The Shape of Everything
A website mostly about Mac stuff, written by Gus Mueller
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September 29, 2015

It doesn't happen very often, but I'm releasing two updates to Acorn today: 5.1 as well as 4.5.6. If you're running the direct version, you can use the Acorn ▸ Check for Updates… menu item to grab the latest version. If you're using the App Store version, you're going to have to wait a bit for Apple to review and approve it.

First up- what's new in Acorn 5.1?
Some bug fixes, as well as minor compatibility fixes for OS X 10.11 El Capitan (most of the 10.11 fixes were in Acorn 5.0.1 already). But there are also some neat new features if you'd like to script Acorn from the command line, as well as Taptic feedback when aligning things to guides or canvas edges (this is available on 10.11+).

And another slightly big thing- basic SVG support. This has been a huge request for a number of years, and I'm happy to finally have something started for you in Acorn 5.1. Acorn doesn't support all the features that SVG provides (nor should it)- but it does a pretty decent job of getting vector objects and layers out of Acorn in a scalable format that'll be around for years to come. Look for more SVG improvements in future releases of Acorn as well.

And what's new in Acorn 4.5.6?
Compatiblity with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and other bug fixes. Acorn 4 is still a great usable app- and we'd like to keep it that way.

We've also submitted Acorn 4.5.6 to the App Store- though it's been removed from sale. I've never tried updating an app that's been removed from sale, but hopefully it'll sail right through review without any problems.

September 14, 2015

Pieter Omvlee: The iPad Pro as a Greek tragedy:

"At this week’s introduction, two companies to centre stage at the iPad Pro’s announcement; Adobe and Microsoft. The choice made sense; both companies are known for making professional software and are actively developing software for iPad. But since Apple has made it basically impossible for smaller third party developers to have any stab at making serious software for the iPad, Adobe and Microsoft are also the only ones left in the arena."

Related: Why There’s No Sketch for the iPad

September 7, 2015

Charles Parnot: Contentless SQLite FTS4 Tables for Large Immutable Documents:

"If you use SQlite FTS4 for indexing large immutable documents, you might want to consider contentless tables. With minor adjustments, the database could be 2 to 3-time smaller."

This is pretty neat and I'll most likely be doing this in a future release of Acorn, thanks to Charles' work here.

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.