Updated Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network (and a Discounted Bundle!)

In collaboration with my good friends at TidBITS Publishing, we've updated my long-running ebook about making good use of Apple Wi-Fi equipment, from setting up a network to optimizing placement to troubleshooting problems. The book is now up to date for iOS 9 and El Capitan. It's $20, although you can get 30% off an entire cart by buying a bundle of three or more ebooks at once. (Previous owners should check their email or write to Take Control Books for a significant discount and special bundles.)

You can purchase Take Control of Your Apple Wi-Fi Network for $20. All Take Control books are DRM-free and a single purchase gets you three formats: PDF, EPUB, and Kindle-compatible MOBI.

But you can also get a bundle of that book and my self-published A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9 from Take Control for 20% off ($7 off) by following this link, which includes the coupon. (Buy a total of three books, and you get 30% off the entire order—no coupon required.)

In the revision, we also added some new elements and updated others to reflect how people are using their networks with a greater number of platforms—like Android—and some features we never documented before, but the time was right to add:

  • I found two great tools for graphically mapping Wi-Fi networks and for visualizing a network environment—NetSpot and WiFi Explorer—so I added a run-through of each product. NetSpot helps you sort out network signal strength against a map of the physical layout. It's very cool, and comes in a limited personal version that's enough for most households. WiFi Explorer is a more sophisticated (but not expensive) program that you can use to sort out all the networks around you and better manage your own base stations as a result.

  • I’ve made several small revisions about 802.11ac waves. Previously, when I discussed the latest flavor of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, it was as a single thing; however, the standard is being rolled out progressively in waves, each with new features. Apple’s two 802.11ac base stations and nearly all the adapters in Macs and iOS devices currently use wave 1. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus support wave 2, and more equipment that does is coming.

  • I added details about iOS 9’s new Wi-Fi Assist feature, which is enabled by default. Because this feature can burn through cellular data, iOS 9 users should keep it on only if they are aware of this risk.

  • I added steps for connecting to an Apple Wi-Fi network from Android (5, and steps are the same for 6), Windows 10, and Chrome OS. With so many mixed-platform networks, I hope this helps! There's also detail about file sharing and printing from Windows 10 via an Apple base station.

  • Because you may want to buy a base station without paying a premium for an Apple product—or you may want to try a different feature set than what Apple is currently offering—I added information about the TP-Link Archer C7 and Google's OnHub routers.

For those interested in buying a new router, I'll be writing an article soon for TidBITS with advice on that subject. I suggest waiting until March 2016 to see if Apple introduces updated Wi-Fi base stations, because the units are now falling far behind comparably priced or much cheaper units from other companies.

There's No Back in the Amazon Store, Only Front

I visited the Amazon Store today, its first permanent bricks-and-mortar rollout. The store falls under the purview of a former Amazon co-worker from back in the day who I admired very much. It's really a lovely place. It seems to have captured a lot of the charm of what Barnes & Noble used to be like, before they lost their way, with a very strong whiff of Seattle and a sense of appreciation of the book as a form. That, even with Kindles, Fires, an Echo, and much more centrally located and throughout the store. This is a book bookstore that happens to have some electronic gear and electronic aids.

Prices are omitted almost everywhere. I spotted a handful on electronics. Books have no prices on the shelf tags. There are omnipresent Kindles to look up the price, but it's odd to my eye that even though the books are heavily discounted off list, one has to look at the book to find the list price and then ask or look up the retail price in the store. It's inconvenient, but it bypasses having SKU (stock-keeping unit) tags on the books. (Having used Amazon for fulfillment of a book I published, they insist on every book being tagged, even though books have UPC codes on them.)

I couldn't put my finger on what it was about the store that seemed off until after I left. It was this:

The entire store feels like the front part of a bookstore. There is no back crammed with spine-out books and remainders and weird stuff—and even used books in various conditions.

The back of the bookstore is the Amazon ecommerce operation. Amazon is self-showrooming.

Amazon Store

Podcast, Podcast, Podcast! I'm Talking All over the Place

I had a spate of podcasts (some taped weeks ago) go up recently:

  • Clockwise #112: A 30-minute dash through four tech topics and one bonus question! I frighten everyone in this episode. (Yes, I am available to wash your dishes.)
  • Low Definition: Space Blobs: The Game Show podcast that's part of the Incomparable Network did a game that is absolutely not a popular word game in which you provide meanings to words. It was hilarious, and raccoons were not harmed, I swear. Seriously. Maybe squirrels, though.
  • Afoot: a mystery-genre podcast: I just launched this at the Incomparable. This was our introductory episode, and we'll be putting out new episodes every few weeks.
  • Doctor Who S9E8 review: “The Zygon Inversion”: A "flashcast" at the Incomparable, recorded just after watching the episode (with Jason Snell).
  • Love Blooms Naturally on a Vespa: A Rocket Surgery sub-podcast outing on the Incomparable in which we talk about Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster. You can also watch the movie at no cost, if you dare.
  • Every week, you can catch me on the Macworld podcast, too.

Happy Birthday, Dear Children: Once Again, to the Courts!

So in September, I wrote about the latest twist in the copyright ownership or existence in the lyrics for "Happy Birthday." Warner-Chappell had been the current and sole party alleging that it had license to the lyrics through a series of sales of same over the years. In a summary judgement, however, those rights were wiped away. A judge said that the evidence made it clear that there was no valid transfer of copyright in the 1930s from the Hill sisters to Summy Co., which was the ostensible owner. He walked through the potential that no valid copyright existed at all in the lyrics, but didn't formally issue a decision, because it was necessary.

At the time, this was trumpeted as the song finally being deemed in the public domain—but I argued while it was likely, it wasn't certain. That was because even should Warner-Chappell give up its fight (it hasn't) or lose on appeals, potentially all the way to the Supreme Court, there might be other valid parties extant who could establish a right. At which point, more litigation would be necessary to determine whether a) that party had a right in the work and b) the work had a valid copyright from around 1935. (Remember the musical tune was devised in the 1870s, copyrighted in the 1880s, and is clearly out of copyright for decades now.)

I wrote:

The only likely group that has standing to pursue legal action if they demanded royalties and didn't receive them is the charity that became the ultimate beneficiary of the Hills, the Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI). It has received a third of royalties collected by Warner-Chappell for decades, or roughly $750,000 a year in recent years. Should ACEI choose to attempt to enforce rights, sue Warner-Chappell, or carry out any other action, it has just two bases on which it could proceed. (Diane Whitehead, the executive director of ACEI, says, "We are not commenting at this time.")

Well—the ACEI is pursuing this argument now. I was unable to determine (nor were other reporters) whether the Hill Foundation that ostensibly received one-third of the royalties of "Happy Birthday" still existed in some form. It had apparently passed its share to ACEI. But ACEI now says, rather late in this process (a suit to which it wasn't a party), that it received the full ownership of all the Hill Foundation copyrights in a bequest.

Jessica Hill had inherited from her sister Mildred's estate her share in the rights to various songs, and Patty (who created the songs with Mildred) had the remaining rights. The two created the Hill Foundation as the entity to own these rights. The ACEI, which Patty helped to found, received Patty's share on her death. The remaining half was bequeathed to a nephew, who, because he died without issue, had his share revert to the ACEI in full. 

Thus the mystery of the Hill Foundation is solved, if the chain of bequests can be documented. The ACEI would be the owner of any rights that the sisters failed to assign properly to Summy. The ACEI has been receiving its royalty share from preceding owners and then Warner-Chappell.

So if it is proven the rights weren't properly assigned to Summy, they reside with ACEI, which can sign them over again properly today, at which point they would remain in effect either until 2017 or 2030. (There is an issue as to whether the rights were properly renewed after 28 years, however; if Summy did so, it wasn't entitled to, and thus even if they existed in 1935, they would have expired by 1964.)

The rights would expire in 2017 if an unpublished manuscript of the lyrics were found, as they would be protected for 70 years following Patty Hill's death. (Only the original creators' deaths are counted for this purpose.) If the 1935 registration is found valid and the transfer of rights is not, then the rights persist until 2030 due to the vagaries of copyright law extensions.

The leading expert on the "Happy Birthday" copyright status, explained the issue about an unpublished manuscript back in September:

However, the Hill sisters in the 1940s lawsuit maintained that they had made a transfer of rights in 1935. These are the rights that the judge said didn't exist. That ruling could leave the unpublished rights active. But Brauneis says, "We don't know that Patty Smith Hill ever wrote anything down." No manuscript has ever been mentioned nor presented across multiple trials and 125 years. This also requires that the Hills never "abandoned" the rights, a complicated concept, but Brauneis says his reading of the judge's ruling is that King leaned toward that interpretation.

One outcome is that the judge lets ACEI join the suit and produces a new summary judgment in which he finds the registration invalid or the rights abandoned, or turns to the reliance on an unpublished manuscript which, as there's no proof of one existing, would ostensibly be dismissed as well. It could also go to trial and any of these conditions might be met. In all of those cases, the copyright was never valid, and there was no basis by any party to collect royalties.

The ACEI receives a significant portion of its income from these royalties, and thus is motivated to pursue the case. (Its filing is here.)

What this means, however, is that the issue of whether lyrics are clearly in the public domain for the purposes of companies who want to avoid being socked with a copyright lawsuit for unlicensed use has been punted forward, potentially for months to years.

What's That? It's…Afoot! The Game, That Is

Over at The Incomparable network, I've just launched a podcast about mysteries—anything within the genre and related—called Afoot! No, it's not just about Sherlock Holmes, though you can imagine the great ratiocinator will come up. I've assembled a set of panelists, and different members (plus special guests) will appear in each episode depending on the topic.

The first episode is live! It's an introductory one in which six of us talk about what got us hooked on mysteries, our favorites, and what makes a mystery a mystery. We're planning on having new episodes at least every month, possibly more frequently.

The artwork is by Antony Johnston (based on my feeble imaginings), writer and podcast host; the intro and outdo sound-effect "play" by David J. Loehr, playwright and panelist.

Amazon discloses employee information in a spat over an article

I was appalled by Amazon digging through its employees' records to respond to a New York Times article, in an attempt to discredit months of reporting in part by alleging that one ex-employee quoted briefly in the opening of the piece had committed fraud while at the company, admitted it, and resigned. (That employee says no such thing occurred; he left because of disorganization.)

I wrote this examination (posted at Medium) of how reporting and verification works using Amazon and the Times back and forth over the matter.

Twitter tips for those who already use Twitter

Even long-term Twitter users are sometimes unaware of a few useful conventions and features. I’ve compiled several into this short post.

Thread multiple tweets of your own

I had been on Twitter since the stone ages—2007!—before I realized I could thread my own tweets. That is, make them appear as a series of messages in a sequence of my choosing. While by the time I learned this (from Ed Bott), Twitter had offered conversation threading for years, I hadn’t realized my own tweets could likewise be put in sequence.

It’s easy to do:

  1. Post a tweet.
  2. Reply to that tweet in whatever software you use.
  3. If the reply includes your handle, remove your handle. (Twitter.com and many third-party clients remove or select your handle to avoid this.)
  4. For your next message, reply to the tweet you just posted in reply.
  5. Repeat.

You can still number your tweetstorms, but you don’t have to—people can read in sequence just by selecting any tweet in the thread.

Don’t start with an @ to reach everyone

The @-mention convention was invented by users, like so much in Twitter. But Twitter incorporated it in a particular way. If you start a tweet with an @, only the recipient and all common followers between you see it by default. That is, “@jcenters You, my friend, are a genius” will only reach @jcenters and anyone who follows both Josh and me.

This can be confusing if you’re trying to “hat tip” someone (see below) and want to put their handle first. Better to put handles at the end of a message, or precede the message with a period or a tilde (~), which allows everyone who follows you to see the message.

Disable retweets from prolific retweeters

People who retweet a lot, like yours truly, can be annoying. But while you can use Twitter and third-party client mute features to suppress someone’s handle (and with third-party software keywords and other things) and block to disable them on your timeline entirely, Twitter also includes a function to stop seeing retweets made by a given user.

The most reliable place to manage this from is Twitter.com:

  1. Go to the profile page of a user.
  2. Click the gear icon next to the Follow/Following/Unfollow button at right.
  3. Select Turn Off Retweets.

It can reduce the seeming volume you get from someone who you want in your timeline, without their stream of including other people’s tweets.

Common Twitter abbreviations you may not know

Many of these are also used in texting, but if you’re not a frequent texter, Twitter may be the first place you encounter them.

TIL: That TIL means “Today I Learned”—it’s a shortcut to introduce something you discovered. (It comes from Reddit, I’ve been told.)

tbh, tfw, idk: to be honest, that feel when (how you feel when something happened), I don’t know

H/T or HT: Hat tip—a credit to someone who inspired or referred you to the resource you’re tweeting about.

MT: Modified tweet, used when you rewrite a tweet slightly to fit into the 140-character limit when trying to retweet it and comment on it at the same time. The new Twitter quote feature is better: you can reference a tweet and have that full tweet show along with your own message.

My Latest Book: A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9

I've been writing about the three topics in this book's title for…well, decades now. And even though iOS is ostensibly an intuitive and simple operating system, knowing where every setting is and which software to use to enhance safety, security, and privacy can be a struggle. This 176-page book, A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy & Security in iOS 9, documents all that in concise chapters divided by tasks that tackles the basics all the way up to advanced topics. (You can download an excerpt with a full table of contents and a chapter.)

Folks concerned about privacy controls in iOS and safe/ad-free web surfing asked me to include details on those topics for this new edition. The Privacy section is thus all new. It explains how to use Apple's settings—and what Apple claims is done with data and details it collects when you're searching, using Siri, and mapping. I also have a chapter that runs through content-blocking Safari extensions, which were introduced in iOS 9, and allow third-party apps to help you block web-based malware, trackers, phishing sites, and unwanted bandwidth wasters, which can include advertising networks that don't respect your privacy, time, or your mobile data plan costs!

The book is normally $15, and you get three DRM-free versions: PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (Kindle compatible). As a reader of this blog who read to this point on the page, you can get 25% by using the coupon code FOG9 at checkout. Thanks for your support!

You can also buy the books through your favorite online bookseller:

You can even get it in print! This edition is printed on demand (POD), and it looks almost exactly like books printed in large quantity—and costs the same as the ebook edition.

Stately Plump Jonathan Franzen Surveys Things of His Own Making

“I don’t like to hire people to do work that I can do,” [Jonathan Franzen] says. So that means he does his own dusting in the New York apartment he shares with his girlfriend? Franzen looks slightly shifty. “We do have a cleaner…

“I repainted our guest room this summer in our rather small house in Santa Cruz.…If I had hired someone, it would’ve been done better, and I was very sick of doing it by the end, and yet it seemed important. The first two coats I enjoyed and the third coat I was getting tired of it and the fourth coat was just sheer torture."

Financial Times, 9 October 2015

Franzen looked down into the terraced pit. It was now all his.

"You never did say what you wanted to buy an iron mine for, Mr. Franzen," said the weather-beaten manager.

"Never mind, Philip," Franzen said kindly, although from lofty heights, "I have my reasons."

Franzen felt the heat of the blast furnace as he shoveled in pig iron to create the steel he needed for printing plants and trucks, for his lumber mill saws and typewriters.

Hefting an axe over his shoulder, Franzen strode boldly into the forest, as if on seven-league boots. "These trees are worthy to form the pages of my books," he said to the birds and squirrels.

A knife clenched between his teeth, Franzen leapt from the deck of the ship, a ship he had built himself from the wood of his forest, the iron of his pit.

Down he swam, down past the limits of human endurance and of sanity, to find the squid that would surrender ink for his pages.

"Mr. Franzen, I know that many authors have owned bookstores or set up shops. Larry McMurtry, for instance. But I'm intrigued about the choices you made for yours."

"To build the shop with my own hands? To make all the shelves? To create a new form of currency? To program the cash register?"

"Yes, yes, all that. But also, selling just the one book. That one you wrote."

"My plan has come together."

Franzen looked around his shop and the awkward customers who tried to avoid eye contact. It was dusty. Perhaps he should hire someone to take care of that.