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The MacTech Spotlight: Andy Kim,

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 02
Column Tag: MacTech Spotlight

The MacTech Spotlight: Andy Kim, The Potion Factory

Tell us about your company:

Potion Factory. It's my own company now. It started out as a partnership back in 2005, but I've been running it solo as a LLC since 2007.

What do you do?

My official title goes back and forth between Owner and Programmer. I write code, design user interfaces, and make pretty graphics. I also work on the non-fun stuff such as running the company when I have spare time.

How long have you been doing what you do?

In April it'll be 5 years since I started Potion Factory. I can't believe that it's been 5 years already. I know that it's not long compared to some other veterans in the industry, but I've learned a lot during this time. It's been quite a ride so far. I never knew that there were so many people as enthusiastic about software as some of my customers out there.

What was your first computer?

The first computer I learned to program on was an Apple II, but the first computer I can call my own was an IBM clone with a 66 MHz 486 processor. It was a high-specced machine at the time with 8 MB of RAM, a hard drive, a CD-ROM drive, and even a sound card, but the iPhone in my pocket can kick its ass now without breaking a sweat.

My first Mac, though, was a 17" PowerBook with a 1 GHz G4 processor. She's almost 7 years old now, but she's still going strong as a file server on my home network.

Today I use a 17" MacBook Pro, as I'm still a "one laptop" guy. This way I never have to deal with syncing multiple Macs and I can just take off whenever I feel like doing so.

What's the coolest thing about the Mac?

The spirit of innovation. To borrow a well-known phrase, Macs are insanely great. They are that way because Apple has been leading the push for innovation for decades. They're not only consistent in churning out revolutionary technology, but more importantly, they make the technology accessible and hassle-free. It's no wonder that there's a cult following of Apple products.

That said, the way they are running the application approvals for the iPhone is discouraging. I'm glad that their process enforces a minimum requirement, but rejecting or endlessly delaying an app because it competes with Apple's software really puts the dampers on 3rd party innovation. People like myself don't go in thinking about the best possible software one can write. You start by thinking of the best you can do within the legal—not technical—limits put up by Apple and choose a project that has the least chance of getting blocked. What if I want to make a better calendaring or email application? The rules say that I can't.

If they ever put in place the same procedure for Mac OS X applications, I can see a lot of developers leaving the platform, perhaps even myself included.

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

The way I've done it is to just come up with a project and work on it. It's easy to motivate yourself if you're making something that you personally need and the chances are that other people will need it too. If you're a programmer, don't worry too much about making money at first. Just work on something to get practice. Now, this is pretty much cookie cutter advice given by a lot of independent Mac developers, but it's an advice I wish I had taken 5 years sooner.

On the flip side though, running your own business is not for everyone. It's risky; you have to put a ton of hours into it; and you have to have that entrepreneurial drive to succeed.

Also, don't make crappy crap.

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

Every product that I've done has cool bits of computer sciencey technology in there. I've written a music tempo analyzer and a voice modulator. I've reverse engineered a few Apple APIs, including figuring out how to get audio samples from FairPlay protected songs. These tend to be the most fun stuff to work on from a programmer's perspective.

But the coolest thing I've developed on OS X is actually not included in any of my projects. For my most recent project, The Hit List, I wrote a Bayesian classifier that lets the application learn your tagging system. Once it has sufficient knowledge of how you tag stuff, it'll start suggesting tags to you. This was a lot of fun to work on and it took me about a week to polish, but in the end I abandoned it because it turns out that Mac OS X already comes with technology to do the same thing. So now I use the same technology that uses to filter junk mail in order to predict which tag should get applied to new data.


Hmm... Coolest tech thing ever? That's probably a joke program I wrote when I was in middle school. It made it look like it was formatting your hard drive. My friends didn't think that it was funny at all.

Where can we see a sample of your work? You can check out all of our commercial products as well as a free one. For developers I also make available the code that runs our online store.

The next way I'm going to impact the Mac universe is:

By writing more kick ass software.

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