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TidBITS: Apple News for the Rest of Us: Just for Fun



The oldest continuously published technology publication on the Internet, TidBITS brings you the Apple Macintosh, iPhone, iPad, and iPod news, reviews, tips, and commentary that matters. Join us each week for audio versions of award-winning coverage from



Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 20:13:04 EST

Last Build Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 20:13:04 EST

Copyright: Copyright 2018 TidBITS Publishing Inc.
 



How to Watch the 2018 Winter Olympics on Your Apple Devices

Wed, 07 Feb 2018 13:18:56 EST

The Winter Olympics have arrived once again, this time in PyeongChang, South Korea. We can look forward to watching the first Nigerian bobsled team compete for a medal and maybe inspire a sequel to the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings,” about the Jamaican bobsled team. We also anticipate watching more of the Olympics live, since the much-reviled tape delay is mostly gone, although some events will still be tape-delayed so NBC can show them in prime time. United States -- So how do you go about tuning in on your Apple devices? In the United States, NBCUniversal owns the broadcast rights, so on traditional TV, look to NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, USA, and the Olympic Channel to get your fix. But there will be more than 2400 hours of coverage, with a 14-hour time delay, so alternative methods of watching the games are more important than ever. As in 2014, NBCOlympics.com is the place to watch on your Mac, and NBC is maintaining a full streaming schedule. In iOS and tvOS, the NBC Sports app is your portal to the games. Unfortunately, you’ll need a subscription to a participating cable, satellite, or telco provider to take advantage of the NBC Olympics Web site and apps (here’s the full list). It continues to astonish us that NBC doesn’t sell an NBC Sports Gold pass to the Olympics, as they do with various specific sports. The good news is that there is now a long list of streaming TV services that are affordable, require no lengthy commitment, will authenticate the NBC Sports apps, and offer an Apple TV app. Sign up with one of them and you can both test the service for a month and use your credentials to enable live streaming in the NBC Sports apps. That’s a fine deal for less than $40 for a month. In the list below, I note each service’s minimum monthly price (which may vary slightly by region), which support Apple’s single sign-on feature, and which we’ve reviewed: DirecTV Now ($35, see “DirecTV Now Joins the Scrum of Cord-Cutting TV Services,” 9 December 2016) FuboTV ($19.99 for the first month; $44.99 afterward) Hulu with Live TV ($39.99, supports single sign-on) PlayStation Vue ($39.99, supports single sign-on, see “PlayStation Vue Wins Cord-Cutter Option for News and Sports,” 9 December 2016) Sling TV ($25 for Sling Blue to get NBC, supports single sign-on, see “FunBITS: Sling TV Is Made for Cord Cutters,” 20 February 2015) YouTube TV ($35) The choice of service is up to you — the differences mostly come down to pricing and interface, and if you’re using one of these services just to authenticate the NBC Sports apps, interface doesn’t matter much. I’ve been partial to PlayStation Vue in the past, and I like YouTube TV’s interface, but DirecTV Now has a limited-time deal where if you prepay for three months of service, you get a free Apple TV 4K. So even if you don’t like DirecTV Now, you get a $179 Apple TV for about $115 after taxes and fees. If you don’t want to pay for TV at all, you’re not entirely out of luck. Apple News has a prominent section where you can follow the games — just open the app, you can’t miss it. Snapchat will be live-streaming key moments, but that means using Snapchat, which has an interface best described as “brutal.” There’s also the dead-simple official Olympics app, though it doesn’t seem to offer any video. Finally, you could download the Team USA App, which offers information about U.S. athletes and even includes a mini-game for the sports sensation that’s sweeping the nation, curling. Sorry, couldn’t resist. International -- Outside the United States, you can try the following apps for iOS and tvOS: Australia: OlympicsOn7 Canada: CBC TV Europe: Eurosport Player United Kingdom: BBC iPlayer app Have you run across other alternatives for watching the Olympics? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll update this article as appropriate.  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article READERS LIKE YOU! Support TidBITS by becoming a member today!Check out the perks at



CARROT Weather Predicts Cloudy with a Chance of Snark

Mon, 22 Jan 2018 11:20:50 EST

I have a special place in my heart for the CARROT suite of apps, since their creator, Brian Mueller, was one of the first developers to pitch me when I broke into the tech writing business. That first app, originally called CARROT, is now known as CARROT To-Do, because he’s expanded it into an entire suite, composed of CARROT To-Do, CARROT Fit, CARROT Alarm, Artificial Superintelligence (a game featuring CARROT), and even a CARROT sticker pack. The gimmick of the CARROT apps is that they’re powered by a hilariously murderous AI called CARROT, which dishes out insults while helping you reach your goals. CARROT is inspired by GLaDOS from Valve’s “Portal” series of games, but while Valve has seemingly given up on game development, CARROT is very much still alive. Well, in the AI sense, anyway. The latest app in the CARROT suite is the $4.99 CARROT Weather, and it’s not only my favorite app in the suite, it’s also my favorite weather app period. Bradley Chambers of the Sweet Setup concurs, naming it the best weather app for iPhone and iPad. CARROT Weather is optimized for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. When you open CARROT Weather, it gives you an hourly forecast in an attractive format, along with a daily forecast on the bottom of the screen. By default, CARROT Weather gets its weather predictions from Dark Sky, which is pretty accurate (Adam Engst is a fan, see “Dark Sky 5 Offers Hyperlocal Weather Forecasts for iOS,” 7 August 2015). I love that I can open the app and see the entire day’s weather at a glance. You also get a daily message from CARROT, along the lines of: “Does the sun really think he can hide? We see you behind those clouds, stupid star.” “It’s hotter than Pauly Shore’s career out here.” (It was 11 degrees Fahrenheit.) “Sorry meatbag, I’m busy sending nice weather to the s*** hole countries right now.” (CARROT claims that it actually controls the weather.) CARROT Weather displays a warning icon on the main screen if there are any weather alerts in your area — tap the icon to see full details. Alas, the National Weather Service writes the alerts, not CARROT. There’s also usually a little illustration of white stick figures doing something. I don’t know what it means, if anything. When it’s raining or snowing, a graph of precipitation over the next hour replaces the figures. CARROT Weather features a few other goodies that make it worth the price of admission: Full weather radar (United States only). It lets you scroll backward in time to see the path of precipitation, but not forward to see where it’s predicted to go. An Apple Watch app that actually works. The complication is reliable and the app loads instantly! To date, it’s the only third-party complication or app I use regularly. Secret locations you can track down, such as the Moon, Chernobyl, and the Titanic My personal favorite, an AR mode that brings CARROT into the semi-real world. Whatever you do, don’t poke or look directly in her ocular sensors! A “time travel” feature that lets you view weather from the past or future! You can go all the way back to 1948 or ahead to 2028. (Take the weather predictions for 2028 with a grain of salt.) CARROT Weather has a rich settings screen. You can adjust CARROT’s personality to any of the following: Professional, if you don’t care for CARROT’s banter. This disables CARROT’s personality. Friendly Snarky, in which CARROT “will deliver sarcastic weather reports (mostly) free of violence” Homicidal, in which CARROT “may threaten you and your loved ones with bodily harm” Overkill, in which CARROT “will make creative use of profanity in her forecasts” For all settings other than Professional, you can also alter CARROT’s politics to centrist, liberal, conservative, or none. I’m not sure what the differences between the three political settings are — feel free to experiment. To get the most out of CARROT Weather, you need to purchase one [...]



iOS Apps Reduce Treadmill Trudgery

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 07:12:00 EDT

Maybe it’s too hot to run outside for much of the year where you live (Phoenix). Or perhaps winter starts too early and goes too late (Anchorage). Maybe it’s too hilly (San Francisco) or too flat (Indianapolis). Whatever the reason, you bought a treadmill. You want to exercise, regardless of the weather or terrain. But now you’ve stopped using your treadmill out of boredom. If you could use something to get you moving again, why not turn to your iPhone or iPad for something besides Netflix? On the Road Again -- Although there are, in my quick count, four billion fitness-related apps on the App Store that run on the iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, I didn’t find many that were designed to spice up an indoor run. Three are worth a look: Treadmill Trails BitGym Kinomap Fitness The concept behind them is simple: a video of gorgeous scenery from around the world, shot from the point of view of an athlete in motion, appears on your iPad or iPhone screen while you work out on indoor exercise equipment. You’ll appreciate the videos more on an iPad because the bigger the screen, the easier it is to see the video. If you’re lucky enough to have a treadmill positioned in front of a big-screen TV with an Apple TV attached, you can use AirPlay to display the video, so you don’t have to run with your head down staring at the iPhone or iPad screen sitting on a shelf on your treadmill. Make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi signal to get the video from your iOS device to your Apple TV to reduce or eliminate any lag. Treadmill Trails -- You can download Treadmill Trails along with a 30-minute sampler video from the app’s built-in Trail Store for free. Additional 30-minute videos — there are currently over 40 — cost $0.99 each, and offer free previews. Each trail video is about 900 MB in size, so it’ll take some time to download. To begin, tap the My Trails button within the app, tap the video you want to watch and start moving on your treadmill — video playback is smooth. As a bonus, you can also ride a stationary bike or use an elliptical machine. Each video includes music and narration, but you can opt for your own music if you prefer. Since each video is almost a gigabyte in size, you may have to manage your storage space carefully to keep a variety of videos on your device. The good news is that once you purchase a video, you can delete it from your device and re-download it as many times as you wish. One other major design factor to keep in mind: Treadmill Trails stores its videos in your Photos library. So if you have iCloud Photo Library turned on, each video will use up roughly a gigabyte of your iCloud storage space and could impact storage space on other devices too. Treadmill Trails has received some recent updates, but I’ve still run into bugs. Notably, using AirPlay doesn’t work correctly. The narration and music contained on the free sample video would not play at all using iOS 11 on my iPad Pro when I used AirPlay to send the video to my TV. In addition, if you AirPlay a Treadmill Trails video with your iPad in portrait orientation, the video appears in a landscape orientation on your TV (good) but will be heavily letterboxed (not good), leaving thick black bars on all four sides on the image, defeating the purpose of using the big-screen TV. And if you switch the iPad to landscape orientation, the mirrored video on the TV rotates to portrait orientation (bad), and the image itself rotates 90 degrees, making the video appear to be on its side (very bad). The developer promises a fix for this bug in a future version of Treadmill Trails, but this part of the app has been problematic for some time. That said, since the video is stored in your Photos library, you can open the video within Photos and AirPlay it from there. Much to my surprise, when I did so the video filled the TV screen sans letterboxing and the AWOL audio also worked. It’s an effective workaround, but it’s a bad sign when a developer[...]



External Link: Take a Trip Down Memory Lane with Eudora

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 08:58:31 EDT

On the site Tedium, which promises to surface "stories that maybe fell through the cracks of time," editor Ernie Smith writes about Eudora, the much-missed email app of yesteryear. There's nothing new here, of course, since Qualcomm officially discontinued Eudora over a decade ago, but it's still nice to see acknowledgment of how popular and important Eudora was in this "here today, gone tomorrow" Internet era. Our article about converting email away from Eudora is quoted, and Steve Dorner himself even makes a cameo appearance in the comments.

 

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External Link: Nutty Hack of the Week: Pair an Apple Watch Series 3 with Android

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 07:21:47 EDT

In the Stupid Apple Tricks department, iMore’s Serenity Caldwell has discovered that it is possible to pair a cellular-capable Apple Watch Series 3 with an Android phone, although she admits that it’s a terrible idea. The process involves tricking the Apple Watch by inserting the SIM from an Android phone into an iPhone, pairing the Apple Watch, and then moving the SIM back to the Android phone. It works, but your Apple Watch will lose many features and have awful battery life. In other words: don’t try this at home.

 

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External Link: The Rock X Siri: Don’t Try This At Home

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 12:34:48 EDT

Want to see how well Siri works when it’s backed up by a full team of video production editors? Apple has produced an amusing “film” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in which he manages to use Siri repeatedly while doing everyday made-up movie star stuff. We believe all the actual Siri commands he issues could work, although many would require that the iPhone be unlocked. And when we tried to duplicate his commands, Siri failed to understand our words much of the time. Happily, when Siri misheard “read my last email” as “delete my email,” we learned that Siri isn’t allowed to delete emails. Which is a good thing.

 

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Desktop, Screensaver, and Browser Tab Eye Candy for Your Mac

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 11:33:19 EDT

The original Mac’s Desktop was just gray, and it wasn’t until mid-1997 when Mac OS 8 introduced the Desktop Pictures control panel that let users set photographs as the Desktop background. Of course, resourceful developers had provided such functionality for years. As far back as 1991, I was writing about the DeskPicture utility bundled with Now Utilities, while bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have enough disk space to store many photos at once (see “Wallpaper Your Mac,” 16 December 1991). It’s hard to imagine such privations today, with spectacular photographs readily available on many Web sites. With the right software, you don’t even have to build your own collection of images, and you can decorate not just your Desktop, but your screensaver and new browser tabs. Irvue Decorates the Desktop -- With every release of macOS, Apple provides a collection of stunning photos for use as Desktop pictures. Space is still likely a limiting factor since Apple provides only about 160 images that take up almost 575 MB. You can select them from System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop, and find the files in /Library/Desktop Pictures. And of course, the Desktop & Screen Saver preference pane lets you cycle through images on a schedule, and it can even pick among them randomly. I prefer changing images, but I’ve found that I get bored if I see the same picture regularly. 160 images is nowhere near enough to prevent boredom for me — I estimate the number needs to be more like 10,000 before I won’t see any given photo often enough to remember it. While my Photos library contains that many pictures, too many of my photos don’t make good backgrounds or simply aren’t very good images. Various utilities have promised to solve this problem in the past, but I’ve never run across one that would draw stunning images from a large-enough source and support multiple monitors. However, I’ve now found Igor Savelev’s Irvue, a free app that downloads images from Unsplash, a Web site to which over 40,000 photographers have donated more than 200,000 high-resolution photos. Irvue, which you access from the menu bar, has all the basics. It can put different images on each screen if you have more than one, it can change the Desktop on a schedule ranging from every 30 minutes to once per month. If you don’t like an image, you can easily get Irvue to snag a new one (and blacklist either that photo or the photographer), and if you love a particular photo, you can save it locally. Settings and keyboard shortcuts abound, and you can even tell Irvue if you prefer landscape or portrait images. The easiest way to use Irvue is by pointing it at Unsplash’s Featured and New “channels” — that ensures a wide variety of awesome images. However, you can also add three additional channels, where a channel matches a particular search term, photographer, or Unsplash collection. (One tip: after entering a search term, click the + button or press Tab to see and select search results; if you click Add before doing that, nothing happens.) If you want more than three channels, there are in-app purchases to unlock that capability. Use the Combined tab when managing channels to pull photos from more than one channel at once. Irvue and Google+ Featured Photos Grace the Screensaver -- As with Desktop pictures, Apple provides a smattering of images for use with the standard macOS screensaver, but to keep your screensaver fresh, you’ll want a lot more photos. Although it’s not built into Irvue, perhaps because of Mac App Store policies, Igor Savelev has been working on a screensaver version of Irvue since late last year. Irvue Screensaver operates much like the menu bar version of Irvue, albeit with many fewer options. It lets you pull photos from Unsplash’s Featured channel, from a particular Unsplash collection or photo[...]



External Link: Trying to Live with the Original iPhone in 2017

Mon, 03 Jul 2017 13:36:51 EDT

The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern vowed to live with an original iPhone for a week, but she lasted only 12 hours, as summarized in this amusing video. The original iPhone lacks a front-facing camera, video capture, and Siri, and both performance and battery life were underwhelming. Worst of all, most apps and Web sites don’t work with it anymore. There was a headphone jack, but even then you needed a dongle to use non-Apple headphones. It’s easy to say that technology has advanced considerably since 2007, but it’s also clear that many problems stemmed from a lack of emphasis on backward compatibility. Be sure to watch until the end to see Stern’s helmet cam setup! The article is limited to subscribers, but the video is free for everyone.

 

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Internet Archive Hosts Functional Classic Mac Apps

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 09:37:54 EDT

The estimable Internet Archive announced that it has added dozens of classic — and I mean classic! — Mac apps, games, and operating systems from 1984–1989 to its Software Library. It accomplished this minor bit of nostalgia magic thanks to a version of Hampa Hug’s PCE/macplus Macintosh emulator that was ported to JavaScript and can thus operate in a Web browser. That’s right, these are fully functional apps that you can run right within Safari, Chrome, or Firefox. (You can find more old Mac software accessible via PCE/macplus at the RetroWeb Vintage Computer Museum, the maintainers of which helped the Internet Archive with their emulation system.) PCE/macplus emulates a Macintosh 128K through Macintosh Classic, so we’re talking about a 9-inch, black-and-white screen here. The Internet Archive’s Mac Software Library has a package showing off System 6.0.8’s System Startup and System Additions disks and a more interesting one for System 7.0.1 that includes a variety of apps, including BBEdit, HyperCard, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and more. Remember, you have to double-click quickly to open folders and launch apps, and selecting an item from a menu requires you to hold the mouse button down after clicking the menu title. As amusing as it can be to fool around with those old apps, the real fun comes with the games of the 1980s. Dark Castle, Airborne, and Wizardry are all there for you to play, along with my favorite, Lode Runner. Give them a try! For those who remember them, the apps are worth visiting for nostalgic reasons alone. However, more interesting are what projects like this promise for the future of digital preservation. It’s increasingly hard to keep ancient hardware running, and unstable media renders long-term access to software and data questionable at best. If the massive computing power of modern machines enables full emulation of older hardware, and files can be moved into the cloud while their floppy disks can still be read, perhaps we won’t lose nearly as much old data to bit rot as we would have otherwise. There isn’t much of a business model around loading of data and apps from long-stored floppies, but kudos to groups like the Internet Archive and the RetroWeb Vintage Computer Museum for showing that it can still be done. And if you’re interested in playing with your old apps and files, check out the Macintosh Garden for information on setting up your own emulator. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another level of Lode Runner to attempt.  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article Fujitsu ScanSnap Scanners — Save your business time and money with our easy-to-use small ScanSnap Scanner line. Eliminate paper piles by scanning documents, business cards, and receipts. Visit us at:   Copyright © 2017 Adam C. Engst. TidBITS is copyright © 2017 TidBITS Publishing Inc.[...]



New Apple Watch Stand Looks Like the 128K Mac

Thu, 02 Mar 2017 13:36:05 EST

I hadn’t planned to write about Elago’s W3 Stand, an Apple Watch charging stand in the shape of a classic 128K Macintosh. I mean, what is there to say? “It’s an Apple Watch charging stand in the shape of a classic 128K Macintosh.” The end. But I realized Elago had concocted something brilliant when a buddy last week bestowed the product upon me — a thoughtful gesture after a recent death in my family — and other friends around a taproom table erupted with delight and a bit of envy. I was even more surprised later that day when my wife spotted the accessory on my desk and went gaga over it. You must understand a couple of things about my wife: She does not own an Apple Watch, has no interest in ever getting one, and has never been steeped in Apple lore. She adores her MacBook Air, but only in a utilitarian sense. Yet, hovering and cooing over the W3, she told me she wanted one – just because. So did I when I first heard about it. After all, I own a nonfunctional 128K Mac, a decorative prop that has a place of honor in my home office right near my Power Mac G4 Cube. The Elago W3 fits right in at Julio Geek Central. I have the $14.99 tan-colored model that approximates the color of the original Mac. Elago also sells a $15.99 dark-gray version, which is a strange color choice in the Mac sense, but matches darker-colored watches and straps. The stand is a simple yet substantial little thing made of soft, sturdy rubber. It’s a mini-Mac, but with a vertical slot for the Apple Watch to slide in. Within the stand, there’s a circular cutout for Apple’s watch charging pad. The W3’s cable threads downward through the accessory and out the back, mimicking the look of the classic Mac’s power cable. The stand’s screen is just a cutout, so when the Apple Watch drops into place, its face becomes the actual, functional “Mac” display. The Apple Watch sits on its side, which activates Nightstand mode and transforms the W3 into a nifty bedside clock with a classic-Mac look and feel. It even has details such as a faux floppy-disk slot, complete with a tiny paperclip-eject hole, but no Apple logo that might attract legal attention. I’m using the Elago in the bedroom with a first-generation Apple Watch (my Series 2 watch charges up in my home office on the far-more-utilitarian Griffin WatchStand Powered Charging Station that also charges my iPhone). I put the original Apple Watch on my night table in Airplane mode to keep activity to a minimum and left it there as a permanent fixture. In fact, I am experimenting with using the Apple Watch strapless to heighten the classic-Mac effect: But I suspect the mini-Mac clock will quietly migrate to my wife’s side of the bed before long. That’s fine, anything to foster marital bliss. I hope whoever came up with this cute product at Elago got a bonus. And I wonder if sequels might be in the works — a Bondi Blue iMac charging stand, perhaps?  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article Setapp: Explore a universe of apps for just $9.99 per month! No ads, in-app purchases, or paid upgrades—just great Mac apps. Try BetterZip, CleanMyMac, iStat Menus, NetSpot, Pixa, and more! Expand your Mac’s capabilities today!   Copyright © 2017 Julio Ojeda-Zapata. TidBITS is copyright © 2017 TidBITS Publishing Inc.[...]



Mangobeat Amplifies iPhone Volume Naturally and Sustainably

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 12:55:32 EST

Here’s a common problem: you’re doing stuff around the house and want to listen to music from your iPhone. There are numerous ways to do that, but many of the obvious ones have downsides. You could: Just listen to the iPhone’s speakers. That might be OK on an iPhone 7, which has stereo sound, but older iPhones don’t have as good volume or sound quality. Connect to wireless Bluetooth speakers, but good ones are expensive, and even those don’t sound great, plus you’ll have another battery to charge. Use headphones, but wired headphones snag easily, and wireless ones tend to be expensive and have battery issues. Plug into wired speakers, which can be a good solution but requires more setup. And, of course, new iPhones will need a Lightning-to-headphone adapter. Stream over AirPlay to an Apple TV or to an AirPort Express base station connected to a stereo. That works but isn’t cheap or quick to set up, can suffer from audio dropouts, and may be on the way out if Apple stops making AirPort base stations. Stream to a Chromecast Audio device, but it has to be plugged into wired speakers, and Chromecast doesn’t work with Apple Music. Stream to a Sonos system, which is reportedly excellent, but by far the most expensive of these solutions. Happily, there’s a simpler, cheaper solution for casual listening, one that requires no electricity and looks good in your home or office. Enter the Mangobeat, the brainchild of Germain Ekamby in Alpharetta, Georgia. The Mangobeat is an all-natural, wooden amplifier for your iPhone. It’s carved from Thai mango wood grown in sustainably managed forests, thus the name. Simply set your phone down in its leather slot and the Mangobeat’s horn-like shape does the rest. Don’t worry about the Mangobeat rolling off your counter, because it has flat spots milled on the bottom to prevent that. It’s that simple, and it works great. The slot holds iPhones of any size, even my beefy iPhone 7 Plus in Apple’s leather case. I showed off the Mangobeat on a recent MacJury holiday gift guide episode. Mangobeat won’t compete with a high-quality powered speaker, but the improvement in volume and clarity over the phone’s unassisted speaker is clear. Better yet, it’s a durable conversation piece that’s always available. You never have to worry about whether the batteries are charged, if a cable is handy, or if your network will flake out. I’d say that it’s plug-and-play, but you don’t have to plug anything into anything else. I purchased my Mangobeat directly from Germain Ekamby at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair a few months ago, and it has been a constant companion in our kitchen ever since (you can order yours through Etsy). It’s extremely durable and has withstood all the abuse our three-year-old has thrown at it, without even a scratch. The Mangobeat comes in a variety of colors and designs, and costs just $35.99. Whether you’re looking for a way to improve ad hoc iPhone listening or are searching for an affordable and unusual gift that won’t suffer from any compatibility issues, the Mangobeat is worth a look.  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article READERS LIKE YOU! Support TidBITS by becoming a member today!Check out the perks at Special thanks to John R, Jeff Knouse, Tom Collins, and James Allen for their generous support!   Copyright © 2016 Josh Centers. TidBITS is copyright © 2016 TidBITS Publishing Inc.[...]



External Link: Project Murphy Photoshops Faces on Command

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 08:42:18 EDT

Microsoft has created a new experimental chatbot, called Project Murphy, that you converse with via Facebook Messenger, Skype, or Telegram. The image-morphing technology underlying Project Murphy is impressive, but the results can be wonderfully silly since the bot merges the faces in two images to create hypotheticals of personal scenes you describe. For instance, try “What if Oprah were Miss Piggy,” “What if Tim Cook were Superman,” or “What if Steve Jobs were very old?” You can even upload your photo to use in “What if” questions for 10 minutes. Project Murphy is a lot of fun, especially if (like us) you’re not good at image manipulation apps like Photoshop.

 

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What the Heck Is Pokémon Go?

Sun, 17 Jul 2016 15:13:02 EDT

Strange things are afoot. Town squares are busy again. Kids are gathering at libraries in the middle of the night. You might wake up to find a crowd of people outside your house. Someone might even knock on your door, asking to come inside to catch a monster. What is going on? Pokémon Go, available for the iPhone and Android, is the smash hit of the summer, and it’s already the biggest mobile game in U.S. history. Since its launch on 6 July 2016, it already has more daily users than dating app Tinder, more daily users than Twitter, and more engagement than Facebook. The Pokémon franchise has been going strong for 20 years now, having begun on Nintendo’s Game Boy portable console. In the primary Pokémon games (there have been spin-offs in various genres), your character travels the land, collecting “pocket monsters,” called pokémon, and uses them to battle other pokémon trainers. With Pokémon Go, the series enters the realm of augmented reality, or AR for short. In contrast with virtual reality, which uses devices like head-mounted displays to isolate you from the real world, augmented reality blends the real and virtual worlds (for more on VR, see “On the iPhone, Virtual Reality Is Unofficially Real,” 17 June 2016). Instead of situating gameplay in a fantasy world, Pokémon Go bases its landscape on Google Maps, and instead of controlling your character with a d-pad or joystick, you move around in the physical world to play, which explains some of the strange behavior I mentioned above. How Pokémon Go Works -- One thing that makes the game so popular is that as you play more, you can become engaged with some rather deep game mechanics and strategies. Several guides to the game have already been created, so I’ll explain just some of the basic vocabulary and gameplay here — enough to get you going or understand what others are talking about. The objective of the game, such as it is, is to use pokéballs to collect all the pokémon you can — 150 in total — make them more powerful, and use them to fight other pokémon trainers. But how you play is up to you. Many people treat Pokémon Go sort of like birdwatching, with a focus on collecting pokémon, whereas for others the game revolves around battles and gaining control of gyms, which I’ll explain shortly. Like most online games of this type, there is no way to “complete” Pokémon Go; you play the game until you’re tired of it. To play, you must either link the app to a Pokemon.com or Google account. However, the Pokemon.com servers have been overwhelmed, so most players have been forced to use Google. This caused some early controversy, as Google reported that Pokémon Go had full account permissions, which made users think that the game’s developer, Niantic, could access players’ Gmail accounts, calendars, contacts, and anything else linked to Google. Enterprising security expert Dan Guido performed a deep analysis of what the game was able to access and discovered that the security concerns were overblown (Engadget has a full write-up of the drama for those interested). In short, Niantic could read “biographical information” like your email address and phone number, but Google confirmed that they couldn’t access more private data, like your email messages. Although the permissions drama was overblown, Niantic responded quickly with the 1.0.1 update, released on 12 July 2016, which fixed the problem entirely, instead requesting just appropriate permissions. If you already had Pokémon Go installed, 9to5Mac explains how to ensure that the app’s Google permissions are downgraded. After you create a character, you’re dropped into a brief tutorial and instructed to catch your first p[...]



External Link: Cartographic Comparison of Apple Maps and Google Maps

Wed, 22 Jun 2016 15:31:49 EDT

Maps are but representations of reality, and how Apple and Google have interpreted that reality has led to surprisingly different representations of it. Former Apple cartographer Justin O’Beirne has started a detailed comparison of the two mapping systems, looking at how each shows cities, roads, and places (points of interest, if you will). O’Beirne is careful not to anoint a winner, but a summary of his findings shows that Apple labels more cities and Google labels more roads. Plus, while the two show a similar number of places, they have only 10 percent of their places in common, thanks to Apple focusing on landmarks and Google prioritizing transit.

 

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External Link: Inside “Emojigeddon” at the Unicode Consortium

Fri, 29 Apr 2016 12:17:54 EDT

If you’ve noticed the ever-growing collection of emoji characters available on your Apple devices, the people to thank are the members of the venerable Unicode Consortium, a non-profit group that has been working to standardize the character sets for all the world’s languages and writing systems since 1991. The recent work on emojis is not without cost, however: a number of Unicode Consortium members think that the emoji characters are distracting the group from more important work. The chronicles of “Emojigeddon” make for fascinating reading, even if you don’t know a PUNCTUS FLEXUS MARK from a CAT FACE WITH TEARS OF JOY.

 

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Apple Developing Fortieth Anniversary Mac

Fri, 01 Apr 2016 01:00:52 EDT

Today marks Apple’s fortieth year in business since being founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne on 1 April 1976. Back in 1996, Apple’s executive team came up with the idea of commemorating the company’s twentieth anniversary with a limited edition Mac, and tapped Jonathan Ive to design it as one of his earlier projects at Apple. The result, the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh, was announced in January 1997, hitting the twentieth anniversary of the company’s official incorporation (see “The 20th Anniversary Mac Comes for Tea,” 7 July 1997). History is repeating itself, with Apple once again wanting to celebrate a major decade anniversary with a limited-edition piece of hardware that sources tell us will be called the Fortieth Anniversary Mac. Like its predecessor, the Fortieth Anniversary Mac is intended to be a technological showcase, with numerous features that demonstrate where Apple believes computing is going. It will once again be designed by Jonathan Ive, now Chief Design Officer at Apple, and if past performance is any indication, we can expect a release in January 2017. The Twentieth Anniversary Mac foreshadowed today’s iMac with its all-in-one design based around a 12.1-inch LCD screen, and the Fortieth Anniversary Mac is expected to continue that design direction, focusing everything on the screen. The final size hasn’t yet been determined, but it will likely be a 17-inch Retina display. That sounds small, given the 27-inch size of Apple’s top-of-the-line Retina iMac, but if you think of it instead as an enormous iPad, you’ll understand Apple’s thinking. That’s right. Despite its name, the Fortieth Anniversary Mac will mark the long-expected merger of OS X and iOS, with support for both Mac- and iOS-style interactions, taking advantage of the best of each environment simultaneously — it’s not an either/or situation. The screen, which is the entire computer, can be removed from its stand to function physically much like an iPad — it might be a bit large, but Apple expects third-party accessory manufacturers to develop stands that position the screen like a small drafting table. Both table-top and floor stands are in the works. Touch-based interaction will always be available, and like the iPad, the Fortieth Anniversary Mac will accept input from Bluetooth keyboards. But it will also support mice and trackpads, displaying the traditional mouse pointer whenever one is detected and providing fluid control of OS X apps. In iOS apps, keyboard interaction will work just as the Smart Keyboard does on the iPad Pro today, taking over for the onscreen keyboard as appropriate. Speaking of the keyboard, the Fortieth Anniversary Mac is taking another page from the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, whose keyboard had leather palm rests and a built-in trackpad. The Fortieth Anniversary Mac’s wireless keyboard will closely resemble today’s current Magic Keyboard, but with a tray that slides out from underneath the keyboard to provide a Force Touch–capable trackpad and palm rests. And, like the iPad Pro, you can use the Apple Pencil to draw and write directly on the Fortieth Anniversary Mac’s screen; the Apple Pencil will also work on the built-in trackpad. While some will see the melding of the mouse and keyboard with touch-based interactions as an unholy chimera of interface design, changes to OS X’s bundled apps over the past few releases mean that Messages and Calendar, for instance, already look and work basically the same on the two platforms. And with features like OS X’s Launchpad bringing even basic iOS and Mac interaction closer together, many use[...]



External Link: Game Center Still Broken after Six Months of iOS 9

Thu, 17 Mar 2016 07:33:01 EDT

Writer Craig Grannell points out how Game Center has been broken since the release of iOS 9. That might seem minor, since Game Center isn’t an especially popular app, but many multiplayer turn-based games depend on Game Center to function, so many of them now work inconsistently. Unfortunately, this is more evidence of the decline in Apple’s software quality.

 

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Generate Relaxing Background Sounds with Noizio

Thu, 03 Mar 2016 08:44:07 EST

I’m a country boy, and while I don’t exactly live in the big city now, working at a Mac all day doesn’t provide the ambience I remember from summer days on the farm. (This is, of course, selective nostalgia — making hay is hard, dirty, noisy work — so I beg your dispensation for some poetic license.) While I like listening to music in Spotify, there are times when I just want some background sounds that won’t distract me from what I’m writing. Spotify and competing services like Apple Music have plenty of tracks of thunderstorms, waves, and birds, but finding something appropriate is a serious rabbit hole. Enter Noizio, a Mac and iOS app that I stumbled across recently. [Note: When reviewed, Noizio was free; it’s now $4.99 for Mac and $1.99 for iOS. -Adam] It offers 15 different ambient sounds that play in seamless loops: October Rain, Coffee House, Thunderstorm, Campfire, Winter Wind, Sea Waves, River Stream, Summer Night, Sunny Day, Deep Space, Sailing Yacht, Inside Train, On The Farm, Wind Chimes, and Blue Whales. Click a sound’s icon to enable or disable it, and move its slider to set how loud the sound should be. You might like just one of these sounds, but what sets Noizio apart is that you can combine multiple options into a personalized mixture, even blending the different sounds at different levels. It’s easy to save and switch between these soundscapes. I must confess a certain lack of variability in my own usage. My preferred mixture is heavy on the bird songs in Sunny Day, with about half a dose of On The Farm, and just a touch of a creek in the distance courtesy of River Stream. At least to my ears, it sounds great — when I close my eyes, it’s easy to imagine the chickens scratching for bugs in the dirt and the cows ambling through the field below the house. While writing this article, I created another mixture that combines October Rain, Thunderstorm, and Summer Night, but all those water sounds make me want to visit the bathroom. I’m also testing a mixture that’s mostly Campfire with just a few of the cicadas from Summer Night thrown in, but I find myself yawning when it’s on. But that’s just me. Some people will undoubtedly like the muted bustle of Coffee House, or the repetitive clickety-clack of Inside Train. And those with some ocean experience might appreciate a combination of Sea Waves and Sailing Yacht. Some of the reviewers on the Mac App Store complain about gaps in the loops, but I haven’t noticed any issues there. Perhaps I’m not listening hard enough, but then again, not listening carefully is sort of the point. The loops themselves vary in length from about 15 seconds to over 6 minutes, so combining them ensures that the resulting mixture is even more random. Developer Kyrylo Kovalin has done a nice job with Noizio’s interface. On the Mac, it installs as a menu bar icon, and clicking it displays a popover underneath. Big buttons on the top let you manage your saved mixtures and access settings for whether or not the app should start at login, show in the Dock, and start playing immediately after launch. The vertically oriented interface feels a little constrained on the Mac, but lends itself perfectly to the iPhone screen. Speaking of the iOS version, there’s a feature that automatically pauses playback at a particular time, which is handy if you use your iPhone as a sleep aid. The only thing the iOS version of Noizio lacks is an option to save mixtures. It might be nice to be able to add new sounds, but that would likely require more programming effort than such a simple ap[...]



External Link: iTunes Must Die: The Song (and Petition)

Thu, 11 Feb 2016 08:47:56 EST

Over the years, we’ve shared numerous lamentations about the myriad problems with iTunes. The latest person to lend his voice — literally — to the cause is well-known author and musician Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who has recorded the song “iTunes Must Die” in conjunction with an “iTunes Must Die” petition. You can preview it for free on CD Baby, and if you want your own copy, it’s available for $0.99 from Amazon, CD Baby, and Google Play, though not yet from the iTunes Store. Hmm…

 

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External Link: An “Ask Me Anything” with the Co-Creator of The Oregon Trail

Mon, 01 Feb 2016 10:40:43 EST

Remember the Oregon Trail game, which was a mainstay on Apple computers dating back to the Apple II? One of its co-creators, Don Rawitsch, is currently taking questions in one of Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” threads, where users can ask him anything they want. To see Rawitsch’s replies, look for the blue-highlighted “donoregontrail” username. In case you were curious, Rawitsch clarifies that he personally has never suffered from dysentery. (The game phrase “You have died of dysentery” has been popularized on T-shirts.)

 

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External Link: New Yorker Spills the Beans on the Next OS X Release

Tue, 26 Jan 2016 12:42:54 EST

Writing for The New Yorker with tongue firmly planted in cheek, Greg Tannen channels what Apple’s release note writers really want to say in a joke piece about the upcoming OS X Haleakalā. (“No, don’t bother trying to spell it. It took us three tries, and we made the damn thing. Anyway, Haleakalā National Park is in Hawaii, which we thought was cool, and we’re doing this whole national-parks name thing . . . so, well, there you go. Haleakalā!”) Go read the full article, but not right now if it would be inappropriate to find yourself giggling in public.

 

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External Link: Jobs and Gates Head to Broadway

Fri, 15 Jan 2016 11:07:17 EST

Silicon Valley is going to Broadway: the musical comedy “Nerds” will open 21 April 2016 at the Longacre Theatre, chronicling the rise and rivalry of Apple and Microsoft. The show will have plenty of tech itself, featuring holograms, projection mapping, and an in-show app that lets the audience vote for the ending. It was written by two of the writers of Cartoon Network’s “Robot Chicken,” so it should be pretty funny. If you’re in New York City, it could add to an enjoyable night on the town.

 

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Augment U.S. National Park Vacations with Chimani’s iOS Apps

Thu, 07 Jan 2016 13:54:13 EST

As 2016 dawns, I can’t stop thinking about Yosemite and El Capitan. Not Apple’s operating systems, but the Yosemite National Park and its famous El Capitan rock formation from which Apple purportedly took inspiration. Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is renowned for its spectacular scenery and biological diversity — and it’s only one of the 59 U.S. national parks, all of which are worth a visit. But these aren’t the sort of places you can just swing through on a weekend — we’re talking nearly 52 million acres (210,000 square kilometers) and millions of visitors each year. So now is a good time to start planning travel and lodging if you’re considering a visit to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Acadia, or any of the other national parks. In the past, that would have meant picking up a guidebook, but that industry has fallen on hard times and it can be hard to find an up-to-date title, particularly about the lesser-known parks. Information abounds on the Internet, of course, but quality varies wildly, and there are no guarantees that details are current. Besides, who wants to be navigating random Web sites on an iPhone while looking for a trail map? Enter Kerry Gallivan. Back in 2008, he was hiking up Gorham Mountain in Acadia National Park on a cold, rainy day. He had his iPhone with him, but he had neither cell service nor an app that could provide information on routes and trail conditions. Chilled and wet, he came up with the concept for Chimani on the spot, and founded the company with Shaun Meredith two years later to develop offline guidebook apps for U.S. national parks. Now, in conjunction with the centennial of the National Park Service, Chimani has released the 3.0 version of their engine for an overview app and individual apps for 19 of the most visited parks. All the apps are free and work on both the iPhone and iPad. Chimani National Parks, the overview app, contains information for the 409 units of the National Park System, which goes beyond the parks to include monuments, seashore, historic sites, battlefields, scenic trails, and more. The writeups are necessarily brief, but maps and links to official Web sites are included, and the images are gorgeous — many of them come courtesy of photographer QT Luong, who has taken over 12,000 large-format photos of U.S. national parks. This overview app is especially worthwhile early in your planning process. The individual park apps are more useful on the ground. Chimani currently offers apps for these parks: Acadia National Park (Maine) Arches National Park (Utah) Baxter State Park (Maine) Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah) Canyonlands National Park (Utah) Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts) Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio) Death Valley National Park (Nevada and California) Denali National Park (Alaska) Glacier National Park (Montana) Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming) Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee) Olympic National Park (Washington) Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park (California) Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) Yosemite National Park (California) Zion National Park (Utah) Each of Chimani’s apps relies on a similar tile-based interface that leads into a hierarchy of information. Where possible, Chimani sticks with the same icons as used by the National Park Se[...]



Momentum Brings Eye Candy to New Browser Tabs

Wed, 16 Dec 2015 06:00:47 EST

In most Web browsers, when you open a new tab, you can choose to have it display your home page or thumbnails of frequently used sites. Or you can do what I’ve done until recently, and just keep new tabs blank. I did this because I’m always creating a new tab in order to go to a particular Web site, and no single page or grid of thumbnails is likely to anticipate what I want. Not long ago I happened on a free Chrome extension called Momentum that is so utterly delightful that even 16-year-old Tristan couldn’t resist installing it on his Chromebook, despite it being recommended by his otherwise completely clueless father. Created by a small team of designers and developers who talk about making “software that has a real impact on the human condition” and “weaving culture, history, and the milk of human emotion into modern app design,” Momentum adorns every new browser tab with a picture of a spectacular landscape from the 500px photography site, subtly adding useful little widgets around the edges. The photo changes every day, and I’ve never seen one that wasn’t absolutely gorgeous. Getting Some Momentum -- To install Momentum in Chrome, open it in the Chrome Web Store and click the Add to Chrome button. There’s also what seems like an abandoned beta of a Safari extension for Momentum. Unfortunately, it has few of the features of the Chrome version, many glitches, and numerous complaints from users. It may still be worth a try if all you want are Momentum’s pretty pictures. You’ll need to download the extension and then double-click it in the Finder to install it in Safari, and then set Safari to use Top Sites in Safari > Preferences > General > New Tabs Open With. The team behind Momentum says they’re planning a Firefox add-on, but are waiting for some changes in Firefox to stabilize, hopefully soon. Use Your Momentum -- Returning to the flagship Chrome version, a picture truly is worth a thousand words when it comes to Momentum. To see it, press Command-T to open a new tab. Smack in the middle of the screen is the time, along with a greeting that updates throughout the day. Double-click the time to switch between 12- and 24-hour time. Momentum knows who I am because I told it early on, and you can double-click your name to change it at any time. Below that is room to enter what you want to focus on for the day, and a motivational quote. At the top left, there are controls for Links and Search. Clicking Links reveals a small popover in which you can store links to frequently used sites, just like a bookmarks bar. If you click the magnifying glass, you can search for anything in Google; the results appear in another popover. Moving clockwise, in the upper right, Momentum shows how many to-do items you’ve completed, along with the temperature and weather in your location. To switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius, double-click the temperature; double-clicking the location lets you change that as well. In the lower right, the Todo control shows and hides a simple to-do list. It’s more like a slip of scrap paper for jotting things to remember than a task manager. You add an item by clicking where it says “New todo” and typing, and you can either mark an item as done by clicking its checkbox, or just delete it by hovering over it and clicking the x that appears to its right. Finally, in the lower left, Momentum tells you where the astonishing im[...]



FunBITS: Testing the Siri Remote as a Game Controller

Fri, 20 Nov 2015 09:58:07 EST

I previously looked at an overview of available apps for the fourth-generation Apple TV in “Apps that Reveal the Apple TV’s Potential” (9 November 2015), and it’s now time to turn our focus toward gaming on Apple’s new set-top box. While I can’t see the Apple TV supplanting an Xbox or PlayStation in most gamers’ homes, the Apple TV already has some great casual fare. But to really see what the Apple TV can do in the gaming realm, we must first examine its included controller: the Siri Remote. Game controllers are the heart and soul of any gaming device, and a poor controller will doom a gaming device from the start. Atari’s eventual exit from the game console business might have been prevented, or at least delayed, if not for the atrocious controller designs of the Atari 5200 and Atari Jaguar, both of which were better suited to dialing phone numbers than battling an alien menace. Likewise, a great game controller can propel a system to greatness. The Nintendo Entertainment System resurrected the gaming market in the 1980s, thanks in part to its revolutionary controller, a now-familiar game pad instead of the typical joystick. After decades of experimentation, game controllers are a more-or-less solved problem. They each have a directional pad, some analog sticks, face buttons to control system functions, shoulder buttons along the top, and four primary action buttons, usually arranged in a diamond pattern (all of these were invented or popularized by Nintendo). You see this in the controllers for Sony and Microsoft’s respective consoles. Nintendo, the most innovative company when it comes to game controllers, bucked this trend a bit with the Wii Remote and later on with the tablet-esque Wii U GamePad, though they stuck to the same basic conventions. Apple is going its own way. The Siri Remote is not a conventional game controller, but rather a jack-of-all-trades interface device. Along with what Apple marketing calls “the Touch surface” (we’ll call it a touchpad), there are six additional buttons to access the main menu, open in-app menus, play and pause content, and control volume. However, only three of these buttons are available to games: the touchpad’s “click,” the Play/Pause button, and the Menu button, the last of which is restricted to working like a Pause button on a traditional game console. Developers can program Menu to bring up, well, a menu, but can’t assign it to an in-game action like “jump.” Unlike modern game controllers, the Siri Remote lacks a thumb-operated analog stick, instead using the touchpad for movement controls. While unusual, this isn’t unprecedented. Valve’s Steam Controller uses two trackpads to replicate the traditional PC gaming keyboard and mouse control scheme. It’s not as precise as an analog stick (or a mouse), but the Siri Remote’s touchpad is surprisingly accurate. A good demonstration of this is Dan Counsell’s Almost Impossible ($1.99), a beautiful, if punishing, platform game in which one wrong move quickly destroys your bouncing-ball character. I die often in the game, but I rarely feel as though it was due to an inadequacy of the Siri Remote. Admittedly, I am a gamer, and am accustomed to learning new controllers. If you have trouble with the precision of the Siri Remote’s touchpad, try a game like Shadowmatic (described later on), where your success isn’t predic[...]



FunBITS: Preparing for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Fri, 06 Nov 2015 15:20:53 EST

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, you’re probably aware that the first new Star Wars movie in a decade is just around the corner. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (which I’ll abbreviate as TFA for brevity’s sake) opens 18 December 2015 in the United States, though early screenings are scheduled for the night before. With Disney now owning the franchise, fans are hoping that a new creative team will bring the series back to its former glory. And if you still don’t know what all the hubbub is about, you can check out all of the TFA trailers in Apple’s iTunes Movie Trailers iOS app. But I prefer Science vs. Cinema’s “SuperDuperCut” of all of the TFA trailers. width="340" height="285" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/oqvkarUF8xs" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> With the emergence of the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, the world has changed since 2005’s “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” If you’re eager to scratch your Star Wars itch, Apple’s ecosystem offers many ways to do so. Of course, you don’t necessarily need any of the following to enjoy the movie, but (to paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson) once you get locked into a serious Star Wars obsession, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The Movies -- Earlier this year, all six Star Wars films were made available in iTunes. The movies are $19.99 each, or you can purchase them all in a bundle for $99.99. The good news is that they’re beautifully remastered in 1080p. The bad news is that they’re the “special” editions, which feature many changes that anger fans. If you buy the movies from iTunes, the bonus is that all the movies, with the exception of the original “Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope),” work with Disney Movies Anywhere (see “Watch Disney Movies on Any Device with Disney Movies Anywhere,” 27 October 2015), so you can transfer your copies to other video services like Amazon Video and Vudu. Unfortunately, Fox still owns the rights to the original Star Wars movie, so it’s not available on Disney’s video service. Star Wars purists might be happier with the legally gray “Despecialized Editions” of the original trilogy, which crib from multiple sources to restore the original movies in high definition. If you’re seeking these versions out, I’m afraid we’ll have to leave you to your own ingenuity. (Try searching your feelings — and by “feelings” I mean Google.) As for the upcoming movie, tickets went on sale last month, and as ridiculous as buying movie tickets two months in advance sounds, many showings are already sold out! So if you want to catch TFA in its opening weekend, check out the Fandango iOS app, with which you can buy your tickets, store them in the Wallet app, and even display them on your Apple Watch. Television -- Disney and Netflix have a partnership, which means that several Disney films are available on Netflix, but the Star Wars movies aren’t among them (although there are rumors that they will be at some point). But there’s still plenty of Star Wars content to be found on Netflix in the form of “The Clone Wars,” an animated movie and subsequent TV series that takes place between Episode II and Episode III. Following “The Clone Wars” can be confusing, because the episodes and introductory movie aren’t in chronological order. Fortunately, there[...]



The Illustrated iTunes License Agreement

Wed, 04 Nov 2015 08:00:00 EST

If you have ever bought anything from the iTunes store, you have surely seen it before — at least the first couple of paragraphs if you haven’t bothered to scroll down in the dialog: the iTunes Terms and Conditions to which you have to agree before you can buy anything. It’s not the most gripping prose you’ll ever encounter, but artist R. Sikoryak nonetheless found it inspiring enough to make it into a graphic novel, “iTunes Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel.”

Currently comprising (as of this writing) 54 multiple panel pages drawn in the style of a variety of artists that includes Edward Gorey, Chester (“Dick Tracy”) Gould, Kate “Hark! A Vagrant”) Beaton, Hank (“Dennis the Menace”) Ketcham, and Rube Goldberg, the terms and conditions appear as the narrative text for an ongoing action adventure story starring Steve Jobs (among others) in a variety of guises. The story begins at the very bottom of the Web page, so scroll all the way to the bottom and start reading to find out what you have agreed to as you attempt to unravel the story behind the story.

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External Link: The Rise and Fall of Mac User Groups

Tue, 08 Sep 2015 18:31:10 EDT

We love and have long supported Mac user groups, but this New York Times article does a good job of describing the fading state of many MUGs. Despite (or perhaps in part due to) the vastly larger size of the Apple user base, most groups are suffering falling attendance, though they still succeed at meeting the needs of their aging members. In a statement, Apple told the Times that the company was “honored to have the support of loyal customers like the members of Mac user groups, many of whom have been part of the Apple community for decades.”

 

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FunBITS: Pac-Man 256 Retools Classic Fun for iOS

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 09:59:47 EDT

Released in 1980, Pac-Man is one of the genuine classics of gaming. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it is to video games what the Gutenberg Bible was to publishing. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on the planet, regardless of age, who hasn’t played it or isn’t at least familiar with it. And its gameplay concepts changed the course of gaming history. But developer Namco never recaptured that magic. Pac-Man’s hugely successful immediate sequel, Ms. Pac-Man, was actually created by another company, and Namco’s own Super Pac-Man wasn’t a hit. Nevertheless, the Pac-Man character has been squeezed into platformers, racing games, educational titles, and even fighting games with usually only modest success at best. Nor has the original game, with its need for quick controls and a large screen, translated well to mobile. After more than three decades, developer Hipster Whale has figured out how to revive that Pac-magic. After last year’s Crossy Road, which resurrected Frogger for the iPhone generation, Hipster Whale has respun Pac-Man as Pac-Man 256, again designing it from the ground up for mobile devices. It’s free with in-app purchases for the iPhone and iPad, but isn’t compatible with the iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S. Check out the trailer. width="340" height="285" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/h_PGtztmZ68" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> Why is it called Pac-Man 256? Have they really made that many sequels? Possibly, but the real reason hearkens back to a bug in the original game. In Pac-Man, the level counter was stored as an 8-bit integer, which meant that the highest value it could hold was 255. A bug caused the counter to advance to 256, jumbling the right side of the screen in a mess of ASCII gibberish and making the level impossible to beat. Hipster Whale cleverly riffs on this infamous bug to convert Pac-Man into a sort of infinite runner. You start your maze chase by swiping up, and you need to keep moving up, because The Glitch slowly advances upon you, consuming everything it touches. Unlike the original Pac-Man, which had multiple maze levels, Pac-Man 256 is one never-ending maze. Other changes to the Pac-Man formula help Pac-Man 256 adapt to smartphones and tablets. Instead of a top-down view, the camera sits at an angle, which gives it a more modern look. The controls are based around swipes, which work quite well. The basics of the Pac-Man formula are still there. You still eat dots, get chased by ghosts, and eat power pellets that let you turn the tables on the ghosts. But, of course, Hipster Whale has mixed things up. Ghosts now use a variety of tactics. Some patiently wait to ambush you, while others band together to form moving obstacles. Where Pac-Man 256 gets wild are in its power-ups, which go far beyond the plain-vanilla power pellet. As Pac-Man consumes dots, you unlock various power-ups, such as lasers that can blast an entire row of ghosts, ice blocks that slow ghosts down, and bombs that blow up any ghost that bumps into Pac-Man. You can have up to three different power-ups on the board at a time, which you activate by crossing over their icons. But only one can be active at a time; any other power-ups on the board turn into white cubes that extend the duration of the active power-up.[...]



FunBITS: Do Computers Dream of Psychedelic Bears?

Fri, 07 Aug 2015 14:45:37 EDT

You may have seen some strange images around the Internet lately — even stranger than usual. Pictures of everyday scenes, distorted to the point that they start to resemble peacocks. (The image below was taken by our own Jeff Carlson and processed with deepdreamer.io.) The source of this weirdness is none other than Google. The company developed an internal tool to visualize how neural networks think, and when the researchers found that their neural networks do some trippy things with images, they released the visualization code as DeepDream so that other developers could create their own psychedelic art. DeepDream has become a bit of an Internet sensation, with a number of tools built around Google’s code, and even a Reddit community dedicated to creating and sharing DeepDream artwork. Now, Realmac, creator of stylish productivity tools like Clear and Ember, has released its own native Mac client, Deep Dreamer, currently in beta. Despite its beta status, many features are unavailable unless you pay $14.99 for a full license (however, Realmac offers a money-back guarantee for an unheard-of six months). Deep Dreamer appears complicated at first, but it’s really quite simple. The Deep Dreamer window is split into three sections: the left side displays previews of presets, the middle portion is where you drop and view images, and the right-hand side lets you tweak the settings by hand. (The image I use in the following screenshot was also taken by Jeff Carlson.) Click Start Dreaming to begin the process, which could take some time. If you’re patient, you can watch it unfold, and even stop it if it presents an appealing result before it’s finished. There’s a slider that lets you see the image both with and without the DeepDream effect. Unfortunately, Realmac doesn’t explain what all of these settings do. “We encourage you to explore the options in Deep Dreamer,” is all the manual says. But I will say that generally, the higher you crank up the settings, the weirder the output will be — and the more time and CPU cycles it will need. It costs nothing to download Deep Dreamer and play around, but if you want to export what you create, generate transformation videos, and view more than two-thirds of the output, you’ll have to pony up $14.99. I’m all for supporting developers, but it’s a bit irritating to be asked to pay that much to essentially test a beta. I could see paying that if DeepDream became a hobby, but it’s a bit much to dip my toe in. The other problem with Deep Dreamer is that since it processes images locally, it can be quite resource intensive for your Mac. Thankfully, there are lots of Web-based alternatives. The one I like the most so far is deepdreamer.io, which is completely free and server-based. Upload a photo (or take one with a webcam), enter an email address, and deepdreamer.io will send you a link when it’s done processing. deepdreamer.io doesn’t offer as much control over the process as Realmac’s Deep Dream (nor is the output quite as bizarre), but it makes up for that by processing your image with seven settings, so you get seven different images as output, including three animated GIFs. It even keeps your previous images around, so everything’s accessible in one[...]