six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Linked by Jason Snell

Our favorite things from last year

Yes, Dan and I are going to write some posts this year about the products and services that we love and recommend. Watch for those in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you’ve been hit by a shopping frenzy, consider this archive of our Gift Guide stories from last year.

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By Jason Snell

How many scripts does it take to color a light bulb?

The past few days I’ve spent some time fiddling with IFTTT, the service that lets you connect different actions, devices, or web services that don’t need to know about one another to interoperate.

Lately I’ve resumed my quest—abandoned a few months ago—to set up the lights in the front of my house to come on at sunset and go off about the time that I go to bed. All of the smart and dumb light switches I bought failed me, probably because my house’s wiring just isn’t up to this challenge.

Instead, this week I put two LIFX smart light bulbs into the two outside light sockets and hooked them up to IFTTT via a recipe that triggers based on IFTTT’s Weather channel, which can perform an action based on local sunrise or sunset data. A second recipe slowly fades the lights off at a time of my choosing.1

It worked pretty well, so I began considering how I might press my WeMo switch into service as well, which led me to discover the very clever IFTTT Maker channel.

The Maker channel is basically an interface for any device or script that can ping a URL. I decided to experiment with whether I could have my weather station turn my outside lights blue if the temperature got near freezing.

Sure enough, the weather station software I use, Trixology’s WeatherCat, has an Alerts feature that will send an email or launch an application based on specific conditions. I just needed to write an application that will ping the URL of my IFTTT Maker channel.

Easy enough. It’s a single line:

 do shell script "curl -X POST"

My trigger for this particular event is named nearfreezing and the custom key IFTTT has assigned to my Maker channel replaces abc123 in this case. curl is the command-line command to ping a web URL, and it’s all wrapped in a do shell script statement because that’s how AppleScript rolls.

I saved that script as an Application, told WeatherCat to trigger it when the temperature conditions were met, and just like that, my Mac weather station is controlling my Wi-Fi-enabled light bulbs. What a funny world.

  1. Yes, LIFX has a built-in scheduling function, but I wanted to see if I could trigger this schedule via IFTTT instead. ↩

By Dan Moren

Lara Croft is back with new puzzles and more

We’re going back…to the tomb.

Last month, I wrote that I really liked Lara Croft Go, the turn-based puzzle game based on the classic adventure franchise, and I was surprised and excited to open the App Store this afternoon and notice that among my manifold updates was Lara Croft Go 2.0.

The update brings “a whole new adventure” including a new location (the Cave of Fire) with 26 new puzzles, a brand new mechanic, and new collectables and achievements. Best of all, if you’ve already purchased the original game, all of this comes free.

Funny enough, I was just recommending this game on this week’s episode of The Rebound, and realized after the show that I hadn’t finished the last level or two of the original game, which I did in pretty short order. So it’s awesome that there’s suddenly a whole new set of challenges for me to take on, especially now that I’ve finished The Room Three.

If you like puzzle games and haven’t tried Lara Croft Go, or, like me, thought you’d already finished everything there was to offer, then get psyched for some more tomb-raiding adventures.

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

Linked by Jason Snell

‘The worst app’

Allen Pike of Steamclock Software awoke one day to discover an avalanche of support requests, directed at him, for an app he didn’t create.

I must say, Music Player & Playlist Playtube manager is a truly remarkable app. Its novel colour scheme of black, gold, grey, and coral breaks new ground. The various bugs that immediately present themselves prove that this developer understands how important it is to “always be shipping”. Perhaps most notably, in a market suffering a race to the bottom, this developer showed true entrepreneurial spirit by charging $3 and putting up a full-screen modal advertisement every few seconds.

It’s a great story with a happy-ish ending.

(Unrelated: Allen appears in this week’s Incomparable Radio Theater in a sketch that Apple fans might find amusing.)


Clockwise #114: That’s So Canadian of You


This week Dan and Jason are joined by Rene Ritchie and Georgia Dow of iMore to talk holiday tech support, the benefits and costs of social media, tech we’re thankful for, and the market for professional iPad apps.


The Rebound #62: Robot Time is Here

The Rebound

It’s a slow week in tech news, so Dan, Lex, and John spend most of this week’s episode talking about games they like on iOS and the Apple TV. Also, John mocks Dan and Lex for their Amazon Echoes, which means they definitely won’t be buying him that Apple TV game controller this holiday season. It all concludes in a stirring rendition of a classic seasonal song.

By Dan Moren

First Captain America: Civil War trailer hits

The thing I liked the most about Winter Soldier was how it managed to interweave a real issue—privacy and the extent of government power—amongst all the explosions, stunts, and super heroics. Given that Civil War is from the same director team of Anthony and Joe Russo, with a script from the same writers, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, it’s not surprising that it seems like it will follow much the same pattern. If anything, it seems like a more direct continuation of that thread than Age of Ultron, which I think we can mostly be thankful for.

Marvel, unsurprisingly, continues to expand its roster with this movie, which marks the first appearance of Black Panther/T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. I’ve been reading some of the Christopher Priest run of Black Panther, which is interesting (if a little dated), and I look forward to seeing what Ta-Nehisi Coates does with the character when he takes over next year.

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

By Jason Snell

Recording podcasts on iOS (or not)

When I wrote about editing a podcast on iOS using the Ferrite Recording Studio app, and then discussed it on The Talk Show, I heard from a bunch of people who wanted to know what I used to record audio on the iPad.

That’s an easy answer—I didn’t—with a more complex issue wrapped inside it. This is a tough one. Even Federico Viticci of MacStories, who uses iOS to do his entire job, still uses a Mac for recording podcasts.

Audio on iOS is primitive when compared to OS X. Only one app can play audio at a time—if you’re playing music and you open YouTube and start playing a video, your music doesn’t keep playing (as would happen on the Mac)—the music is stopped and then YouTube begins to play. And while the Mac’s innate audio-input abilities are not great (thank goodness for utilities like Audio Hijack and Sound Siphon and Call Recorder for Skype), they’re a darn sight better than what’s available on iOS.

As with playing audio, only one app can record audio on iOS at one time. And yet most of the podcasts I create on iOS require that I use a communications app—usually Skype—to talk to the other people on the podcast. The moment Skype begins a call on iOS, it grabs control of the microphone and any other recording app is stopped in its tracks.

There may be some workarounds possible—GarageBand and other apps have been written to use an app called Audiobus to send audio back and forth across apps. It’s a clever hack, but I’m unclear if it could work with Skype (given that it’s sending and receiving call audio all the time, which is more complex than either playing or recording alone), and even so, it would require Skype to be updated to support the feature. (Skype could, of course, offer a feature that let you record your own microphone locally, or offer a recording of your call in the cloud, but Microsoft seems uninterested in pursuing such features.)

So the best hope here is that iOS gets an update at some point that allows multiple apps to have access to audio input. Every year I hope it’s one of those little features that Apple displays on a slide at WWDC that says, “100+ other great features!” or somesuch. It’s never been there.

In the meantime, there is a way to make a Skype call and also record on a high-quality microphone using only iOS. It’s just kind of ridiculous: You make the Skype call on your iPhone, presumably with iPhone earbuds or other compatible headphones with a microphone, while sitting in front of an iPad that’s attached to a microphone and recording locally. The people on Skype hear your bad microphone, but your good microphone is what gets used on the actual podcast. Serenity Caldwell used this method for both this week’s Incomparable Radio Theater and Upgrade episodes. The risk is that if your recording fails, all that remains is a lousy recording of your voice on a set of earbuds via Skype—not a great backup.

I’ve got a Zoom H6 recorder, so if I wanted to travel with just iOS devices, I think I would just record my microphone locally using that, then transfer the file for editing. That also allows me to bypass another problem with recording on an iPad or iPhone: support for external microphones.

There are a few microphones and mixers out there with a native Lightning connector, but most USB devices that rely on Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter. Unfortunately, the Lightning connector is limited in the amount of power that it can supply; most USB devices won’t work with it unless you connect the microphone via a powered USB hub. Things get messy quickly. It’s workable—I discovered that even my Sound Devices USBPre2 audio interface [can work with the iPad] if you bring a powered USB hub and put it in a special compatibility mode—but it’s not ideal.

That’s the longer answer. The short answer is, recording podcasts on iOS today is not as easy as editing them. It can be done, but only with a number of workarounds that aren’t necessary on the Mac, which has a more mature sound system that can handle playing and recording multiple audio streams in multiple apps simultaneously.

Ah, well. Maybe in iOS 10.

[Don't miss all our podcasting articles.]

By Dan Moren

Wish List: Attachments/file links in Numbers

If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be spending a surprising amount of time in spreadsheets in the future, well, I probably would have responded with a sad emoticon. But here I am, managing much of my income and expenses in Apple’s Numbers. And as much as I like the program—it makes great-looking charts, is generally pretty easy to use, and mainly does what I need it to do—I’ve run into a few places where it could use a little bit of juicing up.

One thing in particular that I’ve run into while creating a system for tracking my expenses is the need to attach or link to files. I’ve created a table that itemizes expenses, in which I can record the amount, the date, and so on—but in many of these cases I also need to provide a receipt.

At present, I’ve made an end-run around this by creating a unique identifier for each receipt (based on the year, month, source of expenses, and an index number), and then storing a PDF of the receipt in a Dropbox folder with the same filename as the unique identifier. It’s functional enough, but it’s not particularly elegant. It would be a hell of a lot easier if I could simply create a link in the spreadsheet cell to the local document.

Hyperlinks in Numbers

Numbers does allow for hyperlinks, but it only permits web or mailto links.1 I could use the Dropbox links, but I don’t particularly want to enable public URLs for all of my receipts, and programmatically generating private URLs is difficult, if not impossible. (I could also store the files somewhere other than Dropbox, enable local web hosting, and link to the files that way, but that seems like overkill.) Moreover, since I’m automatically generating the unique identifier based on a formula, there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to apply a hyperlink to the resulting text.

Granted, what I probably need here is a more generic database program. I check every few months to see if there’s an app out there that will offer the features I want, but so far I’ve come up short. For now, Numbers still offers the best bang for my buck—which is exactly what my expenses are meant to track.

  1. I tried using the file:/// scheme, via which you can often get a browser to open a local document, but it didn’t really work.  ↩

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

By Jason Snell

Pen pals

I am not a big fan of pencils or pens, because my handwriting is terrible and I type fast. However, some of my friends do enjoy pens.

Today Myke Hurley posted his review of the Apple Pencil over at The Pen Addict. Myke’s review is more focused on writing and using it for interface elements.

And last week Serenity Caldwell wrote about her drawing experiences with the Apple Pencil, along with a whole bunch of other stuff.

Both pieces are definitely worth reading, so check them out!


Upgrade #64: The Law of the Large


This week on the very best tech podcast available without a prescription, Serenity Caldwell re-joins Myke Hurley so that they can talk about their first Apple Pencil experiences while I sit in the corner and stare into space. Once Myke and Ren are done, then Myke and I talk about my iPad Pro review and the new Six Colors subscription drive. Finally, we return to Myke at the Movies with 1985’s “The Sure Thing.”

By Dan Moren

Do it yourself Siri for the Mac…kinda

I want to talk to my computer.

Okay, I guess nothing’s stopping me from talking to my computer—I just want it to respond, instead of sitting there in its normal stoic judgment like it usually does.

Since the introduction of Siri back in 2011, I’ve been looking forward to the day where my Mac would also respond to my spoken commands.1 Four years later, it doesn’t seem like Apple—or, at least, the people at Apple in a position to make such a thing come to pass—shares my enthusiasm. But fear not: with just a little bit of tweaking, you can make a poor substitute for Siri on your Mac. Here’s how.

  1. It doesn’t have to be in Majel Barrett’s voice, but it wouldn’t hurt… ↩

Continue Reading "Do it yourself Siri for the Mac...kinda"

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

Jason Snell for Macworld

iPad buying guide ↦

So you’re in the market for a new iPad. Excellent choice—I couldn’t live without mine. It’s my companion when I’m catching up on news and email in the morning over tea, reading a comic book in the evening to unwind, or watching a movie while traveling on a plane.

But these days, picking an iPad can be tricky. Apple currently sells five different models of iPad, with prices ranging from the $269 to $1079. There are size, storage, color, and connectivity options to consider. All in all, there are 61 different variations of iPad from which to choose. So which iPad is right for you? Read on.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Liftoff #8: Halo of Junk


In this fortnight’s episode of Liftoff, Stephen Hackett and I talk about the not-so-impending doom facing Phobos and a bunch of other news before being joined by Emily Lakdawalla from The Planetary Society to discuss the future of solar system exploration.

Linked by Dan Moren

Walk through the ancient city of Petra

“Street” View this is not. Google’s created a virtual trek through Petra, a 2000-year-old city carved into the mountainsides of Jordan. It includes some brief narration by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, and lets you explore the ancient site.

I first learned of Petra, as I’m guessing many others did, when it was used as the location of the climactic showdown in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and while it would be an amazing site to see in person, it’s very cool that Google has made it virtually available to people everywhere. (There’s even an Indiana Jones easter egg in there.)

By Jason Snell

iPad Pro Review: No Country for Old Macs

The iPad Pro is a peculiar product to review. Its size is its most notable feature, built around a 12.9-inch retina display. It’s the biggest iPad yet, but it’s still an iPad. When you judge it, you judge the history of iOS development, how Apple has kept its two major operating systems separate, and even the viability of the tablet market in general. The iPad Pro is a product you can buy in a store and use to get work done, watch movies, or even play games. But its meaning extends far beyond its own glass and aluminum shell.

Continue Reading "iPad Pro Review: No Country for Old Macs"

Jason Snell for Daring Fireball

The Talk Show: Fully Charged Pencil ↦

This week I was John Gruber’s guest on The Talk Show. We talked about iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and how iOS still feels like iPhone OS at a fundamental level. 134 minutes short!

Continue reading on Daring Fireball ↦


The Incomparable #273: The Long-Term Plan Is Kill All Humans

The Incomparable

This week on The Incomparable, I’m joined by John Siracusa, Brian Hamilton, and David J. Loehr to talk about “Her” and “Ex Machina,”, two films about artificial women and the men who love them. Scarlett Johansson’s Samantha wants to send a ‘Dear John’ update to all humanity, while Alicia Vikander’s Ava has more in mind than pleasant dinner conversation. What do these films say about online relationships, society’s power dynamics, and tech-industry culture?

Dan Moren for Macworld

The Mac App Store: Not gone, but certainly forgotten ↦

“‘Reeder’ is damaged and can’t be opened. Delete ‘Reeder’ and download it again from the App Store.”

That, and messages like that, were what I and plenty of other users were greeted with last week when an oversight led to difficulty launching apps purchased from the Mac App Store. The root of the problem turned out to be a change in the cryptographic certificates that ensure the safety and security of programs from the Mac App Store. Not all Macs handled the switch elegantly, leading to fixes ranging from restarts to deleting and reinstalling apps.

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps not a world-shaking problem. But this issue did throw into stark relief that the Mac App Store doesn’t receive nearly the kind of attention lavished on its iOS counterpart. Mac developers have been frustrated with many limitations of the store for years, and it certainly doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of attention from Apple.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦