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Reading Notes, December 2020

Article: “Why it’s good for users that HTML, CSS and JS are separate languages”

The interesting thing about the web is that you never know who you’re building stuff for exactly. Even if you keep statistics. There are so many different users consuming web content. They all have different devices, OSes, screen sizes, default languages, assistive technologies, user preferences… Because of this huge variety, having the structure of web pages (or apps) expressed in a language that is just for structure is essential.

It is truly incredible just how many kinds of users are out there consuming HTML. Especially when you start to consider things like search engine spiders and content scrapers, they enable some pretty incredible things (like, for example, democracy). These are all capabilities that, in essence, rely on semantic markup. And it’s not just HTML. It’s CSS too:

responsive design worked, because CSS allowed HTML to be device-agnostic.

Article: “Validation is a mirage”

When I hear MVP, I don’t think Minimum Viable Product. I think Minimum Viable Pie. The food kind.

A slice of pie is all you need to evaluate the whole pie. It’s homogenous. But that’s not how products work. Products are a collection of interwoven parts, one dependent on another, one leading to another, one integrating with another. You can’t take a slice a product, ask people how they like it, and deduce they’ll like the rest of the product once you’ve completed it. All you learn is that they like or don’t like the slice you gave them.

If you want to see if something works, make it. The whole thing. The simplest version of the whole thing – that’s what version 1.0 is supposed to be. But make that, put it out there, and learn. If you want answers, you have to ask the question, and the question is: Market, what do you think of this completed version 1.0 of our product?

This whole post is so good:

Don’t mistake an impression of a piece of your product as a proxy for the whole truth. When you give someone a slice of something that isn’t homogenous, you’re asking them to guess. You can’t base certainty on that.

That said, there’s one common way to uncertainty: That’s to ask one more person their opinion. It’s easy to think the more opinions you have, the more certain you’ll be, but in practice it’s quite the opposite. If you ever want to be less sure of yourself, less confident in the outcome, just ask someone else what they think. It works every time.

Article: “Dave goes back to Mac”

If you’re someone who hasn’t touched a Windows machine in years—like myself—Dave’s commentary on switching back to Mac has some really good experiential perspective, including this insight on how access to the web might be universal, but the tools we use to build for it are not.

While the Web is Universal, the tools are not...Tools failed me this time around and I had to change my life to maintain progress. I know ubiquitous support is hard, but it’s so so so important for the Web that we keep the doors open and meet people where they are, meet them on their devices.

Article: “Growl in Retirement”

Gruber notes this crucial distinction about the design of Growl’s notification system:

Growl...served the notifyee, not the notifier, and that made all the difference.

I loved Growl. It was the notification polyfill for OSX: designed to become obsolete.

Video: Programming Should Eat Itself

The evaluator, which determines the meaning of expressions in a programming language, is just another program.

I honestly did not understand much of this talk. But what stood out to me the most—and what I wanted to note down—was the insight stated above. Or, to restate it from another point in the talk:

A program can have another program as data.

Article: “‘Real’ Programming Is an Elitist Myth”

I've always loved that moment when someone shows you the thing they built for tracking books they've read or for their jewelry business. Amateur software is magical because you can see the seams and how people wrestled the computer. Like outsider art.

I love making “amateur software” and “outsider art” as described here. The longer I work on the web, the more interested I find myself in my amateur, outsider software than anything else more “professional” that I’ve been employed to do in my career.

Article: “2020’S ‘The Dog Ate My Homework’ Universal Scapegoat: ‘The Algorithm’”

Gruber gives a fitting commentary on algorithms:

Blaming [this mess] on “the algorithm” is such ridiculous bullshit. What is an algorithm? It’s a set of rules and heuristics, created and decided by people. Blaming this on “the algorithm” is a shameless attempt to insinuate that they just put everyone into a system and the mean old computer decided to put front-line residents at the end of the list, when in fact, what they mean is, the people at Stanford who created the rules decided to put them at the end of the list. That’s their algorithm.

Website: “Epigrams in Programming”

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.

Motto for a research laboratory: What we work on today, others will first think of tomorrow.

The proof of a system's value is its existence.