Colin Devroe

Blog Posts

Software engineers should write

23 March 2015

Shubhro Saha:

Software engineers should write because it promotes many of the same skills required in programming. A core skill in both disciplines is an ability to think clearly. The best software engineers are great writers because their prose is as logical and elegant as their code.

Saha is right. But I’ll extend his premise and say that everyone should write. Even if they don’t publish. Write as if you will. See where it takes you.

What is the definition of blog?

23 March 2015

Ben Thompson, in a posted entitled Blogging’s Bright Future which I saved in Unmark for over a month… says sites like TechCrunch added to the confusion over the word blog:

A big problem with this entire discussion is that there really isn’t a widely agreed-upon definition of what a blog is, thanks in part to the rise of sites like TechCrunch that ran on WordPress and presented posts in reverse-chronological order and so, at least in the beginning, were called “blogs”; add to that the thinly-disguised PR-channels known as “company blogs” and it’s easy to get confused.


I still do not believe blogging is over or dead or anything else. I feel it is as strong as ever and growing in the right ways. However, the word blog may need to be shot.

Matt Gemmell “On blogs”

23 March 2015

I’m still meditating on Gemmell’s piece On blogs a few days after reading it.

Instead of a blog, let your site be a site. Or a journal. An online anthology. Your collected works. Your essays, to date. Your body of writing. A blog is a non-thing; it’s the refusal to categorise what you produce, and an implicit opt-in to the disappointing default.

He’s right, of course. Not all blogs are just weblogs. For example, I do not consider The Watercolor Gallery a blog at all. I consider it an online gallery of watercolor paintings that inspire me. Along with a few interviews, videos, and art spaces. However, it is built just like a blog using the exact same tool that I use to run this site… my site… which has a blog in it.

I think a lot of sites started out as a weblog and have matured both in scope and quality to become much less amateur and much more worthy of a new name. But I don’t know if there is a unified word we can use to describe any one of them.

Daring Fireball went from a site about the personal musings of its author to a site that generates well over half-a-million dollars per year and exclusively announces books. went from just a blog of interesting things to the way Jason made his living. I remember the day it happened.

I don’t think that a blog making money changes it from a blog to something else… but it certainly changes how the author decides to publish, curate, edit, etc. And I think that is the point of Gemmell’s piece. By calling it something else you’ll likely treat it differently. You’ll write things that mean more to you and thus deserve “better” URLs. You’ll hit publish on thoughts that you hope will stand the test of time rather than simply float off into the wind.

I agree with him. Saying that you’re publishing an online tech magazine (which is what a lot of the professional tech “bloggers” call their sites) makes you approach the writing a bit differently than if you were just blogging about tech. TechCrunch, Re/Code, Mashable are blogs. They just don’t generally refer to them that way. If it works for them maybe it could work for you too?

I still like the word blog for my blog. After years and years of posts it has absolutely no rhyme, reason, rhythm, or business model. And I’d like to keep it that way.

Step Out of the Echo Chamber

23 March 2015

Shawn Blanc, again, in a piece about stepping out of your echo chamber:

When we look to the echo chamber as our sole source of inspiration, it’s like looking to a bag of chips for our sole source of nourishment. The constant barrage of our timelines and inboxes — those “little updates” — are like snacks and junk food. They will fill you up but they are not a significant form of nourishment.

He takes an entirely different angle to this problem than I did in 2012 when I wrote about breaking down the walls of your echo chamber. His is just as valid and interesting. He says make things, be creative. And he’s right. You can bust out of your own echo chamber by doing rather than listening or reading.


18 March 2015

Shawn Blanc on Procrastination:

Surely the most common reason to procrastinate is a lack of motivation. If we were motivated (or, instead of “motivated”, use the word “excited”) to accomplish a task, then we’d be doing it.

I procrastinate as bad as anyone. Great read. He’s also writing a guide.

Chuck Wendig is writing a Star Wars novel

17 March 2015

Chuck Wendig is writing a Star Wars novel. He writes:

I cannot feel my legs, and I have been drunkenly pirouetting wildly around the house for months, making lightsaber sounds and forcing my four-year-old on a steady regimen of Star Warsy goodness. I am geeking out hardcore over here.

We live in interesting times. Where we can follow the blogs and the tweets of the people that bring us our favorite things.

Wanted: A JS library that converts real language date strings to dates

16 March 2015

I’m doing a bit of support for Barley today and a customer is having an issue sorting some dates in JavaScript. They’d like to compare a few dates on the page and return the date nearest today’s date. The issue I’m seeing (and I’m no JavaScript guru or anything) is that the dates they are trying to compare are in real language. Here is a quick example date:


This doesn’t follow any normal ISO standard, apparently, so JavaScript’s Date Object won’t accept it as a date. I’ve found a few JavaScript libraries, such as Moment, but it doesn’t seem to be able to handle anything outside of ISO 8601 formats.

If you know of a way (and this seems like it should be easy to do and I’m just missing it) please hit me up on Twitter @cdevroe.

Solved! Thanks to Andy Rocco for pointing out that I only needed to remove the “ at “ from the string and boom, instant date. He also pointed out that Moment.js as a parse plugin that further supports more open text formats for date strings. Good to know.

Here is the Code Pen I created for our customer.


11 March 2015

Mandy Brown, on her blog, on the origin of blogs and how platforms for writing have to find a way to solve the “where will the money come from” problem.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that our core discomfort with Medium—with most of online publishing—is we can’t quite see how the money works no matter how hard we squint.

I love blogs. So I love this piece. She’s right on. I’m still skeptical on Medium as a business.

Thoughts on Apple’s Spring Forward Event

10 March 2015

I’m going to follow MacSparky’s lead here and provide a laundry list of thoughts now that what happened yesterday has sunk in a little.

While reading this keep the following things in mind; I own a 2012-era 13” MBPr, an iPhone 6, and an iPad Air 2. I love all of these devices and the only thing I’d change is giving my MacBook Pro an additional few terabytes.

  • I think ResearchKit shows how mature a company Apple really is. Some companies drive so hard to sell more devices that they don’t know what to do with that power when they get there. Apple clearly understands they are in a unique position to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And this is just one way in which they are in an excellent position to do so. I hope other companies follow suit.
  • The new MacBook appears to be a marvel in engineering. But, if I’m being honest, I’m sick of marvels of engineering simply for the sake of miniaturization. I would take my exact same size MacBook Pro with far more battery life and storage capacity and RAM. I don’t need thinner, I need better, faster, more. We haven’t seen a leap in processing power on notebook sized computers in far too long.
  • The MacBook’s single port is fine with me. About 98% of my computer usage is at work while attached to my Apple Display via Thunderbolt. This affords more ports on the back of the display. But people that are mobile most of the time are likely not going to be tickled with yet another dongle.
  • The Apple TV’s price being lowered to $69 should sell a lot of Apple TVs. I think yesterday was the time the Apple TV went from hobby to product for Apple and I believe we’ll be seeing a big, big update to this within 12 months.
  • I’m not an HBO subscriber nor do I intend to be. However, this surely is the beginning of the end of the strangle hold that cable providers have over any of us getting any content we want whenever we want. I’d like every major network to do what HBO just did. And the NFL too.
  • We learned a bit more about the Apple Watch yesterday but not as much as I would have liked. We all knew we’d hear the pricing tiers, the release date, etc. but I really wanted to see more demos than they presented. Taking photos, getting directions, etc. So I’m looking forward to wearing one in the store. I may buy one for Plain so we can be prepared for when our clients ask for apps on the Watch… but I’m unsure I’d want one for me personally at this point. Perhaps the next generation will be more compelling to me.
  • I read some complaints on Twitter yesterday about how Apple was “using Africa” to sell $17,000 Watches. I do not believe they were but of course I don’t like the symbolism. I’m sure Apple thought they were helping more than harming by shedding light both on Africa and Christy Turlington Burns’ foundation; Every Mother Counts. Just as interesting to me… there is now “a blog” on
  • I think “the new guard” at Apple is getting more and more comfortable on stage and yesterday really showed that. I wish we saw Angela though even if for a 2 minute update on Retail. But I’m sure we’ll see her in the future.
  • Lastly, I think it is pretty obvious that the Watch is a whole new type of product for Apple. Going from one you carry to one you wear. It is an interesting distinction and one that is really tough to get right. Imagine if your refrigerator company decided to make sneakers. You’d be skeptical if they could pull it off. Apple’s brand made it such that no one questioned whether or not Apple could make a Watch people would want to wear. Now the question will be… will they stop with the wrist?

In This Skin

10 March 2015

Artist Natalie McComas was recently inducted into VSCO’s Artist Initiative to take photos of people with rare skin defects:

When Natalie first met Patience Hodgson (of the Australian indie-rock band, The Grates), who later became the inaugural subject of her “In This Skin” project, she saw Patience’s port-wine birthmark as something really beautiful. “Her perspective of it, and herself, was a fresh, honest, and simple one,” Natalie remembers. Out of their conversation, the photo series was born. “I find it‘s the people around me and what‘s going on in their lives that directly impact and generate the ideas for my documentary work.”

You can follow along on Natalie’s VSCO Cam Grid and her web site.

/via iGNANT. adds inline editing

9 March 2015

Dave Winer, creator of the open-source

Last Monday I decided to spend three days taking to the next step. To add an editor that publishes stories to their own static pages. I have a very good back-end, written in Node.js, that‘s all set up to do this. I started with the MacWrite demo program, and it took three days to get all the way through it. I can now publish from the browser to a static web page, with simplicity and beauty.

Inline editing is eating the world. Remember what I said in the fall of 2013 and I’ve been saying ever since; you’re going to see this everywhere.

Automattic wins DMCA case

9 March 2015

Ernesto Van Der Sar of TorrentFreak:

The case is mostly a symbolic win, but an important one. It should serve as a clear signal to other copyright holders that false DMCA takedown requests are not always left unpunished.

DMCA takedown notices are an enormous amount of work for any company offering a service that allows the publishing of user generated content. At Viddler, when the platform was free and public, we’d routinely get takedown notices. A large percentage of them were legitimate and were relatively easy to act upon. However, the edge cases and the cases that were clearly an abuse of the DMCA and an attack on things like free speech, parody, and other things were so much harder to deal with. It can be incredibly taxing on small businesses.

A huge amount of kudos goes to Automattic for fighting this one. As Ernesto wrote… it is a win that will hopefully send a message that Automattic is willing to go to court for their user’s rights. And that is a very important line to draw that should help to begin bringing the number of takedown notices that Automattic receives down a bit.

/via Matt Mullenweg.

Trying iOS, Android, and Windows

9 March 2015

Fred Wilson:

I plan to go back to iOS when the next iPhone ships, and then back to Android six months after that. In this way, I can stay current on both operating systems and ecosystems which I think is useful in my business.

I wish I could do this again. For a time I was when we had a number of testing devices laying around. I’d pick one up and using it for a weekend here and there. During that time my eyes were opened to what was available on all platforms. 

At that time Windows Phone stuck out to me as the winner over Android but iOS was still in the lead. I wrote:

Windows Phone is a much better competitor to iOS than Android currently is. It is clean, simple to use, vastly different than iOS (which is good since Android and iOS just bite off each other with each release), and really fun to play with. The problem? Official apps.

And official apps are still a problem on Windows. Windows Phone was great the way Mac OS was great for years. Microsoft just didn’t stick with it. They got beat. And now it seems like they are moving on.

It was expensive to have multiple new and up-to-date devices in service at the same time. I think our monthly bill was roughly $700 or so. Not cheap for a small business. I like Wilson’s approach a bit more. Switch between devices completely once a year or so. Perhaps I’ll find a way to do that too.

An Einstein Cross

6 March 2015

Or, gravitational lensing. It is when a distant object in space has so much gravity that it bends light around it allowing for us to observe what is behind the object. Blackholes, quasars and galaxies being the primary sources of gravitational lensing.

Sometimes this effect helps us to see distant objects even clearer because it magnifies that which is behind it. Recently astronomers were able to see a supernova replay over and over as this light reached us from the same event many times over several years. Weird.

Here is a fairly good explanation:

The New York Times has more.

MacSparky on Word 2016

6 March 2015

Last night I quipped, on Twitter (I know, I know): 

Office for Mac 2016 Preview. AKA Toolbars McGee.

The screenshots of this Office for Mac 2016 preview that have been floating around are laughable. But David Sparks (MacSparky) brings me back to Earth:

I think complaining about the menus in office and the massive number of features is pointless. Office exists to satisfy IT checklists and every obscure feature has its group of advocates out there … somewhere. Put simply, Microsoft Word is going to be big and ponderous just like the scorpion will always sting the frog.

Office has never been for me. It does way too much. Even Apple’s Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are generally overkill (though great applications). I actually enjoy using Google Drive applications like Sheets, Slides, and Docs.

Hashtag Angels

5 March 2015

Looks like a pretty stellar group of women coming out of Twitter to form an investment group called #Angels. Excellent reasoning too:

Technology is no longer an industry category. As has been well-chronicled, it has become a foundation to every business, ranging from healthcare to transportation to finance to education and beyond. Every company will be a technology company. And the lessons learned from building a company like Twitter are relevant to an increasingly wide range of products, businesses, and industries.

Every single client we have that “builds an app” as their business I tell the same thing; “You’re building a software company”. It doesn’t matter which industry the company works within. Perhaps I should change what I say to “You’re building a technology company”.

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