Life, Technology, and Meteorology

Category: Consulting

Catchup

Wow, I think this is the first time I’ve opened MarsEdit in months. Looks like my last post was back in February, so I figure an update here is long overdue. I don’t have any particular topic to talk about today, so this post will be a catchup of everything happening here in the past 3 months.

The biggest change has been a new consulting gig I picked up back in March. Clint posted on Twitter about a contract position for an iPhone developer on the Ars Technica Job Board. The kicker is that the job was to code a weather application. I had been curious about iPhone coding, but didn’t have time in my development schedule to fit another pet project. On the other hand, if I could learn iPhone development while getting paid, I could definitely shift some projects around. Being a weather app, this job matchup was too good to pass up; so I sent in my resume one morning back in March. That afternoon, the company got in touch with me for an interview, and the following week I flew out to their headquarters to get up to speed on the project.

The development cycle for this app was pretty quick. With the first deadline of a working demo only 3 weeks from the day I started, I really booked it and started pumping out code. My life was pretty much coding, from time I woke up until going to bed. A rough, but fairly good demo was completed, with 10k lines of code in those first 3 weeks. I had about a week off, which incidentally was the same week of my 30th birthday. It was great to take a little bit of time off, party with some friends, and enjoy life.

Then the second stage of the project kicked in, which needed to be completed in only 2 more weeks time. The second stage was definitely slower, so I was able to sleep a little bit more, and see Katrina from time to time. 🙂 The resulting stage 2 app was pretty polished. The company I’m working with has a few contacts at Apple, so they arranged to demo it in Cupertino. That was a couple of weeks ago and from what I heard, the demo went pretty well. All the work definitely paid off. You should be seeing this product hit the market some time this summer. I’ll definitely post more about this when the time comes.

Our Moke After all that work and Katrina’s semester coming to a close, we decided to take off on a vacation. We found a great deal on airfare and hotel down to Barbados, so we decided to jump on it. We spent last week on the south coast of the island soaking up the sun, learning the culture, having a blast driving around in our little moke (see photo), and just getting some good R&R. There’s not a ton of stuff to do on the island, but definitely enough to keep you occupied for a week or two. We toured one of the 14 Concorde jets in existence, visited some caves, walked a historical museum, snorkled with some sea turtles, and enjoyed some excellent food.

With a constant 15 mph trade wind, the surf on Barbados was better than any other Caribbean island I’ve visited. Furthermore, our hotel room opened up onto the beach, so I was able to walk about 50 feet from our patio and paddle out to bodyboard. Needless to say, several surf sessions took place that week.

With summer finally finding it’s way to central Michigan, the mountain biking season has now begun. Bodyboard being a fairly difficult activity in Michigan, mountain biking has become my main form of exercise. For the past 10 years, I’ve been riding a Trek hardtail. I’ve put over 3000 miles on it, and the gears are almost completely shot. So I was posed with a decision of either spending a couple hundred bucks on a new set of cogs, bearings, and a chain, or breaking down and purchasing a whole new bike.

I had been looking at getting a full suspension bike for the past few years, so I started visiting bike shops around here to ride some different models. I had hit every bike shop in a 30 mile radius, without any luck. Finally, while we were down in Lansing for the day, I checked a few bike shops down there and found my new ride. Of course the bike shop didn’t have the right frame size, so I had to order it.

New Bike

A week later, it arrived, and I picked it up the day after we got back from Barbados. So far, I love it. It’s a Trek Fuel EX 5.5 complete with disc brakes, 3-5 inches of adjustable travel in front, and 5 inches of travel in back. Clipless pedals were not included so I swapped mine out from the old bike. I also added a seat pack (with tools to fix a flat and a few other necessities) and installed a new speedometer. My previous bike was so old, that even with the full suspension upgrade and a much beefier frame, this bike is lighter than my last. This weekend will be the first time I take it on the trail…definitely looking forward to it.

Looking toward the summer, I’ll be headed out to WWDC in San Francisco next month. A lot of good parties are starting to fall into place, so it should be a fun week. After that, we’re heading over to camp in Yosemite for a few days before coming home and spending the rest of the summer here working.

Inside DynDNS Updater 2.0

I’m thrilled to link to a major update of DynDNS’s Mac client, DynDNS Updater 2.0. I’ve been working on the DynDNS Updater for quite some time, and this release is a complete re-write that has a lot of new functionality. Looking at 1.x and 2.0, you would never know the projects were related; there are far too many changes to even list. To try and summarize, DynDNS Updater 2.0 is built from the ground up to give a completely modern Mac experience to people who use the services provided by DynDNS. The updater now has auto Sparkle updating built-in, Growl integration, a custom Dashboard Widget, and an interface that looks right at home on both Tiger and Leopard. Core technologies like OpenSSL, libcurl, and pthreads are used on the back-end.

In case you aren’t familiar with DynDNS as a company, their products solve the problem of managing DNS for just about every type of user, from individuals to large companies. I believe Dynamic DNS is the project that is most well-known (at least that is how I heard of them years ago), giving users with dynamic IPs a method of having a static name point to their computer. The DynDNS Updater’s primary function is to watch out for IP address changes on your Mac, and let the DynDNS servers know when there is a change. The updater is broken up into two separate executables, one is a Cocoa application where you configure your accounts and hosts. The other executable is a background daemon running 24/7 that performs all the grunt work.

I started working on version 2.0 last year. Jeremy Hitchcock and the rest of the DynDNS crew had some nice feature ideas for the next version, and I mocked up a design that would implement some of these features. I was pretty excited about the project and started working on what was to be a fairly advanced update. Fast forward to around March or April of this year when the first beta was being wrapped up. This beta had the foundation of a solid background daemon where I tried to stick to the basic POSIX libraries, so it could run on multiple platforms. At one point, I was regularly compiling it on Linux and it was working well (I haven’t tried this for quite some time since then). The daemon was completely threaded, and supported multiple network connections. Unfortunately, while the code design was solid and the product had a lot of nice new features, the UI was horribly difficult to use and the interface to configure these complex setups was not pretty. The mock-ups looked nice, but actually using it is where we ran into problems. Seemingly simple operations took multiple steps, because a lot of advanced options had to be taken into account.

Enter FJ de Kermadec and his team at Webstellung. They suggested bringing the project back to basics–thinking more about the typical use case and not all the features we could give to power users in unique situations. Webstellung put together some very impressive UI design mock-ups to get things started. Jeremy gave the go-ahead, and it was back to the drawing board as I began coding up the fresh interface. Fortunately, since the daemon code was designed with flexibility in mind, it could be re-used by dropping the new interface on top of it. The initial UI creation went pretty quickly, and within a few months a new application was born. The first beta was ready just before WWDC this year. As soon as I started using this UI, I knew it was a keeper. There were a few adjustments that had to be made, but overall the interface is very intuitive. After the functionality was mostly complete, it was time to focus on the interface polish. We went through several iterations of the software, catching small changes here and there that all added up to a nice shiny app.

If you’re currently using DynDNS Updater 1.2, definitely upgrade to version 2.0. And if you aren’t, download the app anyway and check it out. Dynamic DNS accounts are free for up to 5 hosts, and it’s pretty easy to set everything up.

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