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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

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.

The money problem with open source

Jerod Santo:

I do believe there’s a money problem in open source. If you listen to our shows you know I believe that. It’s just that in open source that problem doesn’t manifest until much later in the process.

It waits until the software has matured, the value has been proven, the community has been built. Then, it sucks the joy out of the developer(s) who gave a gift to the world and turns it in to the worst kind of job. An unpaid job!

The entire post is a worthy read.

We originally open sourced Unmark for one main reason: that it would live on longer than our business did. And that is exactly what happened.

Our business no longer exists but Unmark did for hundreds (if not thousands?) of people running it themselves. And now it is back (invite only as of this writing, but won’t be soon enough) because we brought it back. But someone else could have. And that is the beauty of it.

We will continue to release Unmark as open source for the same reason: that anyone can run it without paying for it for as long as they want regardless if we are around or not.

In fact, unless there were some reason not to, any product I’d build going forward would be done open source. The benefits simply outweigh the drawbacks.

If someone wants to support Unmark they can by subscribing to the hosted version, submitting code fixes or issues via Github, or simply donating.

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.

Large companies aren’t good homes for beloved services

(I had no idea what to title this post.)

Peter Kafka, reporting for Recode earlier this year, re: Verizon shuttering relatively large services they’ve purchased over the years rather than “bothering” to sell them off (like they did with Flickr):

So if Verizon thinks a property with 100 million users is better off dead than sold, think of all the other random properties it might have slated for the deadpool.

A revealing tidbit in this is K. Guru Gowrappan regretting the sale of Flickr because it took too long and was too expensive of a transaction. I’m glad they did. I want Flickr to continue to exist and I’m sure there are millions more that would too.

Large companies are not good homes for beloved services. We are living in an age of the internet where if a service isn’t at hundreds-of-millions of users and throwing off tons of profit they simply aren’t worth the time for companies the size of Verizon or Google. Both of these companies have enormous cemeteries in their backyards of things they’ve built or bought and shuttered regardless of their usage or loyal users.

Over the last year I’ve moved my use of platforms, services, or products to things I can control long term or are open source. Examples include my photo management process no longer being reliant on the cloud, my content all being on my own domain, and my site being on my own infrastructure. I still have more work to do but I want to future proof as much of the stuff I care about as I can.

JSON Feed to Twitter using PHP

In 2009 I scrawled together a simple PHP script that tweeted links based on an RSS feed. I then updated it to support OAuth and open sourced it on GitHub.

I haven’t really touched it since (though I get about 3 emails a month about it). Just a small update here and there.

This morning, with all of the JSON Feed hubbub going on, I decided to recreate that same simple script to parse JSON Feed rather than RSS. I also updated to the latest release of the PHP Twitter OAuth class by Tijs Verkoyen.

You can download the latest release or clone the repository on GitHub.

This took me mere minutes thanks to JSON Feed being much easier to deal with.

Disappearing apps and services

Alexei Baboulevitch (archagon) in a comment on Hacker News:

These indie apps are often marketed as beautiful, wholesome alternatives to grimy corporate or open source software, but how could I possibly rely on these products for essential tasks like note-taking if they’re just going to disappear out from under me in a few years? The idea that software has a lifespan controlled by the developer is, in my opinion, toxic to the market. It’s just one of the many things pulling the App Store down, and one of the many downsides of living in a walled garden.

I have to agree. More and more I’m inclined to use an open (but not necessarily free) alternative for just about any app or service that I rely on.

I wasn’t a Vesper user, but if I was, I’d be scrambling to find an alternative since it is now being shut down. I’m a happy Simplenote user which is free and open and backed by a company that wants to keep things open and running for as long as possible.

Picturelife’s recent closing, which I called in January of 2015, is also a stark reminder that even if we rely heavily on an app or service, and even if we support it with our money and our word-of-mouth, it doesn’t mean that it will stick around.

If you find yourself relying on an app or service that could disappear tomorrow do yourself a favor and seek out alternatives while you still have plenty of time to make the switch. You don’t have to switch, but knowing what alternatives are out there and having a plan can save you a ton of headaches. If I hadn’t switched from Picturelife to iCloud when I did I’d be hurting right now. Bigtime.

I’ll have more on Picturelife’s shutdown in a future post.

How can I get into programming?

Linus Torvalds in 2004 on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML):

To me, the biggest thing with small patches is not necessarily the patch
itself. I think that much more important than the patch is the fact that
people get used to the notion that they can change the kernel – not just
on an intellectual level (“I understand that the GPL means that I have the
right to change my kernel”), but on a more practical level (“Hey, I did
that small change”).

Over the years I’ve been asked many times “how can I get into programming?” and my answer has always been to contribute to some open source code. The benefits are manifold.

  • Sense of accomplishment (like Linus brought out)
  • Exposure to someone else’s code (you can learn a lot this way)
  • Helps you get comfortable with criticism (esp. if the codebase is managed by several people)
  • Learn to collaborate (have a team before you have a team)
  • Give yourself some publicity (the number 1 way to get work is to show your work)

So, get in there and get started.

GoPro open sources Camera Toolkit

GoPro just updated their iOS app. In the release notes I noticed a link to their developer page wherein they’ve open sourced their Camera Toolkit for iOS and Android. Let’s hope a ton of bug fixes result so I can stop hacking mine.

Microsoft open sources .NET Core

Richard Lander on the .NET Blog:

We are excited to announce the release of .NET Core 1.0, ASP.NET Core 1.0 and Entity Framework Core 1.0, available on Windows, OS X and Linux! .NET Core is a cross-platform, open source, and modular .NET platform for creating modern web apps, microservices, libraries and console applications.

They said they would, and they did. Good on MSFT. Likely an incredible amount of work to get this out. And supposedly this is also a deep rewrite of .NET Core.

Google has JAVA (though, they didn’t make it), Apple has Swift, and now MSFT has .NET*. All fully open source languages, frameworks, and platforms backed by public companies. A good time to be a programmer.

* MSFT has had .NET forever, it is just that now it is open sourced.

RSS to Twitter using PHP

Update January 19, 2010: This script is now available on GitHub. Go forth and fork.

Today I noticed that my now ancient PHP script to update Twitter automatically using PHP/cron needed to be updated. It turns out that Twitter stopped recognizing URLs with ? in them as clickable links. Here is an example tweet where you’ll notice this happening.

I could have told Twitter and asked that they update the way they handle URLs but in reality my script was old, slow, too long, and shouldn’t include ? anyway so I figured I’d write a new one from scratch that included my short URL scheme.

So, here is the PHP script to parse an RSS feed and send the posts to Twitter. It includes a caching mechanism so that you won’t have duplicate URLs posted to Twitter. If you want it, take it. However, if you are better than I am at PHP (most 6yr. olds are better than I am at programming) then I ask that you fork the script on Gist and try to improve it.

Update Dec. 6 @ 5:34p: Kyle Slattery, follow Viddler team member, loves him some Ruby on Rails. As such he’s offered up this version of the script rewritten in Ruby.

Next up we have Anthony Sterling, self-proclaimed “PHP addict”, who has rewritten the script to make the configuration a bit easier. He also changed the way the cache is saved. He’s using a hashed version of the title for each post as his key. I do not believe this to be the best way to go, since post titles can easily change after publishing – but I do like that the script is about 20 lines shorter and the code is arguably cleaner.

Thanks to both Kyle and Anthony for their versions. Lets keep this going and see if we can get this script much more succinct, stable, faster, and usable by others?