The Shape of Everything
A website mostly about Mac stuff, written by Gus Mueller
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August 28, 2015

Guy English:

"At it’s best Debug captures an oral history of one the greatest transformative moments in technology. People like Don Melton, Nitin Ganatra and David Gelphman have all been on the show and been remarkably honest about a famously secretive company. I don’t even want to start counting the number of ex-Apple people who’ve been on the show"

I like Guy, he's no dummy (and Rene's pretty smart too). And I like Debug, so if you know someone who would be an awesome sponsor- send them the link above.

August 24, 2015

As mentioned on Twitter, Acorn 5's Help menu has a neat new feature- live searching of all our Acorn documentation:

Searching in Acorn 5

I thought this was a neat trick, and I'll fill you in on the details of how it was done.

Step 1: You're going to need to write a whole new app which you're going to use to write all your documentation in. The one I wrote is called FMWrite. It's a really simple application which consists of an outline view which lets us organize the documentation, and it comes with a handy little RTFD editor. Throw in a little JavaScript, template support, HTML preview, and what it spits out is the documentation on our site.

FMWrite. Not an actual future product

That's not all it spits out though. When rendering the documentation (542MB of it, 1.22GB pre-render!), FMWrite also creates a SQLite index (1MB) of all the text content, which I then copy into Acorn's resources folder at build time. Acorn then ships with this SQLite file.

You don't really need to build your own documentation app. But you do need an index of your documentation to ship with your app. SQLite worked great for us.

Step 2: Let me introduce you to NSUserInterfaceItemSearching, which is a class which shipped in 10.6 but I didn't notice till about six months ago. It's a pretty simple protocol- you just register a class which conforms to it, and you're asked for entries when the user searches for something via the Help menu.

With Acorn 5, this means we perform a query against the SQLite fts4 table, and then return some entries which then show up as extra menu items. When a topic is picked, Acorn then just opens up a URL which points to the rendered version of the documentation on our server. And if your class also implements showAllHelpTopicsForSearchString:, Acorn will open up a URL on our server which hits a search index up there.

There is no step 3: If you make a Mac app, please steal this idea. Maybe even one-up Acorn and download updated help indexes from the server in the background. Or have the HTML files local and show that, with images rendered off the server? (Apple's Help viewer kind of stinks though, so you might make your own).

Small disclaimer: I'm sure I'm not the first person to do this. And if you're aware of any other apps that do- let me know! It's a neat feature and I'd like to see what else is being done with it.

August 20, 2015

Acorn 5 is out now, and it even comes with a 14 day trial so you have no excuse not to try it.

We worked hard on it, and we think it's pretty awesome. We're biased of course, and you can check the release notes for the full details, but here are three of my favorite new features:

New Thing: The Shape Processor. It's a collection of non destructive filters that work on vector shapes instead of pixels.


In the example above we start with the white shape on the left, and then combining four filters together to make the flower on the right. Here's what the settings look like:


If this looks a lot like the filter that Acorn already has… well, that's on purpose. Shape processors are of course non-destructive and save along with Acorn's native file format. So you can save your image, open it back up, and tweak the settings as you'd like. You can make some really fun stuff with it and it turns out to be super useful for lots of things.

New Filters: Curves and Levels. But wait - Acorn already has Curves and Levels, right? Yes, but in Acorn 5 they are baked into the existing filter chain. So now you can add Levels to your Curves and then a blur and then why not add Curves again after that and finish with a Drop Shadow filter? Then save the file and open it upagain and remove the second Curves because that's just too much what were you thinking? And then you realize Curves and Levels are now non-destructive and that's amazing.


Hundreds of Little Things: We fixed hundreds of minor bugs and annoyances. Little things that built up over the years that very few people ever encountered, like "the shortcut key for zooming in doesn't work when the keyboard layout is set to Dvorak - Qwerty ⌘". So we fixed pretty much all of those. It took months and months of work, it was super boring and mind numbing and it was really hard to justify, and it made Acorn 5 super late. But we did it anyway, because something in us felt that software quality has been going downhill in general, and we sure as heck weren't going to let that happen to Acorn. So we took a long break from adding features and just fixed stuff.

There's lots more of course (updated icons and ui, snapping, crop improvements, soft brushes for clone/burn/etc, shape tool improvements, more blend modes, image meta-data editing, Photoshop brush support, etc). So grab Acorn and start playing with it right now.

And I'll go back to answering emails and helping people out.

July 22, 2015

Craig Hockenberry: Half-Assed:

"Mac developers have never had access to TestFlight, either internally or externally. It’s “coming soon”, and until that day comes, there’s no way to test apps that use the iCloud servers. Which sucks for both the developer and the customer.

"But wait, there’s more."

Jim Dalrymple: Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it:

"I had high hopes for Apple Music. I really wanted it to work and become my default music streaming service, but after the problems I’ve experienced over the last couple of weeks, I’m disabling it altogether.

"My problems started about a week after installing Apple Music. While Apple Music Radio and Playlists worked well, adding music to my library is nothing short of a mind-blowing exercise in frustration."

Apple is trying to do too much, too quickly. And it's biting them in the ass.

July 20, 2015

Manton Reece:

"I have some big news to share, so obviously I’m going to write a bunch of blog posts about it. This is the first one."

Congrats, sir. Also, it's about time.

July 20, 2015

Shubham Jain: Blog Little Things:

"There are lots of things that can be blogged about and yet, we are stuck in the dilemma of, – “Is it worth something to write?”. The fear of being insignificant aka “Nobody will read it” syndrome, inhibits us from writing that simple thing that might have helped many people."

I write a lot less now than I used to, probably because of this.

July 13, 2015

Mike Kamermans: We are really terrible at digital colours, and digital photography.

A great post on a number of topics including color gamuts, how we represent colors in images, camera sensors, and why it'll take forever to get breakthrough sensors in our cameras.

July 13, 2015

Dave Wiskus at Better Elevation:

"But fuck that. Music is art, and someone who makes art is an artist. More importantly: who sits around waiting for labels to be bestowed upon them? I get to decide who and what I am."

This is something I feel pretty strongly about myself (my twitter bio even has a note to that effect).

What about software? Are programmers artists? I struggled with this one for a long time and came up with the conclusion that no, software isn't art. It's a craft, much like building furniture is. Because for something to be art, it had to have no utility, to be something unto itself. A chair or table can look amazing, but it had utility so it wasn't art. Leonardo's Mona Lisa has no utility, therefore it is art.

I was pretty happy with this definition of Art for many years. I almost majored in art, I took more art history classes than I'd like, and I generally love art. So I felt I was qualified to come up with this definition and was happy with the logic of it.

It also meant I didn't have to wonder if I was an artist or not. And since I didn't fall on the artist side, I didn't have to wonder / be afraid if I was a fraud or not. Because being an artist means you have to put your work out there to be judged as good or bad art. And that's a very weird kind of pressure.

Then one day, while sketching at one of my usual lunch places, an employee walks by, sees what I'm sketching and says "Oh, you're an artist".

For some reason that statement completely locked up my brain and I had no response. I sat there, unable to answer the question. Instead my brain basically entered this loop:

10 Someone just called me an artist. What does this mean?
20 I do not consider myself an artist, what I'm doing is training my brain to see correctly.
30 Is being labeled an artist like the old school definition of being labeled a hacker?
40 goto 10

For some reason, something changed in my brain right then and there. Computer games are art, right? Why not all software*?

There's all kinds of art out there, good and bad, high and low. And there are all kinds of artists as well- some even make a living off it! But I think what it comes down to is this: If you make something which provokes emotions inside someone, if the result is more than the sum of its parts, if there is a beauty to it, then you've got art. And if it was your hands which put it together, congrats - you're an Artist.

* I don't actually think all software is art. It was merely a question that popped up in my brain. Thanks for Dave for prompting this note.

** Also: I absolutely love Frank Krueger's response to this post:

"If I'm not an artist, I'm certainly living the artists's life. I make stuff. People judge it. If they like it, I get to eat."

July 8, 2015

Just what it says on the tin. I'm working on the next big version of Acorn, and I need some folks to help me flush out final bugs with it, and provide feedback as well. Interested in helping out and you're running 10.10+? Shoot me an email, and we'll add you to the list.

July 8, 2015

Wired: Pens Are Making a High-Tech Comeback:

"You can’t type out the folds of a dress, or the gentle curves of a skyscraper. Drawing with your stubby finger on a touchscreen isn’t much better. Humans are tool-based creatures: Our fingers can do amazingly intricate things with a pen, a brush, or a scalpel, that we can’t replicate with a mouse or the pads of our fingers. Our computers are giving back that kind of detailed control. In turn, the pen is opening up new ways of digital expression, new tools for communication, new ways to interact with our tech."

And later:

"Imagine a world where there’s such fine control in your hands that you can chisel a statue out of virtual marble, or create a digital watercolor that is stroke for stroke exactly how it would look in real life. That’s possible, and it’s only possible with a pen. You already know how to use it, as famous stylus-hater Steve Jobs might say. And it gives you the kind of freedom and control every great technology should."