The Counted, data journalism at it’s finest

I’m a huge proponent of data journalism, it combines my love for journalism and media and my data-junkie nature. It’s also an extremely powerful way to inform people about things going on around them. Words and pictures do a fantastic job telling a story, but numbers can often drive the point home much more effectively when talking about events of scale.

Today I stumbled across one of the finest examples of data journalism done right. The Counted is an interactive catalog of all the people killed by police in the US this year. This past weekend marked the 1000th death at the hands of police, a huge and hugely heart-breaking milestone, and one I wish we never reached. You can explore every single person that died and read the circumstances of their death as well as more in-depth stories written about the events. One interesting data point is the status of the case, since most officer-involved deaths result in an automatic investigation into what happened to determine the legality of the killing (whether or not it can be considered “justified homicide”). This isn’t filterable, but clicking on an individual card shows the details and whether it’s still under investigation or what the final ruling was.

Highlighting the deaths that happen everyday (3.1 on average as of today) doesn’t change things on it’s own, but making the data freely available can help promote informed conversations on the topic and encourage people to step up and work towards making positive change. In my opinion that’s the most important role data journalism plays, keeping people informed enough and helping to empower them to enact change and improve the world around them when they see problems.

Apple TV 4: A rocky start to a great new platform

I got the new Apple TV a few weeks ago. This is my 3rd Apple TV, having only skipped the first generation because I didn’t own a TV at the time, and in many ways it is hands-down the best yet; save one big glaring problem that I’ll get to.

The basic setup and configuration was as much a dream as you might imagine. Simply turn on your Apple TV and sit your (unlocked) iPhone next to it and all your Apple ID and local Wifi credentials are synced over to get through the nitty-gritty. I needed to verify my Apple ID password on my phone to finish this, but hardly a show-stopper.

First impressions are important and despite the beautifully simple setup, mine had already been soured after hearing about the nightmare that is text input on the new tvOS and after discovering on my own (before my device arrived) that unlike it’s predecessors, the 4th gen Apple TV does not support bluetooth keyboards. This is all despite supporting many other bluetooth devices including the new “Siri remote”, the steelseries Nimbus game controller, and most bluetooth headphones.

Leading up to getting my device I was relishing the thought of having to input the account credentials for the various apps and services I needed to setup initially; Netflix, HBO, CBS, and whatever else I needed to. I almost opted to skip setting up my device until I heard word of Apple improving text input, but decided to just bite the bullet and get it all over with.

Low and behold, I managed to get through entering my Netflix credentials without severe personal or technological injury (although it took well over two minutes, I timed it). HBO and CBS were far easier since I was actually able to use the iTunes Restore Purchases option as I had signed up for them through iTunes on my older Apple TV. And the Watch ABC, YouTube, and Fusion apps all use the now-familiar website activation code login that forces you to use a web browser on another device to login and authenticate the app. Normally I despise that process, but in this case, it saved me probably 10 minutes altogether.

Suffice to say that I still hate the text input process, but I got through the setup well enough even if much slower than I would have liked. I’m still hoping that Apple fixes this in one of the first updates to tvOS.


Overall, it’s a very similar look and feel to the older Apple TVs, nothing hugely ground-breaking there. The UI is cleaned up and a little more modern and ‘glassy’ feeling. And something about the navigation sound-effects really reminds me of the Xbox, but I’m sure that’s a coincidence.

The tvOS App Store is another dark spot on an otherwise great performance. It’s got all the basics you’d expect, Featured, Top Charts, and Categories. What’s missing is any kind of ability to really dive deep into the available apps, if you’re app is not featured by Apple or somehow in the top charts despite not being so, you’re screwed. Several app developers have come out and said that unless you search for their apps by name, you can’t find them. Even Fusion’s app is pretty buried in there (it was only after I had searched for and installed it that I came across it at the bottom of the Top Free Apps section).

And in what I’m sure is probably just a bug, I only see two categories of apps under that section: Games and Entertainment (which holds many games). I can see many more categories of apps broken out in my Purchased apps section (which is actually a nice addition that the other app stores don’t have) thanks to many developers introducing Apple TV versions of apps I’ve already downloaded elsewhere, so this is likely just a glitch that will get fixed soon.

Missing from the tvOS store entirely is the ability to view apps from a specific developer, or even view any developer information. I often like to find a developer I recognize and browse through their other apps to see if I find something interesting. But I’ll have to wait for that I guess.

There’s also no way to view what apps are available for tvOS outside of the App Store app. For iOS you can at least browse using iTunes on desktop, but there’s no such portal for tvOS, so there’s no way around the browsing/searching limitations yet.

As for the apps available, well, it’s a new platform and a new store so it’s understandably a work in progress. If I had a dollar for every fireplace and weather app I’d … well, I’d be able to buy all of them and have enough money left over for another Apple TV. It seems those are the equivalent of the lighter apps when the iOS App Store first launched. There’s also a number of fitness related apps that let you follow along with on-screen trainers, but I’m holding out for Nike’s Training Club app to come to the new platform since I already use that on my iPhone.


You’ll recognize a lot of big names in media and news, all the major networks have apps available (including, as I’ve mentioned a few times, Fusion) and they’re all pretty standard. Many are similar to the apps that exist on the older generations of Apple TV, with maybe a slightly upgraded UI.

Netflix seems to have taken the opportunity to freshen things up a bit more and bring the experience a lot closer to that of their website and mobile apps, all welcome improvements. There’s some nice options when viewing a particular video’s information to resume or start from the beginning in one-click, rather than playing the video and opting for one or the other afterwards.

I’ll be interested to see how things look after tvOS has been available for a few months and some of the more creative developers have had a chance to really think outside the box. Apps I’d love to see that would probably be a great fit for a lean-back TV experience are Spotify, Foursquare, Instagram, Dropbox, Nest, Google Street View (and Maps), Fandango, and Mr. Chilly.


One of the biggest plays Apple is making with the new device is not-so-casual gaming. Previously gaming has been a hobby for Apple, a relatively big one, but still a hobby. Playing games on your phone or tablet and maybe one or two on the Mac is great, but the biggest gaming market is still TV based; an arena where Playstation, Microsoft/Xbox, and Nintendo have been duking it out for over a decade. It remains to be seen how successful Apple is at making in-roads here, and it will likely depend in large part on the big names Apple is able to bring to their platform likely through behind-close-doors offers of promotion, or just money.

I’m not a huge gamer. I owned a Nintendo 64 and a Game Cube way back in the day, a few Gameboys, and these days I play a lot of TwoDots and Duet (also now on Apple TV) on my iPhone. But I decided to pick up one of the new Nimbus controllers and see how some of the free games played. I’m pretty impressed with only a few hours of play time on a few games, and it seems to me there’s some serious potential there if a few big names drop some of their well-known titles on Apple TV and get people to switch.

Either way, making serious gains in console gaming should be a long-term play, since there’s less turn-over on consoles than with more mobile devices and gamers aren’t stereotypically known for taking kindly to change. But Apple has a great opportunity to capture a more casual gaming market with a device that does way more than just gaming, and maybe even make casual gamers like me slightly less so.


Most of all, I’m getting really excited about what’s coming in the future. I’ve been waiting a long time for Apple to move into the living room in a serious way, and this time they seem to really mean it. There’s definitely a few kinks (ok, potholes) they need to iron out, but there’s real promise here.

Jabra Move Wireless Headphones

I’m in love with wireless headphones, have been for years. And I’ve had a few different sets over the years, some better than others. Recently I needed to get a new set because the mic on my old one stopped working well, and then at all. I asked around, and heard that the Jabra Move Wireless Headphones were pretty highly rated. I did a little research on my own and didn’t really find anything much better, at least not in the same price range, so I ordered them.

A day later, I was rocking to my music in the office with my new headphones. They’ve got great sound isolation and good bass, without being too much. The real test began when I took my first call and needed to use the mic. The audio quality was pretty good, not the best I’ve ever had, but I didn’t sound like I was talking from a tin can to my co-workers, and using the mic didn’t cause the audio output quality to drop significantly. It wasn’t the same as if I turned off the mic, but it wasn’t terrible.

Rather than do a long and rambling in-depth review of everything about the headphones, I’ll just give a short list of likes and dislikes.


  • The on-ear design hurts after wearing them for a few hours, I generally prefer around-ear headphones to avoid this, but the smaller size and profile is good enough that I can usually ignore the slight pain.
  • The adjustable parts are a little stiff and don’t make it easy to re-adjust if I need to, but not a huge deal breaker since I don’t need to often.


  • The physical on/off switch is so much better than the press-and-hold button I’ve had on previous headphones.
  • The vocal cues for pairing the headphones and letting you know it’s connected (it talks to you rather than a weird set of beeps and boops) are awesome.
  • There is a wired option, which is a must if I suddenly run out of battery, or need to connect to something without bluetooth.
  • Battery life is pretty good, using them most of the day in the office, I usually only have to recharge every other day or so (which I can usually do overnight when it gets low).
  • Clean and modern design means I don’t look like an idiot while wearing them.

The Totally Managed Analytics Pipeline

For anyone that runs a large site or web application and gathers a lot of event data, building and managing an analytics pipeline to store and analyze that data is an ongoing challenge. One paid service offering that helps with this is Segment, which can help pipe your event data into any number of data services. But getting the data into a custom analytics engine or raw database that Segment doesn’t support out of the box is still tough because you’d need infrastructure that can handle replication of every event that gets thrown at it. Fortunately, thanks to a few new technologies and offerings from AWS, the folks over at Segment have build a great demo app that increments event counts in a DynamoDB table: The Totally Managed Analytics Pipeline: Segment, Lambda, and Dynamo.

A few things I’ve had fun with tinkering with while playing with the demo project are Terraform and AWS Lambda. Both are incredibly powerful in their own right and lend to some very cool use-cases both together and independently. It’ll be really cool to see more use-cases of these as they mature and gain wider adoption.

VIP Quickstart: A dream come true

One of the most time-consuming tasks of developing anything is setting up (and maintaining) a development environment(s). I spend 90% of my time developing for WordPress (and VIP specifically) and over the past few months I’ve had to setup 4 different development environments for various reasons to test out my code before pushing to a VIP-hosted environment. And I can definitely say it’s not an easy process and I’ve also never gotten it to be quite perfect, there’s always minute differences that can sometimes make it almost impossible to test out functionality before pushing it to VIP.

But finally, Automattic has released VIP Quickstart, which is an easy-to-use development environment in a bundle. Using a couple of helper-scripts and routines it will install an environment (OS, server, PHP, and MySQL) that is as close to VIP’s setup as you can get. I’ve yet to actually try it out since it was released this morning, but I’m really excited about using this to pop out dev environments whenever I need them, which is good because I have the need to install a few more in the near-future.

Mosaic: My New Favorite jQuery Plugin

Mosaic jQuery Plugin Samples
Mosaic jQuery Plugin Samples

Mosaic has recently become my new favorite jQuery plugin. I’ve been using a homegrown solution for a few months now on a client site and with recent redesign efforts I was looking at re-writing it from scratch to do what we wanted, but why reinvent the wheel when someone’s already built a hover-board?

Farewell to Google Latitude

The last 5 days of location history logged in Google Latitude

 Just over a month ago Google retired their Latitude service, and I wish they offered a replacement for iOS as they do for Android. I started using the Latitude iOS app in December of 2010 and up until the day they officially closed service on August 11th, 2013, I logged my location data nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, except in rare cases I needed to disable GPS to conserve battery life.

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Incoming Downtime

Today might be a rough day for my site, I am both migrating the website to a new server and that same new server will be undergoing an OS upgrade later this evening. The migration shouldn’t actually cause much downtime if any at all, but the upgrade later tonight will. DreamHost is expecting only an hour of downtime between 6pm and 8pm PST while they upgrade the server OS.

Map of SF Muni’s Bus and Rail Yards

I freely admit that I’m a bit of a public-transit nerd. I love taking public transit in San Francisco (and other cities), and I love researching the history and present workings of public transit projects and systems. One of the more recent interests of mine is San Francisco’s Muni fleet of buses and light rail vehicles, and in researching I got curious as to where they store all of their vehicles. After searching around (and with the tip of a fellow public-transit nerd), I found a list of their divisions on Wikipedia. Using that information I then decided to map out the locations of each of their vehicle yards in Google Maps for fun and future reference. I’ve embedded it below for your enjoyment (if you’re into that kind of thing).

WordPress Plugin: Custom Short URL

A few weeks back I decided to buy a ‘short url’ domain for my site. Since I regularly share my posts via Twitter, I wanted to try and minimize the number of characters dedicated to the URL. I spent week or so coming up with possible names, but all my first thoughts were registered already or cost hundreds or thousands of dollars a year (an investment I’d rather not make right now).

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Apple’s Beautifully Crafted Ecosystem

One thing many people may not guess immediately about me is that I actually really like Android. Sure, I was critical of it at first, but it’s grown into a truly world-class mobile OS. And there are a lot of parts about it that far out-strip the functionality of iOS by comparison. But as I’ve said to many friends, I couldn’t ever switch because of how much I loved and appreciated the minutely integrated ecosystem Apple has built over the years with their devices and services. Everything I own is Apple; iPhone, two iPads, MacBook Pro, Apple TV, Time Capsule, and Airport Express.

GigaOM has a wonderful piece detailing some of the more enticing reasons why I, and so many others, just can’t bring themselves to make the switch.