Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gifting Solitaire Till Dawn

The holiday season is upon us, and I'm pleased to have heard from some folks asking how to give Solitaire Till Dawn as a gift.

Sadly, the App Store does not provide any way to do this directly. But you can give a sort of online gift card which the recipient can use to make purchases in iTunes or in the App Store, and you can tell the recipient that you had Solitaire Till Dawn in mind. Here's how to do it:

Open iTunes, and click "iTunes Store". (In iTunes 12 on Yosemite, this link is at the top of the window, just under the toolbar.) You will have to log in to your iTunes account, if you aren't already logged in.

Now find the "Quick Links" section, on the right side of the window, a few inches down from the top. Click the "Send iTunes Gifts" link. A window will appear with a form for you to fill in. Enter the email address of the recipient, and select an amount. (The smallest amount is $10, which is enough for Solitaire Till Dawn.) You can add a message to the recipient, and tell them about Solitaire Till Dawn if you wish.

And that should do it. Although it's an "iTunes Gift", the recipient can still use it in the App Store, to purchase Solitaire Till Dawn or anything else.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Are the Shuffles Random?

In a word: yes, they are (effectively) random.

Solitaire Till Dawn is now available for purchase in the Mac App Store!

Every so often, we get accused of rigging the shuffles in Solitaire Till Dawn. In the old releases that had a free trial, people would ask if they would win more games if they bought the app. (The answer was "no", you were no more likely to win or lose regardless of whether you'd purchased.)

The other day, I got a message from a user who was unhappy because he wasn't winning games in the new version at the same rate that he did in the older versions. He seemed certain that the new version was somehow making the games harder to win. (It isn't.)

(We have been trying to send email to that user, on this issue and in reply to other messages he has sent in the past few weeks. Our replies keep getting returned marked as "undeliverable". If you are that person: we don't know why we can't get through to you, but seriously we've been trying! We aren't ignoring you.)

What the heck is a PRNG?
Of course, the shuffles aren't truly random. It's hard to get a computer to do something completely at random. They aren't supposed to; you don't want them making random changes to your documents or your accounting data, after all. But you do want some deliberate randomness, or a good imitation of it, for games. You get that by using a piece of software called a pseudo-random number generator, or "PRNG" for sort.

A PRNG keeps a number called a seed. Every time you ask the PRNG to give you a new random number, it performs some deliberately-weird calculations on the seed. Then it gives you the result of the calculations, and also keeps them to use as the seed for the next time you ask.

So the sequence of "random" numbers you get from a PRNG aren't really random at all! They're just the results you get from applying a calculation to a number, and then again to that result, and then again with that result, and so on. If you start over with the same seed value, you will get the same sequence of results, every time.

The reason this is useful is that those calculations provide results that closely resemble a truly random sequence. You won't be able to predict the next number unless you know the seed and do the math yourself; and you get a distribution of results that looks a lot like a random distribution.

When you first start up a PRNG, you have to choose a seed. Like most apps that use PRNGs, Solitaire Till Dawn uses the current time and date (expressed as a single number, the number of seconds since Jan 1, 1970). So every time you start Solitaire Till Dawn, you get a different seed, and your "random" number sequence won't repeat what you got the last time.

Now, there's more than one PRNG algorithm out there. Some are better than others; some give results that don't look as random as we would like. Solitaire Till Dawn has always used the same algorithm, an industry standard that gives good results. For those who care, it is the Park and Miller "Minimal Standard" as reported in the Communications of the ACM, Vol.31, No. 10, 1988.

Okay, but...
So why might it seem as if the games are too hard, or not fair, or aren't properly shuffled? We think there are several possible reasons.

You're playing the wrong game. There are, for example, three close variations on Klondike in Solitaire Till Dawn. Some are harder to win, some easier. If you mistakenly play the wrong one, it's not surprising at all if you find it harder (or easier) to win than you remember. (For the record: Klondike Easy is the easiest to win, and Klondike Strict is the hardest. Klondike Familiar is in the middle; it's the one most people know, and it's the one that Solitaire Till Dawn opens by default the very first time you start it up.)

You see patterns that aren't really there. There are only four suits, only 13 ranks. Two shuffles can be genuinely different, yet might produce layouts that look similar. Play four games in a row that have a King as the first card in the tableaus, and you're going to notice that "pattern". If there are any other similarities in the layouts, that will reinforce the feeling that "the cards weren't really shuffled." But they really were, and I promise you that those layouts differ in other ways. (Human beings are really good at spotting patterns, and we tend to see them even when they aren't really there.)

You got lucky (or unlucky). If you flip a coin 100 times, you expect to get about 50 heads and about 50 tails, and you also probably expect not to see the same result for more than three or four flips in a row. If you get ten heads in a row, you might start to wonder whether you're flipping an honest coin.

But it's not that unusual to get ten heads or tails in a row. The chance of that happening when you flip only ten times is about one in five hundred. If you flip 100 times, it becomes much more likely. And if you have 1000 people flip a coin ten times each, it's not surprising at all for one or more of them to get ten heads or ten tails.

A run of bad luck may seem excessively unlikely, and therefore not random, to the person who experiences it. But there are literally thousands of people playing Solitaire Till Dawn. It is massively unlikely that you will win the state lottery, but the people who run the lottery know that somebody will eventually win it, and probably within the next few weeks. As the author of Solitaire Till Dawn, I am not surprised to get the occasional email from someone who got a run of bad luck and wants to know why. The answer is usually "you won the lottery". (Sorry that, in this case, it's a bad thing!)

Selective memory. I hate to bring this up, because you don't win friends (or make sales) by blaming the customer. But the truth is that failures and setbacks make a bigger impression on our memories than successes and wins. In over 20 years of selling Solitaire Till Dawn, I have never gotten an email saying "Are your shuffles really random? I'm winning too many games!"

When we win, we smile and go on to the next game. When we lose, we're frustrated, and if we continue to lose, the frustration builds up and may not be relieved by the occasional win. It makes the losses loom large in our memory.

Tough games. It's worth pointing out the obvious again: some games are harder to win than others, and some are very hard to win indeed. It takes a particular type of mind to enjoy these extreme challenges, and many people don't like to find a game in which it's nearly impossible to have a good win rate. My only advice here is to read the rules for each game: they'll tell you whether wins are easy or common. Stay away from the tough ones unless you enjoy the challenge.

In summation...
This has been a long post. Congratulations for reading it all the way through!

The upshot is this: Solitaire Till Dawn does its best to provide you with shuffles that you can't distinguish from random (and its "best" really is pretty good). Solitaire Till Dawn does not ever stack the deck, either to let you win or to make you fail—unless you ask it to.

That exception is the File > Play Game Number menu command. This lets you enter a "game number" to re-create a shuffle you've seen before. The game number is actually just the seed for the PRNG; as explained above, starting with the same seed gives reproducible results and allows a shuffle to be reproduced at your command. The previous seed is saved aside while your game number is used instead. Once you've finished replaying that game, the previous seed is reinstated, and your shuffles from that point on are once again (pseudo) random.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Live in the App Store!

Semicolon LLC is pleased to announce that, after over five years of hard work, Solitaire Till Dawn is available for purchase in the Mac App Store.

We would like to acknowledge the huge debt of gratitude that we owe to all of our faithful, diligent, and patient beta testers. We could not have done this without you!

The beta program is now closed, and no further betas will be issued for the foreseeable future.

If you purchase Solitaire Till Dawn from the Mac App Store and don't find it in your Applications folder afterwards, please delete all your beta copies, then go to your Purchases in the App Store, find the entry for Solitaire Till Dawn, and click the Install button. This issue seems only to affect beta testers.

Please visit the Semicolon LLC web site for more information, and for a link to Solitaire Till Dawn in the App Store. If you need to contact us about Solitaire Till Dawn, please use the link on that site.

Thanks, everybody!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Submitted for Review

A reminder: beta 28 is now available from our Beta Program page. You're going to want it when b27 expires on Saturday!

Submitted for Review!

Today I pushed two big buttons: the first uploaded Solitaire Till Dawn 1.0.0 to the App Store, and the second submitted it for review by Apple. But it won't appear in the App Store or be available for purchase until Apple has reviewed and approved it, so you still can't buy it yet!

If we're lucky, it will be approved probably sometime next week. If we're not, Apple will find something they want changed or fixed, and I'll have to deal with that problem and then start the review process again. I've never done this before: over 25 years I've released more apps and upgrades for Macs than I can remember or count, but I have never done so through the App Store. There's a fair chance that, through inexperience, I've left some i undotted or some t uncrossed. We'll have to wait a few days, and then we'll find out.

In the meantime: I promised that I would keep a free beta available until we are in the App Store. Beta 27 will expire on Saturday, so go grab a copy of beta 28 from the Beta Program page. It's good through mid-November, and I really hope that will be long enough. If not, I'll put out a b29, and keep doing it until Apple grants us our place in the App Store.

You can read more about b28 in the previous post.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Beta 28: Waiting for Apple

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 28 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This beta contains almost no significant changes from the previous beta, b27. We are essentially ready to submit Solitaire Till Dawn to the App Store—it could happen as soon as tomorrow or even later today—but we are waiting to get an answer to a tax-form question before we can commit.

Once that's done and we have submitted the app, we will have to wait for Apple to review and approve Solitaire Till Dawn before it can actually become available for sale. We expect this to take at least a week, because Apple has to review every app and app upgrade and they always have a lot of them to get through. If Apple finds any problem with Solitaire Till Dawn, there will be further delay while we work with Apple to resolve the issue. We hope that nothing like that will happen, but it might anyway.

In the meantime, we have promised you that there will be a free beta version available until the real thing can be purchased, and that's what b28 is about. The previous beta, b27, will expire in about three days, but b28 is good for another two weeks, to mid-November. We hope that by then we'll be in the App Store, but if not, we'll put out yet another beta with a later expiration date.

The Help Pages
Nobody ever reads the Help! Or so it seems. We've gone to a lot of trouble to provide you with a complete, built-in guide to Solitaire Till Dawn. It is illustrated; it is searchable; it has a good Table of Contents; and there is a "Quick Start" page, an FAQ page and a "What's New" page to help you quickly get answers to the most common questions.

The Help can teach you about cool features of Solitaire Till Dawn that you may not know about yet! Most bug reports lately have not really been reporting bugs; they've been users expressing confusion about features that they could have read about in the Help. We've done our best to make Solitaire Till Dawn intuitive and easy to use, but it has a LOT of fancy features. The Help will tell you about them—try it and see! 

The b28 release contains a few improvements to the formatting of some of the Help pages, and other recent betas contained some major improvements to the Help pages. But you may not see the changes unless you're careful, because Apple's help system isn't good about showing you the help pages from the latest version of any app. To see the latest, you really should remove all earlier versions of Solitaire Till Dawn from your system—or at least compress them, if you don't want to throw them completely away.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Beta 27: Animation Speeds

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 27 is now available from our Beta Program page.

We're getting down to the little stuff now, and I seriously hope that Solitaire Till Dawn will be finished and available for purchase within the next few weeks.

Beta 27 addresses an issue that a number of users have complained about: the feeling that the new Solitaire Till Dawn feels "sluggish" in comparison with the old one. Part of this is due to Apple's Core Animation package, which did not exist when the old version was current. Core Animation is designed to make animations look smooth, rather than to make things happen quickly; and it operates in the background, so that I can't always guarantee that animations will happen promptly.

But mostly, Core Animation uses a different paradigm for expressing how quickly an animation should happen, and that made it difficult for me to translate the old speeds into the new paradigm. I spent some time on it this past week, and I think b27 is a big improvement. Animations are now faster by default than they were in b26 and earlier betas, and it feels much more like the old STD.

But wait, there's more: I have added an Animation pane to the Preferences window. There's now a slider to let you choose your animation speed. The slowest setting is the speed of b26 and before; the second notch is the new, quicker default; and there are two even faster notches that you can experiment with. If you feel that b27 is too quick, go to the Animations pane and select the slowest setting. If you find it's still too leisurely, select a faster setting.

In addition, I've fixed a bug that could display a game's final duration as being one second shorter than it actually was. The bug happens only in rare cases. Suppose, for example, you play a game and win it in just a hair more than 60 seconds. The clock display in the status bar might still be displaying 59 seconds because that display hadn't quite been updated yet, so it would look to you like you finished in just 59 seconds. But your game would be correctly recorded in your statistics as lasting 60 seconds. This made it look as though your 59-second game was not being recorded correctly; but in fact, it really was a 60-second game properly recorded. It just wasn't displayed correctly in the status bar. In b27, care is taken to ensure that the clock display is fully up to date after you win a game.

There are also a number of new menu items, each of which does the same thing as one of the toolbar buttons. This is for Apple's Human Interface guidelines: you don't have to have all those buttons in the toolbar, but there should still be a way to use their functions. The new menu items let you do that.

The Last Beta?

So is b27 the last beta? Probably not, but I am pretty much out of bugs to fix and features to implement for this first release. Unless I hear something significant from one of you, or find some new problem or issue myself, any further betas will not be much different from b27.

I have promised to keep a free beta available until the finished product can be purchased in the App Store, and I will keep that promise. Beta 27 will expire at the end of this month, and if Solitaire Till Dawn is not in the App Store by then, I will put out a beta 28 with a later expiration date.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Beta 26—Almost There!

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 26 is now available from our Beta Program page.

Crashes and Freezes

If you've been with us for a while, you know that we've been trying to track down and fix a problem that many users never see, but that can cause a freeze or a crash for some. I was one of those who never saw the problem, which made it nearly impossible for me to diagnose and fix it. But with the help of a couple of dedicated beta testers (who wish to remain nameless), I think we've finally got it whipped. The fix has already been tested on several machines and under all versions of Mac OS X, and it seems to work. Beta 26 has this fix.

This was the LAST SHOW-STOPPER BUG that I know about. I am hoping that there will be no more crashes or freezes now, although of course it's always possible that we will find other problems lurking behind this one. But I think we are near the end of the road now. I am hoping to be able to release Solitaire Till Dawn to the App Store sometime this fall, and in time for the holidays.

Card Highlighting

For the previous public release (b24), I made a foolish change in the way that card highlighting behaved. Within 24 hours I decided it was a mistake, and many of you sent me bug reports to say the same.

For b26 I've removed that change and restored the old behavior: so whenever you make a move, any card-rank highlighting will automatically be canceled. (And remember, you can always cancel card-rank highlighting by pressing the Shift key: when you press Shift, available cards will be highlighted; and when you release it, your normal default highlighting if any is restored.)

Built-in Help

The built-in Help pages (available by choosing Help > Solitaire Till Dawn Help, or by clicking the life-saver icon in the toolbar) are a complete, illustrated guide to Solitaire Till Dawn. I've spent most of the past week making improvements to it. The text formatting, page layout, and navigation links are better and more readable. The illustrations are up to date. Some old, out-of-date pages have been corrected, and so on. Really, the built-in Help is like a small book, and any of you who have written and published a book will know how much work that is! But I'm happy with the improvements, and I hope you will be too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Beta 24

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 24 is now available from our Beta Program page.

Crashes and Freezes—Please Read!

For the past few months Solitaire Till Dawn has mostly seemed solid and stable, with one big exception: every so often, somebody will experience an unexpected crash in the middle of playing an otherwise-ordinary game. I know from your detailed reports (thank you!) that this is a real problem; but I've been seriously hampered by the fact that I have never seen this crash on my own systems.

Some of you have told me that you can reliably produce the crash by some procedure on one of your systems, but every person who has told me this has a different way of making it happen! And no matter how carefully I reproduce your setup and follow your instructions, the crash never happens on my own machines. This all makes it very difficult for me to figure out what's wrong, and impossible for me to be certain (from my own testing) to know if any change I make has helped.

But I have been working on it anyway, and I may have made some progress. This b24 release contains some changes that I believe fix a real problem, one that might result in the kind of crashes and freezes that some of you have seen. But I can't know for sure until you folks have run it through its paces. So:

If you've seen crashes or freezes recently, please try to make them happen with b24. If you find that you no longer see the problem, please let me know! And of course, if you do experience new crashes, please send me the crash report as usual. This is the last important bug to fix before we can ship the product! I really want this fixed, and you can help.

Other Changes in b24

Rank Highlighting: Press (for example) 'j' to highlight all the Jacks; if you then move a Jack, the highlighting on that Jack would disappear, although all other Jacks would remain highlighted. In b24, the moved card retains its highlighting.

Game List Scrolling is improved, especially on Lion and Snow Leopard where it has been very jerky and flickery.

The Game Info Panel now always appears (after the usual half-second delay) whenever the selected game is visible in the game list.

Play Game Number: This dialog did not work under Snow Leopard; now it does.

Rouge et Noir: The 'Deal' command will now move a card from the stock to the discard pile, if the stock is not empty. If the stock is empty, dealing will recycle the discards as before.

Beta Notice: In the panel that appears at startup to show the expiration date, there is now a button labeled "Check for Updates". Clicking that button will open the Beta Program page on this web site, where you can see whether a later beta version is available, and download it if so. This feature is a bit late in coming, since we are hoping that we are nearly done with the beta program! But we have promised to keep a usable beta available to you all until the final product is available from the App Store, and until then this button should be helpful.

Why It's Difficult

Just for fun: Today's XKCD comic doesn't really explain why some of the things you'd like me to do are difficult, but it at least recognizes the problem:


Monday, August 25, 2014

Beta 22, and UFOs

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 22 is now available from our Beta Program page.

What's New
Little stuff, mostly. Bug IDs 82 and 92, the last bugs in the list still labeled as "unfixed", have been fixed! These will solve some issues with scrolling in the game lists, and some failures to properly record scores for some games won with the early-win option. In addition we have made a half-dozen or so other little improvements, not worth listing here. You can read about them in the Read Me for b22, if you wish.

Crashers and UFOs
We still have at least one crashing bug that I never listed in the public bug list, but that I have been working on for some time. I know, from your crash reports (thank you for those!) that it is a real bug; but after weeks of effort I am still unable to make it happen on my own machines where I could study it. Although a few of you have sent your "formulas" for making the crash happen on your machines, none of them had any effect for me.

This crash is the last serious bug in Solitaire Till Dawn, at least that I know about right now. I would hate to ship the app without fixing it, but I am not willing to delay forever, either. I currently intend to give it another couple of weeks, maybe a month; if I haven't made any progress by then, I will probably go ahead and publish. While the bug has affected more than one of you, others have reported months of trouble-free operation, so I think (I hope!) that it is at least a rare event. If I'm wrong, I'll hear about it within a week of shipping it, I'm sure. :-/

So much for crashers. What (I hear you ask) are UFOs? That's my little shorthand name for a certain class of bug report. "UFO" stands for "Unidentified Flying Object", and some people think that some unidentified flying things are alien spaceships; but I don't think that's so. Many such sightings (not all) have been shown to be meteors, balloons, flying toys, ordinary airplanes seen from unusual angles, and so on. Of course I can't prove that there aren't any flying saucers flitting around up there, but I haven't seen enough evidence yet to convince me that they're really there.

And the same with certain bug reports: every so often I get one that sounds like a sober, correct report of a genuine problem; and yet I have reason to think it's mistaken and not really a bug. For example, if someone tells me that there's no Jack of Diamonds in a game they're playing, they're almost certainly wrong, and just haven't realized that there's a legitimate place where that Jack might be hidden. Why am I sure they're wrong? Because by now, thousands of games of solitaire have been played with Solitaire Till Dawn, and there has never been one genuine case of a missing card. That doesn't prove that I don't have some weird, rarely-occurring bug, but it's seriously unlikely.

When I get such a report, I pay attention; but I don't immediately start looking for a solution to the problem, because there likely isn't any problem. It would be a waste of my time (and yours, while you wait for me to finish this thing up and ship it). But I do make a note of the report, and keep my eyes peeled for any more reports of similar effects—just in case I'm wrong and the reporter was right.

In the meantime, the report gets classified as "I'm sure you saw something interesting, but I'm not sure you saw what you think you saw." In other words, a sort of UFO report. I now have a small collection of these for the Solitaire Till Dawn betas. If you are one of the people who sent me a report and never saw me mention it again, please don't think I'm ignoring you! I've kept all the reports you've all sent me. But I have to decide where my time is best spent, and if your report looks like a UFO to me, I'm taking a bet that it's not worth my time to investigate it deeply.

So, when...?
When will you be able to buy a real copy? I still don't know. If I can get a handle on the crasher bug in the next couple of weeks, you can bet I will be trying to squash that one before we ship. If not, it will still take me a while to clean up from the beta testing and get all the legal stuff ready; and then it will likely take Apple anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to approve Solitaire Till Dawn for the App Store after I submit it.

But I certainly hope and intend to have it available well before Christmas.

Watch this space!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beta 21

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 21 is now available for download from our Beta Program page.

Snow Leopard Fix
This release is a quick fix for a show-stopper bug under Snow Leopard. In yesterday's b20 release any attempt to start a new game would result in a blank window.

Beta 20
The b20 version was released only yesterday If you missed it, see the Beta 20 blog post for a description of what was fixed, and what important bugs remain to be fixed.

Crashing Bugs
We know that there are still one or two crashing bugs left to fix. They are rare, but all crashes are important and we're eager to fix these problems. The trouble is, we don't know how to cause them! We know that some of you are seeing these crashes, but we can't make them happen on our own machines, and that makes it difficult to diagnose and fix the problem.

One of you has said that dragging a card too far to the left, outside of the actual game window, will cause a crash. We tried it, on each of our systems, multiple times and in different ways; but we never saw a crash.

Another report suggested that a quick right-click, then left-click with the mouse would cause a crash. Again, we have tried it and have not seen any crashes.

Any information that any of you can provide about these crashes will be most welcome. Thanks!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beta 20

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 20 is now available from our Beta Program page.

What's Not Fixed

There are still a couple of crashing bugs left. Unfortunately I have not been able to reproduce any of them on my own machines yet. If I can't make it happen where I can study it, I probably can't fix it. But I haven't given up yet, and I intend to focus on these issues in the coming week.

There is only one currently-unfixed bug in the public Bug List: Bug ID 82. It's a cosmetic problem that happens only on older systems, and it seems to be an Apple bug. So far I haven't found a workaround for it, but I'll keep after it.

What's Fixed

Bugs 83, 93, and 94 are now fixed. But in addition to the bugs in the public Bug List, I have kept a private, unnumbered list of problems that you testers have mostly not noticed.

A lot of these unnumbered bugs are minor and/or cosmetic issues: it wouldn't be the end of the world if they weren't fixed. But I want Solitaire Till Dawn to be as smooth an experience as possible, so for b20 I put some time in on these little issues. I won't list all the changes here; there's a full list in the Read Me file for b20. Here are a few of the more important and/or noticeable ones:

Baker's Game: Many of you reported that Baker's Game gives a lot of false you-are-stuck notifications. That's fixed; I'm pretty sure now that if Baker's Game thinks you're stuck, you really are.

Readability: In response to quite a few requests, the numbers on the deck are now larger and easier to read.

Timed Games: Your "average time" in the All Statistics window was being calculated incorrectly, and has been fixed. Games that last longer than an hour now display the time in hours, minutes, and seconds instead of just minutes and seconds.

Animations: Wins are now reported after the winning move has finished animating, instead of instantly when you click the winning card. The fade-out-and-in animation on New Game has been improved, and should look more smooth now. Changes in window size are now animated, although I have to say that it isn't too smooth. (This seems to be true for Apple apps as well as for Solitaire Till Dawn, though.) The Game Drawer now slides in and out more smoothly.

Tour: The Solitaire Till Dawn Tour has been reworked. There are a couple of new pages covering preferences and keyboard shortcuts; the images in the Tour window are now larger and more clear; and there are retina versions of all of the images. The Tour window is now located near the upper-right of the game window, to avoid covering or being covered by the All Statistics window, the Game Info panel, or the Game Drawer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Beta 19

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 19 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This release fixes two more situations in which a crash or freeze could occur during normal play.

There may still be an unfixed crashing bug. I can't be certain because it is getting harder to reliably cause a crash to happen; and if I can't make a crash happen in my testing, of course I can't tell whether whether I've fixed it. If you see a crash in b19, please do let me know, and please send along the crash report. (To send a crash report, copy all that text out of the crash window and paste it into your bug report. Thanks!)

In addition, b19 fixes two occurrences of the "blank white card" bug (one of which only happened with Apple's as-yet-unreleased Yosemite version of OS X); and it takes extra care to restore the mouse cursor to the proper pointer shape when you return the mouse to the game area; and it makes some minor cosmetic improvements to the status bar, including a larger and more noticeable "big red X" to mark a stuck game.

Expiration Dates
By now most of you are familiar with the way each beta will expire on a given date. If you're wondering why, there are two simple reasons. The first is that I don't want to continue receiving bug reports for bugs in old betas that have already been fixed in later betas; that would waste far too much of my time (and yours). The second reason, obviously, is that I will be selling Solitaire Till Dawn for money when it's ready, so I don't want to leave working, cost-free copies out in the world.

But we have some new participants in this beta program, so I'd like to make two points clear to everyone:

  • When the finished version is available for purchase, it will not have an expiration date.
  • Until the finished version is available for purchase, I will continue to make time-limited free versions available.

So you won't have to do without Solitaire Till Dawn, even when I'm done fixing bugs; there won't be any interruption of solitaire service!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


A reminder: Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 18 is now available from our Beta Program page. See the previous post for details.

Apple this week announced Mac OS X 10.10, named "Yosemite". The release is scheduled for sometime this fall, but Apple has made a beta version available to developers. Of course we all want Solitaire Till Dawn to work with the latest Apple software, so I have installed the Yosemite beta on a spare partition, and begun testing Solitaire Till Dawn b18 on Yosemite.

The Good News
It mostly works. You can definitely sit right down and play your favorite game. Although I haven't had time yet for comprehensive testing, all features seem to be basically working.

The Bad News
I have found a couple of obvious bugs. I've added them to the bug list. (To see Yosemite-specific bugs, visit the Bug List page and search for Yosemite.) I'm also going to describe them here for you because I don't want a flood of bug reports telling me things I already know. Here they are:

Bug 89: Phantom Dragged Card
Update: I've got this one fixed for b19. When dragging a card, a blank white card will appear and chase along behind the card or cards you're dragging. If you pause while dragging, it will catch up and disappear behind the dragged cards, only to reappear and resume chasing when you resume dragging. It will disappear when you drop the dragged cards.

Bug 90: Gray Text in the Status Bar
The text should be black, of course.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Beta 18: Scrunching Begone

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 18 is now available from our Beta Program page.

Judging from my email, ALL of you noticed a b17 bug that I missed: when you click the New Game button, the vertical card fans are often "scrunched" up tight, making it hard to see what cards are in the fan. (I was bemused to see how many of you used the word "scrunched".) Some of you figured out that adjusting the window size, even a little, would temporarily fix the problem. This was Bug ID 88.

Beta 18 should fix the issue permanently, and make real the promise of b17, that screen space would be put to better use to allow larger cards and longer fans. Hopefully I got it right this time.

Freezes and Crashes
I've had a number of reports recently of freezes and crashes, usually after lots of undoing. I have found and fixed a bug that would cause that behavior, so that's good. But I am not certain that this was the only problem, so if you get more crashes or freezes, let me know! I've left Bug ID 86 listed as "unfixed" in case this happens, and created bug ID 87 for this specific issue and marked that one as "fixed".

If we get lucky and see no more of this behavior, I'll eventually mark the less-specific bug 86 as "fixed" as well. Of course if we aren't lucky, I'll fix the additional problems first and then mark 86 as "fixed".

Stopping a run-away Undo
In the old Solitaire Till Dawn, if you clicked "Undo to Snapshot" or "Redo to Snapshot" and then wanted to stop the replay before it stopped on its own, you could stop it by clicking anywhere in the game window, including the toolbar. That's because back then, the toolbar was really a part of the game window. In this new version, I am using the standard OS X toolbar (for lots of really good reasons), but the drawback is that I cannot detect clicks in the toolbar itself; only clicks on its buttons. This means that you can't stop replay by clicking in any random part of the toolbar, and there's nothing I can do to change that. However…

A lot of you have been trying to stop replay by clicking the Redo (or Undo) button, and this is one of the ways to provoke the crash mentioned above. Beta 18 will now allow you to stop replay (safely!) in this way. But I'd like to remind you all that you can also stop replay by clicking anywhere in the playing area of the window, or by pressing any key! That's always been true, and has never changed.

Empty Piles and Card Highlighting
Many have reported that if you resize the window or choose a different card size, the empty foundations in games like Canfield would lose their markings, and the highlighted cards would lose their highlights. I never got around to giving this one a bug ID, but it's fixed in b18.

Game Numbers
One alert user (thank you!) found a case where a game number from the old version of Solitaire Till Dawn produced a different game in the beta (bug ID 63). While this is not an issue that many people will care about, I'm glad to report that it's fixed in b18.

Other Changes
…are mostly minor cosmetic issues. For example, the old shark-and-cards icon was still visible in a lot of places, and these have now mostly been updated to the new icon. (You can still see the old icon in some of the Help pages and in the Tour. I'll get those updated too, sometime before we ship.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beta 17: Bigger Cards

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 17 is now available from our Beta Program page.

What's New

I have been nearly drowned in requests for larger cards and better use of screen space. This release should provide that, in many if not all cases. The significant change is that downward fans are now allowed to extend all the way to the bottom of the window and if necessary, even below the bottom of the window (but never so far that you can't clearly see or click on all the cards).

If that doesn't quite make sense, just try it: download b17, and try selecting a larger card size in each game that you play. That's important: you may not see a change unless you request a larger card size! To ask for larger cards, look at the card size menu (Decor > Card Size) and choose something larger than your current size. I recommend simply asking for the largest size ("Huge"); if that won't fit, Solitaire Till Dawn will give you the largest size that will fit your screen.

That lets Solitaire Till Dawn make better use of vertical space. There is also a small change to the use of horizontal space: I've added about 10 more pixels of horizontal space between the cards and the game drawer tabs on the left side of the window, by popular request. This means that every game will require that much more horizontal space. If you have a game window that is already using the maximum width of your screen, it's possible that this small expansion will mean that the card size you were using will no longer fit, and you will have to use a smaller card size. I think that's unlikely to happen. But if it does, please try selecting a larger card size just to be sure. If that doesn't work and you are still stuck with smaller cards, let me know and tell me which game you were playing and what size screen you have, please.

In addition to the card size changes, b17 includes a fair-sized list of less-obvious improvements and bug fixes which you can read about in the Read Me file that comes with the download.

Known Bugs

I am aware from your bug reports (thank you!) that a crash can occur during normal play. This is now Bug ID 86. Normally I would try to fix such a bug before bringing out a new release, but I want to make b17 available well before b16 expires at the end of May. I will do my best to fix this issue for b18.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Beta 16

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 16 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This release contains some important improvements, along with a list of smaller stuff, as follows:

Snow Leopard Again
With beta 15 I thought I had restored Snow Leopard compatibility, but a lot of you still had serious problems. I've been able to reproduce and study those problems, and I think I have them fixed. Snow Leopard users, please try b15 and let me know how it goes. I wouldn't be surprised if you found some small bugs (I found and fixed a few already) but you should now be able to actually play solitaire again!

"Skip Long Animations" is back
In fact, it's better than before. The Miscellaneous tab in the Preferences window now lets you choose from three levels of animation: Show all animations, Skip long animations, and Skip more animations. The third option not only skips the longer animations when you deal, it also suppresses the "riffle" effect when you're dealing in games like Klondike and Canfield.

Bug 77: Responsiveness
Some games were kind of sluggish in some ways. TriPeaks was one example: after dealing a new card, it was noticeably slow in updating the available-card highlighting. Beta 16 should now be properly responsive.

Bug 76 and 78: Status Bar Stuff
Resizing the status bar tended to make fields overlap, cut them short, and make the font-size buttons stop working correctly. This should now all be fixed. 

Bugs 22, 81, 84: Detecting stuck games, and early wins
The games The Towers and Manx should no longer tell you you're stuck in certain situations when you really aren't stuck. And a long list of games (see the Read Me file in the b16 download for the list) should now correctly report early wins in more situations.

As always, please download, try it out, and let me know how it goes! And remember: when you send me a bug report, please mention which version of Solitaire Till Dawn you are using, and which version of Mac OS X you are running. Thanks!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

I need help with Snow Leopard!

Thanks, gang! I think I've got this one licked now. I won't need any more reports like these.

I have a Snow Leopard (that is, Mac OS X 10.6.8) machine which I use for testing Solitaire Till Dawn. The latest release, b15, works fine on that machine. But I have email from a number of you saying that it is not working on your own Snow Leopard machines.

If you have Snow Leopard, I would be very grateful if you would do these things for me:

1. Make sure you have the b15 version. (If not, download it here.)
2. Try to run it; see whether it works or not.
3. Select About This Mac from the Apple menu, and look at the line labeled "Processor".
4. Send me a message: tell what your processor is, and whether or not Solitaire Till Dawn works on that machine.

You don't have to be in Solitaire Till Dawn when you select About This Mac. As an example, on my own machine the About This Mac display says:

Processor   2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo

The usual failure behavior seems to be that two windows open instead of just one. One of them is blank; the other shows a game layout. Both windows show the beta disclaimer. Neither window allows you to play solitaire. If you are seeing a different kind of failure, please also tell me about that.

I'd really like to get this fixed. But it's hard to fix a bug if it won't actually fail when I'm watching it; and on my machine, it doesn't fail. So any information you can send will be useful.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Beta 15

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 15 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This release fixes bugs 52, 65, 68, and 79. Not many bugs fixed, but they are important ones:

Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8)
At long last, we have restored compatibility with Snow Leopard. Beta 15 should work on Snow Leopard machines (along with all later versions of Mac OS X), and we're looking forward to hearing from those of you who have Snow Leopard to test on. Update: Some users are still having problems. We think this is due to old data from earlier versions, and we are looking into it.

Concurrency Issues
I've ranted about concurrent programming in the past, and more than once I've thought I had all those problems fixed; but they have kept coming back. Now, once again, I think I have them all fixed, and maybe I'll be right this time. This was bug 79 that caused problems with Accordion, but it could affect other games as well. We also fixed an un-numbered bug that caused crashes with rapid undo and redo (as opposed to Undo All and Redo All).

Empty Foundations
Another recurring bug (so often that I mistakenly gave this bug two numbers, 52 and 68) caused empty foundation piles to be slow in showing the ranks that could be played there. Again, I am hoping that this is finally fixed for good and all.

What's Next?
Oh, lots of things. I am hoping that I am now down to a list of relatively minor issues: worth fixing, but not as awful or urgent as the crashing bugs we've all been chasing for so long. Solitaire Till Dawn isn't done yet, but I hope that b15 will be a big step toward real stability.

Monday, March 31, 2014

End of Hiatus

Although I did resume responding to bug reports and email last week as promised, I haven't been able to get too much else done since then. We had family visiting, a joyous but time-consuming week-long event that was followed by crashing hard and catching up on lost sleep this past weekend.

But now it's Monday, and this quick post is to let you know that I am back at work. A few details:

That Blank Card
Many, many users have reported seeing a blank white card that won't go away. Thanks for those reports, all of you, but I don't need any more of them. This is Bug 73 in our Bug List, and we will get it fixed sometime soon.

Crashes in b14
We think we know what's causing the remaining crashes, and we think we know how to fix it. It's a bit delicate so it might take a couple of days to get it right. Hopefully b15 will have the fix.

Snow Leopard Support
We've made progress, and we haven't given up. But we had hoped that we'd be able to make b15 the "Snow Leopard" build, and really get it solved; instead we've found that b14 still has a few important problems that can affect all users. So b15, when it appears, may concentrate on those issues instead; and if so, perhaps b16 will become the "Snow Leopard build".

As always, thanks for your support and your patience! We're working hard for you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hiatus, and Progress Report

In case you missed it, we released Beta 14 a few days ago. It is available for download from our Beta Program page. Your reports so far indicate that it is much more stable than b13 or b12.

I am working now on b15, in which I hope to restore compatibility with Snow Leopard. I have it basically working now, but it's still pretty fragile.

I may not be responding to bug reports and email until next week. Some visiting family and other festivities will be enforcing a little time off from solitaire work. Keep sending your reports, I love 'em and I want 'em; but don't be worried if I don't respond for a few days. I'll start catching up on Monday the 24th.

See you then!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Beta 14

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 14 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This release fixes bugs 71, 72, 74, and 75. We do not expect any crashes in this release! Of course, we've said that before and been wrong before, but the previous release (b13) has only been seen to crash in certain circumstances, and we think b14 will fix that. If you do see a crash with b14, please send us the crash report.

In addition, we've learned that many of you like to undo and redo by (for example) holding down the ESC or Space bar keys, and letting them auto-repeat. This turned out to create problems that didn't happen when using the toolbar buttons Undo to Snapshot and Redo to Snapshot. We think we've fixed those, too, except that the animation may be jerky when you do that.

Osmosis and Peek were triggering an obscure bug that made Undo fail (no matter how you used it), and we've fixed that too.

We still have not restored compatibility with Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8). I will work on that for the next release. We (and some of you) have also noticed that some games are not very responsive, with a perceptible lag in highlighting available cards or in moving a clicked card. We'll be working on that, too.

A Reminder
Please tell us which beta you are using when you send a bug report! If you report a crash and don't tell me which beta, I don't know whether it's a crash in b14 (which would be important news) or a crash in b12 (which would be a bug I've probably fixed already).

The minimum info we like to see in a bug report is:

  • Version of Solitaire Till Dawn (e.g. "b14")
  • Version of Mac OS X
  • Game you were playing (e.g. "Free Cell")
  • What you were doing when the bug happened (e.g. clicking the "Undo" button)
  • What you expected to see happen
  • What happened instead that looked like a bug
Here's an example:
I was using b14 on Mavericks. I was playing Free Cell. I'd just won a game, and while the cards were still flying up to the foundations, I clicked the "New Game" button. I expected to get a new game of Free Cell, but instead Solitaire Till Dawn crashed.
That's a pretty useful bug report: it has all the important basic info, and a fair amount of detail. If you do see a crash, we also love to get the contents of the crash report that will appear on your screen (but don't bother clicking the "Send to Apple" bug, they'll ignore it).

If you see something peculiar on the screen that isn't a crash, sending a screen shot may be helpful. You can't send attachments or images through the Bug Report Form, but if you tell us you've got a screen shot, we'll write back and tell you how to send it to us.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

BETA 13: No Crashes (we hope)

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 13 is now available from our Beta Program page.

Important: Some of b12's problems can persist in a saved game. We recommend starting a new game the first time you open b13, instead of trying to play the saved game from b12. Otherwise you may still see crashing or incorrect behavior, even when using b13.

What's New
As you all must know by now, the previous release b12 had serious crashing bugs that affected nearly all users. We believe that b13 will be much more stable. In addition, we believe we have fixed the problem of inappropriately face down cards that many users saw on Lion.

Some of you have reported seeing the same shuffles over and over in b12. This is a side effect of the crashes: if Solitaire Till Dawn does not quit properly, it can't save any information about which shuffles you have already played. If it doesn't crash, you shouldn't see repeated games.

Finally, we have made some subtle adjustments to the pacing of the animations; we hope that this will make them more attractive, and even perhaps more informative by making it more obvious what happens when you deal in some games.

Update: Some of you have found that there are still cases where cards are incorrectly face down, and a few of you have experienced crashes. The face down cards seem to happen when rapidly undoing or redoing, either by repeatedly clicking the Undo or Redo buttons or by repeatedly using their keyboard shortcuts. It doesn't seem to happen if you just click Undo to Snapshot or Redo to Snapshot. The face down cards still work as if they were face up; and you can get them to show correctly by changing the card size (after which you can change it back to the size you were using before).

Update: Also, I have learned that you can cause a crash pretty easily if you click the "New Game" button before your current game is quite through moving cards around. To avoid this crash, always wait a second or so after all the cards have stopped moving before trying to start a new game.

We tested this release, a lot. So why am I so carefully saying "we believe we have fixed it" instead of just "we fixed it"?

Most of the crashes and face down cards in b12 were due to race conditions in concurrent code. We know that many of you won't know what that buzz phrase means; that's okay. The important thing is that this kind of problem does not always behave exactly the same way every time, nor on every machine, nor under every version of Mac OS X. It can also behave differently simply because one is trying to debug it (the dreaded heisenbug).

As you can imagine, this can make it very difficult to be certain that a problem is really fixed. So while we have done a lot of testing of different games on different Macs with different versions of OS X, all we can really say for sure is that we haven't seen b13 crash or seriously screw up the graphics yet. To be certain (of either success or failure), we need you guys on your hundreds of different Macs, playing hundreds of different games. If you see a problem, do as you've been doing: tell us about it! And if you haven't seen any problems after using b13 for a few days, tell us that too!

What Isn't New
This release still will not run successfully on Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6.8). We intend to try to restore Snow Leopard compatibility in a later release, but for now it was important to fix the serious problems that everyone was seeing, regardless of which OS they use.

A word about bug reports
Recently we've been telling you not to send us any more crash reports for b12, because we already had more than we needed. But now that's over: for b13, we want every crash report you see, thanks!

I'd like to remind you all that when you send us a bug report, please include at least the following information:

  • The beta version you were using
  • The version of Mac OS X you were using
  • The game you were playing (Klondike Familiar, Free Cell, Canfield, or whatever)
  • A careful description of what happened and why you think it was wrong.
You cannot send file attachments using the Bug Report form. If you need to send us an attachment (such as a screen shot), you can send us a description of the problem and mention that you have additional files to send. We'll reply and tell you how to send them to us.

If you experience a crash, your Mac will display a crash report for you, and ask whether to send it to Apple. Here's what to do:

  • Don't send it to Apple. They can't do anything about it, and they will ignore it.
  • Do copy all the text from the window, paste it into out Bug Report form, and send it to us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Beta 13 Progress

In my last post, I said that I wanted to delay releasing beta 13 until it felt really solid and stable: that is, I want it to really work again. It was working well before I rewrote all the animation code; I want to get back to that point.

And I'm close, now. I believe I've got all of b12's nasty crashing bugs fixed (although I'm still testing to try to be more certain). I have the big face-down-cards bug that Lion users have been seeing pretty much fixed, too. And I have been working hard on putting more polish on the animations, especially the timing so that everything will seem to move smoothly, neither too fast nor too slow.

Before I send a beta out to all of you, I usually try to test it myself. The last couple of betas didn't get much testing, for reasons I won't rehash, and the result is what you've seen: lots of serious bugs that I should have found and fixed before you ever saw them. For b13, I have time to be much more careful about my testing, and that is what I'm working on now.

But testing takes time. You are running systems that vary all the way from Snow Leopard to Mavericks: that covers four different major releases of the Mac OS. Solitaire Till Dawn behaves differently on every one of them. So multiply 100 games times 4 Mac OS versions times several plays per game, and you can get a sense of how much testing I have to do to even pretend that I'm being thorough.

I had hoped to get b13 out very soon, perhaps even this evening; it has been running very well on my Mountain Lion system that I use for development. I had hoped that it would run equally well on Lion and Mavericks, but I am testing first to make sure. And guess what: I've found bugs that show up in Lion but not in Mountain Lion or Mavericks, and I've found bugs that show up in Mavericks but not in Mountain Lion or Snow Leopard!

I found those bugs just a little while ago, today. I will spend tomorrow working on them and see what kind of progress I can make. They aren't killer bugs: mainly they are fairly rare occasions when cards show up face down instead of face up like they should. I know I said I had that one fixed, and I mostly have: the bug is now rare instead of common. But "rare" isn't good enough, of course. With a little luck I can get them fixed in just a day or two. If I can't, I will put out b13 anyway, since it is a huge improvement over b12; so either way you won't have to wait too long.

In the meantime, please don't send me any more bug reports about b12. I already know it's very buggy and crashy. I already have far more crash reports than I need or can use. Wait for the next beta, please, and then you can start sending me reports again. Right now they'd just be wasting your time and mine. Thanks!

A quick word about Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6): beta 13, like beta 12, will have serious problems on Snow Leopard. I know about them, I intend to fix them, but not in this release. Maintaining compatibility with Snow Leopard is quite difficult, and most of you aren't using it. I need to get a stable release out for the majority, and I need to do it fairly quickly, so Snow Leopard will have to wait.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Beta 12: Face Down Cards

As far too many of you have already seen, on Lion (Mac OS 10.7) many games in b12 show face down cards where there should be face up cards.

Update: I've found and fixed this. The fix will appear in the next release, b13. (I know that many of you would like me to instantly release a fixed version, but I still have other, very serious crashing bugs to investigate. I would like to get those solved for the next release as well. Please be patient while I work on this.)

Crashes and Freezes
Many of you are also discovering and reporting a bug that I did already know about, and which is called out in the b12 Read Me file, in recent blog posts here, and on the Bug List page: Crashes can occur when you use Undo, Redo, or Deal (clicking on the deck). On my systems this happens rarely, but it does happen. On some of your systems it clearly happens quite easily.

Please don't send me any more bug reports about this. I usually don't ask that, but I am getting so many that I don't have time to work on the problem: all my time is going to answering the reports.

Fixing these crashes is now my highest priority.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beta 12: Returning to Stability

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 12 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This release is valid through the end of March.

Once again, we are releasing a beta in a certain amount of haste, because the previous beta will expire in just a day or two. We had hoped for beta 12 to be really solid, and to fix more of the "small bugs" that don't cause crashes. And we do think this release is a big improvement, with a long list of bug fixes since beta 11.

But it's not perfect. We have seen one crash while using Undo to Snapshot to rewind a long game of Forty Thieves back to the start. We're sure it can happen with other games as well. But it seems to be difficult to reproduce, because we've had no problems doing the same thing with other games of Forty Thieves, and in other solitaires, in repeated tests. We do have a notion of what the problem is, and we will be working on it.

Also, we apologize to all of you who are running Snow Leopard, but beta 12 is broken on Snow Leopard (10.6.8) just like b11 and b10 were. We do intend to address this issue and restore compatibility with Snow Leopard, but we didn't have time to do this for beta 12.

In addition to fixing a large number of bugs from the Bug List, we put a fair amount of work into improving some of the animations in b12. Those of you who complained about the odd "twisting" effect when dealing in Klondike and related games should see a more normal-looking animation in b12. We have also adjusted some of the timing, to make sequences of animations (such as refilling the deck and then dealing a new packet from the deck onto the discard in Klondike) more clear.

We are painfully aware that the animation improvements we introduced in b10 have seriously impacted the stability of Solitaire Till Dawn. Betas 10 and 11 were not really "beta-quality" releases, because there were enough problems to seriously violate the beta rule of "mostly working, most of the time". And b12 still does not have that quality for Snow Leopard. But we're working hard to get that reliability, robustness, and stability back.

Stay tuned, and as always, thanks for your patience, your hard work on our behalf, and your support!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Almost March

It's nearly the end of February, and b11 will expire in a couple of days. I'm starting to get worried emails from some of you.

Relax: I should have b12 out in a day or so. I had wanted to put more work into it before releasing it, because it is still not as robust as b9 (the last beta before I reworked the animation). But I don't want to reward your patience and hard work by cutting you off completely, so I'll get b12 out in the next day or two, and it will have an expiration date that will at least last through March.

The server problems we've had have continued to plague us. The server is up and running now, but we are still getting it tweaked, bringing new services online, and most importantly, documenting everything we had to do to get it running. That's in case we ever have to go through this again!

Because of this, I still haven't been able to spend as much time on solitaire development as I'd like. But I am back at work on it. If you check the Bug List, you'll see that quite a few bugs are marked as "fixed in b12". This next release won't be perfect, but it should be a big improvement.

But not for Snow Leopard. Beta 11 has serious problems on OS X 10.6.8, and I have not had time to address them for b12. I have not given up on Snow Leopard compatibility, but I'm afraid it's not there yet and I won't have time to fix it before b11 expires. (One problem is that, independently of our server issues, my Snow Leopard test machine has been giving me trouble. I think I've sort of got that under control now, too.)

Watch for the b12 release in the next day or two, and expect it to be better than b11 but not perfect.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Status Report, the sequel

I see that my last status update was ten days ago, and in it I apologized for the time I had to take to set up a new server. I said that I expected to get back to solitaire work shortly.

Turns out, I was far too optimistic. The server work that I thought was nearly done wasn't even close to done at that time. I won't bore you with the ugly details, but we've been working on this nearly non-stop all this time. The good news is that we believe (once again) that we are nearly done. We have accomplished all of the major tasks and proven that everything works. The most important part of this was email; for a while there our email access was spotty-to-nonexistent.

That is why I haven't been responding to any bug reports lately: you submit them via the form on this site, but they come to me by email, and my email wasn't working. But it is up and running now, and I see that I have over 200 unread reports to dig through. I will start on that today, and I will resume work on Solitaire Till Dawn as well.

As I posted earlier, I am aware that the latest beta is not working well for everyone. For some, it isn't working at all. I am sorry for the interruption, and of course I intend to get it fixed. But it may still be a while before the next release, because there's a lot wrong with the current release and I want the next one to be a lot more solid. Betas 10 and 11 were released in great haste, to get them out before we had to do the server work. I am going to take my time with beta 12.

As always, thanks for your patience and your support.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Status Report

I have spent much of the past several days preparing for and implementing our move to a new server. I warned you all that there might be interruptions in my mail service, but more importantly, I've simply been too busy to respond to bug reports during this period.

The move is not complete, but it is going well and the hard stuff seems to be done. I expect to have more time for actual work on Solitaire Till Dawn from now on. Soon I will go through my back email, and respond to all of you who have sent unanswered reports.

I have, at least, skimmed your recent reports. Your responses to Beta 11 have been varied: some users report success and satisfaction with the animation and other changes. Others have found bugs, some serious, which of course I will try to address soon.

Some of you have not been satisfied with the changes, even when they are working as I planned. I'm listening, and while (as always!) it's not possible to please everyone, I'll do my best to find a proper compromise.

Beta 10 and its follow-up Beta 11 were released in haste, because of the upcoming server change which unhappily coincided with the expiration date of Beta 9. Although some of you have been having some real problems with Beta 11, it will probably be a few days before I release the next update. I've had enough of rush and haste, and I want to try to make Beta 12 much more solid.

Thanks, once again, for your continuing patience and support.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Beta 11: Right Side Up

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 11 is now available from our Beta Program page.

This release is a very quick turnaround meant to fix the issue that many of you saw with yesterday's b10 release: layouts and images appearing upside down. Again, I apologize for letting so egregious an error out into the world: the bug didn't show on my development system, and I did not test on enough other systems before releasing b10.

I have tested b11 on our Snow Leopard (10.6.8) machine, where b10 clearly showed the upside down layouts. b11 displays and runs correctly. I am hoping that this will fix the problem for all users.

In addition I have fixed two regressions: the Game Info panel was again missing some text in its "more info" section, and the Players panel was not accepting drops of image files. (Did you know that you can drop an image file onto an entry in the Players panel, to use as the avatar for that player? Well, for a while you couldn't because it was broken; but in b11 that's fixed and working again.)

Server Outage
Tomorrow, Thu Feb 6 2014, we are expecting some service outages. We are moving the server at semicolon.com from its current ancient and creaky hardware to a new, modern home. If you find that you cannot download b11, please be patient and try again later, or the next day. We'll be back up as quickly as we can.

We would rather have done this at a different time, but the old server has begun to exhibit signs of old-age crankiness. We need to get the new server up and running before the old one dies completely. Unfortunately this happened just when earlier betas are about to expire, and b10 turned up an unexpected, show-stopping bug. So I have rushed to get b11 out to you today. Tomorrow I will be working on getting the new server spiffed up and ready to go, and then we'll throw the big knife switch to move semicolon.com to the new hardware.

Thanks for your patience. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beta 10: Woops

I posted beta 10 this afternoon, then had to go out for the evening. Upon my return, I'd received several messages from users complaining that in b10, their card games were upside down!

I checked on my 10.6.8 machine, and saw the same thing. This was a considerable astonishment to me, because I had tested a previous unreleased version and didn't see this issue.

Update: I think this issue occurs on Lion (any version of 10.7) and earlier. I hope to have a fix out by Thursday Feb 6, if not sooner.

If you download b10, I'd recommend not deleting b9 quite yet. Try b10; if it works for you, great. If not, hang in there with b9 and I'll try to get a fix out soon.

I apologize for the screw-up. I do try to be thorough but there are a lot of aspects to test, and there's just me to do it before I hand it off to all of you. Sometimes, like today, I get it wrong and let out a version with a major flaw that I should have caught myself.

Beta 10: Starting Over!

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 10 is now available from our Beta Program page.

No, we aren't really starting over. But in the two weeks or so since beta 9, I have made some major changes deep inside Solitaire Till Dawn.

What's New
The main thing you may notice is that dealing (when you click the deck, or press Tab or ⌘D) is much faster. For this reason, I have disabled the preference setting for "Skip long animations". I don't think it's needed any more, because the new animations are quick enough that they shouldn't feel like they're slowing down your play. I have not yet removed the code for that preference entirely, because if there's enough backlash I would be willing to restore it. But if you've been using that option, please give the new animations a chance before you complain—thanks!

I didn't just "speed up" the animations. I actually completely ripped out the old animation code and rewrote it. As a result, pretty much all animations should look much more smooth now.

Changes to the animation code may sound like they wouldn't affect anything else, but that's actually not true. These changes have had a huge effect on all of the user interface code. As a result, things like score and statistics updates, card highlighting, and such have also been affected. I believe that I have fixed a lot of old bugs in doing this. If I'm wrong, of course, let me know!

Possible Instability
Be warned: there may be crashes. In this kind of code, crashes can occur intermittently and be difficult to reproduce. I have tried to be thorough in testing the changes and I think I have all the crashing bugs out; but I've been wrong before and could be again. If you do get a crash, please send me the crash log!

Expiration Dates
Beta 9 is set to expire this weekend. Beta 10 will be good through the end of February.

Server Downtime
Finally (because everything happens at once), our old server at semicolon.com has been getting flaky. We are in the process of replacing it with a spanking new server at a new location. Until the new server is up, there may be periods when we cannot reliably receive email, or when you cannot download a new beta.

In the meantime, we have placed the download for beta 10 on a temporary server in hopes of avoiding problems with the old server. To get it, go to the Beta Program page and click the download link as usual; but then you'll see a Web page and you will have to click a link on that page to actually begin the download. Downloading may also be slower than you're used to.

We apologize for any interruption in service, and we'll be back online as quickly as possible.

Okay, I think that's all for now. Thanks!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

State of the Beta

As I write, it's the afternoon of February 1. Some of you who haven't kept up have discovered that your beta copy has expired. The recent betas still have a week to go before they expire; but it's been over a week since I put out a new beta.

Recently I wrote that I was engaged in a large undertaking, and that it would be a few days before it was done. That's still true. I think I will be sufficiently done within another day or so. I will then be ready to post beta 10, and its expiration date will be the end of February, or perhaps in early March.

But there's a hitch. Our download server began responding poorly this morning. It's starting to look as if it is having a network hardware issue. If so, it may take us a while to arrange a new download location for beta 10. We will do our best to see that you continue to have a valid beta to test, but if things really go downhill there's a chance that beta 9 will expire before we can get beta 10 out to you.

This blog site is not affected by the download server's problems. I will use it to keep you all up to date on our status.

Thanks for your patience, and as always, many thanks for your bug reports!

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Small Interruption

Hi, guys. I have not been answering my email and bug reports for a couple of days, and it may be a couple more before I resume. I just wanted to apologize here for the interruption, and reassure you: I am receiving your reports, and I will respond to them soon.

This is an interruption in my correspondence only. I continue to work on Solitaire Till Dawn. At the moment I'm working on something kind of big: I have, so to speak, got the hood up, the engine yanked, and parts all over the garage floor. I need to concentrate very hard on this until it's all put back together again, and that's why I'm not answering my mail.

Today is Friday; I hope to be back online by Monday or so. Until then, keep those cards and letters coming, and be patient. I'll be back.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Bug ID 6: I Need Your Help!

Bug ID 6 says that sometimes the outlines of empty piles don't get drawn. I know this happens, because I've seen it myself. But it doesn't seem to happen very often, and I don't know how to make it happen.

If I can't make it happen, I can't study it to see why it happens, and I can't test it to be sure it's fixed.

So I need your help. If any of you hardy beta testers out there can give me any clue about what might trigger this problem, please let me know! I'd like to get this one fixed and off the bug list.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Beta 9

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 9 is now available from our Beta Program page.

Although beta 8 cleared up a lot of the launch-and-quit issues, some have lingered. In this release, we hope to make improvements on two serious problems.

Bug ID 39 should now be fixed. This one was preventing Solitaire Till Dawn from quitting when you select the Quit menu item, or press cmd-Q. It happened when the drawer was still open in the game window, and we fixed it by making sure that the drawer gets closed whenever the application tries to quit.

Bug ID 43 was a weird one. Some users reporting always seeing the same saved game, whenever they opened Solitaire Till Dawn, instead of seeing the last game they had played. And that was followed by getting the same series of shuffles in new games, instead of getting an unrepeating sequence of new games. I have to blush about this: you can quit Solitaire Till Dawn by simply closing the game window, but I forgot to make sure that the current game gets saved when you do that! So now I've fixed that, and the problem should not happen again.

I'm still tweaking the card graphics. In this release, the "10" rank is different: it uses a more standard font, and stylistically looks better and more like the other ranks. This should solve Bug ID 37, where some users saw the "10" in a very tiny font.

For the few users who use the Players feature, the My Favorites list is now correctly updated when you switch Players. The Game Info panel displays the game description text correctly in all cases. And finally, users who had custom cardbacks in the old Solitaire Till Dawn were seeing blank cardbacks until they chose a cardback from the ones offered in the Decor panel. Custom cardbacks will not be supported in the first release, but now such users will see a default cardback image instead of a blank one, and will be told why.

Poll Results
Thanks to the well-over-150 people who responded to our poll! The results were interesting, if a bit confusing in places.

The first poll section, The Beta Program, was meant to evaluate how many people were actively participating in the program. Somewhat to my surprise, only a bit more than 2/3 of the poll respondents answered that they had actually downloaded and used any of the beta releases.

That initial result has an effect on how we interpret the rest of the questions. If only 2/3 of the respondents have actually used the beta, then we must assume that only 2/3 of the answers to the rest of the questions are really relevant. The rest are either answering about their experience with the old version of Solitaire Till Dawn (our fault: we should have made it more clear that we wanted answers about the beta versions only), or else they just like taking polls.

But it doesn't matter very much. We were looking for clear evidence of portions of Solitaire Till Dawn that are hard to understand, and fudging the percentages a bit doesn't make that much difference. Here's what we think we learned:

  • Most people can find and use the Preferences window, and the Decor window. That's good.
  • Most people can find the built-in Help and use it, though many did not bother to do so.
  • Few people took the tour that is offered at first launch, but most of those who did take the tour found it useful.
  • Most people seem able to use the Game Browser to read rules.
  • Only a few use the Game Browser to find more solitaires that they might like.
  • Few users know about the many keyboard shortcuts that Solitaire Till Dawn offers.
That's mostly good news. I would like to increase the number of users who take the Tour, but it may be that most of you beta users already knew about new features like the Game Drawer by reading my pre-beta blog posts.

Not many people are using the Game Browser to find new solitaires; but most people seem to like to play just a few favorites, so perhaps that's natural.

My biggest concern is the keyboard shortcuts. Some of those are very useful, and there are a lot of them. I'd like to make them more visible.

For now, if you're a beta user who hasn't been using the keyboard much, I suggest you open the Help, scroll down to the bottom of the Table of Contents, and click on Keyboard Shortcuts. You might learn something cool!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Day Off

Beta testers: I have a couple of music gigs today (Thursday Jan 16) so I will not be responding to your bug reports as usual today. But don't hesitate to submit them, please! I'll be back on the horse tomorrow morning, I promise, and I will get to them then.

The poll is nearly done, and I am happy to see well over 100 people have responded. If you haven't, there is still time to do so—but not much, so don't delay! Thanks to all for your responses.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 8 is now available from our Beta Program page.

I am hoping that this release will finally bring us to a level of reliability and stability for all users. There's still a list of unfixed lesser bugs, but the two big bugs that have been plaguing prior betas should now be fixed.

Bug ID 3 is the one where the game window sometimes doesn't open when you first launch a new beta. We think we understand that now, and we think we have it licked.

Bug ID 24 is the one that drew the suit pips too small for some users. Like bug 3, we thought we had this fixed before and were wrong, but we believe we've got it right this time.

In addition, related bugs 22 and 33 have been fixed. Bug 22 was a problem with The Towers which we fixed in b7, but it wasn't a good fix: it broke other stuff, which became bug 33. We've now fixed 33, and re-fixed 22 in a way that doesn't break anything else. You should now be told when you're stuck (if you have selected that option) correctly in nearly all cases.

Finally, bug 32 was fixed: a minor problem in which selecting Accordion (or whatever game was at the top of the list) in the Game Drawer would not display the Game Info window.

Let us know how this new beta works for you. Thanks!

P.S. There are two days left to respond to the poll, in the right-hand column of this page. Our thanks to everyone who has responded so far!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beta 7

A quick reminder: If you haven't taken the poll yet, please take a moment to do that. It's along the right-hand side of this page, and it will only take a moment or two. Thanks!

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 7 is now available for download from our Beta Program page.

Here's what ISN'T fixed:
I'm sorry, but there are still a couple of nasty, difficult bugs that I haven't figured out yet. I am aware of them, they have a high priority, and I'm working on them.

Some (maybe all) users on Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) are seeing tiny suit pips on the cards. This is not correct; the pips should be the same size as the digits and the J, Q, K. We thought we had this fixed in b6, but for at least some users, it's still a problem.

Many users report that when they install a new beta and open it for the first time, it doesn't open a game window. For most users, quitting and trying again works fine, and the problem doesn't recur until they download and install another new beta. One user reports that the problem happens every time.

Here's what IS fixed:
We've received a lot of complaints about the text in the status bar being too small to read. In b7 we've increased the default size of that text a bit, and we've added a control to make the text even bigger for those who want it so.

We fixed a passel of bugs that were mostly reported for Grandma's Game, but many of which affected other games as well. These included false-stuck indications, cards that can't be moved by clicking but can be moved by dragging, autoplay misbehaviors, and the oft-reported problem that you can't drag the second-to-bottom card into the bottom position in the workspace fan in Grandma's Game.

Many users also reported that the Game Info panel never lists anything for a game's Family, Categories, or Variants. That's also been fixed. You'll find that in each of these, the entries are links that you can click to find other games in the same category or family, or to see the rules for a variant.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Poll Time!

So far this beta program has been incredibly useful to me! Your bug reports, your energy, and your cooperation and willingness to help have been invaluable.

But bug reports don't tell me everything, so I'd like to ask you all some questions about your use of the beta releases. The questions are right on this page, in the right-hand column. There are a lot of them, so you'll have to scroll down to see them all; but it shouldn't take too long for you to answer them.

As you read the poll questions, you may find that you learn some things you didn't know about Solitaire Till Dawn. But I'm interested in what you know already. For example, if a checkbox says "I know that I can click a card to make it move" and you didn't know that before reading the poll, please don't check the box! The poll isn't really meant to teach you stuff. I'm trying to learn what parts of Solitaire Till Dawn are confusing or hard to discover.

Thanks for your help! And if you missed it, the latest beta release is BETA 6, available from the Beta Program page as usual. In the meantime, I'm busy working on BETA 7, which should become available in a few days if not sooner.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beta 6: More Readability

Solitaire Till Dawn BETA 6 is now available for download from our Beta Program page.

Here's what's new:

Readability: Bug ID 24
After putting out Beta 5 with larger card indices, we learned that some of the troubles people have had with reading the cards was due to poor font management on our part. Beta 6 addresses that. Let us know how it looks to you.

"New Game" and "Dealing" Notifications: Bug ID 19
The little white-on-gray notices that pop up for new games and elaborate redeals are gone. I thought they were a good idea, but nobody liked them but me. I took them out.

Window moves on New Game: Bug ID 23
This bug was introduced in b5, and is now fixed in b6. Starting a new game no longer moves the window to the upper-left of your screen; instead it stays put, like it should.

Redeal Hangs: Bug ID 25
In some cases, dealing by pressing ⌘D or selecting the Deal menu item would blank the window, and just hang, never showing the cards again. This is fixed. 

The Clock: Bug ID 10
The clock now won't start timing your games until you make your first move. This is also true when resuming a saved game that already had time on the clock: the clock won't continue accumulating time until you make another move. So you can quit in mid-game, and then later when you start up again you can sit and stare at the layout as long as you like without adding time to the clock, until you start playing again.

"Card Minnow"
The old version of Solitaire Till Dawn assigned users a silly "rank" that was purely a measure of how many games you had played. You started at Card Minnow and over time you got promoted to Card Guppy, Card Clam, and so on.

The reason for this was actually to shame users who hadn't paid for their copy of Solitaire Till Dawn yet: it was an excuse to rub their noses in how many games they'd played for free. There's no need for it in this new version, but some users actually liked the silliness of it, so I put it in.

But it doesn't fit very well in this new version, and some of you have been complaining about it, while others have been confused by it. So I just took it out. (If you're one of those who liked it, sorry!)

There is still a mention of this feature in the Help pages under "Answers to Common Questions". I'm going to leave that in place for a little while, in case there's a backlash against removing the feature. (It's hard to please everybody!) If there is, I promise to find a less obtrusive way to tell users of their "promotions", and offer a way to turn them off. But for now, they're gone altogether.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tiny Suits

If you haven't seen it, BETA 5 is now available from our Beta Page. But there's a problem.

We announced that with b5, the card indices would now be larger and more readable. But we are still getting complaints about them being too small and hard to see. So we asked one of you for a screen shot, and learned something incredibly important: On some systems, the suit symbols look very different from what we intended!
How it looks to some users

How it's supposed to look
We have been using a font to draw the suit symbols. We did some research, and we truly thought that the font we used would be available and the same on all modern Macs. Now we see that that is not true!

We will fix this, we promise you. It's now Bug ID 24. It's a high priority and we'll try to fix it as soon as possible. But it may take a while because we will have to rework the entire mechanism that we use to draw, place, and scale the suit images.

Another thing: b5 was supposed to fix Bug ID 16, so that the game window is always correctly sized and placed. But we missed something, and now when you start a new game, the game window always jumps to the upper-left of your monitor. That was unintended, and we'll fix that too. This new problem is Bug ID 23.

Be patient. With your help, we'll get there!