20 Jun

Why You Want to Develop in Production-Like Conditions, and How to Do it with Vagrant or Docker

Note: entry originally published in March 2014, with numerous edits and additions since then. As of September 2016 I’ve started moving to Docker for my local dev needs.

Like many people developing with WordPress, I initially used XAMPP to run a Linux/Apache/MySQL stack under Windows. This beats developing directly off a remote server by a long stretch (in case anybody still does that), but it turns out to be quite a hassle as you wrestle with / vs \ in paths and other discrepancies between the Unix and Windows worlds. Developing in an environment as close to production as possible ends up being a much better choice. Popular free tools to do so are:

  • VirtualBox to run other operating systems within your own
  • Vagrant to manage development environments within VirtualBox
  • Puphpet, a wizard-like interface to help set up Vagrant through Puppet automation scripts. Phansible does the same but using Ansible.

Yes, these work somewhat like Russian dolls, as modern web development has a severe case of tools to set up tools to set up tools. It can get a little crazy at times, so you want to find the sweet spot where you gain efficiency without becoming a slave to your toolset (which is supposed to save you time in the first place). Getting this up and running is a big enabler for continuous integration, and why you would want to think and develop that way is the topic of a separate entry.

In this post I’ll share some practical details to contribute a little back to the open source community and not just consume its benefits passively.  The end result is a fully functional Unix environment serving a WordPress website locally on a Windows PC, across a whole local network.

This entry is written from the perspective of “Unix as a foreign language” from a Windows native. It does assume that you have read the basics about VirtualBox and Vagrant, and focuses on common roadblocks that I’ve encountered along the way. As always, the key to learning a whole new way of doing things is to break it down in small digestible chunks. Read More

27 May

State of Google As of 2016: AI, Mobile, Auto – For Real?

As a user, it’s hard not to notice that these days, Android apps such as Google Now, Maps, Waze, or Contacts, are increasingly integrated behind the scenes in a way that reduces friction and just surfaces up the information you need when you need it. This often happens with little to no explicit user input, which can be spooky at times, but it works. Black Mirror and Her are warning us not to fall for it, but I’m sure we’ll let the computer overlords take over anyway because it’s just too convenient and we’re just too lazy.

Thus taking for granted that for better or worse, we’re not going to opt out from being babysat by AIs, here are some notes on where’s Google at.

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30 Mar

Will Caixin Preserve Its Editorial Independence?

Note: this entry was first published in early 2014 and partially updated since then.

I don’t speak Chinese, so I rely on English editions of Chinese media to have a bit of a local perspective. The state-owned media such as Xinhua tends to run pure propaganda right out of their government/party/military masters. It’s so laughably bad it’s good. There is some fledgling independent media though, and among them I’ve been reading Caixin with interest for a while. I think Western media – and its media about the media – should stop their navel gazing and pay more than token attention to events such as China Media Capital (CMC) taking a stake in Caixin Media at the end of 2013.

There is of course some amount of Western reporting, and meta reporting, on this, but it tends to be ghettoized in sections about China/Asia. Approaching such issues primarily through the lens of geography strikes me as somewhat provincial, but this may reflect audience preferences that publishers don’t dare challenge. Read More

17 Mar

How I Save Time with the Right Shortcuts, Handpicked Apps, and Finetuned Hardware [Spring 2016 update]

Over many years I’ve found a lot of good hardware and neat apps that work well together. In the spirit of the setup and how I work interviews, here’s my advice on picking desktop hardware, some of my favorite software, and various productivity shortcuts, all of which may prove useful to other multi-monitor Windows users who work with a wide variety of applications.

Warning: this is a relatively geeky entry, but these recommendations are the fruit of years of hard-won experience! Beyond advice about specific products, I hope you’ll get some broadly applicable help out of this entry, as technology adoption is a madness that requires method. Read More

30 Mar

Open Source Project Watch: Brackets… by Adobe?!

A year ago I wrote about how the involvement of various media companies in open source software was worth paying attention to. It still is, but it is equally interesting to see commercial vendors back successful OSS that, on the surface, looks like it may be competing with their paid products. One such project is Adobe’s Brackets [home | Github], an excellent free code editor that has been going through rapid iterations and impressive adoption by developers – both those working on the software itself, its many extensions, and the broader population of people simply using it. Read More

01 Dec

Insta Case Study: Feature Update Notifications Down Right

icon-counterKudos to Intercom for the very smart way they integrate their change notifications to the application itself. First, they use the increasingly popular “counter over an icon” notification that is not too obtrusive yet does the job (I just wish LinkedIn stopped abusing this pattern to attract my attention to weak signals I don’t care about).

Once you get there, as you’ll see in the screenshot below Intercom combines several good ideas that add up to a very smooth delivery. Keep reading to see a screenshot and learn on all that’s right about their approach:

Read More

22 Nov

Website Hosting Tech: Shared, Dedicated, Cloud – What to Choose and Why?

If your head is spinning from the deluge of tech product announcements that make you feel like you’re always trying to catch up, no matter how close you stick to technology developments – breathe deeply, you’re not alone. Here are a few pointers to frame how to think about the costs and benefits of various types of web hosting. In short, there is no silver bullet, and like most things it’s all about cost-benefit trade-offs. Yes, “the cloud” is becoming better and new solutions seem to crop up like mushrooms after rain, but you can spend days researching vendors that in the end, are pretty close to each other and won’t impact much how your business is doing. Some questions to ask yourself: Read More