Miklb's Mindless Ramblings

chronicling life in a digital world

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First Thoughts: Holy Grail of Blogging from iOS with Jekyll

I have been researching and thinking seriously about moving away from database driven blog engines to static file blogging for quite awhile. My extensive research has me convinced for my ideal workflow, Jekyll will be the answer—except for my goal to somewhat easily blog from my phone. All of the front matter could be handled by TextExpander snippets or custom keyboard shortcuts in Drafts or Editorial. The issue has been that with an iOS device, you are basically confined to using Dropbox or iCloud for the text/markdown files. Wanting to keep everything in a Git repo under version control, I hadn’t found a way to automagically push a Dropbox file to a Git repo without having an always on machine at home using some listening app like Hazel to do this. While that isn’t out of the question, I want something straight from the device.

Extensive Googling finally led me to Zappier. Similar to IFTTT, they have a Github/Dropbox workflow that allows you to send a pull request to Github when a new file is added to a directory in Dropbox. And while if I was simply using Github pages to host a Jekyll site, that would be the end to a simple solution.

However, I still want to host my own data on my own VPS (more on that later). Enter Jekyll Hook, which, while not seemingly for the faint of heart, allows one to run their own “Github Pages” on their own server.

So, while all untested at this point, on paper it seems I can have a dedicated Dropbox folder synced with an iOS editor that when a markdown file is saved to it, Zapier will attempt to send a pull request and merge it to a Github hosted repo of my blog [footnote, possibly need to have iOS app to approve pull request but option is in the recipe for the workflow. I assume it will work save for any previous files by same name causing a merge conflict]. From that, the Jekyll Hook script/solution will fire and rebuild the the site, all without leaving the convenience of my iOS device.

Potential magic I tell you.

Email is so 2015

tl;dr Wouldn’t it be nice if in the newfound popularity of email newsletters, the signup form had an option “I regularly consume your content via another means, but would love to win your cool thing”

Back in the dark days of the internet, websites would have simple sign up forms for users to get updates about the site. Unless you used RSS (or Atom) to read the sites. Even then, online marketers and brands would offer specials not advertised on their site to build the engagement via email. The size of your mailing list was a badge of honor for those marketers.

Then came along social media, and email lists were pushed aside for the shiny new thing. In the beginning, there was a glut of social media options, and it was almost impossible for a brand to engage on every outlet. Facebook likes and Twitter followers became the new badge of honor. And while social media is still a great way to engage users, brands and marketers soon discovered they couldn’t always control the message, especially with Facebook. So what did they do? They realized the most common form of communication available to the web is the venerable method of email. Cyber Monday was a perfect example. I couldn’t count the number of comments I read on Twitter about people weeding their email of offers from long ago forgotten sites. But I mostly follow web professionals who know the ins-and-outs of online marketing and get their information from, (well, probably Twitter, but they are an anomalous subset of the Twittersphere.) The point being, millions of people woke to an inbox of offers. Many people clicked those links, some bought stuff. It works.

Sign up form for The WirecutterRSS/Atom syndication in its purest form is not a common method of reading websites today (unless you are part of the aforementioned anomalous subset of Twitter users), but still provides the backbone of many ways content is consumed. But this isn’t about syndication. It is about the rebirth of mailing lists, and more specifically, the forms that sites now deploy to get you in. Those lists sign-ups are generally there year round, but right about the holiday season, sites/brands begin offering “free stuff.” Be it a book, a song or a full suite of electronics, sign up for their mailing list, enter a chance to win. I’m not an expert on this subject, didn’t even play an email marketer on TV. Sign up form for The WirecutterBut my understanding is you can’t force people into subscribing, just like contests have the small disclaimer, “no purchase necessary.” Generally what these forms do is pre-populate the subscribe checkbox, which is still a slippery slope in my opinion of conforming to the spirit of opting in. But hey, a free TV is a free TV?

More to the point, there is never an option (at least one I’ve encountered) that says, “I love your content and regularly read it so I don’t need an email reminder. However, I’d love to win your cool stuff.” Hell, provide a short text box to allow the user to optionally add how they consume it. It very well might be a great insight into your audience and their online consumption habits. Because at some point, inundating your readers/consumers will call into play the law of diminishing returns.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid the new badge of honor is the hydra of social media followers guarding the treasure chest of email subscribers.

Engaging Users Vs. Advertising

I’ve seen the headline bandied about in social media all week, but over on Unapologetic Alex Guyot discusses his disagreement with Facebook making it harder (again) for brands to advertise for free.. His basic argument is that brands most likely already bought the likes and shouldn’t have to pay to advertise again to those same customers. He also uses the argument that small businesses likely can’t afford to advertise.

I couldn’t disagree more with his take. From the Re/code article of the same name 1, the author quotes the Facebook release

The company announced today it will begin limiting the number of “promotional Page posts” in the News Feed starting in January. That means you’ll see fewer posts from brands asking you to buy products or “enter promotions and sweepstakes,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.

I see no issue with that statement. While we all know we are the product on Facebook 2, I still use it to keep up with family and friends, as well as local goings on. I have “liked” very few brands, mostly local businesses. Truthfully, those local businesses don’t use what I would consider “promotions or sweepstakes” or obvious ad-like updates. They are genuinely engaging their followers. Sharing pics of a new dish. Updating on what band or artist is appearing soon. They respond to questions and comments. As you should in social media. So if cutting down on the noise from million plus “fan” businesses in timelines so that the news feed is a truly a “news” feed with targeted ads, and people don’t miss the latest update from the mom & pop shop down the street, I’m all for it. It is well documented that brands and businesses that truly engage their users/followers are the most successful. Perhaps this will push those brands to up their game. Otherwise, it can be a great equalizer for brands and companies looking to gain market share.

Technology Fatigue

A piece at A List Apart today struck a nerve with a lot of developers today, myself included (if I can really call myself a developer these days.) Overwhelmed by Code touches on the constant bombardment to developers from new technologies popping up seemingly daily. The author discusses

It used to be that knowing CSS and HTML was enough, then jQuery came along, then responsive techniques, then Node.js and then Angular, Ember, etc., etc., etc. That list, right there, it tires me out.

To that I can completely relate. When I stumbled into making websites, they were still teaching how to use Photoshop and tables to build sites at my local community college, not pure CSS. The big revelation at A List Apart was Faux Columns. So fast forward 10 years, take a sabbatical for 2 of those, and you can imagine how overwhelming stepping back into grunt, gulp, coffee script, node and Luce1 is.

What do I want to focus on, what do I love about the web? What do I actually want to learn, versus what I think I should learn.

So if I am to do more than dip my toes back into the world of building websites, I too need to focus on what I I think will best benefit me professionally, not try and keep up with kids.

How to Really Install a New Thermostat

Going through my RSS reader this morning, I came across this article at the Art of Manliness, How to Install a New Thermostat. I couldn’t disagree more with 80% of what that article instructs.

First, while they are on the right track on turning off power, but mentioning “flipping power switch off” is inaccurate. Also, it is obvious that this was written by someone from the north in only referencing “furnace”. Generally speaking, the breaker panel will have both an “AC” and either “heat” or “air handler” when it is not a furnace. These need to be off, as the 24 volt current is constant and if the heat/air handler isn’t off, then you can at the minimum blow a fuse, the worst, fry a transformer. By code, both items should have a disconnect for service, and pulling that is equally effective in making sure the power is off.

Second, while they mention taking a photo of the wiring on your thermostat, they ignore it and simply (and wrongly) state the colors on the new thermostat match the wire color. WRONG. The terminals relate to specific functionality, and I’ve seen every color under the sun wired to a terminal. Blue to the Y terminal isn’t uncommon. The O and B terminal? Those are used in heat pumps for the reversing valve and depending on the manufacturer, either one can be used. The B can be brown, or the orange wire can be used for either one. See where this is going? Also note that the C terminal is for common, and most new “smart” thermostats require this, so make sure you have a C wire before even making the purchase. And even if there is a wire (often blue if yellow is used for the Y terminal) that doesn’t mean that it is wired to the furnace/air handler. So while it’s not beyond DIY, there’s a lot more to it than just “matching colors”. And don’t get me started about what color wires may be wired into the furnace/air handler from the outdoor condensing unit. I haven’t touched on what happens if you have a two stage compressor or heat pump with backup emergency heat.

Bottom line, if you are going to spend hundreds of dollars for a smart thermostat, spend the extra money to hire a professional or at the minimum, do your homework regarding your specific unit and be damned sure that it will handle that $250 investment before attempting a DIY