Colin Devroe on a kayak

Everything Colin

A collection of the things that I write, share, make and dream.


Google Inbox

Google, yesterday:

Today, we’re introducing something new. It’s called Inbox. Years in the making, Inbox is by the same people who brought you Gmail, but it’s not Gmail: it’s a completely different type of inbox, designed to focus on what really matters.

That “years in the making” part screams “we thought of this before Mailbox but didn’t get it out before they did”. Which I doubt they did but… it sort of sounds like Instagram’s “we thought of 15 second videos before it was cool too” moment.

Anyway, Inbox looks terrible. It looks like Google+. Which is to say it looks poorly designed. I know, I’m not usually this harsh, and I’d like to say otherwise but it really is. Even though John Gruber disagrees.

Google is building reactionary products and it shows.

Because they are trying to build a product that competes with an already existing competitor — they end up making poor design decisions. Sometimes when you are inspired by others you can wait long enough to make something that is, to some degree, better than that which came before it. But other times you simply try to make something that has the same features but looks different so that people don’t call you out for it.

But often times by doing it slightly differently you end up doing it slightly worse. Mailbox’s gestures and UI for scheduling emails to respond to them at a later date is intuitive and obvious. Inbox’s are just a list. In Mailbox the “Inbox” paradigm is maintained (because it works) yet in Google’s it looks like a social media feed. Which doesn’t end up working very good for email.

I really love Mailbox. I’m using it both on the Mac and on iOS every single day and I have come to rely on its features. Perhaps that is why when I see Inbox I simply think — Bleh.

iPad Air 2 Review

Speaking of John Gruber, he just published his review of the iPad Air 2 — a review I’ve been patiently waiting for.

I spent a lot of time in this review comparing the new Air 2 to the iPad 3/4. I think that’s fair, because normal people aren’t supposed to even consider replacing their iPads on an annual basis. And from what we’re learning as the iPad era marches on, iPad users aren’t even upgrading them as often as they do their iPhones. They’re more like PCs, where people use them for several years. Anyone upgrading from an iPad 3/4 to an iPad Air 2 is going to be delighted. Anyone upgrading from an iPad 2 or original iPad is going to be amazed.

He’s right, of course. I had an original iPad and, months later, updated to the iPad 2 which I’ve been using every single day since. It still works great (though iOS 8 slowed it down a lot), battery still lasts far longer than I ever expect, and it is a joy to use. It still amazes me daily.

But it is time to upgrade. I could use the iPad 2 until one of Apple’s software updates bricks it, but I’d rather not. This iPad Air 2 seems like the right time to make the jump and I’m planning on doing so. I hope it lasts as long as my iPad 2 has.

Yosemite + iOS 8.1

Austin Mann:

Apple’s sharing all kinds of software updates with us these days, and a few of them are especially exciting for power user iPhone photographers. Here are my thoughts on how the new features affect how we create and share images with our iPhones.

People that muck about with photos on their iPhones / Mac should consider this a must-read.

/via The Loop.

Hairpieces and Web Design

Yesterday I watched John Gruber’s presentation at XOXO via YouTube. I’m very familiar with the Daring Fireball story — having been a member and supporter of John’s excellent site since the very beginning — but his presentation was great nonetheless.

One bit he spoke about was an analogy between hairpieces and web design. It was funny. And he mentioned that he had written about it on DF sometime earlier. I didn’t remember the post so I dug around and found it.

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Podcasts that I listen to

Nearly a year ago I jotted down some non-tech podcasts that I was enjoying at the time. However, today I was tagged by Joe Casabona (Cassy) to jot down those that I’m listening to currently. Here is that list:

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Me, on Product Hunt

Starting today, Product Hunt allows following and I’m right here. You know what to do.

Space isn’t everything, people matter too

I love that Toni Schneider is blogging regularly. In a recent post he tries to find the balance of having an open, collaborative office space and one that allows for private time to execute.

While I share Toni’s observations completely — that having a bit of both is really best, I also think that the people matter as much as the space. In June of this year I wrote about a Wired piece entitled The Myth of the Cool Office. I wrote:

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Dave Winer on trusting Twitter

Dave Winer recorded a short podcast in response to Marco’s argument about whether or not we should trust Twitter. He says:

Apple screwed their developers too. It happened more than once.

Good to listen to the other side of this. We’ll see how it plays out over time.

Saving China’s Salween River, One Trip at a Time

Will Stauffer-Norris:

This is the fourth pig carcass that has washed up in Dead Pig Eddy. The bloated creature rocks gently up and down against the beach about 10 feet away from our brewing morning coffee. The pig must go, it’s decided, so Lao Tang and Bob tie a piece of p-cord to a stiff leg and offer the other end to me. Just tie a quick-release knot to your kayak they say. No problem.

Amazing images, great writing.

Invisible iOS Home Screen Icons

Pretty cool trick from _David Smith.

Since getting my iPhone 6 a few weeks ago I’ve been continuously trying to optimize the configuration of my home screen. The larger screen means that I now have an extra row of icons to fit onto the screen, but the physical size of device means that I can’t actually comfortably reach them.

Simple, effective.

Should Twitter be trust by developers?

Marco says no way. Even though the WSJ is reporting that Twitter is going to try to appeal to developers this week at a conference… he writes:

Twitter will never, and should never, have any credibility with developers again. Enjoy it while it lasts, but be ready for it to disappear at any moment.

I’m with him. For a variety of reasons. I think I took my break at the right time.

How many blogs do you have?

Daniel Jalkut on finding the right stuff to publish to a personal blog:

As both a publisher and consumer of multiple blogs I have the exact same problem as Daniel. I do not want to post everything here (though that’d be much easier). I also wouldn’t want to wade through a sea of things I am uninterested in only to find the bits I am for the sites I subscribe to.

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A blogger meet up at Coalwork

Finally, a meet up that is going to be less about technology and more about blogging. I’m excited for next month’s NEPA WordPress Meet up.

Don’t let the name fool you, this one is simply a place for bloggers to chat and enjoy each other’s company. At Coalwork.

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Every Project is an Opportunity

Last night I was reading Empire Magazine’s awesome piece with the cast of The West Wing (my favorite TV show of all time). I caught this nugget from Bradley Whitford:

Early on in my career I got a part in Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise. If I hadn‘t done that I wouldn‘t have met Tim Busfield and if I hadn‘t met Tim Busfield, I wouldn‘t have met Aaron. So Nerds II took me straight to the White House!

This is precisely how we feel about some of the projects we’ve worked on at Plain. So that spurred me to write a piece for Plain Text:

We see these types of projects as opportunities. If we can help a client meet an incredibly tight deadline, how more likely are they to ask us to help them with something in the future? They know they can rely on us. The company with 5% of the budget they should have? They may refer us to someone we would have never had access to otherwise, etc.

Man I love West Wing.

Your Two Jobs as a Manager

Elizabeth Speirs:

Over the years I’ve ended up hiring and training a lot of people in their first jobs as a manager, and I always tell them they have two responsibilities: to set clear expectations and to reduce uncertainty for their teams.

I try to do the same thing with my team and also with our clients.

Digging Crowd Favorite

Joe Casabona, fellow Coalworker, recently joined the Crowd Favorite team. I’ve “known” Alex King, the founder of Crowd Favorite, for many, many years. But since Joe joined Coalwork I’ve been digging around their stuff more.

I’m digging what I’m seeing.

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A bit of a social break

I’ve recently pushed passed 38,000 tweets and I’m not really sure how I feel about it.

To continue to get the most value from Twitter over the years I’ve tried to change the way I use it as often as I felt as though I needed to. I’ve followed hundreds and thousands of accounts at a time, or — like currently — nearly none at all. I’ve created many carefully curated lists with thousands of accounts to help me get exactly what I want from Twitter when I want it. And I’ve deleted all of them and started over a few times. It helped me to always feel as though I was getting as much out of Twitter as I was putting into it.

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30 Days Of Blogging Challenge (continued)

This is great. Om is picking up the blog challenge and pulled in three others.

I couldn’t agree more Om. You go too boy!

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Five for the Future (of WordPress)

Speaking of Matt Mullenweg (I’m catching up on his blog)… he has a great suggestion for how companies that benefit from WordPress can contribute to its longevity. He suggests:

I think a good rule of thumb that will scale with the community as it continues to grow is that organizations that want to grow the WordPress pie (and not just their piece of it) should dedicate 5% of their people to working on something to do with core — be it development, documentation, security, support forums, theme reviews, training, testing, translation or whatever it might be that helps move WordPress mission forward.

This is a great suggestion. We at Plain do some WordPress work. We also have a premium theme called Aspen. And our best-selling product, outside of Barley CMS, is our WordPress plugin Barley for WordPress. So, we definitely benefit from WordPress.

One way we try to give back, in addition to all of our code going out under the GPL, is to do “double donations”. I wrote about this on our company blog a few weeks go. We only recently started doing this. While we’ve always paid for any code we’ve used that people sold, we hadn’t always donated to those whose plugins have a donate link next to them. Shame on us.

Asking our clients to double the donation amount does — in our minds — two things; 1) it helps our client see the value in the “little bits” of code they gather to get their site to work. Some plugins are deceivingly simple yet they are incredibly valuable. That value is worth rewarding. 2) We hope it keeps the entire eco-system moving by allowing the developers some much needed time to support the plugins they put out there and perhaps make more useful bits of code.

Matt’s suggestion pushes the best and most needed resource into the eco-system; time. Ours pushes some cash into it. Both are good.

So let’s do both. Devote 5% of our workforce to helping the WordPress eco-system (for Plain, this would be measured in hours-per-week rather than number of employees) and have both the agency and the client donate for the code used when a developer or designer asks for donations. Oh, and this doesn’t need to be limited to WordPress.

Shane Burcaw

Speaking of NEPA BlogCon… the closing presenter was Shane Burcaw. Shane suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Three years ago he started a Tumblog and decided to hit publish. The rest of the story can be found in a book that comes out tomorrow titled after his non-profit foundation; Laughing At My Nightmare.

Shane’s presentation was, as you might expect, pretty inspiring. It was also very funny. It was evident that just being on stage and speaking to us with very difficult for him. Thanks Shane and all the best with the book!

You go Matt

Matt Mullenweg:

It started with a tweet from Colin Devroe.

You go Matt.

Why iOS 8 adoption rate is flattening

People aren’t updating to iOS 8 as quickly as was first thought. The main reason? Free space on the device.

John Gruber:

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GitHub Student Developer Pack

If you know a student, or a faculty member, you may want to point them to the GitHub Student Developer Pack:

There‘s no substitute for hands-on experience, but for most students, real world tools can be cost prohibitive. That‘s why we created the GitHub Student Developer Pack with some of our partners and friends: to give students free access to the best developer tools in one place so they can learn by doing.


Improved Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown videos

Simon Willis, reporting that new, refreshed downloads are now available for the Sea Kayak with Gordon Brown videos:

Firstly, I went back to the source file and used improved compression software to produce higher quality downloads at a faster bit-rate.
Secondly, each film is now an .mp4 file (rather than .mov) and, at customers‘ request, each has chapters built in so it‘s much easier to navigate around the movie. You‘ll also find artwork embedded into the file.

This is equivalent to a software update to one of your favorite iOS apps stating: “Bug fixes and improvements”. A seemingly simple update, often with great results. And it is very welcomed to see this sort of thing. The product hasn’t changed but it has gotten better. It has been improved because it could have been improved.

Imagine if the music and/or music industries were to do something like this? If, one day, you woke up and your DVDs were turned into Blu-rays (technical impossibility, I know) or your MP3s were re-encoded at a much higher bit rate for you.

Good on ya Simon.

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