Offering to discuss Top Gear and/or Disney World is a pretty reliable way to get me on a podcast.

In this week’s episode of My Hill to Die On, American expats Nate and Ryan take me on a historical journey explaining how they both ended up living in Japan, reconciled some differences between Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney, and eventually discussed one of my favorite segments on Top Gear: the race against the bullet train (see also part 2).

Also in this episode, Nate and Ryan have me try some uniquely Japanese snacks that they had shipped to my house. Needless to say, that was quite an adventure.

 

Curiously, in these unprecedented times, I feel like I’m both considerably more and considerably less busy all at the same time. Because of that, I neglected to mention a really fun guest appearance I did last week.

My buddy Tyler Stalman is in many ways the man-about-town, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. In a semi-tradition we semi-accidentally started last year, I joined him on The Stalman Podcast to discuss last week’s Apple event.

This time, however, Tyler asked me to also record myself while we spoke. As someone who never has video on while recording, doing so was quite a change of pace, but I think it came out quite well.

Some behind-the-scenes trivia: my recording colossally failed right at the tail end of our talk, leaving a mess of an edit for Tyler. (Sorry about that, again, buddy. 😞) I bet you won’t be able to tell where though.


 

This week I joined my pals Jean MacDonald, Dan Moren, and Mikah Sargent on Clockwise. On this episode, we discussed our hopes for next week’s Apple event, how to find joy in these joy-Liss times, how we use NFC, and how virtual conferences have helped us rethink conferences in general.

Clockwise is fun and fast. You should give it a listen.


RIP, Vignette

About a month ago, I decided to "sunset" Vignette.

This was a decision that was a long time coming. In short, due to changes in Facebook, Instagram, and most especially Twitter, Vignette cannot work nearly as reliably as I would like. As such, I have decided to pull it from sale, worldwide. It isn’t right to charge money — any amount of money — for something that no longer works properly.

It Begins With Facebook

As with many bad stories of late, this one starts with Facebook. Starting probably eight-ish months ago, I kept getting regular reports from users that Facebook integration wasn’t working. Whenever I tried it at my desk, it worked no problem. Of course. For probably half of Vignette’s existence, and some unknown subset of Vignette’s users, Facebook never worked better than 50/50.

Curiously — and still unexplained — I also heard consistent reports from users that switching Wi-Fi ↔ Cellular resolved their Facebook issues. For the life of me, I couldn’t (and can’t) wrap my head around why that would be. I started going down the rabbit hole of iOS content caching, but never made heads or tails of it.

Enter Instagram

Not long after Vignette shipped, I had to start throwing best practices to the wind, and having Vignette masquerade as Instagram itself. This is not something I ever felt great about. Shortly after I started faking being Instagram, I realized I needed to update the mechanism I used to fake it. Already, the cat-and-mouse game started.[1]

Eventually, I settled on something that seemed like it was reliable, but it was also undocumented, liable to be taken away at a moment’s notice. This didn’t feel good to me as a developer, and surely isn’t the path to satisfied users.

Twitter’s Nail in the Coffin

For the entirety of Vignette’s life, outside of the generally-only-used-by-nerds Gravatar, and Github, Twitter was the most reliable and straightforward way find a user’s profile picture. All you needed was a specially constructed URL, and you were golden.

For example, here was mine:

https://twitter.com/caseyliss/profile_image?size=original

This used to be available to anyone, no matter if you had a Twitter account or not, and whether you were logged in or not. It was… glorious.

Suddenly, a couple months ago, Twitter turned this feature off. Going forward, I had two choices:

  • Force users to log into Twitter via Vignette, which is somewhat antithetical
    to my whole privacy focus
  • Treat Vignette as a full-fledged Twitter client app, which would limit me to
    900 requests per 15 minutes for all Vignette users in aggregate.

Options

I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. Not to mention the support burden for Vignette seemed to be increasing over time, probably due to the above unreliability.

My only choices, as far as I could see, were:

  • Start allowing login via Vignette to all of these services. This would:
    • Presumably fix the unreliability
    • Be an immense amount of work
    • Probably not be financially prudent
    • Be somewhat against my whole privacy stance
  • Retire the app. This would:
    • Largely eliminate the support burden
    • Prevent any new users from buying an app that doesn’t work properly
    • Eliminate what was becoming a tremendous mental burden

I chose to retire the app, by removing it from sale.

It will still be available to existing users in its most recent incarnation, but new users cannot download nor buy it.

I briefly considered making the app free, but a non-functional free app is only marginally better than a non-functional paid app. The support burden for a free app is also non-zero, where the support burden for a retired app approaches zero with each passing day.

Ultimately, discussing Vignette with my co-hosts on episode 386 of my podcast (the conversation begins at 1:34:33) led me to the conclusion I knew but wouldn’t admit to myself: I must retire Vignette.

Thank You

To anyone who purchased Vignette, please accept my heartfelt thanks. Vignette’s launch was beyond my wildest dreams, but as with most iOS apps, that peak fell fast and hard. I didn’t expect for its life to be so short, and I am disappointed by it. Nonetheless, Vignette made a tangible difference for my little family, and I will forever appreciate all of my customers. Thank you.


  1. I don’t for a million years think that I was the cause of this cat-and-mouse game; rather, I was some of the fallout from a surely much larger fight with some other app somewhere.


 

I’m super bummed right now.

Normally, I’d be freshly back from WWDC, reinvigorated and ready to take on a new year of development.

But thanks to COVID-19 ruining… gestures wildly… I’ve missed out on seeing so many of my friends from across the world in California. I’ve missed out on seeing my family on the day before WWDC, one of my favorite annual traditions. I’m just… sad.

However, thanks to the work of Sam Henri Gold and a ton of volunteers, I have something to be excited about: the Indie Sticker Pack.

Indie Sticker Pack is a physical sticker pack of over 100 app icons from some of your favorite indie apps. I was very flattered to be asked to include Ste Grainer’s execellent work on Peek‑a‑View in the Indie Sticker Pack.

Already cool enough, Sam and team have decided to donate 100% of the proceeds to two great causes:

I’m super flattered to be a[n insanely small] part of this, and super glad that my dear friend Ste was so willing to throw together new versions of the Peek‑a‑View icon at the last second.

Go get yourself some stickers. Everyone likes stickers. Everyone likes donating to a good cause. It’s a win/win.


 

A couple weeks ago I was on that week’s episode of Clockwise. I completely blanked on mentioning it here.

On that episode, I joined my friends Dan Moren and Mikah Sargent, and was lucky enough to share the proverbial stage with my friend Jean MacDonald as well.

We discussed, in 30 minutes, Apple’s possible lack of inclusion of headphones in the next iPhone, places we want to go when quarantine is over, online gaming, and watching movies with friends.

Clockwise is fun and tight; if you’ve never listened, you should.


Is This What You Wanted?

Over 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, a disease that we were told will be eradicated before it’s a problem. By the man who has decided to take America out of the World Health Organization. Our neighbors and community members are protesting — and rightfully so — the deep, deep racial inequality in this country. The man in the White House told us after what happened in Charlottesville — my former hometown — that there were "very fine people on both sides”.


Black lives matter.

All lives don’t matter until Black lives do.


We are told that the United States government is classifying a group that is opposed to fascism as a terrorist organization. Our government is now… anti-… anti-fascism‽ Does that make us… pro-fascism‽

We are being told that allowing mail-in voting is dangerous by the very people who fear so deeply the results of that style of voting. Their motives are so transparent.

If this is the America you wanted in 2016 — our Black community members demanding to be treated like humans, our hospitals fighting for the lives of everyday Americans, our doctors doing their jobs without the protective equipment they need to keep themselves safe — then I don’t know what to say to you.


For me, I hope and believe we can do better. And no matter what I feel about the nominee on the blue side of the ticket, you can bet I’m going to vote like hell in November.

Because all lives don’t matter until Black lives do too.

Because Black people deserve better.

Because people of color deserve better.

Because the LGBTQIA+ community deserves better.

Because so many other marginalized communities deserve better.

Because our doctors and nurses deserve better.

Because our teachers deserve better.

Our children deserve better.

We deserve better.

I’m going to vote like hell in November. I hope you do too.


 

This week I joined Chris and Glenn on their Starport75 podcast again. We spent the episode discussing how, but mostly when, Walt Disney World will reopen. Naturally, I’m completely unqualified to come up with answers to such questions, but that’s never stopped me before.

At the end, we also have a bit of a “bonus round”: the boys ask me about my soda preference, and how I would spend an hour alone in Disney. I then turn the tables on them, and ask the boys which Disney restaurants are unreasonably beloved.

As with last time, I really enjoyed discussing all things Disney with Glenn and Chris; if you’re even moderately interested in Disney, you will too.


 

Over the last few weeks I was [briefly] featured on the last four episodes of the Stacktrace Podcast. Hosts Gui Rambo and John Sundell interviewed several independent developers, such as myself, and put together segments around common topics.

On episodes 74, 75, 76, and 77, you can hear some of my thoughts about coming up with an idea for an indie app, creating it, marketing it, and more.

Stacktrace is a podcast for nerds, by nerds, and if you’re in my line of work, I bet you’d really enjoy it.


 

A brand new version of Peek‑a‑View is rolling out to the various App Stores right now. There’s some big new features in this realease, so I wanted to call them out:

‼️ Custom Albums

A frequent request, many users have wanted to be able to select specific photos to show in Peek‑a‑View, rather than relying on an album that was already created. You can now do so with a “Custom Album”.

Note that this fancy new feature requires the one-time in-app purchase.

Demonstration of setting up a custom album in Peek-a-View

🗂 Browse by Folder

Though a very well hidden feature, it is actually possible to create an entire hierarchy of folders within Photos, and then store your albums within those folders. Previously, Peek‑a‑View would flatten your hierarchy and show you all your albums, regardless of where they live. Now, you can browse the hierarchy to find your preferred album more easily.

🐞 Bugfixes

There were also various bug fixes:

  • Photos should no longer briefly appear as shrunken when swiping between them
  • Improved behavior during rotation
  • No longer shows previews of Live Photos in single-photo view
  • Improvements to VoiceOver
  • Fixed a rare crash in the Settings screen

We’re in the midst of what is easily the most challenging time of my 38 years. Everyone I know is struggling; some in big ways, some in small. Peek‑a‑View is a small app, but I genuinely hope it can provide a little joy to you and yours during this time.

To everyone that has purchased a copy, thank you! Every little bit helps.

Stay safe. Stay strong.