inessential by Brent Simmons

October 2019

Omni Job: Senior Front-End Web Developer

Omni’s hiring a Senior Front-End Web Developer to work on OmniFocus for the Web.

Omni’s a truly great place to work. You’d have your own office — and there’s a decent chance it would be right near mine. (The job is part of the Design department, and marketing is also part of the Design department.)

We also have common areas too, for when you prefer to work around other people. You’re not locked into your office. :)

Benefits are great. The view of Lake Union and Capitol Hill is beautiful. The kitchen folks make us wonderful food.

But best of all: it’s great fun to work with these people on these apps.

So — if you’re a web developer, please apply!

PS You can learn more about OmniFocus for the Web by listening to How We Built OmniFocus for the Web (an episode of The Omni Show) and by reading OmniFocus for the Web: Under the Hood.

Xcoders 15th Anniversary

This Thursday, Oct. 10, Xcoders turns 15 years old!

We’d be thrilled if you could come to the meeting. Your Xcoders podcasters will be talking to a panel of old-timers about the history of the group. And afterward we’ll go to the Cyclops and hang out — just like we always do.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone of the importance of community. It gives back to us so much more than we as individuals could ever put into it.

And Xcoders is one of the oldest and greatest of the Mac and iOS app-making communities. Any good history of the modern Apple development ecosystem would have a chapter on Xcoders: it’s an institution, and it’s been amazing to watch it grow and evolve over the years.

So I’m asking something of you: please come to this one and help us celebrate!

Come even if you haven’t been in a long time, or even if you have to travel. Even if you go to Redmond or Vancouver Xcoders. Or even if you’ve never been. We’ll be so happy to see you!

PS The Xcoders blog has the details on time and place.

NetNewsWire 5 is all good to go with Catalina!

New macOS days are super-fun. This year we get the added bonus of checking out all the new Catalyst apps. I’m psyched to see what cool apps are coming to Mac.

But I can’t help but note that two apps that I’ve put my heart into — and many thousands of hours of work — won’t run on Catalina: UserLand Frontier and NetNewsWire 3.3.2.

Well. I take note, and then I move on.

NetNewsWire Status

NetNewsWire 5.0.2 is the current shipping release; NetNewsWire 5.0.3b1 is the current test build.

We’re also working on NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS, NetNewsWire 5.0.4 for Mac, and NetNewsWire 5.1 for Mac.

We have a lot going on! But we have multiple contributors, and we can handle it. :)

Here’s the status of each…

NetNewsWire 5.0.3 for Mac

This release is all about performance. NetNewsWire is pretty fast, but it can and should be faster.

Since there are places where we can get performance enhancements without having to stand on our heads, we’re doing them. (I’m a performance junkie, but I draw the line at writing weird code just to get performance.)

I was going to release 5.0.3 this weekend, but I found some more work to do. Just this morning I found a very significant boost we can get when downloading and syncing feeds. I bet we’ll have another beta later this week.

NetNewsWire 5.0.4 for Mac

This will have more bug fixes. It might also appear on the Mac App Store. No guarantee, though.

NetNewsWire 5.1 for Mac

This will have some small features — and one big one: Feedly syncing. (It might have some other syncing systems as well, but for sure we want to get Feedly syncing in there.)

NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS

It works! I’m using it. Since I commute to work via bus, this is awesome.

We’re going to do a limited TestFlight release, by invitation only, right at first — mainly because I want to get my friend who’s an Award Winning iOS Designer™ to help with it.

After he’s finished with it, then we’ll do a general TestFlight release — you’ll be able to sign up if you want to. I’ll be sure to announce that here and on the NetNewsWire blog.

The plan is for the initial NetNewsWire 5.0 for iOS to include both Feedbin and Feedly syncing, but it’s possible the early TestFlight releases won’t have Feedly yet.

Here’s what the app looks like in Springboard:

Screenshot of NetNewsWire icon in Springboard.

Dealing with entitlements, capabilities, provisioning profiles, app groups, and signing remains challenging. I wonder how anything ever ships.

We’re trying to make Handoff work, which appears to require the iCloud capability, which appears to require a provisioning profile. Xcode says, “Enable development signing and select a provisioning profile in the Signing & Capabilities editor.”

I recognize all the words! But I have no idea what I’m supposed to actually do. Luckily other people are helping me.

But still. I would love to see this stuff all made much easier.

PS This morning I found a spot where I can get a significant performance improvement when downloading feeds and when syncing. I’d love to work on it today, since it’s a Sunday and that means I can spend a few hours at it. But instead we’re struggling with the system.

You Should Get a Flu Shot

When I was in my twenties I usually skipped getting a flu shot. I was young and healthy, and getting the flu, while deeply unpleasant, was probably not life-threatening.

And that’s as far as I thought about it.

I’m older now. Getting the flu is still probably not life-threatening for me — but I almost lost a family member to flu a couple years ago. And another member of my family, who I see a couple times a month at a minimum, has a compromised immune system — if he gets the flu, it could be very bad.

Just remember, as you go about your day — on the bus, at work, at the grocery store, at a restaurant — you’re going to run across people, without even knowing it, who can’t get the flu without serious consequences. You’ll certainly run across people who are close to those people. People like me.

In other words, your getting a flu shot could save a life. For real.

Unicorns

I can hardly write a message on my iPhone without adding a 🐯 or 🎩 or other emoji at the end. I even use these as a kind of code — there’s a specific emoji I send to Sheila when I’m leaving work, for instance.

Most of my emoji come from the Frequently Used section — most often in the very left-most column, next to the screen edge. I rarely go hunting. What I want is right there.

This worked great until I installed iOS 13.

After I installed iOS 13, the left-most section changed — it became something to do with Memoji. My frequently-used emoji ended up just slightly to the right of the middle of the screen.

This was a pain for me, and I wanted to get it back to how it was, where the Memoji stuff would be gone and my most-used emoji column would be flush-left again.

I looked around in Settings and didn’t find anything for this — so I figured that if I delete my Memoji, then that section would go away, since I don’t have a Memoji anymore.

Wrong!

The section persisted, only now with funny unicorns.

The Solution Was Eventually Found

I finally realized that if I tap the little monochrome clock icon at the bottom of the screen, then I’ll get it back to how I like it.

The thing is: that icon was already selected, so it didn’t occur to me to tap it, until finally I did out of desperation.

And I realize now that if I tap it again, it shows Memoji. Tap it again, and they hide. All while the button still shows as selected (and presumably non-tappable). It’s… odd.

The Amazing Modern World

Our computers, devices, and software are amazing these days. It feels as if the very laws of physics have changed since I was a kid — that’s how marvelous all of this is. I love it, and I love writing apps and writing about apps.

I’m not picking on Apple with this thing about the emoji keyboard. Apple’s been the greatest of the prime drivers of all these marvels. My point was to pick an example that most of the people reading this would know.

These marvels are so great that billions of people are using them. The diversity of this population can’t be overstated — iPhones, for instance, aren’t just for the young, able, and tech-obsessed.

All of us in tech know this, but we don’t always go far enough in displaying the care that all of these people deserve. When we ship a bug, or even just an inscrutable bit of user interface, how many people are we frustrating? How much of other people’s time are we wasting?

I’m not saying don’t ever change your app’s UI. Make improvements. Definitely.

But always keep in mind that your app is probably only one of dozens that any given person might use. Most people don’t read your change notes. But they’ll notice if something they relied on, that was easy and useful, is now, suddenly, not.

It may even be that they could get it back to the way they liked it. But will they figure it out? And how much time will they all have spent on it? How much frustration?

Because our apps go to so many people, we should start thinking the same way other professions do: we have a real obligation to the public, not just to our bottom line. We should, at least, do no harm.

On Bullying in Our Community

Janie Larson writes about being bullied, and you should read it.

It’s natural to wonder who the bully is and who the conference organizers are — but I’m resisting the temptation to spend any time on it. It’s not a puzzle to be solved. Janie’s explicit that she doesn’t want this to result in anyone getting harassed, and she doesn’t want to start a feud. Respect that.

Instead, she talks about the human cost of being bullied, and she presents a guide for handling bullying — which is written especially for people witnessing it.

Even if you think it’s unlikely that you yourself will ever be bullied (and you might not think that), it’s worth remembering that you might see it happen to someone else. I hope you and I would do the right thing.

NaNoWriMo is next month, and I will continue my streak of not participating in it. I’m super-impressed by the people who do, though.

It would take me a month of hard, solid work all November to decide on an idea to write about, then another month to think it through some more — or two months, really, because the holidays get in the way — and then about a year of nightly work to decide on a plot outline and characters and tone, and then another year of refining that outline, and then, by NaNoWriMo 2021 or 2022, I’d be ready to start writing. I suspect I’d average about 300 words a day, which would get me about 9,000 words for the month — which is well less than a novel or even the 50,000 words goal.

I blog instead.

PS What made me think of this: Cheri Baker, Let’s Half-Ass NaNoWriMo Together.

This leaked audio from Facebook — where Mark Zuckerberg promises that “you go to the mat and you fight” Elizabeth Warren — is a reminder: any corporation that has the power over the speech of billions of people is still a corporation with its own interests. And those interests don’t match yours or mine or the interests of democracy.

You don’t have to support, or even like, Elizabeth Warren to understand that.

Do you trust Facebook not to tip the scales in favor of Zuckerberg’s interests? I sure don’t.

This is about Facebook and a specific presidential candidate — and it’s also about giant corporate communications platforms and how they subvert civilization.

PS Reminder: Instagram is Facebook too.