Weeknote W2 2021

Re-launching my live stream

This week, I started live coding on Twitch again. I had planned to get going on Tuesday but didn’t have the energy; more on this later. On Thursday, I was ready to launch. It took only a few minutes of being online until many familiar names started popping up in chat. It felt so good. This year, I’m trying a different strategy. I’m going to focus on an area in which I have lots of experience: IT training, starting with a Ruby course. In simple terms, it’ll work like a book club where the participants work through a chapter of the training material, and we’ll talk it through on a weekly basis. I’m excited to see how it goes!

VS Code dev containers

Until now, I didn’t need a dedicated website for my live coding stream. I simply referred people to my personal blog. But with the Ruby course coming up, I need to have a permanent space where people find information. As always, I’m going to use Jekyll to build the site for FullStackLive.

I’ve been using Docker to run test instances of my Ruby projects for a long time because it makes separating their resources (the app, its database, other services…) so much easier. However, I always used scripts to interact with the containers. This time, I wanted to try a closer integration with my coding tools and set up a VS Code dev container. Thanks to Microsoft providing a big library of pre-built language images, setting up a dev container for Ruby development was painless. However, I had to invest a bit more time to get my dotfiles installed automatically after I realised that I didn’t have any of my familiar commands and shell aliases available inside the dev container. I’m happy with the result and am looking forward to build a more complex setup for Rails development.

Over-hyper-scheduling

In weeknote W1, I explained how I’m using the Sorted app for time-boxing my daily work. It’s helping me a lot to keep my focus on what I want to get done. Its auto-scheduling feature also is a great reality check that prevents me from expecting too much from the time I have available in between calendar events.

Where I took a wrong turn was when I added time tracking to mix. I had discovered the Session app that comes with my Setapp subscription and thought that it would increase my focus even more, and on the other hand make sure that I took frequent breaks as well. What happened instead was that I started to feel burnt out. That’s why I didn’t start streaming on Tuesday. I think that there were multiple reasons for this energy drain:

  • The Pomodoro periods in Session didn’t align well with my task slots in Sorted that are usually multiples of 30 minutes.
  • Getting interrupted every 25 minutes kept me from getting into a flow state.
  • I often ended up ignoring the timer completely, leaving me with frustratingly few tasks actually tracked.

This is not the first time that a new tool created more frustration instead of more productivity. Sorted stays, Session goes. I’m a slow learner sometimes.

Time to leave WhatsApp

If you're using WhatsApp, you've probably received a notification that the messaging service is updating its terms of service, notably their privacy policy, effective February 8th and with no option to opt out. It has prompted me, like thousands of other WhatsApp users, to switch to a more privacy-oriented service.

Since WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014, it was to be expected that eventually, the internet behemoth known for its gluttony of personal information would extend its tendrils to WhatsApp user data. This point is now. I don't want Facebook to know more about me, my preferences and behaviours than I do myself. I will not support its practices of influencing its user base and deciding who gets to see what information. That's why I deleted my Facebook account months ago. And now I'm joining thousands of WhatsApp users in moving my messaging over to Signal.

Signal has a flawless reputation for data privacy and transparency. There are other alternatives, for example Apple Messages. Mike Butcher's thread on Twitter is a good read. He also posted a comparison of the amount of data these services track of their users; the difference is stark.

If you're concerned about which information about you corporate giants track and use to their advantage (and I think you should be concerned), then use this opportunity to make a difference and help make the internet a safer space for human communication! Here's how. Say hello to me over on Signal. 😉

Update 2021-01-11: I removed the mention of Telegram as a secure alternative because its app leaks unencrypted chat data to Telegram servers.

Weeknote W1 2021

It's the new year, and look, already COVID-19 is not dominating the headlines anymore! 😆😭

This week, I've started to use my home office for work again, not only for fighting bosses in Castle Nathria.

Getting myself Sorted

Back in October, I mentioned that I was using TickTick for time-boxing my work. Since I didn't like the apps's UI, I returned to using Things for tracking my tasks, and manually blocked time slots for each of them in my calendar. In his recent newsletter, David Sparks mentioned the app Sorted, and for me it hits the sweet spot in terms of design and functionality. What I enjoy the most is its auto-scheduling feature which allows me to quickly recover from unplanned work or getting distracted. It assigns new time slots to my remaining tasks and shows me the fallout of what needs to be pushed to another day.

My modifiers went home

Inspired by t00mietum's keyboard layout, I gave "home row mods" another try. The home row is the row of keys where the fingers rest on ASDF and JKL;. "Home row mods" is a keyboard layout hack that puts the modifier keys (e.g. Shift, Control) on the home row. This is made possible by using the "mod tap" feature available in firmware like QMK where quickly tapping a key will trigger its usual function, but holding it will turn it into a modifier. For example, holding "D" now functions as my Shift key, and for symmetry, holding "K" does the same. First, this improves ergonomics: Having to stretch out my fingers less, especially the pinkies, feels substantially more comfortable. I'm actually using my new right Shift key for a change! Second, it frees up all thumb keys of my Lily58 for layer switching. I even put numbers and symbols on their own layers. Having a virtual numpad on the right hand side makes entering numbers easier than reaching up with both hands. My next split keyboard will not even have a number row anymore.

Coming up

Due to the exploding infection numbers in Ireland, the kids will not return to school on Monday, so that's going to be interesting. I'm going to pick up live streaming again -- with a new strategy.

Why I chose Obsidian over Notion for my PKM

After posting my recent weeknote mentioning that I use Obsidian for my personal knowledge management, my former teammate Andy asked why I didn’t use Notion like we do for our company wiki. I had to think for a minute and decided that I’d answer his question in another post.

Let me start by saying that these decisions are usually not clear-cut and a matter of preference. I could have used Notion for my PKM with ease and success. The reason I didn’t comes down to the different weights I subjectively give each product’s pros and cons.

Notion’s greatest strength is that it not only has a nested page structure like many other wiki-like systems. The feature it calls “databases” lets you build collections of pages with added custom metadata. You can use this metadata to filter and sort the collection, and you can save multiple filter and sorting combinations as “views”. Metadata can be aggregated to calculate counts, sums and averages. It even allows referencing other databases in a “foreign key” manner, which opens the way to complex multi-database data sets, with the single page still as its atomic building block.

Obsidian is much simpler. It’s a note editor for Markdown files. Its central feature is that it extends the Markdown standard to support the simple linking of files by surrounding the file title in double brackets. In file A, you can reference [[file B]], and when you view file B, Obsidian will display in a side pane that there’s an incoming link from file A. In other words, Obsidian automates bi-directional linking of Markdown documents. These “backlinks” are one of the core attributes of modern knowledge management. Notion recently added a feature that works similarly. (By the way, I don’t understand why it took us so long since the invention of Hypertext to realise the value backlinks have for PKM.)

You don’t need to know more about Obsidian to use it effectively. And that’s one of the reasons I prefer it for my managing my personal notes. I was able to import my existing Markdown notes with ease and didn’t have any learning curve to master.

Another important plus of Obsidian is that it’s an application running on my desktop machine. It’s fast. I don’t have to open a browser, click a bookmark and wait for the website to open, as is the case with Notion. I switch to Obsidian and start working.

The Notion team had an easier time to provide mobile apps for their web application. While it took them a while to make them work decently, the Obsidian team doesn’t even have any mobile application on offer yet. (It’s one of the major goals on their roadmap, though.) That doesn’t mean that I can’t access my notes from my iPhone or iPad. All I need is a cloud sync service (I’m using iCloud Drive) and a Markdown editor application. At the moment 1Writer seems to be the preferred iOS app because of its support for double-bracket links.

Since Obsidian data is just a bunch of Markdown files, I can use alternative tools even on my desktop machine. I could use another Markdown editor; I don’t because Obsidian is fine. I can use git to have versioned backups of my files. I can even use Ruby scripts to do maintenance or analysis tasks.

While Notion can also be used for taking, managing and interlinking notes, this is Obsidian’s core purpose. That’s why Obsidian offers features that probably didn’t have priority for the Notion developers. For example, on top of the backlinks feature, Obsidian offers a graph view that visualises the relationships between notes and allows for easy navigation across links.

What seals the deal for me is that Obsidian has a great user community where many people share their PKM practices and Obsidian experience. They also share CSS themes and plugins that extend Obsidian’s core functionality and personalise its look-and-feel.

TL;DR: I use Obsidian because it’s like an IDE for notes, a tool that allows me to do my daily knowledge management efficiently, without technology getting in the way.

Weeknote 50/2020

Taking notes

Writing my weeknotes will be easier from now on.

It makes me terribly sad that I didn’t learn to take proper notes decades ago. If there’s one thing the current note-taking craze has finally taught me, it’s this: If you want to get value from your notes collection, you need to be able to easily retrieve and process information when you need it. My previous attempts, however, were nothing but Write-Only Memory.

Things are looking much better since I’ve started using Obsidian. I’m even publishing my knowledge notes in the hope that they can be of value for others, too.

I’ve adopted the method of creating “daily notes” that serve as a daily anchor and link to the other notes that were created or relevant on that day. Each daily note has sections for accomplishments, highlights, disappointments and learnings. Now, all it takes to write my weeknote is summarise my daily notes of the past week.

DrupalCon Europe

Last week, DrupalCon Europe took place, not in Barcelona but on the OnAir online platform. I had blocked my calendar from Tuesday to Thursday to watch talks, and some of them inspired me to dive deeper on their topics. I wasn’t in a mood to do smalltalk in the “virtual hallway track” but I intend to do so next time I’m attending an online conference. I’m undecided if not having to travel was a plus or a minus.

Shell games

Discovering the spaceship zsh prompt plugin (and subsequently the zplug plugin manager) allowed me to simplify my dotfiles and shell setup.

Weeknote 42/2020

Going Marie Kondo on my desk – My desk sparks joy in me. That’s because I was able to give my IKEA BEKANT a new lease on life. More than a year ago, it lost its standing desk function because suddenly the motor wouldn’t lift the top more than a centimetre before giving up. I found out that this was a common issue caused by a faulty power supply. After filing a warranty case, it took many months and repeated phone calls to get a replacement unit delivered, but a few days ago, it finally arrived. When I installed it, seeing the messy underside of my desk sent me on a cable management quest. Using cable ties, velcro and double-sided pads, I was able to tidy up the rat’s nest of power and USB cables nicely. Fixing a power bar with USB charging ports to the underside of the desk substantially reduced the number of cables going down to the floor. Not only is the desk now a joy to look at, raising it also doesn’t pull a whole power bar off the ground anymore.

Checking off tasks with TickTick – Its growing popularity brought the Ticktick app to my attention. It aims at combining the two most important productivity tools, the to-do list and the calendar. Other than HourStack and TimeHero, two similar web applications I tried in the past, TickTick is a native app for Mac and iOS. I’m still a fan of time-boxing my work, and my home-grown solution that I built in Notion falls short in calendar integration. I’ve decided to give TickTick a try for my daily focus work. For my long-term strategic direction, I’ll keep tracking goals and outcomes in Notion.

I have a new type – Just like Steven Waterman, I fell Down the ergonomic keyboard rabbit hole. His description of how he gradually switched to a more ergonomic multi-layer keyboard layout is written and illustrated hilariously. But there’s also a serious health aspect behind the gadget mania. I’ve come to very similar conclusions recently that led me to split ortholinear keyboards. I’ve also adopted the Colemak keymap. I’m going to sell most of my keyboards that have the traditional row-staggered key layout because regardless of their build quality, they just can’t compete when it comes to long-term health benefits.

Weeknote 31/2020

My second week off work is coming to an end. I’m not sad; actually yesterday I started missing work. Thanks to my business partner manning the fort, I got to really switch off and recharge my batteries. Last week, my family and I spent a few days at a Slieve Aughty, an eco-friendly equestrian and activity leisure centre near Galway. Mere minutes before leaving, my daughter broke her arm; not by falling off a horse but by jumping off a swing. She wears her cast like a badge of honour, so it’s all good.

After coming back home, I decided to get back into live coding on Twitch. Feels good. Before, Imposter Syndrome had made me question if I really should sit in front of a camera when other streamers who are completely new to software development easily reach multiples of my viewer numbers. I’m incredibly grateful that my viewers were quick to reassure me that I’m providing them with real value. So instead of stupidly comparing myself with others, I’m looking forward to my upcoming streams.

My next few streams might suffer a little in terms of speed because a change of keyboard layout is going to keep messing with my brain. When I realised that my new split ortholinear Lily58 keyboard feels so much nicer than all the traditionally configured boards I had used before even though it’s nothing fancy in terms of materials, it brought up the question if switching from the QWERTY layout to something more modern would improve my typing experience even more. For about two weeks, I’ve been trying out the Colemak layout now (in particular, its mod-DHm variant), and I’m convinced it’s much more ergonomic. And I hope that over time, I’ll also regain a somewhat decent typing speed.

Now school has started again for our kids. My daughter has an enviably soft start into secondary school with only two hours of class so far just to see the new environment. The precautions against infection the school is taking are quite okay, so we’re happy to send her there. Not quite so with our second-grader. At his age, masks aren’t mandatory and there’s also only a 1m distance rule in place. At the moment, we’re not comfortable with this level of risk management and have decided to teach him at home, similar to before the holidays. Fortunately, the school is going to support our approach at least for a few weeks with materials and regular check-ins.

Adaptation is undoubtedly the skill of the year.

How not to drown in too many Discord servers

Discord has become a popular community platform far beyond gamers. Recently, the number of Discord servers I’ve joined has grown quite a bit. I have whole folders full of Discord servers grouped by Live Coders, Mechanical Keyboards, World of Warcraft, and application software support.

The downside of how easy it is to create or join a Discord server is keeping up with the amount of chatter that’s happening. That applies especially if you are a member of multiple servers that have overlapping interests and/or “general social” channels. I simply don’t want to wade through every “pet pictures” channel, sorry.

Unfortunately, the Discord UI is a bit convoluted, and I ended up using the “mute server” feature for almost everything. That stopped the flood of messages, but it also cut me off from updates that were relevant for me. This week, I finally found a good solution how to handle muting notifications, channels or whole servers, and it made all the difference! Here’s how I cut down the time it takes me to catch up to a few minutes every so often.

Notifications

The way Discord handles notifications is quite straightforward. I’m strongly in the “the fewer notifications, the better” camp. That’s why I usually have notifications enabled only for @-mentions. Only in channels in which I don’t want to miss any post, I enable “notify for all messages”. For me, this applies mostly to announcement channels that are used rarely but contain time-critical information like keyboard group-buys.

Unread messages

Managing unread messages efficiently takes a little bit more effort. First, use “mute server” for servers that you don’t frequent actively at all. Servers you only joined to ask an occasional question but stay out of otherwise shouldn’t draw your attention at any time.

The majority will be servers that have some channels in which you’re actively interested. On these servers, mute each channel that doesn’t interest you. When new channels are added to the server, you’ll have to choose if you want to add them to the mute list. On some servers, I even enable “hide muted channels” to shorten the channel list.

With these two measures, Discord will only track unread messages for the servers and channels you didn’t mute. Only now the “unread messages” indicator on the server icon starts making sense. More importantly, it is the prerequisite for efficiently using the “Next channel with updates” key combination. Hitting Opt+Shift+Down-Arrow (Alt+Shift+Down-Arrow on Windows, Up-Arrow for the opposite direction) gets you to the next unmuted channel containing unread messages. Read the channel to the end, hit the key combination again. It jumps across server boundaries, too. That way, you can catch up on everything that interests you in no time. I’ve assigned the “next unread channel” and “previous unread channel” functions to two extra buttons on my trackball, so I can simply leave my hand on it if I don’t want to write a reply. Scroll, next, scroll, next. Usually, it takes me less than two minutes to get through all my new posts.

And when I press the key combo another time after having already caught up with everything, Discord rewards me with a satisfying wiggle.

Clean Chef code: Depend on public cookbook interfaces

For about a year, we’ve been cleaning up the Chef Infra code for freistilbox to make updating dependencies, Chef versions and even operating systems easier. It’s a lot of work because our early code is functional but not pretty. There have been many instances of “we didn’t know better”, and that’s what refactoring is for. But I also came to realise that we were missing a critical fact: Common software engineering principles and practices apply to infrastructure code like they do to any other type of code.

Or as early Chef developer Joshua Timberman puts it:

“Hey, ya’ll remember when devops really just meant you knew how to write all your bash in ruby instead?”

Ouch. Making this connection earlier would have saved us weeks of work. That’s why I’m going to share my findings in a series of posts.

In this post, I’m going to advocate for treating a Chef cookbook as a unit of software that provides explicit interfaces instead of tempting its users to depend on implementation details.

Chef Infra cookbooks use node attributes as variable parameters for system configuration. In software engineering terms, node attributes are global variables. They’re implementation details of a cookbook. In consequence, using a cookbook’s node attributes for any purpose other than defining setup parameters creates a dependency on implementation details which can change at any time.

For example, it’s common practice to use a search on node attributes for service discovery. As node attributes are global variables, any cookbook can do this:

service_nodes = search(:node, "webservice_id:myservice")

From this code, we can tell that web service nodes are identified by a node attribute named webservice_id; nodes sharing the same webservice_id value belong to the same web service.

The problem with using this information outside the cookbook which provides it is that this particular implementation can change at any time. This kind of tight coupling is a liability. For example, a second attribute webservice_status might get introduced, reducing the node set by adding AND webservice_status:active to the query. Since this change in semantics is not necessarily a breaking change, there’s no simple way like semantic versioning to inform everyone who depends on this unofficial interface.

How about we provide an public API instead? Our web service cookbook could for example provide a class we can use for service discovery:

webservice = Company::Cookbook::Webservice::Discovery.new("myservice")
service_nodes = webservice.nodes

This is easy to implement as a cookbook library. By using namespaces, we make sure that method names don’t conflict. In my practice, I tend to use the camel-cased cookbook name under the namespace Cookbook and the company namespace.

With service discovery encapsulated and hidden behind a public interface, we could even reimplement the cookbook’s service discovery using a different technology like Consul without breaking any code outside our cookbook.

But even if other cookbooks depending on our implementation isn’t a concern, implementing auxiliary logic in a central library instead of scattering it across recipe files makes it much easier to maintain. I’m going to talk about “Plain Old Ruby versus Chef DSL” in a separate post.

Typing with Jazz

I do my work using keyboards and I make music using keyboards. This clever web application brings it all together.

Making the step from being non-racist to being anti-racist

For decades, I’ve lived a sheltered life as a person whom MLK describes as

“the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice”

All this time, I stayed in my comfort zone and considered justice someone else’s problem, probably something the state needs to take care of via foreign aid or policy.

Just like it took meeting my wife for me to learn that protecting our environment starts with me as an individual changing my consumption behaviour, it took the BLM movement and the recent riots for me to understand that I as an individual can be an ally, can contribute to racial justice, can speak up against discrimination. That being non-racist isn’t enough, that I need to be anti-racist.

I have much to learn, and I am grateful for the many online communities that raise awareness, practice solidarity, and foster understanding in “non-racist” people like me.

DIRECT - The seven core topics of remote team communication

Pick any guide on remote work (oh, there are so many…) and it’ll tell you that communication is essential when you work in a distributed team. The problem is that it’s not obvious where exactly the centre of balance is between sharing too little and sharing too much. That’s why I’ve created a framework that uses a simple acronym to remind you of good opportunities to keep your distributed team in the loop.

You can watch it here or on YouTube. I’m already working on my next videos, so don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Weeknote 20/2020

Back in Azeroth I will certainly not remember the current World of Warcraft expansion “Battle for Azeroth” as my favourite one. After months of frustration with its storytelling, I stopped playing in February. I didn’t expect my exodus to last only three months, but I also didn’t anticipate that I’d be stuck at home for an eternity. So this week, I converted some of my in-game gold into play time and took my Tauren druid out of cold storage. With lowered expectations.

Wait, mouse buttons are cool? I’m a keyboard person. In the last few weeks, I’ve even put in extra effort to memorise as many useful keyboard shortcuts as possible. But plugging in my gaming mouse again gave me the idea to put its 12 side buttons to use in my work applications as well. So I went and mapped the keyboard combos I use most to the available extra buttons on my mice and trackballs (between which I rotate occasionally). Instead of running multiple ugly vendor applications like Razer Synapse and Logitech Options, I’m using Steermouse which I had already licensed for my Elecom trackball. I still try to keep my hands on the keyboard as much as possible, but when I do reach for the mouse, I can now make the most of it.

Goals for direction, time boxing for pace After discovering two weeks ago that a project had dropped off my radar, I made it my main priority to finally ship it. I put the project on my short-term goals list that I reference every morning. This kept it in my crosshairs. And every day, I reserved time for it in my calendar. That made sure I made continuous progress. This week, I deployed to production and published both the documentation update and the announcement blog post. It was a great feeling of achievement. Just like the great John “Hannibal” Smith, I love it when a plan comes together.

Finished my cyberdeck

GMK Night Runner, one of a few keycap sets I ordered last year, finally arrived, completing my cyberpunk-themed keyboard. The case is a Keyboardbelle Nouvelle limited edition. I used tactile T1 switches with 67g springs, lubed with Tribosys 3204. They’re mounted in a carbon-fibre plate over a hot-swap HS60 PCB.

Because the case is 3D-printed, it sounded a little bit hollow. I was able to mitigate that by putting a thin foam envelope (previously used for packaging a plate or PCB) into the bottom of the case.

I’m very happy with how nicely everything came together, especially how the CF plate lets a lot of the RGBs shine through.

I’ve created a gallery with a few more pictures.

How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives

“Scheduling is an invaluable tool for habit formation: it helps to eliminate decision making; it helps us make the most of our limited self-command; it helps us fight procrastination. Most important, perhaps, the Strategy of Scheduling helps us make time for the things that are most important to us. How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives.” (Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before)

Cover letter > Resume

So we whittle the group of candidates down aggressively first. This means judging their cover letter and, to a far lesser extent, their resume.

Nice to get confirmation that great teams like Basecamp take the same approach as I.

-> m.signalvnoise.com/hiring-pr…

vimified

Despite working on a Mac, I’m using the mouse/trackball less and less. I’ve installed Vimium in my Brave browser; it allows me to follow links by selecting them with easy-to-type letter combinations.

I’ve also programmed my keyboards to send arrow keys when I hold the space bar and press the H, J, K and L keys. That way, I can move the cursor and scroll a page without even leaving the home row with my fingers.

My Daily Bootup checklist

With such a huge number of people suddenly thrust into working from home, I thought I’d share a bit of my experience (more than 10 years, actually) with doing Remote Work. I started a new morning livestream called “The Daily Bootup”. It’s named after the checklist I use to start every workday. This checklist helps me keep track of my goals and to-dos, especially my most important tasks (aka “MIT”). This is how it looks like:

  • Check my calendar for the day
  • Check my weekly goals
  • Check my to-do list
  • Check other sources of work
  • Schedule my MIT
  • Write a 5-Minute Journal entry
  • Send a team check-in

Let’s take a look at each checklist item in detail!

Check my calendar for the day

Before I can start planning my work for the day, I have to get a feel for how much of the day is already predetermined by appointments and repeating events. That’s why I first check my calendar.

Check my weekly goals

I use weekly goals to guide my focus. On Mondays, I define one or two important results I’d like to achieve by the end of the week. Every other weekday, I reference this definition (which I share with my team on Basecamp) to keep me on track.

Check my to-do list

Unfortunately, I’m still living in a world in which there are tasks that I have to do no matter what, and deadlines that I haven’t set myself. My to-do list helps preventing them from falling by the wayside.

Check other sources of work

On top of my primary to-do list, there are other systems that tell me things that need to be pushed forward. Sales deals in our CRM and incident follow-ups are only two examples.

Schedule my MIT

At this point, it’s finally time to define today’s work by entering tasks into my calendar. For me, a time boxing approach has been working best to make sure that I put in the work to get the important things done in time.

Write a 5-Minute Journal entry

Many people recommend picking up journaling as a daily practice for reflection and recording one’s thoughts and feelings. Instead of doing free form writing, I have a 5-Minute-Journal template in Day One that asks me three things every morning: “What are you grateful for?”, “What would make today great?” and “What’s your daily affirmation?”

5-Minute Journal

In my experience, a gratitude journal is a great way to keep myself on the positive side of things. Listing the things that are good in my life takes effect while I’m writing them down, and again when I read these entries two weeks or many years later.

Send a team check-in

As the final step in my morning routine, I submit a form that our team uses to tell everyone what to expect of ourselves today. It does so on multiple levels because it lets us not only enter our main goal for the day but also our mood and additional information that might be helpful for dealing with us. I haven’t yet tried to analyse the data. For now, it’s just nice to quickly see who’s feeling excited and who’s already tired at breakfast time.

Team Check-In

So that’s my Daily Bootup routine! Let me know on Twitter or micro.blog what you think of it. Or how about you drop by on Full Stack Live? I do “The Daily Bootup” weekdays from 9:30am to 10am (Ireland/UK time) and would love to have a chat!

Weeknote 13/2020

Learning JavaScript

While I’ve learned more than a dozen different programming languages in my three decades of using computers, I’ve been focusing on Ruby for the last one. At my company, we automate our hosting infrastructure with Chef, we build our websites with Rails or Jekyll, and even for more complex command line scripts, Ruby has replaced Bash for us. But lately, I’ve actually added another programming language to my roster that I wanted to learn for years: Javascript. With StimulusJS, it was really easy to add a bit of client-side logic to our hosting dashboard. There’s a lot to learn and I’m really looking forward to doing more frontend development!

Icons for everything

Talking about frontend: Iconography is an important part of every user interface nowadays. Of course, the internet offers endless supply of icons but many of these collections are of low quality, have unclear licensing policies or are of a quality that doesn’t justify their price. Discovering the Noun Project has solved this problem for me completely. I’ve started using their icons on web sites, in my talk slides and even to give my Stream Deck a more consistent look:

Stream Deck

Live stream for remote workers

With so many more people now working from home (and struggling with the change), I thought I’d share my 10 years of experience with remote work. I’ve started doing a 30-minute live stream over on my live coding channel every morning at 9:30am (10:30 on the continent) where I chat with viewers about how to make remote work… work. The stream is titled “The Daily Bootup”. How about you join me Monday morning and we start the day together? Simply click “Follow” to get a notification when we start!

Managing multiple Git identities

I’ve always been struggling to use the right name and email address, separate between work and personal projects, for each of my Git repositories. Micah Henning solved that problem nicely by removing the global settings but making a repo-specific configuration mandatory. And a handy alias is the icing on the Git identity selection cake.

The Live Coders Conference

There won’t be many conferences in the next few weeks, at least not the sort that you need to attend in person. However, with COVID-19 handing out lemons, people start to discover the lemonade of online conferences!

I’m happy to be part of an initiative by The Live Coders, a community of people broadcasting their software development on Twitch. On 9th April, we’re going to broadcast more than 12 hours of presentations on a wide range of topics. With my talk about burnout prevention, I’m probably going to have a slot in the (European) afternoon.

For details, check out The Live Coders Conference. Andy, one of the organisers, also did a write-up on Setting up an online conference.

It lives!

Reading with the sun in my back.

When terminals were real tty’s

For my first Retro Saturday live stream, I chose working with a PDP-11 minicomputer. I don’t own a PDP-11, nor can I afford to buy or run one, but I can simulate one realistically usingsimh, the simulator for historic computer systems.

After successfully installing Unix V7, the original Unix operating system from 1979, I ran into unexpected issues with entering source code. One of the problems was the lack of a full-screen editor combined with my lack of ed skills. Another problem was that the Backspace key didn’t work as expected; an issue I first encountered 27 years ago trying out an early version of Linux. And then there was the strange behaviour that I had to escape the number sign at the beginning of #include <stdio.h> with a backslash; otherwise it would disappear.

After the stream, I found out what the problem was: V7 was simply still geared towards being operated from a teletype, basically a typewriter with a serial port. (It would take many years until typewriters actually came with correction ribbons that enabled you to erase and overwrite. But by that time, teletypes had been replaced by serial terminals with CRT screens.)

On an input device that prints each character you type immediately on paper, it’s impossible to do what Backspace does. That’s why the Unix developers assigned special meaning to the # and @ signs.

The # sign tells the V7 shell to ignore the previously typed character. Correcting a typo would look like this: cat memp#o.txt.

For larger errors, there’s the @ sign. It tells the shell to ignore everything before it. For example: rm mem@mv memo.txt memo.bak.

Exploring historic operating systems has become a passion for me lately. Not only do I learn a lot about early computing technology. It also makes me appreciate so much more the achievements of pioneers like Thompson and Richie who didn’t have any of the conveniences software developers enjoy today.

2.11BSD seems to be a more user-friendly OS for the PDP-11, so that’s what I’m going to try next!

Supporting UDUMASS

I’d like us to start gathering funds to have the uncensored version played every day on every major TV station and streaming service.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss a topic, tweet me @geewiz or join the chat on my Discord server!