six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Gravitational Waves

Two black holes circle each other a billion light years away. (Illustration by LIGO.)

There are some amazing stories out there about the confirmed discovery of gravitational waves announced yesterday:

Yesterday a bunch of people asked me, when I retweeted a bunch of items about the announcement, what this discovery meant and why it mattered.

It’s two things. First, testing theories is one of the most important things about science. While gravitational waves have been assumed for ages, they were thought to be unmeasurable for a very long time. The result announced this week is experimental validation of a 101-year-old scientific theory that has dramatically changed our understanding of the universe. When you see people talking about Einstein being validated, this is what they’re talking about.

But the other thing is even more exciting: This isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning. The LIGO project didn’t just prove a scientific theory, it listened to faint ripples in the universe and observed the collision of two black holes a billion light-years away. (Our entire galaxy is only 100,000 light years across.) We now know details of an event that occurred very long ago and very far away, because we built an instrument that could listen for it.

We learned about the universe from visible light. We learned more when we built telescopes to see the visible light more closely. Then we built other telescopes to view the universe in electromagnetic wavelengths outside of visible light—radio waves, infrared light, ultraviolet, even gamma rays. And we learned much, much more.

Now we have another kind of telescope, one that listens to the very fluctuation of space itself. And we’ll learn even more about our universe because of it. That’s very exciting, because every time we look into a place in the universe we’ve never seen before, we see something unexpected that teaches us something new about how our world works.


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Dan Moren for Macworld

The Smart Home isn’t yet where Apple’s heart is ↦

My home is dumb.

Part of the reason is that I don’t have a house—I have an apartment, which I rent. That limits the investment I can make into smart home technology: No rewiring thermostats or installing smoke detectors for me.

But the other part of it is that right now, the smart home industry is disjointed, fragmented. There are a ton of disparate gadgets and more competing and wackily-named protocols than I can shake a (smart) stick at.

Someone needs to bring order to this chaos. Because I don’t want a bunch of smart rooms—I want a smart home. And this is exactly the area where Apple could really succeed, assuming of course that it wanted to.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Dan Moren

Forbidden Desert comes to the iPad

Among our favorite games of last year was Forbidden Desert, a cooperative game where you and your cohorts attempt to survive a crash-landing in a desert, while building a flying ship to escape. The board game is super fun, and I recommend checking it out, but good news for those who don’t like punching out cardboard pieces: it’s now on the iPad as well.

Forbidden Desert

The adaptation is the work of Button Mash Games, which previously did the same for Forbidden Desert’s precursor, Forbidden Island1, and it brings the same attention to detail to Forbidden Desert.

Supporting pass and play for 2-5 players, Forbidden Desert looks great on the iPad—I particularly enjoy the whimsical animations that accompany the use of the gadgets you uncover during the game—and play is faithful to the cardboard version, albeit with fewer pieces to keep track of. You can also save games in progress, which is definitely improvement upon the “don’t touch the dining room table” method of my youth. The only thing sadly lacking is online play, though that’s understandable: as a game, it really thrives on the in-person experience.

Personally, I’m a sucker for a good coop game2, and Forbidden Desert ticks all the boxes: it’s definitely beatable, but it’s still a challenge. I’ve certainly lost as many times as I’ve won, if not more, and that’s generally starting on the Normal setting.

If wandering in the desert sounds like fun to you, well, you might want to have your head examined. Or perhaps you’re exactly the kind of person who will also enjoy Forbidden Desert. You can grab it in the App Store for $7.


  1. An excellent version of that game as well, and currently on sale! ↩

  2. My friends and I tried Pandemic Legacy for the first time the other night and wow that is a fun but really hard game.  ↩

[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.]


Podcast

The Rebound #72: Small, Childlike Hands

The Rebound

Nostalgia rules on this week’s episode as Dan, Lex, and John reminisce about their favorite apps of years gone by. The guys also discuss the fallout of Error 53 (including Apple’s poor decision-making), Lex blows John’s mind by demoing 3D Touch cursor movement, and there’s a little bit of talk about the rumored smaller iPhone.


Jason Snell for Yahoo Tech

NASA Goes Social to Take Its Case Directly to the People ↦

If you want politicians to give you money, you need to build public support for what you do.

NASA has been doing just that since the 1960s. Back then, to build excitement for missions to the moon and beyond, the space agency would send astronauts and astronauts-in-training on tours to towns all across America, giving stump speeches about the space program and its goals.

These days, NASA does much the same thing, but now it harnesses the power of the Internet to make its case.

One way it does so: It invites people with significant social-media followings to NASA facilities and events. Which is why, on the day President Obama released his 2017 budget proposal, I found myself at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field — next door to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. — to watch a live stream of a “State of NASA” speech by NASA administrator Charlie Bolden and to hear from other NASA folks in person.

Continue reading on Yahoo Tech ↦


By Dan Moren

Taking screenshots of iOS features in motion

We tech writers need to think about screenshots more than most people, it’s true. While writing up a story this week, I realized I needed a screenshot of a particularly hard-to-capture feature: swipe typing with SwiftKey. The third-party keyboard lets you enter words by swiping from key to key without ever lifting your finger, and it illustrates this by showing you a trail of where your finger has been. Trouble is that trail “evaporates” quicker than I can take a screenshot. What to do?

iphone-screencap

Good old QuickTime Player to the rescue! Since Yosemite, you’ve been able to use the app to record the screen of your iOS device. Just plug your iPhone or iPad into your computer with the USB-to-Lighting cable, open up QuickTime Player, and choose File > New Movie Recording. Then from the dropdown menu next to the Record button, choose your phone from under Camera.

Voilà! Now everything you can see on your phone’s screen is mirrored in QuickTime Player; just hit record to create a screencast. For my purposes, I simply selected a frame of my recording that showed the keyboard in mid-swipe and took a screenshot of the QuickTime Player window. But for an animated GIF version of the screen capture, you can just export the screencast and run the resulting movie through GIF Brewery, as I’ve done here. In my experience, it’s by far the easiest way to create screenshots of iOS’s more kinetic features.

[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.]


Podcast

Clockwise #123: I Could Probably Live Without the Sandwich

Clockwise

This week on your 30-minute dive through tech topics, we are joined by Christa Mrgan and Anže Tomić to cover broken phone horror stories, talking to our computers, order chronological on up giving Twitter, and clicky keyboards.


Linked by Dan Moren

Twitter launches algorithmic timeline as an opt-in feature

Remember that big fuss last week about how Twitter was going to change its timeline to be more Facebooky? It’s happened—but you’ll have to opt in:

Here’s how it works. You flip on the feature in your settings; then when you open Twitter after being away for a while, the Tweets you’re most likely to care about will appear at the top of your timeline – still recent and in reverse chronological order. The rest of the Tweets will be displayed right underneath, also in reverse chronological order, as always. At any point, just pull-to-refresh to see all new Tweets at the top in the live, up-to-the-second experience you already know and love.

However, I’d guess that most Twitter users don’t go looking for settings to change, so unsurprisingly, Twitter says it will be enabling that feature for people in the coming weeks. The good news is you’ll still be able to disable it in the settings at that point. (For now, anyway.)

I’d also guess that third-party clients won’t be able to implement this for a while, if ever. So users of Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and others won’t really have a substantively different experience.

Me, I’m perfectly happy to keep my Twitter experience as it’s always been. Whenever I log into Facebook—which isn’t often—I find it annoying that there isn’t just a simple reverse chronological timeline of what my friends are up to. But I also understand that Twitter feels like it needs to keep moving and tweaking its service—perhaps there are other, better ways for it to do so. (Perhaps a window in which you can edit tweets?)


Linked by Dan Moren

Apple Music coming to Sonos tomorrow

If you’ve been waiting for Apple Music to be supported on your Sonos music system as my Rebound co-hosts John Moltz and Lex Friedman have, well, the wait is very nearly almost close to over:

Sonos announced today that Apple Music will be available on Sonos systems worldwide starting Wednesday, Feb. 10. Music fans worldwide will have access to Apple Music features like For You, New, Radio, and My Music, and will also be able to stream the entire Apple Music catalog through Sonos smart speakers tuned for great sound in every room of their homes.

I rarely hear a bad word said of Sonos—the same can’t be said for Bluetooth or AirPlay speakers—so I’m sure there are going to be some happy campers out there.


By Dan Moren

Wish List: Document security via Touch ID

The forthcoming iOS 9.3 update promises to bring improved security for Notes, letting you protect them with Touch ID, but what I’d really like to see is the ability to send secured documents—such as notes—to others, with the ability to decrypt them via Touch ID.

Touch ID

As much as the importance of good security hygiene—strong unique passwords, browsing with SSL, password protected Wi-Fi networks—has become a part of everyday life, one place that we don’t always do the best job of security is in sending personal information to other people. As a freelancer who has to send out his social security number to employers, I try to be cautious about this fact, but the best option these days is often to send an encrypted PDF, then relay the password via another channel, such as by iMessage or even telephone. Unsurprisingly it’s clunky and annoying, and there really should be a better way.

So wouldn’t it be cool if there were a way to send secure encrypted documents to your contacts and let those users access those documents via Touch ID? For example, I encrypt a secure document I want to give Jason, then send it to him via email; when he receives it, he can only open the document once he’s unlocked it via Touch ID.

Granted, this is definitely on the complicated side, since it not only requires a system that lets you verify that you are you—which Touch ID can partially handle—but also then needs to let you ensure that your contacts are who they claim to be. That would probably mean some form of public key infrastructure (PKI) along with stricter identity checking than currently exists. (I.e., if you happen to have your significant other’s fingerprint stored in Touch ID to allow them to unlock your phone, you still might not want to give them access to the secured documents therein. So iOS might need the ability to recognize different users based on their fingerprints.)

That said, behind-the-scenes encryption isn’t out of Apple’s bailiwick. The company already encrypts iMessage end-to-end1; it’d be nice to see that security extend to other methods of communication, such as email. Google, for example, just recently started alerting Gmail users to emails that are sent from services that don’t support encryption.

Despite many of our politicians’ insistence to the contrary, the prevalence of encryption is a good thing: not only does it help us keep our private information free from prying eyes, thus combatting increasingly common threats like phishing and identity theft, but it can also protect us from government snooping and overreach. Giving us the ability to easily and quickly encrypt our sensitive documents would go a long way towards keeping personal information out of the wrong hands.


  1. Yes, the company can theoretically retrieve copies of those messages from iCloud backups.  ↩

[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.]


By Dan Moren

Campo Santo/Panic joint Firewatch out now

I don’t get excited about Mac games very often anymore, but that’s because most of them don’t come with the kind of pedigree behind Firewatch. Developed by game house Campo Santo and published by Mac/iOS developers Panic, Firewatch is a first-person adventure game in which you play a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. You communicate with your supervisor via a handheld walkie talkie as you attempt to solve a mystery in the summer of 1989…and that’s all you really know going in.

It seems like an unusual concept for a game—what other title lets you take pictures in game and have them developed and sent to you in real life?—but these days, my computer-based gaming has thrived on unusual concepts: Gone Home, anybody? Also, it doesn’t hurt that it’s gorgeous.

Firewatch

Right?

So, you can grab the Windows/Linux/Mac versions of Firewatch on Steam for $20, or on the PlayStation 4 if that’s how you roll.

[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.]


Linked by Dan Moren

Bryan Fuller to helm new Star Trek series

Variety reports that Bryan Fuller is the show runner for the new Star Trek series set to debut next year:

“Bringing ‘Star Trek’ back to television means returning it to its roots, and for years those roots flourished under Bryan’s devoted care,” said executive producer Alex Kurtzman. “His encyclopedic knowledge of ‘Trek’ canon is surpassed only by his love for Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic future, a vision that continues to guide us as we explore strange new worlds.”

The creative plan is for the series to introduce new characters and civilizations, existing outside of the mythology charted by previous series and the current movie franchises.

Great news all around. While I didn’t watch Fuller’s most recent series, Hannibal, his previous shows include several of my all-time favorites: Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and Wonderfalls. He also cut his teeth on Deep Space Nine and Voyager, in case you need to assure yourself of his Trek bonafides, and he’s currently overseeing the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

So basically it’s a great time to be Bryan Fuller and a great time to be a Trek fan.


By Jason Snell

The mysterious case of the undead iMac

Sometime in the last few months, my 5K iMac started misbehaving. Not in any of the ways you’d expect—crashes, lock-ups, weird error messages, that sort of thing. No, one day I came into my office in the morning and the iMac and all the peripherals were still on, the spinning gear animation still right where I had left it upon choosing Shut Down from the Apple menu the night before.

I fancy myself a pretty good Mac troubleshooter, but this was a bit baffling to me. The system has already gone into shutdown mode by the time it gets to this point; I can’t bring up a terminal window or run Activity Monitor to see what might be going on. Even stranger, when I manually powered off the iMac and restarted it, then tried to shut it down, it shut down properly. Okay. Maybe it was nothing. I started up and got about my business.

After a full day’s work, I shut down the iMac again—and once again, the spinning-gear animation appeared. I came back after dinner and it was still there. Okay, this was a problem. I reset my iMac’s power manager, zapped the PRAM, did all of the weird system-level things I could think of, and nothing solved the problem.

The next day, I started my iMac up while holding down Command-V, the cue for the Mac to boot in “verbose mode,” which shows a scary cascade of text information at the beginning and end of the startup process. When I shut down at the end of the night, I finally had some new information:

Failed to send exception EXC_CORPSE_NOTIFY. error code: 5 for pid 57024
Wed Jan 13 21:11:05 2016 iMonkey.local com.apple.xpc.launchd[1]

Yes, there’s a bizarre error code called “corpse notify.” Whatever. At least I now knew something! It appeared that a process (in this case, one with id 57024) was getting in the way of my shutdown. Hooray! Now to open Activity Monitor and see which process that…

…oh, right. My computer’s locked up and shutting down. I can’t look at the process ID. And process IDs change from boot to boot.

My old pal Matt Deatherage solved the issue by suggesting that before I shut down, I open Terminal and save a list of all my existing processes, so that I could then compare that list to whatever process was holding up my Mac.

So at the end of the day, when I was ready to shut down (after once again having started up in verbose mode), I opened Terminal and typed

ps -x > dump.txt

…which generated a textfile with a list of all of those processes. Then I shut down, wrote down the process ID of the item that might be hanging up the shutdown, manually powered off the iMac, rebooted, and opened that dump.txt file in BBEdit, then searched for the appropriate process ID. Here’s the result:

  459 ??         0:00.21 /Applications/Utilities/Adobe Creative Cloud/CoreSync/Core Sync.app/Contents/Frameworks/AdobeCrashReporter.framework/Versions/A/AdobeCRDaemon.app/Contents/MacOS/AdobeCRDaemon

Well, well. My culprit appeared to be Adobe Creative Cloud Crash Reporter Daemon. That’s right, a tool designed to help Adobe improve its software quality was causing my iMac to fail to shut down every night. I am surprised Creative Cloud didn’t collapse into itself right then in a fit of irony.

I don’t want to get rid of Adobe Creative Cloud. I’ve been using Photoshop for two decades and don’t plan to stop now. Instead, I dug into the Creative Cloud app package and deleted the AdobeCRDaemon itself—with more than a little bit of glee—in the hopes that I’d still be able to launch Photoshop without that element around.

It took some detective work, but at least this story has a happy ending: These days my Mac shuts down when I tell it to.


Linked by Dan Moren

A proposed adapter for the eventual death of the iPhone headphone port

UI designer Sean Nelson has a suggestion for dealing with Apple’s inevitable transition away from the headphone jack:

Apple shouldn’t make an adaptor, but if they did, I wondered, what would it look like? Our end-goal shouldn’t be pushing music into a metal hole until the end of time, so focusing on a Lightning convertor seemed silly. What made sense to me was instead turning standard headphones into Bluetooth headphones, and thus this little design exercise was born.

These kind of Bluetooth-to-minijack adapters already exist, but I have no doubt Apple could design a nicer one, as Sean does here. And as he says, this is more about dealing with the transitional period—read “for people who have nice headphones they don’t want to give up”. If Apple does in fact go the Bluetooth headphone route, preferably by creating a pair of Bluetooth headphones that customers actually want to buy, that seems like it might ease the transition even further.

All of that said, I’m still not convinced the iPhone 7 will be the line in the sand for the classic minijack. But it’s probably coming sooner than we think.


Linked by Dan Moren

tvOS 9.2 bringing Dictation to the mix

Apple’s rolled out new versions of beta software for iOS, OS X, watchOS, and tvOS, and the latter has one of the more interesting new features, according to MacRumors:

There’s now support for onscreen text entry via dictation in countries where Siri is available. When updating to tvOS 9.2 beta 3, users will be prompted to enable or disable dictation. With dictation, Apple TV users can dictate text and spell user names and passwords rather than typing them.

I’ve long had mixed results with Dictation on both iOS and OS X, and while I welcome the addition for the set-top box, I do find myself scratching my head a bit as to the specific application of Dictation for usernames and passwords. I don’t know about you, but neither my username nor my password is super easy to say, and in many cases the latter is definitely based more on typing muscle memory rather than remembering the actual password. Which once again prompts me to ask: why no keychain?


Podcast

Upgrade #75: You Are Terrible to Sick People

Upgrade

This week, with Myke on sick leave, Jason is joined by Stephen Hackett to talk about Apple’s first-party apps, the future of the Mac and VR pizza.


Podcast

The Incomparable #286: No One in a Powdered Wig is Scrappy

The Incomparable

This week’s The Incomparable is all about the musical “Hamilton”. I’m joined by Serenity Caldwell, Monty Ashley, Chip Sudderth, and David J. Loehr to go a bit outside our comfort zones to talk about a pop-culture sensation that contains no lasers, aliens, or robots. We also launched a new podcast, Pod4Ham, where different panels of people will discuss the entire show, track by track, over the course of 2016.


Jason Snell for Yahoo

This Week in Space: Weird Pluto and No Plan for Mars ↦

We’re lucky to have Pluto. If people in the early 20th century hadn’t mistakenly thought Pluto was a major planet, much larger than it actually turned out to be, we might have declared it a boring icy body of the outer solar system and not gone to the trouble of sending the New Horizons probe to fly past it.

And we would mean we’d have missed out on the real Pluto — a beautiful icy body that continues to offer surprises months after New Horizons flew past it. This week, yet more new data from New Horizons revealed that Pluto has more water than originally thought. Water on Pluto isn’t like any water on earth: It’s so cold out there that it’s ice as hard as a rock.

Continue reading on Yahoo ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

‘Error 53’: Security measure or devious plot?

There’s a story going around that Apple is maliciously disabling iPhones that weren’t serviced by an Apple authorized service organization. Here’s a good post about it on Tech Insider.

What’s happening in many of these “Error 53” cases is that Apple is sensing that a Touch ID sensor is not properly paired with the rest of the system. Since Apple can not verify the integrity of the sensor—it could’ve been replaced with a different Touch ID sensor that has access to the Secure Enclave, which would be a major security breach—it turns it off or bricks the phone. Pretty serious, and badly communicated, but understandable from a security perspective.

Here’s security researcher Filippo Valsorda:

I get why people might be frustrated if they got their iPhone repaired at an unauthorized location for the sake of convenience or savings and found that their phone was zapped. Apple needs to do a much better job of communicating things. But one of the iPhone platform’s strengths is its security, and this seems like a security measure to me, not some conspiracy by Apple to claw back incremental revenue currently going to off-brand iPhone repair shops. That won’t stop people from freaking out about it, though.


Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Watch as gateway drug

Marco Arment’s use of an Apple Watch drove him to mechanical watches:

I simply like mechanical watches more. I’ve completely converted, and I don’t foresee myself wearing the Apple Watch much in the future — the additional functionality it offers isn’t useful enough to me (your needs may vary) to overcome the far greater joy I get out of wearing a nice mechanical watch.

I’m actually not surprised that the existence of an Apple Watch would get tech enthusiasts to put on a watch for the first time, which would then act as a gateway drug to other fancy watches. That’s a path that sort of makes sense.

As a lifelong watch wearer, I don’t think I could ever go back to a non-smart watch. I’ve got my Dad’s old Rolex, which I will wear on those rare occasions where I’m dressed up and want to be fancy. Those mechanical watches are beautiful, and I hope smartwatches get much more beautiful over time. But I wouldn’t give up notifications on my wrist for them.