Brian Feeney

Hope and History

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.

Relieve your body and your soul.

— Seamus Heaney

August 21, 2020


Yearly DNC Events

Obviously genius idea by Robin Rendle:

[W]hy do we have to wait 4 years for a moment like this? The Democrats should hold an event like this every single year; educating the public about the state of Senate and House races, about the Democratic legislative agenda, about what was accomplished over the past year, and how to make this country a more just place.

It would be an E3 or Nintendo Direct or an Apple keynote but far, far more important. No celebrities, no propaganda. But just like this: talking about empathy, discussing how to fix the economy

We desperately need more celebratory events for our country to rally around. More days for sharing our goodness, kindness, and caring. More opportunities to exhibit on a national stage the fruitful outcomes of successful liberal and progress policies. The Democratic Party would do so well to institute things like this.

August 20, 2020


How Design Systems Can Fail

Marissa Christy had some smart thoughts on how design systems can fail (way back in 2018).

A project can go awry for a number of reasons — budget, resources, time, mismanagement — even turnover. But even successful design systems with organizational buy-in can fail. The pitfalls I am about to highlight feel inherent to the very idea of a design system, even in the most ideal of scenarios.

The entire article is worth your time. I felt a particularly strong resonance with these paragraphs:

When the timeline for implementation gets spread out over multiple months (and more likely, quarters or years), a lot can change. And from an implementation standpoint, front-end development is changing more quickly than ever before. The past few years have seen paradigms shift from utility-like reusable classes (think .margin-sm) to BEM syntax, from monolithic sass outputs to scoped styles within React components. And as the CSS spec adds more and more functionality, from grids to variables, the future is far from fixed.

I’ve seen several implementations of style guides fail because they simply couldn’t keep up with the front end. Bloated bootstrap-like files when everyone is worried about performance. A ruby gem at the moment that node was taking off. And even though React seems almost designed for componentized design systems, the changing nature of tech makes the whole notion of creating a permanent, forever system unlikely.”

It's important to remember that a Design System is a tool. It helps you build your product faster and more coherently. But, like everything else having to do with the internet, it's a tool with eventually diminishing usefulness. The more you keep that top of mind, the better off you'll be when it comes time to start over. At some point, _you will need to start over_. That's the straight truth of building software.

I've been thinking a lot about which kind of design system is better: A design system tightly entwining design and code documentation? Or a DS which is just design, agnostic to the code framework used? I lean towards the former: it provides the most immediate beneficial returns; but it requires constant maintenance and dedication to one framework. The later is great because it can outlast any one framework, but it doesn't save engineers much time.

There are clear cut trade-offs for either path you choose. But you have to choose one. You can't have both. And, eventually, either will fail. So it goes.

August 19, 2020


Missing Pieces of RSS

Matt Web has some thoughts on RSS which perfectly mirror my own:

It would be a good thing if RSS were more popular. When RSS is popular, it shifts the balance of power away from the social media platforms, which means that it doesn’t feed their ad targeting engines, or move people towards extremism. Plus it’s a less hectic, more egalitarian way to read.

BUT, the user experience around RSS has some sharp edges, and there are missing pieces that mean that RSS is unlikely to return to the mainstream. A corporate-owned platform could fix these missing pieces; it’s harder for RSS with its decentralised model.

I believe my app Feeeds could solve every problem with RSS Matt mentions: onboarding, newsletters, monetization, and discovery. And tons more. And it could do so without changing any of the infrastructure around RSS, nor force any required adoption of the app. Feeeds would be a voluntary tool, never requiring any site owner to change either code or design of their own websites. It's a community hub one opts into.

August 18, 2020


Reply to ... Me

A month ago, Jonnie Hallman added a "Reply To Jonnie" mailto: link to the bottom of his RSS feed posts. A ton of people then joined him, including me. It's a great idea, a smart way to make blogs a more social medium without them being "social media."

August 14, 2020


Links for 8/14/2020

August 14, 2020


The Republic of Newsletters

I really like Robin's idea of a hardware device for reading open-web blogs:

I still believe in a Kindle/Analogue-esque device that, within it, contains an operating system that is half Patreon, half Substack, half Instapaper.

I think of this as the Republic of Newsletters writ large—The OmniBlog—where writers can publish their work and folks can subscribe via RSS but with a Coil-esque payment system built in and preloaded onto a physical e-reader. Writers could blog away, connected to eachother, whilst readers could subscribe to their work and perhaps even fund larger pieces of writing[.]

It's a fun idea to think about. A paperwhite-like screen would be amazing, but so many blogs also post images and videos. And the device would need a decent browser to allow following links. These are issues which make a separate hardware device less likely to happen. I mean, iPads. But it's interesting.

He ends by fearing he's "just described Medium," but I don't think so. The problem with Medium is that they possess your content. What the internet needs is a next-level application for finding, subscribing to, and reading blogs in one place, via RSS. Something a few notches better than what today's newsreaders provide.

August 13, 2020


Good Sudoku is Great

I recently became a Sudoku player. It's because of Good Sudoku, a newly released iOS app by Zach Gate and Jack Schlesinger. I wasn't looking to get into a puzzle game which is seemingly most popular among retirees, but it happened.

Good Sudoku is beautifully designed and a joy to play. The best feature is the Improve section, which includes a few educational subsections, "How to play," "Note taking," and "Techniques." So not only is the gameplay fun, but I can learn more tips and tricks to improve. The first dozen Expert puzzles took me around an hour to finish, but now I'm completing them in around 15min. I suppose the way Sudoku releases endorphines and dopamines is why it's so hugely popular. I get it now.

Two design complaints, though. One is that the "Hint" button is too close to the note options. It's too easy to accidentally tap that help button which immediately shows you a next move, a deflating feeling. And it instantly deducts a ton of points from your score (if you care about that). The other complaint is the UX around the note buttons. After hours of play, I'm still never confident when they're on or off, as they automatically disable after some actions but not after others. It often leads me to selecting a number when I didn't intend to. Sometimes I notice, and sometimes I don't. As a fix, I would drastically change the look of the number pad when any notation method is selected.

Small issues. No big deal. Five stars to Good Sudoku.

Update 8/15/2020: In the latest app update, both of these issues I had have been fixed. Gone. So, six stars out of five, now, I guess.

August 12, 2020

blog v10

Whoops. Designed and rebuilt my site, again. Version 9 has been up for about a week and I've already updated it. Why?

The design of v10 was one of the many in the running for v9, but because it involved more complexity and refinement, I put it off. My first order of business had been getting the new Craft 3 CMS installed and online. To do that quickly, I had chosen a simpler design.

The design of v9 was fine, but it wasn't enough. It lacked character. With this iteration, I've tried to make something that walks further down the road of a single concept. The idea was to take elements from technical manuals and printing samples and apply them to a web page. Probably not the first to do this, but it feels fresh to me.

I still feel like the best way to read my site is actually not via the site itself, but with RSS. And so I've allowed a couple things to obstruct the experience a bit. The dotted lines marking "the fold" and the 50% scroll depth will occasionally overlap with text. The randomized duotone color on the writing and quotes pages sometimes have non-ideal contrast for great reading. I like something about this. A little bit of contained chaos.

I've still prioritized the photoblog over all other content. Perhaps someday soon, I'll change the index to better balance the types of stuff I have on the site. I want to make an about page, but am considering making that the homepage, instead. Not sure, yet.

I'm really proud of this one. One of my favorite bits is the metadata I'm sharing about the page: browser window hight, page height, page load speed, character count. I'm looking to find a couple more measurable things that I can add. Page size, is one, but I'm not yet sure I can accurately pull that using jquery.

There is one new thing in v10: photo collections. I've made a few groupings of photos I've posted along a theme, place, or time. There are over 700 photos in the entire gallery. Not every one will belong to a collection, and some might end up in a few. I want to start considering the work I've done to date and to see what makes a photo I've taken a Brian Feeney photograph. Making these collections would help.

I still plan to rebuild this site with vue.js. I'd love to make page transitions smoother, and to animate some sections in creative ways. This will probably be a winter project, once we're all trapped indoors again.

August 11, 2020


An iOS App for Album Collections

My Apple Music library contains 47,400 tracks. It's an unwieldy mess. Is that maybe too much music? No, and don't ask that again. I need all of it. For reasons.

Neither the OSX nor iOS apps allow for any real album organization. Playlists are the best option, but that's a design solution for songs not albums. What I want is a way to scroll through a collection of albums that I've set aside. Similar to having a massive record collection in one room, but being able to leave a couple dozen next to the record player for quick access. Some favorite records. Newly acquired records. Records I want to remember to listen to again, soon.

I can excuse Apple for leaving this out. How many people really have more than a few thousand songs in their library? Can't be that many. For nearly everyone, the regular library is perfectly scrollable. For me, it's completely useless.

Apple could add another tab to their Music app for this feature, but that would require yet one more slightly confusing UI pattern for yet another kind of grouping. The best answer is to have a separate app entirely. Just as I'd like to pull my Albums Of The Day off the shelf to leave near the record player, I'd like a second app for quickly getting to the records I want to listen to at the moment.

I've designed this app. It's very simple, and I was able to use only Apple-provided UI. This could be built without any custom components at all, as far as I can tell. The simplicity of the app has tempted me to build it myself a couple times, but I'm still stymied by Xcode and my limited programming skills. Maybe third times a charm?

I share the designs here, and would be happy to see anyone — literally anyone — build it themselves. I wouldn't even ask for any of the profits. If you made this app, I'd even pay for it. Charge me $19.99. Having this would be such a benefit to my listening habits.

August 11, 2020