Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

AvatarManager is Open Source

February 18th, 2009 Comments off

What is it?

Around the time of c4[2] I was futzing around with making a proper UI for my Twitter Avatar Acorn script.

I also wanted to learn about Core Data and Image Kit.

So I wrote AvatarManager, which uses Core Data to store images in png, tiff or jpg format and displays them in an ImageKit view. People suggested that it should not be limited to Twitter (which is my main Social Network app), so I made a pop-up menu populated by scripts that are run as an NSTask by the app. The scripts provide the interface to the image-upload interface of your on-line service.

Things change

Unfortunately, the Twitter “API” got modified and my script broke, so I lost interest. I was using Ruby’s ‘mechanize’ module to essentially script my way in the web page, which is an interesting way of doing it.

It’s still a good project!

I think the app is a good starting point: it’s simple, robust and extensible. The source code is easy to understand, and it shows how to use the Keychain (to store your passwords) and NSTasks.

You can help!

Grab a copy of the code and hack away! Patches welcome. Especially if you have new and updated upload scripts.

hg clone


  • MacOSX 10.5 (Leopard)
  • Xcode 3
Categories: Development, Leopard, MacOSX Tags:

Professional code aesthetics

September 15th, 2008 3 comments

At the c4[2] conference, Buzz Andersen said in his talk Apple to Indie:

Professional code is ugly

If I understood him correctly, as he started to work at Apple, he was expecting the code there to be beautiful. Paraphrasing: These guys are the keepers of the APIs. The code they write has to be beautiful!

If you are reading this, you probably believe that you, too, can write beautiful (or at least, aesthetically pleasing) code. And you are probably correct.

Your code probably starts out as beautiful, or as beautiful as you can make it. You are the only one working on it. It is your design, your vision. You are proud of it. This is good.

If you are part of a team, your code probably gets in a common source code repository. Then your colleagues start to work on it, because a of an edge case you had not anticipated. They are motivated by the best intentions, but unfortunately, smallest common denominator sets in. “Monkey-see, monkey-do”-type code cannot lead to beautiful code: it has to be designed.

Design is hard

Design is hard. It’s also hard to maintain as you are fighting barbarians at the gate: deadlines, colleagues, new features, even bugs.

Good design is obvious, especially in hindsight. It can be enforced by the design patterns, the unit tests, the compiler macros or the C++ templates.


Your code also has to interface with other code, be it the operating system, or the Perl script that talks to your printer-plotter over a RS-232 connection.

Maybe you control the interface, and can keep the design. Usually, you don’t. And then you’re stuck interfacing with ugly code, which tends to infect your code by imposing its own constraints. Lowest common denominator again.

Changing requirements

No code can handle everything. There are some extreme cases where requirements don’t change, and the person/team in charge of those requirement know everything in advance. If that is the case, congratulations, you can use the waterfall development model. The rest of us have to deal with change.

When a change in requirements happens, maybe your design can accomodate it, maybe not. Usually, you have to refactor.


You may have some budget for refactoring? Well-planned. But remember, the ultimate goal of refactoring is to ensure that your code performs in the same way as before. This is a win for you, and future versions of your product, but does nothing for the current customer.

The “business case” for refactoring tends to diminish with time. As deadlines loom, those two months that you had planned to rewrite the print engine will fly by, and if you are not 80% done in 20% of the time, you should seriously think about how important this is. Because if you are committing your whole team for two months, that’s a lot of (wo)manpower. And if you take a subset of the team, they might feel like they are left behind, working on something that has no user-visible impact while someone else works on a whiz-bang shiny feature.

Refactoring is not undertaken lightly. There is a very distinct possibility that your refactoring will break the app. One way to alleviate those concerns is to use unit tests. When automated (and run as often as possible, for instance on every check-in), they can increase your confidence that you did not break anything important by re-writing a critical subsection of your code.

Test-driven development (TDD)

I love TDD. I love writing a test for a bug, exposing it and fixing the code to make the test pass. I also love to develop “framework-level” features, for example File I/O, using tests to create, open, parse, and save files in the new disk or network format.

However, test-driven development leads to utilitarian code. Literally, “write enough code to cover the unit tests, and then no more.”. While some interesting designs may arise from this, more often than not the code is textbook-like, driven by the requirements imposed by the tests.


Any of these features can lead to ugly code:

  • Several people working on it
  • Changing requirements
  • Interfacing to non-beautiful code
  • Test-driven code

I would be hard-pressed to find some code that does not have at least one of these characteristics.

So I agree with Buzz. Professional code is ugly. When you see beautiful code (and you will know when you see it), treat it like a endangered species. Protect it, nourish it, make it regain some strength. Educate others about it. Because one day you will look at it again and think proudly: this is beautiful code.

Categories: Development Tags:

Desktop Core Location

September 8th, 2008 20 comments

Update 18/Feb/09 @ 19:45 EST: Source code is on

hg clone

Update 5/Feb/09 @ 12:43 EST: It appears that Apple may implement CoreLocation in their next generation desktop OS. Excellent!.

Update 8/Sep/08 @ 22:40 EST: The license is MIT. Share and enjoy!.

Update 8/Sep/08 @ 21:45 EST: This is an IronCoder entry, and is essentially a hack. I’m working on figuring out a license.

My IronCoder entry for c4[2]: a clean-room implementation of Apple’s CoreLocation.framework, complete with sample application.


This is a clean-room implementation of Apple’s CoreLocation framework that is part of the iPhone SDK.

It uses Apple’s own headers, which are installed when you install the iPhone SDK, as the interface, and implements all the functionality of CoreLocation in an embeddable framework.

It can be made a system-wide framework buy changing its executable path from @loader_path/../Frameworks/ to /Library/Frameworks.

The Desktop and Phone sample applications are very similar: they both demonstrate using CoreLocation.framework.

How it works

The framework figures out your current, internet-facing IP address using It then uses basic IP Geolocation web services to extract latitude and longitude. Results are cached 30 days for each IP address.

There are certainly other IP geolocation services (for instance, SkyHook Wireless) but they required a paid license.


In keeping with the theme, you can drop a file called unauthorizedApps in /Library/Documents/WebServer/clbl/ and start your webserver. You can then edit the file at will to deny a particular app the use of CoreLocation.


Sample application that demonstrates using CoreLocation on the iPhone/iPod Touch.
Build and go, it will find your current location (which, in the Simulator, is 1, Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA). Press the “Show Me” button to go to these coordinates in Google Maps.

Sample application that demonstrates using CoreLocation on the Desktop. It uses the Desktop CoreLocation framework in exactly the same manner as PhoneLocation, but the results are pulled from my version of the framework.
Press the “Show Me” button to go to these coordinates in Google Maps.

Stand-alone, embeddable framework


  • MacOSX 10.5
  • Latest iPhone SDK. Does not contain any Apple proprietary information.
  • Internet connexion
Categories: Development, MacOSX Tags:

Quickie: MAKE_NSSTRING and plist preprocessing

July 24th, 2008 Comments off

Plist pre-processing is a very useful feature of Xcode. Basically, you define strings and numbers in a header file, which can also be included in your source code:

#define SimpleProductName "My Plugin"
#define MacBundleIdentifier com.myCompany.MyPlugin

Your Info.plist should contain:


This is great, but what if you want to do this:

NSBundle* myBundle = [NSBundle bundleWithIdentifier: MacBundleIdentifier];

You can’t: MacBundleIdentifier is not an NSString, and you want to avoid duplication (a maintenance problem) with @"com.myCompany.MyPlugin"



Simply define these two macros:

#define MAKE_STRING(x) #x

MAKE_STRING uses the C preprocessor to put quotes around whatever you pass it. So com.myCompany.MyPlugin becomes "com.myCompany.MyPlugin".

Finally, MAKE_NSSTRING converts com.myCompany.MyPlugin to @"com.myCompany.MyPlugin". Problem solved!

NSBundle* myBundle = [NSBundle bundleWithIdentifier: MAKE_NSSTRING(MacBundleIdentifier)];
Categories: Development, MacOSX, Quickie Tags:

Running a Quartz composition in your application

February 27th, 2008 9 comments

Updated Sept. 12th, 2008: make sure you don’t initWithOpenGLContext: a QCRenderer* outside of a @try…@catch block.
If you do this on a 16 MB or less PCI video card, this will throw an exception instead of just returning a nil object.
These video cards are not Quartz Extreme compatible.

Now that you have created a Quartz composition, you are probably wondering if you can somehow reuse this prototype in your production code (C, C++ or Objective-C).

For the purposes of this demo, it is assumed that you have an application written in C++ using Carbon. Cocoa applications can simplify this code as needed, for instance they may not need a local NSAutoreleasePool.

The Hard Way

Quartz Composer is a GUI on top of the Core Image filter library. Everything you see in QC represents one or more of the basic Core Image filters.

Technically, nothing prevents you from re-writing the composition by writing procedural code. Given an image img, you can:

  • Load a CIFilter
  • Set its parameters, including input image img
  • Apply the filter
  • Get the new image img2
  • Unload the filter (if necessary)
  • Repeat with img2 and a new filter…

This is tedious, error-prone and hard to maintain.

You already did all the creative work in Quartz Composer, why not let Quartz Composer do the heavy lifting for you?

The easy way

When you think about it, our composition requires two pieces of data:

  1. A source image to operate on
  2. A place to store the resulting image

If you were to treat a composition as a black box, the function prototype would probably look something like this:

CGImageRef ApplyQuartzComposition(const char* compositionName, const CGImageRef srcImage);

Pretty simple so far! Copy this in a header file (QuartzComposer.h, for instance) and add it to your application.

A small addition

As-is, our composition cannot be used. You will make some minor modifications to it to help run it from our application.

First, you will add an intermediate, “do-nothing” image transformation.

  • Disconnect your source image from the “Color Monochrome” and “Source Atop” filters, by dragging the tail end of the connexion away from the little dot labeled “Image”.

    The glowing image should disappear from the output window. This is expected.

  • Drag an “Image Transform” patch from the patch list into your composition
  • Do not change the default parameters of this new patch. We simply want a “do-nothing” transformation.
  • Connect the source image to the “Image” input (on the left) of the new Image Transform patch
  • Connect the “Transformed Image” output of the new Image Transform patch to both the Color Monochrome, and Source Atop patches.

    The glowing image should re-appear in the output window.

When you are done, you should have something like this:

Published outlets

The last thing to do is to to indicate in our composition where the source image is set, and where the resulting image can be copied.

If you control-click on any patch element of a composition, a contextual menu with the text “Published Inputs” and “Published Outputs” will appear. They will be disabled if there are no inputs or outputs. For instance, the source image you dragged in (on the left) has no inputs, and a Billboard has no outputs.

Using this technique, change the name of the published input “Image” of the Image Transform patch to “SourceImage”. The input’s name should now be “SourceImage” (with quotes), indicating that it is now a “named” input.

But my picture disappeared!

Right. As soon as you named the Input, the image was disconnected because a Quartz Composition cannot accept multiple inputs. It’s either a named input, or a connexion. This is expected.

Finally, name the output image of the “Source Atop” patch to “OutputImage”. Notice that the link to the Billboard was not severed, because outputs can be split.

Save your composition, with its named inputs and output, to a file called Glow.qtz.

Adding the composition to your application as a resource

Your application is probably built in Xcode, in which case you have a “Copy Resources” build phase. Simply add the Composition Glow.qtz to your project as a resource, and make sure it is added to this Copy phase. When you build your application, check the Contents/Resources folder in your bundle: the composition should have been copied there.

Actual code

You declared a function called ApplyQuartzComposition(const char*, const CGImageRef) above. Here is the code to this function:

#import "QuartzComposer.h"
#import <Quartz/Quartz.h>

CGImageRef ApplyQuartzComposition(const char* compositionName, CGImageRef srcImage)
  // Start with no image
  CGImageRef resultImage = NULL;

  // If you have a Cocoa application, you don't need an autorelease pool,
  // but having an extra one does not hurt because pools can be nested.
  NSAutoreleasePool* pool = [NSAutoreleasePool new];

  // Load the Quartz Composition by name. You copied it to your app's Resources folder above.
  NSString* compName = [NSString stringWithCString:compositionName];
  NSString* compositionPath =  [[NSBundle mainBundle] pathForResource:compName ofType:@"qtz"];

  // Quartz Compositions are run in an OpenGL context. Here's how to declare one.
  // This code inspired by
  NSOpenGLPixelFormatAttribute attributes[] = {NSOpenGLPFAAccelerated, NSOpenGLPFANoRecovery, (NSOpenGLPixelFormatAttribute)0};
  NSOpenGLPixelFormat* format = [[NSOpenGLPixelFormat alloc] initWithAttributes:attributes];
  NSOpenGLContext* context = [[NSOpenGLContext alloc] initWithFormat:format shareContext:nil];

  // We use Objective-C exceptions because if:
  // - there is no context (which happens on a non-Quartz-Extreme graphics card), or
  // - you forgot to name your inputs and outputs, or
  // - you made a typo (hence they are not found),
  // an exception is thrown and we want to catch it and return a NULL image.
    // Create the Renderer object that will play back our composition
    QCRenderer* renderer = [[QCRenderer alloc] initWithOpenGLContext:context pixelFormat:format file:compositionPath];
    // Set input values. You could get a complete list with [renderer inputKeys].
    [renderer setValue:(id)srcImage forInputKey:@"SourceImage"];
    // Run composition. Finally!
    [renderer renderAtTime:0.0 arguments:nil];
    // Retrieve composition output results. You could get a complete list of outputs with [renderer outputKeys].
    NSImage* image = [renderer valueForOutputKey:@"OutputImage"];
    if (image)
      // Convert NSImage to CGImageRef, our return type
      CFDataRef imgData = (CFDataRef)[image TIFFRepresentation];
      CGImageSourceRef imageSourceRef = CGImageSourceCreateWithData(imgData, NULL);
      resultImage = CGImageSourceCreateImageAtIndex(imageSourceRef, 0, NULL);
    [renderer release];
  @catch(id exception)
    NSLog(@"Error running Quartz Composition '%s': %@", compositionName, exception);

  // Done, clean up
 [context release];
  [format release];
  [pool release];
  return resultImage;

Copy this to a source file (, for instance) and add it to your application.

You should now be able to apply a Quartz Composition by name in your application. Enjoy!

Categories: Carbon+Cocoa, Development, Graphics Tags:

Creating a Glow effect using Quartz Composer

February 9th, 2008 Comments off

Say you have an image behind which you want to add a colored “glow”:


Apple has a tutorial about this, but you can also do it with a bitmap editor such as Acorn. The recipe is:

  • Copy your image to a separate layer
  • Make the original image monochrome (in my case, green)
  • Inflate the monochrome image slightly (in my case, by 1.05)
  • (Optional *) Adjust the gamma value (in my case, 0.377)
  • Finally, apply a Gaussian blur to the image.

(*) The gamma value is the digital equivalent of “turning up the brightness” on CRT monitors

Voilà! Simple as pie.


You can’t start doing this for every image. First, it takes time to do (tying up your graphic designer), and second, you would have to store one glow per image, at every resolution. That’s not going to fly with your downloadable product (bandwidth is money).

This is not very hard to code. But it is:

  • Harder to prototype: compile»link»debug»fix»rebuild…
  • Harder to maintain: if you want to change the glow color, or the blur radius, you have to rebuild your app.

Right now, you are probably feeling pretty good about coding this. Converting to monochrome and blurring are Computer Graphics 101. But what if your boss (or your customers) request a more complex effect? Will you prototype it in code? Or in Acorn?

Quartz Composer to the rescue!

Open /Developer/Applications/Quartz and create a blank composition. Drag in the original image, for instance, the left image above. Activate the Patch Creator (Edit»Show Patch Creator) and add the following patches:

  • Filter, Color Monochrome
  • Modifier, Image Transform
  • Filter, Gamma Adjust
  • Filter, Gaussian Blur
  • Composite, Source Atop
  • Renderer, Billboard

Looks fairly similar to the Recipe, doesn’t it?

Putting it all together…

You have a jumbled mess of patches in your Editor window, but you need to connect them in a meaningful way. Just follow the Recipe and connect:

  • The source image’s “Image” output (it’s the only output) to Color Monochrome’s “Image” input (top-left)
  • Color Monochrome’s “Image” output (top-right) to Image Transform’s “Image” input (top-left)
  • etc… (do you sense a pattern?)

After connecting all the patches, you should have something like this:

The Image output from Gaussian Blur is connected to the Background of Source Atop. And the Billboard is necessary to view the resulting image.

The glowing image should appear in your Viewer window (Window»Show Viewer). Go ahead and adjust all the parameters to your liking with the Inspector (Editor»Show Inspector), clicking on each patch to select it.

You’re done!

Play around with the patches, add some more, change the Composition to Addition instead of Source Atop. And save your masterpiece, because in the next post, you will learn how to use it as a resource in your application.

Categories: Development, Graphics Tags: