Commenting Options

When I was updating the site to be more post friendly (see What’s Happening Around Here) one of my goals was to make it easy to share and comment on the site. Previously this required setting up a WordPress account which seemed pretty excessive. I considered using a Facebook based commenting system, but wasn’t thrilled about requiring a Facebook account. I was quite happy to find a WordPress plugin (Comments Evolved) that allowed me to offer 3 commenting systems in one: You can now comment using your existing Google+ or Facebook account or choose to use a WordPress account if you prefer. Feel free to try it out below.

I have come across one issue: I’m not consistently getting notifications of comments made through Google+. Hopefully I’ll be able to get that figured out soon.

Posted in Technology Tagged with: , , ,

Gmail Tabbed Inbox

A couple months ago Gmail rolled out a new inbox that promised to sort all my email for me. After reading the blog post and watching the intro video (below) I was pretty optimistic that it would work.

But let’s take a step back: what basis do I have for opining on an inbox? Since switching to Gmail in April, 2005 I had carefully cultivated a very detailed filtering system to label all of my incoming messages, many of them skipping the inbox, some being marked as read. The list of filters had grown to over 350 and was regularly purged for ones that were no longer needed.

While my system worked great – I had a manageable inbox of relevant messages and a pretty useful process for quickly reviewing the rest – it had a couple significant issues:

  1. It required regular maintenance to keep working smoothly
  2. It was almost impossible to share with anyone else

So I made a backup of all my filters, then I deleted them all and let Google handle all the sorting. And it worked. After using the new inbox for a little over 3 months I have no complaints. The sorting works great. And if it is ever wrong I can quickly move a message to the right tab and Google learns from my correction.

One of my favorite parts: it keeps my notifications in check. By keeping my priority inbox to things that matter I can keep notifications on without being overwhelmed. And that makes email more useful.

Posted in Productivity, Technology Tagged with: , ,

Specialization vs. Versatility

Here is a neat little trick for sparking debate among gadget nerds: when discussing any device simply point out one of two things:

  1. A different device does better at a specific function
  2. A different device that has an additional function.

Sound complicated? Here are a pair of simple examples:

  1. Talking about a smartphone: “A DSLR takes much better pictures…”
  2. Talking about a DSLR: “A smartphone let’s you post those pictures to Facebook…”

This is an indication of the fantastic situation that we find ourselves in: For most anything we want a device to do, there are plenty of options. Those options represent a scale of benefits and compromises. Using the example above, a phone can take good pictures (great pictures even), is easy to carry  and does lots of other things. But a good camera can be designed around taking great pictures. Choosing the right one depends on your priorities. Neither is wrong, but one could clearly be better for a specific person.

The modern smartphone is remarkably versatile. In many ways it provides enough functionality to replace a number of devices for the average person. It can be a suitable camera and quite capable as a media player. But how far does this extend? What about for social media or email? For some users a phone is their primary computing device and could be all they need. But a phone has limitations and compromises. The small size that makes it easy to carry around limits what can be done.

So now we have tablets. The larger size makes it possible to do more but at the same time make them less convenient to carry around. And then there are laptops, which cover a large range of sizes and processing power. And desktop computers where the priority is put on power and screen size.

It can be easy to say that one class of devices will make another obsolete. And while it is true that a phone can by the primary (or even sole) computing device for some people, that doesn’t mean that other categories of devices are doomed. Just like there are reasons to buy a dedicated camera instead of exclusively using the one in your phone, there are reasons that a desktop computer is still a good choice for certain applications.

Versatility is great, but there are times and applications that call for specialization.

Posted in Technology Tagged with: , , ,

Pebble Shines On Android

I use an Android phone (see why I prefer Android). I also have a Pebble smart watch. The more I explore the possibilities with Pebble the more I appreciate the openness of Android. Before Pebble I had done a little with apps like Tasker, but Pebble took it to a whole new level.

Within the official Pebble app there are a handful of notification options and settings. The iPhone app is very similar. But there is one feature that is unique to Android: enable 3rd party notifications. By checking that box a whole new world is opened up. There are apps that let me send notifications from anything to my watch. (I use Light Flow and Pebble Notifier, in case you were curious). I can even switch the ringer settings from my watch (Pebble Phone Ringer Switcher). Perfect for making sure my ringer is off without having to pull my phone out of my pocket.

But that is just the beginning: By using Tasker a whole new level of customization is available. Tasker makes it possible to customize settings and actions for a variety of different scenarios. For example, I already use Tasker to turn on my WiFi when I get home and turn it off when I leave. But by utilizing apps that support Pebble and Tasker I can extend those customizations from my phone to my watch.

For example: with Canvas I can build my own watch faces right on my phone and send them straight to my watch. These faces can incorporate all sorts of information ranging from appointments on my calendar to the current weather, making my watch incredibly useful. But with Tasker I can automatically change which face is displaying. So when I get to my office my watch switches to show the time and my next 2 meetings. When I’m in my car it displays a much simpler face with just the time in big digits.

By using Glance not only can I see the weather and other useful information right on my phone, I can also initiate actions from my watch. Anything I can control with Tasker can be started from my watch.

That is a lot of options and there are plenty more out there, some that I’ve tried and lots that I have not. They don’t all work flawlessly, but that is the tradeoff. On iOS the options are significantly more limited, in large part because apps have very little access to each other. So where I can use a function in Glance to start an action in Tasker to change a setting in Canvas and have it all sent back to my Pebble, that isn’t possible in iOS. But when something isn’t working right in my setup, there are lots of pieces that could have gone wrong (often because I overlooked something). It is like Uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Posted in Technology Tagged with: , , , , ,

Why I Prefer Android

As someone interested in technology I have an opinion on lots of platforms, devices and accessories. The one that tends to come up most often is iPhone vs Android. Instead of trying to crown an absolute winner, I like to match up the needs and preferences of a person with the strengths of the phones. It is my opinion that that there are so many great options that it is pretty difficult to choose a bad phone. Instead the important thing is to pick a device works for the person using it.

Starting with the iPhone: Apple does an impressive job at polishing the whole package. It looks great and is pretty simple to understand. The trade off is that to make sure everything runs smoothly some things are limited. Generally, if you are more concerned that your phone works and less interested in how the iPhone is probably a good fit. It is a popular choice and the popularity has a benefit: accessories are widely available, ranging from top quality to super cheap.

And now the other side of the coin: Android offers greater flexibility across the whole experience. From the size and specs of the device to the look and feel of everything on the screen, you have plenty of options. But again, there is a compromise to make: with so many options it can feel almost impossible to find the right combination. To get the most out of Android you need to be a little more inclined to explore and experiment.

It is worth acknowledging that there are other options out there, Windows Phone and BlackBerry being the biggest names. I have much less experience with the recent phones on either of these platforms, but I can see that they can be a good fit for specific users. From my perspective, the most compelling case for choosing either of these is an existing dedication to the platform. If you extensively use Microsoft products and services a Windows phone may make a lot of sense for you.

So those are the options. When people ask me what phone they should get, this is where I start. And for a lot of people I recommend the iPhone. So why do I chose Android devices for myself? There are a couple big reasons. First, I like to have options, to explore and experiment and find what works for me. That was a big part of what got me to switch from my iPhone 3G to the Nexus One a few years ago. But Android was still pretty rough and switching back to the polish of the iPhone 4 was pretty tempting.

But there is something bigger. Google. Outside of Android, I use a lot of Google products and services. From Gmail, calendar, contacts and voice to search and maps I do a lot with Google. And all of those services work great on my phone and tablet. It is similar to the case I made for Windows or BlackBerry – I use lots of Google services and Android provides the best platform to use them on a mobile device.

So, there you have it: I prefer Android because it let’s me bring Google with me.

Posted in Technology Tagged with: , ,

US Open

Watching world class tennis in person is amazing. Nadine & I got to attend the final 4 days of the 2013 US Open. The marketing line for the event is “Nothing beats being here” and they nailed it. Watching on TV is fun and certainly has its advantages (convenience and cost high on that list), but the experience is more than what is happening on center court.
Of course there are the big events: the 54 volley rally between Nadal and Djokovic or the 5 set marathon in the semi final. But some of my favorite matches were the ones that weren’t widely covered:
The Champions Doubles final featuring the McEnroe brothers where we got to sit in the first couple of rows to witness great tennis up close.
Champions Doubles
Junior singles finals that went 3 sets. And where the ball boy tossed me a ball after the match (it is the little things)
US Open Match Ball
And wheelchair matches where the level of competition was as high as on any court at the tournament.
Wheelchair Tennis

It may be awhile before we make it back, but we are glad we got to go once.


Posted in Sports, Travel Tagged with:

What’s Happening Around Here?

It is finally happening – I’m transitioning this site from a few pages to place where I can share what is on my mind. “But, why?” you ask. A few reasons:

  • I like having my own sandbox to play in – it gives me a chance to try things out and see what works
  • Social networks are fun, but they have limits – I want a space where I can have more control over my content
  • Writing forces me to work through things that are going through my mind and organize my thoughts – that can only be a good thing

Thanks for joining me!

Posted in Uncategorized

Bike messenger problems

Playing bike messenger today. Biggest annoyance: nowhere to put my bike at each stop.


Posted in Pictures Tagged with: