Category Archives: Musings

I post my thoughts about the bigger picture of the Tech scene here. Join into the conversation and let me know what you think.

“The Crystal Goblet or Printing Should be Invisible”

This metaphor is truly stunning and puts into words the careful balance between that must be maintained between content and container. This is as true for a site’s design and the content it contains as it is for typography and the text it contains.

“Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in colour. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain.

“Bear with me in this long-winded and fragrant metaphor; for you will find that almost all the virtues of the perfect wine-glass have a parallel in typography. There is the long, thin stem that obviates fingerprints on the bowl. Why? Because no cloud must come between your eyes and the fiery heart of the liquid. Are not the margins on book pages similarly meant to obviate the necessity of fingering the type-page? Again: the glass is colourless or at the most only faintly tinged in the bowl, because the connoisseur judges wine partly by its colour and is impatient of anything that alters it. There are a thousand mannerisms in typography that are as impudent and arbitrary as putting port in tumblers of red or green glass! When a goblet has a base that looks too small for security, it does not matter how cleverly it is weighted; you feel nervous lest it should tip over. There are ways of setting lines of type which may work well enough, and yet keep the reader subconsciously worried by the fear of ‘doubling’ lines, reading three words as one, and so forth.”

“The Crystal Goblet or Printing Should be Invisible”
from Beatrice Warde, The Crystal Goblet, Sixteen Essays on Typography, Cleveland, 1956


    Learning to Walk in Space

    When a child learns to walk, they take leaps beyond what their skill and strength should allow. They look out at all the people walking around them, and see what is possible. Their muscles may not be strong enough to fully support them, to balance and stand, but they see what is possible. They pull themselves up by a table leg and stand. They may bounce on their feet a few times in anticipation of walking, and then they leap over, stumble a few steps, and fall onto a couch, or into a parent’s arms.

    These are a child’s first steps.

    When we, humanity, started our space journey our technological muscles were only beginning to be formed. Germanium was still being used in transistors, and Apollo’s computers had approximately 64Kbyte of memory and operated at 0.043MHz.

    Landing on the moon was that stumbling first step that a baby takes from the table, lunging towards a couch.

    Since then we’ve been strengthening our muscles. We now have cars that can drive themselves and more computing power than we know what to do with in our own pockets.

    We have more than reached the time when we need to let go from holding on to the safety of the coffee table. We need to let go, and take steps out into the universe.

    We dreamt of hotels on the moon and we think that we failed because they don’t exist yet.

    But those dreams were the dreams of a baby believing they’re walking because a parent is holding their hands up. Our technological muscles weren’t strong enough to support hotels on the moon.

    Our technology has matured and now is the time to build those hotels. Solving the problems that we will need to solve, to have a manned base on the moon, will reverberate through our economy. Such a project will reap dividends beyond our imagination.

    There are a lot of technological problems that will need to be solved for man to safely set up camp off our planet. How will we cheaply and efficiently get past lower orbit? What sort of life sustaining systems will we need to build to survive there? Are there building materials there? How much water can be found there?

    Cellphone cameras, solar cells, and artificial limbs each were developed by NASA to solve a problem, and each became an industry in itself, generating jobs, creating wealth, and improving our overall quality of life. The solutions we create to set up camp on the moon will do the same.

    We should do this in parallel to the missions planned to Mars. The moon is close and shouldn’t wait. What we learn there will apply further out and it should pay for itself in dividends.

    We should send man back to the moon. We should build science stations on the moon.

    We should build hotels on the moon.


      I Didn’t MVP

      I’m currently learning iOS development.

      When I start learning something new, I like to play with it. I like to take it apart into tiny pieces and then put it back together. “What happens with I put this piece back over here? Or add this one instead?” You can do that with code, and that’s a lot of fun.

      When I started to gain momentum, I decided to do a project, and use that project to learn more about the language, the process, and the iOS ecosystem. I set a deadline; I wanted to have an app ready and in the app store before the end of the February. I didn’t make that deadline.

      I think that learning a new language, for me at least, contradicts the concepts of developing a product.

      When I’m learning how to code something, I add features, why? Why not? It’s something else to play with and it doesn’t matter how clunky my code is because it’s only there for me.

      When building a product you really need to keep it as simple as possible. At least for v1. If you want to test a concept, see if it has appeal and will be useful for your target audience, you need to keep the experience simple, and the features to a minimum.

      So that’s what happened. I didn’t MVP. But I’m okay with that. I have a working prototype of a much more complex app on my phone that I can show people, it’s the conversation piece I wanted it to be and looks and works pretty rad.

      The MVP is MUCH simpler, and I’ll have it out much sooner than I could the current working model.


        Long Live the QR Code

        QR codes aren’t dead, they were just never implemented well.

        In the past two weeks WhatsApp and Snapchat both announced different implementations of QR codes. What’s different now? Why would these work, and nothing else before them?

        WhatsApp uses the code to connect a specific browser with the app so that WhatsApp Web can be loaded, similar to the WordPress plugin I wrote. Snapchat added QR codes for connecting with people reducing the friction of having to remember/type in a username.

        There’s a lot of hate and cynicism towards QR codes. What they’re complaining about, mostly, comes down to ridiculous implementation and unnecessary use of the codes. Frankly they sound like luddites with their complaining.

        I’ve been disappointed with the overall implementation. QR codes are great tools to pass a small amount of information from the physical world to your mobile device. Unfortunately they’re mostly used as a gimmick. Think of them as an alternative to a shortened URL. If you don’t want to force someone type in a long URL, that would be an ideal use for a QR code.

        But you still probably shouldn’t use a QR code for most situations today; unfortunately, you need a special app to use them. Why? I don’t know, QR code deciphering libraries are built into the native iOS camera library. What’s really wrong with QR codes today is that they’re not easy enough to use.  If the camera had a “scan” setting along side the useless auto crop tool “square” people might actually discover intelligent implementations of QR codes.

        The vast majority of implementation today are ads. When I see one out in the wild I usually won’t pull out my phone because there aren’t good apps for scanning QR codes. I usually snap a picture of the ad if I’m really interested in it, then pull up the ad later when I have an extra minute.

        A good, and relevant use of a QR code for an ad would integrate location. If you scan the code, and that takes you to an app or site that verifies your location you get 30% off. But that would only really work if that specific location was important. If you’re an ad agency, there’s a freebie for you. Use it for the grand opening of a new store and place a treasure hunt in a 6 block radius of the new location.

        There’s very little you can do with QR codes that you can’t with NFC or iBeacons. But there IS a bar of technical know-how for implementing either low frequency radio powered tool, that you don’t have with QR codes. Implementing QR codes properly is really a matter of treating them as a tool, and implementing them in a way where people might actually find them useful.

        Enter WhatsApp and Snapchat. Here’s what they did right:

        1. The functionality is built straight into the app, no need for a nonexistent well-designed QR code reader to use the new feature.
        2. It reduces friction by providing a less complicated way to do something that might otherwise be more complicated. They did not use the codes as a gimmicky extra step.

        An added benefit is that it actually DOES have the intrigue a gimmick might have due to the fact that they actually got the implementation right. Proof, all the great press they got for it.

        P.S. I’m currently working on a companion iOS app for the plugin I wrote. Stay tuned…


          Support NASA – The Plan

          Anyone who knows me and has ever been around when the topic of space has come up knows that I’m a little obsessed with space and NASA. I know I’m not the only one. So once this idea stuck in my head, it’s stuck.

          The Problem

          The NASA Administrator is authorized by 42 U.S.C. 2473(b) to accept unconditional gifts or donations of services, money and property. However they are not allowed to solicit donations. Because of that, until now, the best way to donate to NASA has been through here.

          That is inconvenient and we are sure deters many people from sending in checks or money orders.

          The Plan

          An simple organization whose sole purpose is to collect those monies and donate them to NASA. (I may have an accountant to help me set this up.)

          A simple landing page (SupportNASA.org – yes I own it now) that enables people to donate to NASA. Money will be collected via online payment form and donated to NASA on a regular basis. Of course,

          Org will be run completely off donated time and services. If money is needed that will be raised separately. Due to the simplicity of the plan I don’t think there are many administrative costs aside from money fees.

          Bonus: Volunteer designers and developers will build a new donate page monthly… Because it’s cool. (Already have the launch landing page lined up. If you’re interested in grabbing a month, let me know.)

          Questions:

          • Does anyone see any issues with this plan? (legal, practical…)

          • Will NASA be okay with this? Will they take our money?

          Why?

          If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

          - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

          In depth, in the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

          Brain trust: Feedback please!


            Dear NASA

            I just emailed NASA. If anyone knows anyone who works there, please put me in touch. This HAS to happen, doesn’t need to be me…  But this HAS to happen.

            To whom it may concern,

            I am a space enthusiast and web developer. I manage a team of developers and have been building websites for over 10 years now.

            I saw the video here http://www.penny4nasa.org and was inspired, but also frustrated. It’s a beautiful campaign, but the monies do not go directly to you. I’m sure what they’re doing is important, but I know people would prefer to donate directly.

            I truly believe that most americans would happily donate $1/yr and many $1/mo just to see NASA do all it wants to do.

            I was upset to discover that the only way to donate directly is via this form: http://nodis3.gsfc.nasa.gov/displayDir.cfm?Internal_ID=N_PD_1210_001G_&page_name=main

            How are people supposed to do that? Countless dollars have gone into researching the best ways to remove all boundaries from people who want to donate/pay with their money.

            Is there no legal way to bring this into a simple online form?

            I would be happy to set up a simple page through which all the money would go directly to you. I would be happy to do this gratis, only for my love of NASA and all NASA has done and does. I believe that simple metrics on that page showing a goal and how far we are from there would be all that’s needed to inspire.

            Please let me do this for you!!!

            If you are interested in considering just let me know and I’ll mock up a design.

            Best wishes,

            Jack Reichert


              Tech and Academia

              I’m frustrated by the tech scene ragging on academia. Yes. The system is ripe for disruption. Specifically here in the US, where the expense of higher education is rising and has put my generation and younger into ridiculous debts.

              However, that doesn’t mean that academia itself is bad.

              No, it’s not for everyone. But it is invaluable.

              I have a degree in philosophy. I did not expect to get a job in that field. I hustled through college to support myself — a tour guide, translator, I worked in sales, as a tutor, and in marketing — and I hustled afterwards until I discovered my calling as a developer and taught myself to code.

              From my degree I gained a depth and perspective on the world that follows me wherever I go, and influences every line of code I write.

              There are plenty of fields that require academia, even tech fields. There wouldn’t be any biology startups without it. We wouldn’t have lawyers to set up our C-Corps or doctors to treat us when we get sick.

              Let’s not forget that without our academic institutions we won’t foster our next generation of philosophers and we won’t recognize the value of the next Whitman without knowing who he is, nor will we be able to contextualize what happens across the world in the greater story of mankind.

              It’s easy to focus on how drastically and powerfully the entrepreneurial community has changed the world, and forget the value that more traditional paths still retain.

              Living here in the US it’s easy to forget how easy and inexpensive it is to get a top quality advanced education in many countries in Europe. The system here may be broken, but shouldn’t be discarded.

              It also doesn’t need to be the only way. Treehouse, Lynda, and Udemy have their place. If there are better ways to train for a profession, we need to embrace that. We don’t need to require degrees to provide jobs.

              But let us not forget the value of knowledge for the sake of itself as well. That is a huge aspect of what makes us human.


                We Choose

                Today 45 years ago one of our species landing on another world. For a moment all mankind were bound together by accomplishment and ingenuity. We looked up at the heavens and for the first time, we knew one of us was looking back. Oh the force of the human spirit.

                “There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

                We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon… we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

                When something seems too hard, I look up at the sky and think of these words. We have so many challenges ahead of us, but the force of that idea.

                This is who we are.

                We set foot on the Moon.

                Goddammit. We can find a way to live with respect for one another and stop killing each other. Goddammit. We can find a way to conquer poverty and plague. Goddammit. We can find a way to live with all the comforts of modern society without burning away our future and our fellow inhabitants of this beautiful planet that gave birth to us.

                We set foot on the Moon.


                  Labor Surplus is a Resource to be Tapped, Not a Liability to Mitigate

                  “While those ancestral Maori who first colonized the Chathams may have been farmers, Maori tropical crops could not grow in the Chathams’ cold climate, and the colonists had no alternative except to revert to being hunter-gatherers. Since as hunter-gatherers they did not produce crop surpluses available for redistribution or storage, they could not support and feed nonhunting craft specialists, armies, bureaucrats, and chiefs.”

                  - Diamond, Jared. “Guns Germs And Steel

                  Technology is such a blessing. As production becomes more efficient, fewer people need to work in order feed the rest.

                  While in the past, technology has created more jobs because of the efficiency it created, given Moore’s law, as the efficiency of our systems grow exponentially, I believe that it may threaten jobs, if we aren’t able to keep up with the progress.

                  But what this really is, is the opposite of the Chathams’ experience. There are “crop surpluses” which means that more people are available to discover, build, learn and develop.

                  All we need to do is invest in empowering people to profit from their creativity. If we invest intelligently in our future, we’re in for quite an exciting ride of creative invention and innovation beyond our wildest dreams.


                    Why I use Bootstrap, and what I get from it

                    I previously wrote about the the Bootstrap front-end framework. In a nutshell my thoughts then were, it’s a useful tool but if something goes wrong, it’ll be a pain to troubleshoot.

                    What I thought then still remains true, if you need to work outside their box, you’ll have a tough time. However, since I first wrote about it, it’s gotten quite a bit more polished.

                    My gripes

                    When they made the jump from version 2.3 to 3 I was not happy. It’s quite a bit more polished now and naming conventions make more sense, but one really can’t upgrade a bootstrap 2.x based site to 3 with ease.

                    Note to all framework developers: if you’re planning on doing such a drastic change, please, please, please document your changes carefully so that you’re not wasting the time of the people for whom you are building your code for? Even better? Write a conversion script.

                    Also, I was not happy that they dropped IE7 support. It would be nice to have some graceful degradation in place, especially since it is a framework. I work with the banking industry, who notoriously refuse to upgrade their systems. Which is plain dumb and I have a lot to say about that; but, that’s for another post.

                    What I Love

                    Pain aside, it’s sweet to work with.

                    It is now flat, which is really nice for a framework. It’s not a good idea to include tons of extra code to add shading and depth to an element that you will go ahead and overwrite. Start slim, build from there.

                    The grid system is fully responsive, which was nicely executed. I’m also please that they moved away from the 8 column grid, 12 is much more flexible.

                    Version 3 moved from sprites to glyphs in font format, it’s time for sprites to die.

                    ~=~=~=~=~=~=~=~=~=~

                    In today’s world it’s a no-brainer to use a framework, at least for prototyping. Whether, the framework is really just your own snippets you’ve collected, or it’s a framework that has a team dedicated to developing and improving it. Front-end frameworks really cut down the development time, and Bootstrap is solid.

                    To resolve my initial reservations with using a framework, when I’m assigning projects to my team I make sure to pepper the tasks with some vanilla CSS and JS. It’s good to keep on one’s toes.