When I revamped my setup early this year, I struggled with getting a lamp for it. For one, the desk is rather large, and I wanted something that could illuminate it all pretty well, without having to get two lamps, which would have been overkill. Secondly, I wasn’t sure I really needed any additional light in the first place. With a glassy double-door, the office gets a lot of natural light, and in the evenings, I do have the “normal” lights I can turn on. I even looked into some options and was close to purchasing the BenQ ScreenBar, but decided not to in the end – just because I wasn’t sure I really needed it. But now that I’ve been using the BenQ ScreenBar for more than a week and a half, I do know better.
The packaging is pretty simple and instructive. There’s three parts: the ScreenBar (the light source), the clip (which holds it up on your monitor), and the USB cable. Each item is annotated with useful information, so there’s really no need for a manual – which, if you still need it, you can get via the printed-on QR code.
Setting it up
My external monitor is an LG 27UN880-B, which I’m able to pivot, rotate, tilt and elevate. I was a little worried that the monitor’s ergonomic arm wouldn’t be able to handle the additional weight (the ScreenBar’s specifications say it’s just shy of 1 kg total (bar and clip), but I worried for naught.
You really just have to place the ScreenBar on top of your monitor, plug in the USB cable and you’re done. Speaking of which, that is one long USB cable for something you probably plug into the monitor it sits on top of (1,5 meters).
I decided to use the thing the cable came wrapped up in to tie a bit of it up, because I don’t like loose cables hanging behind my screen – problem solved. The good thing about the length of it is that I don’t *have* to plug it in to my monitor’s USB port. I could also plug it in to my Thunderbolt hub, and leave the monitor’s plug free for quick access when I need it. I prefer a cable that’s too long over one that’s too short, anyway.
Using the ScreenBar
I’ve been using the ScreenBar mostly with the Auto Dimmer running. It automatically adjusts the brightness and color temperature using its light sensor. And here’s the only minor “issue” (if you can call it that) I discovered using it: the automatic adjustment doesn’t happen smoothly, but changes to the new temperature and brightness right away, which can be a bit jarring. On a cloudy day, where the light outside changes all the time, it becomes especially noticeable. But there’s a solution for those cases: turn off the automatic adjustment – which is done with a single tap.
With the buttons on top, I can quickly adjust the brightness and color temperature myself, which disables the Auto Dimmer.
The ScreenBar, according to the documents, was designed to avoid screen glare, and it does that very well. What I find particularly nice is that you can “roll” the ScreenBar further to or farther from your screen:
And even though I have it turned all the way towards me, it doesn’t blind me. I’d have to lean in pretty far and down to be able to see the LEDs.
To give you an impression of the “power” of the ScreenBar, here are four stages of lighting in my office (during daytime, with the blinds closed):
Even with the room lights on, the ScreenBar very noticeably illuminates my work area.
Again, I received the ScreenBar for free from BenQ, in “exchange” for my honest opinion about it. I seriously doubt I’d like it any less if I had had to pay for it – which, now, I wish I purchased it earlier.
It’s a great addition to my setup. It rests on top of my screen without taking up unnecessary desk space (my desk is crammed as it is, even though it’s huge) and gives me light exactly where I need it – and beyond – when I need it. The very minor, nit-picky “gripe” with the jumpy automatic brightness/temperature adjustment aside, I really couldn’t ask for more. It’s exactly what I want in a desk lamp.
I’m particularly looking forward to using this in the winter. It’s summer when I’m reviewing this, so, as I said, there’s lots of natural light, all the way into the evening, but come winter time, this thing will really shine. It’s already proven a fine companion during late-night coding sessions.
Be sure to check it out (see the links below), I do find it very useful.
I usually don’t leave comments open for my posts on my blog in fear of spam & co, but for this, I’m making an exception, in case you’d like to ask any questions about it. You can also ping me on twitter, or by mail.
I’ve got two maintenance updates to share with you.
Yoink for iPad and iPhone v2.4.2
Yoink is your files and snippets shelf for anything you can drag, copy, share or download. It syncs across your iOS devices using iCloud. You can quickly Handoff files to Yoink for Mac. You can let it monitor your clipboard – even when Yoink itself is in the background – to save anything you copy or cut. Its Picture-in-Picture overlay gives you full control over what it saves, and you can pause/end it any time from there as well. Use Picture-in-Picture not only for videos, but also for images, PDFs, eMails, websites, and more. You can even scroll through longer documents using the Picture-in-Picture controls. Its Shortcuts library lets you automate almost every aspect of the app and gives you full control.
Version 2.4.2 brings the following improvements: – It improves renaming files – It fixes a potential battery drain issue when PiP was active and Yoink in the background
Transloader lets you download links on your Macs, remotely from your iPhones, iPads, and other Macs. With its Link- and File actions, you have full control over what happens when a link gets added to a specific Mac, or after a file is downloaded by the app. For instance, it works together very well with Downie. With “Login Cookies”, you can even download files that require a login. And if you forget, you can log in after and restart the download.
Version 3.1.2 fixes a rare issue with its Share extension.
ScreenFloat lets you keep visual references to anything you see on your screen floating above other windows using screenshots. It’s also a screenshot organizer.
I’m now working on ScreenFloat 2, and I thought it would be fun to chronicle my progress, struggles, successes, failures and break-throughs, as well as random stuff while developing it.
Disclaimer: Estimated Time of Arrival, Pricing
I don’t have an ETA. I’m a solo developer, with multiple apps that need maintenance and updates, there are just too many moving parts for me to be able to estimate, well, basically anything. And while that may be a serious lack of managerial skill: I accept that flaw and ignore it 🤷♂️.
Regarding pricing, I don’t know what ScreenFloat 2 will cost yet. But I am resolved on its upgrade path: existing customers of ScreenFloat 1 will receive ScreenFloat 2 for free.
Entry 4 – Roadblock: Deadlock
It’s been quiet in this journal recently. The reason’s twofold. 1) I’ve been busy making good progress on the app and didn’t want to interrupt my flow. 2) I encountered a deadlock issue in my Core Data stack that I’ve been trying to debug for the last one-and-a-half weeks (and never solved directly, but found a way around it).
So much has happened and changed, though, so it’s high time I give an update.
I reworked the floating shots a bit. If you recall, I had a few kinks to work out regarding the floating shot’s framing. I reconsidered my approach and instead of using a window below the actual shot content’s window to act as the framing that holds the buttons, the entire thing is just one single window now, and with that change, I was able to get rid of all the issues I had. Getting the resizing of a floating shot was a bit of a hassle: the image itself has a different aspect ratio than the “outer” framing window. However, the user resizes that outer window, not the shot itself, so the resizing has to take that into account. Nothing a bit of trial-and-error couldn’t fix; I ended up with an aspect ratio NSLayoutConstraint on the image that does the heavy lifting for me. The only downside is that if the image’s width is larger than the image’s height, resizing the window from its lower or upper edge won’t work. Conversely, if the image’s height is larger than its width, it can’t be resized from the sides. Thankfully, resizing from the corners always work, so it’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s something I’ll investigate further later down the road.
I defined my first milestone in ScreenFloat 2’s development to be “feature parity” with ScreenFloat 1. That’s the thing about complete re-writes (which ScreenFloat 2 is – see journal entry #1 for my reasoning): you’re spending a *lot* of time re-implementing stuff that’s already there and works. That can be frustrating at times, because you’re not making any progress on those cool new features you want to implement with the new version. But it can be equally rewarding, because you get to improve upon what’s already there, and use all the experience you’ve gained since implementing the original.
Now, as part of the “feature parity” milestone, the next step for me was to get started on the Shots Browser.
It’s your basic three-pane-setup. The left pane is your source list. It consists of app-defined folders (like “All Shots”, “Favorites” and “Recently Deleted”) and (smart) folders you can create. The middle pane shows shots contained in the folder you selected in the source pane. The right pane shows information about the currently selected shot (if any).
The source list is an ordinary NSOutlineView, and has been improved quite a bit already in this early stage over its v1 counterpart.
Folders can now be duplicated, and its contained shots exported via the contextual menu. You can also drag out folders – for example, to Finder – which will trigger an export of the contained shots to the dragged-to destination. Aside from deleting the folder, you can also hold the option (⌥) key to show the alternate option, which deletes the folder, and all its contained shots.
ScreenFloat 2 defines a couple of smart folders for you, like “Favorites” or “Floating Shots”. Hover over the Library header, and you’ll be able to add and remove any you want or don’t want:
For each of those, you can change just what “Recently” means to you:
Apart from the app-defined folders, you can create your own (smart) folders. “Normal” folders just hold the shots you add to them, whereas smart folders automatically populate themselves according to rules you set up for them:
I’m very happy with the tag suggestions feature. It serves up tags in the following way: First, it displays tags that *begin* with the exact string you typed. Second, it displays tags that *contain* the exact string you typed, *anywhere* within the tag. And lastly, as you can see in the video, where I type “ysmt” and it serves up “yosemite”, it does a bit of regex matching. With all that searching going on, I figured it would make sense to split that up into multiple threads (each search on one thread). However, as it turns out, that’s actually slower than doing it one after another – instead of 0.0002+ seconds, it takes 0.0003+ seconds per search. Maybe with a gazillion of tags, multi-threading would be the way to go, but I decided against it for now. Instead, I’m doing some smart caching, where any subsequent search only operates on the result of the previous search, so if you type “y”, all tags are filtered for “y”. Then you go on to type “o” (entire string now would be “yo”), and it will only operate the new search on the already existing result from the “y” search. All results are cached for the duration of the creation of the smart folder, after which, it’s discarded, because tags are more likely to change then.
Smart Folder rules can become quite complex, and it’s something I’m looking into improving going forward, as those are directly matched against the Core Data shots library. In my testing, adding lots of tags to lots of shots, it can bring the Mac down to its knees (partly Core Data querying, but mostly my own current implementation of displaying the number of shots in a Smart Folder). To improve that, I’m moving all boolean rules (like isFavorite, or isInCategories) to the front of the search, as those are much faster than string comparisons. This way, subsequent string searches would only be executed on a subset of the shots (i.e., only on shots that are a favorite), not the entire set, which would be the case if the string search was the first thing in the matching process.
I’ve also started work on importing shots into the Shots Browser. Obviously, taking a floating screenshot using ScreenFloat is the main way to get new shots into the app, but I also want to facilitate other ways and sources. So the Shots Browser supports drag and drop for ordinary file drags, and promise file drags. It can also create a folder for you right away, depending on where you drag the files:
Enough about the source list. Let’s move on to the middle pane: the shots list. Not much UI work has gone into this yet, but behind the scenes, a lot has changed. ScreenFloat 1 uses IKImageBrowserView, which served me well, but it’s about to be deprecated by Apple, and it’s recommended to switch to NSCollectionView instead, so that’s what I did. I have a rudimentary system for displaying shot previews set up, but it’s not finished yet and can take up quite a bit of memory right now, but that’s obviously just for now, while I get things going. For shots to be displayed, I look at my app’s thumbnail cache and see if I have an image cached. If not, I look at the app’s Caches directory to see if I’ve already created a thumbnail in the size I require and load it from disk. If not, I create a thumbnail from the original image (because it’s usually smaller than the original shot), save that to disk (so I don’t have to do the thumbnail creation again later) and load it into the app’s cache (so I don’t have to read it from disk every time I display the shot).
I don’t know if resizing the previews is necessary (although it is available in ScreenFloat 1), but I probably will implement it in ScreenFloat 2, too. It’s just a bit of additional work because IKImageBrowserView allowed for it more readily than NSCollectionView.
Moving on to the info pane. It went through a couple of iterations:
What I like most about it, if I may say so myself, is my custom implementation of a “compressible” date field. The smaller the pane gets, the less info the date shows, in order not to be cut off / truncated:
A new feature in ScreenFloat 2 is the Tags Browser. While working on the migration from the SF 1 database to the new Core Data backed one, it occurred to me I had many duplicate tags, just spelled differently – uppercase, lowercase, with or without space, etc. I wanted a way to edit (rename), delete, favorite and – most importantly – merge tags. That’s how the idea for the Tags Browser was born.
As you can see, I have both “cocoa” and “Cocoa”. Now I can merge them into just one (or an entirely new one), and the Shots tagged with those tags will update automatically, thanks to Core Data.
Bad Luck, Dead lock
You know how they say you’re insane when you do the exact same thing over and over, and expect different results?
Speaking of tags, I discovered an issue that drove me friggin’ crazy the past two weeks.
First, a quick note on what a deadlock is. An app can have multiple layers of execution (threads). Every app has at least the main thread, which is where UI work happens (for example, updating the Shots Browser’s Source List happens on the main thread). For longer running tasks, it might be better to run them on a background thread, so that the main thread – and thus, the app’s UI -, is not blocked. However, if the background thread requires the main thread to complete something, and the main thread requires the background thread to complete something at the same time, it’s game over. You’re done. Finished. Kaputt.
And that’s exactly what I experienced. But that’s not the driving-me-insane part. It’s that this only occurred sporadically. A bug is fairly easy to figure out and fix if you can reproduce it reliably. You execute function A, and the app crashes. Good. Fix function A. But if you execute function A a thousand times, and out of that, it crashes twice, what to do then?
I had my Core Data stack set up like this:
Three contexts. Context A is on a background queue, which writes to disk. It’s good to have this on a background queue, in order to not block the UI/app if it’s a longer operation. Context B is on the main queue, so I can populate the interface with objects’ contents. Context C is on another background queue, if I have to fetch a lot of shots, for example.
When I save context C, it saves to context B (not yet to disk). When I save context B, it saves to context A (not yet to disk). When I save context A, it saves to disk.
So in order to save a change I have made on queue C, I have to save C, B and A subsequently. And it works fine. Except when it doesn’t. I found that when I drag > 700 shots to one tag, context C and B save fine, but context A deadlocks. But sometimes, it works without a hitch. Or when I create a new Folder with > 700 shots, and save from C to A and to disk, it deadlocks. But sometimes, it works without a hitch.
You know how they say you’re insane when you do the exact same thing over and over, and expect different results? Well, what say you to this, Einstein!?
I thought it might be an NSFetchedResultsController (which is a way to automatically be notified about changes to objects in Core Data, simply put) that gets in the way, as it is updated behind the scenes by Core Data when saving occurs. So I disabled them. Same result. I then created a sample project, trying to isolate the issue, and sure enough, it happened there as well.
This sort of thing gnaws at me. It’s always in the back of my mind, because I can’t figure it out. I tend to fixate and get frustrated, and eventually end up thinking the project is doomed.
To vent, I took to twitter asking for help. And thankfully, I got a pointer, directing me to NSPersistentContainer (thank you, Frank Reiff and Steve Harris). I did know about it, but for some reason I thought it was only available on macOS Big Sur (11.0) and newer. I was wrong – it’s available on macOS Sierra 10.12 and up.
It does things differently, and it solved my deadlocking. Instead of having one context writing to disk and child contexts on top (see drawing above), it has one main context (for UI work) which writes to disk, and offers backgroundContexts, which also write to disk directly. The way it’s set up, though, is that when you change something in a background context, the main context is notified about it and also has those changes more or less right away.
Now I must admit, I don’t know Core Data well enough to understand why I deadlocked before. And after almost two weeks of trying to understand, I really don’t care anymore. I’m just happy it’s working now. I tried getting it to deadlock multiple times – with more than 700 shots dragged to a tag and saving – and it all works like a charm.
That’s it for now. It’s been tough – but any project eventually (and sometimes, repeatedly – yay) hits a point where I think it’s all over. At least, for me, that’s always been the case. I guess, the lesson here is: no matter what happens, keep going. Don’t let it get you down too much. Ask for help if you need it, there’s always someone out there who’s been through it already, or knows something you don’t. And the Mac developer community is one of the friendliest and most willing to help there is.
Thank you for joining me. Feedback, input and questions are welcome: mail me, tweet me. Take care!