Potion Factory Blog

I Love Stars 4.0 Released

It's my pleasure to announce that I Love Stars 4.0 is now available. It's a free upgrade to existing users but it's now priced at $1.99.

It's hard to believe, but I Love Stars will be 4 years old in about 2 weeks. Thinking back to these past 4 years, I've rated a ton of songs with this little tool and I hope that it has helped many of you reading this as well. My goal with the app has always been to provide a distraction-free way to quickly rate songs, and thus, I've kept the design of the app to a bare minimum. The new version, however, adds a little bit more meat to the app. It now has a very minimal iTunes controller that also shows the album cover of the currently playing song. You can see it in action in the movie below:

That little controller is actually a bit more powerful than it looks. If you option click the next or previous button you'll skip or rewind by 10 seconds. You can also hold the button down to fast-forward or rewind your song. Double clicking on the album cover will reveal the song in iTunes.

Previous versions flashed in the menu bar to alert you of unrated songs. In version 4, that has been replaced with a more refined animation. I think that it's slightly more eye-catching, yet even more gentle than before.

Another big change is in the way that half-star ratings are set. It behaves more like iTunes now in that you can click in between stars to get the half-star rating instead of having to double click on the last star. Half-star ratings are disabled by default, just as in iTunes.

That's basically the gist of all the big changes. If you don't have it already and you have lots of songs to rate, you can get I Love Stars from the Mac App Store for just $1.99:

Purchase I Love Stars

Happy rating!

Release notes:

  • New pop up window with simple playback controls and album cover art
  • New unrated song alert in menu bar
  • New preference to set keyboard shortcut to set the rating to zero
  • New preference to enable half-star features
  • New preferences to not alert when playing movies, TV shows, and iTunes-U tracks
  • Instead of double-clicking to assign a half-star rating, you can now click in between stars to set half-star ratings, if half-stars are enabled.
  • If half-stars are enabled, pressing the keyboard shortcut for a rating twice results in a half-star being added to the rating instead of subtracted.
  • Bug fixes

The Hit List 1.1 for Mac and iPhone Released

I'm happy to announce that version 1.1 of The Hit List for both Mac and iPhone are now available. These updates are free for licensed The Hit List customers.

The Hit List for iPhone

The iPhone version adds two new features. The ability to create folders, and the ability to create repeating tasks. Until now, users have been able to create folders and repeating tasks on the Mac and sync it over to the iPhone, but to keep up with the pace of the new post-PC world, these features are now available on the iPhone too.

To create a new folder, you just have to tap the “Edit” button when you’re at the top level of the app. This will reveal the “Add Folder” and “Add List” buttons. To make a task repeating, you can edit the task in the detail view, tap on the start or due date, then tap the “Repeat” button.

The repeating task user interface is simple enough that you can quickly make tasks repeat every day, week, or month, yet powerful enough to let you make tasks that repeat on different weekdays of the month, repeat only after completion, end repeating on a date or after a number of times, and more. It has the same capabilities as the Mac version of The Hit List.

The Hit List for Mac

Speak of the Mac, the big new feature in version 1.1 of The Hit List for Mac is that you can now create tasks in the Quick Entry window based on the context of the foreground application. For example, if you are reading an email in Mail.app, you can use the “Quick Entry with context” keyboard shortcut to create a task that has the subject of the email, sender’s name, email address, and a link back to the original email. This works in other apps too. In document based apps, The Hit List will try to put a link to the document in the task’s notes field so that you can quickly get back to working on the document from The Hit List.

Quick Entry Window

Other improvements on the Mac include new menu items and shortcut keys to change a tasks's priority, set it to due today, open the link in the notes in a web browser, and more. The sidebar can be hidden now, and the app is signed with Apple’s Developer ID certificate in preparation for the release of Mountain Lion.

Finally, please note that Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. Leopard, is no longer supported in this version. The previous 1.0.6 version will continue to work on Leopard, but moving forward, only Snow Leopard or higher will be supported.

For the complete list of changes, please see the release notes of the Mac version or the App Store page of The Hit List for iPhone.

That's it for today. It's been fun concentrating my efforts on the Mac version of The Hit List for a while, but I'm getting back to working on the iPad version now.

Potion Factory and The Mac App Store

Yesterday, the shape of the Mac software landscape changed forever and I'm happy to have been a part of it from the beginning. All of my Mac software except The Hit List are available at the Mac App Store. Here is a status report of where things stand with the Potion Factory apps.

Voice Candy

For the new Voice Candy 1.5, I dusted off some old code I had written for version 2 and modernized it for Snow Leopard. It now has audio code that has been rewritten from scratch and with that comes the ability to record to various audio formats including MP3.

The only downside with the Mac App Store build of Voice Candy is that it can no longer wake your Mac from sleep to sound off an alarm. This is because an administrator password is required for that and apps can't do that in the App Store. It was hard letting go of this feature but I have come to terms with it now that I've found out that iCal doesn't wake your computer either.

The version distributed from my own site can still wake your Mac, but it now requires Mac OS X 10.5 at a minimum. This affects a tiny percentage of current Voice Candy users and if you are running Tiger, you won't even get the usual prompt to upgrade.

By the way, the original plans for version 2 of Voice Candy called for a much more ambitious feature of letting you change your voice during iChat and Skype calls. In hindsight though, I'm glad that I didn't spend any more time working on that feature because it involved injecting my own code into other apps and overriding system audio APIs to intercept and change audio data. I would have had to choose between taking out a feature that I had worked months on and not submitting it to the App Store at all. It's a shame that applications that use similar techniques such as Audio Hijack Pro and WireTap Studio can't be sold through the Mac App Store because they are great apps. I hope that future changes to OS X's audio APIs will allow these applications and the Voice Candy 2 that I had originally planned to be developed for the Mac App Store.

View Voice Candy in the App Store


Tangerine! received the least amount of improvements of only a few bug fixes and minor UI improvements. To make it publishable on the App Store, I had to remove its ability to analyze DRM protected songs. I didn't even bother to find out if Apple's review process would detect my rebellious bit of code in there because you can buy most songs DRM-free these days. Again, the build distributed from my own site can still analyze DRM protected songs. I am, however, leaning towards removing this feature altogether at some point in the future.

View Tangerine! in the App Store

I Love Stars

I Love Stars started out as a tiny free utility, something I considered to be a community service project. With all the handy features and refinements it has gained over the years, though, I am confident enough to charge the gargantuan price of one dollar, exclusively at the Mac App Store.

The new version 3.5.1 will now stay as the left-most menu bar item when launched during login. It will always show an icon by default, and along with that, there is a snazzy new animation. It also has the ability to set itself to start during login.

View I Love Stars in the App Store

The Hit List

The Hit List 1.0 is nearing completion, but unfortunately it didn't make the cut for the Mac App Store. It and its companion iPhone app have been in a closed beta test for almost exactly 2 months now. The beta testers have been giving me great feedback and they seem to be excited about the apps. There are still a few kinks to work out, but if you are patiently waiting for the pair of apps, your patience will pay off soon.

Move to Applications Folder?

After reading John Gruber's "How Should Mac Apps Be Distributed?", I wanted to mention that The Hit List already does by itself what John suggests Apple consider doing with all apps. That is, if you launch The Hit List from a folder that is not an Applications folder, it asks if it should move itself to /Applications.

Why it does this, though, is not for the reason that most people expect.


Zip files are great for distributing Mac software. It's an established format understood by all kinds of software, both Mac and otherwise. Some browsers will even decompress them automatically leaving one single application icon in your Downloads folder. Having seen a few people get confused by disk images and being inspired by Coda, I thought I'd give it a shot.

The switch to Zip went great except for one thing: we started getting a wide variety of mysterious crash reports. They all had something to do with the app not being able to load essential resources such as nib files. A nib file contains data to create user interface elements such as windows, buttons, and so forth. Users aren't going to get very far with a Cocoa app if it can't load its nib files.

It took me some time to connect the dots, but once I did, it was pretty damn obvious. People were moving The Hit List into the Applications folder while it is still running. Mac users think nothing of moving a file while it's being used. Mac OS X does some fancy things to allow this for the majority of cases so I wasn't expecting Cocoa to get tripped up by something that now seems trivial. But alas, it was trying to load files from the old location and freaking out when it couldn't find them.

At first I looked for ways of making Cocoa become aware of the application being moved. After looking at the bug so much it seemed like the best way to fix it. Unable to find a clean work-around, I went for the next best thing and made the application ask if it should move itself on its own terms lessening the chances of the ground getting cut from under its feet. I'm happy to report that although this is not a direct solution, it works well. When I first saw Delicious Library 2 do the very same thing I thought that it was being cute, perhaps even a bit too cute. Now, however, I'd like to think that me and Wil Shipley have fought the same battle.

One last thing. To help other Mac developers who are distributing their applications in a Zip file, I'm releasing into the public domain the code that handles all this app moving business. You can find it here.

A Contest

We know people are eagerly awaiting The Hit List companion iPhone app and we thought we'd help a few people get it a little early with a contest. Send us a description of an interesting way that you use The Hit List to contest@potionfactory.com. We'll pick up to 10 of the best entries and offer them the opportunity to participate in a closed beta program for the iPhone app when it's ready.

Comments to this post will not enter you into the contest; only emails sent to contest@potionfactory.com that contain descriptions of how you use The Hit List will.

We're not looking for a description of a feature, but rather how THL fits into your workflow or helps you get stuff done. Do you have a good tagging system that helps you track a project? Are you keeping notes for a thesis? Is it reminding you to do something you previously forgot about? We're looking for anything interesting and possibly helpful to others. Please try to be brief but descriptive. We hope to use some of the info in our documentation and on our website.

All entries must be received before September 21st, 2009 EDT.

Terms and conditions:

  1. Enter as often as you wish, but please one entry per email to contest@potionfactory.com.
  2. A person can only win one slot in the iPhone Closed Beta Program.
  3. Screenshots are allowed, but please no screencasts.
  4. All decisions are final and at the sole discretion of the Potion Factory LLC.
  5. All submissions become the property of the Potion Factory LLC. We hope to reuse your ideas but will ask if we want to reuse your name.
  6. To participate in the iPhone Closed Beta program you must supply your own iPhone or iPod Touch (we will not give you one).
  7. Participation in the iPhone Closed Beta program does not imply a license when the product ships.
  8. iPhone Closed Beta participants may not tell others about the product before it ships.
  9. We will contact the winners via email