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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Decentralizing all of my data

A few days ago I came across Ton Zijlstra’s post about trying out Obsidian. I didn’t have the time to read it just then so I quickly stored it in Unmark (shameless plug alert) to read later.

After reading his post I realized he is attracted to Obsidian for the same reasons that I was to give it a try. It stores your notes in a format that keeps the data local, readable, and accessible to any text editor. I really like Simplenote but it only stores notes in Simplenotes cloud service and not as local files (although, it did before Automattic acquired the service many years ago).

As the capabilities of cloud services get more and more robust I find myself drifting back to the early days of my computing where I wanted complete control of all of my data. Even though I can have all of my data accessible from any device, anywhere in the world, doesn’t mean that I want to rely on those services to provide me that data. And, I certainly don’t want the data to be locked into any single app.

Web 2.0 addressed this issue by pushing for accessible APIs that allowed data to be imported or exported in a variety of standard formats. Which is great! However, I find that it is the storage that should be standardized and not the method by which you can move data around. And text notes are just one example. I’ll give another example in a moment.

Zijlstra links to another one of his posts regarding “networked agency” that leads to a super interesting post by Ruben Verborgh titled Paradigm shifts for the decentralized Web.

I need to spend more time digesting Verborgh’s post (which I somehow missed when he published it late last year). However, the principles that are mentioned within it really land with me. One that stands out:

As apps become decoupled from data, they start acting as interchangeable views rather than the single gateway to that data.

This is exactly what I want for so much of my personal data. Any note taking app should be able to read notes written in any app – making the app’s interface simply a view into my note data. Like email. I can choose any email app for any email address. And switch whenever I want.

I’m currently working at building the very same capabilities for my photo library. In the past, I’ve written about why Photos for Mac isn’t a good long term storage solution for our photo libraries. As I write this I’m creating a set of tools and a workflow for my photo storage that allows me to store my photos in a readable format and structure while retaining the ability to use an app like Photos for Mac as a view into that library.

I still have more work to do, and I plan on writing a post sometime in September on what I’ve made so far, but it is a challenge to be sure. My overall goal is to have a photo library that does not require an app, but that an app enhances the experience of browsing my library. And, that all metadata related to a photo (EXIF, tags, faces, etc.) are stored within the file itself and not only within a photo management tool’s database. This will not be easy but I’m determined.

Notes and photos are not the only data that I wish I had in a standardized readable format. My links from Unmark are important to me. Unmark can already import from a variety of services and formats, and it can export into a JSON file. But I’ve recently started working on an export process for Unmark that will spit out a standardized HTML file so that people can export their links to be ingested in any browser or app they desire. This is, of course, the Web 2.0 approach.

I’m glad I read Zijlstra’s post. It has reinvigorated me to continue my effort to decentralize as much of my personal data as possible.

Shattered window panes – July 2020

I haven’t been shooting very many photos in the last few weeks. Partially because life is very busy and also due to the pandemic. This photo, taken on a nature walk, was shot on the iPhone of an abandoned railroad building from the early 1900s.

Please consider adding a photo of yourself to your About page if you write a personal blog. See mine. Putting a face to a name helps a lot! When you do, spread the word so others do it too.

I wish I had the time to redesign my site’s home page. It is something I’ve been thinking about for years. I need to carve out the time to do it.

I feel like most people, including those that rail against Facebook, don’t have the stones to quit Instagram.

I thought I would update to Big Sur when Public Beta 2 arrived but I have far too much going on to take that chance (though, the OS does seem pretty solid from what I’m reading). I think I’ll wait for the public release in September at this point.

Quicktime on macOS bug: Hover to display controls. Roll off on left, right, or bottom of window, controls disappear. Roll off on the top of window and controls remain.

A tweetstorm about Photos for Mac

I’m old, so I can still call them tweetstorms rather than threads.

I just posted a tweetstorm regarding Photos for Mac on Catalina. I posted it there because I’m sort of hoping that a few Apple people are still lingering on the WWDC hashtag.

Here are my tweets:

  1. I have the second-best computer you sell, and facial recognition is going on weeks to make a dent in my photo library.
  2. How can I gracefully quit ‘photoanalysisd’ when I want to unmount an external drive? Getting sick of “Force Ejecting” (though I do love how that sounds like a Star Wars reference)
  3. Is there any way to ask Photos to start its processes again after mounting an external drive?
  4. Why would Photos just stop “thinking”? How do I “jiggle the handle”? Notice CPU usage. The app is open and in the background – should be using 100% of CPU to work. (See Figure 1)
  5. I created a Smart Album to find unnamed Faces. Maybe you can add this directly to Photos as a feature? It makes it much easier to find photos that have faces but Photos doesn’t know their name. (See Figure 2)
  6. I’d like an option to delete a photo from the hard drive when I delete from the Library. Is this possible and I’m simply missing it? As of right now, I have to “Find referenced file in Finder” and delete both in Finder and in Library.
  7. Can I move a Photo Library from an external drive to the local drive and all of the references will stay in tact?
  8. The Places feature works on individual people or if I search for a location but the map feature under Places in the sidebar shows no photos at all.
  9. Can you add progress indicators throughout the app? Importing shows progress, but it’d be nice if facial and object recognition or other tasks gave some indication of “doneness”. As it stands, it appears as though Photos is broken. But I know it isn’t. It’s just “thinking”.
  10. Exporting original photos should retain all metadata (unless specified to remove in preferences).
  11. Bonus: Adding descriptions or keywords, etc. should be stored directly on the file itself. It can be stored in the Photos database too. But storing on the file itself makes Photos for Mac “future proof” a bit.
Figure 1
Figure 2

Who knows. Maybe someone will read those tweets.

Steve Benjamins on Spotify

Steve Benjamins, in a post showing how he makes some money via Spotify for streaming his music:

Every Monday my music gets a spike in streams on Spotify. You could set a watch to it— it’s that consistent:

What makes Monday so special?

Well every Monday Spotify sends out a new Discover Weekly playlist. Discover Weekly is an algorithmic playlist— which means its personalized with songs Spotify thinks the user would like.

I’ve written a lot about how good Spotify is here on my blog. If you haven’t tried it, or if you’re into Apple Music or Amazon, I urge you to try it. These playlists that Benjamins mentions are extraordinarily good. They are eerie. They are magic.

It is no surprise to me that these playlists make a big difference to smaller artists getting recognition, more fans, and some streams. Almost every day I’m exposed to music I would have likely never found otherwise.

I’m spinning some of Benjamins’ music today just to help him out a little. Good stuff. Great to work to.

/via Ryan Singer.

I hadn’t heard of Retrobatch by @ccgus until John linked to it. Perhaps I can use it to add EXIF information to my photos? If so, it can help me significantly in my current photo management workflow.

I’m looking for recommendations on personal homesteading blogs. Something like @dejus@yellowcottage. If you know of any, please let me know about them.

My wish list for this year’s WWDC was pretty well accommodated today. Once we are a few releases into the public betas we’ll know what we’ll really get come the fall.

Best WWDC since Cook took over.

I’ll be getting set up to watch the WWDC livestream on my living room TV with a beverage, some food, and my list.

I’m still importing photos and this morning I will pass 100,000 photos added to the Photos for Mac Library (as referenced files). Still lots more to import. So far the performance of Photos seems to be holding up. I can’t tag any photos right now – the interface “jumps” – but I can bounce around my library. I’m considering a brand-new USB-C hard drive just for this task.

Importing tens of thousands of photos into Photos for Mac, on a maxed out 16-inch MacBook Pro, cripples the machine. It is nearly unusable. Closing the app doesn’t help because it has background processes when the app is closed.

I purchased a set of Soundcore Q20’s and I like them so far. But I can’t control the volume via macOS, I have to on the headphones themselves. However, if I open Zoom or some other app, I can? Weird. Anyone know how to fix that?

WWDC 2020 wish list

I see some wish lists for Monday’s WWDC being published so I thought I’d take a moment and jot down just a few from the top of my head. I decided to jut let my mind riff for a while to see what it would come up with.

  • Allow default app choosing on iOS – This one will be here in perpetuity I suppose. Being able to choose email, calendar, browser, RSS reader, audio player, etc. etc. seems long long long overdue.
  • Bug fixes, speed improvements, and UI consistency in macOS – I don’t have any specific bugs, or areas of macOS that I’d suggest need to be faster, but it’d be great to see Apple recognize that macOS needs tightening up at every level. Having a release that focuses solely on making everything about macOS work more reliably, faster, and with a more consistent UI throughout would harken back to the days of the original Mac on the painstaking attention to detail.
  • A complete re-think of iPadOS multi-tasking features and gestures, UI – Adding pointer support to iPad was a big deal for many (though, I still haven’t gotten it to work at all). However, multi-tasking on iPad – though it works – is undeniably bad and I’m willing to bet the vast majority of iPad owners don’t even know they can do it.
  • LOTS more iCloud storage – And features so I can leave One Drive behind in the coming years. In fact, I’d add to this the ability to transfer data to/from other cloud services (One Drive, Dropbox, Creative Cloud, etc.) without needing to download/upload. Just click a button and it happens behind the scenes in the cloud.
  • Built-in support for Electron – Apple will never ever do this. But what is a wish list without a few off the wall wishes? I’d like to see macOS have low-level support for Electron because, let’s face it, it isn’t going anywhere. By “support” I mean that it’d allow for the apps to be much faster, use far less memory, and be much smaller since Electron libraries/dependencies could be always available right on the Mac.
  • Force developers to show all apps installed that support sharing – I don’t exactly know how to word this list item. But I have an example of what I mean. Open the YouTube app, and tap a link in a description of a video. You’re given a few choices of what app to use to open the link: Chrome is one (which I don’t have installed on iOS because why would anyone ever?) and Safari probably because Apple is forcing them to. But they do not show Firefox, which I have installed and use as my primary browser on iOS. Apple should force developers to either just use the default browser (like most apps do) or show all apps they have installed that support the action.
  • More Home Screen customization options on iOS (like, being able to move icons wherever you want)
  • Always on Display on iOS (for any hardware that can support it)
  • Just buy 1Password and build it right into macOS / iOS
  • Add an option to Photos for Mac to leave all photos exactly where they are, and, when imported, file them exactly how I’d prefer (YYYY/MM/DD). Also a local backup option rather than just iCloud.
  • More comprehensive EXIF editor – Either built into Finder (which would be great) or at least into Photos
  • Podcast audio editor – Podcasts have seen a surge this year. Garage Band can be used for this, but a lighter weight app built specifically for editing podcasts would be pretty great.
  • Better window management in macOS on laptops – When I connect, disconnect my external displays (which is every day to and from work to home) every single window seems to forget where I put it. I know there are third party apps (and I’ll likely buy one soon) but this seems like macOS should have this built in.
  • Menu bar icon hiding – Just a simple button that would take all the icons in your menu bar and put them under one icon. Again, I know there are third party options but why? This seems like a no-brainer.
  • A Bluetooth innovation that would make it much more reliable – No idea what form this should take and I know Apple has their own standards for this… but somehow I’d like to see Bluetooth simply be more reliable in every way.
  • Zero game demos – This, also, will never happen. The game market is simply too lucrative not to have a slot on the keynote. However, I don’t want to see a single game demo.

I could likely come up with more but I think if I got any one of these things I’d be happy. Apple has delivered some great stuff over the last few years but overall their attention to detail has been slipping. I’d like to see that return and with it my confidence in them on the software front.

Adobe’s Photography app updates

Big updates across all apps and services from Adobe coinciding with their 99u event. Notably, Creative Cloud went from 100GB to 1TB with no additional cost. I wish Apple would do something like that.

Here is a list of the updates to their photography apps. I really like this Versions feature in Lightroom – I just wish it was built for Lightroom Classic.

Experiment fearlessly with your edits. Create different edit treatments on the same image. It’s great for when you want a B&W version and a color version, for example, or when you want a variety of different crops for publishing to different social media sites.

Export Presets

I have several export workflows in Lightroom Classic for use on my web site, on Instagram, etc. Mostly the differences are the size of the images (e.g. uploading a huge image to Instagram does no good, but uploading one to Flickr is great). However, I’d love to have multiple crops of the same image readily available for print and social.

I doubt Lightroom Classic will continue to get as much attention as Lightroom itself. This is why I’m thinking of building my own photo management app for the Mac but I’m terrified of the rabbit hole I’d be jumping in.

It still haven’t successfully paired a mouse with my iPad Pro. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong – but we are several releases of iPadOS in from when support for pointing devices was added and I still can’t get it to work.

This weekend I didn’t do very well with this. I’m going to try harder this week.

Stolen by Adrian Brandon

Adrian Brandon:

This series is dedicated to the many black people that were robbed of their lives at the hands of the police. In addition to using markers and pencil, I use time as a medium to define how long each portrait is colored in. 1 year of life = 1 minute of color.

Touching project.

/via Andy Baio.

Developed two rolls of film today and completely botched the process. Made some adjustments and somehow the negatives look decent. I have no idea how.

All pop-ups on page visit should be blocked. I don’t care if you’re giving me 100% off, I don’t want to see the pop-up. No, wait, how about only if you’re giving me 100% off is it OK to show me a pop-up. Thanks.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro

I was going to wait a little bit longer before writing my review of this new computer, but Michael Tsai recently published some of his thoughts on it and – after writing a post in response to his experiences I realized it was turning into a bit of a review – so now this post is a review.

If you read Michael’s post you might come away thinking he doesn’t like the computer. I don’t think that’s the case. I just think he is pointing out the things that stuck out to him the most and usually the things we don’t like are the ones we remember more readily.

To cut right to the chase, I really like this computer. It has the potential of surpassing the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina as my favorite Mac of all time. But I need a bit more time with it before I’ll know that.

The great things about this new computer are the speed and memory, the larger screen, and the sound.

The good things about this computer are Touch ID (makes using things like 1Password so much better), the large trackpad, and the hopefully reliable keyboard.

The bad things are the fact that it is all USB-C and the rather useless Touch Bar (more on this later).

Now, to Michael’s experience.

Michael on Touch ID:

I’ve always had great experiences with Touch ID on iPhones, but the Touch ID key on the MacBook Pro barely works.

I don’t have this experience at all. I’ve added two fingers to Touch ID (since my laptop is on my left at home and on my right at work) and I’ve never once had it error. Yet.

I’d suggest Michael consider re-entering his fingers again (or perhaps adding the same fingers he already has) or consider returning the computer. 50% is just not good enough. Something must be wrong.

Michael on the included power cable:

The included charging cable is gross, sticky, and leaves a film on my hands, like the AirPods Pro.

I have never had this issue with a cable from Apple. It makes me wonder if some people’s natural skin oils or whatever react to Apple’s cables and some do not? This may sound odd but I had a music teacher that couldn’t use brass instruments because brass was allergic to him. The trumpets would have holes in them if he used them.

I do appreciate his links to USB-C cables and chargers that he uses as I will likely buy both of those products through his links for my travel bag.

Michael on the aluminum case:

The bottom front, where you lift the display, still has very sharp corners, which once caught on my hand and drew blood.

I cannot find where he’s speaking about. There is no area of this case that I find “sharp” at all and certainly not one that could draw blood. Unless I threw it at someone! I’d love to poll 10 owners of this laptop to see if anyone else has thought the case was sharp?

Michael on the Touch bar:

The Touch Bar is more annoying than I expected, and I plan not to buy another Mac that includes one.

I don’t know if Michael remembers or not, but 4 years ago we agreed on the Touch bar’s potential. We both felt that it was underwhelming but perhaps, in the future, it’d be useful.

We are now in that future. And the Touch Bar, for me, isn’t particularly useful except in very specific apps. First, I use an external keyboard for about 90% of my computing. Second, the Touch Bar isn’t ingrained in my brain to reach for. I wonder if I learned to type on a keyboard that had a Touch Bar would I find it indispensable? A quick search of YouTube shows a lot of people that get use out of it.

Where I have found the Touch Bar useful though is in Adobe apps. Using Premier for a project yesterday, a few common tasks I have while editing a video were available on the Touch Bar. So I switched to the built-in keyboard for a bit and it really did save me a lot of mousing. Photoshop, Lightroom, etc. are similar. So perhaps for apps that have an enormous number of features and menu items the Touch Bar can really be put to good use. It becomes buttons that replace keyboard shortcuts.

Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to contrast some of his comments with my experiences. It shows you that two people can buy the same product and have a different time of it.

Lastly, here are a few things that Apple could have done to make this the best Mac of all time (for me). A USB-A port, a card reader, added MagSafe to USB-C, and made the built-in camera just a bit better. That’s about it.

Oh, one last thing. The price. Mine was over $4,000. That is not a trivial amount of money and the most expensive Mac I’ve owned. However, most of my Macs have lasted at least 5 years. I use my Macs for both professional and personal use. Paying far less than $1,000 per year of use for how much I use the computer is a no-brainer. This laptop would be worth it at double the price. Don’t tell Apple that.

Why I used Migration Assistant to move to my new Mac

This isn’t a tutorial. If you’re in need of one and you’ve somehow stumbled onto my blog of jumbled thoughts on a variety of topics, sorry. You’ll need to go back to Google and try again (though, really, you should be using Duck.com).

I recently upgraded to a 16-inch MacBook Pro (review forthcoming) and had the opportunity to use Apple’s built-in process for moving from one Mac, or Windows computer, to a new one – Migration Assistant.

I’ve upgraded from one Mac to another (at my best count) 6 different times. Once I used Migration Assistant. All other times I didn’t. Since I only seem to buy new Macs twice a decade on average, I figure these moments are a good opportunity to start with a clean slate on my computer.

Doing so is not very easy. Though, I will say, moving from one computer to another is easier than it has ever been thanks to password managers, cloud services and storage, and a variety of other reasons. I remember in the 90s it taking about 3 or 4 days to feel as though you were back up and running. Then in the 2000s it would take me about a full long day or two. Most recently, without Migration Assistant, it would take me a full day. This latest move took me about 2 hours.

The reason I decided not to start from scratch was that I didn’t want to lose my current productivity level. Though I’m usually up and running within a few days, I feel somewhat hamstrung for at least a few weeks. Each time I open an app it requires new permissions, or whenever I pick up an old development project – with its myriad of dependencies – I have to relearn what I need to get it to run*.

So, fearing that I would lose momentum I decided to try Migration Assistant. My plan was to use it to migrate from my 13-inch MacBook Pro to the new 16-inch MacBook Pro and be up and running in the same day with every single app, preference, setting, dependency, file, password, and even session. My fear this time was if Migration Assistant did a terrible job at this, I’d have to format the computer and start over from scratch.

I’m happy to report though, that it went pretty smoothly. There were one or two apps that simply wouldn’t open (Visual Studio Code being one that comes to mind). So I simply trashed the app and reinstalled and it worked. I don’t know if it had to do with Migration Assistant or another issue but that was a simple enough fix.

Other than this one hiccup, I didn’t skip a beat. I never once went back to the old Mac and ended up formatting it the same afternoon that I received the new one. And with the added horsepower of this new Mac I feel even more empowered than I did prior to the move.

I do, however, have two suggestions to anyone using Migration Assistant… Do not use WiFi to make the transfer. I don’t even know why it is an option. I have a modern wireless set up in my home – it is very, very fast for most things – yet Migration Assistant simply would not work over WiFi. From what I could tell, the process would have taken multiple days. It seems impossible. So my only guess is that it simply doesn’t work. Apple should remove it.

If you cannot directly connect your two Macs because you do not have the right cables, consider recovering from a Time Machine backup using Migration Assistant (like I did). It only took about 90 minutes. To do this, you just need to make sure you back up your old computer right before making the jump.

I hope this new Mac lasts 5 years or so (unless the rumored switch to ARM is simply too enticing to wait). When I do switch to a new Mac, though, I won’t hesitate to try Migration Assistant again.

* This too has been dramatically improved with things like package managers and Docker.

Taking another social media break

Jake Dahn:

In many ways it feels like the more “information” I consume, the more burnt out I become.

And:

Ideas feel different, though. When I consume a new idea, I fall into a natural optimism where I can’t help but be motivated to remix the idea into something new.

Please read his entire post for the context of these statements because they are not entirely related to what I’m about to write.

When the pandemic hit we immediately instituted some rules for taking in information. We limited ourselves to just 30-minutes of news per day so that we were informed but yet not overwhelmed. After a few weeks, we began to skip days and most weekends since much of the information being shared by news outlets and authorities were mostly the same day-to-day.

I believe this helped us a lot.

Lately, though, I find myself consuming more citizen journalism via social networks than in recent memory. Like Jake, I can feel it drain on me in a variety of ways. I can see my capability for long form reading, focus, and deep thought lessen the more tiny bits of information, video clips, etc. that I take in. Consuming social media has always had that effect on me which is why I’ve taken extended breaks.

Jake’s post is a good reminder for me to take care of myself by limiting the amount of time I take in this type of information. I believe it is important to be informed but it is also important to be cognizant of your own mental health.

To that end, I’m taking another social media break. I’m unsure how long. Likely until I feel a bit better and I notice my mind settle and my ability to focus return a bit. I’ll still write here (in fact, that may increase as a result of this break).

I also have an idea of how to separate my subscriptions in NetNewsWire to allow me to still read some of my favorite web sites and publications (which provide me with inspiration) without getting too much news or short form bits.

PHP turns 25

PHP turns 25.

I’ve said that I agree that PHP is pretty bad. However, I still use it regularly, it has allowed me to make some incredible things, and made me a ton of money over those 25 years.

/via Michael Tsai.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro should have come with a card reader and perhaps a USB-A slot. There is plenty of room and what Pro in 2020 doesn’t need both of those things regularly? Other than this complaint… well, you’ll just have to wait for the review.

Over the weekend, Emulsive published my guest post in their 5 frames series. Subscribers to my blog will recognize the photos.