Solipsism Gradient

Rainer Brockerhoff’s blog

Browsing Posts in Meta

Hiatus: progress!

No comments

I know you’ve all been waiting for an update on my eye surgery
…not really? Well, here’s one anyway.

Fast recap: here’s how things looked from my right eye —  it’s just slightly exaggerated. It’s called a macular pucker, and reading Spalding Gray‘s monologue about it wasn’t very comforting. The darkened, twisty part was unfortunately almost right in the middle, so reading with that eye was impossible, and the whole 3D experience was unreliable.

So, 3 weeks ago I had that somewhat scary vitrectomy operation and I’m happy to report that the surgeon said that, technically, everything went well — no infection, no visible scarring on the retina, no harm to other parts of the eye. Whew. In the meantime, I still have two weeks of antibiotic and steroid eyedrops every few hours; a small price to pay, of course!

Subjectively, the darkened blob is almost gone and the twisty parts are very gradually spreading apart and getting smaller; there remain two gray curved marks around the center, only noticeable when looking at a uniform background. Everything should stabilise in about a year and, with some luck, my eyeglasses should need no changing.

In another week I should be ready to resume my (relatively) new favorite activity: serious table tennis. I’ve started training regularly again two years ago, after about 40 years off the tables, and will write regularly about the topic here.

Warning: long, technical post; no TL;DR.

As I’ve said a few days ago, and then explained why:

My software development activities are (now, officially and indefinitely) on hiatus.

Most of my software projects already were marked as “legacy”, and RB App Quarantine had insignificant download counts, but RB App Checker Lite continued to be reasonably popular despite the lack of updates and an increasing number of crashes after macOS 10.12 came out.

In the past years, as I was beginning to consider the possibility of making this official, I replied to a few dozen bug/crash report emails mentioning that I might have to do so. (Of course, it never crashes here on my own machines… 🤔) Almost everybody replied with polite wishes but also mentioned that I should publish it as open source. Unfortunately, that is impossible; see below.

My idea with the RB Utilities (including several that never were published, one of which was the first one!) was to have a common foundation for all sorts of apps that examined, or did things to, files, folders and the file system in general. Some of you old-timers may remember my very well-reviewed XRay utility, which was not only my first Cocoa app, but also brought reasonable financial returns.

I wrote the core of XRay for MacOS 10.1 during an all-nighter session at MacHack 2001, so unsurprisingly XRay proved to contain serious design flaws and did not update well as file system APIs evolved. For some time I worked on a rewrite to be called XRay II, which made heavy use of plugins for most of its functions. But I was distracted by other work and in the end decided to shelve it.

Still, the idea of plugins proved too tempting, especially as Objective-C offered so many neat facilities for it, and in early 2011 I began writing a generic RB Utility app that would be specialised into a specific utility app by incorporating a single plugin, built right into the executable (rather than being a separate code/resources bundle elsewhere). The generic app would have both a Developer ID version and a Mac App Store version. It would do the heavy lifting, such as startup, integrity/signature/receipt checking, copy protection (for the devID version), show the About Box and generally do all the common work of showing windows, scanning folders and whatnot.

My usual work style is to write the basic stuff, run/debug it, then do increasing detail in sort of a fractal way. While writing the app framework I also wrote a very simple plugin that would be the basis of my first utility, RB File Counter. It would just scan a given folder at great speed and report the number of files and subfolders inside that.

As things progressed I was not very pleased with the complex (but interesting!) details of certificates, codesigning, requirements for the Mac App Store, and so forth; and I realised also that many developer buddies were having even more problems than I had. The logical thing was to halt work on replicating the old XRay functions like counting files, changing permissions etc., and first do an app that would help me (and others) to make sure our work was in shape. This became RB App Checker, with the “Lite” added on because I wanted to either do a “Pro” version or a general consumer version; both were to be paid-for, and there had to be some infrastructure built for that.

RB App Checker Lite came out in early 2012 after over a year of work and was well received; many developers sent in suggestions and bug reports, and I was also busy keeping things updated and making sure the app was both small and fast. When I went back to testing the other utilities, some infrastructure changes proved to be not generic enough and I had to review my initial design, of course.

In retrospect my main (and usual) mistake was to heavily over-engineer parts of the code in a matter that wasn’t future-proof. The “interesting” parts were heavily optimised, obfuscated, compressed and otherwise squeezed into hyperspace, while also trying to use all available CPU cores; and some extremely paranoid parts of the code were checking other parts of the code. In fact, I showed some of the source to a very senior Apple engineer at my last WWDC; he blinked and gabbled something like “ahem, well, this is most unexpected and I’ll be interested to know if it passes the App Store code review” while backing away slowly.

So, to come back to my original point, this means that the code as such isn’t fit to be published as open source. I may disinfect and publish a few of the saner parts later in a very controlled manner. If all goes well for my eyes this year,and now that Swift is nearing ABI stability, I’ll restart the app entirely in Swift — a good opportunity to relearn how to use GitHub and (ahem) unit testing.

Stay tuned for more news…

Hiatus: why?

1 comment

As I’ve said yesterday:

My software development activities are (now, officially and indefinitely) on hiatus.

The dictionary says:
hiatus | hīˈādəs | noun (plural hiatuses) [usually in singular] a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process…

Let me tell you about the “why” first. Thanks to all of you who immediately asked if I’m OK, by the way.

Short answer: yes, I’m OK, though not as OK as in the past — but then, that’s to be expected, with all these anniversaries streaking by. Not helped at all by miscellaneous stresses originating in Real Life™. But: see below. 😳

Longer answer: in the past several years, my eyes have been getting progressively worse, to the point that reading on paper now works only with excellent illumination. OK, paper is not something I have to do on a daily basis nowadays, but reading on a screen also no longer works at the — admittedly, very small — font sizes I was used to. Jacking up the font size worked up to a point but my coding habits call for a huge amount of text visible at the same time. Stopping work altogether to wait for an improvement has, retrospectively, killed all my momentum. (I’m still waiting for that improvement, unfortunately.) Also: see below…

Medical answer: during a trip to Bhutan (highly recommended!) in 2014 I suffered a posterior vitreous detachment in my right eye; no doubt due to day-long van trips over their highways-in-progress. A couple of months later, a beginning retinal detachment was fixed by laser surgery, and everything seemed OK for a time. However, visual contrast worsened until, in 2016, I had to have cataract surgery on both eyes; this was when I stopped working altogether, waiting for my eyeglass prescriptions to stabilise. While that took longer than expected, I also found that there seemed to be no combination of monitor brightness/contrast that made working longer periods tolerable. To make things worse, the vitreous detachment seems to have left a scar on the right retina, causing a macular pucker; surgery on that (a vitrectomy, yikes!) is now scheduled to happen before the end of this year. My eye surgeon assures me that should take care of everything… digits crossed!

Needless to say, all this has been somewhat disheartening, and — as far as coding and blogging are concerned — I seem to have joined the Procrastination Monks for a few more years.

In the meantime, other things have happened, some quite positive! Stand by for more news…

LEGACY NOTICE

No comments

Today I have removed my remaining apps from the Mac App Store and posted official “Legacy” status notices on the product pages. My software development activities are (now, officially and indefinitely) on hiatus.

I know this notice has been long overdue, as I’ve been unable to update anything for more than 2 years. My apologies; I’ll try to post more about this here in the following weeks.

You may have noticed the small lock icon next to the URL on this site? Well, this means that it’s now (almost) fully buzzword-compliant, completely served over the secure https protocol via a brand-new digital certificate! TL;DR: it’s more secure for both you and me; at least, it’s much better than it was before. But nobody’s perfect.

I know; some pages (perhaps, even, this blog post you’re reading) still haven’t adapted to our new secure overlords and may not show the lock icon, or even be completely broken — I’m working on that. In a week or two all should be fine. I’m using the invaluable https://www.whynopadlock.com/ checker for this, and already managed to get an A rating from the equally invaluable https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/ page. Credit to my hosting provider, DreamHost, for making this migration both possible and almost painless.

In other news, we’re just back from Yet Another Trip — this time to Patagonia and Antarctica. I’ve had plenty of time to work offline, meaning that things which are sometimes fascinating but often boring got done without excuses; I had to push off procrastination for weeks! In another week or two — or a month or two, if Zeno’s Paradox kicks in — a new RB Utility should be available. The app itself is 95% done, but as I plan to release it on both the Mac App Store and from this site, and it’s a paid app, all the tedious back-end stuff had to be learned and developed. Watch this space for news.

Update: I did some more tinkering with the security headers and I now also get a B rating from Yet Another Invaluable site: https://securityheaders.io/. (The A rating seems quite tricky, but I’m looking at the requirements.)

Update#2: more tinkering, and https://www.ssllabs.com/ssltest/ now says “A+”! Yay.

Updates update

No comments

Good news: we’re back. Here’s my updated world map:
worldmap1

Bad news: my plans to work underway were largely derailed, and I had to wait an additional couple of weeks for my new iMac to arrive. Still, everything is finally installed and working now, and an update to RB App Checker Lite should be out in a day or two.

Oopsy

No comments

The recent update to WordPress 4.0 seemed to have gone smoothly — perhaps too smoothly.

Turns out it has some fancy new redirection facilities that interfered with some of the pages outside this blog — specifically, some of the product pages, but only if the final /index.html was missing — it then would search the blog for the oldest post mentioning the product. Go figure.

Anyway, I managed to mostly fix it; the sole remaining exception seems to be the Klicko page. Please use this link to get there, in the unlikely case you’re still using that.

Another recent addition is the Crayon plugin to properly format source code on these pages. I’ve checked it out and it seems to have a bazillion options. I’ll have to play around with it and find the one that breaks the fewest older pages — this may take a week or so.

Speaking of a week or so, we’re currently on the road for yet another long trip; this time to Germany, Northern India and Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, Italy, Greece and Montenegro. I’ll probably have Internet for another 8 or 9 days, but by then whatever’s not fixed will have to wait for our return around the end of October.

Meanwhile, a small update(1.1.1) to RB App Checker Lite is waiting for review in the Mac App Store. I’ll post the direct download version ASAP; the only change is a fix for a crash that a couple of users complained about. Meanwhile, RB App Quarantine is about to be updated with helpful suggestions from users; I’ll try to do that while underway.

You should not have noticed anything, but this domain (and several domains I’m hosting for others) is now running on a new server under a new hosting plan.


I’m still with DreamHost, but now on a Virtual Private Server – and they’re certified “green”, an obscure jargon word apparently meaning “carbon-neutral”. There’s a smaller green graphic in the footer on every page now – click either there, or on the round graphic to the right to check. By clicking on that (and on other similar links throughout this site) you will see details; also, should you be wanting to host your own site with them, I will get a modest commission if you sign up through such a link.

Together with that change I’ve done some  optimizing, rechecking, and updating of the infrastructure. We now have a newer PHP, new caching software, optimized server resource allocation, and so forth. What is not new, and becoming creaky, are the Support Forums; almost all recent visitors seem to be spambots, and the underlying software is proving hard to maintain. Very few of you seem to go there; or perhaps there aren’t any bugs left in my software…? 🙂 Anyway, expect the forums to vanish sometime early next year, and they’ll probably be folded into this blog in some fashion.

Should you notice something amiss while browsing around on this site, please drop me a line!

Photos licensed by Creative Commons license. Unless otherwise noted, content © 2002-2018 by Rainer Brockerhoff. Iravan child theme by Rainer Brockerhoff, based on Arjuna-X, a WordPress Theme by SRS Solutions. jQuery UI based on Aristo.