Over the years at Macworld I built a bunch of workflow tools to make the business of writing and posting stories easier, and distributed them to my colleagues. They were generally AppleScript scripts for use with BBEdit, since that’s my writing tool of choice and we had a site license.
Now that I’m here and the initial burst of insanity in launching a new site during Apple’s high season is beginning to ease, I am slowly building new tools to help me do my new job in a more efficient fashion. Yesterday I bodged together an AppleScript (wrapped in an Automator action) to make it easier to upload images to this site, and a few people asked about it on Twitter, so I thought I’d share it here.
Our latest 30-minute blast through tech topics is live, with guests Christina Warren and Serenity Caldwell joining me and my co-host Dan Moren. We discuss how we read e-books, the future prospects of the Apple SIM, Apple Pay versus CurrentC, and the (now resolved) PCalc widget controversy.
Clockwise is sponsored this week by:
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Igloo: An intranet you’ll actually like, free for up to 10 people.
[Glenn Fleishman is the editor and publisher of The Magazine, which is currently crowdfunding an anthology of the best work of its second year in publication. He writes regularly for the Economist, Boing Boing, and Macworld, and tweets incessantly—please someone make him stop before he kills again—at @glennf.]
A week into the rollout of Apple Pay, it’s clear that Apple is on to something, and not everyone understands what. First, Rite Aid and CVS, which have had NFC (near-field communication) readers installed in their checkout lines for some years in anticipation of the future finally arriving, disabled them to prevent Apple Pay’s use. Related, Tim Cook says the uptake for Apple Pay is high: one million activations within the first three days.
Second, Americans and Europeans think that chip-and-PIN is coming to America by October 2015, which it is not. Third, many people (including me and Six Colors chief poobah Jason Snell) thought Apple Pay obviated all signatures. Fourth? I finally used Apple Pay.
PCalc—which in an amusing bit of timing is this week’s Six Colors sponsor—is a very clever Mac and iOS calculator that is always keeping up to date with the latest Apple technologies. So the new versions of PCalc add Handoff support as well as widgets
Apple has told me that Notification Center widgets on iOS cannot perform any calculations, and the current PCalc widget must be removed.
Except… Apple just told PCalc developer James Thomson that he’s got two or three weeks to remove the widget from his iOS app or be booted off the App Store.
First there’s the maddening inconsistency: This is an app that was accepted into the App Store, and is even being featured in the App Store as I write this. And now, a few weeks in, someone at Apple has decided that the app is too… what? Too useful?
And yes, Apple is currently featuring PCalc in the “Great apps for iOS 8” section, under Notification Center widgets.
Then there’s the frustration about Apple reducing functionality. Why is doing basic math in a widget not okay, but running billing timers and calculating trip ETAs and any number of other tricky actions are fine? It can’t be the fact that it’s a widget that you interact with, because I’ve seen numerous widgets that allow you to tap and swipe and do all sorts of stuff.
Having an easy swipe-down calculator on your iPhone makes your iPhone better. I’d hate to believe that Apple is embarrassed that James Thomson’s app managed to build in a widget when Apple’s own calculator app failed to do it.
Finally, there’s the exhaustion. Haven’t we seen this story a million times before? But here we are again, with another App Store ruling that feels arbitrary and inconsistent, isn’t explained, and harms the platform overall by sending a message to developers that any attempts to innovate could be met with arbitrary rejections at any time. Even getting your app accepted and promoted on the App Store does not protect you, as Thomson discovered, because a few weeks later someone made a decision “high up.”
I fear App Review. And that’s no small thing. So many decisions I make end up being filtered through whether or not I think something might get rejected. Which has a profound impact on my team’s entire development process — from what ideas we explore while brainstorming to how we implement specific features.
The App Store has been operating for six years now. Shouldn’t we be past this?
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler just proposed a rule change that would require cable and broadcast networks to sell their programming to any company that wants to be a TV provider, not just cable or satellite companies. That means Apple could set up an internet TV service and get all the channels it needs to actually replace your cable box — not just a handful of streaming deals like it has now, but a full-on TV package.
There’s a long way to go before a proposed FCC rule change could become reality. But this proposal actually recognizes the reality of today’s broadband world: There’s no reason that the business of redistributing television channels should be limited to traditional cable and satellite TV providers. And it might help stimulate the growth of broadband. Here’s hoping.
When I started this site, one of the things I wanted to do was write every day. It’s mostly worked out that way, though some days all I post are extended commentaries on links to other sites. Occasionally I write something long—a couple of thousand words about the Retina iMac, for instance—but often quite a bit shorter than that.
As Andy Baio noted earlier this month, shorter pieces can still bring more depth than a tweet can, even if they aren’t thousand-word opuses. Gina Trapani jumped in with her own take on returning to short-form blogging. Gina’s “new rules for blogging” are amazingly close to the ones I’ve been working with since I started Six Colors, right down to finding a “comfort zone” between the personal and public. (This is why I will make no apologies for posting about baseball and superhero movies.)
When I was at Macworld, the weight of an article could be quite oppressive. If you had something interesting to say, but it really couldn’t bear more than a few paragraphs, you had two choices: Just swallow it and not write anything, or fluff it up with empty filler until it seemed more substantial than it actually was. (If you went ahead and posted a three-paragraph story, you’d just get angry reader comments complaining that they were being ripped off by being induced to click on such a short article.1)
Generally we were not interested in fluff and filler, so those stories would go unwritten. Maybe they’d get salvaged as a tweet. But a lot of interesting, albeit small, stuff would just fall to the floor and be swept away with the other detritus at the end of the day: Amusing, interesting tidbits that would never be seen because they didn’t cross some imaginary threshold.
If you’ve read my stuff for any length of time, you’ll know that I can generate multi-thousand-word epics with the best of them. And I will do so here, no doubt. But like Andy and Gina, I am also enjoying the ability to write items at more modest lengths.
The studio announced ten movies stretching out to 2020, including “Batman v Superman” (I think it’s about a Supreme Court case?), “Wonder Woman,” a two-part “Justice League” movie, “The Flash,” and an attempt to repair the damage done by “Green Lantern.”
Not to be outdone by its distinguished competition, Marvel’s committing to a “Doctor Strange” film, “Black Panther” (starring Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in “42”), “Captain Marvel” (the Carol Danvers version), a Captain America/Iron Man “Civil War” film, “Inhumans,” and a two-part “Avengers” event.
If these movies don’t make people tired of superheroes, nothing will. (Unrelated: I will probably see them all.)
These companies are abandoning LED light bulbs because the market is apparently transforming into a low-price, low-margin business. In other words, LED bulbs are getting dramatically cheaper, and they both last longer and use less energy than traditional bulbs. I’ve got a few LED bulbs in my home, and they’re a much better replacement for traditional incandescent bulbs than compact fluorescents ever were.
So, bad news for Samsung and other businesses betting on big margins for bulbs, but good news for everyone else.
Merchants aren’t blocking Apple Pay to collect data on us. They aren’t doing it to spite Apple, or to pressure Apple into giving them a split of the profits. While those might be factors, the real reason is a deep-seated, and possibly well-deserved, hatred of credit cards.
Apple Pay is collateral damage in a war between retailers and credit-card companies. The good news, as Mogull confidently writes, is that this is “a fight the retailers will lose in the long run,” because it degrades the customer experience without any customer benefit.
(Trigger warning: Sports. But this story also contains: Passbook, Apple Pay, iPhone 6 photos, and mustard.)
So I am a baseball fan, and my team is in the World Series. Last night’s game was in San Francisco, and I somehow won the lottery to buy tickets, and so my wife and I went to the game. We went early, had a beer at the 21st Amendment Brewery that’s next door to my old office and right down the street from the ballpark.
We walked around the entire stadium on the outside to take in the insane spectacle of a World Series game, with a huge crowd and TV sets everywhere, and—even a couple of hours before the game—the cove outside the right field wall full of boats large and small.
When we went inside, we used tickets that were on our iPhones via Passbook. We sat in the right field arcade and watched batting practice. We walked around the park on the inside, basking in the excitement of this last game to be held in San Francisco this season. (The series continues Tuesday in Kansas City.)
Come with us if you want to live! It’s time for our re-watch of 1984’s classic sci-fi/horror/monster/car chase movie “The Terminator.” It’s a film that offers a fine distillation of everything ’80s, from Linda Hamilton’s Guess jeans to the pulsating Casio keyboard soundtrack. How do Kyle Reese’s stolen pants remind him of home? And whatever you do, keep an eye out for a gigantic Austrian!
Also on The Incomparable network in the past week:
Thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring Six Colors this week. You may have heard about Squarespace—just this week their ads have been on the World Series—but you may not have heard about Squarespace 7, which just went into beta.
Squarespace 7 has some amazing new features, including Cover Pages (gorgeous one-page designs, perfect for a simple online identity or to provide a planding page for an event, album, or product) and Getty integration (buy Getty images for your site for $10, a small fraction of the normal licensing cost). Perhaps most impressive is the new Squarespace 7 interface—no longer do you have to toggle between a back-end editor and the front end. All of it’s now on the same clean interface.
Readers of Six Colors should visit Squarespace and show your support for this site. Use code SIXCOLORS for 10% off.
Squarespace is now a creative tools company that lets you put your ideas online and create an amazing online presence or brand identity. Squarespace now offers everything from domains to websites to apps to logo makers, all with the purpose of giving you the tools to give a voice to your ideas.
This week on the Clockwise podcast: Flat iPad sales, accelerating Apple OS updates, Retina displays on the desktop, and room for improvement at the Apple Store. Our guests this week are Facebook’s Jessie Char and Rogue Amoeba’s Paul Kafasis.
When it was first announced in 1998, and for most of the years that followed, the name iMac represented Apple’s affordable all-in-one “computer for the rest of us.” The iMac was never the kind of Mac a self-respecting Apple nerd would use—for them there were Power Macs and Macs Pro, PowerBooks and MacBooks Pro.
But over the last few years, Apple has been slowly pushing its other Mac desktop models into corners. You can’t buy a Mac Pro for less than $3,000, and after ignoring the Mac mini for two years, the latest update drops support for quad-core processors, making it more of a low-end model than ever before.
And now here comes the clincher: A new top-of-the-line 27-inch iMac that’s not just fast, but sports a gorgeous Retina display that brings nearly 15 million pixels to the party. It’s enough to make people who fully expected to buy a Mac mini or Mac Pro switch sides and pledge allegiance to iMac Nation. People like me, for one.
Hidden among [“The Muppets Take Manhattan’s”] many scenes of dancing animal puppets was a truly inspiring vision of adult normalcy. Kermit, the Muppets’ frog vaudeville ringmaster, comes down with a case of cab-crash-induced amnesia and is handed the identity of Phil, a New York ad exec…. Kermit went from naked frog to independent adult, autonomous professional, self-supported citizen. That was the magic of New York. Even an amphibian could become a grown-up. I didn’t want to marry a pig and put on a show. I wanted a subway commute and a greasy spoon lunch hour. I wanted meetings around wooden tables. I wanted a desk with a phone on it. The return of Kermit’s memory was tragic. He lost all those amazing ordinary things New Yorkers get to do!
As someone who grew up in rural Northern California, in my mental landscape New York is the New York Public Library with its lion statues from the opening shot of “Ghostbusters,” the archway at Washington Square Park where Sally drops off Harry, the Forest Hills suburb where Peter Parker lives with his Aunt May. And I have to admit, every time I visit New York, there’s at least one time when I catch myself remembering a fond New York memory that only ever happened in the movies.
I launched this site less than a week after leaving my job of 17 years. I figured it would be a major life change in numerous ways, but in terms of the actual job of writing about technology there was one change that concerned me the most: being more aggressive about finding interesting links.
Link posts are part of the currency of sites like this. Not only do they serve a good purpose—pointing you at stories that are worth reading—but they afford me the opportunity to add a brief comment on them without just rewriting the story. Stories about other people’s stories are the worst.
Generally I’ve assumed that the best way to be a link miner was to subscribe to a bunch of obscure (but good) RSS feeds. I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading RSS. In truth, I was never very good at it. Twitter became my RSS reader, because I follow a bunch of interesting people who follow a bunch of interesting people, and using those people as my own personal filtering service seemed to make sense.
When I went out on my own I tried to get my own RSS-reading habits cranked back up, and I’m still working on that, on Mac and iPad and iPhone alike. But those efforts have slowed a bit due to my discovery of a fantastic service that uses those same links on my social network: Nuzzel.
I was pointed to Nuzzel by listener Shep G., who heard me complaining about my lack of good RSS habits on episode 2 of Upgrade. Nuzzel is a free web site and iOS app that mines your Twitter and Facebook networks and shows you the newest or most popular links.
While I enjoy reading Twitter, I follow too many people (and have become too busy) to be a Twitter completist. This means I miss links. And though Safari’s Shared Link feature can filter out every tweet that doesn’t contain a link, it’s still just providing a chronological list of Tweets.
What Nuzzel does well is sort and filter and group the links in interesting ways, and present them as nicely formatted news-story items—not as tweets. The filtering makes a big difference. I can, for instance, see all links from the past four hours that have been recommended by two or more friends. This has a tendency to float the most interesting stuff to the very top.
I’ve found that Nuzzel has also displayed worthwhile stuff from my Facebook network, which surprised me. I don’t visit Facebook very often (sorry, Facebook friends), but I don’t mind seeing links that are going viral in that crowd. Since I’m not checking Facebook every day, I would miss them otherwise.
Another clever thing about Nuzzel is its ability to expose links from the friends of your friends. Today on Twitter, I take advantage of this secondary network by reading tweets that my friends have decided to retweet. That’s good, because they’re (usually) endorsing that information as being worth my time by passing it on in that way. Nuzzel lets you dive into everything your friends see, whether they recommended it or not. There’s a lot more noise in this approach—I see some pretty weird stuff when I flip to this view—but sometimes the pretty weird stuff is also pretty awesome.
I’m not sure Nuzzel is good enough to be my only news source—it does a bad job of highlighting obscure stuff that hasn’t yet hit it big. Part of my job is to find that stuff, so I’m trying to use RSS as a secondary source, one that provides me with items from blogs that are less likely to float up on Nuzzel, such as personal sites from interesting people.
Chances are good that most of you don’t need to feed a website audience with interesting links. But if you want to read interesting links, personalized for you via your own social networks, I recommend giving Nuzzel a look. There’s a new version of the Nuzzel app out today, which adds a Today Widget for iOS 8 and (at long last!) iPad support.
The new release requires iOS 8 and supports system-wide sharing extensions, iOS 8 share sheets, an improved user suggestion bar, and setting the default browser to Safari, Chrome, or Twitterrific itself. Unfortunately, it also eliminates a feature I used a lot—the ability to tap and hold on a link to see the full URL, which is surprisingly helpful in deciding whether or not to follow a link.
(Every time I mention that I use Twitterrific on iOS I am inundated with people asking me if I’m aware of Tapbots’ excellent Tweetbot. Of course I am. I own Tweetbot on the Mac and on iOS. But Twitterrific works better with the way I use Twitter on my iPhone and iPad.)