Macintosh Hardware (Oct 30)

Apple just announced its second round of new hardware for this Fall. Most of our users are probably interested in the updated MacBook Air, but we were all about the Mac Mini. It hasn’t been updated since 2014, so the new version was long overdue. Really, the Mini stalled out in 2012. The newer ones seem to be slower.

Why do we like the Mini? Well, software developers need large screens. Writing code means looking at scads of text. The more you can see, the better. Beside that, there needs to be room for the app being developed, plus a debugger window. So, it makes sense to get a very large screen, with a separate CPU.

For testing, it also helps to have several machines with different OS versions. It’s nice to still have space for other things on one’s literal desktop. So, the smaller the CPU box, the better.

TurtleSoft switched to Mac Minis, soon after they were released. With a big monitor and a KVM switch, it’s possible to run several machines at once and switch between them. For a long time we stacked the Minis, but lost a couple to overheating. Now they are on individual shelves. Meanwhile, Windows desktops still tend to be huge, but we can pop in cheap laptops when there’s need for more than one.

The new Minis have better specs, but not by much. The underlying problem is that computer hardware is reaching maturity. CPU speeds are not increasing like they used to, and it’s only going to get worse. Silicon chips are already starting to be affected by physical limits like the speed of light and the size of atoms.

Meanwhile, we are still working on breakdown tables.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro Progress Report- Oct 16

The two most recent estimating spreadsheets for Goldenseal Pro calculated that it would be finished this month. Unfortunately, the project is still not done.  The math we used was very guessy, so this is not a big surprise.

The best estimate right now is that it will still take another month or two to complete the basic data entry features. Most things are working, but they can still use some polishing. Then, there is still more to do after that. We’ll get a better handle on what remains, after we start using Goldenseal Pro to run our own business.

Our staff started the interface programming a bit over two years ago. If we had just duplicated the previous appearance, the work probably would already be done. However, once the software was stripped down to studs and joists, it was a great opportunity to do more serious remodeling.  The changes probably added six months or a year to the schedule, but the result is a much better software program.

For example, a couple weeks ago we rewrote the former popup buttons. Now you can tab into them, and type instead of clicking. It’s a nifty little improvement, but it took a few days to write the code and test it. Then another couple days to redo all the data entry layouts, so tabbing would enter the former popups in correct order.

We currently are working on breakdown tables again. That is another area that’s getting big changes. The interface is particularly complicated for estimating, project billing and payroll.

Overall, progress has been steady. It will continue to be so.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com

Goldenseal Pro Popups -> Smart Fields (Oct 6)

Goldenseal currently uses a few popup buttons on the data entry screens. Human interface guidelines for both Mac and Windows consider them as the official way to present a short list of choices. You click on the button, see a list of items, and choose one.

For serious data entry, popup buttons are a pain. Problem is, popups require a mouse click. You can’t access them from the keyboard. It’s not a huge problem for one-handed typists, but it definitely breaks data entry flow for touch typists who use all fingers. Half the time, when you move one hand back to the keyboard you get leubpard or jetbiard instead of keyboard.

Goldenseal uses clairvoyant fields for longer lists. For those, you can tab in from the keyboard, and type the first few letters to choose an item. You can also click the mouse on a popup button. It’s the best of both worlds. Clairvoyant fields are similar to combo boxes, but they don’t let you type in things that are not already on the list. We plan to call them smart fields in Goldenseal Pro.

Replacing popup buttons with smart/clairvoyant fields has been on our to-do list since 2001. This week we finished the transition. The new versions look great and work well. We will still use pure popup buttons in a few places, but not on screens that involve serious data entry.

There was some adventure along the way. First of all, smart fields had somehow lost their popup buttons. We ran some older versions, and the buttons disappeared back in May.  Since then we have been working on other things, and didn’t notice it until now.

Our programming staff saves changes into source control at least once a day. Often, several times per day. That helps in a case like this, since it’s easy to go back and run versions from different dates. Even with a binary search, it meant building and testing nine or ten times. Eventually we hit the last version that worked, and the first one that didn’t. Checking the list of changes between them made it easy to spot the error.

With that out of the way, we started to type into smart fields, and discovered that the pop-down list of items was also missing. So, another binary search in source control. That eventually narrowed down to a small, unrelated change made last February. It had the side effect of zapping the smart field display. An easy fix once we found it.

Finally, we soon discovered that the smart field code was pretty bad. Our staff wrote it back in Fall 2016, and we’ve learned a lot about Cocoa since then.  There are better ways to handle tables than our first efforts.

So, we tossed it completely and rewrote it to current standards. Doing that probably saved time, and it definitely saved mental anguish. In fact, almost everything else written in the first six months has been replaced since then.  It’s an expected part of the learning curve.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director
TurtleSoft.com