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The MacTech Spotlight: Simone Manganelli

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 07
Column Tag: MacTech Spotlight

The MacTech Spotlight: Simone Manganelli


http://homepage.mac.com/simx/

Do you work for a company or are you self-employed?

Ellipsis Productions, that's the name of my software company.

What do you do?

My main "job" is being a geology grad student at Stanford University. I do work in the field of volcanology and geochronology; my current project is working on a new lab technique to extract gases from rock samples for Argon radiometric age dating. This is where I spend most of my time.

In terms of Mac OS X development, though, I make niche Cocoa apps that fulfill pretty specific needs that I have for myself, and then I release them publicly in hopes that other people have similar needs and will benefit from those same apps. I also assist in the porting of a couple of games to Mac OS X, and I'm an active developer for a Safari browser plugin called ClickToFlash.

How long have you been doing what you do?

I've been a grad student in geology for almost three years now, and I've been doing Mac OS X development since 2002. I actually got started with AppleScript Studio. I'd been moderately experienced in AppleScript since the Classic Mac OS days, and since AppleScript survived the Mac OS X transition, I figured that would be the best way to start making actual apps. I quickly ran up against performance problems with AppleScript Studio, though, and decided that I might as well learn Cocoa programming. After picking up Aaron Hillegass' awesome "Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X" book and going through most of the examples, I had a good foundation to start creating Cocoa apps.

Your first computer:

That depends on what you mean by "my" first computer. The first computer I ever touched? I was probably two years old when my dad was learning to program, and he had an old Sinclair ZX81 that attached to a TV which he used to program. (I think I ended up banging too hard on it and breaking it.)

First computer I actually knew how to use? A Mac Plus. I remember mostly playing games on it, like Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle. (Still a fan of those games, by the way, and the recently-released threequel Return to Dark Castle is pretty excellent, too.)

First computer I programmed on? A Mac IIsi. My dad had a book of pre-made programs in THINK Pascal (you know, that crazy programming language that used " dot pi" for its filename extensions?), and I dutifully reproduced the code from the book by re-typing it line by line into the computer, and then spent hours trying to figure out where I misplaced a semicolon or something. I think one of the programs was a racecar moving around a track. I was so excited as an 8-or-so-year-old kid to be doing something like that.

First computer that I helped purchase that nobody else used? The original bondi blue iMac. I still remember the new box smell after first setting it up. I think it's still going strong at the school where my dad works.

Are you Mac-only, or a multi-platform person?

Mac-only. I can survive on Windows and Linux if necessary (and for working down in the Argon lab at Stanford, it is necessary, unfortunately). But I mainly live in Mac OS X and exclusively program for it. I have some experience in web programming too; I've created some web apps in perl and have programmed with JavaScript, too.

What is the advice you'd give to someone trying to get into this line of work today?

First, download the free OS X developer tools. Second, get Hillegass' "Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X" book. I can think of no better book that teaches good Cocoa programming practices and introduces Cocoa programming to novices.

Third, it's always valuable to gain experience by downloading open-source software and tinkering with it. You get to see how others program, which exposes you to new frameworks and techniques, and sometimes you can help out by improving little things and contributing back to the project. I've done this with D2X-XL (I helped improve the OS X port of the old Descent games), opentyrian (I created the Mac OS X port), and ClickToFlash (I've helped add a number of features to the plugin). It's educational *and* very rewarding. It also allows you to focus on aspects of programming that you like.

What's the coolest tech thing you've done using OS X?

I think TuneTagger is probably the coolest app I've done so far. It was challenging from a UI perspective because the app needed to stay out of the way most of the time, but still be understandable and useful to the user. I still don't think I've gotten it quite right, but it's most of the way there.

I *do* get pretty excited about adding features to ClickToFlash, too, though. It's really awesome to have almost all of the Cocoa programming frameworks available to you in a Safari plugin. It's also probably the project that has the most widespread use of any work that I've done.

I also have a cool new weblogging app in development that works both on the Mac and on the iPhone. I don't know when those will be released, but I've been using a lot of new tech in Mac OS X that I hadn't yet been able to use in other projects, and it's my first iPhone project as well. I already publish my own weblog using my own app, so it's already very functional. I can't wait until I can do the same with an iPhone app.

Where can we see a sample of your work?

My apps: http://homepage.mac.com/simx/

My weblog (I post Mac programming tips, opinion, and development progress): http://homepage.mac.com/simx/technonova/index.html

D2X-XL: http://descent2.de/

opentyrian: http://code.google.com/p/opentyrian/

ClickToFlash: http://github.com/rentzsch/clicktoflash/tree/master

The next way I'm going to impact IT/OS X/the Mac universe is:

Well, I hope to fulfill a niche with my weblogging apps when I finally release them. But I'm also hoping to create some apps specifically for geologists, too; I have some ideas for apps that would be useful out in the field, and I don't think I've seen a single geology app on the iPhone at all.

Photo credit: Faruk Ateß

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