Not a Sham: Introducing the Shamrock Shake Finder

Recently updated the McRib Finder concept for our McDonald's client to feature the Shamrock Shake. This new version's quite special—new stickers, plus for the first time a web backend. Even recreated a little bit of an Instagram-story style camera to make the sticker experience even more fun.

Grab it here on the App Store or Google Play, whichever floats your boat.

Learned a lot about Firebase for this one. There's even a version with ARKit floating around on my test devices.


January, month of fresh starts. The coldest month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the hottest in the Southern. Ianuarius in Latin, from ianua—literally the door of the year.

I've not been much one for resolutions in the past, but coming out of 2017 and looking squarely down the barrel at thirty, at entering my fourth decade, I've been...resolute on a few things.

Stop me if you've heard this before, but I don't think I fully appreciated the impact my twenties had on me until I was really able to count the months to my thirties on one hand.

To a degree, that's because I've been exceptionally lucky to tick off some of the archetypical twenties activities beforehand—I've been fortunate enough to travel, I've had the support of both my family and a family of friends to follow where my passions take me. Sure, maybe I partied less than your average twenty-something. I probably have fewer "horribly embarrassing things from my twenties" stories. Maybe I never made a 30-under-30 list (those are probably bullshit anyway).

What I did do, though.... Wow, what I did.

Some highlights:

  • Came to terms with who I am, what I value, and what I can help make happen. Yeah, yeah, "Says every millennial ever," but really, I learned to listen to that voice inside that says "This is right" or "This is wrong," and more importantly, when to say "We can change this." One of the biggest realizations that I've come to is that every man or culture-made thing around us was built by someone who's likely not all that much smarter than any one of us, fundamentally. Making a change starts with seeing where something can improve, then having the courage to chase it.
  • Got a BFA in Fiction, then an MFA. Helped publish so many lit journals full of other great writers and artists.
  • Met, learned from, and bonded with a ton of great people—writers, artists, storytellers, marketers, colleagues, friends and humans.
  • Wrote most of a pretty great novel. And we're picking it back up this year. Reading over it after some time away, the lesson from that last bullet packs a punch. This is not your "I'm a witty brand" kind of writing, this is a messy human story about technology and how messy and human it can actually be.
  • Started a pretty great job where I'm helping make impossible things happen every day.
  • Released some cool apps, starting with a McRib Finder. Believe me, ask 2010 Zach what he thought his first app on the App Store, if he ever actually released one would be and he probably wouldn't have said a McRib Finder—but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

So going into my thirties, I want things to be just as impactful. For the last couple months, I've been working on a few goals. Consider this part manifesto, part me publicly keeping my ass in gear:

  • Be more active. I feel better with regular exercise. I'm down a little more than ten pounds since Oct/Nov, and it's just great
  • Be more social. I moved to Chicago without a job, then had grad school. I'm finally at a place where I'm comfortable, but the "work hard" ethic hasn't been followed with near enough play. It's time to build a deeper community so the next decade can be as full as the last. Invite me to things, I'm working on being more engaged and present.
  • Do more (preferably good). You don't put a dent in the universe by sitting on the sidelines. I'm putting more time into helping—whether it's with PolitiCall or helping someone explore an interest. There's nothing to be gained from sitting on stuff I know without giving back in one way or another.

I really fell into Doctor Who in my late twenties, particularly around Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor, the Doctor unsure of what kind of man he is. The Doctor who realized, it's about more than being good—it's about being kind. So, preparing to regenerate, so to speak, I keep thinking about the last words of Twelve before Twelve became Thirteen:

Let’s get it right. I’ve got a few things to say to you. Basic stuff first. Never be cruel, never be cowardly. Remember, hate is always foolish. Love is always wise. Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. Oh, and you mustn’t tell anyone your name. No one would understand it anyway. Except, except, sometimes, if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too.

Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.

Here's to laughing hard, running fast, being kind, and—I'll add—loving every minute of it.

PolitiCall 1.1—The Bigliest Update

...I make no apologies for punny update descriptions or announcements.

On a serious note, the first major update to PolitiCall is now available on the App Store. It's a doozy.

Some quick headlines from this version:

  • The Favorites Tab. Find yourself calling your reps or the same reps over and over? The Favorites tab makes it easer. Plus, you're one button away from favoriting your state's senators and. your district's representative, just hit the "Find My Rep" button.
  • Automatic Updates. PolitiCall is now backed by iCloud. Going forward, when there's a change in Congress, that update will appear in PolitiCall automatically. It's almost like I should have done that from the beginning.... 😉
  • Congressional Headshots. Put a face to a name. Is it super helpful? Probably not. Does it make the app look better? Sure does.
  • Bonus Icons. Want to express your political opinion and/or just make PolitiCall fit in more on your home screen? This update includes an icon pack available through an in-app purchase. PolitiCall remains a free app, but if you want to show your support of both the app (and me, I guess), it's greatly appreciated. The first icon pack can be yours for $0.99, and you can probably expect a few more down the road.

What's Next?

With this update out the door, I'm getting started on an update for iOS 11 in the fall. Nothing to announce just yet, but I think it's gonna be pretty cool when it (drag and) drops.

Facebook is not your website

The number of restaurants, bars, and other local establishments that, thanks to crappy web sites they can’t update, post their daily specials, hours, and important announcements only via Facebook is growing. That’s maddening. Want to know if we’re open this holiday weekend? Go to Facebook.

Go to hell.

It’s 2017. There are a million ways to get a web site set up inexpensively that you can easily update yourself. Setting up a Facebook page and letting your web site rot, or worse, not even having a web site of your own, is outsourcing your entire online presence. That’s truly insane. It’s a massive risk to your business, and frankly, stupid.

A Facebook page as the default web presence for a physical business is user-hostile. It's at Facebook's whim that pages get tossed behind a login window, and then what of those who don't want to use Facebook? Or have reason not to use Facebook?

It's less than $10 a month to host a website—you can even do it for free. That is a fraction of the cost a local business may spend to promote a single post on their Facebook page. 

Use good defaults. Stick to the web. 

On Websites and Those Horrible Social Buttons

John Gruber, absolutely killing it on share buttons, particularly on Medium:

A website should not fight the browser. Let the browser provide the chrome, and simply provide the content. Web developers know this is right — these dickbars are being rammed down their throats by SEO experts. The SEO folks are the same dopes who came up with the genius strategy of requiring 5-10 megabytes of privacy-intrusive CPU-intensive JavaScript on every page load that slows down websites. Now they come to their teams and say, “Our pages are too slow — we gotta move to AMP so our pages load fast.”

I love Medium. I don't mean to be overly harsh on Medium, but he's right.

Share buttons — dickbars, in Gruber's parlance — are not only unnecessary, but they're starting to border on user-hostile. They're absolutely one of the worst things about the modern web experience, made a thousand times worse when they're also presented in a modal when the page first loads.

Gotta wonder about the actual savvy of all the marketing/design groups telling clients to do this. If your goal is to boost engagement this way, you're spending too much time on things that aren't the content.

Hello, PolitiCall

Very happy to show off a little side project I've been kicking around this spring. PolitiCall's an iOS app dedicated to helping you make your voice heard in Washington by putting the contact information for your members of Congress available any time, anywhere.

Browse by state, search by name, or even use your contacts to find your representative. The app's designed to make getting in touch with Washington as simple as a few taps.

My personal favorite feature in this version is the Spotlight integration. After you've checked out the tabs for each house, search a name from Spotlight from the home screen, Notification Center, or the Today view. You'll get an entry in the results that links right back to the app  or  lets you start a phone call, without having to launch PolitiCall.

More to come on this.


Yet more notifications

You gotta give Facebook credit for trying new things in what seems like a quiet space. Last week, started getting these chat-like modal alerts for likes and comments on a post.

You still get badges in the top right, just like other notifications. But now also this. It seems both excessive and also weird that it's so very close to the chat experience, which in itself, weirdly, still isn't all-in on Messenger.


"How Facebook Squashed Twitter"

Ben Thompson at Stratechery

When it comes to “the empty spaces” most people don’t want to do work, but work is exactly what Twitter required. You had to know what you were interested in, know who to follow based on those interests, and then, to top it all off, you had to pick out the parts that you were interested in from a stream of unfiltered tweets; Facebook, in contrast, did the work for you.

Thompson's analysis of where Facebook overcame Twitter is fantastic, but I found this quote to be incredibly compelling. In essence, this is what I love about Twitter far more than Facebook. I wouldn't say that I've tuned my Twitter experience to be solely things I'm interested in, but it's something that I definitely miss when I find myself staring at my timeline. 

I hesitate to lump myself in as what Thompson refers to as an "early adopter of Facebook"—it was something you joined when you went to college—but his argument about the news feed's shifts are true.   I still hate "Top Stories" and the "here's another piece of clickbait that eight high school classmates like."

Twitter, on the other hand, feels less cluttered, more relevant.

An End to Business-Speak

Starshine Roshell writing for The Week:

The problem with empty catchphrases is they not only obfuscate your message; they expose you as a linguistic lemming with nothing valuable — nothing real — to say.

Ideate, iterate, integrate. Metrics-driven, solution-oriented, results-centric. Best practices, value propositions, core competencies.

Bravo to whomever first used "over-rotate" in a sentence — but a pox on those who keep spitting it back at the screen because they can't recall how to say, "Crap, we've gone too far."

When did merchandise, whiteboard and leverage become verbs? When did we start verbing nouns? When did leverage replace utilize — and utilize replace use, for jabbering out loud?

There ought to be a sort of 10 commandments of the modern office wherein at least six of them are outright bans on a lot of these verbal fillers.

"Leverage" and "utilize" where someone means "use" is probably the worst.

Leslie Berland Joins Twitter as New CMO

Berland comes from AmEx, where she was EVP of marketing, advertising, and digital partnerships.

She's also the first new appointment to Twitter after the product, engineering, and HR heads left over the weekend.

I pull for Twitter more than any other social platform. Hoping the new blood under Jack Dorsey means throwbacks to the pre-2012 Twitter in a lot of ways—mostly for developers.

Apple Sees Record-Breaking App Store Sales for the Holiday Season

$1.1 billion dollars in the two-week period ending January 3rd, smashing their own record twice in the space of just over a week.

There's no breakdown here of what's in-app purchase versus app purchase, nor is there a breakdown by category, but it just underlines the reports that iOS devices were approximately 50% of device activations on Christmas.

Perhaps most interesting? This stat included from “App Economy Jobs in the United States,” published yesterday by Dr. Michael Mandel at the Progressive Policy Institute:

Largely as a result of the App Store’s success, Apple is now responsible for creating and supporting 1.9 million jobs in the U.S. alone. Nearly three-quarters of those jobs — over 1.4 million — are attributable to the community of app creators, software engineers and entrepreneurs building apps for iOS, as well as non-IT jobs supported directly and indirectly through the app economy.

Flurry says app usage up 58% in 2015. Still calls them "phablets."

From Flurry's Simon Khalaf:

In 2015 overall app usage grew by 58%. In this context, we define app usage as a user opening an app and recording what we call a “session.” With the exception of Games, every app category posted year-over-year growth with Personalization, News & Magazines and Productivity leading the way with triple-digit growth.

What was even more impressive is the majority of that growth rate came from existing users versus new users. In fact, in 2015, we estimate that 40% of the 58% total growth in sessions came from existing users, compared to 20% in 2014 and 10% in 2013. This jives well with the report we released last summer, showing a fast increase in mobile addicts.

Some interesting figures here from Flurry.

I'm dubious of this Personalization category they've created. To me, apps that "range from Android lock-screens to Emoji keyboards" seem a little too broad. There's no doubting what Khalaf posits here that the growth coming out of "Emoji apps" is a result of a user desire for customization, but what's the longevity of the category, really?

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Hello, World!

It's been a long time coming, but here we are.

So what is this? Well, it's a blog. It's a website. It's a thing you do when you have an interest in technology and a wish to share your thoughts. It's also a place where I'll probably talk about some app projects that are hopefully getting out the door in 2016.

Here, you'll find my semi-regular thoughts on technology, the web, writing and/or pop culture presented in a way that doesn't make your eyeballs bleed.

Most of the time, these posts will probably look very much like a link blog, with all due adoration to and inspiration from great sites like Daring Fireball, The Loop, and Six Colors.

Here's to 2016.