360iDev 2011

This is a late post on 360 iDev, which was held September 11-14. Once again it was a great conference and a highlight for me this year especially as I missed out on WWDC. I have always thought that 360iDev is better value for money than WWDC. You will meet many excellent developers from around the world and as it is a smaller event you will get a chance to meet them.

The sessions were great. I started on Sunday with Photoshop for devs. This was an excellent session by Mike Berg. I find very often that I want to manipulate an image, something that seems relatively simple, but do not know how to go about it. Mike lead us through various techniques on how to create awesome graphics. (Ok awesome graphics for a developer)

While I can always learn more on the coding front I always look out for the sessions on business and UI design to round out my skills. Being an independent iOS developer I need to be able to do all aspects, soups to nuts to run my business. I went to two informative business sessions. The first one was by Kyle Richter who focused on the people side of getting clients and keeping them happy. The second session was by Andria Jensen who did an excellent job of explaining the in and outs of running a contracting business, all very useful information.

My favorite session had to be from Mike Lee who lives in Appsterdam. (Amsterdam Netherlands) Mike is a larger than life developer who came dressed as a Mariachi Cowboy, along with margaritas and a Mariachi band. Mike took us through the technology steps of man kind all the way to shipping a product. This was a laugh a minute presentation.

I still have hopes of creating a game with cocos2d so Ray and Rod’s intro to cocos2d was another motivator to get going on learning cocos2d. They made it look so easy to create a workable game.

A big part of 360iDev is meeting other developers and there was ample opportunity to do that at the parties scheduled in the evening by the sponsors. So if you have been sitting in the fence I hope I have persuaded you to attend next year.

You can find more information on the 360iDev website http://360iDev.com

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Twelve South Compass

I have had my iPad precariously balanced against books on my cluttered desk ever since I bought it. This arrangement sort of worked but was never satisfactory. The iPad would often slide off the book it was balanced against, so I finally decided to buy a stand. I had a few requirements for a stand that would work for me. It needed to be small, due to the lack of space on my cluttered desk. It also had to work with an iPad cover on. I was not going to be taking the cover off and on just to use the stand. I searched amazon.com as I have a prime membership and two day shipping is free. I ended up settling on the Twelve South Compass, which looks just like the compass you use to draw a circle. I was concerned that the stand would “fold” or tip over when tapped, but based off the other user reviews I decided to purchase it.
The Twelve South Compass came in a nice looking box that Twelve South suggests you reuse. I could have reused the box if it had had a lid. The stand also came with a snug fitting black carry bag. The stand is well made out of solid metal that is covered in a silver powder coat that will match your iPad and other Apple devices. Some parts, like the feet are covered in rubber to stop the stand from slipping or scratching. The Twelve South Compass stand has two positions, one for display and one for typing. Open the three compass legs and flip open two small levers for the upright position. The iPad can fit on the stand in both the portrait and landscape positions. The stand felt solid and it was no problem tapping the screen without feeling that the stand would fall over. The extra bonus that I had not thought of, was the fact that I could attach the 30 pin cable to the iPad while it was on the stand. I find that I use the iPad even more now as I have been able to position it better for my needs. For the typing position you close the back leg and open a smaller leg that is embedded in the main third leg. This gives you a slightly angled position that is great for typing. the stand is small enough to take with you when you take your iPad. It is not the cheapest stand out there. But then, if you have an iPad you are what we shall call a discerning buyer who will pay a premium for good quality. The Twelve South Compass stand can be purchased for $39.99 at amazon.com or apple.com

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A Great Backup Solution

I have always loved TimeMachine ever since I bought an external hard drive. The interface is pretty cool. One day however, I could not recover a file from Time Machine. For some reason it had decided that there were no recent backup copies. After a bit of frantic nail chewing and a reboot TimeMachine found all it’s backup versions. But it did get me thinking that a single backup solution was not enough. After a few days research I decided to try CrashPlan as it looked like a perfect fit for my needs, where I have multiple computers and multiple OS’s (Mac, Linux and Windows). What initially drew me to CrashPlan was the ability to backup to different locations. CrashPlan is very flexible in this regard, you can backup to multiple external drives, backup to another computer you own, in addition you can backup to a friends computer or to CrashPlan’s cloud service. All of these services are free except for the cloud service.

The setup was extremely easy and the default setting for each OS seemed to be perfect for the average user. CrashPlan by default will only backup your home directory. Within no time CrashPlan was backing up my laptop as well as the other computers in my house. The interface allows me to easy see the backup state of all the computers. Some of the computers are dual boot, so I installed CrashPlan for both operating systems. Once installed CrashPlan will run automatically once per day. You can choose to get reports on the backup status of the computers or you can choose to get alerts for when a computer is not being backed up. CrashPlan simply runs in the background and you can configure how much CPU or network resources it can use. I do not notice it running at all.

As my laptop is for work I bought CrashPlan+, which does realtime backups and also now allows for data sets. Having all my backups under one roof did not give me a sense of security. I was thinking of the worst case scenario where I lose my home office and my backups. While the cloud service looks great I did not like the time that it takes to retrieve all your data assuming you had a catastrophic event that resulted in the loss of all local data. (CrashPlan will ship a disk to you, but takes a few days) As a result I persuaded a friend who lives 30 minutes away to get CrashPlan with the idea that we will be remote backup sites for each other. This way if I were to lose all my data locally I will still have a backup just 30 minutes away. The remote setup is straight forward, but I decided to seed a drive with my backup before attaching it to her laptop. As her laptop runs Windows and as I run a Mac I had to attach the external drive to a Windows machine in order to keep the NTFS file system on the external drive. I added the drive as a new backup destination and initiated the backup. By the next morning I had a new backup ready to be located remotely. At the remote site I helped my friend sign up for a CrashPlan account and had her invite me. When I attached the external hard drive to her computer I had to enter my CrashPlan user name and password and it immediately became available as a backup destination for my laptop. Within a few minutes it had competed a scan to compare my laptop to the new backup destination. I also added her as a person that could backup to my system. She had about 15GB of data and it took about 5 days for her data to be completely backed up to my system. I now have a secure remote backup solution. All the data encrypted as it is sent over the Internet and the remote backup is also encrypted for my account only. I did a few tests to confirm that backups were running to the remote destination and recovered a few files to confirm the backup.

I have been very please with CrashPlan. Since I started using the backup application they have had an update which was installed automatically. CrashPlan has now added a long awaited feature, data sets. The data sets option is only available in CrashPlan+. You can now have different sets of files that can get backed up to different locations at different time intervals. I find this very useful as I do not feel that I need to get a realtime backup of my files remotely. This saves on the amount of data that is sent over the Internet and some people have capped data plans.

I was even more impressed with CrashPlan when I offered to a do rebuild of my friends computer. Her laptop had been bought 6 years earlier and had had no maintenance . In addition she had many old applications cluttering the PC that she no longer used. I brought the laptop home and did a new install of the OS and then installed CrashPlan with her username and password. CrashPlan immediately recognized my laptop as a backup set and I was able to restore her files. I did tweak the data limits in CrashPlan to be unlimited while doing this to make the restore process faster. Once the laptop was rebuilt the final step was to start the backup process again. Here we were allowed to assume the name of another computer, which is really useful when doing a rebuild and you want to pickup where you left off with the backup process. This way CrashPlan only had to sync the differences between the old backup and the files I had restored. As all the files were already in the backup set this step went quickly. I returned her laptop, plugged in her external drive and my remote backups picked up where they had left off.

My only complaint I have with CrashPlan is the interface for recovering files and I have a feeling that it is a Mac only issue. When you try to recover a Mac application like any other file you are presented with a small drop down arrow which then shows you the different versions based off date that you can recover. Being an application it will most likely only have a single date. If you choose to recover the file by checking the checkbox next to the date the application will not be recovered correctly. I have a feeling that is due the fact on the Mac Applications are really special directories. If choose the application itself by checking the checkbox next to the application name it will be recovered correctly. The more I think of this it must be a bug. Any other file is recovered as expected. An alternative way to restore files is to choose a date by clicking a link below the file selector.

CrashPlan is great and is free for no commercial use. You can also get a 30 day trial of CrashPlan+ after which is simply reverts back to a regular CrashPlan install. You can find more details on their website.

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Goodbye GoDaddy

I have been with GoDaddy for a number of years. It all started with the need to buy SSL certificates. You cannot beat their prices, (at least a few years ago you could not). Their interface was terrible but I put up with it for a bargain. Never mind the fact that they would make it so hard to make changes between all the ads. Plus things they did not want you change like auto renew are hidden deep down. Auto renew is great, but I had used my personal credit card to buy a business SSL certificate so I did not want this feature. I ended up buying my own personal domain through GoDaddy and finally purchased a hosting plan for fidgetware. I was never happy with the management interface and config changes that should have gone quickly always took a long time. GoDaddy shows the same data on multiple pages but somehow the key data is on another page. What finally prompted me to move was the poor performance of this blog. It was taking 20-30 seconds to serve up a WordPress page. The static pages were fast. GoDaddy tech support said there were no issues and suggested I install Super Cache, which I finally did with no performance improvement. A few days later performance improved miraculously back to the performance when I started with them. Recently though the performance slowed down again. I could put up with the horrible interface but I need website that is accessible.

Switching was not too hard thanks to the ubiquitous of WordPress and MySQL. I did a data dump of MySQL and copied it to my local machine and copied the wp-content directory locally too.

Signing up with NetworkSolutions was a breeze and I transfered my domains over. While that was happening I setup WordPress and using the PhPAdmin interface did a restore of the exported file from GoDaddy. Finally I copied up the content for the website. Everything is now working about 97% I have few more images to sort out as I changed the location of WordPress.

I had signed up with GoDaddy all the way through to 2012 but have chosen to go month to month with NetworkSolutions just incase performance degrades.

On a closing note Kudos to GoDaddy, I did complain on twitter and they tracked me down and gave me a call. I have moved on, but maybe they heard my complaints.

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