Archive for January 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Our Engineers Are Aware of the Issue

Andy Finnell:

Word on the street (by which I mean Twitter, since we engineers certainly don’t go outside, much less into the street), is that it’s supposed to be a “polite” way of saying “we’re not going to fix it.” But I’m not sure why they wouldn’t just say “it works as intended”, which is what they used to say, or simply “it will not be fixed.”

Hibari Design Philosophy

Victoria Wang:

Because Hibari is a secondary app, I want it to fit in with the feel of the operating system as much as possible. I call Hibari “minimalist,” but it’s certainly not an instance of bare, angular, monochromatic minimalism. I’m aiming instead for a quiet, soothing, Japanese-style minimalism; one that feels natural.

I’ve been using Hibari for almost a week now, and it’s great.

Apple Post-Quartum Thoughts

Jean-Louis Gassée:

Although it now plays third fiddle to its iPhone and iPad siblings, the “historic” Macintosh looks hale: +26% in units, +22% in revenue. That’s $6.6B with an operating margin in the 25% range. Compare this to HP, the world’s largest PC maker. In its last reported quarter, HP booked about $10B of PC revenue, with a 6% margin.

Subtle UI Texture in Photoshop

Matt Gemmell:

Texture is an inherent part of any surface in the real world, and provides a cue to our brains that we’ll be able to grip or otherwise interact with that surface. Delicate use of noise can add a welcome note of reality to your interfaces, and make people want to use them.

Update (2012-02-04): Gus Mueller has posted an Acorn template.

A Tour of Amazon’s DynamoDB

Mathias Meyer:

My goal is not to outline the entire API and its full set of options, but to dig into the bits most interesting to me and to show some examples. A lot of the focus in other posts is on performance, scalability and operational ease. I think that’s a great feature of DynamoDB, but it’s pretty much the same with all of their Web services. So instead I’m focusing on the effects DynamoDB has on you, the user. We’ll look at API, general usage, data model and what DynamoDB’s feature generally entails.

The /bin/true Command and Copyright

John Chambers (via Uli Kusterer):

This is a “dummy” library program whose main function is to make it easy to write infinite loops (while true do …) in shells scripts. The “true” program does nothing; it merely exits with a zero exit status. This can be done with an empty file that’s marked executable, and that’s what it was in the earliest unix system libraries. Such an empty file will be interpreted as a shell script that does nothing, and since it does this successfully, the shell exits with a zero exit status.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Understanding the bin, sbin, usr/bin, usr/sbin Split

Rob Landley (via Jonathan Rentzsch):

Ken and Dennis leaked their OS into the equivalent of home because an RK05 disk pack on the PDP-11 was too small…

Friday, January 27, 2012

Xcode Snapshots

Steven Fisher:

I’m thrilled this feature exists, and I’ll be using it from now on. I think you should give it a try, too. Even if you commit to your source control system constantly, this will make commits you won’t think to, and without any action on your part.

Interesting. I’ve never really figured out what Xcode snapshots are for, when I already have version control.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PDFpen and iCloud

PDFpen 5.7 now supports iCloud and has a companion iPad app. Since Apple doesn’t allow non–Mac App Store apps to access iCloud, people who bought PDFpen direct from Smile need to purchase the 99-cent PDFpen Cloud Access app. It looks like they’ve made the best of a bad situation.

Last March, I wrote “Would anyone be surprised if future versions of Mac OS X made additional features and APIs available only to App Store apps?” and was immediately called out for “blatant FUD.” Less than a year later, not only has this has come to pass, but people seem to be treating it as expected.

It’s no longer possible to write a single app that takes advantage of the full range of Mac OS X features. Some APIs only work inside the Mac App Store. Others only work outside it. Presumably, this gap will widen as more new features are App Store–exclusive, while sandboxing places greater restrictions on what App Store apps are allowed to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hibari 1.5

Hibari 1.5 adds support for multiple accounts and more. I’ve been using Echofon recently, which I like, but I’ll probably switch. Hibari’s interface is so wonderfully clean. It feels like a Mac app, not iOS one, and has the keyboard shortcuts I’d expect.

7 Facets of a Good Mac Backup Strategy

Stefan Reitshamer:

I’ve been studying the computer backup industry for 3 years now and I’ve been selling my own online backup product, Arq, since February 2010. I’ve seen and heard lots of different approaches to backing up one’s computer. Here are some backup lessons I’ve learned.

Over the last year, I encountered lots of problems with both CrashPlan and Time Machine. (They continue to work well for my parents, however.) I’m now using Arq to make my automatic, versioned backups—stored on Amazon S3. Arq is great. It’s easy to use, reliable, and efficient with memory and CPU. I like that I can see which files it’s detected as changed and that I can easily pause it when I’m using a slow connection. I still use SuperDuper for clones, of course.

The three facets that I would add are:

  1. When getting started, it’s important to verify that your backups work as intended. Can you boot from your clones? Can you in fact restore last Thursday’s copy of a particular file?
  2. Having two recent clones on hand is helpful if you want to use your Mac while restoring. Otherwise you’ll spend lots of time waiting for data to copy.
  3. It does no good to have backups if you’re copying files that have already been damaged. I’ve had lots of bitrot over the years, not finding out until later that files had been corrupted. To prevent this, I checksum my important files using Git (for source code and Web sites), IntegrityChecker (for Aperture masters and iTunes music and video files), and EagleFiler (for everything else). Periodic verification of these checksums lets me nip any problems in the bud. There’s also the added benefit that after I restore from a backup I can tell whether the file in the backup was still good, even if the backup itself wasn’t checksummed.

Trying Bing

If I search Google for “NSManagedObjectContext”, the first result is the NSManagedObjectContext Class Reference (Mac) on Good. With Bing, in the first ten pages of results, there are only two from, and they are Core Data Utility Tutorial: Creating the Core Data Stack and iOS Developer Library. Not what I was looking for. Even when I search for “ NSManagedObjectContext” it doesn’t find the desired page at all, although it does find the reference pages for NSIncrementalStore and NSManagedObjectID (for iOS). I sympathize with the Bing engineers, since the Apple site uses horrid hash URLs. DuckDuckGo seems to have the same problem.

Examining iBooks Author From the Publisher Perspective

Adam C. Engst:

Realizing this immediately raised my publisher hackles. “But, but, but,” I spluttered, “there’s no way in hell I’m going publish something that I can sell only in the iBookstore, and even then only if Apple approves it. There aren’t even any guidelines outlining what Apple will and will not approve!”

I think part of the complaining is about unrealized potential. Geeks don’t like to see what could be a general purpose tool limited for business or political reasons.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sandboxing and Symlinks

Craig Hockenberry:

Speaking of Radar, we encountered a fairly nasty problem after launching xScope. Many of our customers are designers and developers who love SSDs. It’s common to use a symlink in your Home folder to put big datasets like Pictures, Music and Movies on a separate hard drive. When you do this, folder access in the application sandbox container breaks. A small number of users who use symlinks are also getting crashes after launching the app that was downloaded from the Mac App Store…

Saturday, January 21, 2012


FreeCoder at Slashdot:

…there’s big difference between RapidShare and the likes of Dropbox. MegaUpload, RapidShare etc is clearly profiting from copyrighted content. They pay users to upload popular files, and in 99% of cases it is pirated content. In turn they profit when users want to access those files. It’s a huge “industry,” and there will most likely be many more arrests when the list of affiliates that directly made money by uploading copyrighted content without permission goes public.

Dr. Hellno:

I won’t consider the legal matters here, but the emails cited in the indictment paint a pretty clear picture of intent. They show that:

A) In many cases, Megaupload employees knew that *specific* files on the site were in violation of copyright, but they took no action to remove the content

B) Knowing specific files were copyrighted, megaupload still paid out rewards to those files’ uploaders

C) In a few instances, staff members shared links to copyrighted content with eachother and with the internet at large.

Those are just the most egregious points, which basically demolish their claim of safe-harbor. But there’s more: The claim of conspiracy at first sounds ridiculous and overblown, but it begins to make sense when the indictment describes all the ways Megaupload is alleged to have actively worked to conceal piracy. Claims of DCMA compliance are shot to pieces by an allegation that certain links were the subject of takedown notices, but remained active for over a year.

I had been wondering how MegaUpload was different from, say, YouTube. These seem like important details that I did not see in the general media accounts of the takedown. It looks like the indictment will be interesting reading for those of us who don’t know much about this corner of the Internet.

Update (2012-04-09): Interesting update from ArsTechnica:

The government has copied “selected” data from the Megaupload servers, but it has not even revealed to the defendants which evidence has been preserved. Megaupload argues that the government may have “cherry picked” the data that will cast Megaupload in the most negative possible light. The company argues that allowing the rest of the data to be destroyed will make it impossible for Megaupload to unearth evidence that could cast the company in a more favorable light.

Update (2012-04-21): TorrentFreak:

If Judge O’Grady is to be believed all this damage could very well have been for nothing because the authorities simply can’t serve foreign companies. This could lead one to wonder whether the whole setup was to simply destroy Mega’s businesses.

Update (2012-05-30): TorrentFreak (via Hacker News):

A New Zealand court has ruled that the U.S. Government must hand over the evidence they have against Megaupload so Kim Dotcom and other employees can properly defend themselves against the pending extradition request. The U.S. refused to comply but Judge Harvey concluded that this would be unfair. He further noted that the entire U.S. case stands or falls on the strength of the alleged copyright infringement charges.

iOS Lacks a Document Filing System

Pierre Lebeaupin:

The worst thing is, with the exception of file transfer in iTunes (which pretty much only shifts the issue to the computer, with some more overhead), the situation is the exact same as it was in iPhone OS 2.0 when third-party apps first became possible. iCloud solves exactly none of these problems: it is great to simplify working between your different devices, but it brings nothing to the single-device case. This has nothing to do with the hardware limitations of any iOS device, this is entirely the doing of the iOS software; in fact, while this is acceptable for the iPhone, I feel this gap already limits the potential of the iPad unnecessarily; and regardless of how you think it will happen (my take, which I will elaborate in a later post: Mac OS X is the new Classic), it is clear Apple has Big Plans for iOS, but it is hard to take iOS seriously for any device used for work if Apple hasn’t even shipped a first version of a document filing system, which is quite a design task and will require multiple iterations to get right for most people.

This goes back to what I was saying when the iPad was first released. It’s simpler because there’s no filesystem, but they didn’t find a better way of solving the problems that a filesystem solves. They mostly just punted. iCloud seems to be evidence that Apple is not interested in this area, or perhaps really does think that flat, app-specific silos are enough.

Update (2012-01-21): Jesper:

The current system of having everyone implement the fundamentals isn’t holding up very well. Everyone has to solve the same set of problems and not everyone are equipped to do that or will make odd workarounds. Even the good workarounds will need to be learned on an app-by-app basis and the assumed inherited complexity of file systems has been replaced by other complexity, both for the developers and the users of the app.

Apple can’t wish this away. If it doesn’t provide leadership, the community will evolve ways to let people do what they need to do, and they’ll be less elegant and standardized than if they were supported at the OS level.

Update (2012-02-02): Lukas Mathis:

Organizing documents based on their app is akin to organizing notes based on the pencil you used to write them.

iBooks Author File Format

John Gruber:

iBooks still offers full support for the open standard ePub format. So as a loose analogy, I see ePub being as to the new iBooks format as mobile web apps are to native iOS App Store apps — one is an open industry standard fully supported by Apple, the other a closed proprietary platform with superior creation tools and end-user experience, which if you want to use, you must use on Apple’s terms.

Holding Out for an ePub Hero

Serenity Caldwell:

Between the Kindle Store, iBookstore, and Google Bookstore, the ebooks market has exploded.

And yet, our tools to build these books are as primitive as those for early 1990s HTML. There is exactly one program that can edit ePub files directly—Sigil—and while I applaud what the app strives to do, it’s being worked on by just one developer and ported to multiple operating systems. As a result, it’s unpolished, unoptimized for the Mac, slow, and bug-ridden.

Apple’s Textbook Plan Feels Like a Blast From the Past

Glenn Fleishman:

Kids are bored. The iPad is fun and engaging, Schiller explained. This is the same contention made for decades, and I challenge readers to find any longitudinal studies tracking students who have used or are using packaged multimedia-enhanced instruction showed measured and consistent improvement over control groups.

This immediately made me think of a quote from Steve Jobs:

I used to think that technology could help education. I’ve probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I’ve had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What’s wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent.

Based on my experience with iBooks 2 on an iPad 1, I much prefer paper textbooks. This is not to say that electronic textbooks are a bad idea. The speed and resolution will improve. In the last year, I came to prefer reading non-textbooks on a Kindle. In time, I presume that tablets will catch up to paper textbooks.

But, like Fleishman, I do not see this as a revolution in education. Will this ultimately save money for students and schools? Will it improve educational outcomes? I’m skeptical. A lighter backpack is no small thing, however.

Update: (2012-01-24): Steve McCabe:

As it stands, iBooks textbooks offers very little that hasn’t been on offer for nearly twenty years. Far from reinventing the textbook, Apple have simply taken an existing concept and applied it to a new medium, with, it appears, relatively little in the way of points of difference due to the particular nature of the iPad platform. And so, instead of static text and static images on a page, we are now presented with static text and some moving images on a page. This is a small step forward in terms of paper textbooks, but, in terms of the state of the art with regard to multimedia presentation, it is, absent scripting, possibly even a retrograde step.

It’s not that there’s something wrong with the iBooks textbooks, but rather that Apple’s presentation really oversold them. As John Siracusa says, Apple trotted out the same 20-year-old arguments that we’ve all heard before as if they were new. This gives the impression that Apple is ignorant of history, or thinks this time will magically be different, or perhaps is more focused on selling devices than on the educational results.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Push Pop Press

Daniel Eran Dilger:

Jobs reportedly delivered an ultimatum to Matas that resulted in the company selling itself to Facebook as a talent-based acquisition that abandoned its allegedly tainted ebook apps business model.

Because Push Pop Press planned to deliver its version of ebooks as native iOS apps, Apple’s iOS App Store was ultimately the sole potential distributor the finished work Push Pop Press would have created, giving the company little leverage in arguing around any IP claims by Apple.

In other words, they would be tried by the App Review Board rather than a court of law.

Update (2012-01-21): John Gruber:

Jobs more or less warned Push Pop Press that Apple was going in the same direction, in a big way. A competitive warning, not a legal threat.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Audacious iBooks Author EULA

Dan Wineman (via John Gruber):

In other words: Apple is trying to establish a rule that whatever I create with this application, if I sell it, I have to give them a cut.

Gus Mueller:

I really hope Xcode doesn’t ship with the same restrictions some day. “Binaries created through Xcode can only be sold through the App Store, and you can’t charge more than $15.99”.

Update (2012-01-24): Dan Wineman:

The issue is that this is a software EULA which for the first time attempts to restrict what I can do with the output of the app, rather than with the app itself. No consumer EULA I’ve ever seen goes this far. Would you be happy if Garage Band required you to sell your music through the iTunes Store, or if iPhoto had license terms that kept you from posting your own photos online? It’s a step backward for computing freedom and we should resist it.

It’s a terrible precedent to set. And it’s interesting what it says about Apple itself. It’s understandable that iBooks Author doesn’t use ePub; Apple made the app to solve its problem, not yours. But preventing you, by license, from using the app for your own purposes is overly controlling and yet oddly defensive. If iBooks were so great, wouldn’t it win on its own merits?

The license defines “Work” as “any book or other work you generate using this software.” That definitely includes PDF and plain text, and it could be construed to include the very words you type in. So if you use iBooks Author to write your novel, you might be legally barred from ever selling that novel in any format, not just as an iBook.

I don’t think this is what Apple meant, but the vagueness of the license is not comforting.

Dan Wineman again:

I don’t think Apple plans to restrict anything but its own .ibooks format. But that doesn’t matter because, as Mike Ash puts it, “Unless we’re friends, your intentions don’t matter to me at all, only your actions.” Apple isn’t anyone’s friend but Apple’s, and its actions so far are to reserve a broad swath of rights pertaining to everything iBooks Author is capable of “generating” (whatever that means).

Mike Ash also has a full post on this:

At worst, Apple is trying to make a subtle land grab here, either by seeing just how far the courts will let them enforce this term, or with simple FUD to create a chilling effect on authors who wouldn’t risk a lawsuit. At best, Apple meant well and screwed up the wording. Not really excusable for a gigantic company with hordes of lawyers on staff. If that is the case, then no doubt they will clarify it at some point. But until then, we must deal with what they say, not with what we imagine they intended.

Guy English:

My question then is, why does it have to be free? What’s wrong with the old-fashioned model of asking for money for something of value? If Final Cut Pro XII came out for free but required distribution via iCloudVideo would that be acceptable? It strikes me that the good old-fashioned buy-your-tools-and-your-work-is-your-own model works quite well. This change to giving away free tools but locking down (legally) what you can do with them doesn’t sit right with me.

Update (2012-02-03): The Mac Observer and others report that Apple has added this sentence to the EULA:

This restriction does not apply to the content of such works when distributed in a form that does not include files in the .ibooks format.

This is a welcome change, although it makes the restriction itself seem even more unnecessary. Apple is apparently OK with you using iBooks Author to create e-books and then convert the .ibooks files to .epub and sell them. You can also use (hypothetical) third-party software to create .ibooks files and sell them. But you’re not allowed to create and sell .ibooks files with iBooks Author—although it’s not clear how Apple would be able to determine which app created the file.

iBooks Author

Matt Gemmell:

Naturally, once your text is in iBooks Author, you’re essentially writing and editing within a page-layout application, rather than a word processor or text editor. As with any publishing workflow, you will want to do the writing and editing first, and then put the book together (as much as possible). iBooks Author is resolutely not a writing environment.

Serenity Caldwell:

iPad-exclusivity aside, those willing to work in iBooks Author should be quite pleased. It’s the best WYSIWYG ebook designer I’ve seen on the market so far, and—formatting problems excluded—incredibly easy to work with.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Andy Baio:

Every cease-and-desist and DMCA request I’ve received wasn’t fun to get in my inbox, but it allowed me to deal with the issues directly with the copyright holder or using the due process of the court system.

Imagine, instead, a world where a bill like SOPA or PIPA passes. A copyright holder could bypass due process entirely, demanding that search engines stop linking to my sites, ad providers drop me, and force DNS providers not to resolve my domain name. All in the name of stopping piracy.

Michel Fortin:

When drafting a law, just like when writing a computer program, we should always keep in mind how it can be abused and what are the consequences of those abuses. Because sooner or later, it will. Usually sooner than later.

Update (2012-01-21): Joel Spolsky (via John Siracusa):

The Internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us… then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, “OK, compromise,” and gets half of what they want. That’s not the way to win…that’s the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.

Advanced Programming Languages

Matthew Might (via Jonathan Rentzsch):

Here you’ll find descriptions of four good languages to learn—Haskell, Scala, ML and Scheme—with a list of my favorite features for each, and pointers on where to learn more.

Siri’s Reliability

Steve Wozniak:

I have a lower success rate with Siri than I do with the voice built into the Android, and that bothers me. I’ll be saying, over and over again in my car, ‘Call the Lark Creek Steak House,’ and I can’t get it done. Then I pick up my Android, say the same thing, and it’s done.

Most of the time I want to use Siri to jot down a note when I’m in the car. When it works, it’s reasonably accurate. But I would guess that 80% of the time it doesn’t even attempt to process my command: there’s a problem with Apple’s servers or I have a (strong) EDGE connection but no 3G. In both cases, it seems like it should be able to figure this out before I waste time (and feel like a fool) dictating sentences that it’s just going to throw away. Or, better yet, it should store the audio and let me replay it later when Siri is working again.

Update (2012-01-27): Marco Arment:

Siri’s service reliability seems to be getting worse over time — not just misinterpreting what was said, but responding with an error indicating that the service can’t handle commands right now. Anecdotally, I’ve had about a 50% failure rate recently.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dumbing Down Mac OS X: Lion’s Address Book

Pierre Igot:

By forcing us to adopt the two-column approach imposed by the skeuomorphic design, Apple is effectively deprecating groups as a feature. They are still there, but using them has just become much more painful. You cannot see groups or select one at all while you are viewing the contact details of a specific card. You first have to click on the red bookmark button at the top

Why the Video Pros Are Moving Away From Apple

Jacqui Cheng:

Which came first: Apple’s creative pro market shrinking, which might have led to dramatic changes in Final Cut Pro; or Apple’s cavalier attitude toward legacy features, which might have frightened video editors? According to the professionals we spoke to, there was already signs of an industry shift to Avid before FCPX came along, but Apple still had a very loyal and dedicated user base that it’s now turning away from.

BBEdit Markers

Gabe Weatherhead:

Through a combination of pattern matching and markers, I can generate a quick index of anything I want. I can list all images, links or email addresses in a document.

I’ve long thought that I should make more use of markers. He also has examples of how to generate them via AppleScript.

Update (2012-01-18): I’ve had some success using an AppleScript to generate a table of contents in the markers menu, and using a documentWillSave attachment script to run the script when the document changes.

BBEdit also provides “Jump Marks”. These are invisible placeholders in a document. You can find them under the “Search” menu. They are also accessible through shift-cmd-j for “Set Jump Mark” and shift-cmd-b for “Jump Back”. If I need to quickly copy a reference link from the end of a document, I hit shift-cmd-j and then select the reference from the bookmark list. That places me at the end of my document with the reference selected. I can then copy or edit. When I’m done I hit shift-cmd-b to go back to my previous position.

Jump marks are great; I wish more applications had this feature.

Concise XPath

Aristotle Pagaltzis:

I get the impression that not many people know XPath, or know it very well, which is a shame. For one, it’s a beautifully concise notation (as you’ll see shortly). For another, it may be the difference between whether you hate XML or not. (I won’t claim it’ll make you like XML, though it may. It did for me.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Google Trust

Brent Simmons:

But I still used Google search, because I trusted the search. Now I don’t.

Losing trust of its users may be the worst thing a search engine can do.

Danny Sullivan:

Is there anyone out there who still wants to say that being on Google+ doesn’t matter? Anyone? Because when being on Google+ means that you potentially can have your Google+ page leap to the top in those sidebar results, Google+ matters. It matters more than ever before.

John Gruber:

Some see this as anticompetitive behavior; others see this as good clean competitive hardball. Are they unfairly abusing a monopoly, or fairly using their best strength to their own advantage? That’s up for debate.

But to deny that they’re doing it at all? It defies belief.

Mocality (via Robin Wauters):

Since October, Google’s GKBO appears to have been systematically accessing Mocality’s database and attempting to sell their competing product to our business owners. They have been telling untruths about their relationship with us, and about our business practices, in order to do so. As of January 11th, nearly 30% of our database has apparently been contacted.

Update (2012-01-13): Nelson Mattos, Google VP:

We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites.

Update (2012-01-24): Sarah Lacy (via John Gruber):

This isn’t an issue of whether Google–as a for profit company–should have the right to push its own services over others. This isn’t an issue over what Twitter or Facebook would do in Google’s shoes. To me, the interesting issue isn’t even anti-trust. This is an issue of what Google promised users back when it went public, without a gun to its head, without any pressure from any competitors to do the right thing.…This is a Google v. Google issue.

John Gruber:

I think their decision to artificially promote Google Plus pages above more relevant pages on competing social networks is the modern-day equivalent of the ’90s era search engines turning their homepages into “portals”.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Limited World of Auto-Renewable Subscriptions

Marco Arment:

There’s no way for a developer to opt out of this data collection and disable this dialog. If you sell an auto-renewable subscription, your customers will be told that you want their personal information, and you will be given that information (and the liabilities that come with it) whether you wanted it or not.


Reading between the lines on my rejection call, and seeing it codified more clearly here, it’s obvious that only traditional-style media publishing apps can use auto-renewable subscriptions. They were created solely for the existing newspaper and magazine industry, not web services.

SnapRuler 1.1.1

Lucas Mathis:

First, hitting shift immediately snaps the measuring rectangle to the nearest visible edge (like the border of a button or window). Second, once you’ve measured something, you can copy the values as CSS or Objective-C code, and directly paste them into your text file. And third, you can easily resize your selection rectangle by single pixels using the arrow keys (something I have to do often when I’m working with a trackpad).

It’s a nice little app. There’s no trial version, but it works as you’d expect.

CouchDB and Erlang

Damien Katz:

Erlang is great. Very reliable and very easy to make reliable robust systems. But it’s a very small ecosystem, and the investment around tooling and performance is lacking compared with other popular languages. I want Erlang to become mainstream. There is no reason Erlang can’t be a fast or faster than Java, but it’s odd syntax turns people off, limits it’s popularity, and therefore it’s commercial investment. But I still love Erlang, and we’ll still use it for many critical components, just less and less for the performance critical components.

Friday, January 6, 2012

How Trello Is Different

Joel Spolsky:

The great horizontal killer applications are actually just fancy data structures.

Spreadsheets are not just tools for doing “what-if” analysis. They provide a specific data structure: a table. Most Excel users never enter a formula. They use Excel when they need a table. The gridlines are the most important feature of Excel, not recalc.

Word processors are not just tools for writing books, reports, and letters. They provide a specific data structure: lines of text which automatically wrap and split into pages.

PowerPoint is not just a tool for making boring meetings. It provides a specific data structure: an array of full-screen images.

Trello looks pretty nice to me, although I don’t think I have a particular need for it right now. I use OmniOutliner and BBEdit for my lists. I believe Omni has made similar statements about how the idea for OmniOutliner came from Excel.

1,000 Comics

Congratulations to xkcd.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Misconceptions About iOS Multitasking

Fraser Speirs:

Let me be as clear as I can be: the iOS multitasking bar does not contain “a list of all running apps”. It contains “a list of recently used apps”. The user never has to manage background tasks on iOS.

That’s what I thought until I woke up yesterday to a battery drained into the red. The Location Services pane in Settings showed that MotionX-GPS (which I’m otherwise quite happy with) had been using the GPS even though I’d long since stopped the track-recording that it had been doing. I couldn’t figure out why it was doing that, so I went into the multitasking bar and quit it.

Advanced Drawing Using AppKit

Matt Gallagher:

Obviously, while inspired by the Mac App Store icon, this design is not trying to accurately replicate it. The real purpose is to show how to achieve the multiple, layered gradients, curve drawing, path-based clipping, shadowing and scaling you're likely to need if you want to create a non-trivial design in code.

David Imus’s Map of the U.S.

Seth Stevenson:

By contrast, David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus—a 35-year veteran of cartography who’s designed every kind of map for every kind of client—did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It’s the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.

This reminded me of Justin O’Beirne’s posts, which I’m sorry to see are now gone, about the Google and Bing maps.

Update (2012-01-03): Imus’s site was down when I first posted this, but now it’s back up. There’s a PDF showing “how the map advances geographic literacy”, and you can also purchase the map itself.

ATPM 18.01

The January issue of ATPM is out:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Metro Design Principles

Jeff Fong (via Dave Nanian):

A particular design style like iPhone’s would recreate a metaphor from the physical world (like a bookshelf) to solve this scenario. The bookshelf is gorgeous, well aligned, book covers fit nicely and it even uses wooden texture to make it feel more “real”. This design style Iconographic. It uses metaphors from the physical world in a digital world. In Metro we are Infographic. The Authentically Digital Principle would question the need of a “wooden bookshelf” to hold “images of book covers”. After all, wood is not wood in the digital world - it’s pattern made out of pixels - it’s “fake”. If you take out the “bookshelf” the “books” will not fall down because there’s not force of gravity. So no need for a wooden bookshelf. Instead remove the chrome, the unnecessary, respecting the fact we are talking about pixels.