The Time for HTTPS

I’ve just made the Brawer Software site run on the HTTPS protocol. The uBar purchase checkout is by Paddle, so that was always over HTTPS. But the main site was running on HTTP.

To be clear, there is no particular pressing reason to be using https on normal sites with no sensitive information.

But as they tend to do, Apple is showing the way forward. uBar 3.0.4 was the first version to be compiled with Xcode 7 back when El Capitan came out. Unfortunately, Apple had blocked all HTTP requests by default, which bricked the Sparkle update mechanism. So I had to rush a 3.0.4 hotfix and then a 3.0.5 update to fix it, hoping not too many customers had downloaded 3.0.4. Here is the required addition to Info.plist:


That said, making the Brawer Software site run on HTTPS throughout is entirely prophylactic.

The reason I got the actual SSL certificate is that I have been checking out Zendesk to setup a support sub-site, and the only way to get it to use was to get a certificate.

I opted for a 5 SAN certificate from GoDaddy, covering a bunch of domains.

As for actually getting the site to rewrite all URLs to HTTPS, I used the following in the .htaccess:

#Redirect HTTP to HTTPS
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} !^$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [L,R=301] 
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !on
RewriteRule ^(.*)$$1 [R,L]

I’d like to get the whole Brawer Timepieces site running on HTTPS, but Shopify only allows HTTPS on the checkout ( It would be nice if they made this possible. A quick Google search reveals that people have been requesting it for years (along with multi-language stores and multiple currencies).

Get on it, Shopify!

Update: As of February 2nd 2016, Shopify added SSL support. Well done.

Iconic – The Ultimate Tribute to Apple

About a week ago I had the pleasure of having a phone conversation with Jonathan Zufi, the creator of Iconic. Among other things, we discussed Iconic and the very interesting history behind it.

The original idea behind the project was to create a museum of Apple products. The economics of creating a museum are very challenging, and the reach is quite limited. After weighing his options, Jonathan then got the idea of creating the beautiful book we know today.

I was especially impressed by the macro photography. I know from doing watch photography that product photography is quite difficult. Jonathan explained that he went to see a photography professor at a university and asked for his help on the project. Jonathan bought a wide variety of high-end cameras, lenses, and lights. He was able to eliminate shadows by sequencing three lights to flash in sequence with specific time-offsets, and thus achieve the perfect Jony Ive white infinity background.

Jonathan explained that while some had criticized the book for not having every single Mac product variant that ever existed, the difference between two models using the same chassis was often the model sticker. Rather than an exhaustive and redundant encyclopedia of every single variant, he focused more on rare products and prototypes. Indeed, I was surprised to see so many product prototypes that I had never heard of.

Between the nice, heavy paper, the beautiful photography, and the excellently curated selection of products, Iconic is truly the ultimate tribute to Apple products. By making it a book available world-wide, Jonathan reached far more people than he ever would have with a physical museum.

License Key Recovery

I finally implemented a license recovery system on Brawer Software‘s support page. It took about an hour and a half, yet I’ve been putting it off for a year and a half. Until now, I’ve been replying to each individual support emails asking for lost license keys – which typically involved doing a manual search on the database. Every time, it would take me a minute or two. At first I rationalized my procrastination by telling myself that it was relatively fast to look up versus the time it would take to implement a polished mechanism. What I didn’t take into account was how disruptive this was in terms of my workflow. I really should have done this a long time ago. I’m glad I finally did it.

New Media Server Setup

I’ve been wanting to setup a media server for a while now. I was strongly considering the Synology DS1515+, but ended up going with a Mac mini Server (2010) I got for CAD 200. I upgraded it to 16 GB RAM, and replaced the two 500 GB hard drives with two 2TB Samsung Spinpoint M9Ts striped in RAID 0 (for a total of 4 TB). The hard drives were CAD 150 each. So for a total of about CAD 500 (~ USD 350), I setup a media server.

The Synology would have cost CAD 1200 + 200 for a single 4 TB HD, meaning CAD 1400. The downsides are that the Synology has 4 link-aggregated ethernet ports versus the Mac mini’s single port, and of course I can add more hard drives to the Synology and put it in RAID 10. That said, I can just add a cheap external RAID enclosure with a few hard drives to the mini for backup purposes. I figure the mini’s Core 2 Duo is almost as powerful as the Synology’s Atom.

Software-wise, the mini is running OS X Server, and Plex. So far it’s all pretty simple. If I needed much more storage, redundancy, and speed, I would have gone with the Synology. But for my purposes, the souped-up mini is just fine. Besides, I’ve always wanted to try out OS X Server.

The Klingon Pirates

When I released uBar 2 last year, it wasn’t long before cracked copies started appearing on the internet. uBar costs $20, which is more than reasonable for the amount of work put into it and what it does. But there’s always people who feel entitled to your work, and proclaim “it should be $X”,  where X is the amount they arbitrarily have decided to be acceptable. That’s fair enough – nobody is forcing them to use uBar – but some people think that justifies pirating it. The “I’m pirating it because I don’t know if I like it enough to buy it” routine doesn’t work given the generous 4 week trial period. This is merely a case of people feeling entitled to other people’s work.

So a year ago, I decided to do something about it. Rather than change the protection mechanism and play cat and mouse with people that have nothing to do all day but crack software, I decided to play the long game, and have some fun while I was at it.

I made it so that if uBar detected that the registration mechanism was circumvented, after 10-15 hours it would begin substituting any app or window title with… Klingon.

I searched Google for “Klingon Dictionary”, and found a list of several hundred Klingon words. I then created a mechanism that would substitute the words of any sentence into a sentence with an equal number of random Klingon words. So “This is the title of a window” would become “Qus tay ngaS qlm lom wlv Qu'”, whatever that means.

After several hours, new app and window titles would begin being replaced by random Klingon words
After several hours, new app and window titles would begin being replaced by random Klingon words

So I implemented this system, and decided to wait and see what would happen. I figured the pirates wouldn’t suspect it had anything to do with a counter-piracy measure, but rather would assume it was a bug. They could solve it with a relaunch, but that would be annoying.

I was right. In fact, support emails began coming in from people who had the gall to actually request support when using a pirated copy of uBar.

It wasn’t who you would normally expect, and frankly, forgive, such as teens without any income. Many people have pirated high-end software in their youth, so I can empathize. The difference is that people with a conscience tend to do the right thing once they enter adulthood and earn a living. They understand that other people also earn their living writing the software they use, and that paying for what they use is what makes it work.

Instead, we got emails from grown adults using their corporate email addresses, replete with management job titles. These people actually pirated a $20 piece of software, and then had, again, the gall to email the uBar team for support. Example, with identifying information mercifully redacted:

Just reporting a bug. Every now and then the bar writes gibberish for the titles.

Lotus Notes, Adium, and Rdio replaced with random Klingon words

These are Lotus Notes, Adium, Rdio. A re-launch of the application fixes the issue.

Kind regards,

[Redacted full name]
Development Manager
[Redacted company name]

[Redacted company address]
[Redacted company phone and fax]

I don’t know what “Mismoh pon” means in Klingon, but we can rest assured that Mr. Development Manager knows it’s Lotus Notes, which he may or may not have decided he didn’t have to pay for.

He got the boiler-plate response:

Dear [redacted],

As you are using a pirated copy of uBar, it is unavoidable that you must begin learning Klingon. It is the life you have chosen. Dujeychugh jagh nIv yItuHQo’!


The uBar team

It’s been a year since this little experiment started, and it’s been interesting to say the least. uBar is used by thousands of Mac users every day, and I’m glad to conclude that the overwhelming majority are legitimate, paying customers who appreciate the effort put into it.


Retina Gruber

Episode 132 of The Talk Show aired last week with the sponsor read for uBar 3 and the Mirage A4.

Gruber hit it out of the park as usual. In fact it was so good, someone even turned the first part of it into a video with text subtitles:

Truly, a classic for all time. Will be returning to sponsor episode 134 as well.

uBar 3 Launch

uBar 3 is launching this week. Major new features include positioning on any side of the screen (bottom, left, right, top), rimless mode (no margins around items), window previews (on hover), and timepieces (display built-in or custom dials above the hover calendar).


As I did last year to launch uBar 2, I’m sponsoring this week’s The Talk Show by John Gruber. So look forward to TTS Episode 132…!

Why I just Cancelled My Apple Music Subscription

So after a few months on the Apple Music trial, I just cancelled the auto-renewal on the subscription using my iPhone. It’s actually quite well hidden – you have to go to Settings>App and iTunes Stores, tap your Apple ID, tap View Apple ID, enter your password, tap Manage under Subscriptions, tap Your Membership, and toggle Automatic Renewal.

While it may appear as though I’m making a point about Apple obfuscating the method of cancelling the Apple Music trial from hapless customers who were lured-in by the trial, I’m not – there’s just so much stuff in iOS that that was probably as easy as it could be.

As for why I cancelled it, the answer is that it simply isn’t what I thought it would be. Instead of being the entire iTunes catalogue at my fingertips (integrated as if it was my own library), it was just loads of incomprehensible UI and playlists and “radio stations” (which are basically more playlists) in iTunes on my Mac and the Music app on my iPhone. I’ll stick to my music Library, because that’s all I really wanted.

Why a Dock Replacement?

It’s been just over 6 months since uBar 2 was released on July 1st, 2014. The feedback has been tremendous, with hundreds of users emailing me ideas for features and improvements. Over the last 6 months, there have been 42 releases of uBar, most of which is the result of user feedback (see the release notes).

That said, I’d like to address an interesting question – that is, the question of why replace the Dock?

The first thing I’d like to do is stipulate that the Apple Dock doesn’t absolutely need to be replaced. It’s the quintessential Apple product – it works for most people, most of the time. The Dock is simple and elegant.

The Dock originated with NeXTSTEP, which is the predecessor to OS X. When Apple began transforming NeXTSTEP (by the OpenStep) into Mac OS X, they started by giving it the classic Platinum Mac OS UI, and removed the NeXTSTEP Dock (the codename for this project was Rhapsody). It was only when Apple decided to drop the classic Platinum UI for the new Aqua UI that Apple brought back the Dock, albeit Aqua-fied. This is the Dock that ended up in Mac OS X, and lives on today as the OS X Dock.

When watching Steve Jobs reveal Mac OS X and Aqua at MacWorld 2000 San Francisco, one can’t help but notice how proud he was of it. Aqua did a terrific job of creating excitement around the new Mac OS X. It showed what the new OS was capable of. Jobs demonstrated the Genie effect in slow-motion, showing us how windows minimized into the Dock with beautiful animation. He showed us the Magnification effect, which made the icons under the cursor bigger in realtime. The Dock was the prime showpiece for Mac OS X, and it achieved it’s job at the time – it showed us what the Mac OS X windowserver was capable of.

It wasn’t without controversy – John Siracusa infamously criticized the Dock for changing the size and position of every single one of it’s icons whenever something was added or removed.

Today, many users find themselves using the Scale effect rather than the genie effect – it seems snappier. The Magnification effect is used by few – while visually impressive in 2000, today it feels just like what it is – a visual gimmick. The Siracusa critique is even worse when applied to this effect. I don’t doubt that some use it, perhaps because after the Dock has too many icons, they start becoming very small, and the red application badges that tell you how many unread emails you have become illegible.

Of course the Dock didn’t go without upgrades. Spaces and Exposé (both are now rolled-into Mission Control) were added to help manage windows and see them visually. That said, the Siracusa critique looms over Exposé as well, since it dynamically lays out windows visually and in arbitrary positions.

The Dock especially made sense 15 years ago when most families shared a single computer with a single user account. Mac OS 9 had user accounts tacked-on, but it took years for them to be in mainstream use. You could sit in front of any Mac, and immediately be able to use the Dock. Today if you’re sitting in front of a computer it is probably either yours or under your own user account. The standardization of the Dock is no longer a useful trade-off against it’s lack of customizability.

Fundamentally, the reason for a Dock replacement is that the Dock doesn’t scale (metaphorically speaking).

The Dock doesn’t handle windows particularly well – it is primarily an application switcher. It is limited to a single row, and so once a certain number of applications are running or windows have been minimized, it’s icons become minuscule, and the application badges illegible.

Machines today have enough RAM to run dozens of Applications and even more windows at a time – numbers that would have grounded the computers of 15 years ago to a screeching halt. The Dock is simply not designed to handle this. One feature Jobs presented back in 2000 that never made it into the official Mac OS X release was the “Single Application Mode” – when enabled, the Dock would hide all the applications except for the front-most application. It as meant to help new users. Incidentally this feature is in uBar (as a distraction-free mode for pro users), but the point is that the Dock was constructed with this sort of simplicity in mind. It was never meant to scale to the way many pro users use today’s Macs, which are utter powerhouses compared to the G3s of 2000.

uBar can be configured as a dock, or a task bar. When application titles are disabled and window grouping is set to always, it acts like a dock. Turn those options on, and it acts like a task bar. The uBar menu can be customized to include commonly used items, or disabled all-together. A clock area can provide the time and a hover-calendar, or disabled as well. It can be pinned to both sides, making it span the screen, or pinned to either corner, or none, making it centred like the Apple Dock. It can be set to look like the system menu bar (either in light or dark mode in Yosemite), or a custom theme where you select the colours and opacity you want. There’s even a Now Playing theme that dynamically uses iTunes album art. The point is that uBar features real customizability – it’s your user account, so there isn’t any reason not to customize your application switcher to your taste and needs.

One uBar feature that is particularly well received by users is the Activity Mode. When holding the Control key, the application titles turn into CPU and RAM usage indicators. Another is that launching applications have white hatched backgrounds, while unresponsive applications have red hatched backgrounds, which makes spotting them easy. These are all innovations that save time for power users.

Sure, it’s not for everyone. The Apple Dock is for everyone, in the sense that a Medium size shirt is for everyone. Many people are perfectly happy with the Apple Dock, and have been using it for over a decade with no trouble.

uBar is for the others. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.

Replacing the Dock may seem crazy, but it’s changing the way thousands of Mac users use their Macs.

I’m excited to think about how many more Mac users will be using uBar in 2015. uBar has an awesome roadmap ahead of it.