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Simplify the Web 

There has been a lot of discussion—often in the form a jokes and complaints—about how complicated it is to develop for the web these days. Package managers, Javascript transpilers, CSS preprocessors, and both JS and CSS frameworks are all problems that we have brought upon ourselves and not something imposed onto us by the web.

The array of complex options available to us reminds me a bit of when I first got into backend web programming in the early 2000s and the various API schemes that I was told I needed to learn out to use. The ones that come to mine are XML-RPC and the even more complicated (and supposedly better and more robust) SOAP. You could hardly think about talking to another server without the help of a library to navigate the nuances of the protocols. It was complicated mess of tag soup… but that was just the way things had to be, right?

Then REST came around, along with terms like Plain Ol’ XML. Simpler formats like YAML and JSON started being used. We started using the technology that we had in front of us—in this case HTTP verbs—appropriately and the way it was intended to be used. At first people said that it was too simple and that we’d never be able to create rich APIs with such a simple, limited toolkit. But we’ve been doing just that for ten years now and guess what…? Our APIs are simpler to interact with and simpler to maintain.

We need a similar thing to happen on the web. We need to look at the tools we have available to us, start using them properly, and take advantage of our toolkit is good at and stop trying to coerce into something that it is not. There are a lot of people talking about this (Jeremy Keith has been on this well before this was as big of a problem as it is) but we need more people doing. We need to show more people what the web is good at. I plan to part of that group, will you?

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Things I Use: Work Computer 

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I honestly don’t know why I find knowing what other people’s stack is like so interesting, but I do. Perhaps when I younger it gave me an idea of all of the new stuff that was out there to buy but for last six years contentment has been one of my main focuses and that has definitely influenced my technology and computer purchases. While I still have too many bits of technology in my office, the frequency in which I change things around has dropped a lot of the last few years. There are a few changes that I would like to make to my set up once I move into the camper but, without further adieu, here is what powers my work day to day:

13-inch Retina Macbook Pro

This is the obvious workhorse of my set up. When I first got the machine, the crisp screen was like a breath of fresh air for someone who stares at text all day while programming. I really felt like it reduced eye strain and that my eyes felt better at the end of the day.

When I first got the machine I was always on the move. I worked from coffee shops everyday or went back and forth from home and an office I had in downtown Springfield. These days I’m almost always working from my desk in my home office so I’m starting to think trading portability for power may not be worth it like it once was. I’m currently hooking the computer up to two 4K monitors (more on that in a bit) but they really cause my computer bog down. Not only that, I wasn’t aware until after purchasing the monitors that the model of Macbook Pro that I have cannot power 4K displays. Oops.

I’d love to upgrade to a desktop-class computer soon but that leads to a bigger, more convoluted discussion about where the Apple ecosystem is headed, the decline in the quality and stability of their OS, and the increasing tendency of Apple to limit what you can do with products that you buy form them. And then I’m paralyzed I find myself sticking with what I already have.

Two 27-Inch Dell Ultra HD 4K Monitors

The model number on these is P2715Q11. As I mentioned above, my Macbook Pro is underpowered and cannot drive 4K resolutions to these monitors. However, the added screen real estate was such a boost to my productivity that I still end up working off of the monitors rather than the Retina screen of my Macbook almost all of the time.

The connection between the laptop and my monitors is frustratingly finiky at times. I’m not sure what the problem is or if I should be blaming Apple or Dell but sometimes the displays will become unresponsive and the only way I can get them to display anything at all is to is to yank the power cord out from the back of the monitor and plug it in again.

CODE 104-Ket Mechanical Keyboard

Last year I started experiencing some serious fatigue in my wrists and I realized that it was largely due to what is known was “bottoming out” by keyboard enthusiasts. So I decided to transition from Apple’s fussy wireless keyboard to a mechanical keyboard. I wanted something overly-simple—you can go completely overboard when it comes to keyboards—and my research lead me to the CODE line of keyboards from WASD.

I’ve been typing on this thing since May of 2015 and the joints in my hands and wrists feel so much better. In fact I almost never have any pain after typing all day anymore. The Cherry MX Clear switches are not loud and the large keys are simply pleasant to type on. I see what all of the fuss is about when it comes to mechanical keyboards now. Also I, being a sucker for nostalgia, love that clunky keys remind me of all of the computers I learned to program on.

Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse

I now that I have black, dual-display monitors and a glowing, clicky keyboard. Why not round out the ensemble with a gamer mouse? My wrists and hands hurt so bad at the beginning of last year that I was desparate to try anything. Apple’s Magic Mouse looks nice on a desk (or in lifestyle photos on Instagram) but it was obvious to me that the way my hand was resting on the thing was killing my wrists. After a month with a very cheap “Amazon Basics” mouse that I picked up to use with a Raspberry Pi, my wrists felt loads better and I knew that I could no longer use the Magic Mouse. However, the Amazon mouse that I was using was a peice of junk and much of OS X’s interface expects that you’re using something that can easily scroll sideways. I couldn’t just use any old mouse.

After a bit of research I found out that a lot of gaming mice have a scroll wheel for your thumb and that they can be configured to work well on OS X. So I bought a mouse that looks like it was designed by someone who likes to wear pink shirts, flip up their collars, and drive around in cars that make the ground below them glow while watching Vin Diesel movies on a display mounted on their dash. But the thing is wonderful. Its comfortable to use and it is responsive and accurate. I had the same sort of epiphany about mice as I did about mechanical keyboards, saying to myself: “so this is why gamers fuss so much about their mice”. Its really a pleasure to use.

For so long, I’ve just defaulted to whatever Apple offered and not even questioned what else was out there. Branching out from the Apple bubble has made me realize how much I was valuing form over function and that that was actually starting to impact me in physical ways. I feel like my mind has been opened up to question all of the ways in which I defaulted to Apple products just because that is what I do and because, in the past, things worked the way they were supposed to.

If you ever visited my now page then you might have seen a small point on there that reads somethings like “wean myself off of the Apple ecosystem”. I don’t like that I was choosing things out of habit that were impacting me negetively and I’m starting evaluate how I may be doing similar things in choosing some of their other hardware and software. More on this later.

Outside of technology, what other habitual choices am I making that are slowly wearing on me without me noticing it? More on this later too.

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Removing Analytics, At Least for Now 

In a rash decision I decided to remove analytics from my website. The biggest reason that I’m doing so is that I simply do not care who visits my website. And if I don’t care, why am I force you download some tracking code everytime you visit my site? Why am I collecting and retaining data that I really have no intention of using? Seems like the respectful thing to do is to switch it off. I can’t promise that I won’t ever turn it on again but, for now, I’m enjoying the lack of any numbers being displayed from uBlock on my website.

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100 Words 020 

I took this weekend off from writing here, just before I got to my twentith entry. I’ve surprised myself with how well I’ve been able to keep a schedule of writing to my website. What better way to celebrate one’s stamina then by taking break?

I’ve been thinking a lot on Pinboard lately, how much I rely on it, and how it was built mostly by one man. Its such a valuable tool for me while I collect information from the abyss that is the internet and its a service that I seem to trust more than others. Why is that? Is because I know there is a real person I can blame if I don’t like something about the server? Or is because Maciej is so open about his ideaology and even about the technology behind the service? What ever it is, I want to use more services like Pinboard. These are the sort of things that I want to support.

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100 Words 007 

I have an iPod Touch that I mostly just use for listening to audiobooks. I got it for development and testing but I’ve found it nice to have a small little device that can do that and that will also allow me hear iMessages when I have my headphones in. This way I don’t miss my a message from my wife for something like getting diner started because she is one her way home.

I drove up to Kansas City today for a meeting and I was excited to keep listening to an audiobook that I had been enjoying. While I was pumping gas on the way out of town I decided to get the book queued up. Execpt the file was no longer on my iPhone and I kept getting a “connect to network” dialog. I know I’ve been bitching about my tech not working a lot lately but its things like this take make feel like I’m losing the ability to control what these little electronic devices are doing. And I don’t like that.

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100 Words 003 

I’ve been thinking a lot about my computing environment lately and how I’m constantly fighting against the tools that I use, in one way or another. I dislike the decisions I have to make, like if I want to use powerful, flexible photo editing tools or if I want to pay $10 a year to get my photos to sync to my iPad automatically. Do I want to give all of my information to a bunch of servers so they can market things that I do not need to or should I waste my time running my own services?

I used to enjoy tinkering with my computer but my time is more limitted now and I tend to get frustated by things not working the way I want. It must be a sign that I’m getting older that lately I’ve viewed recent technology annoucments with a bit of dread and a bunch of “do I need this?”. Sure there is plenty of interesting things going on but why is it still so hard to get my photos onto my iPad?

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An OS and Cloud In-Sync 

What if there was an operating system that had your own, personal cloud that it kept in-sync with? For example, I install an email client and the OS would then talk to my personal server (or cluster of servers) to install and configure a mail server and then configure the client to talk to it. If I installed a todo list app, it would install the service to keep my todo lists syncronized across all of my computers/phones. A photo management app with a cloud photo syncing service (ala iCloud Photos, I suppose). Am I painting a clear picture? What if all of these came with a web interface to interact with your data when you’re not at one of your computers?

What if we start thinking of clients and services as a cohesive unit—like we do with web apps? Would it help to simplify people owning their data in cloud? Right now there are too many moving parts and too many different protocols to keep track of. And while there is beauty in that for a guy like me, for someone like my wife the idea of configuring with a server is not even and option even with all of the wonderful tools we have out there right now. Besides, it doesn’t mean that the protocols go away, just that they are transparent and setup can happen automatically.

I think there are some interesting things that can happen when a client computer can expect to have a trusted server. Especially when that that the server can trust the client too. I’m not sure how this would work technically but I think that it is doable. Would my app installer (package manager, for you Linux guys out there) talking to my server be so different that me using my SSH key to log onto my server and installing things manually?

I’ll put it on my wishlist of things to think about.