Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Turning off Push Notifications worked. Now to go one step further.

On March 14th I turned off Push Notifications on my iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I no longer get interrupted by text messages, calendar notifications, tweets, email messages, or software updates. If I want to see if I have any new messages I have to check myself.

At first this may seem like a recipe for missing very important notifications the moment they come in. And it is. The only person I’ve made an exception for is my wife Eliza. If she sends me a text message my phone will vibrate and make a chime. If anyone else sends me a text message I simply do not see it until I look. But even though this leads to missing important things from time-to-time I believe I haven’t missed out on a single opportunity that has come my way. It can be very easy to fool yourself into thinking that you need to reply to an email or text message the moment you get it. You don’t.

The important note is that I still look at my phone fairly often – I just choose when I want to.

Since it has been over two months since I made this change I’d like to take it one step further and try to limit the distractions I have even a bit more. I typically keep Gmail (for both personal and business), Tweetbot, Flint (Campfire), Trello, and sometimes an client open on my desktop. I also check Instagram and a few other social networks via my phone a few times a day. I’m going to dramatically reduce the number of times per day that I check these and develop a routine so that I can respond to each of these in a reasonable timeframe that still allows me to eliminate distraction. With the exception of Campfire.

So; no notifications and no apps open unless I want to manually open them. I’m setting a reminder to check back in on this in two months.

Push notifications are the new blog comments

Craig Hockenberry opened the kimono on development of Twitteriffic 5:

Personally, I find myself actively disabling notifications in most of the apps I install these days. Notifications are great when used in moderation, but it’s very easy to use them to the point of distraction. Since I read Twitter as free time permits, I don’t need a reminder. Similarly, a constant flow of streaming tweets interrupting my day sounds more like a bug than a feature.

So do I. And I’m doing it more and more. In fact, I run my iPad in Do Not Disturb mode more often than not. I wonder if we’ll see this as a trend; that app developers decide enough is enough and simply remove the ability for push notifications from their apps.

Perhaps push notifications are the new blog comments.

/via Stephen Hackett.

Twitter’s new @mention notifications

A feature that I’ve wanted from Twitter ever since I ditched Brightkite in April 2009 has finally been released – @mention notifications. Huzzah.

Side note: Remember Brightkite? Oh what could have been.

/via Eric Brophy.

Google Reader subscription notifications

I’ve got an idea for the Google Reader team. When someone on Viddler, or Twitter or Facebook “follows” me I get an email letting me know. This gives me an opportunity to identify who is following me, learn about them as people instead of just statistics and perhaps even follow them back if I want to.

I wish Google Reader did this for people that subscribe to my feed (which is also available on Twitter by the way). According to Google Reader there are a few hundred people that have subscribed to this site that use Google Reader. This certainly isn’t everyone that has subscribed to this site but it’d be nice to know who these people are. It’d be nice if Google Reader, optionally, told me the usernames of the people that subscribed. A simple email notification that says “So and So has subscribed to your site via Google Reader” would suffice. This would give me the same opportunities as today’s popular social networks and I think that’d be great.

Poll: Should my site send Twitter notifications?

Ironically you may be reading this note because you clicked on a link from my Twitter account.

My site is setup to post links to Twitter, every 15 minutes, if there was a new post here on my site. I try to add a little context by adding the category before the Twitter status (e.g. “Link:”) and I also include the title of the note so that people can choose whether or not to click the link from Twitter back to my site.

But I could see this getting pretty annoying for some.

Someone whose opinion I value, Justin Blanton, had said in October 2007, on Twitter no less, that he didn’t like the whole “use Twitter to link to your blog” method of letting people know when you update your site. In some ways I agree with him but in others I find it fairly useful when I am not near Twitter to automate the process. I’m torn.

This process all started when I started to post mobile photos with my iPhone. At first they were going to Flickr and so I once Flickr updated the RSS feed for my photos, I had a script that would notify Twitter of the new photo. Once I began to post my mobile photos here on my site, I figured I would do the same thing.

This slowly expanded into, what is now, a script that will post to Twitter every single time I publish something to my site.

So, I ask – should I continue this? Is it annoying? It is useful? Should I only do it for mobile photos and nothing else? Please let me know in the comments.

My checklist for setting up Windows 10

Once I had decided to switch from macOS to Windows 10 I knew that I would need to unlearn old tricks and learn some new ones. The oddest one that can only happen through brute force is to teach my pinky to do what my thumb used to.

On macOS the CMD button modifier is used for everything. CMD+C = copy, CMD+V = paste, CMD+Tab = switch applications, etc. On Windows 10 CNTRL is the modifier of choice for most but not all things. For instance, CNTRL+C = copy, CNTRL+V = paste… however, ALT+Tab = switch applications. Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest hurdles left for switchers (at least those that rely on keyboard shortcuts like I do). The only way to get used to this switch, to force your muscles to unlearn the old ways, is to immerse yourself in the new environment and rely on the keyboard as heavily as possible until your brain makes the switch.

To that end I borrowed a Surface Pro for a few weeks prior to my new computer showing up and switched to it for most of my daily tasks. This way I had a head start on refactoring my muscle memory. It also afforded me time to experiment with how I would set up my work computer just the way I’d like.

While I relearned how to type, I created a checklist of sorts each time I made a change to the system or installed an app. I did this in hopes that it would dramatically reduce my set up time when the new computer arrived. Turns out, it did.

  • Install One Drive
    • Set up work and personal accounts
    • Create Desktop shortcut to OASIS folder
  • Pair Bluetooth devices
  • Turn on WSL (docs)
  • Turn off auto app updates in Store
  •  Customize taskbar
    • Change to Cortana button
    • Add Downloads Folder
  • Logitech MX Master 2S setup
    • Install Logitech Options software
    • Map buttons
      • Thumb button to Windows Task Viewer
      • Middle button to Snipping Tool – C:\Windows\System32\SnippingTool.exe
  • Install apps
    • 1Password
    • Quicklook (replicates macOS Quicklook feature)
    • Trello
    • 1clipboard
    • Spotify
    • Firefox
    • Twitter
    • LastPass
    • Slack
    • Microsoft Teams
    • Visual Studio Code
    • Visual Studio
    • Adobe Creative Suite
    • DropIt
  • Customize Apps
    • Set up work and personal email and calendar
    • Install Color for Firefox
    • Install Containers for Firefox
    • Install Hack font
    • Install Atom One Dark Theme for VS Code
    • Install Framer Syntax for VS Code
    • Adjust font size to 14px for VS Code
  • Miscellaneous tasks
    • Turn on Windows Insider Program
    • Install all Windows Insider updates
    • Install HEIF Image Support (for iPhone photos)
    • Delete all pinned Start Menu items
    • Turn on Windows Back up
    • Turn on Windows 10 Timeline view
    • Adjust Notifications for all apps in Settings
    • Add appropriate folders to Photos app
  • Notes
    • in Ubuntu, put files in /mnt/c/* so they can be accessed by Windows apps

I still have a few things to do, such as moving development database schemas. And I’m sure there will be a bunch of little things as I continue working (I’ll update this post). But having this checklist made setting up the new computer fairly painless and I was done in a few hours. I remember it taking a few days to get a work computer set up right. I think having so much of our “stuff” in the cloud these days has made this process a bit easier.

If you have any suggestions for Windows 10 I’ll gladly accept them in the comments.

Rob Shecter on switching from iPhone to Pixel 2

Robb Shecter:

Notifications are far better than what I’m used to. They’re are so good, it’s maybe the killer feature for me

This may be more of an observation of Android than of the Pixel 2. But I can say that my experience has been similar to Robb’s. I really, really like my Pixel 2 XL and I can’t wait to see what Google does with Pixel 3.

A review of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 by a longtime iPhone user

After 10 years of using iOS as my primary mobile platform I’ve decided to give Android more than just a casual try. This post is my review both of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 as well as a few comparisons I’ve drawn between iOS and Android ecosystems. I’ve been an Apple fan for decades. But I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible and truly allow my feelings of day-to-day use dictate my review. I’ve owned the Pixel 2 XL for over a month so I’m hoping that my first reactions have subsided.

The Google Pixel 2 XL

I love this phone.

I’d been thinking about trying out an Android-powered phone for a few months but I think what pushed me over the edge was how many YouTubers rated the Pixel 2 so highly. Many tech reviewers have the privilege of getting their hands on dozens of phones. Which phone comes out on top (or very close) of most of their lists? The Pixel 2 XL.

I switched to the Pixel 2 XL from an iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone 7 Plus was a great phone — easily my favorite camera system in an iPhone — but not as comfortable in the hand as the iPhone SE. For a sense of how much I liked the iPhone SE you can read what I wrote here.

By going from an iPhone 7 Plus to a Pixel 2 XL I upgraded the camera system in a number of ways. Front-facing portrait mode is far more important and useful in daily use than I could have imagined. I think Apple has missed an opportunity on the front-facing camera for years. It is likely used more often by younger people and yet the hardware and software driving the forward-facing camera is always superior on iPhones. With the Pixel 2 XL both cameras are fantastic and both offer the same software features.

Photo: A rather terrible photo of the Pixel 2 XL’s ambient display. Notice the icons.

The Pixel 2 XL has a few features that are not available on next-generation iPhones, namely; a lightning fast fingerprint sensor, squeezable sides, screen that wakes with a gentle double-tap, an ambient display with clock and gentle notifications, and “what’s playing” feature (showing you what music is currently playing) that is always on.

My phone is my primary camera. On hikes, walking downtown between meetings, or traveling – I like to be quick so I don’t miss any moments. With the iPhone 7 Plus I was like Bruce Lee with nunchucks. If I spotted a fleet-footed while on a hike I could likely capture it. After a few weeks with the Pixel 2 XL I’m beginning to feel my muscles learning the new gestures and maneuvers to get my groove back. One feature that makes this even better than iPhone 7 Plus is being able to double-tap the power button to invoke the camera app of my choice on the phone.

The Google Assistant is a primary feature of this phone. I’ve always wanted to try a different assistant than Siri but Apple simply does not allow you to do so on iOS. You can download the Google Assistant app but it is a neutered experience. iOS does not give third-party apps the control they need to be useful and there is no way to invoke the assistant easily.

On the Pixel 2 XL I have several ways to invoke the Google Assistant. I can squeeze the sides and nearly instantly I can begin making my request. I can say “OK Google” at any time and, again instantly make my request. And I do mean instant, unlike Siri, there is no pause needed between “OK Google” and my request. With Siri I need to wait for the “ding” sound. And lastly, I can long-press the home button to invoke the assistant.

The Google Assistant’s  results are much better than Siri. It gets my query correct the majority of the time. I don’t know what my success rate with Siri is but I would say it is less than 50%. I got so fed up with Siri that I only used it to ask for the weather each morning. With the Pixel 2 XL I’m using the Google Assistant multiple times per day. And, I use it for things that aren’t even possible on iOS like turning down my screen brightness, turning on or off my flashlight, taking a picture, etc.

I charge the Pixel 2 XL at night while I sleep and I routinely plug it in with greater than 50% battery life. I have changed no settings on the phone to extend the battery life. In fact, I’ve turned on the ambient display and “what’s playing” features which warn you that it will use more power. In my use, even with the “always on” features turned on, I have no issue at all with battery life. I also appreciate that it charges with USB-C. I can plug it directly into my MacBook Pro, no dongle.

To sum up, the Pixel 2 XL hardware is as good as the iPhone 7 Plus (and likely the 8) and has a better front-facing camera system, more options, and the squeeze feature.

Android 8.1

I bought the Pixel 2 XL within days of Android 8.1 shipping. Coming from 10 years of iOS, and the very limited number of user preferences it affords, using Android has been really fun. If I was a new user I could leave all the defaults as they are and be happy. However, I’ve enjoyed the number of options Android has.

One of the complaints about Apple I’ve heard the most is that they make too many choices for the user. My rebuttal to that has always been “Yes, but they make good choices”. However, two things have changed in recent years.

First, Apple is making worse choices. I know this is subjective but more and more I’m convinced that Apple’s choices are becoming more anti-competitive than they are user-focused. I can understand limiting some of the user preferences in iOS for the first few years to allow the platform to become rock solid, then slowly add more features and settings. But iOS is over 10 years old and there are a few options that Apple has, in my opinion, criminally omitted from iOS like being able to set default browser, email client, maps app, and assistant.

Second, the resources of these mobile devices are beginning to compete with the speed and storage of slim laptops. The devices beg to be used heavily, for work, and for play. I would say for many people their primary “computer” is their phone. So we are entering an era where it becomes a work horse for people. Steve Jobs thought we’d always have pickup trucks (desktops or laptops) while also owning cars (mobile devices). Well, I believe these mobile devices are beginning to become very pickup truck-like for many. And, let’s face it, a huge number of pick-up truck owners don’t even need them. They just like the look. This mean that the mobile OSes must also become work horses. And that means more options, better compatibility, and power user features.

This is a very long winded way of saying that I wanted to take back more control of my OS and Android allows me to do that. I can tweak Android in far more ways than I expected – even down to choosing a different launcher. Microsoft has one, there is another popular one called Lawnchair (cute name), and dozens of others. These change the device in both subtle and dramatic ways to become whatever the user needs. It makes so much sense. Imagine a launcher built specifically for young students?

To sum up, Android gives users far more control over their devices than iOS.

How Android is better than iOS

Photo: Notice how app folders appear directly below your tap, not in the center of the screen.

  • Powerful notifications – On the ambient display there is a subtle icon letting me know there is a notification for an app. In the status bar that icon is on the left-hand side. Pulling down gives me actionable, and “snoozable” items to deal with. You really need to play with it to understand. iOS’s notifications are clay tablets in comparison.
  • Do not disturb – I’ve found Android’s do not disturb preferences to be far more sane than iOS. Apps do not continue to beg me to turn on notifications. DND turns on when I go to bed, and turns off when I wake up. It turns on while I’m driving (something Android has had long before iOS). It can also be turned on by turning my volume down one click more than just “off”. It is a brilliant feature that is useful for theaters. Also, DND watches your calendar, if you’re “Busy” it turns on DND. At first I thought this would be overbearing, but in fact, it is incredibly thoughtful and sane.
  • An always available back button – iOS 7 brought a “back” button to the top left of the OS. But this is a terrible place for it. Android has an always available back button on the bottom left (bottom right on Samsung I think). It doesn’t just bring you back to the previous app but back in every context. It remembers exactly where you were last and takes you there. When I pick up my iPad I’m always reaching for this back button now.
  • App size – Android apps, and certainly updates, appear to be tiny when compared to their behemoth iOS siblings. Some daily use apps are less than 5Mb on Android. I’d love to take the time to do a true 1-to-1 comparison. My gut says the differences are substantial.
  • Device compatibility – I can plug my phone into my MacBook or Windows 10 PC and see the files on it. It almost seems absurd that Apple never created a similar sandbox approach like this to be able to store files or access files created on the device. This comes in very handy.
  • Home screen reachability – icons on your home screen can be placed anywhere you prefer. Naturally they are on the bottom of the screen because that is where your thumb rests. A feature that I’d bet will be in iOS 13 but that Apple stubbornly hasn’t brought to iOS yet.
  • Widgets – widgets aren’t for everyone. Some of them are poorly designed. But there are a few that are unobtrusive and simply make sense. In the screenshot of my home screen above you can see two in use – one for calendar and one for weather. But many apps ship with widgets that you can place on any home screen panel. I’ve seen others that have note taking apps on their own panel. They just swipe and start typing. It is pretty nice.
  • New app icons – When a new app is installed you can choose to have the icon be placed on your home screen or not. I’ve chosen for all apps to go into the app drawer and keep my home screen tidy. I love this option.
  • Folders open under your tap – This is a subtle thing. When I tap on a folder on my home screen it expands directly in place where the tap happened. It doesn’t open in the center of the screen. And, the app folder is only as big as it needs to be depending on the number of apps in it.
  • Split-screen apps – I’ve used this more than I thought I would. I’ve used it for note taking in certain circumstances but also for phone conferences. I can have my email open and my phone app open to type in the 8 digit pin that I received.

How iOS is better than Android

There are a few things that iOS clearly beats Android on and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point them out. Here are a few that I’ve found that I notice in day-to-day use.

  • Smooth scrolling – iOS really does scroll like butter. I don’t know what Apple does that Android engineers can’t (or don’t, or won’t) but the scrolling on Android isn’t nearly as buttery smooth as iOS. The gap has closed considerably in recent updates but there is still a long way to go.
  • Cursor movement and text selection – I wouldn’t say that iOS great at this, but it is better than Android for me so far. I also feel like this might be a muscle memory issue. I’d like to see Google bring some of iOS’s keyboard dragging features to Android. I’m getting better every day though.
  • Scroll to top – On any list in iOS (say, your contacts list) you can scroll to the top with a single tap on the status bar. Unless I’m missing something, and I’ve asked a few Android users, this simply doesn’t exist on Android. So if you scroll way, way down on your contacts list and you want to get back to the top you have to flick a million times like an animal. Please, if I’m missing something write in.
  • Safari’s Reading List feature – Even with Unmark (which I use daily) I still used Safari’s Reading List every day. Google has, inexplicably, added a “reading list” to Chrome for iOS but on no other platforms. Perhaps they did this to compete with Safari on mobile platforms but why not have it sync with desktop Chrome? Anyway, Google can quickly get on this please because I neeeeeed it.
  • Dictionary lookup – On iOS you can long press any word and get its definition. Because my vocabulary is as deep as a kiddy pool I use this feature a lot. I’ve installed a third-party app that does this on Android but it should be built-in.

So far I’m very happy with my choice to give Android a try. I’ll be using the Pixel 2 XL and Android for the rest of 2018  and plan to reassess where both platforms are at that point.

I still haven’t updated to macOS High Sierra and I have no plans to. In fact, I’ve disabled my notifications for the upgrade.

The Apple Watch is less obtrusive than a phone

Jeremy Keith:

I’m always shocked when I’m out and about with someone who has their phone set up to notify them of any activity—a mention on Twitter, a comment on Instagram, or worst of all, an email. The thought of receiving a notification upon receipt of an email gives me the shivers.

Me too.

I thought this might be a good time to bring this topic of notifications back up. Not only because Jeremy wrote about it but also because I now own an Apple Watch – which may seem counter intuitive to this whole distraction free discussion.

However, I’ve found the Apple Watch to be a lovely little device that can easily be set up to unobtrusively notify you of important things. In fact, I believe it is less obtrusive than an mobile phone.

I have a few notifications turned on for my phone:

  • Text messages – I get very few of these
  • Calendar reminders – I live by these
  • Dark Sky rain alerts – I like to keep dry
  • Night Sky condition and object alerts – I heart the universe

I am not notified of any social network activity or emails. Those things I dive into when I feel like it.

With this set up I feel I’m very rarely distracted by a notification. And now with the Watch, I can say I’m less distracted during a conversation with the persons in front of me physically.

Here is a scenario: you’re have a chat with someone and you get a text message alert. Your phone either makes an audible noise or it vibrates and the screen illuminates. The other person saw and/or heard the alert. So now they know your brain is wondering what that alert could be. Even if you don’t break eye contact with that other person, they know and you know you have a message waiting. With the Apple Watch I get a gentle tap on the wrist when I’ve gotten a text message. The screen does not illuminate. The other person doesn’t know I’ve gotten an alert. I’m able to stay present and check the alert when there is a break in the conversation. In this way, I think the Apple Watch is less obtrusive than a phone.

My second day with the Apple Watch Series 3 was a full-day of use, travel, driving directions, notifications, activity monitoring, and Siri and I ended the day with 78% battery life.

My tips for new iOS 11 upgraders

I’ve been using the iOS 11 public betas on my iPhone and iPad for several releases and I think it is one of the most important updates to iOS. It brings lifesaving features to the iPhone and powerful features to the iPad.

Tomorrow iOs 11 is being released to the public, I thought I’d jot down a few things that I believe people should do on the day they upgrade, so that they don’t just move on with their busy lives and forget.

  • Turn on automatic Driving Mode detection. This setting could save your life and those of others. You have no excuse good enough to justify being able to text while you drive. iOS 11 does a good job of detecting when you are driving and turns off all notifications. Almost immediately when you exit your vehicle at your destination your messages are waiting for you. I love this setting. Settings > Do Not Disturb > Do Not Disturb While Driving.
  • Set up Driving Mode auto-replies. Optionally, you can set iOS 11 to automatically reply to certain people with messages that you’re driving. Or, you can keep this feature off and people will simply believe you have a life and cannot respond to every text message within 15 seconds of receiving one. Settings > Do Not Disturb > Auto-Reply To.
  • Customize Control Center. The control center (the screen you get when you flick up from the button of the screen, or from the top-right on the iPhone X) is very different than iOS 10. You can now add or remove buttons from it, and even customize their position on the screen. I’ve chosen to have Camera, Notes, and Voice Memos easily accessible in the bottom-right of the Control Center. I love it. Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls.
  • Identify faces in group photos. For those of you without a Mac, you’ve never had facial detection and naming capabilities for your photos. Now you can put a name to a face in iOS 11 and when your device is locked and plugged in it will rummage through your photos for you and find the vast majority of the other photos with that person in them. I’ve found that using large group photos is the quickest way to finding the most people. So, start off finding a few dozen group photos, naming everyone in them, and then let iOS 11 go to work at night. It is surprisingly good and getting better with every release. Photos > Find a Group Photo > Swipe Up > Click on person under People > Tap “Add Name” (repeat for all people in the photo).
  • On iPad: Customize your Dock. You can have up to 15 apps in your Dock on iPad. You can also add more by adding folders of apps. There is also an area on the right side of the dock that can show recent apps. Turn on Recent Apps in Settings > General. Otherwise, drag your favorite apps into the Dock.
  • On iPad: Practice multi-tasking, split-screen, and drag-and-drop gestures. iOS 10 has had split-screen features for iPad since it was released and I still see many iPad users that do not take advantage of them. iOS 11 makes these features even more powerful. Unless you make these part of your muscle memory by practicing them, you might be under-utilizing the power of your device. Watch this video on YouTube to see how best to open multiple apps, drag-and-drop files, and more.
  • Try out Notes’ new features. Notes has some new features that you will definitely find useful but you need to know they are there. Try some of the following:
    • If you have an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, try tapping your Pencil on the lock screen. This results in a new note. Pretty slick.
    • Try the document scanner. iOS 11’s ARKit features allow for a pretty practical use of this technology in scanning a document and being able to sign it with ease. It is remarkably good. Put a document on a table, open Notes, in a new Note hit the + symbol, select Scan Documents. Prepare to be wowed. I wish this feature were part of the camera somehow or its own mode from Control Center. Again, here is a good video showing how this works.

By doing the above you may just save a life. But, also you’ll get far more use out of the device you already own and take full advantage of this monumental release of iOS.

If you have any others, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.

I forgot a huge iOS wish; driving mode. A mode that auto-responds to all SMS messages that I’m driving and stops any notifications from popping up.

The slow web and POSSE

David Mead:

This year all of my posts, replies, and retweets on Twitter will be coming from this blog and not using the Twitter app (#OwnYourData). That probably means doing it at the end of the day. I’m hoping that will make them more considered (something we may all want to be in the coming years).

I have most notifications off (and have for years). And I plan on keeping it that way.

But, I’m not doing so well on what he’s talking about in the quoted bit above. POSSE, as the indiewebbers call it, is posting on my site here and then syndicating it elsewhere. My blog posts are syndicated to Twitter the way I’d like but not Facebook or Instagram (the other two networks I use the most). And I also find myself lazily posting directly to Twitter rather than through my site because the apps are so easy to use. I wish I did better.

Here is what I would need to do to pull this off personally:

  • Post status updates, posts, audio bits, and photos to Facebook
  • Post photos to Instagram
  • Be able to retweet or quote tweet posts easily from my site (no idea how to do this)
  • Show Twitter likes, replies, retweets, quote tweets on my site
  • Show Facebook likes, replies, shares on my site
  • Show Instagram commends and likes on my site

I wouldn’t have to do all of these to be happy, but I’d at least like to push the content to those networks. Maybe I’ll start there.

Nominated for Tech Blog of the Year

NEPA BlogCon 2016 is fast approaching and with it comes this year’s nominations for Blog of the Year in several categories. Out of nowhere last night, as I was hiking the Dunmore Pine Barrens (again), my Twitter notifications were springing to life as I realized that my blog has been nominated in the Tech category.

I’m humbled and honored that someone took the time to nominate my blog. Who ever did that, thank you. Especially in the tech category. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to classify my blog’s content since it is a personal blog and site, but I have covered a few things in tech I suppose.

If  you find the time go and vote for your favorite blogs in our area. Whether or not you vote for my blog be sure to check out all of the other great blogs that have been nominated. I’m going to set aside some time this evening to visit each one and see what they are all about. You can also vote on NEPA Scene.

On the chance that you’re visiting my blog because of this nomination, welcome! Consider subscribing! But, I thought I’d point to a few recent tech-related blog posts since my latest posts have mostly been about hiking and flying my UAV and you might be puzzled as to why my blog was nominated in this category.

Here are just a few:

I wish I wrote more and, honestly, I wish I wrote a lot more about tech-related things. I’d like to share more code and stories about things I’ve made or fiddled with. I have a few decades worth of posts that I could sit down and write. Perhaps this nomination will motivate me to get off my duff and do just that.

I’ve attended, and even sponsored, the NEPA BlogCon for several years running. You can see some past posts in the NEPA BlogCon tag. This year I’m not in the position to sponsor but I do hope to be able to attend. It is a great conference and great event that I’m really happy happens in our area.

Update October 11, 2016: I lost. But at least I lost to my friends at NEPA Geeks.

Simmons off-air

Brent Simmons on his personal blog:

Here’s what I found: being off Twitter, that squeaky treadmill, gave me back some time, and it made me happier and calmer than I would have been.


I’m not deleting my account, but I’ve turned off all notifications and uninstalled the app from all computers and devices. I just won’t be looking.

Social breaks just may be in vogue.

Today is day 42 of my #60daybreak.

Ben Brooks’ iPhone home screen

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.

Jay Torres on Apple Watch

Jay Torres discusses the Apple Watch on Mark Miller’s series Watchscreen:

I now always have my phone on silent and rely on my Watch to let me know of any texts. It’s subtle so it doesn’t interrupt anything, and the haptic touch is strong enough to let me know someone has texted me.

As someone who has turned off all notifications on my phone, tablet, and computer and who always, always keeps his phone on silent this is what pulls me towards the Apple Watch the most.

That being said, I do not see myself owning an Apple Watch for several generations. I believe the Apple Watch, and any other wrist-worn-device that tracks your activity, ends up becoming the watch you wear rather than a watch you wear. And I’m not all that comfortable with that yet. I like switching up my watches.

Further, the first version hardware is far from exciting to me. It is slow, thick, and doesn’t have any telephony built-in. I would not want to belittle any of the accomplishments that Apple has made with the Apple Watch — it certainly is far better looking than any smartwatch I’ve seen — but it is far from where I think they’ll be in three years.

I think I’ll stick with traditional watches until sometime in 2018-19. I’ll point back to this blog post if I’m wrong.

Random WWDC 2015 Notes

Random notes from Apple’s WWDC Keynote today:

  • Apple Music Radio sounds exactly like Top 40 radio and that is terrible. I hope it doesn’t end up being just “radio online” because that isn’t something I want and I doubt that is something “the kids” want.
  • The updates to iOS 9, especially on iPad, are going to be a very welcome update indeed. As an every-single-day iPad user I am very much looking forward to multitasking.
  • We have a long way to go before I personally get excited about the “potential of the wrist” wearable market. I think the Apple Watch, and many other smartwatches, look like great products but… revolutionary? We’ll see.
  • The Apple News app is powered by RSS. *
  • Apple Music “Connect” is not going to work. It didn’t work when it was called Ping either. Here is why; people really enjoy using Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. because their family, friends, and colleagues are on them. They check them 100 times a day. Oh, and to top it off they can follow famous people — including musical artists — on the same network/app. They don’t need to open a different app to see what Drake posted. They can see that in the same app they already have open. Apple pitched this as a unified way to see what artists are posting but in reality they just added yet another place to check. However, if they had pitched it as a way for brand-new artists to get in front of every Apple Music user; curated by their favorite artists. Now that would be something.
  • The OS X updates seemed very, very light. I loved the Safari updates as it is my default browser. I think this is a good thing… I’m hoping most of the updates are non-cosmetic and simply make El Capitan sing.
  • Apple Pay adding Square support (really great) and now being called Wallet is great. The more capabilities Apple Wallet gets the more people will be able to use it and truly end up ditching all of the cards we all have. And this time we’re getting something far more secure. It is good all around.
  • Swift being open sourced is huge news for the developer market. I’m positive Swift will grow and improve rapidly outside of Apple’s walls and this will, in turn, mean Apple’s app ecosystem will be even stronger. I can see it now; Swift for Rails, SwiftJS, etc.
  • The watchOS updates are pretty great considering the amount of time Apple has had since they debuted the watch. They are moving at a lightning pace.

Now, a few notes about the presentation:

  • Great to see new faces from Apple
  • Hair Force One, as always, stole the show
  • The videos were very well done, as per usual
  • However, this was my least favorite Keynote in recent memory. It felt really forced, it wasn’t smooth at all, every single person on stage seemed under practiced — except Craig — and the Music portion of the event felt completely out of place at WWDC. I think Apple should have held a media event just prior to WWDC to announce Music (since it isn’t coming until June 30). This way the implications of the developer related announcements could be expounded on.
  • Some of the newbies on stage seemed very nervous, however, I remember Craig’s first appearance on stage; the guy could hardly use a mouse, and now he’s my favorite. So here is hoping that Apple has the same crew next time around and they all improve.

Overall, good software updates are coming our way for free. No reason to complain about any of that. We’ll just sit back and enjoy what developers work so hard to bring us every day.

* Somewhat related posts here, here, here, here, and here.

You don’t need a watch to be distraction free

In March 2013 I turned off all notifications on my phone, tablet, and computer. In May of that year I went one step further and closed most applications that would keep me distracted and only opened them when I wanted to.

To this day the only notifications I get on my devices are for SMS and calendar events. I do not allow any other applications to send notifications.

Jeremy Keith recently wrote “My phone is a tool that I control, not the other way around.”

Many are saying that the Apple Watch was made, in part, to help us be less distracted but in reality it will make it easier for us to be distracted.

It is true that with an Apple Watch you’ll see notifications that you receive much quicker than needing to fumble around with your phone. A quick glance at your watch and you’ll know who is calling you, as an example. Responding to notifications should be easier too. However, if there was any feeling or desire not to be rude that held you back from checking your phone while you were talking to your friend, that feeling or desire may be lessened or altogether removed with the Apple Watch because it will be so quick and easy to check it.

The issue is that any notification, for any reason, will pull your mind and attention away from whomever you’re talking to no matter what device you read it on.

Let’s say you’re talking with a friend and they are pouring their heart out to you about a personal issue. You’re trying to empathize with them and maybe even provide a bit of advice. Suddenly your watch taps you on the wrist and the message on the face is from your significant other and it reads “I can’t believe you.” Whether you pulled out your phone or read that message on your wrist — how much attention will your friend really be getting after reading that message? Your mind will be swirling, you won’t be able to focus.

While I think the Apple Watch is a really cool and useful device I do not see it cutting down on distractions at all. Turning off all notifications does though. I know that for a fact.

Clay Shirky on multi-tasking

As if I needed more fodder to convince myself as to why I shut off all notifications on my phone, tablet, and computer. Clay Shirky wrote an excellent piece on Medium about why he has changed his mind and now asks his students to close their laptops and put away their phones.

Here is a bit about multi-tasking:

On top of this, multi-tasking doesn’t even exercise task-switching as a skill. A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.

I think I’m going to double-down on “distraction free” by attempting to only keep the applications I’m using open and closing all others.

/via Michael Lopp.

Slack changes the way you work

Stewart Butterfield, on Medium, regarding the “innovation” that Slack brings:

But, for organizations that adopt it, there will be a dramatic shift in how time is spent, how communication happens, and how the team’s archives are utilized. There will be changes in how team members relate to one another and, hopefully, significant changes in productivity.

We at Plain have been using Slack day-to-day since their preview release. We love it and I can personally testify to Slack changing the way a company can work together; whether you work remotely or you are all in the same room.

For us Slack has changed the way we communicate in three very measurable ways. First, it has effectively eliminated internal email. Most of our team members don’t even need to open their email on a daily basis. Second, it has all but eliminated the dozens of notification emails we get from other services we use since we now have all of those funneled into a #notifications channel in Slack. And third, it has made file transfers even easier than using Dropbox (though we still store data there).

I recommend reading the entire internal memo which Stewart published openly on Medium. announces Broadcast Channels, the Twitter-clone turned app services turned file sharing turned something only a developer can understand…. now has released something that should be a huge hit. They call it Broadcast.

In the announcement post Dalton Caldwell explains what a Broadcast is:

A Broadcast is a new type of message that is always received as a push notification. A user only receives a Broadcast when they have explicitly subscribed to a Broadcast Channel.

Put another way, whenever you post to via a Broadcast Channel a rich notification, capable of text, images, and links, will be sent to every single subscribers phone.

Who is it for? Caldwell goes on to list eight use cases. In reality there are hundreds. I think our team would like to use it to alert us if Barley goes down. Or, perhaps for VIP customer service requests. Sure, we could use SMS alerts but’s Broadcast feature allows for rich notifications.

Some other uses cases, purely off the top of my head, would be large companies sending important company-wide notifications, vacation directors notifying their entire group of the next location (remember, Broadcasts allows for geolocation features), schools notifying parents of an emergency… the list goes on and on and on.

Why do I think this will be a hit for Because, for the first time since the debut of, this is something that every single person can understand the value of. There are a million use cases. And people would be willing to pay for it. And, it needs to work well at scale and that is exactly what the team is good at.

I’m doing terribly. A follow-up to my post on being less distracted by online services.

Two months ago to-the-day I wrote about turning off Push Notifications on my phone, tablet and laptop. In this area I’m still doing really, really well. I recommend this for anyone. I still do not have any applications that send me any notifications. Only if my wife calls me does my phone even ring. And when not in silent mode the only noise my phone will make is when my wife sends me a message.

No apps or games or social sites can notify me on my computer, tablet or phone. I love it.

However, in my post two months ago I said I wanted to see if I could keep Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other services closed to cut down on distraction throughout the day. On this front I’m doing terribly. I always have Tweetbot open, I check Instagram too often, and I need to stop.

I’ve been fairly productive over the last two months, though, as we’re pushing our largest update to the Barley platform and site very soon – but I have found myself jumping back and forth between tasks, links from friends, photos from family, and much more. I would like to cut down on the number of actual times I open Tweetbot, Instagram or Facebook. I really have very little reason to open any of those more than two or three times per day.

So, starting tomorrow I’m going to check the following services the following numbers of times:

  • Instagram: Twice. Once in the morning, once at night.
  • Twitter: Three times. Morning. Noon. Night. Store all links to Pinboard or Nilai.
  • Facebook: Twice a week? I don’t really need anything in Facebook.
  • Once. I don’t even check once a day now but I should.
  • Email: Three times. Morning. Noon. Night.

After I wrote the last post I had set a calendar reminder to revisit this topic exactly two months later (hence the timeliness of this post). This time, however, I would like to do it a bit quicker. I’m setting a reminder for one week from now.

Introducing Shh: An AppleScript and Alfred Extension to close all those noisy streams

As the work day progresses I find myself with more and more “streams” open. Not long after I log onto my computer in the morning Twitter, Skype, iChat, Mail and other streams are open and active and at multiple points throughout the day they steal my attention.

However, there are times when I just want to focus on what I’m doing. Mac OS X Lion’s new fullscreen feature is designed to help me focus on a single application at a time. However, when Skype, iChat, Mail, or Twitter are open they will notify me (audibly or with bouncing icons) when they’d like my attention. They will inevitably pull me away from what I’m doing to see what is going on.

Skype, for me, is the biggest culprit because our team at Viddler uses Skype as the primary way to communicate. So even though Skype is notifying me that there is something new in Skype sometimes it is just some of the team members chatting about what’s for lunch and really isn’t meant for me and isn’t high-priority.

So there are times that I do not want to be distracted or even notified that something is going on in Skype. I want to be left completely alone and work on whatever it is I’m focused on. Enter Shh, an AppleScript and/or Alfred Extension (I love Alfred) that will quickly close these four applications. It is a dead simple script that closes all of these applications at once (rather than closing them individually).

I’m guessing that I will extend this script to include other applications over time and even enhance it in some way (perhaps by forcing the foremost application into fullscreen mode on OS X Lion or turning off Growl notifications) so if you’re interested in such things be sure to watch this project on Github or contribute to it yourself.

What Brightkite could be. What Brightkite should be.

The line between what Brightkite offers and what Twitter offers their respective communities is arguably very thin. Both offer fantastic microblogging features including updates and notifications via SMS, the Web, and APIs.

Until somewhat recently, however, only Brightkite offered another layer ontop of these features that really separated it from Twitter without question. Geolocation.

Brightkite users can “check in” to just about anywhere like restaurants, gas stations, their own homes or just about any real world address. It asks two questions to Twitter’s one: Where are you and what are you doing there?

Twitter is working very hard at bringing geolocation to its own service. It has been rolling out, only through its API at the moment, the ability to geocode each tweet with a specific latitude and longitude. Unlike Brightkite’s check-in based model Twitter’s model isn’t tied down to any address and doesn’t add the extra friction of having to check-in at a place before you’re able to post at it.

There are benefits to both models. For Brightkite some of the benefits include the ability to use SMS commands to find the location you’re currently at, check in, and then post to. This removes the requirement for a GPS-enabled device in order to add metadata to your posts. Also, “Places” having names is very, very important for people figuring out exactly where you are and where something was posted. Being able to view posts on Brightkite from specific locations (rather than specific coordinates) is much more human and fun. I won’t even mention how marketable Places are in contrast to coordinates.

For Twitter some of the benefits include a much more accurate dataset. Each tweet is geocoded individually. Move a foot in any direction and the metadata for your next tweet will reflect that. Again, little or no friction. That lack of friction has always been Twitter’s modus operandi and if they can pull it off with geolocation it will presumably bring more geocoded data to the Web than any other service to date.

Brightkite’s main differentiators, however few there have been, are about to all go away. Save, perhaps, for one. Places. I believe that Twitter’s forthcoming success in this area should be Brightkite’s opportunity to capitalize on what its already learned. There is value a lot of value in Places.

If Brightkite could somehow become the best Twitter client for checking in to, searching for, and viewing the posts at specific Places (even simply addresses) I believe Brightkite could see a huge ramp up in growth and value. Any Twitter account should work at Brightkite, period. Any geocoded tweet that falls within a specific area range around one of Brightkite’s already found Places should be attributed to that Place. Brightkite should no longer consider keeping its own community but rather expand itself into Twitter’s community.

Using Brightkite’s Places dataset, which it has been building and refining for a long time already, it could become the very best way to interact with the new geolocation-enabled Twitter.

That is if they want it to be. Or, they could just keep chasing teenaged girls.

Something is diverting the Twitter stream

Last night, long after my “sleep” preference that I have set up on Twitter, I got a text message from Paul Stamatiou via Twitter. I follow Paul, or @Stammy as he’s known on Twitter, but I do not have him turned on for SMS notifications.

Odd, I thought. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

This morning Jon Christopher mentioned that a “Random tweet from someone [he’s] *not* following showed up in Tweetie”.

A few minutes ago, Faruk AteÅŸ said the same thing happened to him.

On my count that is three people and I can only imagine out of millions of Twitter users that it is happening to others as well. I am not sure what is going on, but like the Persians led by Cyrus the Great in October 540 BC when they diverted the Euphrates river to enter Babylon, something or someone is diverting the Twitter stream.

Update: It turns out Twitter knows about the problem. I just hope people that have their Twitter profiles private are secure.

How to find the message count for a search result in Gmail

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Like I’ve said before, I’ve been on Twitter since November 2006 and I wanted to know the total number of followers my account has ever had. Even though I’ve only (and I say that with humility) got 1,700 followers currently – how many times has my account been “followed” over the last three years? Well, I have nearly every email notification that Twitter has sent me saved in Gmail and so I needed find out the number of “new follower notifications” that Twitter has sent me.

It turns out that this isn’t that easy to do. You have to “hack” the URL (in cases where you have tons of mail messages) to figure out the total message count for a search result. Here is how you do it.

  1. Do a search in Gmail. Don’t forget about operators, they increase the accuracy of search results many fold.
  2. If you only have a few pages to “page through” then simply find the last page. That will show you the total number of messages.
  3. If you have hundreds of pages then I suggest hacking the URL. Take the contents of the search box and append it to the URL in the following way. /#search/SEARCH BOX CONTENTS HERE/p50

The URL for Gmail varies if you use the regular, vanilla Gmail service or Google Apps. So that is why I didn’t simply link to an example search result. My URL isn’t the same as yours.

The “p50” in the above example URL is the current page of results that you’ll be on. You may start at 50 and go up until you find the last page. Or, you can start anywhere and increase or decrease the page number until you find it. On that page it will tell you the total message count for that search.

Oh, so how many times has my Twitter account been followed over the last 3 years? My best guess is a little over 10,000. Perhaps this shows just how much spam has been on Twitter. Or how boring I am.

Mobile Facebook wishes…

I have a few simple wishes for Facebook’s mobile offerings. I access Facebook on-the-go using my iPhone – though I believe that these wishes will help more than just iPhone users.

One of the very first web apps for the iPhone and one that Apple has promoted during it’s Keynote addresses – Facebook had a good start in providing a great experience for iPhone users. The only problem is that they haven’t updated it in forever. This interface is lacking so much I’ll simply have one wish. Update it please!

The Facebook iPhone application

Without a doubt the Facebook iPhone application is one of the best designed iPhone applications available. It was also one of the first. Overall it is a fantastic way to access Facebook on the iPhone. However, here are my suggested additions:

  1. Likes and comment notifications should link to the appropriate item. As it stands the app let’s you know that someone commented or liked something you’ve shared – but it doesn’t tell you which thing they like or commented on. Annoying.
  2. Facebook’s “like” feature needs to be accessible from the app.
  3. Support for Pages, Groups, and Events would be nice.

Facebook proper

While I’m jotting down my demands, I might as well put these few things in:

  1. Referencing people on Facebook is simply not possible. I suggest that Facebook add the ability to add your Twitter username to your preferences. That way @cdevroe would actually be linked to my Facebook profile on Facebook and my Twitter profile on Twitter.
  2. An obvious future feature is search. Not just people, event, group, and app search (that is already there), but searching through public status updates, wall posts, links, etc.

You have to wonder if Facebook was a more open platform, like Twitter is, from the beginning would some of this work have been done for them?

(Yes I typed this entire post on my iPhone.)

The way Brightkite fits

A few months ago I was invited to join Brightkite.  At the time I wasn’t too keen on giving up my exact location all the time, nor did I want to switch from Twitter to Brightkite and start all over again.  For any of you reading this, the way Brightkite fits into my daily routine means that I don’t have to do either of those things.

Specific, non-specific, and everything in between

One of the beauties of Brightkite is the layers of options you have with just about everything you do on the service.  When I “check in” at any given location, I can be as specific about where I am as I want to be.  For example, when I check in at home I simply check into the city in which I live.  I do not check into my exact address.  When I’m at a cafe, at work, or another public location I generally check in with as specific location details as I have available to me at the time.

Also of note is that if you’re scared to give out your exact address don’t be naive to the fact that if someone really wants to find out where you live, they can – whether you use any of these location based social services or not.

Perhaps you’ll only want to check into Brightkite when your geography changes dramatically.  Maybe going to the grocery store down the road doesn’t warrant you switching your location before you share 140 characters with the world the way you do now.  Perhaps if you went on vacation to an island in the Bahamas, you’d like to check in so that your messages are properly stored based on your current location.

I’m a little more anal than that.  I want my locations to be stored as granularly as possible. Not for everyone else, but for the possibilities that arise because of it. Not only am I able to keep track of where/when/how and what for myself, but you never know when you might meet up with a fellow Brightkite user at a given location.

I’ve been poking around my history on Brightkite and I see that I’ve crossed paths a few times ((Sometimes within only a few miles or even at the same location but only a day or so apart.)) with other Brightkite users.  My friend and follow Viddler team member Brandice (who talked me into really kicking the tires at Brightkite) recently met up with a Brightkite user at her local Panera Bread. I’m hoping, like it has happened on Twitter so many times, that Brightkite makes this even easier for me to experience as well.

Using Brightkite as a Twitter client

Brightkite will update Twitter with any of your activity on Brightkite, but again, there are layers upon layers of options.  Remember I said that you don’t have to switch away from Twitter if you use Brightkite the way I do?  Here is how I have Brightkite set up to notify Twitter.

One of the most annoying things, I thought, about the way that Brightkite updated Twitter was all of the URLs.  Every time you saw a message from a Brightkite user on Twitter you saw this link and I found it irritating.  It turns out that the Brightkite team has already thought of this.  Not only can you specify which activities on Brightkite update your Twitter status (including check ins, note, and photo posts), but you can also specify the information that Brightkite posts to Twitter.  I have customized the output of my notifications to Twitter so that my notes do not contain a link back to Brightkite.  This means that if I use Brightkite to post a note and it updates Twitter, those that follow me on Twitter are none-the-wiser.  However, when I post a photo to Brightkite there is a link from Twitter so that you can see that photo.  There is also a link when I check in at a location, though I’m considering removing this update notification from my list because some on Twitter may find it annoying ((Which I can totally understand.)).

So instead of posting to Twitter I post to Brightkite which, in turn, posts to Twitter for me.  No extra work on my part.  Some of the people I follow use services like to post to every single social network at once.  I’ve not gotten that deep yet but it is certainly an option.


Brightkite is a very promising service being developed by a team that obviously pays close attention to detail.  I like that.  I feel that the teams at both Brightkite and FriendFeed pay far more attention to detail than the team at Twitter, but then again all three services have very different challenges and goals.  When I see a service being as well crafted as Brightkite is, I’m going to stick around and see if I can make it fit.

I have a few invites to Brightkite.  So if you want one drop a comment and use an email address that I can send the invite too.