// archives

Technology

This category contains 18 posts
Screen Shot 2017-01-09 at 8.56.04 PM

iTunes Match – fixing “Waiting” and un-downloadable songs

I like the idea of Apple’s iTunes Match service but I’ve had some issues getting it to work the way I think it should, especially with the copies of CDs that I own that I’ve ripped. The main issue is songs showing an iCloud Status of “Waiting” constantly, and those same songs not able to be downloaded to any of my iOS devices. This is what I did to fix it and get it to where all of my songs are uploaded or matched on my OS X and Windows desktops and laptops, and available to download on my iOS devices. Hopefully it will help someone having a similar problem.

The basic fix is to find any song that is in an iCloud Status of “Error” and fix that error, either by deleting that entry, locating the song (if iTunes could not find it) or some other remedy. Since this did fix my problem, I’m assuming the synchronization process between iCloud and the local machine does not handle nor report errors very well, and either timeouts or just fails when it encounters them.

Why iTunes Match

There are several benefits to using iTunes match – when it works:

  • song availability on multiple devices (Mac, Windows Desktop, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV)
  • higher quality versions of songs
  • vinyl conversion. I’ve ripped several of my old LPs (some of which I cannot find in iTunes) and would like to use iTunes Match to make high-quality versions of these songs available across all of my devices.

Issues

The main issue is when songs from albums that I own (CDs ripped, Vinyl converted) are stuck in a “Waiting” state on iTunes for OS X and iTunes for Windows, and show as not downloadable (no “download from cloud button”). This state persists even when I’ve tried to force an update (from the iTunes menu File -> Library -> Update iCloud Music Library. The “Waiting” state looks like the screenshot below.

iTunes Match

Solution

It appears that there was an error in the iTunes “Update iCloud Music Library” process or the normal process to try and match music. But there is no error log. To detect the error, you have to locate at the “iCloud Status” for each song.
To do this and detect error:

  • Turn on visibility of iCloud Status. Select Songs from your Library, then select View -> Show View Options. See the screenshot below.
  • Check the box next to “iCloud Status”

iTunes Match

  • Sort on the iCloud Status column. There should be “Matched”, “Uploaded”, “Waiting”, “Ineligible”, and, in my case, “Error” (see screenshot)

iTunes Match

  • Fix the songs whose iCloud Status is “Error”. In my case there were some that could not be found, and some that were from an old iTunes account. I removed those songs from iTunes, restarted iTunes, and hit the “Update iCloud Music Library” link. Everything that was Waiting became either “Matched” or “Uploaded” on OS X and Windows, and all songs became available for download. Note that there are some titles marked as “Ineligible”. Most of mine were digital booklets, objects that would never sync anyway. These did not need any fixing.

I never found an error log that showed the exact errors, only this indicator in iCloud Status. Since I did this, I’ve had no issues on any of my devices.

Drowzee

Pokemon Go for Runners, Developers and Businesses

RealWorldPokemonWorldBack in the day, my son collected Pokemon cards, played Pokemon on Gameboy, and taught me about Pikachu, Snorlaxes, and other interesting creatures…as I’m sure the kids of many others my age did. As my son grew older, he gave his Pokemon card collection to someone much younger who had more enthusiasm (a very generous move, one he semi-regretted when he saw the prices for some of those cards on eBay!) and moved on to other things. Now in his mid-twenties, my son and I are playing Pokemon Go, semi-together from 200 miles away.

Despite the articles about “nerd herd” and getting the geeks out from behind their computers (which is a pretty good thing, IMHO), in addition to the afore mentioned family camaraderie (and I loudly applaud those friends of mine that are actively playing with their kids), there are other obvious reasons certain people should become familiar with this app/game:

DEVELOPERS

Pokemon Go is the top Free app (with in-app purchases) on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in the US, the UK and multiple other countries, and has been there since it’s release. It is the fastest app to reach 10 million downloads worldwide, reaching that mark in seven days (source). It also currently leads all apps in daily usage time (i.e., how long do users actually have the app opened). (source).

It did have a bit of a head start in both content and database:

  • The game is built on top of Ingress (which is a game similar in play to Pokemon Go, but with a different story line), which is also a game put out by Niantic. From what I understand, all of the locations and landmarks in Pokemon Go originated from the database that Ingress uses.
  • The content head start is obvious – the previous cards and games provide not only for the 151 pokemon in the current game, but fodder for expansion in later games…and a knowledgable audience familiar with how the game might work.

PokemonGoAppAnniepng

There are some characteristics of the game that are familiar, especially to those familiar with previous pokemon games. But the basics are similar to anyone who has used any count/goal based program: collect everything and level up. This is a common development model, whether it is for a beer drinking app like Untappd (see my breakdown of the Untappd app here), a healthcare/shopping app like Walgreens or game apps. There are badges for most everything (similar to programs like Untappd) though I seem to rarely look at them, other than for counts.

PokemonGoARThere are some characteristics that are missing,

  • there isn’t any type of social sharing (like on Untapped where you can toast a friend’s beer check in, you cannot high five your friends when they get a rare pokemon).
  • a user cannot see their friend in game. Though this would be great for multi-player play, it would certainly complicate the program, and could enable a bit of stalking (if it were done without a type of permission).

These are holes that will be filled, either in future releases or by independent developers. There are already examples of an entire ecosystem springing up around the game; Chat apps (see this developer’s app blog) as an example, I assume to be used to tell people when a rare pokemon is near. There are also several hacks, such as maps that use the app protocols to determine locations of pokemon, pokestops, etc. (most of these can be found in the pokemondev sub on reddit). Some of these are getting shutdown; one even mentioned a “cease and desist” order.

The “augmented reality” piece, where you can use your device’s camera to see pokemon on the background of the real world, is interesting but unnecessary in this game. It is such a battery sucker that I do not know of any players that have not yet turned it off. It is being used primarily as a novelty (I found a pokemon at a landmark) or by businesses to lure pokemon hunters in.

ENTREPRENEURS and INVESTORS

The estimates of how much the game has made the various parties varies. One estimate says that Apple, purely on the percentage that they receive from in-app purchases through the app, will make $3 BILLION in revenue over the next couple of years (source). Since Apple gets 30% of in-app purchases, that would imply an estimate of $7 BILLION in revenue for Niantic (one would assume this gets shared with Nintendo for licensing).

There is, of course, no need to spend money in the game if you choose not to (full disclosure: I do not). Sensor Tower is estimating $1.6 million per day in the US spent. And the app has not yet been launched in Japan where the average spend per mobile user is higher, and the Pokemon craze is even more rabid.

Nintendo’s stock price doubled following the release of the app (chart here) though it has retreated a bit from those highs.

Local businesses are taking advantage as well. Yelp now lets users filter based on pokestop locations. Many shopping areas and downtowns will have multiple pokestops near them. In the game, there are items known as “Lures” which do what the name implies (they lure pokemon to a pokestop for 30 minutes). When this happens, the pokestop lights up on the map, shooting purple pieces up like flares. Small businesses near pokestops are dropping these lures to lure people in while they hunt.

ServerProblemsINFRASTRUCTURE and SYSTEM ADMINISTRATORS

Pokemon Go is almost as well-known these first few weeks for server crashes as it is for having more users than most other applications. Since Niantic spun out of Google, one would assume that they have Google infrastructure. They don’t have Amazon Web Services (AWS), as the Amazon CTO has humorously repeatedly offered health over twitter whenever the servers are down.

As the game added multiple countries over this past weekend (July 16), the servers supporting the game crashed repeatedly, causing the game to be in operable most of that Saturday morning.

The image on the right is all that the players see. There is no notice that the game is having server issues. So users either continue to press “retry” (which comes up after a few minutes of this screen) or kill the app and start over…both of which cause more login attempts and impact on the servers.

From a capacity planning standpoint, one would assume that there would be a trending analysis done on the initial implementation based in the United States before adding in the multiple additional countries. Either this was not done or it was done incorrectly, causing capacity to crash the servers.

This is tolerated somewhat humorously (check out the Pokemon Go reddit forums for examples) for now. But if there are tours, events and other plans made around the app ( as there were that Saturday), this will not be acceptable by the user community for long.

Interestingly as of this writing, Niantic is advertising for a Software Engineer – Server Infrastructure...probably a much needed position just now!

RUNNERS

My fellow joggers: we have an enormous advantage in this game of Pokemon Go. And this infuriates my son…and is the only reason I can even begin to keep up with him in this game (and with the many teenagers that are on summer break and do not have to work). That advantage is that mileage matters in several different facets of the program:

  • To hatch eggs, the player has to travel either 2K, 5K or 10K – depending on the type of egg. This distance cannot be travelled in a car (many have tried) so it certainly favors runners. During these summer months, I average 25-30 miles a week which builds up to a lot of hatched eggs.
  • When using incense (which I call perfume, much to the chagrin of my son), the player will see more pokemon if he moves at a faster rate. I’ve seen some tests where if you are stationary the player will only see a pokemon every five minutes with the incense, but when moving quickly the player sees one every minute. When you do this as a runner, I highly suggest that you make sure you have enough pokeballs.
  • If you have a Lucky Egg (which doubles your XP earning for 30 minutes) this could be a great combination with incense while running. I did this twice, for parts of two separate four mile run, averaging between a 9:00 and 9:45 pace in the lovely South Texas heat and humidity. In the 30 minutes the incense and Lucky Egg was active on the first instance I caught 21 Pokemon (missed 1) and gained 6000 XP. So…not quite one per minute, but not bad. On the second, I caught 25 and missed one, gained 9000 XP.

It may be obvious, but the downsides to running with the game are:

  • Pace is slower (at least mine is) due to distraction. I had been able to flick the pokeballs while running, but it only took running out of pokeballs once to stop that foolishness. Now some of those one-handed throws are acting like curveball throws, without me meaning to throw them. That may be related to the next problem.
  • Down here in Southeast Texas, sweat is a problem. When I run, it is usually 80 degrees and 70-80% humidity. Very irritating to try and throw a pokeball while running with sweat on your fingers. It can be done, but who needs those kind of challenges. And as I mentioned in the previous bullet, I’m seeing some unintentional curveball throws, which may be due to me sweating on the screen.

I have an old Google Glass from an earlier development project. Glass would be a great accessory for this game, and for all games that combine real-world with augmented reality. The ability to see landmarks and have heads-up display facts and stats was one of the benefits of Glass. Unfortunately, the issues it had, particularly with battery life, would have to be fixed. And it had a sweat problem (i.e., sweat be bad for Glass). But image just running along and speaking commands to Glass about throwing Pokeballs…those that make claims of “nerd herd” would have a field day with that one!

My current collection is below. Have fun!

Xcode capitalization problem

Xcode – Simulator vs. Device: CAPITALIZATION matters

There are, obviously and intuitively, differences between testing an iOS app on the Xcode simulator, and testing on a real device. The obvious ones run the gamut from no camera on the simulator to the way the keyboard works differently on both. The intuitive ones, in my mind, come from the fact that the Simulator is running on a different operating system (OSX) than the devices (iOS) that the app is intended for.

The difference that repeatedly bites me is: CAPITALIZATION matters.

The majority of the apps I do at JoSara MeDia are HTML5 apps in a framework called Baker. If you are interested, the rationale behind this is that most of the apps are either coming from books or eBooks (and hence are already in a format close to HTML, like ePub) or are heading in that direction (so we want to make conversion easy).

I was putting in a very nice jPlayer-based audio player (called jquery.mb.miniAudioPlayer, checkout the link, it is quite well done), and it looked great on the simulator, as you can see on the screenshots below. I tested it on several different simulator devices – all looked as expected, all performed the autoplay function, when expected.

Quebradillas Audio 2

In case you are interested, this is from a forthcoming “coffee table poetry book as an app” project called Quebradillas.

Quebradillas Audio 1

But, once I transferred the app to a device (either through cable or TestFlight) the audio player graphics did not make the transition (see screenshot below). And neither did the autoplay functionality.

Quebradillas on Device

 

Xcode capitalization problemThe culprit, of course, was two instance of capitalization. One was in the name of the included css file – in the head of the two pages, the “q” in “jquery” was lower case, and, as you can see from the Xcode screenshot, the file name itself was “jQuery.” This was acceptable in the simulator, which runs on OSX, but would not work (and, interestingly, did not pop up an error anywhere) on the devices tested (iOS). After looking at the javascript code in the jquery plugin, I could see that the “Vm” and “P” were icon placeholders…which lead me to the css file misspelling.

The autoplay issue was, again, capitalization: the parameter in one of the examples had autoplay in camelCase (i.e., autoPlay), but in the mb.miniAudioPlayer.js, the parameter was simply “autoplay.”

 

By noting this, I aim to remind my future self to use capitalization as one of the first items to check when apps look different in the simulator vs. on the device, especially when using HTML5 app frameworks.

AWS Elastic Transcoder

Using Apple’s HLS for video streaming in apps

Quebec CityOverview

All of the apps JoSara MeDia currently has in the Apple app store (except for the latest one) are self-contained; all of the media (video, audio, photos, maps, etc.) are embedded in the app. This means that if a user is on a plane or somewhere that they have no decent network connection that the apps will work fine, with no parts saying “you can only view this with an internet connection.”

This strategy works very well except for two main problems:

  • the apps are large, frequently over the size limit Apple designates as the maximum for downloading over cellular. I have no data that says this would limit downloads, but it seems obvious;
  • if we want to migrate apps to the AppleTV platform (and of course we do!), we have to have a much more cloud centric approach, as Apple TV has limited storage space.

These two issues prompted me to use the release of our Quebec City app as a testing ground for moving the videos included in the app (and the largest space consuming media in the app) into an on-demand “cloud” storage system. I determined the best solution for this is to use Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) solution.

There are still many things I am figuring out about using HLS, and I would welcome comments on this strategy.

What is HLS and why would you use it

For most apps, there is no way to predict what bandwidth your users will have when they click on a video inside your app. And there is an “instant gratification” requirement (or near instant) that must be fulfilled when a user clicks on the play button.

Have you ever started a video, have it show as grainy or lower quality, and then get more defined as the video plays? This is an example of using HLS with variant playlists (other protocols do this as well).

Simply put, with HLS a video is segmented into several time segment files (denoted by the file extension .ts) which are included in a playlist file (denoted by the file extension .m3u8) which describes the video and the segments. The playlist is a human readable file that can be edited if needed (and I determined I needed to, see below).

Added on to this is a “variant playlist” which is a master playlist file in the same format that points to other playlist files. The concept behind the variant playlist is to have videos of multiple resolutions and sizes but with the same time segments (this should be prefaced with “I think”, and comments appreciated). When a video player starts playing a video described by a variant playlist, it starts with the lowest bandwidth utilization playlist (which is by definition smaller in size and therefore should download and start to play the quickest, thus satisfying that most human need, instant gratification), determines through a handshake what bandwidth and resolution the device playing the video can handle, and ratchets up to the best playlist in the variant playlist to continue playing. I am assuming (by observation) that it only will ratchet up to a higher resolution playlist at the time segment breaks (which is also why I think the segments all have to be the same length).

Options for building your videos and playlists

There are two links that provide standards for videos for Apple iOS devices and Apple TVs (links below):

These standards do overlap a bit, but, as you would expect, the Apple TV standards have higher resolution because of an always connected, higher bandwidth (minimum wifi) connectivity than one can expect with an iPhone or iPad.

To support iPhones, iPad and Apple TVs, the best strategy would be to have 3 or 4 streams:

  • a low bandwidth/low resolution stream for devices on cellular connections
  • a mid-range solution for iPhones and iPad on WiFi
  • a hi bandwidth/hi resolution stream for always connected devices like Apple TVs

Thus the steps become:

  1. Convert your native video streams into these multiple resolutions;
  2. Build segmented files with playlists of each resolution;
  3. Build a variant playlist that points to each of the single playlists;
  4. Deploy
  5. Make sure that when you deploy, the variant playlist and files are on a content distribution network which will get them cached around the world for faster deployment (only important if you are assuming worldwide customers…which you should).
  6. Put the video tags in your apps.

Converting your native video streams:

My videos are in several shapes and resolutions, since they come from what ever device I have on my at the time. They are usually from an Olympus TG-1 (which has been with me through the Grand Canyon, in Hawaii, in cenotes in the Yucatan and now in Quebec City) which is my indestructible image and video default, or some kind of iOS device. Both are set to shoot in the highest quality possible. This makes the native videos very large (and the apps that they are embedded in larger still).

There are several tools to convert the videos. These are the ones I’ve looked into:

  • Quicktime – the current version of Quicktime is mostly useless in these endeavors. But Quicktime 7 does have all of the settings required in the standards links from the first paragraph in this section. One could go through and set those exactly as specified, and get video output, then put them through the Apple mediasegmenter command line tool. If you do not have an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account, this would most likely be the way to proceed…as long as this version of Quicktime is supported.  To get to these options go to File -> Export, and select “Movie to MPEG-4″ and click on the “Options” button. All of the parameters that are suggested in the standards for iPhone and iPad are available here for tweaking and tuning. Quicktime 7 can still be downloaded from Apple at this link.Quicktime 7
  • Amazon Web Service (AWS) Elastic Transcoder – for those of us that are lazy like me, AWS offers “Elastic Transcoder” which provides present HLS options for 400K, 1M and 2M. This encodings are done through batch jobs, with detailed output selections. There are options for HLS3 and HLS4. HLS4 requires a split between audio and video. This may be a later standard, but I could not get the inputs and outputs correct…therefore, I went with the HLSv3 standards. The setup requires:
    • Setting up S3 repositories that hold the original videos, and destination repositories for the transcodes files and thumbnails (if that option is selected)
    • Creating a “Pipeline” that uses these S3 repositories
    • Setting up an Elastic Transcoder “job” (as an old programmer, I’m hoping this is a reflection on the batch job status of old!) in this pipeline, where you tell it what kind of transcodes that should come out of the job, and what kind of playlist.

AWS Elastic Transcoder

  • iMovie – iMovie has several output presets, but I did not find a way to easily adapt them to the settings in the standards.

Building segmented files

Once you have your videos converted, the next step is to build the segmented files from these videos plus the playlists that contains the metadata and location of the segmented files (these are the files that end with .ts). There may be other tools, but there are only two that I have found.

  • Apple dev tools – Apple’s HLS Tools require an Apple developer account. To find them, go to this Apple developer page, and scroll down to the “Download” section on the right hand side (requires developer login). The command to create streams from “non-live” videos is the mediafilesegmenter. To see the options, either use the man pages (type “man mediafilesegmenter” at the command line) or just type the command for a summary of the options. There are options for the time length of the segments, creation of a file for variant playlists, encryption options and others. I found through much trial and error that using the “file base” option (-f) to put the files in a particular folder, and omitting the “base URL” option (-b) (which I didn’t at first, not realizing that the variant playlist which points at the individual stream playlists can point to file folders to make it neat) worked best. In the end, I used this command to create 10 second segments of my original (not the encoded) files, to create a hi-resolution/hi bandwidth option.
  • Amazon Web Service (AWS) Elastic Transcoder – the Elastic Transcoder not only converts/encodes the videos, but will also build the segments (and the variant playlists). As you can see from the prior screenshot, there are system presets for HLSV3 and v4 (again, I used V3) for 400K, 1M and 2M. The job created in Elastic Transcoder will build the segmented files in designated folders with designated naming prefixes, all with the same time segment. I have, however, seen some variance of quality in using Elastic Transcoder…or at least a disagreement between the Apple HLS Tools validator and the directives given in the Elastic Transcoder jobs. More on that in the results and errors section.

Building variant playlists

Finally, you need to build a variant playlist, which is a playlist that points to all of the other playlists of different resolution/bandwidth option time segments.

  • Apple dev tools – the variantplaylistcreator cmd-line command will take output files from the mediafilesegmenter cmd-line command and build a variant playlist.
  • Amazon Web Service (AWS) Elastic Transcoder – are you detecting a pattern here? As part of the Elastic Transcoder jobs, the end result is to specify either an HLSv3 or HLSv4 variant playlist. I selected v3, as the v4 selection requires separate audio and video streams and I could never quite get those to work.
  • Manual – the playlist and variant playlist files are human readable and editable.

Currently, I am using a combination of Elastic Transcoder and manual editing. I take the variant playlist that comes out of Elastic Transcoder (which contains  400K, 1M and 2M playlists), then edit it to add the playlist I created using the mediafilesegmenter, the higher-res version. This gives a final variant playlist with four options that straddle the iOS device requirement list and the Apple TV requirement list.

Putting the videos into your apps

Most of my apps are HTML5 using a standard called HPUB. This is to take advantage of multiple platforms, as HPUB files can be converted with a bit of work to ePub files for enhanced eBooks.

To use the videos in HTML5 is straightforward – just use the <video> tag and put the variant playlist file in the “src=” parameter.

Results and Errors

In the end, the videos work, and seem to work for users around the world, with low or high bandwidth, as expected. I’m sure there are things that can be done to make them better.

I’ve used the mediastreamvalidator command from the Apple Developer tools pretty extensively. It doesn’t like some of the things about the AWS Elastic Transcoder generated files, but it is valuable in pointing out others.

Here are some changes I’ve made based on the validator, and other feedback:

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.51.03 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.51.21 PM
Error: Illegal MIME type -
this one took me a bit. The m3u8 files generated by AWS are fine, but files such as those generated from the mediastreamsegmenter tool do not pass this check. They get tagged by the error–> Detail:  MIME type: application/octet-stream”. In AWS S3 there is a drop down list of MIME types in the “Metadata” section, but none of the recommended Apple MIME types are there. The files generated by AWS have the MIME type “application/x-mpegURL”, which is one of the recommended ones. Since it is not a selection in the drop down, it took me a while to determine that you can actually just manually enter the MIME type into the field, even if it is not in the drop down list. Doh!

Time segment issues – whether utilizing AWS Elastic Transcoder or the mediafilesegmenter cmd line tool, I’ve always used 10 second segments. Unfortunately, either Elastic Transcoder isn’t exact or the mediastreamvalidator tool does not agree with Transcoder’s output. Here’s an example as a snip from mediastreamvalidator’s output:

Error: Different target durations detected

–> Detail:  Target duration: 10 vs Target duration: 13

–> Source:  BikeRide/BikeRideHI.m3u8

–> Compare: BikeRide/hls_1m.m3u8

–> Detail:  Target duration: 10 vs Target duration: 13

–> Source:  BikeRide/BikeRideHI.m3u8

–> Compare: BikeRide/hls_400k.m3u8

–> Detail:  Target duration: 10 vs Target duration: 13

–> Source:  BikeRide/BikeRideHI.m3u8

–> Compare: BikeRide/hls_2m.m3u8

This is basically saying the the “HI” version of the playlist (which was created using Apple’s mediafilesegmenter cmd-line tool) is ten seconds, but the AWS Elastic Transcoder created playlists (the three that start with “hls”) are 13…when the job to create them was set for 10 seconds. I am still trying to figure this one out, so any pointers would be appreciated.

File permissions – when hosting the playlist and time segment files on an AWS S3 bucket, uploading the files causes the permissions for the files always need to be reset to be readable (either “Public” or set up correctly for a secure file stream. This  seems obvious, but working through the issues that the validator brought up had me uploading files multiple times, and this always came back to bite me as an error in the validator.

HLS v3 vs. v4 – except for the fact that you have to have separate audio and video streams in v4, I’m still clueless as to when and why you would use one version over the other. It would seem that a single audio stream would be needed for really really low bandwidth. But separating out the video and audio streams is quite a bit of extra work (I would be thrilled if someone would leave a comment about a simple tool to do this). I can see some advantage in separate steams, in that it would allow the client to choose a better video stream with lower quality audio based on its own configuration. More to learn here for sure.

Client usage unknowns – now that the videos work, how do I know which variant is being played? It would be good to know if all four variants were being utilized, and under what circumstances they are being consumed (particular devices? bandwidths?). There is some tracking on AWS which I can potentially use to determine this.

I hope this helps anyone else working their way through using Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming. Any and all comments appreciated. Thanks to “tidbits” from Apple and the Apple forums for his assistance as I work my way through this.

Download on the App StoreTo see the app that this is used on, click on the App Store logo. I’d appreciate feedback especially from those not in the US as to their perceptions of (a)how long it takes the videos to start and (b)how long it take the quality to ramp up.

Edward Tufte Books

Notes and Thoughts on Edward Tufte’s one-day seminar

Dr. Edward Tufte is doing his one-day seminar tour. I sent two of my team to attend on the first day in Austin, and I went on the second day in Houston. If that doesn’t send the message that I think this is a very worthwhile and valuable seminar, then let me be clearer: Dr. Tufte has been and remains the expert in data visualization and he not only keeps up with developments in this area, he explores it and expands it by doing his own developments.

The fee was $380, and includes all for of Dr. Tufte’s books, which cost $100 by themselves. I was not aware that these four gorgeous books were self-published by his own Graphics Press; gives my JoSara MeDia something to aspire to.

And I got all four of his books signed, so the geek fan boy in me is quite happy.Edward Tufte Books

There was no set delineation of the presentation, though in typical Tufte fashion there were handouts and suggested reading during the “study hall” period. I got there early, sat on the front row and had Dr. Tufte come down the row, introduce himself and ask what I did while signing the books. We talked a bit about medical records, EPIC (a large EMR company) and how faxes still dominate the medical field.

Besides geeking out with Dr. Tufte, what did I get out of it?

  • As always, adopted some suggestions for many of our apps, including thinking about the Media Sourcery workflow app as a box score (which it kind of already resembles) and taking my Grand Canyon map experiments into a video panning phase (which I tried once, but looks like the tools have improved).
  • Too often we hear our customers ask us to “dumb it down for the users.” Tufte continually reinforces the opposite of this, that users can handle the complexities, as he goes through his examples.
  • And, of course, his fundamental principles of analytical design (I listed seven, his book BEAUTIFUL DESIGN lists six…so maybe I created one!)
  • The “Tufte-isms” were great, thrown out frequently…so frequently I’m not sure I captured all of them. Quotes from Dr. Tufte are marked like this.

The outline below is my own, just to arrange my notes. They are here for my bad memory, and for your consumption.

Introduction

TufteNoInscriptionsLike most of the world, Dr. Tufte is not a fan of Powerpoint. And the readings assigned in the study hall (more on study hall later) remind of a few of his standard recommendations:

  • Simplification is not the answer, users can handle complexity
  • “Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information” (Envisioning Information, pg. 50)

Study hall had several assigned readings in the one hour time set aside, which Dr. Tufte roamed around, signing and talking. Also in the agenda is a set of “Special Interest Topics” (ten sections of these) and two selections of “Homework”. Wonder if I should set deadlines for my guys to get this done… :)

Information Examples

Dr. Tufte went through multiple examples of “information as the interface.” From the seminar page on his website:

Fundamental design strategies for all information
displays: sentences, tables, diagrams, maps, charts, 
images, video, data visualizations, and randomized
displays for making graphical statistical inferences.”

Example #1 – Stephen Malinowski’s Music Animation Machine (try it out at the link)

National Weather ServiceExample #2 – National Weather Service (the base site is linked to, but the site reviewed was a specific forecast, enter a zip code to see the particular page)

mentions little data, with no more little data graphics…which doesn’t force viewers to have to figure out graphs.

Everyone knows how to use, read and view numbers, words and simple graphics.

Tufte: “Minimize design-figuring-out-time, Maximize content reasoning time

A lot of data on one scrollable page. “Humans are good at scanning and recognizing what they are looking for” (example: finding your name on a long list of names)

Tufte: “Being read to from a Powerpoint, the rate of information transfer asymptotically approaches zero.” This guy is witty, eh?

Tufte: “Only two industries call their customers users: illegal drugs and software.” OUCH!

1st: view/eye, 2nd: scroll, 3rd: drill down

Example #3: Policy Story from the NY Times (old article, can’t find online)

Logo and author links show responsibility, accountability, credibility

There are 60 numbers in the story, no graphics, reinforcing the earlier point about that everyone knows how to use/read/view numbers and words…no need to get fancy.

Tufte: “Use experts to get the presentation/article out of your voice and into the experts voice.”

The graph in this article is terrible, sourced from a lobbyist group, with no defensible numbers.

Example #4: Health Article from NY Times (again, an old article). Dr. Tufte does like the NYTimes website, and uses them frequently in examples.

Main point here is a graph of charges vs. Medicare reimbursement. The graphic uses annotations on the graphic, which helps the reader to immediately know how to read the display.

Dr. Tufte continually emphasizing comparing corporate IT properties to Google News, Google Maps, NY Times and WSJ. “Put your IT material next to these. Aim high.”

Espn box score pageExample #5: ESPN.Com World Series page

Using the box score, one level down from the home page. An example of numbers and words, a table of lots of numbers, that is viewed all season for every game and has been for a decade. Great example….though the example he showed didn’t have the cool underwear ad that mine captured! Score!

Tufte makes a point about ordering by interest or mathematical order, not alphabetically.

He ends this segment with my favorite quote: “No matter how beautiful your interface is, it would be better if there is less of it!

How to give a presentation

From the seminar page on his website:

A new, widely-adopted method for presentations:
meetings are smarter, more effective, 20% shorter.”

  • Begin with a document – Paper has the highest resolution of any current medium
  • Every meeting should begin with a study hall – don’t make a big deal about it. Give attendees your document at the beginning of the meeting and ask them to read it. No one reads material passed out before a meeting. Use meeting time for the content.
  • Don’t touch every point in the document. Annotate.
  • Take questions. Take notes on the questions. Directly answer the questions.
  • Example: take a document with your symptoms and questions in to your doctor.

Dr. Tufte shows an Amazon article where they have no powerpoint, all meetings start with a 30 minute study hall. Quote on the article (not sure who to attribute): “Powerpoint is easy for the presenter, hard for the audience.”

Information Architecture

From the seminar page of his website:

“Standards of comparison for workaday and for cutting
edge visualizations. How to identify excellent
information architectures and use them as models and
comparison sets for your own work and for the work
of your contractors. Monitoring the designs of others.”

This section was a bit of a jumble, with various topics, but some excellent examples.

Covered scientific publishing, discussing how jargon is reduced as articles go from the back of Nature to the front of Nature to the more populist web sites and publications. Most people only read the abstracts (so true), and the abstract should state (like a thesis) problem-relevance-solution.

After a break, Dr. Tufte once again mentioned the woefulness that is government and corporate IT Dashboards. He referenced again the ESPN.COM box score page as a easily readable dashboard with tons of numbers as a “standard for comparison.”

The point of an information display – “To help thinking about the content

Example #1: NYTime Article with Annotated Linking

Tufte notes that NYTimes employs 40 “Graphics News Reporters.” Do not use plain un-descriptive lines, use annotations on lines. Also goes through a diagram on pg. 78 of BEAUTIFUL EVIDENCE which uses annotated lines in a diagram tracking SARS patients.

Example #2: Tim Berners-Lee, his original paper suggesting the Internet and linking

Tufte showed the manager’s comment that he originally put on top of Berners-Lee’s paper “Vague but exciting…”. And a good quote from the document, a hierarchy of nouns to the flatness of verbs.

Example #3: xkcd – over lap of items on the front page of college website on left side intersecting with items you really want to know…with only the college’s name in the intersection.

Example #4: Google Maps – again, enforces compare this with your workaday presentations, since everyone uses and knows how to use this seemingly complex app. Compare diagrams to Google Maps. Satellite view – overlay data on top of them.

Example #5: Popular Music chart (from pg. 90-91 of VISUAL EXPLANATION). I found a similar one online, it is shown to the right. It is a flat interface, Tufte showed an iPad version of it in a video and on screen which had the artists names clickable, playing their music with videos behind the diagram. Very cool.

Then he showed the Viz-A-Matic….a graph generate that showed what NOT to do.

Being a Spectator (consuming a presentation)

From the seminar page:

New ideas on spectatorship, consuming reports.
How to assess the credibility of a presentation
and its presenter, how to detect cherry-picking,
how to reason about alternative explanations.

Tufte: “A presentation or graphic should provide reason to believe.”

Tufte: “An open mind but not an empty head.”

Two things in presentations as a spectator – Content and Credibility

Watch out for Cherry Picking (which is not when a Houston Rocket stays back toward his basket waiting for a long pass) – picking only certain details to support points. Also, not linking to the source documents, and being in a “rage to conclude“.

Tufte: “Why go to a presentation whose conclusion you agree with?”

Measurements that are in presentations – have a sense of what is relative. See how the measurements are actually made; get out into the field. See directly. The fog of data will fall from your eyes. Tufte mentions when a chemical company was policing themselves, collecting water samples in clear water…”sampling to please.” People and institutions cannot keep their own score.

Search Google Images for data, the search results are not gamed like the normal Google text searches are.

Finale – Maps moving and Fundamentals

A little bit of talk about displays, and a demo of movie panning over very nice maps of the Swiss Alps. This is something I’ve tried to do with the Grand Canyon app, and I’ll try again.

Dr. Tufte also talked about Small Multiples and Sparklines briefly, but these are covered in detail in his books.

Dr. Tufte demonstrated a tool called “Image Quilts” by Adam Schwarz. It is a chrome plug-in/extension. I played with it, using my friend and artist Barbara Franklet’s images through a google image search.

Barbara Franklet Image Quilt

He closed with his Fundamentals. As stated in the beginning, there are six in the book, but I counted seven.

  1. Show Causality
  2. Make Comparisons
  3. Displays Should be Multi-variate
  4. Integrate All Modes of Information (text, numbers, images, videos, everything)
  5. Document (i.e., show sources)
  6. It’s all about content
  7. Displays are flat, but the world is not

Tufte: “move to web-based presentations. move away from flatland.”

I cannot recommend this seminar and these books highly enough.

Edward Tufte Signature

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 3.50.11 PM

TestFlightApp.com goes away February 26, 2015 – use new iOS 8 Test Flight App

IMG_1295The website we have utilized for beta testing of apps, TestFlightApp.com, shuts down on February 26th, 2015. All app testing will be moved to the iOS8 TestFlight app and managed through Apple’s iTunes Connect.

As a developer, and a user there are many more PROs to this than CONs. The new TestFlight app for iOS8 radically simplifies the process of beta testing apps.

In the old TestFlight.com, a developer had to:

  • invite users to TestFlight
  • get the user to register a device on TestFlight
  • take the UUID of the device and register it on developer.apple.com
  • put the device ID into a provisioning profile
  • use that profile to build
  • re-upload the build (or the new provisioning profile if that was all that changed) to TestFlightApp.com
  • distribute the build to designated TestFlightApp users

There were several places where that process could get stuck and could indeed go wrong.

With the new TestFlight iOS8 app, the steps are much simpler:

  • developer submits app (there are several steps involved here for developers, but they are basically the same as submitting an app to the app store. After Archiving, you “Submit” the app to a version on iTunes Connect that is marked “Prepare for Submission”
  • check the box for “TestFlightBetaTesting”Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 3.50.11 PM
  • select “External Testers” (this will not be visible until the app goes through Beta App Review)
  • invite the test user via email (does not even have to be their iTunes email, as Apple will do the mapping)
  • the users will be asked to download the TestFlight app (if they have not already done so)
  • the app will then be available for install from the TestFlight appIMG_0128
  • apps installed via TestFlight app will have orange dots beside them
  • users will be notified when new versions are availableIMG_1296

The device ID mapping is done by Apple. No changes in the provisioning profile are needed.

What else is different? Here are the cons:

  • No Android. Obviously, since Apple acquired them, support for this has been dropped. It was an advantage to have all testers and testing in one web site.
  • Beta builds only available for 30 days. After that time, the developer must submit another build.
  • No TestFlight SDK. The developer could including TestFlight’s SDK and get more data on what parts of the app the users was testing. These feature has not yet been moved over to the new TestFlight app (if anyone has found it, please let us know).
  • Wait for Beta App Review. Apps do have to be submitted for “Beta App Review”. The first time this is done, it can take a few hours to a couple of days. After that, it is quite quick, if the developer answers a question concerning the level of changes in this build (fewer changes do not apparently require an extensive review).
  • Issues with Gmail invites. We’ve run across one issue with invites receive in Gmail that were not able to acknowledge the TestFlight invitation and thus allow the app to be run under the TestFlight app.
  • Works only with iOS8. This is not as big an issue as it was. We assume Apple waiting until the adoption rate was high enough before discontinuing the Test Flight app web service.
  • If this is an upgrade to an existing app store app by the same name, the Test Flight app will write over it. The user will be notified of this with a alert notification. The user can always get the production version back via the app store.

Overall, the PROs far outweigh the CONs, and hopefully some of the other pieces will show up in the future.

Existing users can be exported from TestFlightApp.com into CSV files for import as external users on Apple’s iTunesConnect web site (where user management is now controlled). Detailed instructions here.

Cloud Storage Options (with pricing table)

There are several options for cloud storage with different pricing options and some slight difference in features. Pricing is changing quite a bit. The table below tries to show for a given amount of storage which option is the cheapest amongst the major players.

Note that I ignored the variety of promotions; for example, I received 50GB for free from Box when I installed their iOS client and signed up for an account in January. I did include extra space that the user gets when doing somewhat simple tasks (like inviting friends as DropBox provides).

I also did not include multi-user (cost per user per month) plans, as a lot of them state “custom pricing”.

There are other options out there like MEGA and BRIGHT COVE which I did not include yet in this comparison.

I’ve tried to note where there are other things which might impinge on the amount of storage (for example, the Google drive storage is shared by several applications.

For the color coding, Green is the best price for the amount of storage, Red is the worst.

For those of you that are more organized that I, take note that you can get a total of 44 GB for free by simply by signing up for all of these (5GB from Amazon, 10GB from Box, 2GB from DropBox, 15GB from Google Drive, 5GB from iCloud and 7GB from MS One Drive); but like your car keys, you just gotta remember where you put everything.

Everybody except DropBox offers at least 5GB for free; one would assume DropBox will change that soon. With recent announcements, DropBox also has the most expensive options in several tiers, so one would assume that will change as well.

Amazon and Google come out as the least expensive options the majority of the time.

I included the iOS 8 iCloud Drive pricing that came out of WWDC; with current pricing, Apple’s options suck…with the iOS pricing (which is not on a price sheet yet, but on presentations) they are actually competitive.

If you see any errors or changes, add a comment. This is from public pricing sheets (except for Amazon’s, which I had to login to find, and iOS8 pricing, which is only from WWDC presentations) as of July 6, 2014.

Long table after the break.

(more…)

MobileprovisionProfile Screenshot

What time does an Apple provisioning profile expire?

For those of you that do not get the challenges of living in the Apple Developer world, a bit of background: To deploy an iOS app outside of the Apple App Store, either as a “beta” with an Ad-Hoc Distribution profile, or as an Enterprise with an Apple Enterprise Developer account, a Apple Provisioning Profile is required. This profile is built on Apple’s Developer Web site and requires a developer certificate (“trust” the developer!), a list of devices (up to 100) or the domain of the Enterprise (depending on whether this is for Ad-Hoc or Enterprise Distribution), and an app ID. This information is used to generate the provisioning profile, which is distributed along with the app to identify which devices are allowed to utilize the app.

For reasons only known to Apple, provisioning profiles, even Enterprise Provisioning profiles, expire once a year. Perhaps this is Apple’s way of ensuring that Enterprise’s keep up with their $299 annual fee to keep their Enterprise Developer License.

Recently, Apple extended the time validity of the certificates generated under the Enterprise Developer License to three years. But the profiles all still expire after one year.

This has spawned a huge marketplace for MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions, used to help deploy (or redeploy, in the case of an expired profile) apps in an Enterprise.

It is easy to see what day a profile expires (it is visible on the device under Settings/General/Profiles, generates pop-up warning on the device, and it visible in your Apple Developer account page). But, because of a last minute customer call, we needed to know when would it really expire. This customer did not have an MDM solution, and, though we had built into our app and forced upgrade functionality, if the profile expires, the app stops working.

This is obviously a major issue with Enterprises deploying Apple apps internally. When given enough warning, it can be handled, even without an MDM.

Apple Provisioning ProfileBut, given less than 24 hours notice, what we really needed to know was not only the data, but the time the profile would expire.

When you build a profile, you need to get it into XCode (the Apple IDE) to use it. This can be done from XCode, or you can download the profile as a file, then double click on it and open it in XCode.

In other words, the profile (shown to the right) is just a file. It is in the format of a “plist file”, a properties list file.

Since we were trying to determine what time the profile expired, and we could not find that information anywhere, we decided to look into the file. We opened it with a simple text editor (right click, select “Open With” and select your favorite editor.

Most of it was quite easy to read, as plist files are XML. You can tell it is a plist file as it starts with this information:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC “-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN” “http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd”>
<plist version=”1.0″>
<dict>

The file contains the developer certificate, which is a long character string that looks like garbage. But after that data string, there is more information, including the follow nugget we had been looking for:

<key>ExpirationDate</key>
<date>2014-06-11T21:50:35Z</date>

Not only the date, but the time (in GMT, or Zulu time).

Hope this helps anyone else who has the need to look for the same information. Obviously, the best practice is to avoid waiting until the last minute. But if you do, it is good to know how much time you have.

Google Glass

On being a Google Glass-hole

It’s not a very attractive phrase, but it does seem to be prevalent, and addresses invasion of privacy concerns.

And, yes, I have joined the ranks of Google Glass “Explorers”, Google’s name for folks interested enough to shell out an amount of cash larger than the cost of a fully loaded MacBook Air for the chance to test, play and develop.

There are several pieces that my company is working on that, for obvious reasons, I won’t divulge here. But I will describe my experiences, some good, some bordering on not usable.

Ordering was straightforward, there were several options of shades/shields, single and stereo earpieces if you don’t like the built in audio, and a few other odds and ends. It arrived quickly, intact from Louisville, KY.

Hinge and prism/screen

Fitting to one’s face is not intuitive, at least not for me. There are several videos online on how to do it, but I didn’t see one that said the screen (which looks like a prism in front of the right side) is actually on a hinge. Until I discovered that, the projection from the screen was always a bit out of my site, too far to the left. When the info on the screen is a bit out of focus, I found the somewhat obvious solution of moving the Glass (not Glasses, that’s a marketing no-no) forward or backward on my nose brings it into focus.

My Glass came with software version XE12. I connected it to my iPhone via the App Store Glass app, which is supported starting with XE12 (per the release notes). I have a Samsung Note 2 I plan to test with as well.

Battery life is a challenge…ok, it sucks. I’ll have some statistics I’ll add before too long, but it is back to the recent old days of “if you don’t remember to plug it in, it won’t last long.”

There are three ways to take photos, and taking photos is key to several things we want to do with Glass with company projects (and with some personal experimentation):

  • You can say “ok, glass, take a photo”. This works really well when you are around lots of people, if you want to be the center of unwanted attention;
  • You can tap the camera button on Glass.
  • You can wink, if you have this feature enabled (and you have software version XE12, as noted above)

The “Wink” feature has the most promise, as it is hands and voice free. But there appears to be a significant delay between when you line up your photo, wink, and then Glass takes the picture. You have to hold you head aimed on the subject, and have it framed. I’m going to try to measure the delay.

Videos are, by default, ten seconds, unless you hold down the photo button while taking a video. Then you have to tap the button again to stop (there may be another way to do this that I haven’t discovered yet). I took a video while power-washing the driveway; yes, that may seem a bit over the top, but training applications are certainly a big part of what Glass could help with…plus I wanted to show my son that under all that muck our old basketball stencil was still there. Video quality was good, but it took a while for the videos to get uploaded to the sync sport (at Google Plus), so it is certainly not close to an always on technology. The audio is pretty impressive, considering I had a gas-powered power washer going.

Getting the videos out of the Auto-Backup at Google Plus is currently a process that has too many steps. You cannot link to the videos. You cannot upload them from Auto-Backup straight to You-Tube (many people have been complaining about that for a long time). I’ll figure out a way to share the videos later.

From a development standpoint, there are currently two options: the GDK to run apps on Glass, and a Mirror API, which allows access to several programming languages and allows mirroring of certain information onto Glass from an app. That looks like the most promising route.

More next time.

Untappd on AppAnnie

The Psychology of UnTappd

If you haven’t heard of or used the app known as Untappd, you may not be a beer drinker. But the rise in Craft Beer brewing and drinking in America (see a good infographic here) has pushed many Americans out of their lager drinking malaise and into enjoying the multitude of tastes that are presented by the craft beer industry.

If they treated introductions like a MLM scheme, I’d own part of UnTappd by now :). And that is the beauty of the mixture of social media, location, goals/badges and history/statistics that UnTappd succeeds at: it is an app that you want to share, and after sharing, you encourage your friends to use. That psychology is what all social media type apps should strive for.

The app is simple: you have a beer, you log that beer in UnTappd. If you desire, you can include a ranking (one to five bottle caps), a location (from Foursquare’s massive location database), a picture (which, like all social media photo sharing can come back to haunt you) and a comment.

This app is free, and that, plus making it available on as many platforms as possible, is a genius move by the developers.  By simply giving users the means to track their beers, they are building a huge data warehouse of likes, dislikes and drinking characteristics (when, where, what type, with whom) that any brewery or pub/bar would be mad not to take advantage of. Breweries can register to manage their brand on the site here.

This is the opposite approach of the app which is leading in profits in May 2013 on the iOS App Store, Candy Crush Saga. Candy Crush is also free but makes revenue based on in-app purchases that help get through levels users are stuck on (note that one does not have to purchase anything to get through the levels, a user just needs patience…the fact that Candy Crush Saga is leading in revenues is a clear indicator that US app users want instant gratification and are willing to pay for it).

The appeal and staying power of the app is revealed in this chart from App Annie: since its release in October 2011, the app has stayed in the top 250 for Free iOS App Downloads and usually in the top 100. (chart after the break) (more…)

Re-reading MSandT

Re-reading Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

click on the image for more info and to support this blog

Dusk Before the Dawn

Dusk Before the Dawn

Software By the Kilo

Software by the Kilo

Archives

%d bloggers like this: