Topher Kessler joins us again this week to shine a light on what some have dubbed “Staingate” — MacBook Pro displays whose anti-glare coating is peeling off under normal use. Josh Centers takes a look at two new iOS apps: Periscope, a video streamer from Twitter that seeks to supplant Meerkat, and Launcher, a once-banned app that gives you quick access to apps and actions from a Notification Center widget. Adam Engst reviews Fantastical 2 for the Mac, which expands the menu bar utility into a full-featured calendar app. Finally, we have the tenth chapter of Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Security for Mac Users,” which teaches you how to prevent data loss and theft. Notable software releases this week include BusyContacts 1.0.2, Napkin 1.5, Backblaze 4.0, and PDFpen and PDFpenPro 7.1.
In this week’s installment, Joe Kissell moves from looking at the various ways you can keep people out of your Mac to how you can prevent loss and theft of your data while it’s stored on your Mac.Show full article
So far, “Take Control of Security for Mac Users” has talked largely about preventing access to your Mac — using strong passwords, surfing the Web safely, enabling firewalls, and so on. But it’s time to look at the innermost layer of the security onion — the actual files stored on your Mac. In Chapter 10, “Prevent Data Loss and Theft,” Joe Kissell focuses on how you can prevent data loss and data theft.
Data loss is when you no longer have access to your own data, perhaps because of a file being deleted, overwritten, or corrupted. The way to prevent data loss is with excellent backups, preferably a tripartite strategy consisting of versioned backups, a bootable duplicate, and offsite backups.
Data theft, on the other hand, is when someone gains access to your data illicitly via physical access to your Mac. The solution here is encryption, either a full-disk solution like FileVault or a more focused approach in which you encrypt only sensitive information. Joe also discusses secure deletion, since deleted files can often be recovered otherwise.
If you’re just now getting started with “Take Control of Security for Mac Users,” note that the first two chapticles are available to everyone, but the remaining eight are limited to TidBITS members. Those kind souls receive other benefits too (like a cute apple icon when commenting on our site!), but what’s most important is that TidBITS members are the reason we’re still publishing. If you’re already a TidBITS member, log in to the TidBITS site using the email address from which you joined to read and comment on these chapters.
Chapter 1: “Introducing Mac Security”
Chapter 2: “Learn Security Basics”
Chapter 3: “Perform Quick Security Fixes”
Chapter 4: “Beef Up Your Security Settings”
Chapter 5: “Improve Your Passwords”
Chapter 6: “Improve Your Network Security”
Chapter 7: “Fortify Your Mac’s Defenses”
Chapter 8: “Surf the Web Safely”
Chapter 9: “Manage iCloud Security”
Chapter 10: “Prevent Data Loss and Theft”
We have just two more chapters to go, and once we’ve wrapped them, the full ebook of “Take Control of Security for Mac Users” will be available for purchase by everyone in PDF, EPUB, and Mobipocket (Kindle) formats.
The anti-glare coating on some MacBook Pro displays is peeling off under normal use, but Apple is being inconsistent with how it approaches the problem. Topher Kessler of MacIssues offers advice for those with affected Macs.Show full article
In order to reduce glare for its various displays, Apple uses anti-reflective coatings that should absorb, interfere with, and redirect reflected light rays while allowing transmitted light emanating from your display to pass through to your eyes. As with any material that is adhered to another, this coating may strip off under certain conditions — including extreme heat or cold, uneven pressure, warping, and cleaning with caustic agents — things generally well beyond the intended and supported use of your Mac.
However, owners of some Retina MacBook Pros sold since mid-2012 are reporting that the coatings on their displays are peeling progressively under normal use. When this occurs, the systems show what appears to be light-colored stains on the display. Since the coating is translucent, the separation can’t always be seen easily in dark conditions with the display on, but it’s more apparent when the display is turned off in a bright environment.
The true extent of this issue is unknown, but it’s sufficiently widespread for disgruntled users to have created a dedicated “Staingate” Web site. Plus, a thread on Apple Support Communities has over 500 posts and nearly 90,000 views, and there’s even a Facebook group with over 800 members.
Though this problem doesn’t necessarily hamper the overall functioning of the Mac, those affected would like their systems to be fixed. Unfortunately, Apple has not (yet) officially recognized the problem. In some cases, Apple has accepted and fixed affected machines, but at other times the company refuses to address the problem, claiming it is purely cosmetic.
Apple’s support has often been customer-friendly and responsive, and the company has a great reputation for being personable with customers. However, Apple’s reputation is often sullied by oddly inconsistent behavior like this. Most recently, before starting an official repair program, Apple was similarly random about fixing graphics issues in certain MacBook Pro models (see “Apple’s Baffling Response to 2011 MacBook Pro Graphics Issues,” 13 February 2015).
If your MacBook Pro’s screen is affected, your first approach is to play ball with Apple in hopes of finding a sympathetic support rep and registering another data point for Apple to track. But if that fails, it’s worth participating in the community that has formed around this issue. With the recent graphics errors in MacBook Pro systems, that community support led to a prominent law firm taking on the issue, which may have encouraged Apple to start a repair program.
I’m unaware of any such legal action currently underway against Apple over the anti-glare coating peeling and delaminating, but affected customers are signing petitions and sites such as Staingate are calling attention to the issue. If enough people report the problem to indicate a manufacturing fault, we may again see Apple forced to issue a repair program for affected Macs.
Even though Apple hasn’t provided consistent support regarding this problem, the company’s inconsistency may work in your favor. If you are affected by this problem and it’s worth it to you to have it fixed, spend a little time visiting nearby Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers, and contacting Apple’s other support lines. With luck, you might run into a sympathetic technician who will shepherd your MacBook Pro through the repair process.
Meanwhile, if you are concerned about your MacBook Pro’s screen, there are several steps you can take to help prevent damage. First, be sure to avoid using or storing your Mac in extreme conditions for extended periods of time — that includes direct sunlight and particularly hot or cold temperatures (recommended operating temperatures for the MacBook Pro are 50° to 95° F, or 10° to 35° C). Granted, the Mac ought to work fine if you’re only a bit outside these conditions, but if your display is already showing signs of peeling, these precautions may prevent further spread. Additionally, avoid pressing, poking, or scraping your display, and don’t pick up the MacBook Pro by the screen — the goal is to prevent any warping of its surface that could contribute to coating separation.
Finally, if you are willing to pay for a screen repair, or have already done so, be sure to keep receipts and other documentation related to the repair. Depending on how this situation pans out, such paperwork may be useful for claiming compensation from Apple over costs incurred to fix your system.
by Josh Centers
Twitter has unveiled its own entry in the online video broadcasting race, and it’s already taking the world by storm. Josh Centers explains what differentiates it from Meerkat.Show full article
Online video broadcasting is undergoing a renaissance. First there was Meerkat (see “Meerkat Broadcasts Your Video to Twitter,” 11 March 2015), which combined simple video streaming with the network effect of Twitter. Unfortunately for Meerkat’s developers, Twitter had purchased a similar app of its own, and Twitter quickly cut Meerkat off from its social graph.
Following Meerkat’s success, Twitter has released its own take on video streaming, the free Periscope for iPhone. How do the two compare?
Both apps do the same basic thing: stream live video over the Internet and post a link to the stream through your Twitter account (though with Periscope you must tap the Twitter icon before broadcasting). Both apps let you watch live streams as they happen.
The biggest difference between the two is video storage. Meerkat saves videos only to your device, not to the cloud, whereas Periscope can do both, offering an option to save locally and automatically saving to the cloud a replay of any video you broadcast for 24 hours. You can save your own broadcasts, but not the broadcasts of others. Happily, you can cancel replay uploads at the end of a stream, and you can delete replays at any time.
Thanks to replays, Periscope is never a barren wasteland when you open it. Often, when I open Meerkat, there is nothing to watch. In general, Periscope already seems much livelier than Meerkat, perhaps thanks to having full access to Twitter’s social graph. You can choose to follow those whom you also follow on Twitter, but even if you follow no one, Periscope always offers something to watch.
Even broadcasting over Periscope seems livelier. I started a stream, and within seconds I had over 30 viewers. On Meerkat, I was lucky to get a handful of viewers.
Unlike Meerkat, you have a chance to set up your broadcast before going live. Unfortunately, you can’t switch cameras until you’re actually broadcasting, which is incredibly frustrating. But you can decide beforehand whether you wish to share you location with viewers or post a tweet announcing the stream. Also, unlike Meerkat, you can choose to share your stream with only certain viewers by tapping the lock icon on the broadcast screen.
One big advantage Meerkat holds over Periscope is that it allows you to schedule a stream for later. With Periscope, it’s all about the here and now.
While watching a stream, you can post comments, but unlike Meerkat, which uses Twitter @replies for comments, Periscope’s comments stay confined within the app. You can also tap the screen to send “hearts.” You can see not only the hearts you send, but the hearts that all viewers are sending. It’s sort of disconcerting how many can appear at once, but if you’re broadcasting, it’s as if your audience is cheering you on. Also, the more hearts you receive, the higher you’ll get in the “Most Loved” list of recommended people to follow.
Periscope’s video quality, reliability, and smoothness is superior to Meerkat. Also, there’s less latency, so what you’re actually seeing is closer to live than Meerkat, which is helpful when you’re interacting with your viewers.
Periscope doesn’t let you search for videos, nor does it keep a list of recently viewed videos. So if you stop watching a video stream, you may never find it again. Even pulling up a user’s profile doesn’t show current streams or replays. This is the most frustrating thing about Periscope so far, and something I hope they fix soon.
Also, like Meerkat, Periscope offers a Web player if you click through from a link on Twitter, but its interface is rudimentary — you can watch video, but not interact with it. On the upside, tapping a Periscope link in iOS opens the video in that app, as opposed to Meerkat, which awkwardly tries to open the Web player.
There’s also another key difference between Meerkat and Periscope: adult content isn’t allowed on Periscope. Nudity is kosher, but not, um, activities. This may be moot; I have yet to see anything NC-17 rated on either service.
If anything, both Periscope and Meerkat suffer not from adult content, but boring content. Most streams I’ve seen are people sitting around, eating, ordering food, or driving down the road. Then again, this seems to be how all social networks start. Remember when Twitter and Instagram were all about what people were having for lunch? It takes users time to figure out good ways to use new services, and food is always a safe, yet attractive topic of conversation.
But Periscope had its defining moment on the day of its release. On 26 March 2015, a fire broke out in New York City. Well before news networks could pick up on it, it was already well covered on Periscope. Watching it all unfold was mind-blowing. I can’t remember any other service going from launch to social relevance so quickly. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even YouTube took years. Periscope did it inside a day.
Unfortunately for Meerkat, there’s no comparison when you use the two services side by side. Meerkat might have beaten Periscope to market, but Periscope is everything Meerkat wants to be. Periscope seems to be growing faster than Meerkat did, and there is no danger of Twitter cutting off its own social graph.
Which makes it even more infuriating that Twitter hobbled Meerkat. Twitter didn’t need to — Periscope is the superior product. Twitter’s heavy-handed behavior makes me want to root for Meerkat all the more. If Twitter had more confidence in its product, it could have achieved the same success without essentially telling developers, “If you build something cool with our platform, we will steal the idea and cripple your app.” That’s not quite what happened — Twitter bought Periscope before Meerkat was a thing — but it could certainly look that way.
Privacy is the other concern with Periscope. Twitter isn’t a tiny startup trying to be nice; the company has a known record of selling your tweets to data-mining firms. Twitter is also more than happy to comply with law enforcement requests. Just how temporary are the videos streamed over Periscope? Will they really go away in 24 hours?
There’s also the privacy concern of having your actions unknowingly broadcast to the Internet if you end up in someone else’s Periscope video. But this is nothing new — the era of ubiquitous video monitoring arguably began with the 1991 police beating of Rodney King. And America’s Funniest Home Videos debuted roughly two years before that in 1989. Not to mention all the security and traffic-light cameras that have sprung up since.
Like it or not, Periscope, or something similar, is probably here to stay. With that will come challenges, but also opportunity. Consider what Twitter has done for print news gathering, particularly in places that are dangerous for traditional journalists, and apply that to broadcast TV. We’re facing a whole new era of journalism. The technology may not be new, but the social component is. And ultimately, power comes from the people.
by Josh Centers
After months in App Store purgatory, Launcher by Cromulent Labs returns to the App Store, letting you invoke apps and actions from iOS 8’s Notification Center.Show full article
Late last year, we reported on Apple’s poor handling of developers trying to take advantage of new features in iOS 8. In what publisher Adam Engst described as a “bring me a rock game,” Apple would allow an innovative app into the App Store, only to kick it back out again weeks later (see “iOS 8 App Development Becomes a “Bring Me a Rock” Game,” 15 December 2014).
Thanks to public pressure, Apple has slowly changed its tune, reinstating most of the banned apps. With the return of the free Launcher to the App Store, we can hope that Apple’s frustrating game is finally over.
First, I’d like to commend Cromulent Labs developer Greg Gardner on his patience and persistence. For those who don’t remember, this is what he said about his conversations with Apple:
They basically said that Launcher was a trailblazer in uncharted territories and that they felt that they needed to make an example of it in order to get the word out to developers that its functionality is not acceptable without them having to publish new specific guidelines. And they said that the fact that they aren’t seeing hundreds of similar apps submitted every day is proof to them that taking down Launcher was successful in this regard.
So what does Launcher do that’s so egregious? It installs a widget in your Notification Center that lets you launch apps and perform specific actions. Scary, no? Apart from the widget interface, Launcher is much like power-user favorite Launch Center Pro.
When you first open Launcher, it walks you through a wizard that sets up a few example actions. I gave it access to my contacts, and in return it created launchers to call my wife, FaceTime my mother, message my brother, and email my boss. Assuming that you have these relationships set up in Contacts, Launcher should do something similar for you (to learn how to set up those relationships, see “Making the Most of Contacts in Mavericks,” 15 November 2013). It also created a launcher to open the Music app and another to open its own app. Plus, Launcher tried to make a launcher to have Apple Maps guide me home, but for some reason, it thought my house is somewhere in Nashville.
If the example launchers aren’t to your liking, you can edit or delete them by tapping the pencil button in the upper right, and then either tapping the launcher to edit it or tapping the “x” to delete it. While editing, you can also add new launchers and rearrange existing launchers.
In its free mode, Launcher allows only 8 launchers on the iPhone or 12 on the iPad, but a $3.99 in-app purchase unlocks the pro version, which increases those numbers to 20 on the iPhone and 30 on the iPad. The pro version also lets you customize icon sizes, hide labels, and remove sponsored launchers, which I’ll explain momentarily.
After tapping Add New to add a new launcher, you’re given four choices:
Contact Launcher: These are launchers related to your contacts. You can get in touch with a friend via phone, email, Messages, and FaceTime, or get directions to his or her address. You can even use some third party apps to perform these actions, such as WhatsApp Messenger or Google Maps.
Web Launcher: Here you can enter a URL that will be opened in Safari.
App Launcher: This is where things get interesting. You can simply launch a supported app (of which there are many), or if an app shows an arrow, you can have that app perform supported actions automatically. For instance, Twitter and Facebook can be configured so you can send status updates directly from Launcher. If you use the free version of Launcher, a list of sponsored apps appears at the top of the app list. These are apps whose owners have paid to be featured. As advertising goes, it’s not bothersome.
Custom Launcher: The last option is for power users. If you have a specific x-callback-url you wish to launch, you can do that here. If you don’t know what an x-callback-url is, stick with the other three options for now.
If you’re used to the power and flexibility of Launch Center Pro, you’re bound to be disappointed here, as Launcher is much simpler. Launch Center Pro can also create actions that Launcher can’t. For example, if I want to build a Launch Center Pro action to open OmniFocus and create a new OmniFocus item, that’s easy, but Launcher can only launch OmniFocus. As a workaround, you can create the action in Launch Center Pro, copy the resulting x-callback-url, and use that to create a Custom Launcher in Launcher. But jumping through such hoops shouldn’t be necessary.
Launcher needs a bit more work, but I’m overlooking its rough edges for a good reason: unlike Launch Center Pro, Launcher lets me launch actions from a Today View widget in Notification Center as well as from within the Launcher app. I’ve always found Launch Center Pro fascinating, but not enough of a productivity win. Why use one app to open another, when opening the second app directly would often be faster?
Because of Launcher’s spot in Notification Center, I can activate my launchers from inside any app, or even from the lock screen (though Touch ID or the passcode is still required). The Notification Center widget removes much of the friction associated with other automation apps.
Also interesting is that Launcher can launch workflows from the Workflow automation app, which I wrote about in “Workflow Is the Next Step for iOS Automation,” (21 December 2014). So, in theory, you could have launchers to call you a car via Uber, order a pizza, tweet the currently playing song, or any of the myriad things Workflow can do.
But again, Workflow integration has some issues. When you create a Workflow launcher, you must type in the workflow’s name, with precise spelling and capitalization. Also, some workflows, when opened from Launcher, cause Workflow to crash. I created a workflow to play a certain genre of music from my library that works fine in the Workflow app, but crashes when activated in Launcher.
Despite its limitations and early quirks, it’s exciting to see Launcher in the App Store, because it means that Apple may finally be ready to open up iOS 8’s full potential to developers. And because Launcher is free, it’s easy to see if it will speed up your iOS usage in a real way.
If you’re dissatisfied with Apple’s Calendar app, the new Fantastical 2 from Flexibits is worth a look to see if it’s more to your liking. And even if you’re not considering replacing Calendar, read on, because some of Fantastical’s features might change your mind.Show full article
Bundled apps — such as Apple’s OS X Calendar — tread an uneasy path. It is of course a good thing that every Mac user has access to a generally capable calendaring app for free — that’s necessary to ensure that OS X remains competitive with other operating systems. However, bundled software has a chilling effect on competition, and thus on innovation. It’s hard to make a business case for the time and effort necessary to create a new app when you have to convince every customer to switch from a free alternative that’s already installed.
It’s always refreshing to see a Mac developer step up to take a swing at the incumbent, and that’s just what Flexibits is doing with Fantastical 2. The initial version of Fantastical was a focused menu bar utility that extended Calendar by showing your schedule with a click and making it easy to enter new events with natural language processing. Flexibits has now expanded Fantastical beyond the menu bar, making it into a standalone app with a full calendar window with standard day, week, month, and year views.
Notably, Fantastical boasts a left-hand sidebar that shows a mini month view and a highly useful list of both upcoming events and dated reminders (a quick click on a checkmark button switches the list to show only reminders). In this respect, it’s extremely similar to the company’s well-regarded versions of Fantastical for the iPhone and iPad, and if you already like one or both of them more than iOS 8’s Calendar app (as I do), you’ll be at home in the Mac version.
Rather than just tie into Calendar’s data, Flexibits wrote their own native CalDAV engine for Fantastical, which gives it direct access to iCloud, Google Calendar, and Yahoo Calendar. It also brings in and displays to-do items from iCloud (the things you’d usually access in Apple’s Reminders app), and can show birthdays and anniversaries based on date information stored in Apple’s Contacts app.
That can add up to a lot of calendars, and perhaps the most welcome innovation in Fantastical is its concept of calendar sets. It’s not hard to turn individual calendars on and off in Apple’s Calendar, but it gets tedious fast, so most people don’t bother. With Fantastical, you can easily separate sets of calendars, so, for instance, I can hide personal calendars for the school district and various clubs I’m in while pondering Take Control release schedule weeks. You switch between calendar sets using a pop-up menu at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar, but Fantastical can even change them automatically based on your Mac’s location. This is welcome — there’s far too little locational awareness among Mac and iOS apps.
When you want a new event, just double-click the appropriate day or click the plus button at the top of the sidebar. Either opens a new event popover into which you can type event details like “Snowshoeing at Hammond Hill at 6:30.” Fantastical turns such text into an event titled “Snowshoeing” with a location of “Hammond Hill” and a start time of 6:30 PM. You can define alerts to be applied automatically. My only minor annoyance with the natural language processing is that I sometimes want the location to be in the title of the event so I don’t have to double-click the event to see the location in a popover. The workaround for this turns out to be to enclose your desired title in quotes; Fantastical doesn’t try to parse quoted text.
With reminders, you can even add a geofence that transfers properly to Reminders or the iPhone version of Fantastical so you’ll be alerted when you leave or arrive at the specified location.
The left-hand sidebar is a key aspect of Fantastical usage, and that’s another small problem I have at the moment, since I like to put my calendar full-screen on my left-hand monitor (a 27-inch Thunderbolt Display, paired with a 27-inch iMac with Retina display), meaning that sidebar is so far away that I can barely read it. Flexibits tells me an update will let you swap the sidebar to the right side, where search results show up now.
Another slight confusion comes when you click a day in month view; the sidebar list scrolls to show that day’s events and events on subsequent days. That’s sensible, but since Fantastical doesn’t indicate in month view what day you’ve clicked, it can be hard to orient yourself in the list (the mini month view calendar at the top of the sidebar does always indicate the selected day). Since scrolling in the sidebar list also changes the selected day quickly, it’s easy to end up at an unexpected date. Plus, month view shows six weeks, which continually throws me, since most calendars show only five weeks, and that makes it harder to orient myself relative to the end of the month.
I’m also not enamored of the position of the arrows to navigate through days/weeks/months/years (in the sidebar, and at the top left of the main window, rather than in some way connected to the center-mounted Day, Week, Month, and Year buttons). That’s personal preference and likely wouldn’t be an issue on a single-monitor system, but I find myself instead relying entirely on Fantastical’s left and right arrow shortcuts.
Speaking of year view, it’s something Fantastical does so much better than other calendars that I might begin using that view more frequently. To start, Fantastical colorizes each day in year view as a heat map, so different colors tell you at a glance how busy each day will be. Also, if you hover the pointer over a day, Fantastical displays a pop-up showing the events for that day. Clicking a day scrolls the sidebar list to that day too. I’ve never had much use for day or week views either, since my days aren’t that scheduled apart from Macworld Expo weeks in past years, but it looks as though Fantastical does a fine job with those views as well.
If you’ve been using Fantastical 1 and like its menu bar approach, Fantastical 2 retains those capabilities. (Happily, it even has an option to colorize the menu bar icon so you stand a chance of finding it among the multitude of dreary icons in 50 shades of Yosemite grey.) You can now even detach the mini window from the menu bar; since it essentially replicates the contents of the full window’s sidebar, it’s a small but fully functional calendar in its own right. It even shows the little pop-ups from year view when you hover over a date.
Fantastical requires OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and supports Handoff from the iOS versions of Fantastical, if you’re somehow incapable of finishing creating an event on your iPhone or iPad. It also features a Notification Center Today widget, plus Share and Action extensions that let you add events to Fantastical from other Yosemite-savvy apps.
At this point, it’s impossible not to acknowledge that Fantastical 2 competes not just with Apple’s Calendar, but also with BusyMac’s $49.99 BusyCal, previously the main alternative to Calendar. Both outstrip Fantastical in calendar sharing — Fantastical can subscribe to shared calendars, but not share them. You can add an attendee to an event in its popover or share an event with a contextual menu that attaches a
.ics file to a new message in Apple Mail (but not other email clients) or by dragging the event to the Desktop to create a shareable
.ics file. (Full disclosure: Take Control published Joe Kissell’s
free “Take Control of Calendar Syncing and Sharing with BusyCal” in 2013.) BusyCal also does a better job showing the selected day and marks today more obviously; and it shows weather forecasts for the upcoming 10 days in month view, which makes it even easier to identify the current day and the near future at a glance. But it lacks Fantastical’s excellent list of events and reminders.
As compelling as Fantastical’s sidebar, calendar sets, year view, and natural language processing are, I suspect few BusyCal users will switch. But that’s not the goal — Flexibits is instead targeting those who find themselves dissatisfied with Apple’s Calendar, and if you fall into that group, you should give Fantastical 2 a serious look — or at least watch its video.
Notable software releases this week include BusyContacts 1.0.2, Napkin 1.5, Backblaze 4.0, and PDFpen and PDFpenPro 7.1.Show full article
BusyContacts 1.0.2 -- BusyMac has issued BusyContacts 1.0.2, a maintenance release for the company’s new contact manager app (see “BusyContacts Turbo Charges Mac Contact Management,” 17 March 2015). The update adds support for opening contacts in BusyContacts from third-party launchers (such as Alfred and LaunchBar), displays a contextual menu after Control-clicking a field value, adds support for custom date formats, improves change notifications for social networks, fixes a bug with Exchange Birthdays that caused some birthdays to be off by a day, and adds support for
importing vCards with the
.vcard extension. ($49.99 new, free update, 5.4 MB, release notes, 10.9+)
Read/post comments about BusyContacts 1.0.2.
Napkin 1.5 -- Aged and Distilled has issued Napkin 1.5, a significant release that updates the user interface to be more aligned with OS X 10.10 Yosemite and adds a number of user-requested features (for our review, see “Napkin Offers a Fresh Take on Visual Communication,” 16 February 2013). The image annotation and diagramming app adds the capability to switch a shape between a flat and gradient fill as well as make a shape hollow with a filled border, enables you to adjust the thickness of an arrow via the format bar, adds image cropping, speeds up scrolling, adds Pixelate and Blur redaction styles, and enables you to export in JPEG format as well as PNG. Napkin also now expands text downward instead of horizontally, properly aligns the bounding box drawn around shapes, and ensures that Undo and Redo work as they should for many format bar actions. Napkin 1.5 also introduces a new document file format, which is not fully backward compatible with previous versions of Napkin. Aged and Distilled suggests making duplicates of any documents you may need to use with previous versions of the app. Napkin 1.5 now requires 10.9 Mavericks and later. ($39.99 new from the Mac App Store, free update, 5.4 MB, release notes], 10.9+)
Read/post comments about Napkin 1.5.
Backblaze 4.0 -- Backblaze has updated its eponymous backup software to version 4.0 with significant improvements in upload and download speeds. Backblaze 4.0 (which is tied to the subscription-based Backblaze online data backup service) introduces a new threading approach that optimizes bandwidth utilization when network latency is present. Differing from the more typical use of the term threading (where multiple threads of data are contained within a single process), Backblaze uses multiple processes to independently send encrypted blocks of data to the Backblaze data center. (Backblaze admits that they’re “actually creating and using multiple processes” as opposed to true threading; see this blog post for more background on Backblaze threading and how to implement it.)
In addition to improving upload speeds, the Backblaze Downloader app has been given threading capabilities to quicken the pace of downloading recovered files. Backblaze also now allows very large files to be backed up over the course of several months (should you have a slow upload Internet connection); previously, backing up a very large file would have been abandoned after a few days. Alas, the new version still can’t put restored files in their original locations automatically.
The auto-update process for current Backblaze subscribers will begin in the next couple of weeks, but you can get the update now by downloading directly from the Backblaze Web site or performing a Check for Update within the Backblaze software. Version 4.0 of Backblaze now requires Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or later, though previous versions of Backblaze will continue to run on 10.5 Leopard and will be supported for the foreseeable future. (Free with Backblaze subscription, 9.8 MB, 10.6+)
Read/post comments about Backblaze 4.0.
PDFpen and PDFpenPro 7.1 -- Smile has released version 7.1 of PDFpen and PDFpenPro with advanced page numbering options and improvements to the custom stamps. The PDF editing apps add capabilities for specifying a custom range for page numbering, as well as options for color, font family, size, and formatting. The update also enables you to create custom stamps — including dynamic stamps with name and date — and adds new stamps such as Paid, Faxed, Copied, and more. Both editions of PDFpen allow form field detection for US Legal sized documents, avoid file size increases after image manipulation on Macs with Retina displays, fix a rotation issue with some documents, restore VoiceOver access to buttons, and improve the German localization. Note that as of this writing, the Mac App Store editions of PDFpen and PDFpenPro were still stuck at version 7.0.2. ($74.95/$124.95 new with a 20 percent discount for TidBITS members, free updates from version 7.0, 52.4/53 MB, release notes, 10.7+)
Read/post comments about PDFpen and PDFpenPro 7.1.
In our latest ExtraBITS roundup, Apple CEO Tim Cook makes a political statement in the Washington Post, Pixar releases RenderMan for free, Apple Store employees prepare to offer fashion advice, a Mac Plus gets on the Web, and Amazon reveals future updates for the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.Show full article
In our latest ExtraBITS roundup, Apple CEO Tim Cook makes a political statement in the Washington Post, Pixar releases RenderMan for free, Apple Store employees prepare to offer fashion advice, a Mac Plus gets on the Web, and Amazon reveals future updates for the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.
Tim Cook Speaks Out Against “Religious Freedom” Laws -- Apple has come a long way from Steve Jobs’s open letters about DRM, Flash, and the firm’s environmental efforts. In a Washington Post op-ed, Apple CEO Tim Cook criticizes state laws that he says “would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors,” such as Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which some say opens the door to discrimination against LGBT individuals. Invoking his childhood in the South during the civil rights movement, Cook moves from noting that “America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” to the more humanistic “This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings.”
Pixar Releases RenderMan Free for Non-Commercial Use -- Pixar has released its RenderMan 3D-rendering tool for free, as long as you use it for non-commercial purposes. It’s not a standalone solution, since it requires something like Autodesk’s Maya or The Foundry’s Katana to create the actual 3D models. But this move should excite any student of the 3D arts, given that RenderMan was used to create visual effects for The Lord of the Rings series, the Star Wars prequels, Titanic, and of course, Pixar’s own animated films.
Apple Store Sales Line: “The white strap looks great on you!” -- Over at 9to5Mac, Mark Gurman has a fascinating article about how Apple is training Apple Store employees to provide personal fashion and styling advice to customers in conjunction with the upcoming launch of the Apple Watch. It’s worth a read for insight into the psychology of fashion sales, and to compare to how you’re treated if you go to check out Apple’s new wearable. The real question is if Apple will require that employees’ monochromatic t-shirts color-coordinate with their Apple Watch bands.
Connecting a 1986 Mac Plus to the Modern Web -- The Mac Plus debuted years before the World Wide Web, but that didn’t stop developer Jeff Keacher from figuring out how to get his 1986-era Mac online. Using MacTCP, MacWeb, a Raspberry Pi single-board computer, and a custom proxy server, Keacher was able to connect his Mac Plus to the modern Web. It works about as well as you might expect — Web pages can take minutes to load — but it was clearly a lovely puzzle to solve.
New Features Coming for Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick -- In the wake of new Apple TV rumors, Amazon has announced upcoming feature changes for its Fire TV lineup. In coming weeks, the Fire TV will be updated to support USB storage devices and Bluetooth headphones. Both the original Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick will soon be able to connect to hotel Wi-Fi hotspots, and browse and search Prime Music Playlists. They’ll also offer new shortcuts for sleep and for display mirroring, plus a new PIN entry screen that hides the selected numbers.