Jan 8

Alan Rickman, the British actor known for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, has died in the age of 69. Rickman portrayed the potions professor that was black in all eight of the Harry Potter films and was beloved by many for the manner in which he brought to life the multidimensional character.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final movie in the franchise, premiered in July 2011, but Rickman said his farewells to the magical wizarding world in April of that year. Following the final wrap on his part in the series’ conclusion, he wrote the letter below to Empire Magazine.

Jan 6

Many of you have asked for the truth about the delays behind MenuMachine, so here you go. I haven’t wanted to discuss any of this in public previously for reasons that will become obvious.

Many of you know my wife Janet from discussions online or via our support system. What you do not know is that Janet is affected by a very serious degenerative genetic condition. This condition has significantly worsened in the last three years. In 2008, Janet spent 70 days in hospital and she is just now recuperating from a six-week hospital stay. The prognosis for the next few years is not particularly positive.

It is and has been extremely difficult for us to maintain the business with Janet in her current condition. Not only has it been almost impossible for me to maintain a normal programming workload but what many of you may not realise is that the support side of MenuMachine is extraordinarily time-consuming. MenuMachine is not like many other apps in that it has many inter-depencies and each of these increases the complexity of the product and the likelihood of support requests.

For example, MenuMachine menus need to work in arbitrary HTML pages over which we have no control. Menu problems are almost always due to incorrect HTML or scripts in a customer’s pages, however MenuMachine is always blamed and we have to diagnose the problem. This can easily equate to several hours a day of effort.

The new version of MenuMachine is even more complicated because it needs to interoperate with other apps such as Dreamweaver and Coda, which are moving targets. This adds yet another layer of complexity to the app and yet more potential support issues. We also felt it was important to provide an option for users who are not using a supported app to add the menu code to their pages, which means that MenuMachine is now also an HTML editor in its own right, with all the complexities that involves.

So I have to make a decision about what to do with MenuMachine at this point. With Janet’s condition the way it is, I am now reluctant to finish it and release the product because I just don’t think we can deal with the resulting support load.

What I am considering is releasing a time-limited version of the app as it currently stands and letting you all have a look at it just so you can see that I am not full of hot air and that the app does actually exist. The app is not production-ready, nor is it complete. You can let me know in the comments what you think. One option is just to release the lot as open-source but I haven’t decided what to do yet.

Back before Janet had a serious decline in the beginning of 2008, all was looking well for MenuMachine and it has been financially difficult for the both of us that I have not been able to release it in a reasonable timeframe.

I am all too well aware that we have put our existing customers through an unacceptable period of uncertainty and I’m very sorry about it. The last three years have been exceedingly difficult for Janet, for me and for for our family and unfortunately the next three are not looking promising. I will always put Janet first, before anything else. This means spending as much quality time with her as possible in the time that she has left.

I expect you would all do the same if you were in the same situation.

As usual, feel free to vent in the comments or email me at rob@menumachine.com if you don’t want your comments published.

Aug 24

Ok, so I’m rightly getting dinged by some commenters about my lack of communication regarding the state of MenuMachine. If I was in their position I would feel exactly the same.

Basically, as was pointed out by one commenter, the situation is that sales of MenuMachine 1 & 2 no longer constitute a viable income. GoLive is dead and few people are going to invest further in a product that is never coming back. This means that development on the new version of MenuMachine now has to fit in with other projects that do pay the bills.

This means that I am simply not able to develop the new version of MenuMachine as fast as I would like. This is not a situation that I planned for, but it is unfortunately economic reality.

Believe me, I desperately want MenuMachine for the Mac to be released at least as much as you do. I enjoy developing it and I enjoy the relationship I’ve had with many of you as customers over the years. I’m very sorry about the current situation.

MenuMachine is still definitely a live project, there is not much work left to do before release and I hope to deliver it to you sooner rather than later.

Mar 26

Mar 23

Mar 18

Things are generally progressing well, however at present we’re having some problems with support for the upcoming Dreamweaver CS5. There are some complex technical issues related to the JavaScript engine in the new version that we did not have to deal with with the earlier releases. Since Dreamweaver CS5 will be available very soon we think it’s important to make sure this problem is resolved.

We’ll be seeding to more testers soon, so stay tuned.

Feb 25

Development is proceeding at a steady pace, at present we’re finalizing the code that allows the MenuMachine application to seamlessly interoperate with the plug-ins for Dreamweaver and Coda. We have implemented the import of MenuMachine 2 for GoLive menus and I’m pleased to report it’s working really well, so those of you with legacy menus will hopefully be able to transition with minimal issues.

Work on the new web site is well advanced, we’re implementing it completely in HTML5 and it’s looking good. We may open it up to beta testers very soon.

I’ll be posting here more often from now on in the run-up to release day.

Dec 3

I know that many of you are keen to know the current status of our new version of MenuMachine. As noted in my last post about this, we ran into some issues that made things more difficult than anticipated.

MenuMachine’s data model (the information that is stored in memory and on disk) is surprisingly complicated, and due to various issues we were having with reliability and performance, I decided to move the internals of MenuMachine over to Apple’s Core Data framework.

This was not an easy decision as it meant ripping out the guts of the app and replacing them with new plumbing. The good news is that I’m pretty much finished this task now, with the result that the app is now much, much more reliable and much faster. This change to the core of the application will also make future changes to the data model (such as adding new menu types, for example) much, much easier. I’m really pleased with the result.

This done, we’re now back on track. Although we won’t be releasing the new version this year, it’s not that far away now.

Dec 3

Unfortunately, it looks like MenuMachine is deployed in enough sites that it has become a target for malware authors.

Yesterday we were made aware of a piece of malware that specifically modifies GoLive-generated JavaScript files, including MenuMachine JavaScript files.

Anirban Banerjee from stopthehacker.com explains:

Hackers are choosing to insert malicious code directly into local copies of menumachine scripts which are linked to compromised sites. This is primarily being done by harvesting client side ftp credentials using a backdoor trojan which then proceeds to hand over the credentials to a bot which in turn pumps in the infected code.

The trojan affects MenuMachine JavaScript files as well as the GoLive CSScriptLib.js file used for GoLive Actions support. The page at stopthehacker.com has an example of the modified code.

I must point out that unless your local machine is compromised, there is no way that this can affect you. This is not a vulnerability in MenuMachine itself. Your site cannot be modified unless the trojan has gained access to your local machine, in which case you have other problems. Your site cannot be affected by other machines on the internet.

I highly recommend that you have a look at the MenuMachine files in your site. If any of them contain this line at the end then your computer and your site are compromised:

function(hVAxp){var v120='va@72@20a@3d@22@53

As far as I am aware this issue can only affect Windows machines and if you’re running Windows then I highly recommend that you install anti-malware software immediately if you do not already have it in place and also make sure that you are completely up to date with Windows updates. This also applies to you if you run Windows in a virtual machine on your Mac.

This is certainly an unexpected development, if we discover any further information I’ll let you know.

Aug 21

In the classic (and best) Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo realizes that his friend Luke Skywalker is in trouble out in the icy wastelands of the ice planet Hoth and that he must go and search for him, perhaps in vain.

His first thought is to use a SnowSpeeder, a fast flying craft that would be ideal for scouting a vast area for life. However, he is told that the speeders are not available because the technicians are having trouble adapting the machines to the extreme temperatures.

Like the SnowSpeeder technician, I’d like to let you know that it’s been difficult adapting the concept of MenuMachine from a plug-in to a full-blown application. There have been many unforeseen issues that we’ve come across, each one adding to the time taken to get MenuMachine out the door.

In many ways, GoLive was an ideal environment for our plug-in, even without Punchout services. It was self-contained, had great site and link management capabilities and a great SDK that we could use to develop against.

With a standalone application, we can’t rely on having any of this. There is no site management, so we have to build it. There is no link management, so we have to build it. We need to provide the ability for users that don’t have a supported editor to place the menu on their pages.

We also have to work with several very different plug-in APIs, one for each of the HTML editors we need to support. Each one of these is totally different and offers different challenges.

For example, Dreamweaver has a mature plug-in API (where “mature” means “ancient and crusty”), and the support for binary (compiled) plug-ins is pretty rudimentary. Panic’s Coda has a nice SDK, although it’s new and fairly limited. MacRabbit Espresso has a sophisticated SDK but it’s also very new and limited. The list goes on.

At the same time, we need the new version of MenuMachine to create menus that are more sophisticated than MenuMachine 2’s, while also offering great accessibility and flexibility.

All of this takes time. We are trying to build an app that will be fairly bulletproof, and will generate menus that will work in the vast majority of users’ pages. We are doing our best to do this.

We want MenuMachine to be reborn just as much as all of you and we are getting there. The light is at the end of the tunnel. We’re working very, very hard to make the best.

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