• accessories,  iphone xr,  webcam,  windows 10

    DroidCam for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 PCs

    Whoever expected that in 2020 webcams, like the ones made by Logitech, would be in tight supply? Thanks to the COVID-19 global pandemic forcing many people to work and learn from home; good webcams are hard to find. It doesn't help that the webcams in our laptops have varying degrees of quality.

    That's where DroidCam by Dev47Apps comes in. It's simple, really. Your iPhone has a way better camera system than any webcam that has been shoved into the lid of a MacBook or Windows PC laptop. With so much of our work, learning, and socializing happening via web conference, there are many reasons why you will want to look your best on camera.

    DroidCam has two pieces: the main app that runs on your iOS or Android smartphone and a client app that presents the camera feed to your Windows PC. Unfortunately, there is no Mac client app. The app is free to use, with ads and watermarks. In my testing of the free app running on my iPhone XR with the latest version of iOS 13, I did not see any ads or watermarks in the video. For $4.99, you can remove the ads, watermark, and unlock "Pro" features like HD Video and video controls, using your smartphone as a mic, image flipping and rotation, brightness settings, screen captures, and a few other tools.

    DroidCam client running on Windows 10

    There are three ways to connect DroidCam to the client app on your Windows PC. The first is to connect both the smartphone and the PC to the same Wi-Fi network. Since I was using my solution for work, I didn't want to use a public Wi-Fi connection for my video calls. The next option is to create a private Wi-Fi network between the smartphone and the PC. While better than a public Wi-Fi connection, this option seems like too much of a hassle. The third option, I feel, is the best option: using your smartphone's sync cable to connect the phone to the PC. In my case, that was an Apple Lightning to USB-A cable. Wires, in 2020? I know, it seems crazy, but there are good reasons. First, running your smartphone as a webcam is going to place a heavy load on the phone's battery. Keeping your smartphone plugged into your PC is going to help keep the battery up. Secondly, there are less changes of weird problems cropping up when Wi-Fi is out of the mix.

    There are few things that I didn't like. There doesn't seem to be a way to engage the front facing TrueDepth camera on my iPhone XR. DroidCam only seemed to be able to control the rear facing 12MP camera. This situation is understandable given that Dev47Apps originally developed the app for the Android platform. This does mean, however, that the iPhone screen is always pointing away from me. This makes interacting with the iPhone during setup difficult when it's mounted in a c-clamp on a tripod. To be fair, my tripod rig is not the developer's fault.

    Unlocked DroidCam client HD Mode options

    After attending a few work conference calls using DroidCam, I happily paid the full price to unlock the pro features. Paying $4.99 rather than spending hours trying to find a good webcam that is actually in stock on Amazon, eBay, Best Buy or others is a much better use of your time and attention. With its low cost, DroidCam is a very economical solution for getting better video performance out of the equipment you already have.

  • apple,  lifestyle

    The Underdogs – WFH

    I had to laugh when I watched Apple's new promotional video 'Working-From-Home Thing' featuring the likable Underdogs office team.

    Apple's Underdogs - Working from home

    You see, I needed a distraction from the shenanigans on social media, on cable news, and in newspapers. Apple's satirical commercial highlights both the challenges we are all facing while trying to work at home while showcasing their products that help make collaborative work easier. With a run time of over six minutes, the video does feel a little long when compared to 2019's Underdogs commercial. The scene where one of the Underdogs needs to talk to an IT person hits a little too close to home.

    If you want to see what Apple products can do in action, enjoy Apple's video production values, or simply just relate to trying to work from home when you are used to working in an office, you should watch this short.

  • how-to,  ipados,  mac os x,  numbers

    Adding Videos to Apple Numbers Spreadsheets

    Numbers is the spreadsheet application in Apple's iWork productivity suite. With the recent release of Numbers 10.1 for macOS, you are now able to embed and playback YouTube and Vimeo videos directly in Numbers spreadsheets.

    As a longtime user of Apple Keynote and Microsoft PowerPoint, I understand why presenters would want to add a video to their slide decks, but videos in a spreadsheet, that seems a little weird. So, naturally, I had to try it.

    Apple's website shows beautifully crafted works of art cleverly disguised as spreadsheets. As and IT professional, my spreadsheets are usually uninspiring lists of things hastily thrown together so that I can quickly move on to the next thing that needs my attention.

    YouTube video embedded in a Numbers spreadsheet

    In my sample Numbers spreadsheet, I have a very simple high-level task list for deploying some computers and joining them to a domain. To provide instructions for redeeming an Apple gift card code, I embedded a YouTube video from the Apple Support channel. Using videos as a way to help illustrate how to perform a task is just one practical example of why one might want to embed a video in a spreadsheet.

    To embed a video in your Numbers document:

    1. Find the web video you want to embed and copy the videoURL
    2. Select the Numbers sheet where the video will be embedded
    3. Click/Tap the Media Add > Web Video
    4. Paste the video URL and click Insert
    5. Reposition and resize the video as needed

    There are a few problems that you will need to be aware of if you are going to use videos in your spreadsheet for professional purposes. The first is that you will have to click (macOS) or tap (iOS/iPadOS) the play button twice to get the video to play. The first click loads up the video, which is pretty quick, and the second begins playback. The second is that your video will not be playable in full screen. Depending on your use case, that could be a deal breaker. Your mileage will vary depending on your project's needs.

    To learn more about how to add embedded videos to your Numbers spreadsheets, there are detailed directions on Apple.com.

  • games,  ms-dos,  vintage,  vmware,  windows

    Creating Image Files for Use with Virtual Machines

    This weekend, I started a small project to install some old DOS and Windows 95-family games into virtual machines (VMs) that I have running in VMware Fusion (VMware Workstation on Windows PCs).

    Trying to get old MS-DOS games, like Quake and Tie Fighter working have proven to be particularly difficult as I have long forgotten the art of configuring drivers in autoexec.bat and confg.sys.

    To help, I have found two tools that have been useful in this weekend's hacking effort to get the games loaded and relearn what was forgotten.

    The first is Apple's own Disk Utility. Disk Utility can be used for a number of things on macOS, but it can be used to bundle up the contents of a folder into a floppy disk .img file. Apple has a really good step-by-step KB support article on how to make disk images.

    I wasn't having much success in using Disk Utility to create CD and DVD .iso files. So, rather than waste many hours on troubleshooting, I chose to download InfraRecorder for Windows and load it into a Windows 10 Insider VM. The free software can be downloaded from Ninite.com - a site the provides safe utility software for Windows PCs without all of the malware, bloatware, adware…you get the idea.

    Finally, if you are looking for some old boot disks or OS installers, WinWorld has a full library of software that should have what you are looking for. For me, I needed that Windows 98 Second Edition floppy to get the oakcdrom.sys file since my original floppy went missing over a decade ago.

  • lifestyle

    Happy Independence Day

    This Independence Day is like none other in our lifetimes. We face a global pandemic. Police are killing unarmed African Americans in plain view of video cameras without fear of punishment. There is food and financial insecurity for the most vulnerable people living in this country while corporations are putting up record breaking profits. Our government is grid locked with "Us" vs "Them" tribalism. And, there a self-absorbed white supremacist who is more interested in dividing us than uniting us in the White House of this once great nation. I am embarrassed by what we have allowed America to become.

    I hope and pray to God that one day We the People will have the courage to return to values such as truth, service, and cooperation.

    So, on this Fourth of July, I recall the sacrifices made by all the men and women who founded this country and, in the words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

  • facebook,  lifestyle,  twitter

    Facebook Cannot Fix Itself

    Catching up on my backlog of Time Magazine (yes, the print edition), here's Roger McNamee, writing at Time.com:

    Trump has long argued–without evidence–that Internet platforms are biased against conservative voices. In reality, conservative voices have thrived on these platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have consistently allowed conservatives to violate their terms of service. Twitter recently fact-checked two of Trump’s tweets that contained falsehoods, the first time it had done so, which appeared to trigger the Executive Order. Twitter subsequently issued a warning on a Trump tweet for endangering public safety. These actions were long overdue efforts to treat the President’s posts the same as any other user’s. At the same time, Facebook refused to take action with identical posts on its platform.

    This should serve as a warning to companies who try to cozy up governments and politicians. Everything is fine until it is not. Section 230 has allowed large social media and tech companies to wash their hands of the hateful, untruthful, and hurtful content they allow users to post. It's time to start holding social media and tech companies to the same higher standard as newspapers and other traditional news outlets.

    The benefits of Internet platforms are evident to everyone with access to a computer or smartphone. But like the chemicals industry in the 1950s, Internet giants are exceptionally profitable because they do not pay any cost for the harm they cause. Where industrial companies dumped toxic chemicals in fresh water, Internet platforms pollute society with toxic content. The Internet is central to our way of life, but we have to find a way to get the benefits with fewer harms.

    I think that progressive politicians are finally waking up to the fact that smartphones and reliable high-speed Internet connections are not nice to haves. They are essential to modern life. As the 70 and over crowd retire from politics, or are voted out of office, a new wave of politicians who understand how technology works come into office. The question I have is will they work for the people or align with large corporations, such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, to get easy money.

    Thanks to the fight-or-flight instinct wired into each of us, some forms of content force us to pay attention as a matter of self-preservation. Targeted harassment, disinformation and conspiracy theories are particularly engaging, so the algorithms of Internet platforms amplify them. Harmful content crowds out facts and expertise.

    I agree with McNamee on this point. Anyone who disagrees only need to take an honest look the information that is being posted on social media sites about COVID-19 and the mask vs. no mask debate. As a resident of Connecticut, I take issue with Alex Jones’ outright lies out the Newtown school shooting.

    Algorithms need not fill our feeds with targeted and dehumanizing disinformation and conspiracy theories. They do now because amplifying emotionally dangerous content is a choice made to maximize profits. “Optimizing for engagement” undermines democracy and public health. It increases political polarization and fosters hostility to expertise and facts. It undermines journalism, not just by taking advertising dollars from the media but also by forcing news into an environment that discourages critical thinking–and by putting junk news, disinformation and harmful content on an equal footing with credible news sources.

    I really dislike the algorithmic ordering of posts in Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn feeds. It was one of the reasons why I chose to delete my Facebook account and try to avoid using Twitter on the web in favor of Tweetbot. The only way to fix this problem is to begin holding social media and large tech companies accountable for the information that is posted to their services by way of a federal law.

    While I am not a fan of Roger McNamee due to his poor influence over Palm, Inc. by way of his investment firm, Elevation Partners, I do agree with him that self-regulation of Facebook and social media companies just does not work and must change.

  • ipad,  ipados,  wwdc

    Scribble for iPad

    When Apple first introduced the iPad, then CEO Steve Jobs remarked that if you saw a stylus you failed to design a good iPad app. While many at the time agreed with that sentiment, I believe that in 2020 an iPad paired with an Apple Pencil is a far more powerful customer tool than an iPad alone.

    Photo Credit Apple, Inc.

    Last month, at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the iPad maker introduced a new feature coming to customers this fall called Scribble. Scribble is a new way to use Apple Pencil to handwrite text directly into input files and convert the handwritten characters into typed characters automatically. This means that if you are already holding Apple Pencil in your hand, you don't have to put it down and switch to another form of input by using a hardware or software keyboard. The user interaction model is a natural as pen and paper.

    Let's assume that I am sitting in a conference room discussing the upcoming work for the week. In this meeting I might be jotting down notes in an iPad note taking app, such as Noteshelf by Fluid Touch. While the app is open, a Messages notification appears. Using Pencil, I can pull down the notification to read the message, and right there, jot out a quick response with Pencil and then tap the send button.

    There will also be two new Scribble editing gestures that iPad and Pencil can use. the first is text selection. When using an app that has been updated to work with Scribble, such as the Reminders or Notes apps, you will be able to draw a straight line through some text to select it for editing. The text will automatically highlight and the standard editing tools will appear. Then there's my favorite, scratch to erase. This feature works just like it sounds. To delete some text, just make a wavy scratch out motion with Pencil over the text to delete and it will disappear. This gesture, minus the poof cloud animation, was taken directly out of Apple's Newton PDA product from the 1990s.

    Apple has made Scribble part of the iPadOS system experience. Developers get these new features with minimal effort when they use Apple's standard application programming interfaces (APIs) as part of their apps. In iPadOS 14, Apple is adding the new UIScribbleInteraction and UIIndirectScribbleInteraction APIs alongside of the existing Standard Text Controls and UIKit Text Input APIs. Scribble features will be available in apps by default and will allow users to use Pencil to interact with text input fields without having to tab any extra buttons or switch input modes. Scribble will keep track of where the users are writing on the screen to make sure that the converted type written text is entered into the correct input field. Finally, user privacy is maintained because all of the machine learning character recognition is performed on the iPad. No Internet connection required. As a design consideration, the handwriting passwords is not supported. Apple recommends that customers and developers rely on password autofill from Keychain.

    Overall, I am looking forward to Scribble support in iPadOS 14. I like to use Apple Pencil with my iPad Pro or taking notes in meetings. (Remember when we were able to have in-person meeting with our teammates?) I also think that using Scribble to fluidly enter text into fields without having to switch input modes will be a frictionless productivity boost for people who already use Apple Pencil. I do think however, that there is a high barrier to entry for people who prefer to write in paper notebooks. The loss of the tactile feel of pen on paper and the $99 starting price of Apple Pencil, makes me think that Scribble will be an additive experience feature for current Pencil owners rather than a feature that draws more pen and paper fans to the iPad.

  • apple,  business,  dell,  ipad pro,  ipados,  lifestyle

    The iPad Pro as a “Real” Computer

    Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.

    The iPad Pro is a real computer. You might be thinking "Yeah, duh!" right now. Let me explain.

    I was recently working in my office - my corporate office for my job-y job, not my fun-with-computers home office - and I was using my company issued Dell Latitude laptop. I needed to jump on a conference call, so I undocked my laptop, opened the lid, and moved closer to the window for better lighting. I also wanted to charge my work-issued 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I decided to try to charge my iPad Pro from the USB-C cable from my Dell WD19TB USB-C/Thunderbolt dock.

    As expected, my iPad started charging immediately. What I wasn't expecting was a few seconds after that, iPadOS 13.4 "attached" to the dock and started mirroring the screen, accepting input from my Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as connecting to the network.

    iPadOS 13.4's wireless mouse and system-wide pointer support worked with my Logitech Unifying Receiver connected K750 keyboard and M510 mouse just as smoothly as it does on the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard or a Magic Trackpad 2. I am also using a Dell 32-inch 4k UltraSharp U3219Q monitor, which displayed the video output from the iPad crisply. With an Ethernet connection, I was able to use Microsoft's Remote Desktop Mobile client to connect to Windows 10 and Windows Server machines. Files was able to connect to my frequently used SMB server, and I was able to use multiple FileMaker applications hosted on FileMaker servers with FileMaker Go.

    There are a few things that I found a little disorienting while using my iPad Pro in place of my Windows laptop. I am confident they will become second nature quickly, but I think that they are worth mentioning in case you, dear reader, want to try your own iPad Pro at work experience.

    First, the iPad Pro will go to sleep a lot faster than Windows will put my laptop to sleep. I am apprehensive leaving my iPad constantly connected to power for multiple hours after 100% charge was reached. Second was getting the K750 keyboard to wake up and work with the iPad was occasionally problematic. The M510 mouse never had an issue. As a security feature, the contents of password fields are not mirrored to the external monitor. I kept clicking into the password field thinking I missed the target for the cursor until I realized what was going on. Finally, I discovered that while the iPad saw the USB powered speaks that are connected to the dock, I was not able to play audio of audio of any kind from the iPad through the dock speakers. I will have to keep playing with the speakers to figure out what's going on.

    Overall, I had an enjoyable afternoon working on my iPad Pro in place of my Windows 10 laptop. There are few specific tasks that I probably could have done on the iPad, but muscle memory makes those technical IT tasks quicker for me in Windows. Enabling hardware support for USB-C docks and accessories is not a glamorous headline grabbing iPadOS feature, but I'm glad it is there.

  • apple,  education,  enterprise,  wwdc

    WWDC 2020 Sessions for Enterprise and School IT Admins

    Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.

    You would think that Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference, WWDC, is just for software developers writing apps for the fruit company's devices. After all, "developer" is in the name of the conference. Like me, however, you would be wrong.

    This year, Apple has elected to take this year's WWDC conference online and make content available to anyone who is interested in learning about what's new in their software platforms. I was surprised to see the Enterprise, IT, and Apps section of talks.

    This year's sessions include topics for IT system administrators who use Apple Business Manager or Apple School Manager. IT admins can learn more about automated device enrollment in mobile device management systems, customized onboarding and account creation, and app and software update deployment. One of the features that I am particularly interested in is "zero touch" device deployment. Zero touch deployments allow business or school IT teams to simply hand out Apple devices to their customers, have them unbox them, turn them on, connect to a Wi-Fi network and be setup in minutes. As an IT operations manager, I am very much interested in ways to improve the speed and consistency of deployments of PCs, mobile devices, and servers.

    If you are an IT administrator who supports Apple devices in the enterprise or at school, you will want to take a look at this year's Enterprise, IT, and Apps videos near the bottom of the Apple Developer website or by downloading the Developer app.

  • apple,  ipad pro,  ipados,  keyboard

    Portrait or Landscape – Rethinking the iPad Pro

    Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.

    The iPad, and now the iPad Pro, has been positioned by Apple as the Windows PC laptop alternative for the last few years. I feel that the time has come to make the iPad Pro a true laptop alternative. Three things have happened in the last year that has really changed my opinion.

    The first is iPadOS 13.4 and the iPad Magic Keyboard. Since the April release of iPadOS 13.4 I have been using a wireless mouse with my 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It has been a game changer. Excel and Numbers are now usable with pointer support. For the last two and half months, I have been using a wireless mouse with a USB-A wireless receiver. That required that I use a USB-C to USB-A adapter cable. The resulting dongle hanging off the right side of the iPad Pro felt like a clunky solution to an otherwise clean design of the iPad Pro. After purchasing an iPad Magic Keyboard, it felt like a complete work solution that was designed together. The new scissor switch keys feel great and the trackpad is capable of getting the job down without having to carry around another accessory and dongle. I briefly considered buying a Magic Mouse 2 or a Magic Trackpad 2. They would get right of the unsightly dongle, but neither would fix the extra accessory problem. The iPad Magic Keyboard is an integrated clean solution that feels great to use and compliments a 2018 or 2020 iPad Pro nicely. In 2010 Apple said that there is no wrong or right way to hold the iPad. In recent years however, with the release of Apple's Smart Keyboards for iPad Pro, the iPad has been undergoing a subtle transformation into a landscape-oriented device. The landscape oriented embossed Apple logo on the back of the iPad Magic Keyboard is further evidence of the acceptance that the iPad Pro is a landscape-oriented device.

    The second thing is that the iPad Pro needs to change the front facing TrueDepth camera from the top bezel to the right bezel when the iPad Pro when held in portrait orientation. There has been a debate about the iPad for a long time. In keeping with the theme that the iPad Pro is a landscape device, having the TrueDepth camera along the left bezel, results in webcam video that is off center. With many people still working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, webcams and video conferences are going to remain an important tool for working and learning collaboratively. Embedding the TrueDepth camera along the top bezel, when docking in the Magic Keyboard, where it is on the MacBook, means that you will center centered video in tools like Microsoft Teams without negatively impacting the Face ID feature. For the non-Pro iPads, I would leave the camera right where it is. The camera location would then become another feature that distinguishes the two iPad lines from each other.

    The third thing that I would change with the iPad Pro would be the addition of a second USB-C port. The iPad Magic Keyboard, with its charging-only USB-C port attempts to mitigate this change. The USB-C charging port, on the left side of the Magic Keyboard, is nice. I can plug-in the charger and not have to worry about the iPad battery while I'm working at my desk. My personal preference, however, is that the USB-C port for data and input devices shouldn't be so high along the right side of the device. I feel that using USB-C to A dongle adapters or hard drive cables up that high on the right is inviting disaster. By having the ports and cables lower on the iPad chassis, there is less chance that the iPad Pro or accessories will be damaged while reaching for something that is on my work surface.

    I have always thought of the iPad as a portrait device that goes landscape when being used for content creation. The 2018 and 2020 iPad Pros and the iPad Magic Keyboard are challenging me to think differently about how these devices are used. Taking into account the new design language of the iPad Pro models and the impressive utility of the iPad Magic Keyboard and the enhancements in iPadOS 13.4 for pointer support, I consider the iPad to be a device that fits the user's needs, regardless of which way the logo appears on the back.