Looking forward

What’s he looking at, anyway?

Fresh off the heels of the WWDC20 Keynote, I figured it’d be a good opportunity to provide a little bit of an update on some of the apps I currently maintain. I’ve already made a commitment earlier this year to focus on modernizing my apps codebase.

Considering the huge announcement that Apple let loose regarding the shift to Apple-based SoC’s for Mac (and the move away from the macOS/OS X 10.x naming scheme), I wanted to provide a little insight into my current plans for existing apps (which is a relatively big undertaking, albeit not as big as the one Apple has planned for their Mac lineup!)

You can skip all the details and see an overview of the plans
Click the link above for a brief rundown on the plans for the apps

Speech Jammer
Speech Jammer 5.0 was released earlier this year after quite a bit of testing and development. It utilizes an entirely new audio engine and added a few big features to help make sharing easier. However, the focus of Speech Jammer 5.0 was modernization. For example, 5.0 moved the app to a more modern core that allows the app to utilize proper multi-tasking support. This means that users can now leave the app and continue to experience the app, even with it closed.

Speech Jammer 5.0 was just the beginning. Although there were many optimizations and many new features added in 5.0, my plan for Speech Jammer 5.x is to re-write many parts of the app for efficiency and to make sure that it’s ready for the future. The primary goal here is to move Speech Jammer entirely to Swift. Essentially, 5.x is a period of refinement.

The real work that went into Speech Jammer 5.1 is under the hood. While some components of Speech Jammer were written, or re-written at some point in Swift (namely the tongue twister feature, the FAQ system, the support system, and shared link feature), most components are still based in Objective-C. This isn’t inherently a bad thing at all, but the codebase is getting a little long in the tooth and could use some cleanup beside an overhaul, and this is a perfect opportunity to move Speech Jammer onto a modern programming language and have it better aimed for the future.

Speech Jammer 5.1 and the move to Swift
Speech Jammer 5.1 is scheduled to be released very shortly some new features and reliability improvements. Notably, it adds a new options system that allows customization of many features of the app. It also allows users to use the microphone on their Bluetooth headphones (or, using the new options system, use their devices microphone for the highest quality audio). There are a lot of other options and feature requests that were implemented in this upcoming update, but we’ll discuss that in the update blog post when it’s released.

Speech Jammer 5.1 brings most parts of the app completely into the Swift world. The recordings service, sharing service, archiving service, and file management service have all been completely re-written in Swift (including the UI controller). This also brings some major efficiency improvements that can be felt throughout the app.

Speech Jammer 5.2 and beyond
Speech Jammer 5.1 should be released shortly, and it brings with it a new deployment target of iOS 10 or later. It is almost entirely written in Swift (sub the main core), and lays the groundwork for the future. Speech Jammer 5.2 is also under development for release later this year, which will (hopefully) have the entire app completely moved over to Swift with a new codebase. Of course, there will be new features available with it, but the focus of this post is to provide a little bit of an update on the big transition I’ve been working on.

By moving to Swift, I can make sure that the app is ready for the future. This means I can quickly implement new features in new versions of iOS, and make sure that the app is using the fastest possible libraries.

New Start Usage Meter icon for macOS

Start Usage Meter
Usage Meter for the greatest ISP ever
Start Usage Meter is another project that I’ve wanted to focus a lot of my efforts on. I’ll have some more updates on it shortly; however, I’m pretty happy with where it is right now. Version 2.5.7 will be released within a few weeks containing some very minor tweaks and enhancements.

There are a lot of pieces of Start Usage Meter that use outdated or deprecated practices. For example, it doesn’t use base localization, it uses some heavier API’s, and doesn’t have a single line written in Swift. These decisions were all intentional in an effort to offer full support going back to OS X Lion. It still provides a really modern app experience on the latest operating systems, but will still run on OS X 10.7. I would still like to move it onto a more modern codebase (written in Swift) and update it, and am currently deciding the best approach. Any changes to the deprecated practices I’m currently using, will likely mean a deployment target of OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion or later.

Moving Start Usage Meter forward
My current plan is to test, release, and sit on Start Usage Meter 2.5.7 to make sure it is running smoothly and without issue. At some point after its release, I am going to stamp Start Usage Meter 2.5.7 with the “battle-tested” sticker and fork it, effectively creating two separate app builds. At that time, Start Usage Meter 2.6 will be born and will be a more modern version without support for the oldest versions of macOS. It will gain all the new features which, if possible, will be ported back to the 2.5.7 version and made available through my website for those on older versions of OS X. Otherwise, 2.5.7 will receive bug fix build updates only.

I don’t have a date in mind for this yet; however, I did want to make it clear that 2.5.7 will still be available through my website as a signed, sandboxed, and notarized app. It will receive updates alongside the new versions (which may contain new features, or just back ported bug fixes). Version 2.6 and later will still be distributed through the Mac App Store and will be the best experience you can receive, so if you can run it, stay on that build path. Start Usage Meter 2.6 will also support Apple Silicon-based Mac’s natively and will also support macOS Big Sur along with the UI improvements that come with it.

Summary of plans

Speech Jammer

  • 5.x has a goal of refinement and improvements. Building a stronger codebase for the future
  • 5.1 will be released and will have transitioned most of the app to Swift
  • 5.2 will have the entire app using Swift and modern API’s
  • 5.1 and later will require iOS 10 or later (this is potentially a moving target)
  • I plan to support the app on Apple Silicon-based Mac’s
  • The goal of Speech Jammer 5.x has always been to modernize the codebase, and that work will continue through the 5.x release cycle.
New Start Usage Meter icon for macOS

Start Usage Meter

  • Start Usage Meter 2.5.7 to be released shortly with tweaks and enhancements
  • Start Usage Meter 2.5.7 (after extended testing) will branch off into a separate release cycle with support going back to OS X 10.7 Lion
  • Start Usage Meter 2.6 will be created and updated through the Mac App Store for more modern versions of macOS
  • Mac App Store version will support Apple Silicon-based Mac’s natively and macOS Big Sur UI changes
  • 2.5.7 will receive back-ported improvements and will be distributed as a signed, notarized app on my website for versions of macOS going back to OS X 10.7 Lion.

The importance of a vacation or a break

As I continue to move forward (at least I’m hoping this is forward), I notice that there are a lot of people that just don’t seem to see the value in a vacation. Ever since I was young, my family and I have taken yearly vacations to the Caribbean. Although as a kid, it was just really cool to go to a tropical destination for a little while and take a break from this cold harsh weather we have in Canada.

However, now that I am a little older, I see that it means so much more to me now. It is no longer just a break from the weather, but rather a break from reality as a whole. The vacation gives something that is planted and firmly placed in time to look forward to. It is the light at the end of the tunnel when work starts piling up. It’s a chance to throw all worries away and get away from everything. I realize the importance of a vacation now more than ever before. You have to enjoy life, and part of that (for me anyway) is putting your hands in the air and leaving your desk behind for a week with no thoughts about what you were just doing.

A vacation is vital in a successful career. It sparks passion and gives you a chance to think about potential ideas without being required to think about them for lucrative reasons. I generally head back home with a new smile and a new chance to build something truly spectacular that I enjoy. Moreso, it renews my excitement for what I do.

Maybe it’s just me… maybe it’s a sign that what I am doing needs to change more frequently so I don’t fall back into that rut. However, it seems like a getaway every year ensures that my passion for what I’m doing is renewed.

If you’re ever feeling dull or like you’re stuck in the same-old same-old routine, hop on that next plane to a sunny destination. I suggest Royal Caribbean! Sail away!

We create the world

The best part of my profession is that we can create whatever our heart desires. If it doesn’t exist, we can bring it into existence.

Our home is protected/monitored by both cameras (motion activated) and a central station. This camera notifies us via email whenever motion is detected along with data from the motion. This system works fantastically, but we came across a bit of a nuisance factor. Whenever we bring in the groceries or do something that involves walking in front of the camera multiple times, we’re left with dozens upon dozens of notifications.

My solution: to only activate the camera when our homes security system is turned on. There is no feature to do this out of the box, so I had to get creative. The best part of programming is the ability to logically figure things out and create functionality where none exists.

I did this by getting my monitoring company to notify my server whenever the system is armed or disarmed (securely), and send some information. The server takes this information in, analyzes the situation (for example: are we gone or home, are we secured?) and stores the knowledge in a secure file. Whenever the camera detects motion, instead of emailing us, it now sends the email to my server. The server grabs the email content with images/data and checks the status of the alarm. If it is armed, the motion is probably of interest to us and it is sent on its way. Otherwise, the server throws out the message and just places a log of the data in a file for later viewing if necessary.

This is an unofficial method to a problem that both companies have not solved (which is fully understood, since they’re unrelated). They both simply had some tools that I found a use for. One of the best parts of being an artist/programmer is the ability to solve problems where other people may go “someone should do that.”

It’s really a great profession.

Crystal Clear Retina

Update: Innisfil Dental Centre’s website is now updated with Retina support!

I finally went through and updated my entire site to Retina-ready images. It was a bit of a bigger effort than I had thought (even though there aren’t many resources that needed to be upgraded).

Why?

Icon is from Analog, a really cool app. Check it out!

The decision to make my website Retina-ready came from me browsing other sites over the past little while and realizing how much better websites that were Retina-optimized looked on my laptop. It had a massive impact on my opinion of the company/person who owned the website. For example, a software company was much more likely to get my purchase if they had a Retina based website. When going back to check in on my site (a whole re-write is in progress as well, hopefully launching within the next month or two)– I had noticed that my website looked dreadful on Retina displays (and decent on non-retina displays).


How?

I decided to re-write my pages to use divs for images instead of  tags. This allowed me to make use of WebKits new CSS4 image-set rule (-webkit-image-set). This makes it easy to serve up non-Retina images to non-Retina displays, and Retina images to Retina displays without wasting bandwidth. My previous Retina implementation involved sending pixel-doubled images to all users (@2x). This resulted in more bandwidth used, and scaling down being done on non-Retina displays which made the image look awful. I now have two versions of every image on this site. One at regular resolution, and one @2x the resolution.My whole website is now Retina optimized with all images using div’s and the -webkit-image-set property. This means that the Retina imagery is only available on Safari/Chrome/other WebKit based browsers at this time. Other browsers do not currently support the image-set implementation. Therefore, if you’re using a browser other than a WebKit based browser, you’ll be served a non-Retina image regardless of your display.The other benefit of this approach is that it will render and update dynamically based on the screen you’re using. For example, an external monitor that’s not Retina will show the lower resolution image. However, if you drag at least 50% of the browser over to a Retina display on the same machine– the browser will load the high resolution images without reloading the page.

Where am I taking this?
I plan to make all future websites, and updates to this site– Retina ready. It really makes me look better as a developer, and allows me to be happy when looking at my own site. I also plan to bring these changes over to some freelance websites I’ve done, including Innisfil Dental’s website.

What? Retina?! What the heck is that? And why do you need to optimize?
A “Retina” screen is a screen where the human eye cannot discern pixels at a normal viewing distance. Retina displays run at double the resolution, or 4 pixels per CSS pixel. This means that if a website is serving a 300×300 picture, a Retina display is actually rendering that image at 600×600, scaling up. This would result in a seemingly blurry picture on these ones since WebKit needs to guess the additional pixels it’s missing. Websites should detect the screen pixel multiplier, and serve the appropriate image (300×300 to non-Retina screens, and 600×600 to Retina screens).

I am still experimenting with this, but please contact me if you have any input.

Retina Comparison Image
Comparing a non-retina image to a Retina image (2x the resolution)