Preserving the Web

As Sarah and I were in the middle of moving, packing our lives into cardboard boxes, we unearthed a bunch of old laptops. Before donating them, I cracked them open to back everything up — and found a ton of old websites I’d worked on over the years. Rather than just shuffle the files endlessly between hard drives, I resolved to get them all online.

Enter an online collection of my web design and development work, from 2007 to the present day.

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What Counts as Politics in the Workplace?

Yesterday, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried announced that they will no longer tolerate political discussions at work (quickly scaled back to “on our company Basecamp account"). As with the controversial Expensify email, the ensuing discussion fractured along predictable lines, although Basecamp’s employees seem to be solidly against the changes.

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30 Years, 30 Songs

As John Mulaney might say, “I’m 30 now. That’s young, but it’s also not.”

Ever since I read Bob Nystrom’s 40 Songs, I knew I wanted to write a list of my own. I’ve been procrastinating on it for a while, but “30 years” slips further away as I inch closer to 31, so it’s time to buckle down and do it.

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Things That Didn't Kill My App

The day SongRender launched, there was a bug that prevented files from uploading. I found out when my first paying customer’s videos failed to render. Since the files had never left his computer, there was no way for me to fix it for him. I had to ask him to email the files to me so I could manually render his videos. (He was very gracious).

Another time, I messed up the Netlify configuration for serving the website, so visitors were greeted by a blank white trendy minimalist page. To make matters worse, I had also misconfigured the uptime checker. It took a full day for me to realize the site was down.

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No One Ever Got Fired for Choosing React

If you spend a lot of time on Hacker News, it’s easy to get taken by the allure of building a web app without a framework. There are a bunch of potential advantages (no bloat! bespoke to your project!) and being able to say you built something with minimal dependencies gets you Engineer Points.

That is, if you can pull it off.

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Tools and Services I Use to Run My SaaS

Who doesn’t love a good stack teardown? Ever since I saw Cushion’s running costs page, I’ve been low key addicted to reading about how other apps are built.

I work on an app called SongRender that helps musicians and podcasters make videos for social media. So in the spirit of the teardown, here are the tools and services I use to run it!

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What Is Censorship, Really?

Last week I posted about Section 230 and tech censorship. A couple days later, Glenn Greenwald was censored by his editors at The Intercept. What timing!

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Taming the Tech Giants

Everyone’s angry at the tech industry these days! Tech companies continue to cement their place as some of the most powerful companies in the world, and taking shots at them has become a popular sport. Most recently, Facebook and Twitter suppressed a controversial New York Post article, raising accusations that the social networks are putting their thumbs on the scale of the upcoming election.

In response, conservatives — led by the President — have set their sights on Section 230, the legislation that protects the right of Internet companies to moderate content. “Repeal Section 230” has become a popular rallying cry from people who believe that large social networks are abusing this ability to enact a political agenda. There’s a lot of rhetoric around “publishers” and “platforms” (the idea being that if you decide to moderate content on your app or website, you should assume legal liability for it) and that Internet companies are breaking the rules by deciding what content to allow.

Naturally, the left disputes the claim that conservatives are being censored. But we can still analyze the power of gatekeeper platforms even if we disagree about how they’re wielding it.

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No More Politics in the Workplace

Last night, Expensify CEO David Barrett sent an email urging all their customers to vote for Joe Biden. The response was predictably polarizing, with a lot of people arguing that workplaces shouldn’t be politicized.

Okay, fine. But if we’re doing this, can we carry it through to the end? Because I can think of a lot of corporate political activism that the people complaining are suspiciously quiet about.

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Giving Up Google

Google is an evil company. When they’re not surveilling billions of people, they’re trying to harm the web or firing employees for organizing. My first entry on this blog was about reasons to avoid Google products. I don’t like Google!

The thing is, Google is everywhere, and Google is free. It’s probably not much of an exaggeration to say that everyone who spends time online has used a Google service. In a lot of cases, they’re the default option that people choose without thinking. At some point, I just decided to stop. No more Google in my life.

Is that even possible in 2020? Mostly!

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Blue/Green Deploys and Immutable Infrastructure with Terraform

The original deploy strategy for SongRender involved using Ansible to provision and build the application servers. I was unhappy with that process for a few reasons.

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SongRender Turns One

It’s pretty awesome to be able to say this: SongRender, the music visualizer video app I work on, launched one year ago today! And when you include the six months of work that preceded the launch, it’s by far the longest I’ve kept up a side project. There’s a post on the blog over there celebrating the user–facing improvements. Here, I’m giving a behind–the–scenes look.

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Full Stack Ethics

In the final season of Silicon Valley, Hooli ex–CEO Gavin Belson announces “tethics”, a portmanteau of “tech ethics” and a pledge companies can sign to show they uphold the principles thereof. The idea catches on, and it becomes deeply unpopular for a company to not be “tethical”. Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks is the lone holdout, objecting that signing the pledge doesn’t actually mean anything.

The joke is that Silicon Valley has spent the entire series portraying Gavin Belson as the most flagrant example of an unethical tech CEO. Like so much of the show, it’s a sharp critique of the real tech industry.

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