Where the Macgic Happens

A cozy Mac OS X and iOS development corner

I thought I should give readers a little glimpse behind the curtain here at Digital Gamecraft, so here is a picture of my personal Apple technology desk on one of those unusual days during which a full complement of devices have gathered.  Usually, most of the mobile devices live in other places, but they occasionally come together for an ultra-local technology conference.  (In this case, they were all anxiously anticipating new provisioning profiles after the previous batch had expired.)
This desk in the corner of the office is used for the bulk of primary development and debugging for Mac OS X and iOS products.

Here you see a simple key to the components of this image.  First, the parts labeled in red are the development components:

  1. MacBook Pro (“late 2007”), 17-inch 2.4GHz, running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) through Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion), and soon the developer preview of 10.8 (Mountain Lion), with the help of an external FireWire hard drive, mostly hidden from view by the next item.
  2. iPad (original) 16G running iOS 3.2, the minimum iPad platform supported by our products.
  3. iPod touch (2nd generation) 8G, running iOS 4.2.1, sans (unsupported) multitasking.
  4. iPhone 4 with 32G, running iOS 4.2.6, with multitasking, GPS, camera, and (most importantly) a Retina display.
  5. iPad 2 (Wi-Fi + 3G) with 64G, running iOS 4.3.5, named “Rabbit”.
  6. Mac Mini PPC running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), the minimum Mac OS X platform supported by our software.
  7. Mag Innovision widescreen monitor with dual inputs, running natively at 1680 x 1050, acting as an external display for both Mac systems.
  8. Microsoft Mouse attached via Apple keyboard.  After a year of trying to keep this desk Apple-only, I had to surrender to the fact that Microsoft is just far better at making mouses.
  9. Herman Miller Aeron chair, brand new, also known as my horizontal trans-workstation transport device (for quickly moving between this workspace and my Windows workspace).  After breaking chairs every 2-3 years, the 12-year warranty actually made this purchase seem much more reasonable.

The components labeled in green in the key are fundamental to productivity, though not directly part of the development process:

  1. Head, the head head.  Head is responsible for employee morale, and keeping his minions in line.  (“I am so important that my minions have minions.”)
  2. Minions.  These (4) heads each have individual names, and they keep things lively by moving around the desk, often at night, very unlike their larger relatives.  You’ve heard of “talking heads”?  These are not those.
  3. Pioneer stereo receiver, practically an antique, from the days where radio was broadcast through the air.  This magic box plays news from NPR as well as classic rock and blues (and, previously, jazz), and special shows are regularly recorded digitally for later/repeat listening.  [Not shown: separate cassette player/recorder and turntable components.]

That is a small look at one corner of my office, which serves as an important piece of our development effort.  With this range of equipment, we can develop and test products for the last 4 major versions of Mac OS X, on both Intel and PPC hardware, as well as on versions of iOS since the iPad was introduced, with at least one device with each technology.  (Of course, things change again on Friday with the availability of “The new iPad” and its large 2048×1536 Retina display.)

Note that the view just to the left of this picture is out a window into a small courtyard where birds and squirrels (black, brown, and red), as well as our cats, frolic during the day.  At night, you can hear the raccoons and opossums wandering through and, alas, smell the occasional skunk.

Perhaps, if you are all good girls and boys, I may later show you the desk at which I am currently writing this…

Stop SOPA (and PIPA)

Stop PIPA, too.SophSoft, Incorporated opposes SOPA legislation.

You may have noticed that today several sites have “gone black” to various degrees.  You need look no further than the main page of Google (on January 18, 2012) to see a good example.

The reason for this is to draw attention to the dangers of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and its counterpart in the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

We at SophSoft, Incorporated oppose these acts because, despite the ostensible goal, namely to stop computer piracy (a laudable aim, which we fully support), if SOPA and/or PIPA were to become law, they would fundamentally change the free nature of the internet, while doing little of substance to prevent actual piracy.

The rise of the internet has been the most important cultural shift in the past two decades, bar none, and it has been a catalyst for change throughout the world.  These bills could reverse that progress by allowing sites to be blocked in the United States without due process, and it shifts the burden of policing users to legitimate sites, requiring defacto censorship.  It also provides a blunt tool for unethical practices against online competitors or, in the best case scenario, merely (in essence) assigns much of the control of the internet (in the US) to large media corporations.

One of the most troubling aspects of these acts is that they show a profound lack of understanding of the actual issues, and without due process of law, there would be no opportunity for one to make a case, nor even to correct a misunderstanding.  The “fair use doctrine” is not a bright line rule that is always clear, and these acts could force a company out of business simply because of a complaint about the fair use of an item, or due to an errant blog comment with a bad link (or a good link that was compromised later), nevermind the threat of simple malicious complaints.

Here is a very realistic scenario:  Your sister-in-law gets a tattoo of Winnie the Pooh (Disney artwork) on her butt and thinks it would be fun to post a picture of the tattoo on Facebook; legalities of the tattoo notwithstanding, the litigious owners of Disney find a link to said picture, file a complaint, and Facebook itself could be shut down.

Another example, just for good measure:  A small company like ours produces a game and includes background music contracted legitimately from an artist who is fully paid for his work; EMI decides that one measure sounds a little too similar to something from one of their artists, files a complaint, and our website is blocked.

Clearly, SOPA and PIPA are very dangerous approaches to resolving a significant problem for those of us in the software industry (though, in truth, the acts are still all about protecting large media conglomerates).  If Congress really wants to help the problem, it could provide an expedited legal process for suing those who deliberately infringe copyrights, perhaps with a schedule of default judgment amounts, so small companies could afford to go after the real pirates.  I have no problem with a court shuttering a proven pirate website, but the government already has that power.

For different takes on this issue, please see the Wikipedia and Google (“End Piracy, Not Liberty“) responses.

Finally, let me simply say that any U.S. bills that would use the same methods as those used by the governments of China, Iran, and Syria to suppress political dissent, and are rabidly supported by Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp saw nothing wrong with tapping phones and illegally listening in to private phone conversations (until they were caught), are definitely to be avoided.


Happy New Year 2012!

Best wishes from all of us here at Digital Gamecraft.


The upcoming year corresponds to the Chinese Year of the Dragon, which should make it ideal for productivity, growth, and success.  Less mystically, 2012 is going to be our year of connection, as we continue to build our online presence and social network, both professionally and personally.

At the turn of the year, it is traditional to look forward into the future, and we will doing this in the coming days, as well as honestly assessing our performance over the past 12 months.  Expect some more significant activity on this blog in the coming days.  In the meantime…

Happy New Year!


End Of Year Wind-Down

Digital Gamecraft wraps up business for 2010.

As the holidays arrive at the end of the year, and the beginning of the next, Digital Gamecraft and SophSoft, Incorporated traditionally take off the two weeks that encompass this period of time.  Since Christmas and New Years Day both fall on Saturdays, we were confronted with a decision to either work right up until Christmas Eve, taking off the entire first week of 2011, or to adjourn (and return) a week earlier.  Armed with an incorrect assumption (about federal holidays in the US), the PTB decided on the former, so we depart tomorrow [Friday, December 24] and return to work (officially) on January 10, 2011.  It actually worked out well because we were not yet ready to wrap up business last week.  (In truth, our beta testers will still be seeing activity from me, personally, throughout the official shut down, and our Director of Operations has to come in to run payroll.)

Anyway, despite the absence of most federal employees in observation of Christmas (a day early), we will still be in the office tomorrow; however, there is no reason to lament.  The morning will be dedicated to light work and final preparations for the end of the year, and then the afternoon will be devoted to our holiday party, in which we and our families will gather ’round and play board and card games (away from computers), enjoying various snacks and drinks, along with ample holiday spirit.  (This is a tradition unabashedly borrowed from one at Spectrum HoloByte, enhanced somewhat in our own ways, and minus a visit from Santa Claus, at least this year.)  Of course, the easy workload on Friday means more work for me on Thursday, so…

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

[from A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement Clark Moore (of course)]

Thanksgiving Day 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Every year, we take the opportunity on Thanksgiving Day (in the United States) to consider the reasons we are thankful, especially concerning events of the previous year.  At our house, everybody has the opportunity to mention personal reasons for being thankful, just before we tear into the big Thanksgiving feast.  At our company, I often write the business reasons for being thankful right here…

This year, I am especially thankful that SophSoft, Incorporated is doing better than ever.  We are now in our tenth year collaborating with Goodsol Development, and our Digital Gamecraft division is busy preparing releases for early 2011.  In terms of releases during this year, we have already had a record bounty, with 22 public releases, including two new products (with 3 SKUs), 5 major upgrades, and 14 product updates:

Coming in December, we plan another major update (Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.2, already in beta), a version of PGSME available via the Mac App Store (review currently pending), and our first title on the Apple iPad (at least one more SKU, in alpha testing).  Internally, we have been making significant infrastructure and process improvements for even greater productivity (and success) moving into next year.

One personal reason for being thankful, omitted at the dining table, was the fantastic performance of the Michigan State University football teamGo Spartans!

40 Years of Earth Day (Observed)

Earth Day celebrated its 40th Anniversary on Thursday.

In honor of Earth Day, which was first held on April 22, 1970, I thought that it would be fitting to note that the manner in which we (much of our industry) do business is one of the most ecologically responsible methods of commerce.

Everybody in our company currently works from a home office, which means that the commute involves no burning of fossil fuels.  Additionally, only one location needs to be heated (or cooled, on those rare occasions in Michigan), so less natural gas (or LP, fuel oil, or electricity, as appropriate) is used.  As important to us, though, is that we are not contributing to the gratuitous development sprawl that was taking place here entirely unabated, even by massive oversupply, until the financial crisis finally slowed it down just a bit.

Occasionally, I have considered that the 15 year old van I drive could be replaced with a more fuel efficient vehicle, but I have not taken action yet because, first, it is already quite efficient overall because of its limited use and, second, despite much blather, current fuel consumption (MPG) ratings are ostensibly worse than when this van was built.  I sometimes go for days without driving, so it would take a long while to make up for the manufacturing cost of a new car, and when I do drive, this old 3.8 liter V-6 engine still gets within a few miles per gallon of most new “hybrid” vehicles I checked.  Sad.  (The expense of a new vehicle, weighed against the current lack of car payments, has also been a significant factor.)

The one area in which online software sales and virtual stores falls behind is in consumption of electricity, which can be seen to be elevated due to extensive use of computers, and especially the constant, 24 hour/day, operation of various servers.  In our case, for several years we voluntarily purchased, from our municipal provider, a couple of “blocks” of electricity generated from renewable sources, which was enough to cover all of our company computer usage (including servers) each month.  This was an investment in keeping and building these renewable sources of electricity, which has since been mandated for all public utilities in Michigan.

Of course, there is always more that one can do, so it is a good idea to take a little time every once in a while to consider ways to improve fuel efficiency, whether your goal is to save money or just save the planet.  (Our project for this summer involves insulating the floor under the front part of my office, which was never done at all by previous owners, including the idiots who built the addition.)

The Hubble Space Telescope is 20 years old today.

On April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit from the Space Shuttle Discovery.  Those readers who were alive and conscious at the time will remember the initial problem with the main mirror led to criticism and ridicule, but that problem was fixed, and that resulted in great leaps forward in the field of astronomy (and a million beautiful desktops).  Last year, the “last” fix has made the orbiting telescope more powerful than originally imagined, and it could continue its successful run for many years to come.  Like a piece of software, version 1.0 had its share of bugs and detractors, but it became really useful at version 2.0, and by version 3.0 has already outlasted and outperformed all predictions.

Happy Birthday, Hubble!

10 Years!

One whole decade in the ASP.

On this date back in 1999, I joined the ASP (Association of Shareware Professionals), so this is the 10th anniversary of my membership in this important trade organization.  (As a side note, through some game playing, it is also the 5th anniversary of the second company membership for Sherry.)  I was the last member to join in the 1900s, having taken almost ten years to join in the first place, and I immediately regretted not joining earlier.

In the past 10 years, I spent nearly half of that time in a volunteer position, mostly the 4.5 years during which I was a Director, including two stints as ASP Chairman of the Board.  I do not currently hold any official job, concentrating on developing our company and products, but I still strongly believe in the value of membership for access to the private newsgroups alone, nevermind other benefits.  In fact, I am now a Lifetime Member to be sure to always have this wealth of information and experience available to me.  (Anybody who fails to join just because of the “shareware” word in the organization name is making a very poor business decision.)

Clearly, one of the biggest benefits of ASP membership to me was to network with successful shareware publishers, which led directly to our association with Goodsol Development, which involvement has now lasted more than 8 years and could easily have paid for annual ASP membership dues into the next millennium.  That is only one contact I have made, but I have both learned and profited from many of the other members of the ASP.  Join Now!

Speaking of Goodsol, in wrapping up the year, I had a chance to review the products we shipped during 2009:

That is not too bad a list for year, but I bet that we can beat that in 2010!  (We already have three products on the publishing schedule, and 5 more big projects in the immediate pipeline.)

[Note to self:  Press the ‘Publish’ button when the article is finished and proofread.]

Guilt by [non-]Association

There goes the “neighborhood”.

Going into the past weekend, one of our product sites had a problem in which accessing the page caused a very scary (and completely incorrect) “Reported Attack Site!” message in Firefox browsers, and a similar message in Safari (and Chrome as well, reportedly).  Of the major browsers, only Internet Explorer was allowing direct traffic to two specific pages, because it was the only one that does not (by default, anyway) subscribe to the StopBadware.org database.  To access our site, a user would have to click to ignore a message that said, more or less, “Run away from here and never come back.”

The problem began last Thursday, when FileKicker, a Digital River company that provides download bandwidth for many independent software publishers (including Goodsol Development, until recently), got blacklisted on the aforementioned database.  This meant that downloads from FileKicker generated the scary message, presumably because they delivered some “badware” somewhere, although I have no evidence (nor much doubt) that this happened.  The report was filed by Google.

On Friday, two of our pages that linked to downloads there were blacklisted as well because, I guess, Google assumed that if FileKicker was bad, anybody who linked there must be bad, too.  This is the “bad neighborhood” idea: we never linked to anything classified as badware or even any third-party software, but if we linked to a “bad” site, we must be bad ourselves.  Of course, the fact that FileKicker provided services for thousands of clients does not seem to matter.  This was bad on Windows, but devastating on Mac OS X, where Safari has the vast majority of the market.

By very early Sunday morning, due to quick action from Goodsol to remove all FileKicker links, and a subsequent retraction from Google, our pages were no longer banned, but all our direct links to FileKicker downloads (such as those stored at Apple Downloads) were still a major problem.  It took until yesterday [Wednesday] evening (i.e., six days) before FileKicker got this problem resolved for their downloads, with precious little information provided to customers in the interim.

This was a ridiculous episode, which produced many insights:

  1. The problem was first reported in the newsgroups of the Association of Shareware Professionals (by Dexter Bell of The Utility Factory, developer of FileBoss, an excellent file manager).  This is one of those situations in which ASP membership (and participation) was invaluable for rapid response.
  2. Digital River claims to be “the global leader in e-commerce”, a public company with close to $3 Billion in annual transactions, yet it took DR three times as long to fix the problem as Goodsol Development, a MicroISV, and never informed its clients until well after ASP members informed them.
  3. SWMirror, an independently operated download service run by Mitchell Vincent, was able to provide (better) services to affected publishers and have many downloads restored before FileKicker, part of a conglomerate with more than 1000 employees, even acknowledged the problem.
  4. The pattern of Digital River buying successful companies serving the shareware industry and turning them into garbage is intact; in fact, that record may now be unblemished.  Dealing with DR companies should only be done with due deliberation.  (read: “Do not touch them with a bargepole.”)
  5. The concept that Google can, with a simple electronic “report”, essentially shut down an internet business overnight, is more than a little scary.  Imagine launching a product that could compete with Google (or a blog being critical of them) and having most of your traffic cut off by a similar unsubstantiated report.
  6. The whole internet is a “bad neighborhood”. In fact, Google itself would be the worst culprit of all, since it provides links to nearly every crack site, domain squatter, malware distributor, and internet fraud out there.

Really, I am definitely in favor of a system to eliminate (or castrate) true spammers and distributors of malware, but when an honest company that has been doing business online safely almost since the inception of the web is economically impacted, things have gone too far.

Here endeth the rant.

Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

Much for which to be Thankful

This day is traditionally for reflecting upon those things that make us thankful, a tradition that has been in my family, literally, for 388 years. [*]

Our company begins the holiday season by taking the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving away from work and, instead, hosts a game party for employees and guests, with board games, card games, food and drink.  In truth, we have in recent years included some party games on game consoles, but given the nature of our business…

For the business, I am thankful that our development efforts in recent years are starting to bear fruit, that we have successfully completed several projects over the past year, and that the economy is on the upswing without the bottom having a devastating impact on our company.  Personally, I am thankful that, despite a number of health issues over the past year, my family is relatively healthy, that we have made financial progress over the last year, and (to be trite) for friends and family.

We are now in the process of preparing the feast, which will include turkey (x2), ham, potatoes, beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce, apple pie, and (non-traditional, but yummy) cheesecake.  I was just about to insert a picture here of the “camp cooking” apparatus that was to be used to prepare one of the birds, but word just came down that a structural failure has destined the turkey for oven roasting instead.  (“Christmas!  We will do it at Christmas,” I am told.)

Anyway, here are our best wishes to all of you, whatever the day (and season) may hold.

[*] My Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandfather is credited with the First Thanksgiving.  Here is a small snippet of his account:

They begane now to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strenght, and had all things in good plenty”  — William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation