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Netflix’s latest quarterly report makes us wonder: Is it a tech company or an entertainment company? Julia experiences live sports streaming success—and failure. HBO Max takes a victory lap. And why does Showtime still exist? Plus, your letters!
Myke and Jason discuss the mysteries of Apple’s car project, and express confusion about Apple’s 2022 product release schedule. And at last, France makes a big box-related move.
By Dan Moren for Macworld
Communication has always driven technology forward. From the telegraph to the telephone to the internet, it’s regularly been one of the killer apps for every technological development of the last century-plus. And Apple’s devices are no exception to that. When Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone, he described it as a revolutionary mobile phone, but he also called the device that would go on to dominate Apple’s business was as a “breakthrough Internet-communication device.”
Fifteen years later, we use the iPhone to talk with others in a variety of ways, of which the phone capability may ironically be the least. But while Apple’s spent a lot of time investing in the communications powers of its platforms, it has a tendency to let those technologies languish once it’s rolled them out.
As Apple potentially preps a headset device for an announcement later this year, one of the key areas it’s reportedly looking to concentrate on is also communication. Might this signal a renewed interest in the company’s investment in this category? If so, here are a few ways that Apple could improve its current communications options.
January 21, 2022 11:00 AM PT
My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring Six Colors again this week.
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Kolide knows that organizations can dramatically lower the risks they face with a structured, message-based approach. More importantly, they’ll be able to engage end-users to fix nuanced problems that can’t be automated.
Kolide’s “Honest Security” is part guide, part manifesto. It’s a user-first approach to security and IT compliance. Kolide doesn’t like the current trends toward human-hostile security and device management. That’s why you should check out Kolide today.
By Dan Moren
January 21, 2022 10:03 AM PT
With the advent of Shortcuts on macOS, automation on the Mac has become more accessible than ever. There is no part of our workflows that we can’t automate and thus there is no part of our workflows that we cannot overautomate.
While developing the Podcast Note shortcut that Jason and I collaborated on, I ran into a dilemma. I had just recently adjusted all my Audio Hijack sessions, where I maintain separate instances for most of my regular shows, to save audio files within corresponding subfolders in my Podcasts folder.1 (The impetus was to get those hefty files off my Desktop, which is now synced via iCloud. No need to have several hundred megabytes uploaded to the cloud only to be removed within the hour.)
But that made my Podcast Note shortcut tricky, because it assumes the files it’s looking for will be in a single folder, not strewn through any of several subfolders.
There were a few different ways this could have been solved—I’m sure I could have adjusted the Podcast Note shortcut to search through all the subfolders and find the most recently modified file, for example, but there’s a risk of error, and it feels like at that point I’ve adjusted it to be too specific to my workflow.
So the answer, for the moment, was a combination of adjusting my current workflow and, you guessed it, building another automation.
I started off by creating an In Progress subfolder in my Podcasts folder, and adjusting all of my Audio Hijack sessions to put the recording files there. And while I could just collect those files at the end of a recording session and put them in the appropriate show-related subfolder, that sure seemed like a job automation could handle.
At first, I figured that Noodlesoft’s Hazel might be the right tool for this task, since it excels at watching folders and then dealing with files. But after playing around with it for a while, I couldn’t quite get it to handle all the correct conditions without creating multiple rules, and that quickly got out of hand.
But, while perusing the menu of actions available, I noticed the most recent versions of Hazel have added the ability to run a shortcut as the action part of a rule.
Back to Shortcuts we go!
In Shortcuts, I created a new Podcast Sorter workflow, in which it looks in the In Progress folder for audio files that haven’t been modified in the last minute (to avoid moving any files that are part of a current recording), then grabs an MP3 file from that files (all my sessions save audio from my mics and remote ends as WAVs, but record the whole shebang as an MP3 for convenience).
Here’s where I had to make another adjustment to my workflow. In order to have the file identified as part of a specific show, I had to alter my Audio Hijack sessions to use the name of the show as the first part of that MP3 file. Fortunately, Hijack allows you to use tokens representing the name of your session in your file name, so I just made sure that all my sessions were named consistently with the the subfolders in my Podcasts directory.
So now the shortcut can grab the first part of the MP3 name and check it against all the subfolders in my Podcasts directory to find the correct place for it to live. If it finds a match, it creates a new subfolder and moves all the files it found way back in the first step. (This ought to include any notes files created by the Podcast Note workflow as well.) If it doesn’t find a matching folder, it drops a subfolder called “Recording” appended with the current date into a generic Miscellaneous folder.
The one thing I wanted to do that I couldn’t quite make happen was use the current episode number of the shows I host. So, for example, if it were the latest episode of Clockwise, it would ideally create the subfolder as “Clockwise 435.” I could look for the most recently modified subfolder and pull the number out of the name, but that would only work in certain cases, which would mean more filtering on the Shortcuts end. For now, I’ve just named the folders the show and the current date, which I can edit later at my leisure, but I may go back to this in the future.
I still have to have the Shortcut itself triggered by Hazel, since Shortcuts on macOS doesn’t have any automation options, as on iOS.2 In this case, that’s by having Hazel watch the folder for files not modified in the last minute, then running the Podcast Sorter shortcut.
If anybody’s interested, I’ve provided the shortcut here, though it’s so specific to my setup that I’m not sure it will be of use to others as is. As always, if you’ve got suggestions or ideas, let me know!
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
By Jason Snell
January 20, 2022 1:56 PM PT
It’s rare that a piece of technology lasts so long and serves you so well that it’s a big occasion when you finally decommission it. But that’s what happened earlier this month when, in a quiet ceremony, my weather station was retired.
It certainly had earned its retirement. I installed it and several other weather stations in August of 2004 for a story in Macworld. I liked the Davis Vantage Pro so much that I sent Davis a check and kept it running.
Seventeen years is a long time when it comes to computer-related technology. When I first hooked up the weather station, it communicated wirelessly to a receiver that could be attached to a Mac via a serial cable and a USB-to-serial converter box. A Java app on the Mac logged the data and generated a web page.…
This is a post limited to Six Colors members.
The streaming services we use regularly, creating or augmenting a tech product, the messaging apps we use, and our NFC experiences.
By Jason Snell for Macworld
A bit more than 10 years after its introduction, iMessage is suddenly a part of the conversation again. A dubious report in the Wall Street Journal implied that the secret to the iPhone’s success with young people is all about peer pressure, with Android-using teens being cast out of social circles owing to their status as non-iMessage green bubbles in group chats.
That article was silly for numerous reasons, as John Gruber explored in detail last week. While blue-bubble FOMO is certainly real, suggesting that it’s the reason people want iPhones is A-grade, uncut “people only buy Apple products because they’re status symbols” kind of delusion.
When you look at the messaging landscape today, iMessage isn’t a colossus that dominates the world. In fact, I’d say that iMessage’s first decade is more of a failure than a success in terms of worldwide acceptance, user experience, and innovation.
How much would you pay to drive out of here in an Apple headset today?
By Jason Snell
January 18, 2022 11:53 AM PT
If I’ve learned anything about automation, it’s that projects are never really finished. After I wrote about my solution to taking notes during a podcast recording, Dan followed up with his version of the solution, built using Shortcuts.
Shortcuts for the shortcut
But it keeps going. Several readers wrote in to point out that Dan’s approach could be simplified. Andrew Kerr suggested a single equation that converts the time into a number where 2:03:31 is represented as 2.0331 and then converted into proper formatting via a regular expression. Antonio Bueno suggested adding the seconds to the beginning of Unix time and then custom formatting the resulting time as HH:MM:SS. Both work. Antonio’s is one step shorter, and it’s the one I’m using in the current version of the Shortcut.
Then there’s the matter of entering in text to describe what’s gone wrong at the particular moment of the podcast being noted. Dan’s Shortcut is set up to ask for text—which frustratingly means you have click the Done button on the dialog box, because Shortcuts on macOS Monterey won’t let you use a keystroke. But it also accepts input, and this is a great workaround—especially if you use a launching app.
I use LaunchBar, but this will work in Alfred as well. In LaunchBar, I type the name of the shortcut, press the space bar, and then type the text I want inserted in my notes file. LaunchBar passes this text on to the shortcut as input, completely bypassing the step in which it asks for text.
My lesson learned in all this? I need to stop reflexively reaching for AppleScript to solve something when it might be handled entirely in Shortcuts. The Shortcuts version of my script is simpler and more accessible. I have it in my head that if I want to mess around with files on my Mac, I need to script Finder with AppleScript. It’s just not true anymore.
Finding the right interface
When I wrote my story about the original note script, I had only used it a couple of times. Shortly afterward, I hosted a few more podcasts and my approach to using the script—namely, placing two different buttons on my Stream Deck—did not survive contact with the enemy1.
This script needs to be executed with a minimum of mental overhead, because I’m trying to host a podcast at the same time. As I wrote originally, I find that writing on pen in a paper notebook to be too much overhead—which drove me to write this script. Pushing a Stream Deck button should be a lot easier.
And it is, sure. The problem is, an empty time code is not really enough most of the time—there needs to be more information. But having to type a phrase in a box every time there’s an issue was more overhead than I really wanted to expend.
I wired a second Stream Deck button to a Keyboard Maestro macro that displayed an interface on my Mac screen to let me choose from a bunch of different preset options. It seemed like it might be a better option, but in truth, moving my attention from the Stream Deck to my screen, and reaching for the arrow keys, was more distracting than I had expected.
So I’m off to a new approach, which I’ll be putting into use this week to see if it does a better job. Now my podcast layout on the Stream Deck has two buttons intended for notes: A plain Notes button, and a button that still launches a text-entry field for me to enter in a custom note, for the times when I need to be very specific about what just happened.
But that first button doesn’t run a script at all. Instead, it switches to a different Profile, which is what Stream Deck calls a different set of buttons—a new page, if you will. And on that page (at the moment) are six buttons.
The button in the bottom left corner, which is the same button that I just pressed, simply adds the time code to the notes file. So if I really have nothing to add, I can press that button twice—almost zero cognitive overhead. But if I want to, I can choose from five other buttons with common issues—swearing, a technical problem, something that needs to be cut, a section or chapter break, or crosstalk (represented by an “x”). The idea here is that by keeping my eyes and fingers on the Stream Deck, this entire process will require less of a shift of concentration. (We’ll see.)
Once any of the buttons on this screen is pressed, Stream Deck returns to the previous set of buttons. This is accomplished by making these buttons a special Stream Deck type called Multi Action, which allows a single button press to perform multiple Stream Deck tasks. In this case, it runs a Run OSA Script action (more on that in a moment) and then the Stream Deck command Switch Profile to flip back to the original set of buttons.
Now, about that Run OSA Script action. Rather than make a bunch of different macros or scripts for every single different input, I wanted to use the ability of the script to accept input to pass different input to a single script. There are a few different ways to accomplish this, but I decided to use Gabriel Perales’s Stream Deck Plugin.
The script it runs is a recursive cheat—I’m actually just using AppleScript’s
do shell script command2 to run the
osascript command line command, which runs an AppleScript script and lets you pass input along the way. (I’m sure that, like Dan’s script, there are probably 15 different ways to accomplish passing input to a script or Shortcut from out of a Stream Deck button press. Let me know!)
The script attached to each button press looks like this:
do shell script "osascript '/Users/jsnell/podcast-noter.scpt' 'crosstalk'"
The only thing that changes is that final single-quoted item. So for the Swear button, it looks like this:
do shell script "osascript '/Users/jsnell/podcast-noter.scpt' 'swear'"
This approach means I don’t need to make a bunch of copies of my script3, or a bunch of Keyboard Maestro macros. And it means that if I adjust the script later, I only need to do it in one place—and all these buttons should will still work.
Like I said at the start, automation projects are never really finished. I’m sure this one will evolve over time. But I’m glad that so many of my friends who do podcasts have responded positively to this project. I hope it saves everyone—including myself!—a lot of mental overhead and time spent searching for a very specific bad thing while editing a podcast.
- The enemy is the coughing, swearing panelists, obviously. ↩
- If there’s a Stream Deck plugin to run a shell command, can someone point me to it? And if not, can someone write one? ↩
I would use Dan’s shortcut, but I tried to pass input to it via the
shortcutscommand-line tool and it seemed way too complicated. ↩
By Jason Snell
January 17, 2022 3:59 PM PT
Using a Stream Deck doesn’t just increase your productivity—it also increases your appetite for custom icons to label all those buttons.
Via John Voorhees of MacStories, I found out last week about Christian Lobach’s $4 utility Button Creator, which lets you quickly create drag-and-droppable Stream Deck icons based on Apple’s SFSymbols icons, emojis, or images you drag in.
The app is very simple and I hope Lobach continues to update it. Adding text would be great (Update: A new version with text support is now live on the App Store), since Stream Deck’s text overlay is limited in fonts, sizes, and styling. I’d also like to see Lobach add the ability to drag objects around on the canvas, so I could more precisely position things. (Right now, the images only appear dead center, though you can scale them via a slider.)
This sort of functionality should probably be part of Stream Deck’s own software, but it’s not. And within 10 minutes of downloading Button Creator I had given several different portions of my Stream Deck interface a makeover. Worth the $4 for me, for sure.
Apple’s rumored VR headset might not ship until 2023, but will it be the best VR headset ever made? And if so, at what cost? Also, Apple seems to have a settled on a strategy for handling demands to open up payment processing and external web links, and we’re frustrated by the decision. Following a silly Wall Street Journal article, Android’s SVP got a little too angry about iMessage. Also, we take an unexpected dive into the Users & Groups preference pane.