Archive for June 22, 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Tragedy of FireWire

Richard C. Moss (Hacker News):

He noted that Nintendo’s Game Boy link cable was unlike anything else, and they could make it unique to their technology by swapping the polarization around. The connector could use exactly the same technology—same pins and everything—and it would look different. Better yet, the Game Boy link cable was the first major connector that put the fragile springy parts inside the cable. That way, when the springy bits wear out, you just have to buy a new cable rather than replace or repair the device.

The problem with the FireWire 400 connector was that it wasn’t asymmetrical enough to prevent it from being jammed in backwards.

FireWire’s innovations as a technology were drawing attention from the tech press—Byte magazine awarded it Most Significant Technology, for instance—but within Apple, Teener recalls that simply keeping the project alive required a conspiracy between FireWire’s Apple and IBM collaborators. Supporters kept the project funded by each telling their marketing guys the other companies were going to use it.

Getting funded and getting shipped is not the same thing, however. The decision-makers in the Mac engineering and marketing groups refused to add FireWire to the Mac. “Their argument was, ‘Well, show us that it’s being adopted in the industry, and we’ll put it in,’” explained Sirkin. It was their technology, but they didn’t want to be first to push it.


After being informed of IBM’s hundreds of millions in yearly patent revenue, CEO Steve Jobs authorized a change in FireWire’s licensing policy. Apple would now charge a fee of $1 per port. […] A month later, Apple lowered the fee to 25 cents per (end-user) system, with that money distributed between all patent holders. But it was too late. Intel wasn’t coming back to the table.

Tooth Fairy

Tooth Fairy (via Brian Webster):

Tooth Fairy helps you to switch connection of selected bluetooth devices, for example, AirPods, directly from menu bar or even global hotkey.

I was surprised that the AirPods don’t just show up the Mac’s menu of speakers, like they do on iOS. You have to go to the Bluetooth menu (which you may not have any other reason to have enabled), find the AirPods, and choose Connect from the submenu. Tooth Fairy lets you set a hotkey—I chose F12 because of the speaker icon—to connect to the AirPods, and it has a hollow or filled indicator in the menu bar for whether they are connected. So you can also see when the AirPods have auto-reconnected to the Mac, e.g. because it was the last-used device, and you don’t have to manually connect to them.

Update (2017-08-04): Version 2.4 adds a battery level indicator.

H.265/HEVC and HEIF

Chris Adamson:

H.265 promises data rate savings of up to 50% over the ubiquitous H.264, meaning that your video can look much better with the same bandwidth, or can use half as much.


In 2017, the licensing situation is far worse. HEVC contains hundreds (probably thousands, but I couldn’t verify) of patented technologies. This has long been the case with the MPEG codecs, and the way they deal with this is with patent pools: rather than having to negotiate licenses with every company that has IP in the standard, “patent pools” like MPEG-LA offer a one-stop shop for paying all the needed licenses in one place. The problem is, some patent holders aren’t in the MPEG-LA pool. Some are in a rival pool, HEVC Advance. And then a third one recently popped up. And Technicolor SA has HEVC patents that aren’t in any of the pools, so everything still sucks. And the cherry on top is that the license demands are pricier than H.264, hitting makers of both encoders and decoders, as well as content providers. It’s pretty much a dumpster fire, and one reason that Netflix has stayed away from HEVC thusfar, according to a Streaming Media NAB article[…]


This feels like it could be the end of 10+ years of codec peace, and a return to the bad old days of the late 90s when internet media insisted users install plugins for Windows Media, RealPlayer, QuickTime Streaming, or Flash, based on the technology choices made by the content provider.

Kelly Thompson (via Gus Mueller):

Apple just offered up JPEG’s replacement, and it couldn’t come soon enough.


High Efficiency Image FormatHEIF—isn’t an Apple-invented format. It’s actually a standard created by the MPEG group, and it’s a container rather than a format. In Apple’s case, they’re using it to wrap still images compressed with the HEVC (a.k.a H.265) codec. The container is incredibly flexible, and can also store multiple images, audio, depth information, image sequences, thumbnails and many others—which makes it perfect for Apple’s Live Images and dual camera systems.


The format doesn’t just beat JPEG, JPEG 2000, JPEG XR, and WebP—it handily crushes them. It claims a 2 to 1 increase in compression over JPEG at similar quality levels. In our tests, we’ve seen even better levels, depending on the subject of the image.

See also: WWDC 2017 sessions 503 and 513.

Update (2017-06-30): See also: Glenn Fleishman.

Update (2017-07-13): Here’s a thread that explains how HEIF works in iOS 11. You can choose whether the camera capture in “High Efficiency” or “Most Compatible” format. If you choose the former, it’s not clear to me how lossy the conversion is if you later want your photos in JPEG format. Presumably you need to choose the latter if you want to transfer photos using Image Capture.

Resetting the volinfo.database

From time to time, my SuperDuper backups fail with the error “Could not enable permissions for volume __ : please restart your Macintosh”. Unfortunately, restarting doesn’t usually help. The fix is to delete the volume information database:

sudo rm /var/db/volinfo.database

The next time SuperDuper tries to enable ownership on the volume, the setting will stick, and SuperDuper will be able to complete the backup.

Update (2017-09-19): I think this fix is built into SuperDuper 2.9.2.