Menu

Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

What I saw somewhat recently #70: September 24, 2020

  • Song Exploder is coming to Netflix – I’ve been a big fan of Song Exploder for a long time. One of my favorite episodes is Arrival but they are all very good. Now it is coming to Netflix.
  • Long Way Up – I was a huge fan of Long Way Round and Long Way Down (and Jupiter’s Travels – which inspired Ewan to do these trips) and this new series is pretty good. The electric bike bit is starting to wear a little though. All three series are available on Apple TV+ so Eliza and I are going to watch them all.
  • Feynman Lectures on Physics – All three volumes are available for free. Consider my winter reading squared away.
  • Web Stories – Google made a WordPress plugin that allows people to create the Stories format that you see on Instagram, et al for your own web site. I can see the motivation; Google can’t index stories on social networks. I’ll be looking more closely at this.
  • Speedbag videos – I never knew this could be so captivating. Via Kottke.
  • Dos Boat – Meat Eater is back with their fishing YouTube series.

Duck.com keeps growing. You should use it.

In 2014 I linked to a post that showed DuckDuckGo‘s daily search volume at roughly 5 million searches per day. In 2015 they had grown to 12 million per day.

I hadn’t checked in to their stats in a long time until I saw this tweet from them. They are now averaging 67 million searches per day.

Their steady growth is impressive but I think this number should be much, much higher. If you haven’t already done so please consider switching away from Google for the vast majority of your searches on desktop, mobile, and tablet. It is very easy to do.

Why switch away from Google search? Having any one company own search is bad for a variety of reasons. And they are obviously abusing that power. Having Duck.com eat into that market share even a little will help force Google to be more honest, hopefully. Also, when you use Google they are using that information in ways that are helpful and ways that are creepy. I understand the benefits of making search results that are tailored to you – but the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

Use Duck.com for as many searches as you can. Use Google only when Duck.com can’t find what you’re looking for. For me, that is about 1 or 2 searches per month at this point.

No, this isn’t an ad.

The Best of 2019 as told by me

At the end of the year I like to sit down and make a rather random list of the “best” things I’ve seen that year. I do this almost entirely from memory but I also peruse my browser history and look through my Unmark archive in order to uncover some of the things I appreciated throughout the year.

You can review previous years: 2008, 2009, 2017, 2018.

At the tail end of December I sat down and made this list and since then I’ve taken some time to cull through it and make the list you’re reading now.

Best Blog: Gurney Journey by James Gurney

James Gurney, who I interviewed for The Watercolor Gallery, has kept a blog for a very long time. This past year wasn’t necessarily a stand-out year for his blog – it has always been very good – but I believe his blog and his YouTube channel deserve recognition this year.

Runners up: Waxy’s links, Kottke as always.

Best (new to me) Blog: AOWS

Since I’ve really been going all-in on my photography this year I’ve stumbled across a lot of photographers. In fact, I’m well over 100 photographers on my private Photography Twitter list (I’m @cdevroe there). I’m very glad to have found AOWS. See also the Instagram account.

Runner up: Chris Sale.

Best place: Kentucky

Jim Beam Distillery

Last year I said that we’d likely return to Kentucky and we did – that must say something about it. We enjoy the entire state, the distilleries, horse farms, and rolling hills. See posts.

Runner up: Cape Cod – This was our first trip to Cape Cod and I enjoyed the whole feeling there. Likely because so many people are either retired or on vacation. I’d like to go back and make more photographs in the future.

Best book: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

I didn’t read nearly as many books as I’d like this year. But I’m trying not to beat myself up when I miss self assigned goals like number of books to read. I did a lot of fishing, photography, and even started a podcast this year. So I need not read books.

Dark Matter was a nice change of pace from other things I’d read this year. I always like a book that has time jumping. And this book sort of did.

Best service: OneDrive

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but OneDrive – for the most part – holds up very well for my needs. I have nearly half of a terabyte stored there and it isn’t skipping a beat. I use it mostly as a cloud-based backup of all my photos and videos. I also use it to transfer things to/from my computer and phone which worked well when I was on so many different platforms; Android, Windows 10, iOS, and Airdrop wasn’t possible.

Runner up: Disney+ just for The Mandalorian.

Best song for working: Morning of – Colin Stetson

According to Spotify I listened to this song, and the album it comes from, a lot while I was writing code.

Best album: Benton County Relic – Cedric Burnside

Love the old style jazzy/bluesy feel of this album.

Best company: Disney

I wrote a bit about what they’ve done with Lucasfilm since they acquired the company. But, when you look at the scope of Disney – and watch some of their documentaries about how it all came together – they really deserve a round of applause this year.

Runners up: Microsoft is still killing it and I think 2020 looks interesting for them. Apple for finally fixing their laptops.

Best hardware: Canon 400D

Me w/ 400D, recording my podcast

I shot nearly as many photos on this camera as I did on my phones (Pixel 2 XL until October and then iPhone 11 Pro Max) and the camera is 13 years old. It is rugged, has a lot more features than I ever knew it did, and I’m satisfied with the results I’ve been getting.

I have the feeling that next year a film camera may win this category and I’m very excited about that.

Runners up: iPhone 11 Pro Max – the battery life alone deserves an award, iPad Pro – I still use this every single day, in fact I’m writing this post on it right now and I’d say I do greater than 75% of my photo editing on the iPad.

Best desktop app: Firefox

Rather than keeping Firefox in just the browser category, I’m going to give it the best desktop app award. I really, really like Firefox and it has improved greatly this year in terms of speed, privacy, feature set. I simply cannot live without Containers at this point.

Runner up: Lightroom CC.

Best mobile app: Anchor

If it weren’t for how relatively easy it is to create a podcast using Anchor I don’t think I would have done it. Though I am looking forward to my podcast getting a bit better with some desktop-based editing apps. If you have an idea for a podcast I suggest at least giving it a look.

Runners up: VSCO, Twitter, Pocket Casts, Cash.

Best tool: Photoshop CC

Adobe has made very big updates to the entire CC suite of apps. I feel like they deserve a nod as a result of that.

Best podcast: BirdNote

The podcast is just so simple. I love it.

Runners up: ATP. I go back and forth on whether or not I should listen to ATP. Very good information, they were even nice enough to answer one of my questions, but the constant hypercritical (see what I did there?) take on things can sometimes be draining, and so I take long breaks from listening. But that is the entire point of the podcast so I don’t begrudge them of the style. I just always try to look at things positively is all. Also Cal’s Week in Review.

Best YouTube channel: Nick Carver

Nick has easily has the largest impact on my approach to photography this year. His channel is also very entertaining even when he’s discussing very nerdy photography topics.

Special second place: Joe Rogan Experience – I have to cherry pick episodes that I’m interested in, mostly with scientists and outdoorsy people, but the interviews and long form style are refreshing compared to the bit-sized bits we get through TV these days.

I watch a lot of YouTube. Probably too much. Not probably. Actually too much. It is how I learn, am entertained, waste time, etc. In fact, I watch a lot less TV because of YouTube. So this isn’t an easy category to choose.

Runners up: Morten Hilmer, Jack Black, MKBHD, Kevin Nealon, Rainfall Projects, The Lion Whisperer, Zimri Mayfield.

Best Twitter account: Todd Vaziri

Behind-the-scenes and background information on special effects in TV and movies. Fascinating stuff. The amount of work for just a few seconds of video is amazing.

Runner up: Adam Savage.

Best Instagram account: Luke Beard

Luke shares a ton of photos via Stories from his town of Atlanta. It is inspiring the number of photos he’s able to take, process, and publish and has really gained a following in that area. He’s also super gracious in his responses whenever I’ve asked him how he did something.

Special second place: captain.solo – I can always appreciate when someone creates their own style and sticks to it – it isn’t easy to do either of those things. This account has.

You can also follow @cdevroe on Instagram where I frequently share accounts and photos I like via Stories.

Runners up: Dan Rubin, PPP Repairs, Clyde Butcher, Brad Baldwin.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s list. Whenever I sit down to make the list I always under estimate the amount of time it takes to create it. But I’m always glad that I do so that I can look back on it in the future. So this post is more for me than for you.

.new

Google:

With .new, you can help people take action faster. We hope to see .new shortcuts for all the things people frequently do online.

For instance, Playlist.new will create a new Spotify playlist for you. Docs.new will create a new Google Doc for you, etc.

I don’t think my younger self could have predicted that .new would be a thing.

Colin Walker on choosing the best devices

Colin Walker nails how I’m making decisions on what hardware I’m purchasing:

I’m largely platform agnostic and have always been able to achieve what I wanted regardless of what device I was using. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t want to use the best tools for the task at hand.

I too am platform agnostic. See this post.

Colin mentions the reason I can be platform agnostic. It is because I can still do everything I want with nearly any software platform. Messaging? Work? Photo and video editing? Web? Publishing? I can do all of these regardless of platform.

It is why I currently have a Windows 10 laptop, the iPad Pro, and a Google Pixel. When I purchased these devices they were – in my opinion, and for my needs – the best hardware I could afford.

I plan to continue purchasing “the best tools for the task at hand”. This year it may be the iPhone 11 Pro or the Google Pixel 4. My laptop is still great and my iPad Pro is absolutely amazing.

In that 2018 post I wrote:

Going forward I’m going to continue to make a concerted effort to purchase products based on what they do, how they’re made, and what I need rather than the logo on the box.

I’m no longer tied to a specific company’s products and I’m very happy about that.

Wishes for today’s Apple Event

In my Pixel 4 wish list I may have overstated my current position on my choosing Android or iOS in my next phone. I wrote:

As my time to upgrade my phone comes around of course I’m left with a choice to go back to iOS or stick with Android. I’m sticking with Android. I really like my current phone OS. iOS 13 looks like a great update but it doesn’t have anything in it that would entice me to leave Android behind yet.

That isn’t quite right. I’m watching today’s Apple Event closely to see if the new iPhone will entice me away from my Pixel. And, I’ll be watching Google’s event in October for my wishes of the Pixel 4 before making a hard decision.

With that said, what would I look for in an iPhone 11? And what are other things I’m watching for today? This is that list.

  • A more capable image processing system – The iPhone XS takes amazing photos, but somehow the image processing system in the Pixel 2 is still “better”. Meaning, it produces more pleasing results by just firing the shutter button. It is arguable, I think, which device captures better data – likely the iPhone XS would win because of the dual-camera system – but the images that are processed seem to be better in every way with the Pixel. So I’d like to see a dramatic update to how iPhone processes images in portrait, low-light, and other modes to produce a better result. No matter what I see today, I won’t know until capable reviewers get their hands on them.
  • USB-C – I’ve been spoiled having a laptop, tablet, and phone that all use the same cables. I can’t imagine wanting lightning cables ever again.
  • Water resistance – I believe the iPhone XS is very water resistant already. But I would be open to this being even more resistant to water damage.

If the iPhone 11 has the above, it would level the playing field between the Pixel and iPhone for me and then it would be a matter of a software and ecosystem decision.

Outliers for today’s event:

  • A MacBook with a keyboard that works.
  • The Apple Watch not taking 4 days to do a software update.

Apple Event days are always fun regardless of what they announce, I expect this one to be no different.

Android 10 apps that support Dark Theme

Ben Schoon:

The majority of Google apps support this system-wide toggle, but few third-party developers have followed the company’s lead. Here are some non-Google apps that support Android 10’s dark mode toggle.

He lists a number of apps that support the OS-level option. Outlook claims to support it, but I have it installed and updated and cannot see the option yet. So perhaps it is something they are able to roll out?

There are also some of Google’s own apps that have yet to be updated; Play Store and Gmail being two big ones.

I’m looking forward to updates to Instagram, Facebook, Microsoft To-Do, WhatsApp, Twitter, WordPress, Untappd, Teams.

Some apps have a dark theme, but they don’t support the OS-level option.

We’re in an odd territory right now of support of this feature. I think it is going to be a bit of a mess for at least 6 months to a year.

My personal data sharing policy

I’ve been online since 1994. I’ve shared a lot of information here on my blog, through various social networks, and to different services like Google Maps, Untappd, and many others. That information has often included location, photos, audio and video.

For decades I thought nothing of sharing my current location online. I used check-in services like Foursquare, Brightkite, Gowalla, Swarm and many others. Or I’d share a tweet or a post here on my blog about my current whereabouts.

I’ve noticed, over the last several years, I do less of that. I post photos here on my blog often weeks or months after I’ve returned from where I took them. I share them a bit quicker on Instagram – however my account there is private (supposedly). And I rarely tweet on the go these days.

In fact, I’ve also noticed that I no longer geotag my photos on Instagram or use hashtags that often. Mainly because when I’ve personally tapped on locations or hashtags on Instagram the search results are less than representative of the location I saw and are simply popular selfies taken at the location.

My desire to do a sort of personal data sharing audit has been slowly building. I will read an article about how Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa is constantly listening in, or how our location is being tracked down to the floor we’re on by some apps and I pause, think about what I’m sharing, and sometimes shrug it off because I don’t really care if Google knows where I am. In fact, I like that they know where I am and where I want to go. I hop in my car and Android Auto suggest places it believes I would like to go and how long it will take me to get there. Who wouldn’t want that?

After all, what do I have to hide?

And then I see this ad from DuckDuckGo (which I use) on Twitter (of all places). It talks about the reasons, beyond criminal or mischievous, that I may want to protect my privacy. DDG’s reasons may not exactly be my reasons, but at least they’ve thought about it. So then I began thinking… “Have I thought much about this? Have I really gone through and made sure I have some sort of personal data sharing policy that I follow?”

So that is what I’m doing with this post. I started writing this post without having a personal data sharing policy and I hope by the time I’m ready to publish it I have version 1 of a policy that is right for me. Of course, suggestions are always welcome and perhaps I’ll revisit this topic from time-to-time to keep my personal policy updated.

Here are the main points of my personal data policy as it stands today:

  • Never share my current location publicly. I’m going to be certain my habits do not share my current location in a public way. I’m also going to audit any app or service that attempts to use my location data to be certain it does not share my current location publicly.
  • Download and remove all of my data from services that I haven’t used in over a year. I’ve got quiet an online trail that I’ve blazed over the last several decades. While I’m nostalgic for many of these services, and I hate dead URLs, I think it is best if I remove any of that data if I’m no longer using the service.
  • Evaluate each app on my mobile devices that use location data and read their privacy policies. In other words, make a more informed decision about what apps I share my location data with.
  • Delete any app that I do not use on my mobile devices that could use location or audio data. Believe it or not, many of the small utility apps that exist for free (like, doing fun image editing) have tons of third-party ad network code in them. I have dozens of these but I rarely use them.

Putting this policy in place isn’t paranoia. It is about making more educated decisions about what I’m sharing and with what companies. It is about being less cavalier with my own personal data and how it is used. It is about keeping myself and those around me a little safer – maybe. But overall, it is a gentle push to the companies that would profit off of this data to perhaps be more thoughtful and upfront themselves. And to make it just a bit harder on the scammers.

Google Pixel 4 wishlist

Yes, I know there have been leaks galore regarding the Google Pixel 4. While I’ve seen the leaks I haven’t paid much attention to them. I’ve tried to ignore them so that I could be at least a little surprised when it is announced.

I currently have the Google Pixel 2 XL. I’ve had it since December 2017. You can read my review here. This has been my favorite phone since the iPhone 7 Plus. So I’m eager to see what the next Pixel will be.

As my time to upgrade my phone comes around of course I’m left with a choice to go back to iOS or stick with Android. I’m sticking with Android. I really like my current phone OS. iOS 13 looks like a great update but it doesn’t have anything in it that would entice me to leave Android behind yet.

I’ve given thought to switching phone manufacturers also but there are a few things that keep me from doing so. The first obvious choice would be to go to Samsung. But Samsung’s software – both their apps they preinstall and their flavor of Android – seem subpar compared to the flavor of Android that ships on the Pixel. Also, their updates to Android under-the-hood come months (sometimes 9 months) after they are shipped. I like software updates far too much for that.

Another possible phone would be the OnePlus 7 Pro. This looks like a great phone for most people. Super fast, great display, etc. However, the camera system seems to not yet be what it needs to be for me.

There are other options like Huawei, LG, Xiaomi. But each of them has their trade-offs compared to the Pixel as well.

According to my research, the best Android phone for someone that cares about digital photography and having the latest, greatest software is the Pixel.

The only downside is that it is made by Google. And Google could, on a whim, wake up one morning and decide to discontinue making it. But I suppose I’ll have to live with that if it happens.

Now, onto the wishlist. Similar to my iPhone SE wishlist in 2016, my wishlist for the Google Pixel 4 is very short.

  • Faster – It isn’t that the Pixel 2 XL is slow. But is isn’t nearly as snappy as something like the OnePlus 7 Pro seems to be. I’d be totally OK if Google ships a Pixel 4 with 16GB of RAM to accomplish this.
  • Water resistant – “Waterproof” would be too much to ask, I fear. But a decent amount of water resistance would boost my confidence. I recently hiked 5 miles in a downpour and was very worried about my Pixel 2 XL but – surprisingly – it didn’t skip a beat.
  • Increased megapixels – I know, I know, megapixels aren’t everything. The 12MP front-facing camera in my Pixel 2 XL is extraordinarily good (see examples). But I’d be all for more pixels.
  • Better speakers – In quiet contexts the speakers in the Pixel 2 XL are more than adequate. But in nosier situations they simply do not hold up. And they aren’t good for music really.

That’s it. Faster, water resistant, increased megapixels, better speakers. I’m fairly confident that all of these things will come to be and that none of them are too much to ask. Looking forward to remaining on #teampixel for at least a few more years.

iOS creates a competition hostile environment

Below is a screenshot of the sheet you see on YouTube for iOS when tapping on a link in a video’s description.

They invoke this custom sheet because, like Google, Apple has created iOS to be competition hostile to other browser vendors like Mozilla, Opera, Microsoft, etc.

Tapping on a link should open your default browser, not provide you choices to download the developer’s other apps. I’m guessing the Safari option on this sheet is there because Apple wouldn’t approve the app otherwise.

But why should Google write the YouTube app any differently? If Apple can be competition hostile, why can’t they?

Early in iOS’s history I understood why Apple limited the browser, mail, maps, and calendar options to only their own apps. It made sense. The integration with the OS was just too deep and the OS didn’t have enough APIs to make a good user experience. But, today, on a platform that is into its second decade of existence, with features like deep links, extensions, services, SiriKit, etc. there is likely very little excuse any more not to allow users to choose their own default apps.

How can we force Apple to change this?

This time of year is always good for developers with Microsoft’s Build, Google I/O and Apple’s WWDC happening within the span of a few months. This week is Microsoft Build and I’m looking forward to seeing some great announcements.

My interpretations of announcements by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter

Apple pre-announcing something: “We’re excited to get this in customer’s hands late next year”. My interpretation: “We never pre-announce things. Why are we doing this? We’re terrible at it. In fact, we make fun of other companies for doing it! Steve Jobs would never allow this! (mostly) We must be doing this because some group of people is really angry with us. Oh, and this product will likely never ship and we’ll tell you about it after the market closes on a Friday”

Apple reassuring their customer base of an upcoming update (read: late in whatever next year is) to a beloved product by a small set of people: “We love the Mac”. My interpretation: “Crickts.” (E key didn’t work)

Apple announcing something that is available today: “We think our customers will love it. Available today. $PremiumPrice”. My interpretation: “Yes, other companies have tried to build this. Yes, our’s is much better in nearly every way. We’ve perfected it. And it is made of diamond and leather and unobtainium. Hence the price. Enjoy.”

Facebook, calling a mea culpa: “We didn’t intend for this to happen. And it happened only to # of users.” My interpretation: “We totally intended for this to happen. We just didn’t intend to get caught. But I don’t know why because we ALWAYS get caught. Oh, and it actually happened to many multiples of # of users. You’ll find that out in a few days.”

Facebook announcing something: “We are connecting people all over the world.” My interpretation: “Our massive drones are really to collect even more information about people than we already collect and sell to that information to people we say we won’t sell information to. Oh, and to misinform people about just about every topic possible.”

Google announcing something: “Here is our brand new cloud-based service that is free to use” My interpretation: “Here is our thing. We consider it beta but it is actually pretty good. Go ahead and use it. Fall in love with it. The moment you come to depend on it we’ll shut it down because we only make money on Google Ads. But you knew that and you fell for it anyway!”

Bonus: Microsoft, announcing a new cloud-based service. “Containers! Buzzword acronym, buzzword seamless integration acronym, buzzword, Kubernetes Docker.” My interpretation: “There are organizations in the world that pay Microsoft incredible amounts of money to license Windows on sub-par hardware, to use Windows Server to manage web applications and services that use far too much RAM, and to use Azure (which is actually quite amazing) to do literally anything they ask it to do.”

Bonus: Twitter announcing a much needed feature. Wait, Twitter hasn’t built any much needed features since 2008.

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?

Technology Dogmatism

Are you dogmatic about the companies you will buy technology from? Are you an Apple fanboi? Or, perhaps you’ll only run Windows and Apple sucks at everything because reasons.

I try not to be that guy. I try to look at the entire field of offerings in every category; hardware, software, cloud services, home entertainment and make purchases that reflect my needs and wants rather than be dogmatic.

Kellen Barranger, writing for droidlife:

iPhone owners, particularly the lifers, have always fascinated me. Not so much in a way that I’m confused at why they chose Apple’s latest phone, but that no matter what, they won’t even consider the other side or another phone that might be better in some ways. You know people like this.

I was starting to feel like one of these people. Whatever the next iPhone was I wanted it. Whatever the next Apple laptop was I wanted that. For many years I didn’t even give strong consideration to switching. But why?

Admittedly, part of it was brand loyalty. I do like Apple. Their attention to detail, their apparent focus on user privacy (though I’m sure this could be argued), their uncompromising focus on making premium products rather than bargain products. In other words, I like that they make high-priced well-made products. Because I don’t want to buy things simply based on price.

However, over the last decade Apple has gotten so big and so successful that they are starting to show some of the characteristics of being an insanely large organization trying to keep a juggernaut both afloat and moving forward. We saw it with Microsoft in the 80s and 90s and early 2000s. Their inability to let go of the past, and having bloated software that had no taste, led me away from them as a brand entirely. I feel Apple is now beginning to show these same signs. Bugs seem more rampant than I remember and I’ve been an Apple user (iOS and macOS X) for over 16 years. The quality of the design in software seems lower than before. But, the complexity and scale of their software and services is higher than ever before. Should I just let them off the hook because of that?

This is what led me to try Windows 10 in 2016 and to switch to Android here in 2018. Windows 10 is getting better, much better, with every single release. It is an excellent platform for web developers that now directly competes with macOS*. Android is a more mature platform than iOS at this point. Please read my review of Android 8.1 to see why I say that.

Switching platforms is not easy. But it is much easier than it has ever been. Data portability, which is better on Windows and Android than on Mac or iOS by far, makes it much more simple to switch. It took me only a few minutes to move all the data from my iPhone to my Google Pixel 2 XL. And within a few days I had every piece of software and service restored that I needed. Switching between macOS and Windows 10 is similar experience. You definitely need to relearn a few things (like keyboard shortcuts) but moving the data is no longer a real problem.

Going forward I’m going to continue to make a concerted effort to purchase products based on what they do, how they’re made, and what I need rather than the logo on the box.

* For me, Windows was never a contender to macOS for what I do without the Unix underpinnings. I simply need this stack. And I don’t want to use a VM or RDC. Now, with WSL Windows 10 is on the same footing with macOS.

Looks like Google I/O and Microsoft Build are scheduled for the same week. Bad planning. That isn’t good for either of them.

A review of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 by a longtime iPhone user

After 10 years of using iOS as my primary mobile platform I’ve decided to give Android more than just a casual try. This post is my review both of the Google Pixel 2 XL and Android 8.1 as well as a few comparisons I’ve drawn between iOS and Android ecosystems. I’ve been an Apple fan for decades. But I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible and truly allow my feelings of day-to-day use dictate my review. I’ve owned the Pixel 2 XL for over a month so I’m hoping that my first reactions have subsided.

The Google Pixel 2 XL

I love this phone.

I’d been thinking about trying out an Android-powered phone for a few months but I think what pushed me over the edge was how many YouTubers rated the Pixel 2 so highly. Many tech reviewers have the privilege of getting their hands on dozens of phones. Which phone comes out on top (or very close) of most of their lists? The Pixel 2 XL.

I switched to the Pixel 2 XL from an iPhone 7 Plus. The iPhone 7 Plus was a great phone — easily my favorite camera system in an iPhone — but not as comfortable in the hand as the iPhone SE. For a sense of how much I liked the iPhone SE you can read what I wrote here.

By going from an iPhone 7 Plus to a Pixel 2 XL I upgraded the camera system in a number of ways. Front-facing portrait mode is far more important and useful in daily use than I could have imagined. I think Apple has missed an opportunity on the front-facing camera for years. It is likely used more often by younger people and yet the hardware and software driving the forward-facing camera is always superior on iPhones. With the Pixel 2 XL both cameras are fantastic and both offer the same software features.

Photo: A rather terrible photo of the Pixel 2 XL’s ambient display. Notice the icons.

The Pixel 2 XL has a few features that are not available on next-generation iPhones, namely; a lightning fast fingerprint sensor, squeezable sides, screen that wakes with a gentle double-tap, an ambient display with clock and gentle notifications, and “what’s playing” feature (showing you what music is currently playing) that is always on.

My phone is my primary camera. On hikes, walking downtown between meetings, or traveling – I like to be quick so I don’t miss any moments. With the iPhone 7 Plus I was like Bruce Lee with nunchucks. If I spotted a fleet-footed while on a hike I could likely capture it. After a few weeks with the Pixel 2 XL I’m beginning to feel my muscles learning the new gestures and maneuvers to get my groove back. One feature that makes this even better than iPhone 7 Plus is being able to double-tap the power button to invoke the camera app of my choice on the phone.

The Google Assistant is a primary feature of this phone. I’ve always wanted to try a different assistant than Siri but Apple simply does not allow you to do so on iOS. You can download the Google Assistant app but it is a neutered experience. iOS does not give third-party apps the control they need to be useful and there is no way to invoke the assistant easily.

On the Pixel 2 XL I have several ways to invoke the Google Assistant. I can squeeze the sides and nearly instantly I can begin making my request. I can say “OK Google” at any time and, again instantly make my request. And I do mean instant, unlike Siri, there is no pause needed between “OK Google” and my request. With Siri I need to wait for the “ding” sound. And lastly, I can long-press the home button to invoke the assistant.

The Google Assistant’s  results are much better than Siri. It gets my query correct the majority of the time. I don’t know what my success rate with Siri is but I would say it is less than 50%. I got so fed up with Siri that I only used it to ask for the weather each morning. With the Pixel 2 XL I’m using the Google Assistant multiple times per day. And, I use it for things that aren’t even possible on iOS like turning down my screen brightness, turning on or off my flashlight, taking a picture, etc.

I charge the Pixel 2 XL at night while I sleep and I routinely plug it in with greater than 50% battery life. I have changed no settings on the phone to extend the battery life. In fact, I’ve turned on the ambient display and “what’s playing” features which warn you that it will use more power. In my use, even with the “always on” features turned on, I have no issue at all with battery life. I also appreciate that it charges with USB-C. I can plug it directly into my MacBook Pro, no dongle.

To sum up, the Pixel 2 XL hardware is as good as the iPhone 7 Plus (and likely the 8) and has a better front-facing camera system, more options, and the squeeze feature.

Android 8.1

I bought the Pixel 2 XL within days of Android 8.1 shipping. Coming from 10 years of iOS, and the very limited number of user preferences it affords, using Android has been really fun. If I was a new user I could leave all the defaults as they are and be happy. However, I’ve enjoyed the number of options Android has.

One of the complaints about Apple I’ve heard the most is that they make too many choices for the user. My rebuttal to that has always been “Yes, but they make good choices”. However, two things have changed in recent years.

First, Apple is making worse choices. I know this is subjective but more and more I’m convinced that Apple’s choices are becoming more anti-competitive than they are user-focused. I can understand limiting some of the user preferences in iOS for the first few years to allow the platform to become rock solid, then slowly add more features and settings. But iOS is over 10 years old and there are a few options that Apple has, in my opinion, criminally omitted from iOS like being able to set default browser, email client, maps app, and assistant.

Second, the resources of these mobile devices are beginning to compete with the speed and storage of slim laptops. The devices beg to be used heavily, for work, and for play. I would say for many people their primary “computer” is their phone. So we are entering an era where it becomes a work horse for people. Steve Jobs thought we’d always have pickup trucks (desktops or laptops) while also owning cars (mobile devices). Well, I believe these mobile devices are beginning to become very pickup truck-like for many. And, let’s face it, a huge number of pick-up truck owners don’t even need them. They just like the look. This mean that the mobile OSes must also become work horses. And that means more options, better compatibility, and power user features.

This is a very long winded way of saying that I wanted to take back more control of my OS and Android allows me to do that. I can tweak Android in far more ways than I expected – even down to choosing a different launcher. Microsoft has one, there is another popular one called Lawnchair (cute name), and dozens of others. These change the device in both subtle and dramatic ways to become whatever the user needs. It makes so much sense. Imagine a launcher built specifically for young students?

To sum up, Android gives users far more control over their devices than iOS.

How Android is better than iOS

Photo: Notice how app folders appear directly below your tap, not in the center of the screen.

  • Powerful notifications – On the ambient display there is a subtle icon letting me know there is a notification for an app. In the status bar that icon is on the left-hand side. Pulling down gives me actionable, and “snoozable” items to deal with. You really need to play with it to understand. iOS’s notifications are clay tablets in comparison.
  • Do not disturb – I’ve found Android’s do not disturb preferences to be far more sane than iOS. Apps do not continue to beg me to turn on notifications. DND turns on when I go to bed, and turns off when I wake up. It turns on while I’m driving (something Android has had long before iOS). It can also be turned on by turning my volume down one click more than just “off”. It is a brilliant feature that is useful for theaters. Also, DND watches your calendar, if you’re “Busy” it turns on DND. At first I thought this would be overbearing, but in fact, it is incredibly thoughtful and sane.
  • An always available back button – iOS 7 brought a “back” button to the top left of the OS. But this is a terrible place for it. Android has an always available back button on the bottom left (bottom right on Samsung I think). It doesn’t just bring you back to the previous app but back in every context. It remembers exactly where you were last and takes you there. When I pick up my iPad I’m always reaching for this back button now.
  • App size – Android apps, and certainly updates, appear to be tiny when compared to their behemoth iOS siblings. Some daily use apps are less than 5Mb on Android. I’d love to take the time to do a true 1-to-1 comparison. My gut says the differences are substantial.
  • Device compatibility – I can plug my phone into my MacBook or Windows 10 PC and see the files on it. It almost seems absurd that Apple never created a similar sandbox approach like this to be able to store files or access files created on the device. This comes in very handy.
  • Home screen reachability – icons on your home screen can be placed anywhere you prefer. Naturally they are on the bottom of the screen because that is where your thumb rests. A feature that I’d bet will be in iOS 13 but that Apple stubbornly hasn’t brought to iOS yet.
  • Widgets – widgets aren’t for everyone. Some of them are poorly designed. But there are a few that are unobtrusive and simply make sense. In the screenshot of my home screen above you can see two in use – one for calendar and one for weather. But many apps ship with widgets that you can place on any home screen panel. I’ve seen others that have note taking apps on their own panel. They just swipe and start typing. It is pretty nice.
  • New app icons – When a new app is installed you can choose to have the icon be placed on your home screen or not. I’ve chosen for all apps to go into the app drawer and keep my home screen tidy. I love this option.
  • Folders open under your tap – This is a subtle thing. When I tap on a folder on my home screen it expands directly in place where the tap happened. It doesn’t open in the center of the screen. And, the app folder is only as big as it needs to be depending on the number of apps in it.
  • Split-screen apps – I’ve used this more than I thought I would. I’ve used it for note taking in certain circumstances but also for phone conferences. I can have my email open and my phone app open to type in the 8 digit pin that I received.

How iOS is better than Android

There are a few things that iOS clearly beats Android on and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point them out. Here are a few that I’ve found that I notice in day-to-day use.

  • Smooth scrolling – iOS really does scroll like butter. I don’t know what Apple does that Android engineers can’t (or don’t, or won’t) but the scrolling on Android isn’t nearly as buttery smooth as iOS. The gap has closed considerably in recent updates but there is still a long way to go.
  • Cursor movement and text selection – I wouldn’t say that iOS great at this, but it is better than Android for me so far. I also feel like this might be a muscle memory issue. I’d like to see Google bring some of iOS’s keyboard dragging features to Android. I’m getting better every day though.
  • Scroll to top – On any list in iOS (say, your contacts list) you can scroll to the top with a single tap on the status bar. Unless I’m missing something, and I’ve asked a few Android users, this simply doesn’t exist on Android. So if you scroll way, way down on your contacts list and you want to get back to the top you have to flick a million times like an animal. Please, if I’m missing something write in.
  • Safari’s Reading List feature – Even with Unmark (which I use daily) I still used Safari’s Reading List every day. Google has, inexplicably, added a “reading list” to Chrome for iOS but on no other platforms. Perhaps they did this to compete with Safari on mobile platforms but why not have it sync with desktop Chrome? Anyway, Google can quickly get on this please because I neeeeeed it.
  • Dictionary lookup – On iOS you can long press any word and get its definition. Because my vocabulary is as deep as a kiddy pool I use this feature a lot. I’ve installed a third-party app that does this on Android but it should be built-in.

So far I’m very happy with my choice to give Android a try. I’ll be using the Pixel 2 XL and Android for the rest of 2018  and plan to reassess where both platforms are at that point.

Seth Godin on Google’s Promotions Inbox

Seth Godin, in an open letter to Google:

Imagine that your mailman takes all the magazines you subscribe to, mixes them in with the junk mail you never asked for, and dumps all of it in a second mailbox, one that you don’t see on your way into the house every day. And when you subscribe to new magazines, they instantly get mixed in as well.

I briefly turned on Google’s separate Inboxes feature a few weeks ago. I found it maddening and turned it off within a few days.

Finally opened a support thread in Google’s Photos forum. I still have tens of thousands of photos missing in Google Photos and my storage meter only shows 55GB used when it should read over 400GB used. I hope Google answers.

Android Excellence on Google Play

Kacey Fahey on the Android Developers Blog just sort of gave out some awards:

Every day developers around the world are hard at work creating high quality apps and games on Android. Striving to deliver amazing experiences for an ever growing diverse user base, we’ve seen a significant increase in the level of polish and quality of apps and games on Google Play.

The list is pretty good. I don’t play games so I wish more apps were listed.

An update via Android (audio)

A quick audio bit, recorded while driving through my car’s audio system for part of it (sorry), regarding upcoming blog posts and reviews of Android and the Pixel 2 XL.

Download audio

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.