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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Follow: @c2dev2, RSS, JSON, Feedly, Micro.blog.

Best of 2017 as told by me

To create this list I sat down and wrote from the top of my head the things I could remember being awesome in 2017. The list isn’t exhaustive. It is just what made an impression on me as being “the best” in each category.

Best Blog: fuzzy notepad

Evee consistently writes well-researched, readable, diatribes on topics that could otherwise be boring yet are fascinating and I hang on every word. Here are a few posts from 2017 to get you started:

Best blog redesign: Colin Walker

When I awarded this to Jason Santa Maria so many years ago it was due to his use of color, contrast, typography. But design isn’t limited to how something looks but also how it works. Colin Walker has spend much of 2017 tweaking his blog’s features in subtle ways to work just the way he wants it to. I’m sure he’ll continue to fiddle with it throughout 2018 but I think we can all learn from Colin’s iterative approach. Keep tweaking.

Best new (to me) blog: Brand New

I’ve known about Brand New for a long time and have stumbled across a post or two over the years. But this year I’ve been pushing myself to learn more visual design and one way was to subscribe to more blogs like this. I find these posts, and the community, to be an excellent resource.

Best service: Spotify

This year I’ve used both Apple Music and Google Play Music to see if I could move away from Spotify. Spotify is in a league all its own, the other two don’t even compare well. Spotify’s machine learning robots just do an amazing job at surfacing music that I would like. It is so good it is eery.

Notable mention: Google Photos. I’ve switch from Apple iCloud Photo Library to Google Photos and I’m consistently being surprised by how much better it is.

Best book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This was a tough call. I read some pretty great books this year. But the one that keeps coming up in conversations, the one I’m sharing the most is Ready Player One. I think it is the sci-fi novel that I read this year that most feels like it could happen within a few years.

Notable mention: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

Best productivity tool: Bullet Journal

Bullet Journaling has made the biggest impact to my productivity and cognitive load than any other app, technique, or method this year. My “version” is slightly different than the default but I’m loving it.

Notable mention: Trello.

Best phone: Google Pixel 2 XL

I’m cobbling together my notes for a “review” of the Pixel 2 XL in the coming weeks but I can say, unequivocally, it is the best phone of the year. For me. I know the Samsung Galaxy Note8 made many people’s list and of course the iPhone X deserves a mention – but for the price, the quality of the hardware, and the software the Pixel 2 XL is an easy winner for me.

Before I get email, know that I have an iPhone X (Eliza’s phone) and I’ve tried the Samsung models. For me it came down to the camera system (which is actually better than the iPhone X in everything but the second lens), the software (Android 8.1 – Samsung is way behind) and the price. The iPhone X will be better next year and, hopefully, iOS 12 will be much, much better than iOS 11. But, as of today, Google is killing it.

One other side note: Google as a personal assistant is so much better than Siri it is jarring. I may have used Siri a few times per month in the past but today I use Google about 10 times per day with nearly zero mistakes.

Notable mention: Samsung Galaxy Note8, iPhone X.

Best podcast: The West Wing Weekly

If you’re not a fan of The West Wing this choice may not land with you at all. So, for you I would suggest Song Exploder. If you haven’t yet listened to TWWW I suggest starting at the beginning and also watching The West Wing along the way.

Notable mention: Song Exploder / Tim Ferriss.

Best platform: Instagram

When I deleted my social media accounts and didn’t even look at them for a few months the one I missed the most was Instagram. The platform continues to be one of the best and they continue to add great new features all the time while somehow keeping the app’s history in tact. The day may come when they add a feature that is terrible but so far they’ve done pretty well.

Side note: The algorithmic timeline almost pushed this one out for me. It is nearly inexcusable that this isn’t optional. I sincerely hope they find a way to allow users this option this year.

Notable mention: Micro.blog.

Best browser: Firefox Quantum

Perhaps this should be “most improved browser”? Quantum is a great name for the strides Mozilla has made with Firefox. They continue to improve the browser.

Oddly, Firefox is not my “daily driver”. I am using Chrome due to my switch to Android. (I’m ecstatic that I now can choose a default browser) I may, though, give Firefox a try across the board again soon.

Notable mention: Safari for turning off auto-play videos and ad tracking by default.

Best app: Apollo for Reddit for iOS

Though I’m now using Android I have to list Apollo as the best app. If you ever kill time by looking at Reddit (which I do a few times per week) I have to suggest you try this app. It is so well made you’ll wish it’s developer made every app you use.

Notable mention: Snapseed and Google PhotoScan (search App Stores).

Best code editor: Visual Studio Code

VS Code has improved a lot over the last year and has now overtaking Atom as my default text editor and code editor for all projects. While I still build native apps in Visual Studio most of my web work and text editing happens in VS Code.

The shared workspaces are the big feature for me this year. I can combine several code repositories into a single workspace and use Spotlight to launch all code related to a particular project in less than a second. It also has git and terminal integrated so I’m usually able to do all of my work in a single window.

Notable mention: Atom, Visual Studio for Mac.

Best YouTube channel: First We Feast

Specifically, Hot Ones. First We Feast has an interview show called Hot Ones that I just discovered this year and I can’t get enough of it.

Notable mention: MKBHD

Those are all of the categories I wanted to feature this year. Again, I simply pull this list together from the top of my head. Just like all years I saw so many amazing things it’d be very hard to create a real list. I suggest following my blog for all of 2018 because whenever I see something worth linking to I do so.

There are, however, some other companies, people, and products that I think deserve a shout-out. Here they are in no particular order: SpaceX, Khalid, Tom Hanks’ lost gloves tweets, The Last Jedi hype, Chris Stapleton, Joe Rogan’s Powerful JRE Podcast, Amazon Kindle and library loans, letgo, Google Maps, OK Google, Logitech MX Master 2S, USB-C, cast iron pans, Amazon Prime.

See you next year.

 

 

Browser struggle

In the opening scene of It Might Get Loud, Jack White fashions himself an instrument from a single guitar string, a glass Coke bottle, a piece of wood, and a few nails. He goes on to describe how he appreciates an instrument that he has to physically struggle with in order to force it to perform. He also appreciates constraints while on stage. One of his bands, The White Stripes, limited their color palette for their brand and their music was all composed using a single guitar and a set of drums (though they did meander a bit from time-to-time for special occasions).

The constraints breed creativity. Much like an artist living within the bounds of their medium by forcing themselves to use their tools in ways not thought of before. Stretching, pulling, twisting.

For some odd reason I’m reminded of these constraints, this struggle, this art whenever I switch internet browsers.

To most people an internet browser isn’t something they choose to use. In fact, they use whatever comes on the device they own. If they switch to a new one it is because they were forced to or that they switched on accident.

To a web developer an internet browser is more than just the way we can view the web. It is one of the primary tools that helps us to build the web. So while just about any web browser should be fine to use for most people – a web developer like myself comes with a set of requirements above and beyond that of the common surfer.

While feature parity has settled into the browser market for the most part, there are extremely subtle yet key differences between them all. If I were forced to list all of the nuances between the browsers such as how they handle tabs, bookmarks, page rendering, etc. I’d be here for days.

Here are some very broad descriptions of the primary browsers:

Safari comes on pre-installed the Mac and seemingly puts the user’s privacy and attention at the forefront. It is seamlessly integrated on both desktop and mobile. It is also the most popular browser on mobile*.

Edge comes pre-installed on Windows 10 and isn’t available to me on desktop or mobile. While Microsoft has made enormous strides since ditching Internet Explorer I have no idea what edge Edge has. I haven’t seen huge claims made by them and I don’t know what the browser itself stands for. But, I’d wager that a large portion of Windows 10 users use that browser without even knowing it. So long as Edge works well and has enough features for Windows 10 users – most users won’t need to shop around for a new browser. Unfortunately, I cannot use it.

Chrome is the most popular browser in the world on the desktop. Mostly due to the popularity of Google Search, Google Docs, and Gmail. These three services have billions of monthly active users – each – and if you’re using any other browser except Chrome you’ll be “reminded” to download it. Also, Google has a few Chrome-only features that inevitably get people to make the switch. It is also pre-installed on many Android devices. It is very good and while I’d have a small list of asks on desktop my biggest request on mobile would be to be able to set it as my primary browser – unfortunately Apple doesn’t allow that**.

Firefox is open source and presumably cares the most about the open web. Its development is by far the most transparent of the browsers (though Apple, Google, and Microsoft do an excellent job of making their development fairly transparent) and just about anyone can contribute to the project. Firefox’s footprint in the market, however, is tiny in comparison to its competition. The latest releases seem to be leaps forward for Firefox.

There are more browsers; Opera, Brave, Tor, Konqueror, etc. but these are relatively small userbases*** and I’ve never used any of them for any length of time other than to see if they were usable.

Lately Apple is claiming that Safari is the fastest browser available. A claim each web browser maker claims with nearly each release of their software. It is sort of like having a few friends with similar dates of birth. Someone is always a few days older than the other for a few short days until everyone is the same age again. This is what it is like with speed and web browsers. One may be “the fastest” today but the other will catch up next week.

For the last few weeks I’ve been using Firefox and there are several small niggles that I have that prompted me to write, and rewrite and rewrite, this post. It is what reminded me of this struggle. This bending and twisting of metal and wood in order to get the browser to do what I need it to. I started out creating a list of things Firefox would need to do in order to have me as a user fulltime – some examples include allowing me to use my mouse’s features, enabling macOS dictionary lookup, being the default browser on iOS, etc. But then I backed off of that and realized it will always be a bit of a struggle. I’ll always switch back and forth between browsers. I’ll have a favorite. And that will change.

I’d bet Jack White has never found the perfect guitar. He has a favorite today and it may change tomorrow. Today I’m using Firefox. Tomorrow who knows? And that’s fine.

 

* Chrome has more installs on mobile, iOS has far more usage.

** Can someone please sue Apple over this already?

*** Opera seems to have a huge marketshare in mobile in places like India and Africa.

Favicons on tabs in browsers

John Gruber:

With many tabs open, there’s really nothing subjective about it: Chrome’s tabs are more usable because they show favicons.

Like John, I’m currently a Safari user. I switched to Chrome for a bit due to the Developer tools being a bit better at the time but, as you may know, I’m trying to go all in on Apple. Safari is just better all around when on the Mac, iPhone, or iPad*.

I totally agree, though, with everything John says in his piece. Go read the entire thing.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned in his piece though is Safari’s “Show all tabs” view. If you have a ton of tabs open it can be very useful to use the Show all tabs button to view them all and find the one you’re looking for. This feature alone will not pull Chrome users over to Safari but at least it is something.

* Currently iCloud tabs are not working at all for me on the Mac. But I’m guessing that may be due to me using the iOS 11 betas on both iPhone and iPad and I am not using a beta of macOS High Sierra.

Chrome ad blocking

Sridhar Ramaswamy:

We believe online ads should be better. That’s why we joined the Coalition for Better Ads, an industry group dedicated to improving online ads. The group’s recently announced Better Ads Standards provide clear, public, data-driven guidance for how the industry can improve ads for consumers, and today I’d like to share how we plan to support it.

To that end, they are going to pre-install an ad-blocker in Chrome based on the Coalitions blacklist of annoying ads.

Chrome has always focused on giving you the best possible experience browsing the web. For example, it prevents pop-ups in new tabs based on the fact that they are annoying. In dialogue with the Coalition and other industry groups, we plan to have Chrome stop showing ads (including those owned or served by Google) on websites that are not compliant with the Better Ads Standards starting in early 2018.

Annoying is subjective. But I’m glad they’re doing something.

While they’re at it, it’d be cool if they added newsletter modal blocking too. We don’t see pop-up windows that much anymore (partly due to most modern browsers automatically blocking them by default). Nowadays we see pop-up “modals” for things like newsletter sign ups for a 10% discount. I think those are annoying and should be blocked too. Though we don’t see Chrome (or any other browser) blocking them by default yet.

I don’t understand attention hostile advertising. I work at a marketing and advertising company and I still don’t like these tactics. It isn’t a sustainable method. Imagine if newspapers in the 1800s could overlay the entire front-page of their papers with a guy fishing a Miller Lite out of a cooler? Print newspapers would have never made it as long as they did. Attention hostile advertising is a short-sighted approach. We need to think of ad units that are longterm, sustainable, and valuable to both customer and advertiser.