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    Reading List May 22, 2020

    [May 22, 2020]

    Things I read over the last week. At first glance this week might appear to have a theme of “everything is broken!” but I prefer to read it as “look at all these things we can do better!”.

    Second-guessing the modern web

    But the cultural tides are strong. Building a company on Django in 2020 seems like the equivalent of driving a PT Cruiser and blasting Faith Hill’s “Breathe” on a CD while your friends are listening to The Weeknd in their Teslas. Swimming against this current isn’t easy, and not in a trendy contrarian way.

    Low-Challenge, High-Skill Tasks in Terrible Times

    For the last month I’ve found myself subconsciously jumping on “easier” tickets where I feel a high level of expertise (CSS tasks, layouts, prototypes) and I’ve struggled to get through tickets that have a high learning curve or cognitive load. Those deep work tasks are hard to sustain when reality, in the form of kids or breaking news, comes crashing through my door. That’s where the broader concept of Flow is helping me. If I understand the psychology correctly, lowering the challenge level raises my relative level of skill and that gives me a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable world. I’m able to move fast and not break things.

    A Static Future

    A thorough (and well illustrated) explanation of how static site builders like Gatsby work.

    Students are failing AP tests because the College Board can’t handle iPhone photos

    One of my favorite books is To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski, particularly the stories of uncaught or seemingly minor issues that went unconsidered that resulted in catastrophic failures. I don’t think there’s a software engineering equivalent (if there is, let me know!), so I have to find them in news articles like this.

    Chris Coyier had a somewhat related tweet this week. You’d think operating systems and software would fundamentally get image formats and text formatting correct, but it’s been an ever-repeating problem since computers had screens.

    Your Day Care Probably Won’t Survive the Coronavirus

    While nearly every other developed nation supports child care as a public good, the United States treats child care providers as private enterprises — more like gyms than K-12 schools. ... The child care sector, like your favorite fitness enterprise, is propped up mostly by private dollars paid into the system.

    There’s a whole Greatest Hits album worth of things that parents in the US get screwed on compared to other countries, but the #1 best seller is the fact that child care between the ages of 0 and close to 6, basically one third of the time the child is under your care, is on the individual structurally and financially. I have a lot of other thoughts on this but they mostly involve 🤬 so I’ll stop here for today.


    Reading List May 15, 2020

    [May 15, 2020]
    1. Modern CSS Solutions

    CSS continues to improve, and browser support for modern solutions continues to grow, so all the ways you used to do things might have better versions today.

    1. JavaScript’s ecosystem is uniquely paranoid

    Three factors have caused a widespread cultural paranoia among JavaScript developers. This has been inculcated over years. These factors are: JavaScript's weak dynamic type system; the diversity of runtimes JavaScript targets; and the fact of deploying software on the web.

    1. Why does writing matter in remote work?

    “But what if the problem is juicy and we can’t solve it through an asynchronous discussion?”

    My response to this is to still default to an asynchronous discussion because asynchronous discussion makes it clear when it needs a meeting. Many people aren’t agreeing. The Slack thread is 148 messages deep and no one made a decision. These signals mean that the discussion needs to be a meeting.

    1. Notion-Powered Websites

      I find what people are trying to do here with Notion super interesting. Notion can create a URL for any page you make, but it’s styled like Notion styles it, and it gets metatags as Notion decides it should. So people are using undocumented Notion APIs to build their own sites using Notion data, or cloud functions to take public Notion pages and build a site from that.

      Notion has promised to release an official API “soon” but I think what’s driving people to jump the gun is that it’s UI is astronomically easier to use than almost any headless CMS out there I can think of, both in terms of constructing the information architecture and editing content. Technically there are a lot of differences, e.g. if you used Notion as a real time content source I think you’d be very sad, but I can at least hope that the UI and ease of adding content structures is something other CMS solutions adopt.


    Stop Motion

    [May 9, 2020]

    My first Macbook was also my first laptop with a camera in it, so I asked a somewhat dumb question when I was buying it, which was, "can the camera take pictures?". I think what I was asking was essentially what the app Photo Booth is, but the sales person at the Apple store, for some reason, thought I wanted a camera to make stop motion videos. They said they weren't sure if it could, but that would be cool. I agreed. I never tried but I can imagine it would have been not cool, since the camera on those plasticBooks were about .1 megapixels and shoved in the top of the lid making for some awkward angles.

    Jump forward 14ish years and the little pocket computer I take everywhere has both a camera good enough to use for stop motion videos and the processing power to edit them. We've been rebuilding my childhood Lego collection lately, so I used some minifigs as actors. The wizard's... hat... was from an earlier video.

    I later tried to get the child to help me make a stop-motion video her mother might appreciate on a certain day that's upcoming, but she didn't seem to impressed by moving picture technology. I stitched these together using Stop Motion Studio which is straight up amazing at the cost of free.



    [May 7, 2020]

    Plenty of maps mess up New England states because they're small and the states are small, but to have so much room and end up here... I dunno. This does at least depict (sort of) my long standing opinion that the nub should be part of New York and Long Island should be part of Connecticut.


    Shelf Love Podcast

    [May 3, 2020]

    Late last year my wife started a new podcast called Shelf Love.

    I built her a website. It was not good. It worked, but brought us both great shame.

    To be fair, at the time there wasn’t a lot of content, and most of what she needed/wanted from it was theoretical. But, time has passed, and now there’s 38 episodes with many more to come, a blog, and a newsletter.

    Beyond a visual refresh, the back-end of the site was changed from pulling episode content from Storyblok to pulling it directly from Simplecast which means content isn’t living in two places. Storyblok is still in play for page content and blog posts. It’s also still a GatsbyJS site distributed through Netlify.

    Anywho, go check it out.


    Testing, testing

    [Apr 30, 2020]


    Some site updates:

    1. Moved everything out of Contentful and Pocket to being pulled from local Markdown files. I've started moving everything I read/write to local file systems, whenver possible, so it made sense to move this too.
    2. Some new colors, and some font tweaks. It was too white and I much prefer Lato over Barlow and felt the site could use some serifs in the titles.

    I probably broke some stuff too, so if you see something, say something.


    Bookmark memory lane

    [Jan 20, 2020]

    There’s a bookmark folder in Safari across all of my devices titled “HTML/CSS”. I don’t use bookmarks that much, but I did when I was first getting interested in web development. I’ve gone back to Safari on all of my devices lately, mostly to use handoff and have consistent sharing options, and I thought it was time to take a look at those bookmarks and see what was worth keeping.

    Notice: The WebPlatform project, supported by various stewards between 2012 and 2015, has been discontinued. This site is now available on github . New documentation can be found at MDN Web Docs .

    Grid is a great learning tool but no longer supported.

    Oct 19, 2019 Pencil 3.1.0 is released


    No pizza for me

    [Dec 22, 2019]

    I set a goal to read 40 books in 2019. I didn’t hit it.

    I did come a lot closer than I thought I would though, ending up at 30 books, with two in progress as I write this, one of which I might finish by the end of the year. Some notes on what helped me read way more this year than the year before:

    1. I set a goal.
    2. I kept track of everything in Notion. I created a kanban board, and whenever I find something that looks interesting, it goes in the “want to read” column. This makes finding something to read at the library, or when I’m just looking to pick up something new much easier.
    3. I generally read a non-fiction and fiction book at the same time. Not concurrently, but I might be reading the fiction book on the weekends and non-fiction on the train.
    4. The bulk of my reading came from weekends when I woke up, made coffee, picked up a book and started reading with no distractions in between. Having physical books (when possible) and forgetting internet connected devices existed made that even easier.

    Started and didn’t finish

    1. You Are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero This book is terrible.
    2. Michael Chabon’s the Escapist: Pulse-Pounding Thrills by Michael Chabon. I liked the idea of this, the “found” tales of a fake historical comic book superhero, but couldn’t get in to any of the actual stories.
    3. Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World by Joseph Menn. Back cover made it seem interesting….
    4. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. This was one in a huge stack of books that went to the beach house this Summer. Read a bunch of the others, just never got around to finishing this.

    Started and will probably finish someday

    1. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I feel like 100% of the point of this book is in the title, but maybe I’ll revisit some day and be proven wrong.
    2. Rubik by Elizabeth Tan. I only got a few pages in (library due dates!) but I have it still in the “try again” column in the kanban board I track my reading on.
    3. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath. Just found some other non-fiction books that were more interesting and kept throwing this one in the backlog.

    Alright, let’s move on to the books I actually read.

    Read but wouldn’t recommend

    This is, fortunately, a relatively short list.

    1. Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living by Elizabeth Willard Thames. I think the critical responses to this book (read any comment on Goodreads) are a bit overblown, but it’s fundamentally pitched as being about living a frugal lifestyle when it’s really about making choices that matter to you with your money. Framed differently, I still wouldn’t recommend it, but I’d feel less like I wasted my time reading it.

    Graphic Novels

    I’m not sure these need to be separated out, but these ones all have pictures with the words.

    1. Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan. I ❤️ everything Brian K. Vaughan does.
    2. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui.
    3. oh no by Alex Norris. This book is 1 joke for 100 pages but I loved it all 100 times.

    Read but I suggest you just read the Wikipedia entry instead

    All of these are perfectly good books, but they’re a lot of words around a main point that’s maybe a five paragraph essay.

    1. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. Checklists = good.
    2. The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. Choice = hard.
    3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher. Most of this is obvious but definitely read the Wikipedia on BANTA.

    Read, career related

    There’s a few books in this category that I started but have not finished nor given up on (Code Complete by Steve McConnell being the big one), a lot of work related books I read in very short sessions when I’m looking for something specifically relevant to what I’m doing.

    1. Inclusive Front-End Design Patterns by Heydon Pickering.

    Read and enjoyed, non-fiction

    1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
    2. Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. I definitely didn’t need to read both, but my wife had them both on hold at the library at different times so why not. If you were going to read one, I’d go with Deep Work.
    3. It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by D. Michael Abrashoff. I’m usually not crazy about military related stories, but Abrashoff writes well and even if you’re not interested in the managerial aspects there’s some interesting anecdotes about how people learn and succeed in the jobs they’re given.
    4. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris.
    5. It’s Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness by Sylvia Boorstein. Two books primarily about meditation. 10% Happier was close to the “just read the Wikipedia” article section but it feels weird to put books about meditation in the “instant gratification” bucket.
    6. How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe. Long format XKCD.
    7. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan. I found this book utterly fascinating. As someone who has a higher than normal amount of health related anxiety, the idea that your whole body and mind can fall apart and you can come back from it is… literally mind-blowing.
    8. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston. This book is interesting because it’s really three stories with a central thread, and they’re all quite interesting. If you’re primarily interested in the titular city, you will probably leave disappointed, if you just go with it there's a lot to learn about artifact smuggling, the end of civilizations, and global warming and the spread of infectious diseases.
    9. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
    10. Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon. Austin Kleon does something right, and the short, fun format means these might reappear in the 2020 list.

    Read and enjoyed, fiction

    1. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Good book, but I think if the moon was crashing into the Earth you could survive inside the library bound edition of it.
    2. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Another “let me get my lectern” monster. I read it digitally. While both of these have lots of words, Sanderson is the better world builder. I don’t know if this series will ever actually be finished, but I’m currently reading Words of Radiance so I’m excited to see how far it goes.
    3. The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. Maybe not a surprising read on a site called A super interesting look at the roots of coffee and starting a business in a war torn country.
    4. The Parade by Dave Eggers. I read this book in one sitting, it had a nervous tension that made me want to keep going to find out what was going to happen next.
    5. The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett. Not my favorite of the Discworld series, but I’m working my way through them. I may have made a mistake by reading them in “best” order.
    6. Vicious (Villains, #1) by V.E. Schwab. Fun, quick read, can see myself going back to read the next book in the series in 2020.
    7. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I read this right after finishing God of War and I was mostly impressed at how much the game stayed true to the source material.

    Read and Loved

    1. Neuromancer
    2. Count Zero
    3. Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson. Read them all back to back. I got hooked on Gibson’s writing style a quarter way through Neuromancer and couldn’t stop.
    4. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride. A slave boy, inadvertently freed by John Brown, travels with him dressed as a girl and bestowed the name Onion. Things only get stranger from there, but this book is an amazing take on “the truth is stranger than fiction”, it’s the real events that surround Brown’s life that seem insane, while Onion just tries to make it by, swept up in Brown’s storm.
    5. Circe by Madeline Miller. The idea of taking someone most people know as a minor character in the Odyssey and turning them into the main character is brilliant, and the writing in this book is beautiful, turning the Greek “tragedy of a god as metaphor” into something entirely human.

    Floppy Memories

    [Dec 3, 2019]

    This week is my last week as a software developer at Education First. I’m off to something new, but before going I wanted to take a look back at my first EF trip. I went on two trips while working at EF (Spain first, then Ireland and the United Kingdom), but my very first one was as a customer, back in high school, when my Latin class went to Italy on a tour now called Bell’Italia.

    When I went looking for some sort of evidence of that trip to Italy, I realized all of the pictures I took had never made it to any form of modern computing storage — they were still saved on some floppy disks back at my parent’s house. The timing was fortunate though, my parents were coming up for Thanksgiving anyway, all I needed to do was order a USB disk reader off of Amazon.

    Technical aside: The floppy disks are from Mystic Color Lab, where we got all of our film processed, circa 1999 (take that, Y2K!). The pictures were processed then scanned, and saved at a mind-blowing 600×400 resolution. If I remember correctly that was close to what you got from a low end digital camera at the time, and it probably gave them some overhead to always fit 1 roll of film on 1 floppy disk. I think our computer at the time had a 800x600 display so I’m sure they looked great on it. Impressively, all of the 20 year old disks could be read without issue, but sadly no one seems to know where the printed copies of these photos are, so 600×400 might be the best I’m ever going to have of these. Also worth mentioning, two years later I had a digital camera that took pictures at 1280×960 and Mystic Color Lab was out of business.

    Of course I’m not in any of these pictures, so there’s no proof that I really went except for me having these random pictures of Italy, but I assure you I did. It was maybe the most memorable experience from high school, even before finding these photos I knew what was on all of them, and it was one of the primary motivations for wanting to work at EF. I’m sad to go, but I’m excited about what’s next, and I’m betting that they’ll pop back up in my life when my daughter is old enough to travel.

    kids playing soccer in an alley in Venice, which is peak Italy as I remember it

    Michelangelo’s workshop in Florence

    light from the center hole in the Pantheon

    Spanish Steps in Rome

    Florence from the Duomo

    Venice from St. Mark’s campanile

    the picture every Latin student has to take, from Pompeii

    St. Mark’s square

    the countryside around, if I remember correctly, Assisi


    Spirited Away - Studio Ghibli Fest 2019

    [Oct 27, 2019]

    I took my daughter to see Spirited Away at the local theatre today, part of the Studio Ghibli Fest 2019 , reshowing the films on big(ish) screens. Some thoughts:

    • The dad in the movie is peak dad. When they’re driving down the dirt road at the beginning of the film and Chihiro says they’re lost, he responds with “Don’t worry, I’ve got four-wheel drive.” and proceeded to floor it. Again near the beginning, when the parents are eating all of the food, and Chihiro warns them that they’ll have to pay, he replies with, “Don’t worry, you’ve got Dad here. I’ve got credit cards and cash. “ The dad is emblematic of the themes that carry through the movie, that technology doesn’t solve problems and money isn’t the answer to everything, but they nailed that in all of three lines from him.

    • That said, the dad’s Audi is pretty nice. Those late 90s A4s were a classic style. x70bbhvlnrhiivsi5v0t

    • My daughter was terrified of the parents turning into pigs. It is scary in a “this is just too weird” kind of way, and the close up of the pig parents is intentionally horrifying, but I didn’t expect her to react so strongly to it. What I realized as the movie went on is that Chihiro doesn’t get a break for a long time. Until she washes the river spirt (which is, in itself, creepy) she’s dealing with weird monsters, terrifying heights, and the emotional drama of having watched her parents turn into pigs and being forced into indentured servitude. Compare that to something like the The Lion King, where Simba watches his dad die and 20 minutes later he’s singing “hakuna matata”.

    My daughter, I think because Halloween is coming up, started listing the things she isn’t afraid of the other day, which went something like “not ghosts, not goblins, not alligators but I am afraid of crocodiles a little bit” and I guess she can add her parents turning into pigs on there with the Nile crocodiles now.

    iu copy

    • On a similar point, my daughter was really nervous that No Face was going to eat Chihiro. She certainly never thought the abominable snowmonster in Frozen was going to eat Anna, and the difference highlights the tension that runs through the film - you’re never really sure what Chihiro’s fate is going to be.

    The only other movie we got to see this year for the Ghibli Fest was My Neighbor Totoro. It was definitely the better pick to see with a 4 year old, but even in that one there’s an extended scene where everyone thinks Mei has drowned, and while Totoro is fuzzy he’s far from warm and fuzzy. We missed Kiki’s Delivery Service but I’d like to watch it with her at some point, I recall it being the most Americanized of them, but who knows what parts I’ve forgotten that she’ll find strange.