I got two HomePods last week. Quick reactions:

  • They sound great, especially as a pair.
  • macOS doesn’t handle linked HomePods well. The Sound menu extra shows “Living Room” twice, where as iTunes will show “Living Room” and “Living Room (2)”.
  • They can only play music I bought on iTunes, as opposed to my iTunes library. This means I can play almost nothing on them, unless I re-subscribe to Apple Music.
  • AirPlay from my computer introduces a time-lag. People say there was always a time-lag with AirPlay, but this is not true. When I AirPlay to my AppleTV, the AppleTV gets sync’ed and constantly streams. The problem with AirPlay to HomePod is that no sync occurs, and it seems that whichever app outputting audio establishes a new connection with the HomePods. So it only works for music.
  • The HomePods and my iPhone seem to compete to decide which handles a “Hey Siri” request. That’s fine. HomePod can’t handle phone calls, which it should since macOS can by piping through an iPhone just fine. That would be fine if Apple let the iPhone handle phone calls. But Apple’s algorithm seems to decide to hand over phone call duties to the HomePods, which it ought to know can’t handle them. This is a big step back, as I now have to hold my iPhone’s Siri button manually to make calls instead of saying “Hey Siri call X on speaker”.

In summary, the HomePods sound great, but are positively terrible at everything else. The good news is that all of this can be fixed via software updates. I just hope it will be.

iPhone X

After a few weeks of having the iPhone X (upgraded from an iPhone 7 Plus), some quick remarks:

  • The screen size is perfect. It’s basically the width of an iPhone 7 with more height, and virtually the whole screen surface is used. Far better than the iPhone 7 Plus, which is way too wide. The only reason I had a 7 Plus was battery.
  • The screen itself, which is OLED, seems inferior to me. I can see the lines between pixels up close, and it seems a bit blurry.
  • The battery is about as good as it was on the Plus. I think it’s officially a bit less, but I can’t tell.
  • Wireless charging is terrible. At least with the Belkin charger. You have to set it spot-on, otherwise it doesn’t charge. Hopefully the official Apple charger will be better. I still charge by cable.
  • The camera/sensory array area at the top is not a problem. I see the status-area sides around it as bonus, rather than the camera area as a minus. Not an issue.
  • Getting used to sliding-up for home is not a problem. The only software downside is “closing” apps, which is somewhat un-intuitive.
  • Face ID is terrible. Yes, it’s technologically impressive. But instead of paying by holding my phone to a payment machine, I’m now having to awkwardly double-click the right-button, and then hold my face parallel to the phone and therefore the payment machine. It’s awkward, annoying, and tends to fail when you have people waiting on you. Did I mention that it doesn’t work in the dark? Face ID should be a feature on-top of Touch ID. NOT a replacement.

In conclusion, between the iPhone X and the iPhone 7 Plus… it’s a wash. You get a better screen format, but you lose Touch ID and get a technology that should have been an add-on as opposed to a replacement.

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 support.brawersoftware.com 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} !^brawersoftware.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://brawersoftware.com/$1 [L,R=301] 
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} !on
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://brawersoftware.com/$1 [R,L]

I’d like to get the whole Brawer Timepieces site running on HTTPS, but Shopify only allows HTTPS on the checkout (checkout.shopify.com). 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.