genox.ch

7.9.2018
Filed under Rants
73f82cb6-49d5-479c-896a-177adb6a06d2

The train wreck that is American politics

Disclaimer: I’m not American.

It’s so surreal, it’s impossible to look away. And even the most insignificant media outlets know that. So no matter what happens, no matter what you read or watch, you will hear or read about the latest bucket of oil that was thrown into the dumpster fire that is the current presidency (and the system as a whole) of the United States. It seems so surreal and out of place that people can’t shut up about it. The opposite of normality. This has nothing to do anymore with politics. It’s sensationalism, soap opera, live streamed human sadness with a live twitter feed attached. It’s something originating from the realm of fiction. It’s maybe even mass manipulation? I wish there was a way to shut this off. Filter by keyword. mv /dev/null. Just.. make it stop. Return to boredom please, boring long winded politics. Oh how I came to appreciate the long winded, boring political process here (Switzerland) during the past 2 years.

The first thing that came to my head when I heard that Trump was actually elected was the movie Idiocracy. Meanwhile, I think it’s a global, political disaster that will hopefully be remembered. The sad thing however.. I think.. is to watch how utterly and obvious selfishness, opportunism and narcissism is part of the political system that seems to be too big to fail. And that doesn’t stop right below the top brass, which makes it even worse. I reckon the need for certain personality traits in politicians, but there’s something like a threshold, even for that.

I secretly hope for a collapse of such a system, if just to see new ideas sprouting in its ashes. Better to have a sad ending than endless sadness. For a while I thought that meritocracy might be a good replacement (or an evolutionary step) for democracy, but I’m not so sure anymore that it pans out in the long run.

You don’t need to be a political scholar to sense the increase of hate and violence that even trickles down to Europe. The madness overseas seems to have triggered something deep down in frustrated souls, where the system Trump acts as a role model. A system that puts blame before consensus, focuses on things that set us apart rather than the things connecting us (on every level). A system that allows “alternative facts” (oh for fuck’s sake..). And a realisation how easily large parts of a population can be manipulated by words of power and might, as long as they offer a tangent to associate their own problems and worries and somehow, irrationally, offer relief. Or a feeling of “being cared for” in a society that seemingly lost all empathy. A return to the sociological level of cavemen and tribes. Or have we ever left that state, anyways? Not so sure anymore.

1

29.8.2018
Filed under Rants, Technology
506ffe4a-887b-48ab-b10c-4342e01acb28

IE11 is the new IE6/7/8/9/10

Well we are there again. Tons of features you’re dying to use but a certain platform, the one your client insists you absolutely HAVE to support (“the CEO is using IE11, so..”), does not support them. I have been playing this game since IE6 first got the heat and history is repeating itself in a strange fashion with the stuff coming from Redmond.

But this time I’m not gonna fall in line. It’s utterly pointless, frustrating and man, I sure don’t think those 6-7% of users will decide wether or not a brand, product or web app will  make it. Only the greedy and short sighted do.

I can in fact tell you who those IE11 users are that are almost methodically refusing to change their browser. It’s corporate users, stuck on old machines. Their IT departments haven’t upgraded their workstations (sometimes even some dusty old windows server box) or they use these boxes somewhere in a closet to run legacy software. I dare you to show me one actual IE11 User with e-commerce affinity. Those poor souls who are actually private computers stuck on IE11 for some reason make up an estimated 1%. Yeah I just pulled this number out of my ass but it’s more accurate than you probably think.. and don’t make the romantic mistake of calculating those 1% for a potential 5 billion users. You dreamer, you.

While 7 or 8 years ago I was mostly worried about CSS, you can now add ES6 to the mix. I love writing front end apps in JS but the size of all the polyfills and workarounds (for features that simply can’t be polyfilled, like Proxys) is staggering. Especially if you consider that a polyfill is also a performance metric and old windows machines aren’t exactly known for that nowadays. So it gets even worse.

I’m really sorry but it’s way more honest and a matter of integrity to call it a day with IE and stop serving content for it, unless it doesn’t require tweaks.

The longer we support these browsers by spending millions as a whole industry to make up for poor product decisions by Microsoft, the longer they will stay alive (or.. on life support). It’s a lost case. Let IE die already. It had its moments. But it’s over now.

Or let’s put it in terms a manager deals with: those 20% additional costs (its lower for run-of-the-mill frameworks) for a project will not be compensated by the additional 7-8% of users that are only potentially ever going to use a service (means, on paper). Never. You are losing money there. And the sanity of anyone having to work on that project. It will bloat the code, the css, will make features possibly harder to implement cleanly the more complex it gets.

And if you’re still dead serious about supporting old crappy browsers, create a brutalist version of your website for them, redirect them and call it a day. I predict that it won’t make a difference that you will even notice. You probably lose more customers due to bad customer support than not supporting a 10 year old browser.

1

22.8.2018
Filed under Technology
3a9f72ed-0277-43d6-87dd-1d7e5b859054

Gitlab CI/CD with zeit.co's now

I recently had the opportunity to play around with zeit.co's deployment service (also where this blog is hosted). I used Gitlab's pipelines to set up a docker container deployment workflow that includes automated review and staging builds and a manual step for deploying master to production.

Update: I edited the gitlab pipeline to clean previous deployments and name deployments with prefixed $APPS_DOMAIN in order to have a less confusing list on zeit.co's deployment list. Also, all but production builds now clean previous deployments automatically on a new deployment. The $NOW_REGION variable is no longer necessary, instead all region specific settings are in now.json using "scale".

Update 2: now updated to use their serverless Docker infrastructure. Handle no existing deployments when trying to remove old deployments. Dockerfile: remove devDepencencies after build.

Stages

  • The review stage is active for all branches except master. So whatever your branch is called, it creates a now deployment with a subdomain based on the branch name.
  • Each commit to master triggers a refresh of the staging subdomain.
  • Each staging build can then be manually deployed to replace the current production container.

Gitlab and Now

  • It requires two Gitlab CI/CD variables: a now token and the domain of your app.
  • now region: Gitlab runners are located somewhere in North America and since now uses the (I guess) GeoIP information of the machine that launches a now build, it always goes for a North American datacenter, in my case "sfo". But I want my build and subsequent deployment to end up in europe, so I go for "bru" (Brussels) there.
  • now teams: Since I use a zeit.co account that is linked to a team and the deployment is using the team accounts domain, I need to specify the team name as a parameter for the now binary. If you don't need that, you can remove the variable's content.
  • now domains: For convenience, I also host my domain / zone file on zeit. That allows for some very neat and easy aliasing.

For this to work properly, you need to be able to run now from your local machine (e.g. now.json config or a now-key in package.json and a Dockerfile). If your deployment runs fine locally, it will - quite probably - do so in a Gitlab runner instance.

A note about regions

While testing zeit.co without applying any scaling I noticed that the TTFB is significantly higher than with my previous hosting environment. Somewhere in a constant 800ms range - from brussels. And I guess this is why: containers on now that do not have scaling configured will be frozen after a certain timeout. With scaling configured (e.g. in now.json), TTFB is almost halved. I guess that non-scaling deployments are behind a different load balancer setup than scaled deployments. Or something like that…

I switched off zeit.co's domain CDN to save a few bucks (nobody cares if this blog loads in 400ms or 1.5s…), turned on scaling and voila, the datacenter in Brussels seems to be doing just fine for European traffic. I ran a few tests on pingdom.com via San Jose and the TTFB from the eastern US is about 2.5s. I'm not concerned with that currently but might extend my config to spin up 2 instances in SFO and BRU, just to see what would be possible.

Configurations

now.json: name the project the same as $APP_DOMAIN-production in order for it to pick up aliases. I set the region to "bru1" for europe and set "scale" to minimum 1 instance and maximum 3. Set this according to your requirements.

now.json
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
{
  "name": "genox.ch-production",
  "alias": [
    "genox.ch",
    "www.genox.ch"
  ],
  "type": "docker",
  "scale": {
    "bru1": {
      "min": 0,
      "max": "auto"
    },
    "sfo1": {
      "min": 0,
      "max": "auto"
    }
  },
  "features": {
    "cloud": "v2"
  }
}
.gitlab-ci.yml
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
image: node:8-alpine

stages:
- review
- staging
- production


variables:
  NOW_TEAM: ""
  NOW_SECRET: "--token=${NOW_TOKEN}"
  NOW_BUILD_PARAMS: "--force"

before_script:
- npm install -g now --silent --unsafe-perm

review:
  stage: review
  script:
  - echo "Deploying app to [review] environment as $APPS_DOMAIN-$CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG"
  - HAS_DEPLOYMENTS=$(now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM ls | grep -q ${APPS_DOMAIN}-${CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG} && echo 1 || echo 0)
  - NOW_DEPLOYMENT=$(now ${NOW_SECRET} ${NOW_TEAM} ${NOW_BUILD_PARAMS} -n ${APPS_DOMAIN}-${CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG})
  - sleep 10
  - now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM alias set $NOW_DEPLOYMENT $CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG.$APPS_DOMAIN
  - if [[ $HAS_DEPLOYMENTS -gt 0 ]]; then now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM rm $APPS_DOMAIN-$CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG --safe --yes; fi
  environment:
    name: review/$CI_BUILD_REF_NAME
    url: https://$CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG.$APPS_DOMAIN
    on_stop: stop_review
  only:
  - branches
  except:
  - master

stop_review:
  stage: review
  script:
  - HAS_DEPLOYMENTS=$(now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM ls | grep -q ${CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG} && echo 1 || echo 0)
  - echo "Removing $APPS_DOMAIN-$CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG from [review] environment"
  - now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM alias rm $CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG.$APPS_DOMAIN
  - if [[ $HAS_DEPLOYMENTS -gt 0 ]]; then now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM rm $APPS_DOMAIN-$CI_BUILD_REF_SLUG --safe --yes; fi
  variables:
    GIT_STRATEGY: none
  when: manual
  environment:
    name: review/$CI_BUILD_REF_NAME
    action: stop

staging:
  stage: staging
  script:
  - echo "Deploying app to [staging] environment as $APPS_DOMAIN-staging"
  - HAS_DEPLOYMENTS=$(now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM ls | grep -q staging && echo 1 || echo 0)
  - NOW_DEPLOYMENT=$(now ${NOW_SECRET} ${NOW_TEAM} ${NOW_BUILD_PARAMS} -n ${APPS_DOMAIN}-staging)
  - sleep 10
  - now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM alias $NOW_DEPLOYMENT staging.$APPS_DOMAIN
  - if [[ $HAS_DEPLOYMENTS -gt 0 ]]; then now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM rm $APPS_DOMAIN-staging --safe --yes; fi
  environment:
    name: staging
    url: https://staging.$APPS_DOMAIN
  only:
  - master

production:
  stage: production
  script:
  - echo "Deploying app to [production] environment as $APPS_DOMAIN-production"
  - HAS_DEPLOYMENTS=$(now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM ls | grep -q production && echo 1 || echo 0)
  - NOW_DEPLOYMENT=$(now ${NOW_SECRET} ${NOW_TEAM} ${NOW_BUILD_PARAMS} -n ${APPS_DOMAIN}-production)
  - sleep 10
  - now $NOW_SECRET $NOW_TEAM alias
  environment:
    name: production
    url: https://$APPS_DOMAIN
  when: manual
  only:
  - master

It takes a while to build during rush hours (well, I'm using Gitlab's free runners, so I don't expect any miracles). But all in all, this is a very simple, very effective way to run some minor devops for a nextjs app.

For completeness, here's my Dockerfile:

Dockerfile
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
FROM node:8-alpine

ENV NPM_CONFIG_LOGLEVEL warn
ARG NODE_ENV
ENV NODE_ENV=${NODE_ENV}
ARG HOSTNAME
ENV HOSTNAME=${HOSTNAME}
ARG NOW_URL
ENV NOW_URL=${NOW_URL}
ARG NOW_REGION
ENV NOW_REGION=${NOW_REGION}
ARG NOW_DC
ENV NOW_DC=${NOW_DC}
ARG NOW
ENV NOW=${NOW}

COPY . ./next/

WORKDIR /next

RUN npm config set color false &&\
    npm config set unsafe-perm true &&\
    npm install -g npm &&\
    npm run next:install &&\
    npm run next:build &&\
    rm -rf ~/.npm && npm prune --production

CMD npm run next:start

EXPOSE 80

2

27.7.2018
Filed under Technology, Note to self
4b84e55a-8012-4ca0-9bb7-e728259f4fcd

Moltin, e-commerce API

Todo: check out Moltin's viability to act as an e-commerce solution for Swiss stores. Looks cool, not sure about i18n though.

1

27.7.2018
Filed under Sonic Waves
9e5e34dd-482b-4aee-b4ff-27749bbbb3d0

Galaxy Outlaws (audiobook)

Galaxy Outlaws is a massive (85 hours) sci-fi/space opera available on audible (on the US store). If you did enjoy Firefly way back when .. this is something you'll love. It's basically Firefly with added arcane magic. As one of the reviewers put it: "Firefly cranked up on Meth plus a Space Wizard!"

1

27.7.2018
Filed under Rants, Technology
3d475285-3d3b-48cb-9080-7880fcf8e9b4

VSCode: the small pains

Visual Studio Code has come a long way since I first started to use it in early 2017. It's fast and responsive, I can style it to my convenience (e.g. font sizes in the drawer etc). And it supports almost everything I need on a daily basis: TS, styled components, Angular, React, a bit of PHP now and then. But there's some things that are tickling my nerves big time:

  • Automatic Typescript imports, automatic import of npm modules. This is something that changes almost from release to release. Sometimes it works great, other times it randomly doesn't work. Doesn't like mono repos at all (yes, I tried the plugins).
  • IntelliSense: - cmd+click on methods, method preview. For some reason, since the last update, when cmd+clicking on a method, VSC opens the type definition instead of the file containing the method. I don't know why.
  • High CPU usage. I probably spent more than a day in the past year to find out which plugin just randomly strangulates the vscode helper process to 100%, then removing it. I'm tired of detective work.

Those are basically the most annoying issues I deal with at this point in time. As I mentioned above, there's at least something that feels annoying with each new release and I simply can't have that with a tool I use for 8 hours daily. I was giving VSCode the benefit of the doubt for almost a year, but my conclusion is: It's not a mature product yet. Maybe MS uses this project to test the waters for their coming move of Office apps to Electron, I don't know. But it just feels too clunky. There's always something that doesn't work, something that's annoying the hell out of me, flaring up my OCD.. wether it be one of the things from my list or something else that randomly pops up.

Might as well install WebStorm again and see what changed on their end.

0

20.7.2018
Filed under Technology
06ea7404-0107-4e44-9070-ecbc36b9f663

New feature: pills!

Hit me with some pills if you like a post. :-P

20

19.7.2018
Filed under Technology
f8f025c7-3d9e-4b03-b3d6-2d725d81f0ae

Back to basics, in 2018

This blog just matured into the age of dockerized deployments, headless CMS and decentralised services. This is the new stack:

Client

  • NextJS server side rendered React app, hydrated with content from the sanity.io API
  • Served by NodeJS Express
  • Hosted as a Docker container on Zeit's Now (including DNS) (15$/month)
  • Emails forwarded via mailgun (0$)
  • Both the NextJS Frontend and Backend parts are written in TypeScript

Content

  • Sanity.io's React app
  • Deployed on sanity.studio (0$)

Serverless Functions

  • webstack.io (0$)

As opposed to the previous solution (using a self-hosted WordPress on cyon.ch), this has multiple advantages:

  • No longer worrying about anything related to WordPress
  • I can do whatever the hell I want with it and can rely on a state of the art frontend framework
  • Easy staging with Now deployments

The disadvantages

Well, it's a far more complex setup than traditional server side rendered approaches, like a classic LAMP stack. The whole thing depends on 3 different cloud services. I do realise that I might aswell add all of this in plain text file and get about the same UX. ;) But that's not the point!

"But .. back to basics? Isn't that at least a small business or startup setup for a blog nobody reads? U MAD?!"

Let me explain: I started off writing my own one-liner in PHP, I wrote my own little blog app, I used about 4 different PHP blog platforms since 2001 or two .. the more I was depending on third party applications, the less fun it was to fiddle around with things on a basic level.

But for me .. that's kinda what I want to do in the first place. Just give me enough abstraction and a few tools so I can put together my own damn thaang and I'm a happy camper.

2

30.9.2017
Filed under Technology
da9216f0-3c3e-444a-ab19-e92c920081a3

React, so far

I've had the opportunity to dive into React quite extensively for the past two months. Large project. Many, many components. Rather complicated setup on the backend, including a Python CMS which hydrates the SPA, in many different ways, including acting as a REST intermediary service for some other 3rd party APIs.

My take away from this so far is: React is not as bad as what you would think based on the extensive framework flamewars all around the interwebs. It's very easy to get sucked into this whole discussion, but you lose sight of what this thing really is: a bloody tool to get bloody things done. No religion there.

I actually ended up playing around with React in my spare time and gave styled components a go. That was actually quite interesting. This current gig requires me to write CSS according to BEM, which heavily componentizes CSS as a whole. But I noticed that the resulting CSS is huge - the more components, the more SASS mixins.. the more bloated the CSS becomes. Why to write componentized code when it all ends up in a huge bloody file at the end of the build process, anyways. But I do like components and tightly specified CSS.

Styled components basically force CSS to be inline at all times and takes care of the specifity of selectors on a component level. I spent a few hours trying out a few things based on a react boilerplate app and was surprised how easily I could get a fairly complex style definition going, still using a mixin approach (higher level components) for mediaqueries, typography and block level layout and the entire theming, like I'm used to with SASS.

The biggest downside for now is that for example VSCode can't parse styled declarations well, no autocomplete and no linting. But I'd call that a minor annoyance.
So far, no surprises and components are as manageable as when you're using CSS modules. With the added perk of not having to leave the JS mindset completely while styling components.

In terms of performance: this might become an issue for projects relying on 100+ components. Probably. But then, maybe the entire architecture should be revised instead of being concerned about loading time of inline CSS.

In a sense, styled components feel like more tightly integrated BEM patterns, without having to write the awkward class names yourself.

But what I've learned in terms of using React as a framework is probably, most importantly, the fact that if you decide to go with a frontend framework, you should embrace it and abstain from trying to merge and crank some other concepts in, around or on top of it. If you need serverside rendered content, use the framework's approach and keep things separated and clean. Probably also try to abstain from migrating your old framework's stuff blindly over to React and instead start completely from scratch, because you won't need half of the crap you migrate, anyways. Embrace the frameworks flow and adjust your own accordingly. Try to keep dependencies as loose as possible (for example frontend/backend stacks), so you can act quickly to revise decisions on how the project develops as a whole. There's nothing more frustrating than being stuck with a stack that you know "sort of sucks" but everything is already way too interwoven to change anything without causing a chain reaction.

I'm still looking around on how to best solve the content management aspects of SPAs in the simplest possible manner that doesn't require a fancy build setup/deployment for smaller projects. If we're completely honest, a flat file PHP cms for content editing that provides a REST API is probably going to cover the needs of at leat 90% of all projects we work on in the small and medium business website segment. While it sure is fun to run a dev ops mission and deploying docker containers and stuff, its not really necessary and overengineering things in most cases.

But anyways. I was proven again that you shouldn't judge something before you got a good chunk of experience of actually using it and probably most important, join the flow of how things are being done, rather than questioning every bloody opinionated method. And, for the love of god, ignore all those medium articles and fiery rants in the first place.

1

22.9.2017
Filed under Moving Images
eb01ae02-c14d-4bcc-81c7-090929638434

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

https://youtu.be/5TNXaCBAjpo

If you don’t know this series already, I greatly suggest you get your hands on it. I watched the first season in one session. Crazy, I know. But whaddyagonnado! Super fun, nerdy, full of twists and heartfelt.

Coincidentally, this overlaps with my current Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy audiobook session. Douglas Adams, man.. genius. Just the right kind of crazy. Definitely going to dig for the novels of the above TV version.

2

24.5.2017
Filed under Rants, Moving Images
d74c37a2-6191-4adf-9308-8beb143c9bdb

Mercantilism / the reason you answer your work email on the weekend

From https://timeline.com/invention-of-wasted-time-mercantilism-e11df6f8dfa1:

But with mercantilism, one of the first major economic theories, how a person spent his or her time directly corresponded with the wealth of the entire country. According to economists of the time, any form of waking idleness lost a country money — and was declared a grave sin. The time between seasons and harvests, the time between anything at all, if not spent at work, was simply and suddenly a waste.

So, I'm technically a sinner since I spent half a year doing nothing. I get that. Honestly, that's how a burn-out does make you feel. That is also why the UBI (unconditional basic income) sounds like you're throwing money at a bunch of freeloaders. Our entire society is conditiond and indoctrinated with this – relatively young – concept.

0

17.4.2017
Filed under Rants, Moving Images
d38d8a50-1a22-4f0c-b355-4981f0755ce3

The century of the self

Check out this movie on youtube: The century of the self

The evolution of psychology in marketing resulting in the Consumer Democracy. Extrapolate from there.

But to try and be optimistic, I would say, the fairphone idea is a start. Or another result from focus groups. :-P

Think different", huh?

This documentary, even though it's 4 hours in total length, kept me seated until the very end. The lines being drawn, the dots connected are not underlined by opinion and there is no new information shown. After all, it's about the past.. it connects events that might not be perceived as being effectively connected. And that's whats mind boggling. To realise something you kinda knew all along but now there's finally a historical base for that looming feeling..

It is staggering to see how business always managed to turn a societal movement into a market segment. They did it again with all the subcultures. Once they cracked the code of the consumer's mind, anything can be sold to anyone. Doesn't matter what. Doesn't matter where.

I get it with the whole "economy creates wealth for society" idea, trust me. The only problem I have is that a) the same mechanisms are applied to politics with devastating results in the US and Britain (and certainly elsewhere) that completely undermines the idea of democracy (proof me wrong, France, I dare you). And b) the biggest part of society doesn't even know (ehrm, doesn't care much either) about the fact that they are just market segments and extrapolated focus groups on such a large scale. I find the science fascinating. And I guess it's just an extension (evolutionary step?) of the herding applied in previous centuries. The irony is strong though. By trying to be a self conscious individual and being served individually branded mass products, the snake bites it's own tail, very hard. This freedom of choice is really only virtual in it's nature. It's a lie we accept willingly. Because the alternative would probably be worse. But it still feels a bit like brainwashing to me. If there are regulations for how much CO2 is supposed to be in the air because if affects quality of life physically, shouldn't there be restrictions on neuro marketing because it might affect you in ways that are not entirely predictable and actually trigger some sort of action that you are not aware of?

Honestly, I can't say wether this is bad or not. I think a capitalist finds it a genius development. But a humanist questions it's impact on society as a whole. I would be happy with a compromise. But I guess we are actually already there. You can choose between being targeted based on your values or based on your needs. There's no escape. Soap can make you more masculine, more ecologically conscious, more economically satisfied, more concerned about yourself in general. If you tell someone "it's fucking soap" he might not have any idea what you're talking about. Is this being disconnected with reality? Are we just kinda stuck in our quest for self realisation, self awareness, self this, self that .. aren't we just acting on sort of a proxy guilt when buying stuff that sends 10% of revenues to Africa or what not? Do I always have to <em>choose</em>? What if I decide to not give a fuck anymore (I did)? What if there is something like too much <em>choice</em>?

Oh the irony.. Political systems might fail, sooner or later. But someone is always making a buck somewhere, carrying away some profit from one system's demise to fuel another's growth (and subsequent demise). Circle of life, I guess.

Oh, one thing one might add here is that corporations get a hit in the head nowadays thanks to social media quite often. Which is a new twist that wasn't quite there yet when the documentary was made. I think this is actually quite a good way to keep them in check. No threat works better than a looming boycott. Oh this gets those PR reps fired up in no time.

Thankfully, I haven't seen such impact on politics in Switzerland yet. But we're always behind a decade or two on things like that. I remember someone trying to entangle me in a market research phone call for city council last year in Aarau. So maybe.. brace yourselves.

Maybe we should get democracy to update it's UX and run a few focus groups on the democratic process. And it's mind boggling that "No, there is no App for democracy, we worry about security and we prefer being manipulated in other ways" while it's possible to send a picture of my dick half way across the globe in a second or two. Society, I love your priorities.

1

5.3.2017
Filed under Rants
86a489f2-8832-417a-84bb-444a855e99ba

Struggle

I am currently recovering from a burnout. Concentration, the lack thereof, is what bothers me most. It's hard to accept that there are very hard constraints in place about the things I can do and the things I can't.

It feels as if I’m still a long way from being able to have real focus for a few hours in a row, but it gets better. Very slowly.

I removed myself from the social media circus, got rid of all the news alerts and news apps and that indeed makes a difference. I am currently considering removing all portables from my life. Smart phone, tablet.. or at least deleting everything but the eBook Reader App.

It’s still hard from me to even focus on reading a long text „casually“ (skipping lines without noticing and things like that).

It feels like I switched from a sixteen track recording machine to a crappy dictation device in terms of my attention span and parallel processing abilities.

I (my ego) want to do more but my brain simply doesn’t play ball. It’s frustrating and humbling, constantly overestimating my own abilities.

A week goes by so quickly, it looks blurry and there is no feeling of achievement. Simple tasks (sending a letter to some insurance) take days and weeks. And I can only focus on one thing, while everything else immediately fades away and remains forgotten. Task switching turned from something I did 20 times a day to a sheer impossible thing. The transition is incredibly hard. I even forget about the piece of paper where I wrote down some things or my todo list. Heck, I forget that I have one in the first place.

I noticed I can spend three or more hours reading stuff on Reddit without even noticing how time goes by. Even though there would be a hundred better ways to spend time. All those distractions are like heroine for my brain. There’s only one channel available and having this channel filled with a stream of information blocks everything else out. Ironically, even this lone stream is abruptly interrupted with one single notification of an email on the top of my iPad. Toxic.

TL;DR, change things while you still can, because recovering from the Big Bang that happens when you’re completely depleted takes a long time and isn’t pleasant at all. It feels like starting from scratch all over again, tormenting your ego in the process. Not worth it.

1

23.2.2017
Filed under Rants
9fce318a-5f49-4f41-ad36-56f5bcc595b4

Webdesign is becoming boring (again)?

Webdesign is getting boring? Frankly, I disagree.

Not the youngest of articles but the same discussion happened on medium the other day. So this comes up again and again and I can very well understand the feeling.
I really get it. We used to have a lot of fun with bevels and fake shiny plastic back in the day. Oh how I enjoyed Winamp skins, noise filters and fake mercury letters. After all it was what got me hooked when I was 14 or so.

We actually aspired to create more user friendly websites for a long while, making fun of animated gifs.. now look where we ended up: the web is (well, mostly) rather user friendly and everybody and their dogs creates animated gifs. hehe. So one problem is solved, the other had some kind of pop culture revival.

Content first, no bullshit design doesn't need to be boring. Just because Ruder and other typographers established structured and well organised grid layouts (that we all love), print hasn't become any more boring either. The fact that we have great grid frameworks for the web takes a lot of fiddling away and we can figure out how to use this to still create individual layouts within the constraints and not sacrifice UX and accessibility along the way. It is possible to create visually pleasing editorial content on the web and not sacrifice UX. However, for the latter you need the client, the budget and the coders that don't try to explain to you about DITA and what not. I'm sure we find a middle ground, friends. :-)

Like with all things though, that comes with a price. You can't expect to quote a website template for 600 bucks and be left with creative freedom. Creativity and design processes are rather inefficient by nature and there's a good chance that the longer an idea boils, the more refining is applied, the better the result. Now if you complain about boring websites and push prices to the bare minimum and change a few lines of a themeforest template, there's your problem. For a company, 1000$ doesn't make a difference if they know the value of what they receive will actually improve much, as well. On a side note, I usually suggest to clients that have basically no budget at all to go for that themeforest route but at the same time making it clear to them that while this might work for starters, it scratches only the surface of what's possible. For some it matters, for some it doesn't.

If you think Webdesign is boring, maybe stop using premade templates completely, where you initially <em>think</em> you want to change certain things but then forget about it because it's much more convenient to use what's already there. And then there's a deadline. And the guy liked that photo of a pasture in the hero area that ships with it. Why bother. But if you succumb to this workflow, you're bound to be bored.

Accept that you are always designing for an audience. If this audience is supposed to find their way and information quickly, there's only so much options. And that is a good thing for everyone! But there are times where an audience is different, where you are completely in charge of things.

This doesn't mean that you have to get bored. Drop (or rethink) your dribbble and make a kick ass weird portfolio site that shows off the freaky, non mainstream side of you. Without the hero images and the sidebar and the sexy smiling lady with a headset..

Or make a graphically wild mobile app using Ionic and Cordova just for the heck of it.
Or anything, really.

I know, because I made the same mistake a few years ago and it took me a while to realise what has happened. If you get bored, quality drops, money becomes the main focus and all the love is gone before you know it. If you're like me, maybe you need to look for contrast to restore balance, thus maybe even discovering new things in the process.

We design for clients, we are bound to budgets and opinions and corporate identities. But we can also design for ourselves from time to time. I did this way too rarely in the past couple of years and I have to rediscover, for example, my love for bold typographic minimalism and noisy collages.

Question design trends, be skeptic. I was never a big fan of jumping on the bandwagon. And I have a hard time connecting to the so called design community because the weight of egos is pushing too hard for my taste. There's enough kids running after (insert latest design trend here). At least that's how I feel about it, anyways. There's things to consider and then there's the funky gradient everybody uses for their icon backdrop I don't give a fuck about.

1

13.2.2017
Filed under Rants
15d87b9b-dce5-4dc7-8e9d-55fb1089416c

Facts, opinions

Just a theory that rolled around in my head and I can't quite figure out its viability.
Not a long time ago (and in some places and societies this is still the case), life was regulated by belief and religion. Before Christianity came around in Europe, it was shamanism and occultism. As soon as humans developed advanced cognitive abilities, they began questioning events happening around them and were searching for answers. Cognitive abilities force individuals to search for answers, science and religion are both a byproduct of the evolution of the human mind as they are providing this hard sought resource.

Over the course of thousands of years, we came to accept that a thunderstorm is not, in fact, an angry diety but simply the result of our environments dynamics. The scientific explanations were comparatively easy to understand even if you did not have the background knowledge about physics and volume dynamics and so on. It was acceptable, it sounded rational.

We now ended up in a place where almost everything that we can touch and what we can see in nature is explained in scientific terms. Science moved on to tackle more abstract themes that regular people without the large amount of knowledge that builds the base for all the abstract questions simply can't grasp. At the same time, we ourselves created objects that someone without an engineering degree can't really understand. This blows wind on the windmill of religion.

The more abstract technology and science get, the more people simply switch off their receptors for scientific ideas. They probably feel left out and as a result, underprivileged. It probably feels like a promise has been broken.
As a result, they turn back to more archaic ideas. They heard somewhere that radiowaves are everywhere. For example, they don't know exactly what a radiowave is. They develop theories based on fragments of knowledge they picked up and develop a belief that is based on such fragments. And they use it to explain things they can't explain.

Someone feels bad, can't sleep, doesn't know why. Notices the proximity of a mobile phone antenna and that gets them thinking and asking questions. Even before considering other things, they now turn to that.

Before there were GSM antennas, it was the spirit of an ancestor that was wrongfully accused or the wood elve's revenge for cutting down that oak tree the day before.
Much like esoterica, a person is most receptive for such ideas when they themselves go though a hard time, physically or menthally. This state of feeling unwell is a large source for questions that need answers. Answers that science and medicine fails to provide in some cases. So we turn to something else to look for answers. And at this point in time, almost every answer is right, as long as there is one.

We have spent so much energy on technological advancement and physical medicine, yet what goes on in our heads is one of the last frontiers. How does a cognitive mind develop? Is a few synapses and neurons, learning and mimicking, really all there is to it?

We now enter the age of artificial intelligence. We have seen a few glimpses here and there and since the advent of science fiction, we are overwhelmed with scenarios in pop culture. While I personally look at it as a positive thing, a chance to learn more about what makes us "us", most people are probably frightened by the idea. Sentient artificial intelligence must look to them like a rider of the apocalypse.

For the past couple of hundred years, science was dominating the playfield. Religion was reformed, democratic society replaced the all-ruling god states we lived in before that. The philosophical and societal revolution, enlightenment, paved the way for being able to question the existing, dominant ways, namely religion and monarchy.

0

11.2.2017
Filed under Rants
5bd254bc-c825-409c-9533-a28d8232a1c7

The internet is different

Cleaning up my digital footprint allowed me to revisit a lot of services I have used in the past and basically just forgot about in the last 7-8 years. In the process, I realised how fragmented the internet is. How much content is there, outdated, sitting on a bleak corner of the web on a service that once thrived and has been superseded by "the next cool thing"? On my travels to delete accounts (where possible, actually.. sadly not a given :( ) I haven't used for the past few years, I ended up on a number of sites where contacts, like me, just disappeared. Last.fm for example. I once practically lived on this site. Nowadays it's a paid service as far as I can tell and most of the people once using it have moved on, years ago. I ended up not deleting my account because I spent so much time on there. Scrobbled each track I listened to for years. Brought a tear to my eye.

I also deleted my yahoo account with all Flickr content, all my tweets since 2008 (I can't give up the handle, not yet ;) ), instapaper and so on. All of this information was sitting there, a lifespan of a few hours, maybe days, and then it's obsolete. It lost all relevance of the present and is too trivial to revisit. It's aspect of digital transience and impermanence is the only thing that makes me think Snapchat has a reason to exist ;-)

Every time I got that "Your account has been deleted" message, I felt a bit lighter. This is probably very subjective but all these unused accounts and galleries, and accumulations of data are somehow present in your subconscious at some point. Especially if you practically lived and worked on the internet for the past 15 years. It's a weird, nagging reminder of the things you actually wanted to do but simply never got around to. There's just too much.

I wanted to read more books. Goodread.com seemed nice to help achieve that. Joined early to check it out and to be closer to my love back then who was on a different continent. But I didn't read more. I was just feeling bad about the fact that I didn't read what I wanted to. Doesn't help. Wrong medicine for the symptoms.

One can extend this line of thoughts to assume that compared to 10-15 years ago, every human with a more or less active online life spends hours each week, just consuming social media. Or talking about it. Here a minute. There a minute. The latest Trump tweet. The latest craze on Facebook. A looming thought of whether what just happened is worth writing a fragment of text in an app or sharing an image. Or thinking about a witty comment. Reading spam on LinkedIn and browsing over pages of information that does, in the end, barely provide any significant value. I would go as far as to say that by logging users movements and aggregating everything, the only noticeable value is the ad revenue and behavioral data for the platform itself.

Honestly. What did we do before that? I can't quite figure that out anymore. Was there more "downtime"? Alas, 24 hours is still not upgradeable in terms of day and night cycles, so.. people were interacting just as much, probably, but the main difference is that there were clear, physical constraints. With the world and everyone you ever knew in your pocket (and then some!), 24/7, things are quite different and I'm not sure whether that's a good or a bad thing.

I certainly don't want to whine about the "good old times", god forbid. All of this has a use for something. The tech is super interesting. The possibilities amazing. And I just love the net. But think about this: if you want to actually read, think and digest all that information that is being thrown at you, just right after you log in to twitter or FB, so you can actually properly process it.. impossible. It has no other option than being superficial. Or polarizing. Because of the format, because of the way it's consumed. Hors d'oeuvres of meaningful information are being served, a quick snack that is easily digestible and off we browse to the next picture of a cat doing something funny. Putting as much as possible into a small space that moves down the timeline as fast as it appeared.

I don't know if we collectively grasped this yet. But in just a few years, the world turned into this fancy data highway everybody was talking about 20 years ago with sparking eyes. Huge leaps in technological terms and certainly also in bringing people together. But as with everything, the dosage makes the poison. Well that sounds a wee bit dramatic but you get the point. ;-)

n one hand I love how the web changes quickly and grows, becomes more interactive and accessible. On the other hand, how much of what we do online is sustainable? In the sense that it creates real, deep value for our lives, and not just for the data mining industry? How much of what we do online should be permanent, even? Essentially, do we need to be connected 24/7?

ow let that sink in. Someone known for trying to be online as much as possible for the past 20 years questions this very ambition.

I remember quite clearly why I joined networks like Xing and LinkedIn. I had this idea that just by exposing myself, someone would find me and I would be able to connect in the professional environment to grow my then newly started freelance business. So I joined, added all the people I know that I could think of and joined groups and read what other people wrote. This caused me to realise that the only way to get that exposure I was looking for would mean to invest a significant effort to even get noticed. If you aren't someone who naturally gets into a position to receive attention even in real life, it certainly will not happen in a social network online either. You have to offer something, be captivating, be a magnet. Well, I am sorry, but that is not who I am. But as it goes, you think you need to do something that is not part of your nature and that causes actually a lot more energy to get burned than what you get back. I haven't got a single lead from networks like that but I still could live well and projects came in. Because of the quality of my work, my work ethics and my skills. Not a profile.

I may have a bit of social anxiety. I am just more comfortable and happy, the less I have to think about social stuff. Not a people person. It takes a while to come to terms with that. And while every superficial handbook on "success" might tell you otherwise, it's completely OK to be like that. I only feel free when I have the opportunity to express myself without PR filters or masquerading as something that I am not. As soon as I tried to go against my nature ("but you need to go out there etc"), I usually ended up in a spot where I don't actually felt comfortable. I can't force myself to go into a single bar or join a dating website without feeling that this is the bane of me - same applies for networking events or other "social" events. Forcing something that just isn't is brutally inefficient. the best things in my life happened by accident and where completely unforeseeable. And they didn't happen because I was striving for them. I just did what I felt was right and that hardly included any kind of social networking.

To be fair, you are always exposed a little bit unless you become a hermit living off the wood's resources. So you are bound to bump into things. Exposure is still happening, even if you don't force it.

I think what I am trying to say is this: part of the reason why it feels right for me personally to get rid of all the social media consumption and exposure and getting rid of all the stale information is that I didn't join this up for the right reasons to start with. It was against my nature then and it was against my nature now. So there is no point.

Blogging on the other hand (not to mix this up with serious journalism) is like walking down the street and meeting someone you haven't seen in a while. I walk down the street not to get noticed or wait for someone to bump into me or jump at random people advertising my services or themselves.

It is part therapy, part curiosity. I can reminiscence about life and those who feel similar will feel maybe connected, others turn around. But I am not forcing myself into this position.

I guess I drifted off-topic again a bit - but one "perk" of being forced down to doing nothing lies in the ability to take a step back and look at everything with a certain distance. I can only recommend that.

2

8.2.2017
Filed under Rants
8231276a-c1df-4353-9a96-a866127e297e

Pile of ashes

There's this feeling that overcomes you that it is too much, knowing that you already became much less efficient at what you do over a certain period. Things that once sounded easy to do and a fun side gig seem unbearably complex. And even the fact that you're just thinking that seems to underline that you feel weak and spent. Only adding to the helplessness and feeding a negative feedback loop. All joy is lost.

Things start to get uninteresting and unimportant. Rational thinking is hard, you can't draw the line anymore between life and job, feeling that you're somewhere in between or not anywhere at all. All you want to do is run away and leave this job behind you. You do things you never thought you'd even consider. You realize that this darkness in front of you is the abyss and you're one step away from losing yourself completely.

Congratulations, you probably just burnt out. Or missed it by a hairline. Doesn't really matter anymore at this point. You're a pile of ashes, wether there's a bit of glimmering, dying ember left doesn't make much of a difference. The exhaustion in your mind, the inability to process emotions, the lack of everything that you thought makes you "you".. it builds up and there's only one way out: pulling the cord.

I knew I had to talk to a doctor about this when I realized that the only thing that will possibly change something is to remove myself from the image. I thought (maybe I wasn't clear enough) that I mentioned plenty of times that "things are steering towards a breaking point" for me. But with all the things going on at the same time, I doubt I was loud enough. Feeling a bit like fighting windmills. The deterioration is a slow process. And for most of it, I was already on anti depressants from an earlier chapter of a chain of rather bad decisions. The drugs kept me functioning without me realising that I actually, actively destroy myself. At some point, about 8 months before things got really bad, I decided to go off my medication. It is as if my subconscious was trying to remove that polarizing filter so I actually get a grip of what's going on around me. So, seeing it more as a hunch at this time, I did what I felt was right. About 2 months later, after some rather unpleasant withdrawal, I felt that my ego awoke from a bit of a sedated state. At this point I was actually proud..

What you maybe don't know if you've never been on medication is that it directly influences your brain chemistry, which means in turn that your entire self is being affected. This has good sides, you're depression might become less dominant and you are able to "function" properly without succumbing to endless dark thought loops.. but it also levels you to a certain emotional play field. Filter, Equalizer.. of sorts. It can change you as a person.

2

6.2.2017
Filed under
18c017e1-61bd-4e69-9fab-c3e4dfe1c067

rm -rf social_media*

I am going to delete all my social media accounts in the next few days. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and so forth. Was thinking long and hard about this, but it's the best way forward. I could just delete all the apps first, but hell, why bother. Time to cut the middle man and continuing defragmentation. Or to put it in more elaborate terms: bye bye bitches. Hehe.

Don't get me wrong, social media is great for outreach. But I guess I don't want to reach out. In fact, I had to force myself taking part in this.. It was all cool when I was a bit younger and the concept was new, but being in it for what, 10 years now, I can't see any value any more. My social media accounts are deserts of stale content and out of date information, so why bother.

I will continue to suggest to business owners to use social media to their advantage. But it's not for me. I don't buy into that whole self-marketing bullshit. I'm also not interested in most of what people post over there. Most of it is, in fact, self-marketing. If you're running a startup it might help to get you some leads and exposure, but .. that's not really going to turn your business into the machine you want it to be, if you don't fully lean into creating engaging content. That's a full time job. Hell, when I learned that there's that thing called being a "social media influencer" and all the Instagram zombies showing off their sixpacks and training bras, I started to question the entire thing. That was years ago.. didn't had much time to think about it since, but catched up, luckily. :-)

I think social media affected my blogging as well. Instead of thinking about topics and writing down my thoughts - mostly for me because who gives a shit, anyways - I ended up having to use that small form factor content format that social media is and .. it's just not enough room for proper writing.

I know, comparing social media to blogging is comparing apples with oranges. But I only have energy to care about one thing and I sure as hell don't care about food pictures taken with a crappy phone.

To those who think people will not be able to "find" them anymore: Imagine, if you think you are only in touch with people due to a social network, maybe it's time to rethink the value proposition on a whole. Like, you know, if someone's not careing enough to call you up or send you an email, maybe it's not worth investing more time into this anyways.

To get some oversaturated view on social media, maybe you should watch Black Mirror's first episode of season 3 :-) - I know it's a bit too heavy but.. you know.. never say never *cough*TRUMP*cough*...

As for consuming social media. I noticed that I was following so many people I don't even know personally and read their stuff wether it makes sense or not. And lately with all the hate boiling up around the Trump thing I have to say, NO, I don't need that invading my private life 24/7. I have my opinion about this guy (not good) and that's it. And I sure as hell don't need the hate bubble surrounding it.

Blogging vs Social Media. I don't think I would post personal feelings on any social media platform. Simply because me posting that isn't me needing input from anyone. Compare it to blogging. When I think back to how many articles I wrote that deeply reflected my belief system. I wouldn't do that in social media. However, blogging about something like that is completely different. It's my own realm and even tho it is publicly available, I don't send 300 people a note instantly that i just figured out something. Like that the Cesar salad is great. If someone's at all interested in my life, he or she can get the memo on my blog or ask me in person, without me bothering everyone I ever added that I don't like friggin' wireless lightbulbs or enjoy binge watching Netflix series (especially Marvel).

Unfortunately I see that a lot of people moved away from personal blogging to simply dropping fragments of their life on Facebook and twitter. I think this is a sad development.

So long and thanks for all the fish. It wasn't much more than that.

5

28.11.2016
Filed under Games
4fe3c8df-92b5-460f-ad80-7055aaf0c3ac

War for the overworld

This early access game was on sale on steam after I noticed that Dungeon Keeper 1 was for free on Origin. DK1 is great in so many ways, I played it for a few hours (320x240 or so, ugh) and decided to look around again for a "real spiritual successor".

I already bought "Dungeons" in 2011 but was greatly disappointed. WFTO seemed to be closer to the spirit of DK so I spent the 20 bucks in the super duper deluxe version. LO AND BEHOLD, I was playing it for the entire weekend. Game mechanics are exactly the same, however the atmosphere never really got close but that might be due to nostalgic reasons. It lacks a bit the dark humour and ambiance of DK but it's still a great game that has been getting s lot of flak due to bugs for the first few months.

The only weird thing I encountered was the abrupt ending that seemed to be completely underdeveloped. That was a bit sad. But since the mechanics are so close, it's a lot of fun and it certainly is way better than "Dungeons". Means, closer to DK.

I didn't encounter any disruptive bugs, just a bit of lag now and then when my dungeons reached a certain size. Taking into account that this game has been funded via Kickstarter and early access and did not have the AAA dev cash, it's really solid.
If you liked DK, you will like this one, too. And for the price, it's a no brainer to give it a try.

0

21.11.2016
Filed under Rants
8c9fc684-0678-472b-9c9b-6dec369c09db

Hue white bulbs: pretty stupid

While testing the HUE system I noticed the following things:

  • The HUE white light bulbs white tone is very nice
  • Nobody at Philips used the bulbs at their own houses and flats before product launch

While I am not a fan of intelligent light bulbs at all (it's the wrong approach from my perspective but that's another story), the basic idea is very intriguing. In the case of HUE, I can't get over the thought that their approach is half baken and as soon as a normal light switch is part of the equation (which it is in 99% of all cases), the concept crumbles less than gracefully and becomes a waste of money.

These bulbs don't seem to save the current state locally. So whenever you hit the physical light switch and cycle the power, you end up with the default 100% dimmer value. Not even the base station, the bridge, saves the state or reassigns the last bridge value to the bulb.

I mean, really? Who signed that off? All it would take is saving a few bytes in non volatile memory. That's it. In essence, they took the most trivial technological interface for humans to date and made practical usability worse than it is to date with normal, "stupid" light bulbs. Do you really think I want to set the bloody dimmer manually every time I turn on the light in the hallway? On my phone? Are you kidding me? And if your answer is: buy Philips light switches.. well, NO. Nope. Certainly not. Why would I spend hundreds of dollars to have a total vendor lock in on such a basic technology level like light? A candle can do this job.

This, to some extent, shows the struggle the so called IOT has with itself. I am all for disruption and making things smart. But for the love of god, try to use your concept yourself before you push it to market.

0

21.11.2016
Filed under Captain Obvious
f32f527f-3201-424c-be3d-0d12fa5f9a76

Downsizing

Moving is a great opportunity to size down the household to what's really necessary. I moved a month ago and jeez, I got rid of so much trash that was just sitting around the past 5 years. Clothes, cable salad, kitchen ware, tons of paper from when I was self employed. Defragmenting my environment. Feels good.

0

18.11.2016
Filed under Rants
c5c16629-c447-4000-b3a7-3581e2a06aef

Empathise, please

There's a pattern that is visible in the design world where people sometimes put their own visions above that of the user or client. As a result, designers complain about uneducated clients or users that don't get it. Newsflash: not everybody shares your mindset.

I think this is kinda sad, especially because all it takes is a bit of empathy and realising that you don't design for yourself but for someone else and ultimately a large heterogeneous group of people.

While I had the occasional "client from hell" in the past 15 years, I have always tried to foster close relationships with clients and before I even tried as much as to sketch something up, tried to frame the picture by getting as much information as I can to avoid these outcomes.

I never felt particularly comfortable in the "design community" because it felt disconnected from reality. It felt like designers design for other designers. Spending so much time talking about the theories and hot trends that the basic goal got lost in the process. I never saw myself as an artist. And I still don't think that someone designing a thing that is supposed to be used by a large group of people should start with any artistic expectations towards himself. It's not the same thing. Art can leave certain things open, play with expectations, simply ignore them. Design can't.
I think it's great to quantify design and UX because it allows for a more rational view and subsequently, decisions. However, that option doesn't exist always. Either the client doesn't want to spend the money or you simply don't have the time to rush that or other reasons don't allow for it. In those cases, you have to rely on a mix of experience, gut feeling and empathy for the end user. Putting oneself in their shoes, removing fancy designer goggles.

While design is, at the end, more a matter of quantified and explainable processes, your heart should be with the client and the end users while designing. Not with the thing you design. I see this as a conflict of interest. Sometimes I was so sure my design is kick ass just to be vaporised by clashes of taste or simply missing the point. During the past years, I had to create stuff under huge pressure and basically never had time to think about something for too long. That helps to develop a sense to create something that works and can be a first step of an iteration under difficult circumstances.

Design is not self realisation. It's a trade, a craft. Making tools for other people to work with or create a certain facet of feelings for the viewer.

0

30.5.2016
Filed under Games
8888bfee-1509-45bb-a3de-b3b6bcacd213

Battleborn

I rarely get around to gaming these days. But Battleborn was quite the exception. I loved Borderlands, the humour resonates quite well with me. Since Battleborn is roughly based on the same kind of funny dialogue and quirky characters, I was able to connect very quickly.

My brother and me spent hours playing through Borderlands 2 and all the DLC in co-op mode together and it was again fun to do the same in Battleborn's story mode. It's not really the same but .. still a lot of fun.

The story mode consists of a couple of missions that are not linear in the sense that you'd need to finish one in order to finish the others. Each one has it's own map, story and objectives. Only the last mission - the peak of saving the universe - depends on the other missions being done.

Really loved the intro and cut sequences visual style. 80s style sci-fi cartoons.

Can't get into the whole competitive mode gameplay tho. Just not my thing. There's always the 12 year old nagging about and spreading utter idiocy.. Don't need that. Why is there always at least one jerk in a team of 5 players? I could dedicate an entire post alone on that topic. The jerkery in today's multiplayer games is just extraordinary. Which is why I prefer to play co-op with people I like. Much more fun.

Their end-game is clearly the "MOBA meets FPS" thing. But I hope they come up with a few more co-op missions along the way.

All in all, makes for a couple very funny hours!

0

29.5.2016
Filed under Rants
4b652b55-118f-4074-9181-2a4e32e106cf

Squeezing the lemon

Running a company with bloody high fix costs and zero positive cash flow (yet) is super demanding. At times frustrating. Not exactly relaxing. Even with the occasional cash injection, the struggle is permanent and adds to the existing pressure in a way that might be best described by watching one of those videos on youtube in which this swedish guy squishes stuff with his hydraulic press … It hurts. It's the stuff that keeps you up at night. Everything depends on that magical time to market to turn things around. And if the technical challenges aren't enough, you have to take care of financial and management issues, too.

But here's the deal: I think that in the long run, it helps build a solid understanding for everyone involved what it means to make humble decisions in all things money related. Like: No, we can't afford office desks from designer brand XY - there's plenty of other ways to get 10 desks for $1000. Also, let's just scale our cloud stuff for the current situation and demands, shall we? It basically impregnates the idea of efficient spending and efficient working at the very core and into everybody's mind in a very painful way. Maslow would be proud. Of course, this involves that your people are in the loop. Don't create illusions. Share the success stories but also the very real struggles. I know for a fact that some do not agree with this. But the only way to make things work is when everybody is on the same page. From my experience, what bonds you as team most is overcoming impossible odds. More so than any award or compliment.

I've had the chance to get to know a few start-ups in the hardware and software business that are much, much more well financed than we are. They were either able to bring more funds to the table themselves or they had huge Angel investments. But to have money doesn't necessarily mean that their product is going to be better, nor that they will develop better as a company. A lot of the products I came across don't really tickle my interest that much and feel more like me-too stuff than anything really disruptive. The disruptive aspect is more in the slide deck than the product itself.

Of course, we all want to dive into the Google Ballpit or have a fun meeting in a Super Mario themed meeting room, drinking artisanally brewed macha tea from a small coop in Guatemala.. But really, if you run a company that has time and money to think about stuff like that, makes it a priority and actually has staff dedicated to it, you'd better come up with a new product idea and keep people busy with that. Instead of fulfilling each 1990's internet company bubble cliche available. To me that's a company with way too much time and money on its hands and doesn't really care about going forward but dedicates a shitload of resources to decorating the nest and masturbate while watching its success. So, basically, it entered the corporate realm and is on its way to join all the dinosaurs. There's a reason garage companies are much more efficient and productive. But there's also a reason they develop and a flatline heartbeat in innovation and creativity as soon as they reach a certain size.
I don't have anything against perks, au contraire, I spend a lot of time working from home and enjoy that very much, for example. I can focus better and can relax better when I need it.

I'd rather offer my team a yearly one week trip to an exotic location to forget about all the daily business and connect with eachother on a more personal level. Or internal courses and talks and things like that. Whatever they think makes sense. Not what improves the company value. Not what the people detached from that very base think. All the materialistic stuff is just a bait for potential hires. I don't think anybody gives a shit wether you have playstations in the office or not if they're completely honest.

And yeah, this is probably really just about hiring people. After all, we all get attracted more to a work place that looks like a freakin' pre-school playhouse than a chaotic lab with stained coffee mugs. Seeing those well funded playgrounds might leave you with a bit of a jealousy if you have to cut so many corners to keep your own ship over the water.

However, I'm probably a pretty bad example: most companies I worked for in the past have never had such ambitions and the real value was always more on the personal side of things. The concessions we made.. I can think of a lot of people that would never accept that.

For the most part, I think that a lot of tech start-ups are spoiled brats. And it's easy to come up with things that should be nicer and better at the place you work. But that has nothing to do with the vibe in the offices or the quality of the products. All of that depends on each individual working there. If that happens for the wrong reasons or with the wrong attitude, you can have dozens of gum machines in each corner of the office: it won't change anything about the fact that everybody needs to work, hard, on a common goal.

The reason why I spent a lot of time thinking about that: there's not enough qualified candidates around to fill our roster. That's the same thing for basically every company looking for software and system engineers. And therefore, companies spend a lot of time and effort coming up with ways that, in their opinion, makes them more interesting for the candidates available. Which is depressing because it automatically means that if you are in a position where offering all that stuff is simply not possible due to monetary and workload constraints, it makes you look like you don't give a damn about company culture.

This is entirely unfair. The large fancy tech giants make superficial promises which is much more attractive on the first glimpse. But once you're actually there, the job needs to get done anyways and it doesn't matter much if there's an in-house Starbucks or a person hired to make PB&amp;J sandwiches for everyone. And if they screen your output and its beyond their expectations, it's suddenly no longer cozy either way.

So you're stuck between a rock and a hard place: small team, huge project, long hours, massive pressure, tight budgets. Long hours and pressure affect motivation, in order to get rid of that and make it more bearable for everyone, you need to scale. But you can't scale that fast because even hiring people itself takes a lot of time, since you aren't in the position to hire someone specifically as a HR person yet because the budget is tight. This puts even more work on the table for a few people that are already at a 120%. And the circle continues.

So yeah, those are the questions and dilemmas that keep you up at night. Not even going into technical details yet. That's the cherry on top.

One of the agreements that we can reach at this point is that it's entirely understandable if someone simply drops the mic and walks away from managing such a thing. But at the end of the day, you made it that far and as long as the chances are still on the table, you continue to push forward.

I just hope that all the fancy, well funded projects appreciate their options and the position they're in. It could be very different. And it can change very quickly. Especially if you lose track of what actually matters.

0

26.5.2016
Filed under Rants
184d6f89-be4e-4734-9a5b-c8031e9a75d1

So.. what exactly are you doing?

Blessed be the simple job descriptions. It's usually quite painful to explain to someone what I do. To the point where it becomes questionable for everyone listening wether it's actually true..

First and foremost, the way I work is: I need to do A, in order to get A done, I need to learn skillset B. So I go ahead and lean into B, to the point where I have a solid understanding and can start to get the job done. And from then on, it's trial and error. The added bonus is: if B is something that I'm interested in anyways, it's actually fun!

This includes everything from IT to graphic design, programming, photography, databases, CAD, hardware prototyping, 3D modelling, media production, managing servers and hosting platforms, business stuff, production management and so on. All of that at some point contributed more or less to me making a living. Either as a self employed worker, at a company or as a freelancer. Look at my Linked In profile. It's utterly confusing.

I would never consider myself an expert in any of these fields. There's plenty of specialists that can easily kick my ass. But this broad range of skills come in handy when you have to link certain fields together, with a certain healthy distance and not too much details to worry about. I have a solid enough understanding to focus on the big picture.

This becomes clear to me now that I'm working with large international companies that are basically huge colonies of highly specialised worker ants - hard to find anybody with a broad view of what's going on, usually. And the coordination ants have no idea what the tech ants are talking about. The recipe for inefficiency, millions of dollars wasted and mediocre output.

What this means is that I'd probably be suited pretty well for management.. Oh my.. :-P

0

25.5.2016
Filed under Rants
051096d5-7350-496f-b941-62f841aaabfe

The tool VS the job

I've spent a lot of time making music (or noise) in the past 18 years and I noticed a sort of inevitable progression that ended in the inevitable lack of inspiration for me.
I started off with a simple software sequencer, the music was crappy, but it was fun to play around with the technology and be creative at the same time. I never had much of a background in music theory, never learned to play the piano before, only had a few years of guitar playing in my pocket.. But it was cool to share music with friends and see what they come up with. The whole thing was totally lo-fi and there wasn't such a thing like software synths. It was really just messing around with samples, recording samples of your own, ripping samples from anywhere.

Soon, things like Cubase, Logic Pro and VSTs showed up and that's when it started to become way more technical. Dealing with latency, CPU load, et cetera.. Jeskola Buzz was somewhere in between, very minimalistic but still did the job. Didn't care about reverb quality or sample bitrate. Just made some funky tunes with a lot of noise, breakbeats and distortion.

At some point, I started to collect samples from commercial sample discs. Quality became more of a concern. And the whole periphery war.. that's probably where it started to get troublesome. While working on a track, I spent way too much time browsing samples, minding the downmix even before a track was halfway there. I was hunting for plugins all the time, new sample libraries, even bought some NI collections at some point. But I never used them, really.

It was about at the same time when I think I got less and less inspired and spent most of the time trying to do something that's not my style. Which is where I lost interest. Inevitably, I'm a lo-fi, minimal guy and huge arrangements with multichannel 192khz classical instruments really aren't my thing. Give me a saw, a filter and crunch that thing and I'm essentially happy!

I was thinking a lot in the past few months how I can bring back music as part of my weekly routine since I'm working way too much. Then I start browsing online shops to check out new audio interfaces et cetera.. And I spend way too much time thinking about the tools, rather than the job.

I think it's really easy to get caught up in the tool-war. Way too easy. I think I have to knowingly go completely minimal. Time to delete the GBs of samples and high end stuff and start from scratch.

Funny enough, this provides food for thought for other fields. Working on a large software project, I know how easy it is to get caught up in tooling discussions, rather than actually pushing for product features. All the frameworks, boilerplates, yeoman recipes.. It all adds to a huge intransparent jungle of workarounds and tweaks that ultimately make things a lot more complicated than they have to be.

0

24.5.2016
Filed under Technology
b40bc740-f3ee-47b7-ac73-fc90435f8168

Utter reset

Since the start-up took off, I haven't had much time to write. And even less time to care about some CMS or blogging web app to be up to date and managed. Which is why I'm now using GHOST. I'm getting old..

Unfortunately, I couldn't import my old blog posts but maybe that's for the best. Time to wipe the slate clean and leave the old ramblings where they belong, somewhere in a .tar.gz dump of a MySQL database to rot for the next decades.

I have a lot of thoughts that I'd like to share about this and that, right now I feel like doing this again on a regular basis. When I think back, the whole blogging thing was great to gain a bit of introspection.. It's a rather selfish act and I really don't care if anyone reads this or not.

Ed.: Irony hits hard. Back to WordPress..

1