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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Best of 2018

This year I’m taking a slightly more comprehensive approach to my “best of” list. I’ve taken a look at previous year’s lists: 2008, 2009, 2017 and comprised a slightly more complete set.

Again, this is only the things I came across this year and can remember. I don’t keep a list throughout the year but rather rely on my memory. If you think I missed something great please reach out.

Best Blog: Becky Hansmeyer

I’ve linked to Becky’s blog 6 times this year. Mostly related to her iOS app SnapThread (which I can’t even use because I’m no longer on iOS). She openly published her thoughts, trials, tribulations, and triumphs (and new children) throughout the year. The epitome of a personal blog.

Runners up: Waxy – Andy Baio is back at it and the internet is better for it. Jeremy Keith’s Adactio is also always good. It might as well be perpetually in this category.

Best Blog Redesign: Lynn Fisher

Each year Lynn Fisher shows off her talent to build responsive web designs in a fun way by redesigning her site/blog. Go ahead and resize your browser on her homepage. Very fun.

Best (new to me) Blog: Windows Central

Hear me out. This blog publishes tons of times per day. The web site is obnoxious with ads (very thankful for RSS!). Despite that, since switching to Windows 10 this year I have been thankful to have a resource like this to keep me up-to-date with all things Windows. It has proven very useful to learn a number of tips and tricks and to know what the latest features are in Windows.

Best place: Iceland

This past September we visited Iceland – and it was definitely the standout trip of our year. The landscape, the water, the horses, the northern lights – everything was amazing.

Runner up: our trip to Kentucky this year to travel along the Bourbon trail. See this post and this post.

Best book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I certainly laughed out loud more than once while reading this book. It was a fun read and is much better than any of the movies or series I’ve seen trying to adapt it to screen. Though I did enjoy Martin Freeman in one of the more recent movie adaptations.

Runners up: The Road by Cormac McCarthy – sad, but good read. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – what a story.

Best service: Spotify

Spotify continues to be one of the greatest services I’ve ever used. Eliza and I are on a family plan and we use the service every single day at home, on the go, at work. See also.

Best album: Hollywood Africans – Jon Batiste

This is a fun album. It wanders around a little but overall it is a solid album to put on while enjoying a Manhattan (one of my requisites for good music). I also enjoyed his interview with Terry Gross about the album.

Runners up: Free Yourself Up – Lake Street Dive, SYRE – Jaden Smith (don’t @ me).

Best movie: A Quiet Place

I am hoping to watch this one again soon. It isn’t particularly revolutionary or mind blowing – but the pacing, the acting, and the overall balance of the movie is really good. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Runner up: I just saw the new Spiderman and it is very refreshing. So glad they did something so different.

Best company: Microsoft

In my opinion, Microsoft has been firing on all cylinders for nearly the entirety of Satya Nadella’s lead. Their Surface hardware, Windows 10, Azure cloud services, acquisition of Github, Open Source initiatives, and push into mobile through Android has really been something to watch. Don’t call it a comeback but really, this company is back. See also.

Best hardware: iPad Pro 12.9″

I haven’t had time to write a proper review of this device yet but I do plan to. This is easily my favorite iPad ever – and I really, really liked my iPad Air 2. One quick anecdote; Face ID is extremely fast and works in so many more circumstances than I thought possible.

Very close runner up: Google Home Mini. We now have 3 of these in our apartment (kitchen, living room, bathroom) and we use them every single day for playing music, starting Netflix or YouTube videos on our TV, viewing photos from past vacations, and setting reminders or alarms. I hope to utilize these even more this coming year but I’m delighted at the capabilities of a device you can get for $29 (when on sale and we even got 1 for free with our Spotify subscription).

Best desktop app: Firefox

The Mozilla Firefox team is killing it this year. This browser is my favorite ever on any device. I also use it on Android and iOS. And I’m glad too given recent news re: Edge and Chrome. A few features I cannot live without at this point: Containers, Sync, Pocket (which could work in any browser but is built right into Firefox).

Runners up: 1Password – Eliza and I moved everything into 1Password this year and we couldn’t be happier that we did. Should have done so a long time ago. Visual Studio Code – Still the best code editor on any platform and certainly the best free editor.

Best mobile app: Pocket Casts

I use this app twice a day on my commute to and from work. I never have any issues with it, and every decision made by the design team seems to be right in line with what I want from a podcast app. My feature wish list for this app is relatively short and I believe they are coming with a not-too-distant-future update.

Runner up: Waze this app has saved me hours of sitting in traffic just this year.

Best tool: Trello

I’ve been using Trello more this year than any year previous and I find it to be incredibly well made. I don’t think we’ve had a single moment of downtime the entire year and, although I’d like it to be slightly less expensive for our team of ~30 I feel it is a very useful tool.

I’ve also tried to fit it into my workflow for other things like replacing a previous year’s winner; Bullet Journal. I couldn’t get it to fit. So I now have a hybrid system of using my daily Bullet Journal with Calendar and Trello.

Runner up: OneDrive – I’ve been using OneDrive this year for so many things across all platforms. The utility rarely messes up (whereas Google’s is terrible) and the space is affordable.

Best utility: DropIt

I use this small Windows utility to move files from OneDrive to two backup hard drives and Google Photos from my phone, camera, drone, and Eliza’s phone. It is far, far from perfect but I have wrestled it into doing exactly what I need.

Runner up: Snip & Sketch on Windows 10. I have this app mapped to my Logitech MX Master 2S’s middle click to quickly take screenshots and mark them up. It is an indispensable part of my workflow now working with my team. I just middle click, drag a rectangle, and CNTRL + V into any app I’m using to show my team a screenshot. I probably use this 5 times a day on average.

Best podcast: Meat Eater

I hike a lot. And I like to photograph nature. Listening to Meat Eater, and watching their show on Netflix, has given me a lot of knowledge about how to approach animals, how to know where on the landscape I’m allowed to go, and tons of other tips.

I’m also going to pick up fishing again in 2019 as a result of listening to this podcast.

Best YouTube channel: Zimri Mayfield

This guy is killing it. Each week he produces a new episode in a number of series on design. He’s incredibly quirky and likely not to everyone’s taste but I’ve found his videos both entertaining and educational.

Runners up: Tom Scott – Every video is interesting and the topics are random yet somehow of the same ilk. Nerdwriter – fast, well edited, insightful.

I had a few other categories that I’ve now dropped off because the list got a bit long. So instead, I’m just going to finish off this post with a bunch of random links to things.

Random: @jvdoming, Gutenberg, Floods Part 1 & Part 2, Docker, Cobra Kai, Dark Sky, Micro.blog, Dialog, Cash app, Blue Planet II.

Jeremy Keith on Edge switching to Chromium

Jeremy Keith:

There’s just no sugar-coating this. I’m sure the decision makes sound business sense for Microsoft, but it’s not good for the health of the web.

His reaction is very similar to mine. His call to action is too.

The State of Web Browsers

Ferdy Christant:

If you agree that this sucks, install Firefox. Also on mobile. Here’s instructions on how to switch from Chrome.

Read the entire thing. Sorry it is on Medium. I don’t know why he’d post this there. The irony is palpable.

Microsoft gives up on EdgeHTML

Chris Beard, CEO Mozilla Corporation:

Microsoft’s decision gives Google more ability to single-handedly decide what possibilities are available to each one of us.

From one point-of-view this move by Microsoft might seem to make total sense. They spin this as “it will be easier for web developers to target one less browser engine”. However, this is exactly what web standards are supposed to afford – developers target the same set of standards and the browser engines, however many there are, target the same set of standards. In theory, having multiple engines shouldn’t make it too much more difficult for developers. In practice, however, it has. But most developers would agree that to avoid a monopoly in the browser market we’d take on the added complexity we’ve had for years. In fact, having multiple browser engines has made browsing on the web better since the competition has led to faster load times, less battery drain, and less computer memory usage.

Beard’s take is right on. Google has not shown themselves to be the best steward of privacy, of web standards, or of leading the most popular browser engine. In fact, they routinely build web applications that only work using their engine. This is the exact antithesis of the web. And giving Google even more power is obviously not a good thing.

Microsoft, though, can do whatever they’d like. It is just unfortunate they’ve decided to go this route.

I switched away from Chrome in 2017 for good. I’ve been using Firefox on every device I own and while it is a little more work to do so on iOS I will continue to.

Beard’s call-to-action is to use Firefox. I think you should too. But I would simply say use anything but Chrome for a while just to swing the market in more directions.

Google Pixel Night Sight on a Google Pixel 2 XL compared to iPhone Xs

My wife has a brand-new iPhone Xs and I have a one-year-old Google Pixel 2 XL. We always compare photos in a variety of situations. When she had the iPhone X my Pixel 2 XL would win handily in a variety of situations. Her new iPhone Xs wins here and there (e.g. in Portrait mode there are a few areas that appear sharper than the 2 XL but overall I still prefer the 2 XL).

Last night came the much anticipated Night Sight Camera update in Google’s default camera app on the Google Pixel. This is a feature that I would think they’d reserve for the Google Pixel 3 (which I am not eligible to update to yet). However, Google has been nice enough to give this feature to all of us Pixel users.

First, let’s see how the iPhone Xs performs in our apartment’s hallway when we close all the doors and rely on ambient light.

iPhone Xs Default Camera Mode

Now, let’s see how the Google Pixel 2 XL does both in normal mode and in Night Sight mode.

Google Pixel 2 XL Default Camera Mode
Google Pixel 2 XL Night Sight Camera Mode

The Google Pixel 2 XL beats the iPhone Xs in Default Mode. But adding Night Sight makes an enormous difference.

I see some commentary that this is a gimmick and that even Google’s explanation for how it works is “just like using a photo editor”. Sure, you can take that stance. I suppose a photographer could use the default output of the iPhone Xs and get similar results by bumping certain values after-the-fact. However, for people that do not know how to use those apps, that would prefer to just take a quick photo while in a bar, in the evening on a hike, or of their sleeping children or pets in low-light – this feature is going to be a boon for Pixel owners.

I love it.

Google+ shutting down for consumers

Ben Smith:

Given these challenges and the very low usage of the consumer version of Google+, we decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+.

Thank heavens.

Also, this bit:

At the same time, we have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies. Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network.

Remember Google Buzz? It was a way to have internal discussions inside of an organization and it worked really well within Gmail. It sounds like Google+ will no go back, in a way, to being what Buzz could/should have been. I think because Google themselves used Google+ they may continue to keep it around for a while.

A reminder, as I’ve said before, if you use anything Google makes that isn’t Adwords be prepared to wake up one day and read that they’ve decided to stop supporting it. Put a backup plan in place now to help with that. As an example, I use Google Photos every single day, but it is not my primary photo library or storage solution.

Om Malik on Google Photos vs Apple Photos

I’ve finally found some time this morning to read Om Malik’s post on Google Photos vs Apple Photos – a post that has been sitting in my Unmark queue since the day he published it.

Om Malik:

The improvements in Google Photos and lack of magic in Apple Photos sometimes make me wonder if I made the right choice by buying to Apple’s ecosystem and its ideology around software, data, and privacy.

I urge you to read his post. He’s very good at writing (he’s also terribly thoughtful, which I’ve covered here several times). Oh, and the day I met Om in San Francisco in 2007 I took a grainy photo of him on stage using an original iPhone. I wish I wrote posts like he does. But I digress.

Many of you reading this know my history with both Apple Photos and Google Photos (and several other cloud-based photo library services). I have torn these services down to their bare metal and tried to make them work for me. I have uploaded hundreds of gigabytes to both of these services. Multiple times. I’ve paid for both for several years as I’ve attempted to mold them to my liking.

So I know how Om feels when he watches a Google I/O keynote and wishes he was a Google Photos user. And then, subsequently, watching an Apple keynote and ending up wishing I had used Photos instead. This is somewhat akin to technology FOMO – wherein I simply wish I had the best features of every available service.

Currently, my process for storing our family’s photos is about as messy as it has ever been in my adult life. And I hate it. But I’m living with it until I find the mental strength to take yet another swing at making it work. As of today, I’m storing all of our photos within a single Apple Photos Library that exists on Eliza’s iMac. It is also backed up to two external hard drives. One that sits on her desk and one that stays with me in my laptop back. Our library is no longer backed up to the cloud anywhere*.

I told you, I hate it.

I won’t take the time to go into what I would consider the perfect service – but I think I can describe it like this – if Google Photos had a Mac / Windows app that also allowed me to have local copies of the files, that were stored in a simple directory structure, and stored the photo library meta data (like tags, or people, etc) in an open format like a documented JSON file, that’d be the ideal set up. Apple Photos allows some of this but it is so locked into Apple devices that it is no longer usable by me. I’m on Android today and I believe I’ll be on Android at least a few more years. (I love it)

All of this is to say, I feel you Om. And I understand the battle of wanting Apple’s principles of privacy applied to my photos but that I too am a human and I want all of these amazing things that Google Photos affords.

* My Google Pixel 2 saves photos to Google Photos automatically and Eliza’s iPhone X saves photos to iCloud automatically. So at any one point, several thousand photos are in the cloud, but the entire library is no longer stored online.

My Everyday Carry, May 2018

I’ve been meaning to make this list for some time now. Finally, I emptied my backpack and took a photo so that I can make a list of my every day carry. The above items are with me, in my backpack, every single day.

Speaking of my backpack. It is a graphite Collins by Brenthaven. A little over a year ago Brenthaven reached out to me and asked if I’d like to try one of their bags. I picked this one because it looked like it would fit my needs perfectly. And guess what? I’ve been using it every single day since. I love this bag. Be sure to visit their site and look through all of the great product photos for this bag. It is perfect for me with what I have in it.

Not pictured: Google Pixel 2 XL.

Collins by Brenthaven

The following items are with me every single day.

  1. A folder to keep loose papers that I need to have with me.
  2. 13″ MacBook Pro with Touchbar. No keyboard issues (yet).
  3. A soft felt case for the MacBook Pro (like this one). I mostly use this as a precaution in case I were to drop the laptop.
  4. A Western Digital 3TB external drive. I back up my photos to this so I always have a copy of the library with me.
  5. USB-C MacBook Pro power adapter.
  6. HDMI cable.
  7. Recently used notebook for Bullet Journaling. I still carry it only because there are a few pages of things that I haven’t pulled forward into the new notebook.
  8. New notebook for Bullet Journaling. I switched to this notebook in March.
  9. A Pilot G2 Pen
  10. Wireless Apple Keyboard
  11. Beats Solo Wireless headphones for slow jams.
  12. Halls for throat emergencies
  13. Lip balm and moisturizer. Evidence that I’m sliding into my 40s soon.
  14. A stencil I created for making quick mobile mockups.
  15. Simple car charger, USB-drive, batteries, USB-C to headphone adapter, and USB-C to USB-B adapter.
  16. Logitech MX Master 2S wireless mouse. I love this thing.
  17. A dongle for USB-C to many USB-ports. Not shown in this photo is the dongle I keep on my desk at work to go from USB-C to HDMI.
  18. iPhone 4S that I’ve had in my bag for a long time. I thought I would use it for video or photo projects but I haven’t. Now using it for testing.
  19. Wired headphones as backups and for flights, etc.
  20. Micro-USB cables to charge the Beats and mouse.
  21. Backup Pilot-G2 pen.

This current list has remained fairly steady for a few years. Now I also have an Oculus Go but I don’t carry it with me every single day. I most use this for watching YouTube, looking at 360 photos I’ve taken, and doing VR research for work.

If anything major changes in the future I’ll try to keep this up-to-date.

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.

The Android apps I use every day

From the time I switched to Android in late-2017 (more here) I’ve been installing and uninstalling apps and services from my phone – trying to find the right mix for me. I expect the apps, preferences, and everything about my mobile experience to continue to change but lately it seems to have settled a little. So I thought I’d share what I’m currently using day-to-day.

My current Android home screen.

Pocket Casts – I have a 25-minute commute to and from work every day so having a podcast app that I like is very important to me. I’m so glad that Pocket Casts exists because Google’s default podcast app, called Google Play Music (for now) is not very good.

Pocket Casts’ Up Next feature is very well done, in that I can create my own playlist using the currently downloaded episodes, or cherry picked episodes, from any podcast I want. I set aside a moment once or twice per week to curate that list and Pocket Casts does the rest.

It also looks very nice in split-screen mode with the other app I use daily while driving Waze.

Waze – I had heard about Waze for years before I tried it in earnest. When I first downloaded it on iOS and tried it I thought it looked like a game. (And, yes, I suppose it is.) But, it turns out to be very useful in many ways. Like Google Maps it can give you directions from A to B, but that isn’t really what Waze is made for. Waze is made to make your morning commute faster and safer. The Waze-using community can report problems like traffic, accidents, police, etc. and anyone behind them can be warned in advance of these things. It has made a huge difference in my morning commute and helped tremendously in longer trips like our trip to Kentucky earlier this year.

Clip Stack – This little utility saves clipboard history and allows you to manage your clipboard. An app like this, on any platform, comes in handy more often than you’d think.

JW Library – My Bible and research/study app for all things biblical. Not only does it have tons of different Bible translations it also allows for notes, highlighting, video/audio, and more. The app has continued to improve since it debuted a few years ago.

Lose It! – I’m on a diet for the rest of my life so I use Lose It! to track my calories every single day. The app is updated often and is improving a lot each time.

Snapseed – It takes a little while to get used to this photo editing app. But I love that I can save my own “Looks” (or sets of photo edits). I use it on my Pixel 2 XL and also on my iPad. Nearly every photo you’ve seen from me since December 2017 has gone through Snapseed.

Flamingo – Unfortunately, if you don’t already have this app you can no longer get it. Flamingo is a sane Twitter app that records your place on the timeline and shows tweets reverse chronologically.

Spotify – I love Spotify. After trying Apple Music for a few months I can say that Spotify’s playlists just absolutely blow Apple’s offering out of the water. There is no comparison. I can understand why iOS users would use Apple Music due to how it is built into everything – but there is no reason to use it otherwise. Spotify is just better.

LaunchBoard – I use this app to quickly launch any app that isn’t on my home screen full time. You tap it, tap the first letter of the app you want, and launch the app. Think of it like using Spotlight on iOS. Same number of gestures too.

WordPress – Short status updates and some of my photo posts are created, and sometimes drafted sometimes published, using the WordPress app. It was unusable on Dreamhost but now that my site is hosted on Digital Ocean the app works great. Something I didn’t realize was that I can use this app without activating the bulky JetPack plugin. So I’ve done that and my site is much happier as a result. In fact, I’ve reduced my site’s footprint dramatically recently and I couldn’t be happier.

Chrome – One of the main reasons I switched to Android was being able to have a desktop and mobile browser of my choice. So I’m able to use Chrome (or any other browser) as my default. I also use Micro.blog via Chrome since that is the only way I can currently.

Messages – Pixel’s default SMS manager is called Messages. It works fine for what I use it for. I’m not looking forward to the updates coming to “Chat” that I’m reading about. These updates feel like HTML email – they are fun, but I don’t need those things. SMS works just fine for me. I wouldn’t mind, however, end-to-end encryption of all messages.

Voice Recorder – I record my audio bits using Voice Recorder. I haven’t be publishing many lately but I’ve been recording them still. This is a great way to capture content and ideas.


A few more apps that I have installed on Android that, while I may not use every single day, are great apps to have:

Wikipedia – I read a lot of information on Wikipedia. Mostly on my iPad. Having an app dedicated to it is very nice to save pages for reading later, doing research on multiple topics, etc.

Inoreader – I generally do not read RSS subscriptions on my phone unless I’m killing time. But, when I do I like having Inoreader on my phone. Feedly would work fine too.

Notable mentions are Microsoft Teams and Slack, Google Pay, Twitter app (for Moments when something happens), Dark Sky (though, I’ve been using this less lately since Google updates me on the weather), Google Photo Scanner, Trello.


Also, an app I use daily but that I didn’t have to install is the Camera. The Camera app is actually quite good for my use.

Any Android apps that I should check out that are not on my list?