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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

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.

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

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

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

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

iPhone Xs Default Camera Mode

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

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

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

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

I love it.

How to transfer photos from iPhone to Windows 10

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

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

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

Transferring files from iPhone X to Windows 10 screenshot

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

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

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

My checklist for setting up Windows 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I would write about Vero

Colin Walker wrote his hot take on Vero and it is exactly what I would have written (only his post is far more eloquent than mine would have been). Go read the entire post but here are a few highlights.

As soon as I saw what Vero was all about – the idea it “makes sharing online more like real life” using selective audiences I was immediately taken back to the promises of Google+ and its circles.

This is an apt comparison. As he rightly points out, managing ones Circles on Google+ and deciding who to share what with is exhausting to the user. On paper it seems like an excellent approach. But on every social network that has this feature – Facebook included – it is rarely used. Who wants to move people from one list to another only to move them back again when your relationship with them shifts?

Although Vero promises an algorithm free feed and no ads (it will monetise using subscriptions and charges for selling via the platform) I’m not sure that jumping from the frying pan of one silo straight into the as yet unproven fire of another is what we really need right now.

I thought about this when I signed up. However, it doesn’t take much for a platform like Vero to support the open web and be less of a silo than Facebook or Twitter. An open API, data portability, and support for one’s own domain are the main features. I can’t presume that no other platforms will support the open web eventually. In fact, imagine if Twitter did this like Medium has? Then what would people think of Twitter?

I wish them well and hope they prove me wrong but, while I think the noise about Russian developers and the CEO being the son of a former Lebanese prime minister is stupid and tantamount to inciting racial hatred, I’m afraid I won’t be signing up.

I’m very glad he brought this up. When I saw the drivel on Twitter about these details about this platform I was saddened. Are we saying all Russian developers are bad? Or all Lebanese billionaires? I would always urge caution when signing up to brand-new platforms but to think we’d all call these people out simply based on where they were born is… well Colin already said what it is.

Eliza and I poked around with Vero as much as we could while the app crashed and timed out. It won’t stick. Not because of the scaling issues – most platforms have those. It won’t stick because it will be far too noisy for users right out of the gate.

When Instagram pivoted from a check-in app to a filtered photo app it exploded because it made photo editing and publishing one simple step. It did one thing well. Slowly it has added other features but this primary feature is still the foremost one today. Vero has photos, music, links, books etc. Once the hype settles down people just want to post photos. Instagram should be scared of whatever comes next. Obviously people (including me) do not like the current algorithmic feed. But Vero is no Instagram killer.

Socialocca presents a Social Media Workshop at the February 2018 NEPA Tech meet up

Ryan K. Hertel, Socialocca

This month’s NEPA Tech meet up was yet another smashing success. If you live in northeastern Pennsylvania and are interested in the intersections of business, technology, the arts, etc. (and you want to see our area thrive in all of these things) please consider attending an upcoming event.

Ryan K. Hertel of Socialocca, a small social media advertising and management agency, gave a presentation on the current social media landscape as well as some tactics his company uses for his clients. His presentation was energetic, informative, and I’m certain everyone that attended found some value in it.

Social media and digital advertising is still on the rise in our area but it also continues to be a hard sell. Many longtime small business owners are not entrenched in social media enough to see its impact on their businesses. They do not invest heavily enough, either in time or money, to see the incredible network effects that can happen if they did. Ryan’s company, as well as Condron Media, are constantly trying to prove the value of these activities with limited budgets in our area.

The pendulum is swinging though. More and more companies are sick of feeling left out, their competition is beginning to invest in social media, and they don’t want to be left behind.

I look forward to seeing where Ryan’s company is in 5 years.

Technology Dogmatism

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

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

Kellen Barranger, writing for droidlife:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I interviewed New Zealand based artist Rebekah Codlin

Over on my other site, The Watercolor Gallery, I interviewed Rebekah Codlin about her journey into art. Her realistic portraiture is amazing. If you’re into that sort of thing go ahead and check it out.

This is the first interview after a 22-month hiatus from publishing interviews. Far too long. But the process of restoring The Watercolor Gallery is one that will take many months. I’m spending some time here and there updating older posts, adding new featured paintings, and cleaning up the site’s code. I’m keeping a weekly journal of these updates over on the site.

One thing I’ve been working on this week is a complete refresh of the brand materials. I had done a simple mark in 2015 but I’ve learned a lot since then. I look forward to seeing how this new mark rolls out in the coming months.

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

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

The Google Pixel 2 XL

I love this phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Android 8.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Android is better than iOS

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

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

How iOS is better than Android

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

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

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

An interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog

I have fond memories of the very early days of WordPress (when it had just been forked from b2/cafelog), of Twitter, of Brightkite, of App.net, of Mastodon… just to name a few. The early days of any platform or so important to what they will become. They are the most fun to watch.

The early days of any platform can be frustrating too. Services sometimes go down, features aren’t released as quickly as you’d like, and small bugs can hamper your workflow.

I liken it to watching art be created. It can be a bit messy, it can sometimes confuse you, but when you see the final product you have the privilege of knowing how the platform got to that final state.

Yesterday I volleyed back and forth via email with Manton Reece, the founder and creator of Micro.blog. Micro.blog is in that same relatively early stage where new features are released with regularity, where the community is growing steadily, and where the users have the strongest voice.

He kindly answered a few questions. But here are a few highlights that I plucked from his answers:

  • Micro.blog is both an aggregator of blog posts and a blog/site hosting platform
  • Features on Micro.blog are rolled out slowly on purpose, to be sure they won’t disrupt the principles behind the service. And they often come from what users are already doing on the platform.
  • Native support for audio and podcasts are already part of the plan
  • Many users that use the hosting feature use their Micro.blog-powered site as their primary web site
  • Community support members for curation, help, etc. will be the primary area the team will grow, outweighing engineering

Here is the interview and his responses in their entirety.

First, thank you for making Micro.blog. For me personally it is surfacing some excellent independent microbloggers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Now that Micro.blog is open to the public, is there anything that you see happening on the platform, either now or during the beta period, that has surprised or delighted you?

Thanks for being part of the Micro.blog community! I’ve loved how people not only embrace the platform, but in many cases get back to writing at an old blog that they had accidentally neglected, or get inspired to start up a new microblog at their own domain name. So many beautiful photos have been posted, which we like to highlight in the Discover section, and the tone of conversations has remained thoughtful and respectful even as the platform has grown.

I’m also happy to see that many Micro.blog users have warmed up to some of the early decisions we made to not copy every feature from other popular social networks. For example, not showing follower counts or worrying about how many likes a post has received.

People seem to really enjoy the new emoji-based topics we introduced recently, to collect posts about books or music or sports. Little experiments like these are a reaction to what the community is already doing. The best thing we can do is build features that support what people are posting about — to encourage the kind of posts that make Micro.blog a nice place to be — and then see which of those features resonates.

Have you been surprised at all by the number of photos that people are posting? Or, did you always think that Micro.blog would be a great place for people to share photos? And, do you think you’ll see audio or video shared more on Micro.blog in the future?

I’ve always thought photo-blogging would be a perfect fit for Micro.blog, and we’ve tried to build good support for it in the iOS app, such as having built-in photo filters. Many people are frustrated with Twitter and Instagram and want to post photos to their own web site again. But I was still happily surprised to see so many photos. There was also some help from the community, such as Doug Lane running a 7-day photo challenge.

Our plan was to start with photos, with good photo hosting, and then expand to natively support audio and podcasts. After that, video. I think video can quickly become kind of overwhelming and busy when shown in a timeline — especially with auto-playing video, which we don’t want to do. So I’m comfortable expanding this support fairly slowly to make sure we get it right.

I see Micro.blog as two parts: 1. A community of syndicated microblog posts that are populated by people’s independent web sites using RSS or JSON feeds. And, 2. A blogging platform that allows you to create a simple blog (with an emphasis on microblogging). Is this the right way to look at Micro.blog now and into the future? And if so, why tackle both problems rather than simply #1?

That’s the right way to think about it. What I found while developing Micro.blog is that just building a more open social network-like platform wasn’t enough. If we wanted to encourage people to blog more, we needed to make blogging itself much easier. The best way to do that is to also offer to host someone’s blog for them directly on Micro.blog.

Blogs hosted on Micro.blog started with an emphasis on microblogging, but they have improved significantly since we initially launched, and now offer many features competitive with other dedicated blog hosts. There are Micro.blog users who have their full web site hosted by Micro.blog because it’s just more convenient.

This second part of Micro.blog is also very important to grow the service as a business. I want to run Micro.blog for decades to come. The only way to do that — to pay for all the servers and other supporting services — is for Micro.blog to be profitable. Since we never want to show ads, offering paid plans such as blog hosting is a great way to go.

Would you be willing to share any interesting stats? Some that I’d personally be interested in tracking would be the most number of posts in an hour, the greatest number of signups in a day, stats like that.

And as a follow-up: As the platform (meaning the software, hardware, underlying services, backup routines, databases, etc.) become more complex surely you’ll need to expand from being the two-person team Micro.blog is currently. What position do you think the next full or part-time team member of Micro.blog will fill?

I don’t currently have many stats to share. We have been so busy improving the platform that we haven’t built anything to track things like spikes in the number of posts. There is a 500-user limit on new registrations per day. When we opened it up to the public, the limit was just 100 which was reached pretty quickly as people would share a link to their friends.

There are so many areas that we could use a larger team for, like system administration and planning how to scale the platform. As you noted, the first person to join Micro.blog was Jean MacDonald, our community manager. I hope that the community will continue to grow such that we’ll need additional curators to help manage features like the Discover section.

Facebook recently announced they were hiring 10,000 moderators, and I know Twitter has a large staff as well. I expect one mistake that these larger social networks made early on was hiring too many programmers, and not enough curators. For Micro.blog we always want people who can interact with the community and stay ahead of any issues.

Discover has already seen a few iterations. First, it was a simple list of users. Then it expanded to include photos posted by the community. After that, a human-curated list of posts was added. And now, hashtag-like emoji’s allow you to find posts on topics like books, music, and football. Did I miss anything? This must be a fun part of Micro.blog to tweak and see how the community responds. I know I’ve found it to be very fun to have open a few times during the day. Can you share a little about how posts end up in the Discover tab? Who is making those selections and what are the next steps?

I feel like the current iteration of Discover is by far the best yet. There were a couple problems with just featuring a list of users. You can only feature so many users, so we randomly selected users to show from the featured list. Those users would get a lot of attention but unless we continually update the list, it might not be enough people to fill your timeline with interesting posts if you just pick a few people to follow. The list got stale quickly as new people were joining the platform.

Now, throughout the day we skim through posts and replies and put them in Discover. This is a better reflection of the activity on the platform. It’s not all posts, but it’s a good snapshot of the kind of things people are posting about. It looks good and isn’t overwhelming. It’s a great way to find new users who just joined Micro.blog, too.

Emoji topics are a little different. Whenever Micro.blog sees a new post, it checks it for emoji and adds it to a collection. If an inappropriate post shows up, we can just remove it from the collection without effecting anything else about that post or user on Micro.blog. There are a limited number of emoji, which keeps everything simple. I don’t think it will get out of control like Twitter hashtag search results often do.

One aspect I’ve always loved about microblogging was that it could be consumed and participated with in realtime. A few examples that come to mind are backchannels for live TV events like awards shows, or for conferences and meetups, etc. Is this something the Micro.blog team thinks about much? Are there any apps, features, or other considerations that would be made specifically to foster realtime interactions for things like this?

I agree this is a natural fit for indie microblogging. Something like live sports might not appeal to everyone, so it would be useful for both tuning into those feeds or filtering them out. Over the weekend, we put the football emoji in the Discover section for people who were posting about the NFL playoffs, as a simple experiment for making current topics more discoverable.

There are myriad other things we could talk about like Pins, third-party applications, indieweb building blocks like Webmention, and the all new Micro.blog logo and app icon. Is there anything you’d wish to highlight? If so, please do. And lastly, what is something you wished I asked but didn’t that maybe you’d like to make sure people reading this interview know (feel free to allow this to be nothing)?

The third-party ecosystem and larger IndieWeb community are both really important. There are several third-party apps for Micro.blog in development now, for iOS and Android. When I was designing the Micro.blog API, I based it on JSON Feed, Micropub, and other common APIs so that third-party Micro.blog apps could also be adapted for other platforms. And likewise, Micro.blog benefits from many existing IndieWeb tools and open source software like WordPress. The more we can push forward the user experience for indie microblogging, making blogging more approachable, the stronger the open web will be.

Thanks Colin! It was great to have a chance to share some of our thoughts behind Micro.blog.

Thanks to Manton for taking the time to write thoughtful responses. If you haven’t yet given Micro.blog a try head on over to there and give it a whirl. You could very well make an impact on the type of place it becomes.

You can follow Manton on Micro.blog at @manton. And I’m @cdevroe.

App icon design, one size does not fit all

Yesterday I reposted Becky Hansmeyer’s vent about having to create multiple icon sizes for her app. I feel her pain. I recently completed an app for both iOS and Android and so I had to create just over 1,000,000 icon sizes. At least it felt like it.

So, like her, I too would like Xcode to create all of the sizes I need from a single larger file.

The issue with this though, which I’m certain Becky knows but she still just wants things to be easier anyway (so do I), is that one size does not fit all in icon design. Each size needs to be considered individually – especially with complex icons.

To quote the venerable Dave Shea from 2007:

One of the more deceptively time-consuming things you’ll do when creating an icon is producing out size variations. If you require a single icon in more than one size, the time you spend designing the first size is only about two thirds of the work you’ll end up doing; the other third lies in tweaking it for different dimensions.

As the size of the icon gets smaller details get lost and so the designer needs to begin removing elements, increasing stroke widths, and the padding around the elements within the icon.

It is why I designed the Summit icon (which I plan to write about in the coming weeks) to be so utterly simple that it will scale without very many tweaks as the icon reduces in size.

As you can see the icon changes very little from large to small. I remove the gradient, tighten one or two things, but that is it. So I’m able to use a Photoshop template that automatically creates every single size from a single Object – and then remove the gradient from the smaller sizes, and then finally increase the spacing at the smallest sizes.

So far this has worked well in my testing on my devices. I still have more I’d like to do with the icon but it will have to do until I get a new beta out. I haven’t shipped a beta in months because I’m rebuilding Summit for both Android and iOS, as well as have a few other irons in the fire.

 

 

Best of 2017 as told by me

To create this list I sat down and wrote from the top of my head the things I could remember being awesome in 2017. The list isn’t exhaustive. It is just what made an impression on me as being “the best” in each category.

Best Blog: fuzzy notepad

Evee consistently writes well-researched, readable, diatribes on topics that could otherwise be boring yet are fascinating and I hang on every word. Here are a few posts from 2017 to get you started:

Best blog redesign: Colin Walker

When I awarded this to Jason Santa Maria so many years ago it was due to his use of color, contrast, typography. But design isn’t limited to how something looks but also how it works. Colin Walker has spend much of 2017 tweaking his blog’s features in subtle ways to work just the way he wants it to. I’m sure he’ll continue to fiddle with it throughout 2018 but I think we can all learn from Colin’s iterative approach. Keep tweaking.

Best new (to me) blog: Brand New

I’ve known about Brand New for a long time and have stumbled across a post or two over the years. But this year I’ve been pushing myself to learn more visual design and one way was to subscribe to more blogs like this. I find these posts, and the community, to be an excellent resource.

Best service: Spotify

This year I’ve used both Apple Music and Google Play Music to see if I could move away from Spotify. Spotify is in a league all its own, the other two don’t even compare well. Spotify’s machine learning robots just do an amazing job at surfacing music that I would like. It is so good it is eery.

Notable mention: Google Photos. I’ve switch from Apple iCloud Photo Library to Google Photos and I’m consistently being surprised by how much better it is.

Best book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This was a tough call. I read some pretty great books this year. But the one that keeps coming up in conversations, the one I’m sharing the most is Ready Player One. I think it is the sci-fi novel that I read this year that most feels like it could happen within a few years.

Notable mention: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

Best productivity tool: Bullet Journal

Bullet Journaling has made the biggest impact to my productivity and cognitive load than any other app, technique, or method this year. My “version” is slightly different than the default but I’m loving it.

Notable mention: Trello.

Best phone: Google Pixel 2 XL

I’m cobbling together my notes for a “review” of the Pixel 2 XL in the coming weeks but I can say, unequivocally, it is the best phone of the year. For me. I know the Samsung Galaxy Note8 made many people’s list and of course the iPhone X deserves a mention – but for the price, the quality of the hardware, and the software the Pixel 2 XL is an easy winner for me.

Before I get email, know that I have an iPhone X (Eliza’s phone) and I’ve tried the Samsung models. For me it came down to the camera system (which is actually better than the iPhone X in everything but the second lens), the software (Android 8.1 – Samsung is way behind) and the price. The iPhone X will be better next year and, hopefully, iOS 12 will be much, much better than iOS 11. But, as of today, Google is killing it.

One other side note: Google as a personal assistant is so much better than Siri it is jarring. I may have used Siri a few times per month in the past but today I use Google about 10 times per day with nearly zero mistakes.

Notable mention: Samsung Galaxy Note8, iPhone X.

Best podcast: The West Wing Weekly

If you’re not a fan of The West Wing this choice may not land with you at all. So, for you I would suggest Song Exploder. If you haven’t yet listened to TWWW I suggest starting at the beginning and also watching The West Wing along the way.

Notable mention: Song Exploder / Tim Ferriss.

Best platform: Instagram

When I deleted my social media accounts and didn’t even look at them for a few months the one I missed the most was Instagram. The platform continues to be one of the best and they continue to add great new features all the time while somehow keeping the app’s history in tact. The day may come when they add a feature that is terrible but so far they’ve done pretty well.

Side note: The algorithmic timeline almost pushed this one out for me. It is nearly inexcusable that this isn’t optional. I sincerely hope they find a way to allow users this option this year.

Notable mention: Micro.blog.

Best browser: Firefox Quantum

Perhaps this should be “most improved browser”? Quantum is a great name for the strides Mozilla has made with Firefox. They continue to improve the browser.

Oddly, Firefox is not my “daily driver”. I am using Chrome due to my switch to Android. (I’m ecstatic that I now can choose a default browser) I may, though, give Firefox a try across the board again soon.

Notable mention: Safari for turning off auto-play videos and ad tracking by default.

Best app: Apollo for Reddit for iOS

Though I’m now using Android I have to list Apollo as the best app. If you ever kill time by looking at Reddit (which I do a few times per week) I have to suggest you try this app. It is so well made you’ll wish it’s developer made every app you use.

Notable mention: Snapseed and Google PhotoScan (search App Stores).

Best code editor: Visual Studio Code

VS Code has improved a lot over the last year and has now overtaking Atom as my default text editor and code editor for all projects. While I still build native apps in Visual Studio most of my web work and text editing happens in VS Code.

The shared workspaces are the big feature for me this year. I can combine several code repositories into a single workspace and use Spotlight to launch all code related to a particular project in less than a second. It also has git and terminal integrated so I’m usually able to do all of my work in a single window.

Notable mention: Atom, Visual Studio for Mac.

Best YouTube channel: First We Feast

Specifically, Hot Ones. First We Feast has an interview show called Hot Ones that I just discovered this year and I can’t get enough of it.

Notable mention: MKBHD

Those are all of the categories I wanted to feature this year. Again, I simply pull this list together from the top of my head. Just like all years I saw so many amazing things it’d be very hard to create a real list. I suggest following my blog for all of 2018 because whenever I see something worth linking to I do so.

There are, however, some other companies, people, and products that I think deserve a shout-out. Here they are in no particular order: SpaceX, Khalid, Tom Hanks’ lost gloves tweets, The Last Jedi hype, Chris Stapleton, Joe Rogan’s Powerful JRE Podcast, Amazon Kindle and library loans, letgo, Google Maps, OK Google, Logitech MX Master 2S, USB-C, cast iron pans, Amazon Prime.

See you next year.

 

 

SPARK Talks at the NEPA Tech meet up in December 2017

SPARK Talks are, by definition, Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable talks that are loosely timed, on a specific topic (more or less), and allow many presentations to be given at an event. I had never heard of them prior to this month’s NEPA Tech meet up organized by John George.

SPARK Talks remind me of Lightning Talks or Ignite. I have been to a few Ignite events – some where very early like this one 10 years ago. The thing I appreciate most about this style of presentation is that many in attendance can be part of the program. In fact, at this particular meet up nearly every single attendee was able to take a few minutes and describe themselves, something they’re currently working on, or a topic of their choice.

Photo: Ted giving his presentation on Rust.

In all there were 15 presenters. I quickly jotted them down as they happened. I didn’t get full names or all of their web sites, but at least I captured something. Here are the presenters and their topics:

  1. John – spoke about becoming an independent developer
  2. Jared – discussed his ambitions of working in real estate
  3. George – described use IoT in industrial industries
  4. Ryan – talked of learning more about computers, the web, to better do his job
  5. Kevin – discussed some of the WhatNow! journey
  6. Beth – spoke of her passion for the environment
  7. Colin (me) – spoke about not getting hung up on decision making, just start
  8. Jason – discussed some of the projects Sho Technology Solutions is working on
  9. Ted – talked about the advantages of Rust
  10. Anthonyeducated us on the xAPI
  11. Chris – discussed some of the challenges and next-steps for NEPA Fiber
  12. Danny – showed us a video demo of Kraken Board Sports latest product
  13. Mark – rallied the attendees to contribute to NEPA Tech
  14. Den – discussed his self-taught history of becoming a front-end developer
  15. Gary – discussed eating odd things for his YouTube channel

As you can see the topics were all over the map which helped to keep the evening interesting and the shortness of the presentations moved the event along nicely. I believe NEPA Tech will do events like this again in the future. If so, be sure to contribute. Most of these were fairly unscripted talks so don’t be hesitant.

Thanks to John George for organizing this month’s event. Onto 2018.

Universal Apple apps

Mark Gurman, for Bloomberg:

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

Remember the many times I’ve written that I wish Apple would combine iOS and macOS into a single operating system that simply adjusts based on the device it is running on? That isn’t what this is, but it is still a great step in the right direction.

Me, a little over a year ago, regarding the Surface Book with Performance Base:

I’ve long written on this blog that I believe Microsoft’s vision of one operating system for both contexts is better than Apple’s two-OS approach. John disagrees with me on this. And I don’t know that there is a right or wrong answer but there certainly is a preference. My preference is to keep my “power user” stuff at my fingertips for when I need them but to hide them when I don’t. The Surface Book does this.

When I was testing a Surface Book for a time I had what I felt is the best of both worlds. I came into my office, docked on a large monitor, and got to work. When I wanted to be mobile and work out of a coffee shop, I could be and everything came with me. Then, when I wanted to read on the couch I could undock the screen and use it like a Surface. Windows 10 would adjust to whichever context I was in. It was either optimized for keyboard / mouse input or for touch.

I still believe this is the correct approach. And we’re starting to see more of it. Look also at Samsung’s DeX that allows a phone to plug into a display and give you a slightly different interface, drag-and-drop, etc. for getting your work done. There are countless number of professionals where this type of setup would not only work well – but it would be ideal and less expensive or confusing than having disparate devices.

This proposed strategy for Apple, that Gurman says he has insider information on, isn’t the same path that Microsoft is taking. It isn’t one device and it isn’t one operating system either. Gurman isn’t saying that Apple is going to release a single OS for all devices but rather that the app binaries will run on multiple devices and operating systems. It is more akin to Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform. Many Windows UWP apps and games can run on Surface tablets, PCs, and Xboxes. This is amazing. I’m sure Microsoft users love it. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple allowed the same app to run on Macs, iPhones, and Apple TVs? Wouldn’t that also allow many great iOS apps to suddenly be useful on macOS? I can think of many iOS-only apps I’d love to have on my Mac.

I welcome this if it happens.

I feel like these approaches are just stops along the road to a unified device that runs a single operating system and can work in many contexts. In some ways, it is the largest advantage that Augmented Reality will bring to the professional workplace. Put on your glasses and work however you’d like. Small window. Huge window. On a 3D object. Or on Mustafar with Tie-fighters flying overhead.

Until then, I’d love an iPhone 7 Plus-sized device that ran a single operating system that “worked like” iOS while on-the-go, and that I could plug into a large monitor and give me full macOS experience. That, for me, would be ideal. Until AR is ready.

No, you cannot simply pay me for a link

Hi. You emailed me. Likely more than once. So I’ve sent you this URL to let you know that no, you cannot pay me for placing a link in an existing article that you somehow found on my site.

It would be totally different if you wanted me to review a product, collaborate on some content, or sponsor my other projects like my photography podcast Photowalking with Colin, my online art gallery built to inspire others The Watercolor Gallery, or Unmark – a bookmarking tool. But, no, you want me to randomly throw a link in an old blog post because it ranks well on Google. And that, to me, seems icky.

Please remove me from any and all of your future lists of unsolicited emails of this nature. Unless, after reading this, you’re going to change your approach and do something much more fun and authentic like the above. In that case, my rates will likely be in the few thousands of dollars to get started.

Thank you, Colin

Please don’t try to explain Bitcoin at parties (unless you know what you’re talking about)

Unless you’re drinking your flat whites under a rock, you’re likely seeing a lot of news about Bitcoin, it’s current exchange rate against the US Dollar, blockchain and it’s various applications, etc. You might even be getting sick of hearing about it (or, perhaps you’re sitting there earning hundreds or thousands of dollars per day from it). Either way, I must make one request of you, dear reader…

Please do not spread misinformation about blockchain and cryptocurrency. If someone asks you about these things and you don’t know, say so. They won’t think less of you. Explain to them that you too are interested in these things but that you still need to do more research before you’re willing to explain it to them. They’ll even respect you for being honest. Don’t make it up based on a few headlines or tweets you’ve read. If you are going to try to explain these things to people, especially youth, please dive in and get a deep understanding of some of these more complex technologies before you begin explaining them.

I think I’ve caught myself a few times, in recent conversation, going just a little bit further than my own knowledge and regretting it. I feel I have a fair understanding but I’m nowhere near qualified to teach on the subject. Which is why I’m bringing it up here on my blog. Fortunately, most of the conversations I’ve had about these things are with people that are also devouring every bit of information they can about it – and so I don’t think I pointed them in an incorrect direction. But I think we (the nerds among us) can easily misinform others if we begin to describe blockchain and crypto at parties.

So don’t try. Unless you know what you’re talking about.

Attending Venture Idol 2017 at Ben Franklin TechVentures

In 2007 I visited the area where Ben Franklin TechVentures is now. I was there for an interview with the then CEO of Viddler, Rob Sandie, to see about working there full time. At the time, Viddler was housed in Jordan Hall – a one-story building next to the now incredible Ben Franklin TechVentures complex. It wasn’t until many months later we moved Viddler out of the closet-like space in Jordan Hall and into the future-feeling building next door.

That memory pales in comparison to what exists there today.

I make mention of this fact because the feeling one gets when walking into Ben Franklin TechVentures is that the work that goes on in this building is new, exciting, and is the future of technology in our area. I personally want schools, libraries, incubators, and town squares to feel as though they are leading us into the future. Where the work that I do is raised to meet the expectation of the environment. I feel that Ben Franklin TechVentures does that.

In August when I presented at the local meet up I loved seeing the new wing being constructed. This month that wing was completed and this year’s Venture Idol 2017 event was in it.

But building’s aren’t everything. The community is of even more import. And the community is strong.

This year’s Venture Idol was the best attended year yet and, as Fred Beste (the emcee for the event) pointed out, everyone had a chair for the first time. He’s seen BFTV’s growth and he was as excited as I was to see where it is today.

The presentations by the three finalists were great. Mark Keith and I remarked how polished each presentation was. In my mind there were two presentations that were clearly the best; Channel Ape (from Scranton woot woot!) and Give Gab. Both had impressive results, tight presentations, and a roadmap that made sense. At the end of the night Channel Ape took home the victory.

Photo: Mike Averto, CEO Channel Ape, preparing for presentation.

Yes, it is a big of a jaunt from Scranton to Bethlehem. But it has been worth it every single time I’ve done it over the last 10+ years. I’m looking forward to seeing the sort of growth that region has been enjoying happening in our area too. It is only a matter of time.

Speaking at the 2017 tecBRIDGE Entreprenuerial Institute

Photo credit: Mandy Pennington on Twitter.

On Friday I had the privilege to host two sessions at the 2017 tecBRIDGE Entrepreneurial Institute Conference at Marywood University. The event was very well attended (I’d say nearly  200 people, but I don’t know for sure). The speakers and panels were engaging, interesting, and the number of people that remained until the last minute of the event was evidence of that.

My session was titled Social Media Metrics that Matter. I didn’t choose the title but I enjoyed the topic. The audience was mainly students focusing on being future business owners and also local businesses and organizations in our area. I can tell from the feedback that the subject matter was welcome.

The way I laid out my outline was to bring everyone in the room up-to-speed with common metrics that can be tracked on social networks. We spoke about how each of those metrics impacts the business, the content, the page. Then, we used a few example businesses to determine which of the metrics each of them should track and why.

It was a good exercise, even for me, and I hope those that attended each of my two sessions got something out of it.

A technology predication time capsule

Readers of my blog will know that I occasionally attempt to predict when certain technologies that I write about will hit the mainstream. While I’m very passionate about a few technologies, I try to temper that excitement with the experiences I’ve had, the wisdom that comes with age, and other factors. Usually, things take a little longer to happen than we’d like for the things we want to see most. And sometimes, sometimes, the things we want most never materialize at all.

For the purposes of this post, mainstream doesn’t mean critical mass but rather mass market adoption. With 7B+ people on the planet reaching critical mass is far easier than reaching mass market saturation. In other words, a company, product, or technology can reach sustainability and never truly hit the mass market. Examples: Tesla can succeed, be profitable, and have happy customers without the world moving on from fossil fuels. A company focusing on AI can make great livings, do compelling and challenging work, without every family having their own personal C-3PO.

Here are some stake-in-the-ground predictions on some of the most talked about technologies of our day. We’ll see in the next few decades if I was even close.

  • Legal, fully autonomous driving with no human assistance: Mid-summer 2026 – Even 9 years out there will still only be a few select vehicles that will fit into this category. There will still be humans driving on the road. And, only the most expensive cars will have all of these features. But, it will exist, be available to anyone, and be legal in the US. And I also believe there will be small fleets running in select cities for Lyft, Uber, and I believe Tesla will have a ride-share platform by this point. Also, don’t be surprised if Apple does too.
  • Bitcoin, or some crypto-currency, being widely transacted at small retail stores in the US: 2027 – If Square, or some other platform with high market saturation, turns on crypto for retail SMBs then we can say they accept this form of tender. But, I believe it will be 10 years before we see a decent number of daily transactions by consumers. I know, “decent” is relative so I’ll give it a number: $100,000,000 US dollar equivalent in a single month. This is roughly 25% of US monthly retail revenue as of September 2017. Side note: By this time we’ll see talk of the US dollar being converted to an all digital currency and, perhaps, transacted on its own blockchain.
  • Mixed Reality experiences used in everyday work environments: 2027 – Today we share links to web sites, documents on Google Drive, and flat or animated graphics to design and develop both soft and physical products. By 2025 many of these every day things will be accessible and even better experience within MR. I believe most businesses with digital assets will have multiple pairs of “glasses” or “goggles” that will allow team members to view or collaborate on these types of data. In other words, by 2030 rather than sending a child a link to Wikipedia to learn about our Solar System I believe we’ll be sending them MR experiences that they will consume using an augmented reality experience on a device other than a flat panel display. This happens today. But no where near mass market. And this industry has a long way to go. Even further than I previously thought.
  • Wireless internet takes over all cable based internet: 2029 – Most people in the US will connect to the Internet via wireless across all devices. And there will be no limitation on bandwidth usage.
  • Fully autonomous fleets replace individual car ownership: 2037 – Today US cities are plagued by traffic jams comprised of single occupant vehicles. Mass transit softens this but doesn’t solve the issue due to the convenience of a car. Ride sharing services have softened this even more and car ownership in urban areas is on the decline. By 2037 we’ll see massive reduction in individual car ownership in cities but also in the hinterlands as fleets of fully autonomous vehicles, combined with better mass transit, can care for the majority of transportation needs. I believe, however, families with at least 2 children will still have a single family-owned vehicle of some sort. Again, I’d like to put a number on this. So I’d say 15-25% less car ownership/use for individuals and commuters nationwide.
  • Mixed Reality replacing many conventional meat space locations/activities: 2050 – By 2050 the majority of children in the US will have the option to attend school in VR ala Ready Player One. Virtual classrooms will no longer be limited by federal budgets but will be designed to appear like cathedrals of learning.
  • (Because, why not?) An off-planet human civilization: 2175 – Humans will walk on Mars in the 2020s. And, perhaps, a small moon or Mars base will exist in similar fashion to today’s ISS in the 2030s. But a civilization, where people live, work, play, have children, and die peacefully etc. won’t exist on any other planet or moon (likely the Moon will have an established civilization prior to Mars). The reason I put this far-reaching prediction on this list is because I believe the excitement around a human footprint on Mars will lead to speculation about off-planet civilizations. But, we must all remember, we put a footprint on the Moon many, many decades ago and then just never went back. I do think that we’ll be mining objects near Earth much, much sooner. Even the Moon. But we’ll do that with robots and minimal human intervention.
  • Tweet editing – Never.

Check back in a few decades to see if I was even close.

Creating Summit: The current summit view

This post is the first in a series of posts about my experience building and designing Summit. This post focuses on just one view within the application; the current summit view.

The idea for Summit came nearly 4 years ago as far as I can tell. I’ve hunted around for scraps of paper, digital notes, code snippets to see if I can come up with an exact date but I’ve been unable to. And it has been fits and starts for several years.

When Kyle Ruane and I started on the idea we first thought the UI would be a bit more game-like. I envisioned a 3D model of the current mountain you were hiking that would progress the person up the summit in first-person towards each goal. This was altogether too much work, and far too difficult given my unfamiliarity with the platform. Kyle’s suggestion – again, many years ago – was to use a low poly look. He would craft a low poly representation of the summit and we could allow the user to move around in it, perhaps even spin it around, zoom in-and-out, etc.

I pulled that thread for a very short time before giving up. Remember, we started toying with the idea of Summit before Swift was released. So I was trying to draw this UI with Obj-C. Something I’m even more terrible at than Swift.

Here is what one attempt at drawing progress lines using Obj-C looked like back 4 years ago or so. I took this screenshot in June 2014 and was already labeling it “historical junk” in my files.

The red triangles were goals to meet, the blue line was your path, and the white line was your progress so far. My goal was to overlay this on top of the low poly art that Kyle drew. This was inspired by maps like this. (copied here for archival purposes)

This worked but was not that easy to pull of, introduced more complexity than we needed, and so we quickly shelved the idea until we got more familiar with the platform.

In tandem I began constructing a simple web UI to start cataloging steps from a phone. This was purely to get used to writing code that would track user’s steps, show stats, work on our step algorithm (the code that determines how far up Mount Everest a single step walking in a downtown city parking lot gets you), etc.

It went this way for a few years. I would open up a code editor and begin working on the pieces of Summit; the progress UI, the algorithm, the code to read from a user’s step count or HealthKit or Apple Watch.

In June 2017, when I picked up this project on my own to take on since Kyle had moved away, I decided I needed a simpler approach to the UI. In part because Kyle is the design genius but also in part because I wanted to get as quickly to shipping an app as I possibly could. I prefer to iterate on ideas with user feedback than to work on something in a silo for years. I wanted a way to show the summit, or some visual from the summit, but yet also show one’s progress. And I also still needed multiple goals per summit.

Here are a few drawings from this summer.

See, I’m not an artist. Admittedly, though, this wasn’t an attempt to draw anything beautiful but rather to get a general idea for all of the views I needed to pull off the layout. I needed some labels, some buttons, navigation, etc.

The long goal buttons was really “a punt” on my part. I gave up trying to get Xcode’s Storyboard feature to properly align a changing number of goal buttons (since each summit has a different number of goals) in a way that worked with each device size. It was very frustrating. So I began to go down this path of having them just be full-width, flat buttons.

But then I ran into Brian Voong on YouTube. In most of his video tutorials he suggests forgoing the Storyboard feature and using code to create the UI. Though I didn’t want to lose the progress I had made, I’m so glad that I took his advice. Writing UI directly in Swift is far, far easier (for me)  and seemingly more powerful than using Storyboards.

This revelation allowed me to go back to a drawing I did a month earlier. This one:

On the left, the elements needed, on the right, a rough sketch of a much more minimal and airy design of the current summit view. The goal buttons have varying distances between them relative to how far apart they are in real life (I’m still working on getting this right in the app).

Using Swift I was able to make this happen much easier than Storyboards.

The above is one of the very first swings at this view. It had all of the elements I wanted. And I’ve been iterating on this specific design ever since. I wish I had the hundreds of iterations saved but I don’t.

Here is what the most recent iteration looks like with goal buttons that are easier to determine your progress and other tweaks to make the UI more consistent.

This is the design for this view I’ve settled with for now. I have plans to iterate on this current design for some time before, perhaps, taking a whole new swing at it. Perhaps my skills will grow to the point that I feel confident going back to Kyle’s low poly idea. But, I’m pleased with how it has come along so far.

Attending October’s NEPA.js meet up

On Tuesday, October 10 I attended October’s NEPA.js meet up. John George of NEPA Web Solutions was this month’s presenter and his topic was Bitcoin and the Blockchain: Democratizing How We Exchange Value.

I believe all members of NEPA.js would agree, John’s presentation was arguably the best presentation the meet up group has had to-date. Though the Blockchain can seem a complex topic, John did an excellent job describing how it worked, where it is currently being used, and its future potential. Though the meet up was relatively well attended, I left wishing that so many more people had heard his presentation.

To further the lesson beyond the walls of the Scranton Enterprise Center, John also gave each attendee a gift in the form of a wallet containing a single bit of BTC. He also incentivized attendees to claim that bit for themselves by awarding the first few that did so with $50USD in BTC. Those that did it were rewarded indeed since the value of BTC has jumped to new record highs this month. Those that didn’t claim their bit may be kicking themselves for dragging their feet.

John will likely do this presentation again, in some form, under the NEPA Tech banner. Meet up’s like October’s are what is spurring the group to expand the group into a more general direction. This particular presentation had nothing to do with JavaScript – as the name NEPA.js would have you believe – and so we want to make sure each meet up is approachable by all that would be interested. You may remember me saying this over the last few months, and even in January I spelled it out specifically, but now there has been positive steps towards this happening. We’ll have more to announce in the near future.

Thanks to John for the amazing presentation, and for the bitcoin, and to the attendees for the active discussion.

Side note: My apologies for a terrible pano photo. I’ll try to do better next time.

Developers, Let me tell you about Microsoft (audio)

I’ve been writing about Microsoft’s moves for the last three years. This week everything has come together and I’ve been writing my first multi-platform application using C# and Visual Studio. In this long rant I go on and on about how Microsoft needs to spread the word about what they are up to.

Links for this bit:

Download.

My tips for new iOS 11 upgraders

I’ve been using the iOS 11 public betas on my iPhone and iPad for several releases and I think it is one of the most important updates to iOS. It brings lifesaving features to the iPhone and powerful features to the iPad.

Tomorrow iOs 11 is being released to the public, I thought I’d jot down a few things that I believe people should do on the day they upgrade, so that they don’t just move on with their busy lives and forget.

  • Turn on automatic Driving Mode detection. This setting could save your life and those of others. You have no excuse good enough to justify being able to text while you drive. iOS 11 does a good job of detecting when you are driving and turns off all notifications. Almost immediately when you exit your vehicle at your destination your messages are waiting for you. I love this setting. Settings > Do Not Disturb > Do Not Disturb While Driving.
  • Set up Driving Mode auto-replies. Optionally, you can set iOS 11 to automatically reply to certain people with messages that you’re driving. Or, you can keep this feature off and people will simply believe you have a life and cannot respond to every text message within 15 seconds of receiving one. Settings > Do Not Disturb > Auto-Reply To.
  • Customize Control Center. The control center (the screen you get when you flick up from the button of the screen, or from the top-right on the iPhone X) is very different than iOS 10. You can now add or remove buttons from it, and even customize their position on the screen. I’ve chosen to have Camera, Notes, and Voice Memos easily accessible in the bottom-right of the Control Center. I love it. Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls.
  • Identify faces in group photos. For those of you without a Mac, you’ve never had facial detection and naming capabilities for your photos. Now you can put a name to a face in iOS 11 and when your device is locked and plugged in it will rummage through your photos for you and find the vast majority of the other photos with that person in them. I’ve found that using large group photos is the quickest way to finding the most people. So, start off finding a few dozen group photos, naming everyone in them, and then let iOS 11 go to work at night. It is surprisingly good and getting better with every release. Photos > Find a Group Photo > Swipe Up > Click on person under People > Tap “Add Name” (repeat for all people in the photo).
  • On iPad: Customize your Dock. You can have up to 15 apps in your Dock on iPad. You can also add more by adding folders of apps. There is also an area on the right side of the dock that can show recent apps. Turn on Recent Apps in Settings > General. Otherwise, drag your favorite apps into the Dock.
  • On iPad: Practice multi-tasking, split-screen, and drag-and-drop gestures. iOS 10 has had split-screen features for iPad since it was released and I still see many iPad users that do not take advantage of them. iOS 11 makes these features even more powerful. Unless you make these part of your muscle memory by practicing them, you might be under-utilizing the power of your device. Watch this video on YouTube to see how best to open multiple apps, drag-and-drop files, and more.
  • Try out Notes’ new features. Notes has some new features that you will definitely find useful but you need to know they are there. Try some of the following:
    • If you have an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, try tapping your Pencil on the lock screen. This results in a new note. Pretty slick.
    • Try the document scanner. iOS 11’s ARKit features allow for a pretty practical use of this technology in scanning a document and being able to sign it with ease. It is remarkably good. Put a document on a table, open Notes, in a new Note hit the + symbol, select Scan Documents. Prepare to be wowed. I wish this feature were part of the camera somehow or its own mode from Control Center. Again, here is a good video showing how this works.

By doing the above you may just save a life. But, also you’ll get far more use out of the device you already own and take full advantage of this monumental release of iOS.

If you have any others, feel free to leave them in the comment section below.