Charles Pierce Nails It

Charles Pierce frequently finds a way to make his criticism pitch perfect. Here, talking about Indiana’s “religious freedom” law, he is able to both slam Indiana’s Governor (and his naked attempt at currying favor with the far right) and the morally-challenged NCAA.

Cat’s Cradle: Kentucky Puts Another Victim to Sleep, and a Nightmare Looms in Indiana:

Even if you’re in favor of the law, and shame on you if you are, Pence couldn’t have waited two weeks before bringing the circus to town? It may cost him the national meeting of the Disciples of Christ, and mammoth tech company Salesforce already has canceled plans to hold events in Indiana. Random celebrities have gone up the wall, and even Mark Emmert of the NCAA bestirred himself to say the right thing. And when you’ve ceded the moral high ground to the NCAA, you have drifted far from the pack indeed.

One of the best part’s of Grantland is their giving Pierce a weekly pulpit.

(Via Grantland » The Triangle)

Half-baked Google Hangouts

A few months ago, my company moved to Google Apps for mail/calendaring/conferencing. Leaving aside the good and the bad, there’s been one big change: we now use Google Hangouts for the majority of our video conferencing and meetings.

That has made things a lot simpler—no more needing to look for the conference number, or trying to figure out everyone’s Skype username—but it’s come with one big downside:

###Google Hangouts is sort of a half-baked piece of crap. At least the video side.###

Let’s start with the easiest part. The Hangout video link that gets generated for a meeting isn’t included in a standard part of the iCal (the calendar format, not the application) file. So most calendar applications don’t show it.

For instance, let’s say you need to join a meeting from the road. You’re on your iPhone, you open Calendar. No idea where the meeting link is. So you open up Google Calendar on the web. It’s in mobile view, you quickly go to your meeting. And the link isn’t there. Because Google doesn’t see fit to include it in mobile view. You find the link to the full site, click it, then find your meeting, and finally, there’s meeting.

Of course, by now, you’re 5 minutes late, or your car is in a ditch on the side of the road.

The simplest thing would be for Google to actually include the Hangout link in the meeting description, so everybody (errybody) could actually see it regardless of calendaring app. But nope. Either a) they don’t care, or b) they do care (about lock-in). Your choice.

Thankfully, Steve Calderon worked out a solution to the problem (something I had actually tried to set side some time to do). It adds the Hangout link to the meeting description. Which is what Google should have done anyway. It involves Google Apps Script, which is a little JavaScript environment you can use to program your Google Apps account. His script worked great for me, I just needed to enable a couple of things on top of his instructions.

  • Use Steve’s script (your calendar id is probably your primary GApps email address)
  • Go into Resources -> Advanced Google and enable Calendar v3
  • Click the link to go to the developer console and enable it there as well
  • Set a trigger to have it run automatically. Mine runs every hour.

Since I’ve turned this on, I haven’t crashed my car once trying to join an early morning hangout.

Now that I can get into a Hangout, it brings me to the second thing that sucks about Google Hangouts. They are horrible on your battery.

I’ve had multi-hour Skype audio and video calls. My MacBook fans never spun up. I’ve had long FaceTime calls with barely an impact to my battery. I’ve had Skype calls on my iPhone and the batter barely moved.

A 30 minute Hangout on my phone, even with the display turned off and my phone plugged in, is probably 10-20% of my battery. With video enabled, it’s even worse.

On a laptop, it’s even more fun. 20-30 minutes into every Hangout, inevitably, someone will say “hey, there’s a lot of noise coming from ABC’s end of the call. I’m going to mute them.” That noise? Their fans spinning up and trying to keep their laptop from melting down due to the Hangout running.

Hangouts works across multiple platforms, which is a great advantage, and it’s baked into the Apps experience, so it’s really easy to set one up. But there are still so many rough edges that there are many folks in our company who go out of their way to still setup conference bridges or Skype calls to avoid using Hangouts. And the rest of us spend time working around deficiencies in Google’s implementation (like finding a way to make it so we can actually even get to the Hangout from our calendar).

Otherwise, it works great.

Workflow App for iOS

The Workflow app for iOS is one of the coolest apps I’ve seen for iOS. It’s something that makes it that much easier to use iOS as a full time OS. There’s a bunch of little things that you can do on a full Mac that are hard to do on iOS.

Workflow takes advantage of iOS 8’s extensions to make it easy to ship data around, pass it through other apps or web services, munge it, and ship it off somewhere, or save it to Dropbox or Evernote. It’s pretty remarkable.

Federico Viticci’s lengthly review covers the app in detail, and gives a few examples of some handy workflows:

  • Save to PDF (take almost anything—web page, map, etc—and save out a PDF of it)
  • Search for the song lyrics of the current playing song
  • Tweet out the title and artwork of the song you’re listening to

There’s some handy workflows in the app’s gallery, as well as on the dedicated subreddit. Some of my favorites?

  • Send a URL into OmniFocus
  • View Source on a webpage
  • Get the current weather and news headlines and read them out loud

David Sparks has put together a video that I’ve just scratched the surface of covering the app. It’s an hour covering the ins and outs of the app.

It’s pretty infrequent that I find an iOS app that is interesting enough that I spend a bunch of time just playing around with it. Workflow is that sort of app.

ImageOptim and iPhoto

ImageOptim is a simple Mac app that bundles a few image optimization tools to reduce the file size of your images by 10–20%. Handy, but not a big deal, right?

I ran it against my 40GB iPhoto library (lots of people have even bigger libraries). There are 3 folders in your iPhoto Library that have images:

  • Masters/Originals
  • Thumbnails
  • Previews

It took me about a day of crunching images (just moving back and forth to the computer dragging folders over into the application). I could have scripted it, but I was lazy and walking over to the computer every hour or so was easier.

When finished, it saved about 1.5GB of useless information from my library. That’s not a ton, but that’s basically “free” free space. It’s incremental, and the nice thing about how iPhoto stores your pictures is that you can grab a folder each month and drag it in, and it’ll take about an hour a month or so. It his, however, diminishing returns if you’re using something like an iPhone as a camera. It seems that images generated by the iPhone are already reasonably well optimized, only maybe saving 8–10%.

Anyway—if you’re looking to squeeze a little bit more space out of your disk (maybe you’ve got an SSD), you’ll probably find a free GB or two in optimizing your image collection.

A Perfect Joke

I recently started reading The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey of SNL fame. It’s a really light read, less of a story and more of an excuse to string some jokes and puns together. I’m only a quarter of the way through the book but I came across this gem:

“I had dreams once. Once I wanted to build the world’s longest suspension bridge. But then I found out someone else had already done it.”

That’s just about as perfect a joke as could be written.

True Inbox Zero

Want to know the simplest way to get to Inbox Zero?

Make it so people can’t send you mail.

The other day I updated the SSL cert I have for my site. I use it on my own mail server so that most mail servers can talk over TLS and exchange mail securely.

When I updated my cert, I was an idiot. I didn’t properly update my postfix config. Postfix would still run and accept mail, but anyone trying to connect via TLS would fail. It turns out that Google (understandably) tries to connect via TLS. When they can’t connect, they don’t try to reconnect using plain SMTP. They just bail out.

So, short version: I’m an idiot. But, for about 12 hours, I didn’t get any mail. It was glorious.