George and Jim talk about the Safari addon Readability from readability.com, in Dumb Question Corner, Adam Hobden asks about Growl (growl.info). LookTel Money Reader looktel.com for reading bills when you can’t see, and staying with the accessibility theme, Scott Howell shows us how Chess-Wise lets you play chess on the iPhone using Voice Over from marcelnijman.eu. Josh brings us an Android rebuttal, and Caleb tells us about Cropper for Windows from cropper.codeplex.com/. In Chit Chat Across the Pond Donald Burr of Otaku no podcast joins us to talk about iOS development.
Hi this is Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast Mac Podcast, hosted at Podfeet.com, a technology geek podcast with an EVER so slight Macintosh bias. Today is Sunday April 3rd, 2011 and this is show number 306. Well I finally got our taxes done today – gee that was fun. I always enjoy it, you know? I especially enjoyed it while partway through the process TurboTax was insisting that I was going to owe $45,000 when I was done. That was really swell. I have used TurboTax for decades it seems, but I’ve got to say the upsell in the product was REALLY REALLY annoying this year. you’re going along clicking no, I don’t have any farm loans, no, I don’t have any Ottoman Empire compensation income, no I don’t produce any squid-based products in my home, and suddenly the next button turns into YES! I’d like to upgrade to the Premium version of TurboTax to make SURE I don’t have any squid-based income! Sheesh. it did it about 15 times while I worked on my taxes, and I’m just not in that good of a mood while I’m working on them, you know??? anyway, let’s get down to some more fun tech and forget about those icky taxes. Jim Sewell’s going to start us off with a follow up to his question last week.
Jim Sewell on Readability from George
Hello Allison and the Nosilla Castaways!
Jim here again. After my rambling pseudo question about Safari Reader mode last week I thought I would follow up with everyone. Near the end of the show George from Tulsa mentioned the Readability plugin. I almost dismissed this as I’d seen that Safari’s Reader mode was based on the plugin but much like the Made for TV programs based on a true story, there is a lot of difference between the original and the copy.
With a little more research I found that Safari even lists the Readability addon in the acknowledgements… but it’s not the same. When I try the Reader mode on the Podfeet home page the option is grayed out. Readability, however, does a respectable job on thinning out the page and giving me just the meaty parts.
On another page, one of the mega news portals with ads everywhere, the Reader mode was grayed again, but Readability says “Readability is currently intended to be used on individual articles, not homepages. If you’d like to try rendering this page anyway, click here to continue.” The thing was that this page had no meat, like these portals usually are, so it was just gibberish, but it was readable gibberish!
So, the problem to be solved was that I needed to send clean web pages to Evernote without all the advertisements and junk. The solution, thanks to George from Tulsa for making me take a second look, is the Readability plugin from readability.com. I love the Apple community, especially the cool ones that hang out at the Nosillacast Podcast hosted over at podfeet.com
Very cool that George was able to solve your problem on the spot, Jim! By the way, Readability is available from readability.com
Dumb Question Corner
Adam Hobden asked a dumb question on Twitter. He wrote,
can you help me with a dumb question? What is growl and why do I need it installed? Thanks for your help, Adam
What a wonderful question! Growl is one of those things that’s been around for so long and is woven into so many products that I actually forgot that it doesn’t come with OSX. Growl is an application that allows other applications to alert you when something happens. How about some examples? Let’s say you’re sharing a Dropbox folder with your sister, and you want to know when she drops the vacation photos into the folder, Growl will bring an alert up on screen. Or what if you’re using an FTP client to push some files up to your web server? Growl can show you an alert when the file transfer is complete. If your chat client is hidden, Growl will pop an alert to the front showing you that someone is chatting you up.
So now you know why you care, let’s talk about how it gets installed. You can go to the Growl website at growl.info, download and install it, but to be honest I’ve never done that before. I think most people get Growl because an application bundled it in. As I thought back I was trying to remember which application bundled it in on my latest install, but I couldn’t remember. It wasn’t that far back either, I did the new install in December.
The way it’s supposed to work is you install an application like Adium (a great chat client) and it says, “hey, you wanna have Growl notifications? Click yes!” Since I enjoy the service that Growl provides, I assume I saw that request pop up somewhere in the installation of my 60 or so critical applications and of course said yes.
So then I started reading the Growl website and learned something very interesting. Right on their front page, in big, bold, underlined, red letters it says, “If Growl was installed on your system without you knowing about it, please see this page for an explanation.” The Growl installer is available to software developers in two forms – one that can’t install on it’s own, and one that offers to install. Some application developers disobey the rules, and don’t give you a choice of whether to install Growl. The Growl people HATE this. They hate it so much that page gives you detailed instructions on how to delete it, and tell you which programs misbehave in this way.
And guess what the first one they list is? My precious Dropbox. There’s quite an explanation of how egregiously Dropbox disobeys the rules, including installing an old version of Growl, and putting it in the wrong Library. Dropbox isn’t alone, Adobe Creative Suite 5 installs Growl without permission too. Another one of my favorite applications, ZumoCast, installs Growl without permission.
I’m disappointed in those application developers, and have a much greater appreciation for the folks at Growl – that it’s very important to them that your rights be preserved, your right to install software when you agree to it, not when someone else tricks you into installing it.
One of the things I really like about Dumb Question Corner is how much I learn when I double check what I thought I knew. Thanks for a great question Adam! If you have a question that you think is too dumb to ask, I guarantee there’s someone who has the same question, so send it in and let’s figure it out!
This week I was chatting with Lore Schindler about the fascinating work she does at the Brooklyn Avenue School in East Los Angeles working with kids with visual impairments. She’s been creating podcasts to teach how to use an abacus as a way of tracking complex math when you can’t see. How cool is that? Anyway, we were writing back and forth and she mentioned how excited she was to learn during her One-on-One lesson at Apple this week that you can actually create screencasts using Quicktime. She then said that she’s planning on creating some video tutorials to add to the ScreenSteps tutorials she already makes for her teachers! She confessed that perhaps I’d had a slight influence on her in that! I can see how someone with the teaching gene would really love ScreenSteps and find ways to use it that even I’ve never thought of. In fact, now that she knows how to make video tutorials, I wonder if she knows that you can actually embed videos from online video sites, right into your ScreenSteps tutorials? That way she can have both forms of media in the same document. If you haven’t yet checked out ScreenSteps, head on over to ScreenSteps.com and download the free, 30 day trial. Once you’re hooked, it’s only $40 for the Standard version or $80 for Pro! Oh, and check out Lore’s blog at svenlore.blogspot.com.
LookTel Money Reader
I have a really quick review for you of an amazing application. Problem to be solved: you’re blind, and you have to identify your US paper bills. Other countries make bills different sizes, but in the US they’re all the same size. Blind people for years have employed techniques like folding them differently, and there are some expensive tools out there to read money.
Pat Dengler from yourmacdoctor.com sent me an application called Money Reader from LookTel. Launch Money Reader, and in a few seconds the camera aperture opens. Hold a bill in front of the camera, and instantly Money Reader will tell you the denomination.
I read the reviews of Money Reader – it’s only been out for a very short while, and out of 47 reviews – it had 46-5 star reviews, and 1 4-star review. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that. many of the reviews mentioned other applications that required you to take a photo first before they can identify the bills, but with Money Reader it identifies them live without having to record an image. I bought Money Reader from the iTunes Store and it works flawlessly. I tested Money Reader by holding bills at ANY angle, showed it ANY part of the bill even the smallest part of the artwork with no numbers showing, I held the bill close and far away, and Money Reader flawlessly reported the size of the bill every single time.
I did some reading on the LookTel website and they have some amazing products in work. One they’re working on lets you put a sticker on an object, say a medicine bottle, take a photo of it, make an audio recording of what it is, and from then on your iPhone can tell you what it is. Or what if you could take a picture of your house, record with voice that it’s home, and then have your iPhone identify it as your house for you? They have a lot of fantastic ideas, I can’t wait to see these applications when they come out.
Money Reader is a grand total of $2 in the iTunes Store, and you can read more about all of their products in work by visiting their website at looktel.com.
Scott Howell on Accessible Chess-Wise for iPhone
Here is a brief demonstration of the first accessible chess game for the iOS platform. Here is a direct link to Marcel’s site: marcelnijman.eu. Link to the game in the iTUnes store: itunes.apple.com
Thanks Scott – this is cool on so many levels. I love your delivery, I love that you’re highlighting such an awesome developer who took on an interesting challenge and wailed on it, I loved that you kept losing those pawns too! I’m fascinating by how fast you have the voice set on Voiceover. I always figured it must take forever to do anything if you’re blind because you’d be waiting for the computer or phone to finish reading to you, but at that speed I bet you’re as efficient as a sightling!
I hate to waste time. I bet you do too. If you have to save a document, do you let go of the keyboard, and then draaaag the mouse all the way up to the far upper left, and the click on File, and pull down to Save? I bet you don’t, you simply hold down command-s. If you want a new window in Excel, do you use your finger on the trackpad go up to File, new window? no, you just hit command-n. How about a new tab in your web browser? command-t, right? You hate to waste time and energy when you’ve got important tasks at hand like watching the Friday video again on YouTube, right? Well then why do you type the same blocks of words over and over again instead of using TextExpander to do it for you? Why do you type your signature? or answer the same question over and over again by hand? Why not let TextExpander type those things for you? It’s one of those things once you start using you’ll be amazed how many things you can use it for. I’ve expanded 4200 snippets since January saving me over 7.6 hours! Head on over to smilesoftware.com and buy yourself a present of TextExpander, and while you’re at it check out all of their other cool products!
As you may recall, I did a little tiny mocking of the Android OS last week regarding how hard it is to do a simple screenshot vs. the iPhone. Josh wrote in with a quick note saying you just get an app to do it. I figured we should have more fun than that and asked him to record a rebuttal. He didn’t end up recording, but let me read to you what he sent in:
Allison – I tried. I really did for about the past hour try to get a decent recording for an audio rebuttal, but there my apartment walls are thin and there is too much going on today. Between my ums, dogs barking, ambulances, and neighbors remodeling I can’t get anything decent and I’m running out of time.
But your request did make me think more about the whole android vs ios thing. First I have been an Adroid owner since november 2008 with the G1 and I have had an Ipad since April of last year. I currently have the Tmobile branded G2, I believe that is known as the HTC Magic elswhere.
So here we go…
- Android shipped with notifications, IOS did not.
- Android has had tethering and wifi hotspot capabilities without root almost a year know. IOS only a few weeks and that is only on the phone not the tablet. To get this capability you had to update your os and pretty much jump through the same hoops your friend would for an android screen grab. All Android devices can have this capability if the hardware supports it.
- Did I mention the android os updates over the air with out plugging in?
- Oh and did you hear we just got cloud storage and music streaming?
One more thing regarding the screen grabbing. My grandfather, 84 years old, and missing two fingers with limited mobility in 3 more due to a table saw accident a few years back. ( never work without the emergency guard ) Cannot take a screen shot on an iphone. He can with some difficulty on an ipad. And very easily on a rooted droid.
So that’s all I got to say for know about this. And next time I will submit some audio. Promise : )
Caleb on Cropper for Windows
Ahoy Capt. Allison and fellow Nosilla Castaways! This is Caleb from … um … no where in particular, yet. Allison, you recently did a review of a simple one thing Windows app and that reminded me I have one of those too!
First, a problem to be solved. I am a ‘Slider’ and no that doesn’t mean I jump dimensions with John Rhys-Davies [ imdb info: imdb.com/title/tt0112167 ]. I *slide* between Mac OS and Windows OS. That’s not the full problem, I use a Logitech S530 wireless mouse and keyboard for Mac as my main input. Lucky for us sliders Windows actually recognizes our keyboards and supplants the Command key with the Windows key. So what the heck is wrong? Well since the keyboard is for Mac and Apple thought ahead and built into the OS a really good screen shot system they didn’t need a Print Screen button. Without this key taking screen shots on Windows, from the keyboard, is a non starter.
So what is the solution? Find a Windows keyboard? Yeah I could, but I already have one that works, albeit not perfectly. So I scrounged around on download.com for screen capture utilities. There were loads of them, but there was one that caught my eye, Cropper [ download.com page: download.cnet.com ]. It sounded like just what I wanted! A small app that skips the “Print Screen” kluge and allows me to pick just the parts of the screen I want! This is especially good since it means skipping an image editor in the work flow. Better yet it’s free and open sourced! You can find the latest version at cropper.codeplex.com/
I would normally use lots of pretty pictures to help explain the interface … but taking a screen capture of a screen capture utility proved more challenging than I thought. Thankfully there is a screen shot on the CodePlex page so please refer to that if you need help visualizing. When you launch Cropper it displays a box with a flag on the upper left corner which will tell you the length and height of the box in pixels, it also adds a little icon in the system tray too. Just inside the capture area, but still in the upper left, you’ll see some text which will say what capture mode Cropper is in. Cropper by default supports BMP, PNG, and JPG file types; it will also capture to the clipboard or can be sent directly to a printer. Changing options is a simple right click in the capture area or on the system tray icon. The contextual menu that pops up is simple and the options are easy to figure out.
Using Cropper is blissfully simple. Launch it or un-hide it from the system tray, a normal left click on the icon will do. A left click and drag will move the entire capture area around the screen. To resize the capture area either left click and hold the bottom right corner, or left click and hold either the bottom or right edges to control them individually. Once you have resized the capture area to your liking, press the enter key! You’ll hear a click and your image is captured. If you have it set to output an image file it should show up in My Documents > Cropper Captures. Now you have the joy of screen capture with much less hassle.
One last note. There are now a group of plugins for Cropper, which allow for exporting to flickr, Picasa, Facebook, and more. There is also now options for taking time delayed captures and capturing an AVI file (although that one is still kinda experimental). It is nice to see a simple useful app get some love.
Thanks for listening and lets help keep Allison in user content. 🙂
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Chit Chat Across the Pond
Donald Burr of Otaku no podcast joins us to talk about iOS development
Getting started:You have several choices, depending on how serious you are about this (i.e. how much money you want to spend).
- You can download XCode (the development environment) for $4.99 from the Mac App Store
- This gets you the necessary software to develop and test iOS and Mac apps using an emulator
- You won’t be able to test on “real” hardware with this method
- This gets you access to additional content, including session videos from WWDC
- It seems like they are only letting you download the older version of XCode (3.x)
- $99/year for individuals, $299/year for corporations
- This will get you (in addition to everything else above) a Developer Certificate (public/private key pair)
- GUARD THIS WITH YOUR LIFE – if it gets out, then people can impersonate you
- Will need to be installed (Keychain Access) onto every machine you intend to use for development
- test your code on “real” hardware
- distribute your apps to friends/beta testers so that they can help test it (“ad-hoc distribution”)
- sell (or give away) your app on the App Store
OK, you’re a developer… so now what?There are two approaches you can take towards building your app, again depending on how serious you are about this.Use an app builder:
- If you are afraid of having to deal with code
- Like the programming equivalent of Legos
- “Block based” application building
- Pre-coded modules that perform various functions (RSS reader, audio/video player, Twitter feed, etc.) that you snap together
- Think Automator
- Again, back to the Automator analogy, think “Automator actions that let you run shell/perl/python/Applescripts”
- Make a pre-built app so that you can get listed in the app store now, then start writing your own app for Version 2.0
- Red Foundry
- Really easy to get into
- Drag and drop graphical building block type environment (very much like Automator)
- Extensible using RFML (their own markup language)
- Can only generate code for iOS devices now
- Including universal binaries (both iPhone/iPod touch and iPad)
- They’re working on Android and Windows Mobile support.
- Really weird and confusing
- Not graphical at all
- No GUI drag and drop building blocks
- However it is cross platform
- Generates binaries for both iPhone/iPod touch, iPad and Android; as well as Mac, Windows and Linux desktop apps
- Another drag-and-drop type environment
- Geared specifically toward game creation
- Special functions to handle moving graphics around, detecting collisions, physics engine, etc.
- You can create and distribute a basic app for free, but paying gets you extra features/support (push notifications, advanced metrics, etc.)
- They look close, but not exactly to, what a hand-coded iOS app would look like
- Sort of akin to how Open Source/multi-platform apps look on the Mac (e.g. OpenOffice)
- Red Foundry is probably the best (i.e. makes apps that are the closest to what a native iOS app would look/feel like)
Writeyour own code:
- Harder to get started with, but offers the most flexibility
- Must learn Objective C
- There are many great books on the subject
- Training classes too (some of them are even free!)
- Again, great books and classes are available on the subject (some even free!)
- Interface Builder – you draw out your UI’s
- But you still have to write the code behind your UI
- Core Data – database driven apps
- Core Motion – accelerometer and gyroscope
- Core Location – determine your position as accurately as you want (hardware permitting)
- Core Audio – professional level audio manipulation
- Media access and manipulation (audio/video, camera, photo library, etc.)
- …and much more…
- Emulates both iPhone/iPod touch and iPad
- Various OS versions
- Location based – the emulator makes it appear as though you’re always at 1 Infinite Loop
- Core Motion – no accelerometer or gyro’s in the emulator
- No cameras available in emulator
- They don’t necessarily have to be your own
- “Ad Hoc distribution” lets you distribute your apps to friends, coworkers, etc. to test
- The more testers you can get, the better!
- Available in iTunes (click the “Serial Number” text until it reads “Identifier (UDID)”
- There are free iOS apps to easily extract a user’s UDID on the device itself
- “UDID Helper” (free) lets you email that information directly from your device
- Useful for testing
- Best if you have 2 or more devices – keep one at the current “release” OS, and one that has the latest beta/RC on it
Getting your app into the app store:
- Not as onerous as it once was
- Everything is automated and done via iTunes Connect web app
- First time you log in, you’ll need to fill out a bunch of financial stuff (your tax ID, etc.), provide a bank account (where sales or iAd revenue will be deposited) and if you desire, sign up for iAds
- Apps are submitted by a web form
- Along with the app, you submit description, keywords, age rating, and artwork
- 57×57 icon for the device
- 512×512 icon for the app store
- One or more screenshots (from both iPhone and iPad, if your app supports both devices)
- Some developers waited months
- Google Voice took years
- Not so any more
- Took me about a week between the time I submitted, and the time I got approved
- Average seems to be a week or 2
- They do get busy around the holidays though, so beware!
- If your app is rejected, they will say why (“uses undocumented APIs”, etc.)
- They are usually rather vague, but you can usually figure out what they meant
- Neato graphs and charts
- Free vs. paid apps
- Breakdown by market
- Download data in Tab-delimited value (great for Excel weenies 😉 )
- All this is accessible on the go using the free iTunes Connect app
- Even for free apps – i.e. you pay nothing
- For paid apps, they take a 30% cut (you get 70%)
- A concern if your app is only useful if you are an employee of your company, or it contains/accesses sensitive information, etc.
- Not sure how this works – perhaps you set up a kind of “app server” on your corporate LAN, and employees can pull it from there
Things to realize
- Only use public API’s
- Tell the story of Cameras+ and WiFi Stumbler
- Technically when you joined you signed an NDA
- Discussing your code, the APIs, the app submission process, etc. in public is okay
- Since now anyone can download XCode
- If possible, code your app with internationalization in mind
- Hire translators (or bribe them, etc.)
- Yeah, people can find you by searching, etc., and if you’re REALLY lucky (and your app is particularly good), you’ll become a Featured App for a brief period, but the chances of this are pretty slim
- Get a website, get listed in Google, use social networks, word of mouth, etc. – standard “how do I publicize (X)” type stuff
- A great way to make some coin on your free apps
- The reaction to iAds seems to be favorable – they’re not too obtrusive, in your face, etc.
- Be sure and put something like “Ad-supported” prominently in your app’s description, so that people know what they’re getting into
- Typical app pricing “comfort zone” is around $.99-$1.99, maybe $5 or $10 tops
- Anything more than that and people get leery (and also they go to the competition)
- You might be able to get away with it if your app is particularly good, serves a niche function, or you are a well known company (e.g. OmniFocus for iPhone/iPad)
- If you don’t start with iPad support right out of the gate, then when you add it, instead of making an iPad-specific version of your app, instead update your existing app and make it a “universal binary”
- This makes it easier on you too – you don’t have 2 separate versions of your app that you have to maintain, debug, etc.
- e.g. Brushes vs. Brushes HD – additional screen size on the iPad version allows for more/better artist’s tools
- Don’t expect to make over $9,000 your first week
- I approach it like the way I approach podcasting
- I do it because it’s fun, the money might come later down the line but it’s not a priority
- Register for the free developer program
- Register for the paid developer program
- Red Foundry
- Appcelerator Titanium
- Xcode 4 ($4.99 on the Mac App Store. Does NOT require that you join the developer program. Great if you want to try things out before committing the $99.)
- iOS Dev Center ($99/year for individuals, $299/year for corporations)
- Big Nerd Ranch (offers paid training classes in Mac and iOS development)
- Programming in Objective-C2.0 ($30 on Amazon)
- Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X (3rd Edition) ($30 on Amazon)
- iPhone Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide ($31.49 on Amazon)
- CS 193P – Developing Apps for iOS course @ Stanford on iTunes U (SD version, HD version) (free!)
- 10 Useful Resources for Every iOS Developer (contains links to some great high-quality free icons you can use in your apps)
- How To Design Programs(Free e-book you can read online, teaches you the concepts behind good programming)
- Stack Overflow
- Otaku no Podcast and the Otaku no Podcast app
That’s going to wind this up for this week, many thanks to our sponsors for helping to pay the bills: ScreenSteps, Smile, and of course Honda Bob. Don’t forget to send in your Dumb Questions, comments and suggestions by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on twitter at twitter.com/podfeet. If you want to join in the fun of the live show, head on over to podfeet.com/live on Sunday nights at 5pm Pacific Time. Thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.