Categories
Front-end Development

Dropping support for Internet Explorer 11 (when 18% of your revenue comes from companies still using it)

At Culture Amp we dropped support for Internet Explorer 11 in March this year, despite a significant portion of our annual recurring revenue coming from companies with over 10% of users still on IE11. We did that without complaints. How? Through a mix of customer conversations, clear planning, a neat technical trick, a focus on UX, and clear communication. Here’s the story of how we did it.

About us and our customers

To help understand the context we’re working in, it helps to know a bit about our company. Culture Amp is on a mission to create a better world of work, by building a software platform that helps companies understand their people and improve their company culture.

(p.s. Culture Amp is hiring engineers in Australia and NZ. It’s the best place I’ve ever worked. If you’re interested you can check out open roles or contact me, hello@jasono.co)

We have over 4000 customers ranging from small business to large enterprise. Some of our companies are progressive tech companies that have modern IT systems… and some still were using IE11.

Our leading product is an employee engagement platform which captures survey responses and shares insights and reports with millions of employees around the world. We care a lot about giving those employees a voice, and so we spend a lot of time making sure that our platform is accessible for as many people as possible. And browser support is a form of accessibility.

We don’t want to exclude people from our platform, and prevent their voice from being heard in their company surveys, because of their available technology.

Why we wanted to drop IE11

Having said that, supporting Internet Explorer 11 sucks. Most of our team are developing on MacBooks, so testing in IE11 requires either firing up a virtual machine or using a tool like BrowserStack. If you try to do this for every pull request, your pace of work really slows down. If you don’t, you start getting support tickets coming in because something unexpected broke in IE11, and those are hard work to debug too!

And also, we wanted to use new browser technologies. Being in the team that maintains our Kaizen design system, I was particularly excited about being able to use CSS Custom Properties and CSS Grid finally.

First question… is anyone still using it?

We were initially hoping we could look at IE11 usage and it would be so miniscule, no one would notice if we dropped support. (We dropped IE10 support when usage was below 1%).

Unfortunately, IE11 usage was sometimes still hovering around 8%, and some weeks went as high as 15%.

We wanted to understand it more, and so asked one of our analysts to look at the revenue amounts for the clients with high IE11 usage.

% of ARR
Accounts with >10% IE11 usage18.6%
Accounts with >20% IE11 usage9.5%
Accounts with >30% IE11 usage4.6%
Accounts with >40% IE11 usage3.4%
Accounts with >50% IE11 usage1.5%
This table shows a huge portion of our revenue came from companies still with over 10% IE11 usage. We needed to make sure whatever our plan was, we didn’t upset this many customers.

This was pretty discouraging, but we continued to explore our options.

Starting with a conversation

My manager Kevin Yank reached out to one of our biggest customers, who we knew required IE11, and asked to chat to understand what the situation was on the ground, rather than just looking at the analytics and giving up hope. When we chatted to them, we realized this big customer did have Microsoft Edge installed on all of their computers, it just wasn’t always the default browser when people clicked a link from their emails. If we could convince them to switch to Edge, which they already had installed, maybe we could drop support for IE11 after all.

We ended up using a version of this to reach out to all customers of a certain size who had > 20% IE11 usage. Here’s the message we used:

We’re hoping to understand the use of Internet Explorer 11 at your company.

Now that the more modern Microsoft Edge browser is available on all versions of Windows we’re hoping to redirect users of the old Microsoft Internet Explorer 11 (released in 2013) to the modern Microsoft Edge browser.

This browser is getting more and more burdensome for us to support; the user experience of our product in that browser is getting worse and worse (it is both slow and increasingly ugly there), and we’re approaching a couple of technical decisions that, if we need to support IE11, will put us in a restrictive box for years to come. (Even Microsoft themselves are beginning to no longer support Internet Explorer 11 on some of their websites!)

We’d love to understand a bit more about your IT environment:

– Under what circumstances are your users needing to access Culture Amp through IE11?

– Is there a more modern alternative browser installed on those computers that you could switch to if necessary?

Are you able to get answers to these questions, or connect us with the right person so we can discuss?

We worked with our customer account managers to send this message to all customers above a certain threshold who had high IE11 usage.

The result: every one of the customers we spoke to said that employees would have another browser (usually they mentioned Edge, sometimes Chrome) also installed that they could use, but it might not be the default.

So… if they have a better browser installed, how do we get them to use it?

A technical discovery for directing users to Edge

With the Engagement product I mentioned earlier, a key to the success of the product is having high survey participation rates. We knew that if we started blocking ~10% of users (and in some companies, >50%) it was really going to hurt the product’s effectiveness.

We needed a way to have users switch browser with a high conversion rate.

So we began asking, is there a way to open a page in Edge from a page in Internet Explorer? We found our answer on Stack Overflow – there is, using a microsoft-edge: protocol in your links.

You could also use the custom-protocol-check package on NPM to check if the link click worked, and display a message on success or failure. (Unfortunately, it can’t tell you if it will work before the user attempts the action).

We did some experimenting on Codepen, and it all worked!

A screen recording showing the Codepen example and how a link in IE11 can open the same page in Edge.

There was a big scary alert warning before Edge would open, but if you allowed it, it did work. We hoped that with the write UX design and some encouraging copy, we could convince users to click a button, click allow, and open the link.

Stage 1 UX: a “soft” notification

The first phase was to show a persistent banner across the top of the page to all IE11 users, with a link that attempts to open the same page in Edge.

A screenshot of the notification, reading "Switch to a modern browser for a better experience. Culture Amp will soon end support for Internet Explorer 11. We recommend you open this page in Microsoft Edge."
A screenshot of the notification design.

When we released this, we knew most people would ignore the banner, because ignoring banners is what people do. But for those who did click, it would allow us to get analytics on how many of them were able to successfully launch Edge.

A bar chart showing 3 bars: "Edge Upgrade Banner Viewed" 2,303. "Edge Upgrade Download Attempted" 206. Edge Upgrade Success Modal Viewed 187.
We measured how many users saw the banner, how many clicked it, and how many had Edge open successfully.

The good news: even though only 9% of people clicked the banner, when they did, 90% clicked “Allow” and successfully opened the page in Edge. (Apparently the scary alert box wasn’t as scary as I thought!)

A screen recording of the "Phase 1" workflow opening Edge from a banner.
The banner displays in Internet Explorer 11. When the user clicks the “Switch to Microsoft Edge” link, a confirmation popup appears, and when they click “allow” the page opens in Microsoft Edge.

So, all we needed to do was force people to click the button. And that meant something more forceful than a notification banner.

Stage 2 UX: a “hard” interstitial page

A screenshot of the IE11 deprecation page. It shows a page which reads "Internet Explorer 11 is no longer supported". There are two buttons, the primary button reads "Open in Microsoft Edge", the secondary button reads "Skip for now"
We hoped a full page interstitial would do the trick.

For the official end of support, we made it much harder to ignore. At our login screen, we redirected all users to a full page notification where the primary call to action is to open in Edge. This had much better results.

A bar graph showing 3 bars. "Edge Upgrade banner viewed" 2,415. Edge Upgrade Download Attempted 1,333. Edge Upgrade Success Modal Viewed: 1,223. The total conversion is 50.6% over the last 30 days.
This looks healthier! The absolute numbers here are smaller a few months after the transition – people are now visiting from IE11 less often. But the percentages have stayed about the same since launch.

We now have 55% attempting to open in Edge, and 92% of them still succeeding, for an overall success rate of 50%. We believe most of the other users are switching to an alternative browser manually or bouncing.

Either way, this was enough to give us confidence that anyone who wants to use our platform, is able to. And our customers shared that confidence.

A screen recording of the "Phase 2" flow for opening Edge from an interstitial page.
On login the user sees a full page notification directing them to open in Edge. They were 5x as likely to click “Open in Edge” here compared to the top-of-page banner.

The timeline

January 2021Contact important customers to understand the impact.
January 27th, 2021Initial email to all customers. Deprecation timeline added to support guide.
February 1st, 2021Global Notification released and visible on all pages.
March 24th, 2021Final email warning to all customers. Support guide updated.
March 25th, 2021Support dropped. Interstitial Page released.
March 26th, 2021We get to stop caring about IE11 and start using new browser features!

The result

A screenshot of a Slack post, reading Gong! Goodbye Internet Explorer 11! (Wave emoji) (IE logo emoji) (Put rubbish in bin emoji)

What’s happening?

As of today, the product group has stopped support for IE 11. This improves efficiency of our teams and the quality of our platform, reducing the number of support items relating to outdated browsers.

Users logging into our platform with IE 11 will be taken to an interstitial page outlining support for IE 11 has stopped.

This page gives them the option to open our platform in Microsoft Edge, or continue in IE 11 (where we cannot guarantee functionality)

Our supported browsers list has been scheduled to update tonight and indicates IE 11 is no longer supported
Getting to announce this to the company was a special feeling.
A screenshot of a Slack post reading

"Now that IE11 is in the bin, here is a not exhaustive list of things that we can now use with our browser support"

Followed by a list of dozens of new HTML and CSS features.
Getting to announce this to our front end engineers was even better

We released the change, and no customers were upset by it. We continued to see a healthy conversion of IE11 visitors to Edge by clicking the button, and a trend of less and less IE11 visitors over time.

Our teams no longer have to fix bugs in IE11, and no longer have to fire up a virtual machine to check their latest change in an ancient browser.

And we can now use things like CSS Custom Properties, which we’ve used to roll out a theme switcher in our design system.

What I’ve learned

  • Matching product analytics with business data (like account value) can paint an important picture of the impact a change will have.
  • Sometimes product analytics aren’t enough to tell the full story, and conversations with customers unearth a clearer picture, which can open up new options you might have assumed were unavailable.
  • Releasing a risky change like this in two stages helps! You can use analytics to validate a part of the conversion funnel you’re worried about (for us, if the “Open in Edge” button would actually work for people).
  • Large enterprise customers are more reasonable about old technology than I had originally thought.

Special thanks to my coworker Roy Zane who was my main collaborator in driving this project through to completion.

Categories
Personal Reflecting

Examen 2020

At the change of the year I want to engage in some reflection. A reflective exercise I’ve began using in 2020 is a daily prayer called “The Examen”. I believe it’s a Jesuit practice, and I’m following this format shared by Xavier University. I’ve mildly adapted it here to make the language about the year not the day.

The Examen: A Daily Prayer

St. Ignatius Loyola’s Examen is an opportunity for peaceful daily reflective prayer. It invites us to find the movement of God in all the people and events of our day. The Examen is simply a set of introspective prompts for you to follow or adapt to your own character and spirit.

Begin with a pause and a slow, deep breath or two; become aware that you are in the presence of the Holy.

From “The Examen: A Daily Prayer” via Xavier University

Thanksgiving

What am I especially grateful for in the past year…

The gift of another year…

The love and support I have received…

The courage I have mustered…

An event that took place this year…

From “The Examen: A Daily Prayer” via Xavier University

The biggest news of the year came in the final month. On December 4th in the early hours of the morning, Hugo was born. We’d been holding our hopes for a healthy baby and a healthy mum – and both came to be. We’re now a family of four, and I’m so grateful.

Christmas Day 2020. I’m 33, Anna is 30, Louis is 2 and Hugo is 3 weeks old.

One of the other things we’ve been hoping and praying for through 2020 was about making the most of our time with Louis at this young age and while before his brother arrived. He learned so much about the world, and we learned so much from him, and my love grew more than I knew my heart was capable of.

2020 for most of the planet was defined by the COVID19 pandemic. I lived in Western Australia, one of the safest places on earth this year. Safe in a pandemic, locked down in a big home with Anna’s parents who we love. Grateful to have spent this year safe, and for the proximity to family, and for the support we gave each other.

I’m also grateful to be writing this from a beautiful house that’s now our family home. After living in 9 houses over 5 years we were keen to settle. We tried to sell our little unit and buy a family home, but the finances just couldn’t work. We’ve found a rental though that is perfect for our family and our stage of life.

This year we also found a spiritual community where we felt most authentically ourselves since our small Melbourne church closed down. A small group of friends (we know each other mostly from Riverview) started gathering, at first on Zoom, and then face-to-face once it was safe, and sharing our journeys, and finding ways to hone our spiritual practices together. We used the resources at https://practicingtheway.org/ to lead us in growing in two practices in particular: Silence and Solitude, and Sabbath. I also made some small progress in finding words and courage to share where I’m currently at with friends and family whose journey and beliefs now look pretty different to mine.

The first practice our Sunday group worked through was “Silence and Solitude”. I’d highly recommend this series (if you’re up for the church teaching style and the assumed Christian background anyway)

I was grateful for the courage Anna had in writing this post and releasing this song. This has been a big part of our story that we’ve carried privately for a long time. Sharing it took courage.

This song took 3 years from writing to release. And the story behind it spans an entire life.

I felt like this year I had courage at work and have grown as a leader, taking on new teams and harder tasks and speaking up when it’s not been comfortable. The support I’ve had from my co-workers, and my managers in particular, has helped me grow so much.

There’s other places I started to show courage, but wish I had better follow through. After the devastating Australian bush-fire season I reached out to local politicians to discuss an idea for community volunteering in the face of climate change, but dropped the ball when COVID19 took over the world. Similarly I was exploring doing a DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) talk at tech meet-ups, exploring how privilege has shaped my own journey, to help other people recognise their privilege and work to share it. This also dropped off the radar during COVID19 lock-down. I also made efforts to help people affected by Culture Amp’s layoffs. Not sure if it really helped anyone. And lately I’ve been volunteering to help a small group build a site for collecting stories about those with disabilities and their experience of being Locked Out during lock downs. Hopefully I have better follow through there!

Finally, I’m grateful for this book: “Watch for the Light“. These readings for Advent have been a beautiful way to connect with my faith, and has helped me move beyond what I struggle with intellectually, and into the experience and the politics and the hope of the Christmas season. I’ll be rereading this again next year I suspect.

Book cover: Watch for the Light | Readings for Advent and Christmas.

Petition

I am about to review my year; I ask for the light to know God and to know myself as God sees me.

From “The Examen: A Daily Prayer” via Xavier University

Review

Where have I felt true joy this year?

What has troubled me this year?

What has challenged me this year?

Where and when did I pause this year?

Have I noticed God’s presence in any of this?

From “The Examen: A Daily Prayer” via Xavier University

Where did I feel true joy?

Most days this year when I tried to reflect on where I felt true joy, the first thing that popped into my head was Louis. The wonder of seeing a small person grow and learn and experience things and imagine.

Louis loves the playground swing. And he loves his picture books, including some which talk about space. He recently started closing his eyes on the swing and imagining his extraterrestrial journey.

Also, in November we celebrated 10 years since Anna and I met. Reflecting on a decade together has been sweet.

One moment of happy tears I’ll remember: receiving news that some of my favourite friends were moving to Perth. We’ve missed them, and haven’t built friendships quite the same back here yet. So glad to have them near again.

Where was I troubled and challenged?

On that note, something that has troubled me this year is noticing how I don’t actively invest in many friendships beyond those people I see regularly by necessity (family, workmates). In particular there was one friendship that has atrophied over the years and at the end of this year, it was heart-wrenching to realise just how dead the relationship now was. I felt awful – for my own sake, and for realising the pain I’d caused by not returning the friendship offered. One of my resolutions out of this is to get counselling and do the “inner work” that is part of repentance. (Shout out to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg for helping make this clear to me).

Another thing that has troubled me is the work culture at my work. Our company is called Culture Amp, and the thing which attracted me to the company was the mission to be successful by being a company that puts people and culture first – being a great place to work. I’ve been there three years and most of that has been great, this year has been hard though. As well as the lay-offs, there has been an unrelenting period of change, and it’s been hard. I’ve seen plenty of decisions I disagree with, and seen people I like a lot negatively impacted by them. I’m still hopeful we can get back to being a place we’re proud to work but it has been a hard year.

I was also troubled by the amount of time I was glued to my phone. With a constant stream of worldwide drama: bush fires and impeachment and a pandemic and elections – and the addictive nature of an infinitely scrolling social media feed – I spent way too much time staring at my phone (after being on my laptop 8hrs a day for work). Most weeks I’d have an average daily screen-time use of between 1-2hrs. I am troubled that it’s so addictive I do this even while hanging out with my kids. And I’m troubled by the opportunity cost – I don’t have time for friendships, for writing, for reading, for richer things, because of this.

I read this reading from Thomas Merton on December 31st 2020 in “Watch for the light”, and it felt like a perfect description of my addiction to the new news in this eventful year.

Nor are the tidings of great joy announced in the crowded inn. In the massed crowd there are always new tidings of joy and disaster. Where each new announcement is the greatest of announcements, where every day’s disaster is beyond compare, every day’s danger demands the ultimate sacrifice, all news and all judgement is reduced to zero. News becomes merely a new noise in the mind, briefly replacing the noise that went before it and yielding to the noise that comes after it, so that eventually everything blends into the same monotonous and meaningless rumor. News? There is so much news that there is no room left for the true tidings, the “Good News,” the great joy.

Thomas Merton. From Raids on the Unspeakable, 1966.

One way of bringing together all of these challenges: I live a comfortable life in an uncomfortable world. I benefit from a mix of luck and hard work and systematic privilege. And I’ve become more aware of that privilege this year. And seeing the sharp contrast between my comfort and a world in pain can be… challenging. Am I doing enough to change things? Am I there for those who need me? Am I even there for those I consider friends? Is my busyness (from work) and mind cluttered-ness (from screen time) numbing my willingness to see, and to act? Is this just part of the early-parenting stage of life? How might I get less comfortable? How might I do less sympathising and more compassion, more help? Can I love “the storm drenched“? These thoughts have been building into a challenge to myself.

Where did I pause?

I’m glad to have explicitly worked on some spiritual practices that led me to pause. The few minutes of savasana at the end of yoga, a nightly “examen” to pause and reflect, setting aside Sunday as a Sabbath day of ceasing and rest and worship, and this book of readings through Advent. None of them I followed perfectly or consistently, but between them, I did learn to pause. For longer breaks, I only took one small holiday this year, but it was a good one for pausing: in a cabin on the edge of a Karri Forest in Margaret River.

A view of the sun rising over a hill lined with tall Karri trees.
This was looking at the window one morning during our holiday stay in Margaret River.

Where did I find God in all of this?

I’ve found God in little ways, new ways, this year. As my image of God becomes less “in heaven above” and more “over all and through all and in all” I’m adjusting where I expect to find God. Less often in a religious service or book. More often in people. Or in nature. Or in silence. A new little life. The night sky. Someone willing to give up their health and freedom-of-movement to be a COVID-19 chaplain. The support from family in a time of need. Nursing a newborn in the middle of the night. And then sometimes still in the services and books from before.

Most days that I prayed the Examen, I found the Spirit of God somewhere in the day. It was usually subtle.

Response

In light of my review, what is my response to the God of my life?

From “The Examen: A Daily Prayer” via Xavier University

I’m going to leave this out, keep it private.

A Look Ahead

As I look ahead, what comes to mind?

With what spirit do I want to enter the coming year?

From “The Examen: A Daily Prayer” via Xavier University

The big thing in my mind is 2021 will be us parenting a newborn and a two year old – we’re not sure how we’ll balance it! As well as that I’ve got some challenges and opportunities at work (some predictable, some not), I’ve got friendships I want to strengthen, I want to keep seeking spiritual community, and I want to get some counselling to work through some of my challenges mentioned above. There’s a lot to do.

But in all of that, the spirit I want to carry, is one of having space. Creating space, and expectation, waiting to find the moments where the Spirit of God might interrupt my days. To notice the places where grace appears. Or to be willing to look on the places where inequality and injustice still dominates. Leaving capacity in my days and in my task list to look beyond my own concerns and to see the need of others, and rather than looking away, finding ways to partner with the Spirit of God to bring grace into the world. To live the kind of life that brings both justice and peace.

It’s hard to do that when rushing between zoom calls and filling spare moments with social media feeds. I want space to notice where God is at work and where grace is forming, and I want space and energy to join in and be part of it. Be that in my family, in my work, in my friendships, or the wider world.

Categories
Front-end Development Haxe Haxe Log Small Universe

Writing a framework: web application architectures I’m inspired by

  1. I’m going to write a web app framework (again) (maybe)
  2. Writing a framework: web application architectures I’m inspired by

A look at recurring architectural patterns I see in both front end and back end, that have potential to tie together into a full stack framework.

In my last post I said part of my reason for wanting to write another web framework was that I’ve been exposed to similar ideas in both the front end and back end, and wanted to experiment with an architecture that ties it all together.

In this post, I’m going to explore those: Unidirectional data flow, the elm architecture, CQRS and event sourcing. And then I’ll look at the common themes I see tying them together.

State, views, and one-directional data flow

Almost every popular front end architecture I’ve encountered recently shares an idea: you have data representing the current state of your page, and you use that state to render the view that the user can see and interact with.

If you want to change something on the page, you don’t update the page directly, you update the state, and that causes the view to update.

You might have heard this described in a few ways:

  • Data Down, Actions Up: the data flows down from the state to the view. And the actions come up from the view to modify the state.
  • Model, View, Controller: Your have a data “model” layer that holds information about the current state, and a “view” layer that knows how to update it, and a “controller” that does the communication in the middle.
  • Unidirectional data flow: You often hear this term in the React ecosystem. Data flows from the top of your view down into it the nested components. So a component only knows about the data passed into it, and nothing else. The data always flows downwards. How do you change the data then? As well as passing down the data from the state, we also pass down a function that can be used to update the state.
An illustration showing a circular flow of data and actions.  There is an arrow from “State” to “View” labelled “Data down” and from “View” back to “State” labelled “Actions Up”.
Actions Up, Data Down. Every application has “State” (data for the application) and “View” (what the user sees). The view is always rendered and updated from the current state. (We call this “Data down”). And the view can trigger actions to update the state. (We call this “Actions up”).

This pattern is used in frameworks as diverse as React and Ember and Elm. Why is it so common? Here’s some of the advantages it provides:

  • Each function in your code has one job: turn the state into a view, or to update the state in response to an action. This makes it nice and easy to wrap your head around an individual piece of code.
  • The functions don’t need to know about each other. If you have a “to-do list” app, and an action that adds a new to-do item – you don’t need to know the 3 different places it’ll show up in the UI and change them all – you just update the state. Likewise, if you want to add a new view, you don’t have to touch all the places that edit the “to-do” list, you can just look at the current state, however it came to be, and use that data to render your page.
  • It becomes easy to debug. If there’s a bug, you can check if the state data is correct. If the state data looks correct, then the bug will be in one of your view functions. If that state data looks wrong, then the bug is probably in one of your action functions that change the state.
  • It makes it easier to write tests. Your action functions test simple things: if our state looks like this, and we perform this action, then the state should now look like that. That’s easy to write a unit test for. And for your view functions, you can write tests that use mocked state data to test all the different ways your view might be rendered. You can even create “stories” with Storybook, or take visual snapshots, for quick visual tests of many different ways the UI looks.

The Elm architecture

Elm takes this concept to the extreme. By making a language and a framework that are tightly integrated, they can force you to follow the good advice from “data down, action up”.

The Elm architecture has four parts:

  • Model – the state of your application,
  • View – a way to turn your state into HTML,
  • Messages – a message triggered by the UI (like clicking a button) that has information about an action the user is requesting (like attempting to mark an item as complete)
  • Update – a way to update your state based on “messages”
An illustration titled "The Elm Architecture" showing a circular flow diagram between State, View, Html and Update. There is some psuedocode in each of "State" "View" "Html" and "Update" which is described in the caption.

The Elm Architecture.

State. The page has some current state that is used to render the view. We use the type system to make sure the structure of this is consistent. In this example, it might have a title “My work” and a list of tasks like “Plan week” and “Check Slack”

View. Render HTML based on the current state. Following on the example above, we might have a view function that receives our state, and calls functions to render a <h1> element and a <ul> with the list of tasks, and a form for adding new to-do items.

Html. We never manually edit HTML or the DOM, we just update state, which updates the view, and the framework checks what HTML needs changing. In the example above, this would be the rendered h1, ul and form HTML / DOM produced by the framework.

Update. The only type of events we trigger from the HTML view are strictly typed and exactly what our update function is expecting. When an action happens, the framework uses the update function to consider what the new state should be based on the previous state and the action that occurred. Following on the example, an “AddTodo” action might append a new item to the list. While the “CompleteTask” action might remove an item from the list. The only way to update the state is to use the update function, one action at a time. This makes state management easy to unit test and debug!

There is also the opportunity to interact with the outside world – things like a Backend API. Elm provides a way to do this from the Update function (which can in turn trigger new actions) but it doesn’t have strong opinions on what happens in the Backend API.

And Elm will enforce this. You can only update the view of the page via your “view” function. Your “view” function only has access to the model to decide what to render. The only actions your view can trigger are the list of messages you define. And you can only update the state in the model using your update function to change things as messages come through.

And Elm has a fantastic type system and compiler to make this all work really nicely together. To show how it works, imagine you have a “to-do list” and you have a button to mark an item as complete:

  • In your “view” function where you render the button, you can set an “onClick” event.
  • The “onClick” event will trigger a message that something has happened. You decide the names of the possible messages that can happen, so we might chose a name like “MarkToDoAsComplete”.
  • Because we have told Elm we have a message called “MarkToDoAsComplete”, it will force us to handle this code in our “update” function.
  • In our “update” function we write the code that updates the model, setting the current to-do as complete.
  • When a user views the page they see the button. When they click the button, the message is triggered, the update function is run, the model is updated with the to-do item now being marked as complete, and the view will update in response. By the time we did all the things the compiler asks, it all just worked.

The great thing about this is that Elm knows exactly what code is needed for all the pieces of your application to work. If you’re missing anything, it will give you a nice error message showing what to fix. This means that you never get runtime errors in your Elm code.

But even nicer than that, it means you have a great workflow:

  • You add your button, and a “MarkToDoAsComplete” message
  • The compiler tells you that message needs to be added to your list of app messages. You do that.
  • The compiler tells you that your “update” function needs to handle the message. You do that.
  • It now all works.

This “chase the compiler” workflow is what originally got me excited about the Elm language, not just the architecture – you can see Kevin Yank’s talk “Developer Happiness on the Front End with Elm” for a more detailed overview.

(As a bonus, if you do spot anything wrong, the strict framework for updating state based on actions, one at a time, allows powerful debugging tools like “time travel debugging”, where you can replay events one at a time to see their effect.)

Command Query Responsibility Separation (CQRS)

On the back end, we sometimes find a similar pattern to “data down, actions up”. It’s called “Command Query Responsibility Separation”. You separate the queries (data) and the commands (actions) into separate code paths, separate API endpoints, or even separate services.

If your back end uses an SQL database, you can think of the “queries” using SELECT statements, and the commands using INSERT or UPDATE statements.

An illustration titled "Command / Query Responsibility Separation CQRS" showing a circular flow diagram.

A Database is at the top, with an arrow labelled "SELECT FROM..." pointing to a section named "Query (Data Down)", which has an arrow to "Client UI", which has an arrow to "Command (Action Up)", which has an arrow labelled "INSERT INTO" pointing back to the database.
Command Query Responsibility Separation (CQRS) encourages splitting up the “queries” (ways of reading the state) from the “commands” (ways of modifying the state). This ends up with many of the same benefits as “data down, actions up”, but for back end endpoints or services.

We use separate code paths for Commands (writes) and Queries (reads). Rather than having an API return new data after a command, we have the client repeat the full query.

And you end up with similar advantages:

  • Each endpoint has one job.
  • The endpoints don’t need to know about each other.
  • It becomes easier to debug.
  • The command endpoints and the query endpoints can adopt different scaling strategies. For example caching can be applied to the “query” endpoints.

Event Sourcing

When we talked about the Elm architecture, we saw a front end framework with a strict way to update the current state: by processing one message at a time. Event sourcing brings a similar concept to our back end, and crucially, to our data and our “source of truth”.

It’s normal for the “source of truth” in a web application to be a database that represents the current state of all of your data. For a todo list, you might have a row for each todo item, and columns to set the text of the item, whether it is complete or not, and the order it appears in the list.

That table would be your source of truth.

A diagram titled "event sourcing" with two parts. One part is labelled "Source of truth: current state" and shows a traditional database table view with a row for each to-do task, and columns for "id", "task" and "complete".

The other part is labelled "Source of truth: events'. And shows a sequence of squares representing events: "Create Task", "Create Task", "Complete Task", "Create Task". Each event has associated data like an id or task text.

Event Sourcing – changing the source of truth. Traditionally in a web application the “source of truth” might be a database table that represents the current state of the application. In event sourcing, the source of truth is an event log: all of the actions that occurred, one at a time. We can use this event log to build up a view or the current state.

Event sourcing is about changing the “source of truth” to be the events that occurred. Rather than caring exactly which todo items currently exist, and if they are complete, we care about when a user created a task, or marked a task as complete, or changed the order of the tasks in a list. These are the “events”, and they are our “source” of truth.

And we can process them, one event at a time, to build up a view of the data (in event sourcing these are often called “projections” of the data). Some projections might look very similar to what we had before – a database table with a row for each todo item, a column for the item text, whether it is complete, and the order in the list.

The power of event sourcing is that we can also create other views of the data. Perhaps we want to create a trend line graph showing how many open tasks we’ve had over time. If our source of truth was the current state, we wouldn’t be able to tell you how many tasks you had open last week (or this week last year!) With event sourcing, we can go back over all of the events, and build new views of the data.

A diagram showing the flow of data in an event sourced application, from "Client Actions" to "Command Handler" to "Event Log" to "Projections" (we show two examples) to a view of the data (again with two examples).
Event Sourcing allows us to create different “projections” for different ways of viewing the data.

Client actions. We can start with actions that are triggered by the user. Event sourcing as a pattern has no strong opinions on how this is handled.

Command handler. A service takes the action coming in from the client (like ticking off a task) and decides if it is allowed. If it is, it adds it to the event log.

Event log. A log of all the events that have occurred. Often this is in a database table. In the diagram above, we show 4 events: “Create Task”, with id “1” and task “Draw Diagram”. Then “Create Task” with id “2” and task “Write post”. Then “Complete Task” with id “1”. (Meaning “Draw Diagram” is complete). Then “Create Task” with id “3” and task “Clean dishes”.

Here the diagram splits into two, because rather than just having the task list, we can process the events and generate other interesting data. These “projections” are different data to derived from the same events.

We have a “Your Tasks projection” that is a database table with “id”, “task” and “complete” columns. Based on the events, Task 1 “Draw diagram” is complete, while 2 “Write post” and 3 “Clean dishes” are not. This could be used to render a traditional to-do list UI.

And we have an “Open Tasks Graph projection” with two columns, “date” and “open tasks’. It shows how for any given date, we can see how many tasks were opened. We could use this t draw a trend line graph.

Similar to the front end with actions and state, this also opens up some powerful debugging options. We can replay the events and “time travel” to see exactly how our system responded, and look out for points where things may have gone astray.

Bringing it together: the common concepts I want my “Small Universe” framework to draw on

You probably spotted some similar themes running through the above architectures:

  • Keeping code to fetch data and code to process actions separate
  • Having a way to get the “current state” for a page from our data
  • Always rendering the pages based on that current state
  • Allowing the views to trigger actions or “events”
  • These events being tracked, and considered our source of truth
  • Responding to one event at a time to update our application data

Following these allows us to write code which is simpler – each function is focused on either fetching data for the current view, displaying the current view, or processing an action. That makes code easier to understand, easier to test, and simpler to debug.

Making sure our data is updated one action at a time also opens up potential for time travel debugging, which is an incredibly powerful feature for you as a developer when you’re investigating how something went wrong. It also leaves the door open for new features that you can build, being able to take full advantage of all the past user actions.

Finally, by strictly defining the shape of your state, and the set of actions (or “events” or “messages”) that are possible, you can have the framework and compiler do a lot of work for you, ensuring that if a button exists, it has an action, and the action updates the state, and the view reflects the updated state.

So you can find a very productive workflow where you start adding one new line of code for your feature, and the compiler will guide you all the way to completing the feature as valid code, and you can be relatively confident it’ll work.

So, for this “Small Universe” framework I’m starting, I am taking inspiration from these architectures to try build something that leads you to write code that is easy to write, understand, test and debug. Something that uses events as a source of truth to make it easy to build new features that process previous actions into features or views we hadn’t imagined up front. And something that leads to a happy and productive workflow, with the compiler able to provide ample assistance as you build out new features.

I’ll come back to describe the architecture I’m aiming for in a future post. But I hope this helps you understand the direction from which I’m approaching this project.

Have any questions? Things that weren’t clear? Ideas you want to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Categories
Haxe Small Universe

I’m going to write a web app framework (again) (maybe)

  1. I’m going to write a web app framework (again) (maybe)
  2. Writing a framework: web application architectures I’m inspired by
A photo from a children’s book. Text: But then I realized, what do they really know? This is my idea, I thought. No one knows it like I do. And it’s okay if it’s different, and weird, and maybe a little crazy.​ I decided to protect it, to care for it. I fed it good food. I worked with it, I played with it. But most of all, I gave it my attention.

This is my idea, I thought. No one knows it like I do. And it’s okay if it’s different, and weird, and maybe a little crazy. I decided to protect it, to care for it. I fed it good food. I worked with it, I played with it. But most of all, I gave it my attention.

“What do you do with an idea” by Kobi Yamaha and Mae Besom.

I’m thinking about writing a web framework. This wouldn’t be my first time.

Why?

  • Primarily, because I’ve got an idea, and want to explore it. The quote and photo above from “What Do You Do With An Idea” reminded me that creativity and inspiration are muscles we can train – the more we explore our ideas with curiosity, the more the ideas will keep coming.
  • I want to play with code more, try out things for the sake of curiosity and experimentation and be okay with it not necessarily building toward something as part of my day-job.
  • I’m a software engineer that enjoys building the thing to build the thing. At Culture Amp, I’m on the “Foundations” team that builds things like the design system and our common tooling, rather than working on the main products.
  • Every now and then I want to build a little side project, but get paralyzed – what should I build it with? None of the existing web frameworks I look at appeal to me – I want a single framework for front end and back-end, I want a language with a good compiler, and I want something I can grasp from front-to-back, if there is magic I want it to be magic I understand.
  • I’ve learned a lot since I last tried this. In particular, at Culture Amp I’ve been exposed to languages like Elm on the front end and concepts like Event Sourcing / CQRS on the back end. And they’re similar and interconnected and I want to see what it looks like to build a framework that builds on patterns from all of these.
  • I’ve enjoyed this kind of project in the past!

(Side note: I’m aware that being in a position where I have the time and money to indulge in this is a sign of incredible privilege… I’m still learning what it means to actively tear down the unfair systems that contribute to that privilege. There are more significant things I can invest my time in for certain. But I’ll save that for another blog post 😅)

What have I tried in the past?

  • I once was the main developer (including doing a ground-up rewrite) of a framework called Ufront. It loosely copied MVC.net on the backend, but could compile to several backend languages (thanks to Haxe). The killer feature was that you could re-use code – routing, controllers, views, models, validators – on the front end, and have seemless compiler help when calling backend APIs from the Front End.

    To this day I haven’t seen another framework attempt that level of back-end front-end integration, with the possible exception of Meteor. (Admittedly, I haven’t been looking for a while). I feel this tried to be too many things – being a generally useful backend, as well as a front-end integration layer, as well as an ORM, and Auth system, and more. At the end of the day, with the majority of the development coming from me, it didn’t have momentum for such an ambitious scope. I did build two useful education apps with it though!
  • I also attempted a more tightly scopoed project that never got off the ground, called “Small Universe“. I started this around the time I was interviewing for Culture Amp, and it was heavily influenced by Kevin Yank’s talk “Developer Happiness on the Front End With Elm“. (I now work with Kevin at Culture Amp). The idea was to have a clear data flow for a small “Universal Web App”. The page can trigger actions. Actions get processed on the back end. The back end can generate props for a page. Then the props are used to render a view. Basically, the Elm architecture but with an integrated back end / API layer.

    I liked this a lot, and built out quite a prototype, but haven’t touched it in over a year. I like this scope of “small, opinionated framework to give structure to a universal web app”.

    The first prototype I built integrated with React on the client, which I think I’d skip this time. I also think I’d go further with the data flow and push for event-sourcing (I didn’t know the terminology at the time, but I’d implemented CQRS without Event Sourcing).

    I also liked the name, and think I’ll reuse it! “Small Universe” spoke to it being a framework for “universal web apps”, where code is shared seamlessly between client and server. And also it being “small” – giving you all the building blocks for an entire app in a tight, coherent framework that is easy to build a mental model for.

So am I going to do this?

I think so! I’m interested in having a project, and “working out loud” with blog posts alongside PRs to explore the problems I’m trying to solve and the approaches I’m experimenting with.

I don’t think it’ll necessarily become anything – and there’s a good chance I’ll not follow through because life gets busy (my wife and I are expecting a second child next month 😅) but I’m interested in sharing my initial thoughts and seeing where it goes from there.

What am I optimizing for?

Scribbles from my iPad as I explored what I’m optimising for. (The section below is derived from this).
  • My own learning, curiosity and practice. (See “Why” above)
  • An Elm like workflow, but full stack. Elm has this great workflow where you can create a new button in your view. The compiler will ask you to define an action for the button. Once you define an action (like `onClick save`) the compiler will ask you to write an “update” handler for when that action occurs. When you do that you’ll write the code to handle the save. You start with the UI, and then the compiler guides you through every step needed to see the feature working. By the time the compiler has run out of things to say, your front end probably works. I want the compiler to provide that experience, with guidance, hints and safety to build features across the front and back end stacks.
  • Clear flow of data and logic. Every piece of logic in the app should have its place in the architecture, and it should be easy to find where something belongs. On the back end this looks like CQRS (Command Query Responsibility Separation) – having the code paths that fetch data for a page (Queries) be completely separate to the code paths that change data (Commands). On the front end this looks like separating out state management from the views – the page state should be parsed into a view function. There’s lots to dive into here, but I’ll save it for a future post.
  • Start small but keep options open. I want this for myself and side projects. I want something that can start small, and where the entire mental model can fit in my head. But which makes it easy to migrate to a more traditional framework, or a more advanced architecture, if the thing ever grows.
  • Keeping open the possibility for a host of technical nice-to-haves:
    • Event sourcing.
    • Offline client-side usage.
    • Multiple projections.
    • Server side rendering.
    • GDPR “right to be forgotten”.
    • Using Web Sockets for speedy interface updates.
    • Ability to have “branch previews” so you can see what a PR will look like.
  • And to call out some trade offs:
    • I’m not aiming for compatibility with React or other view layers. I think the idea I’m chasing handles data flow differently enough that it’s not worth trying to shoe-horn existing components.
    • I’m not aiming for micro services. For side projects I think a “marvelous monolith” is more sane. If the data is event sourced a future transition to micro services will be easier.
    • Not aiming to support multiple back end targets, or front ends. I’ll probably pick just one back end stack to focus on, and focus on the web (not native / mobile).
    • Not aiming for optimum performance. If I can write an API signature in a way that can be optimized and parallelized in future, I will, but I’ll probably do some naive implementations up front (such as updating all projections synchronously in the main thread).
    • Not aiming to be a general HTTP framework that can handle arbitrary request and response types. There are plenty of good tools for that job.

Let’s begin

So to start off, here’s where I’ll do my work:

Categories
Faith Personal Reading & Inspiration

Reading Notes: “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler Bass

(Still some TODOs in here, but I’m posting anyway and hope to get back to them) I first came across Diana Butler Bass on her Twitter account. I can’t remember how I came across her, but I’ve appreciated her voice, her tweet-thread-sermons, her perspective on current affairs and more. So when a family member gave me a book voucher to a local Christian bookstore that didn’t seem likely to stock much I was interested in, I was stoked to see they could order in one of her books. And that’s how I ended up reading “Christianity After Religion”. When it arrived and I read the praise on the cover from Richard Rohr and Rob Bell, I hoped I was in for something good.

The main point

Since the 1960s the USA (and other western nations) have seen a massive change in how they’d describe their religious/faith life. A common line has been “I’m spiritual, not religious” and rather than being a thoughtless throwaway line, this actually captures a big part of what this shift is about. Rather than viewing it purely as a move toward secularism, DBB argues this is an awakening – in the spirit of America’s past great awakenings. This is faith evolving, not faith disappearing. By changing the way kinds of questions we ask when we approach a life of faith, and by changing the order in which we ask them, we can participate in this new awakening – an exciting evolution in what it means to be Christian, or even what it means to be human – and some would argue, an exciting movement of God.

Overview

The “spiritual vs religious” dichotomy isn’t describing two opposites, rather it’s a lense to understand how our people’s experience of their faith is changing. We can broadly break experience of religion of spiritual life into three categories:
  • Belief – how we understand the world and it’s meaning
  • Behaviour – how we choose to live, and the habits which make up our life
  • Belonging – the sense of community and shared purpose
For each of these categories, DBB looks at how Christianity (and American Protestantism in particular) has approached this category, and the questions it has deemed most important to ask. These are the “religious” questions. She then offers alternative “spiritual” questions: ways of revisiting the same category with a different approach, focused on lived experience.

Belief

Often when we think of “belief” in the context of religion we think of doctrine. Belief in a god. Belief in the Christian bible as an authoritative text about God. Belief in the resurrection, or the virgin birth, or the 7-day creation. Some things are easy to believe in – we’re pretty sure a person called Jesus of Nazareth existed – but many are increasingly hard to take literally. TODO: copy the questions asked This chapter concluded with some amazing examples of Christian communities writing their own creeds. Creeds were written by communities at points in time – a point DBB made in this twitter thread that I found memorable. After reading this section of the book, I journal led and wrote out, for the first time in a long time, not a description of what I no longer believed, but a description of what I still believe.

Behaviour

When we think of “behaviour” in the context of religion, we often think of moral guidelines. Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t drink, don’t look at porn, don’t charge interest on loans… Do look after the needy, do love your neighbour, do attend a religious service etc. Beyond this though, a lively faith usually consists of habits, or spiritual practices, that make up the day-to-day of our life. When the purpose of such habits isn’t understood, they lose meaning, they become meaningless rituals. But when learned carefully, many habits and practices have a transformative impact on your life. DBB uses floristry as an analogy. Her family were florists for generations, and she learned the craft by sitting in the workshop with her dad, gradually gaining the skills herself. This kind of gradual exposure, where an experienced practitioner shows you, guides you, and gives you increasingly challenging work until you are fully competent – is similar to many spiritual practices. Another thing we can learn from this analogy, is that people are less like to simply do what their parents did. Where successive generations in her family had all been florists, she has chosen a different career, because these days, you have options. When it comes to our spiritual habits and practices and rituals… this is even more true. TODO: copy the questions asked

Belonging

For a long time, belonging meant having an identity tightly linked to the religious community you are part of (and probably grew up in). “I am baptist” or “I am catholic” or “I’m part of Riverview Church”. There was an assumed stasis in this model: you’ve always been one of us, you are one of us, you will always be one of us. You’ve always been here, you are here, you will always be here. But most stories of faith are journey stories: Abraham leaving the land he grew up in, Moses leaving Egypt, the fishermen leaving their nets to follow Jesus. We need to craft a different identity that respects this journeying nature of faith. And a way of belonging that allows growth, change, pilgrimage and exile, and still offers community, acceptance and love. A traditional approach to identity asks “who am I?”, and Christianity has encourage you to ask “who am I in God?” One of my favourite moments in this section was reframing the question: “who is God in me?” Where and how does God act in the world through my life? How can people I interact with experience God through my actions? TODO: copy the questions asked

Reversal

After examining these three categories and asking how we can revisit them through a “spiritual” lense, DBB did my favourite thing in the book: she suggested we reverse the order we tackle these questions in the faith journey. Rather than beginning with “belief” (you must believe in the trinity, and creation, and the resurrection, and the virgin birth, and whatever other doctrine is hard to literally believe), then progressing to behaviour (follow these moral guidelines and adopt these habits) and then being able to experience belonging, DBB suggests we approach it the other way. Begin with belonging: unconditional acceptance, loving community. From there learn the way of life: the habits and the choices that shape your faith (behaviour). And from here, you will begin to find your beliefs changing. You might find you believe in the resurrection after all: but it is coming from having experienced yourself countless ways where life overturns death. By reversing the order we no longer have as our starting point adherence to a religious doctrine. Rather, we have as our starting point an experience of love and community, and the entire faith journey now takes that approach. And when people say “I’m spiritual, not religious” – this is part of the distinction. The starting place is experience, and the whole journey is lived experience.

Awakening

The book ended on a real message of hope. DBB looks back at the three great awakenings of the past, and in the debate about if there was/is a fourth great awakening, she joins the group who sees the social and religious change beginning in the 1960s constitutes a new great awakening. People began exploring new ways of experiencing faith, experiencing God, and this came out of, and fed back into, massive cultural changes. She describes her college campus in the late 1970s having multiple thriving communities and chapters of people taking their faith and discipleship seriously, resulting in a bold vision for what could be in the world. It certainly felt like a religious awakening. Something new and bold and exciting was happening, and it felt like God was very active in it. But then she returned to the campus in the 1980s, this time as faculty, and the life was gone, the diversity was gone, the experimentation and bold visions for change were gone. Replacing it where some standard Christian groups pushing a standard political/conservative agenda. DBB paints the growing political power of the “religious right”, the “moral majority”, Ronald Reagan and co, as a pushback against the awakening – and describes how similar pushbacks have happened in past awakenings. This time however, something that began in the 1960s is continuing over half a century later… the pushback was significant, and so the change is drawn out. In describing past push-backs, she seems to describe the rise of Donald Trump. (The book was written while Obama was still president, but the rise of tea party conservatism was evident). It’s interesting to frame the success of conservative evangelicalism – in political power, in megachurch attendance, in mindshare – not as the awakening, but as the pushback on the real awakening. Though it uses the language of revival, and the metaphors and service structures of past awakenings, this is actually by now the old thing, and the comfortable thing, and the thing some are trying to protect from change. But as she describes this tension between the “old lights” and the “new lights”, she describes the new light in ways that I completely identify with: for all of the struggle I’ve had with the church and structure and faith I’ve grown up in, she describes exactly the bits that I’m still holding onto, the values I hold most dear, and the hope and vision I have for what a renewed world might look like. In reading this, I suddenly felt less like I (and those like me) are stepping away from our faith, and more like the steps we’re taking are part of a journey of renewal. It does feel like upheaval and uncertainty, but it’s not an abandoning of faith, it’s faith finding a new form to match the world we now live in. And the world we now live in is globally connected, and past modes of tribalism over religious dogma no longer make sense when we can see the other tribes, and see that they too are human, and we can see that despite our differences the fruit is good, and so we’re learning that our religion isn’t the only way to meet God, our tree isn’t the only tree that produces good fruit – we can learn from each other, and perhaps we can discover that God has been showing up to all people in all cultures and religions. And perhaps this acknowledgement that God can show up to anyone in any culture or religion should have been more obvious to us from the beginning:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

Acts 17
And so every religion worldwide seems to have up-shoots of renewal at the moment. We’re seeing up close people who we’d used to consider “other”, and discovering they’re not so different. And there’s a tribalistic pushback, but in many ways, this renewal is underway and somewhat unstoppable. Any way of faith which defines at the outset that only some experiences are “valid” and “true” is brushing up against our lived reality that we’re finding God in all aspects of life, on many different and intersecting paths. And this is where we can join in. By joining (or forming) communities. By embracing spiritual practices that lead us to experience God, to love others, and to grow in maturity, and by allowing our beliefs to be formed by the experience of God among us – we can be part of this renewal. It won’t be the last time humanity’s relationship with the divine God needs to adapt and evolve. It’s not the last awakening. It’s not necessarily the greatest awakening. But it’s our generation’s awakening, and our chance to be part of it.
Categories
Culture First Engineerig

Adapt your facilitation skills for video meetings [remote work inspiration]

Hi 👋 I’m Jason. I’ve been a remote worker since 2016. Full time remote since 2017, and managing a team remotely since 2018. With people across the world suddenly finding both themselves and their teams homebound, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of the things I’ve found helpful as a remote team lead. I work at Culture Amp, a software platform that helps organisations take action to develop their people and their culture. We have a collection of “inspirations” – ideas you can copy in your organisation to improve its culture. I’ve followed the basic format here.

Facilitating good meetings requires having a bunch of tools in the toolkit to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, people are understood, and it is a valuable use of people’s time. The tools you’ll use for video meetings are slightly different, so it’s worth getting familiar with them.

Why?

Video meetings present slightly different challenges: there can be poor connection quality, non-verbal communication is limited, it’s more likely people will attempt to multitask, and less likely you’ll know if they are, and there’s no obvious “clockwise” direction to go around the room when seeking everyone’s input.

Instructions:

Here are some tools to add to your toolkit:
  • Recreate “going around the room” to let everyone have a chance to share. You can do this by having the first person to share choose who goes next. As each person shares, they choose who goes after them. This is a good technique for “stand-ups” and other similar status update meetings.
  • Use hand gestures to signify you would like to speak next. Because of the slight delay on video calls, when multiple people want to speak up it’s hard to not speak over each other. Rather than wait for a gap in conversation and jump in, signify you would like to speak next by raising your hand with one finger up – you’re first in line to speak. If a second person also wants to speak, they can raise their hand with two fingers up. Usually a group learns this system quickly but it’s important the facilitator respects the order.
  • If people have noisy surroundings, ask them to mute unless speaking. If someone on the call is in an open plan office, is working from a cafe, has children nearby or even noisy animals outside, these can all make it harder to hear the person speaking. Encouraging people to mute by default makes it easier for everyone to hear.
  • Encourage everyone to have video turned on. It helps with non-verbal communication, and for someone speaking to see if they are being understood. Exaggerated head nodding, thumbs up, and silent clapping are all great ways to give feedback even while muted, but only work if the video is turned on. Exceptions can be made if the connection quality is poor, or if it is a presentation rather than a meeting.
  • Consider screen sharing a document that serves as both the agenda and the minutes, and editing it live. Adding a visual medium alongside the conversation helps participants keep focused and can give extra context. Taking notes and recording actions in the moment is a great way to ensure people are aligned and there aren’t misunderstandings.
  • Be conscious of how screen-sharing impacts non-verbal communication. Often when you start screen sharing, the other participant’s screen is now dominated by the screen share, and the faces of their colleagues are reduced to thumbnail size. This reduces the bandwidth of non-verbal communication like facial gestures and body language, and can make it easier to have your tone misinterpreted. For sensitive conversations, consider turning screen sharing off.

    If you have a dual monitor setup, some products like Zoom have settings that allow the screen sharing to take up one full screen while still seeing participant faces in full size on the other screen. This is worth setting up if you can!
  • Use “speedy meetings” to allow time for breathing and bathroom breaks. When someone has back-to-back meetings in an office, they usually have breathing space as they move from one room to another or wait for the next group to arrive. When video calls are scheduled back-to-back the calendar can be a cruel task-master. Scheduling you meetings to run for 25 or 50 minutes (rather than 30 or 60) gives everyone a chance to breathe and can drastically reduce the stressfulness of a day. Important: if you schedule a speedy meeting, respect everyone by finishing on time.
  • Make space for “water cooler” talk on the agenda. Make sure the first five minutes or last five minutes of the meeting have space for the people to chat casually and catch up. In an office this often happens on the way to a meeting room, or on the way out, or around an actual water cooler. When it’s a video call, you have to be more deliberate. Make sure the agenda leaves enough space for this, and start a conversation that’s not just about work.
Categories
Culture First Engineerig

Video hangouts with no agenda [remote work inspiration]

Hi 👋 I’m Jason. I’ve been a remote worker since 2016. Full time remote since 2017, and managing a team remotely since 2018. With people across the world suddenly finding both themselves and their teams homebound, I thought it might be a good opportunity to share some of the things I’ve found helpful as a remote team lead. I work at Culture Amp, a software platform that helps organisations take action to develop their people and their culture. We have a collection of “inspirations” – ideas you can copy in your organisation to improve its culture. I’ve followed the basic format here.

Basic idea:
Book in recurring video “hangouts” where a group of people have a chance to catch up with no set agenda.

Examples:
  • A team “wind down” each Friday afternoon.
  • A monthly “remote workers lunch”.
  • A fortnightly “engineer hangout” for engineers from across the organisation.
These hangouts should be optional to attend.

Why?

When teams aren’t in the same physical location, a common trap is only talking to people during set meeting times, and to only talk about the current project. Having a time to chat about anything, whether or not it’s work related – like you might in an office lunch room – is a chance to build better relationships and foster a sense of belonging.

Instructions:

  • Pick a group of people who would benefit from a stronger sense of community and belonging. It might be a team, a demographic, or a group with a particular role.
  • Find the appetite for how often people would like to meet, and for how long. In general, a range between once a week and once a month works for most groups, meeting more often the more important the relationships are. Meeting times can vary between 30 minutes and 2 hours, depending on how much of a “drop in / drop out” vibe you want.
  • Schedule a time! Try to find a time that is unlikely to be interrupted by other meetings, and unlikely to be highly focused time. Make sure it is within regular office hours to show that you value this type of connection enough to dedicate company time to it. For some groups it may be appropriate to book over lunch
  • Send an invite! Make sure attendance is optional.
  • During the hangout:
    • As the facilitator, make sure you’re online the entire time.
    • Greet people as they join, and introduce people who might not know each other.
    • It’s okay if people talk about work. It’s okay if people talk about life outside of work. It’s okay if people don’t talk and seem to be doing work on their laptops. 
    • Ensure there is only one conversation going on at a time. If people want to start a splinter-conversation, they can start a separate video call.
Categories
Faith Personal

“You are welcome here”

“God, you are welcome here”

It’s a line often sung in churches, and often prayed. But for people who believe in an omnipresent God – present everywhere at once – what does it mean? What’s the point in welcoming someone who is already here?

Well, there’s a difference between being present, and being welcomed. It’s an attitude thing. Are you acknowledging the person who has come, or ignoring them? Are you engaging with a defensive attitude, a judging attitude, a cautious attitude, an open attitude? Open to them being who they are, which might be different to what you hoped. Open to their thoughts, which might be different to your thoughts. Open hearted to ways their story might change you… that’s vulnerability. And the hospitality of welcome does require vulnerability. You might just come out of the encounter different.

So when you pause in a worship service to “welcome” God, it’s not about letting Holy Spirit in… that’s already happened. It’s about preparing the state of your inner world so that you’re actually open to genuine connection, even if it pushes you and changes you.

“You are welcome here”
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me”
“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me”

And perhaps, we can’t welcome God unless we also welcome all God’s children. You soften your heart towards the Spirit when you soften your heart towards the people near you.

Welcome them, even if they’re not who you hoped, even if they think completely differently to you, even if it means making yourself vulnerable to connection and to change.

And don’t claim to welcome God if you’re not willing to welcome fellow humans.

Categories
Uncategorized

Design systems and team culture

Slide: Design Systems & Team Culture. Jason O'Neil @jasonaoneil

Design Systems and Team Culture

This week at the UX Perth meetup I shared this talk about the human side of building design systems – how your team culture affects the design system you are building, and how the design system can affect the team culture you are building.

Slide: The diagram illustrating the cross-functional team-of-team's structure at Culture Amp - we have many teams, each with their own designers, front end engineers, back end engineers, product managers, testers, etc

At Culture Amp, we operate on a “team of teams” model. We currently have about 200 staff, with about half of those contributing to the product as engineers, designers, product managers, QAs etc. Each product feature has a team responsible for it, and this team is “cross-functional” – so rather than a single infrastructure team, each team should have its own infrastructure specialist. Rather than there being a single design team, each team should have a designer.

The idea is that each team should be able to move to its own priorities without being blocked by other teams. But as you can imagine, this can lead to people being out of sync.

Slide: The diagram illustrating the cross-functional team-of-team's structure at Culture Amp, with the front end engineers from across all teams highlighted.

Designers on different teams might be making simultaneous decisions about the styling of a button, and reach two different conclusions, resulting in two button styles.

In other disciplines, like Front End Engineering, you have people from across different teams working on different products with different code-styles (and even different languages!) How do we make sure that people on different teams can produce work that is consistent, high quality, fast to build and easy to maintain?

Slide: The diagram illustrating the cross-functional team-of-team's structure at Culture Amp, with the Survey Design team highlighted.

And then within a team, how can we make sure designers, engineers, product managers and everyone else is speaking the same language, and making decisions from the same framework?

Can we avoid designers saying things like “Use Ideal Sans, size 12px, line height 18px, all caps, and maybe some tighter letter-spacing?” and instead say “Use the Label style”.

Establishing sensible defaults, and giving names to them, enables your team members to talk to each other with less confusion and ambiguity – and that clear communication helps lead to less mistakes and faster work. It also helps product managers know which styles already exist and can be used, and which ones the team needs to invest in creating from scratch.

Slide: The diagram illustrating the cross-functional team-of-team's structure at Culture Amp, with everyone on every team highlighted.

Across the business, we want to align everyone, so that our product looks and feels consistent, no matter which team built it. And we want to speed up people in all roles on all teams, so that they can spend less effort recreating yet-another-button-component, and focus more on delivering real features that benefit our customers.

This is where design systems really shine: they give a common language that designers, PMs and engineers can use to all be on the same page. They help bring consistency in fonts, colors, styles and components to people on different teams who don’t interact often. And they give us a platform to build common, re-usable designs that can be shared across teams, enabling all the teams to build things faster and with more consistency.

How our company values interplay with our style guide efforts

So building a design system was the right call for us at Culture Amp. But how does that play out with the actual people, each with a specific role on a specific team? How does it affect our approach to work, and more importantly, to team work? How does the design system interplay with our team culture?

At Culture Amp we spend a lot of time talking about our company values, because our aim is to be “Culture First“, to focus on having an amazing work culture, working and living according to a shared set of values, and to let achievement and success arise from that culture.

So we have four values:

  1. Have the courage to be vulnerable
  2. Trust people to make decisions
  3. Learn faster through feedback
  4. Amplify others

How do these values impact our implementation of the design system? And how does our design system feed back into these values? Let’s take a look.

Slide: Value #2 Trust others to make decisions

Trusting people to make decisions can be hard. There is a reason micro-managing is such a problem in so many workplaces. And when it comes to design systems, you often hear companies talk about introducing them precisely because they don’t trust people to make decisions. They don’t trust them to use the logo correctly, they don’t trust them to choose an appropriate header type style – so they codify the “correct” way in the style guide and make sure everyone follows it.

Dictatorial decision making doesn’t leave any space for creativity and innovation. I personally believe the most inventive things happen on the edge of a group – not in the center – and you don’t want to squash that by rigid enforcement of a system that takes away a team member’s ability to make a decision.

But more importantly – if you remove all freedom from your team, limiting the ability of your designers to design, and of your engineers to engineer better components, never allowing them to build anything new and better – they’re going to resent it, they won’t enjoy their jobs, and you won’t see their best work – their talents will be wasted.

So how do we balance the desire for consistency with the desire for freedom? Let’s take a look at some examples.

Slide: a screenshot of the color palette page used at Culture Amp
We ask everyone to trust us and stick to the palette. Meanwhile we trust them to make good decisions with how to use that palette, and don’t try to micro-manage through design reviews.

With our brand colors, we have a predefined palette of 3 primary colors (“Coral”, “Paper” and “Ink”), 6 secondary colors (“Ocean”, “Seedling”, “Wisteria”, “Yuzu”, “Lapis” and “Peach”) as well as a small number of tertiary special use colors. These base colors were decided on by designers from across the organisation coming together – it wasn’t an edict from on-high, it was a collaborative effort to unearth the color patterns already in use, and choose and standardise on those that most identified with our brand.

From those colors, we tint them (add white) and shade them (add black) to come up with nearly 300 variations you can use and still be on brand.

(Read more about that in my post How a design system can encourage accessible, on-brand colors.)

With defining this palette, the designers are asking us to trust them – for any text or button or border on the site, we should be able to use one of these colors.

And trust is a two way street.

In return, they can trust us engineers to make sensible choices within the palette. I know the system suggests we use “Ocean” blue for links, and I can choose the appropriate shade of Ocean depending on accessibility requirements, and make the decision myself, without needing to consult a designer.

We trust them to define a palette, they trust us to use it wisely.

A screenshot of the type styles used at Culture Amp
We ask people to trust us and stick to these type styles wherever possible. We trust them if they say they need to deviate.

We did a similar thing for type styles, defining a range of headers, paragraph styles, labels and more that could cover most of the usages on a page. (Click here to see our type styles).

While I was giving this talk on Tuesday night I had Slack messages coming in from designers and product managers on one team talking to designers and product managers from our team – how much freedom would their team have to do what they needed for the visualisation they were designing – would they be free to explore or would they be limited to only a small palette of avialable styles?

Again, it comes down to trust. Those building the design system need to trust teams to know when and how to use it, and to know when to step outside it and try something new. If you trust that they share the same goal of great design and consistent design, then you can trust them to make the right call about when to experiment outside of the system. The work this team does may well bubble back up into the design system and become a standard for other teams to share.

Slide: Value #1 Have the courage to be vulnerable

One of our other values is “Have the courage to be vulnerable”.

(If you have not watched Brené Brown’s exceptional Ted Talk “The power of vulnerability”, you should do so now).

One way this shows up in building a design system is fighting any tendancy towards perfectionism, which is common for many designers and engineers – we want it to be perfect before we share it with the world. We want it to be just right before other teams start using it.

But sometimes sharing it early, even when you still aren’t proud of it yet, or are maybe even ashamed of how it looks or how it’s built, is still a good thing, and can help someone else, even in the early and rough state.

Slide: a screenshot from our style guide showing a dropdown component demo, but the demo user interface has ugly buttons, select boxes, and weird font weights.
We have a really great mock-up for our design system website with a very pretty way to demo components. But we have to be okay with sharing the ugly version so people can start using it now.

This showed up with launching our design system website, www.cultureamp.design. Parts of it look nice, but no where near as nice as the mock ups. There are designs so beautiful and so on-brand that we really wanted to share them with the world. But perfect can be the enemy of good, and at the end of the day, we had to share this with out team rather than keep it a private secret. We got over our insecurity, and started sharing it, and people have found it useful, even if there’s so much we wish we could improve.

A screenshot of our changelog including many small changes, some of them breaking changes
Moving fast and not waiting for perfection means making mistakes, like me needing to make a breaking API change because of a spelling mistake.

This has applied to the components we build as well as the website we use to showcase them. In the interest of moving faster and being less precious, I got excited and shipped a new dropdown component, including the ability to add a “seperator” to the menu. Not a “separator”. Yes I shipped a version of our design system with a spelling mistake, and fixing that was a breaking change, immortalised forever as a version bump in our CHANGELOG.

Putting yourself out there isn’t only about sharing your work early. It’s also about opening up the possibility for them to criticise the work you’ve done. Sometimes asking for feedback gives you feedback you didn’t want to hear.

We did this when our team, who are the main drivers of the design system, asked designers and front-end engineers from across the company for feedback on how we’re going.

Slide: a bubble-chart visualisation showing the number of positive and negative comments about some topics related to our team
A visualization of the comments we received when we asked for feedback on how our team was going

Often we talk about user experience and user centered design, but with design systems, we have two classes of users: the end users of our product, and our colleagues who use the design system to build the product. Taking the time to listen to this second group, our colleagues and team-mates, is crucial.

And it ties into one of our other company values: Learn faster through feedback.

Slide: Value #3 Learn faster through feedback

One key thing we learned through this survey was that we’d been over-investing in the base level styles (typography, color, icons) and underinvesting in the mid-level components (for example drop down menus, tabs, and select boxes).

Slide: Styles (atoms), Components (Molecules) Patterns (Organisms). Components is in bold.
We spent all our time on Styles, but the feedback showed we would be more helpful if we built more ready-to-use components.

Our team had been focusing on bringing consistency at the low level – changing typefaces and background colors and icons across the app, which was an enormous amount of effort on our part. But what would have helped the other teams more is if we built components that helped them deliver their designs faster. It might mean it would take longer to bring consistency to some of these fundamental styles, but it would mean that these teams are delivering valuable features to customers sooner.

That message came through our survey, loud and clear.

And at the end of the day, that ties into our fourth value:

Slide: Value #4 Amplify Others

Amplifying others. That’s the reason we’re building a design system in the first place – it allows us to amplify each of the product teams in our company, allowing them to move faster, stay in sync, spend less time sweating the fine details – and deliver a higher quality and more consistent experience to our customers.

That’s what it’s all about – and if we keep this in mind while we build out our system, it can help keep the work grounded, practical, and more likely to make an impact.

It isn’t about having the prettiest showcase of components. It isn’t about the elegance of your solutions, or the way you ship new components to your teams. At the end of the day, it’s about the people in your teams, and how you can amplify them, so they can build better products, faster, and with less stress.

And if amplifying your workmates does not motivate you, then you might have bigger team culture issues that a design system is not going to fix!

Have any questions? Feedback? Other observations on how team culture and design systems interplay? I’d love to hear them!

Categories
Front-end Development

How a design system can encourage accessible, on-brand colors

This is the blog post version of a talk I gave at the Perth Web Accessibility Conference. I also repeated the talk at a “BrownBag” team lunch at Culture Amp, which you can watch here, or you can read the blog-post version below. I’ve got a live example (open source! try it yourself!) at the end of the post.

How a design system can encourage accessible, on-brand colors from Jason O’Neil on Vimeo.

On the front-end team at Culture Amp, we’ve been working on documenting and demonstrating the way we think about design, with a design system – a style-guide and matching component library for our designers and developers to use to make our app more consistently good looking, and more consistently accessible.

But first, a story.

Here’s a photo of me, my older sister, and younger brother:

A photo of 3 me and my siblings in school uniforms
Me at the back, my sister and brother in the front

Me and my brother are both red-green color blind. Most of the time color-blindness isn’t a big deal and compared to other physical limitations, it doesn’t usually make life difficult in any significant way.
But growing up, my brother Aaron really wanted to be a pilot. Preferably an air-force pilot, like in Top Gun. But for a generation that grew up with every TV show telling us “you can be anything if you try hard enough”, there was a footnote: anything except a pilot. He couldn’t be a pilot, because he was red / green color blind. The air-force won’t even consider recruiting you for that track. They’ll write you off before your old enough to join the air cadets.
Why? Because the engineers who designed the cockpits half a century ago made it so that the only way you could tell if something changed from safe to dangerous was if an LED changed from green to red. So people with red-green color-blindness were out, and my brother was told he couldn’t be a pilot.

A photo of an aircraft cockpit with lots of small controls, and green and red lights
Cockpits have lots of small controls, and some of them rely purely on red/green color distinction to be read accurately.

Now, becoming an air-force pilot is super-competitive, and he might not have made it anyway, but to have your dream crushed at the age of 10, because an engineer built a thing without thinking about the 8% of males who are red/green color blind, is pretty heartbreaking.

Luckily, as web professionals we’ve got a chance to create a digital world that is accessible to more people, and is a more pleasant experience, than much of the real world. We just have to make sure it’s something designers and developers are thinking about, and something they care about.

So, design systems

One of the big lessons we’ve learned in the web industry over the last few years is that if you want your site, product or service to leave a lasting impression, it’s not enough to do something new and shiny and different. What’s important to a lasting impression is consistency: consistency builds trust, and inconsistency leads your users into confusion and frustration and disappointment.
It’s true of your branding, it’s true of your language and tone, it’s true of your information architecture, and it’s especially true of your commitment to creating accessible products and services. For example if your landing page is screen-reader friendly but your product is not, you’re going to leave screen-reader users disappointed. Consistency matters.
But as a company grow, consistency gets harder. It’s easy to have a consistent design when you have a landing page and a contact form. It’s harder when you have a team of 100 people contributing to a complex product.
The Culture Amp team has experienced those growing pains – we’ve grown from 20 employees three years ago to over 200 today, almost half of them contributing to the product – and it’s easy to lose consistency as users navigate from page to page and product to product. The UI built by one team might feel different and act differently to the UI built by another team.
So we started looking into design systems.

A screenshot of the "Lightning" salesforce design system website
The Salesforce “Lightning Design System” showed how a strong design system can bring consistency to a whole platform, even with 3rd party developers

Design systems are a great way to bring consistency. By documenting the way we make design decisions, and demonstrating how they work in practice, we can help our whole team come together and make a product that looks and feels consistent – and that consistency is the key to a great experience for our users.

As we codify our design thinking we are lifting the consistency of our app – not just of our branding and visual aesthetics, but of our approach to building an accessible product.

Culture Amp’s approach to color

So we’re a start-up, with three overlapping product offerings build across half a dozen teams. And we want to make that consistent.

One way to do that would be to have a design dictator who approves all decisions about color usage, making sure they’re on-brand and meet the WCAG contrast guidelines. But one of our company values is to “Trust people to make decisions”, and that means trusting the designers and front-end engineers in each team to make the right call when it comes to picking colors for the screens they are in.
How do we let them make the call, but still ensure consistency?
Well, as a group our designers worked together to define the palette they would agree to use. They consisted of three primary colors (Coral, Paper and Ink), six secondary colors (Seedling, Ocean, Lapis, Wisteria, Peach, Yuzu), as well as Stone for our standard background.

A screenshot showing our 3 primary colours and 6 secondary colours
Our color system starts with 3 primary colors and 6 secondary colors. I have no idea how the team picked the color names…

Every color on the page should be one of the colors on the palette.

But what about when you need it slightly lighter or slightly darker? When you need more contrast, or want just a slight variation? We allow designers to use a color that is derived from the original palette, but with a tint (white mixed in) or a shade (black mixed in).
We can actually figure these tints and shades out programmatically, using SASS or Javascript:

(Note: the SASS code is even easier. You can use the lighten() or darken() functions, or the custom mix() function if you’d prefer to tint or shade with a custom color. All three of these functions are built in.
So now we have three primary colours, and six secondary colours, and computationally generated tints and shades for each in 10% increments, resulting in 171 colour variations, which all fit with our brand. Woo!

A screenshot of the various tints and shades of 3 secondary colours, seedling, ocean and lapis
By adding tints and shades to our base colors, we can generate a flexible but consistent color palette

This range gives enough freedom and variety to meet individual teams needs on a page-by-page basis, while still bringing consistency. Designers are free to move within this system and make the right decision for their team.

So what about color contrast?

Currently Culture Amp has committed to complying with WCAG AA standard contrast ratios. This means the contrast between the text color and the background color must be at least 4.5 for small text, and at least 3.0 for large text. (If we wanted to go for WCAG AAA standard contrast ratios, those values 7.0 and 4.5 respectively).
How do we get the designers and developers on our team thinking about this from the very beginning of their designs? We could audit after the designs after-the-fact, but this would be frustrating for designers who have to revisit their design and re-do their work. Making people re-do their work is not a way to win friends and advocates for your color contrast cause.

So we can actually check whether our colors will be able to hold white or black text with a sufficient contrast ratio. And because we derive our color values programmatically, we can check if all 171 of our derived color values are accessible with large text or small text, black text or white text, and display all of that information at a glance:

A screenshot of our colours page where each derived colour displays a series of ticks to show if it is accessible with white text or black text in both small and large sizes
We can programmatically check contrast, and show at a glance which colors support white text or black text at small and large sizes.

Now our designers can come to this page, explore every color within our palette, and at a glance know which of these colors will be able to display text with sufficient contrast to be considered accessible.
For bonus points, we can also programmatically determine if a background color would be better suited to have text colored white or black:

 

If you build it, they probably won’t come

So we’ve made a great page where designers can explore our palette colors, and at a glance gain an understanding of which combinations will have sufficient contrast. But by this point everyone in the software industry should hopefully know that “if you build it, they will come” is simply not true. If you want people to engage with your design system – or with anything you’ve built – you need to offer something of value, you need to solve a real problem for them.
So how do we get the designers and developers across our different teams to care enough to come look at this page? We need to offer them some convenience or solve a problem they have.
What are the most common things our team needs help with when thinking about our brand colors? They usually want to explore the range of the palette, and then find a HEX code or a SASS variable to start use that color.

A screenshot of a team chat where someone asks for the brand color codes so they can use them in Canva to design an infographic
People on the team need to know what the brand colors are. Now we can send them to this page, and they’ll see the accessibility info as a bonus.

A screenshot of the dropdown menu showing color values in SASS, HEX, RGB and CMYK formats
We have a dropdown that lets our team copy/paste the colour values so they can use them in their design tools or their code

So we tried to make our design system colors page as helpful as possible, providing a way to explore the colors, see the shades and tints, see what colored text it best pairs with, and copy color values to your clipboard.

Next time someone needs to reference our brand colors, this feature set means they’ll come to our design system page first, because they know they can explore the colors, and get the correct codes in whatever format they need. We’re solving a problem for them, and, while we have their attention, using the opportunity to inform get them thinking about color contrast and accessibility.

What else?

So we’re just getting started on our journey of using design systems to improve the consistency of our design and our accessibility. But color contrast is a great place to start, and it’s already making me think about how we can use the design system project to put accessibility front-and-center in the design culture of our team.
The web’s most popular component library, Bootstrap, solves a problem for designers and developers by allowing fast prototyping of common website elements, but by offering components with accessibility concerns baked in, and by encouraging good accessibility practice in their documentation, they’ve used their design system to lift the level of accessibility on millions of websites.

A screenshot of the Bootstrap website
Bootstrap was one of the first open source component libraries, and works hard in its documentation to encourage accessible use of its components.

If you have other ideas on how design systems could be used to bake accessibility into your team culture and product design, I’d love to hear about it! It’s an exciting project to be part of, raising the design consistency and the accessibility consistency across the various products offered at Culture Amp.

If you’d like to join us, Culture Amp is hiring front end developers – either in Melbourne, or remote within Australia. It’s an amazing place to work, I’d encourage you to apply. See the Culture Amp Careers page for more info.

Bonus #1:

Our whole Color Showcase component is now available open source. You can view the Color System Showcase repo on Github or even try embed it online by entering JSON code on this page. (Enthraler is a work-in-progress hobby project of mine so there’s a good chance you’ll run into issues. Email me or ping me on twitter if you need help!)
Here’s a live iframe preview with Culture Amp colors inserted:

Bonus #2:

If you want to test how your site would look to a completely color-blind person, you can type this into the browser console:
document.body.style.filter="grayscale(1)";
Try it!

Two screenshots of our colors page, with the left being in full color and the right being displayed monochrome
Adding the `filter: grayscale(1)` CSS rule is an easy way to notice places your design is too dependent on colour

 

 

Categories
Haxe

Lix: A step forward in dependency management for Haxe projects

Part 1: Haxelib gets painful

I’ve been using Haxe for a long while, and for about 2-3 years I was using Haxe full time, building web applications in Haxe, so I know how important managing your dependencies is, and I know how painful it was with Haxelib, especially if you had a lot of dependencies, a lot of projects, or needed to collaborate with people on different computers.

Haxelib is okay when you’re just installing one or two libraries, and they’re libraries with stable releases where you don’t change versions often, and if you don’t need to come back to your code after long gaps in time. Basically, haxelib is fine if you’re doing weekend hackathons or contests like Ludum Dare where your projects probably aren’t too complex, you’re not collaborating with too many other people, you’re using existing frameworks, and you don’t have to worry about if it will still work fine in 4 months time.  Otherwise, it can be quite painful.

I tried to help with Haxelib at one point in time (I still am in the top 4 contributors on Github, most of that was back in 2013 though), but it proved pretty unruley – even skilled developers were afraid of changing too much or refactoring in a way that might break things for thousands of developers. And some changes were impossible to make without first changing the Haxe compiler. So it’s largely sat in the “too hard” basket and has not had many meaningful improvement since it first became it’s own project in 2013.

(No offense to anyone who has been working on it – you are a braver soul than I! But I think we all agree it’s not as good as it needs to be.)

Since mid 2016, I have been working in other jobs where I don’t use Haxe full time, instead spending more time with JS: using tools like NPM, Yarn, Webpack. And they’re certainly not perfect when it comes to dependency management, but there are a few things that they do right (Yarn especially).

Part 2: What the JS ecosystem gets right.

In Node JS land (and eventually normal JS land), there was a package manager called NPM – Node Package Manager. It had a registry of packages you could install. It would also let you install a package from Github or somewhere else. The basic things.

Here’s what I think it did right:

  • Used a standard format (package.json) to describe which packages a project uses.
  • Put all of the libraries in a standard location (node_modules/${my_cool_lib}/)
  • NodeJS didn’t care if you used NPM or not. As long as your stuff was in node_modules, it would be happy.

Why was this a good move? Because it allowed some talented people to build a competitor to NPM, called Yarn. By having simple expectations, you can have two competing package managers, and innovation can happen. Woo!

Yarn is what I use at work on a big project with 119 dependencies (and about 1000 sub-depedencies). Here’s what yarn did right:

  • Reproducible builds. While package.json has information about which version I want (say, React 16.* or above), Yarn would keep information in a file called yarn.lock which says exactly which version I ended up using (say, React 16.0.1). This was when my friend joins the project and tries to install things she won’t accidentally end up on a newer or older version than me – Yarn makes sure we’re all using exactly the same version, and all of our dependencies and sub-dependencies are also exactly the same.
  • A global cache. When Yarn came out, it was several times faster than NPM on our project because it kept a cache of dependencies and was able to resolve them quickly when switching between projects and branches. NPM has caught up now – but that’s the benefit of competition!

Part 3: Introducing lix (and its friends: switchx and haxeshim)

In 2015 I remember chatting to my friend Juraj Kirchheim (also one of the key contributors who just kind of gave up) about what an alternative might be, and he described something that sounded great, a futuristic utopian alternative to haxelib.

2 years later, and it turns out, it’s been built! And it’s called “lix”.

(What’s with the name? I’m guessing it is short for “LIbraries in haXe”, a leftover from when every Haxe project needed an X in it for cool-ness, and Haxe was spelt as haXe. That, and the lix.pm domain name must have been available).

Lix also depends on two other projects: haxeshim and switchx. The names aren’t super obvious, so here is my understanding of how it all works:

  • Haxe Shim intercepts calls to Haxe and does some magic. The Haxe compiler on it’s own explicitly calls haxelib, so you literally can’t replace haxelib without intercepting all calls to the compiler and getting rid of -lib arguments. So haxeshim is a shim that intercepts Haxe calls and sorts out -lib arguments so that haxelib is never needed.

    As a bonus, it also supports switching to the right version of Haxe for the current project. But for that, we also need “switchx”.

  • SwitchX lets you pick the Haxe version you need for your project, and automatically switches Haxe versions for whatever project you’re in. If you change between project A, on Haxe 3.4.3, and project B, in a different folder and running Haxe 4, it will always use the correct one.

    How?

    When you start a project you run switchx scope create. This makes a .haxerc file which says that this folder is a specific project, or “scope”, and should use the Haxe version defined in the .haxerc file.

    How do you change the version?

    You run switchx use latestor switchx use stable or switchx use nightly or switchx use 3.4.3 etc. It lets you instantly switch between different versions, and for the correct version to always be used while you’re in your project folder.

    Nice!

  • Lix is a package manager that you use to install packages. It is made to work with Haxe Shim, and creates a “haxe_libraries” folder, with a new hxml file for each dependency you install. It’s super fast because it uses a global cache (like yarn) and it makes sure you always have the correct version installed (like yarn). It supports installing dependencies from Haxelib, Github, Gitlab or HTTP (zip file). Anytime you update or change a dependency, one of the haxe_libraries/*.hxml files will be updated, you commit this change to Git, and it will update for all of your coworkers as well. Magic.

These tools are (for now) built on top of NodeJS, so you can install them with NPM or Yarn.

If you want to install each of these, you basically run these commands (warning: these will replace your current Haxe installation):

# Install all 3 tools and make their commands available.
yarn global add haxeshim switchx lix.pm

# Create a ".haxerc" in the current directory, informing haxeshim that
# this project should use a specific version of Haxe and specific
# `haxe_libraries` dependencies
switchx scope create

# Use the latest stable version of Haxe in this project.
switchx install stable

Part 4: What lix can do that haxelib cannot do (well).

With this setup, here’s what I can do that I couldn’t do before:

Be certain that I always have the exact right version installed, even if the project is being set up on someone else’s machine. Even if I pulled from a custom branch, using something like lix install github:haxetink/tink_web#pure (install the latest version of tink_web from the “pure” branch), when I run this on a different machine, it will use not only the same branch, but the exact same commit that it used on my machine, so we will be compiling the exact same code.

Easily get up and running on a machine where they don’t even have haxe installed. I tried this today – took a project on Linux, and set up its dependencies in Lix. It used a combination of Haxelib, Github, Gitlab, and custom branches. It was a nightmare with Haxelib. I also added haxeshim, switchx and lix.pm as “devDependencies” so they would be installed locally when I ran yarn intall. I opened a Windows machine that had Git installed, but not haxe, cloned the repo, and yarn install. It installed all of the yarn dependencies, including haxeshim, switchx, and lix, and then running lix download installed all of the correct “haxe_libraries”, and then everything compiled. Amazing!

Know if I’ve changed a dependency Today I was working on a change for haxe-react. In the past I would have used haxelib dev react /my/path/to/react-fork/. Now I edit haxe_libraries/react.hxml and change the class path to point to the folder my fork lives in. The great thing about doing this is, Git notices that I’ve changed it. And so when I go to commit the work on my project, git lets me know I’ve got a change to “react.hxml”, I’ve changed that dependency. In this case, I knew what to do: push my fork to Github, and then run lix install gh:jasononeil/haxe-react#react16 to get Lix to properly register my fork in a way that will work with my project going forward. I then commit the change, and people who use my project will get the up-to-date fork.

Start a competing package manager The great thing about all of this, is that “lix” has some great features, but if I want to write better ones, I can. Because of the way “haxeshim” just expects dependencies to haxe a “haxe_libraries/*.hxml” file, I could write my own package manager, that does things in my own way, and just places the right hxml file in the right place, and I’m good to go. This makes it possible to have multiple, competing package managers. Or even multiple, co-operating package managers.

Part 5: Vote on the future

So, I think Lix has learnt from a lot of what has gone “right” in the NodeJS ecosystem, and built a great tool for the Haxe ecosystem. I love it, and will definitely be using it in my Haxe projects going forward.

The question is, do we really need “haxeshim” and “switchx” and other such tools just in order to have a competing package manager? For now sadly, because of the way haxe and haxelibare tied at the hip, you do need a hack like this. But there’s a discussion to change that. (See here and here).

If you care about Haxe projects having maintainable dependency management, you can help by voting up comments in a discussion that’s happening right now. Here are the comments that I think will help Haxe support something like Lix, and more competing package managers, as first class citizen going forward. Feel free to upvote with a thumbs up emoji:

https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333298948https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333299543https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333302625https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333311522https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333323976

And two of my own comments

https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333367950https://github.com/HaxeFoundation/haxe-evolution/issues/30#issuecomment-333368097

Feel free to have a look and contribute to the discussion. For now though – if you don’t mind installing haxeshim and switchx, there is a very good solution for managing your haxelibs and dependencies in a reliable, consistent, but still flexible way. And it’s called Lix.

Categories
Uncategorized

Tricks I needed to install Fedora 26 on a Dell XPS 13 9365 (2 in 1)

Update: I ended up getting a new job which came with a new laptop, so don’t have the XPS 9365 anymore. I hope this post is still helpful to people but I won’t be able to provide any more support. The official Fedora support page is over here: http://ask.fedoraproject.org/ Good luck everyone!


While having breakfast on Friday morning, my 5 year old laptop was going fine.  Then Firefox froze.  I pressed alt-tab, nope, everything is frozen except the mouse. Then the mouse was frozen.  Then I reset the computer, and got this message “Operating System Not Found”.  My hard drive had died.

Rather than spend a weekend fiddling to repair it, I decided to spend my tax-return money to buy a new laptop – a Dell XPS 13 9365 2-in-1.  Fancy as!  But, whenever you buy a fairly knew and fancy laptop, less than 12 months old, with the intent to install Linux – you should probably set aside some time because you just know there’s going to be issues.

One weekend later, I’m the happy owner of a XPS 13 2-in-1 running Fedora 26.  Here’s all the tips and gotchas and cry-into-a-pillow moments that I had to get through to make it this far.

Trying Fedora instead of Ubuntu

Before I made the purchase, I was doing some Googling to see if Ubuntu would even load on an XPS 13 9365.  The verdict seemed to be that it would load, but there was some difficulty getting suspend/resume to work, but it was possible.  I decided to go ahead with the purchase. But in my reading, I came across this comment:

I was unable to uninstall Ubuntu on the XPS at all. And out of frustration I tried Fedora and I was simply BLOWN away by the polish. And today we have Fedora 26 that is even better. I am semi-validated by Ubuntu moving to Gnome as well. Ubuntu was simply too unpolished with Mir + Unity.

I decided to give Fedora a go.  Now that most of my development work happens in Docker, I’m not too worried about which distro I have running on bare-metal – and I’m up for trying something new!

Verdict: I’ve enjoyed Fedora – the polish in Fedora 26 really is there compared to Ubuntu 16.04 (admittedly – it is 12 months newer so that is to be expected).

To get started with Fedora, download the “Fedora Media Writer” which will prepare a Live USB for you. See the Fedora installation guide for more info.

Shrinking a Windows Partition is beyond my pay-grade

At first I was interested in keeping Windows 10 installed and dual booting, because it might be nice to occasionally see test how it works etc.  But part of the dual-boot process involves resizing the Windows partition to make space for Linux.

I had a 460GB Windows partition, with 30GB used.  For the life of me I couldn’t shrink it smaller than 445GB – leaving only 15GB for Linux.  I tried following different tips, tricks and tutorials for about 30 minutes, and then decided that I’ve lived without Windows for a decade, I can keep going without it now.

SATA mode has to be AHCI

By default the 9365 has it’s SATA hard drive configured to be in “RAID” mode rather than “AHCI”.  To be able to install Fedora, I needed to change this to AHCI. Not sure why.  Here’s a question / answer that prompted me to make the change.

It’s worth noting that if you intend to dual boot, changing from “RAID” to “AHCI” can cause serious problems for Windows unless you do some prep work first.  You can change it and change back, but if you want to dual boot, you will need both to be on AHCI.

A painful firmware bug (that makes you think your laptop is dead forever)

See: http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/laptop/f/3518/t/20009547

This bug had me thinking my laptop was bricked and would need to be sent for warranty.  It would literally sit on the DELL logo for what felt like forever, but turned out to be 5 to 10 minutes.  I can’t explain how relieved I was to read a blog post where someone described the same symptoms:

When changing the SATA drive setting from RAID to AHCI, and disabling the “Secure boot” option in the BIOS (both actions are needed to install Ubuntu), the booting process gets stuck in the Dell logo for a long time, around 5 minutes, before it makes any progress. Even trying to enter the BIOS again to change those settings makes me have to wait that long.

Also, when booting when those settings on and entering the BIOS, the whole user interface of the BIOS menu, even just moving the mouse cursor around, is extremely slow. Clicking on a menu option on the BIOS makes the screen refresh to the next screen with a very slow transition of about 3 seconds.

I’m have upgraded to the latest BIOS firmware as of April 8, 2017 (Version 01.00.10, 3/9/2017). This bug is currently preventing me from setting up a dual-boot mode with Windows 10 + Ubuntu, which makes the system not usable for my specific use cases. I’d really appreciate if these issues could be resolved soon.

The fix:

  • You can’t have “SATA MODE = AHCI” and “SECURE BOOT = FALSE” at the same time.
  • Because “SATA MODE = AHCI” is required for a Fedora install, we need “SECURE BOOT’ to be true.  Turns out, this is actually okay.

That one hurt.  I also found a poor user on Reddit who was bit by the same problem and was offering money to anyone who could help – too bad I didn’t find the fix 2 months earlier!

Configuring BIOS to boot from USB

One final thing to do in BIOS: configure it to boot from USB.

Because we’re using SecureBoot, this is not as straight forwarded as choosing an option from a boot menu.

Steps:

  • Ensure “Disable Legacy Boot ROMs” is ticked.  It will need to be ticked for secure-boot to be ticked.
  • Ensure “Secure Boot” is ticked.  It’s on a different page in the settings.
  • Ensure “Boot mode” is “UEFI” not “Legacy”.
  • This will show a list of boot options.  The terrible GUI interface will require you to scroll down to find the “Add Boot Option” button. Click it.
  • Add a boot option named “Fedora” and click the “…” to open the file browser.
  • Find your USB drive in the list (mine was named “Anaconda” by the Fedora Media Writer).
  • Load the file “/EFI/BOOT/grubx64.efi
  • Save the new boot item.  Use drag and drop to move it to the top, so it has the highest priority.
  • Save your settings, and restart – and hopefully – Fedora will load up and kick into Live CD mode.

Before you install

Before I hit install, I did a quick check:

  • Wifi works: yes
  • Sound works: yes
  • Touchscreen works: yes
  • Webcam works: yes
  • Suspend / Resume works: no. Bummer – but my research had suggested this was probably going to be an issue, so I continued anyway.

In the install options I deleted the Windows 10 partition, and got it to auto-partition from there.  Then hit install.  Woo!

Getting suspend and resume to work.

**Update:** It turns out I’m still having supend/resume issues.  I think figuring out how to install the 4.13 version of the kernel while SecureBoot is enabled is what I will need.

After the install, almost everything worked as expected, and the whole experience was really nice – it’s a beautiful laptop, and the new version of Fedora with Gnome 3 is quite pleasant.  Until you close the lid and it suspends.  Because then it won’t wake up again.

What would happen:

  • The screen would go dark, but the keyboard backlight would stay on.
  • Pressing the tiny power button on the side of the case does nothing at first.
  • If you keep holding the power button for like 10 seconds, the login screen lights up, and everything is still there, but the moment you let go, it suspends again.
  • If you hold it down long enough, it eventually turns off.  You’ll need to do this to get out of the broken suspend, but it takes forever and feels like you’re pressing the little power button so hard you’ll break it.

What I learned about why it doesn’t work:

  • It’s a Linux kernel issue.  See this bug report.
  • You can check your kernel version by typing
    [jason@jasonxps enthraler]$ uname -a
    Linux jasonxps 4.11.8-300.fc26.x86_64 #1 SMP .....
  • I read a bunch of Q&A suggestions on tips for getting this to work, but none helped that much – reading through the bug report above though convinced me that I needed to upgrade from 4.11 to 4.12 or 4.13.
  • Upgrading to the very latest kernel (4.13-rc4) seems easy, but as the wiki page notes, it won’t work with SecureBoot – so that turned out to be a dead end for me.  (Signing the kernel for SecureBoot might be possible, but I couldn’t be bothered learning enough to understand the tutorials).
  • 4.12 isn’t released yet, but it’s supposed to be in testing.  Unfortunately, enabling the “updates-testing” repository and running “dnf upgrade” didn’t install the new kernel.  I’m not sure if it was supposed to.
  • In the end, I installed 3 RPMs manually.  (GASP!)
  • Here is the page with the packages I need.  Apparently it’s only been in testing for 9hours – perhaps that is why it wasn’t coming through the update channel?
  • I had to download these 3 files:
  • Once downloaded, I ran this to install them:
    dnf install kernel-modules-4.12.5-300.fc26.x86_64.rpm kernel-core-4.12.5-300.fc26.x86_64.rpm kernel-4.12.5-300.fc26.x86_64.rpm

    Be careful here that you don’t override the kernel you’re currently using.  You may need to add options to “dnf” if it suggests that it’s going to remove the package for the kernel you’re currently on.

  • And then you update grub:
    sudo grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/efi/EFI/fedora/grub.cfg
  • After restarting, test that the new kernel is working:
    [jason@jasonxps enthraler]$ uname -a
    Linux jasonxps 4.12.5-300.fc26.x86_64 #1 SMP ...
  • And now, you can close the lid and expect it to suspend and resume.  For me, I still have to hold the power button for like 6 seconds to get it to resume, but hey, at least it comes back.  I’m hoping 4.13 will come out and fix that problem too.
  • Note – I also changed the setting in Gnome Power Settings for “When the Power Button is Pressed” from “Suspend” to “Nothing”.  Reason: sometimes holding down the power button that long to resume it would then trigger another “supsend”.  So I set the button to do nothing.  I can just close the lid to supsend.

Ubuntu Unity-like keyboard shortcuts

Overall I’ve really enjoyed Gnome 3 over Ubuntu Unity.  One thing I missed though was being able to press “Win+1” to open my file manager, “Win+2” to open Firefox, “Win+3” to open Visual Studio Code, “Win+4” to open Chrome etc. Basically, my most common applications all sit in the dock on the left, and I can use a quick keyboard shortcut to switch to that app – and if it’s not open already, it will open it.  Gnome doesn’t have this by default.

Luckily, there’s an extension that adds this behaviour: https://github.com/franziskuskiefer/app-keys-gnome-shell-extension

Conclusion

Well, that was certainly not something I’d trust my Grandma to complete successfully.  But hey – at least it works.  If I learn any new tricks for getting Fedora to run nicely on a Dell XPS13 9365 2-in-1, I’ll post here.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask – no guarantees I’ll be able to help though :)

 

Categories
Faith Personal

Confusion over the cross

Lately I’ve been confused by the cross, and confused about why I’m confused.  As I went through Easter this year I still was moved by the idea that God somehow loved us enough to die – but I couldn’t explain what it all means, and I couldn’t verbalise what it was about the traditional explanation that made me so uneasy.

So I watched a few lectures online, including this one by Tom Wright, and have picked up a copy of his book “The Day The Revolution Began” and started reading it, hoping to learn more.

I haven’t made it past the first chapter yet, but by setting apart time to think about this, I think I finally (subconsciously?) was able to piece together what I want to believe, in a way that draws contrast to my understanding growing up.

My understanding growing up:

God is love, and he loves you, but he’s also “just”, “righteous” or “perfect”, and can’t stomach your disobedience (sin), it’s because he’s perfect, and that perfection just doesn’t mix with sinfulness, and a blood sacrifice was needed to make things right for some reason.  Animals weren’t enough.  Jesus died so it didn’t have to be you.  That was enough for God the Father.  Now when he looks at you he doesn’t see sin, he’s just full of love again.

What I don’t like:

If Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then we should get a good idea of what God is like by looking at what Jesus is like.  A person with uncontrollable anger problems that needs satiating when people don’t do what they want… is not at all the type of person we see in Jesus.

Most (admittedly not all) of the anger I see the bible describe God as having, is the same kind of thing you see Jesus get angry over: injustice, caused by some humans, that crushes other humans.  This pattern seems to be well in place by the time you get to the prophets in the Hebrew Bible.  The “lash out” kind of anger is admittedly seems to be more present in earlier books like Joshua, and occasionally in later places like Ananias and Sapphira… but it seems the overall thrust is that God’s anger / anguish is about humans hurting each other, rather than about us offending his righteousness.

What I finally realised I want to believe:

Jesus was killed by humans.  It wasn’t God’s anger that put him there, it was ours.  We have the human condition, a tendency to lash out, to scapegoat, to viciously attack anything that exposes our frailty, futility or hollowness.  Jesus exposed how hollow the power structures of the day were, and showed very clearly how the actions of the religious powers and the actions of the political powers were not the actions of God – these people did not represent God.  He exposed the leaders, and like most humans, they lashed out.

But rather than fighting back and perpetuating the sinful violence of humanity, he took it and did not return it, in fact, while they were still killing him, expressed forgiveness and love.  To apply MLK’s famous truth: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

On a physical level, the power-structures of Rome and of 1st century religious leaders killed him, because he threatened them.  On a sociological level, his non-violent response changed the game in a way where his followers continued to subvert the brutal power of Rome despite intense persecution.

What about theologically or spiritually?  Is there any meaning to it?

If Jesus really is God-incarnate, God-as-a-regular-human-being, (which I should clarify I want to believe), then him suffering the same wrath of humans as the rest of us shows that that wrath is from humans, not from God.  The angry and violent human condition that causes us to crush each other (which I feel sums up most of the concept of sin) is actually from us, not from an angry God.

In other words, what I want to believe: God was never angry that we’re not perfect.  That anger was always ours, that violence was always ours.  It took God himself suffering under that violence, as Jesus on the cross, for us to understand that the violence wasn’t coming from God.  The anger was never his.

So in a bizarre way, the cross is a sign that God is not angry: it shows me that he always loved and was not the one who was angrily lashing out.  And it is a sign that God is not leaving us to suffer alone: that God himself would suffer under our angry violence, it shows he knows our suffering and is not keeping his distance.  And it is a sign that God is working at a rescue plan: that he overcame hatred with love, darkness with light.  This is the butterfly effect – where one small act of love overcoming hatred is cascading and rippling outwards until hatred, violence and even death is overcome by love, and that the God of the universe is putting his full weight and power behind this plan.

And so, when I look at the cross, I do realise that God loves me and is not angry.  And I do realise that he loves me enough to enter into that suffering.  And I do realise that he has a plan for salvation, the rescue of the world – to transform this suffering through redemptive love.

Just because I want it doesn’t mean it’s true.

So that’s what I want to believe, I can finally articulate it.

But I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Tom Wright’s book, because admittedly: this is just the worldview that sits well with me, given what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned and the cultural leanings that go with that.

Tom’s book looks like it will go through it in a more rigorous, systematic way: examining early evidence and early texts, examining the changing understanding of the crucifixion event by two millennia of theologians, and generally being a little more grounded than my “this is what I want to believe” write-up.

But, it’s good to be able to write down, as a product of my life and culture and upbringing and current understanding, what it is that I most want to believe about a loving God who had to die.

I’m looking forward to seeing where I land.  If you’re wondering any of the same things, asking the same questions, or exploring the same topics – I would love to hear about it in the comments!

 

Categories
Faith Personal

Painstaking Love

When I type the word “painstaking” in my phone, it automatically suggests “work” as the next word. Do you ever hear it paired with any other word?

Painstaking work is often necessary, even good. We know this and brace ourselves for it, muster our endurance and strength and willpower.

But painstaking love is something we don’t give much thought to. But maybe we should. Let me try this definition of love: improving the life of another person, regardless of the effect on your own life. When you define it like that, love is sometimes going to get painstaking: really challenging, pushing us to the edge of our capacity, more than most people are willing to undergo. Much like painstaking work, painstaking love achieves the strongest effect.

Categories
Faith Personal

Is God so angry that he has to kill his child? Probably not.

It’s Good Friday, and my faith is changing.

One key thing that’s changing: my view around why Jesus died. There’s a cognitive dissonance when you speak of a “God of love” who loves you so much that he will punish another to satisfy his own rage, or to satiate his sense of honour. We condemn honour killings, but it’s okay for God?

I still believe in God (though, what I mean by that statement, is also something that is changing). But if it’s Jesus that I’m attracted to, and it’s Jesus that showed us what the god behind the universe is really like as a person, then I don’t think God is the sort that wants to kill people to defend his sense of honour and justice. In fact, one of the stories I like most is of Jesus non-violently de-escalating a situation, saving a woman from being the victim of an honour killing.

So what did Jesus death on the cross mean?  It’s something I want to learn more about.  I want to read NT Wright and I want to hear about the “new perspective on Paul” that is actually decades old.  But I read an article today that had good food for thought.

He became the lightning rod where the pent up oppositional energy of the powers that be (the world) became focused. In bearing the hate, evil and animosity of the world, he exposed it and exhausted it, thus overcoming it..

We, too, are called, on behalf of the kingdom of God, on behalf of mercy and justice, on behalf of what is good, right, true and just, to be lightning rods, to bear the hate of the world without returning it, so that it might be exposed and so that forgiveness is given a chance.

Here it is:

It’s time to end the hands-off attitude to substitionary atonement

 

Categories
Personal Reading & Inspiration Work Habits

What I learned from “Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky (Book Review)

On Sunday I finished reading “Making Ideas Happen” by Scott Belsky (founder of Behance).

7696135I’m the sort of person that has ideas.  So many ideas.  Some are ideas for apps or products, side projects or start-ups, cool programming libraries or fun creative projects.  When I look back at my work history, I am proud of the things that I have “shipped” and finished, or if not finished, at least gotten it “finished enough” that other people could start using it.

But there is definitely a graveyard of good ideas that I was very excited about at one point in time, that I even thought were game-changing, and maybe even started work on, but never managed to finish or get out there.

Gravestone reading "RIP: A Great Idea"As I was wrapping up 2016 and planning for 2017, I realised that I have several ideas that I actually want to see become reality.  Two ideas in particular (tentatively named Enthraler and Model School) I’ve wanted to do for at least 5 years, and have kept not doing.

When we finally launched Today We Learned I found out the pain of launching a good idea too late, and seeing someone else carry a very similar idea to success.  If I wanted 2017 to be different, and if I wanted to be part of these 2 ideas becoming reality, I had to get better at executing on ideas, pushing them forward and getting them out there.  And all of this while having a full-time job that I really love and am already feeling stretched in.

So when my my sister Clare and her husband Zac gave me a book for Christmas that promised to help me “Overcome The Obstacles Between Vision And Reality”, I was eager to get stuck into it.

Disclaimer and caveat: It’s worth pointing out that I’m viewing this book as advice on creative projects, which I’m viewing as distinct to start-ups. Both of them involve ideas, innovation and execution, but there’s a crucial difference.  If you want a start-up to succeed, you should probably not start with an idea.  You should start with a problem that real people hate so much they’ll pay someone to solve it for them.  Find a gnarly problem first, then let your ideas develop around that.  Creative projects on the other hand, start with your idea.  It’s a work of art, as if inspiration has visited and requested that you make an idea real, and it’s your job to make it.  It’s as much about self-expression and creative fulfilment as it is about business development.

Overview

The first half of the book (“Organisation and Execution”) is all about getting it done.  It’s full of practical tips to stay organised, stay focused, and keep pushing ideas forward until they’re ready.  These have made a massive difference for me so far.  The second half (“The Forces of Community” and “Leadership Capability”) focus on the relational aspects of ideas.  Ideas feel their most exciting, and most pure, when they’re in your head.  The moment you start sharing them, and inviting other people in to participate, things change.  This might feel like your idea is losing potency as it gets diluted by others, but it’s only with their help (and with the new aspects they bring to the project), that your idea is going to be successful.  How well you utilise these forces has a massive impact on your ability to consistently bring ideas into reality.

Organisation and Execution

  • The competitive advantage of organisation
  • The action method: work and life with a bias towards action
  • Prioritisation: managing your energy across life’s projects
  • Execution: always moving the ball forward
  • Mental loyalty: maintaining attention and resolve

I was really surprised by how prescriptive Scott is in this first section.  His basic argument is that they key to creative success is actually finishing your projects and getting them out the door, and doing that as often as possible.  The trouble is that ideas are exciting at the start, boring in the middle, a hard slog near the end, and then only get exciting again right before you launch.

A graph depicting energy levels for an idea decreasing during the middle, and new ideas starting and seeming more appealing during the low-energy plateau.
Ideas are exciting at the start, then get boring and hard in the middle, for a long time until you’re ready to ship – and only then does it get exciting again. Beware the temptation to start a new (and exciting!) idea during the project plateau.

So the key to all of Scott’s advice is to just keep you moving forward, one small step at a time, to get you through the trough and out the other side where your idea is finally a reality.  To do this, it takes dozens of small actions.  Focusing on these actions is the key principal in “The Action Method” – Scott’s big idea on how to do this.

Most other productivity books I’ve read have talked about the motivation and less about the mechanics of getting it done, but Scott is quite prescriptive. For example:

  • Organise your whole life into “Projects”.  Not just work projects. Not just side projects. Even mundane things like “grocery shopping” and “remember to call mum” go into a project. He isn’t prescriptive about where to store your projects, but I’ve used Trello.  I have one Trello board for my whole life.  The lists I use are “Home Admin”, “Personal and Social”, “myEd”, “Enthraler”, and “Model School”.
  • Each project has 3 types of things you can store:
    • Action Steps – literally, a specific action you can take to move the project forward.  The first word should be a verb: “Create nice styling for multi-choice component and upload to Github”.  Or “Read through things Cassie sent me and send through feedback”. My friend Stephen had an interesting take on this, going one step further and having a super specific first step in the action.  “Open gmail, read through the docs Frank sent me…”.  The trick here is to make it so obvious what the next step looks like, so whenever you have half an hour to work on something, you can easily pick an action step, start it, and push a project forward.
    • Back-burner Items – these is where you keep possible future action steps that you’re not ready to commit to yet.  Maybe they are ideas for much later in a project, or maybe they need some more thought before you commit to starting them.  Keeping them in a separate place, where you can come back to them, but where they’re not confusing you as to what the next steps should be, helps hugely.In my “Enthraler” project I have 8 ready-to-go Action Steps, and 29 items in the Back-burner.  That goes to show that when I start a new project, I’m excited about the possibilities and I keep thinking them up.  But I know if I want to keep moving the project forward, I just pick one of the Action Steps I’ve already committed to, and all of the exciting future ideas are in the “Backburner” list where they won’t distract me.
    • References – this is for things which you want to remember but they’re not actionable.  An example is finding a colour scheme I really liked for a project.  In the past, I may have taken a screenshot of the colour scheme and added it to a task.  But it’s not really an action I can take!  It’s just something I want to store so I can look back if I need to.  Now I keep things like this in references.  Also helpful: meeting notes, contact details, etc.  Keeping all these things in one separate spot helps keep the clutter down so you can focus on your next action steps.
  • Have a regular “review” session, say once a fortnight or once a month, where you go over your projects, see if the actions are still relevant and clearly defined, check what’s in your back-burner and references, and update things as necessary.  He recommends doing this some place nice, like your favourite coffee shop.  This is a part I haven’t had much practice with yet!

Screenshot of Trello
A screenshot of my projects in Trello. Each list is a project, each card is an action. (There is also a References and a Back-burner card in each list).

The Forces of Community

  • Harnessing the forces around you
  • Pushing ideas out to your community

One of the headings in this section is “Seldom is anything accomplished alone”,  and I find it a perfect reminder.  Some ideas are small enough that they can be accomplished alone, but even something like writing a song will benefit from collaboration.  Not to mention the help you would need in producing, mixing, mastering, distribution and release strategy.  And every project is like this – if you want it to become more than a hobby, you are going to have to bring other people into it.

A key part of this is overcoming the fear of people judging and criticising your work.  Overcome the fear, then get feedback early, and get it often. You don’t have to listen to what people say, if you want you can hold on to the exact vision you have.  But if you overcome the fear, and get the feedback, you will probably hear things that will make your project better, so it’s worth putting yourself out there.

There was a beautiful story in here about a story-telling course Scott went to, where people practised sharing a story, but the audience were not allowed to give “constructive criticism”.  Instead, they were only allowed to share what they really appreciated, what made the story come alive for them.  He found that as people iterated on their stories, this approach helped the “alive” pieces of the story shine even more, and somehow, the weak parts of the story began self-correcting with each iteration, but without losing the strength of the parts that really shone.  I loved that!

One of the things that challenged me the most in the section was to actively self-promote what you’re working on, and to build an audience of people who care about what you’re working on.  If you’ve ever read case studies on a site like “Indie Hackers”, you realise that a common story in side-project success or start-up success is that the person starting had an audience who really cared about what they were working on, so when they launched a new project, they had someone to launch it to.  So don’t be afraid to self-promote and build an audience, and show them what you’re working on regularly.  The fear you have shouldn’t be that you’re inflating yourself in front of others, it should be that you’re not giving your idea any air, and it might die in your mind without ever becoming a reality.

The way Scott consistently reinforced this was a wake-up call for me.

Leadership Capability

  1. The rewards overhaul
  2. The chemistry of the creative team
  3. Managing the creative team
  4. Self leadership

I’d been reading the book thinking primarily about my side projects, which are solo-shows for now.  Scott offered distilled wisdom and advice from his experience and from the research conversations he conducted, and while it’s not immediately applicable to the projects I’d been thinking about, I can definitely see how it ties into my work at myEd, and how it will be important to attract more contributors for any project I do going forward.  It identified a weakness in my approach to executing so far – the tendency to do it all myself.

Much of the advice given in this section was focused on character.  So not so much “how to run a meeting”, but “when in a meeting, let other people talk first and make sure you actually listen”.  Things like that.  I really do believe that humble leaders attract talented collaborators, but more importantly, their humility and strength of character breeds loyalty – which you just don’t see as clearly when it is obvious the leader isn’t paying attention to your input and your ideas.

The difference it has made for me

Reading this book came at the perfect time for me.  After closing down Today We Learned last year I began working full-time at myEd, but found I was still swimming with ideas for outside projects. By the time the new year rolled around, I had multiple projects I really wanted to run with, but was just not convinced I could push them all forward while still being effective at work 5 days a week.

This book, especially the focus on the action method, has helped me dramatically – and people have noticed.  Most significantly my wife Anna – who keeps commenting that she can’t believe the change in how I work and in my energy levels, and in my ability to keep things moving – not to mention staying on top of things at home more effectively.

On a practical level, it has meant that I’m staying focused and effective at work, not getting stressed out by home administration (keeping track of finances, bills, investments etc) because I know I have everything tracked, and if I sit down at work, or sit down to do some home admin, or to give time to a side project, the next actions are right there for me to continue with.

Because of the stage of life we’re in – we moved across the country to focus on our work and our creative pursuits, and we don’t have young kids to care for and hang out with – we have a fair amount of spare time.  I try to give 1 hour each weeknight to push a side project forward, and then a few hours of blocked out time on either Saturday or Sunday.  With this rhythm I’ve been able to push forward my two main side projects to the point where both are almost at MVP (minimum viable product) level.  And this has been during one of the most incredibly busy and stressful periods at work – coming home and having a different project that I can get into has in many ways helped me maintain my energy and positivity during some of the more stressful moments at work.

The challenge to think about how the community around me has also been incredibly helpful.  As well as the two side-projects I’ve been pushing forward, there were another two ideas that I couldn’t shake, and that I wanted to help become reality – but you can only stretch yourself so thin before you stop being effective.  By reaching out and sharing these ideas with friends, I’ve actually found other people working on similar things, and have been able to support them rather than carry it forward myself, and I’ve found this incredibly rewarding, while at the same time satisfying the creative urge that demands I be part of making that particular idea happen.

It’s been an incredibly timely book to read (thanks Clare and Zac!) and has helped me hugely so far.  To anyone who has ideas but can’t seem to get them off the ground, I recommend it highly.  I’m excited to see how the rest of my year pans out as I continue pushing things forward one action step at a time.

More Info

To follow Scott Belsky: website, twitter
To buy Making Ideas Happen: amazon, goodreads

 

 

Categories
Faith Personal

The old men used to say

“The old men used to say that we should each look upon our neighbour’s experiences as if they were our own. We should suffer with our neighbour in everything and weep with him, and should behave as if we were inside his body; and if any trouble befalls him, we should feel as much distress as we would for ourselves.”

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Categories
Faith Personal

The best defence is a good offence

You’ve probably heard people say

The best defence is a good offence!

But actually, Jesus said that if you live violently you’ll die violently. The best defence is probably nothing to do with fighting your adversary, but rather loving them. As a best case scenario, they’ll return the favour – and you both win. Worst case scenario, you love them, and they take advantage of you. Which sucks, true, but at least you’re behaving like God, and that is probably more important than winning anyway.

Categories
Faith Personal

“Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

My favourite blog post ever (big call, I know) is titled “An Unexpected Ass Kicking“. You should read it.

A freelancer sits down in a coffee shop in Portland to get some work done, and finds himself distracted by a senior citizen wanting to talk about computers.  At this point I groaned, but, (spoiler alert), the old man turns out to be the most remarkable person this freelancer has ever met.  This old man was Russell Kirsch, whose team built the first internally programmable computer.  Him and his wife used to program the computer while standing inside it.  This man invented computers as we know them today. (He also invented digital photographs and the idea of a pixel. What a boss!)

When Joel the freelancer realized just how impressive Russell is, this conversation took place:

“You know Russell, that’s really impressive.”

“I guess, I’ve always believed that nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do. Most people think the opposite – that all things are withheld from them which they have conceived to do and they end up doing nothing.”

“Wait”, I said, pausing at his last sentence “What was that quote again?”

“Nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do.”That’s good, who said that?

“God did.”

“What?”

“God said it and there were only two people who believed it, you know who?”

“Nope, who?”

“God and me, so I went out and did it.”

What a life changing exchange!  Unbelievable.  When I read the blog I wanted to know if he was imagining God talking in the spiritual, pentecostal, voice-in-the-head sense, or something else.  It turns out he was quoting the story in Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel.

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

In the creation story, whether literal or metaphorical, there had been a flood, Noah’s family survived, and God had commanded them to spread out and fill the earth.  On the way they began developing culture and technology, songs and tools, and when they found a nice place, they stopped spreading.  Instead they settled and built a city.  In their pride they wanted to build a tower so tall that the world would always remember them.

The tower they were building was probably a Ziggurat, and the story of a giant tower in the area of Babylon (modern day Iraq) seems to be shared with other ancient cultures.  To me the confusing of languages could easily happen in the modern day world – a giant corporation or city gradually has multiple cultures rise up in it, they drift apart, can no longer work together, and so abandon the project to go their own ways.  It doesn’t necessarily seem to me like a divine punishment where they spoke one language one minute and all spoke different languages the next.

Let’s look back at God’s words: “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”.  The 400 year old King James translation swaps “plan to do” for “can imagine”: nothing they can imagine will be out of their reach.  Nothing they aspire to and plan for and set their mind on is out of reach.  God acknowledges the amazing potential of human creativity and ingenuity. They like to create new things, do things that have never been done before, and they’re good at it. In that way, they take after their creator.

I always used to read the story of Babel in a fairly negative light – God didn’t like the ingenuity, or saw it as a threat, and so shut it down. John Stott points out two things God may have been offended by: the disobedience of settling rather than spreading out to “fill the earth”, and the presumption that they could reach into Heaven, and be like God – the same as the original sin from the Adam and Eve story. So there’s the failure to explore the earth and develop it’s potential.  And there’s the pride and hubris, being concerned about our fame and wishing ourselves to be like God.

It wasn’t until reading Russell’s conversation that I began to read this statement differently.  Maybe it wasn’t the ingenuity God objected to, maybe he isn’t threatened by us building amazing things. It is, after all, part of our nature as creative beings. But our resourcefulness can be twisted and our inventions result in a world worse-off, not better. (Read the story of the Gatling Gun or Dynamite for examples). And this is all the more likely if we’re acting in our own self interest, for our own fame and power and comfort.  But if we were to instead align our efforts with the command of God – to fill the earth and subdue it, meaning to manage it responsibly and for the benefit of all – then perhaps our efforts would align with God and we could see truly astounding things accomplished.

It can go either way: jets for transport and jets for bombing, nuclear power or nuclear weapons, curing diseases or inventing new ones, programmable computers and systems of government. Humans have the creativity and the resolve to build incredible things. And that can work out really well or really horribly.

There are two questions to consider then: do you, like Russell Kirsch, believe God that what you can imagine and resolve, you can do? Because if you do, maybe you’ll go out there and do something that’s never been done.

The second question is, are you working towards your own fame, power and comfort, or towards the mission laid out by God: to responsibly manage and care for the earth we’ve inherited, and to care for the people we share it with?

Categories
Haxe

Juggling haxelibs between multiple projects

Once you have more than one project you’re building in Haxe, you tend to run into situations where you use different versions of dependencies.  Often you can get away with using the latest version on every project, but sometimes there are compatibility breaks, and you need different projects to use different versions.

There is a work-in-progress issue for Haxelib to get support for per-project repositories.  Until that is finished, here is what I do:

cd ~/workspace/project1/

mkdir haxelibs

haxelib setup haxelibs

haxelib install all

And then when I switch between projects:

cd ~/workspace/project2/

haxelib setup haxelibs

What this does:

  • Switch to your current project
  • Create a folder to store all of your haxelibs for this project in
  • Set haxelib to use that folder (and when I switch to a different project, I’ll use a different local folder).
  • Install all the dependencies for this project.

Doing this means that each project can have it’s own dependencies, and upgrading a library in one project doesn’t break the compile on another project.

Hopefully that helps someone else, and hopefully the built in support comes soon!

Categories
Haxe

Requiring a Class argument to have a certain constructor signiature

Haxe has a very powerful reflection API, allowing you to create objects of a class, which you don’t know until runtime.

var u:User = Type.createInstance(User, [“jason”,”mypass”]);
u.save();

Sometimes, you have a method where you want to create a class, but which class is created is specified by the user:

function createUser( cls:Class<User>, u:String, p:String ) {

var u:User = Type.createInstance( cls, [u,p]);
u.save();

}
createUser( StaffMember, “jack”, “mypass” );
createUser( Subscriber, “aaron”, “mypass” );

So far so good.  But what if we have a 3rd user class, “Moderator”, that actually has a constructor that requires 3 arguments, not just the username and password.

createUser( Moderator, “bernadette”, “mypass” );

This compiles okay, but will fail at runtime – it tries to call the constructor for Moderator with 2 arguments, but 3 are required.

My first thought was, can we use an interface and specify the constructor:

interface IUser {

public function new( user:String, pass:String ):Void

}

Sadly in Haxe, an interface cannot define the constructor.  I’m pretty sure the reason for this is to avoid you creating an object with no idea which implementation you are using.  Now that would work for reflection, but wouldn’t make sense for normal object oriented programming:

function createUser( cls:Class<IUser>, u:String, p:String ) {

var u:IUser = new cls(u,p); // What implementation does this use?

}

So it can’t be interfaces… what does work?  Typedefs:

typedef ConstructableUser = {
function new( u:String, p:String ):Void,
function save():Void
}

And then we can use it like so:

function createUser( cls:Class<ConstructableUser>, u:String, p:String ) {

var u:ConstructableUser = Type.createInstance( cls, [u,p]);
u.save();

}
createUser( StaffMember, “jack”, “mypass” );
createUser( Subscriber, “aaron”, “mypass” );
createUser( Moderator, “bernadette”, “mypass” ); // ERROR – Moderator should be ConstructableUser

In honesty I was surprised that “Class<SomeTypedef>” worked, but I’m glad it does.  It provides a good mix of compile time safety and runtime reflection.  Go Haxe!

Categories
Haxe

Accept either String or Int, without resorting to Dynamic

A quick code sample:

`AcceptEither`, a way to accept either one type or another, without resorting to “Dynamic”, and still have the compiler type-check everything and make sure you correctly handle every situation.

Try it on try.haxe.org

The next step would be having Accept2Types, Accept3Types etc, and have a macro automatically build the code for whichever option you ask for.

Categories
Edtech

Why Education? Why Edtech? (My personal story of why)

Not being a teacher or a parent (yet…), people sometimes ask why I decided to make my life’s work about using technology to improve education. I made that decision while in rural Cambodia in 2010. In a country still struggling to recover from the brutal genocide 40 years earlier, we were visiting a learning centre that ran afternoon classes and learning activities, complimenting the local school’s morning-only classes.

The centre was run by Sonai, an incredibly entrepreneurial lady only a few years my senior. She was the first person in her village ever to graduate high school. (She jokes that she only did it because she couldn’t bear the thought of being a farmer the rest of her life. I don’t blame her!)

Together with a team of other young teachers and mentors, they were providing food, learning and leadership development to hundreds of students in that village. She is determined to lift her village out of subsistence living through her brilliant mix of education and entrepreneurship. It worked for her, it can work for these kids too.

When I got back to Australia, I began chatting with teachers, and my admiration for the profession grew more and more. These people were fiercely determined to provide their students with the best opportunities for a life worth living. Even in a country as wealthy as Australia, a good education often makes the difference between a life shaped by hope and opportunity, and a life that just scrapes by. And we weren’t without our own educational struggles: remote indigenous education, catering to special needs, struggling with new national standards and international competition.

I don’t have the personal make-up to be an effective classroom teacher, and I don’t pretend to know all the best practices or solutions to all of these problems. What I can do, is work with the most innovative teachers to craft solutions to the most difficult problems. They bring their teaching expertise, I bring the design, tech and startup know-how. (The idea for ClassHomie came out of one such meeting with Aaron Gregory, a teacher I have so much respect for. It has since been refined by input from dozens of teachers).

I strongly believe that entrepreneurs and teachers can, and should, work together to solve the difficult problems of education. By improving learning, we improve lives. This work matters, and that’s why I’m building educational apps, starting with ClassHomie.

Categories
Faith Personal

Preaching about the undead

Preaching about a man who died and then began showing up again, evidently no longer dead, with a new evolution of the human body, and claiming this resurrection as validation of his claims to be king of his nation, saviour of humanity, and founder of a new world order where humans live empowered by a supernatural spirit to live an entirely different style of life which occasionally ignores the realities of physics or biology or politics…. I feel it should carry a whole different level of energy, challenge, hope, discomfort and urgency than it normally does.

And yet if I was preaching, I have no idea what that would look like.

Maybe I need to explore the reality (or unreality) of this story in my own existence first.

Categories
Faith Personal

Get Analoguer This Advent

(Disclaimer: My startup journey and my faith overlap in this post. For those of you who want to avoid the theology stop reading now!)

I’m almost at the end of PhDo, a 6 week startup night class that I have been LOVING. One of the key lessons has been about getting your idea started in the quickest, cheapest, fastest way possible.

The idea is that if you wait too long, you work on your idea in secret, you never put it in front of customers, it’s just an idea. You don’t know if it’s something they’ll want or need or appreciate. Until you reach out and touch a human being, you might as well not have done anything.

Sam, the guy running the course, coined a word. Rather than planning a digital masterpiece of an app that might take years to build, is there a simple, manual, analogue way you can solve the same problem for the same person, now.  Not once you have all the resources and the app and the staff team and investment and… No. Can you help meet a need today? Start meeting a need now, help someone out, see if it’s well received, then worry about scaling the solution up for more people.

Get analoguer. Get dirty. Get doing – solve a problem today. Scale later.

I did this wrong with my School Management System app. I never met with the staff, and completely underestimated how complex the problem of tracking student attendance is.  My solution was way too simplistic, and would never be adequate. The project blew out by 10 months and caused a lot of frustration as a result.

I tried to be a messiah and solve this problem, thinking it would be easy.  But I never entered in and felt / understood the pain first. How can you offer help if you have not stood with people and felt their pain and understood the complexity of the problem first?

This is the difference with how Jesus chose to work. He could try solve the world’s problems from in Heaven. Or send some prophet to do the dirty work. Instead he chose to get dirty, get personal, and get in touch with those he was trying to help. Understand their pain and show his solidarity, feel the full weight and complexity of the problem, and show those facing it that you are eager to help, in any way you can, even if you get dirty doing so. Even if it means suffering with them. Even if it means dying with them.

Jesus left the ivory tower of Heaven. He was God, but put his rights as God and abilities as God behind him, he became an ordinary human, wrapped in ordinary human flesh. He got analogue.

Today is the first day of Advent – the season where we anticipate the coming of Jesus to earth, culminating in Christmas.

We join Mary in expecting the birth of the baby Messiah, the God who gave it all up to come and understand our problems and join us in this often-painful world, and resolved to help us in any way he could, no matter the cost.

And we join with the people of faith around the world expecting the second time Jesus will come, having grasped the full complexity and pain of the human condition, and having felt it for himself, he’ll be back with a solution that scales.

Until then, let’s get analoguer and show love to people, not waiting for the perfect plan, strategy or opportunity, but starting right now in a way where you get as close to the problem as you can, and give what you can today, even if it’s not a full and perfect solution.

Categories
Personal Work Habits

Loved it, Loathed it

I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I’ve found Marcus Buckingham’s Standout profile and website really helpful.  The profile for me was accurate and insightful, and the tips I get sent each week are great.

One of them encouraged you to log the things in a week that you love (that leave you energized, strengthened) and the things that you loathed (that leave you drained, weakened).  This wasn’t about what other people do to you (a police officer gave me a fine – I loathed it, my boss gave me a pay rise, I loved it).  Rather this is about the work you’re doing, and what parts of your work energize you and what drains you.

Here’s my list.

Loved It

  • Working on new business strategy, or figuring out the brand/story that makes a new product have meaning.
  • Writing code for new APIs or frameworks that will be well designed, get use by many people, speed up development.  While I’m doing this I’m engaged, I’m learning and tweaking my skills, and I’m making something for that benefits both me and others.
  • Delivering a feature that has immediate customer benefit
  • Meeting people, getting them on board with a new idea.  This week it was a friend (and possibly future business partner), a learning support officer (who is an aspiring entrepreneur) and a friend who is wanting to get into graphic design.
  • Trying to consider how my faith world mixes with my business world.  Particularly this week: how can I see people as people, not resources or assets.  How can I help them find their particular spot in the world, and help them grow into it, rather than “how can I get you to do what I want”.
  • Wireframing, prototyping, design reference scouting

Loathed It

  • Maintaining old projects. Especially if it’s something I didn’t care for to begin. (For me this week, that includes Koha, Canvas, and Moodle to a lesser degree)
  • Being apart from Anna for too much of the week
  • Working on projects that feel like they will never end or progress.  I need a sense of momentum and an expectation that one thing will finish so that new things can start.
  • Having to report to (and problem solve with) a group of people who don’t understand the technical nature of the problem.
  • Having to answer questions where the “correct” answer is “drop quality, deliver faster”
  • Avoiding answering / helping people, because other deadlines are too heavy
  • Having to pretend something is good/ready when it’s not. I’d rather be honest. Drop projects if they suck, or at least admit it.

There’s my list for this week.  I’m in the middle of an extremely busy work season, so this is mostly focused on work and doesn’t touch much into my family life or faith life – both of which also have strengthening moments and weakening moments.  Still, a great exercise.

Categories
Haxe

Super Quick Haxe Abstracts Example

I just posted a quick gist to the Haxe mailing list showing how one way that abstracts work.

They’re a great way to wrap a native API object (in this case, js.html.AnchorElement) without having to create a new wrapper object every single time. Which means they’re great for performance, the end result code looks clean, and thanks to some of the other abstract magic (implicit casts, operator overloading etc) there is a lot of cool things you can do.

Have a look at the sample, read the Haxe manual, and let me know what you think or if you have questions :)

Categories
Uncategorized

Unsolicited Emails from Australian Labor

I just sent an email abuse report to MailChimp, documenting the unsolicited emails I have been receiving from the Australian Labor party.  I understand that one of their members may have accidentally entered the wrong email address once, but it is unfair that they have subscribed me to 8 separate email lists so far, and I have to take the time to unsubscribe from each one – when I never subscribed in the first place.  This is illegal under the SPAM ACT 2003.

Here is the email I sent them:

Hi

In Australia we have 2 main political parties, one of them being Labor. They’ve recently been voting for a new leader. I’m not a member of the party, but I’ve received an email from Labor people almost every week for the last month – all from different lists, and I have unsubscribed every single time, choosing the “I never subscribed” option.

5 of the 8 lists I received unsolicited email from were hosted by MailChimp, the remainder by NationBuilder (good luck competing! As a web developer I like your product better)

EMAIL 1
Subject: Party. Policy. People.
Sender: MailChimp
X-campaignid: mailchimpd1d04c8e8a8375877ba044bc4.be6aae17ed

EMAIL 2
Subject: Why I’m Standing
Sender: NationBuilder

EMAIL 3
Subject: I want to make a difference
Sender: NationBuilder

EMAIL 4
Subject: Join Bill Shorten for a conversation with country members tonight
Sender: MailChimp
X-campaignid: mailchimp2a0336f66d93a2c444ff3d779.ed092fdc95

EMAIL 5
Subject: Make your vote count
Sender: NationBuilder

EMAIL 6
Subject: I’m supporting Bill
Sender: MailChimp
X-campaignid: mailchimpd1d04c8e8a8375877ba044bc4.1636a97be2

EMAIL 7
Subject: Labor eNews
Sender: MailChimp
X-campaignid: mailchimpb6a6fa942a4870ed76b06bc02.4f94c686b5

EMAIL 8
Subject: Thank you for your support
Sender: MailChimp
X-campaignid: mailchimp429f4375fe72549c8e09fe0fd.53fef0c08a

As you can see, the Australian Labor party is creating many different lists, and is subscribing my email address to each of them without my permission. I am assuming another Jason O’Neil entered an incorrect email address (this happens often), but as it stands I can only assume the Labor party is importing a bulk list of email addresses into MailChimp, and while I can unsubscribe from each individual mailing list, they will just create new lists and re-import my address.

Unsolicited email is illegal in Australia under the SPAM ACT 2003. I have attempted to contact them but was unable to resolve the issue, and I have received multiple emails since then.

I guess what I am asking:

– Can you contact the owners of these lists and remind them of their responsibilities under law and under your terms and conditions?

– Is there a way to prevent my address from being imported into new lists during a bulk import?

Thank you for your time!
Jason

Categories
Faith Justic and Politics Personal

Human Faces

When I see the human face behind a political issue, the emotions of apathy, indignation or anger become less.  Then empathy (understanding their suffering), sorrow (grieving with them), remorse (that collectively, the humans in my country did this to other humans) – these emotions become stronger.  Finally, there is hope – these people have courage, and see a better future.  They want to fight injustice, and fight for the rights of those who follow.  I hope, at the end of my life, I can say that I partnered with these guys, not the powers that locked them up and stole their childhood.

Refugee looks back on ordeal of seeking asylum and being detained in Nauru

(God, have mercy, do not treat us as our sins deserve.)

Categories
Edtech

Humans of New York (reblog)

Wow, just wow.

I struck up a conversation with him, and he casually mentioned that he was having trouble adjusting to Columbia, due to his “previous situation.” So I asked him to elaborate.

“I was born in Egypt,” he said. “I worked on a farm until 3rd grade with no education. I came to the US for one year, started 4th grade, but was pulled out because my father couldn’t find work and returned to Egypt for a year. The first time I went to an actual school was middle school, but the whole school was in one classroom, and I was working as a delivery boy to help the family. It was illegal for me to be working that young, but I did. When I finally got into high school, my house burned down. We moved into a Red Cross Shelter, and the only way we could live there is if we all worked as volunteers. I got through high school by watching every single video on Khan Academy, and teaching myself everything that I had missed during the last nine years. Eventually I got into Queens College. I went there for two years and I just now transferred to Columbia on a scholarship provided by the New York Housing Association for people who live in the projects. It’s intimidating, because everyone else who goes to Columbia went to the best schools, and have had the best education their entire lives.”

 

From: Humans of New York