Recent blog posts

Kayaking Dunn Pond in September

22 September 2015

I shared a few photos from my paddle in August and I plan on sharing some from paddles in October, November, and December. Hold me to it. I don’t mind getting cold to catalog how the pond changes over the next few months this fall.

Here are a few photos from last Friday, September 11th.

Here is me, lookin’ all mean for some reason. I was happy. I had Dunn Pond completely to myself.

Enjoy the green now because by the time I get the boat back in the water in October I imagine a lot of it will be gone.

Ad control

22 September 2015

Something else to consider during this ad blocking and ad serving conversation is that if you publish your words, photos, sounds, videos on your own web site you can control the ads that are shown on it. In fact you can choose to show none at all. If you share these things on sites, services, or networks that you do not own you have no control at all.

Unblocking The Deck

22 September 2015

I run Ghostery in Safari on my Mac. Currently I’m allowing Google Analytics (stats), Adobe TypeKit (fonts), and The Deck (ads).

Here is why The Deck is the only ad network I’m currently allowing through.

Some may block TypeKit for speed but I don’t mind a small amount of load time to read the current site how the designer wanted the typeface to be. And I don’t block Google Analytics because I don’t mind, generally, what it tracks and how that information is generally used inside of publications.

To date I do not block anything on iOS 9. But I may at some point in the future.


22 September 2015

From _David Smith, the creator of Pedometer++ (which I highly recommend) comes Sleep++ — an app for Apple Watch that monitors how you sleep at night based on your movement.

This obviously creates an issue since most people would charge their Apple Watch while they sleep. He offers this solution:

The TL/DR is to charge your Apple Watch in the morning while you get ready for your day (take a shower, get dressed, etc) and then again in the evening while you get ready for bed (brush teeth, put on pajamas, etc). Then put your Apple Watch in Airplane Mode while you sleep.

There you have it.

A little bit on ads

21 September 2015

I am not all that eager to jump into the recent discussion on ads and ad blocking. Over the last near decade, however, I’ve mentioned advertising a few times here on my blog so I decided to go back and curate a few pull-quotes that help to show my opinion on the subject.

Here are the topics I’m going to briefly cover by using my own words from the past:

  • Ads could have been served better if advertisers followed a few rules
  • Ad networks that start out altruistic very rarely stay that way
  • Companies that rely on advertising dollars will do crazy things

First, how advertisers could have kept themselves as unobtrusive as possible, still been valuable, and possibly avoided this sledgehammer blocking technique.

Me, in 2008:

So I've come up with the following rules for how I display my ads, maybe they'll work, may they won't.

Ads display to the following people:

... that come from a search engine (i.e. Google, Yahoo)
... people that have not commented on my site

Pretty simple set of rules really. I have never, ever tried to boost this site's traffic beyond just my writing so my site doesn't get an enormous amount of traffic and as such I don't really expect to make a ton of money off of displaying ads. But I figured by using these two simple rules, I'd be keeping the experience exactly the same for people that either come to my site often or participate in the conversations.

The jest is this; by only showing ads to those that may end up clicking on them, and not to those that clearly won’t, you reduce the obtrusiveness of your ads dramatically.

What you end up needing are two very different sets of ad inventory for a single publication. Branding ads that are tastefully shown to your subscriber base and CPC ads that are as tasteful as possible shown to those that scurry in off the web.

Second, even if you start an ad network for the sole reason to create tasteful ads you will likely find that model to be unsustainable in the longterm. 

Me, in 2012

The business of advertising is a numbers game. When well-meaning, tasteful, and respectable people start out trying to change the world of advertising they typically look at those numbers as they should - they look at them as people. People that don't want to be swindled or bothered or nagged. People that are at the current web page they are viewing because they really like the blog post they are reading, the newspaper column they are reading, or the video they are watching. People that actually do not like advertising.


If an ad network can bring in brand new advertisers every few months then they needn't worry about having repeat advertisers. So they needn't deliver on value. "Your campaign wasn't all that great but thanks for trying." And then they simply move onto the next company with $5,000 to spend. The problem is eventually the black books of the individuals running the network will run out of companies to call. Then they have to deliver. Every single month.

Essentially, if an altruistic ad network can deliver value for ads over the longterm with repeat customers it will stay in business. But this rarely, rarely happens because most brands need to see a return (or clicks) for their ads and unobtrusive ads simply do not work as well.

There are very, very few exceptions to the above (The Deck being a notable, yet very small, one*). And perhaps this recent shift towards ad blocking will breed all new ideas and what I’ve written here will be proven wrong. I’d love to be wrong.

Third, companies that rely on advertising dollars will do crazy things because their customers become the advertisers and they eventually forget about the user (see: Twitter). 

Me, in 2013:

Advertising as a sole business model can cause companies to do crazy things. Their customer is the advertisers (large, global brands with millions to spend) and their product is us (their users). They will do just about anything to get us to stay on their site as long as possible. We might think; "Yeah, but I love Twitter. I love Facebook." I'm sure we do. I love Twitter. They hope we do. They work really hard and spend a lot of money to ensure that we do.

I hate to pick on Twitter but they are a prime example. If Twitter didn’t have an ad model you would see a completely different product unfold. You’d also get far less emails from them. Twitter is an even greater offender of my Inbox than LinkedIn now. Oy.

All of these pull-quotes do not necessarily create a cohesive thought or argument against advertising. Sorry about that. But perhaps it explains that I believe, for the most part, advertising is a difficult business to create value in without giving up tastefulness.

All of this being said, advertising has made possible an Internet full of “free” information. Rather than paying for information with our dollars we’re paying for it with our attention, our personal data, and our habits being exploited by companies with something to sell us. The amount of money some companies need to generate to do what they do, such as news or media companies, could not exist in their current form without advertising because subscription models couldn’t sustain their budgets.

So perhaps we should be happy that advertisers have paid so much money for all of us to have the Internet that we do? Or, perhaps, we would be happy with less “free” stuff online and be willing to pay more out of pocket? I don’t know. But I think the recent push to block all ads may yield some movement towards a more balanced approach to advertising in the future. We’ll see.

* I say small because the entire network generates around $270,000 a month. For larger publications this can be the cost of a single ad campaign/inventory placement.

Using Reminders to create travel maps

21 September 2015

Gabe Weatherhead at MacDrifter on using Reminders to create lists of map locations:

Reminders is also great for vacation planning. I keep a list of map locations for New England breweries in Reminders. When I recently took a trip to Portland Maine, it was a simple task to put the map list in the order I wanted to visit, tapping through to Maps to get directions or links to to brewery Web site.

This is obviously a “hack” of sorts but it works. Google Maps and Foursquare both have similar functionality — Google Maps has a “My Maps” feature and Foursquare allows you to create “Lists” — but I’ve always thought Apple Maps should have something similar. Perhaps this is a good stop gap until it does.

Ditched the Tracking

21 September 2015

Nick Wynja writing on his personal blog about completely ditching any analytics:

I’m interested in seeing if anything will change with what I publish since I no longer have analytics telling me what people are clicking on. I’ve never paid too much attention to this site’s (admittedly small) traffic numbers, nor experimented much with topic or writing style to chase clicks.

I can tell you from experience, Nick, it will change what you publish. For a long time now I’ve paid no attention to analytics here on my blog and it has resulted in me feeling much better about what I publish. This is my space on the web to publish anything I please, at whatever pace I choose, and analytics needn’t hinder me from that.

Nick continues:

If anything, it might free me from the little sting of hurt when I see the downward traffic trend that comes with writing less. I have to keep in mind that number doesn’t show the amazing things I’ve experienced and achieved in my life since spending less time writing for this site and more time on other things.

Doing more away from the Internet will only provide more fuel for your blog.

Photos from NEPA BlogCon 2015

14 September 2015

To date I’ve been typing NEPA BlogCon as NEPABlogcon — the organizers of the event can please accept my deepest apologies.

This past weekend’s event was very well attended, executed, staffed, and organized. Kudos to all that volunteers to make the event go smoothly.

Here are a few photos I snapped. Sorry for the blur, I’ll do better next time. (Also, there are a few photos of The Gem & Keystone Brewpub)

The future of TV

11 September 2015

I strongly dislike the TV model. The always-on, million channel, ad ridden model. But I love watching things on my TV. So, for many years Eliza and I have had both a DVR and Apple TV connected to our living room, pub, and bedroom TVs.

This has allowed us to control the TV model to some degree. The DVR allowed us to time-shift — that is, we can watch what we want when we’d prefer regardless of when the show originally aired. The Apple TV afforded us the ability to bring content from the web into the living room.

I use the Apple TV far more than the DVR. I believe if I added up the last 5 or 6 years worth of DVR usage there would be less than a half dozen series that I’ve recorded.

When Netflix was added to the Apple TV this helped to reduce our DVR usage even more. Some of the shows that we may have tried to record on DVR were now easily found and watched, at our leisure, on Netflix. We haven’t watched many of the series available on Netflix… perhaps three or four together and one or two each separately. (I say “not many” because I hear of other’s habits and I’m impressed with their ability to watch so many things.)

YouTube is just now beginning to eat away my TV time. I’ve watched videos on YouTube with regularity since it debuted on my computer or mobile device, of course, but it wasn’t until just a few months ago that I began to subscribe to YouTube channels and sat down and watched them on my Apple TV.

I think it may be an age thing. There are millions of teenagers around the world that follow YouTube celebrities as if they were Brad Pitt. Actually, to them these people are Brad Pitt. Our Brad Pitt simply wasn’t on YouTube when he became a superstar. So whenever I heard kids mention names from YouTube fame and I didn’t know them I dismissed how big of a shift this really was; the shift from watching content on “TV” to watching YouTube content.

I guess you could say I did what old men do; ignored what was happening right in front of my face and — internally anyway — denied it to the point where I wasn’t following along. Such is the price of age I suppose.

But not anymore. I’m starting to jump all in on the Internet TV shift. I’m slowly finding more and more YouTube channels that I enjoy and I’m subscribing to them. Some of them are the same ones the younger people enjoy — but not all. I’ve found a few gems that have relatively small audiences compared to the incredibly huge audience sizes of the YouTube elite.

A small side note here: Some of the audiences that have been built up on YouTube are incredibly large when compared to what cable TV audience sizes are. The cable TV model is dying very, very quickly now. As a very recent example, Key & Peele, who are one of the most popular comedy acts of this current generation, just got cancelled on cable TV. On the web they are huge. Imagine if Seinfeld was cancelled when at the top of their game because people didn’t watch the show on TV but watched all of the shows clips online? The cable TV people can’t even get a grasp on the audiences they’ve built on cable TV as they are shifting to the web. They don’t get it. This isn’t new; see the comments from 2005 on Lonely Island’s Lazy Sunday video on their site.*

So while Apple debuted the brand-new Apple TV on Wednesday and positioned it as “the future of TV” I think they’re behind the curve this time. Not so far behind the curve that they won’t make up any ground but behind the curve nonetheless. This current generation of people are already watching this content on other devices… Apple is simply helping them to get it onto a larger screen in a different room. They’re adjusting to habits that have already been formed and, in a lot of cases I’d say, are as entrenched as “channel surfing” was in my youth.

Will the Apple TV work? Yes. For some content and for some people. But it won’t pull people away from their mobile devices. The Apple TV is already a fairly big hit and for years it was simply a “hobby” for Apple. You very, very rarely saw an ad for it. The Apple TV and remote both look ancient now (compared to the new one). And they have a large number of developers simply waiting in the wings to bring the content they’re already bringing to iOS devices onto the larger screen and into the living room. All of these things will help to sell a lot of the new Apple TVs.

The only thing that may hold the Apple TV back from being the way that younger people watch TV and play games is that the intimacy with their own device is lost the moment whatever they are doing is on a 46” screen in the living room. They like to watch Vine, Periscope, YouTube, Vevo, etc. on their own phones or tablets because they aren’t watching what their parents are watching. It is their own YouTube subscriptions that they care about not their brother’s or sister’s or mom’s subscriptions. So the private and intimate nature of how they consume the content now gets lost on Apple TV a bit.

That being said, Apple may be coming in at just the right time. The Apple TV originally debuted in 2007. Someone that was 16 in 2007 is now 24 years old. They may very well only watch content via the web on their own devices but now, since they own a living room of their own, may bring it to their TV. There are millions upon millions of people that “grew up” watching TV on their phones. These are likely the people Apple is genuinely after. Not me, the old geezer that just found out YouTube was cool to watch on my TV.

* In case the comment disappears on The Lonely Island’s site. They essentially said that Lazy Sunday exploded on YouTube to 5M views (a huge, huge record in 2005) and that NBC pulled the video from YouTube because “they’re so cool”. The Lonely Island people knew the Internet. NBC didn’t. And perhaps still doesn’t a decade later where billions of views on a single video now happens regularly. Something that has never, ever happened on TV.

Neocities and the distributed web

10 September 2015

The discussion started by the Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle that I linked too earlier this month is starting to ripple out over the web. Neocities, a free web site hosting service, has implemented IPFS — which is shorthand for a peer-to-peer filesystem.

Starting today, all Neocities web sites are available for viewing, archiving, and hosting by any IPFS node in the world. When another IPFS node chooses to host a site from Neocities, that version of the site will continue to be available, even if Neocities shuts down or stops hosting it. The more IPFS nodes seed Neocities sites, the more available (and redundant) Neocities sites become. And the less centrally dependent the sites are on us to continue existing.

I don’t know if IPFS is the right foundation for the distributed web that we want but any movement is good movement at this stage.

Photos that will make you want to go kayaking

10 September 2015

If the kayking photos that I publish to my blog or Instagram aren’t enough to get you into the water perhaps 500px’s latest post will help.

At NEPABlogCon on Saturday

10 September 2015

As I said in early August, Kyle and I are going to NEPABlogCon again this year. Both of our businesses; Coalwork and Plain, are sponsors and we each purchased a personal ticket

I’ll be the guy with the GoPro camera clicking away. Will we see you there?

The unfollow Q&A

10 September 2015

Since I’ve covered this topic in several sprawling posts here on my blog I wanted a single place to link to about why I unsubscribe from all feeds and unfollow nearly all Twitter accounts a few times a year. Here are some questions I’ve gotten about it.

Why go through all of the trouble? Doesn’t it take a lot of time to unfollow and then find and follow Twitter accounts or web sites?

Yes. It takes a lot of time to find and subscribe to great Twitter accounts or web sites. So I do not take the decision to ditch all of that effort very lightly. However, I believe the value I get out of Twitter and Feedly are much higher because I do this routine every few months or so.

From August 2012 in a post titled How to tear down the walls of your echo chamber:

Your interests, friends, environment, and location are all factors in determining what your experiences are, what you know, and what you don't know. It can be limiting.

One of the many possible solutions to this issue that I posited in that post is: 

Periodically delete your RSS subscriptions. Once-and-awhile go through and delete the sites that deliver news and opinion pieces. If you read someone's opinion long enough their opinions begin to form your own. Break out of that habit. Read the counter arguments. Or ditch them altogether.

This tip, and the others in that post have worked remarkably well for me so I keep it up.

Don’t people get upset when you unfollow them?

Yes, they do. Not everyone says something to me directly but when they immediately unfollow me or even go so far as to block me — I can tell they are taking it personally.

To those that get a little miffed at my unfollowing them a post by Helena Price on Medium that I linked to in February of this year sums it up well. She says that we shouldn’t feel as though we have to follow everyone we know online or off.

We’re among the first generations expected to maintain connections with every single person we’ve ever met, thanks to the Internet. The weight of our swollen social networks can be super stressful, let alone a distraction from knowing who you want to focus your time on.

My entire professional life has been spent with people that work online. I’ve met thousands of people during my career. In fact, I’ve given presentations in front of thousands and many of them end up saying hi or following me online (and then subsequently unfollowing me when they realize the bore that I am online). So I let go of the stress that Price points out in her post by doing this — as she called it — purge.

But don’t you lose followers?

Yes. Absolutely. In December 2014 I mentioned that I simply stopped caring about follower counts or subscriber numbers. So if I lose a few for doing this that’s fine with me. In fact, while Google Analytics tracks the hits to this page because it is powered by Barley I never, ever check it. I have no idea how many people read my blog. And I think I’m much happier not knowing. The same goes for Twitter (though that number seems to be more prominent on the service).

And let’s be honest, my follower count on Twitter is aggrandized. Not that I have a lot of followers. I don’t. But even so I know the number of followers I have is higher than it should be. Yes I’ve been around the web for 20 years and that plays into it. But the only reason my follower count is in the thousands is because my friend Gary put this piece up on LinkedIn once. That’s it. Look at my follower count on Instagram. That is more like the reality. I have never done anything to try to increase my follower counts on any service.

So winning a few followers or losing a few followers based on my habits online isn’t something I pay attention to at all.

Why not just stop using Twitter and Feedly?

This is a question I’m asking myself more and more frequently lately. I love RSS. It is my morning paper. So I do not know if I’ll ever be able to let that go.

Twitter, however, has been losing a lot of the value it once had for me. It went from being the Internet’s chatroom to becoming a place to find realtime news far better than cable television or news websites. One year ago I wrote:

The Twitter we fell in love with is actually gone already. It no longer exists at all. In fact, it is tough to even see the remnants of that Twitter at this point.


I’m pretty sure that Twitter still matters. Just look at #Ferguson or #MH370 or the like. The world needs Twitter. The Twitter of today — the truly global broadcasting tool that works everywhere and on just about any device — is so much more powerful than the public chatroom it was in November 2006 when I signed up. But I still miss that chatroom and probably always will. The Twitter of 2006-2010 isn’t coming back. It never will. It is something different now.

These words are more true today than they were a year ago. Twitter is truly valuable but in a much different way. Perhaps I should unfollow all accounts and just check Twitter’s trending topics a few times a day to see what is going on. Maybe I’ll try this next time I do my purge.

So, now you know why I unsubscribe and unfollow routinely.

Fire with friends

7 September 2015

A few times a year a few of our friends get together, start a fire in a field, set off a few fireworks, and enjoy each other’s company. Here are a few photos from the last two fires.

The new NetNewsWire

3 September 2015

The app that keeps on ticking… NetNewsWire 4 for Mac and iOS has been released by the folks at Black Pixel. Syncing is free. Nice.

Paddling White Oak Pond in July

3 September 2015

Last paddling season I managed to squeeze a paddle in a few times per week. Perhaps I did this because it was new to me (last year was my first time kayaking) and I didn’t mind folding and unfolding the Oru 8 times a week.

This season I’ve gotten out a little less so as the days, weeks, and months of excellent weather peel away I start to get the itch more and more. In early July, just a day or so after returning from San Francisco, I knew immediately that I wanted to get back out and paddle.

So I grabbed the GoPro and went to White Oak Pond just before sunset.

At this point it takes me a cool seven minutes to build my Oru. That is, when I’m not fielding a bunch of questions from passersby who want to know what in the world I’m doing.

Who wears a GoPro strap on their head without a GoPro in it?

This guy, obviously.

Sunset continues to be the best time to get out and paddle.

Distributed web

3 September 2015

Fascinating read on Brewster Kahle’s blog (he founded the Internet Archive) about restructuring the fabric of the web to be distributed like the Internet is.

Contrast the current Web to the Internet—the network of pipes on top of which the World Wide Web sits. The Internet was designed so that if any one piece goes out, it will still function. If some of the routers that sort and transmit packets are knocked out, then the system is designed to automatically reroute the packets through the working parts of the system.

He compares that to how “the web” works:

The Web is not distributed in this way. While different websites are located all over the world, in most cases, any particular website has only one physical location. Therefore, if the hardware in that particular location is down then no one can see that website. In this way, the Web is centralized: if someone controls the hardware of a website or the communication line to a website, then they control all the uses of that website.

He goes on regarding building versioning into this new version of the web:

On library shelves, we have past editions of books, but on the Web, you don’t have past editions of websites. Everyday is a new day, unless you know to use the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which may have copies of previous versions. Where the Wayback Machine was created after-the-fact to solve this problem of the current Web, in this next iteration we can build versions into the basic fabric of the Distributed Web to provide a history and reliability to our growing digital heritage.

I’m 100% on board with Kahle’s vision for a new web that has memory, versions, and is distributed.

Ben Brooks’ iPhone home screen

3 September 2015

Ben Brooks on The Brooks Review writing about removing mental overhead on his iPhone’s home screen:

The most immediate change that you notice: there is a lot less mental overhead involved in using your phone. If you take a look at my current home screen you can see that I have only 16 visible app icons, and 3 folders for 19 icons total. It used to be that the first page and dock were full of individual icons, and the second page was entirely folders.

I employ a similar tactic (though I’m not yet using iOS 9). Not only do I have all notifications off (save for SMS) but I also only have three rows of icons on my home screen. On an iPhone 6 this means two completely empty rows.

All other apps are shoved to other screens and I simply use Spotlight or Siri to open apps.

Clearing Safari’s cache without deleting your history or cookies

3 September 2015

I like to keep my browsing history and cookies intact for as long as possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched my browser’s history to find a site I viewed months ago. And, cookies keep me logged into the services I use most. The latest version of Safari keeps a single year of browsing history (since mine shows exactly a year’s worth currently though I’m positive I haven’t deleted my history in several years).

From time-to-time, especially as a web worker, I have the need for clearing my browser’s cache (the files the browser will store locally to load things quicker during subsequent visits) so that I can be certain I’m getting the very latest version of the web site or application I’m visiting.

It used to be that clearing or deleting your cache in Safari was a wholly separate action from deleting your browsing history and cookies. Recently, and I’m not exactly sure when since I don’t do this too often, these two actions have been combined into a single menu item “Clear History & Website Data”.

Well, I don’t want to do that! Fortunately, there is a way.

First, turn on Developer features in Safari by going to Safari > Preferences > Advanced > and choose “Show Develop menu in Menu bar”.

Now you’ll see a new “Develop” menu in your Menu bar and from there you can select “Empty Caches” which will clear your cache but keep both cookies and history intact.

You can buy BB-8

3 September 2015

Given my site’s new theme (which purposefully looks as if I coded it when I was 16 in celebration of the new Star Wars film this December) I’d be remiss not to link to this story on The Verge about BB-8.

What a great toy.

Older Posts