2017 Retrospective

I’ve been kind of heads down with client work the last few months but wanted to say hi to those who still follow me here.

2017 was a bit of a sucker punch for me, but I survive.

After losing my job and having a neck surgery to open the year I was able to reboot my self employment under a new LLC. It took a few months but I finally landed some client work and have things pretty stable these days.

As for side projects I put a lot of time into OwlDeck in the spring but sadly it took a backseat to client work and revenue once summer rolled around. There is a good chance of it finding a second wind in 2018 as I have a bunch of teaching planned and it would be a great tool to have onhand.

I also decided this year to hand off my Philly CocoaHead responsibilities. I had been lead organizer for about 7 years and figured it was time. I still plan to be an active member but hope the extra hours can be put towards side projects in 2018.

Finally I’ve been learning new tech! I really want to get back into some web development and dedicated a fair amount of 2017 to relearning the web, from HTML5, to modern CSS (Flex, Grid, etc.) as well as new languages like Elixir and Elm.

My first Elm site is underway and I’ll share more as it comes together.

Thanks for checking in. Be sure to follow me on Micro.Blog as well. Have a great 2018!

I’m Teaching a Half Day iOS Refactoring Workshop in July

When I re-entered the self-employed world last March and launched Zorn Labs LLC one of my main goals was to find a way to continue my education work. The first output of this effort has been workshops, specifically one on Refactoring iOS.

I’ve developed and taught the workshop for a local development studio Tonic Design and am now going to run it publicly.

iOS Refactoring Workshop

Throwing away bad code and writing something new from scratch is both risky and expensive. You need to avoid this temptation and instead learn to master small improvements over time.

Refactoring is the art of improving code without changing user behavior. Adding dedicated refactoring time to your workflow and sprints can pay for itself many times over in both added source code flexibility and application stability.

In this workshop we will review refactoring concepts from a high level and then explore example cases found in many iOS projects. As a group we’ll refactor and discuss the benefits of our changes. We’ll then work on our own (or in pairs) to execute what we’ve learned and then demonstrate the results for the class.

This workshop is targeted at those iOS developers who are getting over the hump of learning iOS and now want to know how to write higher quality iOS code. This workshop is capped at 12 people to make sure there is plenty of time for questions and individual attention.

Tickets for the half day workshop cost $189.00 even (we take care of all the ticketing fees). For more information on the agenda, see the event page.

Local performances of this workshop (and others in development) are available for corporate purchase. Contact us for more information.

Meet OwlDeck, a New Mac Presentation App for Programmers and Markdown Geeks.

Today I’m launching the teaser site for my new app, OwlDeck.

OwlDeck is a new macOS presentation tool for programmers and geeks who need to display code and love Markdown.

If you are interested in OwlDeck I’d love for you to signup to its newsletter and email me your thoughts.

If you are interested in some behinds the scene stuff you can checkout the project journal I’ve been keeping over at Rested Experience. I hope to share more now that things are going public and timelines are set.

Really excited to be working on products again. 🙂

Rethinking My Music Storage

I’m not a huge music collector, at least not compared to some other people I know. I do have about 150 GBs of music in my iTunes collection — lots of it being video game soundtracks I enjoy listening to while I program.

A few things I have not liked about my historic setup:

  • Because the collection was 150 GB I could not store it on my main computer’s SSD (which was 256 GB in size).
  • iTunes sucks. I don’t want to get into details here but as a music player and organization tool it’s awful.

Some goals for my new setup:

  • I want to get rid of iTunes.
  • I’d like to store my music on Dropbox, preferably in a way where I can control which Music (if any) gets synced to my other Dropbox setups.
  • I have recently become a Spotify member. It’s got a nice collection I feel I can lean on AND it has some tools the player UI to support local files as well as streaming songs which I think will be key.

With all that said, what I’m up to:

First thing, I made a new iTunes library on my desktop and have started re-downloading my old iTunes music purchases. I have lots of music that is still DRM wrapped and these new downloads do not have such DRM.

Next, I’m going to slowly start to put the music into Dropbox. I’ll have a root level Music folder but inside I’m going to split the collection into Rare and Common. Common being for songs that are streamable from Spotify and thus being a folder I can selectively NOT sync on my other computers. The Rare folder will have all of my video game soundtracks and other albums I find to be incomplete or missing on Spotify. As I said, I like how Spotify can bring in local music into playlists and even lets you control the source folders and I’m hopeful this will work nicely.

We’ll see how it goes over the next few weeks. I’d love to hear if anyone else has an exotic setup like this.

Also, next up for a rethink is photos. Again, I’m really not happy with the current Apple solution and am thinking of alternatives. Feedback welcome.

Accessibility

At the Apple event a few weeks ago they began with a short video on accessibility.

I’ve learned a lot about accessibility on iOS over the last few years. Apple’s products are some of the most accessible in the world and for all the frustrations I have with Apple, this is definitely one of the high points I’m proud of.

I was also really pleased to see our own Philly CocoaHeads give accessibility some attention at a recent Side Project Saturday event. A group of people worked on improving the accessibility of the Wikipedia iOS app.

Group of Programmers using Voice Over on iPhone

Anyways, I think the time is right for development agencies and indy consultants to put accessibility front and center. For them to say loud and proud, any app you hire us to build will have some basic level of accessibility.

Some people whom I bounced this idea off of thought it would be bad for sales. Maybe. But these are the probably the same clients who question code review because they think it is a similar waste of money. At the end of the day we all have have some level of standards onto which we execute our craft. People hire us because they can’t build software. They need us to point them in the right direction.

Somewhere out there, a construction agency is in a discussion whether or not to add a wheelchair ramp to the current project. Some people will add it because it’s required by law, others will add it because it’s the right thing to do.

The software industry moves incredibly fast, maybe even too fast. We don’t have regulations and inspectors like other industries. We have to regulate ourselves. The tools to improve access for our creations are ready. They work really well. They sit there, waiting for us to use them.


I don’t want to come off like I’m some know it all when it comes to accessibility. If you need real help with your app, contact my friend Austin who does consulting on the subject.

I do have some experience enhancing a few personal iOS apps and hope to make it a larger priority with my upcoming side project. Like a lot of things, I think the goal here is for continual learning and small, iterative improvements.

Pre-“Hello Again” Mac Event Thoughts

Having been a long time Mac user and developer it’s been very disappointing to see Apple ignore the hardware release cycle of the Mac platform over the last few years. I’m really anxious to see what’s going to come of the “Hello Again” event this week and I might even buy a new Mac depending.

Current Mac-state of Mind

So my main personal machine is a 2011 maxed-out iMac. I bought it after waiting and waiting for a proper Mac Pro update in 2011 that was never to come. Overall I’ve been pretty happy with the iMac. I have had to do a USB storage dance with some backups and media drives but overall it’s been a workhorse, with tons of days of Xcode and Warcraft under its belt.

Other Macs in my arsenal include:

  • A 2011 Mac mini which at times has served as a CI box but as of now is dormant (might be resurrected depending how CI plans turn out for my side project).
  • A 2012 Macbook Air which I use situationally. Recently for beta testing 10.12 over the summer and the occasional Philly CocoaHeads video capture.
  • My work provides me a high end Mid 2014 15-inch Macbook Pro. I’m trying to do a better job of keeping that machine in kind of a white room state just for work stuff with mixed success.

I also have a 27-inch Thunderbolt display and a 27-inch Dell display which I use to extend my Macs in various ways at different times.

To Upgrade or Not?

Technically speaking my 2011 iMac is working fine. It does have some issues: occasionally the wifi likes to disconnect, there are some color issues spreading out from the lower left corner of the display, the DVD drive broke (I bought an external one to supplement the occasional need) and the 256 GB SSD is not large enough to hold all my stuff anymore so I have an awkward HD layout with USB storage. The iMac also runs very hot. I suspect part of this is dust build up but have not investigated too much. While annoying, none of these issues are blockers.

The first big upgrade question is laptop or desktop? I’ve always leaned on the desktop experience for pure power but there are many things that push me towards a laptop as my main personal machine right now:

  • I could setup a very “swap” friendly environment that would allow me to have a home work station letting me plug in my personal or work laptop as needed.
  • Since I have a Gaming PC now I don’t need the graphic power of the Mac as much making laptop more feasible.
  • I am traveling more — more conferences, more work trips, single days at IndyHall (instead of a full time desk and me leaving the iMac there). A personal laptop for these days would help me with that home/work separation on the company laptop.

Other welcome improvements:

  • Retina Display. My iMac does not have a retina display and my hope would be that a new laptop from Apple would support this natively as well as support a future retina external monitor connection.
  • More SSD storage. Would be nice to consolidate my external drives into one big SSD.
  • If I go laptop, no need to upgrade two machines every year with a new OS, keeps all the software/licenses in sync.
  • Complier speed improvements. From a numbers perspective my iMac has a good CPU but I would hope improvements to the bus speeds and other architecture improvements would see some improved Xcode complier times.

I feel like in the process of writing this I’ve talked myself into a upgrade but we’ll see what comes out of Apple on Thursday. Enjoy the show.

Greetings, from the Ranch

One of the great perks of working at Big Nerd Ranch is that you are allowed to take one Big Nerd Ranch class a year. This week I’m taking the Front End Web class, and am really looking forward to it.

At nights we are encouraged to work on a side project to help practice what we are learning in the day. I think I’m going to work on a wiki app — with a few touches that I myself have an itch for, drag and drop image uploads, code syntax coloring, and more.

I’ll check in later through the week. Wish me luck.

CocoaConf DC 2016 Recap

Had the pleasure to attend and speak at CocoaConf DC this past weekend.

CocoaConf is a touring training conference for iPhone, iPad, and Mac developers. We bring some of the best authors, trainers, and speakers to the most passionate, engaged developers in a region—together, they make magic!

CocoaConf draws anywhere from 100-120 developers. It’s a very nice, comfortable size. Large enough to host a diverse collection of personalities and ideas, but small enough not to feel overwhelming. People actively mingle and you get to meet lots of new faces without much effort.

This was my third CocoaConf, and first as a speaker. My own talk was at the end of the first day and I spent ample time the previous weeks preparing to avoid the need to do last minute slide updates and miss sessions — and I’m glad I did so.

The sessions were really good at this CocoaConf. Sure it helps that iOS 10 is just out and there is still lots to learn, but even the talks that were version agnostic, covering patterns, architectures and bug hunting skills all got my brain spinning with ideas.

One cool benefit of my work scheduling is now I have a week of stay-home vacation and I can hopefully direct that post-conference enthusiasm towards my side projects and some extra experimentation. Specific items on my list:

  • Do more interactive prototyping of my side project and follow up with some user interviews.
  • Do some experimentation with Perfect to build a simple Swift API and host it on Linode.
  • Continue to polish up my RanchWeather app and start a blog series reviewing the code patterns.
  • Do some experimentation with Twilio authentication in preparation for a web app project.
  • Inspired by the journalling abilities of MarkD, dedicate the vacation week to a journaling experiment: Daily Journal, Project Journal, Tool Journal.

As for my talk, I think it went very well. One thing I really like as a speaker is the conference not only has a session review system but they encourage submissions of reviews with a raffle for prizes at the end so you get a lot of feedback. Most of my talk’s feedback was very positive and I appreciate the criticisms, both good and bad. Always room for improvement.

So yeah, if you are considering attending or speaking at a CocoaConf, do it. It’s very rewarding and worthy of your time. If it’s on the east coast you’re more than likely to see me there too — and if so, say hi!