Stormgrass

SundayMorning

It's the middle of July, and for everyone familiar with the progression of months, they'll be aware that August will follow suit. For me that means that my yearly Evernote subscription will renew. Now, for everyone who's not familiar with Evernote, here's a quick primer: Evernote is a note-taking tool first and foremost, but what makes it so useful is it's tie-in with just about any other application. There's a Chrome extension that lets you clip e-mails from Gmail, whole websites or just snippets or, if you're a purist, simple bookmarks. Through the "share with" dialog on Android it can be used virtually with any app. It's a great tool and I remember when I first started using it years ago it was a revelation, because suddenly I had all my bookmarks, my notes, saved websites, articles, even PDFs or whatever filetype I threw at it in one place. Evernote recently celebrated their 8th birthday, during the celebrations of which they promised to never go away. A nice sentiment and I'm happy about this reassurance. A few days later, they announced something else: a change to their pricing plans. Now, I've been an Evernote premium user for roughly four years (I can't look up the original subscription date because I let it lapse for a bit a while back, then went on monthly plans before subscribing to their yearly plans again). I've never minded paying for their service, not least because it would entitle me to support, which I'd otherwise feel bad clamoring for. Also, the benefits of a premium plan are great and unleash the full power of the Evernote beast. That missing Linux client One thing, though, that had always irked me was their steadfast refusal to create a Linux desktop client. While it might not seem like a big deal, the desktop client does cache my notes locally and whenever I'm without an Internet connection, I can still access my myriad of notes (or write new ones). The refusal to create a Linux version started early in Evernote's life, and in the beginning I understood that. The Linux userbase is, after all, minuscule, compared to the Windows or even Mac userbase. If you're a small outfit trying to make it big, you'll have to prioritize, and that's what they did. But as the years went on and Evernote raked in one investment after the other, there still was no Linux client. I'm convinced it wasn't for lack of money. Evernote went ahead and either developed or bought other apps left and right (most of which have now been shuttered again, some more about this here. Using some of their sweet investment money to build a Linux client wouldn't have broken the bank, but at this point it just seemed that they didn't give a fuck. And you know what, that's their prerogative. User numbers still rose and apart from a few trouble-makers who regularly swoop unto the Evernote forums to complain about the lack of a Linux client, it's an issue they could easily just ignore. But then, a few weeks back, came above mentioned new pricing scheme. Apart from limiting use of the free version to two devices (sensible), they also hiked the price for the yearly subscription from 40€ to a whopping 59,90€ a year. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm bad at maths. Still, even I can see that that's an increase somewhere in the region of 50%. Not bad, is it? The new pricing scheme went into effect immediately, so when my annual subscription renews in about a month, I'll have the choice to either keep the functionality I've been working with for the last few years or downgrade to something they call "Evernote plus", but which lacks some of the better features of Evernote I've grown accustomed to. Also, I could just decide to not pay anything at all, but that'll more or less leave the whole thing crippled. And here's the kicker: while I was content to live with the lack of Linux support, because there were ways to clunkily install Evernote via Wine, or use some of the third party clients (which, unfortunately, lack the functionality of the original client and are sometimes also painfully slow to work with), now that I'm asked to pay 40 percent more for the same level of service and still not get a client I can work with locally, I'm seriously reconsidering whether I should renew my plan. So what's to do? Basically, I have three options: Cancel my subscription and revert to a basic plan, leaving most of Evernote's functionality. Keep paying for the same service at a rate 50% higher than before and just suck it up. Cancel my subscription, export all my notes and find a replacement service that'll let me do the same things I can do with Evernote. As for option one, I don't think I would have much use for a crippled version of Evernote. So I can't do that. As for option three, I quite regularly query Google for things like "Evernote Linux client" or "Evernote Linux alternatives", and there are some that seem quite promising. There's Laverna, which looks simple enough and allows for syncing via your own server or via Dropbox. It's open-source and it's slick. Still, it's missing features I've grown accustomed to with Evernote, so it would be a pain to downgrade to it. So, it's not really an option. Which leaves me with option two. Pay the pied piper and hope that at some point some good sould will create a third-party version that works well, isn't ugly as hell and holds all the functionality of the original client (fat chance) or wait until Evernote decides it's time to create a Linux client as well (even fatter chance). A conclusion of sorts While this whole post might seem like a senseless rant about the very first world problems of a Linux user, it does touch on some of the implications that come with services like Evernote. We've come accustomed to trust our daily workflows, our ideas, notes, content, etc. to services that ultimately hold reign over them. It would be easy for me to just export my data and deal with it, but having used Evernote for the better part of its existence, I can't without cutting out a huge part of my workflow. It's an easy situation to get into, but a difficult one to get out of. Short of creating your own software and hosting it on your own server, there's really not a lot that can be done to not be dependent on a good service. And once the creators of that service decide to hike prices or maybe remove features, we're all stuck with it in one way or another.

The Evernote conundrum

It's the middle of July, and for everyone familiar with the progression of months, they'll be aware that August will follow suit. For me that means that my yearly Evernote subscription will renew. Now, for everyone who's not familiar with Evernote, here's a quick primer: Evernote is a note-taking tool
There is this place in Vienna called "Oben", which basically means "at the top". It actually is at the top of a building, namely the main building of the Viennese libraries. It's a great place to hang out both during the day and at night and incidentally, they also serve good food. We went there last weekend and I had their Open Club Sandwich (don't ask me why they called it "open", because as you can see, it's not open). Anyway, they used to have a similar one, but instead of classic rye toast they served it in a rather unwieldy piece of white bread. Not bad, mind you, but I've come to find that I prefer my sandwiches with less bread and more meat. And meat it does have. Some succulent chicken, taken right off a grilled chicken and then some bacon as well. Also, some token vegetables, which I guess belong in there. They also serve some great home-made fries, which, admittedly, bear an uncanny resemblance to wedges, but I'm not complaining. If you have the chance, do go there, but make sure to book a table, especially on Sundays, when they also serve a brunch buffet. As a bonus: during the summer months, right behind the restaurant, they show films. So if you like to impress someone, bring them there, make them eat the sandwich, then enjoy a show.

Open Club Sandwich

There is this place in Vienna called "Oben", which basically means "at the top". It actually is at the top of a building, namely the main building of the Viennese libraries. It's a great place to hang out both during the day and at night and incidentally, they also serve
To everyone who knows me a bit, the revelation that I'm partial to pork roasts will be no revelation at all. But, I adhere to a kind of roast that's unusual for Austria (or Germany, for that matter). I like my roast mostly with caraway, salt and garlic, massaged in just shortly before shoving it into the oven. The idea of sauces, brines or similar shenanigans never appealed to me. That is, until I saw an episode of the BBC's "Food Detectives", in which chef Tom Kerridge shows off a rather succulent looking piece of pork belly, brined for 24 hours. Visiting my parents, who, in foresight that is often one of the particular super-powers of parents, had bought a nice piece of pork belly in anticipation of my visit, I decided to try and see whether brined pork belly might actually be better than what I've been making for the last 15 years or so (and which my father has been making for as long as I can think, literally). Now, there are two reasons why someone would want to brine a pork belly. The first one is flavour, of course. Letting a piece of meat rest, enveloped by a succulent concoction of various ingredients, for 24 hours, makes sure that every pore is filled with flavour. The second reason is moistness. There's not a lot of things in life that are more disappointing than dry meat, and brining ensures that not a dry spot can be found. So off I went. Sugar, salt, bay leaf and clover were Kerridge's ingredients, but being a bit stubborn, I still added some garlic and caraway (I actually used this recipe, because that's the first one I found typing in "Kerridge brined pork"). I boiled the brine so salt and sugar could dissolve, then let it cool before dropping that nice piece of meat in it. Then off into the fridge for 24 hours. When I pulled it out, it looked like this. Granted, it won't win a price for the most beautiful picture of food, then again, most raw meat doesn't. I then just rinsed it off, cut up the rind for nice pieces of crackling and pushed it into the oven, where I let it warm itself up for about three hours at 150°C. Not wanting to completely forsake my pork belly heritage, I chose roasted potatoes as a side-dish, not the lentils Kerridge suggests in his recipe. Some things gotta give, right? Finally, about twenty minutes before taking it out, I raised the temperature to a cozy 230°C to get that crackling really crackling. After about twenty minutes of resting (to make sure all the juices won't just flow out when I cut the thing open), it was ready to be cut up and enjoyed. So how was it? It was juicy, that's for sure. But I gotta tell you, I like to eat and I like to cook, but I don't have the most refined of palates. While I can definitely see the merit of a brined pork belly, the way the garlic and the caraway cling to every piece of the roast when preparing it in my usual fashion is quite amazing. Yes, the garlic will be burnt off in parts but it's also a bit of a heartier bite than when eating the above piece of pork. Also, my foresight is limited. Most of the time I don't have the time or the initiative to prepare food I'll be eating 24 hours later. Preparing pork the way I usually do, the roast can be out of the fridge and in the oven within 20 minutes. All in all, it was a fun exercise, and I might do it again, maybe to test out variations of the brine used. But for everyday pork roasts (how I wish I could actually have them every day), I'll stick to my traditional way.

Brined pork belly

To everyone who knows me a bit, the revelation that I'm partial to pork roasts will be no revelation at all. But, I adhere to a kind of roast that's unusual for Austria (or Germany, for that matter). I like my roast mostly with caraway, salt and garlic, massaged in
What happens when a machine learns to watch films? If you've ever wondered, you'll find this article fascinating. If you've never wondered, you'll find it interesting still.

Do androids dream of video-frames?

What happens when a machine learns to watch films? If you've ever wondered, you'll find this article fascinating. If you've never wondered, you'll find it interesting still.
The last half year or so I've slowly made my way into blogging again. One of my plans was to consolidate all the various blogs that I forked out of this one back into it again. The events of the last week can probably regarded as a fortuitous push in that direction. It started with several of my blogs, namely Medienschelte and Selfhostedweb, going offline, then extended to my whole webspace (provided by Webhostingbuzz) getting suspended for spam. After contacting their support to ask what's up (the e-mail from their abuse department had ended up in my spam folder), I found out that apparently scripts on my webspace were sending out spam mail. Not that surprising, considering that for some reason or other, malicious scripts always found their way into my Wordpress installations, despite using plugins like Wordfence or Succuri which, if not prevent it, at least alert me of events like that. So, after they had run their malware scans, then graciously cleaned my webspace of the offending files they'd found, I logged on myself checked my webspace for more possibly malicious files, ran a plethora of malware scans, re-installed various Wordpress installations and changed passwords. A few hours later my webspace was suspended again. The whole spiel started again, but after having my whole account suspended again and again, during the course of four or five days, I called it quits. I asked them to at least keep my account active until I'd had time to back up whatever I'd had on there, then asked them to kindly cancel my account. As an aside, if you're looking into renting webspace, make sure to either pay per month or check whether they have pro-rated refunds. I did neither and subsequently lost half a year's investment into my webspace. So, you live and learn. On towards Ghost Anyway, there I was, five sites backed up on my hard-drive, not sure where to go from there. I have two other sites hosted on Gandi.net, and while I'm very happy with their service, I thought that maybe it was time to take a look at Ghost, the open-source, NodeJS based blogging platform as an alternative to yet another Wordpress installation. Over at hemmer.tv, my developer's playground, I'd set up Ghost a few weeks ago already. I chose to go with yet another VPS set up on Digital Ocean, which is where I'm running the above website as well. They offer a one-click Ghost installation, which was created within literally minutes. Ghost provides a good Wordpress plugin to export posts from Wordpress, which I'd used before to export all my 995 posts. While the plugin doesn't file attachments like images, the plugin works with Cloudinary, to which I uploaded my pictures before. But stories wouldn't be good stories if road-blocks weren't encountered. The road-block emerged in the way of my import resulting in a rather obtuse "Import Failed". Not sure whether my import file was corrupt, I created a free trial account on Ghost's hosted service. There my import file worked without a hitch. Weird, right? It took me about four days, repeated searching, posting in support forums, opening tickets with Digital Ocean and writing a mail to Ghost support (who were all exceptionally nice and forthcoming), until I'd finally found out that the reason my import failed had to do with Digital Ocean using SQLite on their one-click installs, whereas Ghost's hosted instances used mySQL. I found a concise how-to on switching databases, and lo and behold, all my 995 posts were successfully imported. This tale of peril and ultimately success concluded, here we are now, on my new, Ghost-hosted version of Stormgrass.com. So, what was imported and what wasn't? As Ghost doesn't handle comments natively, none of my comments were exported. I could've done that with Disqus, but I honestly just forgot about it. It's a bit of a shame that the rather interesting discussion about a post I wrote on one of Coldplay's songs is gone (that post proved to be my most popular one, by a wide margin), but to put it with the words of Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes. Also, all my permalinks have changed, effectively breaking all links to my posts, wherever they might be scattered on the web. It'll probably wreak havoc with my Google visibility as well, but again: So it goes. Most posts with galleries are broken, as are many pictures themselves. The Ghost-export plugin did a good job with most of them, but considering that many of my posts themselves were imported from other blogs (like deathbymartini, colordisco or stormgrass.com/tech), it's actually a surprise that any images still remain. I'll be fixing those if I encounter them, if I don't, they'll keep being broken as a testament to these trials and tribulations. Finally: while this blog might be up again, selfhostedweb and medienschelte (as well as my sister's and my girlfriend's websites, which I had hosted on my previous host) are still offline. I'm still trying to figure out an easy way to get them up and running again (and keeping them from being compromised again in the future). And what's next? Well, to tie that in with my intro: in the course of this whole mess I've made true on my promise to consolidate all my blogs again. So from now on you'll find posts about food, tech, debauchery and whatever else I have a burning to desire to disseminate. Good times!

New host, new platform and a whole lot of broken links

The last half year or so I've slowly made my way into blogging again. One of my plans was to consolidate all the various blogs that I forked out of this one back into it again. The events of the last week can probably regarded as a fortuitous push in
Unrelated picture of sausagesIt’s 2016 and this is my first blog post of the year. I’m writing it on this blog that served me so well for almost 13 years. The domain, which I bought after realizing that that’s what the grown-up blogs do, was the first domain-name I bought, but it definitely wasn’t the last. The second one I bought was for a web-service that lived only in it’s concepts, which in itself were not far more than a few notes scribbled in a text-editor. No surprise it never came to fruition. I kept the name for a year, then realized it was a bad idea anyway and slowly let it lapse. The next ones I bought were kept for longer. When the tumble-log craze of the mid 2000s came, I bought intrepidlytrite.com. Back then I thought it was a fun idea to jot down the notes, quotes, pictures and whatever else I stumbled upon on my travels through the web. I attached it first to a tumblr account, then a soup.io account, but after years of rather willful neglect more or less forgot about it. Still, I kept it around, attached it to a few other blog ideas I had, which again, rarely ever made it off the ground. At the end of the last year, I let this one lapse too. Compared to my ill-fated webservice, I felt some hesitation when I decided not to renew it. It had belonged to me for a while and even though nothing great came of it, ever, I liked the name (even though I don’t anymore think it’s as witty as I thought it was). But I simply saw that I had too many domains. It’s a funny thing with domain names. As with the two above, they’re always the first thing you buy when you have a great idea. Getting projects off the ground is hard, thinking up domain-names isn’t – it’s actual fun! And once you’ve bought it, you attach it to a blog or a “coming soon” service and feel elated. The rude awakening comes a few weeks, months or years later when you realize that you’re still paying for this name that never went anywhere. It’s not always that tragic, though. Another of the names I bought was medienschelte.at, a media-watchblog I founded with a friend in the mid-2000s. The project went strong for three years, until we both one day noticed that we’re sick of reading crap newspapers. But the site is still up, for posterity’s sake and as a vigil to the accumulated weeks I spent  going through said newspapers finding crappy stuff they wrote in their crappy articles. Finding these things wasn’t exactly fun, but it was satisfying in the way popping a pimple feels. But I am digressing. Earlier last year I made the decision to consolidate my online-outfits. I conceded to the cold, hard truth that most of the blogs I had running were being shamefully neglected and in order to remedy this, I’d have to find out which ones I still needed, which ones I didn’t and which ones I could easily transfer into this blog right here. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I finally decided that my tech blog would have to be the first one to go and imported all my old posts into this blog. You can now find those under the category tech-stuff. Ironically, that’s how the tech-stuff posts started out, and for some reason I deemed it necessary to create a separate blog for all the things focusing on the tech world. Nowadays I’m more relaxed about it, so if someone reading up on my favourite podcast app happens to read about my visit to the Styrian alps, I don’t have a problem with it. The next blog I’m planning on incorporating into this blog is my food blog. The name deathbymartini.com, as a play on death by chocolate, was fun when I came up with it, and even though I still like it, I feel it’s run its course. Also, when I created my food-blog, there was still some fun in it. Today it’s yet another niche that’s less about the initial topic and more about how to make money writing about that topic; a tendency that will befall every successful niche sooner or later. Within my own kingdom of blogs that will leave me with the dukedom of colordisco.com, which I suspect will soon be incorporated into this blog as an aside category. Then, there’s still hemmer.tv, a hidalgo of sorts and a domain I bought on a whim and which will probably at some point helm my broadcasting empire. But that, as so many other of my projects, will have to wait until the world is ready for it. Until then, the domain is parked somewhere on my webhost’s server. I have to admit that while getting rid of domains is instilling a feeling of sadness akin to giving away a dog you’ve had for years but can’t keep anymore because you’re moving into a place that doesn’t allow dogs, it’s also kind of liberating (sorry, dog). I can concentrate on the actual content and I don’t have to face the fact that whatever projects I had in mind buying these domains have failed or never gotten off the ground. Also, it’ll be cheaper.

Slimming down the domain-portfolio

Unrelated picture of sausagesIt’s 2016 and this is my first blog post of the year. I’m writing it on this blog that served me so well for almost 13 years. The domain, which I bought after realizing that that’s what the grown-up blogs do, was the first
It’s been a while since I wrote end-of-year lists, but in light of my re-emergence on this very (digital) soil, I’ll give it a shot this year. I’m taking my liberty with the sorts of things I award in this blog, so don’t be disappointed if I won’t write about my favourite colour of the year (it’s goldenrod, though, as always). Well, here goes, in no particular order: Best book of 2015 I started reading but will probably still be reading way into 2016 This one is easy. It’s From Dawn to Decadence, an all-encompassing cultural history of Europe from 1500 to the present day. Written by eminent French-born but ultimately US historian Jacques Barzun. He had a rather illustrious career as an historian, wrote numerous books on a number of wildly different subjects (one about Baseball, as well). The book has been co-opted somewhat by conservatives in the US, probably because Barzun is a bit of a cultural pessimist. Unarguably, though, the book provides a clear, concise and wildly entertaining insight into what shaped Europe and ultimately all the other countries across the globe. It’s filled to the brim with insights and aha-moments. Barzun wrote this book at the end of his life (he lived basically through all of the 20th century, and then some). Asked how long it took him to write the book, he just said: “My whole life.” I like that. The reason why  I haven’t finished it yet is either because I like to savour every singly word, or maybe because I start ruminating about what he writes and consequently fall asleep. You choose. Best Horror film I probably won’t be ever be watching with my girlfriend Let Us Prey. I’m cheating here a bit, simply because I think it’s the best horror film I’ve seen this year, period. But it really isn’t one I’d be watching with my girlfriend. Not that she’s squeamish, but the level of Hellraiserishness is simply not her kind of horror. Apart from that, though, I think she might actually like it. It’s set in a quiet Scottish town, it features an incredible female protagonist who prevails even in the face of utter chaos and fuckedupness. The film is rather flawlessly made by director Brian O’Malley, not least because of his DOP Piers McGrail, who did such a stellar job. The whole thing is rounded off by Steve Lynch’s Carpenteresque score. In fact, the opening sequence alone is worth the admission for this one. Let Us Prey – Opening Sequence (Feature Film) from Brian O’Malley on Vimeo. Best horror film I did watch with my girlfriend Babadook. That, too, is quite easy. I think it was the most lauded horror film of the last year and a half, and I can see why. Uncanny, terrifying on so many levels and great for doing impressions. “Ba Ba Dook!” finally replaced “Kagutaba!” to freak each other out (the latter by the way coming from the 2005 film “The Curse”, which was quite a shocker too). Best horror film (save the other two above) Yes, I do like watching horror films, so please excuse this final one. It’s called It Follows, and it’s one of those films that even though it doesn’t make sense all the time, feels just right. It’s a not so subtle, but still convincing parable about the, sometimes quite tangible, horrors of growing up. Again score and camerawork are spot on as well. Best Film Festival I was invited to act as a juror on Easy, that was of course the Vienna Film Festival Viennale! I loved having the opportunity to watch roughly 30 films in ten days (in the theatre, mind you), and then being able to actually, hopefully, help a film getting an Austrian release. The film we (my four great co-jurors and I) chose was the one by Portuguese filmmaker Carlos Saboga called “A Uma Hora Incerta”. I wrote about the film and why we chose it on my historical consultant blog. Read it! The good people at Viennale and Der Standard were gracious, generous and full of enthusiasm. It’s definitely a once in a lifetime gig for a film nerd like me. Best five weddings I went to this year I’d say the best five wedding were the ones I went to this year. So yeah, all weddings were great, none like the other. We spent nights drinking in the middle of Viennese Donaupark, in a Palais on the outskirts of Vienna, near an old water-mill in the Upper Austrian countryside, in a wine-cellar again at the outskirts of Vienna and finally right underneath a Viaduct again at the outskirts of Vienna (there’s a pattern there somewhere). As I’m actually quite a fan of ties, but am actually not forced to wear them on a daily basis, I was happy to finally have good reason to wear ties. Here’s one of them. Best food I ate I like to eat a whole lot. Currently not reflected in my food-blog, because I just haven’t had the time to write pithy comments about food. I do take a lot of pictures of my food, still. Picking out a single dish I had over the course of the year is amazingly difficult, if not even impossible. Always one to shy away from a hard task, I’ll just go ahead and post some of my favourite dishes here. You decide which one I liked best. Best language I learned SPANISH! I finally got real about using Duolingo. I’d started up courses a few years back, went through a bit of Spanish, Swedish and French. This year I decided to go all the way, at least with one of those languages. It turned out to be Spanish. I finished the whole course after five or so months, and now I’m just tirelessly repeating what I learned. Because hey, according to the Duolingo Owl, that’s how you learn a language. I’m by no means really good at it, but I’m good enough at it for now. Which is exactly what I wanted. Best indie-game festival I visited There’s a lot of indie-game developers in Austria and the neighboring countries. Especially for those in the Eastern European countries, champions and chances to network are needed. Radius Festival, originally a London-based games expo, does just that. In July 2015 it came to Vienna, and I got to meet some very interesting people in the process. There’s loads of great people making games in Austria and the neighboring countries, and events like these are great to foster that talent. Since I’m at it, have a look at Games Austria, a non-profit organization that is very active in that area. In February, they’ll even host their first real conference. So go there and have a look. Best Podcast I became a part of Well, I didn’t have a favourite one for the most part of the year, but then in late September my friend Daniel of Codinghistory fame approached me. Asked if I wanted to, I said yes, and two weeks later we had our first episode up. Ever since then we’ve been going strong, currently at episode 14, I think. The whole thing is called Zeitsprung (astute readers of this blog might have seen me mention it elsewhere already), it’s about stories from history and quite entertaining. Also, you’ll learn a whole lot of stuff and since we always publish the latest episodes on Sundays (or early Mondays), it’s the best thing to start off your week. And you’ll be able to tell cool stories at the water-cooler (like about that one German-Spanish bastard who happened to become one of Spain’s most famous heroes). A small caveat: the whole thing’s in German, so if you don’t understand it, you’ll have to wait until we make some English versions of the show (might happen sometime). Best way to end this blogpost It’s been a great year, and I did a whole lot of things that made me enjoy it, whether I managed to cram those into one of my “best of” categories or not. I finally started reading more, learning more, enjoyed more time with my girlfriend and my parents and met loads of new people. I started writing more, and even though it might be to the detriment of those people who feel obliged to read my ramblings because they’re my family and friends, I think a blog filled with new life is a great thing. And who knows, maybe, a few thousand years in the future, when the AI-humans have found a way to read the fragments they found on those hard-disks buried beneath the rubble of long lost civilizations, they’ll see this post and re-evaluate their decision to use humankind as batteries to fuel their virtually endless lives. Have a great 2016!

My best of everything in 2015

It’s been a while since I wrote end-of-year lists, but in light of my re-emergence on this very (digital) soil, I’ll give it a shot this year. I’m taking my liberty with the sorts of things I award in this blog, so don’t be disappointed if
Assorted sweetstuffsBefore I started writing more again, the latest blogpost on here was one about Christmas. Short and quite to the point. Despite its almost three year tenure as this blog’s top post, it failed to gain much traction. It might have been a marketing problem. Anyway, it’s that time of the year again, so tomorrow will be Christmas Eve, where at roughly seven at night my family and I will be entering the living room, marvel at the tree, sing songs, read poems and stories, then embrace each other and wish each other “Merry Christmas” and then we’ll give each other presents and then put on some water for the traditional sausages, which we’ll soon crowd around the kitchen table to eat (the living room table will be covered in wrapping paper, presents, cookies), after which we’ll all just find us a place to sit somewhere and nurse the rest of the beer from the sausage dinner (some maybe a cup of tea) and start reading in one of the books we’ll have received, while my mother, who’s by now the only one who still does, will announce it’s time for her to go to church for the Christmas service, a second after which she’ll ask who would drive her there, because parking there is always a pain, and either my sister or I will give in (I think it’ll be me), so after I’ve dropped her off I’ll get back to reading in one of my new books (my mother will probably return by foot fifteen minutes later because according to her the church was just too full, but really I think she just found it to be too cold and wanted to go back to reading in one of her new books), and in between I’ll get up over to the big basket filled with cookies and pick out my favourites until I’m full, tired and ready for bed, which is in one of the two rooms that evolved out of the cowshed my parents converted when they moved in, so they’d have space to host their children, not just, but especially for events like these, and since it’s not connected to any central heating, I’ll put another log or two in the iron stove heating the room, and then get under the covers, making sure no feet are peeking out because this room has the tendency to release any and all warmth as soon as the last log has been turned to ash, which will probably happen roughly an hour after I’ve fallen asleep, happy and content, even though my face isn’t covered by the blanket, meaning I’ll wake up with an icy nose. Next night we’ll have turkey.

Of sausages, turkeys and trees

Assorted sweetstuffsBefore I started writing more again, the latest blogpost on here was one about Christmas. Short and quite to the point. Despite its almost three year tenure as this blog’s top post, it failed to gain much traction. It might have been a marketing problem. Anyway, it’s
According to venerated bard George Orwell, eleven factors determine the perfect cup of tea. My favourite is this one, not least because my family has been doing it the other way round forever: Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round. I’ve recently started to drink more tea, so this list comes in handy. Here’s the whole thing for you, including an actual reading of the list.

The right way to drink tea

According to venerated bard George Orwell, eleven factors determine the perfect cup of tea. My favourite is this one, not least because my family has been doing it the other way round forever: Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points
A train station in Upper Austria. It, too, would prefer to read interesting short stuff on blogs.One of the things that’s been irking me for the last couple of years is how easy it is to just throw a thought out there, just a single line of something, and have people read it and react to it. Why has that been irking me, you ask? Isn’t it great to have something like that? Well, yes! Yes, it is. But the way it works right now, you’ll have to do that using platforms like Twitter and Facebook, because hey, nobody reads blogs the way they did anymore. In the early days (I sound like an old guy, and funnily enough, in blog years I probably am), people plugged feeds into their feedreaders and they read this stuff they way we go through our Facebook or Twitter streams today. Back then you could actually get away with writing smallish, rudimentary blogposts, because people would see them. Today, most people read blogposts that have been linked by others. It’s how the attention economy works, after all. And now try and remember, when was the last time you had someone post a link to a blogpost that consisted of not more than 140 characters. Exactly (if your answer was “well, I can’t actually recall”. If your answer was “Yesterday, the day before and actually every single day of my life” you’re not my target group for this article. Go and have a look at my tech articles archive instead)! Anyway, yes, Twitter and Facebook helped democratize publishing, but they also made sure that fewer and fewer people use blogs to transport their pithy comments to the masses. My gripes with that are the same as I’ve pointed out a couple of times: your comments, your content, you don’t control them. The discussions and whatever interaction happens, they belong to the platform. Which in the short run doesn’t seem like a problem, but as soon as a platform shuts down, for example, you’re shit out of luck. All your insights, your claim to Internet fame, they go up in smoke. So what can be done about it? I’m not sure. I’ve dabbled with the idea of creating self-hosted tumblelog-style blogs. While they can sufficiently recreate the notion of just posting quick and dirty little updates, they can’t replicate the effect Twitter has. As always, you need to post where people see it and will have enough impetus to react to it. That works on platforms where people already have the option of commenting on all and sundry (sometimes to the detriment of discussions, mind you). The thing is, that even happens with real, actual, longer blogposts. Founded by Twitter-founders, Medium.com, a plattform for actual longer texts, has taken off in the last few years. In the end, it’s not much more than a hosted blogging platform, but it makes it so easy for everyone to post and comment, suddenly people with perfectly healthy blogs decide to start posting there (or maybe just cross-post their content). It’s understandable, because again it’s a platform that makes sure that your content will be more widely read than when you post it on your own blog (unless you’ve already got a loyal following). Another way to do this would be to use decentralized twitter-like software (like status.net). The problem here is that for one, nobody uses it, and two, it’s a bit of a pain to set up (admittedly, number two is probably the cause for number one). So that doesn’t work either. One solution I think is still rooted in the history of WordPress. Sometime during the early 2000s, someone came up with what they called asides. Basically, people saw the need to be able to post things that could do without having to look for a title, categories, tags and the like. This turned into tumblelogs later on, but the solution before that was creating a category mainly geared at these sorts of posts. The term “asides” was coined (by Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame himself), and today, that’s actually a separate post-type in most WordPress themes. That’s a good thing, the only problem is, that while most themes allow you to categorize your posts as “aside”-types, the way they actually display them is usually nothing to write home about. This theme, for example, doesn’t do much with it (it might do something with it in the feed, but I don’t think so). Then again, the whole thing isn’t really about the layout of the site, it’s still very much about the convenience of not having to visit all sorts of blogs just to see a short little post about how much someone loves the new season of Fargo (spoiler: it’s really good). Maybe the times of the blog as your social media one-stop-shop are over and the best you can do is let all your tweets flow into your blog’s sidebar or some such thing. I’m not sure, but I personally like the idea of having my own social-media hub far too much to stop thinking about it. So I won’t. And you’ll maybe see another lengthy blogpost about ephemera like this rather sooner than later.

How to Twitterize your blog (again)

A train station in Upper Austria. It, too, would prefer to read interesting short stuff on blogs.One of the things that’s been irking me for the last couple of years is how easy it is to just throw a thought out there, just a single line of something,
The web-version of Pocket Casts. It’s not free, but it’s great.I’ve been listening to podcasts, on and off, for the better part of ten years now and while in the early days it was quite a bit cumbersome to get your latest episodes onto your portable player, nowadays it’s one of the easiest things out there. Not least due to a plethora of apps and services that help you with just that. After using quite a few of them, I’m now quite sure that the best is Pocket Casts. It’s available for not just Android and iOS, but Windows Phone too (for the 1%ers, so to speak). The UI is easy on the eyes, it’s fast, it syncs everything between whatever device you want to use it on and best of all, it’s even got a web interface (which you can see above). But hey, that’s not all. Here’s their very own feature list: Variable speed is something I’m quite fond of. While, for example, I really enjoy Hardcore History’s Dan Carlin and his way of telling history, I sometimes am pressed for time and it’s absolutely possible to listen to him at twice the speed. A word about the web version: while it’s not free, it’s only 9 USD, and they let you try it out for free for 14 days. I tried it for a few minutes and bought it. Because hey, it’s a steal. And by the way, I’ve also made the jump from listening to creating and am now part of a podcast myself. It’s called Zeitsprung, it’s about history and I’m one half of it. The other half is my friend and longtime co-conspirator Daniel of Codinghistory fame. So if you do install Pocket Casts, make sure to add us to your queue.

An ode to Pocket Casts

The web-version of Pocket Casts. It’s not free, but it’s great.I’ve been listening to podcasts, on and off, for the better part of ten years now and while in the early days it was quite a bit cumbersome to get your latest episodes onto your portable
A screenshot of Carousel. Yes, I take pictures of food.A few days ago users of Mailbox and Carousel, two very different services, saw e-mails in their inbox telling them about the impending sunsetting of said services. Mailbox was a rather innovative approach to e-mail inboxes, allowing people to do fun stuff like deferring mails and having them return to their inbox at a pre-set, hopefully more opportune time. Carousel on the other hand was an app that worked like a phone’s gallery, allowing users to share their pictures with friends and family. It was a good app, even though it wasn’t, even by a long shot, the only contender in the field. So what did both those apps have in common? They both belonged to Dropbox, the massively successful service that allows people to upload their files to a remote server, both as a backup and collaboration tool. Carousel was announced only about a year and a half ago, and to me it was a rather logical kind of thing to have for Dropbox. Dropbox has facilitated the automated upload of pictures taken with your smartphone for a while now (I think it actually was the first service to do that – now everyone and their grandma begs you to allow them to upload your pictures into their cloud – from Google Photos to Facebook and Flickr). It made sense then to have a mobile app that worked well with the pictures uploaded to Dropbox, simply because Dropbox’ own mobile app didn’t let you do much with your photos. Mailbox, on the other hand, was a bit of a head-scratcher. The app saw light as the product of a company called Orchestra, and as Wired noted two days ago, Dropbox bought the app before it was even fully released (according to them for a whopping 100 million USD). I never saw why users of Dropbox would want to use an e-mail app, simply because Dropbox bought it. But, some people did like it. Now, a few years later, Dropbox realized that they weren’t really interested in offering these kinds of services anymore, and both of these apps will see their early demise in February and March respectively. Admittedly, for the companies that get bought and taken along for the ride, even if it ends prematurely, it’s not that bad. Because, hey, early exit and maybe even a job on the side at the company that bought them (at least until their options get vested). That’s not too shabby. For the actual users of the products: well, tough shit. Instead, Dropbox says they want to focus on Paper, a service that’ll be integrated into their service and promises to provide new ways of collaboration (it’s currently in a closed beta). Definitely a nod towards their enterprise goals, even if it’s to the detriment of the above apps more geared towards their consumer clientele. As to its actual use: Really too early to say, but I gotta tell ya, there’s already a ton of collaboration tools out there, and Dropbox will have to fight an uphill battle to actually get customers to use it over the likes of Google Docs, Microsoft Office 360 and the plethora of smaller tools that basically do the same thing. Abandoning smaller, but well-liked apps for that seems like a gamble. But again, if it doesn’t work out, they’ll probably just shutter that too in a year and a half. But, that’s not all: there’s other examples of add-on services that get shutdown after a short while. I’m not even going to start with companies like Google or Yahoo!, simply because they’ve sunset so many apps and services, it would make this already unbearably long blog post even longer. Let’s look instead at a company of similar size (and popularity) as Dropbox:Evernote! Evernote is this great behemoth of the note-taking services. And it’s that for a reason. It’s multi-platform (even though it steadfastedly refuses to support Linux), it innovates at a reasonable pace and it’s just hugely useful for anyone who likes to collect notes, texts, ideas, pictures or simply whatever you want to throw at it. So, in 2011 Evernote created an add-on service called Food. Right on time, no? The foodie-craze was just sweeping across the lands and instagramming meals was the hot new shit. I, too, loved the service. You could take and store pictures of your food, but you didn’t have to share them. Instead the app would find out where the pictures were taken (geo-location, yeah!), and then you could archive all that in your Evernote account. It was great for someone who liked remembering when and where they ate what, without having to abandon their careful craftet anti-social persona. Through the years it underwent a few iterations, and got the added functionality of becoming something like a centralized recipe vault. I wasn’t too much into that, but still, I liked the effort. And then, in August this year, Evernote announced they’d shut down the app. Not surprisingly, their main reason cited was their desire to move more towards the workplace and business uses of Evernote. To hell with the pesky consumer and their obsession with food. It’s time to focus on those yummy spreadsheets instead! Now, don’t get me wrong, I see where these companies are coming from. Once they reach a certain size and their Armada chests are filled with all that investor money, they go and either develop or buy apps that might work with their core service. I like that they do, because I, like most of their customers, trust these services to provide a good product, so they get my trust when it comes to all that other stuff they want me to use. So what exactly is my problem with what’s happening? Doesn’t it make sense that a company would focus on these parts of their businesses that promise the most profit? Sure. But in the case of Dropbox and Evernote, who were built on the trust they received from their consumer-base, I feel side-lined as one of those consumers myself, the above mentioned trust in them abused. In the case of Evernote’s Food, I actually spent time curating my collections, which now barely exist somewhere deep inside my Evernote archives, never to be looked at again, but still there, resentfully lingering in this worst kind of user created content limbo. But hey, at least I wrote another blogpost, bumping my total number to 996. And in contrast to Mailbox, Carousel or Food (the app, not the actual sustenance), this thing here won’t go away anytime soon. PS: I noticed that apps that use dictionary words as names happen to have a really short life: Disco, Color, Carousel, Food, Mailbox, Hello. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide!

The demise of the add-on service

A screenshot of Carousel. Yes, I take pictures of food.A few days ago users of Mailbox and Carousel, two very different services, saw e-mails in their inbox telling them about the impending sunsetting of said services. Mailbox was a rather innovative approach to e-mail inboxes, allowing people to do
Looking through my logs, I realized that some of the things I wrote on here many years ago still get quite some views. And sometimes it’s for the funnest of reasons. I wrote about a tinfoil-wrapped chocolate figure called “Krampus” eight years ago. I didn’t dare to hope back then that in 2015 a film about said Krampus would be released, prompting scores of people looking for more information on that little fella. But alas, here we are. Looking through my  logs I also noticed that I wrote a whopping 994 posts on here (not including this one). In light of my rekindled love for this platform, I’ve decided to write the remaining five (after this one) to end the year on a high note. So, expect at least five more posts here (after this one) until the end of this year. Don’t expect them to be the pinnacles of my literary output (but don’t be surprised if they are, you never know).

Krampus and 994 posts

Looking through my logs, I realized that some of the things I wrote on here many years ago still get quite some views. And sometimes it’s for the funnest of reasons. I wrote about a tinfoil-wrapped chocolate figure called “Krampus” eight years ago. I didn’t dare to hope
I have a thing for using apps that seemingly make my life easier, but which ultimately just take a large chunk out of my day. And I mean every day. Here’s an example: A few days ago I was notified by Remember the Milk, my goto todo-list app, that my pro account is about to run out. So, being the fickle customer that I am, I started checking out similar apps, to see whether some of them were cheaper (not that their price tag of $25 is exceedingly high) or had more features (of which I usually use about 10%) or were maybe a tad prettier (yeah, sorry). After a few hours of research, I managed to whittle down the number of contenders to just two more. There’s Todoist and there’s Wunderlist. Now, in my heart of hearts I know that in the end, it doesn’t really matter what app I use. As long as I can put in some tasks and then mark them as done, all is well. But I get easily dazzled by the promise of work done more efficiently, so I suddenly think that having a desktop app for Windows 10 is super important (Wunderlist and Todoist have those, RTM doesn’t). Or I can’t get over the fact how smooth Todoist’s natural language processing is, even though I’ve never actually wanted to add a task that said: “Pick up my dry-cleaning every second Monday starting next Monday” (Todoist would totally know how to parse this, RTM and Wunderlist would struggle). Or I’m thinking that Evernote, the heap onto which I throw everything, hoping it’ll all just magically not turn into utter chaos (it doesn’t), needs to be integrated with my todo-list. RTM has Evernote integration, and even though I get easily confused by having tasks both in Evernote and in RTM, and have therefore rarely used it, I suddenly think I probably couldn’t live without it anymore (Wunderlist and Todoist integrate with Evernote via intermediaries, like IFTTT, but that’s a tad cumbersome). Now, all this research into a little app that could probably be replaced by some pen and paper, but I’m not even done yet. Since I’ve been an RTM customer for a few years now, I’ve grown somewhat attached to the company. They’re those good people from Australia who started out with this dream of creating a great todo-list app and who am I to stand in their way over lack of a Windows 10 client? Wunderlist, on the other hand, was bought out by Microsoft recently, and if the purported numbers are correct, they’re now millionaires. I don’t think they’ll need my money (which might be the reason why their free plan has all the features of their pro plan, minus some extra wallpapering. I give them that). So in the end, I’m back where I started. I’ll stick with RTM, despite their shocking lack of a desktop client (seriously, what an oversight). I’ll pay them their money to get all the pro features (of which I’ll use 10%). And I’ll feel good about it, because I know it’s the right thing to do. I think. PS: If you can’t decide on a new todo-list app, drop me a note. I now know everything about them. Everything.

One list to rule them all

I have a thing for using apps that seemingly make my life easier, but which ultimately just take a large chunk out of my day. And I mean every day. Here’s an example: A few days ago I was notified by Remember the Milk, my goto todo-list app, that