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!

Two Weeks of iPad

The Apple iPad lives up to its billing as a “game changer”.

After two weeks of using the Apple iPad, I am confident that the introduction of this device is going to be seen as a major event in the history of computing (despite the overwhelming hype trying to convince me of exactly that).  There is a reason that more than half a million iPads were sold in the first week, and that is before the 3G and international releases.

It is not that the iPad itself is a perfect device; it is not.  Nor is it that the idea is unprecedented, as tablet computers have been available for years (and it has been called merely a big iPod Touch).  However, where Apple excelled (in this case) was in the product design of both the hardware and the software, and coupled with the small technological advances, the result is significantly more than the sum of the parts.  Finally, Apple has successfully conveyed this “vision” to the consumer.

What makes the iPad special is the flexibility that the very simple physical interface (basically, just a big multitouch screen) affords.  When an application is launched, the iPad takes the desired form, whether that be a book, a map, a browser, or a game, and it does so wherever the user wants to be.  Psychologically, this makes a really big difference, which is probably why so many people are raving about the iPad.

In our household, we have already run into device contention.  My wife has laid on the living room floor using the iPad to map out a High Adventure canoeing trip for this summer.  My son gets up early in the morning to play games on it, or to use it to browse for information related to games he plays on his computer or video games consoles.  I have gotten back into reading literature for pleasure (which I have been intending for a while) because iBooks is well-suited for that.  In the evenings, we generally have the iPad nearby as we watch television or movies because we inevitably want to look something up on IMDb (instead of getting out a heavy laptop or going to the office desktop as we did previously).  Of course, there are sighs of discontent during the day when the hardware is roped into the office for its original purpose: software development.

Personally, I think that the iPad will anchor a new category of computers that fits among the various other kinds of computing devices  Most of the general complaints about the iPad I have read are in comparison to these types: it does not function as a smart phone; it is too big to put in your pocket/not portable enough; it does not do as much/is not as powerful as a laptop; it not as productive as a desktop system.  I think that smart phones, portable game systems, laptops and desktop computers are here to stay, but they will have to make room for the iPad and other slate computers.  That said, I think that the category of “NetBook” computers may be done for.

In practical terms, here are the three largest (albeit minor) complaints I have found about this first generation iPad:

  1. The reflective screen really shows smudges and gunk (such as cat hair).  I have no problem reading it, but I compulsively wipe fingerprints or grit from the screen, and I cannot count the number of times I have unintentionally turned book pages or linked to an unwanted web page doing this.  (I suppose the lock button solves this, if I can train myself to use it.)
  2. The clock application was omitted from the list of provided applications.  The iPod Touch is my only alarm clock, and it only makes sense that I should be able to take the iPad to read in bed and also set it to wake me in the morning, especially since the same program would already work.  (One can set a reminder with an audible alert, but it is not the same as an old car horn.)
  3. The iBooks application, while ostensibly providing a virtual bookshelf, does not allow freeform rearranging of books on those shelves.  Sure, one can delete books and change their order, but they always gravitate to the top left.  What if I want to put my books on the left, and Sherry’s books on the right, and those that we have already read on the bottom shelf, huh?

The final unfortunate aspect of the iPad is that, due to its popularity, I have to start a pool for the date of the first time that the iPad is dropped on the floor (or sat upon), and for when it will actually be broken in such an incident.  Those who chose “less than two weeks” have, thankfully, lost.

More than Just a Name

Most Popular Solitaire is the most popular solitaire game for Mac OS X.

The Good News over the last few weeks has been that our solitaire title, Most Popular Solitaire, featuring 30 favorite solitaire games, has proven to be the most downloaded solitaire game at Apple Downloads.  Ever since the latest update, Most Popular Solitaire 2.02 has been receiving amazing numbers of downloads, even eclipsing the Windows version of Pretty Good Solitaire.

Most Popular Solitaire appears on the ‘Top Downloads‘ list on the left side of every Apple Downloads page, and has consistently done so since shortly after its release.  Charting as high as #7 and only dropping off for a single day.  (As of this writing, MPS is ranked at #12.)  Note that this is for all downloads from Apple’s site, including such packages as iTunes, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox.  At times, our solitaire game has been ranked higher than QuickTime, and no other solitaire game has appeared on the list.  In fact, we have regularly had the most download game (period).

Now comes the Bad News.  Whether it is due to some oversight in the midst of the iPad excitement, or related to the recent change to remove the ‘Downloads’ link from the main Apple page (in favor of “iPad”), or just a run-of-the-mill screw-up, the ‘Most popular’ pages for each category are not being updated, and this problem has lasted for three weeks now, which means that these pages show the top downloads from just before our game update was released.  It is clear that Most Popular Solitaire should be ranked #1 on the Cards & Puzzle: Most popular page, and probably no lower than #2 on the Games: Most popular page.

Now we still have the problem that traffic is falling off due to the lack of updates, and assuming that the problem will be fixed (hopefully soon), there will probably be a frenzy of product submissions, especially with those already in the pipeline, and our products could become lost in the noise.  Since Apple Downloads is a very important distribution point for Mac OS X titles, this issue is already impacting our marketing.

Despite this inconvenience, development for this platform is continuing apace, and there should be an official announcement about Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition in the very near future, as well as one for a related platform, hinted at the end of the most recent post at A Shareware Life.

In any event, I am currently enjoying an absolutely beautiful day, with summer temperatures, bright sunshine, and the stress-free knowledge that all of our business and personal taxes have long since been filed.  Happy Tax Day!

I Got Mine

The Apple iPad arrives, right on time.

At 11:14 this morning [Saturday, April 3, 2010], our Apple iPad was delivered to our office door.

This is the first piece of hardware that I can recall ever pre-ordering, and I actually placed the order within the first minute that it was possible.  Since the iPad was announced, I have read lots of skepticism about its value and usefulness, and I am resistant to hype.  (In fact, I often avoid things that are probably quite good simply because of the hype attached; for example, I have thus far refused to see Avatar.)  With the iPad, though, I could immediately comprehend its potential, especially for games and particularly for the kind of games that I enjoy creating and playing.

While awaiting a delivery, whether it be books, music, or hardware, I tend to almost obsessively check the package tracking.  In the case of this highly anticipated product release (witness the latest episode of Modern Family), I was apparently not alone.  Despite several different rumors to explain the odd tracking data from UPS, many of which ended with a conclusion about shipments being delayed, the actual explanation is likely to be much simpler.  My guess:  Because there were 200,000 units being shipped from China, they were originally packaged in huge lots destined for each distribution point (in our case, Louisville, Kentucky) and not scanned individually until they arrived there.  (I seriously doubt my iPad flew nonstop from Guangzhou to the Bluegrass State.)

Interestingly, I happened to be awake at around 5:33am, having just watched an exciting (and wet) Formula One qualifying session live from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The wind was apparently coming from the right direction, and I heard the airplane carrying my shipment fly almost directly overhead.  The “arrival scan” was 22 minutes later, though it actually took two more trucks, and a couple more scans, before it arrived here.  (The iPad Dock is still in transit, via a different carrier with distribution in a different, albeit neighboring, state.)

Anyway, there will certainly be a proper review in the future, but right now I feel that it is time to get started playing around with our latest software platform.

The most surprising aspect so far was that Apple had UPS require identification in order to receive delivery of the iPad package.  The only “problem” so far is that I did not get to use my alternative title, “iSad” (had it not arrived).

Productivity Boost

Prolific Development Through Isolation

Over the past several weeks, I have been working very hard on a number of exciting new projects, all of which are making great progress.  In the process, though, I have managed to neglect and get a couple of weeks behind on my email, while essentially ignoring all other forms of inbound communication.

The result is that my productivity has increased greatly, while only missing one important piece of information.  Therefore, I have decided to make these changes to my workload permanent.  As of today:

  • I will shut down our email server.  It receives, literally, thousands of messages daily, of which 99.9% is spam; even messages addressed only to my legitimate email addresses are more than 96% spam.  Besides, the old hardware is locking up on a regular basis anyway.
  • I will remove telephone service from the office.  Our two voice lines are used almost exclusively for answering telemarketing calls, and our fax line is disconnected most of the time due to the high volume of spam faxes.
  • I will bring an end to our social media experiment.  In the time that I have been focusing on programming, I have not checked Facebook at all and do not feel that I missed anything.  I feel likewise about Twitter, which I have never checked.
  • I will no longer spend any more than one hour per year writing joke posts for this blog.  It is really too nice outside to be in here right now.
  • I will create a private contact page on our web site exclusively for those who pay us money.  Those wishing to pay us money can initiate contact via blog comments.
  • I will keep the post office box, despite the junk mail, as it is a direct means for us to receive money.  One can avoid the online back and forth by just attaching a check to your message and sending it to our business address.

I can feel my productivity on the rise already!