Who are you, what do you do, etc…?
My name is Jeffrey Abbott. I spend my time writing, editing, and making photographs in Huntsville, Alabama.
I currently work for a large international software company that has a local office nearby. They create plant design and management software, and I write the help manuals. It’s not incredibly exciting, but it pays the bills.
To scratch my creative itches, I spend a lot of time writing, reading, photographing, and helping other people with their writing. Most of my writing isn’t public; it’s just not something I have a desire to publish, and I love the feel of writing with pen and paper.
I run a blooming photography business that I’ve been growing for the past year. I typically create portraits for families and couples, or I work with local media to provide news and sports photos on demand. I’ve also launched an editing service that’s geared toward individual authors called Draft Evolution. I love partnering with writers and helping them get better at their craft.
My wonderful wife is a piano instructor and works out of our home. Our fourth anniversary is coming up really soon. We have two adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniels to look after and make sure we don’t become too busy.
What is your current setup?
My primary computer is a mid-2011 Macbook Air. I usually connect it to my cheap-o 23″ Acer monitor, but I also enjoy using it in my reading chair as a true laptop. The monitor is mounted on an arm that makes it convenient to reposition when I’m working. I’m continually impressed by the speed and resilience of the Air. It’s my favorite computer, and I wish I could use it everywhere. At work I use a company-issued Dell with Windows 7 that weighs about 37 pounds. Even though it’s crazy fast, it still feels slow compared to the Air because it uses a hard disk drive. SSD is the only way to go.
I didn’t know that mechanical keyboards existed until Shawn wrote a review of several. I now have a CM Storm Quick Fire mechanical keyboard that I bought from Amazon. It was cheaper than most, and I wanted to experiment with the genre before spending more money on a nicer one. I love the keyboard, but I keep it at home now because it was annoying my coworkers (sorry guys).
My desk is a large number from IKEA that I dreamed of having for many years while I put up with an extremely small and wobbly desk from Target. The desk is large and immodest, but it’s so nice to spread out notebooks, prints, and electronic devices comfortably when I’m busy. After I make a mess, it all gets cleaned up. I try to dust and polish the desk once a week to combat the dust that a dark colored surface attracts. Some weeks are better than others. I sit on a generic Herman-Miller knock-off from Sam’s Club.
My Sony MDR-7506 headphones are never far away. Since my wife is usually teaching until 7 or 8 each night, I need a way to enjoy my music without disturbing anyone around me. These headphones do an excellent job of that and being comfortable at the same time. I’ve used these since high school when I went through an audio recording and engineering phase. Someone recommended them to me back then, and they’re still some of the best around for the price.
There is always a small collection of fountain pens on my desk. Right now, the current rotation is a TWSBI Mini and a Pilot Metropolitan. These change fairly regularly, but that’s an entirely different post.
For mobile computing, I can’t be without my third-gen iPad and my iPhone 4S. I prefer using the iPad for writing and reading, and the iPhone for communication and in situations where there isn’t WiFi. The iPhone amazes me as a pocket computer, but the iPad lets me work easier and faster. I carry an Amazon Basics bluetooth keyboard that connects to the iPad for longer writing sessions.
There is a 2-bay NAS attached to our Apple Extreme router that holds two 2 TB RAID-0 drives. This holds all of our media and backups of my photo libraries. I have two more backups on external USB drives that I keep in our fireproof safe, but all of our computers are backed up to CrashPlan as well. I take backups very seriously.
I also use a Spyder color profiler for my monitor to make sure the colors I’m seeing are somewhat accurate. I have a USB hub and a CF/SD card reader to ingest all the photographs I come home with.
My wife has a white MacBook that I bought in 2008. It’s had a long, fulfilling life, and it’s almost time to retire it. We also have a Mac Mini that does a great job as a media center for our TV. We don’t have cable TV, so the Mini makes it easy to watch all the things we enjoy. The Mini is also in charge of backing up the NAS to CrashPlan. I’d love to turn the Mini into more of a server that can process mail rules and folder scripts, but I haven’t made the time.
Why this rig?
The Macbook Air was a difficult choice, to be honest. I’m a photographer, and I can usually get by with the minimal power that the Air has for processing large files. But there are some times, usually when I’m working through a large number of RAW files that require small adjustments, that the Air gets completely overwhelmed. I love the computer for the portability — that’s why I got it. When I purchased the computer, my freelance work required me to have a computer with me at all times. News is unpredictable, and I was writing a large number of stories that required photographs. I didn’t have an iPad at the time, so the Air was the best choice for me at the time.
Then I got the iPad.
Now, I just take my camera equipment and iPad, photograph the thing, and then come back home to download and process the photos. The time-sensitive nature of my freelance work is pretty much gone, which means I hardly carry the Air with me. The iPad has all the software I need to do my freelance work outside of my office. It’s incredible.
The only thing I don’t use my iPad for is editing photos. Other than that, I could get by with only an iPad 98% of the time. It’s an incredible computer.
What software do you use and for what do you use it?
I predominantly use my Macbook for photo editing, managing my websites, writing, and discovering music. Here’s a list of my favorite software:
- Adobe Lightroom 4 for processing, organizing, and exporting my photos to all the various outlets.
- Adobe Photoshop for the occasional touchup that Lightroom can’t handle.
- Billings for keeping track of my freelance income and sending out professional-looking invoices.
- Things for making sense of the craziness in my head. This software keeps me organized, and I’ve never felt the need to jump to a different platform.
- Spotify for keeping the music interesting.
And here’s a list of the software I use on a more casual basis:
- Google Chrome with DuckDuckGo as the default browser.
- Apple Mail because it works for me.
- Byword for all writing, including this.
- NVAlt for notes and recipes.
- MarsEdit for posting to my photo blog.
- Tweetbot for…tweeting.
- YNAB (You Need a Budget) for keeping our finances on track.
- Dropbox for syncing everything.
- I don’t know what I’d do without 1Password.
- TextExpander saves me a lot of time.
- Keyboard Maestro does all sorts of magic.
- Fantastical just understands my schedule.
- Caffeine to ensure that my backups complete after a big shoot.
- Bartender keeps my menu bar clutter-free.
- CrashPlan keeps my work safe.
- SuperDuper for the same reason as above.
- Hazel moves crap around so I don’t have to.
- I listen to Spotify pretty much all day during my day job.
- Downcast for all those lovely podcasts.
- PhotoSmith – I use this app in conjunction with Lightroom to flag photos as keepers before I start making adjustments.
- Kindle and iBooks for reading.
- Evernote for keeping track of receipts and things to reference later.
- Byword for writing while I’m not at my computer.
- IA Writer for opening .txt or .md files from email. For some reason, Byword can’t do this.
- Tweetbot for keeping up with Twitter on a regular basis.
- Riposte for keeping up with App.net. I was using Netbot until I read Shawn’s review of Riposte.
- Day One for keeping track of my ups, downs, and memorable moments.
- Camera+ for taking photos and making them look slightly more dramatic.
- Things for keeping up with my tasks when I’m not at my computer. I use the iPhone app more than anything else.
- Quotebook for storing lines of poetry, quotes, and other inspirations.
- Fantastical is my favorite calendar app for the iPhone by far. I will be very pleased when they bring it to the iPad as well.
- Mail for reading email.
- Rego for storing places that I want to visit again, visit frequently, or plan to visit. Thanks again to Shawn for this recommendation.
- Reeder – I don’t use this so much on my phone, but I’m excited about the new version for iPad.
- Instapaper for reading long articles.
- Pocket for saving multimedia items for later.
- Wake N Shake – Never fails to wake me up quickly.
- 1Password keeps my passwords straight.
- Simplenote for referencing recipes. I don’t keep any other notes on this service anymore since most of my text files are on Dropbox where Byword can see them.
- The Magazine is something I look forward to every couple of weeks.
How does this setup help you do your best creative work?
My current setup allows me to keep my head down when I’m working on a project. This office is my physical mind space, and it’s very important that I can come in here, shut the door, and get some work done. The vast desk lets me spread out my thoughts and organize things physically when I’m thinking through things. The reading chair allows me to lean back and read a new book or get some writing done. I typically do most of my editing work in the chair as well. There’s something about that chair that lets me think clearly. The dogs also love to use the chair when I’m not using it.
When I think about being creative, I never think about my tools or my environment. They melt away when I’m focused on something. This environment allows me to do that easily. My previous home office environment and my current “real job” environment are non-conducive to focusing on the work. That’s why I prefer to be here, in my external brain.
How would your ideal setup look and function?
I would love to have a new 27″ iMac. I imagine the extra processing power will slice through large RAW files like butter. And that gigantic screen. Mmm. It would also be nice to have Mail, CrashPlan, and Hazel constantly running on my computer. The laptop goes to sleep or gets turned off too often to take full advantage of those scripts.
The other thing I’d love to upgrade is my chair. I have a cheap lumbar support pad on the chair that I’m pretty sure only improves my posture by 0.01%. I use an Aeron at work, and I’d be happy to have one here too. I’d really like an Embody, but they’re just so expensive. Small price to pay for a happy back, right?
I’d love to add more decoration to my office walls. We haven’t really spent a lot of time decorating the house, but I would love to have some visual inspiration on the walls that I can look at while thinking.
For the long term, I’d like all of my computers and needs to fit into one iPhone sized package that allows me to do everything from one small device. I’ll make sure Tim Cook is working on that.
More Sweet Setups
Jeff’s setup is one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.
I think it’s that studios keep a close eye on what their competition is doing, and the weird “hotness” factor comes into play when someone thinks his studio is going to miss an opportunity.
What seems so strange to me about that logic is the following: let’s say you’ve heard that your competition is going to make a talking pig movie and you think, “Man, I’m going to miss an opportunity to cash in on this talking pig thing that everyone is itching to see!”
One, it’s strange that you would jump to the conclusion that everyone is going to love this other talking pig movie before it’s been released. What if it’s a huge flop? Now you’re barreling ahead on a path that leads to a cliff’s edge.
Two, what makes you think that if the first one is a big success, anyone is going to want to see two talking pig movies in the same summer? If it’s a big success, that means by definition a lot of people saw it. That’s a lot of people who are probably not going to care that much about your johnny-come-lately pig movie that comes out two months later. Wouldn’t it be better to release yours a year or two afterward to let the people’s hunger for talking pigs revive a bit?
It seems like a lose-lose situation to me. Maybe the market research shows differently.
This is a guest post by Nate Spears, who has taken over the site this week while Shawn is on vacation at an undisclosed location.
I’m going to take this unique opportunity to introduce you guys to something that’s going on across the pond. If you have zero interest in sports, then just move on to the next item in your RSS feed now! If you are interested, this is going to be a long read. Fair warning.
The world of European football (soccer) is a fascinating place, endlessly rich for the sports fan, whether she be casual or fanatic. I could spend several posts detailing the scene from different angles. I could talk about the different flavors of the major leagues – the English, Spanish, German, and Italian leagues (in no particular order) being the richest and generally producing the best soccer, but with different playstyles prevailing in each league. There’s the amazing Champions League, which is a super-league where the best clubs from the whole continent compete in a tournament similar to the format of the World Cup (every year!). There’s the drama of great coaches coming and going, rising and falling, with the best ones changing the style of the game for years. There’s the character of the clubs themselves and their traditions, chants, stadiums, and histories. Along with all that are the intricate, evolving strategies that work their way around Europe like the DNA of successful offspring. Who can find the next step in tactics and formations that will produce the most from a team of talented stars? These are the questions that try men’s souls.
But a lot of that would be a bit, er, inside football to the uninitiated. So I’ve decided to focus on something that’s happening on a more individual level. Right now two men playing in the Spanish League (La Liga) are playing to a sustained level of individual brilliance and one-up-manship that is unparalleled in the history of football, perhaps in the history of sport.
These men are an Argentinian named Lionel Messi and a Portuguese named Cristiano Ronaldo (not to be confused with the Brazilians Ronaldo or Ronaldinho). Leo Messi plays for Barcelona and Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid. These clubs are the richest Spanish clubs and vie for the title each year, and each time they meet the contest is (perhaps unfairly to the rest of their teams) billed as a clash of the two greatest players in the game – Messi vs Ronaldo.
Their individual stories are an interesting study in contrast. Ronaldo has a fairly typical superstar striker story. He started at small clubs in his home country Portugal, and worked his way up to the highest level there. Then he caught the attention of a big club, Manchester United, in one of the four big soccer countries, England, while still young, and developed into a true superstar at Man United. Ronaldo is tall and handsome, some might say pretty, and he fostered a reputation as a bit of a whiny diver early on in his career. He has mostly overcome that reputation now, and his work ethic is tremendous. He’s still a bit infamous among fans of the English national team for winking at his team bench after getting a beloved, hotheaded English player sent off in a World Cup. After making his value at Man United obvious, he joined the only club in the world richer than Man United, Real Madrid, and moved to Spain. Ronaldo has the healthy ego typical of a tall, handsome, talented superstar.
“Some fans keep booing and whistling at me because I’m handsome, rich and a great player. They envy me.”
But he’s not an unsympathetic character either:
“There is no harm in dreaming of becoming the world’s best player. It’s all about trying to be the best. I will keep working hard to achieve it, but it is within my capabilities.”
Lionel Messi, in comparison, is a bit of an oddity in the superstar market. He came up through Barcelona’s youth system and has stayed with the club through his whole career to date. He has stated repeatedly his desire to retire at Barcelona (he probably has at least another 7 years to play). This doesn’t mean he’s any more loyal than Ronaldo – it’s just good luck for him and Barcelona that he started out at one of the biggest teams on the planet (Barcelona is the 3rd richest club in the world, behind both Man United and Real Madrid). Many teams have youth systems and try to promote “from within”, but statistically it’s just unlikely that you will be able to identify all the talent you need from a young age. For every Ronaldo that Man United brings over at 17 or 18 who makes it big, there are ten strikers they bring in who look promising at that age but never quite develop into a striker of “big club caliber” and eventually move on to play their football at smaller clubs. And I don’t even know how many very young kids go through a club’s youth system without ever getting a chance at “first team football,” that is, practicing with the real players and perhaps getting a chance to play towards the end of a real game.
Before Messi played in Spain for Barca, he was a young boy in Argentina whose potential was obvious to anyone who saw him play. He had the ball glued to his left foot from an early age, reminiscent of the greatest Argentinian and perhaps greatest footballer of all time, Diego Maradona. The problem was that Lionel Messi had a growth hormone deficiency, and the payments for the treatments were beyond his parents’ means. When Barcelona’s scout saw the boy in action, he was so convinced of Messi’s talent that Barcelona offered to bring the whole family to Spain and help find his father work, and to take care of Messi’s medical treatment. There was a now-mythical contract on a paper napkin to seal the deal.
Messi was so small when he came over to Spain that his coaches asked the other players not to hurt him. Says his teammate Pique:
“He was really good, but he was really small and thin. His legs were like fingers. One coach said, ‘Don’t try to tackle him strong, because maybe you will break him.’ And we said, ‘O.K., but don’t worry because we cannot catch him.’ ”
In 2006, the dominant superstar at Barcelona was an electric Brazilian named Ronaldinho, whose infectious smile and otherworldly skills charmed the world. Upon receiving the Ballon d’Or (the Golden Ball, an award voted on by players, coaches, and press to give to the best player in the world), Ronaldinho said of the young Messi:
“This award says I’m the best player in the world, but I’m not even the best player at Barcelona.”
Despite the growth treatments that he eventually got, Messi is still a short man (5’7″), and although his legs are no longer skinny, he still comes across as a bit slight. He looks like an average Joe, and his personality is the antithesis of the headline-generating superego. He constantly deflects praise to his teammates and speaks of the team’s achievements, downplaying his own importance. In short, if he wasn’t the greatest player of his generation, he might be a bit forgettable.
So why bring up these two players together? Well, it seems to be one of the boons to fans of football that these two players, both of whom would normally dominate a decade of football with ease, are playing at the same time. They also seem to be, despite the mild protestations of both players to the contrary, pushing each other to greater heights. Ronaldo secured a move to Barcelona’s great rival, Real Madrid, at the height of both of their powers. If that isn’t a declaration of war, I don’t know what is.
So what have these two been doing that makes them so special? They are scoring at an unprecedented, inhuman rate, and they are keeping it up over a period of years.
In 2007-2008, Ronaldo scored 42 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions for Man United, meaning the main English league, the Champions League, and other English tournaments that Man United participated in. This is an astonishing achievement in and of itself, and would be a great achievement even if he had never scored again. The position of striker/forward in football usually plays as close to the opponent’s goal as possible and receives the ball far up the pitch (field) in good position to attempt scoring goals. A striker who scores a goal every two games is considered proficient and deadly, and will command a high salary at a top club. Ronaldo scored his 42 goals playing from a winger position – meaning he played on the side of the pitch and would often have to run past two or three people to score his goals. On top of that, he was scoring free kicks on a regular basis – kicking the ball from a dead stop after a foul of some kind. He was kicking the ball so hard that it swerved back and forth like a knuckleball pitch in baseball, making many a goalkeeper flap at the ball like a large ungainly bird. Sometimes the ball would change direction so rapidly that it looked like it had bounced off an invisible wall in midair. At the time I thought this scoring achievement was so incredible that I remarked to a friend, “He’ll never score that many goals again in his life.” And indeed, the next season he scored a merely excellent 24 goals for Man United. But he would make me eat my words later.
By contrast, in 2007-2008 Messi was not yet the most important player at Barcelona. A glittering array of scoring talent like Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, and Ronaldinho still played there. While establishing himself as an important player in that squad, he scored 16 goals in 40 appearances. and started to let the world know the amazing things he was capable of.
But Ronaldo was just getting started as well. The year following his “slump,” he was traded to Real Madrid; although Man United didn’t want to see him go, they didn’t want to hold him back if he was ready to leave. After that, both their careers started to accelerate. Football isn’t just a numbers game, but take a look at these numbers anyway.
|Start-End Year||Messi Appearances/Goals||Ronaldo Appearances/Goals|
|2012-2013 (not over yet)||50/60||55/55|
You can see that in 2010-2011 both players approached the absurd “1 goal per game” mark and in 2011-2012 they achieved it. That year, in the 38 Spanish league games, Messi scored 50 of his 60 goals. This was 10 more than the previous record, set the year before by Ronaldo, and 12 more than the record previous to that, set in 1989 by the legend Hugo Sanchez. Consider the ramifications of surpassing the previous high scoring mark by 20%, and what that would look like in other sports. Also consider the number of games played and the consistency required to keep up that output over 50 games, sometimes 2 a week, almost always 90 min per game. By way of comparison, Dan Marino’s astonishing record of 48 touchdowns in a season surpassed the previous holder at 36, a mark which had stood for 20 years, and Marino’s record lasted another 20 years (before being eclipsed by 1 and 2 touchdowns). I think this is the type of once-in-a-lifetime athletic performances by geniuses that we are seeing with Messi and Ronaldo.
Consider that in La Liga, a league that has hosted many of the finest strikers in history, Messi and Ronaldo now collectively occupy 6 of the top 9 spots on the “Most goals in one season” table. Consider that Messi reached 200 goals in La Liga when he was 4 years younger than the previous youngest. Consider that Ronaldo has scored 199 goals in 201 games for Real Madrid. Finally, consider that they have done it all in an age when improved sport science (diets, training, etc) and the immense amounts of money involved have produced faster players, more coordinated teams, and better preparation (analyzing video of your opponent, for example), all without increasing the size of the pitch. Theoretically, there should be less space to operate in and less opportunities to score as athletes and tactics improve. Thankfully, the players are rising to the occasion and thriving in circumstances that would have seemed stifling to players of an earlier time. Even at the highest level, if you’re not careful, Messi will score five on you.
I’ve painted this article a bit more favorably to Messi than Ronaldo, because I like him more, but don’t be misled – both players have rabid legions of fans, often divided by no more than club loyalty. In another world, Messi plays for Real Madrid and Ronaldo plays for Barcelona, and people change their opinions as easily as their shirts.
There’s so much more I could tell you. The exciting head-to-head encounters, the back and forth fortunes of their clubs, the weird tension that is there because Messi keeps winning the Ballon d’Or (4 times running!) despite Ronaldo’s brilliance. The drama of this season’s Champions League, when the clubs were set up oh so perfectly to play each other in the Champions League final, only to bow out in the semifinals to German teams that have been modeled to a large extent on the play styles that Madrid and Barcelona have embodied recently. The epic tale of Madrid’s coach, Jose Mourinho, once spurned by Barcelona as a coach, who made his reputation elsewhere, finally returned to Spain to lead Madrid to prominence over Barcelona, but is now departing with a black cloud over his head after a disappointing third season in which Barca reclaimed the crown. The strange fate of the player Asier Del Horno, whose desperate foul on Messi was so blatant that it basically ended Horno’s career at Chelsea. So many stories, so little time.
Instead I will leave you with two videos. Both of them show off the respective player’s strengths, although of course Messi’s is my favorite. Messi is a player to whom taking a dive is an unknown desire, which leads to one of my favorite videos of his exploits: Lionel Messi Never Dives. When your livelihood depends on your legs, especially for a goalscorer who requires the most finesse from his feet, many players take a seat as soon as things get dicey, because it’s just not worth it to them to risk their careers for the chance to score one more goal. That thought never crosses Messi’s mind and that’s one reason so many people adore him.
Ronaldo is a striker of incredible power and precision, and many of my favorite plays of his involve his breathtaking free kicks. Here’s one in particular that I can watch over and over. See how fast the ball gets up over the wall and then dips back down; that’s not just gravity, it’s magic. Note the force with which it hits the back of the net: it looks like it might rip through the netting.
If you’d like to see more of either player, youtube is chock full of highlights of both. Keep an eye out at next year’s World Cup! I hope you’ve enjoyed this not-so-brief foray into a world you might not be that familiar with.
Shoutout to reader Matthew S. for encouraging me to write a footy post. I hope this satisfies you! Matthew wants me to let you know that the Welsh sensation Gareth Bale, plying his trade in England, deserves to be mentioned in an article about the greats of the game this season. Bale had 26 goals in 44 games for Tottenham, also from a winger position, and has the talent to become worthy of mention in the same breath as Ronaldo and Messi. Here’s hoping he keeps getting better!
This is a guest post by Nate Spears, who has taken over the site this week while Shawn is on vacation at an undisclosed location.
Good morning. I’m Nate Spears, and I’m going to be posting a bit while Shawn takes some well-deserved time off. Shawn gave me a very kind intro, and I thought I’d expand on that a bit so you have some idea what to expect this week.
I studied computer science at the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk!), and I’ve been working in the software industry since 2004. I tell people that I’m a software consultant; my business card said “Senior Solutions Architect” for a long time, which basically means “I’ll do anything you ask me to.” I worked in the Novell software sphere for about 7 years, alternating between Identity Management and custom software development. Now I’m working in the GIS world, which takes me to San Francisco during the week. My point is, I’m an “in the trenches” developer, so hopefully I can bring something interesting from that to any discourse we have. Also, I’ll try not to use so many quotation marks in the future.
I’ve been reading Shawn’s writing since he started his own website, so I have some idea what usually goes on here. I hope you won’t hold me to Shawn’s standards or his insights, since he’s a pro at this and I’m a fill-in. If I make any obvious blunders please let me know.
Since the site often covers technology, I’ll give you a quick rundown of the usual suspects. I use a Galaxy Nexus as my phone, and a 2nd generation iPad with the Logitech ultra-thin keyboard as my tablet and primary personal computer when traveling. My personal home computer (which I built, in time-honored nerd tradition) runs Windows 7; I mostly use it for web browsing, playing Starcraft 2 and League of Legends, and video editing. My work laptop is company-issue, also runs Windows 7, and has the standard Microsoft Office installs. I have never owned an Apple desktop computer, although I have seriously considered getting a 27″ iMac with a case for use as a portable computer. I have a vision condition that makes using a regular laptop an exercise in hunching, but carrying my personal computer/monitor setup everywhere is not really an option.
My other nerdery involves movies and TV series, books (a lot of the requisite science fiction and fantasy), soccer (playing and watching, mostly the EPL and La Liga), and playing a few board games.
As for my time on shawnblanc.net, I’m hoping that I can spark some interesting discussions and entertain you a little bit along the way. My gmail id is spearofsolomon; feel free to email or IM me with topic suggestions, questions you think I might have a unique perspective on, etc. However! I’m not going to run the show in Shawn’s inimitable style, so expect a much lighter tone this week. When the cat’s away, the mice will play.
Enough about me. Here’s my first question for you guys: what do you think of Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr? In a big picture sense, is it possible for a once-dominant Internet giant to work its way back to those heights? It seems to me that Marissa Mayer may feel that Yahoo can’t be what it was (a dominant search engine, for one), so she’s trying to make them into something different in order to stay relevant, but I’m not sure what the vision is.
I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
This is a guest post by Nate Spears, who has taken over the site this week while Shawn is on vacation at an undisclosed location.
By the time you read this, my laptop lid will be closed and my iPhone’s push notifications turned off for the week.
I don’t know if it’s like this for others, but for me, taking time off is one of the biggest challenges I face as a self-employed person. In the past, when I’ve gone on vacations or spent holidays with the family, I still try to spend at least a little bit of time every day working to keep the site updated.
But for this year’s vacation, I am unplugging from all my inboxes and publishing responsibilities and leaving the writing to someone else.
Friends, I’m pleased to introduce you to my cousin, Nate Spears, who has agreed to step in as the first-ever guest writer for the week.
Nate is 29 days younger than I and was the best man in my wedding. When he and I were 14 we tried to start a comic book company — our drawing skills were pathetic, and my dad was our first and only customer. Now, Nate is a software developer living in Colorado while currently commuting to San Francisco every week bless his soul.
When I was considering who I wanted to hand the reins over to for this week, I knew Nate would be perfect. For one, Nate emails me links to random, interesting, and/or hilarious stuff all the time. This week, instead of sending links and commentary to me through email, I’ve given Nate the keys to the site so he can post things here for you instead. Also, Nate is a great thinker and storyteller, so who knows what he’s got in store for the site.
Recently, Backblaze released an iPhone app for accessing all the files from your computer which have been backed up. I’ve often wished there were an iOS app available so I could view and access my Backblaze data — a great way to get at non-Dropbox’d files when I’m away from my computer. Alas, the Backblaze app leaves some things to be desired.
When you launch the app you’re prompted to sign in with your Backblaze account info. You then select the computer whose data you want to view, enter the encryption key for that computer, and you’re in. You now have full access to every file which Backblaze has backed up from your computer.
Note that every time you leave the app and come back you’ll have to re-enter your encryption key and then re-navigate through the file system. I very much appreciate the security this brings, but it’d be nice if I could set a timer for how long I want the app to wait before re-asking for my encryption password.
Since Backblaze backs up regularly in the background, you’re theoretically looking at exactly what’s on your computer (or nearly identical). For situations where you just need to get at a particular file, this is a much quicker and easier way than screen sharing or remoting back to your Mac.
When you navigate to a file, you can then download it to your iPhone. From there you’re able to preview it, and, through the “open in” button, you can save it to Dropbox, open it in another app, send it as an email attachment, etc.
Unfortunately, if you download a file type the iPhone doesn’t natively recognize (such as .zip files), you cannot do anything with the file. For example: though I can download a zip file to my iPhone, tapping that file gives me an error dialog box. And without being able to preview the document Backblaze doesn’t show me the “open in” options. Thus, I cannot even email the zip file from my Backblaze backup.
This to me is the app’s biggest shortcoming. The advantage of getting at my Backblaze data is that it gives me the opportunity to find and then do something with virtually any file that’s on my Mac. But being limited to files which my iPhone can natively handle severely limits the usefulness of the Backblaze app.
Shortcomings aside, I’m glad Backblaze has shipped something. And I trust that, like the Backblaze service itself, the app will only get better over time.