brianli.com

WordPress Podcasting is Dead

Back in October, I was excited to start Brian On WP – a podcast covering the latest developments in WordPress. Fast forward to January, and I’ve decided to stop Brian On WP because I think it’s a waste of time and energy. After some reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that podcasting about WordPress is pretty much dead. So, why is WordPress podcasting dead?

Continue Reading →

Happy New Year! 📝

Happy New Year from Japan!

2020 was a tough year for many of us. COVID-19 swept across the world and ruined relationships, careers, and lives – too many lives.

I sincerely hope 2021 will be better.

Personally, COVID-19 did not have a huge impact on my life. On the contrary, 2020 was my best year yet – both personally and financially. We spent the first half of the year in the US, and the second half in Japan. During that time, we witnessed J growing up way too fast. In January, he could barely walk. In December, we realized we couldn’t keep up with him anymore.

J has too much energy, and I officially feel old.

Here are a few of my thoughts going into 2021. I’m not going to call them resolutions because I think they’re preposterously stupid.

  • Writing and podcasting will be my two core creative focuses in 2021. I have a few podcast collaborations in the works, and will be ending Brian On WP because I’ve come to the conclusion that WordPress podcasts are dead. I know that’s a hot take – more on that in an upcoming post.
  • I started dollar cost averaging into Bitcoin and Ether at $4,000 and $90, respectively. I plan on continuing that strategy, as 2021 is looking bright for blockchain and crypto. Fingers crossed.
  • I desperately want to spend less time on my phone in 2021. To help that cause, I upgraded from an iPhone 11 Pro Max to an iPhone 12 mini. I think it’s the best iPhone I’ve ever owned because I find myself only using it as a phone and messaging device. Watching videos and playing games on a tiny screen is no fun, and that’s my favorite aspect of the iPhone 12 mini.
  • I wish people would stop blaming 2020 on 2020. My social media feeds are filled with variations of, “F*** 2020”. 2020 and 2021 are merely numbers in our arbitrary calendar system. Instead of spewing profanity at “2020”, how about calling out all the idiots instead? 2020 sucked, but there’s no guarantee 2021 will be any better. Stop blaming numbers. Blame the idiots.
  • I’m extremely bullish on Apple going into the next decade.

Happy New Year, and stay safe out there.

The AirPods Max Case Doesn't Suck 📝

Calling AirPods Max a controversial product is an understatement. Many have bashed the $549 price point, and others have complained about their weight. The biggest complaint about AirPods Max, however, is its case. People say it looks funny, and I guess it does, but why does that make it bad? As someone who’s owned a variety of headphones and in-ear monitors (both low-end and high-end), I just don’t understand the level of hostility towards the AirPods Max case. It’s one of the most functional and practical headphone cases I’ve ever used. It provides a decent level of protection for the ear cups, while still allowing you to put AirPods Max in a bag or backpack. It’s refreshing.

The AudioQuest Nighthawk case is the opposite of convenient.
The AudioQuest Nighthawk case is the opposite of convenient. (Source: Head-Fi)

The same can’t be said for many of the headphones of comparable quality. The case that came with my AudioQuest NightHawk headphone is extremely bulky – it’s basically a giant faux-leather box that only fits in my suitcase. The same can be said for my Focal Utopia headphones. The case is gigantic, and doesn’t fit in my camera bag or backpack. So, Apple has done something different with AirPods Max. When it comes to the headphone form factor, there are really only two ways to execute a case – bulky and inconvenient, or slim and convenient. AirPods Max were designed to be a wireless headphone for use on the go. Thus, it only makes sense for its case to be slim and convenient – that way people can actually put it in their bags and backpacks.

I get the sense that many of the people complaining about the AirPods Max case have little to no experience with high-end headphones (make no mistake, AirPods Max are indeed high-end headphones). If you think the AirPods Max case sucks, what would you have done differently in terms of design while maintaining slimness and convenience?

I Bought AirPods Max Off eBay 📝

I did it. I caved and bought a pair of Sky Blue AirPods Max off eBay. I had to pay a 30% markup plus international shipping, but they’ll be arriving in a few days instead of in a few months. The more I read about them, the more I can’t wait to listen to them. Was it a stupid decision to buy them from eBay?

Practically, yes. Emotionally, no.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on AirPods Max over the next few weeks. I plan on doing thorough sound quality comparisons with the headphones below.

  • Sennheiser HD 600
  • Focal Utopia
  • Shure KSE1200
  • AudioQuest NightHawk
  • Shure SE846
  • Sennheiser HD 25

Delivery is scheduled for December 24 – just in time for Christmas.

Hosting on Cloudflare Workers Sites and Vercel 📝

Some people may view this as paranoid (it sort of is I guess), but I host this blog on both Cloudflare Workers Sites and Vercel. The idea was that if Cloudflare Workers ever suffered a service interruption (which it sometimes does), I could quickly point my DNS to Vercel and pretend nothing happened.

Well, it finally happened last night!

A Cloudflare Workers service disruption.
A Cloudflare Workers service disruption.

I initially noticed the problem when a few of my pages started returning 404 errors. Also, my home page kept throwing script execution errors. After confirming the issue was on Cloudflare’s side, I pointed my DNS to Vercel and was back online within a few minutes. After Cloudflare resolved their issues, I updated my DNS configuration again.

Usually, primary-backup configurations like this one is prohibitively expensive for personal blogs – this is especially true for WordPress and other dynamic backends. In my case, hosting my backup Vercel is completely free! I suppose this is another advantage of publishing to a static site.

Apple's Cloud Computing Play 🔗

Amazon Web Services:

Starting today, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Mac instances for macOS are generally available. Built on Apple Mac mini computers, EC2 Mac instances enable customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the AWS cloud for the first time, extending the flexibility, scalability, and cost benefits of AWS to all Apple developers. With EC2 Mac instances, developers creating apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Safari can now provision and access macOS environments within minutes, dynamically scale capacity as needed, and benefit from AWS’s pay-as-you-go pricing.

Back in November, Amazon Web Services announced general availability for EC2 Mac instances. This new class of EC2 machines allows developers to run scalable macOS workloads on Amazon’s cloud. Previously, macOS cloud computing was somewhat of a niche service offered by vendors like MacStadium and MacinCloud. Amazon’s EC2 Mac instance is the first example of a top tier cloud computing vendor entering the macOS space.

At the moment, AWS is using Mac minis powered by Intel 8th Generation Core i7 processors. For general consumers, the Mac mini configuration used by AWS comes out to ~$1,999, and Geekbench scores clock in at 1,102 for single-core performance and 5,383 for multi-core performance. By comparison, the new M1 Mac mini has a single-core score of 1,749 and a multi-core score of 7,685 at over half the price of the Intel Core i7 Mac mini.

This is why I’m so bullish on Apple as an investment going into 2021 and beyond. I don’t think Amazon is going to replace its Mac infrastructure in the next 2-3 years, but it’s bound to happen someday. With the hardware switch from Intel to Apple Silicon, it’ll take a few years for the ecosystem to stabilize to a point where mass-scale buy-in from the likes of AWS, and perhaps even GCP and Azure, is feasible – so sticking with Intel Macs makes sense for now.

Another question I have is whether Macs powered by Apple Silicon will be adapted to run Linux workloads in the future as well. In the past, there was really no reason to use Macs for Linux virtual machines. With Apple Silicon’s current performance metrics and its speculative performance trajectory for future M-series chips, it’ll be interesting to see whether vendors will start using Macs for general-purpose Linux computing in addition to macOS workloads.

In either case, I think Apple Silicon’s performance characteristics combined with Intel’s recent struggles gives Apple a prime opportunity to disrupt the cloud computing space with its proprietary silicon. Let’s see what happens.

« Permalink »

The Impact of Apple Silicon Macs on Broadway 📝

In a previous life, I was an electronic music designer working on Broadway shows in New York City. Broadway shows look glamorous and expensive on the outside, but it’s often quite the opposite on the inside – at least for the music department. One of the toughest parts of my job as an electronic music designer was to find the best performance-to-cost ratio for computer rigs powering keyboards, guitars, playback tracks, and more.

Over the past decade, Broadway has replaced large sections of traditional orchestras with synthesizers, playback systems, and electronic drum pads. I’m not in support of that, but that’s a story for another day. The point here is that Broadway’s reliance on computer-driven rigs has increased, while the typical budget required to build high-end stable rigs hasn’t increased at the same rate.

Some shows I’ve worked at set aside a $10,000-$12,000 budget for two keyboard rigs. That sounds like a lot of money at first, but it’s not. For live shows, it’s usually best to have a 1:1 backup in case the main rig fails. That fact alone means you have to design a rig that fits within 50% of the proposed budget. Furthermore, a high-quality keyboard controller alone is $1,500-2,000 – so that means there’s $3,000 left for a computer and everything else.

Due to budget constraints, many shows end up using Mac minis. Historically speaking, the Mac mini’s computing power has been a bottleneck for electronic music designers on Broadway. In a perfect world, we’d all like to use the best-sounding sample libraries for our work, but that was never feasible with the Mac mini. Thus, the compromise was always to reduce sound quality to fit within the Mac mini’s compute constraints.

Apple Silicon changes everything for Broadway electronic music designers. The new M1 Mac mini is capable of running high-end sample libraries and virtual instruments in a stable manner, and it’s only going to get better with M2, M3, and M4-series chips in the future. The performance per dollar characteristics of Apple Silicon machines are going to have a huge impact on Broadway’s sound, and I’m very excited to see, or hear, what happens.

Apple's M1 Macs Make Creativity Accessible

At this point, we all know Apple’s new M1-powered Macs are incredibly powerful. Dozens of YouTubes have talked about how fast the M1 machines are for video editing, and hundreds of Geekbench tests have been performed. Despite all of the M1 coverage, I’ve yet to see someone talk about how Apple’s native silicon technology makes creativity more accessible to everyone. I think this is a very important point that will drive an increase in Mac adoption over the coming years. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts about why Apple’s new M1 Macs make creativity more accessible for everyone.

Continue Reading →

I Canceled My HEY Email Subscription 📝

I tried to like HEY, I really did.

The idea of Basecamp, a bootstrapped company, taking on email giants like Google and Microsoft was a compelling story to be apart of. However, the novelty of using and supporting HEY has slowly worn away over the past five months, and I made the decision to cancel my two HEY email addresses today.

I don’t have too much to say about it.

  • HEY is too different. That’s what some people love about it. I don’t. Prior to using HEY, I had four active email addresses configured in a single app – Apple Mail on my Mac and iPhone. The idea of having to use another app (HEY) just for email got very annoying over time.
  • The iOS app doesn’t feel like an iOS app, and the Mac app doesn’t feel like a Mac app. I hate those kinds of apps – just my personal preference.
  • HEY’s Screener was useless to me. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I don’t get much spam in my Gmail inboxes. As I used HEY daily, screening contacts started feeling like more of a chore than something truly useful.
  • The idea behind HEY’s Feed is interesting – a stream of stuff you want to read. In practice, I don’t think it was well executed. I think it would’ve been cooler if HEY actually extracted the contents of Feed emails, and presented it in a clean and beautiful way. Also, a “Mark as Read” option would be nice. There’s no way to tell what I’ve already read with the current UX design.
  • HEY’s pricing model is too expensive for me. A starting price of $99/year for an average-at-best email service with no other productivity tools (calendar, documents, spreadsheets, etc.) is not a good deal.
  • Initially, I signed up for two HEY email addresses because I wanted to support the development of the personal email product. Since signing up, HEY’s main focus has been on HEY for Work. That felt a bit weird to me.
  • I was finally able to admit to myself that I bought into HEY and continued to use it because I saw it was a novelty. I thought a @hey.com email address was cool, so I convinced myself the product was great.

At the end of the day, none of HEY’s features benefited how I use email – this might change in the future as HEY matures, so I’ll be keeping an eye on it for sure. For now, HEY makes my email workflow less efficient, so there’s no sense in paying for it. On paper, I still think HEY is a decent offering for some people. Most importantly, if using HEY makes you feel good, you should continue using it. Basecamp is fighting a good (and important) fight with HEY, and I will continue cheering them on from the sidelines.

For now, it’s back to Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) for me.

Google Analytics vs. Cloudflare Web Analytics Reporting 📝

As I mentioned previously, I’m currently testing Cloudflare’s free web analytics service alongside Google Analytics. After a few days of gathering data, I have some good news to report. Initially, I was expecting Cloudflare’s numbers to be substantially higher than Google Analytics’ – this is a common issue I’ve seen on the Internet. Fortunately, my Google Analytics and Cloudflare Web Analytics numbers are very similar. This means I might be able to switch over to Cloudflare’s privacy-oriented service in the next few weeks.

  • For sessions, Cloudflare reported 14.23% more traffic.
  • For page views, Cloudflare reported 5.3% more traffic.

Analytics services are biased by design, so a 14.23% and 5.3% difference for sessions and page views, respectively, is reasonable for me. I’ll continue monitoring for a week or so. If the difference remains in this 5-15% range, I’ll switch off Google Analytics for good.