Monthly Archives: October 2016

What Ifs and Why Nots

Apple announces new MacBooks to the world this week and geeks aren’t overly impressed. It’s OK. My gut reaction wasn’t overly positive, but what the heck did I expect? There were enough leaks in the press to warn us about what to expect.

As a Professional Software Developer I don’t need a thinner, lighter, laptop with an integrated touchscreen on the keyboard, but it also doesn’t cause any damage to have those things. I am definitely more interested in having a great piece of hardware that serves my needs.

My Needs

Will write C/C++ for foodI’m not obsessed with the looks of Apple products. They are beautifully designed. I’m a bit more pragmatic. I want my hardware to be fast and dependable. Apple makes fast and dependable hardware. I will never understand their obsession with “thin and light” but that’s ok. It’s their thing.

In the end I’ve been very happy, and I’m still happy, with my late 2011 15in. MacBook Pro. Work provided me with a 2014 15in. MacBook Pro and I can imagine it will work just fine for years to come. At some point down the road macOS will outgrow the hardware and I’ll upgrade. Until that day, I’m fine with what I have.

What If?

It’s too early to tell but what if Apple is in the middle of a transformation from macOS based devices to completely iOS based device? If we were to base that question solely on this weeks announcements it might be a completely reasonable guess, but what if they’re not done announcing new macOS based devices?

It sounds like, based on recent reporting, that Apple is out of the display business. I know that’s sad for a lot of folks, but for me it adds a ring of truth to the idea of Apple moving away from the desktop. Based on that one rumor I half expect Apple to mothball the Mac Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac. What if they do that? It’s fine, they don’t need to make desktop devices any longer. They’re moving to a completely mobile world driven by iOS and the iPhone. Yes, people do real work using just their iOS devices.

That brings us to this; Apple will continue to push the iPad as a professional device for most people. They concede the desktop to everyone else, including Microsoft (who owns the productivity worker space anyway.) That leaves them with the consumer and prosumer markets, which is a perfect fit for them.

Where does that leave professional developers, designers, illustrators, and artists of all kinds? Like I said before, I don’t need a Mac Pro to do my job, but some people do, or at a minimum believe they do (which by extension means they do.) We’ve seen some cases in the high end video production world where shops have abandoned the Mac in favor of more powerful Windows based computers. Designers, illustrators, and artists have the option of the iPad Pro, MacBook Pro, and Microsoft’s recent entrance into this market with Surface Studio. Will a lack of a Mac desktop offering hurt these professions? In some ways it probably will, in others I honestly believe folks will adapt if the software can meet their needs head on. As far as high end workflows go, I’m not so sure. What do folks at Pixar use? Are they completely tied to their Macs or do they depend on Cintiq’s for their daily workflow? I don’t have the slightest clue, but this is where Apple could really disappoint a professional market. I’d love to hear from someone inside Pixar, ILM, Disney, or DreamWorks to see how this could effect them. Remember, outside of the software development and power user communities, most people see their computers as a carpenter would see their hammer. It’s an essential tool and they may have a preference, but a compute is a means to an end.

Why Not?

AHHHHHH!If Apple decides to abandon the desktop in favor of an iOS world, why not create a hardware specification to allow licensed third-party hardware vendors to sale computers with macOS? At a minimum spec out supported hardware configurations and allow people to buy a macOS license to run on their Hackintosh computers.

Another controversial why not. Why not port Xcode to Windows and offer an alternative, lesser expensive, choice to developers that could also let people buy super fast computers to code with? I know, it’s a crazy idea, but as of this writing I’d prefer a Windows computer over an iPad as my primary development computer if I couldn’t get updated desktop or laptop hardware directly from Apple.

Since Microsoft is moving to LLVM why not get Objective-C and Swift running in that environment and provide the iOS simulator on Windows? This also seems like a decent alternative to an all iPad development environment.

All crazy ideas, I know, but things I think about.

Then again, Apple could surprise us in the spring with a brand new Mac Pro and iMac that blows all these crazy ideas right out of the water.

Hello, Surface Studio

Hot buttered popcorn and a movie, ahhh!Not to be outdone by Apple, Microsoft announced Surface Studio a few days back. It looks like a winner.

Ars Technica: “And as is Microsoft’s habit, there’s human interaction novelty, too, with the Surface Dial. This is a Bluetooth spinner and clicker with haptic feedback. Spinning the wheel can invoke either system functionality (such as changing the volume) or application features (such as the amount of red, green, or blue used by the current paintbrush in a painting app); there’s an API to allow third-party software to provide Dial-specific capabilities. Its unusual feature is that it can be used off the screen, or, when in studio mode, on the screen. When used on the screen, the Surface Studio knows exactly where the dial is and can draw radial menus or other controls around the device.”

JavaScript Scene: “That’s a huge amount of gorgeous screen real-estate for only $2,999. And it’s a touch screen. And it has an amazing interactive dial that you can place directly on the screen. You can draw on it with pens.”

CNet: “Really, though, this is all about the Surface Dial, a wild new idea that instantly excited people from its on-stage demos. The metal dial can be an on-screen tool as much as a desktop one, and looks like the other-hand tool designed to work alongside the Pen in everyday Surface creative use.”

I want one. It makes we want to create desktop software for Windows again.

It looks like Microsoft has hit one out of the park.

Designer Neven Mrgan took a trip to his local Microsoft Store to check one out. He seems impressed.

Can you imagine using Photoshop with the Surface Dial? Yeah, it could be awesome for designers.

Hey Mac

Bringing in the HarvestJust some quick takes from around the web on Apple’s new MacBook Pro lineup.

iMore: “So, is this new 13-inch really a lean and mean upgrade for MacBook Air owners, or is it just an artificially crippled MacBook Pro meant to lower the cost of entry?

A bit of both, depending on your point of view.”

Charged: “Touch Bar is a great example of this. First, it feels like an excuse to not just add touch to the Mac in the first place. While Microsoft is busy letting you touch the entire display, Apple’s making you look down at your keyboard to interact instead — bizarre.”

JavaScript Scene: “People are losing their minds. Like many MacBook fans, I’m feeling seriously let down. I’ve been waiting a long time for a great MacBook Pro with touch screen.”

512 Pixels: “Desktop Macs didn’t get a single mention, or a silent hardware update after the announcements were done. While last-minute rumors claimed that the iMac wouldn’t be ready in time, it — and the Mac mini — would have been well-served with CPU bumps and Thunderbolt 3. The 27-inch iMac has become a workhorse for professionals like me, and in a world where the Mac Pro is in the shape its in, annual updates should be a must on Apple’s part.”

Ars Technica: “Phil Schiller quickly breezed by the Apple T1 during the presentation yesterday, but the company later confirmed to us that it was its first custom-designed SoC built for the Mac. And developers who have dug into the software and documentation (particularly the tireless Steve Troughton-Smith, whose recent Twitter sabbatical made my feed much more boring) have confirmed that it has an ARMv7 CPU core and is actually running an offshoot of watchOS, all of which helps it interact with the rest of the Mac.”

I was a bit hard on the announcement yesterday, of course I’d like to have a new MacBook Pro 15in even if one of its main features is thinner and lighter. The Touch Bar is going to be fun for developers to play with and I have a feeling some apps will do some amazing and creative implementations. I mainly develop stuff all day and touch type so I don’t see how this helps me in any way, but that’s ok. It’s not for me to use, it’s there so I can create for it. That’s a good thing.

Also, what is James Thomson up to?

Indie Itch

AHHHHHH!I’m getting that itch again. I have so many ideas and never enough time to execute on them. I have a feeling this is a fairly common trait in people. We have big dreams but don’t possess the skill, patience, or business acumen to pull it off. It can be quite frustrating and lead to unnecessary stress in your life.

Distracted. That’s me. I have too many ideas and seem to like bouncing around a bit too much. Besides thinking about too many projects I also value an occasional side job that pays a little bit. When I find those jobs they’re prioritized over my own work, but never over the day job.

Lately I’ve been focused on the day job, one side gig I’m advising on (a startup), and my weird obsession to make RxCalc‘s Pharmakokinetics math library cross platform. Ultimately I’d call the last two a distraction from what I’d really like to do, which brings us back to the Indie itch.

I still dream of having a small company, say one to five folks, all dedicated to creating a business graphics like Visio or OmniGraffle

Why? Because I love those apps. I loved my time contributing to Visio and there is plenty of room on the platform for more great productivity tools.

There is, of course, another great option. Go to work for Microsoft or The Omni Group and contribute to these awesome apps. 

This ties neatly back into a post from earlier today. Yeah, I’d love to to to work at Microsoft working on the Mac and iOS versions of Visio, but I kind of doubt Microsoft cares much about porting Visio to either (I’ve heard rumor of an iOS viewer for Visio, which would be great.) 

Sorry for the stream of consciousness dump. Had to get these thoughts off my chest today. I’m felling really restless, this helped calm my mind.

Aging

Hello, Dr. Jones.Garret P. Vreeland: “Ageism is starting to raise its ugly head – people are judging based on wrinkles and hair color (none) now. That totally sucks. Yet my photography skills are burgeoning, and I’m up to my eyeballs in video and video editing again (yay, FCPX!). Got some good web contracts in as well. Yet I’m not comfortable yet. Goal one for my 57th year – achieve satisfaction.”

Then there’s this from a developer I have a lot of respect for.

A couple years back I went through an interview with a company I’d still love to work for. I didn’t get the gig and to this day I still don’t know why. It’s totally possible I did something completely wrong during my interviews but in the end I was told “You’re a good developer and a great communicator, but you’re not a good fit.” I was crushed. At the time I was in a bad place mentally and physically. A lot going on in life at that point in time. I didn’t handle the rejection well. That is my fault of course, but the only reason I could find that fit was I was too old for their group. Sour grapes I suppose.

I have a feeling getting a gig with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple will come down to your ability to do the work. I’ve interviewed with Microsoft and worked for them. I’ve interviewed with Apple and didn’t get through the interview. I know for a fact that Google interviews are notoriously difficult to get through.

The best companies hire the best people. I have no doubt James Thomson could work for any of these companies. He’d probably have to prepare for the interview process, but he could do it.

Is Apple the new Microsoft?

A wonderful bouquet of flowers.Dave Rogers [permalink isn’t working, sorry]: “My tech obsession with modern Apple and its current products is definitely and completely over. There’s little “special” about Apple anymore. They’re simply the latest incarnation of the 600-lb gorilla. First there was IBM, then there was Microsoft, now there’s Apple. Eventually it’ll be either Google or Amazon. Apple today is just another Microsoft, and there’s little that’s going on there that’s exciting, or even very good. Siri is a joke. Photos is a cruel trick. I actually stuck up for Apple Maps in Colorado, using it to navigate whenever it was my turn, as none of my traveling companions trusted it. I was rewarded for my loyalty by a total mapping clusterfuck on our last day, as Siri tried to get us to ‘take an immediate right’ from an interstate at 70mph.”

Scrappy companies, like Apple pre-iPhone, are able to move a bit more quickly than big companies. IBM went through its own growing pains, so did Microsoft, and now it’s Apple’s turn. From the inside there is probably a bit of grumbling from the ranks, but nothing too bad. I’m sure there are folks on the ground, in multiple groups, that would like more time to improve their efforts. This ties right into something I spotted on Twitter last night.

Steve Frank is a Panic co-Founder and by all accounts a fantastic software developer, just look at their well regarded lineup of applications as proof. I have a great deal of respect for Panic and its team, just as I do for Apple and its teams. I’m a nobody but I have worked on a couple complex software systems through the years. When you’re working on a system with dependencies on other teams it slows things down and introduces strange behaviors and bugs. As much as everyone cares about the end product, it happens.

I’ve never worked at Apple and I don’t know how it works on the inside. But you can bet it’s full of software engineers that know their craft and care deeply about shipping a quality product. Big systems are inherently difficult to maintain and change.

Apple has been making moves over that last few years that introduce greater complexity and deeper integration between their own hardware and services. These are the same moves Microsoft was making in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Deep integration. When this stuff works, it’s like magic, when it fails it’s often times extremely frustrating for the user. You have no idea where things went sideways. Was it the client, the service, or somewhere in between? Which piece of hardware blew it? Why did my notification arrive an hour late, or not at all?

Like other big companies that take these deep dives Apple will work itself out of the weirdness.

Is Apple the new Microsoft? That’s a question for you to answer.

P.S. – I completely understand the place Steve is coming from. He wants to dig in and not come up for air until he’s solved big problems. That’s very admirable.

@Iconfactory Gets Spooky!

If you’ve read my weblog, or follow me on Twitter, you know my affection for The Iconfactory. They’re the creators of Twitterrific, my favorite Twitter client, amongst other great Mac and iOS Software.

If you don’t know they’re also the creators of many of the icons and emoji you use on a daily basis. Things like Twitter emoji and Facebook emoji. Yes, you too can have The Iconfactory create you a custom set of emoji, icons, or even design and build an entire iOS or Mac App for you.

With the release of iOS 10 The Iconfactory has been cranking out Sticker Packs! With Halloween fast approaching it was perfect timing to release a bunch of spooky, not to mention fun, sticker packs.

I’m not sure if the Hack-O-Lantern, Ravenswood, or Boneheadz are my favorite. I’ve been driving my wife nuts with custom built Jack-O-Lanters from the Hack-O-Lantern pack. They’re a great deal of fun!

Oh, one more thing. These packs also include really great wallpapers! Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the sticker pack and tap on the pack name in the bottom left corner for added fun!

Dash

A wonderful bouquet of flowers.iMore: “At this point, though, it’s time to forget working it out. Mistakes were clearly made on both sides, and there may be no way for the real truth to ever be known, or for everyone to win. But there’s a way to stop anyone else from losing further: Fix it, unilaterally, because you’re Apple, and you can.”

I was going to write about this, but Rene Ritchie capture my feelings perfectly. Mistakes were made on both side.

It would be nice for Apple to forgive and forget.

Visio Love

John Marshall: “Back in the days of Visio 3.0, Visio was the first non Microsoft company to fully implement VBA, including the macro recorder. So, it should just be a matter of a few lines of VBA code.”

John is a long time Visio MVP and all around good guy.

Visio + VBA make for a powerful pairing. You can create all kinds of interesting stuff. John published a nice little hunk of VBA for populating a Master’s Prompt text from its Description text.

It’s worth noting that VBA is 23-years old as of this writing, it was introduced in 1993. It’s a mature, solid, technology. I loved working with it.