I don't want barely distinguishable tools that are mediocre at everything; I want tools that do one thing and do it well.
I’ve been lamenting the demise of the Unix philosophy: tools should do one thing, and do it well. The ability to connect many small tools is better than having a single tool that does everything poorly.
That philosophy was great, but hasn’t survived into the Web age. Unfortunately, nothing better has come along to replace it. Instead, we have “convergence”: a lot of tools converging on doing all the same things poorly.
The poster child for this blight is Evernote. I started using Evernote because it did an excellent job of solving one problem. I’d take notes at a conference or a meeting, or add someone to my phone list, and have to distribute those files by hand from my laptop to my desktop, to my tablets, to my phone, and to any and all other machines that I might use.
But as time has progressed, Evernote has added many other features. Some I might have a use for, but they’re implemented poorly; others I’d rather not have, thank you. I’ve tried sharing Evernote notes with other users: they did a good job of convincing me not to use them. Photos in documents? I really don’t care. When I’m taking notes at a conference, the last thing I’m thinking about is selfies with the speakers. Discussions? No, please no. There are TOO MANY poorly implemented chat services out there. We can discuss my shared note in email. Though, given that it’s a note, not a document, I probably don’t want to share anyway. If I wanted a document, even a simple one, I’d use a tool that was really good at preparing documents. Taking notes and writing aren’t the same, even though they may seem similar. Nor do I want to save my email in Evernote; I’ve never seen, and never expect to see, an email client that didn’t do a perfectly fine job of saving email. Clippings? Maybe. I’ve never particularly wanted to do that; Pinboard, which has stuck to the “do one thing well” philosophy, does a better job of saving links. Read more…
How I used an Internet service to automate home lighting without installing any software.
Like most good technologists, I am lazy. In practice, this sometimes means that I will work quite hard with a computer to automate a task that, for all intents and purposes, just isn’t that hard. In fits and starts for the past 10 years, I have been automating my house in various ways. It makes my life easier when I am at home, though it does mean that friends who watch my house when I’m gone need to be briefed on how to use it. If you are expecting to come into my house and use light switches and the TV as you do every place else, well, that’s why you need a personalized orientation to the house.
In this post, I’ll talk briefly about one of the most basic automation tasks I’ve carried out, which is about how the lights in my house are controlled.
The humble light switch was invented in the late 19th century, with the “modern” toggle switch following in the early 20th century. The toggle switch has not changed in about 100 years because it does exactly what is needed and is well understood. The only disadvantage to the toggle switch is that you have to touch it to operate it, and that means getting off the couch. Read more…
Web services combine to give us our data, and help us use it.
The web service IFTTT (If this, then that) accesses popular web applications via their APIs, and lets users create new actions based on changes. For instance, actions such as “upload photos to Flickr when I add them to my Dropbox folder”, or “send me email when frost is forecast”.
I had been tempted to classify IFTTT as a merely an interesting toy for playing with social media. Granted, it’s nice that I can archive all my tweets into an Evernote note, but so what? However, IFTTT’s growth in features is showing it to be more than a bauble. The service is becoming an empowering tool that gives users more control over their own data, previously often accessible by programmers alone.