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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.

I want any size screen, any time, any where

Andy Baio in an interview on Uses This:

I’ve worn glasses for my entire life, so my personal dream setup would be replacing my laptop, monitor, and phone all at once by replacing my prescription lenses with augmented-reality glasses that annotate the world around me without blocking it out entirely.

I do not wear glasses but long-time readers of my blog may remember that I too would like to replace all of the screens in my life for an augmented reality experience. I’d want them to provide me any screen size I need at any time any where.

When I personally look at how I use my full monitor desk set up, my laptop, my iPad, and my iPhone; I am generally just changing the size of the screen between contexts. Mixed reality (MR) could provide me a way to have any screen I need at any time and thus only have a single device. We’re likely a long way off on this – mostly because all of the companies seem to be focused on the lucrative gaming market.

I haven’t written about mixed reality on my blog in a while. I believe my timeline for such things still stands. As does my observations on the industry as a whole. But it may be time to revisit MR and see what the latest is.

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.

Alastair Humphreys on blogging for 18 years

Alastair Humphreys, adventurer, blogger:

I wrote my stories as I cycled around the world and updated my website intermittently whenever I found an internet connection stable enough to send a bunch of text. The screech of dial-up internet and being plunged into darkness by power cuts were regular accompaniments to my early days of blogging. I enjoyed two directly contrasting aspects of writing for the internet: the anonymity of writing for a website with no idea of whether anyone would actually read it, and the slowly burgeoning community of people from all over the world who stumbled upon my words. I remember the excitement of receiving an email from a lady who was reading my stuff from Antarctica. This internet thing is here to stay, I thought to myself, presciently.

Be sure to read his entire post. Subscribe to his blog while you’re at it. I have a feeling he’ll be doing it for a few more decades yet.

Audio: Read the manual (again)

Recorded September 30, 2019

Have you already read the manual for a product you own? After you’ve used it for a while, I recommend reading it again.

Twitter Lists are having a moment

Twitter recently released an updated UI that allows you to “pin” Lists you’ve created to your Home timeline view. This makes it possible to swipe between each List quickly. It is a nice feature – especially for those with only a few lists or for those just starting out with them*.

Since this update was released I’m noticing more and more people mention Lists. So I believe this update is working how Twitter wanted it to.

Here is something I wrote about Lists 7 years ago:

I suppose my favorite part about using lists is that I can check Twitter whenever I want without the feeling that I’ll be overwhelmed and distracted by tweets. I can choose when I want to be distracted. When I want to sit down and catch up on Twitter I can go through a few of my lists depending on my mood.

This remains true today. If I’m in the mood to catch up on some outdoor activity lists – fishing, hiking, kayaking – I can dip into that List and catch up. But if I’m in the mood to catch up on technology – I can scroll through that List. It sort of reminds me of reading a particular section of the newspaper, rather than skipping around the newspaper randomly. It allows me to focus a bit more.

Also, Lists do not suffer from the Home timelines terrible algorithm. For that reason alone it is worth building a List or two.

One List of mine that has stuck around is the idea of a “Scratch” list. Today I call it “Heap”. Call it whatever you want, but this allows you to add random accounts to this List and see if they stick. If they do, it is worth taking the time to categorize them.

Not all accounts fit into a category. People, for instance, tweet about all sorts of things. So I find that my relationship with them ends up becoming the name of the List. And for everything else, I have a List called “Lump of People”. I have no idea where I get these names.

I cannot imagine using Twitter without Lists. So I’m glad they are investing in the feature rather than removing or ignoring it.

If you haven’t tried Lists on Twitter I recommend you give them a spin.

Now, if only Instagram would give me some way do to this same thing I’d use it a lot more.

Bad reasons not to blog

There are a lot of bad reasons not to blog. Here are a few of them and why they are bad.

  • Someone already wrote about this. Terrible reason. You didn’t write about it. And the most important component in the equation is you. In over 20 years of blogging I cannot tell you how many topics I’ve covered that have been covered by so many other people yet still the posts helped so many. I have a few blog posts that have hundreds of thousands of page views.
  • I don’t understand this as much as others. Blah blah blah! The best blog posts are those written by people still figuring it out because they are new enough to a topic to cover them in detail. People that know something well tend to skip over important smaller pieces.
  • I’m not a good writer. Join the crowd. The only way to get better at writing is to write.
  • I’m a perfectionist, I would never publish. Publishing is a muscle. If you do it once, and keep doing it over and over, it becomes easier. Perhaps your tendency to get things just right will actually set your blog apart from others.
  • No one would read my blog. Who cares? A personal blog is less written for other people than it is for yourself. This post, as an example, is a reaffirmation of my own opinions to myself. If no one reads this at least I wrote it and it reinvigorates me to continue to blog. In fact, I would recommend not tracking analytics too closely.
  • Blogs are too complicated. Start simple. If you continue to do it, then you can dig in and make things more complex. Sign up to Micro.blog, WordPress.com, or Tumblr where there is zero configuration needed.

Update: See “I’m not a web developer”.

If you have any desire at all to have a blog and have ever thought that any of the above bad reasons should stop you – please reconsider and start blogging.

See also: My blogging tips.

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.

Audio: My armchair analysis of Automattic acquiring Tumblr

Date recorded: August 19, 2019

Yesterday while driving (sorry for the audio quality) I recorded a quick audio bit to distill my thoughts on why Automattic acquired Tumblr.

Short-version: Automattic sees Tumblr as an entry point for new WordPress.com customers – especially youth. For someone to go from idea to full commerce or publishing success via WordPress.com’s current offering could seem cumbersome and not nearly as hip as Tumblr.

Listen to the audio bit for more details. We’ll see if I’m right in 5 years.

Links relevant to this audio bit:

Automattic acquires Tumblr

Matt Mullenweg, on this Tumblog:

When the possibility to join forces became concrete, it felt like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have two beloved platforms work alongside each other to build a better, more open, more inclusive – and, frankly, more fun web. I knew we had to do it.

Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately. Matt’s team acquired Tumblr for beans. That alone is a big part of this story. Yahoo! paid just over $1B for the platform and Automattic, reportedly, paid somewhere in the $3M area. In the world of acquisitions, this may end up being one of the most profitable acquisitions made by a tech company. Time will tell but I’d be willing to bet that Automattic will profit on this acquisition in a very short period of time.

Second, the tech stack of Tumblr is going to be replaced by WordPress. This is good for a variety of reasons. It ensures Tumblr will very likely be around in some form or another in perpetuity while still retaining its unique posting UI that its community no-doubt loves. I know I love it. I wish I had the same thing for my WordPress blog. Maybe I will get that now?

It also likely means that Tumblr and WordPress users can move back-and-forth between these two platforms much easier. I remember when I switched The Watercolor Gallery, which began as a Tumblog in 2010, to WordPress. It took me weeks to get everything right. Presumably this will no longer be the case.

And lastly, Automattic is an excellent home for Tumblr. They don’t just throw things out like Google, or apparently Verizon. They believe in building things for the long haul, doing them openly (for the most part), and retaining the ethos of the companies they acquire.

Both Flickr and Tumblr have seemingly found good homes.

I’m cdevroe on Tumblr.

Mike Davidson on working remotely

Mike Davidson:

First, let’s dispense with the easy part: despite what you may read on Twitter, remote work is neither the greatest thing in the world nor the worst. We are not moving to a world where offices go completely away, nor are we going through some sort of phase where remote work will eventually prove to be a giant waste of time. In other words, it’s complicated.

I worked remotely for about a decade. I now find myself working remotely again. A lot has changed since the first period that I worked remotely – as Mike points out in his post – but some things still remain the same.

Things that are improving:

  • Internet speed
  • Real-time chat tools
  • File sharing
  • Video / audio conferencing
  • White boarding

Things that will always be the same:

  • The need to over communicate
  • Distractions hurt productivity
  • Most meetings are terrible
  • People need to see people

I’m going to address each of these quickly.

That chatter that happens in office can sometimes bear fruit. Since these serendipitous interactions will no longer happen you have to create those interactions through deliberate action. Over communicate with your team about what you’re doing, what your ideas are, etc.

I feel there are less distractions working remotely than in an office though I can see how some would disagree. I suppose it depends on experience. In my experience, working in an office is like going to public school – a huge amount of time is “wasted” on chit-chat. Some, but not all, of that chit-chat moves into your chat client of choice. You have to be OK with this.

Meetings do not have to be terrible. There are some simple rules that I like to follow that help them suck less. Namely; Be certain you need an actual meeting, rather than an email or chat. Always give people enough time in advance to prepare. Always have an agenda. Always have action items. Follow up on those action items weekly or as appropriate.

Some people need to see people more than other people need to see people. 🙂 Finding some way to “get together” now and then is really valuable to the entire team.

I’m bullish on remote work. I think it is the way of the future for a large number of jobs though I totally understand people that would not want to do it. I cannot see it slowing down. I only seeing it becoming more and more normal and acceptable.

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?

Jonnie Hallman on burn out

Jonnie Hallman, who created Cushion and a bunch of cool stuff you’ve probably seen, burned out building his start up:

Then, on Cushion’s 5-year anniversary, I experienced my first panic attack.

Read his post for the full story. But the entire post resonates so much with me because with Plain I (and Kyle, my co-founder) experienced many of the same emotions.

Burn out is real. Creating and running a start up isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for me – I know that now. While I may be capable and knowledgeable enough about the “how” I’m just not suited for it emotionally. I take things far too hard. Put too much on myself. And I wig out.

His jumping to Stripe is just like what I’ve done. I’ve found a home at Jujama where I have some of the same basic things I love about being an entrepreneur (autonomy, small team, flexible hours, remote office) but enough stability to keep me sane and – most – weekends my computer is off.

Congrats to him for recognizing that he needs to make a change and doing so even if seemingly painful. He finishes his post with a note that I’d like to finish this one with.

Note: If you overwork yourself and feel like you’re burning out, stop what you’re doing and find stability—whatever you’re working on isn’t worth your health. Don’t feel the need to “hustle” because some people glorify it. Doing good work while living a healthy life is much more respectable.

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.

React is an ecosystem

Jonathan Snook, on his learning curve when joining a new organization that uses React:

When people talk about learning React, I think that React, in and of itself, is relatively easy to understand. At least, I felt it was. I have components. I have JSX. I hit some hiccups with required keys or making sure I was wrapping child elements properly. But overall, I felt like I grasped it well enough.

Throw in everything else at the same time, though, and things get confusing because it’s hard at first to recognize what belongs to what. “Oh, this is Redux. That is React. That other thing is lodash. Got it.”

Most of the time React is merely a piece of an app’s overall puzzle. There are so many other pieces that make up the entire thing it can be an overwhelming experience.

I’m not new to building apps. In fact, the vast majority of my life I’ve been building apps. But learning React this year has been one of the more haphazard experiences of my career. It is not straightforward.

It isn’t that I think React itself is poorly made or documented. In fact, out of the box you can spin up a simple Hello World React app about as quickly as any other technology. But, as my boy Snook points out, it never ends there. Any somewhat mature app built on React has many, many other parts to learn.

He points most of them out in his blog post but I’ll reiterate here some of the things I personally see that could be overwhelming to people jumping in…

  • Build routines
  • Servers
  • State managers
  • Component hierarchies
  • JavaScript specifications
  • Myriad JavaScript packages (such as design libraries)
  • JavaScript style guides (naming and positioning of things)
  • CSS pre-processors (like SASS)

Any one or all of these things could potentially be new to a web developer coming into React. And, equally so, an app developer.

The only way to avoid being overwhelmed would be to take one bit at a time. Understand that what you’re looking at isn’t a single thing but a collection of many new things and that each of them will become natural to you over time. If your team is large enough, perhaps there are pieces you won’t need to worry too much about. But if not, you’re essentially diving into the “full stack” and will eventually become familiar with that entire thing.

I will say, lastly, that it has been very fun. React sort of combines the things I like about building apps with, say, Swift (typing, “stricter” rules, reusable bits) and the things I like about building things for the web (HTML, CSS, app runs on literally everything).

Libra (the new cryptocurrency) must-reads

So Facebook, among others, announced a new cryptocurrency and blockchain called Libra. You’ve likely already seen the headlines. But perhaps you’re wondering what it means, what makes Libra any different than, say, Bitcoin, or perhaps you have other questions.

I did too. So I’ve rounded up a few links that helped me gain some perspective on this announcement. As with all things crypto, it is fascinating to see all of this play out.

Libra White Paper:

We believe that collaborating and innovating with the financial sector, including regulators and experts across a variety of industries, is the only way to ensure that a sustainable, secure and trusted framework underpins this new system. And this approach can deliver a giant leap forward toward a lower-cost, more accessible, more connected global financial system.

This white paper lays out the problem, the proposed solution, and even a roadmap for the future of the currency/payments system. It reads well-enough and it a good place to start.

Wired’s article on this announcement:

The Libra Association will consist at first of up to 100 founding members including Facebook, each of which will invest at least $10 million to fund the association’s operations, and receive interest earned off the reserve. (Libra’s NGO members are exempted from the investment requirement.) Each member will be empowered to operate a node on the blockchain, and have a voice in determining changes to its code and managing the reserve.

As reporters are good at, the Wired piece distills the main points of the effort as well as provides context around the crypto-market in general. Adds some flavor to the entire thing.

Ben Thompson’s excellent take:

The best way to understand Libra, then, is as a sort of distributed ledger that is a compromise between a fully public blockchain and an internal database […] This means that the overall system is much more efficient than Bitcoin, while the necessary level of trust is spread out to multiple entities, not one single company…

At this point, I’d call Libra a pseudo-distributed blockchain backed cryptocoin. Rather than network nodes being managed by anyone they are managed by “qualified” entities. And so is the underlying software.

This is yet-another-option in the crypto-market. Something sort of like other coins but different enough that it deserves to exist. Hardliner crypto peeps may take offense to any amount of oversight on something like a cryptocoin but it is bound to occur. This won’t be the last cryptocoin/payments system you see created that has institutional backing and oversight. In fact, it isn’t the first. See JPM Coin from JP Morgan.

Again, I’m fascinated by this space and I will continue to watch as the markets, coins, payment systems, blockchains, and companies spearheading this new territory evolve.

Riva-Melissa Tez on making things

Riva-Melissa Tez, who recently joined Intel, on making things:

Lastly, one of my concerns of our generation is that we’re talking too much and not building enough, partially spurred on by the immediate reward mechanisms of social media. We seem to think we can all invest in or inspire hypothetical others into building the futures that we want. This was one of the hardest takeaways from my 20s because I fell for this too. If you’re looking for a thing to exist and you can’t find it, it might not be because there’s not enough X or Y, it might simply be that the person you’re looking to build it is, and always has been, actually yourself.

100.

/via Patrick Collison on Twitter.

Those who share, receive (or, how to get noticed or get work)

I touched on this topic in 2017 in How do you get work?. But let me just pull one sentence from that post:

The clear way to get work is to share work.

The same thing goes for getting “noticed” if that is something you want or need. You have to put things out into the world, and keep doing so, in order to be noticed, build an audience, or have opportunities come your way.

I have two recent, but altogether very different, examples that come to mind.

One is David Sikabwe. On Twitter he shared a rap he wrote for Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon. It has blown up on Twitter and, if you read through his recent tweets as of this writing, you will see he has a flood of attention from some very, very big names. He also has some people sharing new works using his work.

He mentions that he wrote the piece 1 year ago and he had it in his Notes app and simply didn’t share it. Would it have been as big of a hit if he had shared it a year ago? Who knows? But, the point is that he did share and it did get attention and now there is a big possibility this young talent finds his break into the industry (if that is what he wants).

The second example is Timothy Smith with Kickstarting Bokeh (which I previously mentioned). Two years ago he wrote on his blog about his experience being interviewed for a job and ultimately not getting it and feeling self-doubt. In that post he ended it with this:

I’m done letting these insecurities win. I’m done trying to get validation that I shouldn’t need. I’m me and I’m awesome.

And guess what? Now he is putting something out into the world. Giving it a shot. And it is being noticed. Manton Reece mentioned it. He was interviewed on Micro Monday, Ashley Baxter mentioned it, DPReview mentioned it, Jeffrey Zeldman mentioned it, and on and on.

These two examples are just the latest proof that if you put stuff out into the world you will receive attention or work if you are seeking it. It may take time. Sometimes even a long time. But it will never, ever happen if you do not share.

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.

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.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Op-Ed

Go read it. It is actually shorter than his recent Facebook post on privacy.

This part was… umm, interesting?

Finally, regulation should guarantee the principle of data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate and compete.

This is important for the Internet — and for creating services people want. It’s why we built our development platform. True data portability should look more like the way people use our platform to sign into an app than the existing ways you can download an archive of your information. But this requires clear rules about who’s responsible for protecting information when it moves between services.

This also needs common standards, which is why we support a standard data transfer format and the open source Data Transfer Project.

This is pretty rich coming from him. Historically the options on Facebook to get your data have been terrible. But if there was a way to log into, say, Mastodon, connect it to Facebook and have all your data move over – that’d be pretty awesome (though I will not be holding my breath for anything like this).

I do agree that downloading a huge archive is not ideal and more services should offer ways to transfer information in and out of all platforms. It would be great if this were mandatory.

As I said in early March, this is a new phase for Facebook. It will be fascinating to watch.

15 Lessons from ConvertKit’s Nathan Barry

I could quote the entire piece, so I urge that you read it.

Nathan Barry:

Focus is where I thrive. Focus is where I get results. Focus is everything.

On choosing a niche:

Choosing a niche is the easiest advice to give and the hardest advice to take. When you don’t have traction, it feels like choosing a niche will exclude the few people who are coming in the door.

I’ve given this advice countless times. I too have a hard time taking it.

I could quote it all but I’ll just do one more.

Ignore the entrepreneur media.

I needed to read this.

Zuckerberg’s note on privacy on social networks

Mark Zuckerberg published a note on Facebook last night outlining his thoughts around privacy and social networking.

I find it a fascinating read for several reasons. It reads like an internal memo – or even a draft of an internal memo – in that he repeats himself (sometimes verbatim) several times within the note. The realizations he’s come to are surely far overdue. He, and Facebook, were usually ahead of the market on so many things – and on privacy they are far, far behind (on many of their platforms apart from WhatsApp). And given the mutilated reputation of Facebook it seems these adjustments are being forced upon them.

I also find it interesting that both Twitter and Facebook are swimming upstream trying to figure out what in the world to do. They are global communication networks, founded in the US, that are being used and abused in ways – and at scales – that simply have never been seen before. This is new territory and whatever our opinions of the company’s motivations, the job they have ahead of them is monumental and fraught with pitfalls. (see also, this interview with Jack Dorsey, Vijay Gadde, and Tim Pool)

I wanted to pull a few quotes out of Zuckerberg’s note to comment on them.

I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing. But we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.

I could spend a lot of time parsing every single word he writes. An example would be “open sharing”. Facebook is hardly open in the sense we use the term when we refer to the “open web“. What he means is “public”, I suppose. But I won’t spend the time parsing each word – you’ll have to take the context of the terms for what they are and balance them against what you know about Facebook.

That being said, it is compelling to think of Facebook making this large of a shift from public first to private and encrypted and ephemeral first.

People expect their private communications to be secure and to only be seen by the people they’ve sent them to — not hackers, criminals, over-reaching governments, or even the people operating the services they’re using.

My guess is that most people wouldn’t even think that Facebook can or would read their private messages to one another. But, as of today, they can (except on WhatsApp supposedly).

If you watch the aforelinked video you will see a portion where Joe Rogan asks Twitter’s Vijay Gadde if Twitter can read people’s private messages to one another. She responds “I don’t think so?”. Her role isn’t technical, so I do not blame her for not having a direct response (though, she probably should have prepared talking points for this). But I do blame Jack Dorsey for remaining mute. Which, to me is an admission by omission. Twitter can, and does, read private DMs.

Governments often make unlawful demands for data, and while we push back and fight these requests in court, there’s always a risk we’ll lose a case — and if the information isn’t encrypted we’d either have to turn over the data or risk our employees being arrested if we failed to comply. This may seem extreme, but we’ve had a case where one of our employees was actually jailed for not providing access to someone’s private information even though we couldn’t access it since it was encrypted.

This, too, is fascinating. Facebook hasn’t built in privacy from day one into their platform for the sake of the user’s that use it, but now they are considering it because they are starting to see that data as a liability. They need encryption as much or more so than their user base and that is the impetus of this change. Facebook’s interests are their own.

For example, messages could be deleted after a month or a year by default. This would reduce the risk of your messages resurfacing and embarrassing you later. Of course you’d have the ability to change the timeframe or turn off auto-deletion for your threads if you wanted. And we could also provide an option for you to set individual messages to expire after a few seconds or minutes if you wanted.

This paragraph is the one that reads, to me, like a “hey y’all, this would be a great idea right?” internal message to his product team. We could do this! Or this? Or maybe we could even do this?

Either way, it’d be a welcome change to Facebook no doubt.

Then Zuckerberg explains “interoperability” within Facebook’s messaging platforms. He describes being able to send a message to someone – and regardless of their platform of choice – they’d be able to receive and send messages back.

To me, this reads like he’s explaining email.

You can imagine many simple experiences like this — a person discovers a business on Instagram and easily transitions to their preferred messaging app for secure payments and customer support; another person wants to catch up with a friend and can send them a message that goes to their preferred app without having to think about where that person prefers to be reached; or you simply post a story from your day across both Facebook and Instagram and can get all the replies from your friends in one place.

This is email. Yes, there would be other features like video chat, audio calls, payments, etc. etc. But – by and large this is what email does. You can email someone and it doesn’t matter what service or app they are using – they can receive and send a message back and iit can be done securely if they chose to.

The entire note is fascinating to me and worth a read regardless of how you feel about Facebook. Make no mistake, what they end up implementing (or, not) from this new found desire for privacy will echo throughout the other services of the web. For better or worse Zuckerberg just moved the goal posts.

A new interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog for 2019

Last year, around this time, I published an interview with Manton Reece – founder of Micro.blog (M.b) – about how the platform was growing and what the goals for 2018 were. It was such a great interview and it helped me to understand the direction that M.b was going that I knew I had to interview him again to check in for 2019.

Answering these questions isn’t easy. Manton and I have been volleying back and forth for about 60 days for this interview to come to this point. So before we jump into the interview I just want to take a moment to thank Manton for taking the time to thoughtfully respond to my questions. I hope the entire M.b community enjoys this interview and it helps to give an idea of what is happening there and where the community and platform are headed.

I’ve tried to include links to most everything we mention so that you’re able to find all of the little tidbits. If I missed anything, leave a comment or reply on M.b and I’ll try to track down what you’re looking for.

Now, onto the interview:

Thank you again Manton for taking some time to answer my questions. Last year’s interview was fun so I thought it’d be a good idea to revisit a few of the topics in it and also catch up with you on how Micro.blog is doing and see where it is headed in 2019. Last year you mentioned that most of the growth on the team would come in the form of curators or support. Has the team grown? If so, what does the team look like today and what will it look like in 2019?

Manton: Great to talk to you again! The size of the team has not grown since last year, but I think we’ve done more with the people we have. Jean MacDonald has hosted over 40 episodes of our Micro Monday podcast, and Jon Hays has lead recent improvements to our iOS app and new apps Sunlit and Wavelength. I still expect the growth to be on the curation side and hope that can be a focus of 2019. Where the other big social networks try to use algorithms to solve problems, we think if you want a great community, humans need to be actively involved — featuring content, listening for problems, and thinking about the impact of new features.

Customer support and system administration are the other areas that I’m looking forward to getting help with, but as the platform evolves it’s still valuable for me to be handling most of that myself. I hear from customers every day about what they love and what features are missing. Since we last talked, I’ve also moved my primary blog with thousands of posts from WordPress to Micro.blog hosting, and that has been a great way to prioritize improvements to the hosting part of the platform. Blog hosting is the actual business of Micro.blog and enables us to do everything else we want to do for the social network and community.

From an outsider’s perspective, I don’t know how you’re able to do as much as you do! You are coding Micro.blog, keeping up with the infrastructure software/hardware, dealing with support, paying the bills… the list goes on and on. Then, on top of all that, you’re building a few iOS apps like Sunlit and Wavelength. You also have your own podcast called Timetable and a long-running podcast called Core Intuition. Not to mention your personal blog, help documents for Micro.blog, and keeping up with the community and the Slack channel.

How do you prioritize all of this? Is one project more important than another?

Manton: I think good things can come from trying to do a little too much, but it’s not usually sustainable. Eventually it catches up with you and you have to simplify and wrap up or delegate some tasks. We are in that kind of period right now with Micro.blog. We will continue to do a lot, but some parts of the platform — like the iOS apps — can reach a point of maturity where we work on stability improvements and polishing existing features rather than adding brand new features.

Android is another good example. Many people ask for an official Android app for Micro.blog. Because I don’t have much Android experience myself, I know I would be stretched too thin right now to tackle it, so we are encouraging third-party solutions instead. There’s a new version of Dialog for Android which has full support for the Micro.blog timeline, posting, replying, the Discover sections, and more. I’m really excited about it.

The most important project is the Micro.blog web platform, because without that foundation nothing else is possible. Improving the API and blog hosting will always be something we work on, alongside other priorities that come and go.

I for one am very happy that Dialog exists. I’m also happy that it is pretty good too. What other third-party projects have you come across that more people should know about? And, what haven’t you seen made on top of Micro.blog that you wish existed?

Manton: People should keep an eye on Gluon, which is in development now for iOS and Android. I’ve enjoyed reading developer Vincent Ritter’s blog post updates about working on it — the early choices he made on how to build the app and later decisions to update the UI and rewrite portions of it.

Integrating other platforms is another area that is great for third-party apps. For example, IndieWeb-compatible tools like OwnYourGram (for copying Instagram posts to your blog) or IndieBookClub (for posting about books you’re reading or want to read). Having so many third-party apps that can supplement the basic features on Micro.blog means that we can keep the primary experience as streamlined as possible, because the goal is to make blogging easier. I’d love to see more advanced tools for managing posts as well, such as batch editing posts or for import and export.

Switching gears for a moment to Micro.blog’s long term financial sustainability. I know at first there was a funding push related to the Kickstarter campaign, and of course there are those that pay a few dollars per year for the hosted service or other features like cross posting. What does long term sustainability look like for Micro.blog? Does there need to be a lot of growth in the customer base? How else can people like me, who use Micro.blog daily but are not currently paying, help keep Micro.blog funded?

Manton: Kickstarter was perfect to get us started, but paid subscriptions are better long term. I want to build features that are valuable and worth paying for. So we’ll keep making our blog hosting more compelling so that it’s good for people who are just getting started with a new blog, or people who want to migrate from other platforms. We often see people who might have a primary blog on WordPress — and a secondary microblog or photo blog on Micro.blog — decide that it’s simpler to just consolidate everything to Micro.blog, importing their WordPress posts. We don’t expect all the millions of bloggers who host on WordPress to move over to Micro.blog, but even a relatively small number moving to Micro.blog will make the platform more sustainable.

We just rolled out several major new features for blog hosting, including categories and custom themes, so you can have full control over the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript on your site. You don’t need to be a designer or developer to use Micro.blog, but it’s nice to allow some more flexibility for those people who do want to tinker with their site. And now web developers can create custom themes for Micro.blog that can be used by other members of the community.

As for supporting Micro.blog if you aren’t a paying customer, the best way is to tell people about it. All our growth right now is from word of mouth. It’s great when people invite their friends from other social networks, or when they post about why they like Micro.blog on their own blog or talk about it on their podcast. You don’t need to have a large audience to make a big difference.

I’d be remiss to not mention the apparent resurgence of blogging. If not in action then in the collective consciousness. It seems many people are talking and writing about blogging lately. With Medium changing its policies, Tumblr being owned by Oath/Verizon/Aol, Twitter being a hive of villainy, Facebook selling our fears to our captors, and Instagram growing up to be like’s its parent… it seems that blogging is poised to have a huge comeback. Are you doing anything at all to capture that momentum? Or, are you just trying to keep on your roadmap as usual?

Manton: It feels like everything we’ve been working toward for a few years is starting to come together, as more people realize the downsides of these massive, centralized platforms. Whether someone is quitting Facebook tomorrow or a year from now, I want Micro.blog to be a great default choice for reclaiming ownership of your content and getting in the habit of writing or posting photos regularly. When Basecamp recently migrated their long-running blog Signal v. Noise away from Medium, they summed up the change just like we see it: “Traditional blogs might have swung out of favor, as we all discovered the benefits of social media and aggregating platforms, but we think they’re about to swing back in style, as we all discover the real costs and problems brought by such centralization.”

The other part of this is to have a safe, welcoming community. I hate to see people get discouraged from blogging because “no one” is reading, so it helps that we have the Micro.blog timeline and replies where a blog post can start a conversation, or new posts can be featured in the Discover section. I think 2019 is going to be great for blogging. Micro.blog differentiates itself because it offers a solution for both blog hosting and a great community.

Professional blogging; whether that be funded by advertisers, subscribers, fans – is a big business. What are your thoughts on how Micro.blog helps or ignores people or businesses that may want to use the platform to share their content and earn a living from it?

Manton: Micro.blog was designed for people, not “brands”, but there’s no reason it can’t be used for businesses as well. Toward the end of last year I wrote a “12 days of microblogging” blog post series, and on one day highlighted how businesses can use Micro.blog.

Personal blogs can evolve into a revenue source as well, like offering subscriptions or sponsorships. But Micro.blog will never have ads and we aren’t likely to add features specifically for people to make money from their content in the way that Medium is trying to do. We want to focus on helping people discover blog posts, and whether someone monetizes their blog or uses it for occasional self-promotion is up to them. It’s okay if most blogs are personal and non-commercial because that lends itself to authenticity, and there’s great value in just having a space of your own to publish to.

We also think podcasting is only going to get bigger, which is why our first new paid plan was microcast hosting for short-form podcasts. We keep increasing the limits and now you can publish even hour-long episodes to Micro.blog. Like personal blogs, podcasts could be sponsored, or they could be just for fun, or they could indirectly benefit your business, such as supplementing a blog or helping promote something else you’re working on.

I believe you’ve touched on open source regarding Micro.blog in the past. Some of your own projects, like JSON Feed, are open source. Will you be open sourcing Micro.blog or any pieces of it?

Manton: I don’t plan to open source all of Micro.blog in the near future. It’s a complicated project with several components across multiple servers, so it’s not really suitable for just “running yourself” right now. However, I’d love to open source more of it, especially when there’s an immediate benefit to people. For example, for the new custom themes feature, I rewrote all of the themes to use the Hugo blogging engine, and we’ve shared all our changes on GitHub. That’s something people can use right away. Jon Hays also wrote a framework called “Snippets” for the Micro.blog API and Micropub API that we’ll be using in our iOS apps, and we’ve open sourced that as well. I think there is more in our iOS apps (including Wavelength for podcasts and Sunlit for photos) that would be great to open source.

I think I catch myself looking for a search feature on Micro.blog at least twice a week. For instance, I’m big into houseplants lately and I wanted to find some people on M.b that were as well. And I can’t figure out how to do that. Is search coming?

We now have a basic search on the web version of Micro.blog under Discover. This currently searches any post that has been included in Discover. We have plans to add search to the native apps so that it’s easier to access, and expand it so that it searches even more posts on Micro.blog. However, one of the early design goals with Micro.blog was to launch without a full search index, because I didn’t like how Twitter’s search and especially trending topics could be gamed or expose the worst conversations on the platform, even in some cases being a place for more abusive, hateful replies. So we’re going a little slowly with search to make sure that we don’t recreate any of those problems.

I know I’m only scratching the surface for the questions that the community is likely curious about. I hope I did an OK job asking the important ones. Are there any topics I left off that you wish I had asked you about? Or anything you’d like to highlight?

Your questions were great. Thank you! I’d like to mention again what Jean MacDonald has done with our podcast Micro Monday. This podcast didn’t exist when you interviewed me last year, and now we have a great archive of episodes highlighting members of the community — how they got started blogging and what they are interested in, whether that’s related to Micro.blog or something else. It helps people understand Micro.blog while at the same time featuring stories from the community. I’m always inspired hearing what people are up to, and it’s a weekly reminder to me of how important it is that people have a voice on the web with their own blog.


What a fun interview! Until next year…

Is Instagram about to plummet?

When Instagram first started to hit popularity – long after their failed attempt at being a check-in service – the app was all about photo filters. Anyone could snap a photo with their phone and quickly add a filter to make it look “better” or at least more interesting. It made everyone feel like a photographer.

At first “true” photographers balked at the platform. But then they saw the power of the network it was building so they started to sign up. Which created a boon for the platform and its Explore page because whenever we opened the app we saw gorgeous photos of the people, places and things we are interested in.

But this created pressure. I dubbed it Instagram pressure. It meant that the “anyone” (those that do not consider themselves photographers but enjoyed adding a filter to their photos) I mentioned before felt out of place. Incapable of producing such high quality, and often composite, results. So their usage began to wane. They were still looking but not posting as much.

Then the algorithmic timeline. Which made for completely different issues. It meant that really great photos from people with less of a following were getting little to no attention. And like-fatigue set in. Instagram had a problem but they had smart founders. They new they needed to act quickly.

So Instagram gobbled up Snapchat by stealing the medium of Stories and (in my opinion) improving on them. Which created another bolt of energy into the platform as there was now a way to create and publish far more content that didn’t need the same polish as a photo.

But then Facebook happened. True, Facebook purchased Instagram 6 years ago but it has only been the last 24 months that Facebook has taken a nosedive in public opinion. And with the founders of Instagram leaving the platform my own personal confidence in Instagram is at an all time low. In fact, I’ve stopped updating the app. I love Instagram as it stands right now. But I fear the next few updates.

Anyone that has been online for many years has seen the rise and fall of countless services for a variety of reasons. Mostly, though, the fall of a platform has something to do with some mass of individuals that originally embrace a platform eventually leaving a platform. Teens jump on Snapchat and move to Instagram and then move to TikTok or Musically. Tech people blog then tweet then blog again (yay!). Photographers use their own sites, then Flickr, then Instagram, then their own sites (and/or Flickr) again. At least, that is what seems to be happening.

Instagram has a huge backer, otherwise I think it’s decline would be as meteoric as its rise. So I don’t think it or Facebook will be gone any time soon. But I do have the feeling we will see photographers slowly leave the platform behind in order to publish elsewhere – whether that be their own web sites or Flickr or SmugMug or an as-yet-unreleased platform.

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.

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.

YETI Presents

YETI, the premium tumbler/cooler company, has one of my favorite YouTube channels at the moment.

We celebrate stories from the wild. From the off-road tracks of Baja Peninsula to the BBQ pits of Giddings, TX, we capture stories that speak to the wild side of life. If adventure and grit is at the heart of the story, then it’s a story that YETI will tell.

The videos are remarkably well made and the stories they tell are oftentimes breathtaking. I highly recommend you cherry pick a few.

Perhaps I can get you started with one or two suggestions? Chasing Light, Hungry Life: Yellowstone River, Offseason.