Monthly Archives: September 2007

Using Acorn

I have a copy of CS3. Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash are all permanently in my Dock. If you do any graphics or animation work, you pretty much need these tools, in the same way that anyone who does any kind of corporate writing needs Word.

But truthfully, I haven’t had Microsoft Office installed for about a year (I use Pages or Leopard’s QuickLook to read other people’s Word documents), and I see a similar fate for some of the big Adobe apps. Despite “what some people have said”: over the years, there will never be a permanent replacement for Photoshop — it is too powerful, does too much — but there could be a healthy market of smaller, focused tools that tackle one piece of the Photoshop puzzle.

“Flying Meat’s Acorn”: is the first of those tools that actually delivers. For the most part I can use Acorn as if I was using Photoshop. Keyboard shortcuts for switching tools, selection, basic layer manipulation — it all works.

I’ve been testing Acorn by working on some new UI mockups, a task it seems particularly well-suited for. One of the most refreshing things has been using a text tool that renders text just as it would look in a normal NSTextField control. Photoshop has a few anti-aliasing settings, but nothing that exactly matches the normal Mac OS X rendering, which makes mockups that mix and match screenshots from Interface Builder and new text look out of place.

As a 1.0, this is a very solid app, and most importantly it gets all that non-delicious stuff right. It would be easy when writing a Photoshop competitor to focus on the fun stuff — Core Image filters or whatnot — so it’s nice to see Gus didn’t gloss over the basics.

So what’s missing? After using it for a couple weeks for real work, the only things I am particularly missing are layer groups (totally understand why he left those out for now), Save for Web (which I hear is coming shortly), and Copy Merged (did I miss it?). And the big one: Open/Save for Photoshop files. It doesn’t need anything fancy in the .psd files, just the same features of a .acorn file to allow a designer to move between the apps if necessary.

Right as I’m about to post this, “Pixelmator finally ships”: I’ve only spent a few minutes with it, but it also looks pretty competent. Time will tell whether it holds up for real work as well as Acorn has for me.

Wii Transfer 2.5

This morning I finally rolled out “version 2.5 of Wii Transfer”:, the most significant release of the product yet. It probably deserved a 3.0 label slapped on it, but I like how all the 2.x releases revolve around the sharing features (sending movies, music, and pictures to the Wii via the Opera browser). Besides, I have a special set of entirely new stuff planned for 3.0.

So what’s new? Movie streaming is the big one. You can now drag and drop movie files to convert to Flash Video format, which Wii Transfer’s web server will happily stream up to your Wii. It works surprisingly well considering the Wii has such limited memory and no hard drive. Last night I even tested with feature-length movies.

Other new features include background music for picture slideshows (both MP3 and AAC) and bookmark sharing, so that you can browse your Safari or Firefox bookmarks on your Wii to easily visit those sites. The “release notes”: page has more of the details.

I’ve also bumped the price up to $19, where I expect it to stay for some time. One way I like to think about the price of Wii Transfer is in relation to another common purchase from Wii owners: games. It’s still less than half the price of a new Wii game.

Special thanks to the beta testers who provided feedback. There are still a number of things about movie sharing that I’d like to polish up, so additional minor updates are likely. I often use the “Wii account on Twitter”: to post these and other announcements.

Rails and Mac dev communities

“Damon Clinkscales has a write-up”: of the Charity Workshop that took place before the Lone Star Ruby Conference in Austin a couple weekends ago. I skipped the conference and attended these tutorials instead, enjoying some great talks by Marcel Molina, Bruce Williams, and 6 other speakers all packed into 4 hours. I definitely picked up a few good tips on Ruby blocks and ActiveRecord, but I was not-so-secretly relieved that I didn’t attend the full conference.

“Since brunch on Sunday”: after the conference, where I got to hear another wrap-up from co-workers, I’ve been thinking about why. Why did I sell my RailsConf ticket and book a flight to Chicago for C4 instead? Why skip a cheap Ruby conference practically in my own backyard? Why have I whittled my Ruby-themed blog subscriptions down to just a few from dozens?

Now I know: it’s about the difference in the communities. The Mac developer community is all about building unique apps, crafting an excellent user experience, and the “indie culture”: of building something small and useful. The Rails community by contrast seems focused on how few lines of code a controller method is. I’m lucky to work with people who care about that stuff, because it often does yield better applications, but I just don’t wake up in the morning excited about rewriting code, so why would I leave my family for a few days to hear someone talk about it?

There are many kinds of programmers. People who have hacked their whole life, dropping out of school to sell software; traditional developers with a CS degree and big company background; and even fine arts majors who fell into programming by accident as a way to build web sites. Based on that background, or what direction their passion takes them, I believe there is a balance between joy for the act of writing code vs. the pride in seeing the final product, and each programmer leans to one way or the other.

For Rails developers, at least many of the leaders in the industry who came from or were inspired by the extreme programming methodology and test-driven development, it’s the former: the art is found in the lines of code — how efficient can the logic be, how DRY, how RESTful.

For Mac developers, not just the “Delicious Generation”: but old school Mac developers as well, it’s the latter: the art is how the final product looks and behaves — being inspired to build something simply because you used another application that was great.

Cutting it this way allows me to see two things very clearly that were confusing before. It puts specifics to why I’ve drifted further away from the Rails cutting edge, and it explains why I get so annoyed with some of the newer crop of Mac developers who proclaim “bindings”: and garbage collection as beautiful gifts for programmer productivity even though they have no added value for the user experience.

Rails is a great framework, and I will continue to enjoy switching gears to write web apps in between my Mac projects. But I’m not going to tune back into that community until there is an equal focus on the bigger picture as it impacts the user (more scaling, more UI best practices), or whatever the next big thing to hit web apps ends up being.

Not a C4 wrap-up post (iPhone!)

Soundtrack for this blog post: “The Touch”: from the 1980s Transformers feature.

Yesterday Apple announced new iPods, plus cool stuff like the Starbucks integration and iTunes Wi-fi Store. I was out at lunch and errands, so I followed the announcements on my iPhone with Safari and Twitter. If the new store had been available, I probably would have bought some music too.

“Dave Winer had mixed feelings about the new stuff”:, but likes how the iPod is evolving to be its own full-featured client:

“They are interesting if only because they illustrate so clearly that it’s possible to get content onto the iPod directly, without synching, without tethering to a laptop or desktop computer. I think the users will love this, and it will quickly become the primary way music gets on the device.”

The $200 price drop on the iPhone was a surprise. My first thought: Apple is totally playing to win. With such an aggressive price drop, they plan to own the high-end market, and maybe some of the middle too. It never crossed my mind that I was ripped off paying $599 until I started reading “comments in this TUAW post”: These are the same kind of people who say “I like your software but I wish it was free” to indie Mac developers.

The iPhone was expensive at $599 but worth it, and the new price doesn’t change that fact. It’s allowed me to work even more remotely, stay connected to friends, get unlost using maps in a new city, and greatly improve how I use a mobile phone.

(I wrote most of the rest of this blog post a couple weeks ago. It was originally titled “1000 emails in your pocket”, but that was before I saw Craig Hockenberry’s excellent “Benchmarking in your pants”: blog post, which while not as directly accurate to Apple’s original iPod marketing, was much more funny.)

I’m not going to post specifically about the sessions at C4 yet, because anything I say would be redundant against posts from “Alex Payne”:, “John Gruber”:, and “Mike Zornek”:, among others. Instead I want to follow up “my original iPhone report”: with how the phone performed during travel.

There were a lot of iPhones at last month’s C4 conference. I had such good luck using the iPhone at the airport and on the train and walking around Chicago, I took my MacBook’s dead battery as a sign to stick to the iPhone all weekend, using it exclusively for email, Twitter, blog reading, and general web surfing. I responded to a handful of emails, used SMS for sending tweets, and hit the iPhone version of Newsgator Online (synced from my NetNewsWire subscriptions) for news and blogs.

Sure, I was jealous of everyone running Twitterific while I had to refresh manually, but overall the experience was great. As “Matt Haughey has blogged about”: the iPhone is a computer, and 3 full days of use proved to me that it’s extremely competent.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago and I went on a weekend road-trip to Dallas with only the iPhone, confident I could respond to email if needed. Same thing over the long Labor Day holiday: drove 7 hours both ways for 2 nights in Louisiana, easily able to follow up on bugs from a recent software release without my MacBook.

Of course there are a few rough edges: I don’t do significant server-side spam filtering, so deleting spam on the iPhone is getting tedious; paying a premium for SMS is annoying and counter to the unlimited web bandwidth; and my typing is only now to the point of pretty good. But otherwise any limitations with the built-in software are quickly becoming solved with new 3rd-party offerings, which have blossomed faster than most of us expected in no small part thanks to “Nullriver’s excellent installer”:

Now the the only question is: what do I do with my “free $100”: