Archive for the ‘How To’ Category

Kid-fu: Pay for play

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 7.24.19 PMHow do you get your kid to try on all his shirts and pants before school starts? So you can sort them into trash, donate, wear, and “for playtime use only”? Answer: Playgrounds. Thank you playground team!

We used the “deal or no deal” rule. Two spins. You can “stick” or you can re-try, but no peeking at the next roll. Payment for each garment  after trying it on, taking it off and folding it. Coins placed into a cauldron (thank you Harry Potter camp) to be counted after we’re done. Any stained items treated with Oxyclean and thrown into the hamper.

For less than a couple of dollars, we got through his entire wardrobe with no complaints except “Don’t I have anything else that needs trying on?”

Source code follows:

Updating OSX beta: Lessons Learned

I wasted a lot of time yesterday and today until Mark Knopper pointed me to a solution for updating my beta by hand. Like others, my download had stalled at 151MB (of a 1+GB update) and I needed to just get the update done.

That solution thread linked to another developer forums post here. This thread contains links to manual downloads. Once you download the component pieces directly, you can move them into the stalled download in /Library/Updates, and then reboot and click Update in App Store.

I decided to complete all downloads, although some report you only have to install three of the four links. App Store sees the completed downloads, and installs and updates. I am now running Beta 2.

Some in that discussion thread have reported unstable systems after performing a manual upgrade. “I may have jinxed myself by asking, but after attempting to apply the packages willy nilly, it seems that my environment (16A201w on pro 3,1) is very unstable.  Safari is now crashing all the time.”

My A/C is broken and the repair person is about to arrive so I won’t have time to test my upgrade until later today or maybe early next week. If you do go this route, do so with extreme caution.

Bouncing AirDrop contents to my desktop

I never use my Downloads folder. It’s a fusion drive, so it’s precious, fast, and expensive. I don’t need a thousand downloaded copies of Xcode and firmware updates littering its limited space. Instead, I point all my browsers and other apps to download to my secondary data disk.

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 12.57.18 PM

And before you ask, I use numerical and alphabetic prefixes so everything shows up in the right place and the right order for quick reference and single-letter typing access. Whatever data I can offload from my main drive, I do offload:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 12.59.42 PM

However, when it comes to airdropping, it’s generally true that whatever I’m sending back and forth is of immediate interest. In such case, I don’t want it heading into my Downloads folder. I want it on my desktop as soon as it lands. As  I’m updating my Playgrounds Book right now, I’m doing a lot more airdropping than I normally would.

I’m not a big user of smart folders and Automator actions. I have a smallish bunch that I occasionally use. Still, they have their place and today was a perfect occasion to bring a new one into the mix.

I just had had it with the Downloads folder and decided to build a bouncer that would automatically throw any item added to ~/Downloads up to the desktop. I thought I’d share how to do this.

Step 1. Create a new Folder Action

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.03.48 PM

Step 2. Choose the Downloads folder.

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Step 3. Drag “Move Finder Items” onto “Drag actions or files here to build your workflow”

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.06.37 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.06.48 PM

This creates the following action, with Desktop selected by default. (If it’s not, choose Desktop for the destination.)

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Step 4. Then save:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.09.12 PM

Your new automator action is stored in ~/Library/Workflows/Applications/Folder\ Actions:

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.11.43 PM

Step 5. Test. Drop a file into Downloads and confirm that it moves to the desktop. You should now be ready to airdrop to your desktop.

Note: I’m sure there’s a better way to do this, but I actually wrote an app that quickly opens AirDrop windows on the Mac side of things. I found an appropriate AppleScript online, compiled it to an app, and use Spotlight to launch it. Very handy when I’m more focused on iOS than OS X at the moment.

Sing out your Mac

Use tcsh (just enter /bin/tcsh) and then:

  • repeat 22 echo "da" | say -v good
  • repeat 26 echo "da" | say -v cello
  • repeat 22 echo "da" | say -v "bad news"

and of course

  • say -v cello droid

Was reminded of this today by:

Pinning tabs in Safari

Because sometimes people forget: Right-click the tab and choose Pin Tab from the pop-up. To remove a pinned tab, right-click again and either un-pin or close it.

Pinned tabs appear in all new tabbed browser windows as well.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.04.55 PM Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 4.05.02 PM

Xcode Upgrades: Lessons learned

Yesterday was remarkably instructive when it comes to how badly App Store can completely mess up a download: particularly for a popular app like Xcode that’s being requested by gazoodles of people at once.

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My download got stuck over and over. I had to clear out my app store caches, restart my app store daemons, and reboot my computer several times.

I ended up with a partial install that thought it was done, that installed all the “extra” components on launch, and then turned out to be a 7.2.1 install that was convinced it was 7.3. It was not.

I even cleaned up the whole install process, tossed my mangled 7.2.1, restored a copy from Time Machine (not a quick process), and tried to update again from the store.

I couldn’t use Xcode during this time to get any work done.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 5.13.19 PM

I spent roughly 8 hours all told downloading, installing, and updating Xcode, much of which could have been bypassed by following two simple rules:

  1. Never update Xcode from the Mac App Store
  2. Wait until Apple posts the upload on developer.apple.com/downloads and  then update from there.

When Apple’s servers are overwhelmed they begin delivering artisanal teaspoons of hand-curated data via authentically indigenous pack animals to your computer. Apple has taken its passion for the slow data delivery movement beyond its products and introduced it into its upgrade practices.

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As part of their continuing mission to leave the world a better place, Apple delivers beautiful products using the most impact-free transmission. This commitment assures that developers are forced to stop work and smell the roses, as Apple promotes appreciation for our beautiful planet and life outside of the IDE window.

Under such circumstances, you’ll always be better off  downloading the bossy full-figured 5GB dmg than upgrading a model-thin Chanel-wearing 2.6GB differential, especially when servers are mocking you with NananaNAN completion estimates.

This is why you should always wait for a DMG. No matter how long it takes to appear on the developer site. No matter how slow the download ends up being. The advantages of downloading a DMG are numerous:

  1. It does not block you from  using Xcode during the entire day or however long it takes for your download to complete.
  2. It does not hang App Store or produce a situation where it insists on taking over the download (“Apple’s App Store download servers have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to download for you using the gentle rhythms of tectonic flow and their satisfaction to keep you from getting any work accomplished, with a knowledge of a job well done.”)
  3. You can see exactly how much data has downloaded in terms of real progress and not imaginary hidden-temporary-file weird pkgs that takes over your /Applications folder and refuse to surrender that spot once active.
  4. Simple downloads are better for your resting heart rate, your blood pressure, and world peace.

Update: Final lesson. If you have downloaded the dmg directly from Apple and not from a third party source, you can run the following to skip the verification checks:

sudo xattr -d com.apple.quarantine /Applications/Xcode.app

Proceed at your own risk. Make sure you know what you’re doing and accept those risks.

In which I learn to branch

Thanks, Joe Groff

  1. git clone your existing repo
  2. cd into the new clone
  3. git checkout -b NEWBRANCHNAME
  4. make your changes, edits, tweaks
  5. cd back to the primary clone folder top level (in the folder)
  6. git add .
  7. git commit -m "A meaningful commit statement"
  8. git push -u origin NEWBRANCHNAME
  9. Hop onto github and use the branch pop-up menu to select your branch
  10. Create your new pull request.

Optional step 11 is “hope you have not overwhelmed the team with your proposal backlog.”

Monetizing while staying the “Good Guys”: the Tao of Red Herring

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Red Herring (Free with IAPs) is one of my favorite iOS games. It’s one of the few single-device iOS games out there that plays better with groups of people than solo. My kids and I regularly gather round an iPad, launch Red Herring, and share time puzzling out the latest daily challenge and game packs.

It couldn’t be simpler: sixteen words and three unknown categories. It’s up to you to figure out how to group those words together leaving four stray red herring “spoilers” that may include words that look like they should fit but don’t actually belong, like “spine”, “bone”, “skin”, and “heart” in the example at the top of this post. The puzzles are tricky, silly, funny, and demanding.

Each game typically takes a few minutes, although a really tough board may last as long as a quarter hour or more. Fan sites have sprung up that offer cheats and solutions, a testament to how loyal and rabid this game’s fanbase can be.

Red Herring is from the creator of 7 Little Words, Moxie, Monkey Wrench, and a few other apps, all aimed at a family-friendly audience. I first wrote about Red Herring a couple of years ago, finding it to be fun and engaging. Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Joe Jordan of Blue Ox. We discussed what it takes to grow and retain this kind of loyal customer base and provide a constant stream of creative, one-of-a-kind puzzles.

Blue Ox’s offerings use a standardized model: they include a trial pack to get users hooked, daily free puzzles that acts as maintenance doses, and budget-friendly IAP puzzle packs. Unlike King’s Candy Crush series, Blue Ox’s free users never get to a point where puzzles become impassable or the game sets up the proposition: “Pay us or stop playing.”

Jordan assured me that Blue Ox treasures its free users. “The potential marketing exposure is tremendous. The more they play, the more they’ll tell their friends about it and the more they feel a kinship with us and our games,” he said. That balance between free games and paid makes it easy to transition from free customer to revenue stream. For me, it’s when we’re out for Family Game Night and I want to grab a big set of puzzles to work on. The packs aren’t expensive and they offer a solid game “hang time”.

“We feel very strongly about the value proposition, giving people a good value,” Jordan said. “We’re always happy to have users continue to play, even when they’re just playing the free one.” It’s a philosophy that started with founder and owner Chris York. “Even in internal discussions, he’s always got the viewpoint that we love the customers who only play our daily games and never buy anything from us. They’re always a positive thing and not a drag.”

From a developer’s point of view, Blue Ox’s “virtuous circle” is aspirational. “Our way of approaching customers and potential customers is to give them enough benefit to support us and feel good about what they’re giving money to, the game that they’re a part of, and they like to talk to other people and they perpetuate that forward.”

The IAP becomes a rewarding gratification rather than a game-cheat to keep moving forward. Free daily games ensure that each IAP pack is a positive choice, not a shake-down.

Maintaining the quality of those packs is another business necessity. Each one is hand crafted, typically by professional crossword puzzle designers. Blue Ox has built a network of game authors over time. They started with a few crossword experts and branched out using word-of-mouth recommendations to create an extended team of contractors.

“Our first puzzle writer outside the company was a gentleman in Wisconsin named Ray Hamel. He’s a trivia guru and he brought that to bear on 7 Little Words and was one of the first creators working on Red Herring puzzles. We also have Sarah Hayes, who has written a ton of puzzles for us who is one of the top UK crossword puzzle writers.”

(Hayes also holds the world record for running a marathon while dressed as a beer bottle. The record applies across all bottle types, not just beer.)

Creating the right purchasable content for your game can make or break your application. “We contract with new writers for a small puzzle group to get a sense of what they can do and like to do. It gives a sense of the kind of puzzles they come up with.” When they find the right fit, they expand the contracts to larger batches. Red Herring puzzles are typically purchased in groups and they can take a long time to perfect. “It can be a painstaking process, going back and forth until it’s just right.”

A Red Herring puzzle has to be “unexpected, with relationships among all the different elements of the puzzles,” Jordan said. “We love misdirection: among the categories and between the categories and the red herrings. It has to be more than just, say, the position of a letter within a word or the number of letters that make up the word. There should be a deeper connection of the puzzle elements.”

I asked Jordan what makes a really good puzzle, and he provided several examples. About the puzzle at the top of this post, he wrote, “It is not complicated but it is elegant.”

And this next one? You might not expect to find Macaroni as a Penguin species or Fuseli as a red herring. “This puzzle has nice, discrete categories that require a certain amount of trivia knowledge (while avoiding esoterica). The fusilli/fuseli misdirection is somewhat rare – we’re not trying “gotcha” trickery – but it seems like it works here.”

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Playing with sounds and word structure is another Red Herring trademark, as you see in the following example. “I’m a sucker for puzzles of this type, and I don’t see them enough,” Jordan says.

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Here’s another of his favorites. Although the Jazz Greats may seem a little obvious, the Arthur Dent (Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy) and cat’s lives twists add a lovely resonance to the puzzle.

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

Copyright Blue Ox. Do not reproduce without permission.

(There are just seven hills of Rome if you were wondering.)

From a programming point of view, there’s almost nothing in Red Herring that a competent coder couldn’t put out with a few weeks of effort and testing. The secret to its success isn’t its GUI or its graphics. Like the best of games, it’s a gateway to a larger experience. The solid puzzles behind the game are the basis of that experience.

Between its respectful balance of free-and-paid elements, and its commitment to ensuring high-quality puzzles, Blue Ox has evolved from a one-man effort to nearly a dozen employees servicing a core family of applications. If you’re starting your own games business, there are a lot worse business models you could follow and few that get it right more than this.

Screencasting AppleTV with join.me

Today, it occurred to me that I could use a web tool like join.me to share the contents of my headless Apple TV unit by broadcasting the QuickTime window I use. The free version of join.me offers reception for up to 10 people in an ad-hoc meeting, so I sent out a call for help and got a few people to pop in and offer feedback.

You join the meeting using a link supplied by the website. It took most testers a minute or two to hop in.

According to those testers, the results were fairly low quality and occasionally choppy. “It was clear at all times other than the choppiness,” one tester told me. Another said he got about 4fps at best. Artifacts were particularly noticeable during animation sequences:

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 6.44.55 PM

But during quieter moments, the screens were pretty readable:

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All in all? Not ideal, but promising.

Broadcasting a QuickTime screen this way isn’t limited to AppleTV, of course. QuickTime can render any iOS device screen for most modern lightning-based devices. So if you have an iPad app or iPhone utility you want to demonstrate in real circumstances using realworld interact, this is an interesting way to do so.

If you do give this approach a try, drop me a note and let me know how it goes for you. I suspect this will work best for screens that do little animation and are primarily text-based.

Thanks ajfoul, Lyle, Jonathan, David, August

Folderol FAQ: How do I delete color swatches?

Victor writes: “How do you remove color swatches from the swatch collection.”

Do you mean the ones in the system color picker? These?
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If so, follow these steps:

Click on the color picker tool (the dropper icon) and drag it to an empty square. Use the dropper to  “sample” the square

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This  sample replaces the current color with “empty”
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Now drag the “empty” color on top of any swatch you want to delete
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Boom, it’s gone:
Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.36.58 AM
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