Colin Devroe

Blog Posts

Snell on Photos for OS X Beta

10 February 2015

Snell, of Six Colors, writing for TidBITS on the feature in Photos for OS X Beta that allows you to store your original photos and videos in iCloud and only keeping smaller versions locally on your Macintosh to save space:

It remains to be seen exactly how Photos determines whether you have enough space, and whether it’s just caching photos or if it truly makes a judgment about how much free space you have before deciding to hold onto your files. As someone with approximately 700 GB of family photos and a bunch of Macs with small flash-storage drives, I’m excited by the possibility that I can have access to my entire photo library on all of my Macs and iOS devices, even though they don’t have enough space to hold the entire library.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a paragraph like this over the last 13 years of using a Mac as my primary means of managing my photo library. And every time I get the feeling it could be true only to be disappointed for some reason. Either the apps are bad, or slow, or the Internet connection simply hasn’t been there yet.

This time it feels different, though. The “cloud” has finally matured to a point where it isn’t just a pipe dream that we can store a bunch of files on a bunch of servers out on the web and have all of our devices read from those libraries of data. Many cloud-based services have solved so many issues over the years that we now all take for granted how much of our data truly is in the cloud. All while our devices have slowly become smaller, thinner, lighter, and have become simple “Internet terminals”.

I’m looking forward to giving OS X Photos a shot this spring.

Uber hits Scranton

6 February 2015

Uber, today:

Good news! Uber is launching in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area at 5:00pm today!

For an area that seems to be the last to get anything new this is a welcome change. And the company founder’s antics aside, this will end up being a good thing for the area.

Wednesday Scrapple 3

4 February 2015

The last two scrapples were on Tuesday; you can find them here and here.

  • I’m finally getting the hang of Evernote. The key, for me at least, is managing multiple notebooks. It’d be nice if I could password protect a notebook. A way to have a notebook be a bit extra secure.
  • Holding the original iPhone in my hand makes me realize that I’d prefer a much smaller phone than the iPhone 6 I have.
  • Mexico didn’t feel nearly as dangerous or scammy as I was told by so many before we left. In fact, it was pleasantly safe, clean, and the people were nice.
  • Being cut off from communication for an entire week really helps you gauge the importance of each type of communication you employ.
  • I need to learn more Spanish. Mucho más.
  • We’ve reached the point where there are more “to do” applications than there are people on the planet.
  • I think Facebook Paper needs to be marketed by Facebook more.
  • The “blizzard” in NYC had us worried that we wouldn’t get back into the US when we had scheduled to. But, I think what ended up happening underscores that the best handle meteorologists have on the weather is only a few hours before it actually happens. They have an incredibly tough job and are only as good as the software/services they can afford that crunches the numbers for them.
  • Origins for things are important. Too many people simply do not care of what they say — even if the origins of what they are saying they would likely not agree with or want to promote. A few really small examples; deuce (see second definition), the word panic, Christmas. 

Designing Twitter Video

4 February 2015

My boy Stammy wrote a really nice, in-depth blog post on how he and his team at Twitter designed the new Twitter Video feature. Absolutely a must-read:

It irks me when designers talk about making specs and handing them over to engineering. The process of “making specs“ implies that there is no conversation with your engineering counterparts when developing. While I have a technical background, I‘m nowhere near the caliber of the engineers at Twitter, so I use this as an opportunity work closely with them to learn more about our iOS and Android codebases, how things are built and determine what‘s feasible.

The smaller the gap between design and the final product the more likely you are to having a product would exactly as you intended it to.

Unfollowing everyone

3 February 2015

Helena Price on Medium:

What if we made more active decisions about how we spent our Internet time? If we weren’t bogged down maintaining our inboxes and social networks, who would we set out to meet or get to know better? If we weren’t so busy clicking links or browsing photos in our feeds, what would we choose to study or learn more about? If we spent these hours differently, what would happen?

As many of you reading this likely know, I do this all the time. Probably once every two or three months. I delete everything on Twitter and Feedly and start new. It has led me to finding more and more great people, places, and things than just about anything else I’ve done online. I highly recommend it.

/via Shawn Blanc.

Should I rent more space from Picturelife?

9 January 2015

I’ve reached my capacity on Picturelife.* I want to rent more space but I’m hesitant because every other company that has attempted what Picturelife is doing has failed or been acquired and scuttled.

Some of the other options I’ve looked at is Dropbox, Box, Amazon, and Flickr. 

Both Dropbox and Box have options for unlimited space (or, effectively so) and are fairly affordable when compared to Picturelife. The pro is that Dropbox and Box can be used for more than just photos. In a way, I’m getting more for my money. However, neither service is optimized to be a solution for storing, discovering, and sharing personal photographs.

Amazon offers free unlimited photo storage for Prime members. Prime continues to improve and, honestly, I can’t believe Eliza and I have held out as long as we have without it. However, the upload process is incredibly slow and the mobile application is about 10 versions behind what Picturelife offers. Also, and this isn’t a small issue, photo storage isn’t Amazon’s primary business model. The fact that Picturelife team members wake up every day to help make this better, easier, more fun, faster, etc. is a really big deal.

Flickr gives a free terabyte of space to every user. For my use, this might as well be unlimited. Flickr provides a few features that no other photo storage solution currently offers in the way that Flickr can. These include excellent geolocation, incredibly rich tagging, albums, groups, sharing, and more. The issue is that they simply do not have an easy way to get my entire photo archive onto their platform. Their web-based photo uploader is horrendous. And managing my photos after they got there would be a nightmare. They simply aren’t built for this type of photo storage. The rotten cherry on top of this cupcake is that Flickr is owned by Yahoo! and it seems the company’s days are numbered. It’ll likely be acquired at some point and who knows what will happen to Flickr, the team, the photos, everything at that point.

So, I’m back to Picturelife. Currently it appears to be the best option. The mobile application is incredibly well done to help me find photos I’ve taken in the past, to grab them and use them as I need, etc. There is still a lot of work to do, but so far, so good.

In addition to the failure rate of companies in this space I have the following inhibitions regarding renting more space from Picturelife; the application hasn’t seen an update since November 2014 and that was a point.point release, the company raised “just” $4M in 2012 (more on this in a moment), and the site doesn’t seem like it has been updated in a little while.

I say “just” $4M because that isn’t a lot of money for a startup in New York City taking on photo storage. Photo storage is still a fairly expensive problem. It is far less expensive today than it was a few years ago — when many of the companies failed — but it still isn’t cheap. The prices that Picturelife charges seem fair… but so did the prices Everpix was charging.

But you might say… “what is the worst thing that could happen? Why care? If they go under just switch to something else.” As anyone that has backed up their photo library knows, this process is a big pain. Especially if each service stores metadata differently. I remember when I had just 20Gb of photos and I was switching between Aperture and iPhoto. Two products from the same company. It took me months. I tagged and described and put every single photo into an album. I’ve since completely given up on trying to do this. I now rely solely on the information that is stored by the cameras I use — location, date, time, and a bit of facial recognition. I wish I didn’t have to give up on this. But I simply cannot sink hundreds of hours into this process again and be left with nothing when I have to move from one thing to another.

Another concern is that I buy Macs. And Macs don’t come with an enormous amount of space out of the gate. In 2015 we’re still left with less space than we really need in favor of using cloud-based services to make up the difference. In the very near future I will not be able to fit my audio, video, and photo libraries on any computer that I own. And storing them on large hard drives at home can be a big problem and that gives you a single point of failure. House fire? Everything is gone. So I have to use the web.

All of this is to say; I honestly do not know what I should do. I’ll likely rent more space from Picturelife but I won’t do so with the full confidence that I’ll be able to use this service longterm. But I really, really hope that I can and I hope that they continue to improve the service and thrive for years to come.

* I’ve uploaded over 75Gb and have about 50Gb left to upload or so.

We don’t get to choose what is popular

6 January 2015

Marco Arment had a rough day. He published a thoughtful, yet quick, post about Apple’s software quality. Most of us that follow and use Apple products nodded our heads in agreement as we read his post and moved onto the next one in our feed readers. Everyone who knows anything about Apple software knows that lately they’ve been slipping. So Marco’s post was simply affirmation that we aren’t alone in thinking this.

Well, the press got wind of the post and, like these things tend to do, it spiraled out and away from Marco’s original intent and was blown into sensationalism. This is what happens. He knows this. We all know this. The press takes a word or three and makes the entire conversation about those few words. Usually completely out of context and with even more emphasis than was ever intended. Presidential candidates have lost their races for far less words than Marco published.

But this situation is also a good illustration of the fact that we do not get to choose what is popular. Over the last decade I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard business people ask us Internet geeks how to make something viral. “Well, we can just make a funny video and maybe it will go viral?” — This isn’t how it works. Even the best in the business have no idea when or if something will take off and gain traction.

Casey Neistat, a YouTuber that makes his living off of making videos, has videos that range from thousands of views to tens of millions of views. He does this every day. If he knew exactly what it would take to make something go viral he’d likely repeat that every single time. Jonathan Mann, the “song a day guy”, he has songs that have less views than some of my blog posts (which is very few views) and he has others that get played by Steve Jobs during media events.

We don’t get to choose what is popular. We just keep writing or singing or recording, and most importantly, publishing and hoping they resonate. For me, I don’t care if my blog posts ever gain any traction but for those that make their living off of blogging or YouTube they really do care. I do care, however, that the things we make - like Barley or Unmark - finds an audience of people that love them and share them. It’s all the same thing.

I’ve had a few blog posts that went pretty crazy. My most popular post has had millions of unique page views. Before publishing it I would have never, ever guessed it’d be the most popular post. It seems this is exactly the situation Marco was in. He had no idea it would take off the way it did. I sincerely hope he doesn’t stop blogging or even back off a single bit. But it seems he’s a bit gun-shy now.

Bill Gates drinks poop

6 January 2015

For good reason! Bill Gates shows us an amazing machine that turns feces into drinkable water. And that is not all. The by-products of this process, in addition to the water, are power and ash that can be used. Here’s Bill:

I watched the piles of feces go up the conveyer belt and drop into a large bin. They made their way through the machine, getting boiled and treated. A few minutes later I took a long taste of the end result: a glass of delicious drinking water.

Bill Gates’ second act is truly remarkable.

Elon Musk AMA

6 January 2015

Reddit continues to be the best place to find public interviews with interesting people. Elon Musk did an AMA yesterday — fascinating stuff. Here is part of his answer to how he has managed to learn so much so quickly.

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Think about that the next time you jump into a web development framework that extends a language you do not have much knowledge in or the next time you hold a strong opinion on a topic that you have little to know background on.

Here are the top AMAs on Reddit currently.


31 December 2014

In a world where every new e-mail client must support Gmail or die, this is a breath of fresh air. JMAP, from FastMail, is an API that improves upon IMAP. It is open. And free.

JMAP does everything. Instead of separate protocols with different syntax for sending email than for receiving it (and separate protocols again for contacts and calendars) JMAP combines them all under one protocol. Best of all, the push notification includes all tokens for each service, so you can synchronise changes to your entire mail account plus your contacts and your calendar in a single round trip — up to date immediately, the way it should be.

This is an excellent step. Now, how to put pressure on our favorite services/clients to support JMAP across the board?

/via Marco Arment.

What Just Happened?

31 December 2014

Fred Wilson uses 2014 as a lens to see not only what happened but what is happening:

the “sharing economy” was outed as the “rental economy.” nobody is sharing anything. people are making money, plain and simple. technology has made renting things (even in real time) as simple as it made buying things a decade ago.

Most of his observations are very high level and are basically at the intersection of technology, finance, and the Internet. I’d love to see similar blog posts from people with deep insight into the medical, aviation, travel, farming, and more industries. Alas, these people rarely have blogs.

Tuesday Scrapple 2

30 December 2014

See Scrapple 1.

  • I’m begrudgingly using Evernote. It is working. But I wish the sync capabilities were equal to Simplenote’s.
  • Tip: Close your inbox. Only open it when you’re reading and/or writing email. Do not leave it open in between.
  • I would like to have a Russian dash cam installed in my car. My drive into work has become more of a thrill ride. I wish people would stop texting and driving.
  • I watched Spaceballs on Netflix over the weekend. So great. Started watching Robin Hood: Men in Tights. So terrible.

14 days of committing

29 December 2014

It has been 14 days since I said I’d be committing for 30 weekdays straight. I’ve committed code 12 out of those 14 days. (This weekend Eliza and I painted our living room so you’ll have to forgive me for not pulling out my computer.)

What have I accomplished? What have I learned?

These last 14 days have been some of the most productive we’ve had on Unmark, Barley for WordPress, and Barley CMS in over 9 months. I’ve been setting aside time each day to make some progress on our internal products — whether or not there is client work to be done.

With Kyle’s help, I’ve been able to release several key updates to these products and become so much more familiar with their codebases than I was just a few weeks ago. You see, I didn’t write Unmark or Barley CMS. I wrote most of the code for Barley for WordPress, but the other two I was nearly starting from scratch in my knowledge of their codebases. Fortunately for me, Jeff and Tim both did a great job writing documentation to catch me up-to-speed.

Once you hit this rhythm, though, it is a really nice pace to work at. Each day I have a little time for products, a little time for client work. It breaks up the day in such a way that each day flies by and, even if I get stuck on a problem, I tend to have a fresh perspective on it within a few hours. My entire career I’ve found that backing away from a problem only to return to it later usually yields good results — this new schedule affords that to happen daily.

I’ve also found that, at this pace, I’m far less likely to put up with bottlenecks in my workflow. For far too long I’ve had several tasks that I had to do manually that, now, I’ve either automated or eliminated entirely. And I hope to continue to knock a few more of these tediums off the list as these next few weeks continue.

I’ll give you an example: the way we build the Barley Editor for use in multiple products; such as Barley CMS and Exposure, is somewhat tedious. It requires a bit of institutional knowledge and if one piece is wrong due to human (read: me) error then the whole thing breaks down. By the time I’m done with this next sprint I’d like to have this build process be much smarter or eliminate it altogether.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I want my git history to be much cleaner. For some things I’ve needed to push commits to Github in order to properly deploy them to either our development or staging environments. This creates a million unnecessary commits. I’d prefer my git log to be a lot more clean and easier to work with and move around in. So I’ll be looking for ways to make our development and staging deployment routines a bit easier to manage. And my usage of git to be a bit more proper. This should help make git much more valuable longterm for our team.

Oh, and one last thing. I should have started this commitment to committing 9 months ago.

The Internet’s First Family

29 December 2014

Stephen Thomas goes long on Metafilter:

So: Nominally, MetaFilter is a venue for people to talk about things other people have done, intelligently and with respect for each other (if not necessarily for the thing being discussed), and a small number of people are paid well to ensure this is what happens. All of this, it seems, adds up to a place with a premium on humility and other-centeredness.

Great read. I suggest adding it to Unmark.

I highly recommend Metafilter. I’m picking up a membership this week. Long, long overdue.

Playback any Google Doc’s keystrokes

29 December 2014

James Somers:

If you’ve ever typed anything into a Google Doc, you can now play it back as if it were a movie — like traveling through time to look over your own shoulder as you write.

For a while now Google Docs, or Drive, or Docs Drive, or whatever they are calling it today, has recorded every update to a document by every user down to the microsecond. This makes it easy to recover any information you may have lost or to revert to an older copy of the document. Somers has used this data to make a “movie” out of your document updates.

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