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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

The Best of 2019 as told by me

At the end of the year I like to sit down and make a rather random list of the “best” things I’ve seen that year. I do this almost entirely from memory but I also peruse my browser history and look through my Unmark archive in order to uncover some of the things I appreciated throughout the year.

You can review previous years: 2008, 2009, 2017, 2018.

At the tail end of December I sat down and made this list and since then I’ve taken some time to cull through it and make the list you’re reading now.

Best Blog: Gurney Journey by James Gurney

James Gurney, who I interviewed for The Watercolor Gallery, has kept a blog for a very long time. This past year wasn’t necessarily a stand-out year for his blog – it has always been very good – but I believe his blog and his YouTube channel deserve recognition this year.

Runners up: Waxy’s links, Kottke as always.

Best (new to me) Blog: AOWS

Since I’ve really been going all-in on my photography this year I’ve stumbled across a lot of photographers. In fact, I’m well over 100 photographers on my private Photography Twitter list (I’m @cdevroe there). I’m very glad to have found AOWS. See also the Instagram account.

Runner up: Chris Sale.

Best place: Kentucky

Jim Beam Distillery

Last year I said that we’d likely return to Kentucky and we did – that must say something about it. We enjoy the entire state, the distilleries, horse farms, and rolling hills. See posts.

Runner up: Cape Cod – This was our first trip to Cape Cod and I enjoyed the whole feeling there. Likely because so many people are either retired or on vacation. I’d like to go back and make more photographs in the future.

Best book: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

I didn’t read nearly as many books as I’d like this year. But I’m trying not to beat myself up when I miss self assigned goals like number of books to read. I did a lot of fishing, photography, and even started a podcast this year. So I need not read books.

Dark Matter was a nice change of pace from other things I’d read this year. I always like a book that has time jumping. And this book sort of did.

Best service: OneDrive

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but OneDrive – for the most part – holds up very well for my needs. I have nearly half of a terabyte stored there and it isn’t skipping a beat. I use it mostly as a cloud-based backup of all my photos and videos. I also use it to transfer things to/from my computer and phone which worked well when I was on so many different platforms; Android, Windows 10, iOS, and Airdrop wasn’t possible.

Runner up: Disney+ just for The Mandalorian.

Best song for working: Morning of – Colin Stetson

According to Spotify I listened to this song, and the album it comes from, a lot while I was writing code.

Best album: Benton County Relic – Cedric Burnside

Love the old style jazzy/bluesy feel of this album.

Best company: Disney

I wrote a bit about what they’ve done with Lucasfilm since they acquired the company. But, when you look at the scope of Disney – and watch some of their documentaries about how it all came together – they really deserve a round of applause this year.

Runners up: Microsoft is still killing it and I think 2020 looks interesting for them. Apple for finally fixing their laptops.

Best hardware: Canon 400D

Me w/ 400D, recording my podcast

I shot nearly as many photos on this camera as I did on my phones (Pixel 2 XL until October and then iPhone 11 Pro Max) and the camera is 13 years old. It is rugged, has a lot more features than I ever knew it did, and I’m satisfied with the results I’ve been getting.

I have the feeling that next year a film camera may win this category and I’m very excited about that.

Runners up: iPhone 11 Pro Max – the battery life alone deserves an award, iPad Pro – I still use this every single day, in fact I’m writing this post on it right now and I’d say I do greater than 75% of my photo editing on the iPad.

Best desktop app: Firefox

Rather than keeping Firefox in just the browser category, I’m going to give it the best desktop app award. I really, really like Firefox and it has improved greatly this year in terms of speed, privacy, feature set. I simply cannot live without Containers at this point.

Runner up: Lightroom CC.

Best mobile app: Anchor

If it weren’t for how relatively easy it is to create a podcast using Anchor I don’t think I would have done it. Though I am looking forward to my podcast getting a bit better with some desktop-based editing apps. If you have an idea for a podcast I suggest at least giving it a look.

Runners up: VSCO, Twitter, Pocket Casts, Cash.

Best tool: Photoshop CC

Adobe has made very big updates to the entire CC suite of apps. I feel like they deserve a nod as a result of that.

Best podcast: BirdNote

The podcast is just so simple. I love it.

Runners up: ATP. I go back and forth on whether or not I should listen to ATP. Very good information, they were even nice enough to answer one of my questions, but the constant hypercritical (see what I did there?) take on things can sometimes be draining, and so I take long breaks from listening. But that is the entire point of the podcast so I don’t begrudge them of the style. I just always try to look at things positively is all. Also Cal’s Week in Review.

Best YouTube channel: Nick Carver

Nick has easily has the largest impact on my approach to photography this year. His channel is also very entertaining even when he’s discussing very nerdy photography topics.

Special second place: Joe Rogan Experience – I have to cherry pick episodes that I’m interested in, mostly with scientists and outdoorsy people, but the interviews and long form style are refreshing compared to the bit-sized bits we get through TV these days.

I watch a lot of YouTube. Probably too much. Not probably. Actually too much. It is how I learn, am entertained, waste time, etc. In fact, I watch a lot less TV because of YouTube. So this isn’t an easy category to choose.

Runners up: Morten Hilmer, Jack Black, MKBHD, Kevin Nealon, Rainfall Projects, The Lion Whisperer, Zimri Mayfield.

Best Twitter account: Todd Vaziri

Behind-the-scenes and background information on special effects in TV and movies. Fascinating stuff. The amount of work for just a few seconds of video is amazing.

Runner up: Adam Savage.

Best Instagram account: Luke Beard

Luke shares a ton of photos via Stories from his town of Atlanta. It is inspiring the number of photos he’s able to take, process, and publish and has really gained a following in that area. He’s also super gracious in his responses whenever I’ve asked him how he did something.

Special second place: captain.solo – I can always appreciate when someone creates their own style and sticks to it – it isn’t easy to do either of those things. This account has.

You can also follow @cdevroe on Instagram where I frequently share accounts and photos I like via Stories.

Runners up: Dan Rubin, PPP Repairs, Clyde Butcher, Brad Baldwin.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s list. Whenever I sit down to make the list I always under estimate the amount of time it takes to create it. But I’m always glad that I do so that I can look back on it in the future. So this post is more for me than for you.

I watched Tantek’s presentation Take Back Your Web from Beyond Tellerrand during lunch. Great presentation. From it I added Mattias Ott’s blog post and this one by Aaron Parecki to Unmark to read later. Via Jeremy Keith.

My questions for WWDC 2019

I am looking forward to this year’s WWDC more than I have in the last 4 or 5 years. There is so much riding on this conference for my personal productivity but also for the Mac and iPad platforms as a whole.

Here are a few reasons why and I’ll follow with a few questions that I have.

Steve Troughton-Smith asked on Twitter if any developers were willing to state publicly that they planned on bringing their iOS apps to the Mac via the upcoming UIKit release at WWDC.

(If you don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I suggest looking at STS’s blog post on the subject.)

You can read the thread on Twitter but Michael Tsai has a collection of the responses from developers (of course). It is exciting to see so many developers that are willing to give this a try.

Then, of course, is Guilherme Rambo’s scoops on some of the things coming to macOS and iOS over on 9to5Mac. There isn’t one link I can provide to all of the posts so here are just a few.

Here are the WWDC questions that I’m most interested in getting an answer to:

  • Will Apple finally throw out the most unreliable piece of hardware they’ve “ever” made?
  • Will UIKit apps from iOS work on macOS well enough to satiate us long-time Mac users? Meaning, will they be good Mac citizens unlike the current Mojave offerings that stink?
  • Will the iPad’s version of iOS get enough productivity updates to make a meaningful impact on how I personally use my iPad currently? (I’m not convinced the leak re: the new undo gesture will make any difference whatsoever to that particular interaction. To me a three-finger swipe is just as discoverable as the absurd shaking you have to do now. No offense to Etch A Sketch.)
  • Will mobile Safari support Web Share Target API by the end of the year? Related. (I need this for Unmark big time)
  • Will iOS finally get an app drawer (or something like one)? Having the apps on pages and pages of home screens or nestled into folders has been showing its age for a few years already.
  • Could the biggest announcements at WWDC still be unleaked? Could Rambo’s scoops, whatever their source, be simply laying the groundwork for a much larger announcement? Personally I would mind seeing something re: automation, AR or VR.

We’ll know in about a month.

The money problem with open source

Jerod Santo:

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

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

The entire post is a worthy read.

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

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

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

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

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

Testing inconsistent Web Share Target API data with a Progressive Web App

One of the latest things I’ve been working on for Unmark is turning the app into a Progressive Web App (PWA). Among other benefits, this affords Unmark the capability of being a “Web Share Target” on Android. (Sadly, only Android for now)

A Web Share Target is very similar to a feature you likely use every day and may not realize it. When you “Share to” or “Share via” an app (say, Twitter or Facebook or Micro.blog’s iOS app) it automatically picks up the URL, title, etc. from the web page you’re currently on – this is using a similar feature set. For PWA’s, this is called the Web Share Target API.

What happens is that the app you share from sends a small little packet of data to the app or PWA. According to the spec it should be sending three specific items: title, url, and notes.

The issue I’ve been working through is that each app has a different way of sending that data. Some of them exclude one or more of the items and each of them have very different ways of sending “Notes”.

I don’t know why these apps aren’t consistent. I suppose it might be in part because they are handling PWAs the same way they are handling other apps. They are just sending a “chunk” of data and they expect the target app to work through it all.

Today I was noodling how best to set up a test application to install on my Android phone so that I can inspect how these apps share their information. This way I can see exactly what information is being shared how Unmark could work with each of them. And I was going to open source it so that others working on this same issue had something they could use.

But it turns out I don’t need to, the Web Incubator Community Group already has a Web Share Target Test PWA already in place to do this. Just install this app on your Android device’s home screen and “Share To” it.

Thanks to Matt Giuca on the Google Chrome team for pointing me in the right direction. I’m glad this already existed.

I released Unmark 1.7.2 on Github. More about Unmark and its development in the future.

Pinboard acquires Delicious

Maciej Cegłowski:

Do not attempt to compete with Pinboard.

This is excellent.

I use Unmark daily. Partly because I helped will it into existence. If I didn’t use Unmark I’d use Pinboard (for which I have an account that I’ve paid for). And I’m very happy that Delicious (or, as I knew it del.icio.us) is in his hands.

Yes, it is more work to subscribe than to follow, but that is OK with me

Fred Wilson, in A Founder’s Notebook, describing how “hard” it is to subscribe to a blog that isn’t on Tumblr but is on the open internet.

My only complaint is that its not on Tumblr, where it would be an instant and easy follow. It takes more work to follow a blog when its on the open Internet (when you don’t use RSS. i don’t).

Sigh. He’s right, of course, but … sigh.

In the heyday of Google Reader it was the exact same amount of work to subscribe to a blog’s RSS feed as it is to follow a Tumblog on Tumblr. Just one click. But now, with the RSS market so fragmented and waning it has, indeed, become more work to subscribe to blogs on the open Internet than it is to follow on Tumblr or Twitter.

There are initiatives in motion to help with this, but, like so many other great things on the web (see: microformats), they may simply never catch on at scale.

For those interested in how I subscribe to blogs both on the open Internet and elsewhere; I’m currently using Vienna on Mac as my feed reader. I do not read feeds on my iPad (though I used to) or my iPhone. I only read on Mac and filter things into Unmark to read/watch/buy/listen later. For me to subscribe to a blog is pretty painless; copy the URL of the blog, open Vienna, click Subscribe. (I don’t even need to paste.) So it is three steps rather than the one step that Fred needs to take on Tumblr.

I’ll take that hit for blogs I love to be on the open internet any day.