Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

Seven random pieces of advice for app developers

July 14th, 2013 Comments off

1. Don’t make me create a new account for your app or service. Seriously, I got enough of these damn things. Let me use my Google or Facebook or Twitter account to log in with OAuth. Or, at least make that an option.

2. Write release notes. “Bug fixes” is not a release note. List out the damn bugs. It doesn’t need to be copy and pasted straight from your Jira instance, but give us a little idea just what might have been fixed.

3. Every time an app is released with virtual currency that can be purchased via in-app purchase, God kills a thousand puppies.

4. Make something good and let me pay a fair price for it. No “freemium” bullshit. I bought Coda. I bought Tweetbot. They were expensive (relatively speaking). They were good. They were worth it.

5.Use Apple’s built-in shit. Don’t invent your own UI from scratch, Apple is better at it then you. And use the fucking APIs and OS features that make sense. Seriously, why are there still airlines that don’t use Passbook? And if you want me to share to social networks, use the built-in iOS sharing functionality.

6. Don’t force me into Landscape mode. Ever.

7. Don’t give me shit about jailbreaking my phone. It’s legit not to officially support non-standard phones, but intentionally blocking functionality is petty and insulting.

Categories: Computers Tags:

There’s some things remote control just can’t do

September 16th, 2012 2 comments

I go this evening to remote-control my computer at work using Timbuktu, and I notice something very weird. I can’t move the mouse – I can type just fine, but my mouse movements aren’t being transmitted, and even stranger, the pointer is wiggling slightly.

Bizarre. Figuring it was some software glitch, I restarted the Timbuktu process on my work computer. No dice. I switch from Timbuktu to Apple’s built-in remote control, and I am able to move the mouse, but as soon as I stop moving it, I see the pointer start to randomly jiggle around.

Something is really weird. I check the running processes for anything suspicious. Nothing. OK, maybe it is something in my user’s environment, so I switch to another user on the computer. Still we have the jigglies. At this point, I am pretty certain there is a hardware issue at play. In fact, I am pretty sure what it might be – when I left Friday night, I probably knocked my mouse into a position where the laser was tracking off the edge of some papers or a seam in my desk – so basically it was as if there was a person physically moving my mouse (the reason I was still able to use Apple’s remote control but not Timbuktu is because Timbuktu has logic built in to always give the user of the computer being controlled ‘ownership’ of the mouse if they physically move it; apparently Apple’s remote control doesn’t have this ‘feature’)

I can’t leave my computer in this state; I don’t want it to be unlocked and open for several days while I am away, and furthermore, my LCD displays could be damaged having the same image displayed continuously for days (yeah, LCDs get burn in also). What I needed was some way to remotely tell the Mac to ignore that mouse, act like it was disconnected. Alas, unlike a USB hard drive, there’s no way to “dismount” a mouse. Some Google searching and a browse through USB Prober didn’t come up with any solution. Rebooting wouldn’t work either, since this was a physical issue.

I’d like to think I found some magic solution, but what I did was very low-tech. I drove over to my office, saw that yes indeed the mouse was laying askew against some papers, and moved the damn rodent to a secure position, and drove back home. Problem solved.

Categories: Computers Tags:

It just (almost) works

August 30th, 2010 1 comment

I just picked up a new 27-inch iMac.
I went with the Built-To-Order option of the i7 processor and the Radeon HD 5750 GPU. This is a definite upgrade over my older (although still very capable) 24″ Core 2 Duo.

My upgrade process was about as flawless as possible. I used Super Duper to back up my old iMac’s entire hard drive to an external drive, then cloned that backup directly back onto the new machine. It was literally a brain transplant. All of my applications, settings, preferences, files…everything was just as it was on the old machine, except, you know, faster.

However, it was only 99% flawless, there were a few things that tripped me up, or could have tripped me up if I hadn’t been careful, and I want to share them here for any readers who might be interested in doing the Super Duper mac brain transplant route.

1. Don’t forget to de-authorize your old machine with the iTunes store prior to shutting it down. Since you need to authorize the new computer to play your iTunes content, you’ll need to remember to do this, otherwise the old machine will continue to use up one of your 5 authorizations even if it it never gets used again (or the disk is erased). This is because iTunes authorizations are based on the physical CPU, not the OS.

2. While almost all application settings get carried over automatically as part of the clone, a few apps store their settings in non-conventional ways and will detect that you are on a new CPU. Little Snitch, a network monitoring app, lost its registration in the move and I had to re-enter my serial number on the new CPU.

3. If you use any VM software, when you load your virtual machines, they will likely detect the new hardware and go through a Windows driver dance. My Windows 7 and XP VMs handled this without a problem, but Windows’ over-sensitive activation system may bitch at you and make you go through the whole “Genuine Windows” registration crap if it detects that too much of your system specs have changed.

4. If you are going to use Boot Camp, be sure to create your boot camp partition first, right after booting the new machine, and before you restore from your clone. Otherwise, you may have trouble creating the boot camp partition at a later time. When I forgot this step, Boot Camp complained that it couldn’t create a partition because certain files could not be moved (in spite of the fact I was trying to create a 100 GB partition from a disk with 500 GB free space). I ended up having to reformat the drive, install a rump OS just long enough to run Boot Camp Assistant, and then re-write my cloned drive – a waste of 6 hours.

5. Some routers get very confused when a second machine with a different MAC address but the same IP and name gets connected to the network. This may cause things like port forwarding to fail. My 2-Wire U-Verse router got completely confused and I had to delete its list of “known devices” and recreate the port mapping from scratch. There’s no way around this, just make sure to test your inbound connectivity after you set up your new Mac.

So, that’s it. Other then that, so far, everything has worked. Moving into a new Mac this way is far superior an experience to the normal method of either running the Migration Assistant, or manually upgrading. However, keep in mind that this method is a true brain transplant – it brings along all the cruft and crap that is part of the old system too. If your old Mac is not shipshape, its sins will be visited upon the new one!

Categories: Apple, Computers Tags:

A comparison of Scrabble-like iPhone games

August 9th, 2010 12 comments

I like Scrabble-style word games. I like them a lot and I have gotten halfway decent, at least if you believe the anguished tweets of my friends. (on the other hand, I’m nowhere near these people either!).

Naturally, playing Scrabble on the iPhone with actual friends is a lot of fun. There are really only three Scrabble-like word games I know of for the iDevices, and I thought I would briefly compare them, focusing on iPhone gameplay and the fun factor.

You’ll note I did say “Scrabble-like” – there is a reason for this. Scrabble (i.e. Hasbro) owns the rights for actual Scrabble. Therefore, it’s two main competitors, Lexulous and Words With Friends, have had to make some subtle alterations to stay legal. These alterations are not severe, but they do change the game a little bit, kind of like the differences between Canadian and American football. However, all three of these games have the basic template – you take turns making interlocking words on a board with point values for letters and spaces.

Scrabble ($1.99 for iPhone, $9.99 for iPad)

First, the original, Scrabble. This application is the real deal, with the official borad and rules, exactly like you’re familiar with. For the most part, the developers have done a really good job translating the gameplay for the iPhone. You have a choice of several modes of play, including solo (against the computer), turn-based (pass the phone to a friend), and most fun, competing electronically with your friends via Facebook.

The latter option works with the Scrabble Facebook app, meaning you can play either via the Facebook web site or on your phone. This is a really great option because it lets you compete with any friend who has Facebook – you are not limited to iPhone-owning buddies. You can also challenge and accept games against random strangers, which is a good way to build your skill. Integration with the iPhone notification system will let you know when its your turn in any of your active games.

The Scrabble back-end keeps track of your statistics (games won and lost, best bingoes, so so forth), and the iPhone version of the game comes with some useful features, including a dictionary and somewhat controversially, a “word-builder” assistant which will show you (after your turn) what the best word you could have played.

Unfortunately, the official Scrabble app is by far the slowest and most difficult to start up of all its brethren. Even on a new iPhone 4, it takes a solid ten or more seconds to start the game up, and creating a new game is a slow, multi-step process. Additionally, unneeded animations make the game feel slower yet and it seems like even the most simple tasks in-game take a half-dozen taps to accomplish.

Words With Friends ($2.99 for iPhone, $2.99 for iPad, or free ad-supported version)

Words With Friends is a lean, mean Scrabble-like game, which focuses on one task: getting you playing as fast as possible (and showing ads if you’re using the free version). Unlike Scrabble and Lexulous, there is no Facebook integration, Words With Friends uses their own account system. After signing up for an account, you then have to find your friends on the system or you can play a stranger. Integration with the iPhone notification system will let you know when its your turn in any of your active games.

Load time and game play is fast. You see a list of all your active games and tapping on a game lets you play. Words With Friends eschews many of the features of its competitors. There’s no dictionary, no way to see the value of a word before playing it, and the game doesn’t keep track of player statistics or past games (beyond your most recent). As such, it is clearly designed for the quick, casual player, but is still a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys these types of games. There is also an in-game chat feature so you can talk smack to your opponent. The game is also easier on the eyes then either Scrabble or Lexulous – alone among these three games, Words with Friends has been partially updated for the Retina Display on the iPhone 4.

Rule-wise, the main difference between Words With Friends and traditional Scrabble is that the location of the bonus squares on the board are different, and the point value for some letters is slightly changed. I do have a small beef with the location of some of the bonus squares, specifically there is no double-word tile for the first move, which automatically gives whoever goes first a slight disadvantage. Furthermore, some of the triple word tiles are placed in a way that makes them too easy to double-up upon.

Regarding gameplay, the main downside to Words With Friends (beyond the missing features) is that the back-end server can sometimes be very slow in the evening, resulting in long waits when you try to load the game or play a word. Furthermore, the reliance on its own account system means it is difficult to find existing friends unless you know their screen name in advance. Still, of all three games, Words With Friends is probably the one I’d recommend for a new player who wants to have some fun quickly.

Lexulous ($3.99 for iPhone)

Lexulous is the grand-daddy of Scrabble knock-offs, and used to exist on Facebook as “Scrabulous” before the Hasbro lawyers got sicced. Like Scrabble, Lexulous can be played both on Facebook and on the iPhone, and is by far the leanest, fastest of the three games discussed here. Unfortunately, the developers of Lexulous have been giving the game some not-so-benign neglect in the past year and it has grown very long in the tooth.

Rule-wise, Lexulous has tweaked the original Scrabble rules to make for a higher-scoring game. Players have 8 tiles rather then 7, but you get a bonus for making a 7-letter word (as well as a true 8-letter bingo). Furthermore, many letters have higher point values, making games with scores in the 400s and higher common, and allowing for big comebacks. This freewheeling style of play can be a lot of fun.

Lexulous caters to the “serious” player by keeping very detailed statistics and archives of past games. Well, I should say “catered” because these features are only available in the Facebook version, not on the phone, and the archive functionality has been broken on Facebook for months with no fix. Furthermore, the interface on the iPhone has seemingly been copied from another mobile platform, and doesn’t use any iPhone conventions – for example, instead of a scrolling list view of friend, you have to move page-by-page with a “next” button through all your friends. Furthermore, Lexulous stands alone among these three apps in not making use of the iPhone notification system, so there’s no way to know when it is your turn except by opening the app and checking manually.

In spite of these bugs, actual gameplay works fine, and is very zippy. Fast load times and quick move recognition cover for a multitude of functional and UI sins, but still it is frustrating that Lexulous gets so much right and yet the developers have seemingly abandoned it. As it stands, I can’t recommend Lexulous to anyone unless they already play friends in the Facebook version and want to check on games from the Phone.

Categories: Computers, reviews, social media Tags:

Getting to the root of the matter

August 1st, 2010 2 comments
iPhone 4 root

SSHed into my iPhone 4

Yes, the long-awaited iPhone 4 jailbreak is released. Even better, it is now definitely legal (although Apple will not provide warranty service to jailbroken phones…you gotta restore a stock OS before bringing it in for service)

It is both the best and worst jailbreak I’ve ever used.

It is the best because by far it was ridiculously easy to use. You visit a web site in Safari on the iPhone, and the jailbreak is done right there, in userland, no reboot required, no restore, no patched IPSW, just a minute of churning, and you are jailbroken with Cydia and ready to go. It’s an amazing piece of programming – an elegant exploit that I would be shocked if Apple doesn’t close in a hurry with iPhone OS 4.1 (which might make this a short-lived jailbreak).

It’s also rather buggy. The jailbreak killed Facetime (which I could care less about) and MMS messaging (which I really don’t care about either), so if you rely on these features, I would definitely hold off on the jailbreak.

Furthermore, a lot of the major jailbroken apps (like SBSettings) aren’t fully compatible with iOS 4 or the iPhone 4 hardware. Cydia crashes if you try “fast app switching” to it. Still, most things mostly work, and I was able to at least my all-important custom Legend of Zelda SMS tones and BiteSMS for instant SMS’ing from the lock screen installed.

I am also really looking forward to trying Notified which promised to bring the (much better then iPhone) Android-style notification system to the iOS.

And hey, it’s nice to have root on my phone.

Categories: Apple, Computers Tags:

A quick shot of syrup

July 27th, 2010 Comments off

So yesterday I needed an easy, quick way to track and log the memory use of an application remotely, in (near) real-time, as I performed various actions.

I could SSH in and run something like top, but that doesn’t get me the logging. There are several graphic “activity monitor” like utilities including, well, Activity Monitor and Big Top, but those don’t work remotely and I didn’t want to graphically control the remote machine since that performance was part of what I was measuring.

Apple’ Instruments would have been really great, but it doesn’t work remotely, at least in any way that was quick or obvious.

After some brief searching, I found a great too, written in Python, called Syrupy, written by a guy named Jeet Sukumaran. It was tiny, simple, lightweight and does only one thing – records the state of a process over time. You tell it which process(es) you want to monitor, and how often to sample them, and it will log the results to a file or the console.

If you choose the latter, you can even make quick and dirty test notes “in line” which makes it really easy to go back later and remember what you did/see the effect of what you did on memory or processor use. You can also control the output format with a few arguments when you invoke Syrupy, which can be useful if you have some graphing app that is picky about formatting.

You run it on the remote machine via an SSH session (obviously you can use it locally too).

Default output looks like this:

SYRUPY: Writing raw process resource usage logs to ''
SYRUPY: sampling process 169
169 2010-07-26 16:00:16 02:08 0.0 0.1 4932 409880
169 2010-07-26 16:00:26 02:18 0.0 0.1 4924 409360

Anyway, Syrupy can be found here if you need it.

Categories: Computers, Software testing Tags: