Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This Week's Sponsor

Kandji - Next-generation Apple device management for macOS, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS.

By Jason Snell

‘The incredible boxes of Hock Wah Yeo’

Photo courtesy of Macintosh Garden.

Kids, when I was your age, the App Store was called “boxed software.” As in software, on disk or CD, in a cardboard box. You could buy it at the store or, if you were a Mac user and couldn’t find any Mac software near you, by calling a catalog like MacWarehouse.

It was a weird time.

In any event, Phil Salvador has an amazing, extensive look at the software box designs of Hock Wah Yeo:

In a store full of busy-looking packages vying for your attention, Spectre was like an object from another dimension. It was a single plain color with minimal text on the front to explain itself. It was irresistible. Thanks in large part to the packaging design, the game sold far more units than expected — upwards of half a million copies — and soon after, Fryar was fielding phone calls from other curious developers, who were thinking about ordering their own unusual boxes and wanted to learn more about the process…. Spectre was great, but retailers hated it.

I had the Spectre box. It was unforgettable. (The game was pretty fun, too!)

By Dan Moren

Wish List: Better anti-spam tools for Messages

In the war against spam, it often feels like we’re waging an uphill battle. While our email tools have improved and evolved over the last few years, the battlefield has started to shift from our inbox to our phones.

Recently, I’ve ended up on the receiving end of spammy text chains. Usually these are links, texted from a local number, to roughly 20 different phone numbers, many of them within the same area code as my own (or adjacent ones).

Message Spam

In and of itself, this isn’t much of a surprise: as long as we have electronic communications, we’re probably going to have spam. But what is disappointing is the very paltry state of tools at my disposal for dealing with these issues. In essence, I’m limited to a couple of tools, neither of which produces particularly satisfactory results.


Apple has allowed you, for some time, to block the sender of a text message by On the face of it, this seems like the perfect option: get a spam text, add that number to your block list.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. For one thing, this is a tactical solution that doesn’t stop you from getting spam—in many cases, spammers send only a single message from a number before moving on to another phone number, meaning you’re essentially playing whack-a-mole.1

Message Thread Spam

Moreover, whether intentionally or inadvertently, the strategy of spamming a bunch of different numbers for one text essentially makes blocking useless. Invariably when somebody replies to that spam text, it still gets through the block list, because the message isn’t coming from the original source that you blocked.2 Which means in order to be effective you have to block everyone on the thread.

Which isn’t a great place to be, because the interface for blocking is less than convenient. On an iOS device, you first have to tap the header, then tap the info button, then find the sender you want to block (which may require tapping a Show More button on one of these threads), then tap that sender, then finally select Block this Caller. Now imagine doing that 20 times. Frankly, I have better things to do with my day.

As cumbersome as the process is on iOS, it still beats the pants off the Mac, where you can only add to the block list by going to Message > Preferences, clicking on the iMessage tab, then the Blocked tab, and finally tapping the Plus (+) button and then realizing that you can only block someone if you have them in your contacts. Utterly bananas and unacceptable.

Mute point

Message Spam Threads
Whacking so many moles.

So, if you can’t block these threads entirely, can you just arrange not to be disturbed by them? More recently, Messages on both iOS and macOS has allowed you to mute notifications for a text message thread.

This can, at least, stop you from being peppered with notifications for responses to that thread…but it seems to only be effective with texts sent via iMessage, not conventional text messages.

Even in that “best case” scenario, you have to leave the thread sitting there in Messages, it still doesn’t stop spam coming from a new source, and it’s just irritating. (So far I haven’t yet run into any issues with people spamming large files like photos or videos, but I worry that’s not far off, at which point, it’s also potentially eating up storage space.)

Nuke it from orbit

Delete conversation
Literally have never found this true.

You can also delete a thread in iOS or Messages…but this is even less effective than muting, since the next time somebody responds to a thread, it just pops up again. It also doesn’t work in conjunction with the muting option—you can’t mute a thread that doesn’t exist, and if you mute a thread and then delete it, it just comes up again the next time you receive a text on the thread.

Additionally, the vagaries of iCloud mean that even though deleting a thread on one device is supposed delete it on all devices—assuming you’re using Messages in the Cloud—I have never ever seen this actually work. Instead, I end up deleting the thread on my MacBook Air only to pick up my iPhone and see the thread is still there. Rinse and repeat with my iPad, iMac, and even my Apple Watch.

A better class of tools

Clearly, a better solution is needed. The thing is, spam is hardly a new problem—we’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with it in email, so why not leverage those tools and everything we’ve learned over the last few decades for text messages as well?

Apple already provides the option to separate your message threads into those from known and unknown contacts; it could take that a step further and apply some machine learning or allow filters to texts from unknown contacts to flag ones that are likely spam.

That’s not to say it’s not a challenging problem: we all get texts from food delivery services, or containing our one-time passcodes, or political fundraisers, that might look like spam but are at least legit (if still sometimes annoying). But those false positives aren’t a reason not to take action. Again, the example of email could help pave the way here by essentially adding a “Possible Spam” filter to Messages, where you could review texts marked as spam.

As frustrating as this is for someone like me, I worry even more about the people who aren’t as tech savvy and find themselves inundated with all these junky messages—not to mention the cases in which they might end up tapping or clicking on a nefarious link.

Apple needs to realize this is a problem that’s only likely to get worse: it should provide an easy way for everybody to combat these annoying and perfidious messages and, ideally, it should be as easy and effective as marking something as a spam email. That system may not be perfect, but it’s way better than what we have now.

  1. And, even if they’re not using iMessage, they can still send texts from one mail address, which means they can freely create an essentially infinite amount of places to send messages from. 
  2. I know what you’re thinking: why would anyone reply to a spam thread? To which I say you’ve clearly never been on a mass email accidentally cc’d to hundreds of people. 

[Dan Moren is the official Dan of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]

This week we grapple with rumors of colorful new Macs and additional ports on MacBook Pro models, note the arrival of Paramount+ to the Streaming Wars, debate the merits of Twitter’s attempt to actually do something resembling anything, and wonder if Apple’s content to run the only music service without a high-quality tier.

By Dan Moren for Macworld

What Apple’s patents say about the company’s VR and AR ambitions

With a company as secretive as Apple, those wanting to divine the company’s intentions and future plans often seize upon the slightest shred of material that escapes the curved glass walls of Apple Park.

So it is with patent filings. While some might see them as painting a picture of Apple’s future products, the truth is definitely murkier. For a company that spends as much time and money on research & development as Apple does, there are always bound to be some technological cul-de-sacs, some roads not taken. Sometimes it’s closer to science fictions: ideas from a future that might never be.

But despite all of that, Apple’s many patents can sometimes provide insight into what the company is thinking about in the here and now. While its engineers are investigating lots of tech that may not pan out, it’s clear that the company thinks there’s value in protecting some of the innovations that its employees come up with—even if they may never quite reach their final form.

In recent years, Apple’s interest in the augmented/virtual/mixed/reality space has become more and more apparent, so it’s not particularly surprising, then, that many of the company’s most recent patent applications appear to be aimed directly at this burgeoning market. Hence, taking a stroll through some of the more interesting ones may prove to be an enlightening experience.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Dan Moren

The Back Page: Dial F for Forstall

from the case files of Spotlight

Lawyers. I don’t hold much with ’em as a rule, but they pay well, and I’ve got more than a few app subscriptions to my name. So when this fellow walks through my door with the troubled expression that usually means an NVRAM reset, I knew this was the kind of case that could put all my in-game currency problems behind me.

The name’s Spotlight. I find things.

“Pull up a chair,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

“I represent a…large fruit concern.” His evasive expression was more than just shifty—it’d gone all the way to Caps Lock. “We need you to find someone.”

“Supply chain not paying their bills again? Or you still trying to track down those leakers?”

“Neither.” He pulled out a light blue folder and slid it across my desktop. “Former employee. Lit out almost a decade ago, without so much as an email forward.”…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

February 26, 2021

Who doesn’t love a puzzle?

Become a member (members, sign in) to listen to this podcast and get more benefits.

Not every episode of “For All Mankind” needs to have the drama of a solar storm.

By Jason Snell

Interview: Ron Moore on “For All Mankind” season 2, alt-history space tech, and the road to “Star Trek”

In episode 143 of the Liftoff podcast, Stephen Hackett and I interviewed the show’s co-creator, Ronald D. Moore about the second season of his TV series “For All Mankind,” which debuted last week on Apple TV+.

If you’re not a regular podcast listener but are interested in reading what Moore had to say about his series, we’ve created a transcript of that interview.

Continue reading “Interview: Ron Moore on “For All Mankind” season 2, alt-history space tech, and the road to “Star Trek””…

A ‘hyperrealistic’ typewriter font for the 2020s

typewriter font

Designer Fredrick R. Brennan was disgusted by terrible fake typewriter props in movies and TV, obviously created by people who either haven’t seen a typewriter in years or maybe ever:

The main problem is that an analog typewriter is incapable of producing the same output every time. Even the IBM Selectric, one of the most mechanically sophisticated typewriters ever produced, is incapable of doing this. However, most people are not trying to imitate an IBM Selectric; instead they are trying to imitate much older typewriters such as the Underwood №5.

Our computers are too precise. Typewriter fonts make the same grungy letterforms every single time. Real typewriters were imprecise mechanical devices whose output varied based on the force imparted by the typist, the ink on the ribbon, and the condition of the type head itself.

Brennan’s solution was to create an OpenType font that includes nine variations on every letter, to make the output seem less consistent, and thus more realistic.

This is great. You can download the fonts. Most people won’t need them, but art directors and prop masters please take note!

[Via Antony Johnston.]

Federico Viticci updates his “Apple Frames” shortcut

A very meta screenshot of the Apple Frames shortcut in action.

One of the most clever iOS Shortcuts out there is the one Federico Viticci built to place iOS and watchOS screenshots inside images of the hardware they’re running on. (An example is attached to the top of this very article.)

Federico has updated his shortcut to support the 2020 iPad Air, and it’s as good a time as any for me to spread the word about this project. (If you’ve never downloaded someone else’s shortcuts before, you’ll need to open the Settings app, navigate to Shortcuts, and turn on “Allowed Untrusted Shortcuts.”)

If you ever want to represent what’s going on on an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch and make it more interesting than a bare screenshot, Federico’s shortcut will get you what you want in a single tap. Point the shortcut at a screenshot and it’ll detect what device took the shot, place that image on Apple-shot product photography, and let you choose what to do with the result—save it to Photos, share it with someone else, put it on the clipboard, you name it.

And since Shortcuts lets you open up any shortcut and see how it works, this shortcut also stands as a great example of the power of the app. The Apple images are stored inside the shortcut itself as base64-encoded text blocks, so they can ride along with the script instead of requiring separate image downloads positioned in just the right places in your filesystem.

Apps that need some reinvention, our wake-up/bedtime smartphone habits, the appeal (or not) of hi-fi music, and what we’ve added to our emergency kits.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

What Apple Music can do to catch up with Spotify

Apple ignited the legal music-download revolution with iTunes, led again by dropping copy-protecting DRM from its music downloads, and in 2007 led a major upgrade in digital-music quality with the launch of iTunes Plus.

But more than a decade later, the company finds itself as a music-streaming laggard, to borrow a term that Steve Jobs used to throw around a lot. When it comes to music quality, Apple’s not streets ahead—it’s streets behind.

It’s time for Apple Music to get a huge upgrade—and some recently-launched Apple technologies could even allow it to surpass its rivals when it comes to audio quality.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Secret binary message embedded in Mars Perseverance parachute

Yesterday at a press conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mars Perseverance entry, descent and landing lead Allen Chen laid out a not particularly subtle challenge: “In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts and our engineering can inspire others,” he said. “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose. So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work.”

As you might expect, the Internet solved the problem in a matter of hours:

The red and white pattern spelled out “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The saying is the Perseverance team’s motto, and it is also emblazoned on the walls of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission team’s Southern California headquarters.

As solver Abela Paf explained, the red-and-white parachute is actually encoding a 10-bit pattern, with four groups in concentric circles from innermost to outermost. It was later confirmed by Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineer:

I love all these nerds. The ones who encoded text (and JPL’s latitude and longitude!) in a Mars parachute, and the ones who decoded it. All I’m left to wonder is, how long would it have taken for the Internet to figure it out if Chen hadn’t been quite so obvious in announcing the puzzle at his press conference?

Report: M1 Mac users seeing excessive SSD use

Writing at MacRumors, Hartley Charlton collects some reports that M1 Macs are registering high SSD use:

Across Twitter and the MacRumors forums, users are reporting that M1 Macs are experiencing extremely high drive writes over a short space of time. In what appear to be the most severe cases, M1 Macs are said to be consuming as much as 10 to 13 percent of the maximum warrantable total bytes written (TBW) value of its SSD.

Something certainly seems to be going on here, though Charlton reports that some Intel Mac users are reporting similar symptoms.

I ran the command-line tests on my own M1 MacBook Air versus my 2017 iMac, and it certainly did seem as though some of the numbers on the Air were higher than they should be, given the amount of relative use.

The risk here is that the SSDs, which have a finite number of times they can write data, might wear out prematurely. That number is estimated by the TBW cited above, though it’s not set in stone.

That said, drive monitoring tools are not always reliable, either, so it’s possible this is not as dire as the initial reports are making it out to be.

New iPad keyboards make us notice the magic of the Magic Trackpad, AirPods might be getting an unwelcome makeover, and the butterfly keyboard isn’t really gone as long as we remember it.

By Jason Snell

Fun With Charts: Numbers versus time

My friend John, knowing that I’ve created many charts in Numbers, sent me an interesting example of how Numbers frequently doesn’t behave as you’d expect it to.

Our expectation about how spreadsheets should behave is, of course, molded by the years of dominance of Microsoft Excel. And while Numbers and Excel theoretically occupy the same category of software, Numbers frequently feels like Excel’s quirky counterpart from a parallel universe.

John wanted to create a simple chart based on two columns of data — dates and values.

In Excel, this couldn’t be easier. Select the data set, click on the line chart, and you get exactly what you’d expect:

boring excel chart

When you do do the same in Numbers, however, you get a very different result:

an inaccurate numbers chart

While Excel was smart enough to realize that the dates should be plotted as the X axis, Numbers just ignores them and plots the values evenly across time, using the dates as labels.

It turns out that Numbers is very aggressive about treating its first row and column as room for labels, rather than data. John made the mistake of putting the date in the gray-shaded first column, and Numbers therefore just assumed they were labels and not to be used for actual charting.

So let’s try this again:

Nope. Now Numbers is trying to chart both columns as data series, which is also not what we want.

It turns out that the remaining error is that we’ve selected a chart type that looks like the chart we want to generate, a 2D line chart, when what we actually want to use is a 2D scatter chart.

If I select the same data set in Numbers and create a 2D Scatter chart, things are starting to look up:

With 2D Scatter chosen, Numbers does the right thing and treats the dates as X values, and now the data points are in the right spots—even if they don’t look anything like the simple connected dot chart generated by Excel.

But that’s okay. One of the greatest strengths of Numbers is how much control it gives you over chart design. By adding a connection line to the data series and reducing the size of the data symbol, we can replicate the simple Excel chart in Numbers:

Numbers has some basic rules that it follows, and in this case, they failed to lead John to the right solution—and it took me several steps to figure it out. In contrast, Excel has evolved over decades to guess the desires of its users, and knew exactly what my friend wanted to chart.

What can I say? Numbers can do almost anything, but it can be downright weird at times.

Search Six Colors