Author: Anders Kierulf

Spain in February

Spain in February

My mom likes to go to Spain in February to escape the Norwegian winter. I was lucky to be able to visit her there and time it perfectly to include a Go tournament in Barcelona. Little did I know that this would be my last trip for a while. And while Europe is now far along the road to recovery, the US has grossly mismanaged the epidemic to the point where we’re now (rightly so) banned from entering Europe.

It may seem frivolous to write about travel in these times, and this blog post was sitting half-finished for months. However, I’m confident that we’ll be traveling again someday; for now, please join me from home. I hope you’re safe and healthy wherever you are, and that looking forward to travel may help you get through this.

I’ll start with the Go tournament; stick with me if you’re interested in some of the architecture Spain has to offer.

Barcelona Go Tournament

It was fun to meet tournament organizer Julio Martinez in person after only knowing him as @liopic on Twitter, and I even got paired against him in the first round. I ended up winning three games and losing two, bringing my European rating back up to 1 dan. The game against the eventual winner of the tournament, Rita Pocsai 4 dan, was a foregone conclusion, but every other game could have ended differently.

In the game against Marco Meyenschein 4 dan, I misplayed the top right corner, but at least got some outside influence while giving him 40 solid points. I was close to resigning; if it had not been the last game, I might have done so and saved my energy for the next game. Playing on, I managed to stake out a moyo large enough that he was forced to invade to reduce it:

game-5-pos1

As he was running away, I built up territory, but not enough. He just had to connect out, but after misreading a connection, his stones got trapped and eventually died.

game-5-pos2

Not sure what the lesson is: Don’t give up too soon? Beware an opponent who has nothing to lose? Or resign earlier so you don’t have to win this way?

Alicante

The area around L’Albir is really picturesque, with mountains going all the way down to the sea, and narrow streets in the old town of Altea. And a climate that attracts a lot of Norwegians.

Valencia

As a fan of Calatrava (see my trip to his train station in Liège-Guillemins), I stopped in his home town of Valencia to see the City of Arts and Sciences. What a sight! Season 3 of Westworld features many scenes at these futuristic-looking buildings. I only had a few hours, and couldn’t explore the insides, but what an experience to just walk around and take it all in.

Sagrada Família

Barcelona is home to Gaudi, and especially the Sagrada Família. My last trip to Barcelona was in 1992, playing in the Othello World Championship. Since then, the Sagrada Família has made a lot of progress. The outside is still weird:

But the inside is even more magnificent:

Unfortunately, access to the towers is more restricted than it was in 1992, but still well worth it for the spiral stairs, and views into the church from above.

It’s still a construction zone; I’m looking forward to visiting Barcelona again when it’s completed in 2026 (not software, so maybe they’ll even finish on time).

Casa Milà

Another Gaudi building with a lot of controversy. While it’s been derisively nicknamed La Pedrera (the stone quarry), the construction as well as the inside is amazing: lots of light thanks to the dual courtyards, the first underground car garage in Barcelona, arched attic (used for laundry), rooftop with chimneys and ventilation as sculptures.

As with the Sagrada Família, Gaudi figured out the load-bearing structure using hanging chain models, resulting in optimal arches when turned upside down.

Memories and pictures of my trip help keep my spirits up as I remain at home. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Spain – it may be a while, but I’ll definitely be back. Meanwhile, please stay safe.

IMG_4011

 

The State of Game Center

My happy blog post on SmartOthello for Mac conveniently skipped my journey through Game Center purgatory. While profile pictures are back, Apple is still not giving Game Center proper attention. I’ve been busy submitting bugs to Feedback Assistant – here’s a sampling:

  • There is still no way to get notified of invitations without polling (FB5990491).
  • On the Mac, turn notifications are not received (FB7659591).
  • On the Mac, there’s no way to edit your Game Center profile picture (FB7667313).

When you try to start a Game Center game on the Mac, you get the following cut off dialog (FB7668604):

mac-game-center-cut-off

(Yes, that’s the actual amount of white space.) Luckily, you can resize it to reveal some more buttons:

mac-game-center-revealed

The worst issue right now is that Apple has deprecated GKPlayer.playerID, and tells developers to use teamPlayerID or gamePlayerID instead. However, those simply don’t work (FB7662712), as the IDs keep changing even within a single game, making it impossible to e.g. cache profile images, never mind reconcile locally stored games with Game Center data. If GKPlayer.playerID gets removed in iOS 14 without fixing teamPlayerID, I will have to pull SmartOthello from the App Store.

How to Play With Friends

The whole process of finding friends to play with is way too convoluted. I’ve improved the UI in SmartOthello 3.0 to make it easy to start a game with somebody you recently played with. However, the process to first find somebody to play with is kafkaesque:

1. Tap on New Game and choose Game Center at the top.

start-game-center-game

2. SmartOthello lists recent opponents, and you can easily start a game with them. To play with anybody else, tap on Invite Friends.

after-invite-friends-long

3. This leads to a screen that has two buttons: Invite Friends and Play Now. While Invite Friends is just lightly outlined and you’re tempted to tap the boldly emphasized Play Now, that would just try to match you with somebody else who’s looking for a random opponent right then, which only really works if the app is much more popular than SmartOthello. So don’t get stuck in limbo; tap Invite Friends.

after-second-invite-friends

4. This brings you to an iMessage screen where you can send an invitation to a contact. However, the instruction “Tap + for Friends and more” is trying to give you a clue that you should tap on the ⊕ button, and then you’re finally presented with the right choices: play with contacts, friends, nearby players, or players you recently played with.

final-game-center-screen

This last screen makes sense – Apple needs to give developers a way to take users directly to that screen (FB7672633). Game Center matching was much easier when there was a Game Center app; Apple really went off-track when they decided that matching should go through iMessage.

I hope this helps others navigate through Game Center issues with turn-based games. If I’m wrong about any of these, I’d love to know! Hopefully, Apple can address these issues in iOS 14 and give both players and developers a better experience with Game Center.

SmartOthello on Mac

SmartOthello 3.0 is out, and it now also runs on the Mac. More on that below; first, we need to delve into profile pictures.

Profile Pictures are Back!

You may remember the profile picture saga from earlier versions of SmartOthello: iOS 10 removed profile pictures from Game Center just after SmartOthello was released. Those images were integral to SmartOthello’s design, so I had to add support for users adding their own images for just SmartOthello. Needless to say, not too many users did that.

Fast forward to iOS 13: profile pictures are back. Finally. While you can’t just choose any image, like you could before iOS 10, you can use Memoji and Animoji to create a suitable image (in the Settings app, scroll down to Game Center, then tap on the avatar to edit it). And as almost all users are now on iOS 13, this was a good time to make the app iOS 13 only and use the official profile pictures.

SmartOthello on Mac

SmartOthello was my test vehicle to learn Swift as well as gain experience with Game Center. (The former went well; the latter made very clear that I would not be using Game Center in SmartGo.) Now I got to use SmartOthello to test out Catalyst and the Mac App Store, in preparation for the all-new version of SmartGo. Catalyst has made significant progress since I tried it last year, and getting SmartOthello to run on the Mac was a snap. Adding it to the Mac App Store as a universal app also worked out well: buy it once, download it on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Try it out! Practice against the five levels of computer opponents first, then invite your friends who are stuck at home to play with you.

 

Learn to Play Go Series as EPUB

The five volumes of the Learn to Play Go series are now available as EPUB, which opens them up to readers on Android and Windows. Janice Kim’s award-winning series takes the complete beginner step-by-step all the way to playing real Go.

Learn to play go series covers
(Of 142 books in Go Books, all but 7 are now available as EPUB.)

EPUB App Recommendations

I’ve updated my recommendations of EPUB readers. On Android, I suggest you try Reasily and Adobe Digital Editions. On Windows, Readium Desktop seems to be working better than calibre. Each one comes with its own set of issues, no perfect choice out there. Please let me know what’s working for you, and keep providing feedback directly to the developers of these apps to help improve them.

App Store Confidential

Tom Sadowski was responsible for the App Store in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland from 2014 to 2019, and in his book “App Store Confidential” he provides a look behind the scenes. According to this Verge article, he’s had a falling-out with Apple, and Apple is trying to block publication of the book. The book is still available on Amazon, but only in German.

As the workings of the App Store are of crucial interest to developers, I read through it from a developer’s perspective and noted what I learned – interesting, but nothing that I think Apple should be blocking the book for. I grew up in the German-speaking part of Switzerland; for those who don’t know German, I’ve provided approximate Kindle locations below, so you can use e.g. Google Translate for more detail.

App Store Teams

For each country there are business managers and editors who are dealing with the customers as well as the developers in their region [loc 596]. The editors curate the App Store, and don’t just suggest apps, but also intend to shape the app culture.

The Discovery tab is refreshed at least twice weekly, presenting users with the most relevant, popular, and best monetizing apps [loc 609].

While the editors are working more in the background, the business managers talk with and advise developers in key accounts [loc 623]. The key accounts are based on top grossing (if you’re in the top 20, you can be sure you’re on Apple’s radar), strategic (accounts that have regional significance) [loc 638], and startups (where they’re looking at long-term monetizing potential) [loc 658].

Project Berghain

In 2016 he set up a program to help startups in Germany; in 2018 they launched Project Berghain [loc 941], where they evaluated over 300 apps, asked more questions of 20 apps, invited 10 apps to pitch-meetings in Berlin, and then decided on 5 apps that they were going to support [loc 954]. The apps were all based on subscriptions, had an innovative product, and a strong team.

Success Factors

Products, people, and passion: The **product** needs to be so good that it enriches the user’s life, and the user is willing to pay for it [loc 1034]. The **people** need to include a UI expert, a programmer, and a sales person [loc 1045], and need to have **passion** for their product.

Advertising comes last: the product needs to be convincing, otherwise marketing is not going to help [loc 1072].

For subscriptions to be successful, they need to enrich people’s lives, and convert users into paying customers [loc 1133].

How to Get Featured

Different factors help an app get featured [loc 1184]: quality, UI design, user experience, innovation, localization (the more languages, the better, as editors can then suggest the app worldwide), video and cool artwork.

To get in touch with App Store team, he suggests having somebody who is already in touch with the App Store team recommend you [loc 1240]. Keep emails short, add a short video that introduces the app, don’t mention money or other apps [loc 1256]. Possibly ask for a personal meeting. And if Apple contacts you, provide the asked for material quickly and without questions [loc 1261].

More

The book also includes anecdotes about Tim Cook visits, personal and app stories, and more on where he thinks the App Store is going. If you’re dealing with the App Store, you should find a way to read it, as you’ll come at it from a different perspective and notice details that were not important to me.