Ryan Irelan

is building Mijingo and doing limited consulting.

Ben Brooks' Traveling Light Series

Ben Brooks has been doing a series of articles covering his preferred setup for traveling light. This is mostly aimed at business travel (because we all know that traveling light with kids is LOL) but there are things here you can pull into any travel kit, whether business or pleasure.

See all his articles on the topic.

Bastrop State Park

Bastrop State Park

Last weekend we did a quick one night camping trip at Bastrop State Park. We were here last Septemeber for the Burning Pine 10k race I ran. Even though the hilly park road had me finding a little religion around mile 5, I really enjoyed the park and wanted to return for a more relaxed adventure.

Bastrop State Park was hit hard by two disasters in four years: the 2011 wildfires during an awful central Texas drought, and the 2015 Memorial Day flooding.

The 2011 wildfires took out 97% of the pine trees in the park. Almost five years later, the carnage is striking and eery. I’m no forester but I’d guess it’ll take decades or a century to return to a rich pine tree forest (if ever at all).

Last year’s flooding (which also hit Austin metro area) drained the small park lake after it overflowed and breached a dam/roadway and emptied into the surrounding area, destroying a park road.

Bastrop State Park is very nicely outfitted park for tent and RV camping. Nice sites, facilities, and a YMCA-run swimming pool. We’ll definitely return.

Did my first run this morning since my stress fracture. Almost exactly 3 months since my last run. Feels like, too.

Hide OS X Desktop Icons

A nice script via Dr Drang via Craig Hockenberry. I always use Screenflow’s built-in icon hiding when recording a screencast but this is perfect for screenshots, conference talks, and screen sharing sessions.

Writing Notes is Better


After just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.

Running Jekyll on Bash Windows

Dave Rupert has been testing Windows as a web dev platform. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for him up to now. But the recently announced Ubuntu on Windows is a huge step forward.

Slowly making more progress on the stress fracture in my right leg. Still no running but I’m working my way up to it, starting with 30 minutes on the stationary bike.

Design for Real Life - Eric Meyer & Sara Wachter-Boettcher

I spend more time now refining the things I already know instead of just learning something new. Sure, I still learn new stuff (I do teach for living after all) but I’m also constantly adjusting my dials for better reception of the world around me.

This could be engaging more deeply in relationships, understanding my own cycles of energy and emotions and adjusting my schedule around those to make life a bit more pleasant and fruitful, or being more empathetic and in-tune with how my work affects others. As a professional teacher and riffraff academic, this is the most important thing I do.

Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher have a similar mission for us and the websites we design and build. They pull from personal experiences of bumping up against the edges of a design or content decision and together wrote Design for Real Life, a 140-page manifesto on creating websites that feel a little more human when humans need it most.

The goal of the book is to “bring edge cases to the center”, as Anil Dash writes in the Introduction. Using case studies of how things can go wrong, and documenting the techniques we can use in our next project to improve your website, web application, or product, Sara and Eric helped me see a bit wider than my own life experience.

The book starts by confronting how we see the audience for which we design and develop sites. And, how, no matter how thoughtful we might think we are being, our decisions can create an awful experience for someone else.

On Christmas Eve 2014, I went to Facebook and was greeted by an ad promoting Year in Review, a feature I had been deliberately avoiding. But there it was in my newsfeed. Staring out at me, framed by dancing clip-art partygoers: the face of my middle child, Rebecca, who had died of aggressive brain cancer on her sixth birthday, June7th, 2014.The dissonance between that profound personal tragedy and theparty images created a visceral moment of shock. The copy, “Here’s what your year looked like!” added its own surreal layer of horror.

One could easily cast stones and quip: “Oh those young Silicon Valley kids have such a narrow, pampered view of life,” but that’s not at all what Design for Real Life is about. It is about forcing us to see beyond our own world but it is not about scolding us for making mistakes.

We will make mistakes. But the book offers tools and processes for helping to uncover those mistakes before they make it to your customer or user.

The book is also not advocating that we try to build something that won’t offend anyone or never have an edge that someone could bump into.

If we tried to avoid every possible trigger for every possible person, we’d never build anything at all. But by being intentional about what we ask of our users in the first place, and communicating the context for every interaction as clearly and transparently as possible, we’ll greatly limit the ways we can harm or traumatize them, and also make it easier for them to forgive us when we do.

Design for Real Life book illuminated the blind spots in my vision of my work. It teaches a very important refinement and improvement to the work we do designing and building for the web.

Don’t let the slim stature of the book fool you: it is a big and important work. We should all feel obligated to at least read Design for Real Life but hopefully also build the concepts and methods in the book into our future work.

Read more on books I’ve read

Walking Floats

I like to think that floats are the dirty little secret of web developers everywhere: we know enough about them to use them but we all secretly fear them. We fear them in a way that maybe they’ll come to life one day and hunt us down, like zombies looking to expand their fleet of walking dead. We furiously type clear:both; anywhere we can find space but nothing happens. They’re still chasing us.

The other night I dreamed about running. The run in my dream felt great almost like I was floating. Back in reality, I haven’t run in more than a month because of the stress fracture. I have at least another month ahead of me.

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life - Russ Roberts

I am not well-versed in economics nor many specifics of Adam Smith other than that he wrote a book of which I’ve heard: The Wealth of Nations. However, I was intriuged by the idea of taking Adam Smith’s secondary work–The Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759–and reading through a lens of modern life and living.

But I’ll be honest: this book was a slog for me after the first one third or so. I don’t fault the author for this. I think the material lends itself to explanations that are drawn out and over-explanatory.

Economist Russ Roberts takes Smith’s work and breaks it down into chapters that are the ways in which Adam Smith can change our lives:

  • How to Know Yourself
  • How to Be Happy
  • How Not to Fool Yourself
  • How to Be Loved
  • How to Be Lovely
  • How to Be Good
  • How to Make the World a Better Place
  • How Not to Make the World a Better Place
  • How to Live in the Modern World

The chapter titles read like the contents of a third-rate self help book at the mall bookstore (Do mall bookstores still exist?) but they will fool you. The material in them is nothing of the sort. It’s quite good.

Okay, so why is an economist writing a book about living a better life, which is based on a book by an 18th century philosopher and economist?

Economics isn’t just about money.

Economics helps you understand that money isn’t the only thing that matters in life. Economics teaches you that making a choice means giving up something. And economics can help you appreciate complexity and how seemingly unrelated actions and people can become entangled. These insights and others are sprinkled throughout The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

And then we’re off, as Roberts launches deep into the nine ways you can improve your life through Adam Smith. Russ Roberts successfully dusts off a centuries old work and applies it to the modern day.

Read more on books I’ve read

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big - Scott Adams

The subtitle of this book is “Kind of the Story of My Life” and that summarizes the content. Scott Adams takes his life experience, specifically how he was able to overcome failure in life and career, and weaves it into a narrative that gives you steps and practical advice for improving your own life.

If you’ve read any of Scott’s blog posts over the years you will recognize the style. The book reads like a collection of his blog posts (but I don’t think it is). Scott is introspective and analytical about his experience in the world; he seeks how his actions affect him (and others) and how he can change things for maximum happiness.

The only reasonable goal in life is maximizing your total lifetime experience of something called happiness.

This isn’t a typical “life hack” book but it does have a lot of that same type of instruction: here’s my one-time or limited experience and how it helped me achieve X. You should now do this, too.

Except that Adams regularly tells you that he can’t claim that any of this will work for you, or even that his experience (and the scientific studies and literature he cites) proves anything.

Scott Adams gets a lot of flack online for his blog posts, many of which are grand thought experiments on controversial topics. Many readers of his blog react in a predictable way by chiding him for his lack of grip on reality. If your mind is of such width that you aren’t able to follow along with Scott as he journeys through another thought experiment on everything from psychology to employment to finances, then you shouldn’t read this book. It will drive you mad.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big regularly touches on psychology as a map to navigate life. He writes:

Knowledge of psychology is the purest form of power.

Adams claims that you can always benefit from understanding how the mind interprets the world. There is no objective reality and if we approach the world and life like there is then we’ll be disappointed by the results. You have to know how others see the world, not just how you perceive it.

One of my favorite things about the book is that he advocates for broad, ongoing learning:

Everything you learn becomes a shortcut for understanding something else.

The simple example Adams gives is if you wanted to understand what a zebra is. It’s easier to describe and explain what a zebra is if you already know a horse. Oh, it’s a horse but with stripes. Easy enough.

By having knowledge of one thing you create hooks, as he calls them, for understanding other things.

The biggest takeaway from this book–and it could’ve been a book of its own–is the idea that we should be using systems not goals to be sucessful (as we define it for ourselves) and happy in life.

A goal is to lose 15 lbs by April 1st. You do whatever you can to meet it but you’re probably racing toward that goal with blinders on.

A system is a regular, maintinable routine of activities that make that happen not just once but ongoing. You are not “losing 15 lbs,” you are living a healthy life that keep you at a healthy weight. Instead of starving yourself for a month, which isn’t maintinable at all over an extended period, you set up a system of meals that are good for you. You build exercise into your day (like changing to a bike commute instead of loafing in your car the 4 miles).

Most of the chapters are short and fast to read. You could read them out of order but he does reference previous material as the books moves on toward the end.

I read the 200 or so pages very quickly. The prose are simple and approachable. Scott cites research papers and other sources of the information he uses to make his arguments. Even if you find the book a lighter read, you can very easily trawl the footnotes for deeper learning.

More on books I’ve read.

The NERD Tree

I’ve been using The NERD tree as a file explorer for vim. It was a bit quirky at first but that was me not knowing how to use it.

I have trained myself to be fairly fast using it but only because I’ve tried to be disciplined about looking up commands if I didn’t know them. It takes more willpower than you think to break old habits (Sublime Text shortcuts, previously TextMate shortcuts) and groove in new ones.

All in all, my vim setup (which is one of my experiements at this point) is decent. I like using it but it still feels like a lot of work to do basic daily functions.

The Importance of the Serial Comma

From the Comma Queen at the New Yorker:

The serial comma, also known as the Oxford comma, is the one before “and” in a series of three or more: Herman Melville wrote “Moby-Dick,” “Billy Budd,” and “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”

It is also the improbable subject of a passionate debate among scholars, journalists, and copy editors. Can’t we all just get along?

Me? I use the serial comma because it creates clarity. Everything from the Comma Queen is worth your time. I have her book on hold at the library.

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