inessential by Brent Simmons

New Domain for NetNewsWire

I was not foresighted enough, back in the early 2000s, to register the netnewswire.com domain — and so, of course, somebody else bought it with the hopes of selling it to me.

(These days the first thing you do is register the domain name. But that wasn’t as much a thing back then.)

I’ve been long resigned to never own that domain name. But then, just a few days before Christmas, I got an email from Ben Ubois, founder and developer of Feedbin, saying that he’d bought it for me. We transferred the domain pretty quickly after.

And then, this weekend, I got the new site set up — and now you can find NetNewsWire where it always should have been: netnewswire.com.

Thanks to Ben!

Early Test Build: NetNewsWire 6.0d4 for Mac

The app is made of cat’s claws and fury. I try my damnedest to warn you off:

You should probably skip it. It’s not a beta. It’s not even an alpha. It’s a d release — where d, which used to stand for development, now stands for dangerous.

…and…

…let us satisfy your curiosity in advance: it’s just an app. It’s got some more features. You know the story, and you don’t need to run this if you’re just curious.

With that out of the way: the team has been doing great work! This is the first build with a Big Sur UI and app icon. It’s universal (Intel and Apple Silicon). It adds syncing via iCloud, Inoreader, NewsBlur, and others. It has special support for Twitter and Reddit feeds. Etc.

But I really do mean it when I say it’s early and dangerous. I’d like your help testing, but I need you to know it could be quite rocky and we may not have time to help you. You could lose data. You’d be doing a favor for the team which we have no way to repay — other than by eventually releasing the best app we can.

I’ve been haunted since hearing, in the early days of the pandemic, that if we all wore masks for six weeks this thing would be over.

I was there. I’ve done that for six weeks, and another six weeks, and another. And now it’s worse than ever. It’s a challenge not to be angry.

There are healthy, uninfected people right now, today, who are excited for the vaccine and who will die before they get it.

Bogus Code Signing Crash

For a few people, NetNewsWire for Mac crashes on startup — and the crash log erroneously blames an invalid code signature.

If it were truly invalid, the app wouldn’t launch for anybody. But it launches fine for almost everybody.

This started with macOS 10.15.4 and continues in macOS 11. We’ve posted more details on our issue tracker at GitHub.

Does anybody have any ideas for how to work around this?

When Are We Back To Normal?

I’m trying to figure out when we’ll be back to something like normal. I’m thinking of a few things:

  • Biden’s goal is 100 million doses in his first 100 days
  • The vaccines require two doses
  • There are 330 million people in the United States
  • Dr. Fauci has said that we’ll achieve herd immunity once we have 70-85% of the population vaccinated

Let’s say we achieve herd immunity, and some kind or normalcy, at around 250 million people vaccinated, which is just over 75%.

Since each person requires two doses, that’s 500 million doses.

The pace Biden is aiming for is 1 million doses per day. If we’re able to achieve and sustain that pace starting late in January — which is not at all a sure thing — we’ll have administered 500 million doses around mid-year 2022.

I keep hearing people talk optimistically about April or May of 2021. Me, I’m hoping to be able to see my family for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2021, but I’m not counting on it as a sure thing.

We’re going to need to go much faster with the vaccines. To reach 75% of the population by, say, Labor Day, in time for kids to go back to school, we’re going to need to administer 500 million doses by mid-August, about seven months after Biden’s inauguration. (Remember that immunity is ramped up about two weeks after the second dose.) To make this happen we’ll need to administer 2-2.5 million doses per day.

I don’t see how we get there by counting on local drug stores to administer most of the doses. I suspect we’re going to need to use parks and high school football fields — big, open spaces where large crowds can line up safely. And we’re going to need to do it day after day, with no days off.

(Is any of my math wrong? There’s no point in being overly-precise here — but please tell me if I’ve made some error that changes things significantly.)

I remember Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as my favorite of the Christmas specials — as the truly great of the genre, as the Superman of Christmas specials.

And then we watched it last night, for probably the first time this century. It was brutal.

The story was pretty rough to start with: mutant child laborer is shunned until the CEO finds a way to exploit his difference, and only then do his peers accept him. And we’re supposed to take that as a happy ending.

But there’s something far, far worse that I had utterly forgotten.

Here’s the scene: the Abominable Snow Monster is threatening Rudolph’s family. Yukon Cornelius causes a boulder to fall on the monster’s head and he passes out. And then — here’s where Sheila and I both gasped — Hermey, the elf who, charmingly, wants to be a dentist, pulls out all of the snow monster’s teeth. The teeth are shown, pulled out by the roots, littered on the snow.

Hermey is a fucking war criminal. We’re shook.

Apple’s SSL Metrics Is Hanging My App

We’ve been getting some reports that NetNewsWire for Mac will hang sometimes. A sample will report something like this:

Dispatch Thread Hard Limit: 512 reached in 1580 of 1580 samples -- too many dispatch threads blocked in synchronous operations

And there will be hundreds of threads labelled com.apple.network.boringssl.metrics_queue.

Here’s an example, with sample report, on our bug tracker.

What I think is happening: these Apple metrics reports are happening once per download per feed. So, if you have 1,000 feeds, then there are 1,000 metrics reports for a given download session. If those reports don’t complete quickly enough, then you get this thread explosion.

So… I could slow down our feed downloader so that this is less likely to happen, so that the metrics reports don’t back up so much. I don’t really want to slow down refreshing, though, but I may have no choice.

Luckily, most people don’t have the number of feeds it would take to trigger this. But, still, that’s not good enough — NetNewsWire should never hang for any user.

The Big Sur Sneeze

This has happened to me a few times. As I’m using my 2019 16" MBP, it lets out, at some random moment, a startlingly aggressive “Fehhhhh,” and then it shuts down.

It sounds as if the fan goes to 11 for about a second, and then it turns silent and dark.

To be clear: it’s completely unexpected. This is not happening when I shut down the computer. It happens whenever… it wants? Is bored? Is tired? I dunno.

So far I’ve seen this only on one laptop, and that laptop is running Big Sur. I tweeted about it, and found that I’m not the only person who sees this. James Dempsey calls it “the Big Sur Sneeze.”

My aunt Jen has narrated a book — Mermaid Eclipse by N.E. Carlisle — and it’s available on Audible, where I work. I’m so proud, and I hope this is the first of many for her. 🎙🎉

No Jedi

Read this to get some relief from your impostor syndrome.

* * *

During a family Zoom, a relation mentioned they might need to ask for my help with a thing (sharing videos) that I know nothing about.

Almost every single other person on that Zoom would have been a better-than-me choice on this particular topic. But I’m a computer programmer, so people look to me for tech support.

You’ve run across this too, right? Friends and family think, because you’re in tech, that you’re a computer tamer who’s on intimate terms with every feature of every app. They think you know how to make computers sit up straight and mind their manners.

You and I know that’s not true. You and I know that being in tech means that you wish, with a frequency and fervor that would astonish outsiders, that a cleansing fire would one day ignite that burns up all the computers in the world.

“The computers earned it. They brought this on themselves,” we’ll say. While everyone else panics, you and I will know that this fire is, at long last, justice.

* * *

I’ve noticed many times that a developer as senior as I am — now with 40 years writing code on Apple computers — is assumed by newer developers to be a kind of Jedi. As if I’m on intimate terms with every API in every framework; as if I’m deeply learned in every single tool, from Git to Jenkins to AppFigures; as if I know how to make App Store Connect sit up straight and mind its manners.

I don’t know about other senior developers, but I can tell you about me. I have decades of experience and an amount of wisdom. I’ve written some bad, some good, and a couple great apps over the years.

But I’m no Jedi.

This tweet I posted on Saturday has, at this writing, almost a thousand likes. I conclude that it resonates.

I had an app on day one of the App Store — and now, 12 years later, I realize I still have no mental model of how signing, certificates, and provisioning profiles work.

Whenever I need to do something, I just fuck around till it passes the tests.

Maybe there are senior developers who have both breadth and depth — they know everything and know it all well — but I suspect that’s the rare case.

Experience and wisdom count for more than vast technical knowledge. And, in fact, I don’t have that knowledge, except in the few places where I need it. (You couldn’t even call me a Mac power user. Outside the realm of Xcode and app development I use my Mac in the simplest of ways.)

I know how to get technical knowledge, though. I look things up. I learn. I ask questions. I ask for help. Same as you!

And I find some tools — such as Apple’s for setting up app IDs, certificates, and so on — to be as impenetrable and frustrating as everyone else does.

Nope. No Jedi here.

Normalizing Care

When cases rise, they rise. The risk now is higher than ever.

Some things I think about…

Even going for a ride in the car is a risk. A friend got in a car accident (fault: other driver) and was taken to the ER in an ambulance, where my friend could have been exposed to the virus.

Let’s say I go for a ride and my car breaks down. I’d have the AAA person coming and a trip to a service station in my future. Is that all safe?

Another friend is currently in quarantine after a trip to the dentist resulted in contact with a person who subsequently tested positive.

I keep thinking: something we’ve done a dozen times isn’t necessarily safe. It’s just that the odds haven’t caught up yet. Next time could be the time.

Something that feels safe isn’t necessarily safe. Our feelings are the opposite of helpful — they’re convincing us of things that aren’t true.

I’ve twice had the vital duty of being in the hospital room when a family member dies. What if I couldn’t have been? What if no family could be there? I can barely think about this without tearing up. What if it were me in the hospital, and my family couldn’t be there — what would that do to them?

What if a family member has a heart attack and can’t even get a bed in the ICU?

What if I give the virus to a family member and they die?

Anyway: please be careful. I know there’s pressure not to. But thousands of people alive and healthy today will be dead by New Year’s. Being careful saves lives.

I’m so happy today — and full of gratitude to everyone who worked so hard for this, and to everyone who worked to make the last four years less dark than they might have been. Thank you!

NetNewsWire 5.1.2 for Mac

We’ve released NetNewsWire 5.1.2 for Mac and submitted NetNewsWire 5.0.5 for iOS to App Store review.

Both fix some bugs, including crashing bugs, and increase performance.

We plan for these to be the final 5.x builds — next up will be test builds of NetNewsWire 6, which will support more syncing systems, including iCloud. The team is psyched!

App Store and Congress

For a few months I’ve been trying to avoid the App Store as a topic.

I have — we all have — enough to be upset about these days, and I just don’t need this as another thing that’s eating me up. So I decided, once bigger and louder players got involved, that I could leave it to them and try to ignore the topic. Not let it get to me.

And now there’s a report from a House Judiciary subcommittee on this topic. The report quotes this blog twice (on pages 341 and 350) — and I am very proud.

It means I can stop banging my head against this particular wall — Congress is looking at it. I stand by ready to help, but I think it’s well beyond me now, and I can otherwise let this go. For the sake of my own health.

From time to time, often around a new release of NetNewsWire, a person will praise NetNewsWire and, in the same breath, run down some other RSS reader.

Please don’t do this!

We’re lucky in that we have a number of very-good-to-excellent RSS readers these days. They’re all pretty different, which is cool — it means, among other things, that most people would be likely to find one that they like.

Me, I’m just happy when people use RSS readers at all! I’m happy when people step forward with the open web and not back to the outrage web of Twitter and Facebook.

But, again, let me be clear: there are a bunch of pretty damn great RSS readers these days, and I don’t want to see the name of NetNewsWire anywhere near any criticism of any other RSS readers.

NetNewsWire 5.1 for Mac: Feedly Syncing, Reader View, More

The announcement on the NetNewsWire blog has the full scoop, including a download link.

This release brings parity between the Mac and iOS versions. Usually we won’t want them to get out of sync for so long, but it happened and it could happen again. (We have no compelling reason to hold up one release while we finish another.)

New features (to NetNewsWire for Mac) include Feedly syncing, a Reader view, the ability to hide read articles and feeds, swipe actions in the timeline, support for non-ASCII characters in URLs, and more.

What’s Next

We will do a 5.1.1 release with some odds and ends. A small maintenance release.

After that we’ll start releasing 6.0 test builds, which will include things like iCloud sync, special support for Reddit and Twitter, and Big Sur user interface changes. The good news is that 6.0 is really far along already — and there is no bad news. (Well. No bad news in this context, anyway.)

For NetNewsWire 6.0 we’re working on Mac and iOS at the same time. They won’t necessarily ship on the same day, but there shouldn’t be a big lag between them, either.

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