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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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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.

What should a conference look like in 2017?

Karla Porter:

I find myself searching for the value of spending a boatload of money and travel time to attend conferences. Not just for myself, but for you too. After all, that could be vacation time and money.

If you read my blog you already know that I see value in attending events. I write about it and mention it time and time again.

Karla values events too. I mean, she helps organize them! You need to stick with her piece all the way to the end to understand where she’s coming from and that what she’s ultimately asking is this: if so much of the value in attending events is in everything that happens around the event (conversations, networking) then how can we bring that value back into the event format itself?

In 2007 when I attended my first *Camp style event (or, unconference) in San Francisco I learned that unconferences give the attendees the power to steer the discussions and that the organizers do not get to set what topics are important. Whatever is important on those days and for those people gets discussed. It is great. The attendees feel like they’ve contributed and that they’ve gotten something they wanted out of the event. You can read more about BarCamp on Wikipedia.

Unconferences can be, well, uncomfortable for some. Especially introverts. Because people aren’t always willing to stand up and suggest topics. Or, even write them on the wall. And many technology conferences have people that are a little more reserved that attend them. However, in 2013 when I attended Greenville Grok I learned about 10/20s (go to that post to read more about those). These gently motivated the audience to randomly split into smaller groups. This helps a lot. Then the smaller groups can bring that value back to the whole. Greenville Grok also had presentations, competitions, and activities associated to the multiple-days long event.

I believe my first suggestion to Karla would be; find a comfortable way to give the attendees more power to steer the bulk of the discussions. This will help them to leave empowered and feel as though they’ve contributed to the event and were not just spectators. They will feel also like they came away from the event with information that was tailored to them.

My next suggestion would be to focus on putting together a killer Keynote presentation. One per-day for a conference is typical. A great Keynote presentation will help set the mood for the entire conference, give people motivation to go back to their work lives and do something radically different, to aspire to do better or bigger things, or gain perspective that they don’t have it all that bad. I’ve seen Keynote presentations by severely infirm person’s that made a huge impact despite their circumstances, by driven people that have helped tackle incredibly tough challenges, and stories of failure that showed it was OK to not always get it right. Getting a good Keynote speaker with a great topic is worth the effort and it should start the day not end it.

I would also suggest to vary the format wildly throughout the day. Speaker, break, speaker, break. No good. One runs into another or you end up wanting to skip one because you don’t like the title of the presentation. So vary the format instead. A few weeks ago when I attended SAIL there was a survey given to the entire audience on the first day. On the second day the survey results had already been tabulated and we discussed the results as a group. It helped to break up the day.

I would have two main goals regarding the varied format; keep the audience from feeling like they are sitting in one place for too long (no longer than 20 minutes all day) and that the audience be involved as much as possible. Here is what I think a schedule could look like

  • Short, short, short introduction that mentions sponsors and the hashtag for the conference
  • Keynote (15 minutes) w/ Q&A (20 minutes)
  • short in-seat break while attendees fill out a survey online or paper (saves some on the tabulation headaches)
  • short video (5 minutes) w/ comments from audience (alternatively, if no video is available, play an applicable and short TED presentation)
  • break for refreshments (5 minutes) w/ a chance to set up the 10/20s (attendees choose numbers out of hats)
  • do the 10/20s (60 minutes)
  • have lunch (ask attendees to write questions of the audience on sticky notes and write them on wall)
  • discuss the 10/20s
  • have a practical presentation
  • a short workshop on something practical (example, creating an editorial calendar for their web site or business or personal brand)
  • break for refreshments (5 minutes)
  • review survey results and discuss as a group
  • A demo/presentation of an applicable product, perhaps a sponsor (5 minutes)
  • Q&A based on sticky notes with attendees answering the questions

Karla is right. Most of the value comes from the attendees and networking not the conference. I like to think of it more as an energy exchange than a knowledge exchange. So the way you can bring that value back into the main conference format is to turn it inside out and have the attendees be part of the entire thing.

The new MacBook Pro with Touchbar

Sarah Parmenter:

By the time 2016 rolled around, I was overdue an upgrade and I thought the new MacBook Pro’s were enough of an upgrade to warrant a new purchase. After all, it had been 4 years. A lifetime in hardware you use every day.

I was in the exact same boat as Sarah. I had been using a mid-2012 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display every day for 4 years. (There was about a month where I tried a Surface Book with Performance Base and Windows 10 that I still have yet to write up. Short version: Apple should be very worried about losing their creative and developer community though it does not seem like they are.) Unlike Sarah I loved my computer up until the day I swapped it out for this new computer. It was easily the best laptop I had ever owned from Apple. I simply needed to upgrade for hard drive space and processor speed.

This new MacBook Pro with Touchbar is an OK machine. I would echo many of her thoughts. I’d also add:

  • USB-C seems both frustrating and clearly the future. This time in the middle is annoying but I’ll wait 12 more months before I complain.
  • The Touchbar is very cool in my experience so far but I almost never use the laptop keyboard for long periods.
  • Battery life for me is a non-issue. I’m connected to power most of the time and when I travel I don’t bring my laptop anymore. My phone suffices.
  • Having the extra hard drive space is crucial for me at this point. In fact, if Apple would make a 13″ laptop with multiple terabytes in it I’d buy it.

Reading this you’ll likely think I should have just purchased an iMac. And while I could likely get away with an iMac I like having a portable workstation to attend events, take on client meetings occasionally, and take home to work when it is snowing.

I’m happy I upgraded and I likely won’t have to think about a new computer until another 3 or 4 years pass. But, again like Sarah, I’m not incredibly impressed with this machine as I was with the 13″ MBP.

A few asides:

  • Innovation in the laptop market is likely over. The Touchbar is cool but I think the iPad is more the future of mobile computing. As components shrink and the cloud plays a larger part in both processing and storage I believe that true portables will be iPads. Which means that iPads should start docking to displays soon and run macOS. Apple and the community disagree with me on this but clearly Microsoft does not.
  • If Microsoft shipped an AR-based platform wherein I have a phone in my pocket and glasses on my phase (driven by the phone and Windows 10) I’d be the first in line for something like that to replace my laptop. Sounds insane but let me remind you that two people will be orbiting the moon next year and Stephen Hawking will likely be in orbit of the Earth.

 

 

Attending Small Agency Idea Lab (SAIL) in Walt Disney World, Florida

Last week I attended SAIL, Second Wind’s Small Agency Idea Lab, at the Boardwalk Resort in Walt Disney World, Florida. This is the first marketing and advertising agency event that I’ve been to (usually attending technology or internet related events) and I really enjoyed myself and learned a lot.

SAIL is pitched as a lab and at times it really felt like one. The attendees were engaged, asked questions, provided answers, and steered the conversations and presentations as much as the presenters did.

Being that I was representing Condron Media for this event I did my best to jot down a myriad of notes and bring back what I thought was applicable for our business. I figured I’d take a moment during this week’s Homebrew Website Club to share a few of those notes so that perhaps you can benefit too.

  • “the only thing to continue will be the pace of change” – Brian Olson of inQuest said this during his presentation and it reverberated through the entirety of the two-day event. Most business sectors have already, or are in the process of, coming to grips with this fact already – change, or die. My boss, Phil Condron, laid that out great during our rebrand.
  • Profit sharing as a strategy – This is nothing new, in any industry, but the way Ross Toohey of 2e Creative and his CFO created a program that helps their team do their best work and service the customer better was inspiring.
  • workamajig – I’ve been online since 1994 and I had never heard of workamajig before I attended SAIL. I’ve used tons of project management software so I plan on looking into it and seeing if it may be right for our team or not.
  • Using IP to generate revenue – I tell this same concept to every single company I advise. I call it “sawdust”. Which I believe was inspired by Jason Fried in 2009. Turn your sawdust into revenue. Sharon Toerek ran a great presentation to show the myriad of ways that creative agencies can do this.

There were many other takeaways from SAIL that I plan on expounding on in future posts.

I get asked sometimes if the fees associated with these types of events are worth it. Yes. Without question. I am a strong advocate of attending as many events as you possible can. If you only come away with one tool, one contact, one new idea, one new process – nearly any price tag is worth it.

Plus, in this case, I managed to get a little bit of sun in March.

Joining Condron Media

I see huge opportunity in digital marketing over the next decade.

We’re now reaching the point where billions of people are using social platforms to share information every single day, where the vast majority of a person’s attention is on an internet-based platform rather than a broadcast one, and, where the tools are in-place to allow businesses to measure where every dollar is spent.

Marketing wasn’t always transparent. It was nearly impossible to know exactly how well, or how poorly, a particular campaign was working. Billboards, print, radio, and TV are incredibly difficult to measure – and impossible to measure accurately. As internet marketing has matured – from banner ads to boosted posts and stickers and filters – it has actually gotten more transparent. Marketing campaigns can be laser focused to reach only the people and business that you want to see your message. Each impression can be measured and tracked to be certain how the campaign is working. And, the campaign can be adjusted ad nauseam to ensure no impressions are wasted. It is an incredible time to invest in digital marketing.

This is why I’ve decided to join Condron Media as Senior Vice President.

How did I get here? By fooling around and applying the lessons I learned as practical business strategies.

When I was 14 fooling around with HTML in my bedroom I never thought it would turn into a career. It did. And I helped build some of the most trafficked and award-winning web sites of the early 2000s.

When I was 18 and decided to jump from IT to programming for the web I never thought it would lead me to build something that would be used by thousands of people. I did that several times. In fact, a few of the projects I worked on ranked very highly in Alexa ratings with millions of impressions daily.

When I was 22 and lost my job due to the September 11th attacks I never thought that I’d be able to start my own business using my experience to help other companies. I did and immediately found a client that would catapult my career.

When I was 27 and serving on the board of a technology company I never thought I’d be able to use that experience to help dozens of entrepreneurs to get their start. I’ve been super happy to have helped many and am looking forward to continuing that for the rest of my life.

And, since joining Twitter in 2006 and Facebook in 2007, I never thought that messing around with social networks would give me the skills I needed to help the next wave of marketing trends where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually – but I firmly believe that is exactly the doorstep I’m on right now. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the next few steps look like.

If you would like to up your marketing game give us a call.

Attending January’s NEPA.js meet up

Aaron Rosenberg NEPA.js

Photo: Aaron Rosenberg presenting an intro to Node.js.

January’s NEPA.js meet up, the second monthly meet up for this group, was held on Tuesday evening at the Scranton Enterprise Center. This group, though only a few months old, is starting to get its legs underneath it and it is really great to see the community building.

The meet up’s discussion was centered around an introduction to Node.js and it was extremely well presented by Aaron Rosenberg. Aaron did an excellent job explaining the project’s raison d’être, history, and growth. One bit I especially liked was him showing how the browser’s JavaScript engine processed requests using Loupe. All-in-all an excellent introduction. (Link to presentation slides forthcoming. Check back here.)

Following Aaron’s presentation was Mark Keith showing some real live coding of a simple Node app using Express, a framework for building Node web apps, which quickly devolved slightly into discussions on scope, globals, “this“, etc. which was all good because the attendees were steering the conversation.

After the two hour meet up we made our way through the parking lot to Ale Mary’s for a beer or two. I’m looking forward to February’s meet up.

Thanks goes to Aaron and Mark for putting together the presentations and to tecBRIDGE for the pizza.

Attending the Wilkes-Barre Programming meetup

Osterhout Free Public Library

On Saturday I braved the frigid temperatures and attended a Wilkes-Barre Programming meetup at the Osterhout Free Library in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

I arrived a few minutes late – it was Saturday so of course I had to make myself some breakfast, enjoy my coffee, watch a little YouTube prior to getting out in the elements – and then I couldn’t find the room the meetup was in at the library. Once I found the group there was already 6 attendees and they were over an hour into their programming.

One of the attendees proposed a problem to be solved; convert a number into a Roman numeral using Python. I have little-to-no Python experience, and unfortunately not much was discussed at this meetup regarding the language (since it wasn’t for beginners) but I decided to try my hand at solving this problem in JavaScript. Here is my attempt (though incomplete). It can do the thousands and hundreds. I’d need a little more time to do the tens and singles but I ran out of time at the group.

I was happy to see this small group meeting in Wilkes-Barre. Some of the attendees mentioned they’d be visiting the #nepaJS meetup happening on Tuesday, which would be great. We need a lot more of these smaller groups and we need them all to be connected to the larger NEPA Tech group. In larger metropolitan areas these smaller groups would be hundreds strong and so consolidation wouldn’t be needed. We don’t have that here. So we need as much effort to be consolidated as possible. These small groups are where skills are honed, where partnerships and companies can be formed, where careers are forged. If you are someone that works in technology please consider joining one of these smaller groups. Even if you aren’t into programming. As they grow I’m sure they will end up fragmenting into more specific groups for the areas you’re interested in. The more support the better.

Independent microblogging

Manton Reece re: Medium’s recent announcement that they are laying off 1/3rd of their team:

The message is clear. The only web site that you can trust to last and have your interests at heart is the web site with your name on it.

He’s right of course. He has said it a million times. So have I. Like right here. And so have many others.

Manton, by the way, is currently Kickstarting a book and service about independent microblogging. I told you about the service already. Go back his project even though it is very well funded already. This is important stuff.

Being on the “Ask the Web Marketing Experts” panel

Yesterday I was privileged to represent Condron & Cosgrove (more on this in January) at the NEPA Defense Transition Partnership panel discussion, through the Scranton Small Business Development Center, called Ask the Web Marketing Experts. I was flanked by other experts in the area including Jack Reager of Black Out Design, Gerard Durling of Coal Creative, and Ben Giordano of Freshy Sites.

img_3876

Left to right: Jack, Gerard, myself, Ben.

The panel discussion lasted a few hours and ranged topics from the elements of an effective web site to how to find your voice with social media for your business. It was a great discussion and it was recorded. If the video is made public I’ll be sure to share it.

There were a few overarching takeaways from the panel. Here’s mine; Don’t write-off a new social platform simply because you do not use it or understand it. Don’t get stuck using the same marketing techniques for your business year-after-year. Just because you did one thing one year, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying something different the next.

Every social network that we use today was, at one point, written off by those that didn’t think they’d ever make a difference. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest – all of these got their fair share of shrugged shoulders in the beginning. Don’t be that person. Be willing to move and adjust as the market does. You’ll be able to do better marketing for your business.

E15: Bots, Windows 10 Surface Book review, Twitter Head of Product

Last weekend Danny and I sat down and discussed our current experience with bots, the progress I’ve made on my still forthcoming Windows 10 and Surface Book review and also Twitter’s new Head of Product hire.

Links:

Download MP3

Tweeting for 10 years

Last week Jeremy Keith reminded me, yet again, of an anniversary I share with him. That is, we’ve now both been tweeting for 10 years. Here is my first tweet.

Jeremy beat me by 6 days and only 5,000 tweets. Can you believe that back then only 5,000 tweets were sent in 6 days? These days I’d guess that 5,000 tweets happen a few thousand times per second. And tomorrow, on Election Day, you can guarantee millions of tweets per second.

Jeremy reflects on the early days and also on some of the things that changed over time. Please, please go read his post. But I’ll expound slightly on what he’s written.

Most notably this bit:

The most obvious sign of change was the way that Twitter started treating third-party developers. Where they previously used to encourage and even promote third-party apps, the company began to crack down on anything that didn’t originate from Twitter itself. That change reflected the results of an internal struggle between the people at Twitter who wanted it to become an open protocol (like email), and those who wanted it to become a media company (like Yahoo). The media camp won.

If you listened to audio bit E8, wherein Danny and I chat about Twitter, one of my suggestions for Twitter is to go back to this. To go back to supporting third-party development. We chatted about the whacky uses of Twitter (like drawbridges, plants that need watering, etc.) but there are very, very practical uses too.

But now, just a few weeks later, I do not feel that would be enough to save Twitter. And I do mean save it. It is dying. It will go away. I do not see anyone coming in to rescue it at this point. In fact, if someone does step up to the plate to try to rescue it, it may be the wrong entity to do so and it may get worse.

Jeremy has a leg up on me that I do not have. He posts his “tweets” first at his site and syndicates to Twitter. Well, I do too. However, I don’t only post to my site. I tweet. A lot. It is a hard habit for me to break. I love tweeting during sporting events. I love even more tweeting during tech events like Apple’s Media and WWDC events or Microsoft’s Build events or rocket launches. In context they are fun, sometimes funny, sometimes informative to follow those conversations happening on Twitter. If I published those particular notes to my site first they’d be in a silo of sorts and out of context. Someone stumbling upon them would have no idea what I was talking about. So do I just not write those tweets any more?

Unlike Jeremy I will be sad if Twitter goes away. It has been part of my life for 10 years and I think it is the best social network we have going. But, like Jeremy, I’ll keep posting here. Because my site will be around for as long as possible.

Now I just need to break the habit of posting tweets to Twitter.

Eleven and six and twenty

Thanks to Jeremy for remarking how he forgot his blog’s 15th anniversary (congrats Jeremy!) it reminded me to check and, well, I missed my blog’s anniversary by nearly the same number of days as he did.

On Saturday October 1 this blog, my personal blog on my own domain name but not my first ever personal blog, turned 11 years old. This was the first post.

My blogging journey did not begin with this site. It started about 10 years before that. Prior to owning cdevroe.com – which was a gift from Josue Salazar (Thanks again Josue) – I had personal sites on Tripod (circa 2002), on a domain called colinspage.com (circa 2003 though it began in 1998 or 1999), I blogged on theubergeeks.net (circa 2003) and even had another blog in between that I wrote in ASP myself. My best guess is that I began blogging long before it was called blogging somewhere around 1995 when I was working at a computer store near my parent’s house.

In addition to my own personal online journal at the time we began plugging away on TheHutt.net (circa 1999) – which I helped develop alongside friends Chris Coleman and Chris Kuruts. We used the site to mark the upcoming Star Wars prequels. What a mistake! (The films, not our site.)

Six years ago I started curating The Watercolor Gallery – a site I take great pride in. That site recently had an anniversary as well that I failed to mark. I’ve been working on a brand-new version of the site too.

So I’ve been blogging for somewhere around 20 years. And my personal blog has taken many forms before finally settling here on cdevroe.com. And, as I sit here writing this post with nearly 20 years of writing on the web under my belt I am incredibly excited to continue writing on my blog.

Thanks to Jeremy for both the reminder and the constant inspiration from his blog.

Tips for new drone owners

After a few weeks of trial and error, (lots, and lots of error) video tutorial binging, manual devouring, and literally swimming for and losing my first UAV, I thought it might be good to jot down some tips for new drone owners.

Drone on ground

So here they are, in no order, but all worth considering:

  • Fly over shallow water – If you are going to fly over water, fly over shallow enough water that you’ll be able to rescue your UAV should it take a dip. I was able to rescue my drone in 8 feet of water, but I wasn’t able to rescue it in 30 feet of water. Or, buy something like this.
  • Keep and read the manual that comes with your craft – You may not understand the lingo the first time you read it. But after a few weeks you’ll know what yaw, headless mode, pitch, m/s, and many other terms mean and this way you’ll understand the manual more each time you review it.
  • Search for your model on YouTube and watch other people fly – Some people have taken the time to record great tutorials on flying your particular model and you’ll be very glad they did. You’ll learn a lot by watching other people fly.
  • Fly in a huge, huge open area if you can find it – The bigger and flatter the area the more you can safely explore and make mistakes. You can make two, three, four or more flight corrections in a large area and you won’t hurt yourself, your craft, or any property.
  • Practice, practice, practice – Do the same exact maneuver over and over and over. When it comes time to use that skill your brain will just do it. Here is an example… watch this video. It is boring. Practice can be boring.  It is OK. It is worth the effort.
  • Immediately buy more flight time – If you’ve recently purchased a craft and only have access to the battery that comes with it… find some batteries for your craft on Amazon or eBay and buy them right now.
  • Buy replacement parts before you need them – If your craft didn’t come with replacement blades, legs, etc. just go on eBay right now and buy some. You may never need them but they are so inexpensive it is worth having them around. And you’ll want them to be handy when you need them.
  • Controllers need power too – Don’t forget to keep back up controller batteries with you at all times. Nothing worse than a full craft battery and drained controller batteries.
  • Flying in the morning is easier – Wind is generally down in the early morning hours. So if you want to fly over a body of water for the first time, morning is the best time to do it.
  • If there is a steady wind, fly into it, not with it – By flying into the wind you can safely return your craft by simply guiding it rather than fighting it. Also good when your battery is getting low.

I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list over time. If I do, I’ll make a note of the newer tips.

While I have you reading this, here are some general tips for shooting video with your UAV if you’re into that sort of thing.

  • High flying videos are cool, but so are low flying ones – Don’t concentrate solely on getting the highest footage that you can. Low and slow can be just as dramatic.
  • Use the sun to your advantage – Magic hour is great for video too. Face away from the sun to have the best naturally lit subjects… face into the sun to get that JJ Abrams lens flare.
  • Fly the same route more than once – Trying to capture a scene? Do the same route more than once to ensure you got the shot you want.
  • Record a bit more than you need – Don’t try to “edit in the camera”. You can edit the footage later. Bookend what you think you need with 10 seconds of padding.
  • Slow, smooth – It is very rare that you need really fast video. Slow and smooth wins the day. So keep the corrections to a minimum.
  • It isn’t just about the gear – Photography has a saying “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Same goes for video. Gear is important, but it isn’t as important as your creativity and diligence to get what you want.

Happy flying!