A week or so with Mavericks

A few observations from a little over a week on the final release of OS X Mavericks (which is worth $20 and I still cannot believe Apple released for free):

  • Safari 7 might be good enough to switch to permanently. It just absolutely flies and its ability to pick out links from my Twitter timeline and present them as a continuous reading list is really nice (unless a friend gets hacked and sends spam, anyway).
  • I just replaced the battery in my MacBook Pro on Wednesday, and I am getting better life out of it with Mavericks than any prior operating system version. Over the last few years, Apple has been steady at work bringing features back to OS X from iOS. Seeing what they’ve learned from engineering for mobile power consumption come back to the Mac just enhances the value of the hardware that much more. I particularly like the ability to see which programs have the most “energy impact” (their terms, not mine) on the machine in Activity Monitor — a great nod to power users from a company that is increasingly struggling with power users, IMO.
  • The UI feels much more responsive. It really is impressive how my aging MacBook Pro still feels fresh and plenty fast even on the newest OS X upgrade — I’ve gotten over four great years out of it and it looks like that will continue for at least one more year. I am more than a little surprised to hear that people are having issues with performance of all things — by all measures, performance is up across the system.
  • I never knew just how many sites disabled form autofill until the advent of iCloud Keychain. I wonder if sites will rethink their policy on form autofill for login pages now that Safari can generate strong passwords on autofill-enabled forms. I also wish iCloud Keychain would have gone as far as its MobileMe predecessor; it gets awfully inconvenient to retype some exceedingly complex passwords in locations other than Safari.
  • Multi-monitor support in Mavericks is such an improvement over the Lions it isn’t even funny, but it still has some room to improve. My typical workstation setup puts my MBP directly underneath my external monitor; the screens are positioned to stack one on top of the other. It works well with one huge caveat: the Dock (which I align on the bottom of the screen) doesn’t follow me from screen to screen. It is undoubtedly difficult to get the Dock to take a vertical stack into account, I can imagine, but I can’t be alone in this configuration.
  • I’ve signed up for push notifications from the New York Times; one has not yet come through, though. I’ll be interested to see what their editorial standards for triggering a push to Mavericks machines will be. (For those who might be wondering: Yes, I’m looking into how I can implement this on
  • Mavericks bundles PHP 5.4; this is working fine for WordPress development with my existing MySQL 5.5 install and the built-in Apache, though I think I’m going to switch to Homebrew versions of the aforementioned at some point in the near future (and trade Apache for nginx). I’ve decided to replace the built-in Vim 7.3 with a Homebrew-built version 7.4. The only major catch right now is getting the PHP xdebug module up and running, though I chalk that up to not putting too much time into trying to get it fixed (this machine won’t be my primary work machine shortly). I’m not seeing too many performance differences or other issues otherwise.
In Brief Technology

WordPress 3.7

WordPress 3.7 is out

So long, 3.6.1. We barely knew you…hello, automatic updates!

In Brief Technology

Mavericks for Free

Fast Company: All Of The Ways Apple’s New Free Mac OS Hurts Microsoft Windows

Apple’s quest to bring iOS “back to the Mac” has now gone beyond the contents of the software in two key ways:

  • Free upgrades.
  • A steady, proven release cadence of one operating system per year, which increases the value proposition of a Mac purchase and helps get years out of one machine in an age where people will just toss PCs after a couple years.

In four years, my mid-2009 MacBook Pro — which shipped with Leopard — has gotten Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, and now Mavericks. Contrast that with the computer I built in 2003 with Windows XP Professional: It was rendered mostly obsolete by Windows Vista (which arrived three years later), so I stuck with XP (with a Linux dual-boot as well).

Observations Personal Technology

So much iOS 7 frenzy, so little time

A lot has been written about iOS 7’s release since yesterday. I’ll spare you those nitty-gritty details. If you’re interested in a high-level overview about how it all works and what to expect if you’ve yet to get it installed, I think James Williams did a really superb job at showcasing the big things.

From a personal perspective, I offer these thoughts:

  • iOS 7 feels lighter and more effortless to use than its predecessors. I’ve thought this since I first put beta 2 on my daily-driver iPhone 5 and I still think this now.
  • I stopped noticing the icons about a day or so in the first time. They are not the end of the world, nor are they a sign that the operating system is somehow horribly flawed. Is there room for improvement? Sure there is. That improvement will come as this look matures.
  • My excitement wasn’t around the public availability of iOS 7 itself (I’ve been running the gold master build for a week) but was more focused on finally seeing what app developers have done with the new interface. It’s impressive what some have done in three months, while others simply reskinned their existing apps to keep up (anything built against the iOS 6 SDK looks tremendously out of place). My best advice is to not judge iOS 7-ready apps by what came out on Wednesday — it will take more time for new conventions to really work themselves out in the iOS 7 world. The emphasis on using the full screen for content should yield some tremendous creativity and excellent design — I’m pretty excited to see what people come up with.
  • iOS 6 has looked gaudy and heavy for a few months now. It’s such a jarring difference going back and forth between the two looks.
  • My iPad 2 is finally starting to show its age — it does feel a little slower and the iOS 7 interface is just inferior on a non-Retina display device. (I’ve seen it on a fourth-generation iPad and it is just gorgeous.)
  • Some of the special multitasking gestures on the iPad feel awkward now, especially swiping four fingers up from the bottom of the screen to get to the task list. Before, the foreground view (active app or home screen) would slide up, revealing the linen-backed task list panel underneath. Now, swiping up continues to display the multitasking UI, but the active window slides up and to the left, which just does not feel natural. This definitely needs some work.
  • I will never get over seeing non-geeks get really excited for a new release of an operating system. It wasn’t long ago when similar enthusiasm would draw blank stares and the friend zone.
Technology Weather

GR2Analyst 2.0 is a really welcome upgrade

GR2Analyst 2.0 radar screenshot
GR2Analyst 2.0 (branded as #chswx Analyst) looking at the KGSP radar Saturday afternoon. (Alas, a quiet day in Charleston.)

A big upgrade to one of my go-to radar analysis tools, GR2Analyst 2.0, is now out, allowing for a uniform presentation between it, GRLevel3, and GREarth, all tools I use on a regular basis. Here’s what I particularly like about GR2Analyst 2.0 (and, in many cases, the 2.x series of GR products in general):

  • Easy movement between panel configurations. The GR radar viewers let you split the screen into 2 and 4 panels to assist in more rapid and accurate diagnosis of radar features, and you can assign up to 8 panel configurations to the number keys 1-8 for quickly flipping through them. For instance, I’ll be looking at radar when I see an area of what looks like rain moving into the area; I can hit the ‘4’ key which brings up a two-panel view of reflectivity and correlation coefficient (a dual-polarization product) which can pretty quickly tell me if I’m dealing with something meteorological or not. I also have presets saved with four-panel views of varying tilts of a storm’s reflectivity and velocity, a four-panel view for tornado debris detection, as well as a four-panel view which focuses on locating areas of damaging winds and large hail. I have similar presets in GRLevel3 especially surrounding hydrology (rainfall products do not currently exist in GR2Analyst because they are not base data).
  • Right-click to zoom. Previous versions of the GR products required enabling a separate zoom tool; now, just hold the right mouse button and drag and it zooms in on an area. This works really well on my Magic Mouse; on the trackpad, I more typically just flick upward to zoom in, though if I hold Control and drag, that will have the same effect.
  • A cleaner overall presentation. Being able to choose the widths of lines and add borders and highlights to many of them reduces the potential for confusion between state and county lines when using shades of gray to delineate them. I also appreciate that cities are outlined and not tied to a specific point and that warnings have similar borders and highlights now. One cool thing in the 2.x GR products is their ability to parse through tornado warning text and apply special highlights if the tornado is reported on the ground or the NWS employs “Tornado Emergency” wording.
  • A long-standing bug with Flash Flood Warnings has been fixed. In previous versions of GR2Analyst, if a flash flood warning is extended using a Flash Flood Statement, it did not know about it and would remove or fail to rebox the polygon despite the fact the warning would continue for at least part of the area. The 2.x series of GR products fixed this bug and I’m glad I’ll have consistent flash flood polygon display again across all my software packages.
  • I can maintain one set of color tables. At long last, my gigantic GR 1.x color table folder can either be purged or converted to GR 2.x-compatible color table files. Incompatible color tables were a big growing pain during the transition to the new products; I’m glad this transition is over for me. (People who use vanilla GRLevel2 will still need to maintain older color tables.)

The GR 2.x series also ships with the ability to acquire high-resolution background imagery from various sources (depending on zoom level). While beautiful, the Landsat imagery isn’t terribly compatible with a lot of my more advanced color tables designed to help subtle features stand out; I also find that in my Windows XP virtual machine the Landsat background, when combined with the METAR placefile from AllisonHouse, causes a big drag on performance. I’m not sure if I’m going to keep the background enabled in Analyst as a result. Otherwise, though, performance is great in the VM — really surprisingly good considering it is running against a Core 2 Duo.

All in all, the new GR2Analyst will make it that much easier to do what I do over on @chswx, and that is pretty outstanding. (A free upgrade because I bought the dual-polarization addon for 1.x helps, too.)

In Brief Technology

WordPress kicks ass

It’s hard to overstate how good WordPress is. I can put together really rich, compelling content with social media posts in under 20 minutes thanks to very smart embedding and much improved media library features in recent releases, and I host the content myself with no concerns over services being bought or sold or shut down. I’ve been on board the WP train for most of its 10-year life and I don’t see myself getting off anytime soon.


Your unsolicited (and likely unintentional) Charleston advice of the day

Here’s advice virtually nobody in the Charleston area will take:

Back in 2008, Charleston Twitter users began to use #chs as a hashtag to talk about everything relating to the city, what’s going on, traffic, etc. We expanded on this in 2009 and it’s been pretty successful.

Then, high school students — many of which who go to schools starting with the letter ‘C’ — caught on to Twitter and started hashtagging their stuff with…#chs. Hilarity and frustration on the part of Charlestonians ensued. A while ago, there was an experiment with #chas that didn’t really pan out either because it, too, was crowded. So, we’ve hung tough with #chs, high schoolers and all. Occasionally, the mix produces some great, out-of-context tweets like the one embedded here.

In Brief Technology

Quicksilver 1.0

Quicksilver 1.0 is out.

Quicksilver’s future was bleak for a long time and was being eclipsed by commercial alternatives such as Alfred. It’s awesome to see the open source community pick it up and get it to 1.0. It’s really one of the most indispensable pieces of software I run and makes the Mac so much more efficient to use.


Goodbye to Google Reader and to the shame of unread RSS items

I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now — Google Reader will be retired in July. Many are (justifiably) upset, but RSS reading has always demanded something more frictionless and less e-mail like. I never successfully integrated Google Reader (or any other newsreading app) into my day-to-day routine, rather relying on aggregators like Techmeme and Memeorandum for tech and political news, respectively. To me, Google Reader was Just Another Thing to Check which held an unread count over my head.

Twitter beat raw RSS for news because it is frictionless and a consistent experience: you can easily show someone how to follow a Twitter user with a consistent series of steps across browsers and devices. There’s no unread count and thus no impetus to make sure everything is read; you never hear of someone declaring Twitter Bankruptcy and that’s a great thing. The way Twitter works right now is great, because if it’s something important enough for you to read, chances are good the people you follow will surface it several times. (By the same token, I am gravely concerned that Twitter is moving toward a Facebook-like solution where it surfaces posts based on quality scores rather than raw feeds. If this happens, I’m back looking for alternatives.)

Subscribing to raw RSS always required several steps depending on the browser and reader you used. This isn’t a problem for power users, but I completely see how raw RSS was confusing and off-putting to most people — it took real effort to get everything set up in a consistent manner. I think Firefox had the best solution for RSS: Live Bookmarks, where the RSS feed is brought in among the rest of your bookmarks and updated periodically. This is how I used RSS feeds almost exclusively in its glory days pre-Twitter. It was very straightforward and integrated with my workflow better than adding another software package ever did.

This is not an indictment against RSS. RSS is a fantastic format, is NOT dead, and with the right packaging works extremely well. Flipboard is one example (though I don’t even use that all that much, to be honest). A lot of Twitter publishers still rely on tools such as Twitterfeed to take the RSS feed their site publishes and get it over to Twitter. I hope Google Reader being discontinued does not make people think twice about publishing a feed — it is still by far the most useful way to syndicate content (and people will always use readers, but that will continue to be a niche product).

At the end of the day, the writing was on the wall for Google Reader in every release of Google Chrome, which one would think would be the most obvious avenue for driving new Reader users. Instead, you get a document tree of the RSS’s raw XML output. How…inviting.

Google Chrome's default RSS view.
Google Chrome’s default RSS view.

I’m not sure where a lot of people would be without Google Reader, and I am sure glad I’m no longer in an industry that still heavily relies on tools like that to drive value, but even during my time at ReadWriteWeb the tide was definitely turning in Twitter and other social services’ favor. Google Reader’s shutdown is the most obvious sign of this yet. The implications for the open Web is a topic for another day, though.

In Brief Technology

The Web We Lost

The Web We Lost

I share many of Anil Dash’s frustrations toward the current walled-garden social Web and how business deals, not open standards and protocols, drive content sharing.

Additional thought: Seeing so many companies tighten up their walls and restrictions over who can do what with what data sure makes me realize just how unique the WordPress ecosystem (and the Automattic business model) really is — it’s a profitable business based on principles of total data ownership and openness, rooted firmly in many of the old-school tenets Anil discusses in his blog post.