Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts published in February, 2005


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Whew, this has been a long dry spell. I had one of those pesky attacks of “programmer’s block”, where a couple of silly bugs hold things up for weeks.

Fortunately I can report that it’s over and we’re seeing real progress again. Expect RBSplitView 1.0.2 to be released in 1 or 2 days…

The Solipsism Gradient is reviewed at PageBoost:

“I just saw /bb/viewtopic.php. First-rate.


It must have taken a decade to perfect the page. The URL has 39 characters. This length scores best in usability studies. Seeing Solipsism Gradient, I’m simply so inspired. What a splendid page! The color scheme is impressive.

If only my aunt would have a cool page like that. Well, I expected the creator to achieve only the best. Simply stunning. The page contains 669 links, a stable amount. There are 106,092 characters in the code, which is a swell length for the Firefox browser. The HTML is highly accessible. What a wonderful, wonderful web page.”

— Max Williamson, Daily URL

You too can have your weblog reviewed! Thanks to John Walkenbach for this.


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From Boing Boing:

If you’ve ever had an existential moment and wondered if you were possibly a brain in a jar being fed an elaborate simulation, this is the gizmo for you…

The Solipsism Gradient is on the high side today. I could use an extra CPU or two, certainly.

Re: Transparency

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Regarding issues of trust between shareware authors and users, an interesting discussion has developed over on the XRay 1.1 support forum.

It appears to be based on a difference of mindset between old-time Mac users and users coming in from Unix or Linux platforms. I’m squarely inside the first camp, of course, never having used Unix or Linux (nor Windows, either, except on a very few occasions).

XRay‘s original purpose, as regular readers well know, was to offer a user-friendly way to view and set file/folder attributes, including BSD permission flags – the latter being a completely new concept to me and, judging by the software’s popularity, most Mac OS X users. As such, both the installation process and normal use try to insulate the user from the details as much as possible; the rationale being that anybody knowledgeable enough to use various Terminal commands such as chown and chmod would prefer using them directly, while old-time Mac users would prefer using XRay as a graphic wrapper for these commands.

I think is this the second (or third?) time, in the 3+ years that XRay has been available, that a former Unix/Linux user has thought that XRay’s installation procedure is “suspicious”; either because it asks for an administrator password to copy stuff into /Library/Application Support, or because it sets world-writeable permissions on the folders it creates there, or something. I must confess I had a hard time even understanding those arguments at first…

Of course I’m concerned with that and will try to make the whole process more transparent, but I’m not entirely sure how to go about that. Should I ask the user first “are you an old-time Machead or a suspicious former Unixer?”… icon_lol.gif

So far the least disagreeable solution seems to be to list, on demand, all steps that are done – or perhaps before each one is done – and explain why, and offer the user a chance not to do that, and say what restrictions will result from cancelling. Seems an awful lot of work, though, to accomodate a very small proportion of users.



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An excellent article by Eric Sink is out: The Tenets of Transparency. Thomas Warfield also has some good comments. If you’re a developer doing (or considering doing) shareware, you should read it.

I observe that buying software is closer to the “high trust” end of the spectrum. When people buy software from your ISV [Independent Software Vendor], they are expecting a lot from you, both now and in the future:

  • They trust that your product will work on their machines.
  • They trust that you will help them if they have problems.
  • They trust that you will continue to improve the product.
  • They trust that you will provide them with a reasonable and fairly priced way of getting those improved versions.
  • They trust that you are not going out of business anytime soon.

Transparency is an ISV’s way of trusting your customers. By letting your customers see behind the corporate veil, you extend them your trust, making it easier for them to trust you in return.

He then goes on to list 8 ways of implementing transparency:

  1. Have a weblog.
  2. Offer web-based discussion forums.
  3. Don’t hide your product’s problems.
  4. Don’t annoy honest people.
  5. Offer a painless demo download.
  6. Offer a money-back guarantee.
  7. Share a little about your financial standing.
  8. Talk about your future plans.

I hope most of those sound familiar… icon_wink.gif. You’re reading the weblog now (#1), and there are discussion forums (#2) for each major product. Not that people take as much advantage of that as I hoped, but support over e-mail or AIM is often faster.

Don’t hide your product’s problems (#3): Eric takes this to refer to bug fixes and updates:

…But not only do users want you to keep improving your product, they usually care about specifically how the product grows and matures. They want to be reassured that your product will be growing deeper, not just wider. I define these terms like this:

  1. A product gets “wider” when it appeals to new users.
  2. A product gets “deeper” when it works better for the users it already has.

My bug fix and update policy is relatively simple. My freeware stuff is nearly all written for my own use too, so I try to keep it running on current releases, and try to keep it reasonably bug-free and functional. Beyond that, I’m open to suggestions for fixing stuff or adding functionality, but I can’t promise any huge efforts. So far, it looks like all my freeware will continue to work in the upcoming Tiger (10.4) release.

Regarding my shareware, which at present consists only of XRay, I of course try a little harder than that. If a paying customer complains of a specific bug I always try to fix it; if several customer declare they can’t live without a certain feature, I’ll implement it or (sometimes) convince them it’s not such a good idea. The latest release (1.1) is getting a little long in the tooth; a few minor bugs have surfaced, but on the other hand recent Finder versions have progressed to incorporate most of the functionality I originally wrote XRay 1.0 for, way back in the 10.1.x days; so fixing those isn’t on my high priority list anymore, unless more people suddenly start complaining.

Still, as I’ve mentioned before here, I’m working steadily on making XRay both wider and deeper, by recoding it from the ground up and calling it XRay 2.0. And at no charge to current users. However, I’ll be taking away some features that duplicate, by now needlessly, modern Finder capabilities.

Don’t annoy honest people (#4): I think I’m doing well on this. In fact, some users wrote in complaining that they couldn’t find any way to download the “real” XRay, without noticing that the serial number gets entered for them when they buy online… I suppose Eric also means this in the sense of not having any complex copy-protection or product activation. Rest assured I’ll never do any product activation on XRay, although this would of course be a defense against the bogus serial numbers and hacked binaries that are floating around.

Painless demo download (#5) is of course a given with shareware; just entering a valid serial number will convert the demo to the registered version. Eric says:

Nonetheless, although there should be no question about “if” you have a demo download, there are good questions to be asked about “how” you manage it. The high-trust path looks like this:

  1. Use time-limited demos, not feature-limited. (People who use “crippleware” as their demo are not willing to trust me, so I don’t trust them.)
  2. Don’t ask people to register just to see a demo. (I want to evaluate your product, not your privacy policy.)
  3. Don’t make people agree not to talk about your product. (People who try to prevent me from talking are trying to hide something, and are not to be trusted.)

OK, XRay is 15-day feature limited, and even after that it still has nearly all features; you just have to rerun it more often. I’m very puzzled at the last point… I want people to talk about my product, I can’t imagine someone requiring silence!

I’ve read conflicting views on money-back guarantees (#6); some developers don’t offer them, some tell horror tales about customers demanding refunds en masse. In practice, for me there has been only a single case of having to refund a customer’s money, and that was because he had paid twice because of a network glitch…

Share a little about your financial standing (#7):

When I buy software from a small ISV, I usually wish I could know all kinds of things about the company’s financials:

  • Is the company profitable?
  • How much cash does it have? How much debt?
  • What kind of corporation is it? Who are the owners?
  • Do they have outside investors?
  • Is the founder still involved? Does she still have a decent equity stake?

I’ve never touched on this issue before, and I don’t release sales figures for a variety of reasons. However, I can say that sales have been more than I expected, that they’re not high enough to make a living from (although I probably could do so if I were able to work fulltime at shareware), and that I and my wife have independent income. We have no debt and never had; not even a mortgage. It’s not even a corporation; just myself… so, rest assured my software won’t go away because of financial issues.

Talk about your future plans (#8 ): I often do, right here… so stay tuned!

Posted by Jackdaw:
“Meanwhile, the Creation Robot has posted a list of The Top 100 Mac OS X Applications and Nudge is on it. Thanks!”

You’re welcome icon_smile.gif It’s a handy mini-app.

Little updates…

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You may have noticed some dozen trackback spam entries here, on various topics, over the last week. Had a merry time deleting them all, as doing consecutive deletes uncovered a bug in my post-deleting patches… I’m still undecided on whether I should spend time on fixing the bug or on perfecting the workaround I found. In any event, if you’re the unmentionable who’s doing this, your links won’t work, as they were all being tagged with rel=”nofollow” anyway. Which I implemented as soon as it came out. So you might as well give up.

On a similar note, attacks from Santy and its descendant worms are decreasing daily, since Google now seems to be actively blocking its searches. So that’s one less thing to worry about, I hope.

Meanwhile, the Creation Robot has posted a list of The Top 100 Mac OS X Applications and Nudge is on it. Thanks! Now… why aren’t my other apps on it…? icon_wink.gif

Work on RBSplitView is proceeding well; besides implementing several suggestions from users, I hope to finally have animated collapse/expand in place. So far the method of collapsing a subview has had to be changed completely; formerly I was moving a collapsed subview off screen, keeping it at its original size; now I’m keeping it in place, collapsed to a zero dimension, and jiggling other stuff around to keep it from squishing its own subviews out of shape. Once that is done, animating various intermediate stages should be easy. I think.

Hm, there’s more meta stuff. My Technorati tags now finally seem to be working; I overlooked that they have to be implemented in the RSS feed also, and have to look “just so”. A very interesting experiment. They’re also producing RSS feeds for tag updates, which should make tags very useful once adoption spreads.

Speaking of RSS feeds, my subscription list (on the left) has been updated once again. My stats show that only a third of you are reading this weblog over RSS; I wonder why, since other bloggers report much higher ratios, some as high as 90%. I’ve been asked why I don’t have a Atom feed; now that the final spec seems to be well on its way, I’ll do it as soon as I find some spare time.

January stats

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A full month on DreamHost is now over and I’ve been looking at their comprehensive statistics and access logs.

Several interesting facts stand out. There have been unexpected traffic peaks on Jan. 17, 25 and 26. A significant number of requests came from ( (apparently some sort of webcrawling robot called WebVac?), but they’ve been off the air again lately. Only 29% of you are reading this over a RSS reader, and most of you are using NetNewsWire. The most popular browser (33%) is Safari, but about 20% are still using Internet Explorer. Mac users are, unsurprisingly, more than twice the number of Windows users.

The overwhelming majority of referrals came from Google and similar index sites, while the rest was equally divided between VersionTracker and the link I placed on Martin Hering‘s site because of the XRay name mixup. There have been several attempts at referrer spam which of course didn’t work, as I don’t publish automatic referrer lists.

A couple of thousand visits came from search engine users searching for the expected terms: “x ray” and “xray” – strangely, more for the first variation, which I never use myself. A surprising number of visitors came from pages cached by Google, and another significant fraction was searching for “viewtopic.php”. The latter search is well-known to be used by the Santy/Spyki worm. In fact, the various variations of these worms still seem to be active, and were responsible for 44.4% of all accesses to my website! Still, worm attacks have dwindled to 15% over the last few days, so I hope this will die down soon. In any event, nearly all such attacks are being rejected outright by some mod-rewrite magic and the few that may come through will have no effect, as I did the necessary updates as soon as the first attack happened last December.

Some comment spammers have appeared too, and I promptly deleted their comments. I also implemented the new nofollow tag which is now automatically and retroactively applied to all links posted by non-registered visitors, so they won’t have any effect.

I’m also seizing the opportunity to patch little defects here and there, but much still remains to be done…

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