inessential by Brent Simmons

February 2012

Daniel on the End of Advertising


Where am I more likely to search for “lawnmower?” If I want to know what a lawnmower is, Google. If I want to know which lawnmower to buy? Amazon, or another site that strives to empower customers, not advertisers.

Skala View is Good

I linked to Skala View when it first came out. Since then I’ve been using it all day every day.

Here’s what’s great about it: it connects directly to Photoshop CS5. Make a change in Photoshop and it appears on the phone.

I often work this way: my right hand is on my computer’s trackpad; my left hand holds my phone. As I make changes with my right hand, I watch what happens on the phone.

I feel like I should buy the app again every morning.


I don’t enjoy doing wireframes. I wonder if doing it on index cards would make a difference.

I think I would enjoy having a card to pick up, and I’m sure I would enjoy using a pencil, ruler, and eraser.

Ads and Tech

Dave Winer:

The tech industry has been absorbed by the ad industry, and vice versa.

However, there is, imho, still room for a tech industry that is not merged with the ad industry.

In fact, if we want to have a tech industry at all, we’d better invest in the “other” one, because advertising isn’t much to bet on long-term.

I’m sick of ads — but sicker of the terrible relationship between ads and software.


My geek side likes this new Arabesque site. Be sure to see the Unix as IDE series.

The site has a feed. I subscribed.

Bad Eyes

I’m considering buying an eye patch.

When I take out my contacts and read in bed, I have to hold my book or iPad so near that I have to close one eye in order to focus. The distance from my eye to the words is just beyond the length of my index finger.

One of the odder effects of such bad near-sightedness (which I got thanks to chicken pox) is that I can see things extremely well at that short distance. Which means I can see the pixels on my iPad.

Those pixels are huge.

They’re huge enough that it’s a distraction. It’s hard to read — with my uncorrected eyes — on my iPad. Letters look like unstable jengas of gray boxes.

I skipped the iPad 2 because the one big quality-of-life enhancement the iPad could make (for me) is a retina display. The rumors seem pretty strong that the iPad 3 — apparently to be announced March 7 — will have a retina display. I hope so.

Tim on Network Apps

Tim Bray, Network App Macroeconomics:

There was a time when every client was a browser running on a PC, and most PCs were in the big picture like most other PCs, and that’s how the world was. But now, we’re in a position where client memory is very nearly as scarce and precious as server memory. Which changes lots of things.


My friend Collin Donnell just shipped Closeby 1.0, an app that “uses your address book to tell you how far you are from people you’ve saved addresses for.”

It sounds like Find My Friends, but it’s different — it tells you how far you are from where you friends live, based on the entry you have for them in Contacts.

Quintessential Social App Website

Connect with friends you don’t like

Interview for Omni Fans

MacStories interviews Ken Case about OmniPlan for iPad and other Omni apps.

I could walk to the Omni offices from my house. It would be a long walk, sure, but a nice one — the highlight would be crossing the Ballard Locks.

But I don’t ever walk there. I just use their software, because it’s good.

MarsEdit update

It’s a small update — some compatibility fixes — but I’ll take any opportunity to say how much I love MarsEdit. I do. A lot.

My blog doesn’t have any other dedicated UI. Just MarsEdit. I wrote my blog system knowing I’d use MarsEdit — it wasn’t even a question.

Sandbox Deadline Extended

Apple has extended the Sandboxing deadline:

We have extended the deadline for sandboxing your apps on the Mac App Store from March 1st to June 1st to provide you with enough time to take advantage of new sandboxing entitlements available in OS X 10.7.3 and new APIs in Xcode 4.3.

App Store Feature Request

I’ve often wished that I could make a for-pay app free to all Apple employees. I don’t know if Apple’s system knows who’s an Apple employee or not — it might be difficult to implement.

But if there was a checkbox on the thing where we upload apps that says “Make this free to all Apple employees,” I’d check Yes every time.


Every time I hear someone on a podcast say that RSS is dead I can’t help but think about how podcasts are distributed via RSS.

Manton on Sandboxing and Clipstart

Manton Reece on pulling Clipstart from the Mac App Store due to sandboxing:

Maybe I could file bugs with Apple for exemptions, and reduce the functionality of my app to fit within the limits of the sandbox, but I’ve made the decision that it is just not worth it. I would much rather spend 100% of the time I have for Clipstart on new features only, not playing catch-up with Apple.

Chris on Coding

You Are Not Ruthless Enough.


Minimal Mac on Microsoft’s Biggest Miss:

You see, she said, missing all of the opportunities was just the start of a much deeper problem. Microsoft for many years had convinced the world that, in order to get “real work” done, you needed Office.

Since I was one of the few (like you, probably) who never believed that Office was the one indispensable app suite, I missed noticing this. But it makes sense.

To Mac die-hards in the ’90s, Microsoft was the black beast. “Redmond” might as well have been “Mordor” in hex. But that’s no longer true (as I have to keep reminding myself — mental habits die under protest), and now I find Microsoft utterly fascinating.

My company even uses Azure for our server side. Partly because our server guys know the platform, but also because I like diversity, even as a Cocoa developer and long-time Apple fan. (We use Google for email and in-house docs. And we use Macs, PCs, iPhones, iPads, Android, and Windows 7 phones.)

The biggest, happiest surprise — at least to me — to come out of Microsoft is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They are doing great and needed work.

I never thought I’d say, but I will say, that Bill Gates is a good and great man.

No More RSS in Mail and Safari?

A Macworld article on Mail in Mountain Lion says that RSS reading has been removed from both Mail and Safari.

Obviously that could change — but there’s a good chance it won’t.

An interview with Brent Simmons

I’m on, where I proclaim that “I’ve become an Olympic-level swiper.”

Good Gatekeeper Questions

waffle: A Gate With Destiny: “There are still some loose ends.”

Good questions. There are many things we don’t know yet.

Daniel on Fixing the Sandbox

Daniel Jalkut:

To increase adoption, Apple should expand the current list of entitlements until it covers every reasonable behavior that users expect from Mac apps. A good test for this is any app that is currently available in the Mac App Store.

I toss all my Mac app ideas that require more than the default sandboxing rules — no matter how cool the idea is.

The sandbox has a chilling effect on at least one developer. I’d be surprised if it were just me.

Everything Moved in Xcode 4.3

Peter Hosey explains where everything is now.

I wasn’t going to download Xcode 4.3 today because I didn’t feel like I have the capacity to go through and figure out what just happened. But Peter’s list explains it, and now I have no fear.

Or, I still have fear, but it’s just the usual fear of developer-tool-change — which is still significant. Imagine you’re a carpenter who gets a new hammer every few months. It’s always a little different: the grip is more sticky; it weighs a little more at the top; it doesn’t swing exactly like it used to.

But the old hammer won’t work on the new nails, so you need to use the new hammer. The new hammer’s probably better, but it’s still an adjustment.

NSData and Mapped Files and Cleanup

Tom Harrington posted a clever (in a good way) solution to the problem of cleaning up an internal data structure used in a category in Extending NSData and (not) Overriding dealloc.

Really what I’d like to do is wrap the code above into a convenient API where you can create the mapped NSData, use it, and dispose of it normally. Any extra cleanup should just happen.

Recommended Reading (or re-reading)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Backlash by Susan Faludi

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Panic on Gatekeeper

Panic Blog:

So it seemed feasible that we’d wake up one day and Apple would decree that all Mac apps must be sold through the App Store. But instead, Apple went to considerable effort and expense to find a middle ground.


Black Pixel’s Michael Shephard on redesigning (for fun) Adobe’s icons:

But as an illustrator, it made me sad to see icons that don’t reflect the creative potential I associate with the software itself.

I like the bird one the best, even though I’m generally partial to butterflies.


Rogue Amoeba designer Christa Mrgan on The Evolution of Piezo. Beautiful.

FMDB 2.0

A new version of FMDB is out. I haven’t used this new version yet, but I will. The new version supports ARC and not-ARC and is block-savvy.

I use FMDB in everything. I sprinkle it on my Raisin Bran in the morning. It’s the secret spice in my Bloody Marias.

In Soviet Russia, Free Things Own *You*

My co-worker Nick Bradbury makes a good point:

We lash out against companies that violate our privacy, yet fail to see how our unwillingness to value their digital goods in some small way led to the prevalence of a business model that gives the actual product away and earns money by selling our personal information.

My Neighborhood Makes Beer

My Ballard talks about our seven breweries in five square miles.

Valentine’s Day

My Mom sends her love.

The Glassboard Gamble

From the Glassboard blog: Big Brother is not watching you!

I especially like this post because it’s written by one of our server developers — it’s written by a guy who knows the technical details, because he’s half of the team that designed and implemented those details.

This reminds me that I haven’t been that explicit here about what we’re doing with Glassboard. Our theory is that people sometimes need private and secure communication with groups.

You might have a small team at work, or you might want to post pictures of your kids with family only, or you might want to organize the next night out with friends.

You don’t need all that communication to appear on Twitter or Facebook or Path. You don’t need an app that snarfs up your contacts or calendar without your permission.

When you need privacy, you expect an app to respect your privacy in every way possible, from the client apps to the server.

To summarize the post on the Glassboard blog: your data is so private that even we can’t see it without going to extraordinary lengths. (Brian likened it to the steps needed to launch a nuclear weapon.)

The Gamble

Here’s the gamble: people care about privacy, but I’m not sure that enough people care about privacy. I hope so, though, because, sheesh.

The current app isn’t great right now. I look at it and say “Meh.” (It’s important that we’re totally honest about this app.)

We’re working on updates, and so you can expect improvements. If you want to check it out now, that’s cool — or wait till updates arrive. (If you don’t have a need for privacy, then don’t check it out because you don’t need it.)

The app is free. We will not have ads. We will have ways to pay us money — but first we’re working on making the app easier, better, and more fun to use.

NickH on Those Slide-Out Thingies

My co-worker Nick Harris wrote about implementing a slide-out panel as seen in Facebook and Path.

Me on NSBrief

I didn’t know about Saul Mora’s NSBrief podcast until he interviewed me at 360MacDev. It’s possible I’m the last person to know.

Recent interviews have included not just me but smart folks like Chris Adamson and Tom Harrington.

(And, yes, I do have a pinky ring — gold, with two diamonds and my initials. It’s just a family thing.)

Update 2:30 pm: I say something on the podcast about having bad luck with designers. That’s an exaggeration — and sometimes I’ve had a great time working with designers and the result was something I loved. (NetNewsWire for iPad with Brad Ellis was especially cool.) If I haven’t always had the outcome I wanted, then that points to me not knowing how to work with designers — it should not reflect on the designers.

New Bjango App

I just bought Skala Preview, an app for showing design previews from your Mac on your iPhone and iPad.

It’s from Bjango. They’re good.


Paul Goracke reminds us that the contacts-uploading thing happened before, with Aurora Feint.

Super-quiet non-understanding

Dustin Curtis:

It’s not really a secret, per se, but there’s a quiet understanding among many iOS app developers that it is acceptable to send a user’s entire address book, without their permission, to remote servers and then store it for future reference.

(Via Matt Gemmell.)

I know a ton of developers, and I’ve never, ever heard this. I wouldn’t do it. I’d be shocked if any of my friends would do it. If I had to quit a job over this, I would.

One of My Mistakes

I don’t think of my app Glassboard as a competitor of Path. Though they’re both superfically about sharing statuses, locations, pictures, and so on, they have different purposes. And Path is a beautiful app that I admire very much.

Nevertheless I admit to feeling a bit of schadenfreude at first when it was discovered that Path was uploading contacts info to their servers.

I’m human, in other words, and humans often react in ways beneath them — until they try a little harder.

My next feeling was sympathy. I’ve made plenty of mistakes (and I’ll tell you about one in a minute), and other people have surely enjoyed my errors from time to time.

Here’s the thing about uploading contacts without notice or permission: it’s wrong, and the Path folks know that. But it’s also true that launching a new social network is difficult. There’s a great deal of friction. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to connect to their friends in the system and to add new friends — and people don’t want to type in a bunch of email addresses.

A new social network needs to make this as easy as possible. It should seem like magic; it should “just work.” And every app maker should have user experience as their top concern: they don’t want people to struggle to make the app useful.

It’s easy to see where a focus on user experience, on reducing friction, could lead to the decision to upload your contacts to their system. It’s still wrong, but you can understand it — because you understand wanting to make an app with a great user experience that people like. Everyone tells you that that’s the most important thing.

Here’s the question that interests me: did uploading contacts allow them to include functionality that allowed Path to grow faster than it would have otherwise? Might it even have made the difference between a successful product and an unsuccessful product?

There’s no way to answer that question.

But I’ve long had a similar question about NetNewsWire. Back in 2002 and 2003, when NetNewsWire would read a feed, it would send the URL of NetNewsWire’s product page as the referer.

That was wrong. (It’s also what other readers did, so I justified it as the then-current best practices.) It wasn’t a privacy violation — it wasn’t terribly wrong — but it was still wrong because it was misusing the referer. (The user-agent is where that info was supposed to go.)

The effect, though, was that bloggers who looked at their stats would see the NetNewsWire product page high in their referers list, and they’d check it out, and then more people would see the app and use it.

Did this make a big difference in NetNewsWire’s adoption in the early days? Did it even make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful product? I like to think it didn’t make much difference, that I could have — and should have — not done that. But there’s no way to know. And now, ten years later, I wish I hadn’t done that, even though it was the convention.

Genesis Planet

The lesson: don’t use protomatter in the initial matrix. Things will blow up.

Even after this, I trust the Path folks to deal with this and do the right things. (And I wish them well. It’s a fantastic app.)