We’re Celebrating DNA Day (April 20) with a One-Day Sale: All DNA Apps Only 99¢!

April 20th, 2012

From the National Humane Genome Research Institute website: “DNA Day is a unique day when students, teachers and the public can learn more about genetics and genomics! The day commemorates the completion of the Human Genome Project in April 2003, and the discovery of DNA’s double helix. This year, NHGRI will celebrate National DNA Day on April 20, 2012.”

We are reducing our price on DNA-related apps to 99¢ for the day. The apps to be priced at 99¢ on April 20 are:

OnScreen DNA Model for iPad (regularly $3.99)

OnScreen Gene Transcription for iPad (regularly $3.99)


OnScreen DNA Model for iPhone
(regularly $2.99) 

OnScreen DNA Model on the Mac App Store (regularly $3.99)

The OnScreen DNA Model apps focus on the details of DNA’s double helix structure, using a 3D, color-coded, virtual model that the user can rotate and zoom. Explanatory text deals with the molecules and chemical bonds of the double helix. Animations show two important lab phenomena of DNA: denaturation, in which the strands separate, and renaturation, in which they reunite.

OnScreen Gene Transcription makes use of the same DNA model to show how a genetic recipe stored in the sequence of molecules of DNA is copied by construction of a messenger RNA molecule. The various steps in the process, shown in animations, are described in some detail, emphasizing the role of certain enzymes.

The apps show details of structure and process that are sometimes depicted in erroneous ways in places that should know better. Discussion of the chemistry involved is at an introductory level, so the apps are useful for learning about DNA to a wide range of students or anyone interested in the science of Life.

OnScreen Gene Transcription Shows How DNA Works

February 10th, 2012

It took longer than I thought it would (no surprise there), but the second installment  of a projected three-app suite to teach the structure and function of DNA has been approved by Apple for placement on the iTunes App Store. The title of the app is OnScreen Gene Transcription, and it’s for iPad only.

mrna construction

Here’s the app description:

What good is DNA, anyway? OnScreen Gene Transcription uses engaging animations with a virtual double helix model to make clear and memorable how a recipe for a protein stored in a DNA gene sequence is made available for use by being copied nucleotide by nucleotide in the construction of a messenger RNA molecule. Students from middle school on up can learn from the app, as no advanced knowledge of chemistry is assumed. The model is exactly the same as the one found in OnScreen DNA Model, a companion app that teaches the structural details of DNA.

The sequence of events in gene transcription unfold in three-dimensional simulations that don’t skip over the need for unwinding the DNA after the strands have been separated. The formation of a hybrid DNA-RNA double helix during RNA construction is correctly shown instead of the two-dimensional ladder structure sometimes depicted. Important details about transcription that are often given short shrift or omitted altogether, such as the essential role the enzyme pyrophosphatase plays in the cell, are included.

Set the simulation to pause after each new significant step or pause it only when you want. Commentary on what is happening is literally at your fingertip in a popover. Rotate, translate, or zoom the model during the simulated transcription for a better view just by finger slide gestures. Background material on DNA and RNA are found in the Useful Stuff popover.

The ball-and-stick model has the advantage of clarity at the expense of atomic detail. The RNA Polymerase enzyme complex, while not shown in the view with the DNA model, so as not to obscure what is happening with bonds and strands, is depicted in the Sequence View below the model, thus making the point that it moves along the DNA, as it initiates and controls the reactions in transcription. We know of no other simulation of gene transcription on the internet or anywhere else that shows what happens as thoroughly as OnScreen Gene Transcription does.

Following the lead of its companion app, OnScreen DNA Model, the new app includes a Useful Stuff popover (hidden unless summoned) with several items, some of which are extensions of those found in the earlier app with mention of how a feature of DNA also is found somewhat modified in RNA and others that are specifically on topics of gene transcription. An example of a Useful Stuff item can be seen in the screen shot below.

useful stuff popover

The Mac and Windows software (OnScreen DNA) which inspired the iPad apps makes use of a tutorial format, with comments for before and after steps in the simulations displayed in a small window that is always visible to explain what is happening. There’s not room for this on the iPad, but the commentary on the gene transcription steps is available in a popover, hidden from view until the Commentary button is tapped and then hidden again by a tap anywhere else on the screen.

transcription commentary

OnScreen Gene Transcription joins OnScreen DNA Model in the Medical category on the app store, since Apple hasn’t yet realized the need to have a Science category. The Nobel Prize for Medicine usually goes to biologists, so it’s not terribly miscategorized, I guess. Since it is an educational app, why don’t I put it in the Education category? It’s mainly because that category is swamped by toddler and early learning apps, and the chance for visibility is very small unless an app is somehow featured. Anyone deliberately searching for a DNA app through the App Store keyword search will find the app not matter what category it’s in.

I was pleasantly surprised and gratified to see that someone at Apple had recognized OnScreen DNA Model was a biology education app and had seen fit to put it in the featured Life Sciences: General Biology section of the iPad Education category that turns up on the iTunes App Store, desktop version. It has definitely helped sales. OnScreen DNA Model is my top selling app, and the Mac version is doing relatively well too. I’m hoping to see OnScreen Gene Transcription appear in the same featured section as OnScreen DNA Model. Unfortunately that would seem to mean another app would have to be bumped, if the limit is twelve per section. I could give Apple a hint that any app that shows DNA as a left-handed double helix in one of its screen shots shouldn’t be featured, which would take care of that problem. It is not OnScreen DNA Model that makes that basic error.

Coming Soon to the Big Screen—OnScreen Pitch Count for iPad!

July 2nd, 2011

I am happy to announce that OnScreen Pitch Count, my app for recording, calculating, and reviewing pitch results and stats of baseball and softball games will be available in a new version for the iPad on the iTunes App Store very soon. Barring the last minute discovery of a bug, which I don’t expect at this point, I’ll be submitting it for review in the next couple of days. For news and more information about OnScreen Pitch Count and other apps from OnScreen Science, Inc., see the web site nondummies.com or follow me (@onscrn) on Twitter.

I think I’ll just show one screen shot from the new app now, since I’ll probably want to make another short blog post when it’s really on sale, and I can show more then. The one below was taken from a game I was recording to test the app. Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies had just had his no hitter broken up by the leadoff batter in the sixth inning, as you’ll be able to see if you look closely at the stats. Well, they may be too small to see there, but you’ll have no problem reading them full-size on the iPad. The hit is about to be registered. The general layout of the screen is described in some detail below.

ipad pitch count

As a further preview, here is the description of the app as it will appear on the App Store (subject to modification):

OnScreen Pitch Count, the most highly regarded pitch stat app for the iPhone, has come to the big screen! Designed by a baseball/softball coach who knows what coaches and fans need to know about pitch results, OnScreen Pitch Count stands out among pitch count apps.

Increase your enjoyment of ball games by giving more attention to the details in a way that’s not burdensome. OnScreen Pitch Count is just the right medium between barebones pitch counters and extremely detailed apps.

With the big screen of the iPad you can see lots of stats at the same time, even as you record pitch results. And you can transfer the results you’ve already recorded on the iPhone to the iPad just by emailing the app file as an attachment, as the files are compatible between the two versions.

OnScreen Pitch Count allows you to keep the running totals of

• kinds of strikes: foul, swinging, called, ball put in play
• third strikes: swinging, called
• balls
• total pitches
• first pitch strikes and balls
• strikes and balls in the last ten pitches
• batters faced
• outs recorded
• strikeouts
• base runners
• how many runners reached base by: walks, hits, errors, hit by pitch, other
• runs allowed
• wild pitches

just by tapping easily learned buttons on the screen.

If your interest is in one particular pitcher, you can just follow that one. If you want a complete record of pitch results for every pitcher in the game on both teams, you can track them. There is no limit to the number of pitchers you can record in a game, and OnScreen Pitch Count properly charges runs to pitchers who allow base runners but leave the game before the runners score.

As you record pitch results, you see the cumulative stats of the pitcher updated immediately on the screen. Display total numbers as well as percentages at the same time. Compare the current pitcher’s numbers with the opposing pitcher’s. The stats are on the screen to see. While recording a game you can see the stats for up to three pitchers at a time. When reviewing previously recorded games, you can see four at once. Or compare totals and percentages side by side.

As you record pitches you also see the count on the batter and the number of outs and baserunners, so you never lose track of what the situation is.

Did you tap the Ball button, only to hear the umpire call the pitch a strike? No problem. Tap the Undo button to take the ball away. Tap the Strike button to correct the count. The results of up to two consecutive pitches can be undone. In case you’ve somehow lost track through a distraction, you can edit the count on the batter, outs in the inning, or number of base runners, though the undo feature should be used when possible.

What if you record a strikeout for the third out, only to see the catcher drop the ball and the runner reach base safely? No need for the Undo button. Tap the button for batters reaching base by ways other than putting the ball in play; select the case for reaching base after a strikeout; and the out is then removed, while the strikeout remains tallied, and the number of base runners increases by one.

After you’ve finished with a game, which can be as soon as the pitcher you’re interested in has finished, the results are automatically stored on your iPad for later review, and you can email the results of a single pitcher or all those on the team. Email just a text summary of the results or attach a csv file that you can import to a spreadsheet. AND, if you know someone else with this app—either the iPad or the iPhone version—email them the actual file you’ve recorded for them to view with the app on their device. Or email the file to yourself as a backup.

OnScreen Pitch Count has been available for the iPhone and iPod Touch since August of 2009, and of course that version can be used on an iPad, but only in a sort of little iPhone window on the iPad screen or blown up with pixel doubling, which simply magnifies the iPhone image, while making it look worse. Running the iPhone version of OnScreen Pitch Count on an iPad does not free the app from the iPhone’s limitations, most notably its small screen. The iPhone’s small screen is just the price one pays for its great portability and convenience.

I was gratified and relieved to see that as spring and a new season for baseball and softball in the USA arrived earlier this year, sales of OnScreen Pitch Count ramped up nicely and were running well above the previous year’s level. This indicated that there was an ongoing need for the app and that a fair number of people were taking the trouble to actively search for pitch count apps and then to splurge on a $3.99 app based on the app description, screen shots, and high customer ratings they could see on the app store. It would be interesting to know how many of those who download OnScreen Pitch Count do so after disappointment with a cheaper competing app. My guess is quite a few, so that in a way the higher price of OnScreen Pitch Count compared to its competitors may actually be giving them more sales, as people decide to “risk” 99¢ first.

OnScreen Pitch Count, while not making enough money to brag about, has been a hit, in terms of user enthusiasm. This is evident in the user reviews, which abound in exclamation marks and high praise, and in the emails I’ve received. Some of the reviews are so glowing (“The best app I have ever bought!!!!”) that I worry that they’ll be seen as bogus, but they are 100% real reviews. Well, there was one negative review that I’m 99.99% certain was actually meant for a competing app, since the specifics of the comments clearly applied to the other app and not at all to OnScreen Pitch Count. That one hurt sales for a while and probably cost me a couple of hundred bucks. I plan to write about app developers’ susceptibility to harmful, uninformed reviews sometime. Anyway, despite having sold something less than 1,000 copies of the app, I feel very satisfied to know I’ve conceived and created an app that a good number of people have found very useful, even delightful. Would that there were a way to get the word out to the many other parents, coaches, and fans who might also love it if they only knew about it!

Sometime back in March I decided that my next app development project should be bringing OnScreeen Pitch Count to the iPad. I hoped that I could have the iPad version finished sometime in May so that it wouldn’t entirely miss the peak time for baseball and softball, which means Little League and high school seasons. That time constraint for peak sales potential was really the determining factor in my decision to work on this app next. I hadn’t thought through exactly how I would take advantage of the greater screen area of the iPad, but I knew it would be possible to eliminate a lot of switching from one view to another as compared with the iPhone version.

As is usually the case, the job took longer than I’d hoped. Back when I first started app development I had also originally meant to get OnScreen Pitch Count for the iPhone ready for a spring debut, and had barely gotten it on the App Store while it was still August, so there has been improvement!

I had already developed an iPad app (OnScreen DNA Model) but in that effort I had been able to avoid one complication that I’d have to deal with for OnScreen Pitch Count—the need to make the app completely usable whichever way the user wanted to orient the device. Apple reviewers are pretty insistent on this unless you have a good reason not to, which I was able to argue for in the case of the DNA model. For an app with numerous user interface elements and data displays in various views on the screen, this is not a trivial task. I guess it probably added a month to the development time. Knowing what I now know, of course, I could do the same thing again (and with better code design) in a much shorter time. Every app developed makes it that much easier to develop the next.

The main question to address was how was I going to use all that extra screen space to enhance the app? I wanted to use as much of the iPhone app’s code as I could and also make the iPad app seem immediately familiar to anyone that already had the iPhone version. One of the difficulties in adding a new type of pitch data to the iPhone version is the lack of space on the screen to present it. I’ve had users request the ability to record and see first pitch strikes and balls and the number of strikes in the last ten pitches, for example. There was room for these and more on the iPad screen, so I couldn’t use the lack of space excuse on the iPad and have indeed coded the iPad app to keep track of these numbers. The users of OnScreen Pitch Count for iPhone can expect to see these features incorporated in an update before long. I’ll come up with a way to show the new data, even if it’s not a pretty way.

I played around with a number of ideas on how to use the extra screen area of the iPad but eventually decided that the default (and currently, only) use should be to display pitch result data for the different pitchers in the game. All those results are available for viewing with the iPhone version, but the user has to swap out the pitch recording screen in order to see the complete pitch results, and still the results can be seen for only one pitcher at a time, even for completed games being reviewed.

The bottom right panel of the iPad contains the buttons for recording pitch results and a display of the current situation: count on batter, runners on base, and outs. The lower left panel shows the cumulative pitch totals in various categories for the pitcher currently on the mound. These are updated after every pitch. The default layout is then to have the same data displayed in the upper left panel (also kept current), only in the relevant percentages that go with the numerical totals show below it The upper right panel displays the totals for the pitcher on the opposing team, if that team’s pitches are being recorded. If there are more pitchers, or if the user wants to display percentages for a pitcher other than the default, he or she can make that choice. So there are three panels available for showing pitch totals while a game is being recorded with the lower left panel always showing the current pitcher. For reviewing completed games, all four panels are available for displaying pitch results at the user’s choice, both in terms of which pitcher and whether totals or percentages.

The last major upgrade feature added to OnScreen Pitch Count for iPhone was the ability to send as email attachments files containing the recorded pitch data in a format that anyone with the app could read and display on their own device. In addition to file sharing this feature provided a way to back up files on any computer. Of course, I wanted to make it possible for users of both the iPad and iPhone versions to share each other’s app files as well, and this turned out not to be that difficult. So anyone with games recorded on the iPhone version can email them to the iPad for viewing the data of up to four pitchers at once.

I’m really glad to have the basic coding of this app behind me and can’t wait to see how people with iPads like it. As always, I invite anyone with a problem, question, or suggestion to email apinfo@onscreen-sci.com.

Maybe I’ll take a break from coding long enough to write something for this blog, or should I say blog archive, since that’s all it’s amounted to for the past several months?

A Memorable, Otherwise Worthless, Evening

February 12th, 2011

I have a list of possible blog subjects, mainly memories of events in my life that made a sufficient impression on my mind to endure at least in outline, while most of my life has faded from memory. There is no plan or ordering of when, if ever, I’ll choose one to write about. Some are of events in my life that are hard to take up because I know I can’t really do them justice.

The memory I turn to today is not one of those. It comes from an aimless time in my life in which one day was much like another, in the actual living as well as the memory. Why this atypical, yet far from momentous, evening with a barroom setting has come to the top of the list today I cannot say. Yet there it is, and it will get its few words now and be checked off the list for good.

Although I can’t be certain of the time, I believe it was during the winter after I returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts from Italy, some twenty-six years ago. Now that I think about it, the heaps of snow everywhere outside now as I write may have helped turn my mind back to an earlier similar setting. In truth I can’t be sure whether it was before or after my year in Italy. I’m only sure it was a time when I was without girlfriend or wife and thus totally adrift.

I started the evening out in a certain restaurant and bar in Harvard Square. It was a weekend night, probably Saturday, and the place was already crowded when I got there, with no stools free at the bar. I drank my beer standing. I really wasn’t there with any purpose; I wasn’t planning to meet a woman or engage in conversation or get drunk. It was just a place to be amidst people that to me were neither intolerable nor very interesting. Nor likely to turn violent, which is a consideration when choosing a bar. Being there was more appealing than being home alone, though I can’t even say where that was at the time.

Standing near me was a rather small fellow who evidently felt our proximity called for conversation, as though we were guests brought together for the first time at a party. I didn’t really care to talk, and I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I do remember that the man’s name was Seamus, which was a name I’d never encountered before. Seamus was not a man to put one at ease, because he didn’t look to be at ease himself. I don’t know how long we’d been talking before the subject turned to baseball. That made a big difference. Seamus told me how relieved he was to hear I was interested in baseball, because he had been anxiously searching for a subject of mutual interest, and now, having found one somewhat unexpectedly, he could relax. I would have preferred to silently drink my beer in the semidarkness, thinking about nothing, interacting with no one, but I give Seamus credit for not accepting such a sorry situation. I don’t remember anything else about my time there that night, but I must have been there for hours.

This bar had an earlier closing time than some. It’s not much fun to be at a bar when it closes. I can’t remember if I ducked out before that happened or not, but I do know that instead of going home I headed on foot for a nearby bar that had a later closing time.

The other bar, which doesn’t exist anymore, was called the Ha’penny. It was a small bar I seldom went to, and I seem to recall that it was somewhat below the street level. There weren’t many people in the bar this night, but the atmosphere was convivial. The young bartender (whom I doubt I had ever seen before) greeted me and straightaway introduced me to the man next to me at the bar, or rather announced to me who he was: Seamus, the poet. Two Seamuses in one night! How strange to have gone through my whole life without hearing a name, and then to meet two with it on the same night. I think the bartender may have said Seamus taught at Harvard. This Seamus seemed calm and self-assured, in contrast with the first Seamus I’d met.

There were only a few people in the bar, among them two young women with a male friend, and another guy sitting silently alone. There were probably others, but those are all I remember. It was a much more intimate and friendly scene in the Ha’penny than the one I’d just left. Soon I was engaged in a conversation with the women and the poet. I can’t remember talking to the man who was with the women, but I don’t have the feeling he was attached to either of them. The women were both nurses.

One of the nurses lived in a town across the Charles River. She was not unappealing, but her looks couldn’t compare with those of her blonde friend, who was visiting from Colorado. She was gorgeous. The women were seated around the corner of the bar from where Seamus and I were standing.

As we all talked, the woman from Colorado leaned back, knees above the bar level, revealing lovely thighs. “Look at that,” I said to Seamus sotto voce, which wasn’t exactly poetry, but spontaneously expressed what I felt must be a shared sense of awe for the feminine beauty before us. It was not something I would normally have said to a stranger, or anyone for that matter, so I must have felt a quick rapport with this poet, though the effect of the beers I’d drunk can’t be discounted.

I don’t remember anything of our conversation beyond the facts already related, but I know we must have talked with the nurses for some time after that. The next thing I do remember was an eruption of ugliness that broke the evening’s spell. The previously silent, sullen young man at the bar, whom we had all ignored, was on this feet shouting “You’re all a bunch of assholes!”

He stood there looking around hatefully through his drunkenness as though waiting for someone to challenge his assertion. The suddenness of the outburst and its striking contrast with the prevailing spirit it so quickly chased away was stunning really. I think he may have continued to repeat his proclamation. A response seemed necessary, yet none of us responded. Seamus obliquely excused our inaction by saying to me “The man might be a poet,” and I nodded my concurrence, but without really pardoning myself. What should one’s response be to the equivalent of a mad man’s raging? Perhaps if I myself had been totally sober it would have been easier for me to shrug it off as merely something to get away from.

I don’t remember the bartender intervening in any way with the aggressively unhappy drunk. Maybe it wasn’t unusual. Maybe it was nearly closing time anyway. The next thing I can recall is being outside in the cold shortly after the nurses and their male companion had left the bar, driven out basically. We were parting with no plans to meet again.

The two women and the man crossed the street to where their car was parked, while I headed up the street toward home, wherever that was. There was snow piled up beside the streets. Then one of the nurses is shouting. “Bob! I love you, Bob!” I look back, see it’s the local one, wave to her, and walk on. It was one last thing I’d remember from that night, something that could boost my ego a little (and counter the shame I was feeling for my passivity in the face of loutishness), even if the way my apparent conquest had been announced pointed to the local nurse’s having been more than tipsy.

So far as I know I never saw either of the nurses again. I may never have returned to that bar. I think I must have seen the first Seamus again, but never the second, though I did meet someone later who had taken a writing seminar with him. I wonder if his memory of that night is better than mine, if he remembers details I don’t? A poet might.

Taking OnScreen DNA Model to the Mac App Store

February 10th, 2011

I’m happy to say that OnScreen DNA Model for Mac, barring an unexpected delay by Apple’s gatekeepers (it’s been waiting for review for a week), will soon be available on the Mac App Store. Check out nondummies.com for news. I’ll intersperse a few screen shots from the app below as a preview of things to come. While I’ve read of some independent Mac developers worrying about what the advent of the Mac App Store might mean for their sales and profits, I am almost certain it will be beneficial for the OnScreen Science, Inc. apps.

macapp

The Mac App Store (limited to Macs running at least OS 10.6.6) provides a virtual shopping center for Mac users wanting to purchase software to run on their Macs or just to browse through the selections—conveniently categorized—for future reference, much as the iTunes App Store has been doing for iPhone and iPad users for quite some time.

Of course Apple keeps 30% of each sale for itself, but in addition to the great drawing power of an Apple-run app store, it’s providing a lot more for that. Start with buyer confidence. If an app is for sale on an Apple-run app store, Apple has at least verified that it is not obviously buggy nor, in the reviewer’s judgment, totally worthless. Furthermore, buying the app is very simple, as the buyer’s credit card info is already in Apple’s (presumably secure) possession, and installation of the app on the user’s computer is automatic and immediate. And the procedure will already be familiar to many users from earlier experience with iTunes and its App Store.

Each app approved for sale on the app store is given a chance to present its best face through the developer’s own description and up to five screen shots (chosen by the developer), showing the app’s features. I should add that the feature page for the app can also serve to give users clues as to which apps are likely “crap apps.” Personally, I’m always a little suspicious of apps with only one or two screen shots.

Apps not only appear (with name and icon) in the array of apps displayed by category but can be found via keyword search. This search feature is crucial for niche apps such as those sold by OnScreen Science, Inc. because after a few days an app that’s not a big seller tends to become practically invisible to all but the most dedicated browsers, as the app moves farther down the list ordered by release date. The big sellers remain visible by virtue of their sales in a separate list devoted to the most popular apps.

Now, for games, the importance of being on the list of popular apps is obvious, and this is what has driven the “race to the bottom” for app prices, as the presence of high quality games selling for 99¢ can make an app, even a “serious” one in a very different category, seem outrageously expensive at $4.99 in some minds. I think there’s also something about the ratio of the price of the app to that of the device it runs on (and screen size) that makes app prices so low for apps on the iTunes App Store. But in the final analysis it’s really the ability of some developers to make a lot of money selling apps at a low price, thanks to the enormous number of potential customers, all funneled to a single buying point, that keeps prices low. That and the “free” apps, which I may write something about at a later time.

Let me say a little about the “desktop” OnScreen DNA apps from which the OnScreen DNA Model apps spring. OnScreen DNA, sold in three flavors—Lite, Standard, and Pro—has been available for Mac and Windows computers for several years. All these apps, especially aimed at biology teachers for use with students or for classroom demonstrations, are presented in a tutorial format that guides users through activities, complete with animations, designed to teach the structure and function of DNA.

Anyone that already has OnScreen DNA Lite will not be getting anything essentially new by buying OnScreen DNA Model on the Mac App Store. Rotating the model with the mouse is easier in the new app, as it is done with mouse drags requiring no key to be depressed. Some might prefer the new presentation of DNA facts to the old tutorial method. But as far as the basic model and the two simulations go, nothing much has changed.

single

The Lite version deals mainly with the structure of DNA, though it includes simulations of denaturation and renaturation. OnScreen DNA (without the “Lite” qualifier) adds simulations of gene transcription and DNA replication with a good deal of detail about the enzymes involved and an accurate depiction of the basic steps (hydrogen bond breaking, strand unwinding, nucleotide chain forming, etc.), including proper direction of chain-building, primer RNA and Okazaki fragment construction, and even the role of telomerase in solving the “end problem” of DNA replication.The Pro version adds simulations in which the user, not limited to observing processes unfold, tests his or her knowledge by actively selecting the proper enzymes at the proper time and choosing the next nucleoside to add to a growing polymer chain. I should add that these apps, being designed mainly for teachers, include interactive tests, the results of which can be stored on the computer (under password protection if desired). More details about these apps, which are still unique and still for sale, can be found at onscreen-dna.com.

The aforementioned web site has been (and is still at the time I write) the only place to buy these apps. Thus sales have largely been limited to the hardy Googler that seeks DNA teaching software, or is at least searching for detailed information about DNA. No one with just a vague interest in science and biology is likely to stumble upon the web site. The price for advertising in even a relatively small circulation magazine for science teachers is really too high to justify from the sales it would likely produce, based on past experience. Though a ninety-day, no-questions-asked, satisfaction guaranteed policy for complete refund is in effect for our apps, I’m sure many people are hesitant to buy from an unknown online source. Thus the Apple seal of approval could be extremely valuable.

dnamenu

After the iPad was announced, I came to see it as a opportunity to bring some of the OnScreen DNA software to a larger audience (using the existing code for displaying the three-dimensional DNA images on the iPad). I knew from experience with “DNA Day” sales for which I announced large discounts for a short period via a few Mac news sites that there were people who were not teachers that might be interested in a way to learn more about DNA for a price that wasn’t too high.

By far the easiest path seemed to be to start with a port of OnScreen DNA Lite to the iPad. Partly from screen space considerations I decided to scrap the tutorial format. I refer the interested reader to an earlier blog post The Thinking Behind the OnScreen DNA Lite™ iPad App for more about the iPad app. In some ways I felt the iPad app to be better than the Mac/Win versions just because of the direct response to the fingers, unmediated by a mouse. But, due to limitations of the somewhat stripped down version of Open GL (graphics programming API) available on the iPad, some features were lost, such as the ability to ctrl-click on any component of the DNA model to see it labeled. Of course ctrl-click has no meaning for the iPad anyway. In place of the labeling feature I added a popover image with a key showing how all the different parts were represented in the model.

The iPad app was launched with the old name OnScreen DNA Lite, which didn’t make all that much sense in the iPad context. This was rectified by the new and current name OnScreen DNA Model, which is more descriptive and avoids the implication that there is a more advanced version of the app available for the iPad. At the same time as the name change, the app gained a significant enhancement with an on-screen (popover on iPad) guide to facts about DNA’s geometry, molecular components, and chemical bonds and how they are displayed in the model. The blog post OnScreen DNA Model for iPad and iPhone: New Name, More DNA Background illustrates the changes. Oh yes, as the title of that post indicates, a version for the iPhone and iPod Touch is also available.

grooves

When the Mac App Store was announced, I had no doubt that I would want to bring the OnScreen Science, Inc. science education apps (OnScreen DNA and OnScreen Particle Physics) to it. It took a bit of thought to decide what to do first, but based on the relative success on OnScreen DNA Model on the iPad (sales have continued to rise, contrary to the usual fate of apps on the iTunes App Store), I decided to get a version of OnScreen DNA Model ready for the Mac App Store.

This was a decision to make the Mac version very similar to the iPad version, rather than a small modification of the existing OnScreen DNA Lite. Thus the tutorial and the division into activities are not found in the Mac App Store version of OnScreen DNA Model. I think this is a net improvement due to the greater freedom it gives the user, even at the risk of some important points possibly being missed and without the potential benefit of a guided discovery that aims to get the user thinking.

To a certain extent, how successful the new app is on the Mac App Store will determine how quickly I move to bring the simulations of OnScreen DNA to the store. There are a number of decisions, really, about what to attempt in the way of simulated DNA processes for the iPad version and whether to work on the iPad or the Mac version first. It may make more sense to get OnScreen Particle Physics (onscreen-sci.com), our classic particle detection chamber simulation, onto either or both App Stores first.

Time will tell whether I’m being too optimistic, but I’m really encouraged by the opportunity the Mac App Store is giving me and other independent developers to get our apps before a lot of new eyes and minds.

Coming Back for More Or Just Stumbling In?

November 1st, 2010

I doubt if I have any regular readers by now, so I won’t waste a lot of time apologizing for not having written about anything but my iPhone and iPad apps for a long time—or anything at all, for over a month. Not wanting to overdo it on my first blog post not devoted to apps in so long, I will keep this post short. And easy to write, I might add.

This will be another in my series on what brings people to this blog, based on search strings they have used in Google, which I can see in the log for this web site. Previous posts in this vein were “What Brings You Here?”, “More Searchers Arriving at a Place They Never Imagined”, “Some Google Search Examples to Start Off July”, and “More Google Follies.”

It’s gratifying to see indications in a search string that someone has returned to the blog to read something a second time, or perhaps to finish reading a post. I’m going to mention a few of those, which, though they are not as amusing as the ones that show the searcher had something totally different in mind, may be of some interest as indications of the kind of details and words that can stick in a person’s mind sufficiently to serve as keys to finding a blog post. Perhaps the examples will interest a new reader or two in the old posts. As always, I’m keeping the original spelling of the search strings.

Of course, most of the time it’s not possible to know for sure what the Google searcher’s real target was, or if there even was a specific target. I’ll start with one that is far from certain to have been aimed at finding anything on this blog. “Animal fight cat and night creature” isn’t a perfect fit for my blog post “Cries in the Night,” but if you read that post you’ll see why I suspect it might have been meant for it, especially since the searcher did actually come here, or I wouldn’t know about it. It doesn’t seem the sort of phrase one would throw out without something specific in mind.

Just to follow with one I feel more confident about: “mac book pro boil water” fits so well the posts “Vista on My MacBook Pro is Hot—Boiling Hot!”, “Boiling Temperature—Not Just for Vista Anymore”, and “Can’t Boil Water With Vista on My MacBook Pro Anymore” that I’m claiming it as a definite.

I’m inclined to rank as almost definite the search strings “athiest breaking habits” and “Search for dawkins smoking” as having been motivated by a desire to come to my post “On the Breaking of Bad Habits Acquired in One’s Youth: Smoking and Atheism.” For all I know Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist, has been trying to quit smoking, or perhaps there is another Dawkins associated with smoking in some way. But the referenced post, which talked quite a bit about Dawkins and his stated reasons for rejecting God, has been one of the most read of mine, so my guess is that those strings point to a purposeful search for it.

Also coming to that post was someone who entered the long direct quotation from Dawkins: “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference.” Since it was a direct quotation, it could have come from anywhere, but it’s at least a possibility that someone copied it from the blog post mentioned in the preceding paragraph, having been impressed by it there and then wanting to return.

It’s a little disconcerting to see one’s own name in a search string, or it is to me anyway, but my name followed by “on screenscientist isaiah” was used to come to that same blog post on atheism, in which I quoted the Biblical verses Isaiah 55:8-9, so I assume that that text made an impression somehow, just as the Dawkins quote may have. I wonder if it was someone I know?

“Rest in piece roonie” probably was looking for “Ronnie Knox, Rest in Peace,” since the searcher did come here, but I can never know for sure. Kudos to Google’s spell guessing algorithms again.

The Googlers behind either or both of the search strings “drag racing going too fast” and “dragracing providence” could have had in mind “Times I Might Have Died” (the post they arrived at), though it didn’t recount an actual drag race.

Last Days of Chestnut, Guinea Pig” brings people to this blog every day. They are usually looking for advice about what to do with a sick, dying, or dead guinea pig. “Prayer for a dead guinie pig” might fit into the looking-for-advice category, but it could also have been entered by someone wanting to read the piece again, as you will understand if you read it.

It seems interest in my post “Large Hadron Collider: What’s the Risk?” has waned now that the LHC has been running for months without even the whisper of universal annihilation, but I’d like to think that the search string “otto roessler wacky” was inspired by my personal contribution to the defense of the LHC, in which seeing a video of Rössler led me to write “as I viewed his smiling face, this thought came into my mind: I wonder what the German word is for wacky tabacky.”

OnScreen DNA Model for iPad and iPhone: New Name, More DNA Background

September 28th, 2010

I’m pleased to say that OnScreen Science has a new iPad app on the iTunes App Store—OnScreen DNA Model 2.0—with another app—OnScreen DNA Model for iPhone 2.0—awaiting review and hopefully available in a matter of days. Actually, they are major updates of apps previously called OnScreen DNA Lite and are free to anyone who purchased either of those apps.

The main change to the two apps is the addition of accessible background material on DNA and explanations of how different features of DNA structure are represented in the virtual DNA model in a memorable, instructive way. For example, there are now discussions of DNA strand polarity—what it means and how it is represented in the model—and the major and minor grooves of the DNA double helix—what they are, their physical origin, and how to make them appear in the model. This new material makes the apps more self-contained than before, although they are still not meant to be a sole source for learning about DNA structure. The point is made that the model represents certain molecular components of DNA, not atoms.

The new material is found in a popover view in the iPad version of OnScreen DNA Model. The popover view appears at the tap of a new button called “Useful Stuff”. The image below shows the interactive table of contents listing the various topics dealt with. The user only has to tap on a disclosure button (blue arrow) to see a discussion of the corresponding feature and how it is modeled in the app.

contents

Below is shown the Nucleotides item, or rather the beginning of it since there is more text to be read after scrolling down in the app.

nucleotide discussion

Because of the smaller screen size the iPhone app cannot display the full table of contents on a screen, but all items can be seen and accessed by scrolling. The content of the various items are the same in iPad and iPhone versions of OnScreen DNA Model. Below is the top of the table of contents in the iPhone app.

iphone contents

Seen below is the Nucleotides item from the topic list. Less text is visible at a time in the iPhone version, but everything in the iPad version is accessible by scrolling. The text shown below is what would be seen in the iPad version after scrolling down from the point shown in the iPad example above.

iphone item

Why the name change? OnScreen DNA Lite implies there is a “full” or standard version, but there isn’t. “Lite” also gives the idea of limitations, perhaps severe limitations. The name just sort of snuck over from the desktop software, where there are Lite, Standard, and Pro versions of OnScreen DNA. Each higher version adds something to the version at the level below it, and there is a policy of letting customers apply the price they’ve already paid to the price of the higher level version whenever they want to upgrade. That is not possible for an app, given the way the iTunes App Store is set up.

The plan is to bring some of the simulations of DNA processes to the iPad (less likely to the iPhone with its smaller screen) in the future, but the names of those apps will more directly reflect what they simulate.

In any case, OnScreen DNA Model perfectly fits the app, which consists of a virtual 3D model designed to make essential features of DNA readily apparent. It is a superior model that stands on its own and shouldn’t have a name that could diminish it in the mind of anyone first encountering it.

While the name and the extended background guide are new, the basics of the model remain the same as presented in earlier blog posts: OnScreen DNA Lite™ for iPhone Now Available, An OnScreen DNA Lite™ for iPad Gallery, and The Thinking Behind the OnScreen DNA Lite™ iPad App. See the iTunes App Store descriptions of OnScreen DNA Model and OnScreen DNA Model for iPhone and iPod Touch too of course.

iPhone App Update Roundup

August 11th, 2010

I’ve gotten three of the OnScreen Science, Inc. iPhone apps reworked for iOS 4 and the new iPhone 4. Two of them—OnScreen Pitch Count 1.5 and OnScreen GPA Pro 1.2—have been approved and are now on sale. OnScreen DNA Lite for iPhone 1.1 is still in the queue for review. If things proceed as for the other two (week of waiting, a few hours in review), then the update of the third app should be on sale August 12 or 13. The update of the fourth app, OnScreen QB Stats, involved more than just making it work and look good under the new system and on the high-definition “Retina” screen of the new iPhone. I wanted to give it the same improved user interface and navigation among games and players that OnScreen Pitch Count had recently received, so it is taking a little longer. Given that football season is still a ways off, OnScreen QB Stats was a lower priority. Assuming the rest of testing and debugging is not prolonged, that update should be on sale by around August 20.

One of the nifty new features of iOS 4 on later generation iPhones and iPod Touches is multitasking. Whether or not it’s “true multitasking,” Apple’s implementation of the feature allows for keeping an app in memory when a new app is chosen to run on the same device, and then later to quickly switch back to the original app without having to load it again. Since the OnScreen Science apps had been programmed to remember where they had been whenever the user jumped to another app, so that they could resume right where they left off upon relaunch, the only difference with multitasking will be in the speed of resumption, but a second or two is a second or two.

The other essential part of updating for the latest iPhone is to make sure the screen displays of the app look good on the Retina screen. That means a developer has to produce and include higher resolution versions of any images and icons that the app displays. New screen shots for the iTunes App Store display of the app also have to be submitted. These were straightforward but somewhat tedious tasks. There weren’t many such images, so I had it easy compared to some people.

The one app I was worried about providing a nice iPhone 4 version for was OnScreen DNA Lite for iPhone. The virtual DNA model is drawn in 3D using the iOS implementation of OpenGL ES. The drawing assumes a certain pixel density, which is way off for the Retina display of the iPhone 4 which has a higher pixel density. Images drawn with the unmodified OpenGL code are displayed on the Retina screen just by blowing them up, so that they actually look worse—much more jagged—than they did on the old iPhone. It took me a while to figure it out, but the solution was very simple. I only needed to put in a test for what device the app was running on, and in case it was iPhone 4 make a change to one line of the old code (doubling the dimensions of glViewport for the iPhone 4) and add a call to scale the image by a factor of 2. I couldn’t believe my luck when I tried just that and saw it was all my code needed. Not only does the iPhone 4 version look better than the old version did on the iPhone 4, it looks better than the old version did on the old iPhone, since it takes advantage of the higher definition screen (extra pixels) during the image rendering. This can be seen in the comparison below.

old dna image

Above is a screen shot from the original iPhone running OnScreen DNA Lite for iPhone.

iphone4 dna image

Above is a screen shot from an iPhone 4 running OnScreen DNA Lite for iPhone.

There was another update to OnScreen Pitch Count before the latest version 1.5. A user had encountered the problem of not being able to view the pitching stats for the last couple of pitchers when he’d kept track of pitches for numerous pitchers on both teams. This turned out to be a bug I’d introduced in version 1.4 when I failed to take into account a change in view dimensions made necessary by the addtion of a toolbar at the top of the screen. The user called me to point out the bug, and I was grateful for that. I had a fix submitted in a day or two. I had already been working on the iOS 4 upgrade, but felt I needed to get the bug fix online as soon as possible without waiting for completion of the other changes, which is why 1.5 followed 1.4.1 so closely.

OnScreen Pitch Count Update 1.4 Now on iTunes App Store

June 14th, 2010

A new version of OnScreen Pitch Count, the most complete, easy-to-use app for recording baseball pitch results on the iPhone and iPod Touch, is now available. Getting OnScreen Pitch Count to the point where it did its main job well and reliably in a way that was quickly learned was my top priority, and I think I was successful in that right from the first release. With time I’ve been able to add features such as emailing results, including attachments that can be imported into spreadsheets. This new update is more in the nature of a polishing than one that introduces big changes. I’ll just use a few screen shots as the quickest way to point out the differences from earlier versions. I recommend downloading the new User Guide for more complete details.

An obvious difference to anyone that’s used the app before is the presence of a toolbar at the top of the different screens of the app. The main screen in which pitch data is entered is shown below. The four toolbar buttons with titles, none of which are used for recording pitch results, were formerly elsewhere on the screen and just do what they always have. The totally new control is the one with the opened lock icon on the left of the bar. A bit below it, in the top yellow region, is a closed lock, which indicates that the screen is locked, its normal condition. As one might expect, tapping the button unlocks the screen and changes the icon indicating the lock state to show an open lock. So what does unlocking do? Two things really. First, it makes it possible to edit the pitcher’s name. Previously, once the name had been entered and saved it couldn’t be changed. Obviously, there are times you might want to change the name, including of course when you’ve misspelled the name for some reason, but also when you’ve only learned the pitcher’s name sometime after the game started, or even after it ended. Unlocking allows you to change the pitcher’s name both during the course of the game or later when you’re reviewing it.

The other thing unlocking does is to make it possible to terminate an inning before three outs have been recorded. This is something that comes up in leagues with limits on runs scored or total batters in an inning. Having coached in a minor Little League that only allowed a team to bat once through its complete order in an inning, I should have thought of this myself, but I had it pointed out to me by a user who coaches a Little League team in Texas. Thanks, Daren. Unless the screen is unlocked with the toolbar button, the New Inning and Switch Sides buttons are disabled (as shown) until the third out of the inning has been recorded, in keeping with my philosophy of preventing accidental taps that can mess up pitch recording. But this was a clear case where an override was needed.
main
The screen below is one where the pitching results from a game are being reviewed after the game has finished. The toolbar is a bit different from the one already considered. The unlock button allows the editing of the pitcher’s name as before. The Games button is a new one for the app. It allows the user to go directly to the list of recorded games to choose another game to review. This required a couple of steps previously, and the steps were not as obvious as tapping an appropriately labeled button. The Review button is as before. It brings up the complete list of pitchers for which stats were kept in the game. The Done button is to make a new choice to either resume a game, start to record pitches for a new game, or review previous game results (which is what is already being done). Displaying the team name under the pitcher’s name when reviewing a game is also new.
main
The screen below shows the list of pitchers with recorded stats for a certain game played last July. Note that the toolbar for this screen also has a Games button, making it easy for you to choose a different game if you decided to do so at this point for some reason. The Cancel button will take you back to whatever screen led to the currently showing one if you want to do that directly.
main
The screen below shows an example of a list of games for which pitch results have been recorded. The Cancel and Done buttons have the expected result. The new feature is the addition of an option in the control at the bottom to Edit a game. Select Edit and then tap on a game in order to edit the names of one or both of the teams in that contest.
main
All of the new features were requested by users. I think having an easier and more direct and obvious way to navigate from game to game when reviewing pitching performances previously recorded is by far the most important improvement. It was the app’s rather awkward navigation between games and pitchers that caused it to receive a couple of “Great app except for…” reviews. I’m hoping those reviewers will find it in their hearts to review OnScreen Pitch Count again after using this updated version and to give it that extra star in the rating. In any case, I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve made a good app even better. If you don’t already have it, go check it out on the iTunes App Store.

OnScreen DNA Lite™ for iPhone Now Available

May 11th, 2010

I’m happy to say that OnScreen DNA Lite™ for iPhone can now be downloaded from the iTunes App Store. This is basically a smaller-screen version of the iPad app that was released when the iPad first became available, though adapting the app to the iPhone and iPod Touch required some modifications, which I’ll mention. Everything I said in the blog post “The Thinking Behind the OnScreen DNA Lite™ iPad App” applies to the new iPhone version. The same desire to “provide students (and all persons interested in DNA) with a way to reach a deeper, more intuitive understanding of DNA structure” motivates the development of both apps, and the same care to show DNA’s correct handedness, base-pairs per helical turn, etc. with a ball-and-stick virtual model was taken for each. What’s more, it’s a lot of fun to play with the DNA model through the touch screen control of its orientation and size in both versions of the app.

My last blog post, “An OnScreen DNA Lite™ for iPad Gallery“, showed the screen shots that are a part of the iTunes listing for that app and commented on them. As one way of comparing the two versions, let’s consider the corresponding screen shots for the iPhone app. Below is shown a screen shot from the iPhone version in which the linear (“GCAT”) representation of the base sequences of the DNA model is visible below the model. Because of the smaller screen area of the iPhone, this linear representation of the bases is only shown on demand. The button at the top designated GCAT shows and hides that view. Another accommodation to the smaller screen is the shortening of the DNA model. Instead of the thirty-five base pairs of the iPad model, the iPhone version has twenty-one, which is still sufficient to show adequately the full double helix structure and its features.

gcat

The screen shot below shows the DNA model enlarged (by means of the iPhone pinch-to-zoom technique) and with the linear view of the base sequences hidden. The structure is shown with major and minor grooves as the result of a button tap.

grooves

The next screen shot shows the key to the ball-and-stick model, indicating what each colored ball (molecule) and stick (chemical bond) is meant to represent. This is essentially the same view as the Details popover view in the iPad app.

key

As in the iPad app, one can view a single strand of the DNA model, as shown below. This may be especially useful for grasping the meaning of the handedness of a helix, and the app also allows one to switch back and forth between natural right-handed DNA and imaginary left-handed DNA. The screen shot was taken with the model rotated by means of a finger swipe.

single

The screen shot below shows the simulated process of renaturation (rejoining together of the two strands, separated during denaturation) as it nears completion.

renat

Rather than repeat myself, I’ll just refer the interested reader to my previous two posts for more details about the virtual DNA model of OnScreen DNA Lite for iPad and now iPhone and iPod Touch.