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Y’know how the YouTube algorithm is an awful garbage fire but sometimes it serves you a gem that feels like a piece of yourself in a time capsule? That’s what this video is for me.

The band may have spent a combined $27 on their wardrobe for their big MTV debut. This isn’t even an early-90s post-grunge thrift store vibe; this is TJ Maxx proto-normcore and it speaks to me.

Nate Mendel looks like he put down his bass after filming this and hopped in the minivan to pick up the kids from soccer practice.

My wrists hurt from watching William Goldsmith pound those drums so expertly.

And the interplay between Dan Hoerner and Jeremey Enigk’s guitars and voice is often too much to bear for me.

I worshiped this band. I loved them so much. So, so much.

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My 2018 in music can be best summed up in five words: “Bark Your Head Off, Dog.”

Hop Along’s third album took a moment to get lodged in my brain, but once it did, it was a force of nature. I can’t recall the last time a new record took over my life like this, standing up to repeated plays for hours, weeks, months on end, refusing to wear out its welcome. Every spin revealed a new favorite song, a nuance somehow unnoticed in the hundreds of previous plays.

I’d be quite surprised if this record doesn’t end up occupying a place of pride in my Favorite Records of the Decade list.

The Shortlist:

How my listening habits changed in 2018

Two new developments changed the way I listen to music in 2018:


In March, I ditched Apple Music (which I had subscribed to from day one) and signed up for Spotify.

Why? For years, I had believed that Apple Music’s integration into the OS was worth putting up with its decidedly less polished UX and lack of any meaningful social of curation features. I had also dabbled with Spotify before and remembered not loving it.

But with the gentle encouragement of Merlin Mann, I took another look at Spotify and was hooked. The curated playlists are wonderful and meet a lot of my “I’m not exactly sure what to listen to” use cases. The Amazon Echo integration rules, and has allowed me to create an ersatz Sonos multi-room speaker setup.

The only drawback to Spotify is the nascent state of their Apple Watch app. Specifically, it’s really just a controller, and does not allow you to download music to listen to without your phone. But minus this one feature, Spotify wins for me in every conceivable way.


I know, I know. I’m That Guy. I am every stereotypical middle-aged dad. I am an extra from High Fidelity. I know. It’s fine.

I got a record player last year and have spent much of 2018 filling out my record collection. I won’t bore you too much with how It’s Different and There’s Just Something Warmer About Vinyl, but it’s all true. It also scratches my long-ignored collector itch; the buzz I got when I found original pressings of both Chronic Town and Hatful of Hollow in my local record store’s bins was indescribable.

I know. I’m sorry.

2018 diversions

Most year-end reviews tend to focus on things that are were newly released in that year, but I’d like to note a few old wells I fell down this year.

All Hail West Texas

I stumbled across the wonderful I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats podcast sometime early this year. I had been familiar with “All Hail West Texas” prior to this podcast, but the cover versions (and John’s thoughtful commentary on the genesis and meaning of the songs) led me back to the original artifact.

Frightened Rabbit

I’ve dabbled before, but I hate, hate, hate that it took Scott Hutchinson’s tragic death for me to finally get all the way into Frightened Rabbit.


Joni Mitchell is arguably the coolest person to ever be born on this planet and this is the Most Joni Mitchell record in her expansive catalog. While plumbing the depths of this record, I found a bunch of early- to mid-80s performances of this material and they somehow made me love it even more.

The Last Waltz

Speaking of Hejira-era Joni Mitchell, I watched The Last Waltz for the first time this yea, thanks to urgings by the Celebration Rock podcast and Hanif Abdurraqib. Putting aside whatever contention may exist around the making of the film itself, the performances strike the perfect balance between ragged looseness and turn-on-a-dime tightness that The Band were know for their entire career.

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It’s been a while since a song grabbed me out of nowhere and refused to let go. But that happened last week, about 15 feet from my desk at Arcweb, no less.

REC Philly turned my office into a concert space, and brought the incredible Max Swan to perform as part of their inaugural Tech Tour event. (Earlier in the day, I was part of a panel discussing data.)

Max’s whole set, clocking in just under an hour, was something to behold. But it was the closer, “Steady,” that made me drop what I was doing and pay attention.

I saved his most recent album, The Fisherman to my phone to listen to on the drive home. While the live version of “Steady” is propulsive, the recorded version is much more patient, leading with a very “Songs In The Key Of Life”-era Stevie Wonder vibe.

Either way, I’m honored to have shared a “stage” with Max and his band, and can’t wait to hear what they do next.

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please join me on the new mastodon instance i just spun up,, a place for like-minded individuals to beatifically discuss their appreciation of joni mitchell’s 1976 masterpiece

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Dropped into my local record store around lunchtime. Clerk saw me, walked over and said “Dude, I have a truckload of new, super clean 80s indie and alternative in, but that copy of ‘Green’ I posted on Insta last night just walked out the door.”

I feel very Seen. It feels good.

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Listening to the audiobook version of Insanely Simple and the author tells a story about Steve Jobs proudly demoing a “with special offers” version of OS 9 that would ship with a 60-second startup commercial, along with other ads throughout the OS.

I’m going to maybe spend the rest of the day thinking about this alternate timeline.

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It’s remarkable how quickly Hop Along’s “Bark Your Head Off, Dog” moved along this progression:

  • I like it, but I maybe liked their last jawn better
  • wait, holy shit, this is great
  • this is definitely one of the year’s best records
  • telling everyone I know how great this band and record are
  • this is definitely one of the decade’s best records
  • this record has become my new Emotional Center, my safe harbor

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Ben Gibbard’s been doing the rounds to promote Death Cab for Cutie’s quite good new record, Thank You For Today.

Gibbard was asked to force-rank all eight Death Cab albums, and his answers were somewhat controversial (The Photo Album is way too low for my liking). However, it’s this interview with Entertainment Weekly that stuck with me.

EW asks Gibbard about the 15-year anniversaries of both Transatlanticism and Give Up. His answer is very illuminating, and incredibly self-aware:

When I look back at 2003, it was the best year I’ve ever had creatively: having Transatlanctism and Give Up come out in the course of six months. I’ll never have another year like that.

I can’t imagine how difficult it is to admit that your best creative work occurred fifteen years ago as a working recording artist, promoting a new release with major label backing.

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Soundgarden was never my “favorite band.”

I was always a Pearl Jam guy, at least in high school. Others were Nirvana People, or Nine Inch Nails People. But Soundgarden was always a band that was just there. Always on the periphery, always high quality, but never The Band That Could Be Your Life.

I never stood in line for Soundgarden tickets. I never went to a midnight sale for a new Soundgarden CD release. I never bought a magazine just for the Chris Cornell interview like I did for Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan, or Thom Yorke. There was no obvious outward showing of love, or fandom.

Which makes my reaction to the news of Chris Cornell’s passing feel… not quite fake, but perhaps not earned? Inauthentic? I’ll probably cry when Vedder dies. I’ll take a week off work when the first member of R.E.M. goes. But Cornell? I’ve been trying not to dive too deep into my feelings about it, to be honest, because I’m not quite sure what I’ll find.

And yet… I still remember the take-my-breath-away feeling of hearing “Hunger Strike” for the first time. It’s still just as arresting to this day. Cornell and Vedder sound like they’d been bandmates for a decade or more… yet they’d only met for the first time during the Temple of The Dog sessions.

I still remember the countless hours spent alone in my room, playing “Seasons” on repeat, trying to figure out what the hell open tuning it was written in, never mind how to play it. (I learned today that it’s FFCCcc, because of course it is.)

And it’s impossible not to think of the Summer of 1994 without thinking of “Black Hole Sun” and it’s subversively trippy video.

“Black Hole Sun” is by no means a great Soundgarden song. It’s not even the best song on Side A of the Superunknown tape. But that shit was ubiquitous, friends. You couldn’t turn on MTV without seeing that creepy, melty-face girl grinning sadistically at you. It was everywhere, always, woven into the fabric of that time.

And maybe that’s what’s so jarring about the fact that he’s gone. Cornell’s music was an institution, one I thought we could count on for another few solid decades of reunions with Soundgarden, occasional solo records and sporadic other projects. But nothing lasts forever, and the seasons roll on by.

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Onward State, Onward State,
Roar, Lions, Roar!
We’ll hit that line, roll up the score,
Fight on to victory evermore,
Fight on, on, on, on, on!

So a bunch of luminaries from the Penn State blogosphere and #PSUtwitter got the itch and decided to start a new blog. For some reason, they let me tag along.

I couldn’t be more excited to share Roar Lions Roar with you.

I’ll be writing some, but mostly overseeing the tech and design of the site. My job will be really easy, thanks to the platform that the guys at Eleven Warriors are sharing with us, and the designs that the incredibly talented Sean Baker of Superboss has contributed.

Here’s my first piece for the site: a preview of the insanely talented and deep wide receiving corps.

Go check the site, sign up for a free account, and cop a shirt.

This is gonna be fun.

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It takes a village to make a great digital product. Here’s how we do it at Arcweb Technologies.

This post is an adaptation of the talk I gave at Tech2Gether in November of 2015. You can read what said about it here.

You’ve all heard the phrase “Software is eating the world,” right? I find that a weird way to look at things, but it’s still an interesting point. Everywhere you look, there’s a new previously dumb device adding software to stay competitive. There’s even a connected egg tray that sits in your fridge now and tells your smartphone when your eggs might go bad. What a time to be alive, right?

But the one thing you’ll notice, is that if software is in fact eating the world, design is leading the way.

You can’t pick up a business mag these days without finding a feature article on design. The richest company in the world right now got there largely because of design. And, I have personally dealt with several large engineering-driven product companies that are working to become more design-driven, because that’s where the market is headed. Huge, well-funded companies are realizing that without design, they’re dead.

Well, I’m a designer by trade, and to me, and all the other designers in the room, I bet that sounds great, right? Right?

Not so fast.

I want to let you all in on a little secret

Don’t tell anyone I told you this, ok? Here it is:

Design is too important to be left to designers.


Design is too important to be left to designers

Ok, now I have the attention of all the designers in the room, because they’re mad. And rightfully so, because it sounds like I just said your job is too much for you. Hold up. What does that mean?

Well, actually…

Today’s digital products are just so complex. Really, to land with any sort of traction in the marketplace, you probably have to launch on iOS, on Android, and on the web, for starters. Which means there’s a cloud component. You have to know what’s out there in the market. You need to have someone calling the shots from a product perspective. There’s a lot that goes into what we call user experience design these days… and that’s before we even get to the actual users!

So, really, we’re actually talking about something that’s a little different than what those who attended art school would call “design.”

We, as user experience designers, have to adjust the way we think about out roles. Sure, there’s a lot of “designing” that still has to happen. But today’s UX or product designer spends a lot less time pixel pushing and more time as the steward of the design process.

UX design as stewardship

A UX designer’s role, today and going forward, whether you know it or not, is to create the best possible experience for your users. Full stop. Doesn’t matter where it comes from. Doesn’t matter how you get there, really. You’re not a ninja or rockstar, who comes down from on high and blesses the masses with your talents. You’re a steward, and you’re a part of a team.

So, how do you pivot from being a pixel pusher to a design steward? Here’s how we do it at Arcweb Technologies.

The Arcweb Technologies Design Studio

We do Design Studio. Design Studio isn’t a place; it’s a methodology. It’s not a proprietary thing, or even a new idea. You can start doing this tomorrow if you like. Hey, we’ll be happy to conduct a workshop with your company or startup to show you how (hint hint). So what is it?

Design Studio is a methodology we use to create digital products people love. There are three core ideas behind it:

  1. It’s collaborative. We get as many people as possible involved as early as possible.
  2. It’s cross-disciplinary. Design Studio participants are not just designers. I know, right? But that’s the point. To create truly great digital products, we need everyone’s input. That means product managers, engineers, architects, QA folks, product owners, marketing, whoever. Everyone’s got a valid opinion to bring, and we want to collect them all.
  3. It’s participatory. We don’t only talk about design. We do design in design studio. And how do we do that?


We sketch. Relentlessly. Sketches are the coin of the realm in design studio. Without a sketch, an idea is just words. It’s not concrete. It’s ephemeral. It’s much harder to react to. I can’t circle the part of your voice that isn’t working, or highlight the part that is, right? Plus, sketching isn’t Photoshop. It isn’t Sublime Text. It isn’t Powerpoint. No one’s in their comfort zone, using their preferred tool. We’re all on equal footing.

Before we go much further, I can hear what some of you are thinking…

“But I can’t draw!”

I want to let you in on another little secret: I can’t draw, either. Seriously. It’s really bad. I didn’t go to art school. But I’ll tell you what I sure as hell can do: I can sketch well enough to communicate a design idea, pitch it to someone and get their buy-in. That’s all we’re trying to do here. Sketching isn’t drawing. There’s no aesthetic goal for sketching.

Let me repeat that: Sketching isn’t drawing. Here, look:

Like this:

These are the kinds of sketches we’re looking for. Juuuuuuust enough detail to convey your idea. That’s a login page, there’s kind of a landing page, and that’s a modal overlay. That took me maybe 20 seconds. That’s all you need.

This is what we mean when we say Design Studio is participatory. Everyone in the room picks up a sharpie and sketches. If you’re not sketching, you’re not in the room. We’re all in this together, people. Besides, if you’ve been invited to our design studio, it’s not necessarily because I like you or want to hang out or whatever, it’s because I need your ideas. So everyone participates. This is non-negotiable.

How to Design Studio

So, how do you “do” design studio? It’s a four step process.


Defining the problem you hope your Design Studio will solve is the first, often overlooked and maybe most important step. Of course, it’s good to know what you’re trying to accomplish with a given design, but it’s great to know this cold up-front, because by defining the problem up front, you have a framework for evaluating a design’s effectiveness later, so you don’t have to resort to “I like it, just because.” (More on feedback in a minute.) It’s also helpful to have your personas in place. These are mini-dossiers about your users, and what they’re trying to accomplish by using your software.


Now, we create. But we do this in a very prescribed, constrained manner. We take grid paper and Sharpies and everyone in the room sketches 6-8 ways to solve the problem for the given persona in 5 minutes.

That’s a lot to unpack, and there’s a reason for each of these constraints.

Why graph paper? Because there’s enough uncertainty and uncomfortableness around this process, that we want to give people some framework to feel comfortable it. Most software is made of straight lines, and the graph paper helps us remember this.

Why Sharpies? Sharpies are fat and indelible. You can’t spend too much time on detail with a sharpie, and you can’t go back and erase.

Why 6-8 sketches? Because that’s a lot, and we want to keep your hand moving, not thinking. We want you to silence your internal critic and help you focus on getting the idea on paper.

Why 5 minutes? Because you can accomplish a lot more than you think in 5 minutes.


So once we’re done the five minute sketch session, we pitch our sketches to each other. Pitching is where the magic happens. Everyone grabs some painters tape and tapes their sketches up onto the wall. Then, you get a minute to pitch. What were you hoping to accomplish with your sketches? Why did you go this route? What assumptions did you make?


Once everyone has pitched, we enter the critiquing stage of design studio. This is where the definition of the problem I discussed earlier become so important. That gives you an agreed-upon framework for discussing ideas. It allows you to say “This works for our target user because… “ rather than “I like this.” Such a simple turn of a phrase, but so powerful. Once we take our feelings out of the equation, it becomes so much easier to give and receive honest, helpful feedback.

After the pitch and critique, everyone gets three glue dots to tag the sketches they think are most effectively solving the problem. They can put all three on one sketch if they really love it. They can tag their own. The only rule is, three dots per person. The sketch with the most dots gives the group direction on where to go next.

Lather, rinse, repeat

So, once you’ve gone through one iteration, you can pick a new feature, define it, sketch it, pitch it, and critique it. Or, you can pick a direction that your team seemed to favor in the first round and dive deeper into it. It’s up to you and your team.

Why Design Studio?

So, now that we’ve discussed what Design Studio is and isn’t, why do we like it so much?


It’s great for requirements gathering: in the Define stage, we can learn everyone’s opinions on what “needs” to be in the product for a 1.0 version.


By seeing where everyone leans in the sketching phase, we can get a real sense of where things fall on the must have/nice to have/someday spectrum.

Idea generation

There is no better way to generate lots of different ideas than a Design Studio. None. This makes Design Studio great for any stage in the product development lifecycle: when you’re starting out on a project, or even when you’re stuck on a particular feature, or any time in between.

Consensus Building

One of my favorite outcomes of a good design studio is consensus building. Because you have all the stakeholders in the room, and everyone was a part of the ideation and pitching and critiquing, people feel more involved. They feel like they’ve been heard. Plus, you walk out of a design studio with pre-vetted ideas. Everyone participated in coming up with them. They belong to the group. You don’t have designers saying “I wish I had been invited to an earlier meeting” or engineers saying “There’s no way we can do that” or product owners saying “Why am I seeing this for the first time?”


I’ve seen and anecdotally heard about teams that implement some kind of Design Studio shaving weeks, even months off of a project’s timeline. It eliminates the back-and-forth nature of a lot of product engagements.


But here’s the real kicker. After going through a design studio with a team, you can’t help but respect and empathize with your team more.

A Design Studio can honestly be a bit of a stressful situation. No one’s totally comfortable, and everyone’s on the line to pitch and defend their ideas. That builds a team sometimes. Hearing people explain their ideas and defend them in a controlled environment helps you gain insight into them. Your engineers start to understand that designers don’t just suggest things to make their lives difficult. Designers understand that engineers don’t say no “just because.”

This benefit carries through long after the Design Studio session is complete. And, while we’ve seen better products come out of our sessions, the real deliverable of a good Design Studio is better teams.

Your homework

I have a homework assignment for you. Take your next feature and run it through a Design Studio. Doesn’t matter how small. You can do it in as little as 90 minutes if that’s all you have, but any time you spend will be well worth it. And if you’d like me to come discuss how to do this in more detail, here’s how to get in touch.

Thank you all so much, and happy sketching!

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They might not work for you, though, and that’s okay!

Sketching remains a vital part of the design process here at Arcweb Technologies, and has been incredibly transformative for me, personally:

Any old writing instrument and paper can work for sketching. It’s an incredibly open-ended discipline, and that’s part of the beauty of it! But as I’ve sketched more and more, these three simple things have made my the time I spend on it much more productive.

Dots, Not Grids

Graph paper can help make your layouts feel more like precision documents than rough doodles, but not all graph paper is created equal. Some variants have lines so dark that you struggle to see your sketches on it.

The secret: find dotted graph paper rather than lined. The dots allow for some precision and alignment, but don’t compete with your sketches. (I personally love these hard-backed notebooks from Baron Fig, which are available with dotted pages.)

Commit to the Pen

Typically, sketching happens with a pencil. In fact, every designer gets a beautiful Alvin mechanical pencil when they start at Arcweb Technologies. But while pencil has its place, consider giving pen a shot for your next sketch session. In my experience, the fact that pencil sketches are erasable becomes more bug than feature. A pen forces me to always keep moving, not stopping to erase mistakes. Plus, a pen’s indelibility makes for a good reminder to move forward and save all ideas, instead of erasing as you go.

Invest in a Date Stamp

As I look back through my sketching journal, the days often run together. I’ve tried dating pages by hand, but those hand-written dates tended to blend with the actual sketches on the page. The solution, borrowed from Philadelphia artist Mike Jackson, was to invest in a tiny date stamper. The stamps feel official and important but its true value is that it stand out from everything else on the page. Plus, there’s a certain Zen-like quality to the process of stamping today’s date at the top of a blank page.

To Each Their Own

These hacks came from spending lots of time sketching, finding out where my own friction points were, and removing them as simply as I could. They may or may not work for you, and that’s okay! If you’ve got your own sketching tricks, tweet them at me and I’ll share them around. Good luck, and happy sketching!

Read on

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My entry in’s “How I Work” interview series.

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Good error messaging puts a user back in control when things go wrong. It aligns expectations and calms the user by giving them a sense of context around what happened. Good error messaging is informative and jargon-free. It is not engineer-speak. It empowers the user by either telling them how to fix the problem or what they can expect to happen next.

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I’m about halfway through Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products. So far, it’s a good read. It portrays Ive as someone with exquisite taste who was in the right place at the right time, willing to work harder and care more than his competitors. It never descends into hagiography (in spite of the sub-title), as many tech bios tend to do.

Author Leander Kahney goes to great lengths throughout to express Jony’s distaste for “skinning” a product (applying surface-level design to something engineering had already created). In Ive’s design-centric mind, the “inside-out” method lead to compromised products.

But let’s square that with this tale from the design of the original Mac Mini:

The decision about the size of the case might seem trivial, but it would influence what kind of hard drive the Mini could contain. If the case were large enough, the computer could be given a 3.5-inch drive, commonly used in desktop machines and relatively inexpensive. If Jony chose a small case, it would have to use a much more expensive 2.5-inch laptop drive. </br> </br> Jony and the VPs selected an enclosure that was just 2 mm too small to use a less expensive 3.5-inch drive. “They picked it based on what it looks like, not on the hard drive, which will save money,” [former Apple product design engineer Gautam] Baksi said. He said Jony didn’t even bring up the issue of the hard drive; it wouldn’t have made a difference. “Even if we provided that feedback, it’s rare they would change the original intent,” he said. “They went with a purely aesthetic form of what it should look like and how big it should be.”

This is… well, it’s not design.

Design is solving problems within constraints. The characteristics of components, including price, are constraints. Without having a damn good reason to make the case 2 mm too small to fit a much less expensive 3.5-inch hard drive, you’re just decorating and playing artist, not designer. This is even more surprising, given that Ive is notorious for knowing and waxing rhapsodic about every last detail of his materials.

Outside-in product development is just as problematic as the inside-out approach that Ive despised. In this case, it may have led to a product that was more expensive (or less profitable) than it needed to be. Given that one of the Mac Mini’s core benefits as an entry-level Mac was its low cost, this is baffling.

Great product development is a true partnership between engineering and design.

Yes, I know. Jony Ive is perhaps the most celebrated industrial designer in the history of the field, and rightly so. And Apple has a track record of ignoring practical decisions in the pursuit of a product's true essence. That doesn't mean we can't examine a particular design challenge they faced and learn from it.

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Here at Arcweb, we’ve been spending more time using analog methods of exploring and communicating our ideas and we’ve augmented our UI design process with The next piece of the Arcweb design process that we’ll explore is prototyping.

What is Prototyping?

In our context, prototyping is the process of efficiently creating a representation of a digital product that reflects our current vision of it. Prototypes are meant for learning and communicating, not perfection. They can vary in fidelity from simple, ad-hoc paper prototypes to complex, clickable versions that are almost indistinguishable from real, working software. Efficiency is key here; we create the prototype to learn more about our assumptions and how a piece of software might work before actually building the software.

Why Prototype?

Prototyping helps us build customer value from the day we begin the Discovery process on a project. More specifically, it facilitates three types of communication that contribute to building the right product for the problem at hand:

  • The Designer’s Inner Monologue
  • Designer-Developer Collaboration
  • Customer Dialogue

The Designer’s Inner Monologue

The closer something is to “real,” the easier it is to evaluate. Consequently, that’s not the case for what’s in a designer’s head. What’s in a designer’s head is, in fact, the furthest thing from “real” there is. But a prototype changes all that. By prototyping, we are able to iterate quickly through ideas that won’t work without sending other departments (like development) on missions built to fail. Said differently, rapid, iterative prototyping allows the design team to fail fast which in turn will bolster confidence because everything’s been considered.

Designer-Developer Collaboration

Prototyping also facilitates more effective designer-developer collaboration. With prototypes, the design team is able to show the development team what’s to be built rather than simply telling them. (This is valuable for both practical and interpersonal reasons.) Some prototyping tools even allow developers to pull snippets of code that they can use to get started or in production.

By prototyping, we reduce the frustration and ambiguity that can occur when designer and dev terms don’t make sense to the other. For example, when the design team prototypes, devs don’t have to guess at what a phrase like “the sidebar dances in” means. Instead they see it. (By now it should be abundantly obvious that prototyping minimizes engineer grumpiness.) And when they see it, developers can provide rich, insightful feedback, assess technical feasibility and system design and cut excess scope earlier in the process.

Customer Dialogue

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings. Prototyping allows us to build consensus with our customers earlier in the life of a project. As much as a customer can say they “get it” from reviewing flat comps, prototypes that look and feel like real software allow for deeper, richer understanding. Throughout the life of a project, that means fewer surprises and the less-than-comfortable conversations you have to have when they spring up.

Finally, customers tend to be more vocal when it comes to raising issues when they’re looking at a prototype versus live software. And this makes sense: no matter if it’s a small modification or a complete pivot, change requests after multiple dev sprints are expensive. They are far less so in the prototyping stage. (Think hours instead of weeks or months.)

So that’s why we prototype. It improves how designers communicate their visions. It aligns designer-developer relationships and workflows. And it helps customers better understand what will be built before it’s built.

Read on

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Look at it. It is perfect.

It’s from Saga #25, which is my favorite comic book in the world right now.

It’s the look of a father, estranged from his toddler daughter, who is not sure where his daughter is, when he might see her again, or whether she and her mother are in immediate danger. But I didn’t need to tell you any of that, becasue you can see all of that, and more, in Marko’s eyes.

It’s all right there. This panel is what makes Saga transcendent.

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In which I discuss my favorite frites in Old City, flub the “favorite band” question and note that life’s too short for crappy software.

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Fewer flat comps, more iterative design in the browser. Fewer fixed canvases, more room for elasticity. You ultimately realize that the harder you squeeze and hold on to old workflows, the quicker things slip through your fingers. And yet, an ugly solution that “works” on all devices is no better than a beautiful one that doesn’t.

Here’s what I wrote to introduce the new, responsive website, which I led development on. (They’ve since rebranded as Shiny.)

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Advertising materially affects the user’s experience of content. Banner advertising has long been the standard model for monetizing a web site. Banner ads create visual distraction and often cause longer load times and other problems with page rendering. A site that features banner advertising is almost unilaterally a worse experience than one that does not feature advertising.

Affiliate links are the Internet’s version of a finder’s fee. They’re a way of compensating someone for presenting you with an opportunity: in this case, to buy a book you may not have found otherwise. And, here’s the kicker: affiliate links do not cost the user of a site anything. The price for a given book doesn’t increase because you came from a referral link. A site that features affiliate links offers a virtually indistinguishable experience from a site that does not.

Affiliate links are literally a victimless crime. The user gets to find things they ordinarily wouldn’t. The “currator” gets to make a living. If there’s anyone who should be crying foul in this situation, it’s Amazon, but it’s their policy in the first place.

Describing a site as “ad-free” and funding your site via affiliate links is not a contradiction.

To argue that users are being “tricked” by some vague duplicity here is preposterous. It’s not as if clicking a link with some extra characters at the end of it gives the link magical powers, forcing you to buy things you ordinarily wouldn’t.

Are we this naïve, this vacant of perception that we feel duped by this practice? Tell me what harm was visited upon you by clicking on an affiliate link on a site that self-identifies as “ad-free.” Go ahead. I’m waiting.

So you don’t like the fact that a blogger is passing the hat in addition to using affiliate links? Don’t support her. Simple as that. Your experience of the site will still be exactly the same. Or, don’t visit the site at all and go find your own books to buy. That’s the great thing about the Internet: the choice is yours.

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All it takes is about 300 lines of accidentally-deleted CSS before you say, “You know what? Maybe it’s time to get serious about version control.” Which means it’s time for the scary, scary command line. Terrifying for someone who hasn’t been living in it for a while.

But wait! A cursory Google search reveals that there are bunch of native Mac apps for Git! With beautiful GUIs! Clickable buttons! None of that scary $ nonsense!

It seems like a lifeline, a way in. An easier way to learn this monstrosity that is Git. I’ll dive into all that command line stuff later.

Except it doesn’t work that way.

Let’s take Tower, for instance. My goodness, is this a beautiful app. Just look at it!

Just the type of polish you’d expect from a best-in-class Mac app.

But… wait. What do those buttons mean? What are Push and Pull? What’s Commit mean? I have commitment issues… not gonna mess with that thing. And what are all those letters in colored boxes?

No matter how beautiful the app, you have to understand Git conceptually, or else it’s useless. You’re just pushing buttons.

Terminal-phobes: I know it’s scary, but you’re going to have to get your hands dirty sooner or later. You can’t hide behind a GUI forever.

Looking for a place to start? I've found both [Git Immersion]( and the [Pro Git]( book to be super helpful.

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I wrote about 50 lines of the jankiest JavaScript you’ll ever see last night. The code would be slaughtered in seconds on Stack Overflow. I probably could have done what I needed to do in about 10 lines if I planned it out and thought it through. But none of that matters for now. Know why?

Because it worked.

Sometimes it’s so easy to worry about finding the most elegant or efficient solution to a coding problem. There’s almost a Zen-like feeling of peace achieved when functions and arguments are stripped away, leaving you with script that’s as tight as a drum. Code Golf-worthy, even. And that’s great. Especially if you’re operating at scale.

But don’t let the paralysis of planning take over before you even get a working version of your code. You can always strip things out later, but you can never feel the joy of hitting command-R and seeing an animation ease in perfectly unless you dive right in and make a mess.

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The first Penn State memory I have was the stein. It proudly sat on the bookshelf in the family room. “Class of 1972,” it read. I had no idea what the words meant… but somehow I knew what the stein itself meant.

My next memory? January 2, 1987. The Fiesta Bowl. Second time I ever saw my dad get teary. (The first was when he picked me up at kindergarten to tell me my grandfather had died.)

After that? A graduation gift. My acceptance letter from Penn State, framed. On the back, in my father’s inscrutable handwriting:

“I am so proud of you.”

There were a lot of other things. Meeting and falling in love with my wife. Proposing on the lawn at Old Main. Celebrating at The Diner. Drunkenly predicting that Penn State would return to glory in 2005 on the heels of a dismal 4-7 season. (I still have the index card I wrote it on to prove it.) Dressing my son as the Nittany Lion for Halloween. Hoping I could share what I loved so much about my alma mater… and that he’d want to continue my family’s legacy.

And now I don’t know how much of that stuff is gone forever.

One other thing, seemingly so innocuous at the time, sticks out now. I worked as a host in a chain seafood restaurant just outside of town. A coworker taps me on the shoulder. “Holy shit, that’s Jerry Sandusky.” He asks for a table for two. The wait was an hour, maybe more.

He got the next table that opened up. He was very appreciative. I felt so cool.

And now, not to go all Rick Reilly on you, but I feel like an idiot. Part of the problem, right? The football-first culture?

So now I’ve got all these memories, and a football autographed by none other than Joe Paterno himself. And no idea what to do with any of it.

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About 8 years ago, we received a coffee grinder as a Christmas gift. It was a very thoughtful gift, because my wife and I both love coffee. Except that after a pretty short while, it became a hassle. Grinding beans is just another step in the morning, I don’t notice much if any taste difference, and it’s almost impossible to make a cup in the morning with my son asleep.

Yet still, we bought bag after bag of whole bean coffee. Because we had a grinder, and we couldn’t let that go to waste, y’know?

Finally, I had a Moment of Clarity on the subject. I realized that this was silly, and that we should just buy ground coffee, and that we should ignore the “sunk cost” of already having a grinder. I felt enlightened as I went to grind beans for presumably the last time this morning.

The coffee grinder was dead.

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Writer and content strategist Stephanie Hay on writing compelling content. is cited on slide 20.

A POSITIVE EXAMPLE: Len Damico. I know what he does BEYOND just “design websites,” clearly and thanks to his use of active voice, plus what he wants me to do. He exudes confidence, humble-ness, and demonstrates that he THINKS about the different facets of a successful design – not just the skill sets required.

The fact that she just gave this talk at SxSW makes me a little tingly. Thanks, Stephanie! Glad you enjoyed it! And thanks, too, to Courtney from M for pointing it out!

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