Monthly Archives: April 2013

Searchpath tweaks

I rolled out a few improvements to Searchpath last week. The popover now “fades in” when first shown, using a CSS animation. Scrolling in the background page content is also now disabled while the popover is shown, for WebKit browsers. This prevents the page from bouncing around as you scroll to the end of the search results. And the mobile interface is better, finally including a close link for when you want to get back to the web site.

I’ve also fixed an issue with how often Searchpath looks for new posts. It should be much faster to pick up on changes now, especially for blogs that update every day.

You can try Searchpath for free or subscribe for just $8/month.

Inside product hype

Sometimes the usefulness of a product speaks for itself. Other times the difference between success and failure comes down to marketing. Most of us can get better at crafting a story around why our apps are important.

And then, there are the folks who just exude hype. I love this quote from Jason Calacanis, talking up his new company

“It’s going to be somewhere between a hit and groundbreaking.”

Sure, it’s over the top. This style wouldn’t work if I said it. But the certainty — that the product’s success is guaranteed, and now we’re just haggling over how big a success it will be — does make me want to know more about what they’re building. archive

Andy Baio reacts to closing down, rightfully worried that the archive will not be preserved:

“What really upsets me is that the archived events will soon be taken offline, and with no way to back it up. Ten years of history will be gone in 11 days. Good URLs never die, and I’m frustrated that every link to Upcoming will soon 404.”

These kind of archive purges, whether through negligence or purpose, seem to be coming at an increasing rate. Last year it was Digg. Now Even Formspring is shutting down and deleting all 4 billion posts. And I’m sure there were a dozen lesser-known companies in between.

Luckily there’s a new effort to download the Upcoming archive with this GitHub project. It makes it easier to spin up multiple Heroku instances to get around Yahoo’s IP address rate limiting. Andy has an update on this project and the folks behind it: Archive Team. They’re making good progress on Upcoming, as well as Posterous and Formspring.

Animation roundup, Richard Williams to Brenda Chapman

Richard Williams turned 80 years old last month. Although his body of work is extensive, including Roger Rabbit and the unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler, I think he will be most remembered many decades from now for the extraordinary book, The Animator’s Survival Kit.

I referenced this book all the time when I was working on a little hand-drawn short film several years ago. Now an iPad version of the book is available. Floyd Bishop, writing for Animation Scoop:

“The timing of the animation examples in the book have always been hard for me to get my head around. This app shows the drawings come to life through animation. You can loop playback or scrub through the animation. I found this feature to be the most useful thing about the app.”

Nowadays, I’m too busy with software side projects to have time for animation as a hobby, but as a huge fan I’ll occasionally catch up on news and all the beautiful work artists are doing.

A few of my favorite short films over the last year:

  • Chipotle’s stop-motion video. I was really happy to see it run during the Grammys last year. When I had showed my kids the video on YouTube earlier, they immediately fell in love with it. Kudos to Chipotle for giving it some high-profile national airtime. And don’t miss the amazing Flickr set of the production.

  • Disney’s Paperman. You’ve probably seen this by now, and behind-the-scenes similar to this profile from Fast Company. Disney hadn’t innovated much in combining 2D and 3D since deep canvas on Tarzan and the character work on Treasure Planet, both over 10 years ago. It’s great to see them back on the cutting edge.

  • Mickey Mouse in Croissant de Triomphe, supposedly the first in a series of new Mickey shorts. I would’ve preferred this to be more in the 1930s style, but this is still a lot of fun, and captures the spirit of the old Mickey shorts well.

And finally, I was really excited that Disney’s Pixar won an oscar, and to see the reaction from director Brenda Chapman. Circling back to Richard Williams, she actually worked early in her career on Roger Rabbit, and then as a story artist at Disney and director on Dreamworks’s Prince of Egypt.

Brenda said on her blog, about the Oscar win:

“And when I was fretting over having just one guest ticket, my husband, Kevin Lima, insisted that I take our daughter, Emma, with me. ‘You should share this with her,’ he said ‘it’s a mother and daughter night!’ Having Emma with me that night not only let me share with her one of the most wonderful nights of my life, it allowed me to tell the world how very much she means to me.”

So incredibly well-deserved. Animation is a painstakingly slow art form. The work of all these artists, from Richard Williams to Brenda Chapman, isn’t a 3-month mad dash to ship the next gimmick app to the App Store; it’s work that is measured across decades. Taken as a whole, I view it as an inspirational story of perseverance — a reminder that creating something great takes time.

Macworld guest essays

There were a couple special essays on Macworld recently — guest posts from the developer community. First Brent Simmons, who argues that Microsoft isn’t the enemy anymore:

“The threat to Macintosh was not that Windows machines were cheaper, or that people had bad taste—the biggest reason was that they worked with everything. That was why Apple asked Microsoft in 1997 to continue developing Office for Macs, so we could at least say you could run Word and Excel on Macs. […] But, these days, everything works with everything.”

And followed by Cabel Sasser, with a similar theme:

“I sometimes very awkwardly find myself rooting for Microsoft, Nokia—anybody—to put up a good fight and keep that fire burning under Apple’s collective behind. The smartest, most incredible people work in Cupertino, and their capabilities are boundless and their drive is endless, but sometimes—especially as a developer—you get the feeling that Apple doesn’t really need you, and will do just fine without you, thank you very much. I want Apple to need us.”

Both great essays.

The legacy of software as art

This post from Andy Brice, via Simon Wolf on ADN, makes a nice complement to my recent post on software as an art form:

“My grandfather worked most of his life as a stonemason. Much of that time was spent restoring the ruin of a Bishop’s palace in Sherborne. His work is still visible long after his death. The work of the stonemasons who built the palace is still visible after more than 8 centuries. How long after you stop programming is any of your work going to last?”

Not long, of course, and I’m not sure this is solvable. The best we can do is make sure our software runs on systems as long as possible, and to preserve the rest in screenshots and videos.

There are echoes of this theme in my post on permanence last year too, but for writing:

“Nothing lasts on the internet. I could write on my weblog for years and the next day get hit by a bus. The domain expires, the posts are lost, and it doesn’t matter if I had 10 readers or 10,000; it’s as if it never happened.”

As much as I dwell on preservation, my actual code and apps and the work I do in the software world might not be that significant. Instead, software can be the tool to make and preserve the important stuff: the writing, art, and discussions online that will matter later. Although I’d love to preserve the software as well, there is so much work to do just to keep the blogs and tweets. I’m content with making that easier.

Dave Winer also gives a nod to what software as art means, in an otherwise unrelated post on the press for Little Outliner, again framing it as what we’re building for other people to use:

“I think software is like other creative arts — music, architecture, cooking, even design of everyday things like bikes and clothes. It takes a relentless focus on the act of using, and what kind of effect you want to create.”

Joe Fiorini takes it even further:

“Perhaps our legacy is not in the software we build but the lives we touch, even in small ways, through the problems our programs solve.”

Like Andy Brice’s use of the word ephemeral above, Joe’s statement is difficult to measure. There’s no one thing we can point to years later. We just have to create something worthwhile and trust that it’s making someone’s life better, and that maybe that one customer will leave a mark on the world that survives long after our apps no longer run.

Google Fiber in Austin

Google Fiber is coming to Austin next year, with crazy-fast 1 Gbps speeds. It was all over the local news in Austin yesterday.

Although I’ve been trying to slowly move off of Google services, this would probably be too good a deal to pass up. However, it seems very unlikely that my neighborhood — which is in the city limits, but pretty far away from central Austin — will get fiber anytime soon. Definitely not in the first year. From the Statesman’s FAQ:

“The coverage is limited to the city of Austin, although Google did not get specific about geographic boundaries. Representatives said they don’t have plans to add Round Rock, Kyle or San Antonio as part of this roll-out. In addition to homes, Google will also provide Gigabit to about 100 public organizations that the city of Austin has helped choose.”

We don’t even yet have Verizon FiOS in our neighborhood, and that has been rolling out in the Austin area for a while now. Time Warner Cable is still the dominant provider.

Another interesting angle to the announcement: each Google Fiber customer also gets 1 terabyte of Google Drive storage. This sounded like a fantastic deal until I checked the normal Google Drive plans. They already have a 1 TB plan at $50/month, with more expensive options all the way up to 16 TB. (Dropbox stops at 500 GB unless you jump to their business-level “teams” plan.)

Maybe that is the first killer app for fiber. Not syncing files, as Dropbox pioneered, but cloud storage that is fast enough to be more like an extension of your local hard drive than a mirror of it. Something like Apple’s Fusion Drive, but where the slow hard drive is the cloud, and the SSD is just a local cache.

Design in grayscale

Adam Keys has several tips for programmers, to make our web sites look better by keeping things simple. I often just use grayscale, too:

“Most important: design in greyscale. Color is hard and can lead to tinkering. My goal is to get in and out of the front-end bits quickly, so tinkering is the enemy. Greyscale is one dimensional, greatly simplifying matters. Give important information higher contrast and less important information or ‘chrome’ less contrast. Now you’re done thinking about color.”

These days I also start everything with Bootstrap, which adds great defaults for layout, buttons, and text. It makes everything looks better, right away. It’s not a replacement for a designer, but it does save hours (or days) of getting the basics up and running.

RapidWeaver stack for Searchpath

RapidWeaver is a popular web site building app from Realmac Software. It’s got a great Mac UI, a bunch of nice themes, and a strong community of developers and plug-ins. One of those plug-ins is Stacks, which is so useful that it has its own set of third-party components.

Joe Workman has released a stack that makes adding and customizing Searchpath on your RapidWeaver site easy:

“A nice custom site search is difficult to implement. Most website simply piggyback on search engines such as Google or DuckDuckGo. However, came on to the scene earlier this year and I think its pretty cool. It’s a freemium search service that lets you implement fast and simple search directly onto your website.”

Check out the stack here as a free download.

Searching abandoned apps

Ben Lachman has some good suggestions after my post and David Smith’s on what to do with abandoned apps, saying that apps should be more clearly labelled as “abandoned”. Which device you’re using could also have an impact on search results:

“Search results could be weighted by the device you are using quite heavily. Just like how on iPhone you don’t see iPad-only apps when searching the app store; on iPhone 5 you should be very unlikely to see apps that only support 3.5-inch screens.”

Makes sense to me. Also check out his comment at the end, that kids these days may have a very difficult time revisiting the classic apps from today, 20 years from now.

CocoaConf and Core Intuition 83

We just posted episode 83 of Core Intuition, with a preview of my trip up to Dallas for CocoaConf this weekend, and a discussion of Safari extensions, WWDC videos, Michael Jurewitz’s blog posts, his return to Apple, and more.

It looks like you can still attend CocoaConf if you grab a ticket today before they close registration. Check out the web site for details on the Dallas event.

iPad 1 release day

Shawn Blanc looks back to a post 3 years ago about his experience buying and using the first iPad. From waiting in line:

7:32 am: A young guy and his mom get in line behind us. The guy is wearing a ‘WWSJD’ t-shirt. I like to think that I’m less nerdy than he is, but the fact is I am ahead of him in line.”

I wish I had written so many detailed notes. I did, however, find an old draft blog post with my current list of apps from back then. Here’s what I was running on my first iPad in early April, 2010:

  • Twitterrific.

  • NetNewsWire.

  • Instapaper.

  • Freeform.

  • Sketchbook Pro.

  • Pages.

  • OmniGraffle.

And free apps:

  • AIM.

  • iBooks.

  • Kindle.

  • Netflix.

  • New York Times Editors’ Choice.

And a couple games, like Flight Control HD.

Of those paid apps, I’m only still routinely using Instapaper today, and — even though I’m not on Twitter — occasionally Twitterrific. NetNewsWire for iPad in particular held up very well; I used it every day for probably 2 years after it had stopped being updated.

Most of the apps that were released for the iPad’s debut were more mature than apps from the iPhone OS 2.0 release and first App Store. By the time the iPad came along, developers seemed to have gotten the hang of the platform.

Jurewitz on features, pricing

Michael Jurewitz wrote a great post last week on minimum viable products:

“As you look at your products and how you make them remember these key points. You don’t need all the features under the sun. You don’t need technical excellence (assuming you also avoid technical debt). You need to solve a worthwhile problem in a delightful, thoughtful, and simple way.”

What he’s saying is it’s okay to be limited, but make that limited part totally polished. Cutting back features doesn’t mean you also cut back on quality. It reminds me of the quote from 37signals: “build half a product, not a half-ass product”.

This is good advice that I need to take to heart. I don’t have much problem shipping. But my apps often have some rough edges at 1.0.

Also don’t miss Jurewitz’s great 5-part series on App Store pricing. I’m linking to Michael Tsai’s summary here, since it provides nice quotes and links to each part in the series. I saw the talk that these blog posts were based on twice, at Çingleton and NSConference, and this has to be the best translation of a conference session into blog form I’ve ever seen. Not to be missed.

More blogging, week wrap-up

My blog posts have always come in waves, ever since I started this blog 11 years ago. I’ll post for a few days straight, then nothing for weeks. And every couple years, I’ll declare that I’m determined to fix this broken pattern, and I’ll start blogging again nearly every day. It doesn’t last.

What I finally realized is that I have to be serious about posting every single day. If even one day slips by, the whole thing breaks down and I’ll fall back into ignoring it, because there’s the added friction of wanting to post something “great” to make up for the missed days.

If you subscribe to the RSS feed, you’ll notice that I’ve now been posting once or twice every day for about a week and a half. I don’t link to all of these posts from, so here’s the recent ones you might have missed:

App Store old app maintenance:

“But if apps are an art form, an important part of our culture, then it shouldn’t require so much work to make sure they don’t disappear forever, so quickly.”

Smartphone religion:

“I got into the Mac in the 1990s during the lead-up to Apple’s certain doom, so I spent quite a lot of time arguing with Windows users.”

Moving off SendGrid:

“So it’s a good time to move away, to a company that I can pick based on merits and attitude and not just because it was the default choice.”

No new Apple products yet:

“Apple’s aggressive releases add even more anxiety about updating apps to keep up with the latest APIs and hardware.”

Start small:

“It’s a reminder to me that great things can start small, unambitious. I never would’ve guessed that a web comic artist starting so plainly would later produce a single strip that’s so incredible.”

Three ADN clients for iPhone:

“In this post I’m going to briefly review 3 of the most popular iPhone clients: Netbot, Felix, and Riposte. You can’t really go wrong with any of these three apps.”

Little Outliner:

“Yesterday Dave Winer and Kyle Shank launched Little Outliner, an impressive JavaScript outliner that uses HTML5 local storage.”

Apple and the impression of being small:

“But too many voices also creates noise, and noise makes simple things messy, confusing. Apple still gives the impression of being smaller than they really are because our view of them is heavily filtered.”

iOS text cursor swipe:

“While I was writing my review of ADN clients, I wondered aloud if Riposte or Felix or some other app entirely was the first to support swiping to move the text cursor. It seems a nice enough trick that someone should get credit for trying it first.”

iCloud sync narrative:

“Pretty sure we hit a tipping point in the iCloud just doesn’t work narrative this week. Whether that judgement is fair or not, Apple should drop everything to focus on making iCloud totally robust in time for WWDC.”

Climber for ADN:

“Toward the end of this week’s Core Intuition, we talked a little about the file storage API and mentioned the new iPhone app Climber.”

Register a domain name:

“Using Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn exclusively for your content is like an artist who picks their own colors but still stays within the lines of a paint-by-numbers kit. A domain name is your own canvas.”

Hotline servers:

“This article from Macworld is important because it will serve as a sort of Hotline software ‘about page’ for future internet searchers.”

Searchpath invoices and automation:

“Then life and other work got in the way, and weeks later I still hadn’t shipped it. I wanted it to be completely perfect and automated, so that I never had to think about it.”

I also got tired of the non-retina (and outdated tag-line) of the old header. I’ve started over with a plain blog design, finally dropping HTML tables for layout (!) in favor of Bootstrap CSS. A more complete new design will follow later.