Social on Snooze

Ever since I spent time in Japan, disconnected from the Internet but once a day, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much time I consume staring at my phone. What I’ve come to realize is that I’ve got a bit of an obsession with updates, buzzes, tweets, grams, posts, and so on. What’s worse is the amount of time I devote to these pursuits, without a perceivable gain.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy your latest cat photo, or that game/movie/crib/car you are going to buy, or even that joke you made. But what benefit am I getting other than to simply amuse myself and while away my time.

So, I’ve decided to put social on snooze for at least the month of June. I’ve deleted all the apps off my phone, and am going to start carrying around a book with me. Every time I have an urge to check “all the things” instead I’ll read a few pages out of my book. If I’m home that might translate to watching a movie, or playing a video game. Anything but the black hole that can be social networks.

Finally each evening I’m going to check my notifications to keep updated with direct communication. But I will still avoid swiping through each and every update you all might have to share.

Maybe, given a few weeks of my lack of updates, when we see each other next we will have more to talk about other than confirming we each have read each other’s updates, seen each other’s photos, or liked the same pages.

So long, and thanks for all the updates!

Edit – I’m quitting reddit too

Not a review of XCOM: Enemy Unkown

Overall XCOM is a great game. If you like strategy It’s worth your time and money (but try to get it for less than $50). With that said I had a few gripes that caused me to be unhappy, in the last 1/3rd of the game.

Stats on Rails

There were very few hard choices when it came to your soldier stat/gear makeup. Only once did I consider using X or Y piece of gear on a particular class. The class specialties were never difficult choices either. It was almost as if some stat upgrades were added for fluff so it appeared like you had a choice.

Shooting Gallery

After playing through a number of missions you’ll find that sometimes groups of enemies will inexplicably spawn, often right next to your squad. This really broke the “simulation” facade that turn-based strategy games provide. It made the game often play like a shooting gallery, where I would progress through a level waiting to “trigger” a mob spawn/reveal to bring those enemies into play. This made missions repetitive and not challenging.

Shadow Council are Jerks

The game sets you up to make hard choices on where to focus your global efforts in an a attempt to make the meta-game feel like an “impossible war”. I love this. The thing is, especially on harder difficulties, near the end of the game you’re going to lose countries. When this happens you’ll often get a poor rating, forcing you to listen to a long diatribe from the council about how you suck so much. It really just felt like a heavy handed approach. I could win every battle with flying colors and still be chastised.

Again, great game, but a bit more focus on the “simulation” in this strategy title would have made it a must-have.

Three Months with Seoul, or How I Fell in Love with iPhone Again

I had been using the iPhone 4 since it’s original launch, circa June 2010. Around 2012 it started feeling sluggish. Knowing that the iPhone 5 was surely to launch in the coming year, I was determined to stick it out. Then I won a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to put the Android phone to the test, thus began my three month foray.

What I’d like to share here are the pros and cons I found in each ecosystem. But first, I’d like to mention that each phone, iPhone and Android, are both great phones, they both simply excel in some areas and fall behind in others.

Form factor

Lets begin with my biggest issue with the Android phone, it’s form factor. It’s really very simple: the Galaxy Nexus, and it’s sister phones, were designed to have a larger screen than the iPhone. Makes sense, bigger screen = better? Maybe not. The problem is that screen is too big, physically, for our hands. I constantly had to either fumble with my phone, or revert to holding the phone two-handed. Size is not everything. One of the latest commercials from Apple really sums it up better than I can:

App Quality

Simply said: the app quality on the Apple App Store, is better than the quality of the apps on the Google Play store. At this point, the Google store has had enough time and install base to mature, so in my opinoin it has no excuse. Here’s a sampling of apps I use(d) on iOS.

For the most part there were couterparts on the Android, but I all but stopped using them anymore when presented with an inferior experience. Please note that this technically is the fault of the app builder, but it’s up to Google to foster their own app store.

  • “Messages” or SMS: Android treats photos like weird email attachments that you have to click to download. It’s quite cumbersome compared to the iOS experience that treats them as just part of the conversation. Additionally, the Android phone doesn’t appear to handle SMSes over 140 characters nicely like iOS does. It was difficult to stitch the multiple messages back together in my head.
  • “Mail”: iOS does a really good job of keeping you accounts separate, but making it all one seamless experience. On the Android, if you have multiple email accounts, you’ll need to get used to jumping through a bunch of clicks to check everything.
  • Twitter: “Tweetbot” on iOS is just awesome. The best alternative I found on Android was the official Twitter app. It really sucked in comparison
  • Google Reader: I use “Reeder” on iOS, it really is just superb. Best alternative on Android was the official Google Reader app. This app was difficult to use, often had sync issues, and had poor UI.
  • Facebook: Same experience on iOS and Android. Good job Facebook.
  • Instragram: Same here, great job IG team.
  • Stocks: Native stock app on iOS, it’s decent, but I wish it did more. The Android app sync’ed with my Google Finance, which was awesome, but the app looked like a mobile web page from 2003.
  • Foursquare: Great app all around. Yay Foursquare!
  • Reddit: There is an insanely awesome all for Reddit on iOS: Alien Blue. The Andorid alternative is really just sad in comparison. Lots of features there, like Alien Blue, but it’s as if no thought is put into usability and ui. For example: it often takes me 5+ tries to drill down into a link posted into a comment. Very frustrating.
  • Alarm Clock: Native on both iOS and Android. Android shines here, it’s got the big clock on the dashboard, and then when you turn on an alarm it tells you how many hours:minutes until it’s going to wake you up, great feature.
  • Sigalert, Keepass, Native Calendar, Camera, Maps: All of these apps are significantly better on iOS
  • iCloud: Or the lack thereof. The ability to back up my entire phone to the cloud is awesome. The other features are a wash (ie. Music streaming), but the backup options are killer with iCloud.

I’ll leave it there. Some diamonds in the rough on Android, but you’re largely going to find a better experience on iOS.

OS UI / Usability

Using an Android phone feels like you’re walking around with a really extendable and powerful mini computer in your pocket. It really can do about anything you want, but the experience may be clunky. One particular item of note is the complete lack of uniformity with the native “back” button. There are three native buttons on Android that are shown on the touch screen 90% of the time, the left-most is a sort of “back” button. The issue here is that the app developers do not implement this back button uniformly across all apps. You never know what you’re going to get. To make it works, some apps implement their own iOS-like back button (ui piece, typically in the top-left of the screen). It can be frustrating to when hitting that back button and it quits the app to Dashboard, and sometimes even the last app you were using.

Using an iPhone feels like one tight knit experience. The phone hardware melds with the phone software in a way that makes you forget you’re using a mini computer. Apps generally all have a similar look and feel. There aren’t any “gotcha” ui interactions, like on Android.

Where Android Excels

  • Google Authentication: The Android OS has some kind of tokenized authentication, where you sign into a Google account once, and it’s authentication can be shared across all apps that use that same account. It really is awesome. It’s not quite killer, but it’s definitely really convenient.
  • Key Vibrations / Tactileness: When you have the phone silent, and interact with the touch screen (like typing), the phone will slightly vibrate. It gives a sense of tactile response that, until now, touching a screen to interact, has lacked.
  • Dashboard Widgets: A percentage of apps also give you the ability to drop an informational widget onto your dashboard. For example: you can have your calendar show upcoming appointments, or the twitter app show recent tweets. It’s nifty, and I kinda enjoy it.


The Android phone is a great phone and much of what I’ve talked about can be boiled down to personal preference. I do have over five years of iOS indoctrination under my belt. But knowing what looks and feels good is also part of my job. My objective here isn’t to convert new koolaid drinkers, it’s more to educate the differences and express my opinion. And my opinion is that the iPhone is slightly superior to the Android phone.

What do you think of iPhone vs Android?

Software is Emo

It seems to me that people see software as simply a set of instructions to provide a result in a digital machine. This is true, but it’s not the entire picture. Software is also something that we interact with, every piece has it’s own soul. As developers of software we have to be cognizant of what kind of voice we are putting into our own code.

You almost have to consider the app as if you would consider a person for a job. Does it need to have a business tone, or maybe a fun tone. Does it need a pretty face, or does it need a face at all. But on top of all of this: you have to consider the creator of your application.

As a programmer, you’re given a set of instructions. How you carry out those instructions is dependent on many factors. Such as your skill-set, desire to work on the project, and your own personality.

This brings me to my point: I believe that choosing the right programmers for a project by their personality is almost as important as their skill-set. The voice, look and feel, it can all be prototyped by a designer and conceptualized by a lead/director/architect sure. But the guys actually writing the code are the ones bringing your app to life. There is only so much time that you can send back changes to “get it right”, and let’s face it: it’s never going to be just right if you don’t write it yourself.

Moral of the story? Don’t assume software is just someone you can pay to sit in a chair and type. These guys are responsible for the code AND the heart/soul of your app. Find dynamic and interesting folks that care about what you’re trying to accomplish, otherwise you’re going to end up with an app that leaves you feeling like you brought home the wrong baby from the hospital.

If you’re interest more in this stuff check out Aaron Walter, one of the guys working on MailChimp,, he’s got a lot to say about emotional software.

Why RSS (aka “non-social syndication”) is better & here to stay

Over the last two years (longer?) I’ve seen a debate pop up that usually starts with a comment like this:

RSS is dead! Long live Twitter/Facebook!

Most recently on TechCrunch (via HN). What I don’t understand is why people are missing the point of how people use social networks. The argument that “RSS is dead” centers around the twitter streams being so well curated, so they don’t need RSS Readers to deliver them content or news. Did you miss that? These people are deciding to use social networks as their means of news syndication. Doesn’t anyone else think that’s backwards?

I see two streams of content. On one side I have my social graph, all the people or companies that I think are so dang interesting I must hang on their every word. Then on the other side I have my news syndication, all the websites that I think are reliable enough to deliver enough well edited news. The way I see these two streams is oil and water. You can put them in the same bucket, but they aren’t going to mix.

Social networks may be driving more traffic than traditional article syndication, but in my opinion putting all your eggs into the social graph is folly. Consider this: when people interact with the content stream you are in, you now compete with every one of their relatives and friends that are also in that stream. Personally, I would rather someone opt-in to my content in a Reader fashion, where I’m competing with only other news, and not Granma’s new puppy, Farmville updates, or my buddy’s drunken photos. If/when content providers realize that, they will continue to push rss/email subscription over twitter followers.

“RSS is here to stay you say?” yep. It’s here to stay. Maybe it won’t be “RSS”, maybe it won’t be in a “Reader”, but people are going to continue to gravitate to a content stream that is only content, and not social. Not all of us have a “curated” social steam, or the interest to build one. Anyway someone has to find all that content in the first place. We can’t all survive on just stuff that goes “viral”. It may be an ebb and flow. But as one stream provides less quality people will move back to the other. But go away? No, never. Wane in traffic percentage? Duh, don’t be stupid.