Menu

Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

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.

CaptionBot

Microsoft:

CaptionBot.ai is powered by machine learning technology that identifies and captions your photos. When you upload a photo, it is sent to Microsoft for image analysis to return a caption. We won’t store, publish, or let other people use your images.

I uploaded a few images. It works pretty well.

I’m unsure of this particular bot’s purpose but you can likely see its cousin running in Windows 10’s Photos app – that will automatically discover things like mountains, rivers, dogs, etc. in photos.

Google, Apple, Facebook all have similar technology for discovering things or people within images. I believe the only ones that do this on device, though, are Apple and Microsoft. The others rely on the image making it to cloud servers to be “scanned”.

/via James Gurney.

Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface event

I’m pretty excited for Microsoft. I’ve been excited for what they’ve been doing as a company, on several fronts, for a few years now.

I won’t rehash all of the nice things I’ve been writing about them, but I can link to how I feel about Satya, the work they’ve been doing in open source and for developers, Surface, and Windows 10.

Yesterday’s Surface event was very good. I really like how Panos makes everything so dramatic. It is just more fun than how so many other tech companies present things. I totally understand if others don’t feel the same way. But I don’t think anyone has ever accused him of being disingenuous.

The updates to the Surface hardware were excellent. I think the 15″ laptop looks very, very good. And while I wish the Surface Pro was more of a direct competitor to iPad*, I don’t have any other wishes for their hardware. It is all very good.

The Neo and Duo products, both coming late 2020, are fascinating products. I have no idea if they will be successful or be hits – but I’m very glad Microsoft decided to make them.

Though I have to agree with John Gruber, they overshadowed the rest of the products that are available today a little. They likely knew they would though. So perhaps they are ok with it.

I have two quick I told ya sos, if I may.

In July Windows Central said they hoped someone at Microsoft was working on a phone, but if they were, they should keep expectations low. I vehemently disagreed with that sentiment. I wrote:

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

[…]

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels.

Guess which way they decided to go with Surface Duo?

I was wrong, though, they didn’t call it a Surface Phone. They are avoiding the word phone, which I think we all should as well. My Pixel is no more a phone than it is a book, but I can read and make phone calls on it.

And did they ever swing for the fences! A completely new form-factor, category of product, operating system based on Android. SWING!!!

The only thing Windows Phone was missing, you’ll remember, was apps. And now it will have that. Well, not Windows Phone. Android. Which I think is the right call.

I’d love to get one of these Duo devices, only to support bold vision and the stones to put them out into the world.

A few other random observations

  • Windows 10 X looks interesting. Could that be the new tablet mode?
  • The EarBuds look like a miss.
  • The way the Neo keyboard interacts with the device reminds me of the dial you can purchase with the Surface Studio. Microsoft should double down on this sort of thing. It really makes these devices truly like surfaces that you do stuff on. So, by next year we’ll have a Pen, Dial, and Keyboard. I say make a ton more of them.
  • I sort of think they could allow Android apps to run on Windows, this way Duo could still be a Windows computer. But there must be reasons that I don’t know about why they wouldn’t do this. Or perhaps it is still coming.
  • I think both the Neo and Duo will be very different by launch time. They don’t even have outward facing cameras on them yet.
  • Panos’ analogy of flow using his daughter at the piano is apt. When I’m in flow, it could be while I’m writing this blog post, writing code, editing a photo or video, etc I do feel like everything just disappears.

* Windows 10 tablet mode is simply no competitor to iPadOS in a tablet form factor. I’d go so far as to say it sucks in comparison. But, I’ve seen rumors that they’re working hard on this. So, we’ll see.

PowerToys for Windows 10

Windows PowerToys is back! And, it is open source.

Brandon LeBlanc:

PowerToys is a set of utilities for power users to tune and streamline their Windows experience for greater productivity. Inspired by the Windows 95 era PowerToys project, this reboot provides power users with utilities to squeeze more efficiency out of the Windows 10 shell and customize it for individual workflows.

Microsoft invests $1B in OpenAI

Microsoft on the investment of a cool $1B in OpenAI:

The companies will focus on building a computational platform in Azure of unprecedented scale, which will train and run increasingly advanced AI models, include hardware technologies that build on Microsoft’s supercomputing technology, and adhere to the two companies’ shared principles on ethics and trust. This will create the foundation for advancements in AI to be implemented in a safe, secure and trustworthy way and is a critical reason the companies chose to partner together.

Don’t let the name OpenAI fool you, as there is no word from either company on whether their efforts will be open sourced.

However, OpenAI does publish a charter to which they say they hold.

Either way, it seems to align with Satya’s Microsoft that believes in empowering people to do their work and in doing it ethically and morally.

Nice partnership.

On a Microsoft Surface Phone

Zac Bowden:

It’s fair to say that in 2019, Microsoft is “all-in” on the Android platform thanks to its efforts like the Microsoft Launcher, Edge, and Office, all first-class experiences on Android smartphones around the world.

I’m glad Bowden wrote this post. I’ve been wanting to.

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I liked Windows Phone very much. I bought a Lumia for testing and immediately fell in love with the device and OS. If only it had apps! It was the only thing holding it back.

Today, if Microsoft decided to do what Bowden is suggesting, that wouldn’t be an issue. Android has tons of apps. And so many of Microsoft’s own apps are already first-class citizens on Android (as well as built to be cross platform from the ground up).

Bowden points out Launcher, Edge, and Office as Microsoft’s strongest efforts on Android. But that isn’t all of them. Your Phone, which he mentions later in his post, is also a big piece. Not to mention OneDrive, Skype, and a myriad of apps. They are all very good experiences on Android already.

Bowden says…

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people internally at Microsoft thinking about this very idea right now, weighing up whether it’s worth trying. Does Microsoft want to put money into researching and developing a new smartphone, while also maintaining its own Android ROM, updates, and paying Google for a Play Store license?

This is a given. They have already been doing this for years. Microsoft R&D is one of the largest, most expensive R&D departments in the world. Has been for decades. They shed off billions of dollars per year in R&D. And they aren’t slowing down.

Also, do you think Panos Panay hasn’t already prototyped 10 or 20 or 50 different designs of Surface Phone by now? Of course he has!

One other area I will disagree with Bowden. He writes:

This isn’t a bad thing, but an Android smartphone wouldn’t be the worst idea Microsoft has ever had, especially if it keeps expectations low and doesn’t make any huge bets on it.

Microsoft was recently valued as the most valuable company to ever exist on planet earth. (Alongside Amazon and Apple.) Keep expectations low? Don’t make a huge bet?

Steve Jobs passed away 10 years ago. Jony Ive is leaving Apple. Huawei has regulatory issues I can’t even dream of. Samsung’s devices are months behind on Android updates and one of their recent models exploded in people’s hands. And Google’s Pixel has yet to have a foothold.

I say Microsoft should swing for the fences. They should come out with Windows Phone again, base it on Android, call it a Surface Phone and set expectations at Panos Panay levels. That is; pumped.

Windows 10 May 2019 update brings better Windows Update

Zac Bowden, writing for Windows Central:

Windows Update received some pretty significant upgrades with the May 2019 Update, and it’s good news for users. Microsoft is backing off its heavy-handedness when it comes to forcing updates onto users. Starting this month, users will no longer be forced to install new feature updates unless they explicitly click on an install button for it. You will still have to install security patches and driver updates, but the big feature updates won’t be forced straight away.

This alone is worth updating for.

I like to choose when to update my computer, especially when I’m working on a big project and I don’t want anything in my environment to change until I’m finished. No longer are Windows Updates forced until 18-months after they are released. That is more than enough time.

Lots of other nice updates as well.

Microsoft releases WSL 2

Lots of Microsoft developer related announcements over the last few days. Since I use WSL every single day I am really looking forward to this WSL 2 release.

Initial tests that we’ve run have WSL 2 running up to 20x faster compared to WSL 1 when unpacking a zipped tarball, and around 2-5x faster when using git clone, npm install and cmake on various projects.

Significant speed improvements. But this bit really takes the cake:

WSL 2 uses an entirely new architecture that uses a real Linux kernel.

WSL 1 used an entirely different approach. They described it like this:

It is the space between the user mode Linux binaries and the Windows kernel components where the magic happens. By placing unmodified Linux binaries in Pico processes we enable Linux system calls to be directed into the Windows kernel. The lxss.sys and lxcore.sys drivers translate the Linux system calls into NT APIs and emulate the Linux kernel.

WSL 1 is a light-weight emulated Linux experience that allows us to use things like Bash commands within Windows without a full VM. WSL 2 is full Linux kernel properly piped to use the Windows stack.

I’m no expert in these sorts of things but this work seems pretty amazing on the surface and using it every day has been great and it has gotten better very rapidly.

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.

I’m calling it, Satya Nadella is Microsoft’s best CEO ever

Me, in September 2017:

I have the feeling we’re going to look back at Nadella as one of the best CEOs in the history of tech.

We’ll see how this bold prediction pans out but I’m ready to call Satya Nadella the best CEO in Microsoft’s history.

Microsoft reported a record-setting Q1. They are killing it in the cloud. But they are also doing very well in many other areas.

While I do think this performance speaks to Nadella being Microsoft’s best CEO it isn’t my only reason for saying so.

Microsoft now feels like it has an ethos I can get behind. While it may have had one under Gates or Ballmer it wasn’t a very attractive one to me. It now feels as though the company has a bright vision for the future not an overly technical (Gates) or competitive (Ballmer) one. Satya appears to care about customers in ways his predecessors didn’t.

Here are some things I’ve had the time to write about Satya (if I was a full-time blogger I would have written far, far more).

Me, in April 2016:

He’s only been in the CEO chair for a little while but I believe he has a vision for the future of the world and of Microsoft that is based on his core beliefs far more than his predecessor. I welcome it. And I like him.

Me, in April 2017:

Today, Microsoft is on the lips of nearly every developer I talk to. And the conversations are about building products using Microsoft hardware and software.

Relatedly, in May 2017:

I have no idea if I’ll ever be a full time Windows user or not. My lock-in on Mac may last another decade or two and by then who knows if I’ll even own a computer as we think of them today.

I’ve now been full-time on Windows 10 for over a year. And while I miss my Mac sometimes (but not all the time) I think this speaks volumes.

Me, later in May 2017:

Overall, I continue to be super impressed with Microsoft under Satya Nadella. Seems I’m not alone.

Me, in March 2018:

I’ve written a lot about Windows 10 here on my blog. It, along with WSL, Azure, Visual Studio, Xamarin, HoloLens and people like Satya and Panos have me extremely bullish on Microsoft. More than I’ve been since the 90s.

June 2018, when MSFT bought Github:

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last few years you’ll know that I’m rather bullish on what Satya Nadella has been doing within Microsoft. Today’s Microsoft is one that embraces open source, contributes heavily to it, allows developers to use any language and platform, etc.

and…

Keep watching, I think we’re going to be seeing a Microsoft that none of us would have ever thought possible just a few short years ago.

Reid Hoffman in June 2018:

Under Satya Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft has re-invigorated itself with an exploratory, future-oriented, and developer-focused mindset.

I named Microsoft best company in 2018:

In my opinion, Microsoft has been firing on all cylinders for nearly the entirety of Satya Nadella’s lead.


To sum up, Microsoft:

  • is setting financial records each quarter
  • is growing their customer base on products they’ve had for decades
  • is arguably contributing to open source as much or more than any other company
  • has one of the best, if not the best cloud services suite available
  • is manufacturing the best hardware available for Windows computers
  • is leading the way in nascent fields such as AR, ML, AI, IOT

I don’t know how long I’ll be a full-time Windows 10 user. This year’s WWDC will likely have a significant bearing on that. However, to have seen this run and been some small part of it has been fascinating. And I’m still surprised that Microsoft is even a choice for me since it wasn’t for nearly two decades. I’ll continue to watch closely.

Xamarin videos, now on YouTube

Me, 17-minutes into an audio bit in 2017 (paraphrasing):

If you go onto YouTube search for a problem you’re having for Xcode and Swift you’ll find 15 well-produced videos to solve your problem. […] But you won’t find 15 well-produced videos with Visual Studio + C# (or Xamarin).

For the last few years I’ve thought that Microsoft needs a much larger presence on YouTube (in addition to Channel9). They also need other developers that make these sorts of videos to do them as well. I’ve long thought they should directly sponsor a series of videos from Lets Build That App’s Brian Voong.

But, perhaps this new channel will help.

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.

Firefox 66

There is a lot to love about Firefox lately (especially the last 20 or so releases) and 66 is no different.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster for Windows Central:

Firefox version 66 includes support for Windows Hello for web authentication, allowing you to log in to websites that support the latest FIDO2 standards for passwordless logins.

Very cool and a feature that reminds me of using an Apple device.

And also, from Mozilla themselves:

Starting with version 66, Firefox will block audible autoplaying video and audio. This means media (audio and video) have to wait for user interaction before playing, unless the muted property is set on the associated HTMLMediaElement. Blocking can be disabled on a case-by-case basis in the site information overlay

If you haven’t tried Firefox lately on any of your devices I recommend giving it a try.

Microsoft open sources Windows Calculator

Microsoft:

Today, we’re excited to announce that we are open sourcing Windows Calculator on GitHub under the MIT License. This includes the source code, build system, unit tests, and product roadmap. Our goal is to build an even better user experience in partnership with the community. We are encouraging your fresh perspectives and increased participation to help define the future of Calculator.

This is a trend I’d like to see continue.

The Mac is turning less Pro

skywhopper, on Hacker News, commenting on a thread relating to Mark Gurman’s scoop on Apple’s (supposed) plan to have apps running on iOS and macOS using the same (or, similar) code bases by 2020:

And then the Mac is losing what should be its primary audience through unwanted innovations and otherwise stagnant hardware, and a failure to recognize the importance of catering to the power users who might want an actual escape key, multiple types of ports, and a keyboard that doesn’t feel like it came off a rejected tablet accessory.

I can see an argument for fragmenting the laptop world into Pro/developer hardware and consumer hardware. But Apple seems to have got the needs of those groups mixed up. Do Apple’s own software engineers love the newest Macs I wonder?

I left the Mac (but may come back some day) for two primary reasons:

  1. Apple doesn’t cater to me (a professional computer user, programmer, video and photo editor, that owns a bunch of peripherals) any more. They used to. In fact the Mac was originally for exactly the type of person I am. The hardware choices they’ve made make it clear they care far more about consumers than professionals.
  2. The price gap between a Windows computer and a Mac computer is no longer commensurate with the build quality gap. It used to be that Macs were so much nicer than Windows computers. It was inarguable. These days it is arguable, if not nearly indistinguishable. Microsoft’s Surface line, Lenovo’s ThinkPads, and (dare I even mention) Huawei’s laptops are nearly on par with the latest Mac laptops. And the price difference is significant. My DELL XPS 9370 was about $1,400 less than if I had purchased a somewhat comparable Macbook.

You might ask: But what about the Operating System? macOS is still nicer than Windows in a variety of ways. It used to be far nicer and far more capable. But the niceness gap and the capability gap have also shrunk.

Windows 10’s WSL has been a boon for me personally to allow me to do the types of things I need to do on a computer. Combine that with Docker and I’m able to do every single thing I used to do on a Mac.

The biggest gripe I have with Windows 10 is its inability to strip away the legacy stuff you find in the corners of the OS. They are being eliminated one by one – like the plates in the shooting gallery at the county fair – with each release I download. But even this gripe isn’t much different from what I’m seeing on macOS. The Marizipan apps have been universally panned, the updates to macOS haven’t really been all that compelling (Dark Mode is your biggest selling feature?), and when will Mail.app ever get the update it so desperately needs?

To sum up: Mac hardware and software is still (albeit arguably) better than most Windows 10 hardware and software. But the gap is all but closed – leaving the consumer the ability to choose based on budget for hardware. And with PWAs, web apps, Electron apps, etc. taking over both platforms a huge portion of the software we use every day is nearly identical.

Apple is going less Pro. I don’t blame them. There are more buyers. Apple will continue to string along developers into believing they care deeply about the Mac because they need developers (and the Mac) to build apps for their consumers – especially on iOS. You need a Mac to build an iOS app (at least today). But I think it might be time to stop believing them and start opening up ourselves to the fact that there are other options for some of us that don’t only build Mac or iOS apps.

One less comment from me: I’m not anti-Apple at all. I still really like the company and what they stand for. I miss my Mac nearly every day. Windows 10 still has a ways to go. And the grass always seems greener elsewhere. But, I prefer to continue to have an open mind. To not be dogmatic and to choose the hardware and software I use based on principles I care about as well as on the reasonableness of their cost.

/HN comment thread via Michael Tsai.

Observations on the Dell XPS 13″ laptop

For the past 10 months my daily work computer has been the Dell XPS 13″ 9370 white & rose gold laptop. Overall the experience with this hardware has been positive and most of the issues I’ve encountered have been software related (rather than related to the laptop itself). Here are some observations I’ve made about the device.

  • The size and form factor is just about the best size for a laptop for me. While I find myself at times wishing the screen were larger (say, working on a drone video using Adobe Premiere in Iceland) the 13″ size is the best balance for me. The same was true when I was on the Mac.
  • I find the keyboard to be quite good. It isn’t loud but the keys have enough feedback in them to feel like you’re using a nice enough keyboard. And the arrow keys are large enough targets for me when compared to many other laptop keyboards.
  • The touch pad isn’t very good in my experience. I rarely use it – preferring to use my Logitech MX Master 2S 95% of the time – but when I need to I do not like it. It is a combination of the texture being too smooth and the accuracy and two-finger scrolling being difficult.
  • The camera being at the bottom of the display isn’t as bad as many made it out to be. Personally, I use that camera for team video calls. It works fine for this (albeit at an unflattering angle). I see that as of yesterday Dell has an updated configuration with a small camera at the top of the display.
  • The performance of the laptop – both processing and graphics – is adequate for the things I do. I do some photo editing, personal and professional video production using Adobe Premiere, and am frequently using Photoshop and Illustrator. I also jump into Minecraft with my nephews from time-to-time. Yes, the fans spin up.
  • Having the microSD card reader built into the laptop has made transferring large 4K video from my drone a breeze.
  • Being all USB-C has been great. I had a similar experience when I had the MacBook Pro with USB-C but it has only gotten better with my phone (Pixel 2 XL) and tablet (iPad Pro 12.9″) also being USB-C. On the past several trips I’ve only needed a single cable to charge all of my devices.
  • I’m very glad I chose the white finish for the laptop – it is virtually stain proof and shows zero sign I’ve even used it.
  • I’ve had an issue where the Qualcom bluetooth chip will fail occasionally. I’ll show up to work, boot the laptop from “hibernation” or “sleep” (I’m unsure which since Windows 10 has several different levels of sleep for computers) and my mouse, keyboard, headphones won’t connect. Only shutting the computer down, disabling the chip, and re-enabling it in Device Manager brings it back. If the problem persists over the next few Windows 10 updates (which I get frequently) I’ll be calling Dell for a replacement. Since I haven’t seen any other reports of this issue I’m guessing I just have a lemon chip.
  • I turned off the touchscreen. It is easy to do in Device Manager. I’m sure for some people in some use cases having a touchscreen totally makes sense. But I simply have no need for it. At the time of purchase I do not believe there was a configuration with a high enough quality display that was not touchscreen so I had to purchase it.
  • The battery life is sufficient enough. I actually think it could be far better but I blame Microsoft’s power settings in Windows 10. Perhaps I’ll touch on this more in a future write up about Windows 10.
  • The power cable that comes with the laptop is very good and I end up using it most often to charge other USB-C devices.
  • The laptop is light as a feather and I hardly notice if it is in my bag or not by weight alone.

I think this laptop is a fine choice for a Windows 10 laptop. While I would like to try a ThinkPad X1 I think I chose a very decent Windows computer for the price point.

If you have any specific questions I’d be happy to answer them via email or in the comments.

Microsoft is the MVP

Raymond Wong:

The seeds Nadella’s been planting since he hopped in the chief executive seat blossomed in full this year. Looking ahead, Microsoft’s future looks bright so long as it doesn’t drop the ball.

You already know where I stand on this topic.

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.

Andrew Kim goes to Apple

Andrew Kim, who I mentioned back when he rebranded Microsoft and eventually was hired by them, has moved again — this time to Apple.

Somehow I missed that he was at Tesla.

Jon Porter for The Verge:

After three and a half years at the company, Kim moved to Tesla, where he contributed to the designs of several vehicles, including the Model 3, S, X, and Y as well as the Roadster V2 and the Semi, according to his LinkedIn profile.

There are several key talents that I personally try to keep track of as they bounce around. A few come to mind like Bret Victor, Mike Matas, and Chris Lattner. There are tons more. Andrew Kim has been one of them. His designs are both striking and practical.

The question is; what is he working on at Apple?

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.

Things about Windows 10 #3: Taskbar icon apps are frustrating

In Things about Windows 10 #2 I wrote:

It turns out Windows 10 is fairly terrible at remembering window sizes and placement when connecting to or disconnecting from an external display.

This post is in a similar vein.

The Windows 10 taskbar houses a few apps that constantly run such as OneDrive, Google Drive, Docker, 1Password, etc. This is very similar to macOS’s menu bar at the top of the screen. These small apps don’t require full window interfaces in many cases, and they run all the time, so the developers decided not to make them full blown apps that have their own task bar items with other apps like your email or calendar.

The issue I have is that whenever I change display sizes the “faux windows” or small pop-up dialogs that these icons invoke all but disappear (see right side of screenshot). From my research and my own noodling around there is no way to retrieve these without restarting the processes these icons represent. It isn’t as easy as quitting the “app” since you cannot find the interface to do so. You have to open the Windows 10 Task Manager and find the process and quit it. Then reopen that process yourself.

I waited several builds of Windows 10 to write this post, thinking it would be fixed very quickly. I cannot imagine that Microsoft’s Windows team isn’t running into this every single day themselves so I’m hoping a fix is in the works.

How to transfer photos from iPhone to Windows 10

Occasionally I will have need to transfer photos from Eliza’s iPhone X to my Windows 10 laptop. I’ve found the process of transferring the photos to be excruciatingly slow, unreliable, and frustrating. That is, until I figured out a better way.

Most tutorials, including Microsoft’s own, will recommend you plug the phone into your computer, open the Photos for Windows 10 app, and import the files through that app. But this never worked for me. I was attempting to transfer just under 5,000 photos and the process rarely worked for more than a few hundred before the phone disconnected, the process halted, or an error message popped up.

It turns out there is a better way. Here are the steps I recommend.

Transferring files from iPhone X to Windows 10 screenshot

  1. Open iPhone’s Settings app and navigate to Photos and under “Transfer to Mac or PC” choose “Keep Originals”
  2. Connect your iPhone to Windows 10 via USB
  3. Open File Explorer and navigate to “This PC”
  4. Under Devices right click on the now connected iPhone and choose “Import Photos & Videos”

Using this process proved to work reliably and much quicker than going through the Photos app. Also, toggling that one option in Settings made a world of difference in reliability.

Of course, this was my experience, your mileage may vary.

Things about Windows 10 #2: Moving non-existent windows

Well, I had said I’d try to keep this series positive but every now and then you run up against a problem.

It turns out Windows 10 is fairly terrible at remembering window sizes and placement when connecting to or disconnecting from an external display. So far I’ve had issues going both ways and having to rearrange all of my windows each time. On the Mac, it always remembers how I like my windows arranged in each context. I’m connected to an external display most of the time so I only feel this pain a few times per week.

This turns out to be a particularly frustrating issue if an app, like DropIt, doesn’t have a Taskbar item. It means you can’t “get a window back” onto the primary display without some sort of trickery.

Here is what you do: select the app by clicking on the primary icon for it, type Alt then Space then M (not at the same time) and that will allow you to move the “lost” window with your arrow keys to get it back.

Things about Windows 10 #1: Task Bar Previews

There is so much blogger coverage for Apple’s hardware and software products that I feel there needs to be a few more in the Microsoft and Google world. To that end I’m going to start a few new series here on my personal blog; Things about Windows 10, Things about Android.

Generally, I’ll be keeping both of these series positive. I contemplated calling them “Things I like about Windows 10” but, inevitably, there will be some things that I wish were a bit better. So, they will just be “things” that I find interesting.

This first thing about Windows 10, Task Bar Previews, I like very much.

Windows 10 task bar

Let’s say you have an application that has two windows currently open. In the above screenshot I have two File Explorer windows open. By simply hovering the Task Bar icon for that application I can quickly see a preview of sorts for what those windows look like. It turns out to be very handy.

It goes a bit further than that as well. If I hover a single one of those previews, everything else fades away on my computer and I’m able to see just that preview.

Check this one out where I have a bunch File Explorer windows open while moving myriad files from one place to another.

Windows 10 task bar with one window highlighted

I’ve found this feature very useful in just the first few weeks of using Windows 10 every single day.

My checklist for setting up Windows 10

Once I had decided to switch from macOS to Windows 10 I knew that I would need to unlearn old tricks and learn some new ones. The oddest one that can only happen through brute force is to teach my pinky to do what my thumb used to.

On macOS the CMD button modifier is used for everything. CMD+C = copy, CMD+V = paste, CMD+Tab = switch applications, etc. On Windows 10 CNTRL is the modifier of choice for most but not all things. For instance, CNTRL+C = copy, CNTRL+V = paste… however, ALT+Tab = switch applications. Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest hurdles left for switchers (at least those that rely on keyboard shortcuts like I do). The only way to get used to this switch, to force your muscles to unlearn the old ways, is to immerse yourself in the new environment and rely on the keyboard as heavily as possible until your brain makes the switch.

To that end I borrowed a Surface Pro for a few weeks prior to my new computer showing up and switched to it for most of my daily tasks. This way I had a head start on refactoring my muscle memory. It also afforded me time to experiment with how I would set up my work computer just the way I’d like.

While I relearned how to type, I created a checklist of sorts each time I made a change to the system or installed an app. I did this in hopes that it would dramatically reduce my set up time when the new computer arrived. Turns out, it did.

  • Install One Drive
    • Set up work and personal accounts
    • Create Desktop shortcut to OASIS folder
  • Pair Bluetooth devices
  • Turn on WSL (docs)
  • Turn off auto app updates in Store
  •  Customize taskbar
    • Change to Cortana button
    • Add Downloads Folder
  • Logitech MX Master 2S setup
    • Install Logitech Options software
    • Map buttons
      • Thumb button to Windows Task Viewer
      • Middle button to Snipping Tool – C:\Windows\System32\SnippingTool.exe
  • Install apps
    • 1Password
    • Quicklook (replicates macOS Quicklook feature)
    • Trello
    • 1clipboard
    • Spotify
    • Firefox
    • Twitter
    • LastPass
    • Slack
    • Microsoft Teams
    • Visual Studio Code
    • Visual Studio
    • Adobe Creative Suite
    • DropIt
  • Customize Apps
    • Set up work and personal email and calendar
    • Install Color for Firefox
    • Install Containers for Firefox
    • Install Hack font
    • Install Atom One Dark Theme for VS Code
    • Install Framer Syntax for VS Code
    • Adjust font size to 14px for VS Code
  • Miscellaneous tasks
    • Turn on Windows Insider Program
    • Install all Windows Insider updates
    • Install HEIF Image Support (for iPhone photos)
    • Delete all pinned Start Menu items
    • Turn on Windows Back up
    • Turn on Windows 10 Timeline view
    • Adjust Notifications for all apps in Settings
    • Add appropriate folders to Photos app
  • Notes
    • in Ubuntu, put files in /mnt/c/* so they can be accessed by Windows apps

I still have a few things to do, such as moving development database schemas. And I’m sure there will be a bunch of little things as I continue working (I’ll update this post). But having this checklist made setting up the new computer fairly painless and I was done in a few hours. I remember it taking a few days to get a work computer set up right. I think having so much of our “stuff” in the cloud these days has made this process a bit easier.

If you have any suggestions for Windows 10 I’ll gladly accept them in the comments.

Xamarin.Forms 3.1

David Ortinau on the Xamarin Blog:

Earlier this year, we surveyed Xamarin.Forms developers about the kinds of custom controls and extra platform code being written repeatedly that should be considered for support “in the box”. From these conversations, we created an initiative to deliver as many as we could in the next several releases. Just six weeks after shipping Xamarin.Forms 3.0 at Build 2018, we are excited to introduce Xamarin.Forms 3.1 with a batch of those enhancements to make your lives easier.

I shipped a Xamarin.Forms app on iOS and Android in 2017. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring and using Xamarin and in some circumstances, for some teams (especially those with deep C# experience) I’d wholeheartedly recommend Xamarin. The Xamarin team continues to keep on top of the latest OS/SDK/API releases as well as making it very easy for developers to ship cross platform applications.

Hopefully by the end of this year I’ll be able to say the same about React/React Native. I’m looking forward to exploring this deeper than I have in the past. I like to use different things so that I know what the best tool for each job is – rather than using the same tool for every project.

My clipboard managers: 1Clipboard & Clip Stack

I use two clipboard managers currently.

On Windows 10 I use 1Clipboard:

A universal clipboard managing app that makes it easy to access your clipboard from anywhere on any device.

It says “any device” but I do not believe it has any mobile apps. Since I now use the Microsoft Launcher for Android I may end up switching if MSFT makes one manager between the two? That’d be nice.

On Android I’m using Clip Stack:

Clip Stack The easiest way to extend multi clipboard for Android.

It works great and I like that it is open source.

My opinion of Microsoft Surface, 6 years later

Me, in 2012, writing about the first time I saw a Surface device:

I could have played with it longer. But I wouldn’t want to. The Surface is terrible. Even if you’ve never picked up an iPad or an Android-powered tablet you would think the Surface is pretty slow, hard to use, and heavy; three things a tablet device should probably never have said about it.

I’m writing this on a borrowed Surface Pro (using it until my Dell XPS comes in) and last year I spent a lot of time on a Surface Book (a review that I wrote 2,100 words on and never published).

Today I’d be willing to say that the Surface line from Microsoft is very good and only getting better. The Pro, Laptop, Studio, and now Go are excellent computers, well-built, and worth investigating as your next computer.

A lot can change in 6 years. I wrote this paragraph 2 years ago already:

I’m keeping an extremely close eye on all things Microsoft lately. I’ve even stated, publicly, that I think if they continue on their current course they are going to be beating Apple on several fronts within half a decade.

They are well on their way.