Use and Then Reduce Open Source Dependencies

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Use open source liberally to make progress. Avoid open source dependencies in the long run if you can. Start a project by ingesting open source libraries to make progress fast and see if your product works. That’s fine. If it’s not too much, you can leave them in. But when the product matures, and if you offer a library yourself, you may benefit from reducing dependencies to ease product maintenance. Pick what you really need:

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Gitea Ltd. Takes Over Gitea Open Source Project, Community Pushes Back

I discovered this piece of news by accident, and I want to share this with you because I believe this is a very interesting case, providing insight into open source projects, even those that are wildly popular. Gitea is an open source “git forge” (think: GitHub; or rather GitLab, because you can self-host Gitea), itself a fork of Gogs, which also still exists, but with 1/3 of the contributors. Its Open Collective budget reveals that the project raised US$ 35k in total and has an annual estimated budget of 14k. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not financing a full-time maintainer.

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I Uninstalled the Dropbox App in Favor of Maestral

Today I have uninstalled the Dropbox app from my Mac. I’ve been an early Dropbox user and invited friends until I got up to 10 GiB, which was a ton of storage back in the day. But the native apps gets more and more annoying; they have a history of faking system standard dialogs to “trick” you into installing the kernel extension with root privileges; and resource consumption was at times confusingly high. Stuff like that made me tired of the app.

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Funding Open Source Software as a Third Party?

In a Discord chat, we’ve recently talked about how well funding for Blender turned out. At the time of writing, they get $137k per month for development. I cannot say if that’s enough or too little. But it’s not nothing. Being crowd-funded comes with its perils. Especially with free open-source software like Blender, developers tell that it’s not easy to know which user base to focus on, which UI/UX compromises to make, and how to figure out if the project backers are satisfied with the result.

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Lightweight CrashReporter Library for Mac Released

The wording here is 100% Brent's achievement. Love the humble tone.

I compiled a crash reporter library with CocoaPods support. Check it out:

The past couple of days, I’ve been working on integration of an automatic crash reporter. Turns out that on some machines The Archive is crashing regularly during search, and I want to track this down. I need data by more than the most courageous users who can venture into the Console to track down crash report files and send them to me.

So I bit the bullet and began work on a server script that would accept crash report files and email them to me. I think that’s better than making users email me crash reports directly. Not everyone has set up on her Mac, after all.

Fortunately, Brent Simmons open-sourced NetNewsWire 5 and blogged about his crash reporter. Brent has decades of experience on the Mac, so whenever he publishes a practical tip, I listen.

Just have a look at the code: Collecting .crash files and sending them over? Sounded simple enough! NetNewsWire even sports a very humble crash reporter UI, and automatically sending reports on the user’s behalf if the user choses to do so. The required Swift types are simple enough to integrate once you figure out where Brent put all the helper extensions :)

I cannot stress enough how amazing open source is. All this experience, assembled in publicly available code repositories for everyone to grab and use. This is crazy.

I am now rolling this out for my apps, starting with the WordCounter and The Archive on their respective “beta” update branches to see how it works in practice. The Swift code is simple and I trust it doing its job. But the server script, well, it needs to be battle-tested now!

I’m going to add public-key encryption of messages and/or some sort of authentication to prevent malicious attackers from spamming me with emails that, well … I send to myself.

WebcamSnap Open Source Library Released

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The picture cropping sheet in action

Another month goes by, another little macOS component was released.

This time, I wanted to have a very simple drop-in view component that takes pictures with the iSight camera of MacBooks or any other connected USB camera device. And if the user wants to crop the picture, I wanted to add that as post-processing.

Thought this would be a common need, but Google wasn’t helping much. So I coded this thing myself.

Have a look:

How Taking Pictures with AVFoundation Works

Before I got it working, all the AVFoundation code looked pretty scary. But it’s simple, really, when you think about the possibilities of audio and video capturing and processing.

These are the requirements to take a photo with a USB camera using AVFoundation:

  1. you need a AVCaptureSession that controls the lifetime of the audio and/or video input and/or output;
  2. you specify output ports of type AVCaptureOutput, like the AVCaptureStillImageOutput I use here to grab a single image (instead of video or audio);
  3. you specify input ports of type AVCaptureInput, like the AVCaptureDeviceInput that takes a AVCaptureDevice, which in this case is of type AVMediaTypeVideo;
  4. you add a Core Animation layer (CALayer) to a preview view using AVCaptureVideoPreviewLayer(session:) so users see what the camera is showing before they hit the “Take Picture” button.

If things work out well, you have a session that can read video data from your camera device and streams the video signal to the preview. You can shoot photos, also known as “request still images” from the video stream, using captureStillImageAsynchronously on your AVCaptureStillImageOutput.

All of this setup is encapsulated in the Webcam object of my library. (links to the version of v1.0.0, no the latest, to prevent dead links in the future).

Hope it helps!

FatSidebar View Component for macOS Released

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One important user interface part of my latest top-secret project involves a sidebar of buttons. Like a regular toolbar, but taking up less space for chrome, looking more flat, and the user should be able to create toolbar buttons herself.

So while I was mostly sick at home for the last couple weeks, I spent my time cobbling this together. With drag and drop reordering and all.


Find FatSadebar on GitHub!

I have never written my own custom view component from scratch before. I helped improve KPCTabsControl for Swift 3 when I created TableFlip last year. And of course I participated in a lot of smaller open source projects, too. But I never started from scratch, and that was cool.

Also fun: creating the library’s own “logo”. Made it feel so much more official.

What’s cool about writing a new thing from nothingness is that I had no clue what to do and how to start. This component turned out as rather adventurous mental gymnastics because I had to leave the paths of application development I know so well. I still don’t know all the answers; what are best practices? Get something colorful on screen? Customize drawRect and draw boxes and placeholders? Partition the view into sub-components using Auto Layout from the get go? Is drawing text better handled by NSTextField labels than NSAttributedString.draw(in:) or is the overhead too much? (I still don’t know the best answer for this.)

Anyway! I ended up putting this together as a library with sample app. There are some unit tests for inserting items into the “fat sidebar”, but otherwise I find the drawing and layout related code to be absolutely hideous. Cannot come up with improvements on that front that go beyond cosmetics, though. Maybe later, with more experience.

It's the Worst Time to Go Open Source Because So Many Stupid People Will See It

Junior Bontognali summed up what most people think about most other people – especially after the U.S. presidential election and Dash for iOS going Open Source: people in general are not ready for generous behavior.

Bogdan’s Dash for iOS is on GitHub now. One tweet highlighting an ugly if statement got lots of attention. One twitter user suggested cutting off Bogdan’s fingers. That’s not a real threat, of course. It’s just a stupid joke. But suddenly you’re in 4th grade again and everyone is making stupid jokes because someone pulled down someone else’s pants.

The thing is, Bogdan of Kapeli is too busy to accept pull requests that don’t add features. Maybe because testing these for regressions is pretty time consuming without and end-user benefit. Who knows. So he already turned down a pull request that would fix the aforementioned if-statement – and many others.

Dash probably isn’t ready for Open Source, either. A Swift library as simple as ReSwift took us over a month to port to Swift 3. Maintenance is time-consuming, no matter how big or small the project. Complaining is stupid and childish, but that’s the noise we have to deal with if we don’t want to be stupid and childish ourselves.

I don’t think everyone’s grown-up enough for democracy. I only hear about 3rd wave feminism and presidential elections in the U.S. from YouTube. Junior quoted Evelyn Beatrice Hall, and that applies just nicely to all the hate that’s going ‘round:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

It seems lots of people with the power to act in public space don’t want to defend anything except their own self-loathing and self-interest. (Looking at you, “safe space” discussions.) If you read my previous ramblings about morals, you will notice that I usually point out that bitching doesn’t help. It will only strengthen victim mentality. Only doing will improve the situation. That’s why I won’t stop open-sourcing code and I’m looking forward to getting feedback by amazing people. The majority of not-so-amazing people on the internet have to be filtered out. It’s worth the effort to reach the good folks.

Open Source and the Open, Distributed Mindset

We developers are familiar with the benefits of Open Source-distributed code: we can re-use the stuff other people achieved in our own applications and experiments. Giving back to “the community” feels nice, too. Most of the day-to-day benefits are centered around the free re-use. But the mentality of being part of Open Source is far more than that. I realized how precious the mindset is to me when I thought about how the gym I train at is managed.

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