Welcome to After Hours.

This is a personal and professional blog by me, Brad Bice. I've combined all of my opinions, reviews, technical learnings and other writings and ramblings into one stream of consciousness. Thanks for stopping by!

Twitter Alternative: Micro.blog

I’m a daily user of Twitter, but it has some problems. Luckily, there’s hope in an alternative: Micro.blog.

I love using Twitter on a daily basis for my topic-specific news and to follow interesting people on the web. I make the most of the mess that is Twitter by sticking to a few specific methods:

  • Follow people, not companies — I’ve had much more “success” on Twitter following specific individuals (not celebrities) of whom I respect their opinion, mostly without too much of an agenda.

  • Use lists — My main Twitter timeline is an ever-updating mess waterfall that upsets my compulsiveness. Lists are focused, topic-based groupings that allow me to catch up on specific categories one at a time.

  • Stay away from Twitter.com — I can’t stand promoted tweets or non-linear timelines. I use Tweetbot on iOS and macOS to prevent this and also for the vital synced timeline position between devices.

Sticking to those points helps me actually enjoy reading the content on Twitter. However, the company itself has proven to be pretty horrible in how they organize and conduct their business. They don’t really seem to respect their users, they don’t utilize a logical business model, and they won’t ban hate groups or other offensive content.

Unfortunately there aren’t many or any alternatives. Definitely none as popular. App.net was a promising venture that acted as an ad-free Twitter alternative. It ultimately failed due to low engagement and a failed business model.

Micro.blog is the latest player in the space, and the simplicity and model of it has me excited. It’s a free micro-blogging service, that encourages users to feed content from their own blogs to their timelines. Users can also pay nominal fees to host a micro-blog or to cross-post content to Twitter and Facebook (I’m paying the $2/month for this).

I’m hoping that this will take off and that the owner has some higher standards for rules around content, and that he maintains the simple business model.

Newwwyear Grand Re-Opening

I’ve redesigned and re-launched my website multiple times. Let’s go again!

Inspired by years of frustration of having my content fragmented across multiple websites and social networks, and the timely tweet above, I’ve spent the last few months pulling together this new project.

I’ve finally come to a place where I’m happy enough (but still embarrassed) to deploy my work-in-progress redesign and reorganization of my website. However, I can’t release my baby into the wild without some caveats:

Perfection is the enemy of done

This is a work-in-progress, and it’s meant to be. There is a lot going on in this simple personal website that I’m not happy with, and a lot I want to improve and add on to. However, if I wait until I’m absolutely happy with what I have, I won’t ever publish it. This includes:

  • The color scheme - After experimenting with a bunch of color palettes, stripping it all and going with black & white was the quickest and allowed me to focus more on the content and layout.
  • The typography - I generally like my selections here, but am not completely sold on them. Plus I’m using 3 separate font-families – Roboto Slab, Montserrat and system fonts – so I’ll need to reconcile those for performance and aesthetics at some point.
  • Work portfolio - I’ve added most of my examples of work, but no actual visuals like screen grabs or images just yet. I’m still looking for the best way to present those in a gallery-type fashion.
  • Resume - The information is there, but it’s not too aesthetically pleasing. I need to spice that up, and add in some print styles as well.

Other stuff

  • Contact form (currently using Wufoo)
  • Tag/category page list styles
  • The logo - It’s version 0.5, for sure.

With that said, I’m happy enough to push this live and start publishing content to it. Any Twitter posts will hopefully be mirrored here, except Retweets. If you don’t know what that is or don’t read Twitter, then you’re missing a lot and nothing all at once.

One point of all of this is to combine my personal and professional-facing websites into one. I don’t need two, no need to put on a business face or anything like that. Might as well push everything together and make it simpler on myself.

Thank you for reading, please stop by again (or add my feed to your device or feed service), and follow me on Twitter for update notifications and other stuff. Yay!

(Also, if you’re wondering about the “After Hours” title of my blog, it’s a name I’ve wanted to do something with for a long time. I’ve always been a night owl, and have historically stayed up late and worked late and actually do most of my best thinking and work at night. I’d like to parlay it into a brand of sorts maybe, given the right ventures and opportunities. If not, it’s a fun blog title that gives a little spice to my thoughts and ramblings.)

Apple Event Day One Thoughts

Today was one of the most highly anticipated of the now legendary (and infamous, in some circles) Apple Events in recent years.

I have taken the time to watch these events every year since 2007 and the introduction of the original iPhone (which at times involves some strategic lunch planning or side-by-side windows on my computer at work.) I was pretty excited to see all of the new offerings, though I had been spoiled by the leaks over the weekend of all of the specs for the new iPhone.

Leaks aside, it’s always enjoyable to witness Apple make their spectacle of a presentation and take in all of the products, personalities and atmosphere. This time was no exception, as the Event emanated from the newly-built Steve Jobs Theater on the grounds of Apple’s brand new campus, Apple Park.

Here’s some annotations from the event, with my opinions:

  • Seeing the completed Steve Jobs Theater was incredible. You could tell from our limited view on the stream that is was an immaculate structure. Everyone walking through had their phones out like they were tourists at a national monument. I can’t wait to be able to visit that campus someday.
  • The theater itself struck me as smaller than I thought it would be, and I’ll miss the giant stage and hundreds of attendees at each announcement. However, the seating looked brilliant and the intimacy of the venue worked well. Even the stage lighting helped to focus on exactly what Apple wanted us to see, hear and feel.
  • The tribute to Steve Jobs at the beginning hit me hard. Hearing his voice brought an emotional wave over me that I’m almost embarrassed to admit to. He was such an influential figure to me, and his story is so phenomenal. Perfect? Hell no. A genius? Arguable. An influence over millions? No doubt. I do agree that he would have loved this theater and much of what Apple is doing today, though he would definitely have a little bit more of a stranglehold over some of the product design.
  • Since I’ve been watching the progression since it started, it was really fun to get an update on and see the excitement and focus on the new Chicago “flagship” retail store. This new store looks incredible and I can’t wait to check it out on October 20th.
  • I’m actually quite excited about the advancements in health with the Apple Watch. Having live, real-time insights into heart rate and other biometrics is invaluable, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
  • LTE/cellular on the Apple Watch seems like a ho-hum feature, but I’ve actually wished for it many times when out for a run or just far enough away from my phone. I don’t think I’m in for $10/month just yet, though. I’ll be waiting for a smaller form factor (if possible) to upgrade my Watch, most likely.
  • Apple TV 4K was, quite frankly, a disappointment. The 4K/HDR support is very welcome of course, and the iTunes Store pricing on 4K movies was much better than I was expecting. But the bump in system specs doesn’t address the biggest concerns with Apple TV, which mostly revolve around content. No Netflix support in the TV app still. No announced Amazon Prime app release date (or confirmation that it will be compatible with the TV app.) No Apple-sponsored or packaged TV bundle for cord-cutters. And apart from content, no improvement on the less-than-ideal (but not as horrible as everyone makes it out to be) Siri remote. Apple keeps making minute incremental updates to Apple TV but doesn’t seem to want to go all-in. It’s frustrating for those of us who want to stay with the ecosystem of devices, but are limited by Apple’s decisions. I’m pretty sure I’ll be skipping this version, but to be fair, I don’t own a 4K TV so I don’t really need it.
  • iPhone 8 and 8 Plus looked really good, for the older, 5 year-old form factor. I really wish they would have squared off the sides of these phones ala the iPhone 4 or SE, but this is what we get. The glass sandwich design is a welcome one and adds a bit more class to the device.
  • Not too much more happening to the 8 other than some spec bumps and the welcome additions of a TrueTone display and wireless charging. I was also hoping for OLED in these 8 models, but that was reserved for the X. The cameras get incremental bumps with awesome frame rate options. And the processor apparently is fast enough for an iMac, blowing every other smart phone out of the water. This will be an awesome phone for someone coming from a 6 or 6S.
  • I however will be ordering an iPhone X. This thing looks beautiful.
  • The huge screen is where I’ve wanted the phone to be at for a while and it’s going to be great to view big, colorful iOS apps on this thing.
  • Face ID is a point of contention from a lot of people who either don’t trust its accuracy or the logistics of using it day-to-day in a variety of situations. After Apple’s demos, I’m mostly sold. It looks very fast, and I’m betting the angle at which you have to hold the phone up to your face is fairly forgiving (TBD, though.) Touch ID was never perfect, and while I did get used to it and will miss it slightly, I’m certain that Apple would not put out Face ID (and remove Touch ID as an option) if it wasn’t a good enough replacement.
  • I’m really excited to get a larger screen in a reasonably sized phone. It’s only .2” taller and .15” wider than the iPhone 7 I have now. I can definitely live with that. And iOS 11 relocates much of the navigation to the bottom of the screen, so reaching won’t be as much of a problem.
  • The OLED display will be exciting to experience in real life.
  • I haven’t had a phone with dual cameras yet so that will also be fun. And it’s great that this phone has OIS (optical image stabilization) on both cameras, as opposed to only the primary like the 7 Plus.
  • I don’t like how the phone still sticks to the rounded edges. It makes the device more slippery.
  • I don’t like the notch, though reviewers have said it grows on you over time. To me it’s very un-Apple.
  • I don’t like the name. I keep saying “iPhone eks”. I always said “oh ess eks” for OS X, too. It’s something I’ll have to get over, and accept other people doing as well.
  • I love the potential for wireless charging, and the AirPower pad for charging the phone, watch and AirPods looks awesome. Wonder how much that AirPods wireless charging case will be, and how available.
  • I’ll be ordering a silver, 256GB iPhone X.
  • Overall a good event, and I can’t help but wonder what my thoughts would be if I hadn’t been spoiled by almost everything days before the event. Not knowing about iPhone X would probably have blown my mind, as I would have thought that iPhone 8 was it. Apple skipping from 7 straight to 8 (and not implementing a 7S model this year) is surprising but a great move. Skipping 9 is strange, but not many people seem to care (and why should we?)

I’m glad this event is over and that we can now dig into these products as well as software offerings like iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. And we’ll see how hard it will be to actually get my hands on an iPhone X. I’m assuming I’ll be lucky to get one by the end of the year.

iPhone 7 iOS home button

At first I went in and changed the setting for the iPhone 7 home button to unlock my phone by testing my finger on the Touch ID sensor. It more closely resembled how I used my iPhone 6s with the mechanical home button.

Now, after a few weeks of use, I have reverted that setting, requiring a “push” of the button to unlock the phone. This is because I use Notification Center much more now. I pick up my phone, it lights up thanks to “raise to wake”, and I swipe right to see my widgets. Weather, appointments, sports, etc are all there.

Resting my finger on the button bypassed the lock screen to quickly for me to access Notification Center. This way I can decide on the fly which direction I want to go.

It was perceived by me and many others as a strange decision by Apple at first to make this behavioral change to the home button, but now I understand why, and agree with the reasoning.

New Job: Visual Designer at Cars.com

After eight months of contracting/freelancing, I have accepted a position with Cars.com as a Visual Designer.

I’ll be working with the Visual Design and Interactive Design teams to create working prototypes of new functionality and website layouts. These may be used in user testing and other facets.

So far the company is very large and intricate but everyone has been very welcoming. It will be a struggle for a while to catch up with the inner workings and the approximately 1500 people across two floors of the downtown-Chicago office, but it keeps things fresh.

I’ll also have a new area to explore in the Loop, having never really spent much time down there apart from being a tourist.

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive over the past eight months while I struggled to pay my share of the bills, answer questions about my job and live up to expectations. Thanks especially to my wife Natalie, who has had nothing but patience with me (with a few “we’re going to be ok, right?” moments here and there) as I was picky over finding a new job and at times deciding that I should continue to make very little money by working for myself.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this takes us!

Work Update

After a great year working with Medtelligent and Panopta, I’ve moved away to begin working on projects on my own.

This summer I’ve worked mainly with Agency EA, an experiential and event marketing agency. With them I’ve worked on digital brochures for both GE/Synchrony and Hilton, as well as a new website for Agency EA themselves.

In between projects I have been exploring full-time and contract opportunities. I am looking for a great fit with a growing company and a good team. I’ve also updated my resume page, which can be printed directly from a browser.

Read more about

Chicago Divvy Bikes Problems

I was a huge fan of the Chicago Divvy Bike system (http://www.divvybikes.com) when it was introduced last summer.

It provided a very convenient, cheap, personally beneficial and eco-friendly method of transportation in a city where those criteria can usually never be completely or concurrently fulfilled. I quickly signed up for an annual membership at $75, and used the system sparingly but happily throughout the warm months.

I’m not sure if the harsh winter of 201314 took it’s tool on the equipment, or if there the rapid expansion of the Divvy system itself is to blame, but my experiences this summer have been lacking to say the least. I’ve taken 4 trips on Divvy so far this summer and here are the problems I’ve encountered:

  1. Credit card reader malfunctioning: The card swipe device just refused to even acknowledge that a card was being dipped at all. This happened two machines that we encountered, forcing us to walk to the nearest station, about 2-3 blocks away.
  2. On a trip to Montrose beach, the one station int he vicinity of the beach, and nowhere near any other station, had 3 open docks to store my bike. Great, no problem, I thought. Wrong. All 3 docks were in the locked position, not allowing a Divvy bike to be plugged in. Rider after rider came up to the station, only to be forced to go to another station. On top of that, the console did not allow for extra time to be requested, apparently thinking that it had 3 open docks. So after riding a mile to this station, my wife and I had to ride the mile back to the nearest station, dock the bikes (luckily there were open, functioning docks there) and then walk back to Montrose, where we were now late to our volleyball league game.
  3. On top of the above story, my wife had just bought an annual pass, but could not use it since the key had not yet arrived. No temporary code or pass is offered in this situation. When she tried to dip her credit card in the console, the machine said that our Visa was not a supported credit card. 5 attempts later, it was finally accepted.
  4. Again in the #2 situation above, and in every trip I’ve taken this summer, the bikes have been in a horrible state of disrepair. The gears slip very often, almost causing me to lose traction on the pedals and fall off the bike. The fenders are loose and rattle with each bump. The gear shift rarely clicks and stay into its (admittedly horrible) 3 gear slots. Possibly related, the mechanism used to dock the bike may be so mashed up that it is causing some docks to lock without a bike in them.
  5. Paying for a one-day pass at a kiosk involves WAY too many steps. On busy weekend days, there are often multiple people waiting to take out a bike, and each person has to spend an almost 5 minute process clicking through each of the steps and acknowledgements on the kiosk screen.
I definitely do not blame the Divvy company for trying; this system is a blessing to Chicago and with the right amount of maintenance and upkeep it can be great. But right now, I believe that Divvy has grown beyond its capacity for quality and has instead concentrated on quantity.

I will not be recommending Divvy to anyone until I see that the quality has caught up with better functioning kiosks and docks, repaired bikes, and better options for riders stranded at remote stations.

Why and How I Use Twitter

I use Twitter every single day of my life, and have my live stream of tweets open on either my computer when working or at home, or on my phone when I’m commuting or waiting in line somewhere.

A lot of people ask what Twitter is used for, and why they would need to know when someone is “eating dinner or going to the bathroom.”

Twitter started out that way, yes. It was a simple, text-based system to tell your friends what you’re doing “right now.” But in the years since it was introduced, Twitter has blown up and become a vital part of our society. It’s a prominent method of communication and a vital part of the public sphere. You cannot watch TV or go online without feeling Twitter’s presence.

So how is it used? I’ve seen a lot of new users to Twitter follow people like celebrities, only to quickly realize that this tends to be more towards the “I’m having dinner” type of information stream. In contrast, I only follow a handful of celebrities and/or actual “people.” They are the ones I’m either really interested in their opinions, or I find their tweets to be hilarious distractions from my day.

The rest of those I follow are news sites (APNews, BuzzFeedNews, local newspaper), Sports related (ESPN, DetroitBadBoys), Tech related (AppleInsider, various software companies), and web development bloggers and resources (SmashingMagazine, Zeldman, AListApart, etc.). I follow accounts for any services I use, such as Gmail, Twitter, and Dropbox, so that I can get updates on outages and new features as soon as possible.

Of course I also follow my friends and colleagues, as I like to read their witty tweets about whatever is bothering or exciting them at the time.

So the gist is that I recommend using Twitter as less of a celebrity and sports team-following service, but rather as more of an information-stream, news and opinion service.

Love and Other Drugs

From July 2008 until July 2011 I lived alone, in 2 cities and 2 separate single-bedroom apartments. What set it off was a breakup with my girlfriend of 3 years, something I initiated.

The details of that breakup are portrayed from the other side in multiple blog posts and published in a book(!), all of which don’t really paint me in the best of lights. To sum it up, I came to a very quick realization, acted on it, and ties were severed quickly. I was able to move on very quickly. The other party was not. The rest is history. Opinions vary on if I’m the bad guy.

So I bachelored it in a new apartment far away from downtown and pretty much out in the sticks. It was a 25 minute drive to school, where I had one more year to complete my bachelors degree. I also joined the club volleyball team. I was hoping to find some sort of social connection at school but, being 8-10 years older than most everyone, was unable to fit in much. I made a few connections but they were mostly hometown ties as opposed to new friends and groups.

But I enjoyed being alone and exploring where I wanted to go and who with. I did not date, but that didn’t stop me from falling in love. There were probably 3 women who I was madly in love with, without even so much as a lunch date with any of them. Girl “A” was a friend of a friend, we all went out a few times and I paid much more attention to “A” than our mutual friend, who liked me. Girl “T” was a fantastic person who I met in class and fell for on the first day. We actually became friends and still are to this day. Girl “K” lived in Chicago and was miles away but on a couple visits I felt like she was fun, pretty and wholesome. Despite knowing her hardly at all, and despite her being one of my best friend’s best friends, I thought she was perfect for me.

But alas, hindsight is 2020. I understand now, 3 years later, that I was merely alone and I was reaching. I was reaching for companionship, manifesting it in my mind wherever I found friendliness, and even mild attraction. I was looking for a quick solution to what I thought was a non-problem: not having anyone to share my life with.

I moved to Chicago in 2009 and almost immediately started online dating. I found one girl who was fun to be with but we had hardly anything in common. I broke things off with her once I met Girl “B”. I though “B” was great but it was the same thing as before: I was creating love where there was just companionship and a list of commonalities. So when I started attending volleyball meet ups and meeting new friends I found that I just wanted to hang out with them instead of with her. She was a great person, but we just weren’t as compatible as I had told myself we were. After 3 months I broke it off when I realized what was happening.

I swore off of online dating and just dedicated myself to having fun with friends. I wasn’t necessarily looking for love or even a date, I just wanted to explore the city and have fun with new companions. What happened was that one of my new good friends turned out to be my current wife.

Girl “N” and I had a lot in common, and we talked a lot in the early days as friends. But even from the beginning I could tell there was more to her than anyone I had ever met. She understood me, she supported me, she leaned on me, and she boosted my confidence. We ended up spending more and more time together and eventually we realized we were more than “just friends.” We were in love. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t an expectation that I created out of nowhere. It was organic and pure attraction and emotion. We just loved being together and talking to each other about our lives, about our friends, and about our futures. So much so that we ended up moving in together and eventually getting married. And now she’s the love and light of my life.

I guess the point of this post is that being alone is kind of like being stranded in the middle of the desert. You have to be really careful or you’re going to encounter mirages. Your mind is going to crave water and shelter so bad that it will create it at some point. A lonely person will create emotion and connection where it isn’t if it gets to a certain point. I feel like patience and even restraint are the best practices for someone who is alone and unsure of where they will find love. Because it will most assuredly come from somewhere that you don’t expect.

I am a CSS Designer

I’ve done a few job interviews over the summer as I’ve transitioned between roles. Each interview has similar questions, one of them being:

“What is your ideal role?”

I often begin explaining that I would like a role that offers a bit of web design and web development mixed into one. I am proficient in graphic design and I am slightly more advanced in writing HTML/CSS code. I’ve worked with designers and developers directly for my entire career, and have often bridged the gap between the two (and it is often a large gap.)

However, the word design seems to capture everyone’s attention very quickly. When it comes to the web, I’ve found that “design” or “designer” can mean something very different from the world of print, 3D space or other mediums. This is because unlike print or sculpture or other mediums, the web is a very fluid, malleable, living thing.

There are millions of devices that display the web very, very differently, from a laptop browser to an iPhone to a Playstation on a TV to a watch, there is no guarantee that the person viewing a website will be doing so under specific circumstances or environments. And in those very different devices are more variables like window sizes, screen orientations, interactive capabilities (pointer device or touch?) and more. And to add even more complexity is the thought process into how a person is using web content, on what device, and where they may be or what they may be doing (sitting at home on a laptop vs. in the subway on a mobile device. Different environments, different challenges like screen space, network bandwidth, ease of use, etc.)

Along with being fluid, web content can also be required to be very malleable. What I mean by this is that an image can not be displayed at 1024x768 pixels on every device. Text size of 12 points might look great on a desktop monitor, but may be way too small on a large projection screen. That neon green background color makes a paragraph look outstanding, however if the page is printed, the background color most likely will not be and the effect could be lost. Web content needs to be molded and shaped into what the user needs, whenever and wherever they are accessing it.

Finally, the web is a living breathing thing. Sure there are sites that have gone untouched since 1997, however the most commonly visited websites are those that are frequently updated with fresh content, keeping their visitors coming back for more. With changing content comes new challenges. Maybe that one line headline that we made room for now has two lines. Maybe that photo for the news story is in landscape instead of portrait orientation. Or maybe a huge sale will need to push all of the other content out of the way, for this weekend only! Web content is always changing, moving and being manipulated.

For these reasons, there needs to be CSS designers. CSS designers should work hand-in-hand with graphic designers and User Interface designers when planning and designing a website. A plan for a website can include a header with a navigation menu running across the top, but what happens when the user shrinks their browser width, or moves to a mobile phone? As designers create visual compositions for these scenarios, a CSS designer will need to plan and develop for the in-between moments. At what point will the menu shrink behind a menu button on mobile devices? Will the menu just pop behind the button or will there be a transition effect?

Along with solving implementation of design, a CSS designer must also solve other problems, such as saving on bandwidth, and progressively enhancing the web experience for all users and devices.

Many of us enjoy fast internet connections in our homes and workplaces, but can be saddled with data plan caps and/or slow network speeds on our mobile devices. That large, 3MB photo may download just fine on your laptop at work, but when you check it on the train at night delivers a not-as pleasant waiting period. CSS designers must implement ways to account for these situations by delivering appropriately sized images, or preventing download until the image is displayed (for example.)

Along with bandwidth, another unknown is technology. Many offices and homes are up-to-date on the latest browsers, computers and capabilities. However, most are way below the cutting edge. CSS designers are tasked with maintaining accessibility and usability of web content while adding on features and complimenting effects for those with technology that supports them. This is called progressive enhancement, and it ensures that even if someone is using a very outdated form of technology, the web content is still readable and usable.

Many of these decisions can be made by UI designers, web architects, graphic designers and more. However, a CSS designer/developer is the one who will implement and ship these solutions. I enjoy being a part of thinking through and solving the many road bumps of the web. I enjoy optimizing and progressively enhancing content for all users. And I enjoy writing CSS. It is a form of design that is unconventional but, I believe, is very essential.