Week 329

In to the home straight of 2019.

It has been 15 weeks since my last week notes and in that time I…

  • went to London with Dave Guarino, then Bucharest and Amsterdam with Alex.
  • went to a bunch of conferences (Fronteers, JSCampRO, JAMStack San Francisco, Chrome Dev Summit) and generally hung out with more nerds than I have for a while. Probably don’t need to go to anymore for a year or two, tbh.
  • hired some very wonderful new folks at work that start in the new year for the front-end team.
  • created a “life hack” that consists of using android’s “focus mode” as a way to turn off all work related apps on my phone after 5pm. The mode is supposed to be used to turn off all the fun things you do on your phone, but actually it’s not the fun things that are the problem – it’s mostly Slack chipping slowly away at the last of my sanity that I need to do away with.
  • got a library card! I think that means I’m a local now. I don’t know if this exists back home in the UK, but here you can rent e-books from your local library and read them on your kindle for free without ever having to actually go to an actual library. It’s brilliant, but I’m curious about how Amazon is taking advantage of this otherwise very friendly social feature.
  • got Switch Ring Adventure, which looks completely stupid, but it’s REALLY hard and I’ve been using muscles that I’ve definitely never used before. It’s much harder than the Switch Fit Boxing that I’ve been doing so far (and this month I’m challenging myself to do one or the other every single day in December).

The term “Responsive Web Design” has failed

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and although Alex’s recent slide is a bit full on, it’s not entirely wrong.

I think what he should have said was that Responsive Web Design alone has failed so far in keeping the web at the forefront of users experiences where most users are most of the time — on mobile. Of course, that’s much more nuanced than he had time for in his talk, but if that is a goal of RWD then it has failed. If the goal of RWD is just to be a practice to making things visually work on different screen sizes, then gold stars all around.

Responsive web design in and of itself is a really smart way to think about developing sites, assuming that you’re taking it from the mobile-first strategy. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a major digital service that hasn’t had a mobile-optimised layout of some nature, so I think on the whole that’s worked. Although, I have to ask where the “so focused on mobile they didn’t bother with a desktop optimisation” crew are – I sort of expected that to happen, but I’ve not yet hit a serious site that has a mobile-only view and presents that to it’s end users on desktop as a fallback. I have, however, seen buckets of splash screens that block me entirely and point me at the native app as the exclusive and only way to access their content and services. That’s scary.

What’s lacking about the responsive web design story is it has always focussed so heavily on the visual, dimensional, aspects of digital design. What are the snap points? How do we scale the images, the text? Can we trim content for some or enhance for others?

As a movement, it’s failed to capture the true otherness of being on a small screen. The fact that CPU, memory, network speed, storage and so many other aspects need to be first-level concerns. I’d argue that for most sites, the compromise for small screen devices has gone about as far as the ever-maligned hamburger menu and largely stopped there.

What I think I, and folks like Alex and Jeremy, who are fearful of the future of the Open Web really want to see is the sort of design work that Jad spoke about at Fronteers. That deep, close, observation of what our users _really_ expect on their devices – given that a majority of their experiences are with native apps and we’re trying very much to slip in our non-native experiences and pass them off as as reliable, integrated and valuable as those. RWD also isn’t taking us into where people find their online experiences (app stores). It could, but it needs to be tightly coupled with a strong PWA game with Trusted Web Activities, for example.

Jad’s excellent Fronteer’s talk

So, in short, RWD didn’t fail so much as it stopped short. Let’s not bicker about the specifics and just focus on getting out of our doom loop, eh?

Week 314 / aibo

I spent this weekend at Write/Speak/Code. I’m having a day off today.

Alex got us a robot dog.

I really, really, want a furry pet, but Alex is very allergic to almost everything (including most of the trees and grasses in California) so we’re not able to have pets, unless they’re behind glass.

Aibo ERS-1000

The aibo is part 2 of the very nicest thing that Alex has ever done for me.

Part 1 is that he’s doing sublingual immunotherapy to hopefully relieve him of his symptoms (I mean, I say it’s for me, but honestly his life would be drastically improved dog-or-not), but because the process can take years to be effective, the robo-dog is a placeholder until the day we can maybe a adopt a warm-blooded version.

I’ll probably write more about the dog on Sensors and Sensibility in a few weeks once we’re more familiar with how it works. He’s pretty adorable, though.

Trash and plastic replacements

I’ve become one of those people who gets angry about plastic straws and I know that it’s not going to save the planet and governments have to set policies that stop companies using so much trash, yadda yadda, but it at least gives one a new high-horse on which to ride since I already don’t eat animals and I have a reusable mug.

Monica suggested I start a blog, but that sounds like work so here’s a bunch of plastic/trash reducing replacements I have tried.

Good

  • Dropps – they’re plastic-free dishwasher tablets and washing machine detergent. I like them. They work well and they come in cardboard boxes instead of plastic tubs and don’t have any unnecessary tasty-looking dyes in them. I also got their wool dryer balls and stopped buying dryer sheets because they work just as well.
  • Dental Lace Floss. It goes in the compost and you can refill the jar forever. Also, I floss now.
  • Some Lush. They have tons of packaging free products but I only like some of them – the shampoos are good and I really like the scrubee. The conditioner and face wash bars make me feel all waxy though, so still looking for good alternatives.
  • Composting. I got a little compost bin that I keep in the freezer so it doesn’t smell bad and line it with compostable bags. I then either put it in our green bin or in our little home composter. It’s great! I throw as much as I can in that.
  • Who Gives a Crap. Like Alice, I thought it was some dumb gimmick, but it’s really good! I didn’t know loo roll had to be wrapped in some way for like hygiene and moisture reasons, so know I know that I’d much rather they be wrapped in pretty compostable paper over plastic. Plus, they use bamboo instead of trees. I also get their boxes of tissues (fine) and kitchen paper too (not as good as fancy brands but I’ll cope).
  • Cloth napkins. I have loads of fancy napkins and we just use those instead of being trash people who use disposable kitchen paper when we eat. It feels better.
  • Beekind wax paper. Brilliant. Great for wrapping up little bits of left over things and the bread one seems to keep my home-made bread fresh for longer than a plastic bag.
  • Pelacase phone cases. I love my yellow one with bees on it and kinda can’t wait to throw it in my composter.

Meh

  • Bite toothpaste tablets. I want to like these but they just don’t make my teeth feel clean. I also want to like their mouthwash, but I’m on a fluoride mouthwash right now (I have a soft bit on a tooth and am under strict dentist instructions) and none of the tablet forms have that.
  • Cleansely. I was so hopeful for this, but they’re clearly just one or two dudes working on it who don’t quite have their stuff together yet. They are little shampoo and hand wash tablets that you put into water to make up whole bottles of liquid soap. I ordered some, but they were so badly packaged they exploded in transit and I basically got delivered a box of snot.
  • Kjaer Weis. They’re fancy makeup that is refillable and I wanted to like them and they’re on every bloody list of “eco friendly makeup”, but it was very underwhelming for the cost. I really just want the mascara to work, which it doesn’t. I should probably just get less vain, but I did learn that you can send used mascara wands to an organisation that uses them to clean wildlife!

Bad

  • Brushette. I think I got the wrong end of the stick with this one. I thought they wanted to use less plastic so you’d make less waste, but actually they just want you to buy more brush heads (like, even so far as buying enough for a new one every day). Their recycling scheme doesn’t actually exist yet and the heads are packaged in non-recyclable crisp-packet like foil. Strong pass.
  • Humankind. I got their shampoo and their deodorant. The shampoo stripped my hair and the deodorant doesn’t really work. Like, I could tolerate having to reapply it more often in exchange for plastic-free but the refills (they call them kindfills 🤮) actually do contain plastic in the hygiene cap and inner turn mechanism.

Week 312 / 6 years

My San Franiversary was this last week, so it must be week 312 or so.

6 years! That flew by. Some summaries and findings:

  • San Francisco still sucks. I actively dislike the “city”. It’s really small and badly designed, lacks the proper transit network a real city would have and refuses to build anything new so that people can actually find homes. It literally smells bad (either pot or pee) and the insane disparity between the mega rich and the super poor on the streets is actively depressing, and everyone works in tech. I continue to look forward to the day I can leave.
  • On the plus side, I am very fortunate – Alex and I found the perfect place for us in Bernal where I can hang out with the wild birds and breathe the fresh foggy air. I have a good job and good friends, curiously made up largely of Canadians with a few Aussies and Japanese folks thrown in there.
  • I’ve made almost no close American friends who weren’t immigrants in someway before they got here.
  • I have resisted learning how to drive – or rather, I did try to learn to drive a couple of summers back (I know how to operate a car, but I did not pass a test) but I discovered I hate it and don’t understand how people can operate heavy vehicles at speed. It’s terrifying. The over-under is I still can’t legally drive and it’s made me a nervous passenger. I continue to hope that the Bay is the kind of place that’ll get autonomous cars early.
  • I got my US citizenship and I’m looking forward to my first general election voting opportunity next year.
  • I really miss a proper selection of crisps, biscuits and M&S sandwiches. If you ever visit me, the room & board will cost you a packet of Walker’s prawn cocktail and some chocolate bourbons.

Week 310 / Norway

Snuck up into the 300s while I wasn’t paying attention. For those new here, the weeks are the number of weeks since I emigrated to the USA. The idea being that one day I’ll un-emigrate and I’ll have known how many weeks I’ve spent in the mad place.

We’re just leaving Norway right now – a much less mad place that is over 98% powered by hydro energy whilst it’s main export is oil.

Alex wanted to come and see the midnight sun, and so far we have seen the actual sun only once in Oslo. It has been daylight the whole time though and boy, that’s awful on the jet lag. Nice people, nice place, though. It’s a bit like IRL Skyrim.

I finished reading “Why We Sleep” by Dr Matthew Walker. Super fascinating overview of the scientific literature on how and why we sleep and dream as well as the ramifications of not sleeping enough. It’s a really refreshing view and the antithesis of the typical silicon valley attitude to rest vs working as much as humanely possible. This quote caught my eye regarding a gene they’ve found that seems to allow some folks to do just fine on less than 6 hours sleep (exactly the kind of thing every tech CEO claims):

Having learned this, I imagine that some readers now believe that they are one of these individuals. That is very, very unlikely. The gene is remarkably rare, with but a soupçon of individuals in the world estimated to carry this anomaly. To impress this fact further, I quote one of my research colleagues, Dr. Thomas Roth at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, who once said, “The number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percent of the population, and rounded to a whole number, is zero.”

I’m now reading “Who Goes There? by John W Campbell Jr. It’s better know by it’s movie name: The Thing.

Week 290 / Tokyo

Actually, weeks 289 and 290 since I did something interesting enough last week to warrant mentioning it still a week later.

Was fortunate enough to visit Tokyo again for week 289 – I think for the 6th or 7th time now? – and spend the week there with Alex between two of his business trips. It was very cold and snowed a couple of times, but fun as always. I really want to do a 6 month-ish trip there and really get to know my way around more.

People often ask me what I eat there, since I’m vegetarian (including no fish) but I’ve never starved. There’s one place in particular I’m fond of called SoraNoiro which does this amazingly thick and rich ramen in a carrot based soup with the most perfectly boiled egg in it, but a surprisingly large number of ramen places do “rainbow ramen” which is usually a vegan bowl. A new place this time that fed me well was a tempura place called ippoh cooking the lightest and most delicate mushrooms and vegetables in batter I’ve ever had. Also had a good time at a shabu shabu place called “Let us” with a friend of ours that lets you have your own personal cooking bowl, so you don’t have to share the meat oil bowl if you don’t want to. I had an interesting combination of a soy milk cook bowl with vegetables and tofu and ended with rice and cheese that uses the left over soy milk to create risotto. Very interesting.

There are a couple caveats, though. I’m not going to freak out if something is cooked in the same oil as animal-items and I’ve eaten more dashi than I would in a country where I can speak the language and specify not to have it, but if you are super strict, the trick is to look for food designed with Japan’s strict buddhists in mind – shojin ryori – and you’ll eat like a king.

Also, to be clear, I also eat a lot of tiny perfect sandwiches. I could honestly eat an egg lunch pack every day for the rest of my life.

The platonic ideal of a tiny perfect sandwich

We saw some good art in Tokyo.

The TeamLab installations are amazing and we visited 2 of them – Planets and Borderless. I preferred Planets over Borderless, mostly because it’s a more curated experience with few people. They’re both very engaging digital, full body art things, both share some features like interactive projections, LED crystal infinity rooms and perspective tricks. Planets, though, is probably especially memorable for having to wade up to your knees in a room filled with warm, cloudy, water with projections of colourful koi and flower petals. It’s really impressively done. It would never work outside of Japan – folks just wouldn’t behave anywhere else.

The other good art was a big lifetime retrospective of Hokusai. I’d seen a few of them before, but never the more funny character pieces. I particularly enjoyed his drawing manuals.

The other thing I spotted was commentary about pieces labelled as X of Y – like 50 illustrations of ghosts or something – and the curators can only ever find 5 or 6 of them. So, they assumed Hokusai never finished the set – he just stopped after 5 or 6. I love that – even extremely successful and well-known artists can’t stick to their 30 day projects. Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.

Week 290 can mostly be summarised as: jetlag, coughing, 10 thousand meetings.

Week 287 / older

I had a birthday. That was pretty good. I think of myself as a person with not many friends, but the ones I do have are pretty top notch. Jake came to town, and brought me 21 cans of Heinz Baked Beans from London, for one, and I was given some really lovely cards (including a handmade bird one from Monica) and various odd objects including my first pitcher plant from Dana. I’m really very lucky.

I wasn’t joking.

On the flip side, I also did my first work meeting cry. Frustration is frustrating and I mention it in the same vein as Alice’s weaknote mentions of crying in that it’s kind of normal and just happens sometimes.

While we had visitors, we finally got around to visiting Flora Grubb Gardens which is basically my dream garden and I got a weird coral-looking plant. Adding the general vibe to my “when I retire” list of things to do. It’s a combi-nursery and coffee shop and twee as anything and if it wasn’t in a particularly shitty area of San Francisco, it would be perma-mobbed.

Japanese class continues to be quite challenging, but I’m powering through. Last week I learned to say where things are in relation to other things and this week I did a really bad job at deconstructing provided answers to derive the probable question asked. Japanese counters can also jump off a cliff.

Some additional random things:

  • I got a new quantified-self-type toy. An Oura ring. Giving it a couple of weeks before I declare it naff or not, but it is a bit chunky and generous with its step counts.
  • Finally listened to the podcast Alex recorded about PWAs. It’s good but I had to laugh that it had to be split into two parts. Very on brand.
  • Talking of podcasts, The Dream is pretty thorough if you’ve ever wondered about MLMs and Dirty John for the more personal con. I love a good scam story. For the more visual experience, the Ted Bundy series on Netflix is unsurprisingly great.

Week 285 / all-hands

Couple days late, but I’m just now somewhere I can do my weeknotes. The week before I was taken out by a particularly viscious/viscous cold and spent a majority of my time in bed.

This week was our company all-hands and had us all down in Santa Cruz for a couple nights and doing stuff back in SF for the rest.

It was really good fun and actually a really good way to start the working year off. I ate a lot, drank, and stayed up too many nights so I’m very grateful that tomorrow (Monday, MLK) is a day off for us.

I got to meet a lot of my product team face to face for the first time, as well, so that was pretty rad.

I also started Japanese lessons this week. I’m taking Beginning 2 at the Japan Society and needless to say I am RUSTY (I last took a Japanese class in 2004) and the first class was brutal (it was a review class to see what we knew and blimey…). I’ve got homework for next week and I think I’ll be OK. Ikebana classes have started back up so I’ll have somewhere to practice.

Things I’ve learned this week:

  • It’s important to clarify with your boss who is giving the company roadmap talk multiple times before the scheduled session.
  • I’m capable of making a slide deck in 10 minutes and giving an ad-libbed roadmap talk.

Week 282 / Hong Kong

One of my more bourgeois week notes this time, but I’m currently sat in the Cathay Pacific first lounge in Hong Kong waiting for our flight home.

We just finished up a really lovely Christmas trip to HK. My first time here and Alex’s second. We ate a lot of good food, saw a very big Buddha and did a lot of uphill wandering.

Alex in his dim sum element

I walked about 50 miles total over the last 7 days.

Happy 2018. See you next year!