Back in Australia, back in the day, I had a Specialized P3 which I used for some downhill riding. I sold that eventually in San Francisco, after years of not really using it (it’s not a practical city-bike, and I didn’t have easy access to get out and mountain bike with it). When I moved to New York I bought a Cannondale Bad Boy 9, which was a much better choice for in the city. Fast forward a few years, and living in Denver means I’m close to mountains and a bunch of world-class downhill riding. In 2016 I picked up a Motobecane Boris X9 fatbike, which was fun, but pretty impractical.
Ever since getting the Boris, I’ve been itching to get a “real” bike and get back out there. With a fat tax return coming my way, I was feeling cashed up and spendy, so last weekend I jumped on Craigslist (again), and found myself a sweet bike. I managed to get around and see it the next day, and bought it on the spot.
The bike is a Specialized Enduro Comp29/6 Fattie, with a bunch of modifications. I bought it from a guy who works in a bike shop, so he’d built it up, but never actually ridden it on a trail, so it’s brand new. Here’s an attempt at a breakdown of the modifications.
I’ve already had it out for a couple of rides, and am getting used to bigger wheels, lots of suspension, a dropper post (love it!), and a long wheelbase (awesome for bridging gaps, less awesome for tight turns). Overall I’m stoked to be able to get out there and ride the beautiful Colorado countryside.
Looking for a simple daypack for quick adventures? Me too. I’ve been using a Geigerrig Rig 1210 (looks something like this one) for a while, but found it to be a little too small, awkwardly configured, and generally just not really what I wanted. After weighing some options, I ended up with a decision between 2 packs: the Arc’teryx Brize 25, and the Patagonia Nine Trails 28L.
In getting there, I worked out a rough list of things I cared about:
Approximately 25 liters. Based on my current bag, and looking at some options, somewhere around this amount felt right. I specifically didn’t want something too big, because it’d just encourage me to carry more stuff in there.
External pockets. I wanted a few spots accessible without having to dig into the main compartment. That being said, I don’t want the whole bag divided up into a million small pockets (as the Geigerrig is), because that never ends up being useful for me.
Hydration compatible. I mostly want something for day hiking, snowshoeing, and mountain biking, so something with hydration space is important.
Sleek/minimal. I don’t want this bag to be overbuilt, heavy, or trying to be a full-on hiking pack. It’s not going to carry that much weight, but it does need to be reasonably sturdy in its own right.
Decent structure. I didn’t want one of those fold-into-its-own-pocket type bags that’s just a loose sack of material.
So I narrowed things down to the Brize and Nine Trails. Both were the same price (at least when I was looking at them — $160), roughly the same weight, and seemed to meet most of the above requirements.
Patagonia Nine Trails 28L
I liked that this came in a “L/XL” sizing, which was quite a bit taller/longer, and fit my body well. The main reason that was relevant though, was because it was trying to be more of a hiking pack than I was really looking for. It has a much more substantial hip-belt than the Brize, including some small hip-belt pockets. I found those pockets hard to access while wearing the pack though, and they were really small, making them feel a bit useless. There was also a defect in the manufacturing in one of them where the padding was stitched in folded over. The pack had load-lifters on the shoulder-straps, which felt like overkill. The fabric on the should-straps was also strangely loose and bunched up in places, which made things feel poorly constructed.
There’s a large external stuff-pocket which is nice conceptually, but I don’t like that type of fabric much as I’ve had it tear and stretch on other packs previous. There’s also a long, asymmetrical zipper to get access to the main part of the pack, although it’s constrained somewhat by the compression strap on one side. I was not really a fan of the long zipper combined with the “light” fabric used on the pack, which meant the zippers didn’t really run freely.
Up top you have a top pocket which faces away from your back when wearing the pack (good for other people to get things out for you, probably not great if you’re wearing it the city or somewhere else that crime is a concern). Down the bottom is a semi-hard bottom, with corner lashing points for attaching a sleeping roll/tent externally. They’re pretty minimal, but an interesting touch.
Arc’teryx Brize 25
Overall, the Brize just felt much better constructed. The main fabric is a heavier/denser weave, everything seemed to be stitched more accurately, zippers felt more solid etc. There are daisy-chains down both sides of the front, although they’re really unobtrusive, which I liked. The main opening, and the top pocket, both face in towards your back when you’re wearing it. This is an interesting departure compared to most packs, but provides a little more security if wearing the bag in the city, since it’s hard to get into them.
The shoulder pads are really comfortable and well-padded. The waist-belt is minimal (just webbing, no padding), and really just provides some stability. You definitely wouldn’t want to try taking any weight on it. There’s an ice-pick/hardware loop at the bottom, as well as what I assume is intended to be a loop of attaching a bike light or similar.
My biggest complaint with the Brize is how the hydration routing works. It makes no sense. You put a bladder in the internal pocket, then you have to route the hose over the internal pocket to get to the exit port. From there, it comes out right in the middle of the top handle. It’s really awkward, and not only makes it difficult to get to the internal pocket, but means the hose gets in the way when you use the top handle as well. I think they should have just put an exit port on each top corner and been done with it.
There were a couple of things that I thought were interestingly similar between the 2 packs. In both cases, the back was made of a thermoformed mesh style material which provides structure and airflow against your back, but is super light:
Both packs also had incredibly similar buckles on the sternum straps (which I noticed because it was a “new” design that I haven’t seen before):
Both packs also had decent side pockets on each side, which can fit a 1L Nalgene bottom. The Nine Trails uses the same super stretchy fabric as the front stuck-pocket, while the Brize uses a combination of the same heavy fabric used elsewhere, with a portion of heavy stretch fabric that feels more substantial than the Nine Trails.
I ended up going with the Brize. It felt like a better fit for my needs, and felt more versatile especially for using while riding (whereas the Nine Trails felt like overkill for that in particular). I really like the build quality, the sleekness of the pack, and I’m honestly just a bit of a sucker for Arc’teryx’s gear in general. I can live with the weird hydration routing issue highlighted above. So far I’ve taken it on a bike ride (loaded up with hydration, pump, layers, and the Nine Trails itself, since I was returning it), and on a snowshoeing/snow-hiking trip and it worked nicely. Plenty of room to drop my Jetboil in there, along with gloves/hat/sweater at different times. I also have a small kit of emergency items (med kit, small knife, lighter, etc) that now lives at the bottom of the pack, just in case.
In 7072886 I added a first swing at a YouTube Service definition to Keyring. It’s based heavily on the Google Analytics one that was recently submitted via PR. It’s not part of an official release yet. I’m curious about enabling people to import the videos they publish on YouTube into a WordPress install though, as that feels like something that folks who use it heavily would want as part of their web presence.
Next step will be adding an importer for YouTube, which I'll probably aim to do over the coming weeks.
This version includes a few pretty cool updates and additions, as described in the changelog:
Added a Google Analytics Service definition.
Added a Strava Service definition.
Added a “Settings” link to the plugin listing if you’re using the bundled Admin UI.
Fitbit tokens now refresh properly.
Tumblr now requires HTTPS, so updated all request URLs to use HTTPS.
My favorite part of this release is that I didn’t personally do most of the things in there. Two of my colleagues did some of it (Strava service and Tumblr fixes), while a generous and otherwise unknown contributor on Github added the Google Analytics service.
I travel a fair bit for work, and have historically let it affect (read: completely stop) any sort of fitness routine I might have going at home. Normally I try to get to the gym 2-3 times a week, and do whatever is the WOD at my CrossFit (Sprint) gym. When traveling, I just let it slide normally, and then try to get back into a routine when I get home.
This last week, I was in Florida for the week and decided to try to get in a bit of a workout. I made up my own minimal CrossFit-ish routine that I could do in a park on my own, with no equipment. Here’s what I ended up doing (2 days in a row):
10 up-and-back; air squats, pushups, and “box jumps”, with a 2 minute break at 10. Light run for ~5 minutes.
So I started with 1 squat, 1 pushup, one box jump (onto the side of a brick flower bed), then 2… up to 10. Rest for 2 minutes. 9 squats… back down to 1 (for a total of 100 of each). After that, I rested for another 2 minutes, then finished off with a light jog around the park I was working out in. The whole thing only took about half an hour, and fit perfectly into my schedule. It was a really nice break from otherwise sitting in a conference room all day, every day, and hopefully will make it easier to get back into my normal routine next week.
Yesterday, I received my new iPhone X. I thought I’d post some notes on the painful process that has been switching over to it. Might be time to start experimenting with a Pixel.
I’m on the Apple Upgrade program, so I assumed it would be a relatively simple process to get bumped up to the next phone, since it’s been more than a year since I got the iPhone 7 Plus. Instead, it ended up involving talking to multiple different people at the Apple store before I could figure out how it all worked, and how to get a new phone, even though my current phone had a cracked screen. Their online eligibility check kept saying that I had used my allotted AppleCare instances, even though I’ve never used any. Eventually I found out that I need to just tell their system there’s nothing wrong with my phone, and then when I send it back in, I’ll end up being asked to pay the $29 to fix the screen, and then they’ll accept is as a trade-in. OK, fine.
From there, I ordered the new phone online, which comes with a trade-in kit (still waiting to receive that, so hopefully I don’t have to update this post with how that was a disaster as well). The phone arrived 6 days earlier than estimated online (under promise, over deliver), and I was off to the races. I’ve done iPhone transfers before and have never had a problem, but this is the first time that I upgraded to a smaller-capacity device (128G –> 64G; cloud power, yo). I started the set up process, expecting it to walk me through making space or choosing what to transfer, but instead I just got a cryptic error message when I tried to restore from backup. Something about general error 9. That actually correlates to a “connectivity issue”, and if I’d known better I possibly could have saved myself a lot of time at this point. Instead, I assumed that it related to the size/space issue, so I went about deleting thousands and thousands of photos and videos and some apps I wasn’t using to make space on my old phone. I finally got it down to a size that would fit on the new phone, and did another complete back up through iTunes.
At this point I should have been able to restore to the new phone and start using it immediately, right? WRONG. Now the new phone was in some weird state where it was bricked, and the only thing I could get out of it was a screen telling me to go to support.apple.com/iphone/restore. Oh, and at this point the new phone had also taken over control of my cellular account, so my old phone was a really expensive iPod (those still exist, right?). Since all the docs I found were talking about making sure you had the latest versions of everything, this was when I realized I didn’t have the latest version of iTunes, but of course I also didn’t have High Sierra installed. Ugh. OK, so another hour+ later, I got those both installed, and I figured now it was going to work, right? WRONG.
I was still getting similar errors to before, and this was when I bothered to read the docs for that specific error (9) a bit more carefully, and see the reference to using “the cable supplied with your phone”. That couldn’t possibly be related, right? WRONG. I had been trying to use one of these USB-C cables, which have otherwise been fine, transfer data, etc. Apparently they’re not good enough for Apple. I switched to the cable that came with the phone (had to use a USB-C adaptor to plug it into a new MacBook Pro though!), and suddenly things started working. An hour or something later, I finally had a working iPhone X.
What a drama. So now, some quick, early observations:
Meh. Haven’t noticed any real difference so far (have only really been using it a few hours though) except…
Photos (the app) is borked, and now wants to import 900 duplicate photos from my phone because it thinks they’re new. I’m not alone.
The notch doesn’t bother me much after a few hours, except…
Various levels of “support” for the notch mean that some apps go “behind” it, while some apps are shrunk down to show a complete rectangle. That inconsistency is kind of annoying.
Some apps/websites/etc put things right into the corners, and with the rounded edges on the screen, plus the “home bar” at the bottom, that can get a bit awkward sometimes.
FaceID is pretty magic. Creepy magic, but magic. So far it’s worked really well.
Lots of new gestures to get around the lack of Home button (and the use of FaceID, vs TouchID, which messes with the workflow for ApplePay), but I’ve picked them up pretty quickly.
The form factor is really nice. I had the iPhone 7 Plus before so this is smaller, but the screen is still nice and big. Thumbs up there.
When the keyboard is up, it feels weird to have a huge blank space below it, with the alternate keyboard icon in the bottom left.
I had to go through and log back into a bunch of apps for some reason.
Google Authenticator is my most painful fail for the transfer (not counting literally the entire transfer process). For some reason, only a few of the things I had configured in there transferred over properly. I’m going to have to go and reconfigure 2FA on everything from my old phone, into my new phone. Luckily I still have the old phone to even know what the list is 🙂
I might end up turning off the TrueAttention feature or whatever it’s called. Sometimes I want to put my phone down and not be looking at it, but keep it on (referring to something else, keeping it in my field of view, whatever). With Attention enabled, it turns itself off when you stop looking at it (wow, talk about needy).
Overall it feels like a really nice phone, but there are definitely some weird edges and corner cases (puns intended).
I’m sad to hear that Ted Rheingold has lost his fight with cancer, and died on Monday. Through a pretty random turn of events, Ted was one of the very first people I met in the SF technology “scene”, back in 2005, after I moved to San Francisco. I attended the first BarCamp, and didn’t have a good way to get there. In amongst the communications about attending, Ted volunteered to give anyone a lift from SF down to the South Bay, so I accepted graciously, and grabbed a ride with him. We chatted all the way there and back, and on and off throughout the day. I remember Ted being open, energetic, passionate, and really light hearted about who he was, what he did, and what he valued. I can’t really imagine a better introduction to those days of the web, and to the community helping build it.
I’m glad to have shared a brief slice of his life, and sorry to see him go. The world is slightly better off from his contributions, and slightly worse off without him.
A few weeks ago, Erika and I joined some friends on the Colorado River for a repeat of a trip we took last year.
I got all my gear sorted out on Thursday afternoon/evening, then drove out to Fruita (our put-in point) on Friday morning. By noon we were all loaded up in our canoes and ready to hit the water.
This year’s highlight was probably the felon we ran into who claimed to be on the run. Seriously. Right when we started, we saw someone putting in on the other side of the river in a yellow kayak. Not too long later he caught up with us, and asked to borrow a phone. His story was confusing and rambling, but he claimed to be on the run from Federal Marshals, and was taking one last river trip before he was put away for 20+ years on a felony “paleolithic” offense, which apparently involved finding and trying to sell a dinosaur bone on federal property. The guy was wearing jeans and runners, and had nothing with him. Our guess is that he stole the kayak and was just making a run for it.
Other than our kayaking-felon, we were treated to the same beautiful cliffs and landscapes as we were last year. Some fun mini-rapids and lots of hanging out in chairs in the river, drinking beers. We also briefly saw some river otters on the last day which was a fun treat.
The first night’s campsite again turned out to be a rough one, even though we tried a very different one this time. It was super muddy to get in there, and then was again a total mosquito party. We found a spot inland a bit where we could set up a kitchen and hang out to avoid the mosquitos, but then it rained all evening, which made for a pretty muddy and dreary time. The next morning we went on a bit of a hike up into the valley/hills, checked out the scenery, then headed off for the day.
Day 2 (the only full day on the river) was a really lazy one, because we didn’t have that much distance to cover. We had a few nice long breaks, including a shot at some fishing and running some rapids in life vests (just laying back and floating them directly in the river). That night we stopped at Black Rocks 3 campsite, which was glorious. We had a beach to ourselves with soft sand, no mosquitos, and ended up with a beautiful clear sky. We lay around and watched the stars, admired the Milky Way, and generally just enjoyed the evening.
Since we had a schedule to keep on Day 3, we were up and at it in the morning, and got moving. We got buzzed by a plane while we were packing up (figure-8s in the sky!), then hit the river. When we got to the boat ramp, our ride was already there so we took out, packed up, and rolled back to Fruita. From there it was a matter of loading everything up, then making the 4 hour drive back to Denver so that we could unpack and clean, organize etc. Another great trip.
This week, I’ve been roaming the Colorado wilderness with 250 of my closest/unknown friends, participating in the second annual Fjällräven Classic, USA. I participated in the inaugural event last year, which conveniently fell during my 3-month sabbatical from work. At the time, I said that no matter what else was going on, I would definitely be attending again in 2017. As promised, when the 2017 Classic was announced, I immediately grabbed tickets, and this time even talked Erika into going.
Even though I’m stubborn, and had already committed to going, seeing that the trek would be somewhere in the range of 35 miles this time gave me pause. Last time it was more like 22 miles, and although I felt like I handled that pretty easily, 35 was a big step up, and I wouldn’t have the advantage of being on sabbatical and already doing a lot of high-altitude camping/hiking leading up to it this year. After convincing Erika though, we both got our tickets, and accepted that we’d need to train for this, and take it pretty seriously if we wanted to make it through. We were right.
In the weeks leading up to the Classic, we went on a series of training hikes at as much elevation as we could conveniently get to, for as long as we could fit into our schedules. We hiked North Table Mountain, Aldefer/Three Sisters (a few times), and White Ranch Park. We started out just hiking, then added in a loaded pack (and sometimes an 11 lb chihuahua on top of that!) to get the full experience. Training was going well, but we had a 2 week trip to Europe in there (sea level, boooo!) that felt like a bit of a reset-button. We only got one more hike in after that (Three Sisters again), and then it was time for the real deal.
After going over and over our gear, refining and cutting and double-checking, on Wednesday morning it was time. We got up early, and drove to Copper Mountain which was to be the main staging point for this year’s event. Once there, we got registered and checked in, grabbed some breakfast, and had a look at some of the on-site pop-up shops/displays from the different brands involved. We picked up our registration kits (Passport to be stamped at checkpoints, re-usable trash bag, Grayl water filter, a canister of Primus propane) and when the time came, we lined up, loaded up, and rolled out on buses with everyone else to Montezuma, where we’d start our 3-day trek.
As it turned out, we actually unloaded the buses and started the hike from a random parking lot/space that I’d been to before, back in winter when I went snowshoeing one time. Now we were in early summer, so there was no snow, but there was plenty of snow-melt. We got unloaded, grabbed our packs, and hit the trail for a long, steady uphill that lasted for the first few solid hours. At the official start of the trek, we got our passport stamped, then picked up a few Clif bars and headed (quite literally) for the hills. Not too far in, we hit our first unofficial checkpoint, where we got a quick primer on how to use the Grayl. From there it was hours and hours (and approximately 4 miles) straight uphill to our first official checkpoint. We stopped for a cup of soup (chicken noodle or potato cheddar), grabbed some candy, and admired the epic views from the ridge we were trekking along. There was still a lot of ground to cover though, so we didn’t stay too long. A little further on from the checkpoint was the actual highest point for the day, and then it was a long, hard, grind downhill towards our campsite for the night. This downhill section was particularly brutal, since it was an ATV trail, with steep, eroded sides and a lot of loose rocks. Knees and toes were howling by the time we got down to camp in the afternoon.
There were two highlights on this section of the trail. First was a random encounter with an older couple and their ATV-riding Pomeranian. As we came around a corner, I had difficulty making sense of what I was seeing. Off the side of the trail, there was a fluff-ball of a Pomeranian, wearing goggles (nay, Doggles) sitting in the middle of a semi-circle of hikers, having its picture taken. Apparently it was the travel-buddy of the couple on the ATVs, and it loved to ride along in a harness whenever they went out on the trail. Next up was a moose-sighting; my first ever in the wild. Right after we dry-crossed a small river (yay log-crossings!), one of our fellow hikers signaled to us to come over, but keep quiet. When we got over to him, he pointed out a female moose just grazing off the side of the trail. They are such huge and interesting looking animals. I snapped a few pictures, but with the distance, lighting, and amount of vegetation in the way, you can barely even make out a brown patch.
After the moose we continued on down, down, down the trail, then hit a large stone quarry/dumping ground of some sort, before turning up a dirt road and heading for our day one camp site. It was unfortunately a pretty uninspiring place to camp (the largest field of mulch you’ve ever seen), but I can totally understand the need to keep the impact of that many people to a minimum, and making it vehicle-accessible for being able to provide amenities like port-a-loos (plush) and bringing in loads of beer! We got in pretty early (maybe 3pm?) so we picked up some cool giveaways (a Morakniv Eldris, Primus plate and cutlery set), grabbed some delicious snacks from chef Kyle Mendenhall (repeat appearance from last year) and a few beers from 10 Barrel Brewing, then set up our tent for the night. That afternoon, we dangled our weary feet in the river, and then spent some time at the Morakniv tent carving Swedish Dala horses (#moracarve). Erika managed to slice 2 of her fingers open (ouch! And lots of blood), but the cuts weren’t actually that bad, and she was a trooper. As the sun got lower, the fire pits were lit, a band played, and we had more food from Mendenhall (delicious, pre-prepared portions of different types of stew, in our case, lamb). Eventually we rolled off to bed with the best intentions of getting up and started early in the morning.
On day 2, it somehow took us almost 2 hours from waking up to getting going. On the upside, there was freshly-brewed Ozo coffee to get us moving, so we were well-caffeinated for the hike ahead. It turned out that we really needed it, because it was going to be a very long day (see below for numbers). We had to double-back a bit on a section that we’d hiked the day before, then we connected up with the official Colorado Trail for the rest of the day, and in fact the rest of the trip. We stopped a few miles in to cook and eat some breakfast, but other than that it was mostly a long slog to get through the many miles for the day.
This was the longest day, clocking in at around 16 miles of trekking. It also involved a ton of elevation gain (around 3,000′ up and down), plus a lot of the trail was out in the open, and it was hot. Oh, and there wasn’t much water along the trail, so we had to carry most of our own. Oof. Highlights were definitely some of the views on the long descent towards checkpoint 2, and then the amazing views out over Breckenridge right at the switchbacks to get down to town level. Sitting at the small lake right at the edge of town there wasn’t half bad either. After crossing Highway 9 (thanks for the crossing assistance State Troopers!), we were given the option of unloading our backpacks before finishing up the last couple of miles. We opted to carry our own, and headed off for the final ~2 miles of uphill, in to our campsite for the night.
This time the campsite was a little more “wild”, although it was still on a heavily-cleared hill, with a lot of fallen trees, rocks, etc. We found a spot in amongst a small grove of trees, along with a bunch of other people (lots of Big Agnes tents), and set up camp. Then it was time to hang out and chat with other folks, grab a beer, hear a short knife seminar from Johan Skullman (a.k.a. The Man in the Fjällräven Shirt), and then debrief on the last day’s plan. This is where we got a bit of a “shock talk”, and anyone who wasn’t feeling really confident was pretty strongly advised not to complete the full hike on day 3. I think there had been a number of people pulling out, and struggling with the course (especially with the altitude) at this point, and day 3 promised to be pretty demanding.
Did I mention I’m stubborn? So I of course decided to go ahead and do the full hike on day 3, despite warnings etc. I’m glad I did. Erika decided not to, since the talk of postholing through snow in particular turned her off. I got up at 4:30 am so that I could get a 5:30 start, to avoid melting snow/ice, and get to the other end by a reasonable time. I unloaded a lot of my gear (staff provided a shuttle to get things to the end of the trek), and completed the hike carrying basically just water and granola bars. After starting out with a bit of a group, I mostly hiked with Jack again (who I trekked most of a full day last year with), and we got through it without too much trouble. It was certainly steep; both up and down. There was definitely snow (more like ice). It was long. It was hot at times. Some parts of the ascent really took the breath out of you. The descent was long and steep. But the views were totally worth it. Absolutely epic views in both directions from Tenmile Range. Pictures don’t remotely do the views justice.
Once we got down from there, we hit our final checkpoint, where we were treated to bacon and pancakes with lingonberry jam. So delicious. That’s where I met up with Erika again, and then we completed the final ~1.5 miles together. That last little section for some reason was really rough, after feeling like we’d finished at the last checkpoint. Probably also because of the blisters. Rolling in to the finish line was glorious though, and we were greeted with cheers, a medal, a t-shirt, and lots and lots of food, beer, and music. Later that night, we even got an advanced screening of the official trip video, which was already well under way. After that, we crashed early (stayed at Copper Mountain), and then on Saturday morning we made our way back to reality, and back to Denver to recover.
I wore my FitbitBlaze the entire time, and here is what it says about each day. Note that this includes any and all walking around at camp, calories burned while sleeping, etc.
Day One: 34,498 steps, 17.17 miles, 5,376 calories burned.
Day Two: 44,969 steps, 22.38 miles, 6,079 calories burned.
Day Three: 42,701 steps, 21.25 miles, 5,743 calories burned.
Total over three days: 122,168 steps, 60.8 miles (97.8 km), 17,198 calories burned.
Here’s a map I put together using the amazing Caltopo (absolutely love that thing!). I tried to tweak things to reflect the trails we actually took, although I might be off in some places. Below it is a screenshot showing the elevation profile of each day as well 😱 (you can get an interactive version of that through the Caltopo site).
According to the data Caltopo can generate, the route was:
Day One: 10.35 miles, +3,037′, -2,302′ (elevation gain/loss).
Day Two: 16.14 miles, +2,859′, -3,043′.
Day Three: 13 miles, +3,567′, -3,322′.
Total over three days: 39.49 miles (63.6 km), +9,463′, -8,667′.
This year’s Classic was quite different to last year’s. It felt much better organized (better trail markings, more coordinated efforts, better map, more facilities, everyone just seemed to know what was going on), but things like trail mileage were still pretty far out, and giving people an opt-out on the last day felt a bit weird. The event hopefully had less negative impact on the environment (port-a-loos, not really wild camping, etc), but that meant a bit less of a real backcountry experience. The people were amazing as always (met some new friends, re-connected with those from last year). The hike itself was a lot longer and harder. I survived, but I got some ugly blisters on the last day. I was exhausted. I know it would have been really hard for some people (especially those coming from sea-level), and that doesn’t really feel like what they’re going for on the Classic. Erika was bummed that she didn’t come on the last day’s hike, and I do think she’d have made it. I don’t know if I could have done it with my full pack, or if I had, how much longer it would have taken me. The free stuff this year was a nice surprise (especially the Morakniv Eldris!), although I was a little sad not to get the fabric patch like last year (was looking forward to sewing it onto my backpack with the other one). I’m very glad to get a Grayl to replace the one I lost from last year; they’re a really impressive little device.
Overall, the Classic was really well organized, and is an amazing event. I’ll be signing up again next year, and hopefully seeing a lot of the same people from the first one. This trip has also inspired me to look at backpacking some more of the Colorado Trail with Erika, since it’s absolutely beautiful, and seems pretty accessible for the most part. For now, it’s time to relax and recover a bit, let my blisters heal… then probably go climb a 14er or something.
I recently spoke at a small conference we put on in Detroit. I talked about The Future of the Web, in the context of data ownership, and proprietary vs open platforms. It was the first time I’ve done a talk like this without slides of any kind, so I actually wrote out the whole thing (below). The live version was a little different, as you can hear in the audio (sorry it’s a bit echo-y):
On our current path, the web as you know it today will cease to exist. Ironically, the web of tomorrow will look more like the web of yesterday, when AOL and Prodigy were the way to get online. Everything will exist within a precious few walled gardens, controlled by even fewer massive corporations.
This is not how it was supposed to go down. The web evolved basically from the ground up on principles of decentralization, openness and freedom. “Information wants to be free” was the war cry of the early web.
Somewhere along the way however, a few big companies became very good at capturing and controlling significant portions of what happens online, and now we find ourselves on the cusp of a very different future than what many saw as the full potential of the web.
I’d like to talk to you about one possible alternative, based on my experiences thus far on the internet.
I’m 36 years old, and I started using the web heavily in about 1996, so about 21 years ago. That means 60% of my life I’ve been online.
During that time, a lot of my experiences, interactions, and created memories have happened purely digitally. Along the way, I got to wondering how many of those memories I could guarantee ongoing access to. How many of my own digital memories did I even control?
Back when you took a photo and had it developed; remember hardcopy photos? you had that photo effectively forever. You put it in an album, or in a box, or on the wall, and you pulled it out whenever you wanted to show someone else, or to look at it and relive that particular memory.
In the mid to late 2000s, the equivalent was a service called Flickr. Now, I’m no photographer, but I like to capture my own memories. I uploaded over 4,500 photos to Flickr between 2002 and 2014. Flickr went through some tough times in amongst a Yahoo acquisition and re-org, and I realized two things. One; I didn’t want to pay $25 a year for a premium membership any more, and Two; if I stopped paying, I would lose access to my own photos. My own memories.
That was the first light-bulb moment for me. The second came a few years later, when Twitter was exploding in popularity, and was having trouble scaling their systems. They decided they would impose a limit, which meant that you would no longer be able to access more than 3,200 of your own tweets.
I realized that by recording so many of my thoughts on someone else’s service, I had given up a piece of myself to them. If I had put my thoughts on a system I controlled, then I could choose if they were online or not. I could decide who had access to them. Since I had published them on Twitter though, those decisions were no longer mine.
The final lightbulb was Delicious. Delicious is, still, amazingly, an online bookmarking or link saving service. I used it for years to store and annotate hundreds of links so that I could find and reference them later. Then they got bought. And shut down abruptly. And bought again. Their new owners brought the service back, and started significantly changing how it worked.
I wanted my bookmarks and annotations, but they were tied up in this unstable, changing-for-the-worse web service, with a very hazy future.
Between Flickr, Twitter and Delicious, I realized that if I wanted to retain access to my own memories, to the things I was creating online, then I had to act pretty quickly, since I was coming up on my 3,200 tweet limit, I’d soon have to renew that premium Flickr account, and who knows how long until Delicious disappeared for good. I had to get a copy of everything and put it somewhere that I controlled.
I had worked a lot with WordPress at this point, and I knew that tweets, links, and photos were perfect candidates to be published on a WordPress site. It even had specific concepts for them all, called Post Formats. I set out to build the tools that would allow me to reclaim all of my own content from other web services, and archive it to my own WordPress. A service that, thanks to its open-source DNA, I had complete control over, and knew was not driven by any specific, nefarious, commercial interests.
So I got to work, and wrote a plugin called Keyring that gave me the basic ability to connect WordPress to other online services. Then I wrote the specific systems I needed to import my content from around the web, and since then have expanded that to reclaim…
14,000 tweets from Twitter
Those 4,500 photos on Flickr
6,000 check-ins on Foursquare/Swarm
1,700 bookmarks from Delicious
The full text of 1,300 articles read via Instapaper
700 Instagram pictures
The details of 200 trips from a service called TripIt
all of that going back to around 2002
Today I have 29,000 entries in my personal archive, compiled from all those sources, plus around 300 of my own full length blog posts.
Now this is perhaps an interesting personal story, but you’re probably wondering how it’s relevant to businesses, or for that matter, anyone who’s doing more with their life than posting photos and tweets on the internet.
It’s relevant because today, we see advertising campaigns that end with a facebook.com address. It’s relevant because small businesses are relying on their Yelp ratings to attract customers. It’s relevant because without Google Local listings appearing in a mobile search, you don’t exist to your own neighbors.
I believe that some of the same concepts of data ownership and control we’ve talked about, are critical to the healthy future of the web, and the world it interconnects, whether we fully appreciate it yet or not.
The problem with the way we’re headed today is that while Facebook, Google, and Yelp are all global, multi-billion dollar companies that are probably not going anywhere soon, they’re providing their services 100% on their terms. Not yours. You are welcome in their playground only so long as you agree to, and abide by, their terms of service. You often don’t even own or retain full rights to your own data when playing in their playground. You’re renting a storefront in their marketplace. You neither own, nor control, your own online existence.
So if we use some of the technologies and approaches I mentioned earlier, what does that look like for a business today? How can we shift some of that control back to you? Give you the freedom to make your own choices?
Well, you probably already have a Facebook Page set up for your business, so maybe you can connect that to a fresh WordPress. It pulls down your visual branding, opening hours, and contact details. It uses that as the seed data to automatically set up a simple website.
Now you’ve got your website, powered by WordPress, which you fully control. You bought your own domain, so the site is at a web address that you actually own. No one can decide you’ve violated some terms of service and kick you off. No one can take your address away from you. You can customize the design of your site, use a different theme, add functionality with plugins, the sky’s the limit. No one gets to dictate what you can or cannot do; it’s like instead of renting, you bought the whole building where you’re going to set up your store, and you don’t need a construction permit to fit it out how you’d like.
But the magic part is that when you imported your data, you created a 2-way connection between your WordPress and Facebook. Now you update your opening hours in WordPress, and your Facebook Page is also immediately up to date.
You add new connections to Google and Yelp, so we automatically create listings on those services, and keep them up to date with your site as well. We download copies of your reviews automatically, send you push notifications via the WordPress app when there are things that need your attention, and allow you to interact with the community you’re building via your Instagram account, right there in WordPress. Your content is pulled into your own site where you can exercise complete creative control over it, and use it in ways that Instagram would never dream of, nor necessarily allow.
WordPress becomes the hub of all your online activity. A central place that you control, where you both aggregate and interact with your digital presence. You choose whether it’s presented as a slimmed down, utilitarian tool, mainly for providing information to other services, or a complete and beautiful destination, where potential customers can find whatever they need to know about your business, transact with you directly, or interact with the community you’re building.
Today, you choose the direction you’ll go in. You can choose to rent space on one platform or another, or you can choose to actually own your own piece of the web. You can choose to participate in these business-critical, closed platforms, but to also build your own separate online presence, which you control and define. You choose whether to tie your future to a walled garden which dictates the rules of engagement to you, or to invest in an open platform, which allows you to grow and change but still be a part of the fabric of the web. You have the freedom to choose.