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September 18 2019

10:30

Denial

It started last spring. Something didn't feel right. It was exceptionally dry for weeks. We have a 3600-liter cistern for our small garden that was already empty. It would normally fill up from time to time and get us over the summer. But not that year. What started as a long period without rain, turned into an extremely hot summer and it just didn't stop.

You could see how the forest around us dried up, how the grass changed its color to a grayish yellow that reminded me of Southern Europe, but not Germany.

Then later in September 2018, we went camping in Portugal. Just a few weeks before, Portugal had been struck by a heatwave up to 46 degrees. We were lucky we missed that. We stayed at a campsite in central Portugal, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was incredibly beautiful but haunted by wasps. What looked like a nightmare, turned into a weird spectacle. The wasps sat on our legs, on our arms, and in our shoes, but they didn't sting. They besieged the front of our camper and followed us by the dozens when we went to fetch water. I've never seen anything like this before. We asked the owner of the campsite and he told us how the wasps are incredibly exhausted after the heatwave. They were licking our sweat, eating the dead flies from our camper and were attracted by anything that looked like water. They didn't have enough energy anymore to attack or hunt for themselves.


The empty cistern, dry forest, yellow grass or the exhausted wasps were by no means scientific evidence for climate change. I have no scientific background at all. They were personal triggers though. For the first time in my life, I was deeply worried by the heat and drought.

All of this was accompanied by more and more bad news from climate scientists from all over the world. Greta Thunberg started her first school strike in Stockholm. I began to read and learn more about it and I felt worse and more hopeless every day.


I thought that the summer of 2018 is a tipping point though. With the school strikes, there was a new form of attention. I was sure that from now on more people will follow and understand what's really happening and eventually enough politicians will follow as well.

But while kids and students around the world kept on striking and fighting for their future, the rest of the world seemed to move on. Like this is just another minor crisis we can shake off.

Global temperatures: 1850-2018

And yet, 2019 brought more horror scenarios. The fires in the Arctic, the Amazon, Australia, and Indonesia.

What seemed to be a crisis of the future is a crisis of today. We are right in the middle.

Let's put in a joke from Twitter to lift the mood: "Many say that this is the hottest summer in the last 100 years. But I prefer to think positive: this is probably the coolest summer in the next 100 years."

(Sorry, I can't find the source anymore)


But with all the evidence around us, why are we acting like everything will be alright? It won't be alright this time.

I've collected some of the reactions you can see and hear online and offline all the time:

  • Climate change isn't real
  • Climate change is real but will pass by
  • Climate change is real but it's exaggerated and Greta is an alarmist
  • Climate change won't affect us because …
    • … it's too far in the future
    • … we live in a pretty cool part of the world
    • … we live in a pretty wealthy part of the world
  • We will be able to fix climate change in time because …
    • … someone will invent a technical solution soon
    • … we also fixed the ozone hole
    • … politicians will fix it
    • … some god will fix it
    • … someone else will fix it
  • I can't do anything about climate change anyway because …
    • … we are just a small part of the world
    • … it has to be solved by our politicians and not by me
    • … it's too expensive
    • … I like the way I'm living right now and don't want to change
    • … it's already too late so YOLO
  • I want to do something but …
    • I don't know what to do
    • I can't afford it
    • I don't have the time
  • We are humans. We are superior to any other lifeform and we will adjust to any kind of change. Let's just buy an AC.
  • I'm quite excited to see how humanity ends

All of those reactions, wether serious or not, are just a form of denial. It's too tough to accept that our way of living is no longer working out.

I see this in myself. While being deeply worried, I'm also petrified. I don't know what to do. My commitment to change hasn't gone far enough yet. I'm part of the problem. I see my kids and want a healthy world for them. I want them to grow old without worrying. But I'm also stuck in my privileged way of living. Just one more steak, one more trip with the car, one more cheap purchase online. How bad can my impact be? After all, the system around me has to change. But that's just another excuse. I'm aware of that and I'm willing to do more than I'm currently doing. I often just feel lost.

There are no simple solutions. Radical change is hard. But it's necessary this time. This crisis won't just go away if we simply wait until all students lost their energy to protest.

The more the world around us tumbles into chaos, the more we look for simple solutions. We see those large political shifts to the right in many parts of the world. The right is very good at providing simple answers to complex problems. When they can't blame them on somebody else or pretend they don't exist, they look backward to find their solutions. "We've always done it like this. It's perfectly fine to keep on doing it that way." Trying to preserve the status quo is a human instinct. Change always carries risk. It's easy to fall for their agenda if you don't want to think or act too much yourself.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking seems to erode many parts of our society. The political center here in Germany is using the same methods less radically. Stick with the status quo as long as possible and as long as it is profitable.

I often wonder if we manage to turn around fast enough before it's too late. The clock is ticking relentlessly and there's not much time left.

Sometimes I try to imagine the future in ten years from now. What happens when each year from now on will be as hot and dry as the last years – or even worse?

Looking at Western Europe: What will happen to our agriculture? To our vegetation? To our water supplies? Can we handle all of that?

Looking at the world: What happens when the wildfires around the world return and increase every year? More CO2 will get emitted, more Methane released.

Many people say we've already reached a tipping point this year. I'm not a scientist. I cannot put all of this into a realistic perspective. Everything I read sounds like a doomsday scenario.

Is this an alarmist way of thinking? Too negative? I hope so. I wish I'll look back in ten years from now and realize that it wasn't that dramatic after all. Maybe we found a way to adjust. Maybe we started to accept reality and changed our way of living.

But there's also a good chance that we will look back at today with anger and despair and wish we weren't so ignorant back then.

It's time to wake up.


Join me at the Global Climate Strike this Friday, September 20th, 2019!
I will be taking part in Heidelberg.

September 10 2019

10:00

Simplicity (II)

Once in a while, I have to fix small issues in very old projects. Some of my client sites from more than a decade ago are still around. One could argue that they probably should have been re-launched three times since. But it's also quite nice to enter the time machine.

There are two eras of those projects: pre-built-process and and post-build-process. Whenever there's no package.json I know it's going to be a good day. Whenever there's one, Pandora is coming along the way with her fucking box.

When you ever had to fix just a few lines of CSS and it took two hours to get an ancient version of Gulp up and running, you know what I'm talking about.

Yes, I know, there's Docker and if you are a real professional you would put everything in containers. But don't ever tell me that this is making your life as easy as editing a plain HTML or CSS file.


We've come a long way as web developers. We have wonderful tools that help us optimize, prettify, test, deploy and scale our work in seconds and it's great.

Working on Kirby, we use quite a lot of those tools. We rely heavily on Git and Github, we use the Vue cli with Webpack in the background to build our Panel, PHPcs and ESlint to enforce the same coding style throughout the team, PHPUnit, Jest and Cypress.io with Travis CI to test our code, Coveralls.io to analyze our test coverage. We auto-deploy our site whenever changes are pushed to master. etc. etc.

When everything works, it feels like magic. When something breaks, it's hell.

The amount of time and knowledge that you need to have to setup such tools and services and to keep them up and running is insane.

Yes, they save a lot of time once they are working. If you don't touch them they are probably stable for a while. But I never learned to love them in all those years. It's more like a love-hate relationship, slightly tilted to hate.


There are a few major issues I have with modern web dev tooling:

Dependency Hell A - Code

I can never get over the fact that the most "simple" build process setup comes with 120 petabyte of node_modules. No matter if you want to "just" convert your Sass to CSS or optimize some images.

I have a simple rule of thumb when it comes to programming:

less code === less potential issues

This rule of thumb controls my own feelings towards a solution. It shouldn't take 120 MB of code to uglify some JS. But maybe I'm wrong.

In practice, this dependency hell has bitten me so often already that my life expectancy probably sank by 2-3 years. You want to build a JS file? Please update Webpack first. Oh, that new version of Webpack is no longer compatible with your Node version. Oh, your new Node version is no longer compatible with that other dependency. Oh, now you have 233 detected security issues in all your node_modules but you can't fix them because that would break something completely unrelated.

It's a UX nightmare and I haven't found a single exception yet. Vue Cli or Parcel are the most positive examples, where positive means: not as horrible as the rest.

This dependency hell is also the reason why old projects are almost like sealed capsules. You can hardly let a project lie around for more than a year, because afterwards it's probably broken.

Dependency Hell B - Services

How do you make money in a world of open-source projects? SaaS! It all starts nice and simple: Github free plan, Algolia free plan, Travis CI free plan, ZeitHQ free plan, Netlify free plan, Azure free plan, Firebase free plan, etc. etc.

But all of them share the same goal. They want to lure you in and then convert you to their paid plans. That's the only way for them to make money. The free plans are sponsored by their investors or the high margins of their paid plans.

When you start using services like Firebase it becomes instantly clear that you lock yourself in. The more time you invest, the harder it gets to move away from them one day. The more painful it gets if they ever shut down.

Other services are more subtle. With Github you only realize the dependency if you build your community there and it starts to grow. If you leave, you basically loose the community. With Github Actions they now try to add another layer of customer glue.

With services like Algolia it gets massively painful if you grow out of the free plan or jump to the next tier.

Netlify and Zeit have the same issue and also try to bind you with their attractive additional features that are exclusive to them.

The more you bind a project to a certain service, the harder it can backfire later. The longevity of a project is suddenly in the hand of another player and you have to play by their rules. When they decide to change the way their service works, you have to adjust to that.

The comfort that they provide comes at a high price. All those services look simple on the outside, but they all come with complex related issues and potential risks.


We love to talk about simplicity. "Simple" is probably one of the most overused words in our industry. Not only in documentation.

Is something really "simple" if you have to be an experienced developer before being able to use it?

Is something really "simple" if the best case scenario works great, but whenever it fails you are stuck for hours?

Is something really "simple" when you are cosily wrapped in an over-engineered blanket that comes at a high price once you need to unwrap yourself?


Talking about simplicity, I made the comparison on Twitter between a headphone jack and a bluetooth connection.

Modern web dev tools and services are like AirPods. It's fantastic to get rid of the cable. The experience is far better 95% of the times. But they also have connection issues from time to time, they are massively over-engineered, expensive and you can easily loose them.

Bluetooth headphones are likely the future. But I still have more love for a set of standard headphone with a regular cable and headphone jack that has been working reliably for decades.

I just have to put this over-used quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery here again:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Yes, we have new possibilities to solve problems. But sometimes it might make sense to take a step back and ask ourselves if something that has already been solved needs to be solved again – but more complex this time.


As always, such questions are very personal. It depends. If you are in a team, your priorities are completely different than for someone who works alone. Big teams have different problems than small teams. Your project might not need to be around for years or decades etc.

It's important though to reflect on what we are doing. It's as important to reflect what affects the user. They don't care about our issues behind the curtains.

When we talk about the time that modern tools save us, we also need to be honest. How much time do they save us today and how much time might they cost us later?


I personally try to take such time-machine rides as lessons.

We face the same problems with Kirby. We try to keep it "simple" but is it really simple? What are the true obstacles for beginners. What are the pain points for our users when something breaks? How can we take care of such situations and make sure nobody gets stuck for hours? And what happens when you need to maintain a Kirby site in 5 or 10 years from now? Can we somehow help to make this easy? Is it even made to last that long? How can we avoid that our users are locked in? Etc.

All those questions are important to me, because they are the qualities that I appreciate in software myself.


I wrote about simplicity in a similar fashion five years ago. That's why this article is called Simplicity (II). This topic never really gets old to me as it seems :) http://bastianallgeier.com/notes/simplicity

May 17 2019

09:11

Back from the dead

I killed my personal site in May 2018.

It was the GDPR month of horror. Dozens of old clients approached me to help them get their privacy policies online. I was knee-deep into getting our own privacy policy for Kirby ready with our lawyer and everything just felt like shit.

Instead of caring for my own site, I simply switched it off. I set up a redirect to the Kirby website, but later the SSL certificate expired and I couldn't even be bothered to fix that.

It's kind of ironic, when you are working full-time on a content management system and you talk about the IndieWeb for years, but at the same time you can't even get your shit together and run your own website.

Looking back, my dead website was a reflection of how I felt about my profession. It was a low point in my career. I was extremely frustrated by the state of the web. The work for Kirby 3 was absolutely overwhelming. It should have launched by then already. Everything felt exhausting and broken. The GDPR chaos was just the final cut.

Killing it was almost like taking a break from the web. For the longest time I felt lost afterwards. The work on Kirby kept me up and I'm glad about that. But the digital loneliness that Tobias describes in his article was all around me.


Fast-forward to today: This week, I attended beyond tellerrand. This conference has always played a big part in my career. It gave me the necessary push in the right direction so many times before. I can't exactly say what it is. It's not a particular talk or topic or conversation. It's the sum of all of that.

Maybe it's just me, but there was a special mood in the crowd this time. More cheering when speakers entered the stage. More clapping after each talk. I don't really know. Maybe I'm just projecting here.

At the very end, Tantek entered the stage and spoke about taking back the web. There were no surprises in this talk. He summarized the catastrophic situation of the social web and introduced IndieWeb ideas as a possible solution. And yet, this talk gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

There's a pretty clear message in my head since then: the web is not lost. The friendships are not lost. The positivity and excitement that we once all had is not lost. It's time for a new beginning.

July 03 2017

22:22
22:22
22:10

March 31 2017

20:09
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20:00
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October 10 2016

21:00

Bullet Journal

After years of hunting the perfect solution to be and stay productive, I think I finally may have found it: a bullet journal

Productivity is such a huge topic and such a personal one. I was on a roller coaster over the last years. Weeks of tremendous energy, motivation and productivity were followed by weeks in deep holes without getting anything done at all.

I tried all sorts of todo apps and techniques. The most promising technique was pomodoro for quite a while. But nothing really stuck or helped me overcome the deep valleys.

Then I read about bullet journals a couple months ago and was intrigued. I loved the idea to move away from digital tools and get back to good old pen and paper. It was also a good chance to finally make use of some of the notebooks I had collected over the years, but which lay unused in a drawer.

What is a bullet journal?

bullet-journal

The basic idea of a bullet journal is to log todos, events and notes for each day in a very simple and fast way. You focus on the current day and write down all the stuff you need to get done or you need to remember. Todos get marked with a dot, events get marked with a circle, notes get marked with a dash. Important stuff gets marked with an additional asterisk. I won't go further into details here, because the bullet journal website has some really great docs and there's also a video:

Why does it work?

There are various points, that make a bullet journal special for me.

I think the most essential aspect really is the fact that it is not in my computer. Writing things down by hand needs more concentration. It's a more conscious form of storing your thoughts.

Every morning, I sit down with my bullet journal and focus on what I need to get done and need to remember. I don't stare into my screen. I don't get dragged away by Twitter or emails. I just sit there for a couple minutes and make myself aware of what's going to happen in the next few hours.

During the day, I write down every new event or todo immediately, which has the same effect of focusing on it once more. It helps to take a short break and recap the priority of each open point on your list.

While almost every todo app hides the finished tasks, the bullet journal leaves a quite beautiful and satisfying overview of each day. About a year ago, I used an app called I done this which basically does the same. I often suffer from the illusion that I achieved nothing. Every day seems super short and wasted with lots of tasks, which distract me from the things I really wanted to get done. The bullet journal helps me to get past this. Having written down all the tasks during the day and seeing that list in the evening is the best way to switch off and be happy with my day's work.

Breaking your todo list down into days, makes it feel much more manageable. I didn't have a single day in the last three months when I felt overwhelmed by my work.

According to the bullet journal concept, open tasks need to be moved onto the next day manually. This seems extremely redundant and annoying at first.

But writing down the same task over and over again is a fantastic way to show you how embarrassingly lazy you are or how unimportant a task actually might be. It might not work for everyone, but it sure does for me.

Finally, I think it's the format. The first couple pages have been horrible. My handwriting was a nightmare. But it really started to improve. I now enjoy the process of manually writing again and I absolutely love to see the results. I can't tell exactly what it is, but it's so much more satisfying to open a notebook with dozens of handwritten pages. It's a constant reminder of all the stuff I got done in the last weeks and months. It has become really, really precious to me.

I already ordered five more notebooks in the same format from the same company to make sure that I get a decent series — yes, that's the design nerd in me. I started the second book two weeks ago and it felt so great to start with a fresh book and have some decent handwriting in there right from the start.

I also love that it becomes more and more individual. The bullet journal concept is quite open. It offers modules and methods, which you can use, but you don't have to if it doesn't fit. There are also tons of videos on Youtube from bullet journal users, who describe their favorite ways to track stuff.

For example for the second book I decided that I don't need a future log. But instead I have developed my own way of creating a monthly and weekly overview.

I also started to create additional marks and symbols, which I use to highlight certain tasks and events, which is a lot of fun.

I'm looking forward to the next book filling up and I know that the system is going to improve with me over time, which is exciting.

The last three months with my bullet journal have been very rewarding and I feel more reliable and more in control.

If you want to give it a try as well, I really recommend to give it time. The advantages show after a week and become even more obvious after a month.

@bastianallgeier

October 04 2016

22:00

Pressure

I follow the battles between developer guilds for quite a while and now and then I post my own snarky remarks on Twitter about the latest JS frameworks to join the club.

It's too easy to get dragged into grumpy-mode these days. Articles like the satire about How it feels to learn JavaScript in 2016 help to release some steam from the ever growing pressure of newer, better, faster, slicker, tools, frameworks, libraries and other toys. But you have to be careful not to get too frustrated and angry.

An article, which made me very much aware of this again, is by one of my personal web heros: David DeSandro.

In the end it's all about what works for you. What is the best, fastest and most stable tool to transfer your ideas from your brain, via your fingers, into your keyboard and finally into your computer? "Best", "fastest", "most stable" are terms which are highly subjective here. They depend on various circumstances.

For me personally, I found that I get faster and better, the more I know about the tools I am using. This sounds like Captain Obvious. But I compare a programming language with an instrument. I play guitar for 23 years and I'm far from truly mastering it. But I play well enough, not to think about how to play, while I'm playing. I can improvise, let my fingers fly over the fretboard and just let my creativity flow. It took many many years to get there and still I know that it I will never stop learning with this instrument.

I learned coding the hard way by trial and error, pretty much like I learned how to play guitar. I always felt that every hour is moving me forward — even after years. It's all about practicing.

As a designer, I wasn't really confident with my coding skills for a very long time. I still often get this feeling of missing some "real" knowledge in this area. Especially, when I read about the latest and greatest trends in web development, I feel like a fraud, like someone who will never be a "real" developer.

But at some point I realized, that coding is like making music. The more you practice, the better you get and the more freedom you gain to express your creativity. True magic happens in music, when you get skilled enough to translate your ideas and emotions directly into notes. True magic happens in programming, when you are fast enough to translate your ideas into code as well.

I definitely gained more confidence in my own work over the years. But I realized that this necessarily means for me that I have to focus on a certain set of languages, tools and ways to write code. Pretty much like I decided more than 20 years ago, that the guitar is my instrument.

I am fast and efficient in PHP, I'm comfortable with HTML and CSS and I can express my ideas in JavaScript when I stick to the bad j word. Those tools, combined with my design background, give me the opportunity to let me be creative and I am more than happy with that.

For me, it's like focusing on being a good Metal lead guitarist with a decent amount of Blues and some Jazz background.

But before you start yelling "you have to leave your comfort zone!" here's the point:

JS-Fatigue, framework-fatigue, tool-fatigue or whatever flavor of fatigue, is caused by uncertainty. Once you find your comfort zone of instruments, which you know how to play well and you are able to express your creativity, the existential pressure to find something better stops.

This doesn't mean that you stop evolving. As a musician you are always looking for new ways to improve your style. A new scale, new chord progressions, new musical influences or new intonation techniques. It's the same with design or code. If we stop moving, we die. But we don't have to jump all the time.

Maybe in a next life I can be a good drummer. But I already found my happiness in being a guitarist. This doesn't mean that I don't enjoy playing drums from time to time or maybe even piano.

Nowadays I really find peace in the process of playing with new frameworks, libraries and tools. They massively influence my own work. But I also learned to resist the urge, to replace my comfort zone every other week, as long as it is not absolutely necessary. I like to get inspired but then return to the good old stuff and just keep on building and being happy.

@bastianallgeier

July 10 2015

21:07
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