That's What I was Thinking

A few links from the Department of OMG! I Was Thinking Exactly the Same Thing!!!

Khoi Vinh is not so enamored with the aesthetics of the latest iPhones:

The iPhone 5’s lines are sophisticated and modern; each bevel or corner or detail seems unique, well considered and essential. I still marvel at its beauty when I hold it in my hands.
By contrast, the iPhone 6’s form seems uninspired, harkening back to the dated-looking forms of the original iPhone, and barely managing to distinguish itself from the countless other phones that have since aped that look.

I couldn't agree more. When rumor sites were publishing these images I thought, "These can't possibly be the finished designs." But they were. Sorry, but those antennae are, if not downright ugly, certainly sub-par for an Apple product.

Allen Pike is not happy with the lack of clarity in shift key activation in iOS 7 and above:

When the shift key is on, it blends in with the letter keys. When it’s off, it blends in with the function keys. Neither state sticks out enough to read as active, especially in a split second.

This has been driving me up a wall as well, and I'm relived to find I'm not alone. To my way of thinking, the shift key activation appearance is backwards. And I find it almost impossible to learn a backwards thing, but even more so when it's placed within — and reinforced by — a field of not-backwards things. Such is the current state of the iOS shift key, and it is maddening. Pike's solution, though, is inspired.

Russel Ivanovic is displeased with the rapid pace of Apple OS releases at the expense of stability and reliability:

I just wish that Apple would slow down their breakneck pace and spend the time required to build stable software that their hardware so desperately needs. The yearly release cycles of OS X, iOS, iPhone & iPad are resulting in too many things seeing the light of day that aren’t finished yet. Perhaps the world wouldn’t let them, perhaps the expectations are now too high, but I’d kill for Snow iOS 8 and Snow Yosemite next year. I’m fairly confident I’m not alone in that feeling.

Don't get me wrong, I like iOS 8. But since upgrading, apps crash with alarming regularity. Even FileMaker Go 13, which I'm now using all the time, and which, for my purposes, requires a login at each launch, and which is owned by Apple, crashes with hair-pullingly annoying frequency. I, too, long for the days of Snow Leopard, a release whose focus was on efficiency and stability. It was quite possibly the most rock-solid OS release I've ever used. And it was glorious. 

Even Gruber's bugged by this unreliability:

(Just today: My iPhone 6 rebooted after I changed the home screen wallpaper. Tapped a new image in the wallpaper settings, and poof, it rebooted. Worse, it never stopped rebooting. Endless reboot cycle. Now I’m doing a full restore with iTunes. After changing my wallpaper to a different image.)

Which makes it an almost mainstream gripe.


Online File and Photo Services

A while back I was struggling with iPhoto performance issues, and with the silliness of Apple's iOS-iPhoto-iCloud integration, when I heard about a new online photo storage service called Everpix. With the idea of ditching iPhoto in favor of a cloud solution, I signed up for an Everpix trial. And I liked it a lot. If not for their lack of PNG support, which, as a cartoonist that uses PNGs extensively, was something of a non-starter for me, I probably would've paid for an upgrade.

This week Everpix sadly shuttered their service

In the weeks between my discovery of Everpix and its demise, I spent an unreasonable amount of time researching the numerous various players in this now crowded field. There is a plethora of file-based services like Dropbox who are now vying for your photos. And there are also a bunch of photo-specific services a-la Everpix.  

I don't have time to write the lengthy article this topic really deserves, but I thought it might be useful to some folks if I shared my notes on each service I tried. This list covers file services as well as photo-specific ones; my end goal was to find both a cloud-based file service and a photo service, but if the two could be combined, all the better.


Pros: Free; does video; unlimited storage; does iOS Auto Backup; does cool processing tricks; organizes; I already have an account.
Cons: More data for Google; interface can be frustratingly inconsistent; not really photo-centric; backup not happening reliably in background; images not stored full quality.
Killer Feature: Tons of cool tricks and unlimited storage for free!
More Info

Google Drive

Pros: Hooks into Google Docs.
Cons: Limited space; costs money; only syncs from within Google Drive folder (no symlinks); doesn't sync Mac OS metadata; not really photo-oriented; not well integrated with other Google services.
Non-starter: What's the point?


Pros: Great interface; great organization options; great sharing options; does iOS Auto Backup.
Cons: Costs money; only does JPEG — no PNG or video.
Non-starter: JPEG only? Seriously?
More Info


Pros: Decent interface; very reliable; deep hooks into iOS ecosystem; does iOS Auto Backup; preserves Mac OS metadata; super easy to set up and use.
Cons: Costs money; adding all photos would make it quite expensive; all syncing from within Dropbox folder, not other folders in OS (mitigated with symlinks); munges some photos on iOS.
Killer Feature: Reliability & deep iOS hooks.
More Info


Pros: Will sync folders anywhere in filesystem, not just in Cubby folder; decent interface; acceptable iOS clients.
Cons: Paths to sync folders break easily; not reliable; costs money.
Non-starter: Sync folder paths break. I'm paying for this?
More Info 


Pros: Good iOS and web interfaces; organizes by device; does multiple formats and video; does iOS Auto Backup.
Cons: A bit buggy on iOS; lacks features; costs money; young startup in a competitive field might not be around forever; suffers from being too new and not very useful yet, but one to watch.
Killer Feature: Really nice, basic photo galleries at an affordable price.
More Info


Pros: 1 TB of storage; the original photo sharing service; owned by Yahoo, so presumably a safe bet.
Cons: Video not included in iOS Auto Backup; interface is weird, perplexing; video size limited (though very reasonably).
Non-starter: Video not included in iOS Auto Backup.
More Info

Bittorrent Sync

Pros: Free; peer-to-peer (no cloud); any sort of document; full quality images; fast & efficient transfer; works with iOS and computers; does iOS Auto Backup.
Cons: Currently, iOS does not allow for images to be opened in other apps; not really photo-specific; no web interface; complicated to set up.
Killer Feature: Peer-to-peer sync without the cloud!
Bonus: Images on iOS stored full quality!
More Info

Apple Photo Stream

Pros: Works great on iOS; Auto Backup is seamlessly integrated; galleries are free and unlimited, work well and force you to self-organize.
Cons: On the Mac you must currently use iPhoto to manage Photo Stream, which is terrible; no web interface; no video; limited to the last 1000 photos.
Killer Feature: Truly seamless iOS integration!
More Info


Pros: Syncs folders anywhere in filesystem; mounts cloud storage as WebDAV mount point on desktop.
Cons: So-so interface; loses sync paths easily; costs money.
Non-starter: I cannot abide by broken sync paths, especially if I'm paying.
More Info


Pros: The most iPhoto-like, this service is the closest thing to iPhoto-in-the-cloud that I’ve found; supports multiple formats; video; good organization and search; pulls photos from social networks like Facebook.
Cons: The web interface is a bit shiny for my tastes; costs money.
Killer Feature: iPhoto-in-the-cloud!
More Info


If I were going to pay for any of these service, I would certainly start with Dropbox. It's just the best and I use it all the time for file services. In fact, I plan to upgrade my Dropbox to a paid plan, I'm just waiting to pull the trigger. [Update: Trigger pulled.] If I were going to pay for a photo service, Dropbox might just suffice. It's not an iPhoto killer, but its basic functionality might be good enough to avoid the additional expense of a photo-specific service. Then again, to really support all my photos in Dropbox I'd probably have to pay even more for additional storage, at which point a separate dedicated service for photos becomes appealing.

If I were going to pay for photo management as an additional service, I would go with PictureLife. PictureLife is the most iPhoto-like, and it does most of the things I want from such a service — video, multi-format photos and organizing — at an affordable price. Since what I’m really after is iPhoto-in-the-cloud, PictureLife makes the most sense for me.

(Note: I've done the math, and it would be $20 cheaper per year to get a 100GB Dropbox plan for files and a 100GB PictureLife plan for photos than to get a 200GB Dropbox plan. So if it's more convenient for you to separate them, that's the way to go. Then again, if it's less convenient for you, going all-Dropbox is only slightly more expensive.)

Since there is no perfect photo service yet, no iPhoto killer, and since it's really anybody's guess what, if any, of these service will be around in a year, I'm opting to do things on the cheap. So for now I'm using a 100GB Dropbox account for files and Google+ for my photos. It's not perfect; the photos are not stored full-res and there are some bugs and interface quirks. But Google+ does so much so well, the size limitations aren't that big a deal to me, and the free price and unlimited storage make it a no-brainer.

I'm also using Bittorrent Sync to keep certain image and project folders in sync between all my devices, primarily because images in its iOS client are never downscaled like they are in virtually every other service. In Bittorrent Sync my images always look amazing. And that's kind of important.

This is a rapidly evolving field; services are changing their apps and adding functionality on an ongoing basis. If you see any erroneous information in the above article, please let me know in the comments.  I'll do my best to make corrections.

To wit: there have been some changes to the Flickr service which were mentioned in the comments. I've updated the article accordingly. 


I Made iPhoto Not Suck Quite So Bad

I've all but stopped using iPhoto to manage my images. It's so slow I can't even arrange folders in the sidebar. If an app dedicated to organization is unorganizable, well, I guess I don't really much see the point.

The thing is, there's no good reason for this slowness. I don't have that many photos, my hardware is reasonably good, and I've stayed up to date on the software side of things. So WTF? 

Today I did some poking around and I was able to make iPhoto perform up to par again, after all these years, which is to say it's now working reasonably well. It's at least usable again. 

Seems there was a bad cache file, of all things. 

My bad cache file was located by: 

1. Showing the contents of the iPhoto Library — located in ~/Pictures — by right-clicking and choosing "Show Package Contents..."


2. Deleting the folder called "Project Cache" which contained a long-forgotten iPhoto book project I was testing.


Since doing this iPhoto has been well behaved, but it's also good to know that there is also a cache store located here: 

This is pretty great. Unfortunately, I've since worked around iPhoto's deficiencies by finding other tools for managing my images. But that's a story for another time. 


Vesper Use-Case

When i first read about Vesper, the note-taking iPhone app by John Gruber, Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus, I rankled a bit. Really? Another note-taking app? For five bucks? And no sync? 

But let's face it: I like Gruber — I like his website, I like his writing, and I like what he has to say about how digital tools work. Five clams for a notes app with no sync was almost a non-starter, but my curiosity got the best of me. If nothing else, I could test this thing out, see what all the hype was about, all the while supporting, in some small way, a guy whose site I've been reading for years. 

I've used iOS's Notes app for the bulk of my mobile note-taking, and it's mostly been great. But there's one area where I've needed some help. See, I make this webcomic called Malcontent. And I keep all my ideas for Malcontent — and, believe me, there are a ton of them — in one giant note. And, if I may be colorfully frank, this well and truly sucks major ass.

So I decided to dedicate my experiment with Vesper to this particular problem. I decided to take each and every Malcontent idea (did I mention there are a ton of them?) and transfer each to an individual, tagged note in Vesper. This is all I use Vesper for. It is my dedicated Malcontent comic idea app. And you know what? it works beautifully.

For one, Vesper is very easy to use. I can get a note down and properly tagged very quickly and intuitively. Compare to the olden days, using, in which I'd have to scroll to the bottom of the über note, write the note, and then, without the joy of tags, promptly forget all about it until the next time I spent an hour going through the entire über note. Note taking is now far easier.

It's much more functional as well. Because now, with tags, I can find stuff really easily. I have a few basic categories that make doing this a breeze, and these are all easily accessed in Vesper's sidebar. 

Also, once I've used a comic idea, I can archive it without throwing it out. Doing this means I no longer have to look at it, but I still have it in the archive, which pleases to no end the completist in me (or maybe the pack rat). 

So far this process has been lovely. it works well and makes both storing and accessing these ideas a joy. But did I mention there's no sync?  

Now, I always have my phone with me. There's pretty much never a moment when I am phoneless these days. Maybe on a Sunday morning in the brief interim before I've transferred iPhone to jammies, but that's about it. Since Vesper is currently an iPhone-only app, sync is not a huge problem. If I need to access my Malcontent ideas, I get my phone. No biggie.

But sometimes I work on Malcontents on my iPad. And when I do, it might be nice to not have to look over at my phone for the ideas or the dialogue. It might be nice to see these things — drawings and text — all on one device. So: sync. 

As time's worn on, and as I've become more and more invested in Vesper as a creative tool, I've hoped more and more for sync. With the advent of iOS 7, Q Branch — the company behind Vesper — released an update. And when it contained no mention of sync, I started to worry a bit. 

So I was extremely pleased this morning to read on Daring Fireball that sync is the next big milestone for Vesper. Vesper has turned out to be a terrific tool for me without sync, but sync will make it even better. Mr. Gruber refuses to give an exact timeframe for the feature, and that's okay. Just knowing it's on the horizon is, frankly, good enough for me.

I'm very much looking forward to it.


Torch Browser Bad

If you ever start seeing alerterdaemon crash logs in your Console, you've probably installed the Torch Browser at some point. Maybe you were just curious to try a browser with a media bias; maybe you wanted to see this new flavor of Chrome; maybe you'd heard it was a good way to download videos from YouTube. I don't know, and I'm not one to judge.


After seeing these logs, you get curious, you start poking about a bit more and discover that alerterdaemon lives here:


You Google this /usr/local/libexec/alerterdaemon and there are no results. None. Whatsoever. And now you're getting nervous.


So you start sleuthing. This daemon was modified on July 30th. What else was modified on July 30th? Well, not that much, it turns out. But there is an application in my Applications folder called Torch with that same modification date. I still have the installer, so I run it, command-i the thing and it tells me that all it installs is in /Applications. 


I'm here to tell you, my friends, that that is an outright lie.

A find command for the date in question reveals that the Torch installer installs a veritable buttload of junk all over the filesystem. There's stuff in /Library, there's a bunch of things in your home account. Oh, it's a scene, man, a real mess. And, yes, there's even:

I wanted to post about this for a couple reasons. Firstly I just want to say shame on the Torch browser installer team. You provide an installer that lies about what it installs, and you provide no uninstaller. This is a terrible practice that undermines the trust of your potential users, which I count myself no longer among.

Second, I wanted there to be some search results for this alerterdaemon. There's nothing scarier than Google finding nothing. It is truly terrifying. Hopefully this post will remedy this particular instance.

Thus ends the PSA. Please resume your regular activities.


A reader emailed me asking how I managed to remove all Torch-related errata. Here's what I did.

First I got the modification time of alerterdaemon:
ls -la /usr/local/libexec/alerterdaemon -rwxr-xr-x 1 root wheel 294980 Jun 18 15:16 /usr/local/libexec/alerterdaemon

Then I did a find for everything on my boot drive that had the same modification time. You'll need to figure the number of days ago Torch was installed and enter that numer for the -mtime option. For the grep part enter the modification time pulled from ls. Finally, I specified the -x option to prevent traversing devices other than the boot drive:
sudo find -x / -name "*" -mtime 98 -ls | grep 15:16

Then I just went through and deleted everything that looked like it was part of the Torch install.

Also, here's the result of that command. This is pretty much everything I can determine that was installed by the Torch installer. Bear in mind, this is an older version, and things will likely have changed significantly in newer versions of their installer.