PC Gaming is Kinda Magical

So I’m a console gamer at heart, and I’m greatly looking forward to the PS5 release later this year, but I recently got my first gaming-capable PC and have been giving it a workout over the past month. Here’s a few things I’ve come to appreciate.

Old Games Just Work

Half Life 2 came out in 2004 and at the time ran on most people’s computers at resolutions close to 720p (some higher, some lower, but in that ballpark) and most people got 30-ish frames per second. Since then, technology has evolved considerably and on my current machine I can run it at 4K, 300fps. I didn’t have to wait for a remaster or of the game to be upgraded to 64-bit, I lust clicked the “install” button in Steam and it worked.

This isn’t a remaster by any means, and it looks like a 16 year old game in many ways still, but it looks incredibly sharp, and runs at a frame rate higher than any consumer display on the market can even render.

Compare this to the PS4 where old games simply don’t work in the first place, and even if you play them through PS Now, their streaming service, the games look at low-res as they did when they were released. Supposedly this is going to change in the next generation, and Microsoft has done some good work this generation with resolution and frame rate improvements in their backwards compatibility mode, but it’s so much simpler on PC.

And if you compare it to the Mac where 32-bit apps simply don’t work at all, it’s infinitely better than that train wreck. Half Life 2 simply does not run on macOS anymore.

High Frame Rates are Addictive

As a console gamer, I’m pretty used to 30fps games and feeling totally fine with that in most cases. But after spending some time with a pretty high-powered PC, I’m now hooked on 60fps everything. As a dumb, but perfect comparison, Madden 20 has two modes on PS4 Pro:

  1. Standard mode: 60fps at 1080p
  2. High res mode: 30fps at 4k

On the PC, you of course don’t have to choose, and I can get:

  1. 4k at 60fps+

Madden is not a hard game to run, but this 60fps expectation is possible with basically every game. Similarly, Forza Horizon 4 has similar options in its Xbox One X version, but here on the PC I can run at visual settings higher than the best Xbox version and still get over 60fps.

Before getting this machine I would have told you 30fps was fine, but now I treat 60fps as the base and will configure my settings to make sure I hit that at all times.

More Stores Equal More Sales

One confusing thing about PC gaming is that there are many game launchers out there, and many games are only available on one of these, so you need to have like 5 launchers installed to play all the games you want. But there are plenty of games that are sold in multiple places, and with more stores comes more of a chance for games to be on sale, so it feels like you can get a deal easier than waiting for your consoles one store to run a sale.

Also, it’s a little thing, but I have a wishlist on my PS4 store, but Sony doesn’t tell me when those games are on sale. Meanwhile, it seems the major stores on PC do this pretty reliably.

WWDC20 Wallpapers for iPhone, iPad, and Mac

WWDC20 Wallpapers for iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Alright folks, it's that time of year again! Before the new ones, check out my wallpapers from the last 4 years of WWDC below:

Alright, now onto the new ones! All wallpapers are in two versions, and at higher resolutions than you should need on any modern device, so I hope you like them!

iPhone (1242x2688)

iPhone collection

iPad (4098x3072)

iPad Collection

Desktop (5760x3240)

Desktop Collection

Desktop Ultrawide (7560x3240)

Ultrawide collection

COVID-19 and BirchTree (in four parts)

COVID-19 and BirchTree (in four parts)

It’s an interesting time for tech blogging right now. A part of me is like “I’m going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, and going out is frowned upon, so I’ll have tons of writing time,” but another part of me is thinking “there is nothing going on to write about…in tech, at least.”

Obviously, there is tons going on in the world, and right now it frankly all feels more important than anything new happening in the consumer tech space I usually cover. I love the new update to Things’ Apple Watch app, but it just feels a little weird to publish much about it right now. I look through my timeline on Twitter, I look at what people in the real world are talking about, and this sort of thing just isn’t breaking through. And even if I did want to talk tech, it feels like a lot of the tech world is on pause right now. Most news is about things getting cancelled or delayed.

I’m sure I’ll find something to write about, and work-from-home allows many tech companies to proceed mostly with business as usual, but it’s all just a little weird.


Switching gears, I went out Wednesday night during the President’s address (that was an embarrassment for the office, but let’s move on) and my local grocery store was pretty normal for 8PM on a weeknight. I bought some ice cream and fruit and came home.

I then decided to get our weekend grocery shopping done a couple days early last night and oh my god, it was a madhouse! People were straight up shopping like they were not going to leave their homes for months. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer was sold out of course, but so was bread, milk, pasta, most beans, soap, paper towels, and thermometers. People’s carts were overflowing, and Target was running a weekly sale with signs yelling “FUN RUN!” all over the place, which I just thought was hilarious.

Anyway, my wife and I went to a few stores and they were almost all crazy. Walgreens was the only one not insane, but it too was out of the essentials.


My work is recommending all employees work from home starting Monday next week, and I will be following that guidance for as long as it’s needed. My at-home setup is not as nice as my office setup, and I really value working with people directly, but I’ll be fine. I definitely feel for all the retail and restaurant workers who can’t work from home and who can’t take time off nearly as easily. They are more essential than ever right now, as we’re all going to need to keep getting food and basic life necessities, so we need the grocery stores and other retail establishments to stay open for business. Be extra nice and extra courteous to anyone who is working and helping us all keep things moving.


You’ll see me mostly on Twitter, being as disappointed, but not surprised at the utter failure of this administration to handle this situation remotely well. We have a president who is unreliable and has coasted on a low-stakes presidency so far. All previous crisis were frankly of his own making, but now when the stakes are high and people will die, regardless of party affiliation, we have a man at the helm who peddles lies because his whole world view revolves around public relations and how he’s always “winning.” He’s a little man and we deserve better in times like this.

Pixel 4a Wallpaper in Stupid High Resolution

Pixel 4a Wallpaper in Stupid High Resolution

I saw that someone made versions of the leaked Pixel 4a wallpapers, and while I love the start, I thought I should take it to my normal ridiculous level and make the most fun one in a stupid high resolution.

So here is the main colorful one (let me know if you want more) in a truly ridiculous 2428x4950 resolution. That should be enough to keep this looking crisp on phones for years down the line. Download the full resolution version below. Enjoy!

Download here.

Buying a Coffee

I wouldn’t say BirchTree has a business model. I run ads on this site through Carbon, which is pretty nice, especially for the slippery world of online ads, but my podcast, newsletter, and YouTube channels are all completely ad-free: I do these because I enjoy them, not because they’re financially lucrative.

In terms of investment, these numerous projects take up money, and maybe more importantly, time. I’m not going broke running these projects, but I could be spending my time writing bullshit articles for Forbes and making a lot more money compared to the time investment.

My Ask

Which brings me to Ko-Fi, which is basically a tip jar. I’ve done the Patreon thing before, but I don’t think I give people enough value there, as to do that right, I would need to produce exclusive content and really cultivate a community over there. I don’t have time to do that, so supporting me there is basically making a monthly subscription to supporting my work, and I understand this could be too much to ask, especially in a world where people feel more and more impacted by “subscription fatigue.”

To that end, I’m trying out Ko-Fi, which lets you make small, one-time donations whenever you want. I think this lines up better for you and me, and I hope that you consider supporting my work. Thank you!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Ko-Fi asks you to upload photos and set a goal. I wasn’t sure what to do for either of those, so I uploaded a bunch of Sherman pics, as well as set a goal of $100 to pay for my Birch Bark newsletter costs for 2020.

Market Share, Profits, and Other Poor Arguments for Product Quality

Apple financial announcements are a real mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see how well the company is doing, but it also makes some people take odd positions when talking about Apple products.

I’m not going after anyone specifically, but let’s imagine someone debating whether or not a feature that should come to the iPhone. One person eventually says something like, “the iPhone works for 1 billion people, so I guess they don’t think it’s needed.” Or imagine something like, “Apple needs to grow services revenue, so you can’t be that made that they’re pushing them in ads throughout iOS.”

Comments like those are pretty representative of the commentary I sometimes see online. Hell, I even get into the game sometimes when I celebrate Apple Watch sales continuing to rise! But as an old-school Apple fan who got into the company in the mid-90s, this ability to reference Apple’s financial success or market dominance as evidence of their products’ quality is a relatively new phenomenon.

In the 90’s I didn’t have the luxury of falling back on the “lots of people buy Macs, so they must be good” argument that I see about iPhones, iPads, and AirPods today. And if someone told me that Windows must be better because it owned 98% of the PC market, I would have told you to GTFO with that weak argument. Whether it’s computer brands, movies, or music, just because something is the most successful does not mean it is the best version of that thing.

Even today, Microsoft’s software runs on about 94% of personal computers, but you certainly wouldn’t use that as evidence that Windows is good. Similarly, Android controls 86% of the smartphone market, but I bet even fewer of you would say that’s a reason to say it’s better than iOS. And finally, Amazon and Google’s combined 53% share or smart speaker sales has no impact on what you think about letting those speakers into your home.

Maybe you don’t think this applies to you, and many of you will be right, but I think that much like Microsoft fans in the 90s and 2000s, there are a healthy number of Apple fans these days who use the company’s success as the ultimate indicator of their products’ quality.

Oh, and remember this the next time you see someone complain about people talking at length about the new Pixel phones which “aren’t even that popular” or “get disproportionately more coverage than their market share warrants.” ✌️

How I Build My Weekly Newsletter on an iPad

How I Build My Weekly Newsletter on an iPad

The third issue of my email newsletter, Birch Bark, will be hitting peoples’ inboxes tomorrow, and I wanted to take a bit of time to show how I build the email every week.

Requirements

I need to have a block of HTML that I can paste into a MailChimp template, so I should be able to write HTML easily and with a level of automation so I don’t screw it up.

I also need the system to be cross-platform, as I do most of this from my iPad, but could us a Mac, Windows PC, or even my iPhone to add content.

I was doing this in Things, my normal task manager, but with Windows in the mix, I needed to use something else, so Todoist was the winner. This is all I use Todoist for, so I use the share extension on iOS, and the browser plugin on my desktops to save things when I think they could be good for the email.

Content Syncing: GitHub via Working Copy

I create each email as a new HTML file, with the idea that I can simply copy the entirely of that file into MailChimp when I’m ready to schedule the email. On my iPad I use Working Copy to edit my files and sync them up to GitHub. Syncing to GitHub means I have access to these from any device, and I can easily sync changes quickly.

Birch Bark is a private project on GitHub, so no peeking 😉

Also, Working Copy has a nice preview mode, so I can preview the email as I write it, making sure my formatting is accurate at all times.

HTML Formatting: Custom Website

No judgement on the UI, please, but I made this basic webpage for myself to enter the relevant info for each link in the newsletter and it spits out the code I need for the email. Instead of writing HTML, I just enter the article name/link/description/image file name, copy the HTML, and paste it into Working Copy.

Image Creation: Affinity Designer

To make the email more appealing, each link also has an image to go along with it. This image is a simple 256x256px PNG that I create in Affinity Designer for the iPad. When on my Mac or PC, I use Adobe XD.

In both cases, I have a cloud document saved with the correct sizing, so I can easily get the right dimensions every time.

Image Hosting: DigitalOcean Spaces

DigitalOcean hosts all of my websites, and I really love their service. They also have a feature called Spaces which lets you upload files and give them public links that you can use everywhere. I upload through their web UI or via Transmit for the iPad/Mac. This saves me from having to attach all the images to the email or host them on MailChimp. It’s close to free, but does cost me a few pennies per month to host these specific files.

Publishing

Once I have all the links collected, the HTML written, and the images created and hosted, I simply go into MailChip for the final steps.

I create a new campaign by simply duplicating the last email, update the subject line and campaign name to the new date, edit the template to include the new HTML, and schedule it to go out on Friday morning.

Then we start all over again, looking for new fun links!