michael brown

iOS developer: what I love.
Java developer: what pays the bills.

michael brown

WWDC 2014

In a few of days I’ll be getting into a plane in Lisbon for a 16 hour trip to San Francisco to attend my first ever WWDC. I’m an independent iOS developer on nights and weekends. What I earn from my iOS apps doesn’t even cover a month’s grocery shopping for me and my family, so until I can change that I have to keep my day job as a Java consultant 1.

It also means I’m paying for my WWDC trip (ticket, flights, accommodation and expenses) out of my own pocket. We’re talking low end Mac Pro money. Oh, and I have to book the week as vacation with my employer.

Given all this, it’s not surprising that going to WWDC has only ever been something I have ever dreamed about in the past. Something I’ll be maybe be able to afford one day, when I’m an established iOS developer. The way that tickets were sold for WWDC prior to 2014 meant I never even tried to buy one. The pressure of the almost instant sellout meant you had to have mentally already spent the money before you tried.

Last year when tickets went on sale I was in the middle of a field deep in the Portuguese Alentejo region with only my iPhone and a good 3G signal. Surprisingly, given all the difficulties everyone reported, I actually got as far as seeing the “Buy Now” button, just for fun, before bailing. Kind of like trying out that $3000 watch at the jewelry store even when you know you can’t afford it.

This year Apple introduced the ticket lottery. This radically changed the psychology of the buying proces. When the lottery opened, of course I entered. Just like the previous year, to feel a bit of the buzz, to live the dream just a little. Of course I couldn’t afford it, and of course I wouldn’t be going. I was sure I wouldn’t get picked any way.

But then I did get picked. Now what? My first reaction was that of course I wasn’t going. I also started to feel guilty about having ‘robbed’ a ticket from someone who really wanted to go. But then I started thinking about it. That’s the difference with the lottery system: you can enter with no commitment, and then if your picked, you have a whole week to think about it. A whole week during which you know you have a guaranteed place if you want it. No 30 second sellout pressure 2.

Still pretty much decided that I wasn’t going I mentioned to my wife that I’d been picked (she didn’t know I’d even entered the lottery), but that of course I wasn’t going as we couldn’t afford it. I was just silly to have entered at all. I was being silly she said, it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, and you might not get another chance. We’ll work out a way to afford it. Wow! So, a couple of days later my mood had changed!

If my experience is anything to go by, the lottery system has encouraged a lot of people to go to WWDC who perhaps never would have tried to otherwise, and I believe that can only be a good thing.

I’m really, really looking forward to being there. People seem to think it’s going to be a good one. I’m hopeful that the people I meet and the connections I make will enable me to finally become a full time iOS and Mac developer, and if that happens the cost will have been the best investment I ever made in my career.

  1. You may wonder why I don’t just change jobs and become an iOS consultant. I’d love to, however, here in Portugal even the very best paying iOS jobs pay less than half what I make as a Java consultant. My family can’t afford me taking a >50% pay cut. 

  2. All though if you haven’t bought your ticket after 2-3 days a very nice person from Apple calls you to remind you. In my case they called after I had already pulled the trigger, but before that showed up on their system somehow. 

iOS 7 location based information

Here’s an interesting new feature of iOS 7 I hadn’t heard anything about yet. It seems to detect patterns in your movements and give you information based on them. See the text I’ve outlined in red below. It’s telling me about my drive to work, even though I’ve never told it where I work or how and when I get there. Pretty awesome! So far I’ve only seen this in Notification Center and this morning was the first time I noticed it. There may well be more location based features like this.

UPDATE: Ok, so this is nothing that hasn’t already been covered in this MacRumors article. Looks like I’ve had my head in XCode so much recently I haven’t kept up with the news.

WWDC once removed

When tickets for WWDC this year sold out in 71 seconds (or perhaps not), there were a lot of ideas on how to fix the problem and a lot of discussion about ticket sales having been a de facto lottery. As an evenings and weekends iOS Developer who’s total earnings from my apps amount to slightly less than the WWDC ticket price, going to WWDC myself was not an economically viable proposition, especially given that I live in Portugal, which adds a round trip air fare equal to the WWDC ticket price onto the total cost. Even so, I could still dream, and at the moment the tickets went on sale I was on vacation in the rural Alentejo countryside and had the WWDC sign up page open on my iPhone. Despite the weak 3G signal, I had no problem logging in with my developer account and had the ‘Confirm Purchase’ button ready to tap before I bailed.

No problem, “I’ll watch the videos” I said to myself, knowing full well that I’d watched less than 5 session videos from previous WWDCs and that the same would probably happen this time. Now that WWDC is over, I can happily report that it didn’t happen this time! The combination of the videos being made available on the same day as the sessions and being able to get at them easily with the great WWDC app made a huge difference. As I watched the videos in the evening (after work!) I had a feeling of excitement and being part of WWDC that you just don’t get when the videos are only made available weeks after the event. I could exchange impressions about the new APIs with developers who were at WWDC on twitter and ADN almost as if I were there myself, and that’s a dramatic, fundamental improvement over previous years.

John Siracusa speculated that:

"Apple’s decision to release WWDC session videos to all registered developers during the conference was long overdue, but it clearly didn’t decrease demand for WWDC tickets enough to make a difference. Maybe next year, after developers have experienced their first tape-delayed WWDC, it will make a dent."

…I believe it will make a dent. It’s much more of an improvement than I ever imagined it would be. However, if by next April I manage to have even a fraction of the App Store success that Marco Arment has had, it won’t stop me from trying to get to WWDC ‘14, all though, if I end up not going, I’ll be happy knowing that watching the session videos almost as fast as they happen is a great fallback.

F1 and cutting the cord

I’ve been a F1 fan since the late 80s and since the 1996 season I don’t think I’ve missed watching a single race. I used to watch them live (even the ones in Australia and Japan that start at 4 in the morning), but since I became a father, and with the advent of easy to use and reliable DVRs like the one incorporated into the set-top box of my FTTH IPTV provider it became more practical to just always record the races and watch them later.

For many years I watched F1 on free to air TV channels (BBC or ITV when I lived in the UK), and then RTP or RTL once I moved to Portugal. You might wonder what I was doing watching the German RTL channel in Portugal. Well, it was included in my cable TV service and RTL have far better coverage of F1 than the Portuguese RTP ever did. I’m fluent in German so there was no language issue either.

That was all fine until RTP could no longer afford Bernie Ecclestone’s licensing fees for transmitting F1 in Portugal and F1 moved to the SportTV premium channel in 2007. Fine, I thought, I’ll just keep watching it on RTL. Unfortunately the cable TV companies had thought of that and in the periods where F1 races were being shown, the RTL channel was blacked out. Obviously there was the threat that a significant number of Portuguese fans would rather watch F1 for free on RTL (even if they didn’t understand a word of German), than pay €25 a month for SportTV.

I was not happy that I had to pay €25 (now nearly €30) a month for SportTV when all I wanted it for was to watch 3 hours (1 hour of qualifying and 2 hours of race) of F1 once every two weeks. I couldn’t care less about the football and other sports that SportTV shows 99% of the time. Added to that, SportTV has commercial breaks during the F1 races! Yes, advertisements during the shows of a premium, paid for TV channel. To top it all off, the SportTV coverage of F1 is pretty poor. They don’t send a crew to the races, not even the European ones. They have two guys sitting in a studio in Lisbon watching and commentating on the same images that everyone else has, plus a laptop to one side showing the live timing screens that anyone can have access to. I was paying a lot, and getting nothing for it. This compares to the coverage of the BBC and RTL, both free to air channels, which send out a sizeable reporting crew to every race, all over the world.

I’d be happy to pay to watch F1 races. I’d love it if they were Pay-Per-View, provided of course that you got something extra for the money. I’d love to be able to watch F1 races on the web, or on my iPad, but Bernie’s business model for F1 is far too entrenched in the old way of doing things. Well, since the mountain won’t come to Mohammed…

Of course there are always dodgy internet streams for watching F1 races online. But they change from week to week and the URL is often only known shortly before the event. Apart from being illegal, they’re just not very practical, especially for someone like me who can’t necessarily watch the races live. However, almost by accident, I found a solution that would solve all my problems: a VPN.

Both RTL and the BBC have live streams of their F1 coverage on their respective sites. They’re free to access. You just have to be located in the UK or Germany to be able to watch them. A VPN was the answer. Most people use a VPN for the encryption and security they provide. However, a VPN has another very useful ‘feature’: to anyone else on the net, your connection appears to come from wherever the VPN server happens to be located. All I needed was a VPN with servers in the UK or Germany, preferably both, so I could choose.

After a lot of research, I found Witopia.net. They have great reviews, are relatively cheap, and most important of all for my needs, have a huge choice of server locations, including both the UK and Germany. I signed up for their basic service which costs $50 a year. A VPN connection is easy to configure on OS X and iOS (and probably Windows and Android also), and Witopia even provide some nice client software which makes selecting different servers around the world and connecting very straightforward. Literally 10 minutes after signing up I had everything configured on my MacBook, iPhone and iPad.

Using the BBC’s iPlayer service works like a charm. Ditto the RTL live stream. It was ridiculously easy. After creating a UK iTunes account (no credit card required) I could also install the UK version of the BBC iPlayer App on my iPhone and iPad. With a London VPN connection active this also works beautifully. The great thing about iPlayer is that the shows are available for download up to seven days after airing. If for some reason I can’t watch a race live, I know I’ll be able to watch it later on iPlayer and I don’t even have to remember to setup a recording!

A side benefit I hadn’t even thought about, is that I’m now able to watch all BBC TV shows (like Top Gear, for instance) live, or up to seven days later. That’s awesome.

The $50 I’m paying for the Witopia VPN service for a whole year is slightly more than what I used to pay for SportTV for just one month. That’s a huge saving, and I get to see F1 the way I want, when I want, on the device I want. I also get to see all the BBC shows I can find time for. Last but not least, all this is perfectly legal.

Yesterday I cancelled my subscription to SportTV and I’ll be watching the final and championship deciding race of the 2012 F1 season on BBC iPlayer, all for less than €4 a month.

Twin Towers

About 12 years ago, in the middle of a 2 week business trip to New York, I spent the weekend wandering around sight seeing and taking photos in what would become to be one of my favourite cities in the world.

I took quite a few photos of the World Trade Center towers, and visited the top floor of both of them, the regular tourist visit to the South Tower, and to have lunch at the Windows on the World restaurant in the North Tower.

Little did I imagine that a slightly more than a year later they would be a pile of rubble and twisted metal.

The two photos below are my favourites, and they still make my spine tingle a little to look at them.

It seems like it was in another lifetime.