Software Application Rollback Fallacy

| Software

Dan McKinley, formally of Stripe and Etsy and now at Skyliner, writes:

I’ve worked with deploy systems in the past that have a prominent “rollback” button, o a console incantation with the same effect. The presence of one of these is reassuring, in that you can imagine that if something goes wrong you can quickly get back to safety by undoing your last change.

But the rollback button is a lie. You can’t have a rollback button that’s safe when you’re deploying a running system

I was always the odd man out at several organizations where that believed they could safely rollback software updates as long as they had enough scripts, backups, and time. I personally felt this was at odds with the facts that data your users create keeps moving forward regardless of the bugs or issues you may have introduced. It also always seem to vastly underestimate the amount of effort needed to rollback software systems.

“Roll forward” is a term made popular by Flickr’s engineering team and I’ve always thought it best described how to responsibly react to software problems with production systems. Dan’s post gives some tangible examples of the “little things” that are hard to work around in the rollback scenario. It is also a good case for Dan’s other mantra: Choose Boring Technology – so you can fully understand the implications of your software system design decisions.

Overcast 3

| Technology

Overcast remains my favorite podcasting client for iOS. A new version was recently released and Marco has written up a walkthrough of his Overcast 3 design decisions.

The new “now playing” card metaphor UI is probably my favorite change, as it really captures the best aspects of the card pattern from iOS 10 but improves the stickier parts. I also really appreciate the changes to the queue behavior because managing what is playing “up next” has easily been the biggest UI friction point for me. I’m a little sad to see the swipe-to-action table cell behavior go away but it is well known that “mystery UIs” is an anti-pattern and Apple hasn’t pushed the swipe cell action gesture enough to encourage wide-spread adoption.

Women in Tech: Things Are Still Terrible 2017 Edition

| Technology

At this point you’ve probably read Susan Fowler’s “very strange year” account covering her year of working at Uber as a female engineer. The comments on her blog post feature, unsurprisingly, examples of misogyny and online hassment in our culture.

As I was going through my reading list queue, I realized that almost a year ago, Shanley Kane at Model View Culture wrote about the SXSW Online Harassment Summit:

While it featured some compelling programming and even some great speakers, the Summit nonetheless illustrated a number of systemic problems with how we frame, discuss and address online harassment in tech.

Shanley goes on to document how narrow minded the conversations were and how it failed to present solutions that would limit much scale back online harassment. It is safe to say very little has changed in the last year.

12 Principles of Animation

| Design

A primer on the basics of animation from Vincenzo Lodigiani:

The 12 basic principles of animation were developed by the ‘old men’ of Walt Disney Studios, amongst them Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, during the 1930s. Of course they weren’t old men at the time, but young men who were at the forefront of exciting discoveries that were contributing to the development of a new art form. These principles came as a result of reflection about their practice and through Disney’s desire to use animation to express character and personality. This movie is my personal take on those principles, applied to simple shapes. Like a cube.

Perhaps even better than the video is this matrix of the different styles in animated GIF form on Vincenzo’s companion website.

Stuff like this is amazingly relevant today as most user interface design now requires some form of animation yet too many of us weren’t schooled in the basics before we threw ourselves into the Web and mobile apps.

Kanban Is Not Rocket Science

| Productivity

Delivery (or how the “sausage gets made”) in the software world is still largely consumed by the buzzword that makes most folks groan: Agile. That’s a shame really as agile software development doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming if you keep a level head about it. This write-up of a dead-simple Kanban system from United Kingdom’s Government publishing platform team is what any team should read at the beginning if they want to get started with Kanban. One thing this approach assumes is that you have a functioning work culture that fosters positive and candid communication. If that’s not the case where you work I suggest polishing your resume.

Accessible Color Palette Builder

| Internet

The Accessible Color Palette Builder is a web-based tool to help designers build a matrix of text and backgrounds combinations based on the 18F Color and Contrast Accessibility Guidelines. For the unaware 18F is a US Government entity setup to bring “easy-to-use digital services” housed under the General Services Administration. I’m hopeful 18F will be able to ride out the political football game of the current administration transition as they’ve done amazing work to date. The source and documentation for the tool is available on Github as well.

New York Times: U.S. Traffic Deaths Rise for a Second Straight Year

| Transportation

Over the last decade, new cars have gotten electronic stability control systems to prevent skids, rearview cameras to prevent fender benders and more airbags to protect occupants in collisions. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on campaigns to remind the public of the dangers of drunken driving, failing to buckle up and texting while on the go.

Despite all that, more Americans are dying on roads and highways than in years, and the sudden and sharp increase has alarmed safety advocates.

Maybe it is because we allow people to careen around in multi-ton weaponized hunks of metal at unsafe speeds (> 20 mph).

If the estimates are confirmed, it will be the first time since 2007 that more than 40,000 people have died in motor vehicle accidents in a single year. The 2016 total comes after a 7 percent rise in 2015 and means the two-year increase — 14 percent — is the largest in more than a half a century.

To refresh everyone’s memory 40,000 deaths is higher than the 33,000 annual gun deaths in America as measured by the CDC. Neither is a good number but people driving vehciles don’t get nearly as much negative press as people killing others with guns.

While the article trots out the usual line about the rise of distracted driving I’d be curious to know how many are attributed to the “sun was in my eyes.”

Amber: Distributed Web Caching Service (Sorta)

| Internet

Amber is an attempt from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society to get content creators and publishing platforms to help distribute (or populate centralized) cached copies of linked content. By default it keeps locally (on your infrastructure) cached copies of content you’ve linked to in from your webpages so that if that content disappears you can still provide a working reference to that content. It will also allow you to use a centralized copy such as the Internet Archive for this same purpose. As of this posting they are providing plugins for Drupal and Wordpress as well modules for the Apache and Nginx HTTP web servers.

Given the potential copyright issues (they do allow for content publishers to opt-out of the Amber content fetcher) I would prefer a centrally shared repository such as the Internet Archive to be the default storage mechanism but I do appreciate the single-point-of-failure flaw in that thinking. The pros & cons of local versus centralized storage would change based on the type of content you are publishing and referring to but my instincts say the “install and forget” crowd would be best served by leverage the amazing work done at the Internet Archives (via their “Wayback Machine”.)

Rainy Day Jazz

| Music

Part of documenting my Reading List library will include going through 100s of items that I’ve been queuing up over the last several years. Kinda like wading into an old person’s house and seeing years worth of newspapers stacked up everywhere – something I’m familiar with since that was the scene I found after I visited my grandfather at his house some time ago.

Seeing as I’m fond of having good writing music this collection of “rainy day jazz” tunes from Reddit’s Jazz subreddit seems appropriate. The top voted post is a good starting point for making your own collection. To help you out I’ve collected 48 of the songs into a public Apple Music playlist.

It is missing a few tracks that don’t seem to be available on Apple Music:

In the case of Blue Champagne I found a version by Anita O’Day that I enjoyed and added to my collection as it felt at home with the more subdued sides of the recommended playlist. Right now the songs are just added in the order the poster presented them but I’ll likely reorder and refine the list down over the next couple of listens.

What is PNDT?

| Colophon

I have realized for a while that I am constrained by Twitter’s 140 character limit and limited threading options. I do not see these limits as bugs or missing features on Twitter’s part rather a sign that the words I want to share need a different home. On the Internet we have a home for longer form thoughts: blogs and personal website.

Similarly another thing I need to be better about is writing up notes about the many items I place in Safari’s Reading List. 100s of links have worked their way through my Reading List and while they are often are shared or bookmarked I think I frequently forget to write down why it was worth my time to save these items for later reading. So my hope with this website is to get back to the roots of what made blogging great oh so long ago - curating an index of personally interesting URLs from the internet and documenting the experience.

That’s the goal for now - move longer form thoughts away from Twitter and make sure I’m documenting what I was thinking while I was collecting so many URLs from the internet.

A collection of all posts can be found in the Archives