Thursday, July 28, 2011

Agile Software Development - Why?

I recently guest-published an article on the blog hosted by Big Blue Bubble, the award developer of handheld video games.  If you're interested in learning about why Agile software development is valuable and what benefits you might derive from it, head over to Big Blue Bubble's Out of the Blue.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mac OS/X Lion, "Reverse" Scrolling, and Chrome

Up until yesterday's release of Mac OS/X Lion, the user interface metaphor for scrolling was that you manipulated the scrollbar on the side or bottom of your content (say a webpage).  So in order to scroll content upwards you swiped, wheeled, or otherwise moved down.  To scroll your content downwards you moved up.  This is a very computer-sciency method of scrolling in that the container had a dohicky (the scrollbar) that you touched to scroll.

Tablets and smartphones have flipped the metaphor on its head.  With a modern touch interface you manipulate the content directly.  If you want the content to scroll up off the top of your tablet you swipe it up.  To scroll the content down off the bottom of your tablet you swipe down.  All very natural.

One of the major themes of Apple's Lion release is the harmonizing of the touch and desktop interfaces including a change to how desktop scrolling works.  This change is immediately apparent when you load content in Safari.  First, there are no scrollbars.  Second, you swipe, wheel or otherwise move up in order to move your content up.  Apple calls this "natural scrolling".  This is initially disconcerting for most users since they've spent most of their computer lives doing the opposite.  You can configure Lion to do it "the old way" but I really encourage you to give it a chance.  In about 10 minutes (or nearly instantly if you're using a trackpad) your brain accepts the change and things settle down to normal.  Natural scrolling really feels natural.

In order for applications to behave correctly in Lion they do need to be updated.  This will take some time depending on the application's complexity and the ability of its owner to turn around change.  Google, for example, is actively modifying Chrome in order to provide the best Lion experience.  However, until they do, Chrome will act a little odd in Lion.  For example, it enters full screen mode quite nicely but it isn't immediately apparent how to exit it (see "How to exit full screen mode in Mac OS/X Lion (when you're stuck)" for more on this topic).

Another inconsistency is that the scrollbars are persistent rather than Lion transient.  Rather than waiting for Google to release a new version of Chrome for Lion you can get rid of those pesky, pixel hogging scrollbars now by using one of the scrollbar-remover extensions available on the Chrome web store.  I'm currently testing Scrollbar Hide by Saúl Pilatowsky.  By default it only hides the vertical scrollbar but you can configure it to hide both.  You can also configure it such that the scrollbars are either permanently disabled or appear "when needed" (basically when the mouse pointer roams close to the right or bottom edges).  Another option is No Scrollbar by Bestrafer which simply hides the vertical scrollbar.  For both extensions you may need to restart Chrome for the scroll bars to stay gone.  After that, you can take a tiny step closer to the full Lion experience.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How to exit full screen mode in Mac OSX Lion (when you're stuck)

I've been playing around with Lion, Apple's new version of Mac OS/X.  In general I really like the new features and will very soon be purchasing a Magic Trackpad to go with my iMac.

One feature that I can see myself using (if only to help me focus) is full screen applications.  Apple added a little icon in the top right corner to all windows that allows you to make the app full screen.  For applications that are full screen aware (like the new version of Mail) you just hit Escape or CMD-Shift-F and you go back to the windowed mode.  However, for some reason, once you put Terminal in full screen mode it stays there for good.  Even after you exit and unload the app (e.g. with CMD-q) and then restart.  Neither Escape nor CMD-Shift-F seem to work to reverse the full screen process.  Eventually I stumbled on the fact that when you move the mouse pointer up past the top of the screen, the menu bar appears (it may take a second).  The menu bar now includes a new icon for reversing full screen mode.  Hurray!

Friday, July 1, 2011

What's on your Pod (Update)

Recently I completed an intense three week management course called the Ivey Executive Program (small plug for my employer) where I met many amazingly talented people.  During the first week of the course my iPad was a source of interest for many that had never used one before.  By the second week at least four shiny new iPad 2s were in class with more on order.  I found myself making app suggestions daily and pointing people to my blog where, about a year ago, I posted What's on your Pod?  Since the time of the original article I have, naturally, discovered many other apps that I use weekly and even daily.  It's high time for an update.

As with the last article, I've divided the apps up into three categories: apps on my iPad, apps on my iPhone, and apps that I use on both.  Let's start with the apps I use on both my iPhone and my iPad.

Both (iPhone and iPad)
  • Twitter (Free) - I still use this app to view my Twitter feed but Flipboard (keep reading) has become my app of choice of consuming nearly all of my social and news feeds.
  • Tumblr (Free) - You might think Tumblr is just another blog site like Blogger/Blogspot and you wouldn't be wrong.  However, Tumblr kills as a photo blog and that's exactly what I use it for.  All the blogs I follow on Tumblr are photo blogs (including my daughter's).  
  • Instapaper (Free) - Have you ever been in the situation where you just discovered a really interesting article but you just doing have the time to read it right now?  Services like Instapaper and Read It Later solve this by installing a small script in your browser that you can click to "read it later".  Then use the iOS app to read the article at your leisure (even when offline).
  • 1Password ($9.99) - I commented on 1Password in What's on your Mac.  The $10 cost for the iOS app is well worth the convenience of having your usernames and passwords accessible from your devices.
  • Netflix (Free) - If you're a Netflix subscriber then get this app.  You know what to do with it.


  • Flipboard (Free) - Flipboard is well known to all but new iOS users.  Basically Flipboard incorporates your news feeds (like Google Reader), social media (like Facebook and Twitter feeds), and curated news content and presents it in a book-like interface.  Next to Mail, Flipboard may very well be the second most frequently used app that I own.  It even integrates with Instapaper for those times when you've found something interesting but don't have time to read it just now.  What it really needs next is support for Tumblr!
  • Keynote ($9.99) - Apple's presentation app.  I find making presentations is easier on the iPad than on a desktop.  The forthcoming iCloud integration will iron out the one remaining wrinkle of getting content to and from your iPad.  
  • Numbers ($9.99) - Apple's spreadsheet app thoughtfully designed for touch interfaces.  This isn't just a port of a desktop app.  The user interface has been redone in every detail to take into account touch interfaces. 
  • iAnnotate PDF ($9.99) - I'm not sure this one is worth $10 but it is a good application for not only reading PDFs (many apps do that) but also for making complex annotations like highlighting, notes, underlining, tabs and bookmarks and more.  I used this app during the Executive Program to read my cases.
  • ComicBookLover (Free) - I had previously loaded the Marvel and DC comic book readers but each is limited to just those publishers.  CBR (and CBZ) are now the standard formats for distributing comics so why not just use a generic reader like ComicBookLover.  
  • Epicurious (Free) - Recipe viewer and search tool with a beautiful user interface.
  • GarageBand ($4.99) - This is a fun one but I don't know if anyone is going to make any serious music with it.  My youngest loves just tooling around in the app and making cool sounding song snippets. 


  • Skype (Free) - It's unclear what Microsoft is going to do with Skype but for now it is a great way of making free phone calls.
  • Samsung Remote (Free) - If you have a Samsung TV with a wifi or internet connection then you might want to try this remote.
  • Groupon (Free) - If you are a Groupon user then get this app and stop printing your Groupon receipts.  
  • JotNot Scanner Pro ($1.99) - Anyone who works in an office environment has learned that the best way to take notes is to snap photos of the whiteboard, flipchart, etc.  JotNot not only snaps the photo but crops out the irrelevant edges and then increases the contrast to make the photo much more readable.  Well worth the $2 cost.
  • Hipstamatic ($1.99) - Cool retro photos using interchangeable vintage lenses, flashes, and film.


I thought I'd throw in a special mention for some iPad cases that I've taken a shining to as well.  First is the DODOcase that I have for my original iPad.  Thanks to Ken Drouillard for giving me this hand-me-down after he upgraded to an iPad 2.  This case never fails to get commented on once people realize that there's an iPad inside what looks like a regular black hardcover notebook.  The bamboo construction is light, sturdy, beautiful and pro-eco.  

DODOcase (closed)

DODOcase (open)

The second case I'll mention is a wooden iPad 2 case by Miniot.  This gorgeous cover uses the same magnetic mechanism used by Apple's smart covers.  The instant-on feature even works with it.  When I eventually move on to an iPad 2 (or 3) this will likely be the cover I get.  Again, a big thanks to Ken for discovering this one.

As always, if you have apps that you think are fantastic I really want to know about them.  Please comment!