by Jason Snell & friends

Sponsor: Things by Cultured Code ↦

things

This week’s Six Colors sponsor is Things, by Cultured Code. It’s a great organization and to-do list app—we gave it an Eddy Award when I was at Macworld.

This week, Things 2.5 for iPhone and iPad is Apple’s iOS Free App of the Week. So you can get the iOS apps, normally $19.99 for iPad and $9.99 for iPhone, for free! (And they’re fully functional—there are no in-app purchases in these apps.)

This is the first time Cultured Code has ever given away Things. To complement the free iOS apps, Cultured Code is also cutting the price of Things for Mac by 30 percent for this week only.

This promotion is available globally, and ends on Friday, so don’t delay!

All three apps were recently redesigned for iOS 8 and Yosemite, with an “Add to Things” Extension, Handoff between all devices, Background Refresh on iOS, a new iOS app icon, support for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and a Today Widget on OS X.

And if you decide to take the Things plunge, don’t miss their Getting Started Guide, which is a quick read that’ll help you learn the basics.


Go Play: Crossy Road ↦

I assumed everyone had already heard about Crossy Road, but I mentioned it on Upgrade this week and heard from a bunch of people who blamed, er, credited us for getting them into it.

Crossy Road is a free iOS game that’s inspired by Frogger. You’re a creature (many are available, some for free, some via in-app purchase, though so far as I can tell none of the creatures actually affects gameplay) jumping across lanes of traffic, railroad tracks, treacherous waters, and the like. Eventually you get run over. Your point total is the number of spaces forward that you’ve advanced.

I made a video so you could get a sense of it.

People throw around the word “addictive” to describe iOS games way more than they should, but we’ve been playing Crossy Road in my house a lot this week. I think the word might apply.


Ads via the DeckAds via the Deck


Clockwise 64: ‘Disposable Electric Car’ ↦

Clockwise Podcast

Clockwise is a weekly podcast that will never run out of gas—but it’s also never longer than 30 minutes.

In this week’s episode, my co-host Dan Moren and I chat with guests Lex Friedman (Dan’s co-host on The Rebound) and James Thomson (developer of PCalc). We talk about our backup strategies, subscription services for apps, the death of the tablet, and electric cars.

Clockwise is sponsored this week by:

  • William Shatner - Join the Captain’s Kickstarter to create a book to empower a million people, and get cool bonuses like signed books or dinner with the Captain himself.
  • Dash - Web dashboards to let you peer into the current status of your business and even your life! Try it out free today and get one private dashboard forever.

He almost missed the perfect shot… but didn’t. ↦

Andrew Mills is a photographer for NJ Advance Media. He was shooting the Giants-Cowboys game when Odell Beckham’s spectacular catch happened right in front of him. No, I mean literally right in front of him.

Then Twitter did what it does, which is point at laugh at the guy who’s staring at the catch like a deer in the headlights.

Except, as Mills writes:

I switched cameras to the 70-200 hanging over my right shoulder and immediately swung to the center of the field, hunting for the intended receiver, but I couldn’t find one. I swung back toward the bench and spotted Beckham blazing down the sideline right at me, ball in the air.

This is the “Oh, no” point.

I am tracking him, and Beckham is closing fast. Too fast. And I am too close. Way too close. And there’s nothing I can do.

So as I began to lower the 70-200 to desperately grab the wide angle around my neck, the play is unfolding, literally, at my feet. I’m shooting (and twisting the zoom to get as wide as possible) the entire time the camera is being lowered. I was able to capture a frame that’s in focus — remember, a picture is not a picture if it’s not sharp — of the ball on Beckham’s fingertips, but again I’m tight. Way too tight.

Turns out he did okay.

[via PetaPixel]


How Apple can boost my iPad productivity

[Chip Sudderth works in public school district communications and produces two podcasts: Two-minute Time Lord for Doctor Who fans and The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 with Erika Ensign and Shannon Sudderth.]

chip-trackpad
iPad Air 2 with Origami Workstation, Apple Wireless Keyboard, and Apple Magic Trackpad.

Jason’s November 19 review of the iPad Air 2 points out that iPad software fails to take full advantage of the phenomenal hardware in order to make the iPad a true productivity tool:

Every time I try to use a professional tool with my iPad I end up getting frustrated at how much slower the touch interactions are than just using an old-fashioned keyboard and mouse on my Mac.

Perhaps, in some very specific circumstances, touch interactions aren’t the most efficient way to interact with software. Apple might be able to unlock huge iPad productivity gains for some users through a software update that would certainly be controversial, but it’s one that I would welcome as someone who gets serious work done on my iPad Air.

Apple could add support for external pointing devices on iOS.

Continue Reading "How Apple can boost my iPad productivity"


Attack of the 50-foot Save Sheet

Save Sheet bug

This morning I tried to save a file in BBEdit, only to discover that I couldn’t see half of the save sheet—it was so large, it went off the bottom of the screen.

It turns out—and thanks to Jon Gotow of St. Clair Software, maker of the excellent Default Folder X, for the answer to this—that there’s a bug in Yosemite that causes a sheet to grow taller by 22 pixels every time you use it.

Once that sheet’s off the bottom of the screen, you can no longer grab the bottom of the sheet to make it shorter… so you’re hosed. And so was I, until Gotow gave me these Terminal commands:

 defaults delete -app BBEdit NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForOpenMode
 defaults delete -app BBEdit NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForSaveMode

…where you use the name of the affected app instead of “BBEdit” in the above example.

If you’re using Chrome, you need to target its bundle identifier:

 defaults delete com.google.Chrome NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForOpenMode
 defaults delete com.google.Chrome NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForSaveMode

According to Gotow, what happened is that Apple changed the file dialogs so that the title bar is now considered to be part of the window—and changed the math everywhere except in save sheets.

Hopefully Apple will fix this in a future Yosemite update. In the meantime, if you use an app that saves files via the sheet style, you might want to remind yourself to shrink its height a bit every so often.

[Update: Daniel Ericsson points out that if you hold down the shift key and drag inward on the edge of the save sheet, the sheet will get shorter—even if there’s no room for the sheet to actually get narrower!]


The crashing price of storage

[Glenn Fleishman writes regularly for the Economist, Boing Boing, and Macworld, and tweets incessantly—oh why won’t he stop?—at @glennf.]

Image: Kenny Louie

It’s tricky to discount the future, except when it comes to technology. In nearly every way, the march of computing power, memory, hard disk storage, screen quality and the like is toward ever more, ever cheaper. In general, the price of food, shelter, and energy increase over time in absolute terms, while the price of things that contain electronics decrease in real terms. (The big exception is bandwidth in America because of a severe market failure that preserves false scarcity.)

So I’m cagey about getting locked into a price for anything when I know it will, nearly invariably, cost less and be better if I wait. This is why I haven’t upgraded my aging-but-still-reasonably-functional mid-2011 MacBook Air, which has 4 GB of RAM and can’t be expanded to more, because I know a Retina version is coming if I only wait long enough, likely only costing slightly more than today’s Air.

But when I spotted an offer from Code 42, makers of CrashPlan, for a pre-Black Friday sale (now since expired), I leapt at it. This sale for existing subscribers took about half off the price of its unlimited storage family plan, which is usually $150 for one year or $290 for two. The reason I paid says a lot about the current dynamic in the world of computer storage.

Continue Reading "The crashing price of storage"


Upgrade 11: ‘Flexible Shower Schedule’ ↦

Upgrade Podcast

This week on the tech podcast that may or may not be wearing pajamas, Myke Hurley and I welcome special guest Greg Knauss to talk working from home and never reading the comments. We also quiz Myke about Thanksgiving.

This week, Upgrade is sponsored by:

  • Drafts: where text starts on iPhone and iPad. Now easier and more powerful than ever.
  • Studio Neat: Get 10% off anything in their store using the code UPGRADE.
  • Mailroute: a secure, hosted email service for protection from viruses and spam. Go to mailroute.net/upgrade for a free trial and 10% off, for the lifetime of your account.

Colbert and Carell recall a classic bad review ↦

In the mid-’90s some college friends of mine and I started a website (they weren’t yet called blogs) called TeeVee, where we’d write theoretically funny stuff about TV. Stuff like my friend Pete Ko’s review of a show called “Over the Top”, which premiered in 1997 and was rapidly cancelled.

In 2001, Pete got an email from a “Daily Show” performer named Stephen Colbert:

Dear Mr. Ko,

I would like to congratulate you on your Review of Over the Top. That is some good writing.

In 2006 when Steve Carell won the Television Critics Association award for best actor for “The Office,” his acceptance speech was mostly quotes from Pete’s review of “Over the Top.”

These guys are still talking about it, as they did Friday:

After Colbert and Carell’s short-lived run on The Dana Carvey Show came to an end, because the show was canceled after seven episodes, Carell went back to L.A. where, as he said Friday night, he did a “bunch of bad sitcoms,” including one Colbert called “the worst bad sitcom of all time,” a show called Over the Top, which lived up to its name, at least with respect to Carell’s performance. The sitcom, in which Carell played a Greek chef at a hotel run by Annie Potts’ character, also had the distinction of receiving a horrible but hilariously written review from Teevee.org, which has been quoted by Carell before. On Friday, he and Colbert recalled some of the pan’s best lines (“[Steve Carell’s appearance on screen sent] audiences and critics alike diving over their ottomans, fumbling for the TV Guide, screaming ‘Who the hell is that!?!’ and “I have stood in a freezer full of dead people at the morgue. I have seen a man’s scalp pulled back over his nose…But I can now honestly say that until Steve Carell’s turn in the premiere of Over the Top, I have never known true horror.”), and Colbert revealed he was so impressed by the reviewer’s writing, he asked the reviewer, Peter Ko, to be a writer for The Colbert Report, but Ko wasn’t remotely interested.

I don’t recall Pete ever mentioning a job offer to me, but he’s doing okay. He’s a U.S. Attorney now. So Colbert and Carell, keep on the right side of the law.


Podcasts swirling, whirling, and moving

Some of my best friends are 5by5 podcasters. (Taken at the 5by5 meetup at WWDC 2014.)

Today Moisés Chiullan announced that Brett Terpstra’s Systematic podcast and Christina Warren and Brett Terpstra’s podcast Overtired are moving from 5by5 to ESN.fm.

There’s been a lot of podcast movement lately, which isn’t really surprising given how young this medium (or whatever) is. Not everyone finds podcast networks valuable, but they can helpfully group shows of similar sensibilities together, provide exposure for new shows that might otherwise be missed, and offer a technical or financial infrastructure that can be convenient for people who have something to say but don’t want to build a podcasting business1.

And sometimes after a while, those hosts or shows are ready to spread their wings, creatively or technically. Plenty of talented hosts have left 5by5, but you know what? My pals Merlin Mann and Andy Ihnatko are still there, and the indefatigable Dan Benjamin’s producing new audio and video shows all the time.

Since we moved Clockwise from IDG (with the blessing of some nice folks in IDG management) to Stephen Hackett and Myke Hurley’s new Relay FM network, the audience of that show has more than doubled. Being on Relay helped expose the show to a great audience of tech-podcast listeners, and has also helped us grow Upgrade rapidly.

I should mention that as of the most recent episode of The Incomparable, I’m no longer posting episodes to the 5by5 network. We started the show in 2010 and quickly Dan started recruiting me. A little more than a year later, we joined 5by5, and it helped expose my odd little pop-culture show to a much wider audience2.

As time wore on, I decided I wanted to build something on my own, and launched spin-off shows on The Incomparable Network. That project also allowed me to add show metadata that 5by5 simply couldn’t or wouldn’t offer, like a page of all our Star Wars episodes or an index of show topics.

At that point the clock was ticking. I began posting the show to both networks. After a communication failure at 5by5 forced me to abandon a live episode just as it was starting, we set up our own live-stream system that we could control. And most recently, I gave Dan notice that we were changing ad-sales teams. The relationship was at an end. It was time to make it official.

I’m a believer in the medium—it’s one of the ways I expect to support myself and my family now that I’m on my own. But these are the early days. Things are changing rapidly. There are always new podcasts and new networks. (And yes, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is not the only new-media opportunity out there.)

This reminds me of nothing more than the early days of the web. The younger people out there might not remember, but that period was like the wild west. Things changed every day. Podcasting’s going through something similar.

Anyway, thanks to everyone out there who has listened to some of my podcasts. And best of luck to Brett and Christina on their new adventures with Moisés at ESN.


  1. John Gruber, Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Merlin Mann were unlikely to have devoted the time to podcasting when they started—but Dan Benjamin offered technical expertise and an ad-sales infrastructure, as well as being an excellent conversational foil.

  2. Nothing really changed with the production of the show when we moved—I’ve produced and edited almost every episode, and Dan never had any input into the content.


The Incomparable 221: ‘Do the Hand-Wavy Thing’ ↦

The Incomparable

This week on my pop-culture podcast The Incomparable, we wrap up the latest season of “Doctor Who,” which concluded a couple of weeks back. My guests are Glenn Fleishman, Erika Ensign, Dan Moren, and David J. Loehr. There’s also some bonus material.

This week The Incomparable is sponsored by:

  • Target Acquired by Touchten Games - Visit touchten.com/geek to pledge, type I’m a geek in the comments after pledging, and get a discount toward Manami Matsumae’s CD!

  • “Catch Me Up” by William Shatner - Help the captain empower a million people to try new things by backing his Kickstarter, and choose from some cool rewards!

  • Harry’s - The official razor partner of Movember. Great shaving supplies for men. Use code SNELL at checkout of your first purchase for $5 off.

Also posted in the past week on The Incomparable network:

And I’d be remiss in not mentioning that some nifty Random Trek t-shirts are for sale at Cotton Bureau for a limited time!


Sponsor: Drafts 4 ↦

Drafts

This week Six Colors has been sponsored by Drafts by Agile Tortoise. At first glance Drafts looks like yet another iOS note-taker or text editor, but it’s so much more, and the new Drafts 4 takes it to a whole new level.

In Drafts, text comes first. When you open the app, you get a new, blank draft—ready to receive your text input. Don’t fiddle with names or tags or anything like that, and jump straight to the most important thing—getting your words down.

Once your words are down, Drafts goes to work for you. You can send that text to social media, save it (or prepend/append it) to a file on a cloud-storage site, or pass it on to a third-party app such as OmniFocus or Fantastical. Drafts can use its own multi-step actions as well as the power of JavaScript to perform complex tasks in a single tap.

Want to know more? You can read David Sparks’s review, or the five-mouse Macworld review, or the MacStories review.

Drafts 4 is available on the App Store for $9.99. Thanks so much to Agile Tortoise and Drafts for sponsoring Six Colors this week.


Amazon Fire TV Stick review

Fire TV and Fire TV Stick

It’s come to my attention that I may have a problem. And that problem is: not enough HDMI ports.

Right now, connected to my TV are an Apple TV, an Xbox 360, a Mac mini, and an Amazon Fire TV. If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: I do find myself saying a little prayer every time I plug something else into the power strip back there.

I also had a Chromecast up until I left it in a hotel room last month. My new TV, purchased in August, has all those handy smart TV features. And yet, for some inconceivable reason, I still ordered an Amazon Fire TV Stick when they were announced a few weeks back. (It didn’t hurt that it was on sale for $20 for Amazon Prime members like myself.)

Basically, I buy video-streaming devices with slightly less devotion than Scott McNulty buys Kindles.

Continue Reading "Amazon Fire TV Stick review"


So what, who cares? ↦

Allow me to suggest something a friend of mine is doing. Lisa Schmeiser, who appears regularly on a few of the podcasts I host or produce, is doing an email newsletter called So What, Who Cares?. It’s really great.

In her day job, Lisa is a tech-media newsletter maven, and she’s thought a lot about what makes a good newsletter. Newsletters as a medium seemed old and tired for a long time, mostly because most of them were link dumps used as crass traffic drivers. But a new generation of voicey newsletters has hit the scene—Dave Pell’s NextDraft is a great one—and Lisa’s unique take on news and pop culture is an enjoyable read every night before I go to bed or every morning when I’m making tea and breakfast.

As Lisa describes the newsletter:

What is news or pop culture without context? Every day, I’ll point out three to five things that you might like to know, explaining why they matter (So what?) and who they affect (Who cares?).

You can check out the archive of past newsletters before deciding if you want to subscribe.


Adobe streams Photoshop to Chromebooks

A Chromebook running Photoshop.
Photoshop (for Windows) streams to a Chromebook.

Back in September I mentioned that Adobe was going to get Photoshop running on Chromebooks. At the time, I was hopeful that this meant actual Photoshop code was running on those (generally) low-cost laptops.

This week I got a demo of Photoshop running inside Chrome, and while it was really interesting, some of my assumptions were faulty. It turns out that when Adobe says Photoshop is a “streaming app,” they mean it—it’s much more like screen sharing than native software. Photoshop runs remotely on a Windows-based server, and video of the app’s interface streams to the Chrome browser.

Adobe insists that performance is good, even on low-speed network connections. Files can be opened and saved to a Chrome user’s Google Drive, and it’s the full version of Photoshop that’s running. Though you might think of an app that’s really just streamed video as being laggy and slow, Adobe says that’s not true—and on some slow Chromebooks, the performance of Photoshop can actually be faster than it would running it locally, because the server’s got a lot more power than the chromebook.

Right now this is a pilot program targeting educational markets, both K-12 and higher education. According to the Adobe representatives I talked to, higher-ed adoption has been “tremendous,” and they’re now considering how this program might be used more broadly across the education market.

I’m not sure whether this sort of approach to software is the future of computing or just a very strange side street, but there are a lot of non-traditional aspects to this approach: Chromebooks rather than Macs or PCs, streaming video rather than onboard executable code, and even Adobe’s approaches to subscription-based software licensing factor in.

The server side stuff is technically impressive. This approach required the creation of a special version of Chrome Remote Desktop and an adapted version of the Google Drive desktop client on the server side, and a new Chrome App Remoting API on the client side. Presumably the work Adobe and Google have done here will allow this sort of approach to be replicated with other streaming apps in the future.

As for my hopes that this was a sign that Chromebooks might become more versatile in the future? I suppose that’s true—just not in the way I originally expected.


Wish List: Handoff for iTunes and Music

Music and iTunes

iOS 8 and Yosemite’s Handoff feature is pretty cool: Start writing an email on your iPhone, for example, and you can seamlessly pick it up on your Mac. But of all the activities that support this feature, there’s one pretty glaring exception.

Music.

Music, as Apple is so fond of telling us, is part of the company’s DNA. But despite its development of iTunes Radio and recent acquisition of Beats Music, the basic ways in which we listen to music haven’t really changed since the earliest days of the iOS—or even the iPod.

Remember that very first iPod ad? Sure, it looks inexpert and dated compared to today’s carefully-crafted, almost formulaic Apple tone: the shaky camera, the cheesy dancing, the glimpses of the Aqua interface on OS X. But the “plot” of the commercial is still an everyday occurrence for many: you’re listening to a song on your Mac when you have to leave the house. And, if you’re anything like me, there are few things more annoying than stopping a song mid-play. Great, now I have a guaranteed earworm for the rest of the day.

Of course, you could queue up the same song on your iPhone, fast forward to the same place in the track, pause it on your Mac, then press play on your iOS device. Just the kind of delightfully smooth experience we’ve come to expect from Apple, right?

For a while it seemed like a third-party app called Seamless (not to be confused with the food-delivery service) had solved this problem, using a iOS app paired with a Mac helper app. But it seems to be gone from the App Store, so it’s back to the manually-adjusting-playback-position gig.

But why not Handoff? Like any of the other apps it supports, Handoff should just pop up a Music app icon in your iOS device’s lock screen or the iTunes icon in your Mac’s Dock; slide or click on that, and your audio should just keep playing where you left off. (The Podcasts app could take advantage of the same feature, though it’s at least supposed to sync playback position between devices automatically via iCloud.)

Granted, it wouldn’t work in every case—for those who sync only a portion of their music to their iOS devices, for example, or cases where you stream music but don’t have an Internet connection—but it seems like it could bring a nice, Apple-like touch to the music-listening experience for many users.

Maybe Apple’s got something up their sleeves in the music department; rumors, after all, have Beats Music becoming part of Apple’s default iOS apps. I’m hopeful that such a venture might also include supporting Handoff for Music and iTunes, so that we may all continue our jams uninterrupted, no matter where we go.


The sad state of state plates ↦

California License Plate

A couple of times a year my family piles in the car and we drive to Phoenix to visit my mom. That’s a lot of road time. And while iPads make the journey a little less boring for the kids, we do a lot of staring out at the road and entertaining ourselves by, among other things, spotting license plates from various states. (Even in the west, where states are few and far between, you’d be surprised about how many out-of-state plates you can find on the freeway if you look closely.)

In any event, all this plate-watching has taught me that there are a lot of crappy license-plate designs out there. First, there are the boring designs—California’s is especially a snooze. And then there are the inexplicable website addresses, appended… why exactly? California plates have a “dmv.ca.gov” on them, apparently to remind you where you got your license plate. Florida’s, on the other hand, don’t even say Florida. They say “MyFlorida.com.” I’m not kidding.

In any event, John Brownlee profiled the State Plates Project for Fast Co.Design:

For the State Plates Project, Lawrence approached designers from every state, and challenged them to redesign their automobile tags according to classier design principles. “It was important to me that the designer was passionate about the state they were working on,” he says.

I’m sure there are designers who work for state governments and have not yet had all the passion ground out of them. But you will not be surprised to discover that when you give designers free rein to make cool license-plate designs, they make cool license-plate designs.


Clockwise 63: ‘Uber, what’s up with it?’ ↦

Clockwise Podcast

Clockwise is a weekly podcast that goes well with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme—it’s never longer than 30 minutes.

This week’s episode features guests Jacqui Cheng (The Wirecutter) and Glenn Fleishman (The Magazine) joining me and my co-host Dan Moren. We talk about Apple’s future plans for Beats, what’s up with Uber’s bad behavior, the Apple Watch with a couple of months perspective, and the future of consumer encryption.

Clockwise is sponsored this week by:

  • Catch Me Up is the new book from William Shatner that seeks to empower a million people. Visit kickstarter.com and search for “Catch Me Up.”

Apple may include Beats app in iOS ↦

Apple may be concocting a bigger presence for Beats Music, according to reports like this one from The New York Times’s Brian X. Chen and Ben Sisario:

Apple plans to include its Beats music service in future versions of iOS, its mobile software system for iPhones and iPads, according to people briefed on the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans were not yet official.

This makes sense—from a business perspective, anyway. When you lay out $3 billion for an investment like Beats, which has a vastly lower subscription base than major competitors like Spotify, you’re going to drive it home with the biggest hammer you have at your disposal. And putting it on every iOS device is an instant installed base in the tens of millions.

Still, as many have pointed out, this is making the rounds just a couple months after Apple took serious flack for force-feeding everyone a U2 album. You’d think Apple would want to consider very carefully before retreading that same path—especially for a service that users are presumably going to have to pay for.

(Hell, I’ve got more than a few friends who are super angry that they can’t get rid of stock apps like, well, Stocks. And Notes. And Newsstand. So, more apps people can’t delete for services that they’ll probably never use is bound to go over like a lead balloon for more than a few folks.)

Admittedly, it’s still early days in the Apple-Beats relationship, so we obviously haven’t seen the fully armed and operational implementation of Apple’s plans. Cupertino needs to figure out exactly what it wants out of Beats and how that meshes with its existing offerings, like the iTunes Store, iTunes Radio, and iTunes Match. That’s a continuum of different music options, but right now the uneven pricing and branding makes it hard to figure out which is the right one to pick. (My bet on the latter? “iTunes Beats” has a certain ring to it.)


iPad Air 2 review

iPad Air

Apple released a new iPad this fall. Maybe you’ve heard about it? It’s the iPad Air 2, and of course it’s the best iPad ever, because the new iPad is always the best iPad ever. But the iPad Air 2 is better in ways other than the usual thinner-and-lighter metrics: In some unexpected ways, the iPad Air points toward a future of iOS power and productivity that hasn’t existed up until now.

Continue Reading "iPad Air 2 review"


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