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Brent Simmons’s weblog.



Wed, 17 May 2017 13:22:14 -07002017-05-17T13:22:14-07:00

I was hesitant, even up to this morning, to publish the JSON Feed spec.

If you read Dave Winer’s Rules for standards-makers, you’ll see that we did a decent job with some of the rules — the spec is written in plain English, for example — but a strict application of the rules would have meant not publishing at all, since “Fewer formats is better.”

I agree completely — but I also believe that developers (particularly Mac and iOS developers, the group I know best) are so loath to work with XML that they won’t even consider building software that needs an XML parser. Which says to me that JSON Feed is needed for the survival of syndication.

I could be wrong, of course. I admit.

Feed Reader Starter Kit

See my RSXML repository for Objective-C code that reads RSS, Atom, and OPML. I’ve done the work for you of supporting those formats. Go write a feed reader! Seriously. Do it.

I planned to have a JSON Feed parser for Swift done for today, but other things got in the way. It’s coming soon. But you probably don’t actually need any sample code, since JSON is so easy to handle.

Feedback so far

Feedback has been interesting so far. Some questions on the GitHub repo need answering.

Some people have said this should have happened ten years ago, and other people have said that they hate how developers jump on the latest fad (JSON).

And some people really like the icon:



One of the more serious criticisms was this: why not just support the hAtom microformat instead? Why do another side-file?

My thinking:

My experience as a feed reader author tells me that people screw up XML, badly, all the time — and they do even less well with HTML. So embedding info in HTML is just plain too difficult. In practice it would be even buggier than XML-based feeds.

And there are other advantages to decoupling: a side-file can have 100 entries where there are only 10 on an HTML page, for instance. A side-file can have extra information that you wouldn’t put on an HTML page. And yet, despite the extra information, a side-file can be much smaller than an HTML page, and it can often be easier to cache (since it’s not different based on a logged-in user, for instance).

Microformats sounds elegant, but I don’t prize elegance as much as I value things that work well.

Frontier Diary #8: When Worlds Collide

Mon, 01 May 2017 13:34:23 -07002017-05-01T13:34:23-07:00

I spent the weekend making a bunch of progress on the compiler. It has two pieces: a tokenizer, which I created by rewriting the original C code (langscan.c) in Swift, and a parser.

The parser in OrigFrontier was generated by MacYacc, which is similar to Yacc, which is similar to Bison, which is on my Mac. The thing about the parser is that it’s C code, and the rest of the app is Swift.

How do you bridge the two worlds? Easy answer: with Objective-C, which is a superset of C and which plays nicely (enough) with Swift.

So I renamed langparser.y — the rules file that the parser generator uses — to langparser.ym so that Xcode would know to treat the generated parser source as Objective-C. I edited it slightly, not to change the grammar rules but to change how nodes are created (as return values rather than via inout).

I also made my CodeTreeNode class, written in Swift, an Objective-C class so that it would be visible to my Objective-C code.

And then, finally, I started a build…

…and then it stopped with an error because the parser places my CodeTreeNode in a C union, which isn’t allowed in ARC.


* * *

I think I have three options:

  1. Go down the rabbit hole of figuring out how to get the parser to work with ARC.
  2. Go with the flow: have the parser generate nodes that are, as in OrigFrontier, C structs. The last compilation step would be Objective-C code that translates that tree of C structs into a tree of CodeTreeNode objects, and then disposes the C-struct-node-tree.
  3. Write the parser by hand, in Swift.

My thinking:

I could waste a ton of time on #1, and bending tools in that way can be pretty frustrating work when they refuse to bend.

With #2 I’d feel a bit weird about the redundancy: building a tree and then building a copy of that tree with a different type of object.

My heart tells me #3 is the answer. After all, I’ve already done the tokenizer. How hard would it be to parse those tokens into a code tree? I could skip C and Objective-C altogether and stay in Swift. And it would be so fun. (Because that’s precisely the style of weirdo I am.)

* * *

But the real answer is #2. Writing a parser by hand would take way longer than I think. Given enough tests, it shouldn’t be a huge source of bugs, but still.

The thing about #2 is that yes, it’s redundant, it’s doing more work than it needs to, ideally — but my bet is that it would still be so fast that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Computers are so good at this kind of thing. It’s not like reading files or networking; it’s just in-memory traversal and creating/releasing things.

You remember in Indiana Jones that guy with the twirling swords, and Indy gives that look and then just shoots him? The second option is the Indiana Jones solution.

Update 2:05 pm: Two people have already written me to recommend ANTLR. So I will definitely give that a look. It might be exactly what I need.

Frontier Diary #7: Pretty Much Everything Throws

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:30:42 -07002017-04-27T13:30:42-07:00

A script can throw an error, either intentionally (via the scriptError verb) or by doing something, such as referencing an undefined object, that generates an error.

OrigFrontier was written in C, which has no error-throwing mechanism, and so it worked like this: most runtime functions returned a boolean (for success or failure), and the return value was passed in by reference. If there was an error, the function would set a global error variable and return false. The caller would then have to check that global to see if there was an error, and then do the right thing.

This was not unreasonable, given the language and the times (early ’90s) and also given the need to be very careful about unwinding memory allocations.

But, these days, it seems to me that Swift’s error system is the way to go. There’s just one downside to that, and it’s that I have to do that do/try/catch dance all over the place, since pretty much any runtime function can throw an error.

Even the coercions can throw, so last night I changed the Value protocol so that asInt and so on are now functions, since properties can’t throw (at least not yet).

The extra housekeeping — the do/try/catch stuff — kind of bugs me, but it’s honest. I considered making script errors just another type of Value — but that meant that all those callers have to check the returned Value to see if it’s an error, and then do the right thing. Better to just use Swift’s error system, because it makes for more consistent code, and it makes sure I’m catching errors in every case.

It also means I’m not multiplying entities. A Swift error is a script error, and vice versa.

* * *

Working on this code is like applying the last 25 years of programming history all at once.

A completely different type of error is a bug, and I’m certain to write a bunch of them, because that’s how programming goes.

That’s where unit tests come in. Frontier has long had a stress-test suite of scripts — you’d launch the app, run that suite, wait a while, and see if there are any errors. This was critically helpful.

But OrigFontier didn’t have unit tests at the C code level. The new version does. (Well, I’ve started them anyway.) This means I can more easily follow Rule 1 — the no-breakage rule — and can also more easily follow Rule 1b — the don’t-break-Dave rule.

PS I’ve added a collection page for the Frontier Diary, as I did with earlier diaries. There’s a link to it in the footer of every page on the blog.

Frontier Diary #6: Ballard, from the Parallel Universe

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 13:04:04 -07002017-04-26T13:04:04-07:00

In another universe I didn’t decide to port Frontier — instead, I started over from scratch on an app inspired by Frontier.

In that universe, the new scripting language, descended from UserTalk, is called Ballard. And it’s documented.

My Microblog

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 14:27:28 -07002017-04-25T14:27:28-07:00

I’m on Manton‘s cool new microblogs system. Here’s where you can follow me, once you’re on the system:

And here’s my microblog: (Which you can read using RSS, whether you’re on the system or not.)

I wrote about three-quarters of my own single-user microblog system — and then stopped because I didn’t feel like running a server and because Manton’s service is so good.

Frontier Diary #5: Values and Progress on the Language

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 13:26:33 -07002017-04-25T13:26:33-07:00

I put the Frontier repository up on GitHub. (The build is currently broken. This is bad discipline, but since it’s still just me, I forgive myself. Sometimes I run out of time and I just commit what I have.) The repo has my new code and it also contains FrontierOrigFork, which is the original Frontier source with a bunch of deletions and some changes. The point is to give me 1) code to read and 2) a project that builds and runs on my 10.6.8 virtual machine. The original code is in C, and the port is, at least so far, all in Swift. In the end it should be almost all in Swift, but I anticipate a couple places where I may need to use Objective-C. Here’s one of the Swift wins: Values Since Frontier contains a database and scripting language, there’s a need for some kind of value object that could be a boolean, integer, string, date, and so on. Original Frontier used a tyvaluedata union, with fields for the various types of values. This is a perfectly reasonably approach in C. It’s great because you can pass the same type of value object everywhere. Were I writing this in Objective-C, however, I’d create a Value protocol, and then create new value objects for some types and also extend existing objects (NSNumber, NSString, etc.) to conform to the Value protocol. This would still give me the upside — passing a Value type everywhere — while reducing the amount of boxing. But: this still means I have an NSNumber when I really want a BOOL. Luckily, in Swift I can go one better: I can extend types such as Bool and Int to conform to a Value protocol. This means passing around an actual Bool rather than a boxed boolean. I like this a ton. It feels totally right. Other topic: Language Progress I’m still in architectural mode, where I’m writing just enough code to validate and refine my decisions. A couple days ago I started on the language evaluator — the thing that actually runs scripts. It works as you expect: it takes a compiled code tree and recursively evaluates it. It’s not difficult — it’s just that it’s going to end up being a fair amount of code. I’ve done just enough to know that I’m on the right path. (The Swift code looks a lot like the C code in OrigFrontier’s langevaluate.c. See evaluateList, for instance.) The next step is for me to build the parser. I thought about writing a parser by hand, because it sounds like fun, and it would give me some extra control — but, really, it would slow me way down, so forget it. OrigFrontier generated its parser by passing a grammar file — langparser.y — to MacYacc (there was such a thing!), which generated langparser.c. I’ll do a similar thing, except using Bison (which is compatible with Yacc). Or, possibly, using the Lemon parser generator instead. Either way, I’ll want the generated code to be Objective-C. (Well, mostly C, but with Objective-C objects instead of structs.) (I don’t know of a generator that would create Swift code.) This is completely new territory for me, and is exciting. (Almost forgot to mention: I’ll need to write a tokenizer. This means porting langscan.c. I’ll need to do this first, since the parser generator needs it. So this is the real next step.)[...]

Save $300 on CocoaConf Next Door

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 13:53:02 -07002017-04-14T13:53:02-07:00

My pals at CocoaConf asked me to remind you that the Early Bird sale ends in two weeks for CocoaConf Next Door — the one taking place in San Jose during WWDC.

I’ll be there. At least in the afternoons.

Check out the speakers list. Yummy, chewy, nutty speakers list.

Frontier Diary #4: The QuickDraw Problem and Where It Led Me

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 13:14:20 -07002017-04-14T13:14:20-07:00

In my fork of Frontier there are still over 600 deprecation warnings. A whole bunch of these are due to QuickDraw calls.

For those who don’t know: QuickDraw was how, in the old days, you drew things to the Mac’s screen. It was amazing for its time and pretty easy to work with. Functions included things like MoveTo, LineTo, DrawLine, FrameOval, and so on. All pretty straightforward.

These days we have Core Graphics instead, and we have higher-level things like NSBezierPath. QuickDraw was simpler — though yes, sure, that was partly because it did less.

* * *

I was looking at all these deprecation warnings for QuickDraw functions and wondering how I’m ever going to get through them.

I could, after all, convert all or most of them to the equivalent Core Graphics thing. But sheesh, what a bunch of work.

And, in the end, it would still be a Carbon app, but with modern drawing.

* * *

So I thought about it from another angle. The goal is to get to the point where it’s a 64-bit Cocoa app. All these QuickDraw calls are in the service of UI — so why not just start over with a Cocoa UI?

The app has some outlines (database browser, script editor, etc.), a basic text editor, and a handful of small dialogs. And all of that is super-easy in Cocoa.

Use an NSOutlineView, NSTextView, and some xibs for the dialogs, and we’re done. (Well, after some work, but not nearly the same amount of work as actually writing an outliner from scratch.)

In other words, instead of going from the bottom up — porting the existing source code — I decided to start from the top down.

I started a new workspace and started a new Frontier project: a Cocoa app with Swift as the default language.

Then I looked at the existing source and thought about how to organize things. I came up with this:

  • Frontier — App UI
  • UserTalk.framework — the language
  • FrontierVerbs.framework - the standard library
  • FrontierDB.framework — the object database
  • FrontierCore.framework — common utility functions and extensions

I like using frameworks, because it helps enforce separation, and it helps in doing unit testing. And frameworks are so easy with Swift these days.

Hardly any of this is filled-in yet. I’ve got the barest start on FrontierVerbs. Ted Howard, my partner in all this, is taking UserTalk.framework and FrontierDB.framework.

In the end, it’s possible that no code from the original code base survives. Which is totally fine. But it also means that this is no quick project.

At this point I should probably put it up on GitHub, since it’s easier to write about it if I can link to the code. I’ll do that soon, possibly on the weekend.

Frontier Diary #3: Built-in Verbs Configuration

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 22:25:41 -07002017-04-13T22:25:41-07:00

Frontier’s standard library is known as its built-in verbs. There are a number of different tables: file, clock, xml, and so on. Each contains a number of verbs: file.readWholeFile,, and so on. Most of these verbs are implemented in C, in the kernel, rather than as scripts. At the moment, to add one of these kernel verbs, you have to jump through a few hoops: edit a resource, add an integer ID, add to a switch statement, etc. It’s a pain and is error-prone. So I want to re-do this in Swift, because I’m all about Swift. And I want adding verbs to be fool-proof: I don’t want to remember how to configure this every single time I add a verb. Adding a verb needs to be easy. My thinking: Give each table its own class: ClockVerbs, FileVerbs, etc. Have each class report the names of the verbs it supports. These need to be strings, because we get a string at runtime. Run a verb simply by looking up the selector, performing it, and returning the result. To make things easy and obvious, I think it should work like this: the selector for a given verb is its name plus a parameter. Then there’s not even a lookup step. Each verb will take a VerbParameters object and return a VerbResult object. dynamic func readWholeFile(_ params: VerbParameters) -> VerbResult The flow goes like this: We have the string file.readWholeFile. We see the file suffix and so we know we need a FileVerbs object. We check fileVerbs.supportedVerbs (an array) to see if readWholeFile is in the list. It is. We construct a selector using the readWholeFile part of the string and we add a : character: NSSelectorFromString(verbName + ":") This is great! We’re almost home free. Then we run the verb: if let result = perform(selector, with: params) as? VerbResult { return result } That doesn’t work. We get: Cast from 'Unmanaged! to unrelated type 'VerbResult' always fails Nuts. * * * It was so close. In Objective-C this would have worked. And obviously, apparently, I still think in Objective-C. I investigated some other options. At one point enums were abused, because there’s always, in Swift, an enum-abuse step. But everything I tried was more code and was more error-prone, and my goal here is to improve the situation. I think, in the end, I’m going to do something that looks kind of ugly: a switch statement where the cases are string literals. switch(verbName) { case "readWholeFile": return readWholeFile(params) … } “Nooooo!” you cry. I hear ya. My experience as an object-oriented programmer tells me this: if I write a switch statement, I blew it. And my experience as a programmer tells me that string literals are a bad idea. But the above may actually be the easiest to configure and maintain. Each string literal appears only in that one switch statement and nowhere else in the code. And the mapping between a verb name and its function couldn’t be more clear — it’s right there. (Yes, instead of using a string literal, I could create a String enum and switch on that. But that’s actually more code and more room for error. I’m going to have to type those string literals somewhere, so why not right where they’re used?) It does mean that readWholeFile appears three times in the code (the string literal, the call, and the function itself), and in an Objective-C version it would appear only twice (in a supportedVerbs array and the method itself). But. Well. I’m torn between shuddering in abject and complete horror at this solution and thinking, “Hey, that’s pretty straightforward. Anybody could read it. Anybody could edit it.” Which was the plan all along. And I get to stick with Swift, so there’s that. But, sure as shootin’, some day someone’s going to come across this code and say, “Brent, dude, are ya new?” And I’ll send them [...]

Frontier Diary #2: Two Good Ideas that Aren’t Good Anymore

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 13:01:55 -07002017-04-11T13:01:55-07:00

Strings in Frontier are usually either Pascal strings or Handles. You probably don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ll explain. Pascal Strings Frontier is a Mac Toolbox app that’s been Carbonized just enough to run on OS X. You may recall that the Mac Toolbox was written so long ago that the original API was in Pascal. That Pascal heritage lived on in many ways, even after everyone switched to C — and one of those ways was Pascal strings. A Pascal string is n bytes long, and the first byte specifies the length of the string, which leaves the rest of the bytes for the actual string. Str255 was probably most common, and certainly is most common in Frontier, but there are also smaller sizes: Str63 and Str31, for instance. Unlike C strings, they’re not zero-terminated, since there’s no need to calculate the length: you always know it from that first byte. You create a literal Pascal string like this… Str255 s = "\pThis is a string"; …and the compiler turns the \p into the correct length (16 in this case). Now, I bet you’re saying to yourself, “Self, those Pascal strings are too small to be useful.” But consider this: every menu item name can fit into a Pascal string. You can fit a window title or a file name into a Pascal string (in fact, memory suggests that file names were even shorter, were Str31 Pascal strings). Any label or message on any bit of UI is probably short enough to fit into a Pascal string. (Especially if you assume English.) So for GUI apps these were terrifically useful, and the 255-byte limit was no problem. (You can fit a tweet in a Pascal string, after all, with a bunch of room left over. [Well, depending on the size of the characters.]) Frontier still uses them internally a ton. (For some reason, in the Frontier code, Str255 strings are called bigstring, which sounds ironic, since they’re so small, but I think it was to differentiate them from even smaller Pascal strings such as Str31.) You might ask what the text encoding was for these strings. “Text whatzit?” I’d reply. “Oh, I see. Just regular.” (MacRoman.) It was a good idea, but its time has come and gone. We have better strings these days. Handles Frontier includes a scripting language and a database, which means it certainly has a need for strings much larger than 255 bytes. It also needs heap storage for other things — binary data, structs, etc. — that could be much larger than 255 bytes. Enter the Handle. A Handle points to a pointer that might move: the memory you access via a Handle is relocatable. Which sounds awful, I know, but it was a smart optimization in the days when your Mac’s memory would be a single-digit number of megabytes, or even less than that. Here’s the problem: your application’s heap space can become fragmented. It could have a whole bunch of gaps in it after a while. So, to regain that memory, the system could compact the heap — it would remove those gaps, which means relocating the memory pointed to via a Handle. This is better than running out of memory, obviously. But it means that you have to be careful when dereferencing a Handle: you have to actually lock it first — HLock(h) — so that it can’t be moved while you’re using it. (And then you unlock it — HUnlock(h) — when finished.) Handles are also resizable — SetHandleSize(h, size) — and resizing a Handle can result in it needing to move, if there’s not enough space where it is. Or other Handles might move. You don’t ever know, and don’t care, and you think this is elegant because the system handles it all for you. All you have to deal with is an additional level of indirection (**h instead of *p), locking and unlocking it when needed, and disposing of it — DisposeHandle(h) — when finished. (No, there’s no reference counting, [...]

Two Little-Known and Completely Unrelated Facts

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 16:57:59 -07002017-04-05T16:57:59-07:00

One. OmniOutliner’s outline view is implemented as CALayers rather than as a view with subviews. (I don’t think I’m giving away a trade secret here.)

Two. If you eat fenugreek, your armpits will smell like maple syrup.

iOS, JavaScript, and Object Hierarchies

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 14:53:01 -07002017-04-05T14:53:01-07:00

Rob Fahrni:

Given x-callback-url and App URL schemes in general it would be extremely cool to use those to create object hierarchies using JavaScript. Why JavaScript? Well, it’s native to iOS and applications can use the runtime.

CocoaConf Near WWDC

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 14:35:05 -07002017-04-05T14:35:05-07:00

There are a bunch of things happening near WWDC this year. Me, I’ll be at CocoaConf Next Door. I’m not preparing a talk, but I’ll probably be on a panel. And hanging out.

Check out the speakers list, which includes Omni’s own Liz Marley. And a bunch of other people you totally want to see — Manton Reece, Jean MacDonald, Laura Savino, and plenty more.

Also… AltConf and Layers will be near WWDC. If you could be in three places at once, you would. Well, four, including WWDC itself, I suppose. :)

OmniOutliner 5.0 for Mac

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 10:44:45 -07002017-04-05T10:44:45-07:00

I’ve been on the OmniOutliner team for over a year now. Though we don’t have positions like junior and senior developer, I enjoy calling myself the junior developer on the Outliner team, since I’m newest.

I may be a new developer, but I’m not a new user — I’ve been using the app since the days when OmniOutliner 3 came installed on every Mac.

Every time I start a talk, I outline it first. I organize the work I need to do in my side-project apps in OmniOutliner. And — don’t tell the OmniFocus guys, who are literally right here — sometimes I even use it for to-do management in general. I’d be lost without a great outliner.

Anyway… there’s a new version: OmniOutliner 5.0. It’s my first dot-oh release at Omni, and I’m proud of it and proud of the team.

As is common with our apps, we have two levels: a regular level and a Pro level. The regular level is called “Essentials” and is just $9.99. There’s a demo so you can try it out first.

It syncs with iOS and with other Macs, by the way. Sync is free. And of course it comes with extensive documentation, and Omni’s awesome support humans are standing by.

Get it while it’s hot!

Frontier Diary #1: VM Life

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 13:44:34 -07002017-04-03T13:44:34-07:00

It’s been years since I could build the Frontier kernel — but I finally got it building.

It’s really a ’90s Mac app that’s been Carbonized just enough to run on MacOS, but it’s by no means modern: it uses QuickDraw and early Carbon APIs. It’s written entirely in C.

I got it building by installing MacOS 10.6.8 Server in VMWare. Installed Xcode 3.2.6. And now, finally, I can build and run it.

What is Frontier?

Frontier — as some of you know — was a UserLand Software product in the ’90s and 2000s. I worked there for about six years.

The app is a development environment and runtime: a persistent, hierarchical database with a scripting language and a GUI for browsing and editing the database and for writing, debugging, and running scripts.

The Nerd’s Guide to Frontier gives some idea of what it’s like, though it was written before many of the later advances.

Maybe you’ve never heard of it. But here’s the thing: it was in Frontier that the following were either invented or popularized and fleshed-out: scripted and templated websites, weblogs, hosted weblogs, web services over http, RSS, RSS readers, and OPML. (And things I’m forgetting.)

Those innovations were due to the person — Dave Winer — and to the times, the relatively early web days. But they were also in part due to the tool: Frontier was a fantastic tool for implementing and iterating quickly.

The Goal

The high-level goal is to make that tool available again, because I think we need it.

The plan is to turn it into a modern Mac app, a 64-bit Cocoa app, and then add new features that make sense these days. (There are so many!) But that first step is a big one.

The first part of the first step is simple, and it’s where I am now: mass deletions of code. Every reference to THINK_C and MPWC has to go. All references to the 68K and PPC versions must go. There was a Windows port, and all that code is getting tossed. And then I’ll see the scale of what needs to be done.

(Note: my repo is a fork, and it’s not even on the web yet. The code I’m deleting is never really gone.)

I’m doing a blog diary on it because it helps keep me focused. Otherwise I’m jumping around on my side projects. But if I have to write about it, then I’ll stay on target.

The Goal

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 13:47:44 -07002017-03-31T13:47:44-07:00

The goal isn’t specifically impeachment and conviction. It’s for Trump to leave office.

The stretch goal is that he dies broke and in prison.

But we could settle for him going down in history as our worst President, as the worst person ever to become President, with the name Trump held in less esteem than that of Benedict Arnold, with Trumpism — that pseudo-populist white nationalism for the benefit of the super-rich — thoroughly loathed and seen for the brutish scam that it is.

I think there comes a point before an actual trial in the Senate where Republican leaders — in Congress, in the Cabinet, wherever — realize that Trump can no longer govern, and they tell him so and urge him to resign.

And I think he actually does resign at that point. He’s been through bankruptcy, and he’s shown that when there’s no path to winning, he’ll take the easiest route out of the situation, the route that leaves him the most status. He doesn’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to go to trial in the Senate: he’d quit.

I don’t know what it will take to bring Republican leaders to this point. Their ongoing cowardice is the real scandal — when faced with a threat to our democracy, they play along because they’re hoping for some goodies.

I don’t think they get to this point unless the public gets to this point, and so I look to the approval polls. If it gets below 30%, it’s probably there because of further revelations in the Russia affair, and it’s probably at the point where even cowards feel safe in doing the right thing — even if only to save their own necks, which will need saving.

But right now Speaker Ryan won’t even replace Devin Nunes as chair of the house intelligence committee. So there’s still a long way to go.

My CocoaConf Yosemite 2017 Talk

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 11:55:21 -07002017-03-25T11:55:21-07:00

Yosemite 2017 was so great. It always is. Below is the rough draft of my first-night talk. A few notes… The actual spoken version is probably not even close to the text, which was written before any rehearsal, and of course it’s never my intent to memorize it exactly. The bit with Laura Savino was a quick three-chord rock medley. We both played acoustic guitar and sang. It went like this: B: Louie Louie, oh baby, we gotta go L: Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah B: Louie Louie, oh baby, we gotta go L: Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah B: I live on an apartment on the 99th floor of my block L: Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on B: I look out my window imagining the world has stopped L: Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on [Slight change of chords] B & L: Teenage wasteland, oh yeah, only teenage wasteland [repeated] Here’s my favorite video for Brimful of Asha. During the Squirrel Picture interlude (slide #3) I told the Squirrel Story, which wasn’t planned or recently rehearsed, but I’ve told it often enough that it didn’t really need rehearsal. I dedicated the performance of Hallelujah to Dori Smith. The talk was meant to be about 20 minutes long. Afterward I went around the room with a microphone and each person introduced themselves. (The talk’s job is to be a first-night ice-breaker talk.) I spent about 10 hours on rehearsal for those 20 minutes. Here’s the talk: Slide #1: Three Chord Rock Hi. I’m Brent. Before I get started — seeing my friend Brad Ellis reminded me of the most rock-n-roll moment of my life. Where’s Brad? Hi Brad. Anyway — I was at a party at my friend Chris’s house, and he let me borrow his guitar and do a sing-along. I think we did White Rabbit and Me and Bobby McGee and Hotel California. Well, here’s the problem — I have a hard time hanging on to a guitar pick. Especially after a few beers. So at one point the pick goes flying, and I’m strumming with my fingers. But I had a hangnail, and it got a bit aggravated as I was strumming. At the end I noticed that there was my actual blood on the guitar. I felt bad about it, but Chris was gracious, of course, and I thought that right then: that’s rock and roll. You can use this as metaphor. Bleeding? Keep right on playing. Maybe you won’t even notice that you’re bleeding, at least not until you stop. Chris told me later that the guitar cleaned up fine, so all was well. Okay. On to the actual talk… I bet most of you have heard the phrase “three chord rock n roll.” Or have heard that “rock is so great because you only need three chords.” What you may not realize is that it’s even easier than that: it’s three specific chords. Always the same three chords. They might be in any key but they’re the first, fourth, and fifth. In the key of C, the first is C, the fourth is F, and the fifth is G. In the key of A it’s A, D, and E. And when a song does have more than those three chords, it has at least those three chords. They’re the foundation for almost all pop and rock. One part of music is building tension and then resolving it. I’ll demonstrate on guitar. [On guitar] Play the first .... and you’re fine. You’re home. Play the fourth .... and there’s a little tension. Not a ton, but some. But you want to go back to the first, to home. Then play the fifth ... and you have maximum tension. You definitely want to go back home to the first. So with those three chords you have everything you need to write a thousand songs. Now for a little demo, I’d like to invite Laura Savino up to help me out. [music] Thanks, Laura! SO LET ME MAKE TWO POINTS VERY CLEAR. ONE. If you[...]

Them That’s Got Shall Get

Tue, 07 Mar 2017 18:29:27 -08002017-03-07T18:29:27-08:00

I try — earnestly, with good faith — to understand the Republican ideologies.

And I think I’ve figured out one of them: they want to make life harder for poor people so that they have more incentive to become rich, and they want to make life better for rich people to reward success, since it should be rewarded, and since doing so provides even more incentive for poor people to become rich.

If you look at it just the right way, you can see it’s not entirely wrong. If the government made material life pretty sweet for everybody, then some people wouldn’t bother to work to earn a living. I wouldn’t bother — I’d just make software and give it away for free.

If the government made life semi-sweet — well, anybody who wants the full sweet would want a job. But some people would be fine with semi-sweet, and they wouldn’t work.

I think that’s where Republicans stand: they think the government has made life semi-sweet, enough so that a bunch of people just take and don’t work. Republicans think: we need to give them an incentive to work.

This explains the health care bill: it takes from the poor, who need incentives to work, and gives to the wealthy, who need rewards for their success. (So the Republicans think.)

* * *

It’s as if the Republicans have no realistic conception of what it’s like to be poor. The choice isn’t between health care and an iPhone, as one Republican suggested — it’s between food and rent, or worse, and forget health care and iPhones entirely.

I was “poor” in my very early 20s. I put that in quotes because I was never in danger of starving or becoming homeless — my parents would have helped me. (They did plenty, in fact.)

But still, even this small experience gives me some insight. I remember buying generic macaroni and cheese because I literally didn’t have enough money for Kraft. And forget hot dogs. And forget vegetables.

I don’t mean that I had some money lying around that I’d put aside; I mean that I had a few dollars to last a week, and if I bought Kraft, which was a few dimes more, I would run out of money before the week was over.

(My bank had a $5 minimum balance for my account. I could withdraw as little as $5 — and in those days ATMs were free — but that would have meant having more than $10 in my account to get that $5. I got so angry because I had, as I recall, $6.91 but couldn’t get at it. I remember thinking that another $5 would change my life.)

I’m not complaining about this, or saying that I had things particularly tough. Not at all.

I’m saying that if you take that experience, and take away any possibility of help from family, and then stretch it out for years and decades — with the inevitable issues, health and otherwise, that happen to everybody — then you have a life where getting ahead is really, really difficult. I can’t imagine; I can only try.

But it’s no semi-sweet life. Not even close.

Don’t Be Scared If You Have to Get an MRI

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 13:37:39 -08002017-02-23T13:37:39-08:00

“Totally normal,” said my neurologist of the results of the MRI on my head. No worries.

I was afraid to get an MRI in the first place.

I got a crown last week, and that didn’t worry me — it’s my ninth. Breathe the gas and just chill for a while. No big deal. It’s almost sad when it’s over.

But I was afraid to get the MRI, because I’m slightly claustrophobic, and all I knew was that they’d put me in a big tube and then walk away.

How It Went

I didn’t have any dietary restrictions in advance. They didn’t inject me with anything. I was told to wear comfortable clothes with no metal — so I wore sweatpants, a T-shirt, and a sweatshirt. I was able to leave my rings (gold, two small diamonds) on.

Beforehand I did a three-sixty in front of a ferrous metal detector. Then I was led through the doors with the giant warnings about extremely powerful magnets.

I put in earplugs that the technician gave me, and then put on headphones. He asked me what music I’d like, and I replied, “80s. Bowie.” I lied down on the thing. There was a firm but not painful thing to hold my head still and give it something to rest on. Under the lower half of my legs was a foam thing that kept them elevated a little. It was comfortable.

He told me it would take about 20 minutes. He also gave me a bulb to hold onto and to squeeze as an alert, and he said they could pause the tests if needed.

Then he slid me in. The tube was more narrow than I expected. And for the first couple seconds I did feel panic rising a little bit, and I thought about squeezing the bulb — but I didn’t. I oriented myself and took some deep breaths.

I was staring up at the top of the tube (I was on my back), but there was this mirror contraption (two mirrors? hard to tell) that I was looking at, and so I was looking out through the end of the tube. What I was actually seeing was a nice, calm painting on the wall — a river and some trees — and I could see the length of my body and my feet, which were free of the tube. I told myself I could scramble out on my own if I had to.

The music started with a Bowie song — “Life on Mars.” Later there were songs by Talking Heads and similar bands. It was good to have music because I could note the passage of time that way. (I guess I was listening to a Pandora station or something similar.)

The machine was noisy, but I had plenty enough ear protection, and the different scans had different patterns. One scan near the end included a bit of vibration. The technician talked to me through the headphones a couple times to let me know how much time was remaining. I just kept my eyes on that painting the whole time.

I had no trouble being still, except when I had to swallow. I just did. It was otherwise comfortable. And I could have gone another 20 minutes, easy.

* * *

Of course, I’m lucky. I have very good insurance through Omni, and it paid for this. And, even luckier, the results were totally normal.

Hear that, world? The inside of my head is totally normal. I don’t mind feeling good about some good news for a change.

Update 4:15 pm: I’ve heard that not all MRIs are so nice. They might not have the mirrors and the music. In that case, well, I’m sorry. Just remember that they won’t forget you’re in there, and they’ll let you out at the end. Stay cool.

OmniOutliner Essentials

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 10:17:48 -08002017-02-22T10:17:48-08:00

Omni introduces OmniOutliner Essentials:

We didn’t want to just reach out to our existing audience; we wanted to introduce the joys and benefits of outlining to a much larger audience. We decided that meant two things: we needed to make the app much simpler, and we needed to make it much more affordable.

It’s in public preview now. You can check it out.

I’ve been the junior developer on the OmniOutliner team for a couple years, and it’s a joy to work on an app that I’ve loved for years as a user. We’re not finished yet with this release, but I’m very happy with how it’s turning out.

PS I like that Ken mentions MORE in the blog post:

We shipped the first beta of OmniOutliner while Mac OS X was still in beta, and doing so introduced us to a passionate community of outliners who had been using great outlining tools like MORE for over a decade.

MORE was by Living Videotext, which was Dave Winer’s company. Later I went to work at Dave’s company UserLand Software, which also included an outliner in its app Frontier, which I worked on. So there is a sort-of family tree connection from OmniOutliner back to MORE.