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Looking ahead: 2021

Yesterday I published my annual Dejal year in review post for 2020. Today, let's look ahead for what's in store for 2021.

I have released some betas of Simon version 5, a massive upgrade of my pro macOS app to monitor websites and servers. So of course finishing and doing the general release of that is a priority for 2021.

I have a long list of improvements planned for Time Out, my popular break reminder app, so will release version 2.8 or 3.0 this year. I'm currently leaning towards calling it 3.0, but may go for 2.8, depending on what features I include. Since the supporter model helps fund development, there's no need to keep major upgrades a secret; there's no special upgrade price.

As mentioned yesterday, I also have a couple of new projects in various levels of development. One that I started in 2019 has been put on the back-burner, as it used the Dark Sky weather APIs — which will be shut down at the end of this year, as Apple bought them last year. I'm hoping that Apple will release a weather SDK, otherwise I'll need to find an alternative. (I won't say anything more about this app yet, other than that I use the prototype every day.)

The other one is something I've wanted for years, to scratch my own itch — which is how many of my apps have got their start. I spent some time over the holidays refining the design, and creating the prototype project. I plan to work on that in between other projects this year, and hopefully will get it to a releasable state before the end of the year, though we'll see. Working on new projects like these is a great way to experiment with new technologies like SwiftUI, Combine, etc.

A big chunk of my time is always spent on consulting work, and I don't expect this year to be any different. I'm continuing to work on SheetPlanner, NewsBlur, Turn Touch, and possibly Client Folder Maker this year, with ongoing improvements to each.

It's almost certain that Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) will be virtual again this year, which suits me fine. I don't think I'll be attending any conferences in person for quite some time.

It'll be another busy year! Here's hoping that 2021 will be better than 2020.

Dejal year in review: 2020

Happy New Year!

As we start a new year, let's review what happened with the Dejal apps in 2020:

My popular break reminder tool, Time Out, had a significant update in 2020, to version 2.7, adding support for macOS Big Sur, including a new app icon and other improvements, plus a much-requested option to ask to start a break, an improved break preview, several new themes, and much more. It finished the year at version 2.7.1.
My pro app to monitor websites and servers for changes and failures, Simon, had a couple of beta releases of a major upgrade, to version 5.0. This added support for syncing via iCloud, including editing on multiple Macs, performing checks on a specific Mac, and receiving notifications on different Macs. It also refined the web service, added a new Simon Status service, a new Link Checker filter, a new Server Result filter, an iMessage notifier, and many more improvements.
Pack, a simple iPhone app to make it easy to pack for trips, didn't have any updates in 2020. Not a great year for travel anyway.
Date Stamp, an iMessage app to provide customizable date stamp stickers, also didn't have any changes. Since few people seem to use iMessage stickers anymore, I'm unlikely to update this, though I still think it was a fun concept, and turned out really well.
Chicken GIFs was a sticker pack featuring many fun animated GIFs of my chickens. Apple removed it from the App Store in 2020.
I also have another couple of new apps in various stages of development. More about those in the future.

Consulting

Dejal also produces macOS and iOS apps for other companies, under the banner of Dejal Consulting.

I spent 2020 working on a big 2.0 update of SheetPlanner, a pro-level outliner, planner, todo, calendar, and more. Version 2.0 was just released, and the outlining features can be used for free forever; learn more on the SheetPlanner website. I'm really proud of how this update turned out. I'm continuing to work on this app, so stay tuned for more enhancements throughout the year.
I have continued to work on the iOS client for NewsBlur, a popular RSS reader, including some significant improvements in the works.
I've done some improvements on the iOS and macOS apps for the Turn Touch remote, a beautiful wooden remote for your smart home, though it has been mostly sidelined by the above two.
I've also worked on Client Folder Maker, a macOS tool to make custom hierarchies of folders, and will have more on that soon.

I am currently fully booked up for the next several months at least, but am always interested in talking with potential new clients. If you have a macOS or iOS project you'd like help with (or a custom Simon enhancement), check out my consulting page for more information.

So how'd the 2020 vision go?

Last year I published the pun-titled 2020 vision post, predicting plans for 2020. As everyone knows, 2020 didn't turn out quite as expected, with a COVID-19 pandemic affecting the entire world.

But while I was certainly impacted, the pandemic didn't cause any real change for my Dejal apps; I indicated that I expected to update Time Out to version 2.7, which I did (and 2.7.1), and I did the majority of the work the big Simon version 5 upgrade, which is currently in beta. And I made great progress on my consulting projects, too.

Non-development things didn't fare so well; I wrote about planning to attend WWDC (and even had a hotel room booked for the expected week), but it went virtual in 2020 — which I suggested would be better anyway back in 2012. I did take a week to participate in that; while I missed the meetups with other developers, attending from the comfort of home was indeed much better.

There weren't any other conferences last year. And my wife and I had to cancel a 3-week trip to New Zealand a week before we departed, as things started to lock down back in March. We'll get there in due course!

But considering how 2020 went for a lot of people, we survived better than most, especially thanks to living on five acres, and being used to working from home and stocking up supplies, since we're 25 minutes from the grocery store.

Thank you

Thank you and welcome to my new customers, and many thanks to the long-term customers who are still enjoying my apps, and of course my consulting clients. I really appreciate your support.

Featured blog posts of 2020

My blog posts often just cover new releases, but sometimes I post general-interest topics. Some highlights from 2020 included:

I hope you enjoyed these posts.

Simon 5.0b3 released

Here is a third beta release of Simon, my website and server monitoring app for macOS.

Simon version 5 is a massive update, introducing a much-requested feature: syncing the Simon data between multiple Macs, plus a Simon Status service, a Link Checker filter, an iMessage notifier, and much more.

Version 5.0b3 includes a redesigned app icon in the Big Sur style. Yes, I just got the icon updated for the squircle style, but I didn't like the old icon in a squircle, so decided to try again, with a completely new icon. It is inspired by the previous one, modeled after an antique TV, but now slightly more modern:

New app icon

Please Note

  • This is an early beta release, with significant changes. Probably best to wait for the general release, unless you're keen. Use with caution!
  • If you find any issues with this beta release, please let me know!
  • Simon 5 requires a minimum of macOS 10.12 (Sierra).
  • Simon 5 will be a paid upgrade from Simon 4 after the beta period.
  • Purchasers since September 1, 2020 are eligible for a free upgrade; contact Dejal for details.

Big Sur

  • Updated the app icon (again) for the Big Sur squircle style.
  • A fun little easter egg is that in addition to the icon "screen" showing static while loading, the knobs turn.
  • Just for fun, changed the Dock icon unviewed indicator to a "BREAKING NEWS" TV-style chyron.

App switcher

Other changes

  • Tweaked the Preview placeholder messages for services, filters, and notifiers.
  • Fixed trying a notifier (File > Notify Now) not working when the Preview is displayed.
  • Fixed the format of the Spotlight keywords.

More coming later

  • I wanted to get a beta release out so brave people can begin kicking the tires. There is more planned for version 5.
  • Don't expect rapid updates; it will slowly improve over the next few months, and go into general release when deemed ready.
  • Please let me know of any issues you find via the contact form or the Dejal Subreddit.

Want to try it?

Please read the warnings and release notes above before jumping in. This is a beta release, not ready for primetime quite yet.

If you are using the direct edition, you can change your Updates preferences to include beta releases, then use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download the beta now!

Simon 5.0b2 released

Here is a second beta release of Simon, my website and server monitoring app for macOS.

Simon version 5 is a massive update, introducing a much-requested feature: syncing the Simon data between multiple Macs, plus a Simon Status service, a Link Checker filter, an iMessage notifier, and much more.

Version 5.0b2 includes an updated app icon in the Big Sur style:

New app icon

Plus other changes for improved Big Sur compatibility, a new Speak Error notifier, and sync improvements.

Please Note

  • This is an early beta release, with significant changes. Probably best to wait for the general release, unless you're keen. Use with caution!
  • If you find any issues with this beta release, please let me know!
  • Simon 5 requires a minimum of macOS 10.12 (Sierra).
  • Simon 5 will be a paid upgrade from Simon 4 after the beta period.
  • Purchasers since September 1, 2020 are eligible for a free upgrade; contact Dejal for details.

Read on for the full release notes:

Big Sur

  • Simon is now a universal app for Apple M1 silicon and Intel on Big Sur; it also supports back to Sierra (10.12).
  • Updated the app icon for the Big Sur squircle style.
  • Improved compatibility.

Added a new Speak Error notifier

  • This new notifier will read out loud the text of the last error that occurred.
  • Especially useful when a failure or recovery occurs, though can be used with any test result.

Sync

  • Improved the efficiency and reliability of syncing.

More coming later

  • I wanted to get a beta release out so brave people can begin kicking the tires. There is more planned for version 5.
  • Don't expect rapid updates; it will slowly improve over the next few months, and go into general release when deemed ready.
  • Please let me know of any issues you find via the contact form or the Dejal Subreddit.

Want to try it?

Please read the warnings and release notes above before jumping in. This is a beta release, not ready for primetime quite yet.

If you are using the direct edition, you can change your Updates preferences to include beta releases, then use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download the beta now!

Time Out 2.7.1 released

Here's a quick update of Time Out, my popular break reminder tool, to fix a few issues:

  • Fixed an issue that caused text for the Text theme to be forgotten.
  • Fixed the Break Preview prematurely stopping.
  • Tweaked the new Ask to Start feature to immediately ask when due, instead of waiting for a natural break.
  • Tweaked the appearance of the status menu.
  • Worked around an issue with displaying a time like 23 hours 45 minutes as "0 seconds".

Want to try it?

If you are using the Mac App Store edition, you can update via the App Store app.

Similarly, if you are using the Setapp edition, it will handle that update for you.

If you are using the direct edition, you can use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download Time Out 2.7.1 now!

Time Out 2.7 released

I'm pleased to announce the general release of version 2.7 of Time Out, my popular break reminder tool.

This update includes a new app icon, plus a number of changes for compatibility with Big Sur, including being built for Apple's new M1-based Macs, in addition to Intel ones. It also includes a much-requested new feature to ask to start a break, improvements to the break preview feature, adds several new break themes, and much more.

Big Sur

Apple's latest version of macOS, Big Sur (macOS 11) has a number of refinements to its appearance. One that is immediately apparent is that app icons now look more like iOS ones, with a rounded rectangle (aka "squircle") shape, and often more bold colors.

Time Out's icon has adopted this style, taking the relaxing palm trees and smiling hammock that you know and love, and leaping through the frame into the scene, thanks to the excellent Matthew Skiles:

Time Out icon

Version 2.7 also includes several other changes for Big Sur compatibility, including using the Dejal green color for controls and the sidebar if the accent color in General System Preferences is set to "multicolor", and a number of other UI tweaks. It also fixes an issue where the break control panel could move downwards on each break in Big Sur.

Apple Silicon

As you probably know, Apple recently introduced new super-fast low-end Macs using Apple-designed "M1" chips. Time Out is now a universal app for Apple M1 silicon and Intel on Big Sur; it also supports back to Yosemite (macOS 10.10).

New option to ask to start a break

This update adds a much-requested new feature to ask to start a break, as a new option on the Break Schedule preferences page:

Ask options

If chosen, a time interval control appears to specify a limit, after which it should start anyway. This defaults to 5 minutes (also supports units of seconds and hours; like other interval pickers, tab to or click the units to edit via arrows, typing, or click again to show a menu). When a break is due with this option, the control panel will appear, with a button to manually start the break when you're ready, and the screen won't dim:

Start controls

When you click the Start Break button, the screen dims and the break continues as normal. If you don't click within the time limit, the break starts anyway; this is needed to avoid accidentally blocking subsequent breaks. As a helpful reminder, a countdown to auto-starting appears once halfway through the time limit.

Improved break preview

When clicking the Preview button on the Break Appearance page, the break now appears with a Stop Preview button to dismiss it. The preview has no time limit; it'll remain until dismissed. Dismissing the preview doesn't count as skipping it, so doesn't affect your statistics or daily limits:

Stop button

If you want to try the full break experience, click the Start button in the sidebar instead.

Several new break themes

The default "Icon" theme has been updated to use the new app icon, and a new "Round Icon" theme has been added that includes the old icon, if you miss that.

Other new break themes include a "Dejal Blog" theme, that shows the Dejal blog for news from Dejal, "Dejus Blog", that shows my personal blog, with daily interesting photos, and to complete the set, "Yellow Cottage Blog", that shows my homestead blog, with pictures of feral cats, ducks, chickens, and more. Check 'em out!

As an example of a static remote picture, there's also a "Ducks & Fish" theme, that shows that. You can edit the theme to show a picture of your choosing. Plus an "Inspirational Quotes" theme, that shows a quote for each break, a "Pexels Nature" theme, that shows a random nature picture, and "Photo Slideshow", that can be edited to show 10 local images of your choosing.

Pexels Nature theme

Plus a bunch of little quality-of-life improvements

When looking at the handy Activity view, sometimes you may want to know more precisely when an app was used (I know I do; I use this feature all the time). So I added the time range to the tooltips for breaks and apps on the Activity page.

A fun feature of the status menu (available to supporters via the General page) is that when you click an item in the menu, the full window expands out from the status menu. That looks especially nice when the full window is aligned with the status menu, so now the Advanced option to reset the position of the full window after displaying the status menu is a checkbox to keep that behavior, instead of a button for a one-time reset. So you can freely move the window around the screen, and it'll be back with the status menu next time, if that's what you want.

Speaking of the status item, I tweaked the size and alignment of it when only an icon or only the countdown is displayed, to look a bit nicer, and fixed break rows not highlighting properly in the status item menu on recent macOS versions, and worked around Apple bug with displaying a time like 59 minutes 30 seconds as "0d".

Another fun thing is throbbing red heart icons that appear to indicate supporter rewards. But some people didn't notice them, and were surprised when a feature reverted after the hour trial. So now the info popover for a reward trial automatically appears each time a page is displayed during the hour trial, to make that more clear.

Oh, and speaking of rewards, a reminder as a reward for reading this far: if you haven't already taken advantage of it, you can become a supporter for free at present; since March I've been giving it away to help people working from home. If you have already got that, don't worry; the new features in this update will be fully unlocked for you.

On the Exclusions page, it now skips breaks during a screen recording by default for new users. Existing users can see this blog post to add this exclusion. It now skips when using Zoom too; see this blog post.

Break Actions are a handy feature to play sounds, show notifications, and more, before, during, or after a break. I fixed a bug where they could occur incorrectly if manually starting a break while paused, and now list scripts in alphabetical order, plus fixed the Sound Action Repeat checkbox color in dark mode.

Finally, I added Dejal Reddit and other tweaks to the Help menu.

Phew, that's quite a lot of improvements!

Want to try it?

If you are using the Mac App Store edition, you can update via the App Store app.

Similarly, if you are using the Setapp edition, it will handle that update for you.

If you are using the direct edition, you can use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download Time Out 2.7 now!

Time Out 2.7b2 released

Here's a second beta of Time Out 2.7.

The general release will probably be in a couple of days, but I'd appreciate a few people kicking the tires now, to make sure nothing is broken.

A big change in this release is that it is now built for Apple's new M1-based Macs, in addition to Intel ones. I don't have an M1 Mac (yet), so if you do, I'd especially like to hear of any issues. Update: Actually, due to a third-party incompatibility, this version is not built for M1. But I've fixed that for the general release. If you have an M1 Mac, please get in touch to get early access to that.

Another big change is the app icon, adopting the new Big Sur style, thanks to the excellent Matthew Skiles:

Time Out icon

Plus a bunch of fixes for Big Sur and more; read on for the full changes in this beta:

Big Sur

  • Time Out is now a universal app for Apple M1 silicon and Intel on Big Sur; it also supports back to Yosemite (10.10).
  • Improved the row heights in the sidebar on Big Sur.
  • Fixed the break control panel moving downwards on Big Sur.
  • Fixed the appearance of the Activity headers on Big Sur.
  • Improved the layout of some other controls.
  • Updated the app icon for the Big Sur squircle style.

Updated break themes

  • Updated the default Icon theme to use the new app icon.
  • Added a Round Icon theme that includes the old icon, if you miss that.

Other changes

  • When manually starting a break while Time Out is paused, actions are now performed as expected, instead of performing them after resuming.
  • Added the time range to the tooltips for breaks and apps on the Activity page, for a more precise indication of when each occurred.
  • Changed the Advanced option to reset the position of the full window after displaying the status menu from a button to a checkbox, to keep that behavior, instead of a one-time reset.
  • Improved the size and alignment of the status item when only an icon or only the countdown is displayed.
  • Some people missed the red heart icons indicating supporter rewards, so now the info popover for a reward trial automatically appears each time a page is displayed during the hour trial.

Want to try it?

If you are using the direct edition, you can change your Updates preferences to include beta releases, then use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download the beta now!

Time Out 2.7b1 released

I'm pleased to announce the first beta release of Time Out 2.7!

This update includes changes for compatibility with Big Sur, plus a much-requested new feature to ask to start a break:

Ask options

When enabled, the break control panel appears without dimming the screen, with a Start Break button to actually start the break:

Start controls

This update also includes improvements to the Preview feature, to preview themes without affecting stats:

Stop button

It also bundles several more themes (that are available via the Time Out Extras page), and a bunch of other changes.

Here are the full release notes; read on for more information:

Big Sur

  • The app is compatible with Big Sur; please let me know of any issues you notice.
  • Controls use the Dejal green accent color on Big Sur if the accent color in General System Preferences is set to "multicolor".

New option to ask to start a break

  • Added a new option in the "when this break is due" pop-up menu: Ask When to Start.
  • If chosen, a time interval control appears to specify a limit, after which it should start anyway. This defaults to 5 minutes (also supports units of seconds and hours).
  • When a break is due with this option, the control panel will appear, with a button to manually start the break when you're ready, and the screen won't dim.
  • When you click the Start Break button, the screen dims and the break continues as normal.
  • If you don't click within the time limit, the break starts anyway; this is needed to avoid accidentally blocking subsequent breaks.
  • A countdown to auto-starting appears once halfway through the time limit.

Improved break preview

  • When clicking the Preview button on the Break Appearance page, the break now appears with a Stop Preview button to dismiss it.
  • The preview has no time limit; it'll remain until dismissed.
  • Dismissing the preview doesn't count as skipping it, so doesn't affect your statistics or daily limits.
  • If you want to try the full break experience, click the Start button in the sidebar instead.

Added several new break themes

  • Added a "Dejal Blog" break theme, that shows the Dejal blog for news from Dejal.
  • Also added "Dejus Blog", that shows the author's personal blog, with daily interesting photos.
  • And to complete the set, "Yellow Cottage Blog", that shows the author's homestead blog, with pictures of feral cats, ducks, chickens, and more.
  • As an example of a static remote picture, added a "Ducks & Fish" theme, that shows that. You can edit the theme to show a picture of your choosing.
  • Added an "Inspirational Quotes" theme, that shows a quote for each break.
  • Added a "Pexels Nature" theme, that shows a random nature picture.
  • Added "Photo Slideshow", that can be edited to show 10 local images of your choosing.

Other changes

  • Now skips breaks during a screen recording by default for new users. Existing users can see this blog post to add this exclusion.
  • Also now skips when using Zoom too; see this blog post.
  • Fixed the break control panel sometimes moving offscreen.
  • Fixed break rows not highlighting properly in the status item menu.
  • Worked around Apple bug with displaying a time like 59 minutes 30 seconds as "0d".
  • The scripts for Break Actions are now listed in alphabetical order.
  • Fixed the Sound Action Repeat checkbox color in dark mode.
  • Updated the Help menu to include the Dejal Reddit and other tweaks.

Want to try it?

If you are using the direct edition, you can change your Updates preferences to include beta releases, then use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download the beta now!

DejalNews #80: Simon 5 beta, Time Out gifts, themes, and tips

DejalNews header

DejalNews 2020-10, issue #80

Welcome

This is DejalNews, an occasional newsletter from Dejal.

Very occasional, sometimes — the last one was back in April. That seems like an eternity ago now, doesn't it?

If you want to receive these newsletters in your email inbox, head over to the DejalNews subscribe page to sign up.

Simon 5 beta

The big news from Dejal is that I have introduced the first beta release of a major upgrade to Simon, my website and server monitoring tool. Version 5.0b1 includes a much-requested feature: syncing the Simon data between multiple Macs! Tests and other data can be viewed and edited on any of your Macs, and checked on a specific Mac, plus notifiers can be performed on any of the Macs, even a different one than did the check. For example, have a Mac in a data center do a check, and play a sound or speak some text on the Mac on your desk if it fails or changes.

Version 5 has lots of other improvements, including the ability to check if other synced copies of Simon are still working, a new Link Checker filter, to validate all links on a web page, a Server Result filter, to easily check result codes, an iMessage notifier, to send a message, and much more.

Note that Simon 5 will be a paid upgrade after the beta period. Pricing and release date to be determined. But anyone who buys now or since September 1, 2020 will be eligible for a free upgrade.

Read the blog post for screenshots and more information.

Time Out gifts

If you haven't already taken advantage of a free gift of Time Out, my break reminder tool, it's not too late.

Become a supporter at no cost. This permanently unlocks all of the current features.

Please share this link with your Mac-using family, friends, and colleagues, so they can enjoy the benefits of regular breaks too.

Time Out themes

A while ago I published a blog post with three new break themes, kindly contributed by a Time Out customer.

One shows a scenic picture for each break, another shows an inspirational quote, and the third has placeholder for your own photos or custom images.

Time Out tips

I also published a couple of tips for Time Out since the previous newsletter.

The first was particularly relevant in these Zoom-y times: how to automatically skip breaks when on a Zoom call.

The second was how to avoid a break starting while doing a screen recording.

Dejal subreddit

If you use Reddit, you may like to join the r/Dejal subreddit, as a community for Dejal customers, and another support channel. Learn more.

Vote!

If you're in the US, and haven't already voted, please make a plan to do so. It's important.

Stay safe

Stay safe everyone! Please enjoy the Time Out gifts, stay home, use masks, keep a safe distance from others, and hang in there. We'll get through this.

- David

Cash Cow Revisited

I was interested to read a post from the Agenda folks titled "Cash Cow Revisited", discussing how their "feature gating" sales model has gone. Spoiler: almost three years in, they're very happy with it.

That mirrors my own experience. My Time Out break reminder app has used basically the same model since version 2.0 was released in 2016, except I call it the "supporter" model.

It's a bit different than the model used by most other apps, so I welcome more apps using it. It's all upside for customers: you can download and use Time Out for free, as a useful app with all the basic functionality you need. Some extra features are available as rewards for supporters, but you can try them for an hour at a time, as often as you like, to decide if they are worth paying for. If you become a supporter, all of the current features are permanently unlocked, plus any that are added within the supporter period (3, 6, or 12 months). Once the supporter period expires, all those features remain available. If I add new supporter rewards after that, you can try them, and extend the supporter status if you like them.

I have been giving away the Time Out supporter status for free since the pandemic started, but people continue to become supporters, raving about the app, and sharing with others, for which I am grateful. Everybody wins!

While it's a bit more work to track supporters and features, I hope that more apps adopt this model. It may not work for all apps, but for those it does, it is much better for everyone than traditional models like paying up-front, paying for major upgrades, or subscriptions that stop working if they expire.

Simon 5.0b1 released

I'm pleased to introduce the first beta release of a major upgrade of Simon, my website and server monitoring app for macOS.

Simon version 5 is a massive update, introducing a much-requested feature: syncing the Simon data between multiple Macs!

Sync preferences

Tests and other data can be viewed and edited on any of your Macs, and checked on a specific Mac:

Test options

What's more, notifiers can be performed on any of the Macs, even a different one than did the check. For example, have a Mac in a data center do a check, and play a sound or speak some text on the Mac on your desk if it fails or changes:

Test notifiers

Something else many people have wanted, it also includes the ability to check if other copies of Simon are still working:

Simon Status test

Other enhancements include a new Link Checker filter, to validate all links on a web page, a Server Result filter, to easily check result codes, an iMessage notifier, to send a message, a new more efficient data format, and numerous other changes.

Please Note

  • This is an early beta release, with significant changes. Probably best to wait for the general release, unless you're keen. Use with caution!
  • If you find any issues with this beta release, please let me know!
  • Simon 5 requires a minimum of macOS 10.12 (Sierra).
  • Simon 5 will be a paid upgrade from Simon 4 after the beta period.
  • Purchasers since September 1, 2020 are eligible for a free upgrade; contact Dejal for details.

Read on for the full release notes:

Simon now supports syncing via iCloud!

  • The Simon data is not synced by default, but if the new Sync preference is enabled (see below), the data is moved to iCloud.
  • Each test can be checked on a specific computer, but edited from any synced Mac.
  • Notifiers can also be performed on a specific computer, but it doesn't have to be the same one, e.g. check a test on Mac 1, and notify on Mac 2 (or both).
  • Manually starting a check, pausing, editing, etc can be done from any synced computer.
  • When syncing, the computer that will perform the check is displayed in the tests list and logs, and is available as a sorting option.
  • Note that the Preview is not available when viewing a test for another computer, since that might lead to confusing results.
  • If Simon is quit on another computer, its tests show a power icon (semicircle with vertical line), or if not quit but not seen in a while, an unavailable icon (a circle with a slash through it).
  • The data format has changed to support this, including splitting up the data files to be more efficient, and converting to JSON format.

Editor changes for syncing

  • When editing a test with syncing enabled, the Test Options page now includes a new "check on" pop-up menu to choose on which computer to check the test.
  • Similarly, the Test Notifiers page includes a pop-up menu to choose the computer to perform the notification, which doesn't have to be the same one.
  • The summary page (non-editing mode) now also indicates the chosen computers.

New Sync preferences

  • A new Sync preference pane includes buttons to turn syncing off and on. By default it is off, with data stored on your local Mac as before.
  • When iCloud syncing is enabled, a list of computers that have accessed the data is displayed. It includes the computer name, the version of Simon, and when the data was first and most recently accessed.
  • The computer names can be changed (this only affects how Simon displays them), or unwanted ones can be removed. They will re-appear if used again.
  • An icon indicates the status of each computer, with the Mac type for the current computer, a green triangle for online computers, or a quit or unavailable icon as above.
  • If syncing is enabled when there is already some Simon data in iCloud, you are asked if you want to use that data (discarding the local data), or replace that data (with the local data).
  • If syncing is disabled when multiple computers are using iCloud, you are asked if you want to make a local copy, leaving the iCloud data intact.
  • If syncing is disabled when this is the only computer using iCloud, the data is moved to the computer and removed from iCloud.
  • A sync-related change: the preference to keep backups of data files has been removed, to avoid unnecessary syncing.
  • Also, the auto-save frequency preference now uses a shorter time range, for more responsive syncing.

New Sync Setup Assistant

  • When updating to version 5, or a fresh install, a Setup Assistant page will be displayed with the same options as the Sync preferences, to ask whether to store the data locally, or on iCloud.
  • If you choose to keep the data on this Mac, it continues to work as in previous versions, and any existing iCloud data (if you chose differently on another Mac) is left intact.
  • If you choose to sync when there is already some Simon data in iCloud, you are asked if you want to use that data (discarding the local data), or replace that data (with the local data).

Web service changes

  • Renamed the default "Web (HTTP)" service as "Web Page", to be more clear.
  • When capturing the rendered source (via the option on the Other page), the <html> tags are now included.
  • The default protocol is now "https://" instead of "http://".
  • Now doesn't add "www." before a domain name if missing the ".com".

Added a new Simon Status service

  • When you are syncing Simon data between multiple computers with the new sync feature, this new service enables checking the state of the Simon instances.
  • You can choose to check all computers, or a specific one.
  • The output of the service can be customized, including variables.
  • Optionally Simon being quit and/or unavailable can result in a failure, with customizable error messages for each.
  • A "Simon Status" service has been added to the data by default, to check all computers; you can customize what to check and output in the test editor, or add new services.

Added a new Link Checker filter

  • This new filter will check multiple links to see if they are valid or invalid.
  • For input, it can extract links out of HTML source from a web page, or a list of URLs separated by linefeeds or commas.
  • It can scan only local links (within the same site), only remote links (to other websites), or both.
  • A link is considered invalid if either the server can't be contacted, or the server reports an error (e.g. 404, page not found) when requesting the header (it doesn't load the actual content).
  • It outputs a list of the found URLs, optionally with some text or emoji indicating it is valid or invalid, and/or the status code or error message.
  • For the result, it can be always a success (for further evaluation of the output), or a failure if any local and/or remote links are invalid.
  • A Link Checker filter is included in the default data for use with tests. More options can be configured by editing this filter (or adding new ones).

Added a new Server Result filter

  • This new filter can be used with the Result Code input to detect an invalid HTTP result.
  • If the input number is 400 or more, this makes the test check be a failure.

Added an iMessage notifier

  • This notifier can send an iMessage to a recipient if you already have a conversation with them in the Messages app.
  • Contributed by Chris Copleston; available on the Simon Extras page for people using earlier versions.

Removed some services and notifiers that are no longer supported

  • Removed the Calendar notifier, as it uses obsolete technology. Let me know if you used this; I could rewrite it with modern APIs.
  • Removed the Email Cycle service from the default data, as it can't receive email successfully (and hasn't for a while; clearly nobody uses it).
  • Removed the Growl notifier, as it is obsolete. Use the Notification Center notifier instead.
  • Removed the MySQL service, as it used a 32-bit helper that no longer works with Catalina and later.
  • Removed the SMS notifier, as the third-party Clickatell connection doesn't work anymore, and the email-based option had significant issues; switch to using an Email notifier directly if needed.
  • Removed the Twitter notifier, as it hasn't been supported by macOS for a few years.

Plus several other improvements

  • Simon now displays a small progress window while starting, since loading lots of tests, especially when syncing, can take a few moments.
  • Simon now prompts for approval to send Apple events, as required on recent macOS versions. Please approve this, otherwise the Email notifier and Script-based services won't work.
  • The Setup Assistant now supports importing Safari and Chrome bookmarks.
  • All services are now checked in the background, so they don't interfere with updating the lists etc. This also fixes a weird temporal anomaly where a check start could be logged after a finish.
  • The contents of groups in the lists are now sorted properly.
  • Fixed importing some malformed AppleScripts in the Script editor.
  • Fixed the service, filter, etc kinds not being listed in alphabetic order.
  • Fixed some summary labels being enabled when showing a group, where they don't apply.
  • The File ▸ Check Now menu item is now disabled for the Filters page, since it doesn't do anything there.
  • Improved character encoding of report templates to work better with non-ASCII characters.
  • Improved localization support.
  • Improved dark mode support.
  • Updated for Big Sur (macOS 11) and Catalina (macOS 10.15), but still compatible back to Sierra (10.12).

More coming later

  • I wanted to get a beta release out so brave people can begin kicking the tires. There is more planned for version 5.
  • Don't expect rapid updates; it will slowly improve over the next few months, and go into general release when deemed ready.
  • There are still a number of known issues with this first beta. But please let me know of any issues you find via the contact form or the Dejal Subreddit.

Want to try it?

Please read the warnings and release notes above before jumping in. This is a beta release, not ready for primetime quite yet.

If you are using the direct edition, you can change your Updates preferences to include beta releases, then use the Check for Updates feature in the app to update.

Otherwise, download the beta now!

Three new Time Out themes

A benefit of Time Out is that it can improve even between updates, through the addition of themes and script actions.

Themes are different appearances during a break, and can be changed on the Break Appearance preferences page, while actions are things that can be done before, during, or after a break, which can be added on the Break Actions page.

The app comes with a bunch of themes and actions, plus you can download more from the Time Out Extras page, or even make your own — themes are just web page URLs or local HTML, and actions are AppleScripts or similar scripts, so anyone with experience with those can make new ones.

Note that changing the theme or adding more than one action are supporter rewards... but you can currently become a supporter for free, so everyone can benefit from these nice features.

If you do make new themes or actions, I encourage you to share them so others can benefit; I'll list them on the Time Out Extras page, and may bundle them with future versions of the app.

Time Out customer Bruno Bernardino recently made and contributed three great new themes, that I think many people will enjoy.

The first is called Pexels Nature, which you can download via that link. It shows a random image of nature for each break, from the Pexels image site, e.g.:

Pexels Nature theme

The second is called Inspirational Quotes, which shows a random inspirational quote for each break, e.g.:

Inspirational Quotes theme

The third is called Photo Slideshow, which is similar to the Pexels Nature one, except you can customize it to show one of 10 local photos for each break. It comes with placeholder images; replace them with your own — your kids, pets, dream vacations, personal goals, or anything else! The placeholder images have the instructions:

Photo Slideshow theme

What's more, Bruno made GitHub repos for each of these, that include additional content to help test these themes. If you want to customize them, or use them as a basis of new themes, you might find these useful:

Thank you Bruno for creating these!

Installing themes is easy:

  1. Go to the Break Appearance page within Time Out.
  2. Choose Reveal Themes from the Theme menu to open the Themes folder in the Finder.
  3. Drag the downloaded theme's folder into the revealed Themes folder.

Check out the Time Out Extras page for several more themes and actions, and please contribute if you make new ones!

Don't already have the app? Download Time Out now!

Time Out tip: how can I avoid a break starting while doing a screen recording?

Similar to the previous tip about skipping breaks during a Zoom call, you can also skip breaks during screen recordings, if that's something you do frequently.

Here's how:

  1. Go to Time Out's Exclusions page.
  2. Click the + button to display the choose panel.
  3. Navigate in the panel to select this path from your startup disk: System ▸ Library ▸ Core Services ▸ screencaptureui, and click Choose.
  4. Change the added exclusion to Skip When Open.

That will prevent a break from starting while recording the screen via QuickTime Player, or taking a screenshot or screen recording via ⌘⇧5.

Time Out tip: how can I automatically skip breaks when on a Zoom call?

Time Out has a handy feature to automatically skip breaks when specified apps are frontmost or running.

With a lot of people working from home now (and don't forget to get your free supporter status for Time Out), many people are using the Zoom teleconferencing app.

Some folks are finding that the app exclusions feature doesn't work reliably for Zoom, as it is using an internal helper tool during a call, e.g. for screen sharing.

There's a solution for this. Follow these steps to stop breaks occurring during meetings:

  1. Locate the Zoom.us app in the Finder.
  2. Right-click it and choose Show Package Contents.
  3. Navigate into the Contents ▸ Frameworks subfolder, and find the Transcode app.
  4. Go to Time Out's Exclusions page.
  5. Click the + button to display the choose panel.
  6. Drag the Transcode app into the panel, and click Choose.

You should add both the main app and the helper one, and will probably want to set both to Skip When Open.

DejalNews #79: Time Out gifts and tips, 25 years of consulting, Dejal Subreddit

DejalNews header

DejalNews 2020-04, issue #79

Welcome

This is DejalNews, an occasional newsletter from Dejal.

If you want to receive these newsletters in your email inbox, head over to the DejalNews subscribe page to sign up.

Time Out gifts

The past couple of months have been quite the decade, haven't they? It certainly seems that way. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world at present, many people are working from home for the first time. To help out in some small way, I decided to give away my popular Time Out app.

While Time Out is always free to download and use, the best features are only available as rewards for supporters. But in these trying times, everyone deserves a reward. So I have created a page where you can become a supporter at no cost. This permanently unlocks all of the current features.

This is available even if you previously purchased Time Out — the gift will extend your support.

And for those who do buy, I am now including a link enabling you to give Time Out supporter status to others. Please share Time Out far and wide, and give this gift with my compliments.

Time Out and Simon tips

I've published a couple of tips since the previous newsletter.

One was a tip for Time Out, on how to add breaks to the Calendar — a couple of break action scripts to add an event for each break, with the start and end times matching the time of the break.

Another was for Simon, my website monitoring tool, on how to use Simon to check for an expired website SSL certificate.

Chicken GIFs discontinued

I had a fun iMessage sticker pack featuring GIFs of my chickens. As part of Apple's routine cleanup of old content, they removed it from the store. Which is disappointing, since it still worked fine, but I understand their policy.

So now you'll have to visit my homestead blog if you want a dose of funny chickens (and ducks, feral cats, bees, and more).

25 years of consulting

A couple of months ago I celebrated a milestone: a quarter century of helping others create Mac (and later also iOS) apps. Read that post for an ancient screenshot of my first project, and more info.

Dejal subreddit

Since I'm slowly phasing out the Dejal forums due to lack of use and spam attacks, I thought I'd try another kind of forum: the popular Reddit site. So I created r/Dejal, a subreddit on that site. It hasn't seen much adoption yet, but you're welcome to join and post feature requests and such there. Learn more.

Traditional year-end posts

Every year I do a series of posts, including featured blog posts of 2019, and a review of how the previous year went, though this time I did a decade in review, 2010 to 2019. I also published a rather optimistic 2020 vision post, looking ahead to this year, though the pandemic has scratched any hope of attending conferences, and delayed my trip to New Zealand.

Stay safe

Stay safe everyone! It's a difficult time at present, affecting the whole world in dramatic fashion. Please enjoy the Time Out gifts, stay home, use masks, keep a safe distance from others, and hang in there. We'll get through this.

- David

Take a Break when Working from Home

With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world at present, many people are working from home for the first time. To help people cope with that, some companies or individuals are offering assistance, e.g. the free Take Control of
Working from Home Temporarily ebook by Glenn Fleishman
.

I wanted to contribute something too, and thought that everyone using a Mac could benefit from making sure they take regular breaks... and I have an app for that: Time Out, my popular break reminder tool for macOS.

While Time Out is always free to download, the best features are only available as rewards for supporters. But in these trying times, everyone deserves a reward. So I have created a page where you can become a supporter at no cost. This permanently unlocks all of the current features.

Get your free Time Out supporter status now!

Chicken GIFs discontinued

As recently mentioned, Apple informed me that my Chicken GIFs sticker pack for iMessage was to be removed from the iMessage App Store, since it hasn't been updated for several years.

That has now occurred, so it is now discontinued.

Somewhat appropriate that they killed the stickers on the same day that the last of our Rhode Island Red chickens died. One of the RIRs was featured on the icon of the sticker pack, and the GIFs featured the RIRs and Leghorns that we had at the time.

Rest in peace, Red, and Chicken GIFs.

Simon tip: website certificate service

Today I received a customer query asking how to use Simon to check for an expired website SSL certificate.

Of course, Simon is very flexible, so even if there isn't a built-in service for this specific case, if you can do it in the Terminal, you can probably create a custom script-based service in Simon to do it, too.

There are a number of ways to get certificate information, but this is one simple approach (if you know of a better way, let me know!).

I created a new script-based service, using the basic C shell, a one-line command, and a custom variable for the host name:

Website Certificate service screenshot

I then created a new test using this service. When accessing a server with an expired certificate, the output includes a "verify return code" message of "certificate has expired", so I used a Block filter to look at just that text (I pasted "Verify return code: " in the Start text, and an Option-Return in the End text), then a Find Required filter to make the test result in a failure if it doesn't find "ok", and finally an Override Custom filter if a failure, to output the error message:

Website Certificate test screenshot

For the success case, the last filter doesn't apply, so it just outputs the "ok":

Website Certificate test screenshot

Want to use this service? You can easily add it yourself, or import it by downloading from the Simon Extras page.

I hope you found the techniques in this post helpful.

Chicken GIFs heading for the chopping block

Apple has informed me that my Chicken GIFs sticker pack for iMessage will soon be removed from the iMessage App Store, since it hasn't been updated for several years. Since few people have downloaded it, I've decided that it isn't worthwhile to make new GIFs and submit an update, which Apple might reject anyway; it took several appeals to get them to originally approve it.

Chicken GIFs is an iMessage sticker pack, featuring a collection of animated GIFs of chickens. It isn't an app, so it's still fully compatible with iMessage, but Apple has a policy of pruning older stuff from their stores, which totally makes sense. Sticker packs seemed like a fun idea when first introduced, but never really caught on, perhaps in part because Apple never brought them to the Mac.

Once removed from the store, it'll keep working for people who have it, but nobody else will be able to get it. So if you want it, now is your last chance to download Chicken GIFs from the iMessage Store.

I was asking a buk-buk-buck for it, but I have now opened the gate and made it available free-range!


These are my own chickens (Rhode Island Reds and Single Comb Brown Leghorns). They can be lots of fun to watch. For these stickers, I chose excerpts from videos of them that could be fun reaction GIFs.

If you enjoy these GIFs, you can see more of my chickens (and ducks) in my weekly Flock Friday blog posts on my homestead blog.

Chicken GIFs is a standalone sticker pack; it won't clutter up your home screen, but will only appear in Apple's Messages app on iOS. Tap the stickers/apps button to the left of the text field to display the stickers and iMessage apps.

Tap a sticker to insert it in a message, or tap and hold to peel it, and drag it to stick on any message bubble, optionally using two fingers to rotate or resize it as desired.

Sound fun?

Last chance to download Chicken GIFs from the iMessage Store! It's free!

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