Recently: February 2021

Previous: January 2021. Next: March 2021.

January’s post re-connected me with some folks, which made me think this “recently” idea wasn’t that bad after all. Here’s February’s.

3 blogs of programmers I follow

In a Twitter conversation with Óscar and Juan, Juan suggested we should share blogs of programmers we follow. It’s been a while since I do that. These are the 3 first programmers that came to mind:

  • Dan Luu. I ran into this blog 3 years ago when I read input lag, which I already shared here. I like the extremely well-researched topics he writes about, many times with original data he has compiled himself. The topics fall out of my field of expertise, so being exposed to them widens my views.
  • Tom MacWright. I discovered this blog when I was working in the GIS world, +5 years ago. The author worked on a couple of projects I followed: the JavaScript-based OSM editor, Mapbox’s Studio. I’ve been reading it since. The topics he writes about resonate with me, and the posts tend to offer a grounded perspective. One of the best I read was Dumb Redux which argues that concepts are the real win. It inspired me to write my own distilled guides.
  • Kent Beck. The first reference I found in this blog to KB is +10 years old, so I’ve probably been following him since before that. He’s generally able to give me tools for thinking about programming and software design, mental models if you will. These days, I default to follow what he shares on Twitter as it’s been difficult to track where he’s posting content (Facebook, Medium, Substack, Youtube, etc.). Besides the things he publishes about software design, following the “grown-ups” of the field gives me food for thought about my own career.

Read

Don’t use N computers when 1 would do.

Web development evolved from a single process in a computer to N computers specialized in different things: data, horizontal scaling the app, cache, load balancers, manage all those servers, etc. This article’s intro is a great zoom-out view of how we got here. As a follow-up, I recommend reading the story of an ex-googler that became an indie developer: leaving a company that can throw engineers to any problem means you have to re-think what’s at the core. Both together make the case that the hardware we have today no longer requires that high level of orchestration for most of the business problems people work on.

The articles above touch on one of my pet peeves: the conversations around technological decisions aren’t grounded on specific project’s needs ― they are unbounded, they ignore any trade-offs (link in Spanish). As a result, the voices heard are the big players’ voices, who have the muscle and incentives to advertise their problems and solutions. Combined with a couple of strong biases we have in the industry –halo effect and survivorship bias– makes the ground very fertile for uncritically accept unfit approaches.

Write CSS the UNIX way.

I read some CSS articles that I liked. Grab a tea if you’re interested in an “evolution of how we write CSS” sort of post. If the idea of writing CSS following the UNIX philosophy is appealing to you, some people are using CSS Custom Properties to create more semantic code. However, this has some issues, such as those variables that have uninitialized values will make the property invalid; hence it’ll be discarded by the engine: here’s the weird CSS hack of the moment to fix it.

Teaching is the most impactful aspect of tool building.

10 years of open-source visualization by the creator of D3 and co-founder of Observable. The first part of the article argues that documentation is the building block of creating a community around your tool ― worth a read, even if only for those sections.

Listened

Midas, the last song by As Tanxugueiras. It mixes trap with folk music, and while I’m not very deep into any, the result is 🔥🔥🔥

It put me in the mood of deejaying some other groups that mix the old and the new:

  • Baiuca, which I discovered recently and has a more electronic vibe to it.
  • Laura LaMontagne & PicoAmperio, a duet that creates songs from Galego-Português medieval poetry ― language that, together with Occitan, dominated the catholic European courts for more than two centuries.
  • Finally, my mind wandered to Rexurdimente, a song that connects two Rosalías through time: the two grammies song Malamente by Rosalía (2018) and the lyrics from a poem by Rosalía de Castro (1869) that was part of the book that started the Rexurdimento.

I thought these would make a delightful 15-minutes song list:

Watched

I’ve finished Lupin this month, which I enjoyed and I recommend as light entertainment. I also finished Spycraft, whose beginning was promising but quickly became too US-centric and less rigorous ― it raised my privacy alerts for a few months, though.

Finally, I got to watch The Post & The trial of the Chicago Seven. Both excellent and highly recommended to elevate your views on democracy. It makes me jealous that the Spanish industry can’t create stories like that. I don’t think is by lack of material.

Control, from Tales from the Loop. It falls within the same category of BlackMirror, although more far-fetched & subtle, and a unique aesthetic.

Perseverance & Ingenuity

I watched landing it live. It was fun, and one of the family names is among the 11 million names on Mars ― for which you needed to sign up in 2010! The scales of time and effort required for an endeavor like this are mind-blowing.

I read how this is the beginning of a mission to collect rocks from Mars and send them to Earth:

  1. Perseverance’s rover will collect rocks and leave them in tubes on the surface.
  2. A future rover will take those tubes from the surface and will transport them to a lander.
  3. A lander will eject the tubes into orbit.
  4. An orbiter will take them to Earth.

It takes 10 years and several missions across national agencies.

There was also Ingenuity, potentially the first rotorcraft to fly outside Earth. It is powered by f-prime, an open-source flight & embedded system framework. It can also run on a RaspberryPi or an Arduino. This is a brilliant move from the perspective of tapping into all the amateur people doing DIY robotics. How crazy is it that you can use the same software that’s embedded in a helicopter on Mars to power your own LEDs?

I was surprised by the level of openness, production, and effort to spread the word about this mission. I presume it has many aspects, mainly funding, although having more contenders looking for the same talent you’re after probably plays a role.

Cooked

Misc

February 2021 was focused on things that use brain energy -including finishing the Portuguese course I was taking- and less on everything else. Still, there was some nice weather on the last weekend of the month that pulled us outside. Views from Louro and Monte San Lois.

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