No, Blogs, MP3 Isn’t Dead

Thank you Jason Snell for not simply regurgitating a press release and calling it “news”. Come on tech blogs. Think for yourself. MP3 isn’t dead, in fact it might be more relevant than ever now that it is no longer being held hostage by software patents. It’s dead to the patent holders, not for anyone else.

We the Writers Must Do Better

Whenever a tech company gets caught doing something sketchy, the response is almost always something along the lines of “We need to do better”. This week it was unroll.me issuing the “Sorry not sorry you are upset / we need to do better” statement after it came to light that they were straight up selling your data out to the highest bidder.1

It is common wisdom in tech circles that if the product is free, then you are the product. And yet, these business keep popping up, offing free services with not a hint of a business model in sight. And they keep growing. Why?

While running a search for more about unroll.me I got the following result in Google, which brilliantly demonstrates the problem.

And it is not just CNET. Searching for results from 2013 (when it became prominent) brings up dozens of articles glowingly covering the service, including LifeHacker, PCWorld, and mainstream news such as ABC and Newsweek.

People use these services because they hear about them. And they are free. So what do you have to lose? Turns out what you have to lose is your every thought, every business transaction, and any hint of privacy you may still have. Because we keep telling people to go ahead and try it out.

So we need to do better. I need to do better, and everyone else who writes about technology needs to do better.

Those of us who write about tech need to start taking this into account. From now on I won’t review any app or service unless I have a reasonable understanding of its business model. If it doesn’t have one, that is a huge red flag. And yes, I will even start reading terms of service and privacy policies. This does not mean I won’t ever recommend an app that allows advertising or tracking. But it needs to be reasonable, and I will be sure to highlight it.

I can’t promise to never lead a reader down there wrong path2, but I will at least make sure they are properly informed. And the Slices of the world can find someone else to push their invasive services. I want no part of it.

  1. Uber in this case. Because there is no rake on this earth that they cannot resist stomping on.
  2. Companies can lie, or at best tell partial truths.

The Internet is Optional for Some

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin voted to eliminate the new ISP privacy law that was set to go into effect. This has been an unpopular decision across the board, regardless of political leanings. But Sensenbrenner isn’t backing down. According to him, “Nobody’s got to use the Internet.”

Of course, anyone who has tried to get a job anytime in the last decade knows that this really isn’t true. Sure, they may be some way to live entirely offline, but it would put you at massive disadvantage compared to your online peers.

It would be easy to blame his age for these comments, but I think it comes more from his profession. He has been in congress since 1979. He has not had any need to experience the hiring market since then. While it is true that he has had to run for reelection every two years, the incumbency rate for the US Congress is around 90%. Sensenbrenner has, in some years, run unopposed. He is someone who has the unusual benefit of being able to avoid such modern necessities.

This is a bipartisian problem. Our representatives live in their own alternate reality. And their decisions, often flying in the face of all logic, reflect this. This is DC syndrome, and it is highly infectious.

Thing is though, while he may not use the internet, I’ll bet you his staff does. And I will bet they use it a lot. This is another thing congressional members have that the public at large lacks, a personal staff at their disposal 24/7.

So here is my challenge to Rep. Sensenbrenner. If this internet is truly optional, prove it. For your 2018 reelection, run it as you did your first election 40 years ago. No internet, no cell phones, no social media, no email. This includes you and everyone on your staff. Break out the corded phones and typewriters. Get a taste of what it would be like for one of your constituents to try to succeed in the modern world without using modern tools to do it.

Decoding Top 10 Lists

10 – Ooh, I didn’t expect you to start with that. How exciting. You must be super smart.

9 – Meh.

8 – Meh.

7 – I think you are just listing Google search results now.

6 – Click next to see more.

5 – Something actually on point to remind you what this list is for in the first place.

4 – Totally not a paid advertisement, sorry I mean native content.

3 – Pure stupidity to see if anyone else is still reading.

2 – The actual number one item, but that would be too obvious. So here it is at number two because OMG OMG you are like totes never going to believe what number one actually is.

1 – This makes absolutely no sense. It makes the author feel all smug and smart because no one else thought of it. And that’s true, no one else thought of it, because it is BS.

Quiver: Code and Commands

In Part 1 of my series on leaving Evernote I took a look at Google Keep. Part 2 is an app that most people will have no need for, but it ended up being a very useful tool in my day to day work. It is Quiver, a note taking app designed specifically for code.

I actually started using Quiver while I was still using Evernote. While Evernote was an okay place to store code snippets, it wasn’t ideal. Notes are rich text by default, and if you wanted any sort of syntax highlighting, you had to do it by hand. Evernote was not designed with this task in mind.

Quiver is different. Code is its purpose. Yes, it can be made to function as a very nice plaintext note app, but that isn’t the primary purpose. Like Evernote you can create various notebooks, each storing a collection of individual notes. The notes can contain a mix of “cells” that are either rich text, code, markdown, latex, and diagram.

The code cells are the big one for me. Quiver isn’t an IDE, nor is it meant to be. I don’t use it to write any complex scripts or programs. But my job does require me to use a lot of commands, whether it be managing Macs, configuring switches, or setting up servers. I can’t keep it all in my head. Quiver has been extremely valuable for recording and finding these commands. In particular those ones that are used infrequently. I can’t commit them to memory, but I can easily find them in my Quiver library. It provides the answer to those “how did I solve that last time” questions. I also created a few notebooks for my “standard setups”. If I need to quickly spin up a web server, I can open that notebook, follow the commands in order, and end up with a system configured exactly how I want, with all the security settings that are important to not overlook. Yes, I know how to do this in my head, for the most part, but being able to follow a checklist pretty much guarantees I am not accidentally skipping a step.

The only real downside to Quiver right now is that it does not have an iOS component. A beta was announced a while ago, but nothing has come of that yet. Quiver does support sync via Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive, so I am able to keep a copy on both my home and work MacBook Pro. I use Dropbox for sync and has been completely reliable. The library can be stored anywhere, so in theory you could set up your own server and sync through it in the event you were syncing sensitive data and would rather not trust a public cloud service.

Given that I rarely do this kind of work on iOS, it isn’t a big deal right now that the iOS version has yet to materialize. It is something to keep in mind if you are regularly using an iPad for this kind of work.

Most people don’t need Quiver, and you could easily use another tool to store code notes. But I like having a tool dedicated to this task. I can very quickly find the commands I am looking for without returning a whole bunch of other unrelated results. If you are a programer, sysadmin, or any job that requires regular use of the command line and / or programming languages, this is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

Google Keep – Modern Stickies

Stickies is that Mac app that you either ignore completely or use for everything. It has been on the Mac for a very long time, one of the few apps from the classic OS days that still ships with macOS today. It is one of those apps that is just there, rarely getting an update and never getting mentioned. And yet people love it because it serves a very specific need; they are quick notes that are easily glanceable.

Among the many downsides of Stickies.app is the inability to access them anywhere than one local Mac.1 It is a pure, old school, local only app. That may work, but it is far from ideal in today’s multi device world.

Enter Google Keep. Keep has been around for a while. It is one of those Google apps that gets a big announcement, and then you rarely hear from again. When it was announced a lot of people compared it to Evernote and listed it as a competitor. It isn’t. But it does make a very compelling modern replacement for Stickies.

Keep gives you a canvas of card-like notes. You can even color them in the colors commonly seen with physical sticky notes. It is on the web as well as iOS and Android, along with a curious ChromeOS app that breaks out of the browser for some reason.2

When I first tried Google Keep I threw a ton of data at it, and it quickly got overwhelming. There is a web clipper similar to most other note taking apps, but all it does is save a URL, unlike Evernote’s clipper that will attempt to grab the whole page.

Where Keep came in handy was for taking down a quick note that either needed to be referred to often, or that was a task that needed to be completed. For example, at work I will take down order numbers or repair invoices while I work on them. This makes it much easier to find when I need to. When I complete them, I archive the note. Like Gmail, Keep has a one button archive that removes the note from view, but keeps it around in case you ever need it again. If the text grows into more of a document, there is a one click option to make a Google Doc.

Another nice thing about Keep is that if you set a reminder on a note, it will also appear in Google Inbox and Google Calendar. This makes Keep a great choice for task related notes if you are invested in Google’s ecosystem.

My biggest complaint about Keep is that is lacks an API. This a bit of a disturbing trend I have noticed with Google, who used to be very good about allowing programmers to augment their products in interesting ways. It makes it impossible to use Keep with any of the automation apps on iOS, somewhat blunting the impact it could otherwise have.

Keep is useful for what it does. If you find yourself scribbling down notes on actual stickies, Keep may well serve a useful function for you. For the things I need quick, glanceable access too, it is much faster than Evernote. I never have more than 10 to 20 notes outside of the archive, and that seems to be the key to how it works best for me.

  1. They are stored in a database file in ~/Library that many people miss when backing up or transferring their data.
  2. ChromeOS does this sometimes. Why one app is a webpage and another is standalone is anyone’s guess.

The Apps that Replaced Evernote

After quitting Evernote I went off in search of the One True Evernote Replacement. Turns out there is no such thing. Or rather, I found that there shouldn’t be. I used Evernote much as the creators intended, as a repository of basically everything I could ever want to recall at a later date. While this has an advantage in that there is one unified place for everything, in practice there was a hidden cost. Actually using the data I had saved was becoming a burden. So rather than replace Evernote with a single app, I replaced it with four.

  • Google Keep: Short, frequently referred to notes, as well as tasks. Basically the modern replacement for Stickies.
  • Microsoft OneNote: The most Evernote-like of my new apps. This is where I take longer text notes, as well as clipping websites I intend to use often and/or annotate.
  • DEVONthink: This is an app I knew about but never used before. It ended up being a near perfect solution to “place where I save things that I may or may not ever need again”. Receipts, attachments, random screenshots, and most of all, web articles I am saving “just in case”.
  • Quiver: Specifically for code notes.

It is counterintuitive that four different apps would perform better and be more convenient than one, but it ends up working better in day to day use. Everything has its place, in an app optimized for that purpose. I will explore each of these solutions in detail in subsequent posts.

One question that you may ask is “Why not Apple Notes?” It is true that Apple Notes has gotten much, much better in recent years. And for most people I think it is the right solution. But that usually ends up a liability for me. Anything that is “right for almost everyone” tends to be wrong for someone as particular as I am. Notes is great, but the apps I ended up settling on are all better in ways that, though small, total up to being a more enjoyable experience. I am not knocking Notes or its capabilities, but it is not quite what I am looking for.

WDW Marathon Weekend 2017: One to Remember

I am back from a somewhat dramatic Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. I had a great time as always. Perhaps even more so as this year really brought out the best in so many of the runners who were down there. Unfortunately it also brought out the worst in others. Continue reading WDW Marathon Weekend 2017: One to Remember

Preparing for Dopey Challenge 2017

Another year, another Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. If you are getting ready to head down, or are already on your way, here are some tips for navigating the week, especially if you are participating in the Dopey Challenge.

It will be crowded

Race weekend falls very close to New Year’s Day this year, so expect the crowds for the holiday to overlap with the marathon crowds for a few days. Even after the NYE crowds begin to tapper off later in the week, remember that Marathon Weekend is one of the largest events hosted there all year.

The Expo

If you are running the Dopey Challenge or the 5K you must go to the expo on Wednesday. In past years there have been stealth bib pickups the morning of the 5K for anyone who was late and could not make it to the expo, but I would not count on this being the case. As with last year, you must go yourself. You cannot have someone pick up your number for you.

Transportation is offered from all of the resorts. There should be signs in the lobby directing you where to find them.

As for the expo itself, it seems like every year they change up the process slightly of picking up your bib, shirts, and bag. Follow the signs or ask a volunteer if you need help. Remember that the vast majority of the people you encounter working the expo and races are volunteers. They are not getting paid to be there. Thank them profusely.

If you are going for merchandise, the earlier the better as it often sells out quickly. The half marathon will likely see its swag sell out fastest as it is an anniversary year.

Don’t Drive

Unless you are staying off property and you have no choice, don’t drive to the start. Disney runs transportation from all of their hotels. Take that. If you must drive, leave early as traffic can get heavy, particularly for the half and full marathons.

This is true for spectators too. Especially the morning of the half and full many roads will be closed and traffic will be bad. Choose your viewing places carefully. For the half and full marathon you can take the monorail between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, even at that hour of the morning. Also, the spectator viewing area for the half and full isn’t great. You end up not seeing much, and since the course is on the other side of the highway from you, you probably won’t see anyone anyway. You are better off going right to Magic Kingdom, or to one of the resorts along the course, which will be way less crowded.

Get there Early

These races are infamous for their extremely early start times, around 5:30am for most of the races. It will be very early mornings for you this week. While the 5K and 10K start areas are not too far from where transportation drops you off, you have to cross the course to get there, so if you are late, you won’t make it to the corrals at all. The half and full start area are considerably farther from the drop off area. If you think you will be walking off the bus 5 minutes before your start time, think again. Get there early and you will have time to use the facilities, grab some water, and mentally prepare.

Plan for All Weather

The weather in Florida at this time of year can be really unpredictable. I have personally experienced everything from the mid 20s all the way to the mid 80s on race day. If the forecast holds, 2017 looks to be a nice middle ground.

It may still be chilly at the start however, and there isn’t really anywhere to escape it. It might be a good idea to bring some sweatpants and long shirts that you don’t mind tossing. Any clothes left at the start line will be donated to local shelters.

Don’t Try to PR

Despite the courses being mostly flat, these are not good races to attempt to make a personal record. These are crowded races, and the course can get rather congested at points – most notoriously during the 2016 half marathon runners hit a full stop coming through the Castle. Unless you are in the first corral, these races tend to have a slower, more relaxed pace. Take the time to get some character photos, especially at the half marathon if you are running Goofy or Dopey. You need to conserve energy anyway.

Practice Good Running Etiquette

If you are running with others, limit your group to running no more than two wide, especially on narrower areas of the course. If you need to walk through the narrow sections, do it single file. Make sure others can get around you.

Use hand gestures if you are going to stop of cut across the course. Don’t be that person that causes someone else to trip and fall.

Be careful when discarding cups or goo packs that you don’t hit someone else with them.

Don’t Cheat

This should be obvious, and yet it has been a problem. To be clear, the Goofy and Dopey Challenges are not relay races. You must complete all of the courses on your own. It would be a pretty hollow victory if you knew you didn’t really run the whole thing. The medals aren’t that special.

Use Photopass

This is the first year at Marathon Weekend where the race photographers will be Disney Photopass photographers (previously they contracted out to MarathonFoto). This means that annual passholders from the gold level up will have their photos included at no additional cost. So be sure to stop for a few. Just remember that these are meant to be quick photos. The races are still timed after all. Again, don’t be that person.

Goodbye Evernote

I am quitting Evernote, and this time it will be permanent. I have have given then the benefit of so many doubts that I honestly can’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy with the product. The level of mismanagement at this company is simply astounding. This week’s change to the privacy policy broke the camel’s back. I said over a year ago I would leave. I have given them much more time to sort things out than I said I would. Despite being in a hole so deep that sunlight can’t reach the bottom, they just kept digging and digging.

Somehow, at a moment when a large portion of the world is in a total panic over their digital privacy, Evernote thought it would be a good idea to opt everyone into letting their staff see our notes without our knowledge. Of course the CEO tried to explain away the change using the Silicon Valley version of “I’m sorry you were offended”. Then, after that didn’t quell the storm, they backtracked entirely. But it doesn’t matter. I no longer have any trust in the leadership at this company to do the right thing.

I stuck around through the product getting bloated and slow.

I stuck around through “Would you like to try Work Chat?”

I stuck around when they started selling socks.

I stuck around when they started inserting links to useless articles.

I stuck around when the jacked up the price with no new features or fixes.

I stuck around when they lost some of my data.

I could excuse a lot if the product got better. But it is slower than ever, to the point that I rarely even open the app on anything other than my MacBook Pro, and even there is painful. They ruined Skitch, which was a great app once upon a time. They don’t need to improve their machine learning. They need to improve the core app. But it seems this won’t be happening.

It pains me to leave. I have been using Evernote since day one of the App Store. I have been a paying user nearly that entire time. I taught classes on Evernote at Tekserve. But at some point you have to admit that the relationship no longer works and it is time to move on.

I expect that one day students in business school will study Evernote as an example of how startups can go horribly wrong.

As I type these words, I am running the Microsoft OneNote Import Tool to move all my notes over. Then I will delete each and every one from Evernote’s servers. And then the elephant will go to the trash.