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The Little Blue Bird That Could

Today, at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in San Francisco, the computer maker unveiled its plans for the next generation of iPhones as well as a sneak peek into third party applications headed our way. Due to hit public airwaves July 11th, Apple’s new iPhone/iPod Touch “App Store” as it’s being called, will allow users to purchase third party mobile applications directly over the air. I speak for all of us at the Iconfactory when I say we were just as surprised and delighted as you probably were to find our very own application, Twitterrific, featured heavily on Apple’s website.

It seems after flying high and far, sometimes to shady destinations, the little blue bird has finally gone legit. I don’t think any of us at the factory realized just how popular Twitter, and in turn Twitterrific would become in this past year. We’ve been making various software applications for a decade now, and in all that time, none of us would have expected such an unassuming little app to become our most well recognized piece of code. Twitterrific’s success speaks volumes about the fine work of the folks over at Twitter, and the hunger for today’s users to stay in touch with friends, relatives and co-workers via new media like social networks.

We’re very pleased the Mac community took to Twitterrific so well and helped make it the success it is today. We’re looking forward to bringing the application to a whole new generation of users for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and would like to extend our thanks to Apple for giving the blue bird such a fine new home. We feel both excited and privileged to be a part of the new App Store and are committed to bringing our users the best software we can offer. We look forward to these first steps on what is sure to be, a fun journey for both users and developers alike.

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Greensboro Gets a Slice of Apple

While we patiently wait for the new Apple Store to open at the Shops At Friendly Center here in Greensboro, a small bit of placation has appeared in the meantime. Yesterday when I walked into the Best Buy off of Stanely Road, low and behold part of the formerly all Windows PC section had been ripped out and replaced with an ultra-mini Apple Store. Right where Toshiba laptops, Dell desktops and other Microsoft loving hardware had stood was the familiar spartan trappings of Steve Jobs’ retail store. It was like the Borg had sliced out a 15×20 foot section of the Southpoint Apple Store in Raleigh, and transplanted it directly into the middle of Best Buy, carpeting and all.

While a surreal experience, it was great to finally see someplace in Greensboro where Apple products can be purchased. Since we lost our local CompUSA back in December, if you wanted to pick up a new MacBook or iMac, you had to make the trek to Raleigh or Charlotte. The inclusion of Apple goods in Best Buy is an impressive about face for two companies that have not always been on the best of terms. I think mini-stores like this one in Greensboro are a testament to Apple’s growing popularity and the strength of the brand. No matter what caused it, I’m just glad to see a tiny bit of Apple in Greensboro once again. Maybe now I can stop driving over to Friendly once a week to check on any signs of life. Nah!

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Podcast To Oblivion

Summary: The length of some audio podcasts are increasing at an alarming rate. Podcasters should learn to master the fine art of editing or risk losing large portions of their listening audience. I provide some helpful tips to help them avoid pitfalls and offer some anecdotal evidence on the subject.

Even if you read no further than the above summary, you’ll have a pretty good feel for what this post is about, where it’s going and what will be discussed. Unfortunately, this is more than I can say of many of today’s most popular audio podcasts. I’ve noticed a few alarming habits that podcasters are adopting that have put me, and others like myself, off from listening to their content. By writing about these trends, I hope podcast producers will look at the criticism objectively and perhaps find some room for improvement.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” ~ Thomas Jefferson


Rambling Ratholes

Almost a year ago, I started listening to the excellent Mac-based audio podcast by Leo Laporte and company called MacBreak Weekly. MBW is a “round table” discussion between Leo and a cast of regulars including Merlin Mann, Andy Ihnatko and others. I enjoyed MacBreak Weekly for a long time, until I noticed the length of the broadcast kept creeping up and up. The hosts would often wander off on tangents that often had nothing to do with the subject of the discussion. Leo proudly dubbed these tangents “ratholes” and they even came up with a little musical jingle for the things. They were cute at first, but soon grew annoying. When episode number 70 hit 112 minutes back in December, I had had enough.

The length of MacBreak Weekly episodes has been rising slowly for some time, and I don’t think they even realize it. I love a good 20 minute discussion about Apple IIc’s as much as the next fanboy, but there are limits. Laporte seems to have forgotten how to edit his podcasts and the result are bloated episodes. In addition, TWiT doesn’t even supply an episode summary until a week after its initial broadcast. Podcaster tip: if you can’t be bothered to listen to your own content and post a detailed summary of what you’ll be talking about for the next 1.5 hours, I can’t be bothered to listen.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what other men say in whole books.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Can I Buy Shares of GRUBR?

Another one of my favorite podcasts is The Talk Show with Dan Benjamin and John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame. Like MacBreak Weekly, episodes of The Talk Show have been getting longer. Unlike MacBreak Weekly, the creators of The Talk Show are firm believers in editing, which results in more “cake” and less “frosting”. And although the running length is increasing faster than that of MacBreak Weekly, Benjamin & Gruber haven’t yet reached the dreaded average running length of 1.5 – 2 hours that Laporte and company regularly flirt with.

Dan Benjamin says that they typically record 1.5 to 2x as much material as they need and then edit out all the non-essential bits to arrive at their final running time. They don’t set a time limit for The Talk Show, but they do make a conscious effort to bring listeners the interesting bits and leave the rest on the cutting room floor. This being said, I still think set running times are a good idea. Podcaster tip: It’s much easier for someone to plan to listen to a podcast from week to week when its length is fixed. A great example of this is NPR’s Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Each episode is 47 minutes long and so I know exactly where I’ll be when it starts, and when it ends. If you can’t say what you have to say in a set time, consider editing it down or breaking it up into parts.

“If you bring that sentence in for a fitting, I can have it shortened by Wednesday.” ~ Hawkeye Pierce, M*A*S*H


The Butter Zone

So how long should your average audio podcast be? Not surprisingly if you ask a podcast producer they’ll probably tell you “As long as it needs to be.” Unfortunately this attitude often reflects the desires of the creator and not those of the audience. People’s time is limited and in this modern age, attention spans wane. I took an informal survey on Twitter to ask people their thoughts about what was the right length for an audio podcast. Fifty people responded and took the poll. Although the tally can’t be considered scientific by any sense of the word, I believe the results are indicative of your average content consumer. Is it really any wonder that people’s preferred length for a podcast is the same as your average television show? Podcaster tip: When podcasts approach the length of feature films, people start to lose interest. It’s better to break long epics up into short, multiple features.

Another portion of the Twitter poll asked respondents where they listen to podcasts the most. A full 46% of them said “On the go” meaning in their cars, while jogging, riding the subway, etc. Sometimes I load up my iPhone with episodes of The Talk Show and listen to them on my morning drive of about 15 minutes. Until the recent spike in length, I was able to get through one episode of TTS in a single day’s commute, which was just perfect. Indeed, the 2005 U.S. census reported that the average American’s commute time to and from work was 25 minutes. Large cities like New York were a bit higher at 38 minutes, but all were under an hour. I think this fact helps explain the audience’s desire for 30-45 minute podcasts. By nature, people love closure and enjoying a podcast that can be completed in a single commute is a satisfying experience.

“Let me explain. No, there is too much, let me sum up.” ~ Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride


To Sum Up

Despite what the creators of podcasts may think, their audience is looking for manageable chunks of auditory content that can be neatly parsed into a daily commute or a walk around the park. Thanks in part to the ever increasing HD sizes of iPods, podcast producers no longer feel restricted by file size, and have a tendency to let their hosts ramble. Unless content creators re-dedicate themselves to producing top-notch, edited podcasts, more and more people will undoubtedly lose interest. When I visit the latest episode of MacBreak Weekly and I spy a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, it turns me off. The length is too intimidating to even attempt and I just surf away. From one Mac fan to another, I urge Leo and others like him to take the words of Baltasar Gracian to heart – “Good things, when short, are twice as good.”




Hat tip to Craig for his help with the graphing portion of this post. Me bad with spreadsheets. Craig good.

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One-Way Street

Let me just say up front that the engineers, programmers and developers I work with are some of the most talented people in the industry. They manage to write software and code few others have the skill to create, and I am often in awe of their abilities. That being said, I’ve recently been reminded of an inequity between designers and programmers which I have to get off my chest.

Last week I watched the excellent video from the C4 developer’s conference with my friend Cabel Sasser of Panic fame called Coda Confidential. Something he said in his presentation struck home. At the 22 minute mark Cabel starts talking about Coda’s “Toolbar of Doom” and the implications the toolbar had on his developers. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can listen to the description of the problem from the C4 video, or check out Cabel’s blog post on the subject. The short version is that Cabel designed Coda’s toolbar to appear a certain way, the way he knew it looked best. But it turned out that designing it this way was hard. Very hard. After trying to bend the Cocoa toolbar implementation to their will, they decided instead to throw in the towel. And when Cabel says “throw in the towel” he means write their own toolbar code. From scratch.

Despite their impressive ability to solve the toolbar design problem, Cabel makes the point that he’s constantly “choosing his battles” between himself and the programmers at Panic. They don’t always have the luxury of writing code from the ground up to solve a particular design problem. They are constantly asking themselves is this particular design decision worth the time and effort it will take to implement? As I know from personal experience, sometimes the answer to that question is unfortunately, “No”. As a co-owner of my company, like Cabel, I’m constantly looking at the “big picture” to determine if a difficult design is worth the time and money required to implement it.

But from a creative point of view, purely as a designer, I still find it frustrating that the ideas and creations I come up don’t always get implemented. Some are considered “too difficult” or “too time consuming” to put into practice and therefore must be abandoned. I consider this to be a double-standard in our industry between designers and developers. As a designer, I’ve almost never told a developer I’m working with that a particular icon, user interface or web design is “too difficult” to implement. In my entire career, I think I’ve said “no” a grand total of 2 or 3 times. And that only happened because someone asked for something physically impossible, like making a 5 letter word legible at 16×16 pixels. I realize the programmers reading this will probably say “that’s because coding is more difficult than designing”. This may or may not be true, but that’s a whole other topic for discussion.

I know that even programmers themselves can’t always create the software or features they dream up, but it seems like they often have “outs” that simply don’t exist for us designers. We’re always expected to push through and solve the problem, while for them, something is either technically not feasible, would take too long to implement, or is simply a bad idea due to poor user behavior. Just once, I’d love to be able to tell a developer who’s asked me to solve a design problem “Nope, it’s too hard. Not gonna happen.”

I know that given enough time and money, pretty much anything is possible, and unfortunately most small software companies are not made of gold. We must therefore attempt to balance our desires as designers with what is best for the success of the product. I also know that the balance between a talented designer and a skilled programmer can transform mediocre titles into outstanding apps. I just wish I had the ability to even the score every now and then. I take solace in the fact that often as designers, we’re usually only limited by our imaginations rather than API’s or function calls. Our relationship may indeed be a one way street, but for developers, it’s often littered with road blocks.

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AAPL Gains on 3G Rumors

With reports that iPhones are sold out of all three New York Apple stores, and Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney believing that Apple has placed an order for 10 million 3G iPhones, Apple’s stock price climbed another $3.66 today to $144.64. I’ve been keeping a close eye on AAPL and would love to have purchased some additional shares of the stock after it bottomed out in late February at $119. But given the recent volatility of the stock, I figured I should probably just sit tight.

I personally don’t buy the rumors of new OLED displays, but this could indeed be the time when the 3G version of the iPhone finally takes center stage, right before WWDC and the launch of the iPhone App store. The iPhone is definitely poised to fill the increasing hole left by slowing iPod sales, and so the App store couldn’t be timed better. The more I think about the sheer number of software possibilities for developers in relation to the iPhone, the more my inner Mac boy grins from ear to ear. Neither RIM, nor Windows Mobile or any of the other cell carriers have anything that even approaches the reach of the soon-to-be application store. Apple is about to make installing new software on your cell phone as easy as buying songs on iTunes. If I was a mobile competitor, I’d be pissing my pants and buying AAPL like there was no tomorrow.

Will AAPL return to the $200 a share price it held just a few months ago? Of course. I suspect how long the rebound takes depends on seemingly unrelated factors like the price of oil, the weakness of the dollar and the continuing problems in the housing market. All these things have depressed the stock artificially, which in the end is probably a good thing. It gives average investors a chance to jump in low and enjoy a (hopefully) slow and steady climb back up. Despite the recent plunge in price, I think this is a good time to own stock in Apple Computer. Retail stores are buzzing, thousands of developers are working away on cool new iPhone software and if we know Steve, there are bound to be a few surprises thrown in for good measure. Go AAPL, go!

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AAPL’s SDKmarks

Despite the long-awaited release of the iPhone SDK yesterday Wall Street in their usual “wisdom” decided to punish Apple stock. Despite all the incredible news about iPhone for Enterprise, the immediate availability of the beta, the iFund, and even the game-changing nature of the event itself, AAPL managed to lose $3.41 on the day. Here’s how I think it all went down:

Disclosure: Yes, I own stock in Apple Computer and I’m about to own a whole lot more. Once the reality of the SDK starts to sink into investors, $200 a share is going to look like peanuts.

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Solving Airport’s Mystery Dropouts

Ever since Christmas of 2007, I’ve had a problem. Sudden, seemingly random Airport signal dropouts. These frustrating gaps can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes or even hours. When this happens, the internet connection in our second story bonus room is lost completely. Sometimes it comes back on its own but lately we’ve had to turn Airport off and then on again to re-acquire the wi-fi signal. The problem has been so bad that I’ve even considered calling an electrician to hard wire the bonus room for CAT-5 cable. A costly and extreme solution to be sure. After two solid months of vexing investigation, I think I’ve solved the mystery. If you’ve been experiencing sudden wi-fi dropouts on your airport enabled Mac, read on.

The Usual Suspects

I’ve been reading about Leopard wi-fi problems for weeks but since our Macbook Pro is still running Tiger, these reports didn’t make sense. Perhaps it was one of the three Airport base stations we have in our home. The Airport Extreme in our home office acts as the router, and there is a second Extreme in the upstairs bonus room itself. When we first moved into the house four years ago, I set up an Airport network with an original UFO base station and an Airport Express in the hallway of the second floor. This served well for years, and when the new Airport Extremes were released, we upgraded but left the Express to boost signal.

All seemed fine until around Christmas when the dropouts started. At first I thought it was a hardware failure and tried swapping the Extremes, changing their location in our home, altering the configuration of the network from b/g compatible to just g, then to n. I tried closing the network, removing the Express completely, etc, etc. Despite all of this, the network dropouts persisted.

Next I tried removing the other Wi-Fi enabled devices in our home. Through a process of elimination I removed our Nintendo Wii, my wi-fi enabled iPhone and even my TiVO from the Airport network. I had suspected the TiVO for a long time since the dropouts seemed to come at set 5 or 6 hour intervals (when the TiVO was downloading program info?) and was disheartened to discover that after dissconnecting the TiVO for a full 2 days, drop outs were still the rule and not the exception.

A Break In the Case

The clue to the solution came when I made the connection between when the problems started and the time of year. I said earlier that the dropouts began shortly after Christmas of 2007, just when other families in the neighborhood would be getting wireless routers and hooking them up. Further clues were provided by my friend Craig Hockenberry that told me he has had similar problems due to interference from his neighbors. From Craig’s home, some 12-18 wireless networks are available. Being at the end of a dead-end street, I always assumed we were pretty isolated from interference from other networks. When we first moved in, my Airport network was alone in the neighborhood. But sure enough, a quick check with AP Grapher this week revealed between 6-8 other wi-fi networks. After a walk around the development, and chatting with neighbors, I was able to create a rough map of the wireless networks that surround our home.

Advances in 802.11 technology have dramatically increased the strength and range of home wi-fi networks. Unfortunately this also increases the potential for interference from one source to the next. You can see in the map to the right that although the house in pink is hundreds of feet away from mine, I still get a 42% signal from their wi-fi router. Craig turned me onto a few articles that talk about potential interference from sources like cordless 2.4 GHz phones, microwaves and especially other 802.11 devices. Suspecting one of these was the culprit, I watched AP Grapher like a hawk and noticed that our Airport channel would sometimes overlap those of our neighbors. When this happened, sure enough, a dropout occurred. In Mac OS X, I have Airport set to select channels automatically, and this turned out to be the root of the problem.

Book ’em Dano!

When Airport is set to automatic, it quickly “scans” across the entire channel range and selects the one with the least interference to use. At the time of the scan, channel 11 may be relatively clear and so all is well. If however, a competing wi-fi network on the same channel turns on, or increases signal strength due to atmospheric conditions, that channel becomes cluttered with radio noise. The protocol for 802.11 is designed in such a way that when this happens, base stations can hold off broadcasting until the interfering signal goes completely away, which could be minutes, hours, or even days. This also accounts for the apparent randomness of the original problem.

Thanks to AP Grapher/Scanner, I can easily see the channels that all my neighbors are using for their networks. Since most wireless routers are set to channel 6 out of the box, avoiding this channel as well as two channels to either side is best. I’ve now set our Airport network to broadcast on channel 9 and I’m very pleased to report that so far, the dropouts that have plagued us low these many weeks, have ended. If you are able to manually set your wireless network channel to something that avoids the channels of those around you, this should do the trick. I foresee a time in the very near future however when the 11 channels currently used by wi-fi in the United States just won’t be enough. Hopefully, refinements in 802.11 technology (or something completely new) will stay one step ahead of the problem and keep us all up and running. Case closed baby!

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Maximum Zen

You have to hand it to the people at PopCap. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so addictive. I mean the player strategy behind their hugely successful game, Peggle Deluxe, amounts to little more than a digital coin toss. Despite this, the game is immensely satisfying and keeps players coming back for more. One of the reasons is the sheer joy you get when you pull off shots like this:

In many ways, Peggle has a lot of the same visceral qualities that made games like Ambrosia Software’s Malestrom and Apeiron so great. These noteworthy creations from Ambrosia Software helped to inspire my love of Mac gaming and provided a great deal of inspiration when it came time to bring the user interface and general feel of Frenzic to life. Ambrosia has gotten away from these types of straight forward, fun as hell, games lately (with the possible exception of Sketch Fighter) and it’s too bad. I would kill for an updated OS X version of Malestrom. One that combines the simple fun of Peggle with the classic sensibilities of Ambrosia and the power of Mac OS X.

In the meantime, my hat goes off to the folks at PopCap for creating Peggle. I think it’s almost as addictive as Frenzic… almost 😉 If you have videos of your favorite shot replays, post links to them in the comments and help spread the Extreme Fever. Tally ho!

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Real Life Wait Cursor

This funky watch has to be the coolest thing to come out of Korea since Kalbi. A company named Funshop has released this wonderful, retro accessory much to the delight of pixel geeks everywhere. I especially love how the face is true to form and forgoes any numbers which would only detract from the pixelish illusion. Not sure if you can order it yet, but even if you could, you’d have to be a huge nerd to actually wear it in public. Something tells me this would be better off on a shelf as a great conversation piece, at least until they come out with the inevitable Marble of Doom inspired pocket watch.

Hat tip to: NOTCOT.

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More Than I Needed to Know

Being the huge Apple fan boy that I am, I live for Steve Jobs’ keynote speeches. Like millions of other devoted Mac users, seeing Steve take the stage and throttle up the Reality Distortion Field is a special pleasure. There’s something about the man that makes you believe in miracles. Call it charisma, call it vision, but whatever it is, he’s got it and Bill Gates doesn’t. As much as I love Steve’s keynotes, I love surprises even more. Sadly, thanks to the ever present leaks, educated guesses and prognostications of the Macintosh community, this year’s Macworld keynote was almost 100% devoid of surprises.

As all of us at the Iconfactory huddled around the Macbook Pro to watch MacRumors’ live keynote feed earlier today, I started to get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Point after point in Steve’s address seemed like old hat. Corey even managed to guess several of the next words out of Steve’s mouth before he spoke them. Apple TV, check. iTunes movie rentals, check. iPhone firmware update, check. Macbook Air subnotebook computer, check. Check!?

If you paid attention to the Mac sites late last week and over the weekend, then you probably knew the Macbook Air was coming, as did iTunes movie rentals and all the rest too. About the only thing in the entire keynote that was a surprise was Time Capsule and the fact that all the major movie studios were on board for rentals. While I’m very impressed with just about everything Apple announced today, I felt disheartened that I already knew most of it. It totally took the fun out of the keynote and dampened my spirits as everything was laid bare. John Gruber’s prediction piece right before the keynote was so accurate, I was actually sorry I read it after Steve left the stage.

Growing up, one time while my parents were out, I carefully unwrapped a few of my Christmas presents to get a sneak peek. I was quite proud of myself when I even managed to play a copy of Asteroids for the Atari 2600 and then successfully re-wrap it without my mother so much as suspecting anything. It felt great to blast chunks of pixelated rock days early, but faking my surprise on Christmas morning ended up taking all the fun out of it. Given how I felt watching today’s keynote, I think for next year I’ll leave the presents wrapped and my rumor web surfing habits under the tree where they belong.

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That Shit Won’t Fly at Macworld

So Editor Brian Lam and the crew at Gizmodo.com apparently pulled a slew of pranks at the C.E.S. expo in Las Vegas this week. They got their hands on a gadget called the TV-B-Gone that lets you turn off virtually any TV remotely and went around the show switching off all manor of flat panel displays right in the middle of presentations. As one might imagine, show organizers, sponsors and naturally presenters were furious and have called for firings as well as banning Gizmodo from future admission at C.E.S. We know how much Brian likes to have fun, but after viewing the video that they themselves made, I find myself pretty upset.

The people who attended C.E.S. went to see the very stuff that Gizmodo screwed with. If I had been in the audience and monitors started blacking out every time I sat down, I’d be raising bloody hell to the organizers too. This group of bloggers saw fit to waste people’s time and money on a puerile joke that that isn’t even that funny. David Pogue wrote this week that Gizmodo crossed the line and I happen to agree with him.

“Why do the exhausted, hard-working booth reps deserve to have their demonstrations ruined? Why did the audience deserve to have its time wasted? Besides: if Gizmodo’s beef is with the C.E.S. organizers, why punish the presenters and their companies?”

Imagine if they had tried to pull this at Macworld instead of C.E.S. What do you think would have happened then? Unlike some wishy-washy people in charge of C.E.S., I would bet my right arm that Steve Jobs wouldn’t let them set foot in another Macworld expo for at least 3 years. In addition, Mac users would probably hoist Lam and company to the top of the highest yard arm and have their way with them seven ways to Sunday online. However, the Gizmodo crew isn’t stupid, and so the chances of them attempting a repeat performance next week in San Francisco are slim to none. After all, I don’t think even Brian Lam is crazy enough to come between the faithful and their Macs. For his sake, let’s hope so.

UPDATE: The more I think about what Gizmodo did, the more upset I get. Apparently some people think we should all just “lighten up” and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Hardly. The folks at Gizmodo want to have access to people like Bill Gates, the most successful CEO in history, so they can post video interviews of him and lure eyeballs. At the same time, they run around C.E.S. pulling vandalism worthy of 5th graders. You can’t have it both ways boys. Thankfully an opposing view point at ZDNet seems to get it right. As anyone who’s watched The Amazing Race knows, karma’s a bitch.

Update II: A reader points out, not only are they jerks, but they’re hypocrites too. Check out Gizmodo’s original review of the TV-B-Gone. Irony much?

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Next Up: Arcade Daze System

They say you never forget your first true loves. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve recently gravitated to the pixel-click world of Arcade Daze once again. When I released the first Arcade Daze set back in August of 2006, it managed to combine two of my favorite things: video games and icons. I’m not talking about the photo-illustrative, super real creations that pass for icons today. I’m talking about good old fashion 16×16 and 32×32 pixel-clicked pieces of hand crafted art. Back before some of you who are reading this used a computer, icons were limited in the number of pixels AND colors they could contain. Placing each dot in the canvas was critical to the success of the final icon and something I thoroughly enjoyed doing.

Over the holiday break I started working on a new system replacement icon set for CandyBar based on Arcade Daze and I have to say it’s been a blast. I still have a way to go until it is completed, but I can already tell it will be one of my favorite sets. Every item in the collection is based off a 14×15 pixel click icon that then gets super-scaled up by various factors to flesh out all the sizes up to Leopard’s 512x512s. With Anthony’s help, I managed to create a series of Photoshop actions that take a lot of the grunt work out of creating Arcade Daze System. Thanks to these actions I’ll be able to include more icons in this collection than I’ve ever done before.

So stay tuned to the Iconfactory and in the meantime, head on over to my Flickr page for a sneak peek at what the pixelated future holds. This is gonna be fun!

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CompUSA Goes Buh-bye!

My friend Rick Yaeger just tweeted some astonishing news about the national computer chain CompUSA. Apparently, after the holiday buying season is over, all 103 of the stores will be closing. For good. From Yahoo:

“Consumer electronics retailer CompUSA said Friday it will close its store operations after the holidays following sale of the company to Gordon Brothers Group LLC, a restructuring firm. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

CompUSA operates 103 stores, which plan to run store-closing sales during the holidays.

Privately held CompUSA, controlled by Mexican financier Carlos Slim Helu’s Grupo Carso SA, said discussions were under way to sell certain stores in key markets. Stores that can’t be sold will be closed.”

All I have to say about this is that thank GOODNESS Apple recently announced plans to open an Apple retail store here next spring/summer. Between January and the opening of the new Apple store however, there will be a huge hole for local merchants to fill. Best Buy will probably pick up a great deal of the slack, but the business potential for the new Apple store in Greensboro just got a whole lot brighter. As a side note, Twitter & Twitterrific win points once again for the first point of contact for me with breaking news items.

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A Brief Video Tour of CandyBar 3

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a googolplex, right? Yesterday Panic & The Iconfactory released CandyBar 3 for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard and it has been greeted with open arms by Mac users and icon enthusiasts alike. There’s a great deal of new stuff packed into this release, not the least of which is the blending of CandyBar 2 and Pixadex 2 into a single, unified whole. I thought an easy way to show some of these cool new features was to make a quick guided tour. Video artifacts and nervous jabber aside, I think you’ll find it helpful.

To get the complete skinny and download a free trial version, point your favorite web browser to the CandyBar Home page over at Panic.com. Then surf on over to the Iconfactory and download tons of great, free icon sets and their accompanying Leopard dock styles. Have fun and thanks for watching!

UPDATE: The guys over at MacMost have put together their own screencast of CandyBar 3 and it’s pretty nice. They show how you can manually drop in dock images instead of using just iContainers, which is something I didn’t cover in my overview. Check it out.

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You Know, for Spite!

This is the true story of how MarbleofDoom.com was born. Those of you with weak constitutions should look away now because it’s not going to be pretty. As any artist knows, the creative process can often be sparked by a number of things; a bit of music, a friend’s comment, a favorite photograph or even just the desire to fill an empty niche. However, in the case of the MOD, no such nobel pursuits came into play. Nope, what we have here is a good ‘ol fashion case of spite. Yes, spite.

Before I get into all that however, I should back up just a little bit. If you don’t know what MarbleofDoom.com is, go check it out. It’s basically a fun, website where Mac users can enter how much time they’ve collectively wasted waiting for the spinning beach ball of death cursor. Users enter time and the site reports on the total number of hours wasted. What’s the point? I’m glad you asked.

The spinning beach ball has been something that Mac users have been dealing with in one form or another since the platform was launched. Back in the early days, Mac users knew it as the dreaded wrist watch cursor that would spin until a process had finished loading. When Mac OS X came along, Apple decided to spruce it up. I guess they figured if you had to wait, why not wait in style? With the advent of the Adobe CS suite of apps, Mac users saw the frequency and duration of the beach ball increase dramatically. I know what you’re thinking. MOD was created to spite Adobe, right? Nope, not by a long shot cupcake. Now sit back down and let me finish the story.

Back in June, two of my long-time friends, Bob & Jiffy Burke, told me via Twitter that at Jiffy’s office, they referred to the beach ball as the “Marble of Doom”. The name really struck a chord with all of us at the Iconfactory and we started referring to it by its new name all the time. We loved the name so much that in September, I decided to add the lexicon to the official Wikipedia entry for the spinning beach ball of death. This is the part where the spite comes in. I was so proud of contributing to the mythos of the beach ball, that when my addition was removed a little over an hour later by a user named Sdfisher, I could hardly believe it. I mean, it was just another name for the cursor, what harm could there possibly be in adding it? According to Sdfisher:

“marble of doom” has 10 google hits, only one of which is Mac related. Removed.

Ask any one of my friends and they’ll tell you I’m not a vindictive person. I don’t fly into fits of anger or wish ill-will on anyone. But when I read that Wikipedia edit from Sdfisher, something inside me snapped. I immediately formed a geeky plan to leverage Mac users everywhere and get “Marble of Doom” back up on Wikipedia. After all, I owed Jiffy no less. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Months earlier, I had decided to actually record marble spin time using the excellent time tracking utility, On the Job. Every time I’d see the Marble of Doom, I’d immediately add the time to the fake MOD project. After one month of tracking the cursor, I was shocked to find that I was kept waiting a grand total of almost 1 hour. This experience gave me the brainchild for what would eventually become MarbleofDoom.com. All of the guys at work got excited about the project and I even enlisted the help of the talented Wolfgang Ante, our Frenzic and xScope partner, along with our own Craig Hockenberry, to help code the back end. The MOD website became a fun side project that we worked on in the down time between client work. We launched it on 10/19/07 and its popularity soared as Mac users everywhere could finally vent their frustrations with their glassy overlord.

“Marble of Doom” now has over 40,000 Google hits and has given more than a few people a good laugh while they wait for their Macs to return from la-la land. The best part however, was that on 10/30/07, a user named Rory O’Kane re-entered “marble of doom” as one of the names for the spinning beach ball cursor on Wikipedia. Take that Sdfisher! I told you this wasn’t going to be pretty, and now you know. God, I love the Internet 🙂

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Dear NBC

With the news yesterday that NBC wanted to experiment with raising prices on iTunes, and asked for a cut of Apple’s massive iPod revenue, I thought I would voice my thoughts over at NBC’s newly beta Hulu site. As Corey pointed out to me this morning, NBC’s “slice” of the iPod revenue is the network getting their shows on the portable player in the first place. They are not entitled to profits from the sales of the hardware itself. Despite what Bill and Ballmer have done. Here’s my comment over at Hulu’s blog:

“So $15 Million dollars wasn’t enough for you guys from iTunes last year huh? What was the amount you were making for your shows online before iTunes came along? Oh yeah, right. Zero. Your vision is shortsighted, greedy and anti-customer.

If I can’t view your shows on my iPod or iPhone, can only see the last 5 episodes of something, can’t watch them outside the US, have to watch ads and need flash, then I’d say this grand experiment is a massive failure. Too bad too because I like your content, but I’ll never buy another NBC/U DVD. Ever.”

I meant that last bit. Mindy and I bought the first season of Heroes on DVD because I had missed it first time around. Although it’s tempting to buy season 2 when it eventually comes out, until NBC comes back to iTunes, I won’t be forking over any more money to Zucker and company. If you feel the same way, I suggest you head on over to Hulu and let your thoughts be known. Judging from the comments already posted, we’re not alone.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, anyone wanna take a guess as to why the final season of NBC/Universal’s ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is being delayed until April instead of its planned January airing? Could it be that NBC/U wants Galactica to be their flagship show when Hulu leaves beta? Could be rabbit. Could be.

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Scott Moritz Full of Ca-Ca. Again.

For those of you just tuning in, financial “analyst”, Scott Moritz of theStreet.com, has proven once again that he doesn’t know jack when it comes to Apple, how the technology sector works, or even the stock market. Moritz first spread rumors that Wall Street expected Apple to sell upwards of 1 million iPhones in the weekend launch of their new product. This despite the fact that no one but Moritz himself had circulated that figure to the press.

Then, later when Apple dropped the price of the iPhone, he reported that the move was because the iPhone wasn’t selling as fast as “some optimists” (read Moritz himself), had expected. According to Moritz, Apple dropped the price to keep sales brisk and catch up with Wall Street’s sagging expectations. More factless speculation on his part, especially since the iPhone eventually hit 1 mil units in just 74 days.

Now we can say with absolute certainty, that Moritz was full of crap on at least one other report he filed. On October 17th 2007, 9 days before Leopard went public, he reported from theStreet.com that Apple would be shipping an ultra-portable 13-inch laptop as a companion to the operating system launch. Do you remember Apple announcing a new 13-inch MacBook on Leopard’s launch day? No, your memory isn’t fading. You didn’t just happen to miss the news that day. Moritz’s prediction never happened.

Not only did it not happen, there was no reason to ever believe it in the first place. Apple has never announced new hardware in tandem with an operating system release. Never. And why would they? Jobs wouldn’t risk overshadowing an OS launch that has taken years for Apple to develop, test and ship with that of a flashy new sub-notebook or powerful desktop computer. Any “analyst” who tells you differently is blowing smoke up your ass for some reason. As I’ve speculated before, I suspect Moritz is either very bad at his job or is intentionally trying to manipulate Apple’s stock price. Either way theStreet.com needs to grow a spine and get a new Apple expert. All investors of AAPL need to know is anything that comes out of Scott Moritz’s mouth or published in his columns isn’t worth the time it takes to watch or read it.

Disclosure: I own stock in Apple Computer.

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Leopard’s Little Things

Scads have been written about the big new features in Apple’s new OS offering. Apple has made sure to fill Leopard chock full of compelling reasons to upgrade, from Time Machine and Spaces to improved versions of Mail and Safari. All of these great features help to keep the Mac ahead of our PC using counterparts and give the average user even more reasons to consider a Mac for their next purchase. And while Time Machine, Boot Camp and any number of the over 300 new features make upgrading to Leopard worth it, for my money, it’s the little things that really make me happy. Here’s a list of just some of the things that make using a Mac even better under Leopard.

A Flexible Finder

It’s no wonder that Apple highlights the Finder on the Leopard home page. Users have been waiting for an update to this portion of the operating system for many, many years. The Finder’s often touted, unified appearance, is just the tip of the iceberg however. The sidebar now mirrors the structure of iTunes, which instantly gives non-Mac users a sense of familiarity. This single user interface change may help sell more Macs than any other aspect of Leopard. At first, I thought having the Finder mimic iTunes might be confusing, but after only a few hours, I could see the wisdom of this important design decision.

I suspect it was difficult for execs to sell the unified appearance in marketing meetings, and so Apple gave us Cover Flow in the Finder. This sexy little bit of code looks great, but I’m not sure how often I’ll be using it. Like the “genie effect” of days past, it gets old quickly and ends up being just eye candy. Even though Cover Flow is purely an attempt to lure switchers with “cool” parts of the Mac, if it helps build mindshare, I can deal with it.

For me, the real meat and potatoes of the Finder update are additions that make navigating my data quicker and easier. The Finder’s column view finally has options to sort by more than just name. For the first time, I can move through columns with recently changed items listed at the top. I can’t say how much I appreciate this addition. For those who like to view their Finder windows in List View, there is the new Path Bar. The bar gives navigational bread crumbs similar to the column view, but allows for maximum line widths in the List windows themselves. I may end up using this configuration even more than columns in the weeks ahead as I’m enjoying it immensely.

iChat Love

Without a doubt, iChat is one of my most used applications. Keeping in touch with Craig in Laguna Beach or Dave in Stockholm is critically important at work. Lately however, Apple’s lack of attention to iChat forced me to seek out Adium with its rich feature set like tabbed chatting and invisible buddy status. I’m happy to report that so far, iChat in Leopard has once again reclaimed the top spot for instant messaging on my desktop. iChat 4.0 has tabbed chatting, SMS messaging, invisible status settings, improved audio and video conferencing (something Adium is just now adding) and unlike Adium, file transfers work every time. One downside however is the ability to set invisible status directly from the menu bar pull-down. For some reason it is missing and must be activated by key command or by going to “My Status” in the main iChat menu. Strange.

In addition, iChat 4.0 adds all new emoticons including nerd, confused, sarcastic, crazy, thumb’s up & down and what may be the best little improvement in all of Leopard, a new “Stick your tongue out” smiley. Ever since iChat was introduced, it has always bugged me that the “Yuck” smiley, as it is called, has looked more like a goofy expression than “I’m sticking my tongue out at you!”. Someone at Apple must have thought the same thing, because the emoticon now looks like it should have. An expression of “Take THAT!” instead of “Whatever?”.

Random Acts of Kindness

There are lots of other little things that should help make Leopard a satisfying experience. Leopard’s new Quick Look feature is just great. I had doubts about this since Preview always seemed like an easy way to look at the contents of a file. But after having used Quick Look for just a short while, it runs rings around Preview. It’s “always on”, really is lightening fast and lets you view multiple files just as easily as one. Now if it just played Windows AVI files…

The dictionary in Dashboard now not only offers thesaurus mode, but also an “Apple” mode. Want to look up a term like “firewire” or find out what the heck “Keynote” is? Just set your Dashboard dictionary to Apple mode and search away. I tried looking up Steve Jobs, but alas, there was no entry.

John Gruber already mentioned about a neat little feature that I think is worth highlighting. When you click to rename a file, the Finder now automatically highlights only the name portion and omits the file extension. This is a tiny change, but one that will make life on the Mac just a little bit better. Lastly, on Tiger when I used to plug in my iPhone to charge, iPhoto would always launch just for the heck of it, even if I had auto-syncing turned off. I’m pleased to report that in Leopard this no longer happens. WooT!

Conclusions

So far I’m really enjoying Leopard. It seems a much more solid update than Tiger ever was. Of course, some people, like Talos, are having problems upgrading and may think differently. My upgrade went fairly smoothly, although I did lose all of Tiger’s keychain information. This would have been a major bummer, but I followed John Gruber’s backup instructions before upgrading and was able to re-import my keychain with ease.

There are things missing from Leopard that I had hoped would make it into the build. The most notable among these is the ability to sync Notes from my iPhone directly from Leopard. I’m a firm believer that Apple needs to provide a way to create and edit notes on the desktop for use on the iPhone. Creating a shopping list, for instance, would go much quicker if I could create it in the Finder.

Overall I feel that the move to Leopard will be one of the best upgrades Mac users have had to date. The promise of Core Animation, increased speed from native software applications, and Apple’s effort to bring data backups to the masses all add up to a real winner. Of course there will be bumps and bruises along the way, but in my book, the pros heavily outweigh the cons. Oh yeah, and did I mention 512×512 icons? 🙂

UPDATE: Seems as though Talos isn’t alone. Lots of people are reporting problems being stuck on a blue screen prior to login after Leopard installation. If you’ve not upgraded yet, I really would urge you to check out Gruber’s post about how he installs OS updates. Did the trick for me. We’ll see how this develops.

UPDATE II: According to this support thread at Apple, it seems at least part of the problem with the blue screen hangs may be related to Unsanity’s Application Enhancer (APE) haxie. APE is used by Shapeshifter and other 3rd party system enhancers to alter the look, feel and behavior of the OS. While APE doesn’t seem to be the culprit in all cases, it seems prudent to uninstall it prior to upgrading. Hat tip to Louie Mantia.

We’re All DOOMED!

Forget ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night. Every mac user knows the true meaning of fear. It goes by many names: The Spinning Beachball of Death. The Marble of Doom. The Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. Ok, maybe not that last one. But the OS X spinning wait cursor is well-known and well-dreaded by Mac users around the world.

Now there is a fun way for Mac users to band together, share their frustrations and take solace. Thanks to the marvel of the Internet, MarbleofDoom.com lets Mac users vent their collective annoyance at being held hostage (5 or 10 seconds at a time) by this unwanted glassy harbinger of OS X.

Photoshop hung up for almost a minute? Is Xcode showing you the beachball love? Spin on over to MarbleofDoom.com and select the appropriate application, and the time spent waiting for it to relinquish control of your system. A running total of all the time wasted is displayed for all the world to see. The site also includes a more detailed data page where you can see how much time individual apps have contributed to the total. If misery loves company, then MarbleofDoom.com is a way of organizing one big, online therapy session for frustrated Mac users everywhere.

So don’t just powerlessly shake your fists in rage! Powerlessly shake them, then tell the world how long you were shaking them. All of us over at the Iconfactory hope you’ll spread the word far and wide, and remember, it’s all in good fun. Enjoy!

P.S. – Watch for a follow-up post about how MarbleofDoom.com came to be. It really is a funny story, so stay tuned!

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AAPL Hits $160; Keep Crying iBabies!

There seems to be a growing backlash against the popular notion that Apple royally screwed up the iPhone 1.1.1 update. Sure lots of developers are berating Apple for locking them out of the platform, and even more people seem to want to sue Apple for the smallest little thing, but in the grand scheme of things, these attitudes don’t amount to much. Apple will conduct business how it sees fit and no amount of whining, throwing fits or hiring lawyers will change that. All the while these pouty, scorned users are planning on ditching their iPhones for the latest non-wonders from Verizon, Apple is selling a ton of iPhones and the stock continues to climb.

Just nine days ago AAPL hit an all time high of $150, and now it has done it once again by passing the $160 mark. Does this sound like a company that has jumped the shark to you? The simple fact that most iPhone crybabies forget is that 99% of the gadget using public doesn’t even know how to set their VCR’s clock let alone hack their iPhone. They are content to let the iPhone be the masterful gadget it is, free from the burdens of 3rd party patches, font hacks and even awesome touch-sensitive games. Sure I’d love to be able for people to play Frenzic on the iPhone, I’ve said as much in the past. But I fully understand why Apple has had to lock down the iPhone and I actually agree with it. When they are ready for 3rd party developers to produce software for the platform, they’ll come knocking. Until then, we’re all just living in a “wouldn’t it be great!” fantasy land. Apple never promised us a developer’s rose garden, and no amount of wishful thinking or revisionist history will change that. Does it suck? Sure, but as someone from one of my favorite TV shows says, “Deal with it!”

Disclosure: Yep, you guess it, I own stock in Apple Computer.

UPDATE: In what is perhaps the worst case of iBaby whining so far, a man in California has filed suit against Apple because he cannot use the iPhone with a competing carrier. Once the 1.1.1 update was applied, his unlocked, hacked iPhone was bricked and became unusable. Forget for a second that he agreed to the terms when he activated his phone and unlocking it voided his warranty. Forget that he knew full well that he had to sign an exclusive contract with AT&T for two years. And most of all forget that he can get his iPhone working again by restoring back to the 1.0.2 firmware. Forget all of these things and what you are left with is the biggest, most disgusting pile of litigious crap I’ve ever seen. This is why the rest of us can’t have nice things.