by Jason Snell & friends

The Incomparable

#262: District Attorney Doofus ↦

The Incomparable isn’t just about geeky media—sometimes it’s about me getting educated in classic motion pictures that I’ve never seen. So it is this week, as our Old Movie Club takes on “The Hustler” and “Anatomy of a Murder”. George C. Scott is the common bond between these two films, but you’ll also get fantastic performances from Paul Newman and Jimmy Stewart, respectively. Plus, see the origin of the “I’m just a simple country lawyer” trope. Look, “The Hustler” is on Netflix. You have no more excuses.


What might be in store for Siri ↦

Over at Macworld, my weekly Stay Foolish column tackles what Apple might announce in regards to Siri next week, as well as where the concept of an intelligent voice-based assistant might be headed:

While I still really like Siri, there’s still plenty of improvement to be made. Too often it seems as though there are questions the assistant should be able to answer—questions, frankly, that a real, human assistant would certainly have at their fingertips—that Siri seems clueless about, particularly when it comes to context. For example, if I ask Siri “What’s on TV tonight?”—admittedly a bit of an antiquated query in this day and age of streaming—it kicks me to a Google search. But it also can’t tell me when the fourth season of Arrow premieres. (October 7, if you’re anticipating it as I am.) “Can you book me a flight to San Francisco?” yields similarly unhelpful results, as does “Play this movie on my Apple TV.”

Read the rest at Macworld

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


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On RSS readers and the much exaggerated “death” of RSS

Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber responds to my post on the new NetNewsWire:

RSS readers exploded in popularity a decade ago, and Dan is right that their use has died down dramatically. But I think “RSS is dead” is the new “email is dead”. And I know from my server stats that an awful lot of people still read Daring Fireball in an RSS reader — many of them using NetNewsWire. For me, as a news junkie, an RSS reader is something to get worked up about.

To clarify: I don’t think RSS is dead either, and didn’t mean to suggest as much. Certainly RSS is not dead as a technology: the popularity of podcasts, as Brent Simmons points out in another response to my piece, ensures that, as well as the fact that it’s the foundation of news-reading apps like the forthcoming Apple News. RSS is as much a backbone technology as HTML is. I use RSS readers on my Mac, iPad, and iPhone every day—but then again, my job also involves keeping close tabs on the news.

However, while RSS may not be dead, I don’t think anybody would say that RSS readers are a growth industry, and that’s where the challenges for NetNewsWire come in. As John himself writes in his earlier post about NetNewsWire:

Second, Black Pixel has simplified so much, they’ve removed a lot of what made NetNewsWire NetNewsWire. Let Apple News and Flipboard be the simple news readers — I think the opportunity in today’s world for a non-free Mac RSS reader is at the high-end.

For people who read the news because they’re news junkies, or because their jobs involve following the news, RSS readers may well truly never die. But I would also argue that most of those people already have their apps, services, and workflows well established, and are unlikely to switch unless a new solution truly brings something they can’t get anywhere else—as John says in his NetNewsWire post, those “esoteric features” that keep apps like BBEdit and those from Omni going strong. (Furthermore, the attention being lavished on those newfangled news reading apps may end up peeling off users of traditional RSS readers.)

RSS readers are kind of a “bare metal” experience, for people who like just such a thing: unlike Flipboard or Apple News, there’s little monkeying with the feeds or the layout. (I think of it a little like writing your HTML in a text editor instead of a WYSIWYG design app.) It’s a niche category—as Brent suggests, “a type of productivity software that some people like and some people don’t”—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with niche categories: those are usually where I find my favorite apps.

But it’s definitely a challenge to come into an established niche category without some significant differentiators. And while the new NetNewsWire looks like a great app, there’s nothing there yet to entice me to switch from my current solution. I look forward to a subsequent version that makes a more persuasive argument.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Return of the NetNewsWire

NetNewsWire

Ready for a blast from the past? NetNewsWire, the venerable RSS reader, is back, with a release of version 4.0. It launches with both a $10 Mac app and a $4 iOS app, supported by a cloud syncing service.

Longtime Mac users will probably have fond memories of the app, once the RSS reader of choice for the platform. Over the years it bounced from its original home at Brent Simmons’s Ranchero Software, to NewsGator, and eventually to its current home at Black Pixel, back in 2011. A public beta of version 4.0 was first released in 2013; the last public beta release was just shy of a year ago.

A little strangely, the screenshots in the OS X version shown on the app’s website date from 20141, and Michael Tsai notes some shortcomings of the release, including lack of smart folders and AppleScript support. The iOS version, meanwhile, currently supports only the iPhone, not the iPad.

Of course, the real question is whether an RSS reader is still software that people get worked up about. With the demise of longtime RSS staple Google Reader and the incursion of social networks and alternative news reading apps like Flipboard, Nuzzel, and soon Apple News, an RSS reader seems decidedly last decade. It’s a challenging environment into which to drop a new product—even one with as respected a brand as NetNewsWire.


  1. It wouldn’t really bug me if it weren’t that this is a news app.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


App Store Games Twitter account inserts coin, presses start ↦

Not only is there an official Twitter account for gaming on the App Store, but its first two posts are animated GIFs. Who would have thought we’d see the day?

As The Verge points out, this account appears less than a week before Apple’s next big event, where it’s largely rumored that a new Apple TV—replete with game support—will be unveiled.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


BB-8 toy rolls into your life ↦

Credit: Sphero

Look, sir! Droids!

Is your life incomplete without a droid roaming your house? Good news! You can now get your own BB-8, the spherical robot1 seen in the trailers for the forthcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens. You can control the $150 toy manually with your smartphone, or let it drive around your house automatically.

But for all the added bells and whistles, the BB-8’s primary directive is really just to be a ball of cuteness — to make you feel something and ascribe emotion to an algorithmically driven device. Even when you’re not using BB-8, the droid will start looking around, as if it’s impatiently waiting for you to give it directions. The first time I set it down in its charging stand, it suddenly began “looking around,” twisting and moving its head erratically as if it’s trying to ascertain its environment. It was a jarring moment for myself and a few other co-workers, too, but it speaks to Sphero’s renewed focus on giving its products personality. “We think this is probably the first step for Sphero,” said Maigret, reflecting on the company’s rather ambitious goals for the future. “We think that ultimately there will be a robot in every house — that everyone will own a companion.”

Don’t expect BB-8 to fetch your morning tea (or coffee), though—it’s only a droid, and not very knowledgable about such things.


  1. Or not.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Hulu unlocks the albatross ↦

Hulu has been a streaming-video pioneer, yet when its name comes up in conversation it seems to always be negative. That’s what you get when your paid video streaming service is full of ads when all of your paid video streaming service competitors are free of ads.

So as of today Hulu’s offering commercial-free subscriptions for $12/month. In other words, Hulu now lets you pay a 50 percent premium on the normal $8/month subscription to watch it without ads.

While Hulu is moving away from being “the video service packed full of ads,” it’s also more expensive than its competitors. Compare Hulu’s $12/month ad-free plan with Netflix’s $8/month HD plan and Amazon Instant Video’s $8.25/month (actually part of the larger $99/year Amazon Prime service).

I watched a 1970s-era “Doctor Who” episode today at lunchtime on Hulu1, and sure enough, there weren’t any ads. However, during a 25-minute episode there were three different “commercial breaks” in which the action faded out, and then back in. It’s a reminder of Hulu’s original business model—but one that it’s at least starting to see beyond.


  1. Turns out that Hulu has exclusive access to by far the largest streaming collection of classic “Doctor Who” episodes in America. ↩


‘The gadgets already solved it’ ↦

This week in my More Color column at Macworld, I explain why I sometimes foolishly seek high-tech solutions to simple problems:

I can’t remember when I first found myself attracted to technological toys. Was it the first video game I saw, or the first computer keyboard I typed on? No, even earlier than that I was fascinated with typewriters, the manual one I got as a kid and the IBM Selectric with the spinning typeball in my father’s office.

The point is, I’ve always enjoyed technology. You name it: it’s a joy to solve a problem with software or scripting or a web service or a cleverly applied bit of hardware. But in the past few months I’ve been reminded that sometimes it’s a good idea to realize that just because you can use clever new technology to solve a problem, it may not be the best solution available.

Read the rest at Macworld


New Apple TV to debut with universal search ↦

Speaking of John Paczkowski, he reported today that the new Apple TV will cost $149 and offer universal search as a major new feature:

Sources familiar with Apple’s plans say that a cornerstone of the the company’s new set-top box is a universal search feature that will enable searches across multiple streaming video services as well as Apple’s iTunes Store. Instead of searching the catalogs of multiple video services one at a time for a particular movie, you’ll now be able to search all — or most of them — at once and then choose the service on which you’d like to watch it. You’ll also be able to search for actors and directors, and run other more targeted searches as well — all with Siri.

My TiVo has a unified search engine, and it’s quite convenient. Adding universal search to Apple TV, and tying it in with Siri, should make the device a huge improvement over the current model.


Clockwise

#102: You Failed Them ↦

This week on Clockwise, Dan and I are joined by guests Shelly Brisbin and Guy English to talk about possible future Siri and Apple TV improvements, my fear of an Apple-programmed video service, and dealing with being the IT managers for our friends and family.


Reports: iPads might be announced next week ↦

At 9to5 Mac, Mark Gurman just posted an article headlined “iPad Pro planned for Sept. 9 debut with iPad mini 4; October pre-orders, November launch.” Big news for those of us who assumed the iPad (and some new Macs) would be the subject of an event in October, rather than being jammed into the big Sept. 9 event.

But keep in mind, the headline says “planned,” and plans change. As Gurman writes:

While whispers within Apple point to the MacBook-sized tablet making its debut on next week’s stage, it is possible that Apple could still hold back the larger iPad for an early October event given the currently planned November ship date.

Gurman’s sources are very good, but in this instance he’s referring to them as “whispers within Apple” before immediately saying that Apple could still not include the new iPad Pro at the Sept. 9 event. Apple’s been known to make changes to its keynote lineup at the last minute, so even if the whispers say one thing today, things could be completely different a week from now.

Then here’s the similarly well-sourced John Paczkowski at BuzzFeed:

Sources say Apple executives are likely to show off the company’s latest iPads at this event as well, though that 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” seems to be a wildcard, still.

Paczkowski rates the appearance of iPads as “likely”—a bit stronger language, I’d say—but calls the iPad Pro a “wildcard.”

Who knows? Maybe not even Apple, for sure. But at this point it seems to be more about when, not if.


Would Apple get into the TV (show) game? ↦

Andrew Wallenstein at Variety:

Apple is exploring getting into the original programming business.

Sources indicate the Cupertino, Calif., colossus has held preliminary conversations in recent weeks with executives in Hollywood to suss out their interest in spearheading efforts to produce entertainment content. The unit putting out the feelers reports into Eddy Cue, who is Apple’s point man on all content-related matters, from its negotiations with programmers for Apple TV to its recent faceoff with Taylor Swift.

The scale of Apple’s ambitions vary depending on whom is asked, but one high-level executive who talked with the company said the goal is to create development and production divisions that would churn out long-form content to stream in a bid to compete with Netflix. Apple is hoping to put a headhunting firm on those hires in the coming months, according to source, with the goal of being in operation next year. Unknown is whether the focus is on TV series, movies — or both.

On the one hand, Apple’s got a lot of money, and exclusive content is a differentiator in the entertainment market, whether or not consumers like it. On the other hand, creating content has never been in Apple’s wheelhouse—even Apple Music and Beats One are about curation of other people’s content—and as Microsoft found out, being a movie or TV studio can be a tough game.

My gut feeling is that this is the sort of game Apple just shouldn’t play.


Amazon Instant Video goes offline, leapfrogs Netflix

amazon-download

So there I was, halfway through Netflix’s “Daredevil” series and headed out to a weeklong getaway at a series of locations with terrible Internet connectivity. There would be plenty of opportunity for evening TV watching, so I wanted to pack some shows for the trip. “Daredevil” seemed the obvious choice, but for one major drawback: Netflix says it won’t ever allow its content to be downloaded and cached for offline viewing1. So if you’re getting on a long flight, going to a cabin in the woods, or even haunting a series of hotels with terrible Wi-Fi, you can’t count on Netflix to provide you with video entertainment.

If you’re an iOS or Android user you can now count on Amazon Instant Video to fulfill your offline video needs. (Previously this feature was just available for Amazon’s own Fire tablets, but now it’s available to everyone via an update to the Amazon Instant Video app.)

There are some caveats—not all content is available for download, due to rights issues. But there are plenty that are, including Amazon’s own originals, including “Transparent” and “Catastrophe.”

When you first play a video, the app warns you that you’ll be starting a 30-day offline viewing period, after which the file will be unplayable unless you connect to the Internet for reauthorization. So even if you’re taking a very long trip without any Internet connectivity at all, you should be able to stockpile plenty of videos.

I tried the app update that unlocks this feature this morning, and it worked just fine. My only quibble is that the app should probably have a second mode that displays when it knows it’s offline, and just shows you your offline video. Instead, an offline iPad still shows the entire Amazon Video library (along with a warning that it can’t connect). To see what you’ve downloaded, you have to tap on the Library tab, then tap Refine and choose On Device from the Display submenu.

It’s not pretty, but it’s a list of all your downloaded videos.

Okay, maybe it’s not elegant—but with one feature it has made Amazon my go-to service for when I’m traveling. I’m both a Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriber, so I have choices here. But as long as Netflix refuses to support subscribers who are traveling to places with lousy connectivity, it’s effectively pushing those subscribers into the arms of its competition.


  1. Yes, yes, I know pirates have ways of downloading Netflix stuff, but like the average Netflix user, I’m just not interested in going down that road. ↩


Upgrade

#52: Click to Click ↦

This week on Upgrade, Myke Hurley and I look forward to the Sept. 9 Apple event. What will it take for a new Apple TV to be a success? Also, a Wii U game wins over my son’s birthday party in a mouseless house, and we ponder the mystery of why some people don’t like Tap to Click.


Add email aliases in Mail on OS X and iOS

The number of email addresses I maintain only slightly exceeds the number of versions of Star Wars that I own. Many of my email addresses, however, are not full-fledged mailboxes, but simply aliases that forward email to a central account (i.e. the Six Colors email listed at the end of every post).

While it’s easy enough to receive messages from all those disparate addresses, when I reply to them from that central mailbox, it exposes that main account—one which I generally don’t want to throw around. However, with a little bit of tweaking, you can set up Mail on OS X and iOS to let you customize the From line of your emails so that you can send from any of those aliases.

OS X

On OS X, launch Mail, go to Mail > Preferences, and select the Accounts pane. If you’re using a standard IMAP, POP, or Exchange account, all you should need to do is find the field listed as Email Address, and add a comma followed by the other address.

Mail aliases

(Note: If you’re using an iCloud account on OS X Yosemite, you may notice that Email Address is un-editable, showing up as a grayed-out field. Choosing “Custom” from the Alias dropdown above Email Address makes the field editable, but even after adding the aliases, I had no luck sending email from them via iCloud’s outgoing mail server.1 For more on a workaround, see below.)

Now, when you send an email, place the cursor over the From line and choose from the drop-down menu which address you’d like the email to come from. (On OS X, Mail seems to be smart enough that when you reply to a message it automatically sets the From line to the same address the original message was sent to.)

iOS

On iOS, this feature is hidden a little deeper, but it’s still pretty easy to set up. If you’re running a standard IMAP or POP account, you should be able to add additional email addresses with ease.

Open Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars and select an email account. (Note: As above, iCloud—and also Gmail—accounts won’t work in the same way, but I’ll address those below.) In the following screen tap on Account and then tap on Email. You’ll see a screen listing the primary email address and then an entry for Add Another Email. Tap that and enter the email address you want to use, then hit the Return key on the keyboard (make sure you do that, because if you navigate away from the screen in any other way, it won’t save).

iOS Mail aliases

When you’ve done that, you should once again see the Add Another Email entry below your new address. Now you can back all the way back out, making sure to hit the Done button in the top right corner of the previous screen.

As on OS X, when you send an email, you should be able to tap the From address in the compose screen to choose your address—you may actually need to tap it twice: once to expand the full list of headers, and again to choose the address. iOS, in my brief tests, doesn’t seem as good about automatically choosing the appropriate email address for replies, so keep that in mind.

iCloud and Gmail accounts

You’ll probably notice if you try to follow the above instructions that you can’t add any aliases to an iCloud account that aren’t for iCloud.com (and you have to go all the way to the iCloud web interface to do even that). Gmail accounts on iOS, meanwhile, don’t appear to let you add aliases at all.

There are a couple options here. One is to instead re-create your Gmail or iCloud account using the generic IMAP configuration rather than the provider-specific options that iOS and OS X offer. For iCloud, you’ll need this support doc for the correct settings2; for Google, you’ll have to wade through this interactive tool, or simply look around for instructions on manual IMAP configuration for Gmail. However, as noted above in the OS X section, those addresses may not even work after all those perambulations, since Apple’s outgoing iCloud server is apparently very strict about what addresses you use.

So, before you go down that bleak path, I’ve found a faster, simpler workaround. If you already have any generic IMAP account set up on your Mac or iOS device, follow the instructions above to add the additional email alias to that account. iOS doesn’t directly link addresses to mailboxes, so when you compose a message or a reply you can choose any address or alias that is set up on your iOS device. It’s way easier and doesn’t require you to go through the hassle of reconfiguring your account.

Alias away!

Armed with those tips, hopefully you’re ready to handle all of your multiple-email-sending needs. I’m constantly trying to make my email setups work a little more efficiently, and this is really just one step in a long line of long-delayed tweaks to my workflow. But each little step helps.


  1. In the El Capitan beta that I am currently running, there is no longer a Custom option at all, so it seems like Apple is cracking down on people sending emails from addresses that are not their own. Good for spam, likely, but annoying for people with lots of addresses. ↩

  2. If you have two-factor authentication on your iCloud account, you’ll need to generate an app-specific password to use when logging into the mail servers.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Liftoff

#2: The Moon ↦

This fortnight on our new space podcast, Stephen Hackett and I talk about Earth’s closest neighbor, the Moon. Why do we only see one side of it? What’s the future of lunar exploration? And what if we found a mysterious astronaut on the other side of a moon rock?


Malware steals over 225,000 Apple accounts ↦

You’re going to probably be seeing this story about the KeyRaider malware a lot in the next couple days, so this is your reminder to not panic unduly:

Recently, WeipTech was analyzing suspicious Apple iOS tweaks reported by users and found over 225,000 valid Apple accounts with passwords stored on a server.

In cooperation with WeipTech, we have identified 92 samples of a new iOS malware family in the wild. We have analyzed the samples to determine the author’s ultimate goal and have named this malware “KeyRaider”. We believe this to be the largest known Apple account theft caused by malware.

Sounds bad, and sure, it ain’t great, but keep a couple of factors in mind here:

  1. 225,000 is a lot of accounts, but as of last April, Apple had 800 million iTunes accounts and sold more than a billion iOS devices, so they’ve probably got at least a billion Apple IDs floating around. Of which 225,000 represents 0.0225 percent. So, in terms of scale, this is hardly a widespread hack. The analysis also suggests that most of the accounts are from users in China.

  2. The thing that isn’t mentioned in most of the headlines1 is that this malware, as pretty much all iOS malware before it, specifically targets jailbroken devices. Which is to say devices where users have purposefully compromised the platform’s integrity in order to tweak features to their liking or, not uncommonly, to run pirated apps. I’m not going to tell you to not jailbreak your devices, because, hey, that’s up to you. But if you do, don’t be too surprised when you get bitten by an exploit. Your car may have a great security system, but if you leave it in a bad neighborhood with the windows down and the keys in the ignition, well, there you go.


  1. To be fair, it does get mentioned in the body of most of the stories I’ve seen, but a lot of people don’t read that far/closely.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


More OS X Server resources than you can shake a grep at

Folks have been pretty positive about my adventures with OS X Server, and several readers sent in some great resources for further projects that one could attempt once Server is set up. I’ll probably look into a few of these when I have a little less on my plate, but in the meantime I figured that I’d pass along these links for your own further edification:

  • How I use my Mac Mini Server on Macminicolo: A great breakdown of a variety of server-related tasks from Ryan M., an engineer at Dropbox.

  • A power user’s guide to OS X Server, Yosemite edition: From last year, a solid top-level overview on Ars Technica of the features available on OS X Server.

  • OS X Server 4 (Yosemite 10.10): Todd Olthoff has a number of video tutorials on setting up OS X Server features. Bonus: Todd’s also guested on a couple episodes of Mac Power Users (#189 and #229) discussing Server.

  • AFP548: This site’s mainly targeted at OS X-using system administrators, and, as such, is written for a more technical audience, but it’s a useful resource if you’re looking to dive into the more nitty-gritty aspects.

  • 50 ways to use your server: Macminicolo, to whose excellent VPN walkthrough I linked in my first post, also has this extensive listing of things to do with your OS X Server. Some are more appropriate for a co-hosted setup like Macminicolo’s, but there’s plenty to dig through.

To those of you interested in OS X Server, I’d imagine the above will keep you busy for a while. Good luck, and don’t forget to, uh, tip your server.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Sponsor: for Meetings for iPad ↦

Thanks to for Meetings for iPad for sponsoring Six Colors this week. for Meetings is an app that fuses the best features of an outliner with a fresh approach at representing and manipulating content.

With for Meetings, you can capture notes, agenda items, and more, drag attendees to connect them to content, use gestures to move and organize content, and publish content as notes, agendas, or minutes.

For more information, check out a quick video of for Meetings for iPad in action.


The Incomparable

#261: Summer Superhero Spectacular, Round Three ↦

The Incomparable’s sumer superhero tournament continues, as 16 champions are reduced to eight. This round brings new judges and a requirement to argue against the opposite opponent!


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