David Sinclair's blog

Simon 2.5.1 released

Thanks to a post in the Simon forum this morning, I've traced and fixed a bug in the new SMS notifier plug-in. Plus a couple of other tweaks:

  • Fixed a bug that could sometimes prevent the new SMS notifier plug-in from loading.
  • Minor tweak to the SMS plug-in UI layout.
  • Removed the Spanish localization, since it hasn't been updated (if anyone wants to take over maintaining it, let us know).

Sorry for a bug-fix update in the same week as the general release... I wish we'd caught this during the beta cycle. But I felt it was an important enough issue to get a fix out immediately.

Download Simon 2.5.1 now!

Simon 2.5 released

Announcing the release of Dejal Simon version 2.5. Simon is my flagship Mac app, a very flexible server monitoring tool.

This update includes lots of great improvements. Some of the highlights include:

  • New SMS notifier plug-in, to send text messages via Clickatell or e-mail.
  • New Web notifier plug-in (like the Web service) to post to a web-based script.
  • Added S.M.A.R.T. Status, Drive Status, and Pulse services.
  • Added a Post to Simon Wall notifier.
  • Several enhancements to the reports features.
  • Added a Convert Domain/IP command to change a domain name into the corresponding IP address, or vice versa.
  • Plus many more improvements and fixes; see the release notes for details.

This is a free update for licensed Simon 2 customers.

Download Simon 2.5 now!

Secret screenshot tips

I take a lot of screenshots while documenting my products. I used to use Ambrosia's Snapz Pro, but it started misbehaving (losing its hotkey), so I stopped. Nowadays, I find Apple's built-in screenshot tools quite adequate.

Firstly, of course, is the Grab application, located in your /Applications/Utilities folder. I only tend to use that when I need a timed screenshot, e.g. to record partway through an animation. It is quite useful for that, though: you activate the timed screenshot function, wait for the timer to run out, and it takes a shot of the whole screen in whatever state it is then. It can take a few attempts to get the precise animation frame I want, but it allows taking a shot while clicking and dragging, something the built-in screenshots can't. That was admittedly one of the strengths of Snapz Pro, too.

Built into the OS is the whole-screen screenshot hotkey, Shift-Cmd-3. This will save a PNG image of the whole screen (or multiple pictures if you have multiple screens) to the Desktop. (You can change the file format via a utility like Secrets if you wish. You can also change the hotkey via the Keyboard & Mouse system preferences.)

Perhaps slightly less well known is Control-Shift-Cmd-3, which saves the screenshot onto the Clipboard. Very handy for pasting into emails and such.

The one I find most useful is Shift-Cmd-4, though. This displays crosshairs with a coordinate display, and when you click-and-drag out a selection, the coordinates change to the selection size. Very handy. This saves the selected area to a PNG file.

Similarly, Control-Shift-Cmd-4 saves a selected region to the Clipboard.

These selection screenshot options are even more flexible than that, though. After invoking them, but before dragging a selection, you can press the Spacebar to highlight the window under the crosshairs. Clicking will then take a shot of that window, including the border.

While dragging a selection, there are more options. You can hold the Shift (Shift) key to constrain one axis — to keep the height the same while adjusting the width, or vice versa.

You can also hold the Option (Option) key to adjust the size around the center point, instead of from the point where you started dragging.

And you can hold the Spacebar in selection mode to reposition the whole selection, keeping the size the same. Very handy.

Finally, you can cancel the screenshot simply by pressing Escape. This can be useful on occasions other than just changing your mind: you can use the screenshot tool as a ruler, measuring the number of pixels of an object by dragging out a selection and reading the size display from the crosshairs, then hit Escape to exit without taking a shot.

Very useful. If anyone knows of any other tricks with the screenshot tools, please let me know!

History of the internet

A fascinating animated video on the history of the internet:

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

Introducing Valentines for iPhone

Introducing Valentines, a fun app to help celebrate Valentine's Day. It is now available on the iPhone App Store!

Valentines enables you to create any number of fun Valentine messages with your own text and a photo within a heart-shaped frame. The photo will have a slightly pink tint — see the world through rose-colored glasses. :) You and your valentine can view it on your iPhone or iPod touch, or you can save it to your photo library:

Flipping over, you can edit the message and choose an existing photo from your library or take one with the iPhone's camera:

You can also display a list of all valentines, and add new ones, rearrange their order, or delete them:

Valentines is available on the App Store for just $0.99. A limited number of promo codes are available for reviewers; if you are a journalist or blogger and want to write a review of Valentines, contact me for a code.

Imagining the ten dimensions

Fascinating, in a mind-bending kinda way:


Watch Imagining the ten dimensions in How to Videos  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

SmileDial 1.1 released

My first iPhone applications, SmileDial Lite and SmileDial Pro, have been updated to version 1.1.

Note: currently as of this writing, SmileDial Lite 1.1 hasn't yet appeared on the App Store, but I expect it soon. SmileDial Pro 1.1 is available.

Version 1.1 adds some new features, along with performance improvements:

  • Added a Settings option to Display Person's Name: if on, the person's name appears at the bottom of their photo. It is on by default.
  • Added a Settings option to Convert Numbers: if on, a number like "1 (800) MY-APPLE" will be converted to the numeric equivalent, "1 (800) 692-7753". This is off by default.
  • If a number from a Contact contains letters (e.g. "1 (800) MY-APPLE"), and isn't converted via the above setting, it is not auto-formatted, to avoid stripping off the letters.
  • Scrolling between multiple people (in the Pro edition) is now faster.
  • Flipping to and from the Edit Person view is now faster.

Check out the SmileDial website for more information, including a movie demoing the main features (though it hasn't been updated for version 1.1 yet). You can see some of the new features in the screenshots. You can also find links to the App Store on those pages.

Sneak peek: Valentines for iPhone

I've just submitted my second iPhone app to the App Store... well, really my third, since SmileDial Lite and SmileDial Pro are separate apps.

Introducing Valentines, a fun app to help celebrate Valentine's Day. It is currently in review by Apple, but hopefully will be available on the App Store before Valentine's Day itself!

You can get a sneak peek of this new app on the Valentines website. It enables you to create one or more Valentine messages with custom text and a photo within a heart-shaped frame. You can tap a camera button to save the result to your photo library, or just show them to your valentine on your iPhone:

Flipping over, you can edit the message and choose an existing photo from your library or take one with the iPhone's camera:

Valentines will be available on the App Store for just $0.99. Since it's so simple and cheap, there's only one edition; no need for a free Lite edition to evaluate.

Speaking of SmileDial, I recently also submitted version 1.1 of both editions, which includes some much-requested improvements. They should also be available shortly.

Introducing FinderFront

[Tweet]

Adam C. Engst, publisher of the excellent TidBITS newsletter ("Mac news for the rest of us"), called out to the Twitterverse for help with a pet vexation. He wanted to be able to simply click on the Desktop and have all Finder windows come in front of all other windows. Normally when you click the Desktop, the Finder is activated but its windows may be obscured behind those of other applications.

And thus FinderFront was created. It is a simple — and completely free — tool to bring all Finder windows to the front when you click anywhere on the Desktop. If the Finder is already active, it does nothing, to avoid blocking selection of any icons on the Desktop.

It doesn't show any windows or menus when launched, and doesn't appear in the Dock, so it'll be practically invisible. If you find it useful and want it to keep working after you restart your Mac, add it to your Login Items in the Accounts pane of your System Preferences.

Download FinderFront now! It's free!

Simon 2.5b2 released

Simon version 2.5b2 has now been released:

  • Added a Drive Status service. A script service to check drive capacity threshold, S.M.A.R.T. status, and RAID health. A more comprehensive check than the S.M.A.R.T. Status service. Results in a failure if a problem is detected. Kindly written by Scott Haneda.
  • Added Automatically add www. and .com if omitted checkbox to the Web plug-in's Service options. It is on by default, but you can turn it off to disable this automatic formatting if you need to enter a URL without a top-level domain, e.g. for WebDav.
  • Fixed a bug in the previous beta where a URL was incorrectly required in the New/Edit Service window for the Web plug-in.
  • Fixed a bug with loading new default services and notifiers, where they could vanish after relaunching if no changes were made manually after updating. If you deleted any of these, they may re-appear with this update; just delete them again, and they won't re-appear.

Download Simon now!

Happy birthday, Mac!

Saturday is the 25th anniversary of the introduction of the first Macintosh.

I first used a Mac back in high school in New Zealand, where I volunteered as head student librarian. The school had mostly Apple IIe computers, but bought one of the newfangled Macintosh computers in 1984. It was an original 128K Mac, with a single internal floppy drive. Back then, the OS, an application, and data fit on a single 400K disk. We used MacWrite for letters and other documents, MacPaint for occasional graphics, and the OverVUE database for some records... though not a full book catalog.

I bought my first Mac four years later while at university, in 1988. It was a Macintosh Plus, one of the new platinum-colored models. And I even had a second 800K floppy drive and a dot-matrix printer! Later, I added an external hard drive (I think it was 10 MB, though I could be wrong).

Those were the days... working on a 9-inch 512 x 342 pixel monochrome display... which is actually not much more than the iPhone screen resolution, to give some perspective.

Later I bought a Macintosh II, which I subsequently upgraded internally to be a Macintosh IIx. Then I used a number of other models provided by a Dejal client.

When my wife and I got married, Apple gave us a PowerBook 150 as a wedding present, since we had met while using Macs with the fledgling internet. Our wedding was covered on local TV news and newspapers. Yep, meeting over the internet was a novel concept back then.

Just before we moved to the US, we bought a clamshell iBook G3, which we still have, though I only use it for Mac OS X 10.3.9 compatibility testing. Then an iMac G4, which sadly seems to have passed away, a PowerMac G5 that I still use for Mac OS X 10.4 testing and as a music server, and lastly my current machine, a 17" MacBook Pro.

(We've also had a few other Macs: a Mac mini we use with our TV, a MacBook I bought to take to WWDC before I got my MacBook Pro, then subsequently gave to my wife's mom, and my wife has had a couple of 15" MacBook Pros.)

All in all, it's been a great 25 years. I've enjoyed using and owning the various Macs over this time, and look forward to many more years. Happy birthday, Mac!

Simon 2.5b1 released

Simon, my flagship product to monitor websites and servers for changes and failures, has been updated to version 2.5b1, the first beta release of a feature update.

This update includes several great improvements:

Services and Notifiers:

  • Added a SMS notifier plug-in to send Simon notifications as text messages to your phone. It has two modes of operation: via the Clickatell SMS gateway service, or via email to your phone provider. For both methods, this plug-in enables you to easily add multiple phone numbers to send messages to, and you can pick them from your Address Book if desired. Clickatell is a paid service; you need to sign up for an account with them, and they charge for each message. The email mode is free, other than any charges you may incur for receiving text messages. This plug-in was kindly written by Daniel Ellis.
  • Renamed the Basic plug-in as Web, and extended it to also act as a notifier. So you can now use it to get or post to a web page when a change, failure or recovery occurs, e.g. to run a PHP script to log a failure or perform some other action.
  • Added a S.M.A.R.T. Status service. This script checks the S.M.A.R.T. status of all mounted disk volumes, ignoring volumes that don't support reporting S.M.A.R.T. status. Results in a failure if a problem is detected.
  • Added a Pulse service. This script simply causes every check to result in a change. This can be useful, for example, to have Simon email you (via a change notifier) at a desired frequency, to reassure you that Simon is on the job.
  • Added a Post to Simon Wall notifier. This is a demo of the Web plug-in operating as a notifier. It does a Post to the Dejal website, adding a line to the Simon Wall page. You are welcome to use this notifier if you wish, or can duplicate and modify it to post elsewhere.
  • The E-mail notifier now alerts you if the To or From fields aren't filled in, since that is a common cause of issues.
  • Changed the E-mail notifier plug-in when using the Automatic method to connect to the sender's SMTP server instead of the recipient's, since that is more correct.
  • Fixed a bug in the Web plug-in's handling of the parameters and cookies tables, where an exception could prevent adding new ones when editing existing tests.

Reports:

  • Changed the URL display in the Save Locally report plug-in to be an editable URL, like in the Upload to Remote Server one. This enables you to edit the URL if you have a domain name for your local machine, or want to use a different variation of a file:// URL, perhaps to use localhost instead of the machine name. Clear the field to go back to an automatically determined URL.
  • Changed the Save Locally report plug-in to replace any periods in the machine name with a dash, to avoid an invalid URL.
  • Added LastChangeTextWithHTML and LastChangeTextWithoutHTML report variables for the Test block, so you can display the full text of the test output (between the Start and End Smart Change Detection blocks, if any).
  • When a report is deleted, it now immediately stops outputting and removes its timer to avoid reporting again, as you'd expect.

Other:

  • Added a Convert Domain/IP command to the Edit menu. If a field with a domain name or IP address is active, this command will change the domain name into the corresponding IP address, or vice versa. If there are multiple possible matches, a menu is displayed to enable you to choose the best one. Note that converting a domain to an IP then back to a domain may result in a different domain, if it is on a shared hosting server.
  • Changed the Add/Remove buttons below tables in the Preferences, Web (HTTP) and Script plug-ins to use small square buttons instead of round ones, to fit with the modern convention.
  • Fixed a rare issue where some plug-in settings could be unexpectedly modified when canceling an editor.
  • Fixed an issue with the Preferences window, where edits might not be saved when quitting with the window still open (specifically when an edit is still active).
  • Removed the old crash reporter, since it doesn't support Leopard crash logs.
  • Updated the built-in Kagi purchasing tool to the latest version, which fixes some issues with Leopard.

Download Simon 2.5b1 now!

Dejal site now iPhone optimized

Yesterday I talked briefly about the updated Dejal website design, but I didn't mention the biggest change: the whole site is now displayed in an optimized state when viewed on an iPhone or iPod touch.

When viewed there, it will use a simplified header with just the Dejal logo, plus special menus similar to iPhone-native ones, and will display the sidebar content after the main body content. It also fits the text to the screen, adjusts image sizes if too large, and other optimizations:

So how do you access the other pages? Simply tap the Dejal logo to display a special menu page, that includes the items from the normal page header in an iPhone-friendly menu. The Mac and iPhone pages are also displayed more simply, too.

There is also a checkbox at the bottom of every page to toggle iPhone-optimized mode off and on (as you can see in the above picture). By default it is on, but if you turn it off the page will change to use the same layout as on your Mac or PC, where you can pinch to zoom etc as normal:

One thing worth mentioning: since the Forum etc tables are too wide to fit, they now scroll horizontally. There's no real need, but if you want to see obscured columns you can use two fingers to scroll horizontally:

I hope you enjoy the changes! Again, please let me know if you notice any issues with any aspect of the new website design.

Updated website design

Over the last couple of weeks I've been tweaking the Dejal website design. Nothing too radical, but some visible changes, and a number of behind-the-scenes changes too. The redesign is now live.

The most visible change is the page header: it no longer has the app icons. Instead, it has new Mac and iPhone items, which lead to pages of those products. The header also looks more modern than it did.

The reason for moving the product icons out of the header was simply that it was running out of space. I recently released my first iPhone app, SmileDial, and will be releasing more new apps this year.

The apps aren't gone completely, though: I've added them to two boxes in the sidebar, one for Mac apps and the other for iPhone apps. The Mac box includes an item for my free stuff, too.

On the product pages, I've made several more changes. The product icon, name and slogan are now displayed above the body content, and the submenu of product pages is drawn differently. Plus the buy/download links in the sidebar are drawn differently, with boxes for beta and older versions as well as the current general release, where appropriate.

I'm still tweaking a few aspects of the site design, but it's mostly done. If you notice any broken links, overlapping or incorrectly sized blocks, or other things that don't look right, please let me know.

Featured blog posts of 2008

My blog posts often just cover new releases, but sometimes I post general-interest or developer-interest topics. Some highlights from 2008 included:

I hope you enjoyed these posts.

Dejal year in review: 2008

The year 2008 was another interesting year for Dejal. Here are some highlights:

Simon: My flagship website and server monitoring tool had one significant update, version 2.4, with a couple of fix updates bringing it to 2.4.2. These versions added the Twitter and Calendar plug-ins, plus enhancements to several others, and lots of other improvements. What's next? Version 2.5 is currently in development, and will have the first beta release shortly. It includes a significant new SMS notifier, plus other enhancements.

Time Out: My handy break reminder tool was updated to version 1.5.2, plus some work was done on version 2. I had hoped to get version 2 released in 2008, but it got postponed due to some other projects. What's next? Version 2 is still coming, probably around May 2009.

Caboodle: This handy snippet-keeper app was updated to version 1.2. This release included several encryption enhancements and other improvements. What's next? I have a long list of ideas for Caboodle. It should see several significant enhancements in 2009.

Narrator: My fun speech synthesis app had a major upgrade and rewrite using Leopard technologies, plus some fix releases bringing it to version 2.0.3 currently. This major upgrade was much deserved, since the previous release was back in 2003! I also started experimenting with giving away Narrator licenses via TrialPay. What's next? Narrator 2.1 will be released before the end of the year, with fix releases before that.

BlogAssist: This useful HTML markup tool was updated to version 2.2, with 2.2.1 the latest release. It added much-requested repeating formatting, and other changes. What's next? I have several ideas for BlogAssist, too, with several updates planned.

Macfilink: My affiliate link cloaking app was updated to version 1.5 and released as freeware. This was a tricky decision, but I still feel that it was the right one. I don't currently plan on any further improvements to it, as it does it's one job very well, but will do bug-fix releases as needed.

SmileDial: I released my first apps for iPhone in 2008. SmileDial Lite and SmileDial Pro are innovative apps using a visual address book for your favorite people, to make it easy to text and call one or more people. What's next? A minor release will be done soon, with some feature enhancements planned.

What else will 2009 bring? I'm about to start a new Mac app with a companion iPhone app as a joint venture with another developer. I want to write at least one other new iPhone app, too. But I don't want to push back updates to my existing apps more than necessary. I'm also currently working on some updates to the website, including optimizations when viewing on an iPhone, which I'll roll out soon.

I'm looking forward to another great year. Thank you to all of my customers who have helped support Dejal.

My year in cities, 2008

It's the end of the year, so it's time for my traditional list of the cities I spent one or more nights in during 2008:

Portland, OR (home)
Astoria, OR
Warm Springs, OR
Seattle, WA

Not very much travel this year... no air travel at all, which is rather unusual. Next year my wife and I are hoping to get back to New Zealand for a visit around Christmas time... but we've talked about that for years, so who knows if we'll actually do it.

(Compare to 2007 and 2006.)

macZOT New Year's Bundle

I'm pleased to be able to participate in macZOT's New Year's Bundle. I'm including Dejal Caboodle, my handy app to store snippets of text, images, PDFs, and other documents in an organized way. Read the product page for more information about it.

This bundle includes several great apps, perfect for those who just got a Mac for Christmas, and for long-time Mac owners. It is also a responsible bundle: $5 from each sale is donated to Heifer International to help people around the world feed themselves. This is a great charity organization that I personally support too.

Check it out:

SmileDial demo video added

I've just added a demo video to the SmileDial site, that goes through most of the functionality in SmileDial Pro (SmileDial Lite is very similar, but without the multiple-people features and the shake-for-contact-info feature).

I recorded the video using the excellent ScreenFlow application, recording SmileDial Pro running in the iPhone Simulator. Then I tidied it up a bit to remove lengthy hesitations in my interaction (but the speed of the app isn't changed). I had to fake displaying the contact info via a shake, since the simulator can't do that; ScreenFlow's animation ability helped with that, moving a static image of the contact info into view and out again in almost exactly the same way it appears in reality. I also inserted static images to simulate making a call and creating a text message. And I replaced the status bar with static images (black and white ones) to avoid distracting clock jumps in my edits and when looping.

It turned out that ScreenFlow refused to export the portrait orientation as .m4v video without stretching it, so I exported it in Lossless format then used QuickTime Pro to convert to .m4v, which can be played both on desktop machines and the iPhone. The movie auto-plays inline on the Mac, and plays on command full-screen on the iPhone, for the genuine experience.

For fun and a better context, I embedded it in an iPhone frame on the page. I also added some more screenshots.

Check out the SmileDial site to watch the video. As always, feedback welcome!

Amusing video of cars in snowy Portland

Portland only gets a few snow days per year (sometimes none at all), so when it does snow, drivers aren't always prepared. A couple of years ago I posted an amusing/scary video from downtown Portland, and today I encountered another one, from the current snowy weather we're having. This time, it's a small hill in the Southwest Waterfront district. The amazing difference: not one accident!

(Via OregonLive.com)

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