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Reading Notes, December 2022

Article: “Megan Smith explaining the General Magic prototyping process”

Love this line:

The composting of failures produces rich and fertile soil.

Article: “How to start a successful blog in 2023”

What should you blog about? Just blog about anything you find interesting and thought-provoking. And use it to reply to people whose content you find interesting. Blogs are more fun when they’re used to have conversations.

Article: “Playing with ActivityPub”

This article is the detailed, technical overview of Mastodon I was looking for.

What I built isn’t an ActivityPub system as much as a Mastodon-compatible one. I think this is the key contradiction of the ActivityPub system: it’s a specification broad enough to encompass many different services, but ends up being too general to be useful by itself.

The contrast of ActivityPub to RSS is pretty stark. Read this and, damn, you gotta love RSS!

  • You can implement an RSS feed with basically any system. A static site generated by a static site generator like Jekyll? Sure! You can even write an RSS feed by hand and upload it with FTP if you want.
  • Your RSS feed doesn’t know who’s reading it. If you have 1 million people subscribed, sure, that’s fine. At most you’ll need to use caching or a CDN to help the server serve those requests, but they’re just GET requests, the simplest possible kind of internet.
  • RSS has obvious points of optimization. If 10,000 people subscribe to my RSS feed but 5,000 of them are using Feedbin, those 5,000 can share the same GET request that Feedbin makes to pull the latest posts.
  • An RSS feed reader only needs a list of feed URLs and an XML parser. It doesn’t need to have its own domain name or identity in the system. A feed reader can be a command-line script or a desktop application.

Article: “Swearing and automatic captions”

You can’t solve culture with technology.

Just that line alone is brilliantly applicable to our world now.

Article: “On the current decentralisation movement”

Want to have an unblockable, unbannable user profile? Buy yourself a domain and get a personal website. Want to have a space where you can say and do whatever the fuck you want? Get a webspace and put up a blog. Do you want to keep up with what other people are doing and saying online? Start using RSS or, and this is gonna sound like a very radical idea, bookmark their websites and every once in a while open them in your browser and see what they're up to. Want to also have discussions? Add comments to your website. Don't care about other people's opinions? Don't add comments to your site.

Article: “A lot can happen in a month: on AI art and the fediverse”

“State of…” surveys are being used to decide the road maps of major platforms and tools and are driving standardisation work.

Literally, management via popularity contest.

I’m all for hearing folks out, but I also worry about popularity replacing vision. I don’t trust the masses.

Article: “Company, team, self.”

folks will accomplish more if you let them do some energizing work, even if that work itself isn’t very important.

Rigid adherence to any prioritization model, even one that’s conceptually correct…will often lead to the right list of priorities but a team that’s got too little energy to make forward progress. It’s not only reasonable to violate correct priorities to energize yourself and your team, modestly violating priorities to energize your team enroute to a broader goal is an open leadership secret. Leadership is getting to the correct place quickly, it’s not necessarily about walking in the straightest line.

The most important lesson I’ve learned as I’ve become a better manager is that there is almost always a correct answer, but applying that answer to your specific situation will always be nuanced and messy. Further, the correct answer is almost always different if you’re taking a short-term or long-term perspective.

Article: “When Our Tools Hold Us Back”

Lots of good nuggets in here from Miriam Suzanne:

most lengths on the web are defined in px. Is that because authors intentionally avoid em/rem, or because the mockups that we receive from designers are all limited to px by our design tools?

many CSS-in-JS tools and utility frameworks are more invasive – replacing some or most CSS with a proprietary syntax. They don’t provide additions to the language, but a whole new language that stands directly between us and the basic CSS functionality we need

Once the tools stand between us and the language, we become entirely reliant on tool-builders to determine what features are available.

Suddenly CSS is able to move faster than the ecosystem, and we’re stuck waiting on our tools to catch up with well-supported platform features.

This happens with so many dependency-related slow downs.

When tools intervene between you and your access to the web platform, proceed with caution. Ask not only: How well does it work? But also: How well does it fail? Not only: What features do they provide? But also: What features do they prevent?