Fraser-to-Fraser Transfer: Viewfinder Resurrected

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I was pleased to find out today that a very nice Mac app, Viewfinder — a desktop utility for searching and downloading photos from Flickr — has been resurrected, and taken over by SweeterRhythm.

This was apparently due to some secret negotions between people named Fraser!

I'm glad to see that the app has been given a new lease on life. Some new features are already apparent in this new 1.2 version; I look forward to seeing what Fraser Hess takes it now that Fraser Speirs has changed careers.

(Hey, the Viewfinder website looks suspiciously like it was built in Sandvox!) 

Pitching to Bloggers

A few days ago, my friend Colin and his wife Sara released a new iPhone app ("Selene — The ovulation-tracking tool for serious women"). As a new application, it's going to start needing some attention from the press, from bloggers, etc. in order to make it a success.

And then yesterday, I was listening to the latest podcast episode of iDeveloper Live, in which Scotty and John interviewed Erica and Steve from TUAW about their new eBook, Pitch Perfect [iBooks/Amazon]. Naturally, I thought about the challenge that my friends — and other new developers — have in getting their new apps noticed.

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If you are a developer (either kind — Country or Western Mac OS or iOS) you should give this episode a listen.  Or, if you tend to do better reading than listening, get the book. (I did!)

Colin and Sara had no problem getting me to mention the app — seriously, it looks pretty cool even though I'm not exactly the target market for it — but hopefully for the bigger blogs, Colin and Sara will be able to take advantage of Erica's and Steve's advice and express their enthusiasm for their app that is equal to the level of enthusiasm and dedication that it took them to build their app.

(I should point out my old "Mac Indie Marketing Blog" here. I put it aside a while ago, before the Mac App Store became a reality, but I think that most of the ideas that I had gleaned and shared in that blog are still relevant, even in a post-Mac-App-Store world.)

Photo credit: Tyler Ball

You Are Just Asking For Trouble If You Don't Have Offsite Backup

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And now for another blog post in the aftermath of the huge event last week which made a lot of people sad and put a huge drain on our economy. No, I'm not talking about the Presidential Election!  I'm talking (again) about Hurricane Sandy.

TUAW recently wrote about the importance of off-site backup. I wanted to chime in with my personal story.

Many years ago, there was a large firestorm that destroyed thousands of houses and apartments. And I was living within the evacuation zone. And in my home office was the only copy of some program code I had spent years working on.

I was actually quite religious about backing up my work! (In those days, we didn't have Apple's Time Machine. I backed up onto 44-Megabyte Syquest cartridges.) The problem was that both the main computer and the backup were sitting on my desk.

"No worries," you may say.  "Just grab the disks on the way out the door — problem solved!" Except that I was actually away that day, so by the time the area was closed off, I couldn't get back to my house to grab anything precious.

That was the day that I became aware of the importance of off-site backups.

Fortunately, the fire was contained and I got lucky. But I still shudder to think of how much work would have been lost.

The moral of the story is that you, dear reader, really ought to get something set up for offsite backup. You probably have a whole lot of stuff that, if lost due to earthquake, house fire, hurricane, flood, robbery or other unfortunate event, would really bum you out.

The aforementioned TUAW article was big on CrashPlan. I've actually tried that but I wasn't impressed. It seemed like a non-Mac app trying to masquerade as a Mac app.  It was just klunky. Maybe it has improved, but I didn't like it back then.

The Internet-based service that I use and enjoy is BackBlaze. It's inexpensive ($50/year), and it's well-integrated into Mac OS X. Once it's going, I usually don't have to think about it.

I highly recommend setting this up!  Think of it as insurance.  (However, if you are working with a lot of data, like video work, and you don't have a ultra-fast Internet connection, you may want to start out your backup by filling up a spare hard drive with your data and leaving it in the care of an out-of-town friend. It might take weeks or months to get your data finshed uploading to a remote backup service! It would be better if you were secured from the get-go.)

BackBlaze has saved my proverbial butt more than once, though not due to anything as dramatic as fire or flood. A few months ago, a hard drive failed on my main Mac.  I wasn't worried about my data, because I use Time Machine for local backup. (Also important!)  I was ready to just restore from my Time Machine drive, when I discovered that the backup had somehow gotten deactivated a while back. My Time Machine backup was way, way out of date.

But my Backblaze backup was current! I ordered a hard drive filled with my data to be shipped to me, and I was completely back in business.

So don't say I didn't warn you. Get your data backed up, offsite!

(Photo credit: Randy Le'Moine Photography)

Ditching Your Low-Tech in Favor of Hi-Tech Can Be Risky

As you probably know, Hurricane Sandy has left thousands in New York and nearby without power. Because of this, people there have been improvising when it comes to getting their cell phones charged.

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(Photo Credit: Dan Nguyen)

I grew up in a small town where we lost electricity fairly often, but usually we still could use the phone if the power went out! That's because land-line phones run on their own (DC) power supply. So when AC power was out, the phone system still worked just fine.

These days, it's different. So many people have given up on having a land-line, in favor of going cellular only.  And I'm willing to bet that most people's land-line phones won't even work without AC power!  (I checked — we still have a phone extension that doesn't require AC, though our main cordless phone does.)

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(Photo Credit: edenpictures)

It's really a shame in our society that when we raise our technology higher and higher, we throw away the scaffolding that got us there. And that can be bad news in a disaster, when the high-tech utilities we have come to rely upon are out of commission, even if temporarily.

Telephony is just one of the utilities that we are losing our scaffolding for. Another essential technology that we're coming to rely on more and more is GPS. It's been called "the invisible utility." I recently watched this fascinating TED talk about GPS; I learned that it could be disrupted or spoofed pretty easily.  It's not a big deal if GPS goes out in your iPhone and prevents you from finding the nearest Wal-Bucks, but it is pretty scary if it goes out when, say, a ship is trying to navigate into a harbor on a foggy night. The problem is that the older technology (e.g. lighthouses, radar) is being phased out in favor of GPS.

Back to New York: I've seen pictures of corner markets staying open, albiet dark, while the power has been out. Small shopkeepers can probably keep things running pretty well, though maybe they have to resort to some manual techniques for handling cash and giving out change. It's probably hard to handle credit cards if they are used to AC power for doing so. So certainly, as a resident, having some low-tech greenbacks on-hand is a good idea just in case the high-tech alternative is unusable.

What I wonder about, though, is how to the big stores — supermarkets, especially — handle a disaster where there are hundreds of hungry or panicked residents, and no way for employees to take their money? The employees are probably not even trained for low-tech contingency plans. It's sad to think about — those worried customers are probably going to turn into a rioting mob if the store they are at is unable or unwilling to sell them what's on their shelves.

What are the other technologies where we are unwisely removing their lower-tech alternatives?


Listening to the latest iDeveloper Live podcast in super-fast mode (QuickTime Player 7 FTW!), John Fox brought up the idea of thanking people. Perhaps this came up because it's now November, month where Thanksgiving happens, but I thought that would be a great idea. So in this post, I'm going to thank a few people who have helped me in my professional life.  It is impossible, and it would be boring, to try to go through everybody in the world, so I've just picked out a few people that I thought of — mostly people from my earlier Cocoa days. (Maybe I'll do another round later.)

Thanks Ken Dyke, a co-worker of mine at Electronic Arts back in the mid-nineties. When Apple bought out Next, I was perplexed — but Ken's over-the-top enthusiasm about the event sparked my interest and insatiable appetite in learning OpenStep (the predecessor of Cocoa). Without that spark, it might have been years before I started learning that technology.

Thanks Bertrand Mansion, who created the mailing list archives now called CocoaBuilder. Nowadays I'm just as likely to find a technical answer via a Google or DuckDuckGo or StackOverflow search, but back in the day, Bertrand's archives were the place to find just about anything related to Cocoa.

Thanks Dave Shea, creator of CSS Zen Garden, who showed me that it's possible to style in an infiite number of ways using CSS. This was, in many ways, the inspiration for Sandvox.

Thanks Robert MacKimmie, and the rest of the leaders of BaNG, the Bay Area Next Group, which met regularly in the late nineties and early ohsies. I was new to all of this technology, and because of these meetings, I met a lot of Ex-NeXTers who inspired me to continue playing around with Apple's inchoate operating system. Incidentally, Robert was my first introduction to the then-astonishing idea of urban beekeeping, something I now practice myself. 

Thanks Tom Negrino and Dori Smith, both individually and collectively. Tom had written a review of Watson for Macworld Magazine which helped greatly with the program's success. Then one day I was in San Jose, crossing the street, when I recognized Tom by a name badge he was wearing, and we've been friends ever since. Dori has provided a lot of mentorship and inspiration to me in the fields of web design, javascript, and blogging.

Thanks Lowell Schneider, who helped me with some Cocoa mentoring during the days I was unemployed and writing Watson. I would camp out in his nearby Schema Research office once or twice a week. I remember being blown away by some of his Interface Builder palettes (now, alas, something no longer possible in Xcode) that essentially made data binding possible before it became supported officially by Apple.

OK, that's all for now — no point in getting maudlin. :-)

Who do you have to thank for where you are now?

Apple's Perfect Storm

I'm relieved that we have finally been able to release Sandvox 2.7 today!

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Behind the scenes, this has been a long time coming, thanks to what I like to call a "Perfect Storm" that Apple laid in our path. (The recent destruction by Hurricane Sandy is just a coincidence, really!)

Apple had a very busy summer, throwing down several gauntlets for us:

  • Sandboxing required for the Mac App Store (as of June 1)
  • Retina Display Macs (released June 11)
  • MobileMe ending (as of June 30)
  • Mountain Lion (released July 25)

So while we would have liked to to work on some new features independent of what Apple was doing, we found that these events from Apple were, well, opportunities for us to address.

MobileMe ending was the first challenge we tackled; we were able to create an iWeb site extractor and submit that to Apple as part of version 2.6, before the Sandboxing deadline. (We wanted to give iWeb users plenty of time to migrate their iWeb sites over to Sandvox before the MobileMe lights went dark.)

But then after June 1, we were only able to submit bug fixes to the App Store until we could get Sandvox working in the Sandbox. (And yes, imagine how often I mistype "sandbox".)

Getting our application Sandboxed was a bit of a challenge.  So while we had the other responses to Apple's actions implemented pretty quickly — Retina application graphics, new Mountain Lion features — it took weeks and weeks of refinement, submissions, rejections, and so forth — until our new sandboxed version 2.7 was finally approved yesterday.

I don't mind responding to Apple's developments, but four at a time was a bit much, thank you very much.

Now that we are past that, maybe we can start working on some new features that have nothing to do with what Apple is doing!

© Dan Wood 2012-2016. My Comments Policy