2015, The Year of Linux on My Laptop #

October 8th, 2015 1:47

I’ve written a bit about this before[1], so I won’t rehash too much, but reading Andre’s piece on how his new Chromebook Pixel has replaced his Macbook Pro, made me a bit nostalgic and wanting to write some of my own thoughts about switching off of the Mac this year.

Like Andre, this a somewhat notable event for me. I’ve always used a mix of Macs and PCs growing up, but throughout most of the 90s, I built my own PCs for personal use (running DOS/Windows, and then poking around w/ Slackware releases pretty early on). In college, I spent more of my time on Sun workstations, and ended up managing a Mac computer lab (with some NT and SGI workstations in the back), which simultaneously generated a still-to-this-day disdain for the piece-of-crap System 9, but also a growing excitement for OS X. In 2001, I installed OS X 10.0 on a brand new G3 Snow iBook – it was almost unusably slow, but I didn’t look back, and while I continued to maintain a healthy menagerie of gaming PCs and Linux boxen, OS X was my daily driver, and just about every year I’d upgrade to the latest PowerBook, MacBook Pro, and finally, for the past few years, the 11″ MBAs. It was a bit of a sad and slow realization over the past few years that each version of OS X was getting worse for me than the last, and also, that the MBA wasn’t cutting it either, especially as I started traveling full time again. I waited for the 12″ MacBook to see if it were any better, but in the end, that was the final confirmation that Apple was no longer designing laptops for me.

I’d previous tested out a bunch of Chromebooks (including traveling with one on a month-long trip in China), but even with a Crouton setup, it just never worked for me. On the X side, I’d also tried just about every single tiling manager out there (Awesome was probably the best, QTile I had a soft spot for as a Python geek), but they never clicked. This time around, I’ve been using Openbox, and it’s been great – does everything I want, gets out of the way, and its behavior is completely customizable. I spent a month or so yak-shaving (fixing about one thing a day), and in the end, I have a setup that is bespoke in a way that feels fitting considering how much time I spend on my computers.  It’s not perfect – I had to write my own site-specific browser library (works but still needs some polishing), and my 1Password situation is passable, but honestly a huge pain. Also, I’m booting into Windows a lot more than I’d like – a pure necessity to run Adobe Creative Cloud, Unity3D, and the rest of my VR development, although I will admit that Windows 10 is… not that bad.


Since no laptops are powerful enough to currently drive PC VR experiences, I also started carrying around a very powerful PC in a Pelican case with me (my VR bucket). Since I can also use this for my photo editing, that changes the calculus a bit for my portable computing needs. I will probably end up with something a bit slimmer/lighter than my X250 next. Since I also carry a separate mechanical keyboard, this may even end up being a 2-in-1 or tablet. As long is it runs Linux well and has 8h+ battery life, I’ll be alright I think.

We’ll see what 2016 brings, but it’s a bit sad that for me, it probably won’t ever be a Mac again.

[1] For all the details:

Bands You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, This Is My Jam Memorial Edition #

September 28th, 2015 11:06

This is My Jam went into archive mode this weekend. Those unfamiliar with it can read about it here, but the gist of it was that it was a little experiment in music discovery/curation that while beloved by a small community, never really found the right way to gain enought scale/daily engagement to be sustainable.

That being said, they’ve wound it down on a high note.  You can read all about the decision (the Guardian writeup is also good), and the praise they’ve received for shutting down responsibly. If you’re running a site with users, take heed; I’ve rarely, if ever, seen it done better.

One particularly neat feature of the archive (here’s mine) is the automatic generation of a Spotify playlist of your jams. Sadly, for my jams, only 28 out of 53 are available on Spotify right now. As a music enthusiast and early user (Matt, Hannah, and the EN folks are pals), early on I had decided to play around w/ TIMJ over the course of 2 months, from the beginning of October to the end of December 2011, I posted 18 tracks (only 6 of which are available on Spotify) of “bands you’ve probably never heard of.”

It’s been a really long while since I’ve posted music on my site, but I figure this is a fitting tribute. Pouring one out for TIMJ.

  • 1998 – Lanemeyer – Don’t Hate Me
  • 2011-10-09

    1998; 1,548 listeners; Kicking off “bands you’ve probably never heard of” series, read comment for more…

    flaneur: “This feels every inch of 1998.”

    lhl: “Ha, yeah, got distracted w / a phone call, posting a more detailed post now…”

    lhl: “So, first off, a little bit about this experiment. Basically, I was going through some of my music to find some of the older obscure tracks from my collection. I debated including this track, as it’s sort of objectively … not good. But I did remember these guys pretty fondly, for a number of reasons, and included these guys so I could tell the story.”

    lhl: “I actually spent most of my college years almost completely immersed in electronica of every variety, but towards the tail end, I started catching up/seeing what was was happening in the “rock” world, which at the turn of the millennium, was emo/post-emo indie rock. I think I had some (much better) Midtown tracks, and ended up finding these fellow NJ pop-punkers (and some even lesser known brethren like Humble Beginnings) either through mp3.com or AudioGalaxy.”

    lhl: “These guys ended up being mostly a stepping stone towards listening to much better punk (Lawrence Arms, Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Fugazi and the Dischord catalog) and to some much more emo emo that I discovered around the same time period, but that’s a story for the next track. :)”

    lhl: “(BTW, you guys definitely need to do something about the character limits!)”

    lhl: “Also, “listeners” are last.fm listeners.
    Assuming all this data will get pulled automagically when thisismyjam gets Echo Nest super cow powers.

    Lane Meyer (New Jersey, US)
    25,335 plays (1,548 listeners) “

    lhl: “Next installment, tmw.”

    gtmcknight: “This song is awesome. Actually made me go back and listen to more college-ish music like Knapsack and My Hotel Year”

  • 1998 – Vitreous Humor – Sharin’ Stone
  • 2011-10-11

    1998; 1,730 last.fm listeners; OK, it’s all awesomesauce from here on out. Also, so, so emo.

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Vitreous%20Humor

    How emo you ask? I believe that I first caught this track on a compilation called the Emo Diaries. Also, this track was on an album Posthumous, that was released 2 years after they’d broken up.

    Actually a little surprised by how few listeners are listed on last.fm; they were pretty influential in the midwest scene of the era, and as good, if not better than many of the more successful acts that followed.”

    lhl: “They were on crank!, and I have a fair amount of their catalog. Boys Life, Mineral, Gloria Record, pre-Saddle Creek Cursive releases, etc etc. I still have a crank! records sticker on one of my camera cases.

    This was around the time where I was buying the majority of releases from the labels I was following, among them: Saddle Creek (Omaha), Post Parlo (Austin), Barsuk (Seattle), DeSoto (DC), and Jade Tree (DE)”

    flaneur: “And this is why we’ll need to work on the jam archive soon ;)”

    lhl: “Yeah, sort of sucks that it just disappears. Also, do previous tracks completely disappear from the timeline as well?”

    flaneur: “Yup. That’s intentional and I think what differentiates the service, but there are still things we can (and will) do around browsing/doing things with the backlog”

    lhl: “I can understand the approach/attitude (music expiration, highlighting the current jam), but in implementation I think make it too having the timeline completely blow away the previous jam/not having history in the timeline takes ephemerality too far.

    Why leave a comment if it just disappears and no one, not even the poster might see it? Why bother spending any time writing about a jam? If the idea isn’t just to highlight tracks of the moment, the context is important…”

    lhl: “just noticed jams don’t have permalinks either, huh? puts a damper on a lot of interesting things.”

    lhl: “btw i think there is a big hole right now for an app that lets your write/historicize/contextualize your relationship w/ a track, album, band, but maybe that’s not what thisismyjam is… but it should be!”

  • 2000 – Subset – Anchor
  • 2011-10-13

    2000; 1,034 last.fm listeners; track 3 of “bands no one’s heard of” playlist

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Subset

    I first heard of these guys because I worked with the drummer (who also drummed for Silver Scooter, a slightly more well known band) in Austin the summer of 2000.

    These guys (were?) great, not to be confused w/ another band of the same name from the Pacific Northwest (Biz Markie was involved).”

  • 2001 – emotional joystick – eight
  • 2011-10-15

    2001; 8,435 last.fm listeners; slightly less obscure, but just too good of a track not to post.

    lhl: “No great story here, but this is just a killer cut and is just criminally under-listened (say vs the squarepusher or other warp releases coming out around the same time). this was released before chip-tunes became a thing, and managed to bring in just the right bit of drill-and-bass excitement to a melodic, very mid-90s afx type of tune.”

  • 2002 – Halley – Adventures of George and the robbers (record player pt. 1)
  • 2011-10-20

    2002; 619 last.fm listeners; next stop on the bands you’ve never heard of tour. some more austin friends

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Halley

    Another band another coworker was in. I’m guessing that I must have seen them in 2000 or 2001 and picked up an early copy of this song, although my timelines may have been a bit off? Amazing how hazy this stuff gets. I remember this fitting in nicely between the Minus the Bear, Pinback, and Explosions in the Sky I was listening to. This track in particular I think is phenomenal.”

  • 2002 – The Farewell Bikeride – Duet
  • 2011-10-26

    2002; 29 last.fm listeners; that’s right, your home ec class probably was bigger than the listener count

    lhl: “Hmm, the preview didn’t do a good job w/ the photo, glad it cropped ok.


    Provo, UT pop punk band. Not sure how I stumbled upon them. It looks like have a 128kbps copy of a 2-track release here: http://www.archive.org/details/masa022

    I *do* know that they were a real band, as apparently they played in the back of a Peninsula pizza shop a few years back. Apparently a not so mindblowing show (sorry Vince!)”

    uvince: “Wow, the memories!”

    jedsundwall: “Wow. I probably saw these guys play Kilby Court while I was at the University of Utah. Taking me back.”

    bwhitman: “i appreciate your choice of “home ec class” as barometer of low attendance”

  • 2003 – Some By Sea – There’s A Line In The Sand. Are You Afraid To Cross It?
  • 2011-11-09

    2003; 8,385 last.fm listeners; not totally obscure but this Tacoma band only (self) released 1 album and 1 EP.

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Some%20By%20Sea

    One of a number of indie pop bands that seems to fall under the Barsuk sound that was popular at the time. Most of their tracks were admittedly pretty Death Cab light, but this track, IMO is fantastic. Worth a listen if you missed them the first time around.

    (Actually, looking them up on Wikipedia, they did have a full length followup on SideCho before breaking up).”

  • 2004 – Alone – When My Headlights Meet Yours
  • 2011-11-14

    2004; 74 last.fm listeners; lovely post-rock/electronic just recently discovered via a reissue by the artist

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Alone/Several+Quiet+Moments
    (there are 3 other artists named alone, but they’re not the same I don’t believe)

    Not sure how I stumbled onto this. Maybe surfing what.cd tags? It’s a nice little release that no one has heard of, just one of the many albums released out of bedrooms over the past decade of massively democratized bloop making tools.


  • 2005 – Velvetron – Deadbeat
  • 2011-11-19

    2005; 184 last.fm listeners; the folks in Chicago picked some great music for the campaign; more in comments

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Velvetron

    …referring to the 2008 Obama Campaign of course. From the Dan Zweben lick on the Super Bowl commercial, or The National (Fake Empire no less) on commercials and at the DNC.

    Of all the spots/tracks, this one by Velvetron was my favorite I think, and I’m somewhat surprised by how criminally underplayed this band is.

    Ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXAiyAf7HgA

    Velvetron’s site: http://velvetron.net/ (hey, didn’t even know they had a new album. Bought!)”

    joehughes: “Weird that the only way to give good music the word count it deserves is to comment on your own post!”

    lhl: “Well sadly, it also all disappears when you post a new song. Also, you probably won’t see this comment since I’m going to be posting a new track in a minute!”

  • 2007 – Portland – Girl In My Bed
  • 2011-11-23

    2007; 77 last.fm listeners; Go ahead. Try finding their album.

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Portland/Adrienne

    I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled onto these guys, but their entire album, Adrienne, has just a great guitar-driven post-rocky sound. As far as I know, this was their only release and it’s pretty much impossible to find it.

    If you have sufficient Google-fu, you can find that the original album was released on Punching Bee Music, a local Grand Rapids, Michigan label. It shared some members w/ the band The Mighty Narwhale.”

    iancr: “Wow. Woah. Jeez. Thanks!”

  • 2008 – Minimatic – Take on me (with a martini)
  • 2011-11-28

    2008; 2,734 last.fm listeners; French lounge remixer does a great cover…

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Minimatic

    This artist/track feels a bit less obscure to me than some of the others I’ve been posting. I feel like despite the low last.fm listener count, that there’s a more than fair chance that some people here have heard this before.

    A big reason I’m including this is because when I first heard this track, it was sort of a pain to chase down. I ended up eventually getting to the dj/producer’s site, where I wget’d a bunch of remix and mixtape tracks.”

  • 2008 – Satine – October Dane
  • 2011-12-01

    2008; ~800 last.fm listeners; first caught this on La Blogothèque. see comments for more

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Satine

    This is just a fantastic track. Maybe the best one of this whole “bands you’ve never heard of” series. I dropped them an email and ordered their EP (hand mailed via Air France) for €10 after I first heard this. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that October Dane wasn’t on it! The track was eventually released on their 2010 live album Satine Ünder Philharmonëën, available on Amazon MP3.”

  • 2008 – The Ghost Orchid – Horseshoes & Handgrenades
  • 2011-12-06

    2008; 5,306 last.fm listeners; fantastic unsigned San Diego post-rock tinged indietronica

    lhl: “Not sure how I originally stumbled on these guys (clicking through on random tags on what?) Their entire album is filled w/ the same awesomesauce, so if this strikes your fancy, they sell their album for $10 via paypal:



  • 2008 – the Old Believers – There It Is
  • 2011-12-14

    2008; 2,471 last.fm listeners; criminally unheard folk from Portland via Alaskan duo

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/The%20Old%20Believers

    This was one of my favorite albums from 2008 and this was one of my favorite opening tracks. You can actually listen/dl the whole album here: http://oldbelieversmusic.com/shhh/ , but if you like it, they probably deserve a couple bucks: http://www.amazon.com/Eight-Golden-Greats/dp/B0016CCVVC

    I think I’m about 13 or 14 tracks into my awesome bands people haven’t heard of set. Will pick up the pace to close out 2011 before I head out of town.”

  • 2009 – Ishivu – Palms
  • 2011-12-16

    2009; 928 last.fm listeners; made when he was 16? spotted on DÖDSELECTRO when it came out

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Ishivu

    DÖDSELECTRO ( http://deathelectro.com/ ) has long one of my favorite electronic music blogs and this is one of the many obscure gems that I found on it.”

  • 2010 – iambic – Satellites
  • 2011-12-19

    2010; 1,789 last.fm listeners; ambient/idm; RIYL Benn Jordan/Flashbulb, Halogen, Lusine, I Am Robot and Proud

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Iambic

    Actually, Album Leaf (but mellower) or Small Sails might also be good comparisons. A pleasant soundscapey post-rock w/ some jazzier instrumentation. Not sure how I stumbled on this. Tag search on what?”

  • 2010 – Lemâitre – Strobes Pt. 2
  • 2011-12-21

    2010; 12,512 last.fm listeners; RIYL Erlend Øye, Röyksopp, Phoenix

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/MH

    Released at the beginning of this year, chances are good you haven’t heard this album. If you are at all into psych or folk, you should rectify this. The entire album is available here: http://purehighonthesea.bandcamp.com/album/black-animal-2

    (It took a bit longer than I expected, but we’re finally closing in on the end of this bands you haven’t heard of jam list… I’ll probably do one more before I head out of town…)”

  • 2011 – MH – 05 In The Blackness Of The Fire
  • 2011-12-23

    2011; 538 last.fm listeners; “an attempt at a modern Great American Folk Album.”

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/MH

    Released at the beginning of this year, chances are good you haven’t heard this album. If you are at all into psych or folk, you should rectify this. The entire album is available here: http://purehighonthesea.bandcamp.com/album/black-animal-2

    (It took a bit longer than I expected, but we’re finally closing in on the end of this bands you haven’t heard of jam list… I’ll probably do one more before I head out of town…)”

  • 2011 – Milo Greene – 1957
  • 2011-12-27

    2011; 2,989 last.fm listeners; and that’s a wrap 2011 and the “bands you’ve never heard of” playlist.

    lhl: “http://www.last.fm/music/Milo+Greene

    It looks like these guys have picked up some listeners since I started this list (they’re touring w/ The Civil Wars at the moment). Still, relatively under the radar relative to how. damn. good. they sound.

    They have a streaming only EP here: http://milogreene.bandcamp.com/

    and there’s a great live version of the track here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUazz0gML00


  • This post was, of course, written while listening to these tracks
  • Assembled w/ a combination of my old playlist Python code (I actually had these tracks assembled into a playlist back in Oct 2011 but never got around to posting it) and munging of the TIMJ csv data
  • to replace the comment semicolons w/ line breaks: %s/"; /"\r\r/g
  • also, I think ggVG +y is burnt in for doing select-all pulls in gvim now. I’m not sure that’s easier than ctrl-a ctrl-c but I’ll roll with it
  • One track I wanted to post was by an LA mathy-post-punk band called Snake vs Wizard. I actually had bought a home-made EP from them in the early 2000s, but unfortunately, never ripped it before it was lost to the mists of moving. If you have a copy, drop me a line.

Chargebacks and CC Fraud for Small Projects #

September 17th, 2015 12:33

Remy has been posting a series, The toxic side of free. Or: how I lost the love for my side project, on JS Bin, and Part 4 covers how he started Pro Accounts and some of the unexpected costs – that is, carders would use the low price to test newly stolen cards and eventually he’d get chargebacks. The Hacker News discussion includes some advice on using minFraud (Sift and FraudLabs are other alternatives). Amazon DevPay also sounds like a good alternertive to building your own billing system.

Also, VATMOSS sounds terrible.

Adventures in Metered Internet Access #

April 20th, 2015 2:23

I’m spending the month driving around New Zealand and I figure I’d write about one interesting tech travel challenges (and one of the major reasons that I’m in the process of switching to Linux from OS X). Those specifically interested in my yak shaving experiences on getting Linux set up on a Lenovo X250 of course can follow along, but this will be more focused.

I am currently on “Milford Sound Lodge Internet Access” which is a pretty decent satellite connection (about 20KB/s) considering that cell phone reception ended over 100km back (I have a Vodafone and Spark prepaid sims for this trip). The pricing is tiered, and the best per-MB pricing is 50MB for 10NZD (0.20NZD/MB) – I’m on day 2 and my third voucher right now. The captive portal is a short code provided by receipt-printed vouchers, and it’s actually pretty good/reliable as far as these things go. The portal itself is a simple Python cgi-bin, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find it backed by a solid embedded FreeBSD setup (curiousity got the better of me, It’s running an ancient Debian Linux (2.6 kernel), the web server is lighthttp).

I haven’t bothered using my Macbook Air – it chewed through 20MB of even more expensive internationl airplane wifi in a matter of minutes. There’s no way for me to effectively control all the various daemons or lock down the network (Little Snitch tracks and shows me everything, but inexplicably gives me know way to go into a lockdown mode).

I’m running Ubuntu 15.04 on my X250 at the moment. iptraf and iftop work well for tracking connections, and nethogs lets you see connections on a per-process basis. OOTB, things were decent – I wrote a script to stop unattended-upgrades and dropbox to avoid any surprises, however a few surprises: avahi-daemon doesn’t seem to stop chattering even when turned off. It’s purely local, but it was running up charges so I ended up uninstalling it for now. The other thing that was (not surprising) was that both Chromium/Chrome and Firefox chew through networking with their auto-updates. I could probably disable the updates (there may be other extensions as well though) and various syncing things, but instead I’m using uzbl at the moment (surf and vimprobable are other options) for lightweight browsing. I’m also using elinks (links/lynx as backups), which is much more efficient, of course. On my yak-shaving list: finding a terminal-based webkit browser, setting up a travel Firefox profile w/ uBlock, Noscript, images and all updates disabled for travel mode.

Besides the browser hijinks, my current setup is incredibly well behaved – a few bytes for occasional ntp updates that I haven’t been able to track down (it’s not in my init.d…), but I can live with that.

Interesting notes on mobile usage:

It turns out that iOS 8 is almost as badly behaved as OS X on Wifi. I turned off “Background App Refresh” and scoured all the other settings available to me, but iOS still ate up 5MB+ of data immediately after signing in. I haven’t let it get online again. I must be missing something. I’d assume that there are many places in the world with metered wifi connections?

Android 5.1 is slightly better behaved. You can Restrict Background Data (Settings > Data Usage > Menu), but of course, by default this only restricts cellular, not wifi connections. There’s a separate Network Restrictions option that lets you specify Metered Wifi Networks, however that works. Once this is set (after I burned through a couple MB of data) then it works as expected.

Blog Post #

March 25th, 2015 2:23

Man, I should really post some of these cute pics to a blog or something. Oh yeah, I have one of those!



Desk.pm Review #

January 26th, 2015 7:03

I just picked up a copy of Desk.pm after reading about it on HN. At the base, it’s an ingenious, but long overdue idea – an offline/local blog-publishing tool that adopts the style of a focused-writing editor.

I’m very hopeful that this lowered friction will have me publishing more often. Desk.pm is relatively expensive to drop sight unseen ($30 on the Mac App Store) and still quite young, so we’ll see how it works out.

Current Summary (2015-01-27, v1.1 (5)):

  • While it has potential, it also has a bunch of deal-breakers for me so I can’t really recommend it right now, but this may change as it gets updated.
      • Basic editing stuff is slightly buggy (paragraphs!) or missing (embeds/source-editing)
      • Publishing model feels wrong
  • Be sure to check out the forums: http://talk.desk.pm/c/support/ideas

Here are some thoughts so far (I’ll be adding to this as I use it more)


  • The minimal approach is nice, but there probably should be a bit more of a getting started guide (dismissable, of course). Also, there are a lot of hidden options, like spell-checking and some other globals should probably be something that you can set-up on start.
  • Changing the blog-post title is a lot less obvious that it should be. It took me forever to figure out that it’s under “Rename…” in the File menu or you need to hover over over the topbar and click to rename. It feels like maybe “Rename…” should be replaced with a “Post Info” palette or something, and that there should be an option for having a Title Bar/Field that can auto-hide or stick at the top (especially useful if there’s support for tags, categories, post-date, what have you).
  • Publishing is actually more confusing than I’d like as well. Ideally, I’d like to be able to simply see my state and toggle it. For example, here’s how bad/confusing things are.  Currently, I’m editing a new draft that’s saved in a “Blog”.  Great. However, when I go to “Blog > Publish”, it brings up a sidebar where I have to select my blog again, and then use a pull-down to update the status? As far as I can tell, I have to do this every time I want to update my post. It seems like I should only have to set my publish settings for a blog post in a modal once, and simply be able to publish after that. Also, it seems like I should be able to have some sort of auto-publish behavior or barring that, some sort of way to be able to tell when this saved post is different from my published post. (A slick way would be a diffing view I suppose, but something should show my last saved vs last published time and if it’s different at least).


  • I like the Medium-style inline callouts on selection in theory, but in practice, they’re sort of annoying: I wish I could just disable it. There’s nothing there that I shouldn’t be able to do better keyboard-only.
  • Markdown auto-conversion is nice, although I do wish it was a bit more responsive. Hackpad does a better job of doing per-character vs end-of-line conversion.
      • BUG: Markdown italics doesn’t appear to auto-convert in the editor although it will work once posted.
  • The first thing I did was go to System Preferences > Keyboard > App Shortcuts and add CMD-K for link creation. I don’t know why it’s not the shortcut in the first place. However, sadly, the linking behavior is still a bit broken. If you try CMD-K on an empty selection, it does nothing, which is arguably OK behavior, but if you CMD-K with the cursor within an existing link, it should let you edit it, right? Furthermore, if you create a link with CMD-K and then with the word still selected, try to CMD-K again (say to edit the URL) it fails.
  • Doing things like adding an embed are currently impossible. I would have liked to embed a Desk.pm video, for example, but I can’t. As far as I can tell there’s no “manual HTML insertion” ability or any way to extend formatting (personally, I embed Flickr photos a lot in my posts, also I tend to use a fair amount of <blockquote> and <code> tags (<– see how that’d would be useful there?)
  • Full-screen is nice, but it’d be nice just to have an adjustable defocus/darken feature. 
  • It’d be nice to have preview as a split-screen or a sidebar view.
  • Has some serious indents on lists. Wish there was a way to style the editor.
  • BUG: There is wonky stuff going on with line-breaks/paragraphing…

Keyboard Support:

  • In general, Desk is sadly not as keyboard-driven as I would like, and not in a vim-emulation mode either, but lots of little things like the lack of proper focusing when sidebars come up, and less than ideal formatting shortcuts (compare say vs iA Writer), or the way say the linking popup disappears if you use a clipboard manager (I use ClipMenu) or tab out to grab a link. In general, I would just like to be able to use Desk.pm w/o having to touch my mouse, which doesn’t seem like too much to ask, but currently seems impossible.
  • I wish there was a Keyboard Help keyboard shortcut (cmd-/ or cmd-?)
  • Tooltips should have keyboard shortcuts appended
  • Sidebar panes are not keyboard navigable. Since those panes disappear if you type anyway, it seems like focus should change, and you should be able to get out of a pane then by either using the keyboard-shortcut again, Escape, or clicking the main editor pane.

Firefox Developer Edition #

November 26th, 2014 2:38

I run a lot of browsers – I’ll usually have 3-4 running, a mix of Chrome, Canary, Safari, and Firefox Nightly. With Mavericks, I switched to Safari as my default browser on my MBA due to its power efficiency.  Unfortunately, Yosemite breaks the SIMBL plugin I was dependent on, so it was time to move on.

Chrome has been getting sluggish and I’ve really been liking what Firefox has been up to, but the latest Nightly builds have been not so dependable (I blame e10s but maybe that’s unfair) and since I’m traveling again, daily 90MB downloads isn’t ideal, so I decided to give Firefox Developer Edition a shot.

Turns out, it’s pretty great! It has a dark simple, theme, by default. Is pretty snappy, and the developer tools look great (although at this point I’m so used to Chrome’s keybindings that it’s been a bit awkward switching).

The one fly in the ointment was that 1Password wasn’t playing nice. Luckily, there is a solution. Just upgrade to the latest beta extension and the latest beta version of the app and it’ll work.

If you use Evernote, you’ll also want the beta Clipper that brings it to parity w/ Chrome and Safari.

Lastly, one of the things that I really got spoiled by was Chrome’s particularly elegant “hold CMD-Q to quit” option. While, ever so slightly less elegant, meta-q-override/warn-before-quit does the trick.

I’m currently using Firefox Developer Edition as my new default browser.

Microsoft Band Overview/Review #

October 30th, 2014 8:56

This is going to be a work in progress for the next few days, so feel free to check back (or just ask questions in the comments)… I’ll be making notes my experience with the new Microsoft Band an activity/fitness/slightly-smart-watchish wearable device. I will be making comparisons to the Basis B1 I’ve been wearing for the past year and a half, and maybe some other activity devices as well.

The Basis B1 hasn’t been the worst thing ever, but my band has been falling apart, and in general, everything from the syncing, to the heart rate monitoring, to basic things like telling time is janky/less-than-great. Still, even a couple years on, the Basis is practically the only game in town for a general activity tracker that’s actually more than a glorified pedometer (I previously had a BodyMedia FIT but their form factor and service model was a turn-off).

Earlier this year, I finally received my long delayed, Amiigo wristband, which, while making big promises, ended up being a pretty half-baked disappointment. I kept using my B1.

Last month, Basis (acquired by Intel earlier this year) announced their new tracker, the Peak. It promised a much improved heart rate sensor that would be useful for fitness tracking, Bluetooth Smart connectivity, 4 day battery life, and 5ATM water resistance (good enough for swimming laps). It also promised a host of software improvements, including sleep-cycle detection, better alerts/habit forming reminders, and some smartwatch style notifications and alerts in the unspecified future.

While the BodyIQ automatic activity tracking (walking, running, biking, and sleep) they introduced a while back actually works pretty well, the Basis has had many long-standing unsolved problems. The support forums are filled with requests begging for features that are always “not ruled out as a future feature”, but over the past couple years, these new features have never been implemented. My personal bugbear is that the Basis doesn’t actually update time/time-zone except after completing the interminably slow full-sync. This means that you can’t update the time on the watch if you’re on a plane, or in an international airport or anywhere without several minutes and solid data.

A few weeks ago, the Fitbit Surge leaked and was finally announced. It doesn’t include GSR, skin, or ambient temperature, but has optical heart rate and also GPS tracking, a digital compass, and altimeter. It claims a 5-day battery life and 5ATM of water resistance. Of course, Fitbit has its detractors as well. Some people popped up in the HN thread complaining about the broken app. For me, the biggest drawback is that while Fitbit stores your second-by-second raw biometric data, you need to pay $50/yr to export your information.  While there’s an API, you can only retrieve daily information unless you have “Partner API” access. That’s total bullshit and really precludes me from giving them any of my money.

The Microsoft Band first leaked last night (due to an OS X App Store publishing slipup), and then subsequently was announced last night (along with the website and online purchasing). It includes a nice suite of sensors including a very responsive optical heart rate sensor, GPS (turned on only for workouts), skin temp, GSR, and UV sensor (manually activated). It has apps for syncing via Windows and OS X via USB, and iOS, Android, and WP via BTLE. Battery life is lower than the Peak or Surge (2 days) and it’s “splashproof” and not submersible, but you get some slick alerts and a capacitive (OLED?) display.

Here’s some running commentary:

  • After the Band website had launched, I called a nearby Microsoft Store (in West LA) shortly before closing to see if they would have these in stock tomorrow. I got a “we can’t talk about future products” response, event after telling them I could order it online. What’s crazy is that when I checked the Microsoft Store site later, their main promo carousel was talking about the fitness launch event. After I saw that I just ended up just rolling into the local store in the morning (who knew that even existed?) and they had the displays set up w/ demo models for sizing. Of course, the store was empty, but it still took a bit of waiting around to get helped. Coming from the clockwork customer-oriented efficiency of Apple Stores, the whole shopping experience was a bit surreal to be honest.
  • I set up the Band right outside the store – it took about 10 minutes to do an initial sync and registration via USB on the OS X app and to download the iOS app and pair it with my iPhone 5S. I think the instructions/guidance could have been a little better, but I didn’t run into any problems – it all worked rather pleasantly, and I was up and running. Syncs/updating preferences from the apps have all worked quickly and seamlessly, which is very different from the sluggish/always-seems-like-it’s-going-to-fail feeling I get when syncing my B1.
  • I spent most of the day wearing both the Band and B1 on my left wrist. I first went walking counting 100 steps a couple times, and both devices did a pretty good job (+/- 2 steps).  When I checked, the B1 was at 1035 and the Band was at 360 (+675). Right now, the B1 is at 3602 and the Band is at 2958 (+644). That’s pretty good.
  • The heart rate sensitivity looks very good – the numbers between the two seemed to be pretty similar between the B1 and the Band, however, while the B1 was static, the Band looks like it refreshes every second on the main screen. That being said, it seems to be pretty sensitive to position/how secure the device is on the write. Right now when drilling into the details (tap on the main screen, two swipes left) was “locked” vs “acquiring” about half the time. Locking seems to take about 3s on average. Earlier in the day this seemed a lot better. It seemed to be very responsive when I was trying a workout.
  • The UI on the Band itself is pretty good – swipes are responsive and it wasn’t hard to figure anything out. You sometimes have a dialog to choose from (alarms, notifications, etc).  The only really annoying thing so far is that you need to press the somewhat inconvenient center button to activate the device. I wonder if it’d be better on the left corner (since the way it’s shaped means it’s less embedded there) or if there’s a way for a purely capacitive unlock (like a full swipe, or even a tap). The tiles metaphor works great – these tiles (and all notifications) are also completely customizable (order, on/off) from the mobile app. There’s a watch mode which shows the time, but it’d be nice if there was an option for the display to be inactive and for it to show the main-screen info when you lift your wrist a-la Android Wear/Apple Watch. Interestingly, it appears to be an LCD, not an OLED (the blacks aren’t true black). I wonder what that means in terms of power consumption for the display.
  • The UI on the iOS app is clean and very Metro-ish. The only real weird thing with it was the “Save”/”Cancel” buttons. I sort of just want to be able to apply or swipe out I guess? Syncing/pushing updates/preferences seems to happen reliably/not take too long. The “Home” screen is not so useful to start out with. A bunch of these aren’t clickable.  I also wish it’d display battery time remaining on the Band device as well.
  • I did a “Run” to test out the GPS and fitness tracking.  It records in your “activity history.” When you start, it enables the GPS, and allows you to start your workout while it gets a fix, or you can wait for the GPS fix (took about 30s). I did a 10-minute walk around the block and it ends up w/ a summary w/ all the information you’d expect (start time, duration, calories burned, pace, avg/hi/lo hr, ending hr,  splits, etc).. .The GPS trace looked pretty good to me:
  • So, that’s all good, but what I haven’t figured out yet is how to access all the passive data it’s tracking. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the mobile app. Here’s the data that the Basis web app provides for example:
    Basis B1 Data
  • I tested some notifications (text, incoming call) and they seem to work fine. There’s a whole bunch built in that you can individually enable/disable (and also remove the tiles entirely from the device. There’s also a notification center tile that presumably shows you all notifications from your phone. I don’t really care/can’t be too bothered by any of that -Google Now/Siri support would be useful, but honestly what I’d most like is to be able to be able to simply tell the Band when to switch modes or annotate activities via voice.
  • The last big thing right now I’d say is comfort. While it’s not that physically bulky, it’s actually pretty dense and feels much heavier than the Amiigo or the B1. Also the shape is awkward – the inside of the main screen/processing unit is completely flat, and the optical HR sensor is raised up on the bottom size. In order to get good readings it seems that you need to make sure it doesn’t wiggle too much so you have to press your wrist into a pretty funny shape.  I’ve actually found that I can’t comfortably wear the Band with the screen facing outward. On the other hand, with the wrist band inward, it makes typing on a desk incredibly awkward.  There’s a adjustable buckle which is clever, but I sort of want to be able to slide it around.  Honestly, it makes me a bit sad because while I really like this device, if I can’t get used to wearing it in the next few days, I’ll probably return it.

My current two questions:

  • Comfort: can I get used to wearing the Band? (it took me a couple weeks to get used to wearing a watch after a decade without one)
  • Data: can I access all the data that the Band is recording
    • You can see the step and HR details when clicking on the Home summaries
    • Other sensors?
    • How is Calories calculated? Is it also extrapolated when you’re not wearing it?
    • Can BMR be factored in?

I’ll be updating this as I use this/discover more, and maybe with some more links as well…

Update 10/31: I went back and added a bit of a description on the notifications and UI. I also wore my band overnight, and got sleep details. The data looks pretty good, although you have to manual start/stop sleep mode for now. Interestingly, it was pretty comfortable to leave on, whereas I never want to wear my Basis in bed. I haven’t been too bothered wearing the Band today, so I may be getting used to it. I’m jonesing to get my data out of the app though…

Update 11/1: I got around to testing out my personal use case of having the correct time on the Band. The bad news: with time “auto set,” you must sync with your phone to update the time. The Microsoft Health app won’t let you sync if you’re not online. WAH WAH.  That being said, you can disable “auto set” and manually update either the time zone or the date/time on the device itself. That wasn’t so hard. Note: Basis has been selling a watch for the past two years where the time can’t be updated without an Internet connection.

Update 11/26: Just a quick update on time zones/travel. Unfortunately, like the Basis, you can’t sync the time to your phone without online access. You can manually set the time, however the issue there is that it’ll show a field for time zones, but you aren’t able to change it. You will have to change the time leaving the time zone, which will actually offset the actual absolute time, probably leading to all kinds of data recording weirdness. Boo-urns.

CITIZENFOUR (Yes, you should watch it) #

October 27th, 2014 10:28

If you’ve been subjected to my tweets, you probably know that I was following the NSA leaks (and larger questions) pretty closely last year. And, since I’m currently back in one of the few cities that Laura Poitras’ new documentary on the subject, CITIZENFOUR is playing, it’s probably no surprise that I went to see it when I got a chance.

The short summary is that it’s a great documentary (currently 98% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, 89 (Universal Acclaim) on Metacritic) but more importantly, it’s an important film, especially if you haven’t been following along with this story. While some have complained both wasy, IMO Poitras strikes a nice balance that nicely encapsulates the larger story of total surveillance while providing fascinating footage of the initial leaks as they happened (funnily enough, both of these made possible by modern technology).

Seeing this side of the story reminded me of when the leaks first broke last year – I was in Berlin for the first time for work (the PRISM story was literally “breaking news” on the TVs as we were boarding), and we made a toast after dinner to the then-anonymous leaker who without a doubt was totally and completely fucked. I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that yes, there is a scene in the documentary footage that captures that moment perfectly. It’s honestly breathtakingly terrifying, but also extremely thought provoking. Also, spoiler alert, it turns out that even with the tables stacked against you, sometimes you can luck out.

(One last Berlin aside, it was interesting digesting the surveillance revelations walking through the Holocaust and Berlin Wall Memorials, where the spectre of the Stasi is still in living, even recent memory. It was also eye-opening returning to the US and seeing how different the reactions were after a weekend of swapping reactions with Berliners, Germans, and Europeans.)

The biggest shame about the film is that it isn’t showing more widely, but I’m sure it’ll be on all types of digital distribution, licit or otherwise, soon.

  • Godfrey Cheshire (a former chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle) declared in his review (I only read reviews post-facto these days, but this is actually a quite intersting review, beyond the catchy opening):

    Though superlatives can mischaracterize any movie’s qualities, it is not an overstatement, I think, to call “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’ film about Edward Snowden, the movie of the century (to date).

  • The Nation just posted a very lengthy (wide-ranging and deep I suppose they’d say) interview with Snowden – it’s one of the more interesting Snowden interviews and if you are looking for more insight into his current political/policy/technology thoughts, it’s well worth the read.
  • For those that like video, Larry Lessig interviewed Snowden the other week at Harvard Law School which is similar in tone/scope to a lot of the other telepresent interviews/Q&A’s he’s done.
  • Glenn Greenwald also gave a fantastic talk on Why Privacy Matters at TEDGlobal this year:

The Future Might Be OK #

October 17th, 2014 9:05

It’s easy to get caught up in the news of the day (right this minute: Ebola epidemic, global economic instability), or the latest big tech announcements (slightly thinner and shinier gadgets) and miss some of the mind-blowing things that continue to happen all around us.

Since I’m posting links: