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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Likes vs. Saves

Many social networks are adding “Save” in addition to “Like”. You can see this now on both Instagram and Facebook. You can “like” something and tell the publisher of the content that you like what they published and you can also “save” the post (presumably to find it later).

Mature content publishing platforms need both of these features. They shouldn’t only have “Like” and force their communities to use that as a way to find something later. For years I’ve used Likes on Twitter to save things for later. If they only pick one they should go with “save”.

Jack Baty takes this one step further and says that likes should be private:

Likes should be visible to only the Like-or and the Like-ee. Liking something is a simple, unobtrusive way to let someone know I appreciate what they wrote. It’s also a way to get a little bump when someone likes what I wrote. No one else need be involved.

I totally agree.

WWDC 2017 recap

I wanted to take a few moments to jot down a comparison between my wish list for this year’s WWDC and what was announced. Also, towards the end, some quick thoughts on the surprises that were announced.

Here are my wishes, in order from the previous post, and whether or not we got them.

  • Shared iCloud Photo Libraries. Nope. It doesn’t appear so. I think if they had finished this they would have announced it.
  • iCloud data Family sharing. Yes! And, they gave us 2TB for the price of 1TB. So, a very good update here.
  • An all-new Mac App Store. Kinda? While they didn’t show this off, Phil Schiller did hint at it during John Gruber’s live interview with him and Hair Force One.
  • App Store demos. Nope. While the new iOS App Store looks very nice (and it getting great reviews all over the web) it didn’t include this.
  • App slimming. Not sure. I’ll wait for the public betas of iOS and macOS to determine if they’ve done any work in this area.
  • More Camera app filters. Yes! While the camera app may not have more filters built-in, the Photos app has tons of updates in this area. I’ll take it.
  • Apple Prime. Nope.
  • Rename iCloud Photo Library? Nope. But, not a big deal.
  • Apple Watch Series 3. Nope. Not yet. And the watchOS updates that were featured were lackluster. But, I think they were holding back for the event they’ll have in the fall.
  • Apple Photos improvements. Yes. Tons. I’ll wait until I get my hands on it to do a direct comparison with my wishes.
  • More iOS Extensions. Nope. I didn’t see much in this area mentioned, but I think they made up for it with the drag/drop features.
  • Siri. Nope. Read Manton’s post on this. He wrote what I was thinking.
  • Apple Maps accuracy updates. Nope. Not a single mention about Apple Maps that I saw. So, again, I’ll have to wait and see with the betas.

My last minute wish that I threw in was for driving mode. And that is a huge yes!

If we’re keeping score that’s like 8 nopes, 1 kinda, and 4 yeses. Which doesn’t seem like a good score but somehow I was very impressed with WWDC overall. I think we’re in for a great year of software updates coming from Apple.

Now, onto some of the surprises.

  • HomePod. While not a total surprise HomePod looks interesting. As a piece of hardware I really like it. As a device that allows you to access Siri I’m less excited because of how poor Siri is still. For example: Ask Siri “how far is New York City” compared to “Driving directions to New York City”. How can’t Siri answer the first question if it can answer the second? I refuse to believe that Apple isn’t staying up late nights to bolster Siri’s offering so hopefully we’ll see a massive improvement in Siri within calendar 2017 or 2018.
  • iMac Pro. What an incredible computer! My first Mac was an iMac and I bought Eliza an iMac somewhat recently. I really love all-in-one computers I just prefer to have a notebook myself due to working remotely, at work, in coffee shops, at a client’s, etc. If I were to buy a desktop computer for myself the iMac Pro would be it.
  • Macbook updates. I got my new Macbook Pro with Touchbar somewhat recently. But, these updates aren’t enough to make me regret my upgrade. They look solid though.
  • ARKit. As I’ve already noted, this will be huge.
  • New iPads Pro. The updates to the iPad (both software and hardware) are very, very good. Makes me wish I needed to upgrade.
  • iPad iOS features. Though it appears some of these could come to iPhone (or, perhaps the 10-year anniversary iPhone) – these features are amazing like drag and drop and the dock, etc. Pretty cool.

There are of course many things I haven’t mentioned but ll-in-all a solid week of Apple updates.

One last thing; recently Tim Cook has been quoted as saying that Apple is focused on autonomous driving (which we knew) but that they are focused on it as a category rather than a feature. Apple finds autonomy as an interesting area moreso than simply self-driving. I’m very interested to see how this idea manifests itself in future products.

Back to Apple, again

Each year WWDC week gives us new and updated Apple software that is easier to use and more tightly integrated. As a result, each year I find myself wishing that I used Apple software exclusively instead of using third-party applications.

Forgive me, but I’m about to quote an entire post that I wrote in June 2014 as to the pros and cons of using as much Apple software and services as possible. Stick around, though, because at the end I’ll fill you in on how I’m feeling today and what I’m doing to use more Apple software and services.

There are hundreds of thousands of third-party apps that you can use on your computer, phone, and tablet. Some of them are amazingly good and far better in a number of ways than what ships with these devices by default.

By using third-party apps, however, you sometimes give up a level of seamless integration between all of your apps in how they share data and function across multiple devices.

Using the default apps — whether they’re built by Microsoft, or Apple, or Google — you can end up losing some of the personality, the extra niche features, and the one-on-one support that you get from third-party app developers.

So, there are pros and cons to making the choice between using an app that was built by the makers of the device and or operating system or by choosing to buy a third-party alternative.

Over the last several years I’ve acquired a stockpile of third-party apps on all three of my devices. I’ve been using third-party apps for everything, even the most basic of tasks like email and calendaring and listening to music. While most of these apps are extremely good, and I had no trouble paying for them, I’ve been missing that seamless integration. I’d get into work and I couldn’t pick up where I’ve left off listening to music or a podcast episode in the car. My mail clients on Mac and iPhone don’t know how to work together (in my case, Airmail and Mailbox respectively). And so on.

So I’ve decided to double down on Apple apps and services. I want that seamless integration back. I want my mail box to look the same across all devices, I want to see my podcast subscriptions on my Mac be exactly the same as on my iPhone, and I want all of my photos in one spot, etc.

OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 seems like a huge step forward to making it even easier for third-party apps to work better together across both operating systems and all devices. So perhaps this issue will get easier and easier to manage in the future. But today, I’d like to manage and learn less apps and get more work done.

I started to make the transition back to Apple late last week and over the last few days I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the progress Apple has made on their apps. It has been like an entirely new experience.

This week Apple announced macOS High Sierra and iOS 11. And, again, it is a big step forward. So I found myself preparing for these updates in the fall by moving away from third-party services and using more Apple products and services.

This week alone I’ve put more data on iCloud (so it was nice to see the storage bump), I’ve moved from Simplenote to Notes, moved back to Safari from Chrome, subscribed to Apple Music’s family plan and ditched Spotify.

When I made this adjustment in 2014 I didn’t do a good job of following up with how it all worked. So I’m making a mark in my calendar to do so two weeks after macOS and iOS ship this fall.

JSON Feed to Twitter using PHP

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

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

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

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

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

Is VR overrated?

Kristopher B. Jones, an entrepreneur from near my neck of the woods, weighs in on VR in a recent Forbes piece debating the applicability of the technology:

I’m a strong believer that virtual reality is overrated, as it has limited applications outside of very specific industries. Industries like gaming and medical training are likely to see a boom from VR, while other industries such as food service, retail and finance with have limited to no applicability of VR. Much like Google Glass and 3-D television, the buzz will eventually die down.

In November of 2016 I said VR wasn’t ready. But that I thought it wasn’t far away. I was wrong because I was lumping VR in with a much larger mixed reality landscape. It wasn’t until I dug deep into mixed reality that I understood the subtle nuances between VR, AR, and the various other degrees of mixed reality experiences.

Kris likely understands this landscape even better than I do. He’s is right. VR will never be as big as the hype. In fact, I’d bank on it. However, “mixed reality experiences” (such as augmented reality) are popping up in every single app we currently have and will continue to do so. You already see it in Facebook, Instagram, Apple’s Clips app, even within the Uber app and Google Maps app. Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are already shipping platforms, frameworks, and APIs to help developers bring MR into their apps and services. And Google recently demonstrated an amazing technology called Lens that will be inside of Google Assistant and Google Photos soon. I also think the automobile dashboard and windshield is a huge future play for AR.

I don’t think Forbes or Kris lumps VR together with AR. But I do think that many consumers do. They think mixed reality is all about wearing huge goggles. It isn’t until you dig a little deeper that you see that mixed reality is all around us already. It’s already a hit. And it is just going to keep growing.

VR as a subset of MR is overrated. But, MR is far from overrated.

WWDC 2017 wish list

It has been an exciting year for developers so far. Facebook is making the camera a platform, Microsoft is making cloud computation happen with two clicks of a mouse, and Google is doing everything that everyone else is doing plus a billion more things.

WWDC is next week. So what are my wishes? Since I use Apple products far more than Facebook, Microsoft, or Google products, I tend to want more specific things from WWDC.

Here is my list, in no particular order:

  • Shared iCloud Photo Libraries. There are a few ways that Apple could do this. The simplest, in my opinion, is for me to allow access to my iCloud Photo Library to anyone in my iCloud Family Plan. All photos taken from all family members in the same library. Perhaps somehow filtered by device or person. That’s it.
  • iCloud data Family sharing. I buy 1TB for me and 50GB for Eliza. I’d like to purchase 1 set of storage for both of us and be able to share the space allotment. Not only to save the $1 per month but also to combine the accounts.
  • An all-new Mac App Store. The app store app on macOS feels incredibly dated and fragile. It doesn’t seem to work nearly as well as its iOS counterpart. This part of the OS should be rock solid and perform very well. But there are little idiosyncrasies (like how the progress bars look weird when downloading, or how the fonts look…).
  • App Store demos. If Schiller is serious about bolstering the App Stores I think it is time to bring true demos to both App Stores. I don’t have a silver bullet model (7 days, 14 days, 30 days, etc.) but I do believe this is achievable and would be a boon for app developers.
  • App slimming. Apple announced something about this a few WWDCs ago I think. And I believe it is on the developers of the apps to make their apps as small as possible. However, I think Apple can lend a hand to the most popular apps (Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Messenger, SnapChat, Instagram, etc.) and ask that they somehow combine frameworks or resources in order to shrink their apps considerably. Just think, every megabyte Apple can help slim from those apps would be hundreds of terabytes of data usage saved.
  • More Camera app filters. I use the Camera app a lot. Even with the numerous camera apps available (which I’ve likely bought dozens of and installed even more of over the last decade of having an iPhone) I usually gravitate to the camera that I can swipe to from my Lock Screen. Once and a while I’ll use a filter. Either in editing or even in shooting. Its fun. I’d like to see more added. Like, 50 more with me being able to select my top 12 somehow.
  • Apple Prime. Amazon Prime comes with a slew of things; music, movies, photo storage, free shipping, etc. etc. I’d like a one-payment Apple bundle that would give me iCloud space, iCloud Photo Library, Apple Music, Apple TV (or whatever their TV service will be if it ever happens), etc. Some “prime” membership per year that I can be all-in on Apple stuff.
  • Rename iCloud Photo Library? Perhaps it should just be called Apple Photos. If every app simply had an iCloud switch that allowed you to store / sync its data with iCloud we wouldn’t need separate names for things. The apps simply can have an iCloud feature.
  • Apple Watch Series 3. I’ve said since the beginning that the first Apple Watch I’d buy would likely be the Series 3. (Actually, I begged Apple not to make a watch at all. But, since they did, the first one I’d likely buy might be the next version.) My wish list for series 3 would be slimmer (less tall), no phone needed at all for it to function (network-connected with no additional plan), much, much faster, and easier to update/install apps. Essentially, a stand-alone device rather than an iPhone accessory.
  • Apple Photos improvements. Only a few of my wishes from May 2016 have been addressed. I would like to see Apple Photos get substantially better this year. However, Apple seems to improve things much slower than they used to. (Remember the iPad 1 to iPad 2 jump? I wish we saw more of that speed from Apple)
  • More iOS Extensions. Perhaps Apple’s purchase of Workflow won’t bear fruit so quickly, but I’d like a lot more Extensions in iOS. I often find myself limited in what I can do with a file on iOS. I think it should be much more powerful to send files from app-to-app or to a service or run a routine on it, etc. I think we’ll see that in future iOS releases.
  • Siri. I’ve nearly given up on Siri. My WWDC 2016 wish list still has Siri items on it that haven’t been addressed. Still, if Siri was 5% better I’d take it.
  • Apple Maps accuracy updates. Apple Maps has improved a lot since its debut. Its design is far better than it was and its feature set has grown too. But, for me, its accuracy is still terrible. Google Maps gets me to the correct location every single time. I can’t remember when it hasn’t. Apple Maps routinely gives me the wrong location when I ask Siri for directions somewhere. Somewhere around 75% of the time. Three out of four. This is not an exaggeration. So, I do not use it. With each update to iOS I give it another try. Then I go back to Google Maps. I don’t think Apple Maps needs any new design, or any new features, it just needs to be accurate. Side note: I was in Philadelphia with Eliza recently and we relied on Google Maps for all transportation. It was excellent at getting us around via Uber, walking, and driving. It was perfect the entire time.

I’ll stay away from any hardware wishes as I don’t have any needs currently. I’m all set on the hardware front. Our iPhones, iPads, MacBook Pro, and iMac are all just fine the way they currently are. And, I don’t need an Apple Home (if they release one) because I have enough terrible Siri devices laying around the house.

The drawbacks of scheduling posts

Scheduling posts to my blog has a few drawbacks but I think the most annoying one is that the topics I write about could be out-of-date pretty quickly or the topic could be covered by someone else.

I have a personal publishing goal to publish an image and blog post per weekday. Sometimes I go for long stretches making that goal and other times I go stretches without. To do so I schedule a bunch of posts in advance.

I wrote about this process in October of 2016 when I wrote a custom WordPress plugin to make it easier (for me) to schedule image posts.

I don’t just schedule image posts but also links, regular posts, and audio bits. For example, I’m writing this post on Tuesday and I’m going to schedule it to be posted on Thursday (the next available slot that I have open in my personal publishing calendar). This particular post contains nothing that needs to be published on a specific day so it doesn’t matter when I decide to publish it. However, earlier today (Tuesday) I wrote a quick post regarding JSON Feed, a topic I’ve been writing about a bit lately, and scheduled it for tomorrow morning. Then, not a few hours later, I noticed the same topic written about by someone else and mainly covered my point. So now I’m faced with allowing that post to publish as is, editing it, or deleting it.

Or, maybe I shouldn’t care at all?

This is one of those posts that I’m glad I wrote because by the time I distilled my thoughts on the matter, edited this post, and re-edited it, I’ve come to a conclusion. Starting June 1 (today) I’m going to continue scheduling posts that do not contain any timely subject matter (like image posts) and set aside some time each morning to write posts for the day. So I’ll be switching my strategy from publishing each day to writing each day. It should be fun.

 

 

 

Aerial photos of a few wineries

In late April Eliza and I took a weekend day drive to visit some wineries in the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. We wanted to visit a few wineries we had never been to before and the beauty of that region alone is worth the drive.

We both take tons of photos on days like this but for a change I thought I’d take a photo of each winery we visited with my drone. I didn’t know how this would work out logistically – would the wineries let me, would it be a pain to do, would it take too long and put a damper on our day? It turns out none of my fears were founded. It was super easy to do (with some initial set up) and the results came quickly and easily.

Here are the aerial photos along with my personal ratings of the wineries.

Belmarl Winery and Vineyard – ★★★★★

Brotherhood Winery – ★★★★☆

Demarest Hill Winery – ☆☆☆☆☆ (sorry, it was terrible)

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery – ★★☆☆☆ (region worth visit, spirits are not)

Now that you’ve seen the photos, I’ll give you a quick rundown of how I prepared so that taking these photos wouldn’t ruin our day. Before we left I set up the drone and my small take-off table in the trunk of the car ready to fly. Props attached, batteries in, bag unzipped. The only thing I needed to do at each winery was find a safe place to fly, turn the drone on, take a photo or two, land, and turn the drone off. I focused on only taking two or three photos of each winery. So I chose my angle, flew to a decent height, took my shot and left. These were only for my own personal collection anyway. My guess is that my longest flight was 5 minutes long.

This idea of looking at things slightly differently using the drone fits my principle of having an excuse to explore.

I wouldn’t change much about my technique here. And it likely seems like an odd thing to obsess over. But, I’m satisfied with the shots (they are photos that I never would have if it wasn’t for owning a drone) and my set up. I hope to do this again on similar jaunts.

Speaking to the Social Media Gurus class at Misericordia University


Me, doing my best Neil deGrasse Tyson. Photo credit: Richard Baldovin/Misericordia University.

In early April I had the privilege of speaking to the Social Media Gurus class (or COM 485) at Misericordia University. My friend Dan Kimbrough is the Assistant Professor of Communications in the Mass Communication and Design Department at the university and he invited me to speak to the class.

It was great to speak to these students and see what was on their minds, the challenges they were having, and what they did day-to-day to learn the ropes of marketing via social media. I was impressed with how attentive the class was. I’m just some guy coming in and spouting off about my experience with social media. But they seemed engaged and really wanting to learn. Many of them were putting into practice what they were learning through various class projects, non-profits, internships, etc. so I’m willing to bet that any practical tidbit they can pick up is valuable to them.

My view of the class.

Something I learned from this presentation was that the paths in social media marketing are just starting to be paved. Some methods and techniques have already come and gone but the true best practices still have yet to be worked out. Also, in our region here in Pennsylvania many businesses still have yet to see the value in social media marketing but they are seemingly being forced into it by their nearest competitors.

Thanks to Dan for the invite and to the class for being so welcoming.

Slowing down my hike to see new things

I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors in my area. A lot. Especially when I was younger I was outside more than I was inside. And now that I’m older my main hobbies are hiking, kayaking and photography. All of which force me to explore.

This weekend I was pleasantly surprised to have seen a few new creatures for the first time. I believe I saw them because I was paying more attention than I have been lately. Usually I’ll go on a hike with tons of photo gear, my drone, or a goal of covering a certain trail or distance. However, this weekend my goal was to observe my surroundings and it paid off.

During my hikes I saw an Indigo Bunting, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Snowberry Clearwing for the first time. Not to mention the deer, rivers I crossed, ticks I flicked off, countless birds and insects and blooming plants.

Where normally I would have covered 13 to 20 miles during my hikes I only covered just over 6 miles. But I saw a lot more wildlife, understood where I was physically more than usual, and enjoyed the relaxing sounds of nature far more.

I’m all for picking a trail and hiking it for the exercise… but this weekend has shown me that it pays to slow down, even sit for a while, and look around more often.

 

JSON Feed

Manton Reece and Brent Simmons have created a new specification for creating feeds using JSON. They write:

We — Manton Reece and Brent Simmons — have noticed that JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs.

JSON Feed has been implemented on a few platforms already and it was talked about a lot since its debut. I’m glad someone has created a spec around this so that the developers that would like to use this can now rally behind a unified specification. However, JSON Feed won’t be replacing RSS any time very soon.

RSS is something you could call a “good enough” solution. It is already in place, tons of stuff supports it, and works fine. And while the developers of all of the apps and services that use RSS could update their software to create and parse JSON Feed it is doubtful they will very quickly as the benefits aren’t all that great. The advantage of JSON Feed mostly comes when creating new services not replacing old ones.

I don’t think Manton and Brent believe JSON Feed will replace RSS. I don’t think that is why they created the spec. I believe they feel this is a good alternative for the developers that would like to use it and that they wrote the spec out of a need that they had. Which is good.

I’ve discussed the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON in the past. Me, in June 2015 on one of the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON:

RSS is a fairly bloated specification. It is a bit verbose and the file sizes for even a small blog can get relatively large quickly. JSON is, by its very nature, a bit more succinct. This would result in faster load times, easier caching, etc.

So while there are definite benefits, it is doubtful that RSS is going anywhere for a long time. There have been a few attempts to replace RSS with something that is smaller and easier to parse over the years and they simply didn’t catch on. This weekend Dave Winer (the inventor of RSS) chimed in on JSON Feed and he has a similar reaction to it as I have had; it is great that the specification exists but it will not be replacing RSS for news or blogs any time soon.

I’ve added a JSON feed to this blog because Manton created the WordPress plugin already.

Side note: How did I not see this one coming?

 

Google I/O 2017 wish list

I figured that since I wrote my Build 2017 wish list and the reviewed that list after the event, and that I plan on doing the same for WWDC this year, it would only be prudent to write down my wishes for Google I/O as well. At first when I sat down to write this list I could only think of one item:

  • Improve Google Accounts

I’ve always had issues with Google Accounts, particularly when using Google Hangouts (or whatever they’re called this week), but I must say this issue has somewhat improved lately. Likely because I’m primarily using one Google Account regularly now rather than three but I also think Google has made adjustments for those of us with personal and business Google Accounts.

However, after thinking a little harder, here are some things I was able to come up with that I’d like to see from Google this week.

  • Android. I have no idea if this possible, but I’d like to see Google flex some muscle and demand less fragmentation in their Android-versions across carriers, devices, etc. This fragmentation has been a huge headache, if not the single biggest reason Android apps can’t be “great”. Some would argue this and that is fine. But Apple’s biggest advantage in this area is that they can be relatively certain what hardware the OS will run on and as a result software developers can be fairly certain the OS will be up-to-date.
  • OK, Google. I’d like to see Google’s assistant have a much larger footprint, particularly on iOS. Again, another thing that may not be possible. I simply cannot use this service because none of my devices will run it natively. But for this week I’ve installed the Google app again on my iPhone to see how good the assistant is these days.
  • Material Design update. They been releasing updates to Material since it launched but I’d like to see something similar to what Microsoft announced at Build with Fluent. A way to tie in a much larger range of devices and perspectives (like Mixed Reality) would be well served in a design language.
  • Photos on Mac to Google Photos bridge. The linchpin on iOS/macOS for me personally is iCloud Photo Library. I have over 340GB stored there and it shows no sign of slowing down. Google Photos, though, has shown itself to be far superior in terms of visual search than Photos. However, Google Photos doesn’t allow me to have a private, local library since it doesn’t have an app for Mac or Windows. So I think I need to use both Photos on Mac and Google Photos on mobile. I would like to see them release a bridge for this. It would also make it easier to switch away from Apple products if I ever wanted to.
  • Google MR. Google has dabbled with mixed reality on several fronts. But I don’t think strapping a phone to our heads is a longterm solution – regardless of the fancy materials you use to do it. Similar to my wishes with Microsoft and HoloLens I’d like to see Google make a considerable investment in furthering a stand-alone MR device focused on business use.
  • Open-source Autonomous Driving. If anyone is going to open source their Autonomous Driving technology it might be Google. Since they have employees giving the information to their competitors anyway, perhaps they’ll be willing to push that source up onto Github and let the self-driving revolution really get into full swing. The money in this is going to be in licensing and support in the long run anyway. Think of it as the self-driving operating system.
  • The Death of AMP! I wish they’d just shoot this in the head. But, it appears they aren’t. I can’t see why this is good for the web.

I re-watched Google I/O 2016’s Keynote a bit yesterday. Hard to believe Home has only been around for far less than a year. Also, Sundar is hitting his stride around that time too (also the Alphabet split) so I’m guessing the productivity at Google is through the roof. So I expect a lot of great things this year from Google.

My thoughts on Build 2017

I have a few thoughts on Build 2017.

First, how did Build 2017 measure up against my very short wishlist?

  • Windows Phone. Although a few presenters over the few days managed to get an applause from the crowd when referring to Windows Phone, we saw zero announcements from MSFT in this area. The complete opposite of what I was hoping for. For now, it seems they are embracing iOS and Android.
  • HoloLens. MSFT seems to be leaning away from a 1-brand approach and more towards providing all of the tools needed to do Mixed Reality. This approach, for a company like Microsoft, is likely better but I still wanted to see HoloLens (a standalone MR system) be invested in heavily. Maybe they’ll have announcements in the future.
  • Windows or Office being open source. This was a long shot. But, I’ll keep it on my list in perpetuity. Esp. Windows.
  • Band. I don’t think Microsoft mentioned wearables at all (besides the amazing Emma). Did they?

So I completely struck out. So it goes.

I’m not unhappy though. Microsoft had some amazing announcements and, overall, had an impressive amount of work accomplished since the last Build.

Sayta Nadella started the conference off by reaffirming their commitment to build hardware, software, and services responsibly and inclusively. It is obvious that Nadella’s Microsoft wants to build solutions for everyone (including even the smallest groups of individuals). I really enjoy seeing this from them and I hope it continues to be the driving force behind their decisions.

What Microsoft has been able to do with Azure (and its related services like Azure Stack), OneDrive, and other cloud-based services is really incredible. Between what Amazon and Microsoft currently offer developers – there is almost no excuse a start-up can make that they cannot bring software to the market at scale in an affordable way. And, even if you’re not worried about scale, the ease of development, testing, iteration, and deployment is much more simple. All developers know that these “one click demos” are never that in reality. But it is still very, very impressive to see what Microsoft has been able to create and is able to sell and support.

It was telling, too, that Microsoft swapped their Keynotes from last year. Day 1 was all Azure and day 2 was all Windows.

One more note about Azure; it seems to be a runaway hit in a similar way to Amazon’s S3. A few years ago S3 took over the entire cloud storage market backing so many services we use every day. When it has gone down (only a few times in recent memory) everything we use went down. I think the same could be said for Azure. Azure is the platform upon which an incredible amount of large scale services are built. I don’t know if this is still the case but Apple’s services were once built on top of Azure. If Azure goes down expect a similar blackout to S3 going down.

Windows 10 being on a twice-a-year release cycle is very refreshing. It makes Apple’s already aggressive once-per-year updates to macOS look snail-like. The pace of software updates for an OS are critical since software needs to be nimble to react to the market. Things like mobility, connectivity, speed, memory, device size and screen size, and wireless technologies seem to change weekly. The OSes need to keep up. Longer development cycles can no longer keep pace.

Microsoft also announced their own design framework called Fluent. I’m sure Windows developers will welcome this coherence across all of their devices but I do not think it will have the wide-reaching affects of both Apple’s flat iOS 7 design language (which is nameless?) and Google’s Material Design. I see iOS-inspired and Material-inspired design in every piece of software I use.

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

I recommend watching the videos from Build 2017. There is a ton to glean and I’m sure we’ll start seeing some amazing things come of the announcements made. Well done yet again MSFT.

Attending the 2017 Pennsylvania sUAS Expo

Acronyms are all the rage these days and so it can be tough to keep them all straight. Don’t be ashamed if you have no idea what UAS stands for. I didn’t either.

UAS stands for Unmanned Aerial System. Like an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) an UAS involves more than simply a vehicle and usually also includes camera, or multiple cameras, various sensors and other instruments, etc. Why the need for this other acronym? I’m not really sure but I believe it is to denote that these systems are generally more complicated and nuanced than your typical hobby “drone”.

The “s” in sUAS stands for “surveyors”. I was wrong, it stands for “small”. Thanks Frank.

As I’ve said in the past on my blog… I don’t mind using the generic term “drone” (even when referring to non-autonomous flight vehicles) so I will for this post too. However, I’d like to make one addition my own personal use of this word on my blog. Now when I refer to a drone I may also be referring to a fixed-winged system rather than your typical quadcopter or propeller style.

With that housekeeping out of the way, let me tell you about this expo.

The 2017 Pennsylvania sUAS Expo was in State College, PA at the Penn State campus in the Penn Stater building and was run by the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors. The building was excellent for this type of conference and I really wish we had a facility like it in Scranton.

I felt like I had a pretty good handle on many of the topics, services, and uses of UAS that would be covered at this expo. However, I found that my knowledge had a ton of gaps in it and was out-of-date. So the vendors and experts at the expo ended up filling in those gaps and bringing me up-to-date with what is possible in the industry, what challenges it still has, and also how the applications for this technology is still being explored.

I still feel like we’re in the infancy of how UAS will be used. We’ve all seen Amazon’s drone delivery videos. And land surveyors are already taking full advantage of these affordable and incredibly capable systems to bring down the cost, reduce the time, and enhance the practical applications of their work.

Here are a few things I learned.

  • The algorithms for stitching together multiple photos to create an accurate 3D spacial platform are getting incredibly good. Following best practices with on-site markers, good optics, and being comprehensive in your coverage of an area, a surveyor can get accuracy levels to be within centimeters.
  • That being said, there is still much room for improvement on the cloud services front. Most of the enterprise level services offered do not yet have a cloud component (though all of them said they were coming soon). This means for every 20 gigapixels of mission photos you’ll need an entire day to process on a typical GPU. And, most of the apps do not support multi-threading so they cannot span that across multiple GPUs on the same system. You can, however, process it on multiple machines paying for a license on each. So processing time could be greatly reduced using the cloud and likely the cost also.
  • Also disappointing was that these cloud services do not take advantage of any advanced machine learning or crowd-sourced mapping to help the client-based algorithms to get better at their edge detection, transparent surfaces, or water detection. When I brought this up it didn’t even seem to be on their roadmap. Which I found odd. These apps need to improve very quickly to stay competitive.
  • The general public is still under-educated as to the deliverables for these missions. What I mean is, it seems the surveyors typically have to show their clients how incredibly useful this data can be for them. An example given was a hospital with a brand new roof had no idea they had been struck by lightning. So public education on these services has much work to be done.
  • On the surface the toolset available to most surveyors seems complex and unaffordable. Currently it can cost a brand-new business nearly $20,000 just to get up and running. I believe we’ll see this cost plummet by nearly half and the capability of the software and services to increase exponentially in the next 5 years. So I believe the real opportunity to get involved in this is over the next 24 months.
  • The people and companies to best bring this new technology to the market are the ones that already serve the customers that use surveying on a regular basis. Most often these industries have rigid requirements, data security policies, and other specific things that – if a company already has these measures in place – can be a real competitive advantage to someone just walking off the street with a UAV under their arm.
  • While the hardware and software are getting better and better it still does not allow the pilots or data crunchers to get complacent in their process. The more serious someone takes each of these steps the better the data will be and the more valuable their services will be as well.

I enjoyed attending this expo and look forward to how I’ll use what I learned to help Condron Media to service these industries and the surveyors themselves.

My old blog is back

You may have noticed a slight uptick in my publishing. That’s because I am, once again, coming back to my blog as the central place that I publish. Except this time I care far less about any of the content getting to any social networks.

It is simply too exhausting to get working correctly. And once you have everything sort of working right, something about these networks change or a new one arises (like Mastodon). So rather than stifle my publishing based on getting each gear properly greased I’m giving up. Sorry indiewebbers. I’m just going to publish here on my blog.

I don’t care if anyone on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram sees or reads any of this. I just want my blog back.

So does Dave Winer:

Before 2010, on my blog, I could have long and short items. I could use HTML. Link to as many places I wanted, where ever I wanted. There was no character limit, so the short items could grow if they needed to. The same format could accommodate post-length bits with titles that were archived on their own pages. Every item appeared in the feed, regardless of length, regardless of whether it had a title.

I plan on turning off a bunch of the code I have running here on my blog to support these networks too. I’m going old school.

If you like my blog subscribe. If not, that’s OK too.

My Build wishlist

Microsoft’s Build conference starts on Wednesday. I’ve been watching this conference closely for the last three years.* Each year Microsoft has shown that they are a completely different company since Satya Nadella has become CEO. They actually make the things they show.

Over these same years they’ve improved upon Windows so-much-so that I have a hard time defending my choice to use Mac. They’ve made Surface hardware that is so good that people are switching from the Mac. And their developer apps and cloud services are incredibly good.

So I thought just prior to this year’s Keynote that I’d jot down my wishlist for this year. It is very short because I don’t use a ton of Microsoft services day-to-day.

  • Windows Phone. I’d like Microsoft to make a large commitment to bringing Windows Phone back. They’ve already made investments in the developer toolchain to allow app developers to use their own languages and frameworks and create iOS and Android applications. Windows Phone was so good it could easily be the third horse in the mobile OS race. (Also, a Surface Phone would be cool to see)
  • HoloLens. I’d like to see HoloLens be available to consumers at an affordable cost (say $500.00). HoloLens is one of the only AR packages out there that I think has the platform, services, and is a standalone unit that could be valuable to anyone from games to the enterprise.
  • Windows and/or Office Open Source. This is a big one and is a much, much longer term goal I think. However, I don’t think it is impossible. Microsoft has been embracing open source more and more. Windows being open could actually eliminate some of their woes rather than compound them. Running Windows as an open project would take a huge team but I think would be worth it in the long run and actually allow Windows to mature even quicker than it is now (which is two releases per year).
  • Band. I’d like to see Band make a comeback. I thought it was a great wearable platform that had a future but they’ve killed it. So in some way, perhaps under a new name (Surface Band?), I’d like to see it come back.

I have no idea if I’ll ever be a full time Windows user or not. My lock-in on Mac may last another decade or two and by then who knows if I’ll even own a computer as we think of them today. But I always want to see honest competition between two giants because that inevitably leads to better products for everyone involved.

Let’s see what happens on Wednesday.

* And I’d like to attend some year.

 

Update: Here is what actually happened.

How Microsoft is doing

Fred Wilson:

Even more impressive in many ways, is what Satya Nadella has done at Microsoft. He slayed the Windows Everywhere albatross that was holding Microsoft back for most of the post Gates era and has made Microsoft relevant again in the world of tech. Windows is enjoying a resurgence, the Office app suite is finally and successfully moving to the cloud, and Microsoft’s cloud offerings are strong and getting stronger.

Five years ago you’d walk into any developer conference and all you’d see were Mac laptops. If you saw a Windows laptop it was either running a distribution of Linux or that developer’s company didn’t have the budget to afford company Macs.

Today, Microsoft is on the lips of nearly every developer I talk to. And the conversations are about building products using Microsoft hardware and software. The languages and frameworks being used to build these products are ones that were traditionally a real pain to use on Windows like Bash, Rails, PHP, Apache, nginx, mySQL etc. etc. And today, its easy.

This trend has been building.

How is Microsoft doing? For the relatively small segment of the world that builds software products; I’d say they are doing extremely well. And with Surface Studio I’m guessing a huge number of artists are jumping from the Mac to PC. Now, can they recapture students and consumers and mobile? We’ll see. They have an awful lot of work to do there.

Observations on Mastodon

I’ve been fiddling with Mastodon (to the tune of over 500 toots). I’ve also been reading up on the history of the service a lot over the last few weeks. Here are some general observations that I’ve made along with a few helpful links.

  • Mastodon isn’t a single service. It is an open source app that runs on multiple “instances” but are optionally connected together. So an Admin can run an instance for his soccer team to track their weekly progress but, optionally, connect it to other soccer team instances or even all public instances. Instances can also be completely private. Imagine having Twitter for just your family. With Mastodon that is possible.
  • Think of Mastodon like email + microblog + Twitter. Just like you can have email addresses on multiple domains (like Gmail or work email)  you can, but are not required to, have multiple accounts across different instances of Mastodon. It is a good microblogging solution due to its slightly longer character count restrictions. And, it is like Twitter because most of the lessons that platform has learned have been absorbed into Mastodon such as mentions, hashtags, etc.
  • On Twitter my username is @cdevroe. On Mastodon my username is @cdevroe@mastodon.cloud – So my username includes the instance I’m on. If I were on more instances (I’m not, currently) I’d have other usernames. This is similar to email. My personal email is colin@cdevroe.com and my work email is colin@condronmedia.com
  • Mastodon isn’t an overnight success. In fact, the seed was planted over 10 years ago. Mastodon is an app (built using Ruby on Rails for the geeks) that uses the OStatus protocols to create a federated, or shared, timeline across instances. In other words, users on one instance can see the posts of users on other instances via a shared timeline.
  • Mastodon’s success is not contingent on mass popularity. Those calling for it to “fail” don’t realize it has already won. The web community is so used to seeing platforms reach hundreds of millions of users and die as a result of running out of money or traction whereas Mastodon needs neither (relative to something like Snapchat or Twitter) to be considered a massive success. As it stands Mastodon has dozens of instances (if not hundreds) that are fully funded by their respective communities and over 200,000 people have signed up to them. (Though, the above link mentions 1.3M users. I think that count is wrong.) Only a few thousand will stick around but that is more than enough for it to continue long into the future. Also, private instances may well live on for a very, very long time.
  • It will never replace Twitter for most people that use Twitter. However, it could bring more people into using a Twitter-like experience than Twitter itself would have. Because instances can be spun up by anyone, a company could use Mastodon internally or a community (like a soccer team) could use it as well. It allows different instances to own their community. In this way it could also be used like Slack is being used by small communities.
  • Mastodon, like Twitter, has terms for the things within it. Toot instead of Tweet, etc. Qina Liu wrote a great piece on Medium describing all of them.
  • There are several very good mobile clients for both iOS and Android. And, I’ve seen both Mac apps and VR apps in the works.

I hope to keep playing with Mastodon for a while. I’ve already contributed to the instance I’m on, the apps I use, and the overall project itself to help make that happen. If you end up playing around with Mastodon I suggest you do the same.

Observations on the computer-mediated reality landscape

Me wearing stupid looking VR goggles

The future won’t look this stupid. I promise.

For the past several months I’ve been doing research on computer-mediated reality (CMR) – that is, when what’s real is somehow changed, interrupted, distorted, or otherwise effected by a wearable computer.

This “ability” isn’t new and it is a nuanced superset of many different types including mixed reality (MR) (which I’m most interested in currently), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and diminished reality (VR). These subsets, in turn, include many more subsets such as transreality (TRG), simulated reality (SR), and many more.

The more I have dug into this industry the more I’ve found how incredibly far reaching it is already and how much further it has to grow. Many of the applications in current use haven’t even hit the consumer market and others are hiding in plain sight – such as Pokemon Go, Foursquare, or even Google Maps. I’m willing to bet if you line 10 people up on the street and ask them if they use AR on a daily basis they’d say they didn’t think so. But if you inspect further I’m willing to bet they are and don’t even know it.

Here are some rather random observations I’ve made. Note that I’m mostly using the word “application” to mean how the technology is applied to a problem or situation rather than the typical use today as an “app” on your phone.

  • The common refrain today is VR vs. AR but upon inspection the industry is far, far more nuanced than that
  • MR is a hybrid of reality and VR which, to me, seems to have the largest number of applications for both businesses and consumers that has me interested the most
  • Pure VR applications will big a huge, huge market (esp in entertainment or recreational uses) but, to me, doesn’t have the broader applications that MR does
  • The industry supports a huge array of hardware and software to create the products that we see today and will see in the future. This means huge amounts of jobs. Think: Caves, HUDs (such as your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator,  your car’s windshield), head-mounted displays (such as glasses, goggles, phone holders, etc), tablets, phones, computers and hardware we haven’t even seen yet.
  • The way information is displayed is going to dramatically change within MR applications. How should a Wikipedia page on the honey bee be shown to a child wearing MR glasses while they are touring an apiary? Certainly this new wave of information layout should not be constrained to the resizable “windows” that we see in current demos but that we will see a rich set of layout and display tools that will make mundane information that the web currently hosts to come alive.
  • The pushback that Google Glass saw due to the possible “creepy” ways in which the technology could be used will disappear very quickly. Yes, I could have glasses on that could search for your LinkedIn profile while I’m looking at you. But, I could have done that later with an image on my phone too.
  • Speaking of which, facial recognition (and other machine learning algorithms that can find patterns and objects) are going to play an enormous role in the MR space. Expect many acquisitions in this space in the next 24 months.
  • As with any new platform the only way it will ever reach critical mass is if the applications (meaning, the apps, integrations, services that are supported) are plentiful. iOS’s biggest tentpole is the App Store. Mixed Reality applications for any platform (such as Hololens) need to be myriad before a business or consumer can truly invest in the platform. Microsoft claims, just one year in, that they have 150 apps. Depending on how they count the internal apps that companies like Japan Airlines have built exclusively for themselves, this could be an excellent day one offering.
  • MR could kill the computer display industry for businesses. (Though, this will take a very long time.)
  • Untethered devices, such as Hololens, will need to be affordable and have great battery life before the consumer market explodes. Likely something that will happen in 2018 or 2019.
  • Tethered devices, such as Oculus (though, this is VR not MR), will be valuable in gaming and enterprise contexts because it can rely on much more computing power coming from the connected hardware.
  • Think of tethered as “Pro” and untethered as “consumer” or “lite” for the most part.
  • The same way that tablet and mobile computers have revolutionized mobile computing (think: professionals on-the-go like visiting nurses, gas pipeline inspectors) and information transfer (think: pilots that used to have 100 books in the cockpit and now just have an iPad), MR will revolutionize contextual search and on-the-job training.
  • One of the complaints of MR is that you need to have a controller or move your hands all over the place to interact with the objects in your view. However, if you combine MR with what Elon Musk’s Neuralink (more here) will be making we’ll leapfrog how Tom Cruise used MR in Minority Report and move swiftly into the incredible territory of controlling virtual objects with our minds. Too future thinking? We’ll see.

This isn’t all that I’ve learned but are just some of the things I’m currently thinking about in this space. I’ll try to collect more tidbits under the CMR tag here on my blog.

I’m looking forward to following this industry as it matures and also supporting some at Condron Media. If you’re working on anything in this space please reach out to me.

Attending NEPA WordPress Meetup for March 2017

Last night was the NEPA WordPress Meetup for March 2017. It was a panel discussion regarding how agencies use WordPress with Jack Reager of Black Out Design (our gracious host, thanks Jack and team), Liam Dempsey and Lauren Pittenger of LBDesign in the Philadelphia-area, and your’s truly of Condron Media.

As these types of events typically do, the discussion meandered through many different topics including the reasons our agencies have decided to use WordPress as our platform for many of our projects, about how someone can get started using WordPress, about JavaScript and how it is the language that is currently eating the web, and even a bit about baking bread somehow.

One question that was posited by Phil Erb, our moderator for the evening, was what do the agencies or individuals get out of the WordPress community. Most of the answers were focused on what each individual gleans from WordPress-related events. If you’ve read my blog at all you know that I’m a strong advocate for attending events and that I think they have immense value. It was good to see all of the panelists agree on this point. I hope it spurs some in the audience to attend even more events and certainly more events out of the area and bring that energy and knowledge back to our nook in the mountains here in Pennsylvania.

It was a great meetup in a great space. Very glad to have been part of it.

Thanks to Phil and Stephanie for organizing the event, to Jack and his team for opening up their new space to us (they should be proud of the space they’ve created there, it is lovely), to Liam and Lauren for driving a few hours through fog and lastly to Liam for sharing his Duke’s pizza with me.