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Pilch

spending the morning troubleshooting windows XP blue screen of death in the year of our Lord 2017 AD

Pilch

Pilch

Work email

1 min read

My work just sent out a company-wide email with no text, just an attached Word doc that took 2 minutes to load. It was a bullet list of tax information, which could have just been in the email itself.

Microsoft Office makes people worse at software.

Pilch

Mashable: I drove the streets of Las Vegas in a self-driving Audi

1 min read

Always nice to see your employer in the news for being at the forefront of a new technology.

http://mashable.com/2015/01/05/las-vegas-self-driving-audi/

Pilch

Pilch

The Internet as a Megaphone

3 min read

We live in exciting, sometimes terrifying times. It has become fashionable to carry a device on your person at all times with more computing power than NASA's Apollo command center. Products raise millions of dollars to essentially communicate with that smart device from several feet away. The most popular uses of of these mobile devices are to shoot round birds with a slingshot at makeshift towers built by pigs, and to broadcast any minute detail that pops up in the ol' brain bucket. Broad new horizons.

However, users of these devices (and the services they enable) bring with them horizons that are neither broad nor new. Certain , previously ignored and subsequently rendered powerless, now have the means to broadcast globally and connect like-minded individuals regardless of geographic location. This message amplification has the ability to force society to progress with great strides, as with the LGBT community. But for some reason, the net-positive effect does not happen with everyone. The most recent instance of this is Gamergate.

In years past, I might have identified myself as a gamer. In the sense that "I enjoy and often play video games in my free time", it is an accurate descriptor to this day. After the past few months, I would be reluctant to identify myself this way. If you have successfully avoided any Gamergate news up to this point, good on you. Keep it up. If you feel like being sad about life, read this summary from Newsweek with actual Twitter statistics, or this in-depth summary about the implications of this type of movement.

Upon further research, this seems like a deeper cultural issue, unrelated to . I would say it is an American issue, but it is likely present elsewhere too. Kathy Sierra, a prominent tech figure, has now had to essentially leave the internet for the second time in less than 10 years. Before that, several private personal pictures of celebrities were leaked, of which there was a single male (and he was collateral damage, as he was dating one of the targeted female celebrities). Even before that, dumb old white guys were talking (seemingly sincerely) about "legitimate rape" in congressional election coverage. The megaphone created by our newly-connected society seems to have pretty terrible opinions about on an alarmingly consistent basis.

TL;DR The only way I know how to help is to write about it. I will be a parent soon. It scares me to think that the difficulty of that kid's life will be so greatly affected by a single genetic coin-toss.

Pilch

The MS Office Conundrum

3 min read

Microsoft Office makes people worse at .1

I work with engineers - people that know their way around power electronics and embedded software2. But somehow, no one seems to know how version control works. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Office.

In my first C programming class, we only received grades on work that we checked in using the version control software3. It was a revelation to me, at the time, that there existed a way to collaborate on software (or any other electronic documents). This is likely because I did most of my document editing in high school in - what else - Microsoft Word.

So why has this revelation failed to bubble up to the (too) many companies with Microsoft enterprise agreements? Sure, my first introduction was via the command line, but Dropbox and Google Docs have shown it can be done in a user-friendly GUI. I constantly see coworkers go to the not-so-great length of changing a date in the document title and think "Boom - new version." Or, even better - send out a document for several people to edit, who return their input as "Title - MM/DD/YY - Employee Initials". It seems crazy that 1.) no one has thought "we should think of a better engineered solution to this", and then 2.) "oh wait, IT ALREADY EXISTS."

Even though it is not built into directly, I know version control is available for it now. I have even used it! Microsoft's sort-of-cloud solution, Sharepoint, has version control and document check-out baked right in. It is buried in some context menu somewhere (proving my conspiracy theory that MS does not want you to use it), but it is there. Yet somehow we still create an Archive folder with all the previous, dated documents. It is a waste of storage space, a huge time suck, and can be extremely confusing.

I write this both as an admonishment for the workflows at my company, and as an acknowledgement that I am falling for it too. I have started to do this, mostly because my colleagues do, even though I know it is a terrible habit. The first step is admitting you have a problem. I look forward to apologizing to all the I have wronged in the past.

And don't get me started on the crazy things people put into Excel.4


  1. I have not decided if this thesis is worth a series of posts. It might be, but this is the only example I could come up with so far. 
  2. I know the software team uses it for their software, and yet they don't for any documents shared with other groups. How does that make sense to anyone? 
  3. It was a Unix system, and I can't even remember the commands for committing code now. But I remember the concept, which is more important. (Right?) 
  4. It is not for presentations. That is why they made Powerpoint. 

Pilch

The Indie Web

2 min read

I have been griping about leaving Facebook and owning my data for a while now, but I may have finally found a solution.

The indie web, its called. Made up of the people who got tired of talking about these concepts and decided to start doing something about them.

I first heard about them on one of my weekly must-hear podcasts, In Beta (episode 90). Then a guest on another webcast I enjoy regularly - This Week in Google #241 - brought it up near the end. (TWiG actually just dedicated most of an episode to it - #266.)

I always viewed blogging (at least my blog) as a spot for thoughts that skewed toward longform writing, that could not be fleshed out in a short snippet. The indie web, however, encourages tweet-length thoughts as well as longer posts, which can then be syndicated to whatever social network you choose. The point is to not keep those thoughts siloed somewhere that may eventually shut down or change their policies, but to control your online identity, on your own terms. You can build your own tools, or you can browse the IndieWeb site to find something pre-built to use on your site.

But how will people see these posts if they are on or ? Well, they thought of that too. POSSE stands for Post (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. By syndicating, your non-IndieWeb friends will still get to see what you are up to. And using the webmention protocol, comments and replies will be pulled back into your own site as well.

If you are feeling less brave, one of the higher-profile indie web tools just launched a beta. It is called Known, and it has been treating me well so far. I look forward to their hosted/beta service adding a Wordpress plugin. But if I did my work right, you should see my post about this article down below.

TL;DR: if you see anything oddly formatted posts on my site or one of my social profiles, it is probably an attempt at implementing one of the Indie Web projects. Maybe if you are getting wary of Facebook and you're looking for a technically-inclined side project, you should check it out too.

Pilch

The Tech Singularity is Upon Us

1 min read

Here is a clickbait-y headline for you: "The 15 most important announcements from the Apple Watch, iPhone 6 event." Here are all the items from the article, and how not new they are.

 

Awesome Apple Thing Already Been Done By...
Bigger Phones! 4.7 and 5.5 inches! Moto X (2013) and Galaxy Note (2011)
Optical Image Stabilization! LG G2 (2013), and likely before that
Landscape Mode! Power button on the side! Practically every Samsung phone
NFC Payments! Secure element! Galaxy Nexus (2011) (although NFC on top makes more sense - call this a draw)
Watch "crown" wheel! iPod click wheel (2001)
Watch "communication button"! Nextel push-to-talk (mid-00's)
You can long press the watch screen! Android 2.0, if not before that
Screen widgets! Custom keyboards! Android 1.0, Swiftkey/Swype (2011)
Here's U2 to play at the end! ...

/sarcasm

These things are all kind of cool, but it is dumb to assume that Apple will "bowl over" its competition by, essentially, osmosis. All the things will soon be 5.15-inch metal-rimmed slabs. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Pilch

Cable cutting and the World Cup

1 min read

imageA cable cutter tries to watch the national team's World Cup opener: in the background, an unused television and home theater setup, and in the foreground, a 7 inch tablet broadcast in Spanish. Thanks Univision, and "thanks" ESPN.

Also, Clint Dempsey FTW!

Pilch

HTC One (M8) Flash Review

2 min read

The phone du jour is the One M8, and I am a phone connoisseur. My JUMP-grade came up, and I had to pull the trigger. The Nexus 5 was a fantastic phone, but it was lacking in a few areas: battery life, camera, and tap to unlock. So I pulled the trigger and have been using this beast for a few weeks. Here are my thoughts so far.

  • HTC makes a really pretty device. The Nexus is very utilitarian, which comes from prioritizing price over build quality. Samsung and LG focus on adding mostly-useless crap and letting their phones look like a Band-aid and a child's toy, respectively [see update]. I would rather have brushed aluminum and front-facing speakers than a heart monitor and 4 different ways to unlock my device and take a screenshot simultaneously.
  • Speaking of speakers, the BoomSound speakers on the One are amazing. Before, I was living in a world where cell phone speakers were just supposed to be low-quality and tinny. Not anymore.
  • Blinkfeed is OK, I guess. If there were a way to add my own RSS feeds, it might be useful. Hopefully they will add this feature (or make it less complicated to find).
  • Motion Launcher needs to be on all phones, from now on. It makes so much more sense than the side buttons.
  • T-Mobile bloatware is dumber than Verizon bloatware. They offer you a 30 day trial for voicemail transcription, but only if you agree to pay $4 per month after that. All for something Google Voice does for free.
  • The camera is pretty solid. The low resolution freaks people out, but it is a , not a Nikon. Standard smartphone cameras don't take good pictures in low light, but this one does pretty well. The editing tools are great as well. The Duo Camera is just ok - it is not a necessity, but adds some editing options to close-up pictures: [caption id="attachment_1281" align="aligncenter" width="600"]greetings Charlie greets me[/caption]  

All in all, the HTC One M8 is a solid phone, and I would recommend it to anyone. It comes at a premium price, but it is the one phone available right now that has the looks, feel, and function of a premium device.

Update: LG announced the G3 while I was writing this, and it looks like a phone that an adult would use.

Pilch

Productivity in the Age of Angry Flapping Birds

3 min read

I am a flip-flopper. The newest thing is always best; the grass perpetually greener. It is why I just got a new phone, and why my employer using Windows XP (!!!) on all employee laptops until late last year drove me crazy.

In addition, my favorite form of procrastination is reading about new ways to do work. All the bases are covered - the illusion of work, thinking about work, theoretically improving future work - to feel productive without actually being productive. Lifehacker is the ESPN1 of feeling productive, my main source of finding new ways to work (especially the How I Work series).

This is most likely the reason that I cannot choose a to-do/note-taking/organizer program. There are so many, but I think I finally have it narrowed down to about 4.

My previous favorite was Workflowy, basically an infinite nested list. Todo.txt is the open-source nerd tool, which just uses a .txt file. Trello makes everything into a bulletin board with cards pinned on it, and Evernote does all the things, everywhere.

Services2WorkflowyTodo.txtTrelloEvernote
Cost $49/yr Free Free for personal $45/yr
Photos No No Yes Yes
Tagging Yes Yes Limited to 6 Yes
GTD-oriented3 Kind of Yes Maybe Definitely
API Working on it... Unnecessary Yes Yes

They all work great, but at slightly different things. Evernote would be the best option, with its ability to store photos. but most of its function comes from storage, not helping me to process that storage. I am still figuring that bit out, and will probably use one of the other tools to do it.4

My favorite right now is Trello. I tried it a year or so ago, and it seemed better suited for group projects. Now, they have a better mobile client, and the documentation is easier to find. Also, the keyboard shortcuts5 are great and make using it fun. I would highly recommend using one to sort out daily life. None of them will meet all your needs6, but you can make them work together to hit all your bases.


  1. Come to think of it, ESPN : sports :: Lifehacker : working. What percentage of ESPN's programming is actually showing a sporting event? 
  2. OK, you got me, those are all referral links. Throw me a bone :) 
  3. I'm only about a quarter of the way into the book. But from all the lifehacking articles I've read over the past few years, I know the concepts. When my wife tried reading it, and stopped in roughly the same place to go do something else, I told her she clearly learned all she needed. 
  4. There are ways to connect all these services to Evernote on the backend - forwarding Workflowy logs to Evernote, syncing with Trello boards, and todo.txt
  5. Keyboard shortcuts are the stickshift of the internet. Not always necessary, but makes things a lot smoother, and people who always use them swear by them. 
  6. That is more of an existential problem than a productivity problem. 

Pilch

To Jump or not to Jump

2 min read

I am a gadget enthusiast, so when T-Mobile announced their JUMP program a year ago, it caught my attention. If you haven't heard of it, the program allows you to trade in your device after 6 months for a new one. It also offers insurance on the device. From the outside, it looks like a ripoff. Here's why it's not.

A flagship phone will cost you around $650. If you get it through T-Mobile, you are paying $0 down and $27/month. JUMP costs $10/month, so after 6 months, you have paid $162 for the phone, and $60 for insurance1. T-Mobile pays the difference, regardless of the condition, and you walk away with a new phone.

Doing this on your own will cost you $600-700 up front, plus the time to sell a device (and ship it to the buyer). And if it breaks in that 6 months, you are on the hook for repairs or a replacement.2 You may get slightly more than the 75%3 of the price T-Mobile "pays" for it, but not enough to offset the streamlined transaction and insurance.

The real issue is whether it is prudent to upgrade a phone every 6 months. Probably not, but right now the HTC One hits some checkmarks4 that my Nexus 5 did not, and I've already paid for the JUMP, so I am pulling that trigger as soon as I am eligible.


  1. I'm not sure about other insurance plans, but T-Mobile also covers theft and loss. Basically, you are paying to always have a phone. 
  2. I have been down this road, about a week after paying in full for the phone. Then it is another 1-2 weeks before it comes back from Samsung. You never need that insurance until you do. 
  3. If you are not grandfathered in, they only pay half the cost of the phone. It is basically the same story, just over 1 year instead of 6 months. 
  4. Battery, external storage, tap to wake. 

Pilch

Pilch

Link Bubble

1 min read

One of the reasons I love android devices - thinking outside the box http://tnw.co/1in2cKW
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