I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The camera you have with you

Like many of the people likely to be reading this, I bought a digital SLR a few years ago and developed a photography hobby. Then, also like many of you, my iPhone’s camera slowly took over my casual photography needs, and I stopped bringing the big SLR with me most of the time. The iPhone camera was good enough for most uses.

Today I migrated to a different photo-management app, like I do every year or two because I’m always dissatisfied with them. (From Aperture to Lightroom this time. I’ll explain why another time.) In the process, I got to skim through most of my photos from 2008.

In retrospect, my progression clearly forms three stages:

  1. The Rebel XTi, from 2006–2008: Mostly orange, mostly blurry photos of mostly boring objects as I learned how to use cameras.
  2. The 5D Mark II, from 2008–2010: Technical excellence, slowly building compositional skills. I still have this camera, but its usage sharply dropped off after 2010, because of:
  3. The iPhone 4 and 4S, the first iPhones with relatively decent cameras, from 2010–present: My photos took a huge technical nosedive compared to the SLR years, but my composition improved and I took far more photos. (Instagram also encouraged this.)

As part of my 2012 computer-setup shuffle, I also replaced my laptop with a Retina MacBook Pro, and the first thing it screams for is a high-resolution desktop wallpaper. Great, I thought, I’ll just use one of my photos. (On my desktop, I use a solid gray background, but on my laptop, I like to have a bit of fun. And it would be a crime to put a solid gray background on that screen.)

Almost nothing I’ve shot since 2010 is usable.

The Rebel photos look decent. The 5D Mark II photos look great. But photos from the iPhone 4, and even from the 4S, don’t hold up. They look fine on a 3.5-inch screen, but they look terrible on my big desktop monitor and abysmal on the Retina MacBook Pro.

Most of my favorite photos from the last two years only look good on small screens.

How do yours look? Are you happy with them? Will you continue to be happy with them when they’re displayed on large, high-density screens or printed in the future?

For me, this is a wake-up call. I’m going to try carrying the 5D with me a lot more often (the pancake I ordered should make it more bag-friendly), and when I’m in the house, I’m going to reach for it instead of my iPhone much more often than the current rate of “almost never”.

Because as fun as it is to share iPhone photos conveniently on Instagram, that can’t be my only photography: I also need some photos that won’t look like shit when I look back on them in the future.

Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter review

If you ever transfer large files to or from a Thunderbolt-equipped MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro where wired networking is available, you probably want Apple’s new Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter.

New Thunderbolt adapter on top, older USB Ethernet Adapter on bottom.

I ran some speed tests with zPerf from the 15” Retina MacBook Pro to my Gigabit-wired Mac Pro:


Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview

I finally saw Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, the very-extended version of Robert X. Cringely’s 1995 interview for Triumph of the Nerds. You can see a few of the good parts from Triumph on YouTube, but there’s a lot more to it.

The release has been a pretty blatant money-grab. The full interview was supposedly lost from its filming in 1995 until Steve Jobs passed away last year, and then suddenly a producer found a VHS copy. It was then shown only in movie theaters for a short time, about a month after Jobs’ death, with the implication that it might never be released in other forms.1

Now, seven months later, it’s available on iTunes for $3.99, but only as a rental. There’s no purchase option available.

Presumably, once the rentals die down in another few months, it’ll become available for purchase, maybe with some bonus footage or director’s commentary to get people to re-buy it for $12.99.

But if you can get past that, it’s good.

Very good.

There was, of course, a big risk that the 10 minutes of footage they used in Triumph of the Nerds was the only good footage in the interview. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case: most of the 70-minute interview was interesting and thought-provoking, as you’d expect from Steve. Even my favorite clip from Triumph, “Microsoft has no taste”, has a very good expansion in The Lost Interview.

Worth a rental.

  1. I almost went to a showing in Manhattan, but couldn’t bring myself to spend so much time and money to get there for it. ↩︎

Corrupt App Store binaries crashing on launch

Update, July 6: This is now resolved. Go to the App Store and redownload any affected apps — they should show up in the Updates tab. Do not delete and reinstall: it’s no longer necessary and you may lose data in those apps.

Last night, within minutes of Apple approving the Instapaper 4.2.3 update, I was deluged by support email and Twitter messages from customers saying that it crashed immediately on launch, even with a clean install.

This didn’t make sense — obviously, Apple had reviewed it, and it worked for them. My submitted archive from Xcode worked perfectly. But every time I downloaded the update from the App Store, clean or not, it crashed instantly.

Lots of anxiety and research led me to the problem: a seemingly corrupt update being distributed by the App Store in many or possibly all regions.

And this is happening to other apps, not just Instapaper, updated in the last few days.

Characterizations of this issue:

I emailed App Review less than an hour after the update went live and yelled about it on Twitter. About two hours after the update went live, a correct, functional version of it started being distributed on reinstalls. As far as I know, the problem hasn’t recurred since then.

I haven’t yet received a response from App Review, so I don’t know whether the fix was because I made noise, or simply because time passed, which may, for instance, expire a cache with the bad data.

The only fix for people with bad copies, once good copies are being served again by the App Store, is to delete and reinstall the app. (Update.)

I’ve heard reports of this happening with numerous updates released on July 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Below is a growing list of affected apps.

If you’re a developer, and you have a non-critical update pending release, I suggest waiting a few days for this to presumably get sorted out before releasing it.

Because if this happens to you, all of your most active users, the people who will install updates within hours of them becoming available, will be stopped in their tracks. They’ll think you’re careless, incompetent, and sloppy for issuing a release that doesn’t work. And they’ll leave you a lot of angry 1-star reviews.

And it’s even more serious for apps that store user-created data or game progress locally: if the only fix is to delete and reinstall the app, many users will lose their data.

Apple: This is a serious problem. It’s not isolated. Please fix this.

Known affected apps that are or were corrupted:

  • Instapaper, obviously
  • Aboalarm
  • Al & Joe Bust Out
  • Angry Birds Space Free
  • Angry Birds Space HD Free
  • AroundCal
  • Autocité Parkings
  • Big Start
  • Bird Song Id
  • Bunker Buster
  • CarZen
  • Checkout Helper
  • Chord Picker
  • CincyMobile
  • CLM iPlanner
  • Cocktailpedia
  • CommBank Kaching
  • Cubemen
  • DocuNotes+
  • Dolphin HS Browser
  • Dosecast
  • Dunno
  • Face Juggler Free
  • Face Juggler Plus
  • Festival d’Avignon OFF 2012
  • FlattrCast
  • Flick Soccer
  • Flight International
  • Gaia GPS
  • Gluddle
  • GoodReader (more)
  • Heart Booth Free
  • Heart Booth HD Free
  • Huffington
  • iBike Moto
  • Ice Age Village
  • iCoyote Europe
  • iDesign
  • iMieiFarmaci
  • iPronto To Do
  • iPronto To Do HD
  • iPronto To Do Lite
  • iPronto To Do Lite HD
  • iQIF
  • iQuikDoF
  • iTankster
  • Jewel World Skull Edition
  • L’
  • LA Times
  • Letris 2
  • Letris Power
  • Levee en Masse HD
  • Lords & Knights
  • Lucky Slots
  • M6
  • Mag+ Reviewer
  • Maps 3D
  • Maps 3D Lite
  • Matchbook
  • Max Payne Mobile
  • Mayvio Budget
  • Measure Map
  • Measure Map Lite
  • MedCalc
  • MedCalc Pro
  • Meetup
  • Melodies Pro
  • MemoryBrands
  • Metronome+
  • mixi
  • MoPho
  • MultiTrack DAW
  • My Medical Info
  • My365
  • OrderPat Server
  • outdooractive
  • Pair
  • PDX Bus
  • Peekaboo Barn
  • Phoster
  • Pinball Maniacs
  • Please Stay Calm
  • Quote Unquote
  • Qwak
  • Readdle Scanner Pro (more)
  • Redshift
  • Samurai vs Zombies Defense
  • Ski Safari
  • Skoobe
  • Simple RSS Push
  • Sleep Bug Pro
  • Slotomania
  • SMARTReporter (Mac)
  • SmartScan+OCR
  • Smilebox
  • Sprightly Pyramid Solitaire
  • Stack the States
  • Stat E&M Coder
  • Synalyze It! (Mac)
  • Tap Sonic
  • Tap’N Ride
  • The Early Edition 2
  • The Magic of Reality
  • Threadnote
  • @View
  • W9
  • Wakaru
  • Wind expert
  • Word Lens
  • Wrackle
  • Yahoo! Search
  • Young Art

Update, July 5: After adding 114 apps to the list with more reports coming in every few minutes, it’s no longer practical for me to maintain the list. Obviously, this is a very widespread problem for many apps updated from July 3–5.

Apple has told a few news outlets that they’re looking into the issue.

Update, July 6: This is now resolved. Go to the App Store and redownload any affected apps — they should show up in the Updates tab. Do not delete and reinstall: it’s no longer necessary and you may lose data in those apps.

Web designers: you need a Retina MacBook Pro

Earlier today, I tweeted:

If you’re a web designer, you really, really need to get a Retina MacBook Pro so you can see how bad your site looks on it and fix it.

I quickly got a lot of negative responses from people pointing out that Retina MacBook Pros are a small portion of the market, and other platforms are more worthwhile to test for, represented best by Stuart Frisby’s response:

There are still more IE6 users than Retina MBP users. Should I get a dell running Windows ME too?

Or Niranjan’s:

this is like trying to redo the site for IE5! Not enough users. Once it is more than 1%, will consider.

Jeremy Meyers takes it in a slightly different direction:

um no. we should not get to the point where we are designing sites around one unique piece of hardware. please.

Certainly, many other platforms are bigger than the Retina MacBook Pro market today. Here’s the difference:

How much bigger will the IE5 or IE6 market be in a year?

How much bigger will the high-DPI market be in a year?

Even though it’s a small market today (although don’t forget about the iPad 3), it’s inevitably going to increase substantially in the near future. Don’t you want to get ahead of that? Do you want your site to be ready the first time someone views it on a Retina screen, or are you OK with it looking like garbage for a few years until you happen to buy high-DPI hardware?

If you don’t frequently see your site on a high-DPI screen, you may not realize quite how bad it looks when any graphical assets show at 1X. This is the first problem you need to address.

You can do that without buying a Retina MacBook Pro, such as by testing on an iPad 3, simulating the iPad 3 with the iOS Simulator from Xcode, or enabling HiDPI mode on a large-screened Mac.1

If you do any of these alternate methods, you’ll probably be able to figure out which images need 2X versions. That’s a great first step that will get you much of the way there.

But if you can go further, you should. This is what I was talking about when I said that web designers need Retina MacBook Pros:

Without having and using a real high-DPI computer, all you can do is add high-resolution images for the design you already have. You’ll miss the nuance of what looks good and what works well on a Retina Mac, because you won’t really be using one. Even an iPad 3 isn’t the same.

It’s like designing iOS apps using only the Simulator without ever testing on a device. No respectable developer would ever ship an app that wasn’t extensively tested on real devices, because on the device, you learn that some of your choices just don’t look right or work well.

I’ve been using a Retina MacBook Pro for one week, only as a secondary computer,2 and I’ve already changed my font, redesigned my narrow layout’s header, and conditionally replaced an image with text. I’ve noticed that fonts, especially, respond extremely differently on the Retina screen: many of my old, non-Retina choices simply didn’t look good, and many fonts and metrics that were previously poor for screen use can be used nicely on Retina screens.

And I’m not even a web designer by trade — I just accidentally design my sites sometimes out of necessity.

Once you use real high-DPI hardware, you’ll see that there’s a lot more potential for design changes than just doubling your images.

  1. Windows-using web designers, if such people still exist: I’m sure there’s something you can do to enable high-DPI mode on Windows. ↩︎

  2. It’s possible to configure a Retina MacBook Pro up to nearly $4000, but the base model is a very good deal at $2200. It has 90% of the CPU performance of the highest configuration, same GPU, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB SSD.

    Since it’s my secondary computer, I didn’t need to max out everything, so I just walked into an Apple Store — no shipping delay — and bought the base model. Once Amazon gets them in first-party stock, they’ll be even cheaper↩︎

Apple’s fix for corrupt binaries

Apple quietly fixed the apps affected by corrupt App Store binaries in an interesting way.

Rather than remove the 1-star reviews — as far as I can tell, they’re all still there — it appears that Apple has triggered a reupdate on the affected apps, Instapaper included. This means:

The latter is a big deal. Without that, the only easy way for customers to force their phones to download a working version was to delete the broken app and redownload it from the Store.

For Instapaper, that was just an inconvenience, since almost everything is stored on and synced from the service. But for apps that stored data locally, that often meant data loss, or progress lost in games.

By republishing “updates” to these apps, Apple is helping users avoid deleting them and losing their data.

Nice move, Apple.

Why Tweetbot for Mac matters

Tweetbot for Mac has entered a public alpha. I’ve been using it full-time for about a week, and it’s young but very promising. Here’s a full review if you want one, but this won’t be one.

This app’s existence is a big deal for a number of reasons.

First, this might be the last new full-featured client that Twitter permits. (They may not even permit this, but I bet it’ll be fine for at least a while.)

It’s especially important to me because the Mac is where I use Twitter the most by far, and I’ve been using Twitter’s official Mac client (formerly Tweetie). There are other great Mac clients, but this one has always fit me best, and I have its flow and shortcuts deeply ingrained into my muscle memory.

I use a Mac client all the time, for almost all of my Twitter use. Without a great Mac client, I’d use Twitter about as often as I use Instagram: in occasional bursts on my phone when I’m bored, but not regularly.

But when Twitter bought Tweetie from Loren Brichter, I think it’s clear now that they only cared about the iPhone client. They’ve severely neglected the Mac and iPad clients, effectively killing some of the best Twitter apps ever made. (Given their updates to the iPhone version, maybe we’re better off.) Twitter for Mac in particular is in severe disrepair, with significant bugs going unfixed for over a year and major recent features still missing, such as native photo uploads. And now that Loren no longer works at Twitter, it looks like nobody there is willing and able to keep these apps healthy.

Tweetbot for iOS has been the perfect modern client for displaced Tweetie refugees. It works mostly like Tweetie,1 but with very active development, modern updates, a unique style, and feature progress unconstrained by the strategic costs and restrictions of Twitter ownership.

I’m happy to report that Tweetbot for Mac serves the same role already, even in its incomplete, semi-buggy alpha state. (Anecdotally, it doesn’t seem significantly buggier than Twitter for Mac.)

As long as Twitter doesn’t squash third-party clients, Tweetbot for Mac will thrive, and it’s my client of choice today.

  1. The one major departure that puts a damper on my use is Tweetbot’s interface for accessing multiple accounts. Tweetie for Mac stacked them all in the sidebar, with little blue dots to indicate unread messages in each account. In Tweetbot for Mac, just like their iPad app, accounts are buried under a toggle menu in the sidebar, so the only way to know whether your other accounts have new messages is to clumsily switch through them all, pausing to let each one load. ↩︎

A future full-time job

Stephen Hackett’s blog is almost a full-time job:

When I think about the possibility of taking this whole writing/podcasting/consulting thing full-time, it freaks me the hell out. Taking the financial reins in my own hands seems too scary to ever actually do. What if I see a downturn in readership and my advertisers want to renegotiate my flat monthly rates? What if Myke kicks me off the podcast network? What if I get sick and can’t write for 10 days? What if my next book is a flop?

What if you get laid off from your job? What if your hands fall off and you can’t do this sort of work anymore? (The boring answers: unemployment insurance and disability insurance, respectively.)

Realistically, nobody has job security. It’s a myth. Even CEOs don’t have job security (see HP), except Steve Ballmer, who seems curiously immune to losing his job.

The difference is who’s responsible for keeping you in your job, and specifically, how much of that control you yield to others. When you work for yourself, it’s all just you. You take all of the risk, you handle all of the bullshit and paperwork, you get to (but need to) make every decision, and you reap all of the rewards.

I was scared shitless to work for myself full-time, but I finally tried it, and it turns out that I’m a pretty good fit for it. I think I’d have a hard time ever working for someone else again. Not because everyone else sucks, but because I suspect I’ve lost the ability, if I ever had it, to be a very good employee for anyone else.

I’m in a similar position as Stephen with my blog and podcast: they do well enough that they could plausibly grow into my full-time job in the future. I often envision that, and I like what I see.

The Adobe sponsorship and credibility

Large publications often try to maintain separation between ad sales and editorial staff. One-person publications don’t have such luxuries, especially when we sell some of our ads directly, but we can at least maintain internal standards of objectivity and separation of priorities.

Since publishing yesterday’s Adobe Revel sponsorship, I’ve had a number of readers make comments that suggest that I wouldn’t criticize Adobe, or that I couldn’t objectively discuss photo apps anymore, because of the sponsorship.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Adobe is a huge company that makes some software that I like and use often, mainly Photoshop and Lightroom, and some software that I dislike and avoid, including Acrobat and Flash. The Adobe Revel sponsorship was a multi-week buy, and it’s not over yet, but I’m not afraid to say here that I don’t like some Adobe software.

Someone at Adobe could see this post and get angry because I don’t like Acrobat or Flash, or because I’m talking about the sponsorship. But I don’t think they’ll care, because the people I’ve spoken with there are extremely reasonable. In fact, while negotiating this sponsorship, I posted this sharp criticism without hesitation, and they never mentioned it.

If a sponsor ever has a problem with something I write, and that affects pending or future sponsorship buys, that’s fine with me. I can find other sponsors. And if I can’t, I’ll write for free, like I did for years. If given the choice between writing for free or censoring myself, I’ll write for free. Fortunately, nobody’s forcing me to make that choice today.

A writer’s reputation can’t be easily jettisoned and started fresh. Writing is extremely important to me, and I never want to compromise it. Any given sponsor is temporary, but credibility is for life.

Talent acquisitions

Today, development stopped on Pulp, Wallet, and Sparrow as their companies were bought by Facebook and Google, respectively.

Both appear to be “talent acquisitions”: the companies were bought primarily to get their staff to work for the new parent company, not because the new parent company wanted to own and continue their products. Usually, the purchased products are shut down shortly after talent acquisitions, or they’re not included in the deal and are simply abandoned.

A talent acquisition is effectively a job offer with a large signing bonus.

Instapaper has had multiple similar inquiries from large companies over the last few years. We’ve never gotten very far in talks because I don’t want Instapaper to shut down, I don’t want to move my family across the country, and they didn’t want to pay enough — for them, they’ll pay a premium to hire me, but they won’t pay much for a service they’ll shut down immediately and an app they’ll throw away.

I was only able to reject those offers because Instapaper is a healthy business, and the life that Instapaper provides for me and my family is better than what the big companies offered.

If you want to keep the software and services around that you enjoy, do what you can to make their businesses successful enough that it’s more attractive to keep running them than to be hired by a big tech company.

More on Sparrow and talent acquisitions

My talent-acquisition post yesterday got a lot of attention and some great responses, mostly about Sparrow specifically.

I ended the article with this:

If you want to keep the software and services around that you enjoy, do what you can to make their businesses successful enough that it’s more attractive to keep running them than to be hired by a big tech company.

From Rian van der Merwe’s response:

But… that’s what I did. I paid full price for every version of the Sparrow app I could find. I told everyone who would listen to buy it. I couldn’t have given them more money even if I wanted to. So, as a customer, what more could I have done to keep them running independently?

I should have gone a bit more into this, but I had to run out and buy plants (in my exciting life as a homeowner) and decided to keep the article short and simple.

In the reality of our fast-paced, boom-and-bust industry, even very strong support from customers may not be enough for many companies to stay in business.

They might not take your money. In many cases, such as communication networks and social web services, there’s a lot more value in amassing as many users as possible and then finding ways to monetize the entire group at once, usually by advertising. Charging money before you’re huge is likely to inhibit the rapid growth required to pull this off.

They might not take enough of your money. Some developers and companies simply have poor business sense, or are too embarrassed to ask for a fair price. Many more are concerned that anything above rock-bottom pricing will cause too many potential customers to pass them up.

There might just not be enough customers. Even if a product can get a solid base of customers to pay a good price, it’s still not enough to keep a company afloat, or keep an independent developer working on it full-time, if there aren’t a lot of those customers. Running a business, especially with employees, is far more expensive than most people realize.

As I said two weeks ago when Mozilla canned Thunderbird, the market for third-party email clients is very limited and difficult.

Matthew Panzarino speculates, and I think he’s probably correct, that Sparrow’s business probably wasn’t very healthy:

First, I’m telling you honestly that neither Dom nor anyone else on the team has given me any inside information about this, so this is completely my conjecture.

That being said, I believe that the Sparrow team was building the best product possible in Sparrow for Mac, but not making nearly as much money as they needed to keep the business sustainable.

If so, when Google offered them a lot of money to come work on their extremely successful email service, what were they supposed to do? Sparrow probably made the right move, and almost everyone who’s angry about it would probably have done the same thing in that situation.

As Matt Gemmell yelled at many complainers, we shouldn’t condemn Sparrow for “screwing” or “abandoning” anyone, or for “selling out”.

It’s frustrating when a product or service you like goes out of business, and that’s effectively what happened here. Sparrow tried to succeed in an extremely difficult market, and apparently failed. Their customers supported their efforts up to this point, but there probably weren’t enough customers for them to refuse Google’s offer.

Don’t blame Sparrow. Blame the terrible market for email clients.

The Review of John Siracusa’s Review of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

The time has finally come: today, Ars Technica released John Siracusa’s review of the newest version of OS X.

It’s only been about a year since the last review’s release, an uncharacteristically short interval. With Apple now targeting an annual release cycle for OS X, we might now also expect annual Siracusa reviews. While this prospect is a treat for geeks, it may drive John Siracusa into an early, stress-induced retirement.


Siracusa’s review lengths have remained mostly consistent over the years.

The 10.8 review maintains Siracusa’s standard at approximately 26,000 words, an impressive feat given that the interval between 10.7 and 10.8 was much shorter than most previous OS X update intervals.

This is not a quick read, so it’s a good opportunity to try a read-later method such as Safari’s Reading List, which Apple invented completely on their own.

Like Siracusa’s previous reviews, Ars Technica split the 10.8 review into 24 pages. This is a double-edged sword: it’s tedious to click through to each new page as you read, but the thoughtfully placed page breaks also provide useful stopping points and topical divisions. For the indecisive, Ars Premier subscribers can toggle a single-page option.


In my testing, reading the 10.8 review took approximately 128 minutes.

But I walked my dog briefly in the middle.

Battery Life

At medium brightness, my iPad (3rd-generation) battery fell from 73% to 56% while I read the review on it.

Additionally, my Retina 15” MacBook Pro was sitting open on my lap so I could take notes for this review-review. While reading on the iPad, the MacBook Pro’s battery fell from 99% to 86%.

These numbers are strong, especially on the Mac side. Power management has come a long way since Siracusa’s Mac OS X 10.0 review, and I’m cautiously optimistic for the battery-life improvements while reading Siracusa’s future review of 10.9.


Siracusa’s image performance has been steadily increasing over the series of reviews.

In the 10.8 review, the traditional TextEdit HiDPI screenshot makes its possibly final appearance, as fully-functional HiDPI support has finally been released.

The TextEdit HiDPI screenshot from John Siracusa’s 10.7 review on the left, and the same screenshot from Siracusa’s 10.8 review on the right.

Unfortunately, most of the 10.8 review’s images lack HiDPI versions, and only appear to be taken at 1X resolution. This is a glaring oversight in Siracusa’s otherwise impeccable attention to screenshot detail, and hopefully Ars will lend him a Retina Mac for next year’s 10.9 review.


Like the 10.7 review, Siracusa’s 10.8 review is available on Ars Technica’s site and as an ebook. Ars Premier members can download it for free as PDF, ePub, or Kindle format, and non-subscribers can buy a standalone Kindle edition for $4.99.

This wide compatibility ensures that as many Mac geeks as possible can read Siracusa’s review.

Under The Hood

There have been a few architectural changes to John Siracusa’s OS X reviews as well. Siracusa has detailed the process in his separate explanatory blog post, because the review wasn’t long enough and he had more to say.


I greatly enjoyed John Siracusa’s 10.8 Mountain Lion review for Ars Technica. I was especially satisfied with the iCloud vs. Reality, Scene Kit, and Power Nap sections.

If you’re concerned about stability, or you want to argue with Siracusa about anything he said, you might want to wait for the first few edits. But for the adventurous, you can install it into your reading list of choice right now.

My recommendation: read it.

The Mac App Store’s future of irrelevance

Postbox’s exit from the Mac App Store should sound very familiar to anyone who buys Mac software. If you read between the lines a bit, I think the real story there is one we’ve seen a lot since June 1: they tolerated the App Store’s lack of paid upgrade mechanics before, but sandboxing — and more accurately, needing to remove important app features because of their incompatibility with the current set of sandboxing entitlements — was the last straw.

How many good apps will be pulled from the App Store before Apple cares?

The problem with sandboxing isn’t that any particular app is incompatible with the current entitlements. It’s a deeper problem than that: Apple is significantly reducing the number of apps that can be sold in the Store after people have already bought them.

Apple’s stance seems to be pretty typical of them: comply with the new rules or leave. This usually works for them, but this time, they’ve made a critical strategic error: leaving is often a better option, or the only option, for the affected developers. Many of them have already left, and many more will.

In the first year of the Mac App Store, before sandboxing, I bought as much as I could from it. As a customer, the convenience was so great that I even repurchased a few apps that I already owned just to have the App Store updates and reinstallation convenience. And, most importantly, when an app was available both in and out of the Mac App Store, I always bought the App Store version, even if it was more expensive.

But now, I’ve lost all confidence that the apps I buy in the App Store today will still be there next month or next year. The advantages of buying from the App Store are mostly gone now. My confidence in the App Store, as a customer, has evaporated.

Next time I buy an app that’s available both in and out of the Store, I’ll probably choose to buy it directly from the vendor.

And nearly everyone who’s been burned by sandboxing exclusions — not just the affected apps’ developers, but all of their customers — will make the same choice with their future purchases. To most of these customers, the App Store is no longer a reliable place to buy software.

This jeopardizes Apple’s presumed strategic goal of moving as much software-buying as possible to the App Store. By excluding so many important apps and burning the trust of so many customers, the App Store can never become ubiquitous.

Apple can never require an App-Store-only future and all of the simplicity and security benefits that it could bring, if that was ever their goal. And with reduced buyer confidence, fewer developers can afford to make their software App Store-only.

This even may reduce the long-term success of iCloud and the platform lock-in it could bring for Apple. Only App Store apps can use iCloud, but many Mac developers can’t or won’t use it because of the App Store’s political instability.

The Mac App Store is in significant danger of becoming an irrelevant, low-traffic flea market where buyers rarely venture for serious purchases. And I bet that’s not what Apple had in mind at all.

Follow-up to this post: It’s not just the geeks like us.

It’s not just the geeks like us

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on my Mac App Store post this morning, and I’d like to clarify some points and respond.

I did not say or intend to suggest any of these:

  1. I will not buy anything from the Mac App Store again.
  2. Most Mac users will stop shopping in the Mac App Store.
  3. Most developers will stop putting apps in the Mac App Store.

My argument was more nuanced: many previously-acceptable apps have been effectively kicked out of the App Store because they’re incompatible with the current implementation of sandboxing, and this hurts the customers of those apps enough that they will lose confidence in buying nontrivial software from the Store in the future. For this reason, I, as a customer, have lost confidence. Furthermore, the increasing number of good, useful apps not permitted in the App Store will prevent it from becoming ubiquitous, therefore harming Apple’s presumed long-term goals.

The most common response I received, by far, was that this would only impact geeks like us. Nearly every response was along the lines of “I agree with you, but my [computer-newbie relative] won’t care,” or “The App Store is for average people, not geeks like us.”

First of all, geeks are a very large and influential market. As one big example, if not for geeks, Firefox would never have started to catch on in 2004 and broken Internet Explorer’s reign. We installed Firefox on every non-geek’s computer we could find. And while we were there, we set everyone’s search engine to Google instead of Yahoo or MSN, and we made fun of their AOL email addresses until they switched to Gmail. Our preferences matter.

But it’s incorrect and arrogant to assume that Mac App Store exclusions only affect geeks. While it’s true that many of the excluded apps might be used by a lot of geeks, it’s also likely that a very large portion of “average” Mac users are using at least one. Already, most Mac users can’t go App Store-only because they rely on Microsoft Office, Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or nearly anything from Adobe. These aren’t just geeks. Not even close.

Even the “geeky” apps that get excluded, such as TextExpander and SuperDuper, aren’t used exclusively by geeks. I know because I run a web service that uses a Javascript bookmarklet that people manage to install in Mobile Safari (this is not a simple procedure) that solves a problem that’s mostly only encountered by people who browse the internet all day, don’t want to read what they find while browsing, and want to instead read it on an expensive portable gadget in the future. And they’re not all geeks. One look at my support email makes that extremely clear, and I bet Smile and Shirt Pocket would confirm that the same is true for the “geeky” TextExpander and SuperDuper.

Geeks aren’t the only people who have the problems that these apps solve, and we’re not the only people who can figure out how to find, buy, and use these tools. Give the rest of the computer-owning world some credit.

This isn’t about a few geeks being inconvenienced. It’s about a very large number of Mac users, far beyond geeks, being discouraged from buying (or being unable to buy) the software they need from the Mac App Store, and why that’s not in Apple’s best long-term interests.

How to make great iced coffee with an AeroPress

Iced coffee is tricky to get right. I’ve made this recipe for my last few barbecues, and it always gets compliments, so I think it’s ready to share.

The problem with iced coffee starts with the American expectation that iced drinks should be very large.

If you want to make a 32-ounce coffee of any sort that doesn’t suck, and doesn’t make you explode from overcaffeination when you drink it, I can’t help you. It’s simply too much liquid, especially as the correspondingly huge amount of ice melts and dilutes it over the half hour it should take you to drink that much.

Throw that expectation out. How can we make great iced coffee if it can be smaller and more densely flavored?

The same way we make great hot coffee: the AeroPress.

The idea behind my AeroPress iced coffee is to first make a very strong coffee concentrate. (Why not cold-brew? I don’t like the taste.)

To do this, I boil a lot of water and brew 40 grams of coffee per full AeroPress. (If you haven’t yet, get a scale.)

AeroPressing for multiple cups is a fine art itself, and the most useful tool I’ve found for this is Crate and Barrel’s Quadro Small Jug, a 16-ounce glass jug with an opening that fits the AeroPress’s base perfectly and is strong enough to withstand the pressure. (Disclaimer: If you find a way to shatter one of these or otherwise hurt yourself, I am not responsible. Do this at your own risk.)

Multi-shot brewing into a jar is too unwieldy to use the inverted-AeroPress method, so I just use the standard upright method.

40 grams should look ridiculous in the AeroPress. (And if it doesn’t foam up a lot and almost overflow like beer foam as you pour the water in, your coffee was roasted too long ago.)

I can get three 40-gram AeroPress brews into these 16-ounce jars. If you come up slightly short, top it off with more hot water.

With 120 grams of coffee per 16-ounce jar, this is very dense. (For reference, I normally use 9-15 grams to make one cup of hot coffee with the AeroPress.) Each jar should give you 5–10 cups, depending on how crazy you get with it.

When you’ve made enough for your intended use, refrigerate this concentrate until it’s cold. Don’t add ice — that will just dilute it. Good iced coffee takes time to chill.

But first:

The Sugar Question

While everything’s hot, you should prepare for the sugar question: are you going to serve this sweetened?

I always drink hot coffee black. It’s the only way. But I actually don’t like black iced coffee. (Please email Dan.)

You can stir in sugar when serving, but then it stays grainy and doesn’t dissolve. I suggest you take advantage of sugar’s ability to dissolve into hot water by either of two options:

  1. Add sugar to the concentrate while it’s hot, and stir it until it dissolves. Or:
  2. Make a simple syrup in a separate container by adding a lot of sugar to a few ounces of hot water, then stirring until it’s all dissolved.

I prefer the simple-syrup option with a twist: use dark brown sugar. The resulting solution should be dense enough that it’s as dark as coffee.

Anyway, let everything chill for a few hours, or overnight if you want. The concentrate lasts at least a few days in the refrigerator without any noticeable changes.

Rear jar: the dark-brown-sugar syrup. Fun glass half-and-half pitcher from MoMA.

When you’re ready to brew, treat the concentrate like liquor. It’s strong and dense, and you may regret overdoing it, so start small.

(And tell your guests the same, if it’s self-serve.)

Use a small juice or cocktail glass and pour about 2 ounces of concentrate over ice.

Add sugar and dairy as desired. I suggest a good amount of half-and-half. If it still tastes too strong, you can dilute with cold water, but I’ve never needed to — I’ve found that the ice dilutes it just the right amount over the course of drinking it.


Avoid security risks with iTunes Connect scraping services

AppFigures and App Annie are very useful to iOS and Mac app developers: they automatically fetch, store, and graph sales reports from Apple so we don’t need to keep logging into iTunes Connect. And both can send you an email every morning with the previous day’s sales data, which is both incredibly useful (“Wow, that Talk Show sponsorship caused a lot of sales!”) and incredibly stressful (“Why were yesterday’s sales lower than usual?”). You can also get a lot of this functionality in a native app, minus the daily emails, with AppViz on your Mac.1

But since iTunes Connect doesn’t have an API, all of these reporting tools need you to give them your developer Apple ID and its password, and they need to store it forever in their databases. This has two major downsides:

  1. It’s a very large security risk. Your developer Apple ID can change anything about your apps or remove them from sale, or reroute the sales money to another account. If it’s your personal Apple ID, it can also make purchases, and can even log into iCloud and fetch all of your contacts and calendars. And more.
  2. Occasionally, as I found out this morning, a bug or badly behaved coincidence in one of these apps or services can cause your Apple ID to be locked out and force you to change its password, which is inconvenient.

Fortunately, you can avoid both risks, for the most part, by creating an additional user in iTunes Connect that only has access to sales reports.

Select the “Sales” role for the new user, generate a nice random password, and give that user’s credentials to these services.

That way, the worst that can happen to you if one of these services is compromised is that your sales data might become public, which might be awkward, but wouldn’t be as potentially destructive.

  1. I’m sorry if I didn’t mention your favorite app or service for this. I know there are more than the ones I’ve mentioned. ↩︎

Two great LED bulbs compared to previous picks

In April, I reviewed four LED light bulbs and compared them to other bulb types. The results were mixed:

I love the GE Energy Smart LED, but it really needs a 60W-equivalent version to be competitive. That said, I’ve already bought a few more of these because I like them so much. They’re great for table and night-stand lamps. …

I can’t recommend the Philips AmbientLED. The color is just too weird. But Philips is pushing LEDs forward very aggressively, and I bet they’ll have a more broad general-purpose LED lineup in the near future. I’d love to see Philips offer a cooler-colored option.

For applications where incandescent bulbs are still necessary or most practical, I still recommend the Philips EcoVantage halogen-incandescents, which are like incandescents but use about 25% less power, run a bit hotter, cost a bit more, and don’t last as long.

But since publishing the first review, I’ve found two new LED bulbs worth mentioning.

I’ve re-photographed some bulbs from the previous review under tonight’s conditions for the most accurate comparison with the new bulbs. I’ve also measured the power draw from each one using a Kill A Watt.

Once again, my setup is fairly reproducible if you want to compare my photos with other bulbs: I photographed them in an otherwise dark room against a white wall at 100mm, ISO 400, f/4, 1/100th with white balance set to 5000K.

(This is a Javascript image switcher. View on the full site to see and compare the bulb photos.)

IncandescentG.E. LEDLighting SciencePhilips AmbientLEDPhilips L-Prize

G.E. Energy Smart LED

My opinion on this bulb stands: it’s great, and I’m pleased to see that it draws even less power than advertised. But it’s also only a 40W replacement, it’s a relatively poor value at $30, and it’s a bit cool-colored for some (although I like its color).

I’d love to see G.E. make a higher-wattage version of this bulb.

New: Lighting Science Definity Omni V2

This is an excellent bulb. (Thanks to Ben Brooks for the recommendation.)

It’s my favorite general-purpose bulb now. It’s bright enough to replace a 60W bulb, it’s colored to be a very good match to “soft white” without looking noticeably yellow, it’s omnidirectional, and it’s attractive enough to work in many partially exposed fixtures. At just under $30, it’s also reasonably priced.

Philips AmbientLED

These are getting cheaper and more widespread, but I still don’t like this bulb. It’s too yellow, and its poor color spectrum makes objects in the room look strangely pink.

Not recommended.

New: Philips L-Prize Award Winner

The L-Prize bulb is $50. Yes, $50. For one.

But it’s a hell of a bulb. Its light is still more yellow than the others, but it’s far less noticeable in use. It still has the short startup delay, just like the AmbientLED, but most people don’t care. And it only uses 10W (or less — mine’s only using 8), which nothing else in the 60W-replacement class can match. Admittedly, you probably won’t notice a 2–3W power-draw difference, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

And, subjectively, I think it’s noticeably brighter than the other 60W-replacement LEDs.

It’s far better than Philips’ older AmbientLED bulb, and it’s better than almost every other LED bulb on the market for many uses.

Practical recommendations

I still like the G.E. for a 40W replacement, but I just don’t have a lot of uses for 40W bulbs.

The L-Prize bulb is very good, and it’s the brightest standard LED bulb I’ve seen. But it’s $50, and its light is still a bit yellow. Worth a try if you’re a light-bulb nerd, but otherwise, probably safe to ignore until the price drops.

The Lighting Science bulb is fantastic. It’s the best general-purpose 60W-replacement LED bulb I’ve seen. Recommended.