If the universe can survive supernovas that destroy entire star systems, it can certainly survive without earth. If you metaphorically thought of just our universe as equivalent to a human body, the earth’s destruction would be about like the death of one sub-cellular structure in one random unimportant cell.

The questions

Returning to the matter of religion, the immense size and time scale of our universe would appear to pose some problems:

If we egocentrically maintain that humans are the crowning achievement of God’s creation, a primary reason for the very existence of the universe, how does it make sense for the universe to be so large that most of it has no direct bearing on our existence? And, conversely, that we have almost no influence beyond our planet? What’s the point of having solar systems so far away that we can never even know of their existence? Why wouldn’t an omnipotent God create something on a more human-like scale?

Similarly, why create a universe in which humans did not even arrive until billions of years after the birth of the universe, at the last few “minutes”? Wouldn’t it make more sense for an omnipotent God to bring humans on the scene much sooner?

Given that we are likely to go extinct as a species, how can we be central to “God’s plan”? From a religious perspective, what is the “purpose” of a universe existing after we are gone? And what would have been the purpose of a universe where we, as a species, never even appeared?

Finally, given the immense size of the universe, it’s likely that there is life, perhaps life similar to ours, on at least a few other planets out there. If this is so, what are the implications for a “special creation” of humans on earth? Are these other life forms on other planets just as important to God? If not, why not?

Taken together, it’s hard to comprehend how all of this can fit within a view that places humans at the center of God-directed existence. Not impossible, granted. But very hard. Cosmos’ creators may or may not have intended to raise these challenges. But that is the effect the show has had on me, and I presume many others.

The answers

One response to these challenges is to assert that science is simply wrong. Despite all the contrary evidence, for example, one might still contend that the earth is less than 7,000 years old. Why? Because the Bible says so. This is the Creationist view.

Nothing I or anyone could say will affect people who hold such a view. At the same time, it’s relatively easy for the rest of us to dismiss these extreme views. The contrary evidence, from geology to evolution to astrophysics, is too overwhelming. That’s why I am instead appealing here to people who are at least willing to consider alternatives.

So what about a less extreme view, one that is more consonant with science but still maintains humanity’s central position? One could accept certain facts, such as the billion years age of the universe, and yet largely ignore their implications. If evidence or logic makes a religious view seem implausible, the explanation is that God’s reasons are unknowable to us. In other words, one resorts to the familiar adage: “God works in mysterious ways.” Perhaps the answers will become clear years from now. Perhaps they never will.

By this view, we needn’t explain why a human-focused God created such an immense universe that existed for such an immense stretch of time before humans arrived. We simply accept it as true and assume we are too ignorant to ever know God’s rationales. Similarly, God may yet intervene with a miracle and prevent the events that would otherwise lead to our species’ extinction. We can’t know.

Unfortunately, “mysterious ways,” “unknowable futures” and miracles are the weakest cop-outs of arguments. They are non-explanations which can never be proven or disproven. No amount of scientific knowledge can ever call such “explanations” into question. As such, they are useless.

This doesn’t deny the possible existence of some “higher power.” After all, the creation and scope of the universe are indeed hard to fathom. “Why is there anything?” remains an almost impossible to answer question.

That’s why I’m not trying to mount a philosophical argument to prove or disprove the existence of God here. If that’s what you want, there’s plenty of material out there for you to digest, written by experts with much more knowledge than I have (although I did take a brief amateur’s stab at the topic several years back).

Rather, I am suggesting skepticism at the idea of an interventionist God, one that answers prayers and metes out punishments, one that performs miracles, and especially one that places earth and humans at the central core of existence. If you can temporarily suspend any a priori belief in such notions, I believe an Occam’s Razor test would lead to the conclusion that such a view of God doesn’t fit with our scientific understanding of the universe.

The universe, as viewed through the lens of modern science, is no less amazing and awe-inspiring than a Biblical universe. It is simply one that does not place humans at its center. It forces us to accept that we are not anything close to as “special” as most religions would have us believe.

While some religious groups may thus view science as a threat, I prefer to view science more optimistically — as a light that illuminates the darkness that would otherwise surround us, a light that provides the means to understand the wonders of our world and offers our best chance for continuing to survive on this earth and within this universe we call home.

Posted in Evolution, Religion, Science | 8 Comments

Noah? No

Here’s a footnote to my prior article on Cosmos and God:

If ever there was a Bible story that makes absolutely no sense, it is the story of Noah. It’s so easy to find logical fallacies in the telling that it hardly seems worth the trouble to do so. However, Noah has recently received more than his usual amount of attention, thanks to the Darren Aronofsky movie starring Russell Crowe. An assortment of articles (such as this one) debate the story’s “accuracy.” Several Christian groups are alarmed at the movie’s supposed misrepresentations.

Although there’s not much I can add that has not already been said, I’ll offer a few personal thoughts anyway:

• In Genesis 6-9, God expresses his regret at creating “man” because all men have become evil and wicked. Really? Isn’t God perfect? If so, how could he create something he later regrets?

As an aside: Can you imagine what would happen if someone alive today claimed to be having conversations with God similar to what Noah had? They would almost certainly be declared insane.

• Can it really be true that everyone on earth was evil at the time of Noah, as God asserts in Genesis? What about newborn children? What about most children really? What about the people in distant parts of the world that were unaware of what was going on in the Middle East?

Did everyone really have to die to appease God here? Why couldn’t God have selectively destroyed just the truly evil people, similar to what he did when the Egyptian first-born were slain — as told in Exodus and recalled by Jews every Passover? For some reason, this was apparently not a possibility.

Instead, if the story is true, God executed the biggest act of genocide in history (as others have pointed out).

• Moving on to the specifics of the flood (and again as has been pointed out by others), it would be impossible for the ark to contain a pair of every living creature. There were just too many. It would certainly be impossible for them all to survive for the duration that the ark was afloat. For starters, the varying ecological requirements for each species would prevent this.

Digging a bit deeper, what about the polar bears in the Arctic, the penguins in Antarctica, or all the animals unique to Australia? What about species that live exclusively in caves? Or in the jungles of South America? Did they somehow make it to the ark? If so, how? And if not, how do we explain their existence today?

On a smaller scale, consider insects. There are “more than 925,000 species of insects that scientists have identified. Still, this represents only 20 percent of all species believed to exist” today. Were all of these species on the ark? What about all the microscopic organisms that existed at the time? Were these “paired up” and put on the ark? Not likely.

Yes, one could argue that God intervened, in some miraculous way, to allow all these animals to board the ark, co-exist and survive until the flood waters receded. But resorting to miracles is a slippery slope. If God could use a miracle to accomplish something like this, why require an ark at all? Why couldn’t God have instead used his miraculous powers to keep the necessary animals alive without an ark? Wouldn’t that have been much simpler?

I am sure that the people who take the Noah story literally have invented answers to respond to all of these questions. But that’s the point. They are “invented” answers. They are suppositions. They have no basis in fact.

My view here extends beyond the story of Noah to the Bible as a whole. Rather than viewing the Bible as literal historical truth, it makes more sense to view it as a collection of stories created by humans in an attempt to comprehend the world back when humans had very little knowledge about how the world really worked.

Consider this: From the time the New Testament Bible was written, it would take about 1,500 more years before we came to accept that the earth revolved around the sun and not the reverse. It is only in the last two centuries that we’ve come to understand that stars are actually distant suns light-years away from earth. At the other end of the spectrum, it took us the same 1,500 years to discover that microscopic organisms exist and the critical role they play in our lives. It’s been less than 100 years since we broke the genetic code and began to truly comprehend how reproduction and inheritance work. In that context, it’s not surprising that people might take the story of Noah seriously thousands of years ago. But not anymore.

Presumably, an omniscient God, present at the time of Christ, knew that someday we would “discover” bacteria, DNA, computers, space travel, black holes and all the rest that makes up modern science — including many things we have yet to discover. And yet the Bible makes no mention of any of this. Rather, as you would expect from a document written by humans, it is restricted to the (very limited and often incorrect) knowledge humans had at the time.

That’s why for me, rather than come up with torturous explanations for the contradictions and impossibilities contained in the Noah story, it makes far more sense to accept the obvious: The story amounts to a folk tale, a fable, a legend, a morality lesson. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t call it true.

Posted in Entertainment, Evolution, General, Movies, Religion, Science | 2 Comments

Deleting, archiving and reinstalling iOS Apps

Recently, Kirk McElhearn posted an article discussing what to do with apps that you no longer want but are still in your Mac’s iTunes Library. He pointed out that, when a forgotten and unwanted app shows up in your Updates list, you can Control-click the app’s icon to delete the app directly from the Updates view. You don’t need to shift to the All or List views to delete the app. Good to know.

However, this got me thinking that it was time I did a major clean up of my own app collection. I have over 600 apps in my iTunes Library and I no longer use the majority of them. I suppose I could simply delete the dormant apps. However, the hoarder in me wanted an easy way to keep track of what I’ve deleted as well as retaining the capability to quickly reinstall deleted apps without having to re-download them from the App Store. In other words, I wanted some sort of Archive/Unarchive function.

Unfortunately, iTunes does not provide such a feature. Still, after a moment’s thought, I realized I could manually perform an equivalent action. This may already be obvious to you. If so, you needn’t read further. For the rest of you, here’s what to do:

1. Go to your apps list in iTunes and select the apps you want to delete, either singly or in groups.

2. Control click to bring up the contextual menu. Select Delete.

3. From the first window that appears, select Delete App.

4. From the second window that appears, select Move to Trash. But do not empty the Trash.

5. Repeat as needed until you are done with all your deletions.

6. Open the Trash window. Drag all the apps there to a new folder (title it App Archive or something similar). You can locate this folder anywhere, even on a hard drive separate from the rest of your iTunes Library.

That’s basically it.

Now, whenever you want, you can open the App Archive folder to see a complete list of all the apps you’ve deleted. Additionally, if you double-click any app in the folder, it will reinstall itself in your iTunes Library. The archived copy of the app will remain in place, so you’ll need to separately delete it if you no longer want a duplicate in the Archive folder.

If the app has been updated since you deleted it, you should soon be presented with the opportunity to update the reinstalled app.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Mac | 2 Comments