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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Best of 2018

This year I’m taking a slightly more comprehensive approach to my “best of” list. I’ve taken a look at previous year’s lists: 2008, 2009, 2017 and comprised a slightly more complete set.

Again, this is only the things I came across this year and can remember. I don’t keep a list throughout the year but rather rely on my memory. If you think I missed something great please reach out.

Best Blog: Becky Hansmeyer

I’ve linked to Becky’s blog 6 times this year. Mostly related to her iOS app SnapThread (which I can’t even use because I’m no longer on iOS). She openly published her thoughts, trials, tribulations, and triumphs (and new children) throughout the year. The epitome of a personal blog.

Runners up: Waxy – Andy Baio is back at it and the internet is better for it. Jeremy Keith’s Adactio is also always good. It might as well be perpetually in this category.

Best Blog Redesign: Lynn Fisher

Each year Lynn Fisher shows off her talent to build responsive web designs in a fun way by redesigning her site/blog. Go ahead and resize your browser on her homepage. Very fun.

Best (new to me) Blog: Windows Central

Hear me out. This blog publishes tons of times per day. The web site is obnoxious with ads (very thankful for RSS!). Despite that, since switching to Windows 10 this year I have been thankful to have a resource like this to keep me up-to-date with all things Windows. It has proven very useful to learn a number of tips and tricks and to know what the latest features are in Windows.

Best place: Iceland

This past September we visited Iceland – and it was definitely the standout trip of our year. The landscape, the water, the horses, the northern lights – everything was amazing.

Runner up: our trip to Kentucky this year to travel along the Bourbon trail. See this post and this post.

Best book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I certainly laughed out loud more than once while reading this book. It was a fun read and is much better than any of the movies or series I’ve seen trying to adapt it to screen. Though I did enjoy Martin Freeman in one of the more recent movie adaptations.

Runners up: The Road by Cormac McCarthy – sad, but good read. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – what a story.

Best service: Spotify

Spotify continues to be one of the greatest services I’ve ever used. Eliza and I are on a family plan and we use the service every single day at home, on the go, at work. See also.

Best album: Hollywood Africans – Jon Batiste

This is a fun album. It wanders around a little but overall it is a solid album to put on while enjoying a Manhattan (one of my requisites for good music). I also enjoyed his interview with Terry Gross about the album.

Runners up: Free Yourself Up – Lake Street Dive, SYRE – Jaden Smith (don’t @ me).

Best movie: A Quiet Place

I am hoping to watch this one again soon. It isn’t particularly revolutionary or mind blowing – but the pacing, the acting, and the overall balance of the movie is really good. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Runner up: I just saw the new Spiderman and it is very refreshing. So glad they did something so different.

Best company: Microsoft

In my opinion, Microsoft has been firing on all cylinders for nearly the entirety of Satya Nadella’s lead. Their Surface hardware, Windows 10, Azure cloud services, acquisition of Github, Open Source initiatives, and push into mobile through Android has really been something to watch. Don’t call it a comeback but really, this company is back. See also.

Best hardware: iPad Pro 12.9″

I haven’t had time to write a proper review of this device yet but I do plan to. This is easily my favorite iPad ever – and I really, really liked my iPad Air 2. One quick anecdote; Face ID is extremely fast and works in so many more circumstances than I thought possible.

Very close runner up: Google Home Mini. We now have 3 of these in our apartment (kitchen, living room, bathroom) and we use them every single day for playing music, starting Netflix or YouTube videos on our TV, viewing photos from past vacations, and setting reminders or alarms. I hope to utilize these even more this coming year but I’m delighted at the capabilities of a device you can get for $29 (when on sale and we even got 1 for free with our Spotify subscription).

Best desktop app: Firefox

The Mozilla Firefox team is killing it this year. This browser is my favorite ever on any device. I also use it on Android and iOS. And I’m glad too given recent news re: Edge and Chrome. A few features I cannot live without at this point: Containers, Sync, Pocket (which could work in any browser but is built right into Firefox).

Runners up: 1Password – Eliza and I moved everything into 1Password this year and we couldn’t be happier that we did. Should have done so a long time ago. Visual Studio Code – Still the best code editor on any platform and certainly the best free editor.

Best mobile app: Pocket Casts

I use this app twice a day on my commute to and from work. I never have any issues with it, and every decision made by the design team seems to be right in line with what I want from a podcast app. My feature wish list for this app is relatively short and I believe they are coming with a not-too-distant-future update.

Runner up: Waze this app has saved me hours of sitting in traffic just this year.

Best tool: Trello

I’ve been using Trello more this year than any year previous and I find it to be incredibly well made. I don’t think we’ve had a single moment of downtime the entire year and, although I’d like it to be slightly less expensive for our team of ~30 I feel it is a very useful tool.

I’ve also tried to fit it into my workflow for other things like replacing a previous year’s winner; Bullet Journal. I couldn’t get it to fit. So I now have a hybrid system of using my daily Bullet Journal with Calendar and Trello.

Runner up: OneDrive – I’ve been using OneDrive this year for so many things across all platforms. The utility rarely messes up (whereas Google’s is terrible) and the space is affordable.

Best utility: DropIt

I use this small Windows utility to move files from OneDrive to two backup hard drives and Google Photos from my phone, camera, drone, and Eliza’s phone. It is far, far from perfect but I have wrestled it into doing exactly what I need.

Runner up: Snip & Sketch on Windows 10. I have this app mapped to my Logitech MX Master 2S’s middle click to quickly take screenshots and mark them up. It is an indispensable part of my workflow now working with my team. I just middle click, drag a rectangle, and CNTRL + V into any app I’m using to show my team a screenshot. I probably use this 5 times a day on average.

Best podcast: Meat Eater

I hike a lot. And I like to photograph nature. Listening to Meat Eater, and watching their show on Netflix, has given me a lot of knowledge about how to approach animals, how to know where on the landscape I’m allowed to go, and tons of other tips.

I’m also going to pick up fishing again in 2019 as a result of listening to this podcast.

Best YouTube channel: Zimri Mayfield

This guy is killing it. Each week he produces a new episode in a number of series on design. He’s incredibly quirky and likely not to everyone’s taste but I’ve found his videos both entertaining and educational.

Runners up: Tom Scott – Every video is interesting and the topics are random yet somehow of the same ilk. Nerdwriter – fast, well edited, insightful.

I had a few other categories that I’ve now dropped off because the list got a bit long. So instead, I’m just going to finish off this post with a bunch of random links to things.

Random: @jvdoming, Gutenberg, Floods Part 1 & Part 2, Docker, Cobra Kai, Dark Sky, Micro.blog, Dialog, Cash app, Blue Planet II.

YETI Presents

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

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

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

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

New ways to monetize on YouTube

Announcements are beginning to pour out while VidCon is happening.

YouTube:

The number of creators earning five figures a year is up by 35 percent and the number of creators earning six figures is up by 40 percent. As in previous years, the vast majority of the revenue is coming from our advertising partners. We’ll continue investing here, but we also want to think beyond ads. Creators should have as many ways and opportunities to make money as possible.

They’re announcing several; merch, channel memberships, premiers. Very smart.

(Also, worth noting, the timing of Instagram’s announcement. Just prior to VidCon. I hadn’t thought of that at the time.)

Early thoughts on IGTV

Instagram launched what some are calling a direct competitor to YouTube, IGTV.

First, I’ll start by listing some reasons I think this is the perfect time for Instagram to have launched this product.

  • Smartphones are just beginning to get real horsepower and amazing battery life to enable this kind of experience and the amount of time people will want to watch longform video on their phones.
  • Portrait video is no longer thought about as terrible. Even by pros.
  • YouTube hasn’t innovated nearly enough with video formats. They’ve supported 180, 360, VR, etc. but haven’t messed much with things that work best on mobile phones like portrait video when maybe they should have been.
  • “Content creators” now have powerful mobile tool sets even more than they did before.
  • Instagram has 1B monthly active users. Content creators cannot dismiss this platform flippantly.

Second, I’ll list why I don’t think this will kill YouTube – but why it might move some of the content creators onto this platform.

  • Portrait video is intimate. So for things like “talking head” videos, make-up tips, and sharing an adventure, or vlogging it may even be better than YouTube for these things. For this reason, a lot of this type of content may move from YouTube to IGTV.
  • That being said, YouTube doesn’t make their bread and butter on these videos – nor even on vloggers. Though these internet celebrities suck up a lot of the oxygen around YouTube news (meaning, they get headlines)… by far YouTube is the video search engine. No time soon will you be fixing your toilets plumbing with a video from IGTV. YouTube’s business won’t be hurt much at all by losing vloggers or “Vine-like” funny videos to IGTV. In fact, it may help with issues like Logan Paul.
  • Tablet and TV — YouTube is saturated into the market of available devices. They are built into TVs, TV-connected devices like Alexa (I think?), Apple TV, Roku, etc. They also work on iPad. IGTV will never be on iPad and may not ever be on TVs. This is a smartphone medium.
  • Search Index – If you do a Google search for “Jeff Bezos interview” or “New Tesla commercial” or “Star Wars movie trailer” or “How Air Conditioning works” you will land on YouTube. And that will be that way for years to come.

Third, here are my general thoughts on the app experience:

  • Coming from Instagram Stories some of the gestures are odd. But I think I’ll get used to them.
  • I wish there was a quick way to pause or mute a video but it seems at least 2, if not 3, taps away from anywhere.
  • Discover-ability will need to improve. At current, you can only see the thumbnails for 4 popular videos at a time. Compare to Instagram’s Explore area, where you can quickly see dozens.
  • It eats battery. But, as I said above, I think the timing is right. Phones are going to greatly improve CPU which will help battery life.

Overall, I think IGTV is a great app and a good move for Instagram to make. I’m also happy that it is a separate app. While I believe that “creation apps” like Boomerang and Hyperlapse could have been strictly within Instagram’s main app – I believe consumption apps like IGTV belong outside of it.

Dan Kimbrough, a videographer, shared his thoughts on IGTV on his blog. I disagree with him on one point though. He says this is only important for those with Instagram or Facebook audiences. He writes:

Again, I’m talking about those who’s audience base comes from Instagram, not YouTubers or Facebook. If YouTube is your home base, this won’t matter to you today.

I disagree. And so does MKBHD who has 6M+ YouTube followers. Instagram’s 1B monthly active users (Dan cites 600M in his post but Instagram announced 1B MAUs yesterday) make it so that these creators cannot ignore this platform.

Kevin Nealon has a YouTube channel where he goes hiking with famous people. 2018 y’all.

Best of 2017 as told by me

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

Best Blog: fuzzy notepad

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

Best blog redesign: Colin Walker

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

Best new (to me) blog: Brand New

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

Best service: Spotify

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

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

Best book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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

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

Best productivity tool: Bullet Journal

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

Notable mention: Trello.

Best phone: Google Pixel 2 XL

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

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

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

Notable mention: Samsung Galaxy Note8, iPhone X.

Best podcast: The West Wing Weekly

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

Notable mention: Song Exploder / Tim Ferriss.

Best platform: Instagram

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

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

Notable mention: Micro.blog.

Best browser: Firefox Quantum

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

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

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

Best app: Apollo for Reddit for iOS

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

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

Best code editor: Visual Studio Code

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

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

Notable mention: Atom, Visual Studio for Mac.

Best YouTube channel: First We Feast

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

Notable mention: MKBHD

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

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

See you next year.

 

 

My creative energy (audio)

I’m not blogging as much. But that’s just because my creative energy is being poured elsewhere. Here’s what I’m up to.

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YouTube’s Most Popular Videos of 2017

Brandy Shaul writing for Adweek:

Collectively, the top 10 trending videos for 2017 have more than 633 million views and have been watched for over 40 million hours. The channels behind the top trending videos have more than 55 million subscribers in total.

The most popular videos on YouTube each year are seldom the most interesting. I find that the videos that are mildly popular, say with single millions of views or hundreds of thousands of views, are the most interesting to me. They have a broad enough audience that the creator is getting paid well and they generally are not flashes in the pan.

iPhone X’s new margins

Brian Voong on his excellent YouTube channel Let’s Build That App:

With the introduction of iPhone 10, we as developers are now faced with another option for our apps to be displayed in. Fortunately, Apple has provided us with the necessary APIs to get around the unsafe regions of this phone. We do this by using the new safeAreaLayoutGuide anchors in our code. Enjoy.

Great overview of the very easy to implement adjustments.

Side note: If you’re jumping into iOS development I highly recommend subscribing to this channel and going back through his videos. It is a trove.

Curry Caputo quits vlogging

Curry Caputo, cousin to vlogging legend Casey Neistat, is hanging up his hat when it comes to recording, editing, and publishing daily videos and will now post whenever he feels like it instead.

It was an incredible run. Kudos to him for doing it as long as he did.