Now blogging at Scribbling.net

October 25th, 2013

Hello! Thanks for coming by, but there's nothing new here to see. I blog at Scribbling.net now.

Go to Scribbling.net→

See You on All About Android

January 7th, 2013

It's the New Year and for me that means a new show: starting tomorrow, January 8th, I'm the newest co-host of All About Android alongside Jason Howell and Ron Richards. AAA is "your weekly source for the latest news, hardware, and apps for the Android faithful." I should admit upfront: I'm an Android unfaithful.

I started using Android 1.6 on the G1 in 2008, and since then I've owned every Nexus device except for the 4 and the 10. I released an Android app in January of 2011, and I still love firing up Eclipse to stretch my Java muscles and add a new feature or fix a bug. I've suffered through Honeycomb, the Logitech Revue, the Motorola Xoom, the Droid, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the Nexus Q. I'm holding out (very cautious) hope for Project Glass.

Read the rest »

2012 Year in Review: Before and After Baby

December 31st, 2012

Few events leave such a big mark on your personal timeline that they split your life story into two parts: before and after. This year, the birth of my daughter Etta did just that.

A year ago I would have said that our long journey to pregnancy made me more than ready for parenthood. What a fool. It would have been impossible to prepare for the intensity of our love for her, as well as the complete upending of our priorities, home, schedule, and identity. It's only been three months, but it's already difficult to remember exactly what we did with ourselves before her dimples and coos, the 4am feedings and afternoon naps, the diapers and bottles and cuddle sessions.

Etta alone made 2012 my best year yet, but behind her there are a few things I want to remember about the past 12 months.

Read the rest »

How to Make a Baby

December 30th, 2012

This article originally published in issue 2 of The Magazine.

Choosing a sperm donor is a little bit like setting up an Xbox avatar. You begin by deciding on the ethnicity, hair color, and eye color of the fellow whose sperm you’d like to combine with your egg to make your baby. Then you enter that criteria into a sperm-bank search engine, which returns a list of matching anonymous males who passed rigorous genetic tests and filled out detailed questionnaires. Finally, you pore through each donor profile, considering things like his height, weight, build, SAT scores, family medical history, sexual orientation, whether or not he has moles, the shape of his nose and mouth, and in some cases, his baby photo or voice sample.

Our sperm bank has a web-based form to search their database. As a developer, when I use tools like this, I can’t help but think about the coders behind it. Did the people who wrote this HTML really consider their end-users? Did they visualize the lesbians, the single women, the aspiring parents who had everything lined up except viable sperm? Did they imagine the tension, the hope, the bizarre feeling of picking out the genetic material to make your baby online, the same way you’d shop for computer parts?

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Best Launch Ever: Etta Rebecca Bailey

November 17th, 2012

My life just got its biggest upgrade yet. My daughter, Etta Rebecca Bailey, was born on September 18th. She is named after five of the most extraordinary women who have ever lived: her Aunt Loretta, Nonna Loretta, Grandma Becky, Great Granny Marcella Etta, and of course, the wonderful Etta James. After a harrowing early delivery and a week in the NICU, Moms and baby arrived home happy and healthy. In just eight weeks, Etta has already grown so much. In between naps, we're just trying to keep up with her.

I don't plan to turn this site into a mommy blog (not that there's anything wrong with that!). But my girl is already making me smarter and more thoughtful as a developer and commentator, and I do hope to write about that. Thanks to her, everything I do—from changing a diaper to planning an app release—has a new gravity to it, because it will affect and reflect on her. I'm still figuring out what that all means, but so far raising her has been the most joyful and exhausting undertaking of my life.

More blogging to come, especially once we're sleeping through the night.

Todo.txt for Android Gets Archiving, Swipe to Complete

August 13th, 2012

Just uploaded an extensive update to Todo.txt for Android to the Google Play Store! Todo.txt for Android now archives completed tasks, supports swipe-to-complete, has smarter Dropbox sync, and looks great on the Nexus 7.

Now that the app can archive tasks to done.txt, it's officially feature-complete, version 1.0. You can use it completely independent of the command line interface or any other desktop app or text editor.

Get it in the Google Play Store now:

Here's what's new and different in this version. Todo.txt for Android now:

  • Archives to done.txt: When you mark tasks on your todo.txt as complete, the app can automatically or manually archive them to a separate done.txt file. In settings, either tap "Archive Now" to do it manually (this is my favorite method, because seeing crossed-off items in my todo list for a little while makes me feel accomplished), or check off "Archive automatically" to make the app clear away tasks as soon as you mark them complete.
  • Supports swipe to complete: To quickly mark a task complete on your list, swipe your finger from left to right across it. To undo tasks that have already been completed, swipe across them from right to left.
  • Reduces file conflicts: The app now references Dropbox file revision tags and does more frequent background syncs to reduce file conflicts and avoid overwriting changes on Dropbox or on your device.
  • Automatically gets back online when your device does: We've completely rejiggered the app's off-then-back online behavior so it never gets stuck in offline mode again. When your device goes offline, Todo.txt for Android keeps working offline, and when you come back online, it automatically syncs your work back to Dropbox, no need to manually turn Work Offline off. For users who want to preserve bandwidth, there is a "Manual Sync" checkbox in Settings you can toggle on and off at will.
  • Looks great on the Nexus 7: The app now includes an extra high density icon for high-res devices like the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus.
  • Fixes project parser bug: Fixes bug where words with + in them (like URLs) used to get parsed as projects.
  • Gets French translation: A new French translation is now available, as well as fixes to the existing German translation.
  • Has fewer settings: By combining and reducing settings, the app now has 3 fewer checkboxes for users to fiddle with, and all the more reason to just get back to work.

I'm deeply grateful to the tireless contributors who make Todo.txt go, especially the people who created this release: Chuck and Florian for adding smarter syncing and done.txt support, John for creating higher density artwork, Alex for the French translation, and to all the typo-fixers and question-askers and release candidate-testers.

Read more about Todo.txt's philosophy, check out the app, and let us know what you think.

The ‘Busy’ Trap
July 9th, 2012

The NY Times' Tim Kreider's defense of idleness:

Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

Reminded me of my all-time favorite essay on idleness, Quitting the Paint Factory.

From Amateur to Pro with PHP the Right Way

July 8th, 2012

At ThinkUp, we've produced a lot of developer documentation on how to write great PHP code, the kind of code that's worthy of acceptance into the project. But if I were to suggest a general list of PHP best practices, I could not have done a better job than Josh Lockhart's PHP (The Right Way). It's a strong collection of generic guidelines and resources, and I'm pleased to see that it describes a lot of what we do at ThinkUp.

PHP is deeply flawed, but it remains the leading "gateway" language for new web developers. Coding Horror's Jeff Atwood wants this to change. He argues that veteran developers should start actively working to end the PHP singularity. The first step, he says, is to stop using it in new projects—something even seasoned developers like Marco Arment have difficulty doing.

I applaud Atwood for kicking off an ambitious cultural shift in the web development world. Good programmers should use great tools, ideally, from the beginning. But, this is a battle I didn't choose to fight quite this way.

PHP is not the best tool to use, but I chose it for ThinkUp for two reasons. First, when you're building a webapp that users run on their servers, PHP is the only reasonable choice, because LAMP is the most widely available web server stack out there. Second, one of ThinkUp's community goals is to bring new coders into open source. PHP is the language of new web developers, so using it in ThinkUp attracts that talent pool.

Staunch anti-PHPers could say that's just perpetuating the problem of encouraging new programmers to start with bad tools. I see it as an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, approach. Even in PHP, it is possible to teach new coders best practices like object-oriented programming, test-driven development, design patterns, documentation-driven development, and the importance of consistent code style. If amateur web developers want to level up to pro, a good place to start is in a language they already know.

Cross-posted to the ThinkUp blog.

How to Stop Being Paranoid About App Annie

July 7th, 2012

On our third episode of In Beta, Kevin and I discussed webapps that require you to enter your username and password to accounts that can move your money around or purchase items—namely, Mint.com and App Annie. My concern, with App Annie in particular, was that while the app promises to only use your account to read app sales data, in theory it could use your username and password to go on a shopping spree in the iTunes and/or Play Store.

Listener Steve wrote in to suggest creating secondary developer accounts to use with App Annie that don't have purchasing power. Duh! If you log into iTunes Connect, click on "Manage Users" to invite a new user and grant it access to your app's financial information. Similarly, in the Play Store Developer Console, you can also invite a read-financial-data-only account for use with App Annie. These accounts cannot purchase anything, they can only see the financial reports for your apps. Thanks to Steve for pointing this out. I hope that App Annie makes this suggestion more blatantly in its interface to assuage developer fears about sharing sensitive account credentials going forward.

That Old “Design by Committee” Chestnut

June 25th, 2012

It bugs me when technologists automatically blame subpar creative work on "design by committee." Individuals can make mediocre stuff just as easily as groups can make mediocre stuff. The effectiveness of a group doing creative work depends on whether or not there's a clear vision and strong leadership. Just because it's a group doesn't mean it's more likely to fail.

Of course, the word "committee" in "design by committee" implies that there is not a clear vision and strong leadership. When you have a group of people with those things, it's not a committee, it's a team.

Still, you rarely hear about great design by team. The myth of the lone genius, the brilliant solo auteur, persists. Lone geniuses do exist, but they're very, very rare. Even Steve Jobs had Woz and Ive.

I don't work well in groups. I work pretty well solo. I'm at my absolute best in a pair. When facing down a difficult problem, I'm likely to be my most open-minded, persistent, and creative riffing and building and even competing with the right person. In a strong pair—preferably a planner/explorer or mentor/mentee matchup—magic can happen.

I'm tired of hearing about lone geniuses and design by committee. Let's recognize more brilliant collaborations.

IFTTT Recipe for Todo.txt
June 25th, 2012

Nick Barrett's handy If This Then That recipe adds an item to the todo.txt file in your Dropbox via GChat. Clever.

Brett Slatkin on Owning Your Content · In this video interview, Brett Slatkin, Googler and co-creator of PubSubHubbub, talks briefly about his vision of decentralized sharing, where users publish on their own web site and push that content to each other without relying solely on a service like Twitter or Facebook. Looks like he's walking the talk, too. Slatkin appears to publish everything to his own site and re-post it out on social networks (here's his Twitter, Tumblr, and Google+). I'd love to know what his publishing process looks like. The key to popularizing this practice is dead-simple user experience. June 24th, 2012


The Woman in the Facebook Frat House
June 23rd, 2012

Early Facebook employee, Katherine Losse:

More interesting than the fact that the photo was taken and posted on Facebook is that it didn't occur to anyone in the office that there was anything wrong with it, or that it revealed something unattractive about the culture of Facebook. As Mark wrote on his business card with boyish hubris, "I'm CEO, bitch." The image of me in the bearskin was saying that power wasn't something to be questioned; it was something to collect and brandish.

Owning Your Own Words – Is It Important?
June 19th, 2012

Paul Ford:

I don't presume my work is important, but it is important to me. There is so much latent value in our own personal databases of words, links, ideas, emails, likes, photos, IMs, tweets, posts, titles, subtitles—so many connections to be made and so much data to be explored; How many companies have been talking in rapturous tones about their analytics upside, the fact that they can make those connections and resell them? That would work at the micro-level too, for individuals. But it's incredibly difficult to explore my historical self using the disaggregated services out there today. The web in 2012 is still more like Jenga than LEGOs.

New Podcast Coming Your Way: In Beta

May 30th, 2012

Exciting news! I'm starting a new tech podcast with my pal Kevin Purdy next week. It's called In Beta, and the first episode airs live on Tuesday.

Here's the official show description:

In Beta is a talk show about the ever-changing state of web-based and open source software. We examine how "ship first, fix later" affects our tools and culture, with an emphasis on mobile, social, and web apps.

Pre-subscribe in your favorite podcatcher to get the first episode magically delivered to your device of choice when it's ready. Or, you can listen to the unedited, figuring-it-all-out-as-we-go live stream this coming Tuesday at 10am Pacific on 5by5.tv. Can't wait!