Quick Hits

Just added a new section to this site, the Notes page. This is just a feed of my Mastodon posts, excluding replies. Sometimes I have something I want to write about here, but it doesn’t really deserve a full post, just a quick shitpost like I used to fire off on Twitter.

Computers Are Fun and Useful

I was just listening to an episode of All Consuming podcast, where John Gruber was the guest. They asked him about the genesis for his love of computers, which got me thinking about my own love of computers, which goes back 30 years. I was a child of the ’80s, which was when television, film, music, and print media (indeed, the peak of print media) collided with the rise of personal computing.

I had exposure to computers in elementary school (1985-1991), but only ever for entertainment. If you were done with your classwork, you could go play a computer game. I played a lot of Oregon Trail on the school’s Apple IIs, but those experiences never really unlocked a true passion for computing within me. I never went home and asked my parents for a computer to satiate my Oregon Trail needs. If I wanted to game at home, I had a Sega Master System!

It was my computer exposure in later years of school which really made the mark. In 1993, or 7th grade, our computer lab was fully equipped with Macintosh computers. We had already learned to type, but now it was time to make the computers work for us: enter HyperCard.

My mind was officially blown. Something clicked, and I understood why computers were fun, and useful, and important. I created HyperCard stacks (truly, the precursor to the web) which were educational. I created stacks which were useful. I created joke stacks which were only funny to me. I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life using computers.

I can’t recall who needs attribution for this, but I once read someone describe their love of computers as “pushing bits around inside of a computer in ways that are only interesting to other computer enthusiasts.” That probably sums up own love of computers. I love to tinker, inside and out. I moved from HyperCard to web design. I dabble in JavaScript, PHP, and Python. I buy digital advertising in my day job, and fret over the implications of privacy policies. I’ll spend hours building a script to automate a task which will only save me a few minutes a year. I build my own gaming computers after carefully shopping for each component, and I’d rather spend hours in front of my machines that around most other people.

Computers, be it a desktop computer or mobile device, are never boring. You can finish a game, like Oregon Trail, but you can never finish tinkering. I love computers.

Essential Software

As a long-time nerd, I’ve used a lot of apps and have formed some very strong opinions about them. In 2021, these are my most essential apps for macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.


I’ve always been a note-taker, and this app has been a revelation. I used to fill up notebooks and yellow pads, and eventually I graduated to taking notes digitally on my laptop and my iPad. I’ve had affairs with most major note apps — Evernote, Apple Notes, Bear, plain text. This year I was turned onto Craft, and I’m not sure what could make me leave it. Craft covers all of my requirements. My notes are portable: I can export them, or store them locally, or keep them in their cloud service for syncing across devices. I can insert virtually any kind of file, and append with notes. It supports iPad Pencil drawings. I can share notes with others. It easily imported my Bear and plain text notes (and even retained creation/modification dates!) This app does it all. Mac/iOS/iPadOS


Honestly, I only know one password — the password to my 1Password app. I don’t know the password to my email, bank accounts, blog, streaming services, etc. Everything is randomly generated, stored in 1Password, and synced across my devices. If a login is compromised and shows up on the dark web, 1Password alerts me and I can change the password. It supports virtually every login type from web, server, software license, credit card numbers, you name it. I’ve been using it for over a decade and it is irreplacable. Mac/iOS/iPadOS


Things is my other brain. Every reminder, project, or recurring task starts and ends in Things. The interface is beautifully designed and easy to use. Mac/iOS/iPadOS


There are many calculator apps, but none like this one. It’s a little bit like a standard calculator had a baby with a spreadsheet and a plain text document. This has probably been the most useful app in my professional life of the past decade. Mac/iOS/iPadOS


This is an especially nerdy entry, and maybe not for everyone, but I consider Alfred an essential part of my Mac workflow. Most Mac users are probably familiar with Spotlight search: by default it’s the little magnifying glass button that lives in your menu bar (you can also hit command-spacebar to trigger it). It just brings up a simple search box that you can use to find (and launch) anything on your Mac. Alfred is a super-charged version of that. Alfred (like Spotlight) can be used to launch application by typing their name, or opening documents, but you can also use it to launch various workflows. I use Alfred (I launch it by typing option-space) to start web searches, and to add new tasks to Things. It has an integration with my favorite calculator app, so that I can perform calculations on the fly without opening another app. I can use it to create new calendar appointments, contacts, or even create new notes. It also has built-in support for Snippets, which is a massive time saver. As of this writing, per Alfred’s built-in statistics, since May 19, 2016, Alfred has been used 19,627 times on my Mac. It’s pretty essential. macOS only.

Unified Inbox

Via lolfi.com

Back in like 2004 or 2005 you had a BlackBerry. There was an “app” on there (they weren’t called apps back then) where you would see all your incoming messages. Any type of messages, doesn’t matter what “app”, what service, it was all there. For example:

Incoming email from gmail
Incoming email from Exchange
Incoming and missed phone calls
Text messages
Facebook messages
Google Talk
You get the idea. It was all there in one pane of glass.

Now today.

I got my first Blackberry (issued by my employer) in 2004 and was immediately addicted1 to that unified messaging paradigm. Nothing else has come close to copying it. I suspect that for most people the stream from all of their services in one place would be completely overwhelming. Just triaging my email in one app is bad enough. Compounding it with text messages, Slack, phone calls, FB/Twitter/whatever would be unmanagable in 2021.

1When I had to turn my device in at the end of the job, I immediately drove to the nearest Cingular store to replace my personal device with a Blackberry; I could’t be without one.

Zip It

From How-To Geek:

The year is 1995. You’re stuck with slow floppy disks that only hold 1.44 MB of data. But there’s an exciting new technology: Zip drives, which can hold 100 MB and free you from floppy disks!

Now, 25 years later, we look back at Iomega’s Zip technology and its history. Did you know some industries still use Zip drives?

Zip disks were fairly ubiquitous by the time I left high school and entered college. Anyone who needed to move (relatively) large amounts of data around had a drive (or had one built into their computer.) Reliability issues and the rise of fast networking killed off the Zip almost as quickly as it emerged though.

I never owned a Zip drive personally. I instead had placed my bet on the SyQuest EZ 135 drive. It was slightly more expensive than the Zip, but considerably faster and more reliable — it used hard platters (like a hard disk) rather than the “floppy disk” medium that Zip disks utilized. I bet on the wrong technology though, as SyQuest filed for bankruptcy pretty shortly after I bought into their tech. Sigh.

Bookmark it for life

My oldest daughter, a student at a prestigious northwestern institution of higher learning, is contemplating a trip across the Cascades this weekend. Seeking my advice as a sage veteran of mountain pass travel in Washington State, I sent her a link from my browser bookmarks: the Washington State Mountain Pass Road Report. She then asked for a phonetic spelling of “Snoqualmie” (she’s not a local, so don’t laugh) but I digress.

A few things then dawned on me. I’ve always kept meticulous backups of my data, so I’ve been using the same bookmarks across computers and browsers since at least 1998. I had sent her a bookmark that I had created in 1998 or 1999, back when I frequently traversed Snoqualmie Pass between my school in Tacoma and my home in central Washington.

Maybe it’s nothing, but it really seemed amazing that I was able to send a URL that I had bookmarked while in college to my daughter while she’s in college 20+ years later. It’s also pretty wild that WSDOT has faithfully maintained the same URL structure on their site such that this URL string is still perfectly valid, with no redirects (other than to HTTPS), today. Kudos to their IT team.

Email: Embrace The Chaos

Really enjoyed this piece by Rachel Kramer Bussel:

 Not for the first time, I considered declaring email bankruptcy: mass-deleting all the newsletters, marketing promos, Google news alerts, and notes from friends, family, and work contacts that accumulated over the years. I’d give myself a blank slate, one that allowed me to actually notice the professional opportunities that came my way. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to nuke my inbox entirely. What if I wanted to reread a note my late grandmother had written to me? Or look up which Black Friday promos a company offered in 2016 to better inform my shopping this year?

I long ago learned to stop worrying about my email. We all get a ton of email, and if you’re a grownup, you probably have 3-4 different email accounts that you are responsible for patrolling. My work account has 48,322 unreads; my primary personal account has 2,805; secondary personal (the one where the volume of junk is so high that it exists only for shopping receipts; everybody has that one account) is at 95,776. Collectively, it’s a lot but it’s not impossible.

Here are my tips for managing the chaos:

Turn off unread flags.

If you are determined to leave behind that “inbox zero” silliness, then this should be your first step. Go into your email app or notification settings, and turn off the unread counts/flags. I’m referring to the “14,778” number that appears on the icon of your email app, which signifies the number of unread emails therein. Turn that shit off. That number is meaningless, and it just causes anxiety.

Search is your friend.

Don’t bother filing emails into a labyrinth of folders and sub-folders. It takes too much effort and it won’t really help you find anything any faster. Use the Archive function if you must, but the Search feature is your best friend in taming the chaos. The search function in most modern email apps is fast and accurate. Need to find that one email from HR that they sent six months ago? Type in a few keywords and scroll the results to the correct time frame…there’s the email you wanted.

Flag the vital stuff

If it’s an email that you will absolutely need to reference or respond to later, go ahead and flag or star that bad boy. This is particularly important if the sender or content isn’t memorable or unique enough to easily surface in a search.

Never Delete

Most email takes up very little actual storage space, so there is rarely any benefit to deleting something — especially if there’s any chance of you needing it later. Again, search is your friend.

Just wait.

If you receive an email that gets lost in your chaos and it needed a response, just wait. If it’s truly important they’ll email you again.

“…no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys”

Apple responds to AG Barr on phone unlocking: read the full statement here:

Earlier today Attorney General William Barr called on Apple to unlock the alleged phone of the Pensacola shooter — a man who murdered three people and injured eight others on a Naval base in Florida in December. Apple has responded by essentially saying: “no.”

“We reject the characterization that Apple has not provided substantive assistance in the Pensacola investigation,” the company said. “It was not until January 8th that we received a subpoena for information related to the second iPhone, which we responded to within hours,” Apple added countering Barr’s characterization of Apple being slow on its approach to the FBI’s needs. However, it ends the statement in no uncertain terms: “We have always maintained there is no such thing as a backdoor just for the good guys.”

Apple’s position is the correct one. If you create a software backdoor or a weakness in encryption, it will inevitably be exploited by bad actors. How do we know this? Because even the NSA can’t keep its top secret tools and methods out of enemy hands.

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella also got in on the debate:

“I do think backdoors are a terrible idea, that is not the way to go about this,” Nadella said. “We’ve always said we care about these two things: privacy and public safety. We need some legal and technical solution in our democracy to have both of those be priorities.”

Challenges and Opportunities

Sometimes I write for other sites:

> All of this is to say that the privacy landscape is changing. For consumers, these are changes for the better. Proper regulation of the collection and protection of private information is probably long overdue. For marketers, we have a new challenge — how do we comply with these regulations and remain effective, without risking legal repercussions?

I tackle privacy and more in a post for my day job.

MCU Movies – The Definitive Ranking

(Revised 2023-11-29)

There are many lists of Marvel movies, but this one is mine. There’s no particular criteria for my rankings, though “rewatch-ability” is very important. Here is the Definitive Ranking of Marvel Cinematic Universe Films (in order starting from least favorite):

  • Thor: The Dark World — This movie just kind of a mess. It’s like a less-good remake of Thor (which itself wasn’t great.)
  • The Eternals — A gorgeous film (maybe the best-looking Marvel film?) and a great cast, but I’m not sure where this is going? I did not care about the characters or the plot, and it’s hard to see where this fits into the rest of the MCU storyline. Absolutely nothing that came out of this film has resurfaced anywhere else. This is the only MCU movie I have only watched a single time, and there is no need to ever watch it a second.
  • The Incredible Hulk — The forgotten MCU movie. This is the most optional of the films, so feel free to skip.
  • Thor — I think of it almost like two movies. The first movie is all of the “sword and board” action and royal politics — most of these scenes are a snooze-fest. The other movie takes place on Earth, and it is really fun. Sadly, there is too much of the former to overcome the latter.
  • Iron Man 2 — It’s Iron Man and it’s fun, but it’s the weakest of the trio, and has some reaaaaaally unfortunate sexism.
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron — This movie felt overly long and I never quite understood the motivations of the antagonist (voiced by the always great James Spader.)
  • Thor: Love and Thunder — I enjoyed this more than a lot of people, but it definitely deserves some criticism. The tone of the movie was all over the place; it vacillated between goofball comedy and tragedy to a degree that was sometimes unsettling. The film would have benefited greatly from leaning harder one way or the other. I would have dropped most of the Korg scenes so that Natalie Portman and Christian Bale (the best parts of the film) had room to flex.
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Some of the very best visuals and action sequences of the MCU. Great cast, and the plot mostly worked for me (though I’m not sure where they are going with the Wanda character from here…) A few more horror elements than the typical MCU film, but not bad.
  • Doctor Strange — Our introduction to the mystical side of Marvel, this was a fun film. Stephen Strange is an arrogant asshole, but his origin story was great.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger — It took me a couple of viewings to really appreciate this film. I think this is one film where having an understanding of the origin of Captain America really helps you understand why this movie was actually pretty good.
  • Black Widow – A long overdue solo film for one of the founding Avengers. Great action sequences, but an inessential story. This film would have made more sense if it had come out in 2017, as a consequence of Civil War. Natasha’s final appearance in Endgame would have carried so much more weight if we had gotten this installment first. Instead, it exists mostly to set up Natasha Romanoff’s successor, as well as the Hawkeye series. Natasha deserved better.
  • Ant-Man — I did not expect to like this one as much as I did. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly were great.
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp — Low-stakes, lighthearted, and enjoyable. This was the first Marvel film with a female hero to receive top-billing. 
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — Not the most *essential* entry in the MCU (other than advancing Quill’s daddy issues, I’m not sure what this film did other than set up Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3?) Still though, this thing is hilarious and, at points, very moving. I love this cast and the care with which James Gunn has set up this corner of the cosmic MCU.
  • Avengers: Infinity War — Part 1 of the big payoff for all of these films. It’s still hard to believe that they managed to center this film around an entirely CGI character and make it work so well.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home — So much fun. They masterfully balanced the humor with the post-Endgame sadness. 
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — An incredible coda for this iteration of the Guardians. This film solidified the James Gunn trilogy as my favorite of the MCU.
  • Captain America: Civil War — Almost an Avengers movie, there was conflict, politics, and solid action. This also introduced Tom Holland’s Spider-Man into the MCU.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy — This was the point where Marvel really started flexing. Up to this point, their films had been headlined by relatively established characters. Guardians was something else. With it, they absolutely nailed the introduction of a new universe of characters who were virtually unknown to non-comics readers. The script was hilarious and the casting spot-on.
  • Iron Man 3 — A slight shift in tone and stakes from the other two entries, but a solid film. Ben Kingsley steals the show.
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Marvel’s first film with a predominantly Asian cast. Loved every minute of this one. A really fun introduction to a new Avenger.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home – There is a lot going on in this movie, maybe a little too much. So many cameos and fan-service, while also trying to explain multiverse theory to an audience that probably doesn’t understand it yet, while also doing a bit of a reset on the Spidey franchise as the Home trilogy winds down. Still though, fun movie with a lot of heart.
  • Captain Marvel — The first solo MCU movie with a female protagonist. A solid introduction to Carol Danvers, and the best use of Nick Fury in the MCU. And, unexpectedly, it’s an orange cat who steals the show.
  • Thor: Ragnarok — Maybe the funniest MCU movie? This one made me want more Thor films. Extremely re-watchable.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming — I love this iteration of Spider-Man (long my favorite comic character) and what Tom Holland brings. So great.
  • Marvel’s The Avengers — The gang finally comes together. Fun action, though I still think helicarriers are dumb.
  • Iron Man — The first MCU film from 2008. This one set the stage and the tone for the next decade. Somehow they lucked into casting Robert Downey Jr. and the rest is cinema history.
  • Black Panther — This was the first MCU film that actually felt important. Black Panther had things to say about race, isolationism, oppression, and family. An incredible film that could stand on its own outside of the MCU.
  • Avengers: Endgame — What a ride. This movie pays off ten years with fan service delivered in a way that I wouldn’t have predicted that Marvel could pull off, but they did! 
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier — I loved everything about this film. I think it had the best action scenes of any MCU movie to date, and echoed some of my favorite thrillers like Three Days of the Condor and Marathon Man To me, this is the most re-watchable entry in the MCU, and that’s why it is at the top.